Saturday, 29 July 2017

Cult of personality? The writing's on the wall.



Nothing makes Corbynistas more angry than the suggestion there are cult-like qualities to their movement and their veneration of the man they affectionately label ‘JC’. This accusation is viewed as such a slur, in fact, that on some social media channels moderated by the far left, anyone using the term ‘cult’ is deemed to be abusive and is in danger of finding themselves banned.

The evidence – specifically a cult of personality - is, however, now so strong as to be incontrovertible.

The madness reached some kind of apogee this week with the unveiling of a mural of Corbyn on his home turf of Islington.  

Let’s be clear. Murals celebrating political figures are not a part of British culture, unless of course you count the streets of West Belfast, where the Labour Leader has built up a strong network of contacts over the years. I’m sure they are de rigueur in parts of Gaza City, where the veteran socialist MP counts yet more friends.

It’s difficult to establish who is the more idiotic. The people responsible for the curation of this hideous blight on the north London landscape? Or Corbyn himself – so puffed up and full of his self-importance that he actually went along to some kind of ceremony to install it. 

This is, of course, just part of a much wider story.

Online, we find toe-curling memes celebrating Corbyn’s blessed humanity and philanthropy. If Mother Teresa were alive today, she’d be shocked to find that she’d been overtaken by the sage of N4 who has been on the ‘right side of history’ more often than he’s waded his way through crowds of Trotskyist newspaper sellers to address rallies of the faithful.

And what about the merchandise? It’s possible to buy semi-official Jezuit memorabilia from his Momentum fan club, but ironically there are other outlets online who seem to recognise an opportunity for free enterprise.

My Facebook feed is full of t-shirts celebrating the Jezster by appropriating the logos and slogans of commercial brands such as Converse and Carlsberg. I can only assume that the intellectual property lawyers have bigger fish to fry, but a few ‘cease and desist’ letters probably wouldn’t go amiss.

His image hangs proudly in the streets. His words, insights and aphorisms are shared among devotees. And there are mugs everywhere. Both literally and metaphorically.

We have no reference points in British politics for the peculiar psychological baggage that now surrounds the Corbyn leadership. The only parallels can be found in religion, celebrity culture or the stifling sentimentality that surrounds members of the Royal family. 

The weird, slightly feverish atmosphere this summer at times reminded me of the madness which descended in the wake of Princess Diana’s death 20 years ago. A bizarre association, it’s true, but the one which honestly comes to mind.

Jeremy Corbyn is obviously no Princess Diana. And he’s no Joseph Stalin either. But no decent, trustworthy and reputable politician would tolerate a personality cult developing around them. They would understand the dangers and would make sure their supporters knew that the memes, merch and murals had to stop. Corbyn doesn’t only tacitly accept it, but he turns up to unveil his own picture.

Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev issued a warning to the left over 60 years ago. In February 1956, he said: ‘The cult of the individual brought about rude violation of party democracy, sterile administration, deviations of all sorts, cover-ups of shortcomings, and varnishings of reality. Our nation bore forth many flatterers and specialists in false optimism and deceit.’

Now, at least in that brief moment, he was someone on the right side of history.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Why I was right about Jeremy Corbyn

It’s always embarrassing when you warn a friend about someone, only to discover they don’t share your concerns.

That Manager in HR who’s an absolute nightmare. You tell your colleague not to get involved in that project with her, but they can’t see the harm. She appears to be very nice!

The bloke who groped the girl in accounts three years ago at the Christmas Party. You warn that he’s really not great boyf material. But all that’s just a rumour and it was before your friend joined the company. You really ought to stop badmouthing people and give them a chance.

Although it hurts to be told you’re wrong in the short term, the chances are you suck it up. Because you know that in due course, the truth will come out and that it will be you who’ll be having the last laugh.

At the moment, all the warnings about Corbyn and McDonnell from the moderate wing of the Labour Party seem to have been ignored by the general public. Traditional Labour voters turned out at the election last month and so did younger people in numbers not seen since the early 1990s.

The bedrock party supporters were aghast at Theresa May’s kamikaze act during the campaign and figured that the Labour leadership could hardly be worse. And seeing as Jez had little chance of winning, what harm could there be in backing him as a protest against the Tories’ incompetence and extremism?

Young voters liked the idea of denting the Tories too and thought that maybe they could reverse the imposition of Brexit by the gerontocracy in 2016.

So the result left people like me with serious egg on our faces.

I’d assumed – along with many others – that Labour heartland voters would baulk at voting for Corbyn, given all that is known about him. I hadn’t counted on the most disastrous and incompetent campaign by the Conservative Party in modern political history.  I had also under-estimated the extent to which the Lib Dem Remoaner schtick would fail to cut through.

I’d assumed – along with many others – that it was unlikely the youth vote would turn out in significant numbers. That’s a mistake I can live with, as it’s profoundly healthy for democracy that it did.

But I’m trying not to let my embarrassment cloud my judgment.

Far too many people, when they discovered Corbyn had done much better than predicted, decided to hitch a ride on his bandwagon. Suddenly he goes from being a walking disaster to being the ‘absolute boy’. Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party humiliate themselves by singing football chants in his name to the tune of Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes.

We saw the same phenomenon in the USA with Trump, of course. There is always a surprisingly large group of people in society whose instinct is to follow the herd. They were iffy about jumping naked into freezing cold lake, but all their friends are doing it. So Harriet Harman starts spouting nonsense about Jez being the heir to Blair.

But I really do know exactly what the politics of Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott are all about.

Why?

Because I was there the first time.

In the early 80s, as a young teenager, I was reasonably sympathetic to their views. By the latter part of the decade, I had become a lot more sceptical. And that’s because I had seen the hard left’s antics at first hand in campaigning organisations, the National Union of Students and the Labour Party.

So now, when I reflect on my humiliation in misjudging the recent election, I still have a wry smile on my face. Because leopards don’t change their spots and the truth about the extremist cabal at the heart of Labour will reveal itself as sure as night follows day.

We’ve already seen glimpses of it in the weeks following the poll.

John McDonnell’s description of the Grenfell Tower tragedy as ‘murder’ and his encouragement of a million people to take to the streets to reverse the result of an election he just lost. Jeremy Corbyn’s sacking of shadow cabinet members for their temerity to oppose his support of hard Brexit. Corbynistas rejecting any rapprochement with moderates in favour of deselection contests.

In the election campaign, my feeling is that younger people saw the criticisms of Corbyn’s earlier statements and actions as being ancient history. His links with Irish republicanism, for example, meant little to those who hadn’t lived through the IRA bombing campaigns. I get that. Boring old men like me talk about stuff which provokes a response of ‘meh’.

But what will happen is that people will learn all over again. It’s inefficient and exasperating and prevents the Labour Party from re-establishing itself as a mainstream force for a longer period than is comfortable. But the learning process will happen.

People will ask why it is that McDonnell clings to the idea that the UK must leave the single market. Didn’t they vote Labour to stop that kind of thing? And they will discover, one way or another, that he has always opposed the European Union, which he sees as an obstacle to his leftist economic policies.

And when Assad commits another atrocity in Syria and Corbyn opposes any action, people will scratch their heads. Doesn’t the absolute boy care about the suffering of the Syrian people? And then it will come out that actually he has opposed every military intervention by British troops ever proposed, including action to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.


Eventually, the HR Manager reveals her true colours and stabs your friend in the back during a meeting. Before long, another Christmas rolls around and there’s a further unsavoury incident at the office party. And the light begins to dawn. Yes, you were right all along.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Why the manifestos really won't matter

A common refrain from Corbyn supporters over the past couple of years is that we can’t trust the polls. It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to see committed Momentum supporters actually quoting the research companies over the past week or so.

As Labour nudges up to a highly improbable 32% in a couple of recent surveys (five points ahead of their actual showing in the recent council elections), it’s taken as evidence of some kind of surge.

The Corbynistas also seize upon suggestions in research that specific Labour manifesto policies are popular.

A majority of people want to renationalise the railways, for instance. The public supports higher taxes for rich people and likes the idea of a higher minimum wage.

The narrative then becomes something along these lines: voters support socialist policies and like Corbyn’s radical agenda, but shy away from embracing Labour because of a relentless tide of negative propaganda from the pro-Tory media.

It may well be true that individual Labour policies command support. But take a look at some of the other policies that YouGov have discovered appeal to voters.

Most people endorse the idea of stopping benefits entirely for anyone who refuses to take up an offer of employment. They also support a Trump-style ban on any immigration for the next two years, the abolition of parole for murderers and an end to overseas aid. None of these are likely to be high on the Momentum wishlist.

The conclusion I would draw is that members of the public are entirely ideologically inconsistent – defying neat categorisation. But the more important point is that British elections are not decided on manifesto pledges anyway. The outcome rests on the perceived economic competence of the respective parties and the credibility of their leaders.

Voters weigh up the potential options and ask themselves some basic questions. Do I trust this party and the man or woman who will be Prime Minister? Do I believe they will help make our country more prosperous? Will they keep me and my loved ones safe?

Until those boxes are ticked, no one will give much thought to housing, schools or even the NHS. After all, our public services are worth nothing if there isn’t the money to pay for them and you can’t trust the person who is notionally in charge of them.

Individual policies only matter insofar as they signal something about that fundamental decision of trust. Corbyn’s known antipathy towards nuclear weapons, for instance, and lack of support for his own party’s renewal of Trident, makes many profoundly uneasy – a sentiment which surfaced strongly in Lord Ashcroft’s latest focus group research.

Another uncomfortable truth – not just for the Labour Party, but all serious politicians and parties – is that impressions and snapshots which people find revealing and memorable are actually far more important than policies.

Think of Ed Miliband, an impressive and capable politician at many levels and certainly streets ahead of Corbyn in terms of his intellectual ability and understanding of the modern world.

The bacon sandwich.

The second kitchen.

The so-called Edstone.

These were the glimpses that helped to shape people’s perceptions of the man. No worthy policy pronouncement carried more weight than these trivial vignettes.

And with Corbyn, the same rules apply.

His apparent inability to sing the national anthem.

His lack of a Prime Ministerial ‘look’.

His association with Irish republicanism.

His lack of support from MPs, who backed a motion of no confidence in him.

In focus groups, Jez is frequently described as ‘wishy washy’. One participant on a research panel referred to the state of the MP’s front garden in Islington, which frequently features on news bulletins when the veteran socialist is doorstepped.

The untidy property is no doubt seen as symbolic of the hard-left parliamentarian himself. Someone who is disorganised and poor at presentation. So why on earth would you choose to send him to negotiate a deal with the EU over Brexit?

If it seems unfair to judge Corbyn on what we see of him and hear about him, it’s time to be honest with ourselves. This is exactly how we form opinions in everyday life – of work colleagues and friends of friends. If our initial impressions are not good – and they are reinforced by stories we hear others tell – then no amount of remedial action by the individual is likely to change our view.

Labour is a tarnished brand and it’s dragged even further down by its cult of personality surrounding a leader many regard as ineffectual, out of touch and untrustworthy. Can Labour’s vote really dip below the 27% in the council elections? Could the party end up with its worst vote since the 1930s? Only time will tell. But if anyone can pull it off, Corbyn can.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Week One of the campaign. And five reasons Labour may lose disastrously.

Any hope that Theresa May’s surprise general election would drag Jeremy Corbyn into the real world was cruelly dashed within a few short days. His major launch speech was a spectacular retreat into his predictable comfort zone. To say that the Labour Leader’s fiery socialist rhetoric preached to the choir probably insults the more intelligent of the choristers.

One of the funniest moments was when the prep-school-lad-made-bad listed all the people who should be afraid of him. Philip Green is apparently cowering, along with the bosses of Southern Rail. Tax-dodging CEOs pray at night that they are spared the wrath of Jez’s incoming administration.

The reality, of course, is that no one is remotely scared.

First of all, Corbyn isn’t going to get within 100 miles of Downing Street. And even if he did, he would be so out of his depth that wealthy and powerful interests would run rings around him.

It’s true that civil servants have to go through the motion of preparing for a potential transition. They were instructed to start talking to Jez’s team about the curtain measurements for Downing Street. But some wag on Twitter pointed out this was broadly akin to the host of 80s gameshow Bullseye, Jim Bowen, showing contestants the speedboat they could have won.

The only question in this election is how badly Labour loses.

My hunch is spectacularly badly.

Here are the five factors that will almost certainly lead to a disastrous result on 8th June.

THE LEADERSHIP ISSUE

The first and most obvious issue is Corbyn himself. There’s no point in rehearsing all his extraordinary gaffes of the past two years or his complete detachment from the world of 2017. His sheer awfulness has become common currency. Historians of this period will look back with bemusement that anyone ever thought him credible and will point to the instrumental role he played in shaping the disastrous Brexit result and a period of lengthy Tory rule.

It’s weird, incidentally, how history’s losers can often have a pivotal role in momentous events. Look at Ed Miliband blocking military action against Syria, for instance. His fateful decision (motivated by a desire to distance himself from Tony Blair and New Labour) led to Barack Obama’s embarrassing deal with Moscow. Assad was let off the hook, his murderous regime was emboldened and a vacuum was created which allowed IS to thrive.

Corbyn’s leadership – or lack of it – will be right at the heart of the campaign. He is being presented as the man at the centre of a ‘coalition of chaos’, involving maybe the Lib Dems and the SNP. This will be just as damaging as the accusation that the more competent Ed Miliband was in the pocket of Alex Salmond.

TRUST ON THE ECONOMY

The second reason Labour will suffer a historic defeat is a complete lack of confidence in their ability to manage the economy. This is somewhat unfair, as Blair and Brown had a very credible record prior to the financial crisis of 2008. But the Jezuits have disowned their predecessors’ legacy and never talk about any of the New Labour achievements in the management of the economy or investment in public services.

So, in 2017, we are left with an extraordinary wish list of policies. Renationalisation of the railways and those parts of the health service which are deemed to be privatised. The restoration of NHS bursaries. Free school meals for every child. An end to university tuition fees. An increase in the carer’s allowance. Ending the freeze on public-sector pay.

There is talk of spending half a trillion pounds.  While some borrowing is actually economically very sensible right now, as we can do it at historically low rates, the sheer scale of what Labour is proposing plays right into the hands of their Tory opponents. Most members of the public will want borrowing to be limited, taxes to be kept down and spending to be sensibly controlled. All ideas that are anathema to Corbyn and McDonnell.

BREXIT

The third problem for Labour isn’t entirely of its own making. It’s true that Corbyn’s lacklustre campaigning in the EU referendum was, sadly, probably enough to tip the balance of the vote the wrong way.  We might assume Labour voters would have come out in greater numbers for Remain if Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper had won the leadership contest in 2015, rather than a man who had spent his whole political life opposing the EU. Once the referendum had been decided, however, Labour was caught in an impossible position.

Although the majority of Labour voters supported Remain, a substantial minority didn’t. And these Brexiters are disproportionately concentrated in Labour’s heartland seats. Labour will be too pro-Europe for the Brexiters and too pro-Brexit for the diehard Remainers. A completely impossible bind.

Corbyn’s solution is not to talk about Brexit. The trouble is that the Conservatives are determined to make this a Brexit election. And so are the Lib Dems. And probably the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru.  Last night, the rambling Labour Leader actually tweeted about rambling. I am not making this up.

DEFENCE AND SECURITY

This hasn’t really featured as an issue in British general elections since 1987, as both parties seemed broadly credible on defence from 1992 onwards. Under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has become associated once again with appeasement, pacifism and defeatism.

The British public will never accept as Prime Minister someone who believes we could renew Trident nuclear submarines without the warheads. Or keep the warheads and tell people we would never use them. This argument was categorically lost three decades ago, but Jez didn’t get the memo.

For the record, I do not believe there is any military action by British forces that Corbyn has ever supported in his career. And that includes the intervention to stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. According to his fans, this puts him on the ‘right side of history’, although the great British public will respectfully disagree.

THE VISION THING

Right at the heart of Labour’s failure to connect with voters is the dismal picture they paint of the UK.

Make no mistake, this is a country with far too much poverty and inequality and Labour’s raison d’ĂȘtre must be to address this. Otherwise what is the party for? At the same time, Britain is still a very prosperous country and many people have some kind of stake in that prosperity, however tenuous. It goes without saying that a good number of them need to vote Labour if the party is to achieve power.

Right now, Labour is full of vitriol about a world of zero-hours contracts and welfare cuts and NHS crises and failing public transport. Like many other people, I want to see stronger employment laws, protection for the most vulnerable, a properly funded public health service and trains that run on time. But I don’t think we are defined as a nation just by our current failings.

The language Labour uses is relentlessly negative and for all the talk of ‘new politics’ under Corbyn, there is absolutely no sense of what British society might be like under his leadership. The overall impression communicated is one of decay and decline. Blair in 1997, by contrast, offered hope, confidence and cautious optimism about the future.

It seems, sadly, as if a cataclysm at the polls is the only way in which the arrogance of Labour’s current leadership and the naivety of its supporters can be shattered.  The tragedy is that it is the people Labour exists to represent who will be hardest hit by the sheer madness of the last two years.


Monday, 6 February 2017

Forget the Oval Office. Join Trump in the back bedroom.

Some caricaturists depict Donald Trump as an over-indulged baby, throwing toys out of his pram. Others see him as a puppet, manipulated by the Machiavelli of the alt-right, Steve Bannon.

I’m sure there’s some truth in both these interpretations.

Hearing Trump talk today, however, I have a rather different image coming into my head.
The 45th President was talking at a US airforce base about Islamic terrorism in Europe and claimed that this was covered up by the mainstream media.

His actual words were as follows: "All over Europe, it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that." 

This is a truly madcap conspiracy theory.

On an X-Files scale, it rates a nine.

It pains me even to pick it apart, but think about what he’s saying. His accusation is that mainstream news media with professional journalists have their ‘reasons’ for covering up terrorist atrocities.

The reasons, one supposes, are that they are liberals who are dedicated to a vision of multiculturalism or active supporters of the expansion of Islamic ideology in Europe. These duplicitous political activists, masquerading as reporters, worry that if the public were to hear of terrorist attacks, they might rebel against the current order.

So they cover them up.

Except the ones they don’t cover up.

Like Paris and Nice, which Trump himself mentioned. And Brussels and Berlin and all the other places.

Boy, did the liberal media slip up with those ones! They really dropped the ball, didn’t they, with all their round-the-clock reporting?

Leaving aside the utterly ridiculous and unsupported nature of Trump’s allegations, there is also the issue of exactly how the journalists would succeed in keeping any terrorist activity in Europe under wraps. Perhaps smartphones, digital cameras and social media haven’t made it across the Atlantic yet? Maybe we Europeans are ‘sheeple’, who haven’t yet seen the light?

Except supposedly we have.

Isn’t part of the Trumpian world view the idea that Brexit was an awakening? That the anti-globalist populism of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders demonstrates Europeans throwing off the shackles of liberalism, multiculturalism and political correctness?

My image of Trump is now of someone who is 25-going-on-15 and still lives at home with his mother. His days are spent in his room coding, while eating KFC. His nights are spent alongside his empty bucket meals, trolling people on Twitter.

His reading consists of conspiracy sites which suggest that vaccinations are poison and that scientific evidence can’t be trusted. He rails against feminazis, snowflakes and libtards. Anyone who believes a poll is a fool and anyone who trusts what they read in the mainstream media needs to WAKE UP and GET SMART!

Of course, there are a million of these sad little men around and we could argue all day about the cause of their alienation and anger. But only one in a million gets to play at being President of the United States of America.

We know that Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Rex Tillerson and others do not subscribe to Trump’s ridiculous conspiracy theories. They might have some pretty obnoxious and kooky views of their own, but they do not believe that there have been terrorist atrocities in Europe that have gone unreported.

They need to say so.

These men do not believe that a federal judge appointed by George W Bush and ratified 99-0 in the Senate is only a ‘so-called’ judge.

They need to say so.

They do not believe that the New York Times and CNN publish fake news.

They need to say so.

They will be biding their time and thinking that there will be a later opportunity to remove Trump.

Now is not the moment. Keep our powder dry, they will say to themselves. Give him enough rope and he will hang himself.

No.

History tells us that if you give people like Trump enough rope, he’ll end up hanging you.

They need to act soon. For the sake of the Republican Party, the sake of the United States and the sake of the wider world.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The political minefield on the road to Brexit

Brexit produces a whole load of weird conundrums, confrontations and contortions, doesn’t it?

The Supreme Court has given Parliament the right to decide on the triggering of Article 50, as it was agreed by 8 votes to 3 that it requires a statute and cannot be waved through by Theresa May using Royal Prerogative.

Those supportive of the Gina Miller case like to regale us with stories about the constitution (uncodified) and The Civil War and the Witan of the Anglo-Saxons and God knows what else.
They were affronted and astonished that the government even dared to appeal the original High Court judgment. The argument for parliamentary sovereignty in this case was so glaringly obvious that even a child could understand it.

Rather strange, in that case, that three of the learned justices on the Supreme Court actually dissented. They must be pretty thick. Maybe they never saw those three-line memes summarising the case on Twitter?

Anyway, after all the hullabaloo, you’d think Theresa May would be quite frightened, wouldn’t you? Brexit is back in the hands of MPs. And they tend to be more inclined to Remain than Leave.

Her plans for wrenching the UK out of the EU must surely now be on hold?

But wait a second. What’s this?

Most MPs will exercise their sovereign right to block Brexit by allowing it to proceed.

That’s because they know that the real decision was taken last June, when the British public (disastrously, but democratically, in my opinion) made their views known and voted out.

As former Labour minister Yvette Cooper has said, to oppose Article 50, you’d need to take a Trumpian view of the democratic process. Remember how the newly-installed US President wouldn’t commit to accepting the November poll if it had gone against him? We growled at him for his blatant contempt for the democratic process.

In the referendum of 2016, it was made quite clear by both campaigns that we were taking a permanent and irreversible decision. A group of Labour MPs, however, say they are planning to defy their hapless leader Jeremy Corbyn and vote against the A50 bill in Parliament.

Some argue that they represent constituencies which voted Remain and they are simply giving voice to the views of their local residents. But if that logic were followed, there would be a very interesting turn of events. Over 60% of UK seats voted for Brexit. So the majority in Parliament for quitting the EU would actually be larger than the majority achieved among the general public.

Of course, the consensus is that MPs and the unelected Lords don’t have the bottle to block A50. But they are determined to amend the bill and attach some brakes and CCTV cameras to Theresa May’s runaway Brexit bandwagon.

This position is perhaps represented best by the intelligent and persuasive MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna. He bravely says that he won’t let his constituents’ living standards be undermined by May’s perverse attachment to a hard break with Europe.

But what can he and other MPs do in practice?

Pass amendments which set out a whole range of pie-in-the-sky objectives for the negotiations?  If I were May, I would actually be happy to accept one or two of these, knowing that they would mean little in practice. Until we get into the negotiating rooms with the representatives of the EU, we have no idea what ideas will fly and how much ground they’re prepared to give.

One scenario is that May goes into the talks and tells Parliament that she did her best to achieve their goals, but it was impossible. Sorry, guys. Tried my hardest, but what can I say? Here’s what I came back with.

Another option is that she fights amendments in the House of Commons and House of Lords tooth and nail. If she loses on some minor points, she doesn’t break much of a sweat (see scenario one). But if she is in danger of losing on something major – an amendment which seeks to guarantee continuing access to the European single market, for example – she turns it into a vote of confidence in the government.

A third possibility is that if things get out of control (Nicola Sturgeon plans 50 amendments) and the timetable were slipping – or she suffered a major defeat in the Commons – she would ask for the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.  Jeremy Corbyn has already kindly offered to facilitate the required two-thirds majority to call a general election, which he apparently relishes.

I would say she has plenty of options and all the cards are stacked in the Prime Minister’s favour. Her opinion poll ratings are generally very good and they are rock solid on Brexit.

The one thing which would lead to her having to concede various amendments would be the thought that Article 50 might actually be blocked if she didn’t accept them. But the MPs won’t block A50 and she knows it.

The Labour Party is in a pickle.

It’s like a tenant who desperately needs a flat and has put down a deposit. They are then being told by the landlord the property is rat-infested and doesn’t have a working toilet. There’s no other apartment available in town and they’ll be sleeping on the street if they don’t sign on the dotted line. But they’re convinced they’ll persuade the owner to pay for all the repairs and throw in a new IKEA sofa.

Looming large is a by-election in Stoke, in which the populist right-winger Paul Nuttall is challenging Labour on behalf of UKIP. Every Labour MP who makes a statement saying they’re prepared to block Brexit will be helping to fuel Nuttall’s ugly politics in the Labour heartlands.

It confuses us and frustrates us. It confounds us and it frightens us.

It’s Britain on the road to Brexit.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Why foreign policy will be Trump's downfall

Predicting Trump’s trajectory is hard, because the territory is uncharted. A rogue rocket has launched from Cape Canaveral with a nuclear warhead on board and we’re hoping that when it crashes and burns, it doesn’t take out downtown Orlando.

All the famous checks and balances built into the American political system? The ones designed to stop tyranny and to act as a firewall against the agenda of a power-hungry megalomaniac? They will be tested to the full by Donald J Trump, believe me.

Part of the problem is that no one – from the founding fathers onwards – could ever have predicted anyone quite like this man claiming power. The political establishment and the constitutional experts might have imagined a calculating crook or an ideological extremist assuming the presidency. But the pussy-grabbing, China-baiting, tweet-firing freakshow that is Trump? He’s just not in the instruction manual.

It’s beyond question that it will all end in tears.  The only issue is whose tears?  If the lacrimal flood is limited to Donald himself, we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. But let’s not kid ourselves. This guy will cause a lot of collateral damage along the way.

My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that foreign policy and security will be Trump’s ultimate undoing.

It seems inevitable there will be moves to impeach him at some point, but the wheels grind slowly and the GOP will be largely supportive in what might laughably be described as Trump’s honeymoon. The President’s domestic policy will be offensive and retrograde, but in many respects this is where he is most in line with the agenda of House and Senate Republicans. They all love nothing better than taking away hard-earned workers’ rights, attacking women and restricting access to healthcare.

Trump is on much more problematic ground with his erratic personal behaviour on social media and his tendency to make foreign policy on the hoof. I foresee a crisis with a foreign power precipitated by his trigger-happy Twitter account or some inane (or perhaps insane) announcement he makes off the cuff in a press conference.

The Chinese leadership will be watching closely. The issue of Taiwan and their so-called ‘One China’ policy is a red line. So is their sphere of influence in the ocean territories disputed with Japan, South Korea and The Philippines.

The issue of Russia and kompromat and the lovefest with Vladimir Putin is not going to go away. There’s only one thing worse than seeing someone fall head over heels with the wrong guy. And that’s dealing with the aftermath when their relationship implodes.

While many of us are sickened by the closeness of the lovebirds right now, things could easily be turned on their head overnight. Why? Because Trump doesn’t have one inch of loyalty to anyone except himself. What he says on Tuesday, he happily contradicts on Friday. And by Monday, he’s forgotten he ever said it.

There is a lot of commentary about the fact that Trump seems hostile to the intelligence community and doesn’t like to be briefed. My hunch is that the spooks won’t share anything of substance with him anyway, even if he does start granting them an audience.

As the guy doesn’t read anything, I would just dress up some reports from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and tell him that it’s a briefing. Would he know any different? It would be a risky strategy, for sure, as ideally you’d want the President to be on top of world events. But this is not a normal situation and it would surely be even more risky to share detailed classified intelligence.

Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to ‘known knowns’ – things we know we know. Then there were ‘known unknowns’ – the things we know we don’t know. But there was also his third, and rather scary, category of knowledge called the ‘unknown unknowns’. These are the things we don’t know we don’t know.

In every presidency, stuff will turn up that we can’t imagine yet.  ‘Events’, as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan quaintly described them. How will Trump react? Will there be one 3am tweet too many?

In the UK, the ‘men in grey suits’ come to tell a Prime Minister it’s time to go. There’s not really any provision for the men in white coats.

The 25th Amendment of the US Constitution does, however, allow for a President to be declared unfit for office by the Vice-President and senior cabinet members. Star Trek aficionados will recognise this as the right of the Chief Medical Officer on board a Starfleet vessel to declare the Captain incapacitated.

If it happens, expect it to happen suddenly without warning. Because I fear it will only be invoked to prevent an international crisis of catastrophic proportions. And time will probably be of the essence.