Archive | June, 2017

Harold Wilsons Minority Queens Speech

28 Jun

…and its dodgy advice.

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There never seems to be a situation in British Politics that we haven’t been in before. In 1974 Harold Wilson was given the opportunity to lead a minority Government. Of course Wilson had been in opposition in February 1974, however like Teresa May Harold Wilson was confident of passing a Queens speech. Wilson did not seek agreements with any of the minor parties, and it is likely none would have been keen to do so. The Queens speech was set for 12 March. Wilson understood that his tenure leading a minority administration was likely to be short, and that much of the manifesto commitments wouldn’t be enacted. However, he also didn’t want to table a mini queen’s speech. Indeed, Wilson wanted to act big and put much of the legislation down even of it wasn’t going to get passed into law. The electoral cycle continued! (and Teresa May seems to be following by tabling a 2 year Queens Speech). Most of the Cabinet expected another election by the end of the year.

Heath as leader of the opposition warned that they would seek to defeat the government on the speech and force Wilson out of office. Wilson was adamant that he would seek a dissolution if this occurred.

The Civil Service though gave Wilson quite a lot of duff advice. Robert Armstrong advised that if Wilson lost a confidence vote the Queen might send for a senior figure to form a Government ( Jenkins/Whitelaw) . Armstrong and Crowther Hunt (his Minister at the Cabinet Office) argued against resigning in the event of defeat. Indeed, Crowther Hunt wrote the first draft of a note to the PM on the train into work on the morning of 15 March.

Crowther Hunt saw 2 alternate courses of action if a Conservative amendment was carried. Alternative A was to simply ignore the vote and Alternative B was to call a confidence vote. If defeated in the confidence cote Crowther Hunt advised Wilson stay put and ask for a dissolution. He then uses some fairly dated commonwealth examples of the risk the Queen would have in saying no. Namely that if Heath couldn’t form a Government (which he couldn’t) there would need to be a dissolution anyway. Crowther Hunt thought the Queen would be acting constitutionally improper to call for say Whitelaw or Jenkins to try and form a Government, given the accepted practice of electing party leaders. Crowther Hunt thinks the only way the Queen could refuse would be to call a Round Table Conference to seek all-party agreement, but even then he sees it as a precursor to dissolution.

Crowther Hunts memo then gets the Armstrong tinkering and is slightly expanded for Wilson. Armstrong adds 2 other alternatives as a subset of the defeat on a vote of confidence, namely forming a “broad based” Government and advising the Queen to appoint Heath as PM. These are then instantly dismissed as not being what Wilson is interested in. Armstrong though doesn’t give up, he adds a paragraph that says the Queen would be looking to avoid another election and that she might take soundings amongst good Tories. She would be reluctant to so so with Labour as it “would be hazardous in the extreme”. Crowther Hunt notes his view that the Queen wouldn’t call someone else to form a Government but Armstrong is less certain. Perhaps he’s hoping rather than being rational? There’s even a suggestion that the Queen might then enter into a complex game with Wilson testing his nerve around the dissolution versus a Whitelaw style Government. Wilson would need to consider his position in relation to the “Government of National Unity” a favourite idea for many in the early 70s.

 

4 days later Armstrong came back with a confession. After being pressed by Crowther Hunt on the precedents Armstrong realised he had cocked up. His understanding ( i.e. advice) to not resign after losing a vote on an address was based on a misunderstanding. He was using the precedent of Peel being defeated on an amendment in 1834, who didn’t resign on that but on a later defeat on an appropriation resolution (supply in modern DUP terms). Defeat on the amendment have been seen as confidence after all. His draft note on this claims both he and Crowther Hunt believe this doesn’t change the earlier advice. The final note only relies on Armstrong being confident on this manner.

 

The actual speech featured a youthful Neil Kinnock as one of the 2 star opening turns, Nigel Lawson wondered if Zetland might declare UDI and the ever popular Dennis Skinner wondered of the Liberals had gone off streaking.

 

In the end Heath didn’t call for a division on the speech but instead the amendment to the vote was defeated by 295 to 21 with the Conservatives abstaining. On 18 March.

 

References

Harold Wilson FINAL TERM THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT 1974-1976

Prem/16/231

 

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The 2017 UK election …what happens now

16 Jun

The DUP shouted about state sponsored murder…they up the ante and make the situation much harder to cope with …slowly over time you don’t even bother to register the outrages..but the slow dripping of bile and insinuation undermines the process.It makes people more uncertain and fearful, shakes their belief that progress can be made.

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This is from Mo Mowlam. The DUP are now the King maker in UK politics, how did this come about and where will it end ?

Its like a great tragedy. The 2017 election is likely to be written about and talked about for many years to come. Whether its the starting point for some new politics or just a punctuation on the way to a return to normal service time will tell. It was an election no one won, everyone lost. Yet some of the losers are clear winners, and the most reactionary Party in UK politics ( quoted recently but I can’t find where as the political wing of the 17th century ) the DUP are going to have power. Yes this might not be a coalition or a formal power arrangement , but there votes are required and they will extract a great price. They are the most Socially Conservative of all the elected parties at Westminster. They also have a fundamentally hardline view on the governance of Northern Ireland. And to those who weren’t watching, they are responsible for one of the biggest scandals in recent UK times. https://www.renewableenergyhub.co.uk/blog/norther-ireland-the-rhi-scandal-and-what-it-means-for-renewable-heating/

More worrying though is that if the Government is reliant on one Northern Ireland party it will upend the peace process and current Governance arrangements. One of the great moves forward in the peace process has been to include wider shades of nationalism and unionism. However by utilising FPP, the DUP will have a monopoly not only on Unionism but on Northern Ireland issues with the UK Government. Do we need to go to this ?

And what of  Teresa Mays backbenchers? They will make sure the coast is clear and that Corbyn can’t touch power, but at some point she will leave. To be replaced by who or what ? Does the lack of majority mean another election ? Well you’d think so, especially if a new leader gets a poll bounce. But wasn’t that what just happened ? Who is going to trust a poll bounce now. May’s monumental cock up will reverberate for years. We could be faced with a slow Parliamentary death like the 74-9 Parliament. Defeat extracted one day at a time.

And I had hoped this was as bad it was going to get.

The Tories will plough on but look unlikely to be able to deliver on big policy. Of course the election was meant to be about Brexit. It quickly wasn’t, yet the implications for it will be massive. This Brexit Parliament ( if it remains in place ) will deal with it all. The clock is ticking on Article 50 and suddenly the divisions that are in the Tory party between the soft and hard Brexit camps will become real. Parliamentary arithmetic is claimed  to favour soft Brexit. The current Prime Minister was a remainer. I doubt there will be an appetite for big risk. However the position is unlikely to be between soft and hard but more consensual. The Brexit deal will almost certainly have to be cross party or certainly pan-party. Even those curiosities the Liberal Democrats may need to be onboard.

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And suddenly everything Teresa May touches turns to disaster. The Confidence and Supply agreement doesn’t materialise, the Queens speech is delayed and the awful Fire disaster has found her lacking in just about every area she was needed in. Does this shorten her shelf life ? Undoubtedly, but from what to what is unclear. Don’t expect this means another election though, not yet anyway. What are the odds on a new leader arising to bring the Lib Dems onboard ( also under a new non religious leader we assume ) and moving forward with a cross-party Brexit before calling for another election in say 2019/2020 ?

What does seem certain is that despite having a wonderful result by historic standards, the SNP took a pasting and Indyref2 finds itself in some slightly longer grass.

An eccentric and elegiac election

5 Jun

The UK is going to the polls (again) and these plebiscites are becoming high entertainment spectacles even if they are low on political x factor. Many will of course wonder why now, and as many reply why not. Teresa May must have agonised over this. Had she come in and cleared the decks then this might be seen as acceptable. But she didn’t she told us over and over that no election was coming. Then suddenly we were having one because Parliament might not continue to keep agreeing with her. It takes some time to follow through all the issues she raised here. Of course the cynical way to look at this is that she decided to cut and run. 20 point leads in the opinion polls don’t come very often. All she could see in front of her was the downside of leaving the EU, the end of free movement, recession, possible criminal charges against sitting MPs and a Labour opposition that could only go up. Mrs May decided to cash all this in, but she’s gone in a short space of time from being Mrs Thatcher to Ted Heath. Remarkable that perhaps the PM who took us out of the EU has made the same blunder as the one who took us in. A snap election to focus on a key issue that then gets little focus, whilst your leadership slowly drains away.  Even if she wins unless she wins big the writing is on the wall. She started the campaign with talk of a 1930s style result and now were looking at February 1974 !

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Never trust a person who doesn’t know how to eat chips !

The election seems to be witnessing the death of UKIP and the Lib Dems. UKIP have seen a lot of their policy platform hoovered up by the Tories. We now have a protectionist anti-foreigner, anti free movement, isolationist Government. Kippers no longer need to protest. But what of the Lib Dems, the hope they would bounce back as the sensible voice of remainers doesn’t look likely. The electorate seems to have moved on, or not fully comprehended the leaving of the EU. This is becoming a fictional election, fought on a fictional issue brought about by a fictional Brexit.  I’m sure the Lib Dems will survive, but a massive success for them would end up with something like 15 MPs. It doesn’t seem worth sniffing all those spaniels for does it ? The leader seems to get caught again and again on theology. It doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense. Why he hasn’t developed convincing lines on it is beyond belief. Which reminds me of the UKIP manifesto. A one in one out immigration policy  ( then someone presumably gets shaken all about ) A ban on covering your cheeks in public, a brexit day national holiday.

Some people are trying to keep BRexit alive 

There will be lots of focus on the result in Scotland, there is a big challenge for the SNP as they are coming off an unbelievable high. However the prism of Independence will be cast over the result. The Conservatives look like being the main beneficiaries, but its hard to see the SNP not being the 3rd largest party again. And by some margin.

I enjoyed the spectacle of the Jeremy World Cup. First Jeremy Corbyn went up against Jeremy Vine. He obviously did ok because he played Jeremy Paxman in the semi-final. I eagerly await the clash with Jeremy Hanley ( who has his own fan club remember ) but hope we can avoid Jeremy on Jeremy violence as its unnecessary.

Teresa May has unravelled in a way no one thought possible. How the Tories must be cursing the choice they made. How Boris Johnson is enjoying providing the outgoing aggressive insensitive foil to her introverted aggressive insensitive character. First there was Mugwumps then he insulted a whole audience by talking about “ Clinky Clinky “ of bottles of imported Scotch to India. But he’s gone much further as the TV debate spinner. All arms and finger-pointing and aggressive gestures. He called Corbyn’s chance of governing dependent on  the tutti fruity coalition. He doesn’t realise how appealing that sounds. Tough the Italian Tutti Frutti coalition was more like the modern Conservative government. Populists and nationalists all held together by fear of foreigners. A group who can’t decide on what their policy position is on anything. The shambles of the Dementia Tax said it all.

Many Tories would have rather had him calling the shots, he couldn’t have been worse than May. Well perhaps he would.

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or perhaps he wouldnt 

But the 2017 oddest attraction seems to be Zac Goldsmith. He probably deserves a post all on his own, which I will do shortly. He’s back again campaigning as a candidate for the party he resigned from and tried to stand against last year. He’s a trier if nothing else !

Without doubt  the oddest attraction, but in some ways the most heartwarming has been Grime for Corbyn.

The polls are all over the place and there’s a good article by Nate Silver ( have I just typed that !) on it all at https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/are-the-u-k-polls-skewed/

It might be worth coming back to if Mrs May doesn’t have an 80 plus seat majority.

And then there are the grotesque terrorist attacks. Impossible to comprehend. The issue of security has now come to the fore. No one can win this debate by being binary. Its not a binary issue.

Jeremy Corbyn has been the undoubted star of the campaign, he has been humorous, engaging and realistic and offered hope. The Tories have hit him in a predictable Crosby style ( whose also going to be worth a separate post ) but it hasn’t landed. The public understand him warts and all. Perhaps the public have realised that the bogeymen myths about left wingers just aren’t true ?

Perhaps they don’t feel there’s anything left to risk or lose. Perhaps they like him after all. What has the voter to make of it all. The Brexit election, which isn’t really about Brexit at all, the Tutti Frutti election where the 2 parties will probably get more of the combined vote than in the last 40 years. The election is likely to show the huge divisions across the UK in starling Technicolor while  providing a result in monochrome. You’d still have to say this is Mrs Mays victory for the taking, but it’s no longer straightforward. Oddly the awful terrorist attacks have exposed May. She can’t blame anyone else for security failures. She sounds odd standing outside Number 10 saying enough is enough. The public may agree with her. The hardline rhetoric hasn’t worked, maybe something else will. The grandstanding over nuclear weapons mixed with the mock horror that Corbyn wasn’t always keen on shoot to kill policing shouldn’t be surprising.

2 years ago the media and pundits were obsessed with the idea of a hung parliament, now there may well be one that sneaks up on us. May deserves the hung parliament, the UK perhaps doesn’t but who knows ? The joy of a Corbyn led Government may be short-lived, I doubt a hung parliament would allow it to happen but we could hardly have 5 years of a Conservative DUP coalition….or could we ?

If I had to call it I would say small Conservative majority, but punditry is for the brave.