Monday, 31 October 2016
I claim no special understanding of the underlying rhythms of American politics. But it does seem to me that the release of the tape a couple of weeks ago demonstrating that Donald Trump believed that his wealth and fame enabled, even legitimised, his groping of women, and the opening of investigations over the weekend of yet more Clinton Emails, are both put up jobs, artfully engineered by the respective party apparatchiks at the times their respective campaigns needed a bit of a boost.
Perhaps both parties still have quasi-revelations in reserve to be released in the final week of the campaign.
Both gimmicks have so far proved very effective The "Gropegate" tape increased Mrs Clinton's lead to a level that seemed unassailable, the Email investigation has brought the contestants dangerously close (neck and neck, according to our Daily Mail.)
Happily there is a constitutional device, written in by the Founding Fathers, to avert disaster should Mr Trump win the popular vote. It is not the popular vote which elects the president, but the votes of the delegates of each state, numbered according to the population of each state and chosen by the parties, who are sent to an Electoral College to decided who should be president and vice president.
Laws and customs relating to the delegates vary from state to state. Some states have a winner takes all rule, so that even if the popular vote in that state is as close as 51/49 per cent the party with the popular majority takes all the delegates: in others the delegates are shared proportionately. Some delegates are "pledged" or "bound" to vote according to their mandate, others are "unbound" and can use their judgement. For more details of the variations see here.
So in the event a Trump popular victory the world can be saved from the enhanced possibility of nuclear devastation by sufficient delegates rejecting the role of automaton and voting with their minds. There will be hell to play, but that's better than Armageddon.
There are parallels in Britain.
Clearly Mrs Clinton, pretty obviously to the rest of the world the most suitable, or least unsuitable, candidate, though inevitably tainted by her long term association with power, is receiving the backlash vote of those who wish to strike a blow against the establishment. This aligns to the apparent motivation of many of the Brexit supporters. Similarly Trump supporters are attracted by his populist bluster just as Leave voters were dazzled by the disingenuous panache of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. The mendacity of both campaigns was and is dismissed as irrelevant compared with the satisfaction of kicking the complacent powers-that-be in the teeth, even if this does turn out to be self-harming.
The Brexit vote is nowhere near as serious for Britain, the EU and the World: all will survive, which may not be the case if Donald Trump gets his finger on the nuclear button.
Nevertheless, as argued earlier, Britain, Europe and the World will be economically and culturally richer, our societies more civilised and healthier, and our planet safer, if Britain's MPs are faithFULL to their function of using their judgement for the good of the nation, and refuse to trigger the moves which will lead us out of the European Union.
Friday, 28 October 2016
An article by a self described "London based Dutchmen," Joris Luyendijk, in the November edition of Prospect describes us as a "narcissist nation."
My dictionary defines narcissism as a tendency to self worship, absorption in one's own personal perfections. Luyendijk gives a medical definition of narcissism which concludes: They cannot consider others except as instruments to be manipulated or enemies to be fought.
Both shed a good deal of light on the history of our relations with other countries, and particularly our delusions since 1945. Luyendijk applies the concept to the Brexit debate as follows:
- For "Leave" Britain is a great country and if things don't feel that way it must be becasue of the European Union. Being special, other nations will rush to strike deals with the UK post -Brexit. The UK, being a very special country, needs the EU far less than vice versa, so Europeans will give Britain a great deal too.
- "Remain" grandiosity was more implicit but still there: [the UK's membership of the EU] is a favour granted by the UK to the EU. . .[In support of this conclusion] Gordon Brown wrote a book called Britain: leading not leaving and Edward Lucas of the Economist let it be known that "Britain's size, experience and friends make us the continent's natural leader."
- Today Europeans make up 8 per cent of the world population - we will only represent 5 per cent in 2050. By then you will not see a single EU country among the top world economies.
- The case for European integration rests on the recognition of one's own country's growing irrelevance. But this simple insight remains a national taboo in Britain.
- I am with the two thirds of Germans and three quarters of French who according to a poll taken in July do not, on balance, consider Brexit a loss.
Internally it also helps explain why both Conservatives and Labour governments are so attached to grandiose "legacy" projects of doubtful (to put it generously) value such as HS2, the third runway, be it at Heathrow or Gatwick, and the Hinkley Point nuclear power station.
Recognition of our narcissistic nature is nothing new: it was noted by the great Liberal leader Jo Grimond who wrote in his Memoirs (1979):
"[W] came out of the war being told that we had saved the world by a unique act of courage against fearful odds. We naturally became convinced that the world must see that we were natural leaders of the West entitled by our deeds of valour and skill to rest on oars as far as work was concerned and owed a debt, indeed a living, by our neighbours. "
It is high time our "chattering classes" took their eyes off what they see as our national navel, recognised how others see us, and began to speak, write and act accordingly.
Monday, 24 October 2016
Last Thursday we had a parliamentary by-election in my home constituency of Batley and Spen. This was to replace our Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered last June. Out of respect for Mrs Cox, and acknowledging that for this parliament anyway, or unless there was a vacancy for a "normal " reason, the replacement MP should be Labour, we Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, Greens and UKIP decided not to field candidates. That didn't stop nine others, mostly right-wing minorities or independents, taking advantage of the free leaflet delivery to flaunt their creeds.
Top of the ballot paper was Mr, Mrs or Ms Corbyn Anti. Since on ballot papers surnames come first she/he therefore came across as Anti Corbyn. How he or she managed this I don't know. I'm reminded of a Liberal candidate, Frank Davies who, in the days before party affiliations were allowed on ballot papers, added "Liberal" to his forename by deed poll. So this appeared on the ballot papers as Davies, Frank Liberal. As far as I can remember he didn't win, but his ploy was a significant part of the eventually successful campaign to permit party affiliations on the ballot paper. What Mr Mrs of M/s Anti's policies were other than to be against Mr Corbyn I don't know as I received no leaflet from him/her
Nearly all the others sent literature, all were in favour of "motherhood and apple pie" issues such as supporting the local hospital, the NHS and being a "strong voice for the constituency" (though most of them lived somewhere else), and most wanted to stop immigration, even ALL (sic) immigration.
The one exception was an Independent, Henry Mayhew, who stood "4democracy" and felt that the people of the constituency should have a choice other than "Mr Corbyn's Labour." He was the only one to put a local address on the ballot paper. Most identified only an "address in the xxxxx constituency." Things have changed since my day, when a specific address was compulsory. Perhaps today they're afraid of having their privacy invaded, or worse, by demonstrators.
The best performing "other" was the English Democrat with 969 votes, not quite enough to save her £500 deposit. Third was the BNP with 584 votes, way below the 5% deposit-saving level, and all the others were even further below. The national Front managed only 87 votes.
Nevertheless it is disturbing that in our constituency a total of 2 646 people gave their votes to no-hope far right candidates in an election which many regarded as an opportunity to show respect to the memory and idealism of Jo Cox, and the proper, decent and non-violent conduct of politics. It is also rather sad that, in in contrast to the outpouring of emotion when Mrs Cox was killed only 25.78% of those entitled to make such a gesture bothered to do so.
The Labour winner with 85% of the vote was Tracy Brabin, an actress who is well known as having appeared in several soap operas on television. She is, like Jo Cox, locally born and bred and her literature, of which I've seen three different leaflets, is almost entirely devoted to details of her career and the names and pictures of local people who are gong to support her. There is little about her, or Labour's, policies, other than that she will protect services at the local hospital, ensure every single young person has "the best possible education and life chances" (a tall order), hold the government to account and"back our local police" - (who wouldn't?)
Does she back Corbyn or will she join the dissidents; is she keen on the closest possible relations with the EU, maybe even wanting to Remain, or is she inclined to be a Brexiteer; is she in favour of or against the replacement of Trident; will she raise taxes in order to support the local hospital and the rest of the NHS; how about fracking, HS2, renewable energy, renationalising the railways?
She can't be too concerned about supporting local industry as two of her her leaflets were printed in Cardiff and the third in Manchester. I also noted that her address on the ballot paper was "in the Chipping Barnet constituency" which sounds too close to Chipping Norton for comfort.
I know that normal party conflict was suspended for this by-election and support that decision, but a valuable opportunity for political education has been lost.
If mainstream politicians are wary of declaring their policies for fear of frightening off some people then the extremists will flourish.
Saturday, 22 October 2016
At this by-election to fill the Witney seat after David Cameron broke his promise to continue being their MP and resigned after all, the first surprise is not that the Conservative candidate won it, but that their share of the vote fell from the 60% they achieved in 2015 to a more modest 45%. The Theresa May brand of Toreyism is not carrying all before it.
But the even pleasanter surprise is that we Liberal Democrats quadrupled (yes, quadrupled ) our share of the vote, from the paltry 6.8% received in 2015 to a healthy 30%. I have been out walking in the Pennines all day so haven't heard many news bulletins but I'm sure Tim Farron and et al have been out and about trumpeting loudly and clearly that our fight-back is taking off and neither Tories nor Labour can take anything for granted.
This is not actually the first "green shoot" of our recovery: We have won several local government seats up and down the country from both Labour and Conservatives since May 2015, but these are noticed only by political anoraks. The Witney result will resonate much more loudly, even if it isn't quite another Orpington.
There is, however, another lesson, or perhaps two, to be learned from the Witney result. The Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green votes combined would have beaten the Tory. With Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party I believe we really are in a new era of politics. If our three parties, with so many overlaps in policies, ethos and intentions, had combined to put up a joint candidate we could have kicked out the Tories in the seat of the former Prime Minister. Now that would have been another Orpington of cataclysmic proportions. Our party apparatchiks should be quietly exploring this possibility ready for the next time.
An alternative approach, in the present circumstances, could be even more relevant. The Tory candidate is a Brexiteer. If our three parties, all pre-Referendum in favour of Remain, had combined, perhaps even with others who share our views, to field a pro-Remain candidate, a victory would undermine the complacency of the Referendum victors who are making the running in the government at the moment.. A series of such by-election victories could put an end to the nonsense of continuing to dig a hole for ourselves in the basis of the narrow Referendum result achieved on a false prospectus.
Remain Tories could be co-opted into such a scheme, and the nation rescued, with dignity, from its present self-harming course.
Thursday, 20 October 2016
It has been a bad couple of years for those of us believing that we lived in a country imbued with a Christian ethos supplemented by the humanity of the Enlightenment.
In that time Germany has given a generous welcome to refugees. "We can do this" said Mrs Merkel. True she is now receiving a domestic backlash, but is still odds-on favourite to win her next election. By contrast Britain has renounced our long held reputation for hospitality to those felling hardship and persecution, and is at the back of the queue, having received but a grudging trickle of refugees.
This year's EU referendum campaign has been tawdry in the extreme and the Brexit result has been taken by many to legitimise hate crimes against an assortment of foreigners, here as EU citizens, migrant workers, asylum seekers refugees - or simply foreign.
For months the government has dragged its heels over the reception of a number of youngsters in Calais with a legal right to come to Britain becasue they have relatives here.
That the arrival earlier this week of a mere 14 of them made headline news is shameful enough.
But to our deeper shame a Conservative MP, Mr David Davies, has claimed that some of the youngsters look a bit old to his eyes, and so should have their teeth examined to determine how old they really are. Our gutter press, the Sun and the Daily Mail in particular, have not hesitated to back him up
Here is a comment from the poet and translator Georges Szirtes, who arrived here as a refugee from Hungary in 1956.
"In August 2015 I returned to Budapest again. This time, rather than people desperately fleeing , they were desperate to enter. I saw mostly young families, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, sleeping on the cold stone floors with their babies and small children.
This didn't bring back memories for me. It is not how we were treated. British people and the state were incredibly supportive - they were receiving a lot of desperate people from a range of backgrounds, who ultimately had a lot to offer the nation. I believe Britain should remember its previous generosity now."
What on earth has happened to us? It is precisely 60 years since 1956. Materially we are approximately three times richer. We have all enjoyed (or endured) universal primary and secondary education; we have a higher proportion in higher education than ever in our history; in addition to the Red Tops we are served by some high quality media, especially the BBC, now freely available on the radio and for a modest fee on television.
We need to examine very seriously what is going wrong, and why?
Tuesday, 18 October 2016
When Billy Elliot's coal-miner Dad was asked if he were a supporter of the ballet he replied that he wasn't exactly and expert. I feel much the same in daring to discuss antisemitism but it does seem to me, as a non-specialist, that the Labour Party is receiving far too much stick as the result of the parliamentary committee report published this weekend.
In my view the problem arises becasue it is far too easy to conflate criticism of the actions of the Israeli government with antisemitism. Jeremy Corbyn, and some prominent members of the Labour party, have a long history of being critical of the Government of Israel. That does not, in my view, necessarily make them antisemitic.
Unfortunately the standard definition of antisemitism:
a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
is ambiguous if "criticisms of Jewish community institution" is taken to include criticism of the actions of the government of Israel. Outside this definition there also seem to be instances in whcih support of the Palestinians can be construed as antisemitism.
The Liberal Democrat party does not have a good record in making a proper distinction.. Jenny Tonge, when an MP (she is now a peer and sits as a cross-bencher) was rapped over the knuckles for saying, after a visit to Palestine, that whilst she would not condone the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers, she could understand why they they did it.
David Ward, one-time MP for Bradford East, was similarly reprimanded and temporarily suspended from the party for criticising the Israeli government's treatment of the Palestinians. He commented at the time of the "veritable tsunami" of public condemnation which resulted from any such criticism.
It is clear that there is a well funded and well organised lobby which is quick to organise in defence of the Israeli government in the face of any criticism. It is also clear that parts of this lobby are not slow to distort legitimate criticism with the accusation of antisemitism.
The Israeli/Palestine problem is a classic case of two wrongs not making a right. The wrong done to Jewish people in the holocaust by Europeans was an enormity beyond description.
At the same time, the action of the ruling powers in the post war era of ignoring the second part of the Balfour Declaration, that in the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people it should be "clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" was a wrong done to the people living there, compounded by the continues occupation of the Occupied Territories in defiance of UN Resolution 242, and others, whcih exacerbate the wrong.
A solution to the problem can only be achieved by both sides backing down on what they see as fundamentals and reaching a compromise. Such a solution requires open discussion, and will not be helped by one side attempting to stifle arguments made on behalf of the other.
I am not now and never have been a member of the Labour Party, but I'm pretty certain that the bulk of their discussions on this topic will be limited to political aspects of the Israel/Palestine situation, and not concerned with abuse of Jews as individuals or collectively.
I have not read it but assume that is the conclusion of Shami Chakrabarti's report. . I have been a member of Liberty for several years, have met Shami Chakrabarti, heard her speak at least twice, and enjoyed many of her contributions to the BBC's Question Time. She is one of our most respected commentators on legal, social and political matters. I only with she had joined the Liberal Democrats. I find it nonsensical that she could have produced a "whitewash" report as a quid pro quo for a Labour peerage. That this accusation has received so much coverage is evidence of the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby.
I have never looked at Twitter and don't really understand Facebook but am well aware that people, usually under a pseudonym or unanimously, can post vile suggestions. An example, albeit nothing to do with antisemitism, was mentioned in the Guardian magazine over the weekend, of someone who had posted , with regard to a 14 year old Afghanistani refugee, Raheemullah Oryakhel, killed on the fringe of the Calais "jungle": "Can't they show it happening I would enjoy watching it one less to worry about."
So I understand that disgusting things can be said on social media. I'm sure some are said about Jews. I doubt if many are by serious members of the Labour Party. One method of reducing their incidence would be to insist that the posters identify themselves properly, save in exceptional circumstances, as in newspaper letter pages.
Finally I find it a bit rich that the Conservatives are making such a meal of Labour's alleged culpability. After all, in my lifetime among the last organisations to abandon bans on Jewish membership were the golf clubs. Not many socialists there.
Thursday, 13 October 2016
Earlier this week our central government overruled the the clearly expressed wishes of most of the residents of the Fylde, a coastal part of Lancashire, and of their elected county council representatives, and gave permission for private extraction companies to go ahead with fracking.
Curiously, when local residents object to the erection of wind turbines in their area, they have the last word - the government does not have the power to overrule them.
Some of the objectors to fracking, aware of the possibility of contamination of their water supplies, minor earthquakes, escapes of methane gas and the despoliation of their surroundings, could be motivated by NIMBY -ism (not in my back yard). But many will surely believe that, at a time when the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly obvious, we should not be seeking to exploit yet another carbon-based fuel, but instead be exploring and developing techniques for harnessing renewable energy (my own favourites are wave and tidal power). Most will have objected for a mixture of motives.
However the objections to wind turbines can only be the selfish NIMBY ones - that they look a bit ugly and make a bit of noise.
Surely in all logic the power of the government to overrule "in the national interest" (indeed, the planet's interest) should apply to the wind turbines rather than the fracking.
Here's another anomaly. When the first referendum on devolution to of powers to Scotland was held in 1979 a condition was written in that at least 40% of the total eligible electorate should have voted in favour for a "Yes" vote to be valid. The result was 51.62% in favour and 48.38% against - a margin not all that dissimilar to that in the recent EU referendum.. However, since the turnout in this Scottish referendum was 64% the "Yes" vote amounted to only 33% of the eligible electorate, so the result was invalid.
In the recent referendum on EU membership 51.9% of those who voted opted for "Leave". The turnout was 72.2%. So those in favour of BREXIT represented only 37.5% of those entitled to vote. Had the "Scottish rule" been applied to the EU referendum the BREXIT vote, too, would be invalid.
Monday, 10 October 2016
Claiming to occupy the "centre ground" is a popular ploy in British politics and the Tories did so vociferously in their conference last week. However, Ian Dent (5th October) and Simon Wren-Lewis (6th October) have paid more attention to the detail of the conference than I have and between them have enumerated the following proposals:
- to phase out foreign doctors
- to cut down on the number of foreign students
- to jail landlords if they fail to check their tenants' residency papers
- to "name and shame" companies with a high percentage of foreigners in their workforces
- build a protective wall round Euro-tunnel entrance at Calais
- reintroduce educational selection at 11 plus
- use the status of EU migrants already here as a "bargaining chip" in the forthcoming negotiations.
If this is the centre ground then one shudders to think what a far-right party would sound like. With these proposals the Conservatives shame themselves.
Thursday, 6 October 2016
"Sorry, we've been getting it wrong for the past six years. We'll try to do less badly from now on." In an honest world that would be the message beamed loud and clear from the Tory Party's conference.
Remember, in 2010 when the Tory-led government took office, we were told that the government's overwhelming priority was to eliminate the internal deficit and preserve our international AAA rating for economic dependability. The deficit was to be eliminated by the end of the parliament, after which the National Debt was to be gradually reduced. To achieve this government expenditure was to be savagely cut..
So public services were cut, the civil service reduced in size, grants to local government were cut (most severely to areas with the greatest problems), recipients of social security payments were demonised, the toxic bedroom tax was introduce, and the disabled were subjected to humiliating harassment, to name but a few.
Macro-economists ranging from the great and the good to this humble blog, screamed that this was the wrong thing to do. As Keynes pointed out, in a depression the proper government reaction is to undertake public works and the resulting increases in incomes, employment and growth will eventually, and before we're all dead, rectify the government's finances through an increase in the tax-take and fall in social security expenditure
As predicted, and in spite of the suffering experienced largely by those at the bottom of the pile, the policy failed. The AAA rating was lost in 2013, the "balancing of the books" was postponed to halfway through the next parliament, and then, after the defenestration of Cameron and Osborne, to the one after this.
A record of economic competence it is not.
On top of that the EU Referendum, a device simply to solve an internal party difficulty and for which there was no real public appetite (EU matters came about 13th in the public's list of concerns, way behind employment, the NHS, housing, and education) has produced the biggest government fiasco since Lord North lost the American colonies over and argument about the tax on tea.
Mrs May's declaration that "things must change" - and that in future we'll have "a country that works for everyone" is clearly an admission that for the past six years it didn't.
This is received with rapturous cheers by the party faithful, and magnified by the sycophantic press, as though Mrs May, and they, were absolutely nothing to do with the previous administration.
It is perception management at its best, but an honest appraisal it is not.
Monday, 3 October 2016
You have to hand it to the Tories for their choice of words. Dubbing the parliamentary bill to undo the legislation that took us into the EU the Great Repeal Bill is very clever. It links it in our minds with the Great Reform Bill of 1832, which was one of the unsteady steps towards improving our democracy. (There are still many more to take).
In reality this will be a Great Retreat Bill: the first time as far as I'm aware when Britain has taken a step back from engaging positively, even if sometimes mistakenly, in World affairs, and withdrawing into a tight little island bunker.
However, if MPs do their duty there is every chance that this fanciful bill may rebound on Mrs May (or, maybe, as a Remainer, though low key, that's really what she wants.)
We understand that around two thirds (between 400 and 420 out of the 650) of MPs, and nearly all the Lords, are actually in favour of remaining in the EU. So when the Bill comes up for approval (arcanely called a "Reading") they should vote against it. Of course, the red-top press and leading Brexiteers will howl blue murder, and the more timid MPs will splutter about obeying the "will of the people" and the views of their constituents.
Well, they should "stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood" as Shakespeare put it in another crucial context, and remember why they were elected: to use their judgement on behalf of the nation. As Tony Benn so aptly put it: "I was elected to be a signpost, not a weathervane."
MPs who need their backbones strengthening should consider the following::
- the referendum is, legally, only advisory. In Britain it is "the Crown in parliament", not the people, that are sovereign. Agreed, it is a pity that this wasn't made clear during the referendum campaign, and so a lot of people will feel duped, but it remains a fact.
- a 52%- 48% majority is insufficient for such a serious decision. From golf clubs to music societies most other organisations in civic society require a two-thirds majority, or similar, to change their constitutions. Again it is a pity that, due to the complacency of the Remainers this wasn't written into the rules for the referendum before it took place, but it is common sense.
- some would add that we should also have required a positive vote from all the component parts of the UK. In Scotland and Northern Ireland there were majorities for remaining.
- although both sides in the referendum campaign indulged in wild exaggerations, the very mendacity of the Leave campaign has now been exposed, and even admitted by its perpetrators.
- the chief "Leaver" actually said that a narrow result such as 48% -52" would be insufficient. Admittedly, that was when he though Leave was going to lose.
Saturday, 1 October 2016
Way back in the 1950s we in Britain tried to develop a Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) called Blue Streak, which would "deliver" the independent British nuclear bomb and so enable us to "keep up with the Joneses " (ie the US and USSR.) However, Blue Streak proved too difficult and too expensive, so was abandoned and from 1960 we had to rely on the American Skybolt (and later Polaris and Trident) to "deliver" our bomb.
Yesterday the wonderful Rosetta spacecraft was deliberately crashed into the comet it had been examining for two years after having taken 10 years to cover the 300m miles to reach it. In its way, we are told , the Rosetta achievement is equivalent in our time to the Russians launching the first spacecraft, Sputnik, in 1957 and of the Americans landing on the moon in 1969.
Rosetta is a project of the European Space Agency, in which 22 European states, including Britain, work together and so together match the achievements of the US and Russia, and, presumably, in due course, or maybe even already, those of China and India
The European Space Agency is not part of the European Union, but is nevertheless an illustration of how much more we can achieve by working with our European neighbours rather than trying to "go it alone."
Surely here are lessons for our economic and technological progress, control of climate change, prevention of pollution, preservation of human rights, arms control and the creation and preservation of peace?
Pity the Rosetta project wasn't in the headlines during the EU referendum campaign