“I f*****g hate revolutionary socialists”. At TIG/ Change UK’s European election launch in Bristol on Tuesday morning an experienced Labour hand, furious with the damage Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum had done to his old party, told me what it was that forced him from his lifelong political home.
Another candidate at the launch, a primary school teacher from the Midlands with no previous experience of politics, had been a Leave voter in 2016. Mugged by the red bus, she voted for a promised Brexit dividend for public services. She won’t be a mug again.
For Labour, the die was cast in 2013 when Ed Miliband changed his party’s membership rules, with the well-meaning if awe-inspiringly miscalculated purpose of boosting Labour’s support by giving members of the public a £3 say in electing the leader. You get what you pay for, and anyone who shelled out £3 to elect Jeremy Corbyn didn’t pay a penny more than the Lenin-capped loon is worth. They may not have realised they would get the free gift of a heavy mob of Momentum activists in every constituency Labour Party; shouting down dissent and barging moderates aside.
All political parties are coalitions; the Labour and Conservative parties were historically broad coalitions tolerant of diverse views. Brexit has made the strained coalition in the Conservative Party cease to function. For Labour, all Neil Kinnock’s reforms of the party’s constitution in the nineties and all Blair’s work to bring Mondeo Man over from Maggie was undone by Ed Miliband’s catastrophic mistake.
Both main parties have been captured by the people they exist to exclude from power. While the hard left are moulding Labour in their own image, the Conservatives are a dark political mirror, scrambling away from Cameron’s centrism alongside Nigel Farage to fill the space recently vacated by UKIP. In both parties, those left in the centre ground are looking and feeling very exposed.
There is no room left inside the Conservative Party for disagreement over Europe. Constituency parties like my own former association in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr are quick to sideline candidates sympathetic to the EU. By contrast with the party activists, most sitting Conservative MPs opposed Brexit; they know any Brexit would be a mistake and no deal Brexit a disaster.
Not that they dare say it. With a few honourable exceptions like Jo Johnson and Guto Bebb, Remain-inclined Tory MPs adopt a trite form of words about respecting the result of the referendum, while bending over backwards to find some way of leaving the EU which will minimise the damage and allow the Government to say it has done what voters ordered.
A fat lot of good it’s doing them. Conservative MPs who hope to take the sting out of Brexit by supporting Theresa May’s deal are getting exactly the same abuse as good honest Remainers. The PM is ‘treason May’; the deal described by Reesmogian colleagues in Commando-comic terms as abject surrender. To borrow the Brexiters’ imagery, any Tory MP thinking of turning back from the front line on Brexit faces a row of constituency association officers standing behind him with machine guns.
In some ways, the cod-patriotic Dad’s Army stuff reminds us of the EU’s real purpose. Never only a trading arrangement, it exists to so integrate the economies and political systems of the nations of Europe as to make war between them unthinkable.
Britain’s presence in the EEC and EU took a fundamentally good idea and improved on it. We helped Europe strike the right balance between integration and a Europe of nations; between workers’ protections and a dynamic market economy. Being proud of Britain and its role in Europe isn’t unpatriotic: quite the opposite. Shamefully, we have allowed supporters of a destructive hard Brexit to steal patriotism’s clothes and drape themselves in the flag.
If there is no place in the Conservative Party for honesty about the harm Brexit will cause, and the desirability of stopping it altogether, there is no place for me. I don’t respect the result of the referendum. It was a wafer-thin mandate for an historic mistake. It was run in breach of the Government’s own protocol on the conduct of referendums. In Switzerland, where they do referendums better, the result would probably have been struck down as vitiated by fraud.
I want to take the most effective action to stop Brexit, and in this European Parliament election, TIG is the remain alliance. The immediate priority for us is to stop Britain leaving the EU, and we won’t be told that we are unpatriotic for supporting a political settlement that together with NATO and the bomb –both of which Jeremy Corbyn also hates– has given us nearly a human lifetime of uninterrupted peace between its member states.
However, TIG/ Change UK is not just a pro-EU project. We have come together from hugely diverse backgrounds to change the way politics is done in Britain. In the wake of the eleven ur-Tiggers’ defections from Labour and the Conservatives, 59% of voters polled said they would be willing to vote for a new party that occupied the centre ground.
Standing up for democracy means decoupling radical policies from demagoguery; it means working with and defending people of good will in all parties. For effective government to reclaim the centre ground, coalitions that govern will need to be cross-party rather than within parties.
We want our patriotism back. We want our freedoms as EU citizens back. We want decent, civilised politics back. And we want our country back. It’s time for the centre to take back control.
Matthew Paul: Can you be arsed to vote?
TORIES in Wales could be excused for taking a dim view of Mark Reckless; the UKIP, then Conservative, and now Brexit Party AM for South Wales East.
By way of recap, Mark Reckless left the Conservative Party to defect to UKIP on the eve of the Conservatives’ 2014 Party Conference, in a way calculated to cause the greatest possible damage to the Tories. An incandescent David Cameron went around that evening’s rubber chicken circuit vowing to “kick his fat a**e” out of the Commons. After calling and winning a by-election, the fat a**e was eventually booted out at the 2015 General Election.
In what cannot be seen as a compliment to our nation’s legislature, Farage decided the following year to bestow Reckless on an appalled Welsh Assembly. After a couple of years of ferocious infighting that made even Plaid Cecru – The Party of Squabbles look disciplined, Reckless quit UKIP and made the Churchillian decision to re-rat to the Tories.
Andrew RT Davies, then Welsh Conservative leader and a committed breakfast-means-breakfast Brexiter, decided to expend a majority share of his spa**e political capital on rehabilitating the fat a**e, inviting it to cwtch up next to his own well-padded posterior in the Conservative Assembly group.
This has turned out, with the benefit of hindsight, to be every bit as bad a decision as it appeared at the time. Although it allowed the Tories to displace Plaid as the official opposition, the a**e’s presence in the Assembly’s Conservative group did not enable or block the passage of a single piece of legislation. It made centrist Welsh Conservatives regard the Assembly group with something close to disgust. Worst of all, it failed to attract a single Brexity vote. In Conservative Associations like Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, almost every single member and activist will be voting for other a**es standing for the Brexit Party next Thursday.
Now, Reckless has repaid RT’s trust by re-re-ratting to the ascendant Brexit Party. Current Tory leader Paul Davies, expressing himself a good deal more politely than the circumstances merited, thanked the a**e for its “valuable contribution as a part of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Assembly over the last two years”. Reckless will hold sway over former UKIP AMs Mandy Jones, Caroline Jones and David Rowlands in the Brexit Party Group.
While any sensible Tories in the Senedd should regard the fat a**e’s departure with something between equanimity and delight, it has left others tamping. Rattled members of Plaid are petitioning the Assembly’s comically biased presiding officer, Elin Jones, in the hope that she will change the Assembly’s rules with the specific purpose of blocking the formation of a Brexit Party group.
In this, Plaid find an unusual ally in Neil Hamilton. Until now an almost Mayite political survivor, the writing is on the wall for the wicked uncle of the Welsh Assembly. Farage absolutely detests him (as does the Brexit Party’s leader in Wales, the reptilian Nathan Gill), the UKIP voter base has disappeared and there is little to no prospect of his re-election in 2021. Gravy train, meet buffers.
Worse, the defection of the other Kippers means UKIP (i.e. Hamilton and the similarly egregious Gareth Bennett) will no longer be entitled to form an official Assembly group, with all the office support and funding that entails. The only miniscule consolation for the wicked uncle is that his group’s annihilation means Bennett can no longer claim to be the UKIP Assembly group leader, and Neil Hamilton is left, in a Berlin-bunkerish way, as the undisputed Führer of UKIP in Wales.
132,138 people across Wales voted UKIP in 2011; 13.7% of the total vote. That vote is now represented by two AMs and no group. Obviously undemocratic, but the Kippers have brought this grim outcome on themselves, by courting the far right and outright fascist thugs like Tommy Robinson.
In the European elections, it has been impossible to avert your gaze from the amazing, all-surpassing awfulness of the UKIP campaign. The Kippers have fallen way below the dignity of being a**es. Even Sargon of Akkad’s own mother probably won’t vote UKIP after the horrendous stuff their candidates have said. There may be a few –John Worboys, perhaps– who quite like the new, rapey cut of the purple party’s jib, but unless UKIP reconsiders its opposition to giving prisoners the franchise, it isn’t going to get the full benefit of the pro-rapist vote. Once a formidable force, UKIP are finished in Wales.
What lessons does this hold for the future of the Brexit Party? Slicker, mostly denazified, and with the perennially fascinating Farage back –very firmly– in charge, it is sure to do well next Thursday.
This is despite its not being identifiably a political party, as has neither policies nor members.
It doesn’t need them The Brexit Party is ultimately another incarnation of the Farage fan club. It is a Potemkin party; a giant political Ponzi scheme. UKIP had a degree of ideological consistency, but nothing unrelated to Brexit unites the views of Nancy Mogg (© 2010 David Cameron) and the IRA-supporting revolutionary communism of Claire Fox. Once the UK has seen sense and revoked Article 50, and the Brexit Party is in the invidious position of having to articulate policy, nothing will hold them together any more than UKIP held together. It will be like herding a few hundred vicious, un-housetrained Serval cats.
For now, the extraordinary political foment caused by Brexit is punishing the main parties. Life is awfully difficult if you are Dan Boucher, or any of the other three candidates for the Conservative and Unionist interest in Wales. If they are like their activists, they probably won’t even vote Tory themselves. Going about seeking election to a Parliament you don’t want to join and don’t think we should be members of must be a soul-destroying business. Dan Boucher should go the whole hog, and follow the eccentric example of one of the ChangeUK candidates in Scotland by actively campaigning against himself.
Labour’s credibility is similarly shot, because Jeremy Corbyn and his sock puppet in Wales have hijacked what was an almost entirely pro-Remain party and weaponised it to bring about Brexit. Labour is now another pro-Brexit party, and a vote for Labour on Thursday will be interpreted by its leadership as a vote for Brexit.
Happily, Welsh voters opposed to Brexit have options. ChangeUK –whatever presentational pratfalls might occur in launching an entirely new party in an unavoidable hurry– offers a genuinely fresh approach of sensible, moderate, evidence-based politics, and an unequivocal commitment to remaining in Europe.
The liberals still exist, but their positive showing in recent local elections as a share of the vote was achieved largely because other parties’ voters stayed at home, rather than by more voters choosing to vote LibDem. Fans of independence can vote Plaid, even if the destructive chaos of Wales leaving the UK would make the destructive chaos of the UK leaving Europe look like a minor disagreement about traffic cones in the Cilycwm Community Council.
Whichever flavour of Remain you prefer, what is most important is to get out and vote. Previous European elections have been met with apathy and a turnout in the low thirties. If that is repeated on 23rd May, extremists will be the winners. If you can’t be a**ed to vote, other people will choose your representation in Europe for you. And they will probably choose a**es like Nigel Farage.
Playing chicken with Putin
BY MATTHEW PAUL
WELL, that’s Putin told. Sounding more than ever like a primary school headmistress who has found a drawing pin on her chair, Theresa May told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom” and announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats / spies to show how annoyed we all are.
Ten times more lethal than VX and a hundred times deadlier than Sarin, the Novichok family of nerve agents – one of which was used in the attempt on Sergei Skripal’s life – are nasty stuff. The poison smeared on the door handles of Skripal’s BMW was developed in Russia, its production is way outside the capacity of a talented amateur, and its use was tantamount to a calling card from the Russian state.
May’s ability to respond alone is limited. Passing effective economic sanctions against Russian business interests in London – after the manner of America’s Magnitsky Act – would be the embodiment of a punishment that, in the words of headmistresses past “is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you”. The stern tone and substantive timidity of May’s response demonstrates just how few options we have in any confrontation with Russia. In any game of chicken with a nutter, the odds are pretty good that the nutter is going to win.
However strong the evidence against Moscow, it will never be enough for some folk. In particular, the Lenin-capped loon and his horrid deputy Seamus Milne proved that their ability to surprise and disgust their own party has not been wholly erased by last summer’s election result. While not quite suggesting that it was a false flag attack by MI5 or Israel, Corbyn cast doubt on the intelligence that pointed to Russian responsibility, and said everything he could to get Putin off the hook, to audible hissing from his back benches.
His front bench have already broken ranks. Shadow Defence Secretary and Llanelli MP Nia Griffith strongly supported the Prime Minister’s response. She said it was clear Moscow was behind the attack, saying this was the view of the shadow cabinet as a whole. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry accepted that the Kremlin was responsible and gave her support for all the measures taken by the UK Government.
The Russian government has reacted with a predictable display of confected indignation to the diplomatic sanctions. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said claims that Russia was behind the assassination attempt were “absolutely boorish” and “unacceptable”. Another spokesman called the accusations insane. Moscow made it clear we would not be waiting long for a response.
Mostly, though, Vlad is laughing it off. The Russian embassy in London, which seems to devote the greater part of its resources to trolling Her Majesty’s Government on the internet, tweeted out a picture of a thermometer at -23. “The temperature of 🇷🇺 🇬🇧relations drops to -23, but we are not afraid of cold weather!” In their last few days in London, the embassy staff May has expelled will probably be going around Kensington smearing Vaseline on car door handles for the lolz.
The Skripal assassination attempt –which in due course is likely to prove successful– is scarcely out of character for Russia. In 2006, the Duma (Russia’s parliament) specifically authorised the liquidation of terrorists and ‘enemies’ overseas. Showing this wasn’t just hot air, the Russian state murdered Alexander Litvinenko in London with a fatal dose of polonium-210. One of Litvinenko’s assassins, Andrey Lugovoy, is now himself a member of the Duma. Russia has repeatedly refused requests for his extradition on a charge of murder.
In 2010, when Skripal and other spies were released from custody in Russia and swapped for –amongst others– the delightful Anna Chapman, President Putin promised that these traitors “would choke on their 30 pieces of silver”. It looks as though he was as good as his word.
Russia is behaving with absolute disregard for international law, and does so with almost complete impunity. Little individual wet jobs like Skripal and Litvinenko, annoying though they may be for their host countries, are Russian state malevolence in miniature. On a larger stage, Russia has invaded and annexed sovereign territory of neighbouring states, indiscriminately bombed civilians in Syria to prop up Assad’s blood-soaked regime, and lent separatist thugs in Ukraine anti-aircraft BUK rockets, with which they shot down a Malaysian airliner.
Putin’s army of trolls delights in hacking elections and spreading disinformation. The Kremlin’s aim is to sow confusion amongst democracies, and to assert Russia’s position as a world power to rival the USA and China. When dealing with little countries like the UK, Putin is confident that there is no diplomatic or military game of chicken that he can’t win.
A gloomy forecast
BY MATTHEW GRAHAM PAUL
Forecasts? Oh, those forecasts! After telling us all for ages that they didn’t exist, or weren’t quite ready, or that the dog had eaten them, the Government was obliged grudgingly to admit that HM Treasury’s region-by-region economic forecasts of the impact of Brexit on the economy, were actually a thing and weren’t actually all that encouraging.
The Treasury had reached the perhaps unsurprising conclusion that losing unrestricted access to our largest export markets and paying £40bn for the privilege might not be very good for the economy. The best-case scenario for Wales (if we stay in the single market and customs union) is the economy shrinking by 2% over the next 15 years. A full-fat, breakfast-means-breakfast, chips-with-everything Brexit will set Wales back a whopping 8%.
Ministers went into Brexit damage limitation mode. Don’t panic! Said Brexit minister Steve Baker. These forecasts are just the same sort of crap we in the Government base all our economic policy on. They’re always wrong! Brexit will be just fine.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is now on serious leadership manoeuvres, drawled a question to the Minister to the effect that a chap down the boozer had told him the forecasts weren’t just wrong, they were bent. Was the Treasury deliberately fiddling the figures, talking the British economy down and trying to sabotage Brexit?
Yup, said the Minister. That chap is spot on.
The Minister was later forced into a grovelling apology, after accepting that the chap might have said something a bit different. In an effectively led government, a minister who called another Government department a pack of fraudsters would be swimming with the fishes. That Steve Baker is still in place shows the extent to which Theresa May has dropped the reins, lost the stirrups and is now holding on for dear life to a clump of mane as about seventy of the Tory Party’s top nutters furiously spank the country towards a precipice.
Coming to prominence as a spanker is Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, who on Tuesday put his weighty paddle in on the Conservative Home website, in defence of Mogg. The economic forecasts were no more trustworthy than Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier. A small but vocal minority are trying to sabotage Brexit, led by ‘so-called experts’ (i.e. experts) telling the country how to think.
RT railed against the civil service mentality that is trying to keep the UK in the customs union and single market, when “no sensible nation would voluntarily enter into such an arrangement” (Norway, that’s you on the naughty step). “The rallying cry of the Vote Leave campaign was to “Take Back Control” – of our money, of our trade, and of our borders. It is our duty to deliver all three, undiluted.”
Anyone who believes there is such a thing as ‘undiluted control’ of our own money is deluded. Brussels never had control of our money. The strength of our money is the product of the strength of our economy, and of how international markets perceive our currency as a store of value. Puzzlingly, the referendum result value did not exactly send the value of Sterling soaring up.
Capital and money are the truly international forces that many Brexit voters were kicking off against in the first place. You can of course, if you want, try to control the coming and going of money in the same way you try to control the coming and going of people. Capital controls, like the barbed wire Brexiters want to see around our borders, are rarely the sign of a happy population or a strong economy.
May is not long for this world. The miasma of incompetence that has hung around her administration since last June gets thicker and more putrid by the week. It is a measure of how far the Tory party is drifting from election-winning Cameron centrism that people are now discussing, in all seriousness, the prospect of Boris, Jacob Rees-Mogg and their spotty state school swot hanger-on Gove mounting a successful putsch.
The only thing preventing May’s departure is the near-universal acknowledgement that we are deep into frying pans and fires territory here. However incompetent and divisive the PM may be, it is hard to identify a more competent alternative who stands any chance of uniting the Party.
Gove and Rees-Mogg have the virtue of clear, classical liberal free market views and the ability to articulate them, and Boris believes whatever it is expedient for him to believe.
Their vision is not without its appeal. But those who advocate a freewheelin’ low-regulation, low tax, Singapore-style economy should explain to the country how it is we hope to get there, and how an economic model which has been hugely successful for a couple of authoritarian far eastern city states can translate to a nation as large and diverse as the UK.
Politically, the hard Brexit dream is undeliverable. The Conservatives seem to have forgotten that they didn’t exactly win last June’s election, and are kidding themselves if they think that the Boris-Mogg-Gove model could be pushed through Parliament. They also refuse to be frank with voters about the costs, as identified by HM Treasury or otherwise, of making Brexit happen.
“The poorest parts of the UK”, RT reminded us “are looking to us to come good on our promises. In Wales, Cornwall, and Grimsby the vote to leave was driven by a visceral desire to disrupt the status quo – not preserve it.”
RT is absolutely right about this, but disrupting the status quo has never happened without a price. The voters who were conned into thinking their lives might improve by lashing out against international markets and immigration are the ones who will be worst hit by the kind of Brexit RT wants.
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Matthew Paul: Can you be arsed to vote?