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Is Boris boxed in?

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TRUSTING Boris Johnson – as his last two wives and a substantial pack of ex-girlfriends might ruefully agree – is not without its risks. As a former squeeze told The Sun last year, “any sensible girl should stay away from him. You’ll get the cheery persistence, then the conquest, but when he’s bored he won’t care about you in the slightest.”

For the last few weeks, Boris has beamed his cheery persistence in the direction of swooning Brexit Party voters, and some sort of conquest appears close at hand. But Brexiters would be wise not to take any more permanent steps like moving in with Boris or rescuing a puppy together. Boris can only be trusted to do what’s best for Boris, and hard-line Brexit fans are only useful to him for a brief period when his interests and theirs are aligned.

The Prime Minister’s strategy is as simple as it is utterly disingenuous. The right is split between the Brexity Conservatives and very Brexity BXP supporters. Since his election as leader, Boris’s every move has been designed to persuade BXP voters that Boris means Brexit. While Labour languishes at 24% in the polls, their middle-class support devoured by the unambiguously pro-EU Liberal Democrats, the PM calculates that he can win a substantial, possibly an overwhelming majority in an election if BXP support is driven down to around 10%.
The BXP voters Boris is wooing didn’t all start out as Tories. Brexit appeals to many socially conservative working class Labour voters, and Boris’s Sturm-und-Drang, do-or-die message on the EU has been underpinned by strong campaign lines on the purported end of austerity, the NHS, and crime (see this column, 16th August). In winning Brexiters over, Boris doesn’t mind alienating liberal Conservatives. The prize of simultaneously destroying Labour and the BXP is worth losing some (but probably far from all) of the Tory voters who might confuse guacamole with mushy peas. Liberals can go and be liberals elsewhere.

This bold strategy was showing results. Look, by way of example, at the result in the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election. Throughout that campaign, BXP were polling around 23%. By 1st August, their share had fallen to 10%. And that with a Tory candidate convicted of fiddling his expenses.

Whatever he says publicly, Boris Johnson is well aware that economic chaos would be as bad for Boris as it would be for everyone else. He has no intention of crashing Britain out of the EU without a deal. Instead, the plan was to force Parliament into a ‘betrayal of Brexit’, call a ‘People v. Parliament’ election to take place on or before the European Council summit on 17th October, and win it with a convincing majority. Then, unbeholden to zealots on his backbenches and rid of the spectre of Farage, he will both keep his promise of leaving on 31st October and utterly shaft the hard Brexiters by agreeing on a deal very like Chequers, but with a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Stage 1 of Boris’s strategy went largely according to plan. His disruptive, Trumpian gambit of announcing a largely meaningless (it removed four days of sitting time) prorogation of Parliament had its desired effect of bringing the crisis to ahead. Boris goaded the opposition into passing a law to prevent (or such is its intention) a no deal Brexit. As a final offering on the altar of Brexit purity, he sacrificed his majority in a hecatomb of distinguished rebels.

Stage 2 –clearing the decks in Parliament with an election– is proving less straightforward. Tony Blair shrewdly warned Jeremy Corbyn that Boris’s poll is a massive elephant trap for Labour, which could see the party destroyed. For once, the Lenin-capped loon listened to good advice. After howling for an election for two years, Corbyn changed his mind immediately upon being presented with the opportunity to have one. Boris was reduced, in response, to yelling “you big girl’s blouse” from the despatch box.

Boris’s anger was unsurprising. His strategy is a political blitzkrieg. It has to be done quickly, and before BXP voters have the time or acuteness of wit to realise that they are being played for suckers. Corbyn, conversely, needs to drag Boris into a Stalingrad stalemate, sucking his energy and persuasive power away from campaigning. He will try to force Boris to go cap in hand to the 27, asking for a further adjournment of Brexit.

That, Boris will never do. He will tough it out, knowing an opposition can’t remain credible for long while ducking an election. The PM has weapons left in his procedural arsenal, which include amending the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 with a one-line bill; contriving a self-inflicted vote of no confidence; even taking the nuclear option of resigning and inviting Corbyn to try to form a Government commanding the confidence of the House (which he can’t). We will go to the polls before 31st October.

Of course, as 2017 proved, any election campaign is unpredictable and dangerous. Some of Boris’ aura of invincibility has, amongst the commentariat at least, slipped away. Sacking the 21 Tory rebels –stalwarts like Ken Clarke and Nicholas Soames amongst them– made him look dictatorial and extreme. His Cabinet will scare off some intended converts from BXP and Labour by looking ideological and entitled; the nation will not soon forget the image of Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging across the Government front bench with the demeanour of someone who has been left waiting slightly too long for a club servant to bring him crumpets.

That said, if an election took place today, with the vote shares indicated in the most recent polls, the Tories could expect to win a 90-seat majority. The cheery persistence Boris Johnson has shown as PM will lead to conquest. He will then nip over to Brussels, agree on an Andrex-soft Brexit and do to the hard Brexiters exactly what he did to the last two Mrs Johnsons. He doesn’t care about the Brexit Party or the ERG in the slightest.

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No mercy for Nasty Neil

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‘Nasty Neil’ McEvoy is in the soup again.

Regular readers of this column will be familiar with Nasty Neil, the now-independent South Wales AM (after Plaid Cymru disembarrassed themselves of his affiliation), Cardiff City councillor, and general thorn in the side of the Cardiff Bay establishment.

Styling himself –minus the racist aggro– as a sort of Welsh Nat Tommy Robinson, Nasty Neil follows the whiff of controversy like some ASBO version of the Bisto kids. McEvoy is an obstreperous, uppity, bad-to-the-bone populist who seems well-liked amongst his constituents. This doesn’t go down at all well in the cosy, consensual atmosphere of the Senedd, where any sort of opposition to Welsh Labour is regarded as being in faintly poor taste.

Predictably, Welsh Government apparatchiks have got it in for Nasty Neil. This follows his spectacular decapitation of the Assembly’s Standards Commissioner, Sir Roderick Evans, who had to resign his post when McEvoy managed to get a recording of what sounded like the Commissioner and most of his staff going around the office saying that McEvoy (whom they were in the process of investigating) was a d**khead.

Now, Karma has smiled on Cardiff Bay and the politburo have extracted a measure of revenge. Following a four-day hearing before Cardiff Council’s Standards Committee, McEvoy was found to have breached Cardiff City Council’s code of conduct by bringing the council into disrepute and failing to treat a complainant with ‘respect and consideration’. He was suspended as a councillor for four months.

The complaint against Neil McEvoy arose in April and May last year, when a child at a privately-run care home used by the council told his parents he was repeatedly being assaulted. The parents told McEvoy and asked him to do something about it.

Nasty Neil, slightly stretching the received understanding of what it is to be a ‘corporate parent’, demanded access to the child, confronted staff at the home, and (in earshot of the staff) called the director of social services and the police to organise a welfare check when he was refused access.

At the Standards Committee hearing, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (who sees himself as a sort of Batman to McEvoy’s Joker), accused Nasty Neil of acting in a threatening way towards staff with his “chest puffed out”, “shoulders back” and “pointing his fingers”.

“Show me on the doll,” Counsel for Ombuds-Man may have asked, “where Nasty Neil pointed at you.”

She then accused McEvoy of displaying “a pattern of behaviour, that as soon as something doesn’t go your way, you [ask] to speak to the director.” “Can you see, Councillor,” she added, “that it is the way you do it that makes people feel intimidated?”

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How Labour won the argument

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By Matthew Paul

Even though Labour –according to Jeremy Corbyn– ‘won the argument’ last Thursday, the Tories comprehensively won at the traditionally more important business of getting votes. Simon Hart, Stephen Crabb and Jonathan Edwards all held their seats; the two Conservatives enjoying comfortable majorities over Labour (though it was Hart, not Crabb, who took Alun Cairns’ vacant job as Secretary of State for Wales).

Plaid Cymru, as predicted, had a pretty rotten night. They can take a little comfort from Ben Lake’s solid win in Ceredigion, and from seeing their majorities creep up in Y Fro Gymraeg. But the Party of Wales remains a party supported by only one in ten Welsh voters. Plaid made no progress at all outside its core areas; indeed its share of the vote has (with a very slight blip in 2015) been slowly on the slide for twenty years, from the 14.1% it won in the 2001 General Election, to 9.9% last Thursday. This is not a movement on the march.

Plaid’s aggressively anti-Brexit stance, and its ‘Unite to Remain’ alliance with wishy-washy Britnat parties was a huge strategic error. Mistletoe-clad traditionalists in Y Fro know perfectly well that the party is pro-EU and didn’t need reminding. Brexity boyos in the valleys looking for an alternative to Labour found it a massive turn-off.

In Carmarthenshire West and South Pembrokeshire, Plaid’s vote share fell; Rhys Thomas having failed to mention frequently enough that he’s a doctor and was in Afghanistan. Jonathan Edwards will be spooked too. He lost half his majority in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, and the Conservatives smashed Labour into third place. With a bit of investment in the constituency from CCHQ, there is every prospect of the Tories biting Jonathan on the bum next time round.

While the doorstep in the Pembrokeshire constituencies had been showing solid support for the Tories but no reason for complacency, over in Carmarthenshire it was apparent that the Labour campaign had completely gone to bits. Labour Candidate Maria Carroll, though an avid Corbynite, was for some reason unpersoned by her party and ordered to stay away from Jezza’s big gig at Nantyci showground. The dear leader didn’t mention her or CE&D once in his speech.

Rattled, Carroll put out a video in which she adopted the conciliatory tone of a dying gypsy fortune-teller cursing the drunk driver who knocked her down: “your children and grandchildren will SUFFER!” Even this inspirational message failed to turn things around. Maria Carroll may have won the argument in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr; but only if the argument centred on whether or not she would lose to both Plaid and the Tories, and get the lowest vote in Carmarthenshire in the Labour Party’s entire history. To her credit, she achieved both. She was fortunate not to face a credible challenge from the LibDems, or Count Binface.

In receipt of this absolute shellacking from the electorate, many candidates would step back, slightly abashed, and opt for a moment of quiet reflection. Not Maria. Erupting on Twitter, she blamed every factor for her defeat except unpropitious astrological convergences, her own incompetence, and Oh! Jeremy Corbyn. Broadly speaking, she shared the view prevalent amongst members of the Corbyn cult; that the electorate got it wrong.

Certainly, the analysis among Corbynites seems to be that it wasn’t the manifesto that got it wrong; voters loved the classical socialist idea of taxing the rich until there aren’t any left, then starting on the moderately well off. It definitely wasn’t the leader either; he is a good, kind, honest, decent man who really cares for the poor. And, as we all know, there aren’t any poor Jews. No, it was vile, billionaire-owned mainstream media like The New Statesman, The Guardian and The Pembrokeshire Herald that brainwashed a majority of the electorate into thinking Corbyn was an unpatriotic halfwit who surrounded himself with commies, bomb-scatterers and anti-Semites. What made it worse was that they achieved this by the sneaky, underhand trick of reporting things that Corbyn had said and done.

Carroll tweeted that she wants to see “an end to the abusive power of the media”, and even expressed an aspiration to close the media down, so perhaps The Pembrokeshire Herald has had a lucky break.

Maria Carroll wasn’t alone on Thursday night. The Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, was finally told that his forty-year long end of the pier show was being shut down. Labour were turfed out of Sedgefield; once Tony Blair’s rock-solid stronghold. Redcar, Grimsby Fishdocks, Satanic Mills East, and a host of other seats which have been Labour since the dawn of time all voted with some enthusiasm for Boris and Brexit.

The strategy of forcing opposition parties to treat a first-past-the-post election as a referendum on a subject about which they didn’t agree worked an absolute treat for the Tories. Even so, a competently led Labour Party with a clearly defined position on Brexit could have won. In one credible poll, 43% of Labour voters who switched sides said it was leadership, not Brexit, that was their main concern.

For the time being, Corbyn remains at the helm of his stricken party, anxious to ensure that whoever succeeds him is chosen on his terms and from his cult. Any Tory with £3 in his pocket would do well to sign up to Labour now, for the unmissable opportunity of helping to elect Richard Burgon or Rebecca Long-Bailey as the Lenin-capped loon’s successor.

Entertaining as it may be to watch the Labour Party disintegrate, the Tories can allow themselves only a short gloat. Reality will start to bite soon, when they get stuck into what may not be the entirely effortless task of Getting Brexit Done.

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Cadno’s Carmarthenshire Election Special – Part 1

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Hello, readers.

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from this old fox.

What with things being the way they are, Cadno might have been silenced for good. But this is election time. It’s the season to be jolly with holly and —- golly gosh! What larks the election is!

Let’s start with Carmarthenshire East and Dinefwr.

Jonathan Edwards is the incumbent and Plaid’s treasury spokesperson is likely to take some beating. He has had substantial media exposure for his virtually lone hand pummelling the various Conservative Brexit ministers and pushing the interests of his constituents, whether on miners’ pensions; WASPI; or rural regeneration. Jonathan Edwards has also had the Liberal Democrats and Greens step aside to give him a clear run as an unequivocally ‘remain’ supporting candidate. That is a largely symbolic step, given both parties’ performance last time out.

If God loves a trier, he must have a special place in his heart for the Conservatives’ Havard Hughes. If ever a candidate’s social media profile suggested that he was a wing nut short of a complete cuckoo clock, Havard’s is the one. It’s a tough sell for Havard Hughes. The policies that the Conservatives have delivered for the constituency in the past decade can be counted on the fingers of one thumb.

Last time saw a revival in the Labour vote as David Darkin, who moved from his home in Llanelli to former county councillor Anthony Jones’ spare room to get local credibility, rode the coattails of a successful Labour national campaign. This time, the red rose has put forward Maria Carroll as their candidate. Maria Carroll, Cadno is happy to clarify following recent media reports, is not an anti-Semite. She simply is unlucky enough to know one hell of a lot of them online and welcome them when they joined the Facebook group she administered which advised Party members accused of anti-Semitism. Some of those concerned turned out to be anti-Semites. It’s just bad luck.

The Brexit Party Limited’s candidate is Pete Prosser. What we do know about Pete Prosser is that he paid a fee to be selected as the BPL’s candidate. If his experience is like that of the 317 Limited Company candidates dropped in the cack by Nigel Farage when he pulled the plug on them, he must have deep pockets. 14 people like his Facebook page as the company’s candidate. Cadno thinks it’s best to leave it there.

While the Brexit Party Limited’s General Election website (you have to see it believe it) claims it can win in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Cadno thinks it safe to say such an outcome is highly unlikely. In spite of improving their parties votes in 2017, both Havard Hughes and David Darkin were well adrift of Jonathan Edwards at that election.

By definition, all Plaid Cymru seats are marginal; however, Jonathan Edwards’ is less marginal than others. It depends on whether enough leave voters are brassed off with Labour’s interesting Brexit proposals (renegotiate a deal and then – potentially – campaign against it) to take one look at Havard Hughes and think ‘as swivel-eyed loons go, we could do worse’. Or whether enough Conservatives think Maria Carroll MP is a price worth paying to get rid of one of their party’s most significant parliamentary goads.

It should be fun finding out.

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