The Santorum conundrum

The former senator for Pennsylvania and wannabe Republican nominee, Rick Santorum, has a two-fold im

Have you heard of Rick Santorum? Not many people have, according to recent polls, despite the fact that he is running for President. The former senator for Pennsylvania has extremely low name recognition among potential Republican voters. Unlike the eponymous Sarah Palin and the current favourite for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, not many recognise Santorum. That is the first problem.

The second problem occurs when a voter goes, "Hey, I wonder who this Santorum fella is..." and pops the former senator's name into Google. The first result - above Santorum's official presidential bid website - is a definition of a neologism called "santorum".

Santorum 1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum.

Spreadingsantorum.com, the website that contains this definition and nothing else, was set up in 2003, after the columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage decided to get his own back on Santorum after the senator made some very distateful comments about gay people. Having negative views of gay people is not necessairly a vote-loser in the Republican primaries - dominated as they are by the religious right - but having your name associated with that probably isn't an election-winning gambit.

Thus Santorum is in a pickle. Not many people know who he is, and when they try and find out, they are faced with a description that Santorum would rather voters didn't associate him with. Will it scupper his chances of being President in 2012? Almost certainly not - the comments that inspired the website, mixed with the fact he got spanked by an 18-point margin when he attempted to defend his senate seat in 2006 are far more damaging. It is only a prank, but it's another hole in an already sinking ship.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.