If you thought a Week was a long time in politics

I started to ‘live blog’ the referendum last night but couldn’t keep up with a blog and Twitter and Facebook as well as try to watch the BBC coverage. I gave up with my last post claiming that Cameron was safe because 85 Tory MPs had written to urge him to stay. Shows how much I know. 

So during today I have been responding to calls and trying to keep up with the pace of change. I have to admit having seen the polling last night – and the surge in the £ allegedly off the back of some very expensive City exit polls – I assumed like most that this referendum had gone to the wire but would ultimately split 52/48 but in favour of Remain. I had said all the way through the campaign that this was enough for victory but the issue wouldn’t go away with that level of support. We would have to be revisiting the issue of our relationship with Europe on a regular basis. Even if we won the question had not been put to bed. However, I woke up to the shock news like I am sure millions of people have done today that we are to #leave.

Farage now backtracking on £350m for NHS Claim

I think I am still too raw and numb to write too much that will hit the right tone. I know campaigns are tough and things get said but Farage andhis 

racist poster and his £350m for the NHS lies angered me more than any usual political knockabout. I was livid that this morning even Farage said the £350m wasn’t now going to happen and had been a ‘mistake’. Farage is really one of the most odious and duplicitous politicians I have ever come across. 

But today we are where we are. The Leave campaign narrowly won but all they needed was a simple majority because no percentage bar was set. That was a mistake. How on earth we can take such a big decision when there is such a slim majority I simply don’t know. It means there is nearly half the country pretty angry about the result. As I said above the Leave campaign would have been back again if they had lost so narrowly so I hope they accept that there are many of us who don’t accept this narrow narrative that the “people have spoken” – yes but not all that clearly! 

There are now so many ramifications it has been almost impossible to keep up. 

Just as quickly as Leave won they started back tracking on any promises. But the theme of my feelings over the last 24 hours have been about the deep seated level of division this leaves. I started yesterday promising myself I wouldn’t get involved in social media and watch the England Rugby in Australia instead. In truth I couldn’t hold back. There was an still is so much to say. 

SO issues to be covered in more depth are the levels of division, the breakup of the U.K., our economic woes to come, the Tory party turmoil, and who our next PM is likely to be? Perhaps the most important element is what we do about our negotiations with Europe. The domestic issue of division is serious. We are split by class, education, age and geography. It’s is serious as we have heard on any radio phone in programme over the last 48 hours. 

However just as I thought I might find some time this morning to summarise all my thoughts I have woken up to hear that Corbyn has sacked Hilary Benn.  Now I will be following the civil war inside the Labour PArty as well as the Tories and a divided nation. 

The National Interest to #Remain

The referendum campaign has at times been ugly. Last week I wrote a lengthy piece on how just ugly our politics had become and hoped that after the 23rd June we cold return to a politics I knew to be robust but ultimately fair.

To show this in a practical way I have worked with my Tory successor NIcky Morgan the Tory MP for Loughborough to produce a joint letter to our Loughborough Echo newspaper urging a #Remain vote.  The decision on Thursday is above ‘Party Politics’ and our national interest in the modern world is to stay in the EU and make it work for us all. I am proud to stand alongside Nicky this week to urge a vote for Remain.

Letter to the Echo…

We write as current and former MPs who between us have had the great privilege to represent the Loughborough constituency over the past almost two decades. We disagree on many things but we do agree that the UK should remain as a member of the EU. This a momentous vote which will have consequences for Britain for decades to come.

Much has been made of the likely economic shock a vote to leave would have and the consequent impact on jobs and the money available to spend on our essential public services. But this debate is about more than numbers. It is about Britain’s place in the world. Britain is an outward facing nation and being part of the EU makes us stronger on the world stage. As a member of the EU we have the ability to lead and influence on issues such as security, trade, equalities and climate change to name just a few. A vote to leave would mean we forfeited our seat at the table and the ability to influence others and secure developments in our favour. As proud members of the UN, NATO, IMF and Commonwealth why would we now turn our backs on the EU?

We hope Echo readers will take the time to weigh up all the issues and vote to remain on 23rd June.

Yours faithfully

Nicky Morgan (MP for Loughborough 2010 – )

& Andy Reed (MP for Loughborough 1997 – 2010)

We Should Remain 

Regular readers will know this blog stopped some time ago. After the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party I found myself increasingly at odds with many friends at the consequences of this result. I agreed that it was unhelpful to be knocking the leadership in the run up to the local elections and certainly in the run up to the European referendum where all of our efforts should be put into getting out the ‘Remain vote’. I am still convinced of my original views on the electoral consequences of the Corbyn victory – but more of that as we reflect over the summer on his first year.

The task at hand though is quite simple. Britain is stronger inside the European Union and we need to win the referendum on the 23rd June by a decisive margin and then to encourage our government to commit fully to be engaged from the inside of the Union – not shouting loudly from the outside about how rubbish they are.

I have been deeply unimpressed by the tone and level of campaigns so far and I am sure most of you have been too. But I have been struck by many people who I know are politically interested have been genuinely uncertain about how to vote on the 23rd of June. I am asked fairly regularly now about any ideas about which way they should vote. I am pretty clear and always have been. I am an internationalist. We are part of Europe and the Union so we should get stuck in and make it work. Quitting is a sign of a weak Britain as far as I am concerned and showing the worst of our insular little Englander mentality.  So for me this is much about emotion and heart as it is about any list of ‘Facts’. I believe the facts stack up on the side of remain too but for me it is much more. Whilst the public demands ‘facts’ to help them make up their minds I have to warn you that there will be no killer fact or report that ‘proves’ one way or the other how you you should vote. The claims and counter clams can be tested for some accuracy – as has happened this week when the £350m a week lie from the BREXIT campaign has been shot down. But even facts and reports will be interpreted from your heart felt standpoint. For me shared sovereignty in a globalised world is self evident. If you are a BREXITER there will be some notion of national sovereignty I just don’t recognise.

As you know I am a big fan of the book “Don’t think of an Elephant” by Georg Lakoff. Put simply it recognises that we all think in ‘Frames’ Ie.in a broad worldview and are rarely voting on the merits of a series of arguments and facts. That’s why the campaigns will trade on emotions and our stir our views on our frames. It is worth a read.

So don’t expect the campaigns to change much over the next few week. There will be no magic killer facts lurking around that nobody has yet deployed to convince you of their merits of the case. It’s simply not going to happen. And that is why this first post is short on arguments and facts supporting my belief that we are best inside the European Union. It’s part of my ‘worldview’ and the broad frames in which I make these decisions.
As I post this across social media I know there will be strong reactions – and I understand why. The BREXIT frame is very emotional and creates a passionate zeal amongst many people. To be honest I don’t need your feedback. I’ve heard the cranky arguments for 30 years. Nothing is going to convince me your worldview is very attractive (indeed a shudder at the thought of a UKIP world). Equally those of you who share my worldview a are not going to change their minds. So over the closing few days of this campaign I am genuinely interested in the real Don’t knows. If you have questions, fears or doubts let me know and I will try to give an honest and open perspective in response and reasons why I would recommend a vote for REMAIN 

A Week IS a Long Time in Politics

As you may have gathered from my twitter and Facebook I have fortunately been slightly pre occupied over the last week with the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup. Ironically the event got me onto the Daily Politics Programme when they did a light hearted piece on Friday.

However, with over 300 Parliamentarians from across the globe conversation inevitably drifted to politics very quickly and because the Commons & Lords is an All-party Rugby Team I have been talking with Lib Dem Peers & an MP, Tory MPs and Labour backbenchers. I was at an event on the Integrity of Sport in the Lords too which I chaired mid-week and again the walk from the tube through the Commons & Lords brings me into regular contact with many old colleagues from all sides of the House willing to share their news and views. My ‘friends’ extend right across the political spectrum from very old red Labour to Tory MPs many expected to defect to UKIP! 

Of course there was lots to talk about this week – about 99% of it about Corbyn and the effect it will have on British politics. The conversations centred around; what does it mean for the realignment of politics, how will the Tories react, what will it mean for the Lib Dems (one offer to defect and one “You’d be mad”), ‘what a shambles’, How long will he last, why didn’t he sing the national anthem etc. 

Each of these topics probably deserves a blog of its own and I have been catching up over the weekend on some great articles from a variety of commentators. So let’s start with what went wrong and why Corbyn let himself be defined in his first week because he wasn’t organised. The Corbynites must have known for some time he was on for victory. I was told even before I went on holiday by one camp that they were going to lose to him. Through most of September there was no doubt (despite me being told off for daring to suggest this would happen). So why on earth did the first 48 hours look like it was all a surprise and nobody had a plan what to do? Surely somebody has a ‘First 100 Days’ playbook somewhere in his team or are they all so anti-media and spin that they REALLY do think they can win the next election via twitter and town hall meetings? I was pleased to see even Owen Jones in the New Statesman pointing out the danger of such a strategy. It is a recipe for disaster. So in the first week we have the sight of a Shadow Cabinet being formed without any leadership and with MPs distancing themselves and even making it clear when they took jobs on what terms they had agreed to serve. Corbyn actually has a Shadow cabinet with more women than men, from a pretty wide spectrum of the party yet even this was turned into a PR disaster by the non-appointment of a woman to one of the ‘top’ jobs and the appointment of the much disliked John McDonnell to Shadow Chancellor. I see a number of astute appointments have been made but I fear it may be a little too late to try and sell Corbyn via the media to the public.

For me the above examples from the first week confirm my greatest fear. At no point during the campaign did anybody really test the ‘leadership’ qualities of the candidates. The least qualified of the candidates to offer leadership or even management (the two are different) was of course Corbyn. It may seem strange to those outside politics that we seem to choose the most like our political prejudices rather than the best placed to lead and win elections. Since Blair we seem to have decided we don’t like the idea of wining, as it means compromise. 

Following this slightly inauspicious start we then had the sight of a non-singing leader of the Opposition at an official WW2 event. Poor old Jeremy would have been damned as a sell-out if he had suddenly started singing the national anthem and equally lambasted as we found out if he stuck to his guns and stayed silent. The coverage was way over the top but welcome to modern day journalism! I will admit to being a republican too and in my student days I didn’t sing the anthem. I started singing when I represented my country in sport and the anthems were used. I realised that whilst I didn’t necessarily want God to save the Queen we had stumbled upon this awful song as our sporting anthem too and I had better get used to it. Equally funny in recent years has been having to work with a Royal or two through my sports links. I am pretty open that I would prefer not to see our Head of State chosen by the accident of birth but whilst there is some minor constitutional link I am happy to be polite and work with them to achieve common goals – like more sport being played. If their patronage opens doors to help then it is worth working with them rather than ignoring them and waiting for the day we abolish the monarchy. The position Corbyn now holds is to represent the entire Labour party and official Opposition at these events, so he may need to put aside some personal student politics!

On the positive side I have written about the change in mood he created at PMQs. I am sure there will be some positive feelings about party democracy in future as members will feel more included in the decision making inside the party. So all is not bad. But the important test now is to see how Jeremy starts talking to the country and what reaction people outside the party have for him and his policies.

This brings me to the conversations with political opponents who seem slightly uncertain what this might all mean for them. Having just elected a left leaning leader for the Lib Dems they are now wondering exactly how to position themselves and whether they like to call it centrist or not, the possibility of them being the sensible left leaning party seems possible. For some time they positioned themselves to the Left of Labour (in Northern seats at least) whilst being soft Tories in the South. In 2015 they were found out under Clegg and almost need to start again. For those I have spoken to they see themselves as a home for sensible social democrats if Labour continues to drift further left leaving the centre ground. Most of the Tories I spoke to were more certain this was good news for them but with a heavy note of caution added on top. Their fear is that it allows the Tories to take the centre ground for granted now that Labour has abandoned it and all those who had fought hard to modernise the party and reject their ‘nasty right wing’ label are going to have to fight this all over again. They are also wary of a populist creating more hope and optimism than they care to admit. They are of course delighted that Corbyn won because they think it gives them the 2020 election already, but they are wary it allows their own ranks to descend back into the old rivalries over Europe and other defining issues that gave them a civil war for 20 years. Without a serious opposition there is a danger that it may be created from within, especially with the European Referendum looming in 2017. 

I don’t see the possibility of the immediate re-establishment of the Lib Dems as a political force. Their defeat in 2015 was so deep and painful. I can’t see the Tories completely imploding over Europe either. So this leaves the other two rumps of voter’s choice – UKIP and the SNP. 

I have not seen much about the impact on UKIP yet – especially from a Labour perspective. As we know UKIP gained large votes in many Labour held seats and prevented us winning some marginals. Two years ago UKIP was a Tory problem but it is equally a Labour problem now. Many left because they didn’t recognise that Labour stood up for them or didn’t speak for them now. I don’t think many of those that left over issues like immigration and welfare will be won back by the Corbyn position on these two issues. But again we will have to see. As for the SNP, there are many Corbyn supporters who believe our path back to power lies through telling SNP voters they can have a left wing labour party again. Having spent time talking to defeated Labour candidates and party workers north of the border I don’t think it as simple as this. The SNP surge is much more complex than this simple analysis suggests. 

Where does all this leave us? We have a Labour leader who is unable to control the positions taken by his MPs and Shadow Cabinet who are currently still working and speaking up on positions taken prior to the Corbyn victory. They have all agreed to take positions after being given assurances about some key issues like NATO and Europe. We have the daily sight of Shadow cabinet members contradicting positions taken by Corbyn and certainly not quite enthusing about the likelihood of a Corbyn win in 2020. We are told this is all very refreshing and great to see open debate. The problem is that the electorate also hate seeing divided parties and there is a fine line between open debate and open warfare!

There is still a lot of settling down to be seen. The build up to conference will be really enlightening and we await to see more details from the Leader and his Office about how they plan to take forward policy making and who will control this process. I can’t see Shadow SoS really staying if the Party decrees they have to take an untenable position on some key issues. 

Finally I wonder how long it will be before people decide if Corbyn is actually up to the job of leading an opposition political party. I ask this in all seriousness. There has been little sign of these qualities so far. They are not the qualities I want or expect of Corbyn. His strengths have always been elsewhere. He is a good constituency MP determined to pick unfashionable political fights. That is great and there is a role for MPs like this. It is the sort of role I would like to have carved out if I had 32 years in politics! It is a nice place to be. Leadership is difficult and a long hard slog. It means daily attention to the job and whilst it is great that Corbyn is fulfilling some constituency engagements and surgeries he can’t neglect the official invites he is getting as Leader of the Labour Party and Official Opposition. It is a full time job, not a drop in when you can part time chair role!

For me the jury is still out about how long he can last. If we lose in May 2016 in London, Scotland, Wales & in Local Govt surely the knives will be out. So until then let’s allow him time and space to get this shambolic start behind him and give him the opportunity to show some leadership.

The Journey to 2020

Like most commentators I was spectacularly wrong about the outcome of the election last week, so it would seem very foolish to start to speculate about the outcome of the 2020 election already. So clearly I won’t even try. But I did enjoy the experience of trying to make sense of the election campaign for ‘friends’ & ‘followers’.  So much so that I intend to log the journey to 2020 here on this political blog. I may not be able to keep up a daily blog but certainly I hope to capture each week what has been happening and why!

Of course this will be a Labour biased commentary but I will be looking at the big picture and commenting on the tactics and positioning taking place. The announcements from the Tory government have already been very political and planning ahead (as far as you can) to position themselves for the dividing lines in 2020. One of the reasons for Labour losing in 2010 was the Tories pinning a global recession onto the last Labour government. ‘Labour’s economic mess’ was allowed to stick. How many people realise economic growth was stronger in 2010 than it was in 2015?

I am guessing many of the early posts will be about why Labour lost and the Labour leadership election, which will be concluded by September. As I don’t believe all the candidates have declared yet (and Chuka has thrown in the towel already) I have not declared my support. In 2010 my choice for David Miliband was an obvious choice for me – even though all the candidates were friends. The fact that I have no immediate enthusiasm for any of the candidates is worrying. But more of this and an analysis of each candidate as we journey to September. I may find myself enthused as the feeling of fighting back returns!

In the meantime we can sit back and watch the comedy being given to us by Nigel Farage and UKIP. What an amazing soap opera. He managed to not be the Great Leader for about 48 hours! There are clear splits in the personnel but I am hoping this runs much deeper. As Lynton Crosby has predicted in The Telegraph today this might have been the political high point for UKIP. In a post Euro Referendum world what is the point?

And that of course will be the massive distraction of this government. The next 2 years could be dominated by a Referendum campaign on our membership of the EU. I will be campaigning for us to stay IN Europe. I know that this will be hard sell. It is always easier to be against things!

So hopefully this blog will be of some use to me if nothing else in plotting the journey back to power for a progressive government.