Conservative Woman: Debt-plagued students’ union face swingeing cuts — and they can’t even blame the evil Tories

For many student groups, austerity is a political choice made by evil Tories who are undoubtedly in cahoots with The Establishment.

This article was first published on The Conservative Woman.

Events have moved fast since I wrote about the harsh economic lesson for student Lefties just under a month ago.

At the end of October, the students’ union at the LSE, where I am an undergraduate, had concluded its bi-annual election period. Positions up for grabs included three delegates responsible for liaising with the national student body, the NUS. What was apparent was that the three budding new delegates-elect might find themselves out of office much earlier than expected. Guido Fawkes now reports that the NUS held crisis talks on Wednesday night after internal documents revealed that it is likely to go bankrupt within five months.

A letter leaked to Guido last month revealed the NUS to be in dire financial straits. Addressed to all affiliated students’ unions, the letter explained that the student body was ‘facing financial difficulty’ in the form of ‘a £3m deficit . . . in this and future financial years’. It has since come to light that this was, in fact, putting it rather lightly.

As reported by Guido, financial documents show that the NUS posted a combined loss of over £5.4million in 2017 (up from £50,000 in 2016). As a result, its debts sit at a whopping £14million. It now appears that the only realistic prospect of recovery lies in a truly radical downsizing and restructuring, including slashing services and laying off swathes of staff. Wednesday’s crisis talks concluded that the NUS will be bankrupt by April next year unless deep cuts are made immediately. A long way from merely ‘borrowing against the building we own’ as was initially suggested.

Even without such obvious financial disaster looming, the NUS executive would have a very hard time passing any such measures without provoking a revolt from socialist students up and down the country. For them austerity is a ‘political choice’ and they cast anyone who so much as thinks about making cuts as an evil Tory, undoubtedly in cahoots with big business and ‘the establishment’.

It has started. Numerous student bodies have already lashed out against the proposed emergency measures. A hilarious organisation calling itself the ‘Student Left Network’ has released a statement calling on the NUS to ‘open the books’ to prove the existence of the ‘alleged deficit’. What exactly do they think is going on here? Their extraordinary position seems to imply the belief that the crisis is a fiction concocted by the maleficent leadership so that it can make humiliating and debilitating cuts to its own campaigns.

The ‘Defend NUS Liberation’ group goes even further, claiming that the proposed austerity measures kowtow to ‘the far right’ and will cause increases in racist attacks. It asserts that the necessary cuts to NUS anti-racism projects will result in students being left unprotected with no union defence against oppressive Right-wing horrors such as hearing Steve Bannon speak or witnessing a presumably deadly leafleting campaign by the white nationalist movement Generation Identity.

The hysterical statement is accompanied by the slogan ‘Defend Black Students — No to Fascism — an NUS for all’, with the campaigners apparently oblivious to the fact that without a hefty dose of austerity, they will very quickly end up with ‘an NUS for none’. Though it is remarkable to see how the cogs turning in the head of a young Leftist results in a fantastical connection being drawn between basic economics and institutional racism.

As I said in my last post, that timeless Thatcher quote feels as relevant as ever: ‘The problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money’. Socialist economics clearly doesn’t work, and the abject state of the NUS is a case in point.

London Economic: What is the will of the people on Brexit?

Leaving the EU is not a temporary thing; nobody advocated a trial period which could be reversed if we don’t like it. The vote was – or should have been – final.

This article was first published on The London Economic.

When we debate how to deal with the result of the 2016 referendum, that is the fundamental question we are grappling with, and it matters a great deal not just for Brexit but for democracy as a whole.

Two years ago, the British electorate voted by a slim majority to leave the European Union. However, polls currently indicate that support for Remain has risen since then, and the data suggests that if the referendum were to be rerun now, Remain would be likely to win.

But can we act on that? On the one hand, the democratic vote in 2016 supported leaving, which we haven’t done yet. On the other hand, if the public has changed its mind, is it undemocratic to bypass its current will in favour of a past one?

Much can be said for and against the validity of poll data. As Anthony Wells, director of political research at YouGov points out, measuring poll data from two years ago against parallels today is not a fair comparison. Methodologies have changed, sample sizes differ, and different polling agencies always end up with somewhat disparate results, no matter how hard they try to control for every possible variable they can think of.

The result of all that ambiguity is that polls are a terrible measure of public opinion, but also the only data we have to go on. Before the referendum, they predicted a Remain victory almost unanimously, and were proven wrong. It’s a similar story if you look at the run-up to the 2015 general election, the 2016 US presidential election and even, to some extent, the 2017 general election.

Surely, though, if there is even the slightest indication that public opinion may have shifted in the last twenty-nine months, we should go back to the population and ask their opinion again before going through with the momentous and potentially irreversible political manoeuvre that is Brexit. In the age of Twitter, assuming we can keep those pesky hackers out, there must be an efficient way to obtain a snapshot of public opinion before we cross the point of no return.

Except, of course, it is far from that simple. Public opinion is extremely volatile. It is entirely possible that viewpoints have flipped since 2016, but who can say they won’t flip again in 2020? Referenda are much more complicated than elections because if the public changes its mind about a politician or government — which it almost always does — it can simply vote them out when their term is up.

This is not true of Brexit. The Brexit vote was arguably the most significant phenomenon in British political history since 1945, simply because of the implied permanence of the result. Leaving the EU is not a temporary thing; nobody advocated a trial period which could be reversed if we don’t like it. The vote was — or should have been — final.

Fundamentally, democracy simply means political power being in the hands of the people. When it comes to actually implementing that idea, it quickly becomes very clear that there is no easy way to go about it. Dozens of countries around the world call themselves democracies but no two countries have identical systems of government; each has a different interpretation of what it means to give power to the people.

Take Maoist China, for instance. Chairman Mao is widely seen as a dictator, his personalist dictatorial communism often contrasted with an idealistic view of Western democracy. He, though, would have vehemently disagreed with this undemocratic portrayal of his government. In his view, the Chinese Communist Party is a far more effective vehicle for democracy than any European or American governmental institution.

The way Mao saw it, Western democracy is just a recipe for oligarchy. While in theory anyone can run for office, in practice, in order to acquire any meaningful political power, pre-existing connections and substantial disposable funds are necessary. And, if you ever do get into government, you’ll need a fair bit of help from other powerful people in order to stay there.

We can see what he meant even today. The controversy surrounding Arron Banks’s financial contributions to the Leave.EU campaign are evidence of what Mao would have said was undemocratic government; contrary to the idealistic notion of equal distribution of power (everyone gets one vote) in a capitalistic society such as ours, those blessed with plentiful resources always get a bigger slice of the political pie.

In contrast to that, in China, there is only one party in government so politicians have no need to cosy up to businesses in order to gain and retain power, nor do they have to strike an impossible balance between fulfilling the public mandate they were given when they were elected and cooperating with the endless checks and balances present in a modern democracy.

Democratic votes can always be construed as undemocratic one way or another. If a government is elected to a five-year term but two years later public opinion suddenly condemns them, is it not undemocratic to force that population to live under that same government for a further three years?

How, though, does one decide what is undemocratic? In chasing this ultimate democracy, we would be constantly having votes to decide whether or not to have further votes. If polls are flawed, then elections and referenda suffer similar flaws. 52% of voters backed Leave in 2016, but that was only 17.4 million people — roughly 27% of the population.

The ultimate problem with this theoretical democracy is that it is incompatible with practical politics. Brexit is extremely complex; the negotiations process was always going to take at least two years, and the transition, implementation and backstop periods could last much longer than that. Politics moves much more slowly than our minds. We can change our opinions like flicking a switch but putting those opinions into practice takes a very long time and a huge amount of effort.

The result is that it is essentially impossible to cater to our every whim. So, as with Brexit, we have to make do with a rough estimation of public opinion. That is the reality of democracy.

1828: Labour’s civil war goes much deeper than Brexit 

Ideological warfare is being waged on the Left between the old guard and the young crowd. Neo-Marxism versus actual Marxism, if you like.

This article was first published on 1828.

The far left in Britain is currently enjoying a prominence not seen for decades, and it is scrambling to make the most of it. Thanks of course to Jeremy Corbyn being the leader of the Labour Party, social democracy within the party is essentially dead and the Blairite wing of the party has been superseded by rejuvenated Marxists.

With the Tories torn in two over the European question, and the government propelling us blindly towards Brexit like a farm animal being thrust into the jaws of the slaughterhouse, conditions ought to be perfect for a leftist Luigi Di Maio-style surge to power (minus the coalition with the fringe right, of course).

However, as always seems to be the case with politics, it is not quite that simple. There is a profound ideological battle being waged deep within the heart of the Labour Party which threatens to derail its electoral efforts and doom it to the political sidelines once again.

On the one hand, Corbyn’s leadership has seen much closer affiliation with trade unions and a return to classic socialist policies. Corbyn has himself been a trade unionist for practically his entire political career and Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has expressed what sounds like the anti-Thatcher rhetoric churned out in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Conversely, very contemporary leftist ideology also occupies a prominent space in Labour, as one would expect. Fourth-wave feminism and identity politics are in full force in the party’s activism lobby, and Corbyn — a Eurosceptic trade unionist who has spent most of his career talking about “the workers” and donning Soviet-style headgear — has inadvertently become the leader of Britain’s so-called progressive movement.

Take, for instance, journalist and broadcaster Rod Liddle. On paper, he ought to be president of the Jeremy Corbyn fan club. A veteran leftist, he was fired from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for writing a column in the Guardian that was too favourable towards Labour. And yet, thanks merely to his moderate libertarianism and social conservatism, he is seen as a right-wing commentator.

Now he writes for the Times and the Spectator, he is frequently labelled “far right”, and he describes himself as “Corbynphobic”. Liddle is a case in point of an old-school socialist with a history of leftism who simply cannot identify with the modern Labour Party because of its confusion about its direction.

The Labour leadership’s ambiguity over Brexit is a prime example of how this ideological conflict bears itself out in policy. Setting aside the pragmatic need to refrain from adopting any firm positions, so as to avoid alienating either Brexit camp, much of the old guard’s Euroscepticism is a stubbornly square peg which will not jam into the round hole that is the aggressively globalist narrative of the modern left.

The ideological battle, though, goes much deeper than that. Following the victory of the trade unionists — represented by Unite — in the battle for general secretary earlier this year, the progressives — operating behind the Momentum front — have done their utmost to gain control of candidate deselection efforts.

This is nothing other than a civil war taking place within the Labour Party, and it is emblematic of the ideological warfare being conducted within the British left as a whole between young and old. Neo-Marxism versus actual Marxism, if you like. As a result, the left urgently needs to define itself and settle on a direction.

While the Tories might be split over Brexit, Labour — despite not being in government — has rifts everywhere you look, stemming from two fundamentally different worldviews. It has quite a task on its hands if it is to transform itself from a collection of angry shouters to a government-in-waiting anytime soon.

Conservative Woman: A harsh lesson in economics for the student Lefties

For years, the National Union of Students has been a fierce critic of the same austerity policies it will now have to impose on itself.

This article was first published on The Conservative Woman.

Last Tuesday the students’ union at the LSE, where I am an undergraduate, concluded its bi-annual election period. Positions up for grabs included three delegates responsible for liaising with the national student body, the NUS. Tragically, the three budding new delegates-elect might find themselves out of office much earlier than expected.

A letter leaked to Guido Fawkes on Friday revealed the NUS to be in dire financial straits. Addressed to all affiliated students’ unions, the letter explains that the organisation is predicted to post a deficit of £3million ‘in this and future financial years’ and outlines plans to address the crisis which could potentially spiral into bankruptcy. The emergency measures apparently include ‘a combination of borrowing against the building we own, making cuts to staff, and turning off some of the activity we deliver’.

The irony in this story is cruel but profoundly satisfying. For years, the NUS has been a fierce critic of austerity. It has organised and endorsed countless protests and campaigns aimed at pressuring the government into not only halting but reversing public sector cuts made since 2010.

Eight years ago, the NUS was behind the appallingly conducted ‘Funding our Future’ protests aimed at preventing the cap on tuition fees being raised to £9,000. The chaotic demonstrations saw students breaking into Conservative Campaign Headquarters, smashing windows, storming the roof, burning banners and placards and throwing missiles.

The NUS claimed that the policy would make it more difficult for students from poorer backgrounds to attend university. In contrast to the rhetoric and virtue-signalling (‘we care about the poor, you don’t’), the evidence shows that university enrolment has risen continuously since tuition fees were introduced 20 years ago and that the participation gap between rich and poor students has narrowed significantly. That’s in addition to substantial increases in funding per head, despite 40 per cent cuts to the higher education budget.

The protests were defended at the time by Clare Solomon, president of the University of London Union, who said: ‘These were a few windows of the Tory Party headquarters — what they’re doing to our education is absolutely millions . . . and they want to complain about a few windows.’ A masterclass in political discourse and civility.

Higher education funding represents an area of government policy which has been astonishingly successful in recent years. British educational institutions continue to lead the world in terms of research and teaching standards, while inclusion and accessibility rates for students from even the most disadvantaged backgrounds are higher than ever.

Proposals which came to light recently to slash tuition fees to £6,500 will no doubt be welcomed by the NUS, if decried as insufficient. They would, of course, be counter-intuitive. As an excellent analysis in The Times concisely explains, such cuts would benefit wealthy students almost exclusively, because the poorest are protected from crippling bills by the superb current system in which the repayment structure is custom-managed to meet the individual’s needs.

If the government wants to splash out on students, it would get much better value for money by either cutting interest rates or bringing back maintenance grants. They won’t do that, of course, because the modern Left’s uncompromising nature (unwillingness to accept the facts staring them in the face about how to help the worst-off) has focused all its campaigning energy in one place — tuition fees — and the Virtue-Signalling Rules dictate that they can’t possibly go back on that now, however counter-productive and appallingly inefficient the policy might be.

Here at the LSE, generous non-repayable bursaries are awarded to students: up to £4,000 a year is available for those with low household incomes, in addition to a wide array of grants and scholarships. The NUS pay no regard to the thousands of poor students who have benefited immeasurably from these schemes. Would any of this be possible under their proposed policy of taking money away from universities by abolishing tuition fees, at a cataclysmic cost to the taxpayer?

The leaked NUS letter cites two main reasons for the sudden crisis: ‘structural problems’ and ‘competitors in student discounts, trading support and policy and strategic support’. Reading this, one might reasonably assume that recent months have seen a surge in the level of competition in these markets, hence the NUS’s inability to cope.

The reality is comparatively underwhelming. The leading student discount companies are Student Beans, Save the Student and Unidays, which have been around since 2005, 2007 and 2011 respectively. If the current crisis really is due to this competition, it suggests astonishingly poor management on the part of the NUS.

What did they expect? They know that these companies exist. This is how modern markets work. The NUS offering, called the Totum card, affords meagre benefits in comparison to its rivals. I have a Totum card, and the only place I have ever used it is the Co-op around the corner, where it gives me 10 per cent off my Pot Noodles and microwavable pizza.

The issue here isn’t that the competition in this market is brutal and a not-for-profit organisation couldn’t possibly be expected to survive. The source of the problem is clear, and it goes much deeper. Ideologically, the socialists who run the NUS struggle to deal with the idea of people making free choices about which service to pay for based on its quality.

The statism of socialist economics makes such a concept very difficult to grapple with. Anyone can see from its violent virtue-signalling that the NUS is a far more righteous organisation than its competitors, so why should others be permitted to make money from the same industry? The NUS cares too little about the quality of the service it provides and is therefore ill-equipped to operate competitively, making financial disaster practically inevitable.

In contrast to the Utopian non-economics the hard Left promotes, austerity is the best and perhaps only way to deal with an economic disaster such as the one inherited by the new government in 2010. Austerity consists not of evil Conservatives snatching ice cream from the hands of working-class children, but rather of a sensible restructuring of public sector funding to avert chaos and collapse.

This truth is one that the NUS leadership has had to face with ruthless clarity. That timeless Thatcher quote feels as relevant as ever: ‘The problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money.’ Socialist economics clearly doesn’t work, and the abject state of the NUS is a case in point. But don’t expect any radical change in rhetoric any time soon. Facts have never stood in the way of Leftism before, so why should that change now?

Conservative Home: The DUP’s threats are in vain. May doesn’t need them any more

The simplistic post-electoral world where Theresa May’s minority government was supported by the ten DUP MPs is long gone.

This article was first published on Conservative Home.

Nearly 16 months have passed since Theresa May’s minority government was formed, propped up by a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party. May defended the highly controversial (and rather expensive) deal forthrightly at the time, since she was starkly aware that simple arithmetic dictated her dependence on the support of the DUP in the Commons.

Since then, though, the political climate has shifted rather dramatically, especially in relation to Brexit. Swathes of MPs from numerous parties are now openly advocating a second Brexit referendum, with the Labour leadership perhaps on the brink of making the backing official. Keir Starmer has suggested that the referendum result could be ignored and the party line appears to be that any deal May presents will be opposed to the death, even if that makes a No Deal Brexit more likely.

At the other end of the spectrum, the European Research Group, bolstered by the resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis and the profile explosion of Jacob Rees-Mogg, has stepped up its activities and buttressed its standing in Parliament as the Brexiteer voice. It is now the go-to place for Tory rebels. A letter to the Prime Minister from the ERG in February urging her to stick to the principles of her Lancaster House speech received direct endorsement from no less than 62 Conservative MPs.

None of this is terribly surprising. The Prime Minister produced a Brexit proposal and is sticking to it, albeit with staggering vociferousness. Some noisy backbenchers are in disagreement. The Opposition opposes the government, as indeed it should, though it too is burdened with significant backbench rumblings.

The DUP, though, does not seem to have noticed that any of this is happening; its rhetoric has not changed at all since the election so that, today, its comments look entirely misplaced. For instance, Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Leader in Westminster, said: “We will vote against [May’s Brexit deal]. We will vote for our red lines.” (The most significant of those red lines by far is, of course, the party’s opposition to any backstop or customs complications regarding the Northern Irish border.)

Similarly, Arlene Foster vowed to “never allow” any such compromise to be implemented through a Brexit deal, adding: “We are not bluffing.” This brand of hollow threat has been churned out by the party PR machine for some time; back in June, for example, Dodds said that May would “rue the day” she called the DUP’s bluff on Brexit.

These statements are baffling because they suggest that the DUP’s leverage is as strong as it was a year ago — which it is not, by a long way. The simplistic post-electoral world where May’s minority government was supported by the ten DUP MPs is long gone. Now, owing to the volatile climate in the Commons as crunch time approaches, things are infinitely more complex. Clearly, it makes far more sense for May focus on appealing to her own MPs (and trying to win over some Corbyn-phobic Labour members) than allowing herself to be held hostage over arguably the most important issue in the Brexit negotiations for the sake of less than a dozen votes.

Theresa May no longer leads a minority government teetering on the edge of plausible existence, held in place only by the strings Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds twirl between their fingers. Rather, she heads up an embattled government and a deeply divided party, opposite an equally split Labour party. Unequivocally, her ability to pass any Brexit bill through the Commons will depend considerably more on the mood in the two main parties than the Northern Irish vote.

The numbers of Tory and Labour MPs whose votes on such a bill are uncertain and whose decisions will decide the future of Brexit vastly outweigh the influence of the DUP in the House. Although still entirely valid on paper, the deal signed last June is now essentially worthless in practice. The threats sprouting from the top of the DUP are fading into nothingness and the Prime Minister will continue to concentrate her energy where it is warranted.

Conservative Woman: Right is Left and Left is right – rewriting reality with Comrade Jones

Owen Jones has so clearly just seized the Right’s rhetoric and swapped ‘Left’ for ‘far-Right’.

This article was first published on The Conservative Woman.

The hilarious flop that was the #BoycottTheGuardian campaign could have put Owen Jones, everyone’s favourite Corbynite columnist, in a rather sticky situation. That is, if it had ever become anything more than a small group of militant Corbynistas furiously tweeting on a Thursday evening.

Before long, Jones was back to his usual self, rounding on the mainstream media (in this case Sky News) for acknowledging the existence of people whose opinions differ from his, even if it was merely a one-off, over-edited interview with Tommy Robinson on the day of his court appearance.

Comrade Jones very much enjoys using the mainstream media to rail against the mainstream media for supposedly promoting far-Right views more than is appropriate, despite appearing on our screens constantly to advance his own far-Left agenda. (The far-Right, of course, encompasses not only the entire Right wing, but the centre-Left too.) It isn’t all poor Owen’s fault, though; from his point of view, squashed in his little socialist mud hut all the way over on the extreme Left, Chuka Umunna probably does look far-Right.

Conservative voices are unduly censored on social media. All the supposedly neutral news outlets disproportionately favour Left-wing perspectives on major issues and Right-wing figures, even elected politicians, are treated very unfairly overall. These facts are frequently pointed out by the Right. Jones, rather than engaging with the debate by offering a different perspective, simply flips the facts on their head and presents them as legitimate arguments for the Left.

A frequent feature of his writing is the ludicrous allegation that the mainstream media, including the BBC, is biased towards the Right. Ignoring the verdicts of independent fact-checkers and the plethora of evidence showing that Auntie unequivocally leans to the Left, Jones maintains his hysterical narrative that Left-wing views are somehow under attack from the ruling Right.

An excellent example of this phenomenon is Brexit. Jones would have you believe that he is a persecuted anti-establishment working man railing against the oppression of the elitist, fascist BBC, which is determined to blast through the dissenters and take Britain out of the EU at all costs. The reality, of course, is quite different.

As a News-watch study brutally exposed last year, the BBC’s coverage of the Brexit debate in the run-up to the referendum conformed to its usual pattern of blatant favouritism of the progressive view, in this case Remain. The report says that the Beeb ‘one-sidedly emphasised the difficulties of Brexit’ and that a third more pro-EU figures than Brexiteers were featured. It even goes on to claim that if BBC coverage had been unbiased, the Brexit-voting majority could have been much more sizeable than it was. Once again, a far cry from the Leftist narrative pushed relentlessly by Jones.

A blatant ignorance of the facts is not at all unusual in the Leftist climate of today. What is most amazing about Jones in particular on this is that he has so clearly just seized the Right’s rhetoric and swapped ‘Left’ for ‘far-Right’, apparently thinking that is sufficient for him to pass it off as accurate comment of his own.

The term ‘bigot’ has all but lost its meaning thanks to the likes of Jones; continuing with the post-factual theme, he uses it to mean precisely the opposite of its true definition. Bigotry — intolerance of views that differ from one’s own — is an offence of which Jones is patently and continuously guilty. Yet, for him, it is a stone he can pick up and hurl (via Twitter, usually) at whichever politician or commentator dares to blaspheme against Lord Jezza. Recently, for instance, he (mis)used it in defence of Ian Lavery MP after he had a small tantrum at Rod Liddle on Question Time for objecting to Corbyn’s racism.

Such tactics — taking the factual claims of the Right and rebranding them as the desperate cries of an oppressed Left — are a common theme in Jones’s writing. Take, for instance, the term ‘snowflake’. Coined and deployed by the Right, this is an apt term designed for a very specific usage, a type of bigotry shrouded in false vulnerability and rooted in profound intellectual weakness.

Owen Jones totally misunderstands and completely misuses the notion of the snowflake. Following the righteous outrage from across the political spectrum at the hideous insult that was the Trump baby blimp flown during the President’s UK visit in July, Jones snatched the word ‘snowflake’ from the hands of rationality and pranced through the street with it, planting it firmly on the foreheads of the right-thinking people who suggested that the unfunny balloon was possibly not the ideal way to forward US-UK relations and prepare for the post-Brexit world.

Make no mistake, Jones is not stupid. He is not merely a deranged lunatic, chasing Boris on his bike ride into Westminster every morning, darting behind bushes to avoid being seen and snatching at Pret a Manger stores as he passes them. He is, in fact, rather an intelligent person, though one who is apparently too lazy to do any actual thinking and formulate any arguments of his own, beyond crying loudly when others don’t toe The Leftist Line.

That has not stopped him, though. In today’s world of 280-character opinions, Jones’s pathetic pseudo-debate has propelled him to prominence and threatens to keep him there. The walls are slowly but surely closing in on open conservatism as we know it; our best hope at this point is to pray that a barrage of sheer logic will eventually be enough to dislodge Jones from his cut-price high horse.

Brexit Central: Will Theresa May escape the European curse that toppled the last three Tory Prime Ministers? 

It is in the DNA of Conservative Prime Ministers to fall at the hands of their own party over Britain’s relationship with Europe.

This article was first published on Brexit Central.

High-profile Brexiteers must be frantically scratching their heads as they desperately try to think up new ways to criticise the Chequers plan that are eye-catching enough to generate headlines following Boris Johnson’s ‘suicide vest’ jibe. Theresa May’s Brexit blueprint has come under non-stop attack from all angles since it was agreed in July. She is far from the first Conservative Prime Minister to struggle with the European question and judging by her predecessors’ records, she has her work cut out going forward.

Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister many political lifetimes ago, but her philosophy is no less relevant today than it was in 1979. Thatcher’s fundamental libertarianism drove her fierce opposition to the EEC; her espoused aversion to its rapid growth and merciless engulfing of national sovereignty was shared by much of her party and the country. Having worked so tirelessly to disentangle the long, twisting fingers of the state from the British economy and society, Thatcher was exasperated to see the European super-government gladly and slyly filling those gaps. Her unrelenting hostility to the expansion of the European Community ultimately cost her her premiership.

John Major was the cursed soul tasked with the unholy feat of ratifying the Maastricht Treaty, essentially solidifying Britain’s membership of the newly rebranded, bigger and better European Union. Although the Maastricht Bill was eventually passed, the Government’s initial defeat in July 1993 at the hands of the Maastricht rebels irreparably injured his leadership by profoundly undermining his parliamentary authority. It was this lack of confidence in Major that formed the backdrop for the subsequent half-decade of to-ing and fro-ing over the single currency and creating the conditions for the 1997 perfect storm, the historic and still staggering landslide election defeat for the Conservatives.

Following the Tory Dark Ages of New Labour and the dreaded Coalition years, David Cameron finally emerged triumphant in 2015 with a parliamentary majority, bursting with confidence. However, having not quite managed to shore up his authority as Prime Minister as much as he would have liked amidst increasingly strong electoral performances by UKIP, Cameron and Co. thought a big, juicy EU referendum ought to do it. As has been scrutinised to death over the past two years, this was — for him personally at least — a catastrophic miscalculation. A failure to foresee support for Brexit from colleagues like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, combined with a total misjudgement of the power of the populist electoral tide, was always going to spell the end for Cameron.

Theresa May very nearly suffered the same fate as her three predecessors as Tory Prime Minister. As we know all too well, a similarly cataclysmic misjudgement of the public mood by her team led to the loss of her parliamentary majority at the 2017 election and kick-started a nationwide ‘leadership conjecture’ machine whose cogs have been inexorably turning for the fifteen months since, churning out baseless speculation and endless grand statements and dramatic proclamations about her imminent downfall.

Nevertheless, it is not too late for May. It is patently clear that Chequers cannot work in practice, but the Prime Minister herself knows that better than anybody else. Trying to please everybody — in the way that Chequers does — inevitably ends up satisfying nobody; but the plan she came up with was always going to have to work its way through the maelstrom of confusion that is negotiations with Brussels, before even arriving on British shores.

Chequers has functioned relatively well as a starting point for this final stage of negotiations with the EU, as it was always intended to. We can, however, be quite sure that the deal May drapes over her head as she re-enters the perennial hailstorm of the House of Commons will look entirely different to Chequers — that is, if she comes back with a deal at all. It is in the DNA of Conservative Prime Ministers to fall at the hands of their own party over Britain’s relationship with Europe. Each of the four Tory leaders our country has had in the last forty years has adopted a totally unique approach to government, with the previous three all failing in rather dramatic fashion.

Following the disaster of last year’s election, May has created for herself a remarkable second chance. Her only hope now is that she can fully utilise the political cunning she has demonstrated on so many occasions up to this point to take Brexit Britain where she wants it to go. Do not judge Theresa May based on Chequers. Chequers was never supposed to be a final product, and it never will be. May is a pragmatist, especially on the issue of Brexit; she was a Remainer before the referendum, adopted a hardline Brexiteer stance following her elevation to party leader and then produced the ‘soft’ Chequers plan this year.

This lack of consistency highlights May’s aptitude for the volatile world of politics. Her true colours on Europe will only begin to become visible in the coming days and weeks. At present, it is not too late for May to pick the right course and deliver the Brexit people voted for. That might not be the case in just a couple of months’ time.

1828: The ban on electric shock collars is yet another improvement in UK animal rights

Banning shock collars is the most recent in a string of successful moves, reigniting productivity in a stale government department.

This article was first published on 1828.

Michael Gove has excelled as environment secretary since his appointment after last year’s general election. The war waged by his department on harmful microbeads used in cosmetics products was long overdue. His decision to place a ban on the sale of new fuel combustion motor vehicles in 2040 was a balanced and sensible one. He has even taken the wind out of Nigel Farage’s sails to some degree by making himself the Brexiteer voice of British fishing and agriculture.

Continuing this run, Defra finally announced that electric shock collars for cats and dogs are to be banned in England under new legislation. Celebrating the development, Gove said: “We are a nation of animal lovers and the use of punitive shock collars cause harm and suffering to our pets. This ban will improve the welfare of animals and I urge pet owners to instead use positive reward training methods.”

This latest bill is the most recent of a string of successful moves, reigniting productivity in a stale and sterile government department. It unequivocally outlaws the use of so-called training devices, which often stun animals with up to 6,000 volts of electricity and sometimes spray noxious chemicals. Similar measures had already been implemented in Wales and Scotland; a parallel in England had been a long time coming.

An RSPCA survey previously found that five per cent of all dog owners in the UK admitted to using the shock collars, a small enough sector to avoid provoking widespread anger among pet owners but also a large enough group to justify legislative action. Since there are around nine million pet dogs in the country, hundreds of thousands will benefit from the absence of these horrific collars which can, according to Dogs Trust, deliver a very high voltage for up to 11 seconds.

As ever, though, the activist lobby was not satisfied. Though it welcomed the legislation, the RSPCA complained that electric containment fences had not also been banned. While it is true that there are viable alternatives to these fences and that they “can compromise cat and dog welfare”, as a spokesperson put it, there are limitations to what can be achieved in one fell swoop.

A 2014 poll by The Kennel Club, for instance, found that 74 per cent of the public would support a government ban on electric shock collars. Such a clear majority in favour of an outright proscription gives Gove a very clear mandate to implement the measure and penalise the minority of pet owners who persist with discipline using this draconian method. Conversely, a government consultation found that half of the 7,000 people surveyed opposed a similar ban on electric containment fences.

Gove made the right decision by choosing not to outlaw the electric fences. While there is a vast array of alternative non-shock training devices available, the same is not necessarily true of containment tools. Savvy dogs and cats are adept at squirming into places they shouldn’t be. If those fences were banned, lazy owners might resort to yet more unpleasant methods of keeping their pets in check. Moreover, as lobbyist Ian Gregory points out, such a ban would be counter-productive as they prevent hundreds of thousands of animal deaths in road accidents.

The banning of electric shock collars is a long overdue and wholly commendable step forward in animal rights. Here’s to hoping that the enormous workload of Brexit and the Tories’ power struggle don’t begin to impede the tremendous work that Michael Gove and his team are doing at Defra.

Conservative Woman: A Brexit divorce bill would be daylight robbery

It would be ridiculous for us to pay for projects that will take place after we have left and from which we will never reap any benefits.

This article was first published on The Conservative Woman.

All the theatrical antics of the European Research Group in recent days may have served the Prime Minister rather well after all. Not only was she able gleefully to tell Nick Robinson how ‘irritated’ she is by the recent behaviour of dozens of her own MPs, but the attention it has drawn also gives her a much-needed respite from the public dismantling of the Chequers plan. Two Brexit birds with one Mogg-shaped stone, you might say.

Nonetheless, multiple big questions continue to loom. Given the speed at which October deadlines are racing towards us, Dominic Raab’s recent decision to pull his socks up and puff his chest out is dangerously close to being too little, too late. The Brexit Secretary wrote a mostly intelligent article in the Daily Telegraph last week in which, among other things, he decried shameful scaremongering about vital supply shortages in case of No Deal (which, by the way, is a thousand times more heinous than anything Boris Johnson or Vote Leave did during the referendum campaign).

The most encouraging statement in Raab’s piece comes in the penultimate paragraph in which he reasserts that ‘there is no deal without the whole deal’ and, crucially, that the UK government will refuse to pay any so-called divorce bill unless a comprehensive deal is reached with the EU. This declaration, though necessary, is insufficient; we ought to refuse to pay the EU a single penny during the entire Brexit process.

A paper published by the EU in June last year spoke of a ‘financial settlement’ to be paid by the UK in terms that suggested the matter was done and dusted, as if our government had unconditionally agreed to hand over tens of billions of euros. One can imagine Juncker and Barnier hunched over a laptop writing this document in keen competition to see who could use the word ‘obligation’ the most times in a single paragraph.

Even if the negotiations are successful and the two sides reach an acceptable trade arrangement, the notion that we should be made to pay anything more than the cost of a double espresso to seal the deal is frankly outrageous. Since when is a country obliged to raid its piggy bank to do a mutually beneficial trade deal with a bloc such as the EU? That is as ridiculous as a shopkeeper charging you a substantial fee at the door for the privilege of entering the shop and giving him your custom. Something fundamental must have changed since Canada’s CETA deal in 2014, which didn’t cost the Canadians anything.

Of course, this divorce is delightfully multifaceted. In a marriage that goes back nearly half a century, even a miraculously amicable trade deal would not be sufficient to tie up all the loose ends in the relationship so that nobody strangles anybody else when the kids change hands at the weekend. There are various other factors which the Euro crew like to shout about (and demand cash for), predominantly concerning promises the UK has supposedly made to fund EU expenditures.

Covering any of these costs would be nothing less than daylight robbery and being seen to make these concessions would be monumentally damaging to the UK’s negotiating position as it seeks free trade deals with other countries and blocs around the world. There is no need for us to ‘honour our commitments’ to European pay-outs any more than for David Cameron to continue to reside in 10 Downing Street. He was elected for a five-year term in 2015, was he not? But circumstances have changed, and it would now be preposterous for him to turn up at May’s door carrying a battered red briefcase and a plastic bag full of old copies of the Standard.

Speaking of Cameron, back in 2013 he agreed (most likely at the direction of co-Prime Minister George Osborne) to contribute to the annual EU budget up to and including 2020, amounting to a €22billion payment for us when we leave in March next year. Topping up the divorce bill is €39billion of contributions to currently non-existent EU projects that some British minister half-heartedly agreed to a decade ago along with yet more bailout funds for the likes of Greece. It would be totally ridiculous for us to pay for projects that will take place after we have left and from which we will never reap any benefits, regardless of what might have been agreed in years past.

Take this analogy: a large group of people walk into a bakery and express interest in cakes. The baker is delighted; he disappears under the counter and emerges with a large box full of iced goodies. The customers converse briefly, then announce that they have changed their minds and leave the shop. Would the baker be within his rights to chase after them, demand the payment in full and then run back to the shop and sell the cakes to someone else?

The bakery of Brexit is one that shows no signs of becoming any more pleasant to deal with. At this point, we can only hope that May’s government doesn’t misplace its spine over the next few months or else we might end up getting monumentally ripped off over a cardboard box of soggy iced fingers.

Post Millennial: The Serena Williams debacle shows how identity politics paralyses debate and distracts from real injustice 

This was not an issue of race or gender, but merely one of tennis discipline.

This article was first published on The Post Millennial.

Naomi Osaka is mixed race, born of a Haitian father and a Japanese mother. She is a phenomenal tennis player and a rising star on the world stage. She did not say or do anything remotely racist, sexist or in any way hostile towards her opponent Serena Williams or anyone else during Saturday’s US Open final or indeed at any other time. Yet, somehow, she finds herself on the wrong side of the latest outburst of fury from the self-righteous, identity-obsessed modern left.

Serena Williams is a woman of colour. In the extraordinarily narrow-minded leftist worldview of identity politics, that means any criticism or penalising of her is racist and sexist. If she were gay, you can bet your bottom dollar the decisions against her would have been homophobic too. This is in spite of the fact that all three blatant violations, along with Williams’ pathetic tantrum, were broadcast live around the world for all to see.

This was not an issue of race or gender, but merely one of tennis discipline. It is the hard left, in this case Williams, that insists on framing the debate in those identity-driven terms because it fits their narratives. But the logic simply does not hold up. Imagine for a moment that umpire Carlos Ramos is a raging misogynistic racist, as the liberal columnists would have you believe. He has decided that he objects to the existence of women of colour and that the most effective way to enact this view is to become an official for the US Tennis Association (which, by the way, is run by a woman of colour).

Ramos calculates that the best means of ensuring his virulent prejudices have the most impact on the world is to be impeccably professional for several years and wait for the right moment to make a move. That moment apparently arrived on Saturday, when his racism and sexism motivated him to unfairly penalise a woman of colour in order to allow another woman of colour to win the match.

There are more plot holes in this hysterical narrative than there were in Jeremy Thorpe’s forty years ago. It is plain to see that Ramos followed the rules of the game to the letter throughout the incident and it is equally clear that Williams behaved with an cataclysmic lack of professionalism. Nonetheless, the modern left continues to force the identity debate onto fatuous non-events such as this, thereby distracting from real injustice.