Tag: UK-Brexit-Party

The Declaration Deadline Day Dilemma

With Farage’s withdrawal of the Brexit Party from all 317 Tory seats, what should Brexiteers in a Leave-voting constituency in which a Tory-Remainer MP is squatting do to avoid in effect being disenfranchised?

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 14 November 2019

Imagine being a committed Brexiteer in the parliamentary constituency of Tunbridge Wells today. At 4.00. pm yesterday afternoon, the deadline for the nominations of General Election candidates was passed, so the options of where to cast your vote are now set in stone.

Obviously, a vote for any of the pro-EU, leftist parties, whether formally part of the so-called Remainer-Alliance or not, would be out of the question.

But the ‘Conservative’ Party candidate re-standing for election in your constituency is arch-Remainer and former Business Secretary Greg Clark. Along with former Chancellor Philip Hammond and former Justice Secretary David Gauke, Clark was one of the most prominent members of Theresa May’s Cabinet arguing against, if not actually working to undermine, any EU exit deal other than, in effect, a Brexit-In-Name Only.

Clark Hammond Gauke Noakes

Moreover, in 2018, Clark was reportedly Theresa May’s backstairs fixer of pro-EU crony-corporatist Big-Business’ endorsement of, and participation in, that period’s iteration of Project Fear, designed to scaremonger voters with dire warnings about the dangers for jobs and exports of a No-Deal Brexit.

More recently, of course, he was one of the 21 Tory Remainer-Rebel MPs suspended and deprived of the Party Whip in the House of Commons for voting to allow the anti-Brexit opposition to seize control of the Parliamentary agenda, pass the so-called Benn Act making a No-Deal Brexit illegal, and force the PM to seek an extension to the Brexit negotiating period. His inclusion in the MPs allowed back in to the fold in advance of the election rightly caused eyebrows to be raised.

The 21 Tory whip-deprived Tory rebels

Not an appealing prospect, is it? Yet for a strongly pro-Brexit voter in Tunbridge Wells, that’s the consequence of the concession made to the Conservatives by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage in agreeing to stand down its candidates in all 317 Tory-held seats

The Brexit Party’s seat-contesting policy since this election was called has been muddled to say the least, oscillating between near-invisibility and overkill. MEP John Longworth’s suggestion of fighting a mere 20 seats was incredibly unambitious for a party purporting to be a major factor in bringing Brexit about, as well as having the disadvantage of almost guaranteeing that the party would get little if any media and Press coverage, and certainly no presence in any TV debates.

At the other end of the scale Farage’s initially declared aim of contesting up to 600 seats – but not one for himself – erred in the opposite direction. It would have diluted resources instead of concentrating them to greatest effect, and in many cases it would have been a wasted effort. What would have been the point of contesting an inner-London seat that is both solidly-Labour and solidly-Remain? What conceivable benefit could there have been in fighting against a staunch Tory Brexiteer who has consistently voted against May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ BRINO, thus running the risk of splitting a genuinely-Leave constituency-level majority?

But Farage’s decision to withdraw from all 317 Tory-held seats is potentially misguided. For a start, the excuse he gave – that PM Boris Johnson has committed to pursuing a Canada Plus-style trade deal and to leaving the EU by the end of 2020 with no extension of Transition – looks suspiciously thin and contrived. In practice this means by the end of June 2020, because if it became apparent that it wouldn’t be possible to negotiate a trade deal in such a short time, the UK’s one-off option to extend the Transition period would have to be made on 1 July 2020.

As valid as the need is to avert the horrendous prospect of a Corbyn Labour or Corbyn-led Remainer Alliance government, and as much as the risk of jeopardising Brexit happening at all is real, Farage would have been perfectly justified in declining to withdraw in seats held by ardent Tory Continuity-Remainers (or possibly even, but mainly as a bargaining chip, reluctant soft-Brexiteers). Despite several of the most prominent Usual Suspects in these two categories standing down, there’s no guarantee that several of their successors won’t be similarly inclined, given the background of some of them, as has already been remarked.

It’s notable that, as Kathy Gyngell, Editor of The Conservative Woman, wrote yesterday, the reaction of the Tories has been, not gratitude and an offer of reciprocation in Leave-voting seats with large Labour majorities which, given their conventional electoral brand-toxicity, the Tories, even with a promise to enact Brexit, could probably never ever hope to gain, but instead to bank the concession and demand that the Brexit party stand aside in even more seats.

When Farage, quite reasonably in my view, provisionally refused, the Tories changed tack, offering an ‘eleventh-hour’ electoral pact whereby they would undertake only minimal token-campaigning in 40 Labour-held seats on the Brexit Party’s target list.

But in view of this proposal’s inherent drawbacks – Tory candidates being on the ballot at all would undoubtedly draw some votes to them and away from the Brexit Party, while agreeing and subsequently abiding by mutually-accepted criteria for ‘minimal’ campaigning looks fraught with uncertainly and fertile ground for dispute – as well as the Tories’ hitherto contemptuous dismissal of previous overtures, it’s difficult to criticise Farage for being sceptical.

On the calculations of the informative Leave Alliance blog, there are about 43 vulnerable seats which the Tories hold on slim majorities, but also, crucially, about 50 almost all Labour-held and Leave-voting seats which look ripe targets for the Brexit Party, it having come first there in the 2019 Euro-elections.

Caroline fff Labour BXP targets fullThe key statistic here, to my mind, is that in Column 9 – the percentage vote-swing needed for the Tories to capture the seat from Labour. In no case is it under 10%, and in some cases it’s over 20%.

Do the Conservatives really think they’re in with a good chance of persuading sufficient Labour voters – even pro-Brexit ones who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum and have since been frustrated with both their Labour-Remainer MPs’ and the Labour Party itself’s policy vacillation and obfuscation on Brexit – to change the voting habits of a lifetime, hold their noses, and vote Tory in big enough numbers to achieve the magnitude of swing required to turn the seat from red to blue?              

I’m doubtful. In my view, therefore, in no circumstances should the Brexit Party agree to stand aside in these. In fact, it’s already announced a very strong candidate for its top Labour-Remainer target seat of Kingston-upon-Hull East, which voted Leave by 73:27 in 2016 and where the Tories trailed Labour by nearly 30% in vote-share in 2017, in former The Apprentice winner and broadcaster Michelle Dewberry.

I’d even be inclined to provisionally add the next 20-30 Labour seats on that target list, but no more. Farage however, appears to have committed the Brexit Party to standing in all Labour-held seats, even including those of the few Labour-Leaver MPs. What is the point of opposing someone like Caroline Flint, who has risked and received such opprobrium from Labour-Remainer MPs for insisting that the democratic verdict of the electorate to leave the EU must be respected and implemented?

I can also see little reason at this stage why ardent Tory-Remainer MPs should enjoy an immunity from other, genuine-Leaver, competition in this election. We risk forgetting too easily how many of them were by no means reluctant to repudiate the manifestos they stood on to get elected in 2017, and, even if not openly opposing a meaningful Brexit by rebelling, nonetheless managed to dilute and soften it by signifying their potential opposition.

It wouldn’t have been unreasonable, therefore, for the Brexit Party to have opposed, say, between 20 and 30 Tory-Remainer MPs squatting in the most heavily Leave-voting seats. That would have added up to something like 90-110 seats in total for the Brexit Party to target, However, the concession having been made, it would be an act of bad faith to withdraw it. But no further concession should be extended.     

Powerful arguments are already being made against the effective disenfranchisement of thousands of Leave voters which the Brexit Party’s standing down in all 317 Tory-held constituents represents. In addition, it puts Leave-voters in the invidious position of having to balance two unpalatable alternatives to decide which is the lesser of two evilsThat being the case, it’s hard to see why anyone could object to Brexit Party PPCs now deprived of a candidature shouldn’t instead stand as Independent Brexiteers.   

Couple the still unresolved horse-trading over who should or should not contest which seats with growing disquiet about some of the new candidates being selected in Tory vacancies, and an hitherto mere unwelcome suspicion starts to harden: that, despite their pre-election blandishments, the Tories’ principal objective in this election is to procure a metro-’liberal’ Tory majority, rather than a pro-Brexit majority, in Parliament, and the former even at the expense of the latter.

Where is this leading? Well, time will tell, but I’m personally becoming more and more convinced that the Tory Party hierarchy’s strategic priorities are:

  1.  ram through something which can plausibly be labelled Brexit, so they can claim to have ‘got it done’, as if it was just a box to be ticked and then forgotten; and
  1. once having done that, get back to business-as-usual in terms of the political system substantially unchanged, which suits the entrenched Westminster elite down to the ground.

That, it strikes me, is not the outcome most critics of the last Parliament wanted in calling for its dissolution. If correct, it seems likely that people may opt instead for their own ‘withdrawal’ option, manifested by the attitude of, as The Conservative Woman‘s Editor Kathy Gyngell put it yesterday, “A plague on both their houses.”

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Is Boris’ Irish Border Backstop Plan Bluff or Breakthough?

Bluff – but bluff by whom, and targeted at whom? There are several possible candidates for both.   

Note: Extract from article first published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 15 October 2019  

Those, maybe, are the real questions, because this drama has multiple actors, all of whom have interests and agendas that may be colouring their reactions.

Though Boris has, since last Thursday remained fairly tight-lipped about the details, some kind of, in effect, double customs union, involving keeping Northern Ireland in a de facto, if not de jure, customs union with the Republic, appears to be the basis for this tentative rapprochement.

RoI-NI

But when 85% of Northern Ireland’s exports are to the UK, with only 5% and 3% to the Republic and the EU respectively, it’s hard to see why Northern Ireland would burden itself with onerous EU costs and regulations for such a small proportion of its trade, and risk disruption to the flow of the major part of it.

Which might explain why, as early as last Friday, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds had already rejected the double customs union as ‘unrealistic’, asserting that the Province staying in a full customs union with the UK was non-negotiable, and that for the ongoing ‘tunnel’ talks in Brussels to disregard this pre-condition would be counter-productive.

Presumably, Dodds had already perceived what other commentators have since come round to concluding – that, far from negotiating in good faith, the EU is actually trying to squeeze Northern Ireland into a NI-only backstop, a view which Barnier’s rejection of Johnson’s proposals and demand for more UK concessions does little to dispel.

The technical assessments of Johnson’s proposals are not especially favourable. Anand Menon of The UK in a Changing Europe reckons the long-term economic impacts are negative, and potentially more damaging than the deal negotiated by Theresa May, but the chart below appears to acknowledge that they do give the UK more independence and flexibility. ALR readers are recommended to visit the UKinCE website for themselves and make their own judgement of its pro or anti Brexit stance.

N Ireland May Deal vs Johnson proposals

Theresa May’s former Europe Adviser, Raoul Ruparel of Open Europe, however, is more sanguine. There are some concerns, he says, but they can be managed. ALR readers should visit OE’s website https://openeurope.org.uk and make their own judgement about its pro or anti Brexit stance, too.

As former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson points out, a double customs union would also potentially be a breach of the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement, and a violation of the Principle of Consent which was enshrined within it.

We also know, because former Secretary-General to the EU Commission Martin Selmayr was indiscreetly frank about it, that it has long been the EU’s position that relinquishing economic sovereignty of Northern Ireland is the price the UK must be made to pay for leaving the EU. It would be unwise to assume that the reactions of both Brussels and Irish Taoiseach Varadkar, who has shown himself regrettably ready to pander to nationalist Republican revanchism, scrupulously disregard this.

Bluffing about seeing a way forward would certainly be in Boris’ interest, and the Conservative Party’s. The almost exclusive focus of politicians, media and public on the Northern Ireland backstop serves to obscure the suspicion that, ultimately, he will try to get what otherwise is essentially Theresa May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement through the Commons. Its numerous flaws remain as serious as ever they were.

But Boris knows that, if he fails to achieve Brexit by 31st October, the chances of both his own survival and that of his government, are damaged. As political scientist and Professor of Politics at the University of Kent, Matthew Goodwin, points out, the votes which, because of May’s defenestration and Boris ascendancy to Number Ten on a Brexit do-or-die ticket, have come back to the Tories from the Brexit Party after its resounding victory in the European elections, could once again vanish.

Brexit Election Tracker Goodwin mid-Oct 2019

So he has every incentive to play up the chances of a deal after all, and exaggerate its significance, if it can be presented as something which warrants getting a soft-Brexit over the line. The recriminations can come afterwards.

Brussels and Dublin equally have an incentive, to understate  the significance. The EU will be calculating that, by playing hardball, it increases the chances of a Remainer Parliament, which has already passed the Benn Surrender Act, forcing Boris, failing a 31st October Brexit, to seek an Article 50 extension on humiliating terms, probably involving conceding a second referendum.

In short, almost none of the actors in this drama has an incentive to be 100% genuine. Safer, perhaps, to assume that none of them are?

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Boris Johnson’s Brexit Election needs the Brexit Party

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 3rd September 2019

Over the last half of August, the prospective date for a General Election has been a moveable feast.

Until then, the expectation was that an ostensibly anti No-Deal – but in reality a Stop-Brexit – Vote of No Confidence in PM Boris Johnson’s government would be tabled, either by Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour alone, or in conjunction with the other parts of the loose Remain-Alliance, as soon as the Commons returned from recess: and that, if lost, Johnson would immediately seek to dissolve the current Parliament and call a General Election for mid-October. 

That plan folded, though, when allies of Corbyn privately admitted that he did not have the numbers required to bring down the Government, after prospective support from among Continuity-Remainer Tory rebels collapsed, and Corbyn was persuaded to adopt the legislative route instead, which had the effect of moving the anticipated date out to early or even mid-November, i.e., after Britain would have left the EU.

However, Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament for a further few sitting days beyond its normal Party Conference Season prorogation – which, despite all the theatrical, confected Remainer outrage and bloviating hyperbole, was neither unprecedented, nor a ‘coup’, has had the effect of goading, not only the Remain-Alliance with its risible, wholly hypocritical and constitutionally illegitimate alternative ‘People’s Parliament’, but also the Tory-Remainer rebels, led by Hammond and Gauke, to accelerate and intensify their legislative guerrilla campaign.

The result is the proposed European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill 2019, which in effect forces Johnson to beg the EU for an Article 50 extension, and accept whatever duration of extension the EU deigns to stipulate.

The drafters of the Bill protest that they have included a parliamentary veto over a long EU extension: but they have also said, in advance of the Bill’s publication, that the veto cannot and will not be used, because Parliament cannot and will not allow No Deal under any circumstances.  The Bill effectively, therefore, hands the EU control over the Government, Parliament, Brexit, and, by inference, whether British democracy itself still exists.

The number of Tory-Remainer rebels pledging to support the Bill and vote against the government is already confirmed at 10and will possibly rise to 20 or 25, meaning that a Government defeat looks increasing likely.

In response, Johnson has already insisted that there are no circumstances in which he would seek a delay, so that, according to sources within Number Ten, in the event of a Commons defeat, Johnson will dissolve Parliament and call a snap General Election for 14th October, which would in itself require the support of two-thirds of MP under the terms of the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act.

Crucially, that date would be in advance of the next European Council meeting, scheduled for 17th-18th October. This does not augur well for the proper, clean-break Brexit that Johnson has given the impression – but not much tangible evidence – of both favouring and working towards since becoming Prime Minister.

If he gets a fresh mandate on, say, 14th October, then he can use that European Council meeting, and the last two weeks prior to 31st October, to stitch up a new Brexit deal – which I believe he wants, much more than he’s been prepared to admit, and much, much more than he wants a No-Deal, clean-break Brexit – for the narrow personal and tribal objectives of securing his own legacy and keeping the Tory Party together.

Any such deal would be not much different to May’s, except possibly for the Northern Ireland backstop. Johnson has already dropped a hint, at the end of August, that that he might seek changes to the backstop, but could leave the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement intact. It would still have all the vassal-statehood disadvantages and disasters which have been so eloquently warned about by, among others, Professor David Collins, Briefings For Brexit’s Caroline Bell, and Lawyers For Britain’s Martin Howe.

But in my view, Johnson doesn’t care. I’m convinced he just wants something he can push across the finishing line in Parliament. He has hitherto delivered nothing much more than bluster, despite his insistence at the Biarritz G7 that ‘the Withdrawal Agreement is dead’. But his next sentence specifically referenced that pronouncement to Parliament, suggesting he could mean ‘dead’ only in the narrow political sense that the House of Commons would not pass it in its present form. That patently did not, and still does not, exclude it re-emerging to a greater or lesser extent in different form. 

Cynical it may be, but I will believe that May’s execrable (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement and integral Political Declaration are ‘dead’ only when either they are replaced by an acceptable Free Trade Agreement along the lines of a Canada++, or failing that, when we exit on a WTO-reversion No-Deal.

Moreover, a No-Deal, Clean-Break, Real-Brexit would be far more likely to be the catalyst for the sorely-needed upending of our entire political system: which, in my view, for all his bluster, Johnson doesn’t want. Politically, he is invested in our current, democratically-deficient settlement in which the two main parties have largely rigged the system to ensure their own advantage and perpetuation, and he has no desire to see it changed to something more genuinely pluralist and robustly participatory.

Which brings us to the role of the Brexit Party in the coming election, and why it will potentially be vital.

It’s rare for me to disagree with The Daily Telegraph’s Allister Heath,  whether on economics or politics – the public realm has far too few small-state, low-tax, free-market, sound-money Hayekians – but on his hypothesis that it’s time for the Brexit Party to shut up shop because the battle has been won, I believe he’s wrong.

Firstly, it treats TBP as a one-issue party: which it isn’t, because it’s about more than Brexit. Which it correctly sees must not only happen if we’re any kind of democracy at all: but must also be, not just an end in itself, but also that catalyst for changing the way we do politics to a way which I suspect Johnson does not especially want.

Secondly, in the light of the preceding paragraphs, and as former Leave Means Leave head and now Brexit Party MEP John Longworth emphasised only a day or two ago, the dangers of a new Brexit betrayal are very real. If, as it looks, we may be heading for merely a largely cosmetic re-packaging and re-branding of May’s deal as something ‘new’, then the role of the Brexit Party in the election in drawaing attention to that fact will be critical.

Thirdly, Heath has been vociferous for several years in (rightly) castigating the “Conservative” Party in numerous policy areas other than Brexit: its pandering to leftist Social-Justice-Warrior obsessions and to those who would curb free speech: its disastrous energy policies and gullibility to the Green agenda: its neo-Keynesian monetary and fiscal policies: and its excess regulation, spending & taxing. But without the more or less permanent threat of a Brexit Party snapping at its heels to keep it on the straight & narrow, the still overwhelmingly Fabian-Blairite Tory Party would be back to its bad old ways in no time at all. They are not to be trusted.

As political scientist Matthew Goodwin points out, the Conservative defection rate to the Brexit Party has slumped from 37 per cent before Johnson became Prime Minister, through 25 per cent when he entered Downing Street, to a mere 16 per cent as at 31st August. It’s presumably on this re-defection pattern that Johnson and Dominic Cummings believe they can secure a Leave-er majority for the Tories with a snap election.

But that surely also pre-supposes that, to compensate for losing Remainer votes in the South to the LibDems or a Remain Alliance, the Tories can capture enough working-class Leave-er votes in the Midlands and the North repelled by Labour’s coming-out as an unabashed Remain Party. That is something of a gamble, to put it mildly, because the Tory brand, rightly or wrongly, is still toxic in many of those areas. But the Brexit Party would be far better placed to bring those votes under the Leave-er banner, which is why the Tories should not close the door to the Brexit Party’s overtures for a tactical alliance.

The resignation of Ruth Davidson as Tory leader in Scotland ought to support that hypothesis still further. Her departure potentially weakens the Tories in Scotland, which must put at least half, if not all, of their seats in Scotland – without which, remember, they wouldn’t have been able to form a Government in 2017 at all, even with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – at risk, especially as Scotland hates Johnson anyway. Which in turn means that Johnson could end up needing support from, or even that Leave-er tactical alliance with, the Brexit Party even more to secure more seats in England.

It’s a risky strategy. As Matthew Goodwin set out on Monday 2nd September, it could all go wrong for the Tories and Johnson. His problem is that things are starting to work against him, and for Farage: and they will do so even more if he’s forced by Parliament to scrap No-Deal and gives the appearance of settling for a Remain-Lite, Brexit-In-Name-Only because that’s the very most that the majority-Remainer, anti-Brexit Parliament would approve.

Johnson should swallow his pride, make temporary accommodation with the Brexit Party, and enter into that tactical alliance. To win this coming election, and deliver the Brexit 17.4 million voted for, both he and the Tories need it.

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Arrogance, Snobbery and Complacency

The Tories’ reaction to their Brecon and Radnorshire by-election defeat was to deny their culpability for their own glaring mistakes, and contemptuously dismiss the very idea of a pro-Leave alliance, despite their own precarious Parliamentary position     

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 6th August 2019

How to sum up the “Conservative” Party’s reaction to the by-election loss of its Brecon and Radnorshire seat, which reduces the Party’s already wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons to near-invisibility? Well, consider this communique from Party HQ:

“We just can’t work out why 3,331 people would have voted for the Brexit Party. We didn’t leave the EU on 29th March, despite Theresa May, when Prime Minister, promising no fewer than 108 times that we would: and we chose as our candidate the very same MP who was formally recalled after being convicted of expenses fraud. It’s a complete mystery.”

The foregoing paragraph is, of course, a parody. But not by very much.

From the early hours of the morning of Friday 2nd August when the result was declared, the Tories’ reaction to losing the by-election was firstly to blame anyone but themselves, and secondly recoil in complacent horror at the mere suggestion that they might need an electoral pact with the Brexit Party, not only to deliver Brexit and prevent the advent of PM Jeremy Corbyn, but even to survive as a credible electoral force.

“If you vote for the Brexit Party, you make Brexit harder”, intoned newly-arrived Tory chairman James Cleverly on Sky News’ Sunrise programme: “a constituency which backs leaving the EU now has an anti-Brexit MP”.

2019.08.02 Sky-Cleverly Brecon

Curiously, the likelihood that if, as your candidate for a by-election, you select the very same Tory ex-MP Chris Davies whose conviction for expenses fraud led to the Recall Petition which triggered that by-election in the  first place, then you make actually voting for the Conservatives much harder, appeared not to have occurred to him.

Even normally staunchly Conservative commentators were, to say the least, unimpressed. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that re-selecting a convicted fraudster was a considerable error of judgement, said Adrian Hilton, wondering why swindling the taxpayer wasn’t sufficient grounds for excluding the candidate from the Approved List.

2019.08.02 Hilton Brecon comp

Others were quick to point out that the re-selection of Davies to fight the seat would have taken place under the regime of the hapless Brandon Lewis as Party Chairman, and the equally hapless Prime Minister Theresa May as (still at that time) Party Leader, who presumably could have vetoed it, but didn’t.

It’s worth recalling some of the other takeaways from the result, not always given prominence by the media, for whom tittle-tattle about who’ll be up and who’ll be down in the Westminster bear-pit as a result is always preferable to more forensic analysis.

Screenshot Brecon by-election results 02-Aug-2019

Despite an alliance with the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who both stood down, the LibDems still only scraped it. With a fraud-free candidate, and more campaigning effort – in his dispatch from the by-election campaign front line, Paddy Benham-Crosswell of The Conservative Woman referred to the Conservatives being “deafeningly silent” – the Tories might even have retained the seat.

A point that was also noted by Brexit Party MEP Martin Daubeney. It’s important to remember, said Daubeney in a telling analysis, that the LibDems had in effect been throwing the kitchen sink at the seat, resources-wise, ever since its Tory MP Chris Davies was convicted, while the Tories in effect gave them a green light by re-selecting him.

2019.08.02 Daubeney Brecon

For Labour, the result was little short of a disaster. Up against a convicted Tory MP re-standing, its vote was down 13%, and it garnered just 0.3% more votes than the 5% threshold below which it would have lost its deposit. It was the party’s worst result in that constituency in its history. And in Left-leaning Wales, of all places.

The greatest focus, however, not unnaturally, came on the relative performances of the Tories and the Brexit Party: together with the need for, and likelihood of, an electoral pact between them, immediately dismissed out of hand both by the Party hierarchy and PM Boris Johnson himself.

But a Leave alliance would have won the seat. And, as former Number Ten adviser under PM Margaret Thatcher, John O’Sullivan, noted, there could be several hundred more Conservative Party reverses like this if the Tories under Boris Johnson were to repeat their betrayal of Brexit under May.

The lesson of Brecon and Radnor, asserted O’Sullivan, is that the Tories can’t win, and maybe not even survive, unless they deliver Brexit or, failing that, join with the Farage Irregulars to do so.

2019.08.02 John O'Sullivan Brecon

The Brecon by-election was “a screeching wake up call that, even with Boris, the Tories can’t win a General Election without a Brexit Party pact”, said the Daily Telegraph’s Sherelle Jacobs.

2019.08.02 Sherelle Jacobs Brecon

Even Conservative Party activists recognised this. The Tories must overcome their innate arrogance & snobbery towards competitor parties and reach a tactical voting deal with the Brexit Party if they really do want to deliver a clean Brexit, said long-time supporter and campaigner Molly Giles.

The most savage criticism, though, came in this searing polemic from Reaction’s Gerald Warner. The Conservative Party, blinded by entitlement, he thundered, is now comprehensively dysfunctional. In a full broadside, he condemned the Tories for their arrogance, snobbery & complacency in still covertly pursuing a soft Brexit, while refusing even to consider even local electoral pacts with the Brexit Party.

He has a point. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that members of the Conservative Party hierarchy resemble nothing so much as First-Class passengers on the Titanic, who’d rather go down with the ship than be seen being saved in a lifeboat rowed by those awful Third-Class passengers in Steerage.

He has a point, too, on the accusation of a soft-Brexit being covertly pursued. Just in the previous week, we saw Boris float the idea of a further two years in the Customs Union and Single Market, while Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay recounted his talks with the EU’s Guy Verhofstadt on an “agreement we can get through Parliament”. That points to May’s (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement, less the Northern Ireland backstop, re-branded.

So this is where I’ll stick my neck out. In a tweet as long ago as 5th July, I suggested that the Tories were preparing to sabotage the Brecon by-election. It wasn’t hard, I speculated, to deduce what might be going on. By re-selecting its own disgraced and recalled MP to contest the seat, the mainly-Remain “Conservative” Party hierarchy was deliberately throwing the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election, knowing that the loss of the seat would further reduce its Commons majority, and thus impede Brexit even more.

2019.07.05 Me on Brecon by-election

By that time, the already-resigned and on-her-way-out Theresa May, still hankering after her Remain-Lite BRINO and wanting to make delivering a proper Brexit as difficult as possible for Boris Johnson as her probable successor as PM, acquiesced in throwing the disgraced Tory candidate under a bus, thus handing the seat to the unashamedly Stop-Brexit “Liberal” “Democrats”, reducing his Commons majority by one more.

Let’s face it, the Party’s conduct of the election doesn’t look as though they were trying especially hard to retain it. . . . .

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Singing The Conservatives’ Euro-Blues: The Flawed Peterborough By-Election

Despite having been significantly disadvantaged by it, the Tories have been virtually silent about the credible allegations of electoral fraud surrounding the curious Peterborough by-election   

Note: Updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 12th June 2019

Do you remember the general tenor of media reaction after the European Parliament Elections just five weeks ago? Admittedly, the (now permanently mis-labelled) “Liberal”-“Democrats” did reasonably well in them: but despite coming a distant second on 19 per cent to The Brexit Party’s 30 per cent, the overwhelmingly-dominant media narrative in reporting the results was “Lib-Dem surge”, or even – stretching mathematics far beyond anything Archimedes might have envisaged – “the Lib Dems were the real winners”.

Euro-election final results 28-May-2019

Something similar was seen in the wake of Thursday 6th June’s Peterborough by-election, in which Labour managed, by the wafer-thin margin of 683 votes, to retain the seat, which had fallen vacant because of a successful Recall Petition by voters against its disgraced previous MP. The result has since been attacked as potentially fraudulent due to electoral fraud based on abuse of postal-voting, but more on that later.

Actual Peterborough result via Sky

From sections of the initial media coverage, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Labour had actually captured the seat, defying expectations, and against all the odds. “Labour shows Farage the exit”, rejoiced one Guardian commentator. “A major blow to Farage’s ambitions – the Brexit Party has a major problem”, burbled one report in the Daily Telegraph. “Nigel Farage’s swift exit is significant as Brexit Party bid fails”, exulted Sky News.

Less remarked upon, if at all, was the fact that the Brexit Party was formally launched only on 12th April 2019, which made coming from non-existence to within a whisker of winning a by-election and securing its first MP in a mere 8 weeks unprecedented. In comparison, the Labour Party took six years, from its formation in 1900 until 1906, to acquire its first MP.

Or that the Labour vote had collapsed from 48 per cent of the vote in 2017 to only 31 per cent, haemorrhaging 17 per cent in under two years. Or that the “Conservative” vote had also collapsed, suffering an even steeper 26 per cent decline, falling from 47 per cent to only 21 per cent between 2017 and 2019.

Those figures aren’t inconsistent with polling since the local elections in early May. The collapse in both Tory and Labour votes does look to be getting entrenched – when was the last time both “main” parties were regularly polling at around only 20%? The UK’s major political re-alignment that I highlighted as long ago last August is definitely under way, with the new divisions solidifying. A two-party system seems to be morphing into a four-party system, raising the prospect of coalitions being much more likely to secure House of Commons majorities.        

Also downplayed was the advantage Labour enjoyed from its long-standing voter database and historic voting records, and its more superior on-the-ground organisation. I suspect that once the Brexit Party is on an equal footing with the established parties in those areas, we will see the effects.

In fact, merely entering the Peterborough vote-shares into the Electoral Calculus predictor of Westminster seats shows the Brexit Party as the second largest party in Parliament, and on nearly six times as many seats as the Tories. So quite where the two “main” parties apparent complacency, one in unexpected victory and the other in significant defeat, was coming from, was a mystery.

Electoral Calculus HOC off actual result Peterborough by-elex 06-Jun-2019

It soon became apparent that the Peterborough result was an outlier in several respects. First, it had defied most psephological predictions.

Peterborough by-elex prediction Election Maps UK 05-Jun-2019

Second the size of the Labour vote looked an outlier against the general run of polling. In the 2016 EU Referendum, Peterborough voted 61:39 for Leave. The estimate of its vote, contained within that for the East of England region, in the EU Parliament elections on 23rd May showed the Brexit Party on 32 per cent against Labour’s 22 per cent. The differences from the YouGov poll of Westminster voting-intention taken on the same day look marked.

Peterborough by-elex vs nearest Westminster poll

It didn’t take long for indications to start emerging of where the reasons for the apparent anomaly might lie. The lights started flashing amber even before the count, when the unusually high proportion of the turnout – which at 48 per cent overall was itself unusually high for a by-election – accounted for by postal votes was revealed, namely no less than 39 per cent, double the national average, and about 50 per cent higher than the largest ratio of postal votes to overall turnout previously recorded. Also noted was the 69 per cent return rate for postal ballots issued, which again looked unusually high.

Commentators soon picked up that among Labour’s local campaign team was one Tariq Mahmood, a convicted vote-rigger, as well as the appointment by Jeremy Corbyn to his Party HQ staff of one Marsha-Jane Thompson, herself possessed of a criminal conviction for electoral fraud.

Separately, a row soon broke out about the newly-elected Labour MP Lisa Forbes’ record of anti-Semitic racism, to the extent that some Labour MPs were calling for her suspension even before she had taken up her seat.

Pressure mounted on the Electoral Commission to mount a formal investigation, Peterborough Council was forced to launch its own investigation after numerous complaints, and the Brexit Party has now formally demanded an investigation into the numerous allegations of vote-rigging

A comprehensive summary of all these events and their background can be read here.

Yet on this, intriguingly, the “Conservative” Party has hitherto been noticeably silent, until finally, leadership contender Jeremy Hunt conceded on Wednesday 26th June that the Party must take steps to combat electoral fraud.

Up till then, the Tories appeared to be virtually ignoring the mounting evidence of Labour’s potentially criminal electoral-fraud via postal-vote abuse. One might reasonably have expected them, if not to raise objections immediately, then at least to have been joining in the growing expressions of concern and suspicion. After all, their candidate was affected by it too.

Is it right to assume they’re relatively untroubled about it, either because they also hope to profit from it themselves in some areas, or because they’re content to tolerate it as long as it adversely affects mostly the Brexit Party, which is as big a threat to them as it is to Labour?

Or is it something else? Do they still retain the hope, even intention, to try and get Theresa May’s Remain-Lite, Brexit-in-name-only, “Withdrawal” Agreement” through the House of Commons using Labour votes, irrespective of who wins the leadership contest and thus becomes Prime Minister? And therefore don’t want to be instrumental, or even prominent, in having the Peterborough by-election annulled and re-run, which would almost certainly see a Brexit Party MP in Parliament?

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May’s Baleful Legacy: Division, Distrust & Defeat, plus Democracy itself in Peril

Note: Updated version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 28th May 2019

Theresa May might well be one of our worst Prime Ministers, if not the worst, ever, but she will leave office with an achievement matched by few of her predecessors. Almost invariably, the verdict of history is kinder to previous Prime Ministers than that of the contemporary commentators at the time of their resignation. In the case of Theresa May, it is likely to be even harsher.

May back No 10 after resignation speech

Both the factual history of her disastrous premiership, and specifically the events of the week leading up to her resignation on Friday 24th May, are sufficiently well known not to require repetition here. But to delve deeper – into why they occurred in the way that they did, and then to try and set them in context for a political obituary and assessment of her legacy wider than the mere recitation of facts can provide – perhaps needs more of a focus on the personality of May herself.

It’s not as if there haven’t been question-marks over her personality and psychological make-up before. As long ago as January 2018, I wrote about the curious paradox of how her near-total lack of charisma and communication skills combined with an instinctive authoritarianism to produce a taciturn, careerist managerialist who is temperamentally incapable of leadership.

And that was six months before the leaks that emerged from the infamous Chequers Summit revealed an additional overlay of Machiavellian duplicity and mendacity, plus a determination to pursue a soft-Brexit very much at variance with the assurances she had been giving since her uncontested coronation.

As the inevitably of her resignation grew during last week, more clues about how May’s psychological make-up governed both her actions and her attitudes started to emerge. In some cases, they were clearly always in the public domain to an extent, but discreetly un-mentioned or underplayed. In others they comprised information hitherto known privately only to comparatively few, but who now felt able to disclose it.

What they portrayed was a solitary child with few friends, more comfortable with elders than contemporaries, who grew into an adult more comfortable relying on a small coterie of trusted confidantes because of her inability to engage in collegiate fashion with a wider circle – from which she never learned the knack of accepting others’ ideas or acknowledging alternative viewpoints, or its corollary, the art of persuasion and compromise.

What they also showed, and which exacerbated that, was the influence of her father’s unbending High-Church Anglicanism, producing a kind of virtuous arrogance, labelled pithily as “vicar’s daughter syndrome”, but described more specifically by one acquaintance thus: “She has this view of herself, which must be connected to her faith, which is that she has a morality others don’t understand.

One quote from a “senior Tory MP who has known her for decades” was very revealing. “Theresa was annoyed when Margaret Thatcher became [the first female] Prime Minister and beat her to it”. Beat her to it? At the time Thatcher became Prime Minister, in May 1979, May was only 22 years old.

Now this has been speculated before, so to see it supported by the remarks of a close acquaintance is interesting. A totally illogical resentment, leading to a determination to pursue a politically-opposite path, in order to trash as much as possible of Thatcher’s legacy in revenge, could explain quite a lot about May.

Or take another one. “She doesn’t have any ideas, so once she’s absorbed her brief she just doggedly decides that that is it.” In other words, she is supremely manipulable. What an absolute gift to the subtly-feline Sir Humphreys of our viscerally anti-Brexit Whitehall she was.

As was more or less confirmed by another quote from the same source: “The last cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood was a smart guy, because he realised this was the civil service’s chance to take back control. After 2017, he was instrumental in ensuring David Davis was bypassed and Olly Robbins became her Brexit adviser so the civil service could maintain control of the Brexit process.

So much of all this backs up long-held reservations. The blank mind susceptible to being filled by others: the apparent deficiency in emotional intelligence: the obsessiveness: the seeming cognitive dissonance, like when, the day after the loss of her majority in her botched 2017 General Election, she delivered a tone-deaf, tin-eared speech in Downing Street which barely acknowledged, if at all, the shattering humiliation she had received.

Theresa May Downing St morning after 2017 GE

Much of this was manifested in her resignation speech last Friday

She waxed lyrical about about the merits of compromise and bemoaned the lack of it among her colleagues, seemingly oblivious to her own actions in refusing to pursue the Brady Amendment to her duplicitous Remain-Lite, Brexit-In-Name-Only, “Withdrawal” Agreement, even after Parliament had voted for it: in insisting that the only alternative to her “Withdrawal” Agreement was No-Brexit: and in attempting to ram it through Parliament not merely three times but even a fourth via abject concessions to Labour to solicit its support.

She claimed to have fought “the burning injustices that still scar our society”. Yet she presided unmoved over the Windrush scandal, which represented real, tangible, injustice: and by introducing her much self-proclaimed Gender Pay Reporting and Race Disparity Audits at the behest of the grievance-mongering SJW-Left, she contributed to inventing victimhoods where none existed, thus boosting pernicious, divisive, identity-politics.

She was attempting to re-write the history of her own disastrous premiership, augmented by an aura of anguished self-righteousness. Whereas the unvarnished truth is that, presented with an almost unique opportunity to implement the biggest popular mandate in UK political history, she instead lied, dissembled and deceived, in order to try and dilute it, if not frustrate it completely.

Her legacy will be dire indeed. She leaves not only a country still bitterly divided – which, to try and be fair, it might arguably have been, albeit to a lesser extent, anyway – but also a political system in near-chaos, distrusted and despised by increasing numbers of voters, and thus quite incapable of even ameliorating, never mind healing, those divisions.

Despite saying she will be “the second female Prime Minister but certainly not the last” – my, the “second” still rankles, doesn’t it – she will almost certainly have created a danger that it will be a long time before the “Conservative” Party takes such a risk again. Which, should that reluctance materialise, will be a tragedy, considering the abilities of some of the already currently-identifiable future female candidates in its pro-Brexit ranks.

May leaves a party abandoned and rejected by its voters in a virtually unprecedented scale of electoral attrition, as the 2019 EU Elections results, revealed on Sunday night 26th May, show. Fifth place in a national election. A mere 9% vote-share. 15 out of 18 MEPs gone. The party’s worst result in a national election since 1832, beating even the 1906, 1945 and 1997 landslides.

Euro-election final results 28-May-2019

An electoral attrition potentially repeatable, moreover, in a General Election, with truly calamitous results for it. Though any attempt to read across from an EU to a General Election must obviously be caveated with health-warnings about the comparatively low turnout in the former, the likelihood of different voter-allegiance patterns in the latter, and the different electoral systems – d’Hondt PR vs FPTP – under which they are held, the general trend is there to see.

If the 2019 EU election results were replicated in a Westminster General Election, the “Conservative” Party would literally be wiped out. Zero seats. What a legacy for Theresa May.

Electoral Calculus W'Mnstr prediction based on parties' Euro-Elections 2019 vote-shares

And this at the hands of The Brexit Party, which despite being formally launched only 6 weeks ago, is surging in Westminster Parliament voting intention just as it was in the European equivalent. Why is this?

Not, as you might think, primarily because of Brexit itself, which May mis-interpreted and mis-handled so badly: or because of concerns about immigration, which she totally mis-construed. But because of widespread about an even more fundamental question: whether we live in a functioning democracy at all.

Democracy is not merely being able to put your cross in a box. It’s being able to put your cross in a box, knowing that if your vote wins, the Government and the legislature will respect it, and the losing side will accept it. That millions of people evidently believe that this no longer applies in Britain is Theresa May’s most baleful legacy of all, and one for which her reputation deserves to sink even lower as the years roll by.

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