Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Wednesday’s Commons debate on Brexit was hugely significant in various ways. Somehow the media and the opposition parties seem to think the Government doesn’t want to tell us anything, and is shying away from any parliamentary scrutiny.
As far as I can see, nothing could be further from the truth. I haven’t counted the number of times David Davis has appeared at the despatch box since Parliament returned, but I’d wager it is more times than any other minister. OK, he has perfected the art of saying very little – but there is little that he can say without damaging our negotiating position.
Let’s remember that it is only five and a half months since the referendum. Because David Cameron and George Osborne did absolutely no preparation work in the event on Leave vote – a gross dereliction of duty – it will have taken this long to establish a negotiating position and a strategy. Everything started from scratch, including the setting up of the Brexit department.
And I ask you this: who in their right mind would reveal their negotiating position three or four months ahead of the start of negotiations? No one – unless their objective was to undermine our side of them. For Kier Starmer to demand in the debate that the government reveal its “detailed plans”, is both outrageous and quasi-treasonous.
Quite frankly, whatever the Government decides to reveal, it will never be enough for those whose main objective is to frustrate or even cancel Brexit. There would be a ratchet effect. If ten aspects of our plans were revealed, the Government’s critics would demand another ten. I have no issue with the Government setting out its broad objectives – but that’s as far as Ministers should go.
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Talking of people who want to stop Brexit, let’s turn out attention to the Liberal Democrats. Just when you thought it was safe, they’re back. Sort of.
I got quite a bit of stick last Friday for tweeting that the Richmond by-election result meant that Tim Farron has “come of age” as LibDem leader. But let’s give credit where credit is due. He’s targeting ‘the 48 per cent’, and is shameless about it. He’s even worked out a way of arguing that overturning the referendum result is the most democratic thing that could possibly happen. OK, I exaggerate to make a point, but not by much.
Under Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats never gained a seat in a by-election. That hadn’t happened under any LibDem leader or Liberal leader since Clement Davies in the 1950s. Overturning a 23,000 majority in Richmond has given the LibDems a huge filip. They’ve increased their parliamentary representation by 12.5 per cent, after all!
Will it have any long term consequences? I’m not sure. If the party appeals only to the 48 per cent, I’m not sure there are many seats outside London or the South East that they can properly target. In the north, such a strategy will go down like a cup of cold, yellow sick.
And I look at my old seat of North Norfolk, where Norman Lamb’s majority dipped at the last election from more than 11,000 to just a tad over 4,000. UKIP got 8,000 votes there in 2015. If enough of them go to the Tory fold in 2020, Lamb might face a real challenge, given that it’s a highly Eurosceptic seat. I suspect he is wholly opposed to the new LibDems tactic. Perhaps I should make a political comeback! After all, it went so well last time…
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I was amused by the reaction of the Guardian and its ilk to the defeat of the Far Right candidate, Norbert Hofer, in the Austrian presidential rerun. It was a “victory for liberalism”, “a massive blow to the Right”, they shrilled.
Er, he got 47 per cent of the vote. They seemed to think a 53-47 victory in the EU referendum was very decisive. A shame they are so inconsistent. After all, they seem to think that a 52-48 majority is incredibly narrow…
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Chris Grayling has copped a lot of flack for refusing to let Sadiq Khan and Transport for London take over the running of suburban commuter train services. It has to be said that, in normal circumstances, there would be an argument for this happening – even if it’s one I wouldn’t ever agree with.
Apparently, an email has surfaced which Grayling sent to Boris Johnson in 2013, arguing that this change should never happen, since it could hand control of these routes “to the Labour Party”. Naturally, Labour has gone spare about this – and but so, it seems, have some Tories. The normally very mild-mannered Bob Neill has thrown his toys out of his pram, and called for Grayling to quit.
Not even Tom Watson, who I interviewed on the subject, went that far. Whatever the merits of the case for transferring these routes to TFL, it’s not known as ‘Totally Failing London’ for nothing. It’s a terribly-run organisation that couldn’t run a cycle superhighway on an Embankment. A bureaucratic shambles – it needs to be reformed from top to bottom.
Johnson totally failed to get to grips with TFL. It’s too early to tell whether Sadiq Khan will do so. So far, the jury’s out.
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Last week, I told you about my new weekly ‘Brexit Briefing’ podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes.
The first episode was released last Friday and, unbelievably, reached Number 9 in the iTunes New & Politics chart. It even reached 54 on the national chart of all podcasts.
I think this shows just how much thirst there is for informed debate on this subject. This week’s episode features a debate between Iain Duncan Smith and Baroness Helena Kennedy: you can rest assured there was not much meeting of minds.