Thursday, 22 November 2018

First they vote for you, then they laugh at you, then they complain about you, then you win

[I wrote this before the updated 'Political Declaration' was published today. Nothing in that Declaration changes the situation, in my humble o.]

Theresa May’s Brexit plan can't possibly win a 'meaningful vote' in the Commons next month, and yet in the end May will get what she wants. The Brexit deal she's agreed with the EU is the one we've got. 'Hard' Brexit, a renegotiated 'Harder' Brexit (aka Canada), a 'Softer' Brexit, a 2nd Referendum and Remain are all pretty much zero probability now.

May wins, simply by dint of ignoring what everyone else wants, and ploughing on regardless.

The Guardian covered this in more detail yesterday, but basically while May is PM she holds all the cards. The EU negotiate with the PM, not with Parliament. Parliament can reject her deal and tell her to renegotiate it but they can't specify the terms.

The following will happen. It's inevitable.

  1. The PM will return from Europe with a deal, including a political declaration on the future relationship which is a million miles from what the Brexiters inside, and outside, Parliament want.
  2. She will lose the 'meaningful vote' - there are simply too many Tory rebels, and even if half of them abstain, the loss of 70+ votes won't be offset by a handful of Labour rebels (and a lone Lib Dem MP).
  3. But the result will be a lot closer than suggested by all the noise over the last few days - 'empty vessels' and all that. Everything Cabinet Ministers are now saying about the possibility of a 2nd Referendum, or Remain, is designed specifically to spook Brexiters in both main parties to support her deal, or at least abstain.
  4. Having lost the 'meaningful vote', May will do precisely nothing, thus rendering it meaningless.
  5. The Conservative MPs will not seek to replace her as party leader (they may well, eventually, get to 48 votes, but she'll easily win a confidence vote) and Conservative MPs will not trigger a General Election. There's zero chance of them giving Corbyn what he wants. They might be stupid and venal, but they aren't suicidal. 
  6. 'Remain' Conservative MPs such as Jo Johnson, Dominic Grieve and Sarah Wollaston will flirt with the idea of a National Unity Government, under the Premiership of someone like Keir Starmer, Vince Cable (lol) or, er, Dominic Grieve. They'll come to the conclusion that the inevitable outcome of this is a General Election in 2019 and, having stared into the Abyss and seen John McDonnell staring back at them, they'll do ... precisely nothing.
  7. Corbyn will bluster, bumble and do ... nothing. To be fair to him, he doesn't have the votes to do anything. Anti-Corbyn Labour MPs, having been burned once, aren't going to unseat him.
  8. At some point in the New Year May will return to Parliament with the same deal dressed in slightly different clothes, and faced with the inevitability of crashing out if they vote against it again, MPs will vote it through.
May's biggest fear is that the ECJ will rule, 'before Christmas', that Article 50 can be unilaterally withdrawn by the UK, in effect delivering Remain (for the foreseeable future). But I don't think any of that changes the above. The Government, not Parliament, would have to tell the EU the are withdrawing their notification under Article 50.

This PM will never do that.

Jo Johnson and co. simply don't have the cahonas (if you'll excuse the phrase) to replace her with someone who would.


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Counting to zero

List of Tory MPs who have, as of tonight, said, or strongly hinted, they will vote against Withdrawal Agreement in whatever form it is present.
  1. DD
  2. Andrea Jenkyns
  3. Peter Bone
  4. Conor Burns
  5. Bernard Jenkins
  6. Bill Cash
  7. Steve Baker
  8. Charlie Elphike
  9. Stewart Jackson
  10. BJ
  11. JRM
  12. IDS
  13. Mark Francois
  14. John Redwood 
  15. Sarah Woolaston
  16. Justine Greening
  17. Jo Johnson
Plus Kate Hoey, one of the Labour MPs who the PM might expect to rebel, has come out strongly against. 

Only 7 Labour MPs voted with the Government last year. 
  1. Ronnie Campbell
  2. Frank Field
  3. Kelvin Hopkins
  4. John Mann
  5. Dennis Skinner
  6. Graham Stringer
  7. Kate Hoey
If the DUP abstain, the only conceivable route to a Parliamentary Majority for the PM is for most of those 17 to abstain. If they vote against (or most of them do), it can't pass. If the DUP vote against, it can't pass.

For: 315 - 17 (and counting) + 6 (maybe) = 304

I could imagine a situation in which Corbyn whipped Labour to abstain, given that he wants Brexit to happen. But he wants a General Election to happen far more than he wants Brexit, and the only possible route to a GE is for the Government to collapse over Brexit. 

Against: 258 (including Field) - 7 (maybe) + 35 (SNP) + 12 (LD) + 1 (Green) = 298 

Add 10 DUP to that number and/or 7 rabid Brexiteers and/or 7 Tory 'Remoaners' and the deal falls.

How does PM secure DUP vote? And even if she can, can she secure enough Labour rebels to offset inevitable defections by some or all of the 17 listed above, plus others who are less media savvy or just quieter? 

Of course, this is all rather irrelevant if she can't get the deal past the Cabinet tomorrow.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018


Those of you more familiar with Queensbridge Road will be well aware that you can avoid the traffic lights at the bottom by using Dunloe St. Last Saturday I was picking up a Zipcar and I decided to use the Dunloe St Run to save myself the 23 seconds I would have spent waiting for the lights to change.


Followed, fractions of a second later, by...


The first bang, I think, was me clipping the curb as I turned into Queensbridge Road. The second was the tire blowing.

23 seconds. I had gone from saving 23 seconds into a whole world of delay.

Note. If you are ever changing the wheels on a VW Golf, do not be fooled by the star-shaped holes at the centres of the plastic caps on the wheel nuts. Simply lever these caps off with a screw-driver. There is no screw thread on the caps themselves, so finding a star-shaped fitting will not aid you in removing them but will waste bloody ages of your time.

The AA man came. He was great. He showed me the lever-the-plastic-caps-off-while-ignoring-the-star-shaped-holes trick, and replaced the tire in under a minute. To be honest, I was very proud of myself for getting the car jacked up. I'd never jacked anything up before. Not even my body.

Zipcar were also great and found a replacement car. So we got to spend the night at Whipsnade afterall, and saw the Rhinos. 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

In the dark

It's ironic that, in the end, it was a blackout that did for me. A blackout, and a pathological inability to get a haircut until my hair is way beyond the point that it needs to be cut.

My job is to support investment in energy technologies. It's what I do, my job, when I'm at work. Electricity is very much part of what we look to drive innovation in. Particularly so-called 'Smart' technologies which mean that we can better match supply with demand, without having to worry (as much) about costly network upgrades and backup systems.

I needed a haircut. The fact that the power had failed across an entire city block was neither here nor there. The barber's door was unlocked. I'd used him in the past. He knew my head, or my scalp, at least. He looked doubtful, but the light was still good, and his clippers were in the stand. Charged. No need for working mains electricity. We could do this.

F. & J. went first. They were as much in need of a cut as I was, and school starts again on Monday. The place on Hoxton Street is friendly and tolerant of squirming children, but they always come out looking like Jim Carey from Dumb and Dumber. Whereas Mr X (who will soon be opening a new place called on Shoreditch High St) does an excellent cut, and is equally tolerant of children.

Mr X ploughed on. The boys were done. He raised an eyebrow, but I was determined. So he started.

It's a job of work, my hair, when it's at its peak. Thick and luxurious, if I saw so myself. The clippers were doing sterling work, but I could sense a change in tone. A deepening. Lower notes. Mr X struggling hard and harder to shift the thatch. I began to perspire. Surely, I though, they would make it through. Surely.

But at around the halfway mark they gave up entirely. Mr X shrugged. What could he do? He thinned the top out and trimmed the most egregious ear and nose hairs.

I didn't even have a hat to hide my half cut head. I just pulled my fleece up and fled in red faced shame. No idea how I made it home.

Now I'm just going to have to sit here, in the dark, and wait for it to grow out.

See you in two months.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

For what it's worth

Genuinely bemused, and worried, by current state of the negotiations.

EU have consistently said that without NI backstop there is no deal.*

PM seems to be in total denial. Keeps saying (I paraphrase), "I'm afraid my Parliament won't agree (to the thing I've already signed up to)."

We are heading towards no deal, simply because the PM refuses to realise that the EU aren't going let us back-slide on something we agreed in December.

For her to go to the EU this week and not have anything new to say is genuinely staggering.

The deal is done, at technical level. If there's no political will to agree to it, no amount of further negotiation or summit meetings will help.

Real concern is that we stagger on like this until the economic consequences are so bad the PM, or her replacement, has to fold. By which point we will have done significant, perhaps irreversible, damage to UK economy. Damage which was entirely avoidable.

* I suspect this is at least as much to do with "You signed this in blood in December. Now you want to renege. If we let you renege on this what else will you try to renege on, later?" as it is with the genuine need for a backstop. But the reason for this EU red line is not really the point. The point is that it is a red line.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Creative Block

Not the most inspiring name for a school outbuilding designed to get the old juices flowing. Actually, I think I’ll leave the juices out of it. 

Anyway, I wouldn’t want to do Art in a Creative Block.

To be honest, Art was always my least favourite subject. I’d didn’t much like English, and had little interest in poetry (a state of affairs which persists to this day) but at least, when writing prose, I could say something. In Art I felt both unskilled, and uninspired. White other children were crafting brilliant geometrical things from clay my sculptures came out as something Picasso would have rejected on the basis that they were too figurative. And crap. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated Art, but I can’t think of a single thing I created in the 3 years I had to study it – before I could ditch it and focus on GCSE Music – that I’ve kept. Or would want to keep. 3 years of creative block and not being able to throw a pot.

As usual, I digress. Here I am, back in school. Music school, to be precise. Haggerston secondary school, which on a Saturday is taken over by the Hackney Music school (“School for gifted middle-class children including Milo, Juniper and Electra*” to give it it’s full name). Where weekly we force Fergus and Jonathan to imbibe no only musical theatre lessons (I Can Sing!) but also 30 minutes of music theory. They have been learning about crotchets, minims and the dotted variety of these species.

3 hours of music school (with various breaks between vocal, dance and theory sessions) is a good opportunity to catch up on correspondence and the gaps between sessions offer a small window to make headway on Jonathan’s homework. Of which there is far too much for a 6 year old, in my view.
Both the boys take Saturday mornings with remarkable good grace, all things considered.
Right. Music theory has finished. Time to free Jonathan from purgatory. He’s done his maths already, so he really is free.

* all real names of pupils at this school

Friday, 5 October 2018


My mind veers between the mundane (Office moves, the view from my window, whatever I am listening to (Boards of Canada, since you ask) to the catastrophic (Brexit/Trump/Putin/Broader break down of world order and liberal tolerance/Climate).

Today's instalment is catastrophe. Brexit, specifically.

Charles Grant (Director, Centre for European Reformtweeted* (I am obsessively following David Henig's Twitter feed, despite not being a tweeter myself)

"... EU may well be wrong to assume UK will cave in. Many of Britain's politicians don't put economically-optimal outcomes first. They are a Romantic lot who get emotional when faced with what they perceive as bullying.

Which made me think that the basic issue we have here is that both sides keep assuming the other side will act 'rationally' while they themselves are behaving 'irrationally'. (I realise this is not a particularly profound thought, but bear with me).

The referendum itself was a triumph of an 'irrational' desire to be free of the EU trumping to obvious economic benefits that EU membership brings. A triumph of the political over the practical.

Since the referendum our entire negotiation strategy has been based on the assumption that, although our decision to leave was basically an emotional one, the EU would react with logic, rather than emotion, and we could easily end up with a compromise deal that suited both parties. The idea that the decision on what the relationship with the UK will be, post-Brexit, would be based on political rather than economic considerations seems to have entirely escaped us. Despite the EU repeatedly saying that the unity of the EU was a more important consideration for them than any short-term losses of €.

And if, as Grant suggests, the EU strategy is based on wishful thinking that May and co will, at the last moment, "see reason" and cave in, then the risk of No Deal Brexit is very high. Both sides are behaving politically/emotionally, yet believing the other side bases their decision-making on simple calculations. This shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness.

It is equally possible, of course, that the EU has genuinely come to the conclusion that "no deal" is less bad, in the long term, than Chequers, and therefore is willing for "no deal" to be an outcome. If this is the case then (a) they'd better be damm ready to take rapid action to deal with the consequences of this, particularly for the economy of Ireland and (b) this is, of course, a very bad state-of-affairs if you are British. Particularly British and working in a factory that exports stuff.

Finally, "everyone" seems to believe that global financial catastrophe is on the horizon. If that is true then presumably a no-deal  Brexit would be a more than big enough economic shock to trigger another contraction.