Sunday, 24 July 2016

We need to talk about Jeremy


The NHS should be a gift for Labour right about now. The opposition should be scoring points left, right and centre given the sorry state of the NHS at the moment. Jeremy Hunt is still the Health Secretary, clinging to the post like an incompetent, gurning barnacle, there is no end in sight to the junior doctors' dispute, and the little-reported Sustainable Transformation Plans threaten the future of hospitals across the land.

So naturally, in his first question time facing the new Prime Minister this week, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn didn't mention any of these things and opened the session with a question about the Orgreave Inquiry. Don't get me wrong - the events of 1984 involving a violent confrontation between miners and South Yorkshire police deserve scrutiny and bereaved families deserve justice and closure - but as far as opening gambits go on one of the most-watched sessions of Prime Minister's questions for 2016, it was not ever going to dominate the headlines. That is the harsh reality of modern politics. Dominate the news cycle or die. It's a shame Seamus Milne does not seem to understand this.

Theresa May didn't really give a straight answer to any of the questions anyone asked her but she didn't really have to. She just did an obviously rehearsed Diet Coke Thatcher routine and got away with it. Corbyn could have kicked off with an excoriating NHS question but he didn't. Instead, Labour MP Jamie Reed and Liberal-Democrat leader Tim Farron were the only members to mention the NHS. Reed invited Theresa May to visit a hospital in his constituency.

Corbyn - and his Labour leadership challenger, Owen Smith - are saying the same NHS soundbites that every NHS defender wants to hear. That it should be publicly funded, publicly run and free at the point of use (although this caveat leads to multiple interpretations on how the services should be provided and by whom). And it is only right that over the course of the Labour leadership campaign, both Corbyn and Smith are vigorously questioned on NHS policy and how it will be funded. Of course, if a journalist dares ask Corbyn a hard question on pretty much anything, the Corbynistas come out, pitchforks aloft, crying: "MAINSTREAM MEDIA BIAS! BLAIRITE MEDIA! RED TORY JOURNALISTS!". And then daft e-petitions do the rounds demanding journalists be sacked and that nobody rest until the BBC morphs into Pravda.

It's pathetic and it demeans democracy.

Owen Smith has been called out because he used to work for pharmaceutical company, Pfizer. And, if he is a potential future Prime Minister, he should expect his entire CV to be scrutinised with the same forensic brutality Andrea Leadsom was subject to before she stepped aside for Theresa May.

But the understandable desire to criticise Smith's previous employment turned into something utterly ridiculous under Corbyn's leadership this week. The desperation to slag off Smith and, as a bonus, big pharma, led to pitiful back-of-a-fag-packet policy formed on the hoof.

Jeremy Corbyn said: "I hope Owen will fully agree with me that our NHS should be free at the point of use, should be run by publicly employed workers working for the NHS not for private contractors, and medical research shouldn't be farmed out to big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and others but should be funded through the Medical Research Council".

Not only did Corbyn fail to make it clear exactly who is "farming out" research to pharmaceutical companies, but he clearly advocated full nationalisation of all medical research. How else could this statement be interpreted?

This morning on Marr on the BBC, shadow chancellor John McDonnell was asked about this statement. He insisted that Corbyn was "misrepresented". McDonnell said medical research needs to be "better managed and more effective" and that we should be "increasing our resources". Fine. Fair enough. That all sounds great but one would expect the shadow chancellor to be able to explain how this would be funded.

Last year, the Medical Research Council spent £506 million on research grants. It's one of those figures that sounds like a lot of money to most of us because it's a figure we'll probably never see when we pull a mini statement out of an ATM. But Pfizer spent £4.8 billion. One company alone had a research budget to dwarf that of the MRC. If Corbyn and McDonnell are serious about implementing such a policy if they ever manage to take hold of the levers of power, they had better explain how it will be funded. That is their job as an alternative government, to explain how they would alternatively govern.

On the BBC, Andrew Marr pointed out that the policy of cutting back tax breaks on research for pharmaceutical companies would only save around £200 million per year. McDonnell floundered again, saying Corbyn was not about taking money away from companies but he was about "managing it more effectively so it's better used". Marr went on to add that the MRC has a budget of less than a billion pounds per year and that it costs more than that to bring one single drug to market.

Naturally, Twitter exploded with frothing Corbynistas fulminating on "BBC right wing bias". No. It was merely a case of Andrew Marr doing his damn job. We still have no idea how the Labour Party would pay for all this medical research if the MRC was to take over. When medical research is currently under a large, Brexit-shaped cloud, the policy Corbyn announced is reckless, irresponsible and unaffordable.

There is plenty wrong with private sector involvement in the NHS as it stands at the moment, as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In my area alone, Croydon University Hospital's urgent care facilities are being run into the ground by Virgin Care and led to an unnecessary death, G4S still has the patient transport contract for St Helier Hospital despite killing an amputee who was not properly secured, and I have been unable to get a straight answer from the Epsom-St Helier Trust as to whether there is any link between an alarming spike in MRSA infections and hospital cleaning being farmed out to a private company.

But the NHS will still have to procure things. Many, many things. It is unrealistic to nationalise production of every single thing the NHS needs to function, from bed linen to brain scanners. They need to be bought from companies and the NHS has a responsibility to taxpayers to use its enormous purchasing power effectively.

Hell, why didn't Corbyn mention the NHS Reinstatement Bill in question time this week? After all, he is one of the supporters of the bill but how many people out there have actually heard of it?

On top of all this, Jeremy Corbyn has, like Jeremy Hunt, indicated he would support NHS-funded homeopathy. The two Jeremys would like to see our taxes fund non-evidence based bunkum. So that's awkward.

You'll have to forgive me if I'm not exactly confident that a Corbyn government would effectively run the NHS. But what would I know? I'm just a red Tory scum journo...









Image by DonkeyHotey

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The death of Ataturk's vision




Ataturk's brilliant post WWI vision of a democratic, secular Turkey is in tatters today.

We went to bed on Friday night in the UK as a coup attempt by sections of the Turkish military was underway. Amid the chaos, there was an element of high farce as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a big fan of censorship and shutting down social media, was trying to speak to the nation on TV via Facetime, until the call dropped out. There were claims he was seeking asylum in Germany but Angela Merkel wouldn't have it. 

And, most hypocritically of all, Erdogan was calling for his supporters to take to the streets. Late at night. During a military coup. This is the same man who responds to people publicly protesting against his awful government with tear gas and rubber bullets. 

But he was more than happy to let his fans loose on the streets on Friday night. According to Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, 265 people were killed in the coup attempt, including civilians.

Boris Johnson, our new Foreign Secretary (yes, I know...), said he spoke to his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu to express support for the country's "democratically elected government and instititions".

However, there is evidence that the November 2015 elections were affected by fraud. These are the elections which President Erdogan's AKP Party won after losing an election in June 2015 and forcing a caretaker government rather than forming a coalition. He is a man who does not want to relinquish his grip on power. The Washington Post used an electronic electoral forensics toolkit to conclude that the results were most likely not above board. It could well be that, amazingly, voters in Istanbul cast 1.66 votes each as an email was leaked that appeared to show 10,316,871 voters cast 17,104,607. And then the official election results website went out of service. Incredible!

In any case, it is just another example of how democracy should not simply start and end at the ballot box. Gloating Brexiters telling Remainers to get over it, take note. 

As well as police routinely opening fire and tear-gassing anti-government protests in Turkey, internet censorship laws were passed in 2007 and amended in 2014 to broaden the scope of government blocking and to make it easier for the authorities to access data without a warrant, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were temporarily blocked in April 2015 until they complied with severe restrictions, social media was blocked during the coup attempt, dozens of Turkish citizens have faced charges for criticising the government online, the Homeland Security Act 2015 increased the amount of time for which investigators can conduct wire taps and similar operations without a court order from 24 to 48 hours, and Turkey currently sits at a dismal 151 on the World Press Freedom Index out of 180 countries, dropping two places from last year.

It should come as no great surprise to anyone who has been observing Turkish politics for any extended period of time that a coup attempt happened over the weekend. The methods employed by the coup leaders will be debated for years to come but there are plenty of people in Turkey who may not be a fan of the methods yet they still agree with the stated aims of returning their beloved country to a proper, functional secular democracy.

We will never know if the coup leaders would have paved the way for a return to Ataturk's vision but we do know that dark days lie ahead for Turkey. Six thousand people have been arrested. There is serious talk of a return to capital punishment. It is a barbaric slippery slope to say it will be reintroduced simply for coup leaders. Does anyone trust Erdogan not to reintroduce it on a wider scale? For dissenters or journalists perhaps? They've already jailed two prominent journalists this year in outrageous circumstances.

Are we witnessing the birth of Erdogan's Islamist dictatorship?

None of this will help Turkey's bid to join the EU. Anyone who scaremongered about Turkey during the referendum campaign should feel pretty stupid today, although these people seem to be impossible to embarrass. And Turkey's role in the refugee crisis is now up in the air and this could have tragic consequences. The only positive would be for this to force the EU to work together properly on constructive solutions instead of member states taking simplistic, hardline approaches usually in a bid to appease rising far right groups across the continent.

It is a mess and, because of Turkey's fulcrum-like geographical location, it is a mess that will not be contained within its borders.





Photo by Faruk/Flickr

The Rant Mistress takes a stroll along Theresa May's new cabinet


It's like taking a walk along a buffet at a cheap, all-inclusive resort. Some things look like they might be OK but you won't be sure until you take a bite. Some things are instantly repulsive. And some things seem downright weird. I refer of course to the buffet of astonishment that is Theresa May's post-referendum cabinet. Let's take a look at a few of the big appointments, shall we? Forks at the ready.

Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary: Theresa May is trolling Boris. She knows he doesn't want this job as he will have to look Europe squarely in the eye after spending the last few months talking absolute nonsense about the EU and convincing way more people than he ever expected to vote to leave. Did you see him as he walked out of 10 Downing Street after being told he got the job? He looked like a man who'd bitten into a cream bun only to find a lump of coal inside.

Boris is going to have to be diplomatic and not answer questions with a "What ho! How about a nice game of wiff-waff?" or a collection of swallow-the-dictionary words that don't necessarily have to make sense or be relevant. So far, he has managed not to soil himself on camera in response to the Nice terror attack and the Turkish coup attempt but only time will tell if he has the self-control to do this job for any extended period of time without being sacked or forced to resign in disgrace.

He will be forced to look squarely in the eye at the mess his shabby, simple-minded Brexit campaigning has caused.

As Foreign Secretary, he will not be able to be a naughty schoolboy troublemaker plotting away on the backbench. Of course, he may well do something to cause Britain to die of embarrassment but clearly this is a risk May thought worth taking.

Phillip Hammond, Chancellor: He has a reputation as a "safe pair of hands" and a grown-up. He didn't disgrace himself as Foreign Secretary. His appointment is no surprise. He was pro-remain and he has indicated that now is the time to scale back austerity and he is keen to work closely with Mark Carney, the excellent pro-remain Bank of England governor. This will all help him cement his reputation as a sane and sensible choice for the job. Like George Osborne before him, there is a cloud over his tax affairs. This will not be enough to cost him his job. Plus รงa change.

Whether he will find enough money to make up for the many shortfalls that will happen as a result of lost EU funding, a flatlining pound and a shrunken economy where the appetite for investment has faded with post-referendum uncertainty remains to be seen.

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary: She comes across well on television, she was another pro-remain MP and she seems happy enough to have been handed the poisoned chalice that is the Home Secretary job. No matter what you do on the thorny issue of immigration in this job, regardless of where your seat is in the House of Commons, you will either piss off the left or the right and sometimes both at the same time.

Her record as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change was mixed. She was strong on moving towards shutting down coal-fired power stations but she misled Parliament on meeting renewable energy targets. She was correct in moving towards policy that does not rely on state subsidies - this is how the US is doing better than most people realise in terms of using renewable energy - but anyone in this role is going to have to deal with simpletons who are offended by wind turbines.

Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary: Everyone was convinced that this car crash of a man was going to lose his job in the reshuffle. Hell, I think even Hunt thought he'd get the punt because he wasn't humiliating himself by wearing his ubiquitous NHS badge when he walked into Number 10. But, lo and behold, after every NHS campaigner in the country was temporarily excited by rumours that he was going to be sacked spread like wildfire, the failed marmalade mogul emerged still in the same bloody job.

It would have been a golden opportunity for Theresa May to appoint a fresh face to the job, especially as this could have been a clean slate for the ongoing fiasco that is the junior doctors contract negotiations, not to mention the bursary cuts for nursing students. But Hunt remains in place like an incompetent barnacle. There are rumours that others were offered the job but didn't want it. Health, like the Home Secretary job, has become a poisoned chalice for the Tories. Nobody wants to deal with junior doctors, angry nursing students or have the balls to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012 so the NHS stops wasting billions administering a corrupt marketised system or tackle the escalating costs of PFI head-on. Health has officially been consigned to the too-hard basket for this government and that is not good news for anyone.

Justine Greening, Education Secretary: Surely, she can't be any worse than Nicky Morgan, can she? While junior doctors will still have to deal with Jeremy Hunt, furious, demoralised teachers may have a chance to develop a healthier working relationship with the government.

Greening was pretty good in the challenging role of International Development Secretary, and she didn't set the world on fire with her brilliance or disgrace herself either when she was interviewed by Andrew Marr this morning. This is a case of wait-and-see.

David Davis, Secretary for Exiting the EU: Like giving Boris the Foreign Secretary gig, this is another of May's attempts to make a Brexiter clean up the mess they made. Today, Davis has already demonstrated he is too stupid for the job. He told Sky News that there may have to be a cut-off point if there is a "surge" in new arrivals from the EU before Article 50 is triggered. Except that until Article 50 is triggered, we are still in the EU and freedom of movement still applies. As a bonus, plenty of Brexiters support freedom of movement as a condition of our new relationship with the EU. So either way, there could be no difference at all in numbers of EU citizens moving to the UK.

Theresa May was criticised by Andrea Leadsom before she bowed out of the Conservative Party leadership contest after proving she was too stupid to be the Prime Minister for using EU citizens as a "bargaining chip" in negotiations. But here's the thing, Andrea. Freedom of movement will have to be a point of discussion in negotiations. To call it a "bargaining chip" is just a pathetic attempt to use semantics to try and appear clever. It failed. And speaking of failure...

Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary: And yet another surprisingly Machiavellian attempt by May to embarrass a Brexiter... In this role, Andrea Leadsom, who has already proved to have the intellectual rigour of a jellyfish, will have to face the wrath of Britain's farmers. It is going to be a hoot to watch her try and explain how it'll be OK without around £2.4 billion to £3 billion from the EU each year or what will happen if land prices crash, farmers go out of business and can't sell their properties. But don't worry, I'm sure she'll be great in this job because she is a mother.

Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary: Behold! The most useless man in British politics right now. We can't really do much in terms of trade deals while we're in this post-referendum limbo. And if Theresa May releases the hounds of Article 50, he will then have two years to try and stitch together trade deals with at least 35 countries currently in agreements with the EU. He does know how long trade deals take, right? If not, he is soon going to find out the sheer enormity of this task. Another Brexiter put in their place by May.

Priti Patel, International Development Secretary: Good Lord. The woman is an idiot and a nasty one at that. She is now in charge of a department she wants to abolish, she would support a return to capital punishment and she is on the record as saying that foreign aid should support British business interests.

While it is naive to think that foreign aid is not used to help smooth the wheels of commerce when developing countries start to prosper, it is also important to remember the scandals that this mentality has created. The Pergau Dam scandal, which had its roots in 1988 under Margaret Thatcher meant hundreds of pounds of British aid was spent on a white elephant dam project in Malaysia in exchange for a major arms deal. In 1994, the aid project was deemed unlawful by the high court. If Priti Patel oversees a similar scandal, I would not be at all surprised. This is a terrible appointment.

It could be that May wants the Brexiters to see what an economically illiterate experiment they have created by giving them prominent, EU-facing jobs. It may take further economic strife for leading Brexiters to see what a ridiculous idea voting to leave was and this would pave the way for them to be the ones forced to come out and tell the British public that they're now all about remaining in the EU. This would then pave the way for May to use parliamentary sovereignty to not pull the Article 50 lever. Hey presto, we are still in the EU and, ironically, it would be a fine use of parliamentary sovereignty, that very thing Brexiters have been banging on about for months, even those who probably never used the word "sovereignty" before the Daily Mail told them to. This would be a big gamble on the part of May and she would have to be prepared to sit back as job losses happen on her watch, but they will happen in areas that voted heavily to leave. Some dark economic times may be the shock required to stop those who voted leave from deluding themselves.

But despite a few surprises, it is pretty much business as usual for the government. . Theresa May has had a purge with the likes of Michael Gove sent scuttling to the back benches while doing a good impersonation of magnanimity by giving Brexiters jobs, even though they're jobs designed to maximise their workload and their humiliation. We will probably see more schools forced to become academies, the NHS funding crisis will go unsolved and all this against a backdrop of post-referendum uncertainty.

We still have a Conservative government in place and this seems likely until at least 2020, even if an early election is called. If only we had something resembling a credible opposition, eh?







Image by rebloggy.com

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Please quit telling me what a feminist victory looks like


Women of Britain! The middle-aged men have spoken! They have descended into my notifications and those of other women on Twitter to tell us that the Theresa May-Andrea Leadsom Conservative Party leadership challenge is a feminist victory. Phew. We can all relax. Thank you, men of Twitter!

Sure, the Tories have managed to ensure that our next Prime Minister will be a woman without setting quotas, lists or targets - although the male competition was not so much an embarrassment of riches as an embarrassment of embarrassments. Behold! Stepping up to the plate and then falling down a deep, ridiculous hole of his own creation was walking disaster area, Michael Gove. He and his wife, Sarah Vine, failed in their attempt to be the Macbeths. Instead, they were more like the Magrubers. And then there was Stephen Crabb, best known for believing you can pray away the gay until a WhatsApp sexting scandal broke alongside the already-notorious front page story in The Times on Andrea Leadsom's ongoing fetishisation of her own ability to make babies.

And once again, the men come out and tell us what to think about the Mum-knows-best brouhaha. Oh, and Louise Mensch who is naturally supporting a fellow incompetent by hitching herself to the Leadsom bandwagon.

"Being a mother gives me an edge on May - Leadsom" was the headline across the front of The Times. Leadsom was furious. She demanded the transcript of the interview be released. And then she demanded the audio was released. The Times duly released everything. It turned out that the article quoted her accurately. At best, she could complain that the headline maybe over-egged the pudding just a little but that is the job of the newspaper sub-editor, to encapsulate the essence of the story in a line that will draw in readers.

After the event, Leadsom is pouting that her passive-aggressively unpleasant words about Theresa May's childlessness should not have been the focus of the story. Bad luck, Andrea. You're the one who constantly mentions the fact that you're a mother as if it's an indisputable qualification for high office. Indeed, if anyone was playing drinking games during the last referendum debate, knocking back a shot every time Leadsom mentioned her own motherhood would be a one-way ticket to a thunderous hangover.

If you put yourself out there as a public figure and you make your personal choices public, you should expect scrutiny. It has also emerged that Andrea Leadsom had a nanny while she was raising her kids. I had the temerity to tweet that this means her call for small businesses to be exempt from paying women maternity pay was an example of "privileged ignorance".

Within minutes a couple of men decided to pounce on me. Hi guys! Nice of you to say hello! Charles Crawford, a right-wing former diplomat, passively retweeted me and one of his acolytes decided to respond by saying according to my logic, we may as well sack all the nannies and render them unemployed. That logic is on par with saying that if we let barbers cut our hair, the next thing we know, they'll be whipping out axes and beheading us.

Plenty of women use nannies and plenty of women make sacrifices to afford nannies so they can effectively combine work and motherhood. In the case of Andrea Leadsom, she was able to continue whatever the hell she was doing in her career in the City and as a politician, aided by her ability to afford a nanny. Good for her. Nobody should begrudge her that. She can raise her kids however she likes. But for the women struggling to earn a living working in small companies, the added burden of not being entitled to maternity pay renders them less economically active, can drive them into poverty and lead to them returning to work before they're ready just to be able to pay the bills. Did Andrea Leadsom ever give these women a second thought?

As for Theresa May, she is the least worst option, although that is damning with faint praise. She has only a slightly better track record on LGBT rights as an MP, although she was very smart to mention that she voted in support of marriage equality in her speech announcing her candidacy for the Conservative Party leadership. This instantly separates her from Leadsom's God-obsessed objection to gay people getting married. She also cannily hinted at dialling back on her urge to restrict human rights legislation. As Home Secretary, a poisoned chalice portfolio regardless of what party is in power, her work in the deportation of Abu Qatada was exemplary - she was able to demonstrate that that due process applies to everyone, even hatemongers, which is important if you are at all concerned about human rights.

And she is certainly smarter and more dignified than Andrea Leadsom. It was absurd that she felt the need to tell the Daily Mail in an interview that she and her husband could not have children and this was a source of sadness for them. Male politicians are never asked these sort of questions, but May handled it well and moved on. She has not turned this weekend's outcry over The Times' story into a woman-versus-woman slanging match even though it would be like shooting fish in a barrel to use it for political capital.

But as long as female politicians are asked about the contents of their uterus, and as long as female politicians themselves decide to make "I'm a mother, doncha know?" a central pillar of their campaigns, any victory for women in politics and public life feels decidedly Pyrrhic.

From a very basic "you cannot be what you cannot see" standpoint, it is good for girls and young women to see that being a woman is no barrier to being the Prime Minister but is that really enough?

In any case, no matter whether the next PM is Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom, we will still have an austerity-loving Conservative government in place and these policies tend to disproportionately affect women. But please, middle-aged men of the British right, do keep telling us what a huge feminist win this is. We need your penis-powered guidance and wisdom. It's much easier than talking about anyone's policies.



Saturday, 2 July 2016

In which the Rant Mistress admits she made some terrible predictions...



In my last blog post, I recklessly made some predictions that expired like a pint of milk in the sun. In some cases, these predictions turned to crap in less than 24 hours. We have just witnessed one of the weirder weeks in British politics, a week where one could quite literally go to the toilet and return to find that something else had happened to dominate the news cycle, at least for an hour or so.

In the interests of accountability - something that appears to be anathema to our elected representatives - let me go over the predictions I made when I blogged six days ago.

1. I predicted that Boris Johnson would win the Conservative Party leadership race over Theresa May.

Hey, at least I was half-right. Theresa May is still in the running and I think she will be our next Prime Minister. Stephen Crabb, a man who believes you can pray away the gay and did not vote for marriage equality, has no business being the Prime Minister. Andrea Leadsom shouted a lot in the pre-referendum debate that, depressingly, clinched it for Vote Leave, largely thanks to Johnson's disingenuous "Independence Day" speech, but she does not command the same respect within the Conservative Party that May does.

Love her or loathe her, Theresa May's speech about why she should be the next Prime Minister was pitch-perfect. She was reasonable, she was calm, she dialled back on her awful record on human rights, she reminded people that she voted for marriage equality, she came across as competent, and she had a perfectly fair dig at Boris Johnson over his moronic purchase of secondhand German water cannon.

What I sure as hell didn't see coming, along with the rest of the country, was Michael Gove and his wife, Sarah Vine, outing themselves as Poundland Machiavellians.

Sarah Vine supposedly accidentally sent an email to a member of the public in which she is advising Gove on strategy in the leadership race. I am entirely unconvinced that this was an accident. It's a weird email fail, to accidentally send that particular email to a member of the public. It's not the same as the accidental "reply-all" when a hapless office employee inadvertently declares true love for a colleague to the entire company or lets the whole team know about an embarrassing medical appointment. Why was that email "accidentally" sent to the public and not some boring "don't forget to feed the cat" message? I am wearing my unconvinced face.

In any case, it meant we won't have Prime Minister Johnson any time soon. He is probably relieved. He wanted all the power and glory of being PM but none of the responsibility of leading post-referendum negotiations with the EU.

2. I predicted that Jeremy Corbyn is toast as leader of the Labour Party and Dan Jarvis will be the new leader.

Jeremy Corbyn is still the leader of the Labour Party, weathering storms this week that would probably bring down other party leaders. Dan Jarvis is nowhere to be seen. Angela Eagle came out as the challenger to Corbyn's leadership but now she has scurried back in her box. For now. There are campaigns across the whole Labour Party spectrum to shore up new members to ensure either a Corbyn win or a Corbyn downfall in any forthcoming leadership challenge. Whether the popularity of Corbyn within the party membership correlates with the popularity of Corbyn among the people he needs to attract to form a government is debatable.

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I'll make another prediction - Corbyn will survive a leadership challenge and the Labour Party will split. If the anti-Corbyn members join forces with the Scottish National Party and the Liberal-Democrats, there is a decent chance of an alternative centre-left political force in Britain, but that will require all three elements to be the bigger person and forgive the past.

3. I predicted a new general election before Christmas and advised Labour to stick with their new leader, even in the event of a loss to maintain party stability.

I am not game to predict when the next general election will be, Labour may well still be led by Jeremy Corbyn by Christmas and the state of the Labour Party by then is anyone's guess.

And with that, I think I will take myself off the computer and pour myself a large glass of wine. Who knows what predictions I'll make next...





Sunday, 26 June 2016

Tories versus Labour: The battle of the imploding parties



As the wheels fall off the Conservative and Labour Party clown cars after the referendum, it is too close to call as to which of the two major parties will come out of this debacle stronger. Let's take a look at both teams, shall we?

In the blue corner...

The Conservatives have been caught with their pants down. Nobody seriously expected the Vote Leave campaign to actually succeed. Hell, there were people who voted for Brexit who are surprised that the thing they voted for actually happened.

As such, there is precisely no plan for what to do next. David Cameron should have called an emergency Cobra meeting and there should be an emergency sitting of parliament tomorrow but instead, Dave resigned and hasn't been seen since. What a leader! What a statesman! He looked distraught as he resigned with Samantha tearfully looking on but this is a crisis that he created himself.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, not only has his pants down but he has probably done a panic-poo in them too. Since the referendum, he hasn't been quite the public gloater everyone thought he'd be if Brexit happened. I'm pretty sure things didn't go according to plan.

For Johnson, a narrow Remain win would have served him well. He could still claim to speak for the "silent majority" and, knowing that David Cameron was going to step aside before the 2020 election, he could make his bid for leadership without being distracted by all that pesky work that needs to be done to extricate Britain from the EU. He shamelessly used the referendum campaign as the start of his leadership bid and was making promises about how Britain would be a land of unicorns for all if we voted to leave and even combing his hair once in a while. Of course, all his promises were smoke and mirrors because he never thought he'd need to come up with a plan to implement them.

Now the man, who as an incompetent mayor couldn't negotiate with tube drivers, is the favourite to be the next Prime Minister and thus, he's meant to lead the way as we negotiate with an entire continent that he has spent the last couple of months slagging off. That can only go well...

The other leadership contended is probably going to be Theresa May, the current Home Secretary. She was pro-remain, she certainly has more gravitas than Boris Johnson and she is largely seen as moderate and sensible. In April, she did call for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights regardless of the referendum result but this is what passes for moderation in the modern Conservative Party. With that in mind, she may be keener to invoke Article 50, which is what the British government needs to do to kickstart divorce proceedings with the EU.

Johnson probably never planned to release the hounds of Article 50 and under his drunk-uncle-trying-to-walk-the-dog-after-Christmas-dinner guidance, he is bound to stall and faff and blunder about. This will only extend the uncertainty and instability and endear us less and less to the EU. Hey presto, we'll have a trade deal with the EU so pathetic, the British export market will be reduced to some obscure Welsh cheese and stuff left over from car boot sales.

In the hour, the BBC has reported that Johnson has said the UK will "intensify" cooperation with the EU (does the EU know this?) and said the 52%-48% result was "not entirely overwhelming". Jesus, Boris, don't bowl us over with your enthusiasm.

He also said that "the only change" will be to free Britain from the EU's "extraordinary and opaque" law (but doesn't seem to have specified which law) and says this "will not come in any great rush".

They are the words of a man who cannot be arsed to negotiate hard with the EU any time soon. Hell, nobody should be surprised if Johnson decides to outsource the negotiations to G4S after the stellar job they did with the 2012 Olympics security.

The one thing the Tories are good at, even when they are in utter disarray behind the scenes, is give the impression that everything is fine. Hence, as soon as the referendum results were in, 84 Conservative MPs, some Brexiters, some remainers, signed the "save Dave" letter. Dave decided to fall on his sword instead, but the letter, as cynical and self-serving as the signatories may have been, is a great way to tell the world they're not going to carve each other up with bitter factional in-fighting.

Which brings us to Labour.

In the red corner...

In the time that I've been writing this post, I've heard the news from the telly downstairs that yet another Labour cabinet minister has resigned from Jeremy Corbyn's front bench. Corbyn is refusing to step down as Opposition Leader and Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell has vowed to manage his campaign to keep his job.

On one hand, we have calls for Jeremy Corbyn to step down in the wake of the referendum results, blaming him for an unenthusiastic campaign for Remain. Given that his Euroscepticism is hardly a state secret, at every campaign event he looked like he'd rather be having root canal work, and with a BBC report that he may have deliberately sabotaged the campaign, this seems like a fair assessment. Of course, it can also be said that there was a lack of passion among many leading Labour Remainers, with the notable exceptions of London Mayor, Sadiq Khan and Ben Bradshaw, the MP for Exeter, but there was an overwhelming feeling that voters didn't really know what Labour stood for on the referendum.

And it is hard to ignore the numbers, as much as the most devoted Corbynistas try. In the referendum and in the local elections, Labour has lost Scotland. Labour took Scotland for granted for too long and the SNP swooped in. The local elections should have been a gift for Labour but the best that can be said about the results is that they were not as bad as they could have been. In a climate of economic austerity with an unpopular Tory government, that isn't enough.

The mandate for Corbyn's leadership is based largely on the new members of the Labour Party, those who paid their three quid to join up after Ed Miliband stepped down. But the problem is that most of these members don't live in the areas where Labour needs to regain ground. In January, the Guardian received internal Labour Party data which revealed that a disproportionate number of new members are city dwellers, many with high paying jobs.

The party is struggling to attract new members among the elderly, in rural areas, in deprived areas, and among the working class. These are the people the Labour Party needs to connect with if they are ever to form government again. And these are the groups who voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU. The issue of immigration is the elephant in the room - Labour needs to have intelligent conversations without patronising people if they are going break through here. All the rise in Labour Party membership proves is that people who would probably vote Labour anyway, and are not struggling financially, can spare £3.

The Rant Mistress predicts...

I predict that out of a Boris Johnson-Theresa May leadership race, Boris will win it to become the next PM.

I predict that Jeremy Corbyn is toast as leader of the Labour Party. I suspect Dan Jarvis will be the new leader of the Labour Party.

I predict that in the inevitable general election that will happen before Christmas, the Tories will win but with a reduced majority. Therefore, it would be political suicide for Labour to ditch whomever their new leader will be. If they are to have a hope in 2020, they need to sail a steady ship, work really hard in Scotland and not be afraid of doing a deal with the SNP and possibly a resurgent Liberal Democrat party to form a coalition government.

And if nobody has invoked Article 50 by the time we have this year's next trip to the ballot box, the election will basically be a referendum do-over.

I'll check back on these tips and see just how wrong I was...










Photo by Alex Proimos

Friday, 24 June 2016

Waking up to Brexit Britain...


It was like that awkward moment when you wake up and realise you've shagged the office creep. You remember him at the party, saying things you wanted to hear, and you believed them, whether they were true or not. And then the alarm goes off on a new day, you look across the bed and there he is, in your bed, and you can't quite believe that you went there.

He may be the owner of a radioactively blonde barnet and a drooling leer. Or, possibly, he reeks of beer and fags and is gazing at you with a rictus grin. Either way, he is now refusing to leave and you start to worry that he may take up permanent residence at your flat.

This is how it felt to wake up to a Vote Leave win in the referendum.

And the pound crashed, and the FTSE crashed, wobbled back up again like a drunk kitten and flatlined, exactly as the experts predicted. They were the experts people ignored in favour of wanting a "victory for commonsense". Whatever the hell that means today.

Then Nigel Farage, fresh from despicably trying to claim victim status after Jo Cox was murdered, showed all the sensitivity of a hessian condom, by gloating that "we won it without a single bullet being fired". And then he shut the gate after the horse had bolted by helpfully telling us the pledge that a vote to leave would mean £350m a week for the NHS was "a mistake". Never mind that a cornerstone of the catastrophically dishonest leave campaign was that a Brexit would somehow mean a massive infusion of funds for healthcare.

Another cornerstone of the leave campaign was that "taking back control" of our borders and deciding who we let into the UK would relieve pressures on public services. Plenty of people called bullshit on this before the referendum - we will have to agree to freedom of movement to trade with the EU, same as Norway and Switzerland, and the Vienna Convention means there won't be an instant exodus of EU citizens - but this was ignored by every voter who cited immigration as their main concern.

Daniel Hannan, a Tory Eurosceptic MEP, has essentially told the "piss off, we're full" brigade to prepare to be disappointed. "All we're asking for is some control over roughly who comes in," he said this morning, watering down the tough border control rhetoric of the last few weeks.

In short, the British public has been sold a massive lemon with the leave campaign. The desire to ignore experts has been especially depressing. It is typical of an increasing race-to-the-bottom mentality that seems to be growing like a pitiful fungus. There is a disdain for the educated, as if getting an education and developing experience and expertise in a field is something on which to look down. Would these same anti-experts submit to a tailor for major surgery? After all, it's just a bit of cutting and stitching. Who needs years of medical training for that?

Educated people are being criticised for voting remain on the basis of analysing evidence and reading widely and considering a range of views. This apparently amounts to hatred of the working class. For some, voting with your heart rather than your head was a better methodology for the biggest political decision of our lifetimes.

Nigel Farage was arrogant enough to say that GDP doesn't matter if quality of life improves, except that the two concepts are connected. But nobody really challenged him on that or any of the nonsense he spouted during what was an appalling, unedifying campaign.

Areas of low immigration and high unemployment voted heavily to leave. The leave campaign was obsessed with the job-stealing ways of Polish car washers, as if they were all desperate to wash cars for a living, or somehow felt that in a free market economy, they would be unable to start their own car-washing business in competition. Never mind that there are so many educated EU citizens making amazing contributions to the country or that educated Brits work in professional jobs across Europe. Schrodinger's Immigrant was stealing all our jobs while claiming jobseekers' allowance.

Of course, there is also an element of jealousy, of tall poppy syndrome in regard to British people working in the EU. These are, by and large, the British people who have taken the time to learn other languages and, as a result, enjoy incredible professional opportunities. Like Australians, British people are often shamefully monolingual. But resenting those who have taken their language skills to Europe is simply pathetic.

And then there are the cries of "Sore loser!". With all due respect, grow up. This is not some kids' football game where a wailing six-year-old refuses to accept the offside rule. This is extremely bloody serious and the implications deserve serious discussion and analysis. If we are to come out of this unnecessarily divisive period of British political history equipped with the information and a credible plan to minimise the inevitable hit the economy will take, we need to break it down, to work out how we can find a way to move forward and prosper.

How will we make up the shortfall from losing EU funding and a possibly reduced tax and consumer-spending base? There will be job losses? Do we have a plan to create more jobs? Will the welfare state be an effective safety net in the meantime? What will the role of the public and private sectors be in this vague new world in which we now live? What will our trade relationship with the EU look like? These are all serious economic questions that need to be discussed as a matter of urgency and constructive solutions need to be found.

We also need to discuss racism. Not every Brexiter is a racist. There are people I am proud to call friends and family who voted out. But it is naive to say that racism didn't motivate some voters. We need to be prepared to look into that grim underbelly of British society and deal with the bile and hatred before it eats society alive.

All this because David Cameron was scared of losing voters to UKIP in the last general election.

The campaign turned into Boris Johnson's personal crusade to become Prime Minister. His speeches, while generally bollocks if anyone bothered to analyse them, were carefully designed to set him up as looking more statesmanlike. He made promises he had no business making about what post-Brexit Britain will look like. Right now, he is not the party leader, he is merely the Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Bad luck if any of his constituents want a surgery any time soon. Pish tosh! He is way too busy for such trifles of democracy!

I genuinely thought I'd wake up this morning with a sense of relief, with the realisation that the country didn't metaphorically shag the office creep. I was hoping we would have thought better of being seduced by one-liners and lame Facebook memes and outright lies about everything from Turkey to how laws are made, and decided to give the creep the number of a taxi company instead.

Thanks, Dave. You bet the house on this referendum and the whole debacle has been a lesson in unintended consequences that defies parody. Next time you want to pander to UKIP, meet Nigel down the pub, buy him a few pints and give him a light. After all, you have plenty in common. You are both the establishment that in no way has been defeated.







Photo by Davide D'Amico

Thursday, 16 June 2016

#JeSuisJoCox


It is just too horrific. This is not the Britain that I know and love. This is not the compassionate, creative, diverse, amazing, funny, inclusive, welcoming Britain that I have loved for almost all my life. This is not the optimistic Britain that I returned to in 2011 with my British husband.

Today's events - the murder, nay, the assassination, of Jo Cox MP - in no way reflect my experience of Britain. Since 2011, I have lived and worked here and, as an Australian, felt nothing but positivity about my presence here.

And yet today Jo Cox was murdered in cold blood in the country I love, in the country I have loved since I first came here as a wide-eyed toddler in 1979.

This is disgusting, appalling, disgraceful, vile. Someone who genuinely wanted the best for Britain was murdered today as she went about her duties an MP.

Jo Cox cared. Jo Cox was a proper constituency MP. She was available to the people she represented. Even in the midst of the EU debate, she was still concerned about the issues affecting the people she represented.

That is democracy in action. That is why we have MPs.

And today, at the age of 41, Jo Cox was taken from us.

There is a melee of innuendo about why she was stabbed and shot. But, based in available information, there was a political motivation to her death.

But now I am speculating based on what the news channels have told me. In any case, an MP stabbed and shot outside a library is not the Britain that I love.

I am still in shock. She was one year older than me, yet she achieved more than I probably ever will.

Tonight, she should be hugging her kids and embracing her husband.  But that will never happen again.

A man has been arrested for her murder. We may know more in the coming days about the motivation behind killing an innocent woman. If this is a politically motivated killing, we should view it as an act of terrorism, a political assassination. The killer may be mentally ill and, if that is the case, he deserves compassion. But he also deserves the full weight of the law for this is an unspeakable atrocity, an assault on our democracy and on the basic decency that I still believe is a strong vein running through Britain and its people.

But all this is currently speculation. In any event, it is bloody awful, it is inexcusable, it is not the sort of thing we should ever expect to happen here.

Whatever the case, this is not the Britain I know and love. We are better than this. We do not stab and shoot people with whom we disagree. We talk we engage, we get to know the people with whom we share our neighbourhoods in this brilliantly diverse nation.

And above all, in honour of Jo Cox, we never let hate win.



Photo by Flickr/The Bees

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Running away from Omar Mateen's homophobia


"It's like every time you read something about this asshole, he becomes a bigger asshole."

My friend Dana summed up Orlando murderer Omar Mateen perfectly. He is an onion of assholery. Layer upon layer of assholery interspersed with self-loathing, loneliness and the bitterest of bile.

It is important to talk about his homophobia. When Owen Jones walked off the Sky News set on Monday night it was because he felt Julia Hartley-Brewer and Mark Longhurst were deflecting the discussion away from the homophobic element to the massacre. Jones was visibly distressed throughout the discussion, tensions rose and the tipping point came when Longhurst, the presenter, said the crime was against "human beings" who were "trying to enjoy themselves, whatever their sexuality".

Well, yeah, up to a point, but to downplay the homophobic element of what happened at the Pulse nightclub on the weekend is to run away from something that is clearly still a problem across multiple societies, even the ones that are supposedly progressive.

In its simplest terms, a man who had espoused homophobic views shot up a gay club and killed lots of LGBT people. It now transpires that he'd been in the club before with people recounting that he'd tried to pick up other men, had got drunk there, and behaved belligerently. Some are saying he was a self-loathing gay man. Others are saying he was simply scoping the place out and his attack was entirely premeditated. Either way, this is a man with a deeply disturbed view of homosexuality and a man who had the means to act on this view in the most despicable way possible.

When Mark Longhurst seemed keen to play down the homophobic aspect of Mateen's crime on Sky News, it was part of a bigger reluctance to look homophobia in the eye and admit that it is still a problem. It is brilliant that same-sex marriage is legal here in the UK, but David Cameron had to fight hard to pass it, the main opponents in Parliament were invariably religious, and it did not mean an end to homophobia here any more than Barack Obama's presidency ended all racism or a probably Hillary Clinton presidency will end all sexism in the US.

The investigation into the murder of 49 innocent people in Orlando has, so far, not revealed any direct links to IS. In his 911 call during his heinous rampage, he pledged allegiance to IS and was known to have made remarks in support of armed Islamic extremist movements. Anyone with an internet connection can learn about IS. Anyone who consumes most mainstream western media outlets can learn about IS that way. You don't need to communicate with them directly to spout off a load of hateful shit in support of those losers.

And naturally, the dickheads of Daesh claimed responsibility for the murders. Of course they did. Mateen is just the kind of pathetic useful idiot Daesh depends on for oxygen.

Young, messed-up, bitter men do the dirty work for IS both in the territories they occupy in the Middle East and in the west. And giving the toxic views of IS airplay in the media also helps their fucked-up cause.

And Mateen was certainly messed up. His first wife shared stories of his abuse towards her. Owen Jones deserves kudos for raising this unsavoury aspect of Mateen's character before he walked off the Sky News set. Domestic violence is yet another awful aspect to Mateen's dark character. His father, Seddique Mateen, gave a bizarre interview to CNN in which he disputed his first wife's claims about mental health issues, said the club needed better security, and said Mateen expressed disgust at the sight of two men kissing. Seddique Mateen also said he believed people should be in heterosexual relationships but that it was up to God to judge.

This is a view on homosexuality that echoes the words of many a conservative Christian - to love the sinner but hate the sin. I have seen similar views on homosexuality expressed by Muslims, as well as Christians, since the shooting. It is indeed a relief that religious people across the board are not interested in shooting LGBT people dead in cold blood but pushing the "hate the sin" rhetoric is something all conservative religious people need to think on, especially when there are still countries in the world where homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment, lashes and death.

The notion of hating the "sin" of homosexual activity is certainly alive and well. But anyone's sexual activity should fall squarely in the category of nobody's damn business but your own. As soon as  the "love the sinner, hate the sin" narrative gains traction, self-loathing and closeting is quick to follow.

Homophobic rhetoric frequently obsesses over sexual acts, reducing gay people to whatever they might do to get off. There just aren't the same derogatory terms for heterosexuals, based on what they do in bed, compared to the sex act-focused abuse frequently hurled at the LGBT community. Nobody has ever seen a heterosexual couple holding hands and called the man a "cervix-thumper" or the woman a "penis-clencher". But the insults aimed at LGBT people are frequently reductive and focus on inaccurate assumptions about what every LGBT person does whenever they have sex.

It would behoove religious conservatives, regardless of faith, to think about what they are doing to the next generation when they focus on hating the sin. Interestingly, in today's Evening Standard, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) said that "the most important thing Islam preserves is the privacy of one's sexual activity" and that "it's up to you how you behave behind closed doors or in the privacy of your own bedroom". If only the countries where gay people are beheaded or shot or hung from cranes embraced this attitude towards sex. Iran, Saudi Arabia, I'm looking at you in particular.

But if gay-bashing still happens in our own countries, if marriage equality is still a fight in western countries, if homophobic insults are considered harmless banter, if dickheads publicly congratulate Mateen's actions, the LGBT community will not be truly equal and horrific crimes will continue all over the world. Some of these crimes may have an element of religious extremism, some may not. None are justifiable. It is important to fight the homophobia as well as the vile aspects of religious extremism. This is not an either/or. It is possible to be concerned about both problems and for a world without homophobic bigotry to start at home.

Refusing to acknowledge the role homophobia played in the Orlando shooting will do nothing to move any society forward in any positive way.



Photo: Flickr/Aivas14

Sunday, 5 June 2016

"Lifestyle choices" - a term of belittlement



The angry online mob tore down the pregnant woman like a pack of anonymous wolves in need of a life. All she did was criticise fellow commuters for being reluctant to give up their seat for her. The way people turned on her, you'd think she had demanded to be personally chauffeured to work in a mink-lined Bentley at taxpayer expense.

She identified herself only as Lauren, a 31-year-old pregnant woman who was eight months pregnant and commuting between Crawley and London. On the Evening Standard Facebook page, the comments were a trip back in time, and not in a good way. Some morons asked what the hell she was doing going to work while she was pregnant, as if being knocked up means you automatically become incapable of working, suddenly lose the desire to go to work, or magically don't need the income any more. "My mother didn't work when she was pregnant!" was a common retort.

And then there were the people who said they shouldn't have to give up their seat because of her "lifestyle choice". True, there is no law in the UK that compels people to give up their seats on trains and buses for pregnant women, but it'd be nice to think we live in a society where good manners are still a thing.

But to merely describe pregnancy is a "lifestyle choice" is reductive. It is an insulting way to shut down debate, to demean pregnant women who are asking for just a little consideration as they gestate the next generation.

As someone who is militantly pro-choice, I support whatever decision a woman makes when she pees on the stick and it comes up positive. And when a woman chooses to carry to term, whether the pregnancy was planned or not, I stand by her and understand that sometimes accommodations need to be made, such as giving up my seat on the tube or being understanding if a pregnant colleague is late for work because she has a scan. It's called not being an arsehole.

Yes, I am talking about choices here, but I would not describe going through pregnancy and childbirth as a "lifestyle choice". That puts the rigours of maternity into the same box as buying a sports car or taking a skiing holiday. Someone fighting for the rights of people in sports cars to drive at whatever the hell speed they like would be met with ridicule, just as a petition to lengthen the opening hours of a bar in Klosters during the ski season would be roundly lampooned.

But a pregnant woman asking for a little common courtesy, for us to not degenerate into brutes, is not in the same category. To the people refusing to give her a seat because getting pregnant is apparently a "lifestyle choice", would it make any difference to you if she conceived through rape or if she had suffered multiple miscarriages and this was her last chance at motherhood? Would you parse her circumstances through your tiny mind before getting off your bum or are all pregnant women simply birthing babies for a lark, giving it the same seriousness that they'd give a trip to the seaside?

And would these same stubborn sitters give up their seat for someone on crutches on the train or bus? I'm guessing plenty of people would do so. What if that person was on crutches because they broke their leg on a skiiing holiday? Or is that "lifestyle choice" acceptable?

It's the same idiocy that leads people to talk about the "gay lifestyle". These people generally don't want gay couples to get married or have equal rights to heterosexual couples because they see it as condoning the "gay lifestyle".

Frankly, even if being gay was a lifestyle choice, so what? Why would anyone care if sexuality was a lifestyle choice and this led to two people falling in love and wanting to get married or having equal inheritance rights or end-of-life decision rights as a heterosexual couple? Why do bigots never talk about the "heterosexual lifestyle"? It is because they don't seek to diminish that of which they approve.

I suspect the "gay lifestyle" mentality gained traction because of stereotypes, such as gay male couples always having fabulous apartments (having cleaned the apartment of a gay friends while helping another friend house-sit for them, I can assure you they are not all living in spotless, minimalist abodes that belong in magazines...) or lesbian couples always being yurt-dwelling vegans (again, utter bullshit).

Once the word "lifestyle" is tagged on, there is a sense that it is silly, flippant, nonsensical, whimsical.

As such, it makes it easy to reduce gay couples to superficialities rather than growing up and recognising that a civilised society lets people marry whoever makes them happy, regardless of sexuality. And this same society also offers their seats when pregnant women board trains. That's the one I want to live in.






Image by Richard Davis