Friday, October 16, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: If you U-turn when you're not going anywhere, does it make any difference?

Monday 12th October
The campaign to stay in the EU launches today as Britain Stronger in Europe, led by Lord Rose, the former boss of M&S. It is packed with leading lights from the worlds of business (Lord Rose), politics (err… Caroline Lucas) and former presenters of T4 (June Sarpong). In fairness, all of them are passionate and effective campaigners and, no doubt, their numbers will be added to.
However, they face accusations that they are using fear to ward off people from changing the status quo. These accusations are dismissed, before the campaign describes leaving the EU as a “leap in the dark”.
Clearly, Lord Rose has enjoyed many relaxing, fearless leaps into the dark. I tend to associate them with falls, bruises and getting into regrettable situations in nightclubs.

Tuesday 13th October
It was only a matter of time.
The leadership of the Labour party was always on a collision course with the parliamentary party, and at last night’s meeting of the PLP, it all kicked off. John McDonnell told MPs that he has u-turned on the Fiscal Charter; George Osborne’s attempt to bind governments into running a budget surplus.
Labour MPs are disbelieving, not because they necessarily dislike this stance, but rather because they cannot believe they’ve got to this point in the first place. It looks inept and this flip-flopping has sparked accusations of incompetence. Ben Bradshaw MP described it as a “total fucking shambles”.
The weird thing is that many backbench MPs are considering defying the party whip, despite the fact that they describe the charter as “non-credible” and “not a good idea”. It seems that some will abstain just to register discontent with the leadership.
It appears that the Labour Whips’ job is now to take a near-daily no confidence motion on Jeremy Corbyn.

Wednesday 14th October
Rifts in the Labour Party are as obvious as the Grand Canyon, but those in the Conservative Party are a little more like the San Andreas Fault: very dangerous but seemingly ignored.
Today, there’s news that the Cabinet is split over the scrapping of a controversial £5.9 million contract to train Saudi prison officers. Michael Gove was against it. Philip Hammond was for it. As was Theresa May, whose interest in the Saudi penal system is concerning, given her recent hardline views on other issues.
With a high-profile human rights case in process, it appears that the PM has decided that this deal doesn’t look good. However, two similar contracts with a system which regularly lops people’s hands off are A-OK apparently, and so the government is maintaining those.
Supporters of the deal say engagement with such regimes is a way of achieving change, whilst disengagement achieves nothing. Perhaps, but it does seem curious that the theory of engagement meets with such absolute resistance from Corbynites. After all, what will his Middle Eastern “friends” think of that position?

Thursday 15th October
Unsurprisingly, George Osborne passed his Fiscal Charter last night. The Commons debate was largely for show, but John McDonnell still managed to use it to make his face even redder than it was earlier in the week.
He did so by acknowledging that his U-turn had been “embarrassing”. Unfortunately, a Tory wag made a funny just before McDonnell said the word “embarrassing”, causing Conservatives to explode into hysterics. So, whilst waiting for the noise to die down, the Shadow Chancellor ended up mindlessly repeating the word “embarrassing” four times, on top of his initial use of the word “embarrassing”.
Which was embarrassing.

Friday 16th October
The Fiscal Charter Fallout continues. The 21 Labour abstainers have been inundated with abusive e-mails from Corbyn supporters, demanding resignations and calling them “Tory lite” and a “waste of a space”. All for abstaining on a vote that the Labour leadership didn’t have a coherent position on. So much for the kinder politics.
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph has an anonymous quote from a Shadow Minister who said “Jeremy Corbyn has got no control over his party... It is only a matter of time before there's a resignation.” So much for party loyalty.
Infighting, division and accusations of incompetence and betrayal are serious – symptomatic of ineffective opposition, which was brought into sharp focus by the appearance of Michelle Dorrell on Question Time. She broke down whilst describing her forthcoming hardship in the face of the tax credit cuts, and the betrayal she feels given that she voted Tory in May, when they promised that child tax credit would not be cut.
Mr McDonnell said this week that he had not changed policy, but parliamentary tactics. Funny, because the policy changed, but the parliamentary tactics remained ineffective. Had he always avoided Osborne’s crude political trap, by abstaining from a vote on the stunt and asking how it helps people who are about to be vastly worse off, then this diary would have been very different this week, and the narrative would have been so too. 

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