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Henry Hill: Johnson to spearhead pro-Union strategy with more visits to Scotland

Prime Minister plans more and longer visits north of the border

“Scots are set to see a lot more of Boris Johnson in 2020 as the Prime Minister seeks to strengthen the Union and up the UK Government’s involvement in Scotland”, according to the Herald.

Apparently Boris Johnson is planning on holding more Cabinet meetings north of the border, as well as making more visits and overnight stays, as part of his new and self-appointed role as Minister for the Union. According to one source that spoke to the paper, strengthening the United Kingdom will be one of the Government’s main domestic missions after January 31.

The regular visits serve two purposes. First, it is apparently hoped that Scots will warm to the Prime Minister if they see more of him, rather than merely the version of him that filters down through a broadly hostile political and media class.

Second, they aim to make Scotland appear a normal part of the prime-ministerial beat, rather than gifting the SNP the optics of such jaunts looking like official visits from a foreign potentate or remote “governor general”.

This will apparently fit into a broader effort to deliver a much more joined-up “constitutional strategy” for the Union than has previously been the case, combating a ‘silo mentality’ which has seen individual Whitehall departments operating in isolation. It will apparently also involve the British Government backing (and branding) more things such as infrastructure projects so that the tangible benefits of the Union are more apparent on the ground.

Hopefully this close material engagement will be matched by equally vigorous intellectual engagement with the state of the Union. As I wrote for The Critic this week, Johnson needs to wrest the thought-leadership of unionism away from the die-hard devolutionaries lest he end up defaulting to their non-solutions when the crunch comes, as David Cameron did.

One such figure is Gordon Brown, who popped up this week to insist that the key to keeping Scotland in the UK is yet more constitutional concessions to nationalist premises and the establishment of an elected senate.

Spotlight on Stormont’s lack of opposition

The Northern Ireland Assembly is back, alas. The various local parties might have almost immediately accused Julian Smith of essentially tricking them into returning (the demands for even more money were almost immediate) but too late, they’re committed for now.

With the initial will-they-won’t-theys disposed of, we now know that all five of the Province’s main parties – the pro-UK Demoratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists, the nationalist Sinn Fein and SDLP, and non-aligned Alliance – have taken up ministerial posts in the new Executive.

Yet this means that there will only be a grand total of five MLAs outside the governing coalition: two Greens, one apiece for the Traditional Unionist Voice and People Before Profit (both of which backed Leave, incidentally) and Claire Sugden, an Independent Unionist.

Owen Polley has written in the News Letter about how much easier it will be for ministers to circle the wagons now that the UUP and SDLP are inside the tent, even as Sinn Fein and the DUP are already facing charges of returning to the two-party ‘carve up’ that prevailed prior to the Assembly’s collapse. Meanwhile The Journal offers a different perspective, quoting academics who defend Stormont’s lack of formal oppisition.

It looks as if the best that can be hoped for, for now, is that increased Treasury vigilance over how public money is spent in Ulster – especially as Arlene Foster braces for the official findings on the “cash-for-ash” scandal – can offset the lack of domestic scrutiny.

But with the Northern Irish Office obviously committed to not taking responsibility for the Province, it is not obvious that the Government will have the leverage necessary to drive change through risk-averse, pork-barrelling local leaders.

In other news, the European Union has threatened to impose sanctions if Boris Johnson doesn’t enforce the internal border he has signed up to between Northern Ireland and the mainland, and Stormont’s finance minister is apparently not pursuing a cut in corporation tax.

Scottish Conservatives offers SNP a budget deal

Ever since losing their majority in the 2016 Holyrood elections, the Scottish Nationalists have passed their budgets with the assistance of their separatist allies, the Greens.

This has had the effect of dragging their economic policy somewhat leftwards, and so this year the Scottish Conservatives have drawn up an alternative. Murdo Fraser, the Tories’ shadow finance secretary, is talking up a return to something like the working arrangement that existed between the SNP and the Conservatives during the former’s first period of minority government after taking office in 2007.

In exchange for sparing Scotland various “madcap” Green proposals, the Tories would instead press to keep Scottish taxes harmonised with those in the rest of the UK, as well as a review of business rates. You can read Fraser’s case here.

However it may well be that the Greens end up rowing in behind the SNP regardless – they have previously been criticised for putting separatism before their own environmental agenda when push comes to shove.

In other news, Michelle Ballantyne has confirmed that she is “fighting to win” in the Tory leadership race, despite having initially entered it to prevent a coronation.

This week in the SNP

It’s been another fairly torrid week for the Nationalists. First, Nicola Sturgeon has bowed to MSPs’ demands for a full review into the Scottish education system.

Then an SNP MSP is under fire for refusing to represent constituents who oppose independence, whilst a former Nationalist minister has publicly argued that the First Minister could claim victory even in an unauthorised ‘wildcat’ referendum, arguing that the “political reality” would be independence even if the poll had been boycotted by unionists.

And there’s been a touch of sub-Stalinist history-editing over at the party’s official website, whose ‘History’ page no longer makes any reference whatsoever to Alex Salmond, the man who took them into government in Edinburgh, secured the 2014 referendum, and led the ‘Yes’ campaign. As good a sign as any of how the Nationalist leadership think his upcoming trial will go.

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Henry Hill: New decade, old story? Smith’s Stormont deal under fire from Tory MPs and Ulster parties

Smith strikes Stormont deal… but questions raised over trade, veterans, and cash

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister praised the “huge progress” signified by the return, after an absence of almost three years, of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

All five of the main Northern Irish parties have agreed to restore the Assembly and join the Executive – leaving just three MLAs to serve as the opposition. But less than a week on, cracks are already starting to appear in the facade of the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ arrangement.

First, as I wrote earlier this week, the deal has troubling implications for other parts of the Government’s strategy. The commitment to press ahead with legacy investigations has already sounded alarm bells amongst “senior Tory MPs”, including James Gray and Iain Duncan Smith, about the implications for Boris Johnson’s commitment to protecting ex-servicemen who served in the Province from ‘vexatious’ trials. Johnny Mercer, the Veterans Minister, has acknowledged that there will be “a lot of questions”, and the Prime Minister has this morning signalled that he will protect British troops, but it is difficult to see how that circle can be squared.

Likewise it isn’t at all obvious that the Government’s commitment to ensuring frictionless access to the mainland market for Northern Irish businesses can be reconciled with Johnson’s stated determination to go for a low-alignment Brexit.

But he is also facing a backlash from the Northern Irish parties themselves – inevitably, over money. The Government’s pledges to the Province, including Barnett consequentials, add up to £2 billion – much less than the £5 billion some are suggesting is the real cost of addressing Ulster’s challenges and less than the parties claim they were promised.

Of course, having already gone back into the Assembly there isn’t all that much said parties are likely able to do about it – and in the aftermath of the ‘cash for ash’ scandal it is perfectly just for the Treasury to take a close interest in what is spent on Stormont.

Carlaw and Ballantyne compete for ‘blue collar’ programme…

The Scottish Conservative leadership race is underway, and both Jackson Carlaw and Michelle Ballantye are setting out their stalls for members.

I wrote last week about Carlaw’s bid to establish his credentials as the herald of a new, ‘blue-collar’ conservatism. This has clearl struck a chord, as Ballantyne has this week penned an op-ed for the Scotsman in which she too promises such a ‘revolution’.

Meanwhile Carlaw, who has served as interim leader since Ruth Davidson stepped down and is the front-runner, has started putting meat on the bones of his pitch. In addition to stressing his experience, the Daily Record reports that his programme has shifted towards a heavier emphasis on devolved policy areas such as health, schools, universities, and broadband.

This is a welcome move. Whilst the Tories have revived their fortunes north of the border by rallying around the constitutional question, a more detailed programme not only demonstrates a seriousness about Government but would also leave the Party much better equipped to attack the Scottish Government’s underwhelming record at the next Holyrood elections.

…as Johnson and Jack hold firm against the Nationalists

Meanwhile in London the Government is holding to its tough line on a second referendum, with Johnson telling the Nationalists to “change the record” when asked about it in the Commons. Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, went even further, defining the Government’s understanding of “once in a generation” as that there should not be another referendum whilst Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister – or even during her lifetime!

In return the SNP have accused ministers of abandoning the Smith Commission agreement, drawn up in the aftermath of the 2014 vote to make good on the constitutional retreat promised by David Cameron in his panicked ‘Vow’.

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Henry Hill: Carlaw sets out his stall as the Scottish Tory leadership contest begins

Carlaw kicks off Scottish Conservative leadership contest…

Jackson Carlaw, the interim leader of the Scottish Tories, has launched his bid to win the position full-time with a warning to members about the extent to which the Party might need to change to win power.

The Daily Telegraph reports his saying that “even some well-established” policy areas might need to be jettisoned ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. Plans to set out a ‘blue-collar’ agenda could include dropping the Conservatives’ long-standing opposition to free tuition fees in Scotland, despite the s

Although Carlaw does not support radical change to the Party’s structures, especially the link to the British Tories, he has won the backing of MSPs sympathetic to such ideas such as Murdo Fraser and Adam Tomkins.

Senior party figures were reportedly hoping crown Carlaw in order to avoid spending three of the remaining 15 months before the Holyrood elections focusing inwards. However Michelle Ballantyne, the party’s shadow social security minister and a former nurse, has declared her intention to run if she can get the requisite 100 nominations from the membership. Writing in the Telegraph, she set out how her life experience gives her the very ‘blue-collar’ credibility which Carlaw intends to strive for.

He remains the overwhelming favourite to win. The real question is how he intends to fight the 2021 elections, and whether any candidates who have kept their powder dry this time might push for the leadership in the event of a disappointing result.

…as Scotland makes its present felt in the Labour leadership battle

The launch of the Labour leadership contest was remarkable, in part, for the almost complete absence of Scotland from analysis about the party’s election defeat and its path back to power.

Happily this is no longer the case, but the resultant debate has put a spotlight on a long-standing but growing division within the party about – or indeed, whether – to combat Scottish nationalism.

In an interview on Good Morning Scotland Jess Phillips set out her opposition both to Scottish independence and to another referendum on the question. She added that, in her view, Labour has suffered for not having clear stances on key issues such as independence and Brexit – and is probably aware that the party’s remaining Scottish vote leans heavily towards the Union.

Another strongly pro-UK candidate, this time for the deputy position, is Ian Murray, the MP for Edinburgh South. He has held his seat amidst two Scottish Labour wipe-outs in part by distancing himself from the wider party – at least one of his leaflets apparently featured endorsements from the Spectator and the Daily Telegraph but not the Labour logo.

Murray has actually refused to rule out creating a separate Scottish party, although he has not ruled it in either. This idea has been more forcefully advocated by Monica Lennon, the Scottish Labour health spokesperson, who believes that the reason for the party’s poor performance is that it is a ‘branch office’ of the UK party. There is frankly not much evidence for this, but an external scapegoat for political woes is not normally a difficult sell.

Clive Lewis has gone even further. Writing in the pro-independence National newspaper, he backed not only a separate Scottish party but also argued that the UK party should not stand in the way of another independence referendum should the Scottish Government seek one. Meanwhile a Scottish trades union leader has urged Labour to go so far as backing independence.

Johnson stands firm against Sturgeon’s referendum demand

The Prime Minister has hit out at the Scottish Nationalists, accusing them of fixating on independence in order to distract from their “abundant failures” in government north of the border. Boris Johnson highlighted critical areas such as schools and education where the Scottish Parliament has overseen falling standards.

Meanwhile Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, has confirmed that he has received a request for a second referendum from Nicola Sturgeon.

However he has reportedly said that it would be “completely wrong” to give the Scottish Parliament authority to hold binding votes on separation whenever it wishes, arguing that this would lead to a series of ‘neverendums’ wherein the SNP simply re-staged the vote until they finally won.

This is correct, but the case against actually runs deeper than that. As I have written previously, granting Holyrood the power to quit the Union whenever it wishes actually undermines what even the most mercenary federalist deems one of the UK’s core functions: the pooling and sharing of resources. The fate of the British State must always ultimately rest in the hands of the British Parliament.

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The year in which the British people forced the pro-Remain Ascendancy to “come to heel”

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-12-21-at-20.19.56 The year in which the British people forced the pro-Remain Ascendancy to “come to heel” ToryDiary Tony Blair Theresa May MP The Guardian SNP Philip Hammond MP People's Vote Lord Kerr Liberal Democrats Labour judiciary Highlights Gina Miller Financial Times Europe EU Dominic Grieve MP Customs Union civil service Channel 4 Brexit BBC 2019 General Election 2017 General Election

We opened the year by asking in our first ToryDiary of 2019: will this be the year in which the British people come to heel?

The phrase was John Kerr’s.  He is a former Ambassador to the EU; the author by his own account of Article 50 and (inevitably) a member of the House of Lords.  He liked the phrase so much that he used it in debates in the chamber twice.  Here is it is in its full unvarnished glory.  “We will huff and puff but, in the end, we will basically come to heel,” he said.

It is worth reflecting as the year closes as in what respects he was right and in what wrong.

Lord Kerr said that there would be no No Deal Brexit; that there would be agreement on money and on EU citizens as confirmed in Theresa May’s deal; and that there would be a transition phrase.  On all this he was correct.

He did not anticipate that the Commons would throw out the deal three times.  Nor that the UK would have the freedom, when a revised agreement came, to conduct its own trade deals.  “Mr Fox will say that he wants to be free to undercut the common commercial policy—but the other side will say that we cannot cherry pick,” he told the Lords.

This turned out to be mistaken.  The United Kingdom is leaving the Customs Union.  Northern Ireland and Great Britain alike will no longer be bound by the Common Commercial Policy, and thus able to benefit alike from trade deals with non-EU countries. (The matter of trade barriers between the two parts of the United Kingdom is separate-but-related.)

It was in this context that Lord Kerr used the term “come to heel”.  He went on to say that the transition period, and any future trade deal, would not be as good as EU membership.  In our view this confused trading arrangements with political ones, but there you go.  He has his take and we have ours.

Where Lord Kerr was undoubtedly wide of the mark was to suggest that, confronted by the prospect of Brexit, the Government might decide that the game wasn’t worth the candle.  “Maybe we will stop and think whether it all makes sense,” he said. [Our italics.]  “At at least we can remember that an Article 50 notification can always be withdrawn.”

The we here was plainly not the British people.  How could it be when Theresa May was Prime Minister, when Lord Kerr anticipated that her deal would prevail (plus Customs Union membership, in effect), and that no general election would (therefore) follow?  No, by we Lord Kerr plainly meant Ministers, MPs, peers, civil servants: the formal and informal apparatus of the state.

This site apologises for banging on – as we Eurosceptics tend to do – about a single peer.  But we believe that, on this last day of 2019, the question we asked about his words is worth revisiting.  Lord Kerr had forgotten all about the British people.  Or, if he had remembered them, he gave no sign of it.

For in the end, it wasn’t Ministers who decided to Get Brexit Done.  Boris Johnson couldn’t, because Parliament wouldn’t let him.  It wasn’t MPs, because they wouldn’t back his deal in sufficient number or force.  In which they had the support of a big slice of the civil service, diplomats, BBC editors, the Financial Times, the SNP,  Channel 4, much of the judiciary, the pro-revoke Liberal Democrats, the People’s Vote campaign, Philip Hammond, Dominic Grieve, Tony Blair, Gina Miller, the bloke in the kimono with the baseball bat, and the shambolically divided Labour Party.

No, what decided to Get Brexit Done was the all-but-forgotten voters themselves.  In 2016, they plumped for Leave in record numbers in a referendum, in the biggest vote ever given to anything or anyone in this country.  A year later, they did so for a second time, with over 80 per cent supporting parties pledged in their manifestos to deliver Brexit.  And this month, they backed Brexit for a third time, giving Johnson a near-landslide majority of 80 seats.

This was the real we – those that Lord Kerr had failed to remember; or put aside as of little importance; or assumed would simply know their place by also “coming to heel” in due course.  The British people.

As we put it on January 1: “into those mere three words [“come to heel”] is packed a universe of assumptions: about the supposed inevitability of Britain remaining in the EU – despite the British people deciding otherwise, in the biggest popular vote in our history; about the relationship between rulers and ruled; about the omniscience of an ascendancy class that crosses national boundaries, and so can’t be held accountable at all.”

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2018-12-31-at-10.45.58-100x100 The year in which the British people forced the pro-Remain Ascendancy to “come to heel” ToryDiary Tony Blair Theresa May MP The Guardian SNP Philip Hammond MP People's Vote Lord Kerr Liberal Democrats Labour judiciary Highlights Gina Miller Financial Times Europe EU Dominic Grieve MP Customs Union civil service Channel 4 Brexit BBC 2019 General Election 2017 General Election   We wish Lord Kerr a very happy 2020.  And hope that he doesn’t mind us adding that 2019 was the year in which he was forced to come to heel.  And the rest of the Remainer Ascendancy with him.  When he and they whistled, the voters turned the Nelsonian equivalent of a deaf ear.  When they whistled in turn, they and he were dragged helplessly along by the command of a democratic vote.

Which is as it should be.  The sooner he and they come to terms with it, the better for the rest of us.  And for them too, by the way.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Brexit. The story of 2019 in a single paragraph.

Theresa May pledges Brexit by March 29 over a hundred times but it doesn’t happen. DEFEAT.  She then promises it by April 12 but it doesn’t happen. DEFEAT.  She then says that she is not prepared to delay Brexit beyond the end of June but the end of June comes and it doesn’t happen. DEFEAT.  She has said that the European elections must not take place but they doDEFEAT. The Conservatives come fourth behind the Brexit Party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour with eight per cent. DEFEAT.  The Conservatives drop to about 20 per cent in the polls. DEFEAT.  May resigns and a leadership election takes places which Boris Johnson wins. VICTORY.  Johnson gets Parliament prorogued but is over-ruled by the Supreme Court. DEFEATThe Tory gang of 21 rebel and he loses his majority. DEFEAT. An extension is forced on him by the Benn Act. DEFEAT.  Which succeeds because he has lost control of the Commons timetable. DEFEAT.  Oliver Letwin and John Bercow have teed the Commons up for the Act. DEFEAT.  Johnson has commited to delivering Brexit by October 31 “do or die” but hasn’t. DEFEATHe seeks a general election and loses. DEFEATHe seeks it again and loses. DEFEAT.  His poll rating and the Conservatives’ goes up. WFT? He cuts a Brexit deal with Leo Varadkar. WFT? He presses for an election for a third time and the SNP plus the Liberal Democrats and then Labour let him have it. Ooops.  He wins the election by a landslide.  COMPLETE TOTAL AND UTTER VICTORY.  

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WATCH: Johnson attacks SNP over their Common Fisheries Policy stance

 

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Henry Hill: What the election tells us about the Tory position in Wales and Scotland

During the election this column put a spotlight on what the pollsters, commentators, and activists were predicting about the state of the election in Scotland and Wales.

On polling day itself, I highlighted the divisions between YouGov’s MRP model, which was playing an enormous role in shaping coverage of the election (mine included), and alternative sources.

A week on, we’re now in a position to take a look at the actual results and consider what it means for the Party – and the nation.

Welsh Conservatives pull it off

Let’s start with the good news. The Welsh Tories had a great night, picking up six seats – which is exactly the number we reported from local sources back at the start of the campaign.

The party picked up Bridgend, Delyn, Clwyd South, Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham, and Ynys Môn (Anglesey), as well as regaining Brecon & Radnorshire, which the Party lost to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election earlier this year. That last is significant because it opens up the possibility of wiping out the Lib Dems’ last Assembly seat in the near future.

Boris Johnson has thus matched Margaret Thatcher’s haul of 14 Welsh seats – and with room for growth. The Tories came within 1,000 votes of winning in both Alyn & Deeside and Newport West, and within 2,000 in Gower, Newport East, and Plaid-held Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

The results also highlight how, as in England, the nature of the Conservative coalition is changing. The Party is now second-placed in a a huge swath of Labour-held valleys seats and Plaid-held western seats, and is actually competitive somewhere like Torfaen, which in the Eighties returned Labour majorities of almost 20,000. If they can successfully woo those voters who went to the Brexit Party this time – and that is not guaranteed – there is a chance that the Conservatives could actually be competitive in parts of Welsh Labour’s remaining heartlands.

Meanwhile the Iron Lady’s 1983 landslide saw three Tories returned for Cardiff, whereas Johnson’s party went backwards in Cardiff North, the only seat in the city it has won in recent times. A weakness in urban seats is another thing the Welsh Party now shares with its English counterpart.

Overall the results were a vindication of the optimistic portrait painted by Professor Roger Awan-Scully’s ‘Welsh Political Barometer’ survey, who has written that a “quiet Tory revolution” is underway in the Principality.

Scottish Tories overtaken

Now the bad news. It was obviously an disappointing night for the Scottish Conservatives, who ended up losing seven of their 13 seats to fall to just six.

These confirm that the Party’s modern heartlands are much the same as in their previous period of strength. They retained all three Borders seats (Dumfries & Galloway; Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale; and Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk), thus sparing the blushes of Alister Jack, the current Scottish Secretary, and his predecessor, David Mundell.

Otherwise the remaining retentions were all in the North East of Scotland, with the Party holding on to Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, Banff & Buchan; and Moray, although it lost Gordon and Aberdeen South.

Unlike Wales, this is a vindication of YouGov’s MRP model, which ended up forecasting the Tories to hold eight seats in Scotland.

The question I posed in last week’s column is whether, or how, this could be right despite the overwhelming impression on the ground that the Scottish Conservatives had the wind in their sails. In the event the results squared the circle: there were actually swings to the Tories in almost every seat. Looking at a national map of Con-Lab swings one might expect a strong Conservative result north of the border.

What happened is the the SNP took in even more overs, overtaking the Conservatives even where the latter improved their performance. This was abetted by the collapse of Scottish Labour (YouGov actually forecast something like a recovery in its final model), who retained only a single seat.

I noted after YouGov’s first MRP poll that it appeared to be showing a lack of unionist tactical voting in Scotland, and so it proved. Perhaps because of Brexit, Labour and Lib Dem voters did not prove willing to transfer to the Conservatives in sufficient numbers – and it may be that they actually backed the SNP on the basis of their pro-Remain campaign.

Meanwhile even Tory voters, surely the most likely to vote tactically against the Nationalists, largely refused to do so. Whilst they rowed in behind the Lib Dems in North East Fife, helping to take it off the SNP, they refused to back Jo Swinson, who lost East Dunbartonshire by a couple of hundred votes whilst the Conservative candidate took more than 7,000.

Debate has already started on what this means for the Union. With a majority government its important not to overstate things – people expected the SNP to dominate the 2015 Parliament, but prior to the Brexit referendum they were a bit of a non-factor as the Government had the votes it needed to govern. Likewise, there is little evidence that the Nationalists’ Westminster showing signals a breakthrough for the cause of independence cause.

Strategically the Prime Minister does hvae some decisions to make – as our editor pointed out this morning when he called for a ‘Department for the Union‘. He will also come under pressure to abandon the Conservatives’ hard-line stance against granting another independence referendum, although as I have written previously there is a very strong practical and moral case for such a moratorium.

But there are also a couple of positive notes. First, the fact the Tories held their ground even in the absence of tactical voting suggests their voters might be well on the way to becoming actual Conservative voters, as opposed to borrowed pro-UK voters. Second, with Johnson harking back to a pre-Thatcherite approach to public spending his Government could end up closing the alleged “values gap” which has for so long served as one of the justifications for devolution and independence.

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The Politics of And. Securing the Majority. 3) Wanted: a Department for the Union

he phrase is Tim Montgomerie’s.  He used to deploy it roughly as follows.  Yes, politics means making choices.  But they doesn’t always have to be either/or.  The Conservatives can have immigration control and international development.  Green growth and more fracking.  Same-sex marriage and transferable tax allowances.

The new majority Tory Government won’t necessarily smile on these examples.  But it will want to follow the principle.  To this end, ConservativeHome is reviving The Politics Of And.  In one series, we will examine Securing the Majority.  In another, Growing the Majority.  Boris Johnson will want to do both.

– – –

So Cimate Change is to come out of the Business Department. And Trade to go back in.  And DfID to go back into the Foreign Office.  And immigration to come out of the Home Office.  Or so the briefing tells us.

Yet nothing very much is apparent yet on how to respond to the bad Conservative election result in Scotland.  The Party is down by seats by more than half – from 13 to six.

It’s all the other way round in Wales, where the Tory representation is up from eight seats to fourteen.  The Party won 36 per cent of the vote, only five per cent less than Labour.

Meanwhile, the two main parties in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, performed poorly.  As David Shiels noted recently on this site, the province saw an anti-Brexit, anti-absentionist vote.

Leaving the EU will see new opportunities and challenges for the United Kingdom as a whole.

In Scotland, the new Government says No to a second independence referendum.  Good.  That argument will be harder to sustain if the SNP sweep the board in next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.

In Wales, the new Secretary of State, Simon Hart, and the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly have new opportunities in a country whose electoral flavour is now more like, say, the Midlands than Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, there will be a settlement that leaves the province in much of the Single Market and with new east-west regulatory provision,

The new Government needs to think and act across the three territorial departments.

It also needs to harmonise whatever it does with continuing reform in England, which now hosts a sprawling patchwork of councils, mayors, police and crime commissioners.

Downing Street is mulling Lords reform to to give the UK’s constituent nations a greater stake at Westminster.  Reform will be part of the remit of the Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission announced in the manifesto.

Who will be in charge of shaping the Government’s response?  There is a Minister for the Constitution – Chloe Smith, now re-elected with an increased majority in Norwich North.

She is part of the Cabinet Office team, at the head of which sits Michael Gove who, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has been in charge of No Deal preparations.

He will require a new role after January 31.

So the obvious move is to make him Secretary of State for the Constitution, leading the media fightback against the SNP, forming policy for the UK as a whole and perhaps continuing working out of the Cabinet Office.

We have published 15 ways to Strengthen the Union and Jack Airey of Policy Exchange has written on this site about the Union and infrastucture.

There is interest in Downing Street in some of these ideas, such as promoting the Union more proactively, and one move it might make it is to appoint Lord Caine to the Northern Ireland Office. Or to this new department.

We must resist the urge to recommend Gove as the solution to every presentational and policy problem.

But it is hard to think of another senior politician at Cabinet level with the necessary policy and presentational oomph, and who can work with the Welsh Conservatives, plus Jackson Carlaw and the Scottish Tories.

There may also be new post-Brexit opportunities for the Party in Northern Ireland.  For example, it is clear that there is a potential opening for a non-DUP pro-Union party in North Down.

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How Vox Pub foresaw the Tory victory in England, but failed to predict defeat in Scotland

In vino veritas? Vox Pub spoke to drinkers in five constituencies during the general election campaign, to see which way opinion was moving. Did these drinkers offer a truthful indication of the final result?

The first visit, to West Bromwich, just over five weeks before polling day, was the most illuminating, for it showed that at this early stage Labour was already in desperate trouble. A woman in her forties who had “never been for the Conservatives” and always been “for the people” told Vox Pub:

“I will definitely vote for Boris, liar, cheat and fool! And for Brexit! I want to get out.”

A man, a bus driver, declared:

“Mr Boris Johnson, I like him. OK, he’s had a bit of argy-bargy with his other half, but that’s water under the bridge.

“Boris is having my vote without a shadow of a doubt. Round here, they’re all swinging to the Conservatives.

“It needs someone to kick Mr Watson [the local MP] off his pedestal.”

Tom Watson, who in 2017 held West Bromwich East for Labour with a majority of 7,713, did not wait to be kicked off his pedestal, but announced a day or two later he would not be standing again.

On 12th December, West Bromwich East was won by Nicola Richards for the Conservatives with a majority of 1,593, while in West Bromwich West a Labour majority of 4,460 became a Tory majority of 3,799. Vox Pub had noted on 6th November the passions which led to these results:

“Opinion polls tell us that Johnson is more popular than Corbyn. But what the polls cannot convey is the way people talk about Johnson, or the strength of their feeling about him and about the cause which for them he represents.

“These voters do not regard the Prime Minister as a saint. But they do regard him as the strongest champion for Brexit, a cause dear to them, and one which they are enraged to see other politicians deserting.”

The second visit, to Penzance, a month before polling day, revealed the desperate perplexity of Liberal Democrat voters in Cornwall who support Brexit.

Penzance is the largest town in St Ives, a constituency held by Derek Thomas for the Conservatives in 2017 with a majority of 312 over the Liberal Democrat candidate, Andrew George, who had himself been the MP from 1997-2015.

George was regarded as an admirable local representative, and was standing again this time. His problem was that the Liberal Democrats at national level had promised to revoke Brexit without even holding a referendum.

So many drinkers expressed their esteem for George that it was clear he might still win. But there was also a yearning in West Cornwall for a government that would actually get Brexit done. In the words of a fisherman who had stayed up all night with the skipper of his boat, the Ajax, watching the referendum result in 2016:

“All I want is can we please have a government that has some backbone. This whole Brexit has been an embarrassment. We look weak on the world stage.”

In the end, the desire for a strong Brexit government outweighed the respect felt for George, who lost by 4,284 votes. How infuriated he and other defeated West Country Lib Dems must feel with the national party.

The third visit, to Stirling, gave a completely misleading impression of how things would unfold there. In 2017 Stephen Kerr, for the Conservatives, won Stirling by 148 votes from the SNP.

Vox Pub reported, on the basis of conversations in two pubs at either end of the Raploch council housing estate, that the SNP “is losing support to both Labour and the Conservatives”.

This was wrong. The SNP won Stirling by 9,254 votes, with Conservative support down by only 650 votes, but Labour (which held Stirling from 1997-2015) falling from nearly 11,000 votes to only just over 4,000.

Vox Pub failed to pick this up. Instead of the Conservatives winning by entrenching themselves as the main Unionist party, the SNP won by entrenching themselves as the main anti-Conservative party.

The fourth report, from Bolton, just over a fortnight before polling day, provided an accurate account of how the election would play out there. In 2013, this site called for “a Conservatism for Bolton West”, a seat then held by Labour with a majority of 92.

In 2015, Chris Green won Bolton West for the Conservatives by 801 votes, which he increased to the still slender majority of 936 votes in 2017.

How much happier Green looked when ConHome met him during the 2019 campaign, for as he himself said:

“In 2017, the feedback was very positive, there were a significant number of Labour switchers, but then when things went wrong with the manifesto, the switchers were pushed away, we almost told those voters, ‘We don’t want your support.’

“Whereas this time so far we’ve been able to hold onto them.”

It became clear, after a number of conversations, not just that Green would hold Bolton West, but that the Conservatives were on course to gain another of the three Bolton seats:

“In Bolton, the Conservative vote is holding firm and the Labour vote is soft. If these trends continue until polling day, the Tories have good chances of taking Bolton North East.”

In the event, Green’s majority in Bolton West increased to 8,855, while Labour’s majority of 3,797 in Bolton North East was turned into a Conservative majority of 378.

The fifth and final outing, just over a week before polling day, was to Pimlico, in Cities of London and Westminster, where Chuka Umunna, a prominent Labour defector, was standing for the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives were defending a majority from 2017 of only 3,148.

Vox Pub found no evidence either that Umunna was breaking through, or that Labour was mounting a credible challenge. A voter who had arrived in London from Longford, in the Irish Republic, at the age of 17 said:

“I came over for a wedding and I got married myself.

“I worked in the gas all my life, saving lives. There were no f—ing foreigners around then. The Paddies had to do everything. I worked all my life, I worked my bollocks off, I never got time to get f—ing sick, not when you had to put the rent on the table.”

ConHome: “Who will you vote for in the election?”

The Irishman: “I’ve always voted Labour but the moment I saw Jeremy Corbyn I said no.

“I stopped voting for Labour when they sold off all the gold. The next thing you know they’ll be selling us down the river. They nearly bankrupted the country. You’ve got to vote for the Conservative.”

Labour had no economic credibility, and Nickie Aiken proceeded to win Cities of London and Westminster for the Conservatives by 3,943 votes, with Umunna in second place and Labour 1,472 votes behind him. But for that almost even split in the Opposition vote, the Conservatives would have been in trouble.

Vox Pub saw how four of these five contests could be expected to play out. Only in Scotland did we miss what was happening.

There is a warning here for English Conservatives, repeated a few days ago on ConHome by Andy Maciver. It is all too easy for a visitor from London to Scotland to fail to see what is going on, and to take an unduly optimistic view of Conservative prospects.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

How Vox Pub foresaw the Tory victory in England, but failed to predict defeat in Scotland

In vino veritas? Vox Pub spoke to drinkers in five constituencies during the general election campaign, to see which way opinion was moving. Did these drinkers offer a truthful indication of the final result?

The first visit, to West Bromwich, just over five weeks before polling day, was the most illuminating, for it showed that at this early stage Labour was already in desperate trouble. A woman in her forties who had “never been for the Conservatives” and always been “for the people” told Vox Pub:

“I will definitely vote for Boris, liar, cheat and fool! And for Brexit! I want to get out.”

A man, a bus driver, declared:

“Mr Boris Johnson, I like him. OK, he’s had a bit of argy-bargy with his other half, but that’s water under the bridge.

“Boris is having my vote without a shadow of a doubt. Round here, they’re all swinging to the Conservatives.

“It needs someone to kick Mr Watson [the local MP] off his pedestal.”

Tom Watson, who in 2017 held West Bromwich East for Labour with a majority of 7,713, did not wait to be kicked off his pedestal, but announced a day or two later he would not be standing again.

On 12th December, West Bromwich East was won by Nicola Richards for the Conservatives with a majority of 1,593, while in West Bromwich West a Labour majority of 4,460 became a Tory majority of 3,799. Vox Pub had noted on 6th November the passions which led to these results:

“Opinion polls tell us that Johnson is more popular than Corbyn. But what the polls cannot convey is the way people talk about Johnson, or the strength of their feeling about him and about the cause which for them he represents.

“These voters do not regard the Prime Minister as a saint. But they do regard him as the strongest champion for Brexit, a cause dear to them, and one which they are enraged to see other politicians deserting.”

The second visit, to Penzance, a month before polling day, revealed the desperate perplexity of Liberal Democrat voters in Cornwall who support Brexit.

Penzance is the largest town in St Ives, a constituency held by Derek Thomas for the Conservatives in 2017 with a majority of 312 over the Liberal Democrat candidate, Andrew George, who had himself been the MP from 1997-2015.

George was regarded as an admirable local representative, and was standing again this time. His problem was that the Liberal Democrats at national level had promised to revoke Brexit without even holding a referendum.

So many drinkers expressed their esteem for George that it was clear he might still win. But there was also a yearning in West Cornwall for a government that would actually get Brexit done. In the words of a fisherman who had stayed up all night with the skipper of his boat, the Ajax, watching the referendum result in 2016:

“All I want is can we please have a government that has some backbone. This whole Brexit has been an embarrassment. We look weak on the world stage.”

In the end, the desire for a strong Brexit government outweighed the respect felt for George, who lost by 4,284 votes. How infuriated he and other defeated West Country Lib Dems must feel with the national party.

The third visit, to Stirling, gave a completely misleading impression of how things would unfold there. In 2017 Stephen Kerr, for the Conservatives, won Stirling by 148 votes from the SNP.

Vox Pub reported, on the basis of conversations in two pubs at either end of the Raploch council housing estate, that the SNP “is losing support to both Labour and the Conservatives”.

This was wrong. The SNP won Stirling by 9,254 votes, with Conservative support down by only 650 votes, but Labour (which held Stirling from 1997-2015) falling from nearly 11,000 votes to only just over 4,000.

Vox Pub failed to pick this up. Instead of the Conservatives winning by entrenching themselves as the main Unionist party, the SNP won by entrenching themselves as the main anti-Conservative party.

The fourth report, from Bolton, just over a fortnight before polling day, provided an accurate account of how the election would play out there. In 2013, this site called for “a Conservatism for Bolton West”, a seat then held by Labour with a majority of 92.

In 2015, Chris Green won Bolton West for the Conservatives by 801 votes, which he increased to the still slender majority of 936 votes in 2017.

How much happier Green looked when ConHome met him during the 2019 campaign, for as he himself said:

“In 2017, the feedback was very positive, there were a significant number of Labour switchers, but then when things went wrong with the manifesto, the switchers were pushed away, we almost told those voters, ‘We don’t want your support.’

“Whereas this time so far we’ve been able to hold onto them.”

It became clear, after a number of conversations, not just that Green would hold Bolton West, but that the Conservatives were on course to gain another of the three Bolton seats:

“In Bolton, the Conservative vote is holding firm and the Labour vote is soft. If these trends continue until polling day, the Tories have good chances of taking Bolton North East.”

In the event, Green’s majority in Bolton West increased to 8,855, while Labour’s majority of 3,797 in Bolton North East was turned into a Conservative majority of 378.

The fifth and final outing, just over a week before polling day, was to Pimlico, in Cities of London and Westminster, where Chuka Umunna, a prominent Labour defector, was standing for the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives were defending a majority from 2017 of only 3,148.

Vox Pub found no evidence either that Umunna was breaking through, or that Labour was mounting a credible challenge. A voter who had arrived in London from Longford, in the Irish Republic, at the age of 17 said:

“I came over for a wedding and I got married myself.

“I worked in the gas all my life, saving lives. There were no f—ing foreigners around then. The Paddies had to do everything. I worked all my life, I worked my bollocks off, I never got time to get f—ing sick, not when you had to put the rent on the table.”

ConHome: “Who will you vote for in the election?”

The Irishman: “I’ve always voted Labour but the moment I saw Jeremy Corbyn I said no.

“I stopped voting for Labour when they sold off all the gold. The next thing you know they’ll be selling us down the river. They nearly bankrupted the country. You’ve got to vote for the Conservative.”

Labour had no economic credibility, and Nickie Aiken proceeded to win Cities of London and Westminster for the Conservatives by 3,943 votes, with Umunna in second place and Labour 1,472 votes behind him. But for that almost even split in the Opposition vote, the Conservatives would have been in trouble.

Vox Pub saw how four of these five contests could be expected to play out. Only in Scotland did we miss what was happening.

There is a warning here for English Conservatives, repeated a few days ago on ConHome by Andy Maciver. It is all too easy for a visitor from London to Scotland to fail to see what is going on, and to take an unduly optimistic view of Conservative prospects.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com