European Elections – Reject Hypocrisy, Reject the Far-Right, Vote Labour

Tomorrow the European elections that might never have been take place and, as with much of the politics of Breixt, it’s a total shitshow. The far-right continue their resurgence, hitching their wagons to the narrative of a ‘Brexit betrayal’ and asking voters to send a message by voting for the Brexit Party. With something of a depressing inevitability, evangelical remainers continue the absolutely clueless tactics which have defined their cause by being happy to feed this narrative by also turning the elections into a proxy referendum and demanding people vote to ‘stop Brexit’. The Tories, hamstrung by the continued zombie presence of Theresa May and The Deal That Would Not Die, are haemorrhaging votes to the Brexit Party while Labour, the only party which actually attempts to recognise the referendum result while acknowledging how close it was by advocating a softer Brexit, finds itself squeezed by the Brexiteers and Remainiacs on either side.

I wrote before the Scottish independence referendum that I thought it posed a dangerous moment for the left, with the potential to lead it down a cul-de-sac. I think that has largely come to pass and the treatment of every election in Scotland as a proxy for that referendum has seen a centrist SNP remain dominant, stoking the notion that Scotland as a country is ill-treated by ‘Westminster’ and constantly danging the prospect of another vote in front of it’s the indy faithful to keep them on board. The dominance of the constitutional question has also led to something of a resurgence for the Tories in Scotland, fuelled by them portraying themselves as unionist-ultras. Thus we find Scottish politics caught in a mutually-beneficial stranglehold of competing nationalisms, while Labour’s attempts to focus on ‘domestic issues’ (boring things like child poverty) and a muddy offer on the constitution see it slip through the cracks.

There is zero doubt in my mind that the attempts to reorient UK politics, and elections, along the axis of leave/remain offer a similar dead-end for the left. Indeed, since 2016 we’ve already seen a shift away from a critical support for remain on the basis that it was the best option at that time (in the context of a Tory government and resurgent nativist politics) to a strident, moralising certainty that remaining in the EU is the fount of all goodness and that anyone who accepts the referendum result is some wicked enemy. People have built identities around their desire to ‘remain’ in the EU and it’s an identity which ignores the many negatives of the EU, and the enormous complexity of the Brexit context, to simply assert that ‘remain = goodness’.

The ‘moderates’, meanwhile, continue the disingenuous opportunism which so characterises them by portraying themselves as noble anti-racists fighting to ‘stop Brexit’ to protect the most vulnerable in society. It’s irrelevant that their politics offered ‘controls on immigration’ which got more and more restrictive; it’s irrelevant that their politics largely offered support for an EU referendum; it’s irrelevant that their politics offered a ‘remain and reform’ which largely seemed to mean ‘ending freedom of movement’ and it’s irrelevant that their politics has offered a decade of austerity which has already harmed the most vulnerable in society. I don’t believe that most of these people actually care about whether or not Brexit will harm ‘the vulnerable’ – after all, if that truly was their driving concern they’d be advocating for a Labour government which will do far more to help these people than remaining in the EU would. It’s about their identity, their innate goodness, and everything else is subservient. That’s why their arguments are so often threadbare and the thin attempts to paint ‘reverse the referendum result’ as ‘more democracy’ and ‘listening to people’ are so risible. They are afterthoughts meant to convince other people they are convinced are fools, not real convictions.

This leads me to the vote tomorrow. It will be no secret that I plan on voting Labour. I honestly believe that its primary position of respecting the referendum result, while pushing for a softer Brexit, is not only the option which offers the least likelihood of adverse outcomes in a myriad of ways but also the most honest and principled approach from a party which promised to implement the referendum result. It’s a favoured tactic of the Remainiacs to, bizarrely, agree with the Brexiteers that anything less than no-deal would be a ‘betrayal’ of Brexit. They do this because it best suits their notion that ‘Brexit = catastrophe’ and it fuels their narrative of being engaged in a noble Manichean battle. Leave voters will be angered by soft Brexit, they cry, while advocating for no Brexit at all. It’s incoherent, it’s dishonest and by promoting no-deal, it’s profoundly irresponsible and the votes of the ‘remain parties’ to undermine soft Brexit should be unforgivable.

Yet it’s clear there are many who, no matter what, intend to use these elections as a re-run of the referendum. The Brexiteers have made their intransigence and hypocrisy well-known, and it’s no surprise they’d swing behind the Brexit Party. The Remainiacs, on the other hand, are swinging behind a bunch of parties which contributed to this entire mess then have attempted to wash their hands of it. Let’s have a brief look at the hypocrisy of the so-called ‘Remain parties’:

  • The Green Party – the Greens called for an in/out referendum on EU membership in its 2015 manifesto. To be clear, the party wanted the binary referendum which it now decries. Caroline Lucas voted for the referendum at both its second and third readings (Jeremy Corbyn, incidentally, voted for it at neither). Caroline Lucas sat in the Commons while the Tory front bench stated ‘there will be no second referendum’ and didn’t utter a peep and, indeed, there was no mention of a second referendum until after leave won. It’s a deep irony that the Greens complain about our broken politics while running around accusing others of ‘betrayal’ for respecting the result of a referendum the Greens both campaigned and voted for.

 

  • The Liberal Democrats – the Lib Dem record in the coalition government needs little elaboration at this point but, suffice to say, the austerity, anti-immigration policies, anti-welfare policies and broken economy they facilitated make any claims to care about ‘the vulnerable’ absolutely laughable. They like to cry that they had to enter coalition to alleviate the worst of the Tories but the confidence and supply arrangement of the DUP has rather torpedoed that argument. With regards to the EU referendum, the Lib Dems were calling for an in/out referendum throughout Nick Clegg’s time as leader. When it finally came to parliament, the Lib Dems voted for it. Notably, there was a Labour amendment to the referendum bill which would have required ‘…the publication, at least ten weeks before the referendum, of the terms of any renegotiation between the UK and the EU and the consequences of leaving the EU’. The Lib Dems didn’t bother to show up to this vote, so it’s quite something for them to now insist that another vote is necessary because people didn’t know what they were voting for. Tim Farron wrote a column attacking the prospect of a second referendum as ‘pathetic’ and ignoring ‘the will of the people’, and tweeted that this ‘isn’t a neverendum’ – the crucial point being, of course, that this was in the context of remain winning. The Lib Dems, then, are another party characterised by a staggering and cynical hypocrisy on this.

 

  • Change UK – I know, I know – at this point it’s like kicking a dead dog. But it’ll come as no surprise that Change’s position on this is hypocritical, given everything about them is. Every Change UK MP who was in parliament at the time supported the referendum. The Tory members have voted repeatedly for Tory Brexit and voted against the opportunity to put a second referendum before parliament – because it was tabled by Jeremy Corbym. The Labour members, meanwhile, run around claiming to care about migrants and ‘the vulnerable’ while being almost entirely made up of people who wanted Labour to be more stridently anti-immigration and pro-austerity. It’s laughable. Chuka has, in his time, advocated the ‘reform’ of freedom of movement to stop EU citizens coming here to find work, clearly feeding the ‘coming here to take our jobs’ narrative. He’s also advocated only allowing the immigration of skilled workers, that immigrants should be ‘forced’ to integrate more and, in the months after the referendum, was calling for an end to freedom of movement altogether. He also dismissed calls for a second referendum in early 2017. Chuka’s position on this has been characterised by nothing more than what he deems best serves Chuka’s career at any given time – much like the rest of Change UK.

 

  • The SNP – It’s to their credit that the SNP are the only major party which voted against the EU referendum. Yet their position remains deeply cynical and opportunistic. In the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, as senior figures from the EU lined up to say that an independent Scotland would be outside of the EU, the response of the SNP was not only to dismiss this as scaremongering but to threaten to kick out EU citizens living in Scotland should this happen. I repeatedly point this out because it’s the exact same use of EU citizens as cheap bargaining tools that has characterised Theresa May’s position and it makes a complete mockery of the SNP’s current grandstanding on the issue (indeed, the threat was made specifically by Nicola Sturgeon – then Deputy First Minister, now First Minister). Post-referendum, meanwhile, the SNP hedged its bets after the revelation that a third of its own supporters voted to leave, seemingly settling on a position where a soft Brexit in the single market and customs union was the best possible outcome. It’s only with the charge of the light brigade transformation of the ‘minor’ parties into single-issue Remainiac pressure groups, and the perception that this hurts Labour, that the SNP has decided its policy is actually to ‘stop Brexit’…so it can remain in the EU in the UK…then leave the UK and EU…to rejoin the EU. It seems quite ironic to me that the SNP should so eagerly adopt a position of ‘we should ignore a referendum result to leave a union if leaving it turns out to be quite complicated’ because, well, you know…

 

  • Plaid Cymru – PC abstained in the second and third readings of the EU referendum bill (they did vote for a motion to decline the second reading) and its manifestos made little mention of it beyond wanting to remain. In the aftermath of the referendum, however, Leanne Wood attacked calls for a second referendum, saying there would be ‘repercussions’ if voters could see ‘the political establishment not listening to them’ and that the proper mechanism for voters to express their views was through an election. Given she and PC are now gung-ho for a second referendum, I’m unsure what’s changed.

Parties should, of course, be able to change their minds. But you will search in vain for any of the above parties recognising the contortions and hypocrisies in their own positions, let alone explaining them. In short, you have parties which have shifted position for little more than perceived electoral gain attacking Labour for a fairly consistent position, because that consistent position is not ‘FULL BREXIT!’’ or ‘NO BREXIT’. This is putting the short-term electoral gain of those parties ahead of all else and they certainly do not deserve to be rewarded for it.

Labour’s position is not only correct and justified, it’s the best way to combat the resurgent far-right,  which would clearly love to be able to go out into communities with the message that Brexit was thwarted by the elite. I’ll be voting Labour tomorrow and I urge you to do the same.

My 2018 Music

A playlist of my favourite albums of 2018:

And a playlist of my favourite songs:

Theresa May: Dancing to the Tune of her own Bullshit

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All I’ll say about the dancing is – the absolute state of the Tories that you know that went through several levels of sign-off and was seen as ‘humanising’ Theresa May.

Instead, a quick parsing of some of the central lines from May’s speech, of the kind you won’t find much of in our media:

“You do not have to agree with a word Diane Abbott says to believe passionately in her right to say it, free from threats and abuse.” – the Tories explicitly and relentlessly targeted Abbott in the 2017 election campaign. The lines were so frequent and so uniform that it was very clearly coordinated at the highest levels. The racist and sexist abuse Abbott was receiving was very clear and at no point did Theresa May care to call off the dogs.

“I know that no party has a monopoly on good ideas. That getting things done requires working together – within parties and beyond them. When our politics becomes polarised, and compromise becomes a dirty word, that becomes harder.” – Theresa May called a snap election last year explicitly to crush the opposition and enable her to ram through whatever Brexit she wanted. There’s only one reason she now claims to care about compromise – she lost her majority and her party is constantly scheming against her.

“Conservatives will always stand up for a politics that unites us rather than divides us.” – ‘Citizen of nowhere.” “The closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits.” Go Home vans. Deporting British citizens to please the UKIP vote. Don’t make me fucking laugh.

“The Jeremy Corbyn Party rejects the common values that once bridged our political divide.” – Yeah, Jeremy Corbyn not sharing values with the Tories is KINDA THE FUCKING POINT, THERESA.

“Would Clement Attlee, Churchill’s trusted deputy during the Second World War, have told British Jews they didn’t know the meaning of anti-semitism?” – I dunno Theresa. Would he have claimed to care about anti-semitism while supporting rabid anti-semites  like Viktor Orbán, as you do, being the only party in Western Europe to vote in support of his government in the European Parliament recently?

“When the Leader of the Labour Party is happy to appear on Iranian state TV, but attacks our free media here in Britain” – It wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn who forced a newspaper to smash up computer servers due to its whistleblowing – that was the Tories. And yeah, appearing on Press TV wasn’t too smart – but authorising the selling of military and surveillance equipment to Iran seems a bit worse (that’ll be the Tory-led coalition).

“They want to support a party that is decent, moderate, and patriotic. One that puts the national interest first. Delivers on the issues they care about. And is comfortable with modern Britain in all its diversity.” – Yeah, I’m going to call attention again to that snap election called entirely for perceived political gain. I’m going to call attention to the nativist anti-immigration rhetoric and policy which has so characterised Theresa May. I’m going to draw attention to the fact that, even in 2018, most Tories don’t support equal marriage.

“A party of patriotism, but not nationalism.” – a minute ago you were bleating about the fact Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have a hard-on for the British army.

“A party that believes your success in life should not be defined by who you love, your faith, the colour of your skin, who your parents were, or where you were raised – but by your talent and your hard work.”  – The Tories have plunged hundreds of thousands more children into poverty, social mobility has worsened and the government’s own social mobility advisor quit in protest, your background continues to massively impact your life chances and most people in poverty are in working households – the highest proportion on record, in fact.

“The freedom to make decisions for yourself, rather than have them made for you by government.”Righto, Theresa. Aside from mass surveillance and your efforts to ‘regulate’ the internet, your party’s policies on education from school through to university have been to monetise and oppose critical thinking as a good in itself.

“And if we are secure and we are free, then opportunity is opened-up. The opportunity to take your future in your hands. To dream, and strive, and achieve a better life. To know that if your dad arrived on a plane from Pakistan, you can become Home Secretary. That if you spent time in care, you can be in the Cabinet. That if your grandparents came to our shores as part of the Windrush generation, you could be the next Mayor of London. That if you are pregnant with your first child and engaged to your girlfriend, you could be the next First Minister of Scotland.” – To boast about the opportunities afforded to immigrants when your government has already made it much more difficult for people to come here, and has been deporting the Windrush generation, is almost sociopathic. Your Home Secretary just announced further plans to toughen up immigration rules which his own dad wouldn’t have met. And bold of you to reference a lesbian couple having a child when you voted for a homophobic amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would have made access to IVF for lesbian women far more difficult.

“Indeed, Conservatives have looked after our NHS for most of its life. And this year we gave the NHS a seventieth birthday present to be proud of: the biggest cash boost in its history. An extra £394 million every single week.” – The Tories have presided over the largest decline in NHS funding as a % of GDP since records began.  Even taking into account this year’s additional funding, the Tories since 2010 have offered historically low increases in health spending at a time when it has never been under greater pressure.

“So today I can announce a new Cancer Strategy, funded through our 70th birthday investment, will form a central part of our long-term plan for the NHS.” – That’s nice. It’s a shame it comes after Tory cuts to Public Health budgets and to cancer spending in the health service.

“The free movement of people will end, once and for all. In its place we will introduce a new system. It will be based on what skills you have to offer, not which country you come from. Throughout our history, migrants have made a huge contribution to our country – and they will continue to in the future. Those with the skills we need, who want to come here and work hard, will find a welcome. But we will be able to reduce the numbers, as we promised.” – So, moments after banging on about opportunity, not being a nationalist party and being moderate, you’re actively boasting of restricting opportunities and hammering immigration for zero reason other than to appeal to petty prejudice.

“Our wonderful public servants are the best in the world. The compassion of our NHS staff, the dedication of our teachers, the bravery of our police, and the matchless courage of our armed forces.” – That’ll be why you capped public sector pay for almost a decade, public sector jobs have been cut by over a million since 2010 and falling teacher numbers have left schools in crisis.

“Thanks to Labour, the country was not prepared.” – The Tories, of course, spent most of the Labour years berating them for their ‘red tape’ and demanding further deregulation of finance. The 2005 Tory manifesto boasts of offering ‘less regulation’. In the year leading up to the crash, the UK’s public debt was less than it had been when Labour took office

“Our economy is growing.” – The slowest economic recovery on record, the longest fall in living standards on record, wages have declined in real terms and austerity not only dampened and delayed recovery but led to a loss of around 5% of GDP forever.

“Unemployment at its lowest since the 1970s.” – The figures the government use for this exclude underemployment, economic inactivity and sickness, and the fact that (for example) record numbers are on zero hour contracts. Independent research suggests an unemployment rate of approx. 800,000 higher than the government claims. Of course, more jobs don’t necessarily mean much when you’ve built a low-wage, low productivity, low investment economy.

“The parent who swaps a benefit cheque for a regular wage.” – To re-iterate – most people in poverty live in a working household.

“But when you nationalise something, people pay for it twice – once when they use the service, and again every month through their taxes.” – To take the railways as an example, government support for privatised rail dwarves what it was for nationalised rail – and if you include the spending of Network Rail which benefits privatised companies, it’s even larger.

“Of course, everyone should pay their fair share (of tax)” – The Office for National Statistics’ own figures show that, taking into account all taxes, the poorest in society pay 38.6% of their income in tax, as opposed to 34.2% for the highest earners.

“They would also have to increase borrowing again. We already spend more each year on debt interest than we do on our schools. After all the sacrifices we have made, they would take us back to square one.” – UK debt as a % of GDP in 2010, after the financial crisis – 64.6%. UK debt as a % of GDP now, after almost a decade of austerity and ‘sacrifices’ to lower borrowing – 85.3%. Yes folks, the Tories have massively increased the public debt and they don’t have the excuse of bailing out the banks after the financial crisis.

“The money raised will go towards tackling the scourge of rough sleeping” – Homelessness has increased every single year since the Tories came into power.

“Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it.” – For an in-depth look at the housing crisis and its roots in the government of 1979, read this.

“There must be no return to the uncontrolled borrowing of the past. No undoing all the progress of the last eight years.” – Just to hammer it home again – borrowing has increased under the Tories. Borrowing has increased a LOT under the Tories.

“Debt as a share of the economy will continue to go down, support for public services will go up.” – I mean really, it bears repeating – DEBT AS A SHARE OF THE ECONOMY HAS GONE UP. Spending on healthcare as a share of the economy has gone down. Spending on education as a share of the economy has gone down. Spending on welfare as a share of the economy has gone down. Central government funding for local authorities as a share of the economy has gone down.

“Because, a decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.” – Paid off with lower living standards and wages but a government debt which is considerably larger than before? As for austerity being over, independent analysis of the most recent Budget saw no end in sight.

Happy birthday, Michael

And the mix:

Madonna at 60

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A few years ago I booked tickets for my friend and I to attend the premiere of Madonna’s film W.E. as part of the London Film Festival. It was due to be held on a Sunday night and nothing suggested it would be anything more than a screening – it was hardly a blockbuster, after all. So it was that we rocked up to Leicester Square, very hungover from the night before and resembling buskers, to find that we were attending a full-blown Hollywood premiere replete with hordes of onlookers and media. We had to queue in a line full of people in very expensive tuxedos and dresses to enter the Square, whereupon we found ourselves thrust onto the red carpet. I was in something of a daze as I walked towards the cinema, cameras flashing around me and faces I recognised roaring into view. My friend suddenly got very animated and pointed to my side. It took a moment but then I saw her – Madonna, stood a couple of metres away from me. It was a surreal, disorienting moment – my friend told me to stand in front of her and he snapped a couple of photos before a security guard appeared and shouted at us to keep moving – but more than anything I couldn’t quite believe that the woman beside me was Madonna. Madonna. A presence so enormous, so overwhelming, such a cornerstone of popular culture that she couldn’t possibly just be a person, could she?

There’s a famous clip of a young Madonna, asked by Dick Clark on American Bandstand what she hopes for her career, responding with ‘to rule the world’. She radiates charm and self-confidence but no-one at the time, surely not even Madonna herself, could have anticipated that she would not only rule the world but transform it. Madonna became one of the extraordinary, and extraordinarily rare, titans of culture who reach a level where it’s impossible to imagine our world without them. She is just there in the same sense that Shakespeare or Star Wars or karaoke is there. To say Madonna is the most successful female artist in history is like saying Coke is the most successful soft drink, so mind-bogglingly enormous as to become meaningless. Indeed, she may be the most famous woman on the planet but her status as a cultural icon is so established and unassailable that it’s inevitable we would forget she’s just a person, with everything that entails. She’s the object of endless throwaway opinions and casual cruelties from people for whom she’s as impersonal as Coke. Yet one woman really did all that.

Todway that woman turns 60. As shocking and devastating as the deaths of Michael Jackson and Prince were, it somehow seems apt that Madonna would be the member of the ‘Triumvirate’ to stay the course. That doesn’t necessarily work to her advantage – we like our cultural icons to be ethereal and unchanging in ways which an ageing, flawed person can’t possibly be and for all her fuck-ups and failures, much of the shit Madonna gets is because she can never be the ‘Madonna’ most people remember or imagine. Nevertheless, the world will miss her when she’s gone and it’s heartening that at moments like this there’s a taking stock, a recognition that she’s worth celebrating while she’s still around.

I don’t have to write about what Madonna means to me because I’ve done it many times before. Suffice to say that Madonna has saved me in ways too numerous to mention and too profound to articulate. The song which I return to most often from her last album, Rebel Heart, is the title track – it captures something of the ache I’ve felt that Madonna soothes:

Thought I belonged to a different tribe

Walking alone, never satisfied, satisfied

Trying to fit in but it wasn’t me

I said ‘oh no, I want more, that’s not what I’m looking for’

So I took the road less travelled by

And I barely made it out alive

Through the darkness somehow I survived

Tough love, I knew it from the start

Deep down in the depth of my rebel heart

I’ve never felt that I fit in but that has allowed me to fully understand the transcendent power of truly exceptional pop music, of the kind Madonna has created over and over again. Whether it be singing in my own living room or dancing in a room filled with friends and strangers, Madonna’s music revitalises me (makes me feel shiny and new, you might say) and makes me feel alive to possibilities which the grind of daily life can cause to slip from view. When I celebrate Madonna’s birthday at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern tonight my heart will swell with joy and I will feel that I’ve never belonged anywhere more than I do on that dancefloor and never been a better version of myself than I am when I’m dancing. Madonna is only one person but she has made my world, and the world of millions of others, immeasurably better (and a whole lot more fun).

Happy birthday and thanks, Madonna. Sorry we looked a mess on your red carpet.

Fuck Trump.

Trump is terrible. Fuck Trump.

I think there’s a very real danger that he’s used as a bogeyman which other politicians use to frame themselves as ‘reasonable’ and ‘civilised’. He’s very loud in his bigotry. The fact Theresa May isn’t shouldn’t mean we see a government which deports black British people, which splits families because one or more of them are immigrants, which has already and will continue to make life for immigrants crueller and more difficult, which is ramping up poverty and homelessness, cosying up to authoritarian regimes around the world and far too many other mendacious things to mention, as any ‘better’ or more acceptable. Nick Clegg has stated he’s going to protest Trump. Nick Clegg was Deputy Prime Minister when the government introduced the ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants, sent ‘Go Home’ vans around the country, introduced austerity and began strangling the NHS. Politicians like Nick Clegg have destroyed lives just as surely as Trump, yet are seen as better because they’re well-spoken and don’t vocalise the bigotries which lie behind e.g. immigration policy.

Protesting Trump means protesting his values and policy. That’s great and it should be a moment where we recognise those values and policy in our own government and endeavour to stand against it. And yes, it means working within other parties to stand against any policy drift which is driven by appealing to the worst in people. That means educating ourselves about what’s going on in the UK, about immigration, about poverty, about LGBT issues, about housing, about healthcare, about the daily reality for millions of people.

The way we defeat politicians like Trump is by being armed with education, motivated by compassion and justice and acting with courage against those who seek to pursue his values.