Friday, June 24, 2016 

We've got our England back.

We've got our England back, said the woman from Barnsley on the radio.

The England where the high streets consist of charity shops, pawnbrokers and betting shops.

The England where the out of town retail outlets continue to buzz.

The England where the pubs, once hubs of the community, close one by one.

The England where J.D. Wetherspoon thrives, where the booze is sold cheap, and the vomit outside mounts.

The England where we've got to start looking after our own.

The England where the poor are good only for Channel 4 and Channel 5 documentaries, where charity begins at home.

The England where politicians will now finally have to listen to concerns about immigration.

The England so intolerant, so spiteful, that it has voted for economic suicide after a mere 10 years of increased migraton from other white European nations.

The England that has finally made its voice heard.

The England that did it not by howling at the outcome of 37 years of neoliberal economics, of the hollowing out of a country that once made things, but by in effect giving a vote of confidence to the most rapacious, disreputable and dishonest of our free market politicians.

The England that once stood alone in defiance, the England that could have sued for peace, but fought on.

The England that has now turned its back on the world.

Yep, you've got your England back.  


Enjoy it.

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Friday, June 17, 2016 

We want our country back.

Like I suspect a lot of people, I've spent more than a few minutes over the past 24 hours on the verge of tears.  Seeing Jeremy Corbyn, himself on the brink of tears, speaking of how Jo Cox fought for human rights, justice and peace, and died doing her duty.  Reading the heartbreaking tribute from her husband Brendan, of how she would have wanted her children to be bathed with love, and for the hatred that killed her, that has no race, colour or creed, to be united against.  Watching Stella Creasy, numb with grief over her friend, talk of how she and so many other MPs didn't know how to go on without her.  Thinking of how, despite everything, I never expected an act of such cruelty, targeted against our democracy but aimed at a 5-foot female representative of that democracy, would be perpetrated by the far-right.

Because let's cut the crap straight away.  Yesterday was a day to be overwhelmed, shocked, and to mourn a 41-year-old killed in an act of horrifying violence.  Today everyone should face up to the fact that while it may well have been a murder committed by a "'crazed loner", it doesn't alter how it was also a political assassination.  If Jo's murderer had had brown skin and according to two separate, named eyewitnesses shouted "Allahu akbar", there would have been no hesitation in describing it as a terrorist attack by a jihadist, whether that began to explain what had happened or not.  The knife attack in Leytonstone tube station last December was almost immediately described as a terrorist incident, and it took the Metropolitan police until the end of the trial for them to accept Muhiddin Mire was in fact severely mentally ill, influenced by Syria or not.

What we have already learned about Tommy Mair is enough to say this is something different.  The discovery by the Southern Poverty Law Centre that he spent over $600 on literature from the National Alliance, the neo-Nazi group that published the notorious Turner Diaries, a tract that has motivated numerous far-right individuals into violent action, as well as his subscription to the SA Patriot's newsletter, dating back to the late 90s/early 2000s, suggests a long incubating interest in contemporary fascism.  As Phil has noted on Twitter, the blog post by the SA Patriots asking if anyone knows if Tommy Mair has moved tells us something else: that in 2006 he was sending their newsletters back to them, as his address had not changed.  Allied with the local news coverage of his volunteering, it wouldn't be entirely presumptive to conclude that for a substantial period of time he was in a far happier mental state than he had been previously.

We cannot of course know what changed to prompt him to kill his local MP.  As argued at the time of the Leytonstone stabbing, just because someone shouts something as they do something does not immediately equate to causation.  Something dramatic may well have happened in their personal life, rather than something in the political world.  He could well have shouted Britain First as a justification to himself; equally, his mental health may well have deteriorated to the point where he is not responsible for his actions.

It does though seem more than a coincidence that Mair decided to murder Jo Cox just a week before a referendum on whether to stay in or leave Europe that has been dominated by immigration, where facts have almost always come secondary to fiction.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered one of the few MPs who dared to praise immigration as being overwhelmingly positive.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered an MP at the very centre of the campaign to accept more refugees from Syria.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered an MP in favour of remaining during a campaign where some advocating a Leave vote have done so under slogans about "wanting our country back", saying the only way to "save Britain" is to vote out, where newspapers have run headlines about "putting Britain first".  It seems more than a coincidence that Britain First is a fascist group which recently held an event in the Welsh mountains that if conducted by Muslims would have been described as a terrorist training camp, which last year made clear how it felt "traitors", i.e. anyone to the left of them, should be treated.  It probably is just a coincidence Nigel Farage yesterday launched a poster that actively echoed Nazi propaganda, and has spent the entire referendum campaign seeing exactly how far he can push his rhetoric, to the point where he said the next step if people feeling voting doesn't change anything was likely to be violence.

I am not blaming any of these people, groups or things for Jo Cox's murder.  The only person responsible is the man who wielded the knife and gun, who may or may not be Thomas Mair, and who is innocent until proven guilty.

  
What has been happening these past few months though has been a campaign of almost unprecendented nastiness, involving former and current prime ministers, chancellors and other senior figures having no compunction in describing independent figures as lying, as being bought by banks or other organisations, who in some circumstances have gone so far as to issue threats.  It has involved newspapers day after day running front pages stoking fears about immigrants, claiming in the face of all evidence that Turkey is set to join the EU, bringing a new wave of brown people to these shores.  Just yesterday the Mail ran a front page claiming that asylum seekers found in a van had asked to be "let in", saying they "were from Europe", which today they accepted was untrue.  It has involved the further coddling of people whose views are always just one step away from being completely beyond the pale.  It has not been a campaign of dog-whistling; it has been a campaign that has been defined by completely open expressions of disgust, contempt and at times, hate.

This low has not just been the responsibility of some politicians and some sections of the media, much as they should take a good, hard look at themselves this weekend.  It's also the responsibility of us, the public.  For far too long many of us have been quiet when we've heard people without the slightest real interest in politics denounce all our representatives as liars, as being all the same, as only being in for it for themselves.  We haven't spoken up to say that in the vast majority of cases it couldn't be further than the truth, to defend those who have always been different, who have always offered an alternative.  It might not be an alternative we agree with, but an alternative it is.

I will always reserve the right to be ferociously critical of politicians, and God knows there are reasons to be so.  What I have tried to do over the past couple of years however is to reject this anti-politics as a whole mood, to argue that it is far more damaging as a cure than the disease itself.  Whether that's come across or been successful I don't know, but I do know that we have a press which finds it overwhelmingly in their interests to regard many of our politicians as crooks, liars and in some cases closet communists, while ignoring or apologising for the the rise of the current wave of populists.

So let's reclaim their slogan.  We want our country back.  I want my country back.  I want the country that I know, that has been vastly improved in almost every way, not just by the post-Windrush wave of immigration, but the immigration of post-2005.  There are problems, but they are solvable.  I want the Britain I know, the Britain of tolerance, of live and let live, to once again be heard.  I want everyone to know, not just here but across Europe and the world that we are not the country this referendum campaign has suggested we are.  Because we're not.  We're so much better than this.  And I deeply hope when I come back the Tuesday after next this will have been proved beyond doubt.

Rest in peace Jo.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016 

They shall not pass.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016 

The empty threats of an irresponsible chancellor.

When it comes to issuing threats, there are a couple of set rules.  First, the threat itself must be realistic. For instance, every time Israel has struck within Syria, whether to hit Hezbollah or some other related target, the Syrian government has responded by warning of devastating consequences.  This has been going on for decades.

Second, the threat must be seen to have a chance of being carried out.  Despite all the talk of Project Fear and the criticism of scaremongering, the threat or rather promise of refusing a currency union with an independent Scotland was a realistic prospect, as were most of the other warnings.   While not a threat per se, the warnings of how an independent Scotland would be affected by a drop in the price of oil in fact underplayed how serious the drop in revenue would have been had Yes won.

George Osborne and Alistair Darling's threat of an emergency budget should the country vote to Leave next week therefore fails on all counts.  First and most pertinently, George Osborne's not going to be in a position to present a budget in the first place.  Even if David Cameron doesn't resign immediately as I imagined yesterday, he's likely to announce a fairly imminent departure.  Osborne is almost certain to stand in the Tory leadership contest, so win or not, he most certainly won't be chancellor.

Next, as most commentators quickly pointed out, the tax rises and spending cuts Osborne and Darling set out (PDF) would almost certainly result in a recession whether or not the reaction to leaving is as dramatic as they predict.  Darling's claim that he's more worried now than he was in 2008 is ahistorical nonsense.  Darling and Brown have both previously commented that if they had not acted in the way they had as market turmoil and panic spread following the bankruptcy of Lehmann Brothers, the whole banking system was in danger of collapse.  However serious the market reaction to a Leave vote would be, it would not result in the banks having to close and ATMs being left empty.  The only responsible thing to do would be to wait and see what happens, and then if the economic fallout is damaging as claimed, the response would be to cut taxes and increase spending, as Darling of course did in 2008.

If then by some marvel of the universe Osborne was both still chancellor and decided to pursue his punishment budget, it would be voted down.  The now 65 Tory MPs who have said they oppose it would win the day on their own, without the need of Labour, with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell both saying they would oppose such a ramping up of austerity in any case.  Corbyn even managed to get a laugh out of Cameron at PMQs by congratulating the Tory MPs supporting Leave on their sudden conversion to anti-austerity.

In the end though, it all comes back to the irresponsibility of Cameron and Osborne.  Their refusal to confront their backbenchers in the way that say Blair did, instead giving in to their demands, has inexorably led to the very real risk the country will vote to make itself permanently poorer and more insular next week.  Osborne's threat to make things even worse with an emergency budget isn't him cutting off his nose to spite his face; it's the equivalent of the dictator in the bunker ordering a non-existent army to commence blowing up bridges and destroying crops.  Remain or leave, Cameron and Osborne must go.  And soon.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016 

Hard and fast.

The result of the 23rd of June 2016 referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union came as a shock to those campaigning for Out.  Very few of them had genuinely believed they would win, let alone by a mirror image of the result in the Scottish independence referendum of two years previous.  The 55%-45 vote in favour of Leave stunned most of the political establishment, but not the leadership of the Conservative party.  Just as their private polling had suggested they were on their way to a majority in 2015, so too it had pointed towards a victory for Leave.  In the last couple of days of the campaign, David Cameron and George Osborne had become fatalistic in private, preparing for the inevitable.  Labour's canvass returns led them to reach a similar conclusion, but their reaction was the opposite, throwing everything they had into trying to get their supporters to realise what they were going to vote for.

It did no good.  Their minds had been already made up.  The Leave campaign's unending focus on immigration from the EU had overwhelmed all the opposing arguments from the Remain side.  More precisely, the unrelenting focus on immigration post the 2005 accession of the A8 countries is what did for Remain.  Most damaging by far was the Conservative promise to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, an unachievable aim the leadership had never been serious about, and yet kept even after winning their majority in 2015.  David Cameron's claims that his renegotiation, extracting concessions on benefits, would somehow bring the numbers down was specious and he knew it.  Migrants from Europe came to work, not claim benefits.

Few politicians dared to make a positive case for the wave of migration from eastern Europe, instead either making false promises or pretending to listen to concerns while doing nothing.  The coalition government went so far as to abolish the fund that had directed increased spending to areas of the country where migration was highest.  That 5% of nurses and 10% of doctors working in the NHS were EU nationals made no difference; most chose to believe that immigration was in fact a drain on the health service, when the opposite was the case.  Labour voices that had previously spoken up for migrants were drowned out by other MPs panicked by what their constituents were telling them.  The last minute pledge to work to change the rules on freedom of movement came far too late to make any difference.

The Remain campaign had started out believing that a repeat of the "Project Fear" tactics seen in the independence referendum would work again two years later.  What Remain had not reckoned on was the remarkable dishonesty of the Leave campaign: almost every single claim made was a lie, and yet it did them no harm.  By far the most egregious was how many times over Leave spent the money they claimed would be saved by leaving the EU. It was variously promised to the NHS, to cut VAT, to keep up the payments the EU made to universities, farmers, the arts etc.  The internet was meant to have made fact checking the claims of politicians all the easier, and still it made no difference.  All politicians were liars, went the refrain, so why would anyone bother?  The required neutrality of the broadcasters meant they had to treat the figures produced by Leave with credulity, even when they were fantastical.  With the vast majority of the print media virulently anti-EU, producing front pages that day after day warned of a new migrant surge, any attempts to move the debate away from immigration on to the economy, how the UK wanted to be seen in the world and how it would affect the rest of Europe failed.

The morning of June the 24th was grey and wet, as much of the previous month had been.  The exception were the images beaming out from every TV screen: the grinning, jubilant faces of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage.  David Cameron, his face ashen, begrudgingly congratulated the Leave campaign at a dawn press conference in Downing Street, where he also announced his immediate resignation as both prime minister and leader of the Conservatives.  Cameron in the past few days had tried and failed to come to terms with the extent of his failure, what he now recognised as his act of the utmost irresponsibility in promising a referendum.  With the focus on winning the 2015 election, the Tory leadership had failed to recognise that its success would also be its downfall.  The coalition it had put together to win that election, overwhelmingly focused on voters over 40, was massively opposed to the EU and resistant to change.  The Tories had imagined that Labour voters would make up the difference.  Instead, faced with a Tory government, continuing austerity and without the prospect of any apparent improvement in their lot, many decided that leaving couldn't possibly make things any worse.

George Osborne took over as interim prime minister, launching his bid to become party leader a year earlier than he had imagined would be the case.  Osborne ended up finishing third, behind Michael Gove and the all conquering Boris Johnson.  Johnson within days of taking over conspired behind the scenes with the SNP for a vote of no confidence to be called.  While Labour opposed the vote, the other parties voted in favour, and a snap general election was called.  Jeremy Corbyn campaigned valiantly on a manifesto designed around leaving the EU on the best possible terms, remaining in the single market, but the party was as divided as ever.  The SNP swept the board in Scotland, Plaid Cymru and UKIP picked up seats in Wales while Labour fell back even further in England, the Tories under Johnson winning a landslide victory.

Writing from the vantage point of 2040, with Scotland long independent having rejoined the EU, Wales on the cusp of its own independence vote with the polls suggesting a clear majority in favour of seceding from England and Northern Ireland, and London an effective city state, with Neo Labour mayor Owen Jones entering his fourth term having negotiated a free trade agreement with the EU where the Tories had long refused to, it's easy to see how disastrous the Leave vote was.  Johnson lasted only 2 years as prime minister before a scandal involving his giving the home address of a BBC journalist to a underworld figure forced his resignation.  One of the first moves of his successor, Michael Gove, was to join in with President Trump's attack on Iran.  The last British troops leave Tehran in September, with the total number of dead numbering over 5,000.

The Leave campaign never had a plan for what to do in the event that it won.  While the worst predictions of Remain were not realised, at least not in the short term, the results over time have if anything been worse.  With the Tories failing to agree a trade deal with the EU, everything reverted to WTO standards.  With the advantages of being in a trade block gone, the global manufacturers who had based their operations in the UK one by one relocated to the continent.  Communities that had already been hit hard by the 2008 crash were hit again, this time never to recover.  The voters did however get their wish on immigration: with the UK no longer one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, net migration fell within 5 years to below the tens of thousands target.  After ten years the pendulum had swung completely: more were emigrating than were arriving.  Still however there is a comfortable majority for the Tories in England,  Labour having split, merged with the Greens and Liberal Democrats in an attempt to create a progressive bloc, and then re-emerged as Neo Labour under the leadership of Will Straw.

The UK post-2016 seems to this writer the embodiment of H.L. Mencken's statement that "democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard".  At least it would be if it didn't result in numerous Neo Labour MPs informing me of how these are very real concerns that we must listen to.

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Monday, June 13, 2016 

The American circle of death.

The horrific massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on the surface looks like an almost exact mix of the Islamic State Paris cell attack on the Bataclan concert venue, and the San Bernardino shooting of last December.  Nothing has been uncovered as yet in the investigation to suggest that Omar Pateen had any direction whatsoever from Islamic State itself, just as nothing has been turned up in the San Bernardino investigation to link Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik to any terrorist group.  Both Pateen/Farook and Malik it seems "pledged allegiance" to IS or its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi either during or immediately before their attacks, but this seems to have been almost an afterthought.  The FBI investigation into Farook and Malik suggests they had "self-radicalised" before IS had so much as emerged; their pledge was little more than an simple explainer as to their motives they knew would be quickly discovered.

In that sense, Pateen and Farook and Malik were relatively odd fish in the modern world of terrorists, spree killers and other murderous narcissists: they usually want us to know exactly why they did what they did, leaving behind videos, manifestos, etc that can swiftly be used by media organisations desperate to fill up airtime once the attack itself has either finished or been brought to an end.  It might well be that Pateen has left behind just such media which will subsequently be discovered, as there is yet to be any confirmation of whether, like Farook and Malik, he destroyed personal effects.  The belief was Farook and Malik did this to cover their tracks, yet no links to others have been found.  At this point it would be a surprise if Pateen did have accomplices: his method screams far more of the lone spree killer motivated by hate than it does of someone who has dedicated themselves to Islamic State.  The briefing since given by James Comey of Pateen claiming to have various connections with al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the Boston marathon bombers rather underlines his confusion and Billy Liar qualities.

Not that this means Pateen wasn't inspired by IS.  He seems to have taken almost as a template the Bataclan attack, and the fact he chose as a target a gay club, somewhere he knew would meet with the approval of the repressed, hateful supporters of IS, is indicative of the impact he wanted his actions to have.  If an Eagles of Death Metal gig at the Bataclan was to the IS propagandists a "profligate prostitution party", you can but imagine how they would describe the Pulse on a Saturday night.  That more than a few on the right of politics in the US have yet to come to terms with homosexuality has only added to the discomfort felt; those who like me can recall the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming 9/11 on, variously, abortion, gays and liberal values in general can but reflect on how if he were still alive Falwell would be trying to comprehend Orlando without his head exploding.

In other senses, the assault on the Pulse is a grim refraction of many recent spree killings.  Pateen used both a semi-automatic assault rifle and a handgun, just as other recent mass murderers have relied on more than a single weapon, with most favouring an M16 or equivalent.  That these guns have no real practical use for hunting and are far too big to be concealed makes no odds to an industry that has poured more and more cash into variations, accessories and customisations.  That Pateen was engaged by an armed police officer providing security at the club also undermines the recent counter-argument made by pro-gun activists that more armed people means such attacks can swiftly be ended.  Unless they're really going to suggest bar and club patrons being allowed into such venues with concealed weapons, an idea so monumentally stupid you wouldn't put it past them, Orlando ought to put such notions to bed.

The fact is that America has chosen to make itself uniquely vulnerable to atrocities like Orlando, San Bernardino and Sandy Hook.  Guns can always be smuggled across borders, and pass through the hands of your average garden variety gangsters to inadvertently end up in the possession of terrorists, as we saw in Paris.  Even in this country we still have the odd Derrick Bird type figure, as tough gun laws are never going to stop those absolutely determined to do harm to their neighbours and themselves.

It's something else entirely though to have gun laws so lax that you can walk into a store, buy a weapon that was designed to be used in war, and then less than a week later kill 49 people with it.  You could argue that Pateen's interactions with the FBI, which seem down more to his being a mouth-breathing boaster than any real links to terrorist suspects should have meant he was barred from holding a licence, and yet the Republicans voted down just such restrictions.  You can argue that the problem seems unique to America, and that other countries with high gun ownership to population ratios don't have the same number of such killings, a notion I don't entirely accept but am open to.  Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal, for one says that gun control is pointless without measures to improve equality.

The choice in other words is no choice.  Hillary Clinton can call for an renewed assault weapons ban, only even if she wins she can no more force a gun-supporting house or senate into voting for one than Obama has been able to.  She could by contrast attempt to do something about inequality, only her husband accelerated the policies began by Reagan that did so much damage in the first place.  With no action on the latter, more and more people will only, as Obama put it, cling on to their guns and religion, with a little hating Muslims and supporting continued wars in the Middle East on the side.  Vicious circle doesn't even begin to cover it.

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Friday, June 10, 2016 

Joyride.

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