Mhairi Black’s oratory will be missed at Westminster
Mhairi Black announced she is quitting Westminster. The MP for Paisley is widely regarded as one of the brightest stars in the SNP’s intellectual firmament. Black’s going saddened fellow MPs, MSPs, SNP activists and countless ordinary voters across the UK. There is inevitable speculation that she will stand for Holyrood at the next Scottish general election. Let’s hope she does. Talents like Black’s are much needed in public life. She leaves behind a Westminster legacy of three hugely memorable moments.
Aged just 20, she made a dramatically powerful and eloquent maiden speech. Perhaps its humorous highlight was her outgunning her fellow SNP MPs, all desperately trying to claim a constituency connection with Robert Burns. She bettered them all by reminding them that William Wallace, arguably Scotland’s greatest hero, was born in Elderslie, in her Paisley constituency.
Last year, in May, she said in the Commons, “We are sleepwalking closer and closer to the F word.” “I mean Fascism.” It was a coruscating critique of the Tory party’s record and behaviour in government.
Just last week, she crushed Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden. Dowden had, graciously, it has to be said, praised Black. He remarked they had both joined parliament at the same time. With equal grace, Black thanked Dowden for his comments, then said she was pretty sure they’d both be leaving Westminster at the same time. If Dowden’s majority of over 21,000 is swept away, not only would Black have been proven right, such a resultwould also mean the end of the Tory party as we know it. It might also signal the revival of the LibDems as a force in English politics.
All three examples of Mhairi Black’s speed of though and oratorical skills can be found on YouTube. Surely,she’ll be back? She’s a political animal to her fingertips and once that bug bites there’s rarely a cure.
Rishi’s absences, Jenrick’s cruelty and Mercer’s implosion
Rishi Sunak is not a man keen on being accountable to the electorate. He’s now racked up more absences from Prime Minister’s Questions than any PM since 1979. He did turn up at the last meeting before the summer recess of the Liaison Committee, where he was roasted by Labour MP Chris Bryant. Sunak was visibly uncomfortable. Sunak’s Tories are already massively behind in polls. He may struggle to handle tough scrutiny from ordinary members of the public, as he tours the land during the general election campaign.
Starmer is not so much winning as the Tories are losing. No better evidence for the state of the Tory party can be found in the recent behaviours of Home Office minister, Robert Jenrick and former defence minister Johnny Mercer. Jenrickordered cartoons in the reception area of a centre for housing refugees be painted over (they now have been). The cartoons were designed to make traumatised small children feel welcome. Jenrick wanted the place to look like a place of detention. Johnny Mercer traumatised the nation with a staggering display of misogyny, arrogance and rudeness on Question Time. He lost the audience, lost the plot and will probably lose his Plymouth seat when the election comes.
LibDem heavyweight takes CEO role at European Movement
Last week, Sir Nick Harvey was appointed chief executive of the European Movement (EM). The Movement is in good heart. Support for rejoining the EU is well over 50% across the UK. It has a dynamic new Chair in Mike Galsworthy and, in May, membership topped 20,000. Harvey has a strong board, full coffers and public opinion all running his way. He has two main tasks. One is to keep building the membership. The second is to keep pressure on Keir Starmer to engage much more closely with the EU, with the short-term aim of the UK going back into the Single Market and, eventually, to rejoin the European Union.
One of the biggest errors of Jo Swinson’s short tenure as LibDem leader was to fire Harvey from his post of party chief executive. Sir Nick, a former LibDem MP and a Minister in the collation government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, had served his party all his life. He knew its arcane procedures, its stars and lunatics, its activists and its finances better than anyone else. He was also widely regarded as tough, efficient and focused. His loss was deeply felt, as the 2019 general election saw the LibDems reduced to just 11 MPs. Jo Swinson’s seat fell to the SNP. She was out of Westminster, out of the leadership of her party and proven to be out of touch with the electorate. Harvey’s more deft hand will be put to good use at the European Movement.
Angela’s ashes of civil liberties
My old colleague and friend, Neal Lawson of the Compass organisation, is threatened with being drummed out of the Labour Party, after 44 years of membership. Neal’s crime was to Tweet support for the idea of cross-party tactical voting to stymie the Tories. He was lax in not checking the lie of the land in the local authority area referred to in his Tweet, but expulsion from the party he has long served would be extreme. Lawson, a Centrist, is one of the Labour Party’s brightest thinkers, though his powerful campaign for electoral reform has not endeared him to Starmer’s inner circle. As I wrote in Bylines Scotland just two weeks ago, there is an authoritarian edge to Starmer’s party machine. My contention was given further credence when LBC broadcaster, James O’Brien, recently interviewed Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner. Asked if Labour will repeal the Tory’s most recent set of laws outlawing certain forms of peaceful protest, Rayner was adamant that such a repeal is not part of Labour’s plan for government. Labour’s shift to the Right is now in no doubt.