On Castro: “For all his flaws…”

November 30, 2016

In 2012, Cuban dissident and pro-democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá was killed in a car accident that surviving passengers in the car say was deliberately run off the road. The Cuban Government claimed it was all one big accident. The significance of this is that Oswaldo Payá had ran a petition called The Varela Project with over 25,000 signatories demanding free expression, free association, the right to start a business, and democratic elections in Cuba, only to be dismissed by Castro’s regime, and many of its advocates imprisoned. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, a leader of the petition, was imprisoned without any food for the first 3 days, and left in a pitch black room. These are the people the Western left should have shown complete solidarity toward. This week, they chose to defend the abuser.

There’s an incredible irony in Jeremy Corbyn’s understanding of social justice. Had the Labour Leader been a member of the Cuban Communist Party and as vocally critical of its leadership as he has been the Labour leadership over the decades, he’d either be in prison by now, or worse. As luck would have it, whilst he publicly, openly, and without fear disapproves of former Labour leaderships, he’s out praising the dead dictator of the Communist Party of Cuba as a “champion of social justice” whilst its critics remain either in prison, in hiding, or dead. And so, once again, the Labour Leader openly sides with the abuser. As do many taking to social media to praise Castro, whilst not grabbing the irony that most of Cuba are not permitted to access the same forms of media as the rest of us.

Indeed, to be progressive is to note without fail, that individual Cubans have far more right to elect their leader, to criticise and scrutinise power structures, and to do so without punishment, than Fidel Castro ever had to rule the nation. Without the protected right to criticise the power structure without fear of death for doing so, people are not free, nor that leader to be considered socially just. Corbyn does not understand this basic concept of liberty, and as such, is not a progressive.

Corbyn went on to joyfully explain how Castro had outlasted many US Presidents. As if not allowing a free election on his leadership and silencing critics is admirable, if it has the outward appearance of some sort of defeat for the US. As if in that time amassing a fortune of close to $1bn for the Castro family, whilst the average Cuban takes home $20 a month with no real right to unionise (seriously), is admirable because the US is beaten down.

Following in the footsteps of Corbyn, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speaking on Andrew Marr quickly passed over Castro’s crimes with a simple:

“For all his flaws…”

– A hideously flippant refusal to engage with the horror bestowed upon so many for exercising their basic freedoms. I suspect he wouldn’t so flippantly dismisses abuses by far-right dictators. He then went on to explain Cuba’s achievements in education. As if a moral equivalency exists and balances out improving education standards, with strapping people blindfolded to wooded posts and pumping them full of bullets. This is what we’re being asked to consider ‘balanced‘ in a discussion on Castro’s legacy. I can only assume that some – including Corbyn – consider Cubans and especially those dissenting from the 60 year violent establishment to be less deserving of basic human rights, than the rest of us. Because I’m quite certain that if the man across the road from you were to torture and kill members of his family, but also taught them to read, one would not seek a balanced discussion on his legacy.

Contrary to the ease in which McDonnell can pass by Castro’s crimes without much in the way of condemnation, I would have to argue that if you are willing to refer to the violent silencing of criticism of an establishment lasting over half a century as ‘a flaw‘ you – like your leader – are not a progressive either.

Corbyn and McDonnell were not the only ones on the Labour Front Bench to praise and excuse Castro, though some do it with a subtle hint of cowardice. Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon – a Chavez fan too – hides his praise for Castro behind pictures of the late dictator embracing Mandela. As if that absolves Castro of his crimes. More unnerving, is that the British Shadow Justice Secretary – that’s ‘Justice‘ – praises and excuses a man whom Human Rights Watch say:

“For almost five decades, Cuba has restricted nearly all avenues of political dissent. Cuban citizens have been systematically deprived of their fundamental rights to free expression, privacy, association, assembly, movement, and due process of law. Tactics for enforcing political conformity have included police warnings, surveillance, short-term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically motivated dismissals from employment.

Cuba’s legal and institutional structures have been at the root of its rights violations. The rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and the press are strictly limited under Cuban law. By criminalizing enemy propaganda, the spreading of “unauthorized news,” and insult to patriotic symbols, the government curbs freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. The courts are not independent; they undermine the right to fair trial by restricting the right to a defense, and frequently fail to observe the few due process rights available to defendants under domestic law.”

– The victims of Castro, the ones whose lives are permitted far less freedom than me or you by abusers, are the most important part of his legacy. Rigoberto Hernandez was just 17 years old and had mental health issues when Fidel’s Castro’s guards tied him to a stake and riddled his young body with bullet after bullet. His crime was to be accused of being a CIA agent. Rigoberto wasn’t the only young victim of Castro’s regime over the years. Of the thousands murdered, under 18s were common. Carlos Machado was hammered with bullets from Castro’s guns in the 1960s for refusing to give up his family farm… he was 15.

But that’s not all. For a ‘socialist’ regime, Cuba isn’t too keen on collective bargaining. Human Rights Watch says:

“Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it has ratified, specifically regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection of wages and wage payment, and prohibitions on forced labor. While the formation of independent unions is technically allowed by law, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.”

– So, this week the leader of the British opposition Party has referred to the murderer of many including children, and the striking violation of the right to free association and collective bargaining as a ‘champion of social justice‘, with his Shadow Chancellor glossing over the human rights abuses that should be opposed without condition by progressives, as “for all his flaws…” and not to leave out the Green Party… a few local Greens have decided that the Labour Party is worth putting its weight behind in an up-coming by-election because:

“We hope that voters in Richmond Park will remember the Lib Dems’ regressive role with the Tories in government: putting austerity into practice; enacting the bedroom tax; and raising university tuition fees after they promised to scrap them.

And we hope it won’t be forgotten that the Lib Dems are ultimately responsible for the decision to expand Heathrow airport, having launched the Airports Commission in 2012 along with their coalition partners in government.

Unfortunately, we have no progressive alliance and no Green party candidate in Richmond Park. Therefore, although not our first choice, we will be supporting Christian Wolmar, the Labour candidate, as the best option available. We encourage other local Green supporters to do the same.”

– That’s right. They can’t support the Lib Dems because they were ‘regressive’ in government, and so instead will be supporting a candidate from a Party whose leader, Shadow Chancellor, and Shadow Justice Secretary are all over the media rampantly praising and excusing a tyrant responsible for torturing and murdering critics, including children, denying petitions for basic rights, and attacking unions. Exceptionally flexible values from The Greens. And… here’s the theme… also not progressive.

But it highlights a point I’ve long been trying to make. This section of the left occupied by Corbyn, McDonnell, Diane “Mao did more good than harm” Abbott, Richard Burgon, Ken Livingstone, and seen as favourable by some of The Greens, do not consider fundamental human rights to be universal nor worth defending if it conflicts with their opposition to what they see as US/UK/Israeli ‘imperialism‘, or conflicts with criticism of a left wing dictator.

The Labour Party invited the Cuban Ambassador to speak at their conference this year, and the Cuban Solidarity stall at conference gained 50 new members. This isn’t in solidarity with Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, a blogger who was arrested for covering marches and demostrations, taken 30 miles outside of Havana, pulled out of the police car, made to kneel, and had a gun put on his neck and told “you’re on notice”. This isn’t with the previously mentioned heroes of the Varela Project fighting for freedom. No, this is ‘solidarity’ with the gunmen & the regime. It is clear to me that a real progressive Labour Party would instead have invited Cuban dissenters and those critics fearing for their lives to speak at conference, or those fighting daily and at the risk of punishment for basic freedoms in Cuba, because those are the voices of the oppressed.

They instead find excuses for the molesting of those rights, and creative ways in which defending the abusers is acceptable to them. They seek to downplay the seriousness of human rights abuses, by attempting to demand a balance with improved healthcare standards. The rights they claim for themselves, they do not defend for others universally. Social liberalism is not as important to this section of the left, as economic socialism-by-any-means-necessary, and that should concern us all.

With Castro’s death, the left continues its spiral into irrelevance.


Trump’s anti-establishment’ gang seems eerily familiar.

November 15, 2016

I confess that despite my years of following both UK and US politics, I have yet to discover what ‘anti-establishment’ means. Over here in the UK, it seems to mean leaving complex Brexit negotiations up to Boris Johnson without any say from Parliament. The latter being ‘establishment’, whilst the former – a very wealthy man at the heart of London government & descended from Kings and Ottoman rulers – presented as the opposite. In general, It appears to mean ‘those who disagree with me’.

It cannot mean what we all think it means, given that the anti-establishment candidate that everyone tells me has ‘shaken the establishment!’ by winning the US election, is a billionaire with his own tower in the heart of NYC and has spent a lifetime able to afford accountants that get him out of income tax, whilst making life difficult for workers at his businesses.

It cannot mean that ‘anti-establishment’ candidate’s transition team either. Indeed, Trump’s transition team includes his own children who will also run his massive business empire. As well as his kids, Trump intends to shake up Washington ‘elites’ by including….. Chris Christie; a man who has been Governor of New Jersey since 2010, New Jersey Attorney General from 2002 until 2008, and prior to that was a lobbyist for Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci. A key member of the political establishment since 2002 is now in 2016 considered anti-establishment.

Another of Trump’s Presidential transition team is also the first appointment to Trump’s White House, Reince Priebus. So ‘anti-establishment’ are his credentials, that he’s been RNC Chairman for a longer period of time than Obama has been President, and so partly responsible for the disconnect people feel with Washington.

Yet another of Trump’s transition team, to launch this already blistering array of anti-establishment figures, is PayPal founder and billionaire Peter Thiel. He’s now running a billion dollar venture capital company. He’s also a member of the Bilderberg Group; a gathering of political and economic establishment figures.

To add to this impressive list of just your every-day anti-establishment folk running the transition team, we have Rebekah Mercer. She’s just like all of us, in that she’s the daughter of a billionaire hedge fund manager, runs a foundation with around $30,000,000 in assets which donates to The Heritage Foundation. Heritage in 2014 was listed as 9th on a list of ‘Top Think Tanks in the United States’ for policy influence. Rebekah also has a history of working on Wall Street. So, running a $30mn foundation, with a billionaire hedgefund manager father, donating to policy-influencing think-tanks. Come on… we’ve all done that.

Speaking of Wall Street – the street Trump fans cannot stop telling us all that Clinton was irretrievably wedded to – another of Trump’s transitional team, and likely to head up the Treasury, is Steven Mnuchin. Now Mnuchin is very anti-establishment and very anti-Wall Street elite. So much so, that he spent 16 years at Goldman Sachs – a firm his father also worked for amassing millions of dollars, a few years before all the controversies it found itself in. Mnuchin then went on to founding OneWest Bank. A bank that, on referring to their treatment of foreclosures, a judge said their practices:

“harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive”

– They used those sorts of tactics, after receiving a massive federal bail out… obviously.

So, President-Elect Trump’s transition team ready to fight the establishment, and sending a shockwave to the elites, includes a billionaire with his own Tower in NYC, his kids, a Wall Street trader, another Wall Street banker whose bank actively pursued “repugnant” and “shocking” tactics toward vulnerable people, PayPal’s founder and Bilderberg member, and a man who ran the RNC for a decade. And that’s before we even get to his cabinet choices, which I suspect will include Rudy Giuliana… someone so anti-establishment that he was associate attorney general in 1981…. five years before I was born, and has been a big part of US politics ever since.

Indeed, Anti-establishment seems to be a term that the alt-right have taken to, that they’d like to think protects them from scrutiny of their grotesque illiberal, and often bigoted politics. They are quickly becoming unable to handle basic scrutiny. But come on…. make it a little less obvious.


The left must stop excusing Trump voters.

November 12, 2016

There is a glaring contradiction – and dare I say, political correctness – emerging among my fellow left-leaning liberals trying to wrap their heads around a Trump victory, and doing so by subtly excusing those voters. This couldn’t be more highlighted than in the way they are responding to the often violent protests that are breaking out against his election.

The contradiction is this;
1) Protesters are completely responsible for their own individual actions (this is correct) and must be condemned, without any wider context discussed.
2) We must not condemn Trump voters as moral agents willingly empowering a very bigoted (and also, we mustn’t call it or them bigoted) platform, and instead we must look at the wider context.

The subtle implication is clear; The left is responsible entirely for both, that protesters are violent lefties unable to accept the result of a democratic election, whilst those voters who elected Trump are amoral victims of the left’s inability to craft a narrative of change. I resent this position, because it seems to excuse or deflect from the individual choice that grown adults have made, to empower and embolden a racist, misogynistic, disability mocking, dangerous platform, onto others for not stopping it. It is a feigned outrage. To be outraged at protests (I say protest, not violent protest…. the latter is completely unacceptable and must be punished), but not at voters who consciously empower bigotry, is puzzling at best.

Indeed, I’ve seen liberals insist that conservatives didn’t protest Obama’s election, and that this is protesting is anti-democratic and embarrassing for the left. It’s as if they have chosen to believe that when very divisive language is met with protest, it is the protest that must be condemned. And secondly, It’s as if they have consciously chosen to forget the ‘go back to Africa’ signs at rallies, Confederate flags waving outside the White House or at rallies attended by Sarah Palin & Ted Cruz, or the inviting of people like Ted Nugent (a man who once said “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War”)by Republicans as some sort of Patriotic hero to Presidential events or the refusal by Senate Republicans to accept any nomination on time, or the shut down of government, or the demands for birth certificates over the past eight years. It’s like they’ve decided those opposing that sort of vicious shit, are to blame, and see no irony in their new found refusal to condemn it all as hideously bigoted and those who vote to empower it, as embracing that bigotry. The GOP created this atmosphere over the past eight years. They legitimised it. They fostered it. But suddenly, the subtle line here is that Trump voters and Republicans are victims.

This doesn’t happen with any other section of society, for my fellow liberals. We rightly highlight that embracing Islamist principles and the bigotry it permits is the fault of the individual first and the narrative they’ve embraced, and reject groups like CAGE attempting to shift blame onto everyone but the individual. We accept that a wider context exists that entrenches those ideas, but it is the individual first and foremost that we highlight as the culprit. We do not strip those people of their moral agency. Similarly, we accept that – despite presenting themselves as anti-establishment – we will liberals will not vote for a Jeremy Corbyn-led left wing that openly supports violent regimes across the World, and includes a host of anti-Semitic groups and individuals. That is a line we do not cross. Nor do we excuse. Whether left or right, religious or not, the reasoning remains the same.

That the left hasn’t been able to craft a suitable narrative for the electorate to cling to is clear. And as a result, it leaves a festering pot of bigotry to fill the gap. This is an obvious point. Like saying without cold water, there’s just burning hot water. It’s also why the US election wasn’t so much a victory for Republicans given that their share of the vote stayed practically untouched since 2012 and 2008, but that the Democrat share of the vote plummeted. This is such an obvious point, it doesn’t require making. How the left responds and seeks to craft a narrative focused on those abandoned by globalisation over the past thirty years, is important. This, I accept.

The left hasn’t known how to speak to blue collar communities for decades. How to reinvigorate unions to ensure fair wages, secure jobs, and safe environments, when unions have been decimated by the right for so long, is a challenge. How to answer concerns on immigration, without endorsing or legitimising often racist narratives is another massive challenge that no one has touched for far too long. I get that.

But I would also say that the left needs to go on the offensive; absolutely shame and fight the grotesque mentality that seems to have permitted so many to empower to the highest office in the World, a man with 75 pending court cases, a man who mocked the disability of a reporter, a man who believes that China invented climate change, a man who uses phrases like “grab them by the pussy”, a man who has several women claiming sexual assault against them, a man who publicly expressed a desire to ban all Muslims from entering the US, a man who’s likely appointee to Treasury Secretary is ex-Goldman Sachs with a number of court cases against him for how he treated foreclosures (including one judge referring to his company’s actions as ‘repulsive’), a man who’s choice for VP echoes religious fundamentalists across the planet when he claims same-sex relationships are a sign of ‘societal collapse’, a man who called Mexicans rapists, a man who spent a large part of the Presidency of the first African American to hold that office demanding a birth certificate to prove he was American.

We must hear real concerns about immigration and about economic globalisation, we must formulate a narrative of change, but we must also refuse to stroke the egos of those who think using those concerns negates the bigotry they also willingly endorsed and empowered. We must not treat those voters like victims. They are not. They have – through their own moral agency – chosen to empower horrific human traits. We must – through argument and persuasion – alienate the mentality that they have embraced to ensure it is defeated. It must be called out, it must be demonised, and it must be demolished. The right has been on the attack for decades and it has clearly worked. The left must now do the same.


Hobbes’ Walking Dead.

October 27, 2016

“In such condition, there is no place for industry… no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
– Thomas Hobbes, on the state of nature.

The Sopranos and The West Wing aside, I’m rarely susceptible to find myself immersed in a TV series. Though, Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing is surely testing that. I’m not great with fantasy shows either. My partner and I gave Game of Thrones a go, but it didn’t captivate me at all. Which is why giving The Walking Dead a try seemed like it’d end up with me dropping it from my weekly schedule within a few episodes. Six seasons later, and I’m addicted.

Season 7 of The Walking Dead started this weekend, with one of the most brutal and psychologically testing openings to a TV show in history, and it split the reviewing media and Twitter’s Walking Dead fans right down the middle. Tim Winter of the Parent’s Television Council said:

“It’s not enough to ‘change the channel,’ as some people like to advocate, because cable subscribers — regardless of whether they want AMC or watch its programming — are still forced to subsidize violent content.

“This brutally explicit show is a powerful demonstration of why families should have greater control over the TV networks they purchase from their cable and satellite providers.”

– An odd criticism. It’s the equivalent of not liking a couple pages in a book you’ve brought, and so demanding control over the entire thing. The PTC go on to suggest TV producers should ‘imply’ the violent content, rather than actually show it. Thank god we adults, watching an adult’s show, have the PTC to protect our vulnerable minds.

And whilst its critics seem to be under the impression that the brutality of the opening of the season was ‘lazy’ and ‘just for ratings’, done simply for ‘shock value’ I’m convinced it was a spectacular opening based on the very philosophical underpinning of the show, with much of the criticisms ironically heaped in lazy understanding of the point of the show.

Indeed, I’ve found those who insist they’re boycotting the show because it has become too brutal and lazy, to be somewhat unnerving. It implies they didn’t consider dead people with flesh hanging off eating live people to be too brutal, nor a sect of cannibals too brutal, nor a beheading too brutal, nor a mother giving birth, dying, and being show by her son before turning into a face eating zombie too brutal, but a favoured character is killed off and it’s suddenly too much. If brutal is your starting point, it is perhaps best to start at flesh eating dead people.

Allow me to explain why I like The Walking Dead, and why it gets me thinking.

The premise of the show isn’t zombies, or surviving a zombie take over. If that was it, I’d be bored quickly. Zombies, vampires, elves, or the like, are something I find little interest in reading or watching. The premise of the show is essentially Hobbes’ state of nature and attempts to break out of it into a civilised community.

This is excellently highlighted when we look at the main protagonist – Rick. Rick embodies the old World; has property, has a family, a respected member of a community, is a member of law enforcement – the very structure that when dissolved, has catastrophic consequences. And yet, in the new wilderness, he’s a killer, forced to make ethical choices that would be beyond even a nightmare back in the civilised World. And so it is, that the show highlights humans at their rawest, when government, legal systems, protections for liberty, social contracts, property rights, no longer exist, and all that exists are individuals and small groups fighting for resources.

When a state of nature leaves everyone open to the mercy of others, and necessitates banding together and a leader emerging, how humans cope with the brutality of a society-less society. How do we balance personal freedom, with group security? How do we trade when there is no moderator to enforce contracts and security? After experiencing strangers trying to kill you, when you finally find refuge and new strangers appear, knowing that resources are like gold dust, how do you respond? What is the ethical approach? When currency has no value, because supplies and resources are free to the one who kills, how do you plan? Whether or not the shows producers have Hobbes, or Locke, or any other social contract theorist in mind when writing the show, is irrelevant, because it enshrines that in its very premise. Establishing communities in a hostile, lawless state of nature underpins the show.

“The condition of man, is the condition of war…. of everyone, against everyone”

– Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes is clear that in such a World, where trade isn’t regulated, contracts are meaningless, law is individual, no government exists, currency and property are taken with force, threat of violence and brutality is all there is, nothing else exists. This was exemplified in Negan’s merciless and appalling murders, but of course these weren’t ‘murders’ because ‘murder’ is a legal term. In the state of nature, killing becomes necessary. Hobbes says:

“Government is necessary not because man is naturally bad, but because he is naturally more individualistic than social.”

– A threat is perceived – such as the threat of Rick’s group to ‘the saviours’s – and so the threat is squashed immediately, and violently, due to the lack of legal protections that would normally bind communities & prevent violence. I suspect episodes that follow, will include brutality from Negan aimed at his own community, to keep them in line. Negan, is a more violent, more brutal, more dictatorial version of Rick, but Hobbes’ logic remains the same:

“During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.”

– And so humans band together, appointing a leader solely for protection. Survival is it, by any means necessary in such a state. Law within those communities is created and enforced by the leader, for the advancement of the group, or so it is presumed. What we’re finding out on the show, is that a state of nature doesn’t suddenly end the moment individuals band together for protection. Protection is fleeting and a largely a mirage. We now have small groups fighting over resources and often brutally. In the real World, nations, religions, tribes showcase the same base instincts.

The Walking Dead has me thinking how easy it is for once civilised people from bustling lives, with tea and crumpets before work, with flowers growing in the garden, suddenly descend into our base instincts when the precarious foundations of institutional constructs collapse, and how survival may turn us to the brutal hunter gatherers that we are. Far from ‘dehumanising’ us, I think it humanises us in our rawest form, in a state of nature, a state the PTC and others seek to protect us all from, and that is what terrifies us.


Brexit Blasphemy & Easily Triggered Right Wingers.

October 23, 2016

Over the past few years, I’ve written on a few occasions on the subject of the importance of free expression when dissenting & challenging prevailing wisdom. Whether that be challenging religious dogma, or political ideals. Those – like the National Union of Students – dedicated as they are to creating ‘safe spaces’ where topics are off-limits, not only silence dissent, but take it upon themselves to ban my right to hear dissenting views and come to my own conclusion. There’s is a form of banning blasphemy.

But it isn’t just the left & religious conservatives that has taken it upon themselves themselves to attempt to silence dissent.

As far as I can tell, apart from David Lammy and a small group of MPs, there is less a will to overturn the EU referendum vote, and more a will among remainers – like me – to consistently scrutinise the winning side, and ensure our voice is heard when a deal is reached. The problem is, this is quickly being cast as an attempt to subvert the ‘will of the people‘. By that, they mean just 52% of a small number of people who actually bothered to vote. By extension, this implies that any representation of the 48% or any scrutiny of the winning side, is to be viewed as some sort of elitist threat to the people. Or, as I’m calling it, Brexit Blasphemy.

BrexitMail.jpg
– The dangerous ‘patriot/traitor’ rhetoric is alive across social media, but more worryingly, it exists right at the top of the print media world. Jo Cox was the victim of that hyperbole, and that level of violent rhetoric. Those of us challenging the winning side, with scrutiny are cast as the anti-British enemy of the people. Those who voted Leave cast themselves as patriots, implying that if I voted to remain, I am not a patriot. But I do not recall voting on who gets the right to define what it means to love one’s country. Indeed, I adore my country, so much so that I believe any right I claim for myself, I must defend for others, and that to be anti-British, is to attack values of free expression, inquiry, and democratic scrutiny. If I vote on decisions that will have wide ranging implications on the lives of those who voted against, I expect those people to free to express their voice, or be given representation moving forward. 

These people do not own the concept of patriotism. It is not for the far-right and no one else. The language – ‘unpatriotics’, ‘damn’, ‘plot’, ‘subvert’ to refer to dissenters, whilst the British people (which, remember, means 52% of people) are cast as the victims…. it is the creation of an atmosphere of hate based solely on the appropriation of the Union Jack for a small section of people who voted in a single referendum. The irony of course, is that for the Daily Mail to be consistent, it must not scrutinise, nor criticise any government ever again, because to do so would be to ‘subvert the will of the British people‘.

The Express took a similar line:

BrexitExpress.jpg
– There is something fundamentally anti-British, illiberal, and anti-democratic in the idea that those keeping check on the winning side of a vote, must be silenced. Which is a spectacular irony, given they ran a campaign on the basis of taking back democracy. Let’s us be clear; silencing criticism of a political position, is not a British value. Democracy is not just a vote on a piece of paper. It is pressure groups, it is criticism of each side and their ideas, it is scrutiny of the victors, it is holding claims to account, it is free expression and inquiry.

The Mail & The Express are not fans of any of those, unless they are used to advance a right winged narrative. Here is the Daily Express’ front pages expressing – or to use their term, ‘whinging’ – for the past two years about policy on immigration (click to enlarge):

express

– For The Express, the winning idea or the prevailing norm must be challenged…. unless they’re on the winning side, then dissenters must be silenced. The winning idea thus becomes untouchable, closed to criticism, it’s an idea – like Islam in countries that ban criticism of it – that becomes sacred, like a religion. To criticise it, to dissent, to think for yourself, becomes a thought crime, and you are told you are a traitor (or apostate, blasphemer, take your pick). And so the idea that was presented as fighting the elites, taking on the establishment, has itself become elitist, and the establishment, and seeks to enshrine that position by recasting criticism as blasphemous.

I suspect the idea is that if those who voted remain are cast as the villain now, any future failure following on from the vote to leave, will be blamed on remainers, rather than leaving. This, again, reflects the religious-right. Their narrative, their idea, their belief, is never to be blamed, any negative consequence of their view, is to blamed on outsiders, blaphemers, apostates, for devaluing the faith. The faith itself, must be considered perfect, and all those lives damaged are considered worth it, for the sake of someone else’s cause. Richard Tice, co-chairman of ‘Leave means Leave‘ (a completely meaningless phrase) does this with effortless refrain when he says:

“They are damaging Britain’s negotiating position by insisting we remain in the Single Market when we voted to leave it.”

– It is remainers who are ‘damaging Britain’. It’s as if these people simply expected literally no criticism of their position, and for those of us completely opposed to their position, to shut up and embrace it. Indeed, highlighting the importance of the single market to jobs in this country, is referred to as ‘damaging Britain’. He doesn’t seek to reassure people, he simply casts them as traitors if they question. Those businesses struggling to understand what comes next, those jobs threatened are considered unimportant, and so it further implies that if those jobs are lost it is not ‘damage’ because it is all in aid of the one true religion. Individuals cease to be considered as anything more than cogs in a nationalist machine… a vastly illiberal principle.

And here’s the bizarre thing, the case for Brexit was based on the will, the sovereignty of the British public, the individual voter, and Parliament. All of us together, draped in a Union Jack. Once Brexit was voted on, suddenly the future of the country is is the sovereignty of Brexit voters – Patriots – only, and in particular David Davis, Boris Johnson, and Liam Fox. Public critics are simply traitors who should be ignored rather than debated, and Parliament just gets in the way of three men. By implication, it narrows the debate over the future, which ensures not an arena of ideas and progress, but a stagnant echo chamber. It’s a mad reversal from democratic accountability, to autocratic control and silencing, in the space of about four months. An incredible change of heart.

But like with religion and the jump to ban criticism of it,  & refusal to take any responsibility for the failures in its narrative, the critical mind becomes more critical, because we get the feeling that Brexiters demanding silence from critics are not particularly secure in their beliefs (like religious folk demanding silence from apostates, are clearly insecure in their beliefs, given that their beliefs cannot be defended against criticism), and so it intrigues us, it creates a taboo out of the idea. The only way then to prevent criticism, is by force. Hence, the petition set up by Conservative Party councillor Christian Holliday:

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– Whether Brexiters like it or not, their idea is not inherently untouchable nor is it without fault, and crucially, and I can’t stress this enough…. they do not own the concept of what it means to love this country. Their position isn’t one of love for Britain whilst mine is disdain for Britain. We simply come at our love for our country, from a different position, and I would further argue that attempts to silence criticism of ideas, to cast them as villains to be taken on, and to incite hatred of people for views held is about as far from the British ideal of individual liberty, open debate, and democratic society that I think I’ve ever come across.

Brexit must be open to scrutiny, to mockery, to criticism, to questioning, just like every other idea must be. Ideas that have an impact on the lives of others – religious, political… and yes, this includes immigration – must not be off limits to criticism or demonised. They must be challenged. Scrutiny does not end once a vote is won. Indeed, if I am being told that I must lose my EU Citizenship without my full consent, I must be free to criticise that idea. Whether you as an individual listen to me or not, is not something I care for. You’re entitled to ignore me all you want. But if you seek to cast me as the unpatriotic villain, simply for not agreeing with you, and dismissing my voice from public debate The liberal principle of free inquiry, free expression, and vocal dissent is not anti-democratic, nor subverting the will of the people, it is democracy in itself, and a complete defence of the individual right to dissent and challenge the victors. That is a fundamental British value. Brexit-blasphemy isn’t.


The Labour Party is now the Regressive Party.

September 24, 2016

East Leeds Labour MP Richard Burgon is currently on BBC News telling us that today is a great day for the Labour Party, with the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. This is the same Richard Burgon who has taken to Twitter in recent years to express his undying love for some of the most undemocratic, illiberal, violent regimes on the planet:

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– This follows Diane Abbott, also doing the rounds across the media, explaining how today is an exceptional day for the Labour Party. The same Diane Abbott who once claimed that Chairman Mao did “…more good than harm“, and is keen on praising violent autocrats who lead their country to failed-state status:

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And I guess a Corbyn-Labour Party roll-call of apologists for autocrats & bigots isn’t complete without someone in the Labour Cabinet linking Nazis to the one Jewish state (he has since deleted this Tweet):

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All three support the re-elected leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

He’s a chap who happens to enshrine that regressive blame-the-west, support their critics mentality almost perfectly (not quite as perfectly as Galloway, but getting there). Take, for example, the time he spoke at a pro-Khomeinist rally to critique the West, offering no criticism of Iranian policy choosing instead to praise them for ‘religious tolerance‘ despite Iran’s apostasy punishments, and the complete banning of the Baha’i faith. Iran is a religious supremacist state that privileges just one faith. It’s like taking to a white supremacist state and praising their willingness to ‘tolerate’ other ethnicities. For the rest of us, those simply ‘tolerated’ should be liberated.

Indeed, in the same speech he then goes on to signal his moral superiority by reducing strategic airstrikes on IS targets that aid our ground allies in Syria as simply “bombing Syria” (something the people of Kobane and the allies who liberated that town, along with those who fled to Turkey and have since returned, might question). He does this, before noting that the only way to achieve peace is a convention with Iran also around that table. This is of course un-challengable because no one disagrees. It’s obvious that the only way to achieve peace, is to, you know, achieve peace. But this lack of any sort of plan has wider implications. It implies that the people of Kobane would – if Corbyn had his way – have to sit and wait under full ISIS control, until Iran, Assad, Iraq, Hezbollah, Putin, Obama, the UK, Saudi, Lebanon, can come to a democratic consensus, and agree not to keep funding, arming, supporting government or rebel forces. It sounds lovely, but practically, it’s very similar to doing nothing.

He then insists that the Syrian civil war cannot end with Western involvement, and swiftly moves on to praising Iran for this and that. It is of course framed as the fault of the West, with predictably no mention of the support given to Assad’s regime by the Iranian regime in terms of training, arms, and money to withstand sanctions. Indeed, according to a UN report published prior to this talk by Corbyn:

“Iran has continued to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments. Two of these cases involved [Syria], as were the majority of cases inspected by the Panel during its previous mandate, underscoring that Syria continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers.”

– This of course presents problems for Corbyn’s narrative, and so is just left out entirely.

Of course this is the same Jeremy Corbyn who refers to Hamas as “dedicated to social justice“, absolutely adores a Chavez government, that cracked down on those who questioned the regime and whose time in power Human Rights Watch describe as “…a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees“., and signed a 2003 Parliamentary Motion implying an attempt at genocide in Kosovo was a US myth designed to justify invasion:

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– This mentality has won the right to be represented in Party form, at the Labour Party Conference today, with Corbyn’s increased majority victory. The defining feature of that section of the left – or from now until at least 2020, the defining feature of the Labour Party – is a disregard for social liberalism, if it conflicts or gets in the way of economic socialism & criticisms of the US and Israel. The anti-Western forces around the World – who also tend to be anti-secular, anti-democratic, homophobic, misogynistic, and illiberal – are either treated like children unable to autonomously conclude that hanging gay folk is wrong, that the West forces them to do so or single-handedly created the conditions for those theocrats to thrive, or they are openly supported regardless of their abuses of power. Victims completely abandoned. Hence, excuses and support for socially illiberal regimes, rather than victims of those regimes. This is the Labour Party and the route it has decided upon. Rebel MPs put up no real fight to drag Labour away from that ditch, and did not adequately represent liberal dissent in the Party. They share the blame.

And so, if, like me, you believe that human liberty – free expression, free association, no natural birthright privileges based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or belief, the right to pursue happiness according to your conscience without harming the same liberty for others – necessarily and universally precedes state institutions & cultural norms, and so must be protected above the protection of culture or state institutions and regimes that run them. If like me you believe international relations is framed by a complex web of historical, religious, cultural, & economic variables including but not limited to the West being nothing but appalling, you no longer belong in the Labour Party.

You should be proud of that.


The Liberal Democrat Conference.

September 22, 2016

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Since joining the Liberal Democrats back in July – and welcomed by some wonderful people locally – I’ve watched as the Party has swept through council by-elections and dethroned Labour throughout. The Corbynistas blame their MPs. If only, they say, if only traitorous MPs would get behind Corbyn, Milne, and Abbott, if only they’d embrace the brand new Labour that resembles little more than a town centre SWP table shouting at everyone, we voters would be voting Labour en masse. They simply cannot fathom the possibility that we simply do not like Corbyn, Milne, and Abbott. A crucial error in the mentality of the cult-of-leader. Indeed, in cities that boasted big Corbyn rallies in recent months, the Lib Dems have overwhelmingly powered through in council by-elections.

Tim Farron took to the stage at the Liberal Democrat conference to deliver a wonderful speech correctly identifying the grotesque nature of Conservative anti-refugee policy. Indeed, the key to a civilised society is how it treats and protects the most vulnerable, and how it applies liberal values – the right to life, liberty, and happiness, so often stripped from them by the nation’s they are born into – universally. The difference between liberals, and Labour/Conservatives, is that we do not draw a border around values. If, from our house, we see abuse taking place across the road, our immediate reaction should not be “not my problem” nor “someone else can sort that out“, it should be to do our part, with the rest of the street, to help. The victim’s liberty is no less important than our own, and any right that defends a liberty I claim for myself, I must defend for others, otherwise it is as meaningless for me as it is for them. We must of course be cautious as it appears clear that Islamists use the crisis to run to the West. I do not suggest opening Dover without a robust vetting process. Security must work alongside liberty, not overrule it. When a crisis of such magnitude as Syria erupts, we must play our part as a proud out-ward looking member of the global community.

Criticism of Farron’s speech came from both Tories and Corbynites.

Corbynites didn’t like that Farron praised Blair’s desire to win elections. Immediately they tore into Farron for praising a ‘war criminal‘. A distinctly disingenuous moral position for supporters of a leadership that praised Hugo Chavez’s brutal regime in Venezuela, are keen fans of theocratic Hamas, takes to Iranian State TV to denounce the West without any criticism of Iranian government policy, and refers to Mao as “…did more good than harm”. Such is the state of the Labour Party in 2016. But the point Farron raises is that to change society in-line with your principles, you must convince the wider electorate that you have answers. You have to appeal to a broader coalition of voters. Blair knew how to do that. As did Cameron. Corbyn does not.

On Brexit, Farron has been misrepresented time and time again by commentators across the spectrum. In an article for Conservative Home Mo Metcalf-Fisher says:

“Despite insisting that he wasn’t trying to keep Britain in the EU against the will of the people, Farron has argued for a new referendum which would give voters an option of accepting any new post-Brexit deal or instead voting to stay in the EU under the current terms. In other words, a second referendum on EU membership because people didn’t get it right the first time.”

One of the comments further down the page from another poster, says:

“I find it staggering that the Lib Dems and other remainers want to to deny us our sovereignty and stay in the EU.”

– You only need glance over this once, to see the glaring manipulation. Let’s be clear; Both Tim Farron’s position, and Liberal Democrat policy, is not to hold a second in-out referendum, nor is it to just overturn the vote. Let’s compare the actual policy, to another historical ‘exit’:

Common wisdom has it that the US Independence Day was July 4th, 1776. In fact, the vote to separate from the Great Britain was passed on July 2nd, with only New York’s delegation deciding to abstain. The states had voted for what we shall call here ‘Amerixit’. Then, on July 12th a Committee appointed by Congress drew up a new ‘Articles of Confederation’ – a post-Amerixit deal – if you will. But that wasn’t it. They didn’t just create a deal, and it was implemented with no more democratic accountability. The post-Amerixit deal was then sent to states to ratify. The states then debated it, and voted on it. The deal could not be implemented until the states had gone through the process of ratification. Maryland – the final state to ratify – held out for almost four years until it got a good deal for itself. The post-Amerixit vote on a deal was not a vote – as Metcalf-Fisher – and others might today imply – on re-joining Great Britain. There was a vote for ‘Amerixit’ and a vote on a deal. When the Articles were failing miserably, states again voted on a new deal – the US Constitution. This is more democracy, not less.

When it comes to Brexit, the same is true. The UK voted out. We now have to negotiate a deal. Liberal Democrat policy is democracy, it is to offer a vote on a deal. As someone who voted Remain, and lost, I have had my EU Citizenship stripped from me without my full consent, so you’re damn right that I now want a vote on the rest of the deal. A ‘No‘ vote on a deal, is not the same as a ‘stay in the EU‘ vote. It is a ‘Get a better deal‘ vote. For a Brexit brigade that made democracy the central theme (just in front of all that extra funding for the NHS that has so majestically ran away), they seem to have quickly backed away from it. Metcalf-Fisher’s words are clear, he isn’t a fan of “giving voters an option of accepting any new post-Brexit deal“. He believes I shouldn’t be allowed to vote on a deal, he wants that brand new political settlement simply imposed upon me. Not just me, but if single market access is restricted, necessarily causing job losses in the UK, Metcalf-Fisher believes those people should just be thrown out of work, without a vote on the settlement that caused it.

But it isn’t just me. A lot of Brexiters voted for Brexit under the impression that they were voting to end freedom of movement from the EU. That wasn’t on the ballot paper. It’ll be difficult to achieve, if access to the single market is still a goal of negotiations. Freedom of movement will be part of deal negotiations and isn’t guaranteed. At that point, how will Brexiters react? Surely they’d want a vote on a deal that doesn’t give them what they thought they were getting.

Metcalf-Fisher continues:

“Many of the predicted woes from the remain campaign have failed to materialise and these sites provide great material to take back to local residents with any concerns. In areas like London, where remain polled highly, keep the discussion focused on local issues and remind voters of the dangers of high-tax supporting Lib Dems.”

– Two things. Firstly, there hasn’t been a Brexit. Literally nothing has changed. Trade deals remain exactly as they were the day before the vote. The structure is no different. Predictions based on the ex-Prime Minister and his Chancellor’s silly insistence that Article 50 would be triggered immediately, haven’t happened, because, well you see where I’m going with that. Secondly, by “high-tax supporting Lib Dems“, I presume he means a rise in tax mentioned by Farron to fund a National Health and Social Care Service. A health service utterly decimated – as usual – by a Conservative Government that simply doesn’t like the idea of a National Health Service. Experts – those people Michael Gove and Brexiters are sick of – are clear, social care in the UK needs urgent reform. The dogmatic Tory approach to tax – lower is absolutely always better – has not been of great success. Feel free to find out how those running domestic abuse charities felt, as they had to close the doors due to a cut in funding. Why not, instead of telling local residents that the Lib Dem’s propose tax increase to fund essential services, instead tell them that your plans include an NHS that is currently planning ward closures, squeezing the life out of junior doctors, and in my own city, tried to close a vital children’s heart surgery.

In what must be the most ironic statement in recent years on Conservative Home, Metcalf-Fisher goes on to say:

“Our country needs unity and we must proudly stand up to the Liberal Democrats and other naysayers in their attempt to divide the country purely for their own electoral gain.”

– A Tory Party that spent years dividing the country between “hard-working families” and “scroungers” (anyone on the dole – which included me at one point), that tore into the disabled community, with a PM describing other humans as a “swarm“, as their new PM sets out her plans to introduce more divisive faith schools, and Grammar schools…. to refer to anyone else as “attempting to divide the country for their own electoral gain” is painfully hypocritical.

It is of course clear and true, that the Liberal Democrats have a long road ahead to rebuild a Party decimated in 2015. I do however think the base is set. I think more are discovering their liberal leanings, and I think Tim Farron is doing an excellent job of beginning that rebuilding effort. We must start appealing more to the liberal-left that – like me – feel that liberal values are often abandoned by the regressive Corbyn-left the moment the opportunity presents itself to side with vicious regimes, if those regimes happen to share a rabid dislike for the US & Israel; and abandoned by a Tory-right whose little-England quasi-nationalist values will always come before values based on human liberty, that has spent years tearing itself to shreds over Europe, left Europe, and realised it had no idea what to do next. The gap for a progressive and liberal party to shine through is growing everyday. I look forward to being a part of that.