Tory Civil War breaks out afresh as business minister says ERG guilty of treachery

Internal party fighting has once again broken out in the Conservative Party following the government’s defeat in the House of Commons last night.

Business Minister Richard Harrington, who is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry & Energy, in an interview with The House magazine:

“The prime minister has done a pretty good job of standing up to them up till now, but they were drinking champagne to celebrate her losing her deal and I regard that as being treachery.”

The defeat in the Commons will greatly weaken May’s negotiating stance and makes a No Deal even more likely. Reports say the EU is hesitant to make changes to the Withdrawal agreement because it believes the deal would still be voted down.

MPs voted against a motion endorsing the government’s strategy by 303 to 258, with 66 Tory MPs abstaining. ERG refused to vote for the motion as they believed it signaled that the UK was taking No Deal off the table.

Harrington who has previously warned about the dangers of No Deal to the UK’s economy and said if this displeases the PM she should sack him also stated that ERG backbenchers should leave the Conservative Party as they are not conservatives.

In the same interview with House he said they should leave the party saying:

“I read that Nigel Farage is setting up a new party called Brexit and if I were them (ERG Tories) I’d be looking at that, because that seems to reflect their views more than the Conservative party. In my view, they’re not Conservatives.

Harrington said that the PM should not give into “a minority of a minority,” which is what the ERG is.

The ERG group have come up with an alternative to May’s deal known as the “malt-house compromise”. However, the minister dismissed the plan saying:

“It’s basically regurgitated Canada-plus, which we know is not at all suited to our close relationship with the European Union, plus a bit of glorified number plate recognition kit, which they’ve got there anyway.
I think it’s just fanciful nonsense.”

The malthouse compromise is an attempt to unite the Tories around a deal that will pass the house but like most ERG suggestions it has been criticised as unrealistic.

The proposal uses unspecified technology to solve the Irish Border problem.

Harrington has declared he would be happy to be sacked if May is unhappy with him speaking out about Brexit.

May is still attempting to renegotiate her deal so it can pass the Commons but the EU is unwilling to negotiate any further with the EU meaning teh UK could crash out with a No Deal. This is expected to be catastrophic for the UK economy.

Trade with the EU amounts to 44% of all UK exports and 53% of all UK imports. Adding tariffs to this trade would hurt the UK economy as imported goods would become more expensive while British goods would be less competitive in EU markets. British exporters to the EU would be hit by tariffs of around £6bn.

Over 15 years No Deal would amount to the UK economy being 9.3% smaller than if the nation had stayed in the EU. The CBI forecasts the regions worst hit would be the North East and West Midlands due to the manufacturing industries based there. Ford has predicted the economy would be £900 million worse off in 2019 alone. 

The British Chamber of Commerce has said that thousands of British companies have triggered emergency plans to cope with a no-deal Brexit, with many preparing to move operations abroad if the UK crashes out of the EU.

Household disposable income £1500 lower today than if the Brexit referendum had not occurred.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has revealed that disposable household incomes are around £1500 lower today than they were expected to be had the Brexit referendum not occurred.

This comes in the same week in which it was confirmed that economic growth in the United Kingdom was sluggish, at just 1.3% in 2018, which by the OBR’s predictions makes the U.K. economy £23 billion smaller than the pre-referendum forecast. It comes amidst a global slowdown, as Germany narrowly avoided a technical recession, as exports slowed, one of the fundamental flaws of export-led growth.

As the economy comes stuttering to a halt, the party of supposed prosperity is being tested, the supposed trickle-down effect has failed to materialise, once again, fuelling the belief that neoliberal economics do not work. Unless your measure of success is increased inequality, low investment and increased poverty.

John McDonnell had the following to say,

“The evidence is mounting that the combination of the Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit and nine years of austerity is causing real damage to our economy.

“Business investment has been falling for months now, as uncertainty and the fear of No Deal cause immediate damage to confidence.

More concerning is how household debt is fuelling the little growth that exists, in March 2012, total household debt stood at £1,518.5bn in today’s prices compared with £1,630.1bn in 2017. This implies that U.K. households are having to borrow to fund spending, this is closely linked with the fact that real term wages rose just 0.7% over the same period. Before 2016, U.K. households were net savers, but now we are partnered only with Canada in the G7, as two countries that are net borrowers. More striking is the fact that Germany’s financial saving ratio is positive 35%.

All competing scenarios of how the political parties envision Brexit to be delivered will cost U.K. households, further still, it is yet to be revealed how May’s deal would affect economic growth. Though a no-deal scenario as envisioned by the extremist European Research Group would mean that the British economy would retract by 8% in comparison to staying in the EU.

Project Fear this, Project Fear that, the numbers are there for all to see, it is time for the people of Britain to do the maths.

Broken Britain – As the political system is crumbling, more democracy is not the answer

The 2015 coalition government was a warning that the political system is broken, Giovanni Sartori predicted as much.

The current crisis in British politics seems to have no end, it is almost certain that however Brexit concludes it will continue to divide the nation, which has been accompanied by an increase in the calls for general elections to resolve impasses. Impasses which have commonly been associated with Southern European politics, where political check-mate is resolved with a return to the polls. There are signs that our democracy is heading in a similar direction, and if the work of Giovanni Sartori is anything to go by, we should brace ourselves for more frequent elections. Worse still, there is a trend, in Germany the deadlock of the elections has meant Angela Merkel sifting power to other parties, Sweden was without a government for 4 months. The contending divisions of how we intend to pursue economic growth will only exacerbate this problem, as cooperation becomes unlikely.

The whole design of the first past the post system is that it is supposed to deliver a clear winner on each occasion, to give parties the opportunity to govern. Yet both in 2010 and in 2017 the electorate returned a damning verdict that no one party is fit to govern by themselves, revealing a deep mistrust in politicians. The years since 2010 have shown that the electorate is lacking confidence in a single party, and hence there have been significant constraints on any party’s power in government. One cannot look past the Iraq war, where a significant majority in the governing party allowed a catastrophic failing of the checks and balances that parliament should offer.

For a two-party system to function, Sartori argues that at each election one party should have a clear chance of winning, as used to be the case in Britain. The emergence of a third-party is signs of a crisis in the political sphere, something we have become familiar with since 2010. In 2010, the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the vote, in an alternative vote plus system as the German’s have, the Tories would have won 275 seats, Labour 234 and Lib Dems 110. In 2017, the Tory majority would have been 13. According to Sartori, the SNP would have had governing potential in 2015 as coalition partners, as did the Lib Dems in 2010, and though UKIP would still have barely gained any seats under proportional representation they still gained over 12% of the vote, making them a threat according to Sartori. They all point to an fractured political system that is broken and in crisis, further still all three election results pose the risk that this is to continue.

There is significance in the fact we have had 2 elections in the last 5 years, more so the latter election, as it has un-earthed an environment where every time a Prime Minister faces an uphill struggle to pass a land-mark policy, there are calls for them to resign. In Spain, as the Socialist Government’s budget fails to pass, a general election has been called for the 28th April. I can only think back to the famous clip from Bristol in 2017, when a BBC reporter’s question on whether we will return to the polls was met with the response, ‘you’re joking, another one, I can’t stand this.’ Which is true, voter fatigue exists, and the instability caused by constant elections is not only bad for business, but also for faith in democracy. In recent times I have supported calling a general election, particularly as the catastrophic mishandling of Brexit has unfolded, yet it is against this mindset that Sartori warns, hence I recognise the dangers. Any attempts to break this cycle, of election after election will meet significant challenges, as opposition party’s continually present the answer to the problem. This in combination with the fact that parties are increasingly polarised and are more likely to use the power of veto, make for turbulent times in U.K. politics. The Italian electorate are all too familiar with this cycle, they’ve had 61 different Prime Ministers since the end of the 2nd World War. The political system in Britain is crumbling, Sartori tells us that more democracy is unlikely to heal this. It may pay off to listen.

Seb Chromiak is Deputy Editor-in-Chief at TPN.

Controversial Voter ID Scheme that could disenfranchise 3.5 million people to be challenged in court

Legal proceedings have begun against the Government following a £20,000 crowdfunding campaign, which was backed by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Neil Coughlan, from Essex, has hired the law firm Leigh Day to challenge the implementation of pilot schemes to require everyone in political referendums and general elections to provide either a passport or a driving license in order to be allowed to vote.

Coughlan has decided to take legal proceedings after not being able to vote in the 2017 general election due to lacking photographic ID, along with many of his own neighbours.

The Voter ID Scheme could leave the estimated 3.5 million registered voters in the UK who do not have any photo ID, and potentially 11 million registered voters who don’t have a physical copy of a passport or drivers license, unable to vote in general elections.

In 2017, there were only 28 cases of fraud out of over 40 million votes cast in the 2017 general election.

The voter ID pilot schemes, which were implemented in 11 councils in the UK, saw 1036 voters being turned away due to having insufficient Identification, and 330 of these voters didn’t return afterwards with the correct ID, leading to 330 citizens being unable to cast their votes.

Tessa Gregory, the solicitor leading the proceedings, said that the voter ID plans would “suppress voter participation, particularly in less affluent wards, where turnout is all too often, already low.”

Leigh Day contests the voter ID schemes as a breach of the Representation of the People Act 2000, which argues that the government cannot legally make changes to voting that makes it harder for people to vote, and it is a requirement that these changes are decided in Parliament, and not by the Executive of a sitting Government on its own.

Neil Coughlan has made a statement mentioning that the Conservative Government’s “dangerous Voter ID plans” will adversely impact less affluent parts of the UK, which are areas that commonly vote Labour in elections.

The case is due to be heard on the 27th of February 2019.

Labour Students’ national elections in disarray as majority of Scots excluded from voting and Northern candidates unable to stand

The elections to Labour students national committee are in disarray as it has been revealed the central structure has implemented changes that have prevented the majority of Scots voting while simultaneously stopping any Northern candidates from standing.

This is the first year elections to the committee will be elected by One Member one vote (OMOV) , a voting system that when implemented normally sees more left-wing candidates gain success.

The problem has arisen from the affiliation of clubs. Labour students have only 1 affiliated club in the North of England, Durham, while members from only 2 out of 7 clubs in Scotland have been granted the vote.

Clubs have not been able to affiliate due to a number of issues. Most members blame Labour Students for this problem but Labour Students deny this and say data protection is a factor.

Scottish Labour, in an open letter to Labour students’ executive, asked for the elections to be halted and time permitted to allow this problem to be rectified.

Paul Sweeney, MP for Glasgow East has also spoken out against the lack of democratic process in the elections tweeting:

In a statement Labour Students said:

No club has been barred from affiliating, no member at an affiliated club barred from voting, and no member barred from being a candidate or delegate, provided the requirements, emailed to chairs and/or members, were met.

 

This has been disputed by many members as more than half of all Labour clubs in the UK have been denied affiliation by some criteria.

The problem of affiliated clubs has stopped the majority of Scottish students voting but it has also stopped Northern candidates standing due to the rules on candidates getting on the ballot.

https://twitter.com/rowanmay_/status/1095248077873647616

This means for the 2nd year in a row Labour students’ national committee will have no northern representation.

Many believe Labour Students’ full-time officers have made it deliberately difficult to affiliate to disenfranchise left-wing students so that the committee, which is considered to be on the right of the party, remains in right-wing control.

Reports say that members who publicly support right-wing members within the party have had private members from the executive reminding them to verify their clubs and themselves while left-wing clubs and supporters have been ignored by the committee.

Labour Student National Committee is made up of 25 elected officers. This includes the three full-time National Officers who oversee the day-to-day running of the organisation.

These problems have all stemmed from the new affiliation system which is needlessly complex and many believed its designed to disenfranchise voters.

Labour student formerly worked on a delegate system that would elect the national committee at conference. During this time you were automatically a member of Labour students if you paid the student rate to the Labour Party. Affiliation was also much simpler with any club just needing to provide details of 10 members in their club.

However, this changed with the introduction of OMOV. A new constitution was drawn up the full-time officers and was voted on without being able to be amended. As it included the introduction of OMOV the new constitution passed.

Since June 2016, a number of excuses and delaying tactics have been used to avoid having to implement the OMOV with 2 elections taking place using the delegate system despite the supposed change to OMOV.

In 2018 Labour students, without a vote, severed its ties with the Labour Party’s membership database. Many believe this was done to stop Labour’s NEC having oversight of their elections.

Instead, Labour students established their own database and a new joining fee of £1 to Labour students, separate to the fee paid by members to the Labour Party.

These changes have not been communicated with members and certain bureaucratic barriers have been raised to stop members voting.

To register to vote a member must:

  • Join Labour Students via their new system.
  • Attend an institution that has a Labour Society at its Student Union (If your university doesn’t have a club, you’ve already been barred from voting despite having paid for membership.).
  • Make sure your club affiliates on time(With an arbitrary deadline of 31st December set without sufficient communication). The club must have 10 members as before but with rules lifted from American electoral rules. If any details of any members were incorrect the entire request was denied with no clarification.
  • Finally, to get a vote members had to individually verify their membership of the Labour club they were part of.

Members say no compromise or flexibility has been shown in the system and arbitrary rigid rules have been imposed as a method of cutting down the eligible electorate as an act of voter suppression.

Analysis from Iwan Doherty- Editor in Chief

You may be wondering how could executive of Labour Students be this incompetent in setting up an election? The answer is this is most likely what they wanted. In Labour’s ongoing civil war this is a last attempt of the right of the party to hold onto a section of Labour it still controls.

Like a Republican governor in a southern state, they have effectively stopped the affiliation of clubs and made the electorate much more manageable. The registration process has become so complex and unbending that undesirable votes have been stopped from being cast.

The elections must be run postponed so that a fair democratic election can take place.

Labour will back new Cooper bill that aims to extend Article 50 to stop No Deal

Keir Starmer has announced Labour will back a bill designed by Yvette Cooper to stop a No Deal and extend Article 50.

The bill would extend Article 50 to allow the government more time to negotiate the withdrawal deal with the EU and prevent the government from running down the clock and delivering a No Deal Brexit.

Cooper hopes to force a vote on an amendment on the 27th February that will force the government to give time to debate her bill. The bill would give May until 13th March to get her deal through Parliament. If this does not occur MPs would vote between a No Deal Brexit and extending Article 50.

It would be up to the government to decide how long the extension is. This is in contrast to Cooper’s last amendment that had it set at 9 months.

Cooper is proposing the amendment and the bill with Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin. Caroline Spelman (Tory) who did not vote for the Cooper amendment 2 weeks ago has announced she will back the bill.

14 Labour MPs voted against the amendment two weeks ago ensuring it passed despite Tory rebellions.

In a statement Cooper said;

This bill would require the prime minister and parliament to take crucial decisions by the middle of March at the very latest on whether the UK is leaving with a deal, without a deal or seeking an extension to article 50. It forces the prime minister to tell us whether she wants to leave with no deal or to extend article 50 if she still hasn’t got a deal in place by the middle of March. This bill creates a parliamentary safeguard to prevent us drifting into no deal by accident, and to prevent those crucial decisions being left until the final fortnight. 

The bill would be a major blow to May who hopes to use the threat of No Deal to get her own deal through Parliament. It will find support from Europhillic Tory MPs but Labour will need to do a better job at whipping it MPs in leave constituencies if it wants the bill to pass.

Other amendments that have been proposed include Geraint Davies’ bill that would see Labour MPs back the deal if it is put to a referendum. The referendum would be between Remain and May’s deal. Strangely this is not backed by the People’s Vote campaign. Latest polling says remain would win a referendum against May’s deal by a safe margin. It also includes an extension of Article 50.

Jeremy Corbyn has also tabled an amendment to the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan which would force the Government to hold a fresh vote on her deal by the end of February. This will be tabled on Thursday.

In a statement Corbyn said:

This amendment would stop the Government from running down the clock on the Brexit negotiations, hoping Members of Parliament can be blackmailed into supporting a botched deal.
“This is an act of gross irresponsibility. The Prime Minister is playing for time and playing with people’s jobs, our economic security and the future of our industry.

Labour will hope that May will switch to backing their Brexit deal that includes a comprehensive customs union with the EU post-Brexit.
Reports say Government officials have started planning for a customs Union deal for Brexit in a similar style to the proposals put forward by Jeremy Corbyn, despite Theresa May publicly denouncing the plans last week.

Government Officials prepare plans to initiate Labour’s Brexit plan.

Government officials have said that they have started planning for a customs Union deal for Brexit in a similar style to the proposals put forward by Jeremy Corbyn, despite Theresa May publicly denouncing the plans last week.

Two separate Government Departments have reportedly told Sky News that they have started planning for a Brexit Deal very similar to the Customs Union plans made by Jeremy Corbyn, indicating that Government departments may be preparing for a political cave-in to at least one of Corbyn’s “five demands” to change May’s deal.

The plan to negotiate a Customs Union with the European Union, which has been argued to solve many of the issues currently facing the Conservative Government including threats of creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, would see a free trade agreement set up between Europe and the UK.

Jean-Claude Juncker has also recently told Theresa May that the European Union would be open to a Customs arrangement between Britain and the EU, in order to risk the growing possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

A Customs Union Brexit has been the main political goal of the Labour Party since February 2018, and following the record-breaking defeat of Theresa May’s own Brexit Deal, Jeremy Corbyn published the Labour Party’s conditions for backing a Brext deal in a letter made to the Conservative Government.

A Customs Union allows for the UK to retain it’s economic ties with the European Union through access to the European markets without requiring a tariff on goods entering the UK from the European Union, which would be enforced if the UK were to operate under World Trade Organisation rules in the event of a no deal Brexit.

A Customs Union deal would also prevent a hard-border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which has a high probability of being a requirement under a no deal scenario and breaches the Good Friday Agreement currently set down in UK law. There are concerns that if a hard-border is created, tensions in Northern Ireland will once against increase and lead to a similar situations to The Troubles faced by the state in the late 20th century.

Theresa May responded to the letter by stating that “we’re not considering Jeremy Corbyn’s customs proposals” and that the UK “must have it’s own, independent trade policy.” However, it appears that Civil Servants and policymakers in Whitehall have begun to prepare for the possibility of the UK entering into a Customs Union.

It is becoming increasingly likely, following the defeat of May’s Deal, that there are only two options for Brexit, as the deadline of the 29th of March is looming on the May Government, whether to fully crash out of the EU and into WTO trade rules, or to arrange a Customs Union with the EU.

The former option has already been proven to have potentially disastrous consequences for the UK economy, not just out of the economic impacts of new tariffs on 53% of all goods imported into the UK, but also through reports of Government Ministers not making adequate preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The latter option appears to be the only way forward for the UK if the 2016 referendum vote is to be followed through, but any way forward for the UK would require cross-party support, and without a consensus being reached soon, the UK will crash out of the EU with a No-deal scenario.