Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas to all my reader(s -possibly)

2020 promises so much joy. Brexit and a Johnson government with a secure majority. I can hardly contain my excitement.

And when we leave the EU, we are promised more bloody 50p pieces, the bells of Big Ben ringing out, and a festival of Brexit. What jolly japes.

I think we should have more commemorative events for other such great moments in our proud island history. Such as:

Suez Day - relive the triumph of 1957 and the might of the British Empire.

A Festival of Appeasement - decorate the streets in pieces of paper, celebrate peace in our time, and wait nervously until Nazis bomb the crap out of us.

Lord North Remembrance Sunday - who wanted those American colonies anyway?

To paraphrase Joseph Conrad - "The stupidity ... the stupidity."

Monday, December 16, 2019

Eleven for Christmas

We are now at the post-election phase when people write pieces about how the result proves that whatever they have been saying all along was right and if everyone had done what they said they should, all would be fine.

It's cognitive dissonance. Nature's way of ensuring that we keep making the same mistakes and feel good about it.

So, here is mine.

Rather than say, 'I told you so,' even though I did, here are my ten commandments. There are eleven of them.

1. The press is biased against Labour. Of course it is. You knew that before the election. Don't moan about it now. That's why winning Labour leaders had strategies to deal with it, run by ruthless and effective press officers. Think Joe Haines and Alastair Campbell. Don't think posh apologists for Stalin.

2. Relevant to the above is that study after study shows that propaganda is only effective if it is rooted in either real, lived experience, or in widely held popular prejudices. Attacks on Corbyn were often exaggerated but were not 'smears.' They were mainly true. It's best not to pick a leader who is vulnerable, but if you insist on doing it, be honest and apologise for past 'mistakes'. Don't flood the internet with lies about his saintliness.

3. The electoral system is crap. Again, you knew that before, and you knew that you couldn't change it without winning by it. There is no constitution fairy. You have to plan your strategy around it. That meant not flooding unwinnable seats with resources and not bothering with the ones that you could lose. It also meant not splitting your vote. Johnson got that, winning over the Faragists. So, what did Labour and the Lib Dems do? Slag each other off and run candidates against each other, giving the Tories a large number of seats with small majorities on a minority of the vote. Genius.

4. Don't develop theories without examining the data. The truth is much more complex than the headlines. Really don't. Oh. You have.

5. Know your enemy. Johnson was a terrible candidate in a weak position. He had one strength. He was new. He was the change candidate, even though he wasn't really. The public needed time to see his weaknesses – so you must never give him the advantage of an early election before disillusion sets in. That's why we passed a Fixed Term Parliament Act. Ah.

6. Know your enemy and know yourself. Johnson was a terrible candidate and his strategists knew it. Corbyn was an even worse one, and Johnson's strategists knew that too. It might have seemed a weakness to have hidden Johnson away in a cupboard, but it was canny. It meant the election became about Corbyn. And because of his vanity and hubris, Corbyn welcomed it. Except that he was generally loathed and ridiculed. An election about Corbyn was lost from day one.

7. Don't think the election result was determined by your pet hobbyhorse, even if it was. For example, I have never seen a Lexiter, who says that if we had supported leave we would have won, explain what would have happened with the 70% of Labour voters who voted remain. How about taking a decision based on your judgement of the national interest and explain and defend it clearly, preferably without patronising people?

8. Don't fudge vital issues, it makes you look as if you don't know what you are doing. OK. You really don't know what you are doing, I get that, but don't make it look as if you don't.

9. Don't ignore the data if you don't like it. Labour were given extensive polling and intelligence from their key constituencies. All said that they were in deep trouble and were going to lose big. So, what did they do? You guessed right.

10. When looking to elect a new leader to sort out this horrible mess, just remember that authority trumps authenticity.

11. Clarity beats complexity in any campaign. Don't offer a jumble of policies – fix on one or two clear, decisive pledges, like, er, 'Get Brexit done.' Oh dear.

Friday, December 13, 2019


Let's be clear to begin with. The real blame for this mess lies with Cameron. The Tories have had a majority for only two out of the last twenty three years and in those two years they unleashed chaos. They have been unjustly rewarded for it.

Second, let's not forget that the referendum campaign was flooded with lies and illegalities, the election campaign was worse, more cynical, and showed a flagrant disregard for the normal rules of democratic conduct.

Institutions were not up to the job. The electoral system is utterly dysfunctional - delivering majorities to minorities. Voting looks to have matched remain/leave polling. The referendum result was reversed in votes, but has delivered a huge majority to the main leave party.

These factors are real enough.

But for every success there is a failure in an electoral zero sum game. This has been a colossal failure of the opposition.

The usual sources on social media will be working on their excuses. They will blame the electorate – thick; the media – biased; billionaires – corrupt; Blairites - red Tory weasels; Brexit - turning people away from the true faith; and, on the fringes, Israel – secretly controlling the world. Once you cease to be an obnoxious teenager, you start to take responsibility for your own actions. Or you should. Some never do. Cue Corbynistas.

People like me called him out as not up to it from the very beginning. The 2017 election was a bit of a reprieve. I waited for some rebuilding, a bit of inclusivity, and a reflection on where we go from here. It never happened.

Brexit was important. The 2017 Labour manifesto said that Labour would impose a hard Brexit. Remainers didn't believe it. I had to show one person the page in the manifesto and he still refused to accept it. The Party and voters were overwhelmingly pro EU. It was time for clarity. Instead, the Brexit cabal of Corbyn and his pet Stalinists - Milne, Murray, and McCluskey - had to be dragged towards unconvincing ambiguity. If you pretend to support two mutually contradictory sides, you end up being mistrusted by both.

It was also a time for decisive leadership. Labour had to commit to a position based on principle. It should have committed to remain and explained why - consistently and forcibly. People respect courage and reason. The minority of older Labour leave voters may have wanted Brexit, but if remain had been explained, not just in economic terms of the damage it would do, but in the good old-fashioned language of Labour patriotism, of solidarity, of the power and prestige of the nation leading the continent, the argument would have been respected. But if, and only if, they respected the person delivering the message. Corbyn was loathed by them. He poisoned remain. Even though he was a secret leaver, he had no credibility with leave either. Polls and canvassing had shown that for years, but still Labour persisted with a leader who could not lead.

In the meantime, May went down to an historic Commons defeat – three times. Vote of no confidence called? Nope. Johnson illegally prorogued Parliament. Vote of no confidence called? Nope. Then there was the agreement for a temporary unity government to bring down Johnson and launch a second referendum before calling a general election. The crisis would be resolved. What happened to that one? Well, the deal was that an elder statesman, and someone who was not a party leader and had no career ambition, would become temporary Prime Minister. Corbyn insisted it should be him, despite not fitting the bill and being unable to command the confidence of other parties and independents. He killed it. Even then, a vote of no-confidence would have given a hiatus that would have given him the first pick of trying to gain a majority. Was one called – even in these extreme circumstances? Nope. Johnson lost his majority and was there for the taking. What did Corbyn do? Nothing. The only thing that Johnson desperately craved was an election where he could turn a minority of votes into a majority in Parliament and avoid any scrutiny. At last, Labour resisted. Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act they had a veto. No election was due until 2022. Johnson was cornered. Then, the day after voting to deny him an election, Corbyn overrode dissent in his own party and gave Johnson what he wanted. An election. On the day Johnson wanted. And before Labour had selected all its candidates, when the Party machinery was creaking under the strain of the anti-Semitism scandal, and when Corbyn himself had an approval rating of minus 60. Yes, minus 60. The worst personal polling in history. Great. It was suicidal.

The last chance was an electoral alliance. Both Swinson and Corbyn failed. It would have been difficult for Swinson because many had joined her side because of their loathing of Corbyn. Both decided to fight their corner when the situation called for unity. Once again, antipathy to Corbyn was the block. The result was a split anti-Tory vote in many constituencies.

Corbyn, a marginal backbencher, supporter of any grotesque tyranny that would oppose the West, a man without any substantial achievement to his name in 35 years in Parliament, was thrown into the leadership as a symbol of the left. The collective of the Labour Party became subsumed under the cult of personality of a mediocrity. Corbyn worship depoliticised the Party. It didn't matter what he did, how much he backtracked, how shallow his politics were, how shameful the growth of anti-Semitism, none of it mattered. All his followers did was lie about his dubious past. He became above scrutiny. His Labour opponents failed in their duty to free us from this baleful leadership.

It's now complete. He has lost every national election during his time as leader. The lot. And this time he has lost to a completely unfit Conservative party at a critical time in the nation's history. I don't think it will be on Corbyn's conscience. He strikes me as too self-righteous for that. But it should be on all his supporters'. This wasn't just a failure of one man. Political hobbyists indulged their fantasies, elevated someone manifestly incapable, never bothered that he said little other than platitudes, ignored the evidence of his unpopularity that was there in abundance, and weren't put off by an overwhelming vote of no-confidence by the Parliamentary Party. At that point, Corbyn should have resigned. He didn't and his admirers voted him back in, while sharing ever more ridiculous and dishonest memes about his virtue. And the stench of anti-Semitism was embraced and replicated with relish.

Please learn. Never abandon critical faculties in the face of a cult of personality. Left populism is as malign as right populism. Progress isn't a matter of 'bad' people being replaced by 'good' ones. Remember that politics is about ideas, programmes, policies, and truth - my how they abandoned truth. It is not about empty symbolism. It is about managing conflicting interests. It is about the real lives of all the people of the country. If you are from the left, it is about effective and practical politics to advance the welfare of the people. And it is a collective effort. I cringed at all these 'I support Jeremy Corbyn' and 'Vote Corbyn' memes. You should support Labour and vote Labour, not support and vote for an amorphous cypher on to which you can project your hopes. The outpouring of sanctimonious self-indulgence was a collective collapse of intelligence. The signs were there from the beginning if people wanted to look.

We now face a ruinous government. That's the Corbynite legacy. This deeply reactionary English nationalist party could have been resisted and defeated. It's time to ask yourself why it wasn't. Here's a clue. It wasn't because of the media, billionaires, Jews, lizards, or chemtrails, etc. It was because a section of the left lost its mind.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Approaching the losing post

It's the final week of the most dismal election campaign I can remember. Johnson has an approval rating of minus 20. A desperate losing position, except that Corbyn has an approval rating of minus 40 (an improvement on his minus 60 when the campaign started). That is the choice. In normal circumstances, neither would be electable. On top of that, Labour is led by a Brexiter pretending to be a remainer, the Tories by a cynical remainer pretending to be a Brexit ultra. The reality is that Johnson is solely committed to himself, while Corbyn's ultimate aim is maintaining sectarian control of the Labour Party.

The campaign has been remarkably inept and dishonest. Labour were unprepared. The Conservatives' behaviour has been extraordinary in avoiding any scrutiny and hiding Johnson away as he proved to be a hopeless campaigner and media performer. He crumbled into lies and bluster at any challenge that he was unable to dodge. The Jewish Labour Movement's leaked submission to the EHRC inquiry paints a picture, drawn from the testimony of Labour whistle-blowers, of deplorable institutional anti-Semitism. The Party's response has been to lie about the action they are taking, while their supporters duck the issue by screaming, "Look at the Tories, they're worse." My response is always, "Yes, they are. It goes with the territory of making the Conservatives a far-right populist party. They are supposed to be. It should be non-existent in Labour. In fact, Labour should be leading the fight against it. A bit of self-examination wouldn't go amiss."

The Conservatives are favourites purely because they have eliminated their chief rival for votes, the Brexit Party, by transforming the Tories into their equivalent, while purging the party of its remainers. This is ruthless politics. And it is effective. Remainers have squabbled and, despite many opportunities to ally against Johnson, have failed to do so. Given our perverse electoral system this could be decisive. It is now up to the voters to see if they can do through tactical voting what the politicians could not.

This election is the latest gift to the right-wing Brexit revolutionaries. No Parliament would have ever voted to leave the EU, and so they agitated for a referendum to by-pass it. Cameron was stupid enough to give them one. Having lost his majority and constrained by Parliament, Johnson was in a weak position. The threat to Brexit was a confirmatory referendum. This is because the polls were showing an 8-10 point lead for remain – around 55-45. A referendum would probably keep us in the EU and lose Johnson his power base. In a general election, given the electoral system, a 55% vote share for remain parties and a 45% share for leave parties could give leave a decisive parliamentary majority as long as the remain vote is split. The same remain majority would not be enough to prevent us leaving. So, what did the opposition do? Give them what they wanted.

Corbyn was decisive in supporting the election. Many of the Parliamentary Party and Shadow Cabinet were furious. Most wanted to try and win a referendum first, settle the Brexit issue and then move on to an election. However, Corbyn boasted to the Guardian,
“I put it to them quite clearly: I said, our objections are now gone. We are now supporting a general election – and everybody gulped. I didn’t alert anybody in advance – it was my decision. On my own. I made that decision. And they gulped, and said, Yes Jeremy.”
Yes, they gulped as Corbyn turned a position of strength into one of weakness. They didn't vote against it, let alone try and depose him. Cowardice. In the meantime, Corbyn tweeted that he supported an election as, "No Deal is now off the table," and by doing so promptly put no-deal back on the table again.

Whether Corbyn understood the difference between the withdrawal agreement and a deal is not known. Does Johnson? His slogan, "Get Brexit done," obviously played better with the focus groups than, "People against Parliament," but it is a lie and offers the possibility of a no-deal Brexit if he does not extend the transition period - which he has pledged not to do. The only comfort is that has done nothing that he has promised to do in the past.

And this is where we are. The most crucial election since the war, in which the future of the country hangs in the balance. An election dominated by the ambitions and vanities of two of the worst party leaders I can remember (though Ian Duncan-Smith pushed them close but was knifed before he could wreck the joint.) It's an election fought using different sets of lies, exaggerations, and vagaries. And it's all the result of a long series of institutional failures; putting the ultimate power of selection in the hands of unaccountable and unrepresentative political hobbyists; a supine and partisan press; persistent lying that treats the electorate with contempt; inadequate electoral laws subverted by the internet; and an arbitrary electoral system. But the biggest failure of all was calling a referendum that was unwanted by most, about an issue that few thought important, and was understood by virtually nobody other than experts.

It was odd to be reminded of Jordan Ellenberg's, How Not to Be Wrong: The Hidden Maths of Everyday Life, by an article on VAR in football. However, it brought up a really good point.
But in the 2000 US presidential election, for instance, a few hundred votes in Florida made all the difference nationally and put George W Bush into the White House. The final margin represented 0.01% of the total votes cast, but as Ellenberg points out, “the imprecision caused by ballots spoiled, ballots lost, ballots miscounted is much greater than the tiny difference in the final count”. 
It would make more sense, Ellenberg argues, to decide the outcome on the flip of a coin. Some, he says, will recoil from the idea of choosing leaders by chance, and yet “close elections are already decided by chance”, be it “bad weather in the big city, a busted voting machine in an outlying town” or any one of dozens of potential random variables.
The closeness of the referendum result meant that it was down to just such a cluster of arbitrary variables that could easily have gone the other way. It was decided by around 600,000 people out of the 33 million who voted and the 13 million who didn't. If they had voted another way, the result would have been reversed. Yet this chance result is treated as holy writ, an incontestable decision enshrining the will of the people – "it's democracy." This is ridiculous. It has distorted our politics, but is the result of the misuse of referendums in a representative democracy. The only thing that seems to matter is the result, not the consequences. The consequences are momentous, out of all proportion to the way the decision was made. It is a huge constitutional failure.

We are beginning to see some debate about our democracy and the constitution, but not enough – yet. Even the most recent constitutional change, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, has been ineffective. Though it fixes the time between general elections at five years, we are now on our third in the last four years. The constitution is a mess, all the indicators are pointing the wrong way, and the political class seem no nearer to thinking constructively about the problems. Instead, all they seem to want to do is to game a malfunctioning system. It's not encouraging.