Nuclear weapons renewal? Not in my name…

One of the things that Theresa May will have had to do when she became Prime Minister is to sit down and write a letter.

This letter is entirely private, and we should hope that it is never ever read. It is a “letter of last resort” and gives instructions to the commanding officer of Britain’s nuclear submarines, to be followed in the event of a nuclear war wiping out the British Government.

Every Prime Minister writes a letter, and it is destroyed unopened when that Prime Minister leaves office, leaving its contents known only to them. So we should hope and pray that Mrs May’s letter is never ever read.

Nuclear weapons exist, and their existence is a tragedy which has the potential to end the world. That Britain has nuclear weapons is a matter of historical fact, thanks to the decisions made by the Labour Government after World War Two. The nuclear weapons that Clement Atlee commissioned have been replaced and updated, and on Monday Parliament will be asked, once again, to approve the purchase of the new Successor submarines, to replace the Vanguard class submarines that currently make up the UK’s Continuous At Sea Deterrent.

In some ways the decision to schedule the vote on Trident replacement is more about politics than it is about the need for the UK to update these submarines. The new Prime Minister parked her tanks on the centre ground when she took power last week, and while there have been some right-wing appointments in her Cabinet, moderates like Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Liz Truss, Greg Clark, and Ben Gummer, have all seen preferment. This is an issue where Tory Party strategists believe that the public concerns about Jeremy Corbyn’s national security positions will help secure the next General Election.

Tory Party strategists may well be right; Labour Party policy is in favour of replacing Trident, but Mr Corbyn and the majority of the new members are firmly against it. The level of support for nuclear weapons in the country is really quite surprisingly high. But just occasionally the minority opinion is the right thing to do.

Nuclear weapons are massively expensive, and completely pointless. As I have pointed out before, there is a reason they call it MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction is a policy that would see everybody dead. Despite seventy years of conflict since the last time anyone used a nuclear weapon, the appalling impact of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has meant that nobody has ever used them again.

As I have written before, I don’t believe any Government will ever use them. Of the nine states with nuclear weapons, two, India & Pakistan, have been at war with each other a number of times. North Korea is led by a madman and is technically still at war with South Korea and the United States. Israel has been attacked on an almost daily basis by Iranian sponsored terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah. Not once have any of these countries used the dread power that they have at their command. Because they know that it would be entirely mad to do so.

The UK remains a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The Government is committed to multi-lateral disarmament. Yet while these weapons are updated, and “improved” to make them harder to defend against and even more deadly, true disarmament will not happen.

Normally I would argue passionately against unilateral actions. If your enemy has a weapon, you need it too. But that isn’t the case with nuclear weapons. As a member nation of NATO, we live under the US and French nuclear umbrella. If we were attacked by a nuclear state, our NATO allies are treaty bound to defend us, or to respond with nuclear force. NOT having our own nuclear weapons would make absolutely no difference to our nation’s defence; all it would mean is that we wouldn’t be able to make a belligerent nuclear attack on any nation. Does anyone really want us to have the capacity to make a belligerent nuclear attack on another nation?

On Monday our MPs will troop through the yes lobby and vote in favour of renewing Trident. Almost all Tory MPs will support it, and many Labour MPs will follow their party policy as well. But, despite being a tribal Tory voter, I will be, in spirit, with those MPs from all parties who vote against renewing our nuclear weapons. We do not need these weapons. We cannot afford these weapons. We should not be wasting this money on such pointless weapons systems.

Andrea v Theresa – unknown v unlikeable

So some 26 years after Tory MPs defenestrated our last female Prime Minister, they have ensured that the next PM will be the UK’s second female one. And what great options they have given the Tory Party membership. One candidate says look at my experience, just ignore the failure to control immigration, the racist “go home” vans and the fact I called you the nasty party. The other candidate says look at my stellar career in the City, just ignore the fact that I’ve inflated my importance and haven’t really done much of any note.

Whichever way you look at it, the options Tory Party members are given are flawed. Suddenly David Cameron isn’t looking so bad, after all.

The questions are easier to pose for Andrea Leadsom, the answers harder to come by. A relatively junior Minister, she has served as the City Minister and the Energy Minister. Indeed, one local newspaper reporter thought she was still the City Minister when dismissing her chances of getting on the ballot just a week ago. She has not served as a Cabinet Minister, and to my knowledge has never attended a Cabinet Meeting. She has very little experience of Government. She is on the ballot for one reason only – she gave some barnstorming speeches in favour of remain, and she isn’t Michael Gove.

The questions are a lot harder for Theresa May, and the answers perhaps easier to come by. A highly experienced senior politician, Mrs May has served as Home Secretary, usually the graveyard of a political career, without huge controversy for the last six years. Previously she was a Shadow Cabinet Minister under David Cameron, Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague. She can certainly say look at my experience. And yet…

Mrs May’s tenure at the Home Office doesn’t fill one with confidence in her ability to be a great liberal Conservative Prime Minister. She was tasked with reducing immigration to the tens of thousands. The number of people from outside the EU has gone up. She was a part of the Remain campaign for the EU referendum, but was locked in a box after acknowledging that we can’t control immigration from EU countries if we remain in the Single Market. Her time at the Home Office saw racist “Go Home” vans sent out to drive around the streets of London, saw foul and vile abuses at the Yarls Wood Immigration Detention Centre, abuse which is still going on and is still being denied by the Home Office. She has overseen a total collapse of morale in the police, and huge cuts to Border Security, leaving most airports and seaports in the country totally unsecured. You can spend all you like at Heathrow, but when any idiot with a sail boat can ship across from Holland, France or Belgium in relative safety, it is like bolting the front door while leaving the back open.

More concerning are Mrs May’s known positions. She backed scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998 and pulling the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights & Fundamental Freedoms. She has now retracted her view on withdrawal from the ECHR, but she still backs the ludicrous idea of a British Bill of Rights (we’ve already got one, for starters, and why should only British people have rights?).

She tells her local newspaper that one of her priorities would be to hold a free vote on foxhunting, which was of course in the Tory manifesto, but which has just about no support in the UK anymore.

In one of our local newspapers today, the Ipswich MP Ben Gummer makes a timely intervention on immigration, saying much more eloquently than could I, exactly what many liberal Conservatives feel: the careless use of language when debating the level of immigration into this country has allowed racism to rear its despicable head once again.

Yet Mr Gummer backs Mrs May, who told the Tory Party conference that she hadn’t been able to deport an immigrant because of his cat. Not only was that story totally untrue, it was widely reported and it became part of the very folklore that Mr Gummer rightly deplored. On doorsteps across Ipswich, in pubs and clubs, on buses, in taxis, you will hear stories like that replayed again and again. Politicians, especially Home Secretaries and Prime Ministers, have a responsibility not to be casual with the truth. Mrs May was over immigration, and my fear is that she will be again.

It is difficult to know Mrs Leadsom’s views on the Human Rights Act or on immigration. Or anything really. We do know that, unlike Mrs May, she believes that any EU citizen currently living lawfully in the UK should be allowed to remain in the UK once we Brexit. Mrs May wishes not to give that guarantee, instead believing we should use people as bargaining chips to guarantee the rights of British citizens living in the EU – who would, of course, still be able to bring cases under EU law and ECHR law that deporting them because of a decision which they could not participate in would be a breach of their fundamental freedoms.

There have been dangerous calls for the Tory party to expedite the process in order to ensure stable Government quickly. The reason I call these dangerous is because while they stem from supporters of Mrs May (in the main) they risk the electorate backing Mrs Leadsom without any real testing of her views.

The next two months will see both ladies troop around the country, speaking to Tory associations and getting over their view of what the nation should look like. Mrs May will espouse her experience, trying gently to cover over the huge blaring gaffes like those racist go home vans, or the cat story. Mrs Leadsom will put forward, I assume, a vision of optimism about the opportunities afforded by Brexit. She will, I hope, explain where she stands on issues from Human Rights, to Welfare, to Education, to Healthcare. It is unlikely she is vastly different on most of these issues to Mrs May, but it is important that the media and the Tory Party members who get to speak to her really push her on where she stands, rather than concentrating on minutiae like her CV. After all, come September 2nd, she might be sitting down with HM The Queen and being appointed Prime Minister.

Whoever wins, the unknown or the unlikeable, it is likely that the nation will be radically different come May 2020, not just different to how it is now, but also different to how it would have been had David Cameron remained in that top job for as long as he wanted to.

Let the best woman win.

Sneering media class has sparked revolution

The sneering of the media class is in part what caused this revolution of the working classes.

No seriously. It is no surprise that those voting to “take back control” were from lower socio-economic classes. These are the same people who have had decades of being taken for granted by the Labour Party, who have been ignored and marginalised by sneering media and middle class voters who told them to like what gruel they were fed because “who else are you going to vote for?”. If you kick a dog often enough it will bite you, and working class voters have bitten back. And how.

Yet even today the sneering media class can’t help themselves. Those insulated in their Westminster middle class bubble, who don’t have to worry about the vagaries of an economy because of their middle class education and their middle class homes in middle class Islington, spent the day telling voters who backed leave that they were thick, xenophobic, racist, or wrong.

Then there are those in the “sportsman” class, who think that because they were trotted out by the media class to preach pre-written scripts to the working class about why the working class should shut up and do as they’re told and eat their gruel, they now have the right to sneer as well. We shouldn’t have had the referendum, says Welsh rugby legend Martyn Williams, because the voters aren’t intelligent enough to understand the consequences. Jamie Roberts, current Welsh rugby player says the same. England and GB Sevens player Joe Simpson suggests that voters don’t know what they’ve done. Sportsmen should stick to commentating on sport. Even Gary Lineker, who observed that Nigel Farage is still a dick.

Worse are those who pretend to be working class heroes, men and women of the people. Like Labour councillor Alasdair Ross, who sneered at the thirty-nine thousand Ipswich voters who backed leave, suggesting that the expression of democracy was a mess. Or like his Labour colleague Sandra Gage who backed the idea that Labour councillors call the will of the people a mess. These leaders of our communities, who are supposed to be from the party of working people, clearly didn’t have a clue about the majority view in the town they supposedly run.

The more the sneering continues, the more abused the working class will feel. Those having breakfast in Chantry, or in Nacton, or across this great country, do not take kindly to being called thick, being told that they don’t understand the question because they gave the “wrong” answer. If the political and media classes don’t start to listen to what they’re being told by the working classes, the revolution will sweep them all away.

Planning free for all in Suffolk Coastal

Suffolk Coastal residents are facing a planning free for all after the council failed to adequately assess the need for housing in the district, leading to an adverse decision by the planning inspectorate.

The decision, in Framlingham, says that Suffolk Coastal had no reasonable explanation for failing to publish an up to date assessment of the number of homes needed for the next five years, and therefore the planning inspector found that the council’s ability to supply enough developable land for sufficient housing was unsound. 

National planning policy requires councils to show this supply, and where they can’t any policies which seek to restrict development are given less weight in the decision making process. Another case in Suffolk Coastal, which the council is now taking to the Supreme Court, expanded the list of policies which seek to restrict development beyond merely housing policies in the council’s Local Development Framework, to include any policy which could restrict development.

Tony Fryatt, who is the Cabinet Member for Planning on the east coast authority, told the BBC Radio Suffolk breakfast programme that he wasn’t worried by the decision, as the world has changed and thousands more houses would now be needed by East Anglian devolution. While that may be true, it actually makes the situation worse, not better, and his laissez faire attitude leaves Suffolk Coastal communities completely unprotected from inappropriate development.

EU Ref: Why I’ve changed my mind…

The United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union is the question, but what should the answer be?

Three months ago I was certain. I would be voting remain. Economically it made sense, and with China heading for a recession and a shaky world economy, Britain couldn’t afford any further risks to the economy.

But as things stand I will be voting for Britain to leave the European Union on June 23rd, and the insufferable arrogance of the Remain camp has much to do with that.

The impression that the Remain camp have given me is that they hold the voters in contempt. They seem to believe that anyone pro-Brexit is either a rabid right-winger or an ignoramus. How on earth can’t the Brexiteers see the ‘right answer’? How presumptuous are they that they assume they do not need to put forward positive reasons to be members of the European Union?

I spoke to a prominent advocate for the Remain camp back in March about the way the campaign was going to be run. I stressed that the one thing that would switch voters off faster than anything would be a repeat of the Scottish referendum’s Project Fear. I was assured that the positive reasons to remain in the EU would be at the fore of the campaign, that economic and national security would be the wedge issues, aimed at women in their forties, the group who Stronger In believe will be key to the election.

Yet here we are in May, and the Prime Minister’s renegotiation from Europe has been all but forgotten. The suggestion that we could survive perfectly well outside the EU, made in November last year by the Prime Minister, is now dismissed as pure speculation by Stronger In.

Yet just because the people in the Remain camp are insufferably arrogant, that is not a good reason to vote to come out of the European Union. Unlike most people in the Vote Leave campaign, I do believe the Treasury when they say, as they will today, that there could be a recession if we vote for Brexit.

For me this decision comes down not to economics, but to a more fundamental question: what do we think of Britain. Do we think Britain is essentially a small country, without much influence in the world, unable to cope on its own? Or do we agree with the Prime Minister, when he said “I am not saying for one moment that Britain couldn’t survive outside the European Union. Of course we could.

“We are a great country. The fifth largest economy in the world. The fastest growing economy in the G7 last year. The biggest destination for foreign direct investment in the EU. Our capital city a global icon. The world, literally, speaks our language.”

When the Prime Minister said that, in his key note speech at Chatham House in November last year, I agreed with every word of that statement. Yet just six months later he appears to have repudiated every word of it. This weekend his Chancellor suggested that the economic shock from Brexit would see house prices drop by 18%; no doubt I will address the benefits of a big drop in house prices at another juncture, but for now I merely point out that such rhetoric was specifically ruled out by the PM just a few months ago. The lower they stoop in their desperation to bully the electorate into doing what they want, the more I want to vote the other way.

So what do I think of Britain? I think we’re one of the strongest countries in the world. We have a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. We’re have the fifth highest spending on the military and we’re a central plank of NATO. We’ve got the fifth largest economy on the planet. We are not Norway and we are not Switzerland. We’re Britain.

I am also a democrat. I believe that the vote I cast in the polling booth should have an impact on the laws that regulate our society. But the European Union don’t believe in democracy. The laws that emanate from Brussels are written by the European Commission. Only the Commission has legislative initiative. Only the Commission can make formal proposals for legislation. Yet the Commission bears little relationship to democratic institutions. The President of the Commission is nominated by the Council of Ministers, and approved by the European Parliament, and the Commissioners are appointed by a similar process. Each of the 28 member states has a European Commissioner.

So the laws of the European Union are written by unelected bureaucrats. But opinions vary on how many of OUR laws are written by these bureaucrats, so that’s ok, right? The Stronger In campaign claim that only a minority of UK law is written by the Commission, and that when you are a member of a club you have to play by mutually agreed laws.

The problem for me with that argument is that the European Union doesn’t quite see it like that. Where there is a conflict between a law decided upon by our democratically elected and supposedly sovereign Parliament and European Law, the European Courts of Justice, and now our own courts, insist that European Law takes precedence.

I am told that one Suffolk MP challenged a prominent Vote Leave campaigner for a single example of the law being overridden by the European Union. She wasn’t able to answer, but I can. The example is the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which was disapplied by the European Courts of Justice in the series of cases known as Factortame.

The Merchant Shipping Act was a piece of legislation which was passed by both Houses of Parliament, and signed into law by the Queen. In a thousand years of British history, that has been sufficient to create a law. But the European bureaucracy couldn’t have that. This law was “repugnant” said the European Courts of Justice. The House of Lords ruled that European Law has precedence and disapplied an Act of Parliament.

The MPs we elect are no longer free to pass any laws demanded by the voters of Britain, because the EU will demand that any law which conflicts with European Law is merely ignored. Yet the campaigners for Stronger In insist that we have not handed over Sovereignty to the EU.

There are, of course, always other reasons to vote to leave the European Union. The Common Fisheries Policy, an abomination of a process which sees the UK quote for Irish Sea cod limited to 834 tonnes, while France gets 5,500 tonnes, has led to the devastation of an entire industry. Residents of Lowestoft tell me that they can remember when you could cross from one side of the harbour to the other by stepping from trawler to trawler. No longer.

This article here in the Spectator, a Brexit supporting publication, talks about the damage to St Ives caused by the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy. For St Ives read Lowestoft. Or any seaside town which once had a substantial fishing fleet. We once had the largest fishing fleet in Europe. We fished 80% of British territorial waters. Now we fish just 13% and a fifth of our quota is landed in Holland by just one trawler. One former fisheries minister (a solid supporter of Stronger In) once called this deal a “good deal” for our fishermen. It’s a disgrace.

It also talks about the Common Agricultural Policy and its top down imposition on farmers. This is a subject I know a little about. My first political interaction was as a precocious and irritating 8 year-old, asking then Agriculture Minister John Gummer about the CAP. While he never answered the question then, I doubt he would argue now that the CAP was a shining example of the benefits of the EU.

Farmers want to farm. They want the freedom to use their knowledge and experience to do the best for their business; to grow the crops the market wants, to grow the crops that work best on their land, but also to remain the custodians of the rural countryside. I should know, given the land around my village has been farmed by my Great Granddad, my Granddad, my Uncle and now my cousin.

But the CAP doesn’t allow farmers to farm. Despite the fact that this country is a net importer of food, the EU still pays farmers not to farm. It pays farms to grow the crops that the EU wants. It encourages the use of damaging pesticides and fertilizers, putting further pressure on our environment. It artificially inflates the price of food, which in turn contributes to obesity as fresh food and vegetables cost more than the bland processed food which are full of sugar and salt and fat. It is also morally indefensible to

The irony is that even back in 1972 everyone knew that the CAP would be a bad deal for British farmers. The experts at the IMF were very aware that CAP was designed to help French peasant farmers while penalising the British. It wasn’t in British interests then, and it isn’t in British interests now. But with 47% of the European budget dedicated to CAP, the sheer scale of subsidies dominates much of the EU’s decision making.

So there we have it. On June 23rd I will be voting leave, because of the insufferable arrogance of the Stronger In campaign; because I believe that our democratically elected MPs should write the laws that we as a society allow ourselves to be governed by; because the CFP and CAP are highly damaging socialist inventions which have destroyed communities and industries.

No doubt some who believe we should remain will want to tear this column down. I welcome that challenge. I really hope that they engage with the arguments, rather than merely engaging their headless Project Fear.

The most important election this week…

The most important election this week has already taken place; we already know the winner. It isn’t the race between Sadiq and Zac to replace Boris as London Mayor. It isn’t the Scottish General Election, which will determine the size of Nicola Sturgeon’s majority as First Minister for the next four years. It isn’t the election in Wales, where Carwyn Jones has asked Jeremy Corbyn not to campaign because he’s so afraid he’ll need opposition support to form a new Welsh Government. And it certainly isn’t the local council elections or the police & crime commissioner elections.

No, the most important election this week was on Tuesday. It was the GOP Primary in Indiana. And it had lasting and potentially devastating results.

The Republican voters of Indiana did what no Primary has been able to do so far – they backed Donald J Trump by enough to knock Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich out of the race for the GOP nomination, leaving just Mr Trump as the presumptive nominee.

That’s right, the party of Abraham Lincoln, of Dwight D Eisenhower, of Ronald Reagan, just nominated a four times bankrupt, three times married, reality TV star, who turned an inherited fortune into a smaller one, as their candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America, the de facto leader of the free world.

The party formed out of opposition to slavery, named in homage to Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party, did all it could to persuade its supporters to back an establishment candidate. First there was Jeb!. It soon became clear that Jeb didn’t have the easy nature of his brother, President George W Bush, and was more like his father, President George H W Bush. Trump ferociously attacked him and he never got out of the starting blocks.

Then there was Marco Rubio. Little Marco, as he was ridiculously named by Trump, held in there until he lost his home state of Florida. The Tea Party hero of 2012 was seen as too Establishment by the angry, predominantly white, working class Republican voters who are backing Trump.

That left just Ted Cruz. Lyin’ Ted he was named by Trump. Sure, John Kasich stuck in it, in the hope of being named running mate, but Ted chose businesswoman (and former candidate) Carly Fiorina. Nothing Ted did could stop the Trump juggernaut by now. This was about preventing him from getting enough delegates to make it to the convention as the presumptive nominee. And on Tuesday, in Indiana, Senator Cruz realised he wasn’t going to manage even that.

The conventional wisdom is that none of this really matters. Hillary Clinton (who is yet to see off her own Primary challenge in Bernie Sanders) will storm to victory with a huge margin. Trump can’t beat her. So says conventional wisdom.

Why the hell is anyone listening to conventional wisdom? How has that worked out for Jeb! or for Marco or for Ted? Trump has turned conventional wisdom on his head so far and there is no reason why he can’t do that now.

Hillary Clinton has huge drawbacks as a candidate. Sure, she’s a great symbol. She’d be the first ever woman President. Donald Trump would be the first orange President, but people don’t vote for symbolism. They decide their vote based on self-interest.

Secretary Clinton is under investigation by the FBI for using insecure email servers to store confidential State Department emails while she was Secretary of State. She has consistently ducked questions about her $250,000 speeches to Wall Street. She’s a divisive figure who will enrage Republican voters as much as Trump enrages Democrats. And she is despised by millions of Bernie Sanders supporters, who would rather see Trump enact his radical right-wing agenda for four years than vote for the woman they consider corrupt, venal and immoral.

Secretary Clinton’s biggest asset in 2008 was a nostalgic memory of her husband’s Presidency, some eight years before. At a time of financial turmoil, the memory of a stable period of growth must have helped. But eight years on from that election, with her mis-steps as Secretary of State hung round her neck by the Republicans, Hillary’s asset has been out of the White House for 16 years. President Bill Clinton is suddenly underfire from women’s rights groups tied to Bernie Sanders supporters, who accuse him of repeatedly abusing his position to coerce women into sexual relations.

If Hillary manages to make it onto the ballot in November – and that IS a bigger if than she would want it to be – then all those negatives will be ruthlessly exploited by Trump. He will target her divisiveness and hope that Democratic supporters who have never really adored her stay home. He will target Sanders supporters and hope they sit on their hands. And he will target those Republicans for whom Hillary is an abomination – more so than Obama is in their minds – and motivate them to get out the vote.

So Tuesday’s election is potentially the most important election this week; it may well have seen Indiana choose the eventual next President of the USA.

Donald J Trump? God help us all.

Lacking an opposition, the government legislates against losing power

Corbyn CND

When it happened, it was quite funny, if you’re a Tory inclined voter. Some almost unknown back bench rebel MP elected Labour Party leader. And on top of that he had a history of associating with disreputable people, including terrorists. Hilarious. The Tories would be in power for a decade. A double victory for George Osborne and David Cameron.

Yet at the time some of us warned our fellow Tory inclined voters that it wasn’t a joke. That this was supremely dangerous. That without a decent opposition, the government would make horrendous mistakes.

The failure of the opposition to oppose this government with any coherence makes the government majority of 12 seem like one of 120. There isn’t just clear blue water between the two front benches, there is an entire ocean of it. While there are “lefty” Tory MPs – some “lefty” Ministers even – there are none who are so far left as to agree with the Labour front bench.

All of this was underlined for me in the appallingly bad New Year video produced by Labour. Putting aside the fact that most teenagers could produce a better quality video on their iPhone, it was the message that was so worrying. “We opposed the government on tax credit cuts, and we defeated them. We opposed the government on police cuts, and we defeated them.”

There are two possible theories here, and both are depressing. The first is that Jeremy Corbyn genuinely believes that it was his opposition to tax credit cuts and police cuts that defeated the government, not internal pressure from furious Tory MPs and a defeat in the House of Lords, a place he doesn’t think should exist. The second is that Jeremy Corbyn has finally conceded defeat on his “new politics” and is instead becoming a Liberal Democrat – claiming credit for stuff that happened even though he was entirely irrelevant to the outcome.

Either is depressing because it shows a complacency in the opposition, just at the point that this country needs an opposition able to tear lumps from the government.

You see the very nature of our democracy is currently being put at risk by this government. Having won in 2015, surprising even themselves, the government is making damned sure that they stand a better chance of winning in 2020, even if Labour rid themselves of this millstone leadership.

One of the ways the Tories are seeking to increase their grip on power is legitimate – by increasing their mandate. They’ve reclaimed the “One Nation” mantle boosted by Ed Miliband for a time, and they’ve produced a raft of policies aimed at blue collar workers. They’ve introduced a higher national minimum wage, rebranding it the “Living Wage” and they’ve got away with that through an inept opposition. The ‘emergency’ budget in July saw George Osborne steal large chunks of Ed Miliband’s Labour 2015 manifesto, in an attempt to seize the middle ground.

In much the same way as the Tories managed to direct the narrative on who caused the Great Recession, by making outrageous claims about Labour while that party was busy off the field of play choosing a new team captain, so they have done exactly the same again by rebranding themselves the party of the working man, implying Labour are only interested in the pet peeves of the Islington mafia who now run that party – benefit claimants, terrorists and immigrants.

I’ve written before on the importance of language in debate, and so all the while the Tories talk about immigrants and Labour talks about refugees, the confused public see the debate as entirely negative. It is the same for benefit claimants versus welfare state supported citizens, or terrorists versus freedom fighters. Where Blair created a miracle was by bringing in a media operation, led by Alastair Campbell, capable of using Tory language to describe socialist policies; the public elected him PM in every election he led the Labour Party.

Using policy to increase your mandate with the voters, using language to frame the debate, casting your opposition as not on the side of the majority of voters – all of this is a legitimate way of increasing your grip on power if you are the government.

What is far less legitimate – and what a decent opposition would be screaming blue murder about – is the power grab for the executive currently going on.

There is nothing wrong, in principle, with reducing the number of MPs. It is certainly something that will resonate well with the voters. But if you reduce the number of MPs, you must surely reduce the number of Ministers that these MPs have to scrutinise. Yet the Tory government wants to reduce the number of MPs, and simultaneously increase the number of Ministers. This makes it much harder for the backbench MPs to properly hold the executive to account.

There is nothing wrong, in principle, with reducing the powers of the unelected House of Lords. There are more members of the Upper House than there are members of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. It is the largest legislature in the world. And not one of them is elected by a public mandate – though ironically the remaining 92 Heriditary peers are still elected by their peers, making them the most legitimate and the most illegitimate members at the same time. Yet the Tory government doesn’t want to reduce the number of members in the House of Lords, or introduce a level of democracy. No, instead it wants to reduce the power of the Upper House to hold the executive to account, reducing their power to scrutinise secondary legislation while simultaneously increasing the volume of secondary legislation. The consequences of forcing a Treasury U turn on tax credits are having a profound impact on the UK constitution.

The government has also slashed “Short Money”. This is money given to opposition parties to pay for the running of their professional offices – so that if they find themselves elected into office, they have policies which have been drawn up properly, costed and debated, and which can be handed to civil servants on day one for implementation. The saving to the taxpayer is trivial, but the move will cut the subsidy by 19%, costing Labour £1.2 million a year. All the time the Tory government has the advantage of the civil service producing its forecasts and policy papers. Oh, and the bankers funding the Tory party, especially now they’ve been told the banking commission won’t be going after them quite as harshly as expected.

I’m less worried by the Trade Union Bill, which will cut the funding of Labour by £5.4 million by making the political levy an opt-in rather than an opt-out. This is actually a move which Ed Miliband pledged after the scandal of a Unite inspired selection stitch up in a Scottish constituency – a scandal that involved Len McLuskey and Tom Watson, now Labour’s deputy leader.

The Tory government also want to reduce the powers of the Freedom of Information Act, with the moronic Leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling, suggesting that it made for lazy journalism – his desire to curb the freedom of the media not being at all connected to his appearance in the investigations of the Daily Telegraph into the MPs expenses scandal, of course.

Meanwhile the Lobbying Act has reduced the amount trades unions and voluntary groups can spend on political campaigning by 60%, without actually making any changes to the lobbying scandals that are awaiting discovery – David Cameron himself described professional lobbying as the next great scandal to hit British politics.

The ease with which the Tories are passing these measures reflects the paucity of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Far from defeating the government in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn actually helped them out by allowing them cover to dump unpopular policies – but he hasn’t prevented a single one of these issues going through in almost total darkness. A competent opposition would be seeking friends on the government benches to ensure none of these positions passes. Those friends exist – more than a dozen Tory MPs are against any one of these changes. But instead Labour are focussing on purging good Labour MPs like Mike Gapes and Jamie Reed, fighting themselves and generally looking like a student union on a bad day, rather than coming together for the common good and fighting this overbearing and arrogant Tory government.

For the good of the country, Labour needs a leader capable of taking the fight to the Tories. Jeremy Corbyn, for all his good points, is NOT that man. It is about time Labour members beyond the Parliamentary Labour Party realised that. It is about time Corbyn realised that.

What started out as a joke, simply isn’t funny anymore.

Labour’s civil war has to end, now.

11-Jeremy-Corbyn-Alamy

Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn campaigns against a Labour Council with a 47-1 majority (the one non Labour councillor is a Green).

I think the civil war in the middle of the Labour Party is profoundly dangerous for our nation. Labour has a constitutional role to play in our two party system. By fighting among themselves they are not keeping the Tories on their toes. Osborne should have been torn to shreds, but silly games meant that the only thing the public will remember from the Autumn Statement is Mao’s little red book.

I don’t blame Corbyn. I think he is a nice guy, with solid principles, who has found himself out of his depth. He is surrounded by numpties, who don’t seem capable of running a national political party.

I don’t entirely blame the Parliamentary Party – though I take what is happening as a warning against the membership choosing a candidate that the Parliamentary Party has little respect for. IDS was selected by the Tory membership, and he was a disaster as leader. But the Tory Party didn’t implode in quite the way the Labour Party appears to be.

I think the Parliamentary Party – well some of them – are truly fearful that Mr Corbyn’s policies won’t win them an election. They don’t want to see five years of Tory Govt (any more than Corbyn does) and they fear that if Corbyn goes on they will lose in 2020. They’re protecting their jobs and, in their mind, their party.

It must also be really galling to be told by people who voted Green or Socialist Party, or Left Unity or TUSC at the last election that suddenly if you aren’t a Corbynite you are effectively a Tory. I know that during the IDS era I had a Tory association officer (now with UKIP, ironically) tell me that I should go and join New Labour. I nearly hit him. So I can understand why John Woodcock and other MPs are quite so quick to go to the media. They must really be angry with those they perceive are ruining their party.

The civil war inside the Labour Party may be mildly amusing for some Tories, deeply worrying for others, but for people like me, it is frightening. I don’t frankly care who runs the Labour Party. I don’t frankly care what policies they pursue. But they have to get on with the day job; they have to take the fight to the Tories.

This country demands any Government is kept on its toes by a strong opposition; an opposition that could be considered an alternative Government. Labour currently trails the Tories by 11 points. Only 25% of people think Corbyn is doing a good job as leader; 46% of people think disagree, with the remaining 30% undecided.

While Labour tears itself apart, there is no credible opposition. It certainly doesn’t seem like this is a Government with a majority of 12.

Bombing Syria is a mistake

Tornado power

Two RAF Tornado GR-4s pull away from a KC-135 Stratotanker after refueling on Sunday, May 14, 2006. The Tornados and crews are from the 617th Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth, England. The KC-135 and crew are deployed to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from the 905th Air Refueling Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

I’m still very uncertain about the right outcome from tonight’s vote in the House of Commons on expanding military action against Daesh from Iraq to Syria.

It is a bit of an odd position for me to be in. Barely a year or so ago I was fully in favour of air strikes against Bashar al Assad and the Government of Syria, with the aim of supporting the Free Syrian Army. Assad had crossed a red line by using chemical weapons, but the move to war faltered when Ed Miliband whipped Labour MPs against the plans. When the British Government lost the vote in the House of Commons, the US Government also pulled out of plans to bomb Assad.

Now we’re bombing a group who were not around in these numbers back then. Daesh, or ISIS, or ISIL, or IS, or whatever they are called today, took control of half of Syria and a third of Iraq almost overnight.

It is important to note that this is not a new war – this is instead a war which only 43 MPs voted against when we started it. This is instead mission creep. This is the expansion of our military strategy in Iraq.

The House of Commons debated the extension of war as though it were a new war, for the most part, with many of the questions now being asked perhaps more properly aimed at the vote last year. There were powerful speeches from former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, and an historic speech from Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn. There were some less helpful interventions, including the summing up by Philip Hammond, which misjudged the mood of MPs after Mr Benn’s terrific oratory.

The convention of House of Commons votes on military action has been brought about because of the opposition to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Before Tony Blair’s adventure, the Prime Minister would use the Royal Prerogative to authorise military action. Why does it matter that this is no longer how it is done? Well because the last time this Prime Minister, David Cameron, went to the House of Commons and asked for authorisation to take military action against Syria, back when he wanted to bomb Assad, the House of Commons said no.

It was that no that led to today. Firstly, you can draw a direct correlation between our failure to deal with Assad and the rise of Daesh. Secondly our allies, especially the United States, began to question whether we had become an unreliable ally. It was as much to deal with that perception that the Government wanted to extend military operations.

This particular operation has the benefit of being legal – whatever Len McLuskey might want to suggest – by virtue of an authorising resolution by the United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2249. I think that it is also warranted; Daesh are, in the words of Hilary Benn, fascists. Just look at what they have been doing in the territory over which they hold sway.

Mr Benn summarised it thus: “We know that in June four gay men were thrown off the fifth storey of a building in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. We know that in August the 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Assad, was beheaded, and his headless body was hung from a traffic light. And we know that in recent weeks there has been the discovery of mass graves in Sinjar, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex.

“We know they have killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc. 130 people in Paris including those young people in the Bataclan whom Daesh – in trying to justify their bloody slaughter – called ‘apostates engaged in prostitution and vice’. If it had happened here, they could have been our children. And we know that they are plotting more attacks.”

These people are modern day Nazis. And just like the Nazis they must be defeated. It is right that the world – including Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Iran and Qatar and Bharain – take action against them.

There are those who say that we shouldn’t take action against Daesh in Syria because it will make things less safe for people here at home. I hold absolutely no truck with that argument. Seven times this year the security services have disrupted advanced attempts by Daesh to attack us here. We’ve been bombing Daesh positions in Iraq for a year. It is luck, and good policing, more than anything else that has kept them from attacking us in London. With luck we will stay safe; but the terror threat in the UK has been “a terror attack is likely” for at least ten years.

Daesh are actively trying to attack us here at home, where we live. It is for this reason that action against them is legal under Article 51 of the UN Charter – the doctrine of self-defence.

So the law says that we are justified in attacking them where they live. Certainly humanity suggests that we are justified in assisting attempts to remove these fascists from their mastery over so many people. But this is where my support for our military operations falls apart; I simply do not believe we have the capacity to make an effective difference.

Our military campaign in Iraq has been successful. Despite the fact that our aging Tornado fleet barely has half a dozen operational aircraft, we have used our Brimstone missiles alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army to push Daesh out of Sinjar, and back away from Baghdad. But crucially the only way you can take and hold territory is with ground troops. You cannot win anything with air power alone. And in Syria the ground offensive is very different to that in Iraq.

Militarily of course it is ridiculous to say that if Daesh fighters cross an imaginary line in the sand, they cannot be attacked by British aircraft. That ruling has no doubt caused real problems for the coalition. If an aircraft is providing close air support to troops on the ground, who are in pursuit of Daesh fighters, yet that aircraft is British, there comes a point when suddenly it has to break off any attacks. It will take a while for another aircraft to arrive on station, so that then allows the Daesh fighters to melt away across the border.

It must also be frustrating for pilots who are flying missions over Iraq to see Daesh fighters who are the wrong side of a line on a map that Daesh don’t recognise, and not be able to attack them.

All of this is improved by the decision taken by the House of Commons tonight. Where the Government’s strategy falls down is the mythical 70,000 ground troops who will take on Daesh in Raqqa.

Without ground troops the air campaign cannot work. But the ground troops simply don’t exist in Syria. Sure, if you exclude the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Al Nusra, and any element of the Free Syrian Army with whom we will not work you still get a figure of around 75,000. But these fighters are not an army, like they are in Iraq. They are a disparate band of tribesmen who mostly hate each other more than they hate Daesh. These tribal hatreds run deep in Syria, and the wounding of the Assad regime has allowed them to boil over.

The Government will come to regret using the number 70,000. It will end up being like Tony Blair’s infamous 45 minute charge against Saddam Hussein. It simply isn’t credible to expect them to discontinue their fight to the death with Assad’s Government troops and turn around and attack Daesh.

Given the flaws of the Government’s strategy, I cannot support active targeting of military targets in Syria. Last night the Government made a mistake, and embroiled us further in a fight that cannot be won, where the best outcome is unclear, where our strategic partners have differing objectives, and where military strategy is at best confused.

We should not be bombing Syria.

PM did NOT ask ‘all the right questions’ before assassinating British citizens

Cameron speech Tory Conference 2015

When faced with British born citizens accused of crime (but not convicted by any court, with nobody testing the evidence) the Prime Minister tells us he asked “all the right questions.”

He even lists them:

1. How do we stop them?
2. Is there another way?
3. Do we have that capability?
4. Is it legal?

How about these ones then PM?

1. Do we have enough evidence to convict them in a court of law?
2. Can we arrest them?
3. Can we have a trial?
4. Can we test the evidence against them in court?
5. Do we have the moral authority to assassinate British Citizens overseas?

I will not shed a single tear for the probably terrorists killed by a Hellfire missile. I shed a tear for another chip in the wall of jurisprudence which is based on the freedoms won and protected by Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights Act 1689.

This state does not have the death penalty. Nor should it. Home, or abroad.