Vote of no confidence in the Government – PREDICTION

Mrs. May will almost certainly win, which is nothing short of perverse

Well I never would have predicted that. Today, I put the size of May’s defeat on the ‘meaningful vote’ at 141, a number which I changed three times but felt was a good shot. I started getting nervous when I realised I’d forgotten to consider possible abstentions. I needn’t have worried – the total ended up at 230. This is a monstrous number and one that is entirely unprecedented.

This prompted the Prime Minister to stand at the dispatch box and all but ask for a vote of no confidence. Jeremy Corbyn duly obliged. The debate will take place tomorrow and the vote carried out in the evening..

So how is this one going to go?

There are very few people predicting defeat for the Prime Minister (certainly nobody close to the process). The ERG (the thorn in her Brexit side, led by the Honourable Member for the 18th Century) have pledged that they will back her, her confidence and supply partners, the DUP, have also pledged their support and that pretty much gives her the numbers to see this off. Somewhat counterintuitively, this one will appear to be much closer than any of the other votes, but will in fact be much more certain.

She’s going to win. Which is ridiculous, but makes sense when you look at it from a Tory Party identity point of view. It is, of course, enraging that we all have to suffer the consequences of a Tory identity crisis, but that’s the way it is. I want to write soon about why I think political parties should have a shelf life, and this will form a central part of thinking.

What is utterly obscene about this is that the Tories will never, above anything else, jeopardise their position in government if they can help it. Only if they can be absolutely assured that they are safe will they ever make any ‘risky’ moves. This obviously doesn’t always work out…as Mrs May found to her cost when she was about a thousand points ahead and fancied a 6 week tour of the country. The difference there was that she didn’t see it as a risk.

This becomes a huge problem when pretty much all other norms of party management and loyalty have completely broken down. Apart from infighting about the European Union, which is standard Tory practice, cabinet collective responsibility is hugely damaged, factions have emerged and are all willing to vote down legislation, broadsides against the executive are now daily and they just crushed the PM in the biggest vote of her tenure.

The PM, on this evidence alone, clearly doesn’t command the confidence of the house – but they will never ever say so when the alternative is that the opposition could form a government, or a general election could be called. This is deadlock, and it will only get worse.

As I said earlier, I can’t see Mrs May ever standing down of her own accord. All those that know her say she driven above all by a sense of duty – but this means different things to different people. It could be argued that being completely incapable of getting your major business through would indicate that it is your duty to step down and let someone else get their own mandate. But she doesn’t, and won’t, see it that way. And her party will back her. C’est la vie.

So this won’t be a very interesting prediction I’m afraid,. What will be more interesting is the pressure this now puts on Jeremy Corbyn. Frankly, it’s about time he faced some political pressure over Brexit and hopefully (though nowhere near certainly) this might come from his supporters, who overwhelmingly support a second referendum.

I personally think that would be the most politically catastrophic thing to happen since the last one (I think referendums are constitutionally ridiculous anyway and hugely resent the first one), but he will now start facing heated calls to back such a vote. If he doesn’t, or he dithers over it, will May be able to catch a break? Perhaps, but this will surely be short lived.

The problem now is that, if I’m right, all options will have been exhausted for removing Mrs. May and there will be no mechanism to stop her until the crunch in March (unless John Bercow just invents one, which, in his current mood, I wouldn’t put past him). So we remain in deadlock with a government that can’t get its business through, an opposition that hasn’t got a policy and a deadline fast approaching. It will be extended, obviously, there’s no way we will be leaving on that date. But eventually something will have to give.

And I have no idea what that will be.

So, to the prediction. As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite.

Can you see any way she could lose it?

Prediction

On the motion That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government

I predict:

The Ayes to the right – 312

The Noes to the left – 324

VICTORY BY 12 VOTES

Will she continue as Prime Minister VOLUNTARILY?

Yes

The ‘Meaningful Vote’ 2019 – PREDICTION

It is certain she will lose…but by how much?

Here we go then.

Finally it has come around. That so called ‘meaningful vote’ will now happen this evening and it set to be a big one. Having already been delayed once and the Prime Minister out of road to kick this particular can, MPs are set to traipse through the lobbies and cast their votes on the deal (which isn’t a deal). I’ve enjoyed predicting the last few big political events and so I thought I’d do another special for this one. Yet again, my lunchtime has a purpose.

So how is this one going to go?

All the predictions are of a big defeat, so this really becomes an exercise in calling the scale of defeat. I know we’re all supposed to have the learned the lesson that nothing is predictable in politics anymore and, while that is true to some extent, Parliamentary votes are much easier to call than public ones. There are nowhere near the number of votes for a win – this is pure damage limitation.

So she’s going to lose – even she knows that. Usually, any defeat of any kind on the government’s main business would spell the end – but these are not usual times. It’s rather perverse, but briefings are whispering that as long as the defeat stays within the bounds of two figures, she will carry on regardless. Three figures…and they’ll consider it. This is insane – but what isn’t?

We live in a world of competing mandates (which I’ll come to in a later posting). Corbyn is elected by the members, but is crushed in a no confidence vote by his MPs. He’s still there. Now his members are against him on the major policy…but still worship him. The country voted Leave in a plebiscite, but the elected Parliament (88% of which stood on Leave manifestos) says Remain. May doesn’t have the confidence of any of her MPs, but they backed her in a confidence vote. She could lose and carry on. Madness all around us.

If I’m completely honest, I can’t see Mrs May standing down…ever. She could be the only one in the lobby and stand there thinking to herself, “If I could just get Juncker to send them all a basket of muffins…”. So this is probably all a bit pointless.

Enough waffling – to the predictions.

As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite. Although I did call the last one very closely…

What do you reckon? Single digits? Double? Triple?

Prediction

I predict:

The Ayes to the right (for the plan) – 248

The Noes to the left (against the plan) – 389 

DEFEAT BY 141 VOTES

Will she continue as Prime Minister VOLUNTARILY?

Yes

Will she face a vote of No Confidence from the Commons tabled by Jeremy Corbyn within two days?

Yes

Will she survive that confidence vote?

You’ll have to come back for the next instalment…

 

The defence of Jeremy Corbyn – a study in rank hypocrisy

Tribal loyalty does nobody any favours. This proves it

Goodness me this is a tedious one. As ever, the context: during today’s session of PMQ’s, following a particularly bellowing broadside from the Prime Minister in the direction of the Leader of HM Opposition, the Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn was caught on camera mouthing what appeared to be an unflattering term. While the words are disputed (sigh…I’ll come back to that), he called her a ‘stupid woman‘.

And before anyone starts, of course this is a ridiculous thing for us to be talking about and focusing on, but it has thrown up so many wider talking points. And those are what I want to discuss.

Because of course, it isn’t about the words. It’s about the person, the target and the fanatical, almost religious, tribalism that now dominates our public discourse. I wrote early on in my blogging life that you can tell someone’s opinion on one subject with a horrifyingly high degree of accuracy, based purely on their opinion on another, entirely separate matter. And here we are again.

To paraphrase the American comedian Bill Burr, all that matters is whether you wear a blue tie or a red tie. That’s it. That’s all you need in order to know what you think about this. Corbynite? Well it’s not a problem. Hate the guy? He must be punished, end of story.

What is particularly depressing has been the responses from the followers of the new Messiah. These range from the absurd (he didn’t say ‘woman’, he said ‘people’), to the deflective (look at what else is going on in the country!), from the downright evasive (Why are we even talking about this?) to the ridiculous (the guy is in trouble for saying something accurate!). What a horrible shame.

Firstly, the absurd. He said ‘people’, guys! No…no he really didn’t. If this is where you are then there really is no hope for conversation. I’d recommend you navigate away from here. I’ll even give you a link to something you’ll like. Go on.

‘We’ve got experts that said categorically…‘ Yeh and so have the other side. Stop being so dense.

Secondly, the deflective. Which would be a perfectly fair argument if it wasn’t for the fact that you wouldn’t be deflecting had a Tory done this. It is simply inconsistent to give JC a free pass on something that another would not. You’d be screaming ‘STRAIGHT WHITE OLD MALE CALLS POOR WEAK WILLED OPPOSITION MEMBER A STUPID WOMAN!!’ Of course there are worse things going on and this obviously doesn’t matter, but it would in reverse. Have some pride – be consistent.

The evasive. Yes ok it happened, but why are we talking about it? You know perfectly well why we’re talking about it. Had he just owned up and either apologised or defended his words, then we wouldn’t need to carry on talking about it. But he hasn’t, he’s lied and covered himself up in the face of blatant evidence – that’s worth talking about.

And finally, the ridiculous. The squalid, creepy defence of the Dear Leader. The backing from those who are quickest to jump on poor taste language, ‘microaggressions’, tiny hints of racism and sexism, the trawlers of social media histories, the petition signers.

‘But…but she is a stupid woman! He was only being accurate!’

Indeed. The problem with this becomes clear with a moment’s thought. To be entirely fair, I did see one or two of my friends come against this line furiously, maintaining their dignity. But come on…this is a slimy and quite shocking thing to do.

Again, had a Tory done this, you would be queueing up to explain why ‘stupid woman’ is different to ‘stupid man’, why their ‘privilege’ disallowed them from making any such statement, that any apology would not be accepted, such was the high cost of the offence.

Let’s take the argument and apply it. It was an accurate statement apparently. Ok, putting aside that it’s an opinion and not a fact, let’s say he was technically accurate to call her a ‘stupid woman’. She’s a woman, and she’s stupid, right? Stupid woman.

Well Diane Abbott is black. She’s demonstrably overweight and seems to have a flimsy grasp of numbers. So it would be totally fine for a Tory to be caught on camera following a statement from Ms. Abbott muttering ‘stupid fat black woman’. Wouldn’t it? Those are all technically accurate words, no?

Perhaps Emily Thornberry could be referred to as a ‘fat, snobby woman’ without fear of recourse? Or maybe Ed Miliband could be called a ‘conniving, backstabbing Jew’? Still accurate, individual words?

These are obviously pejoratives in their context, and nasty ones at that. It is easy to see that, as long as you are willing to. And I don’t claim that these are on the same level as ‘stupid woman’ because they aren’t, but why does that make ‘stupid woman’ ok?

I simply do not understand party tribalism. This is what you get from it and it’s pathetic. I remember wondering what to call this blog when I started it and had a few ideas – I’m so glad I went with Off the Party Line. That’s where we need to be – thinking, allowing for doubt, criticising your own side and praising the other whenever required. How can you have a moral purpose if you stick to party lines? I’ve praised and defended Corbyn in the past, several times, despite the fact I don’t like him or his ideas. And everyone makes mistakes, nobody can be perfect. But defending him even when he does something wrong?

This sort of episode makes Corbynism look more and more like a cult where the leader cannot be criticised, and it’s creepy. Watching perfectly sane and rational people claim he said ‘people’ is frightening, and the double standards are case studies in rank hypocrisy.

May leadership challenge 2018 – PREDICTION

Rebels have finally reached the numbers for a challange – but can they win the vote?

Here we go then.

Confidence in Theresa May as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party (and therefore, Prime Minister) has been challenged by at least 48 of her colleagues. The magic number, talked about for months, has finally been breached and Sir Graham Brady contacted the Prime Minister last night to inform her. They agreed the vote should be held as soon as possible, and that will be tonight. Finally I have something to write about on my lunch hour.

So how will she fare?

Well, I have a sneaky feeling that this won’t be as straightforward as anybody thinks. Whilst actual confidence in the Prime Minister within her party, Parliament and the country at large is probably close to zero, actually winning a confidence vote will be, I think, quite easy. The political variables involved in such a process do not lend themselves to accurately reflecting reality.

It has taken a good while to get 15% of Tory MPs to trigger this ballot – they now need 50% to actually vote no confidence. Whilst they will almost certainly get a lot more than 15%, the jump to 50% is enormous.

The vacuum that would be left may make several factions keen to leave in her in place, worried as they would be by who or what would replace her. I’ve said for a long time, the biggest strength Theresa May has is her supreme weakness. That is to say, in normal times, she would be considered the worst option – now, however, there is nobody obviously ready to step in, no winning ideology ready to command a majority. If she were stronger, there would be a bigger clamour to depose her and provide the kind of organising necessary to do so. This attempted ousting is slapdash and desperate.

Whether she could win this but still survive a Commons confidence vote is highly questionable. Her majority is so tiny and even if just the letter writers were to vote against her, that would destroy her premiership instantly. But would anyone dare vote against her in that scenario? It’s one thing voting against when you know your party will still be in power, but knowing you would be triggering a general election? Very different story.

As always, I point out my appalling record of political predictions before encouraging you to pay the slightest attention. Generally you can take whatever I say and believe the opposite.

But today, I think I might have the result right. Of course I do. So in the spirit of aiming to be at least a bit wrong, I’ve also predicted the numbers.

What do you reckon? Will she stay or will she go?

Prediction

There are 315 Conservative MPs currently in the House of Commons, meaning she needs 158 to back her as leader.

I predict:

Confidence – 207 (65.7%)

No Confidence – 108 (34.3%)

Will she continue as Prime Minister even if she loses by 1 vote?

Yes

Will she face a vote of No Confidence from the Commons before the Brexit vote?

No

 

Britain’s future will be within the EU

Plus, how the Left once made the case for Brexit – and still should

“Well, at twenty minutes to five, we can now say the decision taken in 1975 by this country to join the Common Market has been reversed by this referendum to Leave the EU. We are absolutely clear now that there is no way the Remain side can win. It looks like the gap is going to be something like 52-48, so a 4 point lead for leaving the EU. And that’s the result of this referendum which has been preceded by weeks and months of argument and dispute and all the rest of it, the British people have spoken and the answer is…

“We’re out.”

The immortal words of David Dimbleby on the 23rd June 2016. The words which confirmed the result, the decision taken by the electorate, the vote which will ultimately be overturned, discounted and quashed, whether by legal challenge, sophistry, governmental mismanagement or plain old politics.

That is what will happen, because that is what always happens.

Having spectacularly misjudged the mood and totally miscalculated the numbers, I watched as my prediction turned into a full 14 point swing away. Having predicted a 10 point win for Remain (55-45), the actual result of 4 points to Leave left me a little numb. The overwhelming sense of resignation to defeat turned into a momentary flash of belief. Wow…maybe you can beat the establishment.

That did not last long. As with all hope (apart from the eternal, obv), one must always take great care. I knew that this would only be a temporary victory, and temporary it will prove to be. The viciousness, venom and, frankly, tedium of the debate ever since has stopped me from writing about it. It simply isn’t worth it. It doesn’t matter how much you fight these things, even winning a democratic vote won’t stop those who hold such things in contempt.

May doesn’t have the numbers

Mrs. May has a deal. Well, so what? It isn’t going anywhere. It can’t get through Parliament, it can’t get past the electorate if ever put back to us, her government can’t sustain such a defeat and will fall, preceding either a new general or a referendum (which will be fixed properly this time so that we physically cannot give the ‘wrong’ response – lesson learned, guys), all of which takes us further and further away from the vote, eventually gaining a new mandate and claiming a victory for ‘democracy’. And who can blame them?

Britain has always been in the EU but straining away from it. Opt outs, rebates and vetoes have been the story of the relationship. But as with every strain at elastic, you start to weaken it. The referendum was our final pull and it will either break, flinging us out, falling at first but getting back up and fighting on, or we will become weak and resist its pull, throwing us back into the EU with no rebate, no opt outs, Schengen, the Euro and our soldiers being barked at in French and German. Well, those that are still left after the defence cuts, anyway.

I don’t say that we won’t actually leave – that is still, while unlikely, possible. But it won’t last long. Our political class is far too weak for such a state to continue for any length of time, and ultimately they will be wooed by the pensions and the fancy dinners at endless summits. Trust me, when the EU eventually collapses (which is surely will), we will be right there amongst the wreckage, clinging to a floating door.

Failure of leadership

Fundamentally, we are being led by people who don’t believe in what they’re doing – that is insanity. Having two competing mandates is ludicrous (and why referendums are constitutionally moronic) and approaching this with damage limitation in mind is completely counterproductive. I don’t believe in Corbyn’s proposed project, but I’d damn well rather he did it than Theresa May. What would be the point? If people vote for Socialism, then do Socialism properly. I think it would destroy the economy, but I may be wrong, and if I don’t win the vote, then I can only voice my opposition. Lots of people think leaving the EU will destroy the economy and I disagree, but if you approach it with that mindset then it will definitely do damage. We’re doing things the Mourinho way of saving a point, rather than the Guardiola/Klopp way of dominating and going for all 3. And that’s no fun for anyone, however we voted.

Which is why this can’t last much longer. Just as Mourinho will be sacked while still claiming he’s done brilliantly and his teams are definitely attacking, no question about it, Mrs. May will be ousted still claiming she smashed the negotiations and got a great deal. Which will leave the next person free to get their own mandate to stay. Just please, for the love of all that is good, don’t hold another referendum. If you’re going to defy it, just have the testicular fortitude to admit that’s what you’re doing, but don’t drag this charade on any longer.

Prophesy

I remember this piece from Matthew Parris that has stuck with me ever since, such was the crushing depth of his prophesy. When I first read it, I knew it was true. Written in September 2017, it crystallised how the powerful get their way and slowly crush the life out of resistance. Mr. Parris has a brilliant way with words – indeed, he was one of those who shook me the hardest in my thinking pre-vote, and I had serious cause to doubt and waver.

Read it – it explains exactly what has happened since he wrote it. This is what they do. It’s slow, it’s grinding, it’s boring, and it makes everyone give up and stop caring. Pure prophesy, and I knew it would come to pass.

So go ahead, stop the thing. I’m done caring. I’m taking my ball in – I won’t be voting in any more ‘democratic elections’, because really what is the point? Next ‘election’ when the crass virtue signalling of ‘I’ve just voted, make sure you do the same!!’ begins and spreads across cyberspace, it will be shown up as hollow and empty. ‘You can’t complain about things if you don’t vote!!’ ‘Make sure you vote – votes change things!!’. I always believed that.

But no. Sadly, the lesson I am forced to take from this whole sorry episode, is that they don’t.

Fond memories – when the Left dipped its toe in Brexit

I reshared this article on my social media while writing this as I love remembering how things once were, and indulge in that slightly sombre thought of what might have been.

It is from Owen Jones, that darling of the Socialist Left and is entitled ‘The Left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda’. In it, Mr Jones outlines why he felt (back in July of 2015) that there was a left wing case for leaving the EU (no duh) and that people should start dipping their toes in the water. I have discussed previously what actually happened to this train of thought and why it happened, so I shan’t cover that old ground.

It’s sometimes difficult to remember, given the rage, bile and sliming that has happened since the vote, that public figures other than Nigel Farage flirted with Brexit. It felt tense at the time, but I look back on those times with fondness – it was the last occasion where you could openly discuss your opinions without real threat of abuse.

Read just some excerpts from it – ‘Britain’s left is turning against the European Union, and fast.’

‘The more leftwing opponents of the EU come out, the more momentum will gather pace and gain critical mass.’

‘But even outside the eurozone, our democracy is threatened.’

‘David Cameron is now proposing a renegotiation that will strip away many of the remaining “good bits” of the EU, particularly opting out of employment protection rules. Yet he depends on the left to campaign for and support his new package, which will be to stay in an increasingly pro-corporate EU shorn of pro-worker trappings. Can we honestly endorse that?’

‘If indeed much of the left decides on Lexit – it must run its own separate campaign and try and win ownership of the issue.’

‘Without a prominent Left Out campaign, Ukip could displace Labour right across northern England.’

‘The case for Lexit grows ever stronger, and – at the very least – more of us need to start dipping our toes in the water.’

Of course – well know what happened when he did dip his toe – the water was cold, he got scared and retreated while others of us swam out. But hey, that was his choice to make. But look at all of that – solid, genuine, left wing reasons to campaign on Leave. As Owen himself quotes, George Monbiot said ‘Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage’, Caitlin Moran had her doubts, Nick Cohen described the EU as ‘a cruel, fanatical and stupid institution’.

Suzanne Moore said ‘European Union? Not in my name’. She also wrote a piece entitled ‘My instinct is pro-Brexit (and it’s nothing to do with Boris)’. My sentiments exactly.

Paul Mason made the case for leaving, he just said it shouldn’t be now. Google ‘left wing brexit’ and see the sheer amount of pieces written on the subject.

It’s such a shame all of this never really amounted to anything. It always feels pointless pointing out to those who think I give two hoots about immigration because I’m defo a racist because I voted Leave innit, that I had the likes of Socialist bulldog Dennis Skinner, Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones, Guardian columnist and Socialist Giles Fraser and many others on my side. Pointless because most people don’t want to remember these awkward facts. It gets on the way of bashing Tories and sliming Leavers. These nuances are thorns that need to just be ignored. Simple narratives, simple narratives, simple narratives…

That’s a shame. The argument beforehand was fierce but enlightening. Now it is just vicious and nasty.

It is said that the only mercy in war is a swift victory…you can see why.

I don’t need these new laws – I’ve already been the victim of a hate crime

Like the police, you’ll just have to take my word for it

Ringing in the New Year

We started our New Year in 2018 with a wonderful surprise. A broken lock on the back door, a bare looking sideboard, a distinct lack of keys on hooks and a space where my car once was. Despite knowing this was an obviously pointless exercise, it is apparently still the done thing to contact the Police in these instances, so I did so. They came round, were perfectly nice, wrote some stuff down and declared they were unlikely to be able to do anything about it. As if I didn’t already know that.

In my hazy, angry state, I almost totally glossed over a question the gentleman in black asked me.

“Do you believe this was a hate crime?”

If my very poor memory is anything to go by, I answered straightforwardly, “no”. I regret that now. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to give him the answer he wasn’t expecting. I wish I’d been able to look directly into the face of an obviously intelligent, well-meaning officer of the state and give him the stupid, flippant, but ultimately unquestionable answer I was perfectly entitled to give.

“Yes mate. I do”

Although perhaps I might have had the temerity to answer in the Soviet style that I assume at some point in my later life we will all be forced to respond to the authorities whenever we interact with one of their number:

“Yes. I’m a straight, white male. ID number 5682911. This was definitely a hate crime”

What more evidence could you need?

Because, of course, that’s all it takes. Did you think it was a hate crime? Then it was a hate crime. Do you have any evidence for that assertion? You don’t need any. Will that be officially recorded, no questions asked? You bet it will.

This is from the official operational guidance for the police: “Evidence of… hostility is not required for an incident or crime to be recorded as a hate crime or hate incident… the victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief.”

The sheer, obvious nonsense of the hate crime reporting methods is not only silly – it is dangerous. It means that nobody can actually trust the figures and you hand a stick to any disagreeable group that wants to say unpleasant things to beat you with. Frankly, the concept of a hate crime is ludicrous as it is, but that’s a topic for another day.

The Law Commission is currently looking at how the definition of a hate crime can be expanded, to include things like misogyny, hatred of goths and misandry – hostility towards men. So maybe in future I will be able to actually claim a genuine hate crime was inflicted upon me. Frankly I don’t really care – I just want my car back.

But hang on – the headline is that I actually was the victim of a hate crime. Well yes, let’s get to that.

Victims again

Not so long ago my wife and I were subject to another crime. I shan’t go into details, but it was one of the standard ones. And we weren’t murdered if that helps.

It wasn’t urgent immediately after the fact, so I decided to report the crime online rather than wasting the time of a policeperson who may have been busy visiting someone who’d said something mean on Twitter. You can have a look at the Merseyside Police ‘report a crime‘ form for yourselves.

The first question asks about the nature of the crime being reported. The second question – second – is ‘Do you consider this to be a hate crime?’ So I gave my answer. Yes.

I, of course, don’t consider that it was a hate crime for a moment. But how easy was that? I just selected yes and that was it. On to the rest of the form. No questions asked. Ready to be reported as one of the ‘83,000 hate crimes a year‘, ready to be the subject of a Guardian opinion piece. Staggering.

I lied

To be completely honest, I was sorely tempted to click submit. But my conscience just couldn’t take it. Despite knowing that there was no possibility anything would happen to me, I couldn’t actually do it (yes, my headline was clickbait. Let me have just this one?).

It is a real shame that it has to be this way. I think that the next question on the form is much more helpful and can actually provide the plod with more to work with. But they at some point will start to gloss over as well, because it just isn’t robust enough.

I feel for anyone who is subject to any violence, abuse or any crime, and yes I particularly feel for those on whom this behaviour is inflicted because of who they are. It is sickening to read about Muslim families being targeted by bigots, gay people being verbally abused and then physically assaulted, trans people being beaten up. Nothing reduces the horror. But I fear, really fear, that we are doing ourselves no favours with this. It is half painful to feel my eyes roll when I hear the so called ‘statistics’. They simply can’t be trusted. Certainly any increase could easily be attributed to how easy it is becoming to report. Or Brexit, as with most evils.

I don’t know the answer (well…apart from scrapping the notion of a ‘hate crime’…but again, later), and I have no desire to make anything any easier for criminals. But there are plenty of nefarious types who can abuse this sort of thing. I’d really rather they couldn’t.

Finally, sense prevails – the ‘Gay Cake’ debacle

The decision of the Supreme Court is essential in upholding our basic freedoms

Whilst my readers are hopefully now used to a robust and frank style from Off the Party Line, this is obviously a sensitive topic and I have absolutely no intention of hurting or upsetting anyone, so rather than diving straight in, let’s get the context of this clear.

Several years ago now, a couple running a bakery in Northern Ireland refused to bake a cake with an explicitly pro-gay marriage slogan on it for a potential customer. This was deemed contrary to Equality Law and was taken to court, where the couple lost their case on appeal. Having taken it to the Supreme Court, here is what has happened (taken from the Guardian):

“In a unanimous decision, the UK’s highest court found in favour of an appeal by Ashers, which had refused to produce the cake in 2014 for Gareth Lee, who supports the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

“The judgment, delivered after the supreme court’s first hearing in Northern Ireland in May, reverses earlier decisions in Belfast county court and a court of appeal ruling that the company discriminated against Lee, who is gay, on the grounds of sexual orientation.

“The five justices on the supreme court – Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Hodge and Lady Black – found the bakery did not refuse to fulfil Lee’s order because of his sexual orientation and therefore there was no discrimination on those grounds. The business relationship between Lee and Ashers did not involve people being refused jobs or services because of their religious faith, the judges added.”

So that’s where the story is up to. I’d also like to explain my personal views on some of the matters covered, before explaining why most of them are utterly irrelevant.

Firstly, I am a Christian and I attend an evangelical church. Secondly, I have no issue whatsoever with same sex marriage. I do not speak for the church on that issue, nor the other way around – these are my own views and I assert my right to hold them and have them defended anywhere. Thirdly, if it were me, I probably would have made the cake as requested. Fourthly, I believe that the law should uphold the right for nobody to be discriminated against based on who they are – including race, gender, sexuality, political views, whatever. The last one is a position that I tentatively hold purely on the grounds of pragmatism, it doesn’t necessarily line up exactly with my general outlook.

Now – why most of that doesn’t matter.

There’s a lot of froth in this story when really it is very simple and can dispense with many of these factors. The allegation was that the gentleman was discriminated against because he himself was gay. The defence was that they would have served him any cake he liked, as long as they weren’t forced to say something they did not want to say. Therefore, they weren’t refusing to serve a gay man, they were refusing to say something they did not themselves believe. The couple, indeed, said they wouldn’t print any message that was nasty to gay people either. There are plenty of straight people who are pro-gay marriage, and even some gay people who are against it, so it can’t be that simple.

Hitchens put it this way in his column on the matter: “The planned cake is far more than a cake. It is a publication, because it will bear a political message to be displayed in a public place, perhaps to be photographed and filmed and shared on the internet.

“If this were a poster, a pamphlet, a newspaper or a book, the problem would be obvious. A publisher is being asked to publish a message he disagrees with. In a free society, he can refuse.”

With that in mind, the Christianity element is froth, the gay marriage element is froth, the fact that it was a cake is froth, the fact the guy was gay is froth – the key element here is ‘can the State force somebody to say or publish something with which they do not agree?’ And surely – surely – if we can’t agree on anything else, we can agree on that?

The original rulings were so clearly and obviously wrong that I was seriously frightened about the precedent it had set. I questioned the defence counsel, the judges, the supporters…how could they have got this so wrong? I genuinely feared for our liberty and what on earth they might make us do next. To state the blindingly apparent, they wouldn’t have served this cake to a straight person either.

It is often distasteful in these situations to go straight to the ‘what if it were a Muslim?’ defence. It is of course true, but the sheer scope of what could be allowed here is staggering. Here is a short list, off the top of my head, of things that could have happened had this precedent been set:

  • A bakery run by a gay couple could be made to bake a cake saying ‘gay marriage is an abomination’.
  • A bakery run by a Jewish couple could be made to bake a cake saying ‘The Holocaust may not have happened – who really knows?’.
  • A bakery run by a Palestinian rights campaigners could be made to bake a cake for an Israeli saying ‘Bibi Netanyahu is always right’ with a picture of him in the ‘thumbs up’ pose, winking and smiling.
  • A bakery run by a trans person could be made to bake a cake saying ‘real women don’t have penises’.
  • A bakery run by a Labour councillor could be made to bake a cake saying ‘vote UKIP’.
  • A bakery run by a Northern Irish Catholic could be made to bake a cake by a Northern Irish Protestant saying ‘The Pope is a nasty, nasty man and really ought to be locked up’.

Now of course, you can take your pick of the above statements you agree with, disagree with or find downright horrible. But of course, that’s the point isn’t it? If you were to agree or not care, you could bake the cake. If you were to disagree or strongly condemn the message, you could refuse. That’s the mark of a free society. You may disagree or condemn and still accept the job and do it – that’s fine too.

I find the lack of any imagination on the other side of this debate quite staggering. If you’d won, are you really saying that this precedent is fine and you foresee no issues at all? You don’t see, given the furore around this, seriously disagreeable and nasty people trying this theory out and making a big deal over their resistance? You can’t imagine Tommy Robinson seeking out a bakery run by Muslims and filming himself applying this legal precedent that you’ve just won for yourselves?

The freedom to say or not say whatever we do or do not want is fundamental to this country’s liberty. You have no idea when and in what form this could come back to bite you. Ask yourself seriously – is this the country you want to live in? If it is, I honestly fear you. Who knows what you’d happily make me do by force of law?

The rather wonderful and very brave gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said in 2016, “I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound. Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.”

Take or leave the theology comments – I’ve heard it argued both ways.

Following the ruling of the Supreme Court, he stuck to his guns (emphasis mine).

“This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans.

“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose. 

“The ruling does not permit anyone to discriminate against LGBT people. Such discrimination rightly remains unlawful.”

Perfectly summarised. The law, as it stands, is good and it protects all of us – all of us. Given the content and the nature of the particular circumstances, it doesn’t feel like much of a victory. I’m certainly not celebrating. But I am relieved. Much as this has been a difficult conversation to have, it needed to be had and we got the right result. With any luck, we can draw a line under this and move on.

If Labour wins the next election, Theresa May should stay Prime Minister

Socialists – it’s your turn to be run by somebody who doesn’t believe in your project

Who knows when the next election will be? In theory it is pencilled in for 2022; in theory this is more or less guaranteed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act. But the evidence of last year shows us that the Act isn’t worth the vellum it’s written on. An election could be called at any time, and when it is, it will be a choice between Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a Socialist Britain versus whichever person emerges from the ensuing scrum following the Maybot’s political scrappage.

At this point, my money is on a Labour win, though that could obviously change. Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that Corbyn is victorious and commands a small majority in the House. To illustrate to those voters just how painful the last two years have been for some of us, I propose that Theresa May continues as Prime Minister.

Why on earth would we do that, Mark? That would be patently absurd. She doesn’t believe in anything that was proposed in our campaign, she doesn’t believe in Socialism, she argued against it! What could possibly be gained by having someone lead a government on a platform that she fundamentally doesn’t understand or want?

Well…quite.

One assumes that renationalising the railways will be a Labour policy (good – I support that). Theresa May could own that, why not? Of course, she thinks the market should be involved, but she is obeying the vote and getting on with it. Sure, she’ll cock it up, the current companies will hold her over a barrel and demand billions in compensation despite the fact they won’t even be running the railways any more, fares will go up, service will be poorer and the whole thing will be an exercise in damage limitation…but that’s just what you get when a non-believer takes on the project. Suck it up, guys.

Sure, she can set up a national investment bank, why not? Of course, she doesn’t believe in borrowing to spend on public services, so she won’t put enough into it and the whole thing will collapse, meaning price rises for everyone, failed projects, tons of wasted money and half built infrastructure. But hey, what do you expect when she thinks it was a bad idea in the first place? She’s just enacting the will of the people.

Why couldn’t she take on the task of getting rid of Trident? She can do that, after all she is driven primarily by a sense of duty. Of course, rather than dismantling it safely and gradually spending less and less on it until it’s completely decommissioned, she’ll probably negotiate with the unions and the suppliers until we’re basically spending the same amount of money on it, but the thing doesn’t work and sits idly in a dock somewhere being completely useless (even more so than it already is).

I’m sure many of you would be rather annoyed if this were to happen, and rightly so. I think Corbyn’s vision for Britain is idealistic, unworkable and rather silly in many ways (though certainly not all). But if he wins, he obviously should run the country and implement his ideas. That’s what democracy is about. Good ideas implemented by people who believe in them is the ideal situation. Bad ideas being implemented by people who believe in them is obviously worse. But to have a good or bad idea being implemented by people who fundamentally don’t believe in them is the worst. I’d much rather have a government with policies I loathe than a government who doesn’t believe in what I believe in, trying to implement what I believe in.

Gosh…socialism being enacted by a capitalist Conservative – what a ridiculous notion. Brexit being enacted by a team of Remainers…

Labour MPs are threatening to quit over the antisemitism row – here’s why they won’t

Moral stands come at huge personal cost – is anyone outraged enough to give up their career?

Another day, another Labour antisemitism story. As Katy Balls pointed out in the Coffee House Shots Podcast this week, the Labour antisemitism row is “all too common – I feel like we talk about this story every couple of weeks on this podcast.” It is not going away – if anything it’s getting worse. Something, at some point, will have to give, but the question is, what will that be?

One obvious thing would be Jeremy Corbyn not being leader any more, whether that be via resignation or a coup. Neither of those are going to happen any time soon, so that option is a non starter.

Another is the decisive action that the party could take – caving on the IHRA definition, fast tracking disciplinary cases against those accused of antisemitism, the removal from the party of demonstrable antisemites…yes ok, you can stop laughing now.

The option floating around more recently is a serious one – Labour MPs resigning the party whip. This has apparently been threatened by several members, although none has gone yet apart from John Woodcock. However, Mr Woodcock was always a severe critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, was subject to internal party disciplinary proceedings and so probably doesn’t really serve as the starting pistol for a slew of resignations.

According to the Telegraph, “As many as 20 MPs are “closer than they have ever been” to quitting the party as claims of racism “gnaw at their consciences”. Many are reaching “breaking point” because of Mr Corbyn’s failure to get to grips with claims of anti-Semitism at the very highest levels of the organisation, sources said.

“In recent days, MPs have publicly issued ultimatums to Mr Corbyn, including Stephen Kinnock, and a growing number are thought to be considering quitting the party formally to make a stand.”

Now, forgive my cynicism, but I am simply not buying this. I have no expectation whatsoever that we are about to see an exodus of Labour MPs daring to quit the party. Allow me to run through some reasons why this course of action is next to impossible.

For them to have any impact, there would have to be enough of them. A handful won’t suffice. A dozen even, wouldn’t have a big enough impact. They would need to walk out in droves, simultaneously, with something or somewhere to go. The personal cost to each of them would be enormous, and I simply don’t see that they would be willing to give everything up to make a moral stand on this issue.

Moral stands are expensive and personally costly – I suppose that’s why they’re called moral stands. If it doesn’t cost you anything, it isn’t a stand in any sense of the word. Let’s look at what they would be giving up personally – any career ambitions of government for a start, the backing of their local activists, the money that comes with being part of a party and the party whip (they may actually have to think for themselves). For those with a comfortable majority (and therefore a job for as long as they want it), they will almost certainly be giving up their seat at the next election – that’s their livelihood gone. A reminder – the basic salary for an MP is £77,379.

They would be replaced by the party (who wants to replace most of them anyway – this would hand it to them on a plate) with hard left candidates ready to challenge them at the next election for their seat, using all of the party money and machinery. That money and machinery would now be aimed against the incumbent. You would have to be a monumentally popular local MP to merely survive such a fight, given the tribal nature of so many voters.

As a group, assuming they can organise sufficiently well to all move as one, they will be splitting the vote on the Left – they will stand accused of ensuring a weak and dangerous Tory Party will continue to rule the country for at least another decade, but this time with a majority. They may form a new party, but it will be small and vulnerable in FPTP. Who among them has the moral courage to bring all of this upon themselves?

It would, of course, be the right thing to do, but they will never do it. The excuses for not doing so come ready made, and sound moral and courageous. “Why should I leave? This is my party as well, so I’m staying put” they may say. Maybe. But is it really their party any more? I see nothing but an almost total takeover from where I’m sitting.

“It wouldn’t achieve anything – I’m going to stay and fight from within.” Well, ok. That sounds good, but is it really? You’re having little to no effect where you are.

This is sounds like a load of hot air and empty threats. I’d be amazed to see even 5 resignations, never mind the numbers that would be needed to punch the party hard where it hurts. Sure, the odd one or two will go, and probably in a blaze of glory. It will look good for the headlines for a couple of days. But as soon as the dust settles, everyone else will be right back where they were.

From there, it really is anybody’s guess.

Defining antisemitism – why is Labour still fighting this?

What is there to be gained from not accepting the IHRA definition?

It has been weeks now since the Labour Party refused to accept the full definition with examples of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. This is a definition accepted by everyone else without a problem, yet Labour has decided to alter or remove some of the examples. This was called out as, to put it mildly, a strange thing to want to do, particularly when it hasn’t gone unnoticed that there has been a little bit of an issue with antisemitism in recent times.

To do this in the first instance is odd and counterproductive. To maintain it in the face of criticism is…well let’s call it ‘bold’ for now. But to dig your heels in and refuse to budge in the face of widespread anger and rage, from groups who are not going to back down any time soon and who are only getting wider and wider support is utterly bewildering.

The issue at hand, the definition of antisemitism, is up for polite discussion in my opinion, in the sense that anything and everything should be up for discussion. That much I don’t object to. I have no particular wish to disagree with Jewish people’s definition of what is antisemitic on any level, but if some do then that is their right. It all looks fair and above board to me, but I’m not Jewish and don’t pretend to know anywhere near enough about the subject. What I do object to is the party machine rejecting the official and widely accepted version, amending it and then not saying why it has done so.

This is the crux of the matter – if you have a point of view, then defend it. If you think those examples are bad, say why. If you think wording needs tweaking, explain yourself. But don’t just change it and hope everyone will be fine with it.

It just looks and feels entirely suspicious. Why not just accept the whole thing and be done with it? Why not explain why it doesn’t accept it all and lay it out in a reasoned and measured way? Why leave the narrative to be written by its opponents? Why, of all things, does the party want to have this fight? It should be preparing for government, touring the country persuading us of its policies and slamming the government. Instead it wants to indulge in a ridiculous theatre of an internal argument. It makes no sense. Do they not want power?

Not a week goes by without some Corbynist higher-up saying something stupid and reigniting the flames. It’s like watching UKIP when they were in the spotlight – every week another activist recorded saying the word ‘nigger’ or ‘paki’ or sharing photos of their gollywogs. It was self defeating and idiotic – but they just couldn’t help it. Now you only have to open a newspaper to see some pillock equating Nazism and Zionism or intimating Jews are part of the whole conspiracy. All of this whilst they are disciplining members of the PLP for raising their concerns – not a great look.

One explanation is simple incompetence. This is the generous interpretation. The other is more chilling, and that is that the party wants the fight and simply does not care about anybody who may have any concerns. It smacks of deliberately provoking Britain’s Jews into anger, and that is a shocking thing to do. They’re not backing down and they’re not explaining, so what else are we supposed to draw from it? What on earth is there to be gained from all of this?

What an absolute shambles. And those are words which are currently being used about Her Majesty’s Government. How dreadful that we must also apply it to Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.

I’d say they need to fix this, and quick. But something in me suspects they actually don’t want to. Something just isn’t right.

A chilling thought.