Monday, 27 February 2017

What is the meaning of Copeland and Stoke?

Sometimes we get stuff wrong. Well, quite a lot of the time actually. But speculation - even inaccurate speculation - is part of how we learn. So it is with the UK Labour Party's loss of Copeland in Cumbria, and the swing against the party recorded in Stoke-on-Trent Central. We said that Labour probably wouldn't lose either seat. History was against such an outcome. The data said that serving governments just don't win by-elections against the official Opposition. They certainly don't in the seventh year of an austerity regime that has just spent months tearing itself apart over Brexit. You know what? Theresa May's Conservatives did it. They had a phenomenally good night, not only taking Copeland for the first time since the 1930s (above), but blunting the United Kingdom Independence Party's challenge in Stoke too. There shouldn't be any champagne left within a five-mile radius of Conservative Central Office. We said it couldn't happen. It did. Sorry.

It's time now, therefore, to turn to what those results mean. First, Labour's good news. UKIP probably aren't going to smash their way through Labour's heartlands in the same way that the Scottish National Party have done in Scotland. They had a pretty torrid time of it in Stoke, with their leader battered by a string of allegations that he had been, well... not entirely measured in everything he had said. Their vote went up only a tiny bit, in a seat which had voted heavily for Leave in the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. Their vote fell in Copeland. They're not going to be taking many Labour seats any time soon. Their brand is just too toxic. The entire reason for choosing them on the ballot is rapidly diminishing as Mrs May steals all their ideas. Their pivot from seeking Conservative votes, to wooing Labour defectors, just seems too crude. Her Majesty's Opposition is going to be Labour's title for as far as the eye can see.

The really depressing thing for Labour comes when we look at why that is. It's because the Conservatives did so well. UKIP weren't able to persuade Conservatives to vote tactically for them in Stoke, where Labour's vote share was actually lower than in Copeland. The Conservatives outstripped their recent performances in both seats, confirming that they really are riding as high in the polls as it appears. In fact, given that the Copeland swing was bigger than that implied by polls (part of the reason we thought that Labour would probably cling on there), opinion polling might still be rather underrating them. 

It is very, very hard to get across just how unusual the Copeland gain is, and just how potentially frightening it is for Labour. Governments have increased their by-election vote share only seven times since 1970: two of those occasions rolled along last Thursday night. It was the first time the Government has seen its vote rise in two simultaneous by-elections since 1954. That Copeland result was the single biggest rise in a government's by-election vote since 1966. Yes, there have been government gains from the principal Opposition party since the Second World War. But Mitcham and Morden, in 1982, was really down to the split between Labour and the new Social Democratic Party, since the defeated incumbent had moved from the former to the latter. Yes, in 1953 Sunderland South went blue, but you could explain that by reference to a Liberal intervention where they had been no such Liberal candidate in 1951. There was Brighouse and Spenborough in 1960, but there the Conservatives hauled in a tiny majority that had amounted to only 47 votes in the 1959 General Election. As Matt Singh of the Number Cruncher Politics website points out, you have to go back to 1878 to see anything really comparable to this Labour debacle.

Now Copeland is a special place. The nuclear industry is critically important to its economy, and Trident is important in the south of the seat. No doubt that hurt a party led by Jeremy Corbyn, with decades of opposition to the nuclear industry and nuclear weapons behind him. But the really scary thing for Labour is not the industrial mix in Copeland. It's the class mix. It's quite a working-class seat, and the party that sees itself as standing up for those people's interests and ideas just lost it - badly. Working class voters have been drifting away from Labour since the early 2000s, of course, but the trend of disillusionment and disengagement now seems to be accelerating. Take a look at the very latest YouGov opinion poll (opens as PDF), and you'll see that the Conservatives lead Labour in the C2DE social class category by ten percentage points (38 per cent to 28 per cent). Labour are just nine points ahead of UKIP with these voters. They're filing out of the Labour tent. Gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, but steadily, lots of traditional Labourites are just switching off. The new model Labour Party always tried to claim that it might be able to win elections by raising turnout. That looks a distant, forlorn prospect right now. Reader, we're prepared to bet that turnout in (by then ex-) Labour areas will be low indeed by 2020.

What did we say, back in January? Well, this: if Labour did lose one, and especially both, of these seats 'they probably face a defeat that cannot even be described as a catastrophe. Such a result would be a sign of impending cataclysm: the opening of a political black hole from which there may be no escape'. Now that might be a bit overcooked, actually, especially given UKIP's complete failure to move forward on any front. But there is now at least the possibility, at one end of the bell curve, of an actual Labour meltdown. Mr Corbyn is in all likelihood going nowhere. He's entrenched as leader, and he can't be removed. He's ludicrously unpopular overall, and he's dragging down his party, though among better-off Britons Labour isn't doing quite as badly as it is amongst those aforementioned C2DEs, and it's at least holding out in London and some other big cities. Eyewitness accounts in Stoke back up the numbers: among young people and students, Corbyn-Labour is pretty popular. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of such voters to prevent a really thumping marmalisation in a General Election, and in the age of Individual Electoral Registration, all-expat voting and a rapidly ageing population, their significance is about to depreciate rather than increase.

This is not the likeliest outcome, by any means, but a 1931-style rout cannot now be ruled out. Flying blind with a comms team that seems able only to speak in a weird kind of pseudo-English fixated on 'bargain-basement tax havens' (whatever that means), and which spends its limited time on this earth threatening parents with their own children's death, is... sub-optimal. As they put up utter neophytes for trial by interview, and go on being 'directed' by a 'Shadow Cabinet' totally unmatched to the task before them, the risk of Labour's complete annihilation seems to grow by the day, if not by the hour. A General Election campaign might be fronted by Mr Corbyn losing his rag with reporters and John McDonnell shouting at imaginary plotters, backed up by amateur dilettantes unable to get even the most basic press release out in a timely fashion. If that does happen, the Conservatives could well end up with a 1930s-style clean sweep. Copeland is a warning: a clear siren of danger in the blue skies and the sharp air of February. All democrats - all citizens who believe in a viable multi-party system, in electoral competition, and in good governance - should listen. Heed the warning, before it's too late.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The National Health Service is going to need more money

All the attention recently has been on grand strategy. What's Donald Trump going to do with the American Presidency? Who's going to win the French Presidential election, and might a Le Pen victory break up the Euro and even the European Union? What's the future for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? What should NATO's relationship with Russia look like? Where should Britain look for its trade partners now it's leaving the European Union? All critical questions - all worthy of the obsessive comment that they've attracted.

Little noticed amidst the great storm of populism's great disruption has been a mounting drumbeat of trouble in Britain's public services. They've been able to bear the brunt of public service spending restraint for a long time: partly because in the initial stages there are always some cuts to be found, partly because of the commitment and professional ingenuity of public sector workers, and partly because the Government slowed down the pace of cuts after 2012/13. But now the knife has passed through the muscle and - after a pause - is poised to hit the bone.

Take the National Health Service. There's scarcely anything that Britons as a whole agree about these days, but access to good modern health care, free at the point of use, is probably one of them. Here Theresa May's Conservative government, so popular overall for its approach to Europe - and the paucity of any alternative - is about to run into trouble. The NHS is being asked to save £22 billion over the next few years, and that just looks undeliverable. These 'efficiency savings' will involve in many parts of the country a radical transformation of hospital provision, which in some areas will be scaled back in ways that voters perhaps have not yet quite realized. The NHS has been rising up voters' lists of unprompted concerns for some time, and it's now started to leap right up to the top of citizens' concerns. It's the most-named as being one the most important issues in the latest Ipsos-Mori figures, and it's the second-most critical single issue after Brexit itself.

Why? Well, partly because it's all very well to say that you're going to reshape hospital services, get more efficient, and collect services together at one single hub. But when you come to look at what that means on the ground, it's going to be pretty unpopular. Mrs May is finding out about all that right now, as she tries (and fails) to defend the closure of local maternity services in Cumbria - much to the opposition of local people about to vote in the Copeland by-election. Then there's the question of what you're going to do once you close all those beds. If there was a consistent and ordered plan for social care, and for looking after elderly and vulnerable Britons, all this would make sense. But there isn't. The Government does not seem to have the merest clue what to do about the ageing population and its likely increasing need for care at home and in the community. There's nowhere near the resource in Britain's health system to cope now, let alone when hospitals try to push demand back onto local authorities who hardly now know which way to turn. Britain's recent winter health service beds crisis is just one more proof of this outstanding fact.

Take a look at the historical averages. Britain has actually spent rather little on health care since the Second World War, relying on a notoriously tight-fisted Exchequer for the money needed when other European countries had smaller, more multifarious legions of social insurance contributions to press into use. But, usually, inputs went up. Sometimes they went up fairly quickly, as in the 1960s between the Hospital Plan of 1961 to the spending cuts that followed devaluation and the economic crises of 1967-68. There was a bit more money at times during the Conservatives' long period in office between 1979 and 1997, notwithstanding the tough, painful, often inefficient 'savings' of the early 1980s and 1990s. Then there was a massive, massive splurge under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, bringing satisfaction with the NHS to record highs, and cancer treatment (among many other parts of the field) to an impressive and modern pitch that UK citizens probably thought they'd never see. Now? The Government is forecasting a pitiful, halting crawl forward into the next Parliament. It's not enough. It's never been enough before, and it certainly won't be in age of new technology, novel techniques and new drugs.

Whitehall and Westminster's spending plans simply won't be enough politically either, as the winter beds crisis partly caused by social care's incapacity and the Government's problems in Copeland demonstrate. Already the politically-damaging images have begun to turn up. People lying on trolleys in corridors. Babies sleeping on a couple of plastic chairs. At the moment, yes, the official Opposition is totally useless, and can barely get a press release out, let alone hold the Government to account on these great issues. If you think shouting 'evil Tories want to privatize the NHS' amounts to real opposition, you'll be surprised when there's a Conservative landslide. Very few people will now be surprised by that outcome, but it could change. Labour with a new leader, a new communications team, a more competent grip of language and style, could be a threat to the Government, even in 2020, and certainly in 2025. If the NHS is falling apart at the seams, just as it appeared to be in the mid-1990s, Labour can grasp that lifeline. It won't bring them back to power on its own, but it will grant them the oxygen they need to survive as a national party of government.

The NHS is going to need more cash. Chancellor Philip Hammond has a bit more money at the moment, given that the economy is a little bit stronger, post-Brexit, than some commentators believed it would be. He's going to have to spend some of his reported £12bn windfall. But that's just going to be a short-term fix. Unless British politicians as a whole can establish some sort of cross-party agreement that will last through many Parliaments - settling the vexed question of social care, building up some form of social backing for and emotional capital in more NHS spending - then that money will just be a sticking plaster.

Monday, 13 February 2017

The internet in the age of illiberalism

It will not have escaped your notice that the age of liberal globalisation, which began some time in the mid- to late-1970s, is now under attack from every angle. What seems to be happening is akin to Europe's shift away from popular and liberal nation-building, and towards nativist populism and protectionism, duringthe 1860s and 1870s. The phenomenon was a little delayed in the United States - but even the US got there in the end. Those developments were generally thought to be in retreat by the outbreak of the First World War, but at the time they created a whole new wave of customs barriers, bureaucracy, statism, spying, officiousness and national 'competition' at every level, from the scramble for colonies in Africa to the scrabble for state-led 'competitiveness' in terms of health and education: national health insurance, of course, proved alluring to governments worried about the vigour of their so-called racial 'stock' just as much as it appealed to socialists worrying about equality.

Economic globalisation has stalled or slowed, rather than gone backwards - so far. But what is really noticeable is the return of the state, not in the optimistic, expansive, join-the-dots, one-stop-shop guise of the 1990s, but in the paternalistic, meddling, micro-managing format imagined as a key part of Theresa May's premiership. Third Way approaches in the Blair-Jospin-Schroeder era were optimistic, and they possessed to some extent an eschatology - that sense of an ending that posited that governments were going somewhere and had an end point in mind. As befits Mrs May's Conservative (and Tory) roots, and to a lesser extent Angela Merkel's Christian Democracy, what we are looking at today is a less rosy (though still historically very recognisable) creed, a day-by-day, get-through-the-challenges pragmatism of intervention that would push meddling forward without end: a new sheltering of the mind, perhaps, but also, and more seriously, a creeping protectionism of the soul.

That's where western states' increasing authoritarianism and moral monitoring - emphasising especially electronic and online policing - come in. The internet, in its 1990s guise a ceaseless, restless and above all inevitable progenitor of worldwide progress, has become something to fear or circumscribe, perhaps to all our detriment and danger.

The UK Government's recent Investigatory Powers Act - and its Digital Economy Bill, currently coming to the end of its Parliamentary passage - are good cases in point. There's no doubt that law enforcement agencies have a tricky job balancing citizens' right to privacy with the state's duty of care. Nor that new social media technologies are emerging all the time, and that Britain's legislative superstructure had failed to keep up.

But consider the drawbacks of such legislation, of which there are many - disturbing in practice, as well as in principle. Bulk interception of your private data is now permissible whether or not you are suspected of anything at all. Bulk collection of your browsing data is mandated for twelve months - not in itself perhaps a catastrophic element of these laws, but a standing danger to personal security if hackers (especially foreign governments) take a keen interest in any individual or group. It won't just be the security services and the police having a good old root around your emails, by the way: the Department of Health, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the Home Office can request access as well. Trust them to keep it all under lock and key? No, neither do we. The Government, and Internet Service Providers, are by the way deeply uncertain about how to do all this safely: given these concerns at the highest levels in Whitehall and industry, some alarm is probably warranted. It's hard to see, in the new intelligence landscape, how any of this is particularly wise from a national security point of view either. If you're reading this in the UK, other powers within the UK's long-established security network might well now have access to your data - including the USA. That is not, shall we say, an entirely encouraging thought in the present political environment.

The whole basis of bulk data interception and retention is also deeply contested: not only is the Investigatory Powers Act as finally enacted a bit of a mess, but the UK government's similar recent practice in this sphere has recently been ruled illegal anyway by the European Court of Justice. Now, yes, Britain is heading out of the European Union, but a new Great Repeal Bill is going to incorporate all that European statute in British law, so governments will find no escapes or short cuts that way for some years to come. Invasive, unwise, potentially unsafe, a potential threat to individual and national security: this is the character of a top-heavy state in the new age of conservative intervention.

The Digital Economy Bill that's currently before the House of Lords has the same inherent flaws, and the bureaucratic nightmare you might create if you pushed it to its logical conclusions is if anything even worse. There seems to be no limit to the state's ambition in this particularly baggy and poorly-drafted legislation: data can be thrown around Whitehall for the purposes of looking at citizens' 'contribution to society', or their 'health and wellbeing', whatever that all means. There's an apparently absurd and unworkable ambition in there to classify and censor every single video on the internet: yes, every single one. All very laudable on the surface of course, but as instructive as everything else that's going on at the moment about the nature of the stern and judgemental state we're in: proposals for 'migrant lists' assembled by employers, region-by-region immigration rules that would see migrants having to show their papers in different parts of the kingdom, global threats to web neutrality and non-proprietary systems that would see the whole online world slow down to a crawl.

As the liberal-global era appears to recede, and the contest between populist and conservative globalisation begins to remove its potential as a potential category of choice at all (while social democracy struggles even to gain a hearing), this sort of format might be one we just have to get used to. So the questions before public policy might no longer all be about economic intervention and resource redistribution, less about equality of outcome or opportunity, and more about the efficacy or otherwise of security versus liberty; state morality versus secularism; borders, policing, regulation and control against that fissiparous, ragged yet energetic spirit with which we've all lived since the late 1960s. It is a doleful prospect, displayed via different histories in - for instance - Hungarian and Polish politics revolving around just those axes. But that's where we've been before, and it might well be where we're heading now.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Short-term noise: long-term challenges

Sometimes it’s hard to keep your eye on the ball. As the news flak flies about, and event piles up on event, the idea that you can stand back, take a breath and have a think becomes more and more alien. Scrolling down your smartphone alerts, the longer-term trends are hard to keep a handle on. But everyone needs to do that. Beyond the Article 50 shenanigans in Parliament is the ultimate shape of a trade deal between the UK and her future partners and rivals; behind the French and German elections is the question of how Europe defends itself – economically as well as militarily – if the Americans will not; beneath the populist turn in electoral politics lurks a series of very nasty questions about our culture, our shared public space, our very definitions of state and nation. 

That’s why it’s handy to have a historian or two on tap. Not too many, mind: we hold no brief to advocate the mass production of history experts. But you just can’t grasp what’s really going on without a long-term perspective. That might come from disciplines far removed from academic History – from Sociology, Statistics, even theoretical Physics – but it has to come from somewhere if public policy is even to begin answering the really big questions in front of us. Here’s a few, in no particular order, to which we might start raising our eyes.

Why is our labour productivity so abysmal? The UK’s productivity per worker has not moved upwards much since the crisis of 2007-2008 (above, courtesy of the Office for National Statistics page on this topic). That’s not a phenomenon limited to Britain, and indeed even Germany has suffered a sharp slowdown on this indicator, but it is particularly acute in terms of the British workforce. Diagnosing the problem is critical to any roster of solutions. Why has it happened? We’d be tempted to pinpoint long-term sociological trends – the role of chance in spreading inheritance around the system, rather than investing in the skill and endeavor you require if you don’t have any money passed down to you. But so sudden is the change, and so obvious the axe-blow to productivity’s upward drive, that the reasons look more proximate, more precise. Is it the blow to confidence, or the ultra-low interest rates that superseded very low rates as a reaction to the developed world’s economic heart attack? Is investment too low? Is the UK hunkered down in its retail sector bubble, hiding from the chill-but-clear winds of competition? Is the labour market so full of eager young people working long hours waiting tables – performing roles that are notoriously hard to capture in terms of any rising efficiency - that the UK just can't innovate all that much, or even picture the rising tide if it is there? Are wages just too low, too squeezed, even as the quality of the UK workforce rises? It’s hard to tell, and while all this remains difficult to pin down, we’re not going to be able to do much about it.

How can we overcome the new culture of risk? It won’t have escaped your notice that older voters have apparently decided to burn down the entire world. Oh, Brexit’s risky is it? Who cares, let’s have a go anyway. Allowing people to raid their pensions pots might force them to fall back on the welfare system? Whatever: let’s see the cash. What’s that you say? Young people need houses? I’d rather see a field out of my kitchen window, thank you very much. Now, we know that’s a very crude caricature and we’re sorry about that (we’re not, really): but if this goes on, the myth of a generational war of old against young will gain an ever-greater hold on our public life, and make governing much harder. What if average London house prices overtop one million pounds? What if Britain crashes out of the EU without a good deal, there’s a recession, and youth unemployment soars? What if the National Health Service buckles under the pressure of an ageing population that needs more and more help, while their younger relatives are too far away – working two or three jobs at once – to assist? Then there’ll be a war of the generations, all right. So the question here becomes: how can older Britons – indeed, not-so-young citizens across the developed world – be encouraged to think more squarely about their grandchildren's interests? Can they be coaxed, or will they need to be forced, to buy extra insurance for their residential care? Will the Government honour its pledge to cap care charges, so that ageing Britons can take up any extra strain by buying tailored packages to pay for unexpected costs? Will taxes on land and property – overwhelmingly owned by older people – have to go up to take the strain? How can their enormous store of goodwill and knowledge be tapped, helping to relieve the resentment caused by being treated as one of society’s appendages? Again, these are questions, and not answers, but they are at least probably the right questions.

Can we recapture our daring? Many of our problems are indicators of decline – warning signals from a tiring, conflicted, petty and distracted society that is rapidly becoming relatively poorer in the face of developing societies’ deep and sustained challenge. The very values on which democracy depends – a shared frame of reference, accepting at least the good will of your opponents’ arguments, the idea of rational betterment and step-by-step reform – are wobbling, just a little. So the question here becomes: how can we coax our respective political tribes to emerge from their deeply-dug trenches, to engage with each other on the basis that they at least mean well, and that they at least share the same rules? One way to do this might be infrastructure spending, long hoped-for as a point of contact between Congressional Democrats and the new Trump administration in the US – at least before their relations were placed in the deep freeze given the uproar over the President’s use of Executive Orders. Here in Europe, the toxic admixture of single currency politics, essentially preventing peripheral economies devaluing their currencies at the same time as fiscal and structural remedies for their ills are ruled, is a roadblock on progress. But there’s no reason why the EU regional funds can’t be vastly increased, in an era of probably-rising but still very low interest rates; there’s no reason why the UK cannot increasingly tap China’s vast need for investment, and build anew - as the country did in the Victorian era. What we need is the political will to punch through: to ignore the Nimbies and the vested interests, just as this week’s UK Government White Paper on Housing so obviously failed to do. It’s more than possible. Whether it will actually happen is more doubtful.

That’s just three of the key dilemmas before us. We could go on and on. If the US will not upheld the Paris Treaty on climate change, will China take up the challenge? How quickly does China want to step up, lead the world and keep the peace – especially in the South China Sea? Will automation steal more jobs and make the culture wars even more acute? The world of leaders and plots and caucuses really pales into insignificance when compared to these big historical questions. Keep these issues in mind, when the detail of events comes up at you. They’re not background noise. They’re the symphony.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Prime Ministers fly too close to the sun

Prime Ministers usually ride high at least once. So it was on Friday night, when Theresa May (above) looked in general to have pulled off a tricky mission on her trip to Washington, DC. The new US President, Donald Trump, is deeply, deeply disliked in Europe: Mrs May had to get close enough to him to keep dreams of a decent trade deal alive (and the Western security alliance on the road), while not alienating her own voters. When she walked out of the White House - and misguided, unfortunate handholding aside - she looked like she'd managed it. Taken together with a forceful speech on the likely speech of Britain's exit from the European Union, and a well-received address to US Republicans that even contained some shade and nuance, most observers were thinking: is it skill, or just luck, that keeps her bandwagon on the road? Whatever it was or is, everyone could do with some.

But that was Friday. By Saturday night, the visit looked like a burning car, overturned in the rear-view mirror as everyone tried to get out the neighbourhood. News of President Trump's ill-conceived and deeply counter-productive asylum and immigration Executive Orders had broken, to widespread protests across both the US and UK. That was bad enough. But Mrs May's refusal to come out against them during her visit to Turkey made the impression that she was hand-in-glove with a dangerous right-wing demagogue stick to her like oil from the aforementioned car wreck. Basically, diplomatic victory had turned to political defeat in not much over 24 hours.

Now Mrs May will get away with this one, if she learns her lesson: not to get quite so close, physically, politically, imaginatively - to The Donald. She's going to have to get pretty close, now that Britain's going for a complete and clean break with the EU, but cosying up itself has got to be off the agenda. Otherwise, she's going to get burned by every single stupid stunt, nasty mendacity and straight-out, burn-the-world nihilism he comes out with during the next three years and ten months. 

Mrs May doesn't need to worry too much at the moment. The main Opposition Labour Party isn't up to a pillow fight right now. If there was any real action, they'd disappear in a cloud of their own making. They don't even look like they want any power, let alone think that they should have power. But one day there'll be an opposition worth the name, and she will have to concern herself with what the voters think. In the meantime, there's that more amorphous beast to deal with: Conservative MPs, the views of party members and the deep, slow-to-change feelings of Middle England that lie behind them. If she allows the impression to gain a hold that she is leaden-footed, slow to react, not decisive in a crisis, it's feeling there will slip remorselessly away from her. Then she'll really be in trouble.

None of this comes as much of a surprise to historians. Prime Ministers have always walked a tightrope between success and failure. The gap between them is often much thinner - and the time taken to descend from one to the other much shorter - than you would think. Anthony Eden, elected in a landslide victory of his own in 1955? Humiliated by the catastrophic Suez Crisis in 1956, and bundled out of office, shunted onto a good long 'holiday', early in 1957. Harold Macmillan, again triumphant at the polls in 1959? By 1963, he was so distressed and wrung out personally, and his stock has plummeted so quickly amidst recession and a failure to get into the European Economic Community, that he announced his resignation to a stunned Cabinet that would happily have soldiered on with him as its leader.

You could play this game with all of them. Harold Wilson, swooping down decisively on the crisis when the Torrey Canyon oil tanker smashed into the Isles of Scilly off Cornwall in the spring of 1967, never recovered from his devaluation of sterling the following November. After three years defending sterling's parity, when he tried to make a virtue of its new dollar value, it just did not ring true: nothing was ever quite the same again. Edward Heath, triumphant in finally getting Britain into the EEC, brought low by the oil crisis in February 1974; Jim Callaghan, who skilfully brought country and party through the IMF loan and pegged inflation back, dragged down by the Winter of Discontent; it gets to them all in the end. Margaret Thatcher thought she could buck that tide, of course, but her own intransigence over Europe and the Poll Tax did for her; even after John Major won the unlikeliest of come-from-behind victories in the General Election of 1992, he faced his own devaluation catastrophe just five months later. Tony Blair's Iraq, and Gordon Brown's election-that-never-was, well, you know about them.

David Cameron? Well, when he stood on that table cheering on the Liberal Democrats' drubbing in May 2015, he thought he had finally secured a Parliamentary majority. Little did he know that he had replaced one set of herbivorous and harmless housemates with much, much more dangerous enemies: extreme Eurosceptic nationalists who were determined to bring him down at any cost, a mission in which they proved successful. 

Mrs May should take heed: one day, one of these sentences will apply to her. Something out there - maybe Trumpism, maybe Brexit if it turns out to be an economic disaster, more likely something completely different - will bring her down. The seeds of that fall from the sun will probably be planted at a moment when she feels most successful - closest to the heat and warmth of power itself, in fact. A bit like she probably did last Friday.

Are there lessons from all this? Well, beyond the injunction to get done what you want to do, as fast as you possibly can, while you have power, there might not be that many elements that can be anything like codified. One important point is that you will probably make your most important mistake at the moment of your greatest success, partly because of overconfidence, partly because of events pressing around you, possibly because no-one will say 'no' to you. Watch for that. But probably the deepest lesson is this: your days in No. 10 are numbered. They are probably short. Behave as you would want to see yourself when you look back. Because you're going to be looking back at these decisions for an awfully long time.