Thursday, 30 June 2016

Have we already forgotten about Jo Cox's death?

Remember Jo Cox?

She was the Labour MP who was murdered a week before the EU referendum vote.

The House of Commons united in tribute to her.

There was a profound sense of shock that a campaigner, parliamentarian and mother could have been shot and stabbed on the streets of England.

People agonised over the circumstances of her death.

No one knew what motivated her killer, but we heard tell of his links to shadowy right-wing groups in the USA.

Could the febrile political environment have played a part?

The referendum campaign had produced a lot of vitriolic rhetoric about migrants – whose cause Jo had bravely championed.

There was also a mood of anti-establishment fervour whipped up by people who should know better.

Politicians are all the same. All in it for themselves.

And then we discovered that Jo wasn’t in it for herself.

She entered public life to help others, as many people who become MPs do.

She had been to some of the poorest and most troubled places in the world. And then she’d gone back to serve the community in which she’d grown up.

People wondered whether her death would be a turning point in the referendum.

They asked whether we needed to look at ourselves and the type of country we were becoming.

A week later, we learnt that many people made no connection between Jo’s death and the decision we were taking on Europe.

It seemed as if the poison and the rhetoric and the noise was – even a few days after Jo’s murder – loud enough to drown out the message of self-reflection and the anticipated mood of greater tolerance.

And after the referendum, it was business as usual.

Some politicians did their best to confirm everyone’s prejudices about their motivations and interests.

The leading lights of the Tory Party fought for political position in a Machiavellian tussle worthy of any Shakespearean tragedy.

The Labour Leader retreated to a bunker and defied every plea for him to stand down, reducing long-standing party servants to tears.

Labour MPs report death threats because they have dared to challenge a leader on a march towards political irrelevance and oblivion.

The Tories stab themselves in the back and Labour shoot themselves in the foot.

But no one remembers Jo Cox.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Don't rely on your mandate now, Jez.

In my experience, you often get to know someone’s true character when they are a backed into a corner and everything’s against them. Today, there are a lot of Labour Party members who supported Corbyn for the leadership, but are now seeing for the first time what the guy is really like. All the banners proclaiming the MP for Islington North as a decent, honourable, principled man are starting to get a little frayed, aren’t they?

It comes as no surprise to those of us who were involved in Labour Party and left-wing politics in the 1980s. We came to know exactly the dead end represented by the metropolitan radicalism of Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.

It actually took me most of my teenage years to figure it out, as I’d initially been attracted to Labour by Ken Livingstone’s 1981 GLC administration. But as the decade unfolded and the left went down to defeat after defeat (and I wasted more and more time battling Trotskyist infiltrators and fellow travellers within Labour and campaigning organisations), my own perspective started to change.

When Jeremy comes to write his memoirs – working title, The Corbyn Year – he might use the opportunity to reflect on his countless mistakes in office as Leader of  Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. But somehow I don’t see it happening. The memoirs would almost certainly be full of trite observations, socialist shibboleths and recriminations against the people who betrayed him.

Why? Because this is the only world that Jeremy has ever inhabited.

He is a man who has always been against things. When he first joined the Labour Party, it was Harold Wilson and the Vietnam War. And then it was Maggie Thatcher. And then it was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And now it’s the ‘Red Tories’, AKA people who believe the first job of the Labour Party is to win power so as to help improve the conditions of those they’re elected to represent.

Corbyn epitomises failure at an almost spectacular level. On the Richter Scale of political ineptitude he’s registering a shuddering 9.5. He alienates traditional Labour voters with his effete urban attitudes to defence, security, welfare and immigration. He turns off the aspiring middle-classes with his lack of connection to enterprise and wealth creation. And if these things weren’t bad enough, he combines the charisma of John Major with the political perspicacity of Citizen Smith.

I know him to be an assiduous MP in North London, who works pretty tirelessly for his constituents – many of whom are poor and disadvantaged. For that, I give him full credit. But the rest of his political life has been spent in meeting halls, navigating ultra-left paper sellers and speeching to the choir.

John McDonnell is no doubt telling Jez that there are armies of eager supporters willing to take to the streets to defend him against the coup d’etat. But the reality is that he is trapped, a little like his erstwhile mate Ken Livingstone in that disabled toilet a couple of months back. And the longer he spends making a fool of himself, the more McDonnell’s armies will melt away. When is the Red Man going to start walking?

Friday, 24 June 2016

Immigration stoked the Brexit fire. How will Labour respond?

A lot has already been said about Labour’s failure to reach out to alienated and angry working-class voters in the EU referendum. It’s clearly an important part of the explanation for Brexit. There is a real danger, however, that Labour politicians (even the more perceptive ones, who realise Corbyn has to go) might draw the wrong conclusions about the message that has been sent.

Immigration is a toxic and volatile issue at the heart of this right-wing counter-revolution. There is a very dangerous disconnect between Labour’s middle-class, intellectual activist base and the working-class communities that have traditionally voted for the party.

We’ve seen some truly ugly sentiments expressed in the campaign. By the normal standards of British politics, you’d think that things couldn’t get much worse than UKIP’s revolting anti-migrant poster. But we actually saw the murder of a British MP just over a week ago, by someone who allegedly shouted ‘Britain First’ as he attacked her and had connections with shady far-right groups in the USA.

It is striking to me how quickly Jo Cox’s legacy has effectively been forgotten. This speaks absolute volumes about the state of Britain right now.

Remember how people speculated that a decent MP’s tragic death might prompt people to think twice before voting for Brexit? No chance, it seems. I suspect the only people who made the connection between the appalling act of violence and the vitriol of the campaign were those already inclined to the Remain cause.

The Labour leadership is trapped between what it knows to be morally and economically right, on the one hand, and a new realpolitik on the other. If it refuses to acknowledge the real concerns of its voters, it’s hard to imagine it has much of a future as a major political party outside Remain enclaves such as Lambeth and Haringey.

People are worried about the total numbers of migrants coming into the UK, but Labour is scared to admit this. It runs counter to everything it wants to believe about its supporters. So it sticks its head in the sand.

The Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell response is to tell people that they are not actually concerned about migration, but are really victims of austerity. Or that they are suffering at the hands of exploitative employers who are trying to drive down wages. And that they wouldn’t have to worry if schools and doctors’ surgeries were properly funded (although the party has no clear message about how this would be achieved).

And the response from Labour voters is unequivocal.: “No. Whether you like it or not, we are actually concerned about migration. Exactly as we’ve told you time and time again. Exactly as we’ve told opinion pollsters for years. But you have ignored us.”

As someone who has very liberal views myself on immigration and sees the huge value and contribution that people from overseas make to British culture and society, the response depresses me and troubles me greatly. But I live in a comfortable suburb of Remain-voting London and I am fortunate enough not to feel the dislocation and uncertainty that many people feel elsewhere.

Labour will now be confronted with a Brexiter-led government which has a popular mandate to control immigration.

Yes, of course, many of their claims have been bluster. A large number of our current migrants come from outside the EU anyway. And we still desperately need foreign workers to sustain our economy and public services.

But what will Labour be saying to its voters who opted for Brexit? This is a huge and desperate problem for the party as it moves forward.

Why Jexit can't come soon enough

The news that a motion of no confidence has been tabled against Jeremy Corbyn gives me some heart. There must be Labour parliamentarians who actually want the party to survive. It’s the only glimmer of hope to come out of the Brexit debacle.

There is always a tipping point in a mutiny. It comes when the consequences of inaction are clearly worse than the consequences of action. As the captain steers the ship aimlessly around in choppy waters, the crew members tolerate their sea sickness. But when he claims he can’t see the rocks that obviously hover just a few nautical miles away, sheer determination overcomes inertia.

I don’t actually care if there’s a blood bath in the Labour Party right now. If that’s the price which has to be paid to have a credible opposition to the charlatans and Little Englanders who will soon be running the Tory Party, then so be it.

Corbyn is hopelessly out of touch with the concerns of traditional voters and unable to connect with them. He is also a man who has been promoted way beyond his ability and lacks the communication skills, gravitas and common sense to lead a major political party.
His performance during the EU Referendum was truly extraordinary in both its pettiness and lack of impact.

It was petty because he felt that tribal loyalties were more important than becoming part of the campaign proper. He refused to share a platform with Cameron and felt that he could plough his own furrow with promises of a fantasy EU. Most of his colleagues felt obliged to follow his lead, with the brave and notable exceptions of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and former acting leader Harriet Harman.

What a crazily mixed message he sent from the Remain side when he claimed he wouldn’t sign the very trade deal President Obama had said was one of the rewards of a vote to stay.

Corbyn’s performance lacked impact because he is a man who inherently lacks impact. He has a monotone delivery which provides the same level of passion to a discussion of the future of Europe or terrorist outrages in Paris as is applied to a review of the standing orders of Labour’s National Executive Committee.

As someone who opposed the EU and its predecessor organisations – and who is known never to have changed his mind on any significant issue since 1975 – his Damascene conversion to 7-or-7.5-enthusiasm for Europe had zero credibility.

He must have known that he was not the man for such a momentous job and should have stepped aside. But if the Parliamentary Labour Party had shown any bottle, he would have been helped in that decision at the start of the year. Or at the very latest after his disastrous performance in the May council elections.

They are already talking about Jexit. For me, it can’t come soon enough.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

This Brexit vote isn't just about the UK. It's about the whole future of Europe.

The literal meaning of the word ‘insular’ refers to back to the idea of an island. It’s perhaps hardly surprising, therefore, that the UK’s referendum campaign on membership of the EU has been insular in the broader, metaphorical sense too.

Everything is about us.

We’ll be more democratic and more sovereign and free from the shackles of bureaucracy if we leave. We’ll be stronger and less isolated and richer if we stay.

The truth is that, whatever your personal viewpoint, the UK’s decision on Thursday 23rd has ramifications way beyond our borders.

If the unthinkable happens and we vote to break away from a tariff-free market of 500 million people, what happens next in continental Europe?

The first pressure will almost certainly be on the Eurozone. Italy’s maverick Five Star Movement – which just won key mayoral contests in Rome and Turin – has already called for a vote on whether Italy should leave the single currency. Despite a period of relative calm, the underlying issues surrounding the Eurozone’s so-called ‘periphery’ have not been resolved. Greece is still an obvious flashpoint.

If the worst did come to the worst, the Greeks represent about 2% of the Eurozone economy and a Grexit could be shaken off. But the currency could not withstand the seismic shock of a default in a bigger country such as Spain. And if the political mood is to follow the UK and if voters in Milan and Rome and Naples demand a return to the Lira, there will be no hiding place. The game will be up and the edifice will be in danger of crashing down.

The reaction of more ignorant Brexiters to this scenario might well be ‘so what?’

They not only want to extricate the UK from the EU, but quite openly hope for the institution’s demise.

But such a view betrays a woeful misunderstanding of our interconnectedness. The collapse of one of the world’s leading reserve currencies would almost certainly trigger a global depression. At that point, the warnings about the financial consequences of Brexit would seem to have been hopelessly understated. Because Brexit might a domino, set off with the lightest of touches, but cascading across stock market floors around the world.

And as the currency broke up, the chances of the EU itself collapsing would become very real.

When the people of Europe retreat behind national borders, mutual suspicion and the risk of conflict will grow. Meanwhile, there will be smiles on the faces of the political leaderships in Moscow and Beijing.  When dealing with any European country individually – at the level of trade and economics, or in the realm of politics and defence – these big powers, which have so little respect for democracy, would undoubtedly hold the upper hand.

It’s a prospect that is truly horrifying. 

Could it be that Project Fear hasn’t actually been frightening enough?

22nd June: the view from the precipice

This has been the rockiest of rides.

Let’s remember that this Referendum need never have happened. It’s only taking place because of divisions in the Conservative Party and the electoral pressure built up by UKIP in recent years.

David Cameron probably never imagined he’d actually be in a position to call the poll. He found himself unexpectedly heading up a majority Conservative government and with half his Cabinet expecting him to make good on his promise.

His ridiculous negotiations with the EU ended with a scrap of paper that was never going to satisfy the attack dogs of the Tory right.  The substance of his ‘deal’ was then promptly forgotten, because actually it was completely immaterial to the enormity of the decision that confronted us.

And then the campaign proper got under way. 16 weeks of vitriol, bluster and internecine warfare.

The Leave camp has been riding a populist wave of anti-political sentiment. We all know that their appeal to people’s worst instincts on immigration is tawdry and damaging to the social fabric. Advocates of Brexit have nothing credible to say on the economy and ask people to have faith. Yes, truly I’ve been told on Twitter by advocates of the Leave campaign that I should vote on the basis of faith.

All will be well, they say. We’ll prosper outside the EU. Just believe it and it will happen.

On the other side of the equation, we have the Remain camp – characterised by its opponents as ‘Project Fear’.

If the vote on Thursday is to leave, one thing historians will observe is the ramshackle nature of the coalition assembled to argue the case for continuing EU membership.

Cameron and Osborne – for all their many faults – entered into the campaign wholeheartedly and laid on the line the consequences of a unilateral withdrawal.  Jeremy Corbyn showed his complete unsuitability for high office with his lacklustre and half-hearted appeal to Labour voters.

The Labour Leader’s edict that no party representative should share a platform with the Tories led to a divided and confused campaign message. Harriet Harman and Sadiq Khan ignored him on this point, but the damage was done.

Stronger In. Labour In. Greener In. You can’t divide a campaign like this and expect to get all the votes out.

Although Nigel Farage’s mob have done their best to upset the official campaign with their extremist posters and zealous campaigning tactics, there is effectively a single voice on the Leave side.  But that’s just not true of Remain. Barack Obama came over from the USA to tell us we’d at the back of a queue for a new trade deal. So what does Jeremy Corbyn do? Say that he’d veto the very deal for which we’re waiting in line.

Those mixed messages make me very nervous.

And something else does too. We seem to be going through a period of collective madness. The madness that saw veteran urban leftist Jeremy Corbyn elected as Leader of the Labour Party last September. The madness that saw Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party in the forthcoming Presidential election. The madness that saw Norbert Hofer come within an inch of taking the presidency of Austria.

In that context, if I had to lay money on the table, it’s for a narrow vote to leave the EU on Friday morning.  I pray that I am wrong. But faith has no place in serious politics.