I just got a text from the government about the new regime. I assume everyone did. I didn’t know they could do that. It just has this link.
An Election Unlike Any Other
This election is going to be completely unique in our lifetime, probably ever. Because people will be torn between voting on the normal things they care about: health, security, homes, welfare, the economy… — and the big thing of our time: Brexit.
There were close to half the electorate who voted to stay in the EU (close to half the turnout, anyway). There’s no reason to suppose that any of those have changed their minds, even if many now talk in terms of acceptance. There are plenty who voted the other way who wish things had gone differently. And the non-voters are an unknown.
If a party — or a coalition — were to clearly stand on a platform of stopping Brexit, or even of promising a second referendum, they would be in a position unlike any party ever. Or so it seems to me.
Unfortunately only the Liberal Democrats seem to be even close to that position.
I Can’t Vote Labour
I can’t in conscience vote for a Labour party that won’t clearly place itself against Brexit. I just can’t. This means I have to leave the party, I guess. Corbyn called today for “A Brexit that works for all.” No, no, no.
I imagine this means I’ll be voting Lib Dem. Possibly Green. I’m not sure where they stand yet. In one sense, of course, it doesn’t matter, as I live in one of the safest Labour seats, but that’s not really the point. I’ll be writing to Diane Abbot to explain my position, but I don’t imagine it will change hers, which is to support Corbyn, even though her constituency is one of the most pro-remain in the country.
I voted for Corbyn as leader twice, but he’s very disappointing now. Though I have to say that his policies on literally everything else would be dramatically better than the Tories.
Why, and Why Now?
Why has Mayhem changed her mind on a snap election, and why now? The obvious thing is the Tory lead in the polls, and to take advantage of Labour chaos. Nothing to with Brexit at all, not directly.
But something I was seeing on Facebook tonight was the idea that they were about to lose their majority, when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) brings charges for electoral fraud against up to 30 Tory MPs. The prosecutions will still happen, but they won’t affect the position of MPs who get elected this time round (well, unless they get convicted, of course, but I’m guessing the Tories will quietly deselect the ones who are likely to go down).
Effect of Fixed-Term Parliaments Act
My first reaction was, “They can’t: what about the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act?” Turns out that contains a clause that lets the sitting parliament ignore it, as long as they get a two-thirds majority. The irony of that figure was not lost on me, as possibly my most-retweeted tweet shows:
Snap general election called. Ironic that to ignore Fixed-Term Parliaments Act needs a two-thirds majority. Unlike, say, leaving the EU. #fb
— Martin McCallion (@devilgate) April 18, 2017
Without Labour voting with the government they wouldn’t get that two-thirds. Corbyn has cheerfully agreed to go along, missing an open goal. First, the opposition should oppose the government, as a general principle. Unless the government is doing the right thing, which is not the case here. More amusingly, if they didn’t get the two-thirds, they would have to go for a vote of no confidence. That is, a Tory MP would have to stand up in the House of Commons and move that “This house has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.” Even if they could come back from that, Corbyn should have forced it just for the lulz.
Polls Can’t Be Trusted
All is doom and gloom, because the polls look so bleak. Except… if there’s one thing the last few years have taught us, it’s that we can no longer rely on polls.1
On Newsnight tonight Paul Mason says he thinks Labour will win. Gotta admire his confidence, at least.
Or the bookies, and don’t get me back onto that argument about how bookies’ odds can be mapped to percentages of expected voting. ↩︎
As well as being in charge of the website of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA), I also admin the association’s Facebook group. Yesterday a member posted a link to the BBC story about the sexuality of the new companion in Doctor Who. “Doctor Who gets first openly gay companion,” it says. Nice to know, but no big deal in 2017, right?
Wrong, sadly. I woke to 81 comments on the FB post. That’s a huge number by the normal standards of the group. It’s not very chatty. It turned out that a raving homophobe had stormed into the group and started to shout about the corruption of youth and I don’t know what all. The comments were a combination of his, and of calmer and more tolerant heads both calling him out and trying to debate rationally with him. To no avail.
I had no choice — nor any desire — but to kick him out the group and block him. I wrote the following, and I thought I should preserve it here;
I’ve just had to eject a member from the group for making offensive remarks to other members. And worse, making remarks offensive to other members.
Specifically he was being offensive to all our LGBT members, and everyone who supports them, or who just supports humanity and common decency.
Oh, wait, that’s all the other members, isn’t it?
Folks, I don’t need to tell you this, but it’s 2017. You can no longer argue that characters in popular TV programmes should not reflect the whole range of people in society. Nor can you make the argument that a character’s sexuality should have no place in Doctor Who, when it plainly has had a place at least since 2005.
Or don’t these people remember Rose being in love with The Doctor? Martha pining over him? Hell, go back further: Jo went off and married a male ecologist. And I’m sure at least a couple of other female companions went off with guys.
Flaunting their heterosexuality.
We won’t get any of that with Bill, at least.
Unless the next Doctor is a woman.
I couldn’t let this night pass without acknowledging that tomorrow will be the start of us losing something great. In years to come the names of Cameron, May, Farage, Gove, etc, will be reviled, of course, but that doesn’t help us now. It doesn’t help us prevent the slide into the abyss of small-minded, inward-looking ugliness that I fear we are headed for.
I don’t want to see these islands turning into the nightmare archipelago that they could if we let the insane clowns in government lead us into a cesspit of deregulation, rejection of human rights, and economic disaster.
I reject all that. I choose optimism.
I choose to believe that most people are basically decent and want the best for everyone, even if a small minority of them made a bad choice in voting, guided by liars.
I choose to believe that there is such a thing as progress in society, in culture. It isn’t constant and it isn’t guaranteed, but its arc does bend towards justice.
I choose to believe that the forces of backwardness — the racists, the misogynists, the homophobes, and everyone who condemns their fellow humans for what they are, what they believe, how they live or who they love — that those people will be washed up by the tides of history, left flapping on the shores of the future, and waste away.
Tomorrow we will still be in the European Union, but no longer of it. Brexit can still be stopped, but if it isn’t, if it goes ahead at full crashing speed the way the Tories seem to want: I choose to believe that we can still be the open-minded, welcoming society that I know we are.
And one day, Europe, we’ll come back.
A total of 47 Labour MPs voted against the Brexit bill, joining 50 SNP MPs and seven Liberal Democrats. Just one Conservative MP, Ken Clarke, joined them in the division lobbies, to applause from Labour rebels.
Well done to all the rebels. But really, Tories: only one? Only Ken Clarke? Is that really you doing your duty, acting in the best interests of the country?
We’re living through the death of representative democracy.
Further to my letter to Diane Abbot, I saw her last night on Question Time. Disappointingly she was trotting out the line that, irrespective of what they believe, MPs are now tied down by the “democratic will of the people.”
That is utter nonsense.
Did the Referendum Give a Democratic Mandate?
The referendum, as I have said before, did not provide a sufficient majority to change the country’s constitution. In fact, it did not provide a majority at all: thirty-seven percent of the electorate voted to leave. That is under no circumstances a democratic mandate.
Do MPs Have to Abide by the Referendum’s Result?
The referendum was advisory, not binding. That was very clear in the act of parliament that enabled it, though it wasn’t mentioned at all in the discussions running up to the event itself. The MPs were asleep at the wheel when the bill went through parliament: if they had given it the thought it deserved, they would have made its advisory nature explicit in the wording of the question; and more importantly, they would have set a proper threshold for it to take effect. A two-thirds majority is common in cases like this.1
MPs make up the house of commons, half of parliament, the sovereign body in the UK. Their role is to scrutinise legislation and to vote on it in accordance with what they understand to be the best interests of the country.
No-one can say that Brexit would be in the best interests of the country. (Well, OK, they can say it; but they are demonstrably wrong.) MPs not only can vote against the triggering of Article 50: doing so is their duty.
Why Have Most MPs Switched to Being in Favour of Brexit?
Or at least that’s the way it seems.
I honestly don’t know. I have my theory, though. They are running scared of the tabloid newspapers. And maybe, as one of my friends suggested on Facebook the other day, literally scared for their lives if they were to resist the Brexit onslaught. Remembering the tragedy of Jo Cox, of course.
If the latter is really why they are doing it, then the terrorists have won. And even if it’s only fear of the tabloids, then the tabloid terrorists have won. If I were inclined that way I would call the Daily Mail and Sun traitors to their country for trying to ruin the British economy and damage British society, by forcing us out of the EU and assaulting the European Convention on Human Rights (which, if it needs to be said again and again, was written by Britons and is nothing to do with the EU).
What’s to be done?
Buggered if I know. If our democratically elected representatives won’t do what they’re elected for and act in the best interests of the country, then I can only conclude that we’re fucked.
And to be fair, we, the public, and the media, were equally inattentive to what the bill actually said. ↩︎
So the Supreme Court agreed that parliament is sovereign Good for them. Must’ve been a hard decision. I decided it was time to ask my MP, Diane Abbott, to do the right thing:
Dear Ms Abbott,
Now that the Supreme Court has made its decision, affirming parliament’s sovereignty, I strongly urge you to vote against triggering Article 50.
The most urgent issue facing our country at the moment is Brexit, and the only solution to Brexit is to stop it happening. As a Labour Party member, and one who voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader twice, I’m very disappointed by the recent reports that he is planning to require MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.
I know it would be unpopular with certain tabloid papers if parliament were to prevent Brexit. But in truth I think it would be popular in the country. It seems highly likely to me that if there were a second referendum now, the majority would vote in favour of staying in the EU.
That may be wishful thinking, but I don’t believe so: people have both realised they were lied to, and seen something of what Brexit will mean to the economy, to jobs, and to British society.
And in any case, parliament is sovereign, and the majority in the referendum was far too small to justify what is, in effect, a constitutional change. Surely an MP’s duty is to vote in the way that is best for the country, and it is clear that leaving the EU would not be in the UK’s best interests.
I urge you to resist the tyranny of the right-wing press, and go with the majority of Hackney North and Stoke Newington voters, and please: vote against triggering Article 50.
That ought to do it, eh?
The other night we watched Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film about the US president. It covers just a few months towards the end of the civil war and his life, during the time when he was trying to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution through the House of Representatives (the Senate having already passed it). That’s the amendment that outlaws slavery.
It was dramatised, of course.1But what struck me, and what held resonances with our current situation, was the sheer amount of compromising he had to do.
Then I read an article on Vox about Hillary Clinton, which included this:
politics, as Clinton never tires of reminding audiences, is about getting real things done for real people.
This is the problem that Labour is having now. Whether it’s Jeremy Corbyn’s fault or that of the MPs not backing him, in Labour’s current position it has no chance of getting into government. And if we don’t get into government we can’t do those “real things” for “real people.”
However, I’m far from being convinced that Owen Smith, even if he were to be elected as leader, would put us in any better a position. As well as being largely unknown in the country, he has what looks a slightly shady past, with his lobbying for Pfizer and speaking against the NHS. Though to be fair he rejects any talk of privatisation now.
Corbyn is constantly criticised for not building bridges, not reaching out to people within the party – even within his cabinet, as I linked to the other day. I think it’s fair at this point to say that he is at fault to some degree on the Remain campaign. And I’m certainly unhappy with his call, early on the day after the referendum, for Article 50 to be invoked immediately. That does strongly suggest that his support of the Remain campaign was only ever half-hearted at best.
But even if that’s all true, it doesn’t mean he is solely or even mainly to blame for the disastrous result of the referendum.
And the ongoing, slow-motion disaster that is besetting the Labour Party is at least as much the fault of the plotters. In particular, their behaviour at Prime Minister’s Questions the other day was disgraceful. Their point – renewing Trident was party policy, so the leader should not be speaking against it – was a valid one, but the floor of the House of Commons during the most important event of the parliamentary week, is not the place to argue about it.
The idea of Britain still being a nuclear power, and the doctrine of deterrence, are even more ludicrous now than they were during the 80s when I was a member of CND. But like I say, there’s a time and a place to have that argument, and it’s the party conference.
Maya Goodfellow has a great piece about it all in The Guardian:
The coup itself is unique in recent times, but Labour’s navel gazing is not.
The tribalism that grasps the Labour party is part of its problem. There’s an idea among lifelong supporters and MPs that you’re born Labour, you call the party your own and you will never leave it. This makes some sense – these are people whose families for generations have been Labour members, who spend their weekends canvassing and invest all their spare time, emotional energy and money into the party. They want to feel they have control over it.
But it [the tribalism] is also partly responsible for the current divisions. The people who feel entitled to call the party their own have competing viewpoints; some of them want to see a leftward shift and others range from wanting Miliband 2.0 to the rebirth of Blairism.
The idea too often seems to be “Vote for Labour because we aren’t the Tories”.
Instead of slinging insults at opponents or branding them all Blairites, Corbyn supporters would do better to focus on the task at hand – winning a future general election.
That idea of the divisions on the left go further than just the Labour party. I thought it was well summed up by this banner that I saw on the Palestine Solidarity march two years ago:
“Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist),” it says. You can just feel the layers of splits down the years that have led it to such an unwieldy name. Splits on the left are far from new. It’s an old criticism that we spend more time fighting among ourselves than fighting the real enemies.
Or in this case, than working out how to get back into power. Because going back to Lincoln2 and his compromises, to Hillary and her desire to get things done: it’s all for nothing if we don’t get a Labour government into power.
The problem is that Corbyn is “unelectable.” Is he? I’m not sure we know that. He’s sometimes compared to Michael Foot, who famously failed to win an election. But things are very different today from how they were in the eighties. It won’t be easy, but a Labour Party that got fully behind a left-wing leader might well be in a position to win power in 2020, when the next election is due. Or sooner, if May goes to the country over Brexit or otherwise.
In the end I wonder if Corbyn’s biggest problem isn’t just handling the Media. Maybe he needs an Alistair Campbell figure (or hell, why not: a Malcolm Tucker one). Does he even have a press secretary or Director of Communications?
All of this leaves me not knowing how to vote in the new leadership election. My heart is with Corbyn, as most of his policies match my own principles. But if the MPs won’t get behind him again, then we’ll be right back where we are now, with the party not providing a useful opposition, and with no likelihood of electoral success.3
Owen Smith, on the other hand, seems more likely to fight for us to remain in the EU. But can we trust him?
And either way, what will it do to the party as a whole? A party divided against itself, or worse, a party split in two, has no chance of forming a government.