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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Labour civil war continues

Anybody who thinks that things have quieted down within the Labour Party following Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson's apparent rapprochement will have been rapidly disabused of that thought yesterday when Ken Livingstone went on the offensive.

Ken Livingstone is a close ally of the Labour Leader, though there was no indication that his call for a purge of anti-Corbyn elements had the official endorsement of the Islington North MP. Nevertheless, there is always the thought at the back of one's mind that Livingstone's role is to say the unspeakable on behalf of the leader in a way that is easily deniable if necessary.

According to the Guardian, the former London mayor has demanded the suspension of top Labour MPs he claims are “consciously undermining” Jeremy Corbyn.

The paper says that with tensions in the party already strained over Mr Corbyn’s leadership, Livingstone named top backbenchers Chuka Umunna and Wes Streeting as those he said were damaging the party.

He also called for the reintroduction of automatic re-selection of MPs, reviving the prospect that figures from the centrist wing of the party could be removed by grassroots Corbyn supporters:

Mr Livingstone, himself currently suspended from the party over allegedly anti-Semitic statements, said: “Those that have been most over the top I think should be suspended.

“I think the other thing that Jeremy should do is re-introduce automatic re-selection. It's really ridiculous that MPs in safe seats have a job for life. I'm particularly talking about Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting - basically it's the same group of MPs who were screaming that I'd said Hitler was a Zionist and I was anti-Semitic.

“The moment that issue went on hold, they were then blaming Jeremy for Britain voting to leave (the EU). Just endless criticism. It's only about a dozen of them. The simple fact is they are consciously undermining Jeremy and damaging the Labour Party.”

Talk of automatic reselection will of course set alarm bells ringing for many MPs and feed into the paranoia triggered by Deputy Leader Tom Watson's claim a few days ago of a left wing takeover. No wonder so many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party are so unhappy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kamikaze ministers prepared to sacrifice the UK's best interests

At the end of the second world war, aware that they were losing, the Japanese drew on a long standing tradition and sent out pilots on kamikaze missions to deliberately crash into US warships in the hope of sinking them.

It feels a bit like that now as we head into negotiations on the UK's exit from the European Union, with Ministers coming out with more and more bizarre and dangerous positions in an attempt to look tough for the negotiations ahead.

According to the Guardian,Brexiters in the cabinet and other Conservative frontbenchers have privately told colleagues they are relaxed about the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU on to World Trade Organisation rules:

Senior figures within the party have been persuaded by the argument that members of the WTO are less likely to try to punish the UK, while the European Union is looking to exact a political price for Brexit.

They now want to convince others that they should embrace the idea. “People are being told that WTO rules would be the end of the world. We need to explain to them why it isn’t,” said a senior government source. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has also suggested the outcome would be “perfectly OK”.

But with opponents within the Conservative party who previously supported remaining in the EU branding the stance as “ideological baloney”, and even cabinet ministers expressing concerns, the issue looks set to be one of the most divisive facing Theresa May during the EU negotiations.

To leave the EU without an agreement and rely on WTO rules would be disastrous for the UK economy. As former Minister, Anna Soubry says: “There is nothing to be blase or relaxed about choosing for Britain to trade with our biggest economic partner under WTO rules. Every credible assessment done says this would be the worst trading arrangement possible for jobs, investment and growth.”

The Guardian says that in the run-up to the referendum, Treasury research suggested reverting to WTO rules would knock between 5.4% and 9.5% off GDP after 15 years, and blow a £45bn hole in the public finances — though the basis of those forecasts was fiercely contested.

“Relying solely on the WTO rules would result in a significant reduction in the openness of the UK economy to the outside world,” it said. “It would be the alternative with the most negative long-term impact.”

Yet more evidence that having won the referendum the Brexiteers do not have a clue how to now proceed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brexit begins. But who is the Joker?

The joke on Twitter is that the clocks go forward an hour on Sunday 26th March but then go back 60 years on Wednesday 29th March. And that is how it feels as Theresa May announces that she is going to invoke article 50 and commence the Brexit process on that date.

According to the Guardian, European sources have made clear that Britain could be forced to wait until June to embark on formal talks.

Theresa May has made it known that she wants to leave the single market which will be a disaster for the United Kingdom's economy in the view of many experts. Her stance also threatens the future of the union.

The Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide political party opposed to this process and arguing for us to stay in the single market. We want to see a referendum on the final deal so that people can judge whether what they are being presented with is what they originally voted for.

We will now have to see how negotiations go.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Six jobs Osborne could lead to change in the rules

For a long time we have tolerated MPs have other jobs on the basis that the experience adds to what they bring to the Commons chamber. To an extent the timetable of the Commons is designed to accommodate this moonlighting. However, George Osborne's six jobs may well be the straw that broke this particular camel's back.

The Independent reports that Lord Bew, the chair of the Committee of Standards in Public Life has announced that rules on MPs taking second jobs will be reviewed after George Osborne’s appointment as editor of the London Evening Standard.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Lord Bew said: “We have not ruled out MPs having second jobs, quite deliberately, up until now, but we now have to look again at our rules.

“We are going to discuss whether our rules on second jobs need to be changed in light of this. We had something that up to a degree worked. It now seems to be getting into rockier waters.”

Lord Bew told the paper the editor role did not fit the current policy on second jobs, but stressed that the issue was “not personal” to Mr Osborne. However, he said his case raised the “issue of how much time MPs have to devote to their parliamentary work”.

George Osborne need not despair however, he has the backing of Tony Blair!!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Are Momentum plotting with Unite to consolidate their hold on Labour?

Those moderate Labour politicians who have decided that if they sit it out long enough then Jeremy Corbyn will self-destruct, enabling them to take back control of their party, may be quite alarmed at this article in today's Observer.

The paper says that plans are afoot for Len McCluskey, once he secures re-election as general secretary of Unite in an internal election next month, to link his super-union directly to Momentum by formally affiliating to it. This would amount to a massive shift of power and financial resources to the pro-Corbyn left.

The plans have been described by Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson as “entryism” and a covert attempt by a leftwing faction to take over the party but that does not appear to have deterred Jon Lansman, the founder of the grassroots organisation Momentum, who was secretly recorded addressing supporters at a meeting of a new branch of the organisation in Richmond, south London, on 1 March.:

On the tape, obtained by the Observer, Lansman issues a call to arms to Momentum supporters, saying they need to make sure the left is far better represented in key positions at all levels of the party so they have control over the levers of power when Corbyn departs and the succession is decided.

Most controversially, Lansman says that if his ally Len McCluskey secures re-election as general secretary of Unite in an internal election next month, the super-union will then link directly to Momentum by formally affiliating to it, in what critics fear would amount to a massive shift of power and financial resources to the pro-Corbyn left.

Announcing what he implies is a done deal with McCluskey, Lansman tells the audience: “Assuming that Len McCluskey wins the general secretaryship, which I think he will, Unite will affiliate to Momentum and will fully participate in Momentum, as will the CWU [the Communications Workers’ Union].”

The extent to which the left is mobilising behind the scenes and looking to Unite to back it at national and constituency levels will greatly alarm Labour moderates. Lansman spells out how Momentum currently lacks money. His mention of a link-up with Unite will invite inevitable speculation that the country’s biggest union – and Labour’s largest donor – is preparing to give money, as well as organisational support, to Momentum, too.

Tom Watson harks back to the 1980s and the ascent of Militant Tendency in his remarks:

Watson, a Unite member, voiced his deep concern about what he said looked like “a private agreement to fund a political faction that is apparently planning to take control of the Labour party, as well as organise in the GMB and Unison”.

Unlike the 1980s and 1990s though there is no Labour leader prepared to put his reputation on the line to stand up to the entryists.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Has Theresa May become an intolerant nouveau brexiteer?

When it comes to leaving the EU there has been no greater Damascene conversion than that of the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May.  After all the now-Prime Minister had backed Remain in the 2016 referendum, declaring in a speech that it was “clearly in our national interest to remain a member of the European Union”.

A more unkind critic than me, might question whether Theresa May's commitment to the European cause was that well entrenched or was she just going through the motions? Either way she has shed her previous convictions with all the vigour and fanaticism of a convert. She is now going for hard Brexit, no quarter given.

I was bemused to read in the Western Mail this morning that Liam Fox believes that it would be "politically irresponsible" for the European Union to erect barriers to trading with the UK after Brexit. Really? What did he expect?

He campaigned to leave the EU, he is part of a Government insisting on leaving the single market. Both courses of action are anti-free trade and in both instances the consequences have been spelt out to Fox and his cronies. If you leave a free trade area then you have to pay tariffs to continue trading with it.

It is the position of Liam Fox and the Brexiteers that is politically irresponsible not the EU, who are only seeking to protect their own position.

The intolerance of any dissent within the Tory Party is best summed up by Michael Heseltine's letter to Theresa May as quoted in the Independent:

Lord Heseltine wrote: “You say in your letter that I will understand the necessity to end that relationship. Here we disagree.

“In the referendum campaign it was recognised that so deeply held and so divided were the views on both sides that members of the Cabinet and other ministers were free to argue and vote against the Government's European policy without sanction.”

“I have repeatedly said you have every right to end my relationship with the Government,” he wrote.

“The simple fact remains that you have changed your mind since the excellent speech you made in the referendum campaign arguing that we should remain in the European Union. I have not.”

Lord Heseltine said that his vote for the House of Lords amendment - which was later overturned by the Commons - could not have delayed or denied Mrs May's ability to trigger withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties.

After Downing Street indicated that Mrs May will wait as long as two weeks after the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act before triggering Article 50, Lord Heseltine said: “The urgency about which we heard so much at the time seems in the event somewhat diminished.”

He said his rebel vote was designed “to give the House of Commons a second chance to enshrine in law a commitment you yourself had already given to allow Parliament a vote on any Brexit deal”.

Does the Prime Minister really want to divide the country in this way. She has said not but her actions defeat her words.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Did a Welsh Tory summon the Spanish Inquisition?

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition apart from the odd Welsh Tory. The Daily Post reports that the Conservative Party has distanced itself from one of its own prominent Brexit campaigners after he appeared to call for the return of religious persecution.

They say that Dr Felix Aubel, who was the West Wales co-ordinator for the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign, responded to a Swedish far-right blogger by asking: “When will today’s Christian Europe say “Enough is Enough”, just like the Christian Spaniards did at the end of the Middle Ages?”

As the paper points out, in the Middle Ages the Spanish Inquisition saw the persecution of Muslims, Jews and others that the Catholic Church saw as heretics.

The process resulted in the expulsion of Jewish and Muslim communities that had called Spain home for centuries and has become notorious for it’s cruelty and violence, at the end of a period which saw Spain’s Christian kingdoms usurp Muslim kingdoms on the Iberian peninsula.

Dr Felix Aubel has been quite rightly disowned by virtually every organisation he has any connection too for this tweet.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer actually read the Tory manifesto?

As predictable as yesterday's u-turn on National Insurance Contributions was, the manner in which it came about was quite remarkable.

As the Telegraph reports, the back-down represents a huge blow to Mr Hammond and is one of the most significant Budget u-turns in modern times. The announcement will leave a £2billion black hole in Mr Hammond's Budget plans which he plans to fund with new measures in his Autumn Budget.

The paper says that up to 100 Tory MPs were said to be prepared to rebel over the issue and even a Tory minister said that the Government had to apologise to Conservative voters:

Mr Hammond's credibility was further undermined when he appeared to admit in the Commons that he had only realised the NI policy breached a manifesto pledge when it was pointed out by the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg.

Asked when he first knew the manifesto was an issue, he told a fellow MP: "Since he asks me the question who first raised the issue of the manifesto I think credit where credit is due. I think it was actually Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC, shortly after I said it in the Budget speech."

They go to quote aides as saying that Hammond was aware of the manifesto pledge but if that was the case then why did he not anticipate the furore that followed him breaking it? Did the BBC's political editor know the Tory manifesto better than the Tory cabinet.

Ministers may need to re-read the document fairly quickly before they drop any more clangers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Now Brexit threatens 200,000 construction jobs

The Independent adds to the woe over the potential impact of Brexit by reporting on warnings by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that almost 200,000 construction jobs could be slashed if Britain loses access to the European single market, jeopardising half a billion pounds worth of infrastructure projects and dealing a sharp blow to major UK cities’ global competitiveness.

They say that 8 per cent of the UK’s construction workers are EU nationals, accounting for some 176,500 individuals:

Almost a third of construction professionals surveyed by the professional standards group for the study said that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses, but access to the European single market is critical to being able to do that.

“These figures reveal that the UK construction industry is currently dependent on thousands of EU workers,” said Jeremy Blackburn, RICS’ head of UK policy. “It is in all our interests that we make a success of Brexit, but a loss of access to the single market, has the potential to slowly bring the UK’s £500bn infrastructure pipeline to a standstill,” he added.

Mr Blackburn said that unless UK access to the single market is secured – or alternative plans are implemented – the country will not be able to create the infrastructure needed “to compete on a global stage”.

RICS say that UK construction is already “in the grip of a skills crisis” and that the Government must put interim, transitionary arrangements in place to avoid a potential “cliff edge”. It also said that Westminster must “seek out and attract private investors” that can help safeguard the future of the sector during these turbulent times.

We await Theresa May's response.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Predictions, betrayals and Brexit

Those of us who predicted that a vote to leave the EU could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom are not exactly jumping up and down shouting 'I told you so' this morning as Nicola Sturgeon uses Theresa May's intransigence as an excuse for yet another Scottish independence referendum.

The First Minister of Scotland seems to believe that the prospect of an independent Scotland remaining within the EU will entice more people to support separating Scotland from the rest of the UK. However, all the signs are that the prospect of the Scots being allowed to go it alone within the EU is as delusional as the Tories' belief that leaving the single market is in our best interests.

Meanwhile, back in Parliament, the Brexit bill has been sent up for royal assent without a single one of its 137 words having been amended. Liberal Democrats fought hard to include provisions to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, to ensure MPs have a genuine say on the final deal and to give a vote to the British people on whatever emerges from the Brexit talks.

Alas, the efforts of the Liberal Democrats came to nothing, not least because of the craven capitulation of the Labour Party (with one or two honourable exceptions). As Tim Farron said: “Labour had the chance to block Theresa May’s hard Brexit, but chose to sit on their hands. Tonight there will be families fearful that they are going to be torn apart and feeling they are no longer welcome in Britain. Shame on the government for using people as chips in a casino, and shame on Labour for letting them.”

The  government is taking a narrow referendum vote as a reason to do as it pleases. The truth is that they do not have a mandate to take us out of the single market or to undermine the rights of long-standing EU workers here in the UK.

My view and that of the Liberal Democrats is that if the government wish to pursue a hard Brexit then they must take specific proposals back to the electorate. Their refusal to do so says a great deal about the government we now have and the Labour apologists who are letting them get away with this disregard for democratic process.

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