Saturday, 28 September 2019

Boris and the Boys: An Eton Mess of Misogyny

He speaks for us. Seriously, he does.
Somehow each and every week seems to bring ever more bizarre unravelling of our crumbling Political Class and a deeper and deeper plumbing of new depths of appalling behaviour. Tuesday's shock becomes Wednesday's norm and on and on. Representative democracy dies before our eyes.

This week was no exception. The biggest political tremor may have been the Supreme Court's controversial finding that the reasons for the prorogation of Parliament were unlawful. Yet perhaps the most memorable moment came when the PM was challenged by Labour MPs Paula Sherriff and Tracy Brabin to moderate his language which, deliberately, invokes World War 2 tropes of "surrender" and "betrayal" in the face of the Continental enemy.

Amplifying this has been the Tory press, the Daily Mail in particular, decrying their political opponents as "enemies of the people" and "saboteurs", again language more akin to 1939 (when of the course the Mail was actually very pro-Hitler in its sympathies). The wording is calculated - they may not explicitly state it, but in the past such designations would see the recipients jailed or even executed. The permission to commit violence in the cause of the Nation is not long in coming to minds so inclined.

Sherriff, since 2015 the MP for Dewsbury, who, like many MPs and especially female ones, has been subject to literally thousands of threats and incidents of abuse, reminded Johnson of the murder of her friend and former neighbouring MP Jo Cox, stabbed and shot in the street by right-winger, Tom Mair. The last words she heard from her assassin were "Put Britain first" and in court, asked to confirm his name, he responded, "My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain."

In better times: Jo Cox and Paula Sherriff
Johnson's response to a passionate but clearly upset Sherriff was to pompously declare, "I've never heard such humbug in my life." He was equally dismissive to a follow up question from Brabin, who is Cox's successor as Batley MP, and went as far as to suggest that the best tribute to the murdered parliamentarian would be to "get on with delivering Brexit." 

Echoing him, whether as Master or puppet it's not entirely clear, his adviser Dominic Cummings, an Orc-impressionist whose grasping bitterness would put Sauron to shame, mumbled that given the failure to deliver Brexit, it wasn't surprising some voters are angry with MPs. Yes, of course, threats of murder and rape are just par for the course to these guys. 

And this is where we need to look behind Johnson's dismissal of Paula Sherriff and Tracy Brabin: two women, speaking up in a place where, deep down, it seems likely that neither our Prime Minister nor a good number of his Boys' School chums really feel women should be in the first instance - not unless they're hoovering the carpets, or perhaps polishing the Mace rather than dispensing it. Their anger at his boorish rhetoric is dismissed out of hand, just the hysteria of the weaker sex. 

Why should we expect anything better from these men? Sent to male-only schools where misogyny headed the curriculum and for the crucial period of puberty their first and longest encounters with girls would usually be in the pages of glossy porn magazines, they were inculcated with an unquestioning belief in their superior status over everyone else, women in particular. So when he casually disregards the protests of female MPs, we should not be surprised, for this is how Johnson and his ilk have always been. 

Mogg and Nanny
From the first suckle on the Nanny-proffered bottle through the rare warmth of Nursey's blanket at boarding school, women's roles have been clearly set as the silent, suffering Support, fully indulgent to the fully self-entitled Lads. The Father of the House, the languid, loping Rees-Mogg has kept Nanny ever with him from his cradle until, it would appear, at least until one of them is in the grave.Like a child's comfort rag or maybe a human teddy bear, she has been on hand through all his days, serving his needs and dutifully knowing her place. (Though, candidly, viewing an official photo of the two of them does elicit unfortunate thoughts of some Guillermo del Toro production.)

A comedian mused tonight that we shouldn't expect the Johnsonites to be kind or self-aware. Nor should we - these are the Bullingdon bullies who trashed restaurants for fun knowing Daddy would pay, the guys who set toilets on fire for a laugh, and who even today burn money in front of homeless street-sleepers. 

And in Johnson's case, he has suggested women only go to university to find men to marry, that those who do have careers have caused house prices to rise and at the end of the day don't work as hard as men. As the Mayor who hosted the London Olympics he was moved to describe dedicated female volleyball players as "glistening like wet otters" and more recently decried investigations into child abuse as w*nking money onto a wall.

Bad enough, but this, too, is the man who helped a friend plot to have a journalist beaten up, and who allegedly threatened a young woman for giving refuge to his first wife so seriously that she has remained scared of him for over thirty yearsAnd continuing the theme, this is the Prime Minister in waiting whio had a visit from the police when neighbours were concerned for the physical safety of his partner

Little wonder that, this Old Etonian views threats to women who, in his little World of Misogyny, shouldn't even be MPs as being of zero concern. As we have seen with Trump, lauded by Nazis and the KKK, when a national leader uses such belligerent language, the fascists who, like Mair, live among us feel legitimised and entitled to act. But, like his American Idol, Johnson's sociopathic behaviour suggests he simply does not care. Indeed, quite the opposite - the terrifying truth is that what may come across as unscripted and spontaneous is in fact carefully considered to raise the tempo and appeal to what he sees as his base. With our crazy voting system, that may be more than enough to see him returned comfortably at a General Election.

Army Dreaming
Politics has always had an element of bombast, of insult and metaphorical allusions between debate and conflict even. No one is asking anyone not to display passion or even anger - there is after all plenty to be angry about.

 But politicians of all parties have deployed increasingly inflammatory language that actively plays to violence, particularly against other people. Within the Brexit debate, Remainers are just as capable as Leavers of displays of aggressive hostility to those who disagree with them. Labour's Jess Phillips has talked about her fears and her office was attacked this week, but she has herself talked of "knifing (Jeremy Corbyn) in the front", while the Lib Dems' Ed Davey urged "a Remain alliance to decapitate that blond head", i.e., Boris Johnson. Invective knows no party boundaries it seems.

Yet between the leaders of the two main parties there is a sharp contrast. When Jeremy Corbyn was faced with a plot to oust him by Blairites, he made clear to some of his over-eager supporters how he wanted them to respond:There should be no bad language used, there should be no abuse used, and I don’t like the use of the word ‘traitor’ either.”  Johnson's snivelling insistence this week that he should be able to continue with his verbiage without even acknowledging the concerns raised to him are more than adequate testimony to the great difference between the two men in terms of the respective content of their characters and suitability for office.

If Clauswitz characterised war as "politics by other means", increasingly, it seems at least some of our divided legislators see politics as war by other means. 

Yet while Farage may talk about picking up a rifle and Johnson compares the EU to Hitler's Naziseagerly posing with generals to associate himself with the military, their "wars" are little more than the adolescent fantasies of self-entitled rich kids who might have got to play with guns a bit in the school cadet corps, but would run a mile at the first hint of any real trouble. Cripes chaps, scarper!

It is fairly clear who are the strong people here.

While male MPs and members of all parties receive abuse, it does need to be noted that Black Minority Ethnic and female MPs, particularly Labour ones it seems, receive far more than any other category of parliamentarian. Formal criminal incidents have almost trebled in three years and formal police protection is almost the norm for our elected representatives, a fact that is bound to deter at least some people from entering politics.

Yet they persist: Paula Sherriff continues with her parliamentary duties in spite of receiving over 200 threats (3 serious enough to call the police) in the 24 hours after she challenged Johnson, and Yvette Cooper similarly works on even as her daughter tweets about her anxieties at the sight of an anti-bomb sleeve installed in their home's letterbox. So too do many other MPs, including Lib Dem Jo Swinson, who received threats to her children this week and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot, who at times has received more threats that all other MPs combined. 

By contrast, Farage infamously refused to get off a bus to avoid milk shake throwers and Johnson ran from fifty Luxembourgers shouting anti-Brexit slogans at him. How would these brave armchair generals fare trying to dodge the real bullets and battles they slever and drool about so loosely from their wet, trembling lips? Hopefully, Nanny would be waiting in a nearby tank with a lovely flask of warm milk and a calming pacifier, ready to whisk them away to the safety of an impregnable Command Nursery.

It would be a forlorn quest to imagine that Johnson might somehow wind back from his extreme behaviours. His carefully crafted bumbling bonhomie has largely peeled away to reveal him for what he truly is. Once a Bullingdon, always a bully. For now, between the loss of his majority in the Commons, the mass protests planned for the upcoming Tory conference and his own narcissistic disintegration, we can only unite and work to ensure that his time is soon at an end.

Boris, quo usque  tandem abutere patentia nostra? Pericles si viveret, ad remum dareris!

Monday, 16 September 2019

The Magical Mathematics of Jo Swinson

If he could talk to the Liberals...
Back in the 1980s, the mythical two-headed psuhmi-pull-u creature from Doctor Doolittle was used as an allegory to lampoon the "Two Davids" leadership of the Liberal-SDP Alliance, referencing the not rare instances when Owen and Steel contradicted each other over the centrist parties' policies.

Times change, and this morning on Radio 4 Today, the now long-merged Liberal Democrats have only one head in charge, but several different faces on show.

Party leader Jo Swinson, walking, talking proof that there is nothing more irksome than an incompetent narcissist, held forth, chuntering on her party's latest "bold" decision - to cancel the UK's withdrawal from the European Union without even bothering with the fig-leaf of holding a referendum.

After all, she hubristically declared, if the country elects a majority Liberal Democrat government with cancelling Brexit as its major (some might say only) policy, "then that's what they'll get." PM Swinson would have a mandate to cancel.

It may seem a fanciful scenario, to say the least, but nonetheless galling coming as it does from the party that has spent decades decrying how our first-past-the-post voting system routinely returns parliaments that do not represent the views of voters. As she well knows, and must be banking on in her delusions of grandeur, if the other parties' votes split fairly evenly, a lead party can win outright power with as little as one in three of the votes cast - Tony Bliar achieved his third and final win in 2005 with just 35% of the poll.

So Ms Swinson has somehow executed a mathematical miracle whereby something slightly less that 35% could conceivably count for more than the 52% vote to Leave in the 2016 referendum.

Not so democratic Democrats, it would seem to most rational observers, though with Swinson somehow squaring this with her party supposedly championing liberalism against authoritarianism, reason may not be a word to lightly associate with this band of chancers.

Swinson was not finished though. As the BBC's Justin Webb asked her to confirm in that case that she was now against a so-called People's Vote rerun of the referendum, she changed tack. Not at all - it is party policy after all the have a new vote (perhaps with only one box to tick to approve Remain) before any General Election. It would only be different afterwards and meantime, shame on Jeremy Corbyn, just because... well, shame on him!

So, if you don't want a second referendum, vote Lib Dem.
And if you do want a second referendum, vote Lib Dem.

Ok, said Webb - his eyes rolling even on the radio - what about Scotland? Why is she against a second referendum on Scottish independence but apparently in favour of a second one on Brexit?

Ah, totally different, she opined. The best way forward for Britain was to be united but in the European Union.

Fine, so if she wins power at Westminster and that is a mandate to cancel Brexit without a referendum, presumably if the SNP win at Holyrood, that is a mandate for them to declare independence without a referendum.

Of course, you already know her answer was "No."
Essentially, a referendum is only a good thing if you promise to agree with Jo.

And so what we are left with is what we have always known - liberals are not democratic. Their idea of democracy is that the great unwashed turn up every few years and confirm their right to govern at their patronising best. Public votes are fine as long as they go the right way. If they don't, well, time for some of Jo's incredible, liberally illiberal Magical Mathematics.

These are testing times for our society. It was the market-liberal consensus, developed on from Thatcherite monetarism in Nu-Labour and accepted by the wider Political Class, that created the conditions for the Leave vote: the inequality, the competition between marginalised domestic labour and vulnerable migrant workers, the plundering of the state through PFI and financial deregulation that triggered the 2008 recession. The evident self-entitlement of so many MPs in the expenses scandal at the same time did nothing to reconcile growing numbers of disaffected voters with our political leaders. Not the worst by far, Swinson still didn't forget to keep her receipts for a 29p pack of dusters and 78p for a can of Mr Sheen: Lib Dems are nothing if not shiny.

And it was the continuation of this disaster capitalism by the Coalition Government that Swinson was a fairly senior member of that sealed it. And of course the referendum itself was a response by David Cameron to divisions in his own party, one backed by Swinson's party when it was voted on in the Commons in 2015 (she herself to be fair had lost her seat and wasn't in parliament at the time)  - our liberal masters assumed of course a comfortable victory would ensue.

That it didn't, as we know, has been met by furious rebuttals that Leave voters didn't know what they were doing and should effectively be disenfranchised. While some Remainers and People's Voters would protest, the Lib Dems' enthusiastic adoption of Swinson's pledge to scrap Article 50 without a vote confirms that people who claim to be democrats and who have campaigned repeatedly for equal votes are in truth not democrats and are in fact perfectly happy for their own votes to count somewhat more heavily than those of their opponents.

As so many times in history, liberals (of all party hues) proclaim their superior knowledge of the facts and through that assert an informed knowing that eludes ordinary punters but entitles them to govern. The recent resort to the Courts over both the referendum and more recently the proroguing of Parliament betrays an almost naive if arrogant take that they can prove their opponents wrong and if so, everything will go back to meritocratic normality. In doing so, whatever their technical skills level may well be, what is clearly absent is any degree of emotional intelligence.

As we saw with the tick-boxing of Lib Dem policies through the austerity of the Coalition, these people will trumpet getting a deal on introducing a plastic bag tax in exchange for agreeing benefits cuts to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. They will claim that getting some extra funding for mental health counselling somehow makes up for all the suicides caused by introducing arduous tests for disability that were designed to fail vulnerable claimants. They are either clueless or callous, or both.

They will even try to excuse the most execrable decisions by promising to review their procedures to get it right next time, as Chief Whip Alastair Carmichael assured conference doubters over worries about the influx of expelled Tory MPs into their parliamentary ranks. Apparently, each of them was subjected to a 90 minute "grilling" by him to see if they shared the party's values. In spite of this undoubted Ordeal, perhaps via trial-by-lunch, former Tory MP Philip Lee, who opposed gay marriage and introduced legislation to ban migrants with HIV, ticked the relevant boxes.
So illiberal, but so job done...

They are of course playing with fire and are dreadfully ill-equipped to do so. Their actions do nothing to reconcile the deep division in our country, quite the contrary. And with their latest wheeze, they may well have already overplayed a hand they are viewing through a centrist magnifying glass.

The polls suggest that they have already plateaued and started to fall back from their May upsurge in the local and European elections. Swinson's smug style and twisted logic are unlikely to yield many more votes from rival parties. Yet what the polls do show is that her relentless focus on misrepresenting Labour and denouncing Jeremy Corbyn opens up the path to a potentially overwhelming victory for Johnson's Tories, especially if as is not entirely unlikely, they do come to some accommodation with Farage's Brexit Party. Combined, the Tory-BP vote in the current rolling average of polls is 46% to 25% Labour, 18% Lib Dem, 5% Green and 5% Nationalists. Repeated at a General Election, this would produce a Commons with somewhere over 470 hard right MPs out of a total of 650.

Now by Jo Swinson's logic that would be quite a mandate. Even although it might still be the choice of less than half the voters, No Deal would be a dead cert. But perhaps by then Jo will have defaulted to wanting a referendum.

Or maybe not. Maybe she'll be down at the ranch looking for a new pushmi-pull-u.

Illiberal and undemocratic - Swinson and Carmichael