Why are centrists so concerned about the ‘politics of division’?

‘The politics of division’ is surely the most banal of political clichés – the most lazy, yet tinged with benevolent intention. Scattered across the pages of history, an epithet to the bipartisan legacy of Obama, a monument to a noble ideal of a society without hate, fear, division; an expression of horror at our inability to communicate. But centrists too often treat is as a cause – rather than a symptom – of political failure. 

We condemn politicians from Johnson to Trump for cynically playing to people’s most base instincts – their jealousy, fear of the outsider, bitterness and nostalgia for an age of simplicity, where everyone could identify with a strong, secure national identity. In so doing, these populists accumulate support from those who have the least to lose. They perversely champion those whose livelihoods have been made less secure by the economic zeitgeist they advocated in the very first place.

Take our current Prime Minister, a man who seeks to portray himself doing battle with an establishment ostensibly bent on ‘suppressing’ the will of the people. This classical enthusiast seeks, like Cicero, to simultaneously appeal to the people and the senate – an ideological hallmark of Dominic Cummings’ Leave Campaign backed by businessmen, hedge-fund managers, Tory grandees and wealthy landowners. The notion that privately-educated Johnson has ever been anything other than an adornment of the establishment is simply nonsensical, yet this advocate of economic liberalism now seeks to be the ‘man of the masses’.

It is surely a sad irony that those who have lost the most are now defending an extreme government whose ideological commitments will hurt them even more. Of course, this is a generalisation – there was, for instance, and still is, a principled Lexiteer case. Nevertheless, the simple fact is that a no-deal Brexit may very well occur under the most right-wing cabinet in history.

To misappropriate the eloquent position of Grace Blakeley in her book Stolen, moments of radical political change often occur in times of crisis. There was no clearer example of this than the actions taken under the Thatcher administration. As she puts it, the Thatcher government asserted the interests of capital using ‘state warfare’: mobilising the state’s power to subdue labour, all whilst legislating for a light-regulation, low-tax economy that would further entrench the dominance of capital.

The circumstances would obviously be different in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but the basic principle still stands. Such an event, with all of the associated economic and political turmoil, would provide an excellent opportunity to solidify the power of capital, remaking Britain a la ‘Britannia Unchained’. This entrenchment of power, indeed, would be over a workforce already atomised and alienated by successive years of anti-union legislation and changing economic conditions favourable to the service economy.

But centrists must take their share of the blame. To return to the original point, there has been a fundamental failure of centrists to engage in any meaningful way with the economic and political circumstances defining our age. By merely seeking to condemn ‘aggressive rhetoric’, they fail to ask the truly important questions; why heightened, aggressive language appeals to people at all. By merely waxing lyrical about the politics of division, they tragically fail to see that politics inevitably involves division, and inevitably involves fighting your own corner.

There has been no better example of this failure than the response of centrist Democrats to Donald Trump. They have criticised – with justification – his homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism. But declaring their outrage about the President’s rhetoric on Twitter won’t solve anything at all. By failing to offer structural change, and without listening to the voices of left-behind America, they merely offer hollow narcissism and petty sloganeering. By failing to actively engage in substantive, radical policy proposals to solve the contradictions of a broken economic epoch, they allow the President to present turbo-charged capitalism as a viable economic solution for industrial communities devastated by globalisation.

Indeed, the temptation to merely react to the immediately obscene statements of the President is invariably counterproductive. Trump thrives precisely because this is an age of cheap sensation, empty statements, information overload and contrived outrage generated, in part, by a media environment which needs to create a false sense of urgency. By denouncing his Twitter feed with vague insistences that we need to ‘come together’ and ‘unify’, they ironically distract from the devastating impact of his actual policies – playing into Trump’s tactics by allowing him to rally his support base against the ‘liberal media’.

Whilst the goal of rejecting ‘division’ is surely a noble one, treating it as an absolute is invariably a poor political tactic. During the Obama era, Democratic obsession with bipartisanship yielded political capital to the Republicans. As Cornel West asserted, this otherwise inspiring President bailed out Wall Street without helping ‘Maine Street’ – he oversaw a radical increase in drone strikes, he offered additional funds to the Israeli government, and in seeking to appease his Republican critics he called the Baltimore black youth ‘criminals and thugs’ – all in the name of ‘consensus’.

The tragic consequences of seeking unity over division are therefore clear. Politics is – to draw upon Christopher Hitchens, division by definition. Centrists have far too often appeared on the stage of history as the humanisers of the inevitable, bowing to a fundamentally conservative project.

Now, this is not to say that divisive rhetoric ought not to be condemned. It has left a bloody legacy, as the horrific murder of Jo Cox stands testament to. Neither should we accept the scapegoating of migrants, a cynical right-wing strategy that seeks to pit worker against worker merely on the basis of nationality, distracting from their fundamental class interest.

Nevertheless, centrists are obsessed with the politics of division precisely because their political framework has lost all credibility. Politics works where vigorous debate occurs. There is surely a dialectical relationship between the right and the left, each assuming radically different conceptions of human nature, society, the state and the economy; the flaws of each compensating for the other.

We ought to be suspicious of those who reject the ‘politics of division’ precisely because politics involves confrontation. Instead of merely condemning inflammatory rhetoric, progressives in the UK ought to offer a principled, grounded stance, revealing the cynicism of their opponents, persuasively putting forward an alternative vision which – crucially – appeals to those who are most likely to be disillusioned.

Merely complaining about ‘division’ puts progressives on the back foot,  ceding the dominant ideological position. Populism thrives on cheap sloganeering and provocative statements designed to invoke a reaction, engineered to put their opponents on the defensive. It’s time for the left to truly fight their own corner.

Is a General Election a trap for Labour?

Ex-PM Tony Blair has warned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to try and avoid falling into the “elephant trap” of a general election and Labour have voted against a snap election in the Commons but is a General Election a route to No Deal.

In a statement Tony Blair stated that he fears that the public “may fear a Corbyn premiership more” than a no-deal Brexit, leading to a general election defeat for Labour. Polling from YouGov does support these statements with 48% of the population preferring a No Deal to a Corbyn premiership. In comparison to 35% who would prefer Corbyn and a 2nd referendum over No Deal.

Blair stated that he believes the “Corbyn question” could dissuade voters away from voting Labour enough to vote Boris Johnson into power, thus leading to a no-deal Brexit. The government forecasts this scenario would be hugely damaging to the UK economy. If the UK had left on March 31st with No Deal economists forecasted the UK economy would have been £900 million worse off in 2019 alone.

Jason Stein, a former Tory special advisor and Amber Rudd aide this week claimed that the government are forecasting themselves to only pick up “roughly 295 to 300 seats”, and so although Labour are correct to avoid a snap election before the 31st October Brexit deadline, it could be well within their interests to fight a general election after the deadline.

A poll by ICM suggested that after 31st October, Labour would close the polling gap with the Tories. In comparison to a general election before the 31st October, the Tories would have a 7 point lead.

Labour are wise to avoid a General Election in October, but once an extension has been delivered they should rush to oust Johnson and fight a general election.

The House of Lords desperately needs change

The Houses of Parliament are just that – Houses. Plural. There’s not just one body sitting in Westminster all day. Yet, we hear next to nothing about the House of Lords, the upper chamber of our Parliament. While coverage is taken over by the more powerful House of Commons, the Lords plays a vital role in the legislative process also. But it’s becoming increasingly unable to fulfill this role, with many questions over its effectiveness and legitimacy in British politics. It is in desperate need reform. Here’s a few ways it could be improved.

For a start, the Lords should be two-thirds elected by the population, each Lord representing a ceremonial county, with four Lords per county, giving a total of 400. This retains a geographical link, but avoids current constituencies, so the Lords would not become too closely linked to the Commons. This wouldn’t be completely proportionate – but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it would give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a greater influence in British affairs, which is desperately needed if the Union is to be preserved. Under the four-Lords rule, England would have 192 Lords, Scotland 132, Wales 52 and Northern Ireland 24. England would retain the most representation, but the other regions of the Union would be better-represented – and places with little political influence, like northeast England, would have more clout than at present, allowing for regional rebalancing. 

This makes 400 Lords exactly (and makes the maths easier), leaving 200 Lords to be appointed by a special commission. This would be similar to the current appointment system – based on experience and ability to scrutinise. We shouldn’t necessarily discriminate – positive discrimination is, after all, still discrimination – but these Lords should be drawn from across society, of different ages, classes, backgrounds and races.

MPs should be banned from immediately serving in the Lords after retirement as an MP. There should be at least a five-year gap between leaving the Commons and joining the Lords, except in special circumstances – perhaps a two-thirds vote in favour in the Lords. MPs have useful experience, but they are often too partisan to be useful, and many have little knowledge of the world outside politics – for example, Mhairi Black, an SNP MP, has been in the Commons since the age of 20. This is not necessarily a bad thing – but Lords should have experience of the world of work, instead of having lived inside a political bubble all their lives. A delay would ensure that the higher chamber would be fully separated from the lower one, and perhaps better suited to meet the demands of everyday society.

To add to this separation, the Lords could be based in Manchester, to equalise the UK – one of the most regionally imbalanced countries in the world. We need a political shift to outer Britain if we want to preserve the Union. The Brexit vote – like it or not – was at least partially the result of disenchantment of outer Britain, with a sense of disengagement in the political process. London feels far away for many. Moving part of Parliament to Manchester would reconnect northern Britons to politics.

This last point is, however, more contentious. But, perhaps at least, Lords shouldn’t be allowed to affiliate to a British political party – this could lead to a more partisan atmosphere. Instead, they should run as independents – independent conservative or independent socialist, maybe, but not Labour or Tory. Yes, party groupings will form, but the House of Lords must not be partisan. It needs to provide independent scrutiny of the Commons. That is its function. These reforms could make it more representative, whilst maintaining its scrutiny of government and its decisions. Elections should also take place only every 15 years, to give Lords security of tenure, and prevent electioneering. Recall petitions for corrupt Lords must be implemented from the start, however.

To conclude, the Lords is a great institution, but it’s creaking at the moment. It needs change. If we implement good reforms, it can not only be improved itself, but also improve wider issues within the UK’s political scene – bringing residents of Outer Britain back into the political fold, for example. In the end, this is vital for our parliamentary democracy.

Tom Brake interview: “Come a general election, its everything to play for”

The Liberal Democrats have witnessed something of a resurgence since the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum. With a clear policy of opposing Brexit – and now with the election of Jo Swinson – there is a clear feeling that the party is now primed to lead a new liberal movement in the UK.

It’s no wonder that Tom Brake, the Lib Dem Brexit spokesman, is confident that the party could fair well in an upcoming general election, saying that there “is everything to play for” and the idea that “Jo Swinson could be our future prime minister” is a perfectly “rational idea to set out”.

There is no doubting that the Liberal Democrats have grown dramatically in terms of popularity, compared to the 2017 general election. The party witnessed their London vote share increase by 20% in the 2019 European elections- a clear indicator of their anti-Brexit appeal.

According to Mr Brake, Brexit came at a time when the party faced an “existential threat” and enabled it to “clear the decks” by developing a “clear position” that would appeal to a broad “range of voters.”

When asked about the party’s stance on the EU Referendum itself, Mr Brake made reference to what he dubbed a “deliberate attempts” to exclude certain groups from “participation”, which he believes contributed to the narrow margin of victory for Leave.

As well as expressing doubt at the ability of the new prime minister to renegotiate a deal with the EU, the Brexit Spokesman defended Jo Swinson’s decision not to form a pact with the Labour Party, arguing that Jeremy Corbyn “has always been a Eurosceptic”.

The full interview can be found below:

May fails to vote for Northern Ireland same-sex marriage, days after Pride Month

Theresa May was not present during voting to extend the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland, exactly 4 days after claiming to be a Pride Ally.

The Prime Minister released a tweet on the 6th of July addressing the LGBTQ+ community in the UK, saying: “I will be your ally for the rest of my life.”

However, the Conservative Party’s leader was absent from Parliament for a recent vote on whether to legalize gay marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland.

65 Conservative MPs voted against the legalization policy, including Jacob Rees Mogg and James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government.

8 DUP MPs, out of a total of 10, also voted against the bill and claimed that the vote breached Northern Ireland’s devolution settlement.

All 10 DUP MPs displayed interest in voting against the bill, however two of the Unionist Party’s MPs, Gavin Robinson and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, were enlisted to count MPs votes.

The legislation has put in place the ability for Westminster to legalize same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland, if Northern Ireland’s devolved parliament isn’t restored by the 21st of October.

While most of the United Kingdom has already had same-sex marriage and abortion legalized, Northern Ireland’s status as a devolved government has meant some control over which legislation was passed for the region.

However, Stormont’s Parliament has been suspended since early 2017, after Northern Ireland’s major Parties, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, failed to settle disagreements over who will lead the Parliament.

Northern Ireland currently holds the record for the longest period for a state to lack a sitting government, at over 600 days.

Should the two Political Parties fail to restore the region’s Government by this deadline, there is potential for Westminster to begin providing direct legislative focus on Northern Ireland, which has previously enjoyed some autonomy.

During the debating session for the bill, DUP MP Nigel Dodds said: “[This vote] is seeking to drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution, overriding the concerns of the people in Northern Ireland.”

However, Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North, said: “This House has failed LGBT people in Northern Ireland before.”

McGinn added: “Tonight, we have a chance to do the right thing. People in Northern Ireland – and indeed across Britain and Ireland – are watching.”

All standing MPs for every Party except the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party voted in favour of the bill.

The legislation was the result of several years of campaigning by LGBTQ+ charities, and the efforts of MPs, including Labour MPs Conor McGinn, and Stella Creasy.

The Grey Clouds and Cold Winds of Tory Britain

There is no denying at all that Brexit has become such a polarising issue that it has torn the fabric of our parliamentary politics. While the Labour Party is beginning to feel the true pressure of the issue, with many voters turning away from the party and voting for anti-Brexit parties (such as the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party). There have been fiery meetings where many are urging Jeremy Corbyn to back a second referendum, and the political fabric of The Conservative Party has been completely torn into shreds with Theresa May resigning, firing the gunshot which has begun a leadership race. With the leadership bid being narrowed down to a standoff between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, our country’s future seems bleaker and more dystopian.

The most worrying candidate is unfortunately leaping ahead in terms of popularity with MPs. Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary and the former Mayor of London has gained a reputation for being impulsive and uncompromising in many aspects. Johnson has promised that the country will leave the European Union on “31st of October, come what may” and is willing to “show that we are serious about leaving with no deal”.

In other words, if the U.K and the E.U cannot come to a new agreement, Boris Johnson wouldn’t mind taking up the option of crashing out of the European Union without a deal. While he has stressed that he doesn’t want a “No Deal” Brexit, the fact that it is on the cards should be worrying. Brussels have emphasised that the deal which Theresa May has negotiated is “not up for re-negotiation“, regardless of who makes it into Downing Street. This makes it likely that Boris Johnson will be unable to re-negotiate a new deal, therefore making the risk of a “No Deal” Brexit much higher. According to The Bank of England, leaving without a deal would cause the biggest economic plummet in modern history, with the possibility of the British economy dwindling by nearly 8%. Unemployment rates will nearly double and inflation will reach 6.5%. According to the Bank, this could increase interest rates up to 5.5%.

Another reason a Boris-led government will be catastrophic is the many diplomatic errors he has committed, as well as his dog-whistle racism. In December 2015, he described Russian President, Vladimir Putin as “a bit like Dobby the House Elf” in a column for The Telegraph. In March 2016, he wrote a crude poem about Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which he wrote, “There was a young fellow from Ankara, Who was a terrific wankerer/Till he sowed his wild oats, With the help of a goat, But he didn’t even stop to thankera“. It is worth noting that the remark about having sex with a goat is a discriminatory slur used towards Muslims (particularly Middle-Eastern Muslims). Given that President Erdogan is a Turkish Muslim, this can be seen as Islamophobic. This was all said while Boris Johnson was the Mayor of London. If he cannot even run a city without embarrassing it, how can we expect him to run a country?

The former Mayor of London also referred to the people of the African continent as “picaninnies” and particularly the people of Congo as having “watermelon smiles” in 2002, both of which are very derogatory towards Black people. With this racist remark, Johnson has normalised the racism, which people all over the world have been suffering for centuries. Most recently, Johnson received a lot of backlash for describing women who wear burqas as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers“, which caused a spike in hate crimes towards women who wear the niqab, according to the Charity Tell Mama. If he can do this as an MP, imagine the effect his words would have when he holds the highest position in government.

The candidate standing off against Boris Johnson is former Health Secretary and current Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. Just like Johnson, Hunt wants a “No Deal” to be on the table. Jeremy Hunt’s plan is to form a new negotiating team with Brussels which will be “credible” so “they have confidence it can get through Parliament”. However, this presents the same dilemma that Boris will most likely have. The E.U does not want to negotiate a new deal regardless of who takes Theresa May’s place as Prime Minister. This increases the chance of a “No Deal” Brexit which means that the catastrophic aftermaths (mentioned before) are more likely to happen.

Jeremy Hunt’s legacy as Health Secretary has been plagued with insufficient funds to the National Health Service (NHS); a lack of budget which has led to a lack of staff and equipment for the health care system to function properly. He pledged 5,000 more GPs and 25% more places for trainee nurses and doctors which he believed would make the NHS “self-sufficient”, however NHS workforce figures showed that there were more than 100,000 unfilled posts in the system. The NHS under Jeremy Hunt secured a £350 million budget for the winter of 2017 which clearly was insufficient since the winter of 2017 came to be known as the worst winter for the NHS in its history. A March 2018 analysis from The Labour Party found that the number of people waiting for more than 4 hours in A&E increased by 842% due to Hunt’s underfunding of the NHS. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of patients who had to wait for more than 2 weeks for urgent cancer treatment increased to 113,373. To add insult to injury, the U.K’s cancer survival rate plummeted to being one of the worst in Europe at 28th place out of 40 countries, which is lower than two-thirds of Europe in 2018. This is unacceptable since the NHS is renowned for its high quality, easy access and free healthcare. Jeremy Hunt’s feud with junior doctors after a reform to contracts which meant a potential pay cut and more hours once again is a sign of the incompetence he demonstrated in running the NHS, as is him running away from a junior doctor questioning him about the imposition of contracts. Jeremy Hunt has even realised that his budget cuts went “too far” after seeing a woman who had been cutting herself. If Jeremy Hunt is able to play a huge part in the Conservative’s plans of drying out the NHS before allowing it to be sold to private shareholders, imagine the wider privatisation plans he will play a huge role in when it comes to our other social services?

While the decision is ultimately up to the 160,000 members of The Conservative Party, the options left by the MPs of the party are not relieving for the public. We have an option between two candidate who will renegotiate a new deal with Brussels with a “No Deal” option on the table, the only difference being is that one candidate has said that he’ll leave the EU without a deal on 31st October if a deal isn’t negotiated, and the other candidate is not so keen. Our next Prime Minister could either be an impulsive, Trump-like character who seems to forget that he is emblematic in U.K politics, and a character who has caused embarrassment for London when he was a mayor and further embarrassment for the country with his racist and undiplomatic remarks about minorities and other world leaders; or a politician who was responsible for bleeding the NHS dry by throwing pennies at it, reformed junior doctor contracts for the worse and couldn’t face the people who it affected, and didn’t realise the extent of the damage he caused until he met a suffering woman. Grey clouds and cold winds will engulf Britain in the next two or so years, and I’m not talking about the weather.