by Martin Odoni

Muslim scholar Salman Rushdie is mainly famous for being sentenced to death. In 1988, he wrote a novel called The Satanic Verses, which caused wide offence to many across the Islamic world. The following year, Rushdie became the subject of a Fatwa issued by the Clerical ruler of the Shi’a Republic of Iran, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. To date, it has still not been officially withdrawn.

I tried reading The Satanic Verses back in the 1990s, and to be honest, I was unable to finish it. I might cope with it better today, given I would understand many of the symbolic references in it now more than I did then. But nonetheless, I found the book to be a little like Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon, in that it is an overlong, uncompromisingly slow, and monotonous story that has received acclaim more for what it represents than for what it is.

The reason I mention the general ‘unreadability’ of Rushdie’s work is that I suspect his views are influential more because of his controversy, than because of his intellect. I am certainly not denying that Rushdie is a man of intellect, doubtless far greater than my own, but at the same time, that does not preclude a narrowness of perspective on his part. If he is controversial, the thinking seems to be, he must be ‘daring’, and he must have a perspective that is quite ‘outside-the-box’ in which everybody else’s thoughts are sealed.

However, Rushdie was making an appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher on Friday 15th of September, and one of the remarks he made suggested to me quite the reverse; that he is unimaginative, unquestioning of official narratives, and very conventional in his thinking.

It also made him sound quite absurd. Here is what he said, in reference to the defeat suffered by Hillary Clinton in last year’s US Presidential Election; –

“This problem where… there’s a section of the Left that wants the purest, more-snowy-than-driven-snow candidate… It’s not only a problem in this country. It’s a problem in England, where they want Jeremy Corbyn, who represents that ideal of ‘leftiness’, which can’t possibly be elected, or in France, the [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon people, who don’t want to vote for Macron, because he’s not purely left enough. And what all this does is to drive a wedge through which the right can come… We have to learn to distinguish between an imperfect friend and a deadly enemy.”

This is yet another example of centrists blaming the ‘real left’ for the accession to the US Presidency of Donald Trump. Not only is it incredibly patronising, it is quite a reversal of reality. Let us look closely at some of the real facts; –

Firstly, we can see on both sides of the Atlantic that the intolerance of a candidate outside a narrow ideological window is at least as prevalent in the centrist sphere as it is among real leftists. Furthermore, we see that the centrists are more willing to fight dirty to prevent or offload the outsider.

In the USA, the Democratic National Committee did all in its power short of breaking the letter of its own rules to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the party’s nomination last year. The Committee was clearly dead-set against Sanders from the start, even though he consistently polled more positively in the head-to-head ratings against Trump than Clinton did. While no particular law, or even party rule, had been violated by the Democrats, they had rigged the contest in every way they could get away with – from deliberately scheduling debates between the candidates at times unfavourable to Sanders, to arranging so few debates that Sanders had little exposure compared with his already-famous opponent, to bizarre anomalies in votecasing machine behaviour – in order to secure the nomination for their ideological ‘soulmate’, Clinton.

One example of how hideously, and even anti-Semitically, opposed to Sanders the DNC have been is in the area of official merchandise during last year’s Primaries. There was a wide range of pro-Clinton goods for sale with DNC approval, but nothing promoting Sanders. Indeed the only item with a Sanders image was a grotesque parody of a Nazi-Germany-style caricature, portraying him as a sort of ‘Jewish rodent’ – see the bottom picture below.

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As for in the UK, even before Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader two years ago, the Blairites in the Parliamentary Party were already plotting to overthrow him. Once it became clear that Corbyn was going to win, many Shadow Cabinet members from Ed Miliband’s time in charge publicly spat-their-dummies-out, stating that they would never serve in a Corbyn Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet. Within minutes of Corbyn being declared leader, Jamie Reed announced his own resignation from the Shadow Cabinet. All of this had happened before Corbyn had even been given a chance to get started. Then, the PLP attempted to remove him in a notorious ‘chicken coup‘ last summer, the details of which were forewarned in the media nearly two months beforehand, giving the lie to claims by the plotters that the coup was not premeditated or orchestrated. The use of the Brexit referendum vote as the pretext for the coup was absurd, given Corbyn had devoted more campaign time to promoting a Remain vote than any other Labour member. Even so, Corbyn won the leadership contest again, and generously offered an olive branch to those who had betrayed him, only for more back-stabs to follow after the New Year. Since Corbyn’s superb General Election campaign performance this year produced the shock result of a Hung Parliament, the back-stabbing has quietened down, but one can sense the resentment still simmering below the surface even now.

Both the Democrats during last year’s Primaries, and the Labour Party in both leadership contests won by Corbyn, had purged huge numbers of voters from their registers, the vast majority every time being those from the real left. (In 2015, this led to the grotesque absurdity of a left-wing writer and campaigner, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, being barred from voting in the Labour leadership contest, while a former Tory Cabinet Minister was allowed to proceed.)

On this evidence, Rushdie really needs to explain how he has concluded that the rejectionism and ‘ideological puritanism’ (for want of a better term) is more prevalent among those further-left than it is among the centrists. There is an ugly element in the Momentum movement that does seem to take confrontations with other factions in the Labour Party to a fanatical extreme, but that element is not in the majority by a long way, and one could well argue in any event that it is only giving the centrists a taste of the medicine dished out the other way for over thirty years. In Rushdie’s own terms, the centrists view Sanders and Corbyn as ‘imperfect friends’, and undermine them and reject them far more frequently than vice versa, to the undiluted benefit of conservatives. And yet Rushdie has no apparent condemnation to offer when that happens.

Secondly, it is a wild exaggeration to call either Sanders or Corbyn ‘pure left’. They are not. Corbyn’s philosophy, as I have pointed out more than once, lies somewhere on the theoretical boundary between socialism and social democracy. Sanders, while very left-wing by US standards and calling himself a socialist, is also a social democrat – a couple of notches to the right of Corbyn on the old-style political spectrum. In wider-world terms, Sanders is probably more a centrist than a leftist himself. It is only because of the ridiculously narrow-right-wing focus of the Overton Window of the last forty years that either of them is seen as a ‘hard-left Marxist’. It would be an interesting-but-difficult task to establish for sure, but it seems likely that most of their supporters would probably oppose a lot of genuine hard-left policies; for instance, I doubt they would be eager for total state-ownership of all industry, land being divided into communes, or the abolition of major private property.

So there is no great appetite for ‘puritanical leftism’ from ‘Corbynistas’ or ‘Bernie-Bros’. There is just a wish for the left to rediscover its ambition again, instead of continuing the pusillanimous compromises of ‘The Third Way’, which largely just boil down to giving the poor slightly more of the crumbs that fall off the dinner table of the rich.

Thirdly, the blame-shifting of Clintonites is just more of the usual centrist emotional blackmail: “Support us or it will be your fault when someone from the right wing gets in.” Surely, by the same reasoning, the centrists should have supported Sanders in the first place, given that he was doing better in the polls than Clinton? And is it not completely disingenuous of the centrists that they keep blackmailing and scaremongering the left into backing their candidates, only then to claim subsequently that the real left obviously cannot win because centrists are the only Democrats/Labourites who seem to win these days? A self-fulfilling prophecy, if ever there was one.

Fourthly, Rushdie’s claim that Hillary Clinton is an “imperfect friend” of the Sanders support-base is really quite insulting. She and her allies effectively cheated the real left support out of their candidate’s chances of taking the Democrat nomination. They frequently smeared and falsely-accused the Sanders supporters of violent or intimidating behaviour, and Clinton was simply not offering them anything very much that they wanted. Sanders’ policy platform did noticeably drag Clinton unwillingly to the left somewhat, but, despite the claims in her semi-fictional new book, she had no Wall-Street-unfriendly ideas of her own. Why should Sanders supporters see her as a ‘friend’ of any degree of perfection, let alone reward her with their support, after her dishonesty, high-handedness, half-hearted approach to progressivism, and insulting accusations?

And finally, Rushdie insists that the sort of socialist/social-democratic philosophy that Sanders and Corbyn (and Jean-Luc Mélenchon) stand for “can’t possibly be elected”. He makes no coherent case for why anyone should assume that that is true. The odds are probably against it, I would agree, more due to opposition from influential rich and power-broking factions, especially in the media, but Rushdie argues that it is not even possible. That is ridiculous in any circumstances. In the current circumstances, with Corbyn’s Labour ahead in every UK opinion poll since mid-June, and Sanders the most popular politician in the USA by a country-mile, Rushdie’s assertion seems mildly deranged.

Of course, while Rushdie’s assertion is divorced from reality, it is very, very familiar, and this is why I say that he is unimaginative and unquestioning of official narratives; he is simply restating the perceived wisdom that has dominated the mainstream media and careerist-politician-speak on both sides of the Atlantic over the last two-and-a-half years. Both Sanders and Corbyn have been repeatedly written off as too old, too obscure, too obsolete, too eccentric, too naive, too unrealistic, and too much the outsiders. Rushdie has been so deafened by this official noise that he is unable to hear the news of what is really happening. Rushdie has failed to notice that Labour registered about forty-one per cent of the popular vote under Corbyn at the General Election in June, forced a Hung Parliament, and have been in front in the polls consistently since just a few days afterwards. Rushdie also failed to notice that Sanders closed a sixty-point gap behind Clinton to just two points, and was consistently rated above Trump in the head-to-heads, and so would surely be President by now, if only the DNC had allowed the nomination contest to unfold fairly and without interference.

Rushdie does not think outside the box at all, at least not when it comes to the struggles within the left. Instead, he toes the line of powerful interests, regurgitating the narrative that the media, and the Wall-Street-loyal elite within the Democratic Party, want everyone to believe. He does far worse than confuse an imperfect friend with a deadly enemy; he confuses a slightly-less-ruthless enemy with an imperfect friend, and mistakes centrism for some kind of ‘natural default’ in politics. And above all, he subscribes to the common fallacy that democracy means the electorate must follow the politicians, rather than the politicians having to offer the electorate what they want.

Centrism, forever patronising both the right and the left with exhortations to “grow up” and to try and be “realistic”, has some growing up of its own to do. Partly, it must learn that realism involves assessing what is happening in the physical world, rather than focusing on its assumptions about what ‘should’ happen. And more particularly, it has to find the maturity to recognise when it is throwing stones in a glass house.

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by Martin Odoni

Roll up! Roll up! Have I got a deal for you?!

If you are looking for a holiday to the Bahamas, and you have slightly more than enough money to afford it, but want a bit more left over afterwards, this is your lucky day.

Because I am prepared to offer you an arrangement where you give me all of that money, and in return, with absolutely no strings attached, I will give you slightly less than enough to afford the holiday back, and then you can try and borrow the rest of the cash off of a few religious fanatics from Northern Ireland.

How does that sound? What a great offer, right?

So far, I have had one enthusiastic customer taking me up on this generous deal – I shall refrain from revealing her identity except to let you know that her name is Theresa – but I am sure that plenty of you lucky people will leap at this chance too. I mean, you were happy enough to take up an offer of £350 million for the NHS last summer….

Theresa May has committed the biggest blunder in British political history. That is not an exaggeration. I have thought hard about this over the last forty-odd hours and, terrible though some were, I can genuinely think of no other that was this bad. She needlessly called a General Election late in April, in an attempt to dig a very deep hole in which to bury Jeremy Corbyn. But when she tried to push him into the hole, he simply stepped to one side, causing May to over-balance and fall into it herself. Somehow, from a starting lead of twenty points in the polls, facing a deeply divided and dysfunctional Opposition Labour Party, and with the confident expectation of winning a one-hundred-seat majority in the House of Commons, May managed to lose the smaller majority she already had, and is now trapped in a Hung Parliament.

With this mistake, Theresa May has turned herself into the greatest laughing stock in Europe. While polite noises of concern have been expressed by leaders in the European Union over the fresh confusion Thursday’s Election result is likely to cause, there have also been plenty of contemptuous noises. One cannot help suspecting that the contemptuous noises – especially from Radoslaw Sikorski or Guy Verhofstadt – are the more truthful ones.

Brexit is becoming more and more a form of self-harm

A Dutch cartoon highlighting how the British, and in particular Theresa May, are becoming increasingly self-destructive.

The whole pretext for calling the Election was that May wanted a proper mandate for negotiating withdrawal from the EU. This was not as untrue as it might appear. There were a few reasons for it, but it would genuinely have been useful to her to have a larger majority for the negotiations, but not for the reasons she presented. She made it sound like she wanted it to increase her credibility when dealing with EU leaders. In truth, it was more about trying to protect herself against rebellions by Euro-skeptic MPs in her own party, should the eventual deal extracted from the EU prove not to their liking.

But the reality is that, whatever the reason for calling the Election, May has simply wasted six weeks of precious negotiation time, and surrendered three more years of governing with a small-but-workable majority, just to be hamstrung by operating a minority Government propped up by a party of homophobic sectarian terrorists.

(NOTE: If any supporters of the Democratic Unionist Party happen to read this, and find the terrorist references objectionable, I feel it only fair to point out that they have never hesitated to call Sinn Fein ‘part of the Irish Republican Army’. Given the overlap between the DUP and Loyalist Paramilitaries in Ulster, especially the Ulster Defence Association, is at least as great as the overlap between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, it really is time Unionist fanatics grew up a bit and accepted that they cannot have it both ways.)

I struggle to think of a more meagre return on an investment in the history of British Elections than what May has sifted from this one. So when she arrives at the negotiating table, if the EU delegates want to push her around, she has handed them fantastic material with which to do so.

As for May’s prospective alliance with the DUP, it is unlikely to remain stable for long at all, given genuine differences between the two parties on social policy, and on leaving the EU. The DUP want a ‘soft Brexit’, retaining access to the single market and keeping the Irish border open, whereas the Tories, perhaps at the insistence of the lunatic, UKIP-bordering fringe in the House of Commons, are looking for a total severance from the Union.

Furthermore, with the DUP’s crazed attitudes to homosexuality, climate change, creationism, and abortion, soft-right Conservatives will really struggle to stomach an alliance. There are already very public rumblings of alarm from some of the (relatively) moderate members of the Parliamentary Conservative Party.

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The unhappiness of Tory MPs about working with the DUP will be heightened by the narrow margin of some of their constituency victories in the Election. The swing towards Labour across the UK was very dramatic, and even in seats the Tories retained, the winning margin at the ballot box was often slight. The most prominent example of that was Amber Rudd in Hastings, who only retained her seat after two nail-biting recounts. But she was by no means the only one to survive a close shave. A range of Tory MPs are now only in place by knife-edge margins, and none of them will therefore be enthusiastic about supporting any controversial policies. But given the throwback nature of the DUP, it is hard to imagine any policies May can come up with that will simultaneously be uncontroversial enough for her own backbenchers while still being hard-line enough for the DUP to see as worth the bother of continuing to support her.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, May’s handling of her chosen approach has done her and her party no favours. While it is understandable that she sees an alliance with the DUP as the only way of establishing some kind of majority – it is objectively true – she really needs to be more careful about how she speaks about it. On announcing that she was looking to form the alliance on Friday, she dropped yet another clanger by referring to the DUP as “friends”.

Given the endless tidal waves of accusation aimed at Jeremy Corbyn over once, purely as a diplomatic nicety, referring to Hamas as “friends”, it is frankly nauseating that May has not been taken equally to task in the media over referring to the paramilitary-allied DUP in the same terms. This is doubly unsettling given what a serious danger Brexit poses to Northern Ireland and the peace process there.

The alliance itself also creates problems for Northern Ireland. Its legality may be in doubt, due to the Tories’ own ‘English-Votes-for-English-Laws’ rules, and due to the Good Friday Agreement’s requirement for non-partisan British governance within Ulster. For the DUP to exercise an influence on Westminster’s administration that Nationalist or Republican parties, such as the Social Democratic Labour Party or Sinn Fein, do not is a probable violation.

There are so many obstacles, both to setting the alliance up, and to maintaining it, that I find it very hard to believe that May’s new Government will see in the year 2018. If there is, as I currently suspect, a second General Election to happen later this year, I can only see the Labour Party winning it. Theresa May has been made to look hopelessly inadequate, while her party has no serious alternative candidates to put forward to replace her, and their public image is already being further-harmed by association with the DUP. Meanwhile, Labour’s support is continuing to surge without a post-Election pause for breath. If May’s new Government has to resign, Jeremy Corbyn will, after so many people insisted he could not, become Prime Minister.

Here are a few other, miscellaneous conclusions I have drawn from an extraordinary Election Night; –

1) YouGov should abandon its usual model of polling and focus on the one they used for the Brexit Referendum. It correctly projected all the way through that Leave would win, and it was also the first model to predict a Hung Parliament for the General Election. The final poll of YouGov‘s standard model, by contrast, proved to be hopelessly wrong.

2) The Hung Parliament could embolden a lot of MPs in the UK who have long been much too afraid of upsetting right-wing press barons like Rupert Murdoch. (This failure-of-influence is probably why Murdoch apparently threw a childish hissy-fit when the BBC/Sky Exit Poll was announced). For Jeremy Corbyn to run the popular vote so close after two years of unending smears by the Tory red-tops and even the supposedly ‘liberal-left’ media like The Guardian, it is becoming obvious that the influence of mainstream newspapers on public opinion is on the wane.

3) Following on from 2), my hypothesis when Corbyn became Labour leader was that social media was beginning to erode the grip of the traditional press. The  General Election appears to confirm this. Not only is social media effective as a high-speed ‘debunking’ tool, it is also far better at getting through to and mobilising younger voters. When it comes to tapping the potential of the Internet, Corbyn’s Labour (especially support groups like Momentum) appear to be streets ahead of the Tories, whose campaigning style in cyberspace seems not to have advanced since about 2010.

4) A lot of Blairites and ‘soft-left’ Parliamentary figures in the Labour Party have not only been made to apologise to Jeremy Corbyn – and what delicious fun it has been watching them squirm – they are also coming to realise that a very central article-of-faith they have followed for half their lives and more was wrong. They have insisted for years and years that old-style Labour policies will never chime with the British Electorate anymore. But, while Labour still have work to do before they can secure an actual majority in the House of Commons, the Blairites have nonetheless seen that the ‘Real Left’ does have considerable appeal to the public. The last General Election in which Labour secured over forty per cent of the popular vote was Tony Blair’s first as leader in 1997. In Blair’s two subsequent victories, in Gordon Brown’s defeat in 2010, and in Ed Miliband’s humiliation in 2015, the total Labour vote declined sharply and consistently. Thanks to Corbyn’s invigorating campaign, for the first time since 1997, Labour’s vote-share has gone up again, nay, surged up, from a dismal twenty-nine percent to over forty per cent in the space of just two years. In terms of vote-count, Corbyn’s performance is even more startling. With nearly thirteen million votes going to Labour, in most Elections he would have had plenty to secure Number 10 there and then. All of which means the Blairite ideologues have a toe-curling question to ponder; just how much potential support have these fools spurned over the last fifteen years or so, by ignoring the young and disengaged, and insisting on trying to poach Tory voters with half-baked offers of queasy-conscience neoliberalism instead? How many supporters might they have earned by offering a more daring policy-platform? Or indeed, how much better might they have done by trying to engage with the public in a less-television-centred way? Now in fairness, Blairite campaigning approaches worked in the infant age of the modern Internet, because social media still did not really exist back in the late-1990’s. Looking good on television and sounding suave on the radio were still sufficient. But that mainstream-only style is now obsolete, and until Thursday night, the Blairites appear to have missed that development completely.

5) Corbyn’s own campaign-style, in some respects, is even more old-fashioned, but unlike the Blairites’ mainstream-media-dominated approach, it remains effective. Corbyn was going on rallies, talking to people face-to-face, getting on the soapbox and addressing crowds in their thousands. In short, he showed up. He was there in person, which is always good politics. That side of his approach is no different from the campaigning style of politicians from the distant past, such as Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. But for all its oldness of style, it still works consistently, and probably always will. Indeed, hand-in-hand with modern social media technology, providing live video streams of big events, and avalanches of digital photos that can be shared around the world within seconds, it is probably more effective now than ever. By contrast, radio-and-TV-only skills are really quite hit-and-miss these days, because a lot of the electorate will only have passing contact with them.

6) The main argument for retaining the hopelessly-outdated First-Past-The-Post system for British General Elections is that they are more likely to “create strong Government” than Proportional Representation systems. However, the post-Credit Crunch era in Westminster has given the lie to that once and for all. There have been three General Elections in just the last seven years. Two of them have led to Hung Parliaments, and one of them led to an overall majority of just twelve – with the Prime Minister therefore left at the mercy of the extremist fringe of the governing party. So clearly it is high time to dump the assumption that the older system protects the Government from instability, because the facts do not substantiate it.

7) My my, but Tony Blair has been awfully quiet, has he not? Has there been some development from this General Election upon which he now finds it embarrassing to reflect? I wonder what that might be…?

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No, nothing springs to my mind either. So maybe Blair is just too busy preparing his defence case for when he is standing in the dock in the Hague in the fairly near future?

by Martin Odoni

The televised leaders debate last night was too chaotic and cluttered again, and it often got to the point that the opposing participants were talking over each other so much that no one could be heard. I was originally in favour of enlarging these debates to include more parties, but I am starting to wonder whether it makes the process a little pointless. All the candidates to a greater or lesser extent were repeatedly guilty of speaking out-of-turn, interrupting, and not respecting the others’ space to speak. If candidates will not follow the rules and let others finish speaking, there will have to be a reassessment of the format for these events in future. One option the producers could try is to shut down all the microphones bar the one of the candidate whose turn it is to speak.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the performances; –

Paul Nuttall – – – The UKIP leader continues to say stupid things, even repeating stupid things he said at the ITV debate, without apparently realising they were stupid. Someone needs to sit him down and explain to him that the Australian Immigration System will not reduce the number of incomers, as the points system lets in more per head of population than Britain’s current set-up. Also, does Nuttall really not recognise the absurdity inherent in saying, “[Donald Trump] is the leader of the free world whether we like it or not”? If Trump leads a ‘free world’ – of which Nuttall presumably imagines Britain is a part – how can we not have a say in who the leader is? Nuttall also did himself no favours at all with an inaccurate cheap shot at Corbyn about Hamas.

Caroline Lucas – – – The joint-leader of the Green Party spoke well again, sounding a lot more positive than most of the others, and she avoided making any silly remarks. I am just starting to wonder whether there is any point in her being there though, as most of what she says echoes the Labour and Liberal Democrat positions very closely, and as Green is the smallest party, it would have to be the one that gives way to reduce the numbers and confusion on-stage.

Tim Farron – – – The LibDem leader was probably the top performer on the night again. He did well in both large debates, although it has to be conceded that, as no one else was targeting him at all, he was a lot freer to go on the attack than some others were. His ‘Bake-off’ line at the end to take a swipe at Theresa May was very funny.

Angus Robertson – – – The deputy leader of the Scottish National Party started somewhat poorly, sounding like his every word was read off a teleprompter. But once he got past the early nerves, he improved dramatically and began to speak far more assertively and effectively. Unlike Nicola Sturgeon on the ITV debate a couple of weeks ago, Robertson remembered at all times that he was speaking to the whole of the UK and not just to Scotland, which meant he was a lot less prone to the appearance – fair or otherwise – of drifting into irrelevance.

Jeremy Corbyn – – – The Labour leader did reasonably well, given he was, as one might expect, targeted by the others an awful lot. He seemed to struggle at certain points, especially on the subject of the renewal of Trident, due to being constantly interrupted, especially by Robertson. But Corbyn can hardly really complain about that as he did his share of interrupting too. I doubt this performance in itself will have gained him significant ground on May in the polls, although he may gain a point automatically by virtue of simply being the one who had the guts to show up.

Leanne Wood – – – This seemed like an uncharacteristically tetchy performance from the leader of Plaid Cymru, sometimes bordering on rude. Maybe she was still feeling irked at Nuttall for repeatedly getting her name wrong during the ITV debate. Wood’s performance was not bad as such, but you get the feeling that her normally-cooler head was needed at times, and it just never quite seemed to be there. As a result, she was as prone to interrupting and speaking out-of-turn as anyone, and one or two of her answers sounded somewhat ratty. Unlikely to have won too many fresh admirers on this occasion.

Amber Rudd – – – It was quite wrong that the Conservative leader was not there, of course, but I will come to that later. Looking at Rudd’s performance, she cannot be faulted on her speaking voice, which is certainly stronger and less monotonous than ‘Blowhard-the-U-Turn-Queen’s’. But the content of what Rudd said was shaky, and she did drop a couple of real clangers during the discussion. Her most disturbing transgression was dressing up Britain’s amoral sales of weapons and aircraft to the House of al-Saud as somehow ‘defending Britain’. Meanwhile, her near-obsessive pursuit of Jeremy Corbyn throughout the debate turned some of her answers into non-sequiturs, as she tried to twist every question into an attack on Labour. Rudd’s insistence on soundbiting repetitively about a ‘Magic Money Tree’ (highlighting the economic illiteracy of her own party) probably did the Tories no favours, and she came across as a little down-the-nose and obstreperous throughout. Allowing for the fact that her father had passed away at the start of the week however (that she was sent to the debate as the Tories’ ‘sacrificial lamb’ only underlines how frighteningly lacking Theresa May is in human feeling), Rudd held it together quite well. She was a bit blundery, and used some very odd metaphors – someone needs to explain to her the rules of Monopoly – but a bit like May’s scratchy performance on Monday, at least it was not an outright disaster. Given the month the Tories have had, that may be a relief to them in itself. But what a sad reflection it is on their campaign that ‘not-an-outright-disaster’ could be seen as one of its high points.

blowhard uturnqueen

Moving on, I discussed May’s absence from the debate at some length yesterday, but I would like to draw attention to a video that has gone viral on social media. It was created by Momentum from an excerpt from a press conference May gave yesterday evening in Bath. It can be accessed via their Facebook page here.

The horrendous forced laugh that May put on in response to the opening question from Faisal Islam was actually disturbing. It was reminiscent of the notorious Natalie Portman laugh at the 2011 Golden Globes. Islam asked her, if May is strong and Corbyn is weak, why was Rudd at the debate instead? May followed up her laugh with a totally evasive answer, layered over with another of her favourite robotic catchphrases of “best possible deal for Britain”. The look in her eyes as she spoke was one of mortifying terror.

It shows what an unbridled pig’s breakfast that the Tories in general, and May in particular, have made of their campaign, that even the BBC’s Chief Tory-with-a-press-pass, Laura Kuenssberg, can no longer tolerate trying to defend it. When she asked the second question, she simply re-iterated the first one, suggesting flat out (and correctly) that May is frightened of going head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn.

Watching this moment, it is clear that May was unable to stop fidgeting throughout. Her response, in a voice that sounded just a little too high-pitched and a bit too fast, was one of the most profoundly stupid, self-undermining remarks I have ever heard from a Tory politician – and the competition for that title is fierce. May said that taking questions from members of the public is part of the electoral process, hence why she was at this event in Bath, and not going to attend the televised debate.

The reason this answer was so stupid should not need pointing out, but just to be on the safe side, I shall explain; the questions at the televised debate were all going to be asked by members of the public. There was also a likelihood that far more members of the public would get to see the televised debate than to see this press conference in Bath. Furthermore, the implication was rather insulting to Amber Rudd; if televised debates are really so unimportant, why is it fair to waste Rudd’s time by making her take part in them?

May then followed up this imbecilic moment with a very nervous and painfully-unfunny attempt at a wisecrack about Corbyn not attending the ITV debate. The response of the ‘audience’ was so quiet, you could have heard an amoeba clearing its throat in embarrassment.

I honestly get the impression that May is not only scared, she appears to be suffering from hyper-tension. She thought this campaign was going to be a breeze, but it has turned into a horrible, exhausting struggle, one in which she has lost every battle that she has been made to fight. The news in the opinion polls has been increasingly unhappy for the Conservatives over the last three weeks, and there now appears to be a serious danger that they are going to lose seats at the General Election next week. Perhaps even fall into a Hung Parliament. Given that May had three more years available before she had to call the Election, were the outcome to be a Hung Parliament, or even a reduced majority, this campaign would have to go down as one of the greatest-ever backfires in British politics.

The stress and strain of being in a situation that May does not know how to control is clearly weighing very heavily on her, and it looks like she is not quite coping.

I am not making fun here, by the way. I am no stranger to the misery of stress and depression, and to my surprise I was starting to feel oddly sorry for May as I watched the video. But at the same time, her misery is not exactly what I would call ‘undeserved’. She has brought it on herself by her mixture of hubris and cowardice. And if her inability to cope with the demands of an Election campaign, in which she had every advantage it was possible to have at the outset, is anything to go by, just how ‘Strong-&-Stable’ can her leadership really be, should she remain Prime Minister? Just how effectively can she negotiate a deal with the European Union? (Not that the Prime Minister will really be doing that; these details are sorted out by civil servants and lawyers, the politicians will largely just sort out the press conferences.)

May knows that she is in trouble. Her party has suffered more damage this week, and the latest YouGov poll from last night puts the lead over Labour down to just three points.

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May’s campaign has been about her, not the Conservative Party. “Vote for me!”, not “Vote for us!”. But at the same time, she has desperately tried to avoid engagement with the media or the public except at the longest-of-arm’s-lengths. Therefore, she has tried to make the campaign into a kind of ‘personality-cult’ of herself without offering any of her real personality – I am generously assuming there is far more to her than we see from her public image – for people to follow. (This makes it doubly confounding that she sent someone else to debate in her place last night; if the Election campaign is about May, it needs to be May who speaks for it.) So the Tory campaign has inevitably been a whole lot of nothing, apart from ill-defined soundbites talking up May’s own capacity to lead, which in this isolation just sound horribly superior.

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Contrast that barrenness with Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, who have been out-and-about, talking to everybody they can, taking every opportunity to engage with the wider public, full of energy and ideas, not afraid to talk about policies in detail, and always bringing a firm and consistent message that their campaign is about the people and not about any one man or woman, or even one political party. Now some parts of this are a good deal less substantial than others, sure, but the point is that it does engage people, not least because it gives people something positive to hope for, other than just someone who will negotiate ‘Brexit’. People are given something to get hold of when they listen to Corbyn.

May, being a sort of ‘dull-but-sound’, pre-manufactured politician, has nothing to compete with that. She often looks very uneasy when mixing with people, at least when it is not a stage-managed meeting, she shows mediocre energy, lacks sufficient principle to realise when she is doing something immoral, is easily frightened into backing down subsequently, and is too scared of verbal slips to risk articulating policy details. The result is a campaign of chaos and public alienation. Her assumption that this was an Election she could win without even trying has made her vulnerable, while her innate powerlessness to change the tide has put her under growing strain.

May knows that, if the current trend continues, then by the Election next week, Labour may well have enough support to guarantee a Hung Parliament. Then, all that talk of a ‘Coalition of Chaos’ is sure to rebound on her, as she looks around desperately for a partner to prop up her Government, while her own backbenchers start wondering why they are making do with a leader who could not win a majority from a campaign in which she started with a twenty-plus-point advantage.

She is entitled to feel overwhelmed. I know I would in her shoes. But then, recognition of the brutality of politics is precisely why I have never seriously considered standing for election (many people have suggested to me that I should). I truly do not believe I could cope with the hostility. I therefore do not condemn May for struggling to cope, but I should point out that my inability on that score is why I am not a politician.

If May has that same inability, why is she in Government at all?

by Martin Odoni

I moved from Glasgow to Manchester in May 1996. That was just one month before the Provisional Irish Republican Army bombed Corporation Street, wrecking a dozen city centre buildings and partially destroying the Arndale Centre.

What happened at the Manchester Arena on Monday night was clearly far worse, but having attended the Vigil in Albert Square on Tuesday evening, and then walked along the rebuilt Corporation Street up to the police cordon starting at The Printworks, my thoughts were inevitably taken back to that startling morning twenty-one years ago. Not least because the cordon appears to have been set up less than thirty metres from where the IRA bomb went off. (Coincidence I am sure.)

The cordon on Corporation Street.

The National Football Museum centre, the Printworks on the right edge of the picture. Victoria Railway Station is the building covered in tarpaulin. The cordon keeping people away from the MEN Arena starts here. The roof of the Arena can be glimpsed in the distance to the left of the Museum.

The IRA were not completely without scruples, and to their (slight) credit, they did tend to give evacuation warnings before triggering a bomb. Hence, even though it was the largest bomb ever detonated on the British mainland in peacetime, no one died in the 1996 attack. Truth to tell, while most Mancunians felt angry and violated by the attack, and there were some serious injuries, it was more a matter of hurt pride than an all-out atrocity. It can also be a bit of a shock to look back to pictures from before the attack and be reminded of how different, ultilitarian, and even shabby the affected zone looked back in the early-1990’s, when compared to how it appears today. So you could almost argue that the bombing did Manchester a back-handed favour, as it forced the city to give its central hub a handy facelift to get it out of the 1960’s.

On Monday night however, Salman Abedi crossed several lines that the IRA did not. Not only did he not offer any prior warning before he attacked, but he appears to have very deliberately targeted children. Even the two boys killed in the Warrington Bomb Attacks in 1993 were not specifically targeted by the IRA (even if the IRA and their allies in Sinn Fein showed little notable remorse over the deaths).

Although I am not a Mancunian – and truth to tell I doubt I will ever truly feel Manchester is my ‘home’ – I have been a resident of the city during both of the big terrorist attacks on it. And I do feel strong enough links to the city now to feel personally hurt by them both. But for all the ‘deja vu‘ sensation of the last forty-eight hours, I have concluded that the similarity between the attacks is slight. June 1996 was a shock, but only on Monday night did the city witness horror.

Those who say terrorism was new to Britain prior to about 2005 are talking nonsense of course. But those who say that there is ‘nothing new’ about the terrorism we experience in the post-IRA era are equally in error. Radical Islam is objectively far more ruthless, indiscriminate, and relentless than Militant Irish Republicanism.

Certainly I will not join the foolish, manipulative/knee-jerk cries of the hard-right to close the borders, to intern terror suspects without trial, to turn away all refugees, or to exterminate British Islam.

Somewhere between the words 'Hopkins' and 'Katie' in the dictionary, you will of course find the word 'hypocrite'.

Katie Hopkins thought criticism of hard-right activism after the Jo Cox murder was exploitative. That has not stopped her from using the deaths of 22 people at the MEN Arena to call for a ‘Final Solution’ against Muslims though.

Nor do I want to imply that Islamist attacks are particularly commonplace in the UK. They are likely to remain a less frequent feature of British life than Irish Republican attacks were. No, people should not become consumed by paranoia and assume that it can never be possible to live safely, or that there will be a major threat to their lives every time they open their front door. To their credit, the people of Manchester have demonstrated since the Arena Bombing that they are indeed not easily cowed.

Equally, I will always argue against letting Governments – especially Tory ones – manipulate this threat to grant themselves ever-more-unchallengeable power. Hence, I am very concerned about the decision to raise the Terror Threat level and put troops on the streets, while also doubting it will have any effect on precisely the people it is supposedly meant to stop.

But at the same time, we do have to recognise that the picture has changed. The threat between the early-1970’s and late-1990’s is not the same as the threat today. The threat today is blind to all notions of honour, and attaches no value to human life, except for the value of ending it; the more lives it takes, the better it assumes it is doing. The mindset is that basic and primitive. No matter how much the British media like to vilify the name of the IRA, in practise, Irish Republicans were never so bloodthirsty as Radical Islamists.

I do not accept that the threat can reliably be labelled ‘Daesh’, or ‘ISIS’, or ‘ISIL’, as all these names, like ‘al-Qaeda‘ before them, are ill-defined. ISIS, in the sense of the extremist army presently trying to conquer Iraq and Syria, does not have the reach that its mimickers in other countries make it seem to possess, and it is only by accepting that those mimickers really are members of that army that the assumption gains traction. And I repeat, an attack in the UK is not as likely as it was in the IRA’s time. But when an attack does happen, it is more likely to kill innocents.

So to compare the two attacks on Manchester, the conclusion is unavoidable; the enemy has changed, and with it, all idea of what constitutes ‘scruples’ has changed too. Paranoia is not needed; to become scared and intimidated or hostile would be to give the enemy what they want, while jumping at shadows will not help anybody. But vigilance is crucial, because the consequences of ill-judged complacency are worse than they once were. Even children are now being seen as legitimate targets, rather than just as ‘collateral damage’. Civilian spaces are now seen as indistinct from military ones.

Confusing the threat of the present with the threat of the past will always lead us to choose the wrong approach to counter it. While there is no need actually to be scared, we do face some nervous times, but it is probably better to be nervous than oblivious.

I would now like to turn my attention to Ariana Grande, the singer whose concert ended in Monday’s tragedy. Now, it will not come as an earth-shaking surprise, I am sure, when I reveal that I am not a particular fan of Ariana’s music. Not a criticism of her, her style is just ‘not my thing’. But I bear her absolutely no ill-will either. Therefore, while I rather feared she would, I am saddened to learn that she has started feeling so much guilt over what happened on Monday that she is talking about retiring.

Ariana Grande might retire

Ariana Grande has been so traumatised by the Manchester Arena Bombing that she is considering retirement. But she should carry on.

I should make clear that I commend her wholeheartedly for her responsibility and compassion, but her retirement would be quite wrong. The Manchester Arena Bombing was not Ariana’s fault in any way, and so it would be an unjust shame if she retired from her career because of it. Even if her music does nothing for me, there are millions out there who adore it, and why should they be deprived because of one madman from Manchester? Ariana’s retirement would, inadvertently, make the attack a success, as it would indicate that Western culture can be intimidated into stopping doing what it wants to do, even the activities that harm no one.

There is no greater defiance of madmen and fanatics than simply demonstrating that life can carry on, no matter what they do to stop it. Nothing will infuriate them more. It shows to them that they were wrong to turn fanatical; when they did that, when they let their minds collapse, they stopped letting their own lives carry on as normal. So showing them that others can keep on keeping-on where they could not puts them to shame – makes them look weak. So Ariana Grande should carry on doing what she loves, partly as a tribute to the loyal fans who died, and partly to defeat Salman Abedi. She should keep on keeping-on.

There is no reason in the world to imagine she will ever read this, but in the enormously unlikely event that she does, I just want to say to her, “Do not retire because of this. Carry on because of this. Carry on with more determination and more feeling than ever before because of this. That way, and only that way, will you defeat the warped purpose behind the Manchester Arena Attack.”

One last thing to say, and I left it until last because it is the most important; –

May those who lost their lives far too soon rest in peace, may those who were injured, either physically or emotionally, find healing, and may those who have lost loved ones know that the great, great majority of Mankind i.e. the billions of decent people who are dominant everywhere, are with them.

by Martin Odoni

So. The ITV leaders’ debate. I found the absence of Theresa May from it was rather a redeeming quality, as the leaders who did speak were comparatively less android-like, and she would have ruined that with her mechanical repetitions of ‘Strong & Stable’. I thought Caroline Lucas and Tim Farron were the most impressive speakers, Lucas very impassioned, Tim Farron surprisingly combative. Nicola Sturgeon seemed a bit awkward compared with her performance in 2015 and a bit too eager to speak from a narrowly-Scottish perspective. Leanne Wood’s performance was fairly solid, although it had a bit too much umm-ing and ah-ing at points. I do feel Jeremy Corbyn rather missed a trick by not taking part.

A special mention for Paul Nuttall – and yes, paranoid ‘Kippers, I will start by being fair to him. Given it was clear that the other four debaters were all in agreement on most topics, and therefore were dead-set against Nuttall’s far-right mindset, I genuinely thought his showing was surprisingly good. It can only be difficult to avoid getting in a flap when everyone else on the stage disagrees with your every word, and I thought he held himself together quite well.

But, having said all that, he still said some flipping stupid things, which made it easier for the others to ‘gang up’ on him. Here are my own responses to five of these stupid remarks; –

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 1: –

“There’s a big world out there! There’s the Anglosphere. There’s the Commonwealth which has over 2 billion people in it. This is where our future lies.”

(Emphasis added.)

Really? Nuttall thinks the British Commonwealth is this country’s ‘future’? That would be rather like Vladimir Putin suggesting that the future of Russia lies with the Tsars of the House of Romanov. Or Lars Rasmussen declaring that the future of Denmark lies in raiding other countries in longships and stealing their gold.

The whole reason why the Commonwealth is so-called, and no longer called ‘The Colonies’ or ‘The Empire’, is that it is not Britain’s future. It is part of Britain’s shameful past, and there is little reason to assume any of its constituent nations would be eager to offer Britain a better deal than the European Union.

Speaking of the Commonwealth as Britain’s ‘future’ says more about the pseudo-historical romanticism of the xenophobic right in this country, harking back to some kind of ‘British Golden Age’ that never really happened, than it will ever say about the realities of Brexit.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 2: –

“We are letting too many people come [into the country]. The only way to solve it is by having an Australian points-based system, whereby we have the right to say who comes and who doesn’t.”

Oh? Would this be the same Australian points-based system that, according to studies from last year, allows a higher rate of immigration per head than the UK’s current system?

Well, I am fairly happy for extra immigrants to come in, so I am most gratified to learn that Nuttall was secretly in favour all along.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 3: –

“My party is committed to putting £6 billion extra every single year into the National Health Service. This will fund twenty thousand new nurses, ten thousand new GPs… Net [migration should be] one in, one out.”

While I am heavily in favour of training up far more home-grown medical experts than has happened in Britain over the last twenty-five years, we have to face the reality of how long it takes; training up a new doctor requires up to six years of education. So as we wait for an enlarged next generation of doctors and nurses to come-of-age, what do we do in the meantime? Well, the answer to that is precisely what we have sadly been doing for the aforementioned twenty-five years; we have to rely on immigration to keep the NHS adequately staffed. But if, as Nuttall insists, we have to reduce net migration to zero, adequate staffing becomes a dice-roll. What if not enough unskilled people wish to leave the country at a time of NHS vacancies? What if a lot of the people leaving are themselves NHS workers?

The policy platform of the UK Independence Party, characteristically, is completely incoherent. Particularly, it fails to recognise how one policy can impact upon another. It is therefore ironic that Nuttall said at one stage of the NHS/social care discussion, “The left hand very often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

That is a fine summary of his own party’s policies.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 4; –

“Let’s not forget the opportunities Brexit will give us once we leave the European Union. We’ll be able to sign trade deals all over the globe.”

“Opportunities”? The UK will be compelled to sign such deals, instead of leaving it to the EU to sort that out, as it presently can. Whether replacing all these deals is an opportunity or a chore, it will be an obligation. A very long, slow, frustrating obligation, some of the negotiations taking many years. This is because, once the UK is out of the EU, it is also out of all of the EU’s trade agreements too. That will mean replacing the collective deals with individualised treaties, country-by-country. Nuttall does not seem to realise the incredible amount of work and time that will involve, and again, no plan for what the UK will do in the meantime.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 5; –

“How would we pay for [NHS funding increases]? Well, we would take that money directly from the Foreign Aid budget… … … We believe as a party that people know how to spend their own money better than any Government does on their behalf… we believe that people know what best to do with their own money.”

The implication of this is that the Government spends tax-receipts on services. This is not strictly true, but Nuttall probably thinks it is, so let us go with it for now. With this in mind, from where exactly does Nuttall think the Foreign Aid budget is sourced? Throughout the debate, he kept talking of spending more on some services by re-directing funds from other areas. Fine, but if he is going to rabbit the Bronze-Aged cliché of people ‘knowing how to spend their own money’, how can he then talk about a putative UKIP Government investing in anything at all?

In fairness to Nuttall, he was not the only one to make the odd silly remark; I found Leanne Wood’s remark that large class sizes in schools have little negative effect on the quality of the children’s learning to be very foolish indeed. If that is the case, well, why not just have about fifteen teachers in the whole country, and let each one of them teach one year of pupils up and down the nation all at once? Easy in an age of Skype, right? The reason why not is because of course large class sizes have a negative effect on children’s learning!

But Nuttall definitely made most of the stupid remarks, and if he is really the outstanding talent left in his party, that is a very sorry look-out for its crumbling support-base.

Ah well, better luck next time you need to choose a leader, UKIP – assuming you are still around long enough for there to be a next time, that is.

by Martin Odoni

The very frustrating announcement today by the Crown Prosecution Service that no individuals in the 2015 Election fraud would be prosecuted has been met with an inevitable chorus of disgust. A frequent objection on social media has been, “It’s a cover-up!” While I would certainly not rule out that possibility – probably more on the grounds of worry at the CPS that it would open a can of worms than because of darker motives – I do think a few words of caution are important.

It needs to be recognised that the CPS will never press charges in any circumstances in which it concludes that there is little chance of a successful prosecution. While I see no reason at all to doubt that the Tories’ misconduct was entirely cynical and deliberate, and the CPS does not appear to doubt it either, strong suspicions cut no ice within the law; there has to be strong evidence indicating a corrupt intent on the part of the individuals being prosecuted.

While the Conservative Party is seen as collectively operating corruptly, and the CPS has acknowledged that, it is a very dicey matter trying to convict individuals for an institutional crime. The CPS has doubtless seen evidence of the party aiming to bypass the rules as a collective, but a political party cannot be prosecuted in the courts as a collective. That is what the Electoral Commission is there to address, and, within the rather severe limits of its powers, it has already done so. (More on that later.) Within the courts, individuals have to be prosecuted instead, and if the evidence tied to specific individuals is not very strong e.g. the intent of the crimes committed as a party cannot be firmly tied to the instructions or deeds of any particular person, then the evidence will be deemed insufficient to justify a conviction.

To quote today’s CPS announcement; –

In order to bring a charge, it must be proved that a suspect knew the return was inaccurate and acted dishonestly in signing the declaration. Although there is evidence to suggest the returns may have been inaccurate, there is insufficient evidence to prove to the criminal standard that any candidate or agent was dishonest… It is clear agents were told by Conservative Party headquarters that the costs were part of the national campaign and it would not be possible to prove any agent acted knowingly or dishonestly.

(Bold emphasis added.)

Yes, it sounds bizarre that no one in the Conservative Party can be prosecuted for using national campaigning funds at a local level because the Conservative Party told them to, but once we recognise the need for individual misconduct to be firmly established, it does in fact make a kind of sense. The party broke the law by instructing its workers to behave in this way, but the party as a collective has already been investigated and punished by the Electoral Commission. The CPS does not have jurisdiction over that area. Party workers, as individuals, crying out, “I was only obeying orders” are allowed some latitude within the courts.

I have seen some people arguing on social media that there should have been a trial anyway, to get the charges and evidence aired for the public to see. I sympathise, but I do not agree. To argue for such a trial is to overlook the consequences of so-called ‘double-jeopardy’ rules within the 2005 Criminal Justice Act. Quite simply, when the accused is acquitted at the end of a trial, they cannot be re-tried more than once over the same accusation subsequently, unless analysis of the original trial’s proceedings finds that they were mishandled in such a way as to make the final verdict unsafe (a ‘mistrial’). The original double-jeopardy law, which banned any retrial subsequent to an acquittal, was scrapped in 2005, but replaced by a clause in the Criminal Justice Act that banned more than one retrial.

This law, I must stress, is correct; were the state to remove all remaining laws protecting against ‘double-jeopardy’, it would hand a worrying, and easily-abused, amount of power to the police force. For instance, any time a police officer took a personal dislike to anyone for any reason, he could arrest them on completely spurious grounds, take them to trial, and if/when the accused is acquitted, then the moment they leave the court, the officer could simply arrest them again out of sheer spite, and on the same pretext. That could carry on indefinitely, perhaps out of prejudice, perhaps out of vindictiveness – legalised police harassment, almost. Instead, as the law currently stands, a retrial can only happen once, and even then, only – and this is also very important – with the Court of Appeal’s approval.

Therefore, the restrictions on retrials must always be taken into consideration before recklessly pressing charges, and if the CPS feels there is not a strong enough case to secure a conviction, it will not risk triggering those restrictions. Clearly, the CPS has concluded that if a trial of Conservative Party members were to go ahead as matters stand, the likeliest outcome would be an acquittal, and, in the event that more and stronger evidence were to emerge subsequently, they may not be able to re-prosecute, and certainly not more than once.

This is not to say that I am content with the CPS’ decision. As Craig Murray has pointed out, the investigation the CPS has carried out seems to have been a little too narrow in scope. Moreover, given how obstructive the Tories appear to have been to the investigation as well, one might argue that the CPS has not been skeptical enough of the party’s protestations of innocence. However, I imagine that argument works just as well the other way; the Tories’ obstructive behaviour has probably made it more difficult for the CPS investigators to find the evidence needed in the first place.

It should be emphasised that the CPS has certainly not suggested, as the Tories are trying to spin it, that there is no evidence of corrupt or illegal behaviour. Instead the conclusion is only that there is not strong-enough evidence against individuals to secure a conviction. Therefore, if there really has been CPS collusion with the Tories, it has been of a pretty careless variety.

The more definitive problem that I can see is not the CPS, but the Electoral Commission’s lack of ‘teeth’. The Commission is the body in charge of dispensing justice at the party level, and it carried out that role two months ago, meting out a record-largest punishment. But the problem was that that punishment was restricted to a maximum fine of £70,000. That would have been a phenomenal deterrent back in, say, the 1960’s. But today, given inflation, and the almost horrifying amounts of money some Tory backers have at their disposal, it is relatively ‘small potatoes’. The Tories probably see fines like £70,000 as a way of purchasing an Election now, and they may not be the only party to see it that way either.

That is the real concern, and the real reason the Tories are getting away with it. Not collusion, but obsolete safeguards. The Electoral Commission must be granted the power to hand out far stronger punishments in the modern era, including fines of up to £1,000,000, and ad-hoc harsher spending caps.

I am not dismissing the possibility of collusion of course, but for the CPS, the decision to prosecute is never as straightforward as it might first appear, and on balance, I suspect today’s announcement is more just a sad case of the letter of the law interfering with those trying to enforce it.

It is frustrating, I agree, but I can understand it.

by Martin Odoni

I do not discuss the matter of Israel/Palestine on this blog as much as perhaps I should. Events this week however are forcing me to state my position quite explicitly.

The events in question are the smears against Vox Political writer, Mike Sivier. He was standing as a Labour candidate in the Local Elections this week, when he was targeted by activists for the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, who accused him of a history of anti-Semitic writing. Now Mike has addressed the accusations in detail himself, and so there is no need for me to join in with the deconstructions – although I do feel compelled to point out how hilariously silly one of the accusations was; –

'Anti-Semtic punctuation' is now a thing.

Zionists are now becoming such uncompromising censorship-trolls, they have now invented ‘anti-Semitic punctuation’. (See here for more info.)

However, I did post a declaration of support for Mike in mid-week. I also got caught up in a social media discussion of the matter on Facebook, one that CAA members targeted in an apparent attempt to maximise the damage caused by the smears. Sadly, they appear to have succeeded, as Mike lost the constituency vote.

During this online argument, one of the CAA members insinuated that I am not really a Jew and that I have made up my ancestry. (Just for the record, that accusation is not only untrue – I am a non-practising Jew in religious terms as I am an atheist, but I can no more cease to be a Jew by that than Morgan Freeman can cease to be a black man simply by voting for the Republican Party. The charge is also offensive, and another attempt to discredit an opponent by means of a smear. As a matter of historical clarity, my ancestors were Lithuanian Jews who were forced to flee the old Russian Empire during the Pogroms of the late-19th Century; if you have ever seen the movie Fiddler On The Roof, well, my family’s story is essentially the same as that, minus the singing of course.) This is always a difficulty for Jews like me who oppose Zionism. We are treated as either treacherous or ‘fake’, and these stubborn accusations are frequently used by Zionists as a substitute for reasoned argument.

I responded by pointing out that the general stance of British Zionist activists is in fact anti-Semitic, and I stand by that; as I wrote the other day, to use anti-Semitism claims as a means of silencing honest debate of Israel is to reduce Jews to a tool, and therefore make them less than people. It is also, if not anti-Semitic, then certainly bullying and repressive behaviour to tell a Jew that he or she does not ‘count’ as a ‘real’ Jewish specimen unless he or she is an unquestioning supporter of Israel.

(I have been accused on Twitter, by the way, of saying one of the CAA people has a “Jewish vulpine nose”. This was a characteristic verbal sleight-of-hand for a Zionist.

18308959_406247426440480_439228925_n

I did indeed say the individual in question had a vulpine nose, by which I meant he is always sniffing around like a feral canine for any pretext for making trouble and for assassinating the characters of perceived opponents*. It was not a reference to the supposed ‘Jewishness’ of his appearance, and I did not use the word ‘Jewish’ in the sentence at all. That would be quite ridiculous, not least because my own nose, with its prominent bridge, has typical Jewish qualities too.)

The CAA members have told me they have reported me to the Labour Party’s compliance unit, so I imagine I may join Mike in getting suspended by the party. I expect it, given the pusillanimous way the party panics and does whatever Zionists tell it to do whenever they cry out about supposed ‘anti-Semitism’.

Like the wider and wildly exaggerated ‘anti-Semitism in Labour‘ controversy over the last year and more, the whole attack on Mike was really about forcing supporters of Jeremy Corbyn out of the party. This is because Zionists are terrified of any possibility of Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, as he is a consistent critic of Israeli policy.

But I suppose the question must be asked why I, as a Jew, do not support Israel, or even the founding principle of Zionism. This week’s argument has led me to realise that I have never really articulated this in any fully coherent way. So now is as good a time as any; –

As a young Jew being brought up in Exeter in the 1980s, I never really understood the origins of modern Israel and so I blindly followed the lead. I was well aware of the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, and I understood the stated aim of giving the Jewish diaspora – forever ostracised and resented in other countries – a nation of their own. After all, if the Jewish people were never going to be fully tolerated in other countries, what alternative was there but to give them a country of their own? Everyone has to be somewhere. And as there was an ancient historical ‘Israel’ in the region around Jerusalem, it sounded to my young ears like that was where the new Israel was meant to be.

But as I entered my teenage years, I ceased to believe in God, which led me to drift away from the Jewish community in Exeter – I had never taken religion all that seriously in the first place. My family then moved to Glasgow in 1989, which essentially broke all contact with Exeter’s Jewish community, and disconnected me from the Israel-only perspective by which I had previously been surrounded. In its place, through the Scottish school curriculum’s subject of ‘Modern Studies’ (probably nearest equivalent subject elsewhere would be ‘political science’), I finally began to learn the other side of the story. I learned through one teacher in particular – her name was Mrs Bauld – of how hundreds of thousands of Arabs in the ‘British Mandate of Palestine’ had been forced off their lands to make room for Jewish settlers. Moreover, I learned about the murky reality of the ‘Occupied Territories‘, and the illegal settlements that Israel was establishing and expanding within them. I was still young and felt an instinctive, tribal wish to defend Israel, but as the 1990s wore on, this gradually receded. By the time I had moved in 1996 to Manchester, with its very large Jewish community, I had been completely disabused of the simplistic notion of the Israelis being ‘the good guys’ and the Palestinians being ‘the bad guys’.

While I still accept that the Jews should have a land of their own, somewhere to which the diaspora should be allowed to retreat when they face persecution in other lands, I do not accept that it was right founding it in ‘The Holy Land’. I further consider the implementation of the Zionist project to be the epitome of British post-colonialism; an arrogant, cack-handed mis-step in dismantling an Empire that the country no longer had the resources to control. The familiar pattern in other places such as Ireland and India applied just as firmly in Palestine. High-handed partitioning of land between two antagonistic populations, ignorance of historical rights and wishes of the local peoples, forced re-settlement of very large numbers of people, and a patronising insistence on British convenience taking priority over the realities of the foreign maps they were redrawing.

Naz Shah MP notoriously shared a joke map – originated by that most Jewish of anti-Zionists Norman Finkelstein – implying that Israel could have been located in the United States of America instead of the Middle East. In the process, Shah inadvertently started up the ‘Anti-Semitism In The Labour Party’ controversy, but she was not being as offensive or silly as one might imagine. Indeed, I have long-since concluded that establishing Israel somewhere like North America would have been a far better approach than the one that was adopted in the 1940s. Yes, a lot of Jews who had fled the threat of Lebensraum in Europe had settled in Palestine, and yes, the most devout and Orthodox among them wanted quick and easy access to Jerusalem. But the number one raison d’etre of the resurrected Israel was to be a homeland and safe haven for any and every Jew who wanted one. This is precisely why it was not only immoral but also impractical that Israel was founded around Jerusalem.

Israel’s justification for its policies is that it is surrounded by enemy countries populated in large part by people who feel they have a right to kill Jews. Whether one agrees with that perspective, or sees it as exaggerated and even a little paranoid, the inference from it that is impossible to avoid is that Jews in Israel are not safe.

That Israel has hostile neighbours is an unmistakeable fact. The reasons for that hostility are varied. Some are justified e.g. resentment that Arab/Islamic land has been confiscated and given to mainly Europeans, a perception that the Arab world has been punished for the crimes of Nazi Germany, deep anger at the very harsh treatment of people in the remaining Palestinian territories, the ongoing encroachment of Israeli settlements into territories over which Israel has doubtful right of sovereignty, and the Israeli control over Jerusalem, a city that is as sacred to Islam as it is to Judaism and Christianity. Other reasons for hostility to Israel are thoroughly offensive, and all of these ones boil down to genuine anti-Semitism i.e. a distaste felt by many at sharing what they see as ‘their’ lands with Jews.

But quite simply, that is my main point. What the blazes were the British thinking in the immediate post-war period, establishing Israel in a part of the world where it was bound to be met with enormous resentment, and in a fashion that was certain to increase it?

There is so much land in the USA, just for instance, that is surplus to its Government’s requirements. While no one should be under any illusion that there was not a serious anti-Semitism problem in the USA then, and indeed it is still far from ended there today, it would surely have been better to establish a new Israel somewhere like North America. As much as anything else, the reason Israel keeps encroaching into the Occupied Territories is because its heartlands are tiny and narrow but with long borders and minimal natural defences. By contrast, there are parts of North America where the natural defences, such as mountains and large bodies of water, are formidable, and yet are sparsely-populated. If the Jews need a land of their own where they can be safe – and as I say I think they (oh all right, we) do – surely there could have been a better place to establish it in North America? Surely the USA, given the size of the Jewish lobby there even back in the 1940s, would have at least considered co-operating with the idea. Sure, large numbers of Jews had already settled in Palestine by 1948, but then I am not saying they should have been forced to move to North America. It would simply have been better to give them the option of moving there, instead of destroying Palestinian society.

Both practically and morally, Zionism’s insistence on having a Jewish homeland actually in the Holy Land was and remains wrong. It forcibly dispossessed huge numbers of people who had had nothing to do with the suffering of the Jews, while also defeating the object of the exercise, because it did not make the Jewish people safe. Jews in Israel still feel threatened. That was not supposed to happen. That perception of danger has led Israel to commit a lot of aggressive acts – be they extenuated or otherwise – against neighbouring countries, and to mistreat Arabs within its own borders. Atrocities like the ‘51-Day War‘ against the Gaza Strip in 2014 make Israel look increasingly like a monster. One can criticise Palestinian terrorism as well, but, firstly, it is quite evident that Israel exaggerates the extent of it, and secondly, we must recognise that, as a people who feel occupied and second-class within their own land, the Palestinians feel that they are defending their home. (If what happened to the Palestinians ever happens to the British, I have no doubt the British would feel the same way and respond the same way; just look at the xenophobia and animosity uncovered by Brexit.) In any event, the harshness of Israel’s attempts to suppress Palestinian uprisings is so severe that it only invites more attacks.

Had the Zionist movement accepted the idea of a homeland for the Jews elsewhere, I would support it without hesitation. But it did not. I recognise that it is much too late to go back and change what happened now, but there is a refusal among Zionists to accept that the chosen location for their country has created problems that still show no signs of being resolved today.

(There is also an unsavoury ‘if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em’ defeatist aspect to Zionism that I find unsettling. It implictly accepts the anti-Semitic notion that Jews and non-Jews cannot co-exist. For Jewish Zionists living outside Israel in particular, there is a clear contradiction in this; how can a Jew living outside Israel hold a Zionist stance, when the very fact he/she lives outside Israel demonstrates that Jews and non-Jews can co-exist?)

The paradox of Zionism is that it was meant to make the Jewish people safe, and yet it has led the Israelis to seventy years of paranoia instead. And while I am also a Jew, paranoia is something I can never endorse, even when I understand it. This paranoia leads not only Israel, but the Zionist movement, to behave with great aggression and dishonesty; hence the attack on Mike Sivier on absurd grounds. Hence also the Zionists’ never-ending expansion of the definition of ‘anti-Semitism’**.

That is why I am not, and never will be, a Zionist.

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*It is further worth noting that the individual I accused of having a vulpine nose took further offence at me calling him an anti-Semite, on the basis of his habitual exploitation of anti-Semitism to stifle debate. What is interesting is that he voiced his outrage at this, but did not see anything objectionable in his fellow CAA supporters accusing me of faking my ancestry on the basis of no information whatsoever. This alone demonstrates that the CAA are quite partizan, tribal, and arbitrary about what they consider offensive, and what they consider fair.

**During the row over Mike Sivier’s written work, one of the CAA supporters explicitly stated that anti-Semitism is now whatever the Jewish community finds offensive. The implication of this is scary enough in itself, but is made all the more unsettling in the way that the ‘Jewish community’ is not really defined. What if not all Jews agree what is offensive and what is not? I am a Jew and I, among others, do not agree with the recently-affirmed International definition of anti-Semitism, as it extends further the dangerous conflation of Jews with Israel. But other Jews do agree with it. Does this division of opinion not mean that the ‘Jewish community’ cannot be said to accept the definition? Well, it seems that the CAA insist that it still does accept it. My worry therefore is that when the CAA talk about the ‘Jewish community’, they are pulling the same transparent trick British and American politicians pull when talking about ‘The International community’. In other words, what the CAA really mean by the ‘Jewish community’ is the CAA itself.