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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Friday, June 17, 2016 

We want our country back.

Like I suspect a lot of people, I've spent more than a few minutes over the past 24 hours on the verge of tears.  Seeing Jeremy Corbyn, himself on the brink of tears, speaking of how Jo Cox fought for human rights, justice and peace, and died doing her duty.  Reading the heartbreaking tribute from her husband Brendan, of how she would have wanted her children to be bathed with love, and for the hatred that killed her, that has no race, colour or creed, to be united against.  Watching Stella Creasy, numb with grief over her friend, talk of how she and so many other MPs didn't know how to go on without her.  Thinking of how, despite everything, I never expected an act of such cruelty, targeted against our democracy but aimed at a 5-foot female representative of that democracy, would be perpetrated by the far-right.

Because let's cut the crap straight away.  Yesterday was a day to be overwhelmed, shocked, and to mourn a 41-year-old killed in an act of horrifying violence.  Today everyone should face up to the fact that while it may well have been a murder committed by a "'crazed loner", it doesn't alter how it was also a political assassination.  If Jo's murderer had had brown skin and according to two separate, named eyewitnesses shouted "Allahu akbar", there would have been no hesitation in describing it as a terrorist attack by a jihadist, whether that began to explain what had happened or not.  The knife attack in Leytonstone tube station last December was almost immediately described as a terrorist incident, and it took the Metropolitan police until the end of the trial for them to accept Muhiddin Mire was in fact severely mentally ill, influenced by Syria or not.

What we have already learned about Tommy Mair is enough to say this is something different.  The discovery by the Southern Poverty Law Centre that he spent over $600 on literature from the National Alliance, the neo-Nazi group that published the notorious Turner Diaries, a tract that has motivated numerous far-right individuals into violent action, as well as his subscription to the SA Patriot's newsletter, dating back to the late 90s/early 2000s, suggests a long incubating interest in contemporary fascism.  As Phil has noted on Twitter, the blog post by the SA Patriots asking if anyone knows if Tommy Mair has moved tells us something else: that in 2006 he was sending their newsletters back to them, as his address had not changed.  Allied with the local news coverage of his volunteering, it wouldn't be entirely presumptive to conclude that for a substantial period of time he was in a far happier mental state than he had been previously.

We cannot of course know what changed to prompt him to kill his local MP.  As argued at the time of the Leytonstone stabbing, just because someone shouts something as they do something does not immediately equate to causation.  Something dramatic may well have happened in their personal life, rather than something in the political world.  He could well have shouted Britain First as a justification to himself; equally, his mental health may well have deteriorated to the point where he is not responsible for his actions.

It does though seem more than a coincidence that Mair decided to murder Jo Cox just a week before a referendum on whether to stay in or leave Europe that has been dominated by immigration, where facts have almost always come secondary to fiction.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered one of the few MPs who dared to praise immigration as being overwhelmingly positive.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered an MP at the very centre of the campaign to accept more refugees from Syria.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered an MP in favour of remaining during a campaign where some advocating a Leave vote have done so under slogans about "wanting our country back", saying the only way to "save Britain" is to vote out, where newspapers have run headlines about "putting Britain first".  It seems more than a coincidence that Britain First is a fascist group which recently held an event in the Welsh mountains that if conducted by Muslims would have been described as a terrorist training camp, which last year made clear how it felt "traitors", i.e. anyone to the left of them, should be treated.  It probably is just a coincidence Nigel Farage yesterday launched a poster that actively echoed Nazi propaganda, and has spent the entire referendum campaign seeing exactly how far he can push his rhetoric, to the point where he said the next step if people feeling voting doesn't change anything was likely to be violence.

I am not blaming any of these people, groups or things for Jo Cox's murder.  The only person responsible is the man who wielded the knife and gun, who may or may not be Thomas Mair, and who is innocent until proven guilty.

What has been happening these past few months though has been a campaign of almost unprecendented nastiness, involving former and current prime ministers, chancellors and other senior figures having no compunction in describing independent figures as lying, as being bought by banks or other organisations, who in some circumstances have gone so far as to issue threats.  It has involved newspapers day after day running front pages stoking fears about immigrants, claiming in the face of all evidence that Turkey is set to join the EU, bringing a new wave of brown people to these shores.  Just yesterday the Mail ran a front page claiming that asylum seekers found in a van had asked to be "let in", saying they "were from Europe", which today they accepted was untrue.  It has involved the further coddling of people whose views are always just one step away from being completely beyond the pale.  It has not been a campaign of dog-whistling; it has been a campaign that has been defined by completely open expressions of disgust, contempt and at times, hate.

This low has not just been the responsibility of some politicians and some sections of the media, much as they should take a good, hard look at themselves this weekend.  It's also the responsibility of us, the public.  For far too long many of us have been quiet when we've heard people without the slightest real interest in politics denounce all our representatives as liars, as being all the same, as only being in for it for themselves.  We haven't spoken up to say that in the vast majority of cases it couldn't be further than the truth, to defend those who have always been different, who have always offered an alternative.  It might not be an alternative we agree with, but an alternative it is.

I will always reserve the right to be ferociously critical of politicians, and God knows there are reasons to be so.  What I have tried to do over the past couple of years however is to reject this anti-politics as a whole mood, to argue that it is far more damaging as a cure than the disease itself.  Whether that's come across or been successful I don't know, but I do know that we have a press which finds it overwhelmingly in their interests to regard many of our politicians as crooks, liars and in some cases closet communists, while ignoring or apologising for the the rise of the current wave of populists.

So let's reclaim their slogan.  We want our country back.  I want my country back.  I want the country that I know, that has been vastly improved in almost every way, not just by the post-Windrush wave of immigration, but the immigration of post-2005.  There are problems, but they are solvable.  I want the Britain I know, the Britain of tolerance, of live and let live, to once again be heard.  I want everyone to know, not just here but across Europe and the world that we are not the country this referendum campaign has suggested we are.  Because we're not.  We're so much better than this.  And I deeply hope when I come back the Tuesday after next this will have been proved beyond doubt.

Rest in peace Jo.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016 

They shall not pass.


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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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Monday, June 13, 2016 

The American circle of death.

The horrific massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on the surface looks like an almost exact mix of the Islamic State Paris cell attack on the Bataclan concert venue, and the San Bernardino shooting of last December.  Nothing has been uncovered as yet in the investigation to suggest that Omar Pateen had any direction whatsoever from Islamic State itself, just as nothing has been turned up in the San Bernardino investigation to link Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik to any terrorist group.  Both Pateen/Farook and Malik it seems "pledged allegiance" to IS or its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi either during or immediately before their attacks, but this seems to have been almost an afterthought.  The FBI investigation into Farook and Malik suggests they had "self-radicalised" before IS had so much as emerged; their pledge was little more than an simple explainer as to their motives they knew would be quickly discovered.

In that sense, Pateen and Farook and Malik were relatively odd fish in the modern world of terrorists, spree killers and other murderous narcissists: they usually want us to know exactly why they did what they did, leaving behind videos, manifestos, etc that can swiftly be used by media organisations desperate to fill up airtime once the attack itself has either finished or been brought to an end.  It might well be that Pateen has left behind just such media which will subsequently be discovered, as there is yet to be any confirmation of whether, like Farook and Malik, he destroyed personal effects.  The belief was Farook and Malik did this to cover their tracks, yet no links to others have been found.  At this point it would be a surprise if Pateen did have accomplices: his method screams far more of the lone spree killer motivated by hate than it does of someone who has dedicated themselves to Islamic State.  The briefing since given by James Comey of Pateen claiming to have various connections with al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the Boston marathon bombers rather underlines his confusion and Billy Liar qualities.

Not that this means Pateen wasn't inspired by IS.  He seems to have taken almost as a template the Bataclan attack, and the fact he chose as a target a gay club, somewhere he knew would meet with the approval of the repressed, hateful supporters of IS, is indicative of the impact he wanted his actions to have.  If an Eagles of Death Metal gig at the Bataclan was to the IS propagandists a "profligate prostitution party", you can but imagine how they would describe the Pulse on a Saturday night.  That more than a few on the right of politics in the US have yet to come to terms with homosexuality has only added to the discomfort felt; those who like me can recall the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming 9/11 on, variously, abortion, gays and liberal values in general can but reflect on how if he were still alive Falwell would be trying to comprehend Orlando without his head exploding.

In other senses, the assault on the Pulse is a grim refraction of many recent spree killings.  Pateen used both a semi-automatic assault rifle and a handgun, just as other recent mass murderers have relied on more than a single weapon, with most favouring an M16 or equivalent.  That these guns have no real practical use for hunting and are far too big to be concealed makes no odds to an industry that has poured more and more cash into variations, accessories and customisations.  That Pateen was engaged by an armed police officer providing security at the club also undermines the recent counter-argument made by pro-gun activists that more armed people means such attacks can swiftly be ended.  Unless they're really going to suggest bar and club patrons being allowed into such venues with concealed weapons, an idea so monumentally stupid you wouldn't put it past them, Orlando ought to put such notions to bed.

The fact is that America has chosen to make itself uniquely vulnerable to atrocities like Orlando, San Bernardino and Sandy Hook.  Guns can always be smuggled across borders, and pass through the hands of your average garden variety gangsters to inadvertently end up in the possession of terrorists, as we saw in Paris.  Even in this country we still have the odd Derrick Bird type figure, as tough gun laws are never going to stop those absolutely determined to do harm to their neighbours and themselves.

It's something else entirely though to have gun laws so lax that you can walk into a store, buy a weapon that was designed to be used in war, and then less than a week later kill 49 people with it.  You could argue that Pateen's interactions with the FBI, which seem down more to his being a mouth-breathing boaster than any real links to terrorist suspects should have meant he was barred from holding a licence, and yet the Republicans voted down just such restrictions.  You can argue that the problem seems unique to America, and that other countries with high gun ownership to population ratios don't have the same number of such killings, a notion I don't entirely accept but am open to.  Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal, for one says that gun control is pointless without measures to improve equality.

The choice in other words is no choice.  Hillary Clinton can call for an renewed assault weapons ban, only even if she wins she can no more force a gun-supporting house or senate into voting for one than Obama has been able to.  She could by contrast attempt to do something about inequality, only her husband accelerated the policies began by Reagan that did so much damage in the first place.  With no action on the latter, more and more people will only, as Obama put it, cling on to their guns and religion, with a little hating Muslims and supporting continued wars in the Middle East on the side.  Vicious circle doesn't even begin to cover it.

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Friday, June 10, 2016 


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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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Tuesday, June 07, 2016 

This is how you don't silence journalists in a democratic country.

There are many wonderful things about this Stephen Daisley piece that has been doing the rounds, but for reasons of time and brevity let's just zero in on his thundering conclusion:

But media hatred is not criticism. It is a rage against a world that refuses to work out the way it ought to and replicates a hostility to critical enquiry familiar from earlier forms of populism. The object is not "fairness" or "balance" but complicity by intimidation. The object is to single out journalists like Kuenssberg and, by making an example of them, produce a chilling effect.

Am I sure I want to write this story? Is publishing this sceptical analysis going to fill my timeline with abuse and invective? Look what happened to Laura Kuenssberg. Is it really worth it?

That is how you silence journalists in a democratic country. Not a finger lifted, not a bone broken. Make their job more and more difficult. Make employing them more and more bothersome. Eventually, you'll shut them up or prompt their employer to rein them in. And you won't have to worry about hearing them in the mainstream media anymore.

Once upon a time, journalists used to expect green ink letters, dog shit in an envelope, or exceptionally rarely to never having actually happened, letter bombs.  Actually, that's not true.  Some journalists in democratic countries can potentially face far worse, as we sadly know.  But no, what they really have to fear is an unpleasant timeline.

Abusing journalists as opposed to criticising (some) commentators is rarely worth the effort, not to mention not condonable.  Your average punter might not like the media that much themselves, but if you so inspire your supporters to descend en masse outside a BBC building to protest about perceived biased coverage say, then you start looking ever so slightly unreasonable.

Still, the ironies here are nearly impossible to count.  In his scattergun spray against everything he disdains, Daisley mentions identity politics.  It doesn't seem to matter that Daisley zeroes in immediately on why Kuenssberg has faced abuse and complaints so quickly - it's because she's a woman, obvs.  Actual evidence for the dislike of Kuenssberg, which I am not defending in any way, being based on her gender is extremely thin on the ground, but no matter.  Just throw it in there.  That the media deciding Kuenssberg being hissed was more of a story than Jeremy Corbyn's actual speech doesn't really suggest there's much in the way of silencing going on either.

What's happening more widely is the mixing up of journalists and MPs as though they were one and the same, with strangely the same people, suddenly aware of what some normies and a lot of motivated, hateful shits think of them, wanting something to be done about it.  The Reclaim the Internet campaign, laudable as it is, would make more sense if the internet had ever been a place where wide open spaces invited debate rather than flame wars and abuse.  It hasn't, and probably never will.  Facebook and Twitter are too open and too big to moderate.  This is not a bug; it's a feature.  The internet has always been about subcultures, where groups of like-minded people congregate and either get on or fall out, but did so in a confined space.  Throw a whole load of people of different, competing world-views and backgrounds together on one huge place, remove the barriers to communication, and what do you expect is going to happen?

The fact that journalism is becoming one of the worst possible professions to work in, as hardly anyone wants to pay for the product, allied with how it's so easy for the cunts of this world to scream at you thanks to how the media embraced Twitter only for it to come back and bite them in the arse is merely coincidence.  Actual populism, the kind that sees hateful bastards warn that staying in the EU will raise the chance of women being raped because of all the people with different "attitudes" coming over here, is a threat.  

The "populism" Daisley and friends object to is people daring to speak up against the overly deferential treatment of not the mainstream, but the real, actual establishment, or rather establishments, as there's the political establishment and media establishments, as obviously the Graun/Indie/FT aren't the same as the Mail/Sun/Express/Times/Telegraph.  The coverage say that for so long treated Farage, a populist if he wasn't such a pompous prig, with kid gloves.  Farage has had a far better press than Corbyn, and I'll leave it up to you which one is the more radical.

Such though are the biases we've long got used to, for better, for worse.  What really grinds the gears is when the bosses of the Daisleys of this world piss on my head and then he and others like him insist I'm the one doing the pissing.

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Monday, June 06, 2016 

Does anyone understand politics anymore?

Andrew Sparrow is good enough in his latest politics live blog to admit he sometimes feels like he doesn't understand politics anymore.  How could anyone claim to understand politics when polling suggests that Boris Johnson is now the most trusted figure in the EU referendum debate?  Admittedly, by most trusted we essentially mean least not trusted, as he has a net figure of minus 26, yet that's still 25 points above David Cameron.  And amazingly, Boris Johnson's figure has improved over the past two months.

These figures are practically meaningless, of course.  They're not really rating trust, they're rating popularity.  Nicola Sturgeon is second most trusted, and she's said almost nothing of any consequence on the referendum, except to make clear how she would obviously be doing a much better job of losing than Cameron currently is.  As discussed before, the referendum has practically turned into a matter of all or nothing for Dave: he wins, he can stay in power for at least a little longer.  He loses, he resigns.  If there's any in-between, there's been no evidence of it.  He can talk all he likes about staying on regardless of the result; he can hardly say any different.  Everyone knows he's a goner if it's Leave, not least as it should be up to the Leavers to make a go of the negotiations with the EU.  They wanted out, they campaigned for it, they should be the ones tasked with making their claims of things only getting better freed from the confines of the EU a reality.

Johnson's triumph, despite as Sparrow outlines issuing a constant stream of half-truths to outright whoppers seems indicative of where we are currently.  All politicians are liars; all involved are scaremongering; only those impervious to practically all attacks can hope to rise above it.  That Johnson has been twice sacked for dishonesty only seems to demonstrate how superior he is at lying, being found out, and recovering regardless.  Most lesser mortals would have been done for the first time, not managed to be in with a massive shout of becoming prime minister while claiming that bananas can't be sold in bunches of more than 3.

It almost makes you wonder if the key is to lie big and as often as possible, just combine it with what looks to be a positive case.  Boris and chums spent today claiming not just there would be a "triple whammy" should we remain, with all three parts of the whammy swiftly debunked, but also that you can only guarantee long-term prosperity with democracy and freedom.  This is an incredibly dubious argument, undermined not least by how China to name but one country has combined lack of basic freedoms with a growth rate the envy of the rest of the world.  History suggests that a growing middle class will eventually demand greater freedoms to the detriment of authoritarian governments/rulers, only this has yet to come to fruition.  Nonetheless, much as the claims of lack of accountability, with bureaucrats making decisions in Brussels we can't influence are incredibly overblown, they still resonate.  You can't be against democracy.  You can't be against freedom.  You don't want to be under the control of a remote elite more interested in continuing to concentrating power than anything else.  Why not take back control?

That it's snake oil doesn't matter when snake oil seems preferable, at least for the moment, to a constant diet of doom.  Both Vote Leave (PDF) and Stronger In (ditto) issued dossiers today; even the merest glance at the two makes clear that Stronger In's, while still listing the most hyperbolic predictions of what could happen if we leave, is easily the more based in reality.  Facts though seem irrelevant, even as voters demand them; the facts we really want depend on our biases.   Very few of us are completely ignorant of the arguments; that is not to say though the arguments we're aware of are not themselves ignorant.  One might hope the intervention of the Institute for Fiscal Studies today, making clear Michael Gove was misrepresenting its finding that leaving would save £8 billion a year, albeit an £8 billion that would very quickly melt away if the economy declined as they believe might have some impact, but probably not.

Nor is there much hope when as Leave put it, Cameron appeared alongside a host of losers.  Natalie Bennett has been hopeless as leader of the Greens; Harriet Harman was such a success as interim Labour leader she massively helped Corbyn to victory; and Tim Farron hasn't even started to begin the rebuilding process the Lib Dems need to go through.  Who currently undecided could possibly be persuaded by any of these figures?  Has Remain gone too early with its economic campaign?  Has the scaremongering had the opposite effect?  Are the polls suggesting a shift to Leave wrong or merely the equivalent of what happened in Scotland, where Yes received a boost late on only to fall far short?

My own feeling, so wrong last year, is that Leave really could win this, helped by how Leave voters are more motivated to turn out than Remain supporters.  I hope I'm wrong, and I'd be lying to say I haven't shifted before; my initial feeling was the coalition the Tories formed to win the election were likely to be natural Leavers, only to be placated by the polls.  Anyone claiming to be certain at this point is either a liar or a fool.  I just fear Leave has the edge, with all the potential implications that has.

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Saturday, June 04, 2016 

Fission chips.

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Thursday, June 02, 2016 

Not everything is about you.

In the latest development in the everything is Labour's fault meme, the last couple of days has seen first the Times and then the Graun ascribe the apparent dip in the fortunes of Remain to the party "failing to pull its weight".  If only Corbyn and friends were out there campaigning night and day, putting their message across to all the Labour voters across the country rather than leaving it to Dave and his shitty mates, then clearly all would be well.

As with most of the criticisms of Corbyn's Labour, there is a smidgen of truth to this.  Yes, Labour could be doing a bit more.  Yes, it could be making its case more forcefully.  By doing so though, does it risk getting associated with a campaign that is essentially internecine warfare between the Cameron leaning Tories and the UKIP leaning Tories, and doing more harm to itself than good in the process? Also yes.

And then we have the media's own agenda when it comes to the EU vote.  No bones about it, the actual debate stripped of the histrionics and personalities is as dull as ditchwater.  While Alan Johnson's campaign is more in line with Remain in general, the one being ran by the leadership itself is attempting to play it reasonably straight.  Which is boring.

It didn't make much difference then that today's speech by Corbyn was easily his most significant intervention yet.  He made clear that while Labour is foursquare in favour of the EU, the party is only supporting Remain with the intention of reforming the organisation from within.  He will veto the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership if Labour is in power come 2020, and made clear that he fears if Leave wins, whichever Tory ends up leader will gut the workers' rights we owe to the EU.  He and the rest of the shadow cabinet won't share a platform with the Tories on the basis of the rest of their policies, and he criticised the idea that Leaving would result automatically in a recession.

In other words, he walked the same line he has throughout.  Everyone knows he isn't the biggest fan of the EU and he's not pretending to be.  His position is pragmatic: leaving is the wrong choice, but it wouldn't be the biggest disaster in the history of the world.  The Tories are a far greater problem, which they are.  He isn't going to make the same mistake Scottish Labour did and hitch his party to a campaign that will damage it far more than it will its main constituent.

What then has the media decided is the biggest story from the speech?  That "Corbyn supporters", not Labour supporters notice, hissed Laura Kuenssberg when she asked an question.  The BBC is about the only organisation giving the speech itself a higher billing.  The most ocular proof yet of Labour's misogyny, on top of its obvious antisemitism?  Err, not really, as ITV's Chris Ship was booed as well when he questioned whether Corbyn had been half-hearted in his support for Remain up to now.  As Corbyn responded, this also depends on the media's decision of what to cover.

And obviously, the reaction of those present to a journalist is far more newsworthy than the contents of yet another lecture from Uncle Tom Corbo.  Do I really have to say it's daft to boo or hiss a journalist, as it is, especially one from the BBC?  That it is doesn't make that the story, unless hacks have no intention whatsoever of playing by their own rules, which they don't.   You don't have to think there is some great get Corbyn campaign to realise portraying him and his supporters as not playing by the accepted rules is much to their advantage with their other anti-Corbyn sources.  That one "senior Labour figure" was briefing after the speech that Corbyn "had just sabotaged the Remain campaign", about the most obtuse possible reading you could make of it just sums up how spiteful such people are determined to be.

One of the reasons there has been a change of attitude towards journalists, deserved or not, is they so often seem determined to make everything about them.  Criticism of Labour from a media overwhelmingly biased against the party, let alone under the leadership of Corbyn is expected.  What's going beyond that is to criticise, and then try to shift the story when Corbyn does precisely what was asked of him.  Everything is not always about a self-obsessed media, just as it isn't always about a self-absorbed political class.  A few egos being punctured every now and again wouldn't hurt, only it's usually just the one side that gets it in the neck.

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