Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister is far more secure than it looks.

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In the few days since Theresa May’s difficulties during her keynote speech at last week’s Conservative Party Conference, rumours have abounded as to how much longer she can remain in the role, suggesting that her premiership is teetering on a cliff edge. In fact, it is anything but.

It says a lot, that the only attempt at a rebellion was led by the comically inept Grant Shapps (as many commentators were quick to point out, one wonders how many of the names on Shapps’ “list” were his own alter egos…), and it is highly unlikely that any credible figure will emerge to depose May any time soon.

For the few Cabinet members who could provide a credible alternative to Theresa May, it makes absolutely no sense to try and take over right now.

David Davis? He’s seen first hand how difficult Brexit will be to actually deliver, so there’s absolutely no way he’d want to carry the can for the disaster.

Amber Rudd? Perhaps the Cabinet member best suited to being PM, but difficult to imagine her wanting to take up the job whilst simultaneously trying to defend a wafer thin majority in her own constituency, and given that she was an arch-remainer, she wouldn’t be a popular choice with the party membership.

Philip Hammond? Too boring!

And Boris? Well, given that his primary concern is polishing his own reputation he’d have no interest in the impossible task of trying to deliver his referendum promises — instead preferring to come in “save the day” when the damage has already been done.

And given that no rebellion is ever going to have one of these people as a figurehead, it is unlikely to have any real success.

The main reason for this, is that despite many Conservative MPs (likely including those listed above) feel that Theresa May leading them into the next election would be inadvisable, they are terrified of the civil war they’d precipitate by deposing her. Since the referendum, most of the commentary on party divisions has focused on the Labour Party, and the stark divisions between the Corbynites and the Blairites. In fact, the Conservative Party are as (if not more) divided — up to now at least they’ve just been better at hiding it.

Any leadership election would be bloody and completely tear the party apart. And after all that, the likely outcome would be Jacob Rees-Mogg winning the leadership — a surefire way to never win a General Election. It is laughable that some seem to think Rees-Mogg — an Old-Etonian whose views on social issues would have been considered old fashioned sixty years ago — the answer to the Conservative Party’s problems with young voters. But this is the guy who Tory activists will likely coalesce around, and as such moderates in the Party will have to find their own single candidate to avoid splitting the vote.

This candidate is unlikely to come to the fore until shortly before the next General Election (still scheduled for 2022), with some suggestion from Ruth Davidson that she may be open to the leadership post-2021.

Given this current situation, despite what it may look like, Theresa May’s position is actually pretty safe for now.

Despite this, Boris remains a danger. Although he won’t lead a rebellion, he’s likely to continue to cause trouble. May can’t sack him (although given his conduct as Foreign Secretary, this would be a perfectly proportionate response) as that would risk turning him into a martyr — already popular with the party membership, he’d use the sacking to manoeuvre himself into the leadership, and it’s always better to have your rivals inside the tent. Instead, she should reshuffle him, which May implied in interviews published today that she might be prepared to do. Demote him by moving him to Business, still sufficiently Brexity but with more to do, in the hope that this will prevent him from going off-piste quite so often — wading into other policy areas and causing damage. Do this, and May keeps herself safe.

Despite the current furore, things will quieten down soon. If the Cabinet want to get rid of May because of the election result, then the time to do so was immediately after the election — to back her immediately after the election only to stab her in the back a couple of months later would reflect very badly on the perpetrators in the long-run. Plus, no one wants to become Prime Minister, only to have to take responsibility of Brexit.

Although her position looks wobbly, at the moment it is anything but.

The Lib Dems win in Richmond Park won’t stop Brexit, but it is significant for other reasons.

Zac Goldsmith, who lost his House of Commons seat in last night's by-election in Richmond Park.
Zac Goldsmith, who lost his House of Commons seat in last night’s by-election in Richmond Park.

The result of yesterday’s by-election in Richmond Park is an interesting one in that although it may foreshadow a somewhat remarkable political comeback for the Liberal Democrats, it is extremely unlikely to actually change anything.

When Zach Goldsmith forced this by-election following his resignation from Parliament over the Government’s approval of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, he did so to honour a promise he had made to his prospective constituents prior to being elected in the 2010 and 2015 General Elections. He hoped that he would be comfortably re-elected to served as a quasi-independent champion for those against the expansion of Heathrow. But, with all the major candidates running in this by-election being against Heathrow expansion the Liberal Democrats were able to turn the by-election into a referendum on Goldsmith’s support for Brexit, with candidate Sarah Olney pledging to vote against the triggering of Article 50 and to “resist Brexit in its current form”. In Richmond Park, whose residents voted more than two-to-one in favour of remaining in the European Union, this strategy seems to have worked. The Liberal Democrats were able to overturn Goldsmith’s majority of 23,000 with a swing of 30.4 percent, to ultimately win by almost 2,000 votes which, in a seat which Goldsmith was widely expected to retain, is quite some margin. The Lib Dems pro-EU stance clearly helped them win, but as Editor of The Spectator (and Richmond Park constitutent) Fraser Nelson recognises, it was also “it was a victory for good, old-fashioned campaigning. And the fact that it was, in effect, a two horse race. A referendum on Zac, and his decision to call a by-election.” The two-horse race point is particularly significant with the results suggesting that many who would ordinarily back Labour, switched to the Lib Dems to block Goldsmith. Labour candidate Christian Wolmar received 1,515 votes, which is less than the number of Labour members who live in Richmond Park, whilst there was also reports that many Labour activists were campaigning on behalf of the Lib Dems in the days before the vote. What this comes back to though is Goldsmith’s Brexit stance which, in a constituency as pro-Remain as Richmond Park, was never going to go down well.

But, although the Lib Dems victory was impressive, and there pro-EU message clearly had a significant effect, it is not really going to change the direction of travel. In short, despite what the Lib Dems have promised in campaigning for this by-election, Brexit will still go ahead. The Lib Dems now have nine MPs who will vote against Article 50. The SNP have indicated that all their 55 MPs will vote against Article 50, whilst five Labour MPs (David Lammy, Catherine West, Daniel Zeichner, Geraint Davies, and Owen Smith) have said that they will vote against the triggering of Article 50, as has Conservative MP Ken Clarke. This would make seventy MPs voting against Article 50, not nearly enough to ‘overturn’ the referendum by voting down Article 50. So to suggest that last night’s Lib Dem victory in Richmond Park will change the course of Brexit is pretty absurd.

Where it might have an effect however, is in highlighting the views of those 48 percent of voters who didn’t back Brexit, which may in turn lead to the Government pursuing more of a ‘soft Brexit’, i.e. leaving the European Union but looking to remain a part of the Single Market. This is something that many in the Government would likely support, and David Davis and Boris Johnson have both indicated that they may support something like this. Davis indicated yesterday that the Government would strongly consider a deal which involved paying into the EU budget in return for Single Market membership, whilst Boris Johnson is reported to have sad that he’s in favour of the continuing free movement of people between the EU and the UK.

However, overall this by-election is set to have a relatively small (if any) impact upon the direction of policy. Where it may have an impact is in the re-alignment of the political parties on the back of a Liberal Democrat resurgence. As Leader, Tim Farron has looked to establish the Lib Dems as a so-called ‘party of the 48 percent’, and the results in the by-elections in Richmond Park, and last month in Witney, suggest that he is being successful in doing so. Farron described last night’s result as, “ a remarkable, come-from-nowhere upset that will terrify the Conservatives.” It seems a bit strong to suggest that it will terrify the Conservatives, but it could certainly give the Conservatives some difficulty at the next General Election. Remember that it was typically Conservative surges in Liberal Democrat seats which secured them their majority at the 2015 General Election, and many of these seats like Bath, Cheltenham, Kingston and Surbiton, and Twickenham voted Remain in the EU Referendum. It would be unsurprising to see swings towards the Lib Dems in these constituencies similar to what we’ve seen in Witney and Richmond Park. In addition there are the likes of Wokingham and Chipping Barnet which both voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU but are occupied by Conservative MPs who backed Brexit, John Redwood and Theresa Villiers respectively. It would be unsurprising for the Lib Dems to also challenge in these seats.

But, arguably it is not the Conservatives who are giving the Lib Dems a way back. Given that the Conservatives have a huge lead in the polls (with a recent poll putting them on 44 percent — a lead of sixteen over Labour) losing a few seats to the Lib Dems isn’t really going be a blow to their chances of forming a majority government at the next general election. It is Labour who should really be fearing the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats. Labour’s terrible showing in Richmond Park highlighted their weaknesses, and this could allow the Liberal Democrats to squeeze them nationwide. Labour are going to forced to take a decision on whether or not they back Brexit very soon. Given the number of Labour constituencies which backed Brexit, the Labour Party are going to be forced to back Brexit or face seeing a UKIP surge under Paul Nuttall do the same to them in Northern England and Wales, as the SNP did to them in Scotland. But, this stance could have a negative effect in the urban areas which voted Labour in 2015 but also voted to remain the EU. It remains to be seen, but it does not look as if these voters have particularly warmed to Jeremy Corbyn, and so their vote is arguably up for grabs. What the Richmond Park result (and Labour’s terrible showing) highlights is the Labour Party’s complete lack of a voice on Europe.

The vote in Richmond Park was effectively a futile protest vote against the UK leaving the EU, and as a result it won’t exactly have the Conservatives running for cover. However, the same cannot be said of Labour. What the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats proves is that they have opponents everywhere. In Scotland, the SNP took almost all of their seats in 2015, and Labour show no signs of winning them back, having fallen to third in the polls behind the Scottish Conservatives who have surged on the back of Ruth Davidson’s strong leadership. In England, the Conservatives dominate Labour in all of the swing seats which are essential to forming a majority government — in the South and West of England, Labour are polling lower than ever. In the North of England, this week’s election of Paul Nuttall as the new leader of UKIP could put the squeeze on Labour at the next general election in areas which voted heavily for Brexit. Whilst the Lib Dems resurgence proves that Labour can’t be complacent in urban areas either.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats will be celebrating their win in Richmond Park and what they may see as a nationwide resurgence, Labour will be worried, as they are now truly teetering on a cliff edge.

So much for ‘Take Back Control’.

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On 23 June, the UK voted to leave the European Union on the back of a successful campaign from Vote Leave which emphasised taking back control and regaining sovereignty from the European Union. Indeed Vote Leave’s slogan was ‘Take Back Control’, and the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove repeated this phrase endlessly throughout the campaign, it seemed to be the answer to every question posed of them.

Alas, when the UK judiciary did take back control last week, those on the Leave side of the debate were not best pleased.

Last week, High Court judges ruled that Parliament had to have a vote on the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the article which starts the process of withdrawing from the EU and which has to be triggered before any formal discussions can begin between the UK Government and the EU on a trade deal amongst other things. Theresa May and her Government felt that they should be able to choose when to trigger Article 50 themselves, and has such they have suggested that they will be appealing the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court in due course.

The result of this court case led to huge anger from Leave campaigners like Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith, Suzanne Evans, and of couse The Daily Mail, all of whom cried (as they always seem to) that the ruling amounted to some sort of establishment stitch up.

However, wasn’t this exactly what they wanted?!

Their whole campaign to Leave the EU (which in economic terms was nonsensical) rested on the idea that the UK’s sovereignty was being impeded by the European Union. So you would think that there would be some pleasure in seeing UK Courts taking control of the situation.

But no, all we got was anger and even a suggestion from UKIP Leadership candidate Suzanne Evans that we should end the independence of the judiciary, with judges being elected to their positions — what a disaster that would likely turn out to be.

I suppose ‘Take Back Control So Long As The Decisions Made Are In Our Interest” wasn’t catchy enough for the big red battle bus.

What Leave voters need to understand (and very few of them seem to) is that the court case is not about stopping Brexit, indeed the vast majority of those who voted to Remain accept the result of the referendum. Full disclosure: I voted Remain myself, and was strongly in favour of remaining. Although I am still of the opinion that the referendum should never have been called it ultimately was, and I am willing to accept the result. However, just because the Leave campaign won, doesn’t mean that the views of the 48 percent who voted Remain should be completely ignored, we should be seeking some sort of consensus in order to unite the country. Equally, amongst the 52 percent who voted Leave, many voted for completely different things. Some voted to completely withdraw from Europe and all its institutions, some voted purely to retake Parliamentary sovereignty in terms of legislation, some voted purely to reduce immigration, many voted to leave the EU but still harboured a desire to remain inside the Single Market — including former Conservative MP Stephen Phillips who resigned on Friday.

Yes, the public have voted to Leave the European Union, but that does not mean we should just Leave straight away without the Government even thinking about it first. In my mind, there is surely no better way to do this than to put the issue to Parliament, to individuals who deal with complex legislation every day.

In addition, it is important for the electorate to now where the government stands on negotiating a deal with the European Union — where the government’s ‘red line’ is, so to speak. Given that Theresa May hasn’t been elected as Prime Minister, this is even more important. Yes, I know that technically we have a Parliamentary system where we don’t elect the Prime Minister, however I personally think that the vast majority of people cast their vote based in large part upon the party leaders who are the prospective Prime Ministers.

On this basis, it seems right that the government should call an early election in order to gauge public opinion about what sort of Brexit the electorate wants. For the government to go into negotiations in effect blind, means that there will definitely be a vast majority of UK citizens who feel disappointed with the results — likely including many who voted Leave on June 23.

As for those Leave campaigners who are still criticising the judges who made last week’s decision, they are playing a very dangerous game. As one of the more sensible Leave campaigners, journalist Iain Martin wrote in The Observer on Sunday: “we could try electing judges, or ordering judges to disregard and ignore the rule of law on the order of politicians, but the international historical precedents do not suggest it ever ends well.” Those Leave campaigners should stop to discredit and promote the illegitimacy of these judges. For them to continue to do so could be hugely harmful to the rule of law in this country.

They should remember that the decision is not a stitch up which aims to stop Brexit, but it is simply the court ensuring that Parliament plays its rightful role in the process, by providing a check to the government’s power.

Stop saying Trump is like Brexit!

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I personally don’t think that Donald Trump will win the Presidential election. I’ve said this ever since he announced his candidacy, and although by winning the Republican nomination he proved me wrong to a certain extent, I stand by my original prediction.

With Hillary Clinton surging to a lead of 11 percent in post-debate polling byNBC News and The Wall Street Journal, a Trump victory seems to be more unlikely than ever before. Nonetheless, I’ve lost track of the amount of times that I have read something which suggests that Trump ability to win is being massively underestimated, much like the way in which most people (me included) underestimated the ability of the Leave campaign to win in the EU Referendum. Generally this argument seems to rest upon the so-called ‘huge similarities’ between the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign, with these similarities allegedly suggesting that the victory for the Leave campaign in the EU Referendum foreshadowed a Trump victory in November.

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Does the victory of the Leave campaign in June’s EU Referendum foreshadow a Trump victory in November?

 

At first glance this rings true. On the surface, there are indeed some superficial similarities between the two campaigns.

Both campaigns have been led by charismatic individuals. Trump himself is inarguably charismatic, whilst the leading Leave campaigners — Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and erm…Michael Gove, managed to successfully pitch themselves in a more charismatic and optimistic way to their opponents on the Remain side.

In addition, both campaigns were built on a base of support which strongly felt that immigration had spun out of control and fundamentally altered the identity of their respective countries, and which is hugely distrustful of the so-called political elite.

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Vote Leave were helped by charismatic leaders like Boris Johnson. 

 

But, when you dig a little deeper, these similarities end.

Firstly, the arguments of the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign are not as similar as has often been suggested. Trump is vehemently against anti-free trade, and advocates strong protectionist measures. This wasn’t the argument of the Leave campaign. They were just as in favour of free-trade as the Remain campaign, where the two campaigns differed was simply how this goal could be best achieved. In addition, the political elite which Trump supporters distrust is based at home in Washington; in contrast to the Leave campaign, whose quarrel was with unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. In short, the US election is not a debate about sovereignty in the same way the EU Referendum was.

Secondly, the rhetoric surrounding the campaigns is very different. The Leave campaign was strongly in favour of reducing immigration. But, aside from Nigel Farage standing in front of some despicable posters, the Leave campaigners weren’t overtly racist. Donald Trump on the other hand, has consistently offered racist and xenophobic views; including the labelling of Mexicans as ‘rapists and thieves’, his suggestion that Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican ancestry precluded him from being fair, his suggestion that he saw Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks, and his long running campaign suggesting that Barack Obama isn’t an American. Add this to his seeming indifference to sexual harassment and his admiration for Vladimir Putin; and you’ve got a candidate who many people can’t morally bring themselves to vote for. Even those who agree with Trump on the economy and energy policy for example, can’t bring themselves to vote for a candidate who is so overtly racist, and who will nominate a Supreme Court justice who will roll back minority rights so significantly.

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Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin, and derogatory remarks about Gonzalo Curiel (among others), means that many people have a moral objection to voting for him even if they agree with him on economic policy or energy policy. 

 

Thirdly, perhaps the main reason that Brexit doesn’t foreshadow a Trump victory, is that the UK and US electorates are not directly comparable. Trump main base of support comes from white males, the same base of support that the Leave campaign could draw upon. However, the main difference is that in the UK, 87 percent of the electorate is non-Hispanic white, compared with just 63 percent in the US. In the EU Referendum, ethnic minority groups voted overwhelmingly to remain, however the electorate simply wasn’t diverse enough for this to make a tangible difference. In the US, it is estimated that more than 30 percent of the electorate will be part of an ethnic minority group. Throughout the Presidential campaign, most polls have fluctuated between the two candidates. However, one poll which hasn’t changed, is that ethnic minority voters have an extremely unfavourable view of Donald Trump. Given the high number of ethnic minority voters in the US, this can make a tangible difference on the result, unlike in the EU Referendum.

In addition, anti-EU sentiment had been brewing in the UK for many years, whereas Trump is a new phenomenon. Many in the Leave campaign had been working for years to cultivate sympathy for a leave vote, and this helped hugely when it came to the referendum. There is also the fact that even many of those who supported remain, were lukewarm in their feelings about the EU. This isn’t the case with Trump. Those who oppose him, are vehemently against almost everything he stands for, and will turn out to vote to ensure that he doesn’t become President. Those who support Trump at this election won’t go away overnight. In fact, they will perhaps offer their biggest challenge at the next Presidential election, where an individual more palatable to the wider electorate can act as their standard bearer. This was effectively the case in the UK for a long time. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) had been building support for years, but hit a wall in part because the vast majority of people couldn’t bring themselves to cast a vote for a divisive figure like Nigel Farage. Indeed, Vote Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings said this week that Farage’s unpopularity came extremely close to them losing the referendum, and that excluding him from the wider campaign was key to their victory.

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Vote Leave Campaign Director, Dominic Cummings, has said that Nigel Farage’s unpopularity with the wider electorate meant that excluding him from the campaign was vital for victory. 

 

Donald Trump’s unpopularity is on another level to Nigel Farage. Although Trumpian politics may take root for years to come, they won’t be electorally successful until someone less divisive than Trump is found to be the standard bearer (maybe Mike Pence in 2020?).

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Could Mike Pence be the long-term standard bearer for Trumpian politics?

 

Finally, it would be wrong not to consider the differences in the democratic mechanism used for the EU Referendum and the mechanism that will be used for the presidential election. In the referendum, the traditional UK constituency boundaries didn’t feature. This meant that there were no ‘safe seats’, and every vote counted. The US Electoral College system is different, as it means that the campaign can be primarily fought in the swing states. The election will mostly be decided in Ohio, Colorado, and Florida; rather than through a nationwide popular vote. This gives a huge advantage to the more organised and strategic campaign, and there is little doubt that this is the Clinton campaign. The way the Electoral College is set up gives a huge advantage to the Democrats. Since 1992, there are eighteen states (plus the District of Columbia) which have been won by the Democrats every time. Between them, these states encompass 242 electoral college votes, very close to the 270 required for victory. Hillary Clinton only needs to win a couple of the swing states to become President. Donald Trump on the other hand, needs to hold all of the states won by Romney in 2012, plus win all of the major swing states. This would be an extremely difficult task even for the most popular of nominees. For Trump it is nigh on impossible. Whereas the format of the referendum gave the Leave campaign a clear road to victory, the same cannot be said for Trump in this presidential campaign.

So, although there are certainly some similarities on the surface, Brexit certainly doesn’t suggest a Trump victory. So stop saying it does!