Saturday, July 9, 2016

Why is Corbyn being challenged by someone who finished FOURTH in the deputy leadership election last year?

Labour deputy leadership election 2015, second round :

Tom Watson 42.2%
Stella Creasy 21.4%
Caroline Flint 18.4%
Angela Eagle 17.9%

That was just ten months ago, and I'm not aware that Eagle has had a personality transplant since then.  It does seem phenomenally improbable that someone who couldn't even beat Caroline Flint in an internal party election is going to become Prime Minister of this country, but who knows.  You have to give her credit for extreme optimism if nothing else.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Kinnock's rage against democracy : the abridged version

I met this guy in Wales who said Jeremy was weird. And let me tell you, comrades, a landslide 60% majority in a one member, one vote election is AS NOTHING compared to one random bloke in Wales who thinks our leader is weird.

It's been said that Jeremy won last year with the "biggest majority ever", but in fact I defeated Tony Benn in 1988 by 89% to 11%. OK, you and I know that's not directly comparable, because that was a challenge to an incumbent leader rather than an open contest like the one Jeremy won, but let's pretend it's directly comparable because I'm on a roll here. One thing about winning by a larger majority than Jeremy managed is that I outrank him for the rest of time, and he doesn't get to demand loyalty and unity ten months after his victory in the way that I did.

You know what? There were constituency parties which voted for Tony Benn in the deputy leadership election in 1981 but which then voted for me by 82% to 18% in 1988. They changed their minds, and they were right to do so. They then changed their minds back again and voted for Jeremy in 2015. They were wrong to do that. Let me explain to you how this works - when the members get it right, we applaud their decision, and when they get it wrong, we overrule them. This is a democratic party.

Actually, the leader used to be chosen by the parliamentary party alone. We changed that system to give members and trade unionists a say. We were incredibly generous. But unfortunately the members and trade unionists abused our generosity by voting the wrong way.  So I'm afraid Jeremy can't continue without the support of the parliamentary party, because he wouldn't have been able to do that before we changed the rules. What the rules were in 1976 is obviously far more important than what the rules are now. This is a democratic party.

One hundred years ago, our party's founding fathers used the word "parliamentary" in a pamphlet. What they really meant by that was "MPs should set aside the party rules and depose their democratically elected leader if they ever encounter a random bloke in Wales who thinks he's a bit weird".

We're not leaving this party - this party belongs to US, not the bloody members.

We're alright! We're alright! We're alright!

Hey, we'd better get some plotting done here...

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Extremist Leadsom reaches the final two after novel "Vote for Gove so he can be given a damn good thrashing" pitch fails to resonate

Conservative leadership election, second ballot :

Theresa May 199 (60.5%)
Andrea Leadsom 84 (25.5%)
Michael Gove 46 (14.0%)

Michael, you have been evicted.  Please leave the Tory Madhouse.  (It's not pantomime booing, babes, they actually do hate you.)

There was some speculation that the notorious (not to say hilarious) email begging MPs to vote tactically for Gove was always intended to be leaked, to ensure that the "Michael is willing to take a damn good thrashing over the next two months" message got out to as wide as audience as possible.  If so, it backfired spectacularly, because he actually got fewer votes in the second ballot than in the first.  Who could possibly have foreseen that such a stunt would further tarnish both his reputation and his credibility?

Anyway, we now move on to a lengthy head-to-head members' ballot between Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May.  And it sounds like it will indeed be very lengthy, because the Leadsom camp are understandably resisting any attempts to shorten the timetable - they need plenty of time to build their relatively unknown candidate up.  Today's outcome also makes it much less likely that the whole thing will be called off in favour of a May coronation - it's possible that if Gove had finished a distant second to May, he might have been pressurised into standing down on the basis that he was very well known but had still been rejected, but Leadsom can reasonably claim that the momentum is with her and that there is still a realistic prospect of the members choosing her.

The outcome of this contest will be hugely important for all of us in the independence movement.  Although Theresa May's tentative stance on negotiations with the EU effectively rule out the Norway option and continued membership of the European Economic Area, it's probably safe to say that Brexit will happen slower and take a slightly less extreme form with May than it will with Leadsom.  Judging from my exchange with Duncan Hothersall earlier, it sounds like some in Scottish Labour will be praying for May to come out on top, because it's their only hope that they will still have some thin excuse for continuing to oppose independence.

OK, it's not impossible that Ken Clarke is right, and that Leadsom is just a chancer who will backtrack on all of her crazy promises as soon as she is elected.   But if she doesn't, she'll back Labour into a corner.  That could lead to a dramatic realignment in Scottish politics on the constitutional question - and one that would render independence near-enough inevitable.

New Labour, Tough Choices : UK or EU?

Kezia Dugdale emerged from another long hibernation today to announce that she will continue to argue for Scotland's place in both the EU and the UK.  As most toddlers and some intelligent hamsters are aware, it's not actually possible to have both of those things, because two weeks ago today the UK voted to leave the EU.  So it will actually be necessary to make a choice.  If you're hopelessly confused about which way Scottish Labour will jump, this Twitter exchange I've just had with the party's one-man online presence Duncan Hothersall may help the mists to clear...or perhaps not.

Duncan Hothersall : @kezdugdale commits to continue to make the case that Scotland is better off as part of the UK.

Scott Russell : so, she'd rather [be] in the UK but out [of the] EU, may as well just vote for Ruth then.

Duncan Hothersall : Suggesting @kezdugdale wants Scotland out of the EU is flatly dishonest. Why would you lie like that?

Me : If she still wants Scotland to stay in the UK, she's arguing for Scotland to leave the EU. That's a fact, Duncan.

Duncan Hothersall : No, that isn't a fact, James. It is in fact a lie. I want Scotland to be in both, just as Kez does.

Me : I want to fly to Jupiter in a golden teapot, but I can't have what I want either. New Labour, Tough Choices : UK or EU?

Duncan Hothersall : So now you're *asking* the question to which you just claimed (falsely) we had provided an answer.

Me : What's YOUR answer, Duncan?

Duncan Hothersall : My answer is that that is not yet the question. The UK remains part of the EU for now.

Me : When it leaves the EU, which it has already decided to do, what will be your answer then?

Duncan Hothersall : We should do what is in the best interests of the most people. That has been my view since 2012 and remains my view.

Me : Will it be in the best interests of most people to remain in the EU, or to remain in the UK?

Duncan Hothersall : That is a judgement which will need to be based on evidence. Not all the necessary evidence is available.

Me : What types of evidence are you awaiting?

Duncan Hothersall : The ultimate deal the UK gets with the EU is pretty much fundamental to this judgement I'd have said!

Me : What will be your red line, Duncan? Anything short of EEA membership, and you'll be a confirmed Yesser?

Duncan Hothersall : We should do what's in the best interests of the most people. We're not in a position to judge what that is today. How can you?

Me : Are you saying you don't have any red lines? Something short of EEA membership might be OK?

Duncan Hothersall : (no reply)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tory leadership election result, round one

Theresa May 165 (50.2%)
Andrea Leadsom 66 (20.1%)
Michael Gove 48 (14.6%)
Stephen Crabb 34 (10.3%)
Liam Fox 16 (4.9%)

Liam, you have been evicted.  Please leave the Tory Madhouse.  (It's just pantomime booing, babes.)

It was only a couple of days ago that Theresa May supporters were apparently talking about tactically voting for Leadsom to prevent Gove reaching the members' ballot.  Now that proposed strategy seems to have flipped, with Leadsom being regarded as the real threat to May, which raises the bizarre prospect of May supporters trying to help the hated Gove into the final two.  He certainly seems to be firmly within striking distance of Leadsom if that stunt is attempted on a big enough scale.

UPDATE : Stephen Crabb has pulled out voluntarily, so we're suddenly less than 48 hours away from the moment of truth.

Answers to two burning questions

Question : Why is Theresa May being richly rewarded for doing exactly what Jeremy Corbyn is accused of - not putting her back into the Remain campaign?

Answer : In one sense it's perfectly logical, because pro-Europeanism is the centre of gravity in the Labour party and Euroscepticism is the centre of gravity in the Tory party, so you'd expect behaviour that is punished in one party to be rewarded in the other.  But that doesn't get the media off the hook.  I watched Robert Peston's interview with May on his Sunday show, and as far as I can remember he didn't even raise the issue of her total invisibility during the referendum campaign, or challenge her on whether she is partly responsible for Britain leaving the European Union and her party getting into this mess in the first place.

Question : Why was there such a ludicrously unbalanced panel on last night's BBC Scotland debate?

Answer : This is just a guess, but I think I've worked it out.  The starting-point was probably that the referendum campaign is now over and that we're back to normal party politics, so an invitation was issued to the three largest parties - SNP, Tory and Labour.  But then they realised that it would be a bit silly to have an all-Remain panel, so they also invited the head of the Leave campaign's Scottish branch to provide some balance.  That sounds fine until you remember that the head of the Leave campaign's Scottish branch is Tom "Bomber Admin" Harris, who was a Labour MP until just over a year ago.  Once you do remember that, really it should dawn on you that the whole panel-making process has gone horribly wrong, and that you just can't go ahead with a debate dominated by discussion on the EU referendum and independence if the panel is composed of 3 anti-independence politicians and 1 pro-independence politician, and 3 Remainers and 1 Leaver.  It's also hard to see how Scotland's third largest party could possibly be entitled to half of the entire panel.

In spite of everything, though, it's just as well that Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!!" Tomkins was there, because the comic relief came entirely from that trusty direction.  He reassured us that all of the Tory leadership candidates apart from the one who is expected to win have promised that EU citizens can stay in this country.  What a relief!  And he spent much of the programme disagreeing violently with just about everything Michael Gove has ever said (he dismissed Gove's promises about devolving powers over immigration, for instance) before confirming that, naturally, he'd be backing Gove as leader because (wait for it) he wanted a "liberal" in the job.  Well, why not?  Tomkins is Scotland's leading self-styled "expert", and Gove is the man who doesn't listen to experts,  A match made in heaven.

On a more serious note, I think we got a good indication from Tomkins of what the Scottish Tory strategy is going to be over the coming months.  He started the programme by claiming to broadly agree with Fiona Hyslop's stance on exploring every option to keep Scotland in Europe, before waffling at length about a number of vague options that would not actually involve Scotland staying in the European Union, and that would probably fall well short of even the Norway or Swiss models.  Clearly we're going to see an attempt to conflate any sort of loose Britain-EU trade deal with the concept of "keeping Scotland in Europe".  We mustn't let them get away with that kind of disingenuous language.

*  *  *

I spoke to my Hungarian friend again, and she made the point that it's not really that much help to be told that Britain is still in the European Union and that the rights of EU citizens haven't been affected for now, because any employer trying to fill a vacancy is bound to take the longer-term uncertainty into account when making their choice.  Interestingly, she doesn't blame Theresa May for stoking that uncertainty, because she reckons that it's not possible for any promises to be made until a comprehensive deal is thrashed out with the EU.  I'm not sure that's true, actually - if Britain is going to control its own immigration policy, it should be perfectly possible to give a categorical assurance to EU citizens right now.

*  *  *

What do Nigel Farage and Bob Monkhouse have in common?  They're both famous for using the line "they're not laughing now", and for the fact that people were laughing when they said it.

*  *  *

Today is a red letter day - it's the first time in twenty-one years (since the freak show of Major v Redwood) that there's been an internal party ballot to choose the Prime Minister.  It's also only the third Tory leadership contest to be held in the reality TV era, so I trust we'll be hearing the following tonight -

"Tory Madhouse, this is the chairman of the 1922 Committee, please do not swear.  Michael!  Theresa!  Liam!  Andrea!  And Stephen!  MPs have been voting all day, and I can now reveal that the first candidate to leave the Tory Madhouse is..."  (Dramatic pause...)

Monday, July 4, 2016

The huge importance of Ruth Davidson's declaration that London should not attempt to block a second independence referendum

There's a devil in me that almost (not quite, but almost) wants Andrea Leadsom to become Prime Minister, because what she's proposing is so mind-bogglingly ridiculous that it would surely push even more people towards the conclusion that independence is the only answer to this mess.  Not only is she (like Gove) arguing for a Full Fat Brexit that would involve complete withdrawal from the single market, but she also wants to bring matters to a head at breakneck speed.  Perhaps the Express were misrepresenting her slightly, but they seemed to be suggesting that she ideally wants to bypass Article 50 with an Act of Parliament (presumably to repeal the European Communities Act 1972) and leave the EU by next spring.

This is where Ruth Davidson's explicit declaration that the UK government should not attempt to block a second indyref gets interesting.  My reading of it is that Davidson may be concerned that some of the leadership contenders are rather less respectful of Scotland's right to self-determination than others, and that in a worst-case scenario we could end up with an intransigent Thatcher-type figure who unwittingly turns independence into the settled will of the Scottish people, just as the real Thatcher accidentally built the consensus for devolution three decades ago.  Leadsom's zealotry leaves me wondering if she's the candidate that Davidson is most worried about.  Presumably the intention is to lay down a marker well before the new leader is anointed, and to make it next to impossible for that person - regardless of who it is - to contradict the Scottish Tories' clearly-stated stance on a possible indyref.

*  *  *

As a fond tribute to Dan "Hokey Cokey" Hodges, allow me to perform a 180 degree U-turn on a sort-of-prediction I made only four days ago.  I said that Michael Gove was likely to be the new Prime Minister.  Although I still maintain that Gove would have a very good chance of defeating Theresa May in the members' ballot (especially after an opportunity to push all the right buttons in head-to-head TV debates), it now looks entirely possible that he won't even get as far as that ballot.  He's caught in a pincer between Boris Johnson supporters who are backing Andrea Leadsom out of revenge, and some Theresa May supporters who are apparently voting tactically for Leadsom to ensure Gove is not May's opponent in the members' vote.

The Leadsom phenomenon is odd, though, because if the Leave brigade want a Brexiteer Prime Minister, Gove is surely their most realistic hope.  If Leadsom goes up against May in the final ballot, members will compare the two candidates' respective ministerial experience and won't be able to see past May as the obvious choice.  On the other hand, there could also be a small danger for May-supporting tactical voters, because reducing their candidate's support in the MPs' ballot might undermine the sense of inevitability about the final outcome.

*  *  *

One thing I meant to mention on the previous thread (and apologies if this is common knowledge and I completely missed the reporting of it) is that the datasets for last week's Panelbase poll reveal huge support for a second indyref within three years.  A grand total of 60% want it to be held either during the negotiations for Brexit, or at the end of those negotiations.  Only 40% don't want an indyref in the near future.  Arguably the way the question was posed and the way the options were presented made a favourable response more likely, but on the face of it that's the clearest support for a second referendum that we've seen in any of the polls over the last ten days.

*  *  *

I noticed a short exchange from a few days ago between Morag (Rolfe) and RevStu about whether the ScotPulse independence poll putting Yes on 59% and No on 32% should be considered legitimate or not.  I'm not sure we should look at it in quite such a binary way, but I do disagree with RevStu when he says that the ScotPulse figures are within the margin of error of the other polls we've seen.  With Don't Knows excluded, ScotPulse actually had Yes on 65% - light-years away from the 52% with Don't Knows excluded in the Panelbase poll, and from the 53% and 54% with Don't Knows excluded in the two Survation polls.  We've seen no datasets of any kind from ScotPulse, but I'd suggest the most likely explanation for the discrepancy is that their sample was not fully representative of the Scottish population, and/or was not correctly weighted.

*  *  *

If/when the next indyref gets underway, do you suppose the Yes campaign might be cheeky enough to call themselves "Better Together in Europe" and adopt Why Build Another Wall as their theme song?  Altogether now...

So why build another wa-a-a-all?
So why build another wa-a-a-a-a-a-all?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Fears ease that unionist MPs will require more than one taxi as palpably pleasing Panelbase poll puts SNP 31% ahead

One of the many, many peculiar things about the impact of the EU referendum result is that it's short-circuited a subtle change in the narrative of Scottish party politics that we had all been coming to terms with gradually over a period of weeks.  The Holyrood election two months ago may have been 2015 all over again as far as former Labour heartlands were concerned (with Dumbarton as a freakish exception), but in traditional areas of strength for the Tories and the Lib Dems it looked like the tide had begun to turn.  If you'd asked me two weeks ago whether the SNP would hold all of their 56 seats in a snap UK general election, I'd have said "no chance" (45-50 would have looked like the most plausible range).  But all of a sudden it looks perfectly possible again, partly because there's a whole new demographic that seems to have fallen in love with Nicola Sturgeon and her mission to keep Scotland in Europe.  That hasn't made a dramatic difference to voting intentions, but the Panelbase poll today suggests that it's been enough to get the SNP back to exactly the level of support they enjoyed at the UK general election last year - and with a significantly bigger lead over the nearest challenger, which is now the Tory party rather than Labour.

Panelbase poll of Westminster voting intentions (Scotland-only) :

SNP 50%
Conservatives 19%
Labour 18%
Liberal Democrats 5%