Friday Fizz: The "Half Term" edition

It's a shorter Fizz than usual, this one, because I'm off for a half-term break today. It's been a very slow news week, to be fair. The two stories which have cut through the fug of tiredness and local election campaigning are Boris Johnson's speech on Brexit, which everyone believed was a bit rubbish and lacking in details, and a piece of salacious gossip that Jeremy Corbyn met a Czech Diplomat so was therefore some sort of bearded Kim Philby. It's hard to know what this proves other than that Corbyn's views on foreign policy are not Labour orthodox, certainly the relevation from the report that he was not a fan or Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher will hardly shake Labour to its core. 

Predictably, the only cabinet minister to react to that story was baby-faced assassin Gavin Williamson, who says that the story proves Corbyn can't be trusted. But at this point Williamson's ambitions are so blatent I'm amazed he has not yet tatooed "Williamson for PM" on his forehead.

We are back with new content on Tuesday then will be back again on Sunday. For now, here's a never-before released episode with the best of iour podcasts in 2016.

Friday Fizz: The "Are you sure about the angle for that story?" edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne’s review of the week’s news. You can catch up on previous instalments here.

When Not Enough Champagne picked Nick Timothy as one of the movers and shakers in British Politics this year, we did not imagine that his role in a dubious Telegraph scoop would be how he made his mark. His role in the Telegraph’s story detailing the secret plan of George Soros to stop Brexit by, er, a mass marketing campaign has attracted plenty of attention. Raphael Behr wrote of the nasty whiff which the story has:

[A] modicum of cultural awareness and a glancing acquaintance with old Jew-hatred and its modern iterations would have alerted a half-decent editor to the signal being sent by that front page. In case there is no such person at the Telegraph to decrypt that signal let me spell it out for them. It was this: shadowy Jew-financier conspires against Britain. That might not seem obvious to many readers. It might even sound a little paranoid. But I am very confident that two audiences understood it instantly and very clearly in exactly those terms. One was antisemites, the other was Jews. The first group cheered, the second recoiled in horror. And of that shameful negligence, oh, Daily Telegraph, j’accuse.

Now the Daily Mail has picked up the story, complete with quotes from those shy, retiring, sensible Brexiters Jacob Rees-Mogg and Peter Bone.

Since the result of the referendum, some Leavers have been paranoid that the “Deep State” will sabotage Brexit. First judges were targeted. Next it was Remain-supporting MPs and Lords. Then it was Conservative MPs. Now, it’s Jewish bankers and the civil service.

In fact, Brexit is undeliverable on the terms in which paleosceptics like Jacob Rees-Mogg demand. Take the debate over what the UK/EU relationship should look like during a transition period.  The whole point of a transition (sorry, implementation) period is to give Britain and the European Union more time to agree on a final settlement. Yet Theresa May seems to think it’s politically impossible for Britain to stay in the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice during the transition period. This makes no sense: the only way to ensure there is enough time to negotiate a bespoke trade deal for Britain, thus pleasing the Brexiters, is to extend the Article 50 process; but if this happens the reaction from Brexiters may be enough to bring down the government.

Rather than looking to “The Deep State”, the real events that could well sabotage Brexit occurred in the high-level discussions which look place this week between Theresa May and her Brexit war cabinet. After two days of talks, the government still has failed to arrive at a negotiating position on the Customs Union and Single Market. According to the Times Red Box e-mail, "No vote was taken and Mrs May herself did not express a view." Oh, for some leadership.

Dubious Prediction Alert

The longer this impasse continues, the more likely it makes one of two things happening:

1.     No deal is agreed and the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal in March 2019. This leads to utter chaos and, possibly, the government pleading to enter some sort of EEA/EFTA membership just to stem the flood of terribleness.

2.     It is realised late in the day that the UK and EU will reach no agreement, so the UK enters EEA or EFTA on a temporary basis in March 2019 to stave off the chaos of a no-deal scenario.

Neither of these options will please the Brexiters, of course, but if their intransigence continues it might actually lead to a softer Brexit out of sheer panic and political expediency.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: Our podcast last year on Moggmentum feels newly relevant given the current leadership speculations.

New: Steve wrote a piece for the site this week on why Labour should not be too pleased about an early election. Newly-relevant given the shift in the polls that is happening currently.

Borrowed: After the death of John Mahoney, Martin Crane in Frasier, passed away this week I came across Helen Lewis’s beautiful article on *that* chair and why the show is so amazing.

Blue: One of those rare things, an insightful below the line debate. I might not agree with many of the comments, but there is an interesting debate on Paul Goodman’s Conservative Home article about the meaning of Conservatism today.

That’s all for this week. Our podcast on Carillion and outsourcing is out on Sunday.

Please don't let there be a General Election in 2018.

Please don't let there be a General Election in 2018.

I think I may have found the one thing worse for Theresa May than being an inept Prime Minister during the most difficult foreign policy shift since World War 2. It’s being an inept Prime Minister during the most difficult foreign policy shift since World War 2 and being viewed as so irrelevant your political opponents are already planning for what happens after you inevitably get booted out of Number 10.

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Friday Fizz: The "Weak and Unstable" edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can read previous instalments here.

drinks-1283608_640.jpg

 

Apologies for the slight delay which means that the Friday Fizz comes out on, er, Saturday. Perhaps this makes it the Saturday Sparkles. Either way, let's quickly summarise what have we learned this week? 

  • Theresa May called for "The British Dream", which is something she first talked about in her ill-fated conference speech. Apparently, The British Dream means that children get a better standard of living than their parents. This sounds remarkably similar to the "Promise of Britain" which was the first of many slogans Ed Miliband dreamt up with as Labour leader but didn't actually elaborate on.
  • The Cabinet still have not had a discussion on what the end state of Brexit will look like, almost a year after Article 50 was triggered and eighteen months after a decision was taken between the Prime Minister and her two unelected senior figures that we should leave the Single Market and Customs Union.
  • Brexiters don't believe in economic forecasts.
  • Backbenchers and ministers are crying out for the government to get a grip and devise a policy agenda, or at least a sense of direction.
  • Theresa May has sparked an unnecessary and counter-productive row with the EU over the transition period which she cannot possibly win.

In other words, we have learned nothing new. The attack on experts and economic forecasters by Brexiters we've known about since Michael Gove's infamous remark. The government has been directionless since the election, briefly rallied for a fortnight in December then descended into chaos after the reshuffle.

Nobody thinks Theresa May is any good at Prime Minister, but many Conservatives are so scared of a Corbyn government (or a Johnson/Rees-Mogg Premiership) that they are willing to put up with the dreadful rather than risk something truly awful happening.

Remember: this is all before the government has decided how it will solve the Irish border situation, or agreed on a Brexit policy. What happens if they actually do decide something, God only knows.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: Used to be that the Fizz described the government as weak but stable. Read our edition from November to find out why.

New: Steve wrote a piece on the Brexit decisions the Conservatives have to make, and why they will inevitably lead to Michael Gove becoming Prime Minister.

BorrowedAlistair Benn has a good read on the ham-fisted political strategy of Assassin-Faced Baby Gavin Williamson. Frances Ryan wrote a disturbing article for the Guardian about how the impact of the "scrounger" narrative affects the treatment of people with disabilities.

Blue: Simon Heffer writes of May's Leadership in the New Statesman.

Pop Culture Recommendation

Yesterday a man was sentenced to life imprisonment because after he was radicalised online, he drove a van into a crowd of people just because they were Muslim. It's therefore been an apt week to begin reading Alt-America, which details how many have been radicalised and driven to kill by the radical right online.

That's all for this week. Our last podcast was on the NHS crisis. Give it a listen below:

The Tory's Brexit Catastrophe is about to get even worse.

The Tory's Brexit Catastrophe is about to get even worse.

You’d think that the Tories handling of Brexit couldn’t get much worse. David Davis and his woefully lacking “ Impact Assessments” ( which neither measured impacts, or indeed assessed anything) has shown the people in charge of Brexit are incompetent. The economy is £10 billion a year worse off than it would have been and every time the Government makes an announcement on Brexit someone in the Tory Party briefs the exact opposite is happening. To say the Tory’s handling of Brexit is a giant cluster-fuck is an understatement, yet it’s about to get much worse.

 

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Friday Fizz: The "For the love of God, stop exposing your penis" edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can read previous instalments here.

From pixabay.com

From pixabay.com

Two news stories this week have demanded the attention over other matters like the Conservatives squabbling over Brexit and the goings on at Davos. Both are about the mistreatment of women over a number of decades.

By far the most harrowing is the trial and setence of Larry Nassar, a doctor attached to the US gymnastics team who abused nearly 300 girls and young women over twenty years. Watching the video in the link provided where accusers give testimony, you cannot fail to be awed by their bravery and moved. by the grief of mothers giving testimony about the suicide of their daughter. That Nassar wrote a six page (!) letter to the judge saying that he would find listening to his victims "uncomfortable" requires the explanation of a more qualified pysychologist than the writer of this piece. In this amateur's judgement, it is surely the mark of one who abused his position of power and trust to sexually abuse girls and young women, without ever stopping to think about the consequences of his actions.

In this country, an old-fashioned piece of investigative journalism from the Financial Times uncovers the casual attitude to sexual assault found in many of Britain's financial elite. It concerns an event called The Presidents Club, which has been held at The Dorchester Hotel since 1985. Last Thursday, an all-male audience at The Dorchester Hotel was welcomed to what the host called "the most un-PC event of the year". An all-male, un-PC event. What could possibly go wrong?

The undercover journalist worked at a hostess, answering an advert for "tall, thin, pretty" women:

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.

Over the course of six hours, many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester.

Hostesses reported men repeatedly putting hands up their skirts; one said an attendee had exposed his penis to her during the evening.

Over the last month there has been a bit of a backlash against the #MeToo movement. There is, of course, also the inevitable Brendan O'Neill article. One hopes that these are isolated voices, like the tweets and letters to the FT that take issue with the journalism, but curiously not the behaviour of the men. Jess Phillips has spoken of the need for greater equalities laws, which is part of the solution. What is needed is a complete change of culture. The closure of The Presidents Club is part of that. Rich men will just have to give to charity by direct debit without groping a hostess first.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: We've already had a Friday Fizz about Institutionalised Misogny. Also featuring Henry Bolton, before he was famous.

New: In Not Enough Champagne's quest to piss off every Labour faction, Steve argues that Jeremy Corbyn needs to be more radical here.

Borrowed: Marina Hyde might have cracked the enigma that is Boris Johnson in this piece:

If you haven’t read his Churchill book, it is hugely recommended as a psychiatric document – for all the horrifying and hilarious things it unwittingly reveals about its author. I can never believe his therapist let him publish it. By the end, it’s quite clear that you have not read Churchill’s story so much as Boris’s attempt to get you to see anything he might have done, or might ever do, as Churchillian. All politicians are self-interested gamblers with events, Johnson explains, and Churchill “put his shirt on a horse called anti-Nazism … his bet came off in spectacular fashion”. Mmmm. It probably helps to imagine Churchill spending a Sunday morning writing two columns – the first advocating resisting Hitler, the second making the case for supporting totalitarian conquest of Europe and the elimination of Jews.

Blue: Tory MP Johnny Mercer on the online abuse of Ruth Smeeth is a sadly necessary article.

Pop Culture Recommendation

Regular readers of this blog will know of my love for Robert Harris. I therefore went to see Imperium at the RSC with a little excitement and some trepidation. I should not have been worried; it's truly wonderful. All the actors are great, and Richard McCabe in particular is superb. The play itself is pure politics, like Hammer of the Left with togas. (But in a really good way)

That's all for this week. We're talking about the NHS crisis on Saturday. Last week's episode, on the book Devil's Bargain, is below.

Corbyn's policy agenda isn't radical enough.

Corbyn's policy agenda isn't radical enough.

This afternoon I found myself listening to Metallica. More specifically I found myself listening to the song No Leaf Clover. In No Leaf Clover James Hetfield opines that the “soothing light at the end of your tunnel is just a freight train coming your way”. The somewhat unsubtle implication being that sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the sunny uplands you want it to be but is in fact cold hard reality coming to run you over. This, like so many things in my life, got me thinking about Jeremey Corbyn ( I think I might have a problem).

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Friday Fizz: The "crisis of capitalism" edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can read the rest here.

From Pixabay.com

From Pixabay.com

British Politics this week has been dominated by the collapse of Carillion and the resulting debate about outsourcing. Steve wrote about how this might lead to a wider crisis in the public sector, Lehman Brothers style, on Wednesday. In the Fizz today, I am going to focus on the political implications of Carillion's collapse.

Jeremy Corbyn was, rightly, angry about Carillion in the House of Commons on Wednesday. At times he was so angry he forgot to ask a question. Theresa May, showing the empathy and judgement which has categorised her Premiership, did not show much empathy with the workers about to be laid off, or anger with the bosses, or any contrition about the government granting Carillion multiple contracts even after the company issued profit warnings.

In a parallel universe, a scandals like Carillion would have fitted right into Theresa May's agenda of trying to make capitalism work for everyone. Unfortunately for May, not only are key advocates of that agenda like Nick Timothy now absent from government, the Conservatives are too distracted by Brexit to pursue this agenda. Instead May is making oblique speeches about defending "capitalism", which is a  bit like trying to combat the obesity crisis by defending vegetables.

The Carillion affair will be an interesting case study in how effectively a Corbyn-led Labour can challenge the present culture of outsourcing. It's an area squarely on Corbyn's turf, given his implacable opposition to any notion of outsourcing. After all, New Labour was intensely relaxed about outsourcing public services to private companies, so Corbyn is able to challenge the government on this issue without being accused of hypocrisy in a way that Ed Miliband was not able to do. Yesterday's National Audit Office report, saying that private finance schemes can be 40% more expensive than if the government were to finance them, also plays into Corbyn's hands.

So Corbyn's short-term response will be interesting. Of more significance will be how the left approaches the issue of private companies providing public services more generally.

In The Future of Socialism, Tony Crosland distinguished between "means" and "ends". He argued that neither public services or private services are intrinsically better; what makes the difference is a nation's political culture. New Labour eroded this down to "whatever works", which basically meant "whatever Tony Blair thinks is common sense". It should be clear that this is a gross misreading of Crosland's argument: public services can be run by a private company, if that company works in the public interest and for the public good.. The culture of outsourcing we have currently, as described by many including James Meek, George Monbiot, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson have led to large interest payments, unaccountable services, privatised profits and socialised losses. Carillion was blacklisting workers who it knew were members of a Trade Union, and no company who did that should ever receive a government contract, and certainly not from a social democratic government.

Similarly, we cannot allow Carrillion's failure to blind a future Labour government into nationalising everything and bringing all contracts in-house. Larry Elliott (again) reminds us here about the failures of large government infrastructure projects. Ed Miliband set out some ideas on rethinking outsourcing, and Jon Trickett wrote an interesting essay four years ago along similar lines. For instance, such firms should be subject to FOI requests, train their staff properly and pay a living wage. Elliot sketches out some other solutions, such as reforming company law. Stella Creasy has called for a windfall tax on PFI contracts because of their exhorbitant rate of interest; taken altogther, all these notions could lead Labour towards a radical but credible policy on the outsourcing issue.

Corbyn is right to say that Carillion is a "watershed moment" that shows the system is not working. His job now is to find a solution that works.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue:

Old: Given Ben Bradley's blogs on vasectomies to the unemployed and the London riots which have been unearthed by Buzzfeed, I thought I'd go back through my blogs to see what I wrote about the riots as a man in my early 20s. You can read my effort here.

New: As well as Steve's piece on Carillion which I mentioned above, he also wrote about how Jeremy Hunt should resign to fix the social care crisis. I've written something on how I feel that the threat of MPs being deselected is over-exaggerated.

Borrowed: Friend and frequent guest on Not Enough Champagne Luke John Davies wrote a piece which should be read by everyone who cares about democracy in the Labour Party.

Also, via Rebecca Lowe's Conservative Home column on what Conservatives can learn from Keir Hardie, I found Helen Thompson's article on the left and Judicial Power. Helen is often on Talking Politics, one of my favourite political podcasts, and whilst I don't always agree with everything that she says, her point that after Jacques Delor's speech to the TUC in 1988, debate within Labour about the EU ceased since "Delors effectively told the left that inside the EC it could protect what remained of its post-1945 political victories by insulating them in a ‘social European’ sphere away from the reach of a Conservative government". 

Blue: Iain Martin has a fascinating piece on how the reshuffle was part of a plot orchestrated by Nick Timothy to make assassin-faced baby Gavin Williamson Tory leader. Read it and fear for our future.

Pop Culture Recommendation

On Sunday, it will be six years to the day since my Dad died. Every year I toy with writing about it, but I find that it's too hard to add anything more to that which I said at his funeral. It's still too soon, in many ways. As I said six years ago, I got my musical taste from my Dad. This John Hiatt song, by turns funny and tragic and wise, is for him. 

That's all for this week. Sunday's podcast is on Devil's Bargain, the book about Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Our last episode was on Brexit in 2018. You can listen to that below.

The Great British Ponzi Scheme: How Carillion's failure could lead to the collapse of the public sector

The Great British Ponzi Scheme: How Carillion's failure could lead to the collapse of the public sector

For the past 20 years, local and central Government have undertaken mass outsourcing of public sector services across a wide array of fields. At the heart of this program was the idea that they were delivering “value for money”. The collapse of Carillion shows that this may not actually be the case.

It’s important to remember when we look at outsourcing, that it isn’t some form of devils bargain. Outsourcing is used throughout the private sector effectively and without any fuss. From purchasing parts that someone else has made to getting HR and recruitment functions run by specialists, the practice of outsourcing is common, effective and often necessary. Within the public sector through outsourcing has often been the subject of ideological debate. Bringing in private sector involvement to run frontline government services brought accusations of government policy being used as a form of corporate welfare.

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Is talk of deselection just really overblown?

In Labour's NEC elections the three candidates backed by Momentum swept into office with a very comfortable majority, Eddie Izzard failed in his bid to get elected to Labour's decision-making body, and there was talk of mandatory reselection for MPs.

All this happened yesterday, but Labour members could be forgiven for feeling a spot of deja vu. That's because exactly the same things happened in August 2016, during the last round of elections to the NEC.

From pixabay.com

From pixabay.com

Talk of mandatory reselection strikes fear amongst many Labour MPs, evoking as it does memories of the 1980s. This fear has been heightened by the removal of Ann Black today as chair of the NEC's dispute panel and replacing her with Christine Shawcroft, a Momentum board member who was previously expelled from Labour for campaigning for disgraced, corrupt ex-Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman. Removing Black, who topped the ballot as part of Momentum's slate not even two years ago, is an extremely silly and counter-productive move. Not only is she is of the left and generally well-respected in the party, this completely distracts distracts attention from the NHS crisis and Carillon debacle at completely the wrong point. It's also led to fears of a wider purge of Labour MPs.

A Momentum source who was speaking to the Guardian discussed why Ann Black got removed from her role:

It’s not surprising that the unions, members of the shadow cabinet and three Momentum backed NEC reps chose Christine Shawcroft over Ann Black - as many ordinary members are deeply frustrated with her. In 2016 Ann voted to to exclude 130,000 new Labour members from the leadership election, forcing them to pay another £25 to participate. When you deny members the right to choose the leader of their own party, it does tend to create a certain amount of resentment.

Just like Michael Corleone might shoot somebody for some slight long-ago, or for insufficient loyalty, the removal of Ann Black is simply petty score-settling.

The removal of Ann Black, and the future direction of the NEC Disputes panel when dealing with issues like anti-semitism, could be more consequential than any talk of deselection. However, the dominaton of the NEC by hard-left members does not necessarily mean that there will be a mass deselection of Labour MPs. Here are a few reasons why that probably won't happen:

1. Even at the height of the reselection debates in the 1980s, only six MPs were in fact deselected (although a few more did stand down). That's hardly a mass purge.

2. There is little to no evidence so far that Momentum activists have an appetite to deselect candidates in local elections. In Birmingham, where we have local elections in May, I know of no cases where deselections of moderate councillors have taken place. The exception to this, Haringey, is a special case because of a local development vehicle which has deeply divded the local party. That's despite it being far easier to deselect a councillor compared to a Member of Parliament. In addition, there's little evidence that Corbyn's preferred candidates were selected in the by-elections in the first 18 months of his leadership. 

3. Yes, there are occasional stories that circulate about deselection, and of heavy-handed idiots in Momentum wanting apologies from MPs. These get shared extensively by moderates in their own echo chambers, but there is nothing to suggest that mass deselections are happening now apart from paranoia.As Stephen Bush argues in the two pieces I've linked to above, it partly shows the durability and organisation of the pre-Corbyn Labour Party.

4. It also shows that, actually, most Momentum activists aren't interested in deselection. Based on the dozens of conversations I had with Momentum activists whilst involved with the General Election campaign, and on reports on their conferences, the impression I get is that most are idealistic and want a Labour government that is more left-wing than New Labour. This is hardly a radical view and is one shared by many, for instance, Ed Miliband and myself. It's just as reductionist to say that all Momentum members are Stalinist purge-lovers as it is to say that anyone who voted for Owen Smith is a right-wing Blairite.

5. It should not be surprising that local Momentum activists don't want to spend a lot of time and energy deselecting local councillors. After all, these activists and councillors spent a general election campaign working together. They attend ward meetings and go to the pub afterwards. On a local level, they are friends and comrades even if they disagree on national issues. It's this human interaction that is missing from the more febrile debates on social media, and why I think purges aren't very likely to happen at a local level. 

6. Now I would go a little further and argue that similar logic could apply to Labour MPs. This George Eaton article is a succinct summary of who has been arguing for, as well as the wider politics of, mandatory reselection. It is not clear to me that there is appetite for mass deselection apart from agitating idiots like Chris Williamson and a few diehard activists, who would be outnumbered by the more sensible Momentum members as well as the older existing members. After all, South Tyneside Momentum can post a list of 49 MPs they'd like to see deselected to their 136 followers, but they can' deselect Chukka Umanna because they don't live in Streatham. Yet moderates will pick up on the post and argue that it shows that there is a massive deselection campaign going on when, frankly, there's little evidence of one. 

It's very possible that I am wrong. Perhaps there is a secret hard-left plot to deselect dozens of Labour MPs that I don't know about. Maybe there is more appetite amongst Momentum members for deselection than I anticipate, or some seismic event leads to deselections, like rebellions over Corbyn's Brexit position. But in the absence of such evidence, I'm happy not to don the tinfoil hat and instead save my energy for campaigning in local elections, reminding Jeremy Corbyn that you can be in the single market if you're not in the EU, and ensuring we drive anti-semitism out of Labour.

Jeremy Hunt needs to resign to solve the Social Care crisis

Jeremy Hunt needs to resign to solve the Social Care crisis

When I suggested some New Year’s resolutions for the Tories  I wasn’t expecting them to fulfil them. I didn’t expect them to manage to crash and burn on them so quickly though.

The re-shuffle could have been an opportunity to launch a new agenda with fresh faces running departments. Instead, we have the same faces and one of the competent and reasonable members of the Government resigning from the Cabinet. Rather than focus on the omni-shambles that was the re-shuffle I want to talk about what the current state of the Government means for facing down two of the biggest domestic challenges that Britain has: Health & Social Care.

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Friday Fizz: The "Night of the Blunt Knives" Edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can fInd previous editions here.

drinks-1283608_640.jpg

Let no holier-than-thou political journalist try and convince you otherwise: reshuffles are very important. On a very base level, they decide the personalities responsible for carrying out policy at the top of government. For instance, the Conservatives have tried for the past four years trying to detoxify their reputation amongst teachers and (to a lesser extent) parents because of Michael Gove's tenure as Education Secretary. If Michael Gove had been appointed Lord Chancellor in 2010, a role in which he was well regarded by the legal profession, or to Environment Secretary, where he has received plaudits from George Monbiot of all people, then perceptions of Gove personally and the Conservative Party would be very different.

However, reshuffles are also important for a very different reason. Just as someone's handwriting can be a great revealer of character, so too how a government conducts a reshuffle tells you a lot about the internal workings of government. The stories that came out after the event about New Labour's reshuffles, of names on post-its falling off whiteboards and not being replaced, or women having to be hastily added to a department where it had been forgotten to add any, sum up the feeling that much of the time Labour spent a lot of time chaotically obsessing over headlines and not over the finer policy detail.

Gordon Brown's reshuffle in 2009 was summed up by David Cameron in a remark I'd completely forgotten about until Matt Chorley quoted it in the Red Box e-mail this morning.

"We have an extraordinary situation where the prime minister can't seem to reshuffle the cabinet but they can't seem to organise a coup. They are, if you like, locked together in this sort of slow dance of political death that is so bad for our country."

It does underline the fact that reshuffles are often metaphors for the wider functioning of government.

What, then, do the replacement of the Secretary of State for Education tell us about the last three Conservative Governments?

Under David Cameron, Michael Gove lasted four years as Education Secretary. In contrast with the chopping and changing of the New Labour years, Cameron made sure that most of his top team stayed in post as long as possible. This wasn't always the case (step forward Andrew Lansley) and Gove was replaced amid reports that his toxic reputation could threaten the Conservatives electoral chances. Cameron, for all his faults (read: plunging the country into the biggest catastrophe since Suez) had a theme with his governments: winning an overal majority. Indeed, one year after sacking Gove David Cameron received an overall majority, which would appear to vindicate his decision.

The sacking of Nicky Morgan as Education Secretary set the tone for the first administration of Theresa May. Morgan was one of a number of ministers jettisoned for too much "blue on blue" action during the referendum campaign. Remember the lectures to George Osborne on loyalty? Also, the nasty briefings that Morgan had cried after receiving the sack (All Out War, p. 574) seem symptomatic the political operation that Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill ran. Back just over eighteen months ago, it felt like May reigned supreme over British Politics. Sacking lots of ministers with a very small majority also led to the feeling that May was potentially piling up lots of problems down the line for only a short-term gain, a feeling reinforced by subsequent events, most notably the hasty triggering of Article 50 before any serious preparatory work had been done.

We have come a long way since then. Monday's reshuffle was botched from all angles. There's that swiftly-deleted tweet appointing Chris Grayling as Party Chairman. Two Cabinet Ministers telling May that they weren't going to move role. The most significant changes being the alteration of a department's name to include things that they did anyway. Then Justine Greening resigned from the government because she would not accept a move to the Department for Work and Pensions. Greening's resignation tells you a lot about Theresa May's government. The absolute tin ear for the basic vote counting necessary in Parliamentary Politics that was also shown by the 2016 reshuffle: creating a disaffected pro-Remain MP in a very Remain marginal is a terrible strategic move. Greening's record on Education is a fairly decent one. A Cabinet n which Greening leaves when Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, David Davis and Chris Grayling survive even comes close to being called a meritocracy. It is the story of a Prime Minister trying to reassert her authority whilst failing in quite spectacular fashion.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue:

Old: Back in September we talked about what the biggest stories will be in British Politics. Listen to see if we were right.

New: We have a midweek shot out on the movers and shakers of 2018.

 

Borrowed: I finally got round to reading the extract of Fire and Fury in the New York Magazine. We have recorded a podcast on the Joshua Green's book "Devil's Bargain" about the relationahip between Trump and Bannon. In it, Bannon talks about how stories for Breitbart needed to be "narratively true" rather than factually true. Interestingly, that's been the position of many who have read Fire and Fury; that although details may not be true, the broad outline of the Trump White House is correct. Truth is a strange thing, isn't it?

Also, Marie Le Conte has an insightful read on the Conservative Party's problems with social media, with added Philip Cowley.

Blue: I found this a particularly interesting piece on the lost tribes of British Politics. https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2018/01/peter-franklin-the-tribes-of-british-politics-1-picking-through-the-ruins.html

Pop Culture Recommendation

I enjoyed this Talking Politics Podcast on the parallels between Brexit and the Reformation.

Friday Fizz: The "You've tweeted much too much, Toby Young" edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can read previous instalments here.

From Pixabay.com

From Pixabay.com

Alan Milburn and Andrew Adonis have several things in common. Their first name begins with “A”, for a start. More importantly, both were New Labour ministers who took advisory roles after the Conservatives took power. Milburn chaired the Commission on Social Mobility, whereas Adonis was an advisor for the National Infrastructure Commission. Both now have a third thing in common: Milburn and Adonis resigned from their roles because Brexit is causing the government to be dysfunctional.

The Commission on Social Mobility's final report, published in November, makes for sobering reading. It shows there are great inequalities in Britain, particularly between Greater London and the rest of the country. In his resignation letter from last month, Milburn could not be clearer: the focus on delivering Brexit means that the government can do nothing to improve the lives of Britain's most disadvantaged:

Individual ministers such as the secretary of state for education have shown a deep commitment to the issue. But it has become obvious that the government as a whole is unable to commit the same level of support. It is understandably focused on Brexit and does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure that the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality. I do not doubt your personal belief in social justice, but I see little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action.

Andrew Adonis is a more strident Remainer than Milburn: he has said he wants to stop Brexit altogether. His resignation was also brought on by his vehement opposition to the bailout of Virgin Trains and Stagecoach, which we covered in a Twitter thread yesterday. In his interview with The Observer, he paints a disturbing but plausible picture of government paralysis:

The senior civil service is now totally drained physically and psychologically by attempting to deliver the impossible with Brexit, such that it is no longer able to deliver the ordinary business of government...

Good government has essentially broken down in the face of Brexit...Independent advice is being dismissed because, remember, experts were supposedly part of the problem.

There is very low morale in Whitehall because almost no civil servants agree with the policy of the government...I do not know a single senior civil servant who thinks that Brexit is the right policy, and those that are responsible for negotiating it are in a desperate and constant argument with the government over the need to minimise the damage done by the prime minister’s hard-Brexit stance.

“It is an open secret that no one will go and work in David Davis’s department [DexEU], and Liam Fox is regarded as a semi-lunatic. The only departments that have retained their institutional integrity during this crisis are the Foreign Office and the Treasury, but they have been sidelined in the Brexit negotiations which is a huge mistake because that is where most of the brains and ability in Whitehall is located.

And so it goes on.

It's utter nonsense, of course. Liam Fox is not merely a “semi” lunatic.

On Sunday's podcast we are going to discuss the New Years Resolutions each party should have, and Steve has argued that the Conservatives need to stop making everything about Brexit. That's going to be hard when the administration is, as Adonis argued, defined by the issue. It also does not help that a key thinker who might have been able to establish a new agenda for the Conservatives, Nick Timothy, tried to do so in the middle of an election campaign and lost the Tories their majority by doing so.

Many on the left criticised Milburn and Adonis for working with a Conservative government, but if you don't have sensible Labour politicians helping frame government policy, you get stupid Conservative ones instead. The Twitter row par excellance this week has been the backlash against Toby Young's appointment to the Office for Students. A veritable cottage industry has formed around screenshotting Young's old tweets. You can read about the worst of them in this New Statesman piece, whilst Richard Seymour provides some good links to stories about Young's free school.

Young has no discernable qualifications beyond launching a free school with a dubious record. Many defend him by saying he genuinely wants to improve educational standards, which seems a little disingenous given his support for "progressive eugenics". It also assumes that you can be appointed to important things just by good intentions along. Just because I want to improve politics does not mean I should be appointed to the Cabinet. The Conservatives need to improve their standing amongst younger and more educated voters. Why then would Jo “The Other” Johnson appoint Toby Young to this role? I can only assume it's the continuation of the culture war against universities which this Fizz talked about only last week. You can't say that we didn't warn you.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: The first episode we recorded last year, on what New Years Resolutions the parties should have in 2017, can be found below:

New: In preparation for our episode on the Resolutions Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May should have in 2018, read these two blogs by Steve.

Borrowed: Something I found this week and will endeavour to keep up with is Ian Bremmer's The World in 60 seconds.

Blue: Andrew Gimson has written this fascinating piece on the role of Conservative Minister for Health Henry Willink in the creation of the NHS.

Pop Culture Recommendation

I haven't read many books over Christmas, and instead have spent most of it playing board games with my family. In a triumph of political nerdery over common sense, the favourite game I've played has been one in which you get to have to win the 1960 election for Kennedy or Nixon. It's mainly a card-based game full of events from the campaign I had no idea about, including Eisenhower's “joke-that-is-a-little-too-serious-to-be-a-joke” when asked about Nixon's contribution to his administration:

That's all for this week. Our end of year quiz for 2017 is below:

In 2018 Jeremy Corbyn needs to….

In 2018 Jeremy Corbyn needs to….

For the Labour Party, 2017 wasn’t the disaster everyone feared it would be. The surprise loss of the Tory’s majority in the House of Commons has put Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn personally, in a very strong position. However, a new year presents new opportunities and it would be foolish for the Labour leadership top rest on its laurels. As such we present the second part of our “New Year’s Resolution” series, ( Part one can be found here) where we discuss the three areas that the Labour Leadership should focus on to continue improving their chances of gaining a majority at the next election.

Read More

British Politics in 2018: New Year, Old Problems

As a New Year begins, British Politics is finding it impossible to deal with the future as it is consumed with the battles of the past.

From Pixabay.com

From Pixabay.com

One debate that was reignited over the festive period was the role of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, sparked by the announcement that Nick Clegg was to receive a knighthood. Owen Jones wrote a piece typical of the attitude many shared on the left, that Clegg's support for austerity was a chief cause of the Brexit vote. I'm not so sure about this; perhaps with with hindsight it's more true that destroying the reputation of the Lib Dems amongst metropolitan liberal types and students actually paved the way for Corbynism's electoral success (to be fair, Jones does mention this in passing, though does not quite put the argument in those terms).

After Clegg's leadership took them from 50 MPs to less than 10, it's been a slow rebuilding process for the Liberal Democrats. Stories being briefed out of Lib Dem HQ suggest that not all is well, and new-ish leader Vince Cable must be hoping that he can find a way to make the party relevant. A combination of the polarisation in the UK following the Brexit vote, a rubbish voting system and poor strategic choices made by the Lib Dems and UKIP have meant a return to 2-party politics. It's going to be difficult to see any of these parties, as well as the Greens, making much of a breakthrough in the political scene this year.

British Politics is still consumed by the seismic vote nineteen months ago to leave the European Union, which gave a truckload of ammunition to the decades-long feud within the Conservative Party over Europe. In December, the Conservatives lost their first Parliamentary vote on a Brexit issue after pro-Remain MPs rebelled against the government in what was surely a portent of things to come. Almost a year since Theresa May triggered Article 50, there's still no clear consensus in the Cabinet about what the final end-state of Brexit would look like. It seems like there is a general agreement that a free-trade deal will be pursued, but that's like saying that you're going to eat meat for dinner: it still leaves a lot to be decided. May is also hamstrung by the fact that she lost her credibility, authority and majority in last June's election. Despite everything, she is still Prime Minister and I would not be surprised to see her approval ratings rise just because she is still plodding on.

What about the opposition Labour Party, resurgent in the polls with a rejuvenated leader? In a party where many use “Blairite” as a term of abuse, the record of Labour's period in government is viewed as decidedly mixed. However, there are signs that Jeremy Corbyn is taking a more sensible attitude to Tony Blair's legacy than many of his supporters. Last year he praised Labour's record on the NHS and homeless in PMQs exchanges, and in his message for 2018 Blairishly talked of staking out “a new centre ground”. I am hopeful that this year Labour can move on from its obsession with the past. That means that the Labour right stops assuming that the cautious approach which won in 1997 would still work today, and that the Labour left acknowledges the good Labour did in government and stops assuming that Tony Blair is the Antichrist. As a famous Blairite said: “Best when we are boldest, best when we are united, best when we are Labour.”

Labour is currently leading in the polls, and one thing to look out for this year is whether past events halt this rise. Recent protests in Iran have caused the spotlight to fall on the past support of Corbyn and his press secretary for the Iranian regime. Corbyn's past remarks have not proved an obstacle for him in two leadership elections and a general election campaign, so it will be interesting to see if nothing continues to stick to “Teflon Jeremy” as the prospect of a Corbyn Premiership becomes increasingly credible.

The final past events that may shape Labour's fortune in a subsequent election would be if the Conservatives can repeat the successful attacks on Ed Miliband in 2015. In that election the idea of a Labour administration in the SNP's pocket led many to vote Conservative, especially in Con-Lib marginal seats. Given the arrangement the Tories have with the DUP, these attacks may lose some of their force, but it could be a line of attack which the Conservatives use if Labour continue to rise in the polls.

In 2018 Britain had better hope that its politicians stop fighting old battles, as there are plenty of problems to solve right now. Cuts to public services and to wages are starting to bite. Homelessness is becoming a distressingly common problem, millions of working families use food banks and the NHS is in a severe crisis. The continuing squeeze on local council budgets means the chronic underfunding of social care will also only get worse. Steve is right to argue that the Conservatives need a plan to address these issues, but I cannot see this happening whilst the government is so preoccupied with Brexit. More on that in the Friday Fizz tomorrow.

Is re-nationalising the railways all it's cracked up to be?

Is re-nationalising the railways all it's cracked up to be?

Every year, like clockwork, the cost of travel by rail goes up. Every year, like clockwork, the news and internet is filled with outrage about the fact that the cost of travelling by rail has gone up. Every year, like clockwork, someone suggests we re-nationalise the railways.

For the first time in decades, Labour is in a position where they could form a government under a leader who is not ideologically opposed to re-nationalisation. As such, the furore over renationalisation has reached a level that’s not been seen for some time.

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This is how the Tories can start to turn things around.

This is how the Tories can start to turn things around.

As 2018 kicks off we enter the time of year where we all start thinking about how we can improve ourselves. Whilst a number of our political leaders could do with cutting back on the booze and losing a few pounds, their positions of power mean that their resolutions should be a little bit more grandiose than yours or mine.  As such we’ve thrown together some new year’s resolutions that our political elite should look at. In our first piece, we look at how the Conservative government can improve its standing by focusing on policy & communications.

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Friday Fizz: The ongoing Culture War edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can read previous instalments here.

Pesky snowflakes clamp down on a deer's freedom of speech. From pixabay.com

Pesky snowflakes clamp down on a deer's freedom of speech. From pixabay.com

Here are the festive stories you might have missed whilst eating chocoates, drinking wine and avoiding family conversations about Brexit. Taken altogether, they suggest that fighting a new culture war will be the business of a large section of Tory MPs in 2018.

Two government policies were announced just before and after Christmas: the return of Blue Passports and universities potentially being fined for not allowing freedom of speech. The discussion about Blue Passports showed how difficult it is to speak logically and with evidence about anything Brexit-related, let alone something as trivial as changing passport colour. It was pointed out that EU countries already had blue passports so Britain didn't need to leave the EU to change the colour of its passports. Also, it was the League of Nations that forced blue passports on Britain in the first place. There's also the not completely insigificant point that crashing the economy and destroying Britain's world standing is a high price for getting rid of a muave passport. None of this made any difference, and indeed in a totally unpredictable move the Daily Mail talked of elites "sneering". It also saw a political tribe falling for a fake statistic: thousands of Remainers shared the news that passports would cost an extra £500million, which isn't quite true as that's essentially the current cost of passports.

The No Platform Policy is daft, and I've spoken at student union debates opposing it. That doesn't mean that the government's plans have merit. Jonathan Healey has an interesting thread on it here. It's student unions who no-platform speakers, not universities. You can't fine a university for something a union does, as they are different bodies. Jo Johnson must know this, or not care, and neither of those alternatives is particularly hopeful. However, add in Chris Heaton-Harris's poundshop McCarthyism a few months ago and you have the Conservative Party taking on a section of society which is generally Remain leaning because students and university lecturers are better-educated (note: this is not the same as being more intelligent). As Johnson is countering a problem that does not exist outside a couple of Spiked and Spectator columns, it's hard not to see this decision as the next stage in a culture war against people who disagree with the government most of the time.

The third prong (these things always come in threes) of the fork prodding the fires of the culture war was Nadine Dorries's tweet about "snowflakes" destroying pantomines and other cultural missives, which doesn't seem to be a meltdown as some commentators have been saying, but instead seems an example of Lynton Crosby's dead cat strategy. Again, saying that left-wingers have been destroying panto is ridiculous (a Twitter thread here explains why the Thatcherite cuts of the 1980s may be more to blame). 

It surely cannot be a coincidence that these wedge issues have been brought up less than a month after Steve Bannon met Jacob Rees-Mogg to discuss how conservative movements can win in Britain. Attacking "snowflake" students, liberals in British culture and "politically correct" academics is straight out of the Breitbart and Republican playbooks. This will carry on into 2018. You have been warned.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue:

Old: You can listen to our podcast with Brigid Jones a few months ago on whether the UK is going through a new culture war here: 

New: Our podcast on the international events we did not talk about in 2017 can be listened to below:

Borrowed: This Politico story on the transformation of Fox News's website is also a taste of things to come on the populist right.

Blue: Conservative MP Nick Boles has a new book out called Square Deal. You can read a chapter on Jobs here. There's plenty I disagree with and some bits I agree with, but it's an interesting, breezy read.

Pop Culture Recommendation

It's end of year review time. So, here are five books I enjoyed reading in 2017:

1. Cato the Younger's "Guilty Men: Brexit Edition", a breezy account of how we got into this mess.
2. Judith Herrin's "Byzantium", a fascinating survey of the Byzantine Empire.
3. Robert Harris's "Munich": the only author who can write a novel based on facts you already know and still produce a gripping story.
4. Jan-Werner Muller's "What is Populism?", a book that I know will inform my thinking on populism, how to counter it and how to talk about it in future podcasts.
5. David Gilmour's "The Pursuit of Italy", a history of Italy that is unputdownable.

We have our final episode of 2017 out on New Year's Eve. Have a great new year!

Friday Fizz: The end of term edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can catch up with previous editions here.

I began writing this on Wednesday afternoon. On Wednesday evening, Damian Green resigned. 2017 has been that sort of year in British Politics.

The consensus from Westminster is that it makes May lonelier, which is the view of the BBC, Conservative Home and of the Guardian. It certainly removes another key adviser from the Prime Minister. In Tim Shipman's Fallout he chronicles how many missteps from Number 10 just after the election and the removal of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill almost brought Theresa May's position into jeapardy. The tone-deaf speech the day after the election, written by civil servants with no ear for politics as the political staff had all left, is a good example of this. That's the one in which May refused to acknowledge the Conservative MPs that had lost their seats, and that she no longer had an overall majority.  Gavin Williamson appears to have been another adviser May leant on for advice, but he has now moved to a department which means he cannot provide as much assistance to the Prime Minister as before. This is a problem for a Prime Minister who appears to lean heavily on her advisers before coming to a decision. It means that a reshuffle almost certainly will happen in the new year, though who replaces Green is anybody's guess. It'll probably end up being Michael Gove.

MPs go into the recess now with the government looking, as a previous Fizz put it, weak but stable. Green's resignation comes after a good week or two for the government, but should be a reminder that, if one takes a long view, this parliament is going to be bloody difficult for the Conservatives. Like the John Major years, without the competence. Despite that, the government won't collapse. Indeed, the stability of the government is also helped by the looming spectre of a Corbyn government. It's one of life's little ironies that Corbyn's weakness as a Labour leader is one of the reasons Theresa May called a snap election when she did not need to in June; whereas now his strength is one of the few things holding the Conservative Party together. In an interview with Grazia this week Corbyn said that although he won't be Prime Minister by Christmas, he "probably" will be by the end of next year. This would seem a little optimistic, to say the least.

International news gives us little hope that the world will be stable in 2018. The Trump administration is apparently "taking the names" of countries who dare to disagree with the insanely terrible move of recognising Jerusalem to be Israel's capital. On a domestic front, truly terrible tax laws have been passed which are so bad that Americans do not believe they are true. Our podcast this week touches on illiberal democracy in Eastern Europe; a subject coming to a head in Brussels this week.

Finally, in "Did you really need a bunch of judges to work that out?" news, Uber is officially a taxi company.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: Our podcast last week looked back at June's election. Why not compare it to the episode we recorded the day after the results were known.

New: Steve wrote blogs on Damian Green, the published Brexit papers and on Britain possibly leaving protections for workers rights. We also had a midweek podcast out about Brexit in 2017. Enjoy.

Borrowed: No Fizz so far has covered the meek surrender of the Ashes, but George Dobell has written this interesting analysis on the failure of the ECB.

Blue: Rory Stewart has written this on how to make change happen. Worth reading, whatever your party.

Pop Culture Recommendation

It's been a pleasure re-reading Len Deighton's Berlin Game. The Bernard Samson novels are my favourite series of novels and coming back to them is like meeting up with a group of old friends again.

Our penultimate episode of 2017, on the events we did not talk about in 2017, is aready out:

Have a wonderful Christmas!