The greatest trick the EU ever pulled was convincing the world that it was ‘Europe’

I’ve always been struck by that line in The Usual Suspects where Kevin Spacey’s character quotes the old saying:

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist”

Religious or not, it’s a powerful statement. Its power lies in its inherent simplicity, a simplicity that makes you stop and question. For those who believe in the devil, it is a statement of terror. ‘People don’t even believe he exists, how can they know the true and cunning power being exerted upon them?’ For those who don’t, it makes you question. ‘If I don’t believe he exists…is it because he doesn’t exist…or because he has fooled me?’ Even if only momentarily, the power of the conundrum can jolt.

I started to realise very early on in the referendum campaign that, though not necessarily deliberately, the terms ‘EU’ or ‘European Union’ were being conflated with the term ‘Europe’. This is, of course, nothing new – for decades this conflation has been rife. But it started to matter seriously when the country was about to take a vote on it.

Now, the reason given is one of simplification. “Oh, you know what I mean when I say Europe.” But therein lies its power. Let’s just make it simpler…let’s just say Europe, it’s easier, ‘European Union’ is so cumbersome, ‘EU’ doesn’t really roll off the tongue…

All perfectly true. But let’s take a look at the two distinct terms.

‘Europe’ conjures up images of wonderful cheese, beautiful wine, fresh bread, trains that glide across serene countryside, alpine skiing, sandy beaches…it’s an emotional term.

‘European Union’, whether you’re for or against, puts one in mind of bureaucracy, not getting much done, huge expense, federalism, bullying of small nations, the migrant crisis…it’s a practical term.

During the campaign, I endlessly made this point, almost compulsively correcting the word ‘Europe’ with ‘European Union’, because it was important to me that we talked about the actual issue, rather than reaching for emotion. But I was drowned out. Much as many Leavers on television kept having to say “we won’t be leaving Europe, just the European Union”, I tried in vain to steer the argument toward accuracy, but it was no good. Being accurate was deemed to be simply providing a smokescreen in front of a deep seated hatred. The scoffing and the sliming was too overwhelming. The apparent effort it would take to change this language to be accurate was too much. But this is always a good sign that you’re right, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too worried.

And before I move on, that point is important. It is actually inaccurate to say that Britain is leaving Europe. Inaccurate. Not true. Lefties, I thought this was important to you?

Someone who really gets this distinction is one Jeremy Corbyn. Quiet as he is on his certain desire to leave the European Union (interesting that his followers don’t seem to mind this and let him get away with it, despite their almost worshipful adoration of the EU), he knows full well that Europe is not the same as the EU.

He gets it. His followers resolutely do not. And here is another point which I have been trying to make but cannot get through to anyone with…Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas CANNOT BE EXECUTED whilst Britain is in the European Union. It is impossible. Illegal. Not allowed. If you voted to Remain, but voted for renationalisation, protecting industries etc…you have cast two completely contradictory votes. And anyone claiming the EU can be reformed…well there really will be no convincing you.

It suits the monstrous EU to be called Europe. Much as it suits the wolf to be called Grandma. It knows that whilst people will look past its ugly associations and choose to hear German symphonies in their heads and smell French cheese in their nostrils whenever they talk about ‘Europe’, it is safe.

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist”.

The line was uttered by Kevin Spacey’s character, Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint. Well, that was who he said he was anyway.

Doesn’t really roll off the tongue though…does it?

UK General Election 2017 – PREDICTION

I haven’t had any chance to write for a week now due to the birth of my son, so I haven’t waded too much into the political fray, but I did want to quickly make my official predictions for the election whilst he is sleeping. I should point out very early on that these were my most recent electoral predictions:

 

US Election 2016

Trump to win the popular vote by a whisker

Clinton to win the Presidency by 40+ electoral college votes

 

EU referendum

Leave – 45%

Remain – 55%

 

UK General Election 2015

Hung Parliament with Labour the largest (but only just) minority party – Labour to form minority government.

 

So you will see that there is absolutely no need to put any stock into what I am saying. I have always followed the polls, which have in each case turned out to be a load of total nonsense.

For this election, the polls have been doing all sorts of funny things. What seemed like an inevitable Tory landslide has crept back to such a low point that even Tory insiders are rumoured to have put plans in place for a hung parliament. That being the case, I still don’t see anything other than a Tory victory, and given that a taboo seems to have been broken even in old mining towns for voting Tory, this could be a big one.

I would love to elaborate more, but alas there isn’t time. Not only will I be predicting the makeup of the next Parliament, I shall also throw in some social predictions as well. In those, I have much more confidence.

 

Party breakdown (in size order, 650 seats total)

Conservative and Unionist – 368

Labour – 210

Scottish National – 44

Northern Irish – 18

Liberal Democrat – 5

Plaid Cymru – 3

Green – 1

Speaker – 1

UKIP – 0

 

Social (and other) predictions

  1. Despite having barely made a peep about how the system works, there will be uproar over the rules and calls renewed for PR or a change to the voting system, because it’s “not fair”. This is inevitably only an issue once the party they want to win has lost.
  2. There will be widespread calls for “the old” to have their votes taken away from them. They will be chided and castigated and spoken about in the most horrid terms.
  3. Endless despair and misery will flood social media about “the kind of country this is”.
  4. The five stages of grief will be clearly identifiable for several days on social media.
  5. Jeremy Corbyn will continue as Labour leader.
  6. Many will claim that they have had enough and will be leaving the country. They will still vote in the 2022 election.
  7. Paul Nuttall will resign as UKIP leader.
  8. Tim Farron will resign as Lib Dem leader.
  9. Nicola Sturgeon will remain as SNP leader.
  10. A new Westminster leader for the SNP will be appointed after Angus Robertson has lost his seat to the Tories.

 

I’d love to add more but the day is nearly upon us. This is just a bit of fun. Being a non-partisan but politically engaged person has been fun this election. But I had fun in the run up to the referendum and post-vote was anything but. I expect the same this time around.

I am, however, very grateful that this time, rather than being sucked in to the vortex of wailing and gnashing of teeth that is online debate, I shall be able to put all that aside and focus on the new life that Zoya and I have brought into the world. A world that, I believe, is nowhere near as selfish and nasty as many will tell me it is.

In defence of Diane Abbott

On June 8th, Britain goes to the voting booths, and with the polls starting to narrow between the two major parties, the supposedly inevitable Labour wipeout is far from certain. Indeed, some Conservative sources are briefing that plans are even being made for a hung parliament. With an army of 700million 18-24 year olds primed and pumped to definitely get out of the house and definitely vote Labour, this seems like a sensible precaution to take.

A Labour victory would mean many things, not least of all Jeremy Corbyn taking the keys to Downing Street. What I can’t quite get my head around is Emily Thornberry as Foreign Secretary (although I could have easily said the same about Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson) and – worst of all – Diane Abbott as Home Secretary.

Ms. Abbott has, so far in this campaign, committed a series of excruciating gaffes. These are not isolated incidents, as she has a rich history of cringeworthy interviews in which she invariably comes across as smug, self-serving and completely unbothered about whether she is actually answering a question put to her.

However, she has been much derided for an interview she gave to Andrew Marr this week, derision which I think on the whole is not deserved. The whole clip can be found here and is definitely worth a watch. I want to examine this interview, and show why I think descriptions of a ‘car crash interview’ are well wide of the mark.

Marr opens with a question on why she should be trusted on security, to which she responds (after a brief diversion about Manchester, standard politics which any MP would open with) with some nonsense about having worked in the Home Office as a graduate trainee, apparently giving her the knowledge of “how it works on the inside”. But she then talks about her work with diverse communities and having been a working MP for 30 years, giving her the undoubted experience of seeing how the work of the Home Office affects her community. This is (eventually) a perfectly reasonable response.

He then moves on to chuck an old quote of hers about wanting to abolish MI5, her signature having been found on an early day motion calling for the “abolition of conspiratorial groups, not accountable to the British people”. She responds by saying that she wanted it to be reformed, it has now been reformed, and she would not call for its abolition now. Again, completely reasonable and a straight and clear answer. She even bats away Marr’s insinuation that “the old Diane Abbott has gone” by correctly asserting that it is not her that has changed, but MI5, allowing her to now support it.

The next point is around Abbott having voted “around 30 times against anti-terrorist legislation”. Now, this is one for me that I can’t stand hearing about. I hate it when it is used against Labour MPs, Tory MPs and Lib Dem MPs because it simply isn’t fair. It is also this kind of question and fear of its reprisals that turns perfectly intelligent and thoughtful MPs into self-serving, robotic lobby fodder. Legislation is very carefully crafted, often to try to trick or pressure opponents in a particular way, and so to boil down 30 (what would have been huge and wide ranging) pieces of legislation and use them to imply that Abbott is against anti-terror provisions is frustrating. She may have been wrong to vote against these, but we can’t know without examining each one carefully. Alas, not something that can be done in a 12 minute interview, but I would always urge you to look into these things further (and for complete integrity, do it for the Tories as well when they’re attacked in a similar way).

She makes this point brilliantly when Marr puts his next question, which relates to her having voted against proscribing Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation before 9/11. She calmly asks him if he has read the legislation he is referring to (he has). She explains that some on the list were, she thought, freedom fighters and dissidents in their countries, and so could not vote to proscribe them as terrorists. She may be right about this, she may be wrong, but it illustrates perfectly the issue with having one vote to cast on a wide variety of issues in one bill.

To give an extreme example, say you had to vote on a bill that was there to designate Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Lib Dem Party as terrorists, how would you vote? Does that mean you don’t think ISIS are terrorists? (Tory friends, this may not be a good example for you…)

After he puts it to her that “no list is perfect, but this is a pretty good list”, she hits back by explaining that she couldn’t possibly vote for it whilst she considered some of those groups to be legitimate dissidents and voices of opposition in their countries. Whether you think she was right or wrong to vote the way she did, she correctly points out that, “you have to give people credit for thinking about how they vote”. This is a more important quality in an MP than blindly following their party whips, and I have huge respect for it.

We move into murkier waters regarding support for the IRA. I won’t get into too much detail here because I could write for ages, but suffice to say I am not with her (or Corbyn) on this one – I do consider her to have supported the IRA against the British state, and with a group that brought such horrible violence, I don’t think this is defensible. The nonsense about her concurrent change of hairstyle and views are obviously ridiculous, but she dodges the real question, claiming simply that she “has moved on”. This is slippery and doesn’t look good. The only dark spot in an otherwise solid interview.

Next, it is put to her that Amber Rudd “spends 2 hours a day” signing orders for various activities requested by the police – would she do the same as Home Secretary? Her response is, for me, perfect. “If it’s put in front of me and there is sufficient evidence, of course I will.” What more could we ask of her?

On the question of tech companies like WhatsApp that provide communication tools, I couldn’t be more opposed to her. She peddles the same nonsense as her opposite numbers across the house about the companies working with the British government to access messages. She recognises there are ‘issues’ with end to end encryption, but she seems to misunderstand (perhaps deliberately) the nature of the thing…it is either encrypted or it isn’t. If you let the state access it, other people could do as well. I oppose any moves to open these things up, and her use of the Manchester attack to push this point is naked political posturing using a tragedy – something she has had no issue with accusing her opponents of. However, this is her view and it is clear and concise. We are free to disagree, and I do.

The issue of DNA databases is raised, with her apparent opposition to having even guilty people’s DNA on the database put to her. She explains that she has had children in her constituency who have never even been convicted of any crime who have their DNA on there. This seems to be a gross violation and, certainly in that case, I would support her opposition.

The rest of the interview focuses on police numbers (during which she actually knows her figures – a refreshing change) and how she would run the Home Office as a black person (how that is relevant I have no idea, and to her credit she bats it back by saying she would run it as best she could, same as with everything else).

Overall, this was a creditable performance and, despite having disagreements with her on several points, she came across as reasonable, professional and competent. I would have my misgivings about seeing her in the Home Office, but following this, some of those have disappeared.

She has been roundly criticised on social media for this interview, but I cannot see why. Corbyn and Abbott do have serious questions to answer about their past IRA support, but that can’t be the only thing we take into consideration about them, especially given how long ago it was. If we don’t allow people to change and adapt, we only reinforce our own prejudices and push people into corners, and that’s not something we should seek.

She has, in the past, been evasive, slippery and simply ridiculous plenty of times. But those times when she isn’t need to be credited. It is only be doing this that we encourage our elected representatives to do it more often. If this is seen as a car crash interview, why should she ever feel like she should be clear or straightforward with us again? We must give credit where and when it is due. This applies to ALL parties and ALL MPs. If we don’t, all we will get is an army of dreary, whipped Michael Fallons.

And we would deserve it.

Syria, Tomahawks and Red Ken

Let’s just take a step back

One of the running jokes on Have I Got News For You is Ian Hislop sarcastically inserting the word ‘allegedly’ in front of outrageous or salacious claims (often true). A nod to ‘the lawyers’ is never too far behind. It’s a running joke because of the face he will pull, or the tone he will employ. However, the joke is based on the very real risk of stating outright on the BBC something which is, or could be, false. This would open them up to quite serious libel charges, and be a strict violation of BBC rules.

I mention this only because there has been a distinct lack of this word appearing recently, particularly in relation to this ‘alleged’ gas attack in Syria. I was amazed to awaken this morning to the hosts of the Today programme stating that Assad has ‘gassed his own people’ as though it was a verifiable fact. Is it? When was this confirmed? And by whom? How did they obtain this information?

If this sounds like an odd thing to say, then we may have hit upon the problem. Forgive me for sounding overly sceptical…but where have all the sceptics gone? Has anyone stopped to question whether this is true or not? Or have we just taken it as gospel?

Before I am reprimanded, I should state outright that I am NOT saying that this didn’t happen. It could well have. But isn’t this all happening a little fast? Are we acting and speaking before we think? On what basis do we believe these things?

I’ll lay my cards on the table – I will be amazed if this is proven to be true. Horrified, yes – but mainly amazed. Because it simply doesn’t make any logical sense. Assad is currently in the middle of a bloody and horrid civil war, one which he clearly plans on winning. He is a dreadful man, a sinister tyrant – but he is not stupid. Bad as he may be, he shows no sign of being genuinely foolish.

Let’s try for a moment to strip all emotion out of this and just focus on reason. Chemical weapons are horrible. They’re also rubbish weapons. They have no demonstrably superior effect in a war situation and cannot kill or wound as efficiently as conventional weapons. Weapons which, at the moment, are in plentiful supply thanks to Russian involvement.

Assad is starting to win and Russian conventional weapons are starting to help him to gain a good foothold. He has also been warned repeatedly that if he uses chemical weapons, Western troops and bombs are coming in. So why on earth would he stop using bombs and start using gas? That would be asking for intervention in a conflict that he’s winning. It doesn’t make any sense. Does the timing not sound a little suspicious?

He is being backed by Russia – RUSSIA. Putin is most definitely not stupid. He knows full well that a gas attack would have absolutely no strategic benefit whatsoever, and surely would never allow such a thing to happen on his watch, given how much he has invested.

This has not been proven to anything like a level that I would be asking for, and I admit to being stunned at how readily a nation that backed Blair’s WMD theory is to believe it all over again. Once more – I’m not saying this didn’t happen…I’m saying it hasn’t been proven.

Is it so much to ask for a little scepticism? What harm could possibly come from just waiting a little to see what can be proven, independently and rigorously? Why are we rushing headlong towards a battlefield that contains Russian troops, tanks, planes and ships? I beg you – take a step back.

A scary response

On a similar note – is it just me who is utterly terrified by the thought that Trump saw some images of kids and sent his military to bomb the crap out of an airfield? Whatever you think of his actions – you may approve – is it not just the slightest bit insane that he can just change his mind so easily when he is at the helm of the largest military the world has ever seen?

Leaders need to free themselves of emotion in order to make good, unclouded decisions. American leaders especially, given the enormous power they can wield. We know Trump can’t do this. How can you make major strategic decision in this manner? More to the point, who is reining him in?

Sadly, US Presidents traditionally need to hold back their generals from going to war. Trump is enabling them. We can’t trust him with a delicate and tense situation involving huge interests and nuclear powers. One slight misstep and this goes horribly wrong.

59 Tomahawk missiles (at a cost of $250,000 each) rained down on an airport at the whim of a baby in a suit. In the parallel universe that we apparently now occupy, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and Supreme High Lord of the Utopian Left, Justin Trudeau have backed him, while Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, Katie Hopkins, Arron Banks, Milo Yiannopolous, Paul Joseph Watson and Ann Coulter have denounced him. As the latter pointed out, plenty of people voted for him on the understanding he wasn’t a Middle East hawk. 13 weeks in, he’s already proven himself one.

Pictures of dead/suffering children are unbearable to see. They’re also an awful basis for making good decisions.

Challenge him on the facts

This whole Ken Livingstone saga has dragged on for far too long. More to the point, Ken and everyone else have been at an impasse that should have been resolved long ago. The main thrusts of the argument to this point have been as follows:

Ken: “Here’s a thing that happened”

Everyone else: “That’s really offended and upset a lot of people, you need to apologise”

Ken: “But it’s true, why should I apologise?”

Everyone else: “Because people are hurt and upset. You need to apologise”

And round and round and round…

Here’s my problem – why didn’t anyone just challenge him on the facts? If you think you’re right about something, there is no reason to apologise. Sometimes people get hurt and that’s a shame, but if they’re hurt by something that is true, there’s not much you can do about that. As it happens, he’s wrong, so he should apologise. But the problem is, every time he is on the airwaves, he isn’t met by this challenge, he is just met by an incredulous presenter who simply cannot believe that he won’t apologise for hurting people’s feelings.

I’ll be completely honest, I think the guy is wrong, but I do have a respect for his doggedness. He hasn’t just backed down like every other person in public life does and apologised just to end it all. Throughout this whole saga, I deliberately didn’t look up his references because I wanted to hear him faced with someone authoritative on the subject to deliver an actual riposte to his claims. The problem with not doing that, is that the people listening just hear his side, then a request for him to apologise. This leaves people going “well if he’s right, why should he?”

The answers as to why he’s wrong come in pieces like David Baddiel’s superb contribution to today’s Guardian. He outlines why Ken is wrong accurately and succinctly. But he hasn’t had the chance to put that to Ken directly. He needs to be debated.

Perhaps this should be a lesson. Demanding an apology is just an appeal to emotion. It’s saying “it doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not, you need to say sorry”. And that’s not good enough. What we need to do is say “here’s why what you said is wrong, it’s here in this respected book, this respected and knowledgeable expert says so, you’ve interpreted it in this way when really you should have done it that way. Now apologise.”

A world where people are forced to apologise for something they’re not sorry for – what kind of world is that?

Thoughts on Gibraltar and James O’Brien

 

They’re more British than we are

Well…that escalated quickly. One mention of a British territorial rock and it’s all kicked off. Perspective has, as is customary in these modern times, taken a long break and doesn’t look like it will be coming back any time soon.

An early shot has been fired from one of the warmer nations of our soon-to-be-former trading bloc regarding Gibraltar, a tiny but spectacularly beautiful jut of land on the Southern coast of Spain. This lovely corner of the planet is British territory and has been since 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed, but remains disputed by Spain. Its 30,000 inhabitants feel thoroughly British, reiterating that fact in two referendums on their sovereignty – one in 1967, and another in 2002 when Tony Blair and Jack Straw tried desperately to give it to Spain.

They are a civil, peaceful, multicultural people who have absolutely no desire to be ruled by their Northern neighbours. They fly both the British and EU flags on their official buildings, having voted in enormous numbers to Remain part of the latter. But now they feel themselves being pulled once more into the middle of an unseemly spat.

This will, in time I’m sure, come to be seen as a mistake on the part of the EU. It is hardly a gesture of goodwill and will put an undue strain on the negotiations. They successfully managed to goad Michael Howard into saying something unwise (although trying to imply he was calling for war is a misrepresentation that should make any reasonable person wince – see paragraph 1), but there has been nothing but good grace from the government. Theresa May has not risen to it, nor should she. The question of Gibraltarian sovereignty has nothing to do with our leaving the EU, and it must stay that way.

It does make me lament that the advice I offered in a previous blog was not heeded by Number 10. It’s almost as if they haven’t read it. But imagine the position we could be in now. “We have guaranteed the rights of all of your citizens, and you repay us by questioning the integrity of one of our overseas territories? That’s not very constructive or friendly now, is it?” Moral high ground gained. Alas, it is not to be so.

Feeling British may not mean anything to most on the Left, but it still does to these people and they take it very seriously. We would let them down to our eternal shame.

There has been plenty of spluttering about ’empire’ and ‘colonialism’ going on about all of this, most of it not making any sense. This is a self governing, democratic people – but you want us to give them to Spain? A country they have no desire to join or be a part of?

But surely, comes the reply, you can’t just own a bit of someone else’s country? “For the Spanish, Gibraltar is an affront to their sense of national identity and their sense of sovereignty – it’s a bit like having a part of Dover owned by Spain” says Jack Straw. Oh, is that right?

It would appear that Spain doesn’t exactly take this principle seriously, and certainly not consistently. Because what is just across the Strait of Gibraltar?

Gibraltar

That little jut of African land, of a very similar size to Gibraltar, is called Ceuta. Ceuta is Spanish territory at the Northern tip of Morocco. Its citizens are Spanish and do not want to be governed by Morocco. Morocco very much wants it back, but Spain asserts its sovereignty. They would never dare hold a referendum to prove it, because that would simply strengthen the case of Gibraltarians to remain British. But the hypocrisy is there for all to see, a mere 30 miles away.

Both of these places are tolerant, multicultural places, patriotic and fiercely loyal to their mother countries – much more, it must be said, than many in those countries are.

The EU would be making a serious error to make this a part of the negotiations. It is imperative that cool heads prevail and this nonsense is dropped very soon.

 

There must be someone else for the job

I’ve been watching Newsnight for as long as I can remember. It could certainly be said that it’s not been the same since Paxman left, but it still provides a very high quality daily news show that, for me, remains unparalleled.

But I have my doubts about one of its hosts. You see, the BBC is supposed to remain neutral. Which means its news and current affairs shows must be balanced. Which means its hosts should be beyond reproach in terms of their integrity. So how on earth do they justify having in the chair one of LBC’s most outspoken talk show hosts, James O’Brien?

The BBC is often accused of bias, often unfairly in my view. I happen to think that it has a left wing tendency, and this seems to be backed up by statements from previous DGs and insiders, but it does at least attempt to be balanced as much as possible. I also am basing that on nothing more than my own perception at this point, I have no numbers or anything to base it on, it’s just an impression I get.

So why, when accusations of bias are flying around, would you make such a partisan selection for host of the flagship news programme?

He hardly keeps his views quiet on his LBC show, and his so called ‘epic rants’ are constantly shared by my left wing friends (which is 99% of my friends), which would surely make him a hero of the left? He will regularly rail against Brexit, against the Tories, against Jeremy Corbyn. He is far from neutral on any of these topics, so how can we expect him to provide balance if these topics come up? How can he not naturally favour Ed Miliband over Douglas Carswell in a debate about Brexit? How can he not naturally side with a Labour MP over a Tory MP? How can we trust him to fairly deal with a confrontation between John McDonnell and Chuka Umuna?

He hates Brexit, hates the Tories and hates Jeremy Corbyn being Labour leader. You may too. But surely you couldn’t want him to pretend to be neutral?

I wonder what would happen if another LBC host were to be made the next host of Newsnight. Maybe Katie Hopkins? Nigel Farage? Julia Hartley-Brewer? No, I didn’t think so. His equivalent from the Right of politics would never be allowed anywhere near Newsnight.

I was particularly struck by one exchange he had, where he was interviewing a woman called Asra Nomani for a piece about Donald Trump. It was supposed to be two women, but the other guest unfortunately had technical problems and so he was left to talk to this person for whom it was evident he had nothing but loathing. The whole exchange can be found here.

The first sign is the introduction – with his opening line of “Anne Gearan from the Washington Post and Asra Nomani who has written for outlets such as Breitbart and The Hill

He almost spits the word ‘Breitbart’, with a vicious emphasis on the T sounds (something missing from the words ‘Washington’ and ‘Post’, both with equally hard T sounds, in case you think I’m being oversensitive).

Then, Ms Nomani has to spend her first exchange with Mr. O’Brien explaining that she does not, in fact, write for Breitbart, and never has. She also explains that she spent 15 years writing for the Wall Street Journal. She does these things with immensely good grace and politeness, not recoiling at all from his accusatory introduction. This was in a piece about fake news.

This has stuck in my head ever since and I feel a deep sense of unease whenever I think about it. The rest of the clip is worth watching as she gently answers his questions and takes all of his interruptions gracefully and without attempting to speak over him. I am not convinced he should be presenting this programme and I will not watch it when he does. I am happy to listen to him on his LBC show, but the Newsnight chair is not the place for him.

EU citizens, Emma Watson and PMQs

Bad politics – what does this achieve?

I cannot, for the life of me, work out what Number 10 is trying to achieve by trying to keep the fate of EU nationals in its hands. It makes no sense to me whatsoever. Let’s first deal with the moral case, for I consider this so simple and blindingly obvious that it shouldn’t take me long to outline before moving on to reach my central point.

It is simply unreasonable to suggest that people with whom you have essentially had a contract could be removed from the country. We have been living for decades under a system (love it or hate it) that has allowed free movement of citizens of the EU. We had a deal. That was the arrangement – EU citizens could come and live and work in the UK. The terms on which they arrived have still not changed. Now, to suggest that they may be forced to leave at some point in the future if we don’t get a deal we want is like saying to somebody to whom you have rented a house on a 20 year contract that they need to leave after 10. Er…how about no? That wasn’t the deal.

Now that that is out of the way, I want to address the much more interesting point…what is this supposed to achieving politically?

I had a similar thought when the government insisted on fighting its case to the Supreme Court over whether the executive had the power to trigger Article 50. What on earth did that achieve? There was no way they could ever lose a parliamentary vote on the matter, so why not just put it straight to the Commons? Why fight it out? It looks petty and authoritarian, and was always going to be defeated by the judges (wrongfully and shamefully smeared from some sections). Even if they’d won, then what? The electorate clearly felt a Parliamentary vote was required, and would never have shut up about it if the government went ahead regardless.

But back to the status of EU citizens. Theresa May is currently clinging to that card with a vice like grip, but for what? Let’s examine this.

It’s not actually legal, or possible

Even if, for some crazy reason, we couldn’t reach agreement with the EU on the status of our respective citizens, it wouldn’t be legal to deport them. The Vienna Convention, for one thing, prevents such an action. But who even needs that? We couldn’t even get rid of convicted terrorists through legal means for crying out loud, so how do you think we’d ship out 3 million fruit pickers and surgeons (apparently these are the two main jobs EU types do)?

We are going to do it anyway, just do it now

It is inconceivable that the government could ever use this card to actually get anything in a negotiation. It simply would never work. So just do it now. Be the first one and grab the upper hand.

Brexit is seen as mean – start reversing that

Immediately guaranteeing the rights of these people would not only send a message to everyone at home that we are not anti-immigrant, but it would smash the ball straight back into Germany’s (sorry, the EU’s) court. We’ve guaranteed their rights, your move. Are you going to do the same as well? You are? Great! You aren’t…? Hmm that looks a bit mean. Why wouldn’t you do that? That seems a bit harsh…

You grab a moral high ground that is clear and just begging to be occupied. Not doing it makes you look mean and spiteful. This is a hand of aces that would, if played, generate the goodwill that is so sorely lacking.

Nobody has ever asked for this

All of the main players in the Leave campaign expressly stated that they would guarantee the rights of those people who have already made their lives in the UK. Some examples:

Liam Fox: “I would like to see rules apply to future movement, not to those who are currently here and I think that removing the element of fear that I’m afraid the Remain campaign encouraged during the referendum would be a very positive thing.”

Boris Johnson: “I would like to set on record that countless times the Vote Leave campaign gave exactly this reassurance to everyone from other EU countries living and working here. It is very disappointing that this should be called into question. It is absolutely right to issue the strongest possible reassurance to EU nationals in this country, not just for moral or humanitarian reasons but for very sound economic reasons as well.”

Andrea Leadsom: “I commit today to guaranteeing the rights of EU friends who have already come here to live and work. We must give them certainty, there is no way they will be bargaining chips in our negotiations.”

Michael Gove: “EU citizens already lawfully resident in the United Kingdom must retain their right of residence.”

Peter Bone: “Clearly any EU citizen that is legally here if we come out of the EU would absolutely have the right to remain here. Any other suggestion is just absurd.”

Douglas Carswell, Peter Lilley and Daniel Hannan: “We would urge the government, opposition parties and every candidate standing to be the next Conservative party leader – and hence prime minister – to make an unequivocal statement that EU migrants currently living in the UK are welcome here, and that changes would apply only to new migrants. A clear commitment to protect the status of EU migrants was made by the official Vote Leave campaign – and it must be honoured.”

This is clear – cut and dried. There is no desire from anyone to see people who are already making their lives here leave. Stop fighting it and just do it, for everyone’s sake.

 

Please don’t hurt me

Emma Watson has felt a little wrath this week after a photoshoot she did in Vanity Fair. I’m sure I don’t need to reheat the detailed arguments of this, but the basics seem to be:

For: “She should be allowed to do whatever she wants”

Against: “She is a hypocrite because women have historically been judged only by their looks – this plays straight into that”

Now, at the risk of a backlash (I’m a man, so really not allowed to give an opinion on anything that doesn’t involve my gender), I’d like to offer just one thought, with the following caveats. This thought may be disregarded. This thought does not have to be agreed with. This thought does not in any way suggest to anyone that they must or must not do certain things.

Ok. Ladies – you can do whatever you want. But, what if, just for maybe like a year, possibly two…nobody does a topless photoshoot. And I mean all of us, men and women. Let’s just all not take any clothes off in public for 12-24 months. And see what happens. We all just appreciate each other for our minds. We listen to each other’s ideas. We treat each other respectfully. We allow people to star in films with their clothes on. We don’t look at each other’s chests.

Could we maybe try that? Doubtful. But it seems a shame. What am I supposed to be learning by seeing your breasts? Oh yeah, there they are. Very nice. What were you saying about FGM?

PMQs ratings slide

Ugh, it really isn’t what it used to be. Corbyn is dreadful at it (not actually a personal fault worthy of abuse, just a fact) and May is ok, but awful at jokes.

But surely the Speaker has more power to actually make the PM answer questions properly? Otherwise, what is the point? For a man who has done a fantastic job in getting minsters into the chamber to answer questions, he doesn’t ensure the PM is doing so. I understand it could go on for hours if he insisted, but two or three of these and they’d soon learn.

Prime Minster’s Questions. Pointless without answers.

 

Some thoughts on the Speaker, Blair and Milo

It’s been a while since I blogged, and felt like this was a good time to bring it back. I’ll probably be talking politics mostly, but who knows where it’ll go. I’ll be attempting to do it regularly and be more disciplined with it this time. It seemed a shame to stop before, despite my blog being featured on WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’.

I have felt the need to remove my old posts – it happens to everyone I’m sure, but, much like watching videos of myself do comedy, I was slightly cringing reading them back, so I wanted a clean slate.

I should say now, that I doubt I’ll talk much (if at all) directly about Donald Trump. There will never be anything I can reasonably add to what has already been said about the man, so I probably won’t. I already find it tedious, and it’s been weeks. It’s been said to me that “it must be a golden time for comedy at least”. No. No it isn’t. It’s already boring. Did you know Trump was sexist? Wow. Tell me more about how stupid George Bush is. Is John Prescott really fat?

Personal preference, but I don’t think I can bring myself to do it. If he comes up, it will be as part of another story. Anyway, here are some thoughts on recent events. Feel free to not read them.

The Speaker speaks…I wish he wouldn’t

I am a big admirer of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. I feel I should say that up front, because he really is a quite remarkable man. He has no shame in making sure the government is held to account, with a record number of urgent questions granted, and he makes sure the minister responsible damn well turns up to the House to answer them. He takes a dim view of junior ministers showing up to defend a question, and will often keep granting questions until the minister shows.

He is also, as far as I can see, fair and reasonable in the Chair. If I had any criticisms, it would probably be that he seems to like the sound of his own voice a little too much. Despite regularly calling the House to order during Prime Minister’s Questions in a calm manner (very often the only session of the week that even requires such interventions – it is otherwise very well behaved and orderly), he can, at times, try to shout above the fray with a joke or a witty put down which doesn’t really work. Shouting over a braying chamber helps nobody, and puts one in mind of a supply teacher out of his depth.

Telling Chris Ruane “you are an incorrigible delinquent at times” was probably the best one, with telling David Cameron “the Right Honourable Gentleman is finished [speaking], and he can take it from me that he’s finished” a close second, but otherwise, it can be pretty excruciating. Nevertheless, he is keen to ensure that the House is presentable to the public and, knowing that PMQs is pretty much the only time the public are watching with any regularity, tries to discourage bad behaviour.

However, despite his good points, he does himself no favours with his recent statements. He has often had a significant group of Tory MPs out to get him, and has even survived a couple of attempts to topple him. This, despite his past as a Conservative MP and a reasonably active backbencher. So why on earth would he give them any ammunition by giving his opinion on matters he ought to be strictly neutral on?

In the middle of a Parliamentary session, Mr Bercow decided to give his opinion on a potential address by the new American President to both Houses and came down squarely on one side. Now, there are several problems with this.

Firstly, it is surely imperative that we put aside whether we agree or disagree with what he said. For the Chair to retain its integrity, this cannot matter. I happen to agree with the sentiments expressed, but that is not the point. It isn’t his place to opine on matters of State in public, it is his place to represent the wishes of the House of Commons. He made no attempt to ascertain these wishes, and therefore could not, with any degree of confidence, pronounce on them. If he wishes to give his opinion, he should be absolutely free to do so…the second he resigns his office. There can be no other way.

His office affords him immense privileges. He is a member of the Privy Council, he can give private counsel to the Prime Minister and he can also give private counsel to the Queen. The key word here is private.

Secondly, he addressed a matter that did not even exist. There was no plan for the President to address Parliament in Westminster Hall at that point, so in addressing it, he made it into the story it became. There’s an old adage in football – the referee should never be the story. The same applies to the Speaker, but alas all too often, Bercow makes himself the story.

It should also be noted that, whilst he was addressing an audience outside of the Commons, it was most unwise of him to reveal publicly which way he voted in the referendum. Again, put aside whether or not you agree (a good test is to always think, “what if he’d said the opposite?”), this can only bring problems on himself.

He is already accused of bias and partisanship. This may or may not be accurate. However, by making these public pronouncements, he needlessly opens himself up the charge. If he is so keen to give his opinion, he should do so privately, or resign.

I personally wish he does not resign, but I fear his time will soon be up. I hope that is not through a vote of no confidence, as that would not be a fitting way to close a positive and forward thinking tenure as Speaker. But he is not an unintelligent man, he must have known he was creating these problems for himself. So is he just trying to provoke one last news story before he resigns himself? We shall see.

He rises from the deep

Always…ALWAYS, finish the course of antibiotics. If you don’t it will just come back. And it will be more irritating and frustrating than ever before.

Fortunately, it seems with Blair’s latest relaunch, it skidded off the runway and landed in a field (I may be using too many metaphors here…). Pretty much everyone regarded his recent interference in public life with scorn and revulsion; even those who may have broadly agreed with his assessment could not help but be put off by the messenger.

He really doesn’t seem to get it does he? There is no way back for him in public life. The catastrophe of the Iraq War will be a permanent, lasting scar on the collective psyche, and he, the smiling face on the poster.

Take this excerpt from his speech:

“Our challenge is to expose relentlessly the actual cost, to show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in ‘easy to understand’ ways how proceeding will cause real damage to the country and its citizens, and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge”.

It is almost comical in its lack of self awareness. This could be an exact copy of a speech a wizened, old, broken Blair could give to his 2003 self, were he to acquire the advanced technological means to enable such a coming together.

“Expose relentlessly the actual cost”…would that be the millions of lives, billions of pounds and countless displaced?

“Show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge”…would that be in the form of, oh I don’t know, some form of ‘dossier’?

“To calculate in ‘easy to understand’ ways how proceeding will cause real damage to the country and its citizens”…the citizens of Iraq didn’t need a calculator, mate.

“Build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge”…millions protested. Begged, pleaded, implored you not to do it. And yet you did it anyway.

He is toxic to anything he now touches, he is poison to any message he cares to spread. He will forever infect any cause he opens his mouth about. If he cares at all, he will stay away.

You love him really. What other explanation is there?

One of my favourite shows to watch from across the pond is “Real Time with Bill Maher”. I like Bill, he’s funny, he’s opinionated, but he’s also fair. I would have enough disagreements with him to keep us going for weeks were we to ever meet, but man, the guy is funny with it.

For me, the best thing about the show is that anyone, from anywhere on the political spectrum, is invited on. Conservatives and Republicans need brass ones to go on it and face Maher’s overwhelmingly liberal crowds, but when they do, they are afforded a level of respect and an ability to speak uninterrupted not really seen anywhere else.

Regulars on the show have included Ann Coulter, darling of the American Right, Kelly-Anne Conway, director of Trump’s campaign, and figures like Sam Harris and Bill Burr.

Recently, however, Maher had invited on the nemesis of all right-on liberals – Milo Yiannopolous. Another panel member refused to do the show because of this invite (and made a bit of a thing about it on social media…I don’t really like the term ‘virtue signalling’ but that felt to me like it was it).

Now…Milo is controversial to say the least. He is currently banned from Twitter for life, had to cancel a talk at Berkley due to actual riots at his presence (how very charming) and is writing a new book for which the publisher has already had boycotts and huge media attention, despite the thing not even having been written yet.

My own opinion of the guy is that he seems to just be trolling for trolling’s sake. I don’t really read his writings because it’s a little boring. As someone who can rarely be bothered getting offended about anything, certainly not on behalf of others, saying supposedly ‘shocking’ things about women, trans people or gays just comes across as crass and mean. If I thought he was trying to make a serious point, I’d listen. But it doesn’t feel that way at the moment. He claims he is advancing the cause of free speech…well, maybe. I certainly would back him against any protests to shut him down, and I certainly would take no part in any boycott of him. Let him speak, if he wants to. And let others listen, if they want to.

Anyway, this appearance on Real Time. He fired off his usual shots about feminism and some other quite offensive things. And then it was over. Nobody got hurt, nobody had any violence incited against them, Milo looked a bit of a pillock (in my opinion) and Maher thanked him for being on the show, having stuck in some skewers along the way. End of story.

Why should this be so hard? I wasn’t offended, but it reinforced my original thoughts about him. He’s a bit of a troll who wants attention. So please, feel free to keep giving it to him. It will ensure his notoriety and solidify his core support.

I remember, as a fan of the Apprentice, following Katie Hopkins on Twitter (as I did with most contestant once they had appeared on the show) when she had about 5,000 followers. Then she started being the way she is now. I warned everyone to just ignore her and stop talking about her and she’d go away.The predictable first response from a friend was ‘well, you’re talking about her now, you’re doing what she wants…blah blah blah’. Fine. This is the first thing I’ve said about her since. She has 678,000 followers now. Well done everyone.

Maybe we can learn this lesson? It is actually possible to just ignore them. Don’t be ‘amazed’ when they say something to get attention. “CAN YOU BELIEVE KATIE HOPKINS/MILO/TRUMP JUST SAID THAT?!?!?!”

Yes, of course I can. Why wouldn’t I believe it? It’s their raison d’etre. I can’t help but think that liberals, secretly, love to despise them. It feels good, no?