You can’t keep a good man down

Or a bad one up, it would seem.

Jeremy Corbyn has reminded us why Britain’s Labour party dispensed with his leadership after defeat by Boris Johnson in 2019, when he offered his thinking: on war in general and Ukraine in particular.

We can share common ground with his platitude that it is “disastrous … for the safety and security of the whole world”.  Like him we might want the UN to be “more centre stage”.  While being a touch more inquisitive as to why it languishes in the wings.

But probably not so much in agreement with his view that “… pouring arms in isn’t going to bring a solution, it’s only going to prolong and exaggerate this war”.  

Then again, it’s what some important people in the French and German governments seem to think.  They just know that they need to say the opposite in public.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump deplores other people’s pouring and reluctantly admits he needs to be holding the vessel.

And, like Henry Kissinger, Pope Francis wants us to not lose sight of the geopolitics.  He urges “simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good and bad, without thinking about roots and interests, which are very complex”.  

Unlike the Vatican, Corbyn has never understood the value of an experienced press secretary.

OK – these commentaries predate the recent Ukrainian counter-offensive which seems to be stunningly successful.

Doubts are growing about the ability of Russian forces to manoeuvre, to resupply and even to hold their ground.  We are reminded again of the projecting power of the US war fighting machine and led to speculate on the extent and nature of US support (a re-examination of the US influence on the remarkable transformation of Croatian forces during the Balkan wars might be timely). 

Indeed, it suggests that pouring in arms (albeit on a limited scale relative to Russian and Chinese resources) could lead to an early termination favourable to both Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

Putin has skilfully surmounted weakness before.  But this does seem to be the first time he has actually lost the initiative. His main electorate – the whole of the Russian security and governing apparatus – perceives risk.

All that stands between him and political defeat is the support of enough Russians for his goal of bringing the Russian people home.

Corbyn is surely right that you can’t control a war by pouring in arms.  Unfortunately, the non-controllability of war is not always a decisive reason for non-involvement.

Belligerents need to choose between limited aims.

As do non-belligerents.  

Nor does achieving limited aims guarantee the outcome you want (reference the oeuvre of comparative literature on the first and second world wars).

The Ukraine war is complex; people are dying; it has tremendous risks for Europe and the world; and it’s surely not the best way for settling disputes between the peoples of the former USSR.

But the institutions which place a higher value on human dignity have an opportunity to inflict a defeat on their opponents.  And you just hope that such an outcome is better than the reverse.

The US administration appears confident in its ability to calibrate pouring to achieve the outcome it wants.  And who knows, that might even bear some resemblance to those of Henry Kissinger or even Pope Francis.

Boris’s last hurrah before Britain votes on Thursday

Election rallies ain’t what they used to be.  Boris’s election eve shindig was an invitation-only event for party faithful. The location (at a smallish venue in the London Olympic park) was disclosed to attendees only on the day (presumably to head off the risk of protest). Continue reading “Boris’s last hurrah before Britain votes on Thursday”

Another hung Parliament in Britain’s election? Unlikely.

With the Labour party making a late surge in the opinion polls and getting some good headlines, some pundits are wondering if Britain’s general election on Thursday will end in a repeat of 2017’s hung parliament.

Never say never, but this time feels quite different to 2017. Continue reading “Another hung Parliament in Britain’s election? Unlikely.”

British election: a surprise is possible – but would be surprising

Some elections arouse eager anticipation. Not this one.

There’s almost a lassitude before Britain’s voters go to the polls on 12 December.  Sure, campaigning has its usual vigour and the media is abundant. But there is also a pervading detachment, as if voters are not convinced that an election can shake the country out of its pre-Brexit stasis.

Perhaps this is one reason why the parties have put forward clear, distinctive – and in some parts compelling – visions for the future.  Continue reading “British election: a surprise is possible – but would be surprising”

Correction – the British election is about Brexit after all

Some observers have been thinking that the forthcoming British election on 12 December would be about a lot more than just Brexit.  Some of the issues polling supports this view. And the party leaders have certainly been leading off with their plans for the radiant future.  

And yet – new data from the doyen of British polling, Professor John Curtice, brings us crashing back to the existential question. Continue reading “Correction – the British election is about Brexit after all”

Boris gets an election

At the fourth time of asking, Britain’s House of Commons granted PM Boris Johnson’s wish for an early election.  If the House of Lords agrees, it should take place on Thursday 12 December.

Why couldn’t his opponents have hung on a bit longer, given their majority in the lower chamber? Having by a supreme effort denied Johnson ratification of his Brexit deal by 31 October and got the EU to extend the Brexit deadline to 31 January, it’s hard to see what credible strategy they could agree on.  Voting the deal down would have begged the question (from the EU and the voters): what next?  So they stopped dodging the unavoidable. Continue reading “Boris gets an election”

Party conferences offer no respite from Brexit, as Boris readies his offer

Britain’s Conservative party has its annual conference in Manchester this week. Planes, trains and automobiles are on standby to rush MPs back to London if there is any action in Parliament.  And on Wednesday, PM Boris Johnson is expected to set out the Brexit offer he will be making to the EU, and in particular, his proposals for the status of Northern Ireland.  

It’s a good time to explore some detailed polling, undertaken by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft, to see how the government’s polarising strategy is playing out with voters. Continue reading “Party conferences offer no respite from Brexit, as Boris readies his offer”

Labour gets a Brexit policy

Britain’s Labour party leaders are not regular Point of Order readers.  Back in March we suggested it made sense for them to vote for then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal which would have ensured a (very) close ongoing relationship with the EU. They decided not to.

Now, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson charges towards the 31 October departure date with a policy of new-deal-or-no-deal, they have changed their mind.  The party’s shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, says their plan is to tweak the May agreement and then put it to a second referendum, asking the voters to choose between it or remaining in the EU.

Continue reading “Labour gets a Brexit policy”

How is Boris’s Brexit plan looking?

The old joke about a man falling from a 10 story building – at the 5th floor, he shouts ‘So far, so good’.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his people are doing a lot of cheery shouting.

One of the taunts flung in the face of his parliamentary opponents is that they are too late to stop the UK leaving the European Union as scheduled on 31 October.  If they bring forward and win a no-confidence vote when Parliament resumes in September, legislation to fix the parliamentary term will let the PM schedule the resulting election for just after Brexit day. Continue reading “How is Boris’s Brexit plan looking?”

Brexit: no-deal contingency plans could encourage a deal being struck

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:   As the Christmas truce approaches, the EU and UK have set out their respective plans for how they will respond if the UK leaves the EU on 29 March next year without a withdrawal agreement.  The announcements are proof of the increasing likelihood of ‘no deal‘ Brexit; they also have the potential to drive the parties towards the very outcome for which they are the contingency.

The EU preparations bear a passing resemblance to the War of the Roses battle cry of “kill the nobles, spare the commons”.  Steps will be taken to avoid inconveniencing individuals by keeping flights running, protecting the rights of UK residents of the EU and so forth, while going slow on measures to help UK businesses to deal with the flood of new obligations – like border and veterinary checks, licensing requirements, tariffs etc – that will descend overnight.

The hope is that the disruption, and in some cases stoppage, of trade will show the UK government and electorate the error of their ways and ideally bring them to heel. Continue reading “Brexit: no-deal contingency plans could encourage a deal being struck”