The Politics We Deserve?

Well tonight is a fucking disaster. Even if the reality is lower than the exit poll, it looks like it’s going to be a landslide for the Tories. We’ll get a hard Brexit starting in a month and a half (and taking years and years before it “gets done,” of course). We’ll see more privatisation in the NHS. We’ll see more austerity, I don’t doubt, despite the spending pledges that might have been in the Tory manifesto. And we’ll see moves to restrict what parliament and the courts can do to protect ordinary people.

Our best hope is that Johnson is incompetent, and that’s not something we should have to rely on.

What is wrong with this country? Why do people continue to vote against not just the interests of the most vulnerable in society, but against their own self interest?

On Twitter a lot of people are blaming Corbyn, and I think they’re right. I said just the other day that I didn’t understand the dislike; but a thread by @RussInCheshire has helped to clarify my thinking. This regards not so much why people generally dislike him, but why he was ineffectual or worse as a leader. The key points:

People will say “the media is biased”. Yes. But that’s the environment Labour leaders always operate in. Complaining about it is like trawler captains complaining the sea is wet. Yep. Learn to thrive in those conditions, or get off the boat.

People will say “they treated him worse than any previous leader”. They did. Cos he was shit at working the press, had a history of opinions that could be easily made to look awful, was inept on antisemitism, shifty on Brexit and cantankerous on TV.

People will say “no way is he racist”. Perhaps. But if people accused me of antisemitism, I’d be able to clearly defend myself, demonstrate my credentials, and put in place a strategy to stop accusations. He couldn’t. If he’s not antisemitic, he’s inept.

People will say “voters love him in person”. I’m sure. But we’ve been in the age of broadcasting for 80 years. What the hell use is being warm and cuddly to 600 people in a field, when you come over badly to 60 million people on TV?

The thread starts here, but it might be easier to read here, as expanded by the Threader App.

I still don’t understand — I never will — people who switch from Labour all the way to Conservative. They just vox-popped someone on the telly who used to vote Labour, but “couldn’t, in conscience,” vote for them with Corbyn as leader. Fair enough. But she voted Tory. Why go all the way over to the party that diametrically opposes the values she claims to support, when there are other progressive parties, that support some of those values. The party she voted for opposes those values.

Baffling. Utterly baffling.


Fear and Loathing All Over the Land

The time is almost upon us, and I have The Fear. Or at least, I understand The Fear.

I understand the fear of Brexit; of giving the Tories control, yet again, of the NHS, and of the economy; and of their plans for changing the constitution in all the wrong ways, since I feel it myself.

But despite my problems with Corbyn, I don’t understand the loathing for him. It doesn’t seem to come from dislike of his policies. Some of the people who say they don’t like or don’t trust him seem to be Labour voters, who you’d expect to have similar beliefs. Even if those people have more centrist beliefs, you’d think they’d be close enough to the party’s current policies not to be put off totally.

It seems almost to be personal. Do some people dislike him as a person? Strikes me as odd, as he comes across as quite moderate and reasonable to me. To be sure, he can get snappy with interviewers at times, but it’s nothing compared to some people. And at least he doesn’t bluster; doesn’t lie; and always gives the impression that he knows what he’s talking about.

Yet some people say they don’t trust him. Sometimes those same people say they do trust Johnson, even as they acknowledge he lies. It’s unfathomable.

On tonight’s Channel 4 News they interviewed a guy in Johnson’s constituency who claimed to be a socialist, but who is going to vote for Johnson this time. They didn’t push him for an explanation.

In the same constituency there was a business owner who had always voted Tory but is not going to this time, because of the way the party has been taken over by the far right. It takes a Tory businessman to recognise what a “socialist” can’t. We are through the looking glass and no mistake.

Anyway, I’ll be voting Green. I hope everyone reading this will get out and vote on Thursday, for anyone who isn’t the Tories, and to stop Brexit.


Labour and Antisemitism

I don’t doubt that many Jewish people are put off voting Labour because of the antisemitic actions of some of its members, and the leadership’s seeming inability to control or remove those people. Plenty of non-Jewish people are put off by it too.

There are two things I don’t understand.

If there are antisemites in Labour (which, again, does seem to be the case): why and how? Who are these people that have joined a party of the left, a party that has always been anti-nazi, anti-racist, pro equality and human rights — who join it, and yet stand in direct opposition to its core values? It’s like a climate-change denier joining the Green Party.

Further, why now? Why has this blown up in the last couple of years? These invasive members presumably haven’t just joined the party. It’s hard to imagine that they joined because of Corbyn being the leader.

Unless that’s exactly what it is. Maybe Corbyn’s seeming weakness on responding to the problem. and/or a willful misunderstanding of his stance on Palestine and the government of Israel, has attracted such people to the party. In which case — in any case — the obvious thing to do is to find them and eject them; just as they can easily eject members who suggest voting for another party.

I see that The Guardian has published an “everything you need to know” guide on the matter. Which is good, but it doesn’t really answer my questions.

Corbyn has spoken out against antisemitism again. He may have appeared vague on Brexit, but I don’t think he could be any clearer on this.


Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

I realised after yesterday’s post about Corbyn and Brexit that I’ve said similar things before. So today I’ve put talk into action. I’ve cancelled my direct debit for my party membership, and written to my constituency party secretary tendering my resignation.

I also did this:

Cut-up Labour Membership Card
Cut-up Labour Membership Card

Perhaps most significantly, at least symbolically: look up there. ⬆️ This blog has been called “A Labourer At the Bitface” more or less since it started, partly as a reference to my political stance, as I explained in this post.1 It’s now called “Tales From The Bitface,” which was the name of my Livejournal version. That’s still there, but it, along with the whole site, pretty much, is moribund.

I still support the principles of the Labour party, and I’m sure I’ll vote for them again. But not until they sort themselves out about Brexit.


  1. Even then, I note, I was “consider[ing] my future in said party.” 

General Election: Vote!

TL; DR: Vote Against the Tories

This is long, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to read it. So, a summary.

The election should never have been called; Labour should have resisted it when it was. But now that it’s here we need to take advantage of it to protect the NHS. And maybe hold out some hope for stopping, or at least softening, Brexit. Because with the Tories we’ll only get a disastrously hard crash out.

Vote to stop the Tories and save the NHS.

And now, a table of contents. Yes, this is that long.

Calling the Election

Calling the election at all was at best a cynical ploy by Theresa May. Labour looked weak. She thought she could get a hugely increased majority for relatively little effort. So despite her repeated promises that should would not, she called a general election.

Now, however, it might have backfired on her. The polls have shifted (though we know we can’t trust polls). Quite dramatically by some measures. It’s looking like she might end up with a reduced majority. Or even — dare we hope? — a radical change. A Labour majority seems implausible, but a hung parliament? That’s beginning to look a lot like a real possibility.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act

But what of the act that was supposed to remove prime-ministerial whim from the choice of election date? It turns out it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 contains a clause that allows the current government to call an election if it has the support of the house.

Not, I note, with a simple majority. Obviously that would be ridiculous for anything really important. No, a two-thirds majority is needed.

And was easily obtained, owing to the failure of the opposition to oppose; and now May wants to repeal it anyway. But more on both of those later.

Brexit

When the election was called, my initial reaction was that it would be all about Brexit. Nothing else loomed so large. And that was why I had concerns about Labour, because Jeremy Corbyn seemed committed to carrying on the madness that the referendum started.

I wrote then:

[P]eople 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.

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 didn’t leave the party, and though there’s still some truth in that, things have changed. I’m not entirely sure when, or how; but somewhere along the line — the publication of the manifestos was certainly part of it — the normal things began to matter again. They never stopped mattering, of course, but they came back into focus.

One of the normal things in particular: the NHS.

Saving the NHS

The Tories — modern Tories, at least — have never really supported it. They have always pushed privatisation of it, or as much of it as possible. Though to be fair, the last Labour government at fault there too, with their public-private partnerships.

Tories, of course, have pushed for privatisation in everything, not just the NHS, at least since Thatcher. But even Thatcher kept her hands off the NHS. Not so this lot. Thatcher didn’t leave much to privatise, so their eyes are firmly on the last great publicly owned body.

I fear that if May’s lot get back in, especially with an increased majority, we could see the beginning of the end of free universal healthcare in the UK. We are in that much danger.

Thoughts on Corbyn, past & present

I voted for Corbyn as leader twice. I had my doubts, but he always seemed to be on the right side; and as well, there was no good alternative (not the second time, anyway).

Around the Referendum

Then I felt totally let down by Brexit & after. To be fair, his “trigger Article 50 now” comments were slightly misinterpreted, but expressing himself like that just added to the idea that he couldn’t handle himself with the media.

And that was certainly true in the first several months. It was like he — the party as a whole — had no media management at all.

And at no time did he resist Brexit.

Post Referendum

Then there was a series of mistakes, or bad decisions:

  • The three-line whip on the first Article 50 vote.
  • Not resisting the invocation of Article 50 at all, even when criticising it.
  • Waving through the vote to have the election. Because even if he didn’t want to stop it, how much better would it have been to make the Tories call a vote of no confidence? If only for the schadenfreude.
  • Then he chose not to join the debate because May wasn’t involved? That’s what we call missing an open goal.

The Big Improvement

Things have — and he has — got so much better since then. Somewhere along the line he started to come across as the dignified, statesmanlike man of principle that we knew he was. What changed? Was it better media management, or did the media actually start to give him some proper time?

I don’t know, but the result is that the polls have turned round dramatically, giving rise to a measure of that most terrifying of things: hope.

Manifesto Destiny

Everything in the Labour manifesto is better for the country than everything in the Tory one. It’s as simple as that. “For the many, not the few” is the tag line they’ve been using, and it’s great. Simple, to the point, meaningful. And accurate.

Not to mention costed. No “magic money tree” here.

Back to Brexit

Although they haven’t said so, I could see a Labour government offering a second referendum. At least you can imagine them being more open to considering the possibility. Especially, of course, if they were in coalition.

Now that takes us to the next question: if it’s a hung parliament, can we trust the LibDems not to back the Tories again?

I mean, surely, this time… But that’s what we thought he last time, and look where that got us. So it’s a worry. But the LibDems are likely to get some of their old seats back, and Labour almost certainly can’t get a majority with the way things have changed in Scotland, so a coalition is our best hope.

May Madness

Now let’s turn our attention to our gloryless leader.

Theresa May has presented an increasingly bizarre face to the world over the last few weeks:

  • Her “Me, me, me” approach to presenting Tory policy (“If I lose six seats…” you only get one); that’s not how politics in the UK works.
  • She wants to reverse the country’s stumbling steps toward better voting systems, such as the proportional system for the London Mayor.
  • Politicising the terrorist attacks:
    • first troops on the streets, as I discussed;
    • and now she wants to tear up human rights legislation. Next it’ll be internment, I shouldn’t wonder.
  • She was seemingly scared to debate the other party leaders on TV. Debates may not be quite standard in British elections yet, but that is the way the world was moving.
  • Oh, and along with voting reversals, she wants to repeal the fixed-term parliaments act, for what little use it was.

In short, it seems like she just wants to go backwards to an imagined Little-England past.

Conclusion

It won’t surprise you in the slightest to hear that I’m strongly advocating voting against the Tories, in whatever way you can have the most effect. I will be voting Labour, of course, but then I live in one of the safest Labour seats in the country, so that doesn’t have a lot of effect.

However, I’ll also be joining other Labour members from Hackney tomorrow in heading over to Westminster North, which is a Labour marginal. I’ll be helping to get out the vote there.

To you I say, please vote. Vote to stop the Tory mayhem. Vote to save the NHS.


Scattered Thoughts on the General Election

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:

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.


  1. Or the bookies, and don’t get me back onto that argument about how bookies’ odds can be mapped to percentages of expected voting. ↩︎


Beginning of the End

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.

A fifth of Labour MPs defy three line whip to vote against article 50 bill | Politics | The Guardian

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.


Can We Stick With Labour Now?

This story about Labour giving in to Brexit is the latest straw in a… problematic few months. I’m not sure I can stay a member of the Labour Party if the leadership is now as definitively opposed to sanity as this. While still failing to actually oppose this terrible government.


Smith & Jones

The “other” Labour leadership candidate, as you might say, is called Owen Smith. There is a Guardian and New Statesman columnist and noted left-wing writer called Owen Jones.

It’s easy to confuse them; I saw this article (which is actually from almost exactly a year ago, and is about the first leadership election, but never mind) today and was confused, because it seemed strange that Jeremy Corbyn’s opponent would be writing a piece warning of the attacks that will come if Corbyn wins.

Then I realised that the byline was Jones, not Smith.

All I can say is that Kid Curry & Hannibal Heyes, and Mel & Griff Rhys — and indeed, The Doctor & Martha — have a lot to answer for. 


On Corbyn, Electability, and Compromise

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: March with banner showing 'CPGB-ML Communist Pary of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)'

“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.


  1. Though I wonder whether anyone with less Hollywood power than Spielberg could have got a film made that was so much about talking and legal and political manoeuvring. ↩︎

  2. No left-winger, of course, though seeing the Republican Party today, it’s impossible to understand how he could have been one of its founders. ↩︎

  3. Because, I contend, of the split, rather then necessarily the leadership. ↩︎


He is not a team player let alone a team leader

As I vacillate on the Labour leadership business, and try to decide what's best for party and country, I keep coming upon things that increase my feeling that Corbyn might not be the right one for the job.

Specifically today, two posts by MPs suggesting he is poor at communicating and building bridges with people.

First, Lilian Greenwood of Nottingham on how he undermined her on transport policy and the referendum.

And then Bristol MP Thangam Debbonaire’s Facebook post about the chaos around her being appointed to, and/or sacked from, a shadow-cabinet post.

And yet there’s also this article claiming that those two posts are part of a “scheme to knock Corbyn.”

What’s a person meant to believe?


Leadership

There has been little in the news lately but the refugee crisis and the Labour leadership election. I'm here to talk, briefly, before the polls close on Thursday, about the latter.

I just voted, and guess what? For Jeremy Corbyn.

I’ve never been a member of the party before.1 I always thought that I was too independent to toe a party line; too many of my anarchist ideals, forged in the fires of punk, still stood.

Well, maybe. But my anarchism, such as it was, was always on the socialist wing. And I recognise the idealism that drove it. I’d like to think that humans could live without governments and leaders – that we are perfectible, and could form a working society through cooperation. But the fact is, of course, that that is not yet the case. And until it is, there are things worth standing up for, worth believing in. Worth fighting for.

I didn’t want to toe a line; but in May we crossed a line. After five years of a Tory government in all but name, we have a named one. David Cameron and his regime will go down in history as worse than Thatcher’s; but until he does go down, we have to deal with the effects of it.

On the morning after the election I resolved to join the Labour party and do what I could to help. This wasn’t about electing a new leader, though I realised that would be part of it. It certainly wasn’t about Jeremy Corbyn: I made the decision before Ed Miliband had even resigned, and enacted it before the leadership candidates had been nominated.

And for what it’s worth, I joined as a full member, not one of these £3 Supporters that we’ve been hearing so much about.

I think the aftermath of the Scottish referendum had some effect on my decision. Seeing how the failure of the “Yes” vote energised the SNP and led many supporters to join led me to hope that something similar would happen with Labour. As indeed it has.

Anyway, getting back to that choice of leader. It’s long past time that Labour had a woman as its leader, but neither of those standing are right for me. Where we are right now, Corbyn’s views most closely match my own values. When he says things like this:

Paying tax is not a burden. It is the subscription we pay to live in a civilised society.

– “The Economy in 2020

that is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been saying about tax for years.

There is much else. I’m not convinced about leaving NATO, but I don’t think it’s a fundamental policy. I do think we shouldn’t waste vast amounts of money on replacing Trident. The cold war is over, more or less.2 And even if Russia is getting alarmingly expansionist these days, a British not-really-independent nuclear missile submarine is going to worry them much.

Corbyn might not be electable – I doubt that analysis, but let’s go with it for now – but he should at least lead a Labour party in opposition that actually opposes the government. Which, with its slim majority, could actually be vulnerable.

Interesting times ahead.


  1. The title of my blog is partly a nod to my long-time support of it, though. ↩︎

  2. I nearly typed “the cod war”, which is also long over, but was much less terrifying. ↩︎


Tony Benn

This blog raises a fist and a glass and a helping hand in memory of Tony Benn. A true socialist and all-round good guy.