Tuesday, 25 October 2016

We Need To Talk About Regrexit...

During one of the pre-referendum posts I put out, I’d made the point that post referendum, the political atmosphere would be dominated by the fallout and the acrimony surrounding the vote. Whilst acknowledging that it wouldn’t have taken a political genius to point this out, I seem to be the only person to have spotted this.  And lo, this is precisely what has happened.

Tusk, Shultz & Junker hatch a cunning plan...
It didn’t really take the ‘Remain’ side very long to refuse to come to terms with the result, by consistently claiming that ‘Brexit’ voters were duped into voting to leave.  The reasons cited by Remainers being the claims that we were sending £350m per month/week/year (whatever it was, and to be honest it had been debunked as an argument almost straight away so does it matter if it’s not going to happen) to the EU and that this could be spent on the NHS.  The other claim being ridiculed being the claim that we were ‘Taking back control’ – especially in the light of the dramatic fall in value of the pound and the list of businesses drawing up plans to leave the UK.  What doesn’t help the situation is the ‘Brexiteers’ child like insistence in calling those people ‘Remoaners’.  It’s as if Stuart “Wings” Campbell is advising these people on tact and diplomacy.

Of course, the Pound has fallen in value in the currency markets, that’s what happens when uncertain events happen.  The gods of money don’t react well to uncertainty, which is why they commissioned countless polls to tell them what’s going to happen.  Polling that turned out to be false mind…   which accounted for the crash post Referendum result.  The point should be made that the new Government’s handling of the situation is perhaps exacerbating the situation regarding the value of the pound, with the May government openly discussing a so called ‘Hard Brexit’ – ie total withdrawal from the EU and the single market – much to the dismay of the more moderate devolved governments. 

It perhaps should also be pointed out that something similar would have happened had Scotland voted to leave the UK in 2014.  The pound would have crashed in the face of an unexpected result that provided uncertainty.  This is why I’d come to the conclusion that while Sterlingzone would have been a bad policy for the nascent Independent Scotland, the currency markets would have forced the UK government to the negotiating table and to a Sterlingzone settlement.  It is strange of pro-Union politicians not to point this out.  Maybe it’s embarrassment that it’s happened here and now.

It is also not true that it is only the UK government that is seeking a so called ‘Hard Brexit’.  The pronouncements from the EU leaders, principally Jean Claude Junker, have made clear that this is their favoured outcome.  It could, and should,  be argued that the heated debate about immigration has completely obscured Junker and Shultz’s collective failures in what, if we were being kind we would call a shambles.  Both Junker and Shultz have adopted the “crisis, what crisis” line as an economically important member has decided to leave.  Make no mistake, the European project is in danger of unravelling.  People across Europe are coming to the conclusion that ‘ever closer union’ is not working.  You only had to look at the European Parliament elections from two years ago to see this with anti-EU (admittedly Right wing) parties making big gains.  If Junker & co think that punishing the UK for having the temerity to vote to leave their cozy little club is the way to keep other countries in line, they’ll be shortly in for a rude awakening.

The one thing I do regret is that my vote has been hijacked as an excuse to be more racist towards people not from this country.  However the official ‘Remain’ side really should have a long hard look at themselves regarding their part in our slide towards the gutter.  It seems to be a hangover of ‘Third Way’ politics that our parties are now reactive towards voters rather than proactive.  It is this reactivity that has caused this descent towards…  well wherever it is we are heading.

If you remember, the Remain campaign spent an inordinate amount of time on what they thought the economic case for staying in the EU was – trade figures, cheaper goods, stable economy etc etc. The problem with the Remain campaign though – and ultimately why they lost was for three reasons.  The first is that their economic case was built around the failed tactics of Project Fear from 2014’s Independence Referendum.  You know, the campaign that conceded 25% from the start of the campaign to polling day 2 and a quarter years later. 

Secondly, like the claims about Sterlingzone in that Independence referendum, those scare stories simply did not translate into real life experiences.  We might be £4,500 (a figure too round and had the whiff of being thought up, like the figure Osborne quoted during the Indyref) worse off if we left the EU, but when you see people come here and ‘take British jobs’ – as the perception went, unchallenged – and you see living standards drop then those claims lost a lot of potency in its translation.  As I said at the time of the Independence Referendum, if you have very little money to begin with then figures quoting losses in the thousands just won’t be relevant, real or work.

Thirdly and probably most importantly, Immigration.  Let’s not forget that for many people, freedom of movement is a one way street where people seem to come here to work and doesn’t appear to apply to them.  This is why Immigration blunted so much of the economic argument and indeed for many Leave voters became an economic argument in its own right.  However UKIP’s consistent conflation of Immigration and Freedom of Movement should never have gone unchecked for so long and become so much conventional wisdom.  This is what I mean by our Third Way politics being far too reactionary and not nearly proactive enough.

It is not just UKIP’s conflation of Immigration and freedom of movement that should have been comprehensively dismantled by the Remain campaign, though this failure seems to have carried on and not been learned if speeches by Rachel Reeves are to go by.  The whole ideal of helping the huddled masses of the world is now up for debate.  Our decency as a country is now being put at risk by the sort of people who used to exist at the very margins of UK politics, all emboldened by the antics of a man who was a Fascist sympathiser at school.  I honestly don’t know what is worse, UKIP or our mainstream political parties’ appeasement of their politics.

Where Remain failed is in tackling the UKIP cancer straight on – calling out their anti Immigration rhetoric.  By saying that their circumstances are not the fault of migrants but a symptom of something else – though this would mean saying their policies are wrong – and by talking up immigration as something positive in all of our lives.  Instead, Remain ran away from the subject… and are still running.  Constantly giving ground to the UKIP tendency which has now contaminated the Westminster parties.

Not that us Scot’s should feel so smug.  True, our referendum experience was a different one, with the SNP talking up immigration as something positive.  Like the English campaign though, both sides sidelined the real issues with the EU.  The SNP have taken the 62% vote as a vindication of their stance and have used it to launch another attempt for Independence.  As I’ve said previously, I don’t think that of the 62%, that they are all ardent EU enthusiasts.  I’d suspect that a lot of those voters would either be people with no love of the EU but repulsed by the UKIP style campaign of Leave or Eurosceptics who held their noses to vote to Remain to spike Tory led Hard Brexit, prompted by the writings of Owen Jones & Paul Mason.  Certainly, for the SNP to successfully push the “dragged out of the EU against our will” line, I thought they needed the Scottish remain vote to be at least 65%.  This should have been attainable given the near unanimously pro-EU stance of the Scottish political classes.

I suspect that in spite of the rush to spin the events during the summer, we will not know for certain whether leaving the EU will be the right thing to do or not.  The only thing that is certain is that every politician, and the Eurocrats, have been utterly blindsided by the referendum and are struggling to come to terms with the new political landscape.  Even our Scottish Government have, I think, misread the signals with Brexit being used as an excuse to start Indyref 2 proceedings.  However, all the uselessness of the pro-Brexit government and the vile nastiness of the cancerous UKIP-ification of English politics and the English based media has completely obscured the entirely justifiable reasons for voting to exit the EU.  If you need any further reasons to leave, just watch the reactions of Tusk and Junker if the CETA trade deal collapses, torpedoed by…  well the Belgian equivalent to Scotland.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Normally at the end of Conference season, I do a post outlining the thoughts and key themes of each conference.  However there appears to be one overarching theme linking the conferences of all of the main parties.  It is that of reacting to the referendum vote in June and talk of learning lessons, of reaching out and of policy shifts.

When conference speeches go wrong: Amber Rudd delivering her
now notorious conference speech
The biggest example of reaching out comes from the Prime Minister.  Mirroring her post inauguration speech in July, May’s conference speech was a return to attempting to woo blue collar voters with promises to help people get on and promises to curb the excesses of casino-capitalism.  These policy shifts are problematic for several reasons, not that this has occurred to the more excitable elements of Progress who are, frankly, bricking it from May parking her tanks on their policy lawn.

For starters, May is essentially flying in the face of many in her party who want a return to the red meat of right wing rule.  Many of them are pleased at the vote in June, as this – their logic dictates – will lead to a low regulation, low ‘overheads’ and highly flexible UK out with the EU which will (apparently) attract inward investment.  We saw this with the keynote speeches from Fox, Johnson and from Davies.  We’ve also seen it from the various media appearances from Duncan Smith – a man who went to Easterhouse and left wanting to make the residents life more difficult.

Part of that desire to re-establish a right wing government in the UK comes from the perception that Labour are out contention for the next UK Westminster Election (at least) and partly from the perception that UKIP will now be a busted flush – their aim of ‘an Independent UK’ now on course to be reality.  In the case of Labour’s (self inflicted, due in no small measure to the Blairite Progress Fifth Column) incapacitation as an electoral force, this has fueled May’s desire to adopt so called ‘centrist’ policies.  UKIP’s problems has also fueled policy grabs - witness Amber Rudd’s embarrassing conference speech (above) and rank bad foreigners list policy.

Whether May actually will enact those ‘centrist’ policies will be a mute point.  The thing that marks UK politics is the ability of our leaders to talk left but to act right.  Blair and Brown got away with it as Labour politicians because of the New Labour assumption that real left wing policies were not popular.  Cameron and May might receive envious glances from Progress wingers, but ultimately won’t get away with it.  Cameron, because he wasn’t clever enough to get away from the perception that he was ultimately too clever by half.  May because, I think, triangulation and swiping of centrist policies won’t be her priorities.

Labour have been trying to reach out too… across no mans land to each wing of the party.  After a bitter and divisive leadership election campaign won by Corbyn, we now have the bitter and divisive fall out from said election campaign.  There hasn’t really been very much new in terms of policy coming from Corbyn’s Labour party, partly because any policy announcements would be the start of another big fall out.  For both the Momentum and the Progress factions within Labour, the time for talking is almost over.  Either they find a way to pull together for the sake of their party…  or they both take their share in the near inevitable slaughter currently scheduled for May 2020.

If we are watching the break-up of the Labour party, it’s main beneficiaries here in Scotland seem ideally placed to slip into their shoes. Especially in the key test of sounding more radical than you are stakes.  It seems to be forgotten among the heat generated by the First Ministers announcement that preparations for the Bill to pass to enable a second Independence referendum are to begin this week that the SNP backed proposals for a third runway at Heathrow.  That Heathrow’s owners paid for a stall at last weeks conference is, of course, entirely coincidental and was in no way an influence on the SNP government.  However, allied to the conservative manifesto for May’s Holyrood election, the SNP do find themselves in a quandary with a noisy left wing contingent at Westminster and a centrist at best, sitting Holyrood government.  Then again, Independence and the attainment of it is turning into a rather handy fig leaf for, if not the SNP hierarchy then certainly the online supporters and the pro-Indy… er… blogs (surely “News Websites”? – Ed).

Indeed, to Sturgeon’s credit, she or the Scottish Government haven’t gone down the route that the more excitable pro-Indy supporters have gone down of not criticising the party for fear of handing ammunition to the hated “Yoons”.  While her opening conference speech on Thursday morning concerned itself with the EU referendum fallout and that Indyref 2 announcement, Saturday’s Keynote speech concerned itself with domestic issues.  That and a call for inclusion.

It’s not been the first time Sturgeon has made a call to be inclusive and to be respectful of ‘No’ voters in the Independence referendum, though it’s the first time this call has been made through the prism of the EU referendum.  It is a call that has gone unheeded on the MacTwittersphere as people still insist on using the phrase “Yoons”, the hashtag #youyesyet and other such things insinuating that ‘we’ told you so.  Personally, I find that all tiresome and disrespectful of the pro-Union voter.  After all, it’s not as if the case for Independence was bombproof.  Much more annoying is the disrespect shown to those people (including myself) that voted to leave the EU.

A million Scots voted Leave in June, I’d imagine that a hefty proportion of them voted because of the EU’s “Ever closer union” doctrine which sees consistent land grabs of power from sovereign states around the EU or because of the EU’s failure to deal with the aftermath of the Credit Crunch and subsequent banking crisis.  For those people (as it does for me) immigration figures (if it does) way down the list of reasons to leave the EU.  Instead, those voters are treated with distain and like closet Tories.  If the SNP Government genuinely wanted to be inclusive, they’d take our criticisms of the EU on board and not dismiss them as “we know the EU is not perfect, but…”. 

But then again, the SNP have their own agenda with the EU, wishing to do things that will placate the EU, which they hope will smooth the path for an Independent Scotland to join the EU.  It is the only explanation I have for their na├»ve attitude towards the EU and their unquestioning adoption of European directives like with the outsourcing of Ferry routes or the contract for Scotrail being given to companies (or the national rail network of the Netherlands in the case of Abbelo).

It is a sure sign that the political landscape is still in flux that all of the big parties held conservative conferences that played to their own supporter’s core values but talked big on issues out with their comfort zones. While Labour are still trying to find their way out of their self inflicted wilderness, both the Tories and the SNP made claims and policy statements designed to keep their electoral attractiveness in difficult times.  The problem with that is that talk is cheep and governments are judged on actions, not warm fuzzy words.  Just ask the man whose stock since leaving office is still plummeting, David Cameron.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

There Used To Be A Political Party Across There

In the current fluid political climate where everything is up for grabs, the only certainty is conventional wisdom.  Usually delivered by sober political commentators in what used to be described as “the dead tree press”, by a blogger now working for the selfsame “dead tree press”.  These tablets of wisdom define political thinking.  That these self same commentators have got so much wrong seems to have no impact as another piece of conventional wisdom is brought from above.

The question that no one asks is what if one of those pearls of wisdom is proven to be utter hokum.  There are two pieces of wisdom which are not correct.  The first one is the wisdom which dictates that “Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”.  This may well have been true in the 1950’s or 1960’s, but has been proven to be not true since…  well the most unpopular politician in the country won a 144 seat majority in the morning of June 10th 1983.  However the pearl of conventional wisdom doing the most political damage, indeed the one which has effectively destroyed the Labour party, is the assertion that parties must pitch their tents on the centre ground to win elections. 

The belief in this has essentially led to a movement within the Labour party designed to keep Labour firmly on the centre ground of UK (or more accurately English) politics. The Progress group has been set up specifically with the aim of keeping Labour firmly to the old SDP model of a centre (not left) party.  The problem with Progress winger’s interpretation of centre ground politics is that it alienates left of centre voters and sidelines the left of centre view point, happy to write people with that viewpoint off as extremists and that old canard, “trots”.

The reason that I think this piece of conventional wisdom is utter hokum is a simple reason.  If General Elections were really won on the centre ground, then how do we explain the election victories of Attlee (won from the left) in 1945, Thatcher’s three election wins and Cameron’s win last year (all won from the right).  True, these are exceptions, but these exceptions show that it’s not centre ground politics that’s the important thing.  It is having ideas that will win over middle ground voters that is key.  This is why as a lefty I can’t forgive the Blairites for not even attempting to bring UK politics leftwards like Thatcher brought the country rightwards in the early 80’s to the political position it currently occupies.

Labour’s issues then are rooted to frustration with that centralist dogma, which refuses to realise that the country is not the same country that it was in 1997.  Indeed, as I’d pointed out in a previous post, the conditions which the kind of third-wayism would previously have thrived as an electoral force do not exist.  Thanks to 9 years of recession and austerity politics, the political landscape is now being cleaved between left and right.  The centre ground has simply disappeared into a hole firmly of the Lib Dem’s own Blairite tendencies making.  Indeed it is telling that the Progress wingers are looking to set up their own party from scratch, rather than outright defect to the Lib Dems and join up with their Orange Book kindred spirits.  Ironic then given that the Lib Dems themselves turned their backs on Orange Book-ism when they elected Dim Farron over the Orange Book candidate Norman Lamb last year.

This dogma seems to have clouded the Progress wing’s every thought, with the possibility that the next Westminster Election might be sooner than May 2020 concentrating that wing of the Labour Party to such an effect that they appear to have taken leave of their senses and utterly torpedoed any residual chance Labour had of winning the next UK election.  Indeed, the chances of… well any centre left politician taking the trip to Downing Street, via an engagement to kiss hands with Mrs Saxe-Gothe-Coburg, is significantly less than the chances of Kezia Dugdales chances of becoming Scotland’s next First Minister.  Partly that’s down to May being, I think, an upgrade, both in strategic and political terms, on Cameron. But mostly that’ll be down to Her Majesty’s official opposition being in more bits than a 100 piece jigsaw.

It’s not just Labour’s electoral chances that have disappeared down the plughole, it is the reputation of those leading lights that have gone down the tubes.  Both Burnham and Kendall are seriously damaged goods from last years leadership election defeat, while Cooper should have had the nous to win that election but didn’t.  Like Healy in 1980, Cooper should have run a better campaign and reached out leftwards – just enough to head Corbyn off at the pass and enough to retain her own centre/right base.  Instead her campaign stuttered and started and only really came to life when Corbyn’s own momentum was unstoppable.  Sunk though those reputations are, they have not suffered as much as the reputational damage to Hilary Benn and to Angela Eagle.  Benn’s reputation was already soiled goods, thanks to his wholehearted support of military action in Syria, but became irreparable due to the Observer story which precipitated his sacking.

Eagle’s however is maybe more tragic.  It is conceivable that she could have been Labour leader at some point, maybe succeeding Corbyn, had she not joined in with the Progress plot.  The first Labour politician to be any good at PMQ’s since Blair and showed a consistent ability to get under Cameron’s skin. Yet she’s shown the same lack of political nous as the rest of the Progress wing brigade.  Maybe, for once, Blair’s representative on Planet Earth, John Rentoul, has a point when he says that Eagle would have been a better candidate than the eventual candidate of the right, Owen Smith.  Smith’s campaign from the start has been one disaster after another.  The casual sexism, followed by the casual homophobia, followed by the gaffe over negotiating with Daesh all contributed to Smith’s long predicted defeat only confirmed in Saturday morning.

At the heart of Smith’s campaign though, there is now a very real sense that the Progress wingers and their cheerleaders in the media still haven’t grasped the new political landscape in this country.  From the Independence Referendum two years ago to the EU referendum and the subsequent release of the Chilcott Report, there has been an earthquake that has altered the political landscape, destroying the conditions that enabled the third way to survive electorally.  Third Way politics is now a toxic brand in the UK…  or at least it is in England.  Third Way-ism still survives and thrives here in Scotland under the radically different curatorship of the SNP, but in England it is a political philosophy which is falling out of fashion.  Neither May nor Faron can be described as ‘Third wayers’.  Indeed, May’s inauguration speech smacked of being somewhat old school conservative in some ways, whilst also referencing Thatcherism.  Or at least the bits of Thatcherism that concerned itself with removing barriers to people getting on.

Of course, the charges levelled at the Progress wing of Labour are serious charges, their actions and behaviours have played a huge part in the troubles Labour finds itself in.  While their leaders have shown a lack of political nous and inability to change up which should worry any centre left voter.  Certainly, there is not one alternative Prime Minister among the massed ranks of the Progress hierarchy, such is the collective reputational damage those individuals have inflicted upon themselves.  There is, however, one figure who seems to be carrying on, in a quiet way, as if nothing’s his fault.  But then again, the only thing you can really pin on Jeremy Corbyn is that he is utterly abysmal at the actual act of leadership.

While it’s true that, politically, he’s a lot closer to my own views than Blair, Brown or even Milliband, that shouldn’t and doesn’t stop any critical faculties from operating, and there’s a hell of a lot to criticise about the vacuum that is the leader of her majesty’s opposition.  I’d previously mentioned that he’d not handled his first shadow cabinet appointments in the best, most astute, manner.  Whilst recognising that his party colleagues have went out of their way to make Corbyn’s job as hard as possible, Corbyn himself has not stepped up or shown any signs of leadership of his own. Maybe this election campaign has shaken him up and now takes the post seriously.  Certainly his acceptance speech on Saturday was a mark above any speech he has made in the past year or so.  For Corbyn though, the easy bit was Saturday.  The hard bit, that of rebuilding a shattered, lost, rudderless, divided, bitter and borderline poisonous party, is still to come.

Corbyn’s biggest challenge will be the resistance he will face, not from his opponents but from his so called party comrades.  The ‘Scottish’ Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale has already signalled her dissatisfaction with Corbyn whilst glossing over her (countless) own failures while former Labour figures from the Blairite past have begun their ritual sneering at Corbyn.  Of course, it is these figures which will garner media attention given the uncritical familiarity these figures have.  Already we have had fawning coverage from BBC, ITV and Sky news for public meetings behind pubs and in alleyways.

That the re-election of Corbyn is not seen for what it is – a vote of no confidence in the corporate sponsored world of the Progress Wing – shows precisely what little political talent these people have.  Labour’s disintegration, being pulled apart by the shuddering tectonic plates of UK politics, has brutally exposed Labour’s own split loyalties and aims.  In one sense, it doesn’t really matter which left wing candidate was chosen to run.  If they had won, they too would have suffered from the campaign designed to undermine and to show that the Blairites were the only people who could win. 

In the meantime, we still have Corbyn, and for the moment he is the face of the destruction of the UK’s so called centre/left party, even if there are a lot of people on Labour’s right who have done much more critical damage to Labour’s structures and reputation.  If anyone questions Corbyn’s rumoured plans to purge Labour, they should gently be pointed in the direction of the people who for completely selfish reasons are engaged in acts of sabotage on the party they profess to love.  There used to be a party of the working person to your left, and whether you are a Corbynista or a Progress Winger, the chase for middle class votes at the expense of the working classes and those adjacent to poor has done more to (fatally?) erode so called ‘Labour values’ than an old school left winger from North London.