Here’s a question from a news website: “How about this weird weather we've been having?” On the eve of a climate change debate in the Commons tomorrow, it is timely. The last two days have seen the hottest winter temperatures on record, leading many to ask if climate change is responsible.
The news website I’m looking at continues: “It's a common query around the Pacific Standard office, and for good reason: Abnormalities such as the recent cold and snow in Southern California capture pretty much everyone's attention.” (see article here) The website reports on a scientific study which shows how humans are adapting to these new extremes. It seems that when weather extremes (or large variances) occur lots of people talk about it. Then, the discussion drifts off because the new weather becomes normalised, we get used to it. I guess this may seem a fairly rational response in societies which exist in environments which can ‘take’ a bit of stress, but I doubt it makes sense globally, since some countries simply won’t be able to cope, e.g. with sea level rise, or ten years or more of drought.
The question then is whether the weather is in a warming trend or are we simply experiencing natural variations? Where better to find the answer than the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF; Prop: Nigel Lawson). I don’t after all only want to hear views which accord with my own. According to one of the GWPF’s resident ‘experts,’ Paul Homewood, a former accountant to industry (i.e. not a climate scientist, meteorologist or anything like that) all we’re seeing are a few anomalies which basically don’t tell us anything significant about a trend. The evidence, Homewood finds is patchy because record keeping has been patchy. I assume record keeping would have remained forever patchy if we hadn’t begun to wake up to climate change, but that’s not the point. Patchy records allow you to cherry pick your conclusions, so for the time being I think I’ll go with the flow rather than the little sinkhole of denial in Tufton Street, SW1 (the home of many right-wing ideologues).
Interestingly, whilst looking at the deniers’ website, they have a new report out today which says that the disappearing polar ice cap is not threatening polar bear numbers. This is because the bears are moving into human environments scavenging for food. At least the GWPF accepts that the polar ice cap is in retreat! Now why would it be shrinking? Perhaps it’s just a statistical anomaly?
Martina Navratilova, the former tennis player has got herself into hot water over comments about transgender people competing in sport. Because she questioned whether former men should be allowed to participate in women’s events, she has been kicked out of a couple of LGBT advisory bodies and described as ‘deeply transphobic.’ I suspect a lot of people share her thoughts, but just don’t express them – it’s a complex area which challenges all sorts of assumptions. I was put in mind of this whilst listening to BBC Radio Four’s You and Yours phone-in programme, which was asking listeners to talk about changing their mind. First on was Samantha, a lawyer, who had changed her mind about her sex three times, with surgery each time, it seems. She changed her mind, she said for family reasons. For those who share Navratilova’s views, being able to change your mind, not once, not twice but three times about your sex might bolster a suspicion that others might do it for personal advantage. I’m not sure that’s tenable – would anyone really change their sex to gain an advantage in sport? It hardly seems credible. Then again, accusations were always being made about female athletes from former Soviet bloc countries winning Olympic medals after allegedly taking drugs such as anabolic steroids, e.g. Heidi Krieger.
One way out of this impasse of course would be to simply end all genderisation in sport. Let anybody do anything without discrimination. That is, after all the legally mandated norm elsewhere in society, even to the extent that (heavens above!) we now have female fighter pilots and combat troops. And to those who say women couldn’t compete with men in sport, I simply say: Beryl Burton.
Out for my regular walk earlier and it would be easy to imagine it was, weather wise, a beautiful April morning. I couldn’t complain. But I might feel less happy if come the summer, with the possibility of prolonged heat (our summers are getting warmer) and so little rain this winter, we are told to gear up for water shortages.
Elsewhere in the world little (?) seemingly unrelated stories about water are proliferating. India is using water supply to Kashmir in an effort to punish Pakistan, which it blames for not doing enough to stop terrorism – this is a mere prelude to the coming water wars, as Himalayan glacial meltwater disappears; in Antarctica, which only recently was believed to be relatively immune to immediate climate change consequences, the East and West ice sheets have been discovered to be melting at an alarming rate; there are the more familiar stories of the Greenland ice sheet disappearing and by now only fools believe there has been no diminution of the Polar ice cap. Closer to home I was looking at some interactive maps which show the likely impact of sea level rise on our shores – it’s bad news for East Yorkshire. All this tells me that adapting to climate change will be the most pressing challenge, since the human species seems to have more or less given up on any serious idea of mitigating it.
One thing that could help in the UK is the creation of a national water grid. It would cost billions, and no doubt a few inevitably wet winters in the future would make people question its value. I bet some questioned the value of the Thames Barrier when it was first mooted. But now the talk is of the need for a second one. If only we could plan for the future we face, and not one which is climate change blind. At least some of our school ‘kids’ are alert to the threat. They should resist being educated for a future defined by ‘business as usual’ – and demand a different education. Some hope with this country’s current set of priorities.
Some thoughts on a dull morning. Shamima Begum first – I’m almost inclined to agree with the Home Secretary that she should be stripped of UK citizenship – but the big doubt there is that the decision is purely political, designed to enhance the tough guy credentials of the Home Secretary. What we’ve not heard about in this case (as is so often the case with single mothers) is what about the father? What responsibility does he bear? The circumstances of her becoming pregnant need to be considered. Then I wonder how it is she thinks she doesn’t need to express remorse if she’s so keen to return to the UK? Perhaps a psychiatric examination is called for. And then, on a different tack, people are saying she was only a schoolgirl aged 15 when she made the fateful decision to go and join ISIS. Given that many people consider 16 year olds mature enough to vote and decide the fate of the country, we need to ask ourselves whether the mid-teens are a mature period or not. By some standards Begum was nearly mature enough to decide who might be Prime Minister – or currently, if she had lived in Scotland now, First Minister.
Still, turning to a bright note it’s good to see the back of Joan Ryan MP. She said this morning that ‘Labour was completely infused with anti-semitism.’ (emphasis added) As the expose of her in the undercover Al Jazzera investigation into this subject showed, she is the one who sees anti-semitism in anyone who questions Israeli government policy and wrongly accuses people of anti-semitism without any sense of shame. Or as we can now see, without remorse. Good riddance!
So this is what the New Politics looks like. The Independent Group of Labour quitters have already become mired in a ‘funny tinge’ racism row; their website (according to Skwawkbox) has been set up using a business in tax haven Panama, and their website declares the backing of a company ‘Gemini A Ltd’ which was only incorporated on the 16th January this year, of which there is only one director, namely Gavin Shuker MP, one of these self-declared New Politicians. Presumably Gemini A Ltd will become a conduit of funds, but we won’t know until next year when its first accounts become due. There was no definition of the New Politics at the press launch of the seven deadly sins yesterday, so what may we speculate could they look like?
I suppose their main contention will be that they stand above party and in the national interest – they will be crossing their fingers (if not the floor) that they will be joined by some renegade Tories. This would give them a claim to ‘consensus.’ Unfortunately, because they have called themselves ‘independent’ they have logically ruled out the possibility of themselves becoming a party. How could they be independent and above party politics if they form their own party? The only way they could survive as a cohesive group if they weren’t structured in the form of a party would be if they all had identical views on everything – or allowed themselves what one might call an open marriage, where anything goes. The latter formulation would be unable to function in any kind of leadership role, and to govern a country of 66 million people does in my mind require leadership.
Perhaps the New Politics could manage with continual consultative mechanisms. This lot do after all insist on having a second Brexit referendum. But where would that lead? There may be some methods of consultation which are useful, e.g. Gordon Brown and others have spoken of Citizen Assemblies, but there was no mention of anything like that in yesterday’s launch of the ‘New Politics.’
It is curious that these seven have turned their back on what has become Europe’s largest political party, and one which had the biggest swing in a general election since the 1940s. I was going to quote here something they said in their online statement about respecting democracy (but not why they won’t be submitting themselves to by-elections) but unfortunately their website has crashed. That’s maybe a relief – they may have second thoughts about using the internet as a democracy tool.
There is something revolting about MPs who revolt against their party and then proclaim they are the harbingers of a ‘new politics.’ Most of this lot already had or faced no-confidence motions in their constituencies. They are very definitely representatives of an old politics.
Perhaps I was thinking too rationally when I predicted a day or two ago that there wouldn’t be a breakaway group of Labour MPs. But in these Brexit days, rational political behaviour seems to have been condemned to the margins. So a group of seven (deadly sins?) have jumped ship and will sink without trace. Their main reason seems to be their horror that the Labour leadership has been insufficiently gung-ho about a ‘people’s vote.’ I have never quite understood why this might be a resigning matter. Are they so convinced that a second referendum would back remain? I’m not, even though I think whatever deal – or no deal – is arrived at by the 29th March another vote would be preferable. A decision of this nature deserves it.
The real reason of course why the seven deadly sins broke away is because they can’t stomach Corbyn. I can’t see many party members joining them. And Chukka of course dreamt of leading the party only a couple of years ago. I now have to accept that it is possible two or three more MPs may join them. Their behaviour will naturally give a fillip to Theresa May, although having been once bitten she may be twice shy calling another general election just yet. What is certain is that the action of the seven deadly sins will have done nothing to enhance what it is they say they want. May doesn’t want a second referendum, and Corbyn is unlikely to suddenly develop enthusiasm for it – the departure of these seven will weaken rather than strengthen the case within the PLP. One can only assume the ‘Independent Group’ have cocooned themselves in a self-reflective coating of ego and hubris.
Perhaps, to demonstrate that they are not deluding themselves, they should resign their seats and test their theory in by-elections. By doing that, they could do us all a service by giving us a hint what the public now actually wants.
UPDATE: On that last point, I tried sending them a comment through their website's contact form this evening but it was refused due to 'an internal server error.' I merely asked them if they were frauds, that'a all.
A letter in the latest issue of the London Review of Books deserves wider attention. It is from Edward Luttwak, a writer on military strategy (amongst other things) and a former consultant to various U.S. government agencies working in the security field. He writes that ‘Reagan did not believe in Mutual Assured Destruction. He would not press the button, period, not even if they bombed Washington D.C.’ Instead, according to Luttwak, Reagan misled people into thinking he had no qualms about nuclear warfare, and his rhetoric against the Soviet Union led to the general conviction that he would press the button at the drop of a hat. He nurtured the view that he was the coldest of Cold War warriors.
Clearly this is not an option for Jeremy Corbyn, who would probably not even want an army large enough to form a guard of honour. But if the Luttwak version of Reagan is correct it should be used mercilessly in rebuttal of the accusations that will inevitably re-emerge in the next general election that Corbyn is an outlying eccentric pacifist who would leave the U.K. defenceless. The next time he is asked ‘would you press the button?’ he simply needs to answer ‘no, I’m like Reagan in that regard.’
What are they waiting for? The hard core of anti-Corbynites who have so far failed to dislodge him through fair means and foul are we are told poised to leave the Labour Party and start their own SDP – or whatever it may be called. I can only imagine that they are waiting for the Word. The Word that is, of Tony Blair. But will they get it? Whilst Blair is firmly in the ‘People’s Vote’ camp, he has so far resisted the temptation to renege on the Labour Party. Would he really want to solidify his reputation as some sort of modern day Ramsay MacDonald? Or is he already so far beyond the pale that he wouldn’t care about that? There is still a significant number of party members who, whilst conceding that Iraq was a bad business, nevertheless respect Blair for some of his reforms and his election victories. But I doubt their lingering admiration for him would be enough to entice them to leave the party too, if he became the de facto (if not official) leader of the new centrist party. It’s heart and head stuff, and the heart is heavily tribal.
And what would happen if the renegades took off afresh and Blair remained in the Labour Party? It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the baby would be stillborn without his support, particularly so given the anti-Corbynites’ belief that old Jez hasn’t really got that ‘electoral coalition’ building magic, which they believe Blair certainly had. There is also the problem that some of the potential renegades don’t really fit that camp at all. I can’t see the likes of John Mann leaving the party. His main platform would be whipped away in seconds. His only raison d’etre seems to be as a little piece of grit in the machine, not out of it.
There is a slim chance that some, a tiny handful of renegades feel so strongly about our membership of the E.U. that they would bet their political careers on it, and support May’s deal if that really is the only thing preventing a no deal Brexit. I think this has a real chance of happening, given Corbyn’s reluctance to inflict punishment on those breaking the whip. Getting elected party leader having made breaking the whip worthy of a lifetime achievement award suggests that whatever they do on Brexit, Labour MPs have nothing to fear from Corbyn. In which case, putting aside their personal dislike of him, they have even less reason to bleat on about forming their own little party. So, they would be better off waiting for the next general election which they think Labour will lose, and then try to get one of their own elected leader. Plenty of reasons then why there won’t be a breakaway group (famous last words?).
The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as a collective likes to think of itself as the heart and soul of the party and the keeper of the faith. Not only that, but a collective depository of wisdom culled from the wider membership and indeed borne out of its members’ intimate and immeasurable understanding of public opinion. In my nine years of PLP membership, PLP meetings often felt like a standing conference, where occasional motions would come forward instructing the front bench on policy or demands made to take a different course. Especially at those meetings where Blair or Brown were present, sycophants would be on hand to cheer on some policy that had gone adrift, or drown out criticism of it. Both sides would have a cohort of usual suspects, some more capable of shrieking than others. At crucial moments the room would be jam packed, with many seats filled by the acquiescent, which is to say one should bear in mind that many members of the PLP are there by patronage – Labour peers – usually a reliable source of support for the leadership.
On other occasions, when boring subjects were the focus, there may only have been 30 or so members present. I recall climate change wasn’t a subject that sparked large attendances. So PLP meetings could be very hit and miss affairs, and many members saw attendance as a chore, or didn’t bother going at all except for those meetings when the leader was present. Even then you very rarely saw our future leader, Jeremy in the room. I doubt that he would have disguised his disdain for the PLP when he was a mere backbencher, and I imagine the only thing that will have changed now is that he does have to disguise it.
So it’s hardly surprising that some of its members use the PLP for grandstanding – it’s a sounding board after all. And the media loves it that the PLP can be portrayed as continually in combat with Corbyn, just as they loved it when the Blair/Brown plotting was going on. Now of course there isn’t an obvious alternative leader around whom e.g. the Guardian could cheerlead for, although they would no doubt rally round Yvette Cooper at the drop of a hat if they thought the membership might mistake her for somebody else.
Since Jeremy never imagined he was ever going to lead the Labour Party, he never courted the PLP. I wonder if efforts are now being made to do so. There would be little value to be gained from speaking to his arch critics who simply don’t believe he has a right to lead the party, but I hope his circle don’t go round bad mouthing those PLP members who do actually grasp the bigger picture. There was always a decent sized group of Labour MPs who could stomach all sorts of personal issues with the leader provided they thought their chances of re-election weren’t harmed.
There’s a useful round-up of some of the charges building up against El Trumpo in Counterpunch here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/02/12/will-trump-resign-before-the-2020-election/ It looks to me like the possibility of the creep getting to a second term is looking ever less likely, although the precise means of his defenestration are not yet clear. However, with multiple investigations pending in Congress, the pressure will only mount. So it’s watch out Venezuela – a major foreign distraction is being prepared. As I write the BBC Ten O’clock News is running an interview with President Maduro, or as their reporter described him ‘Venezuela’s other president.’ Interspersed with the interview are scenes of poor people eating food taken from garbage – making the point that Venezuelans are desperately hungry. The pictures rather undermine the storyline – who are these Venezuelans who can afford to throw away food?
So the screws are being turned with more U.S. sanctions on the way and the country’s foreign assets being frozen. I don’t suppose the latter measure is designed to reduce Venezuela’s inflation? If Maduro is genuine in offering talks with the opposition they should take up the offer. In the meantime, Maduro should keep a wary eye on what the serious U.S. press is revealing about El Trumpo’s business affairs. That may set the timetable for an invasion.