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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Thursday, July 07, 2016 

Leadsom balloon.

It would just about sum it all up if after a referendum fought on post-fact, post-truth lines, our next prime minister turned out to be someone whose CV is a work of fiction, and unlike our out-going premier, really is a tax avoider

Would about sum it up, but still not cover quite how ghastly the choice of Theresa May versus Andrea Leadsom is.  Slightly less ghastly than if Michael Gove had made it through to the last two admittedly, mainly as Ken Clarke couldn't have nailed Gove better than in his comment about Gove's potential for getting us into three wars at once

One or two good things about May's time as home secretary can at least be said: she has stared down the police, forcing them to face up to their terrible record on stop and search.  She also fought Gove to a standstill over his attempt to make things even worse in the aftermath of the Trojan Horse panic in Birmingham, refusing to let Mr Drain the Swamp impose his views on extremism on the Home Office.

Otherwise, May's only claim to being a safe pair of hands is thanks to lasting six years in a job where so many others have failed.  This is less down to May's stewardship and more due to Labour when in power hiving off many of the home secretary's previous responsibilities to the always Orwellian sounding Ministry of Justice.  Presto, the appalling state of prisons, not to forget many of the other disasters of Chris Grayling's time as justice secretary, since reversed by err, Gove, are nothing to do with May.  Happily, Grayling has been rewarded for this unwitting protection of the home secretary by being made her campaign manager.

She can though be judged by the other policy stands she's made.  It was she that had no problem with the sending round of the "go home" vans.  She has been the principle force behind the pushing for the security services to be able to effectively do whatever the hell they like in terms of surveillance.  The remarkable stupidity of the psychoactive substances act is her own extremely illiberal work.  The victory she often trumps in sending Abu Qatada back to Jordan was nothing of the sort: he left of his own accord, prepared to take his chances rather than remain locked up here indefinitely.   The "Prevent" programme inherited from Labour has been expanded to the point where we have nurseries required to ensure those under 5 are not showing "signs" of radicalisation.  Rather than practically every other politician barring the Conservative front bench, she has also refused to guarantee that EU citizens will be allowed to stay in the UK after (or if) we leave, claiming she will only do so once the rights of our own citizens are guaranteed elsewhere in Europe.  It would be easier to accept this line of argument if May's team hadn't already taken to attacking Leadsom for claiming her stance would allow foreign criminals to stay too.

All this, and yet May is the equivalent of FDR in comparison to Leadsom.  Boris Johnson's support for her can only be put down to as previously stated, either nihilism or the belief a Leadsom victory would open the door for him almost as soon as it had been shut.  She is a laughably archetypal Tory of the old school: God-bothering, worried about the impact of sex education on children rather than the impact of the lack of it, has strange views on what political correctness is or isn't, and convinced leaving the EU only opens up new opportunities rather than shuts them down.  Not that she has been consistent on the EU mind, which means there has to be some other reason why so many other Leavers have jumped on her bandwagon.

Yep, a Leadsom victory would just about us up as a nation.  Unafraid to embrace decline, so long as we can indulge ourselves in nostalgia for a past that never existed.  We can also heartily look forward to thinkpiece after thinkpiece on the misogyny of the left for criticising whoever wins in the exact same terms as we have Cameron and pals.  What a time to be alive.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2016 


The publication of the Chilcot report hasn't felt the same as those other reports into past misdeeds of the British state.  How could it?  Many of the faces in parliament may be different, but Iraq is a decision still raw and on-going, with much of the guilt still lying in the Commons.  Unlike Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough, this was a decision that was parliament's to make.  It flunked it.  One of the saddest aspects of today is neither Robin Cook or Charles Kennedy are here to experience it, those two most understated opponents of the war, both of whom had much to lose but stuck to their principles regardless.

Perhaps I'm the only one who feels this way; deeply sad, lacking the motivation to point fingers for the umpteenth time.  Chilcot's conclusions are far more damning than I and it seems the vast majority expected, all but saying Blair launched a war of aggression, that it was not a war of last resort, and that while no one specifically lied, exaggeration and completely ignoring the other side of the argument was at the very heart of a war of choice.  It's just that it seems anti-climactic, when those other reports were anything but.  Iraq has been so argued about, so studied, so drilled down into, with positions long since set that it has been all too apparent Chilcot was going to settle little.

This was reflected in David Cameron's response.  The only reason we have had repeated inquiries into Iraq is because British troops died, and the war has been such an obvious disaster.  There has been no equivalent inquiry into Afghanistan, despite our role in that similarly benighted country being only slightly less disastrous.  Afghanistan has no natural resources and Afghanis matter less than Iraqis.  Similarly, there has been no inquiry into the intervention in Libya other than a broad investigation by a parliamentary committee.  No British servicemen died, see.  There have been endless investigations in America into what happened in Benghazi, mind, for equally apparent reasons.

When David Cameron was outlining his disagreements with Chilcot, he was in effect defending himself over Libya.  Most of the criticisms directed at Blair and the preparations for war in Iraq equally apply to that bloody fiasco.  Cameron took action when there was no clear threat, when all the options had very clearly not been exhausted, where exaggerations of what might happen if we didn't act piled up, and without the slightest plan for what to do afterwards.  Indeed, that there was no plan seems to have been the plan.  If anything, the way in which the UN Security Council's authorisation was abused, with NATO using it as cover for regime change was even more egregious than the way Bush and Blair had no intention of giving the UN weapons inspectors a chance to do their work.  The damage to the concept of the responsibility to protect has been incalculable.  So also we don't properly know how influential the deception over Libya was on Russia and Putin, with all that has followed since in Syria.

For it's apparent Chilcot's findings, crushing as they are for Blair, will change absolutely nothing.  Of course there must always be the option of acting quickly in the event of an attack definitively linked to either a state or a state harbouring a terrorist group, but this has not been the case in any of the conflicts since Iraq.  Equally, we should not shy away from intervening to prevent or stop a genocide, if it can be established forces can be deployed quickly enough, that our actions will stop it, that the threat is real and we have a plan for what comes afterwards.

The fact is politics doesn't work as Chilcot would like it to, as has been so amply demonstrated by the other events of the past couple of weeks.  Labour can't even get a coup 9 months in the planning right, while the Tories by contrast have such a lust for power that friendships and bonds of years can be sacrificed in a matter of seconds for the slightest of advantages.  Planning is an alien concept, unless there's something in it for them personally.  When the architect of the "not doing stupid shit" doctrine has done plenty of such things, what hope of our less thoughtful representatives pledging to do the same?  When we have a media that, again, has spent the past couple of weeks demonstrating its enduring belief in wielding power without responsibility, what hope of no repeat of the Murdoch press boosting of Blair?

Most pertinently, why would anything change when the consequences of setting an entire region on fire are so slight?  If Blair has suffered mentally for his decision, he certainly hasn't in any other aspect.  Our soon to be outgoing prime minister orchestrated a parliamentary standing ovation for him, while no bank or dictatorship is yet to decide a man partially responsible for setting off a conflagration that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands to be too toxic to pay millions.  He remains influential to many politicians, especially on foreign policy, even if they won't admit to it, while his ideas are still instantly reported on and debated seriously.  Would anyone in a similar position ever have been allowed to make so desperate a "defence" of his continued righteousness as he was today, a self-pitying diatribe (yes, I know) that hasn't changed in 13 years?  When Blair was allowed to get away with once again describing the decision not to attack Syria in 2013 as a grievous mistake, the Syria conflict a war that could not possibly have turned out the way it has if it hadn't been for the Iraq invasion, what possible chance that a future prime minister will think twice about launching a war of aggression against another shithole country that poses no direct threat to us?

How desperately, pathetically sad and predictable.  Much like this writer.

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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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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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Tuesday, June 28, 2016 

The cluster and the fucks.

I go away for one fucking week...

I should then start with an apology.  In the last major post I posited that most politicians were not all the same, that they had principles and deserved more respect, even if general contempt aimed at politicians was only a part of the poison behind the murder of Jo Cox.

Having spent the past four days in near disbelief at the unutterable inadequacies of almost the entire political class, I could not have been more wrong.  Contempt breeds contempt.  Despicable selfishness, self-regard and self-importance inspires the same.  When our supposed leaders have no back-up plan, no idea of what to do when the shit hits the fan, why should anyone have the slightest respect for them?  I didn't expect Leave to have a plan, as they never began to articulate one and would never have been able to agree on one.  For the government as a whole not to have one, for the civil service also to have not done much in the way of work on it beggars belief.  At a general election the civil service prepare in case they need to implement the opposition's policies; in this instance it really does seem as though no one saw it coming.

Sitting up watching the results come in early Friday morning, I was angry, but not in the slightest bit shocked.  My gut feeling since the election, having seen how the Tories won their majority by feather-bedding the boomers and effectively giving two fingers to the young, was it would take something special to convince those same people to vote remain.  As it turned out, the young on the whole voted remain, or at least those that again bothered to turn out.  Those same boomers meanwhile overwhelmingly voted leave (Lord Ashcroft poll health warning) and again, why wouldn't they?  They had little to lose by doing so: their pensions are triple-locked; inheritance tax is being raised as in the words of Cameron there is nothing more natural than wanting to pass on your home; and all their other perks have been protected too.  Given an opportunity to kick out against change, against immigrants, against an other they've been told is the root of so many problems, what made Cameron and pals think for a second they would win them over?

Their obvious reference points were the Scottish referendum, where Project Fear was deemed to have worked, and much the same tactics as used against Labour last year.  The entire Tory campaign was built around the supposed economic chaos that would descend if Ed Miliband became prime minister at the head of a coalition.  A recovering economy, went one poster.  Don't let Labour wreck it.  You can understand the logic; if voters thought it was better the devil you know twice before, why not for the third year on the trot?

Except each vote and referendum is always different, just as each campaign is different.  We saw the hatred and intolerance that was being whipped up; we saw how the economic argument was failing to cut through.  We witnessed the absolute shamelessness of Leave; we noticed how the "scaremongering", which in large part has already been shown to be nothing of the sort, was this time being decried.  We ought to have noticed how instead of being mocked, Michael Gove's denunciation of experts was cheered, how Boris Johnson's bullshit about an independence day led to a near standing ovation.  Voters decided that things would more or less stay the same, or even get better in the years after a Leave vote.

You could if you like extrapolate from the map of the areas that voted leave and remain that the main distinguishing feature is the varying strength of the local economy: areas that have recovered or are recovering from the crash voted remain; areas that haven't or have never fully recovered from the turmoil of the 80s, the recession of the 90s, voted leave.  And while this does help us to understand to an extent, it doesn't explain why Liverpool voted remain while my home town, supposedly one of the boom areas, voted to leave.  It doesn't explain why places like Sunderland and Port Talbot, areas that have everything to lose from an EU exit, voted to leave.  The same is the case for those areas that have benefited massively from EU funding, almost all of which voted out.  It doesn't explain why areas like Peterborough and Boston, both changed markedly by immigration over the last ten years voted out, while places like Hartlepool, with barely any net migration, did the same.

The polls, the same ones that (mostly) got the result wrong for a second time in a year, claim the main grievance of out voters other than immigration was sovereignty.  Except sovereignty and opposition to immigration on the basis of the lack of control obviously go hand in hand.  Sovereignty is such a nebulous concept that it can mean everything and nothing; even if we accept these polls as accurate, it's hard to believe perceived anger over giving some of our law-making and regulation powers to Brussels was that much of a rallying cry.

Indeed, what has happened since is difficult to minimise.  For some, Leave meant far more than just exiting the EU; it meant leaving Europe. It meant telling not just the eastern European migrants of the past ten years to leave, but all immigrants.  How could they have possibly reached such a conclusion, been so misled?  Surely not by the constant invoking of taking back control, by the claims from Leave that Turkey joining the EU was a certainty, with their leaflets suggesting Syria and Iraq would either be next or that refugees from those two countries currently in Turkey would be able to come also.

It comes back yet again to how politicians have ridden the immigration monster over the past half decade.  It comes back yet again to how the media has connived in encouraging the myth of the grasping, service burdening migrant to the point where Cameron based his "renegotiation" around it.  It comes back yet again to how neither Labour nor the Tories succeeded in rebuilding broken, despairing towns and communities.  Labour at least tried, while the Tories' austerity has reduced so many of our high streets to the picture painted last Friday.  It comes back yet again to how in the face of change, even if not in their own neighbourhoods, many cling on to what they know all the harder while blaming the newcomers.  It comes back to an atavistic sense of what England is, and therefore always should be.

If the result then was not a shock, that it has so emboldened racists is.  A broadcast media that in the face of threats from Leave tied itself in knots, despite their lies being so obvious, betrayed the very public that look to it as a better guide than than the press.  That the new sport now seems to be to find someone outrageously racist and then not so much as challenge them on their views is not journalism, but rather a shaming indictment of their failure.

The most brickbats must though be directed at the government.  David Cameron gambled and lost.  To them it really does seem this was all a game: Cameron has supposedly taken responsibility by resigning, and yet going down in history as the prime minister who likely broke up the United Kingdom doesn't seem punishment enough.  The blame if the economy is permanently damaged will not be placed firmly on the shoulders of the man who screamed and screamed about Labour's crash to the point where everyone starting believing it, but on those who voted Leave also.  That it was Cameron who decided putting our prosperity at risk was worth it if it won him a couple more years as prime minister, as it certainly wouldn't have decided our place in Europe, will likely be forgotten.  His stature in comparison to even that of Gordon Brown, hated by the right despite his genuine claim to having helped steady the entire economic system back in 2008, should be permanently diminished.  The accolade of worst post-war prime minister is surely his now to lose.

Unless of course we do end up with PM Boris.  Another egomaniac encouraged by an adoring media ignoring his every deficiency, never has someone with leadership ambitions appeared so out of his depth.  Their Leave victory press conference might as well have been a wake, so flummoxed and so embarrassed were they at having won by mistake.  The plan had been for Dave/Remain to win by a narrow margin with Boris having firmly established himself in the affections of the Tory Leavers.  They didn't for a moment believe any of the nonsense they said, nor did they expect Mr and Mrs Average Punter to do so either.  Bit of a rum do that they did, isn't it?  That Boris's fumblings in his Telegraph column yesterday were so feeble and so lacking in credibility that he has already disowned them is indicative of the amount of attention and care he gives to everything he touches.  Meanwhile, George Osborne, the other chief architect of this absolute clusterfuck, says it was their responsibility to have a plan, not his.

Labour's response to all this?  To put in motion a coup that was coming remain or leave.  It deserves a post of its own, but even after the past few days, the rank hypocrisy and martyr complexes of MPs who have never so much as tried to make Corbyn as leader work has been astounding.  No seat is safe north of Islington, apparently, and so that fabled putting of the country, people and constituents first has gone for a Burton in favour of ousting the leader at a moment of political and economic crisis.  And just like the government and Leave, they have absolutely no fucking idea of who should be leader instead of Corbyn, no idea of how to respond to the vote, except it seems to somehow make a "progressive" case for limiting free movement, and no idea if their coup will be accepted by the membership.

Which leaves us with the only party with any seeming nous, any seeming plan and any seeming leadership, and it's the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon.  Who can begrudge her and Scotland a second referendum after this shit show?  Who can argue that Scotland won't be taken out of the EU against its will?  Who can say what will happen in Northern Ireland, which also voted Remain and where it seems even less thinking was done on how a vote to leave would impact almost everything there?

Like many, I've spent the last few days ashamed of my country, ashamed of my countrymen, and ashamed of our politicians.  This is what referendums on nationhood wrought: they rend and tear, they break down friendships and divide families, all to a far greater extent than general elections ever do.  They are designed to polarise, and that's just what it's achieved.  It will take years, if not decades before the wounds from this result so much as start to heal.  And while we will all pay, some must pay more than others.

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Friday, June 24, 2016 

We've got our England back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The England that has finally made its voice heard.

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

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

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

Yep, you've got your England back.  

Enjoy it.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016 

The empty threats of an irresponsible chancellor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016 

Hard and fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 09, 2016 

Mark Allen and Jack Straw: guilty as hell.

In another of those wonderful moments of serendipity we get every so often, today has seen both the publication of the Loughinsland inquiry and the CPS decision on whether to bring charges against the former MI6 head of counter-terrorism.  For years various officials and politicians in Northern Ireland and the rUK have attacked the idea there had been collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries, despite previous inquiries finding precisely that, such as the de Silva report into the murder of Pat Finucane.  Far too much emphasis was placed on regrettable incidents like Bloody Sunday, and not enough on the outrages committed by the Republican terrorist organisations, helmed by figures now at the very top of the devolved government.   Where was the over-arching inquiry into their crimes, aided they often allege by the Irish government and the Garda?

That the IRA was riddled with informers and MI5 agents, some of whom commissioned attacks in order not to blow their cover is not as often brought up.  Now we know thanks to the Maguire report of further such examples involving loyalist groups, only with the RUC rather than the intelligence agencies covering their tracks or turning a blind eye.  Up to 70 murders and attempted murders were carried out with weapons smuggled in under the noses of the police, with the owner of the farm where the weapons were being hidden tipped off two hours before the RUC came looking.  While other officers were trying their hardest to track down those responsible for the Loughinisland massacre, someone informed members of the gang they were about to be arrested.  One of the suspects was in any case an informer, who carried on being so for a number of years after.

At least the motives in Northern Ireland were good ones though, right?  The object was to save lives; who's to say those agents and informers didn't ensure more people weren't killed than would have been otherwise?

The same cannot be said of our dealings with Colonel Gaddafi in the aftermath of his giving up his WMDs, a decision that hasn't exactly stood the test of time for either side, Gaddafi having ended up being sodomised with a knife and all.  Delivering over a couple of Islamist opposition figures to his jailers was the least we could do, wrote Mark Allen to the Libyan head of intelligence, Moussa Koussa.

A hint of the likely outcome to the police inquiry into the MI6 aided rendition of Abdul Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi was provided by the flying visit of said Moussa Koussa to the UK prior to the fall of Gaddafi.  After a quick chat with the rozzers about Lockerbie, Koussa was allowed to piddle off to Qatar.  You might have expected the intelligence chief of a dictatorship with an appalling human rights record would have been of especial interest, not least because of Yvonne Fletcher and the supplying of the IRA with large amounts of Semtex, but strangely not.

Likewise, Sir Mark Allen is not so much as named by CPS, instead referred to anonymously as the "suspect", despite how the entire rest of the media is naming him.  To be fair to the CPS, their full statement in fact gives them great credit.  While it starts off with Sue Hemming saying there was insufficient evidence to bring charges, it goes on to almost deliberately contradict itself.  While the actual rendition was not carried out by MI6, instead our mates in the CIA doing the kidnapping and strapping down of Belhadj's wife, there was contact between them and the suspect, as there also was with the Libyans.  While there also wasn't complete written authorisation by a minister, there was some discussion.  In other words, Allen and Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, are guilty as hell.  Only the law as it stands falls short of being able to guarantee a conviction.

Not that the explanatory part of the statement will make a scrap of difference.  Insufficient evidence is the part that will be repeated over and over.  Nothing to see here.  That the Gibson inquiry was in effect scrapped so the police could investigate the allegations against Straw and Allen was something of a happy coincidence for the coalition government, soon having got cold feet, despite originally promising a full independent inquiry into alleged collusion in torture and rendition.  Instead the Intelligence and Security Committee is once again left to try and get the truth out of MI6, which even with its new powers and the capable and trustworthy Dominic Grieve as chairman can hardly be depended on.

Still, this is without doubt the very closest we have yet come to any sort of government body admitting the intelligence services in the aftermath of 9/11 were perfectly happy to collude in torture.  It didn't matter that neither Belhadj or al-Saadi were of the slightest threat to the West, members of a group with links to al-Qaida or not; the lure of getting access for British companies to Libya's oil was enough of a justification.  Allen of course went on to become a special adviser to BP, even if the subsequent deal with Libya was rather soured by the uprising against Gaddafi, at which point we once again switched sides.

We're funny like that.  One minute we're handing over people to be tortured, the next we're deciding the responsibility to protect the ordinary citizens of Libya had to be invoked.  It's almost as though we make it up as we go along, with no moral code whatsoever, even while those with overall responsibility for such acts demand further such interventions.  Ah well.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2016 

Where are the Blairs of yesteryear?

A couple of weeks back, Sam Kriss wrote an absolutely glorious, unrelentingly scabrous and marvellously offensive takedown of Nick Cohen.  Cohen, Kriss writes, is "the one who looks like a kind of malignant egg, with his pervert’s dent of a top lip".  This didn't go unnoticed by David Aaronovitch, with the great man tweeting Kriss on how he only wrote such things as he knew Cohen wouldn't sue him.  Oh, and that he should fuck off.   Cohen himself was left with little to do other than the equivalent of shouting leave him Dave, he ain't worth it, adding only "the poor fucker can't write".

I mention Aaronovitch and Cohen only to compare them with their fallen leader.  Not that either would ever confess to being a Blair booster, despite that being the role both have effectively played for years, the outsider commentators pushing for that muscular liberalism Blair only really embraced and talked of once out of office, even if it was the very essence of the Blair doctrine.  While there are still Blair devotees in Labour, the Tories and among the leader writers of various newspapers, actual commentators with a weekly column pushing the interventionist line are getting rarer.

This is hardly surprising when none of the liberal interventionists have ever had the eloquence, the force of argument, or most importantly, the belief that Blair had and still does.  Tony you truly have to accept believes what he says when it comes to bombing it better; he still believes the Iraq war was the right thing to do.  He still thinks despite everything that we should have fully intervened on the side of the rebels in Syria, even if that means allying with jihadists funded by the Saudis, or al-Qaida itself.   He still poses the question of how things would have turned out if we hadn't decide to get rid of Saddam, as though you could ever say surely nowhere near as badly as they have done.

In short, it's always been difficult not to regard Blair with a grudging respect.  Say what you like about him, he has a world-view, and he's stuck to it in spite of everything.  Of his followers, Cohen has been the only one never to accept that Iraq was a disastrous mistake.  It hasn't stopped them from pushing to repeat the mistake elsewhere, but they didn't have the balls or that word again, the belief, to keep on defending something that to so many of us quickly became indefensible.

Only Blair finally seems to have cracked.  Perhaps the imminence of the publication of the Chilcot report and the strain of what it might say about him has finally pushed him over the edge.  To many of us nothing Chilcot could possibly conclude will make any difference at this point.  He's not going to say Blair lied.  About the best we can hope is for the blame to be spread equally, for it most certainly wasn't Tone that dragged us kicking and screaming into a war of aggression.  A large number of those that supported it did so with almost a spring in their step.

A Blair thinking straight wouldn't launch an ad hominem, straw man attack on Jeremy Corbyn as he has today. Blair raging against Corbyn for not lifting a finger against an actual war criminal in Bashar Assad might make more sense if it wasn't now 3 years since the Commons rejected air strikes that were meant as some sort of punishment for using chemical weapons, not aimed at actually deposing him.   If Blair wants to go after anyone over that, it should be Ed Miliband, the coalition for making such a fuck-up of the case, or as he probably acknowledges deep down, himself for forever giving ill-thought through and badly planned military adventures a bad name.

No, see, our Tone got rid of a bona fide war criminal when he and Bush overthrew Saddam.  Of course, Saddam principally committed his war crimes while we were supplying him with weapons and the likes of Corbyn were condemning the gassing of the Kurds as the government of the time said not a dicky bird, but that's by the by.  What has Corbyn ever achieved with his protesting?  Is his brand of opposition ever likely to lead to power?  Does he even want power?

The sad thing is, Blair has a point.  Being opposed on principle to war until all other alternatives have been exhausted, or keeping our nose out of civil wars in the Middle East doesn't tend to win you elections.  We only need to look across the pond to where Hillary Clinton has just triumphed in the Democratic race, despite how Hillary has never seen a conflict she didn't want to join in with or failed to support when suggested by the Republicans.   Hillary owns Libya even more than Obama does, and if anything has even greater interventionist credentials than our Tone, among her closest advisers and friends Samantha Power, who really has wrote the book, Susan Rice and Anne-Marie Slaughter.  Whichever of Trump or Hillary ends up as president, you can guarantee there's going to be a whole load more wars, with our good selves following meekly behind.

Unless Corbyn wins.  Which he won't.

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