Thursday, July 14, 2016 

Here we go gathering nuts in July.

Whenever journalists wet their pants over a speech, you can guarantee it will fall apart within hours.  They did it time and again over Tony Blair's conference speeches, ditto for David Cameron's, and especially George Osborne's budgets. 

Lord, did they repeat the Pavlovian routine last night.  Never mind that Theresa May's address outside Downing Street was almost word for word the same as the one she gave on Monday morning, only for it be immediately overshadowed by Andrea Leadsom's withdrawal from the race; here it was again, regurgitated and reheated, and still it was lapped up.  Never mind that every Tory leader starts out by promising to govern for the toiling masses, for the troubled and the woe begotten, to bring hope where there was previously despair; this time it will obviously be different.  How can Labour possibly hope to compete faced with a newly centrist government, led by a ruthless and yet still compassionate leader, now focused on improving the life chances of the squeezed middle and below?

Err, by meaning what they say rather than spinning a line, by chance?  Theresa's warm words have not exactly been reflected by her appointments to the cabinet; of all those promoted or brought in from outside only Damian Green can you call a true Tory liberal, and he's be given one of the shittiest sticks of all as work and pensions secretary.  Whether he continues with Iain Duncan Smith's cherished universal credit scheme, a clusterfuck of a programme if there ever was one, not to forget the other benefit cuts still meant to be coming into force will be one of the first signs of whether she intends to pay so much as lip service to what she said last night.

Before we continue, can we have a millisecond of silence for the Cameron set?  That's enough.  Again, the response to the sacking of Osborne, Gove, Crabb, Letwin et al has been to marvel at May's brutality and lack of sentiment.  A moment of thought would suggest now is the best time to get rid of the failures, as that's what they are by the goals they set themselves.  The Goves might not currently be speaking to the Camerons, but you can guarantee that now what's done is done it won't be long before the the hatchets are buried.  Moreover, Gove and Cameron had both signalled a shift towards the beginnings of criminal justice reform, something May has never shown the slightest interest in.  Keeping the Sun and Mail on side by junking it before such notions had even got off the ground makes perfect short-term sense for May, if none whatsoever in the longer-term when prisons are on the edge of anarchy.

Similarly, when better to get rid of the completely useless than now?  The bewilderingly over-promoted Nicky Morgan was a sacking waiting a reshuffle, while any worth John Whittingdale offered has long since evaporated, especially when at the outset at least it's an idea to get on the BBC's good side.  This obviously doesn't explain why Jeremy Hunt has stayed in position at health, one explanation being he's so poisoned the well that whomever drinks from it will be similarly afflicted.  Nor is it immediately understandable why Priti Patel has been given international development when only a couple of years ago she suggested abolishing the department, unless that's the idea, or why Andrea Leadsom, aka both the worst minister and leadership candidate ever has been given the environment brief.

As the idea that you punish someone by giving them a job they claimed they could do better when they clearly can't just doesn't work.  Brexit can't mean Brexit if Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox make a complete balls up of it.  Davis is a likeable character in many ways, principled and a sceptic of the securocrats when such a thing remains highly unpopular, but the best man to get the best deal from the EU when his claims are a slightly more sophisticated BUT THEY WANT TO SELL US CARS?  Where is the sense in creating a whole new department for the disgraced Liam Fox when he shouldn't be trusted in charge of a dachshund, let alone international trade?  Johnson as foreign secretary can only be May deciding to keep her friends closer and her enemies even closer, as Johnson is the obvious successor should she fall under a bus: better to have him next to her than scheming from the backbenches.  She also seems to be presuming that giving him a serious job will stop his clowning around, a forlorn hope if there ever was one.  Thinking the three Leavers will cop the blame if there is either no deal or a terrible one is a fantasy: the PM owns the responsibility.  As party management, it might work.  For the rest of us, it should fully underline how fucked we are.

We are then supposed to imagine a more egalitarian line is to emanate from a cabinet dominated by those on the hard right.  We are meant to expect a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few, when money will inevitably become tighter even than it was before.  We are told to put out of our minds 6 years of failure, the promises of strong, stable government, and instead rejoice in the opportunities coming our way courtesy of trade deals bigger than any we could possibly have contemplated, let alone made before.

Who wants to be the first to shout Mayday non-ironically?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016 

Our worst post-war prime minister.

In retrospect, you can pinpoint precisely the moment when it became clear what a David Cameron premiership would mean.  Not during the 2010 election campaign, when his disembodied head started out from billboards, promising that he would cut the deficit, not the NHS.  Certainly not when he went off on his husky adventure, or when we learned that as part of his eco man of the people act that his papers came behind him in his car as he cycled to the Commons.  It wasn't when he said he would do his best to stop his party banging on about Europe, at the same time as he took it out of the main Conservative grouping in the European parliament.  It wasn't when he was making so much, alternately, about creating a big society from out of our broken society, both policies that practically nothing came of.

No, it was back as Tony Blair finished his last PMQs and the government benches rose almost as one to applaud a man who had won elections but had repeatedly brought his party to the brink of mutiny for his own ends, when Cameron ordered his side to join the ovation also.  Cameron, George Osborne and the rest of his clique desperately wanted to emulate much of what had made Blair so formidable an opponent, if not his policies.  They weren't so much acknowledging Blair's achievements as prime minister as much as they were recognising his qualities as a leader, his ability to play the press at its own game, to make those formerly instinctively opposed to Labour change their opinion.  They wanted all of it, but for their own ends.

It obviously didn't work out like that.  Cameron leaves Downing Street nowhere near as loathed as Blair had become by the end, but with even less in the way of achievements to his name.  He never so much as came close to touching Blair's ability to transcend politics, to being able to find the right soundbite at the right time, even if he always sounded plausible.  He never won the grudging respect of his party as Blair did, was never able to force them down his path; quite the opposite in fact.  He never so much as managed to win a mandate as large as Blair did for his third term in government, let alone the first two landslide Labour victories.  Had he managed to convince the country to give him that sort of scale of victory in 2010, it's difficult to see how much of what went wrong for him would have taken place.

This emphasis on Blair and Labour is for the reason that in time, it's likely to be come to be seen that Cameron's Conservatives merely followed on where a Blairite Labour party would have taken the country anyway.  Very few of Labour's reforms, both economic and social, have been overturned in the past six years.  The major ones have in fact been expanded by the Conservatives.  Not all schools will be forced to become academies as was until recently the plan, but most non-primaries are already.  Free schools, the pet project of Michael Gove, are a further extension of the ideas behind academies, just freed completely from centre control.  The pledge during the 2010 election to not impose further top-down reforms on the NHS, as had been the Blairite way, was abandoned within weeks.  Andrew Lansley's establishing of clinical commissioning groups is already widely viewed as a distraction from the problems that an ageing population are putting on the health system, a problem exacerbated further by the spending squeeze necessitated by austerity.

Cameron's victories weren't so much as his as they were those of his media advisers, Lynton Crosby especially.  The Conservatives focused unyieldingly on the economy and the deficit, to the point where the public came to believe that Labour's spending rather than a global banking crisis had been the cause of the recession.  This allowed Cameron and Osborne to put in place an economic policy that by the goals set out by the pair themselves they failed utterly to achieve.  The deficit was meant to have been eradicated before 2015 in order to provide for some election giveaways; in fact, post-Leave, the refined goal, to have a surplus by 2020, has been abandoned entirely.  Austerity is set to be with us for even longer.

The second victory, which again with the Leave vote has come back round to trap them, was the identifying of a significant shift in the British temperament after the crash.  An anger that was always there metastasised, directed not so much at the top of society but at those below, seen as freeloading and getting something for nothing, whether they were benefit claimants or immigrants.  Labour had again began to put in place the policies the Tories under Cameron expanded upon: the retesting of all those on incapacity benefit, now put onto employment and support allowance, a policy since found to not save money, and the expansion of workfare, with Labour's Future Jobs Fund replaced with a myriad of schemes ran by private companies.  A cap on benefits, indifferent to extraordinary temporary circumstances and the needs of large families was established, while those claiming housing benefit judged to have more bedrooms than they needed were penalised under the "spare rooms subsidy", a policy meant to incentivise claimants to move, but where to was never explained.  These policies had almost no impact whatsoever on public perception of where money on social security was spent (overwhelmingly on pensions and those genuinely in need, rather than the unemployed and feckless) unsurprisingly when the rhetoric of clamping down on those getting "something for nothing" never changed.

Cameron's greatest success, pyrrhic as it would turn out, was the small majority he unexpectedly won last year.  A campaign that focused almost entirely on the recovery of the economy, a recovery already under way when he became prime minister, asked the electorate if they could trust a Labour party that refused to accept it had been responsible for the crash.  It compared the strong, stable leadership of Cameron with the simultaneously weak and brutal Ed Miliband, in the pocket of the SNP, bound to give way to those same loathed wasters, yet prepared to stab the country in the back if that's what it took.  The victory paved the way for a referendum he never expected to call, along with the introduction of policies he believed were to be to bartered away in a second round of coalition negotiations.

Oddly, Labour's derided and abandoned manifesto was quickly pilfered by Cameron and Osborne (and since also by Theresa May), with one of the few policies Cameron spoke of today taken almost directly from it.  The national living wage, despite being no such thing and only just having been introduced, was one of Cameron's boasts.  He talked of the increase in employment and the recovery, both things that would have undoubtedly taken place under any government.  He brought up the introduction of gay marriage, despite it being loathed by a substantial number of Tory MPs, and again was little more than an obvious expansion of Labour's civil partnerships.  One of the few unqualified successes of his premiership is the increase in overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP, yet it's another policy unpopular with some on the backbenches, and one hardly guaranteed to last long under his successor.

Just though as Iraq will be with Blair always, so too will the EU referendum with Cameron.  In many ways a lucky prime minister, Cameron never faced a true crisis.  When one of his own making arrived he resigned, just as he would have had the Scottish independence vote gone the other way.  His actions that morning, to instantly call for English votes for English laws, made clear his contempt for any attempt at reconciliation.  It's no surprise then he maintains he leaves the country stronger than when he arrived; perhaps he has come to believe his own propaganda that Britain was on the precipice, on the road to becoming another Greece as he entered Number 10.

In reality, Britain looks weaker and more divided than at any time since the 70s.  The new prime minister insists "Brexit means Brexit", ignoring the wishes of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, with it seeming only a matter of time before the former becomes independent.  Cameron made clear his preference today for the UK remaining in the single market, but whether that can be achieved when May has said she favours restricting free movement whatever the cost is dubious in the extreme.  England is split between a prosperous south east and a north that has been in decline for over 30 years, although the same could be just as easily said about the difference between the major cities, the M4 corridor, and everywhere else.  Cameron's austerity has only further exacerbated those differences, with the jobs that Labour provided in the public sector replaced if at all by precarious part-time ones or others on zero hour contracts.  If Labour papered over the cracks, then the Tories tore down that veil and boasted about it.  Cameron may not have created the attitude towards welfare and immigration that rose after 2008, but he did everything to ride it, including making promises he knew he could not keep.  In the end it cost him his job.  The rest of us are being left to pick up the pieces.

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Monday, July 11, 2016 

Eagle and May: the absurdity intensifies.

Poor Angela Eagle.  Jeremy Corbyn was the least likely leader of Labour, didn't for a moment expect he was going to win, but at least he's always believed in what he was doing.  Watching the tragic Eagle dumped in front of the media, trying desperately to persuade herself she agrees with what she's saying, let alone the few journos who hadn't decamped to see Andrea Leadsom flounce off is another of those "like watching a lion rape a sheep, but in a bad way" moments.  Eagle at the best of times looks as though she's on the verge of bursting into tears; so do I, come to think of it, but then I'm not challenging to become the leader of the opposition.

If it weren't for the unreality of the last 18 days, this would surely have been the most patently lysergic interlude of the year thus far.  Eagle looks for all the world as though she's about to launch into selling us a timeshare not in a holiday property, but in Avon products.  Buy shares in Real Leadership by Angela.  Except that doesn't say Angela, surely?  It looks more like Arscle.  Why does the capital A join with what is meant to be an n?  Why is it pink?  Why?  Just why?  They had two weeks to come up with something, and this is it?

We ought to give Eagle the benefit of the doubt.  She clearly doesn't believe for a moment in what she's doing, but she is doing it for what she thinks are the best of reasons.  The real opprobrium needs to be heaped on whoever it is pulling the strings and doing such a lousy job of it.  Are they really all such fucking cowards that none of them are prepared to stand up themselves?  The reasoning presumably is that Eagle is one of the few figures in the party vaguely on the left who might be able to bring some Corbyn-backers away, more so than say a Yvette Cooper, despite Cooper being a far more obvious leader than Eagle.  Or is the plan still to try and deny Corbyn from even being on the ballot, with Eagle the unlikely assassin who then gives way to the real candidates?

No one knows, not even it would seem the plotters.  You would assume they have applied the Kinnock test, not least as the parliamentary Labour party was apparently en masse moved to tears by the beauty of his peroration last week.  Ed Miliband (some might recall that Neil Kinnock's reaction on Miliband's election as leader was to declare "we've got our party back") failed to pass the supermarket test according to Neil, as voters told him they wanted to vote Labour, but couldn't for Ed personally.  Corbyn fares even more poorly, with a fitter on the docks in Cardiff calling him "weird".  How on earth do they imagine Eagle is going to fare?  She doesn't even look confident in herself for crying out loud.  What happens if Corbyn is still on the ballot?  Assume that Corbyn is still on it and against all the odds Eagle wins.  Unless Labour hasn't noticed, the near entirety of the right-wing press has very quickly declared Theresa May to be the reincarnation of Thatcher, Churchill and Boudica combined, the kind of warrior for truth, justice and the British way we've all been yearning for during these barren years of Cameronite hegemony.  Any affection they might have for Eagle dispensing with Jezza will disappear in an instant, and we'll be back to the headlines, only altered slightly, that every Labour leader gets (COMMUNIST EAGLE WANTS TO NATIONALISE PREMIER LEAGUE/NON-BALD EAGLE FAILS TO TAKE FLIGHT/EAGLE DEMANDS RIGHTS FOR VEGETABLES etc).

For May it is.  All memories of the last two instances when parties appointed leaders unopposed have it seems been banished, as in neither case were Michael Howard or Gordon Brown the greatest of successes.  Others might also recall the Tories demanded an election when Brown was in effect given a coronation, and then had much fun with their "Bottler Brown" jibe.  May we're told is not considering an election, despite how she has stated repeatedly that "Brexit is Brexit".  Hadn't it ought to be put to the voters if that is still their feeling considering the turmoil of the past 18 days, the changing of leaders, the resignations, the plotting, the everything?  Shouldn't voters be asked to give their approval to what the exit plan turns out to be at the very least, especially when May said today that bringing freedom of movement to an end was more important than staying in the single market?  While some might well have taken the question on the ballot to be "Do you think the UK should be economically crippled because you're a racist cunt? Yes/No", I'm fairly certain it wasn't.

Impossible as it is to feel even slightly for Leadsom, as she knew full what she was doing with the comments on Theresa May's lack of children, you can't also help but wonder how the May media consensus developed so quickly.  The Times described Leadsom as lacking "judgment, knowledge and decency".  Really?  Compared to whom, and what?  The Theresa May who informed the world a man escaped deportation because he had a cat?  The Theresa May who the Telegraph, yes, the Telegraph lambasted for her absurdly right-wing conference speech last year on immigration and asylum?  The Theresa May who had ultimate responsibility for the chronic problems at the Yarl's Wood detention centre?  If the media are having second thoughts about leaving the EU, then unless they know something we don't there doesn't seem to be any room for manoeuvre.  Can it really be be purely down to May being the best of a very bad lot when they've had no problem plumping for monomaniacs and fanatics in the past?

If she meant at least some of what she said in her speech this morning, a massive if considering it was as much as meant to be a pitch to Tory members as it was the country, you could conclude May might be something of an improvement on Cameron.  Only all those suggestions of reforms are undermined by her insistence on leaving the EU, and doing so potentially in the stupidest, most damaging way possible.  Again, this might have been a sop to those who voted Leave.  If not however, it only underlines how disenfranchised those of us who don't think a Leave vote based on a campaign of lies and xenophobia, lead by politicians who have since defenestrated themselves should be taken as final.  With Corbyn also making clear that Labour under him would campaign for leaving the EU, albeit with the best possible deal for the country, it leaves us where?  With the Lib Dems, who contributed heavily to us being in this mess?  Hoping some Labour figure emerges who isn't a stooge, that can unite the party and bring the country along with them?

On second thoughts, I think I'll just say fuck it and move to a country with sensible politics.  I hear Swaziland's nice this time of year.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2016 

The monster always ends up killing its creator.

You can practically stop reading Rafael Behr's account of how Remain lost the referendum at the part where you learn Stronger In's head of strategy was Ryan Coetzee, aka the Lib Dems' 2015 campaign manager.  For those who have forgotten, the wizard wheeze of the Lib Dems last year was to equally protect us from the austerity monomaniacs of the Tories and the spendthrift ways of Labour.  Coetzee and Clegg decided 2015 was the time to tack to the centre at the precise moment as the centrist consensus was breaking down.  It won them 8 seats.

Not that they were the only ones.  David Cameron and George Osborne it seems were convinced their election campaign and manifesto were also of the centre.  They weren't.   The Tory manifesto was the most right-wing in a generation.  The Tory campaign, as well as predicated on making Ed Miliband out to be weak, was based around portraying Labour as a soft touch on immigrants, benefits, the deficit and so on.  Labour was trapped (and still is) as no one believed the "controls on immigration" ploy and it outraged its core metropolitan support.  As argued here passim ad nauseum, the Tory dedication to soaking the boomers while letting Labour have the youth vote worked because their sympathisers vote in blocs and are much more likely to turn out.  All the factors that were in their favour at a general election were against them in the referendum.

Indeed, essentially it was the Tories' tactics against Labour at the election that came back and did for our membership of the EU.  That mild-mannered weirdo Ed Miliband would happily stab the country in the back if it meant power, said Michael Fallon.  Labour would consign the recovery George Osborne's policies had delayed to oblivion.  Labour's incredibly mild manifesto was dangerous radicalism.  Had we ended up with another hung parliament rather than a small Tory majority, it's extremely unlikely a referendum would have been called.

No one on the remain side it seems looked at how the Tories won and saw the warning signs.  Hubris, arrogance, stupidity, and the same old reliance on focus groups and modelling blinded them to what some of us saw: that Britain has become a nastier, ever more divided and atomised nation, where anger and hate have started counting for more than muddling through.  The Tories rode the tiger without realising they wouldn't be able to control it forever, blasé about how they were bringing politics ever closer to the gutter.  Just two months ago they were describing the campaign against Sadiq Khan as just the rough and tumble of politics, happy to poison the well, as they knew Zac Goldsmith had no chance of winning.

They somehow didn't imagine those same tactics of mendacity and character assassination coupled with fanatical levels of bias from the right-wing press would end up being used against them.  Or at least, this is if we're to believe Behr's account.  Could the entire Remain campaign have been been so naive, so unprepared for what was always going to be an incredibly dirty and nasty few months of political infighting?  Or is Behr's article an attempt after the fact by the Remainers to excuse their lamentable failure, only one executed so cackhandedly that it makes them all seem like complete fools?

Because it is as the Rodent says unintentionally hilarious, such is the level of apparent disbelief that it could have turned out this way.  Best of all is the complaint from a "Cameron aide" that if someone on the left had rubbished the Bank of England as corrupt and part of the biased establishment, they would have been flayed alive by the BBC.  As they would have been.  Leave however got away with it barely being questioned.  Proving what?  That the BBC should call out bullshit regardless of its source?  Let's not get carried away here, right?

This is the real story of the Leave win: that every ploy of the media managers, spin doctors and ad agencies was turned against the previous winners and users, either Labour or Conservative, in the aid of a cause that none of those in charge of the Leave campaign truly, unequivocally believed in.  It's turned out to be the final victory of the art of political warfare over the substance.  The exact same people who previously lapped it up did so again, only rather than plump for one section of the political class over the other, they voted to screw those they were told were the establishment by the establishment.  And lo, did everyone get screwed.

The Leave vote wasn't then in any real sense a revolution, as Behr says, albeit a revolution where the Tory party continues to govern.  It was rather the logical conclusion of where politics as practised has been leading us for some time.  The post-truth, post-fact world talked of, the remarkable irony being that it has arrived at a time when it has never been easier to find objective takes on who is and isn't talking bollocks.  Most people just aren't interested enough, whatever they tell pollsters or focus groups.  What they do know is what's in the tabloids, on their Facebook timeline, on the TV, and talked about by friends and relatives.  It sure isn't politics of the kinder and gentler variety.  It's the politics of seething anger, spite, jealousy, xenophobia and often outright despair.  The referendum gave them a great big mug to pour all these grievances into.  We're meant to believe the very architects of this didn't see it coming.  The reality is the monster always ends up killing its creator.

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Monday, July 04, 2016 

Bargaining chips.

Over the past week and a bit, there have been more than a few occasions where it's seemed as though we've stumbled through the looking glass.  That Jeremy Corbyn is still Labour leader, over a week after the world's worst coup, with journalists insisting a challenge will come, just a bit after they first proclaimed that it was definitely definite that a candidate would put themselves forward, is but one of many bizarro events.  Personally I hope Jezza is hanging on purely until the publication on Wednesday of the Chilcot report, in order to call from the dispatch box for Tony Blair to be indicted at the Hague.  Corbyn will then flash v for victory, yell peace oot, and disappear in a flash of smoke, never to be seen again.

All things considered mind, today's urgent question in the Commons by Gisela Stuart, she of Leave and the morning after the night before wake press conference really took the cake.  Having lain down with dogs, she duly stood up to complain about the fleas.  Could it really be possible the government would not guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK would be protected whatever happens?  Yes, responded James Brokenshire, echoing both David Cameron and Theresa May.  This will be a decision for the next prime minister, regardless of how unlikely it is that anyone will be asked to leave, and how refusing to make that clear will do nothing whatsoever to stop those emboldened by the Leave vote from telling anyone having the gall to speak foreign to go back to where they came from.

People should not be bargaining chips, Stuart said.  Which is even odder.  People have been bargaining chips for as long as I can remember.  When we talk about immigration we are talking about people, however much we pretend not to be.  Immigrants are not a congealed mass; they are individuals.  If you didn't want EU migrants to be turned into bargaining chips, then you really shouldn't have encouraged the belief that a vote to Leave would be anything like a vote to Take Back Control.  Oh, but Anne Main, another Leave supporter said, no one so much as suggested that migrants already here would be sent back or deported.  Well no, they didn't say that in such exact terms, but it seems strange so many who voted Leave got the idea from somewhere that doing so would at the very least send a clear message that such people were not welcome.  UKIP campaigned expressly on the slogan "we want our country back", a sentiment so double edged that it wasn't a dog whistle so much as Farage standing in front of a giant poster of huddled brown masses, embossed with the words "BREAKING POINT".

Queerer still is how politicians beyond the likes of your Jo Coxes and Corbyns suddenly have kind words to say about migrants.  The same ones are doubtless saying so at the exact same time as they murmur on how the vote means freedom of movement must either end or be drastically curtailed under any deal, with some going so far as to say leaving the single market would be better than having to accept freedom of movement, but still, it's something, isn't it?  Anyone might have thought they almost feel something approaching responsibility for the fallout from the vote, from how for years they stoked up the question of immigration until it became so toxic it ended up devouring the question of membership of the European Union whole.  Who knows, perhaps a few like Stuart even do feel sorry.  Not that it makes things any better.

In line with all the other leading politicos who, succeeding in bringing us to this low ebb have since decided they'd rather be off wanking in front of a mirror, Nigel Farage today did the indecent thing, following Cameron and Boris through the irresponsibility door.  His life's work achieved, Farage now wants nothing better than to relax and take stock, looking forward to his inevitable demise through auto-erotic asphyxiation.  That he's resigned twice before only to return to his adoring public is no indication that he'll be back for another battle some time in the future, oh heavens no.  This time he means it when he says he wants his life back.  Yes, back to those halcyon days when he could have a pint without being called a cunt by some cultural Marxist, or needing to laugh along at the racist jokes told by bar room bores even more tedious than himself.  Who could possibly begrudge him a quiet retirement now that he's banjaxed the hopes and dreams of so many?

Boris Johnson is in a similar position.  There he was, leading a sensible, traditional campaign where no one got roughed up, and suddenly he's getting called a c and a w too!  What is it our "nose-ringed friends", these "north London radicals" love so much about the EU he asks in his latest Telegraph column, which is in fact nothing more than a reprise of his entire Leave campaign shtick, complete with 5 point non-plan for what should happen now.  His last point of said plan is that our future is very bright indeed, whatever that beatnik Bob Geldof says.

Who then should lead us into these sunlit uplands now that BoJo himself has dropped out?  Clearly none other than Andrea Leadsom, who no one had heard of until three weeks ago, but now according to Johnson has the "zap, the drive, and the determination essential for the next leader of this country".  Or alternatively, according to a unnamed civil servant, was the "worst minister we've ever had".  Of all the Tory candidates on offer, it's quite something to be the most obviously unsuited for the job of prime minister in a field that includes both Michael Gove and Liam Fox, and yet Leadsom is without doubt that candidate.  It's enough to make you wonder if Johnson's endorsement is in fact pure nihilism: having lost his chance to get the job he's coveted his whole life, he's now quite happy to sit back and watch the party and by the same measure the country burn.

May you live in interesting times they say.  Fuck that, I say.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016 

The prime of Master Dominic Cummings.

In the pantheon of spin doctors completely losing the plot, Dominic Cummings' (for it was surely he) freak out out late last night is rather special.  It's not quite on the level of Alastair Campbell storming into the Channel 4 News studios demanding to be put on the air (but then what is), nor is it Comical Ali denying the Americans had reached Baghdad as a tank was seen rolling past in the distance, and yet it still feels not that far behind.

It really does have it all.  Allusion to Goldman Sachs funding Remain, that if made by someone on the left in the current climate would probably prompt accusations of antisemitism and conspiracy theorising?  Check.  Implication that absolutely everyone and everything is against Leave, and yet still the polls remain at 50-50?  Check.  Naming of specific journalist with claim they are biased against Leave, with spurious allegation that Robert Peston campaigned to join the Euro, the same straw man Cummings and Leave throw at everyone?  Check.  Attempt at intimidation, with threat that ITV will face the consequences once Leave wins? Check.

Quite why the initial decisions about the debates caused Cummings to lose his shit quite so fantastically is a mystery.  What on earth made Leave think that Downing Street would suddenly decide to play hardball any less than they did last year, when they successfully bullied the broadcasters into acceding to their demands on the basis there wouldn't be any debates if they didn't?  Did they really believe that cowardly custard Dave would be willing to take on Boris or Gove when both intend for this to be their springboard to the Tory party leadership?  Far better to go up against Nigel Farage, with his record of being easily riled if the audience dares not to applaud his nonsense, than a fellow Conservative with slightly more self-control.

Not that Boris does have more self-control; he'd likely descend into muttering within 10 minutes.  You can though see Vote Leave's point: Farage is part of the Grassroots Out group, rather than Vote Leave, and Vote Leave is the official out campaign as designated by the Electoral Commission.  If there's going to be anyone sort of facing Dave, as the ITV "debate" would take the same format as Channel 4's non-debate between Cameron and Miliband did last year, then it ought to be someone from Vote Leave.  It shouldn't be up to the government to dictate whom it will or won't face, especially when part of the reasoning is that the Tories don't to further their impression they're at war with each other.  Sorry Dave, ought to have come the reply, it's a little late for that now.

The fact is the debates have become a prestige event for the different networks, caring far more about holding them come what may rather than whether or not they're in the slightest bit illuminating.  Last year's non-debates were absurdities that should never be repeated, and yet it would seem as though much the same is going to happen only a year later.  The referendum has already been one of the most over-covered and somehow still least informative media debacles in recent memory, principally for the reason that the two campaigns agree on almost nothing.  Each side accuses the other of scaremongering, and we have nothing remotely approaching an independent adjudicator to separate the complete bullshit from claims slightly more grounded in reality.  The debates as proposed would do absolutely nothing to change that.  Which, once again, would seem to be the point.

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Monday, May 09, 2016 

The banter years.

Those with long memories might recall that back in the 90s, in one those ill advised attempts the guilty occasionally make to prove their innocence, the gang suspected of the murder of Stephen Lawrence gave interviews to Martin Bashir.  Asked to explain their use of racist language and play acting with knives, as secretly recorded by the police, they said it was banter.  They didn't mean anything by it.

I am not of course suggesting that the likes of Michael Fallon and George Osborne describing Zac Goldsmith's London mayoral campaign as being all part of the "rough and tumble" of politics makes them akin to racist murderers.  It does though make you wonder exactly how far the rough and tumble of politics extends.  Implying that Sadiq Khan is an extremist and refusing to say London will be safe in his hands is clearly perfectly permissible.  Certainly not permissible, as we've learned, is the use of language Hadley Freeman considers to be antisemitic.

Where then exactly to draw the line?  If you're Atul Hatwal, then the only problem with the Tories' campaign was that it was incompetent due to how Suliman Gani was more allied with the Tories than he was with Khan and Labour.  On this basis, Labour could have spent the local election campaign proclaiming on how Cameron was a pig rapist.  Sure, there's no evidence Cameron has raped a pig or any other barnyard animal, but the Ashcroft/Oakeshott book claims he did pork a severed hog's gob.  Mostly everyone thinks it's a load of old toilet, but it's on about the same level of truthfulness as the various claims made about Khan.

Why then not go the whole way?  After all, we've just gone through a period where it seemed perfectly acceptable to speculate on whether or not mostly deceased former politicians could have been not just paedophiles, but child murderers also.  Most of these claims were made against former Tory MPs.  Would it be just the rough and tumble of politics to describe the Conservatives as the party of choice for child abusers?  Sure, the Met might have discontinued Operation Midland, yet why let a detail like that get in the way of the contact sport that is politics?  It would just be natural rough and tumble, all a part of the game.  If you whine about it not being fair, you're simply not cut out for being a true leader of men.

Atul Hatwal does admittedly have a point.  Extremism should be called out.  Generally though there needs to be actual evidence, and we all have different definitions of what extremism is.   To some, Jeremy Corbyn's brand of old school socialism is extremist; to others, the Tories' naked contempt for welfare claimants and the state in general is beyond the pale.  That much of politics and the whole of social media "politics" has descended into one great big condemnathon, where the sound and fury both signifies nothing and is also absolutely everything might well have made politics even more incomprehensible and alien to outsiders.  It's just far too much trouble to try and turn back now.

Not that the Tories were ever going to admit that Goldsmith's campaign had backfired, not least as portraying Ed Miliband as so unprincipled he'd stab his country in the back for power worked last year.  It's also how they intend to go on depicting Labour in general: as a threat to national and economic security.  Bearing in mind a decent section of the parliamentary Labour party regard their own leader as an extremist, how could they not?

When it comes to today's EU clashes between Dave and Boris you see an almost mirror image of the extremist battle, only it's about power within a party, with the country coming a distant second in their concerns.  If Cameron really feared Britain leaving the EU could destabilise the continent to the point of a return to war, he would have been irresponsible in the extreme to have set in a motion a process that was fundamentally about buying off his restive backbenchers.  Likewise, if Boris Johnson truly believed that leaving the EU is the liberal cause of the day, it wouldn't matter as much that he's also using the referendum campaign as a springboard to his inevitable Tory leadership bid.   That only two years ago he wrote in direct contradiction of what he said today about the EU and peace, and has no compunction about making a "liberal, cosmopolitan" case for leaving that at its heart involves further doom-mongering about immigration just sums up how infuriating our politics has become.  We are it would seem firmly trapped in the banter years.

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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 14, 2016 

Still got the Whittingdale blues.

Just in case the whole Whittingdale thing wasn't silly enough, here comes Nichi Hodgson in the Graun denouncing the culture secretary for in her view throwing Olivia King to the wolves:
But being scared for your own reputation shouldn’t be reason enough for you to sully somebody else’s. By stating over and over again that he had not known his former lover was a sex worker, and that he had ended the relationship immediately upon finding out, Whittingdale has thrown her to the red-top wolves, making sure to thoroughly shame her in the process. Unfortunately, Whittingdale seems blind to the fact that it’s not only his former partner he’s distanced himself from, it’s his own spine as well.
 Except Whittingdale hasn't stated anything over and over again. The only comment he has made was the statement released on Tuesday night.  When doorstepped yesterday morning he referred the reporters to the statement and said he wouldn't be saying anything further.  Hodgson does at least accept that if Whittingdale, as he says, was unaware of his partner's work then he
might have felt a justifiable sense of betrayal. But the fact that Whittingdale was so quick to drop her when the tabloid press revealed her identity to him, and is now so keen to stress that immediacy in his defence, doesn’t come across as the reaction of a hurt yet honourable man.
I'm probably one of the least qualified people to pass judgement on relationships, but keeping something like the fact you're a sex worker from a prospective long-term partner (if again that's what Whittingdale was looking for; we're all making huge assumptions here) must surely be considered a deal breaker, especially if active deceit was involved.  We can all comment on prudishness, shaming and hypocrisy, only to come to very different conclusions when it involves us personally.  It's similar to pornography; we might have no problem with consuming it, regard it as the canary in the free speech mine, but plenty would at the same time not want friends or relatives to be playing a starring role in it.  Such are our hang-ups.

In any case, the genuinely guilty of prudery here are barely so much as mentioned by Hodgson.  Yes, Whittingdale could well of said yes, I dated a sex worker, who wants to fucking touch me, only he's no doubt embarrassed by the whole affair also.  No one has disputed his statement as yet, more than suggesting that he was in the dark and ended the relationship because he felt he had been lied to.

Should we be making judgements on this as a whole in any case?  Just as with the other privacy story of the week, it's disingenuous to claim it isn't about that but in fact this for the reason there would be no story whatsoever had the tabloids not decided politician dates dominatrix was worth investigating, even if they didn't end up publishing it.  The irony here is the people who have truly shamed King are those who otherwise claim to be against press intrusion, or normally critical when sex scandals are played out by those whose natural habitat is the gutter.  There is a case for asking why it wasn't published, but it's been hijacked by those whose cause as Ian Dunt has said has degenerated far from where it started off.

All in all, a thoroughly depressing week.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016 

The Whittingdale blues.

Absolutely nothing about the John Whittingdale/dominatrix story seems to make sense.

Let's then take it one step at a time.  If we're to believe Whittingdale's statement from last night, he had no idea that Olivia King was an escort, let alone the proud keeper of a dungeon.  When he did become aware of that fact, he ended the relationship.  No one seems to be as yet disputing it or claiming Whittingdale to be telling lies, so presumably the culture secretary's claim that he met his girlfriend of a few months on is accurate.

Now, unless I was reading something into the original Byline piece that simply wasn't there, as my take from it was that Whittingdale knew she was an escort and presumably was paying for her to accompany him to events, this is even less of a story than it first appeared.  Even if Nick Mutch is not explicit in saying that was the case, he definitely does claim that "Whittingdale's relationships with prostitutes are said to be well known in the London underworld".  He also quotes an unnamed senior Labour MP as having seen Whittingdale in the Houses of Parliament with a prostitute, although he wasn't sure if she was King or not.

Next, we have the James Cusick piece from Sunday.  This has since been described by another writer on openDemocracy, where the piece has also been hosted, as offering "little to substantiate" a cover-up, while David Elstein points out a number of flaws in Cusick's reasoning.  All of the investigations Cusick details apart from the Independent's took place while the relationship was on-going, before Whittingdale became culture secretary, although he was chair of the influential media committee.  Cusick claims that the Mirror may have dropped its investigation because Whittingdale could have launched a new inquiry into phone-hacking at the newspaper group, although does so in a half-hearted manner.  Similarly, without detailing how, Cusick implies that a similar investigation at the Mail on Sunday was dropped because Whittingdale was "viewed as an asset" by the Mail group.  Finally, Cusick details how things went with the Independent's own belated investigation, attempting to widen out the justification for a rather basic salacious story to claims about expenses not being paid, then to possible hypocrisy charges over Whittingdale's membership of the Cornerstone group.  Again, it ended with the editor shutting it down without apparent explanation.

To some, that four separate newspaper groups all failed to bring the story to print is indicative of a cover-up.  It's also certainly true that equally lacking stories about the private lives of politicians have been printed of late, including Brooks Newmark flopping the old johnson out of his pyjamas for an undercover hack, and the unforgettable Lord Sewel, in red bra, snorting cocaine off the breast of the sex worker who stitched him up.  A far more prosaic explanation is that even by the standards of those two stories, Whittingdale's adventures in online dating were much less exciting.  He's divorced, he didn't know King was a dominatrix in her spare time, and the only evidence they had were some very unrevealing photographs.  Why would the papers other than Independent drop the story on the basis Whittingdale could be useful to them in the future when they couldn't be certain of his career trajectory?  The Mirror phone hacking explanation also doesn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny.

This isn't to take the claims of former and current hacks at first sightAs Francis Wheen quoted by Anorak has it, both the bizarre arguments being put forward by Hacked Off representatives that this was someone whose privacy should have been invaded, and the claims from the Thurlbecks and Wallises of this world are unbelievable.  Clearly the story was of interest to the tabloids, and the Independent; they just in the end decided it couldn't stand up.  I don't think Leveson is of any relevance here at all; the decision was simply made that MP unwittingly dates sex worker is a bit sad rather than scandalous.  You can see this in the way the Indie flailed around desperately for any justification long after the fact, as I described is always the way yesterday.  First you get the story, then you make something up to claim it's in the public interest.  Like Flying Rodent, I think this story would have been more in the public interest than the case the tabloids are up in arms about, but that's barely.  The reason why there's such a disparity is obvious, also: pop star up to shameless sexual antics sells papers; MP gets todger out on Twitter wins awards, if that.

Likewise, the cries from Labour that Whittingdale should stand aside from his role in directing legislation concerning regulation of the press due to his conflict of interest don't now really apply when, err, any conflict is out in the open.  The sword of damocles Chris Bryant lyrically brought up, even if we accept it was a thing despite there being no evidence, is now gone thanks to the exposing of the story.  As Roy Greenslade and others have argued, there does seem to be a lot of overstating of Whittingdale's role.  Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act shouldn't be imposed for the reason that it is grossly unfair, nor has there ever been a realistic suggestion it was going to be brought in; similarly, there is no appetite whatsoever among the Tories as a whole for staging the second part of the Leveson inquiry.  It's hardly just Whittingdale.  The same goes for bias against the BBC: the Tories don't like Auntie, simple as.  Whoever ends up being culture secretary you can guarantee will be just as critical as Whittingdale has been.

I can then understand why people think something stinks, agree this will certainly be something to bring up the next time a politician is caught with their pants down by a newspaper justifying their expose as in the public interest, and still think that on this occasion at least some are looking just that little bit too hard.  Which includes the BBC, Private Eye, et al, who now the story is out there are justified to ask the questions they have.  I also agree with Anna Raccoon when she writes on how Olivia King has every right to be thoroughly cheesed off with the press a whole.

Is that OK with everyone?

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Monday, April 11, 2016 

There's a word for what our democracy has become: oligarchy.

It's not often I disagree with Chris over at Stumbling and Mumbling.  You can chortle all you like at Charles Moore declaring David Cameron to have been caught in the wealth trap, but it's a useful phrase, he writes.  And of course to a degree he's right, you can be trapped by any number of circumstances of your birth, although it's a hell of a lot easier to dispose of the wealth you inherit than it is to escape being born into poverty.

While Moore may be pleading for understanding of Cameron's position, his not as bright colleagues elsewhere in the media and within the Tories are instead asking for sympathy.  Both the Mail and the Telegraph today ran leaders denouncing the iniquities of inheritance tax, the tax which as Moore himself points out was paid by only 17,917 people who died in 2012-13, out of the 500,000+ whom passed on.  Their real beef was that Cameron had received further criticism for having been given a £200,000 gift from his mother, another of those perfectly legal tax planning moves, described as an "equalisation" by Downing Street.  Joylon Maugham might have declared this to be tax avoidance, but practically no one else in the industry dedicated to just such planning does.  Funny that.

Here, finally, is what a week of coverage of the Panana Papers has been leading up to.  Most of the Tory press was happy to see Dave taking a beating at first as they believe it will damage him vis-a-vis the EU referendum campaign, where Dave effectively is the remain campaign.  Once it gets into the realm of all politicians having to publish their tax returns, which in turn leads to demands that those sneering from the sidelines also get their self assessments out for the lads, it's clear this cannot be allowed to continue.  When the questions move on to lump sums gifted in the expectation of income tax not needing to be paid, then the squealing really starts to begin.  Then we hear the cries about the politics of envy, about the enemies of wealth creation, that this is really about how "they hate anyone who has got a hint of wealth in them", and that if we're not careful, we'll have a parliament full of "low achievers".

Poor little rich people.  All they want is to look after their families.  What could be more natural than that?  Why should both they and their children be punished when bequeathing vast sums, property and all the rest when they go to meet their maker?  Isn't this income being taxed twice over?  Isn't opposing this in fact opposing aspiration?  Don't we all want to make good by our kids?  Why in short, does the left and Labour hate our freedoms?

Once the right was just as indignant about unearned wealth as the left.  Alan Clark might have judged another Tory sneering at Michael Heseltine as the type who had to buy his own furniture as cutting but snobby, yet there was also concern about what the passing on of vast sums and houses encouraged.  Not more hard work, but indolence, idleness.  Now David Cameron declares that there is nothing more natural than wanting to pass on your home to your children.  This only applies obviously to those who own their home, while everyone renting or even more shockingly, in what remains of social housing, should expect at any minute to be turfed out.  Earning more than you once did?  You're going to have to pay to stay.  Have a spare bedroom?  We'll deduct that from your benefits if you don't downsize, even if there isn't anywhere to downsize to.  Want to live near to where your family and friends are?  Tough luck if that'll breach the benefits cap; you'll have to move somewhere cheaper.  Unable to so much as put down a deposit thanks to the paradox of astronomical rents?  I feel your pain, says the prime minister renting out the Kensington home bought with the help of dad and a previous inheritance from an aunt for over 90 grand a year.

Over £90,000 a year just in rent.  Alan Duncan ought to be careful about who he describes as "low achievers", as Dave by many yardsticks would fall into the category.  About only one proper job, and that as PR for Carlton.  Remember that by the standards of Dave's set, he and Osborne are relative paups, George made to describe himself as a "despicable cunt" for having gone to St Paul's rather than Eton.  To most people this a world beyond imagination, where some will be lucky to earn in a decade what Dave pulled in from rent in a year.  This is the world that the Mail, Torygraph and Dave want to defend at all costs, where "aspiration", something the middle classes do, is pulled out to defend the ultra rich forever living in the style to which they have become accustomed.  The inheritance tax threshold might be rising to a million, to the point where practically no one will pay it, yet still at the smallest hint that gifts might come under suspicion the cry goes up.

Without using the word, what Adyita Chakraborty so accurately described in his Graun piece this morning is oligarchy.  Sure, we hear fine words every so often about social mobility, and of course a few of the best and brightest rise to the top while some squander their inheritance, falling down the pecking order, but otherwise when it comes to wealth the Tory party could not be more dedicated to conservatism in its truest sense.  Almost every move on the tax and welfare fronts since the Tories came to power in 2010 has been to screw the poorest, throw the odd bone or two to the middle to give the impression they're on their side, and ensure the top stay at the top.  

In this if nothing else the right-wing media is completely on side.  They too claim to be standing up for the middle while working, literally, for the top.  It was instructive whom the prime minister chose to mention in his statement today in a dig at the media.  It wasn't the weirdo Barclay twins hidden away at their flat pack castle on Brecqhou he dropped, or Jonathan Harmsworth, aka Viscount Rothermere, the non-dom head honco at the Mail.  No, it was the BBC, the Graun and Islington council who were brought up for investing in offshore funds.

The impression this is meant to send is clear.  Everyone's at it.  Nothing to see here.  Except we're not all at it.  Most of us do though dream of having enough spare cash lying around to be able to squirrel it away hidden from HMRC, so for plenty that will be enough.  The belief is those still not sated can be dismissed as simply jealous, envious, as so twisted in their politics that they would rather do right by the state than by their family.  Perhaps it will hold for a while.

Yet a crunch is coming.  A point is going to be reached when it becomes clear just how loaded the system currently is.  It might take another crash, but it's going to come, such are the frustrations that are without question building and every so often find expression in outbreaks of anger like the one seen over the past week.  And when it does, no amount of pleading, appeals to authority or media attempts to push back against it are going to quell the demands for fundamental economic recalibration.  A smarter political class would see what's on the horizon, and act now.  This for the most part is not a smart political class.

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Thursday, April 07, 2016 

Scream and scream and scream. (With added Dodgy Dave bonus!)

A long time ago before Channel 4 turned into the same wasteland as all the other main terrestrial channels it made an effort to put on some slightly alternative programming late at nightOne such show was Pets, a forerunner of BBC3's Mongrels, meant to be a sort of parody of Friends only not really at all.  I bring this up only because the entire Brexit campaign seems based around the line spoken by Hamish, after he, Trevor and the parrot are turned into living mummies by a curse.  "I think we have two options.  Option one: we continue to stay calm and think logically until we work out how to free ourselves.  Or we scream and scream and scream like girls until someone rescues us".

And by god, can the Leavers scream.  And whine.  And moan.  And complain.  Everything is a betrayal.  Every argument that points out there will be huge uncertainty and years of negotiations if the referendum results in a victory for the leave side, which is not a subjective conclusion but an objective reality is dismissed as scaremongering, Project Fear 2.0.  However dodgy some of the statistics and claims presented by the remain side are, it is absurd that more than a few on the leave side continue to pretend as the Yes campaign did in the Scottish referendum that everything will be swiftly sorted out amicably and business-like once a leave vote happens.

The latest outrage is, of course, the government's decision to send out leaflets to every household on why it believes we should stay in.  This will cost £9m in total, much to the faux disgust of Michael Gove, who exclaims on how at a "time of austerity" spending such a sum on "pro-EU propaganda" cannot be justified.  Others predictably are complaining about how the government seemingly promised not to put out such a document, although those promises covered only the main period of campaigning once the period of purdah has begun.  More whinging still focuses on how the money spent on this one mailshot is more in total than the official campaigns will be allowed to spend during the main campaign, and how this obviously gives the remainers an unfair advantage.

Then there's the outright paranoid tendency, that somehow the publishing of the leaflet has been timed to distract from David Cameron's Blairmore Holdings travails.  While it's certainly not beyond imagination that Lynton Crosby could have come up with a dead cat to help Dave, dead cat this is not.  The whole idea of the dead cat is to change the subject, not to add to the problems the prime minister faces, which this most certainly has.  This was planned well in advance to come not too early to be completely forgotten about, while not near enough to the date itself to outright break the aforementioned pledge.  (Indeed, if anything it can now be argued Cameron has produced his own dead cat to knock the controversy over this down the agenda, for which see below.)

Humbuggery doesn't begin to cover it.  Apart from Vote Leave sending out leaflets without branding claiming to separate fact from fiction, we've had the lovely spectacle of Nigel Farage cutting up rough over the prospect of Barack Obama making an intervention on his upcoming visit.  This naturally didn't stop him from sticking his oar into the Netherlands referendum on the EU deal with Ukraine, nor has it prevented the wider leave campaign from inviting those behind the referendum to the UK.

The irony of the leave side and newspapers alike complaining about the government attempting to redress the balance doesn't seem to occur, or rather does, they just cast it to the back of their minds.  That 80% of the press has not just spent the past few months but the last couple of decades spreading myths about the EU, with the result that the public, who aren't interested at the best of times haven't got an idea who is and isn't telling the truth is of no importance.  How can a government possibly justify such propaganda (not that it is propaganda as it seems for the most part to be somewhat objective), never mind the unfairness?

Not to say that there aren't unintentional hilarities over the mail out: the same government that has long disdained councils producing their own propaganda sheets suddenly feels very differently.  That hardly anyone reads such leaflets, and few will likely read this one, let alone make their decision to vote on the basis of it also doesn't matter.  It's the principle of the thing.  The principles of always having an excuse ready, accepting the will of the people except not, and forever holding out the prospect that a vote tomorrow under "fairer "circumstances will bring a different result.  The leave side have stolen all their lines from the SNP.  They'll probably lose the vote, but are without doubt hoping to win the argument in the same way.


4 days on, and after first describing it all as a private matter, Dave finally comes clean and admits he made £31,500 out of Blairmore after selling his "units" in 2010.  The whole interview was set-up and designed to make it look as if this was perfectly reasonable: Robert Peston all but made a defence of the PM in a Facebook post this morning, setting out how those who invested in Blairmore did have to pay tax when they sold their shares, while ignoring the obvious point that Blairmore itself was based in Panama so it didn't have to pay tax in the UK.  Peston then just so happens to be the chosen hack Dave decides to talk to about it.

To describe the entire thing as being very Shifty McGifty doesn't really do it justice.  Why if this was all above board, as it seems to be at least from Cameron's end, did it have to be dragged out of him?  Each successive answer has just raised more and more questions.  Has he really only ever profited by £31,500?  If so, did any of the £300,000 his father left him come from Blairmore?  Does his mother still have an interest in Blairmore, as the Graun asks?  If he thought it best to be "transparent" in 2010 by selling his units in Blairmore, shouldn't the same apply to the donors to the party he leads?  And hasn't this sorry spectacle demonstrated that while those lucky enough to get the start in life that Dave had shouldn't have it held against them, it has made very clear just how stacked the odds have been and remain in their favour?

If Cameron means what he says, he has the power and influence to level that playing field.  He won't obviously.  But the thought's there.

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