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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Monday, January 11, 2016 

The intrinsic irony of Labour's infighting.

There are a whole number of ways someone could respond to the resignation of shadow attorney general Catharine McKinnell.  You could for instance just say "sorry, who?" and leave it at that.  Kevan Jones is practically a household name in comparison to McKinnell.  Alternatively, you could cluck, point out that Corbyn's critics seem incapable of so much as synchronising their resignations, remark about piss-ups and breweries, and note how bad as Corbyn and his team are, the organisational skills of his deeply concerned and dignified opponents turn out to be worse.  Then there's a third way: giggling at the incongruous nature of McKinnell's resignation letter, where she records her distress at "the direction and internal conflict" within the party and her fears about the "increasingly negative path" it appears to be taken.  By resigning she obviously isn't adding to either of these problems, and is returning to the backbenches purely out of concern for her constituents.

In truth it's getting rather tiresome.  Had all those who've now resigned done so en masse, it might have had more impact, but doing so separately has also ensured there is not the slightest possibility the media will focus on anything else.  Admittedly, this has not been helped by the silliness of Seumas Milne complaining to the BBC about the co-opting of Stephen Doughty's resignation by Laura Kuenssberg and the Daily Politics.  Yes, it was on the brink of heading into outright bias, and had the BBC done similar with a government minister you can guarantee there would be screams of outrage from the Tories, yet it's not worth getting into a slanging match with one of the few media outlets that doesn't hate the Labour party for atavistic reasons over it.  Better time would be spent focusing on what it says about Doughty, Jonathan Reynolds and their politics.  The same applies to Alison McGovern, who announced her resignation from a review that hasn't even started yet on the Sunday Politics.  Objecting to John McDonnell daring to describe Progress as a "hard right" force within Labour, McGovern stated how she had been backed "into a corner" by a such a calumny and didn't want to be on TV but had been forced into making such a gesture.

We shouldn't ignore how some of the coverage is without question a direct result of Corbyn's questionable decisions and manoeuvres.  He does of course have every right to want to make the party bend his way; doing so over Trident is however asking for it.  Taxpayer's money could be sent on innumerable better things than a replacement for the four Vanguard subs, and there are outright alternatives to Trident that ought to be considered more seriously than has been by the government.  This said, rightly or not, there are reasons as to why adopting an unilateralist position as Corbyn clearly wants to is so opposed by others in the party, and not only by the usual headbanging suspects or those in the constituencies set to be most affected were a replacement not to go ahead.  Making Trident out to be the ultimate insurance policy is an easy sell; convincing voters why we should abandon it in a world where threats, both from state and non-state actors look to be increasing is far more difficult.  When otherwise loyal ministers like Owen Smith make clear how they would have to consider their position if policy is changed, Corbyn and his team ought to look again at the pace at which they are trying to push through their agenda.

McKinnell's resignation nonetheless all but condemns the party to another week of navel-gazing.  Considering Corbyn made a decent impression on this morning's Today programme, surprising some by not ruling out drone strikes like the one that killed Mohammad Emwazi, whether or not that was more Corbyn getting used to answering, or rather not answering "gotcha" questions, it's all the more disappointing.  It also leaves the Tories to carry on pursuing their partisan deconstruction of the country with hardly any real opposition.  David Cameron's announcement on rebuilding "sink estates", where anything up to 100 of these post-war developments will have £140m to share between them would be laughable were it not so transparent: expect repeats across the country of the Heygate estate debacle, where Southwark council sold it to private developers for a pittance, without putting any conditions on the purchasers Lend Lease to provide "affordable" housing themselves.

At the same time as junior doctors are getting smeared by Jeremy Hunt ahead of their first strike tomorrow, and three dates for further tube strikes have been announced, the government is set on making it as difficult as possible to withdraw labour in protest.  By the same token, Labour is also to be prevented from being funded as it has been for decades, as we can't have ordinary people donating to political parties.  Cameron himself meanwhile, unlike McGovern, genuinely has backed himself into a corner on Europe.  Just as only days ago he was making clear cabinet ministers would have to resign to campaign for an out vote in the referendum once he concludes his renegotiation, so now he protests should he lose the vote he will not be on his way.  Yeah, and the three bears.  If the prime minister is worried about how he's going to have to rely on non-Tory voters for an in vote, then he's not showing it.  Likewise, Osborne might be talking a mere six weeks after his autumn statement about an economic "cocktails of threats", and McDonnell might have made a fist of challenging him on it, but much of the rest of the party is more interested in getting rid of him than they are the actual chancellor.

I can't claim to have an answer.  Both sides could do with at least taking a look at Steven Baxter's advice, only the opposition to Corbyn shows no signs of recognising they aren't offering a viable alternative.  When they would counter by saying Corbyn isn't viable either, and it doesn't seem as though the passing of time is going to make them any more accepting of the leader, it's difficult to know how this can end without the party ending up even further from power.  Neither side seems to appreciate that irony.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016 

Do they have an aim other than MAD?

It apparently takes a Labour reshuffle to fully highlight the deficiencies of the new journalism.  Live blogs, tweeting, rather than add to insight they provide the opposite, keeping hacks from doing what they normally would have done, which is actually talk to the people involved.  We had nigh on two days of no one having the slightest idea what was happening, whether anything even was happening, and not all of that can be blamed on the slowness of Jeremy Corbyn making his decisions.  This piece by Chris Mason rather sums it up: it's not entirely fair to pick solely on him or the BBC for this, but reading it anyone would think we're more interested in his experience of the reshuffle as a reporter rather than what happened and what it means.  Instead it was left to Paul Waugh, of the otherwise execrable Huffington Post, to finally throw some light on proceedings this morning.

Whether Waugh's account can be relied on fully is unclear, as reading between the lines it seems to be informed directly by both Hilary Benn and Corbyn, or at least someone on Corbyn's team.  Contrary to all the speculation, Benn's position was never so much as threatened by Corbyn, nor has there been any grand deal between the two whereby Benn has been "muzzled".  Apparently agreed instead was Benn will not go out of his way to pick any fights, with Corbyn having overall control of foreign policy direction.  The discussions and reshuffle itself took so long as both men wanted to sleep on what they had talked about, only to find themselves tied up most of yesterday by urgent questions in the House.

As said, whether you believe all that is up to you.  Whether it always was the case the likes of Seumas Milne and others by Corbyn's side were arguing for him to dump Benn and briefing that to hacks, while Corbyn himself had not made up his mind or had no intention of doing so, we don't know.  Equally, we don't know whether Corbyn was persuaded against moving Benn by the potential for a mass shadow cabinet walkout, or if it was just another reason as to why he was always going to ignore the advice given him.

Certainly unhelpful to the arguments of the sacked Michael Dugher and others within Labour that this all links back to briefing by Milne or others within the Corbyn team though is Andrew Sparrow's assessment.  He denies he received any lobbying from the Corbyn team about "revenge reshuffles", while acknowledging there was always a plan for some sort of move in the new year.  Indeed, he points to the first major article talking of a "revenge reshuffle" originating in the Observer at the beginning of December, where the sources for the piece were clearly those "fearing" just such a move.

Enough anyway with the surmising.  The end result of the reshuffle is two shadow ministers sacked, and the shadow defence secretary moved sideways to fill the gap left at culture with Dugher gone. In other words, more shadow ministers have resigned over the party leader having the audacity to you know, act like a leader, than were dispensed with by the leader.  No one can decide whether this is weakness, strength, Corbyn attempting to take control of party policy or in fact still being too hapless to do so, or whether it matters in the long term.  We have nonetheless had the usual apocalyptic warnings of how all this means Labour is doomed to defeat, how Dugher, Pat McFadden and Kevan Jones were the finest of their generation, and so on.

What really offends is the disingenuousness, the outright obtuse behaviour of McFadden and his allies.  How could you possibly object to what I said, he wailed, along with Ian Austin, Liz Kendall, et al.  Yes, how could Corbyn possibly have thought McFadden's question to Cameron during the debate on the Paris attacks was directed at him?  After all, McFadden was merely asking the prime minister to reject the view "that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the West do".  He only asked the question despite a certain Ian Austin making almost exactly the same point, despite others on the right of the party also standing up during that session and all but saying Corbyn was a dangerous lunatic, who in the words of Ben Bradshaw wasn't so much as sure if he'd "shoot dead genocidal fascists".

Context is everything, which is precisely what McFadden and the others don't want to consider or discuss.  McFadden is perfectly entitled to criticise Corbyn for his views on foreign policy; when however he did so in the Commons, and at the same time as others in the PLP all but declared open mutiny, then to feign surprise when it finally catches up him with him is facetiousness of the lowest order.  McFadden was making a straw man argument of the kind that led directly to Cameron deciding he could get away with calling Corbyn a "terrorist sympathiser".  It would also matter less if McFadden's rhetorical flourish was as compelling as he thinks it is.  The attacks in Paris were obviously not the West's fault, and the responsibility does solely lie with the terrorists responsible.  It is not to infantilise those responsible however to make the argument, as Corbyn did, that the past 14, soon to be 15 years of war have far from making us safer and the Middle East a better place had the opposite effect.  Agree with it or not, it's an entirely permissible view which is not to blame victims or do any of the other scandalous things those so disgusted by Corbyn's consistent view on foreign policy insist it implies.

Besides, McFadden can hardly say he wasn't warned.  Corbyn made clear to the shadow cabinet after Maria Eagle all but agreed with the Tories' tame general on Trident that he wanted an end to the disagreements in public.  In turn, Corbyn has removed the two ministers who most egregiously flouted that request, and shifted the minister who made him issue it in the first place.  Who here is being unreasonable exactly?  Let's remember how brutal Ed Miliband was with Emily Thornberry over her "snobbery" tweet, the kind of over-the-top act of media management which most agree turns ordinary people off from politics.  Few at the time stood up and said hang on, this is ridiculous and downright silly. They went along with it.  Now, when a shadow minister who implied his own leader had to readjust his entire world-view in a question to the prime minister no less is sacked, we have others who resign in protest, calling it "vindictive".

Which poses the question, what exactly do these Jonathan Reynolds, these Stephen Doughtys, these Kevan Joneses and all the rest think they are achieving by resigning to inflict the maximum damage possible, by carrying on the briefings, by making accusations that can't be substantiated, by doing interviews with more than sympathetic hacks, delighted that the feuding continues?  Do they really believe it will help Labour in the long term?  Do they genuinely think it will lead to Corbyn being deposed sooner rather than later?  Do they honestly imagine the Labour membership will realise their mistake and elect someone more to their liking should they succeed?

Let's put it this way.  I joined Labour as a registered member and voted for Liz Kendall.  I don't in my heart of hearts believe Corbyn can possibly win in 2020.  I think his performance in general has been barely adequate so far, and both he and his wider team have been woeful at the times they needed to radiate strength.  I thought I'd reached the point with the stupidity of the McDonnell Little Red Book stunt and the fact the party barely responded at all to the autumn statement/spending review where I couldn't really defend Corbyn and co any more.  The histrionics over the Syria vote, the obsession with Stop the War, which as we've seen today is still going on, the contempt for those daring to lobby Labour MPs over said vote, and now the reaction to what is the most meagre of reshuffles imaginable, it makes me, far from a "Corbynista", want to go on giving him the benefit of the doubt.  Not least when there is still no alternative and those on the opposing side are so petty, so intractable, so fatuous.  If that's what I think, what do the "Corbynistas", what does the wider membership, what does the public?  It's reached the point where some genuinely want their party to fail, imagining that by bringing it down, through the equivalent of mutually assured destruction if necessary, the party will be better off in the long run.  It won't.  Stop believing it will.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016 

That reshuffle, and "low-level non-violent misogyny".

Are there a more benighted people in this country than the poor, suffering souls of the Birmingham Yardley constituency?  Up until May they were lumbered with the self-promoting Lib Dem John Hemming, who repeatedly made use of parliamentary privilege for his own ends, much to the delight of the press when it came to naming Sir Fred Goodwin for taking out a super-injunction, and much to the distress of others involved in legal proceedings involving Vicky Haigh.  Hemming made a habit of naming individuals who were meant to be protected as court proceedings were ongoing, including doing so on Mumsnet, where he was banned for doing so.  Fortunately, his constituents decided he should also be banned from representing them.

Less fortunately, they decided that Labour's Jess Phillips should replace him.  Phillips seems intent on following the Danczuk pathway to MP super-stardom, where the sufferer believes that constantly spouting what the media wants to hear will be enough to save them should their new friends eventually tire of the act.  As the last few days have proved, going down the Danczuk route only guarantees that eventually the media will turn on you.  They always will, they always do.  One minute you're earning thousands of pounds writing articles for the Sun and Mail outlining how your party leader is an idiot and it'll be when, rather if, you'll be sacked, the next those same newspapers have found a teenager who you sexted, complete with an (alleged) sideline in selling soiled undergarments, natch, and what do you know, that same party leader has found his excuse to get rid of you.  And it's the fault of everything except your being a priapic halfwit, obviously.

For now at least, Phillips gives great copy.  She'll stab Corbyn in the front if she believes he's harming the party's electoral chances.  Don't lecture her on how to vote on Syria, as even though she voted against, "people will die no matter what decision was made", responsibility when it's British pilots, planes and bombs involved apparently not making any difference to her thinking.  And while the rest of us can move on, her "card is marked", as Phillips is never knowingly under-dramatic.  Indeed, in keeping with that theme, she's now upped the criticism of her party leader for not giving a woman one of the four shadow "great offices of state" to being "low-level non-violent misogyny".  No longer is Corbyn merely sexist for his choices, it's proof he hates women.  At a low-level and non-violently, anyway.

It's worth keeping all this in mind when considering the quite believable stupidity of the coverage of the is it or isn't it reshuffle of the past 48 hours or so.  From the beginning some hacks and MPs have labelled it a "revenge reshuffle", which may or may not be attributed to briefings from Corbyn's head of communications Seumas Milne, but which nonetheless has turned out to be nothing of the sort.  First, what supposedly is Corbyn seeking revenge over?  If he really was intent on clearing the decks of everyone critical of him, let alone those who voted the other way on Syria, then it would seemingly require the entire shadow cabinet to go, such has been the leaking and whispers to the press almost since he became leader about how useless and what a liability he is.

Second, his moves so far, regardless of whether it was the intention to begin with or not, have been to move those most serially disloyal and critical.  Michael Dugher has been practically asking for it Danczuk-style for months.  Back in September (!) he was saying how self-indulgent it was to carry on with the navel-gazing, and boy did he not take his own advice.  Maria Eagle meanwhile likely sealed her fate when she practically agreed with General Sir Nicholas Houghton's comments on Trident on the Andrew Marr show.  Disagreeing with the leader on nuclear weapons is one thing; all but backing up a general intervening in party politics to implicitly criticise that leader is another.

If this has nonetheless been an example in how not to carry out a reshuffle, it's also been a case study into how not to report one.  First it was definite Hilary Benn was being sacked, then it wasn't, then it might be back on, now it isn't again, or maybe it is.  Who knows?  Who by the time it happens will care?  If this was meant to be a revenge reshuffle, as they were so convinced, why it hasn't it turned out that way?  Have they been played by Corbyn's team, or have they just believed everything they've been told or picked up as being gospel truth because they can't stop tweeting or updating the live blogs?  As increasingly is the case, it's also become about them: we might have hyped this whole thing up to absurd levels, but why can't it now be over?  What are we still waiting for?  Then, finally, there's the we were right smugness, as displayed last night by Laura Kuenssberg: hyuk hyuk, so much for a new, honest politics, allowing for dissent and openness.

As Owen Jones points out, rightly for once, no other Labour leader has or would have tolerated the level of criticism, of near mutiny as Corbyn has the past 4 months.  Michael Dugher's claims of merely responding to briefing against Benn, Eagle and others, of practising straight, honest politics is absurd, as though this has been a one-sided operation.  Reading all the tributes paid to him for no longer being shadow culture secretary, you would have thought he'd died.  Yes, we all know Jeremy was a inveterate rebel, and so can't expect the level of loyalty past leaders have, but he is perfectly entitled to want his shadow ministers for foreign affairs and defence to back him, if not always agree with him.  As it is, he looks to have come to some sort of agreement with Benn, even if it might only delay the inevitable.  No one can say that he hasn't tried to make allowances, regardless of the way it has and is being spun.

Equally, you can't pretend this is anything other than the worst possible way for Labour to start the new year.  The media are determined for their part to make sure the infighting continues, not least when some are set on causing mischief for their own reasons, but complaining about it is all but pointless.  Today ought to have been solely about how Cameron can't whip his cabinet into supporting him on Europe, a measure of weakness that says much about his position, the manoeuvring of those who want to take over from him, and the impact it could have on our staying in the EU, with all a Brexit would entail for our economic and national security, as the Tory messaging would have it.  Both critics and supporters of Corbyn have repeatedly said it's long past time when the focus should be on the government's failings rather than Labour's own.  Surely now we've reached the point where both must practice what they preach.

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Monday, December 14, 2015 

The vicious circle of twatitude.

Hey, you there.  You're a twat.  Yeah, you heard me.  Now, wait a second, I didn't mean you're a twat in the sense that you, singularly, are a twat.  Far from it.  What I meant was, we're all pretty much twats.  I'm a twat.  You're a twat.  The people gathering around us anticipating you smashing me in the face with your clenched fist are twats.  That twat there with the beard and man bun with the smartphone filming all this, he's really a twat.  And all the people that had some sort of role in the production of that phone, whether it be the designer, the programmers that coded the apps, the poor sods in China that put it together while getting poisoned in the process, the people that marketed it, they're all twats.  Most of all, the people that will then share the video of you twatting me, the journalists who will write clickbait articles on it, all the people on Twitter that will laugh about it, they especially are twats.  Life isn't a bowl of cherries.  It's a neverending parade of twats, twatting about, twatting each other and shoving their twats in our faces.  Do you get me?

It won't have escaped your attention that a good section of the commentariat appears to have declared the general public to be twats.  Of course, they aren't talking about the general public at all.  The actual general public are completely indifferent to what the commentariat thinks about anything.  A good percentage of the general public never watches the news, listens to the news when it comes on the radio, reads a newspaper, or so much as visits a news site unless a huge, earth-shattering story like man bites dog breaks.  The real general public, if they are on social media, use it to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances and talk about everything other than politics or the news.  The commentariat are really talking about the people who don't agree with them.

And now, especially following the Syria vote, MPs too have decided that the general public, i.e., anyone who contacts them, are for the most part twats.  They're a bit more discreet than most hacks, but former MP Tom Harris rather lets the cat out of the bag.  Think Hugh Abbott in the have you ever had to clean up your own mother's piss episode of The Thick of It, only without agreeing with him that the public are another fucking species as it's impossible not to like him.

Harris, bless him, thinks just as how the way someone treats a waiter tells you a lot about their character, the same should be the case with how MPs get treated.  Leave aside just for a moment how there are plenty of waiters out there who could do a darned sight better job than a good number of the MPs we currently have, and just focus on the thought process behind that.  Waiters, MPs, what's the difference, apart from the power they have, the wage they get, the people they serve, the clothes they wear, the having to deal with incontinent brats barely past shaving whining about how their steak isn't precisely medium rare?  I'm stumped.

Just for good measure, Harris brings up Jess Phillips MP telling Diane Abbott MP to "fuck off".  Harris and all the people cheering on Phillips don't like Abbott.  Abbott just happened on this occasion to be right, in telling Phillips to stop being so sanctimonious about women not getting top roles in the shadow cabinet when there were more women overall than ever before, but that doesn't matter.  Phillips is to put it mildly, another of those MPs who believes the world revolves around them and if their name isn't in the press on any particular day they have failed.  They adopt a faux of-the-people persona, write comment pieces about how hard it is being an MP while at the same time not suggesting for a moment that they want or deserve sympathy, and then carry on stirring the pot for all it's worth.  The media as a result love them, regardless of how idiotic, repetitive, narcissistic or publicity seeking their comments and reactions are.  Simon Danczuk and John Mann have made great careers out of being loudmouth blowhards jumping on every passing bandwagon, with only the former ever held anything approaching to account.  Phillips will apparently stab Jeremy Corbyn in the front if it comes to it, thinks the public wanted to hear from Corbo that terrorists with AKs and bombs strapped to them will be shot in the head 10 times on sight, just like that Brazilian jihadist was, and the party needs to stop going on about Trident.  Because you haven't been able to move for the Labour party obsessing over Trident of late, rather than about itself thanks to say twats like Phillips not knowing when to shut the fuck up.

Which brings us to the media as a whole.  They love twats even as they denounce them.  They couldn't exist without twats.  While the commentariat denounce petition writing twats and complain about free speech being eroded, the hack at the screen opposite them writes up the latest piece about whichever petition some idiot on Twitter has just started, and how many people a second are signing it.  The editor demands yet another piece on what Trump just said, and another to go with it on what it all means, and then a thinkpiece by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett or someone of that ilk on why Trump has a dodgy hairpiece and herpes.  Of the brain.  Look at what this twat is wearing!  Look at what this twat thinks!  Look at how this twat looks tired!

It doesn't seem to occur that you can only go on regarding everyone as a twat for so long.  This is being borne out by, you guessed it, Trump.  The media in America might be slanted to the right to a ridiculous extent, but Trump supporters still don't believe a word they write.  And why should they?  They think the media are twats, and the people behind the media think they're twats.  It's a vicious circle of twatitude.  The same is the case here.  We saw it in the Labour leadership election, where the "modernisers", the "moderates", whatever you want to call them, exasperated the grassroots to the very limit.  The result was Jeremy.  You see it with the SNP and their supporters, who are convinced the media is biased against them, which it is, and that it matters, which it apparently doesn't considering the election results.  Look at this opening line from a Wings Over Scotland post, and try not to see either projection, or an irony so overwhelming that it should by rights knock you off your feet:

A strange phenomenon we’ve remarked upon numerous times since the independence referendum is the inexplicable undying rage of a certain subset of Unionist voters.

We heard lots about how the internet was supposed to be this great democratic force, how it will transform everything, how nothing will ever be the same ever again, the end of history, and so on.  In fact what it seems to be doing is quite the opposite: we've never been exposed to so many different views, and yet at the same time we've never been so prepared to dismiss them when they don't fit with our prejudices.  Like the old Marx (Groucho) joke about those are my principles, and if you don't like them I have others, if we don't like the fare offered by the lamestream media, there are a whole host of new and improved alternative news sources that will tell it just like it is.  Their content might be unbelievably narrow in scope and subject, but when they think the same people are twats that you do, what does it matter?

Naturally, you can discount all of this as I'm a twat.  Indeed, I'm an even bigger twat than most, as I'm a twat pointing at twats being twats while being a twat myself.   If there's a coda to all this, beyond how we so often mistake those we disagree with as being twats or being the majority when the majority is never very interested in anything you're doing, it's that disagree on how serious what this group or this person or that petition writer is currently doing, there are some individuals who would rather we were less human, and they're not necessarily the Trumps of this world.  For example, see the conclusion of this otherwise fairly reasonable Laura Bates piece:

The feminist endgame is not to publicly punish everybody who makes a rape joke, or ban every advert that uses rape as a titillating way to sell products. It is to create a society in which it would never occur to anybody to do either in the first place.

That's a world I for one would not want to live in.  A society where we cannot make jokes about anything, to anyone, where the very human spirit of finding humour in the bleakest aspects of our nature is denied, even if that means Dapper Laughs or Jimmy Carr still existing?  Count me out.  I'll take my chances with all my fellow twats.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015 

Can you imagine if they had stopped a war?

Here's a challenge to someone of a cultured literary bent: write an alternate history short story/novella based around the premise that rather than fail, the February 15th 2003 Stop the War march led to the resignation of Tony Blair.  Ian McEwan set his novel Saturday on the day of the march, after all; why not a "what if" considering the ramifications had the march succeeded?

The incredible thing is that in the minds of some, that march did succeed.  How else to explain the vitriol, the gnashing of teeth, the sheer fury the Stop the War Coalition continues to inspire among those who demand it be condemned whenever it rears its head?  How can an organisation that is otherwise such a laughing stock, ran by far leftists who have never won a thing in their lives be regarded as such a malign force?  How can an group that has not stopped a single war it has campaigned against inspire otherwise well-grounded individuals, who insist they respect those with anti-war opinions, to repeatedly come out with the most childish taunts and absurd criticisms?

Believe it or not, today's Independent regards the latest machinations surrounding the StWC and Jeremy Corbyn as being the top issue facing the country.  Labour MPs and the likes of James Bloodworth are demanding that Corbyn, whom is attending the StWC's Friday dinner to effectively hand over the chairmanship that he resigned from after becoming Labour leader, to not go.  Corbyn in response has said that "The anti-war movement has been a vital democratic campaign which organised the biggest demonstrations in British history and has repeatedly called it right over 14 years of disastrous wars in the wider Middle East."

Well yes, but what exactly do opponents of those wars have to show for it other than being able to signal their righteousness?  Almost nothing.  At best, they can point to how, finally, the debate on Syria last week was somewhat better informed than previous ones and did consider if we could be making the same mistakes again.

Otherwise, what is there?  As has been made clear, to be against war is one thing; to campaign against it, whether that involves lobbying your MP or protesting outside an MP's constituency office is to risk being tarred as a bully or far worse.  In this world, a vigil organised in part by a local vicar becomes a mob, with the Labour deputy leader going so far as to say that if Labour members were among the crowd they should be expelled from the party.  Words taken completely out of context from blog posts that were hosted on the Stop the War site before being swiftly deleted and disowned are repeated over and over.  Yes, it does sound awful on the surface that StWC apparently said "Paris reaped the whirlwind", or that "IS fighters are the equivalent of the International Brigades", only they didn't, and the author of the latter has apologised profusely for any misunderstanding.

It is nonetheless impossible to pretend that the StWC are the ideal organisation or vehicle for mainstream anti-war sentiment.  They are not, and have always been tied up with the familiar baggage Trotskyist groups carry, some of whom do still believe in being anti-imperialist only when it's Western countries invading and bombing other nations.  They are however the only one we have, and there is no reason to believe if there was a new anti-war group created that was entirely separate from the manoeuvrings of the rump far left it would be regarded any more kindly when its goals would be the same.

This is because the majority doing the finger jabbing now are the exact same people who were condemning their comrades on the left back in 2003.  The standard flavour of discourse both now and then can be gleaned from a Nick Cohen piece for the Telegraph back in January of that year, when he complained of how the anti-war movement ignored Iraqi democrats.  12 years later, and what's being used as one of the principal weapons to bash the StWC, including by Peter Tatchell, who ought to know better?  That they won't so much as let Syrians speak.  The precise details, that these Syrians are in fact a UK group specifically calling for a "limited" intervention in their country, not against Islamic State but against Assad, something that would entail a direct confrontation with the Russians, are naturally left out.

When that gets a bit stale, it's back to the what-abouttery the Eustonites claim to be so against.  Why aren't they protesting outside the Russian embassy?  Why? Why aren't they condemning this, or this, or that?  Why aren't they doing what an anti-war group of my fantasy would, which is admit it's wrong about everything and commit ritual suicide on the graves of the victims they both blame and ignore?  There is simply no satisfying them, however much they claim to be reasonable: Bloodworth in his article writes "even on those rare occasions where the government appears to be acting militarily for the greater good, there is usually some base motive buried under it all," as though he has opposed any of the wars when in his words the government wasn't acting for the greater good.  The StWC could protest outside the embassies of every government involved in the proxy war in Syria, and still it wouldn't gain them any grudging respect.  Nor would it have any impact whatsoever; what is the point of gathering outside the Russian embassy when our government, about the only one that could possibly be influenced by such protests has so little sway over them?

What it all eventually comes back to is the touching faith the pro-war left continues to have, for reasons unknown, in politicians and military commanders who often hold views diametrically opposed to theirs.  The Iraq war was never about those Iraqi democrats, whom the likes of Cohen dropped just as quickly as the Americans did.  Syria has never been about protecting civilians, not in 2013 and certainly not now, otherwise we would have been serious about trying to reach a settlement in the early years of the conflict.  Hillary Benn can talk about fighting fascists, when to George Osborne far more important is that "we've got our mojo back".  Reducing bombing to being about national prestige, slandering opponents as terrorist sympathisers, both seem a lot more disreputable, repugnant and abhorrent than going to a fundraiser for an organisation that whatever its faults, has always exercised its democratic rights legitimately and lawfully.  In the end, there's a choice we all have to make.

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Thursday, December 03, 2015 

War erections at diamond cutting turgidity.

"I can't see a fucking thing with these goggles on" 
"No, me neither. Good thing we don't need to in this game"
Britain has always been at war in Syria

Mushroom clouds at lunchtime

By blowing up a few oil-well heads

In other news:
Government u-turns on practically everything ever

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015 

"I don't even know your name." "Oh, it's evil death cult, but you can call me Daesh."

Call me old-fashioned, but just like it's not the best idea in the world to sleep with someone when you don't so much as know their name, I would advise that at the very least we ought to decide on what to call an "evil death cult" before we start bombing its capital.  For in one of the most inane and specious decisions in politics of recent times, David Cameron and the government have decided to start calling Islamic State Daesh.

Except no one knows exactly how you pronounce Daesh.  In the Commons today various people have gone for Die Ash, or Die Esh, while for others it's Dash.  US secretary of state John Kerry prefers Dayshh, all one syllable.  When MPs that can barely speak English start trying to get their tongues round Arabic, it ought to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we might be in over our heads.  That it's phenomenally stupid to use Daesh at all, with those arguing for its use claiming it has fewer negative connotations than Islamic State, despite how, err, Daesh is merely the Arabic acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa’al Sham, which translated means the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, doesn't seem to matter.  Whatever you call them other than an evil death cult adds up to the same thing, regardless of whether Islamic State likes Daesh or not.  Once again I extend my offer to Cameron, or anyone else for that matter, to go and meet al-Baghdadi and tell him to his face that his organisation is neither Islamic or a state.  His response would be interesting.

Perhaps this ridiculous overprotection of someone somewhere offended by how their faith is being impugned by a terrorist group, the sort most Tories would ordinarily denounce, has a link with the similarly fragile disposition of some Labour MPs.  Precious flowers that they are, they've been complaining of bullying and threats by anonymous people should they vote with the government.  Threats it nonetheless ought to be obvious are unacceptable, and utterly counter-productive.  So too are suggestions that the way MPs vote on Syria will lead to the deselection process being activated.  If there is any truth whatsoever to Stella Creasy for instance being targeted in such a way, it only proves how brain dead and foolish a few within Labour are.  The party desperately needs such dedicated campaigners, whether members agree entirely with their politics or not.

Some of the supposed "bullying" though is little more than robust debate and lobbying, of a kind that MPs are not used to and which social media has enabled.  Many MPs today have stated how this is the most serious decision they will be asked to make.  Such serious decisions lead understandably to passionate, angry and unfiltered discourse, especially when the medium being used is not moderated.  It's also in part down to the weariness, the feeling of having been here before.  Add how it's being pushed by a Conservative government whose leader last night all but called anyone who disagrees with him a "terrorist sympathiser", as he must have known his words would be interpreted, and it's not surprising feelings have been running high.

Similarly, until the intervention tonight of Ed Miliband and then Corbyn himself, unequivocally condemning for a second time any bullying there has been, most of those at the forefront of complaining have been those opposed to Corbyn from the get go.  For John Mann of all people to decry bullying is of itself a laugh, when he's had no problem making claims about child abuse at Westminster without providing the slightest of evidence.  It's difficult also to feel much in the way of sympathy for MPs who might now be getting dogs' abuse when the disloyalty has been so total in recent weeks, from the constant briefing of the media to the outright siding with Cameron of a couple of weeks ago.  Pat McFadden even had the chutzpah to once again bring up the making excuses for terrorists nonsense, while John Woodcock whined of how he would do everything to prevent Labour from becoming "the vanguard of an angry, intolerant pacifism", the party needing to do better to "be a credible official opposition".  If being a "credible official opposition" translates to agreeing with military action despite the very basics of a viable plan not being on offer, then angry, intolerant pacifism is most certainly preferable.

The Commons has never wanted for exceptionally gifted speakers who can convince with the sheer power of their rhetoric.  Hilary Benn a matter of minutes ago made a speech to rival that of Robin Cook's back in 2003, such was its eloquence, only his was for British involvement in a Middle Eastern country rather than against it.  If the decision was simply about providing air cover for the Kurds, whether in Iraq or Syria, and other countries were not already doing so or drawing back from it, then I too would be convinced of the need to act.  It will not do to pretend that air power has not "worked" in so far as it has helped the Kurds to defend themselves and then fight back against Islamic State.  At the same time we must look at what that means once the dust has cleared: Sinjar was taken back by all but destroying it.  The same will almost certainly happen in time to Raqqa.  Similarly, before Islamic State is "degraded" the threat will increase.  It will increase whether we involve ourselves directly in Syria or not, but doing so will specifically make us even more of a target than we are currently.  One of the slim consolations about the debate today has been the awareness of how our action will alter that threat, something previously not acknowledged anywhere near enough.

What I find sad is that with the exception of Benn and a few others on both sides of the argument who made their case with clarity and without giving into clichés, those few Tory rebels against their leader spoke more for me than many of the representatives of a party I am now a member of, albeit of the registered supporter variety.  John Baron, Julian Lewis and Andrew Tyrie all set out how internationalism and solidarity, as important as they are, are not enough of a justification when a broad strategy and plan is sorely lacking.  As Tyrie said, "Once we have deployed military forces in Syria, we will be militarily, politically and morally deeply engaged in that country, and probably for many years to come".  It is not about doing nothing, as some have claimed, as we have long been doing something in Syria.

Now that the government has won with a large majority, with some Labour MPs clearly influenced by Benn's oratory, I genuinely hope those MPs do not come to regret their decision. Nor that in 15 years' time we will be awaiting the results of a further war inquiry.

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Monday, November 30, 2015 

Let them have their war. This time they must answer for it.

If you thought Labour's machinations over Syria couldn't get any more absurd, then spare a thought for Syria Solidarity UK.  Despite the name, the group seems to exist solely for the purposes of trolling the Stop the War coalition.  In response to Saturday's various marches and actions by the StWC, SSUK put out a statement making clear its opposition both to their protests and the proposed government action, as the only legitimate option in their eyes and also by extension the ordinary Syrians they clearly represent would be "limited military action" to create no bombing zones.  They say the only way to oppose imperialism in Syria would be to protest outside the Russian embassy, and emphasise how Assad's forces are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths.

As with all the dullards on Saturday who tweeted pictures of the Russian embassy demanding to know why there weren't any protesters outside, the obvious response is if you're so pissed off about it, why don't all you pro-war anti-Assad anti-IS people band together, get organised and rally there yourselves?  Indeed, one would think the point of a group like SSUK would be to do just that, only they seem more concerned with pointing out just how wrong the StWC is than taking action.  Then again, when you look at the full drill down of which groups are meant to have killed civilians in Syria and see that according to the SSUK source the Kurds have killed more civilians overall than the al-Nusra Front has, a claim so bonkers that you can but marvel at the chutzpah of those pushing such nonsense, taking anything they say seriously would be a mistake.

Sadly, we must return to Labour and the still divided shadow cabinet.  Supposedly over the weekend calm minds and rational thinking were meant to prevail, and a common policy would be duly thrashed out.  And it's true, a shared approach has been decided upon: the party has agreed to disagree.

So much in the way of bullshit has been spouted over the last week and continues to be now that trying to separate the reality from the bluster is all but impossible.  Either way, it seems the decision to ask the membership what they thought in a mass email on Friday night was not discussed at the shadow cabinet meeting, and if there's one thing that's completely unacceptable in this day and age, it's asking a party's membership what it thinks about anything other than the leadership.  We all know why: members of political parties are complete weirdos, in that they probably watch the news and have an interest in politics, whereas the vast majority of the public do not.  Members of political parties tend to get hung up on things like gay marriage, Europe or wars, topics that could not be more alien to Mr and Mrs Average, who are completely average in every way.  Mr and Mrs Average are aspirational, dislike hateful people unless they hate the people they hate, and usually can be relied upon to support war, as long as it's over by Christmas.  If anyone should be asked what they think, it should be them, not the people who pay their monthly dues and help to keep parties afloat.

This went down badly with some of those shadow cabinet ministers who we're told believe David Cameron's case for war to be compelling.  With the exception of John Woodcock, whose justification pretty much runs to the French president has asked us to join in with the bombing and so we must despite all of these reasons for caution, few Labour MPs who are minded to vote with Cameron have explained just what it is they've found so compelling.  Far more have spoken of how they aren't convinced, including opponents of Corbyn.  Chris Bryant, who trained to be a vicar and decided to join the only other organisation more split than the CoE went through all manner of moral contortions on the Daily Politics, asking himself if he would have failed in his duty if there were an ISIS attack that killed one of his constituents at home or abroad and he had voted against Cameron's plan.  Surely such considerations also have to be turned on their head: what if he voted for the plan and there was an attack regardless?  Would it be any more or less of a comfort then?  Would he consider if his vote had made that constituent less safe, or would that be as some Labour MPs have argued to take away responsibility from those wholly responsible?

Corbyn we're equally told was determined not to allow a free vote, a position ascribed as much to Seumas Milne as Jez, the former Graun comment editor fast becoming as much of a bogeyman figure to the right of the party as Alastair Campbell did to the right-wing press and Peter Mandelson was to the left.  That the end result then was not merely a decision to grant a free vote, but also the party failed to agree on a position other than the one decided upon at conference, which was pretty much designed to make it impossible for the party to support military action only for Paris to happen does then strike as strange.  Does this show Corbyn is far weaker than he seems, that he doesn't after all say one thing in public and do another in private?  Could he not chance the possibility that if multiple shadow ministers resigned the much rumoured and talked about coup would be set in motion?  Did him simply, gasp, compromise despite everything, and let it lie on the likes of Hilary Benn that the party doesn't have any sort of policy at all?  Is this merely Corbyn deciding to let this one go, knowing that the hordes of Momentum will set off after those who vote with Cameron?

Rafael Behr, another of those journalists who post-Miliband seems to have gone off the deep end, reckons the party will despite everything carry on muddling through.  To him the "cold war" will go on rather than become open battle.  This ignores that by any yardstick, the number of Labour MPs who stood up during Cameron's statement on the Paris attacks two weeks ago and essentially agreed with the prime minister that their leader is a terrorist loving coward was about as open a declaration of war as it gets.  No leader can stay in place long when there is such a breakdown of discipline, when mutiny is in effect only a heartbeat away.  Corbyn can perhaps spin his failure to impose his will on the shadow cabinet as being part of his "new politics", but we all know full well that he instinctively wanted the party to oppose the widening of our role against Islamic State.  It's all the more galling that his instincts are the right ones, and that none of those opposing his stand have come near to explaining which part of his letter to MPs outlining his reasoning is incorrect.  The 5 tests of Dan Jarvis have been forgotten about exceedingly quickly.

Nevertheless, in the end Corbyn's decision to back down was the right one.  It is and does look awful that Labour doesn't have a policy, that it seems as though Corbyn and his shadow foreign secretary will stand at the dispatch box and disagree with each other, but it wasn't worth risking the alternatives, whether it was widespread resignations or worse.  The proposed action is so weak, so minor, that if they're this set on getting their war on, then let them.

If this latest war goes wrong though, as it's almost guaranteed to as there are no ground forces to take Raqqa other than the ones opposed by its very people, then this time those responsible have to be held accountable.  Yes, the principal blame should be put on a government that has a majority, a fact that the media seems to want to forget in its rush to, amazingly, pin responsibility on a hopeless opposition, but those who do vote with Cameron should have to justify themselves also.  When the action and case are so weak, when the facts are once again being fixed around the policy, when the recent past points towards the potential for making things worse, not better, if we don't at this point demand that those who so willingly vote for involvement in foreign conflicts answer for themselves, in the words of Cameron back in 2013 and again last week, then when?

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