Tag Archives: Tories

Seagulls, Monkeys and Brexit

Ok, so let’s get the little stuff out the way. Sarah Woollaston MP’s defection from Vote Leave to the Remain camp – mainly on two issues: the NHS lies being peddled by Leave about pumping millions into the service if we leave, and the anti-immigration rhetoric which she says is “indistinguishable from UKIP”.

I think it’s great that a politician can think again and change their mind. I applaud her honesty. I do wonder what party she thinks she joined up to, though, as those “Go Home” vans pushed out by the Tories in the coalition were indistinguishable from the National Front and even gave Farage pause at the time.

But onto the big stuff.

The funniest article I’ve read this year, about a seagull that fell into a vat of chicken curry (it survived, but the write-up is hilarious):

“Vets said they felt sorry for him but he made them feel hungry at the same time”

“When he came in you wanted to feel sorry and concerned but he was making everyone’s belly rumble,” Lucy said.

“It was the weirdest thing we have dealt with here.”

And the monkey that caused a national power blackout in Kenya:

The monkey lost its purchase on the roof of the plant, and it tumbled down to land atop a transformer. What happened next played out like a catastrophic game of transformer dominoes: With a monkey on its back, the first transformer shut off its electrical flow, causing other transformers at the station to trip as well. KenGen said in its statement that “a loss of more than 180 megawatts” at the power station “triggered a national power blackout.”

 

 

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London: A Question of Character

I’m genuinely concerned.

Tomorrow London may vote in Zac Goldsmith, endorsing his racist, scurrilous campaign. Like so many others, I used to like him. I respected his independence and his environmental campaigning. But the fact that he has allowed his campaign to be so debased has become a matter of character.

And character shows when the chips are down. Yes, he was behind in the polls, but the decision to go negative like this (and, worse, double down) shows that at best he’s weak and at worst, he agrees.

But the question now is, what’s London’s character?

Polls are meaningless after the General Election. They consistently show a Khan lead but the fact is, in the privacy of the ballot booth, people may vote for Zac – either as dyed in the wool Conservatives, or because he’s cute, or because the dog whistling has worked.

The only reason that will matter to the Tories (and all political parties) is the latter.

I really don’t care if we elect a labrador with a colander on its head I just don’t want Zac’s politics to win. I desperately don’t want my city to choose that. Even better would be if Khan, who has fought an honest and hopeful campaign (even while disowning Corbyn) wins.

It’s a question of character.

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Well someone voted for this

I’m trying to get back into watching Question Time, which I stopped watching after immigration became a weekly topic. To be fair, this is because people submitted questions on the topic, rather than the programme makers wanting to flog a dead horse, but it got wearying.

I’ve dipped in a few times and I’m always struck by the amount of pain and anger from the crowd. The audience is balanced with people from across the political perspective and of course I respond more to points that resonate with my political views, but I’ve been most struck by centrist or Tory voters who are pissed with the government that they feel betrayed them.

There was the T0ry voter who cried on the programme in October last year about the issue of the tax cuts. Speaking of her betrayal she shouted, “Shame on you!”

Last night, another woman echoed the sense of betrayal, saying Cameron “has stripped us of everything”.

And another man, who seemed like just a common-sense bloke, pointed out that if we collected monies owed due to tax avoidance we wouldn’t have to do austerity.

To be fair, the Question Time audience is hardly the average person on the street and they are a tiny sample. They are politically engaged. But I do see a growing acknowledgment of austerity as a political choice rather than an economic necessity. And a sense of betrayal from a lot of working and middle class voters who were (yes, it has to be said) were happy for an axe to fall when they voted for the Tories, comfortable in the assurance that it wouldn’t be on them.

We on the left are told again and again that we must smile and not say this for fear of scaring the horses away from us with our scary socialist ways…but…

someone voted for this.

Sit with that for a while.

No, really. When we’re all cried out we really have to sit with this and think it through.

Because while I don’t think “I Told You So” is useful, that has to be the starting point for a re-education (or just plain education) on what solidarity is about.

We have to take up for each other because otherwise they will come for us all. It’s just that simple. This has to be something that the Left keeps on saying because that’s the only way to build a movement that will stick beyond the political opportunism of the moment.

Of course, we should stick up for those who have been betrayed, but they need to stick up for other people too. Those people they were happy for the axe to fall on in 2010.

Solidarity. It’s just that simple.

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Flounce to the Right

The dramatic media “Why I’m leaving..” article has really had form in the last year or so. First they were all leaving London, then it was the Labour party. Last time I checked, we all survived.

A change, then, to have it coming from somewhere other than the Guardian – this time, Tim Montgomerie in the Times: “Enough. I’m Quitting the Conservative Party” (behind a paywall).

Clearly, there are internal politics in the Tories at play. But I find his objections interesting.

First of all, he says that it’s Thatcher who got him to join the parties, not because she was right but because she was strong. She did what she said she would – on the EU rebate, the Falklands etc.

Yay…?

Anyway, Tim’s point is that Cameron hasn’t done what he said he would – on the deficit, on the debt, on immigration, and the EU deal is a farce.

I agree. Sort of.

Firstly, I think it’s interesting that he’s not so concerned with whether any of Thatcher’s or Cameron’s positions were right so much that they just did what they said they would. We’ll come back to that later.

I’m not one to come riding to Cameron’s defence but Thatcher’s world was different. The Falklands was a storm in a tea cup compared to the threat of Daesh and the like; a time when warfare was straightforward and you could see your enemy. As much as it’s part of the British nation myth, the Falklands is basically a rock off the coast of South America with less than 3,000 people on it. And some sheep. So, yay for colonialism, mostly. He credits her with ending union militancy and boosting Britain’s internal narrative of decline. OK, fine.

All realistic goals in so far as there were clear steps to achieving them, whether you agree with them or not. The things he faults Cameron for, though, are not.Like…

Reducing immigration – a stupid pledge that politicians keep making because they can’t tell the truth – that we live in the 21st Century and you can’t have the free movement of capital and not people; and Europe needs immigrants to support their ageing populations. That’s before we get onto the figures; that falling emigration affects the statistics as well. A ridiculous target (tens of thousands) was given and duly missed, because it had no foundations in reality. What they have been doing (Theresa May) is mainstreaming racism and passing legislation that punishes migrants and is tearing families – yes, British families too – apart. I assume that someone is enjoying that.

He points out that the Treasury is still borrowing £75million a year and debt is up, so Osborne has failed on his own targets too. Perhaps if the Tories had spent less time pinning a global financial crisis on Labour and hacking away at everything with a machete in the name of austerity (which the OECD and others said was not the way to growth) this wouldn’t be the case. But again, to my mind the Tories have been getting on with what they wanted to do – namely, cutting the State to the bare bones, privatising what’s left, flogging what they can to their mates in the city, and cutting welfare. It appears that ideologues have been having a field day. The fact that is isn’t working (great employment figures masking underemployment, greater inequality etc) is a failure of the ideology. Montgomerie doesn’t think Cameron is doing enough. They’ve done plenty. It’s just not the right thing.

And the EU. Thatcher got a rebate, Cameron got….well, we don’t know yet, there’s a peculiar charade underway. Suffice to say that no deal he could ever get would satisfy sceptics and those who want to stay in will want to stay in deal or not. As for the rump of people in the middle, let’s not pretend the EU debate has any roots in reality or common sense. It’s an emotional discussion and people will vote with their hearts. Because it makes sense to stay in. But like immigration and failed ideology, that’s not something people want to hear.

So maybe telling the truth and doing the right thing does matter, after all.

 

 

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Agenda Setting and Mondays

I’m still a social sciences nerd so I was intrigued to read a short post on Conservative Home about how the Prime Minister is dominating the news cycle.

If there is one thing this government likes to do it’s make policy announcements. Set speeches. Signal this or point towards that.

The year started with a blaze of such announcements, from immigration to economics (pro tip: we are totally heading for some sort of second crash and Osborne is putting clear water between him and any falling masonry) and social affairs. The latter has mostly been the PM looking prime ministerial, usually framing these issues through the lens of security. Most recently, saving his fire for Muslim women who can’t speak English.

The tactics are interesting. He takes something that’s not necessarily unreasonable and puts crazy rocket boosters on it. Case in point, the English issue.

Should everyone speak English? Yes. Because it matters in terms of access to opportunities and playing a full part in society, being part of the community around you. There was an opportunity to talk invite people who can’t speak English being part of “us”; or, rather, to be even more a part of us. They already are, of course.

Instead, while having cynically cut funding English language services that were designed to help people in this exact situation, Cameron singles out Muslim women, frames the whole issue in terms of radicalisation as if they are the reason some young people are joining Daesh when countless mother’s hearts have been broken by this, and then throws some (but nowhere near enough to replace what he cut) money at it.

Cue discussion and think pieces for days.

He gets to look tough to the ring wing and leaves the rest of us wading through the nonsense, fighting to tease out the nuances with a deliberately naive right wing press insisting, “Is it unreasonable to want everyone to speak English?” No, but…

Turns out this is a well-deployed media agenda-setting tactic:

“These Monday initiatives have three main purposes.  First, to get the media to report and comment on Government plans that are not about the EU referendum, thereby reminding voters that it has other reasons to be here.  Second, to show people that the Prime Minister is still in office and still in charge.  And, third, to tackle issues that are important to him.” – Paul Goodman

And for those nerds interested in process:

Sunday provides an opportunity to brief bits of the speech or article or initiative to the Sunday papers.  Monday brings the address or piece itself, together with a photo-opportunity for the cameras.  By the afternoon, the blogs and oped-pages are filling up, and the mix of outraged commentary, analysis and counter-intuitive support can be guaranteed to drag on into Tuesday.  Tiger mothers – back in the jungle?  Strengthening cohesion or stigmatising Muslims – what do you think?  That’s three days worth of coverage.  Voters won’t remember much of the detail, if any, but the thrust of Cameron’s case might just linger a bit in their minds for a while.  And as long as it’s one that’s not offensive to them then it’s mission accomplished for Downing Street. – Paul Goodman

Oh, and that fight we’re all having? Well, that’s part of it too. Unfortunately, these games have real-world consequences. Muslim women are statistically most likely to suffer from Islamophobic attacks. Being singled out negatively on the biggest political stage, linked with people’s fears of Daesh and radicalisation, only serves to further alienate them.

But,  it depends whether you’re really trying to help or just cynically posture, using Muslim women as a foil:

Number Ten itself admits that it’s hard to make an impact if you don’t provoke a row: “there has to be some grit in the oyster,” as one Downing Street source put it to me. – Paul Goodman

 

 

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It’s going to bite

I really love this winding down before the end of the year. On the one hand, no different to any other day except for the significance we’ve accorded it in our calendar. On the other, an enforced period of reflection that does a world of good.

So, what of next year? Many good things to come, no doubt but also: it’s going to hurt as cuts start to really bite.

A few things to bear in mind as we traverse 2016 and people (including Tory voters, the odd minister and a lot of the media) act at turns surprised and occasionally angry.

  1. Local government cuts are savage and will start (continue) to hit basic services. Apparently we all agree we shouldn’t really pay taxes, and government shouldn’t really do anything, but we also really like bin collections and councils ensuring that we have enough services when we need them. Well, grab your popcorn.
  2. Women’s support services are hard-presssed and BAME women’s support services have issued an emergency call – a report by Imkaan reveals that a number will be forced to close unless something is done. And while we’re all pleased (read: confused and conflicted) to use our periods to pay for women’s services with the tampon tax (because women’s problems are women’s problems), the fact remains that it’s not enough. If we take the welfare of women seriously then the government needs to put money behind these vital lifesaving services. Or…men need to get periods too.
  3. Inequality is a problem. And it’s only getting worse. Even John Major said so – and look at the nifty charts that back up his assertion)
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At the Sharp End

It begins. This week, The Guardian has a series of reports showing that the BAME community is at the sharp end of the cuts, based on research from the Runnymede Trust.

“The Conservative budget risks widening Britain’s racial divide by making millions of minority ethnic people poorer at a faster rate than their white counterparts…with one of the worst affected groups being British Muslims”

“Runnymede’s study has built in the fact that the national minimum wage will rise to £9 a hour in 2020. But changes to tax credits and other welfare payments will hit minority ethnic Britons harder than their white compatriots.”

And that’s not all, folks. Weak enforcement of the Race Relations Act means that legal protections that are supposed to highlight disparities like this and put a brake on damaging policies are reduced to a box ticking exercise, as Kehinde Andrews highlights in a comment piece on the research.

“Not only is the Race Relations (Amendment) Act completely ineffectual, it has now become an active device for institutions to cover their discriminatory tracks.”

This is a snapshot at the intersections of economic inequality and race – it’s an intersection on a sorry road that has the rich speeding ahead and the poor increasingly sidelined, as Aditya Chakraborty devastatingly outlines in his recent article on holiday hunger and the need for free meals for kids in the school holidays, a Victorian problem making a shameful comeback.

Usefully for the government, these differences are portrayed in the media overwhelmingly as personal failings, obscuring the systemic nature of some of these problems –   hence the push to have benefits withdrawn from the overweight or drug addicts who refuse treatment, another useful sub-group to browbeat with our self-righteous cudgels. As usual, it’s a reductive narrative. If someone is obese or a drug addict, it’s rarely as simple as telling them to stop, no matter how much they may want to. And those issues are often symptoms of deeper dysfunction.

Runnymede’s research points out that here too, ethnic minority children will be plunged further into poverty after the Budget, at a rate faster than their White counterparts.

“The report warns that child poverty among minority ethnic groups may be even greater after the 2015 budget. It says: “Black and minority ethnic households are more likely to be living in poverty. This is particularly notable for BME children, with nearly 50% of Pakistani children and over 40% of Bangladeshi children living in poverty, and all BME groups having higher poverty rates than white British children.”

If there is a need for shame in this whole debate, it should be felt by all of us. Especially those who voted for this.

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Re-Up: Austerity pits young against old

As the Budget continues to unfurl its catalogue of horrors, I thought it would be good to re-up this excellent article by Aditya Chakraborty: “This Battle will Define Us: We Must Protect our Children from Austerity.”

The landmark study of the social effects of David Cameron’s austerity was produced at the start of this year by a team of academics led by Professor John Hills at the London School of Economics. They found that the biggest victims of the spending cuts made since 2010 were children, and their parents: “Tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type. Those with a baby were especially affected.”

It was published before the General Election. Spoiler alert: We didn’t.

Sadly, it’s still relevant and all the more frightening because an unfettered Tory government is galloping ahead with its plans. Osborne is so confident that he’s challenged Labour to back the spending cap, capitalising no doubt on the disarray within Labour about whether they’re for or against poverty.

And Labour seems to have no idea what to do about it.

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The Truth Needs New Shoes

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” – Mark Twain

Following yesterday’s rant about lies, damn lies and witches, I read three great articles that got me thinking about truth. And politics. (I know, I know…)

One Polly Toynbee on the Liberal Democrats and their difficulties in campaigning on their record in government while deriding the Tories (a bit like picking a few raisins out of an elephant turd – my assessment, not Polly’s). She makes the point that given public trust in them is so low, the Lib Dems could be daring – and tell the political truths that no one is willing to own up to. (see David Cameron cutting taxes on the way to abolishing the deficit, or Labour’s self-flagellating apology tour – grovelling about pretty much everything (immigration, a global financial crisis) but the stuff they should really apologise for (monstering asylum seekers, the War, etc.) She does concede that an unfettered Tory government would probably have done all sorts of things, like abolished the Human Rights Act and the BBC…but that “stopping the worst is their best claim, though what-ifs make thin gruel for campaigning.” My favourite line is: “Jeremiahs don’t get elected, says political folklore, but telling hard truths without necessarily having all the answers might be their route back to public respect.”

Two Joan Smith on the Tories’ anti-human rights agenda. It’s a great article looking at how human rights, like political correctness, has become the scourge of the right. And how ridiculous that is. Most alarming is her observations on the British Bill of Rights proposals:

“Don’t be taken in by the spin that they’re just replacing a messy piece of legislation with a sensible British Bill of Rights. Since Cameron’s speech in Birmingham, headlines have focused on proposals to turn the ECHR into an “advisory body” whose judgments are no longer binding on the UK. This would set a precedent for countries with terrible human rights records, including Russia, which has lost many more cases before the court than the UK. But that’s not the half of it. The Bill would apply only to British territory, according to a policy document published two days ago, so allegations of human rights abuses by British forces serving abroad could no longer be heard in a British court.”

Three A typical barn-stormer from Aditya Chakraborty: Cut benefits? Yes. Let’s start with our £85bn corporate handout. He fleshes out the issue of coporate welfare – a vague, little-reported, barely-understood but shocking issue. It also shows how language is so important. Who is scrounging now? To me, this article reminds me of US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s riposte to the “wealth creators” in the US: “You didn’t build that”.

“Politicians and pundits talk about welfare as if it’s solely cash given to people. Hardly ever discussed is corporate welfare: the grants and subsidies, the contracts and cut-price loans that government hands over to business. Yet some of our biggest companies and industries operate a business model that depends on them extracting money from the British taxpayer.”

 

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