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. 

Downing Street 8am

The Camerons in Downing Street

David Cameron broke Britain, he has paid the price.

At 08:20am the Prime Minister stepped out of Ten Downing Street for the last time with the full authority of his office. 

Flanked by his wife Samantha, who stood at distance with her face displaying all the emotion her husband was bottling up, he announced his resignation. 

He looked like man who bust the bank in Monte Carlo.

Cameron took a huge gamble with the country against his Etonian pal Boris Johnson and had to admit he had lost.

So he sparked the leadership contest that could see Johnson take his place.

“The country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction,” said Cameron with his voice beginning to crack with emotion.

“I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months, but I don’t think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”

He reminded us of his considerable achievements, a coalition, a majority and more. But he will go down as the most calamitous Prime Minister since Anthony Eden sent British troops to the Suez canal.

He will be there, as a paper Prime Minister for the summer, humiliatingly attending the EU summit next week, but a new Tory leader will be in place by October. 

Cameron said he accepted the decision of the voters but would leave it to his successor to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which kicks off the two-year process of negotiating a new trade relationship with the UK’s former partners.

“The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected,” he said. 

“The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered.” He also emphasised that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments would be involved in talks.

The Prime Minister spoke to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier in the morning. 

It was said to be a “sympathetic” conversation. She knows what it feels like to lose a referendum.  

Good morning, welcome to the revolution

Good morning and welcome to the British revolution. Riding in to Westminster this morning of Independence Day the streets didn’t look any different. Sweepers leaning against the railings, shopkeepers switching on the lights, passengers waiting for the Easyjet minibus to Luton airport. But everything has changed, utterly.

Just as the events of 9/11 dictated the last decade, this vote and this morning are the starting point of what could become a dark alley for the European continent.

At home, a second attempt at Scottish independence is a given, a second referendum now inevitable. It will be a two-bladed sword for Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish people. The immediate instinct may be to reject Farage’s Britain, but remember half of the rest of Britain feels the same way in a divided nation.

And most Scots do not wake up today as members of Britain’s ethnic minorities, our immigration generations, many of whom will feel this rejection bitterly and personally. 

Quite frankly, the implications are much bigger than Scotland. The Europe Scots see their future in is itself endangered now.

Scotland’s constitutional divisions are nothing compared to Ireland’s historic pain which, after a generation of war, was settling into a generation of peace. Northern Ireland voted Remain, along with Scotland, but the European Union and the United Kingdom they endorsed look like a house of cards this morning.

The Dutch right-wing are already calling for a referendum in Holland. Without Britain the body politic of the European Union may not be able to take the shock.

If a revolution like this can take place in a conservative country like Britain, then anything can happen in the United States this November.

It is ironic that Donald Trump flies into Scotland this morning. He can take the anti-politics, anti-immigration sentiment the British electorate has just expressed and mould that to his purposes. 

If America signals it is turning its shoulder on the world and on immigrants, a fractured Europe will face a decade of dealing with a tide of humanity while being harried by a strengthened Russia and struggling economically in a Chinese-dominated century.


There is the day and the next number of days of politics to get through. We will see resignations, reshuffles, plots and demands as ordinary people go about their business. Tomorrow’s dawn will look and feel like this one, but the old world will unravel and change.