Chaos is taking over – we cannot carry on like this

All semblance of discipline and party solidarity has broken down – that isn’t good for anybody

The House of Commons is a marvellous chamber. Its chapel shape, based on St. Stephen’s chapel in the original Palace of Westminster, gives the place a grand and imposing air. The benches that face one another in perfect opposition, based on the choir stalls that once brought beautiful harmony, now facilitate the (alleged) adversarial nature of the politics of the country. The distance between the two front benches is said to be the length of two swords…take from that what you will.

And yet, watching proceedings this week at home, astonished at the malaise into which we are sinking deeper and deeper as vote after vote passed by low single digits, the chamber seemed unable to accommodate the true combat.

It should be simple – I sit on this side, I aim at that side. Stand up, face the way you were facing anyway, and fire. No longer.

Shots were being fired around the House – not across, but along. Civil war on all sides, right in the middle of an all out war. Remain Tories spat at Leave Tories. Leave Tories sniped at Remain Tories. Backbenchers lobbed missiles at the front benches. The SNP railed at Labour, Labour members rebelled to side with the government, Lib Dems were nowhere to be found, Tories rebelled against rebellions, members turning and seeking out their targets – it was utter and total chaos. The dividing lines of the country are no longer represented properly.

This can’t go on. The Prime Minister is kept in place, strangely, by her own weakness. The great irony is that the best thing that could happen to her now is a motion called of no confidence in her leadership. That is no way for a Parliament to function.

As Stephen Daisley says in The Spectator, “[Anna Soubry], standing mere metres from the Treasury benches, enquired: ‘Who is in charge? Who is running Britain? Is it the Prime Minister or is it the Honourable Member for North East Somerset [Jacob Rees-Mogg]? I know where my money’s sitting at the moment.’

“Before the crazy set in, an MP taunting the Prime Minister as a feckless weakling would bring the full nuclear hellfire of Number 10 raining down upon their head. That Anna Soubry won’t proves her thesis. The PM is too feeble to insist that her MPs at least pretend to respect her in public. Theresa May is not in power without authority — she’s without power too.”

She is not leading, and neither is Jeremy Corbyn. She leads her cabinet, not her party. Jacob Rees-Mogg leads an internal faction opposed to the executive. Anna Soubry leads another. Corbyn leads his members, but not his PLP. Polls are shifting dramatically and getting to summer recess no longer feels like the dash to safety it once did. The Prime Minister has gone from surviving day to day to surviving hour to hour.

Something will have to give. But it is a fool’s game to predict what that will be.

Tony Blair’s Brexit intervention is sensible – an analysis

This is the way to engage in the debate – thoughtfully and respectfully

The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair (much criticised on these pages) has made yet another intervention in the national debate. Only this time, he seems to be making reasonable points. His statement is lengthy, but lean, and makes significant attempts at conciliation. This seemed to merit more analysis, so I have done a full reply to the points he raised. As I sit watching the debate on the Taxation (Cross-border trade) Bill on BBC Parliament, despairing at the state of that place, I fear where we are headed. So this has been a relaxing and therapeutic piece to write.

This is probably about a 15 minute read. You may read Blair’s original piece here.

Blair’s text is in italics, mine in bold.

 

I fully accept the Prime Minister is putting forward the Government White Paper as a well-intentioned attempt to do Brexit whilst minimising the economic disruption to Britain. But this solution – half in/half out – won’t work, won’t end the argument and will simply mean a confused outcome in which we continue to abide by Europe’s rules whilst losing our say over them.

Parliament should reject this solution decisively.

So far, so agreed.

There is an essential Dilemma at the heart of the Brexit debate, which has been laid bare by what we have learnt over the course of the last two years since the referendum of June 2016.

The Brexiteers have a long term vision for Britain which may be heavily contested but is nonetheless a genuine new direction for the country. It involves Britain leaving Europe altogether, striking a new economic and political path and is a vision which only makes sense if we market ourselves as ‘not Europe’.

My tick has not gone away since the referendum – it’s the ‘European Union’, not ‘Europe’. See this old post for my full analysis of why this is important for the tone of the debate.

Otherwise, Blair is, unusually for a Remainer, being gracious and generous. I’ll expand on this later, but the rest of the Remain tribe should take note of this.

At the core of the Brexit campaign, however, is the exploitation of a myth which is that we are not in charge of our country unless we leave the EU.

The truth is we already have control over the major parts of British political life. Think of the top issues facing the country – the NHS, Education, Housing, Poverty, Crime. We can pass whatever laws we want. We can put our taxes up or down, cut spending or increase it, make peace or war, elect a leftist Labour Government under Corbyn or a right wing Tory Government under Rees-Mogg. Even in respect of immigration, we can do what we wish in respect of non-European immigration; and in respect of European immigration it has already been shown that we need most of those who come here to work and to study.

This is a little disingenuous. Whilst there is a good point here, it isn’t a complete one. Sure, the NHS is in our remit, but if the EU were to pass divergent health regulations or introduce the potential for more market interference in it, it could do so above our heads. Similarly on crime, the European Arrest Warrant is an EU tool implemented and enforced in the UK. And sure, we can elect any shade of government we like, but they are not in full control, defer as they must in certain areas to the EU.

And the immigration point, Blair highlights the key issue – non-EU immigration. Having seen several non-EU born friends attempt to navigate the UK visa system, it seems grossly unfair to discriminate so heavily against them in favour of EU citizens. Whenever a government feels under pressure on immigration, they’re the first to suffer, as the executive knows it cannot touch EU immigration and so becomes more stringent on non-EU applicants.

Therefore, the Brexiteers are driven to focus on the Single Market and Customs Union because that is the one area, for perfectly sensible economic reasons, where we have chosen to pool our sovereignty and so you can plausibly say we are tied to Europe’s laws.

The Single Market and Customs Union have thus been demonised as illustrating Britain’s loss of national sovereignty and they successfully pushed the May Government into announcing they would leave both before the ramifications of this decision were properly thought through.

They may deny this, but there is absolutely no point in Britain leaving Europe unless it is to be more competitive outside the European Single Market. It is the only Brexit which could conceivably work. But, to be attractive in those circumstances, business needs to believe it is offered advantages so overwhelming as to compensate for no longer having the right to enter European markets without friction.

This is a central point, and one which is not made enough. It is indeed true that a different model would be required.

Michael Gove may pretend that we should leave Europe to have tougher Environmental Protection but who seriously believes the problem with Europe is that it’s too weak on regulation of the environment.

This is less persuasive to anyone who understands these issues. Whilst the EU is often held up as a bastion of high standards (which I don’t argue against), this is often at the expense of the perception Britain’s own standards, standards which often match and exceed those of the EU’s. Britain has oft been painted in this debate as being somehow backwards on these issues, but on the environment, animal welfare, health and safety, British standards are world renowned and internationally recognised. It seems a shame to do down our country on these grounds.

Boris Johnson’s one specific grievance in his resignation letter – which in any event turned out to be mistaken – was the effect of European truck regulation on female cyclists, a frankly fatuous basis for altering the entire geo-political and economic future of the nation.

I must have missed this. But it does indeed sound fatuous. Go figure.

All of this is patently a ruse to conceal their real beef with Europe: its political culture which stresses the social as well as the economic and where regulation interferes with the freedom of the market.

Their ‘Clean Break’ Brexit means not only a new relationship between Britain and Europe but a new relationship between Britain and itself.

It is not anti globalisation or anti immigration. On the contrary, it sees Britain as a global player, but free to make its own decisions without the constraints of the Single Market and Customs Union.

Unlike others, I don’t regard this vision as dystopian, cruel or necessarily unworkable. If Britain were prepared to follow the logic of it through to its ultimate realisation, it is at least a version of our future worth debating, though one I would profoundly disagree with as, I suspect, would the majority of British people.

Bravo, Mr. Blair. Finally, somebody willing to have an actual conversation with the opposing side. He disagrees, but understands it. Take note, Remainers – this is how to talk to Leavers. This is one of two, maybe three pieces by Remainers over the last few years (and I’ve read countless) that has encouraged me to engage and given me cause to doubt. Not being called a racist within the first 5 paragraphs of a Remain piece is remarkably refreshing.

The problem is this vision was sold, in the context of Brexit, as short term painless and with substantial immediate gains like extra money for the NHS, and the most appealing element for many of the Brexit voters especially in the north of England was that Brexit would slash immigration and put a brake on globalisation.

Agreed, it was a silly basis on which to run the campaign. This was one of the reasons I paid almost no attention to the official campaigns. Frankly, anyone who believed that £350mil to the NHS pledge gets what they get. The focus on immigration was handled badly and distastefully (admitted to by Mr. Gove just today) and there just isn’t any stopping globalisation (depending on your definition). 

What has now become apparent is that, for sure, short term and this may mean a period of several years, this was a false prospectus. In the near future a ‘Clean Break Brexit’ involves economic disruption, the immediate result is a £40bn bill not a £350m a week NHS boost, we need most of the European migrants, and a Hard Border in Ireland poses risks both to the UK and the peace process.

As this reality has dawned, so the Government has tried to navigate its way through the Dilemma.

I’m not sure it’s that the reality has dawned, these issues were discussed at length before the result and were obviously accepted as a risk worth taking by the 52%. More, I think it’s that people who weren’t in that camp now run the show and weren’t as prepared for them as much as those who believed in the whole enterprise would have been.

The Dilemma is simply expressed: either we stay close to Europe after Brexit to minimise the economic cost, in which case we will be obliged to continue to abide by Europe’s rules; or we do a Clean Break Brexit in which case we will suffer substantial economic pain.

The first is a Brexit which leads to the question: what’s the point, since we will abide by rules over which we have lost our say, a somewhat weird way of ‘taking back control’.

The second is a Brexit which leads to the question: what’s the price?

This is the dilemma, well summarised.

For two years the Government has tried to pretend that we could have our cake and eat it: that Europe would somehow change the rules of the Single Market, which we helped shape, and allow us frictionless trade with freedom to diverge where we want to.

This is and always was a non-starter.

Very true. One of the reasons triggering Article 50, not preparing for a no deal situation and letting a Remainer run the show were all fatal decisions.

The Chequers Cabinet summit and the White Paper were the first serious attempt to choose and resolve the Dilemma.

Both documents are drafted with exquisite disingenuousness. But stripped of their verbal camouflage, they come down effectively on the side of staying close to Europe whilst trying to pretend the opposite.

We are to have a common rule book with Europe for goods and agri-food, including the rules already agreed in the Single Market. This means we abide by Europe’s rules.

Parliament can choose to refuse further rules but this will have ‘consequences’. This is supposed to stress our Parliamentary sovereignty. But the reality is the consequence of refusal would be exit from the common rule book area so it’s never going to happen. And of course, Parliament is sovereign. It always is. We choose to be in the Single Market now. We can choose to exit it now.

But in practice, under this proposal, we are staying in the Single Market for goods, whilst losing our voice in it.

Couldn’t have put it better myself. I guess that’s why I’m a blogger to a couple of dozen people and he used to run the country…

Likewise, with the so-called ‘Customs Partnership’. This is effectively the Customs Union just renamed, with the possibility at some later time of getting agreement to some as yet undiscovered technological facilitation of trade which would allow us to have different tariffs on goods. This is pie in the sky.

In any event until the time the pie miraculously appears on earth, it will be impossible to do trade deals elsewhere, as President Trump has just confirmed. In the meantime, of course, Europe can carry on doing such deals, but we will have no say over them, though we will be bound by them.

Again, true. How does Theresa May not see this when everyone else does? Does she think she’s pulling the wool over our eyes?

As for freedom of movement, this is to be replaced by a new ‘Labour Mobility Framework.’ This will give a special preference for European workers. It is the Government’s recognition that without such workers being able to come easily to Britain, key sectors of the economy will suffer.

The practical reality is that the difference between current freedom of movement and this new framework will be miniscule because for economic reasons it must be. Also, there is no way Europe would ever agree to this partial acceptance of the Single Market, unless freedom of movement was, in essence, retained.

Another way in which Mrs. May attempts to convince us she is ‘delivering’ when she is in fact doing nothing of the kind. I’m put in mind of a sailor who unhooks the moorings of his ship, only to hold on desperately to the dock with his hands.

Meanwhile, we will try to negotiate our way back into a slew of European Agencies where we are now as of right.

Going through each section of the White Paper, at every turn the absurdity becomes more manifest. Every page details why it is so important we stay in cooperation with Europe whilst trying to invent new forms of partnership which can be presented as consistent with leaving Europe.

Indeed, the Paper proposes even closer cooperation with Europe in defence and data protection, as if Brexit were necessary for such enhanced partnership.

The one area excluded is that of workers’ rights, with no commitment to retaining the benefits of the European Social Charter.

Finally, we come to what, with delicious irony, is titled ‘Fishing Opportunities’, under which we agree to negotiate a new fishing framework with the EU, which looks a lot like the old one.

The intent behind this, at least on the part of the Prime Minister, may come from a good place, but the result is an ‘Inbetweener’ half in/half out mess.

As with everything else. This is because she fundamentally doesn’t believe in it.

A genuine ‘soft’ Brexit would obviously be less damaging than a Hard Brexit, though it would highlight the ‘what’s the point’ nature of this choice. But this Brexit is just mush.

It is not making the best of a bad job. It is the worst of both worlds. This is where True Remainers and True Leavers make common cause.

We do indeed make common cause. Everybody sees it. It is plain and out there for all to gaze upon. It will never work.

I understand completely its attraction for some in business and for many people who just want the agony of Brexit to end. ‘Ok’ so the argument runs, ‘it may be a messy compromise but it’s the only way we can limit the damage, so let’s get on with it.’

How depressing.

But I am afraid this argument is fatally flawed.

  1. The practical upshot of this proposal is to tie us to Europe over large parts of economic life, without a say in its rules. This is intrinsically a dismal outcome which reduces British influence for no or negligible gain.
  2. It is not an ‘honouring’ of the Brexit vote. It will disillusion large numbers of Leavers, whilst being dismissed by Remainers, except those in the Conservative Party who see this as a way through their internal schism. A point often forgotten – never mind an economic crisis, a democratic crisis will be much worse and much harder to contain.
  3. The Europeans will not accept it unless clarified in a way which will expose the Dilemma once again. The likelihood is that they will consider cherry-picking between different parts of the Single Market wrong in principle and hard to do in practice, given the overlap between services and goods. But suppose they do accept distinguishing between the Single Market for goods and services. This will only be on the basis that Britain clearly applies those rules for goods trade, adjudicated by the ECJ, and probably with what are called flanking arrangements for those parts of the services sector intimately bound up with the manufacturing supply chain. This will never be palatable to the Brexiteers who sit in the Cabinet. So the argument will continue.
  4. Even if the Brexiteers or some of them swallow such an agreement with Europe, they will only do so, in order to drag the country the other side of March 2019, and then they will re-ignite the debate when it is then too late to stop Brexit and when our bargaining position will be very weak. Nobody wants to reopen this wound once it is closed. Even Jacob Rees-Mogg has said as much.
  5. By excluding services, the Government is prepared to do significant and possibly irreparable damage to the UK service sector which is the bulk of our economy, and where unlike the goods sector, we presently have a large surplus in European trade. Particularly for the financial service and tech sectors, where Britain is dominant in Europe, we now know from those active in those sectors that exclusion from the Single Market is going to result in job losses and economic cost which will impact output and revenue considerably.

In other words, this is a bad deal. More important, it will not be accepted as fulfilling the mandate of June 2016 and we know that because many of the leading Brexit proponents are saying it.

I’m certainly saying that. And there’s no getting around this fact. May might try to sell this on the technical point, but nobody wins anything in politics on a technical point. 

And there will be no majority in Parliament for it, or for ‘Clean Break Brexit’ or possibly for any version of Brexit or indeed for staying.

We are stuck.

And herein lies the lesson – referendums are constitutionally idiotic. If this teaches us nothing else, it ought to teach us that referendums do not work in a Parliamentary system without a fundamental restructuring. Yes, we’re stuck. That feels to me like a good way to learn a hard lesson. 

In any rational world, and I understand that is a big caveat in today’s politics, this would go back to the people for resolution.

I have to disagree – that may be the pragmatic way of resolving this immediate problem, but for me it just gives further credence to the idea that referendums are a good idea. They aren’t – they don’t have enough political power in our current system. The same questions will be asked – is this one binding? Does it overrule the last one? But the government promised to implement the last one… 

It would not be a re-run of the 2016 referendum. Two major things have changed since then. Our quantum of knowledge about the issue and particularly about the consequences of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union is vastly enlarged. And there is fundamental disagreement about what Brexit means between supporters of Brexit.

The question may be complicated because it really involves three choices: Clean Break, ‘soft’ or stay. But the complexity is not insuperable.

If it’s three way, does 34% win it? So 66% of people could vote against the option we end up taking…but we had a bigger mandate last time round…and on and on it will go.

For the Conservative Party it avoids owning a botched Brexit.

Well they made it, they can own it.

For the Labour Party it escapes constructive ambiguity becoming destructive indecision.

That’s no way for a major party to behave.

For Parliament it may be the only way through.

Maybe it is. But it seems like a major cop out to resort to this when they created the problem for themselves. I elect representatives to sort this sort of stuff out for me – stop asking me to do your job, you get paid enough (well…maybe…) to do it on my behalf.

End of analysis.

I fear any talk of another referendum. I have no desire to have another damaging fallout with friends. It would also have that chilling effect of ‘the EU makes you vote until you give the right answer’ which is rightly pointed out over and over again. And would this one be definitive? Or do we go again? What if a new government gets elected and decides against it? It’s too messy and anti-democratic.

We have a Parliament for a reason – if you want constant referendums, dissolve the blasted thing. I’m sick of politicians constantly reverting to this blunt tool to avoid making decisions they don’t want to make. The offering of referendums is the modern day independent inquiry – a tool to kick a subject into the long grass.

Consecutive PMs have now, to their eternal shame, failed to prepare this country for a no deal, leaving negotiators powerless and rudderless. Cameron refused to allow it and May leads a shambles. The dereliction of duty in these two cases is appalling and shameful to the office they have held.

I voted Leave and would do the same today. I have not changed my mind. But what people forget when they parrot the old ‘biggest vote in history’ line is that the second biggest vote ever was the vote to Remain. If it were up to me, we’d just leave the whole thing and get on with it. But it isn’t, and there is currently no majority for any position. I’m up for a discussion with anyone who wants to persuade me.

Mr. Blair, for all his obvious faults, made a good start.

I will always vote – until the day I’m forced to

Why compulsory voting would be a step in the wrong direction

Since I was eligible to do so, I’ve voted in every ballot that has been available to me. Local elections, general elections and referendums, I haven’t missed one. No matter whether it’s an exciting, tense, close vote, a foregone conclusion or some bog-standard local election that nobody even knows is happening, I’ve trudged down to the polling station and marked my X (or scribbled something rather less tasteful).

It is a freedom that I am grateful for. Many people have fought for, protested for and been punished for this freedom in the past. But the crucial point is that this happened for the freedom to vote.

I’ve never been a fan of the growing shame culture around not voting. By all means encourage and cajole if that’s what you feel is right, and certainly shake people out of laziness or apathy. But if people want to exercise their equal right to not vote, then they should be allowed to do so. This is, for now (and less and less so), a free country. The state should be extremely limited in telling us what we must do. There is a world of difference between legislating what we can’t do and dictating to us what we must do.

My vote has had varying weights – in local and general elections, it makes barely any difference. I have always lived in some of the safest Labour council and constituency seats in the country, but I don’t bemoan this fact. In referendums, where all count equally, my votes against AV or for Leave have had more weight. But in all instances, I’ve offered my view willingly through the ballot box.

Turnout in this country can vary wildly between the different polls. And this is where problems start to emerge; problems to which politicians start to seek solutions that would begin to erode our freedoms.

Any talk of compulsory voting should chill us, and, in my view, must be resisted whenever is is even whispered. Compulsory voting is not designed to help us, the voters. It is purely designed to help politicians. This is why I am always minded to warn those who are heavily invested in one side and who think compulsory voting would benefit their side that this would not be a panacea.

It always seems to be assumed in this debate that everyone cares, everyone is engaged and every knows enough to cast a vote. This is obviously not true. This should never bar anyone from casting a vote, but compulsory voting would force all of these people into the voting booth. Given the completely anti-democratic and anti-universal suffrage reaction to the EU referendum (take votes away form the old, the stupid, the working class, the white, etc.), I’m not sure these people can square their self-drawn circle here.

One of the issues that seems to continually crop up is the high voting engagement of older people against the comparatively low engagement of younger people. This is sometimes completely disproven in the odd vote, but as a general trend it stands up to scrutiny. It also prompts those on the more left/liberal side of the equation to become exasperated in their attempts to ‘get out the youth vote’ – i.e. their core vote. This inevitably starts to lead down the road towards musing on compulsory voting, because they figure that if they can force everyone (i.e young people) to vote, their share will increase and they will sweep to power.

Makes sense. But if that were to ever happen, they would be making us all less free, not more free. I don’t owe politicians a thing, and they should remember that.

You see, what politicians crave more than anything – more than popularity, even more than power itself – is a mandate. Popularity without a mandate is powerless. Power without a mandate is weak. If it looks like the mandate is small, their power starts to wane. And one way (not the only way, but one way) of depriving them of a popular mandate is by staying away. It’s not the way I would choose, but it is legitimate.

Compulsory voting would force the entire nation to give somebody a mandate, and we would have no grounds to delegitimise them. You would be forced to go and cast a vote. Now, I understand that people have tried various ways to get around this – what about if we still allowed spoiled ballots? What if we offered a ‘none of the above’ option? These are not terrible suggestions, but would always have some problems.

Spoiled ballots would have to be discounted in a way similar to the way they are now. They have to be acknowledged, but not counted, which seems a sensible compromise. But why not just let people stay away? I myself spoiled my ballot in the last general election, but that’s because I wanted to go and show my displeasure – that was my choice. Why should I be forced to go and do that if I don’t wish to?

A ‘none of the above’ option is the one thing that could even remotely sway me towards compulsory voting, but again, there are problems – what if this option won? What then? No MP sent to Parliament? The second on the list wins? We vote again? Again, it doesn’t seem to solve the problem that compulsory voting is intended to solve. What about in referendums – should this be an option there as well? Would they be counted? Would they be assumed to be backing the status quo?

What about in a general election where there are constituencies with only one serious candidate? The entire population of that area would be practically forced to give a mandate to that person, with no choice not to. Spoiled ballots wouldn’t count, and ‘none of the above’ would produce the same issues highlighted above. Traditionally, the Commons Speaker stands unopposed by the major parties- what if I don’t like him? I either have to vote for Greens or UKIP? I don’t think so.

When Jo Cox was murdered, the Labour candidate stood unopposed by any major party. This was, of course, a totally unique situation, rightly engineered out of compassion and respect, but that respect would have been soured by, essentially, a forced vote for the replacement or going for a far-right alternative. As somebody who votes for the candidate above the party or the party leader, that would have caused me a major issue.

Forcing people to go to the ballot box would also be a violation of freedom of speech – the state would be making me send a message that I may not wish to send. This cannot be tolerable in a free society, surely? I should be able to choose what I say and when and where I say it, unless restricted by law (and these instances should be extremely minimal, if at all) – I should not be compelled to do or say anything I don’t wish to do or say, and certainly not by the state. It is authoritarian and a breach of the relationship between state and citizen.

If it ever came to it in this country, which seems unlikely, I would campaign vigorously against it. I’m all for encouraging people to vote, but active non-participation is a choice that many people make, and this shouldn’t be curtailed.

As I say – I have always voted. But as soon as someone tells me that I have to, I won’t.

Labour reaps with Munroe Bergdorf what it sowed with Toby Young

Do we really want to play this game? Trawling our social media histories can’t end well for anybody.

There’s a storyline in the TV show ‘The Thick Of It” in which the main characters are subject to an independent inquiry on the subject of ‘leaking’. Leaking had become one of those practices that everyone did, everyone knew was going on and just got on with it. Whether it was a genuine scandal, or just the way the government worked, everybody knew that it wouldn’t look good with a full media glare shining on it, despite the fact that this was exactly how the media got their stories.

So when one of the parties (the party of government at the time) announces an inquiry in order to gain some political leverage, the whole thing looks like it’s going to collapse. Ollie, a special adviser almost crumbles at the news. “An inquiry into all of leaking – all of leaking! We are so…! We are so screwed.”

To which Alastair Campb…sorry, Malcolm Tucker replies, “He’s done it. That chinless horse-fiddler. Our f***lustrious PM has opened Pandora’s f***ing Box and curled a massive steamer right into it.”

Which is to say, well done mate. We’re all going down now. And if I am, I’ll be dragging you down with me.

Both parties are constantly trying to one-up each other, looking for any tiny crack in the armour to ram a sword into and prise power. But they both know there are some roads that they can never start down, because they know the whole house of cards will come tumbling down and take them all out.

It’s starting to feel like the modern day version of this is what the Spectator have started calling ‘The Digital Inquisition’. And Labour and the Left generally must be starting to regret opening this particular Pandora’s box and curling a…well, you get the gist.

Only recently, the journalist and director of the New Schools Network, Toby Young stepped down from a new advisory position that he taken up in the Office for Students following an unprecedented campaign against him that was based on a trawl of his social media history. It turned out that he had said some unpleasant and shocking things in the past, and this was brought into the full media spotlight for all to pick over.

He was jumped on – Angela Rayner, Jess Phillips, Owen Jones, all took chunks out of him and the government for this apparently unwise appointment. I saw plenty of it from my own friends and connections on social media. Petitions, campaigns and reposting of his old tweets were paraded around for all to sign, join and despise.

Now, I’m not (here, anyway) taking a position on this. You’re welcome to make your own mind up on whether Mr Young was an appropriate choice for this post. My point here is that this tactic is not something that will only hit one side of the political divide. This has been proven in the last week, as Labour found themselves caught in their own net.

The transgender model and campaigner Munroe Bergdorf had been appointed to the Labour party’s LGBT advisory board, but stepped down after a similar campaign showed some highly unpleasant comments that she had made in the past on social media.

I’ll be completely honest, in my opinion this person is a deeply unpleasant individual with some shocking, awful opinions. I’ve heard her speak where she can give as much context as she like to her views, and I find her to be ill-informed and spiteful. She is, as far as I’m concerned, an idiot.

What I don’t like, and will defend her as much as I will defend anyone on this point, is the stripping of context around something that someone has said and presenting it as the whole truth. This is something I will come back to in a future piece, but for now let’s just say that whenever you see a small quote, especially when used to attack or smear someone, ALWAYS look for the context around it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve read something, thought “well there’s no amount of context that could give that any credence”, only to click the link and find it more understandable. So please, when you read anything about what Munroe has said, read it in its full context. And do yourself a favour and do the same for Toby Young, Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else you’ve taken a dislike to.

I really don’t want to play this game where any appointment is followed by a trawl of their history. We will have to get to the point where we’re going to have to see our past selves in the context in which they were said, and give each other a break. Can any of us really admit that we’d be happy for anyone to trawl back into our archives before we’d had a chance to do so ourselves?

It doesn’t help that everything we have ever said on social media is presented (if you search for it now) in the modern UI (user interface) – that is, whatever Twitter or Facebook looks like now. Imagine we could see a post from 2010 in the UI that 2010 Facebook had. It would already put it into its context effectively. Old photographs and videos are black and white – it gives them context immediately. If we could put them all into full HD colour, we’d subconsciously be applying our modern biases and culture to an age that didn’t have them.

If you want to do this, then fine, but it’s going to take us all down. I promise you, though, it isn’t a fight worth having, and it’s up to all of us to take responsibility as individuals to start giving people a break. This starts with your enemies. Because I can assure you, if you don’t apply the same rules to those on your side as you do to your enemies, you will be open to justifiable attack.

And you can’t say you weren’t warned.

UK General Election 2017 – PREDICTION

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

 

US Election 2016

Trump to win the popular vote by a whisker

Clinton to win the Presidency by 40+ electoral college votes

 

EU referendum

Leave – 45%

Remain – 55%

 

UK General Election 2015

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

 

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

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

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

 

Party breakdown (in size order, 650 seats total)

Conservative and Unionist – 368

Labour – 210

Scottish National – 44

Northern Irish – 18

Liberal Democrat – 5

Plaid Cymru – 3

Green – 1

Speaker – 1

UKIP – 0

 

Social (and other) predictions

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

 

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

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

In defence of Diane Abbott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we would deserve it.

Some thoughts on the Speaker, Blair and Milo

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

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

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

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

The Speaker speaks…I wish he wouldn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He rises from the deep

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

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

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

Take this excerpt from his speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You love him really. What other explanation is there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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