It has never been easier to mass-shame politicians, yet never have politicians seemed so shameless: the constitutional implications of a modern political paradox

23rd November 2020

The internet and modern communications technology mean that it has never been easier to to mass shame those with political power.

Only twenty-five or so years ago it was virtually impossible for any person to publish anything critical about politicians without going through a traditional ‘gate keeper’ – you could write a letter to a newspaper, send a manuscript to a publishing house, or telephone a radio or television show.

But it was almost always a decision of somebody else if your critical views got wider circulation.

Determined people could, of course, publish their own pamphlets, or publish a book through a ‘vanity press’, or start their own pirate radio station in the English channel.

Such eccentricity, however, was relatively rare.

Now anyone with everyday electronic devices can publish their views to the world.

It has been an extraordinary development in the history of communications, akin in its significance to the developments of writing and then of printing.

(And a development the implications of which have perhaps not been fully worked through socially, culturally, or legally.)

But.

Alongside this development seems to have been an opposite and equal political reaction.

For, although it has never been easier to mass-shame those with political power, it appears that those with political power have never been so shameless.

As long as their (minority) political blocs are mobilised and committed, various populist politicians – from Trump and Bannon in the United States to Johnson, Farage and Cummings in the United Kingdom, and others elsewhere – do not care that there is mass online criticism of their positions.

Indeed, the loud ‘liberal’ reaction is taken to validate and enhance their political appeals to their bases.

And it may be that this shamelessness is affecting constitutional practice.

Until fairly recently constitutional practice in the United Kingdom and the United States, and perhaps elsewhere, rested on constitutional conventions.

Such conventions do not have the force of law and so cannot be litigated.

Instead, the conventions were followed partly because their overall utility was considered obvious (any government minister who might have flouted a convention would realise she or he may be in opposition again one day).

But conventions were also followed because a failure to do so would lead to significant political disapproval.

Others would ‘tut’.

And in a small self-contained political world, such tuttery mattered.

But now, when there is constant appeals to political bases, such tuttery does not matter at all.

The Bannons and the Cummings of the political worlds do not care about disapproval of political elites.

Nor do the Trumps and the Johnsons.

And so we have one paradox of modern politics: never have politicians been more accountable on an everyday basis for their actions, and never have they seemed so indifferent to accountability.

This, one hopes, may be a short-term thing: the opportunism of a certain group of political charlatans at a particular time.

Perhaps constitutionalism and respect for constitutional norms will reassert itself after this rush of heady populism.

Perhaps things may get back to normal.

Perhaps.

But, if not, we need to work out better ways of enforcing constitutionalism and the respect for constitutional norms than tutting.

For even with the amplification of internet and modern communications technology, mere mass-tuttery will not be sufficient. 

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The Pennsylvanian court dismisses the Trump law suit ‘with prejudice’- and Trump supporters will dismiss the judgment with prejudice

22nd November 2020

The federal court in Pennsylvania has dismissed the claim by the lawyers for President Donald Trump ‘with prejudice’ (a delightful legal phrase). 

The judgment is well worth reading and there are certain passages that will stand out. In particular these two paragraphs are striking:

“Here, leveling up to address the alleged cancellation of Plaintiffs’ votes would be easy; the simple answer is that their votes would be counted. But Plaintiffs do not ask to level up. Rather, they seek to level down, and in doing so, they ask the Court to violate the rights of over 6.8 million Americans. It is not in the power of this Court to violate the Constitution. “The disenfranchisement of even one person validly exercising his right to vote is an extremely serious matter.” “To the extent that a citizen’s right to vote is debased, he is that much less a citizen.”

“Granting Plaintiffs’ requested relief would necessarily require invalidating the ballots of every person who voted in Pennsylvania. Because this Court has no authority to take away the right to vote of even a single person, let alone millions of citizens, it cannot grant Plaintiffs’ requested relief.”

And this footnote is a thing of utter beauty:

“Curiously, Plaintiffs now claim that they seek only to enjoin certification of the presidential election results. They suggest that their requested relief would thus not interfere with other election results in the state. But even if it were logically possible to hold Pennsylvania’s electoral system both constitutional and unconstitutional at the same time, the Court would not do so.”

*

Of course, the Trump campaign has little serious legal strategy in all this.

The intention of the Trump campaign appears to be two-fold.

First, to get a case somehow someway before the Supreme Court where, presumably with the magic of partisanship, the conservative justices will fashion a win for Trump.

And second, to make as much political and media noise as possible so as to maintain the fiction that Trump was robbed of an election result.

I am not an American lawyer, but it is hard to see how the Trump team can get much further with their legal claims.

Unlike Bush v Gore there is no serious legal issue outstanding in respect of an ongoing count/recount.

*

Yet as a consequence of the current tactics of the Trump campaign, there will be a lingering and destabilising sense among Trump supporters of illegitimacy over the presidential election.

No court judgment can address, still less cure, such a political reaction.

Trump’s hyper-partisan supporters will no doubt dismiss the judgment, with their own prejudice (in the non-legal sense).

That is unfortunate, and it will be a political problem that will not go away easily.

But any court can only do so much.

And here it is heartening that the court has done what it can.

The legal function has been performed, and what is left is now politics.

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One final observation can be fairly made on all this.

For many years conservatives have complained of ‘activist’ and ‘interventionist’ judges and they have (rhetorically, at least) sided with ‘the people’ against the courts.

And now those same conservatives are demanding for active judicial intervention against the people, to the extent that thousands if not millions would be suddenly disenfranchised by court orders.

This is a paradox, if not a contradiction.

Do conservatives want an ‘activist’ and ‘interventionist’ judiciary or not?

They should make their minds up.

**

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The significance of the resignation of Sir Alex Allan

21st November 2020

Yesterday Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Ministerial Code, resigned.

His statement was succinct to the point of curtness:

“I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgement on whether actions by a Minister amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code. But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Code.”

The first sentence is dressed-up, but it is nothing more than a statement of fact; only the second sentence has any import.

The real reason for the resignation is that the Prime Minister disregarded the view of Allan that the Home Secretary was in breach of the Ministerial Code. 

This resignation, in turn, follows the resignation in September of Sir Jonathan Jones as the Treasury Solicitor, the government’s senior legal official.

The resignation of Jones was also because of a breach, in that case that the United Kingdom government was deliberately intending to break the law.

And that resignation, in turn, followed the curious incident in 2019 where no government official was willing to sign a witness statement, on pain of perjury, as to the government’s true reasons for the five week prorogation of parliament.

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These incidents are accumulating.

Each example is, in its own way, significant – in that it signifies a particular breakdown of the machinery of government.

And taken together they indicate a trend – a government that is indifferent to constitutional norms and conventions and which sees self-restraints as mere inconveniences to dismiss.

Alongside these examples, of course, we have the government threatening both the independence of the judiciary and the efficacy of judicial review.

This is a government that wants to be free of an impartial civil service and independent judiciary and seeks to legislate as much as possible by decree.

This is what I called the ‘Executive Power Project’ (in gentle mockery of the ‘Judicial Power Project’ – a group who, quite seriously, contend that judicial power is the real problem of our age).

So the Allan resignation shows us nothing new, but is a further illustration of what can already be seen as a wider problem.

The government has collapsed into hyper-partisanship, and it is ready to negate every conventional principle and even to break the law, and wants to remove anything that can say ‘no’.

This, of course,  is the politics of hubris.

Yet the hubris of this government never seems to meet its nemesis.

The government still appears popular and there is no reason to believe another general election would return a different result to that of just under a year ago.

The government is even getting its excuses in early for the effect of the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December 2020, whether there is a deal or not.

The Allan resignation signifies what is wrong about this government and its attitude to constitutional propriety – but we already have a number of such signifiers.

And so the Allan resignation also signifies that the government believes it can keep on getting away with these constitutional trespasses – and the worrying thing is that the government is probably right.

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Australia shows the United Kingdom there is another way of being accountable for war crimes

20th November 2020

The United Kingdom government is currently making it (even) more difficult to prosecute its armed services for historic war crimes.

On this I did a video essay for the Financial Times (written and presented by me, produced by the estimable Tom Hannen).

The United Kingdom and war crimes (and torture in particular) is a depressing subject – from Kenya and Northern Ireland to Iraq and Afghanistan, there are cover-ups and other attempts to avoid scrutiny.

But there are other, more refreshing approaches to official accountability.

The Australian government has now published a report into war crimes in Afghanistan by its own special forces.

The report of by Paul Brereton, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry Report is an extraordinary and highly important document.

The report is unflinching.

And in response to the report, the Australian government has already taken concrete steps.

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War crimes happen, torture happens – and war crimes and torture can be committed by all sides, not just the ‘baddies’.

This is the nasty truth about conflict and human nature.

The question is about what to do about it when it happens.

One approach comprises official cover-ups, deflections, and smearing those seeking justice and accountability.

This is a misguided, short-term approach.

It means there is a sense of getting away with it, of permissiveness – and, in time, it means the armed services will lose valuable legitimacy when dealing with local populations.

The Australian approach is far harder, but a far better one.

The United Kingdom – as it did with torture in Kenya and Northern Ireland – would much prefer to pretend that these things never happen here.

Or, if there is acceptance that war crimes and torture took place, then there is then a shruggy ‘well, what is wrong with this?’  and ‘so what?’ and this dismissive attitude will get easy nods from political and media supporters.

Yet everything is wrong with war crimes and torture, and high standards matter and make a difference.

And the Australians seem to realise this, but the United Kingdom does not.

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Why constitutional law should not be exciting

19th November 2020

Constitutional law, at least in the United States and the United Kingdom, is currently exciting.

And this is a bad thing, as constitutional law should not be exciting.

Constitutional law should be dull.

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At least that is what I have said, many times.

For example, here.

And also many times on Twitter.

It is an aphorism of which I am fairly proud.

But is the import of it actually true?

Should constitutional law be boring?

And if so, why?

*

Yesterday on Twitter I was implicitly challenged on this.

The tweeter had a good point.

Litigation can lead to great, wonderful, heartening victories for those without rights.

Think of the great anti-segregation and the pro-abortion cases in the United States, or the welcome sequence of rulings on LGBT issues at the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

Each of these results rightly make any liberal person want to clap and cheer.

But.

There are serious problems if constitutional law is exciting.

*

First, litigation is risky, expensive and uncertain.

There is a certain frame of mind that has it that ‘common law rights’ that have come through ‘actual cases’ are to be preferred to those which are set out in a statute or other legal instrument.

(I used to hold such a view myself.)

But this view is complacent and reeks of privilege.

Few, if any, people are in a position to bring cases.

Litigation is expensive and takes up sometimes years of your life.

Litigation is inherently risky and, at least in England, you are often at peril of having to pay the other side’s costs.

And litigation is unpredictable – you can have a substantially strong case and still lose on some technicality that one judge may uphold and which another judge may not have done.

To say rights should rest entirely on case law is, in fact, to say little useful at all.

*

The second problem is that rights based on case law can be precarious.

What is given by a court can usually be taken away by a court.

For example, Roe v Wade is one of the most significant cases of modern times.

But it is (and has long been) just one Supreme Court case from being reversed and, if it is reversed, then the right to abortion based on that case is likely to be adversely affected too.

The right would be far safer if it was enacted in legislation, or embodied in a constitutional amendment.

Perhaps such legislation is unrealistic, and a Supreme Court judgment is the best one can have.

Perhaps.

But is still true that case law, and the excitement of case law, is not the ideal basis for such a fundamental right, as the right to have an abortion.

The right should be in legislation, beyond the risk of a sudden court reversal.

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The third problem is that too much constitutional case law implies an unstable political system.

Constitutional law should set out the parameters of acceptable political activity with an agreed process for what happens when elements of a political system are in tension.

But if those parameters themselves are casually disregarded or continuously contested then that destabilises the political system.

Since 2016, both the United States and United Kingdom have had people in the executive who care neither for conventions nor for the disapproval of others for breaching those conventions.

Donald Trump and  Dominic Cummings both, in their different ways, see supposed constitutional restraints as things to discard and to sneer at.

This, of course, is a short-term view – the quick thrills of the vandal and the hooligan.

In the medium- and longer-term those with power need the authority which comes from settled, consistent and predictable political practice.

Here, authority can be imagined as being on one end of a see-saw, with autocracy on the other.

Any fool with power can be autocratic.

But such personal rules are usually erratic and rarely sustainable.

This is why wise rulers work through – and thereby develop – legislative assemblies, systems of justice, and bureaucracies.

Not because they are forced to, and have such things imposed upon them, but because they realise it makes peaceful and stable government far easier.

Constitutions change over time – even codified constitutions – but if there is constant intensity as to constitutional matters then this indicates a lack of consensus as to the parameters of a political system.

And that, in turn, indicates breakdowns in what matters are rightly in the realm of everyday politics: how those with power should be held to account, what laws should be made, what are the priorities for the executive, what should be the policies that should be implemented, and so on.

In the United States and the United Kingdom you can see the contradictions and polarisations in everyday political matters, with overbearing partisanship and constant hostility and confrontation.

This is not good.

And this is why constitutional excitement is a symptom of wider political failure.

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Personally, I rather enjoy constitutional excitement – with all the sardonic glee of a Brummie Wednesday Addams (or should that be Wednesbury Addams?).

 

Some people, as a butler once said to a batman, like to see the world burn.

 

But it really is not good for a healthy political system.

Politics should be exciting, but constitutional law should not be.

Constitutional law should be dull.

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A bad day in court for Rudolph Giuliani – the possible significance of his inability to answer one important question from the judge

18th November 2020

Yesterday Rudolph Giuliani appeared in a Pennsylvania court, on behalf of the Trump campaign, seeking to somehow challenge the presidential election result for that state.

According to the superb live-tweeting of that hearing by various American lawyers and journalists, it would appear that day in court did not go well for Giuliani.

The law suit itself has not yet been dismissed – no doubt because any sensible judge will want in such a case to have robust reasoning in their judgment, showing they have both addressed every arguable legal point and weighed each piece of supposed evidence.

(This is in turn because an inevitable (attempt to) appeal is part of the process.)

But what I want to focus on with this post is one painful – indeed excruciating – reported exchange between the judge and Giuliani.

(Click into those tweets to see them as part of exemplary threads of legal reportage.)

Here Giuliani was plainly bluffing.

He had no idea what level of scrutiny should be applied, and so he tried to wing it.

*

It is a predicament that any lawyer with courtroom experience will recognise.

In England, for example, many lawyers will have their own story about when they are instructed to go to court to apply for the ‘usual order’ only to be asked by the judge as to what order that might be and the hapless lawyer did not know.

It is an experience that should only happen once to a lawyer, if it happens at at all.

This is because the basic requirements of any court room advocacy are to know (a) exactly what order or other remedy you are asking for and (b) the applicable test to be applied by the court in granting that order or other remedy.

If you know nothing else, that is what you should always know before you open your mouth as an advocate.

In this case, Giuliani – an experienced former prosecutor, and (it would seem) the personal lawyer of the President of the United States – did not actually know the applicable test to be applied by the court in considering what he and his client were asking for.

In this particular case – what was the level of scrutiny to be applied by the court?

His inability to answer this is the sort of awkward pratfall that will cause any litigator or advocate to wince.

But what explains this inability?

Especially that, for all his many apparent political faults, Giuliani is an experienced lawyer and not a stupid person.

*

In the circumstances, there seems two plausible explanations.

The first is that there seems to be no sincere interest by Giuliani and other Trump lawyers in the litigation process as an end in itself.

The only sense the litigation makes is that it is for a non-litigation goal, to cause delay and disruption and to discredit the electoral process.

If so then filing a suit – any suit – will do and it would not matter much what the applicable law would be.

The second, which is related to the first, is that Giuliani came into the case very late, after a number of previous lawyers quit.

He simply did not have enough time to prepare or to be adequately briefed.

And why did the previous lawyers quit?

That is an interesting question, the answer to which we may never get a because of client confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.

But the most plausible answer – as I set out in this Twitter thread – is that the previous lawyers realised that they could not put forward their client’s case in a way that was consistent with their duties to the court.

As I also set out in that thread, all the other possible explanations do not seem to add up to what actually happened.

If this is the case, then only a lawyer unwilling or unable to see the problems with making a case for the requested remedy would be able to proceed.

And Giuliani, unburdened by knowing anything about the substance of the case that needed to be argued, would have been such a lawyer.

So, if this is correct, this is why yesterday Giuliani had such a bad day in court.

**

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How Donald Trump is being perfectly rational in refusing to concede – if you adopt his assumptions

17th November 2020

The ongoing refusal by Donald Trump to concede that he has lost the presidency election is dangerous and profoundly undemocratic.

It threatens the prospect of a peaceful transition of power, and it is delaying the incoming administration from being able to prepare for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and other problems.

There is nothing to be said for this refusal from any sensible and decent person.

Yet.

From Trump’s perspective, and adopting his assumptions, the refusal is a perfectly rational course of action.

Currently, Trump has within his power a thing that is valuable, a power that many would many want him to exercise.

He has a thing that many people want.

But if he exercises that power, he is left with little or nothing.

He would at a stroke become a lame duck president, easily disregarded.

And so he is going to hold on to that thing as long as he can.

If Trump concedes, he personally gains nothing – even if the United States polity gains an immense relief.

And so this is a grand exercise of political game theory: as long as Trump holds on he has the possibility of something in exchange for the valuable concession.

From a personal, selfish perspective what possible incentive is there for him to concede this valuable thing for nothing in return? 

There is none.

Of course, sensible and decent people would want Trump to act with public spirit, for the good of democracy and political stability, and for the benefit of public health and social peace.

But for Trump, these considerations are alien, as his considerations are alien to us.

His assumptions are entirely selfish and self-serving, and on those assumptions, what he is doing is what a rational actor would do in his predicament.

And this is the key to understanding Trump: the constant pursuit of leverage.

Trump is, in effect, like a video game character forever leaping from seesaw to seesaw.

Of course, he has only until 20 January 2021 to play this game.

For unless something extraordinary happens, his term ends by automatic operation of law.

But the potential disruption of two months without concession is immense and he knows it, and so he is playing it for all its worth.

This is perhaps a perfect example of a thing being illustrated by the manner of its departure.

For while Trump does not concede, he retains power, attention and money; he can generate income; he can promote possibility of running again; he keeps a hold over Republicans in Congress; and he can even seek a deal in return for the concession.

From his perspective it would be irrational for him to concede.

Trump may be better understood as a supposed business person, going from – and then reneging on – deal after deal, than as a politician.

Again, the constant pursuit of leverage.

Will he concede before 20 January 2021?

Maybe, though only if it suits him.

But it may also suit him to maintain and promote an ‘undefeated’ brand.

In any case, we should always be careful about dismissing unpleasant politics as ‘weird’, ‘bizarre’ or ‘mad’ – you may instead be dealing with perfectly rational behaviour but on very different assumptions.

The surprise is not that Trump is refusing to concede when defeated, but that any of us ever thought he would.

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‘Why we need to stop talking about a written constitution’ – my November 2020 column for Prospect magazine

15th November 2020

My column this month for Prospect magazine is on something I have wanted to write about for some time.

It is about the issue which both dominates and ruins constitutional discussion in the United Kingdom: the topic of a ‘written constitution’.

Whenever there is some constitutional calamity, the instant – knee-jerk – response of many liberals and progressives is to demand a ‘written constitution’.

And that is where their response also then ends; it is the entirety of their reaction.

As such it is not so much a way of thinking about constitutional issues in the United Kingdom, but an excuse for not thinking about them.

In my Prospect column I set out various reasons why this preoccupation with demanding a written (more correctly, codified) constitution is misguided: 

– written constitutions are not inherently liberal and progressive, and even those which purport to be so may not guarantee rights and freedoms in practice;

– there is no plausible path for the United Kingdom to get to an entrenched constitution, absent a war, invasion or similar – and even if there was, the process would still be hijacked by an executive eager to strengthen its powers and privileges;

– the subject is a distraction from putting in place actual reforms to the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.

For many this may seem like a heresy or a blasphemy, so wedded are they to all constitutional conversations having to be about their hobby-horse.

Others will say that somehow we can spend our finite time for discussing constitutional issues on both particular reforms and idealistic projections.

But as we get drawn again and again into this A-level essay topic of an issue, real constitutional changes are not taking place that could and should be taking place.

And so, although I realise the Prospect column is provocatively titled:  I aver that it is time for us to stop talking about a written constitution.

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The departure of Dominic Cummings

14th November 2020

Dominic Cummings is a genius at politics but was a failure in government about policy.

And this is because politics and policy are fundamentally different.

For example, politics can be linear while (good) policy will tend to be complex.

The approach of Cummings to the 2016 referendum and the 2019 general election was to be focused and unfussed about niceties and conventions and indeed the truth.

‘Take Back Control’

‘Get Brexit Done’

And so on, and many other statements, including those written on the side of a bus.

There are many things that one can and should object to in this electoral ruthlessness but it worked – twice.

Policy, on the other hand, is not (easily) amenable to such rush jobs.

Cummings believes, wrongly, that grand projects were easy, as long as you approached them with the right attitude.

On his blog, for example, he wrote about “the history of the classified programme to build ICBMs and the way in which George Mueller turned the failing NASA bureaucracy into an organisation that could put man on the moon. The heart of the paper is about the principles behind effective management of complex projects. These principles are relevant to Government, politics, and campaigns.” (Emphasis in original.)

He also published a series of posts on the unrecognised simplicities of effective action“, including this 31 page paper.

Such stuff must have been interesting and exciting to write.

But the examples he used were not transferrable, even if those examples were accurately understood to begin with.

And when faced with two immense policy challenges in government: the departure of United Kingdom from the European Union and the coronavirus pandemic, the heady precedents of the Manhattan Project and putting men on the moon turned out not to be that useful.

Successful policy making is hard and it can rarely (if ever) be done just by making strident demands from the centre and upsetting (in both senses of the word) all those on who you depend to implement policy.

And, as Cummings has said many times, the current planning and public procurement regimes may be cumbersome and problematic – but disregarding them so as to make decisions and award contracts with no safeguards against abuse is no solution to those problems.

The news yesterday is that Cummings has left government, though it is not clear the extent to which he will carry on ‘working from home’.

He had everything a policy blogger could have ever have wanted credibility (after those two electoral victories), a place in the centre, direct access to the prime minister, and a large majority.

He even had immense policy challenges in Brexit and Covid to which he could apply and show off his policy prowess.

But it did not work out, and his substantive policy achievements were such that they could fit in a cardboard box.

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Remembering the departure of a government adviser in 1989 – the resignation of Sir Alan Walters and its consequences

13th November 2020

Once upon a time there was a controversial government adviser in Downing Street.

The controversy was not just about clashes of personalities, though that was certainly also present.

The controversy was in respect of competing visions of the UK and its place within the (then) European Economic Community.

On one hand the adviser, and the prime minister whom he was directly advising, believed that both economics and common sense meant that the United Kingdom should not participate in the exchange rate mechanism (ERM).

Sterling should float freely so as to find its own level, as one could not ‘buck the market’.

On the other hand the Treasury, headed by a chancellor who later (and ironically) was to become a Brexiter, wanted the United Kingdom to be part of the ERM – even though it was plain that the ERM was (and was intended to be) a prelude to monetary union.

(If memory serves, the proposed name of the new currency was still then ecu – the European Currency unit – rather than euro.)

And so what was on one level a clash of personalities – which was lapped up like milk by the newspapers of the time – was supercharged by it also being about a fundamental disagreement about UK and its place in the EEC (now European Union) project.

It was this split and row that, more than the then prime minster’s famous Bruges speech (which was actually quite mild in content) that perhaps marked the start of the divisions in the Conservative party that continued for another thirty years, up to and beyond Brexit.

The adviser was, of course, Sir Alan Walters, and the prime minister and chancellor were Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson respectively; and the date was 1989.

Walters was forced to resign, as did Lawson, and – in a sequence of events which flowed from those two resignations, Thatcher herself resigned the following year.

At about this time United Kingdom also entered the ERM, despite the misgivings of Thatcher and her supporters.

And when, with Black Wednesday in 1992, those sceptical of the ERM believed themselves vindicated when the United Kingdom abruptly had to leave the mechanism.

That sense of vindication then fortified and informed what was then called ‘Euro-scepticism’ at each stage of the development of the EEC into the EU and beyond.

Here it was significant that the Maastricht treaty was negotiated, signed and ratified around the same time.

And so those who sought to ‘push’ UK into the ERM were seen by Euro-sceptics as the same as those who promoted the integration of EU more generally, and so Black Wednesday was seen as discrediting the wider European project.

Thatcher and Walters were seen by ‘Euro-sceptics’ as having been ‘proved right about Europe’.

(I recall all this, as I was a Euro-sceptic at the time too.)

Now, as I type this, there is another row in Downing Street about an adviser, which is in part about a clash of personalities and in part also about the basis of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EEC/EU.

It may well be that the current drama will be inconsequential, but such dramas – as in 1989 – can also be momentous in their consequences and implications.

And this especially may be the case as the United Kingdom is only days away from ending the Brexit transition period with or without a deal and in the midst of a pandemic emergency.

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