Tag Archives: General Election

Brexasperation! or why I cannot campaign for Labour but I will cast my vote again for Jeremy Corbyn…

The recent European elections in Britain were never supposed to happen. The deadline had passed – twice. Understood in this context, it was inevitable, therefore, that the contest would be fought as a second EU referendum. The Lib Dems admitted as much in their election pamphlet; something they afterwards tried to downplay (along with the fact that they had branded both Labour and Tories as pro-Brexit choices):

The outcome of this second vote was another close tie and more or less along the lines of the first referendum. Overall the pro-Brexit parties narrowly defeated the anti-Brexit parties, something apparent to anyone with an impartial eye and hard to disguise although some media outlets did indeed contrive to gloss over this inconvenient fact:

Both sides claimed victory, of course, when what was largely overlooked was the exceedingly low turnout. The turnout was low in part simply because European elections have low turnouts – this applies to electorates across the continent and is rather indicative of a deep democratic failing of the EU.

Leaving these matters aside, the actual result across the various regions and nations of UK should not have surprised anyone very much but mostly proves how remarkably few have actually changed their minds at all about Brexit. Instead, opinions have become entrenched.

My own stance is unchanged and remains the same as I outlined in a sequence of articles posted in the weeks leading up the referendum (here is the first). Now as then, I advocate for Britain to leave the EU – and if Northern Ireland wishes to remain and rejoin a united Ireland then this too should be settled with a border poll.

Disconcertingly, my own standpoint is at odds with the position held by most of my friends, although allied broadly with my family. Indeed, as with the indyref in Scotland, a generational political decision has sadly cost friendships and divided families. Some of my own friends look upon the prospect of any form of Brexit with total dread and thus regard my own stance on the scale of deeply regrettable to unforgiveable. As emigrants to countries inside the EU, three of my closest friends are understandably upset by the potential long-term repercussions of Brexit. In this regard, of course, both the British government and the EU were at liberty to issue unilateral pledges to uphold the rights of migrant citizens from the start of the process, but chose instead to hold back assurances, using the fear of repatriation as a bargaining chip. Playing politics in this way is deplorable, but I suppose it was to be expected.

Other friends and colleagues who do not live so directly under the same shadow cast by Brexit are concerned for different although understandable and perfectly legitimate reasons too. None of us knows if or how badly the economy could be hit. Nor can we be certain of knock-on effects either in Britain or abroad. On the eve of the referendum, we all had the same concerns which the doom-mongers did their best to ramp up. Chancellor George Osbourne had promised an emergency budget the next day, but afterwards resigned instead. Those who voted leave mostly didn’t believe him, and tend not to believe the naysayers today. On the other hand, those who still desire to remain take the threat more seriously. This is actually just another measure of how entrenched positions have become.

Just a year prior to the referendum, as ‘the Troika’ of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF ganged up to apply neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ to Greece and the rest of “the PIGS”, with the imposition of “austerity” cuts to public services and demands for the privatisation of state assets, progressives and even a few liberals had been tweeting (quite correctly) “This is a coup”. During that period, political columnist for the Guardian, Owen Jones, wrote the following in an article entitled “The left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda”:

Other treaties and directives enforce free market policies based on privatisation and marketisation of our public services and utilities. David Cameron is now proposing a renegotiation that will strip away many of the remaining “good bits” of the EU, particularly opting out of employment protection rules. Yet he depends on the left to campaign for and support his new package, which will be to stay in an increasingly pro-corporate EU shorn of pro-worker trappings. Can we honestly endorse that?

Continuing:

Let’s just be honest about our fears. We fear that we will inadvertently line up with the xenophobes and the immigrant-bashing nationalists, and a “no” result will be seen as their vindication, unleashing a carnival of Ukippery. Hostility to the EU is seen as the preserve of the hard right, and not the sort of thing progressives should entertain. And that is why – if indeed much of the left decides on Lexit – it must run its own separate campaign and try and win ownership of the issue.

Such a campaign would focus on building a new Britain, one of workers’ rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice. Such a populist campaign could help the left reconnect with working-class communities it lost touch with long ago. My fear otherwise is a repetition of the Scottish referendum: but this time, instead of the progressive SNP as the beneficiaries, with Ukip mopping up in working-class communities as big businesses issue chilling threats about the risks of voting the wrong way. Without a prominent Left Out campaign, Ukip could displace Labour right across northern England. That would be the real vindication of Ukippery.

And concluding:

Lexit may be seen as a betrayal of solidarity with the left in the EU: Syriza and Podemos in Spain are trying to change the institution, after all, not leave it. Syriza’s experience illustrates just how forlorn that cause is. But in any case, the threat of Brexit would help them. Germany has little incentive to change tack: it benefits enormously from the current arrangements. If its behaviour is seen to be causing the break-up of the EU, it will strengthen the hand of those opposing the status quo. The case for Lexit grows ever stronger, and – at the very least – more of us need to start dipping our toes in the water. 1

Click here to read Owen Jones’ full article published in July 2015.

But Owen Jones was never one for consistency, and soon he was backing the remain campaign:

And saying this instead – a forecast that has to some extent been vindicated:

Having ditched Lexit in order to jump aboard the ‘Remain and Reform’ bandwagon, Owen Jones then correctly foretells the coup against Corbyn (it wasn’t difficult) and also envisions Johnson as Prime Minister surrounded by a gaggle of maniacal right-wingers. However none of this had been the inevitable outcome of a referendum vote to leave. In fact, an awful lot of water passed under the bridge in the interim period before Johnson managed to regain any momentum. It was a period when the left needed to consolidate behind Corbyn, especially in the aftermath of the extraordinary reversal during the 2017 General Election, but instead, Jones and other prominent leftists actually drove a wedge between themselves and the traditional Labour base. By January 2018, Jones was writing:

If only Brexit would go away. It sucks the political oxygen away from the issues we should all be discussing: like low wages, insecure jobs and the housing crisis. It is a rallying cry for a noxious alliance of anti-immigrant demagogues and regulation-stripping free marketeers. The bigotry, xenophobia and racism stirred up by the official leave campaigns injected an ugliness into British politics which never dissipated, and left hate crimes surging. And, frankly, Brexit is just mind-numbingly, painfully, excruciatingly dull. So yes, if there was a big red button to make it all just go away, I’d enthusiastically push it. 2

Click here to read Owen Jones’ full article entitled “I don’t like Brexit – I just don’t see how it can be stopped”.

Owen Jones is all-too typical of today’s left. Such inconsistency on the EU would be understandable, but for his spinelessness and abject lack of coherence. One minute he is throwing up his hands and reminding us (correctly) “just how forlorn” the cause of trying to reform the EU is, whilst urging fellow progressives that “the threat of Brexit would help them” (meaning the disadvantaged countries of Europe) and in the next breath he’s saying that he has been persuaded “to stand together to reform and change the EU” because “another Europe is possible”.

So let us cast our minds back further. Back to the 70s and early 80s when we find that the most radical voices, with Tony Benn, Peter Shaw, Barbara Castle, and Michael Foot very much in the vanguard, were likewise the most serious and committed Eurosceptics in British politics*, whereas the Europhiles tended to look and sound more like this:

Jeremy Corbyn is another on the left of his party who has never been a friend of the EU. Until very recently the same was true of John McDonnell. Relentless attacks of every kind – most effectively the media-led weaponisation of claims of antisemitism – have weakened Labour’s leadership and Corbyn especially. He has also been forced into submission by the pro-EU allegiance of the PLP and leaders of the trade union movement, as well as by grassroots Labour Party membership.

Many of Corbyn’s staunchest supporters – those who have backed him to the hilt on every other major issue – take a diametrically opposed stance on the EU, and few in his base dwell upon the cause of Corbyn’s single-issue divergence, preferring to gloss over the underlying problems with the European project. Nor do many ask, as one of the guests did on BBC’s election night programme, regarding the bright, shiny Euro-mobile backdrop:

Screenshot of the BBC election  night motif

“It’s a little like your lovely picture. You see all the smaller baubles and you know what they represent – France, Germany, Ireland, Spain – but then there’s the much larger blue ball with its ring of stars, and you wonder what does that represent?” (I am paraphrasing but hopefully you get the point)

In fact the better question perhaps is not what does the central hub represent, but whom does it represent? For evidently it does not represent the people of Greece or the other PIGS, or most of the rest of the European population. Instead it works for corporate interests – and again I refer you to an excellent investigative documentary called The Brussels Business.

Moreover, would a purely internationalist collaboration have much need for its own flag and anthem, unless the agenda was for outright unification? Arguably, a fully federalised United States of Europe is a grand and worthwhile project, yet advocates with the power to actually bring it about are also in the habit of denial. They know that they dare not allow the people of Europe to choose, because each past occasion they did, the people said no. Rather than seeking popular consent, therefore, the consistent approach is to forge closer union by stealth and subterfuge.

In fact, the trouble with the ongoing European project stems from its beginnings as a political collaboration that was established primarily to protect business sections, rather than as a union of nations formed to promote human rights and ensure peace. The EU still puts profits first.

Q. During the EEC membership referendum in 1975, which of these images formed the background to the official campaign poster to remain and which was to leave? Answer at the end of the post…

How the left gradually softened its position toward the EU, and has latterly become enamoured with Brussels, is a subject I addressed in earlier posts (see here), so rather than repeating myself, I offer instead an answer given by former Syriza MP (elected as a member of the Greek Parliament in January 2015) and Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS), Costas Lapavitsas, during an interview with judicious Europhile and host of Novara Media, Aaron Bastini, when asked in what ways he thought firm advocates for “remain and reform” like his former Syriza colleague Yanis Varoufakis are mistaken [from 27:15 mins]:

“The thing that is absent in what Varoufakis is saying is in understanding the class nature of this, because these are not class neutral institutions. In the end they are institutions serving the interests of big business and big capital against labour… And when you’re confronting these institutions class interest will manifest itself clearly and forcefully.

“You might give the best arguments in the world. You might be able to tell them “look austerity doesn’t work”. And you might be able to write a very good academic paper on that, which might get published in a very good academic journal, but in the realm of politics that’s not how it works, because class interests will tell in the end and your argument will be dismissed. […]

“The class interests… are ruthless and unbending and that’s obvious from how they’re behaving. Ten years into the [banking] crisis, nothing’s changed. Nothing.”

Costas Lapavitsas, who is also author of “The Left Case Against the EU” was also recently interviewed by ‘Labour Leave’:

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Did you ever watch one of those shows in which stage magic is exposed? I confess that this is a guilty pleasure of mine perhaps due to my irresistible urge to find out how things work – the same urge that led me to study science. However, the big problem with such shows, besides the obdurate tackiness, is that the tricks presented are in any case third-rate imitations of the best grand illusions. The eponymous star of the most popular of this genre is the Masked Magician, and he is the most ham-fisted conjuror you have probably ever seen. His props are as rickety and his illusions as unconvincing, as his sleight of hand is amateurish and clumsy. But, if you’re like me, then you find yourself going back again and again, and cringing throughout. You want him to fool you, but he’s simply not good enough, and the illusion is usually broken long before the big reveal.

Well, enough about the Masked Magician – I wish him no ill will – he just serves as a fitting analogy for what I see as the contemporary state of politics in Britain. All of it is clunky, amateurish, and utterly unconvincing. Long gone is the conviction of Churchill, Atlee, Wilson, Foot, Benn or even Thatcher; gone too, the slicker gloss of Blair and Cameron. Today’s politics are unvarnished again, but not in a good way. It has become a very, very sorry spectacle indeed.

Take Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Wakefield when he delivered an electioneering speech in front of a phalanx of police cadets, who had been waiting for over an hour for his bumbling appearance. When one of his unwitting backdrop props fainted in the heat, Johnson was left to make a disingenuous apology, before blustering on regardless. His cheap stunt had backfired – but what a stunt… how blatant, shambling, and frankly Trump-like. It’s almost as though he and his advisors simply don’t care whether they manage to impress many viewers or even how unprofessional they appear. The association, in this case of Johnson with the police, is enough to appeal to the target audience.

Likewise, shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, on last night’s BBC Question Time, when asked what Labour’s position on Brexit will be in the near-certain event of a forthcoming general election. We will negotiate a new deal with Europe and then hold another referendum with choices to accept Labour’s new deal or else to remain, she told us. “Will you be campaigning against your own deal, a deal you have negotiated?” she was asked, at which point she lost her bearings entirely and after an excruciating pause, admitted that she would! This is not a credible position – this is not serious politics: it’s an embarrassment.

There isn’t time here to go through all the reasons we have reached this dire state of affairs. I mean where would we ever begin? With Cameron’s original decision to call a referendum; or the series of slips and the rise of Ukip that forced his hand; or the EU’s lack of flexibility when he tried to negotiate the original deal; or May’s electoral ineptitude that reduced a working Conservative majority to a hung parliament; or the chicken coup of Labour MPs who sought to destroy Corbyn and inadvertently (or not) led May to call that election (an election she had vowed never to call); or the subsequent years of Conservative shilly-shallying, and the steady drift of Labour towards an undemocratic second referendum; or the return of Farage and Conservative Party’s nuclear option election of Johnson as leader? Such a catalogue of backstabbing, procrastination, vacillation, and sheer betrayal! – even judged against their usual ghastly standards, the Brexit debacle has shown us the worst of the political establishment and the media.

In an interview with ITV news on September 16th, David Cameron talked about Johnson’s decision to front the leave campaign saying, “Boris thought Brexit would be lost”:

Unfortunately, we are where we are. The Conservatives are stuck with Johnson the remainer and his Old Etonian chums rallying the country to his sham anti-establishment cause and persuading the gullible that he is a staunch leaver, while Corbyn, the life-long Eurosceptic, who has been browbeaten into submission, enters a marriage of convenience with the equally sham pro-nationalist SNP and overtly anti-democratic Liberal Democrats, to carry the flickering torch of remain. All sides have given up on principle – in fact, and this is what is truly astonishing, they have largely given up on the pretence of principle. Both sides are simply hoping their opponents are more deeply fractured than they are. This is how they seek to regain power under our ludicrous and dysfunctional first-past-the-post system.

Counterfactually, had the Labour Party endorsed Corbyn in the days following the referendum and endorsed his call for the Conservative government to trigger Article 50, then Labour would very likely be leading the polls, if not already in government. But any promise of Lexit was dashed instead once the PLP ‘rebels’ launched their attacks on the party’s leadership. Then Labour missed the boat a second time in the chaotic aftermath of the 2017 general election, and once again the fault must be laid at the door of the majority of PLP and Corbyn’s own base who wasted the opportunity. Instead, little by little they have completely boxed him in over Europe, and in consequence we stand on the brink not only of a no deal Brexit under Johnson’s reactionary government, but prospect that the project Corbyn started, with its noble aim of steering the party back to the left, will also be ruined on the back of electoral defeat.

Which is why at length, and in spite of everything, I shall still vote for Corbyn at the next election and encourage others to do likewise, but it is also why I feel unable to canvass on the doorsteps for the Labour Party as I did during the last campaign. My hope is that by some miracle Corbyn can recover ground and win office, and for this I am prepared to sacrifice leaving the EU. Labour’s electoral success may very well rest on how many others will also put aside the desperate failings of the party, and stick to backing Corbyn.

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Additional: My correspondence with Shadow Brexit Minister Paul Blomfield

Appended below is an exchange of letters with Paul Blomfield, who is MP for Sheffield Central (my constituency) and became Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union in October 2016. Paul Blomfield has always replied at length to all of my correspondence which is greatly to his credit.

Jan 10th (contacted through 38 Degrees)

As your constituent I’m emailing you to let you know where I stand on Brexit ahead of the vote on Tuesday the 15th of January.

Theresa May’s deal is a terrible one and unless she can renegotiate a compromise agreement with Brussels I want a clean break from the EU. This respects the result of the referendum. I believe we should leave as soon as possible even though I accept this could mean people’s jobs and wages take a hit. Any reversal of the referendum vote to leave the EU will be regarded by many (far more than the 17 million who voted leave) as a denial of the will of the people and dictatorial.

Please let me know how you’ll represent my views in Parliament.

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Jan 15th

Dear James,

Thank you for your e-mail setting out your views on the Government’s Brexit deal.  I value my correspondence with constituents and do appreciate you taking the time to write. I try to keep constituents in touch with my views and activities, including my work as a Shadow Brexit Minister, through a monthly e-newsletter. If you don’t already receive it, just reply ‘yes’ to this email and I’ll add you to the mailing list (see here for my data privacy policy).

As a Shadow Brexit Minister I was closely involved in drawing up the six tests against which Labour has consistently said that we would measure the deal. Our six tests were based on the Government’s own stated objectives and the Prime Minister said that she was determined to meet them. When the deal was published in November we were clear that it did not meet those tests and we will therefore vote against it today.

Labour has always been clear that we respect the result of the referendum, but believe that people voted to get out and not to lose out. I appreciate that you say you would be prepared to take a cut in your income or lose your job, but most leave voters I’ve spoken to wouldn’t agree; indeed they felt that leaving the EU would improve their position. We do not think that people’s living standards should be sacrificed for a hard Brexit.  Labour respects that we have financial commitments to the EU to meet before we leave. It is not a ‘fee to leave’, but settles outstanding financial obligations to which we committed ourselves as a member. If we do not meet our legal obligations, no country would trust us in any negotiations over future trade agreements.

So, we will vote against the Withdrawal Agreement today and seek to ensure that the chaos and civil war in the Tory Party does not result in us crashing out of the EU without a deal; and therefore, with no transition period. We will continue to press for the most beneficial deal with the EU, which means a close relationship, and we will seek to amend the Government’s proposals to that effect.

As you will know, we are not alone in voting against the deal. We will be joined by all opposition parties and a large number of Conservative MPs. In fact, it looks clear that it will not receive a Parliamentary majority. At that stage, all options will have to be available to avoid the consequences of no deal, as we set out at our Conference.

You can read more in my regular update on my website – see the latest one here.

With best wishes,

Paul

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Jan 15th

Dear Paul,

Thank you for replying promptly and in full to email.

May’s deal is the worst of all worlds and I am pleased that Labour will be voting against it. I also agree of course that we must seek the best deal for Britain since this is a no-brainer. However, if we refuse to entertain the option of no deal then in effect the EU holds all the cards. As Digby Jones put it: “When you have a Parliament turn around and saying ‘we’re going to say there’ll be no deal’ – it’s like saying I’ll buy a house for less but if I won’t, I’ll buy it for more.”

Regarding the ‘divorce bill’, again I fully acknowledge that Britain should fully settle any financial obligation, but this is not the same as paying May’s agreed “financial settlement” of £39bn which is conditional. This conditionality was made clear on September 7, 2018, when Michel Barnier conceded that the EU would allow a future trade agreement to be linked to the payment of the divorce bill.

Like most leave voters I too feel that leaving the EU will ultimately improve my position, although I did not vote to leave purely for economic reasons. Instead I voted to leave because I do not wish to live in a federalised Europe under centralised bureaucratic governance. Neither do I wish to see the formation of an EU army, a goal that was until very recently denied outright. I also wish to leave Europe because of the way it treats its poorest members (the so-called PIIGS) with the cruel imposition of unremitting austerity. Others voted to leave for reasons I actually deplore, but I am a democrat and respect the fact that they have as much right to vote as I did. To reiterate my previous points, the danger facing Labour is that so many of its traditional voters, in the North especially, will feel betrayed if the referendum vote is not respected. Unknown numbers will be recruited by the far right. Indeed, I fear that Labour may lose so much of its traditional support that it could easily enter into the wilderness once again.

So although I respect your alternative opinion on this issue, I do not believe Labour should engage in fearmongering. “Crashing out of the EU without a deal” is emotive language, and I feel that I must remind you that we did not vote for a deal but only to leave. Indeed at the time of the referendum we were warned that voting to leave would involve exit from the single market and customs union, yet we voted to leave nonetheless. I believe that people did not in fact prioritise economics in the vote, but made their choice for other reasons. This is all the more reason to fear the consequences of a U-turn on the referendum decision, and all the more reason to doubt that people can be won over by economic arguments now.

Thank you again for replying. Best wishes,

James

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Feb 13th

Dear James,

Thanks for your further note. I really appreciate hearing constituents’ views so I’m grateful for you taking the time to write and set out your thoughts on the issue. Another way I try to keep in touch about my views and activities, including my work as a Shadow Brexit Minister, is through a monthly e-newsletter. If you don’t already receive it, just reply ‘yes’ to this email and I’ll add you to the mailing list (see here for my data privacy policy).

On the financial settlement, you’ll know that Michel Barnier said such a link could be explored but that it would depend on the legal implications. Even the former Brexit Secretary and Brexit campaigner, Dominic Raab, conceded that we would still have financial obligations in the event of no deal.

In terms of the EU’s treatment of poorer countries and political integration, the UK was a leading member with significant influence and say in the EU, which we will lose on exiting.  It is always easier to influence and shape direction from within. You’ll also know that all the PIIGS countries supported the UK remaining within the EU.  The rise of ring-wing populism across Europe is extremely concerning and EU Parliament will have a very different configuration after the elections in May. I think it is extremely unfortunate the UK Labour MEPs will not be there to counter this. I have to say that I don’t recognise your description of the EU’s “bureaucratic governance”; decisions are made through co-decision making involving the Commission, the elected members of the Council of Ministers and the elected members of the Parliament. Indeed, in many ways, it’s a stronger democratic model than the UK’s governance. I know that the ‘European Army’ was a popular myth in the referendum campaign, but it doesn’t stand up to examination.

You mentioned the prospect of Labour losing voters who voted in favour of Brexit. I would challenge the idea that Labour voters are pro-Brexit; 2/3 of Labour voters backed remain, while 2/3 of Tory voters backed leave. It’s true that many in some Labour areas (although not primarily our voters) did vote leave, but it was the Tories that delivered Brexit. That shouldn’t be a surprise as it was a campaign led by the hard right neo-liberals opposed to the development of social Europe and what they see as regulatory constraints on free markets. Labour campaigned to remain in the EU, but we respect the result of the referendum. However, voters would not thank MPs who delivered Brexit on a false prospectus and politicians must be honest with the people who elect us, about the impact of different Brexit options on jobs and the economy and about the fact that we will have to reach agreement on common rules with countries with which we want to trade.

Therefore, warning about the effects of leaving without a deal is not fear mongering. The Treasury’s own analysis indicates that it would hit our economy by a massive 10%. No deal would be disastrous for jobs and the economy. I spoke to motor manufacturers in December and they made it clear that they rely on the seamless flow of goods across borders and that the Government’s advice to stockpile just isn’t a viable option for their ‘just-in-time’ supply chains. Our universities, a sector that is crucial to Sheffield and supports 944,000 jobs across the country, recently described ‘no deal’ as one of the biggest threats they have ever faced. I also spoke to motor manufacturers in December and they made it clear that they rely on the seamless flow of goods across borders and that the Government’s advice to stockpile just isn’t a viable option for their ‘just-in-time’ supply chains

Despite spending £4.2 billion of public money that could have been spent on our NHS, schools and other public services, the Government is totally unprepared for ‘no deal’, most memorably demonstrated by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to award a £13.8m ferry to a company with no ships. On top of that, they have at least half a dozen Bills and swathes of secondary legislation to get through the House to fulfil the most basic requirements of leaving without a deal

‘No Deal’ was not on the ballot paper and several leading Brexiteers spoke about the favourable trade deal we would secure with the EU before the referendum. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, also said that it would be the “easiest [trade deal] in human history”. Interpretations of what the Brexit vote would mean also vary. The Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, a longstanding Eurosceptic, repeatedly said that it would not mean leaving the single market: “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”. So how the Brexit vote should be interpreted is debatable, but MPs have a responsibility to mitigate the damage as much as possible.

Thanks again for your email and you can keep up to date with all of my work on Brexit on my website.

Best wishes,

Paul

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March 1st

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your full and detailed reply to my previous email. I shall briefly respond to some of the points you raised before coming to the main issue of Labour’s decision to support a second referendum.

Firstly, and I quote, you describe the formation of a ‘European Army’ as “a popular myth in the referendum campaign, saying that it doesn’t stand up to examination.” (With the link provided.) I have followed this link to fullfact.org which states in its main summary under the heading ‘Conclusion’ that:

“EU member countries work together on military matters, but the EU doesn’t have its own military capabilities. At least a few European politicians do support the creation of an EU army, but that would need unanimous approval.”

I fail to see in what way this refutes claims that the EU is seeking to form its own army. Moreover, those “few European politicians” happen to include EC President Jean-Claude Juncker who has repeated called for widescale military unification. Prominent Belgium MEP Guy Verhofstadt is also outspoken in demanding “real EU defence and foreign policy”. There are countless other examples I might add here.

Secondly, you dismiss all the criticism of the EU’s ‘democracy deficit’ and argue, and again I quote, “it’s a stronger democratic model than the UK’s governance”. Leaving aside the constitutional arrangement that gives the unelected EC greater powers over the elected parliament (small wonder most voters in Britain are unable to name their own MEPs), the callous response of the EC and ECB (two branches of the so-called ‘Troika’) to the Eurozone financial crisis is fully indicative of the anti-democratic nature of the project. In a conversation with Noam Chomsky, former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who headed negotiations with the Eurogroup (and who has since advised Jeremy Corbyn), said this:

“The European Union doesn’t suffer, or the Eurogroup, from a democratic deficit. It’s like saying that we are on the moon and there is an oxygen deficit. There is no oxygen deficit on the moon. There is no oxygen, full stop.” You can find the quote here: https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2016/06/28/full-transcript-of-the-yanis-varoufakis-noam-chomsky-nypl-discussion/

Lastly, and most urgently, I wish to address Labour’s unfortunate decision to support a second referendum. In your reply you said: “Labour campaigned to remain in the EU, but we respect the result of the referendum.” So if there is a second referendum what choices will be put to the electorate?

If this is simply a second referendum on the deal to leave then I will reluctantly support Labour’s position. However, if remaining in the EU is one of the choices on the ballot paper then a second referendum will be an affront to 17.4 million Brexit voters – the largest number of people who have ever voted for anything in all of our history. Furthermore, a second referendum with ‘remain’ on the ballot breaches Labour’s election manifesto pledge, which is less than two years old and which you reiterated, that you accept and will respect the result of the first referendum. This will cause untold damage to Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation for authenticity, believability and honesty. It will also reinvigorate Ukip, and provide ammunition to far right extremist Tommy Robinson. Like many people inside the party and outside, I believe that such a U-turn will very likely ruin Labour’s electoral chances for decades to come.

Thank you again for replying. Best wishes,

James

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April 15th

Dear James,

Thanks for your further note and apologies for the delay in getting back to you. As you can imagine, the past few weeks have been exceptionally busy for me as a Shadow Brexit Minister so although I read your email at the time, I am just now getting a chance to respond.

I’m a bit puzzled by your interpretation of the quotation from FullFact as I don’t see how it refutes the claim that the EU is seeking to form a European army. On the contrary, it confirms that only “a few European politicians” do support this but, as it also states, it would require unanimous approval of every member state, which does not exist.

I disagree with Yanis Varoufakis. Our Parliament has always been sovereign as the Government confirmed clearly in their White Paper on leaving the EU and even outside of the EU, the UK will have to work with other countries, including the EU27, to achieve common aims. According to the House of Commons library, 13% of our laws ‘come from Brussels’ (where we do of course have a say in how those laws are made). In many instances, where rules are agreed at the European level, the UK has flexibility in how to implement what is agreed.

In the modern world, nations’ interdependence and cooperation is inevitable and something to be celebrated rather than regretted. You are right that the European Commission is unelected, but so is our civil service and neither make laws, although both draft them. Laws need agreement of both the Council of (elected) Ministers and the European Parliament (more here). Moreover, votes in the Council are weighted according to population, although usually reached by consensus, and of course each country has a veto in key areas. You might also note that the European Parliament has the power to dismiss the Commission. On democratic credentials, the EU does far better than international organisations like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, for example.

To come back to the question of a further referendum: as I’ve made clear in previous emails, I campaigned to remain but accept the result of the referendum. What I do not accept is the interpretation that it was to rupture all ties with the EU. It was clearly a vote to leave but it was a narrow win and, numerically, roughly in line with the numbers that voted ‘Yes’ in the 1975 referendum (17,378,581), which was proportionally a much more resounding victory to remain at 67.5%.  Labour accepted the result of the first referendum by voting to give the Prime Minister the authority to trigger Article 50 and have been pushing for a Brexit deal that both respects the result of the referendum and protects jobs, the economy and our national security. I recognise the risk that it would present an opportunity for the far right, but if we limit our political choices on that basis where does it end?

Labour has urged the Prime Minister to step away from her red lines and are currently engaging in talks with the Government to press them to bring back a deal that can command a majority in Parliament and in the country by forging a close relationship with the EU. We have called on the Government to introduce primary legislation for a mandate to negotiate changes to the Political Declaration to secure a permanent and comprehensive customs union with the EU; close alignment with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations; dynamic alignment on rights and protections; commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in areas such as the environment, education, and industrial regulation; and unambiguous agreement on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases. We must do all we can to protect jobs and the economy, which is why Labour has supported a confirmatory public vote – giving the British people a choice between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU – to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit. This is in line with our 2018 Party Conference motion, which was passed unanimously, and, as you’ll know, is overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Labour Party members.

Thanks again for getting in touch and you can find all of my blog posts and speeches on Brexit on my website.

Best wishes,

Paul

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April 15th

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your detailed reply and I do appreciate your efforts in this regard. I shall try to keep my reply very short. You write that you now support “a confirmatory public vote – giving the British people a choice between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU –  to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit” and that this is in line with the Party Conference motion. What you have failed to address, however, is my point that such a “confirmation public vote” (second referendum – why can’t we call it what it is?), as I wrote, “breaches Labour’s election manifesto pledge, which is less than two years old and which you reiterated, that you accept and will respect the result of the first referendum”.

A second referendum between the proposed options will disenfranchise millions of voters who want neither to remain nor to accept May’s deal. In effect, although they voted to ‘leave’, they are instead being told that this is impossible and asked in what way they wish to ‘remain’. In the event of such a referendum I would expect a deluge of spoiled ballots (mine will be one). Indeed, the inclusion of ‘remain’ as an option in a second referendum will be seen as a betrayal of democracy because it is one. Lastly, as a Labour member myself, I fail to see how a conference motion can override a manifesto pledge. What precedent does this set? I campaigned on the manifesto and will feel ashamed of the party if it follows this course. Finally, if Labour does force a second referendum then it will anger millions of former voters, many of whom (as you do acknowledge) are likely to flock to the far-right. The point is that this abandonment of the left will be understandable in such circumstances. So this is not a matter of limiting our political choices, as for instance the calling for tighter immigration controls under former leader Ed Miliband was. This is not about pandering to extremists, but straightforwardly honouring a referendum result and Labour’s election promises. If we cannot even do this, then how in good faith can I campaign for Labour again?

Thanks again for taking such trouble to reply to me.

Best wishes,

James

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Follow up in response to a request to help with campaigning in European elections

May 8th

Dear Paul,

As I understand you, Labour is now seeking a “confirmatory vote” (i.e., second referendum) before the first referendum result has been enacted and contrary to the election manifesto pledge to honour the referendum result. This is certainly the case if, as you have given me to understand in previous correspondence, the proposed second referendum is to include ‘remain’ on the ballot. With due respect therefore I find myself unable to campaign for the Labour Party (of which I am a member) in the forthcoming European elections. Moreover, I shall not vote for Labour in those elections.

Best wishes,

James

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May 9th

Dear James,

Thanks for getting back to me.

I am sorry that you do not support the party policy endorsed unanimously at our Party Conference last September:

“Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election that can sweep the Tories from power. If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the Government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”

As we have already discussed, Labour did accept the outcome of the referendum and we voted to trigger Article 50. We confirmed that in our 2017 manifesto, but also said that we rejected the Tories’ approach and wanted a close economic relationship with the EU seeking to retain the benefits of the customs union and single market, as well as alignment on rights and protections (see here). We have always been clear that we will not give the Prime Minister a blank cheque to harm our economy and people’s jobs and livelihoods.

Best wishes,

Paul

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May 9th

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your prompt reply. I am sorry to write again and shall keep my own response as brief as possible. You say that Labour did (past tense) accept the outcome of the referendum adding that “we voted to trigger Article 50”. However, the country voted to leave (whereas triggering Article 50 is procedural) and in spite of this, and though the deadline has since passed, Britain remains inside the EU. Backing a second referendum with an option to ‘remain’ is a more or less open call to revoke Article 50. Thus, if triggering Article 50 means that Labour accepted the outcome, then, by the same reasoning, revoking Article 50, which overturns the referendum result, will represent a clear betrayal of our manifesto promise. In this regard the policy endorsed by the party conference is an irrelevance since it is incompatible with manifesto pledges on which all Labour MPs were elected and on which we all campaigned. I regard this change in policy as entirely dishonourable, but worse than that, it will be electorally disastrous.

Best wishes,

James

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May 28th

Hi James,

Thanks for your response. Please don’t apologise for writing again; I appreciate you sharing your views.

Clearly the situation has developed further since you wrote, with last week’s European elections. Indeed, here in Sheffield and in the country as a whole, the combined vote of those parties committed to a further public vote and remaining in the EU beat that of the those opposing a vote and leaving the EU at any cost. Labour was punished for an ambiguous message and lost votes to the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. So we have to look seriously at the issue of a further public vote, which I don’t think would be dishonourable or electorally disastrous.

Party policy has evolved and developed and the latest Conference policy surpasses the two-year-old manifesto. Your suggestion that revoking Article 50 would be overturning the referendum result does not take into account that we would seek a fresh mandate. We have made every effort to push the Government to get a deal that would work for the country but it is clear that there is an impasse in Parliament and support for a vote to give people a final say is surely not anti-democratic. Indeed, there have been MPs and others who have been campaigning to leave the EU since the 1975 referendum. Campaigning to persuade people is a fundamental characteristic of democracy.

Nor do I agree it would be electorally disastrous. 65% of Labour voters voted remain and recent polling indicates that 72.5% Labour voters would back remain in another referendum. Clearly there would be some votes lost and have been already, but these are far outweighed by those lost on the other side.

Above all though, we have to do what we think is right to resolve the crisis. There were big variations in different areas, but with the country and Parliament divided, there is no option but to give the people a final say to break the impasse.

Best wishes,

Paul

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 Answer:

 

1 From an article entitled “The left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda” written by Owen Jones, published in the Guardian on July 14, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/14/left-reject-eu-greece-eurosceptic

2 From an article entitled “I don’t like Brexit – I just don’t see how it can be stopped” written by Owen Jones, published in the Guardian on January 3, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/03/stop-brexit-campaign-vote-leave-populist

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The following is taken from the Wikipedia entry on the 1975 EEC membership referendum (as it was captured on March 16th with footnotes retained)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_United_Kingdom_European_Communities_membership_referendum#Campaigning

The referendum was called in April 1975 after the renegotiation was formally concluded. Since Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s cabinet was split between supporters and opponents of the Common Market, and since members of each side held their views strongly, he made the decision, unprecedented outside coalition government, to suspend the constitutional convention of Cabinet collective responsibility. Cabinet members would be allowed to publicly campaign against each other. In total, seven of the twenty-three members of the cabinet opposed EC membership.[10] Wilson’s solution was that ministers speaking in the House of Commons should reflect government policy (i.e. support for EC membership), but would be allowed to speak freely elsewhere, thus avoiding a mass dismissal of Cabinet ministers. In spite of this, one minister, Eric Heffer, was obliged to resign after speaking against EC membership in the House of Commons.

Yes campaign (Britain In Europe)

The “Yes” campaign was officially supported by Wilson[11] and the majority of his cabinet, including the holders of the three other Great Offices of State: Denis Healey, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; James Callaghan, the Foreign Secretary; and Roy Jenkins, the Home Secretary.[citation needed] It was also supported by the majority of the Conservative Party, including its newly elected leader Margaret Thatcher — 249 of 275 party members in Parliament supported staying in the EC in a free vote in April 1975[11] — the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party.

No campaign (National Referendum Campaign)

Tony Benn, Secretary of State for Industry, was one of the senior figures in the No campaign.

The influential Conservative Edward du Cann said that “the Labour party is hopelessly and irrevocably split and muddled over this issue”.[11] The “No” campaign included the left wing of the Labour Party, including the cabinet ministers Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Eric Varley, and Barbara Castle who during the campaign famously said “They lured us into the market with the mirage of the market miracle”. Some Labour “No” supporters, including Varley, were on the right wing of the party, but most were from the left. The No campaign also included a large number of Labour backbenchers; upon the division on a pro-EC White Paper about the renegotiation, 148 Labour MPs opposed their own government’s measure, whereas only 138 supported it and 32 abstained.[3]

“Many Conservatives feel the European Community is not good for Britain … The Conservative party is divided on it too”, du Cann — head of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee — added,[11] although there were far fewer Eurosceptic figures in the Parliamentary Conservative Party in 1975 than there would be during later debates on Europe, such as the accession to the Maastricht Treaty. Most of the Ulster Unionist Party were for “No” in the referendum, most prominently the former Conservative minister Enoch Powell, who after Benn was the second-most prominent anti-Marketeer in the campaign.[12] Other parties supporting the “No” campaign included the Democratic Unionist Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and parties outside Parliament including the National Front and the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Official party positions

Conservative and Liberal Party conferences consistently supported EC membership for several years up to 1975. At a Labour Party conference on 26 April 1975, the Labour membership rejected continuing EC membership by almost a 2:1 margin. Tony Benn said, “We have had a conference and the decision is clear … It is very clear that there now must be a move for the Labour Party to campaign.” The majority of the Labour Party leadership was strongly for continuing membership, and the margin of the party vote was not a surprise, since only seven of forty-six trade unions present at the conference supported EC membership. Prior to the conference, the party had decided that if the conference voted by a margin of 2:1 or more in favour of a particular option, it would then support that position in the referendum campaign. Otherwise, the ‘party machine’ would remain neutral. Therefore, the Labour Party itself did not campaign on either side.

The campaign, funding and media support

The government distributed pamphlets from the official Yes[13] and No[14] campaigns to every household in Britain, together with its own pamphlet which argued in support of EC membership[15].[16] According to this pamphlet, “the most important (issues in the renegotiation) were FOOD and MONEY and JOBS”.[citation needed]

During the campaign, almost the entire mainstream national British press supported the “Yes” campaign. The left-wing Morning Star was the only notable national daily to back the “No” campaign. Television broadcasts were used by both campaigns, like party political broadcasts during general elections. They were broadcast simultaneously on all three terrestrial channels: BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV. They attracted audiences of up to 20 million viewers. The “Yes” campaign advertisements were thought to be much more effective, showing their speakers listening to and answering people’s concerns, while the “No” campaign’s broadcasts featured speakers reading from an autocue.

The “Yes” campaign enjoyed much more funding, thanks to the support of many British businesses and the Confederation of British Industry. According to the treasurer of the “Yes” campaign, Alistair McAlpine, “The banks and big industrial companies put in very large sums of money”. At the time, business was “overwhelmingly pro-European”,[17] and Harold Wilson met several prominent industrialists to elicit support. It was common for pro-Europeans to convene across party and ideological lines with businessmen.[17] John Mills, the national agent of the “No” campaign, recalled: “We were operating on a shoe-string compared to the Rolls Royce operation on the other side”.[18] However, it was also the case that many civil society groups supported the “Yes” campaign, including the National Farmers Union and some trade unions.

Much of the “Yes” campaign focused on the credentials of its opponents. According to Alistair McAlpine, “The whole thrust of our campaign was to depict the anti-Marketeers as unreliable people – dangerous people who would lead you down the wrong path … It wasn’t so much that it was sensible to stay in, but that anybody who proposed that we came out was off their rocker or virtually Marxist.”[18] Tony Benn said there had been “Half a million jobs lost in Britain and a huge increase in food prices as a direct result of our entry into the Common Market”,[17] using his position as Secretary of State for Industry as an authority. His claims were ridiculed by the “Yes” campaign and ministers; the Daily Mirror labelled Benn the “Minister of Fear”, and other newspapers were similarly derisive. Ultimately, the “No” campaign lacked a popular, moderate figure to play the public leadership role for their campaign that Jenkins and Wilson fulfilled in the “Yes” campaign.[citation needed]

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taking stock of Corbyn’s heroic election campaign — what’s the opposite to a Pyrrhic victory?

A screenshot of the wikipedia page on ‘moral victory’

The image above is a screenshot of the wikipedia entry for “moral victory” as it appears at present. As you can see, presented as examples of “the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory” it lists just three: The Alamo, the Battle of Thermopylae and the United Kingdom 2017 General Election!

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the #ToriesOut post-election rally organised by the People’s Assembly:

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Before reading on, I encourage readers to reflect on a short but detailed article by independent journalist Jonathan Cook entitled “The facts proving Corbyn’s election triumph” in which he scrutinises Corbyn’s results compared with those of his predecessors. Based on the evidence, he writes:

He won many more votes than Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, who were among those that, sometimes noisily, opposed his leadership of the party. They lost their elections. […]

In short, Corbyn has proved himself the most popular Labour leader with the electorate in more than 40 years, apart from Blair’s landslide victory in 1997.

And concludes:

Here is a graph that offers another measure of the extent of Corbyn’s achievement last night.

It shows that he has just won the largest increase in the share of the Labour vote over the party’s previous general election performance since Clement Attlee in 1945. In short, he’s turned around the electoral fortunes of the Labour party more than any other party leader in 70 years.

And unlike Blair, he’s done it without making back-room deals with big business to eviscerate his party’s economic and social programmes.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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A tale of two leaders

When May called the snap General Election on April 18th, she and her Conservative Party were riding high in the polls with a twenty point lead. In office for just nine months, she had been hastily crowned Prime Minister after Cameron fell on his sword in the wake of his own humiliating EU referendum defeat, but quite wisely afterwards had kept a mostly low profile. In this way, and with her oft-repeated pledge to honour the pro-Brexit result, May cultivated the appearance of reliability and toughness – she was Thatcher 2.0 but with a more daring wardrobe.

“Brexit means Brexit” is almost as nebulous as it is defiant, but the Tory’s tiresome mantra was also serving May’s purposes well. Her image as a “bloody difficult woman” given an extra boost thanks to Jean-Claude Junker’s odd cameo at Downing Street right on cue as the campaign got underway: their reportedly “frosty dinner” doing little to dent the popular belief that May was a safe pair of hands.

In short, the Tories were bound to win last month’s General Election and everyone was simply waiting to find out how historic their historic landslide would finally be. Indeed, given the dire circumstances, some on the left openly expressed the opinion that Corbyn ought to have blocked her opportunistic move by rallying support against the Commons’ vote, even if this meant giving the Tories a free pass until 2020. (The horns of Corbyn’s dilemma clearly point to inherent shortcomings in our new Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – five-year terms that are prescheduled up until the moment any government decrees otherwise.)

On the other hand, May’s call for a needless election did open up a small chink in her otherwise shining armour. For having repeatedly assured the nation she would do no such thing, this act was literally the only moment she’d dropped her guard since becoming PM.

Her campaign underway, May now resolved to basically disappear from sight. Shirking the TV debates, placing unprecedented restraints on press access, and avoiding all but the most fleeting encounters with the hoi polloi, her strategy was one of total control. Although this quiet contempt for democracy was not going to pass unnoticed.

By contrast, the Labour Party was forced into the campaign when already in complete disarray. Seldom mentioned, the polls had in fact narrowed considerably twelve months earlier during the run up to the referendum vote, and also immediately after Cameron’s defeat (see above), yet the Blairites wasted no time undermining Corbyn on the grounds of his lacklustre performance stumping for the “remain” campaign. Since it suited their purpose, they simply ignored what the polls were actually telling them, and seized on this flimsiest of excuses to stir the pot a whole lot more in the hope of finally deposing the leadership.

Former leader Neil Kinnock was perhaps first up, delivering what the Guardian soon afterwards reported as “a remarkable speech” to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

(Strictly in private) Kinnock said this:

I quote one person, just one, out of hundreds in Cardiff three weeks ago. Well, he complained about Jeremy and I said, ‘Honestly, his heart’s in the right place, he wants to help people, he wants to help people like you.’ He’s a working-class guy, a fitter on what remains of the docks. And he said: ‘I know he’s saying it, because he thinks we’re easy. We’re not bloody easy. We’re not listening, especially since he’s weird.’

Now that is unfortunate. But you know. Everybody in this room knows, canvassing in the Welsh elections, in the Scottish elections, in the local elections, in the referendum – you know that is what you’re getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader.

Reprinted in full, Kinnock’s “remarkable speech” is really just a tub-thumping (quite literally) rant. But then Kinnock didn’t need to try too hard because he was preaching to the converted, one of whom evidently saw fit to leak the recording of this beer hall putsch to the press:

PLP meetings are private, but Kinnock’s speech was recorded by someone in the room and it was passed to Ben Ferguson, a freelance filmmaker who recently made a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Corbyn for Vice News 1

Neil Kinnock is famously unelectable, of course, so I suppose we ought to marvel at the sheer brass neck of the man. His “we’re all right” Sheffield debacle was the single most excruciating misjudgement made by any Labour leader since Jim Callaghan’s “Waiting at the Church” moment of hubris.

However, Lord Kinnock has certainly done all right – at least for himself – since those formative hiccoughs: appointed to the European Commission in 1995, then rapidly promoted to Vice-President in 1999, and awarded a life peerage in 2005. Wife Glenys ploughed a similar furrow, becoming an MEP in 1994 and receiving her own life peerage in 2009, whilst son, Stephen, a current Labour MP and another uninhibited Corbyn critic, is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former MEP herself before becoming Danish PM. The Kinnocks have built a tidy little empire for themselves.

Although a year ago, the self-serving Kinnocks took time off from feathering their own nests to help spearhead the growing PLP demands for Corbyn’s resignation. Popularity within the rank and file of the membership (who have twice elected Corbyn leader of course) must not be put ahead of party unity, “electability” and that kind of thing – to paraphrase his Lordship, this time speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC:

Meanwhile, in light of the PLP’s motion of no confidence in Corbyn (more below), son Stephen penned the following rationalisation for the relentless backstabbing and published it as an opinion piece also in the Guardian:

The referendum campaign was a sorry affair and it’s clear that it was not the Labour party’s finest hour. Every pro-Remain member will be feeling the same deep sense of disappointment and regret that I am feeling this weekend, as we have failed, collectively, to save the UK from a reckless leap into the unknown, and we fear it is the people we came into politics to represent who will be hurt first and worst.

Looking back, it’s clear that once the Scottish, Welsh and local elections were out of the way on 6 May [2016], then we should have treated the period through to 23 June as if it were the short campaign period leading up to a general election. Judged against that benchmark, it is equally clear that our leader fought a lacklustre and half-hearted campaign. He spoke at a total of 10 rallies between 6 May and polling day, whereas the party leader would normally expect to achieve that level of activity in a week, when in full campaigning mode.

We must, therefore, have a full and frank discussion when the parliamentary Labour party meets on Monday, to look at what went wrong, and what we should learn. Our leader must be held accountable for the failure of the “Labour In For Britain” campaign, as must we all.

Following which, Kinnock Jr. takes aim at Corbyn’s purported lack of skill as a future Brexit negotiator, which is curious given that no members of the opposition have ever been invited to the talks:

There is no doubt that Jeremy is a great campaigner, but this is not a time for campaigners. This is a time for hard-headed negotiators. And it is also a time for people who have more than a passing knowledge of, and interest in, the EU. […]

We may have no say over who the Tories send to the negotiating table, but we do have a say about who Labour sends. Jeremy Corbyn is a seasoned and highly effective campaigner, and he was elected to lead our party on the basis of a thumping mandate. But that was then and this is now.

Now should not be about the past. The British people have spoken, the decision is made, and we must look forward. British politics is going to be dominated by these Brexit negotiations for the foreseeable future. It is vital that Labour has a seat at the top table, and critical that we have a leader who has the right experience and skills for the task at hand.

And it is for that reason that I am supporting this motion of no confidence. 2

Titled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator”, Kinnock might have borrowed ammunition for his snide hit piece directly from the arsenals of Tory HQ. He’s just not “strong and stable enough”… a claim that belies the truth if we listen to the judgement instead of Conservative MP and current Brexit Secretary David Davis. Together with Corbyn, Davis had negotiated the release of the last British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, from Guantánamo, and shortly after Corbyn was voted party leader, Davis was interviewed on Sky News. This is what he said:

“I think that the odds of our winning the next election after yesterday are higher, but I don’t think it’s an open and shut case by any means. I think complacency would be absolutely the daftest thing to go in for now…

You’ve just had Frank Field on, talking about how Jeremy in other circumstances is able to work with other people… he is very polite, very courteous, listens to arguments. So we want to be a bit careful. We certainly don’t want to go in for ad hominem attacks – that would be a disaster.”

But the Tory attacks could wait. During the notorious post-referendum ‘chicken coup’, no less than 44 frontbench Labour MPs resigned their positions in as many hours.3 Alongside Stephen Kinnock, leading lights of this suicidal insurrection included Deputy Leader Tom Watson, Angela Eagle, about-to-be leadership challenger Owen Smith, and then-Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn – reluctantly sacked by Corbyn before he had chance to resign. Each of the above publicly declared their loss of confidence in the leadership: a transparently lame excuse given how the self-same “rebels” had shown no loyalty whatsoever during any earlier stage of Corbyn’s brief tenure.

When the PLP balloted for a vote of no confidence a few hours later, it was passed by a truly astounding 172–40: but it remained a vote which as Corbyn correctly asserted had “no constitutional legitimacy”. Nevertheless, the stage was set, and for the next three months the party tore into itself as it entered the throes of a hugely divisive and unwarranted leadership election.

Inevitably, this infighting took its toll. Labour support tumbled in the polls, as did support for Corbyn’s leadership. Unsurprisingly, salt was liberally rubbed into these same gaping and self-inflicted wounds by both the Tories and the media alike, who cultivated the opinion already expressed by 80% of Labour MPs, that Corbyn – freshly re-elected as party leader – was in fact “unelectable”.

Ken Loach interviewed on BBC Radio 5 shortly after the General Election: “Just think, if the MPs had been arguing for those policies for two years, if they hadn’t been feeding stories to the press, if you hadn’t had Peter Mandelson being quoted saying ‘I get up every morning to undermine him,’ and interviewed on that agenda on a number of occasions. Just think if he’d had that support – I think he would have won.”

Click here to watch a montage put together by Channel 4 News featuring senior Labour MPs (including Stephen Kinnock again) who publicly excoriated Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Update:

For some reason the interview featuring Ken Loach has been taken down, so here’s an earlier one broadcast on BBC news:

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Even with the general election campaign underway, prominent Blairites and faux progressive commentators continued to put the knife into Corbyn. On May 5th, on the back of disappointing local and mayoral election results, Jonathan Freedland wrote this:

What more evidence do they need? What more proof do the Labour leadership and its supporters require? This was not an opinion poll. This was not a judgment delivered by the hated mainstream media. This was the verdict of the electorate, expressed through the ballot box, and it could scarcely have been clearer – or more damning.

The headline figure is a projected national share of 27%, the worst recorded by an opposition since the BBC started making such calculations in 1981. The Tory lead of 11 percentage points is larger than the one Margaret Thatcher enjoyed as she headed into the elections of 1983 or 1987, when she won triple-figure landslides.

“Why has this happened?” barked a furious Freedland, answering to his own smug satisfaction:

The good news for Labour is that what I saw in the focus groups were people unimpressed by the Tories, desperate for an opposition and itching to vote Labour again if only Corbyn would get out of the way. It suggests a new leader could take the fight to Theresa May very rapidly. The bad news is that once people have broken a lifelong Labour habit – and shattered a taboo by voting Tory – they may never come back.

According to Freedland, it was just wrongheaded of “the Corbynistas” to try to blame disloyal MPs or, heaven forfend, the “metropolitan pundits who [they] can slam as red Tories” for what he described hyperbolically as “the disaster” and “this meltdown”:

Blaming others won’t do. Instead, how refreshing it would be, just this once, if Corbyn and McDonnell put their hands up and took even a small measure of responsibility for this calamitous result. 4

And a month on, after it transpires that news of the Labour Party meltdown was exaggerated, has Freedland eaten his words? Well, here’s what he wrote on June 10th:

[P]oliticians and pollsters alike did not see this coming. But nor did most pundits – including me. I opposed Jeremy Corbyn when he first stood for the Labour leadership in 2015, and thereafter, and I did so on two grounds. First, on principle: I was troubled by his foreign policy worldview, with its indulgence of assorted authoritarian regimes, and by what I perceived as his willingness to look past antisemitism on the left. But more immediate was an assessment of his basic electability. I wanted the Tories gone, and simply did not believe Labour could pose a serious electoral threat under Corbyn.

My principled objections have not faded, but Thursday’s results make clear that on the electability issue, I was wrong. 5

Freedland’s “principled objections” are in fact bogus (read earlier posts here and here) and his apology is long overdue. Surely the big question, however, is why anyone still takes the opinions of liberal gatekeepers like Freedland at all seriously. In the space of a month he had managed to eloquently flip-flop from “Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” to “Corbyn successfully framed voting Labour as the only way to say enough is enough” and “He’s rewritten the rules.” Hallelujah! (I suppose.)

So please allow me to briefly digress, because today’s media, so narcissistically in love with its own reflection, has become the very definition of an echo chamber: newspaper headlines are a mainstay of TV debate and what is broadcast on TV and radio then siphons back into the newspapers. Additionally, there is increasing reliance on so-called vox pops: phoney snapshots of public opinion, meticulously edited into tidy bundles of required thought. Cheap to produce, they maintain the delusion that media is representative of what people like you and me actually think. In reality, of course, ordinary Joes and Joannas are commandeered to provide off-beam refractions simply to bolster a prefabricated message: Obama is cool; May is serious; Trump is an idiot; and Corbyn is hopeless.

For months on end, the mention of Corbyn elicited titters from the commentariat alongside the required level of derision from the (assiduously selected) ‘man on the street’. Likewise, without fail, each week an audience member on the BBC Question Time would prime the panel with one of those tired old questions about his “unelectability” or the purported “lack of any effective opposition”. Thus, Corbyn was roasted on all sides: by media hacks and politicians from every camp, including nominally his own colleagues.

But then, with the election called, this changed. Legal requirements would ensure some better measure of balance in the debate. Thus, with the playing field abruptly if only partially levelled (our right-wing newspapers are free from such constraints), Corbyn got the chance he’d been waiting for: able at last to make the case for a fairer and more caring society and not to be instantly drowned out by the clamour of critics.

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Project Fear

“Hope always wins over fear” – John McDonnell (post-election interview 6)

“I am a treat” my friend said as I pointed out the large black billboard ahead. His unconscious was momentarily getting the better of him and suggestively reworking the slogan to ensure it was functioning as ads generally do: as promotions for a product. But instead, this image, one I had walked past daily for almost a week, with its Big Sister portrait of May – former Home Secretary behind the Snooper’s Charter – sternly peering out like a stony-hearted headmistress, was issuing the country an exceedingly stark but fair warning.

Put together by anti-austerity campaign group the People’s Assembly, its message was bleak yet factual and accurate. It branded May a threat to our hospitals, our schools, our job security, our pensions and our peace and security. And who could deny any of it?

Sam Fairbairn, People’s Assembly National Secretary described the poster as a response to the Tories’ “manifesto of misery”, adding “she is a threat to everything we rely on from cradle to grave”:

“The crisis in the NHS was created by the Conservative government and they’re doing nothing to address it. She’s snatching free school lunches off infants while her plans to restructure our education system will leave schools without proper funding. University students are being strapped with lifelong debt.” 7

In fact this portent of doom had only recently replaced another. The face of Donald Trump and around it the words “Advertising works… look what it did for me”, but now with a toothbrush moustache inked above those all-too familiar pouting, foul-mouthed lips. Soon afterwards the same billboard had been further subverted when someone had the wherewithal to scrub over ‘advertising’ and substitute a far more appropriate four-lettered word: ‘HATE’ in block capitals. Yes, I mused philosophically, as I passed under it each day… hate does indeed ‘work’ in a political sense.

In our own election hate had mostly remained on the backburner. Instead, the campaign was framed about Brexit, and with emphasis not on immigration this time around. Instead it was supposedly all about leadership. About “strong and stable” government. The hate could wait…

The Sun has since issued a statement to the effect that this headline was not released immediately after the Manchester atrocity but shortly before it occurred. Evidently its editor did not, however, find the conscience to remove it or issue an apology for it remaining published online. Nor did The Sun and other press outlets refrain from issuing follow-up smears against Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbott in the wake of the London Bridge attacks. In fact, on the eve of the vote, The Sun ran with the absolutely disgusting headline “Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades” while the Daily Mail devoted no less than 13 pages to pillorying those same “Apologists for Terror”:

Did the hate work? Below is a screenshot of The Independent on the morning after the London Bridge attacks – the polls were again narrowing and rather rapidly:

Also take a close look at the graph above and see how the convergence between the Labour and Conservative polling slows directly after the Manchester atrocity on May 22nd. Given that campaigning was suspended this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that in a state of shock and heightened anxiety, voters will tend to be more inclined to support an incumbent government or, still more, to turn toward the party most traditionally trusted on law and order. Yet the surge for Labour was only partially held back, and the pollsters were found wanting all over again – except for the exit poll, that is.

There was also the honourable exception of polling company Survation who had bravely forecast a hung parliament and were ridiculed for sticking to their guns…

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The real unelectables

The night before the election, with the polls which had certainly tightened still remaining wildly divergent, I decided to check out the odds at the bookies, given how bookies obviously have a vested interest in getting their numbers right. And a Tory majority then remained odds on, with many punters betting on who might be the next Labour leader. Although May’s position had become shaky too, the smart money was very much backing an increased Tory majority with gains of up to a hundred seats. My heart sank, just as it did immediately upon hearing May’s election announcement. Like many Labour supporters, I was still braced for a trouncing.

Most polls are unreliable, but exit polls are different. They have a special legitimacy and have in some cases been applied as a standard of verification for elections across the world.

Two years ago the exit poll had been a shattering blow. In the weeks leading up to the vote the opinion polls consistently pointed to a hung parliament, whereas the exit poll had quite correctly forecast a Tory majority. On this occasion I was anticipating the worst. Given the unbridgeable six point gap (and an enormous spread of polls between 1% and 15%) combined with the traditional last minute shift in favour of the Conservatives (the shy Tories emerging from their closets), damage limitation was all any Labour supporter could conceivably wish for.

“And what we’re saying is, the Conservatives are the largest party”, David Dimbleby announced to the nation shortly after the polls closed at ten, continuing “but note they don’t have an overall majority at this stage…” soon afterwards conceding, “we’ll be hung, drawn and quartered” if our exit polls are wrong. Although defeated, Corbyn’s many supporters, myself included, were tasting something closer to victory:

Not only the Tories, but every other mainland political party were about to be humiliated in their own special way. Ukip were rather predictably annihilated. Yet to think how a mere four months earlier, so many pundits had been licking their lips at the prospect of leader Paul Nuttall stealing Stoke-on-Trent Central in a by-election, and running Labour and Corbyn out of town. Now Nuttall was ruined instead.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems whose entire campaign was devoted to their bizarre since unrealisable promise of an EU referendum rerun, gained a measly four seats to prop up the meagre eight they already held. Former leader Nick Clegg who had helped the Tories remain in power during the miserable days of the Con-Dem Coalition lost his seat just up the road from me in Sheffield Hallam; like many across the country, I cheered his just demise. A few hours later, hopeless leader Tim Farron did the honourable thing.

In my own constituency of Sheffield Central, former leader of the Greens, Natalie Bennett, came to contest what is a comparatively safe Labour seat, rather than more profitably fighting her corner in a Conservative marginal – so much for forming a “progressive alliance” against the government. Once again, justice was served and Bennett lost, finishing an embarrassing third behind the Tories, with incumbent Paul Blomfield swept back into parliament with a hugely increased majority now approaching 28,000.

North of the border, the political landscape was being even more dramatically reshaped. After the Brexit vote, the SNP had been calling for a new independence referendum – a replay of that “once in a lifetime decision” barely more than two years on. But this divisive move soon became an albatross, and as the SNP tried to backslide on their promises and downplay calls for Indyref2, the Scottish Conservatives no less opportunistically cranked up the pro-unionist rhetoric (a flavour of things to come). It proved a winning tactic with many disaffected Scottish voters.

Even so, not all the angry Scots were turning back to the Conservative and Unionist Party. Studiously under-reported in the media, a great many were evidently returning to Corbyn’s Labour too – Labour regaining six of the seats lost during their humiliating wipe-out in 2015. Either way, the outcome had been a disastrous one for the SNP, losing more than a third of their seats as the vote collapsed by over 13%. By the end of the night, the SNP’s leader in Westminster Angus Robertson lost his seat in Moray, and, most memorably, Scotland’s former First Minister and long-time talismanic party leader Alex Salmond was defeated in Banff & Buchan. More cheers! (I speak for myself obviously.)

Then we must come to the forlorn figure of Theresa May. Has any winner of any general election ever appeared so dejected? She would try to paint some gloss on it later, naturally enough, but there is simply no convincing way to disguise the fact that her anticipated triumph had crumbled to unmitigated disaster. Indeed, only one leader would be able to claim any sort of victory on the night: the “unelectable” Jeremy Corbyn. The rest of the field, slipping backwards in their different manners, were evidently just too electable by far! Astonishingly, May and her Conservative government were left clinging to power only by the tassels of an orange sash. 8

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 ‘Theresa May and the Holy Grail’: having lost her majority, and with complicated Brexit negotiations and fields of wheat on her doorstep, Theresa May is determined to ‘get on with the job of government’ (and to seek the Holy Grail). Click here to watch the original upload at Australia’s ABC.

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A moral victory

A week prior to the general election I had a dream and woke with a vision of Jeremy Corbyn walking into Downing Street as Prime Minister. The dream genuinely happened, but then dreams are rarely prognostic. Instead, the Tories clung on as the main party of government, which is the very best they can say for themselves. May’s re-election was the very epitome of a Pyrrhic victory.

Instead of the envisaged landslide, her government is suddenly in retreat, and clinging to power by its political fingertips, made all the grubbier by that desperate £1.5 billion deal with the political arm of Ulster’s loyalist paramilitaries. How long this weak and wobbly ‘coalition of chaos’ can hobble along together is anyone’s guess.

Regarding my dream again, it obviously owed much to my own psychological investment in the election. Like many thousands of others who had never before been actively involved in campaigning, for six weeks I was out and about leafleting, running street stalls, and door-to-door canvassing. I remain very much committed to the cause. Although the Tories won the battle, suddenly they are losing the war: Corbyn may yet walk into Downing Street…

More speculatively then, the dream seems to me prophetic in a truer sense of the word: that intuitively I was picking up on quite seismic upheavals that were very hard to comprehend, or even to register, during my various interactions on the doorstep. Thus, routinely faced with antipathy and aversion toward Corbyn’s leadership, a common reaction coming from many one-time Labour voters, it became easy to overlook the surge in Labour support from less expected quarters.

This groundswell, as we now know, involved more than just an increased turnout of first-time voters, since it mostly comprised disaffected Lib Dems, wavering Greens, and, more interestingly, some half of former Ukip supporters, plus thousands returning from the SNP, and most surprising of all, a significant proportion of affluent middle-class who are traditionally Conservative supporters. In short, my dream had detected a sea change taking place in our society; shifts in outlook that Corbyn and others in the Labour leadership were directly responding to.

Very skilfully, they had steered the whole debate away from Brexit (May’s original pretext for calling the election) and away from personality too (May’s team had embarked on a presidential-style campaign) by redirecting attention firmly back on to policy instead. In the manner of a musical maestro who responds to applause from his audience by holding up the score, Corbyn consistently drew the public gaze back to Labour’s bold and very thoughtfully composed manifesto: “For the many, not the few”. A manifesto launched not once but twice – funny that! Fully-costed, anti-austerity populism; this was certainly a masterstroke.

Corbyn and McDonnell survived the election against all the odds, and having thus achieved a result beyond common expectation, they have managed to reunite the party behind a commitment to democratic socialist policies. These policies have become Labour’s main strength again. So although Corbyn didn’t win the vote, the Labour manifesto actually did, and as a direct consequence, temporarily at least, it has produced a measureable shift leftwards in the mythical ‘centre ground’ of politics. Those of us determined to say “enough is enough” now have a place to turn and a leader they can get behind.

Jeremy Corbyn gives an impromptu but impassioned speech to the ‘Left Field’ fringe event at this year’s Glastonbury Festival:

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Update:

The latest poll of polls (Friday 7th) now puts Labour eight points ahead of the Tories with a record high of 46%. Meanwhile in Scotland, the poll puts Labour ahead of the SNP by 36% to 31%:

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1 From an article entitled “Secret recording of Kinnock’s anti-Corbyn speech to MPs – in full” written by Andrew Sparrow and Harrison Jones, published in the Guardian on July 8, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/08/secret-recording-neil-kinnock-jeremy-corbyn-step-down-speech-to-mps-in-full

2 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator” written by Stephen Kinnock, published in the Guardian on June 25, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/jeremy-corbyn-leadership-challenge-no-confidence-motion

3

Remember those few days in June when Labour MPs couldn’t stop resigning? That long Sunday after the country had voted for Brexit, when every time you turned on the radio another shadow cabinet minister had stood down, calling for Jeremy Corbyn to do likewise? Or the next day, when the only thing you wanted to quit was the non-stop news, just for a few hours, but there was Angela Eagle in tears at her own resignation? Before June, the mass resignation of 44 frontbench politicians in as many hours, all citing a loss of confidence in their leader, would have led to said leader being turfed out of office. But we didn’t count on Corbyn.

From an article entitled “The fate of the MPs who plotted a coup against Corbyn” written by Jane Merrick, published in the Guardian on December 20, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/20/mps-plotted-coup-jeremy-corbyn-coup-where-are-they-now

4 From an article entitled “No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on May 5, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/05/jeremy-corbyn-blame-meltdown-labour-leader

5 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win – but he has rewritten all the rules” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on June 10, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/10/jeremy-corbyn-general-election–labour-rewrites-rules

6 Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and financial journalist Paul Mason discuss the election result with the Artist Taxi Driver (viewer discretion advised):

7 From an article entitled “Theresa May branded a ‘threat’ to peace, hospitals and schools in nationwide billboard campaign” written by Dan Bloom, published in the Daily Mirror on May 22, 2017. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-branded-threat-peace-hospitals-10474044

8 Quip stolen from George Galloway.

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spot the difference – BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg caught reading from the Tory script

 

Above: Laura Kuenssberg’s review of the Labour manifesto published by the (impartial) BBC.

Below: Conservative poster from the last election campaign.

Screenshots courtesy of The Canary, which adds:

Sadly, the evidence suggests that Kuenssberg is a symptom of conservative bias at the BBC, rather than cause.

Beyond Harding [Director of BBC news] and Kuenssberg, multiple studies have supported the assertion that this bias exists. A 2013 content analysis of the BBC by Cardiff University found that:

  • The BBC consistently grants more airtime to the Conservatives, whichever party is in power.
  • On BBC News at Six, business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespeople by more than 5:1 in 2007 and by 19:1 in 2012.
  • BBC coverage of the 2008 financial crisis was dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators critical of the finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage.

Studies by the London School of Economics and the Media Reform Coalition have since found serious imbalance in reporting of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

This tweet sums it up nicely:

 

Clarification: Although The Canary states that amongst the findings of the Cardiff University report, “The BBC consistently grants more airtime to the Conservatives, whichever party is in power”; this is not strictly accurate. If you follow the link you will find the following:

Among political sources, Labour and Conservatives dominate coverage accounting for 86% of source appearances in 2007 and 79.7% in 2012. Our data also show that Conservatives get more airtime than Labour. Bearing in mind that incumbents always receive more coverage than opposition politicians, the ratio was much more pronounced when the Conservatives were in power in 2012.

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Craig Murray debunks “that astonishing Tory Ferguslie Park super triumph”

A Google news search returns 5,240 results for “Ferguslie Park” over the last 24 hours. As compared to 0 mentions in the previous 24 hours.

The media have, with an incredible level of unanimity, seized upon a Tory being elected to represent Ferguslie Park, “the most deprived area of Scotland”, as the leading evidence of a Tory resurgence into areas of Scotland “they could not previously venture into”. I have heard this recounted on every available broadcast platform this evening.

I have two bits of news for the unionist media. Firstly, Ferguslie Park is in Paisley. Most of you think it is in Glasgow. Secondly there is no ward called Ferguslie Park. There is a place called Ferguslie Park, and it is less than half of a ward called Paisley Northwest. Now here is the result of that stunning Tory super-victory amazing spectacular miraculous shocking earth-shattering mould-breaking Tory triumph in Paisley Northwest.

My, how the ground shook. In future years, everybody will recall just exactly where they were at the moment the Conservatives polled 13% in Paisley North West, when that vast uprising of 657 voters swept their candidate to victory on the 10th set of transfers into the fourth available slot in a multi-member constituency.

Now, this will come as a shock to some people. Paisley North West is not a dreadful slum, and contains some distinctly prosperous areas. Much of the ward looks like this.

Here are some statistics for the entire ward.

65% of households in Paisley North West are owner occupied
67% of the population of Paisley North West are employed, self employed or full time students
5.1% of the population of Paisley North West are unemployed
23% of the population of Paisley North West are pensioners
4.9% are housewives/husbands/carers or not in the labour force

In a local election poll with a low turnout, there is a disproportionately high turnout from pensioners and from the wealthier districts. Very few indeed of those measly 657 Tory votes came from the Ferguslie Park estate.

The real story is that in a ward with 65% owner-occupiers and 67% economically active, the Tories could still only manage a measly 13% of the vote. That the large majority of £350,000 owner occupiers do not vote Tory. The real story is that the SNP took 44% to the Tories 13%. But no, the march of Ruth’s 13%ers has apparently changed the course of history. As Tom Robinson once sang, “It’s there in the papers, must be the truth”.

Click here to read the same article on Craig Murray’s blog.

Please note: I have reposted this article because it conclusively debunks and highlights the mainstream media’s pro-Tory election bias and propaganda. It is not intended as an endorsement Craig Murray’s political position more broadly.

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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?

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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!)

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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.

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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:

*

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.

*

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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