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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Vote Leave can't hide their responsibility for the Brexit mess

Dominic Cummings has become the latest Vote Leave official to try to muddy his part in the unfolding disaster. 

Dominic Cummings, formerly a special advisor to Michael Gove and one of the key backroom figures in Vote Leave, has made one of his periodic interventions in the post-referendum debate with a very long Twitter thread – containing a link to an even longer article.

The headline-grabbing line – though he has said it before – is that in triggering Article 50 when it did, the government committed a “historic and unforgivable blunder”, which has jeopardised the country’s chances of making Brexit a success. Squarely in his sights for the blunder: David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Britain’s top civil servant, Jeremy Heywood. Is he right?

Particularly attentive readers will know that I have been banging on about this precise point at considerable length both before and after Article 50 was triggered. (Unlucky followers of my Twitter feed will be even more sick of this point.)

And in Cummings’ defence, so was he. In one particularly colourful remark, before the referendum, he described using Article 50 to facilitate leaving as putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. Vote Leave’s campaign literature advised against immediately triggering Article 50, so he has half a point. But crucially, only half.

Why only half? Well, here follows a list of people and publications who called on the government not to use Article 50 to facilitate its exit from the European Union: the Financial Times, the New Statesman, the blogger FlipChartRick, the lawyer Jolyon Maugham, and Cummings himself.

You’ll note something that is immediately missing from that list: any senior politicians who backed a Leave vote, including Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Labour’s Gisela Stuart, the three frontline figures who did more than almost anyone else to ensure that Britain voted to leave the European Union.

In neither of their short-lived leadership bids did Johnson or Gove use their platforms to argue against triggering Article 50, nor did either of them use their considerable clout in the pro-Brexit press to do the same. Stuart, one of Labour’s most impressive operators, who helped negotiate and write Article 50, and therefore knew full well that the mechanism was designed to disadvantage the departing nation and hand maximum leverage to the remaining members of the European Union, not only said nothing to discourage it but like Johnson and Gove actively voted to trigger on May’s timetable.

May has made a series of unforced errors in the Brexit talks, but as far as the disastrous decision to trigger Article 50 when she did goes, politically, she had no other choice but to trigger early due the demands of Brexiteers on her own backbenches.

If you want to be generous you can say that this only occurred because some Remainers were talking about an indefinite transition or overturning the referendum result which meant that Brexiteer MPs were less cautious than they should have been. But you can’t absolve Vote Leave on this metric, as anyone who knows anything about politics or human nature should have expected that at least some Remainers would behave in that way and that at least some Brexiteers would respond in that way and they did nothing, nothing at all, after the campaign to prevent it from happening.

Cummings is right that triggering Article 50 was a historic and unforgivable blunder that has made the chances of a bad Brexit considerably more likely. But he’s wrong to say that the architects of Vote Leave can escape at least a share of the blame. 

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