WHAT MAY HAVE BEEN.

 

Margaret Thatcher set a high bar for any female successor. That said why will Theresa May leave office next week with such bad reviews? She lost more ministers through resignation (35) than Thatcher and Tony Blair did in 10 years. Cabinet discipline completely collapsed. She called an election and lost her majority. Above all she failed in her central project of leaving the EU with a deal.

I think she deserves some slack actually. David Cameron walked away having created the biggest crisis for the UK since 1940. Holding a referendum was a mistake, making no preparations for the eventuality of a Leave vote was grossly negligent. It was an inheritance that needed the political craft of Harold Wilson and the flair of Tony Blair. Mrs May had neither.

It is a bit of a mystery how this shy woman with an awkward manner rose to the top job. It actually came about when potentially better candidates fell out or withdrew. Perhaps Andrea Leadsom would have made a better fist of it. The ability to create a team spirit in the Cabinet, to work the tearoom with Tory backbenchers and communicate an overall vision to the country was lacking. This was particularly serious at a time of unprecedented division in the nation and parliament. It is because of the behaviour of Tory MPs in the Commons that I cut her some slack. I always thought that eventually the European Research Group would compromise on their extreme Brexit demands. It was the problem John Major faced in the 1990’s with many of the same anti EU obsessives like Bill Cash. Her foolish opportunism in calling the 2017 election and losing her majority plaid into the ERG’s hands but their undermining of the Prime Minister was on an epic scale.

On the positive side she did have a functioning relationship with her Chancellor, something that eluded Tony Blair. Philip Hammond presided over a strengthening economy and, although announcements about the end of austerity are premature for millions on low pay, £20bn for the NHS and low unemployment rates are achievements of the May Premiership.

Ultimately though people will ask what her three years in office achieved. Brexit wasn’t delivered but nor was much else. There was parliamentary time to tackle the huge issue of elderly care which has nothing to do with Brexit.

In her final speech she spoke of the dangers of absolutism entering politics, an unwillingness to compromise and a coarsening of the political debate. The scales have finally fallen from Mrs May’s eyes. The first year of her Premiership was dominated by her fixing red lines on her EU negotiations and hiring a Pretorian guard in No 10. For a long time she seemed to disregard the 48% of us who voted to Remain, giving top priority to trying to keep her party together.

What will she do on the backbenches? She at least won’t be resigning her seat in the disdainful way Cameron quit Witney. She could link up with several her other ministers about to be discarded by Johnson (if elected) in opposing No Deal. She may stay neutral offering him far more loyalty than he offered to her.

Whatever happens Theresa May will have more time to walk through the cornfields where she will be a great deal happier than she was in office.

 

 

STILL TIME TO VOTE FOR HUNT!

 

JOHNSON HUMILIATES US.

One must hope that there are enough Tories still to vote that will support Jeremy Hunt. Boris Johnson cynically refused meaningful debate with his opponent or the media until he hoped most had cast their ballot.

Probably its too late to stop the triumph of a man wholly unsuitable to become Prime Minister. We can now add Sir Kim Darroch to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as victims of this man. The humiliation of a top envoy and the continued incarceration of an innocent woman in an Iranian jail may not worry Tory Party members but it certainly worries the country at large.

Johnson wants us to leave the European Union for the exciting world trade on offer around the world. A crucial element of that is a good treaty with the United States. I have already expressed my view that we face lower food standards and more expensive drugs as a result. We can now see even more clearly what Johnson and Trump doing a deal will mean. Johnson is in thrall to a President who shares so many of his characteristics including a worship of market forces, shooting from the hip with unguarded remarks and a “colourful” private life.

His failure to support our ambassador in Washington was utterly disgraceful. Theresa May should appoint a new envoy to stop someone like Richard Tice from the Brexit Party getting the post under Johnson.

This is what our country will become if we don’t stop Brexit. We will be supine and desperate for trade deals with America and China. We will sacrifice our values for grubby deals as we try and compensate for the loss of our strong economic ties to the EU.

IN THE HUNT.

I’m not a great fan of Jeremy Hunt but he would make a far more reliable Prime Minister than his opponent. Tory members who have still not voted need to ponder the twin dangers of supporting Johnson for their own party. Johnson will always be a few remarks, or a careless decision, away from a serious blunder that could seriously damage the Tories. Also, if his “do or die” Brexit gamble fails, the party will never be forgiven.

Hunt did well in the debate and exposed the total inability or refusal of Johnson to answer important questions. Hunt said an unequivocal yes to HS2, a third runway at Heathrow and to abortion and gay marriage rights in Northern Ireland. Johnson equivocated on all of them.

Hunt looks and acts like a statesman, let’s hope we have another shock victory that will confound the pundits.

LABOUR PAINS.

The agony goes on within Labour. The exposure of the ineffectiveness and even sabotage of the anti-Semitism drive by the BBC this week shows what people like MPs Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside) and Luciana Berger (Wavertree) have suffered.

There is clearly a major problem in Liverpool because Stephen Twigg, an effective moderate MP representing West Derby has had enough and will stand down at the next election.

The party has tried to clarify its position on Europe by making it worse. It is against leaving the EU when in opposition but would be negotiating a Leave deal if it were in government with the option to campaign against it! You couldn’t make it up.

 

100 YEARS ON FROM VERSAILLES

IS PUTIN RIGHT?

100 years ago, the Versailles Treaty set the broad framework of the world we are living in. The old European empires were broken up creating the nation states that have now come together in the European Union. In contrast the Middle East was thrown into turmoil with colonial powers drawing arbitrary lines on maps and making contradictory promises to Palestinians and Jews.

In between there have been many upheavals as aggrieved nations sought to change the Versailles settlement. Nazi Germany briefly arose around the notion that Versailles was a harsh peace for an unconquered people. Japan felt unrewarded for siding with the allies against the Central Powers and attempted to conquer an empire in East Asia. China learnt the lesson of being a weak power 100 years ago. The Soviet Union was two years old but would briefly rise to great prominence in World War Two and the Cold War. The United States initially tried isolationism before assuming a world leadership role that is only now being seriously challenged.

So where are we now, 100 years after Versailles? Vladimir Putin thinks he knows. He said last week that liberalism is dead. Is he right? It is certainly in retreat. I think it is very significant that Putin feels no inhibition in admitting his country has no respect for the liberal traditions of the West. We all have known this for a long time, but to stake out a position in opposition to liberalism can only be because he sees its weakening around the world.

Donald Trump is very comfortable with Putin and the leader of North Korea. He espouses the doctrine of America First. China is engaged in a huge experiment improving people’s economic position whilst denying them democracy. The struggle over that is being played out in Hong Kong now.

Since decolonisation most of Africa has been run by military dictators and Brazil has just elected a President who is set to clear the Amazon rain forest with no regard for the people who live there.

So, the liberal order is in retreat everywhere and even in Europe there are danger signs. Yesterday our Brexit Party MEP’s turned their backs on Europe literally in the European Parliament. Putin is rubbing his hands with glee at the significant weakening of the EU that our departure will represent.

And where are we heading? Whether Brexiteers like to hear it or not, we are little in the world as it is today. 100 years ago, we called the shots at Versailles. Now our best interests dictate that we stay part of the powerful EU. Instead we are watching a Tory leadership contest where Johnson and Hunt are competing with each other to threaten a NO Deal Brexit.

No matter that the Vauxhall workers on Merseyside have been told in the clearest terms that a hard Brexit will threaten the new Astra being produced at Ellesmere Port.

There is a dangerous madness in the air, the liberal centre that Putin dismisses, needs to regroup quickly.

 

GOVE TO CHAMPION NORTHERN POWERHOUSE ?

POWER CUT

An interesting suggestion you must admit. It was just one of the ideas discussed at a Downtown lunch this week to discuss whether the Northern Powerhouse (NP)was suffering from a power cut.

Certainly, it has lost the momentum and relevance given to it by George Osborne when he was Chancellor. But looking to the future, the key question is have Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt heard of the NP?  If so, do they intend to give it real power and money to redress the North South divide?

Transport for the North (TfN) is the only manifestation of the NP to be really tangible, but with suggestions that Boris Johnson, as Prime Minister, might scrap HS2 (certainly north of Birmingham) that could have major implications for TfN. Firstly, because much planning has been done in Leeds and Manchester to integrate HS2 with NP rail from east to west. Secondly does anyone believe the HS2 billions saved would be invested in the North? We all know promises would be made, a bit of cash would appear, but the bulk of the money would go into the Treasury coffers.

From the construction industry, Angela Mansell, told the lunch that the NP had no connection with real people and had done nothing to deal with that age-old problem of what business needed in terms of skills and what was being taught in colleges.

It was Richard Angell, former head of the centre left Progress organisation, who said NP would need a powerful friend at the highest level of government again. He felt Boris would decide it was better to have his rival, Michael Gove, inside the tent rather than doing something nasty outside. So, what better job for Mr Gove than Business and Northern Powerhouse Secretary?

Angell had another startling suggestion for the job…Lord George Osborne. This seemed to be based on the fact that the former Chancellor is now backing Boris. Personally, I think William Hague is the man. At least he’s from up here.

One contributor said there was too much concentration on long term transport projects which would take 20 years to complete. Action was needed now by the NP on matters that could be sorted in a much shorter time span like skills.

Simon Bedford from Deloitte was the keynote speaker and he had another candidate for a quick win; electric cars and the power points that go with them. Private sector finance for this would be essential.

Jo Purves, a Pro Vice Chancellor from Salford University said we had run out of digital talent. Recruitment was really difficult especially as pay was double in America.

The Downtown lunch concluded that the new Prime Minister would have a lot to do to revive the NP. Simon Bedford said an acid test would be whether the Northern Powerhouse would put in a  submission to this autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review on behalf of all the northern cities. He forecast that Manchester would go it alone in making a submission, and who could blame them?