Four years ago, today, reality collided into our very beings as we realised that despite all the canvassing, meetings and conversations, most Scottish voters had preferred to stay part of the United Kingdom than for Scotland to become an independent country. Despite the grief felt by many, there was a genuine optimism that a new kind of politics had been forged throughout the referendum campaign. I for one was very proud to play a role, working with people of all parties and none to put across an alternative vision for the future of Scotland.
In the weeks and months following the referendum, this hope and optimism turned for many into an adoption of different colours and fierce attacks at any criticisms of roles played in the referendum. Some like myself, foolishly thought real change was possible in helping to evolve and enhance other pro-independence parties to in part remove the stigma that independence was ‘all about the SNP’ While members of smaller pro independence parties were asked to lend their vote in General Elections on the vague assurances that it would be repaid in the PR votes of Holyrood.
When they never came further divide was created. Added to that those who dared to ask for more from a Scottish Government who had pledged in 2015 to end austerity politics were hounded, tarred as unionists in disguise, suddenly the unspoken common charter of decency and genuine debate was torn apart. In what may be an unpopular opinion, the SNP must shoulder some of this blame. In seeking to maintain their ascendancy they have allowed this to tarnish the positive and inviting atmosphere the yes campaign had created. In short, they have placed party power ahead of any chance to improve the route to independence.
Further proof in this was in their attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. Here at last there was a Labour leader who shared the vision of a society many in the yes campaign had espoused, yet rather than seek to work with him or to convince his many supporters in Scotland that independence was the best route for this society in both Scotland and ergo through successful implementation in the RoUK also. They have instead joined in with the Tory party and media attacks on him and those with an opportunity to transform the Labour Party into the socially just party it was created to be.
To be fair to the SNP their attacks and power grabs are understandable to a degree in that they must retain power in Holyrood to have another opportunity at an independence referendum, however they have by proxy set off the more ardent fringe members of the yes campaign to act in a way that has seriously tarnished not only the legacy of the yes campaign but also future opportunities for a successful referendum result.
It is however not too late to rescue the situation. The re-emergence of local yes groups is a positive step in moving the campaign away from the fringes of social media. The real positivity and creativity of the last campaign came from these groups in conjunction with the smaller yes parties and groups such as Labour for Independence, RIC, BFI, and Women for Independence. While the Common Weal has been in place these last four years and have produced a power of positive alternatives for policy within an independent Scotland, they have with respect fallen into the same trap that many local yes groups had last time out.
Far too often meetings and events were arranged that were preaching to the converted. A reality must set in that if we are to achieve a yes vote beyond 50% we must reach out to those who voted no the last time. Offer to debate them, attend the same groups & projects within the community and engage with them on a more personal basis. I for one am guilty of not reaching out as much as I could to no voters in these last four years.
Finally, Labour are not the enemy, most decisions in the party are made by a select few within the party, most members whether they will agree with a yes vote or not will engage and debate. One of the biggest failings in the last campaign was finding comfort in calling Labour red Tories when really, they just had a differing point of view.
There is still an opportunity to begin to rebuild the bridges which have fragmented the Yes Campaign, I’m sure some will accuse this article, by criticising the SNP, of further fracturing the movement. I respectfully disagree. As we so often repeated during the last referendum, yes isn’t about Salmond, or Sturgeon or the SNP, it is about creating a better society. I believe in that better society, I believe that Jeremy Corbyn can deliver that in a Westminster Parliament if given the opportunity, but will he ever get that chance? That’s a case that needs to be made. It won’t be made without engagement of no voters, nor without self-regulating the content we support on social media. It’s time to mend fences and then regardless of yes or no, we will be back on the road to a better nation.
Scottish Television investigative Reporters have produced a programme, “The Dark Side of Dairy.” For a wee bar of milk chocolate, or milky tea, male calves are put to death almost as soon as they are born. Their lives are almost totally worthless in our for profits capitalist system. Same with eggs. Male birds are worthless, so when they hatch, they are thrown into a grinder for feed.
I find veganism difficult for only two reasons. One when I’m in Northern Ireland, restaurants and cafes rarely have good vegan alternatives. I’m waiting to be offered a cabbage sandwich. And two, if its in the house (I live with an omnivore and a vegetarian) my resolve can melt. I’m getting better at that though.
My veganism is for many reasons. But primarily because with all conscience, I couldn’t kill an animal myself, so I don’t feel anyone should do it on my behalf.
This is the same regarding war. I won’t support anyone sent on my behalf to kill people if I can’t do it myself. And I couldn’t.
I’ve been wrestling with Syria and what is going on there. There are many reasons why a British or American led force to stop Assad and Russia from slaughtering people in Idlib can or can’t be deployed. The left are pretty adamant as a semi cohesive group are against military intervention. But something MORE needs to happen. And those like me on the left, should be talking about it. It’s time to ignore the conspiracy theorists and Assadists. I feel the left, by almost ignoring the slaughter in Syria (and the Yemen) have shown really, how weak we are. How incohesive we really are. How scared we are in the current onslaught by conspiracy theorists, the alt right and the likes (and how the Venn diagram of these groups, and the left overlap, as Sheridan for example, here in Scotland issues a series of idiot conspiracy theorist tweets and takes ultra capitalist Russian gold with a contract with the propagandist broadcaster, Sputnik).
And worse still, how scared we are of the Puritans on our own side. In my opinion those who wave their analysis like some street corner Preacher points his Bible at passers by, and name call and tell those of us debating and discussing some kind of intervention, “You are supporting Imperialism,” are tacitly supporting the murder of tens of thousands of children, women and men.
The shutting down of conversation about what we as the left should call for, or we as the geo-political entity currently called the UK can do will be a defining moment in 21st century history. This current period will shame the left for decades to come.
Have I got a solution? No, I haven’t. I don’t know all of the options. As an individual I can do nothing. I cant take up arms, and me boycotting the arms trade in the UK in order to try to stop the state sanctioned murders of Yemini families has no impact. Making statements on social media has absolutely no impact – it only draws the conspiracy theorists, the Vanessa Beeley fanboys and girls and the ultra left manic street preachers. The coalition to stop the war is no longer campaigning to stop war. Only some war. So I feel I am no longer part of a coalition, I am part of a group of people effectively silenced while all around me, for my consumption, people are sacrificed. I am -we are- silenced. We are unable – incapable – of discussions on stopping the war, stopping the state sanctioned murders for profit.
I salve my conscience regarding the meat and dairy trade. I do my best not to take part. But my silence and my fear regarding what is happening in the Yemen, Syria, Palestine and other theatres of war, allows the capitalist forces of the USA, the UK, France, and Russia to slaughter human beings in order for billionaires to create new markets for whatever crap they want us addicted to.
When will I find my voice again? I fear never. Because we are shamed. What can we ever say on a world wide stage that should be taken seriously? We’ve given the stage to Putin, Trump and the corporations they oil the wheels for.
And they gladly send people to slaughter others, because the lives of daughters, sons, mothers, fathers are almost worthless in their profit driven, capitalist system.
Reading Time: 7 minutes“Brexit is yet another indication that Scottish self-determination within the British Union is meaningless”
Sam Hamad talks Brexit, Scottish Independence, the EU and ‘Norway style’ deals…
There is absolutely no doubt that the UK’s relationship with the EU was overwhelmingly positive. If you were to add up all the areas where the EU influenced and determined UK policy, the result would be a very easy net gain for our societies in their totality.
But Scottish separatists ought to consider the bigger question of what Brexit means regarding the place of Scotland and Scots within the British Union. Even if the British government gets a ‘good deal’ or a ‘soft Brexit’, should we then celebrate the ‘soft’ disregarding of Scottish self-determination? Should we be thankful to the British government for ‘softly’ and ‘pragmatically’ discarding, as is the very nature of the political set up of the British Union, the self-determination of Scotland to remain in the UK?
It goes without saying that the British government striking a good deal that averts a hard Brexit or an IMF crash out would be better not just for the citizens, unwilling or not, of the UK, but for Europe in general and the whole world. However, even if Theresa May defied the racist will of her own party base and that of the wider Leave movement to end freedom of movement at all costs, allowing the UK to stay in the ESM and the Customs Union, all of this would have been done despite the will of the Scottish people.
To put it as starkly as possible: to Scots, Brexit is yet another indication that Scottish self-determination within the British Union is meaningless regarding happenings that have huge implications on the every day life of Scots. The home counties of England have more power over the life of Scots than Scots do. This is the reality of Brexit for Scots, regardless of its final form.
It’s part of the wider problem of the democratic deficit that exists within the British Union between British rule and Scottish self-determination. Though we take and make the best of what Britain gives us, Brexit simply is a particularly egregious example of the fact that we ultimately must take what we’re given and are expected to simply accept it.
Indeed, it’s of note that the one solid thing we know about the consequences of any Brexit deal on Scotland will be the rescinding of the powers that Scottish parliament are granted by the British state. They’re not really our powers at all. They don’t belong to us. They belong to a Prime Minister who has scant support in Scotland and a government comprised of one Scottish MP, while the legislative body that has ultimate domain over them is comprised by a huge majority English MPs.
Brexit is the Bedroom Tax on steroids. It’s the array of vicious welfare ‘reforms’ and fiscal austerity that the Tories, and the Tory-Liberal coalition before them, have forced upon the people of Scotland, ‘reforms’ that punish the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society despite the overwhelming majority of Scots opposing and voting against such ‘reforms’. Devolution, in this respect, doesn’t work. We don’t have the power in Holyrood to undo these devastating socioeconomic policies, so we must go further. We must have proper and unrestrained self-determination in Scotland.
If we had the self-determination that any nation deserves, we wouldn’t be living under the gathering storm clouds of Brexit – storm clouds that not only could lead to logistical nightmares in terms of the economic ramifications, but ones that are interwoven with the ideological bonanza of the far-right that Brexit represents. Or, alternatively, the ideological bonanza it represents for a Labour dominated by a racist, conspiracy theorist alt-left, who, more often than not, agree with hard Brexiteers – agree with the alt-right – over the bare bones of Brexit. Corbyn has done everything in his power to ensure that no singular progressive movement against Brexit can be formed in England.
This is the way Brexit should be utilised in any potential independence campaign: whether you’re a Scottish separatist who supports Remain or Leave, you can’t argue against the fact that Brexit validates the already obvious fact that Scottish self-determination is stunted within the British Union. If you’re a separatist who is ideologically committed to opposing the EU, you could say that if it wasn’t Brexit, it would be something else. It already has been so much else.
But this gets to another major point about the question of Scottish independence and Brexit. I understand people who actively love or support the EU only slightly more than I understand those who are pathologically opposed to it. Don’t misunderstand me, I voted Remain and would do so again without any hesitation, but I find the idea of being an active fan of the EU rather bewildering for any progressive.
On a personal level, I hold no more of a ‘European’ identity as I do a British one. I understand a European identity might mean something to people in England, as a cosmopolitan counter to the intrinsically racist British and English nationalism, but as a Scottish-Egyptian, the EU or ‘Europe’ as a geopolitical zone of power has no influence on my identity, political or otherwise.
Moreover, I’ve always considered the EU in its totality to be a cold, unaccountable hierarchical entity that is dominated by an assortment of toothless centrist and increasingly far-right-dominated governments. These can be uncomfortable arguments to make as a Remainer, given the dominance of the absurd British nationalist arguments about the ‘EUSSR’ eroding British sovereignty or the Lexit equivalent of the EU bosses club that curtails some vague idea of British ‘socialism’ (both of these absurd arguments from right and left meet each other in the middle and the end result is them both agreeing to support a Hard Brexit – Neil Findlay and Jacob Rees-Mogg are as one).
But the EU is far from a bastion of liberty and progress. Its own collective policy on immigration, asylum and refugees, referred to aptly as ‘Fortress Europe’, has been responsible for genocidal levels of death in the Mediterranean. The EU, ever more dominated by the right or centrists who embrace xenophobia in a foolish attempt to curtail the right, has overseen the deaths of tens of thousands of refugees, with their policies forcing them to take the perilous journeys across the sea. This is genocidal and the ongoing nature of the crime, while people seem to just accept it, makes it doubly monstrous. To rub salt in the wounds of this great injustice, the number of fatalities was further increased when the EU, with callous indifference, cut the number of rescue services available in the Med. In addition to this, we’ve seen the EU allow the use of brutal tactics of rounding up, detaining and deterring refugees as they try to make it to safety. Refugees fleeing Assad’s genocide or ISIS’ horrors or the permanent war in Afghanistan, have mostly been met in Europe by governments that want to get them out of the continent as quickly as possible – the mostly Muslim refugees are considered a threat to the alleged Christian values and underpinnings of Europe. This is the ever more formal consensus of the EU. The industrial deportation of refugees undertaken by Orban’s semi-fascist regime in Hungary has become normalised by the EU, while the concentration camp-esque ‘detention centres’ used by countries across Europe, particularly bad in the Balkans and Central Europe, are now being normalised and expanded as EU policy.
The use of these ‘detention camps’ might even extend to the fascist tyrannies in the Middle East and North Africa who police the walls of Fortress Europe. Think of Egypt’s Scorpius Prison with EU funding? That ought to be a good idea of what the EU’s agenda, ever more set by the far-right, will look like for refugees trying to reach Europe.
These same tyrannies that the EU outsource so much of their dirty work to, such as Sisi’s Egypt, which is one of the most brutal in the world, manages to get sweetheart deals with the EU that, though sold as ‘cracking down on human trafficking’, actually amount to imprisoning refugees, most of whom are Syrian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Ethiopian, in Egypt, where they cannot work and are left vulnerable to everything from virtual slave labour and racist attacks to endemic sexual assault. For this, they receive lucrative economic deals with EU countries (including the sale of weapons, Germany and France’s finest, used against innocent Egyptians.
As an Egyptian, as a human being, it’s thus often extremely hard to listen to people talking about a progressive Europe, but in the UK they are usually doing so in the face of the British right and its absurd Euroscepticism. And this is a major point – all the above, all the negative things about Europe, are fully supported by the British government. When Merkel had a progressive turn and allowed an open-door safe-haven for Syrian refugees, the UK was grudgingly agreeing to let in a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees over the course of several years, compared to 700,000 in Germany.
The major caveat then is that Brexit, with its anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, Islamophobic core, represents no kind of progressive drift from Europe. The Brexiters want to extend their racist policy towards refugees and non-European migrants to the untermenschen of Eastern and Southern Europe – the ‘Romanians’ that Nigel Farage warned us all about.
Thus, the question of the EU when it comes to an independent Scotland is a simple one – a question that the huge majority, a growing majority if you take recent polls, agree on: Scotland ought to remain in the European single market and Customs Union. In the days of the Celtic Tiger, the Euro used to be the Scottish independence movement’s get out of jail free card, when it came to the currency question but this is no longer realistic.
In the post-financial crisis era, in the wake of witnessing the ruthless devastation of the EU’s punitive austerity on economically ‘weak’ countries such as Greece in the Eurozone, the idea of joining the Euro is a completely non-starter. To join the Euro would be to surrender the self-determination of Scots to Brussels. In fact, Scots need not join the EU at all. A Norway option, where we remain in the ESM and CU, accepting freedom of movement and all the associated rules, without being an EU member state, is an option that could easily be available. I would personally advocate a continuation of the status quo if possible, as it’s a huge net gain for Scotland and, contrary to the foolish line of Scottish Eurosceptics, it would allow us with full political and economic self-determination.
Outside of the British Union and inside the European Union, we could design our own welfare state, our own tax system and our economic policies and strategies – our own social programmes and projects, our own scientific research and arts and sports bodies, all with additional EU support.
We could design our own immigration, asylum and refugee system – neither ‘Fortress Europe’ or ‘Fortress Britain’.
Scottish independence is an act of creativity and vitality, while Brexit is an act of self-destruction. This dynamic ought to extrapolated – Britain is hellbent on moving inwards: cutting, dismantling and stripping, while Scotland has been for the past decade or so been moving in a direction of creating a more egalitarian society. Nothing, of course guarantees this, and there will be many complications and challenges, but Scottish independence gives us the tools to build society in whatever way we see fit. The Eurosceptics talk about ‘Taking Back Control’, but they were already in control – Scots, on the other hand, have no control over our own futures while we remain in the British Union. Even the very process of legislating and sealing a independence referendum is in the hands of the British parliament and government.
Brexit simultaneously reminds us that England is not only moving in a newly destructive direction, while the old routine of Scottish self-determination being completely meaningless is getting worse and not better in the British Union.
In an exclusive interview with LeftUngagged Mhairi Black labels Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg as “dangerous” and described his views as “vile”.
The SNP MP accused Mogg of spreading British Nationalist rhetoric that had emboldened racists up and down the country. Jacob Rees-Mogg is a prominent Brexiteer who holds many socially conservative views which some have described as verging in “fascistic”.
He opposes immigration, same sex marriage and abortion even in cases of rape, while being an enthusiastic supporter of tuition fees, the Monarchy and zero hour contracts.
Mogg has also been criticised for associating with groups outside of the Conservative Party. In 2013 he called for the Tories to make an alliance with UKIP and was an enthusiastic supporter of the more recent Tory deal with the DUP. He was also criticised for meeting with far right groups such as the ultra nationalist Traditional British Group and German Neo-Nazi Party Action for Deutschland.
She said that Mogg known as “the Honourable Member from the 18th Century” conducts himself like a gentleman and is refreshingly honest, saying he will “tell you what he thinks and why he thinks it” compared to most politicians but that honesty meant he “can’t be shamed into putting his opinions back in the closet” where the Paisley MP feels they belong.
To hear the full interview with Mhairi Black where she talks about The Growth Commission, Brexit, Indyref2, Press Intrusion, and Donald Trump, download the next LeftUngagged podcast, coming soon…
Walking my dog this morning in a suburban Scottish park, I got into an argument about the UK visit of the President of the United States. How fascism spreads – it seems to hit the middle class dog owners first.
The person I argued with is usually affable. They usually nod in agreement at my disgust at whatever political storm is brewing here in Scotland, in the UK or in the world.
Today was no different until we started talking about Trump. We spoke about how the SNP were doing (we are both pro- Scottish independence and a bit cynical at times, over how the SNP are doing). WE spoke briefly about what was happening in Northern Ireland – always an obvious topic because of my accent, and then we got on to Trump. And this is how it went.
Me: Good to see so many people protesting Trump today.
Her: Oh, I don’t know. He’s honest at least.
Me: (silence for an uncomfortable moment) The man is a fascist. Mussolini was “honest!”
Her: Maybe that’s what we need. A bit of fascism. The world is out of control at the minute.
Me: (silence and facial expression, and stuttering to show my disbelief – then composed myself) Have you heard the Sun tape this morning?
Her: I have. And it sounded as if he was right. I mean, May is a terrible Prime Minister. Boris would at least be a new broom sweeping clean. If we had him negotiating Brexit, we’d be out by now.
Me: (Stopping walking, turns to face her with incredulous look on my face) You voted Remain!
Her: Yes, but we are where we are. May is going to crash our trade.
Me: He’s a racist! He is a misogynist! He has already started a trade war with us that is costing jobs here at the very least!
Her: He’s broken no laws.
Me: Mussolini broke no laws. The Nuremburg Race Laws were not broken by the Nazi’s…
Her: You are being ridiculous. Trump isn’t Hitler.
Me: You are right. But he has passed anti-muslim laws, and has separated children from their families…
Her: They shouldn’t be there! Immigrants shouldn’t cross borders…
Me: That is just ridiculous..!
Her: He’s right… Europe isn’t like it was when I was young. The culture is being changed by these people flooding in…
Me: You mean brown people…
Her: Exactly. Even here [suburban, middle class, 99% white] I see a real change. The fabric of Bearsden is being changed. We are losing our culture…
Me: (it’s before breakfast… I am stunned by this!) Our culture..?
Her: Yes. I mean, I live near the local primary school. The amount of people in hijabs…
Me: I cant believe you are saying that! A few years ago, people used to say the same about Irish people… I would have been accused of “changing the fabric of Bearsden…!”
Her: Yes, but that’s different. That was wrong. But they are changing our laws…
Me: (realising I am talking to the nouveau-raciste) The only laws that have changed are ones that target people of colour… I wonder how many Windrush folk in Scotland were deported, or threatened with deportation? How many of those hijab wearing womrn have been spat at or shouted at?
Her: Ack, that doesn’t happen!
Me: Really? As a white, middle aged man with an irish accent, I’ve been shouted at and called names countless times by those who are full of Bearsden Culture… I cant imagine how those of colour have been attacked…
Her: Well we aren’t going to agree. Trump is good for Scotland. Look at the business he has brought here…
Me: He’s squashing business here! He has imposed import taxes on lots of our products! He is costing us business.
Her: He protects his country. That’s the sort of leader we need. We need a Trump here.
Me: (losing is a bit) Like Tommy Robinson? Farage? Boris?
Her: Exactly. That’s what Scotland needs.
At this point I was on the verge of shouting. It was 8am. I needed to get away. So I hitched my dog on to its lead to walk off, with the parting words,
“You’ve given me the fear. I really am scared by what you’ve said. I wasn’t going to go to the protest against the racist, proto-fascist misogynist today in Glasgow, but I know I need to.”
Her: We should be welcoming him.
I shook my head and walked off.
Mussolini talked about changing society to a fascist one, not by sending in the jackboots. To paraphrase him, he said a chicken will scream if you pluck it a handful of feathers at a time. But pluck it feather by feather, it won’t notice until it is too late.
I noticed the mottled pink, scarred, flesh showing through this morning in suburbia.
Disunity, disloyalty and hundred-foot-high turnstiles on the Irish Border
The inside scoop on what really happened at that fateful meeting at Chequers
BREXIT DEBATE. CHEQUERS. FRIDAY 6th JULY 2018
(There is general hubbub and conversation around the table)
PM Yes thank you everyone, thank you for coming.
(The conversation and hubbub continues unabated)
PM: If we could just….
(The conversation continues)
PM: For the sake of the country I think it is imperative that we get this meeting underway
(The Ministers continue chatting)
(Everyone abruptly stops talking and turns to Boris. Boris points to the PRIME MINISTER)
PM: Thank you Boris. — (Clears her throat) Now if we can begin…. Firstly we thought it would be a good idea to put everyone into little factions.
LIZ TRUSS interjects
AR ‘Factions’ Prime Minister?
LT Groups. I meant to say groups. Thank you Liz.
GAVIN WILLIAMSON interjects
GW (adopting a mock-creepy voice) Oooh yes, thank-you Liz.
LT: Oh piss off Gavin.
LIAM FOX turns to GW
LF: Maybe the right honourable minister for South Staffordshire should (adopting a high-pitched child-voice) ‘Just shut up and go away’.
GW folds his arms, sulkily.
PM: Please, I have called this meeting for purposes of unity. So if we can just-
BJ: Prime Minister before we …. before we no doubt commence with um… with great enthusiasm armed with a fiery commitment toward this, toward this absolutely vital, vital matter in hand … as it were … I do have one question I’d like to ask. If you would be … if you would be good enough – nay kind, kind enough to indulge me on this one interjection. As it were.
PM: – Are you saying you’d like to ask a question Boris? …
BJ I am indeed Prime Minister.
PM Well, I was hoping to push on with the exercises, but providing it doesn’t delay us for too long –
BJ I am indebted to you, as always
THERESA MAY smiles thinly.
BJ And in that spirit, the question I would like to ask, indeed I think we would all like to ask at this crucial time, is this.
(He stands, and with his hands resting on the table, he looks around at his colleagues, with a Churchillian bearing)
— When so few among us have given so much….
The question – nay the burning question. Is this ….
-Where the hell is David Davis’s trifle?
PM …‘trifle’ Boris?
BJ Indeed, trifle. The agreement was that David Davis was going to bring a trifle. -Am I wrong on that? Was I somehow misinformed?
Amidst much shaking of heads, all heads turn to DAVID DAVIS
PM (Sighing) – David would you mind -briefly, and succinctly explaining to Boris the ‘trifle situation’. -And then, hopefully we can push on with somewhat urgent affairs of state.
DD: No, that’s a fair question, the Foreign Secretary makes a very fair and valid point. And indeed, as my honourable colleague has made clear, at the Downing Street briefing it was agreed that I was – indeed – allocated the task of bringing along a trifle – just as Govey would fetch the finger sandwiches – which if I may say, are delicious as usual by the way, Michael.
MICHAEL nods demurely.
DD To that end, the ingredients were purchased and the original recipe was initially agreed upon (in principle) with my, as I like to call her, better half – but as the execution of the recipe proceeded, there arose – how best to put it — some disagreement over a few – shall we say ‘trifling’ issues
DD chuckles to himself and looks around at the stone-faces of the unsympathetic gathering.
He clears his throat and hurriedly removes, then chews upon the arm of his glasses
DD: To clarify: the sticking point, as far I see it was – at the negotiating stage – the age-old sherry problem. Essentially, Prime Minister, it boils down to two options, and the options are these: sherry or no sherry; there was a clear division of opinion on this. One that couldn’t be bridged. Unfortunately.
MICHAEL GOVE interjects.
MG It’s just a bloody trifle David, we don’t need impact assessments.
LIAM FOX: (Mutters) – Neither did he, apparently.
BJ: This is precisely the point. -Why is it everything *sooo* bloody torturous with you Davis? – I mean, Gove made the sandwiches: I supplied the Eton Mess without any undue fuss or hullabaloo.
DOMINIC RAAB mutters under his breath
DR: BorisSupplied an Eton mess. – No change there then.
BJ: Fuck you Dom, I heard that
The PRIME MINISTER, THERESA MAY climbs to her feet.
PM: Now, now – please! This is exactly what I’m talking about. We need a unified, collective face.
BORIS: That’s a grotesque image.
PM – All this bickering and back-biting is getting us nowhere…
MICHAEL GOVE stands up
MG I would like to add another question Prime Minister
PM (Sitting back down, issuing forth and exasperated sigh) — Yes, alright. -Go on Michael.
MG Will we be claiming back the ingredients and associated travel on expenses?
(There is unanimous and enthusiastic roar of encouragement upon this point)
PM: As always Michael, all food and transport is claimable on expenses.
(A good natured cheer erupts from the assembled ministers)
PM: (Under her breath) We await your Fortnum and Mason bill…
(The Cheering eventually dies down)
PM: — Now, moving on to matters at hand if we may. -David, I believe you have been exploring options for the Irish border..
(Some groans and eye-rolling from various ministers)
DD Well as you know Prime Minister – we have of course prioritised the ‘Irish question’ -for want of a better term – and have actioned this prioritisation by immediately putting – what I believe is a workable solution – out to consultation.
(There is a pause as The PM and Ministers await further elaboration.
DD takes off his glasses, folds them up and places them in his breast pocket. He sits back, hands behind head)
PM –And this workable solution is — ?
DD looks around at his colleagues, before realising it is he who is expected to respond.
DD Oh I beg your pardon I didn’t realise you expected a full-analysis….
PM: I think that would be rather helpful at this stage, yes.
He replaces his glasses and lifts a briefcase onto the table. After some struggling with the combination he opens the case and takes out a sheath of papers. He immediately sets them to one side
DD Ignore those, they’re bollocks…
DAVID DAVIS scrabbles around in the case. He pulls out a aluminium-foil wrapped sandwich….
DD: …That needs throwing.
There are impatient sighs and groans from around the table as he continues scrambling around in the case. He removes an FHM magazine, followed by a flask…
DD I’m very sorry about this Prime Minister, I know for certain it’s in here. I distinctly recall putting it in here myself .….
BORIS JOHNSON lets forth with an exaggerated yawn. There is some giggling.
Eventually DD pulls out a napkin and carefully unfolds it
DD –And, voila! (To BJ) – You see! – Have faith Boris, have faith.
PM -A napkin, David?
DD –Prime Minister, discussions went on deep into the night, culminating in a late supper, at an all-night Salsa bar in Ladbroke Grove ….. Let’s put it this way, as morning loomed, things got a little – shall we say, ‘interesting’
DAVID DAVIS winks at a visibly unamused ANDREA LEADSOM
BJ Cut to the fucking chase David -.
MG: -That would make a refreshing change.
DD OK, sure. -Well, we were throwing a few ideas around – batting to and forth so to speak – seeing what stuck… the drink was flowing, and the music became frightfully loud … they started removing all the tables for the dancing, so I ended up scribbling the conclusions on a napkin. Well, conclusion, singular, to be exact.
PM (Sighing audibly) – And the conclusion was?
DD Yes, i’m just trying to decipher what was written… but there seems to be a slight sauce stain on here – maybe red wine – hard to determine ….
(He leans in close to scrutinise) ….. bear with me a moment….. I’m having a little trouble making that particular word out –
DAVIS shows the napkin to SAJID JAVID.
DD Have a look at that Saj, does that say ‘turntables’?
SJ (Leaning in close to read it) It says ‘turnstiles’.
DD Oh yes, of course, yes, well that makes sense in the context of – er – of determining the – er – the Irish border question, as it were.
PM O for God’s sake David what does it bloody say?
DD …Well …..
SAJID JAVID impatiently interjects.
SJ It says, and I quote: “100 foot-high turnstiles shall be manned by dwarves”
DAVIS takes off his glasses and chews upon the arm.
DD That’s pretty much the gist.
-At this early stage.
(There is a protracted and stunned silence).
PM ….. ‘Dwarves’ – David?
DD nods. The PRIME MINISTER sinks back down into her chair and sighs loudly.
DD ……. Yes. (He chews nervously on an imaginary toffee) — dwarves. Not necessarily dwarves obviously – I rather think the MJB guys were using -er – artistic licence there… We like to call it ‘blue-sky-thinking’… the consultation process will refine it further, obviously.
DD looks around at the shocked, open-mouthed expressions of his colleagues. Some shake their heads pitifully.
DD I’m sorry …, is ‘dwarves’ not the correct term these days? –
There is a few moments of hostile silence – until BORIS JOHNSON leans across the table.
BJ Have you completely lost the plot David? — Or, maybe you tumbled into a sodding Lewis Carroll novel?
MICHAEL GOVE interjects
MG Actually I’m beginning to think a hookah-smoking caterpillar would be preferable as Brexit Secretary
SAJID JAVID interjects
SJ – How would that even work David? – A hundred foot-high-turnstiles on the Irish border? —Just on a practical level, you’d need giants to guard those surely, not dwarves.
GAVIN WILLIAMSON interjects
GW Davis is *such* a twanger!
DOMINIC RAAB interjects
DR I think prick is the word you’re looking for Gav. -. You’re an absolute prick Davis.
DD Leaps to his feet, he bunches up the napkin and throws it at Raab
DD Tell you what ‘Mr Workhouses-for-the-poor’ – why don’t you spend up to 2 hours a day, 3 days a week trying to unravel the shit we’re in?
DR Is that an offer?
DD I’d like to see you trying to please both factions of this bloody party
DR Just say the word Mr. Impact Assessment.
PM Now come on David, why don’t you sit down …
DD No, sod it. In fact, bugger it. I’ve had enough of all this snickering and name-calling and – this, this – endless whining about trifles … and hard-borders and impact assessments and all the endless, relentless SHIT.
BJ: Getting very red-faced isn’t he?
MG: Positively puce I’d say.
DD: Give the job to that smug fucker (POINTS TO DOMINIC RAAB) – see how well he does. Tell you what, I tell you what Prime Minister, you can deny him his own private jet as well. -See how he likes travelling to Brussels by train.
PM Your objections have been noted David, now if you will just take a seat.
DD No. No Prime Minister I will not. On point of principle, I resign.
Much eye-rolling and groaning around the table
BJ: God spare us, he’s threatening to resign again
MG: Quelle surprise.
DD: I mean it. You will have my resignation letter in the morning.
He leans across and picks up the screwed-up napkin, puts it in his case.
MG: Golly, I think he actually means it this time.
BJ: Bugger it: he’s pushed the button
MG: The nuclear option
PM Are you saying you are actually resigning David?
DD I am Prime Minister. I’m afraid I am left with no other option but to resign.
PM This could trigger a general election David, please consider your position
BJ: (whispers to MG) -Or a leadership election (MG nods sagely)
DD I understand that, but my position is untenable. I could handle the trifle gags and all that public school silliness, but the level of abuse I have had to suffer
PM Please David, wait. We’ll …. We’ll have a reshuffle — (Hurriedly) you can have Boris’s job.
PM No, not Boris’s job, sorry – I’m a bit ….
BJ If someone takes my job it’ll be on my say-so
PM I meant to say, Andrea’s job, you can have Andrea Leadsom’s job.
AL (Looks up from her phone) Wait…what? —
DD I don’t want her shitty job. (POINTS AT JOHNSON) I don’t want his shitty job, (POINTS AT JAVID) or his shitty job, I don’t even want your shitty job Prime Minister, respectfully – which I can tell you makes me a rare beast amongst this … nest of vipers. No – that’s it, I’m done. -I’m out of here (DD GATHERS UP HIS CASE AND PAPERS) — Thank you for everything
DOMINIC RAAB sitting back, smiling, calls after him –
DR Don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out David!
DAVID DAVIS pauses at the door and walks back in.
DD Before I go – I’d just like to wish you the very best of luck in your new position Dom
DD angrily gives DOMINIC RAAB the finger, right up to his face, before turning on his heel and heading to the door
The door slams behind him as DAVID DAVIS exits the room.
A stunned silence fills the room.
In disbelief Ministers look around at each other.
THE PRIME MINISTER lets out a low protracted moan; rests her elbows on the table; cradles her head in her hands.
ANDREA LEADSOM appears to be weeping.
BORIS JOHNSON stands and casually walks to the corner of the room. Seemingly unconcerned, he piles finger sandwiches onto his plate.
Eventually MICHAEL GOVE speaks:
As laughter fills the room, amidst the collective jollity, unnoticed, Gove’s smile slowly fades, his gerbil-eyes gradually narrow as he sets his steely gaze upon the Prime Minister’s bowed head.
Standing beside the food- table BORIS JOHNSON chews on a finger-sandwich, and narrows his eyes as he fixes his steely gaze upon MICHAEL GOVE.
-Outside a big black cloud passes over the sun and the room momentarily darkens.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, David (Fluffy) Mundell, the sort of guy who eats crumbs out his beard and happily shares a front bench with homophobes whilst hailing his own gay credentials, has somehow been magically elevated to a higher status than the democratically elected First Minister of Scotland.
Let’s break down the two positions.
“Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Rùnaire Stàite na h-Alba, Scots: Secretar o State for Scotland) is the principal minister of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland representing Scotland. He heads the Scotland Office (formerly the Scottish Office), a government department based in London and Edinburgh. The post was created soon after the Union of the Crowns,but was abolished in 1746, following the Jacobite rebellion. Scottish affairs thereafter were managed by the Lord Advocate until 1827, when responsibility passed to the Home Office.
In 1885 the post of Secretary for Scotland was re-created, with the incumbent usually (though not always) in the Cabinet. In 1926 this post was upgraded to a full Secretary of State appointment.
The 1999 Scottishdevolution has meant the Scottish Office‘s powers were divided, with most transferred to the Scottish Government or to other UK Government departments, leaving only a limited role for the Scotland Office. Consequently, the role of Secretary of State for Scotland has been diminished. A recent Scottish Secretary, Des Browne, held the post whilst simultaneously being Secretary of State for Defence. The current Secretary of State for Scotland is David Mundell.”
“The First Minister of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Prìomh Mhinistear na h-Alba; Scots: Heid Meinister o Scotland) is the leader of the Scottish Government. The First Minister chairs the Scottish Cabinet and is primarily responsible for the formulation, development and presentation of Scottish Government policy.Additional functions of the First Minister include promoting and representing Scotland, in an official capacity, at home and abroad and responsibility for constitutional affairs, as they relate to devolution and the Scottish Government.
The First Minister is a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and nominated by the Scottish Parliament before being officially appointed by the monarch. Members of the Cabinet and junior ministers of the Scottish Government as well as the Scottish law officers, are appointed by the First Minister. As head of the Scottish Government, the First Minister is directly accountable to the Scottish Parliament for their actions and the actions of the wider government.
Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party is the current First Minister of Scotland.
If we are to believe reports, somebody thinks David Mundell is of equal importance to Nicola Sturgeon. I suppose it depends on your perspective. So I asked twitter, who would you say is the leader of our county?
What’s interesting about this “announcement” isn’t just the blatant disregard to the office of First Minister, but rather the accompanying quote in the articles that suggests it as an intentional attempt to “antagonise” SNP leadership. This actually rings quite true when you review the response from the SNP. There hasn’t really been one. Whereas the UK government has neither confirmed nor denied but assured that there has been more meetings and appointments between the devolved governments and Westminster.
So when was the last time our FM met our PM, you know considering this whole Brexit malarkey?
I’m not sure, but I’m guessing the next time Ruth Davidson asks at First Minister Questions when the First Minister plans to next meet with the Prime Minister, there will be some banter.
With all the constitutional certainty of a chocolate fireguard in Great Britain just now, the fact the leader of Scotland isn’t meeting the Prime Minister at regular intervals should be sending alarm bells ringing all over our political spectrum. We are hurtling towards Brexit at the speed of sound without much direction and it appears that no-one knows, of those who are meant to know, what is in fact happening.
If you happen to know, please get in touch, share your thoughts, get Ungagged!
The two major parties in contemporary Northern Ireland politics are the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin. The DUP are now running England, and Sinn Féin are the main Opposition party in the Republic of Ireland.
Neither are in government in Northern Ireland.
In terms of introduction to the bizarre world of politics in the North, the four dozen words above would probably suffice on their own.
Casual observers of Northern Ireland politics would quite possibly come away with the belief that the DUP’s bitterest enemies in the game are Sinn Féin, and Sinn Féin’s nemeses in politics are the DUP.
But they couldn’t be further from the truth. The great game in the North isn’t to try and convert Unionists into Nationalists or Republicans, or vice-versa, but to dominate one’s own community.
Thus, the hated rival of the DUP is the “weak and cowardly” Ulster Unionist Party, whilst Sinn Féin retain their most withering contempt for the Social Democratic and Labour Party (“west-Brits”, or the “Stoop Down Low party”).
The UUP – for generations the establishment, and government, in Northern Ireland -is now dead and buried. When Northern politics was a straight Nationalist/Unionist fight, Northern Unionists rallied to its flag – it was led by (relatively and by the standards of the place and day) liberal gentry and governed northern Ireland in a patrician – and openly sectarian – fashion. Its MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster. Its relationship to the Tory party wasn’t entirely unlike the relationship Ruth Davidson envisages for her MPs. In the latter days of its influence in the early part of this century, it liberalised enough to elect a Catholic member of the Northern assembly, and severed its official links with the fascist Orange Order.
Crucially, the UUP backed every move towards a more peaceful and collegiate Northern Ireland. When the Northern Ireland parliament was abolished in the 1970s, it supported the Sunningdale Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly. In the 1990s, it supported the Belfast Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly (you may notice that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive).
Understanding the history of the UUP (and, let’s be frank, the entire party is now history) is crucial to understanding the emergence of the DUP. In 2010, the UUP and the Conservatives fought on a joint – and unsuccessul – ticket in the North, the catchily-monikered Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (Scottish readers may note a pang of recognition here). In 2011, the Conservative leadership proposed a merger of the Conservatives and UUP. The two parties have deep and longstanding links – links that run longer than Northern Ireland, in fact, has existed.
It is these links which has led to Theresa May’s crucial, and catastrophic, misunderstanding of the DUP.
The result of peace and powersharing in Northern Ireland was the entrenchment of the UUP as the moderate Unionist party, forever retaining a place in the heart of a grateful Unionist population.
No – wait. The other thing. They were unceremoniously dumped in favour of a party which would “stand up to Themmuns”
The DUP was formed during the Northern troubles, by Ian Paisley. Dr Paisley was not a politician who could thrive in any other part of Europe. A rabble-rousing religious extremist, he was far closer in terms of his Biblical fundamentalism to Islamic State than he was to mainstream Protestant teaching.
Paisley saw his job as opposing the Unionist government’s “wets”, representing the Protestant working class and conditioning them to see their fellow workers in the Catholic communities as their enemy, instead of the landowning, patrician Unionist leadership.
As late as 1981, Dr Paisley sought to create an Afrikaner Weerstanbeweging-style Loyalist militia to fight with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, British army, and British militias in northern Ireland against the Irish Republican Army. At one notorious rally, thousands of Loyalists gathered in front of the international media brandishing their firearm permits.
At every step of the way to peace in the North, Dr Paisley and his DUP – and it was his DUP undoubtedly, with no opposition to his leadership – opposed it. They opposed Sunningdale. They opposed Margaret Thatcher’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Charles Haughey. They physically occupied the northern Ireland assembly, halting its deliberations, and the same month occupied an entire town in northern Ireland with a 4000-strong armed militia. The militia invaded the Republic of Ireland and fought pitched battles with An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force. Loyalist spies in a Northern Ireland armaments firm attempted to swap missile blueprints for arms from Apartheid South Africa as Nelson Mandela lay in prison.
In the 1990s, they called for ethnic cleansing in Northern Ireland, with the Catholic population to be expelled or interned to create a wholly Protestant Northern Ireland.
Almost inevitably, they opposed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that led to the permanent and irrevocable establishment of peace and powersharing for as long as northern Ireland remained. Although they participated in the Northern election, they came third and – in a surprise development – refused to participate in the powersharing Executive.
Even in 2001, they were a bit-part political player in grown-up politics. At that year’s election, the UUP won five times as many seats as them.
But just two years later, the DUP was the biggest party in Northern Ireland, winning thirty seats to the UUP’s 27. At the 2005 UK election, the realignment of northern Unionist politics completed, with the DUP winning nine Unionist seats to the UUP’s solitary effort – David Trimble, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Unionist leader lost his seat to David Simpson, a DUP man who believes dinosaurs are a hoax sent by God to test our faith.
The ratchet continued. 2007, the DUP won twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP. 2010, the UUP were wiped out at Westminster (between 2015 and 2017, they had two seats before being wiped out again last week). In 2011, the DUP again took twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP, and in 2015, completed their hat-trick. In the 2017 snap Assembly election, they lost ten seats, but finished on almost three times as many seats as the UUP.
The Democratic Unionist Party of 2017 is the undisputed master of the Unionist community in northern Ireland. They are the Protestant/Unionist community’s chosen representatives to face Britain and the world – just as the UUP were for so many generations.
But they are not a normal political party in the British sense of things.
While the UUP were effectively the northern Ireland wing of the Conservative party, with perhaps a soupcon of entrenched anti-Catholicism, the DUP are no such thing.
The DUP regard the Conservatives as dangerous, socially-radical dilletantes who are bringing the wrath of God down on the people of the United Kingdom with their wackily modern ideas like womens’ rights (that they have a woman leader neither obviates nor mitigates this fact in the way that having black friends does not constitute an immunity to being racist).
The DUP stand for ideas which, in Britain, ceased to exist as an effective political force in the 18th century, and are, in fact, closer to those of fundamentalist Islam than reformed Christianity, far less modern democratic politics.
They believe that women are inferior beings to men; teach that women should dress modestly; and demand that women not enjoy the little luxuries in life such as access to medical care. Abortion is prohibited in Northern Ireland, with several women awaiting trial in the Magistrates’ Court accused of “procuring an abortion”.
The DUP does not believe in gay rights. Iris Robinson has condemned gay people as being “[viler] than child abusers”, and believes in gay cure. (The rather aptly-named Mrs Robinson resigned from her position as an MLA, MP and councillor after being caught engaging in an enjoyable interlude with a 19-year-old to whom she had illegally funnelled public money). While there is a majority in the Northern assembly in favour of equal marriage, the DUP has repeatedly abused the Petition Of Concern mechanism designed as a veto to ensure neither community can damage the civil rights of the other to veto equal marriage legislation.
It appointed – as Northern environment minister – Sammy Wilson, who does not believe in climate change. Oh, or evolution. He believes that the Gaelic Athletic Association is the “sporting wing of the IRA”, and that breastfeeding in public is “voyeuristic”. As environment minister, he banned climate change advertisements from appearing on television in the North. Mr Wilson is MP for East Antrim.
You may remember David Simpson, who took David Trimble’s seat. Mr Simpson is a member of the Orange Order, which prohibits Catholics from joining. He does not believe in evolution, but does believe that God can heal the sick, rather than medicine. He is MP for Upper Bann.
The party has appointed as Northern culture minister one Gregory Campbell. Mr Campbell has called homosexuality “an evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”, and has denounced the television cartoon The Simpsons as an IRA front. He has also denounced the singer Dido as an IRA supporter. He put forward a motion in the House of Commons denouncing the car manufacturer Kia after it called one of its cars “Provo”, Italian for “test”. Mr Campbell is against the use of the Irish language, and for state executions. He is MP for East Derry.
Emma Little-Pengelly and Gavin Robinson are probably the most inoffensive of the DUP’s MPs. Made junior minister in the North just a month after being elected, Pengelly has managed not to disgrace herself. The daughter of convicted Loyalist terrorist Noel Little, she is MP for South Belfast. Gavin Robinson (no relation) is MP for East Belfast.
Jim Shannon, a member of the Orange Order, was once voted “least sexiest MP”, and is a former member of the UDR. In 2015, he claimed the highest expenses of any MP. He is MP for Iris Robinson’s old Strangford constituency.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is an Orangeman who, before entering politics, worked for the infamous racist MP Enoch Powell. A former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, Sir Jeffrey believes that Catholics are traitors who owe their allegiance to the Pope, rather than their country. He is MP for the Lagan Valley.
Former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nigel Dodds has served as finance minister in the Northern executive. A friend of Ulster Volunteer Force terrorist leader John Bingham, Mr Dodds waked Bingham at his funeral. Almost inevitably, Mr Dodds is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Flag Group. Mr Dodds wants to ban other EU nationals from claiming social security payments in the United Kingdom. He is MP for North Belfast.
Paul Girvan has called for scrap metal dealers to be armed with firearms to “protect themselves from gypsies”, and has supported burning the Irish national flag atop Loyalist bonfires during the summer Loyalist marching season. He is MP for South Antrim.
Ian Paisley is “pretty repulsed by gay [sic] and lesbianism”, and has called for Irish republicans to be “shot on sight”. The son of the late Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley, Mr Paisley is MP for North Antrim (you must remind me never to go to Co. Antrim).
So, you’ve met the ten people who are now governing the United Kingom. A fairly motley crew of terrorists, psychopaths, fascists and bigots.
Theresa May has chosen to save her political skin by bringing these people into government. People who don’t believe in dinosaurs. People who would rather see a woman bleed to death rather than “defy God’s will” than provide her with medical care. Anti-Irish bigots; homophobic bigots; racist bigots. Sometimes all in the one person.
Mrs May is a scared, sick old woman. She is making the mistake of thinking that Northern Ireland’s Unionists are the gentleman Unionists of her youth. They are not. And the worst thing of all is this: how can a Northern Ireland minister who owes his position to the continued support of the DUP ever be seen as an honest broker between the North’s two polarised communities?
By bringing the DUP into government, Mrs May does not just plunge politics into reaction and bigotry, nor does she risk the Northern peace process – she risks alienating the government in Dublin, just one of 27 governments which can veto her Brexit deal.
Mrs May should put country before party, and forego an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.
Before I start there is something I have to explain, which is that ‘Spin Cycle, Part 1’ was written, and recorded for the podcast, on the 22 May, mere hours before the Manchester bombing. Obviously a great deal has happened in the campaign since then. I think it’s only fair that I reproduce that part, as originally written, so that you can see what I said at the time and compare it to how things have panned out since. I’ll put it at the bottom. I will have to update it of course, but I’ll do that by adding observations now, rather than changing anything I wrote then. Now, to business.
In part 2 we’re going to look at it from the Labour point of view. Or perhaps I should say points of view. Those guys were not expecting this. They were in the middle of a civil war. They had a leader with great support amongst the membership, and bugger all from the parliamentary party. That was a situation that they were always going to have to sort out, but it’s not at all obvious how. But at least, they thought, they had three years to work on it. It was a reasonable assumption. There was no election due, and no obvious reason (as discussed in Part 1) for an early one.
They did have one advantage though. When you have a new leader following an election loss, it is standard for that leader to institute a full scale policy review. Given that Corbyn took over, give or take, a year and a half ago, that review would have been well advanced. That has become obvious. When challenged to produce a manifesto with no notice, they came up with a suite of policies that had been costed and, I believe, focus-grouped. This was in stark contrast to the Tories, and one in the eye for those conspiracy theorists who initially suspected this election was part of some sort of master plan. Nuh. Their manifesto was a hastily cobbled together mish mash of half-formed ideas and spite, none of it even costed. They had clearly done no policy work whatsoever. They were not expecting this either.
That half-arsed manifesto gave us our first glimpse of what was to come. Having attacked just about every other vulnerable group in society without suffering much electoral disadvantage by it, presumably because members of disadvantaged groups don’t tend to vote Tory anyway, this time around they came up with a policy that targeted the elderly. As the elderly tend to vote Tory in disproportionate numbers this was effectively an attack on their own base. It went down like the proverbial lead balloon, and May was forced into an embarrassing climb down*, which she compounded by denying that it had even happened. Completely self-inflicted injury. Corbyn’s team had one job, which they absolutely nailed (respect!), and that was to come up with a pithy, memorable way of describing the policy. Dementia Tax. Perfect.
Now, at the start of the campaign Labour were 20-odd points behind, and when I wrote Part 1 the polls hadn’t yet shifted much. Even so, I said there were reasons for the Tory campaigners to be concerned. Since then a couple of things have happened to underscore those concerns. Firstly, Jeremy Corbyn has turned out to be pretty good on the stump. He seems to genuinely relish campaigning, and he has come over well. Secondly, and I think far more tellingly, the Tory campaign has been spectacularly incompetent. Every move they’ve made has played into Corbyn’s hands, and May herself has proved to be a dreadful candidate. She has come across as brittle, anxious, deeply flawed and simply not across the detail of her own policies.
These impressions are important. Many of my readers, discerning lot that you are, would find them quite superficial. However, the mere fact that you are reading this suggests that you think more about your politics than most people. The majority will make up their minds based on vague impressions and ‘gut feelings.’ The strategists know this, and in that knowledge May’s team chose a presidential campaign. They didn’t have to do that. They obviously thought they were on a winner. Early in the campaign all the branding was about May, the party scarcely got a look in. It was all ‘Strong and Stable.’
You don’t often get to see a governing party drop its main slogan mid-campaign out of sheer embarrassment. Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in. They went with ‘Strong and Stable’ but their candidate looked so weak and vacillating, and so far from stable, that sticking her in front of that slogan only served to draw attention to her inadequacies. Her micro-expressions have been the gift that keeps on giving for purveyors of GIFs (if you’ll pardon the pun) and memes, in much the same way as Ed Milliband’s were two years ago.
I do seem to be talking a lot about the Tory campaign, when this section was supposed to be about Labour’s. There is a very simple reason for this. The Corbyn strategists are familiar with the maxim, attributed to Napoleon, “Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.” That has been the case for most of this campaign, and has produced a very unusual outcome for Corbyn’s people. They’ve been able to have a genuinely ambitious manifesto, with lots of big ticket items and proposals for major change, and yet run what is essentially a ‘small target’ campaign. They have been able to simply send their candidate out to do his thing, and seem far more competent and credible doing it then the opponent who chose to make this a contest of personalities.
They did have a wobble early on of course, and it led to what is arguably the most interesting part of the whole campaign. I alluded to it in Part 1, and at the start of Part 2 I mentioned that Corbyn and his team were in the middle of a civil war when the election was called. Somebody, and it seems all but certain that it was somebody in the shadow cabinet, leaked major details of the manifesto a week early in an apparent sabotage attempt. Corbyn’s team must have been hanging their heads in despair. For a couple of days. The Blairite faction presumably believed, as Blair did, that Thatcher was right, the ground of political debate had permanently shifted, and that left wing policies, such as renationalisation of the railways, had been successfully painted as ‘loony’ ideas, and were effectively unsellable. They were dead wrong.
It turns out they are in fact really popular. As soon as the leak happened pollsters started canvassing opinion on the policies, and discovered that they had really strong support. Some of them even gained majority support amongst Tory voters. This, I believe, will be this campaign’s most enduring legacy. It may finally lay to rest the ghosts of 1983. That was Labour’s worst result (28%) of modern times. I argued, in an earlier piece for Ungagged called ‘Left, Right and Centre,’ that contrary to the conventional wisdom that Labour lost that election by being too left wing, it really had far more to do with the Falklands War and Michael Foot’s duffel coat. I have held that view for 34 years, and I may be about to be spectacularly vindicated. Watch this space.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the two dreadful terrorist attacks which punctuated the campaign. Here at Ungagged, our thoughts are with all of the family and friends of the victims of these terrible events. But we must also consider what impact they may have had on this campaign. Conventional wisdom says such events normally favour incumbents, especially if they are conservative incumbents. But there’s a problem. Two attacks in the last three weeks looks a bit like an attempt to influence the election** but that makes three in three months, and that is starting to look like a pattern. A deficiency. Somebody, somewhere has screwed up. I wouldn’t want to blame the police or the security services, they are limited by the resources they are given, and the leadership they receive. The buck stops with the person in charge, and with the police (in England and Wales) and MI5, that is the Home Secretary.
So when, on Monday morning, Theresa May came out to take advantage of the attacks (yes, that’s what she was doing) with her ‘Enough is enough’ speech (is there some kind of rule these days that all political slogans must be either oxymorons – ‘Continuity with change’ – or tautologies – ‘Brexit means Brexit, Enough is enough’?)*** she was also taking a very strange decision indeed – she would run against her own record as Home Secretary. Because if we haven’t been handling this right, if mistakes have been made, they are her mistakes! She was in the job for six years before becoming Prime Minister! Sir Humphrey Appleby would have considered that more than ‘courageous.’ Or, as Malcolm Tucker once said, “I mean I know politicians and hot air are supposed to go together, but I’ve never actually seen one vaporise!”
*The ‘climb down’ itself warrants a further mention, because in some ways it wasn’t really a climb down at all. You see, the problem as I see it was never the height of the ceiling, or even the lack of one, it was the low level of the floor. Putting a ceiling on the amount that can be recovered from the person’s deceased estate only protects those whose assets exceed that amount. To put that in plain English, it protects millionaires. But the floor, at just £100,000, means that unless your assets do exceed the ceiling, you’re going to lose the house. Even in Clydebank (which is hardly Mayfair) you can’t find a house worth less than £100,000 these days. Not even a flat. Even the house I grew up in, a simple two up, two down terraced house my parents purchased in 1966 for the princely sum of £1,800, went for over £200,000 the last time it was sold (amazing what you can find out online these days).
**Interesting, don’t you think, that IS clearly favours a Tory win? A subject we may have to return to after the electoral dust settles.
***One more slogan I have to mention: ‘No deal is better than a bad deal.’ We’ve all heard it, in relation to Brexit negotiations. Sounds reasonable enough, until you think about it for a moment and realise that it’s utter nonsense! In this context, ‘no deal’ has a very specific meaning. It means we fall back on WTO rules. You may want to google that to find out exactly what it means, but the point is, as a former trade union negotiator I can tell you that if the deal on the table would leave you in a worse position than not making a deal at all, then you are not going to take that deal, are you? You’d be a pretty bloody useless negotiator if you did. It is yet another completely meaningless statement.
Spin Cycle, Part 3
There’s a what now? An election? Are you sure?
In Part 3 we will look at this from the SNP point of view. Don’t worry, this won’t take long. The biggest problem facing the SNP strategists is really how well they did last time. 56 out of 59 seats is obviously a high water mark. It demands a mostly defensive campaign. The delicate part of it was to avoid making it all about either Brexit or IndyRef2. They seem to have done a reasonable job of advancing two propositions.
1. We (the SNP) are best placed to look after the interests of the Scottish people, regardless of the outcome of the election in the UK as a whole, and
2. Even if you have a positive view of Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto, a vote for Labour in Scotland is far more likely to contribute to the election of a Tory MP than a Labour one.
It’s not rocket science. It’s Tactical Voting 101. If you do not wish to see May and the Tories returned (which I’m assuming most Ungagged readers don’t), then vote for the non-Tory candidate who has the best chance of winning in your seat. In Scotland that means the SNP, in England and Wales it means mostly Labour, with the exception of those seats where a Green, LibDem or Plaid Cymru candidate has a better chance of winning. That’s it. First Past The Post (FPTP) is the simplest voting system there is. There will be much to discuss when this is over, but for now the message couldn’t be simpler: Get out and vote, and vote the Tories out!
Hi, this is Derek Stewart Macpherson, from the Babel Fish Blog. I’ve been thinking about a new regular segment for the blog, looking not at what politicians are saying, but what’s going on behind the scenes. What the political strategists, campaign managers, communications directors, spin doctors, advisers and practitioners of the dark arts are thinking. So I thought I’d give Ungagged listeners a preview. So welcome to:
Spin Cycle, Part 1
Why Are We Having An Election?
In part 1 we’re going to look at it from the Tories’ point of view. It was Theresa May’s decision to have an election. So, why? I take it that it goes without saying that it’s not for the stated reasons? A mandate? A mandate for what? She’s two years into a five year term. She has a working majority. No, she wasn’t the PM who was elected, but that’s just a function of the fact that we don’t elect PMs, we elect MPs. They can change their leader if they like, it happens. In 1976 Harold Wilson retired two years in and Jim Callaghan served out almost the full term.
Oh, that’s right, it’s was a mandate to negotiate Brexit. Well how many mandates do you need Theresa? You’ve had a referendum and two Commons votes already! And this sudden ‘road to Damascus’ revelation walking in the Welsh hills – I don’t buy it. The only revelation I’ve ever had walking in the Welsh hills was along the lines of, “This was really not a good idea,” and the only decision I’ve made was whether it was by that point easier to go on or to turn back.
No, somebody on her staff has decided an early election was a good idea, persuaded some of their colleagues to their point of view, and then they’ve persuaded Teresa. So what were they thinking? Well this is why you’ve got me, a some time political strategist, campaign manager and candidate. A lefty who thinks Machiavelli has had a really bad press. I know how these people think! And one of the things they tend to think is that you don’t call an early election unless you have a really good reason.
And this is really early too. You see the reason why you wouldn’t generally do it is that it tends to appear cynical and opportunistic. Because it is. Why would you call a completely unnecessary election unless you saw some advantage in it? And the voters don’t tend to like cynical and opportunistic. If they catch a whiff of it, they tend to punish it at the polls. It rarely works out well for the government concerned. Now obviously this time they feel like they’ve got this mandate excuse, but why do they need an excuse? What’s the angle?
Well, I know what a lot of people think it is, which is the opportunity to kick Labour while they’re down, and maybe get a really big majority. Which would, yes, be tempting, but it wouldn’t be enough to tip it for me. Not this early. Because if they believe what they appear to believe, that the electorate is more right wing than it actually is, and that therefore Corbyn’s leadership and policies are what’s destroying the Labour Party, then logic says leave him there. As long as possible. His leadership looks pretty secure under the Labour electoral system, why wouldn’t you let that play out?
I’ll tell you why. Because there’s another factor those advisers must always take into consideration – the future. They know the type of news that helps or hurts a government. So what’s coming down the track? You might, for instance, have access to information the voters don’t have, suggesting there’s a nasty surprise coming in the unemployment figures a couple of months out from an election. So you call the election on early, in order to dodge the bad news. Or if the bad news is happening now, you hold off as long as possible, in the hope that things might get better.
So consider this: How bad do things have to look to May’s advisers to persuade them to go to an election three years early? Sure, the polling figures looked good, but Labour’s appeared to be still falling, so that means they don’t see anything good happening in the next three years! And you know what? I think they’re right! Once the Brexit negotiations get going in earnest, and the leaks begin, it’s going to be nothing but bad news for Theresa. And the kind of bad news that will not only lose votes, it’ll rattle the markets. Then, if Trump’s budget gets through, which it looks like it will, because Republican Congressmen and Senators don’t realise their own economic illiteracy, it will drive the US economy off a fiscal cliff. If that happens, expect a crash this year. I don’t know exactly when of course, but if you twisted my arm I’d guess September or October.
So, taking all that into consideration, maybe they were right to tell Theresa to go now? Well perhaps, but if I was one of them there are a couple of things I’d be worried about. The first thing is the council elections we just had. Despite the predictably favourable media coverage, the results weren’t really that encouraging for the Tories. In England, overall, the Tory gains came entirely from the collapse of the UKIP vote. Labour was only a couple of points down from last time, and the Greens probably took some of that. In Scotland, a lack of understanding of the STV system led to some essentially random outcomes. Some of those random outcomes threw up Tory councillors in surprising places, which of course they claimed as some sort of resurgence, but the numbers simply don’t bear that out.
The other thing that would worry me is that when the Labour manifesto was leaked a week early, in an obvious attempt at internal sabotage, many of the policies turned out to be extremely popular with voters. Too left wing, eh? Doesn’t look that way. Combine that with voters’ natural inclination to smell a cynical, opportunistic rat and Theresa might yet be in for a rude shock. Remember, she started this campaign expecting to win a significantly bigger majority. If she doesn’t deliver that it will be seen as a loss. In campaigning terms, anything less than the position you were in at the start of the campaign is a loss. But in this case, if she doesn’t increase her majority, and by more than a handful, it will be perceived by the public as a loss too.
So let’s not be disheartened. Let’s not make it easy for her. We have got ample material to work with here, let’s make her fight for every vote and every seat. This is not a lost cause. It could yet backfire badly for Theresa May. Let’s do everything we can to make that happen.
Theresa May is in hiding, too scared to appear in public, refusing televised debates, public appearances or questions from the electorate, asking that we judge her on the Tories record instead. So let’s have a look at that.
May has been PM for nine months, and during that time she has consistently insisted she is a strong, safe pair of hands. The reality does not match up to May’s fantasy, however, as during her time as PM we have seen absolute chaos.
Under May we have seen zero hour contracts rise by one fifth, putting nearly 900,000 people in positions of insecure working hours, but struggle, because they are in employment, to qualify for any help from the state. This has pushed almost a third of the UK population below the poverty line.
Obviously people not having money in their pocket has knock on effects to our economy. We aren’t spending, because we’ve nothing to spend. Businesses are collapsing, so more people are going into insecure work, and round and round we go. Add that to the instability in the markets in the US due to Trump, and Sterling tanking due to Brexit, and we’ve all the ingredients for a global financial crash before Christmas. So go far, so stable, I guess?
The knock on effects, unfortunately, don’t just stop at destabilising our economy. We have seen a massive rise in foodbank usage, with Trussell Trust reporting a million people being forced to feed their families donated food this Christmas. Period poverty has soared in the UK, with girls being forced to skip school due to inadequate sanitary protection and women risking infection using tissue paper, socks and old rags because they can’t afford pads or tampons. Health visitors are also reporting parents struggling to afford nappies, leading to babies being changed less frequently and ending up with serious health complications through infected nappy rash.
Rather than helping desperately struggling families, Theresa May – who promised a society that works for all just a few months ago – has capped tax credits claims to just two children. This will save virtually no money, due to the administration – but will see families already struggling become even poorer. The cap not only means that a mother will be forced to fill in a form stating that her third or subsequent child was the result of non-consensual sex if she needs the extra £13- £20 per week, but also that she will have to name that child on the form, and prove she was raped. This move is not just heartless, it shows wilful disregard for advice from women’s charities and the low reporting and conviction of sex crimes.
The child cap doesn’t just attack rape victims though – it also places yet another barrier on parents trying to escape violent or abusive relationships. Someone with three or more children who are already claiming tax credits can continue to claim, but if their circumstances change, they must submit a new claim, and will only receive support for their first two children. That means that parents who already have more than two children are effectively trapped in their current relationship, unless they can afford to make up the shortfall. If you are in an abusive, controlling relationship with more than two children, you now have to be able to find very well paying work before you can get your children out of a dangerous situation. If nothing else, trapping children in abusive households is a mental health time bomb.
The Tories like to see themselves as strong on the economy and good for business, so while our economy is crashing down around our ears, and they have tripled the national debt to £1920billion despite promising to wipe it out, the Tories have lowered corporation tax again, making us by far the lowest corporation tax in the G7. Having borrowed more than any government in the last 70 years, and reduced corporation tax to a trickle, there is now no money to spend. Still the Tories have decided we have £370million available to refurbish Buckingham Palace, £200million for Johnson’s garden bridge vanity project, and suggested that we spend tens of millions from our foreign aid budget on a Royal Yacht.
Jake Berry, the Tory MP who is leading the campaign for the yacht said
“But here in Britain – the fifth largest economy in the world – we feel it [a royal yacht] is something that we can’t afford. I feel that is a national disgrace.”
Personally, I think it is a national disgrace that, in the fifth largest economy in the world, we have an NHS that is so underfunded that doctors were forced to leave a two year old with suspected meningitis in A&E on two plastic chairs for 5 hours because there were no beds. I think it’s a national disgrace that paediatric surgeons have been forced to cancel babies heart operations because there are no paediatric intensive care beds available in the country. I think it’s a national disgrace that people are being discharged from hospital because there are no beds and dying in the hospital car park. I think it’s disgrace that people in severe mental health crisis are calling up hospitals for help with suicidal thoughts only to be told there are no beds, try again next week if you are still alive. I think it’s a national disgrace that over Christmas The Red Cross described the chaos in NHS as a “humanitarian crisis”.
But the Tories have never cared about the NHS, many of their parliamentary party have argued for an insurance style system in the UK. The Tories have always prided themselves on law and order though. After seven years of a Conservative Prime Minister we should have a strong, well functioning justice system.
Instead we have a prison system in absolute crisis, with overcrowded conditions and inexperienced staff, radicalisation and drug issues worse than they have ever been. We saw five major incidents in six months, culminating in Birmingham prison seeing the worst prison riot since Strangeways 25 years ago. The Tories will argue that this is due to factors they can’t control, but the fact is they have repeatedly ignored pleas from front line staff for mobile scrambling equipment to stop the use of drones bringing drugs, weapons and mobile phones into jails, they’ve sacked the majority of experienced officers to replace them with cheaper, inexperienced staff who don’t know how to deal with the problems, and cut funding for mental health programs and drug rehabilitation in prisons. Things are at such crisis point, prison officers are threatening industrial action, a catastrophic blow for the prison system.
The justice system has been further undermined by Liz Truss’ refusal to back the Article 50 judges when certain ‘news’papers branded them “Enemies of the People”. Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said;
“I can understand how the pressures were on in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong.”
It is was Truss’s duty, as lord chancellor, to defend the judges, he said.
One of the most senior judges in the UK agreed.
“The Lord Chancellor has a particular duty to speak up in those circumstances”, Lord Neuberger said.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has since butted heads with Truss again, saying she had misrepresented changes to the law surrounding victims of sexual violence giving evidence in court. Lord Thomas said her department had “misunderstood the thing completely”, forcing him to write to all judges to correct the mistake.
“It was a complete failure to understand the impracticalities of any of this. And that is very troubling,” he told an inquiry by a House of Lords committee.
Despite this breathtaking incompetence, Downing Street not only backed Truss, but insisted her misrepresentation of events was in fact correct, with their spokesman insisting the Prime Minister had full confidence in Ms Truss – and that he believed the legal profession had full confidence in her.
The Tories aren’t just failings on the economy, NHS, and law and order though. Schools have been hit with the biggest cuts in 20 years. 99% of schools have had their funding cut, by an average of £103,754 in primaries and £470,433 in secondaries.
Schools have been asked to find an extra £3billion in funding, and many are writing to already squeezed parents to beg for help – by fighting Tory cuts and by funding everyday necessities like pens and paper. One deputy head in a well off area, who wished to remain anonymous, told Ungagged exclusively that she hasn’t seen a crisis like this since Thatcher’s day.
“Its heartbreaking to see.” She said “there are children coming to school hungry, and I’m having to ask their parents for money. We don’t have adequate books, pens or paper, let alone computers or enrichment equipment. These children are being failed and there is nothing teachers can do about it.”
Helen Ingham, head of Ivydale primary in Nunhead, south London, told parents in a newsletter that the school faced a 14% cut in its budget by 2019-20.
“To put this in context, that is 30% of what we spend on teachers each year or 65% of what we spend on TAs.” She said, “Since staff costs make up 70% of our budget a reduction in funding of this magnitude leaves us with impossible choices which will inevitably impact on your children’s education.”
Despite protecting school budgets being in the Tories manifesto, the Tories firmly have their head in the sand, with their only “solution” to the crisis bring to propose new grammar schools, which of course disproportionately advantage wealthier children and draw scarce resources from where they are needed.
The Tories ask you to let their record speak for itself, and hope you’ll just focus on their shambolic brexit and ignore all the real problems in the country. I say I’ve looked at your record, Mrs May, and I’m appalled. The Tories have failed on health, social care, education, welfare, the economy, the justice system, and inequality. Everything that we can be proud of has been neglected, sold off or run into the ground. If May really wants us to judge her on her record, I can only assume she is unaware of it – or is hoping we are.