Monday 2 October 2017 – Catalonia independence referendum – UPDATE – What happens now?

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Early results of yesterday’s independence referendum in Catalonia suggest that 90% of those who voted did so for their region to become independent from Spain.    An estimated 43% of the 5.3 million-strong electorate, or 2.26 million people, voted in the disputed referendum which had been declared illegal by both the Spanish government and the Spanish constitutional court.  The turunout was slightly higher than in the symbolic referendum held in 2014. At that referendum 80% backed independence. Despite a massive police crackdown aimed at preventing people voting, it seems that nearly half of the electorate were able to cast a vote.  Many more probably were unable to do so because of the police intervention.  The regional government of Carles Puigdemont hadn’t stated a minimum turnout or vote percentage for the referendum to be valid, but a 43% turnout in the circumstances is quite remarkable and if 90% voted YES then that exceeds all expectations and confounds recent polls that suggested a majority of those asked actually favoured remaining part of Spain.

 

The Catalan government is holding an emergency meeting to decide what to do next.  Mr Puigdemont had said that independence would be declared within 48 hours of a YES result.  Speaking last night he said: “My government, in the next few days, will send the results of [the] vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.”

 

The referendum, of course, has been deemed illegal so the Spanish government are not bound to honour the result, but the pressure on them will now be intense after such a high YES result and also following the criticism of their hardline reaction to the referendum and their use of the police and Guardia Civil to try to prevent it happening.  The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy yesterday insisted there “has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia,” and justified his government’s response to the poll:

 

“The rule of law remains in force with all its strength. We are the government of Spain and I am the head of the government of Spain and I accepted my responsibility.

 

“We have done what was required of us. We have acted, as I have said from the beginning, according to the law and only according to the law. And we have shown that our democratic state has the resources to defend itself from an attack as serious as the one that was perpetrated with this illegal referendum. Today, democracy has prevailed because we have obeyed the constitution.”

 

Further afield, the European Committee have said today that the referendum was “not legal,” but urged dialogue between the two sides, also expressing that violence could not be an instrument in politics.  Margartiis Schinas, the chief spokesperson for the EU executive said:

 

“Under the Spanish constitution, yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal. This is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with by the constitutional order in Spain. This is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with by the constitutional order in Spain.”

 

Mr Rajoy is expected to meet opposition party leaders today and told a parliamentary session to discuss yesterday’s events.  Some politicians have been calling for his resignation following his hardline reaction to the referendum, including the mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau and the former Catalan president Artur Mas, who has called Mr Rajoy “authoritarian.”

 

What the Spanish government does next will be crucial.  It seems highly unlikely they will recognise the referendum result.  There have been suggestions that the Madrid government could offer more autonomy to Catalonia, in the area of finance for instance, but they could go in the other direction and implement article 155 of the Spanish constitution.  This allows the government to take control of an autonomous region if it “does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain”.  This has never been done before, but it is not beyond comprehension to think that Mr Rajoy will follow-up his hardline reaction to the referendum with this even more hardline measure.  Should he do this it will strengthen the cause of independence in Catalonia – which has already been invigorated by his government’s attempts to stop the referendum.

 

Negotiations and dialogue, however, also seem difficult.  Both leaders in Madrid and Barcelona seem as intransigent as each other, with Mr Puigdemont even saying he was prepared to go to prison over his desire for Catalan independence.  He has said that he would only back down if an official binding referendum is agreed upon with Madrid.  The Spanish government has flatly refused to even talk about such a referendum.

 

Pressure from outside may influence Madrid, but many are supporting the government’s line that the referendum was illegal.  The EU will only support independence if the referendum that produces a YES vote is legal and recognised by the Madrid government as such.  The suppression of the referendum, however, has drawn criticism and concern over Spain’s “adherence to democratic norms.” For some the police brutality was a reminder of the dark days of General Franco, which only ended with his death in the 1970s.  Charles Michel, the Belgium prime minister, said: “Violence can never be the answer.”  He spoke for many in Europe.  The UN’s charters also express that violence can only be eschewed by conventional political means.  Violence to suppress self-determination of peoples are ultimately doomed to fail.  Madrid’s response, if it prevents Catalonia from gaining independence, however shows that in this case, violence is the only answer.

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One thing is for certain, the campaign for independence in Catalonia isn’t going away and it seems now to have entered a more radical, and violent, phase.  The high-profile protests in Catalonia may also inspire others in other autonomous regions of Spain, such as in Galicia and the Basque Country.  In the latter, decades of violence by ETA for independence left 800 dead and thousands injured.  Basque independence has been sidelined recently but it has not been forgotten and events in Catalonia may re-inspire some to actively pursue it once more.  The Catalonia campaigns may also spread beyond Spain to places such as Northern Ireland.  There, many remain unimpressed by the current situation and by the placatory measures of devolution, limited autonomy and power-sharing.  There were links between ETA and the IRA during the Troubles and the nightmare scenario would see such organisations being inspired to become active again.

 

Other regions in Europe could take succour from Catalonia.  These could include nationalists in Scotland, which rejected independence in 2014 but after Brexit may once more push for independence from the UK.  Other areas, which aren’t perhaps as dedicated to independence as many in Scotland are, include the Northern League (Lega Nord) in Italy, Bavarian nationalists in Germany and the Tyrol, also in Germany.  Independence for these regions may be unlikely, but growing dissatisfaction with central governments is a common theme among them all of being “distant central government that speaks a different language, hands down political diktats, levies unfair taxes and allegedly gives back less than it takes.”

 

Sadly, people’s distrust of central governments is often mistook as, or used as, right-wing nationalism.  Many right-wing politicians around Europe use such distrust as demonstration of support and justification for their nationalism, xenophobia and populism.  The leader of the Northern League in Italy, Matteo Salvini uses distrust of central government to promote his “particular anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and extreme nationalist-populist agendas.”  France’s National Front advance “objectionable policies” on the back of the message of a broken State, while in the UK Nigel Farge’s UKIP did the same last year, claiming distrust of “establishment figures” was the basis of support for Brexit.  Meanwhile, last month’s elections in Germany saw the far-right lternative für Deutschland (Afd) party’s  rejection of the status quo of Angela Merkel was to some extent used as an excuse for neo-Nazism.

 

“Catalonia’s brave and battered voters are in the vanguard of a new movement towards a Europe where identity is being radically redefined. If leaders and governments such as Rajoy’s remain stubbornly inflexible and refuse to bend, they risk being broken.” – Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, Monday 2 October 2017

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Spain’s number one tennis player, Rafael Nadal, even got in on the matter today, issuing a statement on his disappointment that the referendum took place:

 

Screenshot_1“I want to cry when I see a country where we have known how to co-exist and be a good example to the rest of the world get to a situation like this.

 

“I think the image we have presented to the world is negative.

 

“I have spent many parts of my life in Catalonia, important moments, and to see society so radicalised surprises and disheartens me.”


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Sunday 1 October 2017 – Catalonia independence referendum – UPDATE – poll takes place with backdrop of protests, violence and police crackdowns

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Today’s referendum poll in Catalonia has taken place amid protests by supporters of independence, violence and often brutal police crackdowns.  The Spanish government has deployed the national and local Catalan police in huge numbers in an attempt to prevent people voting.  The police have been seizing ballot boxes, ballot papers, occupying polling stations and preventing people from voting in the referendum which has been declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court and national government of Mariano Rajoy in Madrid.  Police have also resorted to using batons and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse pro-referendum demonstrations, including in the Catalan capital Barcelona.  The Guadia Civil have also been deployed in the region to break-up the referendum voting.  The Guardia Civil is the oldest police force in Spain but is now a military organisation that has undertakes both police and military duties.  It is responsible to both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence.

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Officials in Catalonia say that over 750 people have been injured, while the Spanish interior ministry are saying that 12 police officers have been injured.  The interior ministry say that three people have been arrested and 92 polling stations were closed.  The poll was due to end at 8pm local time (6pm GMT), but people already queuing to vote would be allowed to vote after the deadline.  Mr Rajoy, however, soon after the deadline announced that he did not recognise the referendum vote.  He has also said that the vote is against the Spanish constitution, which refers to “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”.

 

According the Ministry of Interior, of the injured, some 335 were in Barcelona, 187 in Girona, 111 in Lieida, 55 in Terres de l’Ebre, 46 in Catalunya and 26 in Tarragona.  They also said that 761 were treated at various hospitals and clinics and two were seriously injured.  The Spanish Prime Minister said the police were acting with “firmness and serenity,” adding:

 

“Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength.

 

“We are the government of Spain and I am the head of the government of Spain and I accepted my responsibility,

 

“We have done what was required of us. We have acted, as I have said from the beginning, according to the law and only according to the law. And we have shown that our democratic state has the resources to defend itself from an attack as serious as the one that was perpetrated with this illegal referendum. Today, democracy has prevailed because we have obeyed the constitution.”

 

The leader of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont told crowds that the “police brutality will shame the Spanish state for ever,” while the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau called for Mariano Rajoy’s resignation, saying he could not remain alongside “a state that uses batons and police brutality.” The Spanish deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, said that Carles Puigdemont should drop the “farce” of the independence campaign. She added:

 

“I don’t know what world Puigdemont lives in, but Spanish democracy does not work like this,

 

We have been free from a dictatorship for a long time and of a man who told us his word in the law.”

 

Mr Puigdemont had been due to cast his vote in Girona, but was forced to use a different polling station when riot police smashed into the polling station and removed those people waiting to vote.  Many polling stations were occupied by people in advance of today’s poll, in anticipation of attempts by police to prevent their use as polling places.  Farmers have positioned tractors and other vehicles outside polling stations in an attempt to prevent access by police, while firefighters are reported to have acted as human shields between the police and the protesters.

 

Despite calls for peaceful resistance to the police crackdown, the day has seen widespread violence.  One hopeful voter, Júlia Graell, told the BBC  that “police started to kick people, young and old. […] Today I have seen the worst actions that a government can do to the people of its own country.” The Guardia Civil said it was “resisting harassment and provocation” while carrying out its duties “in defence of the law.” Meanwhile, the BBC’s Tom Burridge, who is in Barcelona, said he saw police “being chased away” from one polling booth they had just raided.  Witnesses said that the Ramon Llull school in Barcelona was the scene of a “sustained operation” with police using axes to smash their way in, charging the crowds and  firing rubber bullets.

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Photo: Police using batons on protesters. Video available in article on The Gurdian website

 

One eyewitness to the police tactics was esús López Rodríguez, a 51-year old father who was taking his family to vote at the Ramon Llull school.  He said they had been queuing since 5am until the national police arrived in riot gear:

 

“They told us that the Catalan high court had ordered them to take the ballot boxes and that we needed to disperse,

 

“We chanted, ‘No! No! No!’, and then about 20 police officers charged us. It was short – only about two minutes – but we stayed together.”

 

More officers in vans arrived and began cordoning off the area and detaining people and, as described to The Guardian by López Rodrígue: “They dragged them out violently. We stood our ground but they kept dragging people away, kicking them and throwing them to the ground.”  Mr Rodrigue says that the police also started firing rubber bullets and broke into the school.  He fled with his family and says that he “feels angry about it,” adding: “I also hope people in Europe and around the world will see what’s happening in Catalonia.”

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Another witness to the police action, Mireia Estape, told reporters near the Cervantes primary school in Barcelona: “I’m here to fight for our rights and our language and for our right to live better and to have a future,” while another man, who did not want to be named,  said he had come because “Catalans need to vote; they’re robbing us in Spain”. While another said “I don’t want to live in a fascist country.”

 

Joaquin Pons, who is 89, referred back to the 2014 symbolic referendum and said he was delighted to be voting for real today: “Last time it was cardboard ballot boxes. This time they were real. It was very emotional. “It would have been nice if we could all have stayed together in Spain but the Madrid government has made it impossible. It’s sad but that’s the way it is.”

 

Max Borrell Espinosa was at the James Balmes high school in Barcelona. The 17-year old gave a detail account to reporters:

 

“Yesterday around 300 of us decided to spend the night in Jaume Balmes secondary school, playing sport, listening to music and watching movies in a relaxed and festive atmosphere with the aim of being able to open the school on Sunday for the referendum.

 

“This morning, when we opened the doors, vanloads of riot police arrived. We had agreed on a policy of passive resistance to protect the ballot boxes. The aggression of the state security forces created an atmosphere of tension, beating the young and elderly alike with their truncheons.

 

“After what happened in Jaume Balmes and many other polling stations, there is a widespread feeling among all Catalans that we are fighting to make this democratic process a reality. We are powerless faced with the repression of the Spanish government but brave enough to carry on with this process that will allow us to decide our future in a democratic fashion.”

 

The extent of the police’s crackdown and the intransigence of the Madrid government may backfire.  The reality was that if the poll had been allowed to go ahead un-impeded then the Catalan people may very well have voted to remain part of Spain.  Now, after a day of violence and hostility towards those trying to vote and those demonstrating in support of the referendum may backfire and push many people towards the cause of independence.  Catalonia gained autonomy under the post-Franco 1978 constitution, and was given even greater powers under a statute in 2006, which boosted its economic power.  However, in 2010, the Spanish constitutional court reversed much of the autonomous powers, which angered many in Catalonia and other autonomous regions.  This led to an unofficial vote in 2014 when more than two million of the region’s then 5.4 million electorates voted, with some 80% voting for secession.  Naturally, the government in Madrid ignored this.  However, the following year separatists in Catalonia won the election in the region and a coalition government led by Carles Puigdemont was formed (see graphic below).  It then began working towards a binding referendum on independence and, in September this year, the Catalan government defied the Spanish constitution, the constitutional court, and the Madrid government, and passed a law that allowed for today’s poll.  The poll contains just one question, with a YES or NO answer required: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”  The poll, under the Catalan law, is binding and independence must be declared within 48 hours of a YES vote. Mr Puigdemont has said, however, that this will only be done if the electoral commission says a YES vote has prevailed: “a unilateral declaration of independence is not on the table”.

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Screenshot_2Of course, Mr Rajoy (right), the national Spanish prime minister declared it illegal and, last month, said: “I say this both calmly and firmly: there will be no referendum, it won’t happen.” The national government then requested the Spanish constitutional court to suspend the law passed in Barcelona, and it seized control of Catalonia’s finances and policing and threatened to take back complete control of the region.  Many officials in Catalonia were arrested and the police began seizing materials related to the referendum and pro-referendum websites were closed down.  The regional Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, were ordered to cooperate with the national police and the Guardia Civil in stopping the referendum taking place. Mr Puigdemont saw this as Spain effectively suspending the Catalan self-government and was a imposing a “de facto state of emergency” in Catalonia.

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It seems likely that today’s events can only play into the hands of the supporters of independence and the Madrid government will now be faced with the real possibility of independence being declared by Barcelona in a matter of days.  The Madrid government will be hoping that previous polls that showed a 49% to 41% vote in support of remaining part of Spain, but no doubt they will be anxious to see whether the decision to attack the referendum with such tactics will backfire.  The BBC today were suggesting that support for independence had been actually ebbing, but the hardline response today may have “re-energised backing for the vote itself.”

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Photo A million people protests on National Day (Diada) last month, displaying the separatist flag

 

Catalonia has a long history of distinctness from Spain and has been a distinct region for over a 1,000 years, and has been part of Spanish state since the 15th century.  It has its own language and a population of 7.5 million – the same size as Switzerland.  It remains a vital part of Spain, an economic powerhouse that contributes huge proportions of Spain’s GDP and exports.  As a distinct region, it has often been subject to repressive campaigns periodically to make it “more Spanish.”  Catalonia, say many, has been affected more severely by Spain’s economic downturn since 2008.  Unemployment, for example is 19% in the region and many feel that Spain’s central government takes much more from the region than it gives back.  As Spain’s  wealthiest region, this angers many: “According to 2014 figures, Catalonia paid €9.89bn more into Spain’s tax authorities than it received in spending – the equivalent of 5% of its GDP.” In addition, state investment in the region has dropped from 16% in 2003 to just 9.5% in 2015, but many in Catalonia and Spain in general say this is a consequence of the national economic downturn.

 

What happens next depends on the result of today’s referendum. Carles Puigdemont this evening has said the result will be known in a few days, adding that Catalonia has “won right to statehood.” There had been signs of compromise from Madrid, with hints of more money and greater autonomy and constitutional reforms.  However as the BBC reported today: “that may not be enough for Carles Puigdemont and a Catalan leadership that has spent months preparing a path for independence.”

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SOME RESPONSES WORLDWIDE TO TODAY’S EVENTS

 

Guy Verhofstadt, Euorpean Parliament’s Brexit chief: “I don’t want to interfere in the domestic issues of Spain but I absolutely condemn what happened today in Catalonia.”

 

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister: “Regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed and call on Spain to change course before someone is seriously hurt.”

 

UK Foreign Ministry: “The referendum is a matter for the Spanish government and people. We want to see Spanish law and the Spanish constitution respected and the rule of law upheld.”

 

Charles Michel, Belgian prime minister: “Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue.”

 

Ivica Dacic: Serbian foreign minister: Our position is clear and principled, Spain is one of the greatest friends of Serbia. [Madrid] is in the same position on the issue of the territorial integrity of Serbia.”

 

Bruno Le Maire, French Economy Minister: “Spain is a friendly nation, a proud people. Clearly I hope that civil peace will reign in Spain.”

 

Vince Cable, leader of UK Liberal Democrats party: “Police in a democracy should never drag people violently out of polling stations, whatever the arguments for or against holding a referendum. The police response looks to have been brutal and completely disproportionate. The foreign secretary [Boris Johnson] should break off from conspiring against the prime minister and call in the Spanish ambassador to tell him that this is unacceptable.”

 

Pedro Sánchez, Spanish socialist leader: “Rest assured that we will overcome this situation. I want to send Catalans and all other Spaniards a message of security.  [Our party, PSOE, is] “betting on peaceful coexistence, not confrontation [and by] opening a political negotiation channel that is more urgent than ever”.

 

Mariano Rajoy, Spanish prime minister: “Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength, [Security forces] performed their duty. […] It would have been easier for everyone to look the other way, [the referendum was a] “real attack on the rule of law […] to which the state reacted with firmness and serenity. […] The responsibility for these acts solely and exclusively falls on those who promoted the rupture of legality and coexistence. […] The vast majority of the people of Catalonia did not want to participate in the secessionists’ script. They have shown that they are law-abiding people and quietly ignored the call [to vote]. […] All Spaniards value their attitude. […] We cannot allow the progress of the past 40 years to be replaced by blackmail. Today we all have reasons to trust our democracy. This only served to hurt our coexistence. I offer dialogue within law. I expect them [Catalans] to renounce to what they have done so far.”

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Saturday 30 September 2017 – Catalonia independence referendum – UPDATE

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With just hours to go before the controversial independence referendum is due to take place in the Catalonia region of Spain, police have moved into the autonomous region in an effort to prevent the referendum taking place.  The referendum, which has been called by the Catalan coalition government led by Carles Puigdemont, has been declared illegal by both the Spanish constitutional court and the national government of Mariano Rajoy in Madrid.

 

Nevertheless, the regional government in Barcelona is determined for the poll to take place at which the Catalan electorate will be asked whether the region should become independent of Spain.  Mr Puigdemont has already announced that his government will declare independence within two days of the referendum should the people vote for independence.

 

The national Spanish police have sealed off over half of the 2,315 schools which have been designated as polling stations in Catalonia in an attempt to stop them being used for that purpose. They are being assisted by the Catalan regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.  The police have been told to clear the schools of any people, with many parents and teachers remaining in the school after they closed for the weekend in anticipation of just such action by the police.

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A witness to the occupation of schools and the response from the police was Quim Roy, a father who was at the Congrés-Indians primary school in Barcelona today. He said police told them not to display any material supporting the vote.  He added:

 

“We decided in a meeting that we would send the kids home. Calling them human shields is a huge lie, but I made my decision because there is fear. Who knows what will happen if the Guardia Civil comes.

 

“The only thing that is clear to me is that I won’t use violence. If they tell me I can’t be in a public school to exercise my democratic rights, they will have to take me out of here. I won’t resist, but they will have to carry me out.”

 

The police have also taken over the regional telecommunications centre in Barcelona and are said to be ready to stay there for at least two days as part of the attempts to stop the poll taking place.

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The central government’s Catalonia representative, Enric Millo told reporters: “Of the 2,315 polling stations […] 1,300 have been sealed off by the Mossos d’Esquadra,” and said that 163 of these were “peacefully” occupied by parents and teachers.  The police have given these people till 6am Sunday to leave and Mr Millo said that no-one else would be allowed in.  Meanwhile, Carles Puigdemont was determined in his statement: “Everything is prepared at the more than 2,000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips, and have everything people need to express their opinion.”  The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy has continued to express his belief that the referendum poll will not take place, having said that it goes against the Spanish constitution and “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.”

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Photo: A cruise ship in Barcelona chartered by the national police to house their officers

 

Screenshot_2The Spanish constitution allows for Catalan autonomy, along with autonomy for the regions of the Basque Country and Galicia, but it does not allow for a vote on independence or self-determination.  Mr Rajoy has long maintained his opposition to independence and has been implacable in his defiance of the wishes of many in Catalonia since they held a “trail referendum” in 2014, effectively ignoring that call for a legal vote.  The calls for independence have intensified after Mr Puigdemont (right) was able to form a coalition government and the national government has accused his government of being inflexible and one-sided – which in return the regional government in Barcelona accuses the Madrid government of the same.  The foreign minister in Madrid, Alfonso Dastis described Catalan’s referendum as anti-democratic  and that it runs “counter to the goals and ideals the European Union […] What they are pushing is not democracy. It is a mockery of democracy, a travesty of democracy.”

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Whichever way tomorrow’s referendum goes the consequences for Catalonia, Spain and the rest of Europe will continue long after.  Of course, the government in Madrid are under no legal obligation to do anything about independence for Catalonia if that is what the people decide.  The referendum is illegal under the Spanish constitution so the national government could legally simply ignore it.  It is certainly not in the interests of Spain to allow Catalonia to go its own way.  The region is the economic powerhouse in Spain.  It’s population makes up around 16% of the Spanish population, but nearly 20% of the country’s GDP and accounts for over 25% of its exports, and over 20% of foreign investment.  If independent, Catalonia would rank in world wealth terms somewhere between Denmark and Finland.  Barcelona is a major tourist city, it was the host of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and today is the world’s fourth largest cruise ship destination. Its port is the biggest in the Mediterranean and the city has a fine reputation as a business-friendly city with two top business schools, the ESADE  and IESE. Nevertheless a Catalonia-free Spain would still be the fourth largest economy in the Eurozone, with only Germany, France and Italy ahead of it. 

 

Spain would undoubtedly resist Catalonia becoming a member of the EU if it ever became independent, assuming that Catalonia would be thrown out upon independence – which Madrid would support.  An independent Catalonia would prove to be a direct threat to the economic success of Spain and its departure from Spain and possibly the EU would only help to cause more disruption and uncertainty in the EU and the eurozone.

 

Meanwhile, the EU has suggested it will not get involved in the independence question in Spain.  A European Commission spokesperson told reporters: “The commission only has the powers which are given to it and when it comes to this position we have a position which goes back to 2004. It is not an improvised position; it is the result of the competences that we have a position that has been expressed by the President: we must respect the constitutional order and the legal framework of each member state.”  The EU is siding with the government in Madrid on the basis that the referendum is illegal under the constitution of Spain.

 

Screenshot_1The US president, Donald Trump, has also expressed his opinion on the issue – again siding with the Madrid government and the status quo.  The president, who met the Spanish prime minister at the White House four days ago (right), has said that Catalonia should remain “united” with Spain.  Despite confusing the prime minister for a president, Mr Trump said at a joint press conference with Mr Rajoy after their meeting that he “thinks Spain is a great country and it should be united.” He continued by suggesting: “If you [the Catalan people] have accurate numbers and polling, you would see they love Spain. It would be foolish not to.”


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Friday 29 September 2017 – Catalonia independence referendum – UPDATE

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With only two days until the Catalan government plan to hold a referendum on whether the Spanish region should become independent of Spain.  The partly-autonomous region of Spain has for decades campaign for full independence.  The national government in Madrid, however, has resisted the calls for independence and has declared Sunday’s planned referendum as illegal, a declaration that was also supported by the country’s constitutional courts.  Despite this, the Catalan government, led by Carles Puigdemont, insist that the referendum will take place and that they are making final preparations for the poll.

 

Plans for the running of the referendum have been announced, with some 7,200 people manning 2,315 polling stations.  The Catalan government estimates that  60% of Catalan’s 5.3 million eligible voters will vote in the referendum.  The planned referendum has met with considerable opposition from the government in Madrid, with senior Catalan government officials arrested, pro-independence websites shut down and the seizing of millions of ballot papers.  The Catalan high-court has ordered the continuing blocking of pro-independence websites and apps, the seizure of ballot-related material,  and have ordered police to prevent public buildings being used as polling stations.

 

The Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, however, insisted: “Catalans will be able to vote, even if  someone attacks a polling station.” The fear of violence and intimidation on polling day is a real issue, and Mr Junqueras called for people to behave responsible  and to ignore the “provocations of those who want to stop the vote.”  The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, added in a statement to Reuters: “I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist.” 

 

The Spanish interior ministry have deployed thousands of extra police to Catalan and airspace over the Catalan capital Barcelona will be closed to helicopters and light aircraft over the weekend.  The head of the Catalan police force, Josep Lluís Trapero, has told his officers not to use force when clearing and closing polling stations.  He also said that the Catalan police could call on the national police or Guardia Civil for assistance if required.  In response, farmers and firefighters have offered to protect polling stations and help ensure people can vote and some pro-independence groups have suggested that parents can occupy schools which are to be used as polling stations to keep the police out.

 

The Madrid government continue to insist the vote isn’t going to happen.  The Spanish education minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, said: “The government has a constitutional mandate to enforce the  law maintaining civil order. Nobody is above the laws and whoever violates them will face consequences.”

 

The independence issue divides Catalan.  The majority are in favour of a referendum, suggesting that they support independence, but others are opposed to independence. Alex Ramos is the vice-president of Societat Civil Catalana, who oppose independence from Spain.  He fears the referendum will lend the independence campaign legitimacy.  He said: “In democratic countries, you don’t hold self-determination referendums if they’re not permitted by the constitution. And this referendum doesn’t solve anything: it just sets people against each other. The very fact that it could take place suggests just how fractured the Catalan people are – split in two. It’s not a solution: it’s creating a bigger problem than the one it’s meant to be solving.”

 

Something else that may be regarded as giving the independence referendum credibility would be the intervention of the European Union as a mediator.  However, the EU has maintained its distance from the campaign, despite calls for such intervention from the Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.  The president of the EU Parliament Antonio Tajani explained the EU’s decision not to get involved: “It’s a Spanish problem in which we can do little.”  He added that the EU was backing the Spanish government’s position, because “on a legal level, Madrid is right.”

 

The Catalan government says if the referendum supports independence, it will declare indpendence within 48 hours.  The Mr Tajani insists that Catalan is a Spanish region and the referendum and independence campaign is an internal issue, but also said that if it became independent, Catalan would have to apply to rejoin the EU.  That would open up a whole new can of worms with the current problems over the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union.  Many in governments across the EU will resist Catalan joining the union as it will encourage other independence campaigns, such as in Scotland.  The break-up of Spain, and the departure of the UK completely from the union, would put additional strain on the political and economic union.

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The independence campaign in Catalonia for many decades, but intensified in the last decade as Spain has suffered economically and following the decision in 2010 to annul parts of the 2006 Catalan statute of autonomy, which would have given the region  greater independence.  The Catalan population is 7.5 million and those supporting the independence campaign argue that Catalonia  has a moral, cultural, political and economic right  to self-determination.  As is the case with many who supported Brexit in the UK in relation to the EU, many people in Catalonia believe that the region puts more into Spain than it gets back in return.  The high-profile pro-independence campaigns may suggestion that a majority of Catalans are in favour of independence,  but a poll early this put the support for independence at 41.1% and against at 49.9%.

 

The Catalan parliament itself was divided on the issue and only passed the the referendum law earlier this month after a heated debate.  The coalition Catalan government led by Carles Puigdemont have been working towards the referendum for the last year.  They announced the planned referendum in June, and said that the simple question to the Catalan electorate will be: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic?”

 

The Spanish constitution does not allow for a vote on self-determination, which is the basis of the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s and the country’s constitutional court’s opposition to the referendum.  The latter has suspended the referendum law passed by the government in Barcelona and in March the Catalan president Artur Mas was banned from holding public office for two years for disobeying a constitutional court order. Three years ago he had held a symbolic independence referendum.  Current members of the Catalan government are facing charges also.

 

Mr Puigdemont has claimed that the Spanish government has effectively declared a state of emergency in response to the referendum and thousands have demonstrated on the streets of Barcelona and elsewhere against the Madrid government’s response.  Carles Puigdemont called the police raids as a “co-ordinated police assault,” and suggested that the response of the Madrid government was akin to the days of General Franco: “We will not accept a return to the darkest times. The Government is in favour of liberty and democracy.” The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, called the raids a “democratic scandal,” his tweet in Spanish reading: “Es un escàndol democràtic que s’escorcolli institucions i es detinguin càrrecs públics per motius polítics. Defensem institucions catalanes.” [translation: It is a democratic scandal that institutions are scrapped and public positions are arrested for political reasons. We defend Catalan institutions.”]

 

Meanwhile  Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy called on the Spanish the Catalan government on Wednesday to “stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all.”

 

The two sides both insist they are right and will not back down from their stances.  The Spanish government has the option to suspend autonomy completely in Catalonia, using article 155 of the constitution, but this would be an extreme and provocative measure that would likely only escalate the pro-independence campaign and would be regarded by the EU and elsewhere as counter-production and heavy-handed.  The EU, for example, encourages the principal of self-determination in regions such as Catalan – if not independence.  Suspending autonomy would go against that principle.

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SIX KEY MOMENTS IN THE CATALAN INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN

Source The Guardian, Friday 29 September 2017

 

28 June 2010

Spain’s constitutional court strikes down parts of a 2006 charter on Catalan autonomy that had originally increased the region’s fiscal and judicial powers and described it as a “nation”. The court rules that using the word “nation” has no legal value and also rejects the “preferential” use of Catalan over Spanish in municipal services. Almost two weeks later, hundreds of thousands protest on the streets of Barcelona, chanting “We are a nation! We decide!”

 

11 September 2012

At the height of Spain’s economic crisis, more than a million people protest in Barcelona on Catalonia’s national day, demanding independence in what will become a peaceful, annual show of strength.

 

9 November 2014

The pro-independence government of Artur Mas defies the Madrid government and Spain’s constitutional court by holding a symbolic vote on independence. Turnout is just 37%, but more than 80% of those who voted – 1.8 million people – vote in favour of Catalan sovereignty.

 

9 June 2017

Carles Puigdemont, who has replaced Mas as regional president, announces an independence referendum will be held on 1 October. Spain’s central government says it will block the referendum using all the legal and political means at its disposal.

 

6 September 2017

The Catalan parliament approves referendum legislation after a heated, 11-hour session that sees 52 opposition MPs walk out of the chamber in Barcelona in protest at the move. Spain’s constitutional court suspends the legislation the following day, but the Catalan government vows to press ahead with the vote.

 

20 September 2017

Police arrest 14 Catalan government officials suspected of organising the referendum and announce they have seized nearly 10 million ballots destined for the vote. Some 40,000 people protest against the police crackdown in Barcelona and Puigdemont accuses the Spanish government of effectively suspending regional autonomy and declaring a de facto state of emergency.


Sources & Further Reading:

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 10 June 2017 – The deals and blame-game begins plus other UK General Election 2017 news & analysis

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Above: Mrs May’s joint Chiefs of Staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill

 

The blame-game has started in the Conservative government and party after the humiliating loss of their parliamentary majority in Thursday’s General Election – and, for now, it seems that the Prime Minister’s co-Chiefs of Staff are going to be the scapegoats for the Conservative’s loss of majority.  Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill (above) were the Prime Minister’s closest advisors during the election campaign but are now being accused of overseeing a “toxic”  campaign and that they are even “destroying the party.” Calls are being made for the pair to be sacked and they are seemingly being lined up to be the fall-guys for the Conservatives poor showing at the election.

 

Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP, said on Twitter: “I cannot see how the inner circle of special advisers can continue in post. [It] needs to be far more inclusive in future.”  She like many in the party feel that campaign lost its focus on issues that were strong for them, such as Brexit, and moved towards issues that were unfavourable to them and beneficial to the opposition campaigns, such as social care.  Ms Wollaston tweeted more: “Overall I’m very concerned about consequences of a hung Parliament and what this means for the future and crucial negotiations with the EU.”  Ms Wollaston was critical of the campaign’s focus and the direction it took:

 

“[Ms May’s support for] fox hunting and changes to social care were turning points in how people felt about the Prime Minister in highly personalised campaign.

 

“[I] hope we never again have such a negative campaign. The public just don’t want US-style attack politics.”

nigel evanssarah wollaston

Above: Conservative MPs Nigel Evans and Sarah Wollaston

 

The Secretary of the 1922 committee of back-bench MPs, who are highly influential within the Tory party, had similar concerns as Sarah Wollaston as to the campaign’s focus:

 

“It was an amazing own goal. We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we shot ourselves in the head.

 

“I don’t think you can underestimate the achievement of what we’ve just managed.

 

“Instead of talking about the things we thought we were going to be talking about – Brexit and the strong economy – we have ended up talking about social care, winter fuel payments, taking lunches off children and fox hunting.”

 

iNHOUSE PR Portraits 26/2/09Katie Perrior (right), a former aide to the Prime Minister gave an interview to the BBC’s Today programme on Radio 4 in which she discussed the role of Ms Hill and Mr Timothy.  Of the atmosphere at meetings in Downing Street she said “It was  pretty dysfunctional.”  Ms Perrior talked more about the meetings, which were run  by the joint Chiefs of Staff:

 

“We would go into an 8:30 meeting everyday in Theresa May’s office and the atmosphere would be great if the chiefs of staff were not there and terrible if the chiefs of staff were there.”

 

She said that the pair would bully Cabinet ministers:

 

“I think that there was not enough respect shown for people that spent twenty years in office, or twenty years getting to the top seat in Government.

 

“I felt that sending people text messages, rude text messages, were unacceptable.”

 

Ms Perrior said that the Chiefs of Staff’s approach to campaigning was the problem:

 

“What the Prime Minister needs when you’re going through a difficult time like negotiating Brexit is diplomats, not streetfighters. They only really know one way to operate and that is to have enemies.  I’m sure I’m one of them this morning.”

 

Former Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, who lost his Peterborough seat on Thursday, was unsurprisingly critical of the party’s election campaign, which he described on BBC Radio 5 Live as “shockingly bad […] lacking passion, it was bland, it lacked vision […] above everything else [it was] a real lost opportunity.” He continued:

 

“Our manifesto was all about what we’ll stop them having and what we’ll not give them and what’s good for them and that’s frankly electoral poison and a complete disaster […] there had not been appropriate consultation on it […] and when you have to explain that you’re not taking food from children’s mouths and taking homes from your core supporters, then you’re losing an election.”

 

A former advisor to Theresa May, Joey Jones, said that the Prime Minister was now “alone and friendless” in an interview with Sky News he said that it was “open season on Nick and Fi.”  He described an interaction with Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, which he was was “symptomatic of Nick and Fi’s desire for total control.”  The interaction took place on the day after Mrs May became Prime Minister:

 

“The next morning I got a text from her saying she wanted to talk through my role. I explained I was bringing the foreign secretary’s adviser, Will Walden, into the building to look at his schedule. The text came back: “Did you clear that with me?” I knew at that point this was not my scene. An hour or so later I walked out of the gate into a glorious St James’ Park and went home.

 

“But that text message was symptomatic of Nick and Fi’s desire for total control. I believe the dynamic they work to is simple: they decide, others execute. In effect, they were the brain of government, everybody else was the limbs. It is a brilliant model as long as the people making the decisions are infallible. It is a model that is intolerant of compromise or shades of grey. Under pressure, it looks like a model that is intolerant of reality – messy, pesky reality.”

 

Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy as the chief advisors to the Prime Minister on how to run her campaign perhaps deserve to be sacked for such a disastrous result, but they are clearly being used as scapegoats for the Conservative’s loss of their parliamentary majority.  One Cabinet source told the Daily Telegraph: “A cabal at the top of the Tory Party has allowed a terrorist sympathiser to get within an inch of Downing Street. Things must change. The campaign has been a total disaster and it has come from the top. Fiona and Nick must go.” Another source, this time a Cabinet minister, said: “Politicians cannot choose which issues voters will go the polls on. A one issue election is called a referendum. We have to be able to to deal with the economic and fiscal policy issues too. You can’t tell voters this is what it’s about.” 

 

Theresa May was asked about their futures at Downing Street yesterday, to which the Prime Minister replied: “Obviously there will be further ministerial posts and other personnel issues over other days.” It seems to me that Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy are going to be used to deflect blame away from the Prime Minister and the Tory Cabinet, and that Theresa May seems determined to press on as Prime Minister and with the Brexit negotiations as if nothing seismic had happened on Thursday.  Whether Ms Hill and Mr Timothy go or stay is irrelevant, and I couldn’t care one iota either way.  What is the problem with the Tory campaign and the Tory Government is its policies and its ideology.  It was those two factors that convulsed the electorate on Thursday into large swings back to the Labour party – not enough to give Labour power, but enough to deprive the Tories of a majority.  Sacking two advisors is not going to change the underlying problems facing the Government or alter how the public view them.

 

Later in the day today, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy perhaps bowed to the inevitable and quit their positions in Theresa May’s Downing Street team. The BBC was reporting that the Prime Minister had been warned that she could face a leadership challenge as early as Monday if they weren’t dismissed. The BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith says the news gives the Prime Minister “breathing space” after 24 hours of incriminations over losing the parliamentary majority the Conservatives had held before the Prime Minister called a snap election for 8 June.  Norman Smith argues that critical MPs in the government were concerned that the two aides were too close to the Prime Minister and that this was preventing Mrs May from adopting  a “outgoing, inclusive, responsive, empathetic approach” to her leadership.

 

Nick Timothy said he regretted his part in the “disappointing” election result and that he was taking responsibility.  He urged MPs to “get behind” the PM but stressed that nothing can get in the way of forming a government and beginning Brexit negotiations.  He argued that the disappointing result in the election was not because people didn’t support Mrs May but because of the “unexpected surge”  in support for Labour. This sounds a little contradictory, but he is perhaps referring to the surge in young people voting for Labour who had previously not voted for anyone.  Indications show that around 70% of 18-24 year-olds who had registered to vote actually voted, up from an average of around 40% in the previous two General Elections.  Of these it is suggested that two-thirds voted Labour or parties other than the Conservatives.

 

Mr Timothy said the party’s manifesto  was “honest and strong” and that the social care policy that so badly affected Mrs May’s campaign was not his “pet project” and had been discussed in government for months prior to the publication of the manifesto.  However, he added:

 

“[I take] responsibility for my part in this election campaign, which was the oversight of our policy programme.

 

“I regret the decision not to include in the manifesto a ceiling as well as a floor in our proposal to help meet the increasing cost of social care”.

 

Fiona Hill gave a brief statement via the Conservative Home website:

 

“It’s been a pleasure to serve in government, and a pleasure to work with such an excellent prime minister. I have no doubt at all that Theresa May will continue to serve and work hard as prime minister – and do it brilliantly.”

 

Here are some  comments about the resignation of Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy:

 

  • Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said that Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill had “taken the fall” for the defeat, and he added that the PM was “responsible for her own defeat.”

 

  • The Guardian’s Owen Jones, on Twitter: “Pathetic watching @theresa_may let her advisors take the flack. She’s the leader. She made the decisions. She should resign.”

 

  • Conservative MP Nigel Evans on Twitter: “At last some good news from Downing Street- resignations of advisors must be the start- inclusive style of governance must follow.”

 

  • Conservative MP Michael Fabricant on Twitter: “Sad in many ways, though understand why, Nick Timothy quit. He was main architect of #Brexit including need to leave Single Market.”

 

  • ITV’s Robert Peston on Twitter: “So resignations of Hill and Timothy create a huge risk for @theresa_may for all that her MPs wanted them out: she has lost her human shield!”

 

  • Labour MP Wes Streeting on Twitter: “It seems former Tory MPs aren’t the only ones losing their jobs because of Theresa May’s hubris and incompetence.”

 

Read HERE to read more about Fiona and Nick.


may and gavin barwell

BREAKING: Theresa May appoints a new Chief of Staff

 

Later this evening the Prime Minister appointed a new Chief of Staff to replace Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy who resigned this morning.  The new Chief of Staff is Gavin Barwell.  Mr Barwell  was Housing Minister in Theresa May’s pre-election Government before becoming a victim of the Tory losses on Thursday  – losing his seat to Labour in Croydon Central. Mrs May said: “I’m delighted that Gavin Barwell accepted the role as my Chief of Staff,” and added:

 

“He has been a first class minister and is widely respected. He will bring considerable experience of the party to the post.

 

“As I said yesterday, I want to reflect on the election and why it did not deliver the result I hoped for.

 

“Gavin will have an important role to play in that. I look forward to working with him.”

 

Mr Barwell said: “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as her chief of staff.”

 

It seems ironic that the Prime Minister has replaced two Chiefs of Staff who oversaw a disastrous election campaign that resulted in the Conservative government losing its parliamentary majority with a man who failed to win his own marginal seat despite having in the past written a book called How To Win A Marginal Seat.  I guess Mrs May doesn’t do irony.


arlene foster and theresa may

Above: The DUP’s leader Arlene Foster with the Prime Minister at Downing Street

 

Here are five facts about the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the right-wing Northern Ireland party which the Conservatives are now going to rely on to stay in power:

 

  • The DUP are opposed to same-sex marriage.  They have vetoed laws to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.  Their former Health Minister Jim Wells said in 2015: “The gay lobby is insatiable, they don’t know when enough is enough.” Ian Paisley Jr, who is one of the DUP’s current MPs, called homosexualityrepulsiveand that he hates what gay people do and that they “harm themselves.” He has also said that same-sex marriage was “harmful to society” and that it was immoral, offensive and obnoxious.”  Mr Paisley is the son of the former DUP leader the Reverend  Ian Paisley“a self-made evangelical preacher whose virulently sectarian speeches, and sometimes violent demonstrations, helped stoke interfaith tensions in the early years of the Troubles.”

 

  • The party is anti-abortion. They have opposed attempts to bring Northern Ireland into line of the rest of the UK on abortion and reproductive rights.  As a consequence, abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland and women have to travel to the mainland to obtain an abortion and have to buy pills illegally online.  Abortion is only allowed in Northern Ireland when the health of the woman is in serious danger, and only 23 abortions were carried out in the Province in 2013-14.  Mr Wells also believes that woman who were raped should not be allowed abortions.

 

  • The DUP is the only major party in Northern Ireland which supports the UK leaving the European Union. They do, however, support a softer Brexit than Theresa May appears to be set upon.

 

  • They aren’t afraid of scandals.  In 2012 Arlene Foster launched the Renewable Heat Incentive. It gave subsidies  to businesses who burnt wooden pellets instead of oil as a fuel source. Unfortunately the scheme was so badly organised that it meant that for every £100 of fuel the businesses used they received £160 in payouts.  Effectively, the more they burned the more they received from the taxpayer.  Arlene Foster refused to resign when pressure on her to do so mounted.

 

  • It’s former leaders had connections with loyalist terrorists in Northern Ireland. In 1986 the party’s leaders Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson addressed a meeting of Ulster Resstance.  Mr Robinson was also pictured wearing an Ulster Resistance beret.  The Ulster Resistance funded and armed loyalist terrorist groups such as Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association.  It seems that the Tories, who repeatedly accused Jeremy Corbyn of being a “terrorist sympathiser” during the election campaign, are now prepared to be cosying up to terrorist sympathisers themselves.  The hypocrisy is probably lost on them and I guess the DUP don’t consider the loyalist terrorists as terrorists but patriotic fighters defending Irish Protestants against Catholics and the Irish state.

 

The DUP will undoubtedly try to extract concessions out of the Prime Minister in return for their co-operation in Parliament.  This is something they have done before and are now in a strong position to achieve more for Northern Ireland and for their own interests in the Province.  In particular they will probably try to ensure the maintenance of an open or soft border with the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit.  The DUP are known to be determined to ensure this stays in place after the border comes back up between the North and South.  The government’s deal with the DUP may antagonise Sinn Fein and make dealings with them and with the peace process in general more difficult.  It seems highly unlikely, however, that Sinn Fein or the IRA will return to the so-called Troubles as it is not in their own interest to do so.

ruth davidson

Above: Ruth Davidson MP, Scotland’s only Conservative MP before the General Election

 

The deal with the DUP gives the government a tiny working majority in the House of Commons, but the Government will rely on the loyalty of all it’s own MPs to ensure legislation is passed.  That is by no means guaranteed.  The DUP’s right-wing policies of anti-gay rights, anti-women’s rights and anti-abortion, as well as their Christian fundamentalist views may alienate many Tory MPs at Westminster, such as the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson – an openly-gay woman who is about to marry her partner.  She said that she had been “straightforward” with Mrs May on her own views and concerns, saying:

 

“I told her that there were a number of things that count to me more than the party. One of them is country, one of the others is LGBTI rights.

 

“I asked for a categoric assurance that if any deal or scoping deal was done with the DUP, there would be absolutely no rescission of LGBTI rights in the rest of the UK, in Great Britain, and that we would use any influence that we had to advance LGBTI rights in Northern Ireland.”

 

Ruth Davidson played an important part in the Conservative election, with herself  holding onto her seat in Scotland and 12 other Conservatives joining her as newly-elected Scottish Tory MPs. Before 8 June, she was the only Conservative MP in Scotland.  Without those 13 seats in Westminster, the Tories wouldn’t need to both talking to the DUP as they would have far too few seats for the DUP’s support to make any difference.  Without the Scottish Conservative MPs the government could probably not have survived.  Even with them, and the DUP support, there is no guarantee it will survive long anyway with many already predicting a leadership challenge and/or another General Election.  The last time we saw two quick successive elections was in 1974 when Labour’s Harold Wilson minority government (which he had formed after the Conservatives failed to create a coalition following a hung parliament in the election in February) went to the polls again in October, scraping home with a majority of just three.  The subsequent chaos that ensued in the economy after 1974 was devastating for the country and the Labour party and I’m sure Theresa May will have this in mind when she is thinking of how to proceed.

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Calculating the figures of the Government’s slender working majority are complicated. You have to add the seats held by the Conservatives and the DUP to get a total to start with. Then you add up all the opposition party-held seats and take that away from you opening total. Then  you add back on to the running total those that don’t vote at all, such as the Speaker and the Sinn Fein MPs, who don’t vote as they don’t attend Parliament in protest at British presence in Northern Ireland. Then add back on the 1 or 2 other Northern Ireland opposition  MPs who are likely in the end to support the Conservatives.  When you have done that  you are left with the actual Conservatives/DUP working majority – which is just two!  So you can see just how crucial the DUP is now in the whole survival of the government.

 

11britain-dup-master768Without the DUP the government would have no hope of forming any deals with other parties and would be either forced to try to govern with an unstable minority government or call another General Election00.  All the main opposition parties ruled out any deals with them. Even the Liberal Democrats who had gone into Coalition with the Tories in 2010 were at this election ruling out co-operating with them in the event of a hung parliament.  They got their fingers burnt once.  They learnt that in Coalitions the majority party takes all the credit for the successes and the minority party – i.e. the Lib Dems – take all the blame when things go wrong.  The Lib Dems suffered huge losses at the 2015 General Election because of their  decision to go into Coalition with the Conservatives. They lost more seats this time, but gained some new ones so at the end of the day had gained a handful of MPs, but people were still punishing them.  This was shown by the swings back to Labour and the loss of Nick Clegg’s seat in Sheffield Hallam – it had been Mr Clegg who had led the Lib Dems into the Coalition.

 

Matthew d’Ancona, writing in yesterday’s New York Times, said of the deal between the Tories and the DUP:

 

“The Democratic Unionist Party […] is a hard-line reactionary party, devoted not only to the union of Britain and Northern Ireland, but to a social conservatism that directly contradicts the modernization of the Conservative Party in the past 15 years. When she was the party chairman from 2002 to 2003, Mrs. May did much to brush away the cobwebs, daring to tell annual conference delegates that theirs was perceived as ‘the nasty party.’ Now, nearly 15 years later, she has allied it with the Even Nastier Party.

 

“How will she explain to the socially liberal, centrist voters whom Mr. Cameron won over during his decade-long leadership that she must now govern in partnership with a group of homophobes, zealots and creationists?”

 

Robin Wilson, an expert on Northern Ireland and European affairs, described the DUP as “bigoted, xenophobic, homophobic, isolationist and corrupt.” He continued:

 

“Their idea of what Britain is today is so completely out of kilter with modern multicultural Britain and the secular character that it has today.

 

“They believe that most of the modern world is morally decrepit and degenerate, whether it’s abortion or gay marriage or even just trying to form any kind of relationship with Catholics; they find these things very difficult.”

 

A former director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, Andy Pollak, said:

 

“I think it’s a disaster for Ireland in that we are now back in the old sectarian swamp in the north, with one party effectively representing Protestants and another representing Catholics, and nothing moderate or nonsectarian in between.”

 

Others are not so negative about the DUP. Paul Bew, an emeritus professor of history at Queens University Belfast, was more sanguine towards the deal:

 

“They are not Attila the Hun.

 

“They’ve been doing deals with Sinn Fein for 10 years now. Some people who are not paying attention think they are as they were 30 years ago. I’m not saying they are now liberals, but they’ve come a long way since then.

 

“They still have a religious base in various parts of the countryside, and they don’t want to alarm it, but a lot of the people who are in the party are pragmatic, urban people.”

 

You can read more about the DUP HERE, or HERE on whether the pact with the DUP can work.


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The Guardian, a traditionally left-wing broadsheet in the UK, came out in support of the Labour party ahead of the General Election.  Today it’s correspondent James Walsh was filtering through its readers’  comments on the fallout from the Conservatives losing their parliamentary majority and whether Mrs May will survive as the PM and party leader.  Here are some of those comments:

 

  • Xeelee12

“So presumably the Tories and the DUP are working on a coalition agreement. But the negotiations are being carried out by a PM, May, who is quite clearly on her way out. Does she intend for her successor to be bound by the Tory-DUP agreement? Or will the successor try to re-negotiate the agreement? Or will there be yet another election when May’s successor comes in? 

 

“In summary I don’t really understand how May at this juncture could negotiate anything with anyone.”

 

  • DriverOfTheNorth

“She won’t be able to survive. It is just a matter of time. As soon as any ‘Brexit’ talks become difficult she will have nowhere to go.

“The best move now is to postpone ‘Brexit’.”

 

  • balanceandreason

“The sacking of her closest aides, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy is a price that Theresa May thinks is well worth paying! If Theresa May  was so easily influenced by a couple of advisors into making such a mess up, then how is she going to stand up to 27 hardened EU negotiators in 9 days time?”

 

  • MrMaomentum

“For me, the single most shocking thing about Nick Timothy’s resignation is his letter where he acknowledges all the real problems in this country and tries to claim Theresa May is wanting to fix these problems – such as austerity. She only had a year to start this. I have heard nothing from the Government in the past year aside from BREXIT MEANS BREXIT and a few words after Terror attacks. People need a government that governs and not runs away from their own public.”

 

  • StopTheSpin

“I don’t understand Theresa May. Whom is she doing this for? She is basically doing the job the Brexiters like Boris Johnson don’t want to be associated with: the economic and social disaster of a right-wing Brexit or the disappointment (for the right-wingers) of a reasonable Brexit.

 

“May’s career is in tatters. The best she could have hoped for was a decent showing in the general election with an increased majority. She failed miserably. And even if she had achieved her goal of a large majority for herself and “her team”, she would have had huge problems defending her position after the Brexit deal when the knives would have been out.

 

“She should resign and let the plotters take over and fail and be defeated in the next election that would be inevitable within the next six months because of the utter uselessness of the Tory right wingers. If she did that, she could have done her country (and herself) a favour after all.”

 

  • Mizzentop

“May’s USP was the “safe pair of hands” cards. Her accession last year was born out of desire for dull stability after the dramatics of Brexit. Her act of calling this election destroyed that trump card as she showed herself willing to start Brexit and then risk chaos by calling an election.”

 

  • FURIONSTORMRAGE

“I know the result is a surprise and we’re in a far from ideal situation but the chomping hate and mass hysteria I’m seeing all over isn’t going to help anything at a time when we’re about to start the most difficult negotiations we’ve ever had to do. Give everyone a bit of time to reflect, rethink and reorganise and come back with a sensible plan for the next few months. It’s not a good time for rash decision making that’s likely to lead to more mistakes. And that goes for everyone as I’m not taking sides here.”

 

  • ehywhat

“Its over.

 

“Not sustainable. The Daily Mail seems to think that May had to be persuaded from resigning on the spot on Friday. There is no way that she can withstand the absolute mother of all storms that is going to sweep this country on Monday- it will destroy her and quite a few others too. God knows whose idea the DUP was but they live in cuckoo land, that’s for sure.”

 

  • SuperSt

“”Labour need to sit tight, continue to get their possitive message across; in a few months the Tories will be at war and will be ripe for the taking. As for May’s campaign, I’m not sure it made that much difference, once Corbyn was able to be heard, people liked it, they liked his positivity. All May has offered since she became PM was more of the same: austerity and tax cuts for the rich, people are fed up and are starting to realise that cuts to public services and inflation are really affecting them.”


Sources & Further Reading:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 20 April 2017 – Jeremy Corbyn vows to not play by the rules and other General Election 2017 news

The people versus the Establishment

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The Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap General Election now because she believes she can easily win it and increase her majority in the House of Commons. She may be right, but Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is out on the campaign trail with the message that this election is not a “forgone conclusion” and that Labour can win it on 8 June. He vowed to change the direction of the election by “putting the interests of the majority first,” and insists a Labour campaign and Government will not play by the rules of the establishment – the BBC suggesting he is “presenting himself as a champion of the powerless against political and business elites.

 

In a campaign speech in London, Mr Corbyn is expected to speak of his  goals for the election campaign. The BBC reported this morning what he is to say:

 

“Much of the media and Establishment are saying this election is a foregone conclusion.

 

“They think there are rules in politics, which if you don’t follow by doffing your cap to powerful people, accepting that things can’t really change, then you can’t win.

 

“But of course those people don’t want us to win. Because when we win, it’s the people, not the powerful, who win.

 

“They say I don’t play by the rules – their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game.

 

“They’re quite right I don’t. And a Labour government elected on 8 June won’t play by their rules.

 

“They have created a cosy cartel which rigs the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations.

 

“It’s a rigged system set up by the wealth extractors for the wealth extractors.”

 

The Labour leader is thought to be planning to single out tycoon Sir Philip Green over the BHS pension crisis and Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley for his treatment of his workforce, suggesting they “should be worried about a Labour Government.”


“Strong and stable leadership in the national interest”

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Meanwhile the Prime Minister is expected to continue to stick to her themes of “strong and stable leadership”  and her desire to win a mandate to “get on” with implementing Brexit and “making a success of it.” She will undoubtedly keep hammering home the message and slogan “coalition of chaos” as a personal attack on the potential leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. She is continuing to refuse to debate on the same stage as another leader during the election campaign but her office has not ruled out an individual event in front of a studio audience. Labour and the other parties will continue to challenge her to debate the issues with other leaders and her decision may change under such pressure.

 

You can read more about the Conservatives’ possible policies in today’s Guardian.


More MPs to stand down at this election

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Two more Labour MPs have announced that they are not standing for re-election on 8 June. Andy Burnham (above) is Member of Parliament for Leigh and currently a candidate for the Greater Manchester mayoral election. He posted a message on his mayoral website he said he would not be standing as an MP on 8 June:

 

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I confirm that, after 16 years as the Member of Parliament for Leigh, I will not be seeking to stand at the forthcoming general election. 

 

“Whilst I have not always got everything right, I can honestly say that I have given this job my all and done my best to put Leigh on the map.

 

“Through all the ups and downs of the last 16 years, the people of Leigh have shown incredible loyalty and friendship to me and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

 

The election for Greater Manchester mayor is on 4 May so he could be already starting his new job, if successful, before the General Election even takes place.

 

Fiona MacTaggart (above) has also decided to stand down as Member of Parliament for Slough. In a statement to party members she said:

 

“And through parliament I have helped to build a fairer society, making sure that the voices of women, including women of south Asian descent are heard in parliament. I have stuck my neck out to persuade Labour and Conservative governments to back changes which were not immediately popular: granting full British citizenship to people who were British overseas citizens and had no other nationality, making big companies publish information about slavery in their supply chains are just two examples.

 

“But people in Slough still face many problems. For some years now I have had to tell constituents living in miserable overpriced and overcrowded homes that they are unlikely to qualify for a secure tenancy that they can afford. I have been frustrated by cruel immigration rules which prevent families from living together in this country where they are citizens while inefficient administration means that some people easily flout the rules. I am embarrassed to discuss with our headteachers how they will cut spending to fit the meagre budgets they face. I have been depressed by the way the fantastic capacity in the voluntary sector is being run down by lack of funds or poor leadership. I have been bored by political squabbles over personalities and I know I don’t still have the passion which has driven my politics for 20 years.

 

“So I have decided to give someone else a chance to do the wonderful job which I have been privileged to hold for so long.”


Bill Gates urges Conservatives not to cut foreign aid if they win the election

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Microsoft founder Bill Gates has warned that cutting the UK’s foreign aid budget, some £12bn in 2015 or around 0.7% of national income, would cost lives. This follows Theresa May’s  refusal to confirm whether she would pledge to continue to fund foreign aid in the Conservative manifesto. Some see foreign aid as wasteful with the money better spent in the UK – a notion that mimics the idea that Brexit would mean we could spend the money saved on the NHS. Not spending £12 billion on foreign aid in no way means that the Conservative Government would spend that money on UK public services. Some Conservatives support foreign aid, pointing out its benefits both abroad and at home. Conservative MP Ruth Davidson told BBC’s Newsnight:

 

“I think that international aid not only benefits… the countries that receive it but we benefit too.

 

“It takes moral courage to be one of the leading countries that espouses that, when there are a lot of countries that don’t do it.”

 

While Culture Secretary Kanren Bradley said she was “very proud” of the UK’s record in “helping the most in need.”

 

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Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute, Mr Gates said that Britain’s foreign aid commitment was a “critical pillar”  of the country’s foreign policy and added: “Britain should be praised, not ridiculed, for sticking to this commitment”. He continued:

 

“It was a well-considered decision that sets an example for other wealthy Western countries. It also is visible proof of the UK’s goodwill and humanity.

 

“Withdrawing aid would cost lives – which is reason enough to continue it.

 

“But it would also create a leadership vacuum that others will fill, undermining the UK’s influence in these regions.”

 

The commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP was only enshrined in law as recently as 2015 and there is speculation that Theresa May wants to scale back on this commitment, perhaps because of hostile reaction to it from many in the UK at a time when the UK has undergone severe austerity itself.  Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told Newsnight: “Around the world we are lauded and respected for the lives we are saving, but in Britain it receives very hostile treatment from elements of the press.”

 

Speaking to the Spectator, Mr Gates emphasised the disproportionate value aid has in foreign countries, when “applied in places where the interventions are at least a hundred times more effective than anything you’d do domestically”. He added:

 

“If you can’t save a life for less than 1,000 dollars, it’s not done.

 

“Nor is it done unless there’s a strategic goal – in terms of reducing pandemics, or creating stability to avoid war and migration.

 

“So you’re getting something back, avoiding problems for the UK and in particular the US.”

 

The attacks on foreign aid are another example of the right-wing, isolationist direction this country has been taking in the last few years and a sad reflection on the mindset of many people in this country. Foreign aid may be better spent or spent in different regions, but the notion that we should just sever foreign aid completely or drastically reduce the budget below the 0.7% commitment is disturbing. If we were to do this then it would send a disastrous message to the world – one that says nothing positive about our position in the world and suggests that Britain is becoming less and less significant on the world stage.


Nigel Farage considering standing for Parliament, for the eighth time

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Paul Nuttall (left), the current leader of UKIP, with Nigel Farage

 

The former leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, has yet to make up his mind whether he will make another run at a seat in Westminster. He’s tried and failed seven times before and now holds a seat in the European Parliament, representing South East England. His most recent attempt to gain a seat in Westminster was in South  Thanet in the 2015 General Election where he lost to the Conservative Craig Mackinley, whose campaign in that election is now under investigation by the police after allegations about his campaign spending were made. UKIP had achieved their first MP in former Tory Douglas Carswell, but he quit the party last month so once again UKIP have no representation in Westminster.

 

Mr Farage told the Sun yesterday: “A bit of me says what happened last time in South Thanet was so monstrous there that they wouldn’t dare try it again, so I think if I did run I would win it,” but then told the BBC Radio 4 Today  programme this morning that he hasn’t yet decided whether to run or focus on his European Parliament job:

 

“I’m still leading a group in the European parliament,” he said. “I’ve got to weigh up, where am I best to be to have an impact on Brexit and perhaps warning the British people it’s not going in the direction it should be – Strasbourg or trying to get a seat in Westminster?”

 

Now that UKIP has achieved its primary goal of Brexit many are questioning whether the significance of UKIP will now fade. Despite large support in Stoke-on-Trent, the UKIP leader Paul Nuttall recently failed to defeat Labour in a by-election. Nigel Farage, however, is adamant:

 

“This is far from over and we need a strong Ukip voice in British politics to hold the government to account,” he said. “He [Nuttall] has got six weeks to prove himself, it’s just as simple as that. I’ve known him for a long time, he’s a strong man.”

 

UPDATE: After posting this post, Nigel Farage announced that he had decided not to stand as an MP in the 8 June General Election.


Liverpool’s Mayor Joe Anderson  in bid to become an MP

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Here in Liverpool, the city’s directly-elected Mayor, Joe Anderson, has shocked the city by announcing that he wants to try his hand at Westminster politics. After five years as the city’s mayor he says that he will put his name forward as a candidate for the Liverpool Walton seat should the current incumbent, Labour’s Steve Rotherham, succeed in his bid to become the Liverpool City Region Mayor on 4 May. Going against precedent, should the Walton seat become vacant, the new candidate will be directly chosen by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and not by local members. Walton is one of Labour’s safest seats and with Rotherham being a clear favourite to win the Liverpool City Regional mayoral race, the seat is very likely to become vacant.

 

Concern has been raised that the often difficult relationship between Steve Rotherham and Joe Anderson, both of whom wanted to be the candidate for Liverpool City Region Mayor, may intensify if Anderson remains Liverpool Mayor and Rotherham becomes the City Region Mayor. Anderson may see Westminster as a means to avoid this and to continue in a high-profile political role in the city, and give him the ability to  fight the cause for Liverpool on a national level. Joe Anderson began his political career in Liverpool as a city councillor in the Abercromby ward, then the Riverside ward from 2004 – the district I live in myself. He became Labour leader of the council in 2010 and Mayor in 2012. His failed bid to become the candidate for Labour in the Liverpool City Region mayoral race was “heartbreaking”  for him. He now says that he wants to “look the Tories in the eyes” and tell them directly how austerity has damaged Liverpool. In a statement on his decision to stand as an MP in Walton, he said:

 

“This decision has not been made lightly. I have thought long and hard about it but I feel, with the Government calling a snap General Election, this is the right time for me to provide the best representation for the people of Liverpool and Walton.

 

“It is fair to say that over the years I have been criticised for my direct way of doing things, my no nonsense attitude may not have been to everyone’s taste, but I strongly believe that we must always stand up to bullies, and it will be clear to everyone in Liverpool Walton that this Government is intent on bullying our city.

 

“Every day I have fought for Liverpool against the cuts and against those in the Westminster bubble who want to pull us down and hold us back. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat’s continued unfair and vicious attacks, despite our pleas, is evidence of National Government’s complete lack of understanding of how local councils work and, more importantly, the lives of the people who feel the devastating effects of their ignorance.

 

“With almost 20 years of local government experience, and 7 years as leader then Mayor of Liverpool, I have continuously battled and fought for us to be treated fairly, but it is almost impossible to do when they simply refuse to listen.

 

“Vulnerable people in Walton depend on the services of our council, as do millions of others across the country, and I want the opportunity to go to Parliament, tell their story and look government ministers in the eye as I explain how important local government is to them.

 

“With your support, I have steered Liverpool through 7 years of painful austerity, but I am proud to call our council a socialist council.

 

“Despite their bludgeoning cuts we haven’t closed a single library or children’s centre. We have protected the most vulnerable in our communities. We have built 15 new and improved schools across the city.

 

“I am proud of our achievements, and the city is in a good place, with a growing and vibrant economy.

 

“If I am selected by the NEC, we have a strong group of Labour Councillors who will continue to do an incredible job and I fully trust that, if I’m chosen, they will continue to move this city forward.

 

“Serving the people of Liverpool as Mayor has been a huge privilege for me, but now, as we face the uncertainties of Brexit, a shrinking national economy and the prospect of further austerity, I face an opportunity to use my experience to take the fight direct to Whitehall, to stand up to Theresa May on behalf of the people of Walton, Liverpool and together burst the Westminster bubble.

 

“I would hope that the people of Liverpool can understand how I have come to this decision and that party members both nationally and locally will understand that my heart’s desire is to fight for the people of Liverpool and Labour’s vision for running the country.

 

“This General Election, as a chance to stand up in Parliament for Walton and Liverpool, is an opportunity I must take.”

 

UPDATE: On 22 April the Liverpool Echo published online an article that states that Steve Rotherham has registered to stand again as MP for Walton, despite that he’s favourite to win the Liverpool City Region Mayor race on 4 May. This has created confusion over Joe Anderson’s position and his desire to run for the seat. It seems, however, that Rotherham is waiting to see the result of the Mayoral election on 4 May before making a final decision and was required to register his interest in standing again before that election takes place. At the moment he is running for both jobs. If he wins the Mayoral race and chooses not to then continue on for re-election as MP, only a few days will be available for a candidate for Walton to be selected. A local European MEP, Theresa Griffin, has also said she intends to stand for the seat in Walton. This all makes Joe Anderson’s desire to stand in the seat far from certain.


Douglas Carswell rules out standing at the election and says he will vote Tory

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The former UKIP MP Douglas Carswell has decided he is not going to seek re-election on 8 June. In 2014, when still a Conservative MP for Clacton, he defected to the UKIP and won the subsequent by-election to become the party’s only Member of Parliament. Last month he left the party after a dispute with party figures, including former leader Nigel Farage, and became an Independent MP for Clacton. As a Consequence, the UKIP donor Arron Banks said he would stand in Clacton against Carswell. Now that Carswell is standing down it seems likely that Banks will abandon his plans to stand, telling the Guardian:

 

“Twenty-four hours after launching my campaign, the new sheriff in town has run the old sheriff out. He’s a coward, he’s too chicken. He didn’t want to fight me because he knew he would lose.”

 

Now that Carswell is standing down and Banks is unlikely to continue his campaign to be Clacton’s MP, the way is left open for the UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, or its former leader Nigel Farage, to have a clear run at the Essex constituency, which is one of UKIP’s strongholds. UKIP, like everyone else has been taken by surprise by the snap election (except maybe for former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown who says he predicted the election) and say they are not yet in a position to say what will happen in Clacton. A senior UKIP source told the Guardian: “The main decisions on candidates and the manifesto are still to be finalised. The election was something of a surprise, so we’ve not got everything prepared.”

 

As for Douglas Carswell , he said that he feels his career is over now that the UK is leaving the EU, but said he was “proud and honoured” to have served his Clacton constituents. He added, on a constituency blog:

 

“I have decided that I will not now be seeking re-election. I intend to vote Conservative ‪on 8 June and will be offering my full support to whoever the Clacton constituency Conservatives select as their candidate.”

 

After 12 years as MP for Clacton, Carswell added that he had had  “great fun working with, and getting to know, many wonderful local people.” He continued:

 

“ Together, we ran all sorts of local campaigns, from safeguarding local services to getting a new seafront. Local has always come first.

 

“As I promised in my maiden speech, I have done everything possible to ensure we got, and won, a referendum to leave the European Union – even changing parties and triggering a by-election to help nudge things along. Last summer, we won that referendum. Britain is going to become a sovereign country again.

 

“It is sometimes said that all political careers end in failure. It doesn’t feel like that to me today. I have stood for parliament five times, won four times, and helped win the referendum last June. Job done. I’m delighted.”


Further reading:

 

  • The Greens kick off their campaign in Bristol with an appeal to the young…. read more (Guardian.com/uk)

 

  • Jeremy Corbyn rules out a referendum on a final Brexit deal… read more (Guardian.com/uk)

 

  • Ten steps that could take Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street… read more (Independent.co.uk)

 

  • TV broadcasters consider “empty chairing”  Theresa May if she won’t take part in debates… read more (Independent.co.uk)

 

  • Is a Liberal Democrats comeback feasible on 8 June?… read more (Independent.co.uk)

 

  • If you think Corbyn can’t win this election, you’re a Tory… read more (Independent.co.uk)

 

  • Corbyn says UK elecction “establishment vs. the people”… read more (abcnews.go.com)

Wednesday 19 April 2017 – Never trust a politician’s word … Theresa May calls a snap General Election in the UK

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U-turns are of course a favourite of politicians around the world as they realise that something they’ve said or promised is going to be either impossible to honour or politically expedient to go back on. Yesterday’s stunning U-turn by the British Prime Minister Theresa May (above) when she called a snap General Election for the 8th June was just such an example of the political U-turn – albeit a truly spectacular one. Since becoming Prime Minister after David Cameron’s resignation following the country’s vote to leave the European Union last summer, Theresa May has consistently and vehemently insisted that there will be no snap General Election and that she will honour the new fixed-term parliament Act that was  passed by David Cameron’s Coalition government in 2011. That says the next General Election was scheduled for the first Thursday in May 2020. The whole point of the fixed-term parliament Act was to give stability and continuity to each administration and remove the oft-used power for a Prime Minister to call a General Election anytime during a five-year period when it best suited their party’s chance of success. This power could also be rejected, disastrously, as was the case for the Labour Party’s James Callaghan in the late 1970s who delayed calling a General Election only for the “Winter of Discontent” to erupt destroying his and his party’s chances of re-election. He was defeated in the eventual 1979 General Election by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, who remained in power for eighteen years. Thirty years later, when Gordon Brown – again leading the Labour Party – became Prime Minister when Tony Blair finally stood aside after a decade as Prime Minister, he had the opportunity to call a quick General Election which he may very well have won. He didn’t and the events of the global financial crisis in 2008 took over and when he eventually did call an election in 2010, the Labour Party failed to secure a majority. Aided by the Liberal Democrats, a small left-of-centre party, David Cameron’s Conservative Party were able to form a Coalition government that responded to the aftermath of the financial crisis with extreme austerity measures that today, seven years later, are still taking their toll on many in the UK.

 

After issuing Article 50 in March, Theresa May has begun the two-year period of negotiation to withdraw from the European Union, known as “Brexit.” She increasingly seems to favour a more “hard Brexit,” i.e. withdrawing from the EU without negotiating to keep or be part of some or all of the more significant benefits of the being a member of the EU – such as the single market. Many in Britain agree with this approach, but I believe that the majority don’t. Even many of those who voted to Leave in June 2016 didn’t fully grasp just how important trade with the EU is to the United Kingdom. Most I believe would want a much softer Brexit that allows the UK to maintain its close links with the European Union in regards trade, as well as in areas such as visa-free travel. A hard Brexit would sever those automatic and guaranteed links and we would have to renegotiate them as any other nation outside the EU would have to do. The Prime Minister claims that the British opposition parties are trying to obstruct the negotiations over Brexit and the reason she has called this election, despite telling us for a year she wouldn’t, was to strengthen the hand of the Brexit negotiations and, assuming she wins the election, to give her the mandate to pursue the negotiations. Despite once being pro-European Union she is now championing a hard-Brexit and is using this General Election to stifle any opposition to it, or as she said to make it hard for people to “frustrate” an EU exit.

 

Now that Theresa May has said she wants a General Election, she has to get round the restrictions of the Fixed Parliament Act. There are several ways she can do this, but the method she has chosen is the most logical and obvious one – she will have Parliament vote on the issue today (Wednesday). Two-thirds of MPs will have to support an early General Election. This may seem difficult to get considering the Government has a slim majority. If the Labour Party chose to oppose an early election then the two-thirds threshold would be impossible to achieve. The Labour Party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn has, however, already stated that he will ask his MPs to support the call for a General Election and that he welcomes the chance to put his policies to the country. The Labour Party are in a dilemma. They are miles behind in the opinion polls and on the face of it seem to have little chance of securing a majority at any General Election, so why would they support an early election that will possibly give the Conservatives another five years of power?  It is a bit of a Catch-22 situation. If Labour refuses to support an election, then the Tories and Theresa May will hammer the message to the public that Jeremy Corrbyn and the Labour Party are scared to face a public vote and that their refusal to support an election is an attempt to scupper Brexit.  They clearly don’t want this so will support the vote for a General Election in Parliament today and will have just a few weeks to convince the public who seemingly deeply mistrust the Labour Party at the moment that they can lead the country. As for the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), who have nearly 60 MPs in the Commons, they have said they will abstain in today’s vote in parliament. They say they support fixed-term parliaments but will not stand in the way of an early General Election:

 

“We are supporters of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, and that means that parliaments should go their term.

“But we are not going to stand in the way of the election because the election is going to happen.

“The Labour Party is going to vote with the Tories. We are not going to vote with the Tories, we are not going to make life easy for them, we are here to hold them to account.”

 

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Some opinion polls put Labour 20 points behind the Conservatives, a gap perhaps not seen since the disastrous days in 1983 when Michael Foot’s Labour party was devastated at the General Election by a post-Falklands War triumphant Margaret Thatcher. The irony is that polls frequently suggest that many of Labour’s policies under Jeremy Corbyn (above) are extremely popular, yet this seems to be having little effect on whether those voters who will make a difference at the General Election will take a chance and vote Labour. Many blame this squarely on Jeremy Corbyn himself. He was elected to the party leadership on a groundswell of popular support among party members, tens of thousands who joined the party simply to vote for Corbyn. His socialist agenda went against the grain of Labour policy for the last twenty or thirty years which had taken many areas of policy to the right-of-centre. This, for many, had simply created a party that was mimicking Conservative policies in order to appeal to the “middle England” voters who needed to vote Labour for the party to gain a majority. Under Tony Blair they had spectacularly achieved this and swept to a landslide in 1997 after eighteen years in opposition. Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown were in power until 2010. By then, however, the public had become disillusioned and, with the help of the financial crisis of 2008, the Tories regained power albeit as part of a Coalition government.

 

Austerity was the opportunity for Labour to oppose and rebuild their credibility, but instead they chose to largely support austerity in the belief that that was the only way back to power. As the old saying goes, oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. With Labour offering no real alternative at the 2015 election, the public didn’t vote for them and David Cameron was able to narrowly secure a majority. When Ed Miliband resigned as Labour leader after the 2015 defeat, Corbyn came from nowhere as a candidate who simply wanted to spark a debate to becoming the leader of the party. He represented a break from the old Tory-lite image the Labour party was getting and also a reaction to the growing dislike and mistrust of so-called career politicians who were more interested in power and expense accounts than policies and the electorate. Jeremy Corbyn had been on the Labour backbenches for thirty-plus  years, advocating his socialist ideas with no hope or expectation of ever having the opportunity to implement them.  Theresa May’s call for a General Election gives Corbyn his chance to express his long-standing beliefs to the general public. Much of the population has suffered under the last seven years of austerity and many are deeply concerned over the direction the country will go post-Brexit.  It is often in such worrying times that the electorate vote for change. Whether Jeremy Corbyn is the man to inspire the public to go in a different direction is to be seen. The opinion polls suggest not, but as a friend said to me on Facebook yesterday, “you never know.”


ELECTION NEWS

MPs back Prime Minister’s call for a General Election by 522 votes to 13

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As expected the House of Commons backed the Prime Minister’s call for a snap General Election to be held on the 8th June. Although the SNP abstained in the vote (with the exception of two suspended SNP MPs who voted against), the main Opposition party – the Labour Party – largely backed it ensuring that the threshold of two-thirds of MPs voting in favour was reached. The PM is seeking an election in order to give her a mandate to pursue the Brexit negotations in her way and with a strengthened hand. Should she win the General Election it will also weaken those opposed to her approach to Brexit.  Only thirteen MPs voted against an early election, which will now be just two years after the last one. You can read more about these 13 MPs, who were:

Nine Labour MPs:

1.       Ronnie Campbell

2.       Ann Clwyd

3.       Paul Farrelly

4.       Jim Fitzpatrick

5.       Clive Lewis

6.       Fiona Mactaggart

7.       Liz McInnes

8.       Dennis Skinner

9.       Graham Stringer

Three Independent MPs:

1.       Lady Slyvia Hermon

2.       Natalie McGarry (suspended SNP)

3.       Michelle Thomson (suspended SNP)

One SLDP MP

1.       Dr Alasdair McDonnell

One of the nine Labour MPs to vote against was Ann Clwyd who, on her Twitter account gave her reasoning for doing so: “I voted against calling an early General Election because this is a cynical distraction from Brexit. PM is in trouble and running scared!” Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who voted for the election, echoed Ms Clwyd’s opinion that the sudden election is a distraction. She said that the Government want it to be seen as a mandate for Brexit when instead it is “because they want to distract from the fact that we have a failing government”. Meanwhile the Conservative MP and Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said the election won’t be wholly about Brexit, but  said “for some people this election will be overwhelmingly about Brexit”. This is a real  danger for this election that it will be pushed as a means to give the Government the mandate to see through the Brexit negotiations and in the process hoping that the public will largely overlook the fact that it is a General Election and that it will decide who will run the country regardless of Brexit. This may be a reason why Theresa May has already ruled out having any TV debates during the campaign.  Just maybe she doesn’t want to stand on a stage with Jeremy Corbyn and have to justify her Government’s failures. She used the excuse on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that she preferred “to get out and about and meet voters.” Jeremy Corbyn has accused her of “dodging” a debate with him. ITV has already announced a planned debate regardless of May’s willingness to appear on one, to which the Lib Dems suggested they “empty chair” her if she refuses to appear on a debate.  The Lib Dem leader Tim Farron saying:

 

“The prime minister’s attempt to dodge scrutiny shows how she holds the public in contempt.

 

“The British people deserve to see their potential leaders talking about the future of our country.”

 

The Labour leader thought it “rather strange” that she wouldn’t debate him and challenged her to live up to her promise of strong leadership and show some by debating the issues:

 

“Let’s have the debates. It’s what democracy needs and what the British people deserve.”

 

The Prime Minister remains adamant that she won’t do TV debates, but then again she said repeatedly she wouldn’t call a snap General Election.  Meanwhile the BBC has yet to say what it will do regarding debates and has said that it will announce it’s election coverage in due time.

 

George Osborne to quit as MP for Tatton

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Unsurprisingly, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has decided that he’s had enough of Parliament and will not stand for re-election on 8th June as MP for Tatton. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2010 to 2016, overseeing the implementation of austerity measures under the premiership of David Cameron. Since he left the office he has continued to be MP for Tatton (for which he receives nearly £75,000) but has also attracted controversy by taking on several high-paid, and often very part-time, jobs, which include:

 

  • Editor, London Evening Standard: Paid £200,000, according to reports

 

  • Adviser, BlackRock Investment Institute: Paid £650,000 a year

 

  • Chair, Northern Powerhouse Partnership: Unpaid

 

  • Kissinger Fellow at the McCain Institute: £120,212 stipend to cover travel and research costs

 

  • Washington Speaker’s Bureau: Paid nearly £800,000 for engagements since July

 

Osborne was only 45 when he stopped being Chancellor of the Exchequer and said that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life “just being  an  ex-Chancellor,” and that he wanted “new challenges.” He added:

 

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to edit the Evening Standard.

 

“More so than at any time in my life, the public need from the media the straight facts and informed opinion to help them to make the big decisions Britain now faces about the country we want to be.

 

“That starts with the coverage of this general election.”

 

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn had described Osborne’s editorship of the Evening Standard  as a “joke” and called for a by-election in Tatton. For Corbyn, Osborne’s editorship made a “mockery of the independence of the media. It takes multi-tasking to a new level and is an insult to the electors he is supposed to serve.” The possibility of conflicts of interest and overlapping of his responsibilities as an MP and as a newspaper editor has no doubt made it difficult for Osborne to remain both. Like many, he has chosen the more lucrative prospect of the private sector over any commitment he felt towards his electorate in Tatton. Ironically, when Osborne graduated from Oxford he failed to gain a place as a trainee on The Times, though he did manage to become, albeit briefly, a freelance reporter for the Daily Telegraph’s daily column.

 

Undoubtedly, Mr Osborne will be one of several MPs who decide to call it a day at the General Election, which is nothing unusual. Conversely, some old-timers will continue to fight the fight and seek re-election to the House of Commons while others  are considering their position. One of the most prominent MPs to announce he will stand again this year is veteran Conservative MP Ken Clarke (below). Mr Clarke had suggested that he would stand down in 2020 when he would have been MP for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire for fifty years. Now that the snap election has been called he has decided to stand again. He is already Father of the House – the longest-serving Member of Parliament. He had said last year that this would be his last Parliament, but his office today confirmed: “He’s putting himself forward to be the Conservative candidate for Rushcliffe in June.”

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Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn is facing several of his MPs deciding to quit, so far including the former Secretary Alan Johnson, moderate MP Tom Blenkinsop, Andrew Smith and Iain Wright. The last of these said on his Twitter account:

 

“I do not intend to stand again to become Member of Parliament for Hartlepool.

 

“It has been an enormous privilege to serve my home town in Parliament. I have now been an MP for a third of my life. I would like to do other things and now is a good opportunity to do so.

 

“I would like to thank my constituents for giving me the honour of allowing me to be their Member of Parliament since 2004.”

 

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Quitting Labour MPs Alan Johnson, Iain Wright, Tom Blenkinsop and Andrew Smith

 

MPs quit Parliament for many reasons, but the impending electoral disaster for Jeremy Corbyn if he can’t turn around the massive poll lead for the Conservatives is certainly a reason why some will decide to jump before they are pushed. Some polls suggest a 20 point lead for the Tories. If this was translated into parliamentary seats it would be a total disaster for Labour with a loss of perhaps a third of their current seats, which would propel the Tories to a comfortable majority. The Daily Mail, not known for its support of Labour, quoted the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock as saying he didn’t expect to live to see another Labour government. I find it surprising that Kinnock of all people is suggesting this. He certainly didn’t know how to win an election. During his nine years as Labour leader he lost two – in 1987 and 1992. The latter in particular he was expected to win but managed to lose it from the jaws of victory to John Major’s Conservatives who scraped home with a small majority.

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Neil Kinnock, an MP from 1970-1995 and leader of the Labour Party from 1983-1992, during which he lost two General Elections

 

Andrew Smith, who was played a pivotal role in allowing Jeremy Corbyn to stand for leadership election in 2015, reflected on his decision to quit at this General Election:

 

“This election is for a Parliament which is likely to run until 2022, when I would be over 71, so I think it is now time for someone else to take forward the work of serving local people as your MP. I will therefore not be a candidate in the election.

 

“My belief and confidence in the values of fairness which Labour stands for are as strong as ever, and I will work tirelessly to help secure the election of a Labour MP for Oxford East, carrying forward the service which Oxford Labour gives our local community.”

 

The General Election campaign gets under way

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Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May on the campaign trail in Croydon and Bolton

Asking the electorate to “give her the mandate to speak for Britain and to deliver for Britain,” Theresa May kicked off the 2017 General Election campaign, with the election just seven weeks away tomorrow. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn is already trying to focus the election on the delivery of public services and the state of the economy following Brexit. He expressed fears that Mrs May would use Brexit to turn the UK into an “offshore tax haven” and vowed to prevent this if Labour forms the next Government. He said that he would raise the minimum wage from the current £7.50 per hour to £10 per hour and that a Labour government would possibly increase tax on those earning more than £75,000 per year, and pledged increase spending on the NHS, social care and council housing. Despite the slim chances of a Labour majority, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg believes that Corbyn has ruled out “progressive alliances” with smaller parties.

 

The Prime Minister told MPs today that there was a “window of opportunity”  to go to the polls before the Brexit negotiations begin in earnest. She is hoping to increase the Conservative’s majority of 17 seats and therefore strengthen her hand in the upcoming negotiations. She said that it would be wrong for the UK to have waited to 2020 for an election, and to have an election “looming on the horizon” at a time when the country could be facing the most “difficult and sensitive” period in the Brexit negotiations. We are scheduled to leave the European Union in March 2019 with the General Election, under the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, scheduled for the first Thursday in May 2020. She said that it was “right and responsible” thing to do and that she wanted to help prepare the people of the UK for life outside the EU. How holding an election now helps with this is beyond me. It seems that the reasoning for the snap election is not to help the people of the UK but to help Mrs May and the Conservatives to impose a “hard Brexit” on the country – a country where nearly half the electorate voted against leaving the EU and many of those who did vote for Brexit did not envisage it meaning a “hard Brexit.”  The country and its people need to debate just what Brexit is going to mean, and a General Election campaign is not necessarily the time and place to do that. The time for that was before last year’s in/out referendum vote, not a year after it. The public were lied to and deceived over what Brexit would mean last year and many are now walking blind and ignorant into the future outside the European Union with no real sense of the consequences and effects it is going to have on the country.

 

Speaking in Bolton, the Prime Minister compared her “strong and stable leadership” to the “coalition of chaos” which would follow a Labour victory. She accused the Lib Dems of being willing to “prop-up”  Labour – returning to the “coalition of losers” scaremongering used previously by David Cameron. Remember, however, it was the Conservative party who were propped up by the Lib Dems in 2010. Without their support and co-operation, the Conservatives could not have formed a Coalition Government and would have struggled to stay in power as a minority Government. In Cameron’s elections, the Conservatives also stoked up the possibility of a coalition between Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). Again this was used to promote fear against what was labelled by the Tories as another “coalition of losers” but again was an unlikely prospect in political reality. Today, Mrs May accused the SNP of “tunnel vision” over Scottish independence and that they risked destabilising the country.  I find the Tories obsession with the SNP strange as the SNP are a much greater threat to the chances of a Labour majority than a Conservative majority. Indeed, a strong SNP vote on 8th June will only help the Conservatives.  At the election in 2015 the SNP all but wiped out Labour’s Scottish Westminster MPs and if this is repeated it is a overwhelming obstacle to Labour becoming the next Government.  The Tories concern with the SNP is more to do with its calls for Scottish independence, something which the Conservative party is vehemently opposed to. Mrs May has already ruled out the SNP’s calls for a second referendum, following the NO vote in the 2014 referendum. She is unlikely to allow a second referendum as long as she is Prime Minister.

 

Early clashes between Mrs May and Mr Corbyn continued today. Jeremy Corbyn said  the public “cannot trust” the Prime Minister, using her u-turn on the snap election by saying “How can any voter trust what the Prime Minister said.”  He claimed that the PM had “broken promises” on the NHS and the deficit and had “starved” schools of money while  cutting taxes for the rich. Meanwhile, Theresa May said that Labour was “bankrupt” and that only the Conservatives could ensure a  “strong economy and defence” and make a success of Brexit. She said that the General Election was in “our country’s national interest” and that there should be unity, not division, at Westminster over Brexit. Speaking in the Commons today, Jeremy Corbyn maintained that the Conservatives’ record was one of falling wages, rising debt, increasing child poverty and an NHS that was in a “year-round crisis.” He continued: 

 

“Austerity has failed. Over the last seven years, the Tories have broken every promise on living standards,, the deficit, debt, the health service and schools funding. Why should anyone believe a word they say over the next seven weeks?”

 

In response, Mrs May said she was “very proud” of her Government’s achievements and emphasised that the country faces a “real choice” at the election:

 

“We will be fighting for every vote. While the right honourable gentleman (Mr Corbyn) would bankrupt our economy, weaken our defences and is simply not fit to lead.”

 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Mrs May said that “no politician wanted to hold an election for the sake of it” and there were risks involved in doing so. But she insisted that she trusted the British public “and I am asking them to put their trust in me”. On the calling of a snap election she added:

 

“I genuinely came to this decision reluctantly having looked at the circumstances and having looked ahead at the process of negotiation. I want this country to be able to play the strongest hand possible in those negotiations and be in a position to get the best possible deal.

 

“That is in our long-term interest. That is what this is about.”

 

Again the Prime Minister is focusing the election on the issue of Brexit, even though she argued that it would not be a re-run of the Brexit referendum. As the BBC’s Norman Smith suggests, there are other huge issues that would normally be the focus of a General Election – the NHS, school reform, social care, etc., etc.. Yet, he says, “Brexit was bigger than anything else.”  The PM, he suggests, is portraying herself as the “Brexit candidate.” Focus needs to be placed on the everyday issues which normally preoccupy a General Election campaign, not just whether to give the Government a mandate to pursue a “hard Brexit.”  Jeremy Corbyn is already trying to do this by focusing on public services, but I fear that the Conservatives and the media are not going to go along with this and, indeed, this General Election will end up a re-run of the Brexit referendum.

 

Registering to vote

 

If you already registered to vote you don’t need to do anything. You will receive your polling card in due time. You can check if you are registered on the Electoral Commission website, or can download forms to register by post. Voters in Northern Ireland who wish to vote by post should get a form via their local  Area Electoral Office. The deadline for registering to vote is 22 May and you need to be aged 18 before the 8th June to vote, though you can register to vote once you reach the age of 16. If you are on holiday you can vote by proxy and will need to use a proxy who are themselves eligible and registered to vote in this election. (read more about registering to vote)

 

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