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.

The cautionary tale of the boy who cried ‘countless jobs lost to Brexit’

A modern take on a classic fable

There once was a European Union funded government thinktank / The Treasury (EUFGT/TT) who was incensed as it sat in its glass fronted London office watching the silly electorate. To ensure its continued funding, it took a great breath and sang out, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses! A fall of 3.6% in GDP just if you vote leave!”

The Guardian and the BBC came running up to the office to help the EUFGT/TT drive the message. But when the people arrived at the campaign, they found no job losses.

“Don’t cry ‘hundreds of thousands of job losses’, EUFGT/TT,” said the electorate, “when there’s no job losses!” They went grumbling back down to their racist, homophobic lives.

Later, the EUFGT/TT sang out again, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses! 500-800,000 job losses immediately after you simply vote to leave!” It watched the commentators and establishment voices rush to the TV studios and the radio stations to help it drive the message home.

When the electorate saw no job losses, they sternly said, “Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don’t cry ‘hundreds of thousands of job losses’ when there is actually hundreds of thousands more people IN work!”

But the EUFGT/TT just grinned and watched them go grumbling down the road once more to their hateful, definitely bigoted homes.

Later, it saw a REAL prospect of serious fiscal damage prowling about its economic forecasts. Alarmed, it scrambled its media advisers and marketing executives to its well established connections in the media and shouted out as loudly as it could, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses! Hundreds of thousands of job losses if we leave without a deal!”

But the electorate thought this was just another attempt to cajole them and make them fearful, and so they didn’t listen.

“There really was an economic downturn here! The jobs have been lost! I cried out, “Hundreds of thousands of job losses!” Why didn’t you listen?”

An old man tried to comfort the EUGFT/TT as they dissolved the department.

He put his arm around the EUGFT/TT, “Nobody believes a scaremonger…even when he isn’t using irrelevant projections and spurious assumptions!”

The End.

 

NOTE – This cautionary tale can also be applied to ‘Millions of Eastern Europeans and Turks are coming!’,  ‘We send £350million a week to the EU!‘ or ‘there’s a wolf over there about to eat my sheep!

As the Tory ‘Islamophobia’ row simmers, Labour has a unique opportunity

Will they be bold enough to grab the high ground? Somehow I doubt it…

Hardly a day goes by without reports of identity issues within our existing – yet lifeless and to all intents and purposes, dead – political parties. And so it is that the next ‘identity under fire’ scandal begins to take hold of another major British political party, as mutterings of ‘Islamophobia’ within the Conservative and Unionist Party begin to make their way into the public ear.

The Guardian reported last week that some party members, activists and potential election candidates had been on the end of some rather unpleasant behaviour from other members. I make no judgement on the veracity of these claims; for the purposes of this piece, I merely want to look at the fact that these things are being reported.

For herein lies the potential opportunity for Labour (particularly the Corbynite wing), one which I wholeheartedly believe they will not take, living as they still do in the point scoring, one-upmanship world of traditional politics.

When the Labour antisemitism scandal started to bubble up, I was sceptical. I couldn’t really see how there could be so much prejudice and dislike of Jews within that party. Of course, any large organisation will always have unpleasant people (especially organisations that are, by definition, ideologically driven such as political parties) and unsavoury views. Of course, it has turned out that there is far more of it than it really palatable for a mainstream party and they are rightly now doing something about it.

But I have to be completely honest, whilst I thought it unfair, I had very little sympathy. I will always stand up for my opponents when they are being unfairly smeared (indeed I have done so on these pages several times), but it felt very much like they were finally lying in the bed that they had made for themselves.

For years, they trashed, smeared and viciously attacked UKIP (a party that I personally loathe but had huge democratic support at one point) whenever any reports of racism or other prejudices surfaced. There was no ‘well I’m sure it’s only a few bad apples’, no ‘well at least they’ve expelled that person’, no ‘that isn’t representative of that party at large’. Nothing. They joined, nay led, the charge, crying ‘racism’ at every turn. Same thing happened at the referendum, when I got caught up in the hysteria against my vote. So I have absolutely no problem standing back and letting Labour defend itself against charges of rampant, endemic and institutional antisemitism. I don’t believe it, but that’s the game they’ve been playing for years, so they can keep playing it and take the punches from it. Not nice being tarred with a big brush is it?

Now though, the Tories are facing a similar thing. The tone is rising to the point where they will be accused very soon (if they haven’t already by the time this goes out) of having rampant, endemic and institutionalised ‘Islamophobia’. So Labour has a choice. It either does the traditional, tiresome, public-are-bored-of-it-all tactic of squeezing them on this and pushing for resignations and inquiries and expulsions. Or, it takes a new path, one that urges them to root it out whilst not assuming the whole thing is already corrupted by it. A good faith opposition, if you will.

I’ve felt the responses to this just whilst writing those last few paragraphs. It’s like I can already read the comments. ‘But they are though, Mark, it’s so obvious’. ‘You’re not serious defending the Tories are you?’ ‘This is a completely different situation.’

Well it might look like a different situation to you, but from an outside, non-partisan point of view, it looks exactly the same. You certainly don’t need to listen to a word I’m saying, you’re welcome to do whatever you want. But wasn’t politics supposed to be different now? Wasn’t Labour supposed to be ushering in a new era of politics? It seems to me that there is a moral high ground that could be occupied here that is currently vacant. It’s also, if you really want to look at it with cold hard party politics, an opportunity to get this antisemitism thing off your back. By looking reasonable for them, you make yourselves look more reasonable.

I don’t have a horse in this race, and I know next to nothing about the internal machinations of the Tory party. I don’t think I even know a member of it, but I know plenty of Labour voters and members – probably at least 80% of friends and acquaintances, with the rest distributed amongst Greens, Lib Dems, random other weird Leftist movements and non-engaged people. I do know that most of my friends are feeling very cross about being accused of either being antisemitic or enabling antisemitism though. And that doesn’t feel fair does it? So…what do we think we might do about it? Someone has to take the first step here.

It feels like that moment in ‘The Thick Of It’ where one of the two parties announces an inquiry into something that will bring them both down. An act of pure mutual destruction, no longer held in a state of stand off. Well, whilst you’re both scrabbling around in the mud anyway, one of you has the opportunity to be the bigger party.

I hope that can be Labour. But I doubt it.

 

Ken Livingstone resigns – and yet I don’t rejoice

Something still doesn’t feel quite right about this whole saga

Ken Livingstone has resigned (finally, one might say) from the Labour Party. So there we have it – the dragged out, inevitable result following a grotesque spectacle that has lasted 2 years. Two years. Has it really been that long? It simultaneously feels like an age and just a few days since the ex-Mayor of London uttered the phrase that may outlive anything else he has ever said: “Hitler was a Zionist“.

Rejoicing has come from most quarters outside of the Labour hard left to which Mr Livingstone nominally belonged. My own MP, Luciana Berger, who I very much like and has championed the cause of ridding the Labour Party of antisemitism, tweeted her approval with a note of disappointment that it has taken so long.

It is being positioned as a victory for the moderates, a victory over Jeremy Corbyn (whose response has, as is typical, been criticised) and a victory against antisemitism.

And yet…and yet…I just can’t bring myself to join the chorus. Something still doesn’t feel quite right about the whole issue. I say still, because back when this was all kicking off, I wrote in defence of Mr Livingstone:

“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?””

If somebody is going down, even an enemy of mine, you’d better have a good, logical and rational reason for it

It honestly feels like this never really happened. I saw the odd piece discussing the so-called ‘facts’ that Mr Livingstone was talking about, and some brilliantly dissected them and showed, to my satisfaction, that he was at the very least misinterpreting unquestioned historical events. David Baddiel’s piece in the Guardian was particularly good.

But the whole thing has been soaked in emotion and fury, something most of us hate when it is directed from the hard left towards the rest of us. It’s so easy to drop verbal nukes on people – ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, homophobe’, transphobe’, ‘Islamophobe’, all terms which, if they can stick, can destroy you in an instant. I hate their overuse and the casual way they are thrown around. Well, the latest powerful one is ‘antisemite’, and I’ll be damned if I start playing the same game as unthinking idiots whose tiny emotional capacities can’t separate “I think, after careful consideration, that the EU is a bloated, bureaucratic organisation which is not capable of real reform and which I think will collapse quite soon, and I’d rather Britain was away from that when it happens” from “I HATE IMMIGRUNTZ”.

I refuse to allow emotion, even when used to advance my own political ideas, to be the tool used in what should be a civilised argument. If somebody is going down, even an enemy of mine, you’d better have a good, logical and rational reason for it. If only this whole saga had taken place at the level of ‘Ken, you are wrong, here is why you are wrong and therefore why we’d like you to recant and apologise’, we may have better grounds to call for his sacking. As it is, it has taken place at the level of ‘what you said was very hurtful and we don’t like you so kindly p*** off or we’ll destroy you’, leaving the guy bewildered and in a more defensible position. He can claim he was hounded out by a mob without due process. Not something you want to leave an enemy with.

You might say that he didn’t help himself, that he seemed to just keep talking about Hitler every time a camera was pointing at him. But frankly, why shouldn’t he? That’s what he kept being asked about. It may look silly, but I’ve had to sit back and admire the guy whilst he engages in political suicide in order to not back down to emotional pressure. More power to him on that front.

He thinks he’s right. I think he’s wrong. He won’t be persuaded of that whilst people just shout in his face and demand apologies. He isn’t sorry, so why you even want him to say it is beyond me – you know it would be empty.

Listen, the Labour Party as an organisation can do whatever it likes. It’s not my problem how they go about their business. If they don’t want him there, they can get rid of him. It just seems like such spurious grounds at the moment, and without solid due process, it’s difficult to know. Antisemitism is definitely a real problem within the Labour Party. Is this a serious victory in that fight?

Somehow, it doesn’t feel like it.

Libertarianism: attractive, but ultimately flawed – Part 1

It is not without merits, but the pragmatist in me can’t see it working in practice

Libertarianism – it’s an ideology that has its merits. It’s one of those things that I love in theory, but know I’d be disappointed with in practice. A good dose of small state with a great dollop of trusting people to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. What could be more conducive to a happy, healthy and free society?

Well then, let’s have a brief look at Libertarianism. It is defined on Wikipedia as seeking to “maximise political freedom and autonomy, emphasise freedom of choice, voluntary association, and individual judgement” Libertarians “believe in individual rights and share a scepticism of authority and state power”.

All of which sounds great. But the key words for me are ‘maximise’ and ‘scepticism’. This implies to me that we cannot have complete political freedom or autonomy, nor can we totally dismiss the role of the state. So, whilst I would generally align myself with these stated aims, it becomes a matter of where along those axes you draw the line. And, if I may borrow and adjust a quote from Joey, to most pure Libertarians, ‘you can’t even see my line – my line is a dot to you.’

The state should not interfere in the freedoms and liberty of people unless there is a very good reason to do so

I tend to believe that the state should not interfere in the freedoms and liberty of people unless there is a very good reason to do so. ‘Very good reason’ is the space in which the conversation needs to happen. One person’s good reason is another person’s tyranny.

Strident Libertarians would have it that laws such as the smoking ban or the recent legislation limiting Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are outrageous interferences in the liberty of the inhabitants of Great Britain. The principles of small state limited government, freedom of choice and autonomy of the person would dictate that these laws are grotesque and not required in a society that ought to allow its citizens to smoke and gamble as much or as little as they please. And yet most of us can see the good reasons for these laws.

Taking the smoking ban for a start, if we were to strictly adhere to the Libertarian ideal, people ought to be able to smoke whenever and wherever they like. But it is perfectly clear that doing this doesn’t just affect them. I won’t go through the ins and outs of the effects (or lack thereof) of passive smoking, because that’s only part of the point. Suffice to say that restaurants, bus stops and Anfield stadium have become much more tolerable places to breathe since the ban. But then, as a non-smoker, I would say that.

I’m not in the least saying that people shouldn’t smoke. That is absolutely for each individual to decide for themselves. I also think the ban is starting to go too far and is unnecessarily embarrassing and shaming people who do smoke. The images on the packaging are quite intolerable (yes, I know that is the point) and the prices artificially ridiculous due to tax pressure. These things always affect the poor the most, and this should be taken into account when forcing such laws through Parliament.

But this is where the conversation happens. I can’t imagine a situation where pure ideology makes you either for the complete banning of cigarettes, which are in mass use, or for the complete and untrammelled freedom to infringe on everyone else’s space with your choices. So we need to discuss where the line is.

Let’s take the other example mentioned – the reduction in the amount any person can gamble on a FOBT has been reduced from £100 to £2. That may sound draconian, until you realise this amount of money is the stake that you can wager every twenty seconds. These machines, wherever they are, can suck up thousands and thousands of pounds.

The passing of this law prompted the Spectator columnist, editor of Spiked and staunch libertarian, Brendan O’Neill to complain that the ‘snobs had won‘ the battle over FOBTs. Now I don’t mind Brendan – sometimes he speaks complete sense, other times absolute wham. This feels much more like the latter.

What I do like about him is that he defends the working classes, the poor and the Northern against the horrible caricatures that can so often be painted in national media. He hates paternalism and nanny state-ism, as do I to a large extent.

The state can be overly paternalistic and better off people can have a snooty way of discussing anyone who doesn’t live in a comfortable neighbourhood and vote Remain…

But taking some lines from his piece, it feels much more like ideology than practical politics.

“I know people who frequent betting shops, mainly to bet on horses, and they will occasionally spend 10 or 20 quid on an FOBT if they’re bored. I expect that’s how the majority of FOBT-users engage with these machines.”

Great – then they won’t be affected by this then will they? They can still gamble their 10 or 20 quid. And the majority of users, I’m sure, do just use them for this purpose. But what about the minority who don’t? I’m not going to get into ‘addiction’ and what that word actually means in theory or practice, but the simple fact is that people can and do sit at these machines and watch their money disappear at a ferocious speed.

“A few years ago the Guardian sent a reporter to Slough — you know things are bad when the Guardian is willing to enter Slough — to investigate FOBTs. She watched in horror as people’s ‘£20 notes disappeared into them’. Yeah, well, I’ve watched in horror as impeccably middle-class people have queued for hours to get into some hip new restaurant and proceeded to spend £40 on glorified hotdogs and dirty chips. We all do stupid things with our money.”

Apart from the nice little dig at the Guardian, which seems to me to be an accurate summation of Guardian attitudes, the difference here is surely obvious? Endless £20 notes going into a machine (which, remember, can take £100 every twenty seconds) is not the same as a very silly (but probably well off) person overpaying for poncey food.

He writes well and much of this piece is persuasive. Whilst I back the legislation, I often recoil at the tone in which the topic is discussed. I agree that the state can be overly paternalistic and better off people can have a snooty way of discussing anyone who doesn’t live in a comfortable neighbourhood and vote Remain. All the same, I think restricting the amount you can put into these machines isn’t really harming anyone expect the gambling industry – you can still use the machine, you can still see the flashing lights and the spinning wheels, if that’s your thing. You’re just losing less each time.

The other big aspect of Libertarianism – an unshakeable faith in the power of the market no matter what – is something that is attractive, but not without its faults. I’ll come back to this in Part 2.

I’m all for reducing the power and influence of the state. It is too often creeping into our lives where it isn’t needed or welcome and it treats far too many people like they need to be saved and looked after. But it has its place.

The theory of Libertarianism is exactly how I would love the world to be. Alas, the world wouldn’t work like this in practice. It’s a shame, but we have to be pragmatic about these things.

If only hardcore Socialists took the same view…