HS2 divides the Conservative Party

Prominent Conservatives, including a former Chancellor, plead with the Prime Minister to persist with HS2, despite reports that the project is two to three times over budget and may not benefit the areas of England that it was intended to.

Boris Johnson set up a review into the project when he entered Number 10 last summer. But according to the former deputy chairman of the project, Lord Berkeley, the previous reports seriously ‘misled’ parliamentarians and went on the claim that the project is ‘completely out of control financially’.

Unlike the Greens and the Brexit Party, the Conservative manifesto failed to commit to scrapping the project. Instead, their manifesto made it clear that “HS2 is a great ambition, but will now cost at least £81 billion and will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040. We will consider the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings and work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the optimal outcome.”

However, some of the Conservative MPs did make clear that they would oppose the creation of the 4o0-mile long rail network, including Owen Paterson and David Davis. Boris Johnson has also made it clear that projects without full costings and deemed unsustainable are at risk of being scrapped.

However, George Osborne, former Chancellor and architect of the ‘northern powerhouse’, as well as Andy Street, the West Midlands mayor, pleaded with Boris Johnson not to scrap the project.

The now Editor of The Evening Standard hopes that his project goes ahead because it will enable the north to connect with the capital. This is despite research that indicates that a majority of businesses will travel south bound to London.

In an interview with the BBC Today programme, the former Chancellor said that ‘HS2 is absolutely critical to changing the economic geography of this country.’ He went on to add that the government should extend upon HS2 with a HS3 project that would build across the north of England.

Andy Street cited another Conservative pledge to ‘level up’ spending across the United Kingdom as a reason to persist with the project, claiming that HS2 “is an absolutely critical way of achieving that.” He went on to insist that if the government back-peddled on HS2 that it would be a ‘hammer blow’ to the economy in the Midlands and to the jobs that the project has already created.

The mayor for the West Midlands also believes that the project has the support of many voters who conditionally supported Boris Johnson last December. He said that these voters ‘are now expecting him to deliver on his promise to rebalance the economy and power up our region. The first clear and decisive step that can be taken to fulfil that promise is to back HS2.’

By J Walters

Starmer officially enters the race to succeed Corbyn, as Lisa Nandy shines in opening hustings

Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, has enough support from his Labour colleagues in Westminster and Brussels to officially enter the Labour leadership race.

The front-runner has the support of 23 Labour colleagues, surpassing the 22 supporters needed in the first stage of the Labour leadership race. The current tallies appear to mirror the YouGov poll of members with Rebecca Long-Bailey trailing in a distant second.

The former head of the Crown Prosecution Service has also received the support of Britain’s largest trade union, Unison. The 1.3 million-strong union, that backed Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and 2016, has announced its support for Starmer because they believe he is best placed to defeat Boris Johnson. The General Secretary, Dave Prentis, claimed ‘Starmer would be a leader to bring the party together and win back the trust of the thousands of voters who deserted Labour last month’.

‘Continuity candidate’, Long-Bailey, who has the backing of Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, is currently 15 short of entering the race on 7 backers. The Shadow Business Secretary was mocked on a BBC radio interview for grading Corbyn a ‘10 out of 10’ despite leading his party to their worst electoral defeat since 1935. Nonetheless, the Salford-born MP will presume that those expected to back Ian Lavery’s ticket will fall behind her, as the hard-left chair of the party declines to enter the race.

While outspoken backbencher representing Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips trails her on 6. She has the support of Wes Streeting and both of them were extremely critical of the parties position on anti-semitism and Europe. But Phillips has recently come under scrutiny for suggesting that under her leadership Britain could rejoin the EU, despite her constituents voting to leave the European Union.

However, reports from the New Statesman on the Parliamentary Labour Party’s hustings last night suggest that Lisa Nandy, member of Parliament for Wigan, may build on the two nominations she currently has. Despite having the smallest majority among candidates for leader, with her 33% majority in 2017 falling to just 15%, she emerged from the hustings with the best performance, in what was a disappointing night for Clive Lewis and Rebecca Long-Bailey.

The two stragglers are Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary on one nomination, and ex-soldier Clive Lewis who is yet to receive one formal endorsement. And as both candidates are firmly on the Remain-wing of the party, they may prove to condemn Labour to a further electoral defeat. A majority of the 55-seats that Labour lost to the Tories voted for Brexit, and Lewis’ claim that Brexit was a ‘racist project’ and Caroline Flint’s accusation that Thornberry called Brexiteers ‘stupid’, will not bode well for either candidate in the former Labour heartlands, like Scunthorpe, Sedgefield and Stoke South.

But with five days to go until nominations close only Sir Keir Starmer can be certain that he has enough support from his parliamentary colleagues.

By J Walters

Phillip the Great

A military, fiscal, diplomatic and political genius, Philip took the throne after the death of his brother. He was ruthless, back-stabbing, cunning and shrewd but a great diplomatic leader. Macedonia under Philip had great resources, to which no other Greek state could compare with. He broke new ground in every way. His reforms were excellent. His military reforms were outstanding. A hurricane swept Greece due to Philip, he began taking control of the Northern coast of Greece and Thrace and then began to head South. In 338 Thebes and Athens stood up to Philip at the battle of Chaeronea but were completely overrun by the Macedonians. He set up a Pan-Hellenic league to include all Greek states, except for Sparta. This became known as the League of Corinth. Philip was quite simply the reason for Alexander’s successes.

When people think of Alexander it is often the case that what is first thought of is the unbeaten and possibly the greatest military leader of all time. Yet, Philip laid the foundations for this. Alexander was undefeated through his life and seemed to use the same tactic throughout his battles. His army was split into three areas; a left-wing cavalry, a right-wing cavalry and a centre phalanx. The right-wing cavalry would then initiate in an ambitious outflanking manoeuvre. This tactic worked to great effect. At Hydaspes, Alexander’s last large battle, the Indian army lost some 20,000 men compared to Alexander’s 1,000. At all four of his major battles, Granicus (334), Issus (333), Gaugamela (331) and Hydaspes (326), Alexander maintained the same tactic. Yet this tactic was not his, it was that of his father, Philip. The phalanx was developed by Philip and relied on precise training to make sure they worked effectively. The only difference between a phalanx used by Philip and that of Alexander is that Alexander used former Persian troops in his as he pushed further East. But fundamentally the phalanx was unchanged in its use and its set-up. At Chaeronea in 338, Philip allowed his right-wing cavalry to retreat in order to draw the Athenian forces and their allies forwards in order to be outflanked. This tactic was resembled by the Duke of Wellington in 1815 at Waterloo. This outflanking manoeuvre was used throughout Alexander’s campaign in Asia. For instance, Alexander used this manoeuvre in the Northern Iranian mountains against a Persian provincial leader called Arizobarzanes. This would be the most unlikely place for an outflanking move to be effective due to the precariousness of the mountain range, yet it still worked to great effect. Considering Alexander maintained the same military tactics throughout his conquest of Asia it can be safely said that Alexander really did owe gratitude to his father for developing these tactics. Had it not been for Philip’s military genius, Alexander may not have been able to conquer Persia.

Philip also stabilised Greece. Greece at the time was a turbulent region. Some 20 years prior to Philip’s birth the two great classical Greek states, Athens and Sparta were in the grip of the Peloponnesian War. The Peloponnesian War would cause a great decline of the influence of Athens and Sparta but would also allow for a road of influence for the Persian empire to have on Greece. Persia had supported both Athens and Sparta at different times in order to make sure neither became too strong, their plan succeeded as both weakened following the war. Tensions remained high after the end of the war in 404 and Persia’s influence remained high with a constant threat of another Persian invasion of Greece. Philip allowed for stability in Greece that had not been seen for at least 100 years, albeit by brute force. He made his way down through Greece, defeating anyone who stood in his way. By 347 much of Greece was under Macedonian influence due to the League of Corinth which Philip set up. The League of Corinth was a union of Greek states that stabilised and administered much of Greece. The stabilisation allowed for unity of Greek states and allowed for them to be arranged into one standing army so that there was no internal Greek threat, except for Sparta. This allowed for Greece to turn their interests to taking on the Persian empire.

Philip was assassinated in 336 and was succeeded by Alexander. Many scholars now believe that Alexander had arranged for his assassination in order to take control. Alexander’s successes can very much be put down to his father as he developed the military strategy that would come to define Alexander and allow him to expand his empire all the way past the Indus river. The entire Western world should also owe Philip gratitude. Had it not been for him it is unlikely that Alexander would be so successful in the world and Greek influence may well have been lessened. Who knows, perhaps Rome would have had less of a fascination about Alexander and the Hellenization of Rome may have been reduced. Maybe we would not know about the great literature of Greece such as Homer, Euripides, Aristophanes or Sappho, because the threat of Persia may have meant a successful invasion of Greece in which Greek culture would have been completely destroyed. We really do owe a thank you to Philip as had it not been for him, modern society could be so very different.

By T Nurcombe

YouGov poll places Keir Starmer as Corbyn’s successor

In weeks of Labour’s worst electoral defeat since 1935 pollsters are already predicting who will succeed Jeremy Corbyn in becoming leader of the opposition in March. However, YouGov have revealed that the front-runner and continuity-Corbyn candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey, is expected to lose emphatically to the shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer.

The poll, carried out between December the 20th and December the 30th, asked Labour members who their preferred candidate was in both a preliminary and a final round. The preliminary round poll indicates that Starmer is miles ahead with support from 31% of the party’s membership. 11-points behind and on 1/5 of the vote is Long-Bailey. With the Corbyn-critic and member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips polling in third on 11%.

The remaining four candidates: Yvette Cooper, Clive Lewis, Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy are all polling at a meagre 5 to 7 percent. The Wigan MP voiced support for a sensible Brexit deal since 2016 and yet she is lagging behind all of her ardent Remainer counterparts.

Unfortunately for Long-Bailey this poll was conducted before Ian Lavery decided to throw his hat into the ring. A further split on the far-left of the party could enable a more moderate candidate, like Jess Phillips, onto the final ballot. But perhaps more importantly Lavery has the backing from Len McCluskey, the leader of the powerful Unite union.

Nonetheless, YouGov’s final round projects a crushing defeat for Long-Bailey, only comparable to Owen Smith’s defeat to Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. Starmer is polling at 61%, compared to 39% for Long-Bailey. And if Sir Keir Starmer is successful then Labour will be the only mainstream party to fail to elect a female leader, 45-years after Margaret Thatcher took control of the Tory party.

When dissecting the result there are also stark differences in voting patterns. The only group that Long-Bailey was victorious amongst were Labour Leavers, with 60% support. Given Labour’s failure to retain long-standing socialists in their former heartland seats, like Darlington, Delyn and Don Valley, electing an ardent Remainer may prove problematic.

Keir Starmer was the most popular among all age groups, across the class and gender divide in all four corners of the United Kingdom. However, in 2024 the British electorate will be asked to vote on the winner and probably Boris Johnson. For either candidate to win they need to engage with voters well beyond the 500,000 strong Labour membership.

Currently, Labour aficionados believe that the next leader of the Labour Party will be the most left-leaning of the final two. Part of the reason for Unite’s support for Lavery is that he represents Corbynism without being Corbyn. And while he is not as appealing to university towns, he is more likely to appeal to the northern heartlands.

However, some still see Corbyn as the only candidate who could win the full-backing of the membership. One shadow cabinet minister told The Financial Times that “despite everything, despite the election, if he ran again the [members] would absolutely vote for him — many are still disappointed he is standing down”.  

But there are almost two-months until the Labour party decide their leader and there are several reasons why politicos should take the first poll in the leadership race with a pinch of salt:

Firstly, none of the candidates that members were polled on are officially running. All of the would-be leaders are only expressing their intention to run. All of these candidates will need 10% support among the 203 MPs and the 10 European members who roam between Brussels and Strasbourg before going to the membership.

In addition, campaigns can change the course of an election. In 1945, Clement Attlee went from a mocked, quiet man to Prime Minister with Labour’s first ever outright majority. Such a shock came from a great Labour campaign, and simultaneously a poor Churchillian one. If any of the candidates can make specific inroads then the whole leadership race could change.

Finally, this poll does not include all groups in the 520,000 who were eligible to vote in the 2016 leadership race. YouGov’s poll of 1,059 members does not include the affiliated groups who are also entitled to vote. Members of the Fabians society and the Unite union. According to LabourList, Corbyn fared better with associate groups over the core membership.

The leadership race is set to start on the 7th of January and while the nation is entering a new year and a new decade, Labour are entering a new dawn. The party’s future hangs by a knife-edge and this election could either spark a revival or consign the party into the electoral wilderness.

By J Walters

The Conservatives must use the next five years to become the party of law and order again

‘Get Brexit Done’. Three words that dominated the Conservative Party’s successful election campaign, but for Boris Johnson to create a historic legacy he must also reinstate the values of law and order onto the Tory party. For the last nine years, the Tories were too soft on crime, and when factoring in the cuts they made to the police and legal services they set themselves up for immense criticism from their opponents.

In a time of economic difficulty Margaret Thatcher understood just how essential it was for the Conservatives to emerge from the 1980s as the party of law and order that she both increased numbers of police officers and their pay. In 1977 Edmund-Davies was authorised by Jim Callaghan to conduct a report on police pay. The report found that police officers’ pay needed to be increased by 45%. However, Labour back-peddled on these findings and Thatcher seized upon the opportunity and immediately implemented the measures to ensure she had support from the boys in blue for industrial conflict later on in her premiership. While the issue of pay is less prominent in today’s debate, both numbers and image of ‘Maggie’s Boot Boys’ provide the party with a blueprint for success.

The new One Nation conservative message of Red Toryism has the opportunity to extend on Thatcher’s legacy. While the party will increase spending that will appal many Thatcherites, the added dosage of social conservatism will ensure that a broad coalition of voters, stretching from Blyth Valley to Bexhill and Battle. Boris Johnson is undoubtedly the man to deliver this message. During his time as Mayor of London the crime rates fell by over a fifth, since his departure, Sadiq Khan has overseen a significant rise in violent crime.

In recent years the United Kingdom has suffered from serious and violent crime, whether that be the knife crime epidemic in London or the terrorist attacks that have become an all too frequent occurrence. As such, the government need to do three things: support the police, introduce stricter sentences and provide support for victims.

With regard to the police, the 20,000 officers re-introduced will undoubtedly help with the scale of the crime problem. The United Kingdom’s population is growing year-on-year, and the state will have to increase support for the police to stem the increase in crime that will result. In 2019 the police force amassed around 120,000 officers which is almost the same as the number in 1985, despite the nation’s population growing by 10,000,000 people.

But for one to just say that this is an issue of numbers neglects the liberalisation of law in Great Britain. Therefore, while supporting the police in numbers, the government need to support them in resources. Such promises like increasing the use of stop and search. A measure that in 2018 led to a positive outcome in almost a third of times it was conducted. Professor Bradford has supported such measures as: “Without stop and searches the police would be arresting more people to investigate these crimes. It is more efficient to search them.”

And while the Conservatives have not made any pledges to increase pay, they must follow through with their pledges to protect those who work in the emergency services through increasing sentences on those who assault such workers and in the Police Covenant proposed by the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, earlier this year.

However, more needs to be done than just in the constabulary. Firstly, sentencing must become appropriate. In addition, by removing criminal liability for failing to pay the TV licence fee, the magistrates will free up time as currently, these offences clog up the magistrates, equating to around 13% of cases. Instead, this time could be used for those charged with knife possession and accelerate the process. This would not remove complete liability, but instead place it in the civil courts.

The Tories have made additional pledges to punish criminals suitably. Such pledges include: ending automatic halfway release, life imprisonment without parole for child murderers and even toughen restraints on tagging and curfews. This has become a hot topic after two prominent cases of vile criminals, John Worboys and Usman Khan. The former, a rapist was released after just ten-years in prison. The latter, the perpetrator of the 2019 London bridge attack, who served just half of his sentence for his original terrorist offence in 2012.

And by ‘Getting Brexit Done’ the British government will be able to introduce an Australian-style points-based system that will be able to prevent foreign criminals from coming to the United Kingdom. This has been an issue for voters. Last summer The Sun reported that the government were unable to prevent a serial-thief from Portugal from returning to the UK under freedom of movement laws.

Finally, Boris Johnson needs to reinforce that the Tories are a party of compassion through protecting victims of crime. The Domestic Abuse Bill is an excellent example of how the Conservatives can protect Britons from cruel treatment by supposed loved-ones. Fundamentally, criminals need to be punished for their offences, but victims cannot be ignored. For too long underfunding and mismanagement has neglected the victims and this must come to an end.

If the Conservatives can deliver on their manifesto pledges, then they can re-generate. They will remove themselves from the overly liberal hug-a-hoodie Cameroon party, into a party that represents the genuine concerns of British people. It will only be after this when Boris Johnson can leave a long-standing domestic legacy, that he will be able to become a great British leader.

By J Walters

HS2 will not create the opportunity that the north needs

In the opening days of the second chapter in Boris Johnson’s premiership, the government have attempted to portray themselves as a so-called One Nation party, who will increase expenditure and benefit, notably in the left-behind communities of the United Kingdom. One such ways to achieve this is through schemes to increase investment and create more productive regional economies in the counties that have entered a decline in a post-industrialisation world.

One way how the Cameroons sought to develop such economies was through the so-called Northern Powerhouse scheme, an integral part to this was HS2. In an LBC interview with Ruth Davidson the main architect of HS2, George Osborne, claimed that nimbyism was the sole motivation behind opposition to HS2, but this would neglect the concerns of voters, illustrated in the YouGov poll that suggests over half of Britons oppose the scheme. This is not to say that the British public oppose state support for the railways. Whether this be through reversing the Beeching cuts or in nationalising the railways.

However, when one scrapes beneath the surface of HS2 it emerges that cutting transport times by a meagre 30-minutes is not worth the time, effort and money given by the British taxpayer, and while Boris Johnson is right to review HS2, one would hope that the scheme will be scrapped altogether. The two main concerns that Britons have over HS2 revolve around cost. Firstly, the cost of the project is astronomical. And secondly, whether or not this cost will actually produce tangible benefits for the north of England and the Midlands.

Initially, HS2 was predicted to cost just £15 billion, however even Grant Shapps, the current Transport Secretary, has since then confirmed that the cost has risen to a gargantuan £80 billion. This dwarfs the British defence budget that is around half the size and roughly equates to the entirety of spending on education. But this is only a minor issue that taxpayers should have with the biggest vanity project of the 21st century. The core of Britons opposition to the HS2 programme is that it will not benefit the north of England and the Midlands.

Around 2/3 of members at the Institute of Directors believe that the main beneficiary of HS2 will be the capital. This is because for every two trips to London, many of which as leisure trips, just one would venture to the Midlands and the north of England. As early as 2013 the Department of Transport even confessed that London would benefit far more from this service, and through marginally cutting arrival times, compared to their northern compatriots.

One could also contend that the notion that the northern communities will become vibrant economies as a consequence of HS2 totally neglects the variable economies in such areas. Notably, the proposed route connects London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, none of which are considered to be from the ‘left-behind’ regions of the United Kingdom. Instead these cities, alongside London, are the four richest in England, when considering their Gross Value-Added figures.

This is not to say that the government should not spend on transport but fixating the taxpayer’s resources onto such a flawed project is not the way to do it. Instead the government should continue with a proposal set out by Boris Johnson during the election campaign, in beginning to reverse the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. Under these reforms around half of stations were closed and approximately a third of the mileage vanished from the transport map of the United Kingdom. Northern towns like Blyth in Northumberland and in Fleetwood, Lancashire, where 40,000 and 25,000 people were unable to access rail connections and by comparison, within the commuter belt of the south and east of England villages as small as 4,000 have stations just half-an-hour from the capital, including Ingatestone and Hatfield Peverel in Essex.

However, reconnecting northern regions from the north and then down is not the only way to reconnect the United Kingdom. There is room for free-market economics to help reinvigorate the neglected communities. The first are free ports. After Brexit, free ports could provide as many as 150,000 jobs, accumulating £9 billion per annum to the British economy in a significant boost to the industrial and coastal communities. The second is through tax cuts. But while tax cuts for wealth creators are important, equally important are tax breaks for ordinary, working people. Such measures like increasing the salary needed for National Insurance, Michael Gove’s argument for scrapping VAT, and reducing taxes on small and medium size businesses could provide working-people with more money, create more jobs and create another consumer revolution.

In the 2020’s the British people have an amazing opportunity. We can, as the US Ambassador, Woody Johnson, has argued, enter our own golden era. The best way to do this is to reconnect parts of the United Kingdom properly and create opportunities for these communities through cutting red-tape, both in free ports and on the British high street.

By J Walters

The Labour Party: A Future? What Future?

The Conservative landslide has not only changed the dynamics of Britain’s position in the world, but it has also left the future of the Labour Party lies on a knife-edge. The choice for Labour, however, is unclear and unpredictable. Whether the parliamentary Labour party and Labour party members back a Blairite or a Corbynista one could argue that neither have the credentials to reunite the loosely connected coalitions of voters, which were shockingly fragmented under the rise of Boris Johnson.

The so-called Labour Leaver, or ‘Workington Man’ is the first would be Labour voter, and it was this voter who swayed the election but putting their tribal party politics aside and backing the Conservatives for the first time in almost a century. However, to blame either Corbyn or Brexit for this realignment would completely overlook the evidence. Despite polls indicating that the main reason for defecting was Corbyn, closely followed by Brexit, the pattern of voter change began as early as 1997. Since Tony Blair’s success, the British voters have felt that the parties were too similar and as such the nation experienced a disenfranchisement of working-class voters. The first man to capitalise on this was Nigel Farage under both UKIP and the Brexit Party.

In part, it is thanks to Farage breaking Labour’s control of their former heartlands that has enabled Boris Johnson to reap the rewards of a stonking majority. The concern for Labour should come in three constituencies, that have all backed Labour in all elections since 1935 in Bassetlaw, Sedgefield and Wrexham, whose constituents have just returned Conservative MPs. According to YouGov, 33% of Labour Leavers defected to the Conservatives, and when one factor in the 6% who flocked to Farage, one cannot possibly fathom how Labour has a future if they lose over 1.5 million voters.

To win back these voters the Labour Party could attempt to imitate the successes of Labour in 1918, where their hard-left Leader was advised not to attend campaign trails and instead patriotic parliamentarians ran the show. Examples of these were Jack Jones and Tom Shaw, who proposed a blend of Toryism and socialism that would appeal to the working-classes. Labour changed tact from 1900 to 1918, and removed itself from anti-British republicanism and instead wished to win over the Daily Mirror reader, who was perceived as patriotic, decent and left-leaning men. If Labour really want to win back the Labour Leavers then they must do something quite similar, but to do this they risk alienating their two other factions.

The other two groups are more metropolitan and tend to support Remain. The first is the Blairite voter. Labour’s only gain across the entire United Kingdom was in the London seat of Putney. They tend to hold reservations about the economic policies adopted under Jeremy Corbyn and will ignore their impact on losing the election. Some of Corbyn’s policies, according to polling, were popular, including nationalising the railways. Furthermore, the pro-Remain stance damaged Labour’s position in Leave-voting seats which was where the election was indeed fought.

Finally, Labour will need to pander to their hard socialists, including students. Unlike both of the factions above, these voters completely endorse the hard-left economic policies adopted by the Labour Party in both 2017 and 2019. The issue facing the two former factions is that this group controls the reins of power within both the NEC and the membership. It would, therefore, be difficult to imagine any faction, other than the socialists controlling the Labour Party in opposition to Boris Johnson.

An issue facing the Labour Party is that these factions are mutually exclusive. While the former heartlands tend to be more patriotic, Leave-voting and lean towards social conservatism, both metropolitan factions hold more liberal views, including on law and order, and have made quite disparaging comments about their would-be co-supporters. The Conservatives made a great success of tampering into some social conservatism and patriotism and as such command their first majority among C2DE voters.

The biggest threat to the Conservatives would be a leader who has accepted that the future of the United Kingdom is outside the European Union and one that can have empathy with the concerns of some voters on issues such as crime and immigration. As Michael Gove quipped on Sky News that somebody like Caroline Flint, would pose the biggest threat to them winning again in 2024.

In order to win in 2024, Labour needs to win all of these voters, which seems all but impossible. Since Labour lost their stranglehold on Scotland in 2015, the only route to winning a general election is for Labour to win among Leavers and Remainers, northerners and southerners, and socialists and Blairites. An excellent indicator for the future of the Labour Party will come in Wales at the Senedd Election of 2021. Labour has taken control at Cardiff Bay in every election since devolution was granted to Wales in 1999. In the general election Wales still returned a majority of Labour MPs, but their lead over the Tories was cut from around 15% to just 4%. If Labour manages to lose Wales, then they have entirely lost their former heartlands. The Tories will not expect to win this election, but whatever happens, the pressure is on the Labour Party, no matter who the leader is.

If Labour fail to mend the wounds of division within their party then the Tories will win their fifth consecutive election, which is completely unprecedented in the post-war period.

By J Walters

The State of the Union: Scotland – a victory for the Union?

I touched down in Scotland’s beautiful capital yesterday, and whilst the rain has inhibited my exploration of Edinburgh, it has not dampened my faith that the Union will hold firm.

That said it would be fair to conclude that on paper the election result is a blow to Unionists. Unlike in Wales where Plaid made zero net-gains, the SNP ousted fourteen of their Unionist opponents, including seven Tories, six Labour incumbents, and of course Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson.

However, all was not bright for Sturgeon’s party. The suffered defeat in North East Fife, where Stephen Gethins was displaced by the Liberal Democrats. This was in part because of the tactical voting incentives of Scotland in Union. In fact, when looking at the result the Tories lost over 10% of their vote share from 2017, and the Liberal Democrats vote share increased by around the same percentage. This enabled Wendy Chamberlain to overturn Gethins majority of 2, to now command a majority of 1,316.

It is quite clear why Mrs Sturgeon described the election as a ‘watershed moment’. The SNP represent 48 of the 59 Scottish constituencies, and whilst this is not as substantial as their result in 2015, in any other format this would provide a sufficient mandate for a so-called ‘IndyRef2’.

However, when one looks at the popular vote parties that are pro-independence, notably SNP and the Scottish Greens totalled 1,270,502 or 46% of the vote. Compared to the unionist parties who won 1,484,740 or 54%. Unlike in England where tribal party allegiances distort the popular vote for Brexit, Scottish nationalist parties were founded with one objective in mind.

One should add a degree of caution. In the one-percent who backed the Green Party, who in Scotland are nationalist, it would be absurd to envisage that unionist, climate change activist would consider this issue, when the formation of such a party was for such climate issues.

In addition, there is potential that while the core of SNP voters are ardent separatist, a few thousand would have been tempted with the promises of ‘Stop Brexit’ and to keep the Tories out, that were blazoned across the SNP battle bus. The SNP are well aware of this, Sturgeon acknowledged the state of Scottish politics by suggesting that “people may well vote SNP to keep the Tories out, given the crossroads and the prospect of Boris Johnson for five years.” In the last days of the campaign, the Scottish First Minister attempted to reassure would-be voters by adding that “people understand that this election is not going to decide the issue of independence.”

Therefore, unionists should rest easily that they command a majority among Scottish voters and this roughly represents opinion polling carried out on the independence question. Since Boris Johnson dissolved parliament for this election there have been five polls. None of these polls project that Scotland would opt for independence, with the average margin suggesting that 52% of Scots favour the continuation of the Act of 1707.

Unfortunately, Sturgeon’s caution over voters’ conditional support for the SNP has evaporated, and instead she is going full throttle to take the Scottish people to another expensive and divisive poll on independence.

Instead Sturgeon spoke at Holyrood and declared that “people were faced with a clear and distinct choice, and they made their verdict clear.” With regard to the voters won over she adapted her initial reasoning for their support and now demands Westminster to approve of her imminent Section 30 order.

I would suggest that we will only know if Scots want a second independence referendum in the Holyrood elections of 2021. Boris Johnson’s “unwavering commitment” to the Union means that it is all but certain that he will reject any request for a poll on independence. If, unlike in this general election, the SNP stand unequivocally in favour of Scottish independence, alongside the Greens, and they command a majority then a referendum may become inevitable.

The two most successful Unionist parties, the Tories and Liberal Democrats, will campaign against any such measure. Willie Rennie, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh, claimed that “the country has had enough of the division – we need to learn the lessons of Brexit, not repeat them with independence.”

As the interim leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Jack Carlaw, made clear now that Brexit is a political reality, the political dynamics have changed. Those who hope to reverse Brexit cannot place their hopes in the SNP, but the difficult questions over borders that have emerged since Brexit will only complicate the SNP’s cause.

The compelling argument for the Union will win through again. But as will the benefits of Brexit. When Scotland takes back control of her money, laws, borders and importantly fisheries, the Scottish people should realise that they do not want to gift-wrap their own sovereignty and hand it back to Brussels. But for Scottish nationalists I do find these questions as a roadblock for their cause:

  1. Will there be a hard border?
  2. Do you support sterlingisation or adopting the Euro?
  3. Why do you overvalue the EU’s Single Market, when Britain’s is over three-times the size?

Even if Scotland is forced to the polls in the next decade I have the sense that the argument for the United Kingdom far outweighs the one against. As such, while Scotland is verging on a poll I believe that the result will be far more emphatic than a potential border poll in Ulster.

Therefore, unlike in Wales, and similarly to Northern Ireland, the next assembly election will be integral to determining the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom. Whoever is elected to Holyrood will have a substantial say on whether or not the Scottish people will vote again on independence. Unionists will just hope that of the 129-seats, the SNP and Greens will fail to surpass the 65-seats needed to form a majority.

By J Walters

The State of the Union: United Ireland or United Kingdom?

As established in the week building up to the election, Ulster’s political history is inherently different from that of Great Britain. While England, Wales and Scotland are dominated by left-right, and now leave-remain politics, Northern Irish politics holds a religious dynamic in elections and subsequently national identity.

Therefore, unlike in Wales, the result in Ulster is fixating the minds of political commentators on the future of the Union, and the strong nationalist performance means that for the first time since the Good Friday Agreement, there are serious concerns for the Union’s future on either side of the Irish Sea.

When comparing the result this December to 2017, both of the main parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin, suffered. The Protestant party lost two seats and over 5% of their vote share, whereas their Catholic counterparts made no net gains and lost almost seven percentage points.

The failure of the Leader of the DUP and First Minister in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, can be symbolised by the DUP visible diminishment in influence. In the aftermath of Theresa May’s failure, the DUP wielded significant power, propping up the wounded Prime Minister in a confidence and supply agreement, at the cost of £1 billion. And yet now their Westminster leader has lost his seat, and they will not be able to bring down a government like they had the potential to do under May’s leadership.

However, at the despair of Unionists, the primary beneficiaries of the break down in two-party politics were the nationalist SDLP and the ambiguous Alliance Party. The Alliance Party are the only party in Ulster who do not place their position of the Union at the forefront of their literature or existence. In fact, their Leader, Naomi Long, said that ‘we’re not unionist or nationalist’.

Upon reflection, this election will be remembered in Northern Ireland for being the first that Unionists have failed to command a majority in Westminster. During the Thatcher years the Unionist parties, with the Ulster Unionist Party as the leading one, commanded significant majorities across Northern Ireland. Even up until David Trimble’s leadership of the UUP in 2001, Protestant parties won eleven of the eighteen constituencies.

But now the Unionists have just eight seats, with nine seats held by Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Even Sylvia Hermon, the popular independent unionist, lost the seat of North Down to the Alliance Party.

That said because of our first past the post system this can distort the popular vote within unionist, nationalist and other parties. When one dissects the result in such a way, the pro-British parties accumulate 44% of the vote share, compared to around 40% for the pro-Irish representatives. Nevertheless, the 17% of voters who backed the Alliance, Greens or Independent candidates could sway a possible border poll, and this leaves Ulster’s future in the balance.

What caused such distortions in the election? Possibly electoral pacts. When paralleling the pacts of nationalist, who are predominantly Remain-backing parties, and unionists, who are far more divided on the Brexit issue, there is clear evidence that the nationalist electoral victory came from a successful cross-party agreement.

Steve Aitken, Leader of the UUP, directly attacking the DUP’s involvement in the last government and the frostiness within the Unionist community has meant that the UUP only decide to assist Nigel Dodds, in North Belfast, at the eleventh hour. The DUP thanked Aitken by standing down their candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Whereas, the Remain Alliance has seen Sinn Fein stand down in South Belfast, for the SDLP, East Belfast, for Alliance, and in North Down, for a Unionist independent.

There is no better example of this than in Belfast North, where Sinn Féin made a historic gain in a seat that has been held by pro-unionist members of parliament in every election, since its inception in 1922, displacing the DUP’s Westminster leader in the process. This was achieved as John Finucane managed to coalesce the nationalist vote, whereas Dodds lost some of his Remainer unionist support to the Alliance.

Just days after the election result Michelle O’Neill, vice president of Sinn Féin, said that she is ‘certain’ that ‘a referendum on Irish unity is coming’. The paralysis of Northern Irish politics, with the devolved assembly being a defunct institution since January 2017, has also fuelled discontent in Ulster’s politics.

However, both the DUP and Sinn Féin appear to be receptive to restoring Stormont, and potentially an assembly election could be called just as we enter the new year. If this election becomes, as this general election was in England and Wales, a referendum-type poll, then the view of the people in Northern Ireland will become more apparent.

The Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, argues that a border poll will “probably be defeated, it would probably be very divisive.” Nonetheless, the resurgence of support for nationalist parties and the BBC‘s projection that Ulster will become a predominantly Catholic province by 2021, mean that the result is uncertain. Already, Lord Ashcroft’s poll from October indicates that at a margin of 51% to 49%, Ulstermen could vote for Irish unification. However, there is the scope that this could be an anomaly, as since the Brexit result in 2016 pollsters have conducted a dozen opinion polls, in all but three, Unionists prevailed.

Therefore, while alliances did help the nationalist and Remainer parties end the long-established majorities held by the unionist factions, there is no majority among the popular vote to dissolve the Union of 1801. However, given the demographic changes and potential Stormont election in 2020, the future of the Union across the Irish Sea is uncertain. Whatever happens concerning Stormont reconvening be left in no doubt that a divisive, nostalgic and historic border poll will be too close to call.

By J Walters

The State of the Union: general election result shows that the demand for Welsh independence remains insignificant

In my first analysis of the stability of the Union in the aftermath of Boris Johnson’s landslide, I would like to take to the land of my father’s, Wales. Plaid Cymru made clear that this election as an opportunity to push Welsh independence to the top of the political agenda. Just three weeks before the election, Plaid’s leader, Adam Price, told Sky News’, Sophie Ridge on Sunday, that there was potential for ‘Wales to find it’s voice at this election.’ Nevertheless, the only Welsh voters who found their voice in December were Brexiteers, who reduced Labour’s majority and won seats that had not been won in decades.

Across Great Britain, the historic 2019 election indicated a sea-change in the British political landscape. Labour voters fled their party in their swathes, and across certain English regions, the Tories breached the so-called ‘Red Wall’. That said, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, sought to overlook this and claim victory by claiming that ‘the Conservatives are only the largest party in one of four nations.’ However, Welsh Labour witnessed a decline in their vote share. In Torfaen, Aberavon, Islwyn, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Ogmore, Neath, and Newport East Labour’s vote share fell by over 12%, and nationally their lead over the Tories fell from 15% to just just 5%.

It is beyond doubt that this was as a consequence of Mark Drakeford and others, refusing to accept that almost 53% of the Welsh people want to leave the EU, and as such the eight Conservatives gains are no surprise. But one cannot ignore that Drakeford and his colleagues told the Senedd that he was potentially ‘IndyCurious’, claiming that Welsh support for the Union ‘can’t possibly be unconditional because there are other moving parts here of which we are not in control.’ Moreover, given Jeremy Corbyn’s support for holding a second independence referendum in Scotland, the Labour Party are no longer the party of the Union in any of the Celtic nations.

Nevertheless, the real advocates of Welsh independence are Plaid Cymru, who as alluded to earlier did not fare as well as Sinn Féin and other nationalists in Northern Ireland, who command a majority in Ulster’s Westminster seats, or Sturgeon’s SNP, who hoovered up 48 of the 59 Scottish seats. Plaid’s share of the vote fell by 0.5% and they, rather than offensively targeting seats, defended and held their four seats.

Of the 36 seats that Plaid stood the fourteen that witnessed a decline were: Aberavon, Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff North, Cardiff West, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Clwyd South, Cynon Valley, Delyn, Islwyn, Merthyr, Neath, Rhondda, and Torfaen. Of the 22 seats remaining, seven benefitted from the Remain Alliance and snatched voters from the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, including Arfon that saw a 4% rise in vote share.

A microcosm of Plaid’s night comes in Carmarthenshire. The Brexit-backing, Welsh-speaking county has excellent significance for the Welsh independence movement, producing several prominent nationalists, including Adam Price, and also beholding Plaid’s first-ever electoral success in the Westminster by-election of 1966. In addition, the county observed the Remain Alliance in two of their three constituencies, and yet, Plaid failed in all facets.

The first seat, Llanelli, has been held by Labour since 1922, but Plaid saw this as a serious target, and according to the Hanretty estimates, they won in this Leave-voting seat in the EU Elections last May. Because of the threat that Plaid was perceived to show to Labour, both the Greens and Liberal Democrats agreed to stand down. And while Labour’s vote share was cut from 53.5% to 42.2%, it was the Conservatives that emerged as the success story in the scarlet-town. Their vote share stood at 30%, up from 23.7%. But Plaid failed to displace the Tories, gaining a meagre 0.2%, totalling 18.4% of Tinopolis’ vote.

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire is the most affluent and most conservative seat in Carmarthenshire, and therefore success for the so-called Party of Wales would indicate a seismic shift in the landscape of Welsh politics. However, Plaid took a backward step and have failed to reach double figures for their percentage vote share on just 8.6%. The former-Labour seat also saw the new Welsh Secretary, Simon Hart, win 52.7% of the vote, increasing his majority by over 10%.

However, the final Carmarthenshire seat, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is of the most importance. Controversial MP, Jonathan Edwards, who once demanded Sam Warburton’s captaincy of the Welsh rugby team by rescinded for his support for the Union, has held the seat since 2010, and Adam Price won the seat in 2001 from Labour. Edwards was returned to Westminster; however, the fact his majority was substantially reduced should worry the separatist movement. Despite the Remain Alliance being put into force, Plaid won just 39% of the vote, down almost half a percentage point. Whereas, the unionist Tories witnessed an 8.2% rise, displacing Labour as the second party. Nevertheless, surely, if Plaid cannot increase their vote share in a Welsh-speaking seat, with links to the separatist movement, then what hope do they have in taking the country?

Despite, a relatively poor night, Price believes that Wales will have an independence vote before 2030, and the only polls for this cause in 2019 do suggest some growth in support. YouGov published two polls in September, suggesting that just 1/3 of Welshmen and women out rightly back independence, but when you bolt on the assurance that Wales will automatically become a member of the EU, this rises to 41%. One must add that Wales will not be able to automatically join the EU because of the Spanish veto and the Welsh deficit exceeding the requirement that Brussels set. There is no doubt that the 2021 Senedd elections will televise debate on the Union, with Adam Price and Welsh Tory leader, Paul Davies, locking horns, but I have faith that the compelling argument for the Union which will be applied to the Holyrood campaign in Scotland will make the fanatical Remainers who considered separatist rethink.

Therefore, the success of nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland means that there is no doubt that the Union will dominate British politics for the next decade. But Cymru will not participate in this dispute to the same extent as Alba and Ulster. And thankfully, Wales, the land of my father’s, will not even give such a decision a second thought.