Blogroll: Lustig's Letter

I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 8 posts from the blog 'Lustig's Letter.'

Disclaimer: Reproducing an article here need not necessarily imply agreement or endorsement!

Subscribe to Lustig's Letter feed
TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF THE WORLD Robin Lustighttp://www.blogger.com/profile/00578195216460807588noreply@blogger.comBlogger581125
Updated: 43 min 4 sec ago

It’s finally make your mind up time for Labour

Fri, 21/06/2019 - 09:09


For God’s sake, how much longer will it take? For three long, grim, post-referendum years, the Labour party have been trying to pretend that standing in the middle of the road is a sensible approach to traffic safety.
But not any more. Because hurtling towards them are the two wannabe Jeremy Clarksons of contemporary politics: Nigel Farage in a turbo-charged SUV, like Toad of Toad Hall after a long night in the pub, and Boris Johnson in a souped-up old Jag, detritus strewn across the back seats, hunched over the steering wheel muttering: ‘Brakes? Who needs brakes when all you need is to trust Boris?’
So it’s time to get out of the way. And that must mean heading to the side of the road marked Remain. Nothing else makes sense, and it looks as if the majority of the shadow cabinet – finally – have realised it. Let no one accuse them of acting in haste.
By the end of next month, the UK will have a new prime minister. If it’s Boris Johnson, his bumbling incompetence is likely to leave the country toppling over a no-deal Brexit cliff-edge. With the Labour party – well, doing what exactly? Still mumbling about being committed to the result of the 2016 referendum, despite everything that has happened since?
I assume that members of the shadow cabinet read The Guardian. So they will have seen this article by the founder of the YouGovpolling organisation, Peter Kellner, in which he points out that barely half of the voters who voted Labour in the 2017 general election would do so now. More than a third would vote instead for one of the pro-Remain parties.
Fine, you may say. But what about those crucial Labour seats in the Midlands and north of England where the majority of voters voted Leave in the referendum? Well, guess what: three years is a long time in politics and things have moved on. According to Kellner, the national Brexit mood, judging by an average of recent polls, has shifted from 52-48% pro-Leave in 2016 to 56-44% pro-Remain now.
The shift, he says, has been driven by two main factors. ‘The first is demographic (older, mainly leave, voters dying while overwhelmingly pro-remain teenagers are reaching voting age). The second is Labour voters changing their minds – especially in the northern and midlands heartlands (my italics). One particular group that has swung decisively to remain are Britain’s nurses. Many of them were persuaded by the promise of an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, and they now feel they were deceived.’
So the message couldn’t be clearer. With the country still as deeply divided as it was at the time of the referendum, if not more so, the appointment of one of the architects of the pro-Leave campaign to head the UK government will force Labour to abandon its policy of trying to appeal to voters on both sides of the divide.
Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence that he wants to unite a divided country is all well and good, apart from the fact that you can’t straddle a divide that goes far deeper than the niceties of trading arrangements with our neighbours or the precise monitoring mechanisms along the Irish border.
This debate is now about the soul of Britain. Perhaps it always was, but we failed to see it in time. It is between those who want to live in a country that welcomes diversity and embraces tolerance, or one that has turned inwards on itself, retreating towards bigotry and extreme nationalism. Can there be any doubt which side the Labour party should be on?
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson put it as well as anyone: ‘European is who we are and who we have always been. Our members are remain. Our values are remain. Our hearts are remain. We need our Labour party to be true to who we are and be loud and proud in support of Europe.’
If Jeremy Corbyn and those around him can’t endorse every word of that, then Labour is done for. The millions of voters who turned their backs on the party in last month’s European parliament elections will not return to the fold without an unambiguous change of tone from the leader’s office.
Soon, the Lib Dems will have a new leader: probably Jo Swinson, young, female, and plugged in to the 2019 zeitgeist in a way that so far Mr Corbyn has signally failed to manage. And in Germany, the Green party has now overtaken both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats to become the country’s most popular party.
Of course, it could never happen here. Just as Nigel Farage could never win a second European election, or Boris Johnson become prime minister. Mr Corbyn has never been much good at adapting to new political realities, but the time for prevarication has run out.
Waiting for the autumn party conference is not an option. The 31 October Brexit deadline looms, as does an emergency general election.
The party – and the country -- will need a crystal clear message from the shadow cabinet. They meet next Tuesday.


Categories: Current Affairs

What the hell do Tory MPs think they are doing?

Fri, 14/06/2019 - 09:04
How I would love to be able to work out what goes on inside Tory MPs’ brains. (Don’t be rude: of course they have brains. Well, most of them …)
And if any Tory MP should happen to read these words, please feel free to get in touch. Because for the life of me, I cannot begin to fathom what on earth was going on inside the noddles of the 114 men and women who on Thursday voted for Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
After all, they know him. (I do, too, a bit, since the days long ago when he was just a gob-for-hire, a journalist with opinions and a knack for making waves.) They know him to be, in the words of former Tory MP Matthew Parris, now a Timescolumnist: ‘a habitual liar, a cheat, a conspirator with a criminal pal to have an offending journalist’s ribs broken, a cruel betrayer of the women he seduces, a politician who connived in a bid for a court order to suppress mention of a daughter he fathered, a do-nothing mayor of London, and the worst foreign secretary in living memory.’
This is the man – incredibly – who they apparently think is best qualified to lead the nation. Except, of course, that’s not what they really think at all, nor is it why they voted for him. What they really think is – and Tory MPs, please do correct me if I’m wrong – that he’s the man most likely to enable them to hang on to their jobs at the next election.
So what if he’s an unprincipled liar? People will still vote for him, won’t they? Who cares if his insouciant, shoulder-shrugging acceptance of a ‘no deal Brexit’ would spell disaster for the UK, its economy and the jobs of thousands of British citizens? If he has a better chance than anyone else of seeing off Nigel Farage, what else could possibly matter?
It plainly doesn’t bother them a bit that a UK led by Boris Johnson would be a pitiable laughing stock among its erstwhile friends and allies. ‘Oh, the poor old UK,’ they will whisper in conference corridors. ‘They used to count for something. Remember? But look at them now. I mean … Boris Johnson?’
(And if you think I’m being unfair, I would urge you to read this eye-popping piece in the New Yorker. You will be astonished at my capacity for restraint.)
Once upon a time, we used to laugh at Boris The Clown. With his tousled hair, his little-boy-lost grin and his jolly japes public school vocabulary, he added to the gaiety of the nation. He had no power, so he could do no harm.
Then we mocked him. Having been elected mayor of London, he looked an utter prat as he waved an outsize Union flag at the close of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 with his jacket flapping open. Four years later, he somehow contrived to get himself stuck on a zip wire while ostensibly celebrating a Team GB Olympic gold medal.
But none of it seemed to matter much, because no one really took him seriously. We all understood that nothing that Johnson has done, either as a journalist or as a politician, has been about anything other than Johnson. He evidently sees himself as a modern incarnation of Winston Churchill: the reality, as the French newspaper Le Monde pointed out in a brutally cutting editorial this week, is that Johnson as the UK’s prime minister would be a ‘mini-Trump across the Channel dedicated to the destruction of the European Union.’
But now the time for mockery is over. Just as American voters discovered in 2016, when they woke up one November morning to discover that they had elected Donald Trump as their president, just because something makes no sense doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Until quite recently, the conventional wisdom at Westminster was that Johnson was loathed as a lazy charlatan by his fellow MPs but loved by Conservative party activists because he’s a cheeky chappie who makes them laugh. What I never imagined was that more than a hundred of those same MPs, in the first round of an election to choose a new party leader, would vote for a man they loathe. Don’t anyone dare tell me that cynicism has no place in politics.
True, there are now reports of a Stop Boris coalition being discussed by some of his leadership rivals – but the likelihood is that whoever survives to face him in the final run-off vote will have to make do with the title of the Man (yes, they are all men) Who Couldn’t Beat Boris. A truly glorious political epitaph.
Nevertheless, Johnson could still stumble. His handlers’ attempts to keep him as far away as possible from opportunities to put his foot in it will not be sustainable as the campaign progresses – although they know full well that one ill-timed off-colour joke or ill-considered witticism could sink him. This, after all, is a man who still thinks there is nothing wrong with describing Muslim women who wear a full face veil, or niqab, as looking like letter boxes or bank robbers.
It is easy – and not inaccurate – to look at Johnson and see exactly what Le Monde sees: a mini-Trump. At his campaign launch press conference, a journalist who asked a tough question was jeered by his supporters – and a columnist in the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper that pays him handsomely to write a weekly column, warned the BBC that if it ‘continues to distort and withhold information from viewers there will be trouble.’
Let’s hope Johnson isn’t soon tempted to go one step further and label his former journalist colleagues ‘enemies of the people.’ Let’s also hope, for all our sakes, that Tory MPs – and party activists -- come to their senses before it is too late.


Categories: Current Affairs

A week of shame and humiliation in La La Land

Fri, 07/06/2019 - 08:50

What a dismal, shameful, humiliating week it has been. Brown nose Britain at its worst, bowing and scraping in fancy dress at the feet of a man who in the words of a columnist in the Washington Post: ‘lied, seethed, intruded and blundered his way through his trip to Britain.’

We paraded our dancing bears (aka the Royal family) for his delight; we fawned over his every word, even though they made absolutely no sense – and we looked away in embarrassment when he turned up for a State banquet wearing clothes that had clearly been made for someone else entirely. Not so much the emperor’s new clothes, more the emperor’s wrong clothes.
Welcome to La La Land, where everyone pretends everything is normal, and where we faithfully record the words of a visiting potentate even though he clearly has no idea what he is talking about and is incapable of understanding what is being said to him. It is also a land where in the place of the prime minister, there is simply a void, a nothingness, and just the faintest of whispers. ‘Nothing has changed.’
When the emperor was asked about climate change, he burbled on about clean water. When he was asked about the NHS and its place in any future US-UK trade negotiations, he put some random words together, and then had another go the following day. ‘Everything is on the table, including the NHS.’ Or, if you prefer: ‘Everything is on the table, except the NHS.’
Even after he had left the UK for Ireland, where he urgently needed to spend some time at  his golf club, he carried on blundering, offering his thoughts about the Irish border, apparently under the impression that Dublin wants to build a wall there to keep the Mexicans out. His exact words? ‘I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border. I mean we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here.’ To quote the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin again: ‘The world plays along with the fiction that he is serious about what he says (as opposed to a man who bluffs, blunders and lies his way through life).’
And as if sucking up to our galumphing visitor wasn’t bad enough – a bit like schmoozing a wealthy but insufferable uncle in the hope that he will bestow upon us a few morsels from his table – we also suffered an unending sewage-flow of speculation to prepare us for our own mini-Trump in Downing Street.
The contempt I have for US Republicans who have rolled over and offered their rumps to Trump is matched only by my contempt for all those Conservative MPs who would now have us believe that Boris Johnson – a lazy, lying charlatan who is trusted by none of them – is the answer to our national crisis.
It’s as if Iago were to be appointed the next archbishop of Canterbury – a sadistic practical joke by the great casting agent in the sky. Or perhaps, like Gerard Baker in The Times, who wins my Pollyanna of the Week award, you can see an upside to a Trump-BoJo transatlantic coupling: ‘To many, [Johnson as next Tory leader] would represent the apotheosis of reckless populism, the elevation of clownish charisma over sober statesmanship, the primacy of preening ego and low mendacity over high principle and responsibility. Yet there’s reason to think that it might be, if not exactly a match made in heaven, then at least an unexpectedly productive partnership that may held the key to unlocking the political deadlock that grips both countries.’
Nice try, Gerry: reckless populism, the elevation of clownish charisma over sober statesmanship, the primacy of preening ego and low mendacity – who could ask for anything less from a future prime minister?
And so to Normandy, to commemorate a battle in which the Great War-Dodger would undoubtedly not have fought. After all, as he admitted to Piers Morgan, he was ‘not a great fan’ of the war in Vietnam, from which those famous bone spurs thankfully spared him, and although he gets all sorts of thrills from threatening death and destruction on brutal dictators (except those in Moscow and Beijing, of course), he is a lot fonder of barking than biting.
Huge kudos, by the way, to the Foreign Office official who drafted the Queen’s elegant put-down in her speech at that Buck House banquet last Monday. Britain and the United States, she reminded Trump, wagging her finger, had worked together to build an ‘assembly of international institutions to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated.’
And then, just in case he missed the message first time round: ‘While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace.’ This addressed to a man who has yet to meet an international institution he doesn’t want to destroy, or an international agreement he can’t wait to tear up.
It would have been nice, though, if somewhere among all the moving tributes to the men who fought with such bravery on the Normandy beaches, mention might also have been made of the 200,000 plus Russian casualties during the Battle of Stalingrad two years previously. It is not at all to demean the achievements of D Day and everything that followed to point out that the Russians have every bit as much right to claim that they turned the tide of the Nazi onslaught as the British, Americans, Canadians and other allied forces who liberated France.
Oh, to imagine a world with different leaders in Washington and London. A world in which we had head-space to focus on the military crackdown in Sudan, the Syrian army onslaught in the north-western region of Idlib, and the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings in Beijing, so efficiently airbrushed from China’s past. A world in which our leaders had the political strength to deal with the impending closure of the Ford engine plant in Bridgend, or the disgraceful behaviour of violent English football thugs in Portugal.

But no. The liars and the charlatans are in the ascendant. So we would do well to heed the words of Philip Stephens in the Financial Times: 'To my mind, this is how liberal democracy eventually dies. Throw away shared values, truth and a modicum of mutual respect and the architecture of a free, open society comes crashing down. There have always been snake-oil salesmen such as Messrs Trump and Johnson. The danger is when the rest of us simply shrug our shoulders.'

Oh, I nearly forgot. Theresa May stands down as leader of the Conservative party today, clutching her parting gift from the voters of Peterborough: a by-election result in which the Tories were shoved into third place by Nigel Farage's Brexit party. What a dreadful end to a dreadful three years at the helm.
Categories: Current Affairs

We are on our way to a very dark place

Fri, 31/05/2019 - 08:30

According to the polling organisation YouGov, more than forty per cent of Labour party members voted for another party last week, lending their support more or less equally to the Greens and the Lib Dems. About ten per cent of them said they didn't vote at all, which leaves something like 185,000 who, if you really want to enforce the letter of the rulebook, should now be thrown out. 
No wonder the shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti now says that the decision to expel Alastair Campbell should be reviewed. Speaking to the BBC, she said: ‘Merely voting for another party is not in itself a grounds for exclusion or expulsion or anything like that, and I want the large numbers of people who did that last week for heartfelt reasons to rest assured.’
The figures for the Conservative party, by the way, are even more eye-popping. More than two-thirds of Tory party members voted for a party other than their own, the vast majority choosing the Brexit party.
It is, of course, intensely frustrating when people whose politics differ from yours say things that you know to be untrue. But in a democracy, the law must never be used to criminalise a difference of opinion.
The test for democrats is to find an effective way to combat the lies – and the deeply worrying fact about the Brexit crisis is that we have learnt the hard way that lies can often be much more powerful than truth.
If we are going to be put through the agony of another Brexit referendum or an early general election – which I think becomes more likely with every passing day – then it’s a test we shall probably have to pass much sooner than we might like.

Categories: Current Affairs

The prime minister who failed

Sat, 25/05/2019 - 08:53

I wonder what will the history books will say. Was it the events of Thursday – the European elections – or of Friday – Theresa May’s resignation announcement – that changed the course of British politics?
Were they an earthquake, a shifting of the tectonic plates after which the British political landscape never looked the same again? Or a mere spasm, a violent shudder after which the waters soon calmed, the winds abated, and life carried on much as before?
The chapter dealing with the events of the past week will probably be titled ‘The Fall of a Failed Prime Minister.’ But perhaps, when we eventually have a chance to look back, it won’t be Mrs. May’s tearful appearance in Downing Street that will be seen as the most significant.
We won’t know the results of Thursday’s European parliament elections until Sunday night/Monday morning – but I think we can say with a fair degree of confidence that they were not the Conservative party’s finest hour.
Nor, I suspect, will Jeremy Corbyn have much to celebrate. So if the two political parties which between them have dominated UK politics for the best part of a century have both done appallingly, what does that tell us?
Perhaps it tells us that they have outlived their usefulness. Both were broad coalitions: the Tories included landed gentry, old-fashioned English nationalists, industrialists, businesspeople, and aspiring, skilled blue-collar workers. Labour embraced organised trades unionism, Socialists, public sector workers, and middle-class, university-educated urbanites.
Those coalitions, which have been steadily pulling away from each other, largely but not only as a result of the tensions created by the Brexit debate, now look increasingly precarious. It is possible, therefore that the two-party system is, to coin a phrase, no longer fit for purpose.
So let’s sit down with a blank sheet of paper and create an entirely new party system. (We can leave reform of our Westminster voting system out of this discussion for now, although if you want to be reminded of my view, here’s a link to a piece I wrote four years ago, just before the 2015 general election.)
It’s not too difficult to imagine a four-party system which would more accurately reflect the main political currents in contemporary Britain. (The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the parties of northern Ireland do not form part of this discussion, so perhaps more accurately I should refer to ‘contemporary England.’)
First, the English Nationalists. Leader, obviously: Nigel Farage. Their support comes from the white working class; older white voters, most of them men; some of the post-industrial cities of northern England and the Midlands – and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Second, the Conservative Democrats. Leader: Hmm. Amber Rudd? Rory Stewart? Heidi Allen? Supporters include one-nation Tories, a section of the professional classes (doctors, lawyers, teachers) and middle-class voters who believe in what used to be called (by David Cameron, among others) ‘compassionate Conservatism.’
Third, the Social Democrats. Leader: Yvette Cooper? Keir Starmer? Chuka Umunna? (He wishes …) Supporters include non-Corbynite Labour supporters from the professions, young urbanites and a smattering of Liberal Democrats.
Fourth, the Socialists. Leader: John McDonnell. Loyal to their Marxist roots, they are determined to reform or replace capitalism with what they call a fairer economic system. Supporters come from Momentum, young voters and some trades unionists.
It’s unlikely that any of them would win enough votes in a general election to form a majority government on their own, so coalitions will be the order of the day.
Depending on the parliamentary arithmetic, it could be an English Nationalist-Conservative Democrat coalition. Not too different, perhaps, from what we’ll see emerging over the coming months.
Or it could be a Conservative Democrat-Social Democrat coalition, a bit like the Cameron-Clegg coalition between 2010 and 2015. (Which was, as you may remember, a great deal more stable than what followed.)
Or a Social Democrat-Socialist coalition, not unlike the Blair-Brown years, but with fewer temper tantrums.
It is possible – not likely, but possible – that we are observing the beginning of the end of the Conservative party as we know it. There is no law of politics that says parties have to last for ever (did anyone vote Whig yesterday?) – just look at France, Spain or Italy – and it could well be that David Cameron’s absent-minded triggering of the Brexit nightmare dealt a fatal blow not only to his own career but also to his party.
Or perhaps Boris Johnson really will save it from oblivion. He could cosy up to Nigel Farage and sweep up all the Brexit party’s votes in a general election, just as Margaret Thatcher swept up National Front votes in 1979 by expressing sympathy for voters ‘who rather fear being swamped by people with a different culture.’ (Remember, in the 2014 European elections, UKIP won 27.5% of the vote and twenty-three MEPs. A year later, they won just 3.9% of the vote in the general election, and just one MP.)
As for Mrs May, I suspect history will not be kind. Yes, she inherited a lousy hand of cards – but she then played them appallingly. Like Neville Chamberlain, she was the wrong prime minister at the wrong time, inadequate and incapable of leading her country through a grave national crisis.
Categories: Current Affairs

So what the hell will happen next?

Fri, 24/05/2019 - 08:58

I wonder what will the history books will say. Was it an earthquake, a shifting of the tectonic plates after which the British political landscape never looked the same again? Or a mere spasm, a violent shudder after which the waters soon calmed, the winds abated, and life carried on much as before?
We won’t know the results of these most bizarre European parliament elections until Sunday night/Monday morning – but I think we can say with a fair degree of confidence that they were not the Conservative party’s finest hour.
Nor, I suspect, will Jeremy Corbyn have much to celebrate. So if the two political parties which between them have dominated UK politics for the best part of a century have both done appallingly, what does that tell us?
Perhaps it tells us that they have outlived their usefulness. Both were broad coalitions: the Tories included landed gentry, old-fashioned English nationalists, industrialists, businesspeople, and aspiring, skilled blue-collar workers. Labour embraced organised trades unionism, Socialists, public sector workers, and middle-class, university-educated urbanites.
Those coalitions, which have been steadily pulling away from each other, largely but not only as a result of the tensions created by the Brexit debate, now look increasingly precarious. It is possible, therefore, that the two-party system is, to coin a phrase, no longer fit for purpose.
So let’s sit down with a blank sheet of paper and create an entirely new party system. (We can leave reform of our Westminster voting system out of this discussion for now, although if you want to be reminded of my view, here’s a link to a piece I wrote four years ago, just before the 2015 general election.)
It’s not too difficult to imagine a four-party system which would more accurately reflect the main political currents in contemporary Britain. (The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the parties of northern Ireland do not form part of this discussion, so perhaps more accurately I should refer to ‘contemporary England.’)
First, the English Nationalists. Leader, obviously: Nigel Farage. Their support comes from the white working class; older white voters, most of them men; some of the post-industrial cities of northern England and the Midlands – and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Second, the Conservative Democrats. Leader: Hmm. Amber Rudd? Rory Stewart? Heidi Allen? Supporters include one-nation Tories, a section of the professional classes (doctors, lawyers, teachers) and middle-class voters who believe in what used to be called (by David Cameron, among others) ‘compassionate Conservatism.’
Third, the Social Democrats. Leader: Yvette Cooper? Keir Starmer? Chuka Umunna? (He wishes …) Supporters include non-Corbynite Labour supporters from the professions, young urbanites and a smattering of Liberal Democrats.
Fourth, the Socialists. Leader: John McDonnell. Loyal to their Marxist roots, they are determined to reform or replace capitalism with what they call a fairer economic system. Supporters come from Momentum, young voters and some trades unionists.
It’s unlikely that any of them would win enough votes in a general election to form a majority government on their own, so coalitions will be the order of the day.
Depending on the parliamentary arithmetic, it could be an English Nationalist-Conservative Democrat coalition. Not too different, perhaps, from what we’ll see emerging over the coming months.
Or it could be a Conservative Democrat-Social Democrat coalition, a bit like the Cameron-Clegg coalition between 2010 and 2015. (Which was, as you may remember, a great deal more stable than what followed.)
Or a Social Democrat-Socialist coalition, not unlike the Blair-Brown years, but with fewer temper tantrums.
It is possible – not likely, but possible – that we are observing the beginning of the end of the Conservative party as we know it. There is no law of politics that says parties have to last for ever (did anyone vote Whig yesterday?) – just look at France, Spain or Italy – and it could well be that David Cameron’s absent-minded triggering of the Brexit nightmare dealt a fatal blow not only to his own career but also to his party.
Or perhaps Boris Johnson really will save it from oblivion. He could cosy up to Nigel Farage and sweep up all the Brexit party’s votes in a general election, just as Margaret Thatcher swept up National Front votes in 1979 by expressing sympathy for voters ‘who rather fear being swamped by people with a different culture.’ (Remember, in the 2014 European elections, UKIP won 27.5% of the vote and twenty-three MEPs. A year later, they won just 3.9% of the vote in the general election, and just one MP.)
I’ve just realised: I haven’t once mentioned Theresa May. Already forgotten. Like Neville Chamberlain, she was the wrong prime minister at the wrong time, inadequate and incapable of leading her country through a grave national crisis.
Categories: Current Affairs

How I'm going to vote next Thursday

Fri, 17/05/2019 - 09:52

This week’s missive is aimed principally at those of you who did not vote Leave in the Brexit referendum three years ago. Apologies if this doesn’t include you; I promise that normal service will be resumed next week.
The uppermost question in the minds of Remainers, as we head for next week’s European parliament elections, is which of the anti-Brexit parties to support.
So, in an attempt to be helpful, and breaking with a tradition that stretches all the way back to when I started writing these weekly ponderings nearly fifteen years ago, I shall reveal whom I’m going to vote for.
I’m going Green.
I have two over-riding priorities: I want to maximise the unambiguously anti-Brexit vote, which is why voting Labour is not an option, and I want to support a party that has convinced me that it understands the seriousness of the climate crisis that confronts us.
On which note, by the way, you may have missed the news that, according to the Washington Post,last weekend the temperature near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia reached a terrifying 29 degrees Celsius, just as the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere went above 415 parts per million for the first time in at least 800,000 years and probably for the first time in over three million years.
In Greenland, the ice sheet’s melt season began about a month early; in Alaska, the winter ice in several rivers broke up earlier than at any time on record; and across the Arctic overall, the extent of sea ice has hovered near a record low for weeks.
If that doesn’t warrant the word crisis, I don’t know what does.
But perhaps you’re more tempted by the Lib Dems. Perhaps you think they have more chance of winning some seats than the Greens. On the other hand, perhaps you don’t know that in the last Euro elections, the Greens won three seats (London, South-East and South-West) and the Lib Dems scraped just one (South-East).
Unlike in elections to the Westminster parliament, tactical voting isn’t really an option in these elections: first, because they are conducted using a party list system, under which each region or constituency elects several MEPs; and second, because turn-out is so variable that making predictions is almost impossible.
So here’s my reasoning: yes, the Lib Dems and Greens stand for many of the same things when it comes to Brexit and climate change. They differ on economic policy, but that’s probably for another day. In London in 2014, the Lib Dems won 14% of the vote and the Greens won 11%. Assuming that both parties will pick up a substantial chunk from disaffected Labour voters, I prefer to go Green because I think they’ve been right about more things that really matter than most other parties.
In the South-West region, Lib Dems and Greens were virtually neck and neck in 2014, with 10.7% and 11.1% of the vote respectively. In the South-East, it was a similar picture: Lib Dems on 8.04% and Greens on 9.05%.
So there really isn’t much in it. (You’ll notice that I’m ignoring Change UK, for the simple reason that I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would prefer them over the Lib Dems or Greens. Their first, faltering steps have not been overwhelmingly impressive. I’m also ignoring the SNP and Plaid Cymru because I think their records speak for themselves and voters in Scotland and Wales will need no help from me.)
What matters most next Thursday, I suggest, is not so much which of the anti-Brexit parties you vote for, but that you do vote. This is not one of those elections when you can persuade yourself that your vote won’t make any difference.
This time, it most definitely will. Even if Nigel Farage emerges victorious – just as he did wearing his UKIP hat in the Euro elections five years ago, with 26.6% of the vote – that won’t be the whole story. Polly Toynbee put it well in The Guardian: ‘The threat of Nigel Farage – a bully, someone who consorts with worldwide far rightists, antisemites, brutes of every variety – is real and frightening. Sending his rogues’ gallery of the comic and the extreme to Brussels will be an embarrassment – but the headline that matters will be total votes cast for staying in Europe.’
It is a wonderful irony: three years after the UK voted by a narrow majority to leave the EU, we find ourselves voting in EU elections that are probably the most consequential – at least in terms of their impact on domestic politics – that we have ever held.
If Labour haemorrhage votes next Thursday, there is every chance that the party leadership will at last come to understand that their ‘we can be all things to all people’ approach to Brexit is a dud. Mr Corbyn needs to confront reality: within months, he’ll be facing a new Conservative party leader, almost certainly a much more committed Brexiteer than Mrs May ever was.
If it’s, say, Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab, they’ll ramp up the Brexit no-deal talk, with Mr Farage snapping at their heels all the while and their party in melt-down. With the parliamentary arithmetic unchanged, they may well be tempted to go for an autumn election, perhaps even with an electoral deal in place so that in some of the most pro-Brexit, Labour-held seats, they’d be prepared to give the Faragists a free run.
According to the best estimates of the 2016 referendum result calculated on a constituency-by-constituency basis, about sixty per cent of constituencies currently held by Labour had a majority of pro-Leave voters. So they represent a huge opportunity for Mr Farage and an equally huge headache for Mr Corbyn. All the more reason, I would have thought, for Mr Corbyn to do everything he can to shore up his anti-Brexit base.
The very first radio documentary I made when I joined the BBC in 1989 was about the Greens’ remarkable success in that year’s European parliament elections, when they came third with 14.5% of the vote.
The latest YouGov opinion poll ahead of next week’s election puts them on 11%, just behind the Lib Dems on 15% and Labour on 16%. But I’d like to think that with my help – and perhaps with yours – they’ll be able to top that historic 1989 result. Apart from anything else, it would be no bad thing to have a few more Greens in the European parliament.
Whatever happens, it won’t be pretty, because we’re heading for some very stormy political waters. We’ll need strong stomachs and clear heads – and we’ll need to keep our wits about us.

Categories: Current Affairs

A useless government in a world at risk

Fri, 03/05/2019 - 08:51

Imagine a world in which no one can remember who Gavin Williamson was, all cars are electric, and gas-fired central heating is but a distant memory.
A fifth of our farmland is being used for growing trees or crops for the production of biofuels, and out in the North Sea, we’re not pumping up oil but pumping down CO2.
Well, I can dream, can’t I?
Yesterday was one of those days when the sheer inadequacy of our politics was on display in all its tawdry splendour.
Westminster was agog with chatter about who leaked what to whom, whose skeletons will be next to come tumbling out of a cupboard, and whether a former Chief Whip and defence secretary of whom few people had heard was about to turn the drama series House of Cards into reality TV. And whatever else you do, don’t forget Cronus the tarantula. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, count yourself lucky.)
Meanwhile, in another part of Crazytown, the grown-ups were discussing a report by the government’s committee on climate change, described by the business and energy secretary Greg Clark as a ‘seminal work [whose] impact will be felt for decades to come … one of the most important publications not just that we’ve had on climate in this country but around the world.’
In other words, nothing of importance. The future of the planet, or the future of Gavin Williamson? You choose …
I wrote about climate change last week, so I don’t need to repeat myself. (If you missed last week’s piece, you can catch up by clicking here.) My point today is to highlight the yawning gap that separates the capacity of our leading politicians from the scale of the task that faces them.
It is often said, for example, that a government has no more important duty than to protect its citizens from harm. You might have thought, therefore, that the job of secretary of state for defence should be held by someone with some experience of high office and a modicum of brain power. In other words, not someone like Gavin Williamson, whose considered response to the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury last year was to tell Russia to ‘go away and shut up’.
You might also have thought that the job of foreign secretary, at a time when the UK was facing its most complex and sensitive foreign policy challenge of recent times – how to extricate itself from an international organisation of which it had been a member for more than forty years – should go to someone with at least a minimum degree of diplomatic skill. In other words, not someone like Boris Johnson.
It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. (And don’t even get me started on Chris Grayling, whose continued presence in government provides incontrovertible proof of the accuracy of the so-called Peter Principle: that in any organisation, an individual will be promoted until they reach their level of incompetence.)
Why is it serious? Because useless government breeds contempt for government – and contempt can too easily translate into votes for someone like Nigel Farage. (The overnight results from yesterday’s local elections suggest that both the Tories and Labour have been hammered – and that’s even without Mr Farage putting up any candidates.)
Barring some political miracle which would see Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn hugging each other deliriously in an orgy of Brexit-induced passion, cheered to the rafters by their adoring backbenchers, we shall soon be asked to vote in the European parliament elections for MEPs who may well be out of jobs again before they’ve even had time to book their next trip to Brussels.
The likelihood is that Mr Farage and his unlovely bunch of acolytes – not to be confused with UKIP 2.0, which regards the Farageist Brexit Party as little better than apostates – could emerge with the most votes. It would be an appalling indictment of a broken politics, in which too many voters have seen the government for what it is – a dysfunctional, incompetent administration that has proved beyond doubt that it is not fit to govern – and drawn the logical conclusion: kick them where it hurts and let good old pint-swilling, straight-talking Nige have a go.
That’s what the Italians thought when they first discovered Silvio Berlusconi, Mr Bunga-Bunga, in the 1990s. It didn’t turn out too well, alas, so now they’ve decided instead to try Matteo Salvini of the proto-Fascist League party. (He’s the charmer who said yesterday that he wants lots of votes for ‘nationalist’ parties because ‘to leave behind an Islamic caliphate with sharia law in our cities is not something I want to do and I’m going to do everything in my power to avert this sad ending for Europe.’)
The Ukrainians, on the other hand, have gone for a TV comedian who made his name pretending to be a president, so is clearly qualified to be president. But given that the UK is a country whose Cabinet has included Boris Johnson, Chris Grayling and Gavin Williamson, I would suggest that we really are in no position to mock. Why be satisfied with just one comedian when you could have three for the same price?
It’s not as if we don’t have several competent politicians: there are plenty of them, both in parliament and elsewhere. Some have been striving mightily to extricate us from the Brexit quagmire. The inescapable tragedy, however, is that the two most senior politicians in the land, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, are both grievously ill-equipped to do the jobs we pay them to do. Not comedians, not Fascists, just rubbish.
The risk the country faces is that their all-too-evident shortcomings will encourage too many voters to turn in desperation to the clowns, conmen and charlatans. So if the Euro-elections do go ahead in three weeks’ time, our duty is clear: to resist the temptation to sit on our hands and refuse to vote for any of them, and to cast our votes instead in a way that will show Westminster and the world beyond that the UK has not yet entirely succumbed to insanity.
Given what I have said above, you may have little difficulty guessing how I intend to vote, but I will spell it out in more detail nearer the time. For now, I’ll just say that I’m looking for a party whose slogan could be boiled down to something along the lines of ‘For a fairer Britain, in a better Europe, in a greener world.’
Meanwhile, if you still haven’t registered to vote, you have until next Tuesday to do so. You can do it online by clicking here.






Categories: Current Affairs
Additional Terms