Hillsborough and The Abuse of Power

I’m connected to the Hillsborough tragedy only in a very tangential way. I lived in Sheffield at the time and was in town that day, I stood on the exact spot of those deaths only a couple of weeks before watching an uneventful game on a thankfully uneventful day, I worked in Liverpool for many years, know families directly involved and some of those who campaign on behalf of the memory of the dead. Even for me though, today has been tearfully emotional and one cannot even begin to imagine how emotional it must be for those in the JFT96 campaign whose lives have been, and will continue to be, dominated by this series of horrors on top of horror.
For many of those untouched by the tragedy it must be easy to accept that at least some of the smoke was caused by a fire of Liverpool’s own making. For many who have no connection to Liverpool it must be easy to fall back on the stereotypes that have been so reinforced by the reaction of some of the media to those events 27 years ago. The harm done over the years and the impressions still held by many will not be expunged by today’s inquest verdict but at least it’s a start.
Many lessons have and will be learned with regard to health and safety, policing, crowd control et al and in doing so we must be careful not to judge past actions by today’s standards but one timeless lesson needs to be held onto with everything we’ve got.
The people who are supposed to protect us such as the police, local authorities, media and national politicians must not be given the tools to pervert events for the sake of creating their own narrative. That those in whose hands the safety of our lives lie were allowed to betray blameless people when they needed them most is unforgivable. That some in power felt entitled to betray the less powerful, to them presumably less important, in society cannot be ignored and if we let that go unpunished then we truly are a broken society in the biggest sense of the word. For society as a whole to be a successfully functioning entity we need to know that everybody is held accountable to the same standards. We need to be provably confident that in this sense we are ‘all in it together’.
We may never reach the stage of total equality of opportunity and we may always have the uncomfortable reality, in varying degrees, of haves and have nots but we cannot, must not have a society where people are punished for being powerless. Unfairness, whether perceived or real, is not just about wealth but about the way we are all treated and for that reason the people and the broken machinery that allowed the corruption of truth to happen must be held accountable in an undeniably visible way.
Anne Williams, Trevor Hicks, Margaret Aspinall and the other campaigners would not let the establishment grind them down, even with all the tools at its disposal. The had the unquenchable anger of injustice and the unstoppable conviction that what they knew to be true was right. They offer all of us with a cause, or a hope, the belief that the truth will out eventually if we don’t give up.
The best memorial we can offer the 96 is to do all we can to never again allow those with the responsibility to protect us the unchallenged ability to abuse us.

To ‘Moderate’ Labour: Why The Left Are Angry 

To those proudly and loudly ‘moderate’, ‘centrist’ or ‘right wing’ members of the Labour Party who too often criticise the Corbynistas I’d like, with good intent, to explain something which you may not understand. When you patronise that we are naive and not pragmatic, when you refer to us as militant fantasists and when you categorise us as unthinking or harmful to the party, do you know how you appear to us? I’ll explain but allow me a moment of context first.
I do not associate myself with people who make threats and hatefully abuse fellow members of the Labour Party. I do not associate myself with people who tell you to get out of the party. I do not threaten deselection because you vote against my preference on one single motion. I will stand in the rain and knock on doors. I will defend all sides of our party from external attack and though my views are largely (but not exclusively) from the left of the party, I will take any Labour Prime Minister over any Tory Prime Minister any day of the week.  
It is said that those on the left (and by that I mean Labour supporters in general) are united by two burning fires. We have a fire fuelled by the hatred of injustice and we have the fire of desire to make the world a better place. We dislike the air of superiority displayed by those on the right (of politics in general not the party), we despise the natural arrogance they possess that they are entitled to the power and position they have and most of all we hate how they look down on people as though intrinsically worth less than them.
With all that said and hopefully accepted as honest context I’ll answer the question I posed earlier. This, this is how you can appear to us, this can be exactly how you make us feel. 
In recent years the party has been dominated by what, to simplify, I’ll call the Blairite wing of the party. Some great strides were made whilst in power on behalf of the have nots, many practical and effective measures were put into law that made the lives of many better and anyone would be foolish to deny that. 
But. 
The party is not, and never has been, the property of Blairites. Modern Labour has many positive lessons to learn from this period of our history but a few negative ones as well. When the right of the party talk to us it is often with contempt as though the work we do at grass roots can be ignored and taken for granted. When some on the right look down their noses at the left it fires our anger at being treated unfairly. When some who feel they own and control the party structure act affronted with us upstarts who now have a voice louder than for a longtime and seemingly forget that many of us were around before and during the Blair years, you show us the same disrespect and disregard that we feel the general public gets from the Tories.
This is why the response is so tribal and often vitriolic. This is why the hurt is so close to the surface and is taken so personally. This is why we are sometimes seen as too keen to fight back. The left of the party sometimes feels injustice and discrimination from within its own party and that hurts more than the same attitude from Tories ever can

I merely ask that you look to yourself with honesty and don’t get defensive about what I’ve written, I’ve done it not to insult but to explain. I’m not writing this with any sense of victimisation but with intent to stop further damage being done between different facets of the party through misunderstanding. If you don’t patronise, ignore or disrespect those on the left in your daily dealings then this piece is not aimed at you. If you are upset by unfair abuse aimed at you then that is fair enough and it is up to us on the left to shut down that voice that occasionally tries to intimidate. But if you’ve been drawn into this dispute by choice or even unintentionally and are looking down at other members of our party I ask that you understand why such great offence is taken.
The party belongs to us all and has been forged over time on the thoughts, ideas and experiences of us all. None of us own the soul or the future of our great party entirely but we all own a stake in it. Only with a combination of our ideas and actions do we move forwards. The diversity of our party is both its strength and it weakness but all sides need to remember we are stronger together than apart. 

An Analysis of the Content of *That* Speech

The summing up speech that Hilary Benn made at the end of the Syria debate may go down in history for several reasons but whether as a high or low point only hindsight and perhaps the success of the Syrian campaign will decide. It was lauded as both important and influential and though it may have been both I would say, while it was a very good piece of oration, it was not a great speech. A great speech will usually be delivered with style and power and this one certainly was, as a technical piece of writing and delivery it was excellent. But a great speech must also be grounded in truths and honesty, be a logical illustration of ideas and lead to a compelling conclusion and by these criteria I believe the speech, when reviewed, does not stand up.
Many have used this opportunity to bash Hilary with comparisons to his father, the incomparable Tony Benn but I won’t be one of them. Clearly Hilary learned much about delivery from one of the greatest of all parliamentary speakers but for whatever doubts Benn senior may have had about the purpose to which those skills were deployed I believe that Tony would have defended absolutely his right to hold and expound those views.
What follows, however, is how I see the words spoken when taken out of the context of that high octane, highly scrutinised, climactic debate. With the emotion of delivery removed. With the cold light of day shining upon it.

(Speech in italics)
HB
Thank you very much Mr Speaker. Before I respond to the debate, I would like to say this directly to the Prime Minister: although my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition and I will walk into different division lobbies tonight, I am proud to speak from the same Despatch Box as him. My right honourable friend is not a terrorist sympathiser. He is an honest, a principled, a decent and a good man, and I think the Prime Minister must now regret what he said yesterday and his failure to do what he should have done today which is simply to say, ‘I am sorry.’

1) As a speech writer may tell you, the first job is to get the crowd on your side. The first rungs Hilary climbed on his empathy ladder were true, which made them particularly effective, but they acted as a way to both establish his credentials as respectful and to gently attack the morals of the Prime Minister, both positions which he needed to make his later words so effective.
HB
Now Mr Speaker, we have had an intense and impassioned debate – and rightly so, given the clear and present threat from Daesh, the gravity of the decision that rests upon the shoulders and the conscience of every single one of us, and the lives that we hold in our hands tonight. And whatever decision we reach, I hope we will treat one another with respect.

2) Statesmanlike, moderate, soothing words drawing in cooperation and praising his immediate audience in the chamber, crediting them with a seriousness and consideration they all aspire to.
HB
Now we have heard a number of outstanding speeches, and sadly time will prevent me from acknowledging them all but I would just like to single out the contributions both for and against the motion from my honourable and right honourable friends the members for Derby South [Margaret Beckett], Kingston Upon Hull West and Hessle [Alan Johnson], Normanton Pontefract and Castleford [Yvette Cooper], Barnsley Central [Dan Jarvis], Wakefield [Mary Creagh], Wolverhampton South East [Pat McFadden], Brent North [Barry Gardiner], Liverpool West Derby [Stephen Twigg], Wirral West [Margaret Greenwood], Stoke on Trent North [Ruth Smeeth], Birmingham Ladywood [Shabana Mahmood] and the honourable members for Reigate [Crispin Blunt], South West Wiltshire [Andrew Murrison], Tonbridge and Malling [John Stanley], Chichester [Andrew Tyrie] and Wells [James Heappey].

3) By highlighting arguments from both sides of the debate Hilary again draws them all closer and illustrated what a level handed view he is taking of the debate by praising both sides. Of course, this is designed to make his own words resonate louder at a later point.
HB
The question which confronts us in a very very complex conflict is at its heart very simple. What should we do with others to confront this threat to our citizens, our nation, other nations and the people who suffer under the yoke, the cruel yoke, of Daesh?

4) Anyone who says this issue is simple doesn’t really understand the issue or is trying to provide a comforting solution. The Middle East in all of its historical and geopolitical facets is about as complicated as any problem you’d have the misfortune to wade through. The deeper one looks into its roots and influences, the more one realises that it is not a problem with a simple solution but an interlocking series of problems with an almost unending array of possible solutions.
HB
Carnage in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger we face from them. It could just as easily have been London or Glasgow or Leeds or Birmingham – and it could still be. And I believe we have a moral and a practical duty to extend the action we are already taking in Iraq to Syria. And I am also clear, and I say this to my colleagues, that the conditions set out in the emergency resolution passed at the Labour party conference in September have been met. We now have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council resolution 2249, paragraph five of which specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures; to redouble and co-ordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.

5) Anyone who has followed the issue of the Middle East even to a mild degree understands, and has done for a while, that we in Europe and other populations around the world are in danger from the consequences of those events. It shouldn’t take Paris for people to understand there are dangers with previous actions.

6) To say with certainty that the conditions set in resolution at Conference have been met is at best optimistic. I haven’t yet seen ‘a comprehensive plan for humanitarian assistance for displaced refugees’. Neither do I believe ‘military action is subordinated to international diplomatic efforts’

7) UN security resolution 2249 was indeed passed and urges ‘all necessary measures’ but it falls short of invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter which by convention triggers the authorisation for military action.
HB
So the United Nations is asking us to do something. It is asking us to do something now. It is asking us to act in Syria as well as in Iraq. And it was a Labour government, if the honourable gentleman will bear with me, it was a Labour government that helped to found the United Nations at the end of the Second World War. And why did we do so? Because we wanted the nations of the world working together to deal with threats to international peace and security – and Daesh is unquestionably that.

8) I wish we were in a world where UN resolutions were taken more seriously but if Hilary is invoking this as a reason to extend a bombing campaign I’m assuming he’s also about to call for approximately 90 other outstanding UN resolutions to be complied with which governments around the world are openly and continually violating without being held accountable. Incidentally over 30 of these apply to Israel and over 20 to Turkey so I’d be more comfortable with his invocation of the UN were it more all encompassing.
HB
So given that the United Nations has passed this resolution, given that such action would be lawful under Article 51 of the UN charter, because every state has the right to defend itself, why would we not uphold the settled will of the United Nations? Particularly when there is such support from within the region, including from Iraq.

9) Iraq has certainly requested our assistance but there are many other countries and groups within the area who are heavily against and/ or highly sceptical about the Wests methods of and reasons for intervention in the region.
HB
We are part of a coalition of over 60 countries standing together shoulder to shoulder to oppose their ideology and their brutality. Now Mr Speaker, all of us understand the importance of bringing an end to the Syrian civil war, and there is now some progress on a peace plan because of the Vienna talks. They are the best hope we have of achieving a ceasefire. Now that would bring an end to Assad’s bombing, leading to a transitional government and elections. And why is that vital? Both because it will help in the defeat of Daesh, and because it would enable millions of Syrians who have been forced to flee to do what every refugee dreams of: they just want to be able to go home.

10) There were 12 (now thanks to our involvement 13) counties in military action in the area. If we are part of a coalition of 60 I assume that means there are 47 who help without dropping bombs into an already crowded theatre of battle?

11) Why is it vital to act before Vienna is complete, how will bombing help towards a ceasefire? Surely if the aim is to provide a long lasting solution the will of the major involved parties to agree to long term solutions is of much more importance than short term bombing. The position seems to be that if we just ‘do our bit’ with weaponry then global differences in political policy will automatically happen. If, broadly speaking, the west wants to remove Assad but Russia wants to keep him, where can the Vienna process possibly get to without one or other superpower making a 180° U turn? And how often does that happen? That of course doesn’t take into account the other 3 or 4 parties on the ground involved in the Syrian civil war, many of whom have fundamentalist positions of their own which are unlikely to be easy to resolve. To march into this situation in a heavy handed fashion with almost no idea of what the goal is, let alone how we get to that end game seems hopeful in the extreme and lies at the heart of why the #Don’tBombSyria voice have reservations about expanding military action.

12) Why, two weeks ago, did Hilary Benn hold and profess the exact opposite view to the one he so loudly proclaimed in this speech? He previously stated that immediate, short term military intervention would destabilise the area and make long term peaceful solutions less likely. A strange change of position from which to so loudly claim the moral high ground to say the least.
HB
Now Mr Speaker, no one in this debate doubts the deadly serious threat we face from Daesh and what they do – although sometimes we find it hard to live with the reality. We know that in June four gay men were thrown off the fifth storey of a building in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor. We know that in August the 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Assad, was beheaded and his headless body was hung from a traffic light. And we know that in recent weeks there has been the discovery of mass graves in Sinjar, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex. We know they have killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut , Ankara and Suruc, 130 people in Paris – including those young people in the Bataclan, whom Daesh, in trying to justify their bloody slaughter, called them apostates engaged in prostitution and vice. If it had happened here they could have been our children, and we know they are plotting more attacks.

13) We all know and accept that Daesh are unacceptable and need to be tackled, the question is how? We do not need convincing that we are dealing with terrible people. Listing their atrocious actions merely emphasises that something needs to be done but takes us no closer to what that solution actually is in practical terms. Outrage at what they do doesn’t automatically lead to knowledge of solutions.
HB
So the question for each of us and for our national security is this: given that we know what they are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our self defence against those who are planning these attacks? Can we really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security when it is our responsibility? And if we do not act, what message would that send about our solidarity with those countries that have suffered so much, including Iraq and our ally France. Now France wants us to stand with them , and President Hollande, the leader of our sister socialist party, has asked for our assistance and help. And as we are undertaking air strikes in Iraq, where Daesh’s hold has been reduced, and we are already doing everything but engage in air strikes in Syria, should we not play our full part?

14) Providing cooperation and standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies may be the strongest argument he makes and is a point that was made eloquently by Margaret Beckett amongst others. France is understandable hurting and wants to lash out but sometimes being a good friend can mean having to calmly and diplomatically show a friend that what they want may not be the best thing.

15) Conditions in Iraq are very different to those in the arena that were under consideration during this debate. In Iraq there is an organised, effective ground force waiting to take advantage in coordination with air strikes. Unfortunately, as we consider our actions, this is not the present situation in Syria.
HB
Now Mr Speaker, it has been argued in the debate that air strikes achieve nothing. Not so. Look at how Daesh’s forward march has been halted in Iraq. The house will remember that 14 months ago people were saying, ‘They are almost at the gates of Baghdad.’ And that is why we voted to respond to the Iraqi government’s request for help to defeat them. Look at how their military capacity and their freedom of movement has been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobane. Now of course air strikes alone will not defeat Daesh, but they make a difference because they are giving them a hard time and it is making it more difficult for them to expand their territory.

16) 12 other countries are already giving them a hard time, are we as the 13th participant egotistical enough to believe that we are the answer or are we wanting to be involved for other reasons?
HB
Now I share the concerns that have been expressed this evening about potential civilian casualties. However unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather we act to protect civilians from Daesh, who target innocent people.

17) Nobody is suggesting that we, unlike Daesh, are intentionally looking to kill innocents but this doesn’t answer the question of civilian casualties, it just acknowledges it. The unfortunate death of even small numbers of innocents will provide Daesh with the promotional ammunition they need to continue the narrative of radicalisation necessary for them to fight the war and so countering the very purpose of our actions.
HB
Now on the subject of ground troops to defeat Daesh, there has been much debate about the figure of 70,000 and the government must, I think, better explain that. But we know that most of them are currently engaged in fighting President Assad. But I tell you what else we know: it’s whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number. And so to suggest, Mr Speaker, that air strikes should not take place until the Syrian civil war has come to an end is, I think, to miss the urgency of the terrorist threat that Daesh poses to us and others and I think misunderstands the nature and objectives of the extension to air strikes that is being proposed.

18) Assad will also have time to diminish the forces of those he considers an enemy but we clearly have no idea who is actually going to provide the boots on the ground or who will profit from our degrading of Daesh, especially when combined with Russia’s degrading of whoever it is they may be bombing. That’s the whole point of Vienna and having a plan. Ground troops is something that everyone agrees will be necessary to win the battle so why assume that all will be well once we get going?
HB
And of course we should take action – it is not a contradiction between the two – to cut off Daesh’s support in the form of money and fighters and weapons, and of course we should give humanitarian aid and of course we should offer shelter to more refugees, including in this country, and of course we should commit to play our full part in helping to rebuild Syria when the war is over.

19) This is the most vital aspect of tackling Daesh and should be primary focus to tackle the long term issue of organised radicalisation, it cannot be a supplementary point mentioned in passing. Even if the military intervention was largely successful by most measures the problem of Daesh will just move location if the funding of its leaders and the feeding of its ideological source isn’t tackled. Raqqa may be its base now but already we hear reports of operational control being moved in part to Libya. In this age of immediate and mobile global communication these bad guys don’t need a hollowed out volcano to lash out at the world and organise atrocities, they just need a telephone or a laptop.
HB
Now I accept that there are legitimate arguments, and we’ve heard them in the debate, for not taking this form of action now, and it is also clear that many members have wrestled and who knows, in the time that is left may still be wrestling, with what the right thing to do is. But I say the threat is now and there are rarely if ever perfect circumstances in which to deploy military forces. Now we heard very powerful testimony from the honourable member for Edisbury earlier when she quoted that passage, and I just want to read what Karwan Jamal Tahir, Kurdistan regional government high representative in London, said last week, and I quote: ‘Last June Daesh captured one third of Iraq overnight, and a few months later attacked the Kurdistan region. Swift air strikes by Britain, America and France, and the actions of our own Peshmerga saved us. We now have a border of 650 miles with Daesh. We have pushed them back and recently captured Sinjar. Again Western air strikes were vital. But the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary.’ And that is the argument, Mr Speaker, for treating the two countries as one if we are serious about defeating Daesh.

20) As stated before, Iraq is militarily different and if we accept that Daesh don’t acknowledge borders and so neither will we then we are letting them set the rules of engagement, not presumably something that is wise to concede.

 

HB
Now Mr Speaker, I hope the House will bear with me if I direct my closing remarks to my Labour friends and colleagues on this side of the House. As a party, we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road. And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us here tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for this motion tonight.

21) Internationalism does not mean militarism. No one is suggesting we turn our back or walk on by. Support and solidarity can and should come in many forms.

22) Nobody among us would argue that fascism, in whatever form it raises it takes, needs to be tackled. How we most effectively tackle it is the question and will take thought and negotiation rather than just a girding of the loins.
This speech may or may not have changed many minds but it did allow people voting with the motion to extend military action to feel better about themselves while doing it, to be part of a moral cause with the weight of our history behind you makes a decision to allow something distasteful in the present more palatable. It also allowed the Tories to cheer and holler, celebrating their success in taking another step on the journey to war, and in so doing rub it in the face of Corbyn and the anti war lobby. I’m sure this wasn’t upmost in the majority of those who took part in the vote but it surely factored in to the celebratory response to the end of Hilarys speech. Do we really think Philip Hammond would have praised, legitimised and emphasised the words of Benn had he made an equally passionate speech against their argument. Don’t kid yourself, the reason they acclaimed it was it did their job for them and better than they managed to do it for themselves.

Now am I biased against the content and thrust of this speech? Yes, I clearly don’t believe that parliament made the correct decision on Wednesday but I do hope with all my heart I’m wrong.
Was this speech effective, rousing and memorable? Yes.
Will it stand up as a great speech? Only time will tell us that.

Our Own Worst Enemy

The anger of injustice is something that fuels us all on the left, it’s one of the traits that most unites us in our desire to fight. When we or those we sympathise with are under attack we circle the wagons in defensive formation, we review the threat at hand and we fight back however we can. In recent weeks though it seems to me that a good deal of our anger is misdirected and that our wagons have been circled against the wrong attackers.

Only a few weeks ago the Labour Party voted for a new leader and comprehensively elected Jeremy Corbyn in a victory so convincing that perversely it has become divisive.

Those of us on the left of the party rejoiced and have watched in horror since as the new militant right have proceeded to tell us we were wrong, naive and unelectable. We have seen an individual and a set of principles under attack that we don’t believe deserves it and we have circled the wagons. We have defended against and then even attacked those who we think are trying to do us harm.

Those on the right of the party lamented the decision of the election and watched in horror as the left attempt to change the political narrative to one they don’t have faith in. They see the party as they believe it should be in danger of changing to something they don’t believe will be effective and they circled the wagons. They defend the soul of the party as they want it to be and then even attack those who they think are trying to do it harm.

I’m not here to resolve this schism because both sides are entrenched enough already, attack just makes both sides dig those defences even deeper. I’m here to lament the fact that we shouldn’t be attacking each other, that our wagons should be circled together and that we should be attacking the enemy that unites us all, the Tories.

Now I’m not a diehard, extreme left, uncritical, non thinking, non questioning sheep who believes Corbyn has been, is or will be mistake free. I’m also not someone who wants to silence the centre or the right of the party, I’m not electorally suicidal and I’m not passing over possibility for principle. I’m just someone who has made a different decision to you, who wants to see us take a different stance and to be represented by a different voice.

What I am is someone who realises we are all wasting far too much energy kicking each other in the shins in public and scoring futile internal points. If we combined the energy we have all spent bickering and aimed that fire instead at the principles and actions of the current government we would have more chance of achieving a greater proportion of what we all want.

Saying this is not going to change anyones mind on the political direction we want or the methods we use to get there, it’s also not going turn us into a party in complete agreement and harmony but can we please pause for thought. On a day when Cameron stated in parliament that he was willing to ignore the will of the UN and proceed with attacks on Syria with no unifying resolution, on a day when he opened himself up to committing some of the same mistakes parliament has made before, on a day when he’s put his credibility on the line and made himself vulnerable, what are we doing? We are taking sides in a schoolyard squabble about name calling and trying to use it as a proxy war for the soul of the party. Mistakes by prominent people within the party have clearly been made but the bigger mistake is us allowing that to take priority over the potential opportunity to pin Cameron to the wall. The Tories are past masters at laying traps and painting us into parliamentary corners but at this point we are just taking the smoking gun out of their hands and shooting ourselves in the foot in the name of ya-boo-sucks. The Tories must be laughing up their little silk sleeves.

I know some will read this thinking ‘but if that lot would just shut up we’d be ok’ while others are thinking ‘but if that lot weren’t around we’d be ok’ but the reality is we need to grow up. We have our own opinions, we have our own beliefs, we have our own cases to voice and that’s as I should, and will, be but we really aren’t the enemy that each other’s anger is currently targeted at.

Let’s try to sit down and share a pie and a pint or a panini and a latte, quell the pettiness and try to come to an accommodation. Let’s not forget we have more in common than we have that divides us. Mike Tyson used to say, almost unbelievably, that he was scared before fights but as he developed he realised the fear he felt could result in two consequences and he had to chose the outcome. He could either use the fire of fear to fuel his anger and win the fight or he could let that fire burn down the house of his belief. Can we all try to aim just a little more of the fire of our anger at those that actually deserve it… Please.

TRIDENT RENEWAL – LOOKING FOR A REASON – GENUINE QUESTION

In most political situations I have clearly thought out personal principles that I can apply to resolve most issues to my satisfaction. The use of nuclear weapons is not one of those situations and is not even to me a party political issue.
On principle I am against the possession of weapons that could cause such vast scale destruction of humanity. On the other hand I accept that it is theoretically possible that such possession could prevent use of the same weapon by others although I have yet to be persuaded that the case is strong enough for me to believe this to be so.
The most likely use of nuclear weapons in my opinion is by a rogue group of terrorists and in this situation our possession of such weapons would be neither a deterrent or a useful tool of revenge.
If a superstate such as Russia or China was set on invading us I do not believe that the scale of damage we could cause against countries with such wide geographic spread would be deterrent enough to stop them. The use against us would be far more effective due to our small size and concentrated nature.
If a war was to be fought between superpowers then I believe it would be waged in Europe in which case our substantial destruction would be guaranteed and unavoidable. We would be collateral damage, our small scale deterrent would mean little.
In our situation where we are told there is no money to care for the wider society I do not believe that committing to spend such vast amounts of money for such a long period into the future can be justified against the tiny risk of them being useful and against the good that the same amount of money could do for so many and for society as a whole.
Genuinely if someone could give me a coherent set of reasons that these weapons are useful in practical terms as opposed to useful as status symbols and a comfort blanket, then I may be persuadable.

TORY APPROPRIATION AND THE ILLUSION OF PRESENTATION

APPROPRIATION – the act of taking or using something in a way that is considered unfair or even illegal

The key phrases for this Tory administration, the mantras which are to be repeated and hammered home during conference are ‘allowing business to succeed’, ‘party of the working people’, ‘protecting the poor’, ‘living wage’ and ‘northern powerhouse’, all fine sounding bites of wisdom and leadership but I’ll give you one more word that is the actual mantra by which they are ruling – appropriation. The stealth by which they present their ideas, the way they use appropriation of language, appropriation of ideas and appropriation of culture is stunning in its effectiveness and is actioned so brazenly as to go unnoticed by the vast majority.

The Tories current feat of PR genius that we are now being subjected to is their use of phrases and ideas in two misleading ways. Firstly that these policies are based on ideas of their own and secondly that the words they use actually means what they purport them to mean. I would propose that what they are in reality doing is something entirely different to what they are saying and that ideologies are being wrapped in cosy words to hide their true intent.

Let me take some of their key phrases and see what lies underneath:-

Living Wage – a phrase which allows the impression of ‘giving this country a pay rise’ but done in a completely misleading way. The minimum wage was one of the great achievements of the Blair years, one opposed every step of the way by the Tories as anti business. The minimum wage was put into legislation to enshrine the lowest hourly rate an employer can pay to an employee, it has no relation to the cost of living. The living wage is a very different beast and is a phrase used to describe the amount an individual needs to earn to cover the basic costs of living. In the last budget Osborne appropriated the phrase living wage, increased the minimum wage and dressed the increase up as something it most definitely was not. Indeed the IFS has clearly stated that the increase in minimum wage will not cover reductions in working tax credits thereby invalidating the use of the comfort blanket inducing phrase of living wage.

Allowing business to succeed – business is an area that is made up of many constituent parts, all equally important to its success. There are the bosses, shareholders, workers and consumers but the word business has been appropriated by the Tories as meaning only the first two on that list. What is ‘good for business’ in these terms is not necessarily what is good for the workers or the consumers. What is good for business has been narrowly redefined as what is good for the top few percent.

Party of the working people – it is said that providing a strong economy (in their narrowly defined terms) is the best way to help the average working person in this country but here lies maybe the rights greatest trick of all. Whether it is a by product of our class system or an indirect product of cultural and procedural subservience to the monarchy and all that implies about individual importance, the people of this country forever look to kick down. The financial reality of life in the UK is that average earners are far closer to those who live in relative poverty then they are to those at the top who take an ever growing percentage of the national worth. Meanwhile, when questioned in surveys, an average earner believes themself to be of much higher standing in the social financial strata than they actually are. The gap between these two realities is where the Tories thrive. The root of many of societies troubles and unhappiness can be traced to the disparity between the haves and have nots of society and this poverty gap between rich and poor is ever increasing. Anyone who purports to be the party of working people must focus on reducing this gap or their words are in reality meaningless. It may be said that the art of conservatism is to make those with a little believe that those with nothing are to blame rather than those with a lot.

In addition to this use of language there is the impression that their ideas are entirely their own. As already stated the minimum wage was an idea they hated and opposed yet have now taken as their own. Osbournes announcement of a National Infrastructure Commission to oversee spending on large projects was lifted wholesale from the proposals of the oft mocked Ed Balls. The section in Osbournes speech about housebuilding was a direct lift from Corbyns speech and obviously intended to lessen the effect. They appropriate the language of politics in such a way as to couch their ideology in a way that is acceptable to a wider audience. How far would they get with the middle ground if they actually voiced the belief that the strong should survive and to hell with the weak. They appropriate the culture of politics by talking of social conservatism when what they are really doing is covering ruthless ambition with the desire of the majority to appear caring and reasonable. They appropriate the ideas and terminology of one nation politics and use them to their advantage at every turn.

During Corbyns recent party speech it was picked up by Tory commentators that 300 odd words were lifted from a suggested speech sent in to Labour many years ago, as though using a speechwriter was unheard of. Yet in Osbournes speech yesterday the whole premise, the whole thrust indeed the defining soundbite was about being the builders, a theme lifted lock stock and smoking barrel from a 1945 speech by the great socialist Nye Bevan who stated ‘We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers and now we are the builders’. Both the subliminal appropriation of this idea and the actual theft of the message cannot be accidental or coincidental. It is merely a standout example of the Tory appropriation of language, ideas and even culture. Even the announcement of the devolution of local council revenue raising was presented in terms of giving ‘power to the people’ but due to the removal of the universal business rate it will in all likelyhood enter the councils in a race to the bottom when it comes to taxing business. This in turn will then allow the blame for negative consequences to be passed from central government to individual councils and we can be damn sure that councils in the poorest ares, who are often Labour supported areas, will take the brunt of this blame.
For me though one major question remains unasked. To what extent is this appropriation deliberate in its intention to divert the masses from their true actions, is it used as an emotional buffer to allow unpalatable actions to be sugar coated and more easily swallowed by their supporters, or do they actually believe it? The Tory party are often disingenuous and devious but I’m also sure that many of the people who vote for them do so in good faith and with good intention. I believe though that those at the very top of the Tory tactical table know exactly what they are doing and know full well that if left unexposed, it works. My question is this:- From PM and PR men, through MPs and the machinery of the Tory party, to the committed Tory voter and the casual voter who is encouraged by these weasel words, how much of what they say do they actually believe and how much of what they believe do they just happily swallow?

LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY

Over the last 24 hours Jeremy Corbyns conference speech has been much discussed by believers and doubters alike and has been both welcomed as a new politics and dismissed as the ramblings of an old man. One subject that Corbyn briefly covered though which does not seem to have drawn much attention is the passage that may most practically influence the way Labour moves forward. It affects both Corbynistas and the anyone but Corbyn camp alike and is an important aspect to understand for all members and voters of the Labour Party in the long run up to the next general election.

Corbyn talked about the process of policy development and the way we will finalise the ideas which go towards making up our manifesto. It’s that manifesto, after all, which needs to provide the basis for collective responsibility and on which we will be finally judged as a party by the wider electorate. As I understood his words he said that final decisions on broad policy direction (such as Trident renewal, NATO membership, EU treaties etc) would be made by the membership of the party, that the members would be asked to vote on these issues to clarify the beliefs of the majority and that ‘no one would have a veto’ over these decisions.

For me that is encouraging news as surely the best way forward for a party is to represent as fairly as possible the views of those it represents. It’s a brave (and some would argue neccesary) move by Corbyn, one that is entirely consistent with his words of encouraging true democracy but one which he must certainly realise may also put him in the position of advocating in parliament for things with which he does not personally agree. For those that believe Corbyns more extreme views will be unpalatable to the wider electorate this is the opportunity to rest assured that your views will count just as much as everyone else’s. If you are for example a strong believer in Trident, then turn up at your local party meetings, argue the case in a coherent and persuasive way and do what you can to influence the democratic process, thereby promoting your beliefs. The responsibility then falls on you, me, Corbyn and the shadow cabinet to accept that vote as a fully debated, wide mandated decision and to argue it as policy.

This process will hopefully ensure that all voices are heard, that the most popular policies will be adopted and that all of us will be tied into an outcome to which we have all contributed. That is democracy in action and when the outcome of these debates is decided we all have to accept, as grown ups, that it’s the will of our people and that we should back it moving forward. It’s a non dictatorial way of doing things that leaves only those who don’t wish to be involved in a democratic process any room to complain and as members of the greatest political party in existence, transparent democracy should be what we all want. The debate may be furious and indeed differences will be highlighted even more as the process goes on but, when all is said and done, we should then get on with the job of taking those democratically arrived at conclusions and sticking them consistently, unitedly and effectively down the throats of our Tory opponents.

Long live democracy.

TIME TO ATTACK

The internal leadership campaign is done and while behind the scenes there is much bridge building work to be done it is time for Labour to turn its gaze back to the real enemy. The back room cajoling needs to continue to help create a united front but the best way for the Corbyn regime to convince internal doubters is to begin to provide the credible, effective opposition for which we so crave. The shadow cabinet and the party structure needs to move from a defensive position to an offensive one because as we stand here today there is much to attack.

It’s time to move the focus from political theory to practical action and although Corbyn clearly wants to use a less personal style of attack the process needs to begin of undermining the credibility of the standing conservative government. This can be done right away by highlighting the failings of policy that are showing themselves right now and by offering the alternative which can make things better. Being altruistic and doing what the left believes to be the morally correct thing will alone not be enough, it needs to prove to a wary middle England that these policies are practical in making their lives better.

ADDENBROOKS:- One of the countries leading hospitals has become the 24th to be put under special measures since 2013. This number in itself should be shouted about as an example of the failures in the way this government funds and runs our NHS. The report leading to this specific case states that the existing staff are ‘hardworking, passionate and caring’ but that there is a serious shortage of them. Pay freezes combined with the lack of affordable housing is the clash of two Tory policy consequences that has largely contributed to this problem. Corrective action to be highlighted is the need for real pay increases for those in the care industry and provision of more affordable housing. Practical measures that help provide the best conditions for any of us to fall into in times of ill health.

PIGGATE:- Corbyn will not make political capital out of the porcine comedy aspect but can take two issues of genuine concern and ask pointed, legitimate questions about them. First comes the funding for access question. Is it right that the way to gain an influential post in government, to represent the general electorate, is to pay £8 million? Second comes the issue of when Cameron knew of the non dom status of Lord Ashcroft and whether he lied about this prior to the 2010 general election. Both issues should be probed to discover the truth but also to begin to puncture the unquestioned bubble that floats around our current prime minister.

PARTY DISUNTIY:- Two Tory bigwigs in Michael Ancram and Nicholas Soames are today revealed as calling Cameron incompetent and lacking credibility with regard to military decisions. Before the last election he wanted to bomb President Assad of Syria but now it seems that Russia, with the acquiescence of the west, is helping to prop up this regime to tackle a different enemy. Such flip floppery needs to be highlighted to illustrate potential poor judgement, maybe the military and the security of us all isn’t in the safe hands the Tory party would like to convey. Whilst on the issue of poor judgement there is also the issue of him being pictured riding to hounds and the matter of his intervention in the prosecution of the master of his local hunt, a matter which was subsequently dropped. Can we not legitimately challenge his assertion that ‘We are all in this together?’

MANIFESTO PLEDGES:- Then we have the purely political issue of living up to promises. In the last manifesto (which may I remind you is less than six months old) there was a pledge to keep free school meals which now is about to disappear from Tory collective memory. In addition we all remember Cameron clearly stating on camera, during a pre election debate, in response to a question from a member of the public, that he had no plans to reduce child tax credits, indeed he said they ‘will not fall’. A clear pledge that has already fallen by the wayside in the name of ideological cuts. Promises made to the electorate subsequently and quickly broken are perfectly legitimate targets for a shadow minister to attack and will contribute to painting the picture that not all is as trustworthy, solid and dependable as the Tory machine would have us believe.

Corbyn and his shadow cabinet must begin to effectively expose not only the Tory lies and broken promises, but also to unravel the protective layer of fluff that surrounds this government. For too many the Tory party is freely granted its air of authority and its credibility has for far too long gone unchallenged. Interview by interview, day by day, week by week the Labour Party needs to highlight legitimate deficiencies in Tory party policy and actions which are affecting negatively the lives of regular people. It’s not just the poor that suffer at the hands of the tories but society as a whole and the quicker Labour begin to chip away and prove that fact to all voters then the more credible and effective its opposition becomes. The process will be a long one it needs to begin today.

AN ARTICLE ABOUT #PIGGATE THAT ISNT ALL ABOUT PIGS

After many hours of admittedly sharing the unabashed joy of a large portion of Twitter re the Daily Mail revelations it’s approaching the time where I need to stop laughing at the obvious and try to make some serious points. What follows are merely my impressions and claim to be no more.

I have for a long time believed that sensationalistic reporting of nonsense stories by the mainstream press is bad for democracy and society as a whole. It is used as a tactic to devalue a persons credibility, often as a way to diminish an individual or a groups real message and it’s used as a way to shape the narrative in a way that favours those who control the message. The outpouring of the last 12 hours has in large part been created by the view that at last the target of the tactic has been someone on the right, that a paper like The Mail has turned on one of its own and that for once we can enjoy this kind of reporting rather than being angered by it. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. Headlines fuelled by a spurned billionaire and a case of public revenge for a private dispute have created a heaven sent opportunity for mockery but there are aspects to this story which are way more important than that.

Although I admittedly cannot monitor all media, it seems that this front page news has been all but ignored by mainstream TV and radio. I’ve seen comment that it’s not legally cleared for public discussion of this article but I have never heard that excuse used for any other front page reportage. I can understand the delicate nature of discussing the porcine accusations but the story contains much more, not least of which is the drug use. There’s widespread knowledge of accusations about the chancellor and his history of drug use but now it seems the prime minister may be in the same Colombian boat. This would seem worthy of mention even if made clear it is unproven.

Recent headlines containing various degrees of truth referring to Corbyn and his political allies have been openly discussed without the same seeming need for discretion. At the very least in the case of The Mail headline story it could be said that the betrayal of a standing Prime minister by a one time supporter could be seen as a lack of party harmony. Does it not go to the credibility of Cameron that he cannot stop an ally from spreading such tales about him? Were this article aimed at Her Majesty’s Opposition would it not be used as further proof of disorganisation, disharmony and unelectability? The clampdown on the initial reporting of this story seems mysterious at best, would the broader population be aware of it were it not for social media and indeed will it take hold in the public consciousness as deeply as accusations against others if it’s not discussed freely and widely?

The article also claims to expose the lie that Cameron didn’t know about Lord Ashcrofts non dom status and this may be the piece of the article that does the longest lasting substantial damage and is something which can and should surely be freely discussed.

Additionally, to see right leaning commentators bending over backwards in a vague attempt to spin this story as either not significant or in one case in particular, merely as an example of the Corbynistas lack of moral turpitude through their enjoyment of this story, seems to be slightly disingenuous to say the least. Attack dogs have turned guard dogs and in doing so appear even less credible than before.

I’m certain that Corbyn himself will see this as another example of press intrusion and of something to distract from what he wants which is a purely political debate. I must admit though that makes him a better man than me and I cannot help, even against my better judgement, but enjoy it a little bit too much.

I’m sure media lawyers across the country are on full alert and full billing capacity today but to see if and how this story unfolds in the public eye will be fascinating and for more than just porcine protection purposes.

BREAKING THE SPIN CYCLE

So what does yesterday teach us about the Corbyn way of operating? We know the real story yesterday was the ruthless Tory cuts to the underpaid but what took up much of the political commentary space was anthemgate. We can argue quite rightly that a man of conviction should be allowed to respectfully stay quite during a song about a woman playing a role he has no support for and a deity in which he does not believe. Others can argue, also quite rightly in their perception, that Corbyn was being disrespectful to both the symbolic nature of the event and to the people and their suffering that it represents. We cannot complain about that response by people with whom we don’t agree as perception is reality. We also knew in advance that sections of the press would portray events in a light that illustrates the narrative they want.

Politicians promising change is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in the book and strategists know it works and use it time and again in the build up to elections. Worryingly though for the political media, it seems that when Corbyn talked about doing politics differently he actually meant it. This is where he will stand or fall in the coming electoral cycle and even more than policy, I believe it will be this that decides whether the movement is a success or not.

Let’s look at yesterday as a signal of how it might be. The BBC News reporter outside the TUC conference clearly thought a quick word had been arranged for the cameras but instead Corbyn waltzed passed and left him talking about an overexcited dog. The reporter inside spoke of what the speech was going to contain, clearly believing that some kind of briefing notes of content would show her the way but when the speech was concluded she seemed confused. Not only did he not say what he was supposed to say, she even had to attempt to analyse the speech on the hoof. Hardly a fair thing to make an on the scene reporter do.

Also yesterday the lack of media message management was shown up during an interview on Newsnight with Owen Smith, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Discrepancies were exposed in a perfectly reasonable interview by Evan Davies about small but important details concerning the welfare benefit cap. Mr Smith did a fine, proffesional job but was clearly in a position that was new to him. Command and control is dead, the age of spokespeople being given a crib sheet to stay on message are no more and the truth is that a lot of policy detail has yet to be decided. In the times of Alistair Campbell the angel was in the detail but now it’s just not. Policy no longer comes down from on high dictated on tablets of either stone or silicon. They will be developed over time, after consultation and discussion, after (wait for it) an actual debate.

This is what the shadow cabinet and the political commentariat must adapt to. In the short and possibly even medium term there will no longer be a script to be parroted out, no longer be a triangulation to be calculated between what they want to say and what the public want to hear and may Mandleson rest his soul but it may even be ok to say that a policy hasn’t been decided on yet and we’ll let you know when it is. The direction Corbyn wants the party to take is clear but he genuinely doesn’t want to dictate terms, he wants to listen to views, develop ideas and then actually conclude with a thought through solution that can then be presented as a workable policy. This is the exact opposite of the working backwards from an answer that ties so many modern politicians into contortions from which they struggle to recover gracefully.

Corbyn is not going to start doing spin, that is clear. He is what he is and what he is is what he will be. Suggestions, even pleas, will be made to him to at least take some guidance on PR, on controlling the story, on eliminating avoidable controversy and generally being a bit more slick. This though, may be missing the point entirely. This apparent weakness may well evolve into the greatest strength. People consistently complain that politicians are untrustworthy, that they are all the same, that they are in it for themselves. Non of those accusations can be aimed at Corbyn by anyone who wants to retain any credibility themselves.

It’s not just his policies which offer an alternative, it’s the whole way he will go about developing and implementing the details of those policies first within the party and then to the public beyond. Narrative and context are all. The shadow cabinet should forget detail of policy right now and expand on the narrative and context. Corbyn cannot change public perception of unions, refugees, welfare et al just by saying things are different now. The picture, the evidence and the backstory need to be repeated and illustrated by his shadow team over and over again then when the policies have been finalised the context they are introduced into will be different and maybe make the public and the political press alike more receptive to them.

Not only does his message differ but the way the message needs to be delivered changes too. He needs to hope that it is possible for the media machine to accept that because it was that way it doesn’t have to be that way forever. Narrative and context, narrative and context, oh and by the way, narrative and context. If the reasons behind an argument can be explained sufficiently then the solution may be accepted.

It’s a huge risk to see whether the fight can be carried this way. Can ideas and principles triumph over snap judgements and headlines? We will have to wait and see but what we can be sure of is that Corbyn is not an ‘operator’ in the way that we have grown to understand it in modern politics. It may be that his message gets washed away but it may also be that day by day, attack by attack, headline by headline the public realise that not only are his policies a challenge to the authodoxy but so is the method of presentation. It’s a test of the press, the chattering political classes and the public, both those that are politically involved and those that have little interest. It’s often said that politicians are all the same but now we have one that is different in every way, can we handle it?