Thursday, 14 July 2016

David Cameron’s last goodbye

Commons sketch for The Record

“I was the future once,” said David Cameron as he bookended his career with the barb he used so effectively against Tony Blair on his first outing at the Commons despatch box.

Yesterday,  11 years later, six of them as Prime Minister, Cameron called it a day.

The scaffolding of Westminster is ritual and while the weekly jousts in the Commons follow a set pattern greater expectation is placed on occasions like the departure of a Prime Minister. 

David Cameron, who was to the despatch box as to the Manor born, did not disappoint.
With wit, both smooth and savage, he gave the Commons a reminder of what it is losing, a showman who could use the political stage every bit as effectively as Tony Blair. 

The atmosphere was variety hall light and comical, from the roars of Tory cheers that greeted the Prime Minister to the even bigger roar they gave Jeremy Corbyn. 

Cameron himself turned it into a Monty Python sketch, comparing po-faced Corby to the tenacious Black Knight in the Holy Grail film, who doesn’t accept he’s beaten even when all his limbs are cut off.

The opposition leader ploughed on with earnest questions about homelessness to a PM who looked fairly unbothered about becoming homeless himself later in the day.

As the mockery of Labour continued only one person wasn’t laughing. Hilary Benn, a man fit to be Foreign Secretary sacked by a man who can’t be a Prime Minister, stood at the end of the Labour frontbench.

He looked down Corbyn’s row of second-elevens, a grievous face as if he had just arrived from a funeral.

The debris of a life in political battle were all around. Boris Johnson in the far corner of the chamber, about as far from that despatch box as you can get while still smelling power.

There was Michael Gove, lip-biting in a mob of MPs standing by the double doors as the PM emphasised the duty of public service. On the front bench George Osborne whispered advice in his friend’s ear one last time as Theresa May, a serene, necklaced swan waited for the tide of fortune. 

To paraphrase Dennis Skinner, all politicians do not tell lies. If they did there would have been more than 12 volumes of the Chilcot report on the Commons table for the Iraq debate later in the afternoon.

But the PM did tell a final untruth when he declared his love for Larry, the Downing Street cat. As proof Cameron produced a picture of the moggie in his lap but it made him look like a second-hand Bond villain. It was the only time in the half hour when praise rang false.

Finally the Labour leader caught the atmosphere, teasing Cameron about a possible future on Strictly Come Dancing.

No paso doble, replied Cameron to the Islington revolutionary more used to chanting “no pasaran”.

But even after the ribbing Corbyn was generous in his send-off, referencing the sacrifice of political families and thanking Cameron’s mother for advice on dressing properly, which he admitted he was considering. 

All political careers end in failure, except Ken Clarke’s, the best leader the Conservative Party never had. His gets sweeter with each passing decade and there were warm exchanges between Clarke and the soon to be grandee who’d been sacked as a special adviser by the great man in 1993.

It has all been downhill for Cameron from there, you could argue. 

Cameron’s downfall is writ large in one word - Brexit - but only the SNP was so deaf to the mood as to mention that yesterday.

Angus Robertson cooled the air with serious questions about remembering the Srebrenica massacre and the Brexit vote.

Robertson, who joins the Westminster establishment as the longest-serving party leader now, could only halfheartedly condemn Cameron’s record and praised him as well.

The ungracious address was left to the SNP’s Carolyn Monaghan who was drowned out with loud groans when she complained about “unfulfilled vows” and weapons of mass destruction.

Cameron responded breezily about promises made and powers delivered but not implemented by the SNP government.

Resolutely the SNP MPs sat on their hands while the rest of the Commons applauded the departing PM. They know their audience and it is not in the sweet, mawkish backslapping one in the Commons.

But Cameron loves the place and said he would next be watching from the backbenches. “I will miss the roar of the crowd. I will miss the barbs from the opposition. But I will be willing you on,” he said.

From the swift, barbed tongue, which got him into trouble as much as  it saved him, it was inevitable the best epitaph came from Cameron himself.

He regaled the Commons with his take on the New York accent of a man who once recognised him on a Manhattan sidewalk with the words: “Hey, David Cameron! PMQs, we love your show.”

With that, and a wave to his wife and family in the gallery above, the showman took a bow. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

In the space of one hour, Britain has a new PM

Theresa May, the next Prime Minister, greeted by Tory MPs outside St Stephen's Gate, Westminster
The Prime Minister has changed, just like that.

At 11.30am  this morning the Westminster journalists, those of them who were not in Birmingham for Theresa May’s leadership speech, were trooping  along the Thames Embankment towards  the venue for Angela Eagle’s planned challenge to Jeremy Corbyn.

Then the balloon went up that Andrea Leadsom, after a bruising weekend of headlines, was unexpectedly announcing that she was withdrawing from the Tory leadership race.

An about-turn that wouldn’t have shamed the Trooping of the Colour was executed.

By 12:30am we had rushed from Leadsom’s campaign headquarters to the St Stephen’s entrance of the Houses of Parliament to hear Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservative 1922 committee, formally declare that Theresa May is the new leader of the party. She is, de facto, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Right now Theresa May is on a train back from Birmingham, David Cameron is at the Farnborough Airshow, and the Queen who would appoint a new Prime Minister is in Balmoral.

It has been a stunning hour in an incredible few weeks of British politics. We knew the fall-out from Brexit was going to be profound and dramatic but this is  a swift and ruthless unravelling of the thread.

It has claimed several careers already - David Cameron, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson amongst them - split the Labour party from it’s leader and heightened expectations for a second Scottish referendum.

There will be a new Cabinet in weeks. I thought it highly symbolic that George Osborne allowed himself to be photographed, looking relaxed and comfortable, with his children at Silverstone this weekend. He could be on the way out. 

There could be a general election in months, the pressure will certainly be on, and that will be good news for one man at least - Jeremy Corbyn.

For the far-left losing troublesome Labour MPs to Brexit-supporting constituencies would a year-zero win, allowing them to put Corbyn-friendly candidates in place next time. Losing can be blamed on the rebel MPs, so do not prepare for a Labour revival.

For the SNP in Scotland it should be relatively unaffected by an election and has the finances and organisation to be ready in no time. For the SNP an election would be a simple platform to argue against Scotland being taken out of the European Union.

Prepare for a new Prime Minister is all we can say for certainty.

Brexit has shaken Britain to the core, the centre has fallen apart.


Monday, 27 June 2016

What happened to Project Fear, George?

George Osborne press conference at HM Treasury

George Osborne always has a fairly pallid complexion on the sunniest of days. But the chancellor hadn’t been seen in the light since Britain voted for Brexit so he looked particularly ashen-faced on Monday morning.

Osborne made a 7am appearance in the Treasury in an attempt to sooth the markets and reassure the nation with a keep calm and carry on message.

How long his own political life continues is a question he demurred from answering.

Osborne had three strong messages for the markets.

He said Britain has a strong, resilient economy ready for the stormy seas ahead because he had “fixed the roof” with five years of austerity (his mixed metaphors not mine).

There was plan for Brexit all along, a contingency worked out with the Bank of England to shore up the banks and the markets with £250 billion of loans.

He will not trigger Britain’s withdrawal from the EU through Article 50 until a new Prime Minister is in place, at least the Autiumn.

And there will be no emergency budget until the Office of Budget Responsibility assesses the fall-out of Brexit, again in the Autumn.

So no emergency budget, no punishment for the voters for going the wrong way. Whatever happened to Project Fear, the dire warnings of a £30 billion black hole in the British economy that would follow Brexit? Was it just a bluff?

Far from it, I suspect. Today was about reassurance not fear. Osborne warned it would not be “plain sailing” but that Britain is the fifth biggest economy in the world and prepared to absorb the economic shock. But if the economy goes of a cliff, there will be plenty to fear.

He also made an important point which, regardless of what you might think of his politics, displayed his calibre as a politician.

He said: “I do not want Britain to turn its back on Europe or on the rest of the world. We must bring unity of spirit and purpose and condemn hatred and division wherever we see it. Britain is an open and tolerant country and I will fight with everything I have to keep it so.”

He also appeared to rule out resigning in the near future, and asked whether he could serve in a government committed to leaving the EU, Osborne said: “It is my country right or wrong. And intend to fulfil my responsibilities to the country.”

Osborne will make it clear in the next few days what his plans are for the Tory leadership. His options appear to be to back Theresa May as a Stop Boris candidate or take a punt himself.

Either way we haven’t heard the last of him, or of austerity. 


What happened to Project Fear, George?

George Osborne press conference at HM Treasury

George Osborne always has a fairly pallid complexion on the sunniest of days. But the chancellor hadn’t been seen in the light since Britain voted for Brexit so he looked particularly ashen-faced on Monday morning.

Osborne made a 7am appearance in the Treasury in an attempt to sooth the markets and reassure the nation with a keep calm and carry on message.

How long his own political life continues is a question he demurred from answering.

Osborne had three strong messages for the markets.

He said Britain has a strong, resilient economy ready for the stormy seas ahead because he had “fixed the roof” with five years of austerity (his mixed metaphors not mine).

There was plan for Brexit all along, a contingency worked out with the Bank of England to shore up the banks and the markets with £250 billion of loans.

He will not trigger Britain’s withdrawal from the EU through Article 50 until a new Prime Minister is in place, at least the Autiumn.

And there will be no emergency budget until the Office of Budget Responsibility assesses the fall-out of Brexit, again in the Autumn.

So no emergency budget, no punishment for the voters for going the wrong way. Whatever happened to Project Fear, the dire warnings of a £30 billion black hole in the British economy that would follow Brexit? Was it just a bluff.

Far from it, I suspect. Today was about reassurance not fear. Osborne warned it would not be “plain sailing” but that Britain is the fifth biggest economy in the world and prepared to absorb the economic shock. But if the economy goes of a cliff, there will be plenty to fear.

He also made an important point which, regardless of what you might think of his politics, displayed his calibre as a politician.

He said: “I do not want Britain to turn its back on Europe or on the rest of the world. We must bring unity of spirit and purpose and condemn hatred and division wherever we see it. Britain is an open and tolerant country and I will fight with everything I have to keep it so.”

He also appeared to rule out resigning in the near future, and asked whether he could serve in a government committed to leaving the EU, Osborne said: “It is my country right or wrong. And intend to fulfil my responsibilities to the country.”

Osborne will make it clear in the next few days what his plans are for the Tory leadership. His options appear to be to back Theresa May as a Stop Boris candidate or take a punt himself.

Either way we haven’t heard the last of him, or of austerity. 


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Half-time at Westminster on Sunday

For the Daily Record blogsite

In the 48 hours since the shock result was announced the atmosphere around Westminster has changed again.

The media tents on college Green have gone from being an entertaining circus for the masses to administering the political equivalent of battlefield first aid.

This is where MPs and commentators now come to work out who has been shot and injured in the latest exchange of fire.
Across the road it feels as if no one is in charge in the empty parliament to which MPs return on Monday morning.

The Prime Minister is effectively gone, refusing to trigger or lead the Brexit talks.

The Brexit bandits have gone to ground, neither Boris Johnson or Michael Gove or their leadership ambitions are anywhere to be seen.

The chancellor George Osborne has been posted missing in action as confidence in the UK economy crumbles.
It doesn’t seem that the Brexit campaigners have a plan or that the government appears willing to have one either.

Meanwhile Labour’s senior officers have mounted a bloody coup against Jeremy Corbyn. He is currently barricading himself behind legal opinion stating he can still head a party he has proved to be incapable of leading.

In the vacuum Nicola Sturgeon has used a string of media appearances to warn the UK government not to stand in the way of a second independence referendum should she decide to stage one.

Simultaneously she has raised the possibility of the Holyrood parliament blocking UK exit from the EU by refusing a legislative consent motion (a Sewel motion) that would pass the law into Scottish statute.

In normal times we would say a move like that could trigger a constitutional crisis, but it is small beer in the constitutional bombsite of Britain we are stumbling through just now.

The situation is, at best, unclear, but you can see the blunt beginnings of a quid pro quo there in the smoke and dust.

The Scottish Tories would oppose a second independence referendum, Scottish Labour is oppposed too, but keeping options open. 
And if a second Scottish referendum is on the cards, then why can’t there be a second EU referendum too? 

The Lib Dems would go into an election campaign committing the UK to rejoin the EU. A general election might be held before any negotiations to leave are completed.

The majority of MPs in Westminster are pro-Remain and the old sage Michael Heseltine has suggested it would take general election to constitute a new House of Commons to sign off on Brexit. Or another referendum, he said. 

Tony Blair has said not to rule out a second referendum and Angela Merkel’s press secretary has raised it as a possibility.

So, no sign of the government on the bridge, no alternative from the Brexit campaign, the opposition sliding into civil war, and the Scottish First Minister threatening to hold the UK hostage.

Top that with the possibility of a general election or a second EU referendum, or both, on the horizon and you can see why it begins to feel as if events have slid out of everyone’s control today.

 Oh, have Ireland scored a goal against France? 

Ian Murray, Labour's Scottish unicorn, to resign from shadow cabinet


For the Daily Record online blog this morning

Ian Murray was marked down as "negative" on Jeremy Corbyn's little lists of enemies within that leadership aides drew up this Spring.

The Shadow Scottish Secretary, and Scotland's only Labour MP, was mildly surprised to say the least. He'd only spent the previous seven months publicly defending the new leader.

But just how "negative" Ian Murray is, and how long that list of enemies is, Jeremy Corbyn is about to discover.

Murray is Labour's Scottish unicorn, there is only one Scottish Labour MP and while other Shadow cabinet vacancies can be filled, Murray is irreplaceable. There is no one who can credibly take his place

Murray is expected to be one up to seventeen members of the Labour shadow cabinet to have resigned their post by the end of today. That would leave Corbyn encircled with perhaps 12 loyalist shadow cabinet members at his back when he faces a motion of no confidence tomorrow.

Since having his own jotters marked Murray has had no hesitation in telling Corbyn he is a liability as Labour leader. The Edinburgh South MP was one of several shadow cabinet members to speak out against Corbyn during the shadow cabinet meeting in the post-Brexit rubble last Friday. 

The leader must have sensed the move against him then because the mounting coup was sprung early by Corbyn himself. He called Hilary Benn in the early hours of Sunday morning having read that the Shadow Foreign Secretary was on maneouveres against him. 

Benn was sacked on the phone in the middle of the night and in dawn's light Heidi Alexander, the shadow Health Secretary, resigned with "heavy heart". 

We don't hear much about Heidi Alexander in Scotland as health is a devolved policy area. But she was instrumental in making the government blink in its dispute with the junior doctors in England.

When she introduced Corbyn at the staged show of unity at the TUC HQ during the referendum campaign she gave a rousing stump speech which marked her out for bigger things.

Others will turn their fire on Corbyn during the day. Ivan Lewis, Labour MP and candidate for Manchester mayor, has called on him to resign.    

Gloria del Piero MP has just announced her resignation as Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. That is significant, she is a close ally of deputy leader Tom Watson who is rushing back to London. 

John McDonnell has insisted that Cotbyn "is going nowhere". If there is a leadership campaign Corby would stand again and McDonnell would chair his campaign, having ruled himself out as a runner. 

The shadow cabinet were planning to confront Corbyn on Monday which is maybe why this morning's events found deputy leader Tom Watson caught out dad-dancing at Glastonbury and desperately trying to get a train back to London this morning.

As his train passes each station stop, the list of Labour MPs speaking out against Corbyn grows longer. 

Watson will be instrumental in telling Corbyn that the game is up.  The resignation of the irreplaceable Murray will be the sign to Corbyn that he cannot go on

Friday, 24 June 2016

Johnson and Gove come to praise Cameron

Gisela Stuart, Boris Johnson, Micheal Gove at Vote Leave press conference
Vote Leave Press Conference 11.00am

They came to praise Caesar, not to bury him, but bury him they had.

Boris Johnson and Micheal Gove tried to appear as sombre and statesmanlike as possible at The Vote Leave press conference. On stage together the allies who could now be rivals for the Tory leadership heaped praise on David Cameron. But it had the atmosphere of a wake, not a garlanded victory.

A shocked looking Johnson described the Prime Minister “a brave and principled man”, words that will taste of ashes in his mouth and “one of the great politicians of our age”

Age is an issue for Johnson. He is now terrified the young generation who overwhelmingly voted for Remain, will blame him for robbing them of their European future.

He said: “We cannot turn our backs on Europe. We are part of Europe.”

“Our children and grandchildren will continue to have a wonderful future as Europeans travelling to the continent, understanding the languages and cultures, that make up of common European civilisation.”

But there is simply no need in the 21st century to be part of a federal system of government based in Brussels that is imitated nowhere else on earth. It was a noble idea for its time but it is no longer right for this country.”

He insisted that Brexit decision would not mean the UK is “any less united”, but that sounded like one of his famous jokes falling flat.

Michael Gove looked down the camera as he sent tribute to his friend Cameron who had “led this country with courage, dignity and grace”.

Both tried to calm the volatile markets and heal the continental fissures the referendum has opened up.

“There is now no need for haste,” the former London mayor told the press conference.

He added: “Nothing will change over the short term except work will have to begin on how to give effect to the will of the people.”

Gove added that Britain would carry on in its best traditions. “We have always been an open, inclusive, tolerant, creative and generous nation,” he said.


The former journalist (they are both former journalists) who turned a newspaper column idea into a historic upheaval sounded as if he wanted to believe it. Half the country could not agree.