Anne Marie Morris, the “N” word and Malcolm Turnbull

A little light reading today – brief opinion pieces in the world of politics. 

Anne Marie Morris and the “N” word

She said it. She should go. Why? Her comments were disrepectful, crude and ignorant, and her casual use of the ‘N’ word indicates prevalent racism. Isn’t an apology enough? No, I don’t think so. She should apologise, and at time of writing I believe that she has, but ultimately there is an issue about normalising her language. An apology alone lacks sincerity of intent, and helps reinforce the idea that racism is acceptable as long as you apologise for it. Imagine how you’d fell if someone used derogatory comments about you, and when challenged apologised straight after – “I called you useless, but I didn’t mean anything by it.” This isn’t about ignorance of racial sensitivities, quite the opposite. Anne Marie Morris didn’t say the word in Parliament, rather in a closed meeting in which she probably didn’t think she was being recorded, so she knew enough to be selective.

What I find interesting is the swift reaction of condemnation and action of the government. I compare this incident to former Tory MP David Ruffley, who received a caution for a domestic violence related incident. Although the decision was made that he would stand down at the following election, there was no other action taken. Indeed, as an MP, he remained in Parliament with the potential ability to vote on women’s issues. He even received praise from that wonderful piece of human drool Michael Gove.

This isn’t a contest. Anne Marie Morris comments are significant enough to warrant her resignation, and Mark Ruffley should also have been sacked, but there’s a glaring inconsistency into how politics, and society, treat certain behaviours. This isn’t about politicians being on higher pedestals. We should all be on higher pedestals when it comes to issues of misogyny, racism, or homophobia (amongst many prejudices). Simply asking for an apology alone is attempting to mitigate the damage, while conferring only a loose acknowledgement of failure. The standard should be higher, regardless of whether you’re an MP or not.

Turnbull – Liberals aren’t conservative 
So today Malcolm Turnbull tried to re-centre his party. It smacks of desperation as he tries to find the middle ground. And really, it is somewhat laughable to review the record of Turnbull as PM. He has struck to the right as much as any of his predecessors. Maybe not to the same extreme, but it says a lot about the Liberals and how far to the right they have drifted that a conservative like Turnbull is considered liberal by his own party. In the grand scheme of things I don’t think it will resolve the underlying problem of his leadership, and it may provoke further aggressive moves by Abbott. Indeed, I have to wonder why Turnbull thought it would be a good idea to provoke the right of his party at all. This will simply create further division, rather than cement his position as leader.

Dissecting the General Election – the difference between narrative and reality

So I’m going to just come out and say it – I called it. In my last blog post I wrote that there was a realistic chance of hung parliament and Tories being the largest party. Realistic, but slight, compared to the wider polling predicting a Tory landslide, but still, I thought quite plausible. I gave it a 1 in 4 chance.

Now, consider, is that a convenient narrative on my blog post, or is the reality that I gave more chance to an outright Tory victory and I was just covering lots of bases? I’ll let you decide.

The point I’m making is about the difference between narrative and reality, and why both are important in politics.

First up, let’s consider what happened. Theresa May gambled and she lost, big time. Considering from where she started at the beginning of the campaign, her defeat is even more stark. Catastrophic for her and the Tories. For the 5th time in twenty years they’ve failed to get a majority in Parliament. It’s questionable as to whether she’ll be able to stick it out or not. The DUP might give her the votes she needs, but I know little about them, outside of their general conservatism. Who knows what kind of bedfellows they will make. 

Whichever way, it’s a big defeat for May and her reputation lies in pieces.

What else occurred? Well, I’ll get to Labour in a moment. How did everyone else fare? The SNP had a disastrous night, and I can’t see how independence is on the table now. What’s worse is that they lost seats to the Tories, undermining their own reputation as progressive alternative to Labour in Scotland. It’ll be a sore pill to swallow for them.

The Lib Dems surprised no one by doing poorly, although perhaps by low standards they did very well, finally returning to double figures once again.

The Greens lost votes to Labour, but kept their one seat. 

UKIP…well, they just died on the night. No doubt though such electoral disaster will go unremarked on news broadcasts and programs like Question Time, which they frequently dominate. 

So Labour. The big winners? Yes, in many respects, that is the narrative. They’re even talking about forming the next government such is their confidence after the election (Labour that is, not the abstract ‘they’). Of course, it’s not the reality. The truth is, Labour lost, with as few seats, give or take, as Gordon Brown in 2010. 

Most pundits and commentators, and of course Theresa May, were expecting a Tory landslide (or solid victory) and the pummelling of Labour. In that regard Labour won, so the loss is technical. To put it another way, it’s a bit like a non-league side getting to the FA Cup final but losing to a Premier League side. Technically they lost, but who do you think would be hailed as heroes and the ‘real winners’?

It says a lot about Labour’s situation that they could be painted in such terms – non-league. After terrible local election results just a few weeks ago, it looked likely everything was only going one way. Thanks to the social care debacle, as well as Theresa May’s quite frankly bizarre refusal to engage with voters, and lots and lots of young voters, Labour surprised everyone, even themselves. 

They set themselves a low bar – stop the Tories having an overwhelming majority – so to end up the way they did helps build the narrative.

So which matters more? Reality is important, because, well, it’s reality. You can’t force legislation if you don’t have the seats to do it. You can’t direct policy even you’re not in government. On the other hand, if you have the strength of narrative behind you, you can make it seem like you are stronger than you are really. It can force even confident governments to make concessions when now were required. Positive narrative helps motivate, and propel action. If you don’t get carried away and believe the hype, it can be a potent force.

So what should Labour do now? 

Firstly, I think they need to consider the future. It’s possible there might be another election in a few weeks, if all the coalition/agreements break down, or there might be one in Autumn. At the latest, there will be one in five years time. I look at the electoral map, and while Labour held up handsomely in the north, midlands and London, there was a notable gap in the south. Sure they picked up some great seats like Brighton Kemptown and in Portsmouth, but these are islands of red surrounded by Tory blue. Labour needs a southern strategy, because without more seats in the south it cannot hope to get a majority. That doesn’t mean sacrificing principles or watering down its message, it’s more about how to tailor that message to the right people, but it has to be done to achieve victory.

Is Corbyn secure in his position? Almost certainly. Many of his critics were quick to lavish praise after the election, and at this point his position seems untouchable. Perhaps he’ll grow into the role more. The narrative is about his leadership, turning about a result that once destined to go awry. The reality is that his opponent slipped up more than once. However, I always think you make your own luck, and we saw a different Corbyn in the election campaign. Being behind in seats is maybe a boon, because it will make him continue to campaign, keep up the momentum. That doesn’t correct all his deficiencies. I don’t buy this zen leadership thing; I genuinely think he struggles to make a decision and still doesn’t convince. He needs time to grow into the role perhaps.

It’s a precarious position Labour are in, how to play the minority game. They could do with a determined message of intent. Stating a desire to form government is good enough I suppose, and the narrative supports it today. Tomorrow though, I think reality sinks in  and most realise it won’t happen. So what then beyond that? Labour still needs clarity over Brexit – lacking in the campaign I have to say – and needs to think about what kind of economy they will have in 2-5 years. 

Right now the narrative favours Corbyn, but as May returns from Buckingham Palace, the reality is she’ll still be at the top. Being Prime Minister is still being Prime Minister. Even if Theresa May’s forced to go, her successor will occupy the same spot, and maybe bring their own narrative – a breath of fresh air perhaps? Corbyn, and Labour, need to find a way to give people a viable, realistic alternative for the UK, otherwise the reality is that people will keep with the Tories, however unpalatable it may seem. Labour can be happy today, but without setting a determined course they risk falling into the trap of fighting old battles not new ones. That’s the difference between realities and narratives; the latter is the same over and over and becomes staid. The former helps bring clarity for the future; it hurts, but it’s the truth.

Polling Day UK: My prediction is it won’t be pretty for anyone

I hadn’t expected to be watching a UK election so soon. Not because I took Theresa May at her word that there wouldn’t be one, but more because I thought the time had come and gone. October might have been a better time, as an earlier night would suppress turnout (bad for Labour) and she had the benefit of being new and fresh in power. It made little difference though, I watched the election appear and thought, well, that’s it. Tory landslide.

After watching the election campaign, I can’t deny that the narrative for Corbyn is compelling, but nothing I’ve seen has convinced me sufficiently that it will be anything other than a Tory landslide. Here’s why.

Firstly, the polls. Sure, some have narrowed, but I haven’t seen a single one placing Labour in front. Even the most hopeful reading shows Labour a few points adrift. Most are showing wider gaps. In the last few decades, polls have overstated Labour support (see 1992 and 2010), and underplayed Tory support. Polls are still the best gauge of how an election is going, and based on the evidence the Tories are going to win.

Secondly, I don’t believe the narrative about Corbyn. I remember the narrative for Brexit (or, rather, Remain) and Clinton. Both Remain and HRC entered the polls with a strong narrative of being in the lead. Sure, Clinton had most polls onside, but her campaign was shakey and, frankly, shallow. She had too little room for error, placing all her eggs in the industrial states, and promptly losing all of them (well, the ones that mattered). Remain’s was worse, because the polls were narrow and so it should have been clear that there was a good chance they would lose. A very similar situation occurred in 1992, as the polls showed a Labour lead (but not in the right places – something I get to in a moment). They should have ignored the propaganda – the narrative – and focused on what was happening. 

The problem with Corbyn’s narrative is that he has done little to motivate it. Yes, in some measure he’s upped his game, even to my surprise. He’s got more poise than I’ve ever seen before. In many respects this is frustrating, because it shows how he could have been. Maybe he feels more comfortable campaigning – I won’t deny it helps focus the mind a great deal. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before in the far left. They exist in a perpetual state of campaigning, mainly because they have had so little success so they don’t have much choice. It also explains why they struggle with power on the rare times they get it – they forget that leading and campaigning are not the same thing. I don’t find Corbyn’s rise too surprising in that respect. 

Labour have delivered a good manifesto; it was a genuine statement of intent. No one could deny where it was placing Labour. That wouldn’t necessarily draw people to it of course, but it was distinct and finally produced the narrative Labour had been bereft of since, well, probably since Tony Blair stepped down. Compared to the Tories, and indeed all the minor parties, it provided energy and dynamism. My difficulty with this is that it may not be sufficient. The manifesto is likely to be the type of thing that only motivates people that already agree with Labour, not necessarily those that Labour needs for victory. There are many independent voters, and some Tories-willing-to-vote-Labour-from-time-to-time that wil not have been encouraged by it. 

So the policy is there, and the narrative (putting context to Corbyn’s policies) is also beginning to form. Unfortunately, much of the rest is actually the result of the vacuum left by the Tories. Theresa May has wisely retreated from public scrutiny – she’s actually been revealed as a very poor campaigner and performer. In terms of leadership she’s leaving plenty of room for Corbyn to seem like he can fill the gap. Unfortunately I think it’s just an illusion, a shallow cover over a void that May and the Tories don’t need to fill. I see too little evidence of a major shift in opinion. Even the social care debacle quietened the moment the Tories reversed it; embarrassing yes, but it didn’t destroy their campaign. Labour might have been hoping to carry that all the way to polling day, but the Tories made the only sensible judgement call they could, and Labour is left there with nothing.

The third issue is that I don’t think that the polling experience is showing sufficient leverage for Labour to be gaining where they need to. They’ve extended their lead a little in London – no surprise – and showed some resilience in Wales and even Scotland, but the long and short of it is that I don’t see sufficient energies by the Tories in defending their weakest seats. Rather, they seem to be trying to gaining Labour ones. It suggests that they feel they are performing better than the narrative suggests. Labour might be getting more support in places like London, Manchester and Liverpool, but I have yet to see the type of movement they need in the south.

That comes to the fourth problem, which is minor compared to the others, but I think indicative of Labour’s underlying trend. Corbyn is getting big crowds for sure, but these are people that already agree with him. Yes, it is rare for UK politicians to amass crowds like this, but that doesn’t mean it’s indicative of wide ranging support. Consider, if people were openly supporting Corbyn and Labour then why is this not measured in the polls? Why is the anecdotal evidence still reporting poor trending for Corbyn on the doorstep? More importantly, for my mind, these large crowds aren’t turning into major operations on the ground (i.e. Door knocking, leafleting etc.). It’s passive campaigning, and not likely to garner more support, although it does help build the narrative for Corbyn being on the rise. I just think it’s deceptive.

So, if I was to summarise, I think there’s a 70% chance of Tories getting a 50+ majority. I think 25% of a hung parliament with the Tories the largest party. 5% for hung Parliament with Labour the largest party. I don’t see a realistic avenue for Labour to win a majority – sad but that’s how I see it. It’ll be devastating for Labour supporters that got their hopes up, and it will lead to further internal turmoil if Corbyn refuses to leave immediately.  For the Tories, their reputation will be shot. It’s been a poor campaign by any measure (which says a lot about Labour’s weaknesses that they haven’t been able to acquire sufficient gain). I’m not sure how Theresa May’s reputation will survive this. In fact, I can see Boris Johnson already setting up to ‘rescue’ Brexit and stage a challenge within the next twelve months. 

Who will lose the most? The UK, already suffering the repercussions of its self-harming episode last year with Brexit, will be the biggest loser. Nothing I have see – nothing – has led me to believe that there is anything in the political classes in British politics that can safely navigate its ways through Brexit. Tim Farron’s attempt to gain the Remain crowd as a platform has failed miserably, mainly because the British stubbornness extends even to catastrophic decision making. It’s like jumping off a cliff, only then realising you’re going to die, but thinking “but I might survive” and rejecting pessimism in the process. People talk about the death of the NHS, decline in education, business, standards, human rights,  but the truth is all that was lost when Brexit appeared on the scene. I’m looking at a distance and I think it’s fading away into death. For me, it’s a car crash of it’s own making, and I’m glad to have my little piece of solace out here in Australia. I could be wrong – the polls could be completely off the mark and Labour romps to biggest surprise victory – but I doubt it. I can’t muster the energy to even think about voting, much less worry about the outcome. Really wish I could, but I can’t. Polling day will be ugly, there’ll be no winners, and it’ll leave a mark for generations. 

Nihilistic, rudderless and banal: 5 reasons why Jeremy Corbyn has to go if Labour, and the UK, is to be saved

Labour’s narrow victory at Stoke and disastrous loss at Copeland is the first definitive sign of just how much Labour is struggling under Jeremy Corbyn. In the aftermath, it might be easy for some to dismiss the loss at Copeland as emblematic of current polling, as though that somehow justifies the loss. Of course, that raises the question of why Labour is so far behind in the polls to begin with. Here are 5 lessons to be drawn from the recent by-elections.

1. Copeland is a disaster. Make no bones about it. I saw Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, trying to make some attempt at explaining the historic closeness of results in Copeland. Despite it being Labour, it has generally always had narrow margins of victory. Unfortunately, while this is true, it is distracting from the wider issue that Labour lost it this time. In 2010, Labour’s loss at the election was described as the biggest in its history, only then for 2015 to see further decline. Both times Labour held Copeland. What does it say now if, as is suspected, people in the seat were actively voting against Corbyn? It signifies just how badly Labour is now doing. To put in context as well, Michael Foot was gone after four years, and it was another 14 before a Labour government. At this point, we’ll have had at least 10 years of a Tory led government by 2020, and Labour could be so far down in the polls to be insignificant in terms of parliamentary power. A quarter of century of Tory rule is growing more plausible.

2. Stoke flatters Labour. Yes, UKIP’s efforts were undermined by poor organisation, and a poor candidate (I cannot see how the Hillsborough fiasco could have done anything other than ruined Nuttal’s chances). However, this shouldn’t allow Labour to think all is well in it’s heartlands. For a start, Labour have found how easy it is when your opposition is so weak. Quite the situation the Tories are in at the moment nationally. I do wonder what might have happened with a more organised UKIP campaign, or perhaps a candidate not so Trump like in nature. Labour had a central campaign message – the NHS – while UKIP had nothing. That doesn’t mean that people found Labour’s message enticing, it’s simply that when faced with a consistent political message, and a chaotic inconsistent mess, people will always pick the most consistent. It’s why the Tories tend to dominate so well compared to Labour. Their messaging is much less nuanced than Labours, and they tend to put their policies in terms of what they will do for you, the voter. Labour’s tend to be more abstract and less direct – they look like they’re telling you what they will do for everyone else, but not YOU. Labour need to learn this lesson and not draw a vain belief that the NHS campaign is the right one. As Copeland showed, people are willing to sacrifice the NHS if they are receiving a more direct form of campaigning.

3. Labour is descending into nihilism, particularly from the far left and newer recruits. Corbyn’s lack of humility about the Copeland result, unwilling to accept responsibility, signifies a Prima facie resolve from Labour, to struggle on even when faced with defeat. In reality, it is defeatism that has turned into nihilism. Faced with no prospect of victory, Corbyn and his cult like following have simply given up and opted for masking their dismay behind a “we will soldier on”. It’s a lie. Instead of trying to improve the situation, they will move ever towards more extreme policies, which are designed to put people off, further justifying the self-destructive passage that may end Labour for generations.

We can see something of this in terms of policy. All Labour seems to be these days is an NHS swan song. Don’t get me wrong, I am horrified by what the Tories are doing and can do further to the NHS. People are literally dying as a result. It’s easy to see why Labour has a particular focus. However, it’s not the only policy that matters and people have other interests. Consider the example of a group of friends that meet up regularly. One of them only ever talks about one thing, the state of the NHS. At first the friends tolerate this, because they are friends and they are sympathetic to the situation. However, as time goes on, the other friends realise this all this person talks about. In fact, this friend doesn’t appear interested in the rest of them. At first they make excuses for leaving early, but in the end they simply stop inviting that friend. That is where Labour are now. A party sounding a one track record that’s scratched.

Why won’t Labour talk about other policies effectively? Well, it’s mainly to do a lack of creativity. Corbyn doesn’t know what to do about the various ‘wicked problems’ the UK faces. Instead of accepting his own inadequacy, he merely sticks to the same topic to distract. Again it is nihilistic – there is no hope of victory, therefore the only course is one of defeat.

4. Corbyn is a really, really poor leader. I don’t know how many times I’ve reflected on this in my blog, but Corbyn is displaying fewer and fewer credentials for being a representative of anything. He rather stupidly referred to how the people of Copeland have been let down by the establishment, after Labour have been representing that seat for over 50 years. 

He failed to take any responsibility for Copeland. When asked by a reporter if he ever looked in the mirror and asked if he was responsible, Corbyn answered “No, thank you for your question.” What he should have said is something like, “Obviously I am disappointed by the result in Copeland. I don’t think it represents the hard work we put in, but it clearly shows that there is a gap between our policies and the people we are pledged to represent. We need to examine closely why that has occurred and how we can work to persuade more people to vote Labour. As leader though, I clearly have to take responsibility for the result, and to learn from this etc.” 

There are those that blame the MP’s. In some measure, the MP’s are responsible. For a start, those imbeciles that nominated Corbyn two years ago. They are directly responsible for Labour’s current collapse. Then there are the rebels. Truth is, last year, they shot too high and missed. They lost, and Corbyn became stronger than ever, as a parasite does by draining its host. Of course, drain too much and the host dies, and the parasite with it. Am I calling Corbyn a parasite? Yes, yes I am.

Ultimately though, Corbyn is responsible for the conduct of the MP’s. To quote Tywin Lannister, “When soldiers lack discipline, the fault lies with their commander.” The MP’s lack discipline, because Corbyn does not, and cannot, lead. Maybe he’s realised this, and hoping John McDonnell, equally inept, can manage to get the rules changed to get a better chance of nomination, and so resign then. Such a thing would be an even bigger disaster. Corbyn is disliked, but McDonnell is dispised nationally.

5. Extra members doesn’t equal extra campaigners. Labour is sitting somewhere around 500,000 members at the moment, quite remarkable. However, this isn’t turning into extra campaigners. In a seat like Copeland, there should have been a small army of Labour campaigners out there, getting the message out. Instead, numbers of volunteers were measured in the hundreds, not thousands. Where are all the Momentum lackies? Too busy fighting each other in an inevitable internal collapse of the far left? It’s easy to highlight Corbyn’s massed supporters, but in practical terms they have delivered nothing. 

So where does this all leave Labour? Even if they did get rid of Corbyn, I wonder if they have the means and the resolve to face up to the scale of the challenge. There needs to be a greater reflection within the party about what they actually want and how they intend to promote it. Challenging the economic wisdom of the time has to be done in such a way that people will feel that they will benefit from it. Nationalising services has to be the means to a particular end, not the end of every means. In other words, using nationalisation as a solution where appropriate, not for every issue. People need persuading of its validity before accepting it wholesale. 

The Labour Party needs something radical to shift perceptions, to show that it revolutionise without appearing to be randomly revolutionary. People are genuinely worried about the ramifications of Brexit, for or against, and the wider implications of a failing trust in the free market system. The scale of the challenge of climate change is immense, and the issue of immigration and globalisation reminds unresolved. What are Labour’s solutions and alternatives to these problems? And how can they be articulated in such a way that will deliver public support. The party may have many people in its ranks capable of meeting this challenge, but Jeremy Corbyn is most definitely not one of them. It’s time for him to go, and it’s time for Labour to start meeting the challenges the UK faces.

Ugly duck´╗┐: 3 reasons why Donald Trump will be re-elected

It’s been difficult to avoid Donald Trump these last few weeks. I had expected a blustery start, but not this near-perfect storm of fascist demagoguery. It’s a terrible blend, like a devastating storm; inspiring fear, terrible to behold, and impossible to turn away.

In the midst of this, it’s easy to think Trump is the storm that will blow itself out. A house of cards of his making that he himself will cause to fall apart. Yes, these things are possible, but it is by no means certain, and the centre, the left, and even the hopeful right, would do well to pay heed to the dangers.

So here are my 3 reasons why Trump will win in 2020.

1. Charisma. Not in the beautiful sense of course. Trump attracts like a bludger. He himself has little real talent, but is able to draw others around him to carry him forward. In many respects, akin to Hitler. Butler had skills to be sure, but in many ways he lacked a finesse of governing, and was happy to allow others to do the hard work. As long as Trump is President, he can accept the management of the likes of a neo-Nazi like Steve Bannon.
In this respect he is an ambivalent source of change. Few I think expect great things from him, but hope that his presence will be the catalyst for whatever extreme change they think needs to happen. For this reason, Trump’s rise and fall does not rely necessarily on success. Indeed, in many respects he has failed even as a winner – 2 million less votes than Hilary Clinton. Massive protests and legal challenges have already appeared in excess.

No, as a centre point for change he holds power; even as a useless man he might still be a useful puppet. People might suffer, but do not be amazed how many of those will blame others rather than him. Those that live perpetually in a world of fear, paranoia and hatred, have the most to fear from rationality. It means accepting your life is the lie. Denial is a powerful motivator.

Trump draws attention, even as a poor President and a poorer man. The left and centre and the placid right revel in gravitas, but there are those that either dismiss it, or they mistake other behaviour for the same thing. Those people are the ones that will vote with Trump, even if they know it will kill them. And they believe their vote is rational, even if everyone else says otherwise. They have genuine fears, even if they are flawed, and these can’t be easily dismissed. They need engagement, and recognition. Without a strategy to win them over, the Democrats will founder.

2.The fanatics. There are many that agree with Trump, his vision, his ideals, if indeed we can apply so lofty a title to such lowly beliefs. These people, like Bannon, and Conway, have a vested interest. After so long on the fringes of extremism they have been pushed into positions of power they couldn’t have dreamed of before. 

These high profile fascists are not the only believers though. There are others who will stand by Trump’s racism, knowing full well they are racist and being proud of the fact. There are misogynists, homophobes, and fascists in plentiful supply. They will believe and follow no matter, because they are believers.

It might have been assumed in the past that they were too few, but as the last election showed they are more common, and more united, than people had realised. They are unconventional, refusing to identify by the established standards, as we saw with polling. It makes it difficult to judge their commitment, how much they might waver (in polling we might look for levels of likely voters, but it’ll be hard to track them that way).  Their vote meant something, maybe for the first time in their life. Seeing Trump in power they get to see a part of themselves, and they share in the power. They might be discouraged from voting for Trump if his failures are great enough, but they won’t vote for anyone else.

3.Duff opposition. This is simple; the Democrats end up with a poor candidate. It’s arguable that Hilary Clinton was a poor candidate. In many respects she was an excellent choice – experienced and intelligent – but there was plenty to undermine her appeal. The emails were part of the problem, but they were part of a wider problem. For years the Republicans and the right in general had been busy attacking the Clinton’s credentials. HRC dealt with much of it well, but she underestimated it’s impact. The emails fed the mistrust, but they didn’t create it.

The Democrats have had a poor record in the past with other candidates, largely underestimating their opponent (like Gore and Kerry), or simply not being up to the task (like Dukakis). They have to pick well. Aim too high, misjudge the political landscape, underestimate Trump, all these could cost them, and the world, dear.

So that’s my 3. Not the only reasons of course, but to me they seem to be the most pertinent at the moment. The subtleties of politics can distort the issues, and other things will influence change (I haven’t considered Putin or his motivations and what may happen there for example), but the bigger and broader issues will always apply. It’s going to be a long four years, and if results like Brexit and Trump have shown anything, it’s don’t take things for granted.

Why I can’t celebrate Australia Day

I appreciate the public holiday, I really do, and this being a country I love I wish I could celebrate. Alas, I cannot. 

When I cam to Australia I’ll admit that I was ill prepared for the adventure that would lie ahead, the exhilaration I get from just being here. If I travel abroad on holiday I feel like I’m going on holiday just by coming back to Australia. This place takes my breath away. I can stand in the outback, looking out over scenery that probably looked just the same thousands of years ago. There’s a spirit in this place, something that touches my soul (and I’m atheist). The people here have an openness and genuine spirit it’s difficult not to like. Australian’s work to play is the summary of it – they have the right idea.

I didn’t come here as an immigrant. I came as a citizen, courtesy of my father. But I spent most of my life in the UK. I might be Australian, but I haven’t lost the Britishness. Nonetheless, I feel closer to this country than I ever have to the UK. 

Even so, I’d never been the biggest fan of nationalistic celebration. I understand it, I get, but I never really embraced it. Being in Australia, having gained so much, I feel like I want to be a part of that celebration, giving back in some way for all Australia’s done for me. I would love to do it, but I can’t.

Some people call Australia Day Invasion Day. I can see why. If I really need to describe all the awful consequences of colonialisation, then I’m probably wasting my time, but it’s been brutal. Land taken away, murdered, raped, and their children stolen – Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders have suffered greatly for the benefit of Anglo civilisation. I’ve got to be frank, but holding Australia Day on the day ‘commemorating’ the arrival of the British fleet, would be like Germany holding a national day on the same day as the Wannsee Conference.

I know, when Australians celebrate Australia Day they’re doing it to celebrate. To have fun, being Australian.I don’t see many people actively celebrating the colonialisation and racist policies and actions that followed. Most understand the past, even if not everyone is ready to face up to it.

So the people protesting today, the ones that call it Invasion Day. They’re not asking to stop Australia Day, they want to celebrate. I do too. All that’s being asked for, is for the date to be changed. That’s it.

This isn’t political correctness – that’s the far right bogeyman used to justify prejudice. It’s about what’s right,  respecting the indigenous population and having humility before the past. I realise it would be hard for some people; accepting crimes of the past, even for ancestors, can be difficult. Changing the date might be implicitly accepting that responsibility, and that guilt. I get that’s hard. But it needs to be done.

I’m not so detached from nationalism that I can completely ignore the cultural need for collective identity and celebration, but to celebrate Australia Day on this day, of all days, is unacceptable to my core. If you want to have a good day and enjoy with friends and family, go for it, but ask yourself, would it really make any difference if it was 25th January or the 27th? I don’t think so. Let those like Barnaby Joyce crap over honest and principled sentiment, let people collectively, together, celebrate, and please understand that holding Australia Day on the same day, that almost led to the extermination of the indigenous population, is not inclusive. Change the date, so that all Australians can celebrate together.

Corbyn v Smith – Hobson’s Choice for Labour

Today Labour Party members in the UK begin the process of electing their new leader. I’m going to predict Corbyn – while I think the enthusiasm for his campaign is overstated, I also think Smith has proven to be too lightweight in this scenario. If I were still a member, I’d not vote.

So I write what I think will be the challenge for Corbyn as leader, and for the party as a whole.

1. Corbyn has to make peace with the PLP. While people might argue the Labour MP’s need to give Corbyn greater support for him to improve, remember this not a chicken and egg argument. I believe in the truism that teams reflect the mindset of the leader. Disorganised, argumentative and unruly teams are a sign of a lack of leadership. The MP’s are reflecting their leader.

The general threats made towards MP’s, as well as the (untrue) claims of ‘red Tories’ do little to encourage anyone. I feel genuinely sorry for the PLP. I had no idea of the sheer sense of desperation that had seeped in after Brexit, the final straw to break the camel’s back. Threats of deselection may prove to be meaningless – they think they are going to lose their seats anyway. But these people believe in the party, and they were campaigning for it long before the bulk of Corbyn’s supporters joined.

Corbyn will be hamstrung unless he can find ways to work with the PLP. A man of peace, articulating negotiation over aggression, Corbyn needs to exercise that principle in practice. I’d even suggest a third party mediator if needed (low key of course) to help bring agreement. At the very least, Corbyn needs to find new ways to work with them – his previous approach merely led to him facing another leadership contest.

Remember, it is the leader’s responsibility to bring the team to him, and the team need a reason to follow.

2. Corbyn needs to develop a narrative. Ed Miliband had some good popular policies, but he failed to weave these into an effective narrative for the country. The stories haven’t had one for decades (Big Society was the last one and it was a flop). The problem was they could simplify their campaign message to one thing, the economy. Labour were still trying to bang on about One Nation stuff. 

Corbyn’s produced some good policies. He’s calling for the abolition of the House of Lords and devolution to the rest of England (thus I could get behind), but he has to connect this anti-austerity (which most people don’t know the meaning of), and demonstrate an ability to tie in resolute decision making. 

This is a major hamstring. I notice phrases like ‘call the government to account’ and ‘ask questions of the government’. This is the wrong mindset. It suggests passivity and is the language of a social campaign, not a political force. He did the same when ISIN Duncan Smith resigned – refusing to accuse the stories over economic failure. When the Tories slip up, Labour should state what they would do instead and then ask ‘why aren’t the Tories doing this?’ It forces the narrative to be about Labour’s policies, and puts the stories on the defensive. 

3. Corbyn needs to ignore the media. As a Labour supporter, I have watched for decades now the anti-Labour garbage against Blair, Brown, Miliband and now Corbyn. It’s a long standing issue, but one Corbyn has to manage. This comes down to narrative, having something alternative to show people. At the moment, there’s very little. 

The media in the UK have always been slanted to the right – I’ve always found accusations of the BBC being too liberal laughable – so it’s foolish to expect them to change. They are something to be managed, not constrained.

4. Corbyn needs to be categorical about where he stands, but he also needs to refine his principle approach. I have no idea what he said or didn’t say about Russia, but the impression I got was that he refused to say if he would assist NATO nations in the event of a Russian invasion. All he needs to say is that he would consider military action to repel unwarranted acts of aggression or invasion. It makes me wonder what would have to happen for Corbyn to consider military action.

On Russia I find Corbyn’s position all over the place. Putin has committed a war of aggression on Chechnya (not unlike Iraq?) and is likely responsible for the assassinations of political opponents and critics. Russia has embarked on anti-LGBT legislation and policy, and there’s even one Rusdian MP trying to decriminalise domestic violence. I see little reason to be ambiguous about this man. It does not mean the approach of the West should remain uncritiqued, but Corbyn’s ambivalence to such an obvious dictator will be off putting to millions of Britons.

Also, take nuclear weapons. It’s no use just saying he opposes Trident or nuclear weapons. He needs to weave that into a narrative of foreign policy strategy, about how the UK would function nuclear free. At the moment, he just looks like hippy pacifist that would flinch at nasty language. He looks weak.

5. Corbyn needs to stop giving speeches to large crowds. I really mean it. This is killing him in the polls. His supporters see popularity, but I tell you right now the country will see ‘mob’. Tone. It. Down.

Most people don’t follow crowds. Look at Iraq – 2 million estimated protestors in London against the war. Who won the 2005 general election? Who came second? Pro-war parties took over 60% of the vote.

Crowds help if they are following a wider narrative. When Obama shot into the scene he did it with a message of change that resonated for a war weary world. The message came first, the crowds after. I don’t see any expectation of Corbyn doing anything than saying the same things over and over to people that already like him. It can’t work like that.

The U.K. is much more intimate than, say, the US. British people are by their nature socially conservative. Corbyn needs to encourage most people that if he takes over he’ll spend his time as PM addressing crowds not Parliament or, worse still, that a group of socialist whack jobs aren’t going to run rampage.

Appearances matter. That’s why Corbyn opted for smarter clothes.

I don’t hold much confidence that Corbyn will do this. I merely suggest this approach based on my perceptions. I have the advantage of being on the outside looking in. There’s nothing invested for me in practice – I don’t live in the UK. His past approach has failed, and he needs to change, but his capacity to do this is thus far lacking in demonstration.

The Cult of Corbyn

I do wonder if Corbyn realises what’s happening in Labour right now. Sometimes his manner of affable socialist can be quite disarming, other times I think it is a ruse.

It’s a precarious position Corbyn finds himself in. A lot of the membership have put a lot of faith in him. If it turns out he’s not the Messiah, it may turn out badly for him. 
It’s a divisive time for Labour. Members with common cause across a broad spectrum of left wing thinking, but wracked with disharmony, discord and outright vilification.

I remember when I was a member in the party. My tendencies in principle were left wing, but I was startled at how mundane the policy thinking of many on the ‘hard left’ of the party was. They often had sound principles, and some good policies, but they struggled with the concept that they would have to ‘sell’ the idea to the public. In particular, they really struggled with the idea of simplifying the message for public consumption. They seemed to live in a world where everyone was as passionate about politics as they were, and so would take the time to read long tracts of literature put through their door. 

Worse still any opposition to their ideas (sometimes they had naff policies too) was met with instant labelling of ‘Blairite’ or ‘you’re just New Labour’. I also detested that claim, not least because it was untrue,  but also the hypocrisy that many of the ‘old Labour’ brigade were happy to accept the benefits of New Labour when it brought success. The broad church of the Labour Party was only broad if it accommodated the hard left and nothing else.

Still, for the most part they were good people, hard working in terms of campaigning and dedicated to tackling social injustice. Despite my many disagreements, I would never withhold support for them, I accepted the whip, and I’d actively campaign for them. I knew that whatever disagreements we had behind closed doors ended when we opened them – we all walked out Labour.

So to see some of the madness that has overtaken the party is both saddening and sickening. Yesterday, while on the Andrew Marr show, John McDonnell took a moment to look straight into the camera and appeal for unity. It was appalling, not least because he dismissed opponents Corbyn and (tellingly) himself as wanting to ‘destroy’ the party.

So it comes to this – dissent against the left and you are no longer just on the right, no longer just a Blairite or New Labour, you want to destroy the party. Yesterday McDonnell exposed the authoritarian nature of the leadership and Corbyn’s, shall we say, gentler politics.

This extremism is disturbing. It reminds me of the US Republican Party in it’s modern day zeal, denouncing Democrats and liberals as enemies of the US. There’s no middle ground, no acceptance unless there is conformity. McDonnell’s plea was no different, and he attempted to  delegitimise dissent in the party.

I’d also note the talk into the camera moment came at the same time he was being pressurised about an alleged break in to an MP’s office in Parliament. It seemed convenient misdirection, and suggests to me it was pre-planned.

It’s a disturbing turn of phrase that denotes the true intentions of this new leadership. It is why I wonder where Corbyn is in the scheme of things. How much control does he have? Is he genuinely ignorant of the very great difference between mindless opposition and critical feedback? I don’t know enough to about the man on a personal level to have insight like that. I can only judge what he’s done. 

He’s sowed the seeds of discord, and Cold War paranoia. Labour has gone from divisive to ugly. It may be that this ‘momentum ‘ needs to burn itself out. Perhaps only a general election defeat will deliver the realisation for the party.

The problem is that there is considerable irresponsibility with his supporters. Everything is someone else fault. Poor election results? Blame the media. Poor polling? Blame the rebels. Poor PMQ’s, blame the MP’s. Under Corbyn, failure is everyone else’s fault. He is crucified because of everyone else’s sins.

I see some talk of the Overton Window. I see some suggestion of a wider scale of change. Perhaps it is the case that we are in the midst of a major reset, and that the left is reorientating itself. It is possible, but I don’t see any political nounce in the likes of Corbyn, McDonnell or McCluskey. They close off the realities of the world because it’s too inconvenient to try and deal with them. I genuinely think, that despite 30 years of being an MP, Corbyn is no closer to understanding the nature of leadership and substantive policy than he was when he started.

It’s a scary thought. A group of narrow minded, unimaginative bullies trying to form government. How would they function in government? They look terrified, because the halo might slip and they’ll be seen for the frauds they are.

Politics is about the exercise and use of power. In the wrong hands it can be disastrous; in the right hands it can deliver deep and meaningful change for generations. For hundreds of thousands of party members, I fear they are about to learn the hard way that the exercise of power under Corbyn will be akin to using a rubber mallet to open a steel door.

It’s a pity, because with this desire for social change this mass movement could mean something, but under Corbyn, and his inner circle of extremists, I fear it so no more than the surging charge of lemmings. The great mass movement towards annihilation.

What Corbyn needs to do to be an effective leader

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign kicked off yesterday, and in some ways it came off more positive than I expected. In other ways though he failed to articulate successfully why he can lead effectively. In some parts he looked almost bilgerent and authoritarian.

There’s already been some interesting analysis of Corbyn’s chances of leading Labour to victory. For the record, it doesn’t look good

So what does he need to do to be an effective leader?

Firstly, he has to be able to build a effective team and manage resources he has. Like most leaders, Corbyn has limited choice over the team he puts together. He can establish a shadow cabinet, and his advisors, but he has no control over who are the MP’s and employees of the Party. 

For this reason he has to be able to show flexibility to engage with the strengths of those around him. Since all team dynamics involve political dimensions, he needs to be sensitive to differing perspectives and opinions. Of course, he’s got to a point where MP’s are no longer disgruntled but are out rightly in opposition to him. This didn’t happen in isolation – Corbyn has been leader for 9 months. If his MP’s are in open revolt he needs to take responsibility and resolve this.

Simply saying ‘I am the leader’ is not enough. There has to be negotiation. Luckily for Corbyn he has some advantage here. Labour is a broad church of left wing, centre and occasionally soft right opinion, but married by common principle. On a lot of issues he needs to negotiate common cause, work out what everyone can agree on and then negotiate on the rest. He needs to apply sensible application of leadership in cases where opinion is intractable (like Trident), or sometimes just make the hard call and say ‘this is what we’re doing’. Note that he can only do this if he has demonstrated a genuine attempt to listen to all sides.

He needs to be responsive. This means being able to make decisions in timely manner. A LOT of MP’s have complained about his inability to do this, with a running theme of non-communicative. I suspect this may be the biggest underlying problem. Ed Milliband had marginally  better but still poor electoral results. A big difference was his engagement with the PLP.

In some regards he has shown adaptability, but in others he seemed woefully dense. It was not sensible to mention selection issues and boundary changes. There was no other way for his critics to see that as anything other than an outright threat.

Another aspect of responsiveness is understanding cause and effect, and a little bit of systems theory. That is, the wider implications of a decision, and knock on effects. It’s important in politics because it’s the difference between a slogan and a policy.

A good example of what not to do lies in Corbyn’s comments about pharmaceuticals. While he was undoubtedly aiming for the leadership race his comments have wider implications. He’s raised the question of whether he wants to nationalise pharmaceuticals in the UK. Maybe he does, but he needs a policy ready to do this effectively – I suspect he hasn’t got one. Also, a large number of employees are union members – the same ones he is relying on for support. I’m not sure he considered all the ins and outs of his comment – it was a cheap hit against his opponent, but in the longer term might have greater drawbacks.

He needs greater innovation. Some ideas, like questions from actual people for PMQ’s, were genuinely intriging. Unfortunately they have limited benefit if applied in a scattergun approach (Corbyn rarely sticks to one or two subjects in PMQ’s so his impact is lost).

He also lacks nuance. When asked about deterrence, Corbyn said he wouldn’t use it. What he could have said is ‘hopefully we’ll never have to find out’. That way he leaves enough doubt about which way he would go, without compromising in his beliefs. Being honest doesn’t mean you have to be openly honest all the time.

This is also an electoral issue. Labour has lost a huge number of voters to UKIP and the Tories. The former probably on immigration, the latter on the economy. It’s not likely that Corbyn is going to sacrifice his principles to appease these voters. Tony Blair would probably have sought some policies to appease theses voters (contributing both to his success and also source of criticism from the left).

So, if Corbyn won’t sacrifice his principles on these issues, he needs to find clever ways to engage on those subjects. He can’t simply ignore the problem (because it won’t go away AND people will think he’s out of touch), and he can’t simply reject the assertion outright (because people generally don’t respond well to being told they are wrong). Unfortunately, this is an area he has struggled with. Without finding a way to deliver effective policy and messaging, he and Labour will go no where.

Corbyn needs to have perseverance on issues. In some respects he’s demonstrated this already – he certainly hasn’t backed out of a bruising fight with his MP’s. In other regards though, he still struggles. For example, he is attempting to bring a different style to the House of Commons arena. That’s fine, but he seems to have gone no where once it became apparent that the Tories weren’t going to go along with this. Now his approach seems weak and ineffectual. He needs to find other ways to put pressure on the Tories about this matter if he wants to make change.

For Corbyn to establish himself as a leader he needs to display qualities well beyond those he has demonstrated. He might have integrity in some regards, but while good leaders need integrity, not everyone with integrity will make a good leader.

I honestly think Corbyn’s biggest problem is his inability to compromise and negotiate with his PLP. Ultimately, party membership doesn’t win elections – only seats in the Commons do. It is the natural focal point of public opinion on political effectiveness, not flash mob rallies of Socialist Worker Party supporters.

He and other MP’s would see eye to eye on many, if not most, issues. The difference is that his approach is leaving something to be desired, and he seems thus far unable to bring the two sides together. Threatening them is not going to resolve his problem – if they think they will be deselected automatically they may take a collective plunge and resign on mass. Extreme behaviour pushes people to extremes. 

Corbyn doesn’t need to compromise on every principle – indeed, if he’s sensible he doesn’t need to compromise on any principle. But he does need to show that he can listen, take on board opinion and respond effectively. Thus far he has failed to do, and his leadership credentials lie in tatters.

Only by making a massive fundamental change to his approach – some kind of epiphany – can he begin to rebuild his party image and establish himself as a genuine alternative to Teresa May, and credible option as PM.

I look across at the UK political landscape. New Prime Minister, Brexit has happened but isn’t going to happen this year, Boris Johnson is the UK Foreign Secretary. That really is a ‘fuck you’ to the rest of the world. 

Of course, these things might pass me by. I feel indifference to the new PM (a Tory is a Tory is a Tory), only distant frustration at Brexit, and general amusement at Boris Johnson (I mean, fucking hell, did anyone think about that decision properly?).

My main source of woe is Labour, and what a topsy-turvey party it has become. It makes me feel sad, to see friends so torn and angry, and unfocused. Really unfocused.

The problem, of course, is the chasm of belief between MP’s and Jeremy Corbyn. There seems to be a genuine schism between the need for integrity (which Corbyn is perceived to have), and leadership (for which he is less so renowned).

I have all kinds of problems with this scenario. A good leader must have integrity, but not everyone with integrity is a leader. 

Corbyn, for me, is not a leader. He lacks conviction, and his approach to the stories is remarkably passive. When the Tories were last in opposition they turned the narrative into ‘if we were in power we would do A,B and C’. This meant questions to the Labour government were put in the context of Tory policy, not government. That wasn’t the only problem Labour had back then, but it was a central one.

Labour under Corbyn though, is generally of perspective of ‘what are you going to do about these problems?’ It allows the Tories to give any answer they want, and the narrative is still about Tory policy.

Ed Miliband’s biggest problem was that despite some excellent, sensible and popular policies, he failed to provide a narrative for his leadership. Like Corbyn, he became leader thanks to the trade union block of voters, and a sizeable chunk of regular members. Corbyn’s victory was more emphatic of course, but both sourced from the same place.

Despite this popular support from members, Corbyn has failed to materialise with a narrative. In fact, far worse, he has failed to materialise. He has made no headway in Scotland. His canpaigning on Brexit was woeful, and the victories trumpeted in his name are minor in electoral terms (London mayor, for which he had little to do with, and Bristol mayor, which should have been won anyway). 

I find disturbing the lack of critical perspective from his supporters. There is a willingness to back despite acceptance that he will probably lose a general election anyway.

It’s even more alarming that there is no real alternative. The PLP’s best offerings are not likely to set the world on fire. Although in fairness, this is uncharted territory.

I’m losing my train of thought. Already at Freo. I’ll continue this tomorrow, or maybe I won’t.