Tuesday, 26 February 2019

May and Corbyn try to hold their parties together

Today Theresa May yet again returned to parliament to make a statement on her deal to leave the European Union. And, yet again, she was unable to announce any progress. Instead, she announced that the government would put her deal back to parliament in the middle of March - the deal that was supposed to have been decided upon by parliament back in December.

However, she did present parliament with some variations. She promised to allow parliament to vote, not only for her deal, but if they voted it down, they could also vote on leaving without a deal, and, if they voted against doing so, they could vote to instruct the government to seek an extension of Article 50, so as to delay our leaving. This was a massive concession to the Remainers in parliament, as could be seen from the fact that Oliver Letwin immediately after the debate posted a tweet saying the Cooper/Letwin proposed bill, which would seek to ensure the government seeks a delay, is no longer necessary.

The prime minister's change of position was clearly motivated by the public threats of members of her government to resign if leaving the European Union without a deal was to become government policy or even merely an inevitable consequence of not being able to secure a parliamentary majority for her deal. Yet, from the sequencing she set out, it is clear that she was determined to use this u-turn that her own ministers had forced upon her as leverage to force Leavers to vote for her deal, regardless of the concessions that she might be able to squeeze from the European Union.

Theresa May was also assisted by the Labour Party leadership in this tactic. They had announced last night that they would now support a second referendum. Whilst this move by the Labour Party is unlikely to be capable of commanding a majority, it can only act to put further pressure on those who wish to leave. Thus, the effect of the changes in positions by the two front benches has been to strengthen the Remainers and to frighten the Leavers with the prospect of our remaining in the European Union.

For Theresa May, this is a high risk tactic. She is risking creating a civil war within her own party. The Remainers in her parliamentary party are a small minority. Even more significantly, the Remainers are a tiny minority in her party in the country. A failure to deliver (and in the near future) our exit would almost certainly make it impossible for her to govern.

Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn's change of position is one that has been forced upon him in an effort to maintain party unity, but equally runs the risk of causing a serious split in the party. Whilst the majority of the Labour Party, both in parliament and the country, are Remainers, this is not the case with Labour voters. Many Labour members of parliament represent Leave constituencies and all of them were elected at the last general election on a manifesto that promised to respect the result of the referendum. Thus, in trying to hold his party together, Corbyn is risking alienating his electoral base and ensuring that Labour lose the next general election - something his enemies, all of whom are Remainers, in his own parliamentary party would consider to be a price worth paying, as they would assume that they would then be able to be rid of him.

The paradoxes are the inevitable result of the clash between representative democracy and direct democracy that was unleashed when David Cameron decided to call the referendum on the issue of the European Union: an issue that does not neatly fit into the traditional party politics. The referendum was bound to create serious problems for both the Conservatives and Labour. But the political elite were sure that Remain would win and the problem would be shelved for at least a generation. However, once Leave won the vote, it was inevitable that the issue would be all consuming. And so it has proved to be.

It is three years since the contest was set in motion and, throughout those three years, the political elite have been obsessed by the issue. Even now, a mere month before we are scheduled to leave, there is no certainty about what will happen, other than the arguments will continue.

Monday, 18 February 2019

SDP MkII

This morning a group of seven members of parliament announced their resignations from the Labour Party. They cited concerns about leaving the European Union, anti-Semitism, Jeremy Corbyn and the failure of the major political parties to listen to the electorate as their reasons. The rationale was that mixture of the truth and dishonesty that so often characterises contemporary political discourse.

The concern about leaving the European Union, for example, is both true (they are all Remainers) and highly misleading, as they all stood on a manifesto in the 2017 general election that promised to respect the 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union. The expressed concern with anti-Semitism is even less truthful, as they all know that it is a confected issue, which was created after Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party as part of an attempt to over turn that decision. Indeed, all seven of these members of parliament have constantly opposed Corbyn and have engaged in the repeated attempts to institute a party coup. But even more disingenuous is the claim to be concerned about the failure of established parties to listen to the electorate. All of these members of parliament have consistently ignored the wishes of the electorate. They have supported wars of aggression and regime change operations. They have sought to deny the result of the referendum. They have consistently supported the neoliberal globalist agenda. And now, having resigned from the Labour Party, they refuse to resign from parliament and stand in by elections, denying the electors the opportunity to either endorse or reject them. On this latter point, it is noteworthy that whilst they all claim there is a demand for a re-run of the referendum, they all claim that the last thing the electors want is another election. The special pleading and motivated reasoning could hardly be more blatant.

This move by these members of parliament is highly reminiscent of the breakaway of the gang of four back in the early 1980s. However, there are significant differences. The gang of four were high ranking members of parliament, with substantial following. They had a great deal of money. They immediately established a new political party, the SPD, and they had a coherent manifesto. This new version has none of these advantages. The only thing it has going for it is the corporate media's anti-Corbyn stance, which will doubtless ensure that the seven can be sure of as much air time and news coverage as they could wish for. This was, of course, something that the SDP also enjoyed. Yet it did them no good at all.

The prospects for this new Independent Group, as the seven are styling themselves, look decidedly bleak. The notion that there is significant support for them inside the Labour Party or the wider electorate is little more than wishful thinking. Whilst there is significant scepticism and even hostility towards the established political parties, these seven are actually the embodiment of the reasons for such hostility. The policy positions they support are precisely the policy positions that the vast majority of the electorate reject. This can be seen clearly, and ironically, in the fact the policies of Jeremy Corbyn, which they are so implacably opposed to, are precisely the policies that approximately seventy percent of the electorate support.

Whilst the future is unknowable, it nevertheless seems highly likely that after a short period of media limelight, the breakaway seven will find the move has effectively ended their political careers, condemning them to irrelevance and impotence.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Cabinet papers

Yesterday in parliament was, as a number of members of parliament noted, rather like groundhog day. Yet again the House of Commons was being asked to endorse the government's plan for leaving the European Union. On this occasion, the government motion merely asked the House to reiterate its position of the 29th of January. And so, with minor variations mainly for reasons of stylistic variation, the same set pieces were once more rehearsed.

However, there were some significant changes to this drama. Firstly, due to the way the government motion was worded, which incorporated, not only its own previous motion and the amendment it had supported, but also the Spelman motion (which opposes leaving without a deal), which it had opposed, the government secured its own defeat. Secondly, and much more significantly, Anna Soubry moved an amendment that would have required the government to publish papers the Cabinet had discussed on the impact of leaving the European Union without a deal. At the conclusion of the debate, the minister asked Soubry to withdraw her amendment on the basis that the government would publish (against all precedent) the said papers. Soubry agreed.

When Soubry had moved the amendment, she made it clear that she knew at least the gist of what the papers concluded and the gist of the Cabinet discussion and that a number of members of the Cabinet had called for the papers to be made public. This astonishing revelation was met with remarkably little comment from the rest of the House. And indeed, the corporate media seem to be remarkably incurious about how a backbencher had access to the proceedings of the Cabinet.

Nor do I know how Soubry knows what happens in the Cabinet. However, such access could only be as a result of a leak from a member of the Cabinet. The obvious suspect would be Amber Rudd (a Remainer). Yet Rudd is loyal to Theresa May and it is unthinkable that she would leak to Sourby (an arch, some might even say, hysterical Remainer) without at least the tacit approval of May (a Remainer), which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the prime minister is actively undermining the constitution, specifically Cabinet government, collective responsibility and privilege in order to exert parliamentary advantage. The advantage for Theresa May in having these papers published would be to frighten both Leavers and Remainers into voting for her Withdrawal Agreement.

There are a number of ironies in this tactic; not least of which is the use of Soubry by the government to push Remainers into voting to leave the European Union, which is precisely the opposite of what Soubry wants.

I have never been particularly impressed with Theresa May's skills as a politician. But, if my speculations about the Soubry amendment are correct, it seems May is actually student of both Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, which causes me to doubt my specualtions.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Venezuela: the situation looks bleak for the people

The disinformation explosion on the issue of political situation in Venezuela is surely so caricatured as to be self-defeating. The political and media elite seem to be incapable of discussing this issue without resorting to blatant lies and hypocrisy. These are so obvious that anyone who is even half-awake cannot help but notice.

A concern for human rights, democracy and the rule of law are asserted as a justification for an illegal regime change operation to overthrow a democratically elected government, which risks the unleashing of a civil war that would inevitably result in mass violations of human rights. Yet, this is precisely what politicians and journalists are daily trying to sell to their domestic audiences.

The narrative of the US and its allies is beyond absurd. Its antimonies are so obvious that one can only assume the narrative is not even intended to persuade. The ruling class apparently no longer even care whether or not their lies are believed. The only purpose such blatantly absurd propaganda can serve is to provide a clear demarcation between those who support the rulers and those who oppose them.

According to the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and others, they have the right to decide who is the president of Venezuela. Yet, these same governments have for years consistently condemned Russia for allegedly meddling in the domestic politics of another country. And the same corporate news media organisations that have pushed that narrative are now equally assiduously pushing the narrative that meddling in the domestic politics of a foreign country is a good thing to do. Apparently, no one is supposed to notice the contradiction. And if anyone is tactless or honest or principled enough to do so, they are immediately vilely abused as Chris Williamson discovered in the British parliament when he had the audacity to point this out in the House of Commons.

Nor is anyone supposed to notice that these same governments and same corporate media organisations provide fulsome support for countries that do not have any respect for human rights, democracy or the rule of law. Their support for the barbarous regime in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an obvious example. If the United Kingdom is really concerned about human rights, democracy and the rule of law, how can it support the House of Saud? The question answers itself - it couldn't. Yet it does. And this too is supposed to go unnoticed.

However, none of this is new. The same people peddled not dissimilar lies to justify previous regime change operations. The public were told that President Assad was a monster; that Gaddafi was a potential genocidal maniac; that Yanukovych was a murdering dictator. The propaganda was used to justify support for jihadists, the bombing of Libya back to the Middle Ages, and the organisation of a violent coup d'etat by neo-Nazis, who immediately unleashed civil war upon their fellow citizens. All of which happened in the last decade. Yet the public are not supposed to remember. They are assumed to have the memory capacity of the proverbial goldfish in a bowl.

The US uses the same playbook over and over again. It demonises the leader of the target country. It imposes economic sanctions to create domestic discontent. It covertly funds and organises domestic opposition. Its corporate media amplify the propaganda and demands that something must be done. Allies are conscripted to beat the drum. If the government is still standing, the military are despatched. And no one is supposed to notice the misery and mayhem; but, if they do, it was a price worth paying.

The situation in Venezuela is now approaching the end game. All the pieces, long prepared, are now in place. An obscure opposition figure, Juan Guadio, has been proclaimed the president by the democratic fiat of the US government. However, the actually elected president, Nicolas Maduro, is still standing, so the US has stated that military options are on the table. CNN has manufactured news of military defectors calling for US arms.

The situation looks bleak for the people of Venezuela. The only allies the Venezuelan government has in the region are Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba. When President Assad beat off the US and its allies, he did so by the direct, military support of Russia. Whilst Russia is providing Venezuela with diplomatic support, it is highly unlikely that it could do more and, without serious outside support, it is difficult to see how the Venezuelan government will be able to fend off the US and its allies indefinitely. As John Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, has made clear, US oil companies want control of Venezuelan oil fields: and whatever American corporations want is generally provided by the US government.