Saturday, 21 January 2017

The by-election boom is a flashing red light for Labour

Coming hot on the heels of that of Jamie Reed, the resignation of Tristram Hunt may not be a huge surprise to many. A decent and politically-sensible member of the House, if not the obvious next leader he was sometimes billed as. In the end, it is perhaps inevitably those who least see politics as their true vocation, who soonest see more attractive things on the horizon.

But there’s an important take-away here. It’s simply not normal to have three MPs resign their seats in a month. Unless they are pushed, seriously ill or are going for another political job*, it’s really, really unusual for them to “just resign”.

The fact that three by-elections have been caused in the last month through MPs “just resigning” – two Labour, one Tory – is not just unusual, it’s unprecedented in recent political history.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Trump will change world geopolitics for the worse

It seems like a statement of the blindingly obvious but, during the current calm of the Obama fin-de-siècle, and before the storm which the Trump inauguration is likely to kick off, it seems like America has almost forgotten itself. The impact of the outsider’s November victory has temporarily become 2016’s giant elephant in the room. But the impacts may well resonate for years.

Those who think Trump is a Good Thing remain delighted, revelling in their apparent vindication, although perhaps slightly nervous at a victory they did not expect. On the other hand, the majority of voting Americans – who did not want Trump, and whose number included many registered Republicans – almost seem to have become numb to what is about to happen. They should not.

As New Republic’s senior editor Jeet Heer put it,

In many ways, this numbness, this complacency is something that Democrats have brought upon themselves. Not, to be clear, because they fielded the wrong candidate: it has now become a particularly dumb conventional wisdom on the left that the Dems should blame themselves, as if somehow the primary process could be manipulated by the DNC to get the candidate they wanted, and they chose Clinton.

No, they should take their share of the blame because before every Republican president has ever taken office, they have always said that the sky would fall in, and it never has. Objectively, Reagan and the two Bushes were not always great presidents, but they were not terrible presidents, either. All had some foreign policy successes, for example. So now, Chicken Licken has now become the boy who cried wolf, and no-one believes that some really rather bad stuff might now happen, for real.

In short: in a couple of weeks’ time, we are we are likely to start seeing some strange things. This whole Trump phenomenon isn’t going to go away and, what’s more, it is likely to have big global impacts.

Anyone who doesn’t believe this has only to check out Trump’s schoolboy statements on foreign policy to date, or even his cack-handed congratulatory calls with those world leaders in countries where he has business assets, without ever addressing his clear conflicts of interest.

But the major risk to the world is clear: if Obama encouraged an ever-more aggressive Russia through his inaction over Ukraine and Syria, Trump is likely to be substantially worse. His entourage has close links to the Russian regime – particularly Rex Tillerson, his choice for Secretary of State – and he clearly enjoyed the benefit of Russian hacking during the presidential campaign. A Trump who has already publicly downplayed America’s role in NATO is clearly going to be extremely reluctant to intervene in the event that, for example, Putin decides to “do a Crimea” in one of the Baltic states.

But whoa, there. This is a big deal. The principal of “all for one, one for all” is at the centre of NATO, the organisation which, despite its limitations, has kept the peace in Europe for seventy years. Once that principle is shown no longer to hold, the NATO structure really becomes meaningless and the whole complex ecosystem of post-war treaties breaks down. Putin is then free to retake any of the former Soviet states as he pleases.

And then there is China. Already the world’s largest economy after adjusting for purchasing power, Trump has already irritated its leadership over Taiwan and then again, this week, over his “erratic tweets” about North Korea. Bottom line: China is already talking down to Trump like he were a little boy with a box of nuclear matches.

Not to forget Trump’s neighbours closer to home. If he really decides to build the now-famous “wall” to keep out Mexicans, he will not only do untold damage to his local relations with the whole of the Americas but the US economy (and probably all his own businesses as well).

Finally, with NATO’s very existence in question, the US’s European allies can look forward to being more alone geopolitically than they have been since the 1930s. And in terms of being a global statesman who might in the end see his country’s interests in a secure and prosperous Europe, even his supporters would hardly put him on a par with FDR. And ironically for Trump’s new best friend, Nigel Farage, his new trade negotiator sees Brexit as a chance to screw Britain, not help it.

Should we as Labourites and internationalists be concerned? More than that. We should be ashamed. We have a leadership which, via a strange Molotov-Ribbentrop manoeuvre, actually supports the current Trump position on isolationism, on Russia, on NATO and on Brexit.

No, it is not time for people to stop worrying about Trump and think that things will settle down, that normal checks and balances will take effect; in fact, the signs are so far that Trump is determined to break free of those normal checks and balances, such as controls over conflicts of interest.

We should not, in short, assume that this is all so much over-reaction by whining liberals: history tells us that horrifically bad results can sometimes come out of democratic votes, results that can take years or even decades to reverse.

It is not necessary to be a political genius of any colour to see that the combination of Trump’s sheer ignorance and naked self-interest, in the context of geopolitics, make the coming years a very dangerous time for the world indeed. We in Labour should take care not to help him.



This post first published at Labour Uncut

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

We Are Arrested

My new piece for Progress is a review of Can Dündar's notes from a Turkish prison. Sadly, that's where you end up as a progressive journalist in Turkey. Not only a great book, but there's a message for all of us about standing up for independent thought. It's not a growth industry these days.

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2016/12/14/we-are-arrested/

Friday, 9 December 2016

Different degrees of losing

It was always going to be important to wait until the dust settled around Labour’s second leadership election to see what was going to happen next. Now, settled it has and things are a little clearer, but only a little. What remains still looks like a panorama tremendously unhelpful to Labour moderates.

First, we might review the external changes that have happened since September. As the Independent observed yesterday, of Britain, the US, France, Italy and Germany there remains only one leader from just a few months ago, and neither is Merkel safe. Populist right-wingers have either won or are waiting at the gates everywhere. There are still all the signs of a tidal wave of political realignment across the Western world, and it would be reasonable to assume that Labour needs to either decide how to position itself or risk being swept away

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Two Central European vignettes: fascism and totalitarianism

In these topsy-turvy days of 2016, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, it is easy to believe that anything is possible. And not in a positive way.

One: it is quite possible that we will wake up tomorrow to find that a European state has a fascist for a head of state: Norbert Hofer could well be president of Austria. Although his role would be largely ceremonial - and one could easily argue that Hungary under Orbán might be a true dictatorship within the EU before long, beating Austria to the punch - it is a frightening prospect and one which could easily spread the cancer of fascism within Europe with alarming speed, given the current zeitgeist of anti-politics prevalent in the West and the general unease in most of Europe with regard to immigration and refugee movement.

For anyone feeling the term "fascist" might be hyperbolic rather than accurate, I offer them this: as tweeter Otto English observed today, Hofer wears a small blue cornflower in his lapel. It is a secret symbol used by Austrian fascists in the 1930s. In other words, he is not an anti-immigration, right-wing populist in the UKIP mould but a genuine, common-or-garden fascist, with all the deeply unpleasant views that that entails.

Two: the leader of my once-great party today gave a speech in Prague, in which he argued that the solution to the resurgence of the far right was to push further to the left: a strategy which, as party stalwart Luke Akehurst noted, was previously tried in the Weimar Republic, with dismal results. Indeed, it was the same approach that Labour tried as a reaction to Thatcherism in the early 1980s and had similar success then.

But that was not the worst thing of the day (and thanks to Queen Mary's Philip Cowley for pointing this out): it was this. Corbyn gave his speech in the Czech capital talking about the horrors of its citizens living under Nazism, never once mentioning the totalitarianism that the Czechs lived under for much longer, that of the Soviet empire. It was as if those forty-odd postwar years had never happened; airbrushed from Corbyn's version of history. The tanks rolling into the capital in '68 a liberation, not a takeover.

What the Czech media must have made of his failure to mention that particular elephant in the room, one can only guess. But I, like many other comrades I am sure, am deeply ashamed to have as my leader such an unrepentant apologist for the Soviet Union, and the pogroms and massacres it represented.

And we haven't even got onto the French presidential election yet, where a positive result for Hofer would surely give a boost to Marine's Le Pen's chances of securing the keys to the Élysée.

Dark times, dear readers, dark times.
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