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.
Damaged pipe found to be the cause of the Afon Lliedi disappearance
A DAMAGED sewer pipe is now thought to have halted the flow of the Afon Lliedi in the Llanerch area of Llanelli on 16 August.
Natural Resources Wales officers have been on site continuously in shift pattern monitoring the dam and the pumps they had installed to pump water around the hole and back into the river channel downstream.
Coal Authority officers attended the incident early on Tuesday (Aug 17) morning and found that the hole was not a sinkhole as had previously been suspected.
After receiving confirmation that the site was stable, NRW officers investigated and found that a damaged pipe was at the base of the hole that was taking the water flow. After working with Welsh Water colleagues, it was confirmed that the pipe is a sewer pipe.
Ioan Williams, NRW Duty Tactical Manager for South West Wales said: “By pumping the river flow downstream and beyond the hole, our officers on site have been able to restore a good level of flow to the Lliedi. I’m very grateful to them for their quick and effective work.
“We will carry out a fish assessment of the river see if further fish have died due to a lack of water flow. We know that approximately 50 fish had died before we installed the dam and pumping equipment, and we expect that our actions have limited further damage to fish and other aquatic life in the Lliedi.
“Although unusual, a pipe such as this could well be capable of removing a large majority of river flow when the river is in low flow as was the Lliedi. Once the repair is in place, we will monitor water levels in the river.”
Discussions are ongoing between NRW, Welsh Water and Carmarthenshire County Council on the best way to repair and protect the damaged pipe and on when the closed bridge can be reopened. Once repaired, the dam and pumping equipment will be dismantled which will allow the natural flow of the river to resume.
The pumps and lights are expected to be operating overnight and are due to be removed on Wednesday 18 August.
A question of power
by Matthew Paul
For anyone who stood as a candidate for ChangeUK in 2019, and watched over the course of the six-week European Parliament election campaign as mild enthusiasm on the part of the British public cooled into vague embarrassment before crystallising into disgust, it’s nice to see the Remoaners on the rebound. Brexit is back in the news, and causing big trouble for Boris Johnson.
“But Brexit”, you exclaim, “is done! Didn’t we have a General Election to sort that out? Didn’t our MPs vote for an oven-ready deal, back on 20th December last year?”
They did, but if the deal was supposed to be oven-ready, Boris left the plastic bag full of giblets inside and it is causing a terrible stink. Those unpalatable entrails are the ongoing and irreconcilable tensions between wanting our own laws and trade arrangements, and maintaining an open border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
The United Kingdom is one single market; Wales cannot exclude or impose tariffs on goods from Scotland, England or Northern Ireland, and vice versa. This was the case for nearly three hundred years before the UK joined the EEC in 1973; when it did join, UK citizens swapped one single market of (then) 56 million for a single market that grew to ten times that size. The advantages of this, to our exporting economy, were obvious.
Leaving that wider single market creates a problem, which is also obvious. There is a land border between the UK and Ireland, which international law (the Good Friday Agreement) says must remain open. If the UK uses its freedom from EU tyranny to strike new trade deals and to remove ‘foreign laws’ around food safety and product standards –which was the whole point of Brexit– it compromises the integrity of European product standards by allowing chlorinated chicken etc etc to pass, unchecked and untaxed, into the EU.
There is no reason why the EU should put up with this, and throughout Brexit talks the Commission made it clear that retaining an open border in Ireland is non-negotiable. There is only one straightforward alternative: a customs border in the Irish Sea between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. In June 2018, Theresa May was leaning in that direction, but this proposed solution –breaking up the territorial integrity of the UK to protect the integrity of the EU single market– was so detestable to the Spartans of the ERG that they passed a law specifically to stop May from doing it.
Fast forward to December 2019, and the same Spartans, cowed by Boris’ ruthless public execution of the 21 Remainers who rebelled against his Government’s Brexit policy, followed the PM like sheep through the Ayes lobby to endorse his oven-ready deal with an Irish Sea border as its defining characteristic. Boris said at the time that this would not create paperwork for businesses exporting goods from NI to the rest of the UK. He lied: the deal dictates that the UK keeps the NI/ ROI border open, implements the EU customs code in Northern Ireland, and obliges exporters to fill in declarations on goods going between NI and the rest of the UK.
Perhaps Boris just thought no-one would notice, even though everyone did. Perhaps he thought the EU would quietly back down on imposing the customs code. If this was the Government’s plan, it reinforces the impression that the Government is incapable of planning past lunchtime. The EU continued to insist stoutly on the terms of the deal being honoured. Finding himself well down in the game, Boris kicked over the card table. He presented the House of Commons with the Internal Market Bill, section 45 of which gives the Government power simply to ignore or override the Northern Ireland Protocol, to allow seamless trade and consistent regulation between all constituent parts of the UK.
M’learned friends, blanching at the idea of tearing up treaties, were the first to cry foul. The government’s top lawyer, Sir Jonathan Jones, walked out of his job in despair. On Wednesday Lord Keen –the Government’s law officer for Scotland– resigned too, rather than adopt the intellectual contortions necessary to support the Bill. Even Robert Buckland, the likeable if impressionable Lord Chancellor, who previously mounted a sorry-faced hostage-video defence of Boris’s prorogation of Parliament and would be about as likely as the woolsack he sits on to rebel against Government policy, is shuffling uncomfortably. It’s not just the Remoaners, either; unless dark Lord of the Sith Michael Howard, and former Attorney-General and basso-profondo Brexithorn Sir Geoffrey Cox are now to be classed as Remoaners.
Some of the pearl-clutching over the sanctity of international law is misplaced. As De Gaulle observed, “Les traités, voyez-vous, sont comme les jeunes filles et les roses: ça dure ce que ça dure.” The EU regards any emanation of international law that questions the acquis Communautaire with withering contempt, and owes zillions of dollars in WTO fines for breaching international law with state aid to Airbus.
It comes down to a question of power, to a clear-headed assessment of whether or not you are going to win, and to whether the prize to be gained offsets the reputational damage of reneging on international obligations. Tearing up a treaty signed only months before is crass and looks weak. Kicking over the card table when you’re losing isn’t a great move if the other player then shoots you dead.
If the Government really wants to scare people about the effects of the Coronavirus, it could do worse than loop videos of Boris in December compared to Boris now. The hoo-ha over the Internal Market Bill is one more unforced mistake; the thickening miasma of incompetence and bad judgement is weakening this Government like a nasty dose of the Covid. On Tuesday, Boris fiddled with his phone through PMQs while Ed Miliband –Ed Miliband!– cut the hopelessly depleted Prime Minister to bits in front of a drolly amused House; Boris put up less resistance than a bacon sandwich.
Opinion: The Big Question Facing Kier Starmer – Jonathan Edwards
In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis the election victory of Sir Kier Starmer as Labour Leader didn’t achieve the column inches one would normally expect. As is customary, I would like to wish Kier well in his role. I can not claim to know him as a person having only conversed on a few occasions, however I have respect for his debating ability, his considered tone and his eye for detail. I consider him a serious politician.
The challenges he faces are enormous of course. Labour have now lost four Westminster elections on the bounce. His decision making must quickly shift from efforts to unify his party to the far more important task of presenting a credible challenge to the Conservative party at the next Westminster election.
Labour has a defining choice to make, and this decision will have far reaching consequences for all political parties operating in the British State. On the one hand, Labour could revert to its usual tribal inward-looking tendencies. However, essentially this would mean writing off the next election as a part of a wider rebuilding strategy aimed at the 2029 election. A stark admission as it would mean Labour having been out of power at Westminster level for twenty years at best.
Alternatively, Kier Starmer could acknowledge that Labour on their own will not be able to challenge the Tories for power at the next Westminster election. This path would then require Starmer reaching out to all the other opposition parties in Westminster apart from the DUP. I am talking about more than just coordination of parliamentary activity in Westminster. In a first past the post electoral system we are talking about the need for non-aggression pacts, and a joint programme of government. I would go as far as to suggest that the government itself would need to be a unity administration delivering on the agreed programme.
Parliamentary boundary changes makes the task even more pressing. Whatever one thinks of his opportunistic politics, Boris Johnson has succeeded in unifying the right of the political spectrum. However, the centre and left have a host of parties vying for support. In a political system based for two horse races, the end result is brutal as we saw in December.
What sort of programme could Plaid Cymru, SNP, Green, Liberals, SDLP, Alliance and Labour unite around? There would be little difficulty in agreeing a progressive economic and social policy platform. A proportional voting system would be a must to enable all parties to compete equally in subsequent elections. The big challenge for me seems to be the constitutional question when it comes to Scotland and Wales. For Plaid Cymru and the SNP there would need to be a commitment for a fully Confederal system leaving only foreign affairs, defence, and macro-economic policy reserved – the sort of settlement promised by Cameron and Brown on the eve of the Scottish independence poll. This should be supported with House of Lords reform into an elected Senate of the Nations of the British State. Both Wales and Scotland would also require the statutory right to hold independence referenda at time of their own choosing. This should be uncontroversial as it is the policy of the Labour Welsh Government.
This is the very simple choice facing the new leader of the Labour party. Does he want to be Prime Minister, or effectively a plumber performing a re-patching job on a tired and insular party.
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