I was very impressed by Heidi Allen’s first speech when she left the Conservative Party to join the Independent Group, now known as the Change UK Party. How could the conservative high command ignore such prodigious talent? But I’m afraid I was very disappointed in her performance at a debate on beer and Brexit on May 14, organized by King’s College London. Ms Allen is now the interim leader of Change UK. But even as her job title has grown, she seems to have shrunk as a politician. Questioned gently by Anand Menon, the reigning Brexit guru at King’s, she produced a succession of bland, vague responses that suggested she is capable of neither rigorous thinking nor vigorous organisation.
Allen regurgitated a sprinkling of good governance platitudes about how Britain must be much better at drawing on experience. Politics should run more like a business. Parties must take an inventory of the skills and talents of each new member of parliament. Parliament functions like an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club, and so on. There’s some sense to this, particularly in regards to the skill inventory. But isn’t it a bit old-fashioned to call for politics to be run more like a business for a party that presents itself as a change agent? Donald Trump promised to use his entrepreneurial skills to shake up Washington, DC in 2016, and Silvio Berlusconi said the same about Rome in the 1990s. And isn’t the Change UK boss rather ill-placed to demand a more entrepreneurial approach? about politic? The match lurched from one disaster to another: failing to establish a record; wasting time with his name; publicly disagree on policies; producing ridiculously sloppy campaign literature; and, in every conceivable way, allowing himself to be outmaneuvered, organized and thought over by what is supposed to be the party of tuned-out fans, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Change UK looks set to win the Palme d’Or for the riskiest projects in recent political history. For a moment, it looked as if Tom Watson and the Social Democratic wing of the Labor Party might stage a mass strike and join the Tiggers (as Change UK members were known when their fledgling party was still the Independent Group). But Mr. Watson decided to stay and fight and the Tiggers had to rely on the strength of their personalities rather than numbers. The problem is that this is far from enough: the founders of the Social Democratic Party back in 1983 were big beasts capable of creating the climate. Change UK is a collection of little beasts that are likely to be blown away by the storm.
TO EDINBURGH, that wonderful study in stone as poetry, to debate the future of capitalism with Stewart Wood, a fellow Labor member, courtesy of Reform Scotland, a think tank. To be honest, we struggle to find big things to disagree on. There is broad agreement across the political spectrum on the most difficult problems facing Britain: the excessive centralization of economic and political power in London; the long tail of low-skilled workers who are trapped in low-paying jobs; the cult of short-termism; Financial engineering; the lack of respect for the manufacturing sector. And yet the British political class is focusing instead on policies that are as divisive as possible: on the right, leaving the European Union, and on the left, massive state intervention at the “tops” of the economy. such as the renationalization of the European Union. public services and taking 10% of the largest public companies in the country. While we fight over what is controversial, we don’t address what we agree on.
SCOTLAND AND England are arguably further apart politically than they have been at any point in the Union’s history, and not just because the Scots voted to stay in the EU and the English voted to leave. The Labor Party once specialized in projecting Scottish politicians to the heights of power in Westminster: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Smith, Ramsay MacDonald, Keir Hardie. The Liberal Party and its various offshoots had deep roots in Scotland, as well as in the English provinces (think Jo Grimond and Charles Kennedy). The aristocratic wing of the Conservative Party also had deep Scottish connections: Alec Douglas-Home had an estate there, and even David Cameron could boast of having a Scottish name and Scottish shooting partners.
British politics is now as English as it ever has been. The only Scotsman in frontline politics is Michael Gove, the adopted son of a Scottish fishmonger and a man capable of returning from Oxbridge English to Aberdeen Scottish if need be. The people who hold the big offices of the state – the prime minister, the chancellor, the foreign secretary – seem to be in a competition to see who can be the most southern. The Scottish Labor Party has all but died of complacency and mediocrity and the national party has been captured by a cabal of London MPs: Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry have seats next to each other in Islington and Diane Abbott and John McDonnell represent London. seating. The Scottish Raj that once ruled over its neighbor to the south has been scattered by the winds: Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have returned to Scotland and Tony Blair is on a private plane somewhere in the mid-Atlantic.
Political life in Scotland is dominated by a Scottish National Party (SNP) which has no real relevance in the south (although it has 35 MPs, and Ian Blackford, its leader, makes the same speech every week in the Prime Minister’s Questions about how there is Great Britain). take Scotland out of the EU against its will). The hottest topic in the North right now is the upcoming trial of Alex Salmond on charges including sexual assault and attempted rape. (He says that he is innocent of any crime). This is dividing the SNP, and Scottish politics in general, between admirers of Nicola Sturgeon, who began her political life as a Salmond protégé but later turned against him, and Salmond loyalists who think he is being wrongly accused. The dispute could weaken the SNP’s (increasingly deadly) grip on Scottish politics and pave the way for significant gains for the Tories or Labor Party, with profound implications for the upcoming general election in the south.
The other big issue is the reappearance on the scene of Ruth Davidson after several months of maternity leave. Had things gone well with Brexit, Ms Davidson would be reappearing just as the Tory Party was leaving Brexit behind and tackling the question of where Britain should go now that it is leaving the EU (Ms Davidson is a remaining one that has reconciled with delivering the will of the people). But the Brexit issue is even more tense today than it was when she went on leave, and the Tory brand is far more toxic. Ms Davidson resisted enormous pressure within her party to loosen her connection to the Conservative Party south of the border. With Brexit reeling from disaster to disaster and the Tory Party increasingly associated with the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, she may regret her decision.