Another week, another murmur about splinters in Westminster. This time, though, it’s a splinter that would affect both Labour and the Conservatives. James Chapman, George Osborne’s former spin doctor, has floated the idea of a new centrist party called the Democrats, and claims that a handful of ministers from both sides have “been in touch”. I won’t go so far as to say it’s the answer to a question nobody asked. There’s been questions ever since Corbyn’s rise about how to hold left and centre-leaning Labourites together, just as there have been about pro and anti-Brexit Tories. A new centrist movement that mops up disenchanted MPs from both parties is an answer. It’s just not an answer that helps anybody.
Trump, in his remarks on Saturday, refused to align himself against the so-called alt-right protest movement. His decision to maintain a neutral stance on the activities of the racist and anti-Semitic right has opened him to charges of hypocrisy; Trump is now refusing to speak plainly about the nature of a particular terrorist threat, a sin he continually ascribed to his predecessor. But the issue here is substantially larger than mere hypocrisy. Obama carefully measured his rhetoric in the war against Islamist terrorism because he hoped to avoid inserting the U.S. into the middle of an internecine struggle consuming another civilization. But the struggle in Charlottesville is a struggle within our own civilization, within Trump’s own civilization.
On Tuesday, reaction to a new British proposal designed to avert a damaging rupture in trade when the country leaves the European Union underscored the deepening troubles in Britain’s contentious path to negotiating its withdrawal. After months of internal feuding, Britain’s government said it wanted to remain — temporarily — in something similar to the European customs union immediately after the withdrawal, scheduled for 2019, to avert the types of border checks that could cause chaos at British ports and at the border with Ireland. British business groups, relieved to see a way to manage the short-term risks of quitting the European Union, welcomed those plans, seeing them as a means, perhaps, to buy two years of stability
As images poured onto my Twitter feed of swastika-tattooed meatheads and torch-bearing neo-Nazis last Saturday, I kept asking myself the same question: "Why is no one talking about the guys in camo holding assault rifles?" As a Brit, public protest brings to mind busloads of placard-bearing students having a shouting match with lager-slurping skinheads, not grown men dressed up as soldiers wielding military grade firearms. The 32 heavily armed and well-equipped men photographed patrolling the Charlottesville protest were members of a makeshift militia. No, we're not talking about a war-torn banana republic. This is 2017 America. Resembling a group of renegade mercenaries from an Andy McNab 'novel', they came with the supposed purposes of keeping order, protecting people from violence and, of course, "defending free speech".
For me, the depressing state of Britain’s politics was summed up by a tweet: “Bored of 'I hate Tories & Brexit' so 'I want Labour & will conveniently forget they also back Brexit,'“ Tim Walker wrote. He’s right. The government is stumbling like a bad drunk to a hard and chaotic Brexit. The opposition would rather talked about anything except the most important issue of the day. The Lib Dems talk a good game but lack credibility. For every study that is done that shows the country wants a hard Brexit, there is another that shows voters put economic stability before immigration control. With the staying power of Banquo at a bad dinner party, Nigel Farage pops up to tell us that a transition period involving Customs Union and Single Market membership was not what the British people voted for.
A 32 year-old woman was killed and more injured when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, in clashes at a white supremacist rally. A man has been arrested and charged with second degree murder. To say that the scenes are shocking is a gross understatement. The killing of an anti-racist demonstrator was an act of domestic terrorism. Morally and intellectually, there is no difference between this act and any act of Islamic terrorism. Terrorism is not defined by the colour of the perpetrator’s skin. They should be treated with the same disgust. The spectacle of far-right violence and intimidation on the streets of modern America is a grotesue one. Heather Heyer’s death is the terrible price of America’s divided politics and the far-right’s hatred.
Sometime in October, the United States is likely to default on its obligation to pay its bills as they come due, having failed to raise the federal debt ceiling. This will cost the Treasury tens of billions of dollars every year for decades to come in higher interest charges and probably trigger a severe recession. The debt ceiling is politically imposed, and the decision not to raise it, and therefore to choose to default, is also political. It’s something America has avoided in the past. This time, though, will be different. This country has hit the debt ceiling once, in 1979, and then largely by accident and only to a minor extent.
James Chapman, who formerly worked as chief of staff to Brexit minister David Davis, and before that as an aide to then-finance minister George Osborne, said May's Brexit plans would sink the British economy. After calling for a new political movement to keep Britain in the European Union, Chapman said senior politicians from both the Conservative and Labour parties had contacted him. "Two people in the cabinet now, and a number of people who have been in Conservative cabinets before now, better cabinets I might say than the current one, and a number of shadow cabinet ministers have also been in touch," he told BBC radio.
In psychological terms, it is called projection. British political observers watch Donald Trump’s presidency with the cringing fear reserved for a cheap slasher movie. In every comment the underlying, but unasked, question is: “How could they have voted for this?” The thing is, observant Americans - though who even notice these isles - are asking the same question of Britain. If it were just Brexit versus Trump, we could claim a draw and go back to debating the advantages of metric and imperial systems. It is not to deny the deep problems in American politics to say that Britain is in a far worse situation. British politics, in any meaningful sense, has stopped functioning.
Be careful what you wish for. For decades voters have gone through the occasional spasm of revolt against the two party stranglehold. The have flirted, in turn, with Liberals, the SDP, the Greens, Cleggmania then UKIP. At every point, Britain’s creaking political system has rescued the two party state. At the last election, the two parties fought off challenges to records their highest combined vote in years. Even Scotland’s love affair with the SNP seems to be waning. Labour’s gains in Remain areas, such as Canterbury and Kensingston, is well-documented. The post-election narrative hides that working-class voters shifted towards the Conservatives. Both are extraordinary. Though only one benefitted either party.
On Sunday, as the bacon grilled slowly in preparation for breakfast, the major picked up his paper. Shocked, his moustache quivered with rage as he turned to his wife. “Marjory, can you believe it? This lily-livered government has offered to pay the blasted EU £40bn.” “Really, dear? Why’s that?” said Marjory putting the sausages in the pan. “Why’s that? Because they are a bunch of pinko commies. This is not what we voted for Marjory. It is a betrayal!” Before she could turn to face him, the major had taken the shotgun from his side, pointed it at the telebox and fired two rounds into its screen. “Bloody BBC!” he sniffed and, his point made, he waited for his breakfast.
On Wednesday, after Trump announced the transgender ban on Twitter in an early-morning tweet storm, I wrote to Locke to see what she made of it. “That is very disturbing,” she wrote back tersely. We spoke later that day. “It was very much out of line with what I thought his views were on the issue,” she told me. “He’s made positive statements in the past; he’s been critical of those who’ve been hard on the trans community. But then again,” she sighed, “he has a political debt to pay, too.” A Trump administration official, describing the rationale for the ban to Axios’ Jonathan Swan Wednesday morning, was breathtakingly candid in acknowledging the political expediency of it.
Donald J. Trump was once the star of The Apprentice. But now he captivates America, and the world, as the leading man in a drama similar to The Sopranos but seemingly directed in the surrealist style of David Lynch. The ten day tenure of Communications Director Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci, the humiliating survival Obamacare and the rollback of the Muslim ban by court injunctions, all exemplify the chaos of the Trump White House. The new Chief of Staff, army man John Kelly, promises to instil discipline into the president and his regime. Ultimately though, Kelly’s influence is irrelevant as long as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump camp’s links to Russia continues.
As a break from the dispiriting state of British democracy, it is a joy to be in Kenya amidst an election campaign. Huge candidate billboards are everywhere and the traffic is punctuated by convoys of colourfully painted campaign cars blaring out music and messages to drum up voter support for the 8th August poll. Kenya has perhaps the most healthily politicised and engaged population I have encountered during decades of travelling the world. Everywhere, the issues and deeds of leading politicians are avidly discussed by well-informed people at all levels of society, from senior executives to street traders. Campaign rallies attract huge crowds, far from all of whom are attracted by the ubiquitous free t-shirts bearing the candidates images.
The Bank of England has warned economic growth will remain "sluggish" as it kept interest rates on hold amid a tightening squeeze on family incomes. Policymakers on the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted 6-2 to keep rates at 0.25pc, with fewer members this month calling for a rise as lacklustre economic growth has weakened support for a hike. In its quarterly inflation report, the Bank cut its forecasts for growth to 1.7pc in 2017 and 1.6pc in 2018 and cautioned the squeeze on household incomes would continue, with inflation still expected to surge close to 3pc in the autumn.
With control of both Congress and the White House — and yet no major legislative successes to point to — the Republican Party is finding itself stuck. A GOP Congress is frustrated with the president and unsure what will happen next in his daily West Wing drama. And Trump wants to sign legislation to show he is effective and is frustrated bills are not on his desk. A sudden White House shakeup on Friday made it even more clear that Trump, who campaigned as an outsider, is determined to govern as one, too — and not listen to McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan or other orthodox allies. The president expanded the power of the political neophytes in his administration, elevating Manhattan hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci to White House communications director, at the cost of an operative — press secretary Sean Spicer, who announced his resignation on Friday — with years of Washington experience.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Thursday announced the launch of a study of the "costs and benefits" of EU immigration, to be completed by September 2018 - just over six months before Britain is set to leave the bloc. Rudd said she had asked the government's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to give the government "the most accurate picture possible of the extent to which the UK economy uses EU labor." The study will consider the regional distribution of EU migration, including which industries are most reliant on it. It will also look at the role of temporary and seasonal workers in British economy.
Unlike those of God, the mills of politics grind quickly but they also grind finely. On June 8th, Theresa May went from being a prime minister who commanded all she surveyed to one whose authority was nothing more than a joke. The extent of her decline was seen when, interviewed by Iain Dale on LBC, she begged for order from her Cabinet: no minister was unsackable, she claimed. Labour’s unexpectedly good defeat, followed by the awful Grenfell fire, left the Tories questioning their raison d’etre. The extraordinary turnaround in political fortunes was symbolised by the huge crowd at Glastonbury singing “Oh! Jeremy Corbyn!” Yet as Parliament has gone into recess, a temporary harmony has overtaken the Tories and it is Labour who is on the back foot.
In 2004, Republican strategist Karl Rove anticipated a majority that would last a generation; two years later, Pelosi became the most liberal House speaker in history. Obama was swept into power by a supposedly unassailable Democratic coalition. In 2010, the tea party tide rolled in. Obama’s reelection returned the momentum to the Democrats, but Republicans won a historic state-level landslide in 2014. Then last fall, Trump demolished both the Republican and Democratic establishments. Political historians will one day view Donald Trump as a historical anomaly. But the wreckage visited of this man will break the Republican Party into pieces — and lead to the election of independent thinkers no longer tethered to the tired dogmas of the polarized past.
Politics is full of ironies. When Theresa May presented her plan for EU citizens’ rights post-Brexit, the EU treated the Prime Minister as a wayward child: “Must try harder. It is ironic that a process that was about taking back control has exposed the feeble nature of our power. Equally when David Davis negotiates in Brussels it is clear where the power lies. The Brexit mythology is being exposed. Taking back control is merely the first. Even if Britain leaves the Single Market, some form of rules-based trade agreement will be needed and that agreement be one less favourable than the present one. It will also be one negotiated by one government against 27.
As discussions got serious this week in Brussels — amid open feuding, cabinet splits and confusion over policy objectives back in London — Britain’s handling of its most important negotiations since World War II was starting to look shambolic. Nearly four months after Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50, starting the clock on a two-year window to negotiate Britain’s departure, little or nothing of substance has been accomplished. With the British currency languishing, the standard of living progressively squeezed and investors starting to take fright, there is markedly less bravado in London about a new age of opportunities for a “global Britain.” Amid a growing sense of drift, gone is the talk of a “red, white and blue Brexit” — a reference to the colors of the national flag.
The 1994 Rwandan genocide saw an estimated one million people slaughtered out of a population of 7.7 million, as Hutu extremists attempted to eliminate the Tutsi minority, moderate Hutus and other, smaller ethnic groups. The international community, distracted by divisions between the major powers and simultaneous events in Yugoslavia, largely stood by, despite the valiant attempts of the UN Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) Commander, Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, to raise the alarm. The genocide was ended when the mainly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) seized control of the country. The RPF had been fighting since 1990 from its bases in exile in Uganda to overthrow the increasingly extremist Rwandan government. It was led by Paul Kagame, one of the most capable world political figures of his generation.
Just when we thought Donald Trump’s presidency couldn’t get any worse, it reached a new nadir with this month’s tweet-storm against MSNBC presenters Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. For critically reporting on his beleaguered administration, Scarborough was attacked as “Psycho Joe” while Brzezinski’s appearance was subjected to the chauvinist-in-chief’s signature misogyny. Next in the firing line was CNN. Or the “Fraud News CNN” as Trump renamed them. He shared a clip from his 2007 appearance at World Wrestling Entertainment’s WrestleMania 23, with his storyline beat-down on owner Vince McMahon having CNN’s logo superimposed over McMahon’s face. It was crafted by a Reddit user who made an antisemitic meme targeting Jewish CNN journalists.
Trump has not organized a single public event specifically around the cruel and detested health-care reform designed by his congressional allies since a lone rally in Kentucky on March 12. He spent July 4, our most important national holiday, at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. Had he been forced to work that day, he surely would have griped about it like his U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. This crew is less protestant work ethic and more protesting having to work at all. These are the actions of a man who either does not believe his own noxious rhetoric about the dire problems facing the country or who has concluded that he is simply not up to the task of working hard to address them
At times like these, it's crucial to remember that the president is not, in fact, the most powerful or important person in America. He works for us, and we retain control of and responsibility for our destinies. In far grimmer eras of American history — slavery, internment, the Jim Crow days in the deep South — millions of men and women in this country found a way to conduct themselves with dignity, no matter how depraved things got at the top of the hierarchy. And their forceful dignity and refusal to give up on the American ideal are what makes me hopeful that this, too, will pass.
It’s the ultimate man-off: Vladimir V. Putin and Donald J. Trump, two leaders who have staked their appeal on projecting masculinity, face off with the world judging who prevails. Each is almost a cartoonish version of hyper-masculinity [and has ] built his following partly on unmanning his predecessor, on restoring strength to a country that each successfully portrayed as weakened by past policy concessions. Mr Trump has set himself up with little room to manoeuvre. He’s built his brand, and much of his foreign policy, on masculine strength. He lost the handshake contest to Emmanuel Macron of France.
“I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," said Ronald Reagan in 1984. Today young people have never been more engaged in politics, but older leaders have apparently found a new lease. Vince Cable, at 74, is likely to succeed Tim Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats. If successful Cable will be the oldest leader of a major British political party since Winston Churchill, who became Conservative prime minister for a second time at age 77 in 1951. Cable’s party is a shell of its former self however, still paying the price for its coalition with the Tories. It descends from the Liberal Party led in the 19th century by “Grand Old Man” William Gladstone, who left Downing Street for the fourth and final time at 84.
We have approached the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) yet few in Britain are aware of the dire situation in its former colony. Memories appear to be short and only a handful of Westminster politicians regularly raise concerns about the crackdowns on freedoms in Hong Kong. Now it’s time for Parliament to wake up and fulfil our obligations to Hong Kongers. The question of Britain’s right to speak out on matters relating to Hong Kong is clear cut. The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, is a legally binding international agreement.
The first European Union summit since British Prime Minister Theresa May lost the mandate of an outright parliamentary majority reflected a weakening in her Brexit negotiating position, highlighted by the migration question. Immigration was a potent issue in last year’s Brexit referendum campaign. The future of about three million EU citizens residing in Britain is now an emotive debate. They have reason to fear a hard Brexit. May’s tough rhetoric on immigration has done nothing to ease their anxiety that they might be forced to leave, or become second-class citizens. There has been a shift in sentiment, however, to a soft Brexit in which Europe’s views on the future relationship carry more weight. It is to be seen in the response to what May called a fair offer on the rights of EU citizens in Britain.
Treating leaders as celebrities is nothing new. Nor are political anthems. The Roman legions of Gaius Julius Caesar sang a ballad too bawdy for the sensitive ears of the Twitter generation. So “Oh! Jeremy Corbyn” must be seen in this context. Caesar merely conquered Gaul. Corbyn conquered Glastonbury. If it was a fault of political commentators that they paid too much attention to precedent in predicting the future, the present danger is that social media becomes a new barometer of public opinion. The reaction to the fire at Grenfell Tower was one of the most consuming of modern politics. So many pointless deaths was a shock; it may be seen in future years as a transformational moment. The other reaction was more partisan.
“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story,” he tweeted. “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history -- led by some very bad and conflicted people!” Where to start with the distorted thinking exhibited in these tweets? On collusion, Trump is, at best, premature; there is not “zero proof” but a continuing investigation into campaign and transition contacts between Trump associates and Russian operatives -- contacts that Trump aides have consistently minimized if not lied about directly.
In an interview with Die Welt newspaper, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel offered what was essentially an invitation for the UK to change its mind. "It would naturally be best if Britain didn't leave at all," Gabriel said. "It doesn't look like that at the moment, but we want to keep the door open for the British. Those sentiments were echoed in an interview with the same publication by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator. But he also hinted that even should there be a British change of heart, there would be no return to the current status quo. "The path is open for the British to change their minds and become part of the European Union again," Verhofstadt told Welt. "But they'll find a different EU than the one they left, an EU with no special wishes, concessions and unnecessary complexity, but with more powers for Europe."
It seems that the aphorism, coined after the Theresa May’s poor showing at the polls, is true. Denial is a river in Maidenhead. May called a snap poll in order to give her government a Brexit mandate. By losing her majority, she forfeited that mandate. Continuing to plough on as if nothing has changed, the Prime Minister is showing the same tin-ear that she demonstrated on Downing Street when she gave the same speech she might have given had she won a with commanding landslide. Although she hopes to carve out a majority by allying with the Democratic Unionist Party, she is now subject to the whims of her new partners and her rebellious backbenchers. The government is clutching to its political legitimacy with the tenderest of straws.
When it came, it came quickly. It is not that the fall was unexpected nor its rapidity surprising. The Prime Minister tried to ride the wave of Brexit populism. At times, she seemed almost daring but ultimately was unequal to the task. The impossible legacy of her predecessor made her fall inevitable but few realised it would happen so soon. Probably most expected it when she returned from Brussels with a deal and slogans alone could not steer her path. As it is, she has lost the last vestiges of her authority. When they write her political obituary, her response to the Grenfell tragedy will be written as the final nail.
Of course it is the case that Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are predisposed to believe the worst about the man. But the fact is that doing so is not obviously wrong or unreasonable. Trump apologists instinctively want to treat Democrats’ exaggeration and hysteria as contemptible scandal-mongering, but their defenses — no hard evidence of collusion with the Putin regime! — sound a lot like “no controlling legal authority.” The question isn’t whether the president is a crook. The question is: What kind of crook is he?
There now stands a grim tombstone that will dominate the skyline of the capital for many months and, for both Londoners and non-Londoners alike, will become a symbol in the years ahead. Like the Aberfan slag heap, post-Katrina New Orleans, the smoking wreckage of the Twin Towers, or the radioactive hulk of Chernobyl, Grenfell Tower will become the pictorial representation of a failure of those in charge of us. As in these others, the fire at Grenfell Tower killed many - far, far too many - but also affected others profoundly and negatively. The thoughts off all of us at Disclaimer are with those who were killed, injured, bereaved or traumatised by Wednesday's fire.
European leaders have a message for Britons reeling from a shock election result: All is forgiven if London wants to abandon its divorce from the European Union. The sentiment, voiced by France’s president, Germany’s finance minister and a host of Brussels diplomats, comes after British voters quashed Prime Minister Theresa May’s dreams of a commanding majority — and a firmer hand — as she led her nation into Brexit talks. Instead, her Conservative Party lost its majority, and politicians in favor of closer ties to Europe appear ascendant just days before divorce negotiations are set to begin Monday.
With Conservative infighting returning to the nadir of the 1990s, George Osborne has called Theresa May a “dead woman walking.” The Prime Minister’s political career is a husk. Her credibility, authority and reputation lay in ruins. Now Northern Ireland’s hard-right Democratic Unionist Party holds the balance of power in the House of Commons, a prospect that should horrify nominally liberal Britain. Founded by Protestant fundamentalist Ian Paisley, the DUP stands for extreme anti-abortion and anti-LGBT policies consistent with his prejudices. They are tied to the anti-Catholic Orange Order and their leader, Arlene Foster, has even maintained links with the Ulster Defence Association - a proscribed terrorist organisation.
Humble pie is the dish of the week. The relish with which it is being served up is almost as great as the delight with which some are eating it. As one who stridently predicted that Corbyn would lead Labour to a historic defeat, there has been a fair amount of pie chez Kirby this week. So forgive the excessive use of the perpendicular pronoun. Justifying mistakes is an inelegant pursuit. I will not attempt to excuse my mistakes. I hope I am big enough not only to admit them but also learn from them. There is something else I am sorry about. It is when I criticised Jeremy Corbyn, I did so on the grounds of competence and electability. I am sorry that pragmatism obscured my beliefs.
After a brief leadership contest, Leo Varadkar was, on 2nd June, elected leader of Fine Gael, Ireland’s leading party. Now he has been approved by the assembly and will be sworn in as Taoiseach once his nomination is confirmed by President Higgins. This will make him Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister, the first from an ethnic minority background, and the first who is openly gay. The son of an Indian immigrant father, and a doctor who came out in 2015, Varadkar is in many ways a welcome addition to the international political scene. Before liberals get too giddy, though, it’s worth remembering that Fine Gael are a centre-right party, and Varadkar has been described as belonging to their ‘Thatcherite’ wing.
Jaws across the country collectively dropped when Theresa May walked back into 10 Downing Street last Friday. Her brief declaration outside before doing so was perhaps one of the weirdest moments ever witnessed in British politics: her blank-eyed assertion that nothing much had happened the night before suggested she was suffering from shock and deeply deluded. Those who oppose May and her party’s shameful attempt to cling on to power at all costs should not be fooled: May was clearly struggling in that instant to come to terms with what had happened. But the Tories are inveterate schemers and scheming is what they will have been doing since last Friday morning.
Theresa May called a snap general election in the hope that she would be given a huge mandate in order to negotiate Brexit. The public vote was the electoral equivalent of a large raspberry being blown in her face. Her stance on Brexit may have just been rhetoric in order to win Leave votes; she may well have used her mandate to stare down her backbenchers and produce a more compromised final deal. We will never know as that now belongs in the hypothetical realm of ‘What If’. The ambiguous answer by the public on the future direction of the country betrays that Britain is still horribly divided. May ought to have realised that making her election pitch only at the 52% and ignoring all others, especially the wealthy and educated middle-classes, was a recipe for disaster.
That the loser spent the days after his defeat touring the TV studios while the Prime Minister holed herself in Downing Street not shuffling her Cabinet spoke volumes: with twenty-eight seats with Tory majorities under 2,000, the next election suddenly looks very winnable for Labour. While all the parliamentary arithmetic points to another election, no Conservative leader is going to call one willingly nor does the Fixed-term Parliament Act make it easy. Jeremy Corbyn appeared political buried by his unpopular poll ratings: now he would have to be dead, buried and with a stake through his heart and still any Tory would think more than twice before risking it. That leader will, of course, not be May. She’s toast. The question is merely when her party puts her out of her misery.
Theresa May’s fortune changed as “Big Ben” struck its first chime at 10 o'clock on Thursday 8th June and David Dimbleby declared that the Conservatives would be the largest party in the next parliament - the largest party but without a majority. It was then that the myth of “Strong and Stable” finally crumbled. In twelve months of Theresa May’s premiership, we have witnessed a marriage and extraordinary honeymoon. The campaign saw the honeymoon’s end and polling day divorce. Reconciliation is unlikely: the British are papal in regards to political marriage. Recrimination is far more likely. Had May won a healthy majority, commentators would be praising her wisdom; she would be a Conservative heroine. It is perhaps unfair to vilify her. The reality of politics is, however, that its practitioners live and die by the swords they wield. And so it goes with May.
Within minutes of the news breaking on Thursday night of the exit poll showing a hung parliament, came one of the time-honoured traditions of election broadcasting: the financial markets experts. Look, they said, the pound has fallen, government bond yields will rise, and stock markets may drop because of the political uncertainty. Terrible news, obviously. The fact that that is seen as a useful contribution is a testament to the way that the debate over economics has changed since the advent of neoliberal governments: anything that upsets the financial markets must be bad news. But the electorate did more than just thumb their nose at the financial markets, they have also rejected the cacophonous chorus from the media
The peace. Perhaps it is just me but suddenly the world seems a lot quieter. Even Twitter, consumed as it is with castigating Theresa May, seems a calmer place. Perhap its vindication. Shaken as we are and wan with care, we have found a time for frighted peace to pant. And that’s the trouble with UK general election campaigns, especially unexpected ones: voters are expected to make profound decisions but the campaign does not allow any space for reflection. In the frighted peace, one thing we can know for sure: Theresa May did not win, nor did Jeremy Corbyn. There was only one true winner. They seem to win every time. You would get poor odds on them at Paddy Power. They are the British middle-class.
The narcissism generally comes first. Early Saturday evening, an hour after first retweeting a Drudge Report alert about the London terrorist attack, Donald Trump declared that, “We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” In other words, London proves him right. Everything does. When Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at an Orlando nightclub last June, Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” That same month, when The Wall Street Journalreported that NATO was considering creating a new intelligence coordinator to assist in the fight against terrorism, Trump—who wasn’t even yet the Republican presidential nominee—explained, “It’s all because of me.”
On Friday morning, the Democratic Unionist Party’s website crashed as stunned voters clamoured to find out who exactly they are. The 10 seat party have become the unlikely kingmakers of this election, set to prop up the Conservatives in what appears to be not a strict coalition, but some form of loose ‘confidence and supply’ deal. The dominant unionist party in Northern Ireland, the DUP are among the most conservative major parties in Western Europe, and would undoubtedly sit on the right-most fringes of any alliance. They oppose abortion and LGBT rights, notoriously using 'petitions of concern' to shoot down equal marriage legislation. They once appointed a climate change denier as Environment Minister, and were heavily pro-Brexit (though they oppose a ‘hard Brexit’ or having a hard border with the Republic of Ireland).
May has done something extraordinary: her mission was to put a weak Labour leader out of his supposed misery; instead, she turned the revolver upon her own party. Her whole rationale for calling the election was that an increased majority could provide the leadership that Britain needs to deliver on last year’s Brexit referendum. She failed. May has failed to recognise the difference between moral and political legitimacy. She no longer has the former - she might not even have the latter. Her rush to the palace to “kiss hands” as if she had just won a landslide was ill-advised. The Tories are now a minority. It is far from certain that a DUP deal will be acceptable to many in her party.
This must have been the worst election campaign that a British politician has run for decades. Theresa May treated the British like children, whose future could be dictated. She refused to take part in public debate, avoided any discussion with voters and endlessly repeated the same terms and phrases to every question. Her robot-like repetition of empty slogans earned her the nickname "Maybot." In the last weeks, the British have suddenly been able to observe their prime minister outside her protected role. She showed herself to be cut off, staying in her own small group of trusted people, not trusting anyone else, unable to listen. May appeared insensitive, lacking any understanding of people's real concerns.
Jeremy Corbyn has proved a lot of people, myself included, wrong in this general election campaign. The clouds of spring have hung over the country with a sense of foreboding over the past seven weeks. It felt inevitable that Theresa May would cement her majority and press on with a hard Brexit with renewed vigour. The Labour Party looked finished, its electoral successes seemed like they’d never happened and Corbyn seemed as though he was dragging the party of a cliff and down a cave. Alas - the Tories remain the largest party, but a hung parliament was described by some commentators as ‘’incredible’’ for the performance of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party in the polls. This election was meant to be a shoe-in for Theresa May; it was an anointment.
Well, there is a certain amount of humble pie available today. Few people got this one right. When he was elected, few observers of politics thought he could do anything but lead Labour to a drubbing. Even a few weeks ago, Jeremy Corbyn lead his party to a drubbing in a local elections. The Tories were meant to hoover up the Ukip vote. Cynics said that young voters would sit out this election. The Conservatives were confident not only of a large majority but of smashing Labour. It didn’t work out that way, did it? We were badly wrong. Since the referendum, it has been the Tories who have been strong while Labour remained paralysed in its response to Brexit. At 10pm, the dynamics of British politics changed in an instance. At dawn, as Labour won Southampton Test, it was confirmed that May’s political gamble failed.
I was young once and when I was 18 I was exhilarated at the opportunity to vote in my first general election. Back in 1987, I had studied for enough to know that, in my humble opinion, Margaret Thatcher was a pox on the land, especially those northern bits I'd never has actually been to but which I knew, nevertheless, would benefit from a Labour government. There were only two problems: I lived in Eastbourne where the Tories had a stinking majority, and I would be away on a kibbutz in Israel on Election Day. Undeterred, I persuaded my dad - lifelong Tory voter other than 1945 when the whole nation voted Labour - to cast a proxy vote for Labour. The Conservatives won both the seat and the election, of course, but I was determined to have my say every four or five years.
How do we explain the new effigy at Dover of Theresa May giving a two-fingered salute to our European allies. One suggestion: Brexit is a cult and she has assumed its mantle of leadership. In the disaster that has been the Conservative campaign, one feature has been consistent: she will deliver on Brexit; she will stand up for Britain; she will realise the “promise of Brexit”. She will also avoid telling voters how she will do any of this. Those now smirking at May’s embarrassment might want to pause: re-elected May will need to shore up her position with the faithful with a sharp right turn. The trouble is that Labour is a cult too.
41 million Iranians voted recently in a presidential election won by the reformist candidate, Hassan Rouhani. But despite being a partial democracy in a region with few of them, Iran remains a menace to the Middle East and beyond. Its aggressive military actions have helped to prop up the abominable Assad regime in Syria. They now risk provoking a conflict with Israel that could rapidly escalate out of control. The reasons for Iran’s behaviour are manifold. As is often the case with revolutionary regimes, it feels impelled to spread its 1979 Islamic Revolution to others. This proselytising particularly applies to its fellow Shia communities across the Middle East. The Shias are a minority in the region as a whole (although they are a majority in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain) and Iran wants to be seen as their champion.
Watching Conservatives on the campaign trail, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being gaslighted. Time and again, Theresa May insists that she cares deeply about whatever public service she’s questioned on – the NHS, social care, education, policing, the armed forces – and that she’s spending record amounts on each. For voters who’ve seen all of these services being systematically deprived of funds, it’s enough to make you wonder if you’ve been living in an alternate reality The Tories’ claims about record funding are, of course, disingenuous. Spending on the NHS is higher than decades past because there’s a wider array of treatments and a higher number of patients (not to mention a higher amount being spent on private contracts).
One of the real revelations of this unwanted election campaign has been Theresa May's poor judgement in picking her allies. Determined to push through a hard Brexit, she has at every turn gone out of her way to snub her European partners, instead choosing to hold Donald Trump's hand and offer him a state visit to the UK. When the US President announced he would withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement - a deal the UK was central to engineering - she shunned the opportunity to add her name to a letter by other EU leaders furious at the decision and only issued a mealy-mouthed response. Now Trump has gone too far. Hours after the terrorist attack on London Bridge, he put out a tweet that took a phrase from the eloquent response by London Mayor Sadiq Khan and twisted it out of context in an attempt to criticise the West's only Muslim city leader.
Any chess player would recognise that the moves of British politics have left voters in a state of zugzwang. Calling the election because she wanted to re-affirm last year’s referendum result, the Prime Minister has tried to campaign upon her leadership skills. Avoiding voters at every turn, she has reduced the debate to the simplest of slogans. Her current woes stem not just from her manifesto u-turn but from her unexciting personality - sometimes a strength - that is unable to hide the vacuity at the heart of her “Strong and Stable” campaign. Throughout May has been unable to define what that promise of Brexit is. Trade agreements with countries such as India and China will carry as many restrictions as EU membership without any compensating advantages.
Seven people are dead and many more are in a critical condition. Once again, Britain has found itself the victim of a terrorist attack. Even as the country was still nervously watching the news and discovering the fresh horror visited upon our streets, Donald Trump tweeted in defence of his Muslim Ban: it is time to stop the political correctness surrounding the issue, he typed. Rarely has a world leader had such a tin-ear for any opinion other than his own; never has a supposed ally behaved with so little sensitivity before a country has even begun to mourn and understand the loss. This is the second terrorist attack during the general election campaign. The third since March. After the Manchester suicide bomb, campaigning was suspended while the Prime Minister attended Cobra briefings and visited the site. With so short a period until polling day, that cannot - alas - happen again.
In June 1987, Margaret Thatcher seemed to be coasting to a landslide. Labour - despite being led by a political ingenu whom most could not envisage as prime minister - was running a good campaign. One week before the election, a poll showed a dramatic fall in Thatcher’s lead. Suddenly, the leader feared that she might lose. Late at night at CCHQ, she berated a baby-faced aide. She swung the “metaphorical handbag” around the room with wild abandon. When she left, Willie Whitelaw the Deputy Prime Minister said to the aide: "That is a woman who will never fight another election campaign." The day became known as “Wobbly Thursday”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined her doubts about the reliability of the United States as an ally on Monday but said she was a "convinced trans-Atlanticist", fine-tuning her message after surprising Washington with her frankness a day earlier. In a speech in Berlin, Merkel showed how seriously she is concerned about Washington's dependability under President Donald Trump by repeating the message she delivered a day earlier that the days when Europe could completely count on others were "over to a certain extent". She made those comments, which sent shock waves through Washington, after Trump criticized major NATO allies over their military spending and refused to endorse a global climate change accord at back-to-back summits last week.
Theresa May had been assumed to win her snap general election with a landslide that would crush Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, like Margaret Thatcher did to Michael Foot in 1983. At one point in April the opinion polls saw the Conservatives on 50% with Labour 25 points behind. But as the election has progressed, the Tory campaign has unravelled. A core policy in the Tory manifesto, the “dementia tax” on homes to fund social care, proved deeply unpopular forcing May into an embarrassing u-turn. To her credit May performed as competently as any PM should in her response to the Manchester terrorist attack. But outside of this her political performance has been an embarrassment to her party. David Cameron might be regretting not staying on.
In The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Inspector Gregory asks whether there is anything to which the great detective would like to draw his attention. "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time," he replies. When Gregory comments that the dog did nothing, Sherlock Holmes responds: "That was the curious incident." Holmes was famous for regarding his mind as similar to an attic: only having a certain amount of space, he discarded information that cluttered it up. Therefore he had only enough knowledge of currents affairs as would serve his detecting purposes. However, even he - if asked - would note that a feature of this election has been the Lib Dems.
British voters will soon choose who faces the European Union in Brexit talks that cover almost everything - from a golden handshake to border customs for people, goods and services. Will they pick the woman who says she is prepared to walk away rather than be forced to accept a bad deal or the man who has pledged to make sure a deal is reached before leaving the negotiation table? For the Conservative Party's Theresa May, an agreement can be good or bad though she's never been specific on either. As far as the Labour's Jeremy Corbyn is concerned, there isn't such a difference since a deal is simply a deal. So, who will get the unenviable job?
It will all soon be over. We should thanks the (non-existent) gods for small mercies. When Theresa May called the election, it was expected to be a walkover. Then it started to go wrong, and the narrative changed: it is now May who is under fire and Corbyn who is surging. An election that was meant to be about Brexit has turned into anything but. Her embarrassing u-turn on her signature social care policy started a backlash that she made worse by denying it was a u-turn when interviewed by Andrew Neil. The Manchester bomb attack paused the campaign and turned the focus towards national security. Resuming campaigning, Corbyn ran into the storm by addressing his foreign policy views in a speech. By trying to own the issue rather than focus on domestic priorities, he gave license to a series of attacks upon him.
Twenty-two people dead. Many more injured. Scores of people frightened as a suicide bomber attacked an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester’s MEN Arena. This is the second terrorist attack in Britain in a matter of months. That our leaders respond to attacks with well-worn homilies is to be expected. What can one say to make such unnecessary loss better? The Westminster Bridge attack was right at the heart of our democracy: its physical closeness to the symbolic heart of our democratic institutions was intended. More recently, the French presidential election saw incidence of such violence. Equally, the timing of the latest attack - during an election campaign - was not a coincident. That is was Manchester, not Westminster, makes it no less horrific; that it was a concert, attended by young people and families, makes its nature even more savage.
The legendary Liverpool football manager, Bill Shankly, once said the ball control of his ungainly centre-forward reminded him “of a dog walking on his back legs – he doesn’t do it very well, but you are surprised he can do it at all”. And so it was with Donald Trump’s Middle East speech in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, over the weekend. The speech proclaimed massive arms sales to the brutal, undemocratic, human rights abusing Saudi regime. These weapons will help the Saudis to further pulverise their poor and weak neighbours in Yemen. Trump went on to tout a Judeo-Christian-Islamic alliance to defeat terrorism in the Middle East, whilst conveniently ignoring that he was speaking in the homeland of fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Saudi Arabia’s malignant role in spreading its extremist Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam across the Muslim world also went unmentioned.
Forgive me, but this is where I came in. 45 million people will soon have an opportunity to put a cross in a box on a piece of paper that could change the nature of their governance. If the polls are correct, an overwhelming plurality will reject change and hug the devil they know. For many democracy is a cathartic experience. For true believers it is a test of their identities. On 8th June, that plurality will reject not just the party that they support, it will reject them. In their grief, many will turn on Jeremy Corbyn. The one-time saviour of the left will receive scorn for his poor communications skills. We’ve been here before: that the electorate rejects a party because they did not understand its message is one of the tropes of democratic politics. Ask Ed Miliband.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If this proverb can refer to politics then Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond should be pleased, not angry, about Labour “stealing” Scottish National Party policies. It is a compliment and a nod to shared values. As social democratic anti-austerity parties, the SNP and Labour’s main disagreement is constitutional. Plagiarism, if we can call it that, is therefore inevitable. However, what the SNP’s criticism does is illustrate a point. Ukip is in its last gasps as a political party. The right has united, but the left remains fractured. In response to this Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, called for Labour to form a “progressive alliance” with other left-wing parties, which at the general election would maximise the anti-Conservative vote.
There is a scene in the 1980s comedy Yes, Minister where Sir Humphrey accuses of Jim Hacker of one of the worst government decisions he has ever witnessed. The minister replies that he has just made one of the best political decisions of his life. It may be that Theresa May has just made one of the worst political decisions of her premiership. “Dementia Tax!” screamed Paul Dacre at May’s plans on social care. Politics might be the art of the possible but May did something impossible: she united the Corbynite left with The Daily Mail. Next week she will reveal a flying pig. Perhaps she hoped that in an election about Brexit nobody would notice. Perhaps she thought Jeremy Corbyn so toxic that it was worth the risk. Or no risk at all. If so, she has been proven wrong. With a ruthlessness reminiscent of New Labour at its finest, John McDonnell savaged her plans.
They’ve claimed it will hurt working families - without ever quite explaining how - and that it isn’t properly costed, despite failing themselves to explain how they’d invest in the NHS beyond saying “we’ll keep the economy strong”. Their most hysterically screeched claim is that Labour are dragging us back to the 1970s. Is that the case? Labour’s manifesto does incorporate many of the post-war values trashed by Thatcher. And while undoing everything wrought by Thatcherism is unlikely, re-nationalising services and increasing the top rates of tax would mark a profound shift towards socialist thinking not seen since…well, the 1970s. To free market devotees and certain right-wing tabloids, those certainly were the “bad old days”: strong unions, regulations, a culture of redistribution allowing for a strong welfare state.
White House and administration officials are reeling at news that President Donald Trump shared classified information with Russia’s top diplomats during an Oval Office meeting last week. It’s the latest crisis jolting Trump’s senior staff in the week following the chaotic fallout from the firing of FBI director James Comey—and especially ironic considering the president’s repeated condemnations of Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server, which contained a handful of messages deemed to be classified. The White House initially denied the reports, but Trump confirmed that he had shared information on terrorism and airline security with the Russians in two Twitter posts on Tuesday morning.
In principle, a resounding electoral victory should strengthen May’s position in the U.K.’s upcoming Brexit negotiations. Going into those negotiations, May could claim to have received a strong mandate from the U.K. electorate. She would also enjoy the benefit of not having to return to the polls until 2022. That should ease her task of getting parliamentary approval for any deal that she might have struck with her European partners by the March 2019 deadline. The basic question remains as to whether these elections will give May the room to make a U-turn from the hardline position she has been taking toward the Brexit negotiations up until now. Repeatedly, May has insisted that any deal with Europe must satisfy two basic U.K. demands.
Not Mayism but “good solid Conservatism”, the Prime Minister said when she launched the Conservative manifesto. Yet this is a very different policy package than we have been used to from Conservatives for a long time. There is an irony that both Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher’s popularity stems from the suburban values that they espouse. However, whereas Thatcher’s values came from her father’s grocery as much as Milton Friedman, May’s Conservative comes from the vicarage she grew up in and the type of populism espoused by Edmund Burke or, more recently, Joseph Chamberlain. In many way, May is more authentically suburban than Thatcher.
Political correctness gone mad. That is the trouble with the media these days. By bending over backwards to be “fair and balanced” to right-wing extremists, it has accidentally assisted their advance. Take Marine Le Pen (no, go on, take her – as pre-PC comedians used to remark of their mothers-in-law). During the deluge of coverage of the French Presidential election, Le Pen and the Front National were routinely described in the respectable media as “anti-immigration”, “nationalist” or “eurosceptic”. These labels can all be applied to reasonable political positions.
“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” It became the defining quotation from the famous Frost/Nixon interviews, conducted after the 37th president left office. Although defenders have argued that cotext is key and that Nixon was merely interpreting the wide range of powers given to the president in terms of national security, it summed up for many the political corruption at the heart of his presidency. Yet, however much power the framers gave the vast executive, they did not give the president complete power. And herein lies the current problem. Never has a president sabotaged himself so readily or so frequently. What’s more his errors come unforced. Having stretched the constitution and definitions of truthfulness Trump is now exceeding expectations of how bad he would be as president.
The victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election triggered the inevitable sneering from the Brits at the simply awful American political system and how it was inferior to our time-honoured mechanisms of parliamentary democracy and an unwritten constitution. But the political events so far in 2017 should wipe the smirk off the face of anyone but the most hardened Conservative supporter in the UK. To put it bluntly, the first few months of President Trump’s four-year term have been a pretty abject failure, as Disclaimer documented in its assessment of his first 100 days. But the reason is not wholly his own ineptitude - although that has doubtless helped - but the ability of the American political system to apply the brakes to his out-of-control presidential vehicle.
It would not be quite right to describe this manifesto as a gamble. Labour do not stand much chance of winning this election - or even increasing the number of seats they hold. However, this was the manifesto that Labour members hoped for when they elected Jeremy Corbyn as their leader. The headlines will read of £48bn of public sector investment and tax increases: the IFS have already said that Labour’s plans would increase taxation levels to their highest levels for 70 years. Asked by Nick Robinson on Radio 4 whether this massive increase represented a return to the 1970s, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell defended it as necessary. He was, however, unable to cost Labour’s nationalisation plans. The promised “fully-costed” pledges have not materialised.
Traditionally, the Conservatives’ voting bloc is founded on more well-off voters. Every few years, though, they remember that they have to win over at least some of the working-class, so out come their claims of being the ‘party of workers’ or the ‘party of aspiration’. They’re paper-thin claims. This year, though, many traditional Labour voters feel distanced from Corbyn, and those who voted Leave are being seduced by the Tories’ tougher Brexit stance. Theresa May, more than almost any other Tory leader, is on the assault, aiming to hoover up as many of these votes as possible. She has claimed that Labour have “deserted” the working-class, and that habitual Labour voters were “appalled” by Corbyn’s beliefs. She urged these people to leave tribal loyalties behind, presumably by putting faith in her - you guessed it - strong and stable leadership.
During the 1992 General Election campaign, the Labour Party produced a party political broadcast about a girl called Jennifer who had to wait for a year for an operation for her glue ear, while a school friend whose parents, were able to afford private medical insurance, did not suffer as much. Being what they call a tear-jerker, it received a little bit of praise and highlighted Labour campaign issues of Conservative underfunding and mismanagement of the NHS. The trouble was that there was no Jennifer. Also parents of the girl who play who played Jennifer were Conservative voters. The ensuing media storm became known as the War of Jennifer’s Ear. Somewhere in the mess, the issue of healthcare got lost. It would be heartening to think that in twenty-five years we had learned something.
Mrs. May’s idea that her opponents are merely playing self-interested political “games” is a classic populist trope, one that suggests that constitutional democracy is really an obstacle standing between people and leader. The prime minister’s rhetoric since calling the general election has implied that the best outcome for “the national interest” would be to eradicate opposition altogether, whether that be in the news media, Parliament or the judiciary. For various reasons (not least the rise of the Scottish National Party) it is virtually impossible to imagine the Labour Party achieving a parliamentary majority ever again, as Mrs. May well knows. To put all this another way, the main purpose of this election is to destroy two-party politics as Britain has known it since 1945.
The hunting ban was one of the more absurd pieces of legislation passed under New Labour, governed more by emotion and inverted snobbery than by evidence and reason. Would I reverse the ban? Practically, no. Its ineffectiveness renders that pointless. Does that mean it is a ‘good’ law? Definitely not. But the issue was never animal welfare: had it been, then the religious practise of non-stun killing of livestock (exempt from the Welfare of Animals Regulations 1995) would have been a priority. Scandal after scandal has shown the sub-standard animal husbandry we allow in the name of cheap meat. Instead, Labour MPs devoted 700 hours of parliamentry time on a bill that improved animal welfare not one jot.
In a life otherwise replete with adventure, I have had very little experience of cross-dressing. I played a Spartan woman in a production of Lysistrata but, apart from that, I am a novice. So, forgive me, if I speak out of turn. Whatever its appeal, cross-dressing achieves a change of appearance without altering the core. Whether male or female, the cross-dresser retains their assigned gender and sex. The transformation is cosmetic. Like its literal counterpart, political transvestism has a long history. Benjamin Disraeli crossdressed over the Great Reform Bill, ensuring that the Conservative party broke the Liberal dominance of British politics. A more modern political cross-dresser was Tony Blair. On a range of issues he spoke like a Conservative, even sometimes he acted like one; however, only a hardened refusenik could deny his government’s left-wing achievements.
President Donald Trump’s stated reason for sacking FBI Director James Comey can be quickly dismissed. Comey’s clumsy handling of the Hillary Clinton emails case during the election campaign helped to hand Trump the presidency. Had Trump genuinely and magnanimously been concerned by the effect of Comey’s conduct on his opponent, he would have fired him as soon as he took office. Instead, he praised Comey’s actions to the skies, having previously used them to inspire chants of “lock her up” and urged him to continue pursuing the investigation. The Clinton email case is clearly not why Comey was removed. It is equally clear that Trump’s ties to Russia warrant a full and independent investigation. Indeed, what is known already would, in more normal times, be sufficient to push a president out of office.
The polls were wrong again. For once, though, they overestimated right-wing populism. Centrist Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency with an unexpected 65% of the vote, leaving the far right’s Marine Le Pen trailing with 34%. Macron earned almost twice as many votes, and more people abstained than chose Le Pen. You could even use the ‘L’ word - landslide. After the painful results of 2016, though, liberals and lefties shouldn’t be too quick to embrace this as a straightforward triumph. Many were invigorated by Macron’s dynamic ascent, but many others weren’t. This is a measured victory. Pundits can’t sit back in their armchairs, content in the renewed success of liberal centrism, just yet. Let’s take the positives. A former Socialist Party minister who left to found his own En Marche! movement, Macron managed to win without the backing of either major party, tapping into anti-establishment sentiment without veering off to the right.
The victory of Emmanuel Macron is arguably a more unlikely feat than Marine Le Pen making it into the second round of voting, despite the Front National leader’s ability to seize the limelight. Macron is a political centrist, who tries to appeal to both left and right without being ideologically committed to either. He proposes some liberalisation of the economy and an end to some benefits, strict savings in some areas whilst increasing spending elsewhere, a strong proponent of green politics whilst also a believer in cutting corporation tax. He wants France to meet it’s 2% target on defence spending and proposes more prison places and police officers whilst at the same time proposing a secular programme and cutting class sizes to 12 for primary schools in poor areas.
A key Tory strength is message discipline – find a phrase with impact and repeat until voters accept it as fact. Theresa May, playing to her perceived strengths, settled early this election cycle on “Strong and Stable Leadership”. Strangely, though, it’s already feeling vacuous. Her manifesto, when unveiled, might illuminate what the Conservatives are actually standing for. Currently, however, their soundbites are words with no substance – empty slogans voters are expected to just mindlessly regurgitate. It doesn’t help that May so obviously avoids directly answering questions on policy. “Strong and Stable Leadership” has become less of a soundbite and more of a crutch. Unless May shows that she is a strong leader, rather than just telling us, it will tire as quickly as “Brexit Means Brexit”.
For the past few months, economists who track short-term developments have been noting a peculiar divergence between “soft” and “hard” data. Soft data are things like surveys of consumer and business confidence; hard data are things like actual retail sales. Normally these data tell similar stories (which is why the soft data are useful as a sort of early warning system for the coming hard data). Since the 2016 election, however, the two kinds of data have diverged, with reported confidence surging — and, yes, a bump in stocks — but no real sign of a pickup in economic activity. The funny thing about that confidence surge, however, was that it was very much along partisan lines — a sharp decline among Democrats, but a huge rise among Republicans. This raises the obvious question: Were those reporting a huge increase in optimism really feeling that much better about their economic prospects, or were they simply using the survey as an opportunity to affirm the rightness of their vote?
Sacré bleu, what a relief! Emmanuel Macron has been elected as France's youngest head of state since The Little Corporal clambered onto his throne, not without, it must be said, the help of a sturdy wooden footstool. After the spectacularly dramatic X-Factor style countdown across French news channels, it was revealed that Macron had surged out of the exit polls with 65.1% of the vote, exceeding the 60% benchmark predicted by pollsters. This figure will of course change slightly as official results begin to pour in from across L'Hexagone. As his victory was announced, the packed crowd of En Marche! supporters gathered at the Esplanade du Louvre erupted into raucous celebrations, filling the air with frantically waving Tricolores.
There is no point finding adjectives to describe the results of the local elections. If the crocodile masks of Tory spokespeople declaring that this victory does not correspond to a stonking general election win is not enough, the results speak for themselves. Across the country a government that has been in office for seven years has just gained 563 seats, while its opposition has lost 382 seats. The government is in charge of more eleven councils than it was yesterday, while the opposition lost seven. In Wales - the heartland of Nye Bevin and Neil Kinnock - Labour lost over one hundred seats. In Scotland, the birthplace of Keir Hardie, the SNP now controls 18 out of 32 councils; in a country where Toryism was (and not so long ago) akin to devil worship, the Labour party is a poor third.
Malia Bouattia, Stuart Hall, and Carlton from The Fresh Prince: Identity Crises and the Corbynite Left
In an early Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode, the street-wise Philadelphian Will embarks on a cross-California car journey with his preppy cousin Carlton. Driving through the sticks in Uncle Phil’s Mercedes, they’re pulled over by a couple of state troopers. Will knows the drill, but Carlton is outraged that they’ve been stopped without cause, and speaks to the officers as he would any other functionaries. Unfortunately for him, he’s no longer in Bel-Air, and they’re taken to jail. After their release, Carlton expresses his continued bafflement that the police pulled them over without them committing any crime.
Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? On Monday a detailed account of a dinner between Theresa May, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Jean-Claude Juncker was leaked to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Let’s make a success of Brexit” the newspaper reported May as saying. To which Juncker replied that Britain was not resigning from a golf club: Brexit, by definition, could not be a success. May, FAZ said, was living in another galaxy. At first Downing Street downplayed the report. Davis dismissed it as “megaphone diplomacy”. Then on Wednesday the Prime Minister, on her way to the palace to formally mark the dissolution of Parliament, responded herself. Her language was extraordinary.
Prime Minister Theresa May was supposed to be the “safe pair of hands” whose leadership would lead Britain through the storm of Brexit. It is on this basis that she has called the snap general election. But May’s Brexit negotiations are unfolding disastrously. She has accused the EU 27 of ganging up on the UK in favour of their interests. It’s almost as if they are a union of countries formed to mutually cooperate, or something. Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Juncker allegedly says she is occupying another galaxy in regards to her negotiating position and predicts a diplomatic collapse. May dismisses these unconfirmed reports as Brussels gossip. But we do know she dangles the country over the precipice of a hard Brexit falling back on World Trade Organisation rules that would impose a raft of tariffs and barriers. The thousands of UK businesses that depend on EU trade are unlikely to be impressed.
Donald Trump’s administration is many things. It’s divisive, authoritarian, inexperienced. It’s also incredibly white, and incredibly male. Trump’s cabinet is 87% white and 87% male; his wider White House staff is similarly homogenous. A lack of women or people of colour in any administration would be alarming, but it might sweeten the pill if these white men weren’t so, well, mediocre. Trump’s administration is a celebration of white male mediocrity. Take Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and heir to a real estate company, becoming a senior advisor. Or Rex Tillerson, whose only diplomatic experience comes from haggling with Russia over oil prices, becoming Secretary of State.
Commentators frequently claim it to be a presidency like no other. His presidency was unexpected, even accidental; he had held no government office before nor, like previous occupants, served in the upper echelons of the military; he tends to react to events not through quiet negotiation but through Twitter outbursts. His presidency is unique as grostesque theatre, but ultimately it will be judged as any other. We elect our leaders to improve our lives - to create jobs, increase living standards and better public services. It is on this basis that we assess, and will assess, Donald J Trump. The 100 Days is a marker, started by the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. It is false but, as with so much of politics, impressions matters.
It was clear during the presidential campaign that Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” sloganeering was vacuous, pseudo-patriotic puffery. But, in classic Orwellian “double-speak” style, it did succeed in obscuring how Trump would take a mere 100 days to become the most anti-American President in US history. The United States of America is a nation based on and bound together by a set of ideals. Prime amongst them is the cherished concept of the “American Dream”. By launching an assault on immigrants in the quintessential land of immigration, Trump has trampled all over the promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty that “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” can come to the US, work hard and have an equal opportunity to achieve the good life.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, has revealed the Labour party’s strategy for leaving the EU. Speaking on Tuesday, Starmer criticised the Conservatives’ “rigid and reckless” approach to exiting Europe, positing a strategy that would not make immigration controls the “overarching priority” of negotiation talks. Labour would guarantee the rights of EU nationals to stay in the UK “on day one,” in the hope that other countries would reciprocate with guaranteed rights for UK citizens living abroad. Starmer announced that Labour would seek to end free movement but not shut the door on the single market, the customs union or participation in EU agencies. The Tories’ great repeal bill is now rivalled by Labour’s EU rights and protections bill. A Labour government would preserve all workers’, consumers’ and environmental rights, currently protected by EU legislation.
Prime Minister May’s surprise announcement of a snap General Election to be held on June 8 seems to have led some people up the garden path. According to the Financial Times, market analysts interpreted the announcement as meaning the chances of the UK leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms – a so-called “hard Brexit” – were reduced. The pound rallied shortly after her announcement, and gilt yields rose, both indicating greater optimism about the future. I suppose when you are caught in a raging torrent, any passing straw looks like a lifeline. But their hope is fatally misplaced. The election will make no difference at all. Come what may, the UK is headed for a hard Brexit, with potentially dire consequences for its important finance industry.
Until now hardline Brexiteers on her backbenches have been supportive of her approach, but that support could crumble once hard compromises become necessary. Whitehall sources suggested on Tuesday that May’s decision was influenced by the emerging timetable for Brexit negotiations, which could see substantive talks about a free trade deal with the EU postponed until after Britain leaves in March 2019. Before Tuesday’s announcement May faced the prospect of attempting to leave the EU with a partial deal, against the background of a slim parliamentary majority, and a general election looming within months.
When Theresa May triggers Article 50, it becomes the moment that Britain’s exit from the European is inevitable. It is also the moment that “taking back control” - the central premise of Vote Leave - becomes a reality. The forty year cornerstone of Britain economic, trade and security policy will end within two years. To the exclusion of much else, Britain’s relationship with the European Union has dominated public discourse for a year now since David Cameron returned with his renegotiation package. Since the referendum result in June, the debate has become more heated and, if possible, less temperate. Yet it has been a phoney war. The EU has refused anything but the most informal of informal talks: invoking the article is a precondition of talks. That Theresa May has waited for nine months for this moment is to be commended.