Some post-Question Time clarifications

I seem to be the Marmite man. People love me or hate me!

Thanks to all those people who posted messages of support, praise or congratulations either on this blog, the Question Time blog or on Twitter after I made my debut on that show last night. But as one tweeter pointed out, "@ns_mehdihasan is like Marmite." Indeed. I seem to have upset, annoyed and angered lots of people on the right, as well countless Lib Dem apologists. What can I say? That's life. Don't take it so personally. Let's agree to disagree.

QT is a great show and I had great fun appearing on it (even though Iain Dale thinks I didn't smile enough. Sorry, Iain!). But it's not a format that lends itself to forensic examination of policies or arguments, and despite the fact that I speak at ten words per second (thanks, David Prescott!), even I couldn't challenge or clarify some of Simon Hughes's claims.

For the record, I like and admire Simon Hughes and felt sorry that he had to defend the indefensible. Where is David Laws when you need him, eh? Oh, and while I'm at it, Michael Heseltine is my second-favourite Tory -- after Ken Clarke, who's my favourite (I know, I know, but I just can't help it!). It's a shame I've had to have a go at both of them in recent BBC panel debates. Where's Michael Gove when you need him?

So here are some post-QT clarifications:

1) Simon Hughes kept pointing to the Tory/Lib Dem proposal to raise the income-tax threshold to £10,000. He seems to believe this is a perfectly progressive policy. But he knows, as the IFS and others have pointed out, that such a policy will cost £17bn, of which only £1bn will go to the lowest earners. He also knows that the poorest people in Britain will not get a penny from this policy because they tend to be out of work and not paying any income tax to begin with. Oh, and as the Fabians' Tim Horton has pointed out, this policy is no longer funded by redistributive measures such as the mansion tax and the scrapping of higher-rate pension relief.

2) Hughes could not address the main issue: why did the Lib Dems agree to Tory cuts in spending this year, despite campaigning against such cuts? Aren't such cuts, to quote Vince Cable, a "smokescreen" for public-sector job losses? This is an unforgivable concession, in my view.

3) Talking of concessions, Hughes claimed that Labour had offered nothing and that the Tories had moved the most. I'm confused. In the end, the Tories adopted the Labour manifesto pledge to legislate for a referendum on AV (not PR!) but promised to campaign against AV in the actual referendum itself. How is that a better deal than a Labour referendum on AV which the Labour Party actually then backs? He also got lots of applause on the topic of civil liberties -- but omitted to mention that Labour negotiators had offered to drop ID cards in return for a deal with the Lib Dems.

4) I'm not an opponent of coalitions or coalition politics. I had hoped for a hung parliament because (i) I didn't believe Labour had earned the right to govern on its own, after 13 years of ups and downs in office, and (ii) I naively assumed that such a scenario might bring about a progressive realignment on the centre left and hasten electoral reform. I was wrong. And I'm angry that a coalition of Labour tribalists and Lib Dem power-seekers betrayed the progressive, anti-Tory majority in this country. But let me be clear: unlike Melanie Phillips, I have no problem with coalitions and think coalition government, in theory, can actually have a positive impact on the nation and on the economy. I just think this coalition is a coalition of convenience, unprincipled and unstable. But I hope, for the sake of the country, that I'm wrong and the optimists and apologists are right.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Nick Clegg: Theresa May should free "the inner Remainer struggling within her soul"

Former Conservative minister Nicky Morgan argued Cabinet members were onside for a better deal. 

Theresa May should free her “inner Remainer” and turn away from the “Brextremists” to the silent opponents of a hard Brexit, a cross-part y group of MPs have declared.

Conservative MP and former government minister Nicky Morgan said “there are absolutely members of the government who very much want a deal who were staunch Remain campaigners”. Asked if she would stand as a Conservative MP at the next election, she merely answered that the questions for future elections were "several years hence". 

Morgan, who was sacked by May and has emerged as one of her most outspoken Tory critics, was speaking at the launch of Open Britain’s accountability tests for the Brexit negotiations. Article 50 will be triggered on Wednesday 29 March.

Chris Leslie, a Labour MP and former shadow Chancellor, said there were large numbers of parliamentarians “who are willing to be constructive, to go beyond party political lines and do the best deal for the country”.

Former Lib Dem leader and onetime deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg praised a “very good speech” by the Prime Minister before the Brexit vote, in which she reflected on the limits of sovereignty and made the case for remaining in the EU.

He said: “Either she didn’t believe a word she said or there is an inner Remainer struggling within her soul to come out.”

The MPs also warned against the rhetoric of former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson, who has repeatedly argued that “no Brexit deal is better than a bad deal”, arguing that this would be chaotic and exploited by ideologues.

Clegg, who was an MEP before he became an MP, said EU negotiators were alert to the threat that the UK would try to turn itself into a “low taxation, low welfare dumping ground”.

He said: “A German leader can’t go to German voters, a Spanish leader can’t go to Spanish voters, and say: ‘We are giving the UK extensive access to our markets to compete with our jobs but at the same time they are going to be like Switzerland on stilts.’”

Referring to Brexit secretary David Davis’ admission that immigration may continue to rise after Brexit, Clegg said the Leave campaign had promised lower immigration and access to the single market. Instead: “The government we know now is going to deliver exactly the opposite.”

 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.