What Changes Now?

If like me you’ve been scrolling through Twitter endlessly today, you might think the government is in the middle of collapsing. After David Davis and Steve Baker’s resignation just before midnight last night, and Boris Johnson following suit this afternoon, it’s easy to see why. After a supposed cabinet agreement was produced at Chequers last week, the two Brexit heavyweights decided that enough was enough, and left in protest to the governments swing towards a softer Brexit.

This afternoon in the commons May was defiant. She talked up her Chequers deal, and in a likely attempt to put an end to any further resignations reminded her party that we would be leaving the single market, customs union, and ending free movement of people into the country. Which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t match the message coined last week. As broken by Kevin Schofield a couple of hours ago, May and her team have also maintained that she will fight on regardless, and will take on any vote of no confidence put forward by the backbenches.

It’s hard to see why that wouldn’t be the case. Sure, the ERG and the backbenches have the numbers to put in their letters to Brady, but I highly doubt they have the numbers to win the vote. Many Tory MPs who currently sit on the fence know that a change in leader would lead to a leader in favour of no deal, and arguably could lead to Corbyn making his way into number 10. May also knows that if she does fend off the vote of no confidence party rules maintain she would be safe for a further 12 months, which would take us well into the transitional period of leaving the EU.

As I put forward in a piece late last year, Theresa May has always been merely a tool for the Tories as long as they need her. Whoever leads throughout the Brexit process will be tainted afterwards, and many leading Tory candidates will want to avoid this. May was, and still likely is, the person that will deliver Brexit, and would then likely resign or be forced out shortly after. Many colleagues would rather hold off and use the ‘Brexit betrayal’ line, and few Conservatives will want May anywhere near another general election after last year’s debacle.

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Don’t Fold on Immigration

Earlier this month parliament voted against a Lords amendment to chase EEA membership, one reason being the Labour leadership choosing to abstain, and some Labour MPs even choosing to side with the government. It seems we don’t have an opposition when it comes to Brexit. Despite many rebelling to vote for the amendment, the general consensus on the opposition’s benches was that an EEA deal would be betraying the vote. You know, that voting form that had the two options: ‘remain in the single market’ or ‘leave the single market’…

As the single market comes with the four freedoms, an EEA deal would likely lead to freedom of movement continuing. Something that seemingly we voted for an end to. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, the idea that anyone voted for anything beyond leaving the EU is nonsense. Of course, immigration played a key part in the referendum and the campaign of the Leave side, but when you speak to those who voted Leave, many will tell you foreigners were not the issue.

Of course, the reaction was to believe that they were the reason. And why not. The theme of the past few years globally has been anti-immigration, anti-liberty, and one of shut up shop and lock the doors. With the vote for Trump, the rise of Le Pen, Orban etc, all of which ran on anti-immigration stances, globalisation and the movement of people has been given a smack in the jaw.

The problem is, the issue of immigration is consistently overhyped. Whilst many do want immigration reduced, to most it doesn’t rank among their top issues. Roughly 30% rank it as a top issue, whereas around half believe that immigration is a positive for both the economy and culture. The key fact is that the UK public has become far more positive about immigration in recent years, and the same applies across the pond. 75% of Americans say that immigration is a good thing and just 35% are calling for lower levels of immigration, a figure that has almost halved from the mid-1990s. The argument that an America at its most positive about immigration voted for Trump due to his strong immigration stances is folly.

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Time for Labour to Lead

It’s hard to be a so-called moderate in the UK these days. Not only do you find both parties veering further towards each wing, you also see that UK politics is now completely devoid of rationality as we hurtle towards Brexit. Alastair Campbell describes Labour’s position as “constructive ambiguity”, I find that to be a kind assessment. Both parties believe the argument is sorted, and both are under the false illusion that a hard Brexit was voted for.

Labour’s policy seems to be to appeal to leavers whilst hoping that their pro-European membership wouldn’t feel compelled to vote for any other party. At some point, this has to give. Mark Carney recently revealed that household incomes are about £900 per household lower than was forecast back in May 2016, and due to Brexit, the economy is roughly 2% lower than it would have been had we voted to remain in the EU two years ago. If Corbyn and McDonnell want to implement their manifesto promises, a hard Brexit is simply out of the question.

In 2017, the ambiguity worked. Leavers felt that Corbyn wanted to leave the EU as much as them, and Remainers saw Labour as the only route to blunt May’s push for hard Brexit. Again, this has to give, and it seems it’s the Remainers who are buckling. In 2017 the party was able to shift the focus onto other issues such as healthcare, but with Brexit day looming that strategy is out of the window. Only 26% think that Labour’s position on Brexit is clear, while 60% believe it’s unclear.

The public overwhelmingly favours the PM’s handling of Brexit, with 32% approval compared to a measly 19% for Corbyn. May is also impressing far more leave voters than Corbyn is remainers, 40% of leavers back May, just 26% of those who voted to remain back Corbyn’s treatment of Brexit. Labour is also losing the support of young people; last year 19% more 18-34-year-olds backed Corbyn over May, now the PM has a 2% lead. As Labour members shift, Corbyn stays rooted.

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Clinging On, Any Memes Necessary

On the morning of the 4th, I woke up to see that Labour had failed to take London councils such as Westminster and Wandsworth and had managed to lose Barnet along the way. By the time I got home from work only 12 hours later, I was shocked (but unsurprised) to see my Twitter feed telling me that last night was Labour’s best local elections performance since 1971.

Spoiler: it wasn’t.

The ‘original fact’, albeit not completely factual itself, was that it was Labour’s best performance in London in local elections since 1971. Then again, the rest of the country hardly seems to matter to the Labour party anymore. Of course, the BBC, ITV, Sky News, and all other reputable news corporations ran with the truth that, really, not much happened last night. ‘Neck and neck’ the BBC called it. That outraged the Corbyn clique.

Later that night I found myself seeing memes showing the final seat tallies; Labour with 2350 and Conservatives 1332, positioned next to the report from the BBC saying, ‘neck and neck’. It seems, unsurprisingly, not everyone knows how the locals work. The popular vote was actually neck and neck, 35% apiece for the main two parties with the Liberal Democrats surging up to 16 percent.

A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes. On Twitter, it travels quicker. Sure, we can point out to these people their mistakes. Maybe they’ll listen. Maybe they’ll simply call us ‘right wing’ or ‘Blairites’. But the damage is already done. Before you know it, Rachel Swindon has retweeted the lie and it has over 20,000 retweets and a million impressions.

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The Politics we Deserve?

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”, as the old song goes. Used to ridicule the music industry by Gerry Rafferty, but instead seems more fitting in encapsulating the current political climate. Actually, it would be kind. Clowns? Maybe the one from IT. Jokers? More like absolute jokes.

Obama once said, “You get the politicians you deserve”. Although I see the reason, I don’t personally think it’s quite that simple. Sure, if you vote in Donald Trump you get that kind of president and voting for Brexit has paved the way for what we have in Britain. But is that the public’s fault? Politicians have never really been particularly liked. At best, people tend to be rather apathetic towards the culture of politics. That was certainly the case during the noughties, where turnout at elections reached all-time lows. The problem is, that is misinterpreted.

Certain members of the left like to jump on New Labour for bringing in this apathy, especially throughout the younger generations. The problem is, it’s because everything was running well. Surely that’s the point of politicians. They run everything smoothly so that our lives pass by without even hearing from them between election campaigns. Usually, political engagement comes from instability, anger, and despair at who is in office. So, is it such a great thing?

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A National Health Crisis

Despite all the divides across the UK, if you really want to get 99% of the British Public rallied together, dare to criticise the NHS. The NHS tops the Pride of Britain list by a sizeable margin and is unequivocally part of our national identity. So, when someone like, say, Donald Trump weighs in on the issue, the UK is quick to rally around it’s in defence. Groups like ‘NHSMillon’ and ‘People’s NHS’ everyday show support for the institution, and its popularity is great.

In 2017, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the NHS as the best, safest and most affordable system of the 11 countries it assessed. Many elements of the NHS are lauded: the quality of care and range of treatments, the staff, and of course it being free at the point of use. When Trump used protests to brief against a single-payer health system in the US, he forgot some facts. Only 10% of British voters want parts of the NHS to be privatised, and despite spending almost half of GDP compared to the US on healthcare, we achieve far better outcomes.

However, things are changing.

Public dissatisfaction with the service is now at a 10-year high. Of course, satisfaction is still high, 57% in fact, but that has fallen 6 points from 63% last year.  On the other hand, dissatisfaction has doubled since 2014. Since 2010, no country in Europe has had a worse record in health than the UK. NHS pressures are no longer confined to the winter, it’s an all-year-round crisis.

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Plan B Politics

As Stephen Bush’s piece last week highlighted, there are a finite number of messages a political party can run on. Typically, these positions don’t change between elections because they are so simple: “things would work better with us in charge”. 2017, however, was a turning point for both parties.

When Jeremy Corbyn rose to victory in Labour’s leadership election in 2015, he did so on the back of a promise of a new type of politics. Many chose him because he offered something the other three candidates seemingly did not, and that was hope. Corbyn famously asserted he would bring a new straight talking, honest politics into the Labour party, something he really hasn’t done. He was meant to be the politician who could finally energise the dwindling youth vote and bring non-voters out into the voting booths for the first time.

Fast forward to June 2017, and Labour had returned from a near 20-point deficit in the polls to force a hung parliament. A dismal campaign from Theresa May gave Corbyn the wind in his sails, and policies such as the abolishment of tuition fees had on the face of it galvanised the youth to an astonishing spike in turnout. However, as we now know, this wasn’t exactly the case.

Recently, the British Electoral Survey found that turnout did not increase among 18- to 24-year-olds at the 2017 election, although it did increase in areas with larger numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds. The noteworthy changes were actually found in the 25-44 age group, where turnout increased significantly and swung in great numbers towards Labour. The groups of voters Corbyn aimed to bring out in force did not turn up, and despite a successful campaign, Labour’s Plan A had failed.

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