Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
One of the most common questions I get asked at the moment is: “What’s going to happen next?” As if I know any better than anyone else.
My best guess is that events are going to lead to Article 50 being postponed/extended, which in turn could mean that Brexit never happens. When Conservative MPs weigh up how they are going to vote next Tuesday, one point ought to bear heavily on their minds. if they are Leave supporters. If you vote against the deal, you will be putting any form of Brexit at risk.
For if the Prime Minister’s deal doesn’t pass next week, or whenever it’s brought back afterwards, there seems to be little alternative other than for the Government to request an extension of Article 50, either in preparation for another referendum or some sort of other deal.
We saw the Remain establishment at work on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it’s perfectly clear that the Speaker will leave no stone unturned in helping Remainers in Parliament put every obstacle in the way of Brexit.
Whatever the trials and tribulations No Deal might offer up, these surely couldn’t be worse than this absolute clusterf**k of a parliamentary shambles that Number Ten and the Prime Minister have created.
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When you’ve had a court case hanging over you for three years, I can only imagine the relief you must feel to be cleared of the serious charges against you. Craig Mackinlay was cleared of election expenses fraud this week, in relation to the South Thanet by-election of and can now look to the future and put the case behind him.
However, the same cannot be said for Marion Little. I’ve known her for 35 years, and some of you reading this will have come across her in her role as an official at CCHQ.
She was convicted of two counts of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence. Sentencing Marion, Mr Justice Edis had some harsh words for CCHQ, accusing it of “a culture of convenient self-deception” and “inadequate supervision” which allowed or encouraged Little to break the law. He said that “Mrs Little acted dishonestly by preparing [election] returns she knew were not completed nor accurate. She had presented papers to Mackinlay and his election agent, Nathan Gray, for signing, which “they did in good faith not knowing what she had done”. She had been “carried away by her conviction” that defeating Farage was an “overwhelmingly important political objective”. Marion was given a nine month suspended sentence and fined £5,000.
She will be devastated by this verdict. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened, she is a professional party agent who has given nearly 40 years’ service to the party and is respected by all who she’s worked with. It is not for me to question the decision of the jury, but anyone who has had to fill in election returns knows how difficult it can be and, in that particular election, we all know the pressures people were under from above.
So in these circumstances I hope the party rallies round Marion, and offers her any support that she needs. It’s yet another example of someone down the food chain copping it for the sins of others. Perhaps she should have offered greater resistance to the instructions from above, and perhaps she should have spotted the dangers better but, whatever the truth of it, many party agents from all parties will be looking at this and thinking: “there but for the grace of God, go I”.
Let’s face it, the reason this kind of case hardly ever gets to court is because there is an unspoken conspiracy between the three parties to never complain about each other’s expenses. By and large, election expense returns are based not on fact, but are a work of fiction. The spending limits are so ridiculous that agents have to be incredibly creative in order to file a return that comes in a few pounds below the limit. They don’t actually lie – but the ‘notional’ expenses which you have to list often bear little relation to the real amount a campaign actually spends.
So when cases like this come to court, it’s often because they are brought by candidates outside the pseudo-cartel of the three main parties. It’s time for a wholesale reform of election law and, in particular, election expenses rules and limits. If the Electoral Commission had been doing its job properly, this would have been done years ago.
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I decided not to shave over Christmas and, much to my own surprise, opted not to remove the beard when it came to going to back to work. I’ve never been a great fan of beards and am still not convinced I will keep it, but we’ll see.
Who was it who said: “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity”? Well, if that’s the case I probably won’t keep it for very long. I’ve always thought grey beards on middle-aged men look slightly creepy, and even though I keep being reassured that I don’t look creepy, I’m not so sure. Maybe I did anyway!