I confess to having caught the last five minutes of the leaders’ ‘debate’ on ITV last night. It was quite sufficient to give me a flavour, and it seemed Corbyn did well. Johnson was himself, which is to say full of bluff, etc. Of some interest to me was how Laura Kuenssberg would tell us what had happened on the BBC Ten O’clock News. As ever she framed her answer to Huw Edward’s simple question ’who won’ in the circumlocutions of her usual uninformative babble which passes for intelligible commentary, and of course didn’t answer the question. That would suggest it was an even result, and such a view does no harm to the incumbent when the pressure is on the challenger. I looked on the news feeds on the Microsoft News page and lo and behold a miracle! The immediate judgement of the people, as revealed on ‘Wales Online’ had 53% of people thinking Corbyn was the winner and 38% thinking Johnson won. That’s quite a margin. And only the other day we were being told that the Tories were riding high in Wales. Well, well. Back to you Laura.
Update: according to Skwawkbox, ITV ran a poll garnering 30,000 responses immediately after the show and that suggested 78% thought Corbyn had won. Of course, these people must all have been Labour Party members, so it won’t be reported anywhere else, unlike a YouGov poll which apparently showed Johnson marginally ahead, but it seems was timed before the debate had even started. Weird innit? Some mainstream pundits seem to think Johnson looked more prime ministerial, but have gone along with the line that the debate was a draw. In my book that makes Corbyn look just as prime ministerial as Johnson—but such an obvious conclusion seems to have evaded the likes of e.g. Jonathan Freedland in this morning’s Guardian.
Prince Andrew continues to distract. There is a real desire it has to be said to be distracted these days. I used to be hooked on politics in a way in which I’m not today. Now I’d be quite happy for us to have a one week election campaign. It’s often been said lately that most people have already made up their minds. I can believe it, since I have. But this wasn’t quite true last time round was it? The whole pundit establishment’s nose was put out of joint, and just typical of them, they’re arguing that can’t possibly happen again. We’ll see.
Back to Randy Andy. I have the perfect solution for him. Marry into the Thai royal family. You’ll get away with anything, and anybody found criticising you will get their heads chopped off. They have rules on that. I am prompted to suggest this idea having heard Lord Falconer on the radio tonight saying you should make yourself scarce. I would respectfully hint that it would be best not go out grouse shooting this season with Dad. If his aim is as good as his driving, you’ll be the first to know.
I for one will not be watching the ‘debate’ between Corbyn and Johnson this evening. No, not because Jo Swinson has been kept out of it (oh dear, we’ll be spared a momentary spurt of Swinsonmania) but precisely because Johnson is in it. My dislike for the man puts him on a par with Joseph Goebbels, whose lying really set the tone for post-war PR. Were it not for Goebbels’ association with Nazism, he would be lauded as the father of modern day marketing. Perhaps in some quarters he is. The approach has been refreshed and invigorated by Trump. There was a good article in the Guardian this morning by Peter Oborne—a Tory—wondering why it is the media do not call out Johnson’s bare-faced lies. Is it because the interviewers are too shy? Forgetful? Fellow travellers? All three? Or are they afraid he’s simply going to win, and fear screwing up their sources? Anyway, there’ll be no escaping the ’debate’ in the news later tonight and tomorrow, although if Johnson does badly we can count on Prince Andrew's willy to provide some fresh distraction, no doubt.
Aside from the media’s inability to call out Johnson, there are as ever other aspects of their behaviour which shows the hand of their bias. One is the use of the vox pop report. Here’s an example from Reuters: ‘Crewe and Nantwich constituency, which voted in favor (sic) of leaving the EU in a 2016 referendum, has sometimes been described as a bellwether, and anecdotal evidence suggests some diehard Labour supporters are edging towards the Conservatives,’ (emphasis added) The evidence? Well that comes from 62 year old Mr Jules Wilde, who despite being a life-long Labour voter now says he is in a Brexit mood to vote Conservative. Nobody else is quoted. No evidence of how many other people were approached is given. Speaking from experience as a Labour Party organiser, if someone from the media rings you up for some ‘ordinary’ voter (i.e. a switcher) to speak to, you will always have one up your sleeve. I would be very surprised if the local Labour Party hadn’t got one or two switchers too. I suspect that not many people will necessarily be aware of Reuters slant, although having said that I only looked at their website as a result of it receiving prominence on the search page of Microsoft News, which appears as part of their equivalent Google search page. Their featured stories tend to favour the right-wing view, simply reflecting the print media. The corporate internet in this regard is very much like the BBC.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist (who is?) but isn’t it a bit of a co-incidence that ‘Prince’ Andrew’s ill-advised interview with Emily Maitliss was aired over the same weekend as Boris Johnson’s former lover told the world how badly she had been let down by our philandering Prime Minister? You can always rely on the royal family to provide a distraction when things are looking dodgy for the natural party of power. A royal wedding, birth, spat, whatever—they know the obsessions of the tabloid mindset. As I say, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I would confess to being an ‘unlikely coincidence’ theorist. What will be the outcome of this latest exposé from one of Johnson’s conquests? Nothing, I imagine, after all his name is not Jeremy. The more he looks like a ramshackle, unreliable toff, the more people seem to like him, because he’s a character and there are so few of them about in politics. Apparently, he doesn’t know the names of all his children. There’s something Old Testament about that. As for the errant ‘Prince’ he has nothing to worry about. He can’t be sacked. Perhaps like his younger brother Edward he will be allowed to disappear without trace.
Is it possible that what’s happening to our climate might take our minds off Brexit for a few weeks, as we ponder how to cast our votes in what has been described as a generationally important general election? This general election should be the climate change election. The same should have been said for perhaps the last five general elections, but at every turn of the opinion polls the environment has not been a priority for most politicians or voters. In the mainstream, the environment has been an add-on, a touchy-feely greenwash.
This is not to say good things haven’t happened, even during the blighted period of austerity. The massive growth in the UK offshore wind industry should not be sneezed at. But successes have been matched by failures, such as the Green Deal which was meant to revolutionise domestic home energy efficiency. After that programme collapsed – several years ago – nothing has been attempted to replace it.
If this could be the climate change election, what should we expect? What should we demand? Competing carbon emission budgets, net zero emission dates, green new deals, multi-point plans, the demands of Extinction Rebellion, fiery speeches from Greta Thunberg – where’s the clarity, where’s the essential coherence that should be driving policy commitments at this crucial juncture? Parliament has determined we are in an emergency. But since that symbolic vote, the government has done nothing. It’s not even sought to understand what the word ‘emergency’ means. It could have immediately asked the Climate Change Committee to upgrade its suggestions as to how to tackle the ‘emergency.’ It didn’t.
Given our electoral system, in this election the only party which could change this agenda is Labour, and the evidence so far is that there is unprecedented enthusiasm in the party for a ‘new green deal.’ But to be meaningful in tackling climate change, and to set an example, this deal has to be coherent. Coherence in this context means ensuring that UK climate change policy adequately addresses our global responsibilities, past, present and future. If we act alone, and bear the costs alone, we can expect to hear the Farage siren cry that to help our people tackle floods, we should cut overseas aid. Ironically, a Labour government could be punished for taking on board onerous climate change responsibilities without properly setting them in the global context. In other words, it could be punished for not answering the question why should we do it if no one else is?
Labour’s 30-point plan for a net zero emissions from energy by 2030 is commendable. It is ambitious and if it is carried through will make serious inroads into overall UK carbon emissions. It would be great to think it could be achieved without pain, but there will be widespread cries of anguish as people are asked to give up automatic expectations of simply getting more of what they once had, not least since satisfactory replacements at reasonable cost (e.g. electric cars) probably won’t be delivered quite as quickly as hoped. But that’s only the easy part.
What the empirical evidence now shows is that global temperatures are increasing faster than their correlation with human carbon emissions suggests ought to be the case. In other words, feedback mechanisms, such as artic sea ice melt and methane emissions are taking their toll. Add to that the diminishing rate at which oceans and other carbon sinks are able to absorb carbon, there needs to be a realistic reassessment of the simplistic ‘cutting human carbon emissions solves it all’ agenda.
The section underpinning Labour’s 30-point plan for 2030 only partially addresses this question. The thinking is reminiscent of the political debate which took place over ten years ago, prior to the laudable introduction of the 2008 Climate Change Act. Then the issue was seen as a simple equation between reducing human carbon emissions over a chosen timescale to achieve a chosen result. Now, with serious climate feedback mechanisms at work, the issue has rightly been defined as an emergency, and an increasingly unpredictable one at that. Lengthy timescales for effective carbon emission reductions have to be reduced drastically. In this respect, Labour’s 30 recommendations leading to net zero carbon emissions by 2030 is very welcome. But it still doesn’t go far enough. The 30 recommendations only cover emissions from UK energy use in buildings and transport. There is much else besides.
Professor Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research wrote ‘Almost 50% of global carbon emissions arise from the activities of around 10% of the global population, increasing to 70% of emissions from just 20% of citizens. Impose a limit on the per-capita carbon footprint of the top 10% of global emitters, equivalent to that of an average European citizen, and global emissions could be reduced by one third in a matter of a year or two.’ Richer people (and in global terms that means a great majority of UK residents) use more energy and consume more goods. As yet the consumption of goods in the context of climate change remains an almost taboo subject. With the exceptions of plastic reduction and energy efficiency labelling on some goods, there has been a reluctance to question much that impinges on our consumer culture. Indeed, to question this culture begs questions about our whole economic model, so that’s where the conversation stops for those in power, and for many of those seeking power.
As UK carbon emissions from energy production have declined over the last 30 years, embedded emissions from imports have risen dramatically. Embedded carbon emissions in all the goods we buy from abroad add up to a huge hidden climate change deficit. China is building more coal fired power plants to make the goods that we, amongst the 20% global rich want to consume. To tackle that problem, we need policies which are just as radical as Labour’s 30-point plan for energy. ‘Ambition,’ as the party’s ‘The Green Transformation’ document says should be ‘based on science.’ It goes on ‘That is why the scale and scope of Labour’s environmental policies will be defined, not by political compromise, but by what is necessary to keep temperatures within safe levels.’
Regardless of the science, there will be political compromise. What is necessary in absolute terms won’t garner many votes. But we should see a commitment equivalent to the ’30 steps by 2030’ approach – this time addressing the three r’s – reduce, re-use, re-cycle. Without this component, China will not be stopping building new coal fired power stations anytime soon. So even if we do get to net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2030, it won’t solve the global problem – and we would hardly be in a position to blame China for that.
The problem here is that too many politicians feel they can mollify their electorates with claims that they are working towards meeting the strictures of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Paris does not unfortunately address the problem, although it was nice that just about every country signed up to it. Maybe that’s why they did. As things stand, the agreement is likely to lead to temperature rises well above 1.5 degrees centigrade. Each country can go about its own carbon reductions in the way it chooses, which is a humongous invitation to freeloaders. It comes as no surprise that fossil fuel subsidies have risen every year since 2015.
It seems unlikely, considering our present circumstances that Paris Agreement signatories would be willing to sign up to a more disciplined approach. This throws the spotlight back onto Labour’s plans: why go to all that trouble and potential pain (if we took on board the three r’s as well) when other countries will almost certainly take advantage (think Trump, Bolsanaro)? If we are to go down the road to net zero by 2030, we have to use the political capital gained wisely. We need to show that our approach is not only science based but in a measurable way delivers the third principle in ‘The Green Transformation.’ It says ‘Interventions will advance our Labour values - justice, equality, solidarity, and democracy – both at home and abroad.’
This should mean our sacrifices will not be wasted on the shaky foundations of the Paris Agreement, but will lead eventually to a distribution of responsibility based on science and equity. If the science says we have to achieve global zero carbon emissions by whatever year, then it is an inescapable fact that global per capita emissions will have to converge on zero by that date. This well-established principle of contracting and converging emissions should be an explicit international goal of the next Labour government. Our reward for taking action reflecting the emergency has to be more than a warm glow of leadership. It must be the basis of a new international, uncompromising and binding agreement. It is the complete answer to all who would ask ‘Why should we bother when no-one else is?’
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, interviewed on the Today programme this morning sounded a bit rattled by the repeated question ’Will Corbyn use the bomb?’ Her attempts at evasion gave the game away. Jeremy is, at heart a bit of a pacifist and no doubt the BBC research was correct in finding that he hadn’t supported a single British military intervention since being elected to parliament. Of course, it will only be a matter of time before it is pointed out that he ‘supported the IRA,’ which whether true or not kicks the ‘Jeremy is a pacifist’ argument into touch.
But on the bomb issue, if I had been in Thornberry’s shoes I would have thrown the question back—because the question is in what circumstances would you expect our PM to press the self-destruct button? For example, could it be done without US permission—Trident is their missile system after all? Is it at all conceivable that Britain would launch its nuclear warheads without the US already doing so? And would this be a pre-emptive or responsive attack? I know the theory of mutually assured destruction is meant to rely on the perception of our willingness to use nuclear weapons, and we’re still trapped for the time being in the shadow of that. But recent developments suggest the bar for nuclear war could be lowered, not least with Trump reneging on practically any deal that contains the word ‘nuclear.’
In this game, our ‘deterrence’ is irrelevant, and I regret and always have regretted that the Labour Party has stuck with it. Much of this I suspect is the fear of what right-wing tabloids have to say about unilateral disarmament, memories of 1987 general election Tory posters depicting Labour as unpatriotic, the dent to national pride if we rid ourselves of the bomb whilst France retains hers and of course the threat to our all-important permanent seat on the UN Security Council (which we’ll likely lose anyway post-Brexit).
We might ask why if there are so many good reasons for having the bomb Germany shouldn’t also possess this wonder tool? Why aren’t Germans demanding it as their human right, notwithstanding the Non-Proliferation Treaty? A savvy German Chancellor after Merkel could sidle up to Trump and tell him the NPT needs to go as well. We’re paying through the nose for this technology, so surely there’s an argument for a global trade in it, a fresh market for neo-liberalism perhaps? It’s not as if the NPT has stopped proliferation. It was the Americans who got the Israeli nuclear capacity on the go after all, albeit served under the counter. And a nuclear winter might put a stop to global warming, isn’t that so Dr Strangelove?
‘Mainstream. The Campaign Against Extremism.’ That sounds like a worthy cause. Hands up who’s in favour of extremism? I was prompted to look at the website of this new crusade (wrong word: crusades were terribly extreme) after its chair, the ex-Labour MP Ian Austin called for a vote for Boris Johnson. Who else is backing Mainstream? As comic actor Terry Thomas might have said, ‘an utter shaaarr.’ (Younger readers: he meant an utter shower.) This group of self-appointed defenders of decency in politics includes Tory Eric Pickles, one of the key architects of austerity. Looking at the various shameful stories that one finds on the web relating to this odious man, one is spoilt for choice, so I’m stumped. I’ll just have to leave that one there. Another supporter is Rachel Riley, of whom I knew nothing until now. She is a B-list TV celebrity. She holds some profound views on decency in society—dealt with in a lengthy, forensic article ‘Enough is Enough: Rachel Riley, GnasherJew, and the Political Weaponisation of Antisemitism.’ Not a pretty picture, it has to be said. It is worth looking at not least since it has a video clip of a former Israeli government minister admitting that it was their policy to weaponise anti-Semitism against any who dared criticise their policies.
Maureen Lipman is another Corbyn hater, but unlike some of her Mainstream colleagues she left the Labour Party in 2014 when its first Jewish leader Ed Miliband expressed support for Palestine. Apparently she doesn’t believe Palestine should achieve statehood. There are three other Labour MP defectors, and a former Labour MP, Michael McCann who is now director of the ‘Israel-Britain Alliance.’ Summing up his support for Mainstream, former MP Ivan Lewis said “When the history books are written about politics in 2019, there will be a shining light standing out amongst the darkness – Mainstream. I am proud to join a cause bringing civility and decency back into the political discourse.” What a laugh. Here’s a piece from the New Statesman about Mainstream’s chair, Ian Austin:
“Extraordinary scenes in the division lobby before the parliamentary recess when Labour’s combustible Ian Austin exploded in the summer heat. Witnesses allegedly heard and then saw the MP swearing loudly at party chair Ian Lavery, screaming that he was a “fucking bastard” and “wanker”. Onlookers report Austin didn’t make a political point as he went nose-to-nose to shout expletives at the granite-faced former miner but surmise it was another offensive in the anti-Semitism row. The outburst was observed by Labour chief whip Nick Brown, who moments earlier was told he should resign by the Dudley rampager.” (25th July 2018)
One wonders why if such language is ‘civil’ and ‘decent’ and is a hallmark of Mainstream, Margaret Hodge hasn’t yet joined.
As one might expect, there is no clue on Mainstream’s website as to how they are funded. It could be just another ‘astroturf’ style outfit designed to fool. I suspect it won’t last very long, since most of its key supporters will be quickly forgotten. And despite its mission statement declaring that they will call out extremism from wherever it comes, their only activity to date is to attack Labour’s leadership. I rather suspect ‘Lord’ Eric Pickles won’t be prodding Mainstream to investigate anti-Semitism or indeed Islamaphobia in Tory ranks.
The grand-sounding 'Israel-Britain Alliance' has cropped up in this blog. This is a professed lobbying organisation with a strong anti-Palestine bent (as you would expect). It appears to claim one or two successes on that front, e.g. by getting the UK government to cut overseas aid funding to the Palestinian Authority. But as with Mainstream, its funding is a mystery. It is a registered company, and its balance sheet as at the end of November last year showed creditors of £24,521 but no clue as to who they were. There is only one director, Mr McCann himself. Despite the declared lobbying purpose of this outfit, it is not registered with the UK Lobbying Register (UKLR) The UKLR ‘is open, universal and free. Increased scrutiny from parliament and the public mean the requirement for lobbyists to act transparently has never been greater. Signing up to the UKLR proves to your clients, colleagues and the public that you’re serious about transparency and meeting standards of ethical conduct.’ (UKLR website) The absence of the 'Israel-Britain Alliance' on the register kind of sums it all up really. Perhaps it’s time for Al Jazeera to do a follow-up report on their exposé of the Israeli government’s thought police.
Only four days in and the general election is already outstaying its welcome. We’ve had rants from two ex-Labour MPs, standing in front of an advert claiming to be ‘Mainstream’ that people should vote for Boris Johnson—perhaps like John Mann they’re hoping to be rewarded with Tory peerages; we’ve had Margaret Hodge doing her usual anti-Corbyn blather, and Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian today rehashing his usual handwringing commentary about Corbyn’s supposed anti-Semitism: he doesn’t seem able to grasp reality (and does he really get paid every time he writes the same stuff over and over again?). Then there was a story about a Labour MP singing the Beatles song Hey Jude—but supplanting Jews for Jude. Why on earth would he do that (he's vehemently denied the accusation)? And why would the Huffington Post reveal this story 20 months after it allegedly happened? (Clue: I looked at their website today and they’re running a poll on whether Labour can ever be a centrist party under Corbyn.) But I did get some amusement from the HuffPost from an ad (see below). A rather critical error for such a service, I thought.
At least there are more websites claiming to ‘fact check’ claims made by political parties (and others). Buzzfeed’s fact checking service seems to have a disproportionate number of falsehoods perpetrated by the LibDems, not least their leaflets which misrepresent with graphs how this or that seat is a ‘two-horse race.’ Defending this practice on Sky News Jo Swinson gave one of her smug, top class disingenuous performances—boiling down to ‘we can say what we like because we’re LibDems.’ She is going to be one of the more irritating features of the next five weeks.
Last night’s BBC4 programme A British Guide To The End Of The World revealed the intense stupidity and indeed callousness of the British government at the time in the Cold War that we were living in fear of a Russian invasion followed by a nuclear holocaust. Those of a certain age will remember the largely pointless, but possibly comforting advice given in the official booklet Protect and Survive—a false promise if ever there was one. But we also heard the testimony of survivors of the Christmas Island nuclear tests back in 1957/8. The important revelation here was that the enlisted men (some conscripted doing National Service no doubt) were deliberately exposed to the nuclear explosions in order to test their physical reactions. This much was confirmed in an accidentally released MoD document. The impacts on the men did not immediately appear, and so a long battle ensued to try to prove the connection between e.g. a later cancer and the tests. That’s the sort of battle where the government hopes by means of delay and obfuscation that the victims will simply die and their cases with them.
I think the callous attitude of the military establishment to its ‘other ranks’ continued for a long time. Perhaps it still does. There could be another forgotten group of service men and women who deserve attention, that is those who took part in chemical and biological war tests at Porton Down. Back in the seventies (I was serving in the RAF at the time) circulars would come round inviting volunteers to go to Porton Down for the innocent purpose of helping 'to find a cure for the common cold'—as if that was a prime mission of a top secret military establishment. The invitation came with the inducement of something like an extra £10 a week. Having seen photographs (during our basic training) of what CBW agents do to the body, and wondering whether these were pictures of imitation effects or the real thing, I think it is safe to say they were the real thing. Just as when we were ordered, wearing gas masks to enter a windowless concrete building in the middle of the airfield where there was then a CS gas canister released. Our test was to see how long we could stay in the room after being told to remove our masks. Not very long in my case. The effect on a bloke who had some sort of respiratory issue was worse—but nobody asked any questions about that sort of thing beforehand.
These tests and experiments on unknowing and innocent people are not at the same level of callous and inhumane behaviour as practiced on victims in the Nazi death camps, but I don’t think it’s stretching a point to say it is only a matter of degree. So when I read stories of various experiments carried out by e.g. the CIA, I am inclined to believe them. I have mentioned in a previous blog about how Lyme’s disease may have emerged out of CIA trials. But there is always the cover up. It was interesting to hear that the troops sent to Christmas Island were asked to sign the Official Secrets Act prior to the event. This strikes me as a bit unusual, since I assume they had already signed the Act when they signed up—and it’s meant to cover you for life. So the cover-up preparations began even before the event.
Another candidate for the prestigious* parliamentary constituency of Scarborough and Whitby has been announced, this one from the Yorkshire Party. His name is Lee Derrick, and he is a member of Whitby Town Council, so he is local. But he has a global ambition, as his company, Blue Spinach explains: ‘For ten years we have provided the global golfer with memorable travel experiences throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. Over the last five years, we have also been working successfully in Mexico and South Africa which have grown in popularity for those seeking unique golfing experiences further afield. As a company we consider ourselves forward thinking and are always open to new opportunities, consequently, we will strive to deliver unique, innovative and inspirational destinations. Planned for the near future are exciting destinations such as the Dominican Republic, India, Thailand, and Vietnam.’
Now who could possibly raise concerns about the desire of the global golfer to seek out the 19th hole of some elite Vietnamese golf club? This surely is an activity that should be encouraged. But perhaps not. If you look at the Yorkshire Party’s website, you will see that they consider themselves very eco-friendly and support tough action on climate change. Boosting your air miles merely to play golf on the other side of the world seems hard to reconcile with that. But hey! It cannot be any worse than going on holiday for any other activity, can it? I am just being anti-golfist. And I have flown on holiday myself, so let’s not get all precious about it.
The Yorkshire Party has grand ambitions for God’s County. They want a devolved assembly with full-on subsidiarity. I wouldn’t object to that. But by definition, their plans could only succeed if the UK government was minded to approve them. The Yorkshire Party does not elucidate on how it could achieve that, nor which other party or parties they believe they could work with. Another lost deposit and perhaps a few balls in the rough for the Yorkshire Party on December 12th, I suspect.
*We are home after all to the Manor of Northstead, the Stewardship of which permits an MP to legally resign from the House of Commons. The current (very recent) Steward is John Bercow. Previous Stewards include David Cameron and Peter Mandelson. But they never seem to pay us a visit.