Author Archives: Bernard Purcell

From top: Exit poll results showing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party projected to win the election with 368 seats, outside the BBC in London, England last night; Jeremy Corbyn awaits the Islington North constituency vote results this morning

Bernard Purcell, editor of the London-based Irish World newspaper, writes:

More than half the UK’s voters voted for Remain parties – a little over 54 per cent compared to 46 per cent – but because of Britain’s first past the post and divisions among those parties it didn’t matter a jot.

Boris Johnson’s simple three-word, focus-group-approved, slogan Get Brexit Done has delivered the Tories their biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987.

A simple three word catch phrase, which he repeated in panto-like call and response with party workers in his victory speech this morning, that offered simplistic clarity to a hugely complex and nuanced issue.

And just as Margaret Thatcher appealed to those working-class voters who bore the brunt of her divisive, polarised policies so, too, has Johnson. He acknowledged, in that same speech, that he appreciated they had ‘lent’ him their votes.

He and his advisers have been quick to exploit a social Faultline Labour has wilfully ignored since around 2001 – that they see the Labour leadership as out of touch with everyday working-class issues.

These traditionally Labour, post-industrial, constituencies have borne the brunt of nine years of austerity and Tory policies. In the US such areas would sometimes be called the rustbelt, areas who gave such support to making Donald Trump US President.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his coterie have throughout the election prioritised their vice-like grip on the party and its machinery over any broader appeal to voters and to getting elected.

A leader with the highest unpopularity rating since such measurements began, an utterly ludicrous, non-credible Brexit policy to which he had to be dragged kicking and screaming, a shameful record on dealing with anti-Semitism, and whose supporters hounded out moderates as ‘centrist scum’ led his party to an entirely predictable – and predicted – defeat.

Both he and the vanquished Lib Dem leader Jo Swinton gifted this election to Boris Johnson at the height of his honeymoon when they didn’t even remotely have to and then split wat majority vote there was for Remain.

Jeremy Corbyn has made clear he wants to hang on long enough to ensure party members make the ‘right’ choice of successor, just as much as he and his Momentum supporters believe voters made the ‘wrong’ choice.

In all of their hot takes it has been everybody else’s fault, but never that of Corbyn and the people around him. All of which reinforces a narrative that the party’s management has been seen by core voters as condescending and patronising to them – not least when they asked where the money for astronomical spending pledges would come from.

The Tories were promiscuous in their spending pledges too – but nowhere near as much as Labour and were agile about avoiding detail or letting themselves be pressed on their inherent contradictions as Johnson, successfully, peddled an ‘end to austerity’ fiction that his government has nothing to do with Tory rule since 2010.

It is now certain that Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement – which had been approved in principle by MPs who simply wanted more time to examine the detail – will be rushed through and the UK will be out of the EU by the end of next month.

And while Johnson has shown no compunction about abandoning promises – it has been a hallmark of his career – there is, as yet, at least, ostensibly no reason to believe he will necessarily abandon his commitment to a post-Brexit trade deal by the end of 2020 with no extension of the transition period.

He can pretty much do as he likes.

Similarly, he can ignore Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s demands for a second independence referendum even as she leads her party into new Scottish Parliament elections in 2021.

But that could, potentially, be fraught with unintended consequences for the Union. Legally, however, Scotland is powerless on such decisions – the authority lies in London – and the SNP may find itself in a Catalonian-style bind.

Johnson can also take some comfort from the fact that, despite Northern Irish nationalists having a majority in Westminster for the first time, the area’s special Schrodinger’s Cat-like status in the EU – both in and out at the same time – and divisions between parties and a resumed Stormont will diffuse any nascent momentum for a united Ireland, or at least a Border poll.

The apparent lack of appetite for any such thing from voters south of the border will also give him a buffer in this regard.

It should also be noted that the political scientist drafted in to ‘rehabilitate’ Fianna Fail, Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary University London (QMUL) pointed out that there is a tradition of newly elected Conservative Party Prime Ministers pledging to heal divisions – remember Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 victory speech citing St Francis of Assisi – and then spending the ensuing years doing exactly the opposite.

The fortnightly investigative and satirical magazine Private Eye has gone to great lengths to highlight the special interests to which Boris Johnson, his predecessors and his party are beholden – oligarchs, venture capitalists merchant bankers – and who will be looking for payback.

Johnson will have to find a way of squaring that with a longer-term second election victory that one might reasonably expect will depend on those working class, unskilled, predominantly white and older voters who ‘lent’ him their votes feeling he has kept their promises to them.

Assuming they’re still around next time.

Equally, it may depend on whether or not many of those Labour voters who reportedly just stayed away this time returning to the fold of the party they used to know and love.

Prime Minister Johnson may also have to, for the first time, start telling the truth about the cost of Brexit and the decisions that will have to be made – after all, there is no incentive for the EU to give the UK a better deal than it had an undermine itself.

But truthfulness long since departed UK politics, whether that is permanent or temporary we will learn over the next five years.

Bernard Purcell is the editor of The Irish World.

Pics: AP/Getty

From top: British Prime Minister Theresa May surrounded by Brexit covers of ‘The Irish World’ newspaper from the past two years; Bernard Purcell

If we have learned anything since 2016 it is that Theresa May – the worst and most charmless consensus builder since Ceausescu – will say, promise, and do anything just to get through the day.

She brought with her from the Home Office a bunker or silo mentality that had no truck with managing expectations or triangulating agreement.

She sowed the seeds for the utterly shaming scandal of the Windrush affair, exposed last year, as the architect of the ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants.

The sole prism through which she regarded Northern Ireland while Home Secretary – and subsequently – was one of containing a potential security threat, certainly nothing ambitious or aspirational.

That fairly low bar was lowered even further when she came to depend on the DUP for a Commons majority.

Today she is in the unusual position of getting mainly positive headlines for once, cheering on her Commons ‘victory’ – the one in which she urged MPs to vote against her own negotiated agreement, the one containing the red lines upon which she insisted – on the advice of her now discredited advisor Nick Timothy, the person who helped her lose the 2017 snap general election.

Her dependence on a small cohort of advisors – the most trusted of whom, and the last remaining, is her financier husband Philip – actively excluded sound, professional advice from experienced and competent diplomats whose careers were damaged if they told the truth.

But today, Mrs May, who had to date achieved her last stay of execution by promising not to lead her party into another General Election, is still in Downing Street having pandered to her party’s hard right Brexiteers, the European ‘Research’ Group and the DUP and this country is closer to either crashing out of the EU with no deal, or the sub-optimal deal she has already agreed with a couple of add-ons.

Given how MPs so singly failed to take control of the Brexit process last night despite a brief hope that they would – save for a non-binding resolution to avoid no deal – the third and fourth options that existed until this week, the prospect of another referendum or general election, appear rather less likely.

In the run-up to it we saw an intensification of the attempts to pin the blame for the mess in which the British government finds itself over Brexit on everybody else, not least Ireland and the rest of the EU.

If one had only the reporting of the main British news outlets to go by, for instance the BBC, or some of its newspapers, one would be left with the impression that Ireland and the EU are imposing the so-called back- stop on the UK.

The backstop, in plain English, is a binding requirement to keep Britain – originally it was just Northern Ireland – in customs and regulatory alignment with with the EU until a better way is found to avoid customs checks on the only land border with the UK.

Nowhere would it be made clear that it was drawn up entirely at the request of Theresa May’s government – as proof of London’s bona fides over Northern Ireland – and endorsed by the cabinet including those who are among its most vocal critics today.

Or, to quote the EU’s deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand’s remarks in Brussels this week:

“The result of the negotiation has been very much shaped by the UK negotiators, much more than they actually get credit for. This is a bit like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The backstop was very much shaped by UK.”

But that same Withdrawal Agreement drawn up in a tight, secret circle by Theresa May was rejected by a crushing two-thirds majority.

The new unspecified alternative – to placate the ERG and DUP – calls for the backstop to be replaced by unspecified, time limited alternative arrangements that either rely on non-existent technology or allow London to walk away from the commitment unilaterally.

Ms Weyand has said the EU would certainly be prepared to consider “alternative arrangements” on their merits if Downing Street was prepared to suggest them.

As Ms Weyand put it:

“We looked at every border on this earth, every border EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls. The negotiators have not been able to explain them to us and that’s not their fault; it’s because they don’t exist.”

Mrs May has thrown her lot in with narrow-minded, xenophobic, deluded English nationalists who have weaponised the ignorance of their voters and supporters – some of them in pursuit of high office, others in pursuit of the fortunes to be had from deregulation and disaster capitalism.

And make no mistake, Jeremy Corbyn shows no appearance of coming to the rescue – just as, in these last years of the second decade of the 21st century Tory Brexiteers are wedded to a 19th century fantasy of British exceptionalism and international power, Mr Corbyn is wedded to 19th century understanding of Marxism and economics.

In the EU it appears to be recognised, for now at least, that between reopening the Withdrawal Agreement and a hard Brexit – both of which come at significant political, economic and opportunity cost – a hard Brexit is the lesser of two evils.

That makes it less likely that Ireland will be thrown under the bus.

But if ever there was a time for as many as possible of Ireland’s politicians, north and south, to speak with one voice it is now.

Ireland and the EU will weather it, but it is getting a lot colder over here.

Bernard Purcell is editor of the London-based The Irish World

Theresa May pic: Rollingnews

Last night: Border! Border!