20.09.2019

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The Simple Politics guide to next week in Parliament.
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Some Brexit bits for you. You lucky reader.


Did you enjoy the Liberal Democrat conference?

Of course you did. What better way to get into the ideology of a party than watching them vote on many, many motions, indulging in a few speeches from the big hitters and scrutinising every word of a leaders speech?

The big Brexit news from the conference is that the policy on leaving the EU has changed. They now say that if they get a majority in the next election, they will revoke Article 50 and keep us in the EU.

They got some criticism over this with people saying they are anti-democratic for ignoring the referendum. Their response to this was to point out that it would only be if they got a majority, so they would have won 320 or so seats at an election. Which would be a democratic vote.

They currently have only 18 MPs, the Remain vote is split between Greens, Lib Dems and (some) Labour, so a majority is going to be very, very hard to achieve. That said, it's 2019, right? Anything could happen.


What else is going on with Brexit?

There is a fiant whiff of a deal in the air. The Prime Minister says that there is a 'landing zone'. Junker says that a deal can be done. What's more, is that, having said that the Withdrawal Agreement couldn't possibly be reopened, they've now agreed to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

The contentious issue with the WA is that it contains the Backstop. The function of the Backstop is to keep the border in Ireland completely open. The way it does this is that, after two years of transition, the UK keeps regulatory alignment to the EU.  That would stop any need for customs checks when people travel across the border - which thousands of people do every day for work, to see family or even to go shopping.

Johnson has said all we need to do is sort this deal is to get rid of the Backstop.  The EU have been clear that they're 100% happy to get rid of the Backstop. As long as we have another solution that gives us every single aspect that the Backstop fulfils. Every one.

Those clever people working out of Number 10 say they've got some pretty good ideas and have even sent the EU some 'non-papers' (what a wonderful term).  These 'non-papers' are ideas that we've had that could replace the Backstop, but that Number 10 doesn't make any commitment about. Things to discuss.  Already the EU has said that none of them go far enough. For example, they've completely rubbished the Trusted Trader scheme. If you're not sure what that is, don't worry, it looks pretty dead in the water to me.

This all raises a couple of questions: is there any scheme possible that can deliver all the benefits of the Backstop? Is Johnson negotiating in good faith, because he really wants a deal?  If solutions like forming a united Ireland area for food and agriculture are suggested, what does that do for Unionist MPs on both sides of the Irish Sea?  Is anyone still reading by this stage of the Brexit update section? While both sides are moving, slowly, closer, is there enough time to hammer out something everyone can get behind before 19th October - the date when the Benn Act demanding an extension kicks in? How much will Ireland's position change in the face on imminent no-deal?

That was all a bit technical. Apologies if I lost you in the weeds. Do feel free to replay to this email with any questions about this stuff. 


What about this big court case?

The Supreme Court has been busy. They're looking at four different cases that all boil down to whether Boris Johnson acted in a lawful way when he suspended Parliament. 

The hearing has lasted all week and some bits have been fascinating to watch. Some bits less so. One moment that has been both interesting and underwhelming at the same time was John Major's testimony. Because I'm a very exciting person who everyone wants to talk to at parties, I excitedly tuned in. Only to find that it was actually Lord Garnier QC, a former MP and big-shot lawyer who was speaking on Major's behalf. He had very interesting things to say, though and forward a compelling case.

Anyway. Both sides have been heard. Team Johnson said that this isn't a matter for the courts and there is no case to argue, while Team Miller said that he was acting to prevent Parliament from scrutinising his work which has to be unlawful.

The 11 judges are now considering their verdict and will come back 'early next week' with a decision. Whatever happens, it will be Big News.

Will there be a General Election in November?

General wisdom suggests that we're heading for a November election. Much cleverer people than me nod wisely and say that it's on. I don't think it is, though.

To have an election there has to be twenty-five working days from when the election is called before the day itself. The last day to call one for Thursday 28th November would, therefore, be Wednesday 23rd October.

That might be possible if Johnson has requested an extension on October 19th as required by the Benn Act. Opposition parties have said they'll agree to an election once no-deal on 31st October has been ruled out. Except that Johnson has said he would rather die in a ditch than ask for that extension. He'll have a team of people working on how he can get around the Bill.

One suggestion  - and I should thank Helen from Blonde Money for explaining this to me in single-syllable words - is that Johnson doesn't bring everything necessary to the Commons.  The EU Withdrawal Act says that we can only leave if three things have been 'laid before' the Commons and the Lords. These three things are a statement that a deal has been reached, that deal he says he'll make, and plans for the future relationship.  If the PM gets a deal he can bring it to Parliament, get it agreed and then not bring the future relationship to MPs in time for 31st October - so we leave with no deal.

Now, that's not necessarily what he'll do, it just means that a no-deal Brexit on October 31st can't be ruled out. Which means Opposition parties can't agree to an election in the week beginning October 21st. Which means we can't have a November election.

So what next? A Christmas vote? Unlikely, because it's dark early and it's cold. Conventional wisdom says that this makes people less likely to vote for the government of the day. Also, Father Christmas wears a Labour-red coat, that's campaigning money can't buy.

No, I think an election - because there will definitely be one at some point - is far more likely in the Spring. That's when all the flowers come out and there are lambs and everyone feels a bit more optimistic. Also, it allows Johnson to pass some eye-catching bills first. More police. More money for hospitals. More money for schools, etc etc, etc. That gives him a lovely platform on which to run.
The wonderful kids show I do with the excellent Tiernan Douieb has a couple of South East dates in the next few weeks.
Back out in the rest of the country soon after.
Art's Depot tickets
Hertford tickets

A big week for Labour


 
It's all happening in Brighton from tomorrow. The Labour Party go into their conference at a more perilous time than for many years.

The Liberal Democrats are gaining support from the Remain wing of the party, while the harder Leave fans are finding their home in the Brexit Party or even the Conservatives. 

The splits in their own party have been showing for quite some time. Since the 2017 General Election, 16 Labour MPs have left the party. Now, that's only 6.5% of the MPs and it's fewer than the Conservatives, but it doesn't show a party at peace with itself.

Then there's the Brexit policy. With supports on both the Leave and Remain sides, it's been a tough call for Corbyn.

The policy is now this: win a general election; negotiate a good deal that keeps us in the customs union and at least a bit of the single market; put the deal to a second referendum, with the choice being the deal or remain. There would be no instructions to Labour MPs on how they campaign in the referendum. Corbyn suggests he would stay neutral and let the people decide. Emily Thornberry has made it clear she would campaign to remain. At least some Labour MPs would campaign against the deal they just made.

It's a complicated policy, which isn't a problem in practical terms. Each stage is quite clear. The issue here is that it isn't as easily described as 'Revoke Article 50!' or 'Leave RIght Now' (that's a Will Young Brexit, BTW) or 'Second Referendum' and voters tend to like policies that are clear and easy.

Perhaps that's one reason why they are - according to Britain Elects' poll tracker - 8 points behind the Conservative Party in the polls. It's not just about polls, though, it's about winning swing seats. Corbyn needs to persuade people who voted Conservative or didn't vote at all, in 2017 to vote Labour in 2019 or 2020. In those specific constituencies, he needs to be actively gaining popularity.

What, then, are they going to do about all this?  Firstly they are going to present as united a front as they can at this conference. Tom Watson didn't speak in 2018 and there were many whispers of terminal splits between him and the leader. Well, in 2019, he's back. It's a happy family.  Add to that family, special seats at the front of the hall for all the election candidates. A united bunch, ready to go out and win those vital seats. 

Secondly, they are going to double down on what it means to have Labour values. They are looking at removing the changes to the famous 'Clause 4' of their constitution. It used to be all about fighting for the workers and public ownership of, well, everything. They wanted control over 'each industry or service'.  Tony Blair softened this a lot. He committed the party to be social democrats - who believe in using the free market to achieve socialist aims. There is no talk of common ownership.

The message to expect to come out of Brighton is one of unity and strength behind a common set of values.

The Week Ahead. 


Saturday  - The opening day of the Labour conference. As normal this is a quieter day than those which follow. I'm sure it will be on BBC Parliament from 2.30, but it's strictly for the purists only.

Sunday - London readers with children! My family, comedy politics show - that I do with the wonderful and talented Tiernan Douieb is coming to the Arts Depot in Finchley. We'll be on at 11.30 and 2.  Tickets are running out for the 2 pm slot, but there is still good availability for the morning show.

Away from the exciting show action in Finchley, the Labour Party conference continues.  Both the morning session (9.45) and the afternoon session (2 o'clock) focus on 'rebuilding public services'. One thnig I like about watching the Labour conference is that you get a mix of pre-planned speakers (union leaders, MPs, candidates etc) and a few people chosen from the floor. Without fail this makes a strong mix of very fired up and angry people as well as many 'first time speakers' who nervously make what can be compelling arguments.

Monday - Monday belongs to John McDonnell. The morning session is all about 'new economy'. There will be plenty of people queuing to speak before him about the need to reform our economic system so that it values people over profit, rewards workers not bankers and protects the vulnerable from exploitation. After that the man himself will take to the stage an outline what he and Jeremy Corbyn will do to make these ideas a reality when they win the next election.

Tuesday - Another day in which there is only one item on the agenda: 'tackling the climate emergency'. This is the topic on which Tom Watson is speaking, possibly because it's an area in which he generally agrees with the leader of the party. Expect passionate calls for more action to be done faster.

Wednesday -  The biggest day of any conference (except for the UKIP conference, see below for details) is the leader's speech. Having shed members and MPs who aren't big fans, the Labour Party is now controlled by, staffed by and populated by people who love Jeremy Corbyn. While you hear the chants of 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn' less on the streets than you used to, in this chamber you can guarantee it will ring out as loud and proud as the Red Flag. 

Corbyn has a difficult job here. He needs to talk directly to the delegates in the hall. Fire them up. Ready them for an election campaign that's coming.  He also needs to talk to the country as a whole and show that he's a Prime Minister in waiting. He'll need to be a passionate firebrand, the scourge of the establishment, the defender of the worker, the calm reasonable thinker, the gently persuasive warrior and maybe even the humorous man of the people. Combining all those things won't be easy.  Tune in at 12pm to see how he does.
 

The Other Conference this week


Let's not forget about UKIP. Sure, they've been pushed into the wilderness a bit of late. Lots of their members have become registered supporters of the Brexit Party. That's partly because many of them joined because of Nigel Farage in the first place and they'll follow him wherever he goes.

Things aren't going swimmingly for the party that won the EU elections in 2014. After a series of leaders and awkward moments, Gerrard Batten seemed to have steadied the ship somewhat. He had been elected as interim leader and had to step down after two years. He applied to stand again for leader, but the people who decide these things turned him down.

Instead, the new man Richard Braine was elected to drive the bus. His profile isn't as big as Nigel Farage's, nor Diane James, nor even Henry Bolton's girlfriend. In fact, hardly anyone knows who he is.

He has made headlines this week, but they've not been great. He's boycotting the conference because of low ticket sales. He had, apparently tried to cancel the whole thing, but was overruled by the people who decide these things (yep, them again) and it will go ahead. Single-day tickets are now being given away for free, although two-day tickets are still available for £40 (plus a £2.16 booking fee).
Ps - it's been another long one. Apologies. There is just too much politics right now!  See you next week for another Brexit breakdown and a preview of the Conservative Party conference.  I promise I'll try to make it shorter.
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