Walking up the down escalator
A far more insightful columnist than me once observed how politics is like walking up the down escalator. As soon as you stop to admire your progress, so you head back down again.
Now that we’ve been presented with an EU deal, a referendum date and all the attendant pandemonium, I suspect David Cameron is experiencing a backwards sensation as he grapples with the law of unintended consequences.
There may only a handful of dissidents in his cabinet, but the Brexit tendency can hardly be described as a splinter group among the wider Conservative membership. The party is hugely divided and likely to stay that way whatever the outcome.
Usual suspects in the right-wing press feel that the prime minister has badly miscalculated popular feeling.
According to one journalist writing over the weekend, Cameron thought his party was looking for excuses to stick with the status quo. Instead, all the protracted negotiation has done is to remind vaguely pro-EU punters just how much they dislike the way Brussels strings out matters – and usually to its own advantage.
Well, political history is littered with smart moves which hindsight later labelled bad judgement.
Normal times would have the Labour front bench smirking on the sidelines over Conservative disunity. Yet as most people would agree, these are far from being normal times.
Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow cabinet have yet to resolve their own stark disagreements over the nuclear deterrent in general and a Trident renewal programme in particular.
No-one at the time of writing this has stormed out of Downing Street in protest at the EU deal, whereas it seemed just a few weeks ago that Labour’s offices in Westminster should be fitted with revolving doors.
Things have since calmed down but only because Corbyn’s detractors apparently believe the Labour leader’s considerable mandate will be a lot shakier when the party underperforms at Scottish, Welsh elections and London elections.
Just like the Conservatives are rehearsing long-standing ideological differences over Europe, so Labour is rediscovering debates that were effectively submerged under New Labour. Redefining social democracy is going to be a long journey and a fraught one.
Both leaders are finding their once plentiful options for manoeuvre getting increasingly limited by the parameters they themselves introduced. If Cameron wins the referendum he will still be hobbled by events and his party. If Corbyn wins the internal argument for nuclear disarmament, he consigns his party to near-perpetual opposition.
Meanwhile don’t be fooled into thinking that Boris Johnson’s declaration in favour of leaving the EU has anything to do with the national interest.
What we’re looking at here is a bit of DIY succession-planning. The London Mayor will be quite happy to be on the losing side in the referendum if it enables him to be regarded as the more Eurosceptic candidate should he face off against George Osborne in the final leadership vote.
It might be a tough life on the escalator but there’s still plenty trying to get on it.
Waving the flag for the city
Congratulations are in order to the various partners who ensured that Swansea once again qualifies for the prestigious Purple Flag Award.
This national accolade, given by the Association of Town and City Management, can only be obtained by demonstrating the right levels of management and good practice that combine to ensure an entertaining, diverse, enjoyable and safe night out.
The award will be celebrated with a Purple Flag Weekend this autumn – designed to coincide with the beginning of the Swansea International Festival. It should be fun.
For the record, I have to say that I feel considerably safer walking in Wind Street on a Friday night than driving in Uplands Square. The experience of having a reveller drape himself over my car bonnet, just as I was pulling away from a zebra crossing, is not an experience I want to repeat anytime soon. I hope someone takes note.
Trading on confusion
I can’t say as I have any strong feelings about Sunday Trading. No amount of junk mail from various commercial pressure groups is going to change that either.
At present, shops with more than 3,000 sq. ft. floor space can only open their doors on a Sunday for six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm. Transgressors face a fine of up to £50,000 for each breach.
There’s little common ground between proponents of more flexible retail arrangements and those who argue that family life should be the main consideration, along with continued protection for small corner shops that are exempt from regulations.
The government’s cunning plan is to transfer responsibility for deciding opening hours to local authorities.
Unsurprisingly, none of the council leaders I’ve contacted have the acquisition of these powers anywhere on their list of priorities, especially if enforcement resources aren’t part of the package.
Another case of UK ministers confusing devolution with dumping.