A brief extract from my memoir The Catholic Orangemen of Togo
On the other side of the equation, Roger Moore came out as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Fiona and I hosted a small dinner party for him. He was charming and suave, just as you would expect, with a fund of brilliant stories beginning with lines like “One day Frank, Dean, Tony and I decided to play a trick on Marilyn…” But while he played the role of Roger Moore to perfection, there was much more to him than that. He was genuinely very well briefed about children’s issues in Ghana, and was prepared not just to do the PR stuff, but to get his hands dirty helping out in refugee camps without a camera in sight. I was impressed by Roger Moore.
When I said get his hands dirty, I meant dig latrines. He really was a much better man than people realised. A celebrity who did not seek personal publicity for his good works, quite the opposite. Remember this re foxhunting:
Having now seen the numerous bits of video being shown across the various Breakfast news programmes, Manchester should be very proud of itself. The audience were quite remarkably orderly leaving the arena. Of course there was a certain amount of panic, but much less than you would normally expect in such a situation. The discipline and stoicism are much more remarkable than the areas of panic, especially given the age of the audience.
It also bears repeating that the social media picture is heart-warming amid the terrible sadness. So many messages last night from people offering rooms to stay, cooking food for strangers in the middle of the night, the almost universal offers of a “brew” and a landline, the reposting of countless images to help parents re-unite with their children, the people (including taxi drivers) getting their cars out to offer free transport. In the immediate aftermath of an apparent bombing, it is plain people were much more concerned to offer help than worried about putting themselves in possible danger by opening their homes or moving into the crowds.
Finally, I have been heartened by the contempt Manchester people are showing online for those seeking to use this dreadful apparent atrocity to promote racism, intolerance or a political agenda.
If it was a home made bomb, it was a remarkably powerful one. It would be very unusual for a lone terrorist to be able to make a bomb this powerful. It is hard to think of any incident where an individual acting entirely alone has successfully done that.
Twitter gives an astonishing immediate insight into events in another city. Our thoughts are with those the police say are killed and injured in Manchester this evening. From eye witness reports and pictures posted on the internet, this is what I can tell so far.
There certainly was at least one large explosion, and this was consistent with a bomb. But a bomb was not the only possible explanation. however contrary to reports, the bombs does not appear to be inside the Manchester Arena.
I am somewhat handicapped as I do not know how to post short pieces of video from Facebook onto the blog. But the best evidence of the explosion so car is this video apparently from a nearby car park.
These two frames are a fraction of a second apart. It is much plainer on the video than on these stills, but in the second a huge flash of light has gone off behind the building. The area of rising ground or low structure immediately to the left of the building is more lit in the second frame, and the aurora of city light in the sky above the building is lighter and reaches further. The back of the building would be substantially illuminated. As I say, the flash is much more obvious in live action than in comparing the two frames.
A little less than a second after this flash, a major rumble is heard. This is a loud explosion. Given that from the gap between the light and the sound it is over half a mile away, it is really a big explosion.
UPDATE I now have a video I can post and you can plainly see the flash just before the sound reaches the camera. Just to the left of the building shows it best. This explosion was not confined inside.
But it is not within the Manchester Arena itself. There are plenty of photos and again videos from inside the arena.
The video from which this still is taken, for example, is apparently after the explosion because there is a certain amount of panic and screaming going on. But the video pans round the entire indoor arena and nowhere is there a sign of any damage, certainly not commensurate with the size of the explosion, and certainly nothing which would affect the integrity of the walls and ceiling sufficient to emit that great flash of light outside. Also an explosion of that size, if a bomb, would emit a very large amount of smoke, and there is very not enough smoke at all in this indoor area (there is a very little haze, but more consistent with concert pyrotechnics or dry ice). Finally, while there are the first signs of panic, an explosion of that size would have caused vastly more panic if it had not been some way distant. Most people are still holding their balloons.
There are many pictures of lobby areas too but none of these shows bomb damage or smoke either.
The dominant narrative now seems to be a nail bomb or bombs inside the arena. Nail bombs typically are not on the scale of the explosion caught outside. A nail bomb might be consistent with the lack of major damage inside the arena and lack of immediate generalised panic, but it is not consistent with the big bang and flash visible outside. It is of course not impossible there was one or more small nail bombs inside and a further bomb outside. But it is also possible the explosion was outside and the inside injuries due to panic and crush.
We should avoid jumping to conclusions on the cause, and if it is a bomb we should avoid jumping to conclusions on who planted it. There is terrible tragedy in Manchester tonight, the worse for affecting young people. But my trawl through social media also revealed a fantastic communal spirit, with ordinary people looking after each other, opening up their homes, running people around in their cars and helping reunite families. It is also excellent how many Manchester people are reacting against those trying to use this to promote racial or political agendas. I pray the number of casualties proves to be not as bad as first thought.
Theresa May performed atrociously on her interview with Andrew Neil this evening. She was patently evading or lying on every question, and as usual repeating key phrases again and again whatever she was asked. I do not think I am naïve to believe this does seriously underestimate the intelligence of the electorate.
I thought that Andrew Neil did very well. He was unusually gentle with May – he interrupted her only three times in thirty minutes, and I am willing to bet will interrupt other leaders more. But his technique worked with May, because it gave her room again and again to trot out those robotic phrases and hack off the entire nation. Whether intentional by Neil or not, she used the rope he gave her to hang herself.
Twitter thinks she did very badly by about thirteen to one. Even Tories are saying so. And I think this is the strongest proof of what people really thought:
BUT not that many people will have watched. Far more people will see news reports of the interview than saw the actual interview, and those reports will give a very different impression to the reality. Nicola Sturgeon was viewed by those who saw the full Scottish leaders’ debate as having won, but all the news bulletins merely say she was monstered by the specially planted nurse, who was on Question Time last week and was specifically invited back by the BBC. Mmay will not have been pathetic when the News reports it.
It is a fact that in all opinion polls for the last week, Labour is doing better than their performance in the 2015 General election. They will have more voters. Yet the BBC continues to produce “vox pops” in the news, which they pass off as representative, interviewing Labour voters who are converting to Tory. Of five “ordinary” voters the BBC showed in a vox pop interview from Middlesborough today, one of the five was definitely switching from Labour to Tory, and another one was “probably” going to switch from Labour to Tory which was a “game changer”. The journalist concluded the Labour Party was struggling to hang on.
But that is not what the opinion polls tell us. The Labour vote is growing not falling, and the Tory vote is indeed growing, but mostly by transfers from UKIP, not by transfers from Labour. The BBC “vox pop” gives a deliberately false impression of what is happening. There is so much they do not tell us. How did the BBC find and contact these people who are switching from Labour to Tory? How many random people did they interview? What percentage of random people they interviewed were switching to Tory, and how did they select their sample? Did they find not one person who was switching to Labour – because the polls show that people are?
This blatant and undisguised propaganda continues all day every day. Fortunately even the most sophisticated propaganda has difficulty selling ordure as birthday cake. Every time May appears, the smell is deterring buyers. How they will hide her still further for the rest of the campaign, will be fascinating to behold.
ORIGINAL POST Look at this astonishing body language from Theresa May when confronting mild contradiction.
Note the tight lines of the mouth, the eyes darting from side to side as if seeking assistance or escape, the apparently involuntary small head movements signalling disengagement, which eventually develop into vigorous head-shaking. And that is just the body language. As ever, Theresa May was in a hall containing nobody except vetted senior Tory activists and mainstream media representatives. And yet, at six minutes in below, even that audience starts audibly jeering and dissenting.
All of which underlines a thought that has been pulling at me ever since the election started. May has continually tried to pitch this as a question of who you would wish to act as the negotiator of Brexit, either her or Jeremy Corbyn. But why would anybody believe that a woman who is not even capable to debate with her opponents would be a good negotiator?
In fact she would be an appalling negotiator. She becomes completely closed off when contradicted. She is incapable of thinking on her feet. She is undoubtedly the worst performer at Prime Minister’s Questions, either for government or opposition, since they were first broadcast. Why on earth would anybody think she would be a good negotiator? As soon as Michel Barnier made a point she was not expecting across the table, she would switch off and revert to cliché, and probably give off a great deal of hostility too.
The delusion she would negotiate well has been fed by the media employing all kinds of completely inappropriate metaphors for the Brexit negotiations. From metaphors of waging war to metaphors of playing poker, they all characterise the process as binary and aggressive.
In fact – and I speak as somebody who has undertaken very serious international negotiations, including of the UK maritime boundaries and as the Head of UK Delegation to the Sierra Leone Peace Talks – intenational negotiation is the opposite. It is a cooperative process and not a confrontational process. Almost all negotiations cover a range of points, and they work on the basis of you give a bit there, and I give a bit here. Each side has its bottom lines, subjects on which it cannot move at all or move but to a limited degree. Sometimes on a single subject two “bottom lines” can be in direct conflict. Across the whole range of thousands of subjects, you are trying to find a solution all can live with.
So empathy with your opposite number is a key requirement in a skilled negotiator, and everything I have ever seen about Theresa May marks her out as perhaps having less emotional intelligence than anybody I have ever observed. Bonhommie is also important. Genuine friendship can be a vital factor in reaching agreement, and it can happen in unexpected ways. But May has never been able to strike up friendships outside of a social circle limited to a very particular segment of English society, excluding the vast majority of the English, let alone Scots and heaven forfend continentals. The best negotiators have affability, or at least the ability to switch it on. It is a vital tool.
That is not to say occasionally you do not have to speak and stare hard to make plain that one of your bottom lines is real. But that is by no means the norm. And you need the intelligence and sharpness to carry it off, which May does not. That is one of the many differences between May and Thatcher.
Frankly, if I had the choice between sending in Jeremy Corbyn, with his politeness and reasonableness, or Theresa May, into a negotiation I would not hesitate for a second in choosing Corbyn. I am quite sure there is not another diplomat in the World who would make a different choice. May’s flakiness and intolerance of disagreement represent a disaster waiting to happen.
I watched I, Daniel Blake a few months ago on a plane to Ghana. The overwhelming feeling that this is real, this is really happening to people today in the country where I grew up, kept welling up inside me. In the foodbank, when she started shovelling in the baked beans with her hands, I could no longer stop myself from sobbing. This caused great consternation on KLM. White-haired comfortable looking men in business class are not supposed to break down over the Sahara.
The feeling came back when I started to read down this list from Black Triangle of people killed by benefit cuts. I could not get past the first few. I could though total up the names, and there are 101 dead people here, the tip of the iceberg. How many more lonely deaths are unreported or unattributed to their cause?
I was led to this by thinking of yesterday’s disgraceful media attack on Jeremy Corbyn, again co-ordinated on both Sophy Ridge (Sky) and Andrew Neill (BBC). And this is what I thought:
The IRA and UVF are not killing anybody today. Tory policies are. Tory policies have killed far more people than the IRA and UVF ever did.
I genuinely cannot believe what I have just seen on the BBC national UK news. A report on the general election in Scotland in advance of tonight’s Scottish Leaders’ Debate. I know we have become used to the unfettered Tory bias of the BBC, but this was at a level of propaganda which has left me seriously disturbed.
In the 6 minute piece, four different BBC presenters told the viewer that the election in Scotland is dominated by the issue of a second independence referendum – which is not true, but is precisely the way that the Scottish Conservatives are trying to frame the debate in every single one of their leaflets and broadcast appearances.
They then had a piece by Sarah Smith from Kelso – a walk from the border with England and the second most Tory place in Scotland. Why choose somewhere so entirely unrepresentative? Then in Kelso they found an “independent” journalistic commentator to explain the situation to us. This “independent” journalist was the Conservative’s arch Conservative, Alex Massie of the Spectator, of Murdoch’s Times and often of the Daily Mail, possibly the most right wing man in Scotland.
Did the BBC introduce Massie as a Conservative, or at least as from the Spectator, known to be the Tory house magazine? No. They passed him off as an independent journalist. Did they balance him with another commentator who was not a raving Tory nutter? No. Did Massie’s contribution count against the time allocated to the Tories in the broadcast under election rules? No, he was “independent”. What did he tell us? Why he confirmed exactly what four different BBC presenters told us in the piece, that this election is all about the second Independence referendum. Exactly as the Conservatives say. Because nobody in Scotland ever thinks about anything else, obviously.
You are not going to believe this. Even as I type, at 18.24. a fifth BBC journalist has just told us tonight’s debate will be about “that fault line in Scottish politics, a second Independence referendum.”
This insistence on framing the entire debate in Tory terms, of trying to ensure that the metaphorical battle takes place only on Tory chosen ground, is disgusting. The second referendum has already been initiated by the Scottish Parliament after the SNP and Greens won a majority of both seats and popular vote in the last Holyrood elections. That is where the competence to initiate the referendum lies.
The BBC approach would at least have a certain honesty if they were saying that, as this election is, according to the BBC and the Tories, all about a second referendum, therefore if the SNP wins in Scotland there should be one. But that is not the terms in which they are framing it. What they have told us, in terms, is that should the SNP win less than 90% of the seats, that represents a rejection of the second referendum. Yes, that really is the BBC narrative, day in and day out, again and again and again, here in Scotland.
Just to complete the intellectual dishonesty of the snivelling hacks, the same people who characterise 35% opinion poll showings for Corbyn in England as total disgrace and failure, characterise 25% poll showings for Ruth Davidson in Scotland as the most sensational victory and triumph.
Of one thing I am sure. After Independence, the Imperial Broadcasting Corporation at Pacific Quay does not need to be reformed. It needs to be immediately closed down on day one, and every single employee needs to be handed their P45. Every single last one. Anybody who has worked in this obnoxious state propaganda organisation can have no part in building a new society.
Unless they have another vocation, like shovelling horseshit. I have never seen so many horses in Scotland as featured in the BBC report from Kelso. Tally-ho boys, what?!
It is unlikely to become an opera like “Nixon in China” but the arrival of Trump in Saudi Arabia is pregnant with meaning.
The first and most obvious is the United States’ continuing identification with the Sunni side in an escalating Sunni/Shia conflict across the Middle East. The exception to this of course is Iraq, where US forces are helping Shia forces to pulverise the Sunni city of Mosul. The paradox is that the plunge of the United states firmly into the Sunni camp was precipitated by their realisation that, in removing Saddam Hussein, they had installed a Shia government in Iraq which was going to be highly susceptible to Iranian influence.
The paradox is that Europe, and most of the rest of the world, accepts that Iran is no longer a particular threat to world peace under the comparatively moderate President Rouhani, who was re-elected today. But the hatred for the Shia in the Gulf states is visceral. I was forcibly struck, when attending the Al Jazeera Forum in Doha last month, that the only contributions which evinced enthusiastic displays from the audience were attacks on Iran – and this was a largely academic audience. Even the session specifically on Palestine was dominated by attacks on Iran. One panel speaker mentioned Palestine only twice, and the very beginning and the very end of his 15 minute contribution.
There is nothing like genuine religious hatred to drive conflict, and doubtless it exists on both sides of the Sunni/Shia divide. What is appalling is the role of western powers, and their ally Israel, in seeking to exploit this hatred. This is not new. My latest book, Sikunder Burnes, details explicitly expressed British attempts to use Sunni/Shia conflict for divide and rule as early as the 1830’s.
But the modern form of this western practice explains directly some of the most appalling tragedies of our time. It explains the Western arming of the Saudis for their continuing and genocidal attacks on the Shia of Yemen. It explains British complicity in helping the dreadful Sunni Bahraini regime to enslave, torture and imprison its majority Shia population. Most crucially, it explains the complicity of western intelligence agencies with the Gulf states in founding, funding and arming Wahhabi terror groups under all their various names including Al Qaeda, ISIS and Al Nusra.
The concomitant of this is of course the de facto alliance of Saudi Arabia with Israel and the United States, against their “common enemies” of Hezbollah, Assad and Iran. The cementing of that alliance is the purpose of Trump’s trip. Which is extraordinary, because in campaigning he appeared to understand that the groups the US were supporting were themselves the source of the “terror threat” to the United States. It appears the arms industry have made plain to him that the terror threat and the destabilisation of the Middle East are both good for business.
As Trump has gone full neo-liberal at home and neo-conservative abroad, the question being asked is whether he ever believed any of his campaigning material, or whether he has just been captured by the establishment. My answer to which is, it makes no difference.
Have you spotted Theresa May with a coloured person during this election? She has been sticking to places where she is surrounded by Tory councillors or by employees in front of their bosses or once, memorably, tenants in front of their landlord. The questions to her are pre-vetted but even then she normally answers with complete irrelevance – she replies “Brexit” as surely as Paul Nuttal replies “immigration”. Her audiences have been tiny but the media never pan out. They also never point out that her audiences are white.
Here is an entirely undoctored google image search result for “Theresa May campaigning”.
You can do the search yourself and see the pictures close-up. There is a Sikh man in the crowd on the second photo and another Asian man in the fourth. But on a rough headcount, the BAME percentage turning up in this random selection of May campaigning photos is 2%. Now if you do the same search for “Jeremy Corbyn” campaigning you get a very different picture. One photo of him in Southall on 18 May contained more BAME people than a full page of May thumbnails. But perhaps still more interesting is a comparison of the same search for David Cameron, which shows a very similar result to Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, one shot of Cameron, Goldsmith and Johnson campaigning together also contains more BAME people than a whole page of May thumbnails. I cannot reproduce those two photos for you as they are Getty Images copyright protected, but they come up if you do the search.
Now here is the game you can play. Have a drink every time you see Theresa May interact with a coloured person during this election. I think your liver is safe.
I very much enjoyed yesterday’s survey of current events with Mark McNaught of Independence Live. I hope you enjoy it too. The initial technical problems don’t last very long, and you get to see the view from my balcony at the end!
UPDATE GREAT NEWS: Swedish prosecutors are about to announce the dropping of the investigation into Julian Assange on sexual offence allegations. There never were any charges and the allegations were always nonsense, as detailed in the below article I wrote a month ago:
A few months ago I asked Julian whether he expected that Donald Trump would end the case against him in the United States. WikiLeaks had after all published the DNC and Podesta emails, which revealed the corruption at the heart of the Clinton campaign and the way the Democratic primaries had been rigged against Bernie Sanders.
Julian replied that no, he expected the opposite to be true. Trump would feel the need to be openly active against Assange to show that there had been no relationship between him and WikiLeaks. Julian was of course right, and Trump’s Attorney-General has announced that the United States wants to extradite Assange on charges of espionage related to the Snowden revelations of mass illegal government surveillance.
It is worth noting that this is not really new. The Obama administration was sitting on sealed indictments against Assange for years. Obama prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other President in history. Having come to power promising to take action against senior CIA figures for waterboarding, the only person his Administration prosecuted – and jailed – over it was John Kiriakou for blowing the whistle on waterboarding.
Obama’s policy of not confirming or denying the charges against Assange in the States, enabled the media propagandists to pour scorn on Assange’s repeated insistence he was in the Ecuadorean Embassy to avoid extradition not to Sweden, but to the USA. That is now undeniable.
There are no rape charges against Assange in Sweden. There are espionage charges against Assange in the USA.
The evidence in the Swedish Assange allegations was originally reviewed by the chief prosecutor in Stockholm who declared there was no case to answer. It was then taken up – as allowed in the Swedish system – by a second prosecutor, Marianne NY, who has a campaigning third wave feminist agenda.
The European Arrest Warrant against Assange was signed not by any court, but by Marianne Ny. It was not on the basis that he was charged with any offence, but that he was wanted for questioning by the prosecutor. This can never happen again – UK law was subsequently changed so only a court, not a prosecutor, must sign the warrant.
Questioning is now complete. Assange has still not been charged. And yet his legal status according to the UK government is still that he is pending extradition for questioning – even though the questioning finished in the Ecuador Embassy last November.
The sexual allegations against Assange in Sweden have always been risible when considered in detail. The physical evidence against Assange is faked. The condom he allegedly wore and furtively ripped during intercourse with Anna Ardin contains none of his DNA – a physical impossibility had he worn it.
Assange’s DNA is present in another condom provided by Sofia Wilen, but there is no dispute the pair had consensual sex with that condom. What is alleged is that after drowsing off post-coitus, Assange initiated sex a second time while Wilen was still, in her own words “half asleep”, so she was not able to give fully informed consent. Assange adamantly denies this.
The women were questioned six years ago, as was Assange. All the physical evidence was collected and assessed. For five years Assange has been proclaiming his willingness to be questioned by Swedish authorities inside the Ecuadorean Embassy. Marianne Ny did nothing. The fact that there was no viable case against Assange and no genuine investigation in progress, was a determining factor in the decision of the extremely eminent international jurists of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, that Assange is being arbitrarily detained and should be freed. The UK and Swedish governments accepted the UN process and fully participated in it, and then appealed and lost again, but still refuse to accept the result. Neither the UK nor Sweden has ever failed to support any other decision of the UN Working Group.
Eventually Marianne Ny was forced by legal action by Assange to assure the Swedish Supreme Court she would move the investigation forward. Finally last November a Swedish prosecutor and Swedish policeman questioned Assange, over two days, in the Ecuadorean Embassy. Remember this was a follow up to his initial interview in Sweden six years ago. Julian also at the questioning in November gave an extremely comprehensive written statement.
The questioning was in November. It is now nearly May. The police and prosecutor had had six years to assess and analyse all the other evidence – including the testimony of the women and their text messages, which are crucial to the case. The follow up Assange questioning was the last thing Marianne Ny had to drag it out.
Yet there are still no charges. There are still no charges. Assange’s status is still that he is wanted for questioning, even though the questioning is all done. The Swedish establishment, an extremely tight knit and closed apparatus, appears unwilling to bite the bullet of admitting the whole has been nonsense. The tactic appears to be to sit it out another couple of years until the statute of limitations kicks in, and thus avoid admitting there was never a case.
You would have to be profoundly deaf not to hear the tramp of authoritarian boots currently marching all over the body politic of western societies. With racism, intolerance and the security state in the ascendant, now we need whistleblowers (and their publishers) more than ever. Those on the left who were distracted by the CIA’s “rape” dog whistle need to rediscover their critical faculties and get behind WikiLeaks.
There are no rape charges against Julian Assange in Sweden. There are espionage charges against Julian Assange in the USA.
The lies against Assange and WikiLeaks are no longer tenable.
So many American advisers, so much American corporate money and so many American analytics lie behind May’s campaigning. Of course some family traits emerge from this common heritage. All the American pictures here are from one particular President – Richard Nixon.
Much has changed in the last week with the Labour and Tory manifesto launches. Today there was a council by-election in Enfield Lock ward of Enfield North constituency. This is important because Enfield North was one of the few Labour gains in 2015 and the Tories only need a swing of 1.2% to get it back. It is the Tories’ 12th most likely gain, and one they should take easily if they are going to get the big majority predicted.
Here was the result:
It is worth noting the unusually high turnout: 32%. This is almost certainly explained by the proximity to the general election, and for the same reason voters are likely to have concentrated on national rather than local factors.
The net swing from Labour to Tory was only 0.3%. Labour would hold Enfield North on that swing. Indeed, UK-wide the Tories would only gain Chester and Ealing Central on a 0.3% swing.
Of course I do not pretend that you can really extrapolate from a single London ward across the whole country. But over 4,000 people cast real votes in that by-election compared to the 1,100 sample of the average opinion poll. It is undeniably true that the Conservatives would have expected to do a good deal better in Enfield Lock today. I do not think we are getting a true picture of what is happening in the country from the polls and the media. There is life in this election yet.
The most extraordinary thing about the Tory manifesto is that you can read pages and pages of it and not come upon a monetary value put on anything. Figures are extremely few and far between indeed, and where there is a cost placed on something there is normally no indication given at all of where the money is coming from.
You have to get to page 14 before you come across a single figure at all. Then it tells you that by 2020 they will increase the personal tax allowance to £12,500 and increase the higher rate threshold to £50,000. But it places no value at all on the next cost of this tax cut, or how it can be afforded.
You have to go through six more pages of waffle before you get the next figure at page 20, a National Productivity Fund of £23 billion. Again, no indication is given of the source of this funding, perhaps because it is very much an old recycled announcement.
Perhaps the most remarkable instance of lack of clarity on funding is the promise of £8 billion extra for the NHS. Again no indication at all is given of where this money is coming from. The only indication of an extra funding source is a levy of £450 per head on overseas students for use of the NHS. That will raise only about £50 million and is just a chance for an attack on a group May particularly hates – and a bone to the racists.
It is impossible not to contrast the complete absence of prices on 95% of the proposals in the manifesto, and the complete lack of explanation of the source of funds on almost all the few items that are costed, with the huge media onslaught on the fiscal detail of the opposition parties’ manifestoes. A completely different standard is being applied to the Tories.
The BBC as usual wheeled out the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the “independent” body representing extreme neo-liberalism. The IFS has been lyrical for hours these last few days giving instant judgements on why the Labour manifesto had holes in it, repeating continually the corporate propaganda that if you increase taxes on the super-rich, they will pay less. But when invited by the BBC to comment on the finances of the Tory manifesto, the IFS merely replied that they would be presenting an analysis of all the manifestoes next Tuesday.
The Tory manifesto is literally priceless – it puts no price on anything. But we all know it will carry a disastrous cost for our public services and for the most vulnerable in our society,
Pensioners alone were responsible for blocking Scottish Independence in 2014, and pensioners were the only group that supported Brexit by any substantial majority. I know there are exceptions, but broadly it is inarguably true that pensioners caused Brexit and blocked Indy. So I am struggling not to relish the schadenfreude at the Tory manifesto shafting pensioners. I do realise this is an unworthy thought; it is a temptation against which I am struggling, manfully. The truth is, of course, that many pensioners are among the most vulnerable in our society, and that their undoubted tendency as a group to harbour outdated and unpleasant views out of kilter with the rest of society, is in part due to a tendency by wider society to exclude pensioners.
The Tories calculate that the pensioners will loyally vote Tory anyway. They may be right. Pensioners are also the group most susceptible to dog whistle racism, and the anti-immigration nonsense the Tories are proposing will play well with pensioners. The largest payer of penal charges on employers who hire foreign workers will be the NHS, so it is difficult to see how that helps. Employers in general prefer to employ local workers where they can. Security of employment status, an employee with established social support, absence of language and communications difficulties. There are plenty of reasons for employers to prefer local employees. They employ others only when there is good reason to do so; attempting to penalise that is daft. It does not appear that the manifesto is going to contain any other practical proposals for reducing immigration, just the aspiration; which is probably a lie.
I worry about reintroducing the stigma of means-testing to free school meals and to winter fuel payments for pensioners. At my school, we knew who got free school meals in our class, and children can be cruel. My parents and my grandparents would never, for reasons of pride, apply for any benefit other than those like the basic pension which came automatically. I suspect they are not alone. There is no reason in logic to means test the winter fuel allowance and not means test the basic state pension, of which it was a de facto part.
Sorry for such a stream of consciousness blog entry – election campaigns don’t always lend themselves to properly gestated thought.
Astonishingly the Tories have today banned Murdoch’s Sky News from interviewing senior ministers, as they think Sky asks too many difficult questions. For now they are only allowing senior ministers to be interviewed by the reliable Tory house propagandists Kuenssberg, Robinson, Smith and their colleagues at the BBC. The stark contrast between the level of critical scrutiny the Tory manifesto is getting from the BBC, compared to their scathing sarcasm about opposition proposals, shows Tory trust in the BBC is well placed.
A week ago an old Whitehall colleague told me that Treasury mandarins expect to be briefing Liam Fox as the new Chancellor should the Tories be re-elected – and they were not much looking forward to the experience. I did not pay much attention until today’s May/Hammond press conference, where it became evident that Hammond’s coat is on the shoogliest of pegs.
Hammond started the day being ripped to shreds by John Humphreys on the Today programme and getting the cost of HS2 radically wrong. But that hardly matters, as it is only when this happens to opposition figures that the mainstream media highlights and constant replays it.
A much more telling incident happened shortly thereafter when, standing alongside Hammond, May was three times asked directly if Hammond would continue as Chancellor, and she refused to back him, only at the third time of asking giving the most half hearted endorsement. I then realised the information I had been given was good.
Strangely, it is only the right wing media that has noted Fox’s continuing relationship with Adam Werritty. It was the Spectator which published that Werritty joined Fox on the Commons Terrace for a champagne spree to celebrate the disgraced ex-minister’s return to office. I was told by a SNP MP who witnessed it and used the phrase “brass neck”. But only the Spectator reported it, and only the Times has said that the two remain close. They reported last year that Werritty is living in Dolphin Square (I know, let’s not go there).
I have an irresistible image of what life is going to be like inside the Treasury, should Fox and Werritty have the run of it.
Of course Werritty opened a private health company when Fox was Health Secretary and a defence consultancy business when Fox was Minister of Defence. If Fox becomes Chancellor, I presume he gets to open a bank!
But on a more serious note, the prospect of Fox becoming Chancellor is truly alarming. The hard right links he forged through the now defunct Atlantic Bridge to the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heritage Foundation give him direct access into the heart of the Trump administration, and align him with the nastiest millionaires and hedge fund managers, with the funders of climate change denial and with those who wish to abolish literally all workers’ rights and consumer protections. This article by George Monbiot is rather dense, but it is essential reading. And terrifying.
Fox appears to be confined in a locked cupboard for the duration of the election campaign. Doubtless he is waiting, like a child on Christmas Eve, to come bursting out and claim his prize once it is over.
I have never voted Labour, but were I in England I would vote for Corbyn’s Labour. There is so much that is very good in Labour’s manifesto, but they had me at renationalisation of the railways. Abolition of university tuition fees is also very near to my heart.
The key point is this. I strongly suspect that 90% of other SNP voters, were they in England, would vote for Corbyn’s Labour too. Scottish Labour is a very different thing to Corbyn’s Labour, and the longstanding mutual hatred of the SNP and central elements of Scottish Labour has real causes. The ease with which Scottish Labour voters are transferring direct to Tory, and the truly shameful Tory/Labour coalitions being cooked up now in town halls all round Scotland, show that a hard core of Scottish Labour has nothing to do with Corbyn’s Labour. It is rather a toxic brew of Blairism, institutional corruption and the Orange Order. Amazingly it manages to be still less attractive than that sounds.
There were once many thousand of genuine and decent people in Scottish Labour. Those people now constitute a very large proportion of the SNP. There are very few decent people in Scottish Labour left.
The truth is that the SNP and Corbyn believe in a very similar brand of Progressivism. The Scots simply wish to pursue it in their own country. Given Corbyn’s support for Irish unification and anti-colonial movements all round the world, his opposition to Scottish Independence is unnatural, and his initial welcome for a second referendum reflected his own instinct.
In 1886, Gladstone became convinced of both the justice and political expediency of Irish Home Rule. He decided to adopt it and thus quite deliberately split the Liberal Party. This was a massive split – those who left included the greatest grandees, the Dukes of Westminster, Devonshire, Bedford and Argyll, plus some of the protestant chapel faction like Joseph Chamberlain and John Bright. Those departing Liberal Unionists functioned as a separate political party, in effective coalition with the Tories, until eventually merging into the Conservative and Unionist party.
This loss of Dukes and their acolytes paved the way for the Liberal Party to become much more radical, leading to the Liberal governments of 1906-15 which introduced reforms including national insurance, abolition of the workhouse, old age pensions and free school meals. I would argue that, along with Attlee’s government, it was the greatest reforming government in British history. All done with the essential support of the Irish nationalists.
Corbyn should do the same. He should stop fighting Scottish Independence and embrace it. He should join forces with those who support the same kind of domestic reform and foreign policy he embraces. The loss of Alistair Darling, Kezia Dugdale, John McTernan and John Mann to Labour would be as nothing compared to the losses Gladstone was prepared to accept in embracing Irish nationalism.
The Liberal Unionists are only remembered today when The Importance of Being Earnest is performed. I have changed “Liberal Unionist” to “Blairite” in this excerpt to show how precisely the scenario fits with today’s situation:
Lady Bracknell (Sternly): What are your politics? Jack: Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Blairite. Lady Bracknell: Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening at any rate.
By throwing over the Scottish Labour dinosaurs and any Blairite shills who wish to go with them, Corbyn can remake the politics of the United Kingdom. And the SNP, just as the Irish Nationalists did in 1906, can help Corbyn to make the permanent transformational changes to the UK, even as they go through the process of leaving it. A future Labour/SNP administration could enact a manifesto as radical as the one that Labour have just unveiled, as the parting gift of the Scots to the UK. After this election, this must be the way forward for Corbyn. As May hits the car crash of Brexit, if May wins on 8 June I do not think her administration will last five years, and I am quite certain she, or the Tories, will not win the ensuing election.
There are other valid comparisons between Corbyn and Gladstone, particularly in foreign policy with regard to Gladstone’s principled and vigorous opposition to the Second Anglo-Afghan war. Gladstone as leader of the opposition argued directly that Afghans fighting invading British troops were justified in doing so: “We have destroyed their homes and driven their wives and children into the snows of winter”. Corbyn has a similar courage in taking on today’s media-driven jingoism and militarism.
Does Corbyn have similar courage in forcing the realignment that can make sense of UK politics, as Scotland leaves as Ireland once did? Can Jeremy embrace Scottish Independence, as I have no doubt is his natural instinct? That will be the measure of whether he makes a real mark on the future, or becomes a brief flash of radical failure.
You might think that the Blairite Labour MPs would stop anonymously briefing and leaking against Corbyn, at least for the duration of the general election campaign. You would, however, be very wrong. The Blairites are so consumed by hatred, and so incensed that anybody should offer a political alternative to neo-liberalism, that they simply cannot stop. As ever, the right wing propagandists at the BBC are only too delighted to provide a conduit for their rage-fuelled accusations.
This, however, is stunning. The BBC Newsnight “policy editor” has just been tipped off, by two of the usual anonymous Blairite MPs, that Corbyn has stooped so low as actually to ask people to vote Labour, as part of his vile plot to seize power. I am not making this up. Chris Cook of Newsnight has actually just published this:
Two Labour MPs suggested to me he is trying to maximise the popular Labour vote to help bolster his argument for staying on in the event of a defeat.
How very dare he? Corbyn is trying to maximise the popular Labour vote? Surely that must be illegal or something?
The fact that Blairites now brief against Corbyn that he has the temerity to increase the Labour vote, after they shrunk it for two decades, is stunning evidence of how pointless and embittered the Blairites now are.
Most recent opinion polls show that Labour are already regularly above the 30.4% Ed Miliband’s Labour obtained at the last election, and on an upward trend. Which does not mean they are going to win, by any means. But it is very likely Corbyn will indeed increase the Labour vote, which is a rather awkward fact for the BBC and other MSM narrative.
The Tories will probably get their Pyrrhic victory in England and Wales on June 8th, but the harsh reality of Brexit is going to send their popularity plummeting with extraordinary speed. I have no personal doubt that this will lead to Scottish Independence becoming a fact within the next three years. I also hope that Jeremy Corbyn stays on to complete the task of purging Blairite influence and giving the people of England and Wales the chance of a political alternative that respects human decency.