Thursday, June 30, 2016 

Day 94 of the Labour leadership coup...

We are into the fifth day of the Labour leadership coup.  Last night we were told it was absolutely certain that Angela Eagle would launch her challenge today.  We're still waiting.  In much the same style as on transfer deadline day, political journalists look to be reporting whatever rumour they hear as fact.  Jeremy Corbyn has been about to resign every hour on the hour for days.  Corbyn is meant both to have been talked into resigning by his advisers and persuaded not to by the same advisers.  I recall much mirth back in January over the "revenge reshuffle"' taking over 2 days, when the truth was no one had any clue what was going on primarily because they were reporting on what was happening on Twitter instead of actually talking to anyone.  Strangely, the same journalists so amused and critical back then have had little hostile comment to pass on their sources' lamentable failure to wield the knife a mere 6 months later.

While Labour is set on killing Corbyn via death by 1000 cuts using butter knives, the Tories by contrast know a thing or two about stabbing their leaders straight through the heart.  Not that arch assassin Michael Gove ought to have felled Boris Johnson by announcing his own rival bid, or at least it wouldn't have done had Johnson got any cojones.  Who knew that Boris would run for cover as soon as he was challenged?  Well, err, everyone should have: it's always been the Boris way.  Johnson's idiot act has worked so long as everyone has treated him as a figure of fun rather than an opponent to be dealt with the same as everyone else.  Confronted by a journalist or opponent who won't back down, his lack of spine quickly becomes evident and he runs for cover.

If you wanted to somehow put the best and at the same time the worst gloss on it, then Boris has been rather clever.  We already knew he had wanted to take over as leader in an orderly fashion, instead of picking up the pieces having forced Cameron's resignation by mistake.  Succeeded in breaking Britain, would it ever have been the Boris way to do the decent thing?  Of course not.  Boris has always been the egomaniac opportunist rather than the grand Machiavellian schemer. 

That at the same time this has rendered almost the entire Leave campaign utterly pointless, as the whole point of Johnson hedging his bets to the last minute was about what was most likely to deliver him the Tory party leadership is by the by.  Or at least it is to him.  To the rest of us, the sheer preening, incredible self-obsession and putting of self before country blows the mind.  It really has been all a game.  He opened what everyone expected to be his leadership declaration by once again claiming that everything was coming up roses, the collapse of the pound and the routs on the FTSE 250 and 350 clearly our imagination.  That a few hours later Mark Carney gave a rather more realistic economic outlook, making clear he feels the need for a stimulus to stop the economy sinking as a result of Leave, just sums up his unconscionable recklessness.

Then we have our non-fictional Macbeth, with wife following in his bloody wake.  Yesterday an email from Sarah Vine was "accidentally leaked" to a member of the public.  Said email just happened to set out exactly why Johnson was not to be trusted without the equivalent of a deal written in claret.  Lo and behold, the following morning Gove emails hacks setting out why Johnson is not to be trusted and can't possibly be a leader.  Attracted by his raw animal magnetism, intellectual heft and God only knows what other qualities they see in the speccy twit only liked by others with a similarly warped mindset and values, most of Johnson's supporters immediately changed sides.

If I were feeling charitable, which I'm not, I could say Gove does have an attractive line of thought on social liberalism, as he has put right many of the mistakes Chris Grayling made as justice minister.  Only he combines it with the absolute worst instincts of the "muscular liberals", a visceral loathing of what he and other Blairites, as that's essentially what Gove is, see as "vested interests", whether those interests be teachers, doctors etc, and again just like the Blairites, the complete certainty that he is always right, a certainty enforced by attack dogs like Dominic Cummings, the kind of man who makes Alastair Campbell look like a Andrex puppy.  Gove is held in high esteem only by the like minded, whether they be journalists, those with a lofty opinion of themselves, or newspaper proprietors.  Boris Johnson might be sexually incontinent, completely untrustworthy and regard integrity as for wimps, but he's not a shit.  Gove is a shit.

He's also a shit who had the most destructive of all the Leave plans during the campaign.  Gove's position was for the UK to leave the single market entirely, a policy that it seemed Vote Leave as a whole had adopted towards the end.  Boris's Telegraph article, which according to more than one source Gove is meant to have sub-edited (since confirmed by the email being leaked to Robert Peston) only to then decide its vagueness and unreality was one of the reasons why he couldn't go along with the deal, suggested the opposite.  Which is it going to be?  Only the most Panglossian of the Leave optimists really think regressing to WTO trade rules is a good idea.  Business, already smarting from the Leave vote, will surely regard such a position if he keeps to it with unabashed horror.

Not that they will have found much to cheer from Theresa May's leadership launch either.  She like Cameron kept open the prospect that European migrants could be asked to leave, no doubt as part of her proclaimed commitment to "serious social reform".

Today ought to have been a day to cheer Labour.  The man Dominic Raab described this morning in the Sun as having the "Heineken effect", only to decide hours later Gove was a better bet, is out of the race.  A Labour party not caught up in a clusterfuck only slightly less wasteful than the battle of the Somme ought to fancy its chances against a High Tory out of touch with life itself, let alone the public, or a colder than ice politician capable only of warming Conservative hearts.

And yet what was Labour spending the day doing?  Apart from still skulking about trying to find someone, anyone to stand against Corbyn, there was the publication of the report by Shami Chakrabati into whether the party is riddled with antisemites.  Chakrabati predictably and rightly decided it isn't, although it also shouldn't be in the slightest bit complacent.  What though was the media takeaway?  That Corbyn had "appeared" to compare Israel to Islamic State.  In fact, it turned out he had been misquoted, and said just as Jews should not be equated with Israel or the government of, so Muslims shouldn't be with Islamic States, plural, or groups.  A Labour MP at the event, Ruth Smeeth, also reacted badly to being snubbed by a Momentum campaigner, subsequently resigned, and demanded to know why Corbyn hadn't condemned him for suggesting the MP was in it together with a Telegraph reporter.

As a demonstration of how Corbyn can't possibly win when the media so wilfully misreports his words, with social media guaranteeing that the initial impression will be the one reacted to, there couldn't be a more instructive one.  When members of his own party are determined to take offence and make use of the slightest excuse given, it's hard to think it was ever going to end any other way.  Flying Rodent's comic take on the past nine months is all the more depressing for how close to reality it is.  The last week has been one long demonstration of what happens when personal ambition and the interests of the few are put above everything else: absolute fucking disaster.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016 

The state of this absolute fucking shower.

Piss ups and breweries.  Cow's arses and banjos.  The parliamentary Labour party has had 9 fucking months to organise this coup, to come up with a candidate who can bring together the soft left, the centrists and the right, to draw up some sort of plan as to how they would do things differently and make clear how they have learned the lessons that led to Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership in the first place.  They have not achieved a single one of these aims.  Indeed, it's almost as if they haven't wanted to engage with why they lost the leadership election, as that was the reality rather than Corbyn winning it.  They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.  They're so fucking useless, so catastrophically inept that we need a new metaphor to properly describe how bereft of even the slightest wit and forethought they've been.  They couldn't overthrow the government of Thailand or Pakistan, that's how hopeless these non-revolutionary cretins are.

But before we really drill down into how Labour as a whole seems to have opted not so much for the Dignitas method of assisted dying but more the Wile E Coyote variation, we should confront another anomaly of the post-Friday spirit.  You might have thought the individual principally responsible for this disaster, i.e. the Right Honourable David Cameron Esq, might have been getting the bum's rush for plunging the country into various crises all thanks to his brazen irresponsibility.  Perhaps I've missed it being away, but the knives haven't exactly been out for him, have they?  Much anger has been directed at practically everyone else with some level of responsibility, whether it be Leave voters themselves, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage et al, and yet the man who had three aims in calling the referendum, all of which were short-term political goals meant to help him and his party rather than help the country, has barely been touched.

If anything, there's almost been a sense of aww, well at least he tried, and we're going to miss him once we're lumped with Boris, May or whichever other Tory shitpipe it is that manages to rise to the top of the greasy pole.  Admittedly, there was always going to be a certain amount of such sentiment: it's true that Cameron is preferable to almost all of the above, in the same sense that it's preferable to get your finger caught in a mousetrap than have your hand cut to ribbons by a threshing machine.  This said, when Cameron is given such soft soap treatment by journalists asking him if "he's wistful" while in Brussels meeting the rest of the EU leaders, or applauded for being such a class act that he can still misquote Smiths lyrics in the Commons despite having resigned, you wonder precisely what else he would have needed to do to make them change their tune.  Nuked Norway perhaps?  Banged an inflatable doll in Downing Street after giving his resignation statement?  Insulted Beyonce?

That Cameron did very far from all he could seems to have been forgotten very quickly.  Let's remember how he refused once again to go up against his opponents in straight debate, just as he did in the general election.  This time the excuse was he wanted to minimise blue-on-blue attacks, only by the end he was denouncing Michael Gove for being an ignorant moron regardless.  It might well have not changed anything, but if he had debated Johnson or Farage face to face, calling them on their nonsense and their claims that fell apart with minutes, it could just have persuaded a few more people to go Remain.  He had nothing to lose and everything to gain by the end, so why didn't he go all out?

The answer is fairly obvious: the Tories, like the boomers who won it for Leave, have very little to lose from exiting the EU.  We expected from the apparent mutual loathing on display and all the in-fighting that the Tories would find it difficult to put themselves back together, and yet it's almost as though nothing has happened.  The Tory Leave supporters are delighted, while the few Remainers angered at first seem to have piped down remarkably quickly.  Sure, there are those like George Osborne who have seen their own ambitions crumble into dust thanks to the vote, but no one seems much bothered or willing to engage in recriminations.  Amber Rudd, after saying during the campaign she wouldn't trust Johnson to drive her home is now apparently being lined up as one of his key supporters.  Rather than being asked if he regretted the Leave vote, this morning Stephen Crabb was instead questioned on if he regretted plumping for Remain.  They have nothing to fear in terms of Leavers turning on them, or so they figure, not least as the difference between UKIP and the right-wingers poised to seize control of the party is imperceptibly slight.  Where else are those Leave voters going to go?  Labour?

Nor is there much in the way of criticism for how Cameron, while supposedly taking responsibility has also abdicated it.  Asked at PMQs if he could assuage the fears of EU migrants that they are going to be asked to leave, as they are most assuredly not, he instead prevaricated and said this was yet another thing his successor will decide on.  A simple no would have made it clear that regardless of what passive aggressives and racists are throwing at anyone they don't like the look of, they aren't going anywhere.  Why migrants would want to stay when a majority have made it clear they are not welcome is anyone's guess, mind.

What we have found ourselves in is a total power vacuum.  Cameron has effectively gone into permanent chillax mode, as why should he do the "hard shit"?  Johnson or whoever it turns out to be can do it.  Just how hard it is going to be has been made clear by the 27 other countries: no negotiations until Article 50 is triggered, and even then any deal involving access to the single market will mean the UK needing to accept the "four freedoms", including movement.  Welcome to the worst of all worlds warned of: outside Europe with no influence and no control, those imagining the migrants would be sent back feeling betrayed and even angrier than before.  The alternative?  Certain economic decline, with financial services likely to leave.

And what predictably is about the only policy change being offered by Labour MPs in their otherwise completely lacking thinkpieces on where we go now?  Curbs on free movement, for the people have spoken.  Bit of a shame then that maybe, just maybe, a narrow remain vote might have prompted the EU into offering some sort of compromise.  That's now gone, just as Cameron's renegotiation is null and void.

Clowns.  Cowards.  Fuckwits.  About the only people who have come out of the last three days of no plan plotting well are Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown, with Brown also about the only person to have put any real thought into where the party goes from here.  What boils the piss most is those whom never gave Corbyn a chance, who kept up a constant line in hostility from the beginning, the Chris Leslies, the John Woodcocks, the John Manns etc, with not a single one having the guts to put themselves forward.  Absolutely nothing has been off limits in their attempts to get rid of Corbyn, whether it be accusations of racism, being a pal of terrorists, claiming he didn't even try winning a referendum on something he was always sceptical of in the first place, and all while claiming to be the real victims of this clusterfuck.

So they've finally succeeded in making his leadership untenable.  And yet what's the alternative?  Angela Eagle?  To give her credit, she was one of the very few who really did try to make it work.  She was my second choice for deputy leader, and I think she would be a far better one than Tom Watson.  But actual leader?  A fine performer in the Commons she may be, but can anyone seriously claim she's more likely to win a snap general election than Corbyn?  Are her politics more attractive to Labour voters who went Leave than Corbyn's?  Can she stick a party that has been torn asunder back together?  Can she really win against Corbyn when it's clear despite the claims of the plotters that the membership does still support Jeremy?

This is what the Labour party has been reduced to.  Not by Corbyn, but a bunch of selfish, beyond all reasoning with fuckwads without an ounce of sense between them and yet convinced they know best.  They have barely a single answer to questions they have had months to prepare for, and yet they are certain if only they get a "sensible" leader much will be right again with the world.  When you can't even plan a coup against the apparent worst Labour leader of all time, what on earth makes them think anyone will trust them with running a country?  For this to be a confederacy of dunces we'd need a genius.  We've got Hillary fucking Benn.

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Thursday, June 02, 2016 

Not everything is about you.

In the latest development in the everything is Labour's fault meme, the last couple of days has seen first the Times and then the Graun ascribe the apparent dip in the fortunes of Remain to the party "failing to pull its weight".  If only Corbyn and friends were out there campaigning night and day, putting their message across to all the Labour voters across the country rather than leaving it to Dave and his shitty mates, then clearly all would be well.

As with most of the criticisms of Corbyn's Labour, there is a smidgen of truth to this.  Yes, Labour could be doing a bit more.  Yes, it could be making its case more forcefully.  By doing so though, does it risk getting associated with a campaign that is essentially internecine warfare between the Cameron leaning Tories and the UKIP leaning Tories, and doing more harm to itself than good in the process? Also yes.

And then we have the media's own agenda when it comes to the EU vote.  No bones about it, the actual debate stripped of the histrionics and personalities is as dull as ditchwater.  While Alan Johnson's campaign is more in line with Remain in general, the one being ran by the leadership itself is attempting to play it reasonably straight.  Which is boring.

It didn't make much difference then that today's speech by Corbyn was easily his most significant intervention yet.  He made clear that while Labour is foursquare in favour of the EU, the party is only supporting Remain with the intention of reforming the organisation from within.  He will veto the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership if Labour is in power come 2020, and made clear that he fears if Leave wins, whichever Tory ends up leader will gut the workers' rights we owe to the EU.  He and the rest of the shadow cabinet won't share a platform with the Tories on the basis of the rest of their policies, and he criticised the idea that Leaving would result automatically in a recession.

In other words, he walked the same line he has throughout.  Everyone knows he isn't the biggest fan of the EU and he's not pretending to be.  His position is pragmatic: leaving is the wrong choice, but it wouldn't be the biggest disaster in the history of the world.  The Tories are a far greater problem, which they are.  He isn't going to make the same mistake Scottish Labour did and hitch his party to a campaign that will damage it far more than it will its main constituent.

What then has the media decided is the biggest story from the speech?  That "Corbyn supporters", not Labour supporters notice, hissed Laura Kuenssberg when she asked an question.  The BBC is about the only organisation giving the speech itself a higher billing.  The most ocular proof yet of Labour's misogyny, on top of its obvious antisemitism?  Err, not really, as ITV's Chris Ship was booed as well when he questioned whether Corbyn had been half-hearted in his support for Remain up to now.  As Corbyn responded, this also depends on the media's decision of what to cover.

And obviously, the reaction of those present to a journalist is far more newsworthy than the contents of yet another lecture from Uncle Tom Corbo.  Do I really have to say it's daft to boo or hiss a journalist, as it is, especially one from the BBC?  That it is doesn't make that the story, unless hacks have no intention whatsoever of playing by their own rules, which they don't.   You don't have to think there is some great get Corbyn campaign to realise portraying him and his supporters as not playing by the accepted rules is much to their advantage with their other anti-Corbyn sources.  That one "senior Labour figure" was briefing after the speech that Corbyn "had just sabotaged the Remain campaign", about the most obtuse possible reading you could make of it just sums up how spiteful such people are determined to be.

One of the reasons there has been a change of attitude towards journalists, deserved or not, is they so often seem determined to make everything about them.  Criticism of Labour from a media overwhelmingly biased against the party, let alone under the leadership of Corbyn is expected.  What's going beyond that is to criticise, and then try to shift the story when Corbyn does precisely what was asked of him.  Everything is not always about a self-obsessed media, just as it isn't always about a self-absorbed political class.  A few egos being punctured every now and again wouldn't hurt, only it's usually just the one side that gets it in the neck.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016 

The absurdity of it all.

I take it all back. The EU referendum is brilliant.  How could it not be when it results in such delicious absurdities as have taken place over the past couple of days?  First, mere weeks after accusing him of palling around with extremists, David Cameron appears on the same platform as to Sadiq Khan to big him up as though he was the winning Tory candidate.  A proud Muslim!  A smasher of glass ceilings!  A thoroughly delightful chap!  Oh, and he thinks it'd be swell if you would now vote to stay in the EU.

Khan can of course do as he likes.  He now has a mandate of his own, to the extent where he can pretty much shut Labour out if he so wishes.  If he wants to share a platform so soon after the election with one of those chiefly responsible for a campaign he said was putting off other Muslims from going into politics, that's up to him.  Clearly he thinks the ends justify the means.  Which again, is fine.

Some of us though are far more petty.  Far as I'm concerned, all things considered, Cameron got himself into this mess, and Cameron can get himself out of it.  Sure, this means if he manages to pull it off he gets the glory, but equally if he fails then he gets the Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka treatment.  Add in how Cameron implied Khan was an extremist not to be trusted as far as he can be thrown, and my response were I in his position would be to tell Dave to GTFO.

This is also the view of John McDonnell, who equally rightly thinks sharing a platform with the Tories full stop is a bad idea.  Which it is.  If Labour must campaign to stay in the EU, leaving it to Alan Johnson in the main while McDonnell and others pootle around not getting much in the way of attention is definitely the way to go.  Anyone saying Labour has to do this or that first has to explain whether their proposed plan of action will bring any benefit to the party whatsoever, because as we saw with Scotland, the public seem more than prepared to decide for themselves as to whether or not a particular party acted in their best interests.

The horror with which the results of focus groups saying they didn't know whether Labour was in favour of leave or remain, backed up with a further poll, just demonstrates that politicians don't always think the worst of the public; often the public amply do that themselves.  What it does show is that first, the vast majority aren't the slightest bit interested in the internal machinations of political parties.  Duh.  Second, not knowing whether Labour is for leave or remain is a good thing, as at the moment the party should be graceful for small mercies.  Third, that again, the vast majority also aren't the least bit interested in the referendum, otherwise they would know that Labour is overwhelmingly in favour of remain.  Fourth, they also don't know what the Tory position is.  Because, just to rub this in, they don't freaking care.

Labour politicians attacking each other for sharing platforms with the Tories isn't the most absurd thing of the last couple of days though, oh no.  Two examples merely from today beat it.  Chris Grayling, the berk's berk, the journeyman's journeyman, the bone in the spicy wing, the tits on the bull, said this morning that voters shouldn't be making their minds up based on the EU of today, but on the EU of the future.  Again, either this is a politician having a surprisingly high opinion of the average voter, most of whom haven't the slightest clue about practically anything the EU does beyond exist and that it's bad, or it's a politician with not even the beginnings of knowing how to make a case.  Can you imagine if parties tried applying this to any other election?  Voter!  Don't make up your mind up on how the government is performing today!  Just think how it will be in 10 years' time, even though we're not providing you with even the most basic facts of how it is currently!  Manifesto?  You want a manifesto?  You're joking!

And then there was Boris, Gove and err, Gisela Stuart, making clear we have entered the handjob, or moon on a stick phase of the campaign.  Despite telling us for eons that the £350m going to the EU each week could instead be sent straight to the NHS, now here come the most unlikely threesome since REMOVED ON LEGAL ADVICE to claim that if we left the EU we could dispense with VAT on fuel as it disproportionately hits the poorest households.  Put another way, Boris, Gove and Stuart are offering happy endings if you vote leave, as it's about as likely they would put any savings genuinely left at the end of the process on lifting the burden on the poors as they would on a state body of sex workers.  It's completely transparent, and yet what else is Leave to do?  Admit that once we've left any money coming back will instead be spent on reintroducing the subsidies and funds the EU currently distributes in the UK?  Absurd doesn't really begin to cover it.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016 

That Lady Royall report into allegations of antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour Club in full.

  • I do not believe that there is institutional antisemitism within Oxford University Labour Club
  • However, in order to remove the possibility of any such claims being made in the future, OULC should take action to ensure there is a safe space, i.e. by disbanding immediately in case anyone's feelings get hurt again
  • All further allegations of micro-aggressions should be reported immediately to The Telegraph, The Times, or John Mann MP in order to be used against Jeremy Corbyn
  • Err...
  • That's it

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Friday, May 06, 2016 


Last night's results are pretty much the worst of all worlds for Labour.  When I went to bed it looked as though the fears the party could lose the 150+ seats predicted in England might come to pass; a few hours later and the losses at the moment amount to a not quite as catastrophic 26.  Going by that yardstick you have to expect Sadiq Khan will win comfortably in London, and coupled with Labour losing only one seat total on the Welsh assembly, despite having been in power since its establishment, the results excepting Scotland don't look too bad on the surface.

Which is the problem.  Labour was never going to win the 400 seats the party's slightly more subtle anti-Corbyn MPs were bringing up, not least as the 2012 results were the party's best of the Ed Miliband years.  At the same time, as the psephologists haven't been shutting up about, it's 30 years since an opposition lost seats at a local election.  To put a temporary stop to the muttering and plotting Corbyn needed to win in the region of 100+.  While the party has lost just the one council, Dudley, and to no overall control rather than an opponent, the only real crowing that can be done about these results is they aren't as bad as the doomers and same people who predicted a UKIP victory in the Oldham West by-election said they would be.  It's not much of a boast, all told.

But nor does it come close to proving that Corbyn is a big of a liability as his enemies in the party and other detractors have claimed.  Local elections are only ever an indication as to what's happening at national level: it's why for instance Labour has managed to hold on to councils like Nuneaton when the same voters send Tories to Westminster.  This said, when you consider that ever since Corbyn became leader the party has done nothing other than fight, with the press and political figures spending the last week denouncing Labour as disgustingly racist, that the party has managed to hold on this well still strikes as success.  As Tom Clark notes, this has also happened in the main because the party either consolidated or advanced in the south of England, where Corbyn's further to the left approach was meant to turn voters off, while in the north, where it was meant to appeal more, UKIP fought Labour all the way.

Much like the results overall then, what we have is a continuing stalemate.  A truly disastrous night would have almost certainly encouraged the plotters to either launch their coup now or after the EU referendum vote, regardless of whether it has a chance of succeeding; likewise, Labour defying all the predictions and winning seats would have made such a move impossible.  Instead, MPs on both sides are continuing to circle each other, not being prepared to go for the jugular, with the likes of Jo Cox and even professional idiot John Mann not being prepared to wield the knife in at this point.  For those of us who would like it to be settled one way or the other, it could hardly be more dispiriting.

Looking beyond Labour, the Tories excepting Wales have had a great night for a governing party.  You could say we're only a year in, and that a Tory majority is a still a novelty, but you still don't expect them to be gaining councillors at this stage, not least when the party has been tearing itself apart over Europe.  The result in Scotland is extraordinary: everyone thought it was possible they could come second ahead of Labour, but not by the margin they've managed to.  Credit has to go to Ruth Davidson, whom has clearly succeeded where past Scottish Conservative leaders failed in overcoming the hostility to the party.  She's obviously been helped hugely by how said hostility has transferred to Labour following the referendum, once again proving that it's the hangers-on rather than the main contingent that get punished by voters when it comes to unlikely coalitions, and yet clearly it's something more than just that behind it.  Whether it translates to Westminster at some point remains to be seen.

Considering some thought it was possible Labour and the Lib Dems could be wiped out at the constituency level entirely, it must be a relief that both did manage to retain such a presence.  Worth noting especially is how the Lib Dems increased their majority in Orkney, in spite of the SNP campaign against Alistair Carmichael.  Indeed, it's amusing in itself to see the SNP failing to win an overall majority this time round, hinting as it does that despite the attempt to create a personality cult around Nicola cracks are beginning to appear.  With the loss of the majority making it all the more difficult to call a second referendum, even if the SNP wanted to, those pushing for independence will almost certainly start looking elsewhere.

As for the Lib Dems, there's very little comfort for them to take from the results.  Sure, they've gained a few seats, but the days when they were the obvious option for a protest vote look to disappeared for good.  UKIP are now on the whole that option, and at the moment have gained the most local council seats overall.  Again though, they did pretty much nothing back in 2012, so for them to not advance on the level they must have hoped hardly suggests an undetected groundswell for the leave side.  Far more interesting will be to see what happens when the seats fought in 2013 and 2014 are up for grabs again, and whether UKIP can hold on or increase their tally then.  As for their grabbing of seven seats in the Welsh assembly thanks wholly to the regional top-up, it merely reflects what we already know: that UKIP have reached the point where their support ought to result in substantial representation at Westminster.  It helps no one that both they and the Greens have only one MP thanks to the iniquities of first past the post.

Sadiq Khan has duly strolled to victory in London.  It's worth restating here that Zac Goldsmith's campaign was not about winning; the Tories realised pretty early on their task was fairly hopeless, as evidenced by the result in 2012, where almost anyone other than Ken in a red rosette would have beaten Boris.  The dog-whistle campaign, which as two separate Tories have commented was neither dog-whistle as it was plain to everyone what Goldsmith was doing, nor were there any dogs to be whistled at, was about poisoning the well, to mix metaphors right up.  Whether it's so much as succeeded in doing that is extremely dubious.  If anything, it might have turned voters against the Tories across London as a whole.  Overall it only reinforces what we already knew: that Britain has fractured irrevocably, with the capital, England, Wales and Scotland all going their separate ways politically.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016 

A politics we don't deserve.

We, and by that I mean all of us who contribute to the tenor of politics in this country, have a tendency to exaggerate.  Exploiting the differences between parties in favour of policies that are broadly similar requires focusing on the negatives.  Ferocious debate about issues that subsequently turn out to not amount to a hill of beans are often the order of the day; just look at our contribution to the military action against Islamic State in Syria, for instance.  What was the point of the weeks of arguments last December when the end result has been so negligible?

Bearing this in mind, I honestly cannot recall a week of politics that has been so unrelentingly stupid, self-defeating, obtuse and at the same time as instructive as the past 7 days.  Absolutely nothing of any real note has happened, and yet what has been established is we've finally, truly, entered the period where controlling the terms and structure of political discussion has become the be all and end all.  That this has been established not by the politically correct left, students or any other of the usual bogeymen of controlled thought and speech ought to be surprising, and yet it isn't, because this is the way it's been going for quite some time.

Labour as a party is antisemitic, it has been decided.  The newspapers of record in this country have decreed it to be so.  Labour, the party that only a year ago had a Jew as its leader, and who was pretty popular at grassroots level.  Said press you might recall had great fun in repeatedly printing those photos of dear old Ed failing to eat a bacon sandwich correctly.  Now, while a few people at the time muttered to themselves that this was whiffy and smelled vaguely of antisemitism, I didn't think it was and thought they were being overly sensitive.  Fast forward a year, and the same newspapers that on one page carry columns declaring that the Leave campaign should shack up with Marine Le Pen and the far-right in Europe, declare on the other in no uncertain times that Labour from top to bottom is riddled with racistsIt's a cancer.  Something has to be done.  Not an investigation by Shami Chakrabati though, that's not good enough.  Jeremy Corbyn should have announced all this yesterday, anyway.

Let's though just for a second digress from the quite believable chutzpah of the never knowingly under hypocritical British media.  Instead, let's consider the general level of prejudice in the country in 2016.  The picture, as always, could be better.  Prejudice still exists.  Racists might have to be more coded in the way they go about trying to incite hatred, but they still attempt to spread poison and take any opportunity that comes their way to do so.  For the most part though, I'd say taken as a whole the British people have probably never been as tolerant as they are now.  I don't mean that in the passive aggressive sense of tolerance, but in the general living alongside each other with a minimum of tension sense.  There are hotspots of disquiet and plenty of anxiety, sure, yet no indication that anything is about to go beyond that.

We then have a political party that in the main takes its membership from among the most liberal and open-minded sections of an already broadly tolerant society.  You would not expect that most such people would be hostile to one sub-section of that society on racial grounds, especially one that historically has been among the most mistreated and abused.  And indeed, all the evidence suggests that is the case.  The members and councillors identified so far have almost all been suspended on the basis of questionable tweets or social media posts, some of which have quickly been identified as taken out of all context jokes.  Others do seem to be more serious examples of potential prejudice, and need to be properly investigated, but most tread a fine line between being antisemitic and being critical of Israeli government policy.  Naz Shah and Livingstone we've hopefully already dealt with.

None of this is to downplay the disquiet a number of Jews have voiced as feeling.  Phoebe Ray makes an eloquent case on how Britain as a whole, not split down the middle between left and right, does antisemitism.  Both she and Jonathan Freedland voice the opinion that Jews are the only ethnic minority not allowed to define what they feel to be racist attitudes against them are.  The obvious problem here, one that requires great amounts of nuance, is that claims of antisemitism have long been used against critics of Israeli governments, a country that polls show a majority of Jews feel a connection to.  Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all anti-Zionists are antisemites, you could say.  Adding to the problem is that as Ray and others identify, there are a whole series of tropes and "modes of thinking" that creep into debate on Israel, both consciously and unconsciously.  We have for instance seen Israeli government figures criticising British cartoonists for using such tropes, whether they truly have or not.  When newspapers that are otherwise vehemently pro-Israeli are alleged to be carrying such imagery, it's hardly surprising that your amateur political tweeter, or even student leader, might slip into using the verbal equivalent.

As Ray also says though, "right wing politicians are only interested in addressing anti-Semitism when they see it as a weak point in an opponent’s armour".  You can add to that newspapers, and assorted others within Labour who are so determined to bring down the party's leadership they will sink to seemingly any depths, regardless of the wider damage it causes.  The last week has not really been about racism; it has been about power.  The power within Labour, power within the country, and the power to limit what is politically acceptable as a whole.  Jeremy Corbyn has a weak spot on antisemitism, not because he is antisemitic, but because he has made questionable if not condemnable alliances in the past.  He has had a long time political friendship with Ken Livingstone.  Ken has long been more harm than help, but he was one of the few well-known political figures who would defend Corbyn to the media.  He's also still on Labour's national executive committee, and has a role in the party's defence review.  Getting rid of him will help the party's moderates in the long term.

Then we have the power in the country.  Labour most likely wasn't going to do well in tomorrow's elections anyway: Sadiq Khan will triumph in London regardless, it's a toss-up whether or not Labour will come second or third in the elections to Holyrood, and the seats being fought locally were last up for election in 2012, when Labour did well at the expense of both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.  Things look different four years on.  Add in a whole week's worth of claims of Labour being racist, of a crisis, of Ken Livingstone making an arse of himself, and there is bound to an impact.  The Tories' main approach as made clear by PMQs today is to portray a classically left-wing as opposed to left of centre party as extremist.  This has involved focusing on Khan being an extremist purely on the grounds that he is a Muslim, to the outrage of much of the left but to very little from the right-wingers coruscating Labour for its supposed anti-semitism.  The newspapers have helped by getting comment from the likes of the Chief Rabbi, who says Zionism is inseparable from Judaism.

Finally, we have the attempt to define just what is and isn't acceptable as a whole.  David Cameron wasn't asking Corbyn to denounce Hamas and Hezbollah today.  He was asking him to denounce the idea of so much as considering they have a role to play in any eventual peace settlement.  This approach is summed up by Danny Finkelstein's piece in the Times today:

What is happening in the Labour party is not (just) the crassness of a few councillors and the odd MP saying some embarrassing things about Jews.  It is the abandonment of its identity as an Atlanticist progressive party.  And it cannot be stopped until this identity is reasserted.

In other words, this won't stop until Labour snaps out of its malaise and adopts the correct foreign policy.  The correct foreign policy according to this confidant of both Cameron and Osborne is the backing to the hilt of the Saudis in Yemen, involving the defence secretary making the feeblest of excuses for our allies to a parliamentary committee.  It involves acting as the media wing of the "moderate" Syrian rebels, as the Guardian reveals today, with the government underwriting their propaganda.  One of the groups named in the documentation, although the government denies it ever considered it moderate, is Jaish al-Islam, the group the Alloush clan control.  Its former leader, Zahran Alloush, called repeatedly for Damascus to be "cleansed" of both Christians and Alawites.  It involves putting a stop to even the most limited reaching out to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, despite both being moderates compared to likes of the al-Nusra Front, which many of the "moderate" Syrian groups we're still encouraging to fight have no problem allying with.   It involves smearing a genuine moderate running for London mayor as an extremist while continuing to sell weapons to the biggest sponsors of Islamic extremism the world has ever known.

This was never truly about antisemitism.  Sure, it's been the excuse.  Instead it's been about reinforcing the boundaries.  You can want a foreign policy which is progressive, just not Atlanticist, but you'll pay for it.  You can want a party to be a genuine opposition to the status quo, but it'll be denounced as extremist.  You can want the MPs of a party to at least respect for a year the leader elected by the membership, but they'll do everything in their power to undermine him, regardless of the consequences in the long term.  Sure, it'll put politics itself in the gutter, alienate the public at large when the message they'll take is that the meres wrong word will result in opprobrium, discourage Muslims from entering politics if they have ever so much as sat next to someone with the vaguest of unsavoury views, and give the impressions to Jews they still aren't welcome anywhere, but it'll be worth it in the end.

I often used to agree when it was said we get the politics we deserve.  No one deserves this.

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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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