“Hello, Goodbye”

As one door closes, another one opens…

In a little less than 24 hours, the dear old Queen will have performed the necessary formal niceties, and Theresa May will walk through the doors of Downing Street to become the United Kingdom’s 76th Prime Minister, and the 15th of the second Elizabethan era. But, more pertinently, perhaps, she might actually be the last.

David Cameron’s swan song will be at the Despatch Box for PMQs tomorrow; doubtless the tributes will be every bit as fulsome (in its original, perjorative, sense) and insincere as we might expect at such a time, but it should not let us be blinded to the fact that his time in office has been disastrous. History will not be kind to David William Donald Cameron MP. In years to come he will be spoken of in tones similar to those now used about Chamberlain or Eden.  Neville at least had the defence (if you listen to some revisionists now) that he was stalling Hitler so we could re-arm. But, like Eden, Cameron has no real defence at all. His only achievement of note was the acceptance of marriage equality, but for the six years he has occupied Downing Street that is extremely thin gruel.

He has presided over a period of economic austerity, and a prolonged and vicious attack on some of the most poor, vulnerable and needy in society, while he and his ally at Number 11, have cemented the privileged position of the very wealthiest in our society. He has neglected your position on the world stage, and alienated many of our allies (including some of our soon to be erstwhile ones in the EU). There are still questions to be asked about the conduct of his party during the 2015 election (which one hopes the police will continue to ask), and still questions to be asked about his connections to those working for Rupert Murdoch.

To protect his position, he has played some very risky hands. His style has very much been in the vein of securing short-term tactical wins, but building up a bank of longer term strategic problems that came back to bite hm. You’d have thought that after coming so close to disaster in September 2014 in Scotland, saved only by a frenzied splurge of promises at the point where there was a real possibility that the Scots might actually have chosen secession, that lessons might have been learned. But no. He gambled the country’s future to keep his own fractious backbenchers, and UKIP, quiet. He fatally underestimated the scale of the dissatisfaction of dissent against a political class of which he was a potent symbol. The sounds of the boos ringing in his ears on Sunday afternoon in, of all places, Wimbledon, was stark evidence of that.

In the end, his luck ran out.

Cameron’s style was very much in the image of Blair: bland, media-friendly, slick and essentially superficial. A man of few discernible principles, he seemed to tack whichever way he thought the public wind was blowing. What was more worrying was that this continuation just cemented in a section of the British public (who had already had the scales fall from their eyes in the fallout after Iraq) a sense of cynicism and mistrust about the political system, and the people within it. June 23 was the chance that an increasingly angry and alienated electorate took to kick the system firmly and squarely where it hurt.

And like everyone else within a mile of the campaigns, Cameron abandoned ship when the moment came. The rather cloying speech he gave on the morning of June 24 was an attempt to present a statesmanlike aura to the end, filled with nautical allusions that might trigger in some the swelling of Britain as an island nation. He conveniently forgot to mention that whichever captain the ship had next would find life difficult, having had their predecessor run it aground in the most public of fashions.

If May does as she is indicating, the Brexit negotiations will start soon. Article 50 will be invoked, It is almost inconceivable to see how Scotland’s people would vote to remain in such a Union.  Cameron’s legacy will be complete: the man who led the Conservative Party will have been responsible for the dissolution of the United Kingdom, at his second attempt. Not even in Eden’s darkest hour, the final Suez-shaped coffin nail in  Britain’s Imperial era, were things ever as bleak as that; not even he managed to destroy the Union.

David Cameron: possibly the worst, and perhaps the penultimate Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Good riddance, and may history treat you with the contempt you so richly deserve.

 

“Let’s Look at some of Dave’s Best Bits..”

In the time-honoured tradition of every low-rent, brain-dead reality show there is, let’s go through the ritual of showing the highlights of your stay in the world’s most famous Big Brother house, conveniently located in Central London.

Well…there was marriage equality.

That was something, I suppose.

Bye bye, David. you won’t be missed.

The (Not So) Grand National

Ah! It’s all go for the band of merry scunners, battling for for the prize that seemingly no one really wants at all. Today, after hardly any time at all, two of them have already bitten the dust:

  • Liam Fox : A man with all the easy charm and warm bonhomie of a chilled speculum. If you’re a man and you don’t understand that, I suggest you go and ask any woman you might know, then watch her facial expression and involuntary shudder.Still, at least we didn’t have to worry about him for too long.And if you’re a woman: sorry to remind you.
  • Stephen Crabb – somewhere, a really mediocre lookalike agency is missing its Ricky Gervais. But don’t worry, everyone, Stephen can personally cure “the gay”, or something. Others have said that reports of his utterances are “misquotes”. Well,  he certainly voted against the 2013 Marriage Equality Act, which doesn’t suggest he’ll be lining up at any Pride events soon. Anyway, now he can go back and spend more time with his beard. And probably get more David Brent gigs, seeing as the film’s out soon.

So that leaves quite possibly the most stomach-churning threesome in the history of space and time to fight it out. Read it and heave.

  • Theresa May aka Cruella de Vil. It used to be that when she turned up for Tory Party conferences, most of the stupid end of the press talked about her footwwear. They were a bit quieter on the fact that she looked like she was more than happy to skin the small animals from which they were made herself. Just don’t mention the Border Agency, and all that stuff about passports a couple of years ago, eh?. And most certainly don’t mention those hugely successful vans with things like “Go Home!” written on them. She’s the favourite now, of course. Oh joy.
  • Andrea Leadsom putting aside the fact that she barely has a public presence outside her own front door, she has the unmistakeable air of that woman who, when you were a kid, would never let you have your ball back if it went in her garden. There’s an expression in French: “Peter plus haut que son cul“, which basically means to fart higher than one’s arse. I think that pretty much nails her.
  • Gove. Ah, yes. Gove. What can be said about this charmless, chinless little fart that hasn’t been said already? Well, plenty as it happens, but not now. Though when members of your won party talk about you with barely concealed disdain and revulsion, things are not looking good. Everyone’s least favourite charisma vacuum is now discovering that it’s simply not enough to be a duplicitous little shit to win the leadership of the Conservative Party; it is unfortunately a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for success. He’s also trying to claim experience as a virtue, but given the wonderful way he handled education, that might be a touch optimistic. Weirdly though, he’s not been entirely disastrous as Justice Secretary.  But, unfortunataltey  for him (and hilariously for us), he seems to be roughly as popular with his own  party as  bucket of lukewarm sick, so his chances of making it through tot he last tow look bad. This is likely to annoyi his egregious wife, Lady Macbeth Sarah Vine, no end. So, another bonus!

I’ve had an off/on relationship with Kenneth Clarke over the years, but it’s hard not to look at his assessment of what’s in front of us and not wince. His front-line careeer is over, so he’s free to acully say what he tinks, and not feel the need to be “on-message”, though God alone knows what that even means right now. Unfortunately, he’s not exactly effusive in ghis praise.

Also, in the pictures I saw today today, why did May look like she was wearing powder blue Sontaran battle armour, just without the helmet?

A Paper Tiger

(Or: don’t offer him a cigar, or he’ll go up like a Chinese Lantern)

So, when the chips were down, and the moment of destiny arrived, Boris Johnson scuttled away like the kid in the schoolyard who whips up a fight, and then runs off when the punches fly. As acts of cowardice go, it’s pretty much as big as it gets. It also probably means the end of any pretensions at any kind of top level political career now. He’s damaged goods. There are some who will claim he’s hanging on for next time, when the winner of the competition for the poison chalice realises the job is basically undoable. But they’re wrong. If Johnson has any fleeting idea of trying a run in the future he will have this moment pulled down over his shoulders like a burning car tyre. It’s over. And the knife was finally plunged in by the Macbeths: Gove and his egregious “journalist” wife, Sarah Vine. The trusted lieutenant turns.  The only real similarity is the Duncan that Macbeth finished off was not the heroic figure of Shakespeare, but a widely despised, useless King.

So what do we get instead? Liam Fox, a man with all the easy charm of a proctosigmoidoscopy*, Crabb and Leadsom, who sound like two low-rent Bond villains, or perhaps a couple of minor characters from Slytherin house. They have about as much chance of winning as I do. But it all looks like a straight fight between Pob and Cruella de Ville.

Gove is the man who published a pamphlet about how best he might go about privatising the NHS, so obviously it’s safe in his hands. And, during the referendum “campaign” (by which I mean hissing bitch-fight), he famously said that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. I’m not sure how he’d know that, given how much of his time in the Deoartment for Education he spent  putting his hands over his ears and singing “la la la” at anyone who knew more  about education than he did, which was awkward, because that meant just about everyone. And a number of potted plants.

Meanwhile, much is made of the fact that May has been in her current job for a long while. It’s hard to know how sometimes  when you consider what a top-notch job she made in managing the problems experienced by the UK border Agency.  And of course there’s the ongoing clusterfuck that goes by the name of the Investigatory Powers Bill.

For anyone still clinging to the illusion of “getting control of your country back”, consider the choice between these two, and then further consider that you have no say who this new leader will be. You will have no control over how they will approach the exit negotiations you craved. And if you don’t like it, it still entirely possible that they will not call an election for four more years (the law is reasonably clear on that), long after the terms of EU withdrawal are done and dusted. Suck it up, and enjoy your sovreignty. But don’t get too relaxed,  peak stupid is still a way off yet, I fear

It’s going to be a long, unpleasant summer.

* getting a camera shoved up your bum to look at your coln

“Your boys took a hell of a beating…”

Perhaps the most poignant moment for me last night was, in between the joyous choruses of Icelandic singing, were those moments when the England fans sang. And what were they singing? Plaintive renditions of Rule Britannia over the always slightly comedic sounding brass that accompanies England games these days. Football as metaphor indeed.

The only surprise about last night is that anyone is really that surprised about last night. It’s been coming; it does in every tournament. The steps are always the same:

  1. Qualifying. We get through the campaign generally quite comfortably. We don’t really play all that well but we console ourselves by saying that “the boys did a job”, because it’s important just to “get results”, and it will be different when we play against better quality, as we’ll up out game. There’s time to get the flair part right.
  2. Pre-tournament friendlies. These are usually a bit mixed, but there are always one or two results that lead some fans to raise their expectation. This time round it was the Germany game. When that happens…
  3. the media kick in. “Our boys” play in the world’s best league. We have a crop of wonderfully talented promising players. They’re “big game” players, because they play in “big games” all the time.  Rooney is a world-beater (despite not having produced anything of any real note in a tournament in over a decade).  This time, we have the players and the game to progress. This time we can actually compete. This time, we’re contenders.
  4. The group stages. The first game usually shows some vaguely positive signs. But we generally end up disappointed with a performance that promises much, but in the end delivers little. By the end of the group we squeak through without ever looking convincing. But the media still say that the best teams usually start the tournament slowly and improve. “The Italians always do that.”
  5. The inevitable exit. Sometimes it’s on penalties, but usually it’s the result of an underwhelming performance the first time we see a team of any real quality.
  6. Aftermath. This is where the recriminations start. The endless phone-ins saying how awful and overpaid the players are, how there’s not enough “pride” or “passion”. Ex-pros and pundits earn their corn by piling into tho the team and the tactics.
  7. Then we start preparing for the next qualification, and everyone consoles themselves with thew fact the the Premier League season is only two months off. And so the whole sorry  cycle goes on.

The only differences this time were in the degrees of things. There wasn’t quite as much hype as usual; other things proved more of a distraction. But again, England were lacklustre in the group: possession-heavy yet ponderous, with few signs that they had any real edge, or indeed any real clue how to break down even average sides. The lack of focus didn’t help. There was no real sign that the manager had any real idea what his best side was, or even how it should play.

Then there was who we lost to. Before the game I heard pundits and fans looking forward to playing France, because it was “impossible to loose to Iceland”. Maybe the players thought so too, because they didn’t approach the match with a great deal of intensity. Iceland were well-organised, worked hard and had a fantastic support cheering them on. They didn’t expect to win, but they hoped. Remember, this is Iceland, with a population about the size of Newcastle (and around the same size as yearly net UK immigration, fact fans – around 330000).

Incidentally, well done to Iceland., who had a plan, played to it, did it well and deserved to win. They deserved it.

I heard commentators on Five Live last night sharing commiserations with the travelling England fans, “who spent all that money to follow the team.” Well, no one forces them to do it, and it strikes me as more than a touch optimistic to keep following a team that shows no signs of ever breaking the pattern of underachievement they slavishly adhere to every single tournament. Still it’s a nice holiday in France, eh?

Our domestic game doesn’t help either. The Premier League is awash with cash (for now, but we’ll come to that), but it’s full of foreign talent. Academy systems are pushing out players who will probably never play at the highest league level, because they can’t get past the imported talent. Our junior tournament performances veer from the encouraging to the awful. But, there’s so  much money sloshing around in the domestic league that the national side is an afterthought to the clubs and their owners. So that’s not going to change immediately.

However, change is coming. Events elsewhere will leave a deep imprint on football. Brexit will change the shape of the English game for good, I suspect. There will be fewer foreign players. And those who are here will probably need to be offered more to play. English clubs will find it harder to compete in Europe, whose clubs will still be in the EU, so will still have all that free movement to exploit.  It also depends whether the Bosman rules stay in place here. It may of course mean that academies will produce players who really will play first team football.  But it won;t happen overnight. Will televised football be quite as much of a draw with an impoverished domestic game and clubs who won’t be able to tap talent in the same way that Real, Barca or Bayern can? How long will the Premier League money tap keep flowing? Who knows?

But one thing is for sure. The current cycle of the national side underperforming isn’t changing soon. And no, it’s doesn’t matter who the next manager is, so stop getting so bothered about it. Get ready for another disappointing exit from Russia 2018. You know it’s going to happen.

 

Death of a Party

I was born in Middlesbrough. For the first three years of my life I lived in a terraced house in  Newport, opposite Samuelsons Club. It’s still there, but the house isn’t: it’s a car park now. A couple of years ago there was a murder on the street and my old home was where they put the incident tent. I grew up on a council estate on Middlesbrough’s outskirts. When we first moved there, in 1973, we had to be vetted to get a house. We were surrounded by working families with kids. I went to decent schools, and was lucky to have good teachers; good enough to get me to University, anyway. Some of my childhood friends trod a similar path to me. Others didn’t. But we did get some of those chances.

So I’m very certainly from the working class. I am, in the nicest possible way, one of the great unwashed. And though my life now might be described as a more middle-class one by some, I still feel the pull of my roots. And that includes the way I vote.

In 2015, I voted Labour for the first time in over a decade, after regularly visiting the ballot box to spoil. I did so holding my nose. Though I had a good deal of time for Ed Miliband as a leader, I thought he was forced into a more timid campaign than he would have liked by his party’s right wing. A wing that clings to the Blair era, and can’t seem to get it through their collective heads that their time has passed. There seems to be a belief that what the Labour Party needs is a return to the party of Blair. The problem is that Blair is one of the most powerful reasons that people don’t trust politics any more . Trying  to do what you did before in the hope it will work again isn’t a coherent policy: it’s a cargo cult. But Corbyn’s election encouraged me. I actually started to vote  Labour again, because I could see something I could support and a worldview I could at least partly subscribe to.

But now the orchestrated campaign to unseat Corbyn begins. If Thursday teaches us anything, it’s that people should be very careful what the wish for. And the Parliamentary Labour Party should be very careful what they wish for indeed.  This morning I heard Hilary Benn claiming that  the PLP were ungovernable. That says rather more about them than it does about Corbyn. 

If the PLP malcontents force the election they want, there is only one outcome: the Labour Party, at least in its current form will die. If they force another election, Corbyn is very likely to win. And if that happens, the PLP malcontents (I won’t call them rebels, that dignifies them too much) will be stranded, and likely without a party: retribution us likely to be swift and bloody.

Of course, Corbyn could lose. But if that happens, what damage will that do? The exodus of members will be huge, because the replacement is likely to be the exact kind of bland, media friendly void that they think might be electable. And who might that person be? Chaka Umunna? Really? A man with all the easy charm of a pushy mobile phone salesman Or how about one of the dreadful bunch who stood against Corbyn last time around?  The candidates aren’t exactly leaping out.

At a time when the country is in political meltdown, when the nation needs some unity, what are the PLP doing? Are they standing behind the leader the party members chose? No. They’re playing a carefully coordinated and choreographed game that would embarrass the hacks in a redbrick Student Union. Fiddling while Rome burns. If they plunge the knife in now,  the Labour Party that has been there all my my life will be dead., at least to me. It will never get my vote again, because the enormity of this stupidity, at this moment, is something I can never forgive. I wonder how unusual I might be.

“28(ish) Hours Later”

Well, nearer 38, really but cut me some slack here, people. Please?

This is possibly not going to be terribly coherent, and it is pretty long, now I look, but I wanted to write down some thoughts about what everything means, at least in my own mind as I see them now. It’s not a violent screed against the voters of one side or the other, so whichever side you support, I won’t be taking personal potshots at you. It’s not that kind of post, and  I don’t think I’m that kind of person. At least, I try not to be.

Yesterday, I just felt despair. And anger. Lots of anger. Today, the haze has cleared a little and a number of things are coming into focus.  I chose remain. Some of my friends didn’t. We talked about it. We disagreed, but at least there was  a reasonable discussion going on. Which is probably why I ignored most of the so-called landmark showpieces in what was laughingly described as the “debate”. Those who didn’t were not impressed.

A little bit of a moan first, but it is even-handed so don’t panic.

First, to any of those who voted leave telling remain voters to “Get over it” or “Grow a pair. You lost”, you should consider what your reaction would have been had the result gone the other way with a similar margin. This was not a huge, commanding win. Remember too that Farage was talking about trying to get a second go had leave lost narrowly, and that there were darker hints of less peaceful means shoulld “the people” not get what they wanted. And these were things he said on broadcast TV, so can’t really be denied.

Conversely, to all of you (2 million. Really?) signing the petition, or screaming for a second referendum, get get over yourselves and stop whining; it ain’t happening. At least not yet, but I’ll return to that later. The vote was advisory, but it was acted upon by the government. This was the will of the people. That is a fact. To start screaming for another referendum this soon would, not incorrectly, be seen as sour grapes.

The aftermath, or #braftermath if you want something more Twitter friendly, is now beginning to dawn on some, however. Some sincerely wanted out, but others seem to have cast a vote not really expecting the leave side to win. Today’s Daily Mail (and no, I will not link to that rag, google it yourself  it you must – I won’t give them the link traffic) started to lay out the consequences. Some of their readers might just be repenting at leisure. There were supposedly comments like “So the Remain side wasn’t lying?” and “why didn’t you publish this information before the vote?”. This is both interesting and relevant; again, we’ll come back to that later

Yesterday’s events in the currency and financial markets were alarming, but they’re short term. Markets are notoriously sensitive to shocks. But just like weather is not the same as climate, a single day’s trading is not going to give us an indication of future trends yet. We may have to wait until the end of this year to get a clearer picture of how the trends will turn out. Besides, many already have a visceral mistrust of the financial markets, so pain there is not likely to elicit sympathy. At least not until some of those older voters start to consider the effect of this on pension income. While this might be the case, those in government will be more than aware that the economy is disproportionately dependent upon financial services. Any weakening of this is not good news f the

And that’s before we even get to this morning, and the developments in Edinburgh and Europe. To those whose thought were, “they need us more than we need them“, today’s response might be sobering. Perhaps people were expecting something else other than, “You want to go? Well hurry up and go. Start now”. But why should we have done? While the EU are saying that negotiations are going to be “reasonable”, to me that seems to indicate that they are not going to hurry to offer concessions.

Even for a remainer like me, the Remain campaign was spectacularly inept, and it’s commonly agreed, I think,  that Cameron’s role in it has Ben particularly so. His presence has had the indelible mark of the very worst sense of complacent arrogance. It is still possible he will be forever remembered as the man who destroyed the Union, and its penultimate Prime Minister, but it’s not inevitable yet. But this was the man who  very nearly pushed Scotland to independence once already, and has been the master of the short-term tactical fix. Unfortunately, this has been at the expense of any coherent sense of strategy. Brexit has opened up not just the possibility of a Scottish secession, but the very real possibility of the reunification of Ireland, as the combination of the dissolution of the Union, support for the possible stability of EU membership and the issue of land frontiers is likely to push Unionism in Northern Irelamd into an existential crisis: how can Unionism survive without the Union?
However, possibly the single sensible thing Cameron did before washing his hands and walking away from the mess he has created was not to invoke the exit procedure laid out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, whose two year deadline is fixed.

Which brings me to the issue of who’s going to be doing the negotiating. Already, everyone is assuming Johnson will proceed al out to Coronation. I’m not so sure. The fissures in the Conservative Party over Europe are still deep, and Johnson’s Damascene conversion to leave have not convinced many in his own party. If he’s not seen as electorally advantageous, they might think twice.  If the article 50 button is pressed, the two year deadline starts to tick. Unpicking our relationship will involve every part of our government. Domestic policy is going to slide to a halt, because those negotiations are going to be complex, and costly in person hours. . And that’s before the process of beginning negotiation of trade agreements even starts. We may have negotiate a lot of them (the EU has over fifty), and we may not have enough people with experience of trade deals to get good ones. Also notice the lack of supportive statements so far from all of those international partners who would supposedly be queuing up to do business with us.

As the summer wears on, we may get a better idea of what plans may emerge for how the government will approach those exit talks. There is very obviously no plan now, and the campaign leaders have gone mostly very quiet. All except Farage, but honestly, his relevance may already be waning. He is the leader of a party whose primary reason to exist  has now, ostensibly, been satisfied, and worse, he may soon not have a United Kingdom for it to operate within. What will that mean for those providing financial backing for his party? What will it mean for him?
Many people voted leave for reasons which are not directly related to the EU at all. The immigration issue hit a chord. For those in skilled jobs the issue is less pronounced. But if you are living, for example,  on a northern council estate, and stuck in low-wage low-skilled jobs, or struggling to find a job that will pay the bills at all, these concerns are more pressing.  You are competing in a tough labour market. However, much of this is about policy failings at the national level, with the EU actually providing much of the economic development infrastructure fat does exist. A change of personnel in Westminster is not going to improve this; indeed, Scottish and Irish secession from the Union are likely to make things even worse. England is already skewed to the Conservatives; those in the industrial northern cities are going to find little of cheer if they want a change of government.  There will of course be lots and lots of promises, but this will be to an electorate who don’t trust politicians, and will want almost instant results.. If the economy weakens, these people are going to be even more angry. Having stoked up some of that anger, it will be a grave error if the Westminster politicos think that they will be able to put the “great unwashed” back in their box.

The easy way for any government to try and distract attention from all of these things is to try and stoke up a sense of English nationalism. That could get very ugly, very quickly, and might have serious implications for organisations who have, and need to retain, a more internationalised outlook. Universities are just one example of this.

Earlier I talked about the referendum being the fixed will of the people. That’s not quite true. Any referendum result captures the will of the people at a single moment in time. It’s not fixed: it’s mobile. Opinions can change, and the process of negotiation (and even the informal period before formal ones start, that might last over summer) might mean a significant shift in the public mood.

tl;dr Brexit is not a done deal yet. There’s much more mileage in this.