POLITICAL STALEMATE

 

 

After years of political turbulence, the local election results seem to tell us that deadlock has been reached in the nation’s politics.

The Conservatives are seen as the party of Brexit and are gaining support in Leave areas, particularly in the Midlands. Their Brexit credentials have helped protect them from the normal loss of seats that follows a General Election. They are not particularly popular but seem immune for taking a hammering over austerity, social care and housing.

Labour have been unfairly criticised for not making more progress. The fact is that after eight years in opposition they controlled 70% of the seats in the North West after successive gains over the years. On the other hand, it is true that there is no evidence that the party is on course for a majority government in 2022. There are some indications that Jeremy Corbyn’s metropolitan brand of hard left politics and tortuous opportunism on the Brexit issue is not appealing to voters in towns like Bolton and Wigan.

The bright exception for the party was ending Tory rule in Trafford by gaining four wards, but even here it was the loss of two councillors in Altrincham to the Greens that tipped the balance. I wonder what the private reaction of the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester will be to the result. The outgoing Conservative leader Sean Anstee was a key link to the government in respect of the Northern Powerhouse devolution and elected mayors projects.

 

The Conservatives did not do as badly as they deserved to following an election run up that included a fourth Cabinet resignation and the Windrush scandal. But they must not be complacent because they clearly benefitted from the collapse of UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats have begun a patchy climb back. Retaining South Lakeland was important as were the gains in Liverpool. However just across the border in Sefton the Liberal Democrat decline has been spectacular. From holding the council leadership and the parliamentary constituency of Southport, the party now has no MP in the area and is now down to 12 councillors, the lowest total in over thirty years.

The main focus of attention in Lancashire was the Conservatives capture of Pendle by the reinstatement of a councillor who’d been suspended from the party for sharing a foul racist joke on Facebook. The Tory Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis, said he would “look at it” but the suspension has been served and the prospect of running the council for the first time since 1979 might prove too tempting. Race has tainted the council for a while as the last BNP councillor in the whole country was to be found here.

It is worth reflecting that 15 years ago the BNP were a real threat in local government winning seven seats on Burnley Council and becoming the official opposition.

On a brighter note Blackburn saw the election of Asian women for the first time, let’s hope that trend continues.

What conclusion do we draw from it all for the immediate political future? It looks as if the nation will settle for a Conservative government with a slim or no majority just if Labour remains hard left. The centre alternative is either trapped in the Labour Party, or in the case of the Lib Dems is still too weak to make a real difference.

Follow me @JimHancockUK

 

 

After years of political turbulence, the local election results seem to tell us that deadlock has been reached in the nation’s politics.

The Conservatives are seen as the party of Brexit and are gaining support in Leave areas, particularly in the Midlands. Their Brexit credentials have helped protect them from the normal loss of seats that follows a General Election. They are not particularly popular but seem immune for taking a hammering over austerity, social care and housing.

Labour have been unfairly criticised for not making more progress. The fact is that after eight years in opposition they controlled 70% of the seats in the North West after successive gains over the years. On the other hand, it is true that there is no evidence that the party is on course for a majority government in 2022. There are some indications that Jeremy Corbyn’s metropolitan brand of hard left politics and tortuous opportunism on the Brexit issue is not appealing to voters in towns like Bolton and Wigan.

The bright exception for the party was ending Tory rule in Trafford by gaining four wards, but even here it was the loss of two councillors in Altrincham to the Greens that tipped the balance. I wonder what the private reaction of the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester will be to the result. The outgoing Conservative leader Sean Anstee was a key link to the government in respect of the Northern Powerhouse devolution and elected mayors projects.

 

The Conservatives did not do as badly as they deserved to following an election run up that included a fourth Cabinet resignation and the Windrush scandal. But they must not be complacent because they clearly benefitted from the collapse of UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats have begun a patchy climb back. Retaining South Lakeland was important as were the gains in Liverpool. However just across the border in Sefton the Liberal Democrat decline has been spectacular. From holding the council leadership and the parliamentary constituency of Southport, the party now has no MP in the area and is now down to 12 councillors, the lowest total in over thirty years.

The main focus of attention in Lancashire was the Conservatives capture of Pendle by the reinstatement of a councillor who’d been suspended from the party for sharing a foul racist joke on Facebook. The Tory Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis, said he would “look at it” but the suspension has been served and the prospect of running the council for the first time since 1979 might prove too tempting. Race has tainted the council for a while as the last BNP councillor in the whole country was to be found here.

It is worth reflecting that 15 years ago the BNP were a real threat in local government winning seven seats on Burnley Council and becoming the official opposition.

On a brighter note Blackburn saw the election of Asian women for the first time, let’s hope that trend continues.

What conclusion do we draw from it all for the immediate political future? It looks as if the nation will settle for a Conservative government with a slim or no majority just if Labour remains hard left. The centre alternative is either trapped in the Labour Party, or in the case of the Lib Dems is still too weak to make a real difference.

Follow me @JimHancockUK

IRRITATING AGONISING

 

DANGEROUS DITHERING.

Two areas of current debate are irritating me. One is what to do about Syria, the other what to do about representing the centre ground in British politics.

The issues are totally different, but they have this in common; futile, even dishonest, hand ringing by politicians.

SYRIA: ASSAD WILL WIN.

It gives me no pleasure to write that sub heading. Syria is ill served by the butcher Bashar-al-Assad. He is the main survivor from this century’s turmoil in the Middle East that saw the removal of many of the region’s dictators. In the brutal world of Middle East politics, it was a mistake to depose these dictators who, at least, ensured stability in their countries.

The West was heavily involved in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan in the early years of this century motivated by securing oil supplies, fighting terrorism or introducing western style democracy depending on your point of view. The result was bloody chaos and the rise of the so called Islamic State.

This led to a complete volte face by the West as people in America and Britain understandably questioned why blood and treasure was being wasted on hopeless causes.

When opponents of Assad in Syria rose up and called on the West to help, we did little. As the slaughter became more widespread, President Barack Obama warned Assad not to cross the “red line” by using chemical weapons. They were used, and the USA did nothing. The UK Parliament voted in 2013 against air strikes in Syria.

So, intervention doesn’t work, and the current cautious policy of the West has been an invitation to Russia and Iran to fill the vacuum in Syria.

The sporadic threats and interventions of President Trump are too late, incoherent, will prolong the conflict and could lead to a global confrontation with Russia and Iran. With John Bolton as the new American National Security advisor anything is possible.

Of course, there should be peace talks but, Assad is going to win, so the earlier the violence ends the better. Meanwhile the West needs to decide what its real red lines are in relation to Russia, China and Iran.

And by the way the collapse of the EU, as forecast by an academic this week, would not help with stability.

THE CENTRE PARTY CHIMERA.

Tony Blair is never off the airwaves these days. I find his interviews frustrating. They start with an excellent analysis of the polarised state of British politics with the vast centre ground unrepresented.

Then he is asked to take the logical step of helping to form a new party and he goes all coy concluding that he is staying with Labour.

He is not alone. Many centrist politicians are happy to brief the media about £50m being available for a new party and how important it is that voters have a choice other than Brexit Tory or Statist Corbyn. But you never see names attached to these stories.

So, my message to Tony and his friends is either stop this self-indulgent chatter, get on with forming a new party or work with the Lib Dems with whom you have few real differences.

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IF ONLY…..

 

 

MOVE ON

If only Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t been elected leader of the Labour Party. If only people had voted to remain. If only Donald Trump hadn’t been chosen as President of the United States.

Amid the quite legitimate concerns about Corbyn’s sluggish reaction to anti-Semitism in the party, Cambridge Analytica’s role in the Brexit vote, and constant questions around Trump’s fitness for office; there is an underlying feeling that some are motivated by an inability to accept decisions of the people or party members.

DON’T REFIGHT 2016.

I desperately want to stop Brexit by parliamentary means or by a vote on the final deal. However, I don’t think the cause is helped by trawling through the alleged financial chicanery by Vote Leave. Is there the slightest prospect of the 2016 Referendum being declared void? No, so let’s focus on the major task of changing public opinion.

It is a major task because top pollsters are reporting that a year before we leave, public opinion is where it was in 2016; divided down the middle. Furthermore, pollsters believe that won’t change because people are resistant to arguments that potentially could alter their minds.

When Remain focus groups are presented with expert findings that Britain will be fine in a global market, a substantial majority not only reject the findings but also express distrust of the expert. Experts fare no better when Leave focus groups are faced with gloomy forecasts for post Brexit Britain.

So, there is work to do, but trying to invalidate the 2016 Referendum isn’t a productive course of action.

HILLARY IS HISTORY.

Turning to Trump’s victory, it is deeply disturbing to realise that the huge viral growth of slogans like “crooked Hillary” was orchestrated by Cambridge Analytica. We have had wall to wall coverage of Stormy Daniels allegations of having sex with Trump. There is also the ongoing Mueller investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

None of it matters a damn to Trump supporters who look at the improving economy and give him their approval. Again, Trump opponents should stop trawling the last election, warn people not to be fooled by orchestrated social media next time and present some convincing arguments to vote Democrat this autumn in the midterm elections.

LABOUR IS A SOCIALIST PARTY.

Finally, we come to all the flak that Jeremy Corbyn has been facing over anti-Semitism. The problem here is that Corbyn and those around him feel passionately about Palestine and rightly so. Palestine deserves to be a state and Israel should not be putting settlers into the illegally occupied territories. However, Israel has every right to exist within internationally recognised boundaries, respecting the civil rights of all its citizens.

Criticism of the Israeli government is completely legitimate but when that spills over into anti-Semitism, it is completely wrong. The problem is that some pro-Palestinian organisations that Corbyn, and his top aide Seamus Milne, support have anti Semites on their fringe.

Labour needs to act more quickly to identify and expel those who are anti Semites, campaign for a Palestine state and an Israel that once again has its own strong Labour Party.

Corbyn opponents in the Labour Party need to realise that they are now in a party that,in its internal structures, personnel and policies, is a socialist party. If they want to represent the huge disenfranchised middle ground, they need to forget the “sins” of the Lib Dems over tuition fees and questionable campaign tactics and link up with them to give the centre a voice.

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TORIES FOR EVER ?

 

CORBYN AND CABLE FALTER.

The decade that’s nearing its end has been one of the most exciting in British politics. The demise of New Labour, followed by the first coalition government since the war, then the short-lived Tory government and the wretched EU referendum, followed by another hung parliament with the Democratic Unionists holding the whip hand.

Don’t expect the same excitement from now till 2030. I say that because of events this week. First, we had Lib Dem leader Vince Cable attacking the elderly for betraying the young over Brexit. I am second to none in wanting to stay in the EU, but Vince just sounded bitter. His speech in Southport lacked any ideas for getting the major change in public opinion that it will take to get parliament to stop Brexit in its tracks. I’m afraid it’s a long way back still for the Lib Dems.

Then we had Jeremy Corbyn, not once but twice, misjudging the public mood on the Russian poison outrage. The only thing to do at this point of national emergency is to rally patriotically behind the government. Making points about domiciled Russians donations to the Tories is not for now. For the Labour leader then to call for us to hand over a sample of the poison to the Russians was laughable. By the time they had processed it through a lab next to the one where they make drugs for their athletes, they would announce that they had traced it to British labs and we were trying to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal to increase tension with Russia. Corbyn and the Labour Party, increasingly under the heel of the Unite union are unelectable in a General Election at the moment.

Then we come to Theresa May. Most commentators wrote her off last autumn, but I always doubted that she would be shifted so easily. Up till now she has been held in place by her opponents being unable to choose an obvious successor and also because who really wants the job of conducting the messy Brexit talks?

However, another reason for expecting Mrs May to last a long time is emerging. Her ultra-cautious approach to the talks might just get Brexit delivered but also there’s nothing like an attack on this country to strengthen the position of the Prime Minister. The Falklands war saved Mrs Thatcher and the Russian poison crisis is doing a similar job for Mrs May. Let us hope her measures against Moscow are fully supported by our allies.

 

TIGGER HAMMOND.

The Chancellor continues to attract my admiration. I like his steady approach in a Cabinet that contains the erratic Boris Johnson and Brexit fanatics like Liam Fox.

He was wise to scrap the system of two budgets a year which left business uncertain. His low-key spring statement brought some better news on the economic front. There is a current budget surplus for the first time since 2002 and there is nearly full employment. However, the pressure of austerity on local councils, elderly care and the NHS are remorseless and the growth rate of 1.5% is inadequate to help with funding public services.

More money is being put in to the apprenticeship scheme, but will smaller firms embrace it? The revaluation of business rates is being brought forward to 2021 but many feel that move will not address fundamental flaws in the system.

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