Two days is a long time in pre-election politics
On 28th November Francis Elliott’s triumphalist article in the Times heralded a seat-by-seat analysis based on polling by YouGov for The Times.
But two days later, a BMG poll which questioned 1,663 voters between 27 and 29 November showed that the Conservative lead had ‘narrowed sharply’ (Reuters) – halved when compared with last week’s poll.
Robert Struthers, BMG’s head of polling, said “If this trend continues, this election could be much closer than it looked just a matter of weeks ago.”
Rob Merrick (Independent) points out that the results come at the end of a week when Mr Johnson has faced further criticism on several counts, compounding earlier allegations, including:
- his appalling attitude to single mothers and working-class men
- his unwillingness to face Andrew Neil.
- the early release from prison of the London Bridge attacker and
- his relationship with Donald Trump, who will arrive for a NATO summit in London on Tuesday.
Robert Struthers said there was growing evidence Labour is “starting to build momentum” ahead of the election on 12 December. 73% of those who backed the party at the 2017 election now planning to do the same on 12 December – up from 67% a week ago.
The change in direction is shown above and BMG’s headline voting intention figures take the Conservative lead from a likely majority into possible hung parliament territory. Will this continue and take the Labour Party into the lead?
The Financial Times reported that during the TV leaders’ debate on November 19th, the Conservative party was accused of duping the public after rebranding one of its official Twitter accounts – @CCHQPress – into what appeared to be an independent fact checking service like those developed by independent organisations and media groups such as the BBC, the Guardian and Channel 4.
A Moseley reader draws attention to Peter Oborne’s perception of ‘a systemic dishonesty within Johnson’s campaigning machine‘
Oborne cites another attempt to dupe the public: “(Johnson’s) party deliberately doctored footage of the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, to make it look as if he was at a loss for words when asked about Labour’s Brexit position. In fact, Starmer had answered confidently and fluently. The video was a deliberate attempt to mislead voters. And when Piers Morgan tackled the Tory chairman, James Cleverly, on the issue, he refused to accept he’d done anything wrong, let alone apologise”.
Oborne: “As someone who has voted Conservative pretty well all my life, this upsets me. As the philosopher Sissela Bok has explained, political lying is a form of theft. It means that voters make democratic judgments on the basis of falsehoods. Their rights are stripped away”.
He has also charged many of the British media with ‘letting Johnson get away unchallenged with lies, falsehoods and fabrication’. His examination of Boris Johnson’s claims, published on November 18th, includes these instances:
- Some of the lies are tiny. During a visit to a hospital he tells doctors that he’s given up drink, when only the previous day he’d been filmed sipping whisky on a visit to a distillery. And sips beer on film the day after in a pub.
- But many are big. Johnson repeatedly claims that Britain’s continued membership of the EU costs an extra £1bn a month. False.
- He claims he is building 40 new hospitals. Sounds good. But it’s a lie that has already been exposed by fact-checkers, including the website Full Fact.
- Another misleading statement: “20,000 more police are operating on our streets to fight crime and bring crime down”. Recruitment will take place over three years and do no more than replace the drop in officer numbers seen since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
- Jeremy Corbyn has “plans to wreck the economy with a £1.2 trillion spending plan”. Labour’s manifesto hasn’t been published, let alone fully costed. Johnson’s £1.2tn is a palpable fabrication.
- The Labour leader “thinks home ownership is a bad idea and is opposed to it”. I have been unable to find any evidence of Corbyn expressing this view.
- On his potential conflict of interest over his friend Jennifer Arcuri, who received £11,500 from an organisation he was responsible for as London mayor, Johnson said: “Everything was done with complete propriety and in the normal way.” We now know he failed to declare this friendship, and is being investigated by the Independent Office of Police Conduct.
- Johnson then told his TV audience that Corbyn “wouldn’t even stick up for this country when it came to the Salisbury poisonings” and that he sided with Russia. In the aftermath of the poisonings, Corbyn wrote in the Guardian: “Either this was a crime authored by the Russian state; or that state has allowed these deadly toxins to slip out of the control it has an obligation to exercise.” The Labour leader also stated that the Russian authorities must be held to account.
A friend said gloomily that he learnt nothing new from yesterday’s leaders’ debates. I agreed with that – apart from the production of the redacted NHS dossier, which has been overlooked in many media accounts.
Though I learnt nothing new the debate reinforced my view that one of the two participants is stable, honest, caring and visionary – and that the other is quite different.
Steve Beauchampé considers the seemingly intractable political dilemma of Brexit, increasingly concerned by the tensions and intolerances within the UK’s political systems and structures. Although a Leave-options idea been around for a while he suggests that it has hidden merits that have so far been largely overlooked. He writes:
The result of 2016 EU Referendum was incontestably a win for Leave. The total number of votes cast is not in dispute. However, what form of Leave the electorate supported is unknown. Campaigners such as senior members of the Conservative European Research Group and Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage claim that Leave voters wanted a No Deal Brexit but we cannot know this for certain.
Whilst the predominant message from Leave campaigners in 2016 was that a No vote meant leaving the European Single Market and Customs Union, there were at times conflicting and ambiguous messages as to the precise definition of Leave. Departing the EU without a deal was certainly scoped out as a possibility but we do not have to examine the arguments made at the time too deeply to appreciate that other Leave scenarios were also suggested, even by high profile figures such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Farage.
It seems reasonable to assume that all Remain voters wished to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union (the obvious consequences of voting Remain), therefore if only 5% of Leave voters supported either of these options then there would be no majority for a No Deal Brexit. However we do not know for certain what the percentages were, either in 2016, or now.
MPs have voted against Theresa May’s Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement on three occasions and there are currently no further plans to bring it back to the House of Commons for a fourth vote. With parliament still unable to agree on how to deliver Brexit the position of many MPs seems recently to have been hardening, either towards backing No Deal or supporting a second, ‘confirmatory’ public vote. There are good reasons to think that the current political stasis could continue whoever succeeds Theresa May as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party and that this log jam might carry on even beyond the next General Election. Given such ongoing paralyses there seems perhaps only one way to resolve the question as to how we leave, whilst potentially allowing the country to move beyond Brexit. That is by asking the public what form of Leave they would support.
To achieve this those at either edge of the debate must compromise. Remainers have to accept that they lost in 2016 with voters promised that the referendum result would be both respected and implemented. This promise was backed up both when MPs overwhelmingly voted to trigger Article 50 (March 2017) and in the Conservative and Labour Party manifestos for the June 2017 General Election. Leavers meanwhile have to accept that they cannot know for certain what form of Brexit the public want because in 2016 the electorate were not asked that question.
This compromise takes the form of a second referendum, but crucially one where Remain is not an option (that having been democratically ruled out in 2016). Instead it proposes three or perhaps four forms of Leave, which roughly reflect what appear to be the most popular Leave alternatives based on House of Commons votes, opinion polls and public discourse. They also cover a broad spectrum of Brexit options.
Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement
European Free Trade Area (aka Common Market 2.0/Norway Plus)
Using a form of Single Transferable Vote (STV), voters list their preferred options from 1-4 with the first to reach 50%+1 the winner.
It is envisaged that the referendum campaign would last approximately six weeks.
Referendum Act 2019 would state that the result of the referendum is binding and will become law.
If No Deal or the Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement were to win then the UK could depart the EU within approximately three months of the vote taking place. If either the Common Market or EFTA options were preferred then a slightly longer period between the poll and the UK’s departure may be required. In all instances other than a No Deal Brexit a transition period of around 21 months, as already laid out in the current Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement, would likely be necessary.
So as to focus concentration on the idea itself I shall for now leave aside the not inconsiderable matter of whether such a Bill would be able to command sufficient parliamentary support or would be acceptable to the EU.
The proposed referendum is designed to give each option a fair and equitable chance of winning, and to avoid the accusations of being ‘fixed’ or ‘loaded’ that have accompanied the People’s Vote campaign, which wants the choice to be between Theresa May’s Deal vs Remain. The above proposal however offers Leave supporters who are so minded the chance to secure a No Deal Brexit whilst taking a second In/Out referendum off the agenda. And it offers Remainers the chance to stop No Deal and provides them with an opportunity for the UK to remain in a Customs Union.
A Leave-options only referendum would essentially oblige all sides of the debate to take part in campaigning for their favoured option (not least for fear of ceding the result to an option they likely are desperate to avoid).
Having participated in such a referendum it would be hard for any politician or campaign group to refuse to accept its outcome and seek to overturn the result. Any that did so risk incurring the wrath of the wider public and would hopefully face a career destined to be played out on the margins of UK political life.
With up to four options available to the electorate it is unlikely that any of them would receive sufficient support to win on first preference votes. This means that both voters and campaigners would need to consider what compromises they would be prepared to accept, something which would by definition encourage many from the bunker-like positions in which an increasing proportion of both politicians and electors appear to be placing themselves.
In the almost three years since the 2016 referendum the arguments for and against Brexit have continued unabated. They have become repetitive, divisive and toxic whilst also being a massive turn off for many voters, desperate to move on. Yet the current impasse seems both intractable and unresolvable without one side suffering a humiliating defeat. And that would merely prolong the arguments and result in a simmering anger and frustration whose legacy could dominate and overwhelm UK politics for a generation.
Faced with such an unappetising prospect, a significantly different approach is surely required.
May 29th 2019
Happy Christmas: “regardless of the systematic dismantling of the state . . . and the ideological glee at making the disadvantaged suffer”, rejoice!
The writer tried to ignore the news, cynically announced as the public prepares for Christmas festivities, that – on ‘trash day’ – a total of 36 written ministerial statements and 424 government documents were published, as Parliament rose for the Christmas recess. Consequences:
But the words of a Walsall blogger, the Plastic Hippo, made it impossible.
“Clearly, lots of time, effort and thought has been devoted to the black arts by the Conservative Party, their corporate backers and a sympathetic media. It seems a shame that they are unwilling to turn their expertise to reducing the national debt, securing public services, ensuring that no child goes hungry and made some effort to unite the nation and not divide it for the sake of short-term electoral advantage”.
“The Machiavellian undermining of political opponents by Tory Party strategists is as good if not better than a John Le Carré novel”, he continues:
“The clever manoeuvring began on day one of the coalition government . . . Within weeks, Liberal Democrat lightweights with ideas above their station were quickly neutralised by a quiet word to the Standards Committee and the Essex constabulary . . . Vince Cable vowed to take on Murdoch over BSkyB but the old fool fell for an elaborate sting involving a couple of young lovelies working for Murdoch . . .
As informed political debate goes, all this was a reminder that informed political debate is dead . . .
“With the enthusiastic cooperation of a feral right-wing media, Tory spymasters set about Ed Miliband with the ferocity of fox-hounds after Reynard or possibly Rennard the Liberal Democrat lord. The best that quality journalism and profound political thinking could come up with was that Miliband has two kitchens, his father “hated” Britain and that he looks a bit odd when eating a bacon sandwich . . .
“Duly elected with a considerable majority, the systematic destruction of Corbyn began. Unfortunately, Comrade Corbyn seems able to ignore the increasingly hysterical attacks and even a casual observer might be impressed with his dignity under such savage provocation.
“He regularly wipes the floor with David Cameron at the dispatch box leaving the Prime Minister red in the face unable to answer reasonable questions and shouting at the opposition benches that everything is the fault of a party last in power five and a half years ago. Tory activists will be asking for their three quid back . . .”
Fortunately the general public is increasing aware of these machinations peddled by mainstream media and careerist politicians – and despite their best efforts continue to applaud and support Corbyn.
Read Plastic Hippo’s article in full here.