by Matthew Paul
To win the election on December 12, the Conservative Party just need to hold onto the supporters they have, and keep a lid on the horrid Brexit Party splitters. Boris needs to run a tight ship of a campaign, repeating a solid message about investment in public services and how everyone wants to GET BREXIT DONE. Easy, right? And it’s been working, to the extent that Nigel Farage himself is running scared from the electorate and won’t be contesting a seat.
Labour don’t have it so easy. They need to replicate the party’s Lazarus performance of 2017 and zoom up something like twelve points in the opinion polls over the next six weeks. And even when impressionable idiots were going about chanting “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” without black irony, it still wasn’t enough to actually win an election.
The Liberal Democrats need a different electoral system and can’t have one, so we needn’t worry much about them. At this election the Liberals will be back in their traditional and useful role as centre-left splitters; the more effective given their partial rehabilitation under Jo Swinson.
Plaid need this election like they need a hole in the head. In recent Welsh polling, The Party of Wales is festering in fourth place behind the Brexit gang. Ben Lake is under pressure in Ceredigion, and Plaid are unlikely to extend their reach into Brexity places in the valleys they once hoped to sweep clean of Labour MPs. Staring down this rabbit hole, Plaid Cecru are reverting to type and distracting themselves with an almighty internecine punch-up about whether or not to stand down in favour of the Liberal candidate in Montgomeryshire.
Things aren’t going swimmingly for any of the opposition parties. So why, on Wednesday, did the Conservative election campaign launch descend into an appalling shambles?
This time, at least it wasn’t fox hunting. We haven’t had that one yet; where some interviewer asks Boris Johnson if the Conservatives are going to bring back the unfairly reviled field sport, he says “yes, I like fox hunting, what” and Labour gleefully spend the election campaign talking about nothing else.
Boris can probably be trusted not to say he likes fox hunting, not least because his current partner Carrie Symonds hates fox hunting and if he says anything nice about it she will blow her top and make the red wine on white sofa business look like a mild difference of opinion. No British Prime Minister has yet conducted a successful General Election campaign from a Premier Inn or a mate’s spare room.
Unfortunately for Boris, it was what Harold Macmillan termed “Events, dear boy, events” that conspired to overshadow the launch. The tight ship was already taking on water before Boris got up to speak.
First, one of the great modern-day rituals around election time –the trawl through some neophyte candidate’s troublesome social media history– struck gold in the Gower when Conservative candidate Francesca O’Brien was found to have called, obviously in jest, for the humane extermination of the inhabitants of Channel 4’s Benefits Street.
A glorious typhoon of confected outrage at O’Brien’s ‘hatred of the poor’ ensued; led by humbug Labour candidate Tonia Antoniazzi, whose own social media pages are full of the kind of delicately nuanced political observation that would make a Russian submariner ashamed if his mother saw them.
The Tories were just putting this silly nonsense to bed when up pops Boris’s 2019 Lewes Bonfire co-Guy, Jacob Rees-Mogg, on a phone-in radio show.
O’Brien has been in front-line politics for about five minutes and won’t be the last person to have an iffy Facebook comment waved in her face. For Rees-Mogg there are no excuses. If you make it your personal shtick to go about looking unapologetically –pretentiously, even– rich and old-fashioned, there are certain things you need to be a bit careful about. Otherwise people might stop finding you an amusing, ‘authentic’ curiosity and get genuinely quite fed up with you.
High on the list of those things is Grenfell Tower. In a softball interview on Tuesday with a fawning Nick Ferrari, Rees-Mogg was asked if the tragedy in the tower had anything to do with the race or class of the people who lived there.
“No,” said the man in the room next door into Jacob’s earpiece. “It was the fault of the people who decided to clad a tower block in flammable material, and I hope they are brought swiftly to terrible justice”.
“No,” said Master Jacob. “I mean, you or I would have got out of that building if it was on fire. It’s just common sense.” If any one single thing loses the Conservatives the election, this –the idea that Tories see the poor as benighted Morlocks too stupid to run out of their own house when it’s on fire– will be it. Expect Master Jacob to be locked in the nursery for the rest of the campaign.
As if the fall-out from this Gaffusaurus Rex wasn’t enough, another previously dormant liability, overpromoted Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns, chose his moment to go fizz puff phut BANG and explode in Boris’ face like a defective Catherine wheel, after it appeared he hadn’t been entirely frank about what he did or didn’t know, concerning what his then aide Ross England did or didn’t do in collapsing a rape trial.
Cairns’ departure from the Cabinet was no great loss to statesmanship or to Wales, but that wasn’t the final gaffe of the day, in respect of which the honours went to a stupid doctored campaign video which made it look as though Kier Starmer couldn’t answer a question about his own Brexit policy.
Boris Johnson won’t lose this election by making the same mistakes Theresa May made in 2017. But this was a poor start to the campaign. Events never lose their power to surprise and derail. It isn’t in the bag.
What’s the point of immigrants?
by Matthew Paul
What do points make? Passports! Or at least the opportunity to get yourself a visa stamp allowing you –if you didn’t win the lottery of life by being born British– the unmissable opportunity to reside and work in the United Kingdom post-Brexit.
Some suggest that the only skills required at the end of the transition period will be an aptitude at barbecuing rats, or the strength to push around Covid-19 death carts while ringing a bell, but in the event that the UK’s economic and cultural life carries on after Brexit more or less as before, we will still face a chasmic shortage of workers in the agricultural, hospitality and care sectors.
Britain’s population is getting older, and the disinclination many Britons demonstrate towards looking after elderly relatives means that unglamorous, low-paid jobs in the care sector are always available to anyone who cares to do them. British consumers demand fresh, locally-produced food, but display little enthusiasm to pick it themselves, and react with bewildered indignation when people who are less picky about their work come over ‘ere and pick it for them.
The Government are probably right that a lot of people who voted to leave the EU in 2016 did so, at least in part, because they dislike mass immigration. Such people are also thicker on the ground in the ‘red wall’ seats that Boris turned blue –for the first time in living memory– in December. The Government has promises to keep with these voters, and stopping people they don’t like coming into the country is a good deal cheaper, at least in the short term, than building thumping great infrastructure projects or finding 50,000 new nurses. Probably from abroad.
On Wednesday, Home Secretary Priti Patel released details of a points-based system, modelled on Australia’s highly restrictive immigration rules, to clamp down on all the EU citizens who have been coming over ‘ere etc etc. Three characteristics are basic requirements to qualify for a residence and work permit: an offer of work from an approved sponsor [20 points], a job at “appropriate skill level” [20 points], and the ability to speak English (ble mae’r Gymraeg?) at a “required level” [10 points].
Once those requirements are satisfied, an applicant clears the final hurdle by earning 20 more points. A salary above £25,600 might get you that, so long as the government-approved going rate for the job isn’t higher. Working in a designated shortage occupation is also worth 20. Educational attainment is less highly regarded; a bachelor’s or master’s level degree counts for nothing. Arty-farty doctorates get you just ten points; only proper PhDs in difficult stuff like AI and rocket science get you over the line.
The Government’s statisticians reckon that around 70% of the EEA citizens who have come to Britain since 2004 would be ineligible for a visa under the new rules. Foreigners aside, not many British people in Britain would now be eligible to come to Britain. Priti Patel’s own parents –who came to the UK from Uganda and set up a successful chain of newsagents– certainly wouldn’t. Hypocrisy and Priti Patel are not exactly strangers; when she wasn’t busy this week trying to illegitimise her own residency in the UK, she was on Sky News telling a confused Kay Burley, who had heard somewhere that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster might, at some point, have dabbled a bit in drugs, that there is no such thing as dabbling in drugs.
To prevent against labour shortages, the Government means to draw on the current pool of around 3.5 million EU citizens resident in the UK (of whom 3.2 million have applied for settled status). To top up seasonal labour markets, there will be a limited scheme of 10,000 short-term permits for agricultural work. Given that 60,000 people were engaged in seasonal work on farms in 2018, less than 1% of whom were British, this looks some way short of enough. And this assumes full uptake, which can’t be guaranteed. Seasonal labour schemes don’t afford workers anything like the certainty and ability to plan their futures –working up from seasonal labour into more permanent and fulfilling work– that free movement allowed.
The Government’s projections of the effectiveness of its points-based system also fail to take into account the chilling effect of an overall hostile environment for immigrants. EEA migration into the UK has crashed since the electorate’s decision in 2016 to repudiate EU membership. A large proportion of the workers who arrived in the mid 2000s from accession countries have already returned home.
This doesn’t mean that we are actually going to run short of nurses in our hospitals, or that bums will go unwiped lower down the food chain of the care sector. We will continue to fill jobs in the NHS and nursing homes by plundering the medically qualified workforces of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which does neither us nor them much good. Exploiting the schools and universities of countries which can ill-afford to train doctors and nurses is a cynical and immoral way to staff the NHS. It also creates more permanent migration; unlike EU citizens who hop on Ryanair when they get fed up with the rain, it is far less likely that immigrants from the third world will ever decide to move back to their country of origin.
The ability to come and go, and to move around the continent in search of work has underpinned the UK’s dynamic jobs market for nearly twenty years. To give Brexiters what they want in seriously and permanently reducing unskilled migration into the UK, we will have to give them what they almost certainly don’t want. Low paid work in the agricultural and hospitality sectors. Whipping away benefits or tax credits if they turn down that sort of job. In the immortal words of the man who this week tweeted his outrage from a long passport queue at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport: “This isn’t the Brexit I voted for.”
Into the wilderness
by Matthew Paul
They sure know how to pick ‘em. On 20th December, this column advised –not entirely in earnest– that the best interests of our country would be served by electing as Labour leader a candidate with the dynamism and glittering intellect of Rebecca Long-Bailey or Richard Burgon. It even suggested –in the interest of a strong government being balanced by a strong opposition– that Conservative supporters might join the Labour Party just for the opportunity of voting for one or the other of them.
Persuaded by this analysis –and undaunted by their recent defeat at the hands of both Jonathan Edwards and a Tory candidate straight out of The Munsters– the Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Constituency Labour Party chose last week to endorse not one but both of these titans of the democratic left; Becky as leader, and Burgon as her deputy. If anything can turn around the difficult fortunes of the Labour Party, it is a leadership team of this calibre.
To be fair, in the General Election campaign Corbyn fought off the attacks of billionaire-owned media like The Pembrokeshire Herald, pro-Zionist lobbying groups and the entire UK establishment to deliver what must be regarded as an impressive result for Labour. Tories can brag about outdated, irrelevant measures of success like seats in Parliament and who gets to kiss the Queen’s hand, but Corbynites understand that to secure a meaningful victory, you first have to get shot of the factionalist Blairite splitters who held socialism back through three consecutive terms of Labour government.
As such, it is surprising that the Labour Party as a whole –not to mention the voters who were duped by Tory MSM into electing Conservative Members of Parliament– don’t seem to be demonstrating the same clear vision as their comrades in the CE&D branch.
The field in Labour’s leadership election handicap has been winnowed down to four. One clear frontrunner –Sir Kier Starmer– has been half the course ahead of the others right out of the gates, with endorsements from a hefty majority of Labour MPs and major trade unions.
Starmer has several advantages, not least his splendid quiff.
He’s certainly not stupid. Although he isn’t clever in the flashy, showmanlike way Boris Johnson is clever, Starmer is analytical, conscientious, always well prepared and on top of his brief. Starmer also has a carapace of ambition and arrogance that isn’t a million miles from Boris’s own Olympian self-assurance. These qualities could seriously discomfit Boris, to whom detail is a foreign land and preparation something other people are paid to do for him.
What Starmer entirely lacks is a sense of humour. He has an excellent chance of winning any award going for most pompous man in public life. So fundamentally unable to recognise a joke that he personally oversaw the (ultimately unsuccessful) prosecution of a man who made one on Twitter, you are about as likely to see Sir Kier engaging in self-mockery as to see an issue of Charlie Hebdo in Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s downstairs loo. Subjected to any kind of satirical attack, Starmer takes on the wounded expression of an Emperor Penguin who has slipped on ice and dropped on his arse right in front of David Attenborough and a film crew. Put this across the despatch box from Boris, who never misses an opportunity to take the piss, and all the preparation and analysis in the world may be of no effect.
Sir Kier is also a tiny bit of a phoney. Full of four-Yorkshiremen rhetoric in describing his comfortable and decent upbringing, he has publicly repudiated private and selective education but is regularly involved with the old boys’ association of his (fee paying) selective grammar school. Around the Comrades, Sir Kier says he ‘doesn’t use’ his title –and if he doesn’t use it because he disagrees with the whole business of Knights of the Realm, perhaps he shouldn’t have accepted it– but it’s usually in evidence when in the company of his fellow Benchers of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.
Following an important endorsement from the GMB, Lisa Nandy has also made the cut. If the Labour Party let the general public elect its leaders, she would have a fighting chance of winning. A recent Ipsos Mori poll showed her as having the highest overall public approval versus disapproval rating –on point ahead of Starmer with a thumping plus 43– of any of the four.
Which brings us back to Becky, whose performance in that poll was not quite so good, with an overall approval rating of minus 7; just ahead of the equally awful, but far smarter and more competent, Emily Thornberry. Thornberry’s support is being squeezed from both sides –those who want to stop Starmer even if it means voting for Long-Bailey and those who want to stop Long-Bailey even if it means voting for Starmer– and she will probably fall at the next fence.
Thornberry’s absence from the contest won’t hurt Labour’s prospects at the ballot box, but it’s hard to think what the party could have done –short of re-opening Chris Williamson’s coffin and pulling out the stake– to find a hard-left candidate with less public appeal than Rebecca Long-Bailey. Her flatmate and closest political conspirator, Angela Rayner, chose not to stand as leader this time round; probably a sensible choice given that the party seems to be heading further into, not emerging from, the wilderness. Like John Lennon’s quip about Ringo’s talents as a drummer, Long-Bailey isn’t even the best leadership candidate in her own flat. Corbyn without the charm, the Momentum heavy mob –who never set much store by charm anyway– have nonetheless given her their backing.
Tories know what this feels like. From around 1994 until David Cameron took over as leader, the Conservative Party was regarded as a national embarrassment. They weren’t winning elections and no-one seriously expected them to. They turned inwards and spoke to their own activists. “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” Michael Howard asked voters in 2001. “Hell no” came the answer.
Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum have led Labour into the same trap. If moderate, sensible elements in the Labour Party don’t succeed in taking back control from the Corbyn cult by electing Starmer (who would do) or Nandy (who might actually be quite good), what happened to Labour on 12th December in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr will happen to Labour everywhere.
No mercy for Nasty Neil
‘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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