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.

The police must never be routinely armed with guns

Who is reassured by automatic weapons on a residential street? We must resist this folly.

There are some traditions and routines in life that become so ingrained in one’s head that auto-pilot takes over and we switch off. The commute to work, doing the big shop on Saturday morning and, for me anyway, going to the football. We know the rhythms and the routes, we know which traffic lights we prefer on the way to the office and we know that the houmous in the Old Swan Tesco is in a slightly different place to where it is in the Allerton Tesco (although having said that, Old Swan Tesco are in the process of moving everything around. Allerton it will have to be.)

My family’s ‘going to Anfield’ ritual is as old as I am, my parents having been season ticket holders for decades, and my brother and I joining as soon as we were old enough that we could keep up the pace to walk the route. It’s the same every game. Leave the house around an hour before kick off, park the car 45 minutes before kick off, walk down together on the left hand side, cross over the road in front of the stadium, stop for a couple of minutes on the corner of the Kop and the Kemlin/Centenery/Dalglish, make our predictions, then go our separate ways into the stadium – Dad and brother into the Kop, me into the Kemlin/Centenery/Dalglish. Into the second turnstile (never the first, or any other), up the stairs, across to my block and out to my seat.

I could do this with my eyes closed – it’s barely changed in the 20+ years I’ve been doing it. Sure, the turnstiles are automatic now, but I still go through the same one. There’s only the three of us that go now. But other than that, only something extraordinary could throw me off.

And that’s exactly what happened at the Boxing Day match last year. Liverpool were playing Swansea, so it ought to have been a low security kind of affair. United, Everton, Chelsea – these are games where you expect slightly more police and maybe some police horses, but other than that, it’s generally a few smiling officers posted around the ground in hi-vis jackets, overseeing some semblance of order. This is not what greeted us as we crossed the road in front of the stadium.

On this occasion, I was shaken out of my routine by the sight of two heavily armed police officers standing in the middle of the road. They were both carrying machine guns and looked decked out for war. They were still smiling – everything about the personality of the image was still the same, but the outfit was one of menace and aggression. These weapons were not equipped in a  passive way, there in case of emergency – they were being held, trigger in the right hand, left hand under the barrel. Ready to shoot.

To my knowledge, there was no threat. No reason for these weapons to be deployed. I have written to the Police and Crime Commissioner and my MP to ask why these shocking, unpleasant guns were required for a Boxing Day match against a non-rival, but received no reply. Frankly, even if we were playing United, this would have been serious overkill. What are you going to do, shoot someone if they start fighting over a song about Gerrard?

What possible use could these assault weapons have been in anything that might have taken place at a football match? What would have happened if some unrest or low level violence had taken place within range of these two men? Their hands were on a gun. How could they have dealt with a couple of morons swinging fists at one another? “Excuse me mate, can you just hold this while I go and break that up? Safety’s off, try not to pull the trigger.”

The excuse often given in these situations is that they are there to ‘reassure the public’. Reassure me of what? I can assure you, I was far from reassured. Seeing an automatic weapon on a residential street in a populated city is one of the most alarming sights I’ve seen in a long time. Had there been a threat of terrorism, a serious indication of violence made against the stadium or the surrounding area, it may have been understandable, but there was nothing of the sort. So while we are all assuming this is a routine match, seeing armed police is the opposite of reassuring – it makes you think there has been a threat and we haven’t been told about it. Follow that link above – plenty of research negates this silly view.

It put me in mind of our family holiday to America in 2005. Flying into JFK airport in New York, we were greeted with the sight of police everywhere, all with pistols holstered on their hips. There was no heightened threat level, no expected incident – this was the norm. I asked my mum why they all had guns, and she replied “that’s just the way it is here”. Well, fine. but that had better not make its way over here.

I remember when we had some friends over from America. We were discussing over dinner and games the differences between our two countries. My wife hadn’t really realised just what a different country the US is to Britain, and so she was enjoying the back and forth. At one point I piped up to her, “I bet these guys wouldn’t believe you if you told them our police don’t have guns” – their faces dropped and they froze. “WHAT? How on earth can you feel safe if the police don’t have guns?”. It was a real lesson in mindsets and culture.

My worry is that we are being buttered up for some move towards arming the police as a routine measure. Getting these out and visible bit by bit so that when it is announced, we’re already sort of used to it. This must be resisted.

Salami slicing is always the best way to advance policy. It is quiet and sneaky, and makes objections sound petty and silly. “It’s not like we’re going for full on arming, just an armed section of the police.” “Oh well only some police are armed”, “Only some forces have been allocated funds for training” “Only at airports and stadiums”, “Well just those who have to go to more dangerous areas”… But this is exactly why we need to register objections when we encounter these situations. Because before we know it, the sight of guns will become more commonplace. If you laugh at the NRA’s suggestion that ‘a good guy with a gun is the answer to a bad guy with a gun’, then consider your support for armed police very carefully.

We have to realise that it is a ratchet. Once these things are given out to police officers like handcuffs and helmets, there will be no going back. This will not be something we can reverse. Once guns are in common use, they will be seen as ‘required’.

It’s strange to see friends who couldn’t be more against guns in America argue for UK police to be armed. Can you not see that this is how it ratchets up? If people feel targeted by the police, and those officers start walking (well, let’s be honest, driving) around the neighbourhood with guns strapped to their sides, what do you think those people are going to do next? It doesn’t take much imagination.

Frankly, I don’t believe there should even be an armed division of the police. It is a civilian force. If you want to shoot guns, join the army. If there is a terrorist incident, send the army. But I realise this is not a popular opinion, and I don’t want to divert and dilute my argument too much here – I’m really more interested in patrol policing than reactive policing at this point.

I may come back to this subject at another time, but for now, I will be taking note of any moves to advance this policy and would welcome any correspondence from others if you spot it happening.

My son is currently 9 months old. Before I know it, he’ll be scampering at my side, running excitedly between his father, his uncle and his granddad as we beat that hallowed path towards our historic stadium. If he has to see what I saw, but on a regular basis, we will be living in a different country. And that would be a real shame.

Be careful using superlatives – they won’t work when you really need them

Do you really need to reach for the strongest word you can think of?

Several years ago, we attended the wedding of some friends of ours. A lovely couple, celebrating the happiest day of their lives. It was a wonderful occasion.

The groom is, shall we say, a very positive chap. Excitable and effusive, he radiates warmth and positivity. He also uses superlatives a lot. In everyday life, this is charming and fun, but when making a speech on your wedding day, can lead you into some problems.

All the usual bases were covered during this speech. Thanks were proffered to both sides of the family, all who had helped, his ushers, the bridesmaids – you know the drill. In the thanks came the superlatives, and why wouldn’t they? He was delighted and having a wonderful time.

The in-laws were ‘amazing’, the people who did the flowers and the food ‘incredible’, the ushers ‘absolutely wonderful’, the bridesmaids ‘astonishingly gorgeous’, all said with gusto and depth of feeling. He definitely meant what he was saying.

But then he turned to his bride, his new wife, the absolute pinnacle of the whole thing. And there were no words left. How could she be ‘amazing’? She’d only be as good as her parents. How about ‘incredible’? Nope, already blown that one on the food. ‘Gorgeous’? What, only as attractive as the bridesmaids? He was reduced to mere noises and hand gestures as he grasped and groped around for words that were not forthcoming.

Now of course, in this instance, having used up all of his superlatives meant he came across as properly speechless in a charming, Hugh Grant-like way. We could all clearly see the love he had for his new wife, and frankly, words like ‘amazing’ and ‘incredible’ would feel lacking in this situation anyway. All who have gazed at their bride and had to say something about them in front of all those you know and love will have felt this feeling. No words seem to do the job adequately.

On the flip side, though, the use of negative superlatives can have a damaging effect, particularly when said by public figures or uttered in public life. The range of events that people are expected to comment on is broad, and yet there seems to be a consistent thread of going for the most extreme word for everything.

Using a word like ‘disgusted’, however relevant to the situation, blunts it to some degree. If you’re ‘disgusted’ by hearing of the crimes of a serious criminal like a murderer or a rapist, that seems pretty appropriate. Who could argue with that? But if the Foreign Secretary blurts out some silly notion about bridges or cake, is the word ‘disgusted’ really what we should be reaching for? Using it here leaves it a less effective weapon when you next want to use it.

Let’s take some recent examples, gleaned from a brief trawl through Twitter, searching on some key terms.

John Major has called for a second vote on the EU/UK deal. I would disagree with that, but it’s a fair enough, perfectly defensible position to take. One tweet reads “John Major advocates ignoring a democratic vote – DISGUSTING”. Really? Is it not just disagreeable? Or disappointing? Another called him “an absolute disgrace”. Wow. What are you going to do when a real disgrace happens, like a serious crime or a government scandal? Use the same word?

The word ‘appalling’ is pretty strong. One might be ‘appalled’ by the expenses scandal, or perhaps the UK-Saudi Arabia arms deals. These seem fairly reasonable uses for it. But customer service? Poor website design? These are just two things that some prominent people are ‘appalled’ about.

Perhaps Twitter is not the best place to be searching for reasonable people (I avoid it as much as possible), but many people spend a lot of time there and this debasing of our language in order to prove you’re the most outraged or the most angry about something has a wider effect.

Modern politicians feel the need to react to everything with the strongest possible terms, and very often, on Twitter. It means that when there is a genuinely horrid event or an opponent does something actually ‘shocking’, these words will not have the meaning they once did. And for what? So they can virtue signal away, free of the possible repercussions of not ‘condemning something in the strongest possible terms?’ Oh, grow up.

One story that I have been following for a while and has really, shall we say, got my goat, is the reaction of the Church of England to accusations made about a long dead Bishop, George Bell. I shan’t go into the detail of the whole affair here, but suffice to say I have, on occasion, been stirred to serious anger. But in one response of the Bishop Bell Group to the Archbishop of Canterbury, these men and women (fiercely fighting for the reputation of a man much revered and currently being destroyed) use words that seem mild in comparison to some examples I have given. And yet, the words have weight and force behind them.

‘Profound dismay’ may be a term further down on the ladder of superlative than ‘absolute disgust’ or ‘utter disgrace’, and yet when it is said by these highly literate individuals speaking as a collective, it strikes at the heart with frightening power, rendering those other words frail and meek. This letter was sent after previous correspondence that described the position taken by the office of the Archbishop as ‘unfortunate’, ‘disappointing’ and ‘unbecoming’.

Have no doubt, these words were said by a group of people who would doubtless, at times, have been brimming with a seething righteous anger. The group would not have formed without such a strength of feeling. But they have applied calm and reserve to their public utterances, which has meant that when the struggle has reached its high point, they can wield words with power and might.

Exercising some restraint with our language would be a highly desirable step towards civility, in my view. Applying some context, reacting slowly, having some perspective – all things that would need to be in place. But we all must take individual responsibility. It’ll never happen if we constantly try to out-react each other.

Let’s take a step back, and reset.

The predictability of opinion – what makes people interesting

What makes a person interesting? Can I predict your opinion? Yes? Then you’re not interesting.

 

Let’s take an issue to start with: gay marriage.

You’re in favour? Ok great. Now let me guess:

  • You’re ‘pro-choice’ in the abortion debate
  • You’re in favour of ‘gun control’
  • You read the Guardian
  • You hate the Daily Mail
  • You’re broadly pro mass immigration
  • You voted Remain
  • You, shall we say, ‘display negativity’ towards the state of Israel
  • You’re in favour of legalising marijuana
  • You don’t want any private money in the NHS/healthcare
  • You want the railways to be nationalised
  • You’re in favour of proportional representation of some kind
  • You would abolish the monarchy
  • You think the BBC is broadly right wing
  • You are against the death penalty, even for heinous criminals

Oh I do beg your pardon, you’re against gay marriage? Ok great. Now let me guess:

  • You’re ‘pro-life’ in the abortion debate
  • You’re against ‘gun control’
  • You read the Telegraph or the Mail
  • You hate the Guardian
  • You’re broadly anti mass immigration
  • You voted Leave
  • You, shall we say, ‘display positivity’ towards the state of Israel
  • You’re against legalising marijuana
  • You don’t mind private money in the NHS/healthcare
  • You don’t want the railways to be nationalised
  • You’re against proportional representation of some kind
  • You would not abolish the monarchy
  • You think the BBC is broadly left wing
  • You would favour the death penalty for heinous criminals

 

Now, these things are all very different issues. Some of them are moral questions, some political, some social. Some would reasonably require a lot of thought to come to a solid conclusion. And yet, with most people, just knowing their position on one of these things is a solid predictor of their opinions on the rest. Why should this be? I question how much anyone really understands the issues they have taken such a line on.

The neuroscientist and best-selling author Sam Harris sums it up best: “Knowing one person’s opinion on any political issue allows you to reliably predict their opinion on other issues. This shouldn’t happen because these issues are totally unrelated. Why should a person’s view on guns be predictive of his view on climate change, or immigration or abortion, it shouldn’t be but it is. This is a sign that people are joining tribes and groups, it is not a sign of clear thinking.”

Having a conversation with such a person is, for the most part fruitless and dull. It will inexorably end in subject changing, whataboutery and appeals to emotion, because they don’t understand enough about the issue. If their opinions are predictable, they are not interesting. The briefest trawl through Twitter will tell you this. Such people are not interested in listening, changing their mind, or accurately capturing their opponent’s position.

Listening to some professional women’s rights activist sound off about gun control is painful, particularly when they come up against someone who knows the facts, the stats and can back up a pro-gun position. Similarly, watching a right wing businessman chat on about immigration or ‘the lies about climate change’ can be made to look idiotic by a scientist with a full grasp of the facts.

You can tell instantly when a person clearly doesn’t read or even acknowledge anything on the opposing side. It’s painfully obvious when a Guardian reading Corbynista has never even seen the Telegraph, glanced at the Mail on Sunday or picked up a copy of the Spectator. It renders their arguments incomplete and turns them into an intensely vacuous shell. You’re not arguing the issue – you’re defending the tribe. I use an example from the Left here, simply because that’s what I experience most, and the Left is the side that claims dominion over fact, logic and reason. But if you can’t make your opponent’s case for them, you don’t understand it well enough. So how can you claim you understand yours? And where does yours come from?

Some of this is understandable. A high level belief that ‘big government’ is bad and that individual freedom is paramount will inevitably lead to a grouping of some issues under the same banner, because any misgivings at that lower level would be overcome by an overarching principle, in much the same way that the US constitution overrules many smaller changes in law because it is the overarching agreement that American citizens have with one another.

But what is really fascinating is when you come across a person whose views on some issues deviate from their home crowd. These people are much more interesting to listen to, because the only way they will have come to this deviant view is by thinking carefully and forming a solid conclusion. To express it in public would have required a complete conviction in their process and their argument.

It’s exciting, because when somebody puts a question to them, you have no idea what their response might be. But whatever comes, it will surely be well reasoned.

There are brilliant examples of these people from across the political spectrum. Liberals who voted Leave and vice versa is a good place to start looking. There are also shining examples of those dull, lifeless crowd followers all over the place as well.

Think of Farage – I could probably predict his opinion on everything. Similarly with Owen Jones. What fashionable lefty cause has he not jumped all over and furrowed his brow in that sincere way while appearing authoritative about it? It’s just so boring. He gave a perfect example of what I’m talking about during the referendum campaign when he penned a piece putting forward the case for a ‘left wing Leave’. This lasted all of 5 minutes before he retreated back into his herd, now consistently sounding off against Leave voters and Brexit itself.

Indeed, the whole tone of the piece should have foretold this. It opens with “at first, only a few dipped their toes in the water; then others, hesitantly, followed their lead, all the time looking at each other for reassurance.” Does this not show just how little he has really thought about it? He’s essentially saying ‘I’ll go if you go’. How courageous.

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

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

Except the second he dipped his toe, he saw it was freezing and promptly wrapped himself in a towel. Thanks mate, the rest of us who swam out into the deep are so grateful for this bravery now that the sharks are devouring us. Hope it was worth it.

True courage lies in expressing thoughts that you know full well will get you ostracised by your side. Others simply occupy their own space, not bothering to cultivate a base in a camp in the first place. I raise the example of Mr. Jones only because, having read his column for a while and getting bored of its predictability, I suddenly glimpsed a light shining through it. “This will get him into trouble – how exciting. How will he push through?” Alas, he didn’t, and his column has been as predictable as ever, ever since. It’s a real shame, because he is likeable, writes well and has a significant following.

On the other side of things, let’s take the Hitchens brothers as an example. Christopher, the darling of the Left – Peter, the darling of the Right. Neither, when you really look, deserves the title, nor would they want it.

Christopher, who sadly died in 2011, was one of the so called ‘Four horsemen of the Atheist apocalypse’ alongside Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris (this was later expanded to be the 5 horsepeople, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali joined the group). He exploded into public consciousness with his book ‘God is not Great: How religion poisons everything’ and was a vicious polemicist against religion. He was adored by students, atheists and left wingers.

But looking a little deeper, things aren’t as clear as they might be. He was an avid proponent of the Iraq War, never ever shying away from it. He blasted the Clintons (one of the most painful things about his death is not being able to see what he would have made of the 2016 presidential election), believed firmly in Israel’s right to exist (albeit with criticism of the Israeli government), thought that men should be the providers and breadwinners for their wives/partners and had serious reservations about abortion.

“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass.”

Well, quite.

His brother Peter has a similar style, yet finds himself on the opposite side of most things. As a Mail on Sunday columnist and self-declared Burkean Conservative, you may think you could predict him. He hates Tony Blair, strongly opposes drug legalisation, believes criminals should be punished with prison, would reinstate the death penalty if certain judicial criteria could be met, is a fervent Monarchist, opposes mass immigration and believes the UK should leave the EU.

So how, then, does such a person also find more hatred for the Conservative Party than any other? David Cameron is a ‘slippery HR man’, Thatcher ‘overrated’. He would renationalise the railways ‘immediately’, did not vote in the referendum (indeed does not vote in elections), believes the UK should stay in the Single Market, that there should be a strong welfare state, that the Iraq War was a disaster (not difficult now, but opposed it when it was unfashionable to do so in media circles), that Trident is a ridiculous and out of date weapon that we should rid ourselves of and that Jeremy Corbyn is a good thing for the Labour Party.

These are the kinds of people you always want on your side, but they can never predictably be so. Simon Jenkins, Germaine Greer, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Douglas Murray (Matthew Parris recently said of him “[he] writes so well that when he is wrong he is dangerous.’) – these are the people you want to listen to. Not even necessarily to agree with them, but to see that they have thought clearly, express their view and sod the consequences. Some of the most interesting talks you can hear are broadsides against your firmly held beliefs, spoken by a heavyweight intellectual from the other side in firm and weighty tones. Who could fail to be stimulated by that? Dullards and cowards, that’s who.

The greatest joy is meeting someone in the flesh who can argue against your view with rigour and persuasion. A small group of us had a wonderful knockabout during the referendum campaign, a time that I look back on as a period that sharpened my thinking, forced me to back up what I thought and, in some cases, change my mind. They argued passionately for their side, and they could very well see what motivated my side.

That’s all disappearing. In this new world, tribes are king. There is simply no reasoning with most people. There is no ‘I disagree with you, but still like you and enjoy hearing your arguments.’

Well, screw it. I think what I think. Come at me. Let’s have it out. I promise you – it will be more fun than you think.

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.

Thoughts on Gibraltar and James O’Brien

 

They’re more British than we are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gibraltar

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

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

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

 

There must be someone else for the job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?