This is a podcast I was invited to do today for Tom Cridland on the Greatest Music of All Time podcast site. I am expecting Joe Biden to win despite Trump’s flaying all over the place. I also talked to one of the Democrat insiders about the present impasse and situation.
A Joe Biden win is likely to be bad for both Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings as they are seen by the Democrats to be too aligned to Donald Trump and his advisers. I was told Biden’s advisers are still not very happy about Johnson’s description of Barack Obama being a Kenyan at the time Obama’s birthright was being falsely questioned by the American far right.
I am told that Biden is likely to want to be closer to France and Germany than the UK – as Britain is no longer a member of the EU and therefore is not the gateway for US influence in Europe. He is not keen on rushing through a UK/US trade deal either.
So there will be consequences for the UK and we could end up being more isolated rather than a world leader. Interesting times ahead.
The most famous rallying cry by the Brexit campaigners was ” Take Back Control”. The people who supported this saw it as simply meaning taking away powers from the unelected European Commissioners in Brussels and giving it back to the British people. It meant the sovereignty of the British Parliament to make laws solely for the British people.
Well a completely ignored report from the House of Lords suggests we are about to discover something altogether different. I wrote about this in Byline Times last week.
The House of Lords Constitution Committee – not a well known body – has done a forensic job examining every bit of legislation passed and going through Parliament to change the law after Brexit becomes a reality on January 1 next year.
These are not just the better known laws like the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 but new Acts of Parliament covering covering agriculture, money laundering, immigration, trade, taxation,reciprocal health agreements and even the granting of road haulage licences.
What this comprehensive analysis reveals is that far from Parliament getting new freedoms to introduce new laws for the British people the powers are being transferred from the European Commission to government ministers and indirectly to government advisers like Dominic Cummings.
What is happening is that the perceived rule from Brussels by Brexiteers is being replaced by a real rule by decree by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
Henry VIII powers
How you might ask? The answer is the widespread use of what are known as ” Henry VIII ” powers – or more arcanely known as statutory instruments. These are orders allowing ministers to change the law by decree – either putting down an order which Parliament has 90 minutes to debate or a negative order that if MPs don’t spot it is already law unless Parliament can overturn it.
Now what the peers have discovered is that all these bills are littered with these powers – 40 in the agriculture bill alone – giving huge discretion to introduce not only rule by decree but powers to introduce new criminal offences with unlimited fines.
One extraordinary power governing export and import duties give ministers huge powers – including one to change the law by “ public notice” avoiding informing Parliament at all. This brings us back to Tudor times when all Henry VIII had to do was to pin up a notice ordering the dissolution of the monasteries..
Now why does this matter? Take the agriculture bill which will govern the rules if, as the US wants in trade negotiations, for us to import chlorinated chicken and according to recent reports to change food labeling laws in the UK. Now this bill in its initial form gave ministers a Henry VIII power to change the law for the marketing of food including what is on the label.
So if Waitrose followed what it said it will do and clearly label chlorinated chicken a government minister could just change the law by decree making it illegal to do so. And if Waitrose disobeyed they could face unlimited fines.
Now the bill has been modified a bit but MPs and peers ought to be careful that powers don’t sneak in by the back door.
150 new ministerial powers running to 174 pages
Another more obscure Act according to peers also gives huge powers to ministers.
The report said: “The Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill involves a massive transfer of power from the House of Commons to Ministers of the Crown. Ministers are given well over 150 separate powers to make tax law for individuals and businesses. These laws made by Ministers will run to thousands of pages. The Treasury’s delegated powers memorandum, which sets out in detail all these law-making powers, alone runs to 174 pages.”
And ministers are also taking powers in some circumstances to override laws passed by the Scottish Parliament by government decree and to interfere in which already adopted EU case law can be decided by tribunals and lower courts.
Courts facing ministerial directions
The peers were incandescent about the latter.Their report said:
“The granting of broad ministerial powers in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to determine which courts may depart from CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) case law and to give interpretive direction in relation to the meaning of retained EU law was – and remains – inappropriate.
“Each of these powers should remain the preserve of primary legislation. There is a significant risk that the use of this ministerial power could undermine legal certainty and exacerbate the existing difficulties for the courts when dealing with retained EU law.”
Now in my opinion because of the Covid-19 crisis the government is using this to introduce major changes to our unwritten constitution to bypass Parliament. I don’t blame my lobby colleagues for missing this – the 24/7 news agenda hardly gives them time to study a detailed House of Lords report.
It could be that a post Brexit Parliament may not need to sit as often as now – but just meet occasionally to scrutinise the latest ministerial decree.
I don’t think this is what the average Brexiteer will have envisaged. I don’t think the majority of people in this country want to live in a society where ministers and Downing Street have overweening powers to create new criminal offences by decree without being properly scrutinised by Parliament. We are losing our safeguards by stealth.
Next month Boris Johnson is expected to have a Cabinet reshuffle. This will be his chance to mould his government’s image for the rest of the Parliament.
If he takes the advice of his chief of staff Dominic Cummings it will be another opportunity to throw a disruptive spanner in the works.
For Cummings is already on record as saying he wants big changes.
At an event hosted by the think tank IPPR in 2014, he was reported as saying: “The whole Cabinet Office structure and No. 10 structure is completely broken, [as] anyone who has to deal with it knows.”
Cabinet size “a complete farce”
The system had to change, he said, and the Treasury’s broken, while having a Cabinet of 30 people was a “complete farce” and should be whittled down to just six or seven key ministers.
Whether Johnson goes as far as this will be a matter for him but I would not be surprised to see some radical changes. And what changes he makes to the Cabinet will affect Whitehall. Since Parliamentary scrutiny through select committees is based on Whitehall departments , it would also affect the accountability of government.
As I wrote last week on Byline Times, the Whitehall revolution has already started. You can read the article here.
It began with the first Cabinet reshuffle after the general election when the former Chancellor Sajid Javid resigned rather than take Cummings diktat that he should lose all his independent advisers.
Marched out by armed police
That has already come back to bite him. As The Guardian reported one of his advisers, Sonia Khan, who was marched out of the Treasury by armed police, is taking the case to a tribunal as a sex discrimination case. Cummings dismissed her by phone for allegedly lying about talking to one of Philip Hammond’s ( remember him! he was the chancellor under Theresa May) advisers.
A judge ruled out an attempt by government lawyers to have Cummings name removed from the case – meaning he will have to defend himself publicly. There is a five day hearing put down for December. I would not be surprised if the Cabinet Office tries to offer her large sums of our taxpayer’s money to have it settled out of court to avoid embarrassment to the PM and Cummings.
Parallel to the denuding of independent advisers to the Treasury, Cummings has strengthened his position by appointing Vote Leave campaigner Alex Hickman as the PM’s adviser on business and getting Ben Warner, who worked with him at Vote Leave, as a special adviser in Number Ten. His brother Marc, has a controlling influence in Faculty, a high tech start up, which has already been awarded million pound contracts by the NHS to deal with Covid-19 without competitive tendering.
new permanent secretary
But Cummings wants to go much further in Whitehall. On 1 May, a US recruitment agency won a contract from the Government to headhunt a new permanent secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – a ministry that will play a crucial role in building up Britain post-Brexit. The job is not being advertised internally as is the normal practice.
The New York based firm, Russell Reynolds Associates, is principally a high tech recruiter and its philosophy is pretty much in line with the Cummings credo. Its website ishere. The firm believes that all organisations should be run like high tech companies not as bureaucracies.
“The organisations that don’t disrupt themselves are the ones that will be disrupted,” it states.
Cummings is a passionately in favour of the high tech companies – who often employ highly skilled computer savvy people on short term contracts and would like to see Whitehall remodelled along these lines.
In 2018, Cummings expanded his attack on Whitehall in a paper which predicted: “There will be a chance for a small group to face reality and change the political landscape with new priorities and a new approach to the whole problem of high-performance government.”
Permanent secretaries are key figures in Whitehall – the 40 or so are the people who glue together the system – providing leadership and setting the tone of their department. They also can hold ministers to account over unauthorised spending.
The new permanent secretary will start in September well in time to work on business post Brexit. He will act, in my view, as a Trojan horse, to change Whitehall for good if Cummings has his way.
One of the extraordinary questions that have puzzled people is why Dominic Cummings – who has been in the centre of a storm over breaking Covid -19 lockdown regulations – has not been forced to quit.
Much of the speculation has centred round the PM’s weakness in not sacking him, despite over 90 Tory MPs attacking him, one minister resigning and widespread anger among the law abiding majority of the public. Even a collapse in Tory support has not led to it.
The answer has been staring people in the face. One of the issues I wrote in Byline Times – Dominic Cumming’s billion dollar brainbox – last week. While the pandemic was gaining pace, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, gave Dominic Cummings £800m, for a project about which he has been campaigning for years – the setting up of a Downing Street Advance Research Projects Agency. Sunak described it as a “blue skies funding agency”.Who would want to quit when they have received such largesse for a pet project that they have slaved over for years?
Scientists would be given millions of pounds for unaccountable projects – some of which will fail – with the aim of changing Britain forever.
He also wanted to scrap European data protection laws which allow individuals to refuse access to their personal data on privacy grounds when they go to websites – allowing extensive data mining for venture capitalists who will exploit the new products to make billions of pounds.
Now, the second reason he will not go is that he wants either a “no deal” Brexit or for Europe to capitulate to the UK’s demands, so that Europe is no longer an integral working single market.
Both proposals – the ARPA scheme and No Deal Brexit – are potentially dangerous because they will cause chaos.
But I think that is exactly what Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson want – in fact Cummings relishes it.
Both are intelligent men. Both have degree – level knowledge of the classics and ancient history.
Both will know about ancient Greek mythology. One of the most ancient Greek goddesses is the goddess of chaos. chaos is an ancient Greek word and is the source of our English word. There is a usefulwebsitehere about the ancient Greek history of chaos.
It says : “Chaos was the origin of everything and the very first thing that ever existed. It was a primordial void, which everything was created from including the universe and the Greek Gods. In ancient Greek, Chaos is translated as ‘the gaping void.’’
Here’s a simple YouTube video about it:
chaos is an ancient Greek word and is the source of our English word.
Cummings is now planning to create the UK’s own ”year Zero” with a modern twist – by leaving the EU after such a long time Britain will have start from scratch – and use modern technology to survive. His ARPA project will dictate where we go in the future.
The author Naomi Klein wrote about “disaster capitalism” in her book The Shock Doctrine, as described here.
Now Cummings, who spent 1994-1997 in Russia, is putting “disaster capitalism” theory into practice. And, of course, chaos serves the Russian political machine, just as it serves the extremes of Western free-market capitalism.
You and I might find this rather scary but for Cummings the chaos is his seventh heaven – a once in a lifetime chance to reshape Britain while disrupting everything that could be said to be stable.
And at the moment the ” Goddess of Chaos” holds a lot of the cards – his worshippers include most of the Cabinet who are required to tweet their support like a mantra from a Greek chorus. And the ” Goddess of Chaos” even has two altar boys – Conservative right wingers Tom Harwood and Darren Grimes – to do his bidding and explain away his faults.
There is a final irony. The last General Election was fought on the lines of the danger of a left wing Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn destroying Britain and creating “chaos”. The negative campaigning by the Tories and right-wing press worked.
But what we will have now is such a cultural and chaotic revolution under Cummings that will make any perceived threat from Corbyn look like a Teddy Bears picnic.
While nearly all the attention is being given to the Covid 19 crisis tomorrow the UK will have to impose a limited number of trade sanctions on the Trump administration under a European Commission directive.
But you will say we have left the EU and Trump is a great friend of Boris Johnson? Well not quite. Until December 31 we abide by EU rules but have no say and this is why we are still caught up in the trade row between Trump and the European Union.
Ironically the EU has used a World Trade Organisation rule on anti dumping to put up the tariffs on a very limited number of goods.And the UK can’t afford to break WTO rules – if it is forced into a No Deal Brexit.
As the dust begins to settle from last week’s election I have written an article for Byline Times on where politics should go after Labour’s defeat and Liberal Democrats failure to make a big impact. And also why Conservative victory is not as decisive as the Parliamentary arithmetic shows. You can read it here.
Today I have published from a new database how much money MPs made from second jobs in the last Parliament with Boris Johnson top of the premier league of high earners. Read the full story in Byline Timeshereand see for yourself from a link to the databasehere. You can check your own MP.
Labour today broke through the political barrier of just offering tea and sympathy for 3.8 million women who had to wait up to six years for their pensions.
And coming only 24 hours after Boris Johnson announced that the Conservative Party would not give a penny in compensation to any of the women affected by this appalling scandal it is a major advance.
First the positives. It is a huge improvement on the offer available from the All Party Parliamentary Group on the issue co chaired by Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for Worthing East and Shoreham and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea,East. The sums are obvious. Tim Loughton is on record of seeking £2 billion compensation, Labour is offering to spend £58 billion over five years.
From what I could gather – despite both MPs declining to answer any of my questions – it would have meant probably only £73 a week on benefit for women who have still not gained the pension in two years time and nothing for the rest, who form the vast majority of people involved.
It is also – and this is very important considering the age of people involved- to start pretty soon if Labour is elected. This compared with the previous APPG proposal with no firm date for implementation and the longer the delay, fewer people would have got anything.
As John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, said: ” “We will introduce it as rapidly as we probably can and we will try to ensure the payments are made promptly. …… we are hoping that people will appreciate the sense of injustice and anger that these women feel about the changes that were imposed upon them.”
And it is helpful for people who had relied on the now outdated married woman’s national insurance contribution to build up their pension entitlement since to get compensation Labour is treating all cases as though they paid the full national insurance stamp which would increase their entitlement.
It is also by far the best offer on the table for the December 12 election as it compares with nothing from the Conservatives and an offer from the LiberalDemocrats toobtain compensation through the Ombudsman.Again that would depend when the Ombudsman considered the caseand whether he decidedto award any compensation.
Now the pitfalls. First it is paid at the rate of £100 a week over five years for all those born before 6 April 1955 rather than a lump sum. It is also taxed. As one of the arguments by the numerous detractors from the private pension industry -is that it should be means tested, very wealthy people will have to return, under Labour, half the payment to the state. Those who are really poor will get it tax free – because there is no tax next year on the first £12,500 of income. And this limit will probably rise over the period.
Second the scheme is complicated and the amount of compensation will be different for each individual.
Broadly it looks as though compensation will rise from a month’s loss of pension (£400) to a maximum of £31,379 for those born up to April 5 1955. It would then gradually fall again until disappearing altogether for those born after April 5 1960. The figure paid out will fall from £100 a week to a lower sum depending on a person’s date of birth from 6 April 1955.
In general terms this means that those born up to April 5 1955 will fare better than those after- though those born in the rest of 1955 will still get high compensation.
What this mean for those born earlier and have or about to get their pension that they will be guaranteed an extra £100 a week for up to five years depending on their birth date.
What the deal is not full restitution given that some women have lost up to £50,000. However Back to 60, have raised enough money through their crowdfunder, to continue their legal action and are seeking permission at the Court of Appeal to appeal the ruling.
The fact that BackTo60 went to the courts prompted Labour to prepare a much more generous offer for the 50swomen – their briefing makes it clear that this was in their mind.
” It’s a one-off historical redress for a historical wrong, so the state will be expected to find the money, just as it would do if the Government lost a court case.”
This is the opposite to the view of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who takes the position ” we act within the law” and the defeat means no money need ever be paid.
The fact that both Unison and Unite unions supported full restitution was also hugely influential in Labour’s thinking.
Labour’s manifesto has promised talks with all groups before it is implemented which will give all 50swomen representatives the chance to comment and discuss the implementation of the scheme.
Last night Waspi Ltd – which has not wanted full restitution – and ” We paid in, you pay out ” were advising their supporters to back Labour at the general election.
BackTo60 which never intended to advise its voters which way to vote – will produce a comparative guide to all the offers from the main parties to 50swomen and leave it to their supporters to draw their own conclusions on how they wish to cast their votes.
John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said “We’ve prepared a scheme to compensate these women for a historical wrong. It’s one that they were not been able to prepare for and for which they’ve had to suffer serious financial consequences for as a result.
“Some of them have been hit by a combination of poverty and stress, having lost out on what they had contributed towards. These changes were imposed upon them by a Tory-led government. So we have a historical debt of honour to them and when go into government we are going to fulfil that debt.”
Boris Johnson thought he had got away with Parliament not being able to scrutinise his EU Withdrawal bill by calling an election. But on the last day of Parliament the House of Lords rumbled him and their analysis does not paint a pretty picture. Full report on Byline Times.
For purists actual House of Lords Constitution Committee report here.