All pos­si­ble end­ings are bru­tal now

MICHAEL WHITE ON IN­CREAS­INGLY HOPE­LESS MA­NOEU­VRES AS ALL SIDES RE­ALISE FIN­ISH LINE IS NEAR

The New European - - Agenda -

I don’t think I’ve joined a de­mon­stra­tion down White­hall since stu­dents, ones who had voted in droves for the Lib­eral Democrats in June 2010, turned against them in Novem­ber af­ter Nick Clegg’s min­is­ters en­dorsed that Coali­tion de­ci­sion to triple univer­sity tu­ition fees to £9,000 a year.

Rude words were chanted about the then-deputy PM which I can­not re­peat on fam­ily-friendly pages.

I heard plenty of abuse di­rected at Theresa May, Boris John­son (“Let’s Get Rid of These Pub­lic School W**kers”) and J Rees-mogg in Satur­day’s glo­ri­ous sun­shine, when the Peo­ple’s Vote cam­paign at­tracted an es­ti­mated 700,000 marchers to trun­dle to Par­lia­ment Square. Crowd sizes are al­ways dis­puted be­tween the po­lice and or­gan­is­ers. But not even the Sun­day Tele­graph sug­gested that Brexit’s Farage-led ‘pur­ple vote’ counter-rally, 1,200 peo­ple in pro-re­main Har­ro­gate, was larger – though the BBC’S ‘bal­ance’ doc­trine cov­ered both events.

None of the mostly-good-na­tured abuse I heard in Lon­don was di­rected at Clegg on this oc­ca­sion, but he was back in the dog­house any­way. Why? He and the FT chose the same day to re­veal that the for­mer Lib Dem leader has taken a high­pay­ing pol­icy lob­by­ing job with Face­book, where sev­eral Lib Dem pals are al­ready em­bed­ded.

In brighter times it might be the oc­ca­sion for mod­est self-con­grat­u­la­tion that a sell-by-dated Bri­tish politi­cian is deemed worth be­ing re­cruited by Mark Zucker­berg, em­peror of one of the world’s vir­tual su­per­pow­ers. But Face­book’s in­no­cent phase as a pi­o­neer of civic en­gage­ment and open­ness has long been dis­placed by a darker image. It is en­gulfed by charges of cyn­i­cal prof­it­seek­ing and worse, tech­nol­ogy that has al­lowed fake news and ter­ror­ist web­sites, Putin bots and porn, to flour­ish in ways Zucker­berg’s troops could curb if the em­pire tried harder.

So ex-mp Clegg now suf­fers the same brand taint that ham­strings Tony Blair’s ef­fec­tive­ness. It’s not just drop­ping out of Re­main’s fight for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum – Blair hasn’t – or even about the money. It’s the com­pany they now keep. The Ob­server’s in­trepid Ca­role Cad­wal­ladr, scourge of Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica’s data min­ing prac­tices, chided Sir Nick for col­lud­ing with those who “mon­e­tise fear, ha­tred and lies” – and for be­ing hired to blunt the EU’S at­tempts to tame tech’s FAANG be­he­moths (Face­book, Ap­ple, Ama­zon, Net­flix and Google). Paddy Ash­down re­proached him more po­litely. Sil­i­con Val­ley is hir­ing a lot of lob­by­ists.

Re­main cham­pion, Chuka Umunna, ap­pointed as £65,000-a-year chair of the Pro­gres­sive Cen­tre think tank, took a sim­i­lar hit last week. Does it mean that – at just 40 this month, an MP for only eight years – he’s head­ing for his own exit from elec­tive pol­i­tics? That he sees no fu­ture in a Cor­byn cul-de-sac where the party strad­dles the Brexit fence wait­ing for events to push it off on one side or the other?

Plenty of tal­ented cen­tre-left types do, as I was re­minded at the other pub­lic event I at­tended last week, the packed memo­rial ser­vice at South­wark

Cathe­dral for Tessa Jow­ell, a very like­able pub­lic ser­vant whom it was easy to ad­mire. Plenty of mut­tered po­lit­i­cal gloom amid the cheer­ful trib­utes to Jow­ell. The most up­beat sce­nario I en­coun­tered from a Labour ap­pa­ratchik pre­dicted two gen­eral elec­tions in 2019, the first in­con­clu­sive, the sec­ond won by Labour af­ter a change of leader. But to whom?

That brings us seam­lessly back to the To­ries and Theresa May’s lat­est Worst-Week-ever, one which may fi­nally see a ‘no con­fi­dence’ chal­lenge launched by those never-quite-48 MPS whose names are needed un­der the rules – or may not. May’s lat­est hold­ing state­ment to the Com­mons – Mon­day’s ‘eyes on the prize’ ap­peal – seems to have stead­ied the self­harm­ing Tory back­benches for a few weeks longer.

The scale of abuse from her own side since the prime min­is­ter men­tioned a pos­si­ble ‘ex­ten­sion’ to the post-2019 tran­si­tion pro­voked sym­pa­thy, to May’s ad­van­tage. The Sun­day Times quoted one bravely-anony­mous MP as in­vok­ing a “killing zone”, and sug­gest­ing May

“bring her own noose” to a meet­ing with col­leagues, ugly pub talk which is al­ways eas­ily avail­able at West­min­ster. Fam­ily news­pa­pers should sen­si­bly ig­nore it.

Even hard Brex­i­teers like the neo­phyte Steve Baker (not Boris ob­vi­ously) were em­bar­rassed. By Tues­day morn­ing se­rial rebel, An­drew Brid­gen MP, was re­duced to empty blus­ter on Ra­dio 4’s To­day show. Chris Fail­ing Grayling, torn be­tween Brexit and loy­alty to May and his own ca­reer, talks ac­com­mo­dat­ingly of “a short bridge” to tide us over. The newly-mod­er­ate Mail turns its dis­grace­ful “sabo­teurs” talk of the Paul Dacre era against the Mog­g­ster rebels. May would prob­a­bly still win a con­fi­dence vote next week – and they know it.

The next fake show­down is pen­cilled in for Phil Ham­mond’s Oc­to­ber 29 bud­get for which the chan­cel­lor’s num­ber crunch­ers have found an un­ex­pected £13 bil­lion stream of ex­tra tax re­ceipts with which to ap­pease the Mog­g­sters – and also al­low them to blink first again as he raises a few taxes to help ‘end aus­ter­ity’ for the hard-pressed win­ter NHS.

That pro­vides May with more breath­ing space in which Brexit ne­go­tia­tors on both sides can try to fudge their way through to a deal on an ex­tended tran­si­tion (‘im­ple­men­ta­tion phase’) with a tem­po­rary cus­toms ar­range­ments, some form of stick­ing plas­ter to avert a re­stored Ir­ish bor­der and sat­isfy DUP hypocrisy which min­is­ters strug­gle to ap­pease.

Does that sound harsh? No. On top of ev­ery­thing else we know North­ern Ire­land likes to have “treated dif­fer­ently from the rest of the UK” (as Ar­lene

Fos­ter puts it when com­plain­ing), Pri­vate Eye this week dug out an­other one, al­leg­ing a DUP min­is­ter, mouthy Sammy Wil­son no less, moved to block ex­ten­sion to the re­gion of li­bel law re­form – the 2013 Defama­tion Act – and did so again af­ter a lo­cal aca­demic’s re­view en­dorsed the re­form. Labour’s John Mc­don­nell (a self-styled re­pub­li­can who “longs for united Ire­land”) none­the­less says he’ll join the Or­ange Or­der if it’s needed to win DUP sup­port for a Cor­byn govern­ment. And these are the kind of self­pro­claimed democrats of left and right who say the EU is se­cre­tive and un­ac­count­able?

All the same, Clegg jump­ing ship to Cal­i­for­nia high­lights a prob­lem. Re­main lead­ers, mod­er­ates of cen­tre right and left, de­part­ing the field for lu­cra­tive in­ter­na­tional jobs – led by Blair and David Miliband – feeds the not-wholly-su­per­fi­cial Brexit nar­ra­tive that they are foot­loose glob­alis­ers in it for the money and in­dif­fer­ent to those they leave be­hind queue­ing for food banks. The ex­po­sure of the NHS’S Hiv-tainted blood scan­dal cover-up af­ter nearly 30 years – and Mark Car­ney’s newly un­earthed and lav­ish taxi bills at the Bank of Eng­land – wa­ter the same poi­sonous plant of pub­lic mistrust.

So does that se­nior Welsh NHS ex­ec­u­tive who is mov­ing to Eng­land to get bet­ter treat­ment for her sick hus­band. Lead­er­ship is about ex­am­ple. That’s what ex-army of­fi­cer turned Ply­mouth Tory MP, the pro-re­main mav­er­ick, Johnny Mer­cer, was try­ing to say when he called the cur­rent sham­bles “a s**tshow.” Pol­i­tics must change with chang­ing times and get on with do­ing what has to be done.

Of course, sim­i­lar “do as I say, not as I do” com­plaints might as eas­ily be lev­elled at Brexit’s most fa­mous names. Nigel Farage and Boris John­son have never been averse to mak­ing a quick buck from ‘mon­etis­ing’ their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs via ex­panded me­dia ca­reers. Ja­cob O’mogg’s in­vest­ment fund has taken the sen­si­ble pre­cau­tion of es­tab­lish­ing a pres­ence in­side the EU27 – in Dublin – to pre­vent curbs on its fi­nan­cial ac­tiv­ity and in­come. Such moves are not open to most of their sup­port­ers.

As for lu­cra­tive jobs in the real world, more sub­stan­tial than mere LBC shock jock­ery or Tele­graph col­umns, there has been no rush to hire ‘Brexit Mar­tyrs’ like Boris out­side the UK (or even in­side) for their skill set. Why would any­one want to hire Iain Dun­can Smith, au­thor of the botched and over-am­bi­tious Uni­ver­sal Credit (UC) sys­tem now threat­en­ing the so­cial fab­ric of the coun­try at a very del­i­cate mo­ment in its his­tory? No UC for Iain. As I never tire of point­ing out, he lives in a house on his late fa­ther-in-law’s es­tate.

Min­is­ters had been warned for years that they would need bet­ter IT and much more money to con­sol­i­date the patch­work of ben­e­fits into UC’S one-stop pay­ment. As with Brexit they didn’t lis­ten. No won­der IDS fell out with his se­nior of­fi­cials and is now part of the Brexit posse which crit­i­cises Oliver Rob­bins, May’s des­ig­nated ne­go­tia­tor-in-chief. Three for­mer cabi­net sec­re­taries, in­clud­ing Lady Thatcher’s Lord Arm­strong, protested this past week at such treat­ment of pub­lic ser­vants do­ing their best for the coun­try in try­ing

Re­main lead­ers de­part­ing the field for lu­cra­tive in­ter­na­tional jobs feeds the not-wholly-su­per­fi­cial Brexit nar­ra­tive that they are foot­loose glob­alis­ers in it for the money and in­dif­fer­ent to those they leave be­hind queue­ing for food banks

cir­cum­stances not of their mak­ing.

Would you hire Priti Pa­tel for her Is­raeli con­tacts book? Or Brexit Bull­dog, David Davis, as a team player? Me nei­ther. In fair­ness Owen ‘Badger’ Pater­son, who has a busi­ness back­ground, now earns an es­ti­mated £100,000 a year on top of his MP’S salary from con­sult­ing, mostly in North­ern Ire­land where he was once sec­re­tary of state. But he’s an­other Cam­bridgee­d­u­cated pub­lic school­boy who doesn’t get stick from Brexit ‘anti-elit­ists’. Once you’ve swal­lowed the pop­ulist Kool-aid it doesn’t seem to count. Just look at

Don­ald Trump, the peo­ple’s bil­lion­aire.

Yet these are the kind of crit­ics who are try­ing to make im­pos­si­ble the be­lea­guered May’s ef­forts to cut some sort of deal with Michel Barnier. They’ve even paid the EU ne­go­tia­tor a visit to tell him what they want and why. When Blair, Clegg, Ado­nis and Co re­port­edly of­fer Barnier equally in­tran­si­gent ad­vice from the op­po­site di­rec­tion they get ac­cused of be­ing traitors to Bri­tain. When Sadiq Khan (he got big cheer at Satur­day’s PV rally) pays his Bel­gian visit to warn of No Deal dangers to the City this week, he can ex­pect sim­i­lar treat­ment. Un­der­min­ing their own Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment of the day from the Brexit Right does not count ei­ther

The mood in my sec­tion of Satur­day’s Lon­don rally was much gen­tler. Many marchers wore those day-glo yel­low stick­ers pro­claim­ing “Bol­locks to Brexit” which is a bit too in-your-face for my taste, Boris John­son de­motic and un­likely to per­suade. There were “No Con­fi­dence in this Bunch of Mup­pets: Give Us a Sec­ond Vote” posters and “The Only Good Brexit is No Brexit.” Chants of “What do we want? A Peo­ple’s Vote” pe­ri­od­i­cally broke out. “At least we’ve mer­ited an over­head he­li­copter this time,” Vince Ca­ble told me.

But most marchers seemed som­bre, sub­dued even, an­gry but good-na­tured. The me­dia cake-eaters jibe was both that protesters had been bussed in from all over the coun­try by sin­is­ter an­tidemo­cratic mon­ey­bags (they meant those openly dis­closed £1,000 do­na­tions) but also that it was a mostly Lon­don crowd. Not so, it was far too white and too mid­dle class to be a typ­i­cal Lon­don crowd, more Har­ro­gate, you might say. There was some eth­nic di­ver­sity, but many more white-haired oldies in EU blue-and-gold berets, tot­ter­ing doggedly for­ward on walk­ing sticks or in wheel­chairs. Lots of young peo­ple in sum­mer shorts, plenty of kids with mum and cen­trist dad. There was also one “Leave Means Leave” van parked for­lornly by the Ceno­taph and left to its own de­vices un­der an Eu-blue sky.

What does a huge, peace­ful demo change when cyn­ics re­mind us that “only ri­ots change things”? It’s al­ways hard to gauge and the 2011 ri­ots changed noth­ing ei­ther. Nor did the one mil­lion who marched in 2003 against the Iraq War (or is it two mil­lion in STOP mythol­ogy now?), though I would ar­gue that it sowed the seeds for dele­git­imis­ing the US/UK oc­cu­pa­tion when no WMD were found and civil war broke out.

What is un­de­ni­able this au­tumn is that the Peo­ple’s Vote cam­paign has steadily gained salience and sup­port as May’s di­vided govern­ment floun­ders and par­lia­ment looks de­cid­edly stale­mated. Sir John Saw­ers, White­hall big cheese and ex-head of MI6 is a sig­nif­i­cant con­vert.

Jeremy Cor­byn’s wait-and-see pos­ture looks un­heroic – it is un­heroic – but is shared by non-cor­bynites. “I’m not in favour, not yet any­way,” a for­mer Blair/ Brown cabi­net min­is­ter told me at Tessa Jow­ell’s ser­vice.

That’s roughly my po­si­tion too.

Peo­ple’s Vote ad­vo­cates are usu­ally con­spic­u­ously vague on the mech­a­nisms which would de­liver a sec­ond bal­lot – and when – or the op­tions on the bal­lot paper that would de­liver a clear-cut re­sult: for May’s ver­sion of a deal; for the hard Brexit op­tion or for stay­ing in the EU, the lat­ter still an out­side chance. No­bel sci­en­tists joined the cho­rus of warn­ings over Brexit on Tues­day, pow­er­ful voices, but un­likely to sway tru­cu­lent vot­ers who just want it over – and hope for the (sec­ond or third) best.

Re­al­is­tic op­tions are now get­ting more bru­tal. The for­mer Cameron ad­viser,

Lord (Ge­orge) Bridges wrote the other day that he once de­plored a “mean­ing­less waf­fle” deal over Bri­tain’s fu­ture trade re­la­tion­ship to ac­com­pany the with­drawal agree­ment (and di­vorce bill). But, given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis, that may be the less aw­ful al­ter­na­tive to a no-deal Brexit that a ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment would re­ject any­way.

I some­times day­dream that it would be po­etic jus­tice if those Brexit poseurs re­ally were left to clean up their own mess and be forced by hard facts to ne­go­ti­ate a ver­sion of the “work­able com­pro­mises” (An­drew Ado­nis’s phrase) they now re­ject. But the price Brus­sels might ex­tract would prob­a­bly be too high, higher than the one May would pay be­cause they sym­pa­thise with her do­mes­tic dilemma, al­beit not too much. So I di­vert my day­dream to the time when Boris John­son will have to dye his hair and grow a beard, while Ja­cob Rees-mogg dons a dou­ble-breasted track­suit, in or­der safely to ac­com­pany nanny to Waitrose with­out be­ing pelted with bland and over­priced Amer­i­can fruit.

)Photo: Getty Images

CALIFORNIABOUND: Nick Clegg

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