Today’s Observer has, inevitably, news of someone else who wants to set up a New Centrist Party (NCP). Hence, to save some of the phone calls I’ll get tomorrow asking whether the polls suggest a NCP would actually do well, here’s my answer.

First, one should not assume that there is actually a big appetite for a new party in the place some in the commentariat seem to think there is. While most of the public consider themselves to be at or around the political centre, this does not mean there is a consensus about what that centre is, or that those people who consider themselves to be in the “centre” necessarily share their views with what the Westminster/media think the “centre” means. Public opinion tends to the left on economics, and is quite right-wing on more cultural issues like immigration and crime. There may well be a gap for a political party putting forward that combination of views, but it doesn’t seem to be the same gap that most of the proposed centrist parties are seeking to fill, which often seem to be aimed at a far more liberal worldview.

Even assuming there is a gap to be filled, can we tell how well it would do? Could you do a poll asking how many people would support a new party is one of the most depressing questions I get asked. It is one of those things that opinion polling simply can’t do very well. If you were setting up a NCP there is certainly lots of useful things market research could tell you about which demographic groups are most open to considering it, which messages would chime, what obstacles it would face – but in terms of predicting how well it would actually do? No, it can’t be done in any sort of useful way.

Imagine someone set up a new NCP in the UK. How would you ask a question measuring its support? Well, you can’t just say would you vote Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem or NCP, as no one would know what the hell NCP was or what it stood for. But if you tell people in the question all about this new party, then you are essentially giving it a little advert, pushing all its positive attributes in the question and putting it at the forefront of people’s minds, so that would be hideously leading. Also, what about all the other things that drive voting intention apart from policies? What about existing party loyalties? Who the party leader is? What about about how seriously the media take it? What about whether your friends and collegues are all talking about it, or have never heard of it? What about whether it is seen as a serious contender, or as a wasted vote in a tight Con -vs- Lab battle? Whether people would vote for a new party is dependent on so many unknown hypothetical questions it is impossible to expect people to give any sort of useful answer.

Today’s Observer has a news story about another NCP that may or may not be launched. Except, wasn’t there another one of those a month or two ago? And another one a few months before that? Didn’t George Osborne’s old Spad set one up? If you look throught the Electoral Commission’s list of registered parties there are a fair few examples of people setting up new Centrist, pro-European parties over the last couple of years, none of which have made any impact at all. This is not because of their political positioning (I expect all have espoused very similar views), but because no one really noticed them or considered them a serious electoral contender.

A party with £50 million to spend on publicity should at least get noticed, but a lot more will depend on how seriously it is taken. Do established MPs who bring credibility and a voice in Parliament defect to it? Is it reported along the main parties in media? Does it make a leader who is known to the public and seen as a viable, potential Prime Minister? How, under FPTP, does it propose to deal with the Liberal Democrats who are fishing for the same vote? Those are the actual obstacles facing a new party getting off the starting line (let alone actually being a success at elections), and opinion polls can’t predict how well they’d deal with them.


683 Responses to “On how well a New Centrist Party would do”

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  1. alienated labour,
    “Social democracy and socialism aren’t mutually exclusive, but the most obvious policy is the increase in the minimum wage to £10 an hour funded by increasing taxes on the very richest people in society is both socialist and social democratic,”

    Now I’m not saying its a good thing or bad, but brexiteers have pointed out that in order to compensate for the UK becoming less competitive post brexit, governments might need to take steps to reverse this, and two measures which have been suggested are cutting labour costs, particularly at the low end, and taxes, particularly at the high end on those people who might have the option to relocate. Which would seem to be a promise of the precise opposite of these two policies.

    Brexit means….cutting the wages of the poor and cutting taxes on the rich. I agree this would make the UK more attractive to industry basing here, and Frankly see this as a prediction of the future outside the EU. Certainly under the more right wing consensus which has ruled the Uk for some decades.

    The biggest wealth reallocation available to government would be provision of cheap quality housing for the poor, something we used to do but abandoned under Thatcher. Free healthcare and education are similarly highly redistributive and we have effectively moved away from them. In recent years governments have squeezed both these things and laid groundwork for more.

    Non means tested mechanisms of redistribution are far better than means tested payments because they preserve the incentive to work for small amounts which would compromise eligibility for benefits. Though even saying this is a recognition that benefits too have become more and more tightly means tested over the decades.

    Free or very cheap school meals comes to mind. Better regulated banking services, friendly societies and mutual financial organisations, whatever happened to them? (yes, I know, they were swallowed up by commercial organisations once protection was removed. Any studies on how much the loss of this sector has cost users of their services, and where the cost has hit?)

    Sea Change,
    ” It was him who first raised the spectre of BINO and the UK being a vassal state in those circumstances”

    Which are both elements of the case against Brexit, because BINO is the only economically workable version. This case had to be made by both tory and labour if they wanted to stop Brexit, and it has to be made by the most pro brexit individuals to be credible. Both remainers and leavers need to make clear that soft brexit is worse than remaining a full member.

    What I find interesting is that no one is pushing the advantages of full membership which are lost under BINO. These remain available to everyone to present credibly, the tricky bit has arguably been to get leavers to admit soft Brexit is a non starter, whereas it was an important plank of the referendum campaign that it was one credible outcome.

    Tories recognised this when they made the last election about support for hard Brexit. The result was as you might have expected, 52% failed to turn out to support tory because the leave coalition is not solidly hard brexit. Every politician who undercuts BINO is undercutting the leave coalition.

  2. Nick P: Why would the Tories deliberately imperil their own country? Cabinet ministers live here too – in fact they are disproportionately likely to be the target of a terrorist attack compared to the rest of us. If you insist on cui-bonoing so hard, what do they actually stand to gain by compromising national security?

  3. @Seachange

    Hireton posted this link.

    http://the.48andbeyond.co.uk/2018/02/why-brexit-will-devastate-uk.html?m=1

    Danny and I agree with it but then we would wouldn’t we. Could you possibly take a look at it from a different point of view? Unfortunately I will be away today and so unable to read any reply immediately but a thoughtful leave response to a strong remain article would, as I see it, start to take things forward.

  4. Sea Change,
    “And the idea that the BBC is some Tory haven is ridiculous – this poster summed it up ”

    The problem with the BBC is it fails to be critical of spun statements by authority. I have seen defences of this arguing that in lower profile programs it does critically attack propaganda, but in large part it fails to do this in the popular news programs. So it is possible to attack the BBC both for being heavily critical of politicians claims, but at the same time not being critical at all in the programs most voters are likely to see.

    This might be seen as a pro government bias. Unsurprising in a national broadcaster. Unsurprising if this favoured the right in living memory, because the right has been the party of power for decades. (yes, I do include Blair)

  5. @Charles – that link is well worth considering. I’ve pointed out many times that the obsession with tariffs and to a lesser degree regulatory standards clouded the fact that business has been saying all along that it’s actually basic admin that is the killer issue. This has been almost completely ignored by leavers. This link provides an excellent example of the problems.

    Nissan also stated that a delay of 90 seconds in transaction time at ports in their millions per day flow of components would cost the company significant operational profit, but again, this has been glossed over.

    I’m not sure many leavers really understand just how effective the single market has been, and how damaging it will be to be outside it.

  6. I don’t post on here very often these days, not having the stamina…
    However when it seems our Prime Minister is about to risk killing Russian military personnel in Syria without even consulting Parliament, I do feel the need to say something.

    When I look at these disputed attacks on civilians I always ask myself “who has the motive, and who gains from it?”
    In the current case Assad and the Russians have been pursuing a very successful campaign using conventional weapons in Eastern Ghouta and I read today that they have just completed that campaign successfully. What could Assad possibly gain from mounting a chemical attack days before this? Does anyone on here seriously think he WANTS American and British missiles raining down on his airbases or suspected chemical facilities??

    On the other hand we have the Jihadists who now appear to largely control the armed resistance to Assad. They have everything to gain from such an attack. It will bring in powerful allies to counterbalance Russian support for Assad that transformed the civil war in his favour. Does anyone on here think that Al-Qaeda linked groups are not ruthless enough to kill children if it serves their purpose??

    I have no illusions about Assad: he is perfectly capable of killing children. But I don’t think he is mad by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is Putin. I do begin to have my doubts about western leaders however. Why this rush to mount attacks without gathering any independent evidence??

  7. poll troll

    Sometimes it’s hard to know “why” when we don’t always know what is being covered up. Why the disinformation and faux certainty about Russian involvement in Salisbury – surely better to wait and rely on evidence?

    Contrast with May’s insistence fro evidence over Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Bit of a contrast, there.

    Early blame fro Locherbie proved to be misplaced (probably).

    So what do the Government gain from all this? Well, they might be covering something up (hard to know!) or they might just be overplaying their hand – they were able to attack Corbyn on “National Security”grounds even though their own record is pretty shaky, and all the evidence is that hawkish foreign policy creates more terrorist threats than it prevents.

    So here’s a question – what has Salisbury got to do with “National Security”? What does it mean? Protecting the citizens or protecting the establishment who own practically everything and run all the institutions?

    What is the “national interest” in bombing Assad – and why was it different when we wanted to (and did) bomb his enemies?

    What was the “national Interest” in bombing Libya out of existence as a state?

    What on earth are they all up to? Good question, indeed.

  8. Interesting
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-11/may-s-brexit-red-line-on-customs-union-could-be-next-to-go
    ‘Theresa May’s officials could be lining up to keep the U.K. in the European customs union after Brexit, according to a new analysis that chimes with the views of parts of the British government.
    Some of May’s officials think that quitting the customs union in order to win the power to strike free trade agreements with countries such as the U.S. or Australia is not as desirable as passionate Brexit supporters believe.
    Such trade deals with third countries can take a long time to negotiate and end up mired in litigation, while measures short of formal FTAs can still deliver significant benefits, one person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private.
    Added to this, the growing view in May’s office is that, after a narrow referendum result and a close general election, she has no mandate for an extreme Brexit, according to an official.’

    Not sure, however desirable or pragmatic the solution is, that she can get over the political repercussions from some in her own party to do this

  9. “Most voters now back tax rises to fund the NHS after a significant swing in favour of the policy among Conservative supporters, a survey has revealed.

    For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of Britons say that they are personally willing to pay more to increase spending, according to the respected British Social Attitudes survey.

    They are increasingly dissatisfied with the state of the NHS, with almost three times as many saying that it has got worse as say it has improved, a gap not recorded since the late 1990s.”

  10. “The new data from the 2017 British Social Attitudes survey, seen by The Times, shows that 61 per cent of adults said that they would be willing to pay more to fund the NHS, up from 49 per cent in 2016 and 41 per cent in 2014, when the question was first asked.

    Backing among Conservative voters reached 56 per cent, up 13 percentage points in a year and 23 points since 2014. Sixty-eight per cent of Labour supporters want a rise.

    Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund think tank, which analysed the data, said: “If I was sitting in Whitehall I would sit up and take notice. I have not seen anything as dramatic as this over such a time period. It’s a wake-up call for ministers to follow through on Theresa May’s commitment.”

    “The most popular option is a “separate tax that would go directly to the NHS”, supported by 35 per cent, compared with 26 per cent who want to pay more through existing channels. The Treasury has ruled out a hypothecated NHS tax but a repeat of the national insurance rises used by Gordon Brown in 2002 to increase health spending is one option under consideration.

    The findings are driven by unhappiness with services, with 45 per cent saying that NHS care has worsened in the past five years, 10 points higher than in 2016 and up from 16 per cent who said the same in 2010. Seventeen per cent say that services have improved, down from 40 per cent in 2010. Twenty-one per cent want GP charges or hospital-food fees compared with 29 per cent in 2014.”

  11. @Carfrew

    I suspect an even bigger majority would support keeping taxes unchanged, but reallocating expenditure in favour of the NHS.

    HS2 v NHS?

  12. @Alec It seems to me that we have got to eyeball these issues if we are not to have a disastrous Brexit that will suit absolutely no one.

    What is that leavers would like the remain side to eyeball?. The issues for them seem to be less economic and more ones of national identity, sovereignty and democracy and the only solution is seen as Brexit. This makes discussion difficult.

  13. Something to cheer Corbyn opponents! From the Times…

    Labour to offer free bus trips for under?25s
    Lucy Fisher, Senior Political Correspondent
    April 12 2018, 12:01am,
    The Times

    “Labour will today pledge to make bus travel free for all under-25s.

    The party said that the move would benefit up to 13 million people and save each young person up to £1,000 a year, based on a calculation that they buy an average of two tickets a day.

    Labour estimates that the policy would cost £1.4 billion a year by the end of a five-year parliament. It plans to pay for it out of revenue raised by vehicle excise duty.”

  14. @Neilj – that sounds a distinct possibility to me, given the difficulties being encountered. As I’ve said before, the actual net gain from striking our own free trade deals is pretty limited anyway, as at best we would only get a few years lead on the EU before they too sign such deals, and probably better ones than we can negotiate. Then there is the political acceptability of such deals – even @TOH appears to accept that these may not be popular, raising a question about whether we will ever secure them anyway.

    To be honest, I’ve been surprised that the independent free trade deals have been elevated to centre stage by leavers. I think it’s one of the least popular aspects of Brexit and one that will bring limited gain.

    If May does cross this red line, she would only really be meeting the terms of the leave campaign, with Vote Leave promising a free trade area across the whole of the EU area, so in terms of mandate it’s right up there. Only the ECJ to deal with, but then that’s another red line that can be fudged first, and then crossed.

  15. @Millie

    “I suspect an even bigger majority would support keeping taxes unchanged, but reallocating expenditure in favour of the NHS.”

    ——–

    They might need to feel the money would come from cuts in areas they would like to see cut, as opposed to stuff they’d like to keep.

  16. I remember years ago, while decorating our daughter’s room, listening to R4 reporting on the decision to invade Libya as if it were a weekend break to the seaside and wondering why the opposition weren’t jumping up and down about it, or if they were then why the Beeb weren’t reporting on it. After all, I remember thinking, it didn’t sound like such a good idea to me, so surely someone should be pointing this out?

    As it transpired, it turned out not to be such a great plan, Corbyn was right, new Labour were toothless, the Beeb was as firmly establishment as it always is.

    Tories, at least those who have a whiff of power, don’t deliberately, in my opinion, do things to damage the country and put themselves in danger, yet find themselves doing so because they tend not to learn from history and consequently repeat the same mistakes over and over. The obvious exception was Churchill, who was historically literate with a solid military background; he was also a political opportunist who only happened to be a Tory at that moment because that’s where his game of musical parties had placed him at the time.

    My father worked in the assumption that allowing a child to put their hand in the fire would prevent them from doing it again. This doesn’t seem to hold true for Tories (and Blair) when it comes to shoring up public opinion with a pointless war.

    Assuming that the intelligence on Syria is duff, because experience demonstrates that it’s likely to be, assuming that Trump does something stupid, since that’s what he does, assuming that Putin isn’t bluffing, and also assuming that something goes horribly wrong, which I would take as a given, I cannot see impending ww3 being as good for the Tories as they imagine it to be.

  17. @TED

    Churchill’s military exceptionalism is, I think, overated. One need only think of Gallipoli in WW1 and the Norway campaign in WW2: Churchill was the architect of both!

  18. CROFTY

    @”If Jess Phillips is deselected then I’m quite sure that I won’t be the only one giving up on voting Labour.”

    It would be a sure sign that “your” Labour Party has died Crofty.

    Interesting that both our Alien friend & the cerebral Mr Mexico think little of her.

    Wither “The Working Class” ?

  19. @Charles – absolutely.

    It’s The Dream vs The Detail. Unfortunately without the detail the dream falls apart.

  20. OLDNAT

    @”I don’t assume that either of my governments is always entirely honest on everything, or that other governments (no matter how disreputable) are always dishonest.”

    But that wasn’t the issue you raised with me.

    Which was the veracity of the statement issued by UK Police on behalf of Yulia Skripal.

    I have no reason to doubt it. Perhaps you can suggest the ones you have in mind.

  21. WB

    @”Churchill’s military exceptionalism is, I think, overated.”

    From the safe distance of a 2018 armchair ?. No problem.

    From the perspective of the citizens of UK in 1940, and particularly of their armed forces on the beaches of Dunkirk. ? I don’t think so.

  22. Andrew 8.24 am

    Nicely put.

  23. @ Crofty @Colin

    Re: Jess Philips.

    As someone who is, by background at least, lower working class (council estate, unskilled labour, single parent family) my problem with Jess Phillips arises entirely out of that background and my experiences as a trade unionist during the miner’s strike. At the time there were deep divisions as to policy, however these were aired privately and once a democratic decision was taken the majority policy was followed without public comment. It was called solidarity ( I had the same problem with Corbyn when he voted against agreed Labour policy, although not agreed cabinet policy which is different).
    On that basis whilst I have no difficulty with Jess Philips expressing her views on matters which have only been approved by the shadow cabinet, I have great difficulty in understanding why she do so by personally attacking the leader and not the policy.
    I have said before I believe the Labour Party is stronger when it flies with both wings, but I don’t understand this constant need to seek a public forum to undermine your own side.

  24. @ Colin

    Dunkirk was a follow on from Norway where British troops having landed were driven back the last troops leaving on 8 June 1940 Having landed on 13 April, the evacuation at Dunkirk was between the 26 May and 4 June. Churchill as first Lord of the Admiralty convinced the Cabinet to undertake the Norway campaign, it is ironic that his elevation to Prime-Minister on 10 May 1940 arose because of the emerging failure of the Norway campaign the blame for which was passed on to Chamberlain.
    I do not doubt that Churchill was a necessary component of British survival during the early years of WW2, but as a political leader, most of the senior military at the time dreaded Churchill becoming “interested” in their sphere of operations, it is his military and not his political skills that I call into question.

  25. On Syria, I haven’t been following the story, and find the whole situation painful and baffling. There is a sense, understandably, that ‘something must be done’, but intervention is always a highly dangerous game, even when another superpower isn’t involved.

    I’m not a pacifist, nor do I subscribe to the doctrine that we should only act to protect or enhance our own, narrow, national interest. I can accept that there are times when we should commit military intervention for a wider good, although it’s always significantly difficult to argue that killing people will help any given situation and to do so we must be absolutely sure of our ground.

    From what I have understood (not much!) the talk of western military intervention seems to be based more on a desire to signal displeasure over a(nother) disputed chemical weapons attack, and in doing so signal our intention to challenge Russia’s free hand in Syria.

    To my mind, this falls into the ‘something must be done’ category of actions, with no clear plan, no clear objective, and no clear idea of what precisely we are seeking to achieve.

    If we really wanted to stop the use of such weapons we’re too late, as they’ve been used many times before. If we really want to stop Assad, we’re too late for that also. If we just want to angrily show our powers, yes, we can do that, but for what purpose?

    Others have talked about the possibility of other self interested groups being involved in this, and the inconsistency of Trump – all valid points.

    The bottom line is that May needs to demonstrate a clear plan, with achievable objectives, and therefore a reason to act, before she would get any support from me. At present, I see nothing other than impotent raging against something we can’t change, and in my view that isn’t a good reason to go to war.

  26. AL

    “I very much hope that as time progresses these views, rather than being derided as extreme or lunatic, will be considered the centre-ground around which all British political parties serious about contesting power will have to accept to be taken seriously.”

    You may hope that, and although I think it unlikely, it is possible. If that happens then IMO the UK will end up looking like Venezuela does now; Bankrupt with hyperinflation. OK for the party bosses but disaster for everybody else.

    “War is much less popular with the general public than it is with the newspaper columnists, perhaps because people are aware it is the public who have to pay the price in terms of the fighting and the dying when the wars begin and when the inevitable blowback takes place.”

    On that we can agree.

    SEA CHANGE
    Your 6.53 is am excellent and well researched response to that rather daft Guardian piece.

    Alec
    Good to see us both having the same view on SEACHANGES 6.53.

    Danny
    “Which are both elements of the case against Brexit, because BINO is the only economically workable version.”
    Just your very biased opinion and certainly not true.

    Charles

    “The issues for them seem to be less economic and more ones of national identity, sovereignty and democracy and the only solution is seen as Brexit. This makes discussion difficult.”

    I agree, because you clearly now see what drives Brexit. All Remainers want to do is talk about hypothetical views on what might happen to the UK economy post Brexit. There is no meeting of minds and I for one as I have made clear many times am not interested in having discussions about hypothetical scenario’s.

    They are not relevant to what I want to happen because they are hypothetical. People like me want to leave the EU cleanly and have enough faith in the British people to believe we will prosper outside.

    The alternative is economic and cultural decline as we continue to be sublimated into a corrupt, undemocratic European Super State which may survive for a few years and will then collapse probably dramatically and bloodily. Staying close to the EU as is suggested above would have the same effect. Just my view of course but I remain an optimist about the UK’s prospects as long as we leave the EU.

    Anyway, Have a good day all. It’s not actually raining and much to do elsewhere.

  27. WB

    @” I don’t understand this constant need to seek a public forum to undermine your own side.”

    I share your working class family background, but not your political destination.

    So I can’t speak with authority on Labour’s factionalism-but my impression is that your statement above would be shared on both “sides” in the Parties divide.

  28. WB

    re Churchill-I have just read the Darkest Hour book.

    I was merely making the point that academic criticism from the vantage point of later years , of Leaders who dealt with National Crisis, needs to examine the whole achievement & its effects on The People of the Time.

    That is the whole point of historic perspective.

  29. ALEC

    @”To my mind, this falls into the ‘something must be done’ category of actions”

    You can’t make that judgement until you know what the target of any action turns out to be.

    If it is -for example-illegal stockpiles of CW in Syria and/or delivery facilities thereof, that would be a precise response to the Douma incident.

    It would then be entirely appropriate to make judgements about effectiveness and/or collateral damage to innocents.

  30. @SeaChange and Alec

    I respect both of your views about Andrew Neil and the question of political bias in the BBC, and while I suspect Anthony will quickly close down another drawn out debate on this hoary old subject, I’d like to make just a few quick points to clarify my views. I think you both may have misunderstood them.

    I fully accept that all journalists will have, and are fully entitled to have, political views of their own. Indeed it would be incredible to think that a journalist who specialised in political journalism didn’t hold quite strong personal political opinions. Some become polemicists, which is fine and is good for robust commentary and debate, but the BBC should have higher standards of impartiality. Indeed it’s reputation as a national broadcaster absolutely demands that it does so, as does its Charter, and this requires their journalists to be utterly professional and diligent in ensuring that their own individual political preferences aren’t brought to bear in their reporting, interviewing and editing.

    In this context, and this is where I agreed with Owen Jones, to have someone like Neil fronting and anchoring most of the broadcaster’s political output seems utterly extraordinary to me. He wears, quite brazenly, his political partiality as a badge of honour. Fine in the editorial rooms of the Spectator but utterly inappropriate at the BBC. What credibility or claim to journalistic impartiality does he have, even if he’s a combative interviewer who, it is claimed by some, tends to be even handed in his treatment of his interviewees? I must be watching an Andrew Neil impersonator, by the way, if this even handed claim is true. His weekly fawning interviews/chats with Portillo, for example, are demeaning of a supposed serious political programme and he seems to get very angry very quickly when presented with world views and political arguments that contradict his own. This often leads to peevish and ill tempered arguing and how anyone can confuse this with forensic questioning is beyond me. Sure, he can and does skewer poorly briefed interviewees from all the parties, but this is the equivalent of pulling the legs off flies. When confronted with a well briefed big beast, he quickly goes ad hominen and the interview descends into bickering. I remember, with some guilty pleasure, an exchange he had with George Galloway when the bully got bullied and he ended up whinging that Galloway was “playing the man and not the ball”.t

    More generally, and leaving Neil aside, I’m also baffled as to why family relationships are relevant. How does Sarah Smith being John Smith’s daughter have anything to do with whether she is a good and impartial broadcaster or not? Are you implying that just because her father was a Labour man she must be too. This is nonsense, isn’t it? Ditto Kuessenburg and most of the others you’ve listed.

    I repeat; my problem with Neil isn’t the political opinions he holds, he’s fully entitled to those, nor necessarily some of his undoubted journalistic skills, it’s his public proclamation of his views and the inappropriateness of this when you’re a senior journalist working for a publicly funded, national broadcaster who’s whole rationale is based on its strict standards of political impartiality.

  31. If this organisation is incapable of action-what then?

    https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/04/1006991

  32. I understand and appreciate the idea that a military strike is required to discourage the future use of chemical weapons, but then I ask the question; why?

    Why is it OK for children to have their limbs blown off by conventional weapons, but gassing them is a problem? And here we are selling billions of pounds of munitions a year to the Saudis for inevitable use in Yemen. The whole thing stinks of hypocrisy to me.

    And what of the Russians? No one’s defending Putin and Assad, but how would we have reacted if Russia had started lobbing missiles at Iraqi or Afghan government airbases whilst we were ‘rebuilding’ those countries post invasion? I imagine that we wouldn’t have been too pleased, and neither will the Russians.

    Madness.

  33. @crossbat11

    “Are you implying that just because her father was a Labour man she must be too.”

    probably need to be more careful in sentence construction in these days of gender fluidity :-)

    More seriously though I pose the following:

    Is it better to be aware of an interviewer’s political leanings than not in order to judge the level of impartial questioning?
    If it is how can the BBC maintain balance as an impartial broadcaster? Does it involve having people from both ends of the spectrum presenting the programme on the same day and interviewing the “other side’s” people? Who becomes the arbiter of what amounts to extreme so that the interviewers fall within the mainstream?

    I raise these questions because I genuinely don’t know what I feel. On the one hand I want a “popular” presenter so that the public interest in politics outside election time is increased, on the other I do not want that popular presenter’s personal political leanings leaking out so as to softly persuade the public on political ideas.

  34. @ B&B

    My understand of the convention on the international convention on chemical weapons is that it developed in the following climate:

    During war in the 20 century the mechanisation of war, particularly bombing meant that civilian populations suffered not simply those in the military (whilst that had always happened the extent became enormous). The rationale for the continued use of conventional weapons was that the civilian casualties were an accidental by product of aiming at legitimate military targets (arms production, distribution systems etc.) whereas chemical weapons were purely aimed at killing or injuring personnel. On the battlefield in WW1 this could be effectively confined to military personnel because of the trench warfare. However, in WW2 it was clear that that use of chemical weapons could not be limited to military personnel targets because the targets were diffuse in distribution and use against other targets would amount to the deliberate killing of civilians (not killing them simply as a by product of a legitimate target).
    Since the development of cluster bombs etc. and the emergence of asymmetric and guerilla warfare as the main forms of warfare the combatants are generally embedded amongst the civilian population. The logic that led to the convention seems less compelling in those circumstances.

    I would consider that a an international convention that warfare would be decided by a battle of Champions, with a choice of weapon limited to non lethal weaponry and a points system is the only way in which these awful weapons will not be used. However, that does not take account of the nihilist non-state actors that emerges from time to time. I despair, I really do!

  35. In the absence of an effective UN, we are left with Might Is Right.

    For me one of the most frightening events of recent days was the pictures of Putin, Rouhani & Erdogan meeting to discuss Syria.

    These three are busy trading there own interests in a most brutal & uncompromising fashion.

    And Turkey is a member of NATO.

  36. Colin: academic criticism from the vantage point of later years , of Leaders who dealt with National Crisis, needs to examine the whole achievement & its effects on The People of the Time.

    I think WB’s original comment was not about Churchill’s undoubted effectiveness as a national leader, but his much shakier record when he was able to directly influence or direct military operations: Gallipoli and the Norway campaign being prime examples.

    I’ve recently read Nicholas Shakespeare’s Six minutes in May which gives a pretty damning account of WSC’s gung-ho interventionism and tunnel-vision focus on Narvik following the German invasion of Norway, combined with flip-flopping changes of mind, which had the military professionals in despair and left the troops on the ground in an impossible position. (That much is very clear, although the author is more interested in the political manoeuvring that followed, and I found the military account pretty sketchy. It needs the Beevor or Hastings treatment).

  37. Just saw Trump’s latest tweet

    “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’ ”

    Really cannot begin to understand this man’s psyche: that tweet reminds me the of playground taunts of the braggart.

  38. @WB

    Some MPs are pure self publicists. Many people now Jess Philips because of her comments and not what she has done for her constituents. It is part of the landscape of public office as I have observed at close quarters in both plymouth in the 90s where I served on a an advisory committee and in Bristol where the our new mayor is somewhat anonymous after our previous mayor whom was known because he wore red trousers.

    I believe that Jess may have real issues with Corbyn in that she like many believed he would crash and burn and having set up ones stall on one side of the street it is difficult to break it down and set it up on the other side.

    As I have said previously part of the problem of the Anyone But Corbyn (the ABCs) is that whilst they know what they don’t want. They cannot provide a coherent alternative. It is part of the problem that I see with blairites bt also people that seem to a a visceral ‘hatred’ of first Corbyn winning and also the manner of his winning. let’s not forget every ole I saw said that he won the old pre £3 members as well as the new members. So just imagine what someone Like jess would face in her own constituency.

    @COLIN
    @ALEC

    I suppose I am going to agree with you both. In one sense this seems to be something of a something must be done sort of thing. In another sense having gone through the whole Libya and Syria we need to bomb them because…… sort of thing I personally believe we just don’t have the tools to solve the problem. We seem to only have petrol to douse the fire and as such I am not sure what the response if any would achieve now. The reality is the time to have done something was when we made the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

    What has always got me about that decision is that it split the Labour party with 80MPs at various times voting against it yet the Tory party remained firmly behind the attack. It is often lost in the noise of if being seen as Blairs war.

    What was interesting about Syria was that it was again it split the Labour party as it seem that most calls to arms recently have, although I do believe the intervention in Sierra Leone did nt meet with the sort of opposition that both Syria and Iraq did.

    I am hoping for the sort of evidence that does not fall apart at the first sort of inspection as much of the issue I have with most of these things is that Iwas told that Saddam had WMDs and it was incontrovertible, not probable, not possible but an absolute certainty. I am happy if we are not sure and take a decision to bomb because then at least I understand the persons motives and it becomes clear to everyone but it feel to me that often we end up wanting to believe our government because we inately believe they are better than everyone else’s. After all at least 30%+ vote for them and many tribally loyal to whatever party is in power.

    As I have said many times often policy is clouded by party tribalism.

  39. “On the other hand we have the Jihadists who now appear to largely control the armed resistance to Assad. They have everything to gain from such an attack. It will bring in powerful allies to counterbalance Russian support for Assad that transformed the civil war in his favour. Does anyone on here think that Al-Qaeda linked groups are not ruthless enough to kill children if it serves their purpose??”

    That may be their worst case scenario. They get that at least. The way our various leaders are headed they may yet get the bigger conflagration they dream of too. Their nihilistic myth always said it would happen in Syria.

  40. SOMERJOHN

    And my response to him was about balance & perspective.

    British casualties from the failed Norwegian campaign were 4369 ( Wiki).

    338,226 were rescued from Dunkirk-The British Army , or what was left of it.

    What point is WB making? That WC made mistakes?. I expect he did.
    As I said, from the comfort of a 2018 armchair , every national leader made mistakes with hindsight.

    But context & perspective -imo-are everything because for the people of these islands, surviving the very near run thing of 1940 , avoiding invasion & going on to defeat the occupation of Europe by the Nazis was what mattered.

    And Churchill’s courage & determination were a very significant factor in that achievement.

  41. @ Alienated Labour

    ” I have read reports in the last hour or two saying that diplomacy is taking place behind the scenes and that informal de-escalation talks are taking place, but these sorts of stand-offs are between nuclear powers are incredibly stupid and dangerous and we need to stop playing with fire before it’s too late”

    If that is the case, thank god and I couldn’t agree more. At this rate we are going to become best friends which would be really dangerous.

    :-)

  42. @WB

    Trump is the ultimate troll. his effectiveness is basically the fact that what he says gets attention and he likes attention. In many ways he is the ultimate politician. You can’t tell me who is in his cabinet, indeed it take real effort on my part to remember who the hell is VP.

    I personally think that Balir and his control of the new cycle in the UK and the rise of news channels makes Trump, Boris and other like that a thing. the new channels have to fill their time with new and the more sensational the better to hold the attention. It is clear that politics is in part controlling that cycle. trump’s success is that not that he is sophisticated but that the new establishment is not discerning enough. it does not comment on news it just provides a platform for opposing views and thus you can get flat earther given the same airtime as NASA/ESA because it is seen a more important to be seen as impartial than to seek the truth. Trump has made this problem more acute. As has someone like Boris and Gove’s comment about having had enough of experts. it means with the democratisation of access to the media has meant that alternative facts as Connolly called them are now part of the new landscape and the new media has great difficulty in calling out what is an absolute lie. The other point is that news has now become siloed to political views for example the extreme is fox new which basically has one type of audience and even their newscasters have real problems transferring out of the fox aura into a less ‘conservative’ news system. They become associated because of the views they have. I suppose we have always had this in the print media but thankfully whist one may have legitimate complaints of our TV news outlets they do not have the biases that we see in the US.

    In the end the problem I always see if that when we cannot agree on the facts opinions are even harder to change. Trump success is that people don’t agree on the facts and hence it is hard to have a consensus of opinion.

  43. @WB, thanks for your thoughts.

    With regards to Trump, there are three options:
    1) His advisers have explained the many pitfalls of attacking Syria right now and made him understand that it may be wise to back off.
    2) He woke up this morning and changed his mind, because he really is as unbalanced as he seems.
    3) A friendly man from Russia contacted him to explain that they still enjoy watching that home video they have of him, and would he like more people to see it?

    Its bad that 1) is the best option of those, but worse that I don’t even think that its the most likely.

  44. @ Colin

    OK you like Churchill I get it. However, in the interests of balance I accept the courage and determination of which you write and I simply say that Churchill’s reputation for as a military genius is undeserved, I am not aware of any military campaign in WW2 where he was the strategic architect and which was an unalloyed success. I contrast that with his strategic overview of the war, his blocking of Lord Halifax’s attempts at a peace which he saw as surrender and undoubted triumphs such as his unflinching support of SOE which allowed it to develop into one of the most important strategies supporting the Normandy landings.
    I am not unaware of the context but I ask you this how can any individual born after the era be allowed a critical opinion if they adopt your approach. I have a reasonable knowledge of the history of WW2, including first hand accounts I heard as a child from veterans including my grandfather, and it is based on that knowledge that I draw my conclusions.
    I should add as a footnote that in my part of South Wales Churchill was despised by many of my Grandfather’s generation despite the war because of his actions as home secretary in deploying troops to, as they saw it, shoot unarmed striking miners. So perspective and context must be much broader if there is to be an attempt at accuracy.

  45. Colin: What point is WB making?

    I can’t speak for WB. But the point I was making was that although WSC was undoubtedly a fine, inspirational political leader, and the saviour of our country, the record shows that he was clearly rubbish as a tactical military planner.

    The greatest of people – and Churchill was undoubtedly great – all have their weaknesses as well as strengths. To acknowledge that is not in any way to belittle their overall greatness.

  46. Sky News reporting:-

    OPCW confirm Porton Down’s ID of Salisbury agent.

    Macron says France has evidence on CW use in Douma.

  47. @Colin – I think falling back on the point that people liked Churchill at the time (and it;s worth noting that not everyone in 1940 thought he was doing a good job) is rather missing the point of historic perspective. Better information enables us to reassess just how good or otherwise Churchill was, free of the prism of much needed nationalism in a time of war.

    Norway and Dunkirk have been raised as example of Churchill’s poor military record, but the invasion of Italy is probably his most catastrophic strategic blunder.

    The Allies and British military command were aghast at his insistence on going north through Ital instead of farther east through Greece and the Balkans, and they were right. While it did tie up German divisions, it was a bloodthirsty slug fest and the slow progress was what created the space for the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe for the next seven decades. That’s part of Churchill’s legacy too.

    We do have a problem with Churchill, in that he wasn’t a very good military leader, but was a very good figurehead, and his decisions made WW2 much harder to win. But we did win, so he is viewed as a hero.

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