Friday, 23 November 2018

By the minute, how a Corbyn-Sturgeon deal would work

From my Daily Record column
WANT to know what a Corbyn government would look like? The answer is not to be found by traipsing around the Palace of Westminster in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon, entertaining as the First Minister's day out to London was.
Making tentative arrangements with Labour to oppose Brexit was by far the most significant part of Sturgeon's visit.
But exercising power is a serious and more subtle business. A Labour administration which relies on some arrangement with the SNP is the least fantastic scenario available to a political imagination that puts the words "prime minister Corbyn" into a sentence.
What his government could really look like is to be found in a little clicked corner of the Cabinet Office website.
The department is the clearing house of government, the link between Downing Street and the world of Whitehall and beyond. In its online tomes lie the published minutes of all the private meetings between the Tory Government and the DUP on which, until recently at least, Theresa May relied in a confidence and supply arrangement for her Commons majority.
The records, to quote the Politico website, who first perused them, offer a "tantalising glimpse of the clout wielded by DUP leader Arlene Foster behind the scenes".
They detail the near-monthly meetings of the six-strong "coordination committee" of senior Tory and DUP MPs, set up last year to ensure the voting deal runs smoothly in Parliament.
It is chaired by May's de-facto deputy David Lidington, who sits alongside chief whip Julian Smith and Treasury minister Mel Stride on the Government side.
On the other side of the table are DUP leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, his chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson.
All boys together. Well, not quite.
The terms of reference state explicitly that neither Foster nor May should be members. "Neither party leader will sit on the committee but may attend from time to time on Privy Council terms."
That "but" is the unbolted stable door allowing Foster to attend every meeting bar one since the first gathering in July 2017.
Imagine, if you can, the credibility of a Scottish First Minister if Holyrood had not been sitting since January 2017 and MSPs were paid £8million salary in that time.
However, Foster, still under the shadow of the £500million "cash for ash" heating scandal during her stint as Stormont's enterprise minister, and the collapse of devolved government in Northern Ireland, has a regular audience with some of the most powerful figures in the UK Government.
According to the minutes of the meetings a succession of Brexit, defence and security ministers are dragged in every few weeks to give personal briefings to this DUP star chamber. It seems Foster is spending more time and exercising more power in Whitehall than she is in Belfast.
Given the way Whitehall works on precedent this is an entirely credible template for how a minority Labour government would be guided by the civil service to handle a confidence and supply arrangement with the SNP.
Sturgeon would be in Whitehall a lot more often, and not just appearing as a Westminster minx, sticking her head around the door of Tory Brexiteer meetings to give them a fright.
Sturgeon's visit to London had a twofold purpose - rappelling in to try to organise cross-party opposition to Brexit is important and burnishes her heavyweight image, of course.
But it also helps her twitchy MPs looking over their shoulder at the narrow gap back to Labour candidates in the 2017 snap election.
Why vote Labour in Scotland, they will argue on the doorstep, when we can have Nicola sorting them out?
Given the opposition operation is so disfunctional that Corbyn contrived this week to miss a Commons vote on child poverty, which he tabled himself, letting the Government win by just five votes, perhaps Labour could do with some help at Westminster.

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