Tag Archives: UK politics

Today’s political madness

Between the time of starting to write this (1:38pm on Monday the 11th of July) and publishing it, I should imagine that an awful lot has happened in British politics. Andrea Leadsom just pulled out of the Conservative leadership, leaving Theresa May as the de facto prime minister. Meanwhile, Angela Eagle has launched a leadership bid against Jeremy Corybn, just a few days after he lost a vote of no confidence by the parliamentary Labour party (PLP).

I’m a some-time Labour voter, but not a member of the party. The recent fiasco puts me off even more. But if they are to have a chance of winning sufficient seats in Parliament to form a government and implement some sensible left-wing policies, then they need to have a decent strategy to win, and that seems to be lacking at the moment.

I like Jeremy Corbyn. He’s a centre-left moderate and I agree with many of his views. What I don’t like is the short-sighted vehemency of some of his supporters, who mistake a fervency of support for widespread support. Having thousands of people turn up to a pro-Corbyn rally is very different from convincing Conservative voters in marginal constituencies in England or SNP voters in Scotland. In particular (and this was highlighted last week, with the eventual publication of the Chilcot report) there is the toxic legacy of Tony Blair. The last Labour leader to win a general election propagated a war that left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

The idea then is that no Labour leader who voted for the Iraq war could ever become prime minister. Though Blair still won in 2005, after the war started. David Cameron voted for the Iraq war, as did Gordon Brown and Theresa May. So the idea that someone who voted for the Iraq war (as horrendous as it was) cannot win an election, is simply untrue.

But Blair’s toxicity is double-edged. The term “Blairite” has spread far wider than those MPs who supported Blair over Brown in the 2nd half of the last decade. It has become a pejorative term for anyone on the left who someone else on the left doesn’t like, though in particular of anyone who might subject Jeremy Corbyn to any level of scrutiny or criticism. I’ve lost the link [update: I found it], but I read a piece yesterday that referred to the author JK Rowling as a Blairite. The other side of this is now generally “Corbynista”. In my view, these very terms, used as insults, are part of the root of the problem. It is a case of “Othering” – whereby, in the desperate desire for simplicity in a complicated world, the whole view of a group of diverse people is summed up in a single word that is used to demonise.

As things are at the moment (now 2:07pm), the Tories have an open goal. The British political left’s idea of unity is “[well, if we’re disunited now, then you must agree with me in order to be unified]” – with no one willing to compromise, jostling to be an opposition of protest, rather than a government in waiting. When Gordon Brown became leader of the Labour party, he was wrong not to call a general election. My opinion is that was fear of losing that stayed his hand. There ought to be no such fear on Theresa May’s part if she were to do the honourable thing by calling an election, though it has been made more difficult since the coalition government introduced the ill-thought-out fixed-term parliaments act. Difficult, but not impossible, though.

I just pray that this whole ruddy mess gets sorted out, but that in doing so, we don’t see a further rise of the far right. Good government needs a strong opposition. The ideal situation would be for a left-wing government with a strong Conservative opposition holding them to account, but we seem to be a long way from that. For now, we need a Labour party that is willing to cooperate with itself, as well as with, inter alia, the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens to hold to account and oppose whatever shape of Conservative government will emerge from the rubble.

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Thoughts on the EU referendum

With the date for the referendum announced and campaigning underway, I wanted to try to enunciate my thoughts on the subject. I’ve written before on my desire to have a referendum. 3 years ago I said that I “would likely vote to remain in Europe”.

Likely, but not certainly. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument from either side. So I wanted here to think aloud, as it were, and hopefully either prompt you in some questions you may not have thought of, though I’d rather like to start a reasonable discussion.

By ‘reasonable’ I have in mind cutting out a lot of unnecessary bickering, demonisation of the other and acknowledgement that there may be good reasons on both sides. I’m fine for someone to have made up their mind, but not for them to become belligerent in putting forward their case at the denigration of the opposite view.

The idea of “project fear” has been touted quite a lot. There’s a problem with it, though. It is right for the Remain campaign to point out the risks that are associated with leaving the EU and to ask questions about how those risks would be mitigated. Some of that has been worded a bit too strongly, possibly with the intention of trying to scare people into sticking with the status quo, but it is wrong for every legitimate concern raised and question to be dismissed as part of this “project fear”. Thus far, the Leave campaign has used this as a means of not answering questions which I, and others like me, want to hear the answers to.

An interesting thought I had regarding the referendum centred on the Scottish National Party (and, by inference, other nationalists around the UK). On the Andrew Marr Show, Nicola Sturgeon said that she would be on the side of the Remain campaign but that were the UK to vote Leave, then that would likely trigger a 2nd Scottish independence referendum (you remember, the “once in a lifetime” referendum that we had about 18 months ago).

So it would make a kind of sense if the SNP were to not be too persuasive in their case for remaining in the EU. i.e. be seen to be supporting the Remain case, but don’t actually try to win (rather like Manchester City’s team selection in the FA Cup). That way they get a second bite at the independence cherry, even though it would then be their intention to apply for membership to the EU.

I say “a kind of sense” because I must admit I don’t understand the view of some nationalists who want to be independent of the UK but not independent of the EU. If anyone can explain that one to me, I’d be most grateful.

Finally, I wanted to look at the theological perspective. Which of Leave or Remain better fits the maxim: Love your neighbour as yourself.

My issue with the Leave and Remain campaigns is that both have, thus far, put a large amount of stock in the idea of which makes Britain “better off”. But no one’s saying at what cost. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the UK is better off leaving. Does that mean also that our neighbours in France, Greece, Hungary  or Ireland will be better off? Or is it a case of making ourselves better off and choosing to not care about others?

When you try to dig into the matter, what does “better off” mean anyway? Is it purely a cold measure of macroeconomics, or are we factoring in the cultural and the spiritual? If it is purely economic, then one must be careful that the “better off” argument isn’t merely a form of prosperity gospel.

Possibly the strongest argument the Leave campaign has (in terms of appeal to the general public) would be that it would signal the end of UKIP. They would have achieved their aim and then all could see whether or not their myth of withdrawal from the EU being the panacea to all our ills would bear out in reality.

The strongest argument for the Remain campaign has actually come from one of the cheerleaders of the Leave side: Michael Gove. He claimed that the Conservatives have been stymied in pushing through some of their punitive measures because of the European legislation. In my book, anything that helps to tie the hands of Tories from hurting citizens is a good thing.

For now, I lean slightly inwards, but that lean is ever so slight. Those who promise than a UK outside of the EU will be a land flowing with milk and honey are not people to be taken seriously. Neither are those who speak as though withdrawal from the EU will be the end of civilisation. It’s a choice between two different shades of beige.

Persuade me, entice me, allure me to your point of view. Just don’t beat me about the head and call me an idiot. Such tactics rarely work in evangelism, whether religious or political.

Book Review: The British Constitution – A Very Short Introduction by Martin Loughlin

When reading the Very Short Introduction (VSI) series, I find them to be ideal for subjects where one has some modicum of understanding, but where any level of detail is currently unknown to me. Having grown up and lived in Britain all my life, and having observed our politics for most of my adult life, I get an idea of what it means for something to be “constitutional”. Unlike the Americans, we don’t have a fixed, codified constitution. It is very much something of a ‘sense’ that we have, but which is instilled in us through roughly 800 years of history since the signing of the Magna Carta. As we mark the octocentenary of that famous document it seemed appropriate to have a read of this.

The opening discourse is about the nature of a constitution and what could count as one. The most famous example is, of course, the American constitution, but it’s noted that that’s quite an odd example as it was designed as a founding document to a country with no history, no legal precedent of its own. So Thomas Paine (whose Rights of Man I have, but haven’t read yet) makes a rather post hoc argument defining a constitution as a single document with several features which just happen to coincide with a description of the American one.

One might well think, as I did at the outset, that there would be considerable focus on the Magna Carta and its legacy, but its role in British constitutional history is heavily downplayed here. Instead, Loughlin opts for a “common law” approach, claiming that what we understand as the British constitution is the combined history and tradition of the laws of the land. In order to colour the picture in we get a rundown of some specific pieces of legislation that have been passed over the centuries and their effect on the democratic make-up of what we now know as the United Kingdom.

Oddly enough, the author never mentions Erskine May, the guide to parliamentary procedure. This prompted me to then have a look at the author’s background, and here we can see that perhaps Loughlin was not the best choice to author a book on the constitution, as his expertise is in law. So it is little wonder that he views the constitution as the combination of various laws passed through the centuries. If it were labelled as “British legal history – A Very Short Introduction” then we might be less disillusioned.

In amongst a bit of a hodge podge of pieces, there is some really good stuff. For example, we get a good summary of the political history of the various unions that have taken place to give us the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that we now have. Interestingly, it’s very much a book of its time, as it frequently references the current coalition government. So it will be interesting to see how later editions may be changed to reflect the government of the day.

Thoughts of an undecided voter (and how to persuade me to your side)

With about a month left until the general election it seems right to have a little bit of thinking out loud about how to vote. At present, I’ve not firmly decided which way I will vote, but the hope is that by writing down the thinking process and opening it up to critique that there may come a sharpening of these slightly blunt thoughts. The interested reader may wish to refer to the Voter’s Manifesto I published last autumn for specific areas of policy:

Part 1 – Democratic reform, Debt, Deficit & Austerity
Part 2 – Environment, Employment, Inflation, Transport and Healthcare
Part 3 – Company Law, Corporate Tax, Personal Tax, Loan Sharks and Regionalisation
Part 4 – Welfare, Europe, International Aid, Housing and Utility Costs
Part 5 – Education, Immigration, Tobacco & Gambling, Culture and Defence

Here I will make a few comments on each of the parties standing in my constituency. Consequently, I will not be making extensive comment on any of the regionalist/nationalist or minor parties that I cannot vote for. I shall deal with them in the order of the size of their current parliamentary parties.

The Conservative Party

Nationally

I am not a natural conservative and have been highly critical of the evils perpetrated under the current leadership. They try to make much of their economic record with buzzphrases such as the “the mess we inherited” and “our long term economic plan”. What they fail to ever mention is that they inherited a recovering economy. Not only that, but they have been consistently dishonest in their appraisal of the causes, only attributing it to the previous Labour administration, failing to mention that the Conservatives supported Labour in the bail out of the banks, the single act that pushed up the deficit and increased the debt. Still further, as any reasonably educated and economically literate person could tell you, the causes of the banking crash was a lack of regulation and oversight, sparked by the deregulation of the markets in the late 80s. Successive governments, Tory and Labour, oversaw the growing problem, with ineffective regulation, though it was always the Tories who called for less and less regulation. In the last 5 years, the coalition’s economic record can be summed up by the fact that nearly a million people have had to use foodbanks between 2013 & 2014.

Their attacks on the disabled have been, and I do not use the word flippantly or in ignorance of its implication, immoral.

Locally

With this being a safe Labour seat, the Conservative candidate is something of a sacrificial lamb. The fact that she put herself forward for selection must have come to a great relief to the local party that someone had bitten this particular bullet. Her main campaign thus far has been a mixture of parroting the party line and having a petition against the ridiculous management of London Bridge station, where many of the residents of the constituency commute through.

I am led to understand that she has not been well lately, so most of the campaigning has been done by the local party on her behalf. I hope she recovers to good health soon.

The Labour Party

Nationally

I have voted for Labour in the past, but I did not in the last elections to be held, the European elections. Part of the reason for that is that is the different electoral process there. You may recall that I am no great fan of the first past the post system. But for a general election, it’s what we’re stuck with, not least due to Labour’s campaigning against the introduction of a more democratic method. This means we remain with voters having to consider tactical voting.

My biggest concern is that Labour are just too far to the political right and as such are almost indistinguishable from the Conservatives. When looking at what a Labour cabinet might look like, one has to assume that the current shadow cabinet will, by and large, be the cabinet of government. I have particular issues with some of the cabinet. For example, I still do not find Ed Balls to be a credible candidate for chancellor; Margaret Hodge would be a far better candidate. When it comes to education, Tristram Hunt just seems as though he is in the wrong party, just as Robert Halfon’s campaigning for the disabled has been most un-Conservative like. The recent comments by Rachel Reeves to the effect that Labour are not the party of the unemployed does little to make me think that her ideology is vastly different from that of Iain Duncan Smith – probably the most heartless person on the Conservative front bench.

I have also heard very little about reversing the damage the current government has inflicted. So while they make a lot of noise about the NHS, they do not go far enough by way of banning the privatisation of the NHS or repealing the Health and Social Care Bill.

Locally

The incumbent MP, a former minister, is stepping down this election. Her successor has been curiously quiet. The most notable campaign has been one about the overcrowding at London Bridge, in parallel (but seemingly not in cooperation) with the Tory candidate. Secondary to this has been about the small businesses based in railway arches, particularly those near Herne Hill and Brixton stations. As yet, though, my only encounter with a Labour activist in the area was a gentle door-to-door enquiry when the gentleman couldn’t remember the candidate’s name.

The Liberal Democrat Party

Nationally

The Lib Dems are another party I have voted for in the past. Not the recent past, I might add. For whatever they may claim they stand for, they are tainted by the Faustian pact they entered into 5 years ago.

They have, though, been behind some of the better measures made by the coalition, such as increasing the personal allowance. As the minor part of a coalition government, it was almost inevitable that they would make compromises. The question to consider is whether those compromises were reasonable or whether the Lib Dems violated their principles in order to ensure they occupied, if not the corridors of power, the broom cupboards that lie just off the corridors. Their biggest own goal was to back the Conservative’s plans to make higher education unaffordable for many, in spite of having promised to not raise tuition fees.

Because of this, it seems meaningless to ask what their policies are, as their voting patterns will be dictated to them by whoever they may end up in coalition with, if they even retain a large enough parliamentary party to be the kingmakers as they were in 2010. The last projection I saw had them down to 17 MPS, making them the 4th largest party, behind the SNP.

Locally

The Lib Dem candidate has climbed the ladder through local politics and is by far the most recognisable of the candidates, having been a local councillor. He was also the first to get his leaflets through the door. This, though was where they lost any chance of my vote. There was a misleading graph on the front of the leaflet which exaggerated the Lib Dem share of the vote. This was a dishonest measure and when I confronted the candidate about it, he failed to acknowledge that it was wrong, trying to somehow argue that to graphically represent the share of the votes fairly would be misleading. I will not vote for a candidate that seeks to mislead the electorate.

LD poster

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Nationally

Where does one start with UKIP? From one perspective, their recent increase in popularity (due in no small part to the exposure afforded to them by the BBC, Daily Mail and other bastions of the right wing media) is quite interesting, but in many aspects it is also deeply worrying. Their rhetoric of hatred directed at the migrant population, blaming all the countries ills on the European Union, is built upon a paranoid delusion.

The rate of embarrassments they have had over the racism of members, their cavalier attitude towards to expenses and their whole far-right ethos go completely against what I, and many others, see as good about British values of multiculturalism, tolerance and reasonableness.

Locally

I heard nothing from the local candidate. Just as the electorate here are too intelligent and well-informed to vote en masse for the Conservatives it seems highly unlikely that UKIP be a significant force here. At the European elections, their poster in the area was defaced with an message saying that their politics of division and fear was not welcome here.

The Green Party

Nationally

I have for some time been more inclined to the Greens than any other party. As a scientifically educated person, though, I do not agree with their objection to nuclear power. Their lone MP, Caroline Lucas, is one of the few members of Parliament who is genuinely deserving of the title “honourable”. She has consistently spoken good sense in the Commons and been a thorn in the side of the coalition. Natalie Bennett, though, has had a massive crisis of credibility lately. It began with an interview on the Daily Politics which was followed up with an infamous radio interview when she came completely unstuck over some rather gentle questioning on their economic policy.

I regard their “citizens’ income” policy as nuts and any time they have been given an opportunity to explain how it will be funded they have completely failed to do so.

Locally

The local candidate is the biggest reason to not vote for them. For starters, he doesn’t seem to be very aware of where the constituency is. His rhetoric is nearly all based around Brixton. Yet only a tiny bit of the constituency is in Brixton; furthermore, only a tiny bit of Brixton is in the constituency.

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)

Nationally

This is a minority party with no realistic prospect of gaining any candidates. Founded by the late Bob Crow, they are ostensibly a party that stands against things, not for them. On their website, under a heading entitled ‘What we stand for’ they say:

“TUSC will oppose all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions. Reject increases in council tax, rent and service charges to compensate for government cuts. Vote against the privatisation of council jobs and services.”

One of the puzzles is that if they really are a trade unionist party, why is it that the trade unions, on the whole, back the Labour party and not TUSC? That’s a question I don’t know the answer to. I could speculate, but that will be of little help.

Reading through their policies, it is clear that they are a left wing party and probably most aligned with my own thinking. While my own manifesto was (and I hope it was clear) a sketch, theirs seems even more simplistic. For example their entire tax policy is “Tax the rich. For progressive tax on rich corporations and individuals and an end to tax avoidance.” – there are no proposals as to how this will be done, how much it will raise or even what thresholds will be used to determine “rich”.

Locally

The local candidate comes across as the antithesis of a typical politician. In this respect, he very much like the other left-of-centre candidate, the Green Party’s candidate. He is clearly a passionate man who has put himself up for election more because of what he believes and less because of party loyalty. This makes him quite different from the other candidates, where I think the weightings of the motivations may be quite different.

I do not believe he stands a real chance of being elected, but I am tempted to vote for him, if only so that he does not lose his deposit.


After enunciating those thoughts, am I any closer to a decision? Closer, certainly; decided, no.

How to persuade me to vote for you

If you’re allied to a particular cause and you wish to persuade me to vote for you, here’s how to go about it:

1) Have good policies. Without these, you’re a non starter. They must be well thought through, overall financially viable (allowing that some areas will be net spends and others net gains, e.g. funding the spending of the NHS through taxation) and must leave no group left behind. See my voter’s manifesto (links above) for what I consider to be “good”. Others will differ to a greater or lesser extent.

2) Spend more effort speaking about your own policies than you do of others. There is nothing more offputting than trying to portray your cause as the only viable one, dismissing all other alternatives as “chaos”. As a corollary to this, I would also ask that you not make promises on behalf of another. By all means, critique a manifesto promise that one of your opponents has made or point out failures to meet promises, but do not make assumptions about what another party will do unless they have stated it. It makes you look as though you lack the conviction to back your own policies and are relying on voters to make you the default option of “not them”.

3) Don’t be a sycophant. Anyone who wholeheartedly and uncritically supports every policy of their own party is a person who falls into one of two categories: a) the gullible, believing everything they hear with a slavish devotion to the party line; or b) the dishonest, who advocate views they do not hold for fear of seeming to be disloyal. The former is a fool whose opinion is valueless as it is swayed and tossed by the wind, devoid of a firm foundation. The latter is a schemer who cannot be trusted as it impossible to tell what they truly believe and what they are saying because it serves an ulterior motive.