Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The High Water Mark Of UKIP

Of all the things that are baffling and disturbing about UK politics at the moment, the root of that is the most baffling and disturbing thing of them all.  Just how the hell do UKIP get the press that they receive?  We see their elected representatives on television, they consistently appear on the radio.  By god they’re in the press too.  Yet for all the hype surrounding the Kippers, and the hyperbole spouted by their new leader Paul Nuttall, I suspect that we have reached peak Kipper.

The announcement of the shock remake of the 1990's comedy "Bottom"
Firstly, let us not forget, that UKIP’s only selling point is the UK’s departure from the European Union.  And that selling point has, very dramatically, become a poisonous point.  They have focused on immigration, much to the detriment of the failures you can genuinely pin on the European Union. That focus on Immigration is a deliberate conflation of the EU principle of “Freedom of Movement” (something which doesn’t work so well in the UK, thanks to a variety of reasons) and immigration.  Yet the massed ranks of the official Remain campaign during the referendum campaign chose not to lay a glove on UKIP’s deception.  We now have growing voices saying that “we must listen to the voters concerns over immigration” – not just Tory voices but nominally Labour voices too.

While the vote to Leave has left much of the UK’s political classes on the back foot and struggling to come to terms with the vote, UKIP themselves have been in celebration mood and making bullish noises about keeping the UK’s politicians feet to the fire.  The problem with that is that they have reached their target and there is nowhere else for UKIP to go.  They wanted Brexit before anyone else had heard of the phrase – remember they were one of two parties fighting the 1997 General Election on a platform to leave the EU (James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party being the other).

The second reason why I think that it will be downhill from here for UKIP is that, I suspect that UKIP people will begin to migrate towards the Conservative Party and, like a party within a party, take over that party.  We’ve already seen an exchange of ideas between Tories and UKIP – The official Leave campaign seriously gained traction within the polls at the Referendum when they fully adopted UKIP’s campaign.  I suspect that the template for what will happen between UKIP and the Tories will be the Tea Party in the USA.  If you go back further, a similar thing happened to the last (much more successful) upstart fourth party within the UK.  In the early 1980’s, the SDP won by-elections and looked as if it might have a say in who would form the next UK government – all a matter of months after it’s formation.  Then the Falklands War happened and the SDP/Liberal Alliance finished a strong third, just over 650,000 votes behind Labour.  Four years later and the SDP were debating whether to carry on or to merge with the Liberal party.  Though they did and the Liberal Democrats were successful, some of the SDP’s people went back to Labour and informed a lot of it’s thinking around the gestation of what became New Labour.

Assuming that the Tories will be ripe for UKIP-ification, then beyond just snaffling their policies and anti-immigration stylings, what will happen?  I’d suspect that both James and Stephen Wolfe will become Tory members, perhaps Suzanne Evans as well.  Those three represent the ‘brains’, they are the brightest of UKIP’s elected representatives.  What you will have left is the rabble rousing core, Nuttall, Banks and Kassam.  That might play in the Anglocentric media but does bugger all to shift their poll rating up here.  Last time I looked, it was about 4%, way below the 15% they poll ‘nationally’. Then again, I suppose we’ve got enough empty vessels of our own, and all that.

Looking at the rules of power, Farage appears to have taken on board the rule about “In victory, learn when to stop”.  Nuttall will need to disprove another rule of power, the one about “Avoiding stepping into a Great Man’s shoes” if he is to be a success.  In spite of his claim, and given the usual unquestioning coverage by the anglocentric media, that his party can replace Labour, the old political tectonic plates are already moving against his party.  Nuttall might think that UKIP should survive to keep politicians feet to the fire regarding the referendum, but I think that UKIP’s future isn’t as a standalone party but as an ideal within the Conservative Party, fulfilling it’s early comparisons as a UK version of the Tea Party.  Given that led to Trump, then heaven help us.

Monday, 14 November 2016

J'accuse Moderates

There is a figure who crops up time and time again in our media as a talking head.  We all know who he is, he was an advisor for Tony Blair during his final term as Prime Minister but other than that is a Labour person in name only.  Yet this person not only has a career as a fully paid up member of the Anglocentric commentariat but also a carer as a media and election strategist.  Quite why remains to be seen as he helped Julia Gillard to defeat in Australia, was Jim Murphy’s chief of Staff when Labour lost 40 seats to the SNP in the post-Independence Referendum Tsunami and was in America last month helping Hilary Clinton to defeat.

True, McTernan’s only electoral victory this decade is that he has had a hand in that Independence Referendum, but since then we have seen a shuddering earthquake which has dramatically altered the British political landscape.  I had previously argued that the Independence Referendum, the 2015 General Election, the EU Referendum and the Chilcott Report have destroyed the generation long political philosophy in this country of Third Way Politics.  You maybe know this as Neo-Liberal politics, or Blairism, but Third-Wayism is the term that I’ve gone for.  It was the philosophy of triangulation and of chasing middle ground/centre right voters (to the exclusion of centre-left voters) which won Bill Clinton the White House in 1992 and entranced two visiting British Politicians in the spring of 1993 – Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.  When Tony Blair became Labour leader in the aftermath of John Smith’s death over the summer of 1994, he shifted Labour rightwards adopting Clinton’s Third Way philosophies and adapting them with the values he & his advisors held, Blair surrounding himself with Lib Dem and previously SDP people – as a result creating New Labour.  It’s birth being traced to the scrapping of Clause IV.

If this brand of politics has now ended in the UK, then what do we make of it’s catastrophic defeat in last week’s US Presidential election?  Firstly, let us not make any mistake here, this is a defeat of Third Way Politics.  Bill might have been the President, but Hillary is reckoned to have been intellectually his equal at least.  For example Hillary had been a key proponent of the Democrats previous attempt to reform Healthcare, before collapsing in the face of a hostile legislature. Mostly though, the Clintons & the Democrats as a whole have been key supporters of globalisation.

If the Independence Referendum was a harbinger that the end of Third Way politics was on it’s way, then what has caused this sea change?  One of the drivers of both referendums and Trump’s victory has been the perception of key voter groups that they have been left behind and that living standards have not kept pace and that this has fuelled a desire for change.  That squeeze in living standards leads us directly to the economic event that began with the Credit Crunch and encompassed the global Banking Crisis.  That global recession has not been fully reconciled by the political classes.  There have been no changes in government macro-economic policy either here or in the US, there has been no lessons learned and there has been very little in the way of repercussions. If anything Moderates on both sides of the Atlantic have been the keenest defenders of low regulation within the financial sector.  They have, as well, been the keenest advocates for the new style of multinational treaty/trade deal.  The types that have the capacity to undermine public services and to dramatically slash the reach of elected governments around the world.  The EU’s own Lisbon Treaty being the first of this kind, being the treaty which brings the outsourcing and privatisation of public services into EU thinking and regulations.  Since then we have seen the evolution of both TTIP and CETA, both trade deals that gives corporate interests a means to undermine democratically elected governments. And deals wholeheartedly promoted and defended by the Third Wayers.

That the political landscape has changed only tells half of the story though.  If the third wayers were flexible in their beliefs to modulate their policies and negotiate the bumps in the road, we would not have seen what has happened to the Labour Party here in the UK or saw the rise of Trump.  In some cases the problem is the smug, sneering attitudes of those supposed moderates. We saw it during the Independence Referendum when the so called moderates sneered at pro-Independence supporters.  Granted, the SNP did make it easy to be sneered at with their White Paper which had more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese, particularly the areas concerning currency & relations with the EU.  But that referendum was (or at least should have been) about who should govern Scotland, not about the SNP’s own policy preferences. The sneering continued even though it became clear that the so called Vow had been stiffed by Cameron during his 7am Downing Street speech, just minutes after the Referendum result became official.

The smug, self satisfaction continued throughout last years Westminster election.  Complacent within their own bubble, the so called Moderates comforted themselves over Labour’s election defeat with the thought that Ed Milliband wasn’t really one of us anyway.  He was dangerously left wing and didn’t follow the true New Labour doctrine, so that’s why he lost.  Well that was the attempted whitewashing of the election anyway when the likes of Peter “Dripping Poison” Mandleson, Chukka Umuna, Tristram Hunt and Liz Kendal swamped the television studios. It is also here that we see the start of a pattern that has been repeated since – that of a rotten, right wing candidate – unsuited to public office – winning election in no small thanks to the deficiencies of the opposition – partly adhering to neo-Liberal/Third Way policies.  The biggest deficiency in 2015 being Ed Ball’s signing up to Osborneomics.  Hook, Line and Sinker.

In the US, these mistakes were magnified 10 fold.  We had a populist left candidate (Sanders) who was manoeuvred out of Hilary’s way by a combination of Democrat party managers and by a misguided belief that Hilary was the best candidate to take on the Republican candidate.  Even when the Republican candidate emerged as the mouthy egomaniac property developer, Donald Trump.  He had made claims and policy pronouncements which are deeply worrying and will have deep repercussions on the United States and the world at large.  And yet during three debates Clinton could not deliver the knockout punch.  Clinton did not deliver the comprehensive defeat that she needed to put away Trump.  Trump was able to counter jab with accusations over Clinton’s judgement, over the signing of the NAFTA trade deal and the e-mail controversy. 

Clinton should have went hard on Trump’s non disclosure of Tax receipts.  Hilary already had a dubious image within sections of the population, with allegations that she was involved in illegal activities going back to the Whitewater accusations in the mid 90’s.  The e-mails controversy was only ever a smokescreen to bring Hillary’s dubious image back into the front of people’s minds – so when the director of the FBI re-opened the investigations into the e-mails it was essentially game over for Hilary.

When Moderates pontificate on the media about Corbyn or Brexit or Trump we should remind them of their part in that.  If they were prepared to listen to the soft left and not denigrate those people, then Labour wouldn’t have Corbyn.  The same lack of respect also contributes to the collapse in Scottish Labour and the probability of another Independence Referendum within the next 3 or 4 years. If the Neo-Liberals stood their ground and stood up for immigration and multi-culturalism and not appeased UKIP, then we would have had a proper debate on the merits or otherwise of a rotten & corrupt European Union. If the Democrats had read the runes better and seen the collapse of Third Way politics better, they would have not aided and abetted a poor continuity candidate but would maybe have let the Democratic Primary process run it’s course and pick a candidate that would have offered the change desired.  Neo-Liberals, Blairites or Third Wayers – whatever you want to call them  - have been almost complicit in the rise of the new Right and we should not tire in reminding them of the consequences of their actions.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Taking Back Control

For all of the moaning from certain pro-Unionist figures about the supposedly robust nature of the post referendum climate here in Scotland, it was never as poisonous as the current post EU referendum climate.  The successful court case brought by Gina Miller (below, with Nigel Farage) highlights, not just how much uncharted constitutional territory we are in (and that this would have been similar seas we would have sailed had the Independence referendum gone the other way) but the lack of confidence the right wing Brexiteers have that their own arguments and ideas will become political conventional wisdom.

As someone who did vote to leave the EU, I can’t go along with this supposed groupthink that states that the court case was a step towards parliament blocking ‘Brexit’.  Anyone who believed the slogan that Brexiteers started to trot out about the time of the ITV debate (you know, the one where yours truly appeared on the news) about taking back control should understand that this is not about supposedly blocking Brexit, but more about defining parliamentary procedure. 

Given the patchwork quilt approach to the so called British constitution – ie there not being such a thing as the British constitution – then is it really a surprise that big grey areas, such as how do we actually evoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, does wind up in the hands of lawyers.  Given this, then the other reason I’m not joining up with the pitchfork and torches brigade on this issue is that the May/Conservative approach to Brexit is not my vision of Brexit, and that whilst I don’t agree with the parliamentary Remainers they will at least provide the required scrutiny of May’s negotiations.

So far, the May government have not given us any guidelines or an inkling of their red line issues when it comes to the negotiations.  Any dropped hints have been firmly with the view of keeping Brexit voters onside with the red meat of immigration coming up and limitations on ‘Freedom of movement’ being an issue.  The EU’s own comments have revolved around any access to the prized “Single Market” being contingent on the retention of ‘Freedom of Movement’ which makes May’s negotiating position not look as strong as she would like.  On top of her pro-Brexit ministers saying different things, there is also the controversy of Single Market access being kept for the City of London and not Scotland.  Personally, I’d not like us to be in the Single Market, as we would still be within the sphere on influence of the European Union.

SNP ministers have been up in arms at the proposal for Single Market access for the City, but seem to have missed the why or the other proposal being asked for – special passporting measures being brought in to ensure the retention of Freedom of movement for people who work in the City of London.  This is something being lobbied for by big business backers of the Tory party.

If there is an argument that May’s Government have failed to get a grip on the referendum issue, those arguments will have grown after the meeting of the devolved governments two weeks ago.  When asked if she was undermining the UK’s negotiation position, the First Minister simply replied that she could not undermine something that was not there.  Sturgeon’s other comments about coming away with the meeting with as much knowledge of the UK’s position as she went in with was a devastating blow to the UK’s cool studied image that they know what they were doing.

The Westminster Government have argued that they need to keep their negotiating position a secret to help their position.  Sajid Javid made this point again during Thursday’s Question Time.  That this secretive behaviour is itself the sort of thing that people like me were pointing out that this is what the EU does, seems to have bypassed Javid.  I rather suspect that Javid & Co would prefer the deal with the EU to be conducted in secret and the presented as fait accompli once all the negotiations have been completed.  This, again, flies in the face of taking back control and all that means.  If memory serves, however, I don’t think that secret negotiations have always been the way these deals were done.  The last successful, Tory led, negotiation with the EU would have been the Maastricht treaty in the early 1990’s.  That’ll be the one where John Major publicly outlined his red line issues, what he would be looking for in advance.  And Major won UK exemption from the Social Chapter and from instant entry to the single currency when the treaty was signed in December 1991.

Of course, at that point Major was still working with Thatcher’s 102 seat majority from 1987, so Maastricht was still Major’s big success.  It was only after Major’s election victory, in April 1992, had resulted in a slashed majority of 21 where things got difficult for Major.

The problem with this debate is that the Left have, to all intents and purposes, left the field open for the right to make the running and narrative – hence the anxiety from pro-Brexiteers to ensure their ideas become conventional wisdom in the way Osborne-omics did.  It is also not helped by the fact that the two big left wing opinion writers – Owen Jones and Paul Mason – advocated holding your nose and voting to remain within the EU.  If only there was a UK politician on the left who was Eurosceptic and willing to make an alternative case for Brexit to the Tories hard Brexiteers…

The constitutional machinations, the arguments about immigration, the bitterness between ‘Hard’ Brexiteers and so called ‘Remoaners’, the anxiety among Brexiteers that they don’t have a grip on Brexit and the gentle unravelling of the UK itself somehow misses the point. The vote in June was not about a trade bloc but the UK’s membership of some deeply political institutions and entities who’s sole aim is “ever closer union”.  These institutions have, pretty much since the aforementioned Maastricht Treaty came into being, failed the people of Europe. The people at the heads of these institutions are not being held accountable for these decisions, and there is no mechanism to ensure accountability for these heads.  The UK’s navel-gazing has become a distraction from these issues about the EU.  I imagine that thanks to those distractions, in a restaurant in Brussels are Shultz, Tusk and Junker, sitting around a table, breathing a sigh of relief and thinking that they’ve got away with it.