Saturday, 20 May 2017

Theresa May doesn't want you to vote Tory - she doesn't want you to vote at all

Our democracy is under direct threat. This isn't another conspiracy theory or a rant built of the frustration about the mainstream media deliberately not covering tory election fraud, or money laundering, or the revelations about the misuse of social media and metadata by government and private corporations. This is about the latest corruption of the democratic model. Campaigning to get people not to vote - whilst at the same time using fear to ensure that enough of your core voters do vote for you to win. 

This technique has been used in the Trump and Brexit campaigns, and ensured that Le Pen got to round two of the French presidential election - and a last ditch attempt to discredit Macron only failed thanks to strict French election laws and largely independent media.

It is an evolution of the established ad hominem attack, but goes further than before. It does not rely at all on debate or defending policies to win over voters to your side. The policies are merely presented and a controlled state broadcaster or supporting right-wing media will not challenge them in any respect. It does not expect or require any defence of policy, any presentation of facts or ideology. The heart of the democratic principle, the debate in open forum, has been entirely removed. 

Argument and dissent is not only discouraged but entirely eliminated. But even further than that - the dissenters arguments are dismissed before they even take the floor. Experts are denigrated and despised simply for being experts. Scientific fact is dismissed as conspiracy theory. The opposition to the beliefs imposed upon the collective, the revealed ‘truth’, are branded traitors or saboteurs.  The purveyors of falsehoods become the truth-talkers, whilst objective truth becomes ‘fake news’ - an epithet that instantly obviates any rebuttal. 

If you compare the recent campaigns to those of twenty or even ten years ago, you won’t see this phenomenon to be so pronounced as it is today. Think back for a second to the arguments that surrounded the first televised debates, between JFK and Nixon, to the argument against televising parliament. The counter-arguments have not only been fully vindicated, but they never managed to envision the degradation of the democratic process that 24-rolling news and social media have brought to the mix. Debate has entirely gone. There is no negotiation, no considered argument, no foundation in statistical or other truth. It is all point-scoring soundbites, slogans delivered to the baying mob of party faithful, who truly believe; based on their own perception of constructed identity rather than any objective, rational argument. 

Recognising this to be the case, the shrewd political campaign guru knows that unpopular policies will never win over the other side - as they are by nature contrary to their interests and in some cases unsupported by facts or ethically indefensible. So what they must do is convince the other side to simply not vote. Attack the opposition as a person, or to portray them as incompetent or a threat, or as a hypocrite. But the most powerful weapon in their arsenal is to portray them as being fundamentally indistinguishable from their own candidate - to destroy any perception of real alternative or choice. Seeing this, even the most politically active and dedicated opposition voter will simply not vote. 

The second stage of the strategy is just as important - get enough of your voters out to win. Believing in the received truth and identifying themselves at a personal level with the policies won’t get them out on the day, especially if they are already convinced that it will be a landslide anyway. You have to terrify them into voting. You do this by equating the opposition with a direct threat to their way of life and that perceived identity.  You say the opposition is a ‘threat to national security’, a friend to the invading horde of foreigners which will either erode our national culture or deliberately act to destroy it. You develop a common enemy, scapegoats, to take the blame for the deliberate ideological undermining of state provision of education, health and social care that the government is currently pursuing or intends to pursue once elected. 

The key to winning the modern election is a combination of these two messages - apathy and fear.

Trump lost the popular vote by a huge margin but was still elected into office because his campaign managed to convince enough people in key states to simply not vote. In the Brexit campaign, aside from the straight lies that were told - the tropes that were imprinted so indelibly in the consciousness that they are still being repeated months after they have been irrefutably shown to be untrue - the vote was won by a combination of xenophobia and voter disengagement. Factual counterarguments were dismissed without rebuttal with the mob-cry of ‘project fear’. The racism that was deliberately deployed achieved two things - it built up the fear of the people it deceived to vote, whilst simultaneously convincing others that the country would simply not stoop to that level, further convinced by polling results that the Remain vote was not under threat. 

In the upcoming election the same machiavellian forces are at play. People were stunned at the Tory manifesto launch, as it contained policies that seemed to attack the traditional Tory base, and others, like the removal of school dinners, that would never be vote-winners, But that is entirely the point. The manifesto is not there to get people to change their vote - it is to set out a programme for government under a claim of mandate and hence set obligation to support, justifying whipped votes -  to enforce the unity of the Tory party and May's absolute authority should she be returned to rule. 

The timing of this election was also cynically set for the same purpose - coming just after local elections, when party resources would already be spent and people would be literally fed up of the never-ending stream of leaflets on the mat and canvassers on the doorstep. 

Opposition parties cannot rely on the tactics they have used before as these will simply not work - they don’t have the money, the media or the system to win that way. The only way they can win is to make people aware of this cynical manipulation and to fight it on the ground - and they must do this together, united. Tribalism or traditional party loyalties must be put aside. Differences in policy and approach can be debated -  following true democratic principles - once the threat of a single party far-right government has been eliminated. 

So Labour must vote LibDem, LibDem must vote Labour, and the Greens must stand down in every Tory marginal. The SNP should stand unopposed. Let’s have the debate on government and policy in the place that was designed for that purpose, on the floor of Parliament. And we must get every voter into the polling stations, telling them that their votes do count - and impressing upon them that this could be the very last time they get the opportunity to do so.  

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Stop Brexit! Brexit means Trump!

This is an updated version of a blog I submitted to the Huffington Post a week ago. If they publish the original blog now, it will already be out of date, the disastrous Article 50 vote having taken place, and with the events that have occurred demonstrating beyond doubt the  accelerating danger posed by Trump.

If there is any reason at all to put an immediate halt to Brexit, it is President Trump’s first week in office, culminating in Prime Minister Theresa May’s desperate visit to be the first leader to swear fealty – and then her inexcusable refusal to condemn the so-called Muslim Ban.

May scrambled in Farage’s fetid footsteps, obviously keen not to lose any of the momentum or populist support she has gained since adopting most of UKIP’s far right policies.

Only hours before, Trump became the only President in living memory to publicly endorse the use of torture. And hours later, on Holocaust Memorial Day of all days, he signed the Refugee Ban and initiated a policy now being referred to as the Muslim Ban.  Citing 9/11 three times, he banned visa applications and re-entry from a number of middle-eastern countries – though markedly ignoring the countries where the 9/11 bombers actually originated.

But then of course, Trump has substantial business interests in those countries.

Refugees in transit that landed after the edict and US citizens returning from holidays or business trips abroad were detained at their point of entry and denied access to legal representation. Foreign students and US citizens were warned by their universities and employers not to leave the country in case they are not allowed to return.

These actions, breaking treaties and showing no respect for international law, mean that the United States already meets the definition of ‘rogue state’.

But in addition to these acts of inhumanity and xenophobia, Trump is acting entirely irrationally. His first actions were to sanction the parks service for posting photos that showed the actual size of his inauguration crowd. His press officer was made told to go in front of the press and deliver demonstrable lies – something that was later referred to by one Trump’s staff to be ‘alternative facts’. After being challenged on his repeated lie that millions of illegal votes were cast in the election – this being the reason why he lost the popular vote – Trump announced that he would initiate a federal investigation. And being told in no uncertain terms that his Mexican wall would not be paid for by Mexico, and the Mexican president cancelled his state visit, Trump immediately announced a 20% tariff on all Mexican imports.

May has finally admitted that UK would have no chance of remaining in the EU single market and that we would also be withdrawing from the customs union. Both of these actions will result in the UK losing tens of thousands of jobs, rising prices - inevitably pushing more people into poverty. The loss in income tax revenue from the banking jobs already announced will be far more than the oft-quoted £350m a week.

The government consistently has said that it will not reveal what its post-brexit plans are, as it wants to keep its cards close to its chest. But we have nothing left to offer – our hand is already face up on the table.

In this context, May went cap in hand to Trump, refusing to rule out that the NHS would now be up for grabs – this to a US administration hell-bent on removing affordable healthcare from millions of its own citizens simply in order to optimize profits for the private medical and insurance corporations that supported Trump’s election.  And before slicing up the NHS for sale, it means that even our long-taken-for-granted food and industrial safety standards may be threatened.  Our self-imposed isolation from Europe pushes the UK into depending on whatever crumbs the protectionist Trump regime chooses to throw in our direction.

May went from Trump to Erdogan in Turkey, to sell weapons to a regime that will probably use them on its own Kurdish population. Whilst there, she shockingly refused three times to condemn Trump’s actions, despite the effect it was already having on UK citizens and residents.  Days later, she went to an EU leader summit in Malta to ‘act as a bridge’ between Trump and the EU, boasting that she had won his guarantee to meet his treaty obligations to NATO. They dismissed her, the Lithuanian prime minister saying that they didn’t need May to be a bridge when they had Twitter.

Instead of throwing ourselves at the feet of the Great Dictator, we should be distancing ourselves, uniting as closely as possible with the rest of Europe in the face of this very real threat. We should be looking at the possibility of diplomatic sanctions, not deals. This is important not just for our national security and the benefit of the poorest of our citizens, but to prevent the normalization of the racism and discrimination that Trump’s policies will inevitably bring with it, not only to the US but to our society as well.

This visit has already done great damage to our standing internationally. The Murdoch press and our state broadcaster, the BBC, might try to romanticize the ‘special relationship’, but the reaction in the foreign press is not being reported domestically. Even the US press has made disparaging comments about the UK and the PM in the wake of the visit.

So rather than Corbyn setting a three-line-whip for Brexit (with no sense of the irony involved, him being a notorious rebel against such measures in the past), he should have listened to his MPs and what is fast becoming a majority of the people who actually voted in the referendum in the first place. The people who will suffer most because of Brexit, the normalization of Trump and increased economic dependence on the US are the minorities, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society – the very people that Corbyn claims to represent.

One of the big slogans of the brexit campaign was ‘take back control’ - though this week they somewhat hypocritically protested the high court re-affirming the primacy of parliament. Did the brexiters campaign to simply hand executive control to an unelected PM fully beholden to Donald Trump – where we have no say, no control, no rights and no protections?

If there was any time that we needed the support and status imparted by our membership of the EU, it is right now.