Thursday, 1 December 2016

What Happened in Richmond Park Anyway?

The Richmond Park by-election campaign was, by any conventional standards, a mess, yet in the current political climate this couldn't be any more appropriate. 

Zac Goldsmith, who ran a torrid campaign only a few months ago to become the Conservative Mayor of London, resigned his seat in protest at the government's decision to expand London Heathrow, This decision was based on a promise he'd made before 2010; to leave the Conservative Party and stand against them as an independent.

He immediately set out to frame the campaign as a "referendum on Heathrow" which, at first, made perfect sense. But the local Conservative branch, in an extraordinary step, then decided to back Goldsmith, which left CCHQ in limbo - in the end choosing to step aside so as to prevent splitting the "conservative" vote.

After the Liberal Democrats picked their candidate, the Green Party decided to step aside too, so as to avoid splitting the anti-Goldsmith vote. Labour's NEC, despite reservations from senior figures, decided to field a candidate, while UKIP was the third major party to back off, throwing its weight behind Goldsmith.

Not everything, however, was as simple as it looked...

The Green Party, in a pragmatic move, decided to back the Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney in a "progressive alliance".

But Zac Goldsmith, who has previously gotten along well with Green co-leader Caroline Lucas, allegedly suggested she was backing him, while distancing himself from UKIP - who had mostly definitely endorsed his candidacy.

The local Greens said they were "deeply disappointed" in Goldsmith for making the suggestion on one of his leaflets, and a spokesperson was forced to refute any allusion to Green support for Goldsmith on the Green Party website.

Reports then emerged that the local Greens were also disappointed in Caroline Lucas for backing the "regressive" Lib Dems, with prominent local members writing a letter to the Guardian to express as much, and some figures even urging Green voters to back the Labour candidate instead.

As for Goldsmith, who was being backed by the local Conservatives, and prominent pro-Heathrow expansion Tory MPs such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, towards the end of the campaign wouldn't even rule out re-joining the Conservative Party in the near future.


Zac Goldsmith's attempt to frame the by-election as a "referendum on Heathrow" fell apart shortly after it became clear each of his rivals shared his view, and the government, officially backing Heathrow expansion, would decline to field a candidate. 

Tim Farron, who called this the contest "the most important by-election in living memory," when I spoke with him this weekend instead tried to frame it as a(nother) referendum on Brexit - holding several events over the last few weeks including an overwhelmingly pro-EU Brexit Q&A on the final Saturday of campaigning.

The reason for this was obvious: 77% of Zac Goldsmith's constituents voted to remain while Goldsmith, who they have returned twice, has been long-known as a proud Eurosceptic.


At the time of writing the winner hadn't been declared - but, for the purposes of this post, it doesn't matter.

This by-election has been messy, disjointed, and it has made a mockery of our electoral system, with three of the five major parties (as I see them), including the party of government, backing away from the fight. 

The cost of running the contest has been touted as lying somewhere between £240,000 and £250,000, depending on which source you've consulted - a big price, in my view, for what was ultimately a pointless distraction - and one that may end up costing Goldsmith his seat.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Welcome To Trumpland

On November 5, days before voters would turn out, a man tried to assassinate Donald Trump.

While he was delivering a speech to thousands of supporters in Reno, Trump cut himself off. He raised his hand towards his forehead to block out the beaming lights, and squinted his eyes, as if to take a closer look at what appeared to be growing unrest in the crowd.

Suddenly, after hearing somebody in the crowd shouting ‘GUN’, two secret service agents rushed to his side. They shielded him from danger, and escorted him off stage. Scenes became chaotic. His largely bewildered supporters began chanting, and then shouting, as security staff leapt into the crowd to apprehend a would-be assassin, and remove him from the venue. Footage, released soon afterwards, corroborated these events.

Minutes later, Trump returned to the podium, and told his supporters: “Nobody said it was going to be easy but we will never be stopped. We will never be stopped.” While Trump was finishing his speech, accounts of what had happened began to take shape.

Trump’s media aid, Dan Scavino, retweeted a message reading “Hillary [Clinton] ran away from rain today. Donald is back on stage minutes after an assassination attempt” while his son, Donald Trump Jr, wrote: “As Donald Trump just showed the American people, no matter what happens he will not be deterred and he will not give up fighting for you.”
But there was still a lot of confusion as to what actually happened.

Photos of the chaotic scenes began to emerge on Twitter; showing armed officers, and a man being dragged out. Journalists at the rally began reporting what members of the audience were telling them; that they had seen a man pull a gun. Others, meanwhile, claimed the ‘Trump assassin’ reached for the gun of a secret service agent before he was detained. And in even these early stages, supporters were speculating on social media that the assassin may have been planted by the Clinton campaign.

There was only one problem. Absolutely none of it was true.


Not only was the man unarmed; he wasn’t an assassin. He was a protester, carrying only a sign – “Republicans against Trump” – that he had printed off the internet.

He was identified as Austyn Crites, a 33-year-old inventor who worked with balloons. He was a registered Republican, and more importantly, completely harmless – which the secret service agents realised shortly before they released him.

But Donald Trump’s aides took advantage of the confusion. They had already begun to spread the message online that their candidate had survived an assassination attempt, while bizarrely, at the same time, Austyn Crites was speaking with journalists outside the venue to explain to them what had actually happened.

According to Crites, as he was moving closer towards the front, he raised his sign. Trump supporters had, by this point, noticed him. At first they booed. “And then,” he said “all of a sudden people next to me are starting to get violent; they grabbing at my arm, trying to rip the sign out of my hand.”

According to Crites, the crowd then began piling on him, kicking, punching, holding him on the ground, and even, grabbing him by the testicles. He claimed they were “wrenching on [his] neck” so much “they could have strangled [him] to death.”

It was at that moment he heard somebody shouting “something about a gun,” before police officers arrived and put him in handcuffs. He told the Guardian newspaper he felt relieved. And, as officers removed him from the venue, they continued to fend off supporters who were trying to attack him.

He was taken to the back of the venue, searched, subjected to a background check, and released shortly after. He wasn’t even aware, until the journalist he was speaking to outside told him, that Donald Trump had been rushed off stage.

But by now, even though barely any time had passed, Donald Trump supporters became utterly convinced their candidate had survived an attempt on his life. They had seen the news break on television, and relied on other supporters on social media, pro-Trump Facebook pages, and sources they trusted, to fill the gaps.

Rumours continued to spread – although now they knew the name of the ‘Trump assassin’. And, fuelled by the Trump campaign’s refusal to back down from this narrative, even more ludicrous theories were being fostered online.


Trump supporters found Austyn Crites on Facebook, as well as members of his family, including his brother, and found evidence they were conspiring to commit voter fraud.

Some suggested his Facebook page was fake, having only been created a day ago, while others claimed it had been deleted, meaning he had something to hide.

They learned that he had been campaigning for Hillary Clinton – something which Crites openly admitted to the Guardian journalist who interviewed him – but something they would not learn until they found his name listed in a Wikileaks database of the leaked Podesta e-mails, as many as seven times, along with information suggested he was a Democratic Party donor.

Others, meanwhile, landed on evidence confirming, in their eyes, that he was an agitator – a paid Democratic Party operative with the intent to cause violence or emotional disruption at Trump rallies. And some, who said they had read further into the leaked Podesta emails, became convinced that he had ties to a black ops shadow intel group known as STRATFOR.

But these conspiracy  theories were then suddenly legitimised. They were being spread by Trump’s surrogates, and members of his team. 

Ann Coulter, a notorious surrogate, retweeted links and posted conspiracy theories to her more than 1 million Twitter followers, while Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, refused to condemn members of her team for spreading false information.

Speaking to JakeTapper on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning, she said: “I’m glad nobody was hurt, but it does remind you that in these closing days, especially as the polls tighten, many of us are getting more death threats, getting more angry messages on social media and elsewhere. It’s a pretty fraught environment there. I think that’s the real focus here.”

She continued: “If you’re Don Jr and you’re on a live TV set while you’re watching this unfold, it’s pretty rattling to think of what may have happened to your father, so I’ll excuse him.”

When Tapper pushed back, saying Crites was not trying to assassinate Trump, Conway attacked CNN itself, saying: “First of all, that’s really remarkable, I have to say, that that’s what the storyline is here. Is CNN going to retract all the storylines, all the headlines, all the breathless predictions of the last two weeks that have turned out not be true? ‘The race is over. The path is closed. It’s going to be a blowout.’ You guys retract that and I’ll give a call to Dan Scavino about the retweet.”  

The Trump campaign later released a statement, written by Trump himself, saying: “I would like to thank the United States Secret Service and the law enforcement resources in Reno and the state of Nevada for their fast and professional response. I also want to thank the many thousands of people present for their unwavering and unbelievable support. Nothing will stop us – we will make America great again!”

Trump did not provide any details about the incident, and, in the days that followed, Trump’s team refused to back down over the ‘assassination attempt’ narrative – meaning it has continued to mutate across the internet.


This is only a single, isolated example of how Donald Trump has defeated journalism – partly by accident, and partly by design. He and his team are able to lie, and get away with it, because they know their supporters have stopped paying attention to the mainstream press.

Trump is able to plant simple ideas into the minds of his supporters, while his team sits back, and watches these grow into fully-fledged conspiracy theories without having to so much as try. 

Meanwhile, all the work the media organisations do to verify claims and establish facts has become irrelevant. 

Whether Donald Trump wins the presidency or not, he has set the template for a more sophisticated and sociopathic breed of politician to exploit in the future.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Why It Matters That Theresa May Is Unelected

What happens when an unknown quantity is thrust into the highest seat of power in the state without so much as a sofa interview?

Ahead of this year's Conservative party conference a large portion of the press and broadcast media dedicated hours dissecting Theresa May - the politician - as well as Theresa May - the woman.

If you're feeling as if journalists this week are being especially superficial then you wouldn't be alone. Many appeared more keen to scrutinise the May family scones recipe than trouble themselves with less important matters such as the deeply troubling shift in the government's immigration rhetoric, or the militarisation of our prison system.

But this especially intense obsession with the superficial, which all of us share at least a little, is grounded in the fact that we know absolutely nothing about our prime minister.


The general consensus is that Theresa May used her conference speech to grab the 'centre ground' or even, to an extent, the centre-left of politics. 

Curious, then, that she managed to do this while drawing praise from the French far-right nationalist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

In my view, her speech was packed with rhetoric borrowed from the left and the right, lined with a few jokes, and hashed together in order to allow everybody to see into it anything they wanted to.

When a politician makes this sort of speech, packed with rhetoric but lacking any actual policy, it is usually deconstructed and rebuffed by lunchtime. But because we have no point of reference from which to judge her words, it forces us to take them at face value.

She has no record as prime minister. She has no manifesto. She has promised nothing, neither to her party, nor the country. Even her record as Home Secretary is foggy, with many citing the fact she had not been removed from the post as being her greatest achievement - begging the question as to what her other achievements, if any, may have been.


You can argue endlessly about whether or not our democracy is fit for purpose. But the process of an election, no matter how flawed, at the very least accomplishes several things.

First, within the context of our pseudo-presidential electoral system, any potential prime minister is measured up. We learn intimate details about them, their family, their home(s), their character, even their love life. And, although of less concern to the press, we learn about their management style and political philosophy - not overnight - but often over the course of several years (as leader of the opposition).

Second, the entire prospective government - party leaders as well as their frontbench teams - are forced to make promises and set targets against which they can be judged when they win power. 

Third, any policy proposed faces meticulous vetting by the media and the public. Generally, a good policy is received well, while a bad policy is thrown out. A good example of this is David Cameron's bizarre 'paid volunteering' scheme cooked up during the 2015 election campaign.

Finally, it forces political parties to shape their policy around what they believe the public wants, and not around whichever untested ideology they hold.

Theresa May's government - which we now know to be completely different from the government elected to power in 2015 in terms of personnel, policy, and philosophy - has not been subject to any of the above. This should worry us.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Why Hasn't The Labour Party Died Already?

Barely a week has passed since the EU referendum and the Labour Party has already been plunged itself another civil war; adding to the government's collapse, and the United Kingdom's very own existential crisis.

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing a full-blown coup, triggered following the sacking of the now-former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Ben last Sunday. As coups go, however, this is nothing short of a disaster.

Labour MPs, MEPs, consultants and associates have openly revolted against the leadership, resigning en masse from the shadow cabinet and from other roles, while a no-confidence ballot of MPs rendered a 172-to-40 result against Jeremy Corbyn.

Although the vote was definitive and the subsequent events have caused irreparable damage to Jeremy Corbyn's authority, the MPs who triggered this challenge, it now emerges, did so without a firm candidate to replace him, and without even knowing whether Corbyn may or may not be allowed to stand in a fresh leadership contest.

This detail is absolutely crucial, as he may yet win the support of the wider party membership if allowed to stand again. And what then if, as is extremely likely, he wins? The Parliamentary Labour Party will have failed to appeal to their own party members - for a second time - and they will have failed to put forward a credible alternative to a man so incredibly incompetent. Surely they will be finished.

All this, without the added dynamic of the long-awaited Chilcot Report on the Iraq War which is being published on July 6. What could possibly go wrong?


Jeremy Corbyn will not resign. Labour members may back him indefinitely. Those in power - the PLP, MEPs, etc - have abandoned him, and are actively working against him. Corbyn's survival, as many suggest, could well lead to the death of the Labour Party itself as MPs are forced to break away. 

But perhaps this was only a matter of time.

For better or for worse, social democratic parties, or the 'Establishment Left', have been falling across Europe. Yet this pattern is one the British Labour party has somehow avoided. Yes, Labour has not won an election since 2005 - but its support among the public remains far greater than the support of its counterparts across the continent.

The electoral success of Syriza in Greece marked the first major success of such a populist movement. POSAK, the established centre-left party, meanwhile has been sidelined. In the January 2015 legislative election, POSAK finished seventh with 4.7% of the vote share, a monumental collapse following their victory in October 2009 with 43.9%; its fall mirroring Syriza's rise in the intermediate six years.

Spain's June 2016 general election, the second within six months, saw PSOE, the traditional centre-left party win only 22.7% of the vote share - only a shade higher than the 22.0% it scored in December. Its collapse has been facilitated by the rise of Podemos, which received 21.1% in June 2016, and 20.7% in December, the first general election it had ever contested.

The Democratic Party of Italy led by Matteo Renzi occupies a more stable position having narrowly won the February 2013 general election with 29.5% to Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom with 29.1%. But the Five-Star Movement, a non-partisan anti-establishment Eurosceptic party, received 25.5% of the vote, like Podemos, in the first general election it had ever contested. Although the Democratic Party remains popular, polls show its support is falling while the Five Star Movement gains momentum, pointing to a defeat in 2018 for Italy's Establishment Left.

In France, the popularity of president Francois Hollande's Socialist Party is at its lowest it has been in some time (14%), and he is widely-expected to face defeat in 2017. In the first round of the 2015 regional elections, Hollande's party finished third on vote share with 23.12%, behind Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right Republicans on 26.65%, and Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front on 27.73%.


While the fall of the Establishment Left has given way to a host of younger, more energetic insurgency-based movements, as Marine Le Pen's success in France has shown, this shift has ushered in the return of the far-right across Europe.

This New York Times interactive chart shows a recent rise in the support of far-right parties across Europe including Hungary, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, and Austria.

The Austrian presidential elections in May 2016 saw the fascistic Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer narrowly defeated by the former Green Party candidate Alexander Van Der Bellen by only 30,863 votes.

But the election - won by 50.3% to 49.7% - will have to be re-run after the result was overturned on the basis that election rules were broken in a way that could influence the result. The prospect of Europe electing its first fascist leader since the end of World War II is once again a very real one.

While fascism is yet to enter mainstream politics in Britain, barring as an occasional source of comedy, there are a few worrying signs.

Let alone the death of Jo Cox at the hand of an alleged far-right political extremist, since the referendum result there has been a massive rise in the number of hate crimes. Latest police figures reveal the rate has risen five fold in the previous week alone, with 331 incidents reported to the national police records website against the average of 63. But the true figure may be far higher.


What would it mean if, as is increasingly likely, the Labour Party splits, or even collapses altogether? Europe shows that it could usher in a more radical movement in the mould of Podemos or Syriza. Or it could happen in conjunction with the rise of the far-right. Or both. Or neither.

If, after the 2015 general election, conventional wisdom suffered a blow, the referendum was its death knell. Where unexpected events, such as the Tory majority, the rise of the SNP, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour success, were frequent pre-Brexit, we may now begin to see wild, uncontrollable, unpredictable events hit us one after another in quick succession.

For instance, we could well see the actual death of the Labour Party. But, for better or for worse, perhaps this was long overdue.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Keep Calm and Carry On?

In the lasts few days our nation has been gripped by an unquenchable madness. Nobody knows what is happening. Pandora's Box has been opened and its contents are being traded away in a fire sale. How has it come to this?

The British public have voted to leave the European Union. This decision, which has already had a disastrous effect on the economy, was made by an older, wealthier generation of voters who haven't got very long left to live, in direct contradiction with the will of their relatively penniless children and grandchildren, who will have to live with these consequences the longest.

The Prime Minister has resigned, while both the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were not seen for 72 hours after the result was declared. George Osborne finally reared his head on Monday morning to make a reassuring statement before the markets opened, only for the markets to subsequently crash as investors panicked even further.

The pound has fallen to its lowest value against the dollar in 35 years. Approximately $2.08 trillion was wiped from the global markets in one day. Credit agency Moody's downgraded the UK's outlook from "stable" to "negative" while S&P said the UK would likely lose its AAA rating. So far on Monday, at the time of writing, the FTSE 100 has fallen by 2% and FTSE 250 has fallen by 4.5%.

David Cameron, who stepped down after leading a campaign he had hoped to narrowly win, will most likely be replaced with Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and the Prime Minister's old Etonian schoolmate, who led an opposition campaign he had hoped to narrowly lose, and who is subsequently trying to run the country from his newspaper column.

Boris Johnson, who won his campaign and signalled Britain's intent to leave the European Union, is having second thoughts over triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, presuming he becomes the next Prime Minister, while those who comprise the EU establishment want us to get out as soon as possible. Number 10 has announced the unit to lead Brexit issues will be led by Oliver Letwin, whose 'Controversies' section is as long as the 'Political Career' section of his Wikipedia page.

On what comes next, those leading the campaign have no Brexit plan, as they were never in a position to fulfil any pledges they made. The ruling Conservative party has no Brexit plan, as they were expecting those in Number 10 to have drafted any contingency. And Number 10 has no Brexit plan, as David Cameron was not expecting to lose what ultimately proved to be his last political gamble after he had won all of his previous ones.
In the first meeting of his cabinet since the result was declared, the Pm told his colleagues "this government will not accept intolerance" in light of a sharp rise in the number of xenophobic and racially-motivated hate crimes across the country.

Meanwhile, a coup has been triggered within the Labour party. Its leader Jeremy Corbyn, who does not hold the confidence of his MPs, may yet retain the confidence of the party membership. While the shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Ben was sacked over the phone for expressing his lack of confidence in the leader and triggering said coup in the early hours of Sunday morning, the deputy party leader Tom Watson, it emerged, was on a bender in Glastonbury; a detail we have only gleaned from his latest Snapchat story. Corbyn allies accused would-be plotters of planning this ongoing coup on a "Snapchat group".

The new shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis was also at Glastonbury when he was appointed to his new role, and may be late for his first Defence Questions in parliament due to the traffic. His predecessor Maria Eagle resigned in a wave of mass resignations from the shadow cabinet, a walkout which yet continues, not to mention the dozens of MPs and party figures who are resigning from non-cabinet and relatively junior positions. The list of 37 resignations as of 2:00pm BST includes 18 shadow cabinet members, ten shadow ministers, and nine private parliamentary secretaries.

Jeremy Corbyn has refused to step down, and may yet be entitled to continue until a leadership challenge is triggered. But because the party rarely topples its own leaders in such a regicidal fashion, the exact rules as to whether Corbyn may have to regain 35 nominations to appear on the ballot paper are unclear, and may have to be determined by the National Executive Committee, of which Corbyn has a slight majority. There are also rumours that the majority of the PLP will follow a 'Libya model' of sorts and form a second shadow cabinet within the party led by an unofficial leader. One may feel this all needs to be sorted out before Prime Minister's Questions, which will take place on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile our actual head of state, a woman 25 years past the retirement age, is constitutionally bound to keep shtum in times of political division by merit of a constitution we have yet to write down. She is taking a trip to Northern Ireland on Monday - a nation which may leave the UK along with Scotland in order to continue EU membership, which itself may not be possible.

Given this is only day four of Brexit Britain, what else could possibly go wrong?


In other news: International tensions have cooled as it has emerged Israel and Turkey struck a deal to end the six-year rift over the Gaza flotilla killings, while Iraq has taken back control of Fallujah from Islamic State in a massive blow to the terrorist group's ambitions.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

EU Referendum: The Brexit Blame Game - Who Will Take The Rap For A Leave Vote?

During Jeremy Corbyn's Sky News Q&A on Monday, arguably among his stronger performances since becoming Labour leader, audience members challenged him on immigration, the refugee crisis, and his 'damascene conversion'.

The most interesting question, however, came from Sky News' political editor Faisal Islam. He asked the Labour leader whether he would "take the blame" for Brexit. The speculative question rather stood out from the substantive issues being discussed, but hinted at a potential post-Brexit media narrative.

Of course, whatever happens on Thursday, it will have been by the will of the British people. Using the term 'fault' or 'blame' implies the people will have made the wrong choice. The fault, if any, will collectively be all of ours. That is how democracy works, after all.

But the 'status quo' option is undoubtedly favoured by whatever it is you may term the 'establishment'. Groups including the government, the majority of business, the majority of economists, the majority of trade unions and even all 20 clubs which make up the Barclay's Premier League are in favour of a Remain victory.

As post-Brexit anger and bitterness brews, agents in the media may then begin the process of apportioning blame as a convenient way of bashing their political opponents.

Bearing that in mind, who will be the likely players in this Brexit Blame Game?


Jeremy Corbyn

There lives and breathes a rather large faction of Corbyn catastrophicists who fervently believe everything the Labour leader does, says, or even touches turns into a brown, mucky substance. But, on this, they may have a point.

The man who admitted his enthusiasm in this campaign has only been "seven or seven and a half" out of ten, and that he has "no great love for the European Union" has only made a handful of major set-piece speeches, and has allegedly done little to convince undecided and demotivated Labour supporters to turn out.

Notwithstanding the danger of emulating The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Corbyn's lacklustre role in this campaign will almost certainly attract scorn from many - particularly in the Labour Party - who will feel his heart wasn't in it, and that he didn't do enough.

Alan Johnson

Hopes were high for the Labour grandee and perpetual party leader-in-waiting, who took the reigns of the Labour In for Britain campaign in December. But over the course of the official referendum campaign his presence has been almost non-existent.

When researchers measured the frequency of media appearances during a four week period between May to June, the alleged leader of the Labour campaign was ranked 18th overall, with 14 appearances in what has been a very Conservative-dominated sphere.

But even from all the Labour figures in the top 20, Johnson was ranked 5th. He fell behind Harriet Harman (14th with 17 appearances), Gordon Brown (13th with 18 appearances), Gisela Stuart (11th with 20 appearances), and Jeremy Corbyn (7th with 52 appearances).

Labour Voters

Will Labour voters be motivated to turn out? It is a question many have been asking during this campaign. Generally, Labour voters are fairly united; only split 75/25 in favour of Remain while, for reference, Conservative voters are split 56/44 in favour of Leave.

But, come Friday, the 'lazy Labour' trope may resurface. One theory floating around is that the overwhelming Tory domination in the media, and the failure of the Labour party to make its position clear, will lead to a low Labour turnout, and a Leave victory. 

Young People 

Younger voters have gained a notorious reputation for developing a stubborn political apathy; with only 43% of 18-24 year-olds turning out to vote in the 2015 General Election compared with 78% of those aged 65+.

Meanwhile, data that has emerged during the referendum campaign shows that 18-24 year-olds are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining (69%), and voters aged 65+ are overwhelmingly in favour of leaving (62%). If the turnout by age group mirrors that from last year, which is incredibly likely, withdrawal from the EU could well be pinned on young people's apathy.

The Political Class

The Mayor of London only this week described the tone of the EU debate as "poisonous". In fact, I've written previously about how politicians are failing to cut through with the public and engage in this campaign.

Also read:

A combination of hysterical economic claims based on dubious models, scaremongering about immigration, and personal in-fighting between party colleagues may lead to a climate that ultimately turns off members of the public and leads to a low turnout.

When asked who they trusted the least, people under the age of 30 answered "politicians" with a net -66 rating, while a recent survey of both Remain and Leave voters showed a general disdain for the opinion of "experts".

It could well be the case that after this referendum, our MPs, who overwhelmingly back Britain's continued membership of the EU by 459 to 150, use their summer break to take a long, hard at themselves in the mirror, and think about what they've done. Unlikely, yes, but stranger things than MPs taking responsibility have happened.

David Cameron 

The Prime Minister may ultimately have to resign in the event of a Brexit, and his opponents within Labour and the Conservative Party will be spoilt for choice if they wish to pin it on his back.

For example, the widely-accepted view is that he bungled his months'-long EU renegotiation, failing to return with the sufficient changes to convince his Eurosceptic back-benchers and undecided voters across the UK to follow his lead in this campaign.

There are smaller factors too, such as the government's voter registration reform which disproportionately disenfranchised young, and overwhelmingly more pro-European voters, as well as his staunch resistance to widening the voting age to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Blame may also arise, of course, from his decision to hold this referendum in the first place.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

EU Referendum: David Cameron Has No Choice But To Reject Any Leave Vote

Assuming Britain votes to leave the European Union on June 23, the Prime Minister will be faced with a one of history's most gruelling dilemmas. 

Does he accept the will of the British people and take Britain out of Europe against all his instincts, or will he disregard the democratic mandate put before him, and save his country?

You would be forgiven for assuming the result - whether Remain or Leave - would be legally binding. But it isn't. In some form or another, the government will have to take the final decision as there is nothing in the legislation which says the result must be respected.

David Allen Green has written a good explainer on these legal complexities for the Financial Times. He writes:
What happens next in the event of a vote to leave is therefore a matter of politics not law. It will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable. The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect (low turnout may be such an excuse). Or they could say it is now a matter for parliament, and then endeavour to win the parliamentary vote. Or ministers could try to re-negotiate another deal and put that to another referendum. There is, after all, a tradition of EU member states repeating referendums on EU-related matters until voters eventually vote the “right” way.
In summary, the result of the referendum is not obligatory. What matters is whether - and when - the government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This referendum is more of a glorified opinion poll than an out-and-out instruction.


Which brings us back to David Cameron's dilemma: accept the will of the British people and plunge this country, as he sees it, into economic, social and political chaos, or risk his own reputation and legacy to save it.

Also read:
Assuming the Prime Minister and his government have been completely honest and straightforward with the public throughout this campaign, we now know that in the event Britain withdraws from the European Union the migrant camps based in Calais will move to Kent, the NHS will be starved of funding, households up and down the country will lose £4300 per yearEurope could be plunged into another World War, Islamic State will receive a morale boosthouse prices will face an 18% hit, Britain will face a year-long recession with 500,000 job losses, pensioners could lose up to £32,000mortgages will rise by nearly £1000 per year, Britain will face a sterling crisis, the Northern Ireland peace process will be thrown into doubt, the pensions 'triple lock' will be scrapped, and the government will be forced to introduce an 'emergency budget' calling for a combination of tax increases and massive spending cuts.

This is not a prospect that should excite any sitting prime minister. In respecting the will of the people, David Cameron will be consciously choosing to enact all of the above. He will have no choice but to refuse the result as to do otherwise would be completely reckless; potentially the single most irresponsible decision made by a prime minister in British history.

That is, of course, assuming he isn't a liar.

Does Thomas Mair Have Legitimate Concerns?

When asked for his name, the 52-year-old suspect in the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox said "death to traitors, freedom for Britain."

Disclaimer: Criminal proceedings are ongoing, so any scope for commenting on the defendant specifically is narrow. Read David Banks' guide to contempt of court - relevant to Twitter users, journalists and bloggers alike.

The discourse surrounding the horrific sequence of events has seen a public outpouring of grief. But also brewing has been a sinister counter-narrative pushed by a small faction of right-wing pundits entirely preoccupied with the upcoming referendum.

Also read: 

This apologism for right-wing extremism is a bizarre and sad phenomenon. There is a legitimate case for Leave, as there is a legitimate case for Remain. Although it is impossible to detach what has happened from the context and timing of the ongoing campaigns, I (and most others) do not see Jo Cox's death as being directly connected with the EU debate.


Nevertheless, tarnished by victimhood, this small group of zealots have been clambering over one another to spin this tragedy to suit their own political agenda.
    Spearheaded by Louise Mensch and flanked by the likes of Julia Hartley-Brewer and James Delingpole, and aided by certain tabloid newspapers, this particular band of Brexiteers have continued to deny fiercely the attack had anything to do with right-wing extremism, and have simultaneously tried to tie it with mental health.

    Why mental health? It is an effective way of deflecting the scope for a political motive by in-part absolving personal responsibility.

    James Delingpole, for example, in his utterly paranoid piece 'Project Grief: Remain's Dirty Politicking Has Hit an All-Time Low', almost preemptively accused the Remain campaign of exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

    He wrote: "Are we seriously being expected to believe that this act of violence by a deranged loner represents a statement on the political climate of Britain of which we should all take note?

    "Are we supposed to take it as evidence of some kind of "far-right" terror campaign, of which this strange sad bloke with the white baseball cap, the red gardening gloves, the camo jacket and the remote stare is but the first of many agents?

    "If you actually believe this then I'd say you're not much less deranged and paranoid than Thomas Mair himself."

    What about Hartley-Brewer, who declared Delingpole's article is a 'must-read'? She says that "genuinely, with [her] hand on [her] heart" that any toxicity that may now exist "came from the official Remain campaign," namely for "its scaremongering lies" and for "telling half the country they're ignorant racists".

    Louise Mensch, meanwhile, who only one year ago used her column in the Sun to bully and denigrate a student protesting mental health cuts, has now outed herself as a champion in the fight against the chronic lack of mental health provision in local communities.

    In her terribly-judged and prematurely-written 'Justice First! Jo Cox's Mentally Ill Killer Should Not Be Discussed in Parliament' Mensch wrote that by speaking against "hate" the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn "both imputed political motives to Thomas Mair, which could prejudice his trial" and slammed West Yorkshire Police for "[leaking] highly prejudicial crap to the Guardian about far-right memorabilia."

    As if that wasn't enough, what began on Saturday morning as a crude Twitter-based defence of the "insane" suspect on the grounds that "if insane, nothing else matters" retreated into an angry disdain for anybody who dared mention the court appearance, let alone the suspect's widely-reported ties with far-right groups, as soon as she was alerted to the existing contempt laws that she herself had already vociferously breached.


    In Saturday's court hearing  it emerged Thomas Mair claimed to be a "political activist" during his arrest, and was alleged to have shouted a variation of "Britain first", "Keep Britain independent", "Britain always comes first", and "This is for Britain" as he launched his attack. But does he have legitimate concerns?

    In the hours that followed the murder, while details such as those above yet lingered in the realm of speculation, many out there, including those I've named above, channelled their efforts into deflecting any hint of a political connection. This continued even after the police released a statement confirming the suspect's ties with right-wing extremism was a "priority line of inquiry".

    Incidentally, this is the same group of people who insist communities out there have "legitimate concerns" about social cohesion, which is itself perfectly valid, yet flatly refuse to acknowledge the scope for right-wing extremism to have entered the mainstream in the face of all the established facts.

    Incidentally, this is the same group of people who insist "it isn't racist to talk about immigration," which is itself perfectly valid, yet retreat into the background, or even double-down, when Nigel Farage takes a sledgehammer to the conversational door we've opened by invoking images reminiscent of fascist propaganda from the 1930s to promote their shared cause.
    My initial reaction to this news was one of shock; the feeling that "this sort of thing doesn't happen in Britain". I was wrong. Britain has changed without us even realising. And it hasn't been overnight.

    As the writer and commentator Alex Andreou wrote in his column: "In my twenty-six years in this country, I have never felt more foreign, less welcome, more marginalised, or less safe. I am not alone. Hundreds of migrants I speak to feel this way.

    "I spend every minute of every day trying to justify my existence, against a wall of blind hatred. It is that hatred that killed Jo Cox. And we all must look into our conscience and answer the question: "Have I contributed"?"


    Also in the news: It has emerged that Liberty GB's Jack Buckby will stand in the Butley and Spen by-election following the assassination of Labour's Jo Cox. As we learn that all other parties have declined to contest the seat out of respect for the late MP, this serves on both a symbolic and physical reminder that the fight against fascism and far-right extremism is no longer just the stuff of history books, but a very real, very present danger to us all.

    Friday, 17 June 2016

    Media Spotlight - The Assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox

    The moving statement by Brendan Cox in the light of his wife's recent death was heart-wrenching in nature and among the most difficult to listen to. It is unimaginable how difficult it must have been to write.

    Politicians, journalists and commentators in Britain and across the world have contributed pieces of writing as the public and law enforcement try to piece together what happened, and why. These pieces are furious, emotional, poignant, and reflective; wide-ranging in tone and purpose, but together help us shape an understanding of the incomprehensibly horrific, or at least try to.


    Gordon Brown, the Guardian: Jo Cox's legacy should be to end the downward spiral in our politics
    It took her a large part of her 20s, she said, to recover from Cambridge, but that experience tested her, and then strengthened her, and made her the amazing person we came to know. She was nevver to be afraid again, and her ambition was not to join the establishment but to change it - and to change it for people far less fortunate than herself.

    Alex Massie, Spectator: A day of infamy [original, unedited]
    Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they're too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they're not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

    James O'Brien, LBC: We want our country back from whom?
    Convince me if you can, that political debate in Britain in the last couple of years has not created an environment in which we find it easy to believe... or possible to believe that this sort of violence, that this sort of terrorism could unfold on our streets

    Jonathon Freedland, the Guardian: If you inject enough poison into the political bloodstream, somebody will get sick
    What we do know is that this campaign has torn away at a fabric that took years to weave, one that ensured we could argue with each other without challenging the basic legitimacy of our opponents, one that had grown to accept diversity as a strength rather than a threat to be feared, one that allowed us to keep calm and civil even when we disagreed passionately. 

    Polly Toynbee, the Guardian: The mood is ugly, and an MP is dead
    This attack on a public official cannot be viewed in isolation. It occurs against a backdrop of ugly public mood in which we have been told to despise the political class, to distrust those who serve, to dehumanise those with whom we do not readily identify.

    Michael Deacon, the Telegraph: Jo Cox was brave. So are most MPs. Let's show them more respect
    To be an MP is brave. No matter how hard you work, no matter how much you try to help, you're going to be distrusted. You're going to be abused. You're going to be hated. Not by people who know you, but by people who don't.

    Adam Bienkov,, Jo Cox's killer is responsible for their actions. Others are responsible for theirs
    We all have choices in life. Jo Cox chose to live her life standing up for vulnerable people fleeing from dangerous parts of the world, both as a charity worker and then as an MP. She was responsible for that choice. She will be remembered for that choice. Others took different choices. Ukip leader Nigel Farage chose to spend his life exploiting fears about vulnerable people fleeing from dangerous parts of the world.

    Emran Miann, Facebook post: I wrote this raw and unloved thing about the killing of Jo Cox
    I thought of it on Thursday morning when I saw Nigel Farage standing in front of that Breaking Point poster. I'll be honest: for a brief moment I imagined someone being violent towards him. Then I shuddered and reflected: what's happening to us, or more specifically what's happening to me. Later in the day a politician was shot - and killed.

    Rupert Myers, self-published: Unity
    One lesson of Charlie Hebdo was that the pen is mightier than the assault rifle. Violence cannot kill free speech. One lesson of Jo Cox's death must be to try to understand the circularity of the relationship between the exercise of our free speech and violence. "Britain first" is no less significant than exclamations of religious conviction: dangerous rhetoric and poisonous ideology legitimise and encourage violence.  

    I have pasted Brendan Cox's moving statement below in full:
    Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo's friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo. Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. 
    She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous. Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.

    Monday, 6 June 2016

    Project Fear: Every EU Referendum Scare Story in One Place!

    We should be worried. Regardless of which we we vote, Britain faces an almighty cataclysm; that is, at least, according to our elected officials.

    Think of the EU referendum campaign as being in a state of limbo, or purgatory, from which we will emerge on June 24 into either one form of hellish existence, or into a completely different form of hellish existence.

    Below is a list of the most prominent scare stories from the referendum campaign - put forward by both the Remain and Leave side - because, well, you should fully know what you're getting into before you cast your ballot.

    Don't say you haven't been warned.


    Britain will become a little country "like Guernsey"
    Emmanuel Macron | 18 June

    Incomes would be permanently lower
    IMF | 18 June

    The Government would have to introduce an emergency budget with income tax increases and/or massive spending cuts
    George Osborne | 14 June 

    It could begin the process of the destruction of Western political civilisation
    Donald Tusk | 13 June

    The pensions 'triple lock' will be scrapped
    David Cameron | 12 June

    Air pollution in the UK would worsen
    IEMA | 10 June

    Britain would have no access to the single market 
    Wolfgang Shauble | 10 June

    A Eurosceptic Tory government would make 2.8% cuts, raise VAT to 22%
    Labour In | 10 June

    The Northern Ireland peace settlement would be thrown into doubt
    John Major and Tony Blair | 09 June 

    Poor families will lose as much as £5,542 in tax credits per year
    NIESR | 09 June

    British business competitivenesss will suffer
    Roberto Azvedo | 07 June

    It would lead to a sterling crisis
    David Cameron | 06 June 

    The threat of a terrorist attack will increase
    Various former police chiefs | 06 June

    Mortgages will rise by nearly £1000 a year
    David Cameron | 05 June 

    We could lose thousands of jobs in the financial sector
    Jamie Dimon | 03 June

    Scotland could become independent within two years
    Alex Salmond | 26 May

    Pensioners could lose £32,000
    George Osborne | 26 May 

    Britain will face a year-long recession with 500,000 job losses
    George Osborne | 23 May

    The NHS will be fundamentally damaged
    Sir Simon Stevens | 22 May

    House prices face an 18% hit
    George Osborne | 21 May

    We might make ISIS happy
    David Cameron | 17 May 

    The scale of an imminent recession could be 'pretty bad to very, very bad'
    Christine Lagarde | 13 May

    It would undermine Britain's national security
    Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller | 11 May

    Europe could be plunged into another World War
    David Cameron | 09 May

    Over 100,000 couples could break up
    Sian Berry | 25 April

    We will be put at 'the back of the queue' for US-UK trade talks
    Barrack Obama | 22 April

    British households would lose £4300 per year
    George Osborne | 18 April

    More than 400 top-flight footballers could be deported
    Various footballing figures / Karen Brady | 31 March 

    The NHS will be starved of funding
    Jeremy Hunt | 27 March

    Britain could lose up to 950,000 jobs
    Confederation of British Industry | 21 March

    Spain would invade Gibraltar 'the very next day'
    Manuel Garcia-Margallo | 07 March

    The cost of flights would skyrocket and tourist safety would be at risk 
    Dame Carolyn McCall | 14 February

    Calais 'migrant camps' will move to Kent
    David Cameron | 08 February 


    Britain would be open to an Orlando-style terrorist attack

    LEAVE.EU | 13 June

    Turkey will be given VISA-free access to the UK; fast-tracked into the EU (£)
    Anonymous diplomat | 12 June

    Europe will 'drag us into poverty'
    Jim Mellon | 07 June

    The EU will abolish the monarchy
    Ukip | 06 June

    Britain will have to pay an extra £2.4bn per year
    Boris Johnson | 06 June 

    Women face an increased risk of sexual assault by foreign men
    Nigel Farage | 04 June

    We risk letting people like these 50 'most dangerous' European criminals
    Vote Leave | 28 May

    There will be a European Union army 
    Various | 27 May

    The NHS will be fundamentally damaged
    Lord David Owen | 22 May

    Thousands of criminals from Turkey, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia could arrive in Britain
    Penny Mordaunt | 22 May

    Up to 12 million Turks say they'll come to the UK
    Daily Express | 22 May

    We could add up to 5.23m to the UK population
    Michael Gove | 20 May

    Bananas can't be sold in bunches of more than two or three
    Boris Johnson | 17 May

    The EU will realise Hitler's ambitions and morph into a superstate
    Boris Johnson | 15 May

    Young People will be forced out of London
    Iain Duncan Smith | 10 May

    Millions of Turks will be given free movement rights
    Ian Duncan Smith | 10 May

    The status of the UK's financial sector could be eroded
    Jon Moulton | 29 April

    ISIS sleeper agents will exploit open borders to plot attacks in Britain
    James Clapper | 27 April

    The 'ticking time bomb' will explode, taxes will rise by 18% across the Eurozone
    Gisela Stuart | 13 April

    Terror suspects will be able to 'waltz into Britain'
    Dominc Raab | 30 March

    Gypsy gangsters will siphon away millions of pounds in benefits
    The Sun | 29 March

    Europe will tax your Easter Eggs
    Robert Oxley | 28 March

    It would undermine Britain's national security
    Sir Richard Dearlove | 23 March 

    Europe will seize control of British coastguard services
    Daily Express | 07 March

    Britain risks suffering a 'Paris-style terror attack'
    Iain Duncan Smith | 21 February


    I'll be updating this list over the next few weeks as we approach the referendum date. Anything I've missed? Just tweet me

    Still stuck on which way to vote? Just pick the list of risks, warnings and imminent nightmares that seems the most terrifying, and go with the other option. Now what's so difficult to understand about that?

    Sunday, 5 June 2016

    Media Spotlight - Jeremy Corbyn: the Outsider

    For all their differences, Jeremy Corbyn and the British press have something in common; an unforgiving contempt for each another.

    Last week VICE released a fly-on-the-wall film documenting the inner-workings of the Labour leader's operation, and the reviews were mixed; not for the quality of the documentary (nobody particularly cared how good the film was) but for how Jeremy Corbyn presented himself.

    In light of the fascinating relationship between Corbyn and the media, I figured that instead of reviewing it myself it would be more appropriate to collate what his biggest fans - those inside, and camping on the fringes of, the Westminster bubble - made of it.

    Will Self, Vice: 'Bathetic and pathetic': Corbyn's normcore shtick is utterly ineffectual
    What I mostly felt watching the documentary was anger − an anger which, as bathetic and pathetic scenes alternated, muted into annoyance, before finally curdling to become mere... pity, which is hardly a vote-winner.

    Gaby Hinsliff, the Guardian: The media don't hate Jeremy Corbyn. It's more complicated than that 
    Having been a lobby reporter for 12 years, followed by observing Westminster from a safer distance for the past six, I do think bias is part of the answer. But not the bias you think. Journalists are not out to destroy Corbyn because he threatens to bring down the neoliberal elite, or because they’re all Tories, or because they live in a bubble of groupthink.

    Iain Martin, CapX: Corbyn is getting worse. The man is a total twit
    If you think personal abuse is uncalled for then please don’t read on. Personally, I want there to be a proper opposition. I think the leader of the opposition should be a serious person. Prime Minister is still a pretty important job. People putting themselves up for the post had better be good. That Corbyn is so useless but persists is an act of supreme selfishness and self-indulgence. He deserves everything that is coming to him from the electorate.

    Matt Chorley, the Times (£): Corbyn cameras capture a new David Brent. Fact!
    The beard, the self-delusion, the pseudo-proverbs used to convey great insight. Jeremy Corbyn is the David Brent of our day... Seems easy: invite in a journalist who is a paid-up Labour member from a website from outside the hated “mainstream media” to secure positive coverage. This is no stitch-up. It’s worse than that. Like Ricky Gervais’s spoof, it just holds the camera up to Mr Corbyn and shows viewers what he says and does.

    Peter Edwards, LabourList: Corbyn film underlines risk of letting cameras in to the leader's office
    There was no clear message from the film beyond Corbyn’s hostile attitude towards the BBC and a Guardiancolumnist who wrote about anti-Semitism – but this would not be what you want the public to take away from 30 minutes up close with the Labour leader. It was confirmation, if any were needed, that Corbyn and his staff do not attempt to stage manage his interventions in the microscopic manner that initially proved so successful under New Labour.

    There are some moments of humour worthy of The Thick Of It, provided apparently unintentionally by the interviewees. At one point Corbyn, who is signing photographs at the time, explains that in the autumn he will be signing the fruit from his allotment: "I’m gonna sign the apples. We’ll have signed apples."

    Catherine Bennett, the Guardian: Jeremy Corbyn's male-only retinue will never tell him he has no clothes
    Like Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown before him, he shows a firm preference for a male-dominated team, its mission to sustain the fantasy that the chosen oddball can prevail: a skilled operation that would evidently be jeopardised if any woman were allowed a speaking role. Women’s freedom to sit silently, even to clap, is, however, one of the key respects in which life inside Corbyn’s office can be seen to differ from arrangements on all-male Mount Athos.

    John McTernan, the Telegraph: Why Jeremy Corbyn despises the liberal media even more than the Right
    Luckily for Cameron, Corbyn only brought his trademark tone of sanctimonious petulance to the Chamber. Unluckily for Corbyn, documentary filmmakers from Vice TV were in the room when he told his team that he was going to give the day to Cameron. The brief shot of Seumas Milne’s face shows two thoughts fighting for dominance: "Did he really just say that? Again?" just loses out to "Why did I agree to the camera crew?"

    Tom Peck, the Independent: Why won't they just let me fail on my own?
    Vice’s "fly-on-the-wall" documentary took months to make. Flies are attracted to one thing, and whenever the smell coming off that thing turned so overwhelming as to be unmaskable even by the aggressively perfumed Seumas Milne, Vice was sent packing til the whiff had subsided.

    I've embedded the divisive documentary below. It's definitely worth a watch. You can, and should, make up your mind over it.