Chris Skidmore (a Vice-Chair of the Conservatives 2018-2019) has called out his own party for heading in a “very dark” direction in demonising those who call for a rapid reduction in CO2 emission as a way of justifying the watering-down of net zero targets.
Softening net zero targets might well encourage people to think they need not worry about climate change and can ignore the extremes of “Just stop Oil”. It’s a million miles from the responsible course of addressing climate change — and implicitly saying “we have a problem, and a plan to address it.
There are echoes of the same mentality in some of Suella Braverman’s comments before the reshuffle. Talking of refugees arriving by boat in exaggerated language can make them sound like an “invasion” force, stoking people’s anxiety so that they are “grateful” when the government “protects” us. Talking of homelessness as a “lifestyle choice” gives a way to say we can ignore it — when we should be embarrassed at what it implies for failed housing and mental health policy.
Braverman’s crass comments about homelessness being a “lifestyle choice” have rightly attracted strong criticism. I am concerned that this speaks of a fear and brutality in her target audience that should ring alarm bells.
The British people are compassionate. We will always support those who are genuinely homeless. But we cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice. 1/4
Unless we step in now to stop this, British cities will go the way of places in the US like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where weak policies have led to an explosion of crime, drug taking, and squalor. 2/4
Nobody in Britain should be living in a tent on our streets. There are options for people who don’t want to be sleeping rough, and the Government is working with local authorities to strengthen wraparound support including treatment for those with drug and alcohol addiction. 3/4
What I want to stop, and what the law abiding majority wants us to stop, is those who cause nuisance and distress to other people by pitching tents in public spaces, aggressively begging, stealing, taking drugs, littering, and blighting our communities. 4/4
This was picked up in the press with suggests that she plans a crackdown on the use of tents by homeless people and fines for some charities providing tents.
The Guardian has broken a horrifying and believable story that Liz Truss raised £500,000 in donations for her Tory leadership campaign with “about half of it coming from donors linked to hedge fund bosses, venture capitalists and other City financiers”.
In August Liberal Democrat Voice ran an article where I suggested that the Tory leadership campaign was looking like a presidential election — with a tiny, and unrepresentative electorate. That tips power further from Parliament to No.10 and pretends that the new leader has an entirely false legitimacy.
News of these donations takes this to a whole new level.
Of course, a leadership campaign costs money. A large number of small donations from Tory members would have been an early indication of support. But the actual donations are large, mostly in excess of £5,000, and the largest being £100,000. That looks like a small number of people having a large influence. Have we just seen a Prime Minister chosen by the 172,437 members of the Conservative party, or by the handful who put up the money?
The problem with the present Tory leadership contest is that it looks worryingly like a presidential campaign. We’ve seen televised debates among the contenders, news of them, their campaigns, promises and policies. It sounds as if the winner will have a mandate to take the country in a new direction, though the voters are just the 0.3% of the population who happen to be members of the Conservative Party. Where is the public outcry?
This is part of a general trend to move power from Parliament to No.10 which has accelerated since the referendum. It includes the illegal prorogation of parliament in 2019, the use of “Henry VIII” powers to sideline parliament in the massive task of replacing EU-derived legislation and Johnson’s repeated bendings of the ministerial code.
These things have consequences:
It risks increasing alienation from politics. “First past the post” means there are many parts of the country where people feel their vote doesn’t matter. The Tories have found a way to make this much worse. Brexit might already be a consequence of this because of the people who voted Leave out of frustration at being ignored.
It pushes things to the extremes. Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss need to appeal only to their own party rather than connecting with the rest of the country. That’s particularly serious as there’s now more support for Brexit in the Conservative party than there in the country. EU-bashing and Brexit might help one of them get elected, but they are not in the national interest.
Was the 2008 crash a result of America spending more than it could afford on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? Might Ukraine be a moment when Putin also faces some harsh realities?
Journalism has been called “the first draft of history”. As the emerging story of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfolds, I’ve been thinking of this page of the “first draft”.
The 2008 financial crash began with problems in the sub-prime mortgage market in the US. One reading of this is that 9/11 shook the US to the core. Had it been in a stronger place, it might have been possible to seek a peaceful solution — borrowing language from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to ask about grievances in the Middle East against the US. IF that had been possible, it might also have unlocked the possibility of an enduring peace in Israel / Palestine.
People are rightly angry about “partygate” — but moves to make it easier to scrap EU protections and “unleash the benefits of Brexit” imply things are more serious than this.
The widespread anger at lockdown-breaking parties at Downing St in May 2020 is justified. But it is also a surprise that anyone is surprised. Johnson’s unsuitability for high office has been obvious (at least) since his time as Foreign Secretary. John Major has described Brexit as “the worst foreign policy mistake of my lifetime”: partygate, serious though it is, pales in comparison beside that.
As “Partygate” comes to its (first) climax there’s the announcment of a “Brexit freedom bill” (to unwind EU-derived law), and the front page of the Daily Express says “Boris vows to ‘unleash the benefits of Brexit’”.
I can’t be the only person who years echoes in that of “unleash the dogs of war” — a corruption of “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war” in Shakespear’s Julius Caesar. Not a good omen.
Late in January 2022, Jacob Rees Mogg suggested that a change of Prime Minister would lead to an early General Election. He must know this isn’t true: are we being softened up for one?
Rees Mogg’s remarks have been read as an attempt to stop Tory MPs in former “red wall” seats siding against Boris Johnson, but aren’t these the Tory MPs with the strongest incentive to ensure that their party has a leader who people support?
What he’s reported to have said on Newsnight is:
“It is my view that we’ve moved, for better or worse, to an essentially presidential system and therefore the mandate is personal rather than entirely party [based] and any PM would be very well advised to seek a fresh mandate.”
The end of November 2021 shone a spotlight on some very unsavoury attitudes towards people migrating to the UK, with the government making the situation worse, for political gain, rather than showing the wise leadership that would build a better society.
First there was a story that Dominic Raab had confirmed that the government is exploring ways of processing asylum seekers abroad, with ministers thinking of flying migrants to processing centres within seven days of arriving in the UK. There was a rumour, hotly-denied by the Albanian government, that people would be held in their country.
Civil liberties concerns over Covid Passports are misplaced — and opposing them risks fuelling the anxiety that is creating the space for increasingly authoritarian government behaviour
I’m hearing genuine concern about the increasing authoritarianism of the Johnson government and more complicated concerns about civil liberties and Covid regulations — particularly around the idea of Covid passports. But these are profoundly different. Joining them together is a bad idea, and plays into the government’s hands.
The relaxing of Covid rules, at a time when infection rates are rising, is a rash triumph of political will over reality, which will land badly, particularly for some minority groups.
19 July 2021 — trumpeted as “freedom day” — with Covid regulations coming to an end, saw infections rising and 39,950 new cases. The daily number of new cases hasn’t been that high since the emergency tightening of rules at Christmas (where the surge peaked at 68,053 on 8 January). That’s not a good sign. Vaccinations have helped bring numbers down, but the increased infectiousness of the delta variant is pulling the other way. No vaccine is 100% effective, and it’s right to be concerned about parts of society where people are chosing not to be vaccinated.
Denying the seriousness
In the Daily Mail of 17 July, Graham Brady argued that relaxing the rules is about freedom. He likens the people’s reservations about the change to “Stockholm syndrome” — where captives identify with their captors. Choice extracts from the article include:
“After 16 months of being told by the state when we could leave our homes, whether we could see our families, with whom we were allowed to have sex, or what kinds of sports we were permitted to play, many of us are eager to regain the human dignity that comes with the exercise of our own free will.”
Are we losing something in the seeming increase of polarisation in the political world?
As results were coming in from the Georgia run-off, I found myself thinking about polarisation in politics. The shape of Joe Biden’s presidency hung on the small number of voters in Georgia who would, or would not, give the Republicans a Senate majority.
In the end, both Democrat candidates won, though Jon Ossoff came in with just 50.6 per cent of the vote. Logically, this was just the last stage in a close election. Emotionally, the situation charged.
We discovered how charged it was when rioters burst into the Capitol, desperate to stop Biden being confirmed as President-elect. One said: “We are the last hope for the world, at least in my mind and everything I’ve seen. We are free.” Another carried a banner with the word “treason”. More worryingly, a Yougov poll found 45 per cent of Republicans supporting the rioters. Continue reading “Towards a politics that’s not about “winning” and “losing””