by Martin Odoni

Labour centrists just cannot help themselves, can they? JK Rowling – she who has gained barely-explicable recognition as one of the world’s ‘great’ authors – last week described the current Labour Party as a ‘solipsistic personality cult’. (On that evidence, I am not even completely sure she understands what the word solipsistic means, only adding to my doubts about her status as an author.) Nick Cohen, the Guardian writer singly most unable to distinguish between a fairer world and a world torn apart by all-pervading warfare, added his own clamour of contempt a couple of days later, calling the Labour Party Conference, ‘The cult of St. Jeremy’.

The damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t quality of trying to please the so-called ‘centre-left’ – really just conservatives with somewhat queasier consciences – is brought most sharply into focus by how bizarrely unaware they seem to be of their own contradictory mindset. For almost two years, their overriding objection to Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was that, “He’s unelectable because he doesn’t engage with the electorate.”

Over the last few months, Corbyn has disproven that charge overwhelmingly, securing over forty per cent of the vote at the General Election in June, and the largest total vote-count for Labour since 1997. Even if that was still behind the Tories, one does not win that many votes by not engaging with the electorate on a large scale. Subsequent to the Election, Labour has led the Tories consistently in every opinion poll, so it was no ‘flash-in-the-pan’ moment either.

This is only underlined by the response to him by his supporters, of which there are not only millions around the country, but many more around the world. Witness the singing of the almost omni-present, “Ooooh, Jeremy Corbyn!” chant reportedly in the USA, Italy and Belgium, to see just how far and wide Corbyn has shown his power to engage.

The response of the Labour centrists? “It’s a cult! They think he’s a messiah! This is worship, not leadership!” etc.

Now, one could well argue that the public fascination with Tony Blair in the mid-1990’s was little different, and yet Labour centrists never offered any objection on that score. But that is not my point. At no stage do the centrists notice the inconsistency – make that the one-hundred-and-eighty-degree paradox – of their position on Corbyn in itself. Corbyn is unelectable because he somehow both ‘fails to engage with the public’ and ‘is the object of a personality cult’.

Step aside, Schrödinger’s Cat. Step aside, Schrödinger’s immigrant. We now have Schrödinger’s Labour leader. How can someone who does not engage with the electorate draw a large cult-following from the electorate?

22089816_873970782757373_6992395846040433592_n

The frustration of these contradictory insults is partly because, in truth, very, very few of Corbyn’s supporters see him as an ‘object-of-worship’ as such. They admire him for having the courage to smash the Overton Window of the last forty years and speak again ideas that were considered unthinkable thanks to Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch, and finally bring Keynesian social democracy back into the mainstream. Yes, there is affection for Corbyn, but for better or worse, it is the ideas he stands for that are important, and not just the man himself. Corbyn, it should be emphasised, is among the first to say that.

The chants of Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! seem as much to reassure him that he has far more support than would have seemed obvious for much of the last two years. Given the appalling hostility he has faced from both the media and his own Parliamentary Party during that time, supporters want him to keep his chin up and keep believing that he is doing the right thing. That is not ‘cultish’ behaviour, it is simply propping each other up around a shared idea; if you think about it, is that not sort of the point of political parties in the first place?

Support for Corbyn is therefore hardly a cult at all. But if that is how the centrists want to frame it, and supposing we humour them on that point for the time being, they still need to make up their minds; do they want a popular leader, or not? When they think Corbyn is not popular, they say he ‘does not engage the electorate’. When they think Corbyn is popular, they say he is ‘a cult-figure’. Corbyn must sigh at the end of every day; he might well win an Election very soon, but with the centrists, he cannot win at all. Should he become Prime Minister, they will simply move the goal-posts again, and complain that his majority would have been so much larger had he adopted a centrist platform.

But also, if ‘a cult’, as the centrists call it, is a bad thing, why did they spend nearly two years trying to get rid of Corbyn effectively on the grounds of him not being a cult-figure? If they now conclude that they were wrong about wanting a popular leader, they should at least have the courage to admit it.

Advertisements

by Martin Odoni

One of the most irritating refrains from the anti-immigrant/anti-Islam crowd over the last few years has been the attempt to justify hostility to Muslims by insisting it cannot be racism. The grounds for this claim is that “Islam is not a race”. Even the likes of Richard Dawkins was tweeting it a few years ago.

The sentence is technically true, but if you think about it, the distinction it draws is entirely a quibble. The hostility towards Muslims is still a form of ‘othering’ of a foreign culture. Furthermore, on hearing the word Muslim, the average white Anglo-Saxon Briton will picture something roughly along the lines of this; –

57_thehistoryofislam_saudi_terror_cartoon_75

The image is offensive, as it conflates Muslims with militant Islamists, but also because it is both sectarian and highly racial. In particular, it makes the classic mistake of assuming that Muslim is a synonym for Arab. In the real world, the proportion of Muslims worldwide who are Arabs is under fifteen per cent. As an example, perhaps the most extreme Islamic nation on Earth, the Shi’a Republic of Iran, is a Persian country, not an Arab country (although admittedly there is a very substantial number of Arabs living there). Most Muslims, incidentally, are Sunnis, not Shi’ites, another distinction many laymen in the UK fail to recognise. Only about twenty per cent of Muslims globally are Shi’ites.

So long as people associate a religion with a race, and more particularly with a racial caricature they hold in contempt, then hostility towards that religion is racism, and the religion’s unpleasant features are merely the pretext for racial feeling.

Where the hostility towards a religion is based on an informed aversion towards its teachings and philosophies, then one might argue that it is not racist; but only then if the same hostility is felt towards other religions with equally unpleasant laws. For instance, Christians in Britain First, such as Jayda Fransen, raise reasonable objections to some of the more blood-curdling passages in the Qur’an, but conveniently overlook – refuse to be drawn on – the horrific laws and commands of the God of the Old Testament. Why, if not because Christianity is ‘our’ country’s religion, whereas Islam belongs to ‘people from elsewhere’?

Whether the religion is specifically a race is therefore immaterial. Look at myself; I am a non-practicing Jew – part of Jewry but not of Judaism, entirely on the word of the ancient Prophet Ezra. You could argue that Jewry is not a race at all – Ezra’s somewhat arbitrary convention has it that it is a matrilineal ethnicity – but nobody in their right mind would argue that anti-Semitism is anything other than a form of racism.

I am largely dismissive of all religions to a greater or lesser extent, including Judaism – on analysis I find all the Abrahamic religions in particular very authoritarian and bloodthirsty – but I respect the right of others to worship in their own way, so long as they make no attempt to impose it on others. Islamophobes have no such ‘live-and-let-live’ outlook; not only do they hate the aggressive and bullying militants of Wahhabism, they hate anyone who is a Muslim at all. They cannot see the distinction; any Muslim is a Hollywood-style Arab caricature in their eyes.

What matters when identiying racism is not the doctrine, which is usually just the handy pretext for prejudice, it is the impulse that is driving it. That impulse is ugly, irrational, and hateful. Mere association with ancient texts from the Middle East does not create any fundamental difference to that impulse at all.

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.

GE2017

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.

theresa-may1

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?

Save

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!

DBGQi6BXoAYz6sr

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.

DBGt9RlXYAAu_nW

Save

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.

tm jmt

Save

Save