Thursday, April 28, 2016 

Where would we be without Leninspart, eh?

It's not often these days anyone can say they agree with Nick Clegg, as was oh so achingly funny a few years ago, not least as he wisely keeps a low profile.  He couldn't however have been more right, finding himself stuck at the side of Ken Livingstone by grim chance this morning after what even by Ken's standards was a clusterfuck of remarkable proportions. "I never ever thought I would see the day that mainstream, well-known politicians like you would start raking over Hitler’s views in a way that people would simply not understand," Clegg said, in what also has to be one of the more understated reactions to a few hours of pandemonium via interview and Twitter.

I mean, it's not like this is difficult or complicated.  Here's a very simple rule all would do well to follow: unless a debate is about Hitler and the Nazis, don't bring Hitler and the Nazis into it.   It doesn't matter if someone else made reference to Hitler first, don't then follow their lead.  For instance, if someone ill-advisedly made reference to Hitler even if only through an image meme, don't then try and defend them by saying that well actually, Hitler supported this or that, even if your intention is not to make an allusion to the modern day.  Moreover, especially don't suggest that Hitler only "went mad" later.

In the grand scheme of things, Ken's remarks this morning to Vanessa Feltz, of all people, were less offensive than Naz Shah's.  He was completely and utterly wrong about Hitler supporting Zionism, obviously, which he didn't even in 1932, but he also didn't say Hitler was a Zionist, as some have wrongly claimed since.  There is a difference, however subtle.  It's true that Nazi policy until later in the 1930s was to in the main force Jews to leave Germany, to begin with encouraging them to do so, before then making it ever more difficult involving payments to the state and confiscation of assets, but there was not a concerted attempt to direct Jews towards what was then Palestine.  A German Foreign Ministry circular from January 1939 makes clear the opposite was the case.

Ken was not setting out to be antisemitic, and probably just about avoided being so.  He did however allow the impression to arise, as Rabbi Danny Rich has said, of equating Zionism and Nazism, as antisemites routinely do.  As Laura Janner-Klausner has also stated, Ken has form in this area, and while not a Nazi apologist, has in the past failed to apologise for being unpleasant rather than outright racist.

His suspension from the party, with the leadership moving slightly more quickly today than previously, is deserved.  Had though Ken not decided to make himself available today for interviews, defending Shah and the party when neither want or need Ken to speak up for them, it's likely the claims of antisemitism in Labour would have began to blow over.  If instead of following up his interview with Vanessa Feltz by appearing on every show going he had read the tweet from Sadiq Khan, the man battling to become the second Labour Mayor of London, calling for his suspension, realised the furore he had already caused and retracted what he said, he wouldn't then have got in a slanging match with fellow professional idiot John Mann.  But then, Ken doesn't apologise.  He doesn't think.  Exactly why it is the leadership has not made this clear to him before that his "help" is more hindrance than it is support I don't know, unless Ken has simply ignored their advice.

We're now in a situation where thanks to Livingstone's stupidity the race to discover more "evidence" of antisemitism is bound to continue.  Ken has without question helped Jeremy Corbyn's enemies in the party, all of whom were exceptionally quick to call for his dismissal, for which they can hardly be blamed, many of whom have no compunction about having their party portrayed as hostile to Jews if it hastens Corbyn's departure.  It makes those who have pointed out and argued that the claims of antisemitism against Labour members so far have been weak to non-existent look foolish, and encouraged groups that have long opposed the party's attempts to be even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians to declare this proves the "evidence is there for all to see".  Most damagingly of all, it will have an effect, no doubt small, but an effect nonetheless on the elections next Thursday.

A great day, all told.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016 

The antisemitic muppetry of Naz Shah and connected silliness.

Naz Shah, it's fair to say, is a bit of a muppet.  After scrabbling around for months for evidence of antisemitism within Labour, turning up little more than allegations against students at Oxford and idiotic tweets by one or two activists on Twitter, some poor sap at Guido Fawkes was apparently tasked with going through years' worth of timeline updates by MPs on Facebook.

With Shah, they finally hit paydirt.  Back in 2014 she shared one of those wonderful image memes that tend to be prevalent there, suggesting a "solution" to the Israel-Palestine conflict was to relocate the country to America.  Transporting the population to the States would also only cost the equivalent of 3 years' worth of US aid to the country, so everyone would be a winner.  Shah was so taken with the idea she suggested she would send it on to both David Cameron and Barack Obama, not apparently in the least bit troubled by the history of the transporting of Jews, to focus on merely one of its objectionable aspects.

It would have been slightly less embarrassing, albeit only slightly, if Shah hadn't also recently denounced a local Tory councillor for his alleged racism, demanding that he be suspended from the party.  That it took Labour the best part of today to do the same with Shah despite knowing about the post yesterday, with Shah resigning as John McDonnell's PPS, also doesn't look great.  Shah has at least made an unequivocal apology, and did so in the House of Commons, saying that her views have changed greatly over the past 2 years.

Whether that turns out to be that, and the claims that Shah has associations with others with exceptionally dodgy views on Israel stay only that, with Shah regaining the whip at some point in the future remains to be seen.  So long as other unacceptable posts are not forthcoming, I'd like to see Shah given the benefit of the doubt and for her to be judged by her deeds rather than past words.

We have though been going through another of those periods where accusations of racism and extremism have been chucked around liberally by all sides, all in the belief that there is some political advantage to be gained.  If it seems a bit rum for a prime minister involved in the smearing of Sadiq Khan as being a pal of Islamists to then comment on Labour's alleged problems with antisemitism, that's because it is.  It also ignores how all of us will have at some point come out with some misjudged, overwrought or plain wrong commentary; social media has only made it easier to discover and make an issue of at a later date.  


Nor is this necessarily of much interest to the wider public, whom if anything would prefer politicians to sound more like they do.  When you have people texting into phone-ins declaring themselves relieved that unaccompanied refugee children in Europe won't be coming to this country, describing them as "vermin" and "leeches", as I heard on the local BBC station earlier in the week, it's worth reflecting for the most part our representatives resist the temptation to use inflammatory language.

The same cannot be said for our allies.  When you consider how former Iranian president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and remarks on how Israel would "disappear from the page of history" were brought up every time he made the news, it's somewhat odd we don't hear much about the views of Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev.  This is even more surprising when you consider he makes them in English, on Twitter, and to over 200,000 followers.  His most objectionable by a considerable margin was a tweet from a couple of years back when he declared that his country and Turkey were working together to counter the "myth" of the Armenian genocide, but he regularly insults neighbour Armenia, whether or not the on-going Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the disputed territory is blowing hot or cold.  Such remarks from the head of state didn't stop Tony Blair from "advising" on the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, despite Azerbaijan's turn-around on human rights in general being described as outpacing even Russia's, of which we've heard much more about.  


Far be it from me to suggest we should care far more about genocide denying leaders of men than Labour MPs sharing viral images on Facebook, completely unacceptable as it was, but well, you know.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016 

It lies in the normies.

Picture the scene.  We're in the Tory communications bunker.  Someone's come up with a half-decent speech, the central thesis of which is that the young will be the most screwed over by a vote to leave the EU.  Up goes the cry: who can we get to deliver this fabulous lecture?  Who among the Tory ranks is the most down with the kids, the least likely to instantly cause the target audience to sneer and switch off?  Boris, someone shouts, the person responsible immediately taken into the next room and shot.  No one can come up with a name that doesn't seem inherently ridiculous.  Then someone has a brainwave.

And so it came to pass that education secretary Nicky Morgan gave a lecture to the younglins that contradicted every tenet of the Tory grand plan for election victory.  If the Brexiters get their way there's a risk of a "lost generation", the Tory party's answer to an unasked question said.  Never mind that Tory policy writ large is to soak the upper middle, the well off and pensioners and don't worry if everyone else sinks, it'll be leave, the uncertainty and the likely years of negotiation that'll do for the generation of "Instagram, easyJet and eBay".  In a further flourish of remarkable audacity, Morgan, the troll pencil topper for the 2010s, outlined how not voting can lead to a whole demographic being effectively dismissed.  As if this wasn't precisely what the Tory leadership has done, only to suddenly realise their favoured groups are the ones most heavily leaning against the exit and if only temporarily, they need the young.

If I could be bothered, we could take a trip down cutting off your nose to spite your face street.  We could agonise over all the variables of voting for or against the Cameron clique on this measure, but let's face it: whichever way the EU vote ends up going, the young are going to be taking it hard and fast.  Sure, it's beyond question that leaving the EU would make life even less tolerable than it already is for the sprogs, for the reasons Morgan lists.  Equally, let's not pretend that under Morgan's benevolence everything will be so much the better, that more young people will move into jobs befitting their skills, that more will be able to own their home, that more will be so much as able to afford the ever increasing rents in our buy to let paradise when so many Tory policies are focused on making life all the sweeter for the aforementioned groups.  We could get started on the insanity of forcing all schools to become academies and the effect that could have on the next generation if we wanted, but there aren't enough hours in the day.

According to Jackie Ashley, the remain campaign is failing.  This rather depends on what the remain campaign's goal is.  If the goal is to try to make a positive case for the EU, then yes, it certainly is failing.  If on the other hand the goal is to bore everyone senseless, to the point where only the most pro and anti can be bothered to turn out come June 23rd, then both the remain and leave campaigns are succeeding admirably.  Both sides accuse the other of being negative, with many toys chucked out of prams on Monday after the leavers had the audacity to bring crims from other EU countries who came here and committed further offences into it, without it apparently occurring to those commenting that both sides are equally guilty for the reason that conjuring up fears works.  This was never going to be a rerun of the Scottish independence referendum where one side made a case which for its numerous faults inspired the naive, the credulous and the dreamers to its cause, while the other, more realistic but deathly dull side won the vote but lost the argument.  Both sides in this case are dominated by pumping great bells who have nothing but contempt for every one of us.

What continues to baffle is quite why Ashley and others are so insistent that Labour should involve itself in this tussle of the flyweights, or what it would be meant to achieve.  No matter how inspiring or popular a personality, you cannot get an audience to be interested in something that simply doesn't move them.  No one other than politicos is discussing the referendum for two reasons: firstly that it's still 3 months away; and second that it's still an abstract subject.  Immigration we can never shut the hell up about, but despite the connection with the EU and immigration, the two in this case are failing to mix.  Nor is the EU, important as it is, going to stir both the heart and mind as much as nationality, patriotism and the sense of belonging always will.  For all the attempts by the leave mob to give the impression that we can't do anything without Brussels interfering, that we can't make our own laws or take a dump without falling foul of an EU directive, the vast majority have the sense to know such claims are nonsense, no matter how many times they are repeated.

None of this is to say that nearer the time the leavers won't have a good few weeks where it looks as though they could be on the brink.  They probably will, helped by an overall Europhobic press already dedicating itself to splashing on anti-EU stories day after day.  This idea of Ashley's however, that Michael Gove has made a yet to be answered case on sovereignty, or that the business names backing out are "impressive" is a complete joke.  The result of referendum after referendum, both here and from abroad suggest that votes against the status quo position are rarely successful.  It won't be support from the babbies among us that decides the result, but rather those who were never interested in the debate in the first place and find the way things are currently to be tolerable.  Praise them, for they will be the saviours, not the left, not the young, not Labour.  Here's to the normies.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016 

That leaked Lynton Crosby list ranking Tory cabinet members in full.

G'day Dave!

Lynton here.  Here's the list you asked me to draw up of members of the cabinet (and one additional), ranking them as to whether they're hostile, neutral or core loyalists.  Now don't be a drongo, keep this eyes only, we don't want this leaking like Corbyn's did.  Otherwise we will look like a load of great galahs.

George Osborne - Core, obviously.  You might want to think about whether or not you really want to him to take over though, as frankly he's not as smart as he thinks and if anything is becoming a liability.  Your choice though mate!

Theresa May - Neutral.  Colder than a penguin's dangler, none of us have ever managed to get a proper insight to her.  Has done a reasonable job as Home Sec, more down to so much of the bloody office having been split up by Labour than any real skill.  Came round on Europe, after you threatened to sic me on her.

Michael Gove - Core negative.  A worse traitor than Quisling, a bigger bum than the Queen, possible Maoist in Tory clothing.  I warned you about him, and did you listen?

Michael Fallon - Core.  What more is there to say about our premier dead cat merchant?  Always willing to talk absolutely bullshit on mine and yours behalf, we owe him a damn huge barbie one of these nights.

Sajid Javid - Neutral.  Another of your mates with higher ambitions, with a head that could double as a solar panel, such is the beam you get back off his bonce.  Another we just about managed to win over on the EU, in this case as we threatened the Sadiq Khan treatment on him.  How many times do I have to tell you you can't trust the bloody Muslims?

Stephen Crabb - Core.  Replacement for useful until he was no longer useful idiot IDS.  Has beard, will travel.  Decent background story we will make all we can off.  Great for neutralising all the stories about us doing in scroungers and cripples.

Jeremy Hunt - Core.  Complete idiot, first made a balls up at culture, now making an even bigger balls up at health, but is totally loyal.  The kind of bloke we like.

Nicky Morgan - Core.  Or as we like to call her, the Bride of Finkelstein!  How's that for two jokes in one?  Again, thinks she is far more intelligent than she actually is, is utterly hopeless on TV or under interview, but Gove has already done the damage at education.  Has leadership aspirations; obvious candidate for suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Justine Greening - Core.  Known for discussing Rwanda when she should be voting for you, otherwise she's no threat whatsoever.  Boring, really.

Theresa Villiers - Core negative.  Northern Ireland secretary, the job we give to those without a clue and who can barely find the place on the map, naturally wants out of the EU.  One to dump the first chance you get.

John Whittingdale - Neutral.  Brexiter, but is otherwise harmless as these Thatcherite throwbacks are, and useful.  Bit thick mind.

Elizabeth Truss - Core.  Ah Lizzy, our golden girl, a true Sheila.  Will do anything for you, except that.  Out of my league, know what I'm saying?

Chris Grayling - Core negative.  The half-wit's half-wit, I'm amazed you didn't sack this bloody galah before now, like I told you.  Yeah he reaches the base, but only because the base are know nothing bumpkins.  Can't do much damage as leader of the house, just make sure to get rid of him once the EU crap's over.

Priti Patel - Core negative.  Exceptionally stupid even by Tory party standards, thinks you poms are all lazy buggers, wants out of the EU.  What more can I say?

Boris Johnson - Core negative.  Biggest buffoon I've ever bally met.  Still managed to get him elected when that drongo Ken was his opponent.  Comes unstuck the moment anyone starts asking anything like a taxing question, untrustworthy, unreliable, thinks he's a comedian, would sell his grandmother, father, Sheila, ankle biters, anything or anyone if it would help him become PM.  Will be next PM.  Sorry Dave.

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Thursday, March 17, 2016 

Your idols speak so much of the abyss...

Usually it's a mistake to bring morality into politics.  We're all as The Thick of It had it, in the same plague pit.  None of us have clean hands.  We all also have different notions of morality; take the weirdo that runs The Entertainer chain of toy shops.  He refuses to stock anything related to Harry Potter due to his Christianity, despite how the entire series is about the battle between good and evil.  Each to their own.  So long as politicians don't try to impose their own warped version of morality on everyone else, something that continues to be a problem in Northern Ireland if not so much for us in the rUK, then we can just about live and let live.

Normally then, John McDonnell describing the cuts to personal independence payments as "morally reprehensible" wouldn't be a good idea, especially when McDonnell has said things in that past that plenty of others would regard as similarly reprehensible.  As Robert Peston for one noted however, the £1.2bn set to be cut from PIP makes up for the loss in revenue from reducing capital gains tax and raising the 40p income tax threshold.  George Osborne has decided that the disabled, those recognised as needing help with going to the toilet and getting dressed should loss some of their benefits so the most well off get a tax cut.  Nor is it just the disabled.  While the spare room subsidy was brought in some time ago, the claimed rationale was to incentivise those affected to downsize.  A few years on, and now those in the private sector lucky enough to have a spare room to let out on sites like Airbnb are to get a tax break.  The word obscene comes to mind.

When Seema Malhotra was asked on Newsnight if she would go along with McDonnell's description, she demurred.  A bit too much of a low blow, especially when governments at the best of times involve themselves in morally dubious acts.  Malhotra would like to imagine she still might one day be at the Treasury herself, faced with making difficult decisions that will affect the poor and disabled.  Sajid Javid for his part denied furiously that he would involve himself in something as despicable as taking money from the disabled, as the money being spent overall is going up.  Which as the IFS today stated is true, with spending having increased four-fold over the past 20 years.  That doesn't make much odds to those set to lose on average £3,500 a year, nor will it those in the Work group part of ESA, down by up to £30 a week thanks to the recent vote.

Our views on who is and who isn't deserving are equally idiosyncratic.  The chancellor who complained of hard-working folk getting up early in the morning, seeing their neighbours' curtains drawn, returning home late in the evening to the same scene has no problem with handing out £1,000 in cash to those able to save £4,000 a year.  It doesn't matter whether the money put in is down to graft or given by a wealthy parent, it will get the same reward.  The IFS says this could prove extraordinarily costly, and once these sweeteners are in place the shrieks if you abolish them can prove deafening.  The obvious point is if the government has grands to splash about and growth is forecast to be tepid at best, why not give the money instead to those who will spend it rather than save it, those set to lose rather than gain from the budget?  We have an aversion to handouts, except when they go to us and those like us.  We fret about moral hazard, encouraging unethical or irresponsible behaviour when we have institutions that are too big to fail, and yet the absurdities of rewarding some to motivate them and penalising others to do the same goes on.

Not that the mixed response to the budget or such criticisms will bother George Osborne in the slightest.  The Mail applauded the giveaways to "Middle England", Middle England in the Mail's world meaning the top 7% of earners.  That's all that will matter when Osborne's sights are set purely on the prize of the top job.  Tom Clark in the Graun reckons Osborne's otherwise laughable plan for turning a £21bn deficit one year into a £10bn surplus the next is down to how he intends to call an early election once ensconced as Tory leader, with only the fixed terms parliament act standing in his way.  If so, Osborne's slow transformation into Gordon Brown is all but complete.  We can but hope he meets the same fate.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016 

Everything's coming up, George's.

What the Office for Budget Responsibility giveth, the Office for Budget Responsibility taketh away.  Last November the OBR's forecasts gave George Osborne a £27bn windfall, more than enough for him to backtrack (somewhat) on the highly unpopular cuts he had previously announced to tax credits.  Fast forward 4 months, and the OBR has done an dramatic reverse ferret: they've now taken £52bn away from the chancellor, as well as lowering their forecasts across the board, with growth and productivity hit the hardest.

And yet, somehow, despite this significant deterioration in the public finances, one that will see an increase in borrowing between now and 2020/21 of £38bn, Osborne still claims he'll hit his fiscal mandate of reaching a budget surplus by the time of the next election.  This is even more eyebrow raising when the OBR forecasts there will still be a budget deficit of £21bn in 2018/19.  Somehow, in the space of only 12 months, this will turn into a surplus of £10bn.  This is meant to be achieved by further cuts that year, a raid on public sector pensions, bringing forward infrastructure spending that was pencilled in for then to now, and deferring changes to corporation tax.  It won't be.  I can say with near certainty that the cretinous plan for a surplus will be abandoned almost as soon as Osborne moves on, whether to Number 10 or to the backbenches.

For this was a budget that made clear George is now only in it for the short-term.  The usual idea with budgets is you make the unpopular decisions as soon after winning an election as you can, then time the giveaways as the next round of voting approaches.  Osborne instead has produced a giveaway budget only a year into a five year parliament.  Everyone apart from the disabled and poorest are getting soaked.  Another rise in the personal allowance?  Why not?  A significant increase in the 40p income tax threshold, to £45,000?  Sure, go on.  Free money if you're under 40 and you're lucky enough to have a parent that can give you £4,000 a year to save?  The man from HMRC he say yes!  Yet another cut in corporation tax?  Cheers, say all those multinationals who do their utmost not to pay it anyway.  Small business rate threshold to rise by £9,000 just as the power to spend the revenue it brings in is devolved to local authorities?  Fuck knows how councils are going to pay for services, but that's to worry about another day.  A massive cut in the capital gains tax rate to 20% from 28%, excluding properties?  What better way for a chancellor to thank the hedge fund managers and masters of the universe who funded the Tories to a majority?

Except of course there are a couple of votes on the horizon.  First there's the EU referendum, and so any small chance there was of a rise in fuel duty was spiked lest it vex further any Tory backbenchers yet to make up their minds on remaining or leaving.  Far more important to George though is the Tory leadership contest, likely to happen fairly swiftly once the referendum is over, whatever the result.  Today's budget was effectively his swansong: sucking up to every core constituency he believes he needs to, and doing so before it's too late.  Should he still be chancellor for the autumn statement or next year's budget, he'll tinker around the edges a bit, knowing his work proper has been done already.  Hence why Cameron handed over to him the announcement that schools still under local authority control will be forced to become academies, backed up by the rabbit of the sugar tax on soft drinks, helping to fund an additional hour of the school day and more sports.

Ah yes, the sugar tax.  Not a tax on sugary food all told, just sugary drinks.  Those people you know who stick four sugars in their tea, they'll be fine, but anyone who prefers cold drinks or just the occasional burst of sugar is about to get their wallet felt.  It's impossible not to see this as a judgement tax, however many doctors claim that it'll massively reduce obesity; who are always pouring energy drinks and cans of Coke down their throats?  Those people, and they're costing us a bomb.  The estimate that it will raise £520m, a more than considerable sum, gives the lie to the idea drinks companies will change their formulations or that people will switch to sugar free brands as a result.  How else would it directly fund that extra school hour?  Anti-nanny state Tories be damned, Osborne couldn't let childhood obesity be on his conscience.  Child poverty, taking money from disabled people who need help to go to the toilet or dress themselves, they don't trouble him anywhere near as much.

All this was designed to mask how once again Osborne has failed by the standards he's set himself, as Jeremy Corbyn in his fairly strong response to the budget outlined.  That supposed welfare trap he set for Labour?  Osborne is set to wander into it every year.  Debt coming down as a proportion of GDP?  Nope, that's not happening either.  Keeping to the fiscal mandate?  In theory yes; in practice, knowing full well as he does that all these freebies are not going to be made up by further cracking down on tax avoidance and other stealthy tax grabs, there isn't a cat in hell's chance of a surplus come 2019/20.  All this, while at the same time still going on with the cuts to frontline spending, not to forget borrowing more, the jibe thrown at Labour every time they say they would borrow to invest as bond yields are historically low.  Osborne is the epitome of a chancer, making it up as he goes along.  He and Boris are remarkably alike in the regard, only Boris at least can tell a joke.

Osborne's hope seems to be this: he's perfectly aware that his surplus will turn out to be fictional, and yet he also knows that Labour is hardly going to make a song and dance about it.  His real difficulty is going to be in paying for all the lucre he's thrown around today, only that will be the responsibility of the poor sod who takes over from him.  Unlike with Gordon Brown, his belief is that none of it will stick to him, and why would it?  He's breached every target he's put down, and no one's called him on it.  Sure, it's going to look really bad if his successor has to raise taxes just before an election, but who else are you going to vote for?  Labour, under the stewardship of Corbo 'n' McDonnell?  The right-wing press might tear him a new one for it, but again, where else are they going to go?  To quote Joylon Maugham, Osborne is "giving the most to those who need it least and the least to those who need it most", which is exactly what he came into politics to do.  Everything's coming up, George's.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2016 

The Jess Phillips enigma.

Poor Jess PhillipsPoor, poor Jess Phillips.  All she wanted was to break the mould.  All she wanted was to not be one of those politicians.  All she wanted was to not mouth the same old platitudes, to be 4 real, yo.  She would talk about her family, her friends, bring her personal life into her politics.  She would answer a straight question with a straight answer, regardless of if the answer got her into trouble.  That's all she's been about.

And what did she get in return?  A load of abuse, being repeatedly told to "shut up bitch", and no doubt other even more offensive things.  Displaying her personality, she now realises, only leads to trouble.  Those politicians who spout the party line, they just learned quicker than she did.  The backlash you get for speaking your mind simply isn't worth it.  Much better for all concerned to just regard each other as homogenised blocks.  Politicians are all the same, the public are all the same, and nothing as a result changes.  This is the realisation Jess Phillips has reached.

Phillips is angry, upset, bitter, and more than a little disingenuous in her short video polemic for the Graun.  You'll note that she puts far more emphasis on her deciding to do personal, which is far as I'm aware entirely uncontroversial, and none whatsoever on the err, actual controversial statements she has made, which are only alluded to.  Considering her first real burst into the media and political universe was as a result of telling Diane Abbott to fuck off, a jibe which united most opinion hacks and MPs in delight at someone saying what they've always wanted to, this seems a bit of an oversight.

To give Phillips the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she didn't realise she was being set up as this new controversialist, one of those MPs hacks turn to knowing they'll get good copy out of them.  Perhaps she thought they liked her purely for being herself.  Perhaps she didn't notice fellow MP of the people, always ready with a quote for the tabloids John Mann bigging her up as potential future PM.  Perhaps she didn't see articles like this one from Matthew Norman which is so full of itself you aren't sure of whether or not he's taking the piss.  That said, as Norman notes, Phillips is funny, as a quick glance at her Twitter feed shows.

Which only increases the mystification at why she has to make herself out to be a victim.  Yes, there are a lot of people out there who aren't very bright who will take things literally, as some did to her interview with Owen Jones where she said she would knife Jeremy Corbyn in the front if she thought if he was leading Labour to disaster.  Some though at that point were beyond tired with the constant sniping at Corbyn and whingng in general about the Labour leadership.  Then others noted how this seemed to be the start of a pattern where Phillips would say things she knew would be controversial and then act as though she was mortally wounded by the response.

Phillips' Corbyn remarks and Abbott insult were in actual fact the least controversial of her various interactions with the press and the rest of us.  If you say things as a politician that it's clear others will disagree with you about, you have to up to a point accept the criticism that comes your way.  If for instance you comment that Corbyn's failure to appoint a woman to one of the "four great offices of state" was "low-level non-violent misogyny", ignoring that he appointed more women to shadow cabinet positions overall than had ever been the case before, then there's going to be blow back.  If you go on Question Time and say that "a very similar situation to what happened in Cologne could be described on Broad Street in Birmingham every week where women are baited and heckled", you have to accept some are going to respond noisily and angrily.  I'm reasonably sympathetic to Phillips on the latter point, as the response from the police inadvertently backed her up (merely the 5 serious sexual assaults on Broad Street in 12 weeks), but an orchestrated and organised campaign of sexual assault isn't comparable to drunken cretins and man children acting lecherously, little difference as it makes to the victims.

Phillips indeed did respond to the criticism after her misogyny remarks, accepting her "phraseology" was probably clumsy and that Corbyn wasn't a misogynist, but that her overall point was correct and she wasn't going to shut up.  In fact, she considers herself the equivalent of Corbyn, being principled, keeping on banging on.  Only to now almost 2 months on instead conclude that it's not possible to be a Corbyn, to be different and succeed, as it's just too tiring being shouted down.

If Phillips wanted to be a little more reflective instead of dramatic, as she herself accepts she is, then she might have added an extra argument.  That yes, there are a few politicians out there who manage to be outspoken and not just communicate in soundbites, but they tend for the most part to be supremely unpleasant and respond to the criticism they get in kind.  We're seeing it over in America, we see it to a lesser extent with Nigel Farage, whose they're all the same shtick could not be more tiresome.

As it is from Phillips: while it's not always the case, the "we're all the same line" often amounts to the person who says it not being willing to engage or not being bothered enough to.  She could also have noted how despite the complaints, those same voters keep on putting their x in the box for the same old people, and how those who do resist by voting for someone other than the big two are punished by our winner takes all electoral system.  It's not just a conspiracy of the establishment to keep things as they are: voters tell everyone that politicians are all the same, then punish parties that go through spirited internal debates for not speaking with one voice.

If you wanted to be less charitable, you might conclude that Phillips knows full what she's doing, that she enjoys the attention and positive write-ups as any MP with a sizeable ego would, but is still affected by the nastiness of the few on Twitter.  Those even less charitable might connect this with the previous attempts to present the criticism she has received as trying to silence her entirely, the irony of those complaining about being silenced usually doing so as often and as loudly as possible always lost.  This would be unfair, as this genuine MP does seem to be genuine in her disappointment at not being able to change things as she hoped.  Still, as pleasant as Phillips appears personally, it might be an idea to recall the advice of those political sages, the Arctic Monkeys:

Assuming that all things are equal / Who'd want to be men of the people / When there's people like you?

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Thursday, February 25, 2016 

Get down with the sickness.

Seeing as we're on a bit of a 90s bent, some of you might just recall Stewart Lee and Richard Herring's ever more incongruous looking back on it Sunday lunchtime show This Morning With Richard Not Judy.  Herring's habitual response to being called "sick" by Stew after revealing that week's attraction to whatever it was ("I love all flies.  Houseflies.  Tsetse flies.  Of course, they're all testes flies when I've finished with them") was to say "Am I Stew?  Or is it the businessman, with his suit and tie?"

Which brings us in fantastically tenuous style to yesterday's completely absurd PMQs set to.  Cameron's mother we learnt, as well as being opposed to her son's austerity, is not really very British at all.  Few of us are rude or direct enough to give advice of the kind Dave's dear old mum would to Jeremy Corbyn.  No, instead we'd criticise Corbyn's dress sense and his implicit lack of patriotism once he was out of earshot.  Dave's old cheese by contrast would say it right to the bearded lunatic leftie's face: put on a proper suit, do up your tie and for God's sake tug your forelock when it's demanded of you!  Where do you think you are, the beach?  You're leader of the opposition man, letting yourself and your side down!  Do you think Clement Attlee would have turned up with his shirt hanging out and refused to get down on his knees when ordered to by George IV?  Of course not!

Credit has been to given to Dave's PMQs preparation team, as it was clearly another came up with in advance line meant to look like an ad-lib, just in case Corbyn cited the Cameron family's concerns over the actions of the prodigal.  Instead he took the opportunity given by Angela Eagle's heckle (hence why she looks so embarrassed), as clearly you can't let a good insult go to waste.

And it was a good insult, carefully calibrated: Dave wasn't the one saying his opponent resembles a tramp and doesn't love his country, it's what his mother would, in the same way as politicians down the ages have hid behind the opinions of anonymous letter writers and concerned citizens.  It was designed to appeal to that small but vocal group of judgemental souls that believe a shirt and tie are more important than every other personal quality.  Think Telegraph writers, the people behind the proposal in UKIP's 2010 manifesto that taxi drivers should have a dress code, Basil Fawlty-alikes, assorted other eccentrics.  Some also simply admire bullies, as long as the bully is on "their" side, for which see the rise of Trump.  A few will have been turned off by Flashman making another appearance, for sure, but others will have yucked up Dave telling it like it is.

You could if you like complain about how this seems a much greater act of snobbery than say Emily Thornberry tweeting a photo without comment of a house flying an England flag with a white van on the drive.  You could bring up how it seems especially instructive of the prejudices of our social betters coming in the same week as the country is being asked to back one of two men, both of whom went to the same elite private school, both of whom were members of the Bullingdon Club and both of whom have since their tender years believed they were born to rule.  You could remark on the contrast it highlights in the treatment of one of those men, who is in part popular because of his upper class "eccentricities", who has been caught deliberately messing up his hair prior to giving interviews, who was heckled himself in the Commons on Monday and told to tuck his shirt in.

You could, but you'd just sound bitter and it doesn't get you anywhere.  For all the brown nosing, sycophancy and sneering going on, whether it be Cleaning for the Queen, or renaming the Crossrail project the Elizabeth Line, it's worth remembering that we've reached the point where the only people we really make wear uniforms and tell to stand up straight are kids.  Sure, you get the odd headteacher who decides that's not enough by itself and demands the parents don't wear pyjamas when bringing their little darlings in, but in general the etiquette following, looking down nose, know your place types are on the way out altogether.  Before long the sickos truly will be the suits.  And then we'll complain and moan about the death of class, as is our wont.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016 

Give me irrelevance, or give me death.

Appearances, as we know, can often be deceiving.  If you were to judge me purely by this blog, you would no doubt conclude I'm something of a politics obsessive.  And you'd be right.  But it doesn't run my life.  Part of the reason I've always resisted joining any social network is I know it would just lead to my spending even more time thinking and spouting off on the subject.  This might sound counter-intuitive, but if there's one thing the world desperately needs less of, as well as lawyers, it's politics.  There's a very good reason why most ordinary, sensible people eschew getting involved, and it's not just because they're not interested or don't have the time to spare to do so: it's often terminally dull and the same arguments occur over and over again.  The reward is minuscule in comparison to the amount of work you have to put in to get any real enjoyment out.

You can though understand why the most obsessed believe that their heroes, or representatives must involve themselves in every issue or campaign going, because otherwise why else should they do so themselves?  This isn't helped by how what was once rare has become so commonplace: debates between political candidates, if they happened at all, were usually one-off affairs.  Now, especially when it comes to choosing a party leader or a party presidential nominee, they happen practically every week.  Yes, this does to an extent weed out the also-rans, but it also has the effect of boring anyone who might have been paying attention and isn't an obsessive to death.  There are only so many times even the most anal of us can hear the same scripted lines without wanting to open up our arteries.  By the time the Democrat/Republican candidates finally face off towards the end of this year, the chances of even Trump if it is indeed he saying something original will be lower than Jeb Bush's ego.

Owen Jones then worries that Labour "risks becoming irrelevant in the [EU] referendum".  He says this despite writing of how Jeremy Corbyn "is in politics to change things, and voters know – if nothing else – that he is not there to defend the status quo or the establishment".  Jones attempts to avoid the contradiction of this anti-establishment figure arguing for the establishment position by saying that instead Corbyn should "make his own separate case", calling for a vote to stay in the EU "as a first step to the reform it so desperately needs".

It isn't clear exactly how this will work.  Most Labour supporters are it seems in favour of staying in, and yet how exactly will helping David Cameron to a stonking great victory help the party win the next election?  How will effectively signing up to Cameron's renegotiation, as a remain vote will clearly be taken as, be the first step to the reform the EU so desperately needs, especially when it will be the Conservatives in power for at least another three years?  Failing a Scottish "neverrendum" feeling taking hold, it's apparent this is going to be taken as the UK's settlement in Europe for at least a good few years.

Put it like this: irrelevance is by far the preferable position, if not for Labour, then definitely for Corbyn.  We all know he doesn't believe in the EU.  He said he voted for coming out of the Common Market in 1975, as you'd expect, and if you voted out then you have to go through a spectacular routine of verbal gymnastics to convincingly explain why you'd possibly vote to remain now.  Getting vigorously involved in a campaign to remain, even purely on a Labour platform, makes absolutely no sense.  Staying in the background and letting everyone else get on with it is by far the better bet.

Especially when it seems as though all involved are determined to send the public to sleep.  Quite why there needs to be three BBC debates, not including any held by the other broadcasters quite escapes me, especially when only one is likely to be attended by Cameron.  The right-wing press does of course regard this as the most important vote in the history of this septic isle, so naturally the BBC has to go one better, and yet Wembley Arena?  Build it and everyone other than the obsessives will find an excuse to switch the channel.  Irrelevance has never been such an attractive proposition.

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Monday, February 22, 2016 

Let them all kill each other.

Imagine, if you can, just what a vote to leave the European Union on June the 23rd would mean.  Not to us as a country, as that's all too easy, but instead to the tabloid press.  How on earth would they cope with their number one bogeyman vanquished?  Their favourite target for unvarnished often irrational hate, suddenly gone, and with no one else to blame but ourselves for just how awful everything is.  Then, you quickly realise, it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference.  Instead their fire would quickly be turned on the barmy bureaucrats tasked with negotiating our exit, then the self-same people who would be negotiating our re-entry into the free market.  Once all that was over, or rather before then, the bile would just turn ever further inward: the NHS, the BBC, the left, students, the poors, Scotland, all would get it in the neck more frequently than ever.

For the obvious irony is that for all the occasions the left or supporters of the EU are accused of lacking patriotism, not being proud enough of England, of putting the country down, for which see last week's response to Emma Thompson describing our glorious nation as a "tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island", it tends to be the right, the Conservatives, UKIP especially that have the biggest problem with the country as it is.  The Mail, if not so much the Sun, would normally nod sagely and agree with most of Thompson's sentiments, so long as they were shorn of her conclusion as to that's why we should remain in the EU.  The shouting down of Thompson pretty much amounted to yes, everything you say is true, but it's our cloud-bolted, misery-laden, grey old island, you stuck-up, out of touch, elitist, snooty luvvie.  You could if you wished compare how Thompson was told to "shut her cakehole" for speaking out, as compared to how Michael Caine was treated for saying it was time we left, but that would be too easy.

If only there was so much as a touch of glamour to the mechanical, hollow, shallow, fatuous process of phony differences and fantastical scaremongering we're about to experience for the next 4 months.  Calling politics showbusiness for ugly people has always seemed a cheap shot, but lord, how could anyone gaze on Saturday's get together of the cabinet members set to campaign for the exit and not think we have reached the absolute pinnacle of human evolution?  Not one but two bald men, chomping at the bit to fight over how many combs EU bureaucrats dancing on the head of a pin are allowed under directive 5291, the minister for Northern Ireland without an apparent care in the world for how her support for the exit would impact on her job, a supporter of the death penalty, the culture minister who barely conceals his contempt for the BBC, and an utterly deluded squit who somehow believes he could still be the next Tory leader and prime minister to the boot.

And these politicians, dear reader, are the sensible ones.  For over at the Grassroots Out party on Friday night came the unveiling of Vote Leave's secret weapon, Gorgeous George Galloway, who endeared himself to an audience made up of UKIP supporters, Tory right-wingers and the odd outright loon by declaring that he hated nationalism.  You couldn't help but feel for poor Kate Hoey, who had previously disassociated herself from all the other various out groupings on the basis they were controlled by individuals more intent on fighting each other than their opponents, only to find herself standing alongside not just Nigel Farage but a man who has alienated pretty much everyone he once associated with.  The pound-shop Donald Trump and the biggest twat in a hat since Jay Kay, together at last!

For the most ridiculous spectacle of all though you only need look at today's newspaper front pages.  Anyone would be mistaken for thinking that Boris was the second coming of Thatcher, rather than an utterly shameless opportunist who cares only for his lifelong goal of reaching Downing Street.  IDS and all the other monomaniacs you can at least respect for having always wanted to get us out; Gove and Boris are thinking solely of how this will position them, whether Cameron wins the referendum and leaves shortly after, or loses and has to resign as a result.  They believe they have nothing to lose: a remain vote might take the aura of being a winner/hugely popular away from Boris, but will gain him the respect he currently lacks with some at the Tory party constituency level.  If it's out, then he has the wind at his back and through his hair: what's to stop him from winning the leadership when his main opponents all wanted to stay?  Sure, it'll be a bit of a bugger needing to leave the EU when they must know in their heart of hearts there isn't going to be a better offer after a leave vote, more likely instead all the downsides of EU membership, open borders etc, with far less of the positives.  Who cares mind when you're the prime minister, and gaining more and more power is what your entire career has been about?

The only real joy to be had from what's ahead of us is, loathe personality politics or not, the Tories tearing chunks out of each other.  We got a taster from Cameron today in the Commons, who albeit in the language of the House, tore Johnson's arguments in his Torygraph piece to shreds.  When you have IDS talking the most absurdist nonsense about leaving the EU somehow incubating us against terrorist attacks, with Cameron and others repeatedly making clear how "secure" membership by contrast makes us, the assaults on their different positions are only going to increase.  As the attack lines become and more and more rehearsed, so in turn will the personal insults commence.  With the vast majority of the public bound to be bored senseless by the entire shebang already, all anyone's going to remember is just who called whom an idiot, who questioned whom's patriotism, who denounced whom as a Little Englander, and so forth.  All accompanied naturally by a media who seize on splits in Labour but will applaud them when they agree with the outers in the Tories.

But cry the usual voices, Europe is too important to be left to the Conservatives.  Well, it is and isn't.  There is absolutely nothing for Labour or the left as a whole to gain from joining forces with Cameron and pals, whether on platforms or off of them.  Cameron has from the beginning tried to paint his renegotiation as being the will of the British people, when it has had nothing to do with public sentiment, supportive of a referendum or not, and everything to do with the management of his party.  This is his bed, and he should lie in it.  Yes, if Cameron wins then he does have some sort of additional legacy, to have hopefully settled our place in Europe for a generation, but if he wants that epitaph when his party will forever loathe the EU and hold it against him then that's his choice.  If say it gets to June and it looks as though the Outers are in the lead, then perhaps it will be time to do something.  Otherwise, we should let Dave and his party bang heads together, watch their polling fall, and anticipate a change of leadership that will almost certainly result in someone less capable and less popular than Cameron taking over.  What's not to like?

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016 

Trident and the new online tribes: the song remains the same.

According to no less a person than Ian Dunt, by far the worst thing about Jeremy Corbyn is his online supporters.  This it's worth noting is a claim made about every new political movement's online base, whether true or not. The same has been said, at length, repeatedly, interminably about Cybernats and Momentum.  Now it's notably jumped across the Atlantic, where the "Bernie Bros", young, strident, male supporters of Bernie Sanders supposedly ridicule anyone and everyone, but especially women thinking of voting for Hillary Clinton.  The original article about Bernie Bros could have been almost word for word written about the far noisier contingent (at least from my experience) of obsessive Ron Paul supporters around between 2008 and 2012, and who have since disappeared apparently off the face of the planet.  Or more likely are now supporting Trump.

You don't have to be particularly partial to the views of any of these groups to note those most likely to complain about them are the very people most directly challenged by their emergence.  The most virulent Cybernats will target anyone and anything that opposes independence, but they mainly focus on the already moribund Scottish Labour party.  The main complaints about Momentum were voiced during the debate on bombing Islamic State in Syria, and were wrapped up with criticism of the Stop the War group for doing little more than encouraging lobbying of MPs.  The Bernie Bros meanwhile have been criticised by no less a person than Billy Clinton himself, while supporters of Hillary have repeatedly suggested sexism is the reason Clinton has not already sown up the Democrat nomination, rather than say her support for every war going or her speeches to Wall Street execs in exchange for sackfuls of cash.  That it has since emerged much the same tactics were used against Obama back in 2008, if on a far lesser scale, doesn't seem to have stopped the moaning.

The point is clear, regardless.  The old are hardly likely to take the shock of the new gladly.  The media often finds itself siding with those claiming to be victimised by these online hoodlums, not least because the feedback experience has not on the whole been a happy one.  The Graun recently decided to stop opening comments on articles on Islam, race and immigration because the tenor had become so unpleasant.  Commentators who once only had to stomach the odd letter in green ink suddenly found themselves getting torn to shreds, called every name under the sun for only doing what they had for years.  Some attempted and still do try to engage, while others long since abandoned looking "below the line".  Almost as a whole the "mainstream" media finds itself under siege: apparently loathed and mistrusted by their own readers, increasingly ridiculed and ignored by politicians no longer on the fringes, their business models threatened by the collapse in print advertising and sales, while adblockers and social media timeline rips of their content do similar damage online.

And yet, at the same time, these groups, whether in the media or politics, still leverage remarkable power and often treat their opponents with far more contempt and arrogance than they have been subjected to.  Let's take as an example the debate, or rather lack of, on Trident, although you could just as easily focus on the response to the campaign against the Rhodes statue at Oriel college in Oxford, or practically any other issue where young and therefore stupid seems to come against older and wiser.

Trident it's worth reflecting has never sat easily with Labour, even post unilateralism.  95 Labour MPs voted against renewal back in 2007, leaving Tony Blair to rely on Tory support.  Not much truly has changed since then in the way of the threats we face, while the cost of replacing Trident has even on the lowest estimate increased.  The other change, far more key, is that Labour now has a leader who is against replacing Trident.  This leader has also taken the opportunity to appoint a defence secretary who is like minded, and to commission a review of the party's defence policy, both moves he is fully entitled to make.  Similarly, the party conference was within its right to take a vote on Trident that upheld the position in Labour's 2015 manifesto, to replace Trident.

Which group then do you think is the one screaming about the utter insanity of the other, indulging in shouting matches at meetings of the parliamentary party and chucking around insults at the first opportunity?  Not, as you might expect, the one that was so criticised for talking about blood being on the hands of MPs voting for airstrikes in Syria.  It is in fact the one that is in favour of spending billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction while dismissing every critique, whether it be on cost, the potential for the technology to be out of date before the new class of submarines are so much as built, or on whether or not Trident is relevant in the 21st century.

It could well be right that Emily Thornberry's references to the potential for underwater drones to make the seas "transparent" is, as Lord West apparently phoned the Today programme to say, nonsense.  Lord Hutton (of Furness, which somewhat gives the game away) might be right to quote the former chief of the defence staff Lord Boyce who said we're more likely to put a man on Mars within the next six months than for the seas to become transparent in the next 30 years.  It could also be that there will emerge a technology or new weapons system within the next 30 years that does threaten Trident; 15 years ago we certainly didn't see drones playing as key a role in military action as they do now.  Hutton says you only have to look at those doing the nay-saying now to see through their new arguments for opposing; similarly, you only to have bear witness to the people who believe they know best to recognise this is about far more than just what's ultimately right for the country's defence.

The bluster and language is always the same.  They talk about "multilateral disarmament" while not for a moment believing that it is either possible, or so much as worth spending a moment attempting.  They make as many references as they can to "deterring", "nuclear blackmail" or "our independent nuclear deterrent".  They are not just convinced, they are absolutely certain that the public backs their position of renewal to the absolute hilt and that anything else is electoral suicide.  They might even bring "working people" into it, if they feel the need, just to stress how these middle class do-gooders from London don't understand how Joe Six Pints from Leeds feels about turning our missiles into plowshares.

Not that they can always get their lines straight.  Madeleine Moon, who Cameron today quoted at PMQs following her tweet about the PLP meeting, was daft enough to bring up how it's not just our nuclear weapon, it's also Nato's nuclear weapon.  Obviously it's our completely independent nuclear deterrent, but it's also Nato's totally independent nuclear deterrent.

Moon is still preferable to Jamie Reed MP, who first distinguished himself on the day of Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership by congratulating him and resigning in the same tweetHis piece for the Spectator still needs to be read to be believed.  And even then it's still not believable.  According to Reid, the party has deliberately abandoned political professionalism.  Trident renewal is not just Labour party policy, it is the "settled will" of the country.  This is presumably based on the number of votes parties committed to Trident renewal received at the election.  By the same yardstick there are whole legions of policies we know are hugely unpopular that would also be the settled will of the country, but let's move on.  Renewal is not just right, it is "morally" right.  It's always a bad idea to bring morals into politics full stop, but on Trident?  Blimey.

So it goes on.  "We should take great pride in being the standard bearers for one of Attlee’s most important legacies," Reed says.  The Attlee cabinet was so proud of its own decision that it didn't inform parliament for two years.  There is no credible case for scrapping Trident, Reed continues, and those that claim there is have the gall to call those supporting renewal right-wing!  There's nothing right-wing about protecting skilled jobs, taking pride in those communities or in seeking multilateral disarmament!  In about Reed's only salient point, he remarks there's no point in the party splitting over an issue that can't be influenced from opposition and will in any case be decided by 2020.  But by God, he'll complain about it and make absurd assumptions and generalisations, as it's nothing less than an informed choice to pursue electoral defeat.  "The leadership knows that an anti-Trident policy will lead to rejection at the ballot box. It knows that this is a litmus test of credibility. The leadership knows that an anti-Trident position means taking a pass on power; it’s an open-armed, wide-eyed, deliberate embrace of the wilderness."

In actual fact, the polling rather suggests that while there is a majority in favour of Trident renewal, it very much varies on how you ask the question and especially if you mention the cost.  But Reed obviously knows better, and knows this is the leadership deliberately making the party unelectable.  That's how deranged Corbyn and the leadership are.  Much the same points are made by Rafael Behr in the Graun.  He comments:
 

And everything about the conduct of that debate will accelerate Labour’s spiral away from power because it won’t really be a big, new strategic argument about the future of national defence, and whether Britain should be a nuclear power. It will be an old, parochial little bicker about the party’s torrid history and whether Labour really cares what the majority of people in Britain think.

It's fairly clear which side wants to have a strategic argument about the future of national defence and which wants an old, parochial little bicker.  It's the same side discombobulated by these new groupings, and rather than attempt to understand them, insults them.  It's the same side that as Gary Younge puts it, first derided Corbyn's base and has been throwing a tantrum ever since about being unable to win them over.  It's the same side that views and presents itself as the sensible, progressive one, in tune with the man on the street, while being just as removed as any Bernie Bro or CyberNat.  It's the same side the media has allied itself with, whether improperly or otherwise, and yet still wonders why it's regarded as part of the establishment, the problem rather than the solution.  Delusion affects all sides.  Some just delude themselves to a greater extent than others.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016 

The commentariat is always wrong. Probably.

Steve Richards is very good in the Political Quarterly on the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, but this part on the commentariat is worth reflecting on also:

Here is one other general observation before I explore why Corbyn rose to the top of his party and reflect on what might happen next. I find in British politics that what we think is happening is almost always the reverse of what is actually happening. That is my polite way of suggesting that the media consensus at any given time is nearly always wrong. So, for example, at the moment the orthodoxy in the media is that Cameron and Osborne are commanding and the Conservatives have already won the next election, while the rise of Corbyn is an unqualified catastrophe. My instinct is to assume these assumptions must be wrong, partly because the commentariat is always wrong.

To judge by the polls, which themselves are tarnished by last year's failure, the commentariat in this instance seem to be right: Corbyn is not doing well, and the Tories are doing far better than a party with a majority of 12, 5 years into government and with so many potential problems on the horizon should be. Point is, when the commentariat are so focused on Corbyn being a disaster, it's incredibly hard not to be drawn into thinking the same, as while there are "good" columnists and "bad" columnists they invariably reach the same conclusions. Besides, as we know, there is wisdom in crowds.

This is only multiplied when said commentariat is now asking whether Labour might split, with the no longer Pollyanna Toynbee urging it not to, Pol being older and wiser for having helped Thatcher into power in 83 with the SDP, although of course she doesn't put it like that. The New Statesman meanwhile, which seems to have decided to be critical of Labour at all times whether in government or not, poses the question on its front page, even if its conclusion is ultimately the same as Pol's.

Labour it barely needs saying isn't going to split.  You only need to look at the utter state of the Lib Dems to see that there is barely any room at the moment for a centrist party, let alone for two competing parties of the centre left.  Whom is going to lead this split anyway?  As Richards goes on to say, part of the reason Labour is in this mess is down to how Blair and Brown commanded the party for so long, without ordaining successors as either Thatcher tried to or as Cameron is now attempting with Osborne.  Say what you like about Burnham, Cooper or Kendall, all are tribally Labour.  Nor are any of the great white hopes, again whoever they are now, Dan Jarvis seeming the only name with the slightest lustre, going to do a Gang of Four, let alone take others in the party with them.

Things then we should also assume are wrong due to how they are being pushed, or probably wrong: firstly, that Labour will lose seats in the local elections.  I doubt it, and even if they do, Sadiq Khan is going to be the next London mayor, which despite the commentariat also assuming is a done deal, could be the exception that proves the rule.

Second: that whatever EU renegotiation Cameron comes up with, the remain campaign will win.  This seems to assume that the sheer rhetorical force of Dave and friends will win the day, and completely ignores that the same coalition the Tories put together that won the election, of older people, former Lib Dem voters outside of the cities and those put off/unconvinced by Miliband/Labour's record on the economy/not hating immigrants/benefit claimants enough are those most likely to be unfavourable towards the EU also.  Cameron would seem to be counting on the very people who haven't and will never vote for him to effectively do so on this occasion to take him over the edge.  Now it could happen, we might see a UK wide reprise of Project Fear from the Scottish independence referendum that convinces just enough people the risks of leaving aren't worth it, and there's the fact the most notable people involved with the leave campaigns are unpopular populists in an age when populism done properly is very popular.  Or we could end up in the worst of all worlds, outside the EU without any say in anything but with much the same obligations, and with Cameron having to resign, plus Osborne supremely damaged in turn.


Which would leave Corbyn and Labour where?  Not in quite as bad a place, if nothing else.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016 

A bunch of cunts, long to reign over us.

"A bunch of migrants".  According to Anna Soubry, David Cameron's choice of language was nothing more than a unintended, understandable descent into slang.  He clearly meant "a group".  There's one very good reason to believe it wasn't a unscripted sort of gaffe, which we'll come to, but there's also another.  How often exactly does anyone use "a bunch" as a collective noun, other than in a bunch of grapes or bananas, or at the opposite extreme, a bunch of cunts?  More widely used, at least 'round my way, would be "a load".  It smacks of the kind of line written with the intention of sounding like something that an ordinary person would say, except it doesn't, because the prime minister's advisory clique doesn't have the slightest clue what us proles talk like.

Not that it really matters.  The reasoning behind using the line is, sadly, completely sound, which is precisely why it was a scripted attack line.  "A bunch of migrants" is pretty neutral compared to a lot of the discourse around the refugee crisis.  One solution I heard in passing was that they should be forced back into their boats, pushed out to sea, and then sank.  Or shot.  Or sank and shot.  Either way, they were not meant to survive.  Of course, this isn't to be pretend there aren't plenty of bleeding hearts out there as well, or indeed that the man who offered his opinion truly meant it.  When however you have the Road Hauliers Association demanding that the French army be sent to Calais because 50 migrants living in utterly desperate conditions had the temerity to storm a ship, and when you consider that whatever spin the government puts on it, our response to the crisis has been derisory, the equivalent of a middle finger salute to the rest of Europe, regardless of the merits or otherwise of the policies pursued by other states, the level of rhetoric has always been way out of line with the numbers we've taken.

Realise also that if anyone is still getting the blame over immigration/migration, it's Labour.  It doesn't matter that the Conservatives failed utterly with their ridiculous tens of thousands target, nor that in further desperate attempts to keep the numbers down non-EU students are being arrested with the apparent intention of dissuading others from coming to the UK at all, when it comes to the focus groups, they still point the finger at the opposition.  In fact, as that whole Deborah Mattinson report makes clear, the Tories can blame Labour for anything and everything and a distinct group will nod their heads and go along with it.  A tax probe into Google started under Labour in 2009 but which wasn't finalised for 7 years and when it is amounts to the company paying a rate of 3%?  Labour's fault, because Blair, Brown and Darling now all work for banks.  At least we're trying, says Cameron, and can you imagine Chas and Dave over there getting more when they're craven to the trade unions, want to hand over the Falklands and say you're welcome, come on over, to a bunch of illegals?

Scripted as it was, it probably wasn't written with the intention of distracting attention from the Google tax difficulty, when the Italians, the Italians of all people have apparently persuaded them to hand over proportionately more.  Yes, every so often Cameron's mask slips, and yes, it is an utterly callous way to describe people literally living in filth, the vast majority of whom will have escaped war, oppression, or grinding poverty, but it's not one that's going to affect his ratings one iota.  No one who hasn't already reached the conclusion that this government are a bunch of heartless bastards at best and a bunch of utter cunts at worst is going to be swung by Cameron's use of words; no one who hasn't already been moved by the plight of the migrants across Europe, in the Middle East, is going to be now.

If anything, attitudes are only going to harden further as an apparently unending wave of refugees struggle to make their way to safety on the continent.  The only real solution, to bring an end to the wars in both Syria and Iraq, is either too difficult, thought impossible or not so much as on the agenda.  And indeed, how do you put an end to conflicts that are as much as anything about centuries' old sectarian and tribal enmities when it is in the interests of the two major regional powers for them to carry on?  How can we pose as honest brokers when we have funded one side by proxy, and when we are resolutely behind the state the UN accuses of breaching international humanitarian law in Yemen, just as we accuse the Russians of doing in Syria?

The only real way to get a hit in on the Tories is to draw all these various strands together.  We have a government that reaches derisory deals on tax with major corporations, and so in order to claw back whatever it can from elsewhere, it deducts money from victims of domestic violence and the seriously disabled for having "spare rooms".  We have a government that, personally responsible or not for the Iraq disaster, is bombing both it and Syria, and so is directly contributing to the immediate plight of civilians, even if the overall aim has the best of intentions.  This same government claims, hilariously and disgracefully, to be doing more than any other nation to help refugees, even while it refuses to do the bare minimum in alliance with the rest of the EU.  Whatever it does, the government favours the rich and the strong over the poor and the weak.  At the same time, it denies as much responsibility as it possibly can for its actions, and where possible, blames the victims.  The challenge for Labour is to make this argument about the government's heartless irresponsibility without further convincing the voters it needs to win back over that it's only for the "down and outs".

And there lies the reason we seem to have many long years of Tory rule ahead.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016 

The Hotel Cameronia.

Deja-vu pervades the headlines on a dead, ice cold January day.  Reasons for failures thought to have long since been established are repeated, as if for emphasis, as if to drum in how crap we are, you are, we all are.  The polls were wrong because the samples were wrong; the wrong young people were recruited; the right older people weren't recruited; and no one has the slightest idea if it's fixable, except online polling is the solution, not the problem.  Online is always the solution, not the problem.

Labour lost because it was just that little bit crapper than the Conservatives.  David Cameron's crap, but Ed Miliband would have been worse.  He didn't convince, the public didn't trust the party on the economy because it had been too busy obsessing over itself to fight back against the coalition's everything's Labour's fault line, and they also didn't believe the party would be nasty enough on welfare or to immigrants.  Considering voters preferred the Tories on that particular issue, David Cameron having presided over the highest ever net migration figure after promising to get the numbers down to the tens of thousands, that's quite the achievement.  Yes, it's true the public no longer trust any politician to get immigration down and the monster is completely out of the bag, but that doesn't alter the humiliation.

Janan Ganesh in the FT expands on the crap motif, only he mistakes it for apathy.  David Cameron is the apathy prime minister.  He's like Tony Blair, only not messianic.  He's a plausible prime minister, just like he's plausible as a human being.  He looks like one, talks like one, but never truly convinces on any level whatsoever.  And yet it's enough.  He goes to summits, gives a soundbite, walks off, manages to sound engaged for a couple of hours in the Commons, then it's on to the next thing.  He's pushed through and will still be pushing through brutal cuts to public services and benefits, but all the hard work, strategising and thinking is done by other people or behind the scenes, as evidenced by his blithe or ignorant letter to his own council.  He faces scrutiny, or seems to, and yet he doesn't.  On occasion he gives the most fatuous, embarrassing, even downright stupid answers to questions imaginable, like last week when he said with a straight face that he couldn't tell us who any of those 70,000 moderately extreme Islamists we're backing in Syria are as he didn't want Assad or Islamic State to know who to target.  Or yesterday when he insisted that our help to the Saudis in Yemen is to make sure they don't carry on bombing eye hospitals, rather than to help them carry on bombing eye hospitals.

He does it though on things that don't matter, that no one is truly interested in or which don't decide votes.  When you think about it, despite being prime minister for nigh on 6 years, not once has Dave faced a real, full-on crisis.  Some of it is luck, some of it judgement, but not once has he truly, properly come unstuck, with the exception, possibly, of the Syria vote.  Yes, he went through the riots, Milly Dowler/Leveson, floods, the Scottish independence referendum, at times seeming to react to events rather than leading them, and yet each time he pulled through without being damaged.  The Syria vote more than anything was an example of misreading his own party, something he has done repeatedly, but that hasn't as yet come back to truly bite him.  It could yet on his biggest gamble, the EU referendum, only it doesn't seem to bother him as still the casual, laid-back, apathy man approach is continuing, as the Graun laments.

Then again, we are apathy nation, or if you prefer, mild Britain.  Arguments and denunciations might fly across the internet, seething rage might be broiling underneath the surface, inequality might be worse than ever, we could be at the dawn of the era where the bottom is pulled from underneath middle earners just as it has been from the low, and yet nothing seems to change.  We are not being buffeted by a refugee crisis, as mainland Europe is.  We don't have a Bundy Bunch taking over government buildings and waving firearms in the face of the state.  We are not at war with terrorists, as France's president insists his is.  Even our alleged equivalent seems quaint in comparison to the Paris attackers; shooting a soldier, a police officer or a civilian, as the prosecution/the accused are confused over which it was, from a scooter with a silenced pistol?  It doesn't seem worth dignifying by describing it as terrorism.

The truth is, there isn't an alternative being articulated.  You can tell there isn't when the Times' opinion pages are taken up by columns on variously, students banning things, the police over Operation Midland, "Putin-loving Corbynistas", and anti-consumerism.  Polls being useless taken as point, Labour has not made the slightest in-roads into the Tories since the election.  More are exercised over Labour itself than the government, while elsewhere pompous arses make twats of themselves, act as martyrs for "saying the unsayable" and get rewarded for it.  Margaret Beckett in the Labour report might say the future isn't bleak, there are reasons to be positive, and there are in the sense apathy man doesn't have a replacement, the EU vote will divide the Tories like nothing else, and their majority remains tiny, but in which sense exactly does Corbyn look like an answer when Miliband wasn't?

Welcome to the Hotel Cameronia.  You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

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