When you’re a leading politician and especially a Prime Minister, the pressure is on to stand for something. And as the real choices in politics truncated to who could best run the Thatcherite/neoliberal settlement, necessity and expediency dictated that one must pretend to be something more than a manager of that consensus. John Major had his Back to Basics campaign, married to the Citizen’s Charter and Cones’ Hotline wheeze. His Blairness got no less a figure than Anthony Giddens to cook up “The Third Way”, the impossibility of marrying market fundamentalism to half-recognisable social democratic objectives. Even Bill Clinton bought into that one. Dave had his Big Society, a convenient celebration of volunteering just as the Tories committed themselves to butchering public services and replacing them with philanthropy and a committed citizenry. Ed Miliband had One Nation. The exception is Jeremy Corbyn, who is yet to fully define himself despite offering a politics that decisively breaks with received wisdom.
In her own way, at least at the rhetorical level, Theresa May also defined herself differently, and now her philosophy has a name: the Shared Society. Looking forward to a major speech on the matter, we know this is so much guff because of her record. In the six months May has been in power she’s prevaricated, delayed, prevaricated, and delayed some more. With a dose of control freakery, as noted by Andrew Rawnsley, she’s carried on flogging off strategic industry, and has overseen a budget that barely differed from an Osborne effort. May’s shared society isn’t looking that different from late period Dave, truth be told. And that’s before we start talking about the NHS and the declaration of a humanitarian crisis by the crazed militants of the Red Cross. Her talk of dealing with “the shorter life expectancy for those born poor, the harsher treatment of black people in the criminal justice system, the lower chances of white working-class boys going to university, and … the despicable stigma and inadequate help for those with mental health conditions” remains just talk as long as these crises carry on without the government appearing to care too much about them.
Still, her original address from the steps of Downing Street was perceived as a master stroke from within the Westminster circus. Talk of dealing with everyday injustices, including economic anxiety and security came like a revelation to folks who rub shoulders with working class people only when ordering a latte. But it would be churlish to deny May’s speech had significant cut through. Unlike Dave and Osborne who only pretended concern, May sounded like she meant it, that she understood something about the difficulties of modern life. In an uncertain world, she crafted a message pledging certainty, of a national community that has everyone doing their bit and getting their just rewards. This is where the shared society comes in. She defines it as,
A society that doesn’t just value our individual rights but focuses rather more on the responsibilities we have to one another; a society that respects the bonds of family, community, citizenship and strong institutions that we share as a union of people and nations; a society with a commitment to fairness at its heart … it goes to the heart of my belief that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest. The social and cultural unions represented by families, communities, towns, cities, counties and nations are the things that define us and make us strong. And it is the job of government to encourage and nurture these relationships and institutions where it can, and to correct the injustice and unfairness that divides us wherever it is found.
Had Ed Miliband defined his One Nationism thus, the Tory press would have dubbed him a proto-totalitarian. Yet, from an ideas perspective, the shared society is interesting for three reasons. We know from her long stint in the Home Office that May is a petty-minded authoritarian who, like her predecessors, happily ramped up the government’s snooping powers in the name of terror prevention. All throughout her career, May has never been one to celebrate individual sovereignty. Second, she is riding the wave of (English) nationalism. As Wolfgang Streeck has argued, societies that have seen labour movements broken and discourses of resistance buried turn instead to whatever ideological resources are to hand. In this case, nationalism is resurgent because the nation appears eternalvis a vis cultural, political and economic turbulence. Farage exploited noisy, entitled, frightened English nationalism to his advantage, and now May is doing the same – albeit in calmer, more measured (and respectable) tones. And thirdly, her “active government” promises social reform that will build a “great meritocracy”. Forget your Ed Miliband, she’s channeling Clem Attlee. Again, we’ll wait and see about that as there’s been nothing beyond a slight smoothing of social security policy.
It’s bollocks, but unlike the wonky visions of days gone by it has a certain simplicity to it, one that even newspaper columnists will be able to understand. It promises justice and security, mainstays that should be Labour’s, but have proven difficult to meld together and “own” in recent times – the fact May freely speaks this language and is treated seriously goes to show how far our party still has to go. Yes, May suffers from the triple vices of incompetence, dithering and control-freakery, and Brexit could undo her leadership. But her undeserved reputation as a serious grown up rests on this rhetoric, of knowing and understanding the problems of, shock horror, the working class. And most importantly, her apparent no fuss willingness to do something about them.
Above: Gove repeats his Brexit lies, scarcely challenged by Stephanie Flanders
Many of us were genuinely shocked by the failure of supposedly serious BBC journalists to challenge the lies of the Brexit leaders during the referendum campaign, and the willingness of the BBC news to treat those lies as though they were serious, legitimate political arguments..
The BBC’s craven capitulation to the Brexiteers continues apace. I awoke this morning to Radio 4’s Today programme, compiled by ‘guest editor’ Helena Morrisey, billed in the Guardian thus: “Morrissey, who spent 15 years as chief executive of Newton Investment Management and also spoke out in favour of Brexit, said she would be “exploring the theme of ‘power to the people’ in a year when democracy reasserted itself and disruptive forces were unleashed, leaving many of us scrambling to work out what happens next”. This ultra-wealthy member of the ruling class and representative of finance capitalism, was allowed to present herself as some sort of persecuted representative of ‘the people.
The entire programme was a plug for Brexit, with virtually no balancing opinion. Michael Gove was allowed to lie (again) about what he said about “experts” (he now claims he only meant economists) and the usually excellent Stephanie Flanders scarcely challenged him, allowing him to semi-defend the “£350 million per week for the NHS” lie.
The BBC’s craven capitulation to the lies of the Brexiteers is all the more worrying in the light of the government’s ‘power grab’ whereby ministers will have increased powers to pick political allies for senior jobs at public bodies like the BBC.
Post-referendum (and the election of Trump), we live in an age of shameless cronyism, patronage, fear and ‘post truth’ – or to give ‘post truth’ its simple, correct name: lies.
“Heil Trump!” This is what “respectable” conservatives are kowtowing before
“Everywhere you look you see conservatives sniffing the air and catching the scent of the radical right. It tempts them with the most seductive perfume in politics: the whiff of power. Populists are rewriting the rules and conservatives have seen they can break the old taboos, assault the constitutional order and lie with ease. Their suppressed thoughts now look like election winners.”
On the principle of avoiding living in a political echo chamber, I’ve been a subsciber to the right of centre UK magazine Standpoint since shortly after its launch in 2008. Although I’ve never agreed with its editorial ‘line’ (broadly neo-Conservative) it was well-written, intellectually challenging and contained some excellent coverage of literature and music as well as politics. But it’s become noticeably more stridently right wing over the last couple of years. It went seriously down in my estimation when it backed Brexit. The present (Dec/Jan) issue urges readers to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt“. This is a step too far even for me.
I’ve even taken the trouble to send the editor my thoughts:
So, Standpoint urges us to give Trump the “benefit of the doubt”; so much for all the dire warnings about the Putin threat and Obama and the “EU elite”‘s reluctance to confront him. So much for the evocations of “Western civilisation” and basic democratic norms. What a craven sell-out, apparently because “several American contributors to Standpoint … are close to or even part of the new administration.” I note that your execrable pro-Trump editorial closes with an appeal for funds. You will not be receiving any from me. In fact, please cancel my subscription.
For intelligent right wing commentary I’m switching to The Spectator. It would be excellent if some of Standpoint‘s less craven/swivel-eyed contributors (eg Nick Cohen, Julie Bindle, Maureen Lipman) walked out over this.
I’m hoping Cohen, at least, will walk, given his excellent piece in last Sunday’s Observer (from which the quote at the top is taken), on the capitulation of “respectable” conservatives to the radical right. Theresa May and the Daily Mail are two obvious examples. Standpoint is another.
A good letter from the Commission, except for the cop-out phrase “attacks on supporters of both sides of the Brexit debate”: we all know that the racism, abuse and physical violence has come from just one side: “Leave.”
by David Isaac and Rebecca Hilsenrath
Published: 25 Nov 2016
We are writing to you at what we believe is a unique point in British history and culture.
The decision by the British people to leave the European Union and the negotiations that follow will be a defining moment for the nations of the UK. While the focus has been on our place as a global economic leader and trading partner to European nations and major world economies, we also believe there is a need for a discussion on what values we hold as a country. As Britain’s national equality body and national human rights institution, we believe it is our place to help facilitate this discussion. This letter goes to all political parties and we would welcome the opportunity to meet you in person, individually or collectively, to discuss how we can work closely with you in the months ahead and help to shape your agenda and policies to make Britain the vibrant and inclusive country we believe it should be.
After the referendum, politicians of all parties spoke about the need to heal the country and bring people together. However, since those early weeks there is growing concern that the divisions on a range of big questions are widening and exacerbating tensions in our society. The murder of Arkadiusz Jozwick, racist, anti-semitic and homophobic attacks on the streets, and reports of hijabs being pulled off are all stains on our society. We at the Commission have met community groups, representatives and diplomats who have expressed their sadness and disappointment at these events and their wish to work with us to heal the divide.
We are concerned that attacks on supporters of both sides of the Brexit debate have polarised many parts of the country. There are those who used, and continue to use, public concern about immigration policy and the economy to legitimise hate. The vast majority of people who voted to leave the European Union did so because they believe it is best for Britain and not because they are intolerant of others.
We welcome the UK government’s hate crime action plan, but believe more concerted action is needed to counter the narrative from a small minority. We therefore suggest the UK government should carry out a full-scale review of the operation and effectiveness of the sentencing for hate crimes in England and Wales, including the ability to increase sentencing for crimes motivated by hate, and provide stronger evidence to prove their hate crime strategies are working.
We were also concerned by the ambivalent reception given to findings of anti-semitism in mainstream political parties. A clear affirmation that such behaviour is unacceptable is necessary to confirm that standards will improve.
Politicians of all sides should be aware of the effect on national mood of their words and policies, even when they are not enacted. Examples include the recent suggestion, later rejected, that companies would be ‘named and shamed’ for employing foreign workers and also the discussion on child migrants, a crisis where our record on human rights will be judged and where dialogue escalated to irrational levels. We have proposed that in the case of uncertainty, a young asylum seeker must simply be treated as such until their age has been assessed by an independent expert.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has a statutory power to advise government. Where important new protections are advanced in Europe, whether they relate to data protection, children’s rights or the rights of disabled people to travel independently, we will argue strongly that these rights should also be introduced into British law. Once we are outside the European Union, we will be in a position to identify good practice and follow it with strength and conviction. We have a strong human rights and equality framework in UK law but must remain open to initiatives from abroad that further strengthen this.
Your offices bring with them a responsibility to ensure that policy debate is conducted in a way that brings the country together and moves it forward. Robust discussion is a central pillar of our democracy and nothing should be done to undermine freedom of expression. The right to free and fair elections supported by accurate information and respectful debate is also essential to our democratic process. Our elected representatives and the media should reflect and foster the best values in our society and engage people on contentious issues in a responsible and considered way. Working with you we stand ready to play a full part in identifying the right policy solutions for Britain.
We look forward to hearing from you.
David Isaac and Rebecca Hilsenrath
For further information please contact the media office on 0161 829 8102, out of hours 07767 272 818.
I am writing to request a meeting with you to discuss the details and broader implications of the assurances given to Nissan regarding their decision to build its new models in Sunderland.
In your statement to the House of Commons on 31st October 2016 you said that the company’s decision was based on general commitments with regards to skills, supply chains, R&D and tariff free access to the single market, set out by you in a personal letter to Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s CEO.
Responding to my request that you publish this letter, you then said you were unable to because it contained sensitive information, the disclosure of which might harm Nissan commercially.
While I find it difficult to understand why you would be relaying such information to Nissan if all assurances given to them were general ones, I am prepared to take you at your word and respect your duty to prevent commercially sensitive information going public.
I also note, however, your call for a bipartisan approach to developing an industrial strategy to steer our country through the challenges of Brexit. I heartily welcome this call as a way to build on our mutual understanding of the challenges ahead, and realise our shared commitment to ensuring we meet them.
Labour have welcomed your Government’s recent acknowledgement that our economy is too heavily weighted towards the financial sector in London and the South East, and that we need an active industrial strategy to revive our regions and bolster our manufacturing sector by nurturing new technologies and taking advantage of new markets. Following the EU referendum, this must be achieved in the context of a radically changing business environment that potentially threatens our international competitiveness.
We have taken pleasure in joining you to celebrate Nissan’s decision to continue producing in the UK. But Nissan is just one in thousands of companies who will be deciding whether to invest in the UK in the coming months. Like Nissan, these companies make an incredibly valuable contribution to our economy, and their loss would have devastating consequences for employees and supply chains up and down the country. It is vital that your industrial strategy, and your Government’s handling of Brexit, satisfies the needs of these companies as much as they do Nissan’s. Subjecting these policies to close scrutiny by the public’s elected representatives will be key to ensuring that they do.
In light of this, I am sure you will appreciate the predicament I find myself in. In the last few days, you have hinted at vital aspects of your Government’s industrial strategy and approach to exiting the EU, but you have left myself, my party, and Parliament as a whole, without adequate information to do our job in opposition and scrutinise these crucial areas of policy effectively. It is the country as a whole that suffers from such a state of affairs.
I therefore ask you to meet me in person, as a matter of urgency, so that we can discuss the content and scope of the assurances given to Nissan in more detail. As part of this discussion, I do not think it is unreasonable to request a private viewing of the disputed letter, and would happily agree to the commercially sensitive areas being redacted.
I would like to reiterate that I was heartened by your invitation for our relationship to be a constructive and co-operative one, and very much hope that you agree to my request as a first step towards establishing that.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Amid the sound and fury surrounding the RMT’s strike on Southern Rail, one name is gradually emerging as having played a crucial role in having ensured the action went ahead: Peter Wilkinson.
Mr Wilkinson is managing director of passenger services at the Department for Transport (DfT).
The RMT says that last week it was “within an inch” of reaching an agreement during talks at Acas. This account is backed by unnamed “sources” who told The Times that a deal had been “within touching distance” but that Southern’s negotiators had suddenly pulled out of the talks at about 4pm on Friday, leading to the collapse of the talks.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT can confirm that we were within an inch of making progress towards boxing off a deal with Southern in Acas talks on Friday afternoon that was based on the offer from ScotRail, an offer that enabled us to suspend all industrial action in the ScotRail guards dispute.
“We were just getting into the detailed wording when suddenly the plug was pulled and our legs were kicked from under us.
“We have it on good authority that the deal, which would have enabled us to suspend the Southern strike action this week, was sabotaged by the Government with their director of rail, Peter Wilkinson, directing operations from outside the talks.
“We are now taking our protest direct to the DfT.
“We want the Government to stop weaponising the Southern dispute for political purposes and we want them to stop treating passengers and staff as collateral damage in a war that Peter Wilkinson has unilaterally declared on the rail unions.”
It appears to be the case that Wilkinson (paid £280,000 per year) intervened to instruct Southern’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway, to reject the deal.
Last year, Britain experienced a net immigration rate of 333,000 – though the real figure may be far higher than our unreliable statistics suggest. Many voters perceive a squeeze on public services and fear a loss of control over security. Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, has claimed that freedom of movement rules have prevented him from denying entry to people with a criminal record, or even those who have suspected links to terrorism.
Australia is not necessarily perceived as being anti-immigration so much as a country that demands and gets precisely what it wants.
A points system would not necessarily achieve the results that every Eurosceptic is looking for. The Prime Minister has countered that Australia actually “has more migration per head than we do here in the UK”. But Australia is not necessarily perceived as being anti-immigration so much as a country that demands and gets precisely what it wants. As a member of the EU, Britain essentially has to take as many people as wish to come. Outside the EU, the argument goes, it would only have to take the numbers that employers actually need.
Above: the authentic face of ‘Leave’
The attractiveness of this argument will surely cause Remain a little panic. The referendum is increasingly being cast not just as a vote on the EU but on David Cameron’s record in office – and his many promises on reducing migration remain embarrassingly unfulfilled. That criticism is only intensifying from members of his own party gives the impression that this referendum is in fact a choice between two varieties of conservatism. Thanks to Labour’s near silence on Europe, there is a case for saying that this is what it has become.
If Leave can use issues such as immigration to reconstruct the Thatcherite coalition of the Eighties – an alliance between the patriotic Right and the usually Left-wing working class – they could reshape politics for years to come. What it will hopefully bring in the next few weeks is a new energy to the discussion. After so much negativity and hysteria from Remain, Leave has offered a positive agenda – an agenda that could rally their troops and give Britain the debate it deserves.
Speech delivered 20th June (NB: not the same as his piece in yesterday’s Guardian)
May I start by expressing Unite’s shock at the death of Jo Cox and our deepest sympathy to her family.
We can only hope that the outpouring of grief from across the nation will help Jo’s husband, Brendan and his family in these unbearable times.
Her death places in context what is really important in our lives.
She was, of course, a passionate advocate for the Remain campaign and would surely want political debate to continue.
Brothers and Sisters,
As this referendum campaign draws towards a close, I think everyone can agree on two things.
First, it matters. As we come up close to the moment of decision, this feels like one of the most important votes any of us will cast in our lives.
And second, this is close. The elite complacency of the start of the campaign, that this was just a quick canter to the winning post for REMAIN, has disappeared.
This could go either way.
For those two reasons, I wanted to speak out directly, both to and on behalf of the members of Unite, the biggest trade union in the United Kingdom, also as someone who can legitimately claim to know the hopes and fears of the working-class communities across the country, the sort of community I grew up in and have kept my roots in.
There is no need for a spoiler alert – Unite is fighting all the way for a Remain vote, and for Britain and British workers to build their future in unity with the rest of Europe.
But I have not come here to lecture or to patronise those working people who take a different view. Who can be surprised that in so many industrial areas, voting for the status quo is not exactly a popular option?
I am just asking all those people, including many Unite members, to reflect on their concerns, and whether they would be best addressed by staying in Europe, or by a Brexit.
And I want to flag up what I believe will happen to working people on the morrow of a vote to leave.
Let me turn first to the issue of IMMIGRATION:
Some pundits and commentators, like explorers returning from a visit to the deep unknown, are stunned to find that this has become an issue.
I for one am not in the least surprised. I understand those concerns. They are NOT, for the greatest part, anything to do with racism or xenophobia.
They are to do with the systematic attempt by our greedy elite to hold down wages and cut the costs of social provision for working people.
Let us be clear – what has been done in the last ten years is a gigantic experiment at the expense of ordinary workers. Countries with vast historical differences in wage rates and living standards have been brought together in a common labour market. The result has been huge downward pressure on living standards.
What happens when two hundred workers are competing for jobs where previously only ten did? Wages are frozen or cut.
What happens when workers can move from a country where a job pays £5 an hour to one where the same job pays £20? The answer is that many do so move, and the same job then ends up paying just £12 an hour.
That is why trade unions have never been in favour of a so-called free labour market. Control of the labour supply in an industry or across society has always been the core of our mission, to ensure that workers get their fair share of the wealth they create.
But let me be clear about something else. Pulling up the drawbridge against the rest of Europe is the wrong answer. Read the rest of this entry »
The man accused of murdering Jo Cox gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. As he (allegedly) shot and stabbed the MP to death he cried “Britain First” or “Put Britain First”.
It is now established that he had links with the far-right. It seems very likely that he is mentally ill. We do not know to what extent the anti-Europe campaign fuelled his murderous hatred, but those of us who believe that political rhetoric inevitably has practical consequences are obliged to point out that the poisonous, racist campaign for Brexit has created precisely the political context for murderous violence of this kind. Just a few hours before the murder, Farage unveiled a poster showing Syrian refugees fleeing to Slovenia as though this was a threat to the UK: a clear incitement to racial hatred:
Remain campaigners have, on the whole, been reluctant to publicly link the murder with the racism of the Brexit campaign, but some have now had the guts to start doing so. I recommend Polly Toynbee here, Alex Massie here and Jonathan Freedland here.
Alan Woods at Socialist Appeal makes some good points here, but eventually bottles it by trying to argue that the official Brexit and Remain campaigns are equally culpable – something that is demonstrably untue.