Life after Ken

Terrible results are capped off by Boris Johnson taking the mayoralty of London and with just a coup

It's probably not going to be a John F Kennedy 'remember where you were?' moment but the day Boris Johnson ousted Ken Livingstone and became the first Tory mayor of London is extremely significant.

David Cameron's Conservatives now have something high profile to run. They've got a fair amount of time on their hands so they can concentrate a lot of effort - and people - on the job.

Boris will be the front man and provided he doesn't fall flat on his face, like Labour ministers no doubt hope, the Tories will have something recent to point to so they can say 'look we're no longer the Conservative Party that John Major led and yes we can do government'.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told me on Friday lunchtime - when the result was a very long way from being declared - that she thought the Tories were set to take the mayoralty. She observed that finally they would be tested in running something - presumably because she assumes they will mess things up. But what if they don't?

Labour was prepared for a pretty dire outcome from the 1 May 2008 elections - though not as dire as it turned out. If you were listening to the coverage of the elections in past 48 hours, virtually every commentator said that we would now see a raft of policy initiatives from ministers. Smith said in our phone conversation that she herself would be making an announcement next week. They say they are also going to be listening and learning...

The question on my mind today, though, is what will the Blairites be doing this weekend and in the coming days? Charles Clarke has already chucked a couple of bricks over the parapet at the Brownites but will we hear from Milburn, Byers and the like and, if so, will they take advantage of choppy waters and rock the boat?

Last night I was in the BBC London studios to sound off on the Tessa Dunlop radio show - well, it's cheaper than therapy. As the results came it was incredibly disappointing - and not just because Ken Livingstone lost. It's because the Tories now feel dangerous again and I can't forget what it was like the last time.

Communities abandoned, appalling economic mismanagement, kids educated in portacabins, teachers and nurses paid a pittance. And all the while, tax cuts for the wealthy. Other people seem to have shorter memories.

Personally I hope Gordon Brown is ready for a long, hard two-year fight because the electorate clearly needs to see, in the words of Rhodri Morgan, some clear red water between the prime minister and the PR men that front now the Tory Party.

No more of this big tent stuff - remember "best when we're Labour"?...

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Will the House of Lords block Brexit?

Process, and a desire to say "I told you so" will be the real battle lines. 

It’s the people versus the peers, at least as far as some overly-excited Brexiteers are concerned. The bill to trigger Article 50 starts its passage through the House of Lords today, and with it, a row about the unelected chamber and how it ought to behave as far as Brexit is concerned.

This week will, largely, be sound and fury. More peers have signed up to speak than since Tony Blair got rid of the bulk of hereditary peers, triggering a 200-peer long queue of parliamentarians there to rage against the dying of the light, before, inevitably, the Commons prevailed over the Lords.

And to be frank, the same is ultimately going to happen with Article 50. From former SDPers, now either Labour peers or Liberal Democrat peers, who risked their careers over Europe, to the last of the impeccably pro-European Conservatives, to committed Labour and Liberal politicians, there are a number of pro-Europeans who will want to make their voices heard before bowing to the inevitable. Others, too, will want to have their “I told you so” on record should it all go belly-up.

The real battle starts next week, when the bill enters committee stage, and it is then that peers will hope to extract concessions from the government, either through defeat in the Lords or the threat of defeat in the Lords. Opposition peers will aim to secure concessions on the process of the talks, rather than to frustrate the exit.

But there are some areas where the government may be forced to give way. The Lords will seek to codify the government’s promise of a vote on the deal and to enshrine greater parliamentary scrutiny of the process, which is hard to argue against, and the government may concede that quarterly statements to the House on the process of Brexit are a price worth paying, and will, in any case, be a concession they end up making further down the line anyway.

But the big prize is the rights of EU citizens already resident here.  The Lords has the advantage of having the overwhelming majority of the public – and the promises of every senior Leaver during the referendum campaign – behind them on that issue. When the unelected chamber faces down the elected, they like to have the weight of public opinion behind them so this is a well-chosen battleground.

But as Alex Barker explains in today’s FT, the rights of citizens aren’t as easy to guarantee as they look. Do pensions count? What about the children of EU citizens? What about access to social security and health? Rights that are easy to protect in the UK are more fraught in Spain, for instance. What about a British expat, working in, say, Italy, married to an Italian, who divorces, but wishes to remain in Italy afterwards? There is general agreement on all sides that the rights of Brits living in the rest of the EU and citizens of the EU27 living here need to be respected and guaranteed. But that even areas of broad agreement are the subject of fraught negotiation shows why those “I told you sos”  may come in handy sooner than we think.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.