The year begins – 2020

There is no time for our politicians, in any party, to sit back and enjoy the ride. The work began the moment they set foot in Westminster, and the time to the next General Election is ticking away; presumably 1 May 2024.

There are few unavoidable fixtures before the election.

It starts with Brexit Day, finally, on 31 January 2020.  This is then followed by negotiations to reach a free trade agreement, or the essential parts of one, based on the Political Declaration, before 31 December 2020.

The next is the Budget each year;

The local elections, and in particular the London mayoral election on 7 May 2020 (in which the egregious Sadiq Khan is expected to walk home in spite of his having been worse that useless in office).

The Olympic games in Tokyo in 2020: not political, but a national morale-boost, usually.

The creation of the Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission is likely to happen in 2020.

Then the American Presidential Election on 3 November 2020 – which will determine the course of negotiations for free trade across the ocean, and by indirect influence set a tone for political debate.

First thing though: Brexit. Consummating the event must not be the end of the Brexit campaign as the following months and years will be filled with claim and counterclaim about the effect it is having on the economy, and the ‘Rejoiners’ must not be the only voice heard.  The statistics must therefore be available and up front.

That same spirit of openness and demonstrable achievement must permeate through the years ahead. The new blue north is not a given in four and half years’ time, and the generation too young to know the reality of socialism will continue to fill the electorate from the bottom. A great deal of trust must be built up in spite of a cynical age.

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The work begins: Get Brexit Done

I’m still celebrating, but the work is beginning at once. Just as after the office party the ’phone will ring, so now the new, giddy MPs must get to work at speed, to get done all those things that should have been done in the last three and a half years, and more.

First of all: get Brexit done finally.  It is almost a year late.

A Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be introduced on Friday, and a programme motion to push it through the Commons before Christmas – or alternatively a Section 13 motion. One problem facing the renewed Government is that the Surrender Act is still in force and obliges the Government to go for the Malthouse Compromise and nothing else:  that must be cleared away and all the tripwires the awkward squad imposed during the Zombie Parliament, and so a Bill is needed.

We had a commentary on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on the day it was published.  If the same Bill is introduced, the same issues are there; it is unnecessarily complicated because it was done in a hurry and appears to duplicate powers which are already in the existing European Union Withdrawal Act.  It also has provisions with a burdensome procedure for the Government to have to keep referring back to the Commons on the course of the negotiations for a new trade deal. Maybe that was a way to win some wavering support in the hung House of Commons. The voice of the Commons should be heard in the negotiations as they will be required to pass an Act to implement the resulting treaty, and they will want to voice priorities in terms of the extent to which Britain will be bound by agreements, and this will include important areas such as intellectual property, state aid, level-playing-field tendering and co-operation in VAT and data-sharing. However too much structure can make the negotiation slow and encumbered, and since it has to be concluded by December 2020, that is worrying.

In one element though the government can properly be hobbled in its negotiation, and that is where there is the possibility of extending the Transition Period (the ‘vassalage period’ as it has been called). The Withdrawal Agreement provides for an agreed extension, but it would be unwelcome and against the Manifesto pledge. It is hinted that the Bill to be brought on Friday will bar the government from actually extending. That is wise: it was the possibility of extension of the Article 50 period which made that extension inevitable, and the possibility of extending the vassalage will be very tempting to Brussels as they prevaricate in their negotiations over the course of 2020.

Never forget in all of this, that although there is a large Conservative majority and the will to get this through, and though all the blue rebels have been ousted and swept into obscurity, the Labour benches still contain the likes of Hilary Benn, prime mover of the Surrender Act, and Keir Starmer, co-author of Section 13 and one of those who gave aid and comfort to the enemy in Brussels. They may be overpowered, but they will not be silent.

This morning Michel Barnier made a useful observation: he said that a complete negotiation of an international trade treaty would take far longer than twelve months, but that it should be possible to do enough in that time to continue the trading relationship. That is a constructive way ahead.

With a common-sense approach and goodwill it should be possible to do the whole treaty in twelve months, but common sense and goodwill and not among the EU’s known qualities, not alacrity come to that. Theresa May’s team were content to sit back and wait for Brussels to propose things, with the result we saw. This time it will need British will to push the new trade deal at every stage, and an open line to Eire – the one European state which does display common sense on occasion. Then if the treaty text can artfully keep to areas within the European Union’s ‘exclusive competence’ then the treaty need only pass through the European Union’s own procedures and not be tripped up by a troublesome member state; the EU-Canada CETA strayed beyond and was felled by the Walloon regional parliament. If for a full treaty it is impossible to keep to the areas of exclusive competence, Monsieur Barnier’s “enough” treaty could, with detail to follow.

If it is likely then that the trade treaty will be a multi-stage process then the Government must be free to negotiate it in stages and sign up in stages, and the terms of any Bill before the Commons must not inadvertently hamper that.

I may be getting ahead of things though: the first thing is to get Parliament to grant whatever authority the Government needs to sign the deal, and (whether at the same time or following on its heels) to repeal the Surrender Act and the unfortunate Section 13.

Then by December we may see a signature on a new treaty. Not in Rome, as it is too redolent of the original treaty which got us into this mess in the first place, and of the Europeans’ imperial ambitions: may I suggest Wittenberg?

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Books

The five stages of Grieve

The five stages of Grieve have been identified by psychologists:

1.   Denial

2.   Anger

3.   Bargaining (with foreign enemies)

4.   Believing your own wildest rhetoric

5.   Standing as a vanity candidate out of spite in a General Election

Many former MPs recently defenestrated may be feeling the signs of Grieve as the nights lengthen and the season of ill-will approaches. Once outgoing characters in an established rut, now thrown into the real world and feeling Gaukey, we should not be cruel – they are in need of help and counselling.

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Bizarre self-defenestrations

The election campaign has only just begun and is already looking like the most bizarre one in living memory. We expect the howls of faux-outrage when a leading politician says something that can be twisted in an outraged misquote to build a Twitterstorm, and we expect tumults over tiny things that convulse political insiders but leave the rest of the voters just puzzled, if uncomfortable that something has happened, and even if we do not know what it was, well, it was bad if those who understand it think it was.

We have also come to expect SkyNews acting as the broadcasting wing of the Labour Party.

The Liberal Democrat leaflets with dishonest bar charts and made-up voting figures? That’s practically compulsory in any election

No; the bizarre thing is the pattern in the sudden loss of leading candidates, and the reappearance of others thought disposed of.

Tom Watson – the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party no less. If you are heading into an election with an unpopular leader seen widely as a lunatic, then you need an apparently sane man aboard as a reassurance, but now he is gone. Even as his papers were about to go in, he is gone – out of the deputy-leadership and not standing for his seat. The timing is unspeakable. He was the one the Labour Party kept in so the Party did not look too swivel-eyed. Except of course that Tom Watson entered the ‘loony’ category when he championed ‘Nick’ the fantasist in his accusations against respected, innocent figures. Momentum tried to depose Tom Watson for no being a Communist, but perhaps the dead knife was wielded by one of his victims: Harvey Proctor pledged to stand against him, and remind the voters of what he had done.

Then came Chris Williamson – kicked out because he could not see that expressions commonplace in Germany in the 1930s might not be appropriate in a civilised society. He has reappeared, not for Labour but standing against their candidate, as an independent, at least at the time of writing. Regrettably, he is unlikely to split the red vote too badly. Only a cynic surely would suggest that he is just after the cash settlement that outgoing MPs get only if they stand and are defeated.

Then there are Brexit Party candidates standing aside in droves, on the basis that they do not want to win votes that could more usefully go elsewhere.

This is only Day 1. What monsters will the next 6 weeks bring us? Popcorn please.

101 Uses for a Dumped MP

With happy abandon, many MPs are abandoning the Commons, before they are kicked out on their backsides by a relieved, vengeful electorate. Those confident smiles: have they even thought about what they will do when they emerge into the real world with the rest of us? Do they think they have a future? Bless!

Here’s part one of 101 uses for a dumped MP I wrote down on an old envelope at lunchtime:

  • Reality TV show. Just don’t ask for a £million: you’re not worth it, and if you are, you won’t want to be seen in that trash, even with a strong medicament.
  • (Top slots by the way are I’m a Has Been, Get me a Camera, and Strictly Come Off It: talk to my agent; she’s good.)
  • Start a think-tank: but first find a wealthy donor who is prepared to pay you a salary out of pity. You don’t have to produce anything of value; just collect the cheque at the end of the month.
  • After-dinner speaking. If you were a Prime Minister or Speaker, you may earn five figures for a slot or six for a conference; four figures for a senior cabinet minister.  Anyone else, well, you can always do children’s parties.
  • Bag a pundit slot on a politics programme: but there are very few going and only to those with wisdom and charisma, so that’s most ex-MPs out already.
  • Sue a journalist who pretended you wanted to be on a reality TV show – that is really, really defamatory.
  • Chair a quango. There are plenty out there, usually created to give jobs to otherwise unemployable Blairites, but maybe they will expand to let you in if you mouth Common Purpose platitudes?  They may employ you as a condolence for your powerlessness. You will still be powerless.
  • Start a charity. Two versions:  the genuine, voluntary charity if you actually hope to go back into politics, and you can still think that if you like, or the better route is a grant-farm, where you can be paid your old salary out of taxpayers’ money without actually doing any good; just like the old days.
  • A regular slot on Classic FM: just leave it long enough so they forget about, well, you know.
  • That thing that Ben Shapiro does, with an on-line politics / interviews show?  Shapiro makes a mint, but then he is an intellectual giant and you are not.
  • Beg on the streets.  It’s practically what you have been doing for the last few years anyway.

And the most radical suggestion of them all:

  • Get a real job like a normal person.

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Books