Breaking Whispers-Government gives MP’s vote on final Brexit bill before it is signed

The government have today agreed to give MP’s a vote on any final Brexit deal before it is signed.

Speaking in Parliament earlier today, Brexit Minister David Jones confirmed that the government’s vote will cover withdrawal from the EU, and the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

He confirmed that both Houses of Parliament will get a vote on the final deal before the deal is concluded and that parliament will vote on the deal before the European parliament does.

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David Jones MP

Mr Jones said: “First of all we intend that the vote will cover not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union. Furthermore, I can confirm that the government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded, and we expect and intend that this happen before the European parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.”

Following todays concession by the government members of Parliament have this evening voted against including a labour proposed amendment to the Brexit bill that would allow a parliamentary vote on any potential Brexit deal negotiated by the Government.

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Chris Leslie MP

The vote follows a motion by the Labour MP Chris Leslie in the House of Commons earlier today.

The amendment, known as NC110 comprised the following:

“Future relationship with the European Union

(1) Following the exercise of the power in section 1, any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union must not be concluded unless the proposed terms have been subject to approval by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(2) In the case of any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union, the proposed terms must be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament before they are agreed with the European Commission, with a view to their approval by the European Parliament or the European Council.”

A parliamentary vote on adopting the motion into the bill was narrowly defeated with 326 votes against to 293 for adopting the motion, a majority of 33.

Several prominent Conservative MP’s who had voted remain voted with Labour in favour of the amendment, including Kenneth Clarke, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen.

A secondary motion demanding a Brexit reset button in the case of an unfavourable deal which was proposed by the SNP was also defeated but by a much larger majority of 288.

The government faces another vote tomorrow on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, but tonight’s vote was seen as an opportunity for the opposition to derail the governments Brexit plans.

However since the vote was defeated Theresa May is on course for achieving her aim of getting the article 50 bill through the Commons without it being amended.

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Brexit White Paper: Government sets out life after EU

David Davis the Secretary of State for Brexit has today unveiled a government white paper on Brexit.

The paper outlines the governments 12 principles required for a successful exit from the European Union.

The move comes just twenty-four hours after the Government’s successful vote to adopt the European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill.

Mr Davis said that the UK’s  “best days are still to come”, outside the EU.

Key points from the white paper include:

  • Trade: The government has reasserted its position that the UK UK will withdraw from the single market, with the eventual aim of seeking a new customs arrangement and a free trade agreement with the EU.
  • Immigration: A new system to control EU migration into the UK will be introduced, and could be phased in to give businesses vital time to prepare for the new rules.
  • British citizens living abroad and EU citizens living in the UK: The paper confirms that the government wishes to secure an agreement with the EU to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and those Britons living in Europe.
  • Sovereignty: Under the proposed plan, Britain will exit from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice but seek to set up its own legal framework to cover things like trade disputes and employment legislation.
  • Border: The government are aiming for “as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
  • Devolution: As more powers come back to the UK from the EU in the negotiating process, the government have confirmed that it will look to give more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a move that it hopes will placate the predominantly remainer nations.
  • Security:  The document confirms that the UK will seek to continue working with the EU “to preserve UK and European security and to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe”. This will include remaining in Interpol, the European Arrest Warrant and cross border information sharing initiatives.

The white paper says the government aims to deliver “a smooth, mutually beneficial exit” but says this will require “a coherent and coordinated approach on both sides”.

The paper also reasserts the governments commitment that Article 50 will be triggered no later than the end of March.

Labour have criticised the white paper, saying that it “means nothing” and argued that it had been produced too late for meaningful scrutiny.

The criticism of the timing of the paper was echoed by leading Scottish National Party MP Steven Gethins who took to twitter to voice his disapproval.

The white paper will now pass to the committee stage of becoming a law, which allows for amendments to be made before it passes to the House of Lords for an upper chamber vote.

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“Taking control of our own laws”: David Davis, speaking earlier today in Parliament

View from the Green Seats- Article 50 debate begins in Parliament

Members of Parliament in the House of Commons have today begun the first of two days of Parliamentary debate on the Notification of Withdrawal from the European Union bill, or as its more commonly known: The Brexit Bill.

Debates will take place today and tomorrow, with a vote on whether to send the legislation to the next stage tomorrow evening.

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The Brexit Bill

Once the legislation passes this stage, Prime Minister Theresa May will publish a White Paper which summarises the governments position on Brexit.

The bill will begin its committee stage in the Commons, which gives MP’s an opportunity to take another look at it and potentially revise it. They can try to change the bill by pushing through amendments to the document, although it is unlikely any will pass without the support of a high number of rebel Tory MP’s.

At the end of the committee stage, MP’s will get another chance to debate the bill, followed by a final vote.

It is highly likely that Parliament will vote in favour of adopting the bill, with it being passed to the House of Lords for a secondary debate and vote by its members. If no amendments are proposed and the vote is passed then the bill will be passed to the Queen to receive royal assent.

It is only then that the bill becomes enshrined in UK law.

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David Davis MP

Secretary of State for exiting the EU, David Davis made a short statement in Parliament in which he called upon MP’s to “honour their side of the agreement” following the referendum result and pass the bill. He said voters “will view any attempt to halt its progress dimly”.

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Sir Keir Starmer MP

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer says the House has a short and “simple bill” to discuss, “but for the Labour Party this a very difficult bill.”

“We’re a fiercely internationalist party,” he says. “We’re a pro-European party.”

Labour campaigned to remain in the EU “but we failed to persuade: we lost the referendum”.

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Sir Oliver Letwin MP

Former Cabinet Office minister Sir Oliver Letwin has said that tomorrows vote on the bill is “one of the most important that we will ever take in the House” but he will vote “because the will of the people, in the end, has been expressed”

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Meg Tillier MP

Labour MP Meg Hillier has said that she will vote against the bill saying “I cannot walk blindly through a lobby to give a trigger to a process without a shred of detail from the government”.


In other news MP’s also confirmed that they would debate a recent petition calling for the cancellation of a state visit by US President Donald Trump.

The petition, which began over the weekend has gained over 1.7 million signatures, well over the 100,000 required for a parliamentary debate.

It follows widespread condemnation of Mr Trump’s immigration policies, in which individuals from seven predominantly Muslim nations are being refused entry to the USA for a period of up to 120 days.

A similar petition, which calls for the state visit to proceed will also be debated in the Parliamentary debate after reaching over 100,000 signatures.

The debate will take place on 20th February.

View from the Green Seats- Trident Missile Misfire- Did Theresa May know?

The Prime Minister Theresa May faces tough questions in the commons following revelations that she knew about the failure of a Trident missile test and covered it up ahead of a vote to renew the defence system in July 2016.

The Trident system consists of four Vanguard-class submarines which can carry up to 16 Trident II D5 ballistic missiles, each armed with up to eight nuclear warheads. At any time, one submarine is on patrol, one is undergoing maintenance, one is preparing for patrol and one has just come off patrol and is recovering.

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Trident Explained

It has been Britain’s chief nuclear deterrent for over 40 years and requires regular testing and renewal to maintain its combat effectiveness.

As the last part of a process of certification to allow HMS Vengeance to resume service, the submarine test-fired a Trident II D5 ballistic missile off the coast of Florida.

It was aimed at the southern Atlantic off the coast of Africa but headed off in the opposite direction over the US and the test was aborted. In spite of the obvious malfunction, HMS Vengeance was certified and resumed  naval service in June 2016.

Five days after becoming Prime Minister, the commons voted overwhelmingly to replace Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons programme. More than half of Labour MPs join Conservatives to pass it by a majority of 355, at a cost of more than £40 billion.

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The PM appearing on Andrew Marr on Sunday

Mrs May, who appeared on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, was repeatedly questioned whether she knew about the malfunctioning missile test before the commons vote but refused to comment (despite being asked four times).

Downing Street was later forced to admit that the Prime Minister had been fully briefed on the failure of the missile test but would not comment on whether she purposefully withheld the information from MP’s ahead of the commons vote.

Labour were granted an urgent question on Trident in today’s commons and took the opportunity to press the defence minister Sir Michael Fallon for more details about the test and whether the government had engaged in a cover up.

In a statement to the commons he told MPs: “Contrary to reports in the weekend press, HMS Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified as ready to rejoin the operational cycle.

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No comment: Mr Fallon, speaking earlier today in the commons

“We do not comment of the detail of submarine operations.”

He added: “The capability and effectiveness of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is not in doubt. The Government has absolute confidence in our deterrent and in the Royal Navy crews who protect us.”

With the government refusing to comment on these potentially damaging allegations, we can expect further tough questioning in the days to come.

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An earlier missile test failure

The Party Line is………………..Schism

The British parliamentary system of government is a system of duality. It is a system which requires two parties to function effectively: one in government and one in opposition. The principle function of this is for one to provide an effective counterpoint to the other and vice versa. This ensures that the opposing viewpoints are aired and a consensus prevails.

When one party ceases to provide this effective counterpoint the system becomes prejudiced towards the other. In the unfortunate event of both parties ceasing to provide counterpoints to each other you inevitably see the sort of political and economic confusion that has existed over the last few weeks in the post referendum world.

With its speedy appointment of Theresa May as prime minister, the Conservative party has been the first to emerge from this land of confusion to a state of reasonable (if only perceptually) stability, allowing them to get a hold of the Brexit juggernaut and move toward a coherent exit plan.

On the other side of the aisle, the Labour party however has become embroiled in a civil war between its members of parliament and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. The only recently elected leader has found himself the subject of an attempted coup from within the Labour party. Using the pretext of Labour’s failure to effectively campaign in the EU referendum, a group of dissenting MP’s resigned and have pushed the Labour party into its second leadership contest in as many months.

A Labour member of Parliament for almost 35 years, Mr Corbyn is a man of deep conviction and an entrenched socialist, who matured in the staunchly union version of the Labour party that existed under the tenure of Neil Kinnock. He is not a man who conforms to the New Labour stereotype and was never expected to be anything but a backbencher in the young dynamic Labour party.

Yet it has been a rise as meteoric as much as it has been unexpected.

Winning a leadership election with almost 60% of the vote has given him almost unlimited carte blanche to turn the Labour party into his version of socialism and to steer it away from the Blairite version of new Labour.

The politics of new Labour and its chief architect; Tony Blair have been the prevailing political sentiment within the Labour party for the last 20 years and have shaped many of the politicians which now form the Labour parties front and back benches. It is a politics of reform and accountability.

The nascent politics of Corbynism which finds its voice in more traditionalist Labour values has moved in to replace this ideological standpoint, but New Labour is so entrenched in recent Labour philosophy will not leave without a fight.

A fight which has created the first schism in the Labour party, but a schism of their own making.

By contradicting the party zeitgeist, he has won a legion of new supporters in the party, but very few friends in Westminster.  Not every Labour party leader has been popular amongst his peers, but popularity in Parliament does not matter as much as support from within the party membership.

Indeed, by their actions, Labour party front and backbenchers cannot be called upon to offer Mr Corbyn the kind of support he needs in this second leadership contest, so he must look to other sources for assistance.

Historically, the largest and strongest support that Labour party leaders can call on comes from the Trade Union movement. An integral partner in the party since day one, prospective leaders have had to court union support to succeed in their rise to power.  They are the largest proportion of membership within the Labour party and are also its largest donor.

The candidate who can call on Trade Union support can win the leadership contest, regardless of the popularity of the other candidates as we saw when Ed Miliband famously “stabbed” his more popular brother David in the back to win the Labour leadership election in 2010. He could not have done so without the crucial support of the trade unions.

Jeremy Corbyn with his socialist background appeals to the union mentality of Labour and as such the Unions have been unswerving in their support of him, despite the attempted coup by the rest of the party.

The traditional support mechanism of the Unions has been joined by a new political group, that of the organisation known as Momentum.

Momentum, inaugurated in the wake of Mr Corbyn’s victory in 2015 is a group made up of those individuals who so vociferously campaigned for Mr Corbyn to be elected leader. It portrays itself as a unifying presence, a grassroots movement designed to strengthen the Labour party, increase its support and unify the party behind Mr Corbyn. It has a manifesto of broad social reform very much in keeping with core Labour values but remaining an independent organisation within the Labour party.

It is currently embroiled in campaigning to get more of its supporters elected to the Labour National Executive Committee, the key ruling council of the Labour party. Councillors have found themselves being supplanted by organisation members in their own constituencies and individuals within the party have been coerced into supporting Momentum’s aims.

Momentum has become extension of the Corbyn political machine, which has now dedicated itself to keeping him in power.

The Labour party is a party of communities, of organisations, of unions, which finds its strength in the politics of consensus rather than focusing itself on an individual, as Momentum does with Mr Corbyn.  A conflict between these two ideologies is inevitable as each is an anathema to the other.

It is this conflict, if unchecked that has potential to split the Labour party in two. This will undoubtedly lead to the end of the Labour party as it is known today.

This is the second schism which is rocking the foundations of the Labour party. Both threaten the core if a political settlement is not reached.

But what of those MP’s who openly rebelled against Mr Corbyn’s leadership?

If he does, as expected win the upcoming leadership election they will find their position is almost completely untenable.  If they do nothing, they will be forced out of their positions by Mr Corbyn and Momentum, but if they do choose to act they risk their entire political careers by going against the party which they represent.

There is no easy answer.

The only winners in this sort of scenario are the other main parties, who can sit around in their stability and watch as the Labour party implodes. There is potentially every chance that many of the rebel MP’s will choose to defect to parties which more closely match their views.

We could see the growth of a new political party distinct from Labour which could amalgamate with the Liberal Democrat party, a virtual non-entity since it was cast out of number 10 in 2015.

Whatever the scenario, the Labour party has a rocky road ahead of it.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

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.

London Elects a New Mayor: 2016

For those who don’t know, the City of London was a city built on many rivers and waterways. In point of fact over 21 rivers and tributaries flow in and around what is now the main metropolis of the United Kingdom. They have colourful names like:  The Crane, The Darent, The Mutton Brook, the Pool River, The Ching, The Moselle, The Quaggy, The Silk Stream, The Westbourne, The Wallbrook, The Fleet and The River Thames.

Where most of these rivers have passed into obscurity over the centuries, the River Thames has become London’s river, providing a vital industrial and economic centre while proving to be the original arbiter of London’s success as a capital over the last 2000 years.

As the city has evolved into today’s vibrant capital, the role of the Thames has diminished with the cities status as a financial centre ever increasingly important in determining its success. A prosperous city of London means a prosperous country as a whole.

In that prosperity, the political and economic need has arisen to have a Mayor, who is in tune with the people and businesses of the UK’s biggest city. The office of mayor has become as integral to the long-term future of the city as the River Thames once was before.  The Mayor is now an international figure, lobbying for the interests of London abroad and likewise safeguarding the interests of London in dealings with the government of Westminster. He and his colleagues in the London assembly play a vital role in local government in the city, administering transport, the police and overarching authority on the greater London councils.

Two men have fulfilled this obligation since the office was set up in 2000; Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Now the time has come again to elect a new Mayor and in a few days 5.5 million Londoners will cast their votes.

There are 12 candidates currently seeking your vote from many different political parties, campaigning on a variety of diverse political issues and platforms from Women’s rights to the legalization of Cannabis and we are now in the final flurries of the election.  While many make convincing arguments on the rightness of their policies in comparison to their opponents, who realistically has the chance of winning?

While it may be somewhat romantic to think of a great underdog candidate becoming the next Mayor, it is highly unlikely that this will occur. What is more likely is a straight fight between the Labour Candidate Sadiq Khan and the Conservative Candidate Zac Goldsmith. As the two leading candidates they command both the biggest election budget and the biggest media coverage.

The coverage given to the candidates is ultimately the battleground on which this election has been fought and it has become a decidedly underhanded and dirty campaign.

Sadiq Khan has repeatedly been accused of having extremist sympathies by both Zac Goldsmith and those media outlets aligned to the Conservative party. As Mr Khan’s opinion polls have continued to rise, these attacks have become accusations of racism and Anti-Semitism. The racism opinions and media spin that have dogged Mr Khan’s campaign have spread to engulf the entire Labour party in anti-Semitism overtures. Other individuals within the labour party, chiefly the former mayor Ken Livingstone and the MP Naz Shah, have been forced to resign or have been suspended as the racism witch hunt continues. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the labour party has attempted to mitigate the reputational damage by calling for an internal review of the parties’ codes and standards with regards to both racism and Anti-Semitism.

Despite the witch hunt engulfing his party and the allegations surrounding his own views, Sadiq Khan has managed to maintain his popularity amongst the voters of London. Mr Khan, being a practicing Muslim and the son of a London Bus driver embodies the very spirit of the new multi-cultural London. Indeed the doggedness of the slur campaign against him may have made him more popular than he otherwise would have been, encouraging a strong sympathy vote from the electorate. Although he and his wife Saadiya enjoy a more upper class status than the average voter in so much that she is a high-profile lawyer and he the Shadow Minister for London they can easily be perceived as being of the people (coming from humble beginnings and working their way up).

Zac Goldsmith, however cannot make this same claim. As the son of the billionaire financier and businessman Sir James Goldsmith, he has enjoyed a wealthy and upper class upbringing along with his two siblings, Benjamin and Jemima. Indeed his political career has to some degree mirrored this wealth and access to opportunities as he was placed at the top of the Conservative A-list in 2006 and subsequently won election to the safe seat of Richmond Park. Safe within what could be described as a very affluent Conservative area, he successfully increased his majority in the 2015 general election.

In announcing his standing for Mayor in September 2015, it could be suggested that he has overreached himself too soon and that a more seasoned political operator would prove more successful in this contest. A candidate with a more proven track record might have been more appealing to the electorate as a whole, but since none could be found the party has been forced to utilise a largely unproven politician.

And so, this assertion has proven to be accurate as Mr Goldsmith has led a campaign that has not captured the public imagination. It would take a special candidate to unlock what has traditionally been Labour’s city, Boris achieved it with sheer force of personality but Zac Goldsmith seemingly does not possess this magnetism.

Both candidates have run on very different platforms, Mr Goldsmith on one hand choosing to favour green policies designed to improve London’s environmental status and Mr Khan on the other seeking to improve the lives of everyday Londoners by a variety of transport, financial and housing concessions.

A London minus a Conservative Mayor would potentially be a significant impediment to the government who have enjoyed four years of relatively unscathed dealings with their man Boris Johnson. It is a period that could potentially come to an end if Mr Khan wins on Thursday and the Conservative party establishment have recognised this late in the campaign as Mr Goldsmith has floundered.

It is this realisation that has triggered the Conservative PR and spin machine to play the only card at their disposal: the Race card and the signal for muck raking of all sorts has commenced. Stories have been leaked, members past histories and affiliations have been examined meticulously and as a result we have been subjected to a very divisive final few weeks of the campaign.

Goldsmith, claiming that he is not the originator of these smears has been keen to benefit from them using his public appearances to appeal to those minority groups which may have been slighted by the allegations made. It is a risky strategy which doesn’t seem to be getting him the votes required to make this a closer contest and in point of fact this strategy could be considered to be backfiring on him. In any event is it a case of too much, too little, too late?

The temptation is not to mention the other candidates entirely but as open minded observers we would be unwise not to consider them.  None of them has greatly distinguished themselves, with the possible exception of Sian Berry, whose party political broadcast was frankly hilarious to watch. While there is no realistic chance of a winner from one of these parties, their chances of having members elected to the London assembly are significantly higher.

So now here we sit twenty-four hours away from Election Day, with a field of candidates that could be called the bottom of the barrel and no stand out winner. Mr Khan seems the most likely to triumph, according to most of the opinion polls and commentators, but I would suggest that we may see a slightly closer contest than is being suggested by the media.

In any event Londoners are faced with the choice and by Friday morning our capital city will have a new Mayor. A new man or woman will occupy the highest office in London local government, they will face new challenges both internal and external, they may ultimately prove to be ineffectual or they may rise to become the new arbiter of London’s success in the same way as the River Thames was the original.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.