“Thanks but no thanks”? Anna Soubry was thought to be joining the new Independent Group of MPs. Where is she?
All the talk last weekend was of Labour MPs splitting away from their party to form a new group – along with Conservative MPs and possibly Liberal Democrats.
We know that seven Labour MPs went through with their split – with humiliating consequences for all those involved.
What about the Tories?
Anna Soubry was thought to have been in talks with Chuka Umunna – did she miss the memo saying when it was all going to happen?
Or was the Conservative side of this just another smokescreen; another gesture towards rebellion that just didn’t quite make it into reality?
That seems more likely.
Until some Conservatives join Umunna’s Seven, it seems clear that we should add to the list of their failings a willingness to be deceived by Conservatives.
Tories who offered to join the Independent Group (or Gemini A Ltd, to give it its official title) have managed to speed a schism in the Labour Party. In public relations terms, this is a boost for their own party that remains (for now) intact.
And the ex-Labour independents should have seen this coming.
The Tories have, after all, a record of failure to go through with rebellion. And they have a record of dishonesty.
They are a party of liars led by a liar. Only a fool would expect them to honour a promise.
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Still, Mr Umunna may well be thinking about announcing that it’s possible he could consider something along those lines again at some point in the future.
Also involved in discussions about forming a new party, we’re told, is Chris Leslie – who has been castigated in a letter by representatives of his Nottingham East Constituency Labour Party.
“We believe that the views expressed in your most recent email to constituents are likely to damage the reputation and electoral prospects of our party and give the impression that you are doubtful that a Labour government would be the best outcome for Britain,” they wrote. “This email crossed a line and we believe it is unacceptable for a sitting Labour MP to attack the party in this manner.”
The letter also stated: “You are happy to attack the party leadership, other Labour MPs and party members; giving the impression that our party is divided as we approach the local council elections in May and a possible general election.
“The support you give constituents and party members in Nottingham East is well below that of other local Labour MPs… Members and residents are much more likely to have seen you attacking the party and its leadership than representing the views of local residents.”
Draw your own conclusions. While the MPs already mentioned, together with Gavin Shuker who lost a vote of “no confidence” in his own CLP last year, and Angela Smith might say they are frustrated with pro-Brexit policies and issues over anti-Semitism, their real reasons for wanting to take their allegiances elsewhere seem clear.
So the right-wing newspapers are full of rumours that these people will help set up a new “centrist” (read: neoliberal) party alongside Conservatives (possibly Anna Soubry) and Liberal Democrats who may be desperate for public interest after their five-year dalliance with the Tories.
Intense discussions are taking place at Westminster that could lead to the emergence of a new centrist party consisting of six or more disaffected anti-Brexit Labour MPs along with the involvement of some Conservatives and the backing of the Liberal Democrats.
Apparently some of the ringleaders have lobbied backbench colleagues they thought were sympathetic, with an invitation to join in. It seems Clive Lewis was among them – and here’s his response:
Hi Wendy,Im plenty fine in @UKLabour! We already have a party committed to neolib economic policies – it’s called the Tory Party.All this endeavour will do in our current voting system is keep them in power.We need a radically transformative govt.Not more of the same but rebadged https://t.co/WvEC32acoi
Gobby James Goddard: His tendency to let his mouth run away with him keeps getting him arrested.
Remember James Goddard, the pro-Brexit fanatic who got arrested after intimidating incidents involving Anna Soubry, Owen Jones and others on College Green, Westminster, last month?
Well, it’s hardly surprising.
It’s even less surprising that he has been arrested again – this time for threatening a press photographer.
It seems a recording exists of him telling Joel Goodman, “I swear to god when there’s no police around here, I’m going to take your head off your shoulders, and all the football lads will as well, your card is marked … Trust me, next time you’re in London mate, you’re finished.”
Pointing the finger: A Conservative MP shouts at Commons Speaker John Bercow during discussion of the Grieve Amendment.
Conservative MPs have been at their abusive worst in Parliament – heckling Speaker John Bercow over his decision to allow a vote on the so-called Grieve Amendment, and hurling insults at Jeremy Corbyn, ironically as he called for a “safe space” from such behaviour during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The hypocrisy comes into sharp focus when one recalls that only two days before, Conservative MPs wrote to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, demanding stronger policing of the area outside the Palace of Westminster to prevent abuse of the kind directed at Conservative MP Anna Soubry by (right-wing pro-Brexit) protesters on Monday.
Note that I put “right wing pro-Brexit” in parentheses because there seems to be a concerted effort to airbrush this fact out of the record, along with the abuse of left-wing journalist Owen Jones by the same people. We’ll come to that shortly.
First, let’s consider yesterday’s Parliamentary antics, starting with the Grieve Amendment. Tory backbencher and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve had proposed an amendment to legislation that gives the government 21 days to say what happens next if its Brexit deal is voted down, and a further seven sitting days (days in which Parliament is in session) in which to hold a vote.
The amendment reduces the time allowed before a statement is made to just three days. It isn’t binding, but it would be extremely damaging to Theresa May if she failed to do so.
MPs objected because they claimed the original legislation was unamendable. Mr Bercow held a different view:
And that his interpretation is that while there should be no debate, he can still select amendments, including inviting Grieve to put his. Hope that’s clear!
Given how hard Andrea Leadsom fought to keep the govt's legal advice on the Withdrawal Bill a secret, isn't it a bit, I dunno, hypocritical, for her to demand the confidential advice the speaker receives from his clerks be revealed for the first time in history?@lbc#bbcpm
Here’s the icing on this particularly rotten cake – the moment when Tory MP Adam Holloway accused Mr Bercow of trying to sabotage Brexit, claiming as evidence that the Speaker has a pro-Remain sticker on his car. The slapdown was brilliant:
It seems clear that the behaviour of these Conservatives lowered the tone of debate in the Commons and arguably harmed the reputation of Parliament itself – although some would say that this cannot happen as they have already damaged it irreparably:
You can see from the disgusting behaviour of Tory MPs towards Speaker Bercow today why they were the first govt in modern times to be held in contempt of #Parliament, how dare they lecture us about abuse and unruly conduct, they are a disgrace, as is their #Brexit#StopBrexit
The arguments over the Amendment were – sadly – only a sequel to a similar unseemly display during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Both Mrs May and Mr Corbyn mentioned the intimidation of Ms Soubry and Mr Jones on Monday. The prime minister said politicians and the media should be able to go about their work without harassment and intimidation.
Sadly, her backbenchers did not pay any attention to her (perhaps cementing our opinion that she is no leader) and poured abuse at Mr Corbyn while he agreed with her. He said: “We also have to be clear that intimidation is wrong outside this building as it is wrong in any other aspect of life in this country, and we have to create a safe space for political debate.”
By this point, the level of heckling had reached a point beyond which he could not continue, so he pointed it out: “You see what I mean, Mr Speaker; I am calling for a safe space for political debate.”
The Tory perpetrators may have enjoyed themselves but the public drew the appropriate conclusions, as the following comments bear out:
At #PMQs, the Tory benches shouting & braying as @jeremycorbyn calls for a safe space for political debate. Levels of self-awareness: zero.
Conservative MPs have spent the last 48 hours saying how its so horrible when politicians are shouted at in a way rude way yet they just spent #PMQs shouting at Jeremy Corbyn in the rudest way while he was trying to ask questions
And of course, that is what they have been trying to do.
Possibly worse than the habitually abusive behaviour of Tory MPs is the apparent attempt to pretend that the only person suffering abuse on College Green on Monday was Ms Soubry.
I myself was so surprised to see her mentioned on the BBC’s lunchtime Politics Live show – and not Owen Jones, who is a frequent panellist there – that I actually raised the matter with editor Rob Burley. Here’s the dialogue:
Because we are a political programme and focused on the threat specifically to MPs. The abuse of Owen was nasty too – and appeared to be the same people – but our focus was politicians. https://t.co/aKKORyzMtH
More concerning still were the efforts to mitigate the effect of Mr Burley’s choice – which was to play up the effect on Ms Soubry and play down that on Mr Jones – by members of the public. Here’s one such comment:
He's a journalist and a left-wing political activist who has already acknowledged that he wasn't bothered by the incident (see his own Tweet).
Owen Jones himself put that comment in its place, in a response to information from Channel 4 News reporter Michael Crick that – as with the BBC – attempted to excise the abuse of Mr Jones from the record:
I extend my solidarity to Anna Soubry, but she wasn’t their only target. Given we’ve established the far right threaten Labour people and the left, and have killed a Labour MP, can we not airbrush the left from this please? https://t.co/1zI1Sg8ccd
If you are confused as to the reason television news reporters have tried to play down the targeting of people who represent the Left by people who are for all intents and purposes fascists, I refer you to this perceptive comment by Mr Jones, that makes it clear that the mainstream media have legitimised it:
By denouncing their opponents as "terrorist supporters", "enemies of the people", "traitors" and demanding "saboteurs" are "crushed", the British press is fuelling the far right. pic.twitter.com/zwg03pkclO
The attitudes we have seen are sickening: Right-wing MPs have shown they are happy to abuse others before TV cameras in the Palace of Westminster, while decrying the same behaviour against their own by members of the public who were filmed on mobile phones, as their cronies in the mass media do their best to make it seem that they are the victims – when in fact they have stoked the extreme attitudes that lead to such abuse, threatening behaviour and, ultimately, violence.
These are our elected representatives but if this is how they conduct themselves, they do not represent me. We must demand better.
For the record: Owen Jones, pursued by James Goddard – both recording the encounter on their mobile phones, while a policeman watches. The behaviour of these right-wingers is like that of cartoon villains, so I’ve cartoonised this scene.
Some of what follows is very ugly indeed.
The left-wing journalist Owen Jones, together with Conservative MP Anna Soubry and who knows how many others were targeted by right-wing pro-Brexit protesters outside Parliament yesterday (Monday, January 7).
They were wearing yellow vests because they have styled themselves after France’s gilets jaunes, protesters against rising fuel prices and taxes who blocked roads wearing yellow high-vis jackets on November 18 last year, sparking a pan-European movement.
Think about that for a moment. These anti-EU protesters were aping people who are citizens of the very bloc they hate. That should give you an inkling as to their twisted thinking. But it gets worse.
Here’s Mr Jones’s tweeted video clip of his treatment at their hands:
I’ll be honest – sometimes I disagree with Mr Jones’s opinions, but always in the most cordial way and always with reason. Calling him a “tampon”, a “traitor”, and a writer of “fake news” is neither cordial nor reasonable. And take note of the way the chief bully in the crowd called Mr Jones a bully; it’s a classic tactic, accusing a victim of one’s own behaviour.
The principle antagonist in the clip appears to be one James Goddard. You can witness more of his behaviour here:
Britain has become so normalised to extreme-right rhetoric that Brextremists like this can scream threats and threaten war and nothing is done about it.pic.twitter.com/9gelu2Cv7m
It seems astonishing that this man retained his liberty after the behaviour in the clip tweeted by Another Angry Voice. If you’ve seen any of the many reality documentaries showing the police on duty, you’ll know that they usually issue a stern warning to members of the public who start exhibiting loud and threatening behaviour to desist, and arrest them if they don’t comply. The racist claim that the officer in the clip isn’t even British would be a chargeable offence, I believe.
There may be a reason he hasn’t been arrested, but it isn’t a very good one. We’ll come to it shortly.
(If I may interject a note of personal pride here, I seem to recall coining the term “Brextremist” on This Site. I am delighted to see that it has fallen into general usage.)
In a further tweet, Mr Jones added: “By the way, the things they’re yelling at me – traitor, terrorism supporter – are all legitimised by the right wing press and politicians. If anything happens to one of us on the left at the hands of these fascists, they will share the blame. Hope that’s clear.”
There’s just one issue with that comment, as Hazel Nolan makes clear:
Except something already has happened to one of us.
Her name was Jo Cox,
and she was politically assassinated by the far right- in the middle of a campaign with heightened rhetoric such as this.
The displays against Ms Soubry and Mr Jones, attracted widespread denunciation from both members of the public and the political classes.
Aislinn M-D, a doctor, tweeted: “Now im no fan of Soubry but the accusation of being a ‘Nazi’ seems to be one of the most flippantly overused and totally disconnected insult from reality. It disgracefully undermines what the Nazis actually did and makes those using it demonstrate total ignorance of history.”
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon stated, “This is appalling – as is footage today of Owen Jones facing a similar experience. We all have a duty to stand against this kind of behaviour. Robust debate is the hallmark of any democracy – but so too is decency, civility and respect for those holding different opinions.”
So why weren’t the perpetrators arrested?
Why aren't the Police arresting the far right thugs who were harassing Anna Soubry and Owen Jones, an MP was murdered by a far right loon ffs, i can only think the Police are acting on orders, the @Conservatives own this, they are responsible for the breakdown in our society.
“Citizen of Everywhere”, responding to a similar question from the Mail opinion hack Dan Hodges (with whom, for once, I found myself in agreement), suggested: “They’re trying to provoke an overreaction from the police so they can paint themselves as victims fighting the good fight against an oppressive regime. It’s usually better to mock them than arrest them, but I agree that changes when they cross the line into individual harassment.”
Nick Church also suggested: “The MPs who have legitimized this level of racism and xenophobia and allowed it to become mainstream should be utterly ashamed.”
Sadly, it seems Parliamentarians were only interested in protecting their own when the issue was raised as a point of order in the House of Commons.
Tory Nick Boles asked Speaker John Bercow, “Will you consult the Serjeant at Arms to see whether the Metropolitan police are doing everything they can to protect the public’s right to protest but also to ensure that Members are able to go about their business in total safety?”
Here’s the answer: “The House authorities are not technically responsible for the safety of Members off the estate—that is and remains a matter for the Metropolitan police—but naturally, I take this issue very seriously and so, I am sure, do the police, who have been made well aware of our concerns.
“Reflecting and reinforcing what the hon. Gentleman said about peaceful protest, let me say this. Peaceful protest is a vital democratic freedom, but so is the right of elected Members to go about their business without being threatened or abused, and that includes access to and from the media stands in Abingdon Green. I say no more than that I am concerned at this stage about what seems to be a pattern of protests targeted in particular—I do not say exclusively—at women. Female Members and, I am advised, in a number of cases, female journalists, have been subjected to aggressive protest and what many would regard as harassment.”
It took a further intervention from Labour MP Pat McFadden, asking Mr Bercow “to do everything possible to ensure that journalists and broadcasters can do their job and that Members of this House are free to speak their minds” before the Speaker included all members of the press, including Mr Jones, in his considerations.
Following on from this exchange, more than 50 MPs wrote to Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick, demanding stronger action to protect people who work in Westminster from aggressive far-right protesters.
The letter stated: “After months of peaceful and calm protests by groups representing a range of political views on Brexit, an ugly element of individuals with strong far right and extreme right connections – which your officers are well aware of – have increasingly engaged in intimidatory and potentially criminal acts targeting Members of Parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public.
“We understand there are ongoing investigations but there appears to be an ongoing lack of coordination in the response from the police and appropriate authorities including with Westminster borough policing – and despite clear assurances this would be dealt with following incidents before Christmas – there have been a number of further serious and well publicised incidents today.
“It is… utterly unacceptable for members of parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public to be subject to abuse, intimidation and threatening behaviour and indeed potentially serious offences while they go about their work.”
Would they have taken this step if only Mr Jones had been targeted? I have doubts about that.
He is a divisive figure, and often cannot count on other members of the media for support in matters such as this. Consider his clash with BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Tony Livesay. Mr Jones tweeted: “I went on @bbc5live earlier and the presenter @tonylivesey said that by describing these fascists as “knuckle-dragging Tommy Robinson supporters” I was comparable to them. This is what we are dealing with in the British media.”
Mr Livesay responded: “Did I equate it @OwenJones84 ? Or did I say some people might say you’re not elevating the debate.”
In return, Mr Jones stated: “There is no debate to be elevated with fascists screaming abuse. This is beyond a joke.”
It is. I had intended to present an example of the abuse tweeted to Mr Jones by someone using the handle “MidNightLion1”, threatening extreme violence. It has been deleted, but it read: “You will get smashed one day Owen. Someone will beat the life out of you and it will be brilliant to see.”
Mr Jones responded: “Whatever happens to me, we crushed fascism before and we’ll crush fascism all over again.”
“Whatever happens to me”? Nobody should have to contemplate the possibility of serious harm coming to them, simply for expressing opinions – which, in contrast with those of the so-called yellow vest protesters, do not threaten harm to anybody.
As Grace Petrie tweeted: “It is gravely strange that not three years ago an MP was murdered in an act of far-right terrorism and it had no meaningful effect on this country’s discourse.”
That MP was Jo Cox. Her widower Brendan added: “The problem isn’t (just) extremists like this but mainstream commentators who spur them on with talk of traitors, enemies & betrayal. We should be able to debate difficult issues without making out the other side is evil.”
I hope I am not overstepping the mark if I include politicians among the “mainstream commentators who spur them on”, because, as “Red ’til I’m Dead” points out…
This Tory government has done everything possible to stir the pot of racial hatred and division. And now when the racist thugs are at their door screaming at them, they cry foul. Own. Your. Shit. These are your people.
Nadine Dorries and Anna Soubry have been at loggerheads since the amendment vote on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
Bearing in mind that Nadine Dorries might as well have set the dogs on Tories who backed the amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill demanding a vote on the final deal, the following seems the least she deserves.
First, she tweeted:
If Anna Soubry et al want to complain about being intimidated, they really should look in the mirror every time they heckle, intimidate and abuse in order to try and shut down #Brexit supporting MPs in Parliament. #Double standards
Nadine, it looks like one of your interns is using your log in. They're trying to say silly abuse in the Commons is equivalent to credible death threats. It's making you look daft. Have a word with your intern when her mum drops her off at your office. https://t.co/4xhyyGZTua
How can Tories complain about anybody’s attitude to women or minorities when Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary?
Tory MP Nusrat Ghani reckons she will demand an urgent debate in the House of Commons about the incident in which Clive Lewis used the word “bitch” during a social event connected to the Labour Party, a month ago.
Some of us may find it worth comment that she wants an “urgent” debate about an incident that is a month old and is only being discussed now in order to distract the public from the growing list of the minority Conservative government’s failures. Where’s her demand for an urgent debate on her own government’s failure to support the will of Parliament and suspend the Universal Credit rollout?
Oh, right. Using the word “bitch” implies a lack of respect for women. This Writer can certainly get on board with that – but not with the hypocrisy of saying it after reading an article about Mr Lewis on the Guido Fawkes blog, which has a record of abusing that word:
The event at which Mr Lewis misspoke was run, presented and owned by women – and no objection was raised at the time. Some have tried to raise indignation because a female voice was heard saying, “This is supposed to be a safe space”. Here’s the owner of that voice:
On top of all the foregoing is the fact that Mr Lewis himself has apologised for his words, which he accepts were completely inappropriate (even though the way they were said ran counter to the misogynistic use that is correctly vilified).
So we’ve established that the fake outrage over Mr Lewis is a storm in a teacup. But a debate could still be useful – to point out the many similar outrages caused by Conservative MPs.
I mean, opponents of the government could raise the obvious policy points:
So Conservative MPs refuse to turn up for a vote on pausing Universal Credit but now they want an “urgent debate” on Clive Lewis calling another man a bitch. #HeadsGone
But let’s admit it – the time would be far better-used discussing the transgressions of individual Tories. Aaron Bastani, whose social media organisation Novara hosted the event at which Mr Lewis said his offending words, listed a few possibles – including, for the sake of fairness, one example concerning a Labour MP:
Boris Johnson is worth an article in his own right – and the Metro has obligingly provided one. In it, Yvette Caster comments on his claim that women go to university because “they’ve got to find men to marry”, that female graduates are responsible for rising house prices – and are making it difficult for other families to get housing, that working women should get back to the home because they are responsible for young people’s antisocial behaviour.
There’s this: “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.”
I strongly recommend that you visit the article to experience the full horror.
But Mr Johnson isn’t the only Tory transgressor. What about James Heappey?
They really aren't very good with social media are they, they have an MP tell a schoolgirl to Fuck off, that's ok, but go ape over Lewis!
Fallon’s people have denied that he used the word but they would, wouldn’t they (to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies’s words about another Tory defence minister, in another scandal)?
And then there’s the deputy chairman of Bermondsey and Southwark Conservative Association, Rupert Myers QC. Journalist Kate Leaver has alleged that he “forced himself” on her – and I hope everybody reading this knows what that means. If it is true, then not only should he be imprisoned but he should be stripped of his Tory membership and dismissed from the bar (of the court – although it seems he should also be banned from reputable drinking establishments):
This incident happened in the House of Commons itself, during a Parliamentary debate. Ms Soubry’s words were not picked up by any of the many microphones in the chamber, but she certainly appears to be using those words.
These are just a few examples of incidents in which, mainly, Conservatives have used their “position of power and establishment” abominably and it could easily be argued that they have undermined Parliament by doing so.
So, yes, Nusrat Ghani – let’s have that debate – and let us use it to expose your Tory colleagues as sexist, misogynist, and criminal vermin.
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Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn received assurances from the prime minister that the carmaker would be shielded from the impact of Brexit [Montage: FT/Getty].
It’s looking as though Anna Soubry was right and Nissan was indeed offered a ‘sweetener’ deal to stay in the UK after Brexit.
It seems certain that other firms will rush to secure similar assurances – that would leave the Treasury, and the hard-working UK citizens the Tories are so fond of praising, seriously out of pocket.
It seems the Conservative Government under Theresa May is unsafe wherever it goes.
If it denies any further ‘sweeteners’ to other multinational firms, they may pack their bags and head for the continent.
If it gives in, then not only will it seem weak but it will also create a spending commitment that taxpayers will struggle to meet.
So a deal that the Tories were touting as a huge victory only two days ago now stands revealed as a monumental mess.
Still, it’s a rosy result for Nissan and company director Carlos Ghosn, who will build two new models at a plant in Sunderland from 2019.
These are the X-trail and the Qashqai – although Mr Ghosn may wish to consider renaming the latter.
In the light of recent events, ‘Cash Cow’ seems more appropriate.
Nissan warned the British government that the carmaker would wind down UK operations if it was not guaranteed competitive trading conditions with Europe, according to two people involved in negotiations over future investment in its Sunderland plant.
During talks that led to a meeting between Theresa May and Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, the Japanese carmaker said it was prepared to shift production to its Spanish and French factories in a move that would lead to the closure of its British plant and other UK sites.
Government assurances offered to Nissan led to its decision this week to locate two new cars at the plant from 2019, safeguarding more than 30,000 jobs at the site and in its supply chain.
Sunderland’s closure would have caused a political tidal wave and set a precedent for other carmakers to locate future work outside Britain.
Rival carmakers are now demanding the same assurances offered to Nissan to shield them from the impact of Brexit. While technology and pharmaceuticals companies are prioritising visas for skilled workers, other exporters including chemicals manufacturers have set tariff-free access to the EU as a priority.
The prime minister’s office faces calls from Labour to disclose details of its exact pledges to Nissan, including the contents of a letter written by Greg Clark, the business secretary, to Nissan’s executive committee in Japan.
According to several people familiar with the contents of the letter, it contains the same assurances that were offered to Mr Ghosn by the prime minister — namely that the carmaker would face no change in its trading conditions following Britain’s exit from the EU.
The production line was stopped at 11:00 BST on Thursday so workers could be told about the decision [Image: Getty Images].
Here’s another chance for Theresa May’s Tories to tie themselves in knots.
The car manufacturer Nissan announced yesterday (Thursday, October 28) that it will remain in the UK post-Brexit, meaning more than 7,000 jobs at its Sunderland plant are safe and it will manufacture two new models there.
But was it offered a ‘sweetheart deal’ to stay? Business Secretary Greg Clark says no.
“There’s no cheque book. I don’t have a cheque book,” he said on the BBC’s Question Time.
“The important thing is that they know this is a country in which they can have confidence they can invest. That was the assurance and the understanding they had and they have invested their money.”
Was he lying, though? According to The Guardian, “Greg Clark reportedly gave a ‘last-minute written promise’ to Nissan to protect the company from the consequences of Brexit, in a pledge that will fuel Labour’s demand for the government to publish any private guarantees.”
And fellow Tory Anna Soubry indicated her own conviction that a ‘sweetener’ had been applied. The Telegraph reported: “She said she had met Nissan on June 30, a week after the Brexit vote, and that the company expressed ‘profound concerns’ about tariffs.
“She told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘They didn’t give the detail of what they wanted, they made it very clear that without a guarantee that they would not be subject to tariffs or if they were subject to tariffs the Government would do something to mitigate the damage of tariffs… that without that, they told me, my understanding actually was that they would go to Renault because they clearly had the capacity there.’
“On the assurances that helped Nissan decide to build its next-generation Qashqai, and add production of the new X-Trail model, at its Sunderland plant, Ms Soubry said: ‘I don’t know what it is but I would be very surprised if there hasn’t been some sort of guarantee to mitigate any tariffs should they be imposed.'”
Just to muddy the waters, though, it seems Nissan never had any intention to leave – according to right-wing gossip-monger Guido Fawkes’ blog, which stated in May: “Nissan are on the record saying they won’t leave Britain post-Brexit and have been at pains not to scaremonger about the referendum. So they were a bit put out by Anna Soubry using their reception in parliament last night to preach doom on their behalf. The event had nothing to do with Europe, but Soubs misjudged the tone and told guests how leaving the EU will cause a ‘disaster for manufacturing’ and result in ‘an immediate 10% tariff on Nissan cars’.”
Now she pops up again, again talking about tariffs. And we have no guarantee that Nissan meant what it said before the referendum; it could have been angling for a ‘sweetener’, even then.
And a ‘quiet’ deal would be handy for the government, if it didn’t want to promise a mitigation deal for every Tom, Dick or Harriet who is now facing a 15% tariff on imports/exports.
Bizarrely, some commenters on Twitter were all right with that:
Foolish question. It's time to keep cards close to chest.
John McDonnell presented a very solid case for the current Labour leadership, despite loud but misguided opposition from other Question Time panellists, and even chairman David Dimbleby himself [Image: BBC].
Media coverage of the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday seems to have reached a consensus that Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, and Tony Blair’s former press secretary Alastair Campbell dragged it down to the level of a slanging match. They didn’t.
In fact, if you watch the programme critically, it shows Mr McDonnell defending himself against attacks from all four other panellists – and David Dimbleby to boot! – and coming out of it extremely well.
Yes, criticisms were aired. But they are old arguments, long since defeated in dedicated political forums such as This Blog.
Alastair Campbell said he was worried Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour appeals to a narrow base – it doesn’t. Labour’s membership is now the largest in Europe and they don’t all come from the same background, no matter how many times New Labour holdouts try to suggest it.
Mr Campbell said Labour needs a policy agenda that will allow it to win elections – but both current leadership candidates agree on almost every policy point (at least, they do if Owen Smith means what he says) so it isn’t an argument with which Mr Corbyn can be beaten. He followed this up with a warning that Labour couldn’t win on a “hard left” platform – but of course Mr Corbyn is a centre-left politician and would not propose hard-left policies.
He said Momentum, the organisation set up to support Mr Corbyn’s policies, is divisive. This is a point that can be argued about Progress, or Labour First which is currently trying to ‘rig’ Labour’s national conference, if secretary Luke Akehurst is to be believed. Much misbehaviour has been laid at Momentum’s door without the slightest scrap of evidence, and claims of anti-Semitism have been grossly overblown; accusations against individuals have been dismissed while the organisation supported Labour’s only Jewish candidate in the recent elections to the National Executive Committee.
He said Labour was slipping back into the politics of the 1980s, with a “nastiness” not seen since then – which is easy to say when nobody requests clarification of what it means. This Writer has seen no such slippage by the leadership, and any “nastiness” seems to have been initiated by the part of the party that Mr Campbell supports – anti-Corbyn MPs. There is far more to be said about this, though, and I hope to produce a useful article in the near future.
Mr Campbell said there is “an element that prefers power in the party to power in the country”. True – but I would argue that this element is the remnant of New Labour, rather than Jeremy Corbyn, his shadow cabinet and supporters. Look at the so-called ‘chicken coup’ of late June/early July. That was triggered by New Labour hangers-on who realised that Mr Corbyn was moving Labour in a direction away from their preferred policies – policies that had lost two general elections in a row. And (again) look at the antics of Mr Akehurst and Labour First – working to disenfranchise the vast majority of Labour members by arranging support for anti-Corbyn resolutions in the conference.
Mr Campbell also repeated the mantra that Labour needs to get Conservative voters to support the party. John McDonnell countered that, later in the programme, by pointing out that New Labour haemorrhaged five million votes between 1997 and 2010. This is a point that Mr Campbell hotly disputed – and wrongly. In the 1997 general election, 31.3 million people voted and Labour took 13.5 million votes. By 2010, Labour’s vote had fallen to 8.6 million – a drop of 4.9 million, which is five million when rounded-up. Mr Campbell cannot even argue that all those voters went to the Conservatives because the Tory vote was only 1.1 million greater than in 1997 and the number of people who voted in the 2010 election was 29.7 million – 1.6 million fewer than in 1997.
Mr Campbell also said the following: “The first line in our constitution is that we exist to be a force in Parliament. That’s why the MPs, the PLP, are so important and they are being sidelined.”
Give him his due: it’s the first decent argument I’ve heard for us to give extra weight to the support of the Parliamentary Labour Party for the leader. But there’s a fairly huge snag.
What is the point of having any Labour MPs at all if they are not following the wishes of the vast majority of their party – a party of more than half a million people – but have instead decided to pursue an agenda of their own, as the 171 or more rebels against Mr Corbyn’s leadership have done?
The very next line in the constitution states: “The Party shall bring together members and supporters who share its values to develop policies, make communities stronger through collective action and support, and promote the election of Labour Party representatives at all levels of the democratic process.”
Clearly, this means representatives – which means MPs among others – are elected to enact the policies developed by Labour Party members and supporters – not to ignore the wishes of their party and engage in egotistical and wasteful acts of rebellion.
So, according to the party’s own constitution, the Labour rebels have broken their own rules and will need to account for their behaviour in the future.
Now look at John McDonnell’s comments – most of which were made in response to attacks by other panellists.
Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has won every Parliamentary by-election that has taken place. It has won all the mayoral elections. It equalled Ed Miliband’s Labour, at its highest, in council elections, and overtook the Conservatives in the polls. The last point was, again, hotly disputed – but is up for debate. Polls are weighted, and the current weighting is based on voters’ choices in the 2015 general election. Those choices are unlikely to be repeated now as the UK’s political landscape has undergone an upheaval of seismic proportions since. The raw figures are the best indicator of current feeling, rather than any weightings. This is why I say the matter is up for debate: I haven’t seen the polls that were released around the end of June, when Mr McDonnell claims Labour edged into the lead. If anybody can provide the information – weighted and unweighted, please – then the results could be illuminating.
It is certainly possible to argue that Mr Corbyn’s leadership was “laying the foundations for electoral victory in due course”, as Mr McDonnell stated.
He continued: “People will not vote for a divided party… A group of, unfortunately, people within the party weren’t willing to accept Jeremy’s mandate, they launched what is effectively a coup and we’ve gone through a couple of months of, I think, absolute distraction.” Right again – can anybody argue against Labour having lost the whole summer, when it seems clear Mr Corbyn will win the current leader election with a larger mandate?
David Dimbleby, in the chair, then tried to derail Mr McDonnell by asking him about his self-description as a Marxist, revealed in a 26-second video clip from an event in 2013. The other panellists and the QT audience found this hugely amusing, by Mr McDonnell explained that he was a socialist but had been putting himself in the position of being a Marxist to describe the 2008 crash – or at least, that’s how I interpreted it. In the clip, he said: “I’m a Marxist; this is a classic… capitalist crisis. I’ve been waiting for this for a generation!” He got a laugh then, as well – before going on to make his main point that a system based on greed does not work. Considering he was discussing the crash that could have destroyed the global economy, he made a good point!
Anna Soubry, the Conservative representative on the panel, then had her go: “There are a number of Labour MPs who are good and honourable. Decent people, who believe in things I don’t agree with, but they add value and they are… there to do a job… hold my government to account, and to represent those of you who are not Conservative and make sure that your voice is heard and democracy prevails, and many of those people are frightened – so frightened, humiliated, almost terrorised, by Mr McDonnell and his gang. They will leave politics, and that’s bad for politics… As a democracy, we need good, strong oppositions who are credible, who test government… That’s why we’re in the position of relying on the SNP to do the job of opposition. Shameful.
“There are colleagues of mine in the House of Commons, Labour MPs who are at the point of being terrorised by McDonnell and his cronies. There are women MPs who suffer day in and day out from misogynist unpleasant sexist abuse on Twitter, on Facebook, from people who apparently are within their own party. There is a Jewish Labour MP, a woman, who is living in a safe house. The levels of anti-Semitism she has to bear, it is a disgrace, it must stop, and you, sir, can stop it.”
The first point I would make in response to this is that any Labour MP who lives up to the description Anna Soubry gave them in that little speech should seriously consider their political allegiance. But what kind of Labour MP was she really mentioning? The kind that held David Cameron’s government “to account” over Libya, perhaps, when 557 MPs voted to support military action and only 13 voted against it? How many of those 557 were Labour MPs? I don’t know but I can name two Labour MPs who opposed it: Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. And now we know that they were right to do so.
Secondly, there is absolutely no evidence that any intimidating behaviour whatsoever is the responsibility of Mr McDonnell or anybody connected with him. None at all. Claims have been made but we have yet to see any solid evidence to support them. Meanwhile, Mr McDonnell – and Mr Corbyn – strongly oppose any and all abuse, both within the Labour Party and beyond.
That’s what he said: “We’ve made it clear time and time again: We will not tolerate abuse within the Labour Party. We have condemned it time and time again. Every time there has been a level of abuse… if we have identified the individual, they will be out of the party and suspended, simple as that.”
Nobody can argue against this; Labour is currently undergoing what has been labelled a “purge” of members – largely seen as an excuse to eliminate Corbyn supporters from the leadership election, admittedly, but while it is taking place, nobody can say Labour is not taking action.
Mr McDonnell continued: “We’re not accepting this smear campaign that’s going on, from the Tories and others as well.
“We have been working over the last year, to unite the party, and we were winning electorally and in the polls. Yes, a coup was launched by a small minority who could not accept Jeremy’s mandate – Jeremy was elected on the basis of 59.5 per cent of our members. We are now going through a democratic election. Once that election is over, whoever is the leader… we will unite behind.
“And we have been an effective opposition – in terms of defeating the Tories on tax credits, on PIP – the cuts for disabled people – and a range of others.”
The SNP’s representative on the panel, Joanna Cherry, then decided to chip in, saying: “We’ve just seen the Labour Party tearing itself apart on this programme.”
She was wrong. We had just witnessed John McDonnell defending himself eloquently against a Conservative and a former Labour Party employee, both of whom had their own reasons for attacking the current representative of Labour.
It fell to an audience member to put the errant panellists in their place. Asked to comment by Dimbles, the young woman said: “Young people see these politicians and won’t go and vote because they aren’t inspired by them and don’t believe in them.
“Young people are inspired – I, personally, am inspired by Jeremy Corbyn, because he is honest, he goes into Parliament in a suit which doesn’t cost … thousands, and he didn’t claim that [back from] taxpayers’ money. And he tells the truth. I find that totally inspiring.”
For someone to believe that, after the other panellists and Mr Dimbleby himself had spent most of the programme trying to destroy Mr McDonnell’s credibility, he must have had a pretty good argument.
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