Tag Archives: Alex Salmond

Craig Murray becomes the UK’s latest prisoner of conscience

 

FORMER UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, is to begin an eight-month jail term after being found guilty of contempt of court after an appeal bid was refused.

Murray was sentenced to eight months imprisonment after a judge ruled that he had unlawfully published details about the identities of female witnesses in Alex Salmond’s criminal trial on his blog last year. But he was released on bail in order to launch an appeal bid that has now failed.

Murray continues to deny intent to breach the court order protecting their identities, and that such a breach took place.

Lady Dorrian laid down her verdict in May, saying that Murray’s blog could lead to jigsaw identification of four of those involved, if read with other published materials.

A statement released yesterday said the 62-year-old would “surrender himself to police shortly and begin to serve the custodial sentence handed to him”.

That comes after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

Sentence was deferred for that purpose but will now begin

Click here to read the full article entitled “Craig Murray to hand himself over to police to face jail sentence” written by Kirsteen Paterson published in The National on July 29th.

For more details surrounding the case you can find many articles on Craig Murray’s website. For a summary and overview I recommend this one written by Kirsten MacDonald: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2021/06/craig-murrays-trial-what-happens-next/

It begins:

On Monday morning [June 7th], Lady Dorrian and two supporting judges will hear the application from Roddy Dunlop QC for Craig Murray to be allowed to appeal to the UK Supreme Court against both their verdict of contempt of court for jigsaw identification, and against the disproportionate sentence.

It is widely expected, given the obvious animus against Murray she has shown throughout the proceedings, that leave to appeal will be refused and Lady Dorrian will commit Craig Murray to jail, probably from Wednesday 9 June. At that stage, Murray’s legal team will have to apply direct to the UK Supreme Court to grant him an appeal, but his eight month sentence will likely be served before the Supreme Court even looks at whether to consider it.

Concluding:

Murray is of course one of Sturgeon’s fiercest critics and opposes both the abolition of juries and the abolition of the right of defence lawyers to cross-examine accusers. The prime thrust of the reporting for which he is being jailed was that Nicola Sturgeon was behind the false accusations that were made against Alex Salmond.

There is a real possibility that aspects of Dorrian’s handling of the Murray case could come in for serious criticism by the Supreme Court. These include her acceptance of a handful of anonymous tweets claiming to have learnt identities from Murray’s blog (with zero evidence they actually knew identities) as having important evidential weight, her effective dismissal of his entire affidavits as lies despite hearing no evidence that contradicted them, her making no reference at any stage to Salmond’s acquittal (indeed both her judgement and sentencing remarks on Murray refer to Salmond’s “victims” and “offences” with no “purported”, “alleged” or other qualifier, even after the acquittal), her extremely low bar for jigsaw identification (to any individual who already had specialist knowledge), the breathtakingly draconian sentence, and the curt and offhand dismissal of all Article X ECHR freedom of speech arguments.

If Dorrian grants the appeal to the Supreme Court, she is opening herself up to criticism at a crucial time in her career. As one lawyer put it to me, to grant the appeal would be “asking for a kicking”. If she refuses permission to appeal, she is putting back any Supreme Court decision probably for two years, and giving herself the ability to imprison and silence Murray in the interim.

Murray’s team have very little hope for Monday.

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Now a prisoner himself, Craig Murray has been at the forefront of the campaign calling for the release of Julian Assange. Held indefinitely in Belmarsh, Assange currently faces extradition to the US on the basis of charges relating solely to allegations made by an Icelandic informant, Sigi Thordarson. Thordarson is a registered sex offender guilty of online activities with under-age boys. He was also convicted of stealing approximately $50,000 from Wikileaks as well as of impersonating Julian Assange online. More recently, Thordarson confessed that his claims against Assange are entirely false.

As Murray reported a month ago on June 29th:

Thordarson has now told Icelandic magazine Stundin that his allegations against Assange contained in the indictment are untrue, and that Assange had not solicited the hacking of bank or police details. This is hardly a shock, though Thordarson’s motives for coming clean now are obscure; he is plainly a deeply troubled and often malicious individual.

Thordarson was always the most unreliable of witnesses, and I find it impossible to believe that the FBI cooperation with him was ever any more than deliberate fabrication of evidence by the FBI.

Edward Snowden has tweeted that Thordarson recanting will end the case against Julian Assange. Most certainly it should end it, but I fear it will not.

Many things should have ended the case against Assange. The First Amendment, the ban on political extradition in the US/UK Extradition Treaty, the CIA spying on the preparations of Assange’s defence counsel, all of these should have stopped the case dead in its tracks.

It is now five months since extradition was refused, no US government appeal against that decision has yet been accepted by the High Court, and yet Julian remains confined to the UK’s highest security prison. The revelation that Thordarson’s allegations are fabricated – which everyone knew already, Baraitser just pretended she didn’t – is just one more illegality that the Establishment will shimmy over in its continued persecution of Assange.

Assange democratised information and gave real power to the people for a while, worldwide. He revealed US war crimes. For that his life is destroyed. Neither law nor truth have anything to do with it.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full piece “FBI Fabrication Against Assange Falls Apart”.

As Julian Assange languishes in prison under conditions described by UN special rapporteur, Nils Melzer, as torture for no crime other than publishing facts that are embarrassing to the British and US State, now Craig Murray too has been jailed for publishing unwanted facts and, in this case, ones already widely available in the public domain.

Assange and Murray are Britain’s most prominent political prisoners. Their prosecutions represent the finals blows to the last vestiges freedom of speech in the UK. Meanwhile, where is the outcry from the liberal media? The Guardian which once worked with Assange in releasing Wikileaks documents, today fabricates and disseminates savage but idiotic propaganda hit-pieces that it then fails to retract even when caught out.

And where too is the outcry from backbench and/or opposition politicians including Labour leader Keir Starmer who is the former Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Director of Public Prosecutions?

Following the expected outcome of his own case, Craig Murray issued a response on his official website yesterday under the title “Going Dark” with a statement from his wife, Nadira:

This blog will be going dark for a few months. The Queen kindly paid for my dinners for over twenty years while I was a British diplomat and Ambassador, and now she is going to be paying for my dinners again. That is very kind, I thought she had forgotten me.

The following is a statement from Nadira:

29.07.21
Today is the most heartbreaking day. My husband whose health has been found to not be suitable for prison must hand himself in for detention within hours following the UK Supreme Court’s decision not to hear his appeal.

We were extremely hopeful that the Supreme Court would hear his case and had no doubt that this particular case should have been heard given how important and relevant it is in the context of Freedom of Speech in the UK. Instead, the Supreme Court declined to hear it.

Yet again my heart is deeply saddened to find that the UK, once a country which placed great importance on Human Rights issues, has failed to listen to my husband’s case. Additionally, the Scottish Court outright dismissed Craig’s poor health, having been made aware through the mandatory Social Work report and doctor’s reports that his wellbeing would be at risk if forced to go to jail.

At first I tried to come to terms of him being jailed in the hope he would be granted dignified conditions in jail but I am saddened and shocked to learn he could be placed among criminals, with no ability to bring books or enable him to write, with no entertainment allowed. He is being treated like a criminal. This is not a just punishment, this is a deliberate attempt to break the spirit of anyone brave enough to make use of free speech.

Given a pen and paper what do you do? You write in your own voice speaking the truth. Having been with Craig for two decades he has always spent his time and energy highlighting injustices and standing up for what is right, carefully, considerately and consistently.

I was brought up during Soviet times, and post independence in my own country, Uzbekistan. I have witnessed and personally experienced myself what the price of freedom of speech truly is. Opponents were ‘disappeared’ or it was claimed they had ‘taken their own life’, or been locked away in asylums. I am filled with fear this pattern is now repeating itself in the UK. It is appalling to see Craig is going through the same treatment in the so-called ‘human rights’ respecting country UK.

This is an attack on Truthtellers. His writings are those of a highly qualified Journalist, Human Rights Activist, former Rector of Dundee University and former British Ambassador. To us, his family, this situation is devastating: I am now left with my 5 months old baby, yet to find a good way to explain Craig’s jail sentence to his confused and anxious 12 year old son.

Of any readers concerned with the loss of freedom of speech and equality before the law I ask that you show active and outspoken solidarity with my partner.

A Craig Murray Justice Campaign has been formed which I hope you can support. Find them on twitter @cmurrayjustice. Their website will be up shortly and details will be posted on this site.

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Update:

The Campaign for Justice for Craig Murray has released an official statement which is reproduced in full below:

Legal precedent will be set tomorrow as Craig Murray will be the first person to be imprisoned on the charge of jigsaw identification in the UK, and indeed in the entire world. Scotland’s second most senior judge, Lady Dorrian, sentenced Murray to 8 months of incarceration following a contempt of court charge for ‘jigsaw identification’ relating to the trial against Alex Salmond.

In May Lady Dorrian said that in her view Murray had intended to release identities of Salmond’s accusers. Mr Murray has always denied any intent to identify and that anybody was actually identified. Murray had not directly identified any of the accusers in the Salmond trial, but Dorrian argued identification may be possible if his reporting of the case was read in connection with other materials in the public domain.

No one aside from Murray was charged with jigsaw identification in connection with the Salmond case, despite the fact that 81% of respondents in a Panelbase survey who believed that they had learned identities, gave mainstream media as the source of their knowledge. Lady Dorrian specifically stated that bloggers and mainstream media should be treated differently, as mainstream media are self-regulated.

Murray is the first person to be imprisoned in the UK for a media contempt for over 50 years, and in Scotland for over 70 years.

Murray’s imprisonment comes after an announcement from the UK Supreme Court that it will not hear his appeal. Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray will surrender himself to Police shortly and begin to serve the custodial sentence handed to him. A public protest against Murrays’ incarceration is planned. Murray’s wife and mother of their 5 month and 12 year old sons Nadira has written an open letter asking for “active and outspoken solidarity from anyone concerned about the loss of freedom of speech and equality before the law”.

Murray had recently been called as a witness in a case brought by Spanish state prosecutors against UC Global for allegedly acting on behalf of the CIA in covertly spying on Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Material before the Spanish court includes several hours of covert surveillance video of Murray in private conversation with Assange on the future of Assange and Wikileaks. The Scottish court removed Murray’s passport expressly to prevent him traveling to Spain to testify.

Craig Murray commented:

“I go to jail with a clean conscience after a Kafkaesque trial. I genuinely do not know who I am supposed to have identified or which phrases I published are said to have identified them, in combination with what other information in the public domain. This judgement will have a chilling effect on reporting of the defence case at trials, to the detriment of justice, and the different treatment of bloggers and approved media is sinister. I carefully protect the identities of the accusers in my reports. I believe this is actually the state’s long sought revenge for my whistleblowing on security service collusion with torture and my long term collaboration with Wikileaks and other whistleblowers. Unfortunately important free speech issues are collateral damage.”

Murray and the Craig Murray Justice committee have both signalled their intention to continue to resist the penalty handed to him by continuing to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights via all routes required. They are particularly concerned that in her opinion Lady Dorrian implied that bloggers and public commentators like Murray ought to be punished more severely than mainstream journalists for the same offense. Ellen Joelle Dalzell, coordinator of the Craig Murray Justice campaign group stated:

“The sentence handed to Craig Murray not only sets legal precedent in terms of a custodial sentence for the charge of jigsaw identification, it represents an attack on free speech in general, and a tangible threat to the free reporting of legal trials in particular. The judgement is excessively punitive, is likely to have severe implications for Murray’s poor health and represents a dangerous precedent for journalists and other writers who seek to fairly report or comment on matters of public law.”

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Additional:

On August 1st, Craig Murray posted the following article summarising once again the importance of issues surrounding his own case and in a response to the ensuing Twitter storm. I have reproduced his article in full including the embedded House of Commons speech made by Kenny MacAskill MP with transcript supplied beneath courtesy of Hansard:

I want to make one or two points for you to ponder while I am in jail. This is the last post until about Christmas; we are not legally able to post anything while I am imprisoned. But the Justice for Craig Murray Campaign website is now up and running and will start to have more content shortly. Fora and comments here are planned to stay open.

I hope that one possible good effect of my imprisonment might be to coalesce opposition to the imminent abolition of jury trials in sexual assault cases by the Scottish Government, a plan for which Lady Dorrian – who wears far too many hats in all this – is front and centre. We will then have a situation where, as established by my imprisonment, no information at all on the defence case may be published in case it contributes to “jigsaw identification”, and where conviction will rest purely on the view of the judge.

That is plainly not “open justice”, it is not justice at all. And it is even worse than that, because the openly stated aim of abolishing juries is to increase conviction rates. So people will have their lives decided not by a jury of their peers, but by a judge who is acting under specific instruction to increase conviction rates.

It is often noted that conviction rates in rape trials are too low, and that is true. But have you ever heard this side of the argument? In Uzbekistan under the Karimov dictatorship, when I served there, conviction rates in rape trials were 100%. In fact very high conviction rates are a standard feature of all highly authoritarian regimes worldwide, because if the state prosecutes you then the state gets what it wants. The wishes of the state in such systems vastly outweigh the liberty of the individual.

My point is simply this. You cannot judge the validity of a system simply by high conviction rates. What we want is a system where the innocent are innocent and the guilty found guilty; not where an arbitrary conviction target is met.

The answer to the low conviction rates in sexual assault trials is not simple. Really serious increases in resources for timely collection of evidence, for police training and specialist units, for medical services, for victim support, all have a part to play. But that needs a lot of money and thought. Just abolishing juries and telling judges you want them to convict is of course free, or even a saving.

The right to have the facts judged in serious crime allegations by a jury of our peers is a glory of our civilisation. It is the product of millennia, not lightly to be thrown away and replaced by a huge increase in arbitrary state power. That movement is of course fueled by current fashionable political dogma which is that the victim must always be believed. That claim has morphed from an initial meaning that police and first responders must take accusations seriously, to a dogma that accusation is proof and it is wrong to even question the evidence, which is of course to deny the very possibility of false accusation.

That is precisely the position which Nicola Sturgeon has taken over the Alex Salmond trial; to be accused is to be guilty, irrespective of the defence evidence. That people are oblivious to the dangers of the dogma that there should be no defence against sexual assault allegations, is to me deeply worrying. Sexual allegation is the most common method that states have used to attack dissidents for centuries, worldwide and again especially in authoritarian regimes. Closer to home, think of history stretching from Roger Casement to Assange and Salmond.

Why would we remove the only barrier – a jury of ordinary citizens – that can stop abuse of state power?

I am worried that this abolition of juries will have been enacted by the Scottish Parliament, even before I am out of jail. I am worried Labour and the Lib Dems will support it out of fashionable political correctness. I am worried an important liberty will disappear.

I want to touch on one other aspect of liberty in my own imprisonment that appears not understood, or perhaps simply neglected, because somehow the very notion of liberty is slipping from our political culture. One point that features plainly in the troll talking points to be used against me, recurring continually on social media, is that I was ordered to take down material from my blog and refused.

There is an extremely important point here. I have always instantly complied with any order of a court to remove material. What I have not done is comply with instructions from the Crown or Procurator Fiscal to remove material. Because it is over 330 years since the Crown had the right of censorship in Scotland without the intervention of a judge.

It sickens me that so many Scottish Government backed trolls are tweeting out that I should have obeyed the instructions of the Crown. That Scotland has a governing party which actively supports the right of the Crown to exercise unrestrained censorship is extremely worrying, and I think a sign both of the lack of respect in modern political culture for liberties which were won by people being tortured to death, and of the sheer intellectual paucity of the current governing class.

But then we now learn that Scotland has a government which was prepared not only to be complicit in exempting the Crown from climate change legislation, but also complicit in hushing up the secret arrangement, so I am not surprised.

What is even more terrifying in my case is that the Court explicitly states that I should have followed the directions of the Crown Office in what I did and did not publish, and my failure to not publish as the Crown ordered is an aggravating factor in my sentencing.

If the Crown thinks something I write is in contempt and I think it is not, the Crown and I should stand as equals in court and argue our cases. There should be no presumption I ought to have obeyed the Crown in the first place. That Scottish “justice” has lost sight of this is disastrous, though perhaps as much from stupidity as malice.

My next thought on my trial is to emphasise again the dreadful doctrine Lady Dorrian has now enshrined in law, that bloggers should be held to a different (by implication higher) standard in law than the mainstream media (the judgement uses exactly those terms), because the mainstream media is self-regulated.

This doctrine is used to justify jailing me when mainstream media journalists have not been jailed for media contempt for over half a century, and also to explain why I have been prosecuted where the mainstream media, who were provably responsible for far more jigsaw identification, were not prosecuted.

This is dreadful law, and my entire legal team are frankly astonished that the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on this point. This excellent article by Jonathan Cook explains further the chilling implications.

Those articles which the Court ordered me to take down, have been taken down. But I was not ordered to take down this one, which was found not to be in contempt of court. I was also not ordered to take down my affidavits, which though slightly redacted are still extremely valuable. I swore to the truth of every word and I stick by that. At the time I published these, far less was known about the Salmond affair than is known now, and I believe you will find it well worth reading them again in the light of your current state of wider knowledge – absolutely nothing to do with learning identities, but to do with what really happened on the whole plot to destroy Alex Salmond (something the judgement states I am allowed to say).

Finally I urge you to consider this truly remarkable speech from Kenny MacAskill MP. Scotland’s former Justice Secretary, and consider its quite staggering implications. It tells you everything you want to know about the British Establishment’s capture of the Scottish government, that the mainstream media felt no need to report the main points he was making, which constitute a simply astonishing outline of corrupt abuse of power.

Kenny MacAskill:

Before the post of Secretary of State for Scotland was created, the Lord Advocate was the power in the land, and some postholders were despotic indeed. The transportation of Thomas Muir and the hanging and beheading of Baird, Hardie and Wilson, the Scottish radicals and 1820 martyrs, are crimes that lie with them. Thankfully, the post devolved and became a purely legal role, but an anachronism was built in, for the postholder is both principal legal adviser to the Scottish Government yet also head of the prosecution service—the Crown Office, as it is known. That is something replicated neither elsewhere in the United Kingdom nor, indeed, in any modern democracy. Conflict of interest precludes it. In England and Wales, an Attorney General advises the Government from within. Meanwhile, a head of the prosecution service is both separate and independent from Government. But not so in Scotland, and therein lies the problem.

To be fair, apart from those despotic years, postholders, irrespective of political hue and whether pre or post-devolution, have acted with the impartiality expected. Modest steps were taken to mitigate the conflict of powers. Under Alex Salmond’s Administration a convention was invoked that the Lord Advocate appeared at Cabinet only when legal advice was to be given and did not participate in wider political debate. But the anachronism still lingered. Under Nicola Sturgeon’s Administration it has been brutally exposed by both Scottish Government and Crown Office actions, with the Lord Advocate straddling both. Change is now needed, and fast.

Firstly, there has been an admission by the outgoing Lord Advocate of malicious prosecutions involving the administrators in the Rangers FC liquidation. That is unprecedented in Scotland, not just in recent years but since those days of the early 19th century. Even south of the border there have been no such cases since 1999, and high-profile cases before such as the Winston Silcott and Daniel Morgan cases were rare. It has caused alarm with the public and been of huge reputational damage in an organisation where impartiality is imperative. It has also caused consternation and anger within police and prosecution services, where the overwhelming majority of staff act without bias and free of any favour or prejudice. The reputation of the many has been traduced by a few.

It was the former Lord Advocate’s decision, and seeking to cast blame on his predecessor was shameful and inadequate. An inquiry, perhaps even by a non-Scottish judicial figure, has been promised. Additionally, there is the financial cost. The quantum of damages is for the court, but suggestions are that the final bill could reach £60 million or £80 million—this in an organisation with an annual budget of £300 million, struggling to meet existing commitments. The price will be paid by Scottish taxpayers and the loss felt by hard-pressed Scottish public services.

Secondly, and just as alarming, has been the role of the Lord Advocate and a coterie around him within the Crown Office in the Alex Salmond case, and the fallout from it. It is another instance of the public having to pay the price of Government incompetence, with the legal expenses bill in the civil case amounting to £500,000, but where the issue of impartiality as well as competence was raised. In the civil case, the presiding judge described the Scottish Government’s actions as “unlawful”, “unfair” and “tainted by apparent bias”. During proceedings, senior external counsel, Roddy Dunlop QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, expressed horror at the situation he and his colleague had been put in by their client. They could no longer rest on pleadings they knew to be untrue. The client was the Government, and their senior legal adviser was the Lord Advocate. A criminal case followed the failed civil case and was prosecuted by the Crown Office, where the same Lord Advocate remained in office.

Despite growing pressures on police and prosecution, nothing has been spared—nothing has been too trivial—but the targets always seem selective. The Alex Salmond case saw resources deployed that are normally reserved for serious organised crime figures or serial killers, for charges that, were it not for who was being prosecuted, would either never have seen the light of day or appeared only in the lowest courts, not the High Court. I say that as someone who was Justice Secretary for seven and a half years but also a defence agent for 20 years. As it was, Mr Salmond was acquitted on all charges, by a majority female jury.

It is standard practice in cases involving politicians that the Lord Advocate recuses himself from involvement in the consideration or prosecution of the case, and that was done here, with no direct involvement in the prosecution. However, at the same time, the Lord Advocate had been, and was, sitting on Scottish Government committees dealing with the civil case, where referral or prosecution was being actively sought and advised by the Administration.

Let us recall that a prosecution was sought by the Scottish Government, as the actions of the director of human resources in contacting the police confirm. Many—indeed, most—complainers were and remain at the heart of Government, or are officials or otherwise closely linked with the governing party. Prosecution was encouraged and pressed for by the chief executive of the governing party, who is the First Minister’s husband.

Chinese walls and recusal are entirely inadequate. In one role, the Lord Advocate was supporting a Government pursuing prosecution; in another, he was denying that it was anything to do with him. A separation of powers this certainly was not. When James Wolffe appeared before the Holyrood Committee considering the Salmond prosecution, he was frankly evasive and obfuscating, mirroring the actions of the Crown and the Government in a lack of openness and transparency. There was neither contrition nor candour. Open government this certainly was not.

The fallout and failures continue to reverberate. Following on from the Alex Salmond case has been that of Craig Murray, a writer and former diplomat. His conviction is under appeal at the Supreme Court; accordingly, I refrain from commenting on specifics of the case. Instead, I restrict my remarks to the decision by the Crown to prosecute Mr Murray for jigsaw identification of complainers in the case. Why was he prosecuted when others who did so—in one case certainly overtly, and in many others much more flagrantly than by Mr Murray—were not? No action was taken against them.

Moreover, publications that in any other case would have constituted a clear contempt of court went without censure by the Crown. They included newspaper articles as prejudicial as I have ever seen, but they were supporting prosecution, whereas Mr Murray, though seeking to report factually, was not. It seems that the Crown has one law for those supporting the Government line and another for those who challenge it.

Click here to read the full transcript of Kenny MacAskill’s House of Common’s speech.

And here to read Craig Murray’s original post entitled “Keeping Freedom Alive”.

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, Craig Murray, internet freedom

thought(s) for the day: eleventh hour musings on Election 2015

A few hours ago I picked up a somewhat blunt pencil at a polling station in the constituency of Sheffield Central and cast my vote. Around the country an estimated 30 million other people will have done likewise by the time the polling stations close at 10 pm. Following which, we must wait, expectantly.

It is too late for persuasion and so this article is purely for the record – I meant to post sooner but simply couldn’t finish it (not satisfactorily — and though it needs further polishing I’m out of time, sorry). Yet the message I have been wishing to convey is a comparatively simple one. That whatever else happens, the Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys must be defeated.

This atrocious Con-Dem Coalition government has failed our nation in every conceivable way, and even if we choose to judge only by economic performance (I have included something on this as an addendum). Indeed, were it not for Rupert Murdoch and his central role in a far dirtier campaign than any since the 70/80s, both government parties would surely have been routed in this election. Shockingly, the Tories may yet hold on to power:

It’s forty years since anybody has won power in a UK general election without the backing of Rupert Murdoch. He’s not happy about the prospect. That’s the explanation for the surreal juxtaposition of the Sun covers from England and Scotland: 1

Image and text taken from one of a sequence of excellent articles written by John Lanchester and published by the London Review of Books.

Under other circumstances, I would have voted for a genuine anti-austerity alternative, either TUSC or Left Unity, however, given the nature of our “first past the post” (FPTP) electoral system, I have opted instead for Labour. The rest is (just) details…

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Five years ago, as the last dregs of the constituency results trickled in at about 4 o’clock, it became clear that there would be no overall victory in the General Election. Instead we had drifted to a stalemate: a hung parliament. And given how our peculiar (and extremely unfair) FPTP system habitually returns majority governments, this state of post-electoral limbo was difficult to grasp, especially as we crawled off late to bed. Next day there was an almost palpable sense that something important had been left undone. Electorus interuptus.

Many of us felt relieved nonetheless, that the Tories had not prevailed with an outright majority, given how the polls had been consistently forecasting a Tory win. At least they had until about a fortnight prior to polling day, when this happened:

Get used to it. The whole 2010 general election changed on the night of Thursday 15 April. It may now stay changed until polling day. Our ICM poll today maps the key elements of this new emerging electoral landscape. The Conservatives, until recently the likely winners on 6 May, now only have 33% support, ensuring a struggle to win enough votes or seats for victory. Labour, previously battling to get on terms with the Tories, have now slumped to 28%, third in votes for the first time since 1983, though strong in seats, courtesy of the first-past-the-post system. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, given and seizing their chance at last, have surged 10 points into second place. It is possible that what Lord Tebbit yesterday dubbed “the Clegg bubble” may burst between now and 6 May, of course. But don’t rely on that. It is just as possible that another strong performance in this week’s debate will give the Lib Dem wagon another hearty push, send their rivals into tailspins and have Whitehall mandarins scrabbling for Lib Dem telephone numbers. Either way, politics has changed. There is a new electoral reality. And about time too. And doesn’t it actually feel rather good? 2

So began an effusive Guardian editorial, and not since David Steele instructed his party members to “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”, had centrist hyperbole touched such feverish levels. That in-your-face mantra “get used to it” repeated maniacally at the beginning of every paragraph, and all under a banner that read like a flaccid, if truculent, Lib Dem cry for electoral justice: “Labour would come third by popular vote yet still have the most seats – such a result would plunge British democracy into crisis”. As it transpired, of course, the Tories ultimately prevailed instead, limping into office on the arm of Nick Clegg’s hasty acquiescence, and in spite of the fact that the Lib Dems had actually polled rather disappointingly – as usual.

You may recall too that five years ago the party still had their unique selling point – that long-held and dependable commitment to overhaul our unfair FPTP system and replace it with PR (much more to their own liking). But this didn’t happen. Even as the Lib Dems hitched their own ride into office on the back of the Tory’s miserable failure (a decade in opposition, yet unable to defeat one of the least popular governments in modern history), the Lib Dem leadership still didn’t manage to negotiate a referendum on PR… let alone actually get PR!

Nothing monumental occurred in Election 2010. Labour didn’t come third whether by number of seats or in proportion of outright votes. Quite contrary to the Guardian’s excitable speculation, our democracy was no more “in crisis” post-election than before.

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Election 2015 is different. This time around a hung parliament is anticipated and there has been almost non-stop speculation on the eventual makeup of our next coalition. In fact, since the campaign proper started, the media have been collectively hung up on hung parliament. So can we trace the roots of this monomania?

We have the polls, of course. And the polls have been quite consistently indicating two outcomes for this election, certainly since the turn of the year. Firstly, north of the border, the forecast has been that Labour will be mauled by the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) – and the size of that mauling seemingly gets bigger every time they run the latest poll (a daily occurrence for some reason) – and secondly, south of the border, the polls suggest Labour are unable to take the lead over the Tories. But then why should we trust the opinion polls? History testifies to their unreliability – as when the Lib Dem share was blown up out of all proportion in 2010:

In the run-up to the UK general election few people would have predicted a Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition goverment – and fewer still that the Lib Dems would actually lose seats despite their popularity in the polls. […]

A record total of nine polls based wholly or mostly on interviewing conducted in the final few days of the campaign were published during its final hours. Their success at anticipating the eventual outcome can only be regarded as ‘mixed’. […]

The exit poll caused such surprise because its projection for the Liberal Democrats was at variance with the predictions of the final polls, which had suggested that the much-vaunted surge in favour of Nick Clegg’s party had carried through to polling day. It was on this point that the polls were wrong, significantly overestimating Liberal Democrat support for the first time in recent polling history. 3

The reliability of polls obviously depends upon people telling complete strangers how they intend to behave at a moment in the future. But then, the only thing at stake when you are cornered by a pollster is your street cred. As a consequence, it turns out, that those polled are inclined to say they will vote for the more exotic alternatives, but then, when it comes to making any real commitment, people tend to revert to habit. Their final X put beside the devil they already knew:

Twenty-seven per cent. That’s the number of people who told ICM/Guardian this January that they intend to vote for what we used to call ‘another’ party. It’s probably not news to anyone that UKIP, the SNP and the Greens are all making the kind of in-roads into traditional voting patterns that many commentators think could result in a complete overhaul of the political map. […]

Will all these people who tell pollsters that their cross will go against an emerging party actually turn out and vote for them? Here are a few examples of when the answer was ‘no’. Most will remember Cleggmania in 2010. Some final polls had the Liberal Democrats on 29% and the average was more than 27%, but the Lib Dems ended up with roughly the same 23% they achieved five years earlier. […]

I’ll leave you with a couple of stats. ICM re-interviewed UKIP and Green intenders after the 2010 election to understand what they ended up doing: only 60% of UKIP intenders voted for them, only 42% of Green intenders voted for their own pre-election choice. 4

Trust in polls also depends upon having trust in the independence of the polling agencies themselves, so what are we to make of fact that this time around many of the polls are sponsored by former Conservative Party Deputy-Chairman, Lord Ashcroft – a man with such a unenviable record for dodgy dealing that he is better known to many as “Lord Sleaze from Belize” (Belize being the tax haven he calls home):

[But] by and large, Lord Aschcroft’s increasing influence over British politics has passed unchallenged. And that’s strange, for a number of reasons.

Firstly it’s strange because there are legitimate questions to be asked about the accuracy and reliability of what have euphemistically become termed “The Ashcroft Polls”. As I say, there was a lot of comment over the weekend about the new Sheffield Hallam poll. But it wasn’t new. It was first published back in November, and at that time showed Nick Clegg 3 points ahead. That week, Antony Wells of Yougov identified errors in the published data, leading Lord Ashcroft to revise Clegg’s lead down to three points behind. Lord Ashcroft then reviewed two other polls, one for Thanet South and another for Doncaster North. A published lead of 5 points for the Conservatives in Thanet should in fact have been 1 point. A published 29 point lead for Labour in Doncaster should in fact have been 30 points.

Nor was this the first time mistakes like this had been indentified [sic]. The Doncaster poll was also first published back in November. It generated a lot of excitement at the time, because it showed Ed Miliband only a relatively slender 12 points ahead of UKIP in his seat. But again, Anthony Wells identified an error in the data. And once it had been corrected, it showed Ed Miliband 29 points ahead, not 12. [that’s quite a discrepancy!]

So writes Dan Hodges in an article published in The Telegraph (traditionally the most rightwing broadsheet of our Tory-centric press). Hodges wonders if Ashcroft, a Conservative peer, might have an agenda of any kind…

What does Lord Ashcroft want? Not a quiet life, certainly. Last week saw him again setting the political agenda, with a raft of constituency polling in Scotland showing Labour heading for electoral annihilation and the SNP poised to emerge as kingmakers after the poll.

And what possible interest could a former Conservative Party Deputy-Chairman and a Tory peer have for providing evidence that “Labour is heading for electoral annihilation”? None at all that I can think of… although as Hodges points out:

Yet just because he has no clear agenda, it doesn’t mean he has no agenda. While donating to the Tory party, he tried to focus his efforts on specific candidates and constituencies. As he said back in 2005: “I much prefer to be involved, to make sure that my investment is wisely placed.”

Lord Ashcroft wants something. It may be an improvement in the nature of our national political discourse. It may be a more informed electorate. It may just be a ring-side seat for the greatest political show in town. 5

Or maybe this “something” Ashcroft wants is connected to his longstanding association with the Conservative Party… who knows, hey?

*

Let us cast our minds back again, to recall how a majority of voices in the media had been quite insistent that the country was heading for ‘another’ Tory victory – I put ‘another’ in inverted commas because although it was routinely presented as something of a repeat performance, little mention was made of the rather awkward fact that the Tories don’t in fact enjoy a majority, having failed to hold one since the heady days of John Major’s government.

Nevertheless, twelve months ago the mainstream was chock-full with opinion that the Tories were all-but home and dry in the forthcoming General Election, until that is, out of a less than clear blue sky, there were UKIP successes first in the council elections and then more spectacularly in the Euro-elections. This dent to Tory morale was swiftly followed up with the Tory to UKIP defections of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, and consequently, an already precarious Tory minority was suddenly a lot more wobbly.

Like an oil tanker changing course, the media apparatus corrected its position, a little. Given that a Tory majority was no longer such a nailed-on certainty, they concluded in unison, we could, in all likelihood, expect a hung parliament. It is this prospect of another hung parliament that the media has latched on to ever since, as if majority governments per se have become an endangered species.

Indeed, “rainbow coalition” has since become the media’s main infatuation, endlessly touted, not merely as inevitable, but as vital to ensuring some renewed vigour in our clapped-out political system. Politics, the media commentators have been routinely informing us, is so completely transformed from five years ago, that (to steal from the Guardian editorial again) we’d better get used to it. To a political landscape that is more “diffuse”, more dynamic, and just more damned interesting (apparently)! We have seldom witnessed such certainty about uncertainty.

Since the election officially kicked off (what feels like a lifetime ago) all of our TV channels have thus been emblazoned with multicoloured logos. Of course, the media enjoys offering its audience the perception of a broader variety of choices. Variety generates interest, which in turn sells election coverage.

In our deeply consumerist society, in which political alternatives are sold to us as party brands, any perception of broader variety actually suits politicians too. As in other branches of sales, greater choice translates into increased customer demand, which means our faltering interest in party politics gets a shot in the arm. The rainbow graphics serve this end: portraying a more multifaceted election. It’s a win-win for both politicians and the media alike, helping each to flog more of the other…

But could the news media be subliminally urging us to vote for a coalition government? I’ve put a question mark there, but only because there is no recognised punctuation mark to more perfectly convey a raised eyebrow. Certainly there are agendas lurking extremely close to the surface. (In fact, long before I finished writing this, one in particular had erupted through that surface altogether!)

*

Tory strategy has been to hurt Labour on two interconnected fronts. Firstly, they aim to weaken them in England scaring voters with the spectre of a Nationalist threat having influence at Westminster. Secondly, they talk up the SNP in Scotland to further undermine Labour. Both increase the prospect of Cameron remaining in Downing Street after the election. This is smart short-term electoral tactics, but one far removed from the pro-union message in the indyref. 6

So writes Gerry Hassan, Research Fellow in cultural policy at the University of the West of Scotland – but I’ll come back his article later.

Now, when I came across this many weeks ago, I thought it sounded far-fetched enough to need supporting. So I had intended to frame it in such a way as to gently convince the skeptical reader. For instance, I had decided to refer back to BBC’s weekly political panel show, Question Time, when on April 2nd, journalist Peter Hitchens raised the issue of what he saw as “an unholy alliance” forming between Conservatives and SNP. Hitchens was the first political commentator to draw mainstream attention to the strategy.

And why, I then wondered, was Chief Tory Whip, Michael Gove (on the same outing of QT) also gushing with enthusiasm and praise for SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s performance during that same night’s “seven leaders debate” (on ITV immediately prior to QT). What had brought the Tory bigwig Gove to be waxing altogether lyrical about the remarkable talents of (presuming we accept the hype) such a progressive radical as Sturgeon?

Furthermore, it wasn’t just Gove who had been wooed over by SNP leader Sturgeon. A fortnight later, on the QT broadcast immediately following the five leaders debate on BBC1 (a debate which both Cameron and Clegg declined invitations to join, preferring to keep their heads down), it was Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, who was overeager in his praise Sturgeon’s follow-up performance, saying he thought “frankly she ran rings around Ed Miliband”.

So in short, I had noted this canoodling long ago (about the time I first began drafting the post), but then, all of a sudden, what was merely alternative speculation had breached its allotted confinement and the mainstream were pumping for all it was worth, while every man and his dog jumped in to offer their two pennies (Tory old guard being particular keen to chip in). Soon we had John Major, Michael Forsyth, Malcolm Rifkind and even Norman Tebbit all at it. For instance, Tebbit, who is highly critical of this no longer covert Tory strategy said on April 21st:

“What I find puzzling now is the prime minister’s position that the SNP is far worse than Labour because, if so, as there are not many seats in Scotland where the Conservative Party has a chance to win, the logic would seem to be that Conservatives should vote tactically for Labour as the lesser of two evils.

“I think it’s a huge scare tactic against Labour and whether the particular seat in the House of Commons is occupied by a Labour member or an SNP member perhaps it’s not a great difference.

“Having bungled the Scottish referendum it seems pointless to just irritate Scots by shouting at them from Westminster – the English are irritated into voting for UKIP, by being shouted at from Westminster – and the Scots are irritated similarly.’ He said, “the risk to the union comes from the SNP, not from anyone else.” 7

*

Although we can actually trace a love-in between influential figures from the centre-right (Tory right, if you prefer) and leading lights of the SNP much further back again. The love that dare not speak its name is not the novelty it might first appear:

Murdoch and [former SNP leader] Salmond, the Scottish first minister have always had a friendly relationship. In February 2012 Murdoch tweeted: “Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in UK. Gave Cameron back of his hand this week. Loved by Scots.”

In notable contrast to the aloofness which characterises how Westminster MP’s now deal with Murdoch and News UK, Salmond is still (even in this post-Leveson and phone-hacking environment) ready to admit to affection for the media magnate – who had a Scottish grandfather.

Asked by Alistair Campbell in April’s GQ if he liked Murdoch, he stated: “I do. He is a remarkable man. What is wrong with this relationship? Why shouldn’t politicians engage with people in the media?”

And, let’s remember too, that it was Murdoch’s Sunday Times which on September 7th published the famous YouGov opinion poll which put the “Yes” vote two points ahead in the independence referendum – the only poll during the referendum to put “Yes” ahead, and coming at such a critical moment in the immediate run-up to the vote itself. Not that polls can ever be rigged, of course, how dare anyone suggest such a thing…

Whilst on the evening before that rather remarkable poll, Rupert Murdoch had tweeted: “London Times will shock Britain and more with reliable new poll on Scottish independence. If right on 18th vote everything up for grabs.”

And then the next day followed up with: “Salmond’s private polls predict 54-46 Yes. Desperate last ten days ahead for both sides. Most powerful media, BBC, totally biased for No.”

But on this occasion, it was the polls that were wrong (yet again), rather than the BBC. So, aside from the fact that he’s a politician, why exactly has Alex Salmond been kissing up to Murdoch? (Or is it the other way around?) John Jewell, who is Director of Media Studies at Cardiff University, makes the following observations in a fascinating article (from which the quotes above are also drawn) entitled “How Rupert Murdoch is sticking his oar into Scotland’s independence referendum”:

We know from the Leveson Inquiry and subsequent admissions that Salmond planned to lobby the UK government on Murdoch’s behalf in News Corporation’s bid to take over BskyB completely in 2010.

We know, too, that Murdoch and Salmond met in Edinburgh 2012, in a meeting described by the first minister’s office as “very constructive”. Under discussion was: “News Corporation’s substantial economic footprint in Scotland … and the potential for further investment within the country.”

Rumour had it at the time, in speculation fuelled by former Murdoch acolytes Andrew Neil and Kelvin Mackenzie, that Murdoch was prepared to move BskyB to Scotland in the event of independence.

Jewell adds:

Tittle tattle maybe, but there is no denying that the proposal to cut corporation tax in an independent Scotland to 3p below the UK rate would prove attractive to any multinational company. 8

Click here to read the full article at The Conversation.

I do agree with Murdoch on one point here – perhaps the only point we could ever possibly agree on – which is how the BBC is “totally biased”. But then, no matter how hard ‘Aunty’ tries to pretend otherwise, she is, and always has been, a willing arm of the British establishment. Come the independence referendum, and given the first B in BBC, it would be astonishing if they had been otherwise; any break-up of the Union immediately prompting the likely break-up of the corporation itself. Turkeys and Christmas, anyone?

So doubtless the BBC were one-sided during the referendum, although I would say that their coverage since has been more than favourable to the SNP. By contrast, of course, Rupert Murdoch’s own considerable media empire operates as the very epitome of impartiality, as everyone knows…

No, sorry, I meant this one:

Strange hey. How The Scottish Sun is backing “the Nats” as the gallant underdogs, whilst simultaneously The Sun (its sister tabloid in England) talks up our wonderful Tory government and frets about how it might be “brought down by the few dozen MPs of the left-wing [a swearword in The Sun] Scottish Nationalists” who will usher into power their “puppet” Ed Miliband. Now this really is balance – isn’t it?

This pincer attack is the same Tory strategy again, of course. The singular intention to reduce the Labour share of the vote with both editorials effectively saying (in differing ways) that SNP stand on the verge of a landslide victory. North of the border this message continues: “Get used to it” (where have we heard that before?); whereas the southern edition scaremongers that “If the Tories cannot get the votes to stop them [meaning SNP] ruling the roost down here, we are in for five years of mayhem and misery”.

Yet the oddest part of this now wide open agenda is what Peter Hitchens, speaking on BBC’s weekly political panel show, Question Time, on April 2nd, described as “an unholy alliance” between Conservatives and SNP. According to Hitchens, himself a dyed-in-the-wool, old-style Tory (a firebrand reactionary and someone I try not to agree with), there is an unmistakable and curiously overt New Tory attempt to bolster SNP support with the deliberate intention of breaking the Union – the very thing the old party (formally known as the Conservative and Unionist Party) served to protect. A week earlier, writing in his Daily Mail blog, Hitchens even had this to say:

Which UK party do the Scottish Nationalists most want to do well in the coming election? Might they prefer the Tories? And might the Tories, deep down, also prefer a Scottish exit from the UK to the continuing Union they claim to support? Is this the love that dare not speak its name?

The reason, Hitchens claims, is that otherwise there will never be a future Conservative government in Britain ever again (and here’s hoping):

The Tory party’s best hope of a getting a Westminster majority again is to get rid of Scotland.  A UK shorn of Scotland would produce a Tory majority Parliament and so at least temporarily halt the slow but accelerating death of the Tory Party.  But time is short. The core Tory vote is (literally) dying in droves as it is composed almost entirely of older voters. It is not being replaced. And as the new mass migrants become UK citizens, they are unlikely to become Tory voters.  The break must happen soon if the Tory party is to regain its lost ability to govern with an absolute majority, and all the fundraising and other advantages that come with that status.

He concludes:

What if the Tories and the SNP both ended up helping each other to get what they wanted – a Tory majority government at Westminster, and Scotland gone from the UK? A phrase from my childhood – ‘accidentally on purpose’ – springs to mind. 9

*

It is curious that, for different but clearly interconnected reasons, there has been a surge in the support of not one, but two nationalist parties. Nationalists with diametrically opposing outlooks. Yes, UKIP and the SNP are exceedingly strange adversaries. So let us briefly turn from the SNP to consider their grotesque ugly sister nemesis, UKIP.

UKIP and their leader Nigel Farage are hard to separate – impossible, in fact. He dominates his motley UKIP crew more than any British political leader since the days of Margaret Thatcher – and comparison with Thatcherism does not end there. Like Mrs T, Mr F somehow manages to blame the EU for most of our society’s many ills, but then placing blame on an outside menace is a tried and tested demagogic strategy. And as it goes, the EU presents him with a perfect target. Its unelected commissioners are indeed in the pockets of multinationals, while the ECB operates as an unprincipled organ of the financial oligarchs. The people of Greece or Spain or Portugal are in the best position to judge the works of the EU Commission or the ECB – two-thirds of “The Troika” – and a majority would agree that the agencies are not only incompetent and heavy-handed, but callous, corrupt and parasitical. And in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, it is better if you don’t mention the role of the Germans…

One protester recently took her complaint directly to former Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs and current President of the ECB, Mario Draghi. Interestingly, Forbes magazine last year nominated Draghi as 8th most powerful person in the world, but they had yet to see him cowering beneath his table when confronted by a smallish woman throwing confetti and demanding that he “end ECB dictatorship”:

A very reasonable demand.

Even Farage’s poisonous alarmism about an insidious invasion by Bulgarian migrants is rooted in a more justifiable concern. For why have consecutive British governments dropped our nation’s border controls with countries significantly more economically deprived than we are? This policy was bound to lead to increased downward pressure on pay and conditions for workers at home, whilst boosting the profits of the exploitative bosses and gangmasters. But none of this is anywhere near to the top of UKIP’s true concerns. Immigrants are the scapegoats, and this anti-Europe line is UKIP’s preferred wrapper, just as the Union Jack is its other wrapper. No amount of make-up can disguise UKIP’s frothing at the mouth.

On the one hand, Ukippers claim to be libertarians, which in Britain translates more than loosely as Thatcherite – free market and pro-austerity – whilst, on the other, they feign to be radicals when are very evidently reactionaries, and thus more Thatcherite still – a mix of Alf Garnetts and Colonel Blimps (more often Major Blimps and Captain Blimps). Little Englanders who simply can’t abide Johnny Foreigner. Which is why UKIP appeals mainly to those who would love to be able to vote for Thatcher, if only she wasn’t quite so dead… and why they offer very little in the way of true opposition to Labour. Instead, the serious threat to Labour’s vote is decidedly north of the border. UKIP, meantime, pose a genuine threat to the Tory’s share of the vote – and in splitting the traditional Tory vote, I personally wish them every success!

The big thing that connects the rise of UKIP with the rise of the SNP is that many who have traditionally voted either Labour or Conservative are likewise desperate for real change. In offering themselves up as alternatives, UKIP and SNP are trying to pool support from disaffected voters with drastically alternative outlooks. But beware: all nationalism feeds upon division.

There was a time, not so long ago, when SNP were shunned by those on the left (as nationalists customarily are) and disparaged for being “Tories in tartan”. But the great wonder of nationalism is that by tying oneself to a flag rather than being anchored to a secure political creed, one is able to flutter freely and change direction at a whim. A quick overhaul of political livery and the flag is still billowing beautifully. Thus the SNP, on seeing how the wind had turned, adroitly put on the guise of an anti-austerity party. Tartan Tories no longer, but relaunched as McSyriza.

Likewise, UKIP, once just a sad and lonely hangout for embittered True Blue Tories, have recently been trying quite hard to reposition themselves within the main current of our times. After all, given how the European Commission and the ECB are two of the worst pro-austerity bullies – this is irrefutable – then anyone who opposes them must be anti-austerity almost by exclusion, or something. But as a tactic, this has its limits, especially when the leader of your party, the son of a stockbroker, is himself an unrepentant City of London commodity trader. Never mind though, the austerity card can still be played, occasionally and with extreme caution. Meanwhile, to get around the background checks, Farage prefers to highlight how he actually held down a “real job” unlike all those Oxbridge pretenders from the other parties – which they are, every other one (approximately) holding a degree in PPE from Oxford University (a degree that puts strong emphasis on that E and with neo-liberal silently prefixed). So no wonder our choice of political alternatives has become dreary, and so narrowly defined. Such a shame our nation is no longer led by real men who drink pints and smoke fags and do “real jobs” like former City of London trader Farage…

As an illustration of this tightening political convergence, just think about TTIP for a moment. Here’s a quick reminder of what we know about TTIP:

Now, if we ask Nicola Sturgeon whether she and her party are in favour of the so-called “free trade agreement” she will reply that she is, although with reservations. She will point out the need for ‘robust’ negotiations ensuring exclusions for the NHS. Ed Miliband will say almost precisely the same thing, if similarly pressed. Alternatively, if you ask Nigel Farage this question, keeping in mind that we are talking about a clandestine EU treaty that will effectively mark the beginning of the end to the very existence of the nation state, rather than challenging it, he instead recommends the UK negotiate our own (secret) free trade deals with America, but in half the time it takes to cut through all of the red tape from Brussels.

In short, there are no mainstream parties large or small that are not captured and beholden to the corporatocracy. All five are sold out to differing degrees (to be fair, the Greens are officially opposed to TTIP but their limited record in power in Brighton is extremely poor and the “Green surge” is, in any case, a will-o-the-wisp). So voting in this election can only be a damage limitation exercise at best. Which brings me to ask simply this: which of the parties is the lesser of these evils? In England the answer is rather obvious, but in Scotland… back to Gerry Hassan:

Beneath this the differences between Labour and SNP are less than first appear, but magnified by language, tribalism and intense electoral competition.

A British Election Survey at the end of last year showed that SNP voters thought they were the most left-wing of Scotland’s mainstream parties and their party the most left-wing with Labour as significantly to their right; while Labour voters thought the same of themselves and their party, and placed the SNP to their right. 10

So, when it comes to which of the two is the more radical (a tallest dwarf contest if ever there was one) it is all in the eye of the beholder, whilst what actually encourages some Scottish voters to discriminate for and against goes back to the positions each assumed during the independence referendum: Labour penalised for its partnership with the Tories (as if it really had a choice given the circumstances) in the “Better Together” campaign.

*

A friend said to me recently, that if we don’t trust the polls, then what do we have to go on? Not much. Mostly, we have those election results in the European, council and bi-elections, all of which came as bad news for anyone hoping to see the return of a Tory government (coalition or otherwise). So the post-referendum rise of the SNP has been a tremendous boon to flagging Tory morale. But what are we to make of the media’s role in other ways?

The media has been hypercritical of Ed Miliband from the very beginning. But given that so much of the media (especially the press) is Tory supporting (much of it overtly so), this ought to come as little surprise. Nor should it have come as any surprise that the same media once gave Tony Blair the thumbs up. Murdoch’s press, in particular, praising him to the rafters. But then, Blair was not merely an establishment favourite, he also managed to ingratiate himself into the Murdoch household to such a degree that he was honoured as godfather to Rupert’s daughter, Grace:

Is any of this reminiscent of another of today’s leading political figures?

In contrast to Blair, Ed Miliband has been dismissed as a nerd who looks like Wallace and worse, he struggles to eat a bacon sandwich with the least bit of conviction (incidentally, he should have sacked his own advisors for that preposterous stunt). He’s just too weak, they tell us, to lead the country. But worse, apparently he quite literally “stabbed his own brother in the back.”

Understood properly, what the media are reminding us here is how the New Labour baton was supposed to have been passed to elder brother David, the designated and rightful heir to the kingdom of Tony Blair. However, Ed somehow got in the way… whatever happened to primogeniture? Neither the establishment, nor the media that speaks for it, have forgiven such impropriety.

Leading the charge against the usurper has been a familiar face. The boss of News Corp who recently tweeted: “Cameron’s Tories bash vulnerable Miliband for months with no effect on polls. Need new aspirational policies to have any hope of winning.”

And according to an article in The Independent, Murdoch may be out to get Ed for reasons other than mere party politics:

It is understood that Mr Murdoch reminded executives that Labour would try to break up News UK, which owns The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. The party has suggested that no owner should be allowed to control more than 34 per cent of the UK media, a cap which would force News UK to sell one of the titles.

It has also pledged to implement recommendations in the Leveson report for an independent press regulator backed by statute, bitterly opposed by Murdoch. Mr Miliband has made “standing up” to Mr Murdoch over the phone-hacking affair a central plank in his attempts to persuade voters that he is a strong leader. A source said: “Rupert made it very clear he was unhappy with The Sun’s coverage of the election. He basically said the future of the company was at stake and they need to get their act together.” 11

Miliband is weak? Well, not if he really does stand up to Murdoch and News Corp. In any case, as Murdoch unhappily concedes, the Tory strategy of playing the man instead of the ball has largely failed.

Two and a half years ago I personally heckled Ed Miliband during a speech he made at a rally in London. I make no apologies. After all, how dare anyone climb onto the stage of an anti-austerity protest and call for cuts. So it pains me to say that we must hope Miliband is our next PM.

But Ed Miliband is not Tony Blair, and he has already shown backbone when it matters. When he held his ground and – along with the support of a number of Tory defectors (I like to give credit wherever it is due…), though no support from Lib Dems (…but not to forgive easily) – was able to defeat the government on a vote for war, something unheard of. The Nato attack against Syria was thwarted largely thanks to Miliband; winning a Commons’ vote that spared countless lives. Of course, having opposed not only Obama, but the entire Anglo-American war party, he immediately took more flak. The “special relationship” was supposedly damaged beyond repair, the media bleated in unison in the weeks that followed. Warmongering gibberish peddled by a news media drunk on decades of senseless bloodletting.

*

Our public services are close to breaking point (some will say already past it), so what if anything will survive another five years of Tory cuts? And harsher, deeper cuts, as they have kept on promising us. Meanwhile, how divided will the nation be once more wealth has been transferred from the destitute to the superrich, even as the national debt continues rising because of “austerity”. New Labour are very much responsible for this trend too, but in fairness to Ed Miliband, he was hardly central to their neo-liberal programme. I believe we should at least give him a chance (I never said the same for Tony Blair).

My expectations of Labour remain low, but a change of political direction is as desperately as it is urgently required – and what begins as a small change might be accelerated as other nations such as Greece push the same demands. In the longer term, we can obviously do much better than New Labour, but just how “New” Labour is Ed Miliband? When asked why he voted against brother David, he replied that his own political outlook is radically different. I hope there is truth to this – although if Ed Miliband is elected into office, then we must be ready to hold his feet to the fire.

I try to steer clear of making predictions on this blog (for obvious reasons) but I am about to make a slight exception… I believe that Labour can win this election, and that even an outright majority should not be ruled out of hand. After all, prior to the last election our FPTP system delivered majority governments time and again. Has politics really changed so much in just five years? Of course, it could be that the Tories get a majority instead, however, there are other reasons to believe that Labour are more likely to win. Threefold reasons and ones that have next to nothing to do with Ed Miliband himself.

Firstly, the collapse in the Lib Dem share will most likely return to Labour. Secondly, UKIP have wounded the Conservatives – a right-wing split that is reminiscent of the SDP splitting the left in the 1980s. Although I seriously doubt UKIP will gain many, if any, seats (I certainly hope they don’t, but neither did the SDP), even without taking seats they may undermine the Tories who hold marginal seats. Thirdly, one victory which the Lib Dems did achieve during their miserable stint in government was to block Conservative attempts to redraw constituency boundaries. This was in tit-for-tat retaliation after the Tories reneged on their Coalition commitment to House of Lords reform. 12 However, the consequence of this is very much to Labour’s advantage:

Labour can reach a Commons majority with a smaller lead in the vote than the Conservatives can, all else being equal. The past two elections illustrate this: in 2005, Tony Blair turned less than three percentage points into a Commons majority of more than 50, while five years later David Cameron fell nearly 20 seats short of a majority despite a seven-point vote lead. This advantage to Labour has several sources – Labour constituencies tend to have fewer people, turnout is lower in Labour-held seats, and Labour has traditionally lost fewer seats to third parties. The Labour vote is also more “efficient”. The ideal in our system is “win small, lose big” – the fewer votes spent on crushing victories or narrow defeats, the better the return of seats to votes. Labour’s vote is closer to this ideal – fewer mega-majorities, and a better record of wins in tight races. 13

Thus the stage is set. UKIP poised to steal votes away from the Conservatives and hopefully to finally break the party in two. But, and this is the real sticking point, the SNP will undoubtedly grab votes from Labour. So the outcome is actually dependent upon the results of these two lesser battles: Conservative v. UKIP and Labour v. SNP.

I appreciate that many in Scotland will be encouraged to vote SNP either to punish Labour or else in the hope of landing a better deal for Scotland – and why not be self-interested. But let’s face facts, SNP are not Syriza, nothing like them – and perhaps, as I suspect, more closely akin to the Lib Dems of five years ago. As one who fell for the Lib Dem scam, I feel obliged to (rather belatedly) caution you.

Should the vote in Scotland go solidly the way of the SNP then it may pave the way for an unthinkable outcome – Conservatives failing to win a majority (as they likely will) yet winning most seats overall and somehow thereafter cobbling together a second Tory coalition. Can we even begin to imagine how ruined our nation (Scotland very much included) will be if there are five more years of rule by the Tories? I sincerely hope we are not about find out.

*

Addendum:

The national debt figures are out – £1.2 trillion and rising – and although I hate to say it, the Labour Party has a valid point to make. If you don’t adjust for inflation, Osborne has borrowed more in under four years than the Labour Party borrowed over 13 years.

So wrote Fraser Nelson, editor of Conservative mouthpiece The Spectator magazine in an article published in November 2013. To back his claim, the same article featured this graph captioned “Osborne borrows more in 5 years than Labour did in 13”:

Nelson concludes:

Is this recovery real, or another debt-fuelled illusion? The annoying truth is that we just don’t know. 14

For a multitude of reasons we really do know… Indeed, many of the reasons are outlined in an article published almost a year later, as the general election campaigns were just beginning to limber up, by Telegraph (another Conservative mouthpiece obviously) finance correspondent Liam Halligan. He begins with some basic bean-counting:

When the Tories took office, total government debt was £811bn. On last week’s figures, it’s now £1,451bn – an 80pc rise in just five years, with a lot more to come. This national debt matters. It must be serviced with regular interest payments, diverting money from front-line public services. Even at rock-bottom interest rates, the Government spends as much on debt interest annually as on defence. As the national debt escalates, courtesy of £100bn-plus annual deficits, and as interest rates inevitably rise, we’ll soon be spending more on government debt service than on state education.

Halligan then gets stuck into the meat of his own worries (of which I am only providing a taster):

I remain deeply concerned about our national debt, not only because of the absurdity of vast debt service payments, the damage to coming generations and the incentive politicians have to “inflate the debt away”. I also worry that our vast liabilities could ultimately spark another systemic meltdown, not least because such a high share of UK government debt is now owned by foreign creditors. And that makes our public finances extremely vulnerable if there’s a considerable weakening of the pound.

This issue has been on my mind for a while, but recently crystallised while talking to friends at the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think-tank, where I’ve long served on the advisory board. As a result of quantitative easing, around a third of the UK’s gilt stock is owned by the Bank of England. That’s right, 32pc of our government bonds have been bought by our central bank, using virtually printed money. That’s helped to rig the market, keeping interest rates artificially low.

All of which sounds like a “debt-fuelled illusion” to me, and Halligan is justifiably concerned that “such a high share of UK government debt is now owned by foreign creditors”. He continues:

The UK recently chalked up the largest external trade shortfall in our history, with our so-called current account deficit registering well over 5pc of GDP. While our imports have long outweighed our exports, our net income on overseas government investment and assets has recently swung from a surplus of 3pc of GDP to a deficit of over 2pc.

A lot of the explanation for that is the vast interest payments the Government now makes to the raft of foreign creditors propping up our public finances. 15

The systemic failures which led to the banking crisis of 2008 have never been remedied and instead the can was kicked down the road. What Gordon Brown started, the Con-Dem coalition have simply continued, and as a consequence of complete lack of reregulation of the financial markets, we can expect that the next crisis, whenever it comes (and the can might yet be kicked a lot further) will be far bigger than the first. Meanwhile, as the debt burden mounts, there can be no significant economic recovery so long as further money is simply wasted on banker bailouts and debt repayments instead of being invested in infrastructure and services. “Austerity”, meaning cuts to all government spending aside from its debt repayments, is a form of wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.

This is why the Con-Dem government have failed by every single count including their own narrowly determined neo-liberal measures. So that not only do we have a million people who have been so impoverished over the last five years that they are now dependent upon food banks; and a workforce so blighted and demoralized by the insecurity and unreliability of zero hour contracts; and even our mediocre GDP figures bolstered on account of drug use and prostitution (two commodities set to grow as the depression deepens); but worst of all, the imposed “austerity” hasn’t diminished the deficit, let alone the debt. In fact, the only real growth this country has seen has been in the wealth gap:

The UK is the only G7 country to record rising wealth inequality in 2000-14. Wealth inequality has risen four times faster in the seven years after the crash compared with the seven years before. The rich in the UK are becoming richer faster than ever. Wealth inequality rose under Labour; it rose faster under the coalition. 16

Under the circumstances, I find it hard to comprehend how either the Tories or their lickspittle accomplices, the Lib Dems, could possibly be re-elected, even with the might of Murdoch’s media empire behind them. Certainly bribery may help and Cameron has been offering temptations like there’s no tomorrow: “right to buy” houses, free childcare and even a quick bonanza from the sale of shares in Lloyds. Fiscal responsibility? For the price of re-election, “austerity” be damned! Hopefully there really will be no tomorrow for this atrocious Tory government, but if they do somehow manage to limp across the line and survive for another term in office then here’s the genius who will be back in charge of rescuing broke(n) Britain:

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Update:

The punch in stomach surprise of a Tory majority shocked and sickened many of us, and not only those on the left. Right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, was also called to account over his prediction (referred to and reprinted in the piece above) that the Tories would probably never be able to achieve such a result. In an extended reply to his critics entitled “Groundhog Day Comes Round Again” [published Friday 8th – the day after the election] he wrote:

I never for a moment imagined that Big Money and Big Lies could so successfully scare, cajole and diddle the electorate of this country. I grew up in a Britain both better-educated and more honest than the one we have today. Perhaps that is why I could not see this possibility. I have not seen, in my lifetime, a campaign so dishonest, so crude, so based in fear and so redolent of third-world and banana republic political tactics.

On which, I entirely concur. Indeed, I find that Hitchens, whose political perspective differs from mine by very nearly 180 degrees, frequently offers a more perceptive and interesting take than other mainstream commentators when surveying the bigger picture. Looking beyond his old school, reactionary opinions, which leave an altogether bitter taste in the mouth, his broader analysis of the wretched state of contemporary politics too often strikes a major chord – as here:

The truth is that both major parties are now just commercial organisations, who raise money wherever they can get it to buy their way into office through unscrupulous election campaigns. They then presumably reward their donors once they are in office. The electorate are a constitutional necessity for this process, but otherwise their fears, hopes and desires are largely irrelevant. They are to be fooled and distracted with scares (‘The other lot will privatise the NHS!’ ‘The other lot will nationalise your children’s toys and then wreck the economy!’ ) or with loss-leader cut-rate offers, like supermarkets (‘Vote for us and get a cheap mortgage!!’ ‘Vote for us and have your rent frozen!’) . Even if these wild pledges are implemented, the customer will pay for them through higher taxes elsewhere, just as with supermarket loss-leaders.

By playing our part in this ludicrous pantomime, we license it to continue forever. I have thought for years that the key to ending it was simple and obvious. We could revenge ourselves on these fakes by refusing to vote for them. The arrival of new parties, UKIP on one side, the Greens on the other, made such a revolt and redemption even easier.

But I must now admit that the people of this country actually seem to prefer to live the same experience over and over again, and seem astonishingly ready to believe the crudest propaganda. I seethe with frustrated amazement at the Tory claim to have fixed the economy, so blazingly untrue that in commercial advertising it would get them into serious trouble with the authorities.

Ailing GDP figures just before the election were barely mentioned in the media, but easily-obtained statistics on productivity, trade, manufacturing and construction, are all bad and the Tories have missed their own target (whether wise or not) on deficit reduction. In any case, the Tory record on the economy is dreadful.

Likewise, Hitchens is quite correct in his assessment of the Tory’s (not so) secret romancing of the SNP:

A Tory Party really concerned about the loss of Scotland would have done as Norman Tebbit suggested, and urged its supporters to vote Labour to stop the SNP. Instead, to the dismay of elder statesmen and experts such as Michael Forsyth, it talked up the SNP, paying elaborate compliments to Nicola Sturgeon after the leaders’ debate (George Osborne and Michael Gove were observed doing this). To claim, while behaving in this fashion, that the Tory Party is a bulwark against the SNP and Labour is in their clutches is absurd. The SNP are delighted by the Tory victory, which makes it all but certain that they will get a repeat landslide in next year’s Scottish general election, with a manifesto commitment to a second referendum, which I think they will then win. Let us see how Mr Cameron now copes with the SNP’s sweeping victory, for which he must take so much of the blame.

At least the Sun newspaper was brazenly open about its ludicrous inconsistency, campaigning for a Tory (and supposedly Unionist) victory south of the border, and for the unquestionably separatist SNP north of it.

Click here to read Peter Hitchens’ full post-election article.

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1 From an article entitled “Episode 18: Panic Stations”, written by John Lanchester, published by the London Review of Books on May 5, 2015. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/05/05/john-lanchester/episode-18-panic-stations/ 

2 From an editorial entitled “General election 2010: All change for new politics”, published by the Guardian on April 20, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/apr/20/general-election-2010-poll-editorial

3 From an article entitled “General Elecion 2010: Did the opinion polls flatter to deceive?” written by Martin Boon & John Curtice, published by Research magazine on July 6, 2010. http://www.research-live.com/opinion/general-election-2010-did-the-opinion-polls-flatter-to-deceive?/4003088.article

4 From an article entitled “Bursting the polling bubble” written by Martin Boon, published in Research magazine on February 12, 2015. http://www.research-live.com/blogs/election-blog-bursting-the-polling-bubble/4012895.article

5 From an article entitled “Lord Ashcroft’s polls are not what they seem” written by Dan Hodges, published by The Telegraph on February 9, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11401622/Lord-Ashcrofts-polls-are-not-what-they-seem.html

6 From an article entitled “The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good” written by Gerry Hassan, published March 20, 2015 on the OpenDemocracy website. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/tartan-tsunami-and-how-it-will-change-scotland-and-uk-for-good

7 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/election-2015-32394920

8 From an article entitled “How Rupert Murdoch is sticking his oar into Scotland’s independence referendum” written by John Jewell, published in The Conversation on September 10, 2014. http://theconversation.com/how-rupert-murdoch-is-sticking-his-oar-into-scotlands-independence-referendum-31531

9 From an article entitled “The SNP and the Tories – is This the Love that Dare not Speak its Name?” written by Peter Hitchens, published in The Mail on March 23, 2015. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/03/the-snp-and-the-tories-is-this-the-love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name.html

10 From an article entitled “The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good” written by Gerry Hassan, published March 20, 2015 on the OpenDemocracy website. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/tartan-tsunami-and-how-it-will-change-scotland-and-uk-for-good

11 From an article entitled “Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election” written by Adam Sherwin and Oliver Wright, published in The Independent on April 21, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/rupert-murdoch-berated-sun-journalists-for-not-doing-enough-to-attack-ed-miliband-10191005.html

12

Plans to redraw constituency boundaries before 2015, backed by the Tories, have been defeated in the House of Commons.

MPs voted by 334 to 292 to accept changes made by peers, meaning the planned constituency shake-up will be postponed until 2018 at the earliest.

It was the first time Lib Dem ministers have voted against their Conservative coalition colleagues in the Commons.

The two parties have been in dispute since proposed elections to the House of Lords were dropped last year.

From an article entitled “Conservatives lose boundary review vote” published by BBC news on January 29, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21235169

13 From an article entitled “Election 2015: how Labour gains from UK electoral system in a tight race” written by Robert Ford, published in the Guardian on March 15, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/15/election-2015-hung-parliament-majority-coalition-labour

14 From an article entitled “Osborne increases debt more than Labour did over 13 years” written by Fraser Nelson, published in The Spectator on November 21, 2013. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/11/the-tories-have-piled-on-more-debt-than-labour/

15 From an article entitled “It’s time to come clean about our national debt”, written by Liam Halligan, published in The Telegraph on October 25, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11187727/Its-time-to-come-clean-about-our-national-debt.html

16 From an article entitled “Growing wealth inequality in the UK is a ticking timebomb” written by Danny Dorling, published in the Guardian on October 15, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/wealth-inequality-uk-ticking-timebomb-credit-suisse-crash

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