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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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.