Tag Archives: boris-johnson

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12:  Jeremy Corbyn is announced as the new leader of the Labour Party at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre on September 12, 2015 in London, England. Mr Corbyn was announced as the new Labour leader today following three months of campaigning against fellow candidates ministers Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham and shadow minister Liz Kendall. The leadership contest comes after Ed Miliband's resignation following the general election defeat in May. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Brexit: if you think Corbyn is the problem, you haven’t been paying attention

I don’t think I’ve ever been as appalled by UK politics as I am at this point. That the Leave campaign won the referendum on a pack of lies is a fact in this post-fact world that even its own leaders have implicitly acknowledged by their equivocations, downcast faces and vanishing acts. We are in the midst of undoubtedly the worst financial crisis since 2008, and the level of racist attacks appears to have skyrocketed, but the political and media class have locked themselves into Westminster to focus on their intrigues and petty rivalries. The journalists I follow on Twitter have never been more delighted by the Tory and Labour leadership crises, pigs in shit blithely ignoring the outside world as if it was an unwelcome distraction from the main event. Only Nicola Sturgeon and Tim Farron have shown a shred of political leadership since Friday. It has been gobsmacking to watch, and utterly repugnant.

While acknowledging that it is part of the problem, I don’t feel I have much to add in terms of analysis of the current state of the Conservative Party. A bunch of overgrown schoolboys have played around in politics as if it were nothing more than a game, and now appear to be waking up to the fact that the stakes were in fact very real. I don’t know how it will all play out for the simple fact that I have consistently underestimated Boris Johnson’s ability to survive from political crises of his own making. I don’t have any analysis of why this is; I’ve never understood his charms I’m willing to accept at this point that there are supernatural forces at play here and that only a beheading, stuffing the corpse with garlic and burying it at a crossroads has any chance of stopping him being elected and remaining Prime Minister for the next 50 years. I mean, he survived that Boris Bus debacle – how bad does it have to get?

On Labour, I have a little more to say. It has become painfully apparent over the referendum campaign that Jeremy Corbyn simply isn’t up to the job. He is incapable of commanding respect amongst the PLP, incapable of thinking strategically, incapable of making a good speech and incapable of seizing a political opportunity when it lands on his plate. The problem is, leaving aside the facts that a) there is no guarantee that they will end up with someone more capable, and b) the party has demonstrated it is incapable of any degree of unity for years now, I don’t think you can look at those results last Thursday and conclude that Corbyn is even Labour’s biggest problem. What we witnessed was a party that was incapable of reaching out to its own core communities outside of the major metropolitan areas scattered across England and Wales.

I’m grateful to John Harris’s reportage from around the country, showing the depth of alienation and utter contempt that people in the poorest and most deprived communities across the country have for Westminster politics. What we saw on Thursday, was those people flicking Westminster a massive V-sign. Yes, a minority have fallen for the Brexiteers’ lies and even turned to outright racism. But for the most part, it appears to have been as prosaic as the fact that if large swathes of the country aren’t seeing the (very real, very significant) economic benefits that the UK enjoys from immigration, free movement of people and its membership of EU, they are likely to see very little downside to voting to get rid of it all. They’re wrong, and I guarantee they will come to regret it as the economy tanks and Westminster opts to force them to bear the brunt, but I can understand the feeling all to well.

That it has come to this ought to be a wake up call. To his credit, it seems pretty clear to me that Jeremy Corbyn understands this, and understands that without a significant and meaningful redistribution of wealth the mood in those communities is only going to turn uglier. But it is equally clear that a significant number of Labour MPs don’t and see the solution lying purely in triangulation. It is plain to see that for an awful lot of Labour politicians, the solution lies now in adopting a string of anti-immigration and anti-free movement policies regardless of the bad economic case – just as long as they don’t look as punitive and nasty as UKIP. We’re in the scary situation right now where it is becoming apparent that the Tories are now busily building the case for a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU – where we accept free movement, the imposition of EU regulation and pay roughly the same as we do now but get none of the democratic rights we’ve taken for granted – while what noises we have coming from Labour is that free movement is unacceptable to them. With UKIP now a very real threat in their heartlands, the triangulators are prepared to make the Tories look like wishy-washy liberals when it comes to immigration – presumably in the full knowledge that this will only encourage UKIP and the Tories to push even further to the right.

Triangulation is not a new thing – when it comes to economic policy, it’s got us in a lot of the mess that we now find ourselves after all. But when it comes to immigration, it takes on an all new terrifying dynamic. We’ve already seen that a scary number of racist individuals and groups have seen the referendum result as a starting gun for a campaign of terror and intimidation (again, to be clear, I’m not saying all Leave voters are racist – just that all racists are Leave voters who now believe 52% of the country agrees with them). Imagine how bad that will get if we start seeing the sort of Dutch auction on immigration policy being proposed belligerently by the likes of John Mann and in more velvet tones by the likes of Tom Watson.

And of course, it almost goes without saying that it is simply not the case that this is an automatic vote winner. The SNP haven’t hoovered up Labour support in Scotland by adopting an anti-immigrant position – quite the opposite. Where people do see the economic benefits of immigration, anti-immigrant sentiment is way down. It wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn who persuaded Islington, one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, to support Remain by 75%; it was the daily experience of living in an area with high immigration.

If Jeremy Corbyn had spent the last two months going around the country calling for England’s more deprived communities to better reap the economic benefits of the EU and immigration than they do at present (which to be fair to him he did say, sotto voce), then there’s at least a chance he could have turned it around. But it wasn’t just him. It certainly wasn’t a position being championed by Labour In – dominated as it was by centrists in the party. And while Jeremy Corbyn voluntarily gave up his opportunity to share platforms with David Cameron and use it to press him on this matter, it was the position of all the candidates who stood in last year’s Labour leadership election to adopt the same self-defeating no-platform policy.

I’ve been talking about Labour, but to be frank, this is the Lib Dems’ failing as well. While they don’t have the same platform in deprived northern communities that Labour enjoys, they too should have made this case. And if Tim Farron’s welcome stance to stand in the next election on a position of remaining a member of the EU is to reach out beyond the party’s metropolitan base, he too needs to be making the case for redistribution of wealth. This policy will prove a mistake if it ultimately amounts to little more than a plea for business as usual; the City has to be made aware that there is a price that it needs to pay.

Where do we go now? I have no idea. The whole situation is a bloody mess and while I’m sceptical that the markets can wait as long as Labour and the Tories want to get their acts together, we at least have a period during which the rest of us can allow the referendum result to sink in. I don’t think the United Kingdom is going to survive this. I wouldn’t especially begrudge Scotland for leaving us, and the only thing stopping me from saying the same about Northern Ireland is the fear of what might happen if the unionist communities there feel they are being abandoned to their fate. My hope is that the political system of what country remains will be able to crawl out of the quagmire that it is in now, but I’m very scared that the situation is going to get much worse, and much more violent, before we finally turn a corner.

Bercow and burying bad news

It is quite telling that on Monday the Tories opted to a) announce the membership of their new Euro grouping and b) announce the resignation of Ian Clements. Burying bad news? I should coco! At least James Cleverly has the decency to admit it, however obliquely.

There isn’t much more I can say about the Euro grouping that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. Suffice to say, the fact that they could only muster two other parties with more than one MEP to join is all too telling.

I know the Tories like to bang on about how the other European Parties have their fair share of oddballs (I’ve never had the names of the guilty ALDES parties mentioned but no doubt someone can point me to them), but this is a grouping of ALL oddballs. Forming a grouping like this is to make a statement and the statement I hear from this is that the Tories do not consider environmental issues or gay rights anything close to a priority.

The Ian Clements incident is gobsmacking. Boris hasn’t been any better than Ken in terms of appointing his own cronies. The difference is, Ken’s ones tended to be more honest – or somewhat smarter at least.

Meanwhile, the Tory reaction to Bercow’s election is one of the least gracious spectacles I’ve seen in a long time. This, let us not forget, is from people who were complaining at how Michael Martin had politicised the role.

The objection to John Bercow from the Tories is not that he is a swivel-eyed racist, but that he isn’t one any more. An odd statement to broadcast to the nation. Dan Finkelstein rightly gives his team a good ticking off. Praise is also due to Douglas Carswell who was one of the first voices of calm this morning. Not only that, but he admitted to voting for Bercow himself (thereby scotching Nadine Dorries’ theory that only two other Tories voted for JB), and voted for my own first choice Richard Shepherd (you see, I love Tories really).

As for the result itself, personally I would have been happy with either Bercow or Young. I’m delighted the speculation surrounding Margaret Beckett’s shoo-in proved to be utter nonsense. I suspect that the hostility shown towards Bercow has been whipped up by a bunch of headbangers in the party and will dissipate fairly quickly. It is certainly the case that nothing like all of the Labour Party voted for Bercow – given that it seems most Lib Dems did a sizeable chunk of Labour MPs must have shored up Young’s vote.

I do wonder however if the electoral system they have used is the best one for letting a “consensus” candidate emerge. The downside of an exhaustive ballot/AV procedure is that it doesn’t always help build consensus. In this case, with one candidate clearly despised by a minority (how large that minority is remains an unknown quantity), it just looks like majoritarianism.

How different would it have been if they had used Modified Borda Count, where lower preferences would have been counted, or Majority Judgement? With both these systems, being despised by the minority would have counted against Bercow (this assumes that most Bercow voters would have minded Young winning less than the other way around). Enough to affect the outcome? I couldn’t say, but it certainly would have narrowed it.

The bottom line is that while we have a system which tends to ensure that a single party has a majority in the Commons, it is that majority that will get to pick the speaker. The convention of picking an opposition party speaker went out of the window in 2000. A system that at least softens the harder effects of that brute fact is at least worth considering.

Does the London Mayoralty drive people mad?

Watching Boris Johnson’s appalling behaviour in front of a Parliamentary Select Committee today, I was reminded of someone else: Ken Livingstone circa 2006. The idea of Boris Johnson complaining about partisan attacks is simply too ironic to countenance. This was 2 April, not the day before.

Is there something about the role that makes you a bumptious, vainglorious ass with molecule-thick skin, or is it an entry level requirement in the first place? The jury is out on that one I suspect. Certainly, while the jolly “LOOK AT HIS FUNNEEE HAIR!” HIGNIFY-crafted demeanour of “Bozza” always was manufactured to a certain extent. But I can’t help but wonder if the role itself does reinforce such a mindset.

London Mayors (indeed all directly elected English Mayors) work under a system that gives them almost unchallengable power. To overturn a decision, the Assembly/Council needs to amass a two-thirds majority and the mayor can usually expect at least a third of the council to be of his party. Even independents are pretty safe because the chances of getting the main parties to agree a line are relatively low. On the odd occasion that Livingstone didn’t get his own way, he used to throw appalling tantrums. Johnson doesn’t have to worry about that in the London Assembly, but a Labour-dominated select committee is another story.

If it has taken him just a year before he finds the merest criticism intolerable, what will he be like in another two? And if it has taken him just this long before getting sucked in, how long will it take his successor? Will London even still be standing by then?

Coleman’s hatch should be trapped shut

There is something excrutiating about being represented by Brian Coleman. I’m not so partisan that I cannot tolerate having MPs and Assembly members of other political parties. I’ve never particularly felt shame at being represented, through the years, by Jackie Lait, Gerald Kaufman, Hilary Benn (must stop namechecking Benns!), James Plaskitt or Rudi Vis. Yes, being represented by the Labour government’s pet-filibuster-in-chief has been known to grate on occasion. But nothing – nothing – amounts to the shame in having Brian Coleman represent me in City Hall.

The episode regarding gratuitously insulting Lynne Featherstone is just the latest in a series of examples perfectly illustrating how the man is unfit for public office, and yet the London Conservatives continue to place him in top jobs. The man calling for Lynne to repay him £250 racked up £8,000 in taxi fares last year. The man who accuses Lynne of not having an accurate view of safety is scared of driving through Haringey. The man who bandies around sexist insults accuses people of homophobia when he doesn’t get his own way. I would recommend people go to the Facebook group dedicated to following his career for more.

Coleman’s career is entirely reliant on an electoral system that denies people a proper choice. Most Tory supporters, given the choice, would happily get rid of him and replace him with another Conservative who didn’t make them look stupid. Instead, we’re all stuck with him.

Stoke dumps mayor

Stoke on Trent has voted to get rid of its directly elected mayor, something which a large number of Lewisham residents have been trying to do for years. Can anyone explain to me why the former referendum was allowed but not the latter?

Part of the explanation may be the comparative strength of the BNP in Stoke – Labour might be able to live with the odd Tory or Lib Dem mayor, but a BNP mayor – whose decisions could only be overturned by a two thirds majority in council – is not a prospect they were prepared to face. It’s okay to have elective dictatorships, just not if the people are in danger of electing the wrong elective dictatorship.

Glancing at their council’s political makeup, the politics of the place are a little idiosyncratic, with a large grouping of “City Independents,” a “Conservative and Independents Alliance”, a “Potteries Alliance” a smattering in non-aligned councillors and of course the blogosphere’s own cause celebre Gavin Webb. I remember campaigning in Stoke in a by-election during an LDYS conference back in 1998 (someone will have to remind me – was Gavin the candidate?). At the time, I seem to recall the Lib Dem success meant that there was a non-Labour councillor on the council for the first time in years. I appreciate I’m biased, but I do get the distinct impression that all these “independents” are an illustration of a system collapsing following years of hegemonic control. Only when they finally get some proper party politics back into the area will they finally begin to inject a bit of vision back into the city.

Labour’s answer to one-party strongholds was directly elected mayors, yet they have spectacularly failed to set the world on fire. Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill wrote an article in Lib Dem Voice a few months ago in defence of the policy, but failed to cite how they had made a difference in any tangible way. And while I have no love of Ian Blair, his single-handed dismissal by Boris Johnson easlier this month chilled me to the bone. A single person should not be able to effectively sack a police chief like that. No-one politicised the role of Metropolitan Commissioner more than Ian Blair himself, but the answer was less politicisation not more.

So well done Stoke for making a good decision. And here’s hoping the rest of us will get a similar opportunity.

Boris Johnson: taking the piff

What on Earth is happening in City Hall? If you want to know if a ship is seaworthy, look at which way the rats are running. It doesn’t look good.

Today’s latest debacle suggests that he is rapidly turning into the liability for David Cameron that some of us predicted he would be:

He wrote: “If you believe the politicians, we have a broken society, in which the courage and morals of young people have been sapped by welfarism and political correctness.

“And if you look at what is happening at the Beijing Olympics, you can see what piffle that is.”

But there is only one politician out there at the moment claiming we have a “broken society” – David Cameron. To claim this is not a criticism of his party leader, as Johnson has insisted is simply ridiculous. Or, to use David Cameron’s own terminology: “It was a lie and it was treating people like fools.

Of course, in Boris Johnson’s case, “piffle” is quite literally his middle name (okay, almost – don’t spoil the gag!). Speaking about the Petronella Wyatt scandal, which ended up being true, he had this to say:

I have not had an affair with Petronella. It is complete balderdash. It is an inverted pyramid of piffle. It is all completely untrue and ludicrous conjecture. I am amazed people can write this drivel.

So it is perhaps not the best word he could have chosen to use to keep him out of trouble.

Will another Tory suffer the curse of Quaequam Blog!?

I have to admit that, while I am tempted to offer Conservatives platitudes about reaping what they sow, I really am a bit uncomfortable about the allegations being made against Ray Lewis.

The fact that they are being made by an Anglican Bishop sets alarm bells going off instantly. But the fact that the woman he is alleged to have ripped off remains a personal friend and in his employ makes it even harder to swallow. There are dark mutterings about sexual misconduct, but significantly no actual allegations being made. He has answered all the questions put to him robustly and straightforwardly. It does all look rather like a bit of a smear, compounded by the standard of the Church’s own record keeping.

When you consider the number of paedophiles it lets operate under its radar, it’s amazing how they seem to think they have chapter and verse on Ray Lewis.

A caveat though: a few weeks ago I sprang to the defence of Caroline Spelman. In light of more recent developments however, I rather wish I hadn’t. So, innocent until proven guilty and all that, but I will suspend my judgement.

Boris Johnson’s crime maps, data protection and land values

Unaccustomed as I am to defending Boris Johnson, I’m not convinced that publishing crime maps would necessarily result in a breach of data protection. Didn’t we solve this problem with census data decades ago?

A more intriguing objection is the complaint by RICS that “publicising high crime areas in such detail could literally wipe thousands off house prices overnight, further disadvantaging those who are already struggling to make ends meet.” I think this is possibly true, although it is a particular problem for the UK where we don’t have proper land/property taxation. In countries which use property taxes more extensively and reassess them more regularly (or indeed, at all), such data is a double edged sword. Yes, it would lead to the value of their properties dropping but that in turn would lead to them paying less tax. If you don’t get the service, you get your money back: sounds like a fair deal to me. In the UK though it would be unambiguously bad news for many, whilst enriching those fortunate enough to live in safe areas still further.

Cameron and Johnson timed the Venezuela announcement for after the Crewe by-election

At a stroke, Boris Johnson has undermined the capital the Conservatives have made out of the 10p income tax fiasco. It isn’t that the cheap oil deal with Venezuela was defensible – it wasn’t. It was this sort of tokenism that disqualified Livingstone from office in the eyes of most Londoners. But no-one begrudged low income earners from getting half-priced travel. In Crewe, the Tories ground Labour into the dust attacking them for doubling the 10p rate and blithely ignoring the impact it would have on low income earners. Now the Tories have imposed swingeing cuts on a very similar group in society.

What’s worse is the timing: on a bank holiday weekend just hours after winning the Crewe by-election during which time they had very carefully kept quiet about the plans. It is clear they don’t plan to offer people on income support any alternative, otherwise why the stark announcement rather than a more cuddly “consultation” about how to continue paying for the scheme? It is clear they knew it would be politically damaging. And it is abundantly clear that was not merely approved by CCHQ and Cameron but crafted by them in the first place. Make no mistake – this was Cameron’s decision.

Expect this issue to become a Focus leaflet staple, within London at least. I can think of no better symbol of how paper thin the “new” Conservativism really is. Scratch beneath the surface and the nasty side is just itching to come out. At least now we know, but is has the public already made up its mind?

Random points about the London elections

I have a few things to get off my chest regarding the London elections and so I thought I would include them as a miscellenia rather than write seperate blog posts about them.

Bozza and the bloke factor

One thing that continues to perturb me is the rapid rewriting of history from the side of the Conservatives. Specifically, they have gone from fielding a candidate who was clearly selected because of his celebrity cache to insisting (now he has won) that his main appeal to the general public was his policy agenda.

Pish, and indeed, posh. It wasn’t that Boris didn’t have policy – I actually quite liked much of his housing policy for instance (well, the bits they’d nicked off the Lib Dems anyway) – but the average member of the public would do well to remember anything more than the fact that he doesn’t like bendy buses. There was a big emphasis on crime and numerous specifics, but the main tactic there was to deny Paddick his USP (and it worked superbly).

I’ve already mentioned how the number of people saying they’d vote Boris for a “laugh” on Twitter outnumbered the more contemplative souls by something like 4-to-1. Twitterers are not exactly the most representative sample however. So if that doesn’t convince you, I would refer you to the Political Brain by Drew Westen (also namechecked by Martin Turner on Lib Dem Voice today I notice). To horrendously summarise this book, it suggests that what people vote for is not policy but who they make the best emotional connection to. Crudely, they vote for the bloke they would most like to have a pint with. That’s why George W. Bush did so well despite having anything resembling intelligence. It’s why people continue to remind the Lib Dems what a desperate mistake they made getting rid of Charles Kennedy, despite the fact that his shortcomings had become quite insurmountably by the time we did. It’s why Ken Livingstone won in 2000 and it’s why Boris beat him last week.

There’s no shame in that fact. But let’s be honest about it, eh chaps?

The Evening Standard Factor

Again, I’ve already briefly touched on this. In my view, the Standard’s coverage was less problematic than the Metro’s lack of coverage and as I suggested earlier, that was clearly a deliberate ploy of the Rothermere Press’s, taking into account the two paper’s differing demographics.

Listening to Andrew Gilligan’s endless bleating about how his was scrupulously balanced and committed to the facts though is hard to take, especially since I spent an hour on the phone with him two weeks ago being accused of being a Livingstone stooge just for attempting to produce an impartial tool for the elections (an accusation that ended up going nowhere). He might be scrupulous with the facts, but he was driven by a very clear agenda. And you can assemble a bunch of uncontestable facts in any order to make a case that a specific individual is a saint or a sinner.

To be fair on the Standard, having read it more than usually over the past couple of months I can attest that it did indeed contain numerous pro-Ken articles to balance out the negative ones. But the paper itself has a very clear demographic and very few people will be swayed by it one way or another. What the Standard does have at its disposal more than any other paper in London, is the capacity to circulate thousands of posters on a daily basis. The posters, clearly visible on pretty much every single street corner in the capital, were unrelentingly negative about Livingstone. They knew it, just as they knew that no amount of balancing articles in the paper itself would make a blind bit of difference.

And Gilligan knows perfectly well that it was his scrupulously researched articles that resulted in those lurid headlines. Again, I don’t particularly begrudge him, or his newspaper, for doing this. Long live our free press, even if it is a worry that London can’t sustain a second paid-for daily. But let’s have a bit of honesty.

How Labour Blew It

Oh let me count the ways. The major factors have already been covered ad nauseum: the cronyism scandals, the familiarity (read: contempt) of Livingstone himself, the walking disaster that is Gordon Brown. But for me there are at least two other factors which backfired on Labour spectacularly.

The first one was to frame the debate as Livingstone vs. Johnson at such an early stage. I commented on my frustration over this earlier in the year and there’s no question it made Paddick’s job harder. The point I’m making here though is different: it also made Livingstone’s job harder.

I can understand the logic behind it: the idea was that by forcing people to focus relentlessly on Johnson, his flaws would be exposed for all to see and he would collapse in a blond heap of crikeyness. The problem with that stratagem is that it assumed that Johnson would be allowed to do that, either by his own party or by a media that was spoiling for a big personality-fueled two-way contest.

What Livingstone and his supporters should have been doing as an alternative is to insist that the field was open; to talk up the chances not just of the Greens and Lib Dems but specifically of One London. Livingstone should have been insisting that all debates include all the main party contenders based on which parties were represented on the Assembly and done all he could to keep Damian Hockney in the race.

Why? Because if there had been a contender on the right with some credibility, it would have dented Johnson’s popularity. If Hockney had stayed in the race, Livingstone could have kept suggesting in debates that he was where all rightwingers’ votes should go. And Hockney, with his opposition to the Congestion Charge, support of Heathrow Airport and scepticism about multiculturalism would have been able to articulate what a lot of Johnson’s core support actually happen to believe.

A side effect of this also would have been to present potential BNP supporters with a more mainstream party to vote for, which may have kept Barnbrook out of the Assembly. This brings me to screw up Number Two: taking Boris too seriously.

To be fair, the Livingstone campaign team seemed to consistently understand the problems with presenting Johnson as a racist, homophobic snob – even if their candidate kept lapsing into this rhetoric from time to time. But they really failed to get their supporters to rein it in. The StopBoris website was a perfect example of this, as was Zoe Williams’ silly article on election day.

There are two problems with this approach. Firstly, it is simply logically implausible to expect people to regard Boris as a buffoon while taking every single word of his deadly seriously. It can’t be done and people already tempted by Boris will simply stare at you as if you don’t have a sense of humour. Johnson is a polemicist and raconteur. His articles are provocative. The right approach is to take his buffoonery head on and to suggest to people that it would be a bad idea to elect a clown as mayor. Whenever Labour stayed on message, they made progress against Johnson. Whenever they went into PC mode, they lost support.

The second problem was that it sent out the message that it is possible for a mainstream political candidate in the UK to be an appalling racist and homophobic bigot and still have a chance of winning the top prizes. Once again, I can’t help but wonder to what extent this helped the BNP who of course were only too happy to associate themselves with Johnson.

You would have thought that Labour would have learned the lesson about the limits of demonising your political opponents 12 years ago. Clearly not.