Richard North, 19/05/2019  
 


Just to keep us on our toes, the prime minister has promised a "new bold offer" in a bid to persuade MPs to back her deal. This, she says, will be an "improved", washes whiter "package of measures", which she believes can win new support in parliament.

Mrs May's initiative is something of a contrast to her lacklustre launch of the Tory Euro-election campaign – a speech without an audience attended by a single pool journalist (pictured).

We will now see some "sweeteners" included in the forthcoming Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), with the aim of securing cross-party support. These, if we are to believe what we are told, will include the bones of the May/Corbyn deal, including new measures on protecting worker rights.

There may also be provisions for a future "customs arrangement" with the EU and on Northern Ireland – whatever that means. Supposedly, this will include the use of technology, although this will fall short of removing the backstop. Nothing immediate is proposed but its inclusion is supposed to give confidence that the "alternative arrangements" will be deployed in due course.

At the moment, the promise is accompanied only by a series of anodyne statements from the prime minister, who says: "I still believe there is a majority in parliament to be won for leaving with a deal". She adds: "When the Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes before MPs, it will represent a new, bold offer to MPs across the House of Commons, with an improved package of measures that I believe can win new support".

Whatever the outcome of any votes, she says, "I will not be simply asking MPs to think again. Instead I will ask them to look at a new and improved deal with fresh pairs of eyes - and to give it their support". We will get more of this from the prime minister in a major speech before the end of the month, presumably as part of the damage limitation after the Euro-election results are in.

Once again, therefore, one has to give Mrs May full marks for persistence. Against all the odds, she is still trying to get this deal sorted, giving he something to barter when she meets Graham Brady to agree a timetable to elect her successor as party leader and prime minister.

As to the actual odds, one gets a sense of the hurdles facing Mrs May from what must qualify as quote of the week. This comes from Nigel Evans, executive secretary of the 1922 Committee, who says: "You can watch the movie Titanic a hundred times, but I'm afraid the ship sinks every time". He thinks that an increasing number of Tory MPs – even those who voted for it a second or third time – are saying "enough is enough". And if this was not enough, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, is also doubtful that a fresh attempt would succeed.

Before we get there, of course, there is that minor detail of the Euro-elections. And if developments are not bad enough, we also have to suffer the Tory grandees coming out of the woodwork to lecture anyone within hailing distance.

As always, these are the usual suspects, John Major and Lord Heseltine. They are to demand an end to the "virus of extremism", calling for a "return to the centre ground".

It says something of these people that they actually believe that their intervention will have any effect on the event of the Thursday to come, even with Heseltine "revealing" that for the first time in an election he will not vote Conservative.

Instead, this former Tory minister and arch Europhile is to vote for the Lib-Dems, custodians of the "Bollocks to Brexit" message that has done so much to improve the standard of political discourse.

Not exactly a fan of Brexit, he dismisses his own party as "myopically focused on forcing through the biggest act of economic self-harm ever undertaken by a democratic government". According to Heseltine, the Conservative Party is infected by a virus and risks descending "deeper into darkness".

Major's input is just about as vacuous, stressing that the need for an inclusive Tory party is "greater than ever". He warns that: "the middle ground of politics is empty". His "One Nation Conservatism" gave him a home in politics and "made it possible for me to move from rented rooms in Brixton to a life which, as a boy, I could have only ever imagined".

If that's the best the grandees have to offer, they might just as well have kept their own counsel. The march of the Farage party continues unchecked, maintaining its lead in the polls, with the Tories languishing in fourth place. But the most significant development here is the Lib-Dems creeping up on Labour, having overtaken the Tories.

Some small compensation nevertheless comes with a survey by Gallup International, which finds that 43 percent of UK citizens believe Brexit is "a good thing" for the country, compared to 40 percent who think the opposite.

Looking at the run of polls, this may be an outlier, and it is not having any effect on a 60-strong group of Tories calling themselves the "One Nation Caucus". Led by Amber Rudd and Damian Green, and backed by eight pro-EU Cabinet ministers, they are launching a bid to block leadership candidates backing a no-deal Brexit.

Adopting rhetoric not dissimilar to the Tory grandees, they are urging MPs to reject "narrow nationalism" and the "comfort blanket of populism". Tomorrow, they are preparing to issue a "declaration of values" before going on to hold hustings to interrogate would-be successors to Theresa May.

Seriously on the ball, the document they are producing is designed as a draft manifesto for the next Conservative leader. It will state that the "climate change emergency" should be given a comparable level of attention and urgency as counter-terrorism, to help draw support from younger voters.

Taking on the Oaf and second-runner, Dominic Raab, this group is aiming to "stop any leadership candidate who endorses a 'Nigel Farage no-deal Brexit'". However grandiose their language, there is a possibility there that they will be able to massage the voting to prevent either candidate's name being put in front of the wider membership.

But, while the immediate agenda will be dominated by the forthcoming Euro-elections, we can look forward to a small dose of reality from Chancellor Philip Hammond, who is to address the CBI this week. A preview of his speech tells us that he will warn of the "ideology of easy answers that is spreading" and criticise potential leadership candidates for making promises of spending and tax cuts that they cannot keep.

"Easy answers", of course, are just what the feeble minds are looking for, and nothing Hammond or anyone else says will make a difference, with so much of the nation in thrall of what amounts to a psychic epidemic. That very much takes in the enthusiasm in some quarters for a "no deal" outcome.

For all that though, things aren't so very different from the Euro-elections of 2014. While Farage is currently polling around 34 percent, back then a poll in early May recorded him on 29 percent.

The big difference between then and now is the collapse of the vote for the two main parties. In 2014, Labour recorded 26 percent, as opposed to its current showing of 15 percent, while the Tories got 23 percent against the nine percent they are polling at the moment. By contrast, the Lib-Dems got ten percent while they are currently polling 17 percent.

Then, as probably now, the YouGov poll suggested that while Tory and Labour supporters were backing Farage for the Euros, "they would switch back at the general election next year". Potentially, with three years to go for the next general election, the rhetoric about Farage sweeping all before him is somewhat overheated. A lot can happen in that period.

Yet, no one can possibly predict the degree to which the party system will continue to deteriorate. That is the new factor in the mix, where the public are losing faith in traditional politics to a degree that does not seem to have any obvious historical parallels in the UK.

It'll take something much more than Mrs May's "big and bold" initiative to restore the equilibrium, and it is doubtful whether a new prime minister will make much difference. For the record, in 2014, 34 percent believed Cameron to be best suited to be prime minister, 19 points ahead of Miliband on 15 percent with Farage on five percent and Nick Clegg on three.

But this was a time when Cameron had made his commitment to a referendum on Europe, declaring that the British people deserved "one last go" to get a Europe that suited them. He had dismissed Ukip's "throw in the towel" approach, instead insisting that he would be able to renegotiate a better deal with Brussels before putting it to a public vote before the end of 2017.

From "better deal" to "no deal", how bold can you get?






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