An Election Without Leadership

Politics is a funny old game, but it is a game nonetheless. If I cast my mind back to GSCE Sport we talked endlessly about “knowledge of performance” as compared to “knowledge of result”. In politics, as in sport, numbers and outcomes are of course fundamental. However, the utterly intangible concepts of “tone”, “leadership” and “principle” in politics (or the defeat despite magnificent performance in sport) receive almost equal coverage and column inches.

Another way to put it is that whilst people can theoretically measure the impact of election pledges on themselves and those around them; they are often more likely choose to vote based on a candidate or party’s intent. Put another way still; people expect political parties and governments to show leadership, but are willing to let government’s work out the details later on.

That said, whilst politicians can show leadership and that in itself can catalyse change; ultimately they must understand and interact with what people want, to use an unattributed quote, “a leader without followers is just somebody talking a walk”. The vast numbers of people who are not members of political parties, along with the vast numbers of floating voters are testament to the idea that people (and their views) are movable. The same must apply political parties.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy Ed Miliband being leader of the Labour Party; too many of his ideas seemed to involve legislating societal change, or legislating an outcome. He may not have won, but he didn’t collapse the Labour Party and I still voted for him. Why was that? Well he seemed to be a man of integrity, who was intent on addressing the needs in people’s lives such as energy prices, housing, and zero hour contracts. He may have got the detail wrong in his ideas and policies, but they were just that, ideas. Looking back, I feel I was too critical of him. He showed leadership through his ideas and his understanding of people’s dreams and their concerns.

Most people; the man on the Clapham omnibus, the electorate behind their front doors, the old lady being interviewed at the community centre want that approach- ideas, not ideologies. I can and will remain critical for a great many reasons of Cameron and Osborne in their leadership of the country. They did, however, grasp that they had to understand the things that were important to people; retaining the NHS, taking people out of tax, regeneration of the North of England and immigration to name a few examples. Their deeds may not have lived up to their election promises, but their promises at least showed an understanding.

The next general election however, has all the hallmarks of a car crash waiting to happen. Why? Well all of the parties seem to have shrunk into themselves; I have never seen so many people at odds with the party they usually vote for (but then again, I’m not that old, so I probably can’t make too much of a big deal of it). I have seen Tory voters furious about the headlong and undefined dive into hard Brexit, Lib Dems wishing their party would shut up about Brexit, and Labour voters simply deflated by at the whole situation. I saw somebody I know put an “X” in the Conservative box of their postal ballot for the local elections whilst simultaneously complaining that they simply couldn’t vote for them in a general election. And another first-past-the-post loving friend somewhat oddly profess that “what we need is a bloody hung parliament”.

I retain my belief that there is more than one way to Brexit (although I am not wild about Brexit being a verb!) and there should be some heavy and involved cross-party collaboration on how to get the best deal for Britain. I think Theresa May should use Parliament as a stick to beat EU with; but instead her election announcement had an authoritarian tone that showed no leadership “give me more power, because some people are threatening to be difficult”. The Lib Dems are leading the charge the other way, perhaps as a way of expunging in the minds of the public their own coalition collaboration with the Tories.

Jeremy Corbyn meanwhile, said the right words in his launch speech, “It is only Labour that will focus on what kind of country we want to have after Brexit”. Brilliant stuff, except that the Britain he wants after Brexit is no different to one he wanted before Brexit. A Britain based on his ideological commitments to disarmament, nationalisation, and maximum wage caps. Ideology, ideology, ideology.

The Tories have in recent years made the case that receiving state benefits (or being poor for that matter) is exploiting normal hard working people. Meanwhile the current Labour leadership claims that high earners are doing the same. I don’t think either statement is true. So whilst I accept that there are benefit frauds, and I accept that there are high earners that avoid tax for example… (and we shouldn’t ever stop trying to sort these issues by the way), we should be trying to find innovative ways to help those in need without dragging everybody else down and get people away from benefits without demonising them.

I am a centrist, because I think government should be for everybody and that means policies normally need two sides; rights and responsibilities. We should be trying to help people with the things that are of concern, but we cannot and should not being pitting one part of the electorate against another. I could be wrong, but it feels a lot like people want the politicians to focus on the issues that affect their lives, rather than on their own priorities.

By Barnaby Howard


The Past is a Foreign Country: They do Things Differently There

20th March 2017

By Keith Nieland-

The Past is a Foreign Country: They do Things Differently There – L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between

What is it that Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair have in common? No… it is not as obvious as being the only Labour leaders to win General Elections over the last 72 years (for those interested it was 9 victories in 19 attempts but only 5 with workable majorities. The Tories achieved 10 victories in the same period with 5 different leaders and 9 of those victories had workable majorities).

Back to the Future

The answer is that each ran campaigns based on hope and aspiration for a better future. Each saw the world as it was during their time and built support by defining a better future and inspiring voters to believe in it. There was no harking back to a mythical utopia from bygone years but instead a steady focus on a different but better future.

Attlee did not paint an image of a romanticised 1930s and urge a return to the pre-war days of peace and certainty. Instead he faced up to problems of unemployment, poverty, poor health, poor housing and destitution which had blighted the country since the end of the First World War. He inspired voters to believe in a better future for themselves and their families that was a complete break from all that had gone before. Through improvements to education, the introduction of the NHS and the welfare state and a massive house building programme he was able to set in place the building blocks for greater prosperity for more citizens than ever before. This was to last until the Tories started to dismantle the welfare state in response to the 2008 economic crash.

Wilson’s 1960s platform was not a return to the relatively settled days of the 1950s but a bold vision of the future built on his understanding of the emerging technologies. He is still remembered for his “white heat of technology” speeches. He understood about the potential of mechanisation and computerisation and established the new Department of Technology. His government invested in the new technologies and introduced the Open University to give opportunity to those who may have missed out first time around. Like Attlee before him he was able to persuade voters to buy into his vision of a better, bolder but different future.

Blair in his turn avoided the lure of an attractive but ultimately false utopian world from the past and again focused on a better future for more people based on improvements to education and giving more people the opportunity to chase their dreams. Sure Start helped the very young get off to a better start in life, particularly those from deprived backgrounds. More young people went to university than ever before to the extent that going to university for every 6th former became the norm rather that the exception. He invested in public education and health programmes to a record level. New schools and hospitals were built and old ones modernised.

Labour’s three most successful leaders were social democrats. Social democracy changed the game in the 20th Century. It transformed daily life in the UK and most other advanced economies, as governments delivered virtually full employment, rising wages and access to social programmes and public services.

If Attlee, Wilson and Blair are bound together in understanding that the only way to inspire voters to support the Labour Party is to built a picture of a better, bolder but different future that people believe the party can deliver, to what extent are the main party leaders of today believers in a similar way forward?

Andy Pandy, Quatermass and Rael Brook shirts

I would contend that Theresa May’s offer to the British people is based on a romanticised vision of the 1950s. Brexit, grammar schools and the undermining of local authorities’ ability to support their local communities is about recreating an image, albeit false, of a past that exists only in the minds of many of Brexit’s core supporters. Many of these are elderly, they are my generation, and when I talked to them during the EU Referendum campaign they often referred back to days when we had little to do with Europe and, in their minds, we managed okay. Hints, such as those we had from Boris Johnson recently, of constructing a new royal yacht all play into the agenda of a future built on a past that never really existed.  Empire 2.0 as a shorthand for replacing EU trade with Commonwealth country deals is a fraud, but it does not stop it entering more and more into the conversation about post-Brexit UK.

May, driven on by the right wing of her Party, is seeking to deny the progress that social democracy has brought by focusing on a return to a mythical, utopian past that exists only in the imaginations of those who believe such twaddle. It’s as if the last 40 years never happened.

I wonder where this fascination with the past will lead us next – ration books, first, second and third class carriages on trains, forelock tugging and, more worryingly, the return of hanging?

Hoola Hops, flares, hot pants and Peyton Place

If Theresa May is all about recreating the 1950s it begs the question – is Jeremy Corbyn the heir to the social democrat tradition, taking it to a new level appropriate to the 21st century?

While May is fascinated by the 1950s, the decade of fascination for Corbyn is the 1970s. In his world there is a longing for pits, mills and factories and mass trade union membership. His personal manifesto is more relevant to the distant past than the challenges of the early 21st century. I suspect his sweet dreams are about shouting down a megaphone to Leyland workers in a car park before calling them out on strike. He stresses about issues long settled in the minds of voters. Issues that still obsess Corbyn and his circle:

  • nationalisation – a long ago discredited organisational form that has little appeal to voters. But his manifesto calls for the nationalisation of the railways and energy companies. Putting aside the cost of such moves there is no appetite for having the Treasury run essential national services. The railway franchise system needs sorting out and the energy companies need to be held more to account, but the solution is not putting civil servants in charge.
  • collective bargaining – Corbyn wants a return to this and apparently is prepared to legislate to achieve it. Now I doubt if the majority of working people know what it is and that is because workers are increasingly self-employed or working for small scale employers. It might have had relevance in the days of mass mill and factory employment but there is no evidence of a call for its return by those in the modern world of work.
  • NATO – as part of Corbyn’s foreign policy he has long called for the abolition of NATO. This is another non-issue for voters who, from all the evidence, have been long content with the arrangements for defending North America and Western Europe.
  • Nuclear power – Corbyn, we are told, is a man of principle who has long campaigned against nuclear power and weapons. Well, that is fine by him but like NATO this is an issue long settled in the mind of voters. They may not be wildly enthusiastic but they accept the important link between the nuclear deterrent and the UK’s role in the world. They also accept the role of nuclear in the country’s energy portfolio as well as being a large scale employer. John McDonnell has said a Labour government would start to dismantle nuclear weapons within its first 100 days. 

This is a good read on the unworkability of Corbynism and, therefore, its irrelevance.

Reading Corbyn’s 10 pledges is like going on a journey back to the 1970s and 1980s and are as about relevant to today as May’s 1950s back to the future project. Corbyn and May have much in common. They have both taken the easy route by appealing to their core supporters with a tempting re-creation of a past they believe to be better. The reason May is in power with a nearly 20 point lead over Corbyn is that her offer is built on the Tories’ reputation for economic credibility. It may be undeserved but that is what voters believe.

Social Democracy Mark 2

Voters deserve better than conflicting offers of a return to the past. Labour needs a leadership that is interested and prepared to put in the hours of work on identifying the problems not just of today but the challenges of the coming decades.

  • globalisation – the benefits need to be praised and greater world trade encouraged but work needs to be done on sharing the benefits more widely so that communities do not feel left behind.
  • artificial intelligence – an opportunity but also a threat to many existing ways of working. What will we do when AI takes over most of the jobs people do? How do we embrace the benefits to create more wealth while ensuring that wealth is shared?
  • changing demographics – as the age structure of the world population changes, how do we embrace the opportunities it provides and how do we prevent whole sections of society being seen as problems?
  • recreation – there could be more time for this so how do we create the opportunities?
  • liberal values of equality and universal human rights – how do we ensure these survive following the potential creation of a massive new class of individuals who are economically useless?
  • democracy – how will democratic elections survive when Facebook, Google, Twitter, Whatsapp etc know our political preferences better than we do?

(I referenced Yuval Noah Harari’s On the Rise of Homo Deus for assistance with bringing together this list of strategic challenges).

These are the real but difficult challenges of the first half of the 21st century. Social democracy can make itself relevant again by facing up to them and working on strategies that deliver the traditional social democrat values of equality of opportunity, wealth creation, wealth sharing, human rights and access to social programmes.

This would be a much better use of time than re-creating grammar schools, nationalising the commanding heights of the economy and building a new royal yacht. Oh, and negotiating a hard Brexit.

By Keith Nieland

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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Mind The Language Gap

15th March 2017

 -By Steven Duckworth-

Mind the Language Gap

Last week, amid fallout from the budget speech and its political consequences, Jeremy Hunt addressed a Reform conference in central London. At the event, the Secretary of State delivered a speech that was perceptive, engaging and strong on detail, which will be utterly unsurprising to those who know the man and his interest in improving healthcare in Britain generally and the NHS in England specifically. Hunt didn’t – “I bet he didn’t”, I hear you cry – focus on funding or NHS operational issues, apart from a commitment to the A & E performance target. He did, however, drill down specifically and with precision on the importance of all healthcare providers making patient safety their one overriding mission.

The Secretary of State used the examples of failure that had led to the tragedies seen at Mid Staffs, Southern and Morecambe Bay NHS Trusts and the pain this had caused to patients and their families. He made the compelling case, clinically, economically and morally for making the improvement in patient safety the NHS’s driving focus, using the examples of patient safety campaigners and leaders such as Julie Bailey and James Titcombe – among others – to make his point.

In short, Hunt talked about people.

In contrast to the Hunt speech was an interview the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner had given to the Today program a couple of days before. Rayner was on the program to respond to the much trailed leak that the chancellor was going to earmark £500m pounds for education spending in the budget. Apart from the fact that Rayner was at times aggressive and difficult it’s harsh to blame her much for this. John Humphrys’ interview style would drive most to distraction, although she should probably learn to deal with it.

The striking element of the interview was the language she used, describing increased education funding as “a vanity project” and “ideological dogma”. An absolutely awful way to respond to a rise in school spending. There are many sound arguments opposing selection in schools and some against the creation of Free Schools, but the shadow secretary could not get beyond her leftist based rhetoric to make these points.

In short, Rayner talked about politics.

It would be unfair to single out Rayner, partly because the interview format is more challenging than a prepared speech but also because she is only following the course set by her leader and followed by many of her front bench colleagues. In fact she is one of the better members of Labour’s senior team and given time to find her feet could turn into an effective politician. Her interview is an example of how Labour is developing a way of engagement that is becoming ever more closed and inward focused, throwing rhetorical red meat to its more extreme supporters while at the same time turning off most voters.

A cycle is now in motion where every poor opinion poll is met by an increased infusion of hard sloganeering and protest, which in turn leads to more public distrust. None of this is to say that the government are getting public policy right, they are most certainly not, but that Labour’s response to it is becoming staid and predictable and even confirmed Labour supporters are switching off.

So how does Labour break the cycle?

Quite simply, Labour must start talking to people about issues that matter to them, which in relation to public services usually revolves around ease of access and quality of service, in language that is accessible and, to be blunt, vaguely normal. Most voters are put off by talk of fight and struggle, just as they find it odd to see politicians on marches and protests – especially when they appear to be surrounded by Socialist Worker placards – and they become frustrated at an opposition that constantly decries government policy but doesn’t appear to want to offer alternatives beyond slogans and platitudes.

The share of the vote at recent by elections suggest that people are not listening to Labour any more and that the party is drifting down a political cul-de-sac. They seem also to have concluded that there is one party pushing “ideological dogma” and it isn’t the Conservatives.

By Steven Duckworth


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“Facts All Come With Points of View…”

13th March 2017

By Keith Nieland-

“Facts All Come With Points of View. Facts Don’t Do What I Want Them To”

 By Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City

Sadly, I am nearer to 70 than 60 so I’ve been around the block a few times including living through 18 general elections and I can remember them all vividly with the exception of the first 3.

My first recollection is of the 1959 election when I sat with my Labour voting parents in front of our newly acquired flickering black and white television with me filling in the results in a very handy pullout section from the Radio Times. I remember my mother complaining that Hugh Gaitskell had conceded defeat too early.

Watching all those elections into the small hours of the morning, even when my beloved Labour Party was doomed to defeat, has let me into a secret – the secret of winning general elections.

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

I do not need sophisticated opinion polls or university professors who specialise in politics, or TV pundits come to that. The secret of success is obvious and has been there to see in all those 18 general elections and it only has two parts.

The first is that party leaders must look like a prime minister in waiting. They need to look and dress the part, present as authoritative, articulate and in control whilst at the same time calm and sympathetic with a listening ear. They need to appear as being able to stare Putin down whilst at the same time being kind to dogs and willing to kiss any passing baby.

The second factor relates to how we feel a leader will manage the economy – more precisely each of our personal economies. Voters need to be assured their wallet or purse is safe in the hands of the chosen Prime Minister. Let me be precise here – not the national economy but our personal financial affairs. Voters don’t fret about the GDP, the difference between national debt and the deficit or the RPI but they are concerned about things that directly affect them. Watching those pre-Budget TV vox pop interviews reveals people worrying about their personal finances – tax credits, help with child care, pensions, etc. They do not demand major change but instead look to be better off at the margin. I suspect this is because voters rarely believe politicians who promise major change suspecting it will never happen and/or will be at the cost of increasing their taxes.

Down Memory Lane

So let’s apply my 2-part theory to those elections that kept me up all night. Macmillan won in 1959 because he said “most of our people have never had it so good” and that was how people felt. Gaitskell never had a chance as voters were harvesting the benefit of the post Second World War boom.

Come 1964 and the boot was very much on the other foot. Sir Alec Douglas-Home looked like a relic from the 19th century as Harold Wilson mocked him for doing economics with match sticks and spoke of “the white heat of technology”. Wilson looked like a PM in waiting and voters turned to him (narrowly) but even more convincingly in 1966.

By 1970 it was a turnaround again with voters doubting Labour’s ability to run the economy as inflation began to rise. The June general election brought Edward Heath’s Conservative Party to power with a surprise majority of 30 seats. I recall lots of TV advertisements rubbing home the fear of inflation and what it would do to families’ incomes. Never had the price of a loaf of bread been so hotly debated; but it meant a lot to voters.

1974 saw two elections with Wilson winning narrowly on both occasions (the first without an overall majority) as voters again turned to Wilson’s experience to resolve the industrial disputes damaging the economy. 1979 saw Callaghan soundly defeated by his inability to resolve “the winter of discontent” (a phrase that was to haunt Labour for years to come) and in strode the Prime Ministerial Margaret Thatcher.

In the eyes of some she may have been the “Marmite” PM, but a combination of an authoritative stance and an economy that served most people quite well, meant that she swept all before her through the 1980s. She may have overseen the decline of the UK as a manufacturing power but did it in such a way as to keep sufficient voters onside to ensure election victory after election victory. When she departed John Major looked sufficiently Prime Ministerial with an economy ticking along nicely to deliver a victory in 1992. 1997 saw the arrival of Tony Blair who knew full well the importance of both looking the part and not frightening the horses when it came to voters’ wallets and purses and this was followed by two further big election victories.

The crash of 2008 saw Gordon Brown given the unwanted label of incompetence when it came to managing the economy which delivered David Cameron into Downing Street in 2010 and 2015. Cameron knew enough about Blair’s route to power to recognise the dual importance of personal and economic credibility.

The 2020 Crystal Ball

So what does 2020 look like through the prism of personal and economic credibility? It looks like a battle between May and Corbyn but there is an outside possibility that the choppy waters of Brexit and Corbyn’s travails within the Labour Party might change the runners and riders.

In the spring of 2020 voters will ask themselves those two crucial questions again. Some will have made their minds up already, some during the campaign and some in the voting booth with pencil poised over the ballot paper. Even though, apart from in two constituencies, May’s and Corbyn’s names will not be on the ballot paper they will be very much in voters’ minds.

  • Which looks most Prime Ministerial and as if 10 Downing Street is their natural home?
  • Which will represent the UK’s best interests when at meetings in the White House, the Kremlin or Brussels (yes, Brussels still)?
  • Who do they trust most to guarantee the nation’s security including against terrorism?
  • Who will keep inflation low, deliver marginal increases in their income, and not raise their taxes?
  • Most importantly: to which of those two do the voters trust stewardship of their wallet or purse?

So when it comes to personal and economic credibility will voters turn to May or Corbyn? The opinion polls suggest a clear answer with May’s Tory party around 18 points ahead of Labour and Corbyn’s credibility at rock bottom.

It is suggested in some quarters that Corbyn’s problems are because voters tell opinion pollsters what they want they to hear and that there is an establishment/media plot against Corbyn. I think we should give voters more credit and be less dismissive of the view they have come to about Corbyn. Labour would be best served, in the interests of wider democracy and those who need a Labour government to deliver their potential, if it were to focus on the skills of their leader and his offer to the wallets and purses of the UK.

If the present leader cannot establish his personal and economic credibility he needs to be replaced before there is a catastrophic collision with voters.

By Keith Nieland

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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Theresa May Be For Or Against Anything

28th February 2017

By Barnabus Howard-

Theresa May Be For Or Against Anything

Theresa May hasn’t really done any leading yet. She was after all the recipient of what must be a world record for the number of withdrawals from a leadership election. She barely got to define her plans or her vision, and ‘pop!’ – Prime Minister. I’m not going to ask you to feel sorry for her, but she is in what must be the most bizarre premiership this country has ever seen.

What happens when you become leader? Well, you assemble your cabinet or shadow cabinet from those who agree with you, those who you can work with on a particular issue, and a few rivals that you cannot ignore and/or you don’t want pissing on you from the outside. The backbenchers are therefore by definition either not influential enough, or too extreme for your tastes in one form or another.

You then have a government or opposition to face. You use the opposition as the electoral stick to keep your own backbenchers in place, “it’s not that I disagree with you [Mr or Ms Lunatic MP – even though I do] but if I take your advice the opposition will fillet us at the ballot box”. In turn you, if PM, use that fragile loyalty to avoid the opposition ever turning you over.

Of course, the longer you are leader the less well it works; eventually you face a backbench rebellion. In time this either ends in electoral defeat, a leadership election or alternatively the “fear” of electoral defeat. Now, if it is either of the two former options then likely you are no longer leader and cease to care. But should it be the latter then that is often enough to reset the clock for a year or so and on you go.

But back to Theresa; her backbenchers are no different from any others, more shrill and extreme than she is (I think you’ll find that a mere three minutes listening to John Redwood, IDS or Phillip Davies will bear me out – as mad as a box of frogs), but they have no credible fear of electoral defeat. It doesn’t seem to matter whether Mrs May does something good, something bad or even anything at all… her lead in the polls remains massive.

Having not had the time or leadership contest to define herself, I can’t imagine that she is in any place to shake off her backbenchers. I have no issue with an “unelected prime minister”, that is just a part of the First Past The Post system. But in this instance not even the Tories elected her. She is, until she wins a general (or leadership) election, Schrödinger’s cat. Both alive and dead at once.

Two recent issues, the scheduled Business Rates hike, and the changes to the insurer payout formula, seem to suggest some incompetence on the part of her team. Sajid Javid was even accused of misleading his own MPs for crying out loud!

Both may seem like pretty niche issues for the man or woman in the street, but are actually important. Rebecca Long-Bailey made a good effort to point out some issues with the business rates hike, but not enough of an effort. The current Labour Party leadership seems unable to articulate any position that both makes sense to voters AND could fix the issue.

Being a very financially literate chap, I was somewhat dismayed to find no real substantive response by the Labour Party, and instead find John McDonnell spending his time pontificating on “unity”. Unity in what I ask?

I specifically did not mention by-elections or Brexit in this post because I think they form a convenient smoke screen for the lack of ministerial-type activity or focus from the Labour Party leadership. If I’ve gone looking for it and can’t find it, what chance does your average voter stand?

Meanwhile, May can spend her time mulling over what she may become after 2020.

By Barnabus Howard

Middle Vision

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If not Blair, then Who?

24th February 2017

By Keith Nieland-

If Not Blair… then Who?

The earth began to move and slowly part. A bony, emaciated hand grasped at the dank, putrid air. This was followed by a swivel-eyed, scab ridden head. Mothers held their firstborn close, the Daily Mail closed the window blinds in fear, Boris went hunting for stakes while Nigel ran in panic through the streets seeking a sledge hammer. Yes! Tony Blair had risen!blair-martin-rowson-guardian

The Hammer House of Brexit

The response in some quarters to Tony Blair’s Bloomberg Brexit speech was more akin to a horror film script than a continuing political dialogue that, despite the wishes of some, will be with us for years to come. The immediate reaction was to play the man with little attempt to respond to the real issues he raised so well, summarised in Steven Duckworth’s post. Blair was irrelevant, speaking out on an issue already settled, he was yesterday’s man forever blighted by the Iraq war.

The usual suspects, many of whom would have agreed with his every word just a few short months ago, ran for the nearest microphone and TV camera to do their bit to stick the knife in (or perhaps the stake!) Jeremy Corbyn went all pious saying the decision of the people should be respected.

The trouble with all the responses were that they were based on what his political foes had wished he’d said rather than what he did say. He was simply saying that while he fully respected the referendum outcome, and that there was little appetite for revisiting it, the great British public might just want to have a rethink once the fine details of the EU divorce become clear.

So, what exactly is wrong with that? It might happen automatically without any prompting if the exit negotiations do not go well and/or speedily. It all rather begged the question “why the excitable reaction?”

“Don’t Panic, Mr Mainwaring!”

Perhaps the real reason for the hysterical response was those at the front of the rush for the EU exit door – May, Corbyn, Farage, BoJo, Davis, Fox, etc do not want an articulate, clever, analytical figure with considerable gravitas – who still enjoys respect amongst sections of the electorate and commands media attention, from looking too closely at what they plan. They want everything neatly under their control, with limited information for Parliament, no public briefings on the exit negotiations and, above all, not to be held accountable for the Leave campaign promises.

The last thing May’s control freakery wants is to find Tony Blair smiling back at her as he dissects her every EU exit move. The Prime Minister wants the status quo – an anti-EU Tory backbench and a lukewarm EU fan leading the opposition.

I would suggest the driver for control of the process is those dodgy Leave promises sitting uneasily on the notion of the settled will of the public.

We All Loved Ratners Once

It’s an unwritten, unarticulated human right – the right to change our minds.

The deal was simple – if you do not want an EU army, the country invaded by Turks coming for our jobs, Europeans turning up when they want but would welcome a cut in VAT and an extra £350m each week for the NHS then vote Leave.

So what happens if and when these promises evaporate and issues never mentioned in the referendum campaign come to the fore? Voters might just feel let down, as if the whole thing was not worth it and, as bad as it was, that perhaps things were better inside the EU.

So how are we doing on the promises just eight months on? Well, there are no plans for an EU army, Turkey will not be joining the EU any time soon (or ever given the current state of the country) and, surprise, surprise David Davis tells us the free movement of labour will have to last until… well nobody knows! The VAT cut has never been mentioned again and the extra NHS funds have been spray painted over and dumped somewhere on the M1.

Davis, Fox and Boris have yet to sit in front of the EU negotiating team but already we know that, far from there being an exit financial bonus, there will be an exit bill, a sizeable one: fifty to sixty million Euros appears to be the opening figure. After all, not unreasonably, the EU will want us to cough up for developments we have already agreed to over the coming planning period.

Nobody mentioned that during the campaign and, if they did, it would have no doubt been branded as part of Project Fear.

Will the EU team want the exit bill issue settled before they are willing to discuss any other matters? Well, what do you do think?

It is still too early to say what the impact on the economy will be but we have to accept that leaving the world’s biggest free trade area cannot be achieved without any negative effect. It’s a bit like leaving the golf club and then demanding all the benefits of membership without paying a subscription. If the UK wants access to all, or selected parts, of the EU free trade zone there will be a cost. It is delusional to think we can abandon up to 45% of our trade and somehow replace it with deals elsewhere in the world.

IoD members are not full of confidence. The impact of Brexit on our vital banking and car manufacturing sectors will be watched with keen interest. It just needs bad news in one of these key areas, particularly car manufacturing, for the public to go sore on the whole Brexit idea.

The public mood could easily change – after all we once loved Ratners and would hear no word of dissent.

What the Opposition Should Be Doing

The Labour Opposition has a big problem – a very big problem.

It has a leader who is indifferent to the EU, who chose to go on holiday during the country’s most important referendum campaign in over 40 years, who gave the EU 7 marks out of 10 in a TV interview, whose support for his own party’s campaign was criticised by the campaign’s leader and who called for Article 50 to be enacted the morning after the result. 60% of Labour voters wanted to Remain as did 48% of total voters, the Party’s official policy is to support membership and to give every opportunity for voters to have a say once the conditions of Brexit are known. The Leader is out of step with many, and perhaps a majority, of Labour voters, members and MPs.

I would suggest that Corbyn’s lacklustre EU campaign and disinterest since runs the real risk of his party getting none of the credit should Brexit go well and some of the blame should it not. While others make the running, Labour has become an invisible player in the EU exit debate. Corbyn three line whipping his MPs through the lobby to support Brexit at any cost could well come back to haunt him and his party. How can Corbyn suggest that is not the case given his party’s failure to at least abstain in the final vote once it became clear the Government were not willing to compromise on any of the assurances being sought?

If Parliament is to have further opportunities to influence the exit deal, when and how will that happen?

I doubt the electorate know what Labour’s Brexit position is and, indeed, care much given the Party’s, and Corbyn’s, dire poll rankings.

Blair has a Blueprint

Is it possible the old class-based dividing lines that defined the core Labour and Conservative votes are fading to be replaced with a nation of Remainers and Leavers? Only time will tell, but I suggest it is a possibility. Labour runs the risk of being discarded into history because it failed to adopt a clear position on Brexit.

As the main opposition party, it has a duty to oppose May’s form of Brexit – what Blair would describe as “Brexit at any cost” – for two reasons. It is what oppositions do, but more importantly, given the Party’s beliefs and values, it is the right thing to do.

Labour should be saying that while Article 50 may well be triggered shortly, the Government has no blank cheque and the Party will resist a Brexit for Brexit’s sake. What the Government proposes will be crawled all over and the public will be advised of the consequences for them. The Party should be painting a picture of the post-Brexit UK which it believes is in the best interests of all its citizens but in particular, those sections that have traditionally looked to it for leadership.

The Party’s position on the Customs Union, the Single Market, EU citizens living, working and studying here and UK citizens doing likewise in Europe should be made clear and articulated. Labour should be highlighting the many, many issues that need a negotiated solution. It should be putting pressure on May to explain regularly where we are on new trade deals, on what they cover, who they are with and how long negotiations are scheduled.

Most importantly, if Labour believes what May and her team are doing is not in the wider national interest, they should be nudging voters to have a change of mind.

Regrettably Labour has put all its lifejackets in the Leave lifeboat, but the situation is not beyond recovery. If we put aside Corbyn’s poor personal poll ratings the Party can get back into the Brexit debate by following Blair’s lead because the Party will be clearly saying May has no blank cheque, we will watch and analyse her every step, she will be held to account and, if we believe the direction of travel not to be in the wider UK interests, then we shall urge voters to think again.

Blair pointed a way forward and Labour should follow it.

By Keith Nieland

Please note: articles and posts on ‘Middle Vision’ reflect the views of the individual authors and not of all involved in ‘Middle Vision’

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Why Tony Blair is right about Brexit and why Labour must ignore him

22nd February 2017

 -By Steven Duckworth-

Why Tony Blair is right about Brexit and why Labour must ignore him

I like to think of myself as fairly non-partisan on politics. Extremists aside, I believe most people get involved in politics because they generally want to improve society for all of its members.

Having said that, I am a supporter and member of the Labour Party, not because I’m a socialist but because I believe Labour is still the party that is best able to deliver and sustain a prosperous and fair society. It shouldn’t need saying that Labour needs to actually get into government before it can deliver anything, but in these febrile times for the party, it’s always a point worth making.

Bearing this in mind, it was with some pride and a great deal of sadness at Labour’s current plight that I watched Tony Blair’s Blooomberg/Open Britain speech last week.

Labour’s most successful leader riffed across many different, but connected, themes intelligently and effectively. His delivery was impeccable and he talked directly to the people his speech was aimed at, the 48% of the population who had voted to remain in the EU. Only a masochist would want to compare him with the Labour Party’s current leadership team, but compare I did and it left me in a state of despair.

In terms of detail, Blair was spot on too. I also believe that people believed that leaving the EU would help finance the NHS, cut down on all immigration and return sovereignty to Westminster. All of these assertions by the Leave campaign were demonstrably false and I do believe that Blair is right when he predicts that leaving the EU and the Single Market would have a highly negative impact on our prosperity and standing in the world. Blair also showed his political instincts and craft when he accused Theresa May of being the purveyor of “the mantle of patriotism abused”. Oh, how that would sound coming across the dispatch box on a Wednesday lunchtime.

So where does Mr Blair’s intervention leave us when we think about the politics of Brexit specifically? I tend to think it offers nothing much at all.

Theresa May has decided – for reasons of clarity and political expediency – that a hard Brexit is what she will pursue. Tim Farron has concluded the opposite, but for much the same reasons. The SNP are similar to Farron, but they think this all may well provide a tilt at another Scottish independence vote.

Which leaves the Labour party; of all the parties it needs to face both ways on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn had no realistic choice but to back the government over triggering Article 50. I think it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

Blair may want a politically realigned movement that energises and engages Remain voters – as a Remainer I’m glad someone is making the case – but Labour has to get on with the task of running a party at Westminster and fighting elections and that means trying to straddle the Brexit divide.

So is there a way forward for Labour on Brexit? Well, there are no easy choices; the party will anger and ostracise many supporters whichever way it decides to go on the issue. But there are opportunities. Labour needs to be positive and start to describe what sort of Brexit the government should be pursuing: red lines on the Customs Union, what a fair immigration policy would look like and pushing for a settlement for those EU nationals already resident in the UK would all start to frame a different take compared to the other parties.

This is the right thing to do in itself, but it also lends Labour authority when – and I think it will – the government begins to flounder on its Brexit negotiations. An opportunity for a second referendum might even arise and Labour should support it, but from a position of a party that has tried to implement the referendum result rather than obstinately opposing it.

Labour faces a real Hobson’s choice on Brexit and will have many a difficult moment in the months ahead. There are no easy lines for a party that elected a Eurosceptic leader ahead of a momentous EU referendum. A different party under a different leader might well have been able to join a broad-based movement to oppose Brexit, but Labour’s tragedy is that it is in no position to take up Tony Blair’s rallying cry.

Massive mistakes over the past few years, particularly the last two, have meant that if it is to survive – and that is already in the balance – Labour will have to slowly and tentatively build its way out of the pit it finds itself in. There is no room for political quick fixes in that particular project.

By Steven Duckworth


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