Category Archives: Brexit

Nigel Farage’s Grand Tour of Sabotage: The Paypal of the People Rides High

He is all about being the romantic saboteur.  He is destructive, hates the business of a steady vocation, and the idea of being desk bound.  Little details trouble him; an indignant bigger picture is enthralling.  Bomb throwers tend to be of such ilk, taking shots at the establishment, courting potential voters over a pint, and railing against non-representative elements in politics.  But Nigel Farage and his recently arrived Brexit Party can unimpeachably claim to be vote getters.

Along with others, some of whom have been resurrected in the stagnant pools of Brexit – take the near-dead and now very revived former conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe –  he has animated the corpse people and zombie faithful keen to attack the satanic heart of the EU.  Last month, in Peterborough, he told some 1,500 Brexiters about the broader mission at hand.  “This fight now is far more than just leaving the European Union.  This is a full-on battle against the establishment.”  This battle has also struck a Trumpist note, with Farage reserving special salvos for the BBC.

So far, the attack mounted by the collective that is the Brexit Party has worked; with a four-month old entity, Farage forged ahead in elections held by the very same entity he despises.  In doing so, he also convinced many from the UK Independence Party, the right wing anti-immigration party he used to lead, to join in. In the European elections last month, the Brexit Party won a stonking 29 seats against the Liberal Democrats with 16, Labour 10, the Greens seven, the Tories four, the SNP three, and Plaid Cymru and the DUP with one each.

Farage put the successes down to an elementary theme: “With a big, simple message – which is we’ve been badly let down by two parties who have broken their promises – we have topped the poll in a fairly dramatic style. The two-party system now serves nothing but itself.”  Despite doing well, Farage was careful to avoid drawing attention to another result: 40 percent of the UK European vote went to parties who are against Brexit, with 35 percent favouring it.

The reading from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable was bound to be at odds with Brexiter enthusiasts.  For Cable the result showed that there was “a majority of people in the country who don’t want to leave the European now”.

As William Davis notes pointedly, “The Brexit Party is a mixture of business startup and social movement; it serves as a pressure valve, releasing pent-up frustration with traditional politics into the electoral system.”  In contrast to the more ramshackle, rough outfit of Ukip, which had a lower ceiling of appeal, the Brexit Party has been described by the Financial Times as “slick, with a mix of celebrities”.

It thrives in an environmental of pure factionalism, and simplifies, accordingly, the complex array of requirements and processes required to achieve their goals.  Farage cares little, nor is even aware of the actual issues concerning an effective divorce deal with the EU.  Any claim that a no-deal Brexit is bound to work with splendid effect is precarious, placing Britain at the bottom of the trade negotiating table.  There is no freedom to trade as a rule, and World Trade Organisation system must be navigated.  But these are technical sticking points that find no platform, let alone voice, in the Brexit Party’s world.

The business startup reference by Davis is apt.  Farage had been shadowed by events after 2016. The wrecker had done his job in seeking Brexit, only to retreat to the margins in sullen contemplation.  His UK Independence party disintegrated even as its former leader started to milk the lecture circuit and cosy up to US President Donald Trump.  But the continual delays and prevarications on leaving the EU stirred the saboteur into a return.

The Brexit Party has attempted to adopt the language of cool and chic marketing.  For one, it is winning the social media battle.  London-based online content and social media consultancy 89up revealed last month that Facebook posts linking to the Brexit Party website had been bountiful in the sharing department, exceeding those of every other party combined.  A survey of 1.5 million public Facebook pages by the consultancy found a staggering gulf between the portion of shares generated by the Brexit Party (125,035) and the Conservatives, with 26,400.  UKIP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party came in with a limping figure of 6,000 shares.

As with anything to do with Farage, its best to look past the plumage and shine.  The Brexit Party image comes equipped with rumours on how it is receiving its funding.  This can hardly surprise: Farage has been known to be rather liberal with his finances, happy to attack the EU as he receives its funds, and shy about declaring how he has used them.  Budgets have never been his thing.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is one sensing an Achilles heel in the Brexit Party, suggesting that the party has been the recipient of “undeclared, untraceable payments”.  At an event in Glasgow last month, Brown suggested that democracy was “ill served, and trust in democracy will continue to be undermined, if we have no answers as to where the money is coming from.”

The UK Electoral Commission feels there is enough to go on, demanding that the party “review all payments, including those of £500 or below, it has received to date.”  This comes after the Electoral Commission’s conclusion that the “fundraising structure adopted by the party leaves it open to a high and ongoing risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations.”

The views of Brown have had little traction with Farage supporters and the broader Brexit milieu, a point evidenced by the good showing in the European elections.  Efforts by critics and opponents to refashion the Brexit Party as a financial surrogate for the corporate interests of one man rather than citizen values is not something that has worked.  Brown has tried, rather bravely claiming that Farage was “not going to be remembered as he wants, as the man of the people – he’s going to remembered as the man of the Paypal.”

Political realities are often different from financial ones.  As former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg admitted, “It was obvious there was a strong English, anti-European anti-immigrant movement waiting for someone to articulate it.”  Farage may well be the man of the Paypal, shoddy with party finances but he remains an identifiable voice, with anti-EU cadences that continue finding agreeable listeners across Europe, from Marine Le Pen in France to Matteo Salvini in Italy.

Snubs, Bumps and Donald Trump in Britain

He may not be popular in Britain, but he still has shavings of appeal.  For a country that has time for Nigel Farage, pro-Brexit enthusiast and full-time hypocrite (he is a member of the European Parliament, the very same institution he detests), President Donald Trump will garner a gaggle of fans.

One of them was not the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, trenchant in his belief that the US president should never have been granted a state visit.  “It’s quite clear that Theresa May was premature in making this invitation, and it’s backfired on her.” But Trump’s tendency to unhinge his critics is not so much levelling as lowering: Khan’s coarse remarks a day before Trump arrived were timed to create a Twitter scene.

Trump, he wrote spitefully in The Guardian, was leading a push from the right “threatening our hard-won rights and freedoms and the values that have defined our liberal, democratic societies for more than seventy years.”  The UK had to stop “appeasing” (that Munich analogy again) dictatorial tendencies.  (Oblivious, is Khan, to the illustrious record Britain has in providing receptions and banquets for the blood thirsty and authoritarian.)

This semi-literate historical overview had the desired result.  Just prior to landing in London, Trump tweeted that Khan “who by all accounts has done a terrible job as Mayor of London, has been foolishly ‘hasty’ to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom.”  For good measure, Trump insisted that the mayor was “a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me…”

The mood was set, and the presence of the president overseeing Britain’s increasingly feral political scene reminded The New York Times of boardroom takes of The Apprentice (reality television, again) though it came uncomfortably close to an evaluation of the “rear of the year” or a wet t-shirt competition of the fugglies.  This was aided by the absence of a one-to-one meeting between Trump and the soon to depart Theresa May, there being no preliminary meeting in Downing Street.

Trump felt at home, sizing up candidates to succeed May as British prime minister.  While he could muster choice words to describe Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove barely registered. “Would do a good job, Jeremy?  Tell me.”

A few candidates did their best to impress, a spectacle that did, at points, verge on the grotesque.

The Conservative Party is deliriously panicked: Farage’s Brexit Party is proving so threatening its pushing the old guard to acts of pure desperation.  This is riveting, if troubling stuff for political watchers such as Tim Bale of Queen Mary, University of London.  “A lot of the constraints have come off British politics.  Whether they’ve come off permanently, or whether it’s because the Conservative Party is at panic stations, is something only time can tell.”

Foreign secretary Hunt was particularly keen to show his wet shirt to the ogling Trump.  He no doubt felt he had to, given that Johnson had already been praised as a person who “would do a very good job” as British prime minister. To repay Trump for his acknowledgment, Hunt dismissed the views of the London mayor.  “I agree with [Trump] that it is totally inappropriate for the Labour party to be boycotting this incredibly important visit.  This is the president of the United States.”

The situation with Johnson cannot but give some amusement.  Trump, rather memorably, had been a subscriber to the theory that parts of London had become a dystopian nightmare replete with psychotic, murderous residents of the swarthy persuasion.  Johnson, for all his faults, was happy to give Trump a nice slice of demurral on his city when mayor.  He also opined that Trump was “clearly out of his mind” in making the now infamous suggestion on December 7, 2015 for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”   But politics is an odd stew, throwing together a strange mix of ingredients.  For his part, Johnson declined an invitation to see Trump in person, preferring the comforting distance of a 20-minute phone call.

Away from rear of the year proceedings were those who had consciously boycotted any event associated with Trump.  Prince William and Prince Harry preferred to avoid a photo opportunity with the president at Buckingham Palace.  Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party preferred to join protests against Trump over attending the state banquet.  The act will no doubt be seen as admirable in some quarters, but hardly qualifies as those of a potential future prime minister.  “Corbyn,” noted The Independent, “has again dodged the stately bullet and had instead taken the easy way out.”  To the echo chamber he went.

Beyond the visit, more substantive matters are going to be troubling for diplomats in the UK Foreign Office.  One of the things touted during the Tuesday press conference was the prospect of a trade agreement between a Britain unshackled from the EU, and the United States.  Trump even went so far as to press May to stay longer for the negotiations.  Not one for briefings, he ventured a suggestion: “I don’t know exactly what your timing is but, stick around, let’s do this deal.”

The issue is fascinatingly premature: Britain, having not yet left the EU, let alone on any clear basis, faces an orbit of sheer, jangling confusion for some time to come.  In terms of numbers, the issue is also stark: the UK has the EU to thank for half of its trade; the United States comes in at 14.7 percent.

The troubling feature of any free trade proposal coming out of the Trump administration will be its rapacity, or, as Trump likes to call it, “phenomenal” scope.  Nothing will be exempt.  Agriculture and health are two fields of contention.  Access for US exports will entail easing limitations on animal feed with antibiotics and genetically modified crops.  More headaches, and bumps, await the relationship between troubled Britannia and groping Uncle Sam.

Europe in Irreversible Decay

Europe, an “old” colonialist continent, is decaying, and in some places even collapsing. It senses how bad things are going. But it never thinks that it is its own fault.

North America is decaying as well, but there, people are not even used to comparing. They only “feel that things are not going well”. If everything else fails, they simply try to get some second or third job, and just survive, somehow.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the establishment is in panic. Their world is in crises, and the ‘crises’ arrived mainly because several great countries, including China, Russia, Iran, but also South Africa, Turkey, Venezuela, DPRK and the Philippines, are openly refusing to play in accordance with the script drawn in Washington, London and Paris. In these nations, there is suddenly no appetite for sacrificing their own people on the altar of well-being of Western citizens. Several countries, including Venezuela and Syria, are even willing to fight for their independence.

Despite insane and sadistic embargos and sanctions imposed on them by the West; China, Russia and Iran are now flourishing, in many fields doing much better than Europe and North America.

If they are really pushed any further, China, Russia and their allies combined, could easily collapse the economy of the United States; an economy which is built on clay and unserviceable debt. It is also becoming clear that militarily, the Pentagon could never defeat Beijing, Moscow, even Teheran.

After terrorizing the world for ages, the West is now almost finished: morally, economically, socially, and even militarily. It still plunders, but it has no plan to improve the state of the world. It cannot even think in such terms.

It hates China, and every other country that does have progressive, internationalist plans. It smears President Xi Jinping and his brainchild, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but there is nothing new and exciting that the West is able to offer to the world. Yes, of course, those regime changes, coups, military interventions and theft of natural resources, but anything else? No, silence!

*****

During my two weeks long working visit to Europe, in the Czech Republic (now renamed to Czechia), a country that enjoys a higher HDI (Human Development Index defined by UNDP) than Italy or Spain, I saw several young, decently dressed men, picking through garbage bins, right in front of my hotel, looking for food.

In Pilsen, Czechia, people raiding garbage in order to eat

I saw young Europeans kneeling and begging in Stuttgart, the second richest city in Germany (where both Mercedes and Porsche cars are produced).

This used to be proud Communist factory Skoda in Pilsen

What I observed in all seven countries of the EU that I visited, was confusion, but also indifference, extreme selfishness and almost grotesque idleness. In great contrast to Asia, everybody in Europe was obsessed with their ‘rights’ and privileges, while no one gave a slightest damn about responsibilities.

When my plane from Copenhagen landed in Stuttgart, it began to rain. It was not heavy rain; just rain. The Canadair jet operated by SAS is a small aircraft, and it did not get a gate. It parked a few meters from the terminal and the captain announced that ground staff refused to bring a bus, due to lightning and the downpour. And so, we stayed inside the plane, for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour. The lightning ended. The drizzle continued. 40 minutes, no bus. One hour later, a bus appeared. A man from the ground staff emerged leisurely, totally wrapped in plastic, protected hermetically from rain. Passengers, on the other hand, were not even offered umbrellas.

“I love myself”, I later read graffiti in the center of the city.

The graffiti was not far from the central train station, which is being refurbished at the cost of several billion euros, and against the will of the citizens. The monstrous project is marching on at an insanely lazy pace, with only 5-6 construction workers detectable at a time, down in the tremendous excavations.

Stuttgart is unbelievably filthy. Escalators often do not work, drunkards are all over, and so are beggars. It is as if for decades, no one did any face-lift to the city. Once free museums are charging hefty entrance fees, and most of the public benches have disappeared from parks and avenues.

The decay is omnipresent. The German rail system (DB) has virtually collapsed. Almost all trains are late, from the ‘regional’; to the once glorified ICE (these German ‘bullet trains’ are actually moving slower, on average, even in comparison to some Indonesian inter-city expresses).

The services provided everywhere in Europe, from Finland to Italy, are grotesquely bad. Convenience stores, cafes, hotels – all are understaffed, badly run and mostly arrogant. Humans are often replaced by dysfunctional machines. Tension is everywhere, the bad mood omnipresent. Demanding anything is unthinkable; one risks being snapped at, insulted, sent to hell.

I still remember how Western propaganda used to glorify services in the capitalist countries, when we were growing up in the Communist East: “The customer is always treated like a god”. Yes, right! How laughable.

For centuries, “European workers” were ‘subsidized’ by colonialist and neo-colonialist plunder, perpetrated in all non-white corners of the world. They ended up being spoiled, showered with benefits, and unproductive. That was fine for the elites: as long as the masses kept voting for the imperialist regime of the West.

“The Proletariat” eventually became right-wing, imperialist, even hedonistic.

Old German lady beggar and a pigeon

I saw a lot this time, and soon I will write much more about it.

What I did not witness, was hope, or enthusiasm. There was no optimism. No healthy and productive exchange of ideas, or profound debate; something I am so used to in China, Russia or Venezuela, just confusion, apathy and decay everywhere.

And hate for those countries that are better, more human, more advanced, and full of socialist enthusiasm.

*****

At Sapienza University in Rom

Italy felt slightly different. Again, I met great left-wing thinkers there; philosophers, professors, filmmakers, journalists. I spoke at Sapienza University, the biggest university in Europe. I lectured about Venezuela and Western imperialism. I worked with the Venezuelan embassy in Rome. All of that was fantastic and enlightening, but was this really Italy?

Author with great Marxist Italian professor Luciano Vasapollo

A day after I left Rome for Beirut, Italians went to the polls. And they withdrew their supports from my friends of the 5-Star-Movement, leaving them with just over 17%, while doubling the backing for the extreme right-wing Northern League.

This virtually happened all over Europe. UK Labor lost, while right-wing Brexit forces gained significantly. Extreme right-wing, even near-fascist parties, reached unexpected heights.

It was all “me, me, me” politics. An orgy of “political selfies”. Me had enough of immigrants. Me wants better benefits. Me wants better medical care, shorter working hours. And so on.

Who pays for it, no one in Europe seems to care. Not once did I hear any European politicians lamenting about the plundering of West Papua or Borneo, about Amazonia or the Middle East, let alone Africa.

Rome at night

And immigration? Did we hear anything about that nuisance of European refugees, millions of them, many illegal, that have descended in the last decades on Southeast Asia, East Africa, Latin America, and even Sub Continent? They are escaping, in hordes, from meaninglessness, depressions, existential emptiness. In the process, they are stripping the locals of land, real estate, beaches, everything.

“Immigrants out”? Fine; then European immigrants out from the rest of the world, too! Enough of the one-sidedness!

The recent EU elections clearly showed that Europe has not evolved. For countless dark centuries, it used to live only for its pleasure, murdering millions in order to support its high life.

Right now, it is trying to reshuffle its political and administrative system, so it can continue doing the same. More efficiently!

On top of it, absurdly, the world is expected to pity that overpaid and badly performing, mainly right-wing and lethargic European proletariat, and sacrifice further tens of millions of people, just in order to further increase its standard of living.

All this should not be allowed to happen. Never again! It has to be stopped.

What Europe has achieved so far, at the expense of billions of lives of “the others”, is definitely not worthy of dying for.

Beware of Europe and its people! Study its history. Study imperialism, colonialism and the genocides it has been spreading all over the world.

Let them vote in their fascists. But keep them away. Prevent them from spreading their poison all over the world.

They want to put the interests of their countries first? Wonderful! Let us do exactly the same: The people of Russia first, too! China first! And, Asia, Africa, Latin America first!

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Lies in Politics: Boris Johnson, the Law and the European Union

An enduring memory of the 2016 Brexit campaign, so marked by the foppish-haired blusterer, Boris Johnson, was the claim that the European Union was hungrily drawing out from British coffers £350 million a week.  It was insufferable, unqualified and dishonest.  It was a claim reared in the atmosphere of outrageous deception marking the effort on all sides of the debate regarding Britain’s relationship with the EU.  But some deceptions have the ballast to go further than others.

Rooted in the machinery of politics, such deceptions might have stayed there, deemed those natural outrages of a not so noble vocation. After all, political figures do make lying an art, if a very low one.  But Johnson has not been so fortunate.  A private prosecution has been launched against the aspiring Tory leader and possible replacement for Prime Minister Theresa May based on allegations he “repeatedly lied and misled the British public as to the cost of EU membership” with specific reference to the £350 million figure.  Marcus Ball, the initiator of the action and a Remain campaigner, had the heavy artillery £236,000 will bring, the very healthy result of crowdfunding.

Johnson’s legal team was quick to suggest that the whole matter was vexatious, an around about effort to question the legitimacy of the 2016 referendum result.  A source close to Johnson (and who might that be?) told the BBC that the case was a “politically motivated attempt to reverse Brexit.”  Adrian Darbishire QC, representing Johnson, was withering in describing the action as a political stunt intended to create mischief in an effort “to regulate the content and quality of political debate” using the criminal law.

Such debate might well feature figures and claims, and Johnson, at best, could only be accused of using the £350m sum for no other purpose than “in the course of a contested political campaign.”  Such campaigns are bound to contain a range of claims duly “challenged, contradicted and criticised.”

Ball’s legal representative, Lewis Power QC, took the broader view.  The proposed prosecution was not an attempt to “seek to prevent or delay Brexit”.  There was a larger principle at stake: “when politicians lie, democracy dies”.  Much to be said about that; but taken to its logical conclusion, no democracy can be said to be extant, let alone breathing, given how alive the lie industry is.

Ball’s case, nonetheless, has an ethical sting to it, and seems to be one of whether lies have a meaningful role in politics.  Ball’s legal representative was adamant: “Lying on a national and international platform undermines public confidence in politics… and brings both public offices held by the (proposed) defendant into disrepute”.  The law offered a solution: “misconduct to such a degree requires criminal sanction.  There is no justification or excuse for such misconduct.”

In its purest sense, the case has the trimmings of Michel de Montaigne, that wonderful man of letters who, four centuries ago, thought the lie reprehensible.  In “On Liars”, he is curt and unforgiving.  “Lying is indeed an accursed vice.  We are men, and we have relations with one other only by speech.  If we recognised the horror and gravity of an untruth, we should more justifiably punish it with fire than any other crime.”

In 1975, Adrienne Rich wrote with more poignancy than flames that, “The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people are a kind of alchemy.  They are the most interesting thing in life.  The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.” Not quite as savage as Montaigne, but a similar point on value and relations bound by speech.  Certainly, when it comes to politics, Rich is clear that the loss of perspective the liar suffers is acute, being most “damaging to public life, human possibility, and our collective progress”.

Such instances may seem a bit high barred.  The politician is a creature of deception and dissimulation, and avoiding the compromising wet by keeping to high and dry moral ground may be a difficult thing.  Even Montaigne also offers a subtle exit, if not excuse, for one economic with the truth: he who has involuntary defects – a poor memory, for instance – should be treated kindly; those with intent to deceive – well, that’s something else entirely.  “Not without reason is it said that no one who is not conscious of having a sound memory should set up to be a liar.”

When Hannah Arendt turned her mind to the nature of lying in politics in 1971, seeking to understand the entire episode of the Pentagon Papers and their publication, a more complex view was advanced.  “Truthfulness,” she laments, “has never been counted among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings.” But moral outrage alone, she insists, is insufficient when faced with deception.  When we confront what she describes as “factual truths”, we face the problem of compellability.  “Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy witnesses to be established in order to find a secure dwelling place in the domain of human affairs.  From this, it follows that no factual statement can ever be beyond doubt.” Hence such generously distributed, and acceptable notions, as the £350m figure.

Whatever might have been busying the mind of District Judge Margot Coleman, she was sufficiently persuaded by Ball’s daring suggestion to take the matter further. In a written decision published on Wednesday, the judge ordered Johnson to attend Westminster Magistrate’s Court at a date not yet specified.  There, a decision will be made to assess whether the case has sufficiently nimble legs to get to the crown court.  “Having considered all the relevant factors, I am satisfied that this is a proper case to issue a summons as requested for the three offences [of misconduct in public office].”

Should the case against Johnson stick, it will ripple and trouble.  For private citizens to succeed in actions against politicians who lie would be astonishing, if not perplexing, for practitioners of the political art.  Time to add Montaigne et al to the House of Commons reading list.

The End of Theresa May

The vultures of the British conservative party have gathered, and the individual who seemed to thrive in failure, to gain momentum in defeat, has finally yielded.  UK Prime Minister Theresa May will leave the way for change of leadership on June 7.  Never known for any grand gestures of emotion, the Maybot finally gave way to it.

It had begun rather optimistically in 2016.  May would preside over a Britain leaving the European Union in good order.  She even dared suggest that an agenda of domestic reform might be implemented.  Neither has transpired, and clues were already apparent with the blithely optimistic trio in charge of overseeing the Brexit process: David Davis, as a fabulously ill-equipped Brexit Secretary, Liam Fox holding the reins as international trade secretary and Boris Johnson keeping up appearances at the Foreign Office.  But for all that it was May who seemed to insist that all was possible: the UK could still leave the customs union and single market, repudiate free movement and wriggle out of the jurisdiction of the European Court.  Independent trade deals with non-EU countries would be arrived at but similar trading agreements could still continue in some form with the EU. And there would be no Irish border issue.

Problems, however, surfaced early.  May’s leadership style problematic.  Her cabinet reshuffles (read bloodletting) did much to create animosity.  Some eight ministers were sacked in the first round, with all but one under 50 at the time.  They were, as Stephen Bush puts it, “right in the middle of their political careers, a dangerous time to leave them with nothing to lose.”

Her decision to go to the polls in 2017 to crush the opposition was also another act of a folly-ridden leader.  From a position of strength from which she could instruct her party on the hard truths of Brexit instead of covering their ears, she gave Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn ample kicking room to revive his party while imposing upon herself a considerable handicap.  EU negotiators knew they were negotiating with a significantly weakened leader.

Then came the cold showers, initiated by such wake-up alarms as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer’s suggestion in 2017 that a transitional phase would have to come into effect after the UK had thrown off the EU.  As Starmer observed at the time, “Constructive ambiguity – David Davis’s description of the government’s approach – can only take you so far.”

May duly suffered three horrendous defeats in Parliament, all to do with a failure to pass the Withdrawal Agreement, and fought off the daggers of usurpation within her own party. She had also had to convince the EU that two extensions to Brexit were warranted. The last throw of the dice featured bringing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to the negotiating table.  To a large extent, that had been encouraged by the third failure to pass the Withdrawal Agreement on March 29th.

On May 21, the prime minister outlined the latest incarnation of a plan that has never moved beyond the stage of life support.  It had that air of a captain heading for the iceberg of inevitability.  She remained committed “to deliver Brexit and help our country move beyond the division of the referendum and into a better future.”  It was spiced with the sweet nothings of forging that “country that works for everyone”, all with “the chance to get on in life and to go as far as their own talent and hard work can take them”.

She hoped for alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop. The new Brexit deal would “set out in law that the House of Commons will approve the UK’s objectives for the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU and they will approve the treaties governing that relationship before the Government signs them.”  A new Workers’ Rights Bill would be introduced to guarantee equivalent protections to UK workers afforded to those in the EU, perhaps even better.  No change to the level of environmental protection would take place, something to be policed by a new Office of Environmental Protection.  But May’s concessions on the subject of a customs union and a proposed second referendum as part of the package, both largely designed to placate Labour, were too much for her cabinet.  Her resignation was assured.

The resignation speech was a patchwork attempt to salvage a difficult legacy.  It was “right to persevere, even when the odds against success seemed high.”  But it would be for her “successor to seek a way forward that honours the result of the referendum. To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in parliament where I have not.”

She had led “a decent, moderate and patriotic Conservative government on the common ground of British politics”. She spoke of “a union of people”, standing together regardless of background, skin colour “or who we love”.  In an effort to move beyond a pure and exclusive focus on Brexit, she tried to single out such domestic achievements as gender pay reporting and the race disparity audit.  This led such conservative outlets as The Spectator to wonder whether such initiatives had “invented victimhood where none existed.”

There will be as many post-mortems on May’s tenure as Brexit proposals.  Steve Richards, writing for The New European, felt May never had a chance.  It was a period of uncertainty made permanent.  With each Brexit secretary resignation, with each parliamentary defeat of the exit plan, “nothing much happened, only an accumulative sense of doom.”  That was a ready-made outcome.

The list of contenders seeking to replace May is a who’s who of agents, less of assuring stability than guaranteed chaos shadowed by enormous question marks.  Furthermore, anyone willing to offer themselves up for replacement is likely to face similar treatment to that given May.

The current stable of contenders are of varying, uneven talents.  Environment secretary Michael Gove and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab were rather late to the fold.  They joined Matt Hancock, Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Rory Stewart.  Political watchers and the party faithful will be keeping an eye on wobbliness and wavering: foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had campaigned in the 2016 referendum to remain in the UK; likewise the self-touted tech-savvy Hancock.

With an individual such as Boris Johnson, you are assured a spell of chaos.  Incapable of mastering a brief, his temperament is utterly hostile to stable ministerial appointments.  He tries to make up for that with a buffoonish, public school air that treats certain character flaws as gifts of eccentricity.  While he is liked amongst the conservative fan base, his parliamentary colleagues are not so sure.  The Bold as British formula is only going to carry you so far; the hard negotiators in the EU will attest to that.

Grim Britain

If the whole ghastly debacle over Brexit has proven anything at all it’s how totally unfit for purpose the British parliament is. For those of us who have known that for a long time and campaigned vigorously for many years for its complete reformation this comes as no surprise. The whole shambolic system of Britain’s so-called democracy must be scrapped and replaced with a real democracy.

Somewhere at the heart of the Brexit farce lies the real nub of the problem – the fact that our parliament cannot cope with a truly democratic decision if it doesn’t like that decision. When the British people voted for Britain to quit the EU — a result that most of parliament opposed and never expected — the thing should have been quite straightforward: Britain quits the EU. But as everyone now knows that is not what happened. The last few weeks leading up to what was supposed to be the day Britain left the EU provided an endless series of incredible displays of parliamentary time-wasting and incompetence that turned Britain into a global laughing stock. Surely it is now abundantly clear that this whole creaking anachronism must go. Apart from being institutionally corrupt — its most important fault — the pseudo-democracy it practices is now clearly ludicrous.

Britain’s Green Party is the only significant political organisation I know of in the country which has not only known about this problem for many years, it also has a number of important radical policy proposals for putting it right. These include the drafting of a written constitution, scrapping the institution of monarchy and unelected parliamentarians, proportional representation, and creating direct democracy throughout a system of massively decentralised government. Far from being simply an environmentalist pressure group, their substantial policy document clearly states: “The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics”. And its proposals for total constitutional reform, creating real democracy for the first time in our history, clearly show their intentions.

Written Constitution

Possibly the most important item on this list of proposed Green changes is their intention to create a written constitution. Britain is almost alone in the world in terms of not having one of these. The thing itself is not necessarily significant. After all, most countries have written constitutions, but this doesn’t prevent many of them from being badly run. So at least as important as a written constitution itself is the need to ensure mechanisms are in place for enforcing its provisions.

This might seem obvious, but to cite just one and perhaps the most important example — the United States, supposedly the global role model of freedom and democracy — serious breaches of its own constitution by its own rulers are not unusual. Henry Kissinger, for example, once the US Secretary of State, said, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer”.1 So it’s clear to see that having a written constitution is one thing, making sure it’s effective is often something very different.

A constitution is supposed to be a written statement of the rules of a country’s government, a legally binding document applying to ALL its citizens, listing the rights and responsibilities of the government, and usually the country’s people too. It’s interesting to speculate as to why Britain has resisted having one throughout its history. The most obvious possibility is that if there are no written rules of how a government should conduct itself, the rulers may conduct themselves anyway they like. Given Britain’s long and blood-soaked history of barbaric oppression, in its own country and all over the world, this is clearly not a strong recommendation for allowing rulers to have such uncontrolled powers.

Scrapping Monarchy and Unelected MPs

It’s patently obvious that a government whose head of state is unelected and appointed by hereditary right, and whose parliament comprises a large decision-making body of people who are similarly unelected (the House of Lords), cannot seriously call itself a democracy. Yet Britain has managed to trick the world into believing this falsehood for a couple of hundred years.

The main reason this ludicrous farce has been so successful is because Britain’s monarchy and its unelected House of Lords have always supported the interests of a tiny handful of super-rich individuals above the interests of billions of other people around the world, as well as tens of millions of British people. The great genius Tom Paine accurately nailed this phenomenon, as he accurately nailed so many others. Writing in the introduction to “Common Sense”, the booklet that stirred the hearts of American settlers to fight for their independence from Britain, he said,

[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.

Because this tiny group of super-rich individuals have always been very careful to control the information that people receive they have nearly always been successful tricking people into thinking and acting against their own best interests. For many centuries this information-control was achieved by forging a tight alliance with religion. Priests were allowed to communicate with the masses, and profit from them, providing they communicated the right messages. Village churches throughout Britain, for example, occupied land owned by wealthy aristocrats. A priest was allowed to base himself in a church and extort impoverished parishioners — the position was called a “living” — providing he never upset the landlord. But given that most priests were themselves sons of rich fathers and landed gentry, that was seldom likely to be a problem. Therefore many generations of people came and went firmly believing in the divine right of monarchs and aristocrats to keep them in miserable subjugation – a widely-held view that survives to this day.

The scrapping of unelected monarchs and unelected MPs is, in itself, no guarantee of good government. After all, the most powerful rogue nation on Earth is ruled by an elected president, and there are many other failed states around the world that are ostensibly led by elected leaders. But the principle of elected leaders rather than unelected ones is unquestionably a superior concept. The very obvious flaws that currently exist are directly attributable to the corrupt practices of those supposedly democratic systems, rather than the principle itself. Therefore it’s very obvious that the constitution must be drafted, and enforced, in such a way that these anomalies are prevented.

Direct Democracy

No doubt many people would react with horror, given the farcical debacle over Brexit, to any suggestion that Britain should permanently be governed by a system of continual referendums – which basically is what direct democracy is. I mean, many people might reasonably argue that if direct democracy means more Brexit-type chaos, on a daily basis, then obviously we don’t want it. Although that reaction is perfectly understandable, it overlooks a couple of very important points.

Firstly, there’s the fact that direct democracy works perfectly well, as Switzerland, which has used the system for a long time, continually shows. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, providing that people are well and properly informed – which was not the case with the Brexit referendum – the people can usually be relied upon to make good and humane decisions. After all, trial by jury which, despite its numerous faults, is still better than any other way of resolving court cases, is direct democracy in miniature. So the principle of normal people, properly informed, making important decisions is clearly a very sound one.

The concept of democracy — as most people understand it — is not only a bad method of government. It’s also demonstrably corrupt. It’s based on the practice of people electing politicians who, in theory, are supposed to represent their best interests. So far from conforming to the widely used definition of democracy as being government for the people by the people, it is in practice government for the super-rich by the super-rich – which is pretty much how people have always been ruled – only the existing system is far more cynical and dishonest than outright tyranny, because it pretends to provide people with real political power whilst actually ensuring they don’t have it. Elected representatives who, for the most part, are simply paid employees of the super-rich, provide the veneer of democracy when what they’re actually doing is preventing it.

No doubt many who sincerely believe they live in a real democracy would react with horror to such a suggestion, but all they need to do is ask themselves who pays for election campaigns. Are they paid for by the people, or are they paid for by the super-rich? Given that democracy should be a public service, it should be paid for by the public like any other public service. But the reality is that the election campaigns of most governments have been bought and paid for by the super-rich. These people are not well known for their generosity or love of public service – which is why so many of them avoid paying their taxes — so why do they spend millions on election campaigns if not for the fact that they expect to be very well compensated by the winners? Which is, of course, exactly what happens  as countless accounts of corruption in high places verify on an almost daily basis.

Proportional Representation

Many people with progressive tendencies have long championed the cause of proportional representation. Many so-called democracies use the “first-past-the-post” method of deciding election winners and losers, a system whereby the person with the most votes wins and gets elected to public office whilst whoever else competed in the election is forgotten about. Proportional Representation, on the other hand, takes account of every vote cast in an election and then allocates seats in proportion to the numbers voting for each political party. It is unquestionably a much fairer way of deciding elections, and should be implemented in any country that calls itself a democracy. However, direct democracy, which effectively bypasses elected representatives altogether and allows the citizen direct control of their government’s decisions, is even better yet — providing the citizen is properly informed — and should be the primary goal for all political activists.

Subsidiarity

One of the Greens’ most important policies is that of subsidiarity – democratic decision-making provided at the source of wherever a decision needs to be made. It’s the polar opposite of centralised government — the model practised by most countries — where some all-powerful regime effectively controls all decisions throughout the country. Whilst Britain, like many other countries, has some decentralised government functions in the form of local councils, the effective decision-making powers of local councils is significantly controlled by central government. This is achieved by central government having considerable control of money supply, and by having the powers to simply overturn any decisions made by local councils if they feel like it.

Decentralisation, effectively another word for subsidiarity, is a fine principle for the simple reason that it provides real decision-making power to people organised in small communities, communities which, when added together, comprise society as a whole. Switzerland provides a good working example of the model in practice.

Swiss cantons are similar in size to some English counties, but there the similarity ends, for cantons have considerably more power than their English equivalents — particularly regarding tax collections. As with their federal government Swiss citizens use direct democracy to control their cantons too, and may initiate referendums or veto new laws they’re not happy with.

Contrary to what opponents of direct democracy may claim, no doubt citing the British Brexit debacle to reinforce their argument, this considerable and direct power that Swiss citizens have over their government has done Switzerland no noticeable harm whatsoever. In fact, it’s made Switzerland one of the most stable, free, peaceful and well-respected nations in the world. It has achieved this whilst being relatively poor in natural resources, completely landlocked, without doing any imperial looting of distant lands, and surrounded by two of the worst wars in human history. Therefore their political model obviously has useful lessons for almost every other country to learn from.

The Party’s Over

There is absolutely no justification for maintaining the anachronistic and institutionally corrupt system of government that Britain uses. It must be totally scrapped and a new model created based on the principles outlined in this essay. The seat of government should be moved away from London to somewhere more central to the whole country — like Northampton, say. Building a brand new parliament where no monarch or chamber of unelected MPs have any official role, and where a network of decentralised local councils controlled by direct democracy may be efficiently coordinated will be a huge step in the right direction.

But there are two other essential changes that need to be made. Although they’re very different to each other they are quite possibly equally important.

The control and supply of money must be removed from the private banking system and placed where it belongs — in the hands of the new democratic state. Although money may not be absolutely essential to an economy, it unquestionably enables the economy to work more efficiently. Throughout history the availability of money has always been ruthlessly controlled by a tiny handful of super-rich individuals. There is absolutely no economic necessity for this. It happens only because that’s how the super-rich controllers of money want it to stay. But money should be seen as a human right, and the supply viewed as public service totally controlled by the state.

The second vitally important change that needs to happen is that the supply of public information must be vastly improved. A successful system of direct democracy would be largely determined by the quality of information that voters receive upon which to form their opinions and make their decisions. Most people will make good decisions if they are given good information, and they will make very bad ones if given bad information — as the catastrophic Brexit fiasco proves beyond any reasonable doubt.

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence that the British state does not provide its citizens with good information — or even allow them to find it for themselves — is the fact that the state’s obsession with secrecy borders on the psychotic. As I write these words the outrageous treatment being meted out to the heroic publisher Julian Assange by the British state, probably on behalf of its US controllers, is providing graphic evidence of how the state treats those who try to reveal its secrets for public inspection. Ian Cobain’s The History Thieves, for example, is a fine study of the extent to which this problem affects us. It is quite impossible to obtain good information about the actions of the state when so many of those actions are deemed too secret for the public to know about for very considerable periods of time. Therefore two of the easiest steps to take to ensure the public receive good information is to scrap the odious Official Secrets Act, and for the state to open for public access all of its vast archives of secret files.

The ability to access good information is also dependent on a fundamental change to our system of education. British schools serve as an important first step in the process of brainwashing British people. The most obvious piece of evidence of this is the teaching of history. History is a vitally important subject because it teaches us about how our country became what it is. Or that’s what it should teach. But the history that’s taught in most schools, a history of Britain’s supposed greatness, is totally different from the history taught by historians such as EP Thompson, say, or Al Morton, or the Hammonds, John Newsinger, Mark Curtis or Ian Cobain. These writers all explain British history in a very different way to the history taught in most British schools, a way which would teach most children to understand that far from being the great champions of justice, liberty and humanity that they’re taught to see most British kings and queens, lords and ladies, general and admirals, they would learn instead how many of these people were indistinguishable from psychotic murderers and thieves.

It would teach people to acquire a far more humble belief about Britain’s true role in history and teach them a far more humane and tolerant attitude to others. It would also create a desperately needed contempt for the super-rich ruling classes of today – instead of the fawning sycophantic subservient attitude that is instilled by the existing education system. The obvious evidence of this institutionalised brainwashing is apparent in the very name of the country – “Great” Britain. There’s very little about British history which deserves to be called great. If the name Britain needed an adjective at all, “Grim” Britain would be closer to the mark.

Also badly lacking in our current education system is teaching the ability to think clearly and logically, but also with humanity, compassion for all living things, and awareness of the desperate existential threat our planet is enduring — mostly because of human overpopulation together with the capitalist economic model that drives it and which ridiculously demands infinite growth from finite resources.

To complete the picture of essential changes to make to the quality of public information we also obviously have to look at the providers of so-called news, the information about daily events that affect our lives. There is now a vast quantity of evidence that proves how the so-called news is manipulated by the rich and powerful to manipulate people to think and behave in a particular way. This must change. It should not be necessary to censor this information, which is actually mis-information. All that’s needed is to provide a more accurate, honest and humane alternative. The great journalist John Pilger, quoting the American historian and journalist TD Allman wrote.

Genuinely objective journalism’ is that which ‘not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right. Objective journalism is compelling not only today. It stands the test of time. It is validated not only by “reliable sources” but by the unfolding of history. It is reporting that which not only seems right the day it is published. It is journalism that ten, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events. (my emphasis)2

A state-provided news service, guided by this principle — or something very near it — is all we need to combat the vast quantities of misinformation and fake news provided by the mainstream media. Combined with the incredible new information technologies that are now available, and a totally reformed education system, people would be properly prepared and able to cope with sweeping constitutional changes to the way we have been misruled for thousands of years.

The one useful thing that the Brexit fiasco has done is to reveal how utterly useless and unfit for purpose the British parliament is. As I said at the start of this essay, that is not news to those of us who have long campaigned for reform. Our parliament has always been primarily about protecting the interests of the super-rich, rather than doing what’s best for most British people.

The future will not forgive us

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence of this is clearly visible in the vast array of antiquated procedures that accompany almost every action carried out in the Houses of Parliament. From the annual state opening of parliament, an ancient and highly ritualised performance designed to show the supremacy of an unelected head of state appointed by hereditary succession, to the daily routine business of parliament where supposedly serious debates take place in what sounds more like a children’s playground than the most important decision-making forum in the land.

This ridiculous farce of a system, ludicrously masquerading as a global model of democracy, must go. It has caused infinitely more harm than good, and now, with Britain and the world in general facing a perfect storm of the most serious existential crises since dinosaurs disappeared, we have to have an entirely new system of government — a system that is both wholly and truly democratic, as well as being compassionate and humane. If we do not do this, now, the future will not forgive us — and rightly so.

  1. New York Times, October 28, 1973.
  2. Hidden Agendas, John Pilger, p. 525.

Media Smoothed Way to Corbyn Target Practice

It is time to stop believing these infantile narratives the political and media establishment have crafted for us. Like the one in which they tell us they care deeply about the state of British political life, that they lie awake at night worrying about the threat posed by populism to our democratic institutions.

How do they persuade us of the depth of their concern? They express their horror at the murder of an MP, Jo Cox, and their outrage at the abuse of another, Anna Soubry.

But they don’t really care whether politicians are assaulted, vilified or threatened – at least, not if it is the kind of politician who threatens their power. These political and media elites don’t seriously care about attacks on democracy, or about political violence, or about the rottenness at the core of state institutions. Their outrage is selective. It is rooted not in principle, but in self-interest.

Is that too cynical? Ponder this.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t faced just shouted insults from afar, like Soubry. He was recently physically assaulted, hit on the head by a man holding an egg in his fist. But unlike Soubry, our media expressed no real concern. In fact, they could barely conceal their sniggers at his “egging”, an attack they presented as little more than a prank. They even hinted that Corbyn deserved it.

Shown as Kremlin stooge

The media have been only happy too to vilify Corbyn as a Kremlin stooge and a former Soviet spy. Senior Tory Iain Duncan Smith today called Corbyn “a Marxist whose sole purpose in life is to do real damage to the country” – a remark that, as ever, went entirely unchallenged by the BBC giving him a platform. Just imagine a Labour MP being allowed to accuse Theresa May of being a fascist whose only goal is to destroy the country.

But the BBC has never bothered to conceal its intense dislike of Corbyn. Its news shows have even photoshopped the Labour leader to make him look “Russian” – or “more Russian”, as the BBC and the rest of the media mischievously phrased it. Those who protested were told they were reading too much into it. They needed to lighten up and not take themselves so seriously.

The Conservative party, including the former defence secretary Michael Fallon, has regularly portrayed Corbyn as a threat to national security, especially over concerns about the Trident nuclear missile system. Many senior members of Corbyn’s own party have echoed such smears – all amplified, of course, by the media.

Those who suggested that the government and media needed to engage with Corbyn’s well-grounded doubts about the safety of nuclear weapons, or the economics and practicalities of the Trident programme, were derided – like Corbyn – as “pacifists” and “traitors”.

Then Corbyn became the target of another sustained demonisation campaign. It was claimed that this lifelong, very public anti-racism activist – who over decades had forged strong ties to sections of the British Jewish community, despite being a steadfast critic of Israel – was, at worst, a secret anti-semite and, at best, providing succour to anti-semites as they overran the Labour party.

Was there any factual basis or evidence for these claims? No. But the British public was assured by rightwing Jews like the Board of Deputies and by “leftwing” Jewish supporters of Israel like Jonathan Freedland that evidence wasn’t necessary, that they had a sixth sense for these things.

Corbyn’s supporters were told that they should not question the wildly inflammatory and evidence-free denunciations of Corbyn and the wider Labour membership for a supposed “institutional anti-semitism” – and, with a satisfyingly circular logic, that to do so was itself proof of anti-semitism.

Too toxic to lead Labour

The weaponisation of anti-semitism through political spin by Corbyn’s political enemies, including the Blairite faction of the parliamentary Labour party, was and is a dangerous assault on public life, one that has very obviously degraded Britain’s political culture.

The smear was meant to override the membership’s wishes and make Corbyn too toxic to lead Labour.

It has also politicised the anti-semitism allegation, weakening it for a section of the population, and irresponsibly inflaming fears among other sections. It has deflected attention from the very real threat of a rising tide of rightwing racism, both Islamophobia and the kind of anti-semitism that relates to Jews, not Israel.

Then, there was the serving British general who was given a platform by the Sunday Times – anonymously, of course – to accuse Corbyn of being a threat to British national security. The general warned that the army’s senior command would never allow Corbyn near Number 10. They would launch a coup first.

But no one in the corporate media or the political establishment thought the interview worthy of much attention, or demanded an investigation to find out which general had threatened to overturn the democratic will of the people. The story was quickly dropped down the memory hole. Those who sought to draw attention to it were told to move on, that there was nothing to see.

And now, this week, footage has emerged showing British soldiers – apparently taking their commanders’ expressed wishes more seriously than the media – using a poster of Corbyn as target practice out in Afghanistan.

Questioning ‘security credentials’

Do the media and politicians really care about any of this? Are they concerned, let alone as outraged as they were at Soubry’s earlier discomfort at the verbal abuse she faced? Do they understand the seriousness of this threat to British political life, to the safety of the leader of the opposition?

The signs are still far from reassuring. Theresa May did not think it worth using prime minister’s questions to condemn the video, to send an unequivocal message that Britain’s political choices would never be decided by violence. No one else in the chamber apparently thought to raise the matter either.

Sky News even used the footage to question yet again Corbyn’s “security credentials”, as though the soldiers might thereby have grounds for treating him as a legitimate target.

The clues as to where all this is leading are not hard to fathom. The white nationalist who drove into a crowd at Finsbury Park mosque in London, killing a worshipper, admitted at his trial that the real target had been Corbyn. An unexpected roadblock foiled his plans.

The fact is that no one in the political or media class cares much whether their constant trivialising of Corbyn’s political programme degrades British political life, or whether their smears could lead to political violence, or whether four years of their incitement might encourage someone to use more than an egg and a fist against Corbyn.

So let’s stop indulging the media and politicians as they cite Jo Cox’s murder and Anna Soubry’s intimidation as evidence of their democratic sensibilities and their commitment to political principle.

The truth is they are charlatans. They will use anything – from the murder of an MP to confections of anti-semitism and smears about treason – to incite against a democratic politician who threatens their domination of the political system.

It is their refusal to engage with a political argument they know they will lose, and to allow a democratic process to take place that they fear will produce the wrong result, that is setting the scene for greater polarisation and frustration, and ultimately for violence.

From Brexit to Trump, it’s Death by 1,000 Cuts

Has anyone else noticed how over the past few years the corporate media has been dedicating ever more space to articles on how to deal with loneliness, anxiety and insomnia, as well as ways to immerse ourselves in escapist new technology?

Our attention is being diverted away from the political to the cultural, medical and technical. When our elites have no solutions to the most pressing problems of the day, when all the objective evidence indicates that the political system they oversee and have designed to enrich themselves is driving us over a cliff edge, with our economies going bankrupt and our planet dying, they desperately need to rechannel our energies. Instead of blaming them, we are told to fix ourselves – or at least to pacify ourselves with entertainment.

That, of course, all sounds a lot more plausible when we clearly do need to fix ourselves. We are more anxious, more isolated, more confused than ever before. And for very good reason.

A new poll finds that 83 per cent of Britons are exhausted by hearing blow-by-blow news of Brexit, Britain’s interminable struggle to find a credible way to leave the European Union. Two-thirds believe that the anxiety provoked by this slow-motion plunge into the unknown is bad for people’s – presumably including their own – mental health. They are not wrong.

Heavy emotional toll

Meanwhile, Russiagate – the establishment-promoted conspiracy theory that Donald Trump stole the 2016 presidential election by colluding with Russia – has similarly sucked out all oxygen from the US political arena. For more than two years pundits there have spoken and thought about little else.

I suspect surveys of US public opinion would find a similar ennui among most Americans about these wildly improbable, and now disproven, claims against Trump. American friends who consider themselves part of the so-called #resistance to Trump tell me they wish they could just shut their eyes and the whole mess go away. It’s clearly not helping their mental health either.

A heavy emotional and psychic toll is being inflicted even on those fronting these establishment narratives, as was evident when Rachel Maddow, TV cheerleader-in-chief for the Russiagate conspiracy theory, had to announce on air that the Mueller investigation she had so excitedly played up for two years was a dud. Robert Mueller had found zero evidence of collusion.

Maddow’s pained facial contortions, her manic laughter as she tried to prop up the last vestiges of a narrative that had just been discredited by the very establishment she is a key pillar of was distressing to watch. Here was a woman who looked more in need of therapy than a major TV show.

Boring us to death

But maybe it’s too simple to see this as nothing more than an example of mass cognitive dissonance. Maybe the emotional, mental and spiritual breakdown is actually the point. Maybe the goal is to frustrate and bore us quite literally to death.

Politically and ideologically we are stuck. Capitalism has failed – and not marginally but ignominiously. Any ideology premised on an outcome that burns the planet to a crisp, or grows the world’s population until the resources to support it are exhausted, or both, is not only mistaken but dangerously deluded. Insanity, in fact.

But for decades we have all been caught up in that spell. Think of the Thatcher and Reagan years, of how most of us lapped up the idea that there was no such thing as society, that each of us was an island as our governments sold off public infrastructure and the common good. And at some level we all absorbed those mantras, even those of us in the UK who railed against Thatcher’s poll tax and supported the miners.

We all watched “serious” debates on TV in which eminent intellectuals told us that history had ended and that free-market capitalism had triumphed. We were on our journey to nirvana. Even when some of us wondered whether such arguments might be wrong or too simplistic, we rarely greeted them with the derision they so obviously deserved.

Now the delusion, the insanity cultivated in us over those past decades, is coming home to roost. We have so deeply imbibed the ideology of those who exploit us that we cannot imagine – we even fear – the possibility of being liberated from it.

Distracted by baubles

The elites whose power and wealth derives from the current system have absolutely no interest in changing course, in allowing new ideas, new paradigms to emerge. They are no more likely to provide a platform for radical or experimental thinking either in the establishment media or in our legislative echo-chambers than they are to fund Extinction Rebellion or shut down the offshore tax havens where they hoard their gargantuan wealth.

Even efforts to return us to the order that predated Thatcher and Reagan – one that placed some value in the collective – is being aggressively snuffed out by our elites, whether it’s Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or Bernie Sanders and the Congress’s insurgency lawmakers in the US.

The self-destruction of capitalism – the signs of its internal contradictions, its need for endless economic growth on a resource-finite planet – has been evident for some time. Once we could be distracted with baubles, with new iPhones and home entertainment systems, and by politics as fun-filled spectacle. Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK may be the logical endpoints of that political process.

Political paralysis

Now we are moving from spectacle, from politics as entertainment, to politics as death by a thousand cuts.

Britain cannot leave the EU, but also it cannot stay. The UK cannot move forward, and it has no possibility to move back. It is trapped, politically paralysed. A decision either way will tear the fabric of the social contract to shreds.

Does Brexit not offer us a parable for our times? It is in miniature our predicament as a species. We cannot move forward with capitalism because it is killing us and most life on the planet, but the capitalist class will not allow us the space or resources to find another way out of the mess they created. And brainwashed for so long, we fear even a modest diversion from our current suicidal path.

So we aimlessly watch TV unfold as if we have no power over either our individual fates or our collective fate. We stare into the abyss, a mixture of boredom and creeping anxiety our only responses to our own imminent demise.

We feel lonely, anxious and confused. We medicate ourselves with trivia, with entertainment, and we allow ourselves to be briefly distracted with establishment shadow plays that invert reality, from Corbyn’s supposed anti-semitism to US war criminals assigning themselves the right to pick Venezuela’s president.

No time for boredom

We have been on this path to collective insanity for a while, as the renowned psychologist Erich Fromm warned decades ago. It is at least a sign of hope that it is finally dawning on many of us that we are immersed in delusion, that we are mentally, emotionally and spiritually at a dead end.

That requires understanding that Trump isn’t the enemy, he is a symptom of our collective illness. Similarly, Brexit isn’t really the end of the world, it is grand displacement activity – our effort to distract ourselves from much deeper questions. Whether the UK stays in Europe or leaves, capitalism will still be herding us towards extinction. Brexit is unlikely even to affect how quickly we bring about such end-times.

The deeper questions we have been evading force us to address who we are as individuals and as a society, and whether we wish to have a future, to belong to a planet that possibly uniquely in our small corner of the universe can sustain higher life forms and the supreme achievement of our evolutionary branch-line, human beings.

Only in facing those questions can we rid ourselves of our political confusion and our individual anxiety. Standing on the edge of an abyss should be no time for boredom. It is time for deep reflection, and rapid personal and collective growth.

Anti-semitism is Cover for a Much Deeper Divide in Britain’s Labour Party

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour.

On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow.

With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit.

The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, however, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit.

Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Sickeningly racist’?

Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”.

She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”. Berger has suffered online abuse and death threats from rightwing extremists and neo-Nazis.

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, the former Labour MP said the Independent Group would provide the Jewish community with a “political home that they, like much of the rest of the country, are now looking for”.

In a plea to keep the party together, deputy leader Tom Watson issued a video in which he criticised his own party for being too slow to tackle anti-semitism. He added: “Time is short for us to confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences, to keep others from leaving”.

Ruth Smeeth, another Jewish Labour MP who may yet join a later wave of departures, was reported to have broken down in tears at a parliamentary party meeting following the split, as she called for tougher action on anti-semitism.

Two days later, as she split from Labour, Ryan accused the party of being “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.

Hatred claims undercut

The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”.

And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all.

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

It is, therefore, worth briefly examining what the Labour Party’s investigation discovered.

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

Intemperate language

Those figures, it should be remembered, have almost certainly been inflated by the efforts of Corbyn’s opponents to trawl through Labour members’ social media accounts in search of comments, some of them predating Corbyn’s leadership, that could be portrayed as anti-semitic.

Intemperate language flared especially in 2014 – before Corbyn became leader – when Israel launched a military operation on Gaza that killed large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including many hundreds of children

Certainly, it is unclear how many of those reportedly anti-semitic comments concern not prejudice towards Jews, but rather outspoken criticism of the state of Israel, which was redefined as anti-semitic last year by Labour, under severe pressure from MPs such as Berger and Ryan and Jewish lobby groups, such as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Seven of the 11 examples of anti-semitism associated with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition adopted by Labour concern Israel. That includes describing Israel as a “racist endeavour”, even though Israel passed a basic law last year stripping the fifth of its population who are not Jewish of any right to self-determination, formally creating two classes of citizen.

Illustrating the problem Labour has created for itself as a result, some of the most high-profile suspensions and expulsions have actually targeted Jewish members of the party who identify as anti-Zionist – that is, they consider Israel a racist state. They include Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.

Another Jewish member, Moshe Machover, a professor emeritus at the University of London, had to be reinstated after a huge outcry among members at his treatment by the party.

Unthinking prejudice

Alan Maddison, who has been conducting statistical research on anti-semitism for a pro-Corbyn Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Labour, put the 0.08 percent figure into its wider social and political context this week

He quoted the findings of a large survey of anti-semitic attitudes published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in 2017. It found that 30 percent of respondents from various walks of society agreed with one or more of eight anti-semitic views, ranging from stereotypes such as “Jews think they are better than other people” to Holocaust denial.

However, lead researcher Daniel Staetsky concluded that in most cases this was evidence of unthinking prejudice rather than conscious bigotry. Four-fifths of those who exhibited a degree of anti-semitism also agreed with at least one positive statement about Jewish people.

This appears to be the main problem among the tiny number of Labour Party members identified in complaints, and is reflected in the predominance of warnings about conduct rather than expulsions and suspensions.

Far-right bigotry

Another of the institute’s findings poses a particular problem for Corbyn’s opponents, who argue that the Labour leader has imported anti-semitism into the party by attracting the “hard left”. Since he was elected, Labour membership has rocketed.

Even if it were true that Corbyn and his supporters are on the far-left – a highly questionable assumption, made superficially plausible only because Labour moved to the centre-right under Tony Blair in the late 1990s – the institute’s research pulls the rug out from under Corbyn’s critics.

It discovered that across the political spectrum, conscious hatred of Jews was very low, and that it was exhibited in equal measure from the “very left-wing” to the “fairly right-wing”. The only exception, as one might expect, was on the “very right-wing”, where virulent anti-semitism was much more prevalent.

That finding was confirmed last week by surveys that showed a significant rise in violent, anti-semitic attacks across Europe as far-right parties make inroads in many member states. A Guardian report noted that the “figures show an overwhelming majority of violence against Jews is perpetrated by far-right supporters”.

Supporters of overseas war

So what is the basis for concerns about the Labour Party being mired in supposed “institutional anti-semitism” since it moved from the centre to the left under Corbyn, when the figures and political trends demonstrate nothing of the sort?

A clue may be found in the wider political worldview of the eight MPs who have broken from Labour.

All but two are listed as supporters of the parliamentary “Labour Friends of Israel” (LFI) faction. Further, Berger is a former director of that staunchly pro-Israel lobby group, and Ryan is its current chair, a position the group says she will hold onto, despite no longer being a Labour MP.

So extreme are the LFI’s views on Israel that it sought to exonerate Israel of a massacre last year, in which its snipers shot dead many dozens of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza in a single day. Faced with a social media backlash, it quietly took down the posts.

The eight MPs’ voting records – except for Gavin Shuker, for whom the picture is mixed – show them holding consistently hawkish foreign policy positions that are deeply antithetical to Corbyn’s approach to international relations.

They either “almost always” or “generally” backed “combat operations overseas”; those who were MPs at the time supported the 2003 Iraq war; and they all opposed subsequent investigations into the Iraq war.

Committed Friends of Israel

In one sense, the breakaway group’s support for Labour Friends of Israel may not be surprising, and indicates why Corbyn is facing such widespread trouble from within his own party. Dozens of Labour MPs are members of the group, including Tom Watson and Ruth Smeeth.

Smeeth, one of those at the forefront of accusing Corbyn of fostering anti-semitism in Labour, is also a former public affairs director of BICOM, another stridently pro-Israel lobby group.

None of these MPs were concerned enough with the LFI’s continuing vocal support for Israel as it has shifted to the far-right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have stepped down from the group.

Nor was their committed support for Labour Friends of Israel shaken by a 2017 undercover Al-Jazeera documentary investigating the Israel lobby’s tactics in the UK. It revealed that the LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement were both covertly working closely with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn.

In fact, the secret filming recorded Ryan inventing a false claim of anti-semitism against a Labour party member.

She also admitted on camera that she was in almost daily contact with Masot, and was filmed speaking to Masot about £1 million he had secured on the LFI’s behalf to fly Labour MPs on junkets to Israel as part of recruiting them to the Israeli cause.

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

Anti-semitism has taken centre stage in the manoeuvring against Corbyn, despite there being no evidence of significant hatred against Jews in the party. Increasingly, it seems, tangible abuse of Jews is of little interest unless it can be related to Corbyn.

The markedly selective interest in anti-semitism in the Corbyn context among the breakaway MPs and supposed anti-semitism watchdogs has been starkly on show for some time.

Notably, none expressed concern at the media mauling of a left-wing, satirical Jewish group called Jewdas when Corbyn was widely attacked for meeting “the wrong kind of Jews”. In fact, leading Labour figures, including the Jewish Labour Movement, joined in the abuse.

And increasingly in this febrile atmosphere, there has been an ever-greater indulgence of the “right kind of anti-semitism” – when it is directed at Corbyn supporters.

A troubling illustration was provided on the TV show Good Morning Britain this week, when Tom Bower was invited on to discuss his new unauthorised biography of Corbyn, in which he accuses him of anti-semitism. The hosts looked on demurely as Bower, a Jewish journalist, defamed fellow Jewish journalist Michael Segalov as a “self-hating Jew” for defending Corbyn on the show.

Revenge of the Blairites

So what is the significance of the fact that the Labour MPs who have been most outspoken in criticising Corbyn – those who helped organise a 2016 leadership challenge against him, and those who are now rumoured to be considering joining the breakaway faction – are heavily represented on the list of MPs supporting LFI?

For them, it seems, vigorous support for Israel is not only a key foreign policy matter, but a marker of their political priorities and worldview – one that starkly clashes with the views of Corbyn and a majority of the Labour membership.

Anti-semitism has turned out to be the most useful – and damaging – weapon to wield against the Labour leader for a variety of reasons close to the hearts of the holdouts from the Blair era, who still dominate the parliamentary party and parts of the Labour bureaucracy.

Perhaps most obviously, the Blairite wing of the party is still primarily loyal to a notion that Britain should at all costs maintain its transatlantic alliance with the United States in foreign policy matters. Israel is a key issue for those on both sides of the Atlantic who see that state as a projection of Western power into the oil-rich Middle East and romanticise Israel as a guarantor of Western values in a “barbaric” region.

Corbyn’s prioritising of Palestinian rights threatens to overturn a core imperial value to which the Blairites cling.

Tarred and feathered

But it goes further. Anti-semitism has become a useful stand-in for the deep differences in a domestic political culture between the Blairites, on one hand, and Corbyn and the wider membership, on the other.

A focus on anti-semitism avoids the right-wing MPs having to admit much wider grievances with Corbyn’s Labour that would probably play far less well not only with Labour members, but with the broader British electorate.

As well as their enthusiasm for foreign wars, the Blairites support the enrichment of a narrow neo-liberal elite, are ambivalent about austerity policies, and are reticent at returning key utilities to public ownership. All of this can be neatly evaded and veiled by talking up anti-semitism.

But the utility of anti-semitism as a weapon with which to beat Corbyn and his supporters – however unfairly – runs deeper still.

The Blairites view allegations of anti-Jewish racism as a trump card. Calling someone an anti-semite rapidly closes down all debate and rational thought. It isolates, then tars and feathers its targets. No one wants to be seen to be associated with an anti-semite, let alone defend them.

Weak hand exposed

That is one reason why anti-semitism smears have been so maliciously effective against anti-Zionist Jews in the party and used with barely a murmur of protest – or in most cases, even recognition that Jews are being suspended and expelled for opposing Israel’s racist policies towards Palestinians.

This is a revival of the vile “self-hating Jew” trope that Israel and its defenders concocted decades ago to intimidate Jewish critics.

The Blairites in Labour, joined by the ruling Conservative Party, the mainstream media and pro-Israel lobby groups, have selected anti-semitism as the terrain on which to try to destroy a Corbyn-led Labour Party, because it is a battlefield in which the left stands no hope of getting a fair hearing – or any hearing at all.

But paradoxically, the Labour breakaway group may have inadvertently exposed the weakness of its hand. The eight MPs have indicated that they will not run in by-elections, and for good reason: it is highly unlikely they would stand a chance of winning in any of their current constituencies outside the Labour Party.

Their decision will also spur moves to begin deselecting those Labour MPs who are openly trying to sabotage the party – and the members’ wishes – from within.

That may finally lead to a clearing out of the parliamentary baggage left behind from the Blair era, and allow Labour to begin rebuilding itself as a party ready to deal with the political, social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Sharp Manias: Knife Crime in London

London — A bleak London assailed by daily news about Brexit negotiation, prospects of food shortages and higher prices in the event of a no-deal with the European Union, provides the perfect apocalyptic backdrop for headlines. The city is ailing; the residents are panicked; and the authorities are gloomy.

Such environments are ideal for talk about emergencies.  One doing much filling on London airtime is that of knife crime.  Not that knife crime, in and of, itself is unusual: for years, stabbing implements have made their way into broader law and order issues in the city’s policing scene, a good number featuring errant youth.  These have encouraged a wide array of myths masquerading as solid fact: London, the city of the “no-go” area; Londonistan, city of perpetual, spiralling crime.

In 2008, Britain’s public institutions – political and public – became darkly enraptured with knife crime afflicting inner city areas, with a heavy focus on London.  Stabbings were reported in lurid fashion; threats to urban safety were emphasised.  As Peter Squires noted in a fairly withering examination of the phenomenon in British Politics, “The knife crime ‘epidemic’, as it came to be called, coincided with a series of youth justice policy measures being rolled out by the government, and significantly influenced them.”

Kevin Marsh of the BBC, writing at the same time, wondered how best a news organisation might report such crime figures. “How much does tone and prominence distort the real picture?  Is some coverage self-fulfilling prophecy?  Does it spread fear and anxiety way beyond the rational?”  Marsh would admit that being a victim of a knife crime was “very, very unlikely”; and that young men, in the main, did not carry knives; “most young people are not components of what some politicians are calling the ‘broken society’.”

For all that, Marsh found himself admitting that “it’s part of the purpose of our media to draw things to our attention, however crudely.”  The crude element remains the sticking point, resisting nuance, despite the hope that reporters might help “us citizens really think hard about possible solutions”.

Knife crime has become the bread and butter of lazy reportage, one hitched to the coattails of the broken society argument.  Describing a broken fence is easier fare than describing a mended one; solutions remain dull, academic matters.  The emergency narrative tends to emerge ahead each time; matters of social causes and complexity receive short shrift.  In 2017, Gary Younge turned his noise up at the panic merchants, and deemed teenage knife crime “a tabloid obsession, blamed on feral youth running riot in our cities.”  Such fears speak to an obsession with decay and decline; youth go wrong if society does not go right.

In 2018, knife crime became a meme of terror.  The Express shouted with “London BLOODBATH” in a June headline, and subsequently began using it as a running title for any knife-related crime.  Political parties also capitalised on the atmosphere. In the east London borough of Havering, a local Conservative leaflet, buttering up electors ahead of the March local elections, promised mayhem.  “Mayor Khan and Corbyn’s men are desperate to grab power in our Town Hall, so get ready for… A London crimewave with even less police.”  In Lewisham East, UKIP candidate David Kurten added his bit in a by-election with a leaflet featuring the words “STOP THE KARNAGE” placed across a picture of a knife.

The dreary world of knife crime figures is erratic.  Between 2008 and 2014, offences involving knives or sharp instruments fell from 36,000 recorded offences to 25,000.  Then came an increase in 2015/6 – a nudge to 28,900.  The figures on death occasioned by knife crime are even more inscrutable, prompting Spiked Online to conclude that there was “no huge upsurge in knife violence because society overall is becoming less violent, and crime in general is falling.”  This was not to say that no concern should be felt: the issue is particular in London, and its effects disproportionate on young working-class black men. A possible explanation?  Not just indigence or exclusion, but nihilism and plain susceptibility.

Barely two months into this year, and the rounds of panic are in full swing.  As always, it’s the deceptive field of statistics dragged out to give a picture of clear, bolt-the-doors-and-hide doom.  It began with a spate of violent actions on New Year’s Eve, which saw four young men stabbed to death in London, prompting London Mayor Sadiq Khan to berate the government for its squeeze on youth services, policing and education.

Police statistics, pounced upon by the Evening Standard just in time for the evening commute on Monday, suggest that 41 percent across London’s boroughs involve those between the green years of 15 to 19.  Eight percent range from the even greener 10 to 14.

The Standard’s Martin Bentham sliced and spliced the announcement from the police with maximum, terrifying effect, all assisted by a picture perfect grim background of law enforcement officials at a crime scene on Caledonia Road.  “The new figures came as a Scotland Yard chief warned that attacks in the capital were also becoming ‘more ferocious’ as offenders were ‘more and more young’ tried to kill or injure by ‘getting up close and stabbing someone several times’.

Descriptions on police tactics follow, resembling those of urban battle plans keen on frustrating potential attacks.  Chief Superintendent Ade Adelekan, head of the Met’s Violent Crime Task Force, is quoted as claiming that “some progress” is being made.  There was also a more frequent use of search and “other tactics” including “the deployment of ‘embedded’ plain clothes officers to work with uniformed counterparts” in acts of prevention.

As Younge rightly notes, such realities are “more complex – and we cannot save lives if we do not understand it.”  But understanding is a term absent in times of panic. These are times rich for exploitation.  With Brexit having become the great psychodrama, all else is ripe for distraction and manipulation.