Where Have All The Grown-Ups Gone?

Donald Trump has been likened to a seventy year old toddler. Our own is 52, and has a precocious vocabulary, but a similar tendency to say meaningless and contradictory things at random, as in having his cake, and eating it.  On the day Theresa May was not elected as Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, she did look a bit like a grown-up, but she’s since shown her true colours as the sour, mean child who somehow manages to get other kids to enact her nasty schemes whilst she remains teacher’s pet.  It’s all very depressing.

So what can we do?

Jeremy Corbyn’s answer is to build a social movement which will create the political mood music in wider society, and force government to enact policies which benefit people, not corporate interests.  The trouble is, a large party membership which just talks to itself might feel like ‘doing something’ to the membership, but it is missing the point.  Mass parties are created by social movements – parties do not themselves create those movements.  They’ve got things the wrong way around, and in the meantime, May’s unelected government of big babies gets on with smashing up the play-pen.

The Lib Dems are doing what they have done after all their great defeats – go back to ‘community politics’ and work from door-to-door, local government by-election to by-election, and hope to claw their way back.  It usually works, up to a point.  But unless they start to inflict serious pain on the Tories, it’s all too slow to make much difference to the real and immediate crisis that is Brexit.

The Greens, understandably, want a progressive alliance.  So do many of us. But they’re still standing a candidate in Witney.  Our system promotes paralysis, not action. It’s the way it’s built.

As a social democrat who believes in representative democracy, but thinks that we need root and branch reform of the constitution, my inclination is to take Parliament seriously as the primary location for political action.  All the other stuff is fine, but we need those people who are in Westminster, imperfect as they are, to rise to the challenge of the catastrophe now unfolding.

So let’s go back to the origin of political parties.  They began as groups of the like minded in parliament.  Even Labour, which was created by the trades unions, social movements, and radical organisations of the 19th and early 20th Centuries began as an offshoot of the Liberals in parliament.

The British Election Study analysis of the referendum vote suggests that voters identify more strongly with ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ as labels, than with the political parties.  So my radical suggestion is that for the duration of this parliament, and in the next general election, we rest party labels in parliament, and regroup MPs and peers as The Brexit Party and The Grown-Up Party.

Theresa May is obviously at the head of the Brexit Party, despite her ostensible ‘support’ for ‘remain’.  The majority of Tory MPs who didn’t back Brexit should therefore elect someone else to lead the Conservative Party in parliament.

Corbyn would clearly remain leader of the Labour Party, but he could concentrate on the bits he enjoys, going out and about to big meetings, and signing up new members.  Labour MPs might calm down a bit and start doing their jobs properly if they could then elect a leader of Labour in parliament.  Keir Starmer is the shadow Brexit minister, so he might be ideal for the job.

The Grown-Up Party (they’d need a sensible name, obviously) would consist of many Tory MPs, nearly all Labour MPs, the Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and a few others.  They’d need a leader, too.  My choice would be Caroline Lucas of the Greens, simply because she is neither Tory nor Labour, so wouldn’t unduly antagonise either side, though if the Grown-Ups were indeed grown-up enough to elect someone from another party with Cabinet experience, even better.

Under this scenario, the tables are immediately turned.  The Grown-Up Party has a majority in both Houses of Parliament.  This is not undemocratic – all the MPs have a personal mandate from 2015.  They would then have to decide how to govern until the next general election in 2020.

The new Prime Minister (elected by a majority of MPs, unlike the present one, who was elected by nobody) and the new Cabinet would be ‘advised’ by the Brexit vote.  The PM would step out of No.10 and announce that Article 50 would not be triggered until a series of sound plans had been worked out to show a range of possible ways to leave the European Union.  At that point, the public would be invited to vote for the plan of their choice, including the option of retaining membership of the EU.

The pound would soar in value immediately.  The new Home Secretary, Anna Soubry, would reassure minorities that they are valued members of society.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Yvette Cooper, would begin to invest in infrastructure, education and health. The Foreign Secretary, Nick Clegg, would be welcomed by his counterparts around the world as the anti-Boris.

Those of us who have spent a lifetime being quite tribal about politics might find this all a bit difficult at first.  I do blame Nick Clegg for facilitating the catastrophic Cameron reign by entering a coalition, rather than simply agreeing a limited voting pact.  Nonetheless, I can be objective enough to see that he has the right talents and skill set to be an excellent Foreign Secretary in these troubled times.

For this is what matters – we need to stop the rule of the toddlers and their tantrum party for the good of the country.  If it takes a government of national unity, so be it.

It’s taking back control, innit?

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From Blue Chip To BLUKIP

What an extraordinary speech from the sub-Prime Minister yesterday, the unelected head of something that looks very much like an old school right-wing coup.  Hyperbole? Hardly.

Our political system has been in failing health for years.  Some of it is self-inflicted, more of it is due to the world, and the country, changing, but the system failing to adapt to that. Falling turnouts, weaker party allegiances,wide geographical disparities in economic well-being, combined with fatal over-centralisation have all played a part.  It was surely time to ‘take back control’ – to take it back from parties which are unstable coalitions, and above all, to take it back from Westminster and Whitehall.

So it was that I took myself off to the Conservative Party Conference.

What I wanted to find out was – Brexit. What are they thinking? Really, when they are talking amongst themselves?  What’s the plan?

I’ll begin with the plan, because that’s really pretty simple.  It’s the same as it has always been.  Brexit means clinging on to power.  Not the power of the nation.  Certainly not ‘power to the people’. Power, historically, is the Conservative Party’s drug of choice (possibly supplemented by cocaine, Krug, or gin, allegedly).  They are very good at keeping power in their hands.

But of Brexit, most people seemed to be keeping their mouths shut.  And for good reason, because when they did speak about Brexit, they tended to speak in the same slogans and cliches, and bullying swagger, as during the referendum campaign.  Details, costings, strategies – they simply didn’t figure.  The single conversation on strategy that I overheard whilst waiting for the airhead former DEFRA secretary, Owen Paterson, to speak was an anxious discussion of how to head off demands for a second referendum if things began to go ‘wrong’.

Let me stress the point of that anecdote.  They were discussing how to play a narrow political game.  They were not discussing any substantive matter relating to either the process or the ‘value’ they thought might be obtained from leaving the European Union.  This is ‘politics for politics sake’, not philosophical conviction, or policy detail.  It is how to outwit your perceived enemy at any given moment of weakness.

So let’s look at some of the stuff that was actually said.  “We are all Brexiters now!”  A lot of people said that. A lot of times. Probably more than they said “Brexit means Brexit.”

It was also said – I know of no source for this – that “90% of Leave voters would have no objection to a family member marrying a Remain voter, but almost all Remain voters would object to a close relative marrying a Leave voter”.  It doesn’t sound remotely plausible to me, but it does indicate a mindset which wants to normalise the Quit people, and demonise Remainers.

John Redwood claimed that “only 10% of Remain voters wholeheartedly support the EU project” and that all the rest of us would move towards the Brexit position as it “proves to be a success”.

The Adam Smith Institute (at a meeting with the best food and most plentiful wine) issued a report on border security after Brexit which claimed that a massive government IT project to integrate border control systems (The Warning Index and Semaphore) using fingerprint scanning would make for a watertight system of controls.  They did acknowledge the bleeding obvious – that government IT projects had a poor record of success –  but they claimed that this was down to government ‘micromanagement’.  Their preferred model, repeatedly name-checked, was AirBnb.  It was an heroic and doomed effort to integrate the free market principles that the Institute claims to espouse, with hi-tech draconian border control, but essentially their idea didn’t seem to add up to much more than a sixth form project.

Nicky Morgan seemed to be spoiling for a fight, but alas, the wrong Johnson was in the room.  Rachel Johnson, who managed to attack all the men in her family (fair enough), tried to goad Morgan into saying something fit for her Daily Mail column about Brexit, but Morgan confined herself to the expectation that ‘gender equality laws’ would not be endangered by Brexit.

Morgan’s expectation was not supported elsewhere.  Owen Paterson, Charlie Elphicke, John Redwood, and other Brexiters demanded a bonfire of “silly” workplace rights.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The best speaker on Brexit (at least in the sessions I attended) was Vicky Pryce, the economist.  In a hostile room, she rebutted Elphicke’s assertion that “We are all Brexiters now” with a sharp “I’m still with the 48%”.

Pryce was on magnificent form.  She attributed the absence of instant recession after the vote to the sterling work done by Mark Carney and the Bank of England on the morning after, when Cameron resigned, and Osborne went missing.  She spoke of Carney’s decision to sink £150 billion into propping up the economy.  She contrasted the spending of £60 billion a month on QE with the paltry £8 billion a year on the EU.  When challenged over the IMF raising its forecast for British growth this year, she replied that it had raised it by 0.1%, whilst further cutting the forecast for next year.  There was a number attached to everything she said – unlike any other speaker I heard.

Also impressive in that meeting was Professor Anand  Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe, who outlined what he thought was May’s political strategy.  A strategy not for negotiating a ‘successful’ exit from the EU, but for finessing the damage electorally.  Depressing stuff.

Indeed, the much derided academics and ‘experts’ – Tony Travers of the LSE deserves a mention here – were the only people who really seemed to have their eyes wide open to what was going on.

So, having attended the Tory conference before, what had changed?

It was very clear to me that a lot has changed for the party.  The globalists were licking their wounds, for whether pro-EU, like the Cameroons and Osbornists, or anti- like Redwood, Hannan, et al – they were on the back foot, unsure of how to proceed, and exceptionally peeved at their unanticipated exclusion from the top table.

C List ‘talents’, like Paterson, IDS, Davis, Fox were swaggering around like Donald Trump on viagra – a sight as ugly as that sounds.  I was in one meeting when, through an open door at the end of my row,  I caught a glimpse of Priti Patel walking by.  It brought to mind a quote I read in Barbara Castle’s diaries, when Castle, describing Margaret Thatcher, said “I know that look.  She is in love.  In love with power, and with herself”.

And so the party has gone from Blue Chip (the big corporates were flashing far less cash at this conference than in the past), to BLUKIP.

Which returns us to May’s speech, and that of her successor in the Home Office.  This is no longer an economically liberal party.  Nor is it a socially liberal one.  It is dangerously close to looking like a right-wing populist party along the lines of the Front National.  But those other forces haven’t gone away, and May’s majority is slim, and may be further reduced (let us hope).  It is not in a good place.  Nor is the country.