Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Prime Minister’s Questions. I’ve written on them before, so no need to go into the whole history of them, their basic usual pantomime level of Punch and Judy politics, but…

But there were three items of interest in today’s session that I think are worthy of commenting upon, or at least noting that they occured.

Because, to me at least, they were genuinely interesting, and two of them at least were – again, to me – unexpected:

Let’s get the expected one out of the way; Jeremy Corbyn looked tired. For once the subject matter of his questions was in his area of preference: foreign affairs. But where I might have in the past expected fire and brimstone from him on it, it just wasn’t there. As I say, not a huge surprise given the election result, and the past three weeks.

(Though the lack of passion and fiery rhetoric just might have been to do with the next ‘interesting thing’…)

But it was painfully obvious that he knows he’s on his way out. He seemed… less, somehow. Which didn’t exactly hurt Johnson’s ability to blather his way out of pretty much anything Corbyn asked.

But since Corbyn is on his way out, a comment or two about his performance in general in Prime Minister’s Questions. I make, and indeed have made, no secret of the fact that I think Corbyn is pretty useless at PMQs.

Now, I hasten to add, that’s entirely unrelated to what I think of him politically, or as a person. I mean, there are plenty of politicians I hugely disagree with but who I’ll quite happily acknowledge their skill in the House of Commons; when they’re at the dispatch box, asking or answering questions.

There’s very little I agree with Michael Gove about, say, but he is pretty good in the chamber, while maintaining a… flexible and malleable attitude with accuracy.

I quite liked Paddy Ashdown but – in part because the House was rarely kind to him when he was on his feet – he was never someone who commanded the attention of the House when he asked questions as Lib Dem leader.

And then there’s John McDonnell.

When Corbyn appointed McDonnell Shadow Chancellor, neither Corbyn nor he had ever been on the front bench, asking questions on behalf of the opposition or answering them on behalf of the government.

Both were – I think it’s fair to say – utterly, unreservedly useless.

Difference between them soon became obvious though. Both were, they must have been, told by people around them ‘you’re fucking useless; my gods, that was embarrassing.you really need to step up your game‘.

That difference became strikingly obvious, though, when McDonnell clearly listened, practiced – I’m genuinely curious who trained him, I’ll admit – and… upped his game. In well under a year, he’d gone from cringingly embarrassing to not that bad at all; six months later he was getting quite good. Six months after that he was very good.

He’s now one of the best Labour has at commanding the attention of the House, asking questions, and making hard, very hard indeed, speeches.

Whereas Corbyn? well, Corbyn is better than he once was. The ‘I’ve had an email from a Miss Trellis of North Wales’ idea was a clever one but Corbyn being Corbyn overdid it to the point of absurdity. He eventually found his way to the apparently entirely foreign to him concept of… asking a follow up question, and even later seemed to almost stumble over the essential Leader of the Opposition skill of

  • asking the PM a question you already know the answer to
  • Getting a non-answer from the PM, then
  • starting the next question with ‘The PM didn’t answer my question; the answer in fact is… [embarrassing answer for the government]’; now let me ask him…’
  • And then doing it again.

However, he’s been Leader of the Opposition for four and a half years and it’s only the past two, I’d say, where he wasn’t flat out lousy at PMQs. And it’s fortunate indeed for him that he faced Theresa May for most of it; anyone else and he’d have been crushed every bloody session.

(One thing May and Corbyn shared, and it’s an odd thing for an experienced politician, of any stripe: they’re both abysmal at reading out scripted gags. Both can be, rarely but it happened, pretty good at ad libs, even if they’d been prepared ages ago and the opportunity to use it just now occurred. But scripted jokes? No, both terrible at delivering them. I don’t however wholly blame them; their speech writers should have written gags that at least sounded like their bosses’ words; they never bloody did.)
 


 
Second point of interest: it looks as if the days of 45 minute PMQs sessions are gone. Speaker John Bercow slowly but surely allowed the length of PMQs to extend until they rarely finished before about 12:45pm and occasionally ran even longer.

Back in the day, by which I mean way, way back in the 1990s, the format was that a backbencher would open the session by asking the PM for their engagements for the day. The PM would answer with something like

“Mr Speaker, This morning I had several meetings with colleagues and others. Later today, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings.”

The backbencher then asked another question, the important¹ question they’d always intended to ask.

Other MPs would follow the same format of questions. They’d first ask for the engagements, the PM would say “I refer the hon member to the reply I gave some moments ago”, then the MP would ask their proper question as what was known as a ‘supplementary question’. The idea was to prevent the PM knowing what was coming.

This all changed in the 1990s, when such ‘closed questions’ were for the most part abolished. They still occasionally happen, but only once in a blue moon. Now, an MP puts their name on the order paper without the question, to preserve the ‘the PM doesn’t know what’s coming.’

Bercow tended to allow two backbencher’s questions – one from Labour, one from the Tories – before calling the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition to ask his six questions.

So in recent years, it tended to go:
 

  1. a couple of backbenchers’ questions, then
  1. Leader of the Opposition/Prime Minister, 6 questions, anything up to 15 – 20 minutes… long questions, long answers, then
  1. 3rd party leader/Prime Minister, 2 questions, 7 or 8 minutes, then
  1. Backbenchers’ questions, 20 or 25 minutes…

 
Not under Speaker Hoyle. Looks like we’re back to ‘the old days’ at least about timings.

Today’s had:
 

  1. single backbencher’s questions, then
  1. Leader of the Opposition/Prime Minister, 6 questions, 10 minutes… short questions, short answers, then
  1. 3rd party leader/Prime Minister, 2 questions, 5 minutes, then
  1. Backbenchers’ questions, 15 minutes…

 
Done and dusted in 31 minutes.

It’ll be very interesting to see if this continues and whether we’re really back to half hour #PMQ sessions all the time or whether – as with Bercow – it… stretches. I suspect the former, with rare examples of the latter. But we’ll see.


 
Third point of interest: the very final question in the session.

Karl Turner, a Labour MP, asked the following question:

I’d recommend you watch it to get the full impact.

In case you haven’t time, Turner asked about a constituent – someone serving life – who’d saved lives on London Bridge by tackling a knife-wielding terrorist risking his own life to do so, and asking the PM to pay tribute to his constituent’s bravery.

I have no idea what reply he was expecting from Johnson, but the Prime Minister’s professed admiration for the man’s bravery and hope that it be recognised in due course was probably² more than Turner expected.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.


¹ I say ‘important’; I jest. There are and were so many planted questions of the ‘does the PM agree he’s just lovely?’ that the important questions are sadly the rarity

² It’s more than possible that the PM got a heads-up that the question was coming and that Turner had a pretty good idea what the response would be.

[Oh, before I start, just a reminder about the photos I’ve used in this blog this year. Other than shots I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash which supplies copyright free photos. Also on: https://Unsplash.com]

You’d think the subject of this post would have occurred to me during the amount of time I’ve spent on Twitter but no; the rising to the fore of this particular irritation was occasioned by me spending half an hour trying to wrangle a sentence, a bit of dialogue in a short story, into doing what I wanted.

Which it stubbornly refused to do.

For British readers, you have to remember in the next sentence that Americans call them lightning bugs, not – as we sensible Brits call them – fireflies. But Mark Twain once observed that for a writer

“The difference between ‘the right word’ and ‘the wrong word’ is the difference bewteen the lightning and the lightning bug.”

And while any writing I do is attempting to use the lightning rather than the firefly, I’ve spent part of today trying to use exactly the right word. And thinking about the vagaries of language.

For example, why do we listen to something, but merely read something. When I visit my friend’s place off Mainland Scotland, am I in Skye, or ‘on’ the Isle of Skye?

You know what irregular verbs are, right?

They’re when you say something like:

I’m single-minded
You’re determined, whereas
He’s an awkward bastard

Or, to steal from Yes, Prime Minister

I’ve just given an unofficial briefing
You’ve just leaked some information, and
He’s just been charged under section 2(a) of the Official Secrets Act.

What made me think of the above was when I wondered this morning, what’s the difference between “defending your actions” and “being defensive”? Or between “doing yourself down” on the one hand and “being realistic” on the other?

Where is the line between cockiness and arrogance? Or between modesty and faux-modesty. Or, I guess these days, between the brag and the humblebrag?

While some might justifiably argue that cynicism is very different to scepticism, does it matter when the two are [incorrecly] so often used as synonyms of each other?

Is gullibility merely an extreme form of open mindedness? Or are they fundamentally different?

If one is cruel when being scathing, are the two inherently linked? Can one be scathing without being cruel?

And then there’s ‘passionate’. I’ve come to intensively dislike the word, as it’s so often used as an excuse; he didn’t mean to be offensive, he’s just passionate about [insert subject matter], as if that excuses it. of ‘He got carried away and stepped over a line.… but it’s because he’s so passionate.’ Again, offered only ever as an excuse.

Or, of course the biggie… when is ‘it’ a lie?

You might think that everyone agrees: it’s when someone knowingly tells, propagates or invents an untruth, something that is, let’s face it, untrue; a falsehood.

But it’s the ‘knowingly’ that catches you out.

Can you ever know, know for a fact that there was an intention to deceive on the part of the politician you dislike? One might argue that if they’ve been corrected but continue to spread the misinformation, the incorrect statistic, the untrue information, that then they knowingly lie.

But not necessarily. They could disbelief the ‘correct’ information or could believe that the information itself is a lie. They could be fucking stupid. Any or all could happen.

In which case are they still lying?

I don’t know.

I think all you can do is form your own judgment and then act on it.

And for as much as I rail against the horror that is “…and you know it…” in a disagreeable social media post or tweet, I’ve as much faith that it’ll continue as I have in the sun coming up tomorrow.

At some point we need to start talking about how we find sources of information, fact checkers, that everyone can rely on, and everyone can cite, rather than assuming bias because we don’t like them telling us we’re wrong.
 
 
Something else tomorrow…

Two weeks left.

Well, a little under two weeks, I guess.

A little under two weeks.

And then 2019 will finally be over.

Done. Dusted. We can put it to bed. Gently rest its head on a pillow. Cover it with a blanket. Then take another pillow, and carefully, deliberately, smother it. Put it out of its pain and misery. I don’t even think it’ll protest. It’ll welcome that longest sleep, and succumb quickly.

But it’ll be dead.

Except it won’t. Not really.

For the consequences of decisions taken in 2019, and of events that have occurred this year, will linger not only into 2020 but far, far beyond.

The obvious, I guess, since it’s the most recent in pain, hurt and time is the 2019 election we’ve all just… enjoyed. The consequences of that election, both direct and indirect, will affect us throughout 2020, and into 2021 and longer.

In 2015, as part of this blog, I wrote a countdown blog to the election and wrote more than forty entries about the election. I took almost all of 2017 off from blogging, and so didn’t write about that year’s general election. And I hardly wrote anything about this one; the occasional piece, sure. But not a full blown ‘ok, let’s take a look at what the fuck is happening’ series of entries.

Partly because I had nothing to add, partly because what I saw, what I witnessed, was too painful. Partly because I knew I was going to lose friends over the campaign period, and didn’t wish to gratuitously, needlessly, lose more.

Because the campaigns were poisonous on all sides, and the poison infected everyone. I’ve long bemoaned the political climate of ‘our opponents are not merely good people with bad ideas, but bad people with worse ideas’ but it reached its zenith in November and December. Or at least I pray it did. For if it’s going to get even more apparent and greater in scope, then that’s not a country and not a world I’m entirely sure I can handle.

The fallouts from that election on a national, and on a personal, level are still painful. And for once that’s not a netaphor, nor a conceit; it fucking hurts, inside.

And I am so fucking tired.

I shouldn’t have to wonder, every time someone I know, like and respect makes a ‘dodgy’ crack; I shouldn’t have to ask myself every fucking time: “do they realise what they’re saying, how it’s coming across? or did they just go for the quick joke and it’s essentially ignorance, not malice”.

Never before has ‘no candidate/party is perfect, so you vote for the least imperfect‘ clashed so obviously, so blatantly, with the ‘there are lines I cannot and will not cross‘.

So, yeah, I very deliberately didn’t write much about the 2019 election.

Which means, at least, unlike in 2015, I don’t have to write a mea culpa post afterwards about everything I got wrong.

And now we approach 2020.

On a personal level, the start of any new year is always overshadowed by an anniversary that takes place a week and a bit into that new year: the anniversary of my brother’s death in 1998. As I’ve written before, and no doubt will again, the advent of 1998 was the last time, the final time, I greeted 1st January with “well, whatever happens this year, it can’t be worse than this last year.”

Who knew?

But even leaving aside that intensely personal reason for not greeting each new year with unalloyed joy, four weeks into 2020 the UK will leave the European Union. Oh, there’ll be a transition period of almost a year, during which most stuff will stay the same. But unless an extension is sought by July, no extension is gonna happen at the end of 2020.

So there’s every possibility, probability even, that at the end of 2020, the UK is out without a trade deal… after which the brown stuff truly will hit the spinning round whirly thing.

I read today that after 31st January, official British government policy will be to stop using the term ‘Brexit’, presumably so Boris Johnson can claim that ‘Brexit’ was… done.

Our primus inter mendaces knows it’s not true. As does his entire government, his entire party. And saying it, and believing it’s true because it was said, is more often associated with the orange poltroon in the big round room across the Atlantic. But Johnson is banking on enough in the country being gullible enough to believe it. And, given the past few years, who can unreservedly claim that he’s incorrect in that calculation?

All the parties in the recent election, every one of them, relied on a certain amount of gullibility from the people from whom they were seeking votes; all that differed was how much.

Talking of America, and the orange poltroon, we get to see the trial of President Trump at some point. I’ve no idea whether or not the trial will happen in January. And right now, no other bugger does wither. Pelosi seems to want to not send the articles of impeachment the House voted to approve to the Senate until she gets a cast iron guarantee of how the trial will be conducted.

Which, given Mitch McConnell’s fundamental untrustworthiness, may take until after the 2020 Presidential election.

Oh yeah, we’ve got that next year as well. Which will once again show the world’s countries how – whatever their own fucked up politics and fucked up electoral systems – America really doesn’t like being second place in the table of countries with fucked up politics and fucked up electoral systems.

Just as it’s irresistible to look at the results of a horrible car crash while you’re driving past it, there’ll be an overwhelming desire to watch both the trial and the election, to witness history in the making.

Because, like it or not, both will be history in the making. They’ll be events that will make pundits and public alike look at, years later, and.. and what? Shudder at? Cry at? Wince at? Who knows.

But history in the making? Certainly.

But then there’s always history in the making.

I was born in mid-August 1964, a few months before America decisively rejected Barry Goldwater’s offer to the American people, and almost exactly nine months after JFK was assassinated and after the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast.

In the now over 55 years I’ve been in this planet, I missed some history being made, sure; I wasn’t even aware of anything outside what directly affected me and mine for the first, what half a dozen or so years of my life, and for the next half a dozen, didn’t care about them. So, President Nixon resigned in 1974, week or so before my 10th birthday.

At ten years of age, I’m not entirely sure I even knew it at the time. It’s possible my father might have mentioned it, and I heard it, but no, I have n memory of it. (I do remember the Beatles breaking up, six years earlier, but only because my aforementioned big brother was terribly upset.)

I honestly don’t know how much I’d have been aware of, though had social media and ubiquitous connection to the internet had been around in the 1970s…

But even if you say from the age of 13 – in mid-1977 – in my life, I’ve witnessed history being made dozens of times. Just off the top of my head, without thinking about it, in my teenage years, Elvis died, as did John Lennon. We had the first woman British Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter the miner’s strike. Soon thereafter, Labour showed how you catastrophically lose a general election, a lesson that took almost forty years to be forgotten enough… to do it again.

In my mid-20s, the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR started to collapse, and Nelson Mandela walked to freedom… and and and…

History is made all the time, and occasionally you realise it at the time, but almost never does it happen in such a way that instantly you know what the consequences will be.

You can guess whether they’ll be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but not much more than that.

And 2020 will bring more deaths; that’s inevitable. There’ll be much loved celebrities who die at the end of a ‘natural’ life span’, and some that go too soon; some that go far, far too soon.

Though, to be fair, there’ll be some who’ll die and my reaction will be… that I’m surprised they were still alive, either because of advancing age or, let’s say if Keith Richards dies, that they managed to last as long as they did.

My mother used to say that things came in threes… and if another thing happened, it wasn’t that things happened in fours, but that it was the start of a whole new series of three.

But you know, you already know, that when something – I don’t know what – but something will happen in the early says of 2020 – happens, plenty of people will cry in protest: “Oh fuck; I was hoping 2019 had ended…”

It did.

It will have.

This will just be the long, lingering smell of shit, like someone dumped a huge barrel of turds across the world in 2019.

Which, I suppose, in every important way… they did.
 
 
Something else, something happier, or at least smilier… tomorrow. And next week? Something on good stuff that happened in 2019, both personal and beyond.

 
 
 
 

Exactly 20 years ago today, I was looking forward to a holiday, a special one.

I’d recently started working at the company I was to spend the next twelve years working for, was enjoying it hugely, but we hadn’t been ‘away’ as a family for a proper holiday for some years, and I was very much looking forward to it.

My then-, but now ex-, wife Laura and I were taking our then four year old son to Anaheim, to Disneyland, immediately after Christmas.

And I’m thinking of that holiday today. Specifically, I’m thinking of a few minutes before midnight, before 1st January 2000. Just a few minutes before, you understand, and you’ll appreciate why in just a minute or two.

So, 31st December 1999.

As I say, we were in Anaheim. We’d already been to the park earlier in the week but we’d been told that greeting the new year in Disneyland was something special. We’d also been advised to get to the park early that morning, as it would be jam packed most of the day, and especially by the evening; indeed, it was.

We spent the day doing rides, walking around, enjoying our son’s sheer unfettered delight at the park; repeated rides on things like It’s A Small World, trying to capture forever the joy on his face at the prospect of doing this, then that, then this, than that… then that again, and this again… It was lovely, genuinely.

I can’t swear that Disneyland is always, as the slogan has it, The Happiest Place On Earth, but for our lad, that day? Yeah, it applied.

Utterly exhausted, Phil fell asleep in the stroller around half-past seven, and slept for most of the next four hours.

By half-ten at night, the darkness lit only by the million lights or so of the park, we were in our final positions, a good view of the fireworks to come.

And we were just waiting… waiting… waiting.

An hour later, with thirty minutes to go before everything went nuts, we miraculously saw people we knew, people staying at the same hotel as us, and we caught up with them. 

Packed like sardines, the warmth of the crowd uncomfortably increasing, seeing the forced smiles of Disney people slipping momentarily before being plastered back on, the time clicked away. Phil was awake by now, surprised by the crowds, wanting to be lifted up. The adults? We were tired.

Sure, we were excited about the forthcoming celebrations, the fireworks that we knew would be spectacular, the start of the year 2000, the fact that we were there, five and a half thousand miles from home… but we were tired, hot, crowded…

About ten minutes before midnight, I remember saying to one of my companions, “Thirty minutes to go… Thirty minutes to go…” 

Puzzled, he glanced up at the giant clock, then looked back at me. “Thirty minutes?”

“Thirty minutes…” I repeated, “…until we can get out of here…”

I’ve been feeling the same about this general election for the past couple of days.

I almost entitled titled this blog post “#ThisFuckingElection“, the hashtag I’ve used more than once on Twitter.

No one is, can be, unaware of my views on the leaders of the two main parties standing for election tomorrow. I’ve written of my views on Corbyn more than once, and named Johnson primus inter mendaces when he became Tory leader and Prime Minister. Neither of them are fit for the office they’re likely to have after tomorrow. Neither of them are fit to be leaders of great parties, let alone Prime Minister.

Now during the election campaign, everyone’s had to draw their own ‘lines’. And no matter where they’ve drawn that line, they’ve received grief for it, justified grief or not,

(‘Justified’ in my own opinion, of course.)

Before the election campaigns started, I wrote in a post:
 

It’s a mug’s game making predictions about elections. Only a fool would do it. And only an idiot would make predictions this early.

Let’s make some predictions this early.

 
And, surprisingly to me, only one of those predictions (including the final, ‘extra’, one) didn’t pan out, hasn’t come true.

This one:
 

Prediction Eight: I’m going to miss a typo at sometime in the next six weeks and I’ll type “I’m really not looking forward to the result of this erection.”

 
So, yeah, if one was going to be wrong, I’m content it was that one.

However, as I say, everyone’s drawn their own lines. And everyone’s had to judge for themselves when those lines have been crossed. I predicted in 2017 that I was likely to lose friends during that year’s election campaign. As it was, I didn’t. I’m not quite sure how, but I didn’t.

This time, I made the same prediction, with a very different result. I’ve lost friends, I’ve terminated friendships, during this fucking election and the campaigns leading up to it. And when I say the friendships have been ended, I should have added the word ‘irrevocably’.

I wish I felt worse about it. I wish I felt sad about it. Because I don’t. I don’t feel bad about those – some of them decades’ long – friendships ending. At all.

Everyone’s had to draw their own lines.

Still at least it’ll all be over tomorrow at 10pm.

I’ve loathed this election more than any other, unlike any other, in my lifetime. I’ve detested the campaigns, on all sides, and those who’ve supported various positions, parties and policies, while ignoring… certain other matters.

I wish, however, that what I wrote above was accurate: that it’ll be over in approximately 30 hours.

Because it won’t be. That’s the final gift this election, and the associated campaigns, have for us. And what a shitty gift it is.

Because whereas this election and its campaigns have made me look at some people differently, people I’ll never look at the same way again, will never fully trust, not when it comes to my safety….

…those same people will never look the same way at me again, will never truly trust me.

And whatever happens tomorrow, whoever manages to form a government, that’ll continue. That’s the legacy of this fucking election.

If Corbyn loses, the blame game will commence five minutes’ later and leaving aside the ever-present excuse of ‘Labour lost because they weren’t left wing enough’ (which is always offered), there’ll be plenty who will blame Teh Jooz. Oh, they might say ‘zionists’, but they mean Jooz.

There’ll be plenty of others they’ll blame as well: the media, ‘centrists’, Blairites, and any candidate who wasn’t labour. Oh, and the voters.

But yeah, Teh Jooz will be blamed for Corbyn losing. I won’t say ‘their fair share of blame’ even for flowing language, because it won’t be ‘fair’. Antisemitism never is fair.

It’s why I’ve been saying that I’ve been looking forward to 19th December. Not the 13th, the day after the election, but the 19th. Because, hopefully, if we’re lucky, the worst of the ‘blame Teh Jooz’ will have died down by then.

If we’re lucky.

Yeah, but how lucky have we been so far the past few years, eh?

No matter who you’re voting for tomorrow, vote. I think it’s important to vote, and you’ll get no ‘[my side] voters vote tomorrow; [the other lot] voters vote on Friday’. It’s tiresome and annoying. And never funny.

Vote tomorrow.

Something less hurty tomorrow.

About ten years ago, there was a big fuss about MPs’ expenses.

You may have read about it.

At the time, while there was righteous fury at the dishonesty and flagrancy of many expense claims, no one was arguing – well, no one other than the MPs who were caught making absolutely ludicrous expense claims – that MPs should receive no expenses.

Or if they were, they were idiots.

Oh, before I go on with this, I’m not talking about claimimg 50p for a pencil, say. Or a pound for a padlock, to take another example. Both of which I recall people throwing up their hands in horror at.

The size of the individual expense is, to a large extent, irrelevant as to its necessity or otherwise, both cheap and expensive. If they’re justified expenses, being exclusively and necessary to do the job, they’re justified.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a pound spent or a hundred pounds. And anyone who says “oh, they shouldn’t claim for anything less than a pound”, then all that would guarantee is more expensive alternatives being bought instead.

Anyway, back to the concept of expenses. Those arguing for a ‘no expenses; a flat salary, end of story’ regime are equally daft. It would have immediate and deleterious consequences for MPs representing constituencies outside London. It would penalise an MP with a constituency in, say, Glasgow.

Easy to say an MP who lives in London shouldn’t get travel expenses… in most of London, there’s a decent tube system and decent bus service, but an MP from Aberdeen? Or from Cardiff? Or even from Manchester?

They’re supposed to pay for travel to and from Westminster out of the same salary that a London MP gets?

No, of course not; they should get essential travel expenses paid for as part of the job.

Similarly, since the only non-government MP who gets more money is the Leader of The Opposition, it’s a bit daft to say that no MPs should get expenses to pay for staff.

Or, again, consider the difference between that MP from Glasgow and an MP from Camden. Perfectly reasonable to say to the latter ‘you don’t need accommodation paid by the state… you either rent or own your property in London already…’

Not so sensible to say that to the Glasgow MP. Much fairer to provide accommodation for MPs than expect them to commute shlap back and forth every day.

That said… that said…

Note what I said: “Much fairer to provide accommodation

There are 650 MPs. Knock off the half a dozen or so who get grace and favour accommodation provided. PM, Chancellor, Foreign Sec, Speaker…

But yeah, 650, say.

So, rather than MPs getting to pick their accommodation, and furniture and fittings, etc., and then bilk bill the taxpayer, why not provide accommodation?

Seriously… why doesn’t the state provide accommodation for MPs?

Either buy or build a few blocks of flats, totalling roughly 650 flats. Pretty basic three bedroom flats. (Otherwise it’s unfair to MPs with kids.) Nice flats, not crappy ones, but standard, basic, all pretty much the same. And all within walking distance to the Palace of Westminster.

Obviously, the buildings and all flats therein to be wheelchair accessible; completely accessible for disabled MPs, come to that.

And then each flat belongs to ‘the MP for [constituency]’. Start by drawing lots to determine which constituency gets which flat (otherwise, you’d end up, no doubt, with mates of the leaders getting ‘the best’ flats). But once drawn… that’s it.

You’re the MP for Luton South? OK, you’re in flat 23. You’re the MP for Glasgow East? Cool; you’re in flat 287. You’re the MP for Cardiff? You’re in flat 49.

The flats provided to MPs will be furnished with – again good, but not top of the range – furniture and fittings, computers, etc.

The only exception I’d make for ‘top of the range’ would be broadband; I do think it’s fair that our elected representatives get better than decent internet.

Anything more that they want, though… they pay for.

If they want to upgrade the furniture, or other tech, they pay for it themselves. And pay for the storage for the stuff they’re not going to use. And they’re billed to put the stuff back in the flat when they leave, whether from choice or because they lose at an election.

Security would be provided throughout; again, I think that’s [sadly] sensible, these days.

But yeah, MPs need somewhere to live in London; I just don’t see why they get to choose where while they do the job… and why if they do, we have to fund it.

If they want us to pay for it, then we get to pick it.
 


 
I’ve deliberately not mentioned thus far what you do with MPs who already own property in London, whether or not they’re MPs who represent London constituencies. Well, they can either hand it over to a property agent to manage while they live in the flat provided… or they can live at their own property, and choose to merely use the flat as a place to crash after a late night in Parliament, or a place to hold meetings in, if they want. Either’s good by me.

But we don’t pay for their mortgage on their home. If they want to be MPs, they can pay for their personal mortgage out of their MPs pay, or from the rentals.

 
 
The usual Tuesday ‘something else’ tomorrow.

A friend of mine used to work for an accountancy recruitment firm. Like all of us, in any job, he had his own rules, developed from years in his chosen trade or profession, and two of them were almost articles of faith to him.

One of them was why people stay at a job, and why they look for a new one.

He maintained that there were three attributes people cared about regarding a current job:

  • Your prospects – what you can reasonably expect if you stay: better pay, title, job, promotions
  • The benefits you currently get: who you work with, the extras you get from working there, the clients you have
  • A genuine vocation for the work.

He insisted that if you had none of them, you’ve already been looking for an new job for a while

If you had only one of them, you’re similarly already looking for a new job

If you had two of them, though, you’d probably stay at your job:

He suggested that people will put up with ‘no prospects’ if they like the job and have a genuine vocation for the work.

Also, even if you’re not crazy about the specific job, if you’ve great prospects and enjoy the work, you’ll stay.

And, obviously, if you’ve good prospects and have a vocation for the work, you won’t mind not liking this specific job for a while until those prospects are met, or you realise they won’t be.

Oh, if you claimed you had all three, he’s recommend you call The Guinness Book of Records. Because he’d rarely come across someone who genuinely did.

The other thing he viewed as aa certainty was: the worst question to ask – or be asked – in a job interview.

He had no time for the “how many dentists are there in London?” type questions. He viewed them – correctly, in my opinion – as merely examples of the ‘how would you approach solving this problem?’ type. That’s all, no more no less. They weren’t trick questions, nor impossible to answer impressively.

No, the absolute King Bastard Of Questions, he insisted, was:

If you don’t get offered the job, what do you think will be the reason why?

He recommended it to employers to ask in only two specific circumstances: when you knew you probably wouldn’t offer the candidate the role but there’s a small voice at the back of your head pushing you to, or when wanted to offer them the role, but that small voice voice is warning you not to… but you don’t know why.

And the reason why it’s such a bastard of a question is because there’s no right answer. (Well, there is, he suggested, but more about that in a moment.) But since no one in an interview wants to blame someone else, it forces the candidate to examine their own history.

And whatever they say reveals what they think are their weaknesses as a candidate.

If they mention their spotty job history, never staying long at a job, then they’re worried about that; if they mention their less than stellar exam performance, the same.

The only ‘right’ answer, my friend maintained was to walk a line between confidence and cocky, between assured and arrogant:

I don’t know. I hope I’ve done enough in this interview to convince you that I am the right person for this role.

For some years, I’ve been quietly irritated that the same question isn’t asked of politicians seeking our votes. “If you don’t win the election, what do you think will be the reason why?”

Not that I expected any politicians to answer it. In fact, on the rare occasions when they were asked something similar, the usual answer trotted out by politicians of all parties is ‘I don’t answer hypotheticals; I think we will win.”

And that’s an answer that infuriates me. A manifesto is, at its very heart, something that relies upon a hypothetical. And politicians have no problem at all with predicting the future will be golden under their policies.

They have an equal lack of issue with trashing the other parties’ manifestos, usually involving and creating or relating ever greater and more ludicrous hypotheticals, offered with even greater claims of calamity.

Any politician commenting on their [main] opponents’ manifestos will always assert that their opponents’ fiscal policies, if put into practice, will crash the economy.

Predicting, whether it’s the effect of ‘your ‘own’ sides’ policies or your opponents’ inherently relies upon hypothetical scenarios.

As I say, I’ve been frustrated that this question isn’t put to politicians, on the national scale, and at local hustings.

However, I’m neither irritated nor frustrated that the question isn”t being asked this time.

Because, unlike that job interview above, and unlike most previous elections, were the politicians to have been honest… this election, this time, every main party running for Parliament would – and will – blame other people and other things for them losing.

The Tories both overtly and by whispering campaigns, both at the national leadership level, and from their supporters, will blame the ‘enemies of the people’, will blame the EU, will blame the broken parliament that ended weeks ago. Not their leader, not their policies, but everyone else.

The SNP will blame the fact that they’re not independent and Brexit. Again, not their policies, but the system.

The Lib Dems will blame both the voting system, and the other party machines.

Labour? Well, the leadership will blame the media, and the gullibility of the voters. And the ‘centrists’ and the Blairites. Except for a large portion of Labour’s membership and suporters. Because, well, yes, we all know who they’ll blame.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

Oh, there’s so much about this election that needs serious, sensible, rational commentary.

It’s a pity there’s so little of that present in the punditry and commentary we do get, though.

And though I’ve commented previously about elections, including this one, and was even foolish enough to make some predictions, and will no doubt write some more before 12th December… something a bit lighter today while not completely leaving the subject alone.

This post was occasioned by the news that the Tories have today suspended a prospective parliamentary candidate for previously made antisemitic remarks.

They suspended him, and won’t be spending any more money on the campaign, and various people have rightly praised the Tories for doing both.

However, others have read far more into those actions that the actions themselves warrant.

From that reportage and those social media posts, you’d think that the Tories had “dumped’ the candidate, that the candidate will no longer be standing in the general election. Maybe that either another candidate will be selected in a hurry to stand for the party in that constituency, or even that no candidate was standing in that constituency representing the party.

Problem is, that none of that is true.

The final date for candidates to be formally – legally – nominated to stand for parliament was last Thursday, 14th November. From the moment nominations closed, no additional candidates can be added to the election for that constituency, nor can the ballot paper contain additional names.

What’s often missed, or less well appreciated anyway, is that from the moment nominations closed, no amendments at all can be made to the ballot paper.

Whoever were the nominees the moment nominations closed, their names are on the ballot when voters vote.

So, let’s take an example.

The constituency of Somewhere in the county of AnyWhere.

Mr Jones, Ms Smith and Mr Whatdjamacallit are, respectively, the nominated candidates from The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems.

Mr Jones? The day after nominations close, he’s found to have worn blackface and dressed up as a nazi. The party suspend him.

Yeah, he’s still on the ballot paper on 12th December, with the words “Conservative party” next to his name.

Ms Smith? Oh, turns out she claimed all jews have hooked noses and only love money, oh and they’re all paid by israel to fiddle with kids. She’s duly suspended from the Labour Party.

Yep, she’s still on the ballot paper on 12th December, with the words “Labour party” next to her name.

Mr Whatdjamacallit, on the other hand, get caught with his hand in the till, ripping off the small charity she helps run. Police are called, he’s suspended from the party.

You guessed; he’s still on the ballot paper come 12th December, with the words “Liberal Democrats party” next to his name.

Ludicrous? Possibly, but that’s how elections run in the UK.

Oh, by the way, if any of them had died, ah, that might be different. Because then sometimes the election for that constituency is suspended… until a new candidate can be selected, after the general election. Most recently… Thirsk and Malton in 2010, where the election was suspended after the UKIP candidate died.

But no suspension if the party has just picked a racist, say.

Now I can understand there being a cut-off to the period for nominations; of course there needs to be one. I can certainly understand there being a cut-off before the election to allow ballot papers to be printed correctly, checked and verified.

I can’t understand, however, why those two dates are absolutely the same date, four weeks before the election.

Apart from anything else, it tells the parties,

“yeah, sure, suspend them formally, but you know in safe seats that the candidate will be elected no matter what. You and we both know it doesn’t matter; a [suspended] Tory candidate will still be elected in a safe Tory seat, a [suspended] Labour candidate will still be elected in a safe Labour seat.”

And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if, after they’ve won, the suspension is quietly lifted.

(And, literally, while I was typing this, it happened again; this time an antisemitic Lib Dem candidate. the Lib Dems have said they’ve removed him from election material and won’t campaign for him… But as above, he’ll be on the ballot paper come 12th December, with the words “Liberal Democrats party” next to his name.)

OK, so given the above, and that most people don’t know about the ‘no amendments from the day nominations close’ rule, I wondered what other arguably things, what other odd facts and figures about British elections, that people might not know.

Here’s a baker’s dozen:

Largest winning vote share in any constituency:
George Currie, Ulster Unionist, North Down, 1959: 98.0%

Lowest winning share of the vote:
Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP, Belfast South, 2015, 24.5%

Smallest Majorities (since 1945):
2 votes:
Stephen Gethins, SNP, North East Fife, 2017
Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat, Winchester, 1997

Most recounts:
7: for both Brighton Kemptown in 1964 and Peterborough in 1966

Highest Turnout %:
Fermanagh and South Tyrone, 1951: 93.4%

Lowest Turnout %:
Lambeth Kennington 1918: 29.7%

Most candidates:
15: Sedgefield in 2005 (PM Tony Blair’s constituency)

Fewest candidates:
The last four seats to be uncontested at a general election were Armagh, Londonderry, North Antrim and South Antrim, at the 1951 general election. The last seats in Great Britain to be uncontested were Liverpool Scotland and Rhondda West, at the 1945 general election.

Three seats were contested only by Labour and Conservative candidates at the 1979 general election: Birmingham Handsworth, Dudley West and Salford East.

Most unsuccessful attempts to get back into The House of Commons:
Robert McIntyre, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1966, 1970, Feb 1974 and Oct 1974

Longest break from the Commons:
A contender for the longest gap prior to returning at a general election was possibly Henry Drummond (1786-1860), who returned to the House of Commons in the 1847 general election as member for West Surrey, after a near 35-year absence, though aged only 60. He was previously MP for Plympton Erle from 1810-12.

Shortest period between general elections:
7 months: November 1806 – June 1807
7 months: November/December 1885 – July 1886

Longest period without a change in government:
The longest continuous Conservative government was in office for eighteen years, between May 1979 and May 1997.

The longest continuous Labour government was in office for thirteen years, between May 1997 and May 2010.

Leader or Deputy party leader losing seat:
Always an event when it happens; most recent occasion was the constituent of Moray in 2017, when the SNP’s deputy leader, Angus Robertson… lost his seat.

 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Ah, the joys of winter. Have a throat that feels like it’s been sandpapered, and a chest that is more that a little wheezy, so I’ve stuck the past I was working on – a Ten Things post – into drafts and you’re getting a quickie today.


All over Twitter today has been a video clip of Boris Johnson being asked a quetssion he obviously didn’t expect, and then blustering his way through… well, it would be too kind to call it an answer.

Not the first person to blag his way through sometihng, though most of the people who’ve tried aren’t currently, and hoping to continue to be,The Prime Minister.

But it sparked a conversation online about how he’s not asking people to vote for him because “he’s relatable”. well, no, but that misses the point somewhat.

He’s just crap at answering questions he doesn’t know are coming his way, or dealing with people who aren’t fawning over him.

Corbyn is the same, but he usually responds not with bluster but with irritation, as if the message is ‘How dare you have the effrontery to ask such a question of me? Who the hell do you think you are?’

For a long time I maintained that we had the worst politicans in a generation. I now think I was wrong on that.

Whatever you think of Farage – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – you can’t deny that he had an ostensible political aim, and again ostensibly, got it.

I stress ostensible because I don’t believe for a second he ever wanted the UK to leave the EU. What he wanted, what he really wanted, with all his heart and soul, was to be able to continue whingeing for decades about how the establishment wouldn’t let the UK leave.

And, despite so many promises from Brexiters at the time of the referendum, somehow over the past few years, The Only True Brexit has switched from

“a brilliant deal, where we keep all the advantages without being tied into the political project’

to now being

“we leave with the harshest possible No Deal”

And I’m not entirely sure how it happened.

But that’s for another day.

Today, it’s just noticeable that politicians in the UK (and in the US, to be fair) think we’re back in the days when interviewers’ only questions should be of the ‘have you anything you wish to tell the nation?’

Problem is, that with many of those interviewing, we’re not that far from it..

Something else tomorrow…

Well, it is, isn’t it? A mug’s game.

Making predictions about elections, I mean.

Ok, with some elections, you can make a decent stab at a result, caveating your forecast to hell and back. And some elections, yes, are such foregone conclusions that the result itself is almost an anti-climax.

The obvious one that springs to mind isn’t 1997, to my mind, but 2001.

It was obvious in 1997 that Blair was going to have a thumping victory. But the size of the majority – over 160 – surprised many. That wasn’t the case in 2001. It was obvious from the moment that he called the election that the result was only going one way, the same way: another thumping majority. And after four years of a New Labour government, it was just a matter of whether the majority would be roughly the same as 1997’s, 20 seats fewer, or 20 seats more.

2005? Again, not a surprise that Blair won, and it was fairly obvious that his majority would shrink. Not sure everyone expected the final numbers, but yeah, not a huge surprise.

Since then, however, they’ve been difficult to predict. Partly because polling models never seemed to cope well with change, and overestimated this party’s support, underestimated that party. (For a long time, polls always overestimated Labour support; that seems to have been addressed, but we’ll see.)

2015 came along, and again, the result was a surprise to many who after five years of coalition government expected nothing but a coalition government going forward.

I did a countdown blog to the 2015 election, and — no, don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this 2020 countdown into an election blog, though there’ll no doubt be some election related material.

But no, as I say, I did a countdown blog leading up to the 2015 general election. It was fun, for the most part, commenting on stuff that was going on. But yes, I thought a coalition government was the inevitable result. I even wrote a piece about how Cameron was actively misleading the electorate, claiming that he really really didn’t want one, and you couldn’t vote for the Lib Dems again…

Well, more fool me.

After the election, before I did anything else on here, I held my hand up, admitted I’d got it wrong, and wrote a full mea culpa.

I started that piece with the words:

Notwithstanding Sir Humphrey Appleby’s view that you get anything potentially troublesome out of the way in the title of an Act Of Parliament (so you don’t have to actually do anything in the body of the thing), it’d be remiss of me to even begin to set out my thoughts on what happened on election day, or to suggest what I think will happen in the days and weeks ahead without admitting one, crucial thing: I was wrong.

I wrote something just under 40 blog entries specifically about politics, and the forthcoming election, and I was wrong. 

I was wrong about so, so much. Now, were I to start listing out all the things I was wrong about in regard to anything at all since only January… well, I’d take up far more of your time than you have a right to expect. 

But even limiting it to the election, there’s a lot. So, let’s get at least some of them out of the way in this entry and then we can move on.

About the only thing I was right about was my late-on-in-the-campaign prediction that whoever’s party lose the election, or didn’t do well…? Well, they’d speedily resign.

So, yeah, it’s a mug’s game making predictions about elections. Only a fool would do it. And only an idiot would make predictions this early.

Let’s make some predictions this early.

So early, in fact, that it might have escaped your notice that the election hasn’t actually been called yet.

Yes, the House of Commons passed that Bill, but it’s not an Act of Parliament yet. It still has to go through The House Of Lords, then – if unamended – back to the House of Commons and then off to Her Maj for Royal Assent.

Final day of Parliament will be next Tuesday or Wednesday, after which Parliament is dissolved. At that point they, all 650 of them, all stop being members of parliament (since parliament is no longer sitting) and those that want to get the job again are now standing for election as prospective parliamentary candidates, along with about 3,000 other people by the time the election takes place. (In 2017, 3,303 candidates stood for 650 seats.)

So, yes, the election hasn’t actually been called yet.

And that’s the first prediction: people will get stuff wrong. Not the politicians – but see later – not the pundits, but interested observers, people who don’t actually know this stuff inside out, so misinterpret, misunderstand. These aren’t people lying, nor actively seeking to mislead. They just get stuff wrong occasionally. They mishear a word or phrase, or don’t quite understand the rules, or procedures. We’ve all done it. We will all do it again.

My hope, a forlorn hope, no doubt, is that this is understood. That it’s appreciated that people fuck up from the best of motives, that mistakes are made and sometimes they’re in good faith. Not everyone making a prediction, or saying what is happening is doing so from bad faith. Sometimes they’re misinformed; sometimes they’ve misinformed themselves.

Second prediction: people will lie. Will knowingly mislead. Will deliberately tell untruths. And all for political advantage. Yeah, being open to all of that above doesn’t mean you should be a fucking idiot. If someone is openly promoting a political candidate and/or party, and is promoting untruths about political opponents, or casting separating aspersions on those who vote, or may vote, for someone else…

Yeah, they may well believe every word they say and type is gospel. Doesn’t mean you’re obliged to. And neither does it suggest that you’re mandated to assume good faith. And certainly not if they repeatedly do it.

Third prediction: Parties and candidates will call for clean elections. Third and a half’th prediction: they don’t mean it. Oh, they may mean it when they call for it; that’s possible, I guess. But the moment they think they can gain advantage by a bit of let us say not-exactly-ethical manoeuvring, either they or their staff/supporters will do it and sleep well afterwards. The purpose, their objective, is to win an election; as long as it’s not breaking the law – and sometimes not even that will stop them – it’s all fair, they’ll protest. It’s all part of the game.

Prediction Four: Each side will regard an opponent’s entire political history to be up for grabs, but anything in their own record more than five years ago will be decried as ‘dirty tricks’, “desperate smearing’ and, of course, ‘out of context’, that favourite of the caught out. I found it genuinely bemusing how the left regard, say, anyone who served in Maggie Thatcher’s cabinets as beyond redemption, but anything from a decade or two back, hell from 2012 (!), in Corbyn’s history is apparently off-limits. Or how the right will cheerfully pull up stuff from Corbyn and McDonnell’s pasts in the 1980s, but the contents of memos Letwin wrote about race are ‘in the past…’

Fifth Prediction: For some people, every poll that suggests ‘their’ party is doing well will be trumpeted; every one showing it’s doing badly will be ignored or the polls or polling company, will be attacked. The hypocrisy that surrounds polling never fails to astonish me. I might have more to write about this subject another time, but for today, I’m just slapping that down on the table like a wet, slightly smelly, fish.

Sixth Prediction: Four in one here. Whether or not tv debates happen,

(1) Someone will point out that they’re a new thing, someone else will point at the US, and someone else will publish a long piece on whether we’ve entered a period of presidential politics in the UK.

(2) Each party will claim the others are the reason that debates might not happen, and claim the rules they want are perfectly reasonable but the other lot are being wholly unacceptable.

(3) Smaller parties will demand they should be treated exactly the same as larger parties, including parties with no MPs currently, or only one or two.

(4) If they happen, when a party leader doesn’t do well, the format will be blamed. Or the host. Or the broadcaster. Never the leader just not being any good.

OK, four personal ones to end on.

Prediction Seven: I’m going to hate this election campaign. Not only for the obvious, pre-stated, reasons, but because the nastiness has already started.

I’ve already seen accusations that unless you vote for this party, you don’t care about the environment; unless you vote for that one, you don’t care about the poor; unless you vote for this party, you lack human empathy; unless you don’t vote for that one, you have no national pride.

Note: these aren’t ‘don’t vote for that party.” That I can understand. “Vote for anyone else…”, I get. “Vote for whoever gets rid of that MP”. Again, I completely understand and appreciate that. “Vote tactically.” Again, yes. I may or may not agree, but it at least makes sense to me intellectually.

What I don’t get, what I can’t agree to, is the “you must vote for this party, because they’re the only ones who care; they’re the only party who cares about [insert subject of choice]”.

I’ve whinged before about how I’m not sure when we went from ‘the other lot are good people with bad ideas” to “the other lot are bad people with worse ideas.” But we got there long ago, and this election campaign will prove it once again.

Prediction Eight: I’m going to miss a typo at sometime in the next six weeks and I’ll type “I’m really not looking forward to the result of this erection.”

Ninth Prediction: I’m gonna forget how bad I am at predicting election results. At some point, I’m sure I’m going to forget it. I’ll get carried away one night, or I’ll have one too many single malts, or I’ll just get pissed off with the incompetence of this politician or that campaign. And I’ll make a prediction.

Prediction Ten: I’m going to regret making any predictions at all, including the ones above.

Oh, and one more, not a prediction, resting on a sensible appreciation of the facts and the history, and forecasting an extrapolation, but a feeling of impending doom, as if I’m watching a car crash approaching. This is the final time, the final week, that I’ll regard some people as friends and that they’ll regard me in the same light.
 
 
Something else tomorrow…

So, we had Prime Minister’s Questions today. Or, more formally, “Questions To The Prime Minister”.

I’ve written about PMQs several times before, and even posted a transcript of my livetweeting of “The PMQs that never happened but should have” six weeks or so back.

But, yes, I’m writing about it again, with another take on it: why it may be tinkered with every so often, but why it’ll never be fundamentally changed. Not now.

Quick bit of context, though.

In a parliamentary system, where the executive is formed from the legislature, then the way they’re held to account is two-fold:

The first and certainly more important, though less well known or appreciated, is by the system of select committees. Every department has one attached to it. MPs, usually about a dozen of them are on the committed, usually in proportion to their numbers in the House of Commons. It’s chaired by an MP elected by their peers, again usually in proportion to the numbers in the House. So most of the committees are led by Tories, some by Labour, some even by SNP MPs. They get ministers and civil servants, representing that department, in front of them and subject them to questions, trying to hold them to account for decisions the government has made, the effects of a policy, and sometimes the unexpected consequences of that policy.

Sometimes, rarely, this actually achieves something. A minister torn apart by a select committee doesn’t tend to last very long. And it’s not unknown for a government policy, ripped to shreds by a select committee – either in person or in a written report – to be amended or even repealed.

The Prime Minister, by the way, not representing a department, doesn’t face a departmental select committee… but a committee known as the Liaison Committee, a committee made up of the chairs of all the other select committees.

(However, this is one committee whose sittings tend to be anything but consequential.. PMs tend to regard it as an annoying occupational hazard, and don’t expect anything that happens there to truly matter. They’re rarely incorrect in that. And, to be fair, they wouldn’t get to be Prime Minister if they weren’t used to avoiding questions and/or people trying to hold them to account.)

The other way ministers are held to account is in the Commons itself (or the Lords, but that’s a whole other thing, so let’s just ignore them, eh?) when they face questions from MPs and are supposed to answer, but rarely do.

That’s unfair. They answer questions. It’s just not unknown for the answers to be to entirely different questions, to the questions the minister wished had been asked. And they happen every couple of weeks or so. Treasury Questions, or Environment Questions. Or Foreign Affairs Questions. Sometimes the Secretary of State will answer the questions, sometimes a junior minister with specific responsibility for a policy area.

And the same thing applies to Prime Ministersm in theory.

OK, so Questions to The Prime Minister (ok, I’m going to call them PMQs from now on, since that’s how they’re commonly referred to) take place on a Wednesday.

Way back when, when the UK maintained the polite fiction that a Prime Minister was merely ‘first among equals’ – the ‘prime’ minister, but no more than that – PMQs were a far more leisurely affair.

A question would be asked, and occasionally, the PM would even designate another minister – with responsibility for that area – to answer for them. So the PM would be asked about the government’s recent tax rises, and the Chancellor would answer.

Bbut mostly the Prime Minister would languidly answer the question asked in a way that signalled the mild astonishment that the PM should actually have to explain themselves.

Back then, PMQs took place twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for two, fifteen minute, weekly sessions. The Leader of the Opposition got three questions, the leader of the ‘third party’ (for most of the 20th century, that was the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats.) got one.

In 1997, however, on coming to power, Blair changed the format; it would now be a single session, thirty minutes long, the Leader of the Opposition would get six questions, the leader of the third party, two questions. Again, at this time, it was still the Liberals, or the Liberal Democrats as they’d then become.

By then, of course, PMQs had morphed into something familiar to watchers now.

A clash, a battle, a Q&A (or Q&A-to-something-else, that bit hasn’t much changed), between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Under Speaker John Bercow, that half an hour has stretched out, and it’s usually around 45 minutes now, but it’s been almost an hour on occasion.

That can be split, roughly, as follows:

  • Five minutes of introductory questions (usually, one tory, one labour)
  • Fifteen minutes of Leader of the Opposition questions (what most people think of, when they think of PMQs)
  • Seven or eight minutes of the third party leader’s questions (these days, the SNP)
  • And the remainder with backbencher’s questions, just under half an hour of those

And after all these changes of format, has anything really changed in the past forty years, say?

Not much, no. Oh, the format has changed a bit. Used to be that all questions would be two parters. The first part would be on the order paper, and the MP would just say “Question 6, Mr Speaker”. That question would be something asking the PM to list their engagements for the day.

Since the previous six questions had all been the same, the PM would respond with something like “I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.”

The MP would then stand and ask the question they actually wanted to ask: “does the PM think the latest unemployment numbers show his government is utterly fucking useless?” Or something like that, with less unparliamentary language, at least.

That was pretty much abandoned a few years ago as well. And now, MPs are just listed on the order paper as going to ask a question, without the question itself there. MP gets called, they ask the question they want to ask. (Or in the case of backbench MPs of the same party, the question they’ve been fed by the government: ‘Would the Prime Minister agree that the leader of the opposition smells? or “would the Prime Minister agree that the government is on the right course?”)

Now I’m a heretic: I’m still of the opinion that PMQs should matter; it’s just been a very long time since I’ve thought they do.

I recall Tory leader William Hague, who regularly ‘won’ the clashes when Tony Blair – no novice at PMQs – was PM, commenting that the sessions matter little outside the Houses of Parliament but are important inside; it didn’t matter so much if you weren’t excellent at them – either asking or answering – but if you were utterly crap at them, you were finished.

Well, Jeremy Corbyn put the lie to that some time ago.

He’s much better than he once was; but it took years to get there, and in ‘ye olde days’, his dire performances at PMQs for well over two years would have meant he’d have been replaced.

He’s still there, you note.

But what do they accomplish?

Honestly? Not much

Not much at all.

Corbyn has turned them into five questions you can basically ignore; he regularly lost the clash with Cameron. he came out about evens with May (because both were utterly awful at it) and it’s too early to tell with Johnson though Corbyn did well today. But Corbyn’s. turned his sixth question into a mini-speech, hitting the lines that do well on social media, and the clips are released to the faithful minutes later.

So, if it’s so bloody useless as an event, and it never accomplishes what it’s supposed to, then why don’t we do away with them?

Well, every Leader of the Opposition comes to power as PM having promised to reform them. Cameron pledged to do away with the ‘punch and judy’ style. And he tried… for about three weeks, before he got fed up of trying to be polite, while others took chunks out of him.

But why won’t they at least change to do exactly that: remove the punch and judy stuff?

Two questions there:

Why won’t they ever really change?

What are the excuses they offer for not changing?

The simple answer though is: because no one wants them to. Not enough, anyway.

No, really, no matter what backbench MPs say, and no matter how often ministers and Prime Ministers later say they hate PMQs, it’s still their moment in the spotlight, their moment to squash their foes. And if they didn’t manage to this week, then there’s always next week.

There’s tradition, that word always trotted out when people are desperately searching for a reason not to do something, whether it’s amend PMQs or ban fox hunting, and for the same reason.

And there’s parliamentary inertia; to change something in parliament, without the support of the party leaders, takes forever, is complicated and rarely occurs.

And there’s always the One Question per session, the one serious question asked by a backbench MP, about a disaster, or a constituent in trouble, or a local employer that’s failing… the House falls silent. The MP is heard; the PM stands, slowly and carefully. The tone is serious, the compassion offered is often fake-but-looks-sincere, the House hears the PM in silence.

That’s the ‘cover’; that’s what MPs point at, and protest: ‘See? That’s what PMQs can be. That’s what we can get it to, so it’s always that serious, that important.”

They’re wrong. They don’t even believe it themselves.

And most of them don’t want it to change, because there’s still a small part of them that thinks ‘it could be me asking the questions, the eyes of the House, the eyes of the nation – hey, I never said they’re realistic – on me… hell, it could be me answering them.”

Why won’t it change?

Well, you raise a very interesting point. I’m extremely obliged to you for doing so. And I refer you to the answer I gave some weeks ago.

Next question!
 
 
Something else tomorrow…

One of the nastiest, though perhaps inevitable, consequences of the past few years is the growth of the binary this/that, one or the other, that we’re obliged to make.

When I say ‘obliged’, of course, I mean, obliged by others, that it’s presented often as a moral choice as much as anything.

If you don’t overtly and actively support [cause A], then you’re, in fact, supporting [cause B]. Doesn’t matter what the causes are, nor the stupidity of the idea that you can reduce everything down to a strict binary choice. It’s both insulting and contemptuous.

I’ve written before that silence never equals consent, and my own contempt for those who use that argument – that if you don’t speak up, then you acquiesce – who also, at best stay silent about antisemitism, at worse regard it as a price worth paying to achieve something else.

And, sure, there are situations that cross lines for people, that mean those people cannot support this cause or that campaign. But not supporting the cause or campaign doesn’t always, inherently, mean you support the opposite.

And yet, today, that’s what we’re told, again and again. If you don’t protest against welfare cuts, you support them. If you don’t support this measure, then you support those who seek to damage it. Unless you vote for this person, you’re really voting for, and support, the other fella. Because it’s always reduced down to that binary choice. One or the other.

There are not just two ‘major’ political parties right now. Depending on where you are in the UK, you can add the SNP or Plaid or several NI parties to Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems. There are the Greens in Local Government, and, heaven help us, The Brexit Party.

Someone choosing not to support one of the parties doesn’t mean, can’t mean, that they inherently, in fact, support one specific other party.

Plenty of Green party members out there; they don’t support Labour or the Tories, but they’re told that if they don’t support Corbyn, they’re actually supporting the Conservatives. Same applies to Lib Dem supporters.

Or those on the right, told that if they don’t support the blonde bullshitter, they’re actually in effect, supporting, Corbyn’s Labour.

The Lib Dems, of course, get it from both, from all, sides. They’re told if they don’t support the Tories, then they’re really supporting Corbyn, and if they don’t support Corbyn, then theyr’e really Tories.

(Small diversion to say that the current leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, during the leadership contest she won, explicitly said that she wouldn’t support a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party or a Boris Johnson-led Tory Party. I find it both faintly amusing and hugely hypocritical that after years of attacks that ‘you can’t trust a Lib Dem not to break election promises’, so many now apparently want her to do just that.)

Whether it’s Brexit, the likely forthcoming early general election, or internally within parties, it comes down again and again to you’re with us or you’re against us.

In that linked piece. a sentence ago, I wrote that I was dreading the next election, truly dreading it, and that the dread merely grows. I’m ok with acknowledging, with admitting, the dread has grown exponentially since then.

So, rather than leaving both you, dear reader, and me, less than dear writer, completely pissed off with everything, here are three entirely non-political either/or things that I don’t subscribe to.

Tea / Coffee
I like both. There you go. I mean, sure, I used to be a tea drinker only, but that went the way of all things many years ago, to the point that the only true response to ‘how many coffees a day do you drink?’ has been, for years. ‘about half of them’.

If I had a choice for tea, I’ll take Brooke Bond Choicest, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen. that, so it’s usually Twinings English Breakfast. Hey, I like tea.

Coffee? I do like coffee shops, and I drink a lot of coffee, it’s true, but at home? It’s Tesco Finest Sumatra Ground. It’s strong, but not bitter, tasty but not overpowering.

Chess / Backgammon
For the past few years, it’s been backgammon every time. I do prefer it as a game, and I’ve enjoyed Chess less over the years but that’s wholly laziness on my part. I haven’t played chess regularly for years, and when I do play, I don’t treat it with the seriousness in which the game should be played. It’s been far too long since I knew he was I was doing on a chess board. I play it with a ‘well, let’s see’ attitude which always seems disrespectful to the game, somehow.

Sing / Dance
Oh, this is an easy one; neither. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and can’t dance at all. Small caveat with that last one; I can shuffle my body slightly from side to side,with only a coincidental correlation to the music that’s playing at the time. But I can’t… dance. Several reasons. I don’t understand it, I don’t ‘get’ it at all, and I derive no enjoyment from it as a result. I’m also far too self-conscious. I know people who don’t like to dance figure that everyone’s looking at them. I don’t think that (yes, I do), but I think they’re deservedly looking at me with scorn.

But I never learned to dance, and the foot for once is a useful excuse.

Thing is, no one ever gets upset with me that I like both tea and offer, or chess and backgammon, and don’t like singing or dancing.

I’m not told ‘ah, you don’t like dancing, you MUST LIKE singing. No one says ‘you’re not allowed to like both tea and coffee’.

Lesson learned; I can’t do either because of my foot. I can’t suport either Corbyn or Boris Johnson because of my foot. I can’t support this measure or its opposite, this policy or what I’m told is the opposite… because of my foot.

Yes, I’m sure that’ll work.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Small amusement to start today’s entry. One of the things I like about iOS, have liked since the very first iteration of it is keyboard shortcuts. They’re basically a way of typing a combination of letters which will then automatically resolve into a pre-written word, phrase or sentence. I have a few, but the three I’d always recommend to set up are: your email address, your phone number and… well, I’ll come on to that in a ducking minute, ok?

Being able to type ‘bbbb’ and have ‘budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk’ automagically appear saves so much bloody time, I tell you.

I set up ‘::’ (two colons) as a shortcut for my mobile phone number and ’44:’ as the same number but in ‘international format’. Which is fine and dandy… right up until you need to type “55 plus 44:’ as the title of a blog entry. Heh.

Oh, and the third? Since I rarely need to type the word ‘ducking’, I set it so if I do type the word ‘ducking’, it resolves instantly to ‘fucking’. Which is great until I sent a tweet during a session of Prime Minister’s Questions asserting that ‘David Cameron was fucking the question’. Which may well have equally accurate, now I come to think of it…

Anyway, all that is what occurred to me just now as I started today’s entry.

(Thanks for the private messages I received regarding yesterday’s entry, by the way. A more personal post than many, I was genuinely unsure of the wisdom of posting it. I’m glad that, so far, I’ve not regretted doing so.)

So, what’s new today? Or rather, about what can I write?

How about stupidity? Not mine for once, but politicians’. It’s been on my mind for a couple of weeks, since I heard the redoubtable lawyer and legal commentator David Allen Green (who you may remember from the Twitter Joke Trial if for no other reason) comment a couple of weeks ago that the mark of Boris Johnson’s government has been its complete stupidity and incompetence in its attempts to prorogue parliament. It’s a fair comment. One can argue the toss over whether we have the worst politicians in generations, but, surely, one cannot argue against the position that we have the most incompetent?

I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I remember then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s budget in 2012. In that election, you may or may not recall, the Conservative/Lib Dem government reduced the top rate of income tax from the rate it had been at for a couple of years – 50% – to 45%, the rate it remains at today.

Now, despite the rate only having been at 50% for a couple of years, one of the last things Alastair Darling did as a Labour Chancellor, it was seen at the time, widely seen, as Osborne giving the rich a tax break, while stinging the poor. It was also perceived as making a nonsense – maybe fairer to say, making yet more nonsense – of the government’s claimed ‘we’re all in it together’.

Osborne claimed at the time that the additional tax rate brought in hardly anything (arguments in favour of, and against, this claim vary in both detail and credibility).

But I remember observing to a friend at the time that had Osborne said ‘in the next five fiscal years, we will reduce the higher rate of taxation by one percentage point in each fiscal year‘, he’d have almost certainly gotten away with it.

A reduction of one percentage point per annum? Yeah, there was so much else wrong with that 2012 budget (the ‘omnishambles budget’ as it became known) that I thought at the time, and still think, that it would have been relegated so far down the list of problems people had with the budget that it would have been at the end of page 37. As a footnote.

But Osborne wanted the appearance of something big – yes, appearance; he said the tax rate didn’t bring in much, remember? So he wasn’t giving much back at all – while risking, and then achieving lousy headlines and a gift to Labour.

Over the Atlantic, we had “stupid Watergate”, as John Oliver dubbed it (Watergate, if everyone involved had been a fucking idiot), and we now have Even Stupider Watergate… Trump et al couldn’t have been more incompetent in what they’ve done, how they did it, how they attepted to cover it up, and how they tried to cover up the cover up, if they’d gone out of their way to do all four.

And then there’s Boris Johnson, whose government’s incompetence in the attempt to prorogue parliament led the Supreme Court to conclude – 11 to nil – that not only was there not a good reason to prorogue parliament for five weeks, but that there was no reason at all other than to frustrate parliament.

And again, I’m struck by the incompetence and stupidity whereby had Johnson had gone for a three week recess and then a prorogation for a week or so, he’d have gotten the same effect he ostensibly¹ wanted: party conferences, no scrutiny in the chamber itself, no PMQs, and a Queen’s Speech into the bargain…

(¹I say ostensible because I’m not at all sure that that’s what he did want; I remember that the day after parliament had the prorogation-that-never-was, Johnson was due to face the Select Committee made up of all the Select Committee chairs… an appointment that prorogation made moot.)

Instead, he went for the big gesture, in which he’d effectively gain little, but risk everything… and it blew back on him, like a well-deserved bucket of shit.

Johnson continued his lack of competence, following half a dozen votes in parliament, of which he lost every one, not a single civil servant nor minister of the crown providing a witness statement – due to dangers of perjury, being slapped down hard by the Speaker of the House of Commons, by MPs, by the Scottish Court of Sessions and the bloody UK Supreme Court.

David Allen Green said, a couple of weeks ago:

It’s an observation I’d not considered before; now it’s one I won’t forget.

Y’know, I miss when politics was efficient, when politics was boring, was predictable, was… forecastable, with a reasonable degree of success.

I also wonder when was the last time that anyone could predict, say, the next 6 months in world politics with any reasonable chance of being correct. I’m not talking about individual events, here and there, but the major events, who would win elections, how politicians would ‘do’, etc. I mean, lots of people thought Trump would fuck it up, but surely they didn’t see scandal after scandal and fuckup after fuckup to this extent?

I reckon mid- to late-2015 was the last time.

Say August 2015.

I think late-2015 was when even (especially?) knowledgable folks went “Well, I dunno…”

You know what? I think I’ll stick with my own observation made since late 2016, but semi-regularly since then:

 
 
It’s Tuesday tomorrow, so the usual then…

Housekeeping: OK, so I’ve now been back in London for two weeks, and while I’m pretty much physically recovered from my stay in hospital in Edinburgh (50 plus 05: er… e.r.? Eh? No, A&E.) and a couple of visits to GP and hospital since I returned to London, I’m still utterly shattered most of the time, and any stamina I got back seems to have deserted me the past couple of days. I really don’t want to bother my GP again, but if I’m still feeling like this tomorrow or Tuesday, yeah another visit beckons.
 


 
OK, so one other thing about Edinburgh I hadn’t mentioned this time around, because I hadn’t quite realised how unusual it was, and it’s only been sinking in slowly since I returned. (Look, I’ve been ill, and you have to remember that, even in good times, I am exceedingly stupid on occasion.)

In fact this thing has only occurred on one previous visit: 2014’s. I doubt that my earlier than usual visit is the reason. (I usually get up there after my birthday, but in both 2014 and 2019, I celebrated my birthday up there.)

In 2014, I attended the Edinburgh Fringe a few weeks before Scotland’s Independence Referendum. It was only my second visit to Edinburgh, so I didn’t have much to compare it to, but I’d already discovered how much I enjoyed sitting in the main food court area outside the Gilded Balloon of an evening, having a drink, doing some writing and watching… watching performers promoting their shows, watching people enjoy themselves, watching people chat away.

But as I say it was my second visit, so I had no idea whether the seemingly ever present politics chats among other groups were common or unusual, whether how everyone seemed to at some point or another express an opinion on the politics of the day, and seek another’s opinion, was usual or uncommon.

Future years showed me just how uncommon, how unusual, it was, by the way. Most years, it’s shows they’ve seen that people are chatting about, shows they’re about to see that they’re animated by. And the telling of gags they’ve heard. Seriously, you hear some cracking gags, and delightfully, all credited to the right comedian for once.

But in 2014, the referendum chat was everywhere. Not only in the food court chats, but almost every political show covered it, everyone’s topical material had ‘a bit’ on it. And rarely, very rarely, it got angry. Occasionally, but only that. Even many of the political comedians got angry, very angry, then punctured it with a joke that returned everyone to enjoyment.

And in the food court, usually, it was informed, sensible, rational debates, addressing the arguments in a way that I wished politicians would follow. I even saw people make a point, get called on its potential unreliability, or flat out falsity, and then one or other of them would look it up on their phone or tablet… and then both would agree whether or not the point was valid. (Small caveat for the potential post-independence Scotland’s finances; only occasional agreement on that, but on everything else to do with the Referendum? Lots of agreement.)

I got asked my opinion loads by strangers at the same table while up there, and despite my always saying ‘well, not really my place to say is it, I’m not Scottish‘, I was courteously encouraged to give a view, and where I said something the other person disagreed with, there was a genuine attempt to change my mind, not an insult to my intelligence, or honesty, or parentage. (The less pleasant exchanges I had were all online in 2014.)

Well, 2019’s Fringe was similar and dissimilar. Sure, yes, the politics chat was back in full force, moreso than in previous years, and yes, plenty of heated chats, but what was missing was the ‘huh, yeah, you have a good point there, my friend, but what about…?’ That wasn’t merely less, but was entirely absent, as was the implication of good faith on the others’ part.

Anyone who was still pro-Brexit (an important caveat; people seemed to have far less of an issue with people who’d voted Brexit three years ago, mainly because it was three years ago), and there were a few I heard, well, their views were treated not with contempt but flat disbelief.

And the anti-Brexit positions weren’t merely “anti No Deal”, they were flat out anti-Brexit.

I’ve said before that one of the things I like about The Fringe is that I’ve rarely seen angry drunks up there. Plenty of drunks, sure, but few who were angry. And those few either calmed down or were escorted off the premises by very big security people.

This year, it wasn’t anger, but heated frustration that I saw a lot of: a complete lack of ability, not mere refusal, but an inability, to see, or even attempt to see, the other person’s point of view.

That scares me, genuinely.

Because I’ve seen more of it the past two weeks since I’ve returned. I see it in politicians, I see it online, I see it with some friends. And no matter what happens in the next few weeks, I suspect it’s going to get worse.

I wrote a couple of weeks back about why I’m dreading the next election. What I was foolish enough not to realise when I wrote it was… we’re already in the election campaign, whether the election comes in a few weeks or a couple of months. And the battle lines are already being drawn.

This will be an election of double standards, of fervently supporting your ‘own side’s’ actions and behaviour while vehemently decrying and condemning the same actions and behaviours of your political opponents. And both sides, all sides, will hold themselves out as the morally superior, the only honest one, the only rational one.

And that scares me as well.

Here’s just one example. Amber Rudd, until today Secretary of State for the Department of Works and Pensions, quit and said it was because she was no longer convinced the government wants a deal to leave the EU and is in fact going for a No Deal Brexit. She was previously very anti- that, seemed to swallow the possibility when she joined Johnson’s cabinet but now has quit.

And the responses to her resigning have been many, but one notable one is “well, I’ll take her support, sure, but dont forget she did this and that and this and that, so it’s two cheers at best; she’s no hero”.

And I get that as a reaction, I honestly do.

In fact, it’s the same response I have to people leaving the Labour Party, or at least trashing the current leadership, from people for whom antisemitism in Labour wasn’t a deal breaker but apparently Brexit is.

Again, I’ll take any anti-Corbyn support I can get, but I’m not going to celebrate someone discovering a backbone but for whom antisemitism was – if not fine and dandy – at least not something ‘up with which they would not put.’

And yet, when I express this view, I’m told, ‘but no, you must welcome them warmly and fully, embrace them.”

Well, I won’t. I’ll give them the same two cheers. And sadly, but invariably, wonder, at what point, if Labour changes their Brexit policy to something they can live with, the antisemitism will once again be something they can similarly live with.

Something else tomorrow, I think.

Quick short one today. And something unrelated to politics.

I mean, I was planning on writing something on the shitshow currently occupying our ‘leaders’ in Parliament but as I talked about on Twitter, I’m not going to.

Definitely not.

I’m unsure, to be honest, whether that’s merely because no-one knows what the hell is going on, and what’s likely to happen. No-one does know, by the way, and the more honest of the pundits will at least admit that.

Or whether I’m just too bloody tired right now, too exhausted by the whole thing to write about it.

And by ‘the whole thing’, I don’t just mean Brexit, but British politics as a whole. The past four years have wiped me out. And that scares me a bit. Why does it scare me?

My honest fear is that, at some point, that exhaustion is going to turn into ‘resigned acceptance’ of whatever fresh hell is current happening; friends of mine in the US tell me the same fear surrounds them as well.

In their case, they’re well used to politics never stopping, never calming down. The US, of course, has elections for their equivalent of MPs every two years. The entire House of Representatives is elected, or re-elected in most cases, every other year, whenever the year is an even one. Which makes sense, I guess. If they limited it ‘odd’ years, you’d have elections every bloody year.

But it means they’re – well everyone is – only just over a year until the next set of national US elections. Not only the US presidential elections – can you believe Trump’s election was almost three year ago?! – but 435 US members of Congress. (And just over 30 Senators, since a third of them are elected for six year terms.)

But in the UK?

No, I’m not going to write about UK politics.

I’ll stop.

In a minute.

Because it’s likely that by the end of this week, we’ll know that an election is on the way. Not definitely – see that comment about nobody knowing right now – but as mentioned fairly recently, until 2011, general elections were held… pretty much whenever a Prime Minister wanted one. OK, if an election hadn’t been held in five years, you had to have one. That’s why we had elections in 1992, and in 1997, and again in 2010. Because ‘time had run out’ for the PM. In the past 100 years, we’ve had 26 general elections in the UK. So the average length of a parliament was between just under four years, around three years ten months.

(Which is in part why, despite my naively supporting the introduction of The Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011, I always thought the term of government, the time between elections, should have been set at four years, not five.)

A parliamentary ‘session‘, by the way, is a different, technical, thing, usually lasting roughly a year. It’s been longer on occasion, and we’re currently in the longest one n history.

But no, let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about something else.

Did you watch telly last night?

I didn’t, because I was at a comedy night, by which I mean that I was attending a regular monthly thing at which professional comedians made me laugh. As opposed to the unprofessional, entirely amateur, bastards currently making speeches in the Palace of Westminster, speaking untruths and self-serving nonsense, showing less concern for the ‘good of the country’ and more for their own careers and the good of their own parties.

But, today, I did watch the latest incarnation of that now ludicrous thing entitled Prime Minister’s Questions.

It was Boris Johnson’s first as Prime Minister, and Jeremy Corbyn’s… oh, I dunno how many he’s done in four years, well over a hundred, though. Usually he comes off badly in them. He gets six questions, and it’s rare that he – against Cameron or May – is judged to have ‘won’ the clash. Occasionally, surely, and it’s unquestionable that he’s far, far better at them now than he used to be.

Anyways, today’s was Johnson’s first and he started his PMQs not quite ‘as he meant to go on’ but how he’s spent his entire political career this far: bullshitting, dodging questions, insulting other people and blaming anyone else for the mess in which he finds himself.

Corbyn didn’t do badly per se, but he hardly did well. And when Ian Blackford asked a couple of questions, again, he didn’t do badly, but he hardly distinguished himself.

Odd thing is, though, that all three would have finished their ‘bit’ pleased with their performance, convinced they bested their opponent… and I’ve no doubt whatever that partisan supporters of each of the three would and will confirm that impression.

No, no, no, I want to talk about something else.

In a second.

Because I’d be remiss, now that I have mentioned PMQs not to highlight the question from Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi:

Johnson was rattled after it, and deservedly so.

( I saw Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson praise the question, decry Johnson’s response and also demand that the Prime Minister shouldbe “more careful” in the use of his language. I doubt I was the only person watching who thought Johnson being careful at all would be a good start.)

Erm… er… something else. I was going to talk about something else, wasn’t I?

Comics. Not comedians, but comic books. I’ve been rereading Freakangels the past week, the fantastic series – originally done as a webcomic – by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield.

Basically, the set up is ‘what if the Midwich Cuckoos grew up?’ A bit more than that, obviously but set in a flooded London.

The blurb says:

Twenty-three years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment. Six years later, the world ended. This is what happened next.

Every page sparkles with class, and the story about what happens when you have power but are too immature to know how to use it properly and…

…oh, ok, I’m angry again about what’s going on in Parliament.

Fuck it.

Something else tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking about two Burkes today.

No, not two berks; nothing specifically about Trump and Boris today.

But two Burkes, Messrs Edmund and James of that clan.

Edmund Burke is usually on my mind whenever I consider British politics, to be fair. He’s a useful fellow to quote about representative democracy, the idea that – to borrow from the old saw – we exercise our judgement to elect others to use theirs.

The basic idea behind representative democracy is that matters are too complicated, too detailed and, to be brutally frank, too boring for most people. And it’s too inconvenient and too stupid for everything to be decided by plebiscite. Instead of everyone deciding every matter, societies – hundreds of years ago – developed so that we elected people to decide these matters for us. And then, once every few years, we get to express our judgement on how they’ve done via elections. If enough of us decide they didn’t do well enough, we vote them out and vote other people in.

So it’s kind of a second-hand, almost arms-length, form of democracy. We elect representatives – members of parliament in the UK – to go to A Big Place and debate Big Issues, and argue, and finally decide, What Must Be Done.

(That’s entirely apart from David Allen Green’s The Something Must Be Done Act 2014, which I recommend reading in its entirety. It’s quite short.)

Those standing for election tell the people what they plan to do (in the form of manifestos) and then they – in theory, you understand – do it… and then at the next election, we choose whether or not to reelect them to do it again.

A moment’s brief thought about the past few decades will reveal so many ways this can, and does, fall apart. There’s no obligation – beyond fear of not being re-elected – to actually do what they said they would. And political parties have, for the most part, sewn up the selection of candidates. And, anyway, individual politicians have no say, no real say, in the manifesto, the platform, on which they stand.

Say you voted for Joe Smith of [insert your preferred party] last time around. Odds are, not only did he have no input into the manifesto on which he stood for parliament, there are parts of it he hugely disagrees with. But the party selected him as the official candidate of the party, so whether you like him, trust him, or not… it’s vote for HIM or vote for another party’s candidate.

Well, now it’s a few years later and – unless a) his party was in power, and b) he was a minister in that government, he had fuck all to do with whether this policy made it to the statute book as legislation. And, if he wasn’t a minister, he may well have voted against the manifesto pledge he was elected on.

Small sidebar: I remain entirely mystified why anyone thinks any opposition party, let alone an individual MP, is bound by the manifesto upon which they stood for election. The manifesto is a programme for government; it is – or should be – a list of policies, of policy pledges at least, that the government will – all other things being equal – attempt to put into law. If you lose the election, your individual MPs may have an individual electoral mandate, but the party doesn’t. It lost the election. It’s manifesto was rejected by the electorate in favour of another party’s. And until it does get into government, under a new, different, manifesto, the only purpose the manifesto serves is – if printed – as a paperweight.

“But MPs were elected by the people who voted for them to do what the voters want!” People cry.

And I also cry, partly from laughter, partly from shame… that anyone so misunderstands what representative democracy is.

And that’s when I think of Edmund Burke’s speech in 1774, to the electors of Bristol:

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

I side with Burke on all of that. The whole speech is worth reading, though.

I’ve written on manifestos before, how I think they’re no longer fit for purpose, and made a suggestion or two on how they could be. But they won’t be changed in the foreseeable future any more than the electoral system, one that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, will. And maybe for the same reason: no government kicks away the ladder upon which they ascended to power.

The whole ‘representative’ (per Burke) vs ‘delegate’ (MPs have to do on every occasion what the voters in the constituency, or even the local party representatives, want them to do) is an age old one. In recent years, the ‘ok, they may be representatives but they should be delegates’ claim has been huge inside Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, but in recent months, it’s taken root in the Tory Party over Brexit.

I cannot begin to express my utter and complete contempt for such an assertion. And I’m not going to try right now. I’ll just once again say that I agree with Burke and I’ll take representatives – even when I disagree with them – over delegates every fucking day of the week, and twice on Sundays.


The other Burke I’ve been thinking about today is James Burke, the science historian and pundit. If you’ve heard of him, much like Douglas Adams’ laws of technology, how you’ve heard of him will depend on your age:

  • 50 and above: science news, Tomorrow’s World, the moon landing and of course Connections and Days That Changed The World
  • 45 to 50: probably only his Connections tv series
  • 30 to 45: Possibly being bored by your mum and dad mentioning him
  • 20 to 30: seeing his name on social media posted by those above and wondering who the hell this fella is.

I fall in the first set and I remember him clearly for all of the reasons above. I also sadly partly agree with one of the reasons he gives for few people hiring him for tv work these days: ‘Anyone under 50 doesn’t know who I am, and anyone over 50 thinks I’m dead.

I was fortunate enough to see him a few years ago at the Royal Institution and he delivered a speech I felt truly honoured to be in the audience for. A year or so later, he recorded it at another occasion and put it up online: Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll.

As a general rule of thumb, he concentrates on the past, the history of science, and the connections between various scientific trends and discoveries. As he says “I’ve been asked why I stick to the past rather than predict the future. The answer is simple: I prefer to be right.”

However, towards the end of the speech linked to above, he does make a prediction. And it’s a biggie.

Burke is firmly of the opinion that the current concept of the nation state has under 100 years left, not due to politics, nor any ‘natural’ phenomena – disasters, etc – but solely down to his conviction that, in the next few decades, ‘3D makers’ will be available.

Maybe not in his/my lifetime, but certainly in my kid’s. Commercially too expensive for most, at first… and then plans will inevitably be leaked onto the net and then everyone will have them. And once you’ve got one, it can make the next, and they make the next… this isn’t nanotechnology gone wild (the ‘grey sludge’ fear) but just reasonable extrapolation once you’ve got a machine that can make anything from… anything.

And once they’re available, every current political, electoral and economic model – which at the end of the day are merely different ways of allocating scare resources – goes out the window. Why work when your maker can make anything for you? Why bother voting? What can they do for you that you can’t do yourself? You can, not will but can, end up with a nation of 300 million nations. You can, very definitely however, know that political, economic and social systems will need to change, and change radically.

I’m not wholly convinced by the argument, but I tell you: I’ve not yet seen a conclusive argument against it.

I’ve been thinking about both Messrs Burkes, and – looking around at the world today – I don’t know whether I want both to be absolutely right, or wholly wrong.

Something else tomorrow.

Housekeeping note: I was planning on completing Part the Fourth today – after parts the first, second and third – of the series on antisemitic imagery but a confluence of events got in the way.

So, yes, it’s coming, but I don’t know when. Can only offer my apologies, once again. It’s proved tougher to complete this one than I anticipated. Partly because the imagery is so upsetting, partly because its too easy – I’ll acknowledge – to see image after image and then mistakenly include one that’s not antisemitic, assuming that it draws on the same imagery. I want to be accurate, and if that means taking a bit longer, then so be it.
 


 
Besides, something occured in British politics today which genuinely interested me, and I’ve been reading up on it a bit. So I figured I’d write something on it today, and save Part The Fourth for sometime later.

I doubt I have to explain to anyone reading this either what Brexit is or why it’s been a complete clusterfuck from start to finish. As mentioned previously, to deliver what was promised by the Leave campaign, and by those who pledged to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum would be impossible.

Not a rhetorical conceit, a flat statement of fact: it’s impossible to do so.

In part because to deliver what was promised, all that was promised… what was pledged, all that was pledged… would be self-contradictory. And everyone, well, pretty much everyone, acknowledges that.

The British public was promised a golden age, with dozens of trade deals signed, with no deleterious consequences, [nearly] all the benefits of membership, an extra £350m a week for the NHS, tariff free access to the Single European market, no huge job losses, massive investment into the UK… the list goes on and on. Basically only Good Things, and No Bad Things.

Take tariff free access to the single market. We were promised that tariff free access, while reducing immigration from the EU, even though the EU maintained that ‘the four freedoms’ – including free movement of labour – were inseparable; you want one, you get the other three as well.

There are umpteen videos of leading Brexiteers assuring that no one wants to leave The Single Market.

Here’s just one.

But what do we have? A statement from the Brexit Secretary that “There should be adequate food“. And assurances, based on nothing but a hope and a prayer – oh, and £25m – that medications will continue to be available in the event that the UK leave the EU without ‘a deal’.

Of course, what “a deal” means has changed somewhat since 2016 and 2017, when the Article 50 notification – the official start of ‘we’re leaving’ – was delivered to the EU. Back then, it meant that by the time the negotiation period ended in March 2019, both the UK and the EU would know under what terms we were leaving the EU, and under what terms our relationship with the EU would continue.

Now? Over two years later? It means the former, with a possible transition period during which the EU and UK would continue to negotiate the future relationship.

So even had the Withdrawal Agreement (and associated Political Declaration) passed in parliament, the UK – and the public – would still not know what the future relationship would be. I mean, we’d know what both sides wanted it to be… but we absolutely would not know, nor would anyone, what any final relationship would be.

And that’s not the only phrase that has changed meaning since 2016/2017.

At the time, no one talked about “No Deal”. It was… well, not inconceivable, but unthinkable to many. Even those who kind of advocated it didn’t call it that. They called it a “Hard Brexit”.

Now you can argue back and forth whether they meant a No Deal, or merely a more favourable-to-UK deal than was ever truly possible, but either way, no one was pushing a complete cessation of every clause in every relationship we have had thus far.

Without going through how we ended up here, where are we?

We’re just eleven weeks, seventy-seven days, from leaving with No Deal. It continues to amaze me just how many people continue to believe that it’ll never happen “because there’s no majority in parliament for the UK leaving with No Deal.”

Whoever’s in government – and I’ll come on to that in a moment – they don’t need a majority favouring a No Deal Brexit for a No Deal Brexit to occur.

The current law mandates – subject to something else happening – that the UK leaves the EU on 31st October 2019 without a deal. The phrase you need to remember is “by automatic operation of law”.

It’s kind of like me jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute. Now, there are plenty of things that could prevent me, after a short period of time, going splat. Someone could jump after me and hand me a parachute which I successfully use. Someone could jump after me and grab hold of me, and we both use the same parachute. Spock and McCoy could pilot their ship and save me just in time from being sucked out into space. No, wait, different situation.

Anyway, you get the point. Unless something occurs to save me… I go splat.

And unless something occurs to stop No Deal Brexit… No Deal Brexit is what happens. By that automatic operation of law I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago.

Doesn’t matter how often people protest, doesn’t matter how many symbolic votes take place in Parliament, doesn’t even matter if everyone knows there is a majority for something else, unless a binding vote takes place in parliament, mandating the government to do something else, which will involve legislation passing through both Houses of Parliament…

Now that something else could be A Withdrawal Agreement, though it’s not looking likely, with the current government shitting on the current agreement from a huge height, and the oposition parties not liking it either, for their own party or policy specific reasons.

That something else could be a general election; the EU has indicated that they’d be ok with another delay to the process, another postponement of the leaving date, if a general election was called.

That something else could be the government revoking Article 50 and abandoning Brexit in its entirety, though that’s about as likely as Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson campaigning for George Galloway.

(My personal preferences – though they’ll never happen – would be for either Article 50 to be revoked and that’s an end of it, or at the least, revocation followed by a public inquiry and another referendum in, say, three years… using that three years to agree a future relationship and if no agreement, no official agreed position, then put it to bed. But if wishes were horses, eh?)

Or the ‘something else’ that could change matters could be the government changing and doing… something else that gets the majority of the House of Commons going along with them.

And that’s what people are talking about this morning.

Because Jeremy Corbyn has sent a letter to other opposition party leaders and it’s got people talking about a GNU, a Government of National Unity.

Not the first time the idea’s come up, and not the first time enthusiasm for it has overwhelmed people’s natural scepticism at politicians professing insistently that they’re ‘doing the right thing for the country’ when it personally benefits them.

Even ignoring, temporarily, my own views on Jeremy Corbyn’s personal complicity over antisemitism inside Labour, basically, what the letter asks, what his supporters demand, is that we trust Jeremy Corbyn.

And there’s a problem with that.

Not merely over antisemitism, not merely over his numerous other faults as a politician, as a party leader, as a person, but over his position on Brexit.

Corbyn has spent much, maybe all, of his political life as what was – for a couple of decades – usually described in the Tory Party as a “Eurosceptic”. He’s never liked the European Economic Community, which became the European Community, which became the European Union. He’s wanted the UK to leave for decades, and said so, repeatedly. Pretty much every step he’s taken, with the occasional blip, as party leader has been to reinforce that position and that impression.

He’s promised one thing, then not delivered. He’s promised that the party membership is supreme, then ignored their wishes. He’s tried every trick in the books, and created a few, to avoid his party membership cottoning on to the simple truth that:

Jeremy Corbyn wants, has always wanted, the UK to leave the European Union… and if that’s without a deal, then ok, that’s just fine and dandy by him.

Now some have argued, with some justification, that there’s another reason for his wanting to leave, beyond pure ideology; it’s the ‘let the Tories fuck everything up and then people will flood to the Labour Party begging ‘please save us’ and we will save them.’ I say ‘justifiably’ because that’s been a Labour position over many elections. Not every election; occasionally there’s a campaign that says ‘come to Labour because we can make life better for you’, but the ‘The Tories made things worse, fucked everything up… but we will fix it’ has been the usual message.

And of course, that plays well with a chunk of the membership and country unaware of Corbyn’s actual views and policies.

So, whatever your views on the concept of a government of national unity, yes, it’s a minor point, but what struck me forcefully was the implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion that those of us who loathe & detest Corbyn, and regard him as fundamentally untrustworthy should, on this occasion, on something he’s been previously proven to be untrustworthy… trust him.

And I don’t. At all.

I don’t believe he voted Remain in the EU Referendum. I don’t believe his claims that he worked hard for Remain. I don’t believe him, nor trust him. At all. About anything.

And it’s not – as others have suggested – because of the suggestion that he wouldn’t leave as Prime Minister once in. There’ll be a majority of the House of Commons that would undoubtedly bring his caretaker tenure to an end at some point, leading to a general election.

My lack of trust has to do with what he’d do while Prime Minister. For he doesn’t have ‘to do anything’ to get the brexit he’s wanted for decades. In fact, he has to do precisely… nothing. If he got the job in late September, say, it wouldn’t be difficult to stall for a few weeks… claiming he’s negotiating in good faith and then not doing so.

And then, come October ‘gosh wasn’t it a pity?’ the Corbyn acolytes will cry, as the UK leaves without a deal by the aforementioned ‘automatic operation of law’.

But does a lack of Corbyn in Number Ten prevent the idea of a Government of National Unity, stop it in its tracks?

Well, I have to say, sadly, yes, I think it does. As others have observed, he is – like it or not – leader of the opposition. You’re not going to get Labour MPs openly suggesting, publicly stating, that they don’t trust their leader to be PM. It’ll kill them before and during any general election campaign. The Tories would replay videos of Labour MPs saying ‘don’t make Jeremy PM’ for weeks. And it’d certainly trigger deselection campaigns for any Labour MP. The only way out would be for them to follow Berger and Leslie, etc., and leave the party.

And to be blunt, if they’ve not left the Labour Party yet, they’re unlikely to now, over this.

But could Kenneth Clarke or Harriet Harman do the job? Sure, but they’re not going to get the job, for the reasons immediately above.

What about Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson’s call for a GNU?

Well, it’s great, but it’s what third parties do, and though I’ve been very impressed by her leadership of the party thus far, the call was far more for the impression it gives than in the hope that it’d achieve anything.

So we’re in a situation where the people who first called for a GNU can’t form one. The person who now wants a GNU can’t even unify his own party, and the people who don’t want a GNU have no other solutions.

Oh. Joy.

Oh, and the calls for and against have more to do attacking the people who disagree than the idea itself.

Which brings me to the final part of this post.

Some have been a bit upset at the Lib Dems calling for a government of national unity, but not one headed by Corbyn, the official leader of the opposition, and indeed her previous statements that she’d never go into coalition to form a Corbyn-led labour government. And others have been upset at the Labour response of reminding voters that the Lib Dems – and Swinson herself – were in government with the hated Tories from 2010 to 2015.

Me? I genuinely don’t have a problem with either party making those attacks on the other.

Any more than – apart from the hypocrisy – the Conservatives having a pop at Labour antisemitism, Labour over the past 40 years exploring Tory divisions over Europe, the Tories back in the 1970s and 1980s seeking to damage Labour over trade unions’ behaviour, or any party ‘weaponising’ – a horrible word – a weakness in the other party.

Well, a perceived weakness, at least, whether or not the weaknesses actually exist. (Always amuses me and irritates me, in equal measure, that political adverts in this country are specifically excluded from the truth and fairness rules in advertising.)

Exploiting perceived weaknesses in another party’s policies, positions, or people are what political parties do.

To complain that a party you don’t support is doing it to one that you do, while supporting your party doing it to them is hypocritical. But again that’s what party supporters do.

If your only objection to a Government of National Unity is that Corbyn would be PM, then you care far more about Corbyn not being Prime Minister than about any GNU to solve the Brexit clusterfuck. And if you’re only interested in a Government of National Unity if Corbyn’s in Number Ten, then you’re similarly more interested in Corbyn being PM than in anything a GNU could [try to] do to stop a No Deal Brexit.

Be honest about that, at least?

I have no issues with a GNU; I just don’t think one’s achievable without Corbyn. And I don’t trust that any GNU under Corbyn could – or would – do anything to stop Brexit, with or without a deal’.
 


 
As a coda: I was reminded when I saw the acronym GNU – Government of National Unity – appear today, that British politics does like its animal acronyms. After GOAT [Government of All the Talents] and the COBRA Committee [named after Cabinet Office Briefing Room A], we now have GNU. I wonder what else we’ll get in the weeks ahead.
 


 

Something else tomorrow, the final post in this run… some reflections on blogging, and possibly something on Edinburgh, which I’m travelling to, overnight.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Smear – unhelpful fact

‪    — ‬How to speak like a Corbynite: a helpful guide, Michael Deacon

When Theresa May announced in April 2017 that she planned to seek the House of Commons’ agreement to call a general election – hours after the message coming from ‘Number Ten’ had been no general election – I was far from the only person who viewed both the forthcoming campaign and election with dislike and distaste.

And, of course, viewed the eventual result drenched in the same sentiments.

Of course, May had on many previous occasions insisted that there’d not be an early general…

On the same day that the Commons voted to indeed hold an early general election, a lady who became known as ‘Brenda from Bristol’ famously summed it up for many: “You’re joking. NOT ANOTHER ONE?! Oh for God’s sake, I can’t, honestly – I can’t stand this.”

Indeed, her exasperation and frustration were shared by most of the people I knew; no one thought an election would solve anything. The government was trying to do the impossible and few thought that an election would make the impossible thing any less, y’know… impossible.

Well, no one other than Theresa May and her staff at Number Ten Downing Street, of course. And what do you know? It turned out that ‘everyone else’ was right and she, and they, were wrong.

So, yeah, I disliked the 2017 election. And I knew I would the moment it was called.

But I wasn’t dreading the election in the same way as I’m dreading the one we’re likely to have in the next year.

Whether it’ll be the first autumn/winter election we’ve had in almost fifty years, or whether it’ll take place in Spring 2020, an election is likely on the way. With an official working majority of one in the House of Commons, and an unofficial majority of who-the-fuck-knows-what-the-fuck-it-fucking-is – a technical parliamentary term, you understand – parliament is effectively paralysed.

Strictly speaking, of course, under the terms of the Fixed-terms Parliaments Act – a piece of legislation I naïvely supported when it was created – we already know the date of the next election.

It’ll be on 5th May 2022, five years after the previous election in 2017.

I don’t know anyone, however, who thinks that this pisspoor shitshow of a government and this toothless, impotent and incompetent parliament, will last until then. The FTPA does of course foresee situations, and permits a couple of circumstances, in which an election can take place earlier.

May used one of these in 2017 (the House of Commons votes by a two-thirds majority of all MPs) to get her early election. I find it fascinating, by the way, that it’s ⅔ of all MPs, as in you need 433 MPs – ⅔ of the 650 elected – to vote in favour, rather than merely ‘⅔ of MPs voting’. The authors of the Act really really wanted to ensure that both the government and the main opposition wanted an early election before getting one.

The other way an early election can, no must, be called is if a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the government is carried, and in the ensuing two weeks, no one – neither the current government nor the Opposition, nor anyone else – can command the ongoing confidence of the House.

So, yeah, under either one of those two circumstances – both of which I suspect we’re going to face in the next year – we have an early election.

Last week, I wrote about how anger often brings certainty. A certainty that’s unwarranted, to be sure, but certainty nonetheless.

I ended the piece with the following:

I’m dreading a general election. Honestly. One’s likely to occur this year, and if not this year, then next.

And I’m dreading it, and the campaign that leads up to it.

It doesn’t anger me. It doesn’t infuriate me. It scares me.

And I suspect, before this run of blog posts is done, I’ll write about why.

Ok, time to write about why.

Long time readers of this blog may remember the following three blog entries.

From May 2015… it’s my party and i’ll cry if I want to…

From July 2015… ABC: Anyone but Corbyn

From September 2015… congratulations, mr corbyn… and goodbye

In the first, I related how, after 30-odd years of adulthood with an intense interest in politics but somehow without joining a political party, I’d finally done so. I laid out why, where I stood politically, and why Labour was the party I’d joined.

Towards the end of that piece more than four years ago, I wrote the following:

I’m not suggesting that people who voted Tory are evil, nor that they have no compassion; merely that they were wilfully or otherwise ignorant of the policies the government now seeks to introduce. Because if they voted knowing full well the policies that will now be put before Parliament, then I honestly don’t know what to say.

It’s an old, and usually false, saw to say that “I haven’t left the party, the party left me”, but for me, this government has done that for me.

I can’t see how the Tories will move back to the centre-right ground, its natural home I’d venture to suggest, within the next fifteen to twenty years. Which means that it’s Labour for me unless or until they have a policy or party leadership that renders a potential Labour government as toxic to me as the Conservative Party now is.

Sadly, overwhelmingly sadly, history has shown me that’s possible. I just hope it doesn’t happen for a long, long time.

I’ll just repeat that last bit:

Which means that it’s Labour for me unless or until they have a policy or party leadership that renders a potential Labour government as toxic to me as the Conservative Party now is. Sadly, overwhelmingly sadly, history has shown me that’s possible. I just hope it doesn’t happen for a long, long time.

So, yes, I joined the Labour Party mere hours after it became obvious that David Cameron’s Conservative Party had won the 2015 election with a working majority; barely, but yeah, he had a working majority. And scarcely had the election results sunk in when the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, resigned.

How quickly did he resign? Well, my ‘welcome to the Labour Party’ email still had his photo attached, even though, by the time it arrived, he’d already resigned.

So, an hour or so after I joined, the Labour Party was already planning their next leadership election.

Nominations ran from [effectively] that moment until 15th June. And by then, I’d attended several constituency Labour Party (CLP) meetings, and quite enjoyed them.

The constituency in which I lived – Richmond Park – had never had a Labour MP; at the recent general election, the Labour vote had been at 12.3%. So it wasn’t exactly as if Richmond Park Constituency Labour Party ‘made a difference’ as to Labour’s position in the country. In truth, the seat had jumped back and forth between the Liberals/Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives for decades.

The CLP contained people from ‘the left’ of the Labour Party as well as people from the ‘right’ of the party, and all points in between, and had fairly vocal advocates of each position; in some ways, the make up of the local party was exactly as it should be; there were debates and some heated ones, but no more nor less than I’d expected, or wanted.

And then the leadership contest occurred. And everything changed.

I appreciate that as a new member, only a month or so into it, it’s kind of weird to say ‘everything changed’ when I only had two or three meetings under my belt.

But it’s true.

Everything changed. Where previously there had been heated debates, now there came nastiness, and allegations of cowardice, of callousness, or not being ‘true’ to Labour. Where there had been discussion and mild distaste for others’ positions, now there was utter contempt for the other position. And most of the nastiness and the contempt came from one faction within the CLP.

Because Jeremy Corbyn had entered the contest to be leader.

And while at that time, I had no doubt that he wouldn’t have approved of the nastiness, would in fact have decried the venom, which accompanied the positions taken by his advocates, I quickly realised that wasn’t the case. I came to the conclusion that while he might not have approved, he certainly had no issue with it.

Which brings me to the second of the posts above.

Now, I’d been aware of Jeremy Corbyn since the mid-1990s, I guess. At least I don’t remember paying much notice before that. I knew that an MP, a Labour MP, had invited convicted IRA members to the House of Commons after the IRA bombed a Brighton hotel and tried to assassinate the Prime Minister and a chunk of her cabinet, but I doubt I recalled that it was Corbyn who’d done so.

And I knew that a Labour MP had chaired a conference calling for the Labour Party to kick out (‘disaffiliate from’) Poale Zion (Great Britain) – the previous name of the Jewish Labour Movement – in the 1980s, but again, I didn’t recall it being Corbyn who was the Chair.

But when I ran CompuServe’s Jewish Forum, and helped run the UK Politics Forum, in the mid- to late-1990s, his name cropped up every so often, alongside that of Ken Livingstone, Paul Flynn, and a few others of similar political views. He was one of the ‘I see no reason to support the party leader just because he’s leader’ lot, the blatant hypocrisy of which is mildly amusing now, in retrospect.

And by 2015, I was well aware of his policy positions and his – at that stage, I still thought – complete and supreme indifference to others’, including his supporters’, overt and snide antisemitism.

I didn’t at that stage think that he was personally antisemitic, merely that he regarded antisemitism in others as… I dunno, as having a pimple on their nose, or crooked teeth, or having bad breath. Not ideal, perhaps, but certainly not a genuine problem, certainly not a deal-breaker. Their antisemitism, their blatant and clear antisemitism, was entirely irrelevant as to whether he supported that person, liked that person, campaigned for that person, called them ‘brother’ and ‘comrade’.

But I found myself more and more questioning my position, struggling to maintain it.

As more came out, as more evidence was revealed, of his wilfully ignoring the antisemitism of those who he supported, defended, campaigned for… I found it harder and harder to maintain my ‘he’s not antisemitic; he just doesn’t care if someone else is’ position.

But anyway, even if that position was accurate, as someone else asked me: would he ignore another form of racism? Would he accept it in his supporters, and in people he supported, if they didn’t like people of colour, say? Would he regard it as a deal breaker?

Because if the answers to those question are No, No, and Yes… well, then he’s treating Jews differently, discriminating against Jews… and there’s a word for that.

The hypocrisy became more obvious, and clearer, with every example. Here’s one: he utterly and unreservedly condemned anyone appearing on a platform with Nick Griffin, one time leader of the racist British National Party. There was no excuse, he maintained, for sharing a platform with him. “No one,” he said, “should be sharing a platform with an avowed racist and an avowed fascist.” Oddly, though, as Corbyn’s history showed time and time again, he had no problem at all sharing platforms with overt antisemites.

“Ah,” his supporters say, “he does that solely to challenge them.” Equally and appropriately oddly, there’s no record of his challenges. Funny that.

So I wrote that second post, laid out some issues I had with Corbyn, and said that I wouldn’t, couldn’t, vote for him, and that if anyone did, they were siding with his views on antisemitism. Or – at the very least – they were saying ‘I don’t care’ about his views on antisemitism and on Jews.

One thing that started to piss me off, and my upset only grew, was that he never criticised his own supporters for antisemitism; he never told them not to, or at least not in any way that supporters or critics took seriously, or were meant to. He spoke about antisemitism – once he had to – only ever in the abstract, criticising antisemitism and antisemitic acts without condemning those who carried them out, without calling those who committed those acts, said those things, posted those images, antisemitic.

And then I started noticing that he never condemned anyone as antisemitic. He’d say they were wrong, that he disagreed with them, but not that they were antisemitic, not that they were antisemites. It was kind of like watching someone condemn a lynching without criticising the KKK as racists. (NB the ex-Grand Wizard of the KKK openly praised and praises Corbyn re claiming his election as leader was a sign that people were recognising “Zionist power” and “Jewish establishment power”.)

A month later, I got the opportunity to speak to Corbyn, on a Radio 4 phone in they held with all the Labour Party leadership candidates.

I came away from the phone call even more convinced that at best – at best! – he didn’t give a shit about others’ antisemitism. He cared that no one identified him as an antisemite, but his supporters?

He claimed, repeatedly, that any antisemites didn’t speak for him, but as others have observed equally repeatedly, but with far more justification, the antisemites are convinced that he speaks for them.

And as to whether he personally was antisemitic?

Well, I wrote the following hypothetical offer to those who claim he’s not.

A right-wing MP, proud to be on the hard right of the tory party never makes an overly racist statement himself… but platform shares with known racists, hosts them in parliament, says it’s his pleasure & honour to host his friends & it’s a pity the govt banned other white pride racists (he thinks that a big mistake). He gives tv interviews to affiliates of white power organisations, and defends white pride people as “honoured citizens” “dedicated to peace and justice”.

This man on the hard right of the Tory party makes statements against racism, but only in the abstract, condemning lynchings but never criticising those who carry them out. The closest he comes is saying in interviews that he doesn’t always agree with them.

This right wing Tory MP says a man who wrote that “blacks are racially inferior & want to take over the white race” is an honourable man and he looks forward to having him for tea at the Commons.

What would you say of this right wing Tory? Racist or no?

(And if you’re British, and the name John Carlisle springs to mind reading that, well, you’re not alone…)

But here’s the thing: all of the stuff in that hypothetical above? There are direct parallels to stuff Corbyn’s done, said and advocated.

And that was before blatant, clear, evidence started coming later out of his personal use of antisemitic tropes.

(And as previous posts in this run have shown, use of an age old antisemitic trope, a classic sterotype, used to demonise Jews for centuries doesn’t cease to be antisemitic merely because someone says ‘zionist’ or ‘israel’ instead of ‘Jew‘.)

But anyway, Corbyn won the leadership, convincingly. Wasn’t even close.

And, as I’d discussed with the chair and secretary of the CLP, I resigned from the party, four months after I’d joined it. I quit a few hours after having been in the hall watching him win the leadership. And I wrote about why here, in the third post above; in sadness, slightly scared, but mainly upset.

I resigned because I could see what was about to happen, what was going to happen.

I resigned because I knew from that moment that antisemitism would no longer be an automatic deal-breaker for membership in Labour, nor even to hold appointed or elected position within the Labour Party.

I resigned because I couldn’t stomach the idea of belonging to a party led by a man who welcomed antisemites, who campaigned for them, defended them, supported them.

And, since 2015, he’s continued to do so. He’s continued to defend antisemites, continued to campaign with antisemites, continued to defend antisemites, to call them comrade and brother, and to let his advocates, his surrogates, promote antisemitic conspiracy theories, to trivialise antisemitism, to allege conspiracism… and not done a single, meaningful thing to stop them.

Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected Leader in 2016.

And despite losing that general election he won in 2017, he’s still there.

And he’s likely – despite the huge number of times over the past two years that I’ve been assured otherwise – to be there, leading Labour, at the next election.

Because every time more evidence comes out of his personal actions, his own defences of antisemites, there’s always an excuse.

  • “No, no, he didn’t mean that,” his defenders will say, after previously maintaining that he’s a decent honest man who always says what he means, and means what he says.
  • “No, no, he didn’t lie; you misunderstood his statement.”
  • “No, no, the moment he found out that Paul Eisen was a holocaust denier, he stopped attending his [non-holocaust related] events. The photos of him attending afterwards? Smears!”
  • “No, no, he doesn’t agree with the person who promoted the Blood Libel; he just defended and campaigned for him”
  • “No, no, he didn’t say ‘Jews’ don’t understand irony despite living all their lives in Britain, he said ‘zionists’ don’t even though that made no sense whatsoever…”
  • “No, No, he doesn’t agree with the antisemitic statements made… and he said so at the time; It’s just an unfortunate coincidence that no records exist of that…”

And “how dare you attack an anti-racist?”

Yeah. Right. An anti-racist (except when it comes to antisemitism) who’s spent his life speaking out against racism (except when it comes to antisemitism) and who condemns racists (except when it comes to antisemites) and who called racists… racist! (except when it comes to antisemites)

And Labour continues to re-admit antisemitic member, after antisemitic member, continues to lift the suspensions of antisemitic councillors and activists, and those who do get expelled? Labour never says they’re ejected because they’re antisemitic.

And activists, Corbyn fans, continue to blame Jews for the antisemitism and claim it’s mostly malicious claims.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election. (See, you didn’t think I’d get back to that, did you? Ah, ye of little faith.)

Because after four years of Corbyn-led Labour, I just don’t believe that anyone with the slightest interest, or who’s paid the slightest bit of attention, is unaware of Corbyn’s at best apathy towards, and supreme indifference to, other’s antisemitism, and his personal complicity and use of antisemitism. I just don’t believe it.

Which means that if people are voting Labour they either a) don’t care about all of that, b) they actively agree with it, or c) they think it’s a price worth paying to get Corbyn into Downing Street. None of those fills me with anything other that unfettered dread and unmitigated fear.

Corbyn supporters aren’t short of fucking good reasons to not vote for the Tories. Hell, I agree with most, the overwhelming majority, of those reasons. They’re very good reasons to not vote Conservative.

But I’ve got a pretty fucking good reason to not vote Labour while Corbyn et al run the shop.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election.

Before any election campaign has even started, I’ve already been accused that by not voting Labour, by not trying to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister, I’m choosing ‘the jews’ over the poor, the disabled, the ill… which of course ignores that there are poor Jews, ill Jews, disabled Jews.

Before any election campaign has even started, I’ve already been accused of being a paid Israeli agent, of knowing that Corbyn’s a decent, honest man, and of maliciously making up claims of antisemitism inside Labour.

During Corbyn’s tenure as party leader, I’ve been told that even if I believed Labour was antisemitic ‘head to toe’ (not a claim I’ve made) that as a Jew I should still vote Labour “because the Tories are worse”. Think about that for a moment: I was told that, as a Jew, I should vote for an antisemitic party.

Through the looking glass? We’re through a whole fucking factory of mirrors.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election.

Because while, right now, I might – just about – be able to handle the idea of someone I know and like voting Labour, I genuinely don’t know if I can handle, if I could handle, people I know and like advocating others to vote Labour, working for Labour MPs, campaigning for Labour, campaigning to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten Downing Street.

It’ll end friendships. It will damage, fracture, and end some of my friendships, people I’ve been friends with for years… in some cases, decades.

Because at best, they’ll effectively be saying “I don’t care about antisemitism against you and yours, budgie” “or well, yes, it’s not nice but it’s a price worth paying to get Corbyn and Labour into Number Ten”.

And at worst they’ll be saying “I agree with him when he uses antisemitic tropes about ‘hidden hands’ of influence and when he supports antisemites.”

But yeah, that’s why I’m dreading the next election.

 

It’s Tuesday tomorrow. If you’ve been following the blog through the run, you know what’s occuring tomorrow. if not, then all I’ll say is the usual… which is, of course, “something else tomorrow.”

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Some maintain that it’s unfair to accuse a politician of lying, because lies require the intention to speak or write an untruth. I agree with that second bit, but not always with the first.

And, yes, with some politicians, some falsehoods, it’s difficult if not impossible for a member of the public to know whether the politician did know they were being untruthful. A common phrase these days is ‘you can’t see into their soul’.

True. With many public figures, politicians among them, I’ve no wish to see into their soul. Not without industrial strength disinfectant handy for afterwards.

So, yes, with some politicians, some untruths, it is genuinely difficult to know whether the politician did know they were promoting bullshit.

Some.

Some… not all.

And we’re under no obligation to give a political a benefit of the doubt they no longer deserve if they’ve repeatedly made a claim, and the claim has been repeatedly and comprehensively debunked, proven false, taken apart, taken out back and shot.

I entitled this blog entry He lied and lied and lied; it’s a headline from the Guardian. I’ll confess that I’m mildly but truly curious how many, or indeed whether any, of you remember to who that quote refers without seeing the image below.

For those of you who either don’t remember, or are too young to remember, it was a front page headline in June 1997, referring to Jonathan Aitken, a former government minister, who’d been caught out in a scandal and tries to lie his way out of it.

(Unsuccessfully as it turned out; he served seven months of an eighteen month prison sentence for perjury.)

I was reminded of that front page yesterday evening when I saw a tweet from Duncan Jones. It set my mind bouncing around memories, and thoughts, and recent discussions, until, as the process sometimes does, I had ‘a lightbulb moment’, when something finally ‘clicked’ in a way it hadn’t before.

I’m neither naive enough nor stupid enough to pretend that there was ever a Golden Age of British politics when politicians always spoke the truth, and never told the odd porky.

But the time when an MP would, of course, apologise to the House of Commons if they ever uttered an untruth in the Chamber is long gone. The days when a minister would at least offer to resign because they had conveyed a fact that wasn’t accurate are so far in the past that it’s mostly regarded as almost quaint to wish they’d return.

Even ignoring the big orange poltroon who lives in the big round room in the big white house, and remaining on this side of the Atlantic, the blond bullshitter is far from our only politician who apparently regards lying as merely another tool in the modern politician’s armoury.

It’s not limited to any one party, nor any one political faction, nor even any particularly political personality. It’s an equal opportunity tool, grabbed by, and used, by politicians across the British political spectrum.

The tweet that set me thinking was this one:

And, reading it, a large penny dropped.

Again, leaving the past to the past for a moment, that’s what the problem today – well a problem, anyway – is:

Politicians – and their most passionate, their most vocal, supporters – no longer regard lying as… ‘cheating’. They don’t see politicians lying, by which I mean ‘intentionally telling or promoting untruths’ as ‘cheating’.

Instead it’s rhetoric, or hyperbole, or even justifiable because the point they were making was important.

Whether it’s

  • ‘health tourism’ (doesn’t exist, or at least it’s tiny), or
  • ‘No, we won’t call a general election’ (the morning that you did), or
  • ‘I didn’t attend that meeting with those people’ (there are photos, mate), or
  • ‘I didn’t falsely claim expenses’ (ok, but the police think you did… and so did the jury in your trial)
  • “Nothing’s changed” (after you completely abandoned a manifesto pledge days after it was published)
  • ‘Turkey’s going to join the EU soon’ (no, they’re not), or
  • “The UK sends £350m a week to the EU’ (no, that’s the gross amount, not our actual contribution’, or
  • ‘People knew they were voting for No Deal when they voted ‘Leave’ (no, they fucking didn’t)
  • ‘I said zionists’ (yeah, but everyone, critics and supporters alike, knew you meant ‘Jews’)

Lies are explained away as somehow never lies. It’s never… cheating.

Except, of course, it is; you’re gaining political or personal advantage by promoting an untruth in service of getting what you or you or party want. That is, after all, what most political lying is all about.

“The other party wants to do [xxxxxx]” – when they’ve previously denied it. So, one of you is lying…

“No, no, we’ve no plans to do [yyyyyy]” – when there are policy papers showing exactly that

“The minister said [zzzzzz]” when not only was that taken out of context, but there’s no possible context in which it’s accurate.

“No, I say what I mean. I meant what I said. There’s no hidden meanings with me.” Followed a week later by “No, I didn’t mean that. That was just politically collegiate language. What I really meant was…” Again, one of them is a lie.

So, if we know why politicians lie (because it’s very useful, and they usually get away with it), why did it start being ok with their supporters for them to lie, and to take a lead from their politicians, and politically lie themselves?

For if you’re told you’re not cheating by lying, why not continue to lie?

Why not indeed?

And why do politicians think it’s not cheating?

Well, The Labour Party’s always had a touch of the ‘We Are Good And Just And Moral Because We Are Labour’ about it. That’s nothing new. But it’s made it far easier at various times for Labour and their supporters to justify behaviour and actions that they’d vehemently condemn in other parties. For if We Are Good And Just And Moral, then any criticism of Us, any condemnation, must perforce be Bad And Unjust And Malicious. And any tactics, any methods, even intentional lies, are more than justified… against the Bad And Unjust And Malicious.

The Tories have turned that around, of course, taking the conclusion, making it the premise and going from there. Because the Conservatives regard Labour as inherently Bad And Unjust And Malicious Because They Are Labour, any action taken against them, any decrying, any lying is justified. For if Labour are Bad And Unjust And Malicious, taking those actions is by an elegant inevitability Good And Just And Moral.

See how it works?

Both arguments are bullshit, of course, whichever premise you start from. But they do allow lying about the other lot to be trumpeted as something condonable, and even on occasion praiseworthy.

No doubt they’d argue: no, t’s not cheating; it’s just politics…

I’ve mentioned this example before, but bear with me.

It’s pretty well universally acknowledged that the government’s administration of health assessments for benefits eligibilityhas been, was, and is a disaster, a clusterfuck of legendary proportions.

But, a while back, a statistic started doing the rounds that surprised and horrified even those who supported health assessments: 10,600 people had died within six weeks of their claims ending.

And the DWP itself admitted that 10,600 people died ‘within six weeks of their claim ending’, didn’t they? Well, yes, they did, in official stats.

As many people pointed out, however, 10,600 number isn’t the number of people who died within six weeks after their claim ended. That 10,600 included people who died and then their claim ended… because they’d died. 

Now, given that a number of people who were on the benefits suffered from very serious physical or mental disabilities, it’s not the hugest surprise to discover that some of them died while receiving the benefit. And then their benefit, obviously, ceased.

How many died while receiving the benefit? I’ve no idea – the DWP statistics didn’t separate them out. Could have been 5,000, could have been 10,599.

No-one knew. The only thing anyone knew for certain was that some of those 10,600 died before their claim ended, which tells us that of the 10,600 people who died within six weeks of their claim ending, fewer died after their benefits ended than was claimed by the statistic doing the rounds..

Again, how many? No definitive number; could have been 1,000, could have been 5,000.

And here’s where it got ugly, very ugly. Because if you pointed that out, you were decried by those who were justifiably and passionately upset, angry and furious, at the system, so [rightly] angry at any deaths, that they abandoned, no jettisoned, any requirement for accuracy and claimed that it didn’t matter whether the 10,600 number was accurate or not, and by insisting on accuracy, you didn’t care about those who died.

(A false dichotomy, right up there with “if you dare to criticise Jeremy Corbyn, you dpon’t care about the poor, the sick, the ill, the disabled’. But British politics loves the false dohotomy; it’s baked in now.)

But it’s because people cared about those who’d died that they/we thought it was important to use accurate numbers, numbers that the supporters of benefits health assessments couldn’t attack as false, as inaccurate, as bullshit.

But no, we were the bad guys. For supporting the government, apparently.

And that’s leaving aside the astonishing number of out of context stats that do the rounds, attached to an image of a politician.

I recall an attack on Margaret Hodge by a prominent Corbyn supporter on Twitter; a pic of Hodge, with the comment attached that her salary and personal expenses from 2010 to 2015 were £1,044,829. The critic found this amount “outrageous”.

Fortunately, such a claim was easy to check, thanks to MPs’ expenses being online, and searchable. Of the amount, (over five years) roughly £336k was her MP’s salary. £552k of the rest was for other people’s salaries, another 154k was for rent for her MP’s office, and about £1.5k for travel. Over five years.

A picture may tell a thousand words, sure; nowhere, however, does the observation claim the words are accurate.

Again, when I and others pointed this out, we were at fault for doing so. When I pointed out that the salary Hodge received was the same as Corbyn received for that period, the response was… less than ideal, claiming that Corbyn had the lowest expenses of any MP. (Untrue, by the way.)

I can’t think of a single instance in which a politician or activist using a false statistic or misattributing a quote, or indeed, misquoting, brings anything beneficial to the discussion.

If the truth is inconvenient or the unaltered facts don’t back your case, then maybe, just maybe, it’s your case that’s at fault. 

But that can’t be the position, can it?

Well, not for many.

For remember, that false dichotomy writ large: ‘our side can do no wrong’. Occasionally, that’s not quite true. Sometimes, people do see the faults in their own side… and then excuse them, defend them, trivialise them, either because the other side is “worse” or because they take solace in an adaptation of Stephen Decatur’s line from the late 18th Century: “my party right or wrong, but my party”.

I struggle at times to decide which is worse: not caring it’s a lie, or knowing it’s a lie and promoting it anyway. Either way, it’s cheating.

Mitch Benn summed the current situation up quite nicely recently with the attached, which he entitled Political Ethics (2019 version).

Every so often, I ask online whether people think it’s acceptable for a politician to lie, to flat out lie.

You know what? I think people lied when responding. I only hope is that they didn’t congratulate themselves for doing so.

 
 
Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Anger makes it easy to be certain; too easy, as it happens.

I’m a huge fan of people writing while angry. I’m a huge fan of me writing when angry.

I’m not such a huge fan of anyone, including me, publishing what they write while angry.

There are exceptions, of course. But they’re exceptions, anomalies, and should be regarded, treated, and prized as such.

Bernard Levin, for example.

Here’s how he started a piece just after Tony Blair had been elected as Leader of the Labour Party, about three years before the general election which brought Blair and his party to power after eighteen years of Conservative government.

The Times, September 23, 1994
3,000 cheers for a man who can end this sorry era
Bernard Levin

Labour at last has a modern leader ready to sweep to power and end this sorry era.
The longer and more frequently I contemplate Mr Blair, the more I like the cut of his jib. This has nothing to do with the alternative; I long ago concluded that the present Government was worm-eaten, exhausted, dishonest, incompetent, lazy, mendacious, ignorant, rotten, false, disreputable, deceitful, unsavoury, squalid, abominable, soiled, piratical, shifty, discreditable, infamous, improper, obscene, hateful, impure, degraded, dilapidated, shabby, grovelling, discredited, renownless, tarnished, disgraced, shameless, creeping, abject, two-faced, unscrupulous, villainous, treacherous, untrustworthy, prevaricating, sinister, crawling, insincere, fishy, spurious, unclean, felonious, infamous, venal, base, vile, bribable, rancid, disloyal, scheming, unsavoury, sickening, fetid, nauseating, putrid, defaulting, mouldering, evil, vicious, damnable, maleficent, wrong, ineffectual, mean, inferior, contemptible, superficial, irrelevant, expendable, powerless, pathetic, nugatory, impotent, jumped-up, cheap, insalubrious, flea-ridden, unsound, nasty, baneful, foul-tongued, cursed, unwarranted, execrable, damned, abnormal, unreasonable, virtueless, peccant, sinful, unworthy, hopeless, incorrigible, tergiversating, brutalised, nefarious, culpable, scandalous, worthless, flagitious, gross, indefensible and unpardonable to say the least.

But Blair, as far as I can see, is to be found on his own feet, not measuring by the scabrous (I missed that one) Lilliputians now arrayed against him…

By God, the man could write.

But we’re not all Bernard Levin, are we?

Long ago, my then boss, noticing that I was burning with rage over something or other, cautioned me: don’t ever make a speech in anger; if you do, you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever live to regret.

He was right, of course, as he was about so much.

But writing when angry, to get the venom out, to get the fury out, and onto the page, is seldom a bad thing.

More than once in my life, in my career, I’ve written a first draft of something, poured out my rage and anger into the screed and then deleted the whole thing, and started from scratch…

The idea, of course, is to hope that the passion of the argument will remain on the page – or the screen, let’s be fair – while the stupidity that anger inevitably creates remains in the now deleted version.

It doesn’t always work, but it often does.

The twitter equivalent, you’ll appreciate, is the ‘drafts folder’: tweets I’ve written, replies I’ve composed, when I’m incensed, infuriated and inflamed. Every so often, I’ll take a look at my drafts folder and it’s rare indeed that I’m not surprised at a) how many there are in there, and b) what I got so angry about.

And then I’ll delete them. Untweeted, and the better for that, they disappear as if they’d never been written.

And the surprise that remains is one at myself: that I was intelligent enough to both realise that they should never have been tweeted, and that I still then resisted the urge to hit ‘send’.

Someone asked me a while back which would be worse; my Direct [Private] Messages being made public, or the tweets in my drafts folder being published.

I am of course incredibly boring, so while the former might be slightly embarrassing, the latter would be far, far worse.

Because the ‘these are too angry to post; take a breath, budgie; take a step back, and for fuck’s sake, you can’t say THAT’ draft tweets are… written from anger, from sheer fury, and at the time, about subjects or views that I felt too angry to let the immediate reaction stay inside my head.

Because there’s a lot to be angry about. There’s always a lot to write about, but right now there’s a lot to be angry about, and I’ve been avoiding writing about some of it because… well, because I’m not entirely convinced that without the anger, the pieces would fairly convey my views.

Hmm.

No matter where you live, no matter in which country you reside, no matter what your politics, there’s a lot to be angry about.

I might write again about the US soon, but not today. Today, let’s stick to ‘my place’.

In my country – the United Kingdom – we’re faced with the Brexit calamity rolling towards us like a truckload of shit, and the only sensible way to look at the official positions of the two main parties is to ponder whether to call the options of your preferred party a truckload of shit or a lorryload of shite.

How everyone isn’t utterly furious, enraged beyond sense, is beyond me. If you’re a ‘remainer’, why aren’t you righteously boiling about the disaster that’s heading our way? If you’re a ‘Leaver’, why aren’t you pissed off and maddened by the broken promises of those who pledged everything would be easy? (To go from “easiest trade deal in history’ to ‘there will be adequate food’ takes some audacity. To claim everyone voted for the latter takes bullshit, and much of it.)

But politics in the UK some time ago became a competitive sport, or at the very least it’s presented as such, as a zero sum game. Unless you support this view, then you actively support the worst extremes of the directly opposing view…

It’s a provably false premise, but it doesn’t stop the very certain and the very angry repeatedly asserting it.

And it’s not as if Brexit, and the lies suffusing it, are the only major thing about which to be angry, even here. The hypocrisy that now seems inherent to every party, and every faction within every party, is no longer – if it ever was – a bug of british politics; it’s now a prominent feature.

The same applies to the other-ing of, well, others… from both main parties, and the main factions within those parties. It’s no longer a question of voting for the least worst option; in order to do so, you apparently – according to the most vocal supporters of each – have to detest and view with contempt this grouping, or that faction, or an entire religion, or someone you perceive as having more/less in their bank account than an arbitrary amount…

They insist that you be angry about their chosen targets, while entirely missing that you might be angry at their insistence. Indeed, if you’re angry about the ‘wrong’ target, unless you share their anger at their targets, you’re wrong; you’re objectively wrong.

(As a friend said to me some time ago, he hates British politics right now, because it’s wholly presented as choosing ‘which already suffering people do you wish to suffer more?’)

There are areas of political discussion, matters of ‘right and wrong’ about which I’m ‘certain’.

Not that many, but they exist.

And they’re pretty much all on the big, nebulous, things, concepts rather than specific policies. I’m generally in favour of progressive taxation, say, but don’t have a strong view on the number of income tax bands, nor the rates that should apply to each.

I’m generally in favour of changing the voting system, the way in which we elect politicians; I’m less convinced by the arguments of those who are certain that this electoral system or that one is ‘the best’.

I’m open to arguments for replacing The House of Lords… while neither completely convinced that any replacement would have only advantages and no adverse consequences, nor wholly sure that it could be done without huge – really, really huge – consequences to the rest of what we only semi-humourlessly regard as ‘the British constitution’.

Moreover, I can understand, while neither condoning, nor agreeing with, the certainty others may feel about some subjects that I don’t share. Not on all, but some.

But on most stuff; there’s no objective right or absolute wrong; there’s merely a discussion, and set of facts, and some arguments on both sides, and a conclusion they’ve reached – perfectly validly, completely reasonably – albeit a different conclusion than I’ve come to, equally validly, equally reasonably.

The certainty of others about subjects in which I have no real firm views puzzles me.

The certainty of others – when I think none is justified nor warranted – irritates me.

But, the certainty of others combined with the contempt aimed at those of us who do not share their exact anger? That flat out pisses me off.

Anger makes it easy to be certain. Anger makes it too easy to be certain. Certain that you’re in the right, for you would not be this angry if you were wrong, would you? Your fury is righteous, for you are a rational, sensible person, so it’s got to be the thing that made you angry that’s ‘wrong’.

Anger makes it easy to be certain; too easy.

And that’s something that is going to get worse the moment there’s a general election.

I’m dreading a general election. Honestly. One’s likely to occur this year, and if not this year, then next.

And I’m dreading it, and the campaign that leads up to it.

It doesn’t anger me. It doesn’t infuriate me. It scares me.

And I suspect, before this run of blog posts is done, I’ll write about why.

 
 
It’s Tuesday tomorrow. If you’ve been following the blog, you know what’s happening tomorrow. if not, then all I’ll say is the usual… something else tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I love the English language… I’m just not so keen on those who misuse it.

Actually, that’s not true; I quite like people who misuse it in gloriously, wonderfully, absurd ways. When they make language do stuff it’s not supposed to. When they combine words in a way that breaks all the rules, but somehow… works. There are plenty of writers who I’ll read for the sheer pleasure at what they do with words, how they treat sentences, how they spoil the reader with superbly written paragraphs.

I merely don’t like the misuse of language when it’s incompetently done, when it’s been achieved through ignorance, or malice, or stupidity.

But on the whole, yeah, I like language, and I take pleasure in the glorious ambiguities that can arise from time to time.

There’s a building around the corner from where I used to work. On the door was the legend:
 

This door is permanently alarmed.

 
I can’t tell you the number of times that I wanted to go up to it and say “Boo!“.

Similarly, not far from where I live is a roundabout with traffic signals; on each of the traffic signals is attached a sign that reads:
 

Part Time Traffic Signals

 
I surely can’t be the only person who wonders what they do on their days off…?

I was thinking today about language, particularly about why ‘in’ and ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ aren’t followed by prepositions:
 

I was in the room; the UK is inside the EU; the UK will be outside the EU.

 
But out is.
 

I was out of the room.

 
And I long ago gave up wondering whether one is on the island of Skye or in Skye.

But while I have just about managed to restrain myself on every occasion from grimacing when someone uses “decimate” to mean utterly destroyed – when the word means to “reduce by 10%” – there are some words and phrases that still annoy me when they’re misused.

Let me agree: I’m not talking about misuse through misspellings. Sure, they irritate but for an entirely different reason.

But folks who type ‘effect’ when they mean ‘affect’, for example; as often as not, it’s just a misspelling, or an autocorrect.

Typos, again, I have less of a problem with. For all the ‘the world is divided into two types’ gags around, one that’s invariably true is the division between those who’ve made a typo in an important document or popular social media post. and those who merely haven’t… yet.

After all, surely one of the first skills that anyone acquires online is the ability to read fluent tyop.

No, it’s the actual misuse of words that bugs me; the use of a word to mean something other than what it, y’know, means.

And yes, of course words’ meanings can and do change though the decades, through the centuries, through common usage.

But when a word is flat out incorrectly used, it… bugs me. It irks.

Mark Twain once said that for a writer, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

But that’s really about choosing just the right word, using a word that ‘works’ for the piece of writing, using not ‘claimed’ but ‘asserted’, using not ‘criticised’, but ‘condemned’, using not ‘damp’ but ‘moist’.

Twain wasn’t opining about using ‘bemused’ as a synonym for ‘amused’. The former means ‘bewildered’, not ‘found it funny’.

Here are some more that literally figuratively bug the hell out of me.

And yes, let’s start with that one: literally, when it’s used for emphasis. “I was literally over the moon”. No, you weren’t. You may have been using it to emphasise how delighted you were, how happy you were at an event, or a result, or even your own achievement, but unless you were either in a spacecraft, or are Superman, you weren’t literally over the moon.

Disinterested, to denote lack of concern, or to show you’re apathetic about something. The word you”re looking for is ‘uninterested’. Disinterest means you’re unbiased; you have no personal stake in it.

Imply vs Infer. As a general rule of thumb, the speaker/author might imply, while the listener or reader infers.

Similar to Nauseate vs Nauseous. Again, general rule of thumb? Someone or something else¹ might nauseate you² so that you feel nauseous.

Begging the question, when you’re suggesting a new question, or when you mean ‘raises the question, suggests an additional question’. Say that instead. Say it ‘raises the question’ or ‘of course that suggests an additional question’. just don’t write that begs the question’. Because ‘begging the question’ means a statement is inherently assuming something, and you’re questioning the assumption. “The politician said I should trust him because he’s a politician”. The statement inherently assumes that politicians are trustworthy, and begs the question.

Enormity doesn’t mean huge, at least not other than extreme evil, or extreme badness.

Reticent doesn’t mean reluctant, at least not unless it’s because the person is restrained or overly shy.

Ironic means weirdly incongruent, not funnily inconvenient or coincidentally unfortunate.

And now the two biggies. The two that will have me swearing at the television whenever I hear a politician – for it’s usually, politicians at fault – utter the words:

REFUTE DOES NOT MEAN DENY. At least not in and of itself. Refute means to prove with evidence that an accusation is incorrect. (It doesn’t imply the accusation was malicious, by the way.) Again… to refute something is to prove it false. To deny something is true, to claim something is false, with or without evidence, is to ‘rebut’ something.

I’ve pondered on occasion why so many seem to have a problem with this.

I don’t believe – as some have suggested – that politicians who use ‘refute’ know they’re using it incorrectly, that it means ‘to prove false’ but are banking on their supporters (and critics alike) either

  1. not knowing, or
  2. accepting that the politician can prove it but is saving their proof for another occasion.

I just think they think that ‘refute’ sounds more ‘official’. And theyr’e too lazy to use the proper word.

Also, while we’re here:

UNACCEPTABLE DOES NOT MEAN UNFORTUNATE. If something’s unacceptable, then it means, with an elegant inevitability, that you will not accept it.

If you then, reluctantly or otherwise, behave in a manner that – in every material and measurable way – is exactly how you would act if you eagerly consented… guess what? Turns out you don’t find it unacceptable at all.

Because you fucking accepted it.

Again, politicians think that ‘unacceptable’ is a good word to use. Because it sounds strong, it sounds decisive, and it sounds firm… unyielding.

That it’s incompetent and lazy use of language is less important to them.

Yes, yes, I know – politicians being lazy or incompetent?

Now there’s a shock.
 


 
And here’s one that doesn’t bother me in the least: fewer versus less. I genuinely don’t care about it. (Note that I don’t say ‘I could care less’; if I ‘could care less’, that means I currently care about it a great deal.)

But while there are rules about using fewer and less, there are plenty of occasions when the rule just doesn’t work, or an exception has been artificially created to let it work.

If I’m estimating how far it is to Manchester from London, I won’t say that it’s ‘fewer than 200 miles’; it’s ‘less than’, or – to be honest – under. And it’ll take less than six hours to drive there, not fewer.
 


 
See you tomorrow, with something else.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.
 


 
¹ this blog entry, for example
² you, the reader

Bit of housekeeping first: it came as quite a surprise the other day when I realised I’m now more than half-way through this fifty-five day countdown. After a couple of years of not blogging at all, it’s been a genuine pleasure to write these entries; I hope some of you at least have been enjoying them.

Three and a half weeks to go, by which time – if current plans pan out – I’ll be posting the final entry while on the way to Edinburgh, after which I’ll be spending a week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

But there’s still a couple of dozen posts to go, of course, before we’re there.


So, as I write this, I’ve got BBC News on in a small window at the the bottom right of the screen. Theresa May has just handed in her resignation to Her Majesty The Queen, and Boris Johnson is on his way to meet HMQ and accept her invitation to form a government.

There’s nothing I could write that would truly convey the contempt in which he is held by much of the British public; the clowning persona he tries to portray long ago wore out its welcome, and if there’s anything that continues to puzzle me about Johnson, it’s not about him, but the few who still regard him as anything other than a manipulative unqualified, disqualified, sack of shit.

A few years ago, a series of “‘what my family & friends think I do’ versus ‘what I actually do'” graphics did the rounds.

Mitch Benn and I created the following, which has remained truer than I’d wish:

It was John Oliver, I believe, who commented that he and Trump both look like incompetently created clones of each other. And while Johnson is unquestionably objectively smarter than the orange poltroon, they each have their own malleable relationship with the truth, and with objective facts.

There are, however, marked and important differences: with the orange poltroon, one knows that the provably false untruths that he tell cease – for him – to be untrue. He says them, therefore they are true.

The only calculated bit of it is that he carries on doing it because it bloody works, with his base, with his support. They not only don’t care that he lies, they like it.

I’m unsure if there’s any other elected politician in the US or the UK for whom that’s true in the same way.

For Boris Johnson knows he’s lying. Let’s not pretend otherwise. He knows what the truth is, and discards it quite deliberately when it’s convenient to do so or when it’s just… easier to do so.

Johnson’s relationship with the truth is one of dog to lamppost: if he needs to piss over it to make his life even marginally easier or more confortable, he’ll do so, and feel quite satisfied afterwards that he’s done it.

Some of the time, sure, it’s a precise, calculated lie, uncaring whether or not anyone notices, wholly apathetic as to the complaints of others who might reasonably prefer that politicians stay at least within shouting distance of accuracy, precision and correctness.

He lies on these occasions because the truth, the objective facts, are inconvenient to him. He knows the facts, he just won’t let them – as the old saw has it – interfere with the story he’s telling.

And they’re told to make him the hero, to make him the Truth Teller.

Important to remember that he’s the hero in his own mind, the mark of villains through the centuries.

On other occasions, Boris Johnson lies because the truth is just too much hard work; he doesn’t care to find out the facts because the lie serves his purpose just as well, if not better.

The nonsense last week about the chilled fish is a good example of this. Johnson claimed, while waving a sealed kipper around, that it had been given to him, via the editor of a national newspaper, from a fish smoker on the Isle of Man, who he stated was “utterly furious”.

“After decades of sending them through the post like this he has had his costs massively increased by Brussels bureaucrats who are insisting that each kipper must be accompanied by a plastic ice pillow,”

“Pointless, pointless, expensive, environmentally damaging ‘elf and safety’,”

Except that the claim was, of course, unfettered bullshit.

The advice that says that foods that need refrigerating must be kept cool while they are being transported – potentially packed in an insulated box with a coolant gel or in a coolbag – is not only British government advice, the Isle of Man moreover isn’t in the European Union.

Johnson could quite easily have found something that the EU does that could be argued is oppressively bureaucratic, something that he could at least make a case for, while sticking to the unvarnished facts.

But it would be far too much hard work for him to do that; why not just lie about it? why not indeed?

And 90,000-odd Conservative party members agreed with him. Why not indeed?

(Some of them very odd, let’s face it.)

And then there are the casual, unnecessary lies, the untruths that spew from his lips because he doesn’t see the harm in them, because ‘everyone lies’. These lies that Boris Johnson tells… they’re not calculated so he – specifically him – benefits. Well, not solely that anyway. They’re told just ‘for a laugh’, just for the sake of lying, just for shits and giggles, or to get him through the speech, the interview, the statement.

And on the rare occasions when he’s held to account? Then he lies his way out of it with yet more lies.

After his comments – when Foreign Secretary – about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe led to her facing an increased prison term, he lied about his own culpability. When he got caught out having an affair, he lied to his party’s then-leader, resulting in his sacking.

And Boris Johnson has just become Prime Minister.


I’m not about, by the way, to have a pop at how he was elected, as in ‘I can’t believe that the members of a politial party get to choose the Prime Minister!’ We have a parliamentary system in the UK, with all that that implies. Yes, this is the first time that it’s been a Prime Minister who was elected by the memebrship and who immediately took over, but the ‘party chooses a new leader who becomes Prime Minister…’ has happened before and the usual thing is that a new Prime Minister doesn’t call an election. When Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair, he didn’t even face a leadership election; he just took over. When May took over from Cameron, she got the job by default as the other candiate stood down.

Yes, it’s a shitty system, but if you wouldn’t have called for an election when Callaghan took over from Wilson, when Major took over from Thatcher, when Brown took over from Blair… try to restrain your hypocrisy just a tad, eh?

As it is, my own position is that of Lynne Featherstone (now Baroness Featherstone) after Brown took over from Blair:

A new PM, implementing the same manifesto/policies? No need for an election; our parliamentary system doesn’t suggest nor require one.

A new PM, who abandons the manifesto upon which the government’s mandate rests, and who pursues policies not of the previous government, not indeed polices from the manifesto? To not call an election drives a coach and horses through the spirit, if not the letter, of our parliamentary system.


When I was in the hall of the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, and witnessed Jeremy Corbyn become Labour party leader, I tweeted the single word: “Fuck.”

When I watched on television Boris Johnson, in the same venue, win the leadership of the Conservative Party, the same sentiment seemed appropriate.

But now? With Johnson as Prime Minister, our Prime Mimister? The Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury?

Well, I think Barry Ween says it best:

Boris Johnson: primus inter mendaces¹

 
 
Something else tomorrow, something even more upsetting, something deadly serious, and something that I suspect will upset more than a few people with its content.

See you tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.


¹ first among liars

Yeah, I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later I’d have to write about… him: the walking excrement that currently occupies the big round room in the big white house.

I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to employ the phrase ‘the orange poltroon’ to describe Donald John Trump, but I was certainly unaware of anyone else using it when I started to use it in tweets. And I’d said for years that ‘poltroon’ was one of my favourite words so… anyway, I’m claiming it for the UK side of things.

I mean, sure, I’ve occasionally mentioned President Poltroon before on here; days after he was elected, I observed that he now had a power that genuinely scared me, and no, it wasn’t the power to obliterate countries leaving only a mushroom cloud in its place.

I’m only faintly surprised he hasn’t excercised the full extent of the power-that-scares-me already, that some maniac supporter hasn’t killed a federal judge, say… and received a pardon from Trump for doing so, or killed those serving on a grand jury investigating the orange poltroon, and then been pardoned by said poltroon.

Pardoned, I hasten to add, with no deleterious consequences for said poltroon.

For the current iteration of the Republican Party have made it crystal clear in their behaviour the past couple of years that, no matter what the orange poltroon does in office, they’ll follow the exact same strategy as they followed during the election campaign… once it became apparent that Trump was [going to be] the nominee:

That Trump is a racist misogynist bully, a sexual abuser, a fool, who rarely reads, knowingly plays to the worst of the worst, lies like he breathes, and wants to bang his daughter, is beyond doubt. His ego and his vanity were well known long before he ran for office, and no-one expected that to change after sixty million or so people marked their ballots in his favour.

And, sure, no one was overly surprised at the sheer venality expressed by others in the GOP who turned the supineness and submissiveness of the cowardly bully, when faced with a bigger bully, into a bloody art form. Partly because he serves their purposes, partly because of their contemptible fear that Trump will turn against them at any moment.

And, of course, having given him their support, they’ve got too much personally and politically invested to back down now.

But of all the norms that Trump has shattered, has ignored, has completely crapped over, what no one truly predicted however was the breach of the most basic norm of constitutional government.

The most basic, the fundamental, tenet of American government. No… not that he’d ‘do something unconstitutional’; it’s possible that any President could do that; that’s in part why the Supreme Court exists, and in whole why the impeachment power exists.

The fundamental constitutional norm that Trump’s pissed on from a huge height is something that John Ramm¹ was at pains to point out to students:

“The American system of government works as it should, and only works as it should, if and only if, each branch of government respects the authority and legitimacy of the others.”

And Trump doesn’t. It’s as plain as that.

There was a throwaway comment Trump gave in a recent interview which I was mildly surprised wasn’t picked up more, since it revealed so much. He’d been told – let’s face it, he didn’t read it himself – that the Presidency is covered in Article II of the Constitution of the United States.

Article II.

And it so obviously irritated him, so plainly irked him. That The Presidency wasn’t in Article I, I mean.

Because, despite the Constitution giving – obviously – different powers, different rights and responsibilities, to each of the three branches of government, Trump clearly believes with every fibre of his being that it shouldn’t. It’s beyond comprehension to him that the other two branches, Congress (the legislature) and the Supreme Court (the judiciary), are equal branches of government; he plainly believes that they’re not only lesser than the Presidency (the executive) but that they inherently hold less legitimacy and authority… because they’re lesser.

And that’s a tough position for him to even state, let alone argue… if the Presidency is Article II. I mean, he’ll try, obviously. Because he’s a fool. But even someone with his… unique kind of intelligence… will struggle.

His view of Congress, of members of Congress, of Senators, is transparent: he views them with contempt. All of them. The ones who hate him, the ones who profess to love him, those who condemn him, and those who support him. Because they’re not Presidents, because they’re not him.

And the message to Republican Senators and members of Congress isn’t: ‘if you back me, I’ll say nice things about you’; it’s ‘if you pieces of crap support me, I might not shit on you… today‘.

And they take that. They take it every day, and then come back for more.

I mean, when it comes to Republican members of Congress and Senators, who knows, maybe he’s right – practically, not morally – to treat them like that, because it’s bloody worked. And it continues to bloody work.

Even those in the GOP who once criticised him in the harshest possible language have all sucked at his teat since, and voted to pass legislation of which he approves. And without in any way repudiating their previous criticisms, they’ve pretended those criticisms were never made, those statements were never issues, the video of them doesn’t exist.

As for the judiciary, well, the orange poltroon’s expressed his contempt for how it operates in the US any number of times, while both praising and condemning the court system, and individual justices of the Supreme Court.

But again, remember that

“The American system of government works as it should, and only works as it should, if and only if, each branch of government respects the authority and legitimacy of the others.” 
 
Thirty five years ago, about now, during the impeachment of the hearings of them President Nixon, it was revealed that in Nixon’s secret recordings of what happened in the Oval Office, there was an 18½ minute gap. In the resulting litigation, the Supreme Court (an 8-0 decision, in US v Nixon) ordered Nixon in July 1974 to deliver tape recordings and other subpoenaed materials to a federal district court. He did so. he followed the Court’s ruling. And sixteen days later, Nixon resigned.

I’ve been wondering, since 2017, what happens when (not if but when) the Supreme Court rules against Trump on something big (‘Watergate 18½ minutes’ big, say) and Trump effectively responds ‘No. Now what are you going to fucking do about it?’

SCOTUS’ authority rests on the other branches respecting its legitimacy and authority.

And Trump doesn’t.

The other week, I went to see Michael Wolff being interviewed by Matthew D’Ancona, the former promoting his new book Siege, covering the second year of Trump’s [first] term in office, after Fire and Fury covered the first year.

 
Genuinely fascinating, and there was a Q&A afterwards; some good questions, some great answers.

So I asked the question above, what would happen if SCOTUS ruled against Trump on something huge, something genuinely important… and Trump effectively said ‘fuck you’ to SCOTUS.

Wolff paused a moment, thought of his answer, and then simply replied “I don’t know. But it’s a scary thought. And, personally, that’s why I think Robert Mueller ‘punted’ in the report, didn’t go as far as he could have, as he should have. Because he didn’t want to provoke, to create, that problem, what would be a genuine constitutional crisis.”
 
I’m not sure I wholly agree that Mueller did punt the report; genuinely think there’s strong arguments on both sides of that one, none of them conclusive.

But it’s certainly not something I wholly disagree with either.

I miss the days when the branches of government at least pretended to respect the authority and legitimacy of the others in public, and mostly did so in private.

Something else tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.


¹my tutor in A Level “Government and Comparative Political Systems”, which I studied at Luton VI Form College (1980-1982)

(For part the second, click here; for part the third, click here)

I’ve been going back and forth on this one. But last night’s Panorama programme about antisemitism inside the Labour Party tipped the balance.

No, I’m not going to write about that today, neither the programme itself nor the details therein, save for one small reference towards the end of this post; maybe soon, but not today.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece about antisemitism in the UK, and how it’s risen, and how it’s not uncommon – some would aver often – for criticism of Israel (used as a metonym for its government, PM, military, laws, politicians) to ‘cross the line’ into overt antisemitism.

Now, whenever this does happen, whenever antisemitic criticism – not criticism itself, but overtly, blatantly, antisemitic criticism – is highlighted, you can guarantee two responses:

  1. “Oh, you just don’t want any criticism of Israel!”, and
  1. “You’re making up false allegations of antisemitism to prevent any criticism of Israel; you always do that!”

How best to respond?

Bollocks. Oh, ok, yeah, that works.

Unfettered, unmitigated, unreserved… bollocks.

(The second of those responses above is known in the UK, among the Jewish community as ‘The Livingstone Formulation’, since it’s been deployed by Kenneth-of-that-Clan for decades.)

I don’t know how often it has to be said but apparently at least once more is necessary even before I read the comments to this piece: criticising Israel [its government/politicians/polices/military] isn’t per se antisemitic. How could it be? It’s no more inherently anti-Jewish to criticise the actions of a Jewish state than it’s anti-Christian to condemn the UK government – of a still formally Christian country – for the ‘Bedroom tax’, or to criticise its Prime Minister, or to criticise the actions of the UK’s military.

BUT… if that criticism is expressed using the same words, the same lies and/or the same imagery, as has been used for literally centuries to demonise Jews, yeah that’s antisemitic, Israel references or no.

So what do I mean, when I say the ‘same imagery?

Do I mean ‘similar’? Nope, I mean the same. The same hooknosed caricatures of ‘zionists’, the same ‘gorging on blood’ images of Netanyahu (a politician I loathe, not that it should make the slightest difference) that have been used to demean, disparage… demonise Jews via the Blood Libel for centuries.

This entry, and some others in the run going forward, is to address the lie, the flat out lie, that using antisemitic imagery – based upon age old antisemitic tropes – is somehow, magically, not antisemitic if you replace “Jews” with “Zionists” or “Israel”.

Because it is [still] antisemitic if you do that.

Yes. It really is.

You want to criticise Israel? Its government, that government’s policies, its actions, its statements?

Go right ahead; I might even agree with you on the criticisms. I might not, but hey, there’s lots of criticisms on any subject with which I agree… and some I don’t.

Seriously, go right ahead and criticise away. One small thing, though: Just don’t do it antisemitically. It’s not a lot to ask, I believe. Just don’t be antisemitic. Don’t express your criticism, your condemnation, by using the same canards, the same myths, the same fabrications, the same images, used to condemn, excoriate, and falsely disparage Jews for hundreds of years in some cases, longer in others.

Don’t do it using a decades’ old, sometimes centuries’ old, antisemitic trope. Don’t do it with classic antisemitic themes, antisemitic imagery or antisemitic canards.

If you’re going to do that, then, yeah, folks – me among them – are going to justifiably say, “yeah, antisemitism”. Note that: justifiably.

So… in some blog entries over the remainder of this run, this place is going to give examples of antisemitism that – in some cases pre-dating Israel’s existence – criticise Jews and then show exactly the same modern criticism, only with “Jews” clumsily replaced by “Zionists” or “Israel”.

Ok then. Let’s get started.


Let’s start with: Cephalopods

I don’t know what antisemites have against cephalopods; I really don’t. They seem pretty harmless to me, although an octopus’s three hearts do really freak me out, I’ll be honest.

But cephalopods (the octopus, the kraken, the squid) have been used as a symbol of “Jewish power” by antisemites for over a century.

It’s used, I guess, to indicate, both the alleged secret way Jews have supposedly infiltrated everything from any established previously ‘clean’ system – the media, banks, the press, democracy – to a named county, to even a planet. (No, you didn’t misread that. Yes, I said a planet.)

And also, I guess again, that Jews somehow cling on to things?

I dunno.

Logic and facts are not two things antisemites are that fond of, I’ve found.

(Someone I know wondered a while back where all the smart, intelligent antisemites were, because they only came across “fucking idiots” online. I have some sympathy with that view, but I think that, dark humour aside, it’s giving the ‘smart’ ones far too much credit.)

But anyway, take a look at the first set of pictures below.

They’re old, really old, and are explicit in their Jew hatred.



Hitler – yeah, be fair; you knew he’d be along sooner or later – made plain his views on Jewish power, metaphorically using… oh, you guessed.

“If our people and our state become the victim of these bloodthirsty and avaricious Jewish tyrants of nations, the whole earth will sink into the snares of this octopus; if Germany frees herself from this embrace, this greatest of dangers to nations may be regarded as broken for the whole world,”- Mein Kampf

The next pic comes from that time….

(Sometimes they start with an octopus and I dunno, figure a spider is better… or they can’t draw tentacles?

But yeah, a hook nosed, caricature of a Jew. (And of course the spider has links to ‘vermin’ and lots-of-people-are-scared-of, which may form another post in the run.)

But the pics above are just half a dozen of literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of examples in history.

Oh, let me quickly address one apparent confusion among some:

Two pics:

The one on the left (on top if viewing on mobile) is the Israeli Flag. The one underneath (on the right) is the Star of David I wear around my neck, a 21st birthday present. The former is the symbol of The State of Israel. The latter is a symbol associated with Jews and Judaism back to the days of the Bible. In Hebrew, it’s not called a Star of David, but a Magen David (pronounced Moggain Dovid), a Shield of David, because that’s what was painted on the shields of King David.

The two share a six pointed star. The former has details not on the latter: a white background, a specific colour, stripes above and below.

If you use the magen david without all of the above…? Don’t pretend you’re referencing Israel; you’re not. You’re referencing Jews. And you know it.

Here’s another, more recent, picture.

Recognise anything?

Now, those who use, promote and post the pic would almost certainly – do, in fact – insist it’s aimed at Israel (the AIPAC in the background would ostensibly seem to agree.) And it may well be ‘aimed at Israel’… but it’s not only aimed at Israel. Which is the point.

It’s using age old antisemitic imagery used for centuries to attack Jews as well, and the people who created the image and those who promote it, distribute it, send it around, use it on social media, defend it… they know it means Jews.

But surely they don’t always know?

Let me introduce you to Kayla Bibby who posted the attached on social media.

OK, it’s the facehugger from Alien movies, but it’s just the latest iteration. Hey, look, there’s a Star of David… not on a flag, not with a white background, not with stripes above and below.

Huh. How about that?

But did she know that it means ‘Jews’?

Well, for once we have a concrete answer to the question. The image comes from a far right website which was crystal in its clarity that yes indeed it was about Jews. The article it accompanied described Jews – not zionists not Israelis, but Jews – as “parasitic” and said they were to blame for “financial heists of entire nations”.

Ah, but how was Ms Bibb–

She contacted the site and specifically asked permission to use it.

Ah. Yes, ok then.

Ms Bibby actively sought this image out, requested its use… from a site which specifically said it was about Jews.

(By the way, the Labour Party first said that the image wasn’t antisemitic, and that neither was she, and chose to not even suspend her; they merely issued a “reminder of conduct”. Only after outrage at this decision – and her MP, Louise Ellman, raising it at a parliamentary party meeting – was she eventually, over the original protests of the leadership’s office, suspended.)

If you use those images, any images like them, you don’t get to say they’re not antisemitic. You just don’t. Not without lying. Because those who use it know the images are antisemitic.

That’s why they use them.

Two final points to make today.

So how can I criticise Israel without being antisemitic? Glad you asked. There are loads of good sites out there on the subject; I like this one, as it happens: How to Criticise Israel Without Being Anti-Semitic.

Secondly, and following on from the above, it’s so easy to criticise Israel, and its government, ministers, military, etc., without being antisemitic, that when folks do insist on using antisemitic canards, tropes, and imagery…

…one is forced to conclude that it’s the antisemitism that’s important to them, not the criticism.

More images, a different trope, next week.

But something entirely different, however, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I’m a sucker for political dramas, and even more so for political dramas based on real events. I’ve mentioned serial drama before, and I’m covering some shows elsewhere, but I’m concentrating today on one-offs today, movies and televised single dramas. 

I’m not sure which were the first I remember watching, but by the time I was a teenager, I was hooked on them. Reconstructions, or biopics*, or just plain drama. I sucked them up, absorbed them and loved them. I prefered the ‘based on a true story’ types to the obviously fictional, but yeah, any political drama, particularly about American politics, I’d watch. I loved Seven Days In May, I adored All The President’s Men. I must have watched Fail Safe a dozen times by my mid-20s. 

(*biopics is one of those words I came across in print long before I heard the word. For years I pronounced it “bye-opics” rather than as bio-pics. I’m still not convinced I was entirely wrong to do do.)

But never have I mistaken fiction for reality. I’ve always understood that even the best, most faithful recreation of events are nudged to be more dramatic. As many have mentioned in biographies and memoirs, most governing is hard, boring work; the genuine drama is the exception not the rule. And as for portrayals of that, no matter how good the portrayal, I know the actor is the actor and not the politician, not the reporter, not the political operative.

I’ve seen Recount, the movie about the 2000 US Presidential election, more than a few times and the performances of the actors never fail to amaze me. The cast is stellar, the writing spectacular and the performances from Kevin Spacey, from Laura Dern, Bruce McGill, from Denis Leary… stunning. 

I’ve no idea how true to life the portrayals are, of course, although various sources online suggest that not everyone was delighted with how they appeared on screen. In particular, both James Brady and Warren Christopher have suggested that the latter is portrayed as too conciliatory, that Christopher knew it would be a down and dirty fight from the off. AndMichael  Whouley is insistent that he didn’t swear quite as much as Denis Leary’s performance as him suggests. By the way, I do hope that in 2020, some producer has the nous to get as many of the people concerned in a room and discuss the battle, two decades on.

Part of the reason I like Recount so much is because it shows just enough of the ‘person’ to make the ‘operative’ seem… real. But Recount has another reason for mention today, now that the 2016 Presidential election is over, and it’s nothing to do with the result, nor the surprise of it. It’s about one of the characters portrayed in the movie, an important one, but not one of the leads.

Thing is, I’ve watched lots of these things, ‘based on true events’ reconstructions. The Deal by Peter Morgan, starring Michael Sheen (for the first time) as Tony Blair and David Morrison as Gordon Brown, is excellent, and to an outsider perfectly captures Labour politics in the aftermath of John Smith’s death. But at no point do I now see Blair and think “huh, he doesn’t look enough like Michael Sheen”. While Helen Mirren is superb as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen, also written by Morgan, I don’t see QEII and think “she’s not enough like Mirren.”  Nor did I see Maggie Thatcher at any point and think “She’s not actually like Patricia Hodge’s performance in the Falklands Play”. 

I never do that. Now, fair enough, almost certainly that’s because I’ve seen the ‘real’ people so often I ‘know’ it’s just a portrayal.

But no. I saw plenty of other, minor characters, played by actors in all of the above, and when I saw the real person, I was never thinking “they don’t look like… and they should do.” So why with Recount, with that one character? I don’t know.

It’s not with every portrayal. In fact with every performance bar the exception, I don’t do it. I see James Baker on something and don’t think “huh, he looks wrong; he should look like Tom Wilkinson did in Recount“. 

There’s one character I definitely do that with though. And I’ve no idea why.

The political operative and lawyer Ben Ginsburg has been a fixture of Republican politics for more than a few years. He served as counsel to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. And in 2000 and 2004, he was national counsel to the Bush/Cheney presidential campaigns. And in 2008 and 2012, he served in the same role for Mitt Romney’s campaigns.

On the left is what he looks like, and on the right, his portrayal by Bob Balaban.

For the past few years, he’s been an MSNBC political pundit and during the election, he appeared on a few shows, well more than a few shows. At one point, it seemed he was on every other day. Ginsberg that is, not Balaban. And every time – every time – he appears on screen, I am disappointed. “But he should look like Bob Balaban. He doesn’t look like Bob Balaban.” Every bloody time. 

I wish I knew why.

Ginsberg’s take on the movie is here, by the way. It’s an entertaining read. I just wish I didn’t imagine Bob Balaban wrote it.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

I’ve not written for a bit about the shitstorm hitting the US at the moment; in some ways it’s felt like I would be intruding on private grief. But something happened at the weekend, and the coverage of it yesterday and today, and the reaction to that coverage, has been bugging me all day. And I’ve been getting angrier about it.

OK, so last weekend, a large group of neo-nazi/nazi/white nationalist/white supremacist/alt-right* (*delete as appropriate, no wait, actually, don’t; all of them apply) folks got together for a convention in Washington DC. You might have seen it reported here and here and here and here and here and here and here. As well as a few other places.

While those and other reports refer to the Nazi salutes, the odious and racist comments from the self-styled leader of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, I want to concentrate on one specific thing, and why the reaction to it – or non-reaction from some – is bugging me so much.

Over the weekend, Spencer, president of the white-nationalist National Policy Institute, said he thinks Jews control the media to protect their personal interests, and said “One wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem.”

OK, white supremacist says antisemitic statement. Not exactly news. It is news that a President was elected with this man’s support. It is news that he was elected with the vigorous support of the Ku Klux Klan, with the overt and eager support of racists, white supremacists, antisemites, and that said President-elect has gone out of his way not to directly criticise them… but it’s hardly news that these people don’t like Jews.

CNN then did a segment on the statement and the reactions to the statement. I’m not entirely convinced the question “Should President-elect Trump condemn and denounce the remarks?” needed to be asked, but apparently so because they had a fucking discussion on the subject.  Screencaps from the segment then did the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, along with the hashtag #AreJewsPeople. Really, folks? Really? You didn’t for one moment think that might be incredibly offensive to Jews reading that? You didn’t think that every time a Jew read that, there would be an instant of “ok, now I’ve got to find out whether the person thinks ‘no'” before they read the tweet?

But, anyway, those screencaps. It’s important to note that none of the people on screen below are the people who made the comments about Jews.

(As I was writing this, CNN issued an apology for the crawl at the bottom of the screen.)

Now, being fair, plenty of people have criticised the comments. It’d be nice if more did, but yeah, I’m not denying that the comments have been condemned and denounced by many, criticised and decried. Not by Trump, though, nor by any of his senior people. But yes, condemnation by lots and lots of people. (Edit to add: it’s now being reported that Trump has condemned the gathering.)

Not by enough though. Not by nearly enough. Or not by some people I would hope would condemn. I’d expect them to condemn not because it’s the right thing to do – although surely it is – but because by not condemning they’re revealing their own hypocrisy.

And here’s what’s bugging me. I dredge the following example up every so often, so you’ll forgive me if I resurrect it one more time.

A meme did the rounds some time ago, viz:

“Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?” – Ernest Gaines. We would like to know who really believes in gay rights on Livejournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you truly believe in gay rights, then repost this and title the post “gay rights.” If you don’t believe in gay rights, then just ignore this. Thanks.

Simple, easy to do, so you should do it, right?

No. It’s trite, insulting, patronising emotional guilt-tripping. And it’s wrong.

Why?

Well, suppose the message was this:

We would like to know who isn’t antisemitic on LiveJournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you’re NOT antisemitic, then repost this and title the post as “I hate antisemitism”. If you are antisemitic, then just ignore this. Thanks

I’m supposed to then, presumably, believe that anyone who doesn’t post the comment in their own blog is antisemitic?

Utter nonsense.

Silence doesn’t indicate consent. Not in law, not ethically, not in practice. Everyone has their own ‘red buttons’ that can be pressed and the mere absence of condemnation of something is not in any way indicative of agreement with, nor support for, the thing you or I would like condemned.

While I support the aims and sentiments of Black Lives Matter as a movement, I’ve not marched on their behalf, and I’ve not blogged about it. And yes, while I think the UK government’s welfare benefits cuts have been wrong, cruel and dismissive of the consequences, I’ve rarely blogged about it. My non-blogging or non-tweeting about the coming cut in Employment Support Allowance doesn’t mean I support it.

BUT…

Oh, come on, you knew there was a ‘but’ coming… BUT if you ARE someone who protests that silence is consent… if you ARE someone who says that silence means acquiescence or support for something…

People of colour who’ve been saying that silence means you don’t really support Black Lives Matter? LBGTQI folks saying silence means you effectively support homophobic/transphobic acts and laws? Benefits campaigners saying silence means you don’t care… Anti-austerity campaigners protesting that silence means acquiescence to austerity… Where’s your outrage over #AreJewsPeople? Where are your blogs and your tweets and your condemnation?

Because that’s what you’ve said.

You’ve said silence means consent.

You’ve said silence means acquiescence, that silence means apathy, that silence means support for the other side.

Again, this isn’t aimed at anyone who hasn’t used that argument, but those of you who have previously said “Silence means…” but have not condemned the rampant antisemitism of the alt-right, the overt antisemitism of “Are Jews People?”, the clear and present antisemitism that’s taking place…

Which is it? Is it consent, or acquiescence, or apathy, or support? Do you agree with the statement or do you just not care about it? Or it is just that you’re hypocrites, claiming silence means consent when it suits you but never when it’s your silence?

You know what? Fuck you with your “silence means…”

2017 minus 51: The Bubble

Posted: 11 November 2016 in 2017 minus, media, politics, world
Tags: ,

A few years ago, there was a tv ‘panel show’ called The Bubble; it was a success overseas but never really rose above mediocre when put on in the uk. Partly it was because the main news media refused permission for the programme to mock up news items purporting to be real. Why would that be needed? Well, the simple but very good concept was this:

The Bubble asks three celebrity contestants to separate true news stories from fakes after spending four days locked away in a country house with no phone, TV or internet access.


The host will present them with a mix of news reports, headlines and images from TV, newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines.

And “all” the contestants have to do is say which stories are true and which have been made up.

The obvious thought is: “ok, some stories are obviously going to be true and some are obviously going to be false, it’s going to be the one that could be true that will be the tough ones…”

But I always think in response “No, it won’t. It’ll be the utterly ludicrous ones…”

Suppose instead of four days, the contestants had been locked away for the best part of a year. I’ll exclude deaths because every year has people die unexpectedly. And I’ll similarly exclude health scares like Zika and terrorist attacks – sadly, they happen every year. But suppose when exiting, the contestants are given the following: 

  • Leaks of tax avoidance and evasion name top politicans around the world
  • Russia boasts about interfering in the US Presidential election
  • In a movie about Captain America fighting Iron Man, the universally acknowledged star was Spider-Man
  • Britain votes for Brexit
  • The FBI interferes in, but most definitely doesn’t boast about doing so, the US Presidential election
  • Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary
  • The final videocassette recorder is manufactured
  • David Cameron leaves The House of Commons
  • The KKK formally endorse a major party nominee in the US Presidential election
  • Liam Fox is back in the Cabinet
  • Michael Gove isn’t
  • Shami Chakribarti is in the Shadow Cabinet, as was – briefly – Paul Flynn
  • London elects its first Muslim mayor
  • China ratifies a global climate agreement
  • A British MP is murdered
  • Americans know who Nigel Farage is
  • British people know who Tim Farron is
  • Great Britian does better in the 2016 Summer Olympics than they did in 2012
  • Sepp Blatter quits as FIFA President under a cloud of corruption allegations
  • David Davis is back in the Cabinet
  • The British Leader of the Opposition loses a confidence vote of his MPs 4:1, then stays on, faces a leadership challenge, wins and is stronger than ever, even though most of his MPs still think he’s crap
  • Samsung phones blow up, as do their washing machines
  • Donald Trump wins the US Presidential Election.

I think a few people would be repeat-pushing the “Made Up Story” button, don’t you?

With all the horror that’s beginning to strike people about what President Trump could and could not do in office, something’s been missed, I think. Something fairly important, and I’m not sure why. It could be that there’s so much else worrying people, and it’s only been 36 hours since he was elected…

OK, let’s get this preamble out of the way. With the system of checks and balances inherent to the US Constitution, yes, there are limits to a President’s power.

Indeed, there’s a piece doing the rounds saying – I summarise – “don’t panic, he can’t pass new laws on his own, he can’t repeal laws on his own, he needs Congress to do this and that and the other.” Before he puts anyone on the Supreme Court, for example, he’ll need Senate consent (as he will for any federal appointment). And while the immediate nominee will be to replace Scalia, let’s face it, there’s likely to be more than one nominee to the Supreme Court during his time in office. He’ll also need their consent for signing treaties.

So he’ll need congress and while, for the next two years at least, the Republicans control both the House and The Senate, neither Bill Clinton nor President Obama got everything they wanted when their party controlled both of them. Let’s face it, the truism that the President needs Congress is – for the main part – accurate. Further, there’s a chunk of the Republican Party who will for their own reasons obstruct President Trump’s proposals. Not for nothing is the old saw “A President Proposes, Congress Disposes”.

As for taking the country to war, while that is indeed a power reserved to Congress, it hasn’t stopped previous Presidents for a second, and it won’t stop Trump.

So, what’s been missed? 

Now, for all of the following, bear in mind that I’m no lawyer. I don’t even play one on telly. And I haven’t checked this with any lawyers, so any errors, mistakes or otherwise are mine, all mine.

That caveat aired…

I think what people – in their immediate shock – have skipped is one power the Constitution does give to The President, one power unfettered by anything other than morals, ethics, basic honesty and a respect for the institution of the Presidency and the rule of Law, with all of which Donald Trump has at best a distant relationship. This power, in Article II, section 2, reads as follows:

…he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Trump will have the power, from the first day, the first minute, of his Presidency, to pardon people. Now, sure, it’s limited to federal crimes; he can’t pardon someone for a local speeding ticket, say, or even a serious crime if it’s solely a state matter; that’s a governor’s responsibility. 

But that leaves a large number of criminals found guilty in federal court which Trump has the unlimited power to pardon or reprieve.

While the power to pardon has been used responsibly at times in the past, as an appeal of last resort, it’s also been been controversially used, to put it mildly.

Richard Nixon pardoned union leader and wannabe mobster Jimmy Hoffa, albeit with conditions attached; in due course, Nixon was pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford.

While we’re on Nixon, President Ronald Reagan pardoned New York Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner (convicted of conspiring to make illegal contributions to President Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.)

Bill Clinton pardoned both his half-brother, and Patty Hearst (who’d had her sentence commuted by President Jimmy Carter). Oh, and of course there’s Marc Rich, who Clinton pardoned for tax evasion.

Sometimes, Presidents attach conditions to pardons: Steinbrenner only got his pardon after he admitted the crime.)

Sometimes Presidents give explanations for their pardons: Clinton said he pardoned Rich because Rich’s charitable donations to the Middle East helped the peace process.

However, they’re not obliged to make conditions nor give explanations: Aslam Adam served eight years of his 55-year federal prison sentence, for conspiracy to posses and distribute $1 million worth of heroin. President George H W Bush pardoned him just before he left office and Bush never said why.

In order to prevent abuse, in the past, there have been suggestions that a Constitutional Amendment be enacted to limit a President’s authority to pardon people who are or have been a member of his Administration, and/or have donated cash to the President, or his party.

Worth recalling at this point that one of George W Bush’s pardons was revoked – by Bush – upon it being revealed that the criminal’s father had donated $28,500 to the Republican party.

Here’s the thing, though: President Bush didn’t have to revoke it, legally I mean; he chose to.

The Constitution gives a President the power to issue pardons; it doesn’t limit that authority to “people who ain’t worked for you”, or somesuch. And even ethically, if you’re going to give the authority to a single person to override the courts and issue pardons, then that in itself should be the thing that people go “what the…?” over, not who he pardons.

In about ten weeks, the Oval Office will be occupied by a person who could – unless or until he’s impeached – interfere to an unprecedented degree in the operation of federal justice in the United States.

Anyone he likes personally? Pardon. Guilty of a federal crime with which Trump personally disagrees? Pardon. Already in prison for federal crimes, but you said nice. things about Trump? Commutation or Pardon.

Last week, two of Chris Christie’s aides were found guilty on federal court re ‘Bridgegate’. Rudolph Giuliani, rumoured to be Trump’s pick as Attorney General, today said that they shouldn’t have been prosecuted, and that it wasn’t that big a deal. Assuming this is the first step in a cunning plan entitled “While Everyone’s In Shock, Let’s try And Rehabilitate Chris Christie”, I wonder if pardons for Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni are already being drafted.

In seventy or so days, Donald Trump will have the power and legal authority to pardon anyone convicted of a federal crime.

Any federal crime.

Treason, mail fraud, aircraft hijacking, kidnapping, bank robbery, child pornography, obscenity, tax evasion, counterfeiting, violation of the Espionage Act, wiretapping…

Murder. Well, not all murders, but Murder of an Elected/Appointed Federal Official (18 U.S.C. Section 351, 1751)? Oh yes.

Someone could kill an elected federal official, be found guilty in federal court, and Trump could pardon them.

Similarly, Murder of a Federal Judge or Law Enforcement Official (18 U.S.C. Section 1114) or Killing of an Immediate Family Member of Law Enforcement Officials (18 U.S.C. Section 115(b)(3))

And if someone was found, in the words of The Producers, “incredibly guilty”, President Trump could pardon them.

Oh, and killing Designed to Influence the Outcome of a Court Case (18 U.S.C. Section 1512), which prohibits murders of court officers and jurors, or killings that are intended to prevent testimony from a witness, police informant, or a victim. It’s also a federal crime to commit murder in retaliation for testimony given at a trial.

And President Trump could pardon them on a whim.

Then there’s Murder Related to Rape, Child Molestation, and Sexual Exploitation of Children (18 U.S.C. Section 2248, 2251).

Now, I’m not suggesting that President Trump would pardon people found guilty of any of the above.

But he could. Any bloody time he wanted to, from 12:01 pm on 20th January 2017.

And that’s a scary, scary thing indeed.

Once you’ve been on Twitter a short while, you quickly get used to the unconscious wince that occurs when you receive a reply that starts “Actually…”

It’s invariably someone clumsily pretending to correct you; I use “clumsily pretending” because anyone who merely and genuinely wants to supply additional information, or correct your misunderstanding of an issue, also knows how “actually…” is interpreted by recipients. There are a dozen or more other ways, alternative phrasings, to word it but of course, that’s not what they want to do. They want to show their disdain, their contempt, for you and your argument. And, while everyone’s obviously entitled to their own opinions, no-one’s entitled to their own facts.

It’s not so easy to be egregiously and obviously offensive in ‘real life’, unprotected by the anonymity of a screen name. Face to face, social mores, customs and just not wanting to look like a dick in public usually mean that a flat, rude or obscene denial of the other person’s position isn’t the done thing. It’ll be covered by even the mildest polite fiction of courtesy… unless you’re Donald Trump and you’re in a Presidential Debate.

Then the flat denial comes to the fore; not only of the other candidate’s position, but also of reality, facts, the record, evidence and anything approaching sense.

“Wrong,” when Trump’s opponent is right.

“Lies,” when his opponent speaks the truth.

“I never said that,” when his opponent accurately quotes him.

“What a nasty woman,” when his opponent was right, spoke the truth, and accurately quoted him.

Looking at the three Presidential debates this year, and the primary debates before them, it’s no wonder that while many might think they’re great television, one wonders if they actually serve any purpose beyond being great television

Though, of course, I write as a novice. A novice who’s watched previous Presidential debates, sure, but a novice nonetheless. Because I’ve far less personal experience of the whole political debates thing actually meaning anything. I’ve never seen a televised debate after which I could vote for one of the candidates.

(Yes, there were the Labour party hustings last year, but as the word implies, they were hustings, not debates; they were a chance for the candidates to set out their own stalls, not challenge their opponents on theirs. Amusingly, after I’d left the party, this years’ Labour Party leaderships hustings were stil called hustings, but they were far more like debates, with both Corbyn and Smith pointing out the holes in their opponent’s positions.)

But on the whole, we don’t really go in for televised debates in the UK. It’s a relatively new thing for us. 

The excuse usually offered is that because we have a parliamentary system, we’re not electing “a Prime Minister”. Which is at the same time both true… and utter nonsense. Of course we don’t elect the prime minister. The leader of the party will have been elected as a Member of Parliament solely by their own constituents, and as leader of their party either by the party members of acclamation. But there’s not a soul with any knowledge of the British political system who doesn’t know that the leader of the party with the most MPs after an election is the Prime Minister. So, yeah, when you vote in an election, you know which are the [usually two] candidates that could become Prime Minister. 

For years, decades, the leader of the opposition – effectively the sole other candidate for the job of Prime Minister – has always called for them during a general election campaign (I might be wrong, but I think the first call came from Neil Kinnock) but until 2010, the Prime Minister has always declines the calls, with the same specious reasoning:

  1. The two debate every week when Parliament is in session, performing in the pantomime known as Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)
  2. The public will be voting on the party’s manifesto, not the person who’s implementing it
  3. We have a prime minister who is ‘first among equals’, not a President who’s head of government as well as head of state.

And the Leader of the Opposition makes similarly specious arguments:

  1. Erm…

It doesn’t matter, to be honest. As always, the arguments made by a Leader of the Opposition calling for the debates are always made, and they’re always declined by the Prime Minister, even if the Prime Minister made the arguments a few years earlier when he – it’s usually he – was Leader of the Opposition.

Perfect example was the PM who resigned this year. David Cameron, when Leader of the Opposition, called for debates with then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and said:

“Prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons are no substitute for a proper primetime studio debate. They [the public] want to see the leaders of the main political parties talking in detail about the issues that matter to them, setting out the policies on offer, and opening themselves up to public scrutiny.”

And yet, when he was Prime Minister, and Ed Miliband – then Leader of the Opposition – called for televised debates, Cameron resisted them, saying he’d faced Miliband hundreds of times at the despatch box…

Of course, some debate mythology of British politics still runs true: you call for them when you’ve nothing to lose, and you resist them if you’ve got nothing to gain. the British public are used to seeing the Prime Minister with [the trappings of] power and the Leader of the Opposition with none. They’re used to seeing the Prime Minister doing stuff – good or bad – and the Leader of the Opposition saying stuff. 

We had televised debates in 2010 because Gordon Brown figured he had nothing to lose. I still think he was right on that; he didn’t come over any worse than people expected him to. And what was the effects of the debates? Not much. They might have gained the Tories a seat or five, and lost Labour the same, but the election result – a hung parliament – had been predicted for months. (And while pretty much everyone agreed that Nick Clegg – then leader of the third party – ‘won’ them, what happened at the ensuing election? The Lib Dems lost seats.)

I’m blathering a bit, because I’ve been revisiting something myself: talking about the US debates we’ve just enjoyed endured.

I don’t know what to say that others haven’t said better. What can you say when one candidate actually condemns another for preparing for the debate, as if that’s a valid criticism? What can you say about…? Oh, fuck it, ok then.

I’ve seen lots of debates before; never have I seen as unprepared, as amateur, as unhinged, as stupid, as bullshitting, as lying, as detached from reality a candidate as Donald Trump. Clinton, whatever her faults – and there are many – didn’t have to say much about her own policies; her preparation no doubt included much information and detail about what she would do in office. She didn’t need it. Not even her wildest supporters and debate prep staff could have imagined how tissue thin Trump’s skin was; the slightest brush against it, the merest contradiction of his position, the tiniest but accurate quote of his, and he was off, sniffing like he was hoovering up vast quantities of invisible substances. His faults as a candidate, as a person, as an orator, are manifold, and when speaking to rallies of adoring fans, those faults don’t matter to the audience.  But in front of a tv audience that weren’t acolytes?

I’ve heard audiences laugh with a Presidential nominee before at a debate. Not often, but I’ve heard it. It’s always risky trying to make an audience laugh at a debate; if it goes wrong, you look like you can’t tell a joke and for some reason American voters seem to think that’s important. But I’ve heard it done cleverly, and done well. Reagan’s line in the Mondale debate about not exploiting his opponent’s youth and inexperience got laughs not because it was particularly funny – it was very clever rather than very funny – but because he perfectly addressed a perceived weakness, perfectly judged the audience, and perfectly delivered the line perfectly. Heaven only knows how many times he practiced the line.

The audience laughed at Trump’s declaration that no-one respects women more than he does. 

They. Laughed. At. Him.

They laughed not merely at the sheer audacity of the line, the chutzpah squared, but also at a candidate so self-deluding that he might actually believe it himself.

No-one knows yet the long term effects of this election campaign; if, as looks likely, Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency, how much damage Trump has done to the electoral process will in part depend on how big her win is, not just in the popular vote but in the electoral college. 

If Clinton wins by a landslide, and a lot of down ballot races cling to her coat tails, the Republican Party just might view the results as an utter repudiation of the Trump campaign and those in their own party who aided him in turning the democratic process inside out. 

BUT if Clinton only wins by a small margin, there will be people in the GOP who’ll believe there was only one thing wrong with Trump’s campaign; not the tenor, nor the manner of the campaign, but merely the incompetence of the nominee. And then the mid-terms in 2018, as well as the 2020 Presidential Election, will see a competition among the GOP as to who can manage the nasty, racist, far right pandering shitstorm that Trump created, while saying to them all “it’s ok, because I’m not like Trump; I’m smart”. And that, folks, is a scary thought. Not quite as scary as the idea of “Welcome to the Oval Office, President Trump’, but close. Damn close.   

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Thirty some years ago, I knew when the end of the uni term/semester was approaching. I don’t mean I knew by the calendar; like most students, I knew when the term would be ending from the day it started. No, I’m talking about knowing it, feeling it approaching, knowing inside that I had only a couple of weeks until a break arrived.

For my first two years in Manchester, the first indication was always a specific odour: the smell of omelettes and scrambled eggs. I lived in a self-catering hall of residence and those were the quickest, cheapest, easiest to make and most fulfilling meals. So when the place started smelling like cooked eggs every night? You could lay good money that a holiday was near.

But the real sign? That was when I started counting down how many ‘sleeps’ I had left in that bed before I’d be back home in Luton, when I’d think: less than 20 sleeps left before I’ll be on the train, or in the car, back to my parents’, and decent food, a decent bed, seeing old friends.

It’s been a while since I’ve counted sleeps to an event, but I wonder if Secretary Hillary Clinton and PieceOfShit Donald Trump are at the stage, fifteen days before the election, where they’re counting the sleeps. I kid, of course; in the former’s case, she’s almost certainly counting down the hours. In his case, he’s merely counting the characters left in his latest abusive tweet. SAD!

But in fifteen days, it’ll [almost certainly] be over. The caveat is there for a reason. Well, several reasons. Trump might not accept the result – he’s keeping us in suspense, remember? Actually, one of the few pleasures of this election has been the mental image of him on January 21st, trying to gain access to the White House and the secret service dragging his orange excuse for a skinsuit away from the front gates, his ‘hair’ blowing in the winter breeze… But there’s another reason: if, heaven forfend, there’s a suit, and it goes to the still 8 member Supreme Court of the United States, who deadlock, and send it back to a lower court to decide something-or-other…

As it is, I don’t think either of those things will occur; I think Clinton will win; how much she wins by is anyone’s guess, although I hope it’s by a fucking landslide. It’s not enough that she wins; whatever her faults as a nominee for President, it’s important that Trump and his entire attitude, political (for want of a better word) outlook, and supporters are routed, are absolutely shellacked, to use one of Rachel Maddow’s favourite term. I don’t want him just to ‘lose’. I want him to be beaten out of sight.

And, were it possible, I’d want all those in the GOP who’ve supported him, who’ve excused, justified, trivialised and minimised his racism, his sexism, his behaviour, his sexual assaults, his mocking of disabilities, his lies and his… his… being him… beaten, trounced, decried, and similarly routed.   

Four months ago, after Trump said… something or other – there’s been so many, I forget which one this was –  I tweeted the following: 


I wish I could say that I was wrong, that it was solely a joke. But I was pretty sure that it was – and would continue to be – the actual unwritten, unspoken, policy of the Republican Party. And so it’s proved. The list of those (and their supporters) who trashed Trump during the primary season and who later did a 180 would be far too long to list here. Hell, I could probably name one an hour and I’d not be done by election day. “But budgie,” you say, “that’s what happens during primary season; look at Sanders and Clinton…” Indeed, look at them… Sanders has at no point ever said that Clinton is unfit to be President; he merely said that he thinks he’d be a better President and that there’s some stuff she’d do that he couldn’t support. Contrast that with the long line of Republican Primary candidates who flat out said that Trump wasn’t fit to be President… and then changed what they’re pleased to call their minds.

Of course, if you’re going to say that, then you’ve got to exclude Lindsay Graham. (I mean, there’s Jeb Bush as well, but let’s stick to Graham for a minute.) Graham never hid his views about Cruz or Trump; while he said the latter wasn’t fit to br President for any number of reasons, he just does not like Cruz… in any way whatsoever. I’m sure, had he lasted longer, he’d have parodied Cruz’s Dr Seuss filibuster. Maybe:

I will not back him on the stump

He’s just as bad as Donald Trump

Not even in a voting booth

I will not vote for that Ted Cruz.

Maybe not.

But that brings up a fascinating question in respect of the US and the UK systems, since they’re the only ones I’ve any familiarity with.

OK, your party does… something. In the US, currently, let’s say they nominate a racist, fascistic, ableist, lying, cheating, far right pandering utter shit. To take an example out of the air. Or over here, the government votes for a vile, horrible law.

How should we treat the ‘rebels’? Seriously.

I asked this on Twitter. The results so far, as I type this are over there on the side. Because that’s a thing that genuinely interests me. 

Don’t get me wrong; I dislike almost everything this Tory government are doing, and I disliked a hell of a lot the last government did. And thsoe that rebel on a specific issue are still Conservative members of Parliament. They have voted for other particularly shitty stuff. And they no doubt will vote for for other particularly shitty stuff in the weeks, months and years to come. So, why ‘reward’ them for ‘doing the right thing’ this time?

Two answers to that, both meaning the same thing effectively. If they are condemned for the policy/law just as much as those who voted FOR the proposal, then what was the point for them in voting the way they did? In other words, why shouldn’t they think “might as well get hanged for a sheep as for a lamb”? Why should i piss off my party whips, my party leadership, possibly my constituency party, exercising mt conscience on an issue if by exercising it, poeple aren’t going to bother distinguishing between my vote of conscience, and that of ol’ Charlie Farnesbarnes who spoke in favour of it…?

Similarly, while I loathe pretty much everything Lindsay Graham stands for, surely he should be congratulated and celebrated for not falling in line with the other GOP cowards and fuckwits. 

Or, and this is a counter argument, are we in the situation that Bobby Jones, the golfer, found himself when he admitted to a foul stroke (when no one had seen him make it). When praised for his honesty (the resulting two stroke penalty cost him the championship) he was dismissive; “you might as well have complimented me on  not robbing a bank”.

Is that where we are? I don’t know.

I have more to say on the US election, but as I said above, fifteen days to go; there will be plenty of occasions before Trumpocalypse Day.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.