UK General Election 2017

UK General Election 2017

Polling day is upon us. But Britain sorts the winners from the losers, here are a couple of random thoughts about the campaigns so far and predictions for tomorrow.

Three (hopefully) non-partisan thoughts about tomorrow:

  • Tomorrow, and through the night, social media will resemble the hotter days of fighting at Stalingrad. It will be brutal, unrelenting, and also increasingly vicious and fact free.
  • The Conservative Party has conducted the most lacklustre and self-harming general election campaign since 2001, and possibly since 1964. This is partly down to hubris, but I think has far more to do with a damp-squib of a manifesto, coupled with the fact that Theresa May – supposedly the party’s big totem-pole around whom they could built their campaign – has revealed herself to have all the colour and personality of an Argos, flat-pack coffee table.
  • Brexit and the economy, two hugely important and significant areas of debate, have hardly been discussed in any serious way at all.
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Remoulding British Nationhood, Social Democrat Style!

FeaturedRemoulding British Nationhood, Social Democrat Style!

Something very interesting appeared in Tuesday’s Guardian. I was on a train, perusing a social media feed, when up popped an editorial by Polly Toynbee and David Walker. Yes, it was focused upon the upcoming election, and yes it took a pop at Conservative ‘privatisation’ and ‘austerity’ (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose), but what caught my attention wasn’t the claims of attacks upon food health inspectors, no, it was the use of a particular set of interconnected words. It seemed to me that Toynbee and Walker were really writing about patriotism, nationhood and Britishness.

As I read on, my eyes growing wide in wonder, it dawned on me what the atricle was actually about. On the surface, it was an attack upon an alleged, 40 year old Conservative plan to shrink the state and, in the process, enrich the private sector and cut welfare for the poor.

Then I reached the following:

‘What is the social glue that binds us to Britishness if not the things we share collectively?… Marketisers, outsourcers, asset-strippers and state-shrinkers are not patriots: they surf the world on seas of money, undermining community and nationality.’ And then, finally: ‘in a renewed state lies strength and identity – and a reclaimed sense of lost nationhood.’

The punch line was that, ‘since the Thatcher privatisations, the UK has been subject to a giant experiment in the ability of markets to sustain the common interest, with light-touch regulation.’ A good point, well made, and one with which I increasingly sympathise.

But, to get back to the paragraph above, what on earth is going on? Is the editor-in-chief of the Guardian now calling for a renewed sense of British nationhood? Is the Devil going to have to invest in a pair of ice skates? Whatever next! Because if some form of renewed sense of nationhood is indeed what Toynbee and Walker are calling for then this is significant. In fact, it arguably represents something of a sea change at the heart of Britain’s foremost left-wing newspaper.

For years now, perhaps even decades (one thinks back to George Orwell’s comments about the national anthem), ‘Britishness’ has been a dirty word to many on the left, patriotism something to be mocked and derided. Flying an English flag outside your house marked you out for, at the very least, a bit of subtle eye-rolling. Many social democrats that I know have, in the past, sneered at anything so distasteful as an English, or British identity. They prefer to see themselves as ‘European’. Their outlook is global, not national. They see all societies and cultures as equally valid, and judging other countries by western standards is an arrogant crime. After all, who are we to judge?

The reason for this often sneering attitude is complex, but has to do with a lingering, Marxist-derived sense of international brotherhood, the collapse of the pillars upon which a sense of Britishness used to rest (predominantly, shared Protestantism, and the business of Empire), and the decades of self-reflection since the 1950s, during which historians highlighted the less jolly, more blood-soaked episodes in Britain’s stint as world superpower.

The result has been more than half a century of national cognitive dissonance,

an uncomfortable sense of shame, tempered by a sense that the empire wasn’t wholly negative, and that perhaps the British Isles has given a great deal to the world and has, collectively, much to be proud of. Such sentiments linger on in many people’s hearts, but during the EU referendum debate, I began to get the sense that many people (the English in particular) are beginning to tire of this self-flagellation, particularly in the face of unabashed Scottish or Welsh nationalism.

So what about the Guardian editorial? Well, if national pride is on the verge of making a comeback, then what for those on the left who shudder at the mere mention of the idea? How will they close the gap between their university-educated sense of European identity and national self-loathing, and those millions of UKIP voting, ex-Labourites, particular in the north of England, who may not share their metropolitan sensibilities?

My sense is that Toynbee’s and Walker’s article is a beginning of something new, of a desire, or at least a realisation, that times they are a changing, that patriotism isn’t quite the four-letter word it used to be in the heartlands of England. Clever and thoughtful souls that they are, they have realised that if they want to connect with the disaffected and the disgruntled Labour voters of old, then they may have to move at least half way towards acknowledging a sense of pride in something larger than the local community. And to do this, whilst simultaneously avoiding any overlap with the less savoury aspects of British nationalism, they will have to remould British nationhood into something that is at once both patriotic, yet palatable to social democrats. What better way to do that than to rekindle a sense of nationhood built around a strong state and high levels of public services? Well plaid, Toynbee and Walker. Well played.

 

 

Are Blairites trolling online Corbyn supporters through PR firms?

Are Blairites trolling online Corbyn supporters through PR firms?

Are PR firms being used to stir-up trouble on Far Left blogs and news feeds?

Check on the comments feeds on many left-wing blogs and chances are you’ll find regular posters who come back again and again to troll the regular, genuine users.

Nothing particularly unusual about that. This is the internet, after all. And for some, trolling is a way of life.

But look at again at some of these individuals and then search for their names and you’ll find that some work for London based PR firms. One regular poster at The Canary by the name of Jimmy Sands, for instance, works for a company called Portland Communications.

So what? Jimmy’s a free citizen, and is entitled to write on any public forum in any way he chooses, provided he doesn’t break the law. So old Jimmy doesn’t like Mr Corbyn very much? So what? Big deal.

Well, it wouldn’t be a big deal, except that Portland Communications was founded by none other than Mr Tim Allan, former advisor to the New Labour government and a personal friend of Tony Blair.

Are the Labour Old Guard using PR firms to troll Corbyn’s online supporters?

I asked Portland Communication to comment on the above speculations, but they politely declined to make a statement.

Ho hum! Make your own minds up.

An Election Prediction: ‘Alt-Left’ reactions to a May victory

An Election Prediction: ‘Alt-Left’ reactions to a May victory

It’s Friday, June 9th. A warm, early-summer sun has risen. The bees have begun to buzz. The 07:50 from Andover to waterloo is late, as it always is and always should be. The Brexit anniversary – or Independence Day, to those plucky Brexiteers – looms just around the corner. And all across Britain people are waking up to the news that Theresa May is will be staying on as our Prime Minister. Not as an inheritor of the throne, a jumped-up cabinet minister with a mandate, but as a leader in her own right. And what’s more, a leader with a healthy majority in the House of Commons.

The mood at the Telegraph head offices is upbeat, and tired cleaning staff are shovelling Champaign corks and party-popper carcasses into wastepaper baskets at Tory Campaign Headquarters. Young men and women with trust funds the size of small African nations sit back and massage their aching temples. Hired PR firms and big party donors pat each other on the back. Affluent, working, middle-England heaves –perhaps – a sigh of relief. Tory MPs think about new extending their mortgages for five more years, or perhaps eye-up a new car.

But what of the other lot? What of, the left? What will Britain’s other major political party do if – and let’s not be coy – it is butchered, jointed and hung on a meat hook at the ballot box?

Finding a scapegoat to blame will be easy for those Labour ministers who have always regarded Mr Corbyn as an embarrassing Cold War relic. ‘Old Beardo was mainstream voter poison all along’, they will say, (perhaps, in some cases, with a certain amount of shameful joy). ‘And that McDonnell! You can’t quote Chairman Mao in the Commons and not spook-middle England. What the hell did you think would happen?’

And off they’ll go again. A coup will be executed, a ballot called for, and the party will make one last effort to unseat it’s unflappable leader. Whether they will manage it is another matter. As Mt

Mr Corbyn ahs proved time and time again, if he doesn’t want to go, then he won’t, and what then? Will the Blairte Old Guard, desperate and tired, split the party in two and hope for a Monsieur Macron-style miracle in 2022? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

But who will get to hold on to the family name? Who gets to be called the ‘Labour Party’? I doubt jettisoning the name would bother the Corbynites very much. Then again, they are quite wedded to red imagery and flag waving, so perhaps they’d slug it out and proclaim themselves the true inheritors of Labour’s Fabian roots.

All this will happen in London, of course. It will take place inside the endlessly talked about ‘the Westminster bubble’. Most Corbynites live beyond the flat chimes of Big Ben. They’ll probably be pleased to have a party of their own. After all, they might not want to stay in bed with the filthy ‘Red Tory scum’ – as they disparagingly refer to any Labour voter who isn’t 100% behind Jeremy – who apparently make up the bulk of the Labour benches these days. Unlike the Blairte Old Guard, who will lay the blame squarely at Mr Corbyn’s feet, they will have other scapegoats lined up. And a quick look at the social media sites and blogs frequented by Corbyn’s many supporters tells you who their targets will be. A quick scan of sites such as The Canary, AAV (Another Angry Voice), and Evolve Politics might lead you to think that it will be the Conservatives themselves. But I think not.

Far left activists are already brimming with hatred of ‘Tory scum’. To them, Britain’s Conservative party are corruption incarnate, an evil, airbrushed, lawyered-up pack of jackals sewn into three-thousand pound Bond Street suits. They are the Umbrella Corporation, Wolfram and Hart or the League of Shadows. They are the Empire seeking to crush the plucky Rebel Alliance. They are supposed to be bad. Of course they will have used dirty money. Of course they lied and cheated. Duh! That’s what they do!

No. Their real venom will be aimed at one enemy without, and one enemy within.

The parallels between Britain’s Corbyn supporters (I refuse to use the term Alt Left because it seems, to me, like a lazy smear tactic) and the recent Trump campaign are striking. Both have split from the main body of a major political party. Both risk alienating core voters. And both see the MSM an enemy disseminating ‘fake news’ – and the they include in that list tradition left wing papers, such as The Guardian, and the supposedly left-wing biased (yet officially non-partisan) BBC. See, for example, Steve Topple’s ‘The BBC is in hot water again over its bias. And this time the complaint is a biggie’. Or, Chris Turnbull’s ‘You probably won’t believe just how biased the BBC’s latest anti-Corbyn attack actually is’.

In their narrative of events, Mr Corbyn will have lost, not because he failed to reach floating voters, spooked the English middle classes, alienated the remnants of New Labour, offered nothing to the Scots, and failed to reach out to the disenfranchised, still-largely patriotic English voters of the north, he will have failed because the BBC schemed against him and the simple, dumb voters of our isles were hoodwinked into voting for the bad guy (or, in this case, the bad woman).

So that’s my first prediction. If Mr Corbyn and the Labour party lose (and that is, of course, by no means a certainty), the MSM will shoulder a large proportion of the blame. In which case, expect a lot of angry articles to appear in which the fasithful few are advised to cancel their License Fees (again, a mirror image of comments and articles found on so-called Alt-Right sites, such as Brietbart. Oh, what crazy times we live in!). Oh, and I wouldn’t want to be the person in charge of Guardian subscriptions, either, because you’ll have a good sack full of four-letter-riddled cancellation letters to sift through, too.

And that brings me to my second, more obvious prediction: Corbyn’s supporters will turn with fury upon the ‘Red Tory Scum’Already, they have ‘hit-lists’ online naming those ‘traitors’ who need to be deselected and driven out of office, like this one, for example. (Though, in the case of the blog SupportOurLefty, I’m going to have to invoke Poe’s Law, because articles are just so over-the-top and silly that I’m almost sure it’s a parody account created by a Conservative PR firm). The list of traitors grows longer by the day (what is it about the Far Left and lists of non-ideologically-pure ‘traitors? Historical speaking, it’s now almost a cliché, isn’t it?).

Anyway, there will be those who revel in this witch-hunt. There will even be those who take a certain amount of shameful delight in their party’s collapse – and not just those suits at Tory Campaign Headquarters. If both of my predictions are correct, then a party spilt might be closer and more unavoidable than many average Labour Party voters know or care to admit.

 

 

 

Trident: a forking waste of money?

Trident: a forking waste of money?

I am currently on the fence about Trident. I can see the logic in the arguments against renewing such an expensive and perhaps unnecessary system, but am also sympathetic to those who point towards the rapid changeability of geo-politics, and who note that the weapons would be for use in an unknowable future.

One key point that has always interested me is whether or not Britain has the capacity to use the weapons unilaterally. This seems to me to be crucial, for if they cannot be used independently then they represent nothing more than an extension of the U.S’s nuclear deterrent, paid for by the British tax payer. Obviously much information on this subject will be hidden behind a fog of secrecy and security, but that aside: what serious evidence is there that Britain would not be able to use the missiles independently if a crisis arose?

Whenever I have brought this up in conversation, I am told that the missiles need ‘arming codes’ and that these codes can only be issued by the American President. However, a little research on my part has suggested that this is untrue. Whilst the U.S does indeed have a system of arming codes, my understanding is that the British navy rejected such a procedure for fears that the chain of command could be broken during an attack.

What other evidence is there? Well, a report by Greenpeace, which was itself cited by the 2006 Commons Defence Committee when investigating the independence of the systems, suggested that the U.S could: “cut off the technical support needed for the UK to continue to send Trident to sea.” This is often cited in the media (particularly the Guardian) as evidence that the system is beyond our ability to control, which of course sounds very alarming. But note the use of the word ‘continue.’ The report does not suggest that the American’s have a ‘kill switch’ that can disable the missiles already in our possession. Instead, it tells us that without long-term American maintenance the missiles would eventually become unusable. An important point, but not the same thing.

WE.177_safety_keys
Nuclear weapon safety and arming keys

My understanding, however, is that Trident uses astro-inertial navigation, and that, once launched, the missiles are capable of finding their way to their targets without the aid of satellites. If this is indeed the case, then is it not true the missiles, as they currently exist, are available for the UK government to use unilaterally?

Close attention to the language used by both sides of the debate would suggest that this is true. The UK government, for example, is keen to stress that they have ‘effective operational control’, whilst opponents of Trident often stress a ‘long-term reliance upon American goodwill’.

The Union is Dead; Long Live the Union

The Union is Dead; Long Live the Union

‘There’s the end of an auld sang’; the often-repeated words of the Earl of Seafield, uttered late in the spring of 1707 as he touched the Act of Union with Queen Anne’s sceptre and gave royal assent to a new, British tune.

Today, millions of Scots go to the polls to decide which tune they like best: the old, or the new? The pollsters tell us that the results are too close to call. The generals of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, once so confident behind their thick, 15% buffer, now bite their nails to the quick and wonder where it all went wrong. Was it the constant doom mongering? Or was it, as Alex Salmond believes, that time and tide is on the nationalist’s side, and that changing attitudes amongst young voters means that a ‘No’ vote on Thursday amounts, in reality, to little more than a deferred ‘Yes’.

National identities are complicated things. They are, as Linda Colley once put it, “not like hats. Human beings can and do put on several at a time”. When Britain was born in 1707, Britishness did not suddenly spring into being. It took time to spread and to take shape. As it took shape, it learned to coexist alongside those already in place. The ‘auld’ song of Scotland as a political, legal entity came to an end, but Scottishness as a sense of a people with customs, practices and traditions in common continued on.

Doubtless Salmond draws much strength from recent polling figures suggesting that support for Scottish independence is highest amongst the young. The teenage and student voters of Scotland are Salmond’s vanguard, his ‘inspired’ force for change. One reason for this is because Britishness has none of the immediacy, hopefulness and potential of the ‘auld sang’ sung anew. But might there be another reason? Might British nationhood, once so broad-shouldered and self confident on both sides of the Tweed, be too vague and hazy to carry any appeal amongst the young? Next to tartan, whiskey and the pipes, what does Britishness as a concept truly have to offer? The pillars upon which it once stood have crumbled. That shared sense of protestant destiny, which perhaps always burnt a little brighter on the more Calvinist side of the Tweed, has withered away. So too the business of empire, which once made the fortunes of Scots and Englishmen alike, has now passed from reality into memory. There is no ‘other’ across the seas for us to fear, no common enemy to unite us. (An expanding EU will never equal the bogeyman of martial France or imperial Spain.) All we have left is the past. And the past troubles us.

What shared enterprises and experiences now bind England and Scotland together? Must Britishness e come to rest the ancient and granite institution of monarchy? What about the NHS? Grand as Britain’s ‘new national religion’ may be, is it not too exposed to the harsh spotlight of everyday experience to compete with, say, the misty-eyed visions of Robert Burns’ land of ‘straths and green valleys’? Such points may seem trivial, but make no mistake: these are the nearest things we have to rallying points. Alex Salmond has taken them out of the independence equation for reasons other than practically and cost.

By tomorrow we will know one way or another. Britishness in its most resonant form will either be consigned to the history books, (perhaps limping on in the hearts and minds of Orangemen and a few Englishmen desperate to cling on to the past), or else it will live to fight another day. If it lives on then we will get ‘Devo-Max’ and Scotland will become an independent nation in all but legal status and in matters of defence. Independence will go back into its box for another generation. When it comes out again – and it will – Salmond’s young vanguard will be running the country. Will time have been enough to convince them that a British tune is better than the ‘sangs of auld?’ Time will tell. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that, win or loose, we will all be crying the Union is dead; long live the Union.