Hancock’s Half Page

PAINFUL OR POINTLESS: CALL IT OFF

WILL MAY COMPROMISE?

On Tuesday I walked through the media tents and contending Brexiteers and Remainers outside Westminster on a darkening January afternoon. I’ve reported from that patch of grass on and off for over 40 years, often urging people to take more interest in politics. I should have been more careful over what I wished for. People are interested now as they shout and tweet from wholly divided camps. The nation is ripping itself apart.

As Downtown’s Chief Executive explains eloquently in his blog, our parliamentary system is unable to cope. A system designed to give all power to a government cannot deal with the compromises needed in the current situation. The proportional representation that Frank calls for would result in coalitions requiring compromise. Just like our democratic participation in the European Union requires compromise. We aren’t shut out. Our voice is heard. Sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t but we are there with our democratically elected MEP’s and our democratically elected ministers.

Quoting Tony Blair approvingly has become the crime of the century according to Brexiteers, so here goes. The former Prime Minister says we are faced with a choice between a painful No Deal Brexit, and a pointless one where we have a close relationship with the EU but with no say.

The latter possibility is more real now as the Prime Minister is forced to hold talks with her political opponents. I am not optimistic they will go well.

Up to now she has only been interested in appeasing the Democratic Unionists and the European Research Group. At the last minute to seek the support of people who’s job it is to oppose the government, is unlikely to end well.

This is particularly because those stupid red lines all seem still to be in place. Jeremy Corbyn is right to say that No Deal must be off the table. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond and Business Secretary David Gauke are right to hint that a Customs Union can be discussed.

If the talks fail, then we are faced with several possibilities. Even though there is more support for stopping No Deal than anything else, it might just happen. The size of Mrs May’s deal defeat amazed me. I said I might get egg on my face and I apologise for thinking the majority against her could be under a 100. Bloody-mindedness is rampant in the House of Commons so don’t dismiss us crashing out. The idea of the Liaison Committee stopping a hard Brexit has just collapsed. The suggestion that MPs could take control is silly. Surely no government could stay in office as a bystander whilst the Commons ran things. Furthermore, will Labour want such a precedent for when they are in office?

Let us hope there are enough members of the Cabinet to force Mrs May to take an open approach to the talks which might lead to suspending Article 50 or a very soft Brexit. The latter would help those of us who will hope to point out soon that the whole project was wrong, and we can begin the campaign, with young people, to re-join an EU that is likely to be radically reformed by the challenges it will be forced to face.

POWER TO THE NORTH.

I haven’t time to discuss this in detail today, but I note that Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister is talking about a Department for the North with tax raising powers! It seems to lack democratic accountability, but it looks like John Prescott’s turn of the century Northern Way with bells us.

It’s a pity that the Tories, with the shameful connivance of their Lib Dem partners, scrapped the regional structure in place in 2010. It sent out a message that the North doesn’t matter that partly led to the Leave vote in 2016.

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CAN MAY POSSIBLY GET HER DEAL THROUGH?

 

PLEA TO EU ON BACKSTOP?

I still expect The Prime Minister to eventually find a majority for her vision of Brexit in the next two months. But having been right on the 2016 Referendum, I am probably heading for an “egg on my face moment”.

After all the government have been defeated twice this week and are dealing with a Speaker who is bending the rules against them.

Next week the government are likely to accept an amendment that would give MPs the right to limit the infamous backstop to 12 months. This violates the Withdrawal Agreement. But if it gets her deal through, she could go back to Brussels and say that is the only thing that stands in the way of an agreement that they want.

Democratic Unionist support for this move is vital, because if the DUP can be brought on board, Tory opposition may largely collapse.

 

Mrs May’s deal already has more support than any of the other options. She is currently well short of the 320 she needs. However, her opponents are not close to agreeing an alternative whether that be, delaying our departure, a hard Brexit, hard Brexit with side deals, second referendum, Labour or a national government renegotiating the terms, Norway or Canada options.

The only other thing, apart from Mrs May’s deal commanding strong support is opposition to a hard Brexit. However that can only be stopped by changing the law, and laws can only be changed by a government not the House of Commons.

 

A recent survey suggested the Prime Minister could rely on 150 MPs in the Brexit Delivery Group. It also identified 65 waverers who will probably support the government as the crunch approaches. Then there was a 20 strong group described as nervous Tory Remainers. If the DUP are on board, how many of them will actually vote against their government?

It is to Labour that we must now turn.Given that the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid and the Green’s Caroline Lucas are going to vote against May’s deal, the largest bloc in her way is the 257 strong Labour Party. Some of them, especially in seats that voted to leave will come under increasing pressure to support the May deal. Some,like John Mann, already seem prepared to offer their support to the Prime Minister on the basis of assurances about workers rights.

Nevertheless, a majority will stay loyal to the Corbyn strategy which is to cynically get us out of the EU whilst having no part in the Brexit deal and thus being able to criticise it from March 30th.

Labour will probably be joined by a group of Tory diehard Brexiteers. 117 Conservative MPs voted against her in last month’s leadership election but that does not mean they will all vote against her EU deal. The argument that their hard line could lead to Brexit not happening will erode their numbers to the point where I think Mrs May will squeak home, but it will be close.

OTHER THINGS WILL HAPPEN!

Let us hope that if we get through the immediate Brexit crisis that other things can be attended to this year like social care, housing and a boost for devolution. The Northern Powerhouse project has taken a credibility blow because of the chaos on road and rail. We need a renewal of the debate around regional government and in the meantime devolution agreements for Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Warrington/Cheshire.

We will see what the public have made of our departure from the EU in the local elections in May. A third of the seats are up in our metropolitan and unitary councils with all out polls in the two Cheshire authorities and Blackpool.

We won’t be taking part in the democratic elections to the European Parliament in May because we’ve decided not to have a say anymore in the EU laws that will continue to affect our lives one way or another.

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A NEW YEAR FULL OF UNCERTAINTY

BREXIT.

I still expect The Prime Minister to just find a majority for her vision of Brexit in the next three months. But having been right on the 2016 Referendum, I am probably heading for an “egg on my face moment”.

My prediction is based on the parliamentary arithmetic which suggests that Mrs May’s deal has more support than any of the other options. She is currently well short of the 320 she needs. However, her opponents are not close to agreeing an alternative whether that be, delaying our departure, a hard Brexit, hard Brexit with side deals, second referendum, Labour or a national government renegotiating the terms, Norway or Canada options. Before Christmas there seemed to be a majority to stop a hard Brexit if Mrs May’s deal was voted down. That can only be done by changing the law and laws can only be changed by a government not the House of Commons.

A recent survey suggested the Prime Minister could rely on 150 MPs in the Brexit Delivery Group. It also identified 65 waverers. I think the eerie calm that descended on the Brexit debate over Christmas may have led many of those into the May camp. Then there was a 20 strong group described as nervous Tory Remainers. As the clock ticks down, they may well head into the government’s camp.

Then we come to the Democratic Unionists, only ten of them but much more influential. If they can get the sort of annex of assurance over the backstop that the European Commission has a track record for producing, they could be brought on side. If this were to happen it would be hugely influential on Tory waverers and some Labour MPs. It is to Labour that we must now turn.

Given that the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid and the Green’s Caroline Lucas are going to vote against May’s deal, the largest bloc in her way is the 257 strong Labour Party. Some of them, especially in seats that voted to leave will come under increasing pressure to support the May deal as the government plays for time.

Nevertheless, a majority will stay loyal to the Corbyn strategy which is to cynically get us out of the EU whilst having no part in the Brexit deal and thus being able to criticise it from March 30th.

Labour will probably be joined by a group of Tory diehard Brexiteers. 117 Conservative MPs voted against her in last month’s leadership election but that does not mean they will all vote against her EU deal. The argument that their hard line could lead to Brexit not happening will erode their numbers to the point where I think Mrs May will squeak home, but it will be close.

OTHER THINGS WILL HAPPEN!

Let us hope that if we get through the immediate Brexit crisis that other things can be attended to like social care, housing and a boost for devolution. The Northern Powerhouse project has taken a credibility blow because of the chaos on road and rail. We need a renewal of the debate around regional government and in the meantime devolution agreements for Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Warrington/Cheshire.

We will see what the public have made of our departure from the EU in the local elections in May. A third of the seats are up in our metropolitan and unitary councils with all out polls in the two Cheshire authorities and Blackpool.

We won’t be taking part in the democratic elections to the European Parliament in May because we’ve decided not to shape anymore the EU laws that will continue to affect our lives one way or another.

Follow me @JimHancockUK

 

 

 

 

2018: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL CONTINUES

FROM BAD TO WORSE.

The year ends in rancour, with our political system debased and no solution to the Brexit torture.

It has been a black year indeed with Brexit paralysing the government and preventing action on major problems like elderly care, homelessness, food banks, skills and transport.

The Northern Powerhouse has stalled. Whatever good it is doing is being dwarfed by its failure to deliver on its central proposition….connectivity. Five years on from the founding analysis of NP that the great northern cities were close together but badly connected we have seen chaos on the trains and gridlock on the roads, particularly in Manchester. The NP promises another strategic planning document. We’ve had hundreds. We know what the problem is, underinvestment. The timetable crisis in the summer was followed by the December scandal where in the same week passengers were scrambling on overcrowded trains at Piccadilly whilst Crossrail in London was being lined up for a billion-pound bailout.

In a year when business has been treated disgracefully by the politicians with the Brexit uncertainty, we have had the full onset of the retail crisis. Bricks and mortar high street shops just cannot compete with the on-line offer.

Low unemployment and low inflation have been brighter features in the landscape but there remains a sense of uncertainty, not helped by a number of high-profile companies going to the wall. Carillion was one of the most spectacular with serious consequences for a number of construction projects in the North especially the major new hospital in Liverpool.

Another bright feature has been the growing awareness of the damage plastic waste is doing to the planet. Is there some hope that ordinary people have more sense that certain politicians about saving the planet?

Donald Trump’s continuing denial of the existence of climate change is just one of the many criticisms that can be made of this President. Although he lost the House of Representatives in the midterm elections and continues to be surrounded in a myriad of scandals, would you bet on him not getting re-elected in 2020. His supporters see all the media and congressional exposure as a huge plot to get their man. The US economy which is doing well at the moment, will hold the key to Trump’s future.

Finally, to UK politics in a week when we descended to examining the shape of Jeremy Corbyn’s lips in the Stupidgate scandal. Labour continue to trail the Tories in the opinion polls despite the Conservative meltdown. Their success in the local elections in taking Trafford was their only optimistic sign.

You might still have a bet on the Conservatives at least being the largest party at the next General Election, particularly now that we know they will have a new fresh leader. Meanwhile Theresa May has continued to show huge resilience.

For the centre ground it has been a year of further decline. The Lib Dems have continued to be irrelevant under the ageing Vince Cable. Meanwhile in France President Macron, the sole centrist victor in the world in the last few years, has stumbled badly.

So, we prepare to cross the threshold into 2019, in all likelihood the year when we leave/crash out of the EU. An even worse year beckons.