A critique on the events of today

British politics will hit several crunch points in the next two weeks. If Trump loses the US presidential election, the hopes of the hard-line Brexiters of a fast US-UK trade agreement will be shattered. Moreover, we must reach a minimal trade agreement with the EU, which the government will have to defend against hostile attacks from the right, or we will be faced with a No-Deal departure, with the prospect of chaos and confusion at Channel Ports in the New Year.

It’s taken me a long time to appreciate how deeply the hard-line Brexiters believe in the reality of ‘the Anglosphere’. Liberal Democrats don’t read the Telegraph or the Spectator or attend European Research Group (ERG) meetings, where enthusiasts speak and write about the EU as an ‘Empire’ which has reduced Britain to a ‘colony’ from which we are escaping – to the warm embrace of our cousins in the United States. Australia and New Zealand are also seen as key partners for future Global Britain – with Australians already deeply embedded in Whitehall. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants were still a leading force in Washington politics 50 years ago, but not now. UK ministers and right-wing MPs cling to the image of America they had gained through meetings with white Republicans, and seem not to have noticed that Joe Biden is an Irish Catholic, with a mixed-race vice-presidential candidate, neither of whom have an emotional attachment to Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism.

It’s almost as astonishing that the Cabinet is still divided on what it wants from an agreement with the EU, or even whether it wants to reach one. Boris Johnson appears to be obsessed with the threat from his right: the ERG, which has steadily moved the government’s position on a post-Brexit agreement to an increasingly hard line, with Nigel Farage still hoping to cry ‘Betrayal’ and get back into the game. Michael Gove seems to appreciate the chaotic consequences of a breakdown, and also to understand the implications of this for politics in Scotland. However, others in the Cabinet seem to be still in denial. We’ve reached the point where it will be difficult either for the Prime Minister to strike a deal and claim victory without betraying the expectations he has built up, or to place the blame for a breakdown on the EU and its governments without laying himself open to charges of incompetence and incoherence.

Most of the British public have long since become ‘bored by Brexit’, wishing it all to be over. That’s made it impossible for us to gain traction for our arguments about why the UK needs a continuing close relationship with the EU. But the consequences of Brexit cannot be avoided in what is or is not agreed within the next three weeks, and in what logistics firms and travellers experience a week after Christmas. Those 2016-7 pictures of Trump with Farage and with Johnson will look sour if the Democrats sweep home – as Liberal Democrats hope they will. And then there’s the second wave of COVID-19, on which the government is displaying as poor a grasp as on the first wave. What’s more, all the legislative changes Johnson’s government kept putting off are now grinding through Parliament, with storms to come as both chambers find faults in poorly-drafted Bills. (39 Conservative peers voted for a critical amendment on the Internal Market Bill last week; another 60 abstained.)

So hold on to your hats. It’s impossible to predict where British politics, or our economy, or our health emergency, will be in 2-3 months. We’ve seen huge swings in public attitudes over the past 3-4 years, some of which have brought a surge of Liberal Democrat support, others pushing us to the margins. The Conservative Party is deeply divided, led by a dysfunctional government. Labour’s leadership is playing it all very cautiously, trying not to offend either its left or its lost ‘Red Wall’ voters.

Issues I thought might never gain wider traction, like reviving local democracy, and constitutional reform, are creeping onto the airwaves. Farmers are now arguing the case for closer links with the EU; industrial leaders are at last finding their voice. We need to be ready to take whatever advantage we can from what looks like an impending national crisis.

* Lord Wallace of Saltaire is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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32 Comments

  • Do you think we have all the things in place we need to take advantage? What are the things that we need? A clear strategy, well thought out, easy to understand and attractive policy positions on the hot topics, sufficient media profile to get this across?

  • William, as expected, writes a very perceptive and interesting article. He puts his finger on a sensitive point – one which he describes as the ‘the Anglosphere’.

    What the ‘Anglosphere’ doesn’t seem to get is how its obsession with Brexit is perceived outside the borders of England. I do wish the official Lib Dems in England and Scotland would wake up to the contradiction of opposing full sovereign powers for Scotland thus stopping any possibility of Scotland re-joining the EU…… (and reflecting the 2016 vote north of the Border).

    Could William please have a chat with Duncan Brack and Co to dust down the archives of the last Liberal Government pre WW1 and to examine the support for Scottish Dominion status amongst Scottish Liberal M.P.’s and lively Liberal pressure groups such as the Young Scots who campaigned for it at the time ?

    Meanwhile the incompetent lazy Johnson and his Tory Government is a gift that keeps on giving to the SNP.

  • @ Barry Lofty ” I personally cannot understand why so many UK citizens believe in the rhetoric of the likes of Farage, Johnson and others”.

    Barry, they don’t in Scotland. Don’t be part of the ‘Anglosphere’ bubble.

  • George Thomas 28th Oct '20 - 3:10pm

    “Michael Gove seems to appreciate the chaotic consequences of a breakdown, and also to understand the implications of this for politics in Scotland. ”

    After Vince Cable’s Independent article, this is the second appreciative mention of Gove in short period of time and yet in some circles he one of the main culprits for the lies and spin which lead to Brexit and all the ills which have followed with his joy(?) for breaking the rules of fair play. A comment on the wider view of Gove being (sometimes) wrong, these lib dems close relationship with him, or how much talent has left the government?

  • Barry Lofty 28th Oct '20 - 3:31pm

    Perhaps a university education does not bless some people with the unteachable commodity ” Common sense ”
    “David: Thanks for the advice.

  • David Evans 28th Oct '20 - 5:27pm

    Actually William, there are Liberal Democrats who read the Telegraph and the Spectator. They are the Lib Dems who believe you have to keep a close eye on your enemies, to understand their views, their arguments and your own weaknesses (which they do expose ruthlessly), while most Lib Dems can’t face up to the problems we as a party have failed to face up to for over a decade now.

    Instead we get the usual self-congratulatory stuff like “But the problem is that we are almost too good. We don’t lie.” or the astonishing three articles on Kirsty standing down all by The Voice and all within an hour of each other – Kirsty’s very good, but not that good!

    As some of us keep saying (including now a leader), we need to get out more and smell the coffee. The problem is many of us prefer to stay in the Lib Dem bubble and only smell the sweet smell of has bean coffee.

  • It’s the Asian-sphere now. The government is talking about joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). How well its colonial nostalgia will be received remains to be seen.

  • There has to be extension of the tramsition period. For a start at ports with traffic to/from the RoI, there’s been virtually no preparation for establishing customs controls so far as I can see. The Johnson computer system is just pie in the sky. Managing truck traffic across the Channel with customs controls from 1st January is just a dream. I am reminded of the queueing theory that I studied in the days of my yoith. Tje length of a queue increases exponentially for differences between the departure rate against the arrival rate. Get ready Kent .

  • Indeed there are some that want to reestablish the old relationships with the White Commonwealth. New Zealand butter, Australian fruit. But things have changed down under. Trade with China is now of great importance to those countries.
    As for following the United State, Britain is set to become the Puerto Rico of western Europe.

  • The list of products Australia used to export to the UK during imperial times included wool, tallow, fresh mutton, preserved meat, silver and gold ore, hides, furs, skins, wheat and flour, butter, rabbits, and wine.
    The Australian market is a rather small one by world standards. It is unlikely that Britain will substantially export there. Australia imports cars from Thailand and is likely to source products from other low cost manufacturing countries.

  • The author missed one great unknown, the long term effects of Covid on the brain and whether a large number of our rulers are being mentally marinated as a result – it might explain the feel of being ruled by headless chickens!

    Judging by the crowded supermarkets and many empty bits of shelves, the public seem ahead of the govn and where Covid is going. Covid may do for Trump politically, the govn has enough time to recover before the next election and can blame the EU for Brexit.

    Interesting that the students had a very fast and big covid peak and then it died back down and that South Africa had a massive 44 percent infection rate but a lot less percent deaths. I think the scientists are missing something obvious.

  • Interesting to note John Innes lives in what used to be a Lib Dem stronghold held by Russell Johnston for well over thirty years. It ought to set the alarm bells ringing in Clifton Terrace. Time to wake up and smell the coffee.

  • Manfarang 28th Oct ’20 – 6:37pm…………It’s the Asian-sphere now. The government is talking about joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). How well its colonial nostalgia will be received remains to be seen…….

    Luckily, for UK trade, Johnson understands Asia; he can quote Kipling from memory!

  • Richard Underhill 29th Oct '20 - 1:29pm

    The Labour Party is making the main news today. Luciana Berger has been interviewed on BBC1. She did not wish to say that Jeremy Corbyn should be expelled from the Labour Party, of which she is not now a member, but he has been suspended and the whip removed. The criteria made by Labour’s current leader having seen the ECHR report, do not compel him to expel Corbyn. who has given a press conference (reported on the World at One with one prominent opponent (Margaret Hodge) who has not changed her mind). The report should therefore be implemented in full. What Len McCluskey has said is described as an anti-semitic trope and he may therefore need to be expelled. Under our previous leader we accepted ex-Labour MPs who stood for the Commons as Liberal Democrats and hopefully they can decide to stay.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Oct '20 - 1:37pm

    Donald Trump should remember his oath. He should accept that what he is doing as President is spreading the coronavirus and that consequentially people will die and others will die before the next President takes the oath. Donald Trump should therefore stand down NOW and discourage the Vice-President from replacing him.

  • Paul Barker 29th Oct '20 - 2:22pm

    Its goodbye to Corbyn & Corbynism – “Up like a Rocket, Down like The Stick”.

    The Nationalist Right (in England) are following the same trajectory; Tory support has been falling by 1% every 3 Weeks or so, the question is how low can they go ?

  • Christopher Haigh 29th Oct '20 - 5:20pm

    I read an article recently that argued that most people in England and Scotland are roughly social democratic in their views. The reason the English keep voting for the Tories is their love for the monarchy and the perception that the Tories are competent because they governed the British Empire and because of Winston Churchill factor. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Tories support if their massive gamble on leaving the EU ends in UK economic woe.

  • expats
    “Luckily, for UK trade, Johnson understands Asia; he can quote Kipling from memory!”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqLIm0HOvuQ
    The Shwedagon Zedi Daw is an amazing place.
    Doing business in Asia is not that easy.

  • Paul Barker 30th Oct '20 - 3:41pm

    Labour are talking about Racism right now because they are being prosecuted by the Official Body set up to defend Human Rights & Equality.
    I was very impressed by the careful & ruthless way Starmer handled Corbyn, leaving The “Left” floundering around making empty threats.
    As a general rule We do better when Labour is doing well & we should be glad that they have passed The Tories & are now in the Lead.

  • john oundle 31st Oct '20 - 3:23am

    the reality of ‘the Anglosphere’

    Maybe if you googled a bit you might discover that for example CANZUK is a very popular concept among the four nations.

    On the other hand potential membership of TPP can hardly be described as the Anglosphere.

  • Nom de Plume 31st Oct '20 - 8:17am

    John Major predicted most of it, “It [Brexit] will damage our national and personal wealth, and may seriously hamper our future security. It may even, over time, break up our United Kingdom. It will most definitely limit the prospects of our young.” I suspect he was largely correct in his analysis. A big reality check coming in 2021.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/16/false-promises-brexit-john-major

  • John McHugo 31st Oct '20 - 6:45pm

    John Oundle,

    John Oundle – Maybe I have googled a bit. CANZUK is certainly popular in the sense that we have strong links and many ties with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and that is wonderful. But can you see that developing into a customs union with a single market and free movement of peoples so as to create some kind of “bloc”? I don’t think so. We’re not likely to replace the USA as Canada’s most important partner, or Australia’s links with Japan and other South East Asian countries. They’d laugh if we tried.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 31st Oct '20 - 8:34pm

    @ John Oundle,

    Yes, CANZUK is a popular concept in some quarters. In some countries, I’m not so sure. It’s often used in the context of Commonwealth as shorthand for building links with the “White Commonwealth”, noting that potential major markets such as India always seem to get left out. I occasionally find myself wondering why that might be, and then I look at its proponents and realise exactly why…

  • john oundle 1st Nov '20 - 12:10am

    John McHugo

    ‘ into a customs union with a single market and free movement of people’

    Whilst free movement is already being discussed, why does it have to mimic the EU to be successful?

    Why would a bloc of around 135 million people with a higher average per capita income than the EU not thrive with a comprehensive free trade agreement?

    Why does it need all the EU baggage to be successful?

  • John McHugo 1st Nov '20 - 5:44pm

    John Oundle –

    the short answer is that, without developing a single market, it would be a rule taker rather than a rule maker. You need a large single market to set standards that will be replicated internationally, unless you are the USA or China. That is why it would have to “mimic the EU” to be successful.

    You say it would have a population of 135million. I think that is less than Germany and France on their own, let alone the EU27.

    The free trade agreement would have to be drafted to take account of the existing trade agreements of the individual states. I note you haven’t answered my point about how Canada’s trade relations with the USA would be much more important to it than any CANZUK entity, and the same applies to Australia’s trade relations with Far Eastern countries. What do you say to this in reply?

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