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Yes, our system favours the established parties. But it is not invulnerable to change. This could be the start of a breakthrough.

When you leave a political party to which you have remained faithful for the whole of your adult life, and set out to form a new grouping, you have no idea what is going to happen.

Many observers of the departure of seven MPs from the Labour Party say that because the Social Democratic Party, founded in March 1981, failed to win the 1983 general election, the new grouping must be doomed to failure.

And it is certainly true that under our electoral system, new parties find it very difficult to establish themselves. The last to do so at Westminster is Labour, its rise assisted by the split from 1916 in the Liberals.

But that is not quite the end of the argument. In recent years, UKIP has failed to establish itself as a party of government, but it did force the Conservatives to promise a referendum on EU membership. The No vote in that referendum has destabilised both main parties, and may well have created the conditions for a major realignment.

And whether or not such a realignment takes place, the SDP deserves a subtler verdict than outright failure. Labour survived because it adopted many of the SDP’s policies. The 1983 Labour manifesto was from the point of view of the SDP intolerable, but the 1997 manifesto on which Tony Blair led Labour (rebranded as “New Labour”) back into power was in many respects a tribute to the SDP.

The success of Jeremy Corbyn and his friends can in turn be seen as a kind of belated revenge by the Labour Left on Blair. After decades of being marginalised, the Left has seized control of the party.

Its domination has led to the present rebellion. The seven MPs who lead it – Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith and Gavin Shuker – are evidently not such heavyweight figures as the Gang of Four – Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers – who founded the SDP.

But a rebellion of this kind can benefit from being underestimated. The unremarkable nature of the seven MPs may lead Corbyn and his friends to tell each other that no change of course is needed.

And a movement of this kind does not only depend on its leaders. One might even say that the SDP was hindered by having too many leaders.

What matters even more is the volume and enthusiasm of the followers. The creation of the SDP revealed the existence of a large number of people who were totally fed up with the existing parties, but were prepared to throw themselves body and soul into a new movement.

When Rodgers was wondering in the summer of 1980 whether to break with Labour, he records in his memoir, Fourth Among Equals, that

“David Marquand…urged me to make the break even if only three or four MPs were to follow. By staying, I might, he said, be able to keep the Labour Party from total self-destruction but I would not save it. The most I could achieve was ‘a ten-year (or 20-year) labour of Sisyphus, endlessly pushing the boulder up the hill only to see it roll down again’. It was a convincing image given the legitimate left’s continued tolerance of the wreckers, and the lack of stomach for the fight of Hattersley and others like him.”

In January 1981, when Rodgers, along with Jenkins, Williams and Owen, signed the Limehouse Declaration, in which they declared their intention to “rally all those who are committed to the values, principles and policies of social democracy”, and added that “the realignment of British politics must now be faced”, they could not tell what would happen:

“We knew that eight or nine other MPs would immediately join us and believed that we would soon get 100 names from amongst the great and the good to endorse our Council for Social Democracy. But otherwise we were in the dark about the response we would provoke, expecting to build steadily over a period of months to the launch of a new party. But the publicity given to the Limehouse Declaration brought a snowstorm of letters, which became an avalanche when the names of the first signatories to our Declaration for Social Democracy appeared in The Guardian on 5th February. I had letters from old school friends, former civil servants and, more predictably, men and women who had supported the Campaign for Democratic Socialism 20 years before. Instead of having to recruit, like Garibaldi, a thousand political irregulars with whom to start our bold campaign, we found that we had placed ourselves in the leadership of an army already formed and waiting…we decided to bring forward the launch to 26th March.”

Such things are inherently unpredictable. So are the changes and chances which may be offered in by-elections. When the Warrington by-election came up, Jenkins stood for the SDP, and astonished almost everyone by finishing in a strong second place, with 42 per cent of the vote.

Had Williams been the SDP candidate in Warrington, she might well have won, and become the new party’s leader, with a wider appeal than Jenkins. She was instead returned to Parliament at the Crosby by-election in November 1981, with Jenkins following at Glasgow Hillhead in March 1982.

Those were famous victories, which few would have predicted when the Limehouse Declaration was signed. Disappointment followed when at the general election of 1983, the SDP gained 25.4 per cent of the vote, but only 23 seats, while Labour, with 27.6 per cent, had 209 seats.

But although the obvious lesson of this is that the first-past-the-post electoral system favours the established parties, that law should not be regarded as immutable.

There comes a tipping point, not quite attained by the SDP in 1983, at which an insurgent party finds that first-past-the-post works in its favour. In the 2015 general election in Scotland, the SNP won 56 seats, compared to six in 2010, while Labour won a single seat, compared to 41 in 2010.

Our politics can be astonishingly volatile. If Corbyn and his advisers treat what happened yesterday as insignificant, it is all the more likely to turn out to be the start of something big.

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The Moggcast. He is “very concerned” delaying Brexit would allow “Tommy Robinson to win the European elections”.

You can also listen and subscribe to the Moggcast on iTunes, through our YouTube channel, or through the RSS feed here.

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

Iain Dale: As they prepare to vote next Tuesday, here’s why Conservative MPs should back May’s deal

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

One of the most common questions I get asked at the moment is: “What’s going to happen next?” As if I know any better than anyone else.

My best guess is that events are going to lead to Article 50 being postponed/extended, which in turn could mean that Brexit never happens. When Conservative MPs weigh up how they are going to vote next Tuesday, one point ought to bear heavily on their minds if they are Brexit supporters. If you vote against the deal, you will be putting any form of Brexit at risk.

For if the Prime Minister’s deal doesn’t pass next week, or whenever it’s brought back, there seems to be little alternative other than for the Government to request an extension of Article 50, either in preparation for another referendum or some sort of other deal.

We saw the Remain establishment at work on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it is perfectly clear that the Speaker will leave no stone unturned in helping Remainers in parliament put every obstacle in the way of Brexit.

Whatever the trials and tribulations No Deal might offer up, it surely couldn’t be worse than this absolute clusterf**k of a parliamentary shambles that Number Ten and the Prime Minister have created.

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When you’ve had a court case hanging over you for three years, I can only imagine the relief you must feel to be cleared of the serious charges against you. Craig Mackinlay was cleared of election expenses fraud this week, in relation to the South Thanet by-election of  and can now look to the future and put the case behind him.

However, the same cannot be said for Marion Little. I’ve known her for 35 years, and some of you reading this will have come across her in her role as an official at CCHQ.

She was convicted of two counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence. Sentencing Marion, Mr Justice Edis had some harsh words for CCHQ, accusing it of “a culture of convenient self-deception” and “inadequate supervision” which allowed or encouraged Little to break the law. He said that “Mrs Little acted dishonestly by preparing [election] returns she knew were not completed nor accurate. She had presented papers to Mackinlay and his election agent, Nathan Gray, for signing, which “they did in good faith not knowing what she had done”. She had been “carried away by her conviction” that defeating Farage was an “overwhelmingly important political objective”. Marion was given a nine month suspended sentence and fined £5,000.

She will be devastated by this verdict. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened, she is a professional party agent who has given nearly 40 years’ service to the party and is respected by all who she’s worked with. It is not for me to question the decision of the jury, but anyone who has had to fill in election returns knows how difficult it can be and, in that particular election, we all know the pressures people were under from above.

So in these circumstances I hope the party rallies round Marion, and offers her any support that she needs. It’s yet another example of someone down the food chain copping it for the sins of others. Perhaps she should have offered greater resistance to the instructions from above, and perhaps she should have spotted the dangers better but, whatever the truth of it, many party agents from all parties will be looking at this and thinking: “there but for the grace of God, go I”.

Let’s face it, the reason this kind of case hardly ever gets to court is because there is an unspoken conspiracy between the three parties to never complain about each other’s expenses. By and large, election expense returns are based not on fact but a work of fiction. The spending limits are so ridiculous that agents have to be incredibly creative in order to file a return that comes in a few pounds below the limit. They don’t actually lie – but the ‘notional’ expenses which you have to list often bear little relation to the real amount a campaign actually spends.

So when cases like this come to court, it’s often because they are brought by candidates outside the pseudo-cartel of the three main parties. It’s time for a wholesale reform of election law and, in particular, election expenses rules and limits. If the Electoral Commission had been doing its job properly, this would have been done years ago.

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I decided not to shave over Christmas and, much to my own surprise, I decided not to remove the beard when it came to going to back to work. I’ve never been a great fan of beards and I’m still not convinced I will keep it, but we’ll see.

Who was it who said: “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity”? Well, if that’s the case I probably won’t keep it for very long. I’ve always thought grey beards on middle-aged men look slightly creepy, and even though I keep being reassured I don’t look creepy, I’m not so sure. Maybe I did anyway!

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

Brexit: The Uncivil War. Graham gives us Cummings Agonistes – and a Tory work of art.

“Coming to a television set near you: Farage the movie,” the Daily Telegraph reported in August 2017.  “A major Hollywood studio is poised to sign a deal with Nigel Farage and Arron Banks to make a £60million, six-part film of Mr Banks’ best-selling diary of the referendum campaign “The Bad Boys of Brexit”.  The script is nearly finished and shooting will start in the New Year. The series will air in April, once the deal is signed next month at a meeting in Los Angeles.”

Eighteen months on, there’s no sign of the film.  Instead, we have a drama centred on the man who can claim instead to be the real winner of the EU referendum – Dominic Cummings.  There really is a God after all.  Or, if there isn’t, at least there is James Graham, who wrote Brexit: The Uncivil War, shown yesterday evening on Channel 4.

A virtue of his film is that it gets Banks’ measure, accurately nailing him as a comic sideshow. And an even bigger one is that it gets the referendum campaign’s, correctly fingering Cummings as the man who made the difference.  Had he not been appointed, Vote Leave might well not have won official designation.  Had he been deposed from it, the organisation would have collapsed.  There would have been no Take Back Control.  And, like it or not, that’s what the British people were persuaded to vote to do.

Banks has complained about the drama, though he may not yet have seen it.  So has the woman who has done so much to project him – Carole Cadwalladr.  He doesn’t like being played for laughs and she doesn’t like it side-stepping her conspiracy theories.  These were nodded to in the closing credits, and then a bit, but otherwise mostly avoided.

In a sense, though, one sympathises with both of them – at least, if one is hoping for documentary rather than drama.  We could offer a list of corrections and clarifications.  Douglas Carswell didn’t avoid parts of his former constituency.  Michael Gove made his mind up far earlier than the film suggested (though he kept quiet about it).  Cummings himself uses focus groups to test voter opinion, not random visits to pubs.  But all this would be beside the point – like expecting a piece of poetry to be a chunk of prose.

No, the real weakness of Brexit: the Uncivil War emerges from its greatest strength – that’s to say, putting Cummings, portrayed with eerie verisimilitude by Benedict Cumberbatch, at the centre of the film. For Graham balances out Cummings with Craig Oliver, then David Cameron’s Director of Communications.  This neat piece of parallelism sets them up as the contending antagonists of the drama.

But Oliver wasn’t really Cummings’ real-life equivalent.  George Osborne was Remain’s chief strategist, if anyone.  And he is missing from the film altogether in fictional form.  So for that matter is Jeremy Corbyn.  Indeed, the film is largely blue-on-blue action.  Back in the real world of the referendum campaign, Corbyn’s lethargy depressed Remain’s Labour vote, just as Farage’s energy, over a longer period, helped to deliver Leave’s core support.  Graham’s palette is striking for the absence of red.

Again, it’s worth stressing that art isn’t fact.  None the less, a structural flaw in a drama’s foundation can collapse it – especially, perhaps, if it looks back to recent events.  Some will say that the film fails to stand up because it has too much to say about Cummings and too little about others, or about the case for and against the EU itself: that it’s real title should be Vote Leave: the Uncivil War.

Others will claim, we think with justice, that the campaign didn’t pit head, in the form of rational Oliver, against heart, in that of romantic Cummings, as Graham seems to suggest.  Rather, two different emotions went head to head: fear and anger.  The drama shows a lot of the stoking of one but little of that of the other – Project Fear.  The balance between data and message on the Leave side is better, but it was the latter that counted most (at least, if you agree with Oliver which, in part, we do).

None the less, Brexit: the Uncivil War has an emotional strength at the heart of it: it gets why so many people voted Leave.  The focus group scene in which a woman makes it clear that she feels, ignored, by-passed, and treated as if she has no value – and will back Brexit in consequence – had the power of truth.

It’s a force that drives the progress of the plot, from Cummings stumbling upon “Take back control”  as a winning slogan through the failed coup to depose him through the campaigning switch to immigration to the very end.  A mention in dispatches, and then some, for Roy Kinnear, whose Oliver is a sleek fictional foil for Cumberbatch’s angular Cummings.  Graham may be a man of the Left, but something else entirely comes out of the near-final scene in which they square off against each other over a pint.

“You won’t be able to control it either,” says Oliver of the forces that Cummings has helped to unleash.  In the film, the latter can almost hear them, so finely-tuned are his sensibilities.  The drama begins with him picking up noise like a wireless picking up a signal – straining for it with a concentration that is almost clairvoyant.

Later in the film, he lies down, his ear pressed to the ground, in order to hear it better.  The noise is voices.  What are they saying?  Cummings may not be sure, but Graham seems to be.  Surly, turbulent, angry, swelling to a roar – this is the clamour not of a queue waiting to vote, but of a mob pitching the mighty from their seats.  We have before us not so much the ballot box as Pandora’s box.

Graham is not a Conservative, but this sensibility – this fear of riot, of disorder from below, of revolt – has been linked to the Right of politics for longer than the Left.  He might not thank us for saying so, but he has, in one sense at least, produced a Tory work of art.  There are worse ways of sketching a first draft of history.

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Iain Dale: Anti-semitism – and how Corbyn is vanishing into the deep pit he has dug for himself

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

When you’re in a political hole, it’s generally best to stop digging. Yet Jeremy Corbyn keeps buying new shovels. Nothing can get him out of the hole he has dug for himself on anti-semitism. Every day, it seems, there is a new revelation which demonstrates his attitude to the subject.

And still there are some of his diehard supporters who continue to believe that there’s nothing to see, and we should just move along. The fact that there are dozens to Labour MPs who are horrified by what is happening means little to Corbyn’s true believers. They are blind to any apparent failing their hero has, and instead think that those who call him out should be expelled from the party.

There’s no way back for Corbyn from this sorry debacle. He’s shown himself to be weak, indecisive and the opposite of a leader. Hodge believes Corbyn to actually be anti-semitic himself. I don’t. But I believe that he tolerates anti-semitism, and has no real comprehension of what the word even means.

His hatred of the state of Israel trumps everything. It’s also more proof of the hold Seumas Milne has over him. You just have to read the latter’s rantings in The Guardian over the years to understand where he’s coming from on the subject. I suspect that he drafted Corbyn’s non-apology on Wednesday, which memorably couldn’t even utter the word Israel. Instead, it was called ‘Israel/Palestine’. Criticism of Israel does not mean automatically that someone is anti-semitic, but in context it often does.

Many Corbyn supporters accuse the media of launching a witch-hunt against him. Just by covering the story we are ‘smearing him’. It’s apparently a non-story. They say we should be covering Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

When that story broke, I did a phone-in on it. If you remember, the self-appointed Muslim Council of Britain alleged there was widespread Islamaphobia in the Tory Party. But they could only produce nine examples over a number of years.

I have a lot of Muslim listeners, so I decided to test it out. I did an hour-long phone-in, and asked Muslims to phone into the programme if they could cite any examples. Not one could. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist but, in the two months since then, if it was indeed widespread, you’d think we’d have had a drip-drip of examples.

Unless of course the media wouldn’t print or broadcast them. Don’t make me laugh. I don’t doubt that there are Islamophobes in the the Tory Party. They exist in all political parties and across society. It’s an issue which needs to be addressed.

But let’s not try to conflate a small problem in one party with an endemic problem in another. There are masses of cases of anti-semitism which have been reported to Labour Party HQ, and masses too that have been reported in the media.

And yet there are still people, such as NEC member Peter Willsman, who say they have never seen an example on it. And this man sits on the Labour Party’s National Executive. Not only that, but he sits on their disciplinary panel. Has he been asleep during their meetings?

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My heart aches for Zimbabwe. I’ve never been there, but it’s clear it is the most amazing country, which has been completely ruined by Robert Mugabe and his acolytes. Its GDP per person is now only $2300, lower than that of Yemen. Only six pent of its adults are in full time formal work. Its currency is worthless. I could go on.

When Mugabe was toppled, there was a real hope that things would change. I spoke to a lot of Zimbabwean expats on my radio show, and many of them said that if the new regime proved things would change they would go back to help rebuild their proud nation.

The truth is that little has changed. Emmerson Mnangagwa – known as The Crocodile – has tried to put a new sheen on the Zanu PF government, and declared to the outside world that the country is ‘open for business’, but in reality things haven’t really changed at all.

We saw that in the election on Monday. It’s clear there was widespread electoral fraud and ballot-stuffing. In one town, with a population of 28,000 people, 35,000 ballot papers were counted. Zanu PF won all the seats in Matabeleland – the very area where Mnangagwa is alleged to have led the slaughter of 20,000 people during the 1980s. It hardly seems likely that they would have voted for him.

Meanwhile, it has to be asked what on earth the EU election observers were doing. Their only comment so far has been to regret the delay in announcing the result. What a waste of space they have been.

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On Wednesday, an Appeal Court Judge unwittingly made Tommy Robinson a hero. He was freed on bail over a technicality.

His supporters, who had been accusing the judicial establishment of a plot to lock up their hero, rather had the wind taken out of their sails when the judicial system actually worked as it should. They rather ignored that he hadn’t been found not guilty. A retrial will be held shortly.

But make no mistake, a new far-right hero has been born. The wretched Steve Bannon sees Robinson as someone who can lead a new so-called Alt-Right movement in this country. Ignore the fact that Robinson is a thuggish criminal and an Islamophobic bully.  Bannon sees him as articulate, with an eye for catching the media’s attention, and capable of galvanising people.

He’s right in that judgement, and I suspect there will be a lot of American money flowing into the Robinson coffers. His supporters are true believers. They worship at this altar, and see him as their true saviour. UKIP and its current leadership are going along with this. Gerard Batten is obsessed by Islam, to the exclusion of virtually everything else.

He’s made UKIP an irrelevance in the Brexit debate, but instead has gone out of his way to defend Robinson. He’s leading UKIP down a very dangerous path. The only way it can be reversed is if Nigel Farage returns to the political fray. I’m not sure he wants to, but many people are urging him to take up the cudgels again. Time will tell if he’s up for it.

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