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.

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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!

Good bye Damian Green & Good Riddance!

Good bye Damian Green & Good Riddance!


Damian Green, who effectively holds the position of Deputy Prime Minister, has been fired from his role as First Secretary of State. Upon the production of a report which was looking into allegations about Green’s behaviour with the journalist Kate Malby, May has asked for Green’s resignation, and he has dutifully complied.  This is basically as close to being told “ You’re fired” as it gets in politics.

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Friday Fizz: The "seat of our pants" edition

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

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The top story today is obviously the breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations. As we are recording a podcast on this tomorrow, we will say very little on that today. Instead here are some stories that have not quite got the coverage they deserve.

1. Martin Shultz has said that the SPD may be interested in forming a grand coalition on Germany. Also, in "let's torpedo the hopes of Remainers" news, he's also tweeted that a United States of Europe should be created, and anyone who doesn't accept that should leave. EEA membership, anyone?

2. A report showing a modest improvement in reading scores for children in England has been seized on by Nick Gibb, the schools minister, for showing the success of the coalition introducing phonics to schools. A strange claim, seeing as the results have been improving since 2006 and phonics was introduced by Gordon Brown's administration in 2008. Worrying is that 26% of the 10-year olds surveyed said they were hungry "Every or almost every day".

3. Momentum are being investigated by the Electoral Commission into their election spending during June's election.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: Tomorrow we record our final episodes of 2017 (well, unless the government falls) in which we are looking back on this year. Listen to the episode we recorded this time last year looking forward to 2017 below.

New: Our latest podcast is about the coalition talks in Germany.

Borrowed: Jonathan Freedland is typically good on Donald Trump's decision to pour petrol on a smouldering fire in the middle east.

Blue: James Frayne is one of the more interesting Conservative commentators, and people inside and out of Downing Street should read his contribution on Conservative Home this week.

Pop culture Recommendation

I've just finished the audiobook Babylon Berlin, which is excellently read by Mark Meadows. He also read Empire of Things, one of the best history books I've read over the past twelve months. Volker Kutchser's novel's plot owes a bit to LA Confidential (thanks to my wife for pointing this out) but has enough plot twists and period touches to make it a more than very good detective story.

That's all for this week. Enjoy the snow!

Friday Fizz: The "Are you sure this is the correct Theresa May?" edition

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

Let's start with the biggest news this week: in a move which will leave customers short-changed rather than shortbread, supermarkets are raising their biscuit prices. This seems to be because of rising butter prices rather than Brexit, but one thing is clear: this would never have happened in The Miliverse, where a hypothetical Prime Minister Ed Miliband spends his days discussing whether Jaffa Cakes are biscuits.

In less earth-shattering news, Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI. Coming from the guy who led crowds in chanting "Lock Her Up", it feels like this is a case of Schadenfreude v United States of America.

In even less earth-shattering news, Donald Trump tweeted yesterday. But of course you all know about that already.

This is of course not Donald Trump because the tie is far too short. From pixabay.com

This is of course not Donald Trump because the tie is far too short. From pixabay.com

You know, for instance, that Trump managed to retweet anti-Muslim lies from renowned fascist organisation Britain First, causing them to receive a spike in membership applications. You also know that Number 10 said that it was wrong for the President to do this, which led Trump to tell Theresa May saying that she should focus on terrorism. You further know that at first Trump tweeted at the wrong Theresa May and had to delete the original tweet. Is this the normalisation of anti-Muslim prejudice, of creeping authoritarianism, or just plain bloody stupidity? Either way, it makes you want to yearn for the good old days when Britain and America had diplomatic crises over the fact that we conspired to invade other countries and take over their resources without telling them.

What Trump's tweet did do was unite MPs in defence of Theresa May, something that has not happened since a certain social care policy was announced six months ago. It certainly takes something special to unite both Peter Bone and Jeremy Corbyn (like Euroscepticism, perhaps?) In the Red Box e-mail this week, Matt Chorley wrote that Theresa May and her aides thought that Trump would "evolve" into the role as President, which is why May wasted no time in going to America, offering Trump a state visit and hoping for a trade deal. This is a political judgement from the same person who ruled out giving a bank holiday for Prince Harry's wedding and said that the government would not pay the full cost of the terrorist attack in Manchester. Truly, has there been a Prime Minister with worse political judgement?

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: It feels like a good time to dust off one of my favourite episodes from the first year of Not Enough Champagne, on political bullshit

New: We had a podcast out this week on why Theresa May does not sack Boris Johnson.

Borrowed: Further to our podcast last week on Labour's poll position, Owen Jones has written an interesting piece on the topic. He ignores the Corbyn question, but as I argued on the show last week, there is no historical data to suggest an Opposition should be 15-20 points ahead after a General Election. If the polls are like this in a year's time, then we start worrying.

Blue: This excellent piece on Reaction is one that explains what assumptions the government made about Brexit, and why they were wrong. 

Pop Culture Recommendation

Reading a piece on Richard Thompson and his new album this week made me want to go back and listen to some of his brilliant music. This is one of my favourites.

Our episode on the budget can be heard below:

That's all for this week. We're talking about German Politics on Sunday. 

Friday Fizz: The "Go and See Paddington 2 right now" edition

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

From pixabay.com

From pixabay.com

It's a short fizz this week, mainly, because we have podcasts coming out about the most important issues relevant to the topics we discuss on Not Enough Champagne. Over the next fortnight we have episodes covering the Budget, Cabinet tensions, German coalition talks, and, of course, Brexit. There are many news stories internationally which are important but I have absolutely no expertise to write about whatsoever. You can find links to these below.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: Now is a good time to revisit the podcast we recorded with Brigid Jones about the problems councils have in balancing their budgets.

New: Our Midweek Shot is about whether Labour should be higher in the polls.

Borrowed: A fascinating Guardian long read about the rise of Britain's sandwich industry, and its possible fall because of Brexit.

Two big international stories we have not discussed on the podcast are Ireland and Zimbabwe. Here is a profile on Zimbabwe's new leader, nicknamed The Crocodile. Another is that Ireland faces the collapse of its government. A useful timeline from the Irish Times is here.

Blue: Mark Wallace has written a piece everyone should read this week on the "MPs voted against animals being sentient beings" story; a perfect piece of for the left in every way possible, except for the fact that it's not true. Michael Gove is continuing his political rehabilitation this week by literally saying he wants to help puppies. A reminder, if any were needed, that we need to beware of confirmation bias and not just believe a story because it fits in with our prejudices and worldview. 

Pop Culture Recommendation

Go and see Paddington 2.

That is all for this week. Our podcast looking ahead to the budget can be found below. Listen to our next episode on Sunday by subscribing to Not Enough Champagne on ITunes.

 

Friday Fizz: The Brexit Mutineers Edition

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

One altogether unwelcome feature of the whole Brexit business is the continuing efforts of the right-wing press to quash any dissent or disagreement by anyone who queries how Britain goes about the process of leaving the EU. The Daily Mail has called judges The Enemies Of The People, just for doing their jobs. Later, it published a front page which has not aged well, saying that Theresa May was calling an election to Crush the Brexit sabateurs. This week it was the turn of the Daily Telegraph, who produced a handy guide to "The Brexit Mutineers".

The Brexit Mutineers, pictured with the Divorce Bill. From pixabay.com

The Brexit Mutineers, pictured with the Divorce Bill. From pixabay.com

On closer inspection I was disappointed to find that this was not a reference to a hardy band of pirates, but instead refers to fifteen Conservative MPs who object to the fact that Theresa May wishes to write into law the precise date that Britain will leave the European Union.

The Telegraph headline has deservedly sparked a substantial backlash. Perhaps people still entertain the thought that it's a serious newspaper, as opposed to the Daily Mail, which has always been on the wrong side of reality. Alternatively (and cynically) maybe it's because the political class get really cross if the papers start besmirching MPs as opposed to judges. Either way, these mutineers are absolutely right to vote against fixing the date of exit from the EU. It's such a stupid, wrong-headed move that some are speculating that Theresa May has only proposed it to try and sabotage Brexit, a line of thinking really does reflect the paranoid times we live in. Instead, the simplest solution would appear to be that this is just another of the stupid, destabilising, counter-productive moves Theresa May has made since becoming Prime Minister of courting the maddest Brexiter views. After all, they are the ones who could get rid of her as Prime Minister within the week if her position on Brexit softens one iota.

Incredibly, in the hours between drafting this Fizz before work and publishing it after I get home, it turns out that the government is now considering a climbdown on the issue. What a lot of wasted effot over a nonsense issue from a Prime Minister who does not have a lot of political capital to spend.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue:

Old: I wrote a blog in January about triggering Article 50. Given the revelations in Parliament this week that MPs gasped when they realised Britain could leave the EU without a deal, it seems worth revisiting. It's clearer now than ever that the government should not have triggered Article 50 in March, without any clear plan of what it wanted to achieve or no preparations undertaken. It's also clear that Labour MPs should not have voted to trigger Article 50 without Keir Starmer's caveats to be taken into account. The ones I highlight in the blog were:

  • The publishing of a bill with a detailed Brexit plan.

  • Barrier-free access to the single market.

  • A guarantee that MPs will be consulted throughout the negotiations, not just at the start and the end.

  • Guaranteeing the right of EU citizens currently living in Britain to live here before negotiations begin.

I wonder though if had Parliament blocked the triggering of Article 50 that this would have led to Theresa May calling an early election to give her a mandate for that. It's an interesting counterfactual we will hopefully explore in the podcasts summing up the year in Brexit news.

New: I've been ill this week so nothing has come up on the site. Here's our podcast from last Saturday about the history of tuition fees as a policy.

Borrowed: The biggest international news is a military coup in Zimbabwe. A useful articles on that you can find here, and another analysis from an American perspective is this one. Also, regular listeners will know that we are fans of Stephen Bush and he has a typically interesting piece on the latest stupid things to come out of an MP's internet history. Emma Dent Coad.

Blue: We will be talking about the Budget on our next couple of podcasts. Here's an interesting take from a free market perspective about what Philip Hammond could do. 

Pop Culture Recommendation

Now that Masterchef: The Professionals has started and there's a new Rick Stein series, my evenings are filled with Monica Galetti raising her eyebrows and the various expostulations of Gregg Wallace. We've also spent a lot of time watching Keith Floyd cooking in weird and exotic locations, particularly his series on Africa. You can see the episode on Madagascar here.

That's all for this week. We look forward to the budget on Sunday. Hope you listen then.

Friday Fizz: The "Weak but Stable" edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week.

From pixabay.com

From pixabay.com

Call it the curse of Not Enough Champagne. In our episode on Tory leadership strife over the summer, I talked up Priti Patel as a dark horse for next Prime Minister. Not only is she a Brexiter with robust right-wing views, Patel was also one of two Cabinet Ministers to attend Rupert Murdoch's latest wedding (the other was Michael Gove). What I did not know was that as we were recording that episode, Priti Patel was on a family holiday to Israel, in which she started conducting her own foreign policy.. The facts of the case, and the mind-boggling Press Release, in which DFID fisks its own minister, are now well known. Patel should have resigned a week ago when the news was first broken by James Landale. 

Douglas Carswell, Kieran Pedley and others bemoaned the Press Coverage of the Patel case. Tracking her car back by helicopter was a little bit The Day Today, but reflects the structural problems in the media that Nick Davies was writing about a decade ago. There are fewer journalists with less time and resources than ever to devote to investigative journalism. Indeed, the media landscape has got much worse since Flat Earth News was published. It's much easier just to follow an aeroplane say on your computer, or get a helicopter to track a car, than it is to to investigative journalism.

Patel's departure will increase the pressure on other members of the Cabinet. Boris Johnson can find the time to go on Fox News and call Trump "one of the great global brands" but hasn't yet managed to meet the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe,  who may spend five more years in prison because Johnson can't remember his brief. Not apologising, or even acknowledging a mistake, is completely shameless. That Johnson is still in a job says volumes about the weakness of the May administration. We haven't even mentioned the de facto Prime Minister accusing the police of framing him.

It's very easy for armchair generals like myself to say that May should do a big reshuffle, get rid of the dead wood, and promote newer, talented MPs. However, if May did do that she may be gone within a month. Given there is no obvious candidate to replace her, May could well struggle on. Think John Major without the policy achievements, or Gordon Brown without the saving of the world's economic system.

Despite all the chaos, May's personal ratings and the Conservatives generally are performing well in the polls. Disdain for May's leadership and the government's handling of Brexit is not - yet - leading to poll increases for Labour. Perhaps it's because not many people are paying attention - 22,000 tracking Patel's flight online sounds like many but doesn't amount to a massive hill of beans. 

A reshuffle won't happen until after the budget, on November 22nd, but I would expect a reorganisation after that. Who goes and who stays will define not only May's Premiership, but whether the Conservatives can win the next election. It's too soon to write them off just yet.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Old: Our podcast on Sunday is about tuition fees. Listen to our episode about universities from last year below:

New: Our midweek shot on the Mueller indictments is below:

Borrowed: You might have noticed that it's one year since Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in an election. Two articles you should read to mark that point are this one, about the consequences of Trump's hate speech, and this piece is particularly fascinating. The author lived in Putin's Russia and wrote about how to survive in an autccracy. One year on from that article she discusses what she got right and also what she got wrong.

Blue: Mark Wallace has an interesting piece on the rise of new parties and what they mean. 

Pop Culture Recommendation

Last night I saw The Death of Stalin, Armando Iannucci's new comedy about, er, the death of Josef Stalin. It's very much like The Thick of It and In The Loop, but it's not got the same amount of laughs-per-minute. That's because, a bit like in Four Lions, the subject matter does not exactly lend itself to constant chuckling. It's still damned good though, a funny but frightening portrayal of authoritarianism. Plus, Simon Russell Beale. 

Also, Priti Patel being replaced by Penny Mordaunt as DFID Secretary reminds me of this song by Steve Tilston.

That's all for this week. I'm playing chess in the 4NCL this weekend. That means our podcast on Sunday may come out later than usual.

You can listen to last week's episode below: