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‘Government’

Will HP Sauce cost MPs more after Brexit?

Traditional bottle with its image of the Houses of Parliament.

We have heard about the impact of Brexit on Marmite and Guiness, but there has been a strange silence about HP sauce. It got the name in 1895 after the inventor, a Nottingham grocer called Frederick Gibson Garton, heard his sauce was being served in a Palace of Westminster restaurant.

In the 1960s the association was strengthened after Mary Wilson, wife of the prime minister, told the Sunday Times: “If Harold has a fault, it is that he will drown everything with HP Sauce.” (source: Wikipedia)

At that time it was certainly available in the parliamentary eating places. I went with Bill Price, the MP for Rugby and later one of Wilson’s ministers, to get something to eat there.

Bill ordered two rolls overflowing with grated cheese, grabbed a bottle of HP sauce, opened up the rolls and poured what looked like half the bottle into them. For years after I could not eat HP sauce.

Certainly Bill was a man of unusual habits. Before becoming an MP he had been a reporter for the Birmingham Post in Leamington Spa where he was best remembered for breeding show mice in the office. Not long after he was elected I joined the Post: the person who showed me my office pointed out where Bill had kept his mice.

But that is digressing. For nearly a century HP sauce was owned and made in the English midlands.  In 1988 it was sold to a French business which in 2005 passed the sauce to Heinz which quickly moved production to a factory in the Netherlands.

Marmite owner Unilever, blamed the impact of the reduced value of the pound following the referendum for increased raw material costs, when it tried to negotiate higher prices with Tesco. Guinness is worried about the impact Brexit on border crossings between the Irish republic and Northern Ireland (Irish Times).  But I have heard nothing about the  impact on HP Sauce. Perhaps it could be exempted from import tariffs if Brexit is hard.

 

 

The silence of Teresa May and her ministers acquiesces in attack on judges

Silence is acquiescence. The silence of Theresa May in the face of yesterday’s newspaper attacks on the British judiciary tells us much about our prime minister and her cabinet.

The silence of her Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, has come under attack from a former Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, in today’s Guardian, pointing out that she has a constitutional duty to defend the judges. He writes:

 She needs to make it clear immediately that the government has no quarrel with the judges and has total confidence in them. Disagreement with the judges is dealt with by appeal not by abuse. So far Truss has been completely silent, no doubt waiting for guidance from a prime minister who appears so mesmerised by the fear of what the public may do or think that she is willing to throw constitutional propriety overboard.

Truss’s silence feeds the sense that the government is either hopeless at avoiding conflict or couldn’t care less about the constitution.

That a national newspaper, The Daily Mail, can run a front page with pictures of three judges over the headline “Enemies of the people” without being criticised by the government is extraordinary. That our government is failing to defend the separation of powers between the parliament and the judiciary, one of the corner stones of our constitution and democracy, is more extraordinary.

It is as if our government, many of its supporters and much of the official oppositions (the Labour Party) are rabbits caught in the headlights of the hard brexiteers steam-roller.

But not all. Dominic Grieve, a former Tory Attorney General, has done what Truss should have done yesterday. His analysis was forthright and the story in the Huffington Post starts:

The criticism of the judiciary over the recent Article 50 ruling is “chilling” and reminiscent of “Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe”…. He also described attacks the judiciary as “chilling and outrageous” and “smacking of the fascist state”

The Huff Post report on the silence of Theresa May continues

Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of the justice select committee, said the attacks were “threatening the independence of our judiciary” and had “no place in a civilised land”.
He told The Times: [pay wall] “Some of the things which have been said about the court’s judgment by politicians have been utterly disgraceful.
“All ministers from the Prime Minister down must now make clear that the independence of the judiciary is fundamental to our democracy. You have to respect that even if you think they have got a decision wrong.

Anna Soubry, a remain campaigner said media reports were “inciting hatred” and continued: “I think we have to call this out and say ‘not in my name’.”

Stephen Phillips, the Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, a brexit campaigner, who resigned his seat yesterday, said in his letter to constituents:

It has been a great honour to serve the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham for the last six years, but it has become clear to me over the last few months that my growing and very significant policy differences with the current Government mean I am unable to properly represent the people who elected me,

That goes to the heart of the problem. Too many MPs feel cowed by brexiteers to be “delegates” rather than fulfilling their constitutional role as “representatives”.

Those parliamentarians  who have spoken out against the attacks on the judiciary emphasises the silence of Theresa May, Liz Truss and other members of the Government.

 

 

 

An appealing plan to defeat Brexit from Lord Heseltine

It is good to see Michael Heseltine still has the spirit to swing the Mace even if today it is a virtual one. His idea is appealing: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage must lead the Brexit negotiations because if others did this the trio would campaign against any outcome as being unsatisfactory.

So they would have to negotiate and present the outcome to the Commons which would inevitably reject it as a big majority of MPs are pro-Remain. Then there would have to be a general election or a second referendum.

Lord Heseltine’s argument is appealing (BBC)  but we could not reach that stage without triggering Article 50. I would prefer it if Article 50 was never invoked.

And what would be the choices if we were outside the EU. It could be exclusion from the European free trade area or accepting something like the arrangement Norway has including membership of Shengen Area and rather larger payments to the EU.

What will happen in the next few months is impossible to predict but I sense that the mood in the country has changed quite a lot since Friday. Politicians are constantly telling us they “respect” the referendum vote. They would not need to say that if the they were bound by the vote. It will take time, but they might just come to exercise the sovereignty of parliament they insisted upon when drawing up the referendum laws.

If anyone is to blame for Labour not doing better it is the party’s plotters and whingers

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for saying Labour “hung on” in the elections. They did better than that.

In London not only did Sadiq Kahn win handsomely to become mayor, but the party strengthened its hold on the London Assembly by winning Merton and Wandsworth from the Tories and coming close in Havering and Redbridge.

Here in East Anglia, Labour strengthened its hold on three county towns winning more seats in Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge.

If Corbyn has failed to fully define policies is is because he has had to spend too much time trying to placate the rebellious faction of the parliamentary party which has been taking every opportunity to rubbish their own leader. It is time for these people to shut-up and give loyal support or resign.

Scotland was a disaster for Labour and it is a hard problem for even a united party to crack. Simon Jenkins had a suggestion in the Guardian:

The merger of Scottish Labour and Scotland’s nationalists must be on the horizon one day, perhaps when the present generation of former Scottish Labour MPs acknowledges reality. Scotland’s politics must snap out of its tribalism and recover the conventional left-right dichotomy. The success of the impressive Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, can only hasten that day.

That really will not happen, nor would it be a good thing if it did. There is surely space in Scotland for a left-leaning unionist party which would not be achieved by throwing in the towel.

But it also clear that Labour cannot win a Westminster majority alone. Nor would a coalition with small parties work: the only realistic partnership is with the SNP. And that would probably have to be on a confidence and supply basis rather than full coalition.

It is hard for English and Welsh Labour MPs to build a potential governing partnership with the SNP while relationships in Scotland relationships in Scotland are so poor. The solution may well be to cut the ties between the English and Scottish Labour parties and replace it with a relationship more akin to that with the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

If Labour is going to form a Westminster government in the foreseeable future it will have to find a way of working with the SNP and that is a huge challenge for Jeremy Corbyn even if is not having to spend half his time watching his back.

 

Labour tears itself apart while SNP opposes

A traumatised Labour party today looks in a worse state than it did the morning after the poll. Instead of accepting its job — opposing the Tories — it is descending into an unedifying internal battle about what might win the next election in five years time.

There is plenty of time to find the vision that will convince voters when the time comes. Battling about that vision between Blairites and the leftists is deflecting the party from the immediate question of how to make life difficult for Cameron.

Andy Burnham tells us he would ditch on of Ed Miliband’s more sensible policies of having no Europe referendum unless there was a substantial shift of powers to Brussels. He wants an early referendum and tough negotiations on immigration.

The Observer interviewed Burnham and reported he would,

overturn Labour’s policy of only holding a referendum if there were a substantial transfer of power to Brussels. He said he would back a referendum wholeheartedly, hoping for a new deal and a yes vote. He said the date should be moved for the sake of British businesses who had complained of continued uncertainty.

If there is to be a referendum it is best that it is done as soon as possible, but that is no reason to pander to the little Englanders. Cameron who has been pushed into a referendum by his backbenchers hardly needs the opposition joining them in demanding tighter rules to restrict free movement.

The risk of the county voting to leave the EU is too great to start playing games.

If Burnham really wants to make life difficult for Cameron he should have joined the SNP and Plaid Cymru in demanding that a vote to leave would need a majority in all the countries of the union. For a government which is pledged to rule for the whole UK and not just its southern heartland that is an awkward question.

It might also help heal the rift between the Scottish and English labour parties.

In the meantime the SNP has set out the key issues on which it will oppose the government and its Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, telling ITN:

Effective SNP opposition to the Tories will certainly be good for Scotland – but leading this progressive alternative will also be to the benefit of people throughout the UK.

Their opposition plan includes fighting the repeal of the Human Rights Act which is shaping up to be one of the most dangerous policies for the Conservatives with some of its own MPs preparing to defy the whips.

UK threatened by rule from the English shires

Tomorrow we face the very real danger of deciding the United Kingdom should be ruled by the English shires.

If the predictions are anywhere near right Labour will strengthen its dominant hold on London (an underreported topic in the campaign) and will remain the biggest party in Wales by a big margin. English parties do not contest seats in Northern Ireland, while the Conservatives were virtually wiped out in Scotland some time ago.

That leaves the prospect of the Conservatives, with Liberal Democrat allies, forming a government totally dependent on the English members from outside the capital.

We would not be in this position if both Conservative and Labour parties had not totally mishandled the Scottish independence referendum. First devomax was ruled out as a question on the ballots, then it was effectively promised in order to get a “No” vote.

In the aftermath of the vote, the Conservatives demanded English votes for English laws, which would create two classes of MPs at Westminster.

Scots, not surprisingly, were angry and are expected to vote solidly SNP tomorrow. Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out calling for a new referendum in the next parliament, although I feel she could reasonably go back on this if there is a UK referendum vote to leave the EU. She is campaigning for a distinctly Scottish voice at Westminster.

The Scottish Labour party will not be wiped out tomorrow: it will still have 38 seats in the Holyrood parliament and will still fight for Scotland to remain in the UK. That is an argument they stand a very good chance of winning as there is evidence that attitudes on independence have changed little since the referendum. It is only the maladroitness of English parties which will change this quickly.

But the entrenched positions taken during this campaign means Labour has some difficult decisions to make if it wants to be the next UK government. Miliband and Labour can hardly row back and go into coalition with the SNP which has wiped out Labour representation at Westminster.

It should accept that an effective Scottish Labour party which has 38 MSPs must be given independence to fight the SNP in Holyrood with a Scottish voice. It could still support an English and Welsh labour party as does the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

With independence kicked into the long grass for the next five years and Labour actively campaigning for the UK in Scotland, Milband could enter into an informal partnership with the SNP at Westminster and not have too much egg to wipe off his face. The two parties share much more than separates them.

It would not be easy for him, but it could save the UK. An English nationalist Conservative party trying to force through a referendum on EU membership and English votes for English laws would surely end the union.

Owen James has a good piece on this theme in today’s Guardian, English nationalism is out of the bottle, whoever wins.

Let the debate begin. But that will only happen if the Conservatives do not form the next Government.

 

If hyperbole fails try meiosis. Cameron finds economic news ‘less exciting’

The economic news today — GDP growth in the UK falling to the slowest rate in three years (Daily Telegraph) — was so bad David Cameron must have realised that the hyperbole he has been using was inappropriate. So he gave meiosis (use of terms that gives impression that something is less important than it is) a go, describing the news (BBC) as “less exciting” than the previous quarter.

Throughout the campaign Cameron and Osborne have been talking up the Conservatives economic success. While economists have been casting doubt on their claims (Two thirds of economists say Coalition austerity harmed the economy) most people seem to have believed them. Labour has signally failed to alter this belief.

I wonder who dreamed up the idea of dismissing the very bad GDP figures as “less exciting” but the intent was clearly to dismiss the figure as less important than it really is.

The Literary Devices website defines meiosis as,  “a witty understatement that belittles or dismisses something or somebody, particularly by making use of terms that gives impression that something is less important than it is or it should be”.

Is this playing with words or simply political rhetoric?

Time to break the political logjam and promise a federal UK and voting reform

Another weekend in this long election campaign and the waters are looking increasingly stagnant as the opinion pools show no significant change. It is going to take a very bold move to break the logjam.

With economics and spending options limited by the positions taken by all the parties having failed to give any clear advantage, immigration nastily tied up with proposals for an EU referendum and limited scope in foreign affairs, there is little left other than the constitution.

The prospect of the SNP taking almost all the seats in Scotland in this first-past-the-post election, means the time for a more proportionate coming system may have arrived. It would mean a loss of Westminster seats for the SNP, but they could hardly object to a system more akin to that used to select MSPs.

For Labour it would promise more Scottish representation at Westminster. The Conservatives are bound to suffer from the current single seat constituency boundaries which give a mathematical advantage to Labour, so there is an advantage for them too.

Both Ed and Dave should promise that their first Queen’s Speech should include a commission on a more equitable voting system.

Allied to this Labour should promise that whatever the outcome of this election, its Scottish wing would have a relationship with the England and Wales party more like that it has with Northern Ireland’s SDLP. The aim would be to detoxify the brand north of the border and allow it to provide stronger opposition to the SNP.

The biggest constitutional change would be to accept that the United Kingdom is on its way to becoming a federal state. Ed Miliband should promise that if he was Prime Minister he would include in his first Queen’s Speech a constitutional commission on federalisation. He has nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

For David Cameron this step would be harder as he has already promised English Votes for English Laws. But it is not too late to row back from this mad suggestion that Westminster should have two classes of MPs, a divisive message if there ever was one.

These proposals would probably be seen by many as kicking the issues into the long grass. Yet if the next fixed-term parliament could achieve a national consensus of governance it could yet go down in history as a great parliament.

Here are some links to thoughts on a federal UK. The topic has been missing from the election debate and only the first link is to an article published during the campaign:

Conservative Home: It’s a federal Britain or bust

Huffington Post: What’s the Problem With a Federal UK? England!

New Statesman: Union does not mean uniform

The Spectator: A federal UK? Home Rule all round? We have been here before.

The Atlantic: Should the United Kingdom Become a Federal State?

The Federal Trust: A federal way forward

Daily Telegraph: Keep Scotland in the UK – and give all the nations much more power

London School of Economics: A federal future for the UK: the options

Conservative Home by Peter Duncan: It’s a federal Britain or bust

Don’t tell me pensioners have been protected from austerity

It is not so much the “granny tax” that is making me angry but the suggestion that pensioners have been protected from the worst effects of the nation’s austerity. We are paying heavily, will continue to pay, and pay more because George Osborne thought he could slip a nasty little measure into his budget.

Pensioners who did what governments have always urged them to do and saved for retirement have seen big falls in income at the same time as the value of those savings falls.

It is simple to understand, but the defenders of Osborne choose not to. Interest rates on savings historically low while inflation coninues. At 1%, £10,000 invested produves £100 in income. Inflation is now 3.4%.

Even the functionally innumerate can see what that means. Future real income is cut by a “negative” interest rates.

Yes, this affects everyone with savings, including young people wanting to buy a home. But the elderly are mqore likely to be dependent on savings than any other section of the population.

Buying an annuity (a condition when taking most pensions) is no solution as the rates of those are also very low.

A financial adviser tells us we should be planning on the basis of my wife or myself living another 30 years. We are reminded that residential care is expensive.

So I get very angry when I hear appologists for Osborne saying pensioners have not taken their share of the pain.

Ipwswich politics: Calm down, dear(s)

Why are ipswich politics so much like a tussle outside a bar at chucking-out time? They seem to scream at each other rather than engage in reasoned debate, at least if you read their blogs.

To get an idea of what goes on you can look at the last three posts on Ipswich Spy which brings together bloggers of various allegiances and does its best to explain what is happening in a balanced way.

There was “Liar tag causes fury at council meeting” about a spat between Tory Judy Terry and Alasdair Ross (Labour).

Over an item about the local MP being reprimanded by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, the headline was a quote, “Mr Gummer, I do not think we need you to lead the cheerleading“.

And in the most recent post about a stormy council meeting headed Golden Key refused again, the Spy comments: “Is it any wonder the public think councillors are just in it for themselves and that ‘you’re all the same’ when there is no effective opposition?”

Some of the blogs by individual politicians get very nasty, but I had hoped they not did take their venom with them to meetings.