How Did Theresa May Get to be So Bad at Politics? Her doom was sealed back in 2017

The end of Theresa May’s prime ministership is now close, maybe only one more final, likely unsuccessful, attempt to get her EU Withdrawal Agreement though parliament is left as the final act. She may not last even that long, with a mutinous Tory party desperate to usher her out of Downing Street and through the door marked exit. The game is up.

It seems like an age ago now, but things were not always like this. In 2016 when May was gifted the prime ministership, by the other contenders knifing each other in the back, despite winning no election. For a while she was pretty popular, making a speech about ‘burning injustices’, the ‘left behind’ and the ‘just about managing’ families, she and her party were riding high in the opinion polls.

May had decided, to chase the votes of the 52% of voters who voted to leave in the EU referendum, and crucially to shore up support for herself in an increasingly Brexit orientated Tory party. In October 2016 May made her infamous ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech at Tory party conference, which with hindsight, sowed the seeds of her later demise. To put some flesh on the bones of the vacuous ‘Brexit means Brexit’ slogan, May then set out her plans in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017.

She promised to trigger Article 50 at the end of March that year, to start the process of leaving the bloc. There would be no more free movement of peoples, no single market membership and no customs union with the EU. Some other areas were left a bit sketchy, but the aim was to appear to talk tough and appeal to wet dream fantasies of Tory Brexiters. They lapped it up, and the opinion polls indicated popular support.

Article 50 was indeed triggered with overwhelming support in parliament – everything was going plan. Then, call it hubris or extremely poor political judgement, May decided she would capitalise on the mood in the country, and call a snap general election. There was infighting in the main opposition party, after Jeremy Corby became leader and the Tories had a big lead in the opinion polls. She would increase her small majority in parliament inherited from David Cameron, and be free to do pretty much as she liked in government. What could possibly go wrong?

The general election in June 2017 was a disaster. The worst election campaign by the Tory party that I have ever seen unfolded. Despite attempts to hide May away from the public, holding rallies in remote places, restricted to party supporters, it became clearer and clearer that May had none of the skills required of a prime minister. Wooden in her delivery, unable to think on her feet and stray away from a prearranged text, uncomfortable taking questions from the media or the public. She quickly became known as the ‘Maybot’.

To make matters worse, unpopular policies like the ‘Dementia Tax’ were sprung on the voters, the Labour party performed well and the Tories lost their majority in parliament and May was forced to make a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to hang onto power. This didn’t come cheap either, having to bribe the DUP to the tune of £1.5 billion.

I think this is when the ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech came back to haunt May. I know quite a lot of people who said to me that they would vote Labour, even though they were ‘not left wing’ and some cases people who normally voted Tory. They were mainly remain voters who were spooked by May’s October speech, and didn’t want May to have a massive majority in parliament, to enable her to ram through whatever kind of Brexit she wanted to. These voters, ideally, wanted a hung parliament, and managed to deliver it.

Ever since, it has been one humiliation after the other for May. Three times her EU Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected, once going down to the biggest parliamentary defeat for a British government ever. Ministerial resignations became two a penny, as even those who stayed in May’s Cabinet began setting out individual views on Brexit, which has made a mockery out of ‘Cabinet collective responsibility’.  

All culminating in not actually leaving the EU on 29 March this year, as promised, and to really rub May’s nose in it, the UK having to take part in European Parliament elections, two months after we were meant to leave the EU altogether.

How can May have got to the top of her party and leader of her country, after years in politics, and be so bad at actually doing politics? It is incredible that she wasn’t found out sooner to be completely unsuitable to be prime minister.

May has at least done David Cameron a favour, and will replace him in the history books, as the worst UK prime minister ever, until, at least, her successor is chosen by the Tory party. It is far from impossible that who follows her will claim that particular accolade. But for now, it is all hers.     

George Monbiot’s Conversion to Anti-Capitalism is Welcome – But Why is he Against Ecosocialism?

George Monbiot’s piece in The Guardian, titled ‘Dare to declare capitalism dead – before it takes us all down with it’ last week, on the back of his interview on comedian Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, is another step on his journal away from green liberalism.

Monbiot writes:

‘For most of my adult life I’ve railed against “corporate capitalism”, “consumer capitalism” and “crony capitalism”. It took me a long time to see that the problem is not the adjective but the noun.’

Absolutely right, there should be no nuancing of different types of capitalism, in the end it is all the same, a system that favours those with capital, over those who have to sell their labour to survive. It leads inevitably to inequality, which you can see all around you if you care to look.

The starting point for Monbiot’s journey can be found in his 2003 book, ‘The Age of Consent.’ The marketing blurb for the book contains this quote:

“Our task is not to overthrow globalisation, but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity’s first global democratic revolution.”

This sounds quite radical but the book goes onto suggest a sort of neo-Keynesian approach, and rather condescendingly dismisses socialism generally in a page and a half, in his book. He makes no mention of ecosocialism at all, although to be fair this theory of political economy but fairly new in 2003. Someone as intelligent Monbiot though, will have noticed ecosocialism, so I was perplexed by this omission.

Leaping forward to 2017, Monbiot wrote in another column for The Guardian, where he mentions a commons based ownership of production and stewardship of the land, and participatory democracy.

The commons is an extremely important concept in ecosocialism, and extends beyond the physical land based commons of old (and some that still exist), into areas like peer to peer data sharing and things like the Firefox web browser. Monbiot does say that commons are a ‘non-capitalist system’ but omits terming this as ecosocialism, which it is. Or to be exact, it is only a prefiguration of ecosocialism, and thus sadly open to abuse whilst the capitalist system survives.

Monbiot again attacks socialism in his latest column thus:

‘Soviet communism had more in common with capitalism than the advocates of either system would care to admit. Both systems are (or were) obsessed with generating economic growth. Both are willing to inflict astonishing levels of harm in pursuit of this and other ends.’

All true, but whereas he was in the past prepared to allow for nuancing of capitalism, his new outlook does not allow for any nuancing of socialism. Ecosocialists use the same criticism of twentieth century socialism as Monbiot, but crucially have an alternative theory, which avoids the mistakes of the USSR and its satellites. It is a plan to save the planet and liberate the people from the drudgery of capitalism.

Monbiot admits he does not know what should replace capitalism, but thrashes around a bit looking for an answer:

‘Part of it is provided by the ecological civilisation proposed by Jeremy Lent, one of the greatest thinkers of our age. Other elements come from Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics and the environmental thinking of Naomi Klein, Amitav Ghosh, Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Raj Patel and Bill McKibben.’ All liberal types really.

Of these only Klein and Raworth come close to advocating ecosocialism, but there is the suspicion that these writers, much as I like them, want to avoid replacing capitalism, and are looking for some sort of reformed system, rather than throwing it away and starting again from scratch.

Where is the mention of such great ecosocialist writers Joel Kovel, Michel Lowy, Daniel Tanuro, James O’Connor or Murray Bookchin? Truly radical thinkers who put the likes of Monbiot’s muddled thinking in its place.

So, yes Monbiot’s new change of emphasis is to be welcomed, as he now unequivocally says that the capitalist system is the root cause of our ecological ills, and much else that is undesirable about the system too. It must be replaced, but replaced by a thought out system like ecosocialism. It is the only chance we have and time is running out.  

With European Elections likely to go ahead, which UK party will benefit?

With the European Parliament elections on 23 May looking likely to include the UK, as this email message from a top Tory official appears to confirm, which of the UK’s political parties will do well? Britain may still not take part of course, if we crash out of the European Union (EU) on Friday, or some miracle takes place in the palace of Westminster, and MPs approve some sort of exit from the bloc, but to all intents and purposes it looks like we will be taking part.

European Parliament elections in the UK are not taken very seriously by the voters at the best of times, turn out is usually in the low 30s per cent wise, but almost three years after the British public voted to leave the EU, there may be even less interest in voting this time. MEPs might not even take their seats, if the UK does leave quickly, or be in place for just a few months with a slightly longer stay. On the other hand, will angry leave voters want to stick it to the big parties, and turn out in numbers?

Smaller parties have always done quite well in these elections, with UKIP doing very well indeed the last time these elections were held. UKIP gained 26.6% of the vote in 2014, topping the poll and returning 24 MEPs. Might they do similarly well or even better this year? They could well do so, but there is another difference this time in the form of Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party saying they will stand. Both parties could do well, but they would then also split the anti-EU vote, and so in terms of MEPs not win so many.

And what of remain voters? Will they bother to turn out, or will they be more determined to vote to make some kind of statement about not wanting to leave the EU? It is very hard to say at this time, but we have had some pointers recently with opinion polls showing support for Labour and the Conservatives falling. We also had the recent Newport West by-election where support for Labour and Conservative was down, by 12.7% and 8% respectively (on a 37% turn out). UKIP came third with 8.6% of the vote, up by 6.1%, so this is surely where Conservative leave voters headed, and perhaps Labour ones too.

The remain vote, of those who didn’t stick with Labour, seems to been split between the Greens (up 2.8%), Plaid Cymru (up 2.5%), Lib Dems (up 2.4%) and the new pro-EU party Renew, who stood in the constituency for the first time, gaining 3.7% of the vote. Taken together these unambiguously remain parties got 17.2% of the vote.

Throw into the mix, the newly formed Change UK party, of The Independent Group MPs who defected from Labour and Conservatives, and have been showing at 8% to 9% in some opinion polls, so there will be a lot of choice for remainers. Then in Scotland, the Scottish National Party will almost certainly do well, in a country that voted 62% to remain in the EU.

This is, of course, something of weakness as the remain vote will also likely split, with all these options for making a pro-EU statement. But with these elections being on a proportional system, all of these parties could well win seats to the European Parliament, even if they able unable to take them up, or only warm the seats for a few months.Then again, might we not leave the EU, and they serve a full term?

With the exception of the 2017 general election where Labour and Conservatives scooped up over 80% of the vote, the vote share of the big two parties has been falling for years. In general elections the big two parties are more likely to do better, given the First Past The Post electoral system, but the upcoming Euro elections are pretty much as free a hit as it is possible to have.

If we do leave the EU shortly, then it is arguable that these elections, and the result, are meaningless anyway, but political parties look to use elections of all types, to build momentum for future elections. This could be a useful opportunity for the smaller parties, or one or two of them at least, to start to build that momentum. We live in interesting electoral times, although it might not seem like that to most people now.       

If MPs can find a consensus on Brexit, May must accept it to finally end the chaos

With parliament now embarking on finding out if some kind of consensus can be found on what, if any, kind of Brexit the UK has, and with time of the essence, will this process find a way out of the impasse?

The first thing to be said, is that this is a long overdue exercise. The idea of MPs having ‘indicative votes’ has been kicking around for several months now, but has been blocked by the government. At last enough MPs were brave enough to at least try, by voting on Monday to bundle the government out of the way. The government has failed abysmally to come up with a solution that commands a majority in the House of Commons, so they have no call for complaint really.

It is likely, that if this process can indicate a majority for anything, it will be for a ‘soft’ Brexit of some sort. It is the nature of coming to a consensus that movement is made towards the center by the participants, you might not get all you want, but you get something of what you want. A softer Brexit fits that bill, since there does appear to be a majority in parliament against leaving the European Union (EU), without any deal, and probably not enough for re-run of the referendum.

It is still possible that the Prime Minister’s deal will be passed this week, especially if she offers to resign soon, as many hard line Brexiter’s may fear something much softer, and worse in their view, will be emerge from the indicative voting process. If Theresa May’s deal is not passed though, what kind of softer Brexit has a chance of gaining the support of a majority of MPs?

It is likely to look something like Labour’s plan, which in outline would include a customs union with the EU and a ‘close relationship’ with the single market. The EU has made encouraging noises about Labour’s plan, so it is not some pie in the sky type plan which has been repeatedly rejected by the bloc, like the plans of the hard Brexiters. It looks to be a serious proposal, with a good chance of being accepted on the continent.

The problem is, it wears a red rosette, so many Tory MPs may find it unpalatable, humiliating even, to support it. So it will probably stand more chance if it is labelled as something else. It seems to me to be not that far away from what has been called in the past, ‘Norway plus’ or more recently, ‘Common Market 2.’ This plan has the great advantage of being pretty much off the shelf, and with time so short, should not need to take much negotiation. It also solves the problem of what our future relationship with the EU will be, rather than the ‘blind’ option of the Prime Minister’s deal.

What this means in practice is joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and or joining the European Economic Area (EEA), or replicating these arrangements in some sort of bespoke agreement. The UK was a founding member of EFTA in 1960, in what could be viewed as an alternative to the EU (then Common Market) at the time, as France barred our admission to that organization.

It is basically a free trade agreement between member states and with the EU. Other member states are Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. ETFA states are not in the Common Agriculture Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy. EFTA states are allowed to conclude trade deals with ‘third party’ states.

The EEA which began in 1994 allows EFTA states to participate in the EU single market, whilst financially contributing to the EU. It includes the four freedoms (the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital), as well as competition and state aid rules. It also includes so-called “horizontal policies”, such as consumer protection, company law, environment, gender equality, health and safety and employment law. Switzerland is a member of EFTA, but not the EEA and has separate bi-lateral agreements with EU on trade and some other matters.  

This type of arrangement will not please everyone, it allows freedom of movement, but also allows for an ‘emergency break’ on immigration. It does mean contributing to the EU budget, although likely a lower amount than now, and does means not having a full say on EU policies, but does allow for consultation on changes to policy.

EFTA has its own court too, which settles disputes between members and the EU, but it does take into account ECJ judgements. One thing that can’t be taken for granted is EFTA/EEA states not wanting the UK to join. At the moment EFTA/EEA members have a combined population of only 14 million people, so a country the size of the UK joining, with a 65 million population, could well unbalance the organization. So, maybe a bespoke version of these agreements is a better option.

It seems to me there is deal in there somewhere that could command a majority in the UK parliament. If this turns out to be the case, the British government should take it. It could be put to a referendum, with Remain as the other option. Everyone has had enough of this Brexit pantomime now, and there are much more important issues to address domestically. It is time we moved on, in a sensible way, and not waste the next five to ten years negotiating what our future relationship will be with the EU.      

Has The Tory Party’s Obsession With Europe Ruined Our Country?

With less than two months to go before the UK leaves the European Union (EU), the Tory party are still fighting like rats in a sack, over our exact terms of leaving the bloc. But it wasn’t always this way.

In 1946, Sir Winston Churchill, leader of the Tory party, and freshly ejected from the office of Prime Minister after World War 2, delivered his famous speech in Zurich calling for the creation of “a United States of Europe”. As Churchill urged a Franco-German partnership to lead his vision of a new Europe, he declared that Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, along with the US and USSR, should be “friends and sponsors” of the project. He did not talk of the UK becoming a member itself, though.

In 1961, Harold Macmillan, Tory party leader and Prime Minister, made a formal application to join the European Economic Community (EEC), as the EU was known in those days. The application was unsuccessful, mainly because the French President, Charles de Gaulle, was vehemently against Britain joining.

Finally, in 1973, Ted Heath, Tory party leader and Prime Minister, took us into the EEC, without a referendum either. That came in 1975 after Heath was replaced by Harold Wilson, the Labour party leader, as Prime Minister.

There were always some Tories, who were against joining the EEC, but the trouble really began in the 1980s. By this time Margaret Thatcher was Tory party leader and Prime Minister, and she managed to give the impression of being anti-EU, particularly by getting an increase in the UK’s rebate from the EU. But she was also the main architect of the European Single Market, which her admirers in the Tory party rail against now.

It is true that Thatcher was against greater political union though and famously said in a speech in the House of Commons in 1990:

The President of the Commission, Mr. Delors, said at a press conference the other day that he wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic body of the Community, he wanted the Commission to be the Executive and he wanted the Council of Ministers to be the Senate. No. No. No.

Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister later that year, after a leadership challenge by the very Europhile Michael Heseltine, when most of her Cabinet said they thought she should go, mainly due to the controversial ‘poll tax’ proposals. The right of the party blamed the more liberal wing who happened also to be pro-EU.

John Major who took over as party leader and Prime Minister, had all kinds of trouble from Tory MPs on the right, and mainly about Europe, and especially The Maastricht Treaty which he signed in 1992, which expanded the political union aspect of the EU. Major dubbed his Tory MP opponents as ‘the bastards,’ but my favourite quote at the time from Major was about one of those ‘the bastards’ Bill Cash, who is still an MP today. Major said that whenever he heard Cash’s name mentioned, the sound of white coats flapping came to his mind.

After a change to the election process for Tory leader, allowing the membership, which has become increasingly anti-EU, a final say in the election, every Tory party leader has by necessity been a Eurosceptic. David Cameron, only became the leader in 2005 by affecting Euroscepticism, although as time has revealed this was really not the case. Cameron was forced into the promise of holding a referendum if the party won power again, but he didn’t think he would have to act on this, as his coalition partners in government from 2010, the Lib Dems would block it. Surprisingly, Cameron won a majority for the Tories in 2015 and had to follow through on his promise. Of course, the referendum in 2017 went the way of the UK leaving the EU, narrowly.

It should be noted that at the time there was no clamour for a referendum on our membership of the EU amongst the public at large, only in the Tory party. Yes, UKIP were starting to take votes of Tory candidates, but they never won a single seat in Parliament, other than Tory MPs who defected to them. Then UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, tried and failed seven times to get elected to Parliament.

And here we are today. A country now bitterly divided, where supermarkets expect to run out food, hospitals run out of medicines, companies relocating out of the UK and taking jobs with them, where plans have been prepared for martial law (which has never happened before in the UK in modern history, even during World War 2), and for the Queen to be evacuated from London, should largescale civil unrest materialise after a ‘no deal Brexit.’

So much for the Tories being the ‘natural party of government’ in the UK, their obsession, nay fetishism about Europe threatens to ruin the country and its international standing. When this all goes tits up, as it surely must, I just hope people remember who was responsible for this whole fiasco.

The Government Promised a Green Paper on Funding Adult Social Care, Where is it?

 

 

 

The government promised to publish a Green Paper on funding adult social care last
autumn, but in the end, it did not materialise, instead, saying that it would be published
alongside its NHS Long Term Plan. Well, on Monday this week, the NHS Long Term Plan
was published, but the Green Paper on adult social care was nowhere to be seen. There has
been no word from the government on when it will be released.

To recap, the Green Paper idea was hatched in the wake of the Tories disastrous manifesto
commitment at the 2017 general election, which pledged to fund adult social care by
requiring users of the service to pay for care with equity held within their homes, should they
own one. The policy idea was said to be the brainchild of Nick Timothy, one of the prime
minister’s special advisers, and apparently not even discussed in Cabinet beforehand.
It was a bit of a back of a fag packet plan, which when I first heard about it I thought was a
very un-Tory like policy, and very risky to just spring on the electorate at a general election. It
almost certainly cost the Tories votes and contributed to the government losing its majority in
Parliament. It was quickly dubbed the ‘dementia tax’ and Tory MPs reported that it ‘went
down like a bucket of sick’ on doorsteps during the election campaign. Timothy was duly
sacked as an adviser.

There is broad agreement among politicians and health care professionals that this issue
does need to be sorted out. In the meantime, the government has found £410 million to give
to local authorities (in England) for adult and children’s social care and allowed them to
raise council tax by up to 6%, to get them through the coming year. This is just a sticking
plaster on a deep wound, but the Green Paper idea allows the government to kick this
particular can down the road, as they have done with many other issues.

Why there needs to be any more delay on this pressing issue is a mystery, government
Green Papers are only consultation documents after all. Quicker off the mark has been the
Local Government Association (LGA), who published their own ‘green paper’ in July last
year and the consultation closed on 26 September. The results have been analysed, and the
LGA has now published the findings. Over 540 people and interest groups submitted
responses, with more than 15,500 people looking at the LGA website about the green paper.

The consultation responses indicated that people like decisions about adult social care being
taken locally, by local authorities, so that local factors are taken into account, but worried
that this would lead to variations in the service across England. Many thought that the
service should be provided locally but guidelines should be decided nationally. Most people
thought that funding should be provided nationally, rather than covered by council tax.
The LGA estimates that by 2024-25 providing a good standard of care to all adults who need
it, will cost around £5 billion per year, and with an increasingly aged population costs will rise
even further after that. Most responses to the consultation made the point that more money
needs to be allocated to adult social care.

At the moment people who receive care are obliged to contribute towards the cost if they
have income and assets over £23,250, which 80% of respondents thought was too low an
amount. Just over half thought that this amount should be raised to £100,000, but that extra
funding from the government should also be provided.

The most popular option for respondents for raising this central funding was an increase in
National Insurance contributions (56%) from employees and employers, with a rise in
income tax (49%) the second most popular choice. 56% of people also said they would
support paying extra for specific social insurance to cover the costs of care, which could be
done through either National Insurance or some ring-fenced income tax.

I think that it is very unlikely that higher earners will have to cover most of the costs by
raising the top rate of income tax, because the Tories just don’t do that sort thing, even if the
fairness of this is obvious to most people.

Whatever scheme is eventually devised to pay for adult social care, the problem needs
addressing urgently, so the government should just get on with releasing the Green Paper,
to take this long overdue decision, and stop stalling.