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


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