All Change, and No Change in British General Election

June 29, 2017 Leave a comment

This month’s British election result came as a surprise to most. The Conservatives surrendered a massive poll lead and lost MPs, Labour had their highest percentage vote in decades. It was a personal defeat for Theresa May even though the Tories won most of the seats. Pollsters had egg on their faces, again (except for two companies who called the outcome correctly). The 2017 election should have been the dawning of Conservative Party hegemony. Instead, May limped back into government with the help of the DUP.

The Tories ran a poor campaign. Terrorist incidents distracted from what should have been their bread and butter issue, namely the economy. But, to the exasperation of many, Tory central office were unable or unwilling to run with economic competency as a core issue. The campaign quickly reverted to tribal lines, with a twist this time; the C2s who voted, tended to vote blue, not red. May’s inability to connect with the wider electorate meant Labour was able to portray her as cold and out of touch. She proved to be a poor campaigner and is not expected to remain as Prime Minister for the next election.

Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn, had a very good ‘war’. Many, including this writer, had expected that Corbyn’s vulnerabilities would be cruelly exposed during an election campaign. Instead, the Corbynites and the Social Democrat wings of the party came together and achieved a result that few had expected. The Corbyn Factor turned out to be a huge plus in attracting younger voters, a cohort notorious for being all talk and no voting trousers. There are still significant issues of credibility and electability for the current Labour leadership, but it’s significantly more difficult now for Corbyn’s critics to depose him. The Hard Left still control the membership, the Soft Left still strong in the parliamentary party

It was a hugely disappointing result for the Liberal Democrats. They were unable to capitalise on the Remain vote; Britain’s First Past the Post electoral system once again meant that the party was could not match their overall share of the vote with seats. Tim Farron never got the Clegg bounce enjoyed by his predecessor in 2010. There were distractions, such as whether Farron’s faith influenced his politics, and their inability to hold Richmond in particular was an example of a party that didn’t enjoy a rub of the green. The dominance of the two big parties squeezed the Liberal Democrat vote.

There’s no hiding the fact that the SNP did not have a good election. There may be grounds for saying that the Scottish Conservative resurgence is a testament to the strength of Holyrood; perhaps some of the Tory vote is a recognition that Westminster politics is less important these days, and it was fine to register a protest vote accordingly. Brexit has messed everything up and the First Minister has taken heed of the outcome; namely that while most Scots do not want a second independence referendum in the near future, they know that their economic prosperity lies in the EU.

How does the result effect Brexit? The manner of the United Kingdom’s departure should be a lot ‘softer’ now, but not neccessarily. They will leave, and this is a huge let-down for the nearly half of the electorate who voted to stay. The Labour Party position is one of trying to saddle up on two horses; keeping the remainers happy, but ultimately acquiescing to a non-binding referendum to leave. Even if Labour comes to power following a second election, the journey of travel is to the departure lounge. The UK government is committed to leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. If most MPs oppose this, it’s time to stand up and be counted.

The DUP are the undoubted winners. Seasoned negotiators, they would loathe a Corbyn-led government, and by agreeing a confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives, they will provide Theresa May with some of the short-term stability she so desperately needs. The DUP are a vital bulwark against the natural attrition her government is expected to suffer in the next few years due to by-election defeats and rebellious Tories.  For now anyway, Theresa May is in office and in power. It’s a far cry from the landslide most expected.

The election should have been all about Europe. It wasn’t, and because it wasn’t, there is less certainty, not more, for EU negotiators. This is THE issue, and Labour are sticking their heads in the sand if they refuse to recognise it as such. As big as the Corn Laws, as big as Suffrage, as big as the Act of Union between England and Scotland. Yet there is little sign – currently – that there is the requisite leadership to grasp this nettle. Brexit will mean Brexit; the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.

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Manchester, British Election, Trump in Trouble, Alt-Left

May 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Manchester                

Manchester is now another city to add to Paris, Brussels, and Nice in the list of places falling prey to ISIS terrorism. This attack was particularly cruel. The suicide bomber would have known the age profile of those attending. It was an atrocity that can’t be blamed on foreign policy, on police failures, or on alienation, although these are factors in the greater scheme of things. It was the act of a homicidal maniac; he is the one with blood on his hands. There is no easy fix to this; it will be a combination of education and security. But let’s not have the usual suspects on the Hard Left equivocating on this act of barbarism. ISIS know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how to do it. They don’t need misguided or ideologically-driven commentators telling them what to think. They want to establish a global caliphate, not negotiate the finer points of international relations with the rest of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. The best thing we can all do is go back to what binds us together; respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. If this sounds like a long-term project, that’s because it is.

British Election

Less than ten days to go to the British General Election and the Labour party seems to have recovered a lot of ground. A recent opinion poll in ‘The Times’ has them within five points of the Conservatives. This would be the unlikeliest of comebacks. It’s been such an unusual two year period in international politics that we can rule nothing out. But this would be the mother of all revenge of the underdogs. In the extremely unlikely event that Jeremy Corbyn is the next Prime Minister, it will have been the biggest turn up for the books in modern polling history. Labour were over twenty points behind only a few short weeks ago, and now they’re within striking distance of Theresa May. This could well be as good as it gets. Even pegging it back to this small a lead would not stop a comfortable Conservative majority. The fact that Labour are still behind and expected to lose is a testament to Corbyn’s weakness as a leader. Theresa May is not a good campaigner or effective Prime Minister; Her Majesty’s Opposition should be streaks ahead, particularly after Brexit. After May 8th, it is likely that Labour will still be wanting.

Trump & Russia

For Trump, all roads seem to lead back to Moscow. It now appears that Jared Kushner, his senior advisor, and son-in-law, is a ‘person of interest’ to the FBI, one that started up a secret channel to the Russian Ambassador in DC. Two of DT’s senior former subordinates, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, are under investigation, and facing prosecution. The firing of FBI Director Jim Comey has opened up a whole new world of pain for ‘45’ as he becomes bogged down in a mire of his own making. America may well have elected a President guilty of treason. What would motivate someone like to Trump sell out his country? Money and status. That’s all he’s ever cared about. Russian mob money is alleged to have helped bail him out during his several bankruptcies. No serious commentators find him trustworthy or credible about anything anymore, if they ever did. Things are getting very serious for Trump. He either beats the rap, and American democracy gets devalued even further, or he resigns, and/or gets prosecuted/impeached. As things stand, the system is just about holding out against this man. Should he fail to be deposed, the system will have failed.

Alt-Left?

You’ll know the Alt-Left when you see them. They’re active on Twitter as Russell Brand fans, in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, and heavily embedded in the Bernie-or-Buster crowd. They would rather America fall foul of fascism than vote for a centrist candidate to prevent this. Sanders supporters in particular are still holding out that their man was defrauded, and then like some latter day deposed royal, he will be restored and lead his people as a just king. In reality, the Bernie-or-Busters resemble the Japanese soldier still fighting the war in the jungle long after it’s finished. Bernie lost; they need to get over it. We will never know if he would have beaten Trump; it’s an academic question. Similarly, Corbynistas blame everyone except their beatified Jeremy for his leadership and judgment errors. Most people in Ireland did not believe ‘Troops Out’ were working for peace, yet this is a meme that’s doing the rounds in defence of his advocacy for radical-chic. Yet try pointing this out and you’ll be called a Tory, a Blairite, a Murdoch lackey etc. The Alt-Left may not be as malignant or racist as the Alt-Right, but in their willingness to promote alternative facts, they share many of their thought processes.

 

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May’s Win To Lead To Britain’s Long-Term Loss

April 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election surprised people with its timing. The logic of it is impeccable though. She is an accidental Prime Minister and faces a challenging few years ahead. It’s assumed she’ll win a landslide against a weak and divided Labour Party. This is probably the case. For Labour, it’s looking like a massacre. Yet Jeremy Corbyn might stay on. There’s mixed fortunes for the other parties. One issue should dominate; Brexit. But it may be the usual bread and butter issues that come to the fore, as well as trust in the leadership of May and Corbyn.

This should be plain sailing for the Conservatives. They are an average of 15 points ahead of Labour in the polls. Even allowing for massive slippage between now and Election Day, they’re still in target to get at least a comfortable 50 seat majority, with the possibility of a plurality of 100 seats or more. She’s up against a Labour Party that seems unable to gain any traction with the electorate. Her core issue of competency is a sure fire winner. Nobody thinks Jeremy Corbyn is likely to be walking into Downing Street. The real works begins with the new majority. She’s got the twin headaches of Europe and Scotland which will take up most of her time as Prime Minister. When she turns around with a deal that disappoints the Brexiteers – as it surely will – then her problems are bigger than party management and political ones. They are existential issues for the future of the British state.

Labour are in big trouble. It’s hard to see any good coming out of their performance. They could lose heavily and still have an ineffective leader at the end of it all. This is the election that could break the party. If the losses are sufficiently catastrophic, the non-Corbynites might decide that Brexit can only be challenged by forming a new party. The structures currently in place make it almost impossible to depose Corbyn. Only a candidate with his blessing can succeed him. Twenty years after the 1997 Labour landslide, Labour are in dire straits.

This should be a comeback election for Tim Farron. They are coming back from their disastrous performance in 2015. They will be targeting Tory and Labour ‘Remain’ voters. The potential is there for big gains. Farron has already ruled out any coalition post-election and this positions him as well able to capitalise on small ‘L’ liberals disillusioned and still angry about the turn of events since last year’s referendum. In some ways, Farron is this year’s Ed Miliband; unexciting, solid, and trustworthy (if not quite seen as Prime Ministerial material). More of London and the South should be turning Liberal Democrat yellow. If they don’t get at least 20 seats plus, it will be a hugely disappointing outcome for Tim Farron.

North of the border, this is Nicola Sturgeon’s second general election. Independence is back on the agenda now. One of the unthought-of out consequences of Brexit is the resurgence of the Scottish Problem, one entirely self-inflicted by the Brexiteers. Sturgeon is coming from such a strong position that, for the Scottish National Party, the only way is down. They are, however, expected to hold their own. Despite the Scottish Tories in resurgence, the SNP are in a powerful pole position. Brexit is not popular in Scotland, to put it mildly.

UKIP really doesn’t need to exist anymore. Arguably, they’re the most successful one-issue political party in the last 200 years. Yet they’re staying one. The system is against them. They are the true inheritors of the collapsed Far Right vote. It will be extremely difficult for UKIP to get even one seat in the First Past the Post electoral system. While this is grotesquely unfair, it’s no harm that a Hard Right Nationalist party fails to make a political breakthrough. They’ve got what they’ve wanted. Their legacy is indisputable. They’ve also poisoned the political ground and been shown to be utterly irresponsible about their country’s and their voters’ long term interests. If they fade away, they will be doing the democratic process a service.

The 2017 will see no TV debates between the two big party leaders, few surprises, and a grim reaping for the Labour Party members who refuse to accept the reality that Corbyn is leading them into political oblivion. The Liberal Democrats will go hard in Brexit and it’s right and proper that they should do so. Bigger issues are at stake than the size of Theresa May’s majority. Britain is definitely leaving Europe. The European Union will miss them. But Britain should be under no illusions about how difficult the road ahead will be for them. Theresa May’s problems are just about to begin.

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Article 50 & the Politics of Breaking Up

March 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Article 50 has been triggered. Two years from now – and this still seems surreal to write – the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland will no longer be a member of the European Union. It has been a long time in the making (both the fermentation of anti-European sentiment and the inter-interregnum between last year’s referendum and yesterday’s letter of discomfort) and the divorce proceedings have now formally begun. What started as a fringe movement in the early 1990s has now reached its zenith. The phony war is over and the clock is now remorselessly ticking down.

The thing about the future is that we don’t know what’s round the corner. Try planning two years ahead. The main problem for Britain post triggering is uncertainty. What happens if the global economy starts to tank? Is there then a facility for suspending the negotiations? Will the renewed push for Scottish independence take on its own momentum as voters in Scotland react to the hypocrisy of a government from London saying ‘do as I say, not as I do’? As a consequence, will leaving the EU out of pride and shame at the refusal to admit a monumental mistake of accepting a non-binding referendum be the end of the United Kingdom?

If you read the Tory Press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that countries around the world are queuing up to make trade deals with Britain. The Rabid Right say they’ve taken back control. Fine. The mess is theirs now. Yet the tabloids, UKIP’s leaders, the right-wing blogosphere and the ‘head-banger’ element in the Conservative Party are in the ascendant. They have won. Most of them won’t feel the effect of job losses, recession, inflation, racism or a shrinking of the welfare state. They’ve won. And they’re not getting over it.

Reality, though, being what it is, has a tendency to bite. Germany has already dismissed any talk of parallel negotiations with the EU. The next two years are about packing up your stuff and getting out. It would be better for all if we remained civil. But you’re the one who wants out. We’re not going to make it easy for you. Oh, and by the way, settle your bills with us before you go. Don’t let the door hit you too hard on the way out, Bye. Donald Tusk’s reaction as head of the European Council was different in tone; the outcome may be the same though.

Perversely, the Tory Right are now dependent on the World becoming more chaotic (or, in Silicon Valley-speak, ‘disruptive’. The Brexiteers (and, sadly Theresa May too) have already reached out to an authoritarian and corrupt White House regime. They hope to deepen ties there. Fantasies about new global trade deals, 19th Century style, abound. There may be some arrangements made. But now is not the time for the 27 remaining EU members to be picked off. The ‘Leavers’ need a Le Pen win in France to keep their dream alive. They are beckoning the darkness.

Theresa May’s position is not good. She is either a captive of the Right, an enthusiastic convert to their world-view, or someone who’s been a ‘sleeper’ all along. She seems to believe – as do the hapless Team Corbyn – that European Union membership is an incidental detail. Once the exit procedures have been agreed and the new relationships established, Britain can revert to politics as normal. Neither she nor Jeremy Corbyn get it, there is no taking back control. The four freedoms that will be needlessly abandoned mean that it is hard to see how there’s a win in any of this for Britain,

And the loss isn’t just economic. It is cultural. The absurdity of the likes of an Australian-turned-American Billionaire and a public school educated city trader trying to claim that ‘elitism’ has been vanquished, is all too apparent. Britain is as much a part of Europe as Ireland is. The Empire ended nearly 60 years ago. London is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. But to listen to Brexiteers, they want to turn the clock back to the supposed good old days. Well, surprise, surprise, the world has moved on. The Brexiteers haven’t. The more pig-ignorant of them are proud of that.

Donald Tusk’s tone was apposite. It could have worked out if the other party had given it a go. They’re not even sure if they want to leave. But the European Union can’t hang around waiting for someone to suit themselves. The relationship, as it was, is over. They will probably be friends now, possibly even good friends. The partnership is finished though. So long, Britain. You’re not going to do any better. I feel sorry for you. Look after yourself. We’re now going to go our separate ways. It is the end of the affair.

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A Warning from History

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

‘The Nazis, A Warning From History’ is being repeated on BBC4. The timing could scarcely be coincidental. We can’t say for sure where the World is going over the next few months and years. But it could easily take a turn for the worse while authoritarianism is making a comeback. Remember the past, recall the Santyana phrase, and look not to how we are condemned to repeat history, but how we can walk into a time where dictatorship and atrocities become more likely, not less. Comparisons between Trumpism and Nazism have been made before. These are my observations passed on re-viewing this landmark series.

The othering that the Nazis did with Jews, Slavs, Gays and Gypsies, was intentional. It was a racism stemming from something deeply dark in the heart of man, that became a useful tool for seizing power and establishing the Third Reich. Othering was essential to the Nazi ideology;  leading Nazis were both racist and used racism to advance their cause. Some of them were less fanatical than others in their belief in racial superiority, but all signed up for it. Albert Speer may have been a soi-disant aesthete; he also caused the cruel death of thousands in the V2 programme.

Hitler was indolent. He often spent afternoons watching Hollywood movies. He was frequently unable to give his subordinates clear instructions. His administration of the Reich was characterised as chaotic. Ministries clashed with each other and the SS and Army were frequently at logger-heads trying to implement a vague instruction or command. He liked to claim he was constantly working for the Greater Germany, but frequently ruled from the comfort of his alpine retreat, the Berchtesgaden.

The Third Reich drew on the experience of Lenin’s Soviet Union in realising the importance of propaganda. The Nazis exploited the relatively new media form of the cine-reel and cinema to maximum effect. The production quality varied from disgustingly crude, to the retrospectively nauseatingly beautiful cinematography of Leni Riefenstahl. The Nazis used spectacle and performance to solidify their reputation among the working and middle class. Lies became truth, and truth lies, as the state became more totalitarian. The Third Reich banned Press freedom, dissenting journalists were lucky to be marginalised; they were more likely to be rounded up, or ‘liquidated’.  By the late 1930s, Josef Goebbels was pushing against an open door.

The Nazis implemented public works projects. This appealed to their base. Their electoral support had started among the recently impoverished German working class. Many were content to avert their eyes on the desecration of Jewish property, confiscation of wealth, and eventual deportation to the camps, for the ‘ordinary Germans’ (and there had been real suffering during the Weimar era) were now gainfully employed in the factories, and building the autobahn. The Nazis were ‘National Socialists’, and the public works schemes put thousands of the ‘Volk’ back in employment. Hitler himself had little time for economics. ‘The People’ were prepared to accept a viciously racist government if meant the economic good times were back.

War became central to the Third Reich. The rolling back of international treaties, most notably Versailles, allowed them to prepare for military conflict, which became inevitable following a massive re-militarisation of the Fatherland. Many Germans had bought into much of the ‘stab-in-the-back’ claim around Versailles and were now proud to see their country reclaiming land that they had been told was rightfully theirs. What better way to rally a populace than to go to war, a war that would end in the immolation of the state and the death of millions.

Other countries were either naive in their reaction to the rise of the Nazis or in denial about the extent of the threat posed. This unwillingness to stand up to authoritarianism was rooted in the reaction to the slaughter of the ‘Great War’. War with Germany was to be avoided at all costs, even if it meant allowing innocent third-party countries to be intimidated or invaded. Hitler knew that if international leaders were unwilling to oppose him, he would have a free-hand both nationally (definitely) and internationally (probably). The World woke up too late to what was coming at them.

‘The Nazis, a Warning from History’ shows what happens when a madness takes hold of a body politic. Licence is given to what was previously verboten, the lunatics take over the asylum, and humanity itself is endangered. These aren’t warnings from another era; there are living, breathing Nazis out there, and living, breathing people who paid the price for the madness of fascist delirium. Every generation will throw up the ‘Strong Men’, the ‘Caudillos’, the Autocrats. If we don’t stand up and protest, call out when the new normal is no longer normal, then who are we to turn around when there is nothing left?

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Authoritarianism in America

January 31, 2017 Leave a comment

‘Alarmists’ and ‘Realists’

Trump doesn’t do pivots. He doesn’t do nuance. He never did and he never will. Yet there seems to have been genuine surprise and shock felt by many well-meaning but ultimately misguided individuals who cautioned and patronised the ‘Alarmists’ who warned of what was to come. However it’s looking like the Alarmists have a better take on what’s happening, and the potential of what could happen, and that those who shouted that if Trump was elected, the American Republic was in mortal danger, have turned out to be correct. The scale has tipped to him being more like a Putin than a Berlusconi. The ‘Realists’ have got it wrong.

The Realists have the following arguments, each of which have either fallen by the wayside or come under extreme stress since the Presidential Election. In the run up to November and before the Inauguration, there was the ‘He’s a politician; he’s just playing politics’ line. Then there was the ‘He’s not really racist, he’s just being Populist’ thread. And lastly, we have the claim that ‘there’s too many checks and balances to allow him to implement his programme’. A cursory look at each of these talking points will show us why the Realists were wrong.

A stunted personality with a totalitarian mindset has so far done a lot of what he promised to do. He told us he was going to introduce ‘extreme vetting’, he bragged that he wanted to build a wall, his surrogates vowed to fire anyone in Washington who got in their way. All these things are on record and have been since at least June 2016. Remember what you’re dealing with.

The second point, about him ‘just’ being a populist is a simple so what? The effect of discriminatory legislation and executive orders are the same whether he believes in them or not. Although he’s an exceptionally dim man, he has enough cunning to sell stuff he doesn’t really believe in. Yet, he is in thrall to the Extreme Right. Judge a man by the company he keeps? Damn straight.

The point that the Republic is resilient enough to survive what’s happening is addressed in more detail below. But it is the complacency with which the Realists used this line in the run up and aftermath of November that is breathtaking. They dismissed the move by the Hamilton Electors to deny a would-be dictator the Electoral College vote, ignored the evidence of Russian hacking and corruption, and underplayed Trump’s grotesque character defects. They still have faith in a system that named an Extreme Right-Wing Lunatic as President. What happens if and when he changes the shape of the Supreme Court in his favour?

Call it as it is. Authoritarianism has arrived in America. The coup was in full view, except, apparently, to a cadre of blind-sided commentators who thought that there was a way through this, that although he would be Right Wing, he could be checked and balanced from within. As argued below, the he can be stopped, but it will take a colossal effort.

Stopping a Tyrant

The Resistance will come from four main groups: the Democrats, Protestors, the Courts, Internationally. There must be a consistent application of all four to have the desired effect,

Nothing will come from Congressional Republicans. They’re gone, sold out to the dark-side, evident since the Senate refused to confirm Merrick Garland. So it’s up to elected Democrats. Oppose everything. No co-operation. That includes you, Bernie. You don’t take any pork or crumbs from Trump’s table. You refuse to ratify any of his proposals. You filibuster. You block. You do everything you can to explain to that mythical beast, the White Working Class, that they’ve been conned but you don’t pander to their racism. You are the new Tea Party.

The Women’s Marchers will keep going. The airport protests will continue. Anytime there’s a threat to civil rights, it needs to be protested. That goes hand in hand with Congressional, State Legislature and Local Political activity. Protest does not have to just mean marching; it can be organising, phoning your representative, engaging in debate with your friends and neighbours.

The Courts have been and will have to be used for emergency stays, habeas corpus, you know, the basics of the Constitution. The ICLU is going to be stretched but there is capacity there. Support them, if you can. In relation to the first two points, Sessions and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee must be opposed as far as is possible. The Courts can be a bulwark to tyranny.

Yes, internationally, America’s friends need to step up. That means co-ordinated EU statements and action against this rogue administration. It means calling out Bannon interference in the French and German elections. It means working with democrats (small ‘D’) to uphold human and civil rights.

Trump is a bully. Once his power is challenged, he is vulnerable. He can be stopped. It won’t be easy. But then, fighting authoritarianism never was.

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