Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Did Cameron Save May's Bacon?

EVEL raises its head
David Cameron may have saved Theresa May's Government.  I'd been wondering why she was so fixated on getting a deal with the DUP that gave her confidence and supply but no other support and why she wasn't looking around for other options.  It made even less sense when you consider John Major's intervention noting that the DUP wouldn't bring her down while Corbyn was leading Labour - he knows a thing or two about tight majorities and how the DUP votes.  It might well be, though, that she doesn't need any other options, just support in any confidence motion and votes to get her Money Bills through, and she needs that tied up for any future sticky situation.  She might be in that strange situation and saved from oblivion thanks to a change that David Cameron brought in when he was Prime Minister.

Cameron needed to quiet his backbenchers who were harrumphing over more powers being vested in Holyrood and he introduced English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) which, in essence, stops Scots MPs, Welsh MPs and Northern Ireland MPs from voting on matters which only affect England.  Specifically, the Speaker issues a certificate on each piece of legislation that determines whether EVEL applies and, where it does apply, MPs who don't represent an English seat can't vote on it (there is a very simple explanation of the process on the UK Parliament website here if you fancy reading a bit about it).  This means that for great wodges of legislation the Prime Minister only needs a majority of English MPs to support it and she has a majority of 61 among English MPs and that's a working majority.  Where the EVEL certification is England and Wales she's in a tighter spot because the opposition has a 24 seat majority over the Tories in Wales - but that still leaves her with a 37 seat majority for England and Wales.


Confidence, supply and reserved powers
That means that Theresa May needs cover for matters which won't be EVEL certified - the most important of which are votes of confidence and getting budgets passed (without cover here her Government is always vulnerable - emptied if it loses a confidence motion and unable to function properly if it can't pass a budget) so the DUP covers her back on those.  That leaves the items in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 which you can see here or get a rough idea of from the Scotland Office guidance from 2013 (but note that it hasn't been updates as powers transferred to Holyrood) or you can get an idea from the Scottish Parliament website (which also needs a wee update as powers transfer).  You get the general gist, though.

If you look through that list you'll see that Theresa May won't be worrying about much of it.  Defence?  The big issue is Trident and Labour is hand-in-glove with the Tories on this - Labour will vote to renew, and even made the commitment in the manifesto where it said "Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent."

Immigration?  Remember Labour's immigration mug?
The manifesto has moved a little from a blunt closing of the gates but it's still in territory the Tories will feel comfortable with.  It's not so much "do this differently" as "we could do with different paint on the walls".

The constitution (they keep it unwritten, you know, much better that way) - on Scotland being able to take a decision on its constitutional direction of travel, Labour and Tories are dancing to the same tune, as the recent election showed.  On Brexit there is less difference between the positions of Labour and the Tories than there is considered thought in Boris Johnson's impromptu musings.

Foreign policy?  Long gone are the days when Labour ever aspired to an ethical foreign policy - the manifesto mentions it four times - three on page 116 where it says, repeatedly, that foreign policy should be guided by good intentions and once on page 122 where it says the same thing.  It's a conversation that goes "What's our policy on bad things?" " We're against them." "What about good things?" "We're for them."  In actual debate, though, you can't spot any real divergence between Labour and the Tories on foreign policy.

Welfare benefits is one area you would imagine there would be massive differences between Labour and the Tories but the evidence suggests otherwise - in July 2015 184 Labour MPs stood back and refused to oppose the Tories' welfare cuts - and claimed that it was fine because they'd said they were against it.  That wasn't the first time, either; two years earlier Labour MPs stood back and let the Tories and the Lib Dems change the law to avoid complying with a court order to give benefits claimants money that was withheld from them when they were sanctioned unfairly.  Earlier this year Labour Lords did the same thing on cuts to the benefits paid to disabled people, standing back and letting the Tories off the hook while passing a motion that said "we disapprove".

Nuclear energy?  Labour's manifesto has them supporting new nuclear power stations - just like the Tories.  On trade the Labour manifesto mimics current Tory policy, on employment there's little in the Labour manifesto (the Tory manifesto actually offers more action on employment than the Labour one), on broadcasting, consumer rights and data protection there's no remarkable difference between them.  They are, as the saying goes, like twa cheeks o the same bum!


Labour saves the Tories
So Labour will prop up the Tories on the issues which won't be EVEL certified, the Tories have a working majority on any issues which will get EVEL certified and all that's left to cover is confidence and supply.  Enter the DUP...

I don't know whether David Cameron likes Theresa May or what she's doing in government but I think he saved her bacon when he changed the rules and the irony is that it's Labour that will be saving the Tory Government where EVEL doesn't.  If you're waiting for another General Election you may be waiting for quite some time, unfortunately, and you may have to watch the Tories tap-dance through a whole parliament while Labour has to try to maintain discipline.  The wonders of an unwritten constitution, eh?  This may be excruciating.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Orwell and a Tory

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tories in Scotland, made a speech about Orwell (you can read the whole thing on the Tory website if you so desire but you don't have to) and what struck me is that no-one picked her up on what Orwell actually said.  The BBC covered it with a bit of a whizz-bang and quoted her saying
"Nationalism is about power, and its obsessive pursuit, and the dichotomisation of a population into the authentic and the inauthentic.
"Here in the second decade of the 20th century, despite his [George Orwell] efforts, nationalism is still confused with patriotism.
"That is because, too often, there are political movements that deliberately ensure that is the case."
She was referring to Orwell's essay Notes on Nationalism which is dragged up often by politicians trying to do in the SNP.  You can almost hear them say "Aha! Orwell said this and he wrote 1984!" and they frequently seem very pleased with themselves.  Firstly, here's a wee list of some of the 'nationalisms' that Orwell was critiquing - 

  • British Toryism
  • White supremacism
  • Semitism
  • Anti-semitism
  • Communism
  • Catholicism
  • Scottish nationalism
  • British jingoism
  • Neo-Toryism
  • Zionism
  • Pacifism
  • Class feeling
  • Colour feeling (almost the antithesis of white supremacy)
  • The feeling that you belong to the Proletariat
Orwell was writing while the Second World War was still being fought - the essay was first published in the month that Germany surrendered.  He gave an indication of some of the thinking that he was criticising in a section that referred to that war - 

If one harbours anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:
BRITISH TORY: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.
COMMUNIST: If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.
IRISH NATIONALIST: Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.
TROTSKYIST: The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.
PACIFIST: Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.
He also said -
In England, if one simply considers the number of people involved, it is probable that the dominant form of nationalism is old-fashioned British jingoism.
 That sentence, though, if read in its place in the essay, doesn't mean what it seems to mean when it's taken out and laid on its own like that.  It's important to get things in context, just as Ms Davidson failed to do in her speech when she said
However, all those caveats aside, the truth is that the nationalist politics identified by Orwell – the attempt to classify and label human beings into groups marked “good” and “bad” – has become a key part of our political practice in Scotland.
Someone less generous than me might ask whether she means good like the family making a tax credit claim that only contains two children and bad like the family doing the same that has three (unless the third is as a result of rape in which case they can climb back into the good group after filling in an eight page form).  Is it the disabled who are being told they are fit for work who are bad and millionaires paying less now in capital gains tax who are good?  Are immigrants bad but people stashing their money in tax havens good?

I don't know what Orwell would have made of modern politics or of the constitutional debates and it doesn't really matter, Notes on Nationalism is an essay written at the end of a global conflict at a time when the atrocities committed during that conflict were just being discovered.  It was five years before the United Nations was created and six years before the fledgling trade agreements from which the EU grew.  Orwell had been an anarchist, a socialist, a combatant on the Republican side in the war against Franco before working for the BBC creating propaganda during the Second World War.  His essay is a decent old read, but it is an old read and it doesn't say that nationalism is bad and unionism is good - he says that unthinking and amoral judging of groups of other people is wrong and that politics should be a thinking past-time.  This is the final paragraph of the essay and is worth reading - 
The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of Conservatism, or into political quietism. It can be plausibly argued, for instance — it is even possibly true — that patriotism is an inoculation against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against dictatorship, and that organised religion is a guard against superstition. Or again, it can be argued that no unbiased outlook is possible, that all creeds and causes involve the same lies, follies, and barbarities; and this is often advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual can keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them. I think one must engage in politics — using the word in a wide sense — and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one's own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognise that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.
It's a point of view, and an interesting one, but it's not the opinion that unionists would have you think he espoused.

Never trust a Tory - they're all bad ...