Love Actually Prime Minister Hugh Grant announces bid to replace Theresa May

Following on from comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s success in the first round of the Ukrainian presidential election, comedians and TV politicians around the world have begun to assess the viability of making their own bids for high office. In a major twist to the Tory leadership race, Hugh Grant has announced his own intention of emulating Zelenskiy’s success by mounting a challenge to Theresa May.

He may prove to be a serious contender. In Love Actually he demonstrated his ability to find love in the most unlikely of places, whilst also showing strength in his dealings with foreign bullies. This would undoubtedly put him in a strong position during Brexit negotiations. Perhaps in preparation for a leadership bid, he also recently accepted a role in BBC One’s A Very English Scandal in order to add to his political experience.

Already in contention to join Grant’s team if he is successful are Keeley Hawes (Home Secretary in the Bodyguard) and Peter Capaldi (Chief Whip in The Thick of It). More news will follow soon.

Chris Grayling’s Brexit comments are a distraction from his transport and justice failings

What do drones at airports, railway strikes and fare increases, dodgy Brexit ferry arrangements, and a 50% rise in crimes committed on parole all have in common? If you guessed it, all four are the handiwork of the current transport and former justice secretary Chris Grayling.

One gets the feeling that Chris Grayling is one of the few government ministers who would like us to focus slightly more on May’s end of the Brexit negotiations, even given his recent no-deal Brexit ferry blunder. Grayling’s predictions of a rise in right-wing extremism in the event of Britain remaining in the EU came at the same time as new figures for England and Wales, which showed that crimes committed on parole had spiked following Grayling’s reforms to probation work in 2014. His statements to the press today on his support for May’s deal also appear to be a distraction tactic, as he was forced to announce a few hours later that no technology currently exists to stop drone disruption at UK airports.

Chaos in the Department of Transport has peaked in the last month, but failings began much earlier in Grayling’s ministerial career. More than a hundred magistrates resigned after Grayling introduced court charges that were eventually quashed by his successor as Minister for Justice. More damning yet, he introduced rules in family courts that dictated that victims of domestic violence would be denied legal aid unless they could demonstrate that they had been targeted within the last five years, with the result that 40% of victims were unable to meet legal aid requirements.

The National Association of Probation Officers further stated that the outsourcing of work to private providers resulted in unbearable workloads for staff, with the result that serious offences committed whilst an offender was under supervision rose by 220 between the year before the 2014 reforms and this year ending in April. These serious offences included crimes such as rape and murder.

As anyone who relies on railway services will know, since Grayling became transport secretary in 2016 the state of the railways has spiralled into a crisis. The Department for Transport has attempted to blame the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union for the chaos that has seen 640 services cancelled daily in Britain. However, anyone who has travelled on a train late at night will also know that services would not be safe for passengers if guards were removed. In the month of October 2018 alone the British Transport Police recorded 4,714 sexual assaults on public transport, which would be set to increase along with other offences if guards were not present to intervene. Given that Grayling has shown himself to be willing to disrupt services for the sake of reducing passenger safety, it is insulting that his department has now imposed a 3.1% fare hike in England and Wales.

Given the severity of these failings, a moderate amount of criticism over his support for May might be considered a welcome relief for the Secretary for Transport. It is certainly testament to May’s desperation to remain in power that Grayling has been allowed to continue in his ministerial post. God alone can help us if he is given any broader responsibility in Brexit than negotiating the ferry contracts- it seems to be the only way that he could create a greater fiasco than those that he has already left behind him.

What Gandhi and Black Mirror can teach us about the latest Industrial Revolution

When thinking about Gandhi’s political philosophy the temptation is to dive straight into his theory of non-violent resistance. Although Gandhi’s rejection of violence as a tool in politics is central in differentiating him from the vast majority of other political thinkers, a component of his political thought that is often overlooked by contrast is his critique of the impact of mechanisation upon the human experience. In this Gandhi identified the dangers of technological change before the breakneck developments of World Wars I and II, and developed a theory that has stood the test of time well enough to invite application to our own technological revolution. Although his suggested remedies for the dangers of technology were flawed at best, there is a great deal to be taken from his argument that the changes technology makes to our lives are not entirely welcome.

Gandhi’s main concerns in 1909 were developments that would strike a modern audience as harmless, chief among which was the spread of railways and telephone lines through India. In fact, his insistence that his family would not take modern medicine was considered dangerous even by his contemporaries. As with most areas of his philosophy, his solution to the issues of mechanisation tended towards the extreme. His concerns certainly pale into insignificance when compared to today’s world of social media, CCTV, and job automation. However, they still dealt with a sense of alienation from one’s lived bodily experience that is deeply relevant to our own historical moment. Just as Gandhi argued that it was unnatural to be able to close hundreds of miles of distance through the use of railways and telephones, so programmes like Black Mirror today highlight a world in which human interaction is distorted by technology.

Today’s revolution is the greatest technological change since the Industrial Revolution, which Gandhi argued had created a “factory civilisation” in which nature was treated as a force to be mastered. By contrast to Western civilisation, Indian civilisation for Gandhi would be rooted within nature and the human experience. Jobs would be saved from mechanisation by the revival of cottage industries, which would re-establish the village as the central focus of political activity. Gandhi’s assertion that “It is machinery that has impoverished India” stands in stark contrast to the thinking of most anti-colonial thinkers, who mostly sought to mechanise their nations after independence. It also contrasts against the Marxist project to capture machinery for use by the proletariat.

The fact that India today looks nothing like Gandhi’s vision is reflective of the reality of neo-colonialism, which has allowed Britain to continue to exert influence over the economies of its former territories. However, it also reflects the abandonment of this element of Gandhi’s philosophy by subsequent Indian leaders, who have driven India down a path of rapid technological development. As a result only last year the number of internet users in India increased to five hundred million people.

Central to Gandhi’s philosophy was his rejection of the split experience of modern life that forms the central tenet of Charlie Brooker’s idea of a separate world contained within a ‘black mirror’. For Gandhi this meant splits between the private and the public self and between peaceful ends and violent means, but for Brooker this split is one between our lives online and offline. In publicising details of his private life and rejecting the use of violence in politics Gandhi sought to escape from the duality of modern life and modern politics, which has a deep resonance with our own attempts to guard our lives against the incursions of our social media profiles.

The criticism of technology within Black Mirror does not necessarily advocate a retreat into a mythical past. Like the majority of Gandhi’s philosophy on modernity, it is an attempt to form a modern response to a modern problem. In looking for a radical solution to the issues arising from the West’s industrial revolutions it may be helpful to look to thinkers outside of the West with the ability to imagine a completely different way of life. Although Gandhi’s suggestion of a village society based on cottage industry would not be practical, it is still possible to use his philosophy as a starting point in searching for solutions to our own technological malaise.

The whole text of Hind Swaraj, in which Gandhi developed his theory of modernity alongside his argument for Indian self-rule, is available online.

Brexiteers continue to believe myths about British history and identity

In 1962, former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson famously remarked  that Britain had lost an Empire, but had yet to find a new foreign policy role. The comment came in the context of Britain’s first application to join the European Economic Community (EEC), which failed in the face of a French veto the following year. When Britain’s application was eventually accepted in 1973 it appeared that Britain’s role in EEC, its relationship with America, and its ties to the former Empire through the Commonwealth could form three “spheres of interests” which would take the place of the Empire. The trouble was that the romance of Empire endured long after the British were forced to beat a hasty retreat from their imperial possessions. The aggressive form of patriotism found in the Brexit campaign fits the description of jingoism, which has resurfaced at regular intervals in various forms over the past century.

The myth of Britain as an isolated island nation is not borne out by the reality of British history. Recent historiography has highlighted that British citizens in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were deeply engaged in the project of Empire. The British diaspora was created as huge numbers of British people emigrated to Britain’s empire, whilst those who remained in Britain continued to buy ‘empire goods’ imported from the colonies.

Victorian and Edwardian audiences were familiar with fictional British explorers like those in King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and Heart of Darkness (1899). The boy scouts was created with the express purpose of making schoolboys into similar adventurers. The investment of the British public in the romance of the Empire gave rise to incidents of jingoism, such as the patriotic fervour surrounding the disastrous First Boer War (1880-1881). These stories of British greatness hid the reality of exploitation and brutality under colonial rule, but the narrative of British exceptionalism has nevertheless stuck within the British popular memory.

The transition away from imperial adventure and towards a small-island mentality took place gradually between 1945 and 1979. However, the jingoism of the Empire continued as a marked feature of Britain’s new island outlook. World War Two was initially interpreted as proof by the likes of Edward Heath that Britain should commit itself to the ideals of European peace and integration, but in spite of Heath’s success in taking Britain into the EEC the British imagination was dogged by delusions that jeopardised European cooperation from the outset. The new patriots who were most powerful under Thatcher and Powell denied the role of the Empire in World War Two by creating the myth of Britain standing alone against Nazi Germany. The story is fundamentally contradictory because it uses the British Empire as proof of Britain’s greatness whilst simultaneously denying Britain’s links beyond its own borders.

The island nation myth has been characterised consistently by increasingly stringent restrictions on immigration, from the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 through to the recent suggestion of a £30,000 skilled immigrant salary threshold.

Prior to the 1962 act immigrants from the former Empire had freedom of movement into Britain and played a major role in repairing the economy after World War Two, but after the 1962 act restrictions were placed on Commonwealth citizens moving to Britain who did not have relatives within the country. The restrictions were imposed by those such as Powell who conceived of Britain as a white, isolated nation rather than as a world power with strong historical links further than its own borders.

This new myth was in itself contradictory because it required Britain to isolate itself, but it also required the British government to use its relations with other nations to provide proof of Britain’s comparative greatness. In this Thatcher’s war in the Falklands and Brexit have a great deal in common. Thatcher used the Falklands War to establish herself as a victorious, Britannia-like figure within the British press, which helped her to take a landslide majority in the khaki election of 1983.

As she deployed the same model of conduct in her dealings with the EU she became increasingly confrontational, culminating in her “No! No! No!” speech. Throughout her time in power Thatcher was able to use Europe as an enemy against which she could rally aggressive isolationism. The cleavage she opened within the Conservative Party over Europe worsened as she continued to meddle in party affairs under Major. Over the following thirty years the civil war over Europe became the central focus of bids by Conservative leaders to remain in power within the party.

Myths of British identity are no basis upon which to make decisions about Britain’s relations with Europe because claims to British greatness are not borne out by historical fact. Britain’s empire should be a source of national shame, but as a result of the empire Britain has strong and clear ties to former colonial countries that show the theory of Britain’s historical isolation to be a myth. The British government should take this lesson and apply it to its dealings with Europe, but the myth of Britain’s isolation from Europe and the Commonwealth during World War Two is such that Brexiteers now believe that Britain can go alone again. The nation will now be forced to continue to search for its role within the world now that it has rejected a place for itself within Europe.

The most likely 2020 Democratic candidates ranked

At this early stage of the U.S. Democratic Presidential primary race the absence of an obvious heir to the Obama legacy means that the field is open to a larger number of candidates than usual. If the 2016 cycle is anything to go by we will probably have to wait until the Spring before candidates begin to formally announce their intentions to run in the race.

However, hints made by candidates in interviews, the activity of candidates in key primary and caucus states, reports of meetings held with major donors and party backers, and moves by candidates to clarify their policy positions can give a strong indicator of which Democratic hopefuls are positioning themselves to run.

At this point an ‘invisible primary’ is taking place in which candidates will seek out donors to finance a campaign, which will remove lower-profile candidates who cannot raise sufficient funds from the list of potential nominees. These are the most likely candidates to make the nomination at this stage in the contest.

1. Joe Biden (Former Vice President and Senator for Delaware)
On Monday evening Biden hinted strongly at a presidential bid when he told an interviewer that he was, “the most qualified person in the country to be president”. In terms of political experience this is true given his thirty-six years in the Senate and his Vice Presidency under Obama.

Biden finished in fifth place during the 2008 primaries and decided not to run in 2016, but his chances have been transformed in the last ten years by his two terms as Vice President. His strong affiliation to the Obama years should work in his favour, but at the age of seventy-six he would struggle to emulate the youthful enthusiasm of Obama’s campaign. In CNN’s first poll he led the field of likely Democratic nominees for the presidential contest.

Biden’s campaign would be likely to focus upon defending Obama era policies such as Obama’s flagship healthcare scheme and his creation of a path to citizenship for young people brought illegally to the country as children. He has also indicated that his campaign would focus upon regaining the Rust Belt vote for the Democrats, which they lost when white, working-class voters in North-Eastern manufacturing states defected to Trump.

However, the other major voting group that the Democrats must bring on board is white women, 52% of whom defected to Trump in 2016. In 1991 Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that approved Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court in spite of allegations of sexual assault. Since then Trump has attempted to distract attention away from his own sexual assault allegations by accusing Biden of having a “long history of… groping”, which in a presidential contest would detract from the ability of the Democrats to draw attention to Trump’s own string of sexist policies and assault allegations.

Following Trump’s success in bringing women forward to accuse Bill Clinton in 2016, accusations of sexual assault are likely to be a major feature of the 2020 race if Biden is nominated. If women came forward to accuse Biden then the Democrats would have to hold the same kind of investigation that they demanded of Kavanaugh, which could have the potential to derail his campaign.

2. Sen. Kamala Harris (California)
In contrast to Biden’s performance during the Clarence Thomas’s hearings, Kamala Harris made a name for herself during the Kavanaugh hearings as an advocate for women’s rights. For the moment betting sites have positioned her as joint favourite alongside Beto O’Rourke to take the nomination. She may face an uphill struggle since a recent poll found that 53% of voters have never heard of her, but Obama and Sanders both demonstrated that they could make a strong showing in the primaries despite starting the process as relative unknowns.

Harris has only been a member of the Senate for two years, which means that her record is clean by comparison to older candidates such as Biden, Sanders, or Warren. This would provide Trump with less material with which to brand Harris as ‘crooked’. The mid-terms also demonstrated the willingness of the Democrats to field fresh, progressive, diverse candidates.

During her short time in the Senate Harris has managed to gain valuable experience through her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her experience as a prosecutor and Attorney General of California was apparent during her tough questioning of Kavanaugh and Jeff Sessions, which would prove itself a tremendous asset in a debate with Trump.

Her background in law has also helped her to recapture the language of law and order utilised by the Republicans in the interests of the Democrats. This may eventually be decisive in a debate over the weighty electoral issues of illegal immigration, drug use, and terrorism. Throughout the hearings Harris also proved herself to be a compelling and articulate public speaker. However, as the most junior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee she risks losing her position now that the Republicans have gained seats in the Senate.

3. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont)
Sanders also looks to be highly likely to enter the race, although his wife has stated that he will prioritise beating Trump over his own personal desire to be President. Much like Corbyn, Sanders has a strong personal following on the liberal left but has struggled in the past to attract swing voters from the centre.

Sanders practices the politics of principles on the major issues of universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, and tuition-free college education, but he has often been unwilling to reach compromises with his fellow Democrats. In 2016 the rift between himself and Clinton was so large that following the primaries a number of his supporters defected to the Trump campaign. However, in 2020 this would be unlikely since the other potential candidates for the most part align much more closely with Sanders’ own views than with those of Hillary Clinton.

4. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
In September Warren announced that she would take “a hard look” at mounting a 2020 presidential run, which seems even more likely since Warren’s team have sought out the support of Democratic officeholders in the key primary and caucus states of Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina. In preparation for the campaign she will take a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee in order to improve her expertise on foreign policy, which has been a weak spot for Warren in the past.

In a recent speech and Foreign Affairs article Warren set out her vision for a foreign policy approach that would reverse some of the processes of globalisation that have taken place since the Cold War. In this she has a great deal in common not only with Bernie Sanders, but also with Donald Trump. A tough stance on the outsourcing of jobs to China could be crucial in retaking the Rust Belt states by playing Trump at his own game.

In past confrontations with Trump, however, Warren has not always come out on top. Just in the last few weeks Warren’s attempt to settle an old score over her Native American ancestry was derailed when Native American leaders criticised her for using their heritage for political capital. Trump has already nicknamed her ‘Pocahontas’, and the nickname would most likely stick during the election.

5. Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey)
Cory Booker is almost certainly going to announce a presidential run after meeting with Obama’s aides and embarking upon the mandatory trip to Iowa. He initially made a name for himself by moving into a slum housing project in 1998 to draw attention to issues of drug dealing, poor quality housing, and predatory landlords in his own City Council district. His meteoric rise into the Senate from that point has raised hopes that he could continue to the presidency.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Kavanaugh hearings were not only a contest between the Democrats and Trump’s nominee, but were also an early battle between Harris and Booker for the presidential nomination. Both were able to use the hearings to set out their positions on abortion, campaign finance reform, and the legality of a potential attempt by Trump to block the Mueller investigation. However, given that the positions set out by the pair were fairly similar, the contest fell down to Harris’s experience in interviewing witnesses as a prosecutor. The two will continue to tussle over the chance to mount a hope-and-change campaign like that of Obama, and their fortunes may soon reverse if Harris loses her seat on the committee.

Booker’s own confession that he groped a classmate during his time in high school is also highly likely to become a point of contention during the primary contests, especially in light of the Democratic drive to keep white female voters on board.

6. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas 16th District)
Until a month ago Beto O’Rourke was relatively unknown as a young representative from Texas. During the mid-terms he caused a major upset when he came within a margin of 51-48 from taking a Texas Senate seat from the prominent Republican Ted Cruz. The narrow defeat was treated as a victory by Democratic strategists because it brought the state of Texas back into play for the first time since 1993. This might have had quite a lot to do with the fact that Ted Cruz is the most hated Republican in the Senate (as Trump rightly observed back in 2016, “everybody hates him”). Nevertheless, the contest demonstrated O’Rourke’s ability to energise voters and to raise large amounts of money from donors.

O’Rourke met with Obama’s former aides, who encouraged him to attempt to emulate Obama’s 2008 campaign. So far he has refused to rule out the possibility of doing so. The question is whether O’Rourke can maintain the same momentum for the next year and a half once pitted against more established Democratic hopefuls, especially since Cruz eventually won the Texas seat. The surprise of his breakthrough in the last few weeks accounts for his high betting odds, but it would be a mistake to bet on him this early in the race. O’Rourke has also been placed under pressure to contest the other Texas Senate seat in 2020 rather than mounting a bid for the presidency, and so it remains to be seen which office he will decide to run for.

The nominee won’t be Hillary Clinton, Dwayne the Rock Johnson or Oprah, but other Democratic hopefuls are worth watching

Clinton has hinted that she would “like to be president”, but the only person who responded warmly to the suggestion was Donald Trump. Since then she told responders firmly that, “I’m going to be supporting other people who are running for office”.

Trump’s win was not the first time in U.S. history that a celebrity has taken the presidency. President Ronald Reagan has eighty roles listed on IMDb, including a lead role in the comedy ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’. Despite this, the Democrats tend to recognise that just because somebody has the public profile and money to run does not necessarily mean that they are properly qualified for the Presidency.

In spite of continued rumours, Oprah ruled herself out back in February. Dwayne the Rock Johnson also responded to rumours of a presidential bid through a spoof on Saturday Night Live in which he ‘announced’ his 2020 campaign, but later he clarified that he was only joking. A number of business people have strongly hinted at a 2020 bid, but their hopes of following in the footsteps of Trump are very slim considering the Democratic Party’s higher standards.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Sherrod Brown are amongst others who have avoided ruling out their interest in the primary contest. However, given the number of higher profile candidates already manoeuvring towards a run it seems unlikely that donors would choose to gamble on an unlikely candidate. As a result their odds of progressing to the stage at which they would announce their candidacy are low.

Having said this, Beto O’Rourke would have been amongst these unlikely outsiders a few weeks ago and the odds of each candidate are likely to change dramatically within the next year and a half. The best advice at this stage would be to avoid betting on any candidate, and to be prepared to see the field shift as the contest unrolls.