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!

Getting Theresa May’s grammar school policy through Parliament won’t be a walk in the park for the Government.

If Theresa May is serious about her misguided plans for new grammar schools (and her words in Saturday’s Daily Mail seem to suggest that she’s deadly serious) then she has a serious fight on her hands.

The Conservatives currently have a working Parliamentary majority of just seventeen. This means that in theory, they should be able to pass this policy into law with ease. However, this ignores several key points.

Firstly, although the expansion of grammar schools has long been a policy which works well to excite the base of the Conservative Party, it is not an issue which the Parliamentary Party universally agree upon. Several high-profile members of the Cameron administration (including the ex-PM himself) harbour serious doubts about the wisdom of allowing new grammar schools to open. It was for these reasons that David Cameron didn’t pursue the opening of new grammar schools whilst he was in Government. Former Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan criticised the government’s plans this week, saying: “I believe that an increase in pupil segregation on the basis of academic selection would be at best a distraction from crucial reforms to raise standards and narrow the attainment gap and at worst risk actively undermining six years of progressive education reform.” It is well known that this view is shared by Mrs Morgan’s predecessor as Education Secretary, Michael Gove. Both Morgan and Gove remain very influential amongst the modernising wing of the Conservative Parliamentary Party, and so don’t be surprised if they work to derail the Prime Minister’s plans. After all, both are still smarting after being sacked from the Cabinet in Theresa May’s July reshuffle.

Morgan’s reservations were echoed by Neil Carmichael, the head of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, who said that the grammar school policy could, “distract us from our fundamental task of improving social mobility.” With no fewer than five other Conservative MPs having already expressed reservations about the plans, and current Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening not appearing wild about the idea, the Government’s majority is suddenly beginning to look very slim indeed.

Add to this the fact that the introduction on new grammar schools was not a part of the Conservative Party’s 2015 General Election manifesto, and the prospect of the policy passing through Parliament begins to look even more improbable. The Salisbury Convention means that, as a general rule, the House of Lords do not oppose the passage of legislation which has been promised in a party’s winning election manifesto. However, opening new grammar schools was not promised in the Conservative election manifesto. UKIP were in fact the only party who campaigned upon a platform of opening new grammar schools. This means that the House of Lords have free rein to reject the bill. Seeing as the Conservative Party do not have a majority in the House of Lords, it is to be expected that Labour and Liberal Democrat peers would be successful in voting down the bill.

In addition, although opinion polls suggest that the public are in favour of new grammar schools being opened, there hardly seems to be public clamour for the policy. In his column in Sunday’s Observer, Andrew Rawnsley suggested that the polls were misleading and simply suggested high support for grammar schools because most people don’t know what grammar schools really are, and what more of them would actually mean. This seems to be a somewhat accurate analysis. Perhaps a more pertinent question would be to poll the electorate on their support for the return of Secondary Moderns, the hated institutions where those who didn’t get into a grammar school ended up. Although Theresa May has said that new grammar schools would not mean a return to Secondary Moderns, it is hard to see what else it could mean. When this becomes clear, it would be unsurprising to see poll numbers in support of new grammar schools fall rapidly.

Overall, this plan seems a complete waste of time for Theresa May and her Government. The chances of getting it through Parliament appear slim at best. Ultimately, if she really wants to open new grammar schools then she will need to call an early election to gain her own mandate for the plans. Yes, that early election that the Prime Minister keeps insisting she won’t be calling.

Alternatively, she could continue governing and aim for some actual reform rather than a rehashed policy aimed purely at appeasing the Conservative Party base.