Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Historic defeat for May and the Withdrawal Agreement

Last night the government suffered an unprecedented defeat. Theresa May's withdrawal agreement with the European Union was voted down by a majority of two hundred and thirty. The size of the defeat would have brought down any previous government. Yet without even a moment's reflection, Theresa May made it clear that she intended to carry on.

Theresa May has proved to be a remarkably resilient prime minister. Again and again, she has brushed aside events that would have brought down any other prime minister and government. Only last month, brushed off a vote of no confidence in a her leadership of the party. Whilst it is true that technically she had won the vote, she only did so because of the convention that all members of the government have to vote for the leader. A similar result had famously brought down Margaret Thatcher.

Whilst May brushed off the biggest defeat in history as though it were nothing more than a minor set back, it is not the end of her troubles. Later today she faces a vote of no confidence in her government. Downing Street and the corporate media are all pushing the line that she will win the vote. The basis for this judgement is the assumption that her own party will vote for her (in preference to the fear of Jeremy Corbyn, who they affect to see as a dangerous Marxist) and the DUP will (albeit somewhat ironically) vote for her because her withdrawal agreement has been defeated, removing their fear of the Irish Protocol.

The prediction that May will win the confidence vote may well be correct (although it would only require a handful of abstentions in her party to bring her down). Yet it is bizarre that a government that cannot command a majority in the House of Commons and cannot get its flagship policies through the House can struggle on from one crisis to another as though nothing of significance has happened. Worse still, it seems obvious that the government does not have the creative capacity to think of any way of leaving the European Union that could command a majority in the House.

This impasse means that the legal default position - that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on 29th March without a deal - is the most likely scenario. This is especially ironic, as of all the possible options, it is the one that has the least support in parliament. Yet, it is probably the only way this weak government can still implement the decision of the 2016 referendum.

Leaving without a deal is, of course, precisely the worst possible outcome in the view of the elites, both in this country and in the European Union. Thus, the hysteria and panic are ramping up. There are constantly reiterated assertions that parliament must not allow a no deal. There are constant demands that the government must rule out no deal. There are constant demands that there must be a people's vote. There is an air of unreality to all these shrill demands. The corporate journalists, the pundits and the politicians making them generally do so without any indication of what they would involve.

The call to re-run the referendum, for instance, is made without any apparent recognition that it would require the government to initiate it, or that it would take six months or so to organise, or even what the question on the ballot paper would be (although they obviously want remain). Similarly, those demanding that parliament rule out a no deal do not seem to appreciate that parliament does not have the capacity to do so, as it would require the government to bring forward the necessary legislation. And those who demand that the government rule out no deal do not seem to understand that the government was elected on a manifesto that promised to implement the result of the referendum and that they are therefore demanding that the Tory party commits political suicide. Indeed, the only way to prevent the country leaving without a deal would be for the remainers to capture the executive.

According to Sky News sixty-one percent of people think the country is in crisis. Frankly, I doubt it: but answers depend on how you ask the question. However, what I do not doubt is that the political elite is in crisis. It is a crisis of its own making. Parliament delegated the decision as to whether to leave the European Union to the people, fully expecting the decision to be  remain. The people decided otherwise, and ever since, the political elite have been grappling with the insoluble problem of how to appear to leave whilst actually remaining. There simply is no solution to this problem, and as the March deadline draws ever closer, the panic and hysteria rise ever higher.

It is an open question how far their desperation will drive them. The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, has already shown that he is not above overthrowing the constitution. Doubtless others in parliament will be tempted down the same path. Indeed, there has already been mutterings of using an all party backbench committee to capture control of the executive, which would be a truly revolutionary move.

The clash between direct democracy and representative democracy set in train by the result of the referendum is testing the constitution to the limit. Should the political elite fail to implement the result of the referendum even greater tests may follow.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Do they even listen to themselves?

Anna Soubry, a member of parliament famous for emotively insulting Leavers, was called a Nazi by some people outside the House of Commons on Monday. The political media elite, of course, immediately denounced the insult as unacceptable. However, they were not content to leave it at that and have talked themselves into a hypocritical hysteria.

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House, demanding that everyone use moderate language and conduct debate and the expression of differences of opinion in a respectful manner, denounced protesters as fascists. He also took the opportunity to write to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to demand that policing practices in parliament and its environs be changed. This was a clear attempt to use his public office to interfere with the operational independence of the police. A fact that was apparently lost upon both him and the House of Commons.

Government ministers have also chimed in, calling the people who insulted Ms Soubry morons and thugs. Again with the caveat that everyone should use moderate and respectful language.

In the wake of this political moral panic, where members of parliament, such as Stepehen Doughty, are darkly referring to the murders of Jo Cox and Police Constable Keith Palmer, to attacks on public service personnel, to racist and misogynistic attacks especially on the Internet, the corporate media are demanding the police do something, regardless of the law.

The Metropolitan Police were forced by this chorus of moral indignation to issue a statement. They said that they took the matter very seriously and were investigating to see if any crimes had been committed. To see the absurdity of this, one only has to reflect on the fact that daily the Metropolitan Police fail to investigate known actual crimes because they apparently lack the resources. However, they can devote both investigative and preventative resources to the problem of people using mean words.

As one listens to all this, one has to wonder if they even listen to themselves. Whilst demanding that everyone uses moderate, respectful language, they use the most inflammatory language and demonise people who are guilty of nothing more than exercising their fundamental human right to freedom of expression. This is the path to censorship and totalitarianism.

Indeed, the censorship has already begun. One of the people who called Soubry a Nazi, James Goddard, has had his Facebook and Paypal accounts deleted. The corporate media are casually referring to him as far right, as though the label somehow proves he is not entitled to an opinion. And this is, of course, by now the standard operating procedure of the neoliberal globalists. Dissent that cannot be ignored is firstly demonised and if that does not succeed, it is censored.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Obesity is a disease, claim health experts

The Royal College of Physicians has called for obesity to be classified as a disease. This is yet another example of the health industry's attempts to medicalise everything. It is equally yet another example of the elite's desire to make words mean whatever they want them to mean.

The Royal College of Physicians' rationale for classifying obesity as a disease is based on the idea that it has a genetic basis. This is, of course, true. All human conditions have a genetic basis: they would not exist if there was no genetic basis. If you did not have the genetic basis for breathing, you would not be able to breathe - and so on. There is a genetic basis to all life, and to all the forms it takes both in terms of species and in terms of individuals. Claiming that something has a genetic basis says nothing. To assert that obesity has a genetic basis is nothing more that a sciency sounding tautology.

In 1980 ten percent of the British adults were obese. Today, the figure is thirty percent. The increase is not due to some (mysterious) change in the genetic make up of the British people. It is due entirely to changes in behaviour. The rise in obesity is directly correlated with changes in diet and decreasing levels of physical activity. The fact is that we live in an obesogenic environment. Work is far less physically demanding than it used to be. Travel is much more likely to be a non-phyiscal activity. Much leisure time is spent watching screens. Foods are cheap and plentiful. Corporations spend billions marketing foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional value. People consume calories that they do not use and those unnecessary calories are converted into fat: a process that inevitably over time leads to over-weight and ultimately obesity.

To describe this process as a disease is to seriously abuse the language. This abuse of the language runs the risk of encouraging people to think that the condition is not a result on their behaviour, but an unfortunate affliction over which they have no control. It denies agency and disempowers people. The desire to classify obesity as a disease is doubtless well meaning, but it is dishonest, false and risks making the problem worse by inculcating a sense of fatalism in people who are obese or at risk of becoming obese.

The problem of the rise in the prevalence of obesity is not a medical problem. It is a social problem. It stems from the way society is organised. As such, the solution is not to medicalise obesity, but to introduce social policies that promote a healthier lifestyle by removing, or at least reducing, the obesogenic aspects of the environment.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

The values of the corporate media

Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria. This is good news, one would have thought. The US troops should never have been in Syria in the first place. The invasion was clearly illegal in international law. It was also unconstitutional in US domestic law. Yet, the political media elite were appalled. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and all the rest responded with anger and outrage. How dare the president decide to call off an illegal invasion? This is a gift for Putin, or Assad or Erdogan or Islamic State or Iran or something.

Senator Lindsey Graham was much quoted. He turned the US Constitution upside down and asserted that it ought to be Congress that makes such a decision - even though Congress is supposed to decide to authorise war, not to terminate an illegal war; even though Congress never authorised this illegal invasion of Syria in the first place.

Indeed, the corporate media quoted just about every "expert" they could find to prove that pulling out of Syria was bad. They even quoted Max Boot, the expert who has been wrong about everything. Track record meant nothing. All that mattered was that the so called expert should denounce Trump's decision.

None of this should be too surprising, as the corporate media have only twice lauded Trump as presidential: both were when he illegally bombed Syria on the basis of alleged chemical weapons attacks. The first attack was a jihadist false flag operation and the second was a hoax staged by jihadists. Facts that the corporate media have conveniently ignored.

A day after Trump's announcement, the United Nations heard detailed evidence about the horrors of the jihadist White Helmets: an organisation supported by the US and its allies and lauded as heroic by the corporate media. Among the many horrors revealed was the fact the White Helmets have systematically engaged in organ theft. This ought to have been headline news across the globe. Yet the corporate media responded with silence. Not a word. They ignored the story. Not because they were unaware: they were present at the presentation. They, news agency after news agency, decided the story was not worth reporting. Not worth reporting because it effectively undermines their narrative.

These two stories starkly reveal the values of the corporate media. They devote saturation attention to denouncing a move to end an illegal war of aggression, whilst simultaneously ignoring a story that exposed some of the horrors of that war. The corporate media are propagandists for wars of aggression. They support the criminal jihadists and condemn moves to end unnecessary war. And this sociopathy is wrapped up and presented as morality. Yet anyone who dissents, criticises or even merely questions their narratives is immediately denounced as a propagandist. One wonders if they have ever heard of the defence mechanism known as projection?

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Russia weaponises humour, claims BBC

Olga Robinson, BBC's Senior Journalist Disinformation (yes that is her title), reports that the Kremlin has a new tool in its disinformation tool kit: laughter. The dastardly mastermind, Putin, is exploiting mockery and ridicule as weapons in the information war. Instead of taking seriously western allegations of his malign activities and fessing up to his obvious wrong-doing, he, and his army of trolls and bots, are laughing!

Theresa May told parliament and the world that it was highly likely that Russia had poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. The pesky Russians outrageously turned the phrase "highly likely" into a joke, mockingly prefacing every evidence free accusation against Russia with the phrase. Robinson quotes from a Russian Embassy (United Kingdom) tweet to illustrate this mockery. "In the absence of evidence, we definitely need Poirot in Salisbury." For her, and the BBC, such a mocking response to the British evidence free narrative is simply not cricket. How dare the Russians laugh at risible assertions?

Of course Robinson provides expert opinion to support her argument that mockery is Russian state disinformation. Enter Roman Dobrokhotov, who has a website, so he must know what he is talking about. She cites his opinion that such Russian mockery is designed to lower the debate (from the very high standards routinely employed by the corporate media and their anonymous sources presumably). The purpose he explains is to "sow doubt" - apparently, if anyone doubts the evidence free allegations against Russia, it must be because Russian propagandists have lowered the debate, creating doubt and scepticism - obviously it couldn't be because the allegations lack evidence, are internally inconsistent or have even been disproved. No, it has to be the result of Putin's masterly propaganda. After all, with minuscule number of social media ads Putin's trolls managed to persuade millions of Americans to not vote for Hilary Clinton, who only spent $1.2 billion on her election campaign and merely had the support of over ninety percent of the mass media. Obviously, such a master of propaganda could easily use laughter to create doubt and dissension, to undermine the people's faith and trust in their selfless leaders, who are only motivated by a desire to improve the lives of the ignorant, unwashed masses, who weirdly keep voting the wrong way - no matter how many times things are explained to them.

And they wonder why people laugh at their narratives.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Government in contempt of parliament, parliament in deadlock

The five days of debate on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement of the United Kingdom from the European Union began on Tuesday with three consecutive defeats for the government. In the first of these, the government was found to be in contempt of parliament. In the past, parliament has brought down governments, but, as far as I am aware, a finding of contempt is unprecedented. The Leader of the House, representing the government, looked visibly shaken as she listened to the result. She promised the House that the Attorney General's advice, the point of contention, would be made available.

This defeat was entirely of the government's own making, as was entirely obvious when the advice was published on Wednesday. There was nothing in the advice that made it against the public interest to publish: yet that had been precisely the government's vehemently asserted defence. What was in the advice, however, as MPs had suspected, was contrary to the government's political interests. The advice made it clear that the United Kingdom could be trapped in the Northern Ireland Protocol, the so called Backstop, indefinitely, and could only escape with the agreement of the European Union. This was a point government ministers had sought to hide, or at least to minimise, in order to bolster support on their own benches.

The debate over the first three days have not improved from this inauspicious start. It remains clear that there is no majority in the House for the government's proposed deal. The opposition parties all continue to oppose it. The DUP, which the government relies upon for its majority, is even more strongly opposed. And many on the government's benches remain opposed. Given this opposition, John MacDonald, the Shadow Chancellor, yesterday made a bid for parliament to take control of the process of exiting the European Union. He suggested an alternative to both the government's proposed deal and the default, which is to leave the European Union without a deal. His proposal was for a customs union and the single market. This proposal has the merit of being capable of commanding a majority in the House. However, it faces serious problems. First, the government's proposed deal would have to be defeated on Tuesday (the last day of the debate). Second, a mere motion of the House cannot control the executive, and it is the executive that would have to return to the European Commission and request a renegotiation. Thus, Labour's proposal requires that Labour take control of the executive and the only way for that to happen is either for the government to fall and for Labour to form a minority government or by a general election which Labour wins. The general election route, whilst eating into the ever decreasing time-table, is highly unlikely, as it would require two-thirds of the House to vote for it, and many of those MPs would be effectively voting themselves out. The government falling route also seems unlikely. The hallmark of Theresa May's premiership has been her obstinate (one might even say delusional) refusal to accept the seriousness of the difficulties she has faced. I cannot therefore see her, on the defeat of her proposed deal, simply acknowledging defeat and resigning. Another alternative scenario would be for her own MPs to bring her down by triggering a leadership contest. But here, the MPs who are most discontented are precisely the ones who would not tolerate Labour's solution, seeing it (correctly) as remaining in the European Union.

Given all these difficulties, many (Remain) MPs have used the debate as an opportunity to argue for the so called People's Vote option. They claim parliament is deadlocked, pointing out (rightly) that there is no majority for the proposed deal; there is no majority (again rightly) for the no deal option: therefore, they argue, the people must decide. But this too has problems, specifically, timing, as it would take six months to organise a referendum and we would have left the European Union already. Thus, Remain, which they obviously demand be on the ballot paper could not be an option. The way round this problem would be to extend Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, but this could only be requested by the government and the government has no intention of making such a request.

What these problems throw into stark relief is the fact that the executive governs and parliament can only make laws and hold the executive to account. Parliament cannot micro-manage the executive. In order to direct the government's actions, parliament only has the tool of making laws. And to carry out any strategy that could command a parliamentary majority would require a raft of laws (and repeal of laws), and the Opposition simply does not have the parliamentary time at its disposal to enact any such programme.

Watching these debates in parliament has been a surreal experience, as so many MPs seem to be blissfully unaware of the constitutional position. Thus, the Shadow Chancellor puts forward a strategy that he does not have the power to carry out. Die-hard Remainers keep demanding a People's Vote, which they are not in a position to organise and even if they did, it would be too late for their preferred outcome to even be a possibility. Worse still, many MPs have used the debate, not only to ignore realities, but to propagate myths about the motivations of the people who voted to leave (as though anyone knows why 17.4 million people voted the way they did), in order to justify their own refusal to accept that the decision was made in June 2016. Thus, much of the debate has been completely sterile. This does of course stem from the fact that there is no majority in parliament for parliament to do anything it can do and only potential majorities for parliament to do things it cannot do. There are only two ways of resolving this deadlock. Either parliament does what it can (accept the proposed deal or the default) or it changes the government for one which will pursue a course that can command a majority.

MPs now have the weekend before the debate is resumed on Monday to find a way out of this dilemma. I will be surprised if they have the creativity to do so. Lacking that creativity, the country will leave the European Union in March without having agreed a deal, something the vast majority of MPs view with horror.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Theresa May carries on regardless

The Withdrawal Agreement that Theresa May commended to parliament met with almost universal disapproval. Both Leavers and Remainers were vehemently opposed. Many of her own party were opposed. The Labour Party was opposed. The Liberal Democrats were opposed. The Scottish and Welsh nationalists were opposed. The Green MP was opposed. And the Democratic Unionist Party was opposed. It was obvious for anyone to see that there was no majority for the proposed deal. Yet Theresa May was apparently undismayed.

Instead of recognising the reality, May simply doubled down and went into full campaign mode. She decided to go over the heads of the parliamentarians and appeal directly to the public. In the two weeks since her disastrous parliamentary statement, she has given press conferences, television interviews, taken radio call-ins, travelled the country and constantly repeated her talking points, which can be distilled to there is no other deal and not accepting the deal would be a disaster.

Watching Theresa May is a surreal experience. What is particularly troubling is the impression that she is being sincere, and truly believes what she says, and cannot see that virtually everyone else knows that what she is saying is simply not congruent with the facts. We have seen before what happens when a country is run by a prime minister who prefers belief to evidence and facts. That was how Tony Blair took us into the war on Iraq, for instance.

May's (well, Michel Barnier and Olly Robbins really) deal does not achieve any of the things she claims it does, which is why it is equally disliked by Remainers and Leavers alike. For the Leavers, it does not remove the country from the rules of the European Union. For the Remainers, it does not provide the benefits of the current relationship. It is neither Leave nor Remain, but some kind of half-way house: the worst of all possible worlds.

Yet, May is in denial. She apparently cannot understand why everyone isn't congratulating her on a wonderful deal. So to add weight to her campaign to bring the light to all those dim people who are opposed, she has had the Treasury conjure up "analyses" that show her deal is better than no deal. She has had the Bank of England create "scenarios" that show how her deal is better than no deal. Before the referendum vote, the then prime minister, David Cameron, tried this project fear tactic and the Treasury and Bank of England told the public that merely voting to Leave would cause the sky to fall. The people voted to Leave and the sky did not fall. Yet, Prime Minister May has wheeled out the self same tactic, expecting it to work this time around.

For this stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality, May is receiving much praise from many in the media. They admire her resilience and fortitude, her never say die attitude. But there is nothing admirable about her behaviour. She isn't refusing to be defeated by a mortal enemy. This isn't Churchill vowing to fight on and on. It is a prime minister who has clearly lost the capacity to see what's plainly in front of her.

However, there is a limit to how long one can maintain a delusion. In May's case, the meeting with reality is scheduled for 11 December, which is when her deal is put to the vote in parliament. There can only be one outcome: a crushing defeat for her deal. What happens then probably depends on how she reacts. If she cannot accept reality at that stage, it is inevitable that her own party will depose her. That is the Tories secret weapon: they get rid of losing leaders. The only question is: who will want to take her place?