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Wednesday, February 10, 2016 

Trident and the new online tribes: the song remains the same.

According to no less a person than Ian Dunt, by far the worst thing about Jeremy Corbyn is his online supporters.  This it's worth noting is a claim made about every new political movement's online base, whether true or not. The same has been said, at length, repeatedly, interminably about Cybernats and Momentum.  Now it's notably jumped across the Atlantic, where the "Bernie Bros", young, strident, male supporters of Bernie Sanders supposedly ridicule anyone and everyone, but especially women thinking of voting for Hillary Clinton.  The original article about Bernie Bros could have been almost word for word written about the far noisier contingent (at least from my experience) of obsessive Ron Paul supporters around between 2008 and 2012, and who have since disappeared apparently off the face of the planet.  Or more likely are now supporting Trump.

You don't have to be particularly partial to the views of any of these groups to note those most likely to complain about them are the very people most directly challenged by their emergence.  The most virulent Cybernats will target anyone and anything that opposes independence, but they mainly focus on the already moribund Scottish Labour party.  The main complaints about Momentum were voiced during the debate on bombing Islamic State in Syria, and were wrapped up with criticism of the Stop the War group for doing little more than encouraging lobbying of MPs.  The Bernie Bros meanwhile have been criticised by no less a person than Billy Clinton himself, while supporters of Hillary have repeatedly suggested sexism is the reason Clinton has not already sown up the Democrat nomination, rather than say her support for every war going or her speeches to Wall Street execs in exchange for sackfuls of cash.  That it has since emerged much the same tactics were used against Obama back in 2008, if on a far lesser scale, doesn't seem to have stopped the moaning.

The point is clear, regardless.  The old are hardly likely to take the shock of the new gladly.  The media often finds itself siding with those claiming to be victimised by these online hoodlums, not least because the feedback experience has not on the whole been a happy one.  The Graun recently decided to stop opening comments on articles on Islam, race and immigration because the tenor had become so unpleasant.  Commentators who once only had to stomach the odd letter in green ink suddenly found themselves getting torn to shreds, called every name under the sun for only doing what they had for years.  Some attempted and still do try to engage, while others long since abandoned looking "below the line".  Almost as a whole the "mainstream" media finds itself under siege: apparently loathed and mistrusted by their own readers, increasingly ridiculed and ignored by politicians no longer on the fringes, their business models threatened by the collapse in print advertising and sales, while adblockers and social media timeline rips of their content do similar damage online.

And yet, at the same time, these groups, whether in the media or politics, still leverage remarkable power and often treat their opponents with far more contempt and arrogance than they have been subjected to.  Let's take as an example the debate, or rather lack of, on Trident, although you could just as easily focus on the response to the campaign against the Rhodes statue at Oriel college in Oxford, or practically any other issue where young and therefore stupid seems to come against older and wiser.

Trident it's worth reflecting has never sat easily with Labour, even post unilateralism.  95 Labour MPs voted against renewal back in 2007, leaving Tony Blair to rely on Tory support.  Not much truly has changed since then in the way of the threats we face, while the cost of replacing Trident has even on the lowest estimate increased.  The other change, far more key, is that Labour now has a leader who is against replacing Trident.  This leader has also taken the opportunity to appoint a defence secretary who is like minded, and to commission a review of the party's defence policy, both moves he is fully entitled to make.  Similarly, the party conference was within its right to take a vote on Trident that upheld the position in Labour's 2015 manifesto, to replace Trident.

Which group then do you think is the one screaming about the utter insanity of the other, indulging in shouting matches at meetings of the parliamentary party and chucking around insults at the first opportunity?  Not, as you might expect, the one that was so criticised for talking about blood being on the hands of MPs voting for airstrikes in Syria.  It is in fact the one that is in favour of spending billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction while dismissing every critique, whether it be on cost, the potential for the technology to be out of date before the new class of submarines are so much as built, or on whether or not Trident is relevant in the 21st century.

It could well be right that Emily Thornberry's references to the potential for underwater drones to make the seas "transparent" is, as Lord West apparently phoned the Today programme to say, nonsense.  Lord Hutton (of Furness, which somewhat gives the game away) might be right to quote the former chief of the defence staff Lord Boyce who said we're more likely to put a man on Mars within the next six months than for the seas to become transparent in the next 30 years.  It could also be that there will emerge a technology or new weapons system within the next 30 years that does threaten Trident; 15 years ago we certainly didn't see drones playing as key a role in military action as they do now.  Hutton says you only have to look at those doing the nay-saying now to see through their new arguments for opposing; similarly, you only to have bear witness to the people who believe they know best to recognise this is about far more than just what's ultimately right for the country's defence.

The bluster and language is always the same.  They talk about "multilateral disarmament" while not for a moment believing that it is either possible, or so much as worth spending a moment attempting.  They make as many references as they can to "deterring", "nuclear blackmail" or "our independent nuclear deterrent".  They are not just convinced, they are absolutely certain that the public backs their position of renewal to the absolute hilt and that anything else is electoral suicide.  They might even bring "working people" into it, if they feel the need, just to stress how these middle class do-gooders from London don't understand how Joe Six Pints from Leeds feels about turning our missiles into plowshares.

Not that they can always get their lines straight.  Madeleine Moon, who Cameron today quoted at PMQs following her tweet about the PLP meeting, was daft enough to bring up how it's not just our nuclear weapon, it's also Nato's nuclear weapon.  Obviously it's our completely independent nuclear deterrent, but it's also Nato's totally independent nuclear deterrent.

Moon is still preferable to Jamie Reed MP, who first distinguished himself on the day of Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership by congratulating him and resigning in the same tweetHis piece for the Spectator still needs to be read to be believed.  And even then it's still not believable.  According to Reid, the party has deliberately abandoned political professionalism.  Trident renewal is not just Labour party policy, it is the "settled will" of the country.  This is presumably based on the number of votes parties committed to Trident renewal received at the election.  By the same yardstick there are whole legions of policies we know are hugely unpopular that would also be the settled will of the country, but let's move on.  Renewal is not just right, it is "morally" right.  It's always a bad idea to bring morals into politics full stop, but on Trident?  Blimey.

So it goes on.  "We should take great pride in being the standard bearers for one of Attlee’s most important legacies," Reed says.  The Attlee cabinet was so proud of its own decision that it didn't inform parliament for two years.  There is no credible case for scrapping Trident, Reed continues, and those that claim there is have the gall to call those supporting renewal right-wing!  There's nothing right-wing about protecting skilled jobs, taking pride in those communities or in seeking multilateral disarmament!  In about Reed's only salient point, he remarks there's no point in the party splitting over an issue that can't be influenced from opposition and will in any case be decided by 2020.  But by God, he'll complain about it and make absurd assumptions and generalisations, as it's nothing less than an informed choice to pursue electoral defeat.  "The leadership knows that an anti-Trident policy will lead to rejection at the ballot box. It knows that this is a litmus test of credibility. The leadership knows that an anti-Trident position means taking a pass on power; it’s an open-armed, wide-eyed, deliberate embrace of the wilderness."

In actual fact, the polling rather suggests that while there is a majority in favour of Trident renewal, it very much varies on how you ask the question and especially if you mention the cost.  But Reed obviously knows better, and knows this is the leadership deliberately making the party unelectable.  That's how deranged Corbyn and the leadership are.  Much the same points are made by Rafael Behr in the Graun.  He comments:
 

And everything about the conduct of that debate will accelerate Labour’s spiral away from power because it won’t really be a big, new strategic argument about the future of national defence, and whether Britain should be a nuclear power. It will be an old, parochial little bicker about the party’s torrid history and whether Labour really cares what the majority of people in Britain think.

It's fairly clear which side wants to have a strategic argument about the future of national defence and which wants an old, parochial little bicker.  It's the same side discombobulated by these new groupings, and rather than attempt to understand them, insults them.  It's the same side that as Gary Younge puts it, first derided Corbyn's base and has been throwing a tantrum ever since about being unable to win them over.  It's the same side that views and presents itself as the sensible, progressive one, in tune with the man on the street, while being just as removed as any Bernie Bro or CyberNat.  It's the same side the media has allied itself with, whether improperly or otherwise, and yet still wonders why it's regarded as part of the establishment, the problem rather than the solution.  Delusion affects all sides.  Some just delude themselves to a greater extent than others.

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