Three things that aren’t going to happen

I’m seeing a lot of speculation about what happens now, following the General Election results. Well, I don’t really know. But here are three things I keep seeing discussed and suggested online that I’m pretty sure won’t happen:

Labour won’t form an alternative Government

There is no path to a Labour minority Government or coalition in this Parliament

In Israeli politics we talk a lot about a “blocking bloc”, a group of parties with enough seats that they can prevent alternative governments from being formed, even if the bloc itself doesn’t have a majority of seats.

The Conservatives have won 318 seats (discounting the Speaker). 318 seats represents a blocking bloc, assuming Sinn Fein MPs don’t take their seats.

For Labour to form an alternative Government, then, they need a minimum of 319 seats on a possible Queen’s Speech

Among the other parties:

  • Labour have 262 seats
  • the SNP has 35
  • The LibDems have 12
  • Plaid Cymru has 4
  • Caroline Lucas represents 1 Green seat

That adds to only 314, not enough to pass a Queen’s Speech over Conservative opposition.

Now, the DUP has won 10 seats. But the DUP has made it clear that they will not vote to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister. Young voters might not believe Corbyn supported the IRA, but the DUP were there and remember it well. Yes, the DUP share power with Sinn Fein out of necessity in the NI Assembly, but I find it impossible to imagine Corbyn passing a Queen’s Speech on DUP votes. At most he could try to convince them to abstain. But that wouldn’t be enough.

A DUP source has already made this explicit:

And so Corbyn will not become Prime Minister without another General Election, unless something very dramatic happens like a lot of Conservative defections. And Labour won’t get into Downing Street in this Parliament unless Corbyn does, eventually, go.

The DUP won’t force the Tories into a softer Brexit

The DUP has said it opposes a ‘hard Brexit’. It’s particularly concerned about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That border is completely open and isn’t even marked in many places. If the UK leaves the Customs Union and EEA (ie, a ‘hard Brexit’), it is very difficult to see how this situation can persist. It will become the only land border between the UK and the EU, subject to customs inspections, limitations on free movement etc. The DUP also knows that border restrictions might lead to greater support for Irish Nationalism; apolitical Northern Irish residents may feel it’d be easier to be a part of a united Ireland.

Theresa May will need some degree of support — or at least no active opposition — from the DUP in Parliament to be able to govern. So surely the DUP will soften the current Brexit plans?

Well… probably not. The DUP are pragmatic. They’ll do a deal to bring money to NI, and to get exemptions from equality laws, but they won’t try to do a deal that’s impossible.

And it is impossible, because another party won’t let it happen: The Conservative party.

There is a big section of the Conservative party that is obsessed with the EU. It’s all they care about. They relentlessly plotted against John Major, leading him to famously dub them “bastards”. They forced David Cameron into committing to an EU referendum in the 2015 manifesto. They accepted May as long as she pledged total fealty to the Brexit cause. If they get a whiff that May is backing down, they will move against her.

Some of these Tories are already briefing the Telegraph that she won’t be allowed to go for any of these softer options:

Theresa May has been warned by eurosceptic ministers that she will face a leadership challenge if she attempts to water down Brexit

Of course, the DUP know this too. They don’t want to leave the Single Market and they might vote against it, but they aren’t going to make it a condition of giving Theresa May supply and confidence.

The Tories won’t quickly replace May

When the election results started to come in, it became clear that Theresa May would not get a majority, let alone the stonking great majority she wanted. Immediately, speculation began as to whether she would resign. She’d taken a big decision that backfired. She was diminished by the election campaign and weakened by the result. Perhaps it would be honourable for her to go quickly?

But actually, May going immediately would be sort of a nightmare.

As described above, there’s no rainbow coalition waiting to take over. If May resigned, the next Prime Minister would be another Conservative, and another Conservative without a personal mandate. The voters would have reluctantly, barely chosen Theresa May and be lumbered with someone else.

On top of this, May herself was never elected by the Conservative Party membership. She became Prime Minister after her opponents plotted, voted and withdrew unexpectedly and quickly. But the short campaign never left Westminster.

If Andrea Leadsom had stayed in the race, would May have won over the membership to become Prime Minister? I don’t know, but I always felt that the members would favour the socially-conservative, Brexit-backing Leadsom over the MPs’ first choice.

Tory MPs must know that a contest won’t be a coronation this time. The party membership would have to choose the Prime Minister from the two final nominees, and one of those nominees would likely be a hardline Brexiteer who the members might love but the public could despise.

This leadership campaign would take a couple of months at least, and it would happen while the March 2019 deadline for leaving the European Union drew ever closer.

Does this mean May will last? I don’t know. It’s hard to see how she manages to keep Anna Soubry and Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom, Philip Hollobone and Sarah Wollaston all voting the same way on every issue. Empathy, humility and self-awareness are critical here, but her Downing Street speech this morning displayed none of these qualities at all.

But with the Fixed-Term Parliament Act preventing a quick dissolution unless the Conservatives vote for it, the mess of the process and the Brexit clock ticking, many Tories will just feel like they don’t have any choice. Replacing May is just much harder and riskier than keeping her.

Time For Another Labour Coup

Nine months ago today I confidently predicted that Jeremy Corbyn would resign.

I made this prediction because it seemed like the only realistic option. I noted that he would be leading without the confidence of his Parliamentary colleagues, that he wouldn’t be able to fully staff a front-bench, and that his leadership would become bogged down in local internal Labour politics at the branch level.

I said the Government would be able to dismiss anything he said in the House of Commons and that he would become a national joke.

I wrote:

In Corbyn, people will see a small, stubborn man unwilling to accept the reality of his situation; a ‘leader’ without followers, organising rallies about how great he is while his party withers. People might like Corbyn. They might even blame the PLP for a week or two. But after a while, all the public will remember is that the Labour Leader is the person who failed but didn’t take responsibility and didn’t resign.

PMQs will become a weekly torture. Mock the Week will make the Corbyn zombie leadership a constant joke. He’ll enter British cultural slang. ‘Corbyn’ will forever mean a leader without followers, a delusional refusal to accept reality, destroying one of the UK’s great political parties in a tragic murder-suicide. It will enter the political lexicon alongside Lansbury, Eden and Duncan Smith as examples of failed leadership.

And all of the above will carry on for FOUR YEARS. Four years of a Shadow Cabinet of 40. Four years of deselections, reselections, protests and rallies and threats. Four years of the Tories being able to laugh in the faces of the Official Opposition in Parliament and of the country laughing and despairing of Jeremy Corbyn in newspaper columns, TV comedy and even down the pub. Four years in which to kill off the Labour Party.

If Jeremy Corbyn stays on — whether he wins another leadership election or whether he avoids a challenge — this is the picture.

Reading back, I was correct in every respect except one. Jeremy Corbyn did not resign. He stayed. He is staying. And Labour is dying with him.

The conventional wisdom for a long time was that Labour had a hard vote-share floor of about 26% — people who’d vote Labour if it was led by Idi Amin or a tub of lard. Barring a party split, Labour would be wounded but limp on.

That wisdom is shifting. Labour is regularly polling 25% or lower in some polls now, while the Conservative Party picks up UKIP voters giving them a comfortable 15%+ lead.

And there’s every reason to think these polls are flattering Labour. Historically, polls have tended to overstate Labour’s vote-share. A YouGov poll today shows that more people voted for Labour in 2015 think Theresa May is a more suitable PM than Jeremy Corbyn than vice versa. More than half of current Labour supporters won’t say they prefer Corbyn to May, with many unsure.

When it comes to polling day, some of these people won’t be able to bring themselves to vote for Corbyn’s Labour party. 20% is no longer a ridiculous vote-share for Labour. Meanwhile, the Tories are closing on 45%.

The Invisible Opposition

Labour has disappeared from the public discourse altogether. After Corbyn’s expected second leadership victory, Labour MPs decided to stop publicly opposing him, but his naturally-terrible political instincts, his abysmal office staff (led by Seumas Milne and Karie Murphy) and his poor delivery have left the party leaderless and invisible.

Today was a prime example. Theresa May sent the formal letter starting the process of the UK leaving the European Union. Clearly, no other political news today will get any coverage. It’s wall-to-wall Brexit. But Corbyn chose to use all six of his questions at PMQs to ask about funding cuts, guaranteeing that nobody would notice them at all. His later response to May’s Brexit statement was shouty and ranty about stopping Britain being a tax haven or something, but there was no forensic questioning, no intellectual depth, no clever gotchas, just a lot of angry waffle.

This is especially frustrating because the Government is like a diamond: hard, shiny and impressive-looking, but deeply fragile and with an artificially-inflated value. It has a small working majority with rebels from both the moderate Cameroonie tendency and the Eurosceptic ultras. It is internally split between the True Believers (Davis, Fox) and the pragmatists (Hammond). Its agenda, ‘Mayism’ I suppose, is basically Brownism/Milibandism repackaged in a nativist blue box.

Already, the Government has been forced into retreats on big issues like National Insurance increases for the self-employed because it can’t guarantee a majority in the Commons for them.

A hard-hitting opposition could shatter this Government into pieces. But there is no such opposition. There’s no opposition at all.

Corbynism is eating itself

In the meantime, Corbynism is eating itself. Hard Left MPs like Clive Lewis are considered traitors for not sharing Corbyn’s position on Brexit. Owen Jones is branded a crypto-Blairite for pointing out Labour’s awful polling position and suggesting alternatives. Momentum has split into two warring camps each claiming to be the authentic organisation. Staff keep resigning from the The Leader’s office amid reports of bullying. And everyone is talking about the McDonnell Amendment.

The McDonnell Amendment is a rule-change proposal that would let an MP run for Labour Leader with the support of only 5% of Labour MPs’ nominations. The Hard Left needs this rule if they want another Hard Left candidate to replace Corbyn when he does, eventually, step down. Even many of Corbyn’s public backers say he’s only hanging about until he can ensure his successor is from the Hard Left. He’ll go once the McDonnell amendment passes and Rebecca Long-Bailey or whoever can be crowned.

The McDonnell Amendment needs to get though Labour Conference. This is overall unlikely to happen. Between reps from the moderate Unions and Momentum’s relative weakness at the CLP level, the Hard Left don’t have the numbers.

So forget the McDonnell Amendment. And no McDonnell amendment seems likely to mean Corbyn stays — trapped by Milne and McDonnell and the handful of nutcases who cannot and will not give up control of the Labour Party after 100 years of Labour leaders that they consider dangerously right-wing.

And so Labour sinks, slowly and quietly. It lost a by-election to the incumbent Government, something that just shouldn’t happen to the main opposition. People laugh at the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn ever being Prime Minister. Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is a joke.

Opposition Matters Now

Opposition should matter now because, unusually in politics, irrevocable decisions are being made. The Government is going into Brexit negotiations seeking to leave not just the EU but also the European Economic Area and the European Customs Union. Many supporters of leaving the EU argued at the time against leaving the EEA, and almost nobody even mentioned the Customs Union.

New treaties will need to be negotiated, with the EU and other countries. Huge amounts of EU law will need to be either replicated in statute or changed wholesale.

The only serious pressure on Theresa May comes from the Tory Right and the Brexit-mad papers. If the UK had had a functioning opposition for the last year, it’s possible that she would have felt pressured (or able) to take a more moderate path.

What’s to be done?

Nine months ago, Labour MPs voted en masse that they had no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Most of the Shadow Cabinet resigned. Jeremy Corbyn did not resign.

The MPs forced a new leadership election and united behind a single candidate from the Soft Left. I argued that this challenge was a mistake, but I understand why the PLP felt they had to offer an alternative. However, all the challenge did was renew Corbyn’s mandate, scare off more moderate members from the party, energise the Corbynite wing and bolster the ‘traitor’ narrative.

The MPs decided to keep quiet, stop criticising Corbyn and even serve in his Shadow Cabinet again. But this didn’t stop the ever-shriller cries of betrayal from Corbynites who insist that Labour is being sabotaged by #chickencoup #blairite #redtory #traitors.

Then, a few weeks ago, following Jeremy Corbyn’s tacit support of a second Scottish independence referendum, some MPs broke ranks and began criticising the leader again. But not very many and not very loudly.

Thinking too small

Labour MPs are thinking too small. They had a moment of bravery nine months ago, a moment where they understood the existential threat to the party. But then they got distracted by an unwinnable leadership challenge and decided that silence and acquiescence were a strategy. They aren’t.

So something must be done. Waiting until Jeremy Corbyn resigns after a 2020 election defeat is not good enough.

First, there’s no guarantee he will resign. Without the McDonnell Amendment, he may feel that he should stay on even then to keep Labour in the hands of the Hard Left.

Secondly, the party will be drubbed in that 2020 election and lots of the current MPs will lose their seats.

Finally and most urgently, the UK needs Opposition and it needs it now, not after the next election. There is no time to wait and no time to lose.

If Labour MPs are brave, unified and creative there are things they can do. They can elect their own leader of the PLP and seek to have him or her designated the Leader of the Opposition. Oh, and elect a Shadow Cabinet for good measure. Will the Labour party NEC really expel, say, 150 of its own MPs if they did this?

Or they could go on strike, picket Corbyn’s office, withdraw all cooperation. Force him to cross a picket line to get into his suite in Norman Shaw.

Or follow the example of Cato and finish every speech in the house with ‘and may I just add that Jeremy Corbyn should resign for the good of the Party and the county”.

And there’s always the nuclear option: resign the whip, form a new Parliamentary faction or full-blown political party and just start opposing.

The damage may be done

Yes, many of these options will result in MPs being de-selected by angry Momentum-controlled CLPs. Some of them will damage the Labour Party.

Tough. The party may already be lost. If Corbyn was taken ill tomorrow and a moderate became leader because no Hard Left candidate got on the ballot, the Revolutionary Guard of Momentum would wreak a long and painful revenge: de-selections, constant smears and a betrayal narrative that could poison the party forever.

The old Labour Party is dead. Whatever happens next, even the best-case scenario will be nasty and messy. Accept that, and maybe the risks become worth taking.

Top 20 crazy and funny-named parties in the 2015 General Election

Conservatives. Labour. Liberal Democrats. Scotish National Party. UKIP.


Luckily, there are loads of parties standing candidates in the UK’s 2015 General Election. Here’s the 20 most interesting, funny and crazy-sounding parties, taken from this rather longer list of all ‘micro parties’. Read on:


1. (An) Independence From Europe

This breakaway party from UKIP founded by former MEP Mike Nattrass is best-known for having a silly and confusing name, stealing an old UKIP ad in 2014, and for confusing some UKIP voters into voting for it by mistake.


2. Above and Beyond – Demanding a New Vision for Politics – Trying To Fix A Broken System



The Above and Beyond Party has the longest full name of any of the parties, a logo, a website and is contesting 5 seats. It has only one policy – that there should be a “none of the above” option on General Election ballot papers and that this would fix politics, somehow.


3. Al-Zebabist Nation of OOOG

The party with the strangest name, the Al-Zebabist Nation of OOOG claims to be a “registered political party and growing religious movement” with a “divine mission to free the Afro-Thanetian Zaliphate from the grips of Broadstafarian and English hegemony” and urges “Renounce Your White Skin”. Russia Today profiles the party:

‘Led by Prophet Zebadiah Abu Obadiah, real name Robert Bealer, the Al-Zebab party is campaigning for the separation of Thanet from England, the banning of “hetro-marriage,” the legalization of heroin and the consumption dog meat.

One of their most controversial policies calls for the complete eradication of Broadstairs, a small coastal town in Thanet, which Al-Zebab says is rife with “racist and fascist ideology.”

The party also campaign for tax breaks for bearded families. Children and women will have to wear fake beards, Zebadiah said.’

In case it isn’t clear, the whole thing is a joke designed to troll UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who is the candidate in South Thanet.


4. Beer, Baccy and Scratchings

Originally the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet party, the Beer, Baccy and Scratchings party was forced to change its name because the Electoral Commission decided that the word ‘crumpet’ was obscene and demeaning to women. Its leader Ray Hall is contesting Eastleigh.


5. Children of the Atom

A one-man party which wants to replace all money with a new type of ‘debt-free’ currency and radically reduce the population. The party website claims “We are rewriting our manifesto because people just didn’t get it”


6. Eccentric Party of GB

Lord Toby Jug and some other guy

A Raving-Loony-style party running against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge. The candidate, Lord Toby Jug, is campaigning to get no votes at all, after betting against himself at 50/1.


7. Hoi Polloi

Another one-man party, Geoff Moseley is a photographer who’s contesting Hornsey and Wood Green for the second time. I just liked the party name – Hoi Palloi literally means “the people”.


8. Justice for Men and Boys (and the women who love them)

A Mens-Rights anti-feminist party, Justice for Men and Boys thinks that women are the problem. Policies include massively restricting abortion, banning circumcision and enforcing child-support payments when the father has signed a written agreement to support the child. But at least they have a funny and somewhat creepy name.


9. Magna Carta Conservation Party Great Britian




I’d hoped that the Magna Carta Conservation Party was devoted to ensuring that our few full copies of Magna Carta were properly cared for, stored in temperature-controlled rooms behind glass and perhaps restored if they got damaged. Unfortunately it seems to be one woman who’s very upset about something to do with planning permission in Woking.


10. Manston Airport Independent Party

I’ve only included this because I originally misread the name as the Manston Airport Independence Party, which would have been much more interesting.


11. Population Party UK

Another one-man party that wants to reduce the world’s population. Their party website includes a quote from the Queen (“There can be no long term stability when the rate of population growth exceeds the rate of job creation”) which seems to be fictitious.


12. Removing The Politicians

Also known as “Rebooting Democracy”, this party was established about a month ago by former Green candidate Keith Garrett. It aims to replace elected politicians with “a system in which we will use citizens’ panels and assemblies instead of politicians, selected in a similar manner to juries, that will use evidence based policy making to work towards the country’s short, medium and long term goals. These goals will be set by referendum mechanisms so we directly get to choose where we want our country to go“. He’s standing in Cambridge.


13. something new (nothing borrowed. nothing old. something new.)

One of the more confusing long names, Something New is another one of the ’21st Century politics’ parties. They have alliances with the Whigs (yes, there’s a Whig party), the Pirate Party and Removing the Politicians/Reboot Democracy.


14. Stop emotional child abuse, Vote Elmo

A gimmicky campaign in David Cameron’s Witney constituency, the ‘party’ is run by Bobby Smith who’s campaigning for more access to his children. His policies include twinning Witney with Houston, Texas, so that they could put up signs with “Witney Houston” on them.


15. The Birthday Party

Dave Dobbs from his previous campaign for Mayor of Bristol


A vehicle for David Field aka Dave Dobbs, a South-West England campaigner who wants to encourage more engagement in politics and whose main policy is to hope for a miracle.


16. The Roman Party.AVE

Founded by French bus-driver Pascual Jean-louis, the Roman Party contests elections in the Reading area. With no website or published manifesto, I have to figure out its policies from the leader’s Twitter account:


17. U Party

The U Party inspired me to write this list, after I saw it was standing a candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn. Rather uninterestingly, it seems to be a vehicle for pension lawyer Robin Ellison and wants to reform pensions.


18. The Ubunbu Party – Apolitical


The Ubuntu party was founded in South Africa last year and now seems to have branches all over the world. The UK branch promises to abolish the Bank of England and aims to awaken global consciousness to create a world without money. The party also has a conspiracist flavour; the party ran in South Africa with a Holocaust Denier highly-placed on the party list, and the UK party posts things like this:

if you had a relative in the 1st or 2nd world war its time you knew these wars were to make the banksters money, rothschilds buildersberg in a nut shell. so keep in mind there in control now. this cabal doesn’t care that our loved ones are dead down to their greed.

Posted by Ubuntu Party UK on Saturday, April 25, 2015


19. Vapers In Power

This isn’t the stoner party I expected. Vapers in Power is a single-issue party campaigning against restrictions on e-cigarettes, in particular the EU Tobacco Products Directive.


20. World Peace Through Song




Two-Tier Exams

One of the commonest criticisms of Michael Gove’s proposals to reform England and Wales’ examinations is that it would recreate a two-tier system: more prestigious O-levels and less-good CSEs, instead of the universal GCSE that exists today.

The problem with this argument is that many commentators don’t seem to realise that GCSEs are themselves a two-tier examination system.

GCSEs have a wide grading system. There are nine possible grades obtainable at GCSE, A* (the best) to G and then U, which means Unclassified. Technically, anything other than a U is a pass-mark. Despite this, there is a de facto acceptance that a ‘Good GCSE’ is one with a grade of A*-C. School league tables measure the number of students obtaining A*-C. Many colleges, universities and employers consider anything below a C as effectively a fail-grade.

This is acknowledged in the structure of the GCSE exams themselves. Many GCSE subjects – including core subjects English and Maths – are formally examined in two different papers: Foundation and Higher.

The Higher track has possible grades of A*-D. Any student that takes GCSE Higher exams (and coursework) and doesn’t get at least a D fails all the way with a U grade.

The Foundation track offers grades of C-G. The absolute best that a student in the Foundation track can do is to get a C-grade, considered the lowest “good GCSE”, but it’s actually pretty hard to fail a Foundation exam outright. Anyone who actually gets a C in a Foundation paper probably shouldn’t have been sitting it; they should have taken a Higher paper and possibly achieved a higher mark.

In many schools, GCSE subjects with tiered exams are taught in ability-streams or sets, with the top classes being prepared for the Higher paper, the bottom sets learning material for the Foundation course, and maybe students in middle classes being assigned to a course by their teachers depending on performance.

This initial streaming, though, would usually happen at the start of the GCSE course, at age 14.

Interestingly, the Government’s own DirectGov website describes these as “tiers”:

…you have a choice of two tiers: ‘higher’ or ‘foundation’. Each tier leads to a different range of grades. Your subject teacher normally decides which tier is best for you.

Many private schools won’t offer Foundation papers at all and won’t sit students for them, so journalists who didn’t come up through the state system and whose children go to private schools might not have encountered them. Perhaps that’s why they haven’t been mentioned very much.

So is the Gove proposal really that different? I don’t know, and certainly there is at least some fluidity in the current system. A student who improves rapidly can be moved from the Foundation to the Higher track. Perhaps this could  be preserved betwen CSEs and O-Levels?

On the other hand, given that there’s already a two-tier system we might as well treat it with some respect. What would be more impressive: a low A in a future CSE or a high E-grade in a GCSE today? Nick Clegg’s answer would presumably be the latter, but it’s not clear to me that he’s right.

(Bad) ideas to stop the looters

People have lots of ideas about tactics that should be used to quell the mobs. Some of the most common ideas, though,aren’t very good.

This is because we keep talking about the “riots”, but what’s happened the last few days aren’t really riots. They have no political cause, no demands, no agenda. They have no single target, They are, on the whole, small groups of people out to steal and smash and burn. If the police protect shops then they’ll burn cars. When the fire brigade comes, they’ll leave and go back to looting shops.

Considering these robberies as “riots” had led some people to suggest that the police need to use the traditional tools of quelling riots. These are the wrong tools for the actual situation.

Water Cannon

Water cannons are a crowd-control measure that has never been us in mainland Britain. They are a bit like giant hoses on the front of armoured vehicles which pump out water under high pressure, and they look a bit like tanks. People near to the cannon will be pushed back and might be knocked off their feet. People further away will get wet. Water cannon can be used to break a large charging mob or a driven towards a stationary mob to disperse them.

Water cannons are pretty useless against small fast-moving groups of people who don’t really care where they cause trouble. They’re too big, too slow and too targeted. If they’re deployed at one end of a street the looters will hit the other end. If they deploy at both ends, the looters will hit the next street.

Tear Gas

Tear Gas is an irritating gas; it makes you cry, your eyes sting and it can even blind in high enough concentrations. It’s actually a fine powder, so when people rub their eyes they make it worse.

Tear gas can disperse crowds if it’s shot into the middle of them, but this can be dangerous to do unless the crowd is able to get away. It can also be used as a defensive measure to stop protesters crossing past a line.

Tear gas is more mobile than water cannon so it can be deployed more easily. But ultimately, it suffers from the same core problem – it moves on the looters down the street, or to the next street. It doesn’t stop them, arrest them or deter them overall.


This is just a rubbish idea, for two reasons:

  1. How are police going to enforce a curfew if they don’t have the numbers to police the mobs at the moment? People will break the curfew and be emboldened to start stealing.
  2. Curfews are to stop trouble at night. Yesterday the looting started before 4pm. I feel like a lunchtime curfew isn’t really an option

(inspired by a good tweet from David Aaronovitch)