Archive for the ‘British politics’ Category

5 takeaways from the Tory leadership debate

LONDON — The final five candidates in the race to be U.K. prime minister — including the elusive Boris Johnson — faced off in a televised leadership debate Tuesday night that touched on social care, tax, climate change, education and Brexit.

Straight answers were often in short supply in an hour-long blue-on-blue battle that for the first time pitted the frontrunner against his rivals in public. Presenter Emily Maitlis often struggled to be heard and to keep control as the candidates made their pitches to fellow Tory MPs and the 160,000 Conservative Party members who will take the final decision on who succeeds Theresa May in No.10 Downing Street.

Here are POLITICO’s top five takeaways.

Johnson survives

Leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson had his first outing in a TV hustings debate (he refused to take part in Channel 4’s program on Sunday) and emerged largely unscathed thanks to the crowded field and a reluctance on the part of three out of four of his rivals to go for the jugular.

On Brexit time-tabling, there is little in the way of clear blue water between Johnson, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid. All are willing to take the U.K. out of the EU with no deal if a breakthrough cannot be found — either on October 31 or thereabouts. Only Rory Stewart categorically promised he would not take the U.K. out of the European Union without a deal, but with only a fifth of the airtime, his voice was largely drowned out.

Stewart under siege

The international development secretary appears to be paying the price for torpedoing the campaigns of many of his rivals with his insurgent bid for the premiership. Rivals were keen to turn their fire on the contender who had made the most progress since the beginning of the contest, winning the backing of 37 MPs in Tuesday’s second round of voting. Stewart’s pitch to give Johnson a run for his money in the final debate paid off in getting him a seat in the studio, but he failed to land any serious blows.

Gove accused Stewart of not having a plan on public services, while Hunt questioned if Stewart would be “happy with no Brexit.”

But the biggest asset to the leadership rivals, and most awkward moment for Stewart, was when James from Oxford, one of the BBC’s questioners from across the regions, accused Stewart of being “completely out of touch,” when asked about tax cuts. “You just did not answer my question. It’s nothing to do with Brexit, it’s about tax cuts,” he chastised him.

“I know I’m making myself very unpopular,” Stewart conceded.

Not listening to Brussels

Viewers were left none the wiser about how any of the candidates would solve the Brexit backstop conundrum — the major hurdle which was May’s undoing.

All except Stewart refused to recognize the EU27 has made it clear that there will be no renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement backstop.

When asked why Brussels might move this time, when it hasn’t before, Johnson said he thought having Brexit Party MEPs might make a difference — also the fact that the EU does not want a no-deal divorce.

“There’s literally no reality,” said Stewart.

Pitch for Brexiteer votes

Javid, who scraped through to the third round by the skin of his teeth with the 33 votes required and no more, further boosted his Brexiteer credentials with a hardline stance.

In what looked like a pitch to the 30 backers of former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who was eliminated on Tuesday, Javid agreed with Johnson that Brexit could not drag on beyond October 31, warning against a “flexible deadline” because the government must “concentrate minds in Brussels.”

The home secretary also appeared to be pitching himself as a potential chancellor in a Johnson Cabinet. Following Johnson’s tax cut pledges, Javid pointed out that tax cuts can sometimes lead to more revenue by boosting the economy. He also suggested the country could afford to borrow more to fund public services or tax cuts. That would be music to a prime minister Johnson’s ears.

Gove, who finished in third place with 41 votes, also appeared to be pitching for Raab’s votes with an attempt to reclaim the Brexit true-believer ground. He pointed out that he was the first person among the candidates to advocate leaving the EU, adding “I started this, I will finish it.”

The sixth man

Gove, the environment secretary, was more interested in attacking Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn than laying into his rivals for the Conservative crown. He launched several attacks on the opposition chief, including at one point addressing him directly: “You discredited Marxist. Get back into the dustbin of history where you belong.”

Gove may have read the YouGov poll of Tory members released Tuesday which showed that allowing Corbyn into Downing Street was the one thing they feared more than a failure to deliver Brexit. The poll found the Conservative grassroots were more willing to see the U.K. broken up and their party destroyed than lose Brexit — as long as Corbyn never gets the keys to No. 10.

Gove’s approach in the debate built on his call in the Times on Tuesday for Tory MPs to avoid “polarization” in the party. It also burnishes his campaign credentials as the candidate that gave the Labour leader both barrels in the Commons last January when May handed the environment secretary the task of defending her against a confidence vote among MPs.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.


Labour must become ‘unequivocal’ party of Remain, says David Miliband

The U.K. Labour Party must change course to become the “unequivocal party of a People’s Vote” and advocate for remaining in the EU, said former Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Speaking to POLITICO, Miliband said the party’s current strategy on Brexit is failing badly — it achieved just 14 percent of the vote in the European Parliament election last month.

Miliband, who is from the moderate wing of the party and has been a critic of current leader Jeremy Corbyn, said Theresa May’s Tory government is “dysfunctional and useless” and so Labour’s failure was all the more stark.

“Clearly this isn’t a matter of whether or not you believe that Labour should appeal to Leavers and Remainers. Of course it should,” said Miliband. “The question is how do you do so? You don’t do so by sitting on the fence. That’s evidently the case.”

The former foreign secretary, who since 2013 has been based in New York as head of the International Rescue Committee, an NGO that helps refugees and displaced people, countered the assertion from Brexiteers that a second referendum would be undemocratic.

“We don’t know which Boris Johnson is going to come to lead the country” — David Milliband

“The Brexit that people are now being offered is so different to the Brexit that was promised at the time of the referendum that it would be undemocratic not to have a confirmatory ballot,” he said.

Miliband said he understands why a group of Labour MPs defected from Labour to form Change UK. “They were obviously provoked beyond all endurance and one shouldn’t question their personal integrity … I mean lots of people are having their party loyalties tested to the limit,” he said.

He said he had been in touch with the group of MPs before they broke away from Labour. “Yes of course I talked to them. I didn’t talk about their party plans,” he said, “There are lots of people who are deeply concerned about, not just the political strategy of the Labour Party but where it is being taken.”

Asked if former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell should have been expelled from the party for saying publicly that he had backed the Liberal Democrats at the European election, Miliband said: “Of course not. I mean he’s sort of Labour to his … bone marrow. So [it was] absurd to expel him … I think it’s made the leadership look utterly foolish.”

But Miliband added that he had remains a party member and had voted Labour in the European election. “The truth is that the Brexit nightmare has to be worked through by the existing party system. I’ve always felt that,” he said.

On the Tory leadership contest, he said it is “extraordinary” that Boris Johnson is leading the race to be prime minister given his record as foreign secretary.

“The truth is we don’t know which Boris Johnson is going to come to lead the country,” said Miliband, “And that’s a problem because someone who has taken so many different positions and so many different personas obviously engenders a high degree of mistrust.”

Miliband was in Brussels to speak at the European Development Days conference on Tuesday. He argued that with the U.S. stepping back from international affairs, only the EU has the power to keep the Sustainable Development Goals, which were agreed by the U.N. five years ago, on track.

“They are off track in fragile and conflict states. Those are places where more people are living in extreme poverty so I think that it is really important to have focus and to have clarity … the EU is the body that has the greatest opportunity to do this,” he said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

Dominic Raab knocked out of Tory leadership race

LONDON — Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab was knocked out of the race to be the next leader of the Conservative Party following a vote by Tory MPs this evening.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has committed to leaving the European Union on October 31 with or without a deal, continued to lead the field, securing more support and the backing of 126 MPs. His tally was 12 more than the 114 he secured in last week’s ballot.

His main challenger in second place is Jeremy Hunt, who received the support of 46 MPs.

Tory MPs will hold further votes tomorrow and Thursday to whittle down the candidates until two remain. They will be put to the 160,000-strong Conservative Party membership for a final decision, which is due to be announced in the week commencing July 22.

The candidates were required to secure the backing of 33 Tory MPs to make it to the next round. In the subsequent rounds it will be the candidate with the least support who is eliminated.

The results for the other candidates were Michael Gove 41 votes; Rory Stewart 37 votes; Sajid Javid 33 votes; and Dominic Raab 30 votes.

Bill Clinton on Brexiteers: ‘They haven’t thought this through’

Bill Clinton said he is “worried” about Brexit and said the U.K. — “one of the greatest nations in human history” — could be consigned to “a smaller role” because of the decision to leave the EU.

The former U.S. president was speaking in New York at the unveiling of a Clinton portrait by the Irish artist Colin Davidson. Asked by Irish broadcaster RTÉ if he is worried about Brexit, Clinton said: “I am. I’ve always been worried about it.”

“Those who want a hard Brexit are portraying it as the liberation of the United Kingdom but if you look at the population trends and the wealth and productivity trends, they could be consigning one of the greatest nations in human history to a smaller role just so the people who have historically been in control can stay there. I think psychologically they haven’t thought this through.”

He added that “the British have much to bring to the EU, to bring to international order, they have much to bring in the fight against terrorism and it all has to be done in a cooperative atmosphere.”

Clinton said he hopes Brexit does not “boomerang” for the British.

Asked about the political impasse in Northern Ireland, which has been without a power-sharing government since January 2017, Clinton said no one wants to go back to violence and no one wants to see a unity government fail, “but how can you make a deal until you know what Brexit is?”

Tory members prepared to break up party, United Kingdom for Brexit

A majority of Conservative Party members are willing to see their party destroyed and the United Kingdom broken up in order to secure Brexit, according to a new YouGov survey.

Asked whether they would rather stay in the EU if Brexit would lead to Scotland or Northern Ireland breaking away from the U.K., 63 percent and 59 percent of party members (respectively) said they would prefer the United Kingdom break up.

Fifty-four percent said they would be willing to see their party destroyed if necessary for the U.K. to leave the EU, according to the survey of 892 Conservative Party members polled between June 11-14.

Sixty-one percent said they would accept significant economic damage to the British economy if it meant leaving the EU.

There’s only one thing most Tory members couldn’t stomach in their pursuit of Brexit: A Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn. Fifty-one percent said they’d rather stay in the bloc than allow the Labour leader to move into No. 10 Downing Street, though 39 percent said it was a price they were willing to pay.

Just over half of Tory members said they thought Britain remaining in the EU would damage their party so much it would never lead the country again, while 52 percent said leaving the bloc would mean victory for their party at the next election.

The Brexit Prime Minister? Assessing Theresa May’s legacy

Theresay May’s real legacy is that her premiership exacerbated the political divides behind the ongoing breakdown of the Conservative-Labour duopoly of the party system, write Christopher Byrne, Nick Randall, and Kevin Theakston.

The political obituaries that followed Theresa May’s decision to step down as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party were not kind. The Timesassessment was that her premiership had become a ‘humiliating failure… that was largely her own fault.’ ITV, reflecting the view of most other media outlets, described a legacy ‘defined by Brexit chaos.’ Private Eye went one better, leaving their front page blank except for the headline, ‘The Prime Minister’s Legacy in Full.’

One way of explaining the ‘Brexit chaos’ of the past several years is to ascribe it to May’s failings as a political leader. This is not hard to do. Her detractors will point to her poor handling of the Brexit negotiations and her fateful decision to hold a snap general election in June of 2017 as her two major missteps. They might ascribe difficulties in the Brexit process to the fact that May, who campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum, felt the need, largely for internal party management reasons, at the beginning of her premiership to burnish her Brexit credentials by adopting a ‘hard Brexit’ stance. To this end, she ruled out customs union and single market membership, and a continuing role for the European Court of Justice in British law, while also continuing to insist on ‘bespoke’ arrangements for the UK to ensure something like the economic status quo with the EU would continue.

Such ‘ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking’, as well as the under-resourcing of the civil service for the Brexit negotiations, was castigated by Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, in his leaked resignation email in January of 2017. Similarly, we might pin the blame for the 2017 general election calamity on Theresa May’s dire public communication abilities and her lack of political vision.

May’s reluctance to meet ordinary members of the public during the campaign, combined with her robotic repetition of the Conservatives’ ‘Strong and Stable’ mantra, and her obstinacy in the aftermath of the ‘Dementia Tax’ U-turn (‘Nothing has changed!’), earned her the epithet of the ‘Maybot’, and she explicitly disavowed the existence of anything like ‘Mayism’ well before the general election. It is also true that these two failures fed into each other, in that losing the general election made the Brexit negotiations much more difficult, primarily because the government could no longer guarantee that any deal reached with the EU would be able to get through Parliament.

This critique is fair, but it overlooks the fact that Theresa May also occupied an unenviable position in political time. We argued in this blog in 2017 that her predecessor David Cameron became Prime Minister at a moment when the existing political regime — what we might call the neoliberal consensus — was deeply enervated. This was most clearly reflected in the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, in the form of the recession that followed immediately after and the next decade of slow wage growth and public spending austerity.

Compounding these difficulties were the growing threat of Scottish independence and the emergence of Ukip as a major electoral force on the right. Cameron — the self-styled ‘heir to Blair’ — was affiliated to this highly vulnerable political regime and was, therefore, a disjunctive political leader, unable to repudiate the indefensible and forced to defend the dysfunctional. When Theresa May replaced Cameron in the wake of the referendum result, it was under the same conditions of political disjunction.

In one crucial respect May had an even tougher task than Cameron. The vote for Brexit not only represented a failure of Conservative statecraft, it was also in many respects a rejection of the prevailing political order. Support for Leave mirrored past support for UKIP, in that both did well among voters with no qualifications, older age groups, and in midlands and northern constituencies, and among people who wished to ‘Take back control’ of immigration.

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, it was incumbent upon her to tackle some of the grievances underlying the vote for Brexit, but the mandate she had been given was an unwelcome one, because it meant pursuing a policy with which she did not agree and thought would do serious damage to the UK economy, including in the same ‘left behind’ areas that voted for Brexit. Furthermore, the magnitude of Brexit as a process, necessitating major machinery of government changes and tortuous international negotiations over an indefinite number of years, inevitably monopolised the media and parliamentary agenda and stretched Whitehall’s governing capacity, making it difficult for May to focus on other important challenges.

Perhaps an even clearer illustration of the difficulties caused by May’s position in political time is the 2017 general election, in which she was expected to cruise to victory over a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn with an abysmal net favourability rating of -42 at the start of the campaign. May hoped to achieve a substantially increased Conservative majority, ostensibly to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. Up until just a few weeks prior to election-day the Conservatives were 14-to-1 odds-on favourites to win a majority, but in the event Labour made significant gains and the Conservatives lost their small majority and were only able to continue in office after putting together a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the DUP.

Although it is probably fair to say that May performed poorly in the campaign, and Labour avoided any major mishaps, the real reason for the upset was that the Conservatives’ offer to the electorate represented a spectacular misreading of the political moment. The message of the manifesto and of the campaign more broadly was one of continuity, at a time when there was a growing public appetite for change. The Conservative strategy was to capitalise on May’s then-high favourability ratings by running a highly personalised campaign, with her at the fore as a ‘safe pair of hands’ capable of delivering Brexit.

Voters had other ideas though: despite research showing that the public thought Brexit was the single most important issue facing the country at the time of the general election, 2017 was not the ‘Brexit election’. There was no significant swing towards anti-Brexit parties capable of accounting for the loss of Conservative seats. Instead, 2017 reflected Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘reconstructive’ appeal among a new cosmopolitan coalition of younger, more diverse and more educated voters with liberal social attitudes, mainly living in urban areas plugged into the global economy. The Conservative manifesto, with its focus on ‘Governing from the mainstream’, had very little to say to these people and, especially, to the public sector workers in their ninth year of austerity, younger people unable to afford to buy a home, and people grappling with the reality of low pay and highly precarious work in the ‘gig economy’.

What does all of this mean for assessments of Theresa May’s legacy? Most assessments thus far have overly personalized the ‘Brexit chaos’ and neglected the challenging context in which May operated, given her place in political time. However, her failings as a political leader have also undoubtedly contributed to the chaos and show how bad things can get when an already tricky political situation is mishandled. Therefore, perhaps May’s real legacy is to have exacerbated the political divides behind the ongoing breakdown of the Conservative-Labour duopoly of the party system.


About the Authors

Christopher Byrne is a Lecturer in Politics in the School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett University.

Nick Randall is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University.

Kevin Theakston is a Professor in the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds.


All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: “Brexit talks on the verge of crucial new stage as Theresa May falters” by Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Tory leadership frontrunner Johnson dodges first TV debate

LONDON — Rivals accused Boris Johnson, the favorite to become the U.K.’s next prime minister, of lacking the courage to successfully renegotiate Brexit, after he refused to attend the first television debate of the Conservative leadership contest.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who along with four other candidates did take part in the Channel 4 event on Sunday, questioned: “If Boris’s team won’t let him out to debate five pretty friendly colleagues, how will he get on with 27 EU countries?”

Johnson, who has said he will take part in a second TV debate on the BBC later this week, was represented by an empty podium.

In a fiery debate, Hunt and other candidates also clashed with former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab over his willingness to attempt to suspend parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit, if a hoped-for renegotiation with the EU fails.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the contest was not to choose “a dictator,” while International Development Secretary Rory Stewart — the one candidate to completely rule out no deal — accused his rivals of “a competition of machismo.”

Johnson is way ahead in terms of MP endorsements going into the next round of voting for a new Conservative leader on Tuesday. By Thursday, the field will have been narrowed to two candidates, who will go head-to-head in a month-long contest decided by around 160,000 Conservative party members.

The former mayor of London has, like Raab, refused to rule out trying to suspend parliament to push through no deal, and his rivals’ attacks on Raab were effectively rehearsals for the debate one of them would likely have with him in the final run-off.

Raab said that suspending, or proroguing, parliament was not “likely, but it’s not illegal.”

He accused other candidates of harming the U.K.’s negotiating position with the EU by accepting that parliament could block no deal, effectively taking the option off the table.

“The one thing you never do in a negotiation is remove your ability to walk away,” he said. Raab also accused Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a Brexiteer who endorsed Theresa May’s Brexit deal, of backing down, claiming he would “buckle” in any renegotiation with Brussels.

EU leaders have said on multiple occasions there will be no renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement struck with May last November. However, every remaining candidate except Stewart says they will seek changes.

But Hunt, who came a distant second to Johnson in last week’s first round of voting, said suspending parliament was “a total misreading of the Brexit vote and what the British people will accept,” while Gove told Raab he could not take the U.K. out of the EU against the will of parliament.

However, all candidates insisted no deal remained an option as a last resort, except Stewart who called it “a complete nonsense.”

“How does it work in a negotiation to say ‘negotiate with me because if you don’t give me the deal I want, I will do something which I’ve just told you is going to be deeply damaging for my economy?'” he asked. Stewart also attacked the absent Johnson, saying that he hoped that one of the candidates present would become prime minister, not the former foreign secretary.

Javid was well received by the studio audience when talking about his background. He pledged that if he became the U.K.’s first Muslim prime minister, he would “look at the best in people and try to bring them together,” while warning that divisions created by Brexit had to be addressed if the country was to remain a “cohesive society.”

Conservative MPs will vote again on Tuesday, with the candidate who secures the least amount of votes dropping out of the race, as well as any candidates earning fewer than 33 votes. Another round of voting will be held on Wednesday, then potentially two rounds on Thursday, until only two candidates remain. All candidates still in the race are set to take part in a second TV debate on the BBC on Tuesday evening.

Powered by WordPress | Designed by: index backlink | Thanks to insanity workout, car insurance and cyber security