Thursday, July 14, 2016 

Here we go gathering nuts in July.

Whenever journalists wet their pants over a speech, you can guarantee it will fall apart within hours.  They did it time and again over Tony Blair's conference speeches, ditto for David Cameron's, and especially George Osborne's budgets. 

Lord, did they repeat the Pavlovian routine last night.  Never mind that Theresa May's address outside Downing Street was almost word for word the same as the one she gave on Monday morning, only for it be immediately overshadowed by Andrea Leadsom's withdrawal from the race; here it was again, regurgitated and reheated, and still it was lapped up.  Never mind that every Tory leader starts out by promising to govern for the toiling masses, for the troubled and the woe begotten, to bring hope where there was previously despair; this time it will obviously be different.  How can Labour possibly hope to compete faced with a newly centrist government, led by a ruthless and yet still compassionate leader, now focused on improving the life chances of the squeezed middle and below?

Err, by meaning what they say rather than spinning a line, by chance?  Theresa's warm words have not exactly been reflected by her appointments to the cabinet; of all those promoted or brought in from outside only Damian Green can you call a true Tory liberal, and he's be given one of the shittiest sticks of all as work and pensions secretary.  Whether he continues with Iain Duncan Smith's cherished universal credit scheme, a clusterfuck of a programme if there ever was one, not to forget the other benefit cuts still meant to be coming into force will be one of the first signs of whether she intends to pay so much as lip service to what she said last night.

Before we continue, can we have a millisecond of silence for the Cameron set?  That's enough.  Again, the response to the sacking of Osborne, Gove, Crabb, Letwin et al has been to marvel at May's brutality and lack of sentiment.  A moment of thought would suggest now is the best time to get rid of the failures, as that's what they are by the goals they set themselves.  The Goves might not currently be speaking to the Camerons, but you can guarantee that now what's done is done it won't be long before the the hatchets are buried.  Moreover, Gove and Cameron had both signalled a shift towards the beginnings of criminal justice reform, something May has never shown the slightest interest in.  Keeping the Sun and Mail on side by junking it before such notions had even got off the ground makes perfect short-term sense for May, if none whatsoever in the longer-term when prisons are on the edge of anarchy.

Similarly, when better to get rid of the completely useless than now?  The bewilderingly over-promoted Nicky Morgan was a sacking waiting a reshuffle, while any worth John Whittingdale offered has long since evaporated, especially when at the outset at least it's an idea to get on the BBC's good side.  This obviously doesn't explain why Jeremy Hunt has stayed in position at health, one explanation being he's so poisoned the well that whomever drinks from it will be similarly afflicted.  Nor is it immediately understandable why Priti Patel has been given international development when only a couple of years ago she suggested abolishing the department, unless that's the idea, or why Andrea Leadsom, aka both the worst minister and leadership candidate ever has been given the environment brief.

As the idea that you punish someone by giving them a job they claimed they could do better when they clearly can't just doesn't work.  Brexit can't mean Brexit if Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox make a complete balls up of it.  Davis is a likeable character in many ways, principled and a sceptic of the securocrats when such a thing remains highly unpopular, but the best man to get the best deal from the EU when his claims are a slightly more sophisticated BUT THEY WANT TO SELL US CARS?  Where is the sense in creating a whole new department for the disgraced Liam Fox when he shouldn't be trusted in charge of a dachshund, let alone international trade?  Johnson as foreign secretary can only be May deciding to keep her friends closer and her enemies even closer, as Johnson is the obvious successor should she fall under a bus: better to have him next to her than scheming from the backbenches.  She also seems to be presuming that giving him a serious job will stop his clowning around, a forlorn hope if there ever was one.  Thinking the three Leavers will cop the blame if there is either no deal or a terrible one is a fantasy: the PM owns the responsibility.  As party management, it might work.  For the rest of us, it should fully underline how fucked we are.

We are then supposed to imagine a more egalitarian line is to emanate from a cabinet dominated by those on the hard right.  We are meant to expect a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few, when money will inevitably become tighter even than it was before.  We are told to put out of our minds 6 years of failure, the promises of strong, stable government, and instead rejoice in the opportunities coming our way courtesy of trade deals bigger than any we could possibly have contemplated, let alone made before.

Who wants to be the first to shout Mayday non-ironically?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016 

Our worst post-war prime minister.

In retrospect, you can pinpoint precisely the moment when it became clear what a David Cameron premiership would mean.  Not during the 2010 election campaign, when his disembodied head started out from billboards, promising that he would cut the deficit, not the NHS.  Certainly not when he went off on his husky adventure, or when we learned that as part of his eco man of the people act that his papers came behind him in his car as he cycled to the Commons.  It wasn't when he said he would do his best to stop his party banging on about Europe, at the same time as he took it out of the main Conservative grouping in the European parliament.  It wasn't when he was making so much, alternately, about creating a big society from out of our broken society, both policies that practically nothing came of.

No, it was back as Tony Blair finished his last PMQs and the government benches rose almost as one to applaud a man who had won elections but had repeatedly brought his party to the brink of mutiny for his own ends, when Cameron ordered his side to join the ovation also.  Cameron, George Osborne and the rest of his clique desperately wanted to emulate much of what had made Blair so formidable an opponent, if not his policies.  They weren't so much acknowledging Blair's achievements as prime minister as much as they were recognising his qualities as a leader, his ability to play the press at its own game, to make those formerly instinctively opposed to Labour change their opinion.  They wanted all of it, but for their own ends.

It obviously didn't work out like that.  Cameron leaves Downing Street nowhere near as loathed as Blair had become by the end, but with even less in the way of achievements to his name.  He never so much as came close to touching Blair's ability to transcend politics, to being able to find the right soundbite at the right time, even if he always sounded plausible.  He never won the grudging respect of his party as Blair did, was never able to force them down his path; quite the opposite in fact.  He never so much as managed to win a mandate as large as Blair did for his third term in government, let alone the first two landslide Labour victories.  Had he managed to convince the country to give him that sort of scale of victory in 2010, it's difficult to see how much of what went wrong for him would have taken place.

This emphasis on Blair and Labour is for the reason that in time, it's likely to be come to be seen that Cameron's Conservatives merely followed on where a Blairite Labour party would have taken the country anyway.  Very few of Labour's reforms, both economic and social, have been overturned in the past six years.  The major ones have in fact been expanded by the Conservatives.  Not all schools will be forced to become academies as was until recently the plan, but most non-primaries are already.  Free schools, the pet project of Michael Gove, are a further extension of the ideas behind academies, just freed completely from centre control.  The pledge during the 2010 election to not impose further top-down reforms on the NHS, as had been the Blairite way, was abandoned within weeks.  Andrew Lansley's establishing of clinical commissioning groups is already widely viewed as a distraction from the problems that an ageing population are putting on the health system, a problem exacerbated further by the spending squeeze necessitated by austerity.

Cameron's victories weren't so much as his as they were those of his media advisers, Lynton Crosby especially.  The Conservatives focused unyieldingly on the economy and the deficit, to the point where the public came to believe that Labour's spending rather than a global banking crisis had been the cause of the recession.  This allowed Cameron and Osborne to put in place an economic policy that by the goals set out by the pair themselves they failed utterly to achieve.  The deficit was meant to have been eradicated before 2015 in order to provide for some election giveaways; in fact, post-Leave, the refined goal, to have a surplus by 2020, has been abandoned entirely.  Austerity is set to be with us for even longer.

The second victory, which again with the Leave vote has come back round to trap them, was the identifying of a significant shift in the British temperament after the crash.  An anger that was always there metastasised, directed not so much at the top of society but at those below, seen as freeloading and getting something for nothing, whether they were benefit claimants or immigrants.  Labour had again began to put in place the policies the Tories under Cameron expanded upon: the retesting of all those on incapacity benefit, now put onto employment and support allowance, a policy since found to not save money, and the expansion of workfare, with Labour's Future Jobs Fund replaced with a myriad of schemes ran by private companies.  A cap on benefits, indifferent to extraordinary temporary circumstances and the needs of large families was established, while those claiming housing benefit judged to have more bedrooms than they needed were penalised under the "spare rooms subsidy", a policy meant to incentivise claimants to move, but where to was never explained.  These policies had almost no impact whatsoever on public perception of where money on social security was spent (overwhelmingly on pensions and those genuinely in need, rather than the unemployed and feckless) unsurprisingly when the rhetoric of clamping down on those getting "something for nothing" never changed.

Cameron's greatest success, pyrrhic as it would turn out, was the small majority he unexpectedly won last year.  A campaign that focused almost entirely on the recovery of the economy, a recovery already under way when he became prime minister, asked the electorate if they could trust a Labour party that refused to accept it had been responsible for the crash.  It compared the strong, stable leadership of Cameron with the simultaneously weak and brutal Ed Miliband, in the pocket of the SNP, bound to give way to those same loathed wasters, yet prepared to stab the country in the back if that's what it took.  The victory paved the way for a referendum he never expected to call, along with the introduction of policies he believed were to be to bartered away in a second round of coalition negotiations.

Oddly, Labour's derided and abandoned manifesto was quickly pilfered by Cameron and Osborne (and since also by Theresa May), with one of the few policies Cameron spoke of today taken almost directly from it.  The national living wage, despite being no such thing and only just having been introduced, was one of Cameron's boasts.  He talked of the increase in employment and the recovery, both things that would have undoubtedly taken place under any government.  He brought up the introduction of gay marriage, despite it being loathed by a substantial number of Tory MPs, and again was little more than an obvious expansion of Labour's civil partnerships.  One of the few unqualified successes of his premiership is the increase in overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP, yet it's another policy unpopular with some on the backbenches, and one hardly guaranteed to last long under his successor.

Just though as Iraq will be with Blair always, so too will the EU referendum with Cameron.  In many ways a lucky prime minister, Cameron never faced a true crisis.  When one of his own making arrived he resigned, just as he would have had the Scottish independence vote gone the other way.  His actions that morning, to instantly call for English votes for English laws, made clear his contempt for any attempt at reconciliation.  It's no surprise then he maintains he leaves the country stronger than when he arrived; perhaps he has come to believe his own propaganda that Britain was on the precipice, on the road to becoming another Greece as he entered Number 10.

In reality, Britain looks weaker and more divided than at any time since the 70s.  The new prime minister insists "Brexit means Brexit", ignoring the wishes of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, with it seeming only a matter of time before the former becomes independent.  Cameron made clear his preference today for the UK remaining in the single market, but whether that can be achieved when May has said she favours restricting free movement whatever the cost is dubious in the extreme.  England is split between a prosperous south east and a north that has been in decline for over 30 years, although the same could be just as easily said about the difference between the major cities, the M4 corridor, and everywhere else.  Cameron's austerity has only further exacerbated those differences, with the jobs that Labour provided in the public sector replaced if at all by precarious part-time ones or others on zero hour contracts.  If Labour papered over the cracks, then the Tories tore down that veil and boasted about it.  Cameron may not have created the attitude towards welfare and immigration that rose after 2008, but he did everything to ride it, including making promises he knew he could not keep.  In the end it cost him his job.  The rest of us are being left to pick up the pieces.

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Monday, July 11, 2016 

Eagle and May: the absurdity intensifies.

Poor Angela Eagle.  Jeremy Corbyn was the least likely leader of Labour, didn't for a moment expect he was going to win, but at least he's always believed in what he was doing.  Watching the tragic Eagle dumped in front of the media, trying desperately to persuade herself she agrees with what she's saying, let alone the few journos who hadn't decamped to see Andrea Leadsom flounce off is another of those "like watching a lion rape a sheep, but in a bad way" moments.  Eagle at the best of times looks as though she's on the verge of bursting into tears; so do I, come to think of it, but then I'm not challenging to become the leader of the opposition.

If it weren't for the unreality of the last 18 days, this would surely have been the most patently lysergic interlude of the year thus far.  Eagle looks for all the world as though she's about to launch into selling us a timeshare not in a holiday property, but in Avon products.  Buy shares in Real Leadership by Angela.  Except that doesn't say Angela, surely?  It looks more like Arscle.  Why does the capital A join with what is meant to be an n?  Why is it pink?  Why?  Just why?  They had two weeks to come up with something, and this is it?

We ought to give Eagle the benefit of the doubt.  She clearly doesn't believe for a moment in what she's doing, but she is doing it for what she thinks are the best of reasons.  The real opprobrium needs to be heaped on whoever it is pulling the strings and doing such a lousy job of it.  Are they really all such fucking cowards that none of them are prepared to stand up themselves?  The reasoning presumably is that Eagle is one of the few figures in the party vaguely on the left who might be able to bring some Corbyn-backers away, more so than say a Yvette Cooper, despite Cooper being a far more obvious leader than Eagle.  Or is the plan still to try and deny Corbyn from even being on the ballot, with Eagle the unlikely assassin who then gives way to the real candidates?

No one knows, not even it would seem the plotters.  You would assume they have applied the Kinnock test, not least as the parliamentary Labour party was apparently en masse moved to tears by the beauty of his peroration last week.  Ed Miliband (some might recall that Neil Kinnock's reaction on Miliband's election as leader was to declare "we've got our party back") failed to pass the supermarket test according to Neil, as voters told him they wanted to vote Labour, but couldn't for Ed personally.  Corbyn fares even more poorly, with a fitter on the docks in Cardiff calling him "weird".  How on earth do they imagine Eagle is going to fare?  She doesn't even look confident in herself for crying out loud.  What happens if Corbyn is still on the ballot?  Assume that Corbyn is still on it and against all the odds Eagle wins.  Unless Labour hasn't noticed, the near entirety of the right-wing press has very quickly declared Theresa May to be the reincarnation of Thatcher, Churchill and Boudica combined, the kind of warrior for truth, justice and the British way we've all been yearning for during these barren years of Cameronite hegemony.  Any affection they might have for Eagle dispensing with Jezza will disappear in an instant, and we'll be back to the headlines, only altered slightly, that every Labour leader gets (COMMUNIST EAGLE WANTS TO NATIONALISE PREMIER LEAGUE/NON-BALD EAGLE FAILS TO TAKE FLIGHT/EAGLE DEMANDS RIGHTS FOR VEGETABLES etc).

For May it is.  All memories of the last two instances when parties appointed leaders unopposed have it seems been banished, as in neither case were Michael Howard or Gordon Brown the greatest of successes.  Others might also recall the Tories demanded an election when Brown was in effect given a coronation, and then had much fun with their "Bottler Brown" jibe.  May we're told is not considering an election, despite how she has stated repeatedly that "Brexit is Brexit".  Hadn't it ought to be put to the voters if that is still their feeling considering the turmoil of the past 18 days, the changing of leaders, the resignations, the plotting, the everything?  Shouldn't voters be asked to give their approval to what the exit plan turns out to be at the very least, especially when May said today that bringing freedom of movement to an end was more important than staying in the single market?  While some might well have taken the question on the ballot to be "Do you think the UK should be economically crippled because you're a racist cunt? Yes/No", I'm fairly certain it wasn't.

Impossible as it is to feel even slightly for Leadsom, as she knew full what she was doing with the comments on Theresa May's lack of children, you can't also help but wonder how the May media consensus developed so quickly.  The Times described Leadsom as lacking "judgment, knowledge and decency".  Really?  Compared to whom, and what?  The Theresa May who informed the world a man escaped deportation because he had a cat?  The Theresa May who the Telegraph, yes, the Telegraph lambasted for her absurdly right-wing conference speech last year on immigration and asylum?  The Theresa May who had ultimate responsibility for the chronic problems at the Yarl's Wood detention centre?  If the media are having second thoughts about leaving the EU, then unless they know something we don't there doesn't seem to be any room for manoeuvre.  Can it really be be purely down to May being the best of a very bad lot when they've had no problem plumping for monomaniacs and fanatics in the past?

If she meant at least some of what she said in her speech this morning, a massive if considering it was as much as meant to be a pitch to Tory members as it was the country, you could conclude May might be something of an improvement on Cameron.  Only all those suggestions of reforms are undermined by her insistence on leaving the EU, and doing so potentially in the stupidest, most damaging way possible.  Again, this might have been a sop to those who voted Leave.  If not however, it only underlines how disenfranchised those of us who don't think a Leave vote based on a campaign of lies and xenophobia, lead by politicians who have since defenestrated themselves should be taken as final.  With Corbyn also making clear that Labour under him would campaign for leaving the EU, albeit with the best possible deal for the country, it leaves us where?  With the Lib Dems, who contributed heavily to us being in this mess?  Hoping some Labour figure emerges who isn't a stooge, that can unite the party and bring the country along with them?

On second thoughts, I think I'll just say fuck it and move to a country with sensible politics.  I hear Swaziland's nice this time of year.

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Thursday, July 07, 2016 

Leadsom balloon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, July 06, 2016 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, July 05, 2016 

The monster always ends up killing its creator.

You can practically stop reading Rafael Behr's account of how Remain lost the referendum at the part where you learn Stronger In's head of strategy was Ryan Coetzee, aka the Lib Dems' 2015 campaign manager.  For those who have forgotten, the wizard wheeze of the Lib Dems last year was to equally protect us from the austerity monomaniacs of the Tories and the spendthrift ways of Labour.  Coetzee and Clegg decided 2015 was the time to tack to the centre at the precise moment as the centrist consensus was breaking down.  It won them 8 seats.

Not that they were the only ones.  David Cameron and George Osborne it seems were convinced their election campaign and manifesto were also of the centre.  They weren't.   The Tory manifesto was the most right-wing in a generation.  The Tory campaign, as well as predicated on making Ed Miliband out to be weak, was based around portraying Labour as a soft touch on immigrants, benefits, the deficit and so on.  Labour was trapped (and still is) as no one believed the "controls on immigration" ploy and it outraged its core metropolitan support.  As argued here passim ad nauseum, the Tory dedication to soaking the boomers while letting Labour have the youth vote worked because their sympathisers vote in blocs and are much more likely to turn out.  All the factors that were in their favour at a general election were against them in the referendum.

Indeed, essentially it was the Tories' tactics against Labour at the election that came back and did for our membership of the EU.  That mild-mannered weirdo Ed Miliband would happily stab the country in the back if it meant power, said Michael Fallon.  Labour would consign the recovery George Osborne's policies had delayed to oblivion.  Labour's incredibly mild manifesto was dangerous radicalism.  Had we ended up with another hung parliament rather than a small Tory majority, it's extremely unlikely a referendum would have been called.

No one on the remain side it seems looked at how the Tories won and saw the warning signs.  Hubris, arrogance, stupidity, and the same old reliance on focus groups and modelling blinded them to what some of us saw: that Britain has become a nastier, ever more divided and atomised nation, where anger and hate have started counting for more than muddling through.  The Tories rode the tiger without realising they wouldn't be able to control it forever, blasé about how they were bringing politics ever closer to the gutter.  Just two months ago they were describing the campaign against Sadiq Khan as just the rough and tumble of politics, happy to poison the well, as they knew Zac Goldsmith had no chance of winning.

They somehow didn't imagine those same tactics of mendacity and character assassination coupled with fanatical levels of bias from the right-wing press would end up being used against them.  Or at least, this is if we're to believe Behr's account.  Could the entire Remain campaign have been been so naive, so unprepared for what was always going to be an incredibly dirty and nasty few months of political infighting?  Or is Behr's article an attempt after the fact by the Remainers to excuse their lamentable failure, only one executed so cackhandedly that it makes them all seem like complete fools?

Because it is as the Rodent says unintentionally hilarious, such is the level of apparent disbelief that it could have turned out this way.  Best of all is the complaint from a "Cameron aide" that if someone on the left had rubbished the Bank of England as corrupt and part of the biased establishment, they would have been flayed alive by the BBC.  As they would have been.  Leave however got away with it barely being questioned.  Proving what?  That the BBC should call out bullshit regardless of its source?  Let's not get carried away here, right?

This is the real story of the Leave win: that every ploy of the media managers, spin doctors and ad agencies was turned against the previous winners and users, either Labour or Conservative, in the aid of a cause that none of those in charge of the Leave campaign truly, unequivocally believed in.  It's turned out to be the final victory of the art of political warfare over the substance.  The exact same people who previously lapped it up did so again, only rather than plump for one section of the political class over the other, they voted to screw those they were told were the establishment by the establishment.  And lo, did everyone get screwed.

The Leave vote wasn't then in any real sense a revolution, as Behr says, albeit a revolution where the Tory party continues to govern.  It was rather the logical conclusion of where politics as practised has been leading us for some time.  The post-truth, post-fact world talked of, the remarkable irony being that it has arrived at a time when it has never been easier to find objective takes on who is and isn't talking bollocks.  Most people just aren't interested enough, whatever they tell pollsters or focus groups.  What they do know is what's in the tabloids, on their Facebook timeline, on the TV, and talked about by friends and relatives.  It sure isn't politics of the kinder and gentler variety.  It's the politics of seething anger, spite, jealousy, xenophobia and often outright despair.  The referendum gave them a great big mug to pour all these grievances into.  We're meant to believe the very architects of this didn't see it coming.  The reality is the monster always ends up killing its creator.

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Monday, July 04, 2016 

Bargaining chips.

Over the past week and a bit, there have been more than a few occasions where it's seemed as though we've stumbled through the looking glass.  That Jeremy Corbyn is still Labour leader, over a week after the world's worst coup, with journalists insisting a challenge will come, just a bit after they first proclaimed that it was definitely definite that a candidate would put themselves forward, is but one of many bizarro events.  Personally I hope Jezza is hanging on purely until the publication on Wednesday of the Chilcot report, in order to call from the dispatch box for Tony Blair to be indicted at the Hague.  Corbyn will then flash v for victory, yell peace oot, and disappear in a flash of smoke, never to be seen again.

All things considered mind, today's urgent question in the Commons by Gisela Stuart, she of Leave and the morning after the night before wake press conference really took the cake.  Having lain down with dogs, she duly stood up to complain about the fleas.  Could it really be possible the government would not guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK would be protected whatever happens?  Yes, responded James Brokenshire, echoing both David Cameron and Theresa May.  This will be a decision for the next prime minister, regardless of how unlikely it is that anyone will be asked to leave, and how refusing to make that clear will do nothing whatsoever to stop those emboldened by the Leave vote from telling anyone having the gall to speak foreign to go back to where they came from.

People should not be bargaining chips, Stuart said.  Which is even odder.  People have been bargaining chips for as long as I can remember.  When we talk about immigration we are talking about people, however much we pretend not to be.  Immigrants are not a congealed mass; they are individuals.  If you didn't want EU migrants to be turned into bargaining chips, then you really shouldn't have encouraged the belief that a vote to Leave would be anything like a vote to Take Back Control.  Oh, but Anne Main, another Leave supporter said, no one so much as suggested that migrants already here would be sent back or deported.  Well no, they didn't say that in such exact terms, but it seems strange so many who voted Leave got the idea from somewhere that doing so would at the very least send a clear message that such people were not welcome.  UKIP campaigned expressly on the slogan "we want our country back", a sentiment so double edged that it wasn't a dog whistle so much as Farage standing in front of a giant poster of huddled brown masses, embossed with the words "BREAKING POINT".

Queerer still is how politicians beyond the likes of your Jo Coxes and Corbyns suddenly have kind words to say about migrants.  The same ones are doubtless saying so at the exact same time as they murmur on how the vote means freedom of movement must either end or be drastically curtailed under any deal, with some going so far as to say leaving the single market would be better than having to accept freedom of movement, but still, it's something, isn't it?  Anyone might have thought they almost feel something approaching responsibility for the fallout from the vote, from how for years they stoked up the question of immigration until it became so toxic it ended up devouring the question of membership of the European Union whole.  Who knows, perhaps a few like Stuart even do feel sorry.  Not that it makes things any better.

In line with all the other leading politicos who, succeeding in bringing us to this low ebb have since decided they'd rather be off wanking in front of a mirror, Nigel Farage today did the indecent thing, following Cameron and Boris through the irresponsibility door.  His life's work achieved, Farage now wants nothing better than to relax and take stock, looking forward to his inevitable demise through auto-erotic asphyxiation.  That he's resigned twice before only to return to his adoring public is no indication that he'll be back for another battle some time in the future, oh heavens no.  This time he means it when he says he wants his life back.  Yes, back to those halcyon days when he could have a pint without being called a cunt by some cultural Marxist, or needing to laugh along at the racist jokes told by bar room bores even more tedious than himself.  Who could possibly begrudge him a quiet retirement now that he's banjaxed the hopes and dreams of so many?

Boris Johnson is in a similar position.  There he was, leading a sensible, traditional campaign where no one got roughed up, and suddenly he's getting called a c and a w too!  What is it our "nose-ringed friends", these "north London radicals" love so much about the EU he asks in his latest Telegraph column, which is in fact nothing more than a reprise of his entire Leave campaign shtick, complete with 5 point non-plan for what should happen now.  His last point of said plan is that our future is very bright indeed, whatever that beatnik Bob Geldof says.

Who then should lead us into these sunlit uplands now that BoJo himself has dropped out?  Clearly none other than Andrea Leadsom, who no one had heard of until three weeks ago, but now according to Johnson has the "zap, the drive, and the determination essential for the next leader of this country".  Or alternatively, according to a unnamed civil servant, was the "worst minister we've ever had".  Of all the Tory candidates on offer, it's quite something to be the most obviously unsuited for the job of prime minister in a field that includes both Michael Gove and Liam Fox, and yet Leadsom is without doubt that candidate.  It's enough to make you wonder if Johnson's endorsement is in fact pure nihilism: having lost his chance to get the job he's coveted his whole life, he's now quite happy to sit back and watch the party and by the same measure the country burn.

May you live in interesting times they say.  Fuck that, I say.

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