Sunday 29 September 2019

Rory Stewart pondering a new centrist party

Rory Stewart is hinting at a new 'centrist' political party.

For those of you struggling to remember who Rory Stewart is, he's another one of those failed leadership contenders who wanted so badly to lead the party, who was busy draping himself in the mantle of Conservative, but now wants nothing to do with it.  What is it with Tories?

So, having failed to charm Conservative voters, failed leadership candidate Rory Stewart wants to set up another party in the increasingly crowded 'centre' ground.

Where we already have the Lib Dems, and Change Uk (or whatever they are called now, assuming they are still a thing) and a gaggle of independents, many of whom are - like Rory - recently ejected from the Conservative party.

Because apparently we need more splitting of the centre left vote.

Is he actually a Johnsonite fifth columist trying to ensure a Conservative triumph?

Unity government for the UK?

There has been a lot of speculation recently about the possibility of a government of national unity replacing the current administration in the UK, with the purpose of either revoking Article 50, or at least negotiating a delay and a second referendum.

I don't think it is going to happen, because the people who make the most noise about stopping to Brexit are not willing to do what needs to be done.

The positions are - Liberal Democrats are saying they want to revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit dead.  They have a total of 18 MPs, their ranks swelled by the arrivals of MPs from both Labour and the Conservatives.  Labour, on the other hand (247 MPs), favour negotiating a new exit package, and holding a referendum with their deal running off against Remain.

For the record, the Lib Dems have previously been in favour of a second referendum; they shifted to outright revoke about five minutes after Labour committed to a second referendum.  I can't help but discern a cynical motive in their shift.  Whereas Labour's gradual drift towards a second referendum has been so torturous as to be undoubtedly genuine.

So - with both of these UK wide parties favouring one form or another of avoiding No Deal, and the SNP (who have been the adults in the room all the way through), the Greens, various independents exiled from the two main parties, and the Welsh nationalists all opposed to No Deal, and the DUP's position becoming more compromised by the minute as Boris Johnson blunders towards the cliff enge - why do I think a government of national unity (henceforth, charmingly, a gnu) won't happen?

Because the numbers make it tricky, and the Lib Dems and Conservative rebels are being intransigent, saying they will not support a Corbyn lead GNU.  They are even insisting he stand aside and let someone else - Conservative veteran Ken Clarke or Labour's Harriet Harman - take over.

This is all down to politics, I think.  The Lib Dems and pro-Remain Conservatives just don't want to be seen to be enabling or to give him even the whiff of credibility as a PM.

The moment Corbyn gets to stand up in the Commons as PM, or speak to the nation from outside Downing Street, and the sky does not immediately fall, he gains stature and his enemies within and without the Labour Party lose their best argument - "It's impossible to imagine him as PM."

They seem willing to risk No Deal rather than let Corbyn be PM. They may fold - or he may fold, which is why they are saying they won't countenance backing him. The irony being they are basing their argument on the same logic the ERG are using when they say we can not take No Deal off the table - because it would take pressure off the other side.

Whereas - if Corbyn does say he will stand aside for another candidate - The issue them becomes pro-Brexit Labour MPs. They would support Corbyn as PM even if it meant nixing Brexit. But they won't swallow their principles for Ken Clarke and I suspect they wouldn't do it for Harriet Harman either.

(Both these figures are being touted as benevolent 'national treasures' who no-one sensible could refuse to support; Clarke spent decades enabling Conservative governments; Harman has been a hate figure on the right for decades as well, though she did do some good things - 'Harman's Law' - also described as 'socialism in sentence' was a splendid idea, and repealing it was one of the great wrongs of the Cameron administration.)

Which means that if the Lib Dems and Conservative Remains won't compromise to support a Corbyn lead GNU, forming such an animal under the leadership of someone else becomes much harder.

Corbyn and Labour have already compromised massively on Brexit.

Yet it never seems to be acknowledged; instead they are accused of "sitting on the fence" by extremists on the Remain side. Labour are told to be pragmatic and sensible, but the same expectation id not demanded of Lib Dems and Conservative rebels who say they will refuse to support a Corbyn lead GNU.

If we do crash out, it will be cause of their intransigence. The numbers are there, but they are refusing to support the best placed candidate. And it is for political reasons, as outlined about.

Saturday 28 September 2019

Celebrating the original Tommy Robinson

I was puttering about in Wellington the other day and picked up a copy of Tom Robinson Cabaret 79, live at the Collegiate Theatre.

It reminded me of this cartoon:

Which captures the ignorance, bigotry and general nastiness of the Far Right.  Who could resist singing along to the chorus of Glad to be Gay?

Though my favourite tom Robinson song is the more downbeat Cold Harbour - a simple song about the confusions of love and desire, in which the pronouns are less relevant than the emotional honesty.
"Who's he... choosing,
Clenching my toes,
And just wishing to God it was me."

Bad Language, milk shaking, abuse of politicians and so on

So, there has been a lot of talk about 'inflammatory language' in the British parliament recently.

The whole culture of British politics has become very polarised and toxic.  Some recent examples:

Owen Jones would, of course, be physically assaulted by a group of thugs in August.
  •  Dianne Abbott received almost a third of all abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the six months before the 2017 election.  And the total number of abusive tweets sent to female MPs was a staggering 25,000.  That's about 8000 hateful comments being aimed at a single person in 6 months, or about 50 a day, or about two every hour.
Take a moment to imagine someone yelling an insult at you every thirty minutes; or every fifteen minutes assuming they don't do it while you're asleep. Might tend to spoil your day a bit.
This is, of course, tip of the iceberg stuff.  I could go on and on.  There is no scraping of the bottom of the barrel of hatred here; the barrel just goes on and on.

And lurking in the background is the murder of Jo Cox in 2016, which came into the headlines again this week when her name was brought up in parliament by and MP (legitimately) commenting on the toxic environment surrounding Brexit.

There has been a lot of talk about inflammatory language, with Johnson lobbing terms like Surrender Bill' about; but the left needs to be careful here.  We have not always been as pure and spotless as we would like to think.

Remember when Nigel Farage was getting milkshakes thrown at him?  Oh, how we laughed.  Never mind that it was legally assault, and that crowing over his humiliation was legitimising bullying.  Saying Farage 'deserved it' because we don't like his ideas is dangerously close to legitimising the hate-filled abuse being directed towards the likes of Millar, Maugham, Jones and so on because - guess what? - people on the other side of the left / right or leave / remain feel as passionately as we do.  If it is okay for us to call Nigel Farage unpleasant things and throw things at him and intimidate him by waiting to ambush him then it is okay for the other side to do it as well.  Jeremy Corbyn was egged earlier on this year; people quite rightly condemned it.  A lot of the same people probably had a good chuckle at Farage being milkshaked.

And I'll admit I couldn't resist a smirk when I saw the images of Farage covered in milkshake and blustering feebly about people being mean to him.  But that does not alter the fact that assault is wrong. Even petty assault that doesn't cause physical hurt.

If you're saying it's okay to assault someone in the real world, you can hardly complain about mean words in a text message.  If physical assault doesn't count, then how can we justify being opposed to nasty pixels?  Pixels are even more ephemeral than flavoured milk.

People don't think twice about using foul and demeaning language to deride and insult a politician whose ideas they disapprove of; but when the same language gets directed at someone they support, it 'abusive.'  It's Orwellian double think.  People just don't seem to realise they are entertaining two contradictory notions in their heads at the same time.

This seems to be part of a bigger and ongoing project to debase political discourse to the point where everyone acts and speaks like Donald Trump; where argument is replaced by insult and reason by abuse, logic by threats.  It is driven most obviously (in Britain) by the likes of the Daily Mail ("Crush the Saboteurs!"), the Express and the Sun; but it is also advanced in the more measured tones of the Guardian, the Times and the Telegraph, with the persistent 'othering' and dehumanisation of the other side.  You can insult them, then tell lies about them, and assault them, because it is okay to do all these things because they are bad people.  Though the 'people' part is becoming questionable.  We don't like to think of them as people, but as "Remoaners" or "Gammons" or "Republicans" or "Fascists"; we're millimetres away from describing other people as 'vermin' fit to be exterminated.

Orwell would have recognised this phenomenon.  “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

And another uncomfortable truth.  The left / remain have to put their own house in order, urgently.  Sad to say, we are worse at it than the right.  A study by the University of Sheffield indicated that - contrary to the stereotypes - the most and the worst abuse aimed at MPs via twitter was directed at male MPs and towards Conservative / right-leaning / pro-Brexit figures.

Now, the study is by no means perfect.  It focused on just four months over four years.  Two of those months were immediately prior to elections (2015 and 2017); in 2015 both the Conservatives and Labour were lead by males, and in 2017 Labour was lead by a male and the Conservatives by a female.  With the focus on the leaders during an election campaign, that is bound to skew the statistics.  Cameron and Milliband are the most significant receivers of abuse in 2015. Johnson and Corbyn get a lot of abuse in 2017 but Theresa May gets almost as much. It's reasonable to think that if the party leaders receive most of the abuse, having mostly male party leaders would skew those stats.

(I'm not saying abusing party leaders is okay or acceptable; but I'd be interested to see data without those 'big beasts' in it to see how that affects the figures.)

Also, Boris Johnson received a lot of abusive tweets in 2017, as the figurehead of Brexit.  So those factors might tend to cloud the day-to-day abuse and threatening language aimed at less high profile and female MPs.  And here's the thing - Johnson's segment of the 'sunburst' charts is the largest and the darkest (size indicating amount, and colour indicating intensity, of insults).

It looks like the left and / or Remainers are actually the more vituperative.  And that's very troubling.  We can not condemn the hateful, inflammatory speech of our opponents while engaging in - or at least ignoring - the virulent hatred emanating from our own side.

Thatcher claimed her greatest achievement was the neutering of socialism - Tony Balir and New Labour.  It looks like The Mail, Trump, Bannon, Farage et al have successfully managed to make the left into a nascent fascist movement.  They don't care that people oppose them; the important thing is that the people are adopting their language and tactics, which justifies and legitimises their own egregious behaviour and gives them scope to escalate it.  The more fascistic we sound, the more fascistic they can become; and they are much, much better at it than we are.  And even if we do win the odd scrap, ultimately they win the war, because we have become them.

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Never do what your enemy wants you to do.  We're enabling them.  That's what they want.

Monday 16 September 2019

Chris Trotter on the BFD

I don't want to give pblicity to certain parts of the internet that are better left to fester in their own irrelevance (I know, a bit like this place) but the listing of Chris Trotter as a 'author' on Cameron Slater's spinoff website, the BFD requires some explanation.

Now, I don't know if Trotter is actually providing specific content for The BFD.  I don't know if he is allowing them to recycle stuff from his Bowalley Road blog.  I don't know if he is completely unaware that he has been listed as an 'author' at The BFD and they are simply using him to give their website some heft or the illusion of balance.

(I do know I alerted Chris to his association with The BFD a few weeks ago, via a comment on Bowalley road that he did not deign to publish; and he's still listed as an auther there as of today. Draw what conclusions you will from that.)

I publically exhort Chris to explain how this has come about, and why he is allowing his name to be associated with a cameron Slater linked website.

Sunday 15 September 2019

Trump: "Where's my favourite dictator?"

From the Wall Street Journal:
Inside a room of the ornately decorated Hotel du Palais during last month’s Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, President Trump awaited a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi.

Mr. Trump looked over a gathering of American and Egyptian officials and called out in a loud voice: ‘Where’s my favorite dictator?’ Several people who were in the room at the time said they heard the question.
The report DOES NOT continue:
At least half a dozen dictators put their hands up, provoking angry and occasionally tearful scenes as the assembled autocrats realised Mr Trump had been seeing them all behind their various totalitarian backs.

"I thought he only loved me!" wailed Xi Jinping, who had just emerged victorious from a scrap with love rival Kim Jong-Un.  "He always told me I was his only dictator."
 Tearful Kim pledged that he still loved his "Donny" in spite of the the President's disloyalty.
"He's a hard dog to keep on the porch," complained Kim.
 "But he'll always be my favourite dictator, even if I am not his."
When it was pointed out to Mr Kim that Mr Trump was not actually a dictator but a more-or-less democratically elected leader, he replied, "Just you wait and see." 
I made that up.  But it could almost be true in these strange and perverted times.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Ten reasons the Tories do NOT want an election

There has been a lot of talk about Boris Johnson wanting an election, and he has blustered with great gusto about 'chicken' Jeremy Corbyn refusing one, but I think there are many reasons why he is secretly glad he has been refused the opportunity:

  1. The Tories are an utter rabble,tearing themselves to pieces. They've rejected Cameronite phoney One Nation consensus centrism for extremism. They've managed to make everyone apart from the Telegraph and the Mail hate them. 

  2. They've been in power for almost a decade now, people are tired of them. New Labour made it to 13 years, but only because they started from a much better position.

  3. The right wing vote is going to be split. Either it is going to be split between Conservatives and Brexit (if Brexit isn't delivered) or Conservative and Lib Dem (if it is).

  4. A lot of Conservative voters might not be able to vote for another party but will simply stay home, as happened in 1997. 

  5. Austerity still matters and many people are still struggling. After 9 years in power, what have the Tories got to show for it? At least New Labour could point to some real achievements in the early years. 

  6. An election this year will be the third in five years. That might be normal in Italy, but we didn't win the war to behave like Italians. People will be royally pissed off with being asked to vote again. So the Conservative reputation for managerial competence is shredded. 

  7. An early election favours Corbyn - if the Tories could hang on until 2022 then he'd probably look too old. But having another pop now, on this side of seventy, he still has time on his side. 

  8. Corbyn is a very good campaigner. Say what you like about his policies and his leadership, but put him on the campaign trail and he's happy as can be, and people respond to him. Whereas the Conservatives have put an absolute klutz at the helm who can't get through a speech without prompting commentators to speculate that he's on drugs.  Even the stuff Johnson was meant to be good at - PMQs and insults - he's been bad at. 

  9. There is nothing left to use against Corbyn. Remember how some people were salivating about how the media would reveal all his dark secrets and murky stories from his past? That barrel was scraped dry in 2017 and it turned out to be a rather small and pathetic barrel; now the Murdochite papers are reduced to putting his head on a chicken.

  10. Labour will run on a crowd pleasing manifesto, while the Conservatives will run on a stupid manifesto, again. People think they will have learned from 2017's mistakes, but they will simply make new ones. They just don't get it.
That's my branes, anyway.

Prorogation Illegal, rule Scottish judges

Scottish appeal court judges have declared that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament in the run-up to the October Brexit deadline is unlawful. 
The three judges, chaired by Lord Carloway, Scotland’s most senior judge, overturned an earlier ruling that the courts did not have the powers to interfere in the prime minister’s political decision to prorogue parliament.
Tom Watson will be livid. His latest attempt at undermining Corbyn has been bumped off the front page of the Guardian.

Am I right in thinking that Boris Johnson has ...
  • Lost six votes in the House of commons
  • Broken the law twice
  • Been dumped by his brother
  • Lost a cabinet minister
  • Lost a couple of dozen MPs as a result of a particularly ill-judged show of political machismo
  • Lied to the Queen
... All within his first week in the job?

Did I miss anything?

The brazen uselessness of the Johnson administration beggars belief. I always anticipated that Johnson would be a disaster; but I was also anticipating he would have some sort of a plan and try to disguise his incompetence with shows of bon homie , 'infectious confidence' and general bluster.

I was expecting him to trounce Corbyn at PMQs and deliver lots of well received speeches, as these were the sort of things this 'acclaimed orator' would be good at, even if it was just sound and fury concealing the vacuum of his policy.

So I was expecting useless, but making a good show of being not-useless.

Instead we got useless and obviously useless.

What a difference a week makes, eh?


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