Breaking Whispers- UK Ambassador to EU Resigns

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s Ambassador to the European Union has today resigned from his position, a full ten months before his scheduled departure from the role in November 2017.

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Sir Ivan Rogers, pictured here with the Chancellor Philip Hammond last month at a meeting with the EU

The resignation comes a month after making public comments that he felt a post-brexit trade deal could take as long as ten years to conclude, despite the two year limits imposed in Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Downing Street later refuted the comments as not reflecting the view of the British Government.

Mr Rogers was a part of former prime minister David Cameron’s negotiating team when he unsuccessfully attempted to renegotiate Britain’s position within the European Union. A failure which ultimately led to the EU referendum and Britain’s subsequent vote to leave.

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Rogers, right pictured with former Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2016

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who previously worked with Sir Ivan said “If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in government, it counts as a spectacular own goal. The government needs all the help it can get from good civil servants to deliver a workable Brexit.”

While the Government have yet to issue an official statement on Rogers resignation a source in Whitehall today said that it would not affect the governments proposed triggering of article 50 later on this year.

With preparations for this process to be made and significant ground still to be decided upon, the Government will come under significant pressure to appoint a new ambassador as quickly as possible.

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However reports that Nigel Farage had already sent his CV in for the position were described as laughable by one government source.

 

 

 

The Party Line is…………..Accelerated Politics

On Thursday night, Andrea Leadsom could have been excused for feeling over the moon. She had just defeated her Brexit colleague Michael Gove in the second round of the Tory leadership contest and just one individual stood between her and the top job in British politics. It was a meteoric rise for her and on Friday it became an equally meteoric fall when she learned the first rule of British politics: Never fall afoul of the British Media. In an uncensored newspaper interview, she single-handedly took a wrecking ball to her political chances in the biggest self-inflicted gaffe since Gerald Ratner’s famous “It’s all crap” speech of the 1980’s.

That inexperienced mistake has led to a weekend of ultimately futile firefighting in which she attempted to defend her position and qualify her largely off the cuff remarks. It was a fight she would eventually lose, as was proven when she exhaustedly conceded defeat. This left the remaining candidate and current Home Secretary, Theresa May unopposed and the de facto winner of the leadership election.

In succeeding Prime Minister David Cameron, Theresa May has been given a strong mandate by her colleagues to take the Conservative party forward into the next phase of its political life. Despite this legitimacy, she lacks the crucial additional component for any political leader, a strong mandate from the people. Should she come into Number 10 on Wednesday, she will do so as an unelected leader and will immediately come under strong pressure to call an election to obtain the mandate she lacks.

Great care must be taken in when this election is called as the UK remains at a tenuous stage in its post referendum state. An early election could be a step too far and would increase the climate of general uncertainty pervading the financial markets, but by the same token an election called too late would push the question of the legitimacy of her government to the fore. A suggestion could be made for an election in May next year when the current tribulations may be more settled.

Ms May faces division in both society and her own party and should immediately seek to unify both in common cause. She will face a fractured opposition in the Labour party and a strong one in the Scottish Nationalist Party, newly emboldened by its remain vote will both seek to undermine her premiership from day one.

She will face a strong adversary in the European Union, but an adversary that could turn into a strong ally as she will be free of the vitriol that pervaded so many of the Brexit candidates. In being a politician who voted to remain in the EU, she will come into this job being handed the reins to make the Brexit result a reality. Being a prominent member of the Cameron government, she will know the players in the game but she will be playing it at a whole new level and it will be a sharp learning curve for the vicar’s daughter from Eastbourne.

In the opinion of this writer, Theresa May was the best candidate for the job and represents a crucial compromise between those who voted to leave the EU and those who voted to remain. I hope that this compromise and her premiership signals a new era in British politics, where a more positive, optimistic viewpoint is promoted and enshrined in the newly EU-less Britain.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is………Open Season

The political campaigns of both sides of the European Union referendum debate used increasingly low methods to achieve their objectives, to the point where the referendum became a very ugly campaign.  Party divisions were magnified, mud was slung and no subject was untouched in the rush to win the vote.

Now that the referendum has been settled, the British public can be forgiven for expecting the frantic politics to stop and for everyone involved to take a breath.

Unfortunately, the divisiveness of the campaign and its subsequent fallout has infected each of the two main political parties, prompting a positively Shakespearean world where political loyalties are cheaper than House of Commons toilet paper and everyone is fair game.

It is a world of power broking, sudden political shifts and betrayal. It is a world of kingmakers and fall guys with backroom dealing becoming the practical exercise of political power. This is a world seldom seen by the ordinary voter and often only alluded to in the press but it exists just below the surface of political society.

In the aftermath of the referendum this hidden world has been thrust into daylight for all to see with the fall of the Cameron premiership.

In a scene reminiscent of Julius Caesar, Michael Gove has like Brutus betrayed his Brexit campaign brother in arms Boris Johnson publicly and finally. With one motion the Justice Secretary has seemingly dealt a fatal blow to the Prime Ministerial ambitions and political career of Boris Johnson.

However, like Brutus at Philippi, he will not be able to enjoy his victory as the perceived betrayal will not engender him to the Conservative hierarchy and membership. So Boris Johnson may have the last laugh as Gove becomes gradually ostracised from his own party.

Despite suggestions that the field of candidates be drawn directly from those who campaigned for Brexit, the defeated remainers were able to field three main candidates: Stephen Crabbe, Theresa May and Liam Fox.

Crabbe’s inexperience and status as an unknown quantity has led to his early withdrawal from the contest, but he remains a candidate for the future and could potentially form part of the new Prime Minister’s cabinet.

May remains a strong figure within the Conservative party and has garnered strong support from Ministers and backbench MP’s since she declared her candidacy last week. She has come into this campaign with a good record as Home Secretary and is the candidate to beat. It remains to be seen if she will survive the new climate of backroom alliances and skullduggery, but she stands a very good chance of succeeding Cameron if she does.

Although Liam Fox is an experienced political operator, he’s also been forced to withdraw early from the contest due to lack of support within the party. He has been keen to support Theresa May and will like Crabbe, look to be involved within her cabinet should she be elected.

With the excommunication of Gove and the demise of Johnson, Andrea Leadsom has moved forward as the only Brexit campaigner present since day one. A popular figure during the campaigns and debates, she should command a strong vote from the Brexit contingent of the Conservative party. That vote may not be enough in the contest against such a strong opposition figure as Theresa May.

Any prospective leader of the Conservative party must have a strong beneficial presence in the media, because the media is the most powerful tool to aid the success or failure of the candidate in the leadership contest and afterward in their government. The principle individual to negotiate with in this instance is Rupert Murdoch, owner of two of the UK’s biggest newspapers The Sun and The Times.  Candidates must have his support be it covertly or publicly, but great care must be taken in obtaining this support as Mr Murdoch has had a very fractured relationship with both the British public and political classes. That being said, an endorsement of this sort would carry great weight in the days to come.

While the travails affecting the Conservative party have been aired publicly, the problems within the Labour party have largely been confined to private infighting. Mass resignations have rendered the shadow cabinet a shadow of its former self and severely affected its ability to function as a political opposition.

These resignations and the subsequent activity in the media by those who have resigned have at their heart one aim: the removal of Jeremy Corbyn from his post as party leader. Many of these individuals were unhappy with the appointment of Corbyn as leader, but could not be seen to air their distaste for his appointment due to the groundswell of support from ordinary party members and the trade unions.

Using Labour’s lack of definite activity in the referendum as a catalyst, these individuals have finally found a platform on which they can attack Mr Corbyn’s leadership with any certainty of success, staging a coup d’état against him. The party has conducted a vote of no confidence, (the traditional signal for a candidate to resign) which he soundly lost. Perceptually Corbyn’s position as leader is becoming more and more untenable by the day.

But like a barnacle on the hull of a ship, Jeremy Corbyn remains unmovable because of two key elements: the aforementioned popular support of the ordinary party members (numbering almost 200,000) and the support of the largest trade union in the UK: Unite and its chief Len McCluskey.

The trade unions, being the kingmakers of the Labour party remain its strongest constituent part and as recent history has shown, if you have the support of the unions you get to be leader. In this fractured environment, McCluskey’s unwavering support of Corbyn remains his greatest political weapon, which he can wield to crush any opposition from within the party.  If the support disappears, Mr Corbyn will undoubtedly be cast into the political wilderness.

This sort of dog eat dog environment can challenge even the stoutest of political heart and doesn’t exude an image of trustworthiness to the average voting age individual. The candidate who emerges from this sort of contest will undoubtedly face even tougher challenges as they step up to the top job in their respective party.

However, in a world where a media mogul can change the destiny of an incumbent government with a few well-placed stories or a union leader can push an entire body of workers to favour one candidate over another, it is important to stay ahead of the game, otherwise you risk becoming the next casualty of the great political turkey shoot.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is……….Exit Strategy

We came, we saw, we voted and we left.  In the tumult of the hours that followed the result, that decision was cross-examined with the voraciousness of a person questioning his identity. Had we changed so much? Had we been so eager to leave that we had become something dark and twisted? What was next for us?

There can be no doubt, last Thursday’s vote was a watershed moment in British politics as despite all the warnings and trepidation, we voted to leave an organisation that had been an integral part of the British political system for the last 40 years.

It seemed that the decision took everyone by surprise, not least the voters who took to social media to express their disbelief, their dissatisfaction and their anger. The enfranchised but largely absent younger generation accused the older generation of robbing them of their future and their elders accused them of seeking to preserve the status quo at the expense of British sovereignty.

Division and infighting was not limited to the voters, as the politicians of all parties dissolved into factions and threw many of their colleagues to the press wolves. As the strongest advocate of the remain argument, the first casualty was Prime Minister Cameron albeit with a proviso to leave in October. Sensing opportunity, dissatisfied Labour MP’s have launched an abortive coup attempt against their leader Jeremy Corbyn and it seems that before long he will have to defend his administration from a rival within the party.

Amidst all the shock, political infighting and market uncertainty, the principal problem of delivering on the exit vote moved from an afterthought to the prime concern of the UK Government. Despite all the contingency planning, there is still a lot to do before the UK can officially leave the European Union.

A coherent plan and resulting legislatory changes are required before the UK can activate Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Committees are currently being drawn up to make such a plan a legal reality.

David Cameron, in moving quickly to resign his premiership has made one of the shrewdest political moves of his career. In making this move, he both physically abdicates responsibility for the next phase in the exit while at the same time perceptually abdicating responsibility for its potential failure and after effects.

The Brexiteers, newly legitimized by the vote are now the frontrunners to administer the new process as their dissenting voices now become the perceived democratic voice of the nation. They now have the burden of making the vote a reality placed upon their shoulders. The earliest indications seem to be that they were so unprepared for the prospect of winning the referendum vote that they didn’t feel it necessary to plan for the eventuality.  The centrist politicians within the campaign who have campaigned hard over the months are now losing political ground every day by not presenting the next stage in the process to the British people.

The only one still speaking is the right-wing leader of UKIP Nigel Farage, emboldened by both the vindication of his parties’ core aim and the prospect of now losing his job has taken the opportunity to vociferously attack the EU in speeches and prose. As the only one speaking from the campaign he devalues the legitimacy of the moderate Brexit argument with his right wing barracking of the EU.

The longer he continues to act without censure, the more the leaders of the EU are likely to make our exit harder. Moderate voices must act and show the EU that the British people are not a bunch of anti- EU zealots.

These moderate voices now have their own problems, in the forthcoming Conservative leadership contest with each member of the Brexit campaign now vying for a seat at the top table.  One may win, or none may win as the party could vote to select a candidate independent of the campaign to administer the next stage in the process and carry the UK forward alone.

The problem now is that the resignation of the Prime Minister and his commitment not to activate article 50 of the treaty of Lisbon have placed the next stage in the process on hold for the next four months. Europe cannot push us out and likewise we cannot see what the consequences of the result are. It is a quandary which creates a lot of uncertainty in both political society and financial markets.

Our former European partners also fall victim to this quandary, as continued UK presence within the EU makes it a poisoned partnership and drags the other nations into our uncertainty.  The EU cannot afford to keep us in but they also cannot be seen to accelerate our exit as it would give other dissenting nations the opportunity to voice their own concerns about the European experiment.

A nation reluctant to move quickly to the exit door and an entity motivated to move them out as quickly as possible with undoubtedly come into conflict. With the exit process taking potentially up to two years, European haste and British reluctance to proceed without a coherent plan will continue to make the environment of the EU a very uncertain place.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is…………Decision time

Friday’s Britain will be a very different place to Thursday’s one. The political shockwave will reverberate around the UK and the corridors of power in Europe, it will be a watershed moment in British politics as the nation decides its own destiny.

In or Out? Are decisions rarely ever that simple?

We claw at the truth of each argument like a man in the dark searching for a light switch, groping anything in search of illumination. It is an old struggle that the political establishment in Britain have been keen to maintain as it keeps them in power.

Every individual of voting age in the UK needs to make their own selective judgment on this issue and right or wrong, at least their vote will be theirs and not the politicians or the doomsayers.

I say doomsayers, because regardless of their politics there have been prophets of doom on both sides preaching Armageddon both social and economic. Leaving or remaining in the EU was always going to be a leap in the dark and as such it has brought out those previously unseen divisions in Britain’s political and social structures.

Understanding should be at the heart of every political debate, except this one. This referendum is all about one thing and one thing only: emotion. We are at our heart, emotional beings with clearly defined boundaries and precepts, we know what is right for us and what is wrong for us and by appealing to our emotions the political parties in this campaign bring these precepts to the fore.

What sort of place do you want Britain to be? Do you want to stay in the EU or do you want to leave it? These are the issues at the heart of the debate and they are deeply emotional questions.

The problem is that decisions made purely on emotion are not always the best decisions. However in the clamour for your vote, the rival campaigns have lost the ability to win the argument through legitimate means and can now only win points by emotion. That is not to say that we have not been bombarded by arguments, statistics and estimates to the point where we are saturated by them.

I’m not here to continue this trend, I wouldn’t know where to start and wouldn’t presume to judge your feelings or predisposition on the EU. Do I need to? If you’re anything like me you’ve probably already made up your mind on which way you will vote.

You are reading my blog, so I assume you want to know my view and over the past few months I’ve expressed my feelings on the referendum, how it’s been conducted and the fundamental arguments involved.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

Today I can confirm that I will be voting for the UK to leave the European Union.

Now that the shock of this knowledge has sunk in, I’ll explain why.

In any scientific experiment there are things that work and things that don’t. If the things that work outweigh the things that don’t the experiment succeeds and vice versa. The weight of either determines the success of failure of the experiment. The EU is an experiment in political and fiscal union.

While the EU started out as an experiment that worked, the number of adaptations made to it over the years as it has expanded has stopped it functioning as a viable political entity. It is a clunky inefficient organisation that does not exercise its political authority in a manner which benefits all. If it did, there would be no discord and federal union would be a practical reality.

Of course the central tenets of free movement and integration between countries are worthwhile goals, we live in a globalized world and co-operation helps achieve the highest of human goals, but these tenets must be executed correctly and in a manner that benefits all.

Citizens must be able to say to their leaders “your approach is not working, try something different” without fear of being labelled reactionary or as some have called Brexiters racist. Legitimate concerns have been raised and without practical redress, risk the whole structure of democracy in our country.

Claims, Suppositions and Estimates have been bandied around as facts and words like could, should and may have become ever more frequent words in the political lexicon. Saying that we should not undertake a course of action because of a fear of the consequences of what may happen is no argument. If I didn’t do things because I feared what may happen I wouldn’t do very much at all. I am are aware of both the risks of both leaving and remaining but neither will stop me from choosing what I believe to be correct.

I will make an important point here: I believe in the idea of the European Union, but the idea has been practised incorrectly in my view and is need of serious reform.  The problem is that the European Union is seemingly unwilling to embrace the need to reform its political structures, its reluctant to say that its wrong. Mr Cameron’s failed attempts to obtain a deal with the EU that was in the best interests of Britain is the best evidence of this failure to change.

We need a consensus in the EU for practical reform, but any such consensus is being overwhelmed by the actions of the larger economic powers within the organisation: France and Germany. Both of these nations have become so blinkered, so focussed on EU integration that they have lost sight of the fundamental precept of the Union: the idea of community.

Don’t get me wrong, we could stay in and try to effect real change from within the Union, but such a change has to be in our national interest otherwise why bother. All signs point to a similar reluctance to change as highlighted earlier and I believe that any attempt to reform the EU will be widely opposed and shouted down. I honestly believe that a vote to remain on Thursday will not be the end of the debate and this issue will continue to rear its head in the politics of the next 50 years.

Who knows? A decision to leave the EU on Thursday may prompt a seismic shift in the politics of the Union, shocking it out of apathy and into practical action. If this occurs and the resultant Union reform is successful, I will be the first to campaign for Britain’s return to this organisation.

All political schisms are fraught with uncertainty, no decision is without risk both short and long-term.  I am of the firm belief that when something is important to you, you do it regardless of the risks involved and Britain’s future is important to me. I want to see this country prosper and find its place in the world. I want us to become the Great Britain that I’ve always read about in the history books, becoming a greater world power and force for good.

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© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is………..Fear

Like it or not, we live in a world which is shaped by politics. We may not see it or come into direct contact with it, but it is always there lingering in the background of our lives.  When we receive our pay packets we are experiencing politics, when we shop at a supermarket we are experiencing politics and by simply existing in society we experience politics.

It is a beneficial relationship to both the individual and the society they live in, as both receive compensation for their contribution. A relationship which starts as beneficial will not always be so, as times change and society and the politics that govern it evolve. Relationships can often become toxic to both, with both individual and society changing radically. Toxicity to this relationship can often start with the smallest of changes to the political structures or outlooks.

The implied relationship between individuals detailed above leaves both vulnerable to the politics of fear. For example, politicians can be forced to bow to political pressure to avoid losing their constituencies and people present in society can be forced to change their political views for fear of losing something of value to them.

A toxic symptom is currently finding fruit in British politics: the usage of fear as a political tool. It is a tool that is being used extensively in the current EU referendum campaign.

I do not apply a partisan view to this statement, both campaigns are using this as practical political process. Only their implementation differs.

Britain has long been an unconquered nation in Europe. While other nations have been occupied and subjugated, most notably in World War Two, Britain has stood apart. This idea has taken root in the public consciousness and manifests itself in the belief that Britain should continue to remain separate. It exists in notions of empire and history, but in the modern age it has become a focus for anti-integrationist sentiment. Politically, successive governments have encountered opposition to proposed greater integration with the EU and this trend will in all likelihood continue, due to this fundamental idea being entrenched in British culture.

The prominent assertion is that British sovereignty should not be surrendered. It is this assertion that The Brexiter’s have exploited in their campaigning, claiming that the EU is steadily eroding British sovereignty and that this erosion, coupled with rising immigration from the EU is destroying Britain’s ability to exist as a country maintaining its own cultural heritage and perceived position as a world power.

This loss of sovereignty may have some basis in fact, particularly as governmental policy is increasingly becoming influenced by Europe, then again it may not.

The Remain campaign, frustrated at losing the immigration argument has pushed the emphasis of their campaign towards what the British people would lose if they were to leave the EU.

Legitimate statistics and estimates have become the ammunition of both campaigns, with The Remain’s economic arguments employing the more direct usage of fear. Bringing the cost of exiting the EU to a household level may have won them more votes than attacking immigration but it should be remembered that at the heart of the matter these numbers are estimates only. The actuality of cost to each family and to the country as a whole is not known with any degree of certainty, beyond the immediate future.

By the same token, Brexiter’s have quoted migration and financial statistics slanted towards two clear points: Migration will increase to uncontrollable levels and we are giving more to the EU than we are getting back. It is an approach that likewise gains votes but engenders fearful sentiment.

The campaigns have been supported in their usage of fear by an increasingly partisan press, eager to increase circulations and consequently revenue. Scare stories appear in the media on a daily basis, with different institutions taking contrasting viewpoints on the debate. The key thing that seems to be missing is clear objectivity. Although it may seem that they take a moderate view, the media coverage is increasingly one way or the other, depending on who funds their organisations.

The EU referendum is at its heart a debate and in any debate it is the persuasiveness of the argument that determines the winner. Although the campaign started out as a debate, it has increasingly become a contest of fear mongering. Politics should be about winning the argument using persuasive and ultimately right expression, not about using statistics and statements to make people afraid to exert their political opinion.

As negativity and fear in political campaigning becomes political currency, legitimate debate becomes less and less important. A climate of fear mongering challenges the long-term stability of political societies, leaving it vulnerable to extremist views. It vicariously endangers those freedoms to which we all depend: It must be stopped.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Resignation of Iain Duncan Smith: A second Conservative civil war?

The year is 1990, the Berlin Wall has fallen and Communism is in retreat around the globe, Apartheid is crumbling in South Africa and the Gulf war begins. In the UK a dominant Margaret Thatcher survives a leadership challenge from inside the Conservative Party by a huge margin.  Despite the poll tax riots and low approval ratings Thatcher remains confident in her leadership of the country and her party.

Beneath the surface however, it is a Conservative party filled with deep unrest, be it from grassroots party members through to cabinet colleagues.  Senior members were unhappy with her support for the poll tax and had big differences of opinion on the UK’s place in the European community.

One such figure was Geoffrey Howe the Deputy Prime Minister, who was the last surviving member of the 1979 cabinet.  Howe was unhappy with Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to agree a timetable for the UK to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.  On the 1st November 1990, Mr Howe resigned from the Conservative party and his position as Deputy Prime Minister.

This one event triggered a cataclysm of acrimonious resignations, party in fighting and a leadership challenge that would result in Mrs Thatcher would be ousted from the Conservative party.  Bringing to an end an 11 year tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Flash forward to early 2016: A dominant Conservative party has won a huge majority at the General Election sweeping aside all opposition.  David Cameron negotiates a new agreement with the EU which he deems to be the best deal for Britain and calls for a referendum in which the British People will confirm that belief.  His chancellor George Osborne delivers an early budget including a reform of pension tax relief and ending in a number of cuts to disability benefits.

Like the Thatcher government, the Conservative party of 2016 is deeply divided over Europe and Britain’s place in it, there is also concern that the policy of austerity is failing to address overriding economic issues. Factional lines have been drawn within the party and where there was once unity there is now discord and open opposition.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Minister, resigns in disgust at the watering down of proposed disability cuts and the compromises made.  His assertion being that the withdrawals and compromises are obviously an attempt to appease middle to high income voters who traditionally vote conservative and to keep them on side ahead of the EU referendum.

It is an assertion that is backed by many colleagues within the party, but rejected by even more.  Impartial observers cannot hearken back to the Thatcher government and wonder, will history repeat itself? Will the Conservative party implode as it did before?

The old saying “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it” has never been more right. David Cameron, aware of the damage one resignation can do and the tenuous nature of the situation has been keen to smooth things over with those individuals who question both the budget and the Conservative parties’ role in Mr Duncan Smith’s resignation.

Whether the Conservative party slides into civil war and leadership contests will be determined by what David Cameron and his colleagues do next. Civil War in the party benefits nobody. The only winners from such a dangerous course may well be the Labour party, still licking its wounds from its worst election performance for a decade.

If I were Jeremy Corbyn, I’d be praying for more of the same resignations and infighting from the Conservatives. Only that could get me into power.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.