Let’s put it bluntly: if one turns off Twitter, Labour is having a disastrous election. Despite having been ready for battle since September, their campaign has got off to a terrible start. Jeremy Corbyn says one thing on Trident, his defence spokesperson says something else on - well, she states party policy. Of course, Theresa May is playing it low key - if you’ll forgive the English understatement - if you don’t interupt your enemy when they are shooting themselves in the foot, why would you when they are doing it to both feet? Then Kier Starmer stood up to give his Brexit speech. That it was Starmer not Corbyn is telling. Starmer is meant to be a rising talent and a potential successor in the event of Corbyn resigning after defeat.
In 1983, Shadow Defence Secretary John Silkin asked the then Labour leader, Michael Foot, to stop bringing unilateral disarmament into his speeches. The Tories were heading for a landslide election and every time Foot mentioned his support for CND, Labour dipped in the polls. After a general murmur of agreement, Foot’s reply was, “I will never again have the opportunity that I have to convince the British people of what I think is right.” Foot would have rather been right than prime minister. Whether that is admirable or not, his party took fourteen years to recover enough to win an election.
The first headline of Britain’s snap general election was Theresa May’s refusal to participate in televised debates with other party leaders in the run-up to the June 8 poll. ITV, Sky and the BBC have pledged to hold debates regardless of whether the prime minister shows up. It’s unlikely they would literally “empty chair” May, but her absence would speak volumes to voters. This is the new Iron Lady? The opposition leapt at the chance to accuse May of weakness and evasiveness about defending her party’s record in government, and her own plans, on the national stage - particularly Jeremy Corbyn and Labour who lag far behind May’s Conservatives in the opinion polls. May has already u-turned on holding an early election. Labelled #ChickenMay and being harassed on the campaign trail by The Daily Mirror’s man in a chicken suit, she may reconsider taking up her debate podium as well.
At time of writing #SansMoiLe7Mai (count me out on May 7th) is trending in the top four on Twitter. Sparked by the far-left's disgraceful refusal to openly back Macron against Le Pen, this worrying trend amongst French voters represents the National Front's only chance of winning in in two weeks time. And, what's more, it's their supposed opposite numbers, blinded by self-righteous principles, who are attempting to hand it to them on a plate. Started as a protest by La France Insoumise (France Undefeated)- a group of pro-Melenchon partisans not dissimilar from Corbyn's acolytes over at Momentum, the hashtag is being used to express their intention to abstain and encouraging others to do so.
So there we have it. The provisional results are in. Emmanuel Macron has won the first round of the French Presidential election and will face up against Marine Le Pen and her fiercely loyal Front National in the second round on May 7th. The first results to come in showed Macron winning by two percentage points at 23.7%, closely followed by Marine Le Pen at 21.7% It is hardly say a surprise, despite the media hubbub about how unpredictable this election has been thus far. It has to be said, Fillon's surprising come back and Melenchon's triumphant surge both caused the bookies to reconsider as today approached. For weeks now, I've been talking with French people and generally coming to the conclusion that a Macron/Le Pen second round clash is inevitable. I was, however totally convinced that Le Pen would win by some distance tonight, yet to my great pleasure, I was proved wrong.
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.
“Shame on you if you fool me once, shame on me if you fool me twice” It’s a saying the Labour Party ought to heed. In 2015, it seemed inconceivable that the Conservatives would win a majority. Labour had every reason to fight for a lead, to trumpet their policies, even to inscribe them on giant stone slabs. Few could have predicted the overseers of austerity coming out on top. In 2017, however, Labour can’t afford to be so blinkered. Gross naivety is forgivable the first time, but not as a repeat offence. If they sail into the upcoming election without having learnt the lessons of the previous one, the fallout will be squarely on their shoulders.
No, we haven’t learned that Mr. Trump is an effective leader. Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy. Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out. Actually, what we know of the decision-making process is anything but reassuring. Just days before the strike, the Trump administration seemed to be signaling lack of interest in Syrian regime change. What changed? The images of poison-gas victims were horrible, but Syria has been an incredible horror story for years. Is Mr. Trump making life-and-death national security decisions based on TV coverage?
Such has been the frenetic pace of politics that the Easter break comes as a welcome pause. Brexit and the Trump presidency have consumed politics. Then the tempo was heightened last week by Donald Trump’s strikes on Syrian bases. Although politics will be far from the minds of many, the pause gives us time to reflect. Britain is undergoing one of the greatest changes in its post-war history. It carries considerable risks. The risk becomes greater when one considers the dearth of new ideas and bold thinking among our political class. When she became prime minister, Theresa May spoke passionately about her unionist beliefs, about the need to tackle society’s burning injustices and, most intriguingly, about rebalancing capitalism, to help those who have not seen its benefits. Her rhetoric shifted dramatically to the left, abandoning the orthodoxies of the Cameron-Osborne regime.
“Pokazukha” is a wonderful Russian word. It means an empty spectacle, designed for show or to deceive. Russians have ample use for such a term, given their long tradition of political fakery from Catherine the Great’s Potemkin villages to Vladimir Putin plucking Greek urns from the ocean. Such has been the through the looking glass feel of Donald Trump’s presidency and his murky connections to Moscow, that it has been suggested that the US bombing of Syria’s Shayrat airbase was another exercise in pokazukha. But let’s assume that coordinating a Middle Eastern bombing raid with the Russians is too far-fetched even for Trump. It was probably a routine bout of impulsivity. Or @realDonaldTrump expanding his distraction techniques to divert attention from his failures.
Brexit is turning out to be a national, and international, humiliation for the UK. As Bonnie Greer writes, it has caused the country to “turn its back, pull up the drawbridge, put up the wall [and] curl in.” This is exemplified in former Tory leader Michael Howard’s bewildering suggestion that Britain would go to war with Spain over the status of the eight-mile-long outpost of Gibraltar. Empowering a reactionary politics that is manna from heaven for the Tory right, Brexit has quite possibly managed to surpass the worst fears of the Remain camp. This trend is reflected in the foreign policy agenda of Theresa May’s government, as it seeks to strengthen ties with nations that vastly deviate from the norms of liberal democratic Europe.
On Sunday evening the usual suspects flew into a rage over Owen Jones wearing a swanky jacket for an interview with GQ magazine. To an extent this was a storm of Owen’s making: having spent years persuading people that Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are deeply popular with the electorate, he has abruptly realised this is not the case. Unfortunately for Owen, the unholy alliance of cranks, Trots and antisemites he brought into being has now turned on him. Yet Jones himself has bragged that on Twitter that he bought all his clothes from charity shops. Not only does this (possibly literal if was an Angora jumper in Sheffield Oxfam) hair-shirted approach fail to win over young (or older) working-class voters; it is offensive and patronising to assume it might.
The week has seen many sights. The most grotesque was, of course, Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. It would not be correct to say that, by launching air strikes on Syria, Trump’s response was a policy u-turn. He had no policy. Worryingly, he still has no policy. In comparison with this, much else seems small. The debate has been predictable. Many have called Trump “presidential” - and he has received some unexpected support. The reaction to that support has been predictably squalid and petty. It should not be too difficult to be relieved that Trump’s actions recognised that a red line - the use of chemical weapons, prohibited by the Hague Convention for over a century - had been crossed but also worry that his unpredictable actions were without UN sanction and before any thorough investigation had taken place.
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.
The desire to apportion blame after such a traumatic, self-inflicted wound as the vote to quit the EU is understandable. As one of my former editors said after a major story had been missed: "I must find someone to blame." The desire for justice is strong and the case against all those this week on Disclaimer is weighty but - and whisper it quietly - maybe the real culprits are much closer to home. Perhaps they are us. No, not the 52% who voted for Brexit, but the 48% who believed the mission to keep life as it is, with open borders, open trade, access to cheap goods from around the world, and low cost flights to Europe and beyond was self-evidently going to carry the day.
British politics and the Conservative party in particular have always been riddled with faction over issues such as the Corn Laws, Tariff reform and Irish Home Rule. Europe is just this modern incarnation of this age old problem. The uncertainty and the need for a new direction following the end of Empire made splits in the Tory part inevitable. It is easy to forget that the Tories were the first Europhiles and have had a proud tradition of supporting closer integration. These are the true believers, the Ken Clarkes, Michael Heseltines, and Chris Pattens of this world. Then there are the sizeable number of realists who do not believe in the vision but accept Britain’s new direction is best served being part of Europe, in this category belong David Cameron and George Osborne as well as most of the Conservative MPs that backed remain.
How we respond to adversity says a lot about us. Therefore Theresa May deserves praise for her statement before Downing Street, and then her address to Parliament: in terms of tone and content she was dignified, tolerant and moderate: this was not a fact of faith, she said, but the manifestation of a warped and perverted ideology. Equally, Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke emotionally of the common bonds of humanity, rose to the occasion. Politicians too often display their low cunning or play up division for passing convenience. The House of Commons, united as rarely before, sent a clear message that, for our divisions, there remains immense ties that bind us. Yes, when faced with trauma, we resort to cliche. However, we need sometimes need to hold some simple truisms.
If you've been living under a rock for the past 9 months, or perhaps deactivated your Twitter account in a last ditch sanity-saving effort, you might not have heard: the French are having an election. Although Britain now has its own election, there's one reason we should temporarily turn our attention to our croissant-munching cousins across the channel: the threat of a Madame Le Pen government and the subsequent collapse of Europe as we know it. So book your political intrigue a ticket on the Eurostar, strap yourself in and brace yourself for 7 reasons why the French election is better than our one could ever hope to be.
The one thing Donald Trump was always great at was personal branding; the success that he had in business was in large part a product of people who had seen him on TV and associated him with wealth and success wanting to taste some of it themselves. If the image always outpaced the reality, so what? Doesn't every salesman exaggerate? Perhaps, but when you're president, there's a point at which you have to deliver. It's becoming clear that Trump's supposed skill as a negotiator was all part of the act, just bluster and bombast, as thin as his gold leaf wallpaper. And everyone's beginning to figure it out. Paul Waldman, The Week
If voters are going to punish Theresa May for her opportunism, they have a funny way of showing it. According to YouGov, in the first poll of the general election campaign, her party now has twice the number of votes Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party does. As many are preparing to mark the twentieth anniversary of the party’s greatest landslide, Labour is on the verge of its biggest post-war defeat. The first days of the campaign have been marked by ritual posturing. A mere thirteen MPs voted against the government’s motion for an early election, yet few opposition MPs have completed an interview with criticising May’s opportunism. May is refusing debates. No doubt the Mirror will resurrect its famous chicken suit, which is almost a national institution. Process issues will not win an election. They make for good tweets though.
The announcement of a general election was the final nail in the coffin for Theresa May’s reputation as a cautious, prudent leader. After months and months of stating there would be no election, there is one. Add this to her about-turn on raising National Insurance for the self-employed and we’ve got a prime minister who can be described as fickle at best, cynical at worst. May said she called this election because Parliament was blocking the Brexit process. Article 50 was passed by three-quarters of MPs and so the entire basis for an election is flatly untrue. Just weeks ago she declared that another Scottish independence referendum would be ‘divisive’ during Brexit talks. Now we have a whole general election on our hands.
Unlike her predecessors, when Theresa May stood on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, she was unable to call a general election. The queen had been informed by telephone of her decision the night before, but all the prime minister could do was to call for a general election by announcing her intention to put a motion before the House of Commons under the Fixed-term Parliament Act. However, it did not take long for before all the major parties had confirmed that his party would walk through the government lobby. With a commanding majority in favour, there will be a general election on Thursday 8th June.
Nothing has changed in the last few weeks to justify a change of mind. There has been no defeat in parliament to act as a catalyst. The reasons Theresa May gave as she called for an election - she has a small majority and she faces opposition - could haved been given months ago. There could be another reason. More cynical. On Tuesday, the Crown Prosecution Service told Channel Four News that they were considering charges against 30 MPs over fraudulent election claims. By calling an election, May is getting out ahead of the issue. She avoids losing her majority or having to endure a series of by-elections as accused, or even convicted, MPs find their positions untenable.
Never trust a politician, eh? After nine months of saying that there will not be one, Theresa May has changed her mind and will, under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliament Act, move a motion in the House of Commons tomorrow calling for a general election. She needs a two thirds majority. She dared the Labour party to vote against - her new mantra: “politics is not a game”. Within minutes of her surprise announcement, Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the decision. The challenge was accepted. There will be a general election on June 8th. In the first poll published since the statement, YouGov produced a poll showing a 18 point lead. Labour is on a miserable 26%.
Alexander Blackman, better known as Marine A, is a war criminal. In September 2011, while serving as a royal marine sergeant in Afghanistan, he killed a Taliban insurgent who was not a combatant, but an unarmed and wounded prisoner of war. Shooting him in the head at point blank range, he immediately admitted to breaching the Geneva Conventions on the rules of engagement, and conspired with his two comrades to cover-up the crime. Blackman’s supporters were jubilant when the Court of Appeal converted his murder conviction into one of manslaughter - a bizarre reaction given that Blackman’s conviction was not quashed, but merely downgraded. Blackman was a distinguished serviceman, but - as any common felon - he is now as ineligible to serve in the army.
In her Easter message the prime minister pledged that her government would stand up for people who of faith and counter those who try to drive religion from public life. Yet her belief that Britain is a Christian country flies in the face of evidence. According to one study from 2012, Britain will cease to be a Christian country in 2030. This is not as a result of any increase in Islam – Muslims still only make up around 4.4% of the UK Population – but due to the irresistible rise of secularism. The number of people describing themselves as atheists and agnostics is going up annually by around 750,000. Moreover, if we look at attitudes, we may already be living in a post-religious society. The numbers of people describing themselves as Christian compared to those who regularly attend church highlights this shift.
To many people in the capital, the vote last year feels like a rejection not just of Europe but also of the values embodied by London, perhaps the world’s most vibrantly and exuberantly cosmopolitan city: values like openess, tolerance, internationalism and the sense that it is better to look outward than to gaze inward. Even as a sense of melancholy seemed to descend on St. Pancras when I walked around the other day, much of the rest of Britain was celebrating.
Because the American public tends not to pay terribly close attention to the nitty-gritty of a campaign, Trump's one-liner confectionaries were a perfect fit. People ate them up because, well, it was more fun than what the other candidates were saying. Would you rather watch Trump attack "Lyin' Ted" Cruz or "Little" Marco Rubio or spectate a dry policy discussion about tax reform? Be honest. The problem for Trump is that while his embrace of chaos fit a campaign perfectly, it's turned out to be far less beneficial for him since he's entered the White House. The presidency tends to reward discipline and strategic planning. For the first few years, you are really running a race against yourself: How much can you get done of your agenda before the concerns of Congress turn toward their awaiting fate in the midterm elections?
We all know about Trump’s issues with women. The molester-in-chief has made countless derogatory remarks about women, and seems committed to rescinding their rights by revoking Obama-era workplace protections and advocating archaic abortion restrictions. It’s as if he sprung straight from the pages of the misogynist’s playbook. Thank God then, some might say, for Vice President Mike Pence. Sure, his near-Puritanical values might make him incredibly regressive – he’s consistently voted against LGBT rights, and defunding Planned Parenthood during his time as Governor of Indiana was blamed for a surge in HIV infections - but at least his loudly-trumpeted devotion to Karen, his wife of 32 years, means he won’t be molesting anybody, right?
Britain had the best free trade agreement available in Europe - membership of a market eight times Britain's size without having to accept its common currency and the closer union the euro will need if it is to survive. Britain's voters, or half of them, have decided that deal was not worth the price of accepting free movement of EU citizens and compliance with some irritating rules they felt impinged on Britain's sovereignty. Now their Government wants to conclude a new trade agreement at the same time as its exit terms are agreed. That looks impossible, even if the EU is interested. Exit terms involve negotiations with Brussels alone, a trade agreement would need to be ratified by all 27 remaining members. Even the easiest trade agreements take many more years than the two on which the clock is now ticking for Britain's exit.
The United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a government-controlled Syrian air force base in the Homs province, purportedly where the nerve agent sarin was loaded on to aircraft that attacked a village in the rebel-held Idlib province. Trump authorised this attack to ostensibly demonstrate that he will take a harder line against Syria, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama. While Trump’s actions represent the first time the US has attacked Assad’s forces since the civil war began six years, this military strike is embedded in a deeper history of America disciplining countries from the air over their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facilities. Trump is in fact carrying on the legacy of President Bill Clinton.
"Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people," he said in a statement, after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airfield from which a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched.” António Guterres, U.N. Secretary General "The Syrian regime bears the full responsibility for this development. NATO has consistently condemned Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons as a clear breach of international norms and agreements. Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, cannot go unanswered, and those responsible must be held accountable. NATO considers the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security." Jen Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General
The continued saga over Ken Livingstone’s non-expulsion overshadowed the launch of Labour’s campaign for May 4th’s local government elections. Perhaps unaware of irony, Jeremy Corbyn declared Labour to be strong party. To paraphrase When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what he’s having.” Although, to be fair, what other choice did he have? Certainly not the truth. The referendum result split his party, and his poor leadership has allowed the Tories to get away with defining Brexit however they wish. He is personally unpopular and divisive, and the party he leads now stands in the mid-twenties in opinion polls. By-elections in Stoke and Copeland provided little comfort for those who disdain opinion polls. The only way to declare that Labour is in a strong position is if one ignores every single piece of evidence.
Healthcare humiliated him. But that could just be the start. As the fallout continues Trump’s failed presidency is glaring: less than ten weeks in, he was unable to pass a key piece of legislation. He relied on his popularity with his base to secure a deal on the repeal and replace of Obamacare. But the deal-maker-in-chief could not cut the deal. Why? Because Trump’s idea of a winning deal is one where he wins, and everyone else loses. In the case of healthcare this meant that the voters would lose and he, aided by Speaker Ryan, would win. The unpopularity of the bill gave Congress little reason to bend and his inability to make the compromises necessary to push the bill over the finishing line was the final nail in a very well-sealed coffin.
In a poll of 25 countries by Ipsos MORI published in March 2017, 33% of those interviewed in Britain said immigration was their biggest worry. Although more British people overall were worried about healthcare, only Germans were more worried about immigration. While discussions about immigration in Britain used to be focused on issues of race, much of the current debate hinges on social class. The “problem” - particularly of migration of European citizens to the UK - is often portrayed as being the migration of the less well-off. And Eastern European migrants are often discriminated against on the basis of their class because they take low-paid jobs in the UK.
From Trump on down, many of today’s conservatives tend be much more skilled at campaigning, opposing pretty much everything, riling up their bases with antipathy toward the other side and getting elected (granted, that last bit’s kind of important) than at the qualities that enable governing, like compromise and fact-based analysis. Of course, there are thoughtful conservatives with cogent ideas about health policy, but clearly they’re of little interest to today’s leadership. How do I know that? Because their replacement law - the American Health Care Act - was an incoherent dog’s breakfast of massive tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the poor, more a caricature of Republican policy than actual policy.
It’s Brexit supporters who may be in line for a real shock. Even beyond the coming traumatic loss of access to the E.U.’s market — as the Economist put it - the promise of a politically resurgent Britain is likely to fall flat. Much of the rhetoric of the pro-Brexit crowd centers around the reclamation of British “sovereignty” from technocrats in Brussels. But Brexit proponents have also projected a nostalgic vision of Britain once more asserting itself as a dominant player on the world stage. May trumpeted the dawn of a new “Global Britain” earlier this year: a nation shorn of its continental commitments and capable of finding a new accommodation with other parts of the world - especially those it once colonized. The coming months will test the bravado and bluster of figures like David Davis
In five well-weighed sheets, Theresa May put on the table the first two enormous disputes that the negotiators will have to decide: the concurrence or not of the discussions on divorce and those on future trade relations and the future of cooperation In terms of security, a warning - in two small sentences - slipped at the end of the letter: "The security of Europe is more fragile now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake." On the first point, the reply - in the form of a scathing refusal - was not long coming from Angela Merkel. "Britain will have to first clarify how to untie the overlaps between the European Union and the United Kingdom,” said the Chancellor from Berlin, "And only then... if possible quickly, can we talk about our future relationship."
When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny announced his candidacy for the 2018 presidential election, he was seemingly blocked from running for office. But then, in early March, he posted an hour-long investigation into Prime Minister Dmitry Medevedev’s wealth on YouTube. Using drone footage and Medvedev’s own Instagram account, the video alleged that Medvedev used a complicated scheme to channel billions of roubles into mansions and a yacht. Once the video went live, Navalny called for nationwide anti-corruption protests on March 26 – and they ultimately drew an estimated 60,000 participants in more than 80 cities.
Sir, How did you feel at dawn on 24th June, as Nigel Farage gave his victory salute. As a political operative, you must be used to other’s taking credit for your work but had Nigel Farage led the campaign, the vote would have been decisive. And not in favour of Brexit. As you have written, “I think we voted to leave because so many British people had been left behind economically and culturally for so long, and were furious about it; and because, from the 2008 financial crisis onwards, they had accumulated so much contempt for the political elites.” Yet there are plenty of scenarios where that would remain the case and Britain voted to stay in the EU. Nothing is inevitable. Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union was a result of many different decisions. You were at the heart of many, if not all, of them.
Sir, Before we go any further, I feel compelled to admit something - I'd actually quite like to go for a pint with you. That's not to say we'd have a lot in common. Hell, we'd probably not agree on anything. Yet, I do think you'd make for entertaining company and some fierce discussion. As much as it may pain my bleeding-heart Remoaner soul to say, there is something uncannily endearing about the caricatured, walking-talking meme you've become. Maybe it's your cocksure public school bellow. Or your more-than-passing resemblance to Kermit the Frog. Please don't take that as a personal slight. In many ways, it's one of your saving graces. It would be unjust not to express the smallest modicum of respect for you: you spent the best part of your adult life fighting an uphill battle: you’ve survived testicular cancer and a plane crash. Last year, you finally achieved your goal.
Madam, The EU referendum offered many strange sights – battle buses, hysterical headlines, Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof having a flotilla stand-off on the Thames; the sight of the right-most fringes of the Conservative Party pretending to be populists. Perhaps the most ridiculous was the sight of you turning from cautious Remainer to full-throttled Brexiter. Although you did not, many of your colleagues gleefully hitched onto Vote Leave’s populist bandwagon, strutting about urging us to wrest back control from the elites. Here’s a helpful tip: if your uprising of the common people is fronted by Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg, it’s not much of an uprising. Yet there they were on June 24th, calling Brexit a victory for real people (as though Remain voters were elves).
Sir, You are a man of principle, a conviction politician. So last year it shocked many when you performed a full 180 on one of the hottest topics of the moment. Your previously fixed anti-EU stance shifted dramatically after you became Labour leader. In 1975, as a young man, you voted to leave the European Economic Community, since which you have consistently expressed solid eurosceptic views. Your record is one of euroscepticism. In 1993, you complained that the Maastricht Treaty “takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers”. In 2008, you voted against the Lisbon Treaty. When you first stood for the leadership, you stated, “I would advocate a No vote if we are going to get an imposition of free market policies across Europe.”
Is this the worst start to any presidency in history? William Henry Harrison died thirty-one days after he swore the oath of office, but I’d say Trump still pips it. He has been humiliated by his failure to push through his “repeal and reform” agenda. He may tweet the blame around but the responsibility for this incompetence lies at his door. No student of history, no doubt even he will remember a predecessor once declared that the buck stopped at the Oval Office. Trump touted himself as a deal-maker but has proved the task is beyond his limited skill-set. The defeat goes beyond his promise to produce a “beautiful” replacement but to the heart of the promise the party he leads had made for seven years. Their vacuity has been brutally exposed.
Your background, associations and rivalry has led to our country’s misfortune. Early in life, you became partners-in-crime with George Osborne and Boris Johnson. You continued this after you entered public life. Between the three of you, you have caused a calamity through misplaced belief and childish rivalry. Clearly, you would not have become Prime Minister if you had attended a comprehensive in Hull. Not because of the perfectly adequate education you would have received. But because someone of your abilities needed the connections and Eton schooling provided by your background to reach the levels you did. Without these advantages, a respectable career in middle-management and anonymous life as an affable (albeit apparently short-tempered) family man beckoned.
Sir, Brexit and the rising political influence of fake news, AKA post-truth politics, stand amongst the most internationally significant events of 2016. In Britain, the latter has been integral to materialising the former. The European Commission in the UK has helpfully collated and corrected untruthful anti-EU stories by you, the UK press - a phenomenon known as Euromyths - published from 1992 to during the EU referendum campaign. The list includes perhaps the most well-known Euromyth, alleging that the EU wanted to ban the retail sale of non-vertical bananas and cucumbers. You have also accused the EU of wanting to redefine Britain as a landlocked country despite it being an island, and imprison farmers for failing to provide pigs with toys to stop them fighting in sties. As Private Eye’s Ian Hislop recently noted, satire is difficult in a landscape beyond parody.
Sir, Under your watch Britain has voted to leave the European Union. The country will be diminished and the European Union, by losing its third largest member, will be diminished. The British government bears much responsibility. But so do you. Your ill-judged leadership represents the worst stereotypes of EU remoteness and elitism: essentially you made it easy for eurosceptics. When David Cameron made his Bloomberg speech in 2012, he spoke about reforming the way the European Union worked. His motives may have been opportunistic, but he presented a chance for the EU to recreate itself. Your response was to regard Britain as a problem not as an asset. Your response was to pretend there was not a problem. It is not that Cameron’s renegotiation was not enough, it is that you let a greater prize slip through your fingers.
Just before sitting down to write this article, I placed a £20 bet on Emmanuel Macron to become the next President of France. At meagre odds of 4/7, this is never going to be a big money-maker. The bet is both symbolic, ascribing my support, and putting my money where my mouth is: Emmanuel Macron is France's best bet for a non-Le Pen government. He's been likened to Donald Trump, heckled by lefties as a "copy-and-paste Tony Blair", touted as 'Mr Perfect' by admiring fans and could potentially become, at a mere 39, France's youngest ever president. But who is Emmanuel Macron? After four years spent raking up a quick fortune as an investment banker, Macron was drafted into Hollande's government as a presidential economic advisor before graduating to Economy Minister in 2014.
I am instinctively disgusted by the arrogance of terrorists. Granting yourself the right to take the lives of others in pursuit of your own ends is morally repugnant. Hence, on hearing the news of the death of Martin McGuinness, my primary sympathies were not with the deceased; they were with the families of all those innocent people who were blown to pieces by the IRA whilst at work, having a drink in the pub or shopping with their mum and dad. My initial reaction to some of the commentary on McGuinness was that it skirted too close to deifying him as Derry’s answer to Nelson Mandela. There has been much talk of his undoubted political talent and strategic genius. But for many years that smartness was deployed in directing acts of violence that destroyed lives.
As he addressed staff, the former Telegraph diary contributor, who had made a few leaps of the cursus honorum to become editor, said: “I know how to run a country.” This is true. The Right Honourable Member for Tatton served with distinction as Chancellor of the Exchequer for six glorious years; years that will go down in history as a Golden Age to rival that of Elizabeth. Britain knew untold prosperity and the government of which he was a member forged new, strengthened bonds with its closest allies. So great was Osborne’s magnificence that the press coined the term “omnishambles” in recognition of his wise statescraft. So highly thought of was the Chancellor that when the current prime minister assumed office, she begged him to him to stay on in office. On her knees. It was only Osborne’s natural modesty that made him relinquish his post. The prime minister was devastated and, rumour has it, never recovered.
Whilst Britain is consumed by the possible Brexit-induced collapse, a crisis on the far side of the world threatens an all too literal and terrifying implosion. According to the Chinese government mouthpiece, the Global Times, the “soaring regional tensions” around the Korean Peninsula are “close to being out of control”. The spark that threatens to ignite the already simmering situation is North Korea’s test-firing of four nuclear-capable missiles on 6th March that landed close to the coast of Japan. North Korea is also increasingly close to developing the missile technology to reach the United States, causing the US to install a THAAD missile defence system in South Korea. China, in turn, objects strongly to this step, which it feels infringes on its security interests.
There is nothing progressive about wanting to see the break up of the United Kingdom. It is imperfect but, to paraphrase RAB Butler, it is the best country we have. Divorce would be messy and bitter. The logic of Stronger In was true of the UK in Europe, it is true of the United Kingdom. Yet Brexit has given Scotland a compelling case for independence. Much of the responsibility for this lies with Theresa May whose Brexit policy is a merely case of giving England what it wants. The left has historically failed in its aim of progressive constitutional reform. It cannot fail again. In fact, there is an urgency as rarely before. A different constitutional model might not necessarily have stopped Brexit but it might have facilitated a compromise.
The timing was perfect. As rumours abounded that the prime minister was poised to trigger Article 50 within days of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill passing, Nicola Sturgeon stood up to declare there was “clear and sustained evidence” that warranted a second independence referendum. It is nonsense to suggest that Sturgeon’s hand has been forced: Scottish independence is her party’s raison d’etre. The Scottish First Minister has clearly been aching for this moment since the EU referendum. Theresa May’s Brexit intransigence has made her argument a whole lot easier though. Had the prime minister taken a different approach, one less influenced by the Tory right, Sturgeon would have found her move harder to justify.
This is not about the Labour party. It is about the country. In truth, it always has been. It’s just that things have gone a bit batshit recently and it is not likely they will get better soon. No one wants to write this. No person who wants to see a proper opposition holding the government to account enjoys attacking its leader. There is no relish to be had in what is currently happening in British politics. But it needs saying. Before Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the government exercised a humiliating u turn: a week after his budget Philip Hammond wrote to Conservative MPs to reverse his plans to increase NICs on the self-employed. He gave in to Tory and media pressure. As you would expect as Theresa May faced questions from the opposition leader, there were jeers and cries. A lot of MPs were smiling. The trouble is it was the Tories who were smiling.
From Tim Roache on Trident to Dave Prentice over Copeland, union bosses have grown increasingly critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Even Len McCluskey, previously characterised by ebullient support for the Labour leader, has grown rather quiet over the past few weeks - although we will see what happens if, as expected, he is re-elected as General Secretary of Unite. These issues highlight an important divide, usually underestimated by journalists, between the unions - by definition representative of the working class - and the overwhelmingly middle-class and un-unionised membership of the modern Labour Party. This divide is as old as the party itself. As long as Labour has existed, there has been a tension between the great mass of the union membership - ordinary Britons concerned with pragmatic, prosaic reforms - and the abstract, fantastical concerns of privileged and highly-educate radicals.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.” So said Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, translating - somewhat loosely - Charles Baudelaire. If Baudelaire meant that the devil thrives by perpetuating modern secularism and relativist attitudes towards the concept of evil, then scepticism is his trick. In politics, the reverse holds. I make no comparison - moral or otherwise - between the devil and any politician but they too want to trick us. Politicians do not want scepticism. Every government wants us to believe that they are in control; oppositions, while requiring us to doubt opponents, want us to believe in their ability to control. In a way the referendum success of Brexit, the honeymoon of Theresa May and, in a more limited sense, the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn amongst Labour member is about belief.
It just won’t go away. Since Theresa May took over from David Cameron as prime minister, she has denied, as far as any politician can without totally burning bridges, that she has any intention of calling an early election. She is determined not be felled by the excitement that Gordon Brown stoked then failed to meet. This week it is former foreign secretary, William Hague, who is urging his former colleague to repeal the Fixed-Term Parliament Act and go to the country to secure a Brexit mandate. On the surface, the logic is appealing. Her party currently has a majority of 17. Although more united than in a long time over the European question, there are enough Tory Remainers to make life difficult for the government.
After the Brexit vote last June and the election of Donald Trump four months later, there has been a despondent acceptance that this virus of isolationism and protectionism will infect the whole of Europe. Look, people say, there is Geert Wilders building support in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen is leading opinion polls for the French presidency, and the authoritarian right has control in Poland and Hungary. There is no doubt that the European consensus around openness, inclusiveness and social welfare is under threat in a way it has not been in the 60 years of the life of the European Union. And it is true that this has caused real wobbles in the financial community. As Stephen Lewis, the City economist and Disclaimer contributor, has pointed out, tensions have been rising in the euro zone over the past month.
I will not name the guilty. Perhaps I should. There are, however, too many. Readers will easily be able to identify the villains of the piece. Those villains are both great and small. They reside in Congress, chancelleries across the world and the media, but also they might live next door to you. The greatest failure in modern democracies is the lack of responsibility voters assume. It is much easier to cast blame. Without names we can still be clear: Trump is laying waste to our ideas of what a modern democracy is, and he is being defended both by commission and by omission. His election was a surprise and there are many reasons for it. It is often a mistake of journalism to see in disparate motivation a clear narrative.
Chances are, the results of the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections weren’t the first thing you read about on the weekend news. As I predicted last month, there weren’t headline-grabbing political earthquakes of a Trump or Brexit magnitude. The tremors were far greater than many could imagine, though, marking the biggest upheaval at Stormont in almost two decades and bringing a once-dominant party’s power crashing down. In last year’s election, the Democratic Unionist Party won 38 seats, ten ahead of their nationalist rivals Sinn Fein. Now, just ten months later, they are down to 28 seats, with Sinn Fein biting at their heels with 27.
Following on from Tony Blair, another former prime minister has entered the Brexit debate: John Major once again got on his soap box for a heartfelt and passionate speech at Chatham House, addressing the continuing concerns of the 48% and reminding many that not all Conservatives are Brexiteers. In an effort to appear unified, the Conservatives have been giving the impression that they are trying to stifle dissent, claiming that any deviation from the view that Brexit will lead to an economic and social Utopia is threatening the very foundation of the state. Considering Theresa May’s current polling I believe she can survive the odd bit of criticism. The Brexiteers were predictably baying for blood in reaction to the speech.
It’s a nasty world out there. Terrorism, civil wars abroad, rampant inequality at home: you’d think any US President would have their hands full tackling these multitudinous issues. Somehow, though, in amongst all the briefings and hearings (not to mention his three weekend breaks in Florida), Donald Trump has found time to tackle another issue. “It must be something really big and important!” you might say. Well, you’d be wrong. The huge scary threat that Trump has confronted is…drum roll, please…which bathrooms trans people should use. Yes, in his first 100 days Trump has deemed it necessary to revoke Obama’s executive order allowing students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.
During a rally to supporters in Florida on Sunday 19th February, Donald Trump, as part of a volley of attacks on the asylum policies of Europe made reference to an ‘incident’ that happened ‘last night in Sweden’. Trump declared that “we’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden.” He didn’t stop there. “Sweden? Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.’’ What did happen that night in Sweden? Swedes were baffled, commentators scratched their heads and Trump supporters either accepted his invention as true, or scrambled to develop an explanation for what he really meant.
Let me be brutally honest: I do not think the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn will win the next general election. If the opinion polls are anything to go by, that is. With Labour polling as low as 25%, 17 points behind the Conservatives, the margin of error doesn’t signal the chance of an upset Labour victory in the style of Donald Trump or Brexit. A majority of voters think Corbyn should stand down as Labour leader. A politician’s clichéd retort to bad polling is that the polls which really matter are elections. So let’s look at the ballots that have just been counted in the by-elections in Stoke and Copland. In Stoke, Labour held off UKIP, a party left in disarray by the calamitous Paul Nuttall and the cause of Brexit being taken on by Theresa May’s Tories. While UKIP’s prejudiced rhetoric did not win the day, Labour only won in Stoke on a turnout of just 37% and a reduced majority, with the Tories coming third closely behind UKIP.
I almost instantly regretted retweeting a pithy obituary for the recently deceased Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitali Churkin, which read “an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country”. It flirted too close to the taboo on not speaking ill of the dead, to which I try to adhere. It is more than a taboo, in fact. Even the faintest hint of schadenfreude over those who have just died is undignified and self-debasing. Not that Sir Henry Wotten’s famous quote is wrong when it comes to Russian diplomats. I worked with them as my counterparts on a near-daily basis when I was posted to the British Embassy in Moscow a few years ago. During that time, I was regularly caught somewhere between fascinated and appalled at their cynicism.
In the hit TV comedy The Office, Martin Freeman’s lovably everyman Tim endured a humiliating lack of success in his love rivalry with an overtly working-class character and warehouseman. A few years later, in the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show, hapless nerd Mark Corrigan vied with Jeff, an actual Scouser – just so you know he’s working-class – for the affections of Olivia Coleman’s Sophie. Both programmes relied on chiming with cultural assumptions about luckless, nice, middle-class blokes against brash, lager-swilling, footie-loving lads, and it was understood that the viewers would root for the former. Yet for most of human history, from the myths of antiquity and the Middle Ages through to the novels of Dickens, Hardy and Lawrence, high and low culture focused on the poor, down-trodden peasant or labourer overcoming the odds to win the girl from the arrogant Prince or sharp-suited executive.
Politics isn’t supposed to be exciting. Elections are generally the exception to that rule. By-elections doubly so. They are, however, about more than excitement. Stunning by-elections can define a parliament. They are a signpost to the future. In 1962, David Sumner resigned as MP for Orpington. His party had held the seat since its creation in 1945; at the 1959 election, he had held the seat with 57% of the vote. Few predicted anything except a Conservative win. After 11 years in power the Conservatives were looking tired and on the day of the election the Liberals won with a 22% swing from the Conservatives. The following year Harold Macmillan resigned as prime minister; the year after Labour won the general election.
In the politics of the Netherlands, a testimonial party is one that exists to accomplish a single cause. So where does the UK Independence Party turn now? Led by the charismatic and ruthlessly right-wing populist Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party was propelled in a few years from a fringe group to major party status. But since the vote for Brexit in 2016 the party has lost both Farage’s leadership and the cause of its foundation - opposing EU membership - a mantle embraced by Theresa May’s Tories. Farage’s former deputy Paul Nuttall - standing in the Stoke Central by-election - is UKIP’s third leader in four months, having succeeded Diane James who resigned a mere 18 days after being elected.
Campaigns for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections are grinding into gear. Apathy is allowed - this election comes less than a year after the last one, under a system that delivers similar results time after time. Don’t switch off yet, though. If there were ever a year for a surprise result, it’s now. When I say ‘surprise result’ I’m not referring to yet another right-wing populist (thankfully). This election won’t be surprising on a Brexit or Trump level. Nevertheless, though, there have been unprecedented developments. The election itself was sparked by the resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, which dissolved the power-sharing government.
‘The NHS needs more money’ has now been recognised as a totally undisputed fact by parties across the spectrum. The problem stems more than a willingness to pay - a few years ago a KPMG poll was released stated that 54% would be happy to pay more in tax to fund the NHS - the issue is the system itself. However, we are never going to change it if it remains as Nigel Lawson put it ‘the nearest thing the English have to a religion’. The NHS has long been used as a political football, with Labour and the BMA in particular competing with each other to sing its praises and act as the high priests and hierophants of this most sacred of cults. Watch any Labour politician in a political debate and you can pretty much guarantee within five minutes they will wail about a threat to the NHS from the right.
It is one of the cliches of political life, the old Chinese proverb that it is a curse to live in interesting times. It is a dictum to which Theresa May might pay some attention, even as she savours opinions polls and her convincing win in the House of Commons over Article 50. The EU referendum result has changed Britain’s long-standing trade and security policies; it has also given bloom to a change in its democratic make up. One only has to observe the Commons Brexit debate to acknowledge this. Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett may have been more explicit than many when she declared that she believed Brexit would be a disaster before she cast her vote to start exit negotiations. But she was not alone.
That the question of defeat even arises shows the extraordinary weakness of the official opposition in these strange political times. If we accept that 2015’s defeat under Ed Milliband represented a low in Labour’s fortunes, then holding onto two relatively safe seats should - midterm - be easy. The last time the main opposition party lost a by-election was in Romsey in 2000 under William Hague’s dire leadership; the last time a governing party snatched a seat from the opposition was the Mitcham and Morden by-election in 1983 when a surging SDP took 20% of Labour’s vote and let the Conservatives win with a reduced vote share. These are the precedents we are talking about. Neither William Hague nor Michael Foot were regarded as exceptional opposition leaders. And for those who do not follow politics closely, neither went onto general election victories.
When Michael Flynn the president's National Security Adviser resigned, Donald Trump’s first response was bluster. He tweeted that “fake news” media was going crazy with conspiracy theories; he tweeted that the story was actually just one made up by sore losers who had not gotten over Hillary Clinton’s unexpected November defeat; he tweeted that the real story was, in fact, the illegal leaks coming out of Washington. His senior aide resign over links with Russia but apparently that it not a story. At first Flynn denied discussing sanctions with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the US, during the transition then he admitted he could not be certain the issue did not come up. The official reason given for Flynn’s resignation was “eroding trust” that made his position untenable. The actual reason was that he had committed a potentially treasonable act and that he had then apparently given “incomplete information” to Vice President Pence about it.
One of the more entertaining sights from the Stoke Central by-election contest was a mock-up of an English Heritage blue plaque on the wall of a house that UKIP’s candidate had allegedly not moved into. It read: “Paul Nuttall. 2016-? Has never lived here”. And that’s rather the point when it comes to this election. All the politicians and journalists claim to care about Stoke, but none of them live there. Well, I do. I’ve lived in the Stoke Central constituency for nearly 30 years. When I arrived, there were five pits, and the glow of the steelworks lit the city by night. The ceramics industry employed tens of thousands and Michelin had a big production plant that covered the southern end of the city with the treacly smell of cooking rubber.
The chaos of Donald Trump’s opening weeks in the White House have strengthened the suspicion that his term will end early and unpleasantly. It is even tempting to start a sweepstake on which outrage or scandal will ultimately bring him down. I am going to back an old favourite - Russia. One of the few consistent elements of Trump’s campaign and presidency so far is his subservience to the Kremlin. The reasons for this bizarre behaviour have still not been explained either by Trump or his opponents. Trump insults America’s friends, neighbours and loyal allies on a near daily basis. So why does this extreme nationalist and supposed patriot go to such lengths to avoid criticising an enemy state like Russia?
In late 2014, Barack Obama reached out to Raul Castro, the brother and successor to revolutionary leader Fidel, to begin the “Cuban thaw” - an effort to open up diplomatic and economic ties between the two countries Obama argued that freeing travel and trade between the two countries would naturally loosen the grip of authoritarianism in Cuba. The death of Fidel, dictator from 1959 to 2008, seemed to further mark a new era of US-Cuban relations. Now President Trump is threatening to re-impose sanctions on Cuba on the basis of the need for reforms to improve human rights. Obama’s thaw seems certain to be re-frozen. His hard-line approach gained Trump approval from the Cuban exiles who lined the streets of Florida to celebrate Castro’s death. Cuban-Americans are demographically unique in US politics for their support of the Republican Party, driven by hatred for Castro. For them there can be no negotiation with the Communist Party.
It is hard to imagine any President being as widely scrutinised as Donald Trump. The three weeks since his inauguration have seen lawsuits and protests galore; every day brings news of some heinous command or bull-headed tweet. “Holding him to account” is no longer the glib half-promise muttered by those on the losing side of an election - it will be a daily reality for the next four years. As well it should be. The US has elected a toddler tyrant, a man of extraordinary narcissism at the head of an administration that is both shambolic and sinister. Trump manages to seem clueless yet menacing as he severs diplomatic ties, threatens the press and goes to war with his own government departments. It is vital, then, that no piece of anti-democratic legislation sneaks past unnoticed; no executive order should be left unscrutinised.
British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said that a week was a long time in politics. The saying has become one of the hoariest clichés of UK politics. The difference in scale between UK politics and its transatlantic cousin is vast so it should be no surprise that six months is an eternity in American politics. Never Trump seems a distant memory. On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions by a vote of 52-47. His confirmation was divisive and the vote essentially split along partisan lines. Trump has complained that Democrats are obstructing his nominees. While it is true that Obama’s Cabinet was in place within ten days of his inauguration, it took Bill Clinton and George H W Bush until March. It is called scrutiny and is at the heart of any democratic system. When the president complains of the longest delay in history, it is just another “alternative fact”.
In a fair world the Conservative party would be suffering of the agonies of the damned. The EU referendum split their party down the middle between Remainers and Brexiteers. The result caused the third downfall in a row of a Tory prime minister over the European issue. It should worry opponents that Brexit has increased their dominance of politics. Instead, it is Labour that suffers in the political circles of hell. Last week’s vote to trigger Article 50 saw only one Conservative rebel, Ken Clarke; forty seven Labour MPs, including frontbenchers and whips, voted against Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip. Over a quarter of the parliamentary party did not support the official position. A majority of Labour voters supported Remain, but 70% of Labour MPs now represent Brexit-supporting seats. The referendum result has precipitated the greatest challenge to Britain’s two party system in memory, with views on Brexit taking precedent over party affiliation.
After Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974, his successor Gerald Ford declared that the country’s “long national nightmare was over”. The Watergate scandal had precipitated a near constitutional crisis with a standoff between all branches of government. For many Donald Trump’s sacking of Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, evoked Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre when Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned over the dismissal of Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor. Yates had announced to Justice Department staff that she would not look to defend Trump’s executive order on the grounds of conscience and legality. She was promptly fired. Martyrdom followed. After his election many said we should take Trump seriously but not literally. His first week, unfortunately, demonstrates that Trump must be taken both seriously and literally.
George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (or 1984 for brevity) is a masterpiece in political satire and science fiction. Orwell’s final work, the novel encapsulates the goals of his short political and literary life: resistance to authoritarianism, clarity of language and honesty in journalism, and the seamless blending of social commentary with literature. The protagonist of 1984 is everyman Winston Smith, a resident of a bleak and gritty Airstrip One - the name of a Britain which has become a region of Oceania, one of the three political divisions of a global dictatorship ruled by mass surveillance and absence of civil liberties, symbolised by its iconic figurehead Big Brother.
Global capitalism has not worked for everyone, and the growing populist movements around the world are partly an expression of justifiable frustration at the inequitable distribution of economic opportunities and rewards. However, some unscrupulous populist leaders have cynically directed that frustration and anger onto the wrong targets: particular racial and religious groups; women; even the disabled have been mocked. These populists have claimed that only they understand and champion ‘the people’; all those who challenge them are ‘enemies of the people’ – by implication not really people at all. Nothing should block the direct implementation of ‘the people’s will’, and if democratic institutions - Parliament, say, or Congress, or an independent judiciary or free press - present obstacles to the immediate implementation of this will, then they are enemies too.
Everything changes. In 1951, the prime minister Clement Attlee arrived back in the UK to prepare for a snap general election. Upon landing a reporter asked him whether he would like to explain his party’s plan for the upcoming campaign. “No,” he replied and walked away. If the story is apocryphal, it is certainly contains an ecstatic truth, as Werner Herzog would say. Leaders from Neil Kinnock to Jeremy Corbyn can attest to the fact that the media now operate in a post-deferential age. The scrutiny we put politicians under has increased. It can be unfair at times. But it is certainly better. Scrutiny is essential in a democratic society. On Friday, Theresa May met Donald Trump. They held a joint press conference at which the BBC’s political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, asked the president about his differences with May on abortion, torture, immigration from Muslim-majority countries and relations with Russia.
With an irony that hasn’t gone unnoticed, US President Donald Trump signed his executive order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the US on January 27, Holocaust Memorial Day. The order’s instructions are harsh and shocking. Not only does it suspend the US Refugee Admissions Programme for 120 days and all refugee arrivals from Syria indefinitely, it suspends all new arrivals from designated countries, which, apart from Syria and Iraq, are reportedly Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – all predominantly Muslim. The executive order is highly problematic on several levels, and it’s good to see the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration issue a joint statement expressing their concern.
The history of political relaunches is not a happy one. Ask John Major or Gordon Brown. When The Quiet Man turned up the volume, his party turned off the television. However, I think we can all agree Jeremy Corbyn’s is going swimmingly. In a week when the government has come under heavy fire for its mismanagement of the NHS, Corbyn managed u-turn twice in one day over a wage cap, while offending both Brexiteers and Remainers with his muddled stance on free movement. On immigration Labour, in one day, revealed more positions than a knocking shop in Marrakesh. Referendum voters were promised that money being sent to Brussels would instead fund the NHS. An imaginative leader would have connected Brexit with the health service’s sorry state. Where is our money, Boris Johnson? The will of the people demands better funding for those currently sharing hospital trolleys, Corbyn could have said.
The last right-wing US President with personality issues produced one great achievement before being ejected from the White House. Richard Nixon took advantage of the Sino-Soviet split to bring about a rapprochement with China. His initiative shifted the Cold War balance of power in favour of the democratic West and ultimately helped to enhance peace and freedom across much of the world. It may be searching too hard for a silver lining to expect Donald Trump to repeat Nixon’s achievement. Trump, after all, seems much more intent on provoking a confrontation with China than coming to an arrangement with it. But he is nothing if not capricious and the phrase “Nixon going to China” has become a metaphor in US politics for doing something completely unexpected.
The medics and volunteers of the Red Cross, who usually respond to humanitarian crises such as floods and famines, have been drafted into NHS hospitals across England, where accident and emergency units have been pushed to breaking point. Red Cross jeeps pulling up at hospitals where patients are dying on trolleys in corridors and being treated in the makeshift surgeries of tents and staff rooms, as understaffing is so chronic, is unworthy of a developed nation and major economy. In the first Prime Minister’s Questions of 2017, Jeremy Corbyn mentioned the case of an infant boy with meningitis being forced to sleep on two chairs pushed together due to a lack of beds. Despite 23 hospitals declaring critical “black alerts”, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt denies a “humanitarian crisis”, yet suggests that the four hour target for A&E waits should be relaxed to treat acute emergencies more quickly.
Britain has a productivity problem. 2016 saw the biggest productivity gap between the UK and other western countries since 1991 and is the lowest in the G7. In terms of hours worked, Britain has a much lower output than its nearest rivals. Despite baffling politicians, this trend probably does not surprise the average Southern rail commuter to London. Last month’s rail strike meant that people had to make 6 hour trips in to the capital. The last thing they would feel after such a journey is that of a fired-up happy and productive worker. Even without the strikes, Britain has a bad record when it comes to the length of its average commute and is now ranked the worst in Europe
Anyone seeking reassurance after Donald Trump’s election will not find it in his initial foreign and security policy team selections. Rather than surrounding himself with the wise counsel essential for a President with no international relations experience, Trump is identifying candidates who reflect his own combination of naivety and aggression. The result looks more like the cast for a remake of “Dr Strangelove” than a capable national security team. Trump’s choice of General Michael “Firehose” Flynn as National Security Advisor is particularly alarming. Flynn’s nickname was earned during the Iraq War and denotes his tendency to spray off dangerously in all directions unless firmly held down. His last official post saw him sacked as Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2014.
The Autumn Statement was highly anticipated - the first after the Brexit referendum, the first for Philip Hammond... No more Osborne and his Long-Term Economic Plan. We do have some changes from the old regime. Banning letting agents from charging fees to tenants for example will be welcome news to the growing number of those who are subject to their mafioso, wide boy methods, even though this was a Labour policy that was opposed by both Hammond and Theresa May. Brexit, which this administration is blindly but doggedly implicating us in - despite nobody knowing what it really entails - means that the Chancellor is being forced to borrow a staggering £122bn more than expected whilst growth forecasts slip from 2% to 1% in 2017.
The substance of Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement was less about the economic agenda of Theresa May and more about the legacy of David Cameron and George Osborne. After the six wasted years under austerity since 2010, the government has failed to meet its own targets on deficit reduction. Growth has fallen, borrowing is up and the national debt is set to reach £2 trillion by 2020, with an additional £220 billion black hole in the economy being attributed to the impact of Brexit. All thanks - bear in mind - to a referendum Cameron only called to appease UKIP and his backbenchers, but lost due to the false promises of Vote Leave.
Donald Trump’s presidency is already a roaring success. According to Donald Trump, that is. His complete lack of political experience - the very quality that made him so ill-poised to be Commander-in-Chief - is one thing a stunned world took solace in. “He’ll have no idea what he’s doing,” we told ourselves. “Maybe he’ll be an impotent President, unable to turn his words into actions.” We forget, though, that Trump is a man who, at best, has a complicated relationship with the truth. At worst, he’s a pathological liar. The truth is whatever his supersized ego says it is. And he’s shameless in peddling his truth. Though estimated to be worth $3.7bn, Trump insists he’s worth in excess of $10bn. A video emerged of him bragging about sexual assault, yet he maintained “no one respects women more than I do.”
When the Vice President-elect of the United States went to the theatre he probably did not expect it to become an international news story. On entering he was booed, then at the end of the show one of the cast members delivered an impassioned plea on behalf of minority groups left frightened by Trump’s election. That in itself would have made a big news story. The sequel ensured that it lasted. The President-elect called it harassment. Clearly having no idea that in Ancient Athens political figures sat in the front row as satirists brutally lampooned them, he said that must always be a “safe space”
In the aftermath of Trumpageddon, one story provided some much-needed comic relief from the feeling that, to quote Peep Show's Mark Corrigan, "Everything's just completely fucked." On 9th November, it emerged that if you had placed a £10 accumulator bet on Leicester City topping the premiership, Brexit winning and Trump being elected President, then you'd have bagged yourself a frankly outrageous £30 million. However, this isn't the 'Big Three' we should be most concerned about. The real 'Big Three' hasn't happened yet: Brexit, Trump and a win for Marine Le Pen, the Front National's candidate, in France's Presidential elections next May. Unfortunately, this triple threat carries considerably lower odds than the former.
They say that you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Admittedly, I have never tried. Nor do I know anyone who has tried. However, I assume that the dictum is correct. What one can create depends very much on the ingredients one starts with. Since 23rd June Labour has not been left with many good ingredients. Theresa May’s assumption of the premiership has allowed the Tories to present themselves as a fresh government. The prime minister herself has outrageously claimed that her government will implement a Brexit policy as the “will of the people”. Of course, what she means is that she will implement the will of the 52% who voted to leave the EU. Internal and external critics are derided as anti-democrats; judges who try to impose some degree of constraint upon the executive are denounced as “Enemies of the People”.
Theresa May had little to say about the election of Donald Trump as US president, other than the usual platitudes about the government maintaining the “special relationship” between America and Britain. There was no hint of reaffirming David Cameron’s censure of Trump’s xenophobia during the presidential campaign as “stupid, divisive and wrong.” In contrast, when it came to making a formal statement about Trump’s election, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unequivocal in setting out Germany’s terms for cooperation with the Trump White House: "Germany and America are bound by common values - democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.”
In the years since the 2008 crisis, the financial markets have been reluctant to acknowledge that an economic depression has been under way. All manner of euphemisms have been coined to characterise the situation. The contraction in global activity and world trade between 2008 and 2010 was labelled the Great Recession. By this it was meant that the malaise was serious but did not call for radical reform of the socio-economic structure, only for measures, albeit extreme, in the traditional macro-economic sphere. Even now, the talk is of ‘secular stagnation’, anything to avoid the ‘d-word’, anything to divert attention from the fundamental sickness that is threatening liberal democracy (from which a few are nevertheless profiting). How, indeed, could the economy be in a state of depression?
In the week since America’s presidential election, Donald Trump’s party appears to be mending the tattered fabric that had held it together for decades, setting the party up to play all of the cards it holds now that it will have control of the White House and both Congressional chambers. Trump has selected as his chief-of-staff GOP Chairman Reince Preibus, thereby installing a bridge to the party’s lawmakers right from the Oval Office. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are now aligned on immigration among other issues. Whether the party will bring Trump back to the fold in terms of free trade and a deregulated finance sector remains to be seen. After a season of endless rhetorical warfare, one of the greatest ironies will be how the Republicans, who seemed so damaged beyond repair by internal strife, now have the Democrats scrambling for a strategy.
Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History?’ has come to symbolise the myopic triumphalism of political elites upon the precipice of the twenty-first century. But recent events mean his lesser-known 2012 essay, ‘The Future of History’, has become necessary reading. It poses a single question: can liberal democracy survive the decline of the middle classes? Fukuyama concludes that ‘some very troubling economic and social trends’ may now ‘threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood.’ The seemingly post-ideological was but a democratic ideology all along; and that the post-post-ideological must therefore presuppose the post-liberal. The old adage: history progresses by its bad side.
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States has left many progressives in America baffled. Indeed, it has baffled liberals across the world. The confusion comes in part from the fact that Hillary Clinton was expected to win the election. Clinton’s paths to victory in the electoral college were not as strong as supposed. She lost the delegate-rich Florida, and then industrial states that were meant to provide her electoral ballast. As election night grew old a Clinton victory became unlikely then impossible. At 230am, EST Associated Press declared Donald Trump president. The emotion of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory is raw. The highest and hardest glass ceiling remains unbroken.