Category Archives: Politics

Putting Humpty together again

I personally believe that Brexit will be bad news for the UK.  Bad for trade, bad for international relations and influence, bad for the knowledge economy, bad for our cultural health.  But that’s irrelevant to what I am bollocksing on about here.  I’m interested in whether we can heal the schism that has torn the UK apart.

It wouldn’t  have made any difference if the EU referendum vote had gone the other way.  The most catastrophic consequence of the vote – the division of the nation into two intractably opposed halves – would have still been the same.  No amount of pleading for or demanding reunification would have made (or will make) any significant difference to that.  Neither is there any point in pretending that is has, or will, go away in time.  The differences run too deep.

But I’m by no means cynical about May’s intent when she calls for national unity.  I believe that she sincerely regards reunification as a high priority.  She certainly should.  The cost to national morale of a nation divided can’t be overestimated.  Consequences could range from a greater constituency for populist, reactionary parties, through to civil disobedience (and worse) and, plausibly, the secession of parts of the UK; whether Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey or Gibraltar.  They all have citizens who hold what they believe to be compelling reasons to leave the union.

The majority vote fell the way of Brexit.  No matter the size of that majority, the decision was democratically decided and was acted upon. Those who voted for the UK to leave the EU got what they wanted, and are satisfied (or should be).  But what is to be done about the alienated 48%?  There are too many of them to ignore, they are clearly not going quietly and – unsurprisingly – telling them to stop moaning is no more effective than telling Eurosceptics to stop moaning was in the past.

I think it’s possible to diffuse the anger of the 48%, but it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be cheap.  The potential solution, oddly, can be found on the side of a bus.  ‘Could be found’, I should say, as I’m sure that it was painted over faster than the Labour’s general election Ed Stone was pulverised.  I’m referring, of course, to the Leave campaign’s notorious promise to hand an additional £350 million a week to the NHS.

As a tactic in the referendum, it undoubtedly worked.  Whether or not it was a wise move in the long-term political career development of those who allied themselves with it – particularly Boris Johnson, Ian Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage – remains to be seen.

It was certainly a tactical mistake to be subsequently recorded laughing at it in the House of Commons, even though it was indeed a laughable lie.  But need it be?  Not the amount – £350 million bears no meaningful relationship to any monies that could be saved from leaving the EU – but what about the principle?

I would hazard a guess that a very large proportion of the alienated remain voters are passionate supporters of the NHS: a larger proportion, even, than that of the electorate as a whole who hold the Service in high regard.  How better to demonstrate the value of leaving the EU to this constituency than to mend the NHS?

It would be a huge undertaking, of course: the funding hole that increasing demand and chronic underfunding has created is still somewhere near a billion deep; and filling the hole alone won’t solve the NHS’s ills.  Adequately funding the NHS on an ongoing basis would cost an additional couple of billion annually – maybe more.  But if the government can find £205 billion for renewing a nuclear arsenal it can never use, it can surely find a few billion to ensure that the NHS continues to work to preserve and maintain the health of all UK citizens as it was originally intended to.

It couldn’t, I think, be done with Hunt at the helm.  Not for any reasons of competence (though he does not  seem very competent to me), but because he has positioned himself as the hard man taking on the NHS.  But with a new face at the top, a positive message and a commitment by treasury to fill the funding gap and to continue to raise the annual health and social care budget to meet growing demand, the government could demonstrate to us Remoaners that Brexit serves all of our interests, just like the message on the side of the bus said.  Who knows?  We might even stop remoaning at last.

Scylla and scyllier

Most of my politics chimes strongly with Jeremy Corbyn’s.  But I don’t support Corbyn as leader of the Labour party.  Neither, for that matter, do I support Owen Smith.  Corbyn cannot speak to the alienated working class and his record as Labour’s greatest ever rebel means that he cannot command – or demand – loyalty in party ranks.  Smith would sell his own grandmother for a sniff of power.

Not that either of them will be remotely concerned about me.  For a start, I don’t have a vote in the leadership election as I left Labour for the Greens in October 2014.  And when the dust has settled – if the dust ever settles – the winner of that contest will have no need to concern himself (shame the ‘him’ is a given) about my vote in the next general election – I will continue to vote for the party which, under the monstrously undemocratic first-past-the-post system, is most likely to unseat the present Tory Government.  And in Keighley, that’s Labour.

The point, as I have said many times before, is that I am an outlier.  And that tends to be the case with my many left-wing, Corbyn supporting friends.  We are practically off the chart when compared with the average voter.  The voters Labour does need to worry about are those who have historically voted Labour, but who voted Tory – or UKIP –  at the last election; and those who may do the same at the next.

We’re in the immediate wake of a disastrous European referendum in which the Tory party was split down the middle and the Prime Minister got the message so wrong that he had to resign.  That was followed by a leadership election characterised by such treachery and blood-letting that it made the Borgias look like the Larkins.  Yet what are press and media talking about?  The Labour leadership crisis, of course.

It serves no useful function to mither about Murdoch and the right wing press & media: that’s crying over spilt milk: and the bias isn’t going to change until the news-buying public wants left-wing slanted reporting, which isn’t going to happen.  More to the point, Labour has gift-wrapped their crisis for the media and tied it off with a big red bow.  While the Tories dispatched their traitors with discreet stillettos, and then immediately closed ranks and bared white teeth to the cameras, the Gangs of New/Old/Corbyn Labour have spilled out into the high street and are not bothering to even hide the axe handles.

A coherent Labour should have made mincemeat of the Tories over the European Referendum.  As it stands, Labour is currently 14% behind the Tories in polling:

(Courtesy of Yougov)

That is abysmal; and both Corbyn & Smith should, in conscience, resign on the strength (or rather weakness) of it.  Neither will.  Of course, Smith can’t win the leadership election and the onus is upon him to withdraw from  the contest, if only to stop Labour being the bloody story.  He won’t.

The Tories’ triumph is in choking back the bile in the knowledge that their political aims are best served first, by achieving power.  Labour’s failure is in not even understanding that, let alone applying it,

Labour’s last chance of redemption is for the entire party to commit behind the winner of the leadership contest – whether that is Corbyn or (unlikely) Smith.  But do I believe either wing is capable of that?  See you on the stump in 2020.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Labour’s right is in an intractable bind.

They believe – profoundly – that Corbyn is unelectable.  They say that his policies and character don’t chime with the voting public.  They believe that he does not occupy the centre ground which is prerequisite to winning a general election.

This bucks the general trend in the Labour party – in a recent Yougov poll, Labour party members support for Corbyn has risen to the extent that a majority of party members – 53% – now believe that he could lead the party to victory.  This, Labour’s right argues (with some justice), is a consequence of the influx of left wing members, attracted (or attracted back) to the party by Corbyn’s policies and agenda.

On a personal level, I can understand that influx.  I used to be a Labour party member, but left in despair at what I saw as the party’s misconceived adoption of the Tories’ austerity narrative under Ed Miliband.  Now, I find Corbyn’s policies – more closely aligned to my own than other party leader of recent times – attracting me back towards Labour.

But I am a political outlier, and what attracts me does not necessarily attract sufficient of the electorate to win power.  To that extent, I have a degree of sympathy with those who wonder whether Corbyn has the capacity to win for Labour.

And there’s the bind.  If, as Labour’s right believes, Corbyn is not currently capable of winning a general election, then there are two strategies open to them.  The first is to get rid of him; the second, to get behind him, to influence him and to make him and the party electable.

The first option seems unfeasible for the time being: as the Yougov poll demonstrates, support for Corbyn within the party is strong, with no alternative potential leadership candidate even coming close.  Besides which, Labour has a lousy history of leadership change, clogged up with prevarication and fudge.  The Tories’ ruthlessly efficient knife-skills put them to shame.

The second option is viable in theory, but seems impossible in practice.  The profound dislike of Corbyn’s politics by Labour’s right and their distrust in his capacity to lead the party to power has grown to the point of hatred; perhaps best illustrated by the increasingly ad hominem nature of their attacks upon him.  And this is by no means one-sided: the Corbynites’ loathing of  the party’s right is just as bitter and as intractable.  From my perspective, both positions seem to have ossified way beyond any basis in rational thought.

The one approach that offers no strategic benefit or tactical advantage is to leave Corbyn in his position as leader, but to continually criticise and brief against him.  It is the worst of both worlds for a party to undermine its own leader and to promote the impression that it is deeply divided.  All parties are deeply divided, of course; but parties perceived as divided don’t win elections.

That last, idiot approach is the one that Labour’s right has currently adopted.  Silly buggers.

Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

In the agony of an unexpected Tory majority government being returned in the general election and the rout of Labour and LibDems, resulting in the resignation of the leaders of both, the columnists, pundits and blogsters have been provoked into a roil of activity.

The corpse of yesterday’s progressive political offer is being dissected in a thousand different ways.  The countless analyses of why Labour’s offer was rejected so emphatically fall broadly into two camps: those that believe Labour under Ed Miliband was too left wing for a risk-averse public, and those that think it wasn’t left wing enough.  That’s a tricky reconciliation for the next Labour leader to negotiate.

Many ask why the pre-election polls got it so dreadfully wrong.  The only answer being proferred so far seems to be that, at least in the last few days, the data didn’t lie, but the pollsters did – the results they were getting in were at such stark variance to the previous polling that they were dismissed as rogue.  If so many people did change their voting intentions at the last minute, it would be interesting to find out why: incumbency effect; something in the Tory approach that struck a particular chord; or a tactical mistake by Labour?

There’s a good deal of comment regarding how we allow social media to construct a protective shell of like-minded opinion around ourselves.  I’ve written about this before, elsewhere.  There’s nothing wrong or artifical about it – it is, after all, only what we do with our circles of real-world friends – but it is slightly different to those analogue friendships.  Social media encourages us to comment immediately on those events that either enrage or delight us; and furthermore, gives us a platform from which we can rant uninterrupted.  We offer our opinions on politics and current affairs far more freely through social media than we do over a coffee or down the pub.

But what I wanted to offer my two penn’orth on is the explosion of comment, written in understandable anger and chagrin, telling voters how wrong they were.  They are mostly variations on three approaches.  Some kindly (if patronisingly) explain the web of Tory lies and flummery that took them in.  The angriest rants attack them for their moral evil, often suggesting that they have been hypocritically concealing their turpitude under the guise of looking like ordinary, decent humans.  Others set out the prospectus of disaster and societal ruination that their selfishness has brought down upon our collective heads.

But explaining to people that they voted incorrectly (or yelling at them for having done so) misunderstands what elections are about.  There isn’t a right or a wrong answer; you can’t vote ‘wrong’.  Before the election, we all knew that; we posted that it didn’t matter who you voted for, the important thing was that you put that X on the paper.  Well, people did: and I and countless others didn’t get the result we hoped for.  But others did.  That’s elections for you.

Yes, we can argue (and I do) that the first past the post system is a piss-poor mechanism for democratic representation; the catch 22 is that any party which achieves, through FPTP, the power to change it, loses the inclination to do so.  You don’t cut the ladder out from under your feet.  But notwithstanding the inadequacies of the electoral system, those of us who are seeking moral and political change for the UK have to recognise that the left’s offer has been firmly rejected by the electorate.  Whilst hurling blame around is a natural response to a shocking disappointment, it is entirely unproductive.  The business in hand is to examine what went wrong, learn from it and set about creating a compelling case that progressive politics is better for everyone.

I quit!

I resigned from the Labour Party today:

I wish to resign from the Labour party.  I joined the party because I was desperate to see some opposition to the Conservative party’s ideological programme of political change.  But Labour – and in particular, the weak and ineffectual Ed Miliband – has failed to meaningfully challenge Tory policies. 

The Labour party is either running scared of the financial sector’s ruthless exploitation of the poorest or worse, running alongside it.  Where is the policy to ban outright the payday lenders?  Why hasn’t Miliband promised that no bank will ever be bailed out by a Labour government; or that there will be a legal cap on executive salaries and bonuses proportional to average company pay; or that the ridiculous vanity project Trident programme will be scrapped at last?

Labour has a few socialist MPs left: Tom Watson, Dennis Skinner and Glenda Jackson, for instance; but the shadow cabinet is dominated by apparatchiks, all too comfortable in the halls of Westminster and completely disconnected from the lives of real people.  I don’t want the next election to offer me a spurious choice between Coke & Pepsi political parties.  I want to vote for powerful, substantive policies that will seek to redress the yawning chasm of inequality that has grown during the tenures of successive governments – Labour as much as Tory – over the last 35 years.

The reason that the repugnant UKIP has grown exponentially in popularity isn’t simply the exploitation of people’s fears and bald, unrealisable lies (though they have done both): it’s also an outright rejection of the cosy Westminster coterie and their intimate, more-or-less corrupt relationship with big business.  If Labour is to reconnect with the people (and to win the next election, it absolutely has to), then the Pepsi politicians of the shadow cabinet have to leave the leather benches and the subsidised cafes and bars of Westminster and spend the next six months in their constituencies, rediscovering what real life is like for the people they are meant to represent.

Abnormal service will be resumed as soon as possible

A friend contacted me the other day to ask why I was so ‘obsessed’ with institutional abuse.  Had I been a victim of it myself?

Well, no, I haven’t.  But her question gave me pause for thought: why do acts of abuse by people in positions of power make me so indignant?  There is a legion of important causes that I could bollocks on about (and sometimes do), but I expend an arguably disproportionate quantity of my bile upon the corrupt practices of politicians, the authorities and the civil service.

It’s that last word that’s key, I think.  All these people are public servants – my servants.  They are sworn or contracted to serve the collective best interests of the people of the United Kingdom.  If they abuse the power I have entrusted to them then I am complicit in their wrongdoing and have some responsibility to address it.  Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, put it well; “He who allows oppression, shares the crime,”

Of course, it’s all too easy for public servants to forget who they are serving, or even that they are serving at all.  When people rub up against money or the law, some – not all – become corrupted by it.  Politicians fiddle their expenses and award lucrative contracts to their friends and donors; members of the Metropolitan Police’s SDS squad deceived women into sexually exploitive relationships and provoked actions which they then prosecuted.  Institutionally racist, homophobic and classist structures tacitly grant their employees the opportunity to express their prejudices through violence, coercion or neglect.

And power defends its own.  When the very institutions that we have established to impose order and decent values upon our society become corrupted, it can be near impossible to impose the rule of law upon its dishonest agents.  Because, like Judge Dredd, it is the law.

We all fear that the coterie of politicians who abused institutionalised children in the seventies and eighties will never be prosecuted (and MI5 have certainly done what they can to insure that they won’t).  We suspect that the families of Jean Charles de Menezes and other victims of botched police operations won’t ever see policemen prosecuted for murder or even manslaughter because the institutions established to administer justice excuse their own agents from the rules they apply to the rest of us.

But we are not powerless.  We have two mechanisms for addressing those wayward servants and restoring them to their duties and responsibilities.  The first is the ballot box.  It may seem remote from the copper stopping and searching disproportionate numbers of black kids, or the ATOS officer cancelling the disability living allowance of somebody dying of cancer, but our government and local authorities form the wellsprings from which stem the attitudes and behaviour of all public servants.  If you aren’t registered or don’t use your vote, then they’re not your servants to command in the first place.

The second means by which we are able to exert some control over our servants is by challenging wrongdoing.  Politicians are obliged to reply to correspondence.  There are complaints procedures for pretty much every public office.  The court of public opinion through press, media and social media can be very influential.

We have to believe that through our own actions each and every one of us can change the world for the better.  The corrupt and dishonourable servants don’t want us to think that we can.  As a better man than me once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Gross Abuse

The conclusion of the second report from Operation Herne, the enquiry examining abuses committed by officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstrations Squad (SDS) whilst operating undercover, states:

“Irrespective of the more recent introduction of RIPA legislation and the improved training and management of undercover officers, there are and never have been any circumstances where it would be appropriate for such covertly deployed officers to engage in intimate sexual relationships with those they are employed to infiltrate and target. Such an activity can only be seen as an abject failure of the deployment, a gross abuse of their role and their position as a police officer and an individual and organisational failing.”

SDS officers such as Bob Lambert and Mark Kennedy do not deny having engaged in fraudulent intimate & sexual relationships – Lambert even fathered and abandoned a child whilst undercover.  It follows, then, that the authors of Herne – the Derbyshire Constabulary – regard the deployments of those officers as ‘abject failures’ and believe that they ‘grossly abused their roles and positions as police officers’. That being the case, why the hell has Lambert still got a place as an academic in two universities and an MBE?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Metropolitan Police are putting every procedural device in the way of the victims of their abuse, who are seeking redress in the High Court.  It seems that gross abuse has just become a habit for the Metropolitan police.

Bob Lambert MBE – What a difference an imminent prosecution makes

It’s an insight into the character of Bob Lambert MBE to see how the language of the odious serial abuser has changed over the last seven days.

In a BBC piece of 28th June in which two of the victims of his abuse told their stories, his statement to Channel 4’s dispatches betrayed not the slightest suggestion that he believed he had done anything wrong:

The work of an undercover officer is complex, dangerous and sensitive and it would take some considerable time and the co-operation of my former police employers to provide the full background, context and detail necessary to address the matters which have been raised.

By the 5th of July, that bullish rhetoric has changed – almost miraculously – to abject apology.

There are two possible explanations for this change of tone.  The first is that after forty years of moral coma and in a span of just seven days, Bob Lambert MBE has undergone a damascene conversion.  He has realised that his activities as a member and later leader of the Metropolitan Police’s utterly discredited SDS squad were morally repugnant.  He is overwhelmed with contrition and the compelling need to make amends to his victims and to the public he was meant to have been serving at the time.

The other possibility is that he is lying.  Could it be possible that Bob Lambert MBE, the man professionally trained by the Metropolitan Police to lie, who lied when he took on the name of a dead child, who lied over many years to people he called his friends and his lovers, who lied when he abandoned his child and who lied under oath in court, is a liar?

Why would he lie?  It’s not hard to suggest a plausible reason.  Bob Lambert MBE is entirely aware that the legal net is finally drawing tight around him and that it is well-nigh certain that he will be prosecuted for his crimes.  He understands that the Metropolitan Police will never publicly endorse the abusive relationships he made to establish his alibis (whether they endorsed them at the time or not).  When they abandon him – as they will – his goose is cooked.  As a policeman (albeit a very bad one) he knows the importance that the expression of remorse prior to conviction plays in determining severity of sentence.

Bob Lambert MBE has demonstrated over many years that his overwhelming interest – the thing that eclipses everything else in importance – is the preservation of his own skin.  It should come as no surprise to anybody that it continues to be his primary concern.

Did I mention – I forget – that Bob Lambert was awarded an MBE in 2008 for ‘services to police work’?

Something rotten in the state

Guardian photo

Adrian Beecroft, Chairman of Dawn Capital, major investors in Wonga, has donated £593,076 to the Conservative Party.

Yesterday, George Osborne announced a seven day delay between somebody losing their job and being able to claim jobseeker’s allowance. It’s an act guaranteed to push more of the country’s poorest into the hands of the payday loan sharks (so much so that the media have dubbed it the ‘Wonga Budget’).

*Five days* prior to Osborne’s announcement, Wonga raised their APR by 1600% to a staggering  5,853%. A remarkable coincidence; almost too remarkable to be credible.

We’re all in it together? Beecroft & Osborne are in it together, up to their fat necks. Corruption of the body politic so pervasive and so foul that the only treatment is amputation.

Ding Dong Merrily on High

The online campaign that has seen Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead riding high in the singles charts following the death of Margaret Thatcher is puerile, tasteless and really quite funny.

Howls of protest led by the right wing press have put the BBC in a bind; should they play Ding-Dong during the ‘Official’ Chart Show on Sunday?  At the time of writing they have announced a  fudge to a classic Auntie recipe ; they will play a clip from it ‘in a news environment’.  A clip from a 52 second song?  It scarcely seems worth the edit.

Personally, I think that the decision to censor the song is both wrong and cowardly. Wrong, because the remit of the Chart Show is to play those songs which currently feature in the charts; cowardly, because the BBC has kowtowed to political pressure.  In order to avoid criticism from the right they have invented a completely new protocol in embedding a news item within the chart show.  Why now?  Over the years, the chart success of dozens of songs has been newsworthy, from Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy becoming the first song to top the chart on downloads, through the campaign to keep Joe McElderry off the number one slot in favour of Rage Against the Machine’s Killing In The Name, to the recent success of the Hillsborough Charity release He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother.

Irrespective of the moral rights and wrongs of the case, what interests me most about the #DingDong campaign is that the song itself is entirely innocuous and has been continually available in one form or another since 1939.  If the song had charted at any time up to the week prior to the death of Thatcher it would have been played without hesitation (albeit with a degree of bafflement).  It’s not comparable to the re-release, say, of the Sex Pistol’s God Save the Queen ahead of the Diamond Jubilee last year; God Save the Queen is an intentionally anti-monarchist rant, and a bloody good one at that.  Ding-Dong is not inherently subversive in any respect, other than by a third-hand association of the song with the intent of those who have purchased it.

This is the nub of the matter.  The decision to censor Ding-Dong is entirely founded upon assumptions made by the BBC executive regarding why people chose to buy it this week.  That they are almost certainly right in those assumptions is largely irrelevant.  What is unique about the BBC’s decision is that they believe they have the right to take action, punitive after its fashion, based on their own suppositions regarding the motivation of those who bought the record.  That, in an entirely literal sense, is Thought Crime.