Twenty-two people dead. Many more injured. Scores of people frightened as a suicide bomber attacked an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester’s MEN Arena. This is the second terrorist attack in Britain in a matter of months. That our leaders respond to attacks with well-worn homilies is to be expected. What can one say to make such unnecessary loss better? The Westminster Bridge attack was right at the heart of our democracy: its physical closeness to the symbolic heart of our democratic institutions was intended. More recently, the French presidential election saw incidence of such violence. Equally, the timing of the latest attack - during an election campaign - was not a coincident. That is was Manchester, not Westminster, makes it no less horrific; that it was a concert, attended by young people and families, makes its nature even more savage.
The legendary Liverpool football manager, Bill Shankly, once said the ball control of his ungainly centre-forward reminded him “of a dog walking on his back legs – he doesn’t do it very well, but you are surprised he can do it at all”. And so it was with Donald Trump’s Middle East speech in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, over the weekend. The speech proclaimed massive arms sales to the brutal, undemocratic, human rights abusing Saudi regime. These weapons will help the Saudis to further pulverise their poor and weak neighbours in Yemen. Trump went on to tout a Judeo-Christian-Islamic alliance to defeat terrorism in the Middle East, whilst conveniently ignoring that he was speaking in the homeland of fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Saudi Arabia’s malignant role in spreading its extremist Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam across the Muslim world also went unmentioned.
Forgive me, but this is where I came in. 45 million people will soon have an opportunity to put a cross in a box on a piece of paper that could change the nature of their governance. If the polls are correct, an overwhelming plurality will reject change and hug the devil they know. For many democracy is a cathartic experience. For true believers it is a test of their identities. On 8th June, that plurality will reject not just the party that they support, it will reject them. In their grief, many will turn on Jeremy Corbyn. The one-time saviour of the left will receive scorn for his poor communications skills. We’ve been here before: that the electorate rejects a party because they did not understand its message is one of the tropes of democratic politics. Ask Ed Miliband.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If this proverb can refer to politics then Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond should be pleased, not angry, about Labour “stealing” Scottish National Party policies. It is a compliment and a nod to shared values. As social democratic anti-austerity parties, the SNP and Labour’s main disagreement is constitutional. Plagiarism, if we can call it that, is therefore inevitable. However, what the SNP’s criticism does is illustrate a point. Ukip is in its last gasps as a political party. The right has united, but the left remains fractured. In response to this Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, called for Labour to form a “progressive alliance” with other left-wing parties, which at the general election would maximise the anti-Conservative vote.
There is a scene in the 1980s comedy Yes, Minister where Sir Humphrey accuses of Jim Hacker of one of the worst government decisions he has ever witnessed. The minister replies that he has just made one of the best political decisions of his life. It may be that Theresa May has just made one of the worst political decisions of her premiership. “Dementia Tax!” screamed Paul Dacre at May’s plans on social care. Politics might be the art of the possible but May did something impossible: she united the Corbynite left with The Daily Mail. Next week she will reveal a flying pig. Perhaps she hoped that in an election about Brexit nobody would notice. Perhaps she thought Jeremy Corbyn so toxic that it was worth the risk. Or no risk at all. If so, she has been proven wrong. With a ruthlessness reminiscent of New Labour at its finest, John McDonnell savaged her plans.
They’ve claimed it will hurt working families - without ever quite explaining how - and that it isn’t properly costed, despite failing themselves to explain how they’d invest in the NHS beyond saying “we’ll keep the economy strong”. Their most hysterically screeched claim is that Labour are dragging us back to the 1970s. Is that the case? Labour’s manifesto does incorporate many of the post-war values trashed by Thatcher. And while undoing everything wrought by Thatcherism is unlikely, re-nationalising services and increasing the top rates of tax would mark a profound shift towards socialist thinking not seen since…well, the 1970s. To free market devotees and certain right-wing tabloids, those certainly were the “bad old days”: strong unions, regulations, a culture of redistribution allowing for a strong welfare state.
White House and administration officials are reeling at news that President Donald Trump shared classified information with Russia’s top diplomats during an Oval Office meeting last week. It’s the latest crisis jolting Trump’s senior staff in the week following the chaotic fallout from the firing of FBI director James Comey—and especially ironic considering the president’s repeated condemnations of Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server, which contained a handful of messages deemed to be classified. The White House initially denied the reports, but Trump confirmed that he had shared information on terrorism and airline security with the Russians in two Twitter posts on Tuesday morning.
In principle, a resounding electoral victory should strengthen May’s position in the U.K.’s upcoming Brexit negotiations. Going into those negotiations, May could claim to have received a strong mandate from the U.K. electorate. She would also enjoy the benefit of not having to return to the polls until 2022. That should ease her task of getting parliamentary approval for any deal that she might have struck with her European partners by the March 2019 deadline. The basic question remains as to whether these elections will give May the room to make a U-turn from the hardline position she has been taking toward the Brexit negotiations up until now. Repeatedly, May has insisted that any deal with Europe must satisfy two basic U.K. demands.
Not Mayism but “good solid Conservatism”, the Prime Minister said when she launched the Conservative manifesto. Yet this is a very different policy package than we have been used to from Conservatives for a long time. There is an irony that both Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher’s popularity stems from the suburban values that they espouse. However, whereas Thatcher’s values came from her father’s grocery as much as Milton Friedman, May’s Conservative comes from the vicarage she grew up in and the type of populism espoused by Edmund Burke or, more recently, Joseph Chamberlain. In many way, May is more authentically suburban than Thatcher.
Political correctness gone mad. That is the trouble with the media these days. By bending over backwards to be “fair and balanced” to right-wing extremists, it has accidentally assisted their advance. Take Marine Le Pen (no, go on, take her – as pre-PC comedians used to remark of their mothers-in-law). During the deluge of coverage of the French Presidential election, Le Pen and the Front National were routinely described in the respectable media as “anti-immigration”, “nationalist” or “eurosceptic”. These labels can all be applied to reasonable political positions.
“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” It became the defining quotation from the famous Frost/Nixon interviews, conducted after the 37th president left office. Although defenders have argued that cotext is key and that Nixon was merely interpreting the wide range of powers given to the president in terms of national security, it summed up for many the political corruption at the heart of his presidency. Yet, however much power the framers gave the vast executive, they did not give the president complete power. And herein lies the current problem. Never has a president sabotaged himself so readily or so frequently. What’s more his errors come unforced. Having stretched the constitution and definitions of truthfulness Trump is now exceeding expectations of how bad he would be as president.
The victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election triggered the inevitable sneering from the Brits at the simply awful American political system and how it was inferior to our time-honoured mechanisms of parliamentary democracy and an unwritten constitution. But the political events so far in 2017 should wipe the smirk off the face of anyone but the most hardened Conservative supporter in the UK. To put it bluntly, the first few months of President Trump’s four-year term have been a pretty abject failure, as Disclaimer documented in its assessment of his first 100 days. But the reason is not wholly his own ineptitude - although that has doubtless helped - but the ability of the American political system to apply the brakes to his out-of-control presidential vehicle.
It would not be quite right to describe this manifesto as a gamble. Labour do not stand much chance of winning this election - or even increasing the number of seats they hold. However, this was the manifesto that Labour members hoped for when they elected Jeremy Corbyn as their leader. The headlines will read of £48bn of public sector investment and tax increases: the IFS have already said that Labour’s plans would increase taxation levels to their highest levels for 70 years. Asked by Nick Robinson on Radio 4 whether this massive increase represented a return to the 1970s, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell defended it as necessary. He was, however, unable to cost Labour’s nationalisation plans. The promised “fully-costed” pledges have not materialised.
Traditionally, the Conservatives’ voting bloc is founded on more well-off voters. Every few years, though, they remember that they have to win over at least some of the working-class, so out come their claims of being the ‘party of workers’ or the ‘party of aspiration’. They’re paper-thin claims. This year, though, many traditional Labour voters feel distanced from Corbyn, and those who voted Leave are being seduced by the Tories’ tougher Brexit stance. Theresa May, more than almost any other Tory leader, is on the assault, aiming to hoover up as many of these votes as possible. She has claimed that Labour have “deserted” the working-class, and that habitual Labour voters were “appalled” by Corbyn’s beliefs. She urged these people to leave tribal loyalties behind, presumably by putting faith in her - you guessed it - strong and stable leadership.
During the 1992 General Election campaign, the Labour Party produced a party political broadcast about a girl called Jennifer who had to wait for a year for an operation for her glue ear, while a school friend whose parents, were able to afford private medical insurance, did not suffer as much. Being what they call a tear-jerker, it received a little bit of praise and highlighted Labour campaign issues of Conservative underfunding and mismanagement of the NHS. The trouble was that there was no Jennifer. Also parents of the girl who play who played Jennifer were Conservative voters. The ensuing media storm became known as the War of Jennifer’s Ear. Somewhere in the mess, the issue of healthcare got lost. It would be heartening to think that in twenty-five years we had learned something.
Mrs. May’s idea that her opponents are merely playing self-interested political “games” is a classic populist trope, one that suggests that constitutional democracy is really an obstacle standing between people and leader. The prime minister’s rhetoric since calling the general election has implied that the best outcome for “the national interest” would be to eradicate opposition altogether, whether that be in the news media, Parliament or the judiciary. For various reasons (not least the rise of the Scottish National Party) it is virtually impossible to imagine the Labour Party achieving a parliamentary majority ever again, as Mrs. May well knows. To put all this another way, the main purpose of this election is to destroy two-party politics as Britain has known it since 1945.
The hunting ban was one of the more absurd pieces of legislation passed under New Labour, governed more by emotion and inverted snobbery than by evidence and reason. Would I reverse the ban? Practically, no. Its ineffectiveness renders that pointless. Does that mean it is a ‘good’ law? Definitely not. But the issue was never animal welfare: had it been, then the religious practise of non-stun killing of livestock (exempt from the Welfare of Animals Regulations 1995) would have been a priority. Scandal after scandal has shown the sub-standard animal husbandry we allow in the name of cheap meat. Instead, Labour MPs devoted 700 hours of parliamentry time on a bill that improved animal welfare not one jot.
In a life otherwise replete with adventure, I have had very little experience of cross-dressing. I played a Spartan woman in a production of Lysistrata but, apart from that, I am a novice. So, forgive me, if I speak out of turn. Whatever its appeal, cross-dressing achieves a change of appearance without altering the core. Whether male or female, the cross-dresser retains their assigned gender and sex. The transformation is cosmetic. Like its literal counterpart, political transvestism has a long history. Benjamin Disraeli crossdressed over the Great Reform Bill, ensuring that the Conservative party broke the Liberal dominance of British politics. A more modern political cross-dresser was Tony Blair. On a range of issues he spoke like a Conservative, even sometimes he acted like one; however, only a hardened refusenik could deny his government’s left-wing achievements.
President Donald Trump’s stated reason for sacking FBI Director James Comey can be quickly dismissed. Comey’s clumsy handling of the Hillary Clinton emails case during the election campaign helped to hand Trump the presidency. Had Trump genuinely and magnanimously been concerned by the effect of Comey’s conduct on his opponent, he would have fired him as soon as he took office. Instead, he praised Comey’s actions to the skies, having previously used them to inspire chants of “lock her up” and urged him to continue pursuing the investigation. The Clinton email case is clearly not why Comey was removed. It is equally clear that Trump’s ties to Russia warrant a full and independent investigation. Indeed, what is known already would, in more normal times, be sufficient to push a president out of office.
The polls were wrong again. For once, though, they overestimated right-wing populism. Centrist Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency with an unexpected 65% of the vote, leaving the far right’s Marine Le Pen trailing with 34%. Macron earned almost twice as many votes, and more people abstained than chose Le Pen. You could even use the ‘L’ word - landslide. After the painful results of 2016, though, liberals and lefties shouldn’t be too quick to embrace this as a straightforward triumph. Many were invigorated by Macron’s dynamic ascent, but many others weren’t. This is a measured victory. Pundits can’t sit back in their armchairs, content in the renewed success of liberal centrism, just yet. Let’s take the positives. A former Socialist Party minister who left to found his own En Marche! movement, Macron managed to win without the backing of either major party, tapping into anti-establishment sentiment without veering off to the right.
The victory of Emmanuel Macron is arguably a more unlikely feat than Marine Le Pen making it into the second round of voting, despite the Front National leader’s ability to seize the limelight. Macron is a political centrist, who tries to appeal to both left and right without being ideologically committed to either. He proposes some liberalisation of the economy and an end to some benefits, strict savings in some areas whilst increasing spending elsewhere, a strong proponent of green politics whilst also a believer in cutting corporation tax. He wants France to meet it’s 2% target on defence spending and proposes more prison places and police officers whilst at the same time proposing a secular programme and cutting class sizes to 12 for primary schools in poor areas.
A key Tory strength is message discipline – find a phrase with impact and repeat until voters accept it as fact. Theresa May, playing to her perceived strengths, settled early this election cycle on “Strong and Stable Leadership”. Strangely, though, it’s already feeling vacuous. Her manifesto, when unveiled, might illuminate what the Conservatives are actually standing for. Currently, however, their soundbites are words with no substance – empty slogans voters are expected to just mindlessly regurgitate. It doesn’t help that May so obviously avoids directly answering questions on policy. “Strong and Stable Leadership” has become less of a soundbite and more of a crutch. Unless May shows that she is a strong leader, rather than just telling us, it will tire as quickly as “Brexit Means Brexit”.
For the past few months, economists who track short-term developments have been noting a peculiar divergence between “soft” and “hard” data. Soft data are things like surveys of consumer and business confidence; hard data are things like actual retail sales. Normally these data tell similar stories (which is why the soft data are useful as a sort of early warning system for the coming hard data). Since the 2016 election, however, the two kinds of data have diverged, with reported confidence surging — and, yes, a bump in stocks — but no real sign of a pickup in economic activity. The funny thing about that confidence surge, however, was that it was very much along partisan lines — a sharp decline among Democrats, but a huge rise among Republicans. This raises the obvious question: Were those reporting a huge increase in optimism really feeling that much better about their economic prospects, or were they simply using the survey as an opportunity to affirm the rightness of their vote?
Sacré bleu, what a relief! Emmanuel Macron has been elected as France's youngest head of state since The Little Corporal clambered onto his throne, not without, it must be said, the help of a sturdy wooden footstool. After the spectacularly dramatic X-Factor style countdown across French news channels, it was revealed that Macron had surged out of the exit polls with 65.1% of the vote, exceeding the 60% benchmark predicted by pollsters. This figure will of course change slightly as official results begin to pour in from across L'Hexagone. As his victory was announced, the packed crowd of En Marche! supporters gathered at the Esplanade du Louvre erupted into raucous celebrations, filling the air with frantically waving Tricolores.
There is no point finding adjectives to describe the results of the local elections. If the crocodile masks of Tory spokespeople declaring that this victory does not correspond to a stonking general election win is not enough, the results speak for themselves. Across the country a government that has been in office for seven years has just gained 563 seats, while its opposition has lost 382 seats. The government is in charge of more eleven councils than it was yesterday, while the opposition lost seven. In Wales - the heartland of Nye Bevin and Neil Kinnock - Labour lost over one hundred seats. In Scotland, the birthplace of Keir Hardie, the SNP now controls 18 out of 32 councils; in a country where Toryism was (and not so long ago) akin to devil worship, the Labour party is a poor third.
Malia Bouattia, Stuart Hall, and Carlton from The Fresh Prince: Identity Crises and the Corbynite Left
In an early Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode, the street-wise Philadelphian Will embarks on a cross-California car journey with his preppy cousin Carlton. Driving through the sticks in Uncle Phil’s Mercedes, they’re pulled over by a couple of state troopers. Will knows the drill, but Carlton is outraged that they’ve been stopped without cause, and speaks to the officers as he would any other functionaries. Unfortunately for him, he’s no longer in Bel-Air, and they’re taken to jail. After their release, Carlton expresses his continued bafflement that the police pulled them over without them committing any crime.
Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? On Monday a detailed account of a dinner between Theresa May, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Jean-Claude Juncker was leaked to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Let’s make a success of Brexit” the newspaper reported May as saying. To which Juncker replied that Britain was not resigning from a golf club: Brexit, by definition, could not be a success. May, FAZ said, was living in another galaxy. At first Downing Street downplayed the report. Davis dismissed it as “megaphone diplomacy”. Then on Wednesday the Prime Minister, on her way to the palace to formally mark the dissolution of Parliament, responded herself. Her language was extraordinary.
Prime Minister Theresa May was supposed to be the “safe pair of hands” whose leadership would lead Britain through the storm of Brexit. It is on this basis that she has called the snap general election. But May’s Brexit negotiations are unfolding disastrously. She has accused the EU 27 of ganging up on the UK in favour of their interests. It’s almost as if they are a union of countries formed to mutually cooperate, or something. Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Juncker allegedly says she is occupying another galaxy in regards to her negotiating position and predicts a diplomatic collapse. May dismisses these unconfirmed reports as Brussels gossip. But we do know she dangles the country over the precipice of a hard Brexit falling back on World Trade Organisation rules that would impose a raft of tariffs and barriers. The thousands of UK businesses that depend on EU trade are unlikely to be impressed.
Donald Trump’s administration is many things. It’s divisive, authoritarian, inexperienced. It’s also incredibly white, and incredibly male. Trump’s cabinet is 87% white and 87% male; his wider White House staff is similarly homogenous. A lack of women or people of colour in any administration would be alarming, but it might sweeten the pill if these white men weren’t so, well, mediocre. Trump’s administration is a celebration of white male mediocrity. Take Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and heir to a real estate company, becoming a senior advisor. Or Rex Tillerson, whose only diplomatic experience comes from haggling with Russia over oil prices, becoming Secretary of State.
Commentators frequently claim it to be a presidency like no other. His presidency was unexpected, even accidental; he had held no government office before nor, like previous occupants, served in the upper echelons of the military; he tends to react to events not through quiet negotiation but through Twitter outbursts. His presidency is unique as grostesque theatre, but ultimately it will be judged as any other. We elect our leaders to improve our lives - to create jobs, increase living standards and better public services. It is on this basis that we assess, and will assess, Donald J Trump. The 100 Days is a marker, started by the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. It is false but, as with so much of politics, impressions matters.
It was clear during the presidential campaign that Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” sloganeering was vacuous, pseudo-patriotic puffery. But, in classic Orwellian “double-speak” style, it did succeed in obscuring how Trump would take a mere 100 days to become the most anti-American President in US history. The United States of America is a nation based on and bound together by a set of ideals. Prime amongst them is the cherished concept of the “American Dream”. By launching an assault on immigrants in the quintessential land of immigration, Trump has trampled all over the promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty that “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” can come to the US, work hard and have an equal opportunity to achieve the good life.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, has revealed the Labour party’s strategy for leaving the EU. Speaking on Tuesday, Starmer criticised the Conservatives’ “rigid and reckless” approach to exiting Europe, positing a strategy that would not make immigration controls the “overarching priority” of negotiation talks. Labour would guarantee the rights of EU nationals to stay in the UK “on day one,” in the hope that other countries would reciprocate with guaranteed rights for UK citizens living abroad. Starmer announced that Labour would seek to end free movement but not shut the door on the single market, the customs union or participation in EU agencies. The Tories’ great repeal bill is now rivalled by Labour’s EU rights and protections bill. A Labour government would preserve all workers’, consumers’ and environmental rights, currently protected by EU legislation.
Prime Minister May’s surprise announcement of a snap General Election to be held on June 8 seems to have led some people up the garden path. According to the Financial Times, market analysts interpreted the announcement as meaning the chances of the UK leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms – a so-called “hard Brexit” – were reduced. The pound rallied shortly after her announcement, and gilt yields rose, both indicating greater optimism about the future. I suppose when you are caught in a raging torrent, any passing straw looks like a lifeline. But their hope is fatally misplaced. The election will make no difference at all. Come what may, the UK is headed for a hard Brexit, with potentially dire consequences for its important finance industry.
Until now hardline Brexiteers on her backbenches have been supportive of her approach, but that support could crumble once hard compromises become necessary. Whitehall sources suggested on Tuesday that May’s decision was influenced by the emerging timetable for Brexit negotiations, which could see substantive talks about a free trade deal with the EU postponed until after Britain leaves in March 2019. Before Tuesday’s announcement May faced the prospect of attempting to leave the EU with a partial deal, against the background of a slim parliamentary majority, and a general election looming within months.
When Theresa May triggers Article 50, it becomes the moment that Britain’s exit from the European is inevitable. It is also the moment that “taking back control” - the central premise of Vote Leave - becomes a reality. The forty year cornerstone of Britain economic, trade and security policy will end within two years. To the exclusion of much else, Britain’s relationship with the European Union has dominated public discourse for a year now since David Cameron returned with his renegotiation package. Since the referendum result in June, the debate has become more heated and, if possible, less temperate. Yet it has been a phoney war. The EU has refused anything but the most informal of informal talks: invoking the article is a precondition of talks. That Theresa May has waited for nine months for this moment is to be commended.
The desire to apportion blame after such a traumatic, self-inflicted wound as the vote to quit the EU is understandable. As one of my former editors said after a major story had been missed: "I must find someone to blame." The desire for justice is strong and the case against all those this week on Disclaimer is weighty but - and whisper it quietly - maybe the real culprits are much closer to home. Perhaps they are us. No, not the 52% who voted for Brexit, but the 48% who believed the mission to keep life as it is, with open borders, open trade, access to cheap goods from around the world, and low cost flights to Europe and beyond was self-evidently going to carry the day.
British politics and the Conservative party in particular have always been riddled with faction over issues such as the Corn Laws, Tariff reform and Irish Home Rule. Europe is just this modern incarnation of this age old problem. The uncertainty and the need for a new direction following the end of Empire made splits in the Tory part inevitable. It is easy to forget that the Tories were the first Europhiles and have had a proud tradition of supporting closer integration. These are the true believers, the Ken Clarkes, Michael Heseltines, and Chris Pattens of this world. Then there are the sizeable number of realists who do not believe in the vision but accept Britain’s new direction is best served being part of Europe, in this category belong David Cameron and George Osborne as well as most of the Conservative MPs that backed remain.
How we respond to adversity says a lot about us. Therefore Theresa May deserves praise for her statement before Downing Street, and then her address to Parliament: in terms of tone and content she was dignified, tolerant and moderate: this was not a fact of faith, she said, but the manifestation of a warped and perverted ideology. Equally, Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke emotionally of the common bonds of humanity, rose to the occasion. Politicians too often display their low cunning or play up division for passing convenience. The House of Commons, united as rarely before, sent a clear message that, for our divisions, there remains immense ties that bind us. Yes, when faced with trauma, we resort to cliche. However, we need sometimes need to hold some simple truisms.
The pattern has become all too familiar. Young people gathered for a musical event find themselves subjected to what British Prime Minister Theresa May has described as an “appalling terrorist attack”. While there is no confirmation as yet this was a terrorist-inspired incident, police suspect the Manchester attack, which has so far killed 22 people and injured 59 others, was caused either by a bomb contained in an abandoned backpack, or was the work of a suicide bomber. At this stage no group has claimed responsibility. But it is not being overlooked that last week Islamic State released a 44-minute video in which fighters of different nationalities urged their supporters back home to carry out acts of violence. Among those featured was a British man.
As Trump compiles a record of failures, feints and half-finished work, his determined opponents anxiously await the moment when his voters will wake up and realize they have been conned. It’s a moment that never comes. Preeminent evangelical leader Franklin Graham, who attended the signing of the wispy order, raved on Facebook: “A lot was accomplished today at the White House on the National Day of Prayer. … I’m thankful we have a president who is concerned about religious liberty and isn’t afraid to speak the Name of Jesus Christ.” (Other Christian conservatives gently urged the administration to take more concrete action in the future.)
Barnier said there was no fixed sum for the UK's financial obligations, and that the figure would be calculated using a "methodology". He also said that, while the UK has to respect its obligations towards the EU, the same is true the other way around. "There is no punishment, there is no Brexit bill, the financial settlement is only about settling the accounts," he told a news conference. In the wake of reports of a disastrous dinner between UK Prime Minister Theresa May, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Barnier last week, Barnier said no one should believe Brexit would be easy. "Some have created the illusion that Brexit will have no material impact on our lives or that negotiations can be concluded quickly," he said. At the same time, he acknowledged that he thought his counterparts in London were "aware of the urgency of the matter and of their responsibilities".
First, the good news: UKIP were defending 147 council seats across Britain. As of publication, they had lost all of them as their vote plummeted. The bad news is - for Labour at least - that the Conservative Party was the beneficiary. Even where the Labour vote held up they were drowned as former Kippers turned to the Conservatives. This was an astonishingly dreadful night for the Labour Party. It was a great night for Theresa May. Twenty years ago Tony Blair’s landslide reduced her party to an English rump. Even in 2015 they were only able to pick up a handful of seats in Wales and one in Scotland. These elections may be a sign of a coming era of Conservative dominance.
It seems an age ago that Theresa May stood in Downing Street and told a stunned Westminster that she was calling for a general election. The General Election campaign seems to have gone on an eternity already. However, it was only on Thursday that Parliament was dissolved. As the Prime Minister berated Brussels, that was the official moment the real campaign started. British election campaigns are, at three to four week, generall pretty short. The last time a campaign was so long was in 1997 when John Major was pushing the election date as back as hecould in the hope of maximising voter satisfaction with the economic recovery. Those with longish memories may remember that Major’s early dissolution had prevented the publication of a report into cash-for-questions affair.
The re-emergence of the far right has been one of the more unpleasant surprises of recent years. In the face of Trumps and Le Pens, it’s easy to grow wistful for those simple left vs. right days of old. Battles over welfare, tax, the NHS and unions are increasingly looked back on in a rosy hue; at least they didn’t contain as much brazen hatred. You know things have gotten weird when George W. Bush becomes a voice of reason, but it’s even tempting to reflect on his administration nostalgically – if nothing else, there was a lower chance of nuclear war with North Korea. On this side of the Atlantic, another person being subject to reappraisal is former Chancellor and outgoing MP George Osborne. In the face of Brexit he has made multiple appeals for sensible centrism, which he believes needs to assert itself against inward-looking “extremes”.
Let’s put it bluntly: if one turns off Twitter, Labour is having a disastrous election. Despite having been ready for battle since September, their campaign has got off to a terrible start. Jeremy Corbyn says one thing on Trident, his defence spokesperson says something else on - well, she states party policy. Of course, Theresa May is playing it low key - if you’ll forgive the English understatement - if you don’t interupt your enemy when they are shooting themselves in the foot, why would you when they are doing it to both feet? Then Kier Starmer stood up to give his Brexit speech. That it was Starmer not Corbyn is telling. Starmer is meant to be a rising talent and a potential successor in the event of Corbyn resigning after defeat.
In 1983, Shadow Defence Secretary John Silkin asked the then Labour leader, Michael Foot, to stop bringing unilateral disarmament into his speeches. The Tories were heading for a landslide election and every time Foot mentioned his support for CND, Labour dipped in the polls. After a general murmur of agreement, Foot’s reply was, “I will never again have the opportunity that I have to convince the British people of what I think is right.” Foot would have rather been right than prime minister. Whether that is admirable or not, his party took fourteen years to recover enough to win an election.
The first headline of Britain’s snap general election was Theresa May’s refusal to participate in televised debates with other party leaders in the run-up to the June 8 poll. ITV, Sky and the BBC have pledged to hold debates regardless of whether the prime minister shows up. It’s unlikely they would literally “empty chair” May, but her absence would speak volumes to voters. This is the new Iron Lady? The opposition leapt at the chance to accuse May of weakness and evasiveness about defending her party’s record in government, and her own plans, on the national stage - particularly Jeremy Corbyn and Labour who lag far behind May’s Conservatives in the opinion polls. May has already u-turned on holding an early election. Labelled #ChickenMay and being harassed on the campaign trail by The Daily Mirror’s man in a chicken suit, she may reconsider taking up her debate podium as well.
At time of writing #SansMoiLe7Mai (count me out on May 7th) is trending in the top four on Twitter. Sparked by the far-left's disgraceful refusal to openly back Macron against Le Pen, this worrying trend amongst French voters represents the National Front's only chance of winning in in two weeks time. And, what's more, it's their supposed opposite numbers, blinded by self-righteous principles, who are attempting to hand it to them on a plate. Started as a protest by La France Insoumise (France Undefeated)- a group of pro-Melenchon partisans not dissimilar from Corbyn's acolytes over at Momentum, the hashtag is being used to express their intention to abstain and encouraging others to do so.
If you've been living under a rock for the past 9 months, or perhaps deactivated your Twitter account in a last ditch sanity-saving effort, you might not have heard: the French are having an election. Although Britain now has its own election, there's one reason we should temporarily turn our attention to our croissant-munching cousins across the channel: the threat of a Madame Le Pen government and the subsequent collapse of Europe as we know it. So book your political intrigue a ticket on the Eurostar, strap yourself in and brace yourself for 7 reasons why the French election is better than our one could ever hope to be.
So there we have it. The provisional results are in. Emmanuel Macron has won the first round of the French Presidential election and will face up against Marine Le Pen and her fiercely loyal Front National in the second round on May 7th. The first results to come in showed Macron winning by two percentage points at 23.7%, closely followed by Marine Le Pen at 21.7% It is hardly say a surprise, despite the media hubbub about how unpredictable this election has been thus far. It has to be said, Fillon's surprising come back and Melenchon's triumphant surge both caused the bookies to reconsider as today approached. For weeks now, I've been talking with French people and generally coming to the conclusion that a Macron/Le Pen second round clash is inevitable. I was, however totally convinced that Le Pen would win by some distance tonight, yet to my great pleasure, I was proved wrong.
The one thing Donald Trump was always great at was personal branding; the success that he had in business was in large part a product of people who had seen him on TV and associated him with wealth and success wanting to taste some of it themselves. If the image always outpaced the reality, so what? Doesn't every salesman exaggerate? Perhaps, but when you're president, there's a point at which you have to deliver. It's becoming clear that Trump's supposed skill as a negotiator was all part of the act, just bluster and bombast, as thin as his gold leaf wallpaper. And everyone's beginning to figure it out. Paul Waldman, The Week
If voters are going to punish Theresa May for her opportunism, they have a funny way of showing it. According to YouGov, in the first poll of the general election campaign, her party now has twice the number of votes Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party does. As many are preparing to mark the twentieth anniversary of the party’s greatest landslide, Labour is on the verge of its biggest post-war defeat. The first days of the campaign have been marked by ritual posturing. A mere thirteen MPs voted against the government’s motion for an early election, yet few opposition MPs have completed an interview with criticising May’s opportunism. May is refusing debates. No doubt the Mirror will resurrect its famous chicken suit, which is almost a national institution. Process issues will not win an election. They make for good tweets though.
“Shame on you if you fool me once, shame on me if you fool me twice” It’s a saying the Labour Party ought to heed. In 2015, it seemed inconceivable that the Conservatives would win a majority. Labour had every reason to fight for a lead, to trumpet their policies, even to inscribe them on giant stone slabs. Few could have predicted the overseers of austerity coming out on top. In 2017, however, Labour can’t afford to be so blinkered. Gross naivety is forgivable the first time, but not as a repeat offence. If they sail into the upcoming election without having learnt the lessons of the previous one, the fallout will be squarely on their shoulders.
The announcement of a general election was the final nail in the coffin for Theresa May’s reputation as a cautious, prudent leader. After months and months of stating there would be no election, there is one. Add this to her about-turn on raising National Insurance for the self-employed and we’ve got a prime minister who can be described as fickle at best, cynical at worst. May said she called this election because Parliament was blocking the Brexit process. Article 50 was passed by three-quarters of MPs and so the entire basis for an election is flatly untrue. Just weeks ago she declared that another Scottish independence referendum would be ‘divisive’ during Brexit talks. Now we have a whole general election on our hands.
Unlike her predecessors, when Theresa May stood on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, she was unable to call a general election. The queen had been informed by telephone of her decision the night before, but all the prime minister could do was to call for a general election by announcing her intention to put a motion before the House of Commons under the Fixed-term Parliament Act. However, it did not take long for before all the major parties had confirmed that his party would walk through the government lobby. With a commanding majority in favour, there will be a general election on Thursday 8th June.
Nothing has changed in the last few weeks to justify a change of mind. There has been no defeat in parliament to act as a catalyst. The reasons Theresa May gave as she called for an election - she has a small majority and she faces opposition - could haved been given months ago. There could be another reason. More cynical. On Tuesday, the Crown Prosecution Service told Channel Four News that they were considering charges against 30 MPs over fraudulent election claims. By calling an election, May is getting out ahead of the issue. She avoids losing her majority or having to endure a series of by-elections as accused, or even convicted, MPs find their positions untenable.
Never trust a politician, eh? After nine months of saying that there will not be one, Theresa May has changed her mind and will, under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliament Act, move a motion in the House of Commons tomorrow calling for a general election. She needs a two thirds majority. She dared the Labour party to vote against - her new mantra: “politics is not a game”. Within minutes of her surprise announcement, Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the decision. The challenge was accepted. There will be a general election on June 8th. In the first poll published since the statement, YouGov produced a poll showing a 18 point lead. Labour is on a miserable 26%.
Alexander Blackman, better known as Marine A, is a war criminal. In September 2011, while serving as a royal marine sergeant in Afghanistan, he killed a Taliban insurgent who was not a combatant, but an unarmed and wounded prisoner of war. Shooting him in the head at point blank range, he immediately admitted to breaching the Geneva Conventions on the rules of engagement, and conspired with his two comrades to cover-up the crime. Blackman’s supporters were jubilant when the Court of Appeal converted his murder conviction into one of manslaughter - a bizarre reaction given that Blackman’s conviction was not quashed, but merely downgraded. Blackman was a distinguished serviceman, but - as any common felon - he is now as ineligible to serve in the army.
No, we haven’t learned that Mr. Trump is an effective leader. Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy. Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out. Actually, what we know of the decision-making process is anything but reassuring. Just days before the strike, the Trump administration seemed to be signaling lack of interest in Syrian regime change. What changed? The images of poison-gas victims were horrible, but Syria has been an incredible horror story for years. Is Mr. Trump making life-and-death national security decisions based on TV coverage?
In her Easter message the prime minister pledged that her government would stand up for people who of faith and counter those who try to drive religion from public life. Yet her belief that Britain is a Christian country flies in the face of evidence. According to one study from 2012, Britain will cease to be a Christian country in 2030. This is not as a result of any increase in Islam – Muslims still only make up around 4.4% of the UK Population – but due to the irresistible rise of secularism. The number of people describing themselves as atheists and agnostics is going up annually by around 750,000. Moreover, if we look at attitudes, we may already be living in a post-religious society. The numbers of people describing themselves as Christian compared to those who regularly attend church highlights this shift.
Such has been the frenetic pace of politics that the Easter break comes as a welcome pause. Brexit and the Trump presidency have consumed politics. Then the tempo was heightened last week by Donald Trump’s strikes on Syrian bases. Although politics will be far from the minds of many, the pause gives us time to reflect. Britain is undergoing one of the greatest changes in its post-war history. It carries considerable risks. The risk becomes greater when one considers the dearth of new ideas and bold thinking among our political class. When she became prime minister, Theresa May spoke passionately about her unionist beliefs, about the need to tackle society’s burning injustices and, most intriguingly, about rebalancing capitalism, to help those who have not seen its benefits. Her rhetoric shifted dramatically to the left, abandoning the orthodoxies of the Cameron-Osborne regime.
To many people in the capital, the vote last year feels like a rejection not just of Europe but also of the values embodied by London, perhaps the world’s most vibrantly and exuberantly cosmopolitan city: values like openess, tolerance, internationalism and the sense that it is better to look outward than to gaze inward. Even as a sense of melancholy seemed to descend on St. Pancras when I walked around the other day, much of the rest of Britain was celebrating.
“Pokazukha” is a wonderful Russian word. It means an empty spectacle, designed for show or to deceive. Russians have ample use for such a term, given their long tradition of political fakery from Catherine the Great’s Potemkin villages to Vladimir Putin plucking Greek urns from the ocean. Such has been the through the looking glass feel of Donald Trump’s presidency and his murky connections to Moscow, that it has been suggested that the US bombing of Syria’s Shayrat airbase was another exercise in pokazukha. But let’s assume that coordinating a Middle Eastern bombing raid with the Russians is too far-fetched even for Trump. It was probably a routine bout of impulsivity. Or @realDonaldTrump expanding his distraction techniques to divert attention from his failures.
Brexit is turning out to be a national, and international, humiliation for the UK. As Bonnie Greer writes, it has caused the country to “turn its back, pull up the drawbridge, put up the wall [and] curl in.” This is exemplified in former Tory leader Michael Howard’s bewildering suggestion that Britain would go to war with Spain over the status of the eight-mile-long outpost of Gibraltar. Empowering a reactionary politics that is manna from heaven for the Tory right, Brexit has quite possibly managed to surpass the worst fears of the Remain camp. This trend is reflected in the foreign policy agenda of Theresa May’s government, as it seeks to strengthen ties with nations that vastly deviate from the norms of liberal democratic Europe.
On Sunday evening the usual suspects flew into a rage over Owen Jones wearing a swanky jacket for an interview with GQ magazine. To an extent this was a storm of Owen’s making: having spent years persuading people that Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are deeply popular with the electorate, he has abruptly realised this is not the case. Unfortunately for Owen, the unholy alliance of cranks, Trots and antisemites he brought into being has now turned on him. Yet Jones himself has bragged that on Twitter that he bought all his clothes from charity shops. Not only does this (possibly literal if was an Angora jumper in Sheffield Oxfam) hair-shirted approach fail to win over young (or older) working-class voters; it is offensive and patronising to assume it might.
The week has seen many sights. The most grotesque was, of course, Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. It would not be correct to say that, by launching air strikes on Syria, Trump’s response was a policy u-turn. He had no policy. Worryingly, he still has no policy. In comparison with this, much else seems small. The debate has been predictable. Many have called Trump “presidential” - and he has received some unexpected support. The reaction to that support has been predictably squalid and petty. It should not be too difficult to be relieved that Trump’s actions recognised that a red line - the use of chemical weapons, prohibited by the Hague Convention for over a century - had been crossed but also worry that his unpredictable actions were without UN sanction and before any thorough investigation had taken place.
Because the American public tends not to pay terribly close attention to the nitty-gritty of a campaign, Trump's one-liner confectionaries were a perfect fit. People ate them up because, well, it was more fun than what the other candidates were saying. Would you rather watch Trump attack "Lyin' Ted" Cruz or "Little" Marco Rubio or spectate a dry policy discussion about tax reform? Be honest. The problem for Trump is that while his embrace of chaos fit a campaign perfectly, it's turned out to be far less beneficial for him since he's entered the White House. The presidency tends to reward discipline and strategic planning. For the first few years, you are really running a race against yourself: How much can you get done of your agenda before the concerns of Congress turn toward their awaiting fate in the midterm elections?
We all know about Trump’s issues with women. The molester-in-chief has made countless derogatory remarks about women, and seems committed to rescinding their rights by revoking Obama-era workplace protections and advocating archaic abortion restrictions. It’s as if he sprung straight from the pages of the misogynist’s playbook. Thank God then, some might say, for Vice President Mike Pence. Sure, his near-Puritanical values might make him incredibly regressive – he’s consistently voted against LGBT rights, and defunding Planned Parenthood during his time as Governor of Indiana was blamed for a surge in HIV infections - but at least his loudly-trumpeted devotion to Karen, his wife of 32 years, means he won’t be molesting anybody, right?
Britain had the best free trade agreement available in Europe - membership of a market eight times Britain's size without having to accept its common currency and the closer union the euro will need if it is to survive. Britain's voters, or half of them, have decided that deal was not worth the price of accepting free movement of EU citizens and compliance with some irritating rules they felt impinged on Britain's sovereignty. Now their Government wants to conclude a new trade agreement at the same time as its exit terms are agreed. That looks impossible, even if the EU is interested. Exit terms involve negotiations with Brussels alone, a trade agreement would need to be ratified by all 27 remaining members. Even the easiest trade agreements take many more years than the two on which the clock is now ticking for Britain's exit.
The United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a government-controlled Syrian air force base in the Homs province, purportedly where the nerve agent sarin was loaded on to aircraft that attacked a village in the rebel-held Idlib province. Trump authorised this attack to ostensibly demonstrate that he will take a harder line against Syria, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama. While Trump’s actions represent the first time the US has attacked Assad’s forces since the civil war began six years, this military strike is embedded in a deeper history of America disciplining countries from the air over their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facilities. Trump is in fact carrying on the legacy of President Bill Clinton.
"Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people," he said in a statement, after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airfield from which a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched.” António Guterres, U.N. Secretary General "The Syrian regime bears the full responsibility for this development. NATO has consistently condemned Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons as a clear breach of international norms and agreements. Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, cannot go unanswered, and those responsible must be held accountable. NATO considers the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security." Jen Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General
The continued saga over Ken Livingstone’s non-expulsion overshadowed the launch of Labour’s campaign for May 4th’s local government elections. Perhaps unaware of irony, Jeremy Corbyn declared Labour to be strong party. To paraphrase When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what he’s having.” Although, to be fair, what other choice did he have? Certainly not the truth. The referendum result split his party, and his poor leadership has allowed the Tories to get away with defining Brexit however they wish. He is personally unpopular and divisive, and the party he leads now stands in the mid-twenties in opinion polls. By-elections in Stoke and Copeland provided little comfort for those who disdain opinion polls. The only way to declare that Labour is in a strong position is if one ignores every single piece of evidence.
Healthcare humiliated him. But that could just be the start. As the fallout continues Trump’s failed presidency is glaring: less than ten weeks in, he was unable to pass a key piece of legislation. He relied on his popularity with his base to secure a deal on the repeal and replace of Obamacare. But the deal-maker-in-chief could not cut the deal. Why? Because Trump’s idea of a winning deal is one where he wins, and everyone else loses. In the case of healthcare this meant that the voters would lose and he, aided by Speaker Ryan, would win. The unpopularity of the bill gave Congress little reason to bend and his inability to make the compromises necessary to push the bill over the finishing line was the final nail in a very well-sealed coffin.
In a poll of 25 countries by Ipsos MORI published in March 2017, 33% of those interviewed in Britain said immigration was their biggest worry. Although more British people overall were worried about healthcare, only Germans were more worried about immigration. While discussions about immigration in Britain used to be focused on issues of race, much of the current debate hinges on social class. The “problem” - particularly of migration of European citizens to the UK - is often portrayed as being the migration of the less well-off. And Eastern European migrants are often discriminated against on the basis of their class because they take low-paid jobs in the UK.
From Trump on down, many of today’s conservatives tend be much more skilled at campaigning, opposing pretty much everything, riling up their bases with antipathy toward the other side and getting elected (granted, that last bit’s kind of important) than at the qualities that enable governing, like compromise and fact-based analysis. Of course, there are thoughtful conservatives with cogent ideas about health policy, but clearly they’re of little interest to today’s leadership. How do I know that? Because their replacement law - the American Health Care Act - was an incoherent dog’s breakfast of massive tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the poor, more a caricature of Republican policy than actual policy.
It’s Brexit supporters who may be in line for a real shock. Even beyond the coming traumatic loss of access to the E.U.’s market — as the Economist put it - the promise of a politically resurgent Britain is likely to fall flat. Much of the rhetoric of the pro-Brexit crowd centers around the reclamation of British “sovereignty” from technocrats in Brussels. But Brexit proponents have also projected a nostalgic vision of Britain once more asserting itself as a dominant player on the world stage. May trumpeted the dawn of a new “Global Britain” earlier this year: a nation shorn of its continental commitments and capable of finding a new accommodation with other parts of the world - especially those it once colonized. The coming months will test the bravado and bluster of figures like David Davis
In five well-weighed sheets, Theresa May put on the table the first two enormous disputes that the negotiators will have to decide: the concurrence or not of the discussions on divorce and those on future trade relations and the future of cooperation In terms of security, a warning - in two small sentences - slipped at the end of the letter: "The security of Europe is more fragile now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake." On the first point, the reply - in the form of a scathing refusal - was not long coming from Angela Merkel. "Britain will have to first clarify how to untie the overlaps between the European Union and the United Kingdom,” said the Chancellor from Berlin, "And only then... if possible quickly, can we talk about our future relationship."
When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny announced his candidacy for the 2018 presidential election, he was seemingly blocked from running for office. But then, in early March, he posted an hour-long investigation into Prime Minister Dmitry Medevedev’s wealth on YouTube. Using drone footage and Medvedev’s own Instagram account, the video alleged that Medvedev used a complicated scheme to channel billions of roubles into mansions and a yacht. Once the video went live, Navalny called for nationwide anti-corruption protests on March 26 – and they ultimately drew an estimated 60,000 participants in more than 80 cities.
Sir, How did you feel at dawn on 24th June, as Nigel Farage gave his victory salute. As a political operative, you must be used to other’s taking credit for your work but had Nigel Farage led the campaign, the vote would have been decisive. And not in favour of Brexit. As you have written, “I think we voted to leave because so many British people had been left behind economically and culturally for so long, and were furious about it; and because, from the 2008 financial crisis onwards, they had accumulated so much contempt for the political elites.” Yet there are plenty of scenarios where that would remain the case and Britain voted to stay in the EU. Nothing is inevitable. Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union was a result of many different decisions. You were at the heart of many, if not all, of them.
Sir, Before we go any further, I feel compelled to admit something - I'd actually quite like to go for a pint with you. That's not to say we'd have a lot in common. Hell, we'd probably not agree on anything. Yet, I do think you'd make for entertaining company and some fierce discussion. As much as it may pain my bleeding-heart Remoaner soul to say, there is something uncannily endearing about the caricatured, walking-talking meme you've become. Maybe it's your cocksure public school bellow. Or your more-than-passing resemblance to Kermit the Frog. Please don't take that as a personal slight. In many ways, it's one of your saving graces. It would be unjust not to express the smallest modicum of respect for you: you spent the best part of your adult life fighting an uphill battle: you’ve survived testicular cancer and a plane crash. Last year, you finally achieved your goal.
Madam, The EU referendum offered many strange sights – battle buses, hysterical headlines, Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof having a flotilla stand-off on the Thames; the sight of the right-most fringes of the Conservative Party pretending to be populists. Perhaps the most ridiculous was the sight of you turning from cautious Remainer to full-throttled Brexiter. Although you did not, many of your colleagues gleefully hitched onto Vote Leave’s populist bandwagon, strutting about urging us to wrest back control from the elites. Here’s a helpful tip: if your uprising of the common people is fronted by Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg, it’s not much of an uprising. Yet there they were on June 24th, calling Brexit a victory for real people (as though Remain voters were elves).
Sir, You are a man of principle, a conviction politician. So last year it shocked many when you performed a full 180 on one of the hottest topics of the moment. Your previously fixed anti-EU stance shifted dramatically after you became Labour leader. In 1975, as a young man, you voted to leave the European Economic Community, since which you have consistently expressed solid eurosceptic views. Your record is one of euroscepticism. In 1993, you complained that the Maastricht Treaty “takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers”. In 2008, you voted against the Lisbon Treaty. When you first stood for the leadership, you stated, “I would advocate a No vote if we are going to get an imposition of free market policies across Europe.”
Is this the worst start to any presidency in history? William Henry Harrison died thirty-one days after he swore the oath of office, but I’d say Trump still pips it. He has been humiliated by his failure to push through his “repeal and reform” agenda. He may tweet the blame around but the responsibility for this incompetence lies at his door. No student of history, no doubt even he will remember a predecessor once declared that the buck stopped at the Oval Office. Trump touted himself as a deal-maker but has proved the task is beyond his limited skill-set. The defeat goes beyond his promise to produce a “beautiful” replacement but to the heart of the promise the party he leads had made for seven years. Their vacuity has been brutally exposed.
Your background, associations and rivalry has led to our country’s misfortune. Early in life, you became partners-in-crime with George Osborne and Boris Johnson. You continued this after you entered public life. Between the three of you, you have caused a calamity through misplaced belief and childish rivalry. Clearly, you would not have become Prime Minister if you had attended a comprehensive in Hull. Not because of the perfectly adequate education you would have received. But because someone of your abilities needed the connections and Eton schooling provided by your background to reach the levels you did. Without these advantages, a respectable career in middle-management and anonymous life as an affable (albeit apparently short-tempered) family man beckoned.
Sir, Brexit and the rising political influence of fake news, AKA post-truth politics, stand amongst the most internationally significant events of 2016. In Britain, the latter has been integral to materialising the former. The European Commission in the UK has helpfully collated and corrected untruthful anti-EU stories by you, the UK press - a phenomenon known as Euromyths - published from 1992 to during the EU referendum campaign. The list includes perhaps the most well-known Euromyth, alleging that the EU wanted to ban the retail sale of non-vertical bananas and cucumbers. You have also accused the EU of wanting to redefine Britain as a landlocked country despite it being an island, and imprison farmers for failing to provide pigs with toys to stop them fighting in sties. As Private Eye’s Ian Hislop recently noted, satire is difficult in a landscape beyond parody.
Sir, Under your watch Britain has voted to leave the European Union. The country will be diminished and the European Union, by losing its third largest member, will be diminished. The British government bears much responsibility. But so do you. Your ill-judged leadership represents the worst stereotypes of EU remoteness and elitism: essentially you made it easy for eurosceptics. When David Cameron made his Bloomberg speech in 2012, he spoke about reforming the way the European Union worked. His motives may have been opportunistic, but he presented a chance for the EU to recreate itself. Your response was to regard Britain as a problem not as an asset. Your response was to pretend there was not a problem. It is not that Cameron’s renegotiation was not enough, it is that you let a greater prize slip through your fingers.
Just before sitting down to write this article, I placed a £20 bet on Emmanuel Macron to become the next President of France. At meagre odds of 4/7, this is never going to be a big money-maker. The bet is both symbolic, ascribing my support, and putting my money where my mouth is: Emmanuel Macron is France's best bet for a non-Le Pen government. He's been likened to Donald Trump, heckled by lefties as a "copy-and-paste Tony Blair", touted as 'Mr Perfect' by admiring fans and could potentially become, at a mere 39, France's youngest ever president. But who is Emmanuel Macron? After four years spent raking up a quick fortune as an investment banker, Macron was drafted into Hollande's government as a presidential economic advisor before graduating to Economy Minister in 2014.
I am instinctively disgusted by the arrogance of terrorists. Granting yourself the right to take the lives of others in pursuit of your own ends is morally repugnant. Hence, on hearing the news of the death of Martin McGuinness, my primary sympathies were not with the deceased; they were with the families of all those innocent people who were blown to pieces by the IRA whilst at work, having a drink in the pub or shopping with their mum and dad. My initial reaction to some of the commentary on McGuinness was that it skirted too close to deifying him as Derry’s answer to Nelson Mandela. There has been much talk of his undoubted political talent and strategic genius. But for many years that smartness was deployed in directing acts of violence that destroyed lives.
As he addressed staff, the former Telegraph diary contributor, who had made a few leaps of the cursus honorum to become editor, said: “I know how to run a country.” This is true. The Right Honourable Member for Tatton served with distinction as Chancellor of the Exchequer for six glorious years; years that will go down in history as a Golden Age to rival that of Elizabeth. Britain knew untold prosperity and the government of which he was a member forged new, strengthened bonds with its closest allies. So great was Osborne’s magnificence that the press coined the term “omnishambles” in recognition of his wise statescraft. So highly thought of was the Chancellor that when the current prime minister assumed office, she begged him to him to stay on in office. On her knees. It was only Osborne’s natural modesty that made him relinquish his post. The prime minister was devastated and, rumour has it, never recovered.
Whilst Britain is consumed by the possible Brexit-induced collapse, a crisis on the far side of the world threatens an all too literal and terrifying implosion. According to the Chinese government mouthpiece, the Global Times, the “soaring regional tensions” around the Korean Peninsula are “close to being out of control”. The spark that threatens to ignite the already simmering situation is North Korea’s test-firing of four nuclear-capable missiles on 6th March that landed close to the coast of Japan. North Korea is also increasingly close to developing the missile technology to reach the United States, causing the US to install a THAAD missile defence system in South Korea. China, in turn, objects strongly to this step, which it feels infringes on its security interests.
There is nothing progressive about wanting to see the break up of the United Kingdom. It is imperfect but, to paraphrase RAB Butler, it is the best country we have. Divorce would be messy and bitter. The logic of Stronger In was true of the UK in Europe, it is true of the United Kingdom. Yet Brexit has given Scotland a compelling case for independence. Much of the responsibility for this lies with Theresa May whose Brexit policy is a merely case of giving England what it wants. The left has historically failed in its aim of progressive constitutional reform. It cannot fail again. In fact, there is an urgency as rarely before. A different constitutional model might not necessarily have stopped Brexit but it might have facilitated a compromise.
The timing was perfect. As rumours abounded that the prime minister was poised to trigger Article 50 within days of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill passing, Nicola Sturgeon stood up to declare there was “clear and sustained evidence” that warranted a second independence referendum. It is nonsense to suggest that Sturgeon’s hand has been forced: Scottish independence is her party’s raison d’etre. The Scottish First Minister has clearly been aching for this moment since the EU referendum. Theresa May’s Brexit intransigence has made her argument a whole lot easier though. Had the prime minister taken a different approach, one less influenced by the Tory right, Sturgeon would have found her move harder to justify.
This is not about the Labour party. It is about the country. In truth, it always has been. It’s just that things have gone a bit batshit recently and it is not likely they will get better soon. No one wants to write this. No person who wants to see a proper opposition holding the government to account enjoys attacking its leader. There is no relish to be had in what is currently happening in British politics. But it needs saying. Before Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the government exercised a humiliating u turn: a week after his budget Philip Hammond wrote to Conservative MPs to reverse his plans to increase NICs on the self-employed. He gave in to Tory and media pressure. As you would expect as Theresa May faced questions from the opposition leader, there were jeers and cries. A lot of MPs were smiling. The trouble is it was the Tories who were smiling.
From Tim Roache on Trident to Dave Prentice over Copeland, union bosses have grown increasingly critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Even Len McCluskey, previously characterised by ebullient support for the Labour leader, has grown rather quiet over the past few weeks - although we will see what happens if, as expected, he is re-elected as General Secretary of Unite. These issues highlight an important divide, usually underestimated by journalists, between the unions - by definition representative of the working class - and the overwhelmingly middle-class and un-unionised membership of the modern Labour Party. This divide is as old as the party itself. As long as Labour has existed, there has been a tension between the great mass of the union membership - ordinary Britons concerned with pragmatic, prosaic reforms - and the abstract, fantastical concerns of privileged and highly-educate radicals.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.” So said Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, translating - somewhat loosely - Charles Baudelaire. If Baudelaire meant that the devil thrives by perpetuating modern secularism and relativist attitudes towards the concept of evil, then scepticism is his trick. In politics, the reverse holds. I make no comparison - moral or otherwise - between the devil and any politician but they too want to trick us. Politicians do not want scepticism. Every government wants us to believe that they are in control; oppositions, while requiring us to doubt opponents, want us to believe in their ability to control. In a way the referendum success of Brexit, the honeymoon of Theresa May and, in a more limited sense, the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn amongst Labour member is about belief.
It just won’t go away. Since Theresa May took over from David Cameron as prime minister, she has denied, as far as any politician can without totally burning bridges, that she has any intention of calling an early election. She is determined not be felled by the excitement that Gordon Brown stoked then failed to meet. This week it is former foreign secretary, William Hague, who is urging his former colleague to repeal the Fixed-Term Parliament Act and go to the country to secure a Brexit mandate. On the surface, the logic is appealing. Her party currently has a majority of 17. Although more united than in a long time over the European question, there are enough Tory Remainers to make life difficult for the government.
After the Brexit vote last June and the election of Donald Trump four months later, there has been a despondent acceptance that this virus of isolationism and protectionism will infect the whole of Europe. Look, people say, there is Geert Wilders building support in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen is leading opinion polls for the French presidency, and the authoritarian right has control in Poland and Hungary. There is no doubt that the European consensus around openness, inclusiveness and social welfare is under threat in a way it has not been in the 60 years of the life of the European Union. And it is true that this has caused real wobbles in the financial community. As Stephen Lewis, the City economist and Disclaimer contributor, has pointed out, tensions have been rising in the euro zone over the past month.
I will not name the guilty. Perhaps I should. There are, however, too many. Readers will easily be able to identify the villains of the piece. Those villains are both great and small. They reside in Congress, chancelleries across the world and the media, but also they might live next door to you. The greatest failure in modern democracies is the lack of responsibility voters assume. It is much easier to cast blame. Without names we can still be clear: Trump is laying waste to our ideas of what a modern democracy is, and he is being defended both by commission and by omission. His election was a surprise and there are many reasons for it. It is often a mistake of journalism to see in disparate motivation a clear narrative.
Chances are, the results of the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections weren’t the first thing you read about on the weekend news. As I predicted last month, there weren’t headline-grabbing political earthquakes of a Trump or Brexit magnitude. The tremors were far greater than many could imagine, though, marking the biggest upheaval at Stormont in almost two decades and bringing a once-dominant party’s power crashing down. In last year’s election, the Democratic Unionist Party won 38 seats, ten ahead of their nationalist rivals Sinn Fein. Now, just ten months later, they are down to 28 seats, with Sinn Fein biting at their heels with 27.
Following on from Tony Blair, another former prime minister has entered the Brexit debate: John Major once again got on his soap box for a heartfelt and passionate speech at Chatham House, addressing the continuing concerns of the 48% and reminding many that not all Conservatives are Brexiteers. In an effort to appear unified, the Conservatives have been giving the impression that they are trying to stifle dissent, claiming that any deviation from the view that Brexit will lead to an economic and social Utopia is threatening the very foundation of the state. Considering Theresa May’s current polling I believe she can survive the odd bit of criticism. The Brexiteers were predictably baying for blood in reaction to the speech.