by Martin Odoni

The harrowing news of the London Bridge Attacks on Saturday has meant that the 2017 General Election campaign will probably be most remembered as the ‘Terrorism Election’, coming as they did less than two weeks after the Manchester Arena Bombing. I am genuinely worried that there may be more attacks planned for Election Day tomorrow. Speaking for myself, I submitted my postal vote over a week ago, so I should be safe, but to everyone reading this, I ask that you please take extra care when at the polling stations, as they are an obvious target.

I should emphasise at this juncture that paranoia about terrorism is not really merited; the odds remain far shorter on dying in this country on the roads than in a terror attack. We have had three successful attacks in a little under three months, and the combined death toll is below forty. Nearly forty too many of course, but in a population of over sixty-four million, it is a really low proportion, so do get out and vote. Just be careful; it can hardly hurt to do so.

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Please do vote though. For one very important reason; –

The Labour Party go into tomorrow with a genuine hope that simply was not there a month or so ago. The polls are now far closer than they were. But I fear another let-down when the exit polls are announced at 10pm tomorrow. I remember the disbelief I felt at the same time two years ago, when it was projected that the Conservatives were going to be nearly eighty seats ahead of Labour – a disbelief that gave way to despair as the night wore on and it became clear that they would in fact have an overall majority. This time around, for all that Labour have apparently closed the gap in popular support, I have grave doubts whether their support is distributed adequately beyond London to take enough seats under our benightedly obsolete electoral system. I also fear that many people who are genuinely thinking of voting Labour, but who are always taken in by the completely fictitious notion that Tory Governments run the economy better, will take fright at the crucial moment and vote for the Conservatives, somehow missing that all they can offer is more of the same shambolic cruelty.

I hope I am wrong. I hope the British people are capable of more courage and more critical thinking than that. So many people in this country have nothing left to lose worth keeping anyway.

Let the host of one of my favourite childhood television series say it for me; –

Treguard, the most democratic Dungeon Master of Knightmare Castle

Treguard, the most democratic Dungeon Master of Knightmare Castle

So vote Labour tomorrow. Vote for Jeremy Corbyn tomorrow.

by Martin Odoni

There are just six days until the General Election, and the Prime Minister’s already-shambolic campaign has been struck by two fresh, self-inflicted body-blows in about fifteen hours.

Last night, the United States President, Donald Trump, withdrew the USA from the Paris Accord on Climate Change. It was an outrageous decision that has received condemnation from all around the world. (It is genuinely disturbing to see Communist China, at least on this issue, actually showing greater honour and morality than the self-proclaimed ‘best country in the world’.)

Oddly, at a crucial stage of the Election campaign, this presented Theresa May with a real opportunity to demonstrate her vaunted ‘strong-and-stable leadership’, and to prove that Britain is not just an obsequious follower of the USA’s every whim. So naturally, May seized upon the opportunity, and did not add her name to a letter signed by other world leaders condemning Trump’s decision. Instead, she telephoned the President to tell him she was ‘disappointed’.

Wow. Effective. Really seizing the initiative there, no cowardly or feeble half-gestures from our nation’s inspirational leader, dear me, no.

Now I am not entirely convinced May even made the phone-call, but if we give her the benefit of the doubt on that, I am still led to ask, “So what?” What she said determines whether her response was strong, and it clearly was not. She is merely ‘disappointed’ in a decision that could ultimately devastate wide stretches of land across the surface of the Earth? Really? ‘Disappointed‘? Did she ‘shake her head in disapproval’ at the Rwandan Genocide?

‘Disappointment’ is yet another lazy, mechanical ‘get-out’ word, used as a substitute for expressing anger with an ‘ally’ when anger is merited.

May claims the letter was drawn up before she had had a chance to speak to Trump. I have no doubt of that; I expect it was originally drawn up around the time Trump was sworn into office, as the move was one of his Election promises, and other countries would have wanted to be ready for it. So May could easily have added her name to it any time she wished, simply by forwarding an electronic signature by e-mail. It can be done in seconds.

So, having probably cost the Conservative Party another point in the opinion polls by allowing herself to appear spineless over international affairs (not good when your main Election posture has been that you will be a ‘strong’ negotiator during withdrawal from the European Union), May needed Friday to be free of any more bumps-in-the-road.

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Enter Craig MacKinlay, Conservative MP for South Thanet. Now, the Tories appeared to have dodged a major bullet early last month, when the Crown Prosecution Service initially ruled that there would be no charges over the Tories’ Election Expenses Fraud. Smugly, and very deceitfully, May claimed in the aftermath of that announcement that this ruling meant that no one in the party at a constituency level had done anything wrong. That was categorically not the meaning of the CPS’ ruling, but more importantly, May overlooked one other detail; the ruling only applied to the rule-violation of the misuse of the Tory ‘Battle Bus‘ for local campaigning, while reporting it as a national expense. The individual case of the very bitterly-fought campaign for South Thanet was still being investigated separately.

Now – with truly agonising timing for the Tories – the investigation has been completed, and the CPS has found enough evidence to be confident of a successful prosecution. MacKinlay, his election agent, Nathan Gray, and a party activist called Marion Little, have all been charged with violating the Representation of the People Act of 1983.

I would just like to offer a mild observation at this point, with no implication intended. The timing of these charges is reminiscent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s bizarre, and as it turned out rather pointless, public declaration that it would re-open investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal just before the US Presidential Election back in the Autumn. I would certainly argue that there is more point to what has happened today, than what happened then, given there is apparently sufficient grounds this time to press charges. But even so, there are so many parallels between what it happening in Britain now and what happened in the USA last year that it is almost eerie.

MacKinlay’s alleged conduct is probably not May’s fault, and this is one occasion where her inability to control the Election campaign is not down to her own incompetence. But her rash and dishonest declaration that no one had done anything wrong is now likely to do her and her party yet more harm, with the Election now dead ahead. A declaration like that is usually a reputation-gamble. Given the savaging May’s reputation has already suffered over the last few weeks of campaign chaos, it could be argued that it was a small gamble to make. But it is not, because the destiny of 10 Downing Street is on the line as well right now. With Jeremy Corbyn and Labour closing rapidly in the opinion polls, and May’s entire campaign banking on the public perception of Tory competence, the final death of her reputation could also be the final death of her bid to remain Prime Minister.

After all, who would want a party in power that has shown itself to be both incompetent and, in all probability, corrupt?

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by Martin Odoni

It may take courage to become Prime Minister, but it also takes courage to do the things that will keep you there. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, today had a change-of-heart – I think correctly – over his previous decision not to take part in tonight’s televised leadership debate. Having announced his involvement, he then invited Theresa May to join the debate too. Did anyone fail to predict what May’s response would be?

May will run and hide. She will let the other leaders do all the talking.

The Conservative Party campaign has been so risk-averse so far that it is quite impossible to call it anything better than cowardly. One almost wonders whether May would refuse to do interviews if they require a prior journey across a road, for fear of being run over. The ludicrous upshot of the safest-options-at-all-times approach, designed to hold onto the lead the Tories had at the start of the campaign and nothing more, is that it runs completely contrary to its own message. May has interminably bored the nation to tears with claims to being a “Strong & Stable” leader, and a Corbyn premiership being the doorway to a “Coalition of chaos“. She claims only she has the authority to negotiate effectively with continental leaders as Britain negotiates its withdrawal from the European Union.

But more and more, it is becoming impossible to miss the absurd disconnect between May’s mechanical words and her insulating actions. If she is strong and Corbyn is chaotic, why will she not debate him? If she is so strong, she will surely be able to outwit and outbattle a chaotic weakling at the despatch box? If she is so stable, how come she and her fellow Tories have made most of the real ‘car-crash’ mistakes over the last five weeks? If she is so stable, why does she keep making policy U-turns, including on Manifesto pledges before the General Election has even arrived?

From all this, the follow-up question is inevitable; if a leader is not willing to debate a mere six other Britons, how can she be ‘Strong & Stable’ enough to be trusted with the task of negotiating with the leaders of twenty-seven other countries? If courage is truly the strength it is generally held to be, why is it conspicuously absent from the deeds of a leader who is supposed to be ‘strong-and-stable’?

May’s excuse for not taking part is that she believes a politician’s job during an Election campaign is not to stand on stage and argue with other politicians. Instead, she claims, it is to get out and meet people, knocking on doors and engaging in doorstep conversations. There are at least four reasons why this is a flat-out and very obvious lie; –

Firstly, the Tory campaign has been repeatedly and rightly mocked very widely for its persistent over-orchestration, which has actually been even worse than it was under David Cameron in 2015. The attempts to keep random members of the public and ‘non-approved’ journalists from getting near to May have extended as far as locking some members of the press in another room while the Prime Minister talked to pre-vetted people (an action I am not even sure was legal; what if there had been a fire?).

Secondly, no one is suggesting May should do the televised debate instead of door-knocking. While they cannot both be done simultaneously, in a five-week campaign, there should be no difficulty setting aside time separately for each activity. It is hardly as if the televised debate is going to last the full remaining week of campaign-time (I am heroically resisting the temptation to add that it often seems like a week listening to May speaking for an hour… oops, looks like I said it anyway).

Thirdly, most of the questions in the televised debates are asked by members of the public. Does it really make that much difference if they are asked in a television studio and not on a doorstep?

Fourthly, I would be more than a little surprised, after the debate closes, were I to learn that May had spent that whole of that time talking to voters on the doorstep, and not perched on a settee, watching other leaders ‘squabbling’ on TV. But for her excuse to have any traction, door-knocking while the debate is going on is precisely what she would have to get out and do.

In short, Theresa May is terrified that she will lose in a public debate with Jeremy Corbyn.

May may JC will

May’s cowardice is not only a bad move strategically, given the dismal recent polling news for her party, who clearly could do with something positive to happen for them to stop the rot. It is also bad on democratic principle. Not only because it adds both accountability and knowledge of a candidate to the democratic process. The modern British public are often accused of being ‘apathetic‘ to and ‘disengaged’ from politics. Probably true, and it is spoken of as an indictment of the public. I, however, see it more as an indictment of modern politicians, and May’s behaviour would demonstrate one of those failings. She is Prime Minister of (what just barely passes for) a democratic country, a country where the politicians serve and are answerable to the people. Yet May has demonstrated throughout this campaign that she will not answer to them.

This shows why the criticism of the British public as ‘apathetic’ is not altogether fair. After all, how can the public possibly be expected to engage with democratic politics, when the most powerful democratic politician in the country will not engage with the public?

I doubt Theresa May, a woman of absolutely no principles, cares one jot about the moral duty. My hope therefore is that next week she is punished for her strategic foolishness instead.

by Martin Odoni

Without wishing to get too excited too quickly, I thought I should leave this here. The polling company, YouGov, are actually predicting that the Conservative Party will fall sixteen seats short of an overall majority in the House of Commons! You read that right, everyone, the latest projection is a Hung Parliament. From a twenty-plus-point lead for the Tories about five weeks ago, to a Hung Parliament!

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We need to recognise that a lot can happen in the eight-and-a-bit days before the General Election, that it is only one poll, and that there are substantial uncertainties surrounding the data. But if this projection proves anywhere near correct, then the fightback by the Labour Party has been unprecedented, and this Election is shaping up to be one of the biggest electoral turnarounds of all time.

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by Martin Odoni

Well, the televised leadership “debate“, or at least the nearest equivalent that Theresa May had sufficient courage to submit to, on Channel 4 is over. Both she and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, answered questions from the audience, moderated by Faisal Islam, and then faced a grilling from the nation’s most brutal interrogator, Jeremy Paxman.

Corbyn took first turn, and was very relaxed and accomplished during the audience Q & A. It was a fair bit tougher for him during the Paxman interview, predictably enough, and I did notice Corbyn getting a little evasive, especially on the matter of nuclear weapons. However, no matter how nastily Paxman asked the questions, there did seem to be a certain futility about a lot of them. Questions about the Falklands War, for instance, or the diplomatic nicety of addressing delegates from Hamas as, “my friends”, seemed very in-keeping with the rather woolly-minded obsession in the mainstream media at the moment with things Corbyn said in the 1980’s. I hate to draw attention to this point, media people, but the 1980’s have very definitely not stretched all the way to the year 2017, and many issues of the time are long settled. Yes, they include the Falklands War. And the Irish Republican Army for that matter. Fussing about the politics of the 1980’s during the 2017 General Election would be a little like fussing about the politics of the Wall Street Crash during the Presidential Debates between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Equally, the very hypothetical, in fact specualtive, scenario Paxman put to Corbyn about “twenty minutes to order a drone-strike on someone planning a bombing” seemed ludicrously over-dramatic and specific. It seems a very James Bond film suggestion, and would probably never work in such a way in practice. If it was a question of national security being safe or otherwise in Corbyn’s hands, it seems very uneven that Paxman did not ask May, just for instance, why she let MI5 work with the Libyan Islamic Fighters Group in 2011 – the group with whom the Manchester Arena Bomber may have been working.

Overall, Corbyn came across positively. He kept his cool reasonably well, and seemed both affable and fairly sincere, and will have taken no political damage from the questioning at all. (Even opponents of Corbyn such as Alastair Campbell and Nigel Farage have admitted as such.)

As for May, her performance was not as awful as some are suggesting on social media, but it was still unambiguously weaker than Corbyn’s. She did okay during the audience Q & A, although she was needlessly evasive with the first couple of questions, while her repetitive use all the way through of the phrase, “Strong economy” showed that she is still completely incapable of speaking publicly without retreating into reflexive, robotic soundbites. She is the epitome of the over-trained politician. Thankfully, she never once said, “Strong and stable”, presumably because she realised that she would turn most of the audience against her the instant she did so. But all that has changed is the pet soundbite, and the new one is only half-different from the old one.

May’s subsequent performance against Paxman left a lot to be desired, at least early on. She was stammering and changing tack halfway through sentences quite frequently, and she committed one particularly silly gaffe that she was lucky Paxman did not pick up on, when he asked her if she accepted responsibility for her mistakes, and she said,

“I take responsibility for the decisions I make.”

The unwanted implication of giving this as an answer to that particular question is that May’s decisions are all mistakes. Had Paxman been really on the top of his game, I am sure he would have pursued that.

May also came across as rather silly when trying not to admit that she had changed her mind on leaving the European Union – she was originally opposed but is now in favour – by denying that she thinks it is a duff idea. If she really wants people to believe she is a ‘strong and stable’ leader (YAWN!), then she needs to stop flip-flopping while pretending to be consistent. From the list of very swift U-turns Paxman rightly presented her with, it is quite correct that he called her “a blowhard who collapses at the first sign of gunfire.” This description got probably the loudest ovation of the night from the audience, and that will be of concern at Tory Party HQ.

Theresa May blowhard

The Prime Minister, described by Jeremy Paxman as “a blowhard who collapses at the first sound of gunfire.”

May did finish fairly solidly though, although it was clear she was getting help from a jingoistic minority in the audience who were whooping and cheering any sign in her rhetoric of a two-fingered salute to the EU. It is very saddening to find that there are still large numbers of people in this country who are so easily impressed by such yobbish theatrics. But impressed they are, and their vocal support seemed to lift May enough to get her through to the close.

So, in all, another clear win for Corbyn, and he continues to hold the impetus and the initiative in the election campaign. Whether this leads to another boost in the polls for Labour, we shall have to wait and see. On the flip-side, May’s performance was shaky, but it was certainly not another disaster for the Tories, who may well be sighing with relief just at that small mercy. (Especially after the comical double-disaster for Michael Fallon over the weekend.) But even so, May still came off worse on the night. The ‘debate’ was not an outright fiasco for once in this abysmal excuse for a Tory election campaign. But even a less decisive loss is still another loss, and so there is hardly reason for the Conservative Party to break out the bubbly just yet.

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by Martin Odoni

HEALTH WARNING: BEWARE OF POSSIBLE SARCASM OVERDOSE

On Friday 26th May, the band Captain Ska, in association with The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, released a new single called Liar Liar.

Screenshot from 2017-05-29 14-26-32

It has so far been a great success, reaching number 10 in the Downloads Chart on iTunes. However, several radio stations, Capital FM and Heart, have skipped over the song when it would have been appropriate to play it on air.

The precise reason for this oversight has not yet been made clear, but one pretex-… er, I mean, entirely justified possible reason is concern over political neutrality. The content of the song is heavily critical of Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservative Government. Given the entertainment-only nature of these radio stations, it is perhaps understandable that their controllers would want to keep their broadcast content apolitical, especially with a General Election only eleven days away.

Now of course, this issue could lead to considerable unhappy pressure being applied to broadcasters, especially if the single continues to do well. And we would absolutely not want that to happen, now would we? I have concluded that the most reliable way of preventing such an inconvenience would be to reduce public exposure to Liar Liar. So I have decided to do my bit to help out. Therefore…

In the interests of political neutrality, it would be preferable if nobody clicked on the following link leading to the download page for the single on the Amazon website; –

This is the link you should not click on.

Also, may I request that no one follows this link to the corresponding download page on the iTunes website either?

You should not click on this link either.

Equally, political neutrality also requires that no one’s attention is brought to the video release of the single, which can be viewed on YouTube via this next link, which of course no one should click on either; –

Whoah! You should totally avoid this link like it leads to a 700-photo album of Katie Hopkins in a series of saucy poses.

And above all, can I please request that all readers share all the links on this page to their social media accounts. That way, everybody else they know will be made aware of which links not to click on, and can pass the information on in turn.

Thank you for your time and co-operation, everybody.

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by Martin Odoni

The details that have emerged about the Manchester Arena Bomber, Salman Abedi, seem to suggest that, in spite of the organisation’s self-aggrandising claims, he was probably not a member of Daesh (ISIS).

The first point that needs emphasising is that, as is so often the case with these forms of terrorism, the bomber was native to the country under attack. Indeed, Abedi was not only British, he was even native to Manchester itself, and lived just three miles from the Arena. The inevitable tidal wave of cries from the xenophobic right in the days after the attack to close the borders and throw out the refugees are therefore, once again, shown to be futile hate-speech. One of the worst examples of this I have seen is this meme on social media; –

Xenophobes taunt Manchester over the Arena Bombing

The xenophobic right think taunting a city while it is in mourning is suitable behaviour.

Taunting a city of people who are in mourning is an oddly British thing to do – just ask the people of Liverpool. But as much as this mentality is disgusting, it is also irrelevant; Abedi was not a refugee, and so turfing out refugees before Monday would have made not a jot of difference. The meme, in short, says far more about the insecurity and fear of the people who made it than it does about the terrorism situation. (It must be terrible to be a member of the Far-Right. To live a life so full of fear, and to be too weak-willed to resist that fear, must be a harrowing existence.)

The point has been made that Abedi’s family were refugees from the Libya of Muammar Ghaddafi. Yes, they were, but they were not the ones who carried out the bombing. So unless evidence is found that they helped Abedi with the attack, this is, again, irrelevant.

But back to the more immediate point, Abedi’s putative links to Daesh look doubtful. The only particular reason for assuming he had any is that he supposedly visited Syria a few weeks ago. But that is a pretty wild assumption, given there are plenty of other factions in the Syrian Civil War than Daesh.

Abedi’s family may have links to a jihadist group in Libya, called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and it is likelier to my mind that this is the faction that radicalised him; the LIFG is believed to have members in the Whalley Range area of Manchester. The important detail in that is that the LIFG is not an ally of Daesh. LIFG instead regards itself as an affiliate of ‘al-Qaeda’. I have said more than once in the past that the idea of ‘al-Qaeda’ being a single worldwide organisation is a bit of a nonsense. But insofar as the network exists, it is in fact an enemy of Daesh; –

An internal split developed in ‘al-Qaeda’s’ operations in Iraq and Syria during the so-called Arab Spring. The ‘al-Qaeda’ faction in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, broke off from ‘al-Qaeda-In-Iraq’ because its commander, Abu Mohammed al-Jalani, wanted to have a free hand in fighting the Syrian Government. When the ‘al-Qaeda’ supreme leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, gave his blessing to the split, the head of the Iraqi faction, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was so incensed that he revoked his oath of allegiance to Zawahiri, and declared his territory to be ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant’ (ISIS/ISIL) – or ‘Daesh’. Since then, the two Wahhabist armies have been permanently at loggerheads.

With this in mind, it seems unlikely that an apparent LIFG sympathiser – therefore an ‘al-Qaeda’ follower – would take orders from al-Baghdadi. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Abedi had changed sides of course, but if he really had joined Islamic State on his visit to Syria, it would be very interesting and informative to learn why he did so. Until such information comes to light, I am leaning away from the notion that Abedi was with Daesh.

There is one more aspect of the matter of Libya I want to discuss. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, voted against military action in Libya back in 2011.

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At that same time, the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, was Home Secretary. In that capacity, she was of course working directly with MI5. MI5, at the time, was helping the Libyan jihadists in the war with Ghaddafi, and had been doing so since at least 1996. See this from Mark Curtis; –

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Given the ‘al-Qaeda’ sympathies of the LIFG, it is a pretty big policy-swing in ‘The War On Terror‘ that Britain gave them support at all. This certainly underlines precisely what Corbyn was saying in his controversial speech on Friday. But there is a darker, more personal element in this. If, as seems likeliest, Theresa May was co-operating with the LIFG in 2011, while Corbyn was working to try and keep Britain out of Libya, and if, as also seems likeliest, Abedi really was an LIFG soldier, then May becomes (loosely) implicated in Monday’s attack. She is certainly more heavily implicated in that than Corbyn supposedly is (yeah, right) in Irish Republican terror. Now whether they feel Corbyn was guilty of IRA support or not, people have to recognise that that threat is largely a thing of the past. Whereas Wahhabist militancy is very much in the here-and-now, and the Prime Minister appears to have helped it grow. In that light, the British people have a very uncomfortable question to mull over ahead of the General Election; –

Just what evidence is there that Theresa May would be a better option for keeping Britain safe and secure than Jeremy Corbyn?

So far, I have seen precisely none.

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