Tuesday 30 August 2016

June 23rd, The Day British Democracy Stopped

"Brexit means Brexit" has been the tautological, trivial cry from Theresa May in an attempt to appease sudden ardent supporters of our democracy who claim that the referendum vote is absolutely final and that, basically, is that. Aside from the fact that one of the fundamentals of a democracy is that we can discuss, criticise and, indeed, even challenge democratic votes, this insistence that Britain must absolutely leave the EU no questions asked because 52% of 72.2% of those eligible to vote, voted to leave (without it being in the slightest clear what) just smacks of stupidity. It just seems that everyone who supported Leave has decided to stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and scream "BREXIT MEANS BREXIT" until all the nasty people who disagree with them shut-up.

To begin with, what does Brexit even mean? Aside from Brexit because everything means itself. Except literally, which now means the opposite of literally. Literally. So what does Brexit mean? Does anyone know? Anyone? Obviously, it means, to some degree, leaving the European Union but it is not as simple as that. Does no one think someone, whether it be MPs or the public again, should have a vote on whatever deal is agreed? Would that not be the sensible thing to do? What if the Brexit deal is not Brexit-y enough? What then? Our democracy does not stop just because we had one vote on a vague question with many possible permutations and answers. Nor should it. It would be somewhat ironic if the Brexit deal negotiated is not to the taste of the majority of Brexiteers in Parliament but gets pushed through because they all threw their toys out the pram and decided that absolutely no one should ever vote on the EU issue again in response to some people daring suggest that this vote did not mean we blindly accept any Brexit deal. Indeed, that would be the worst of both worlds. We leave the EU, which 48% of those who voted did not want to do in the first place and end up with a deal that the other 52%, or indeed any percentage thereof, do not like anyway. The maths is quite simple: If just 4% of those who voted leave think the Brexit deal reached is worse than staying, we force through a Brexit deal the majority of those who voted (making the fair assumption that all Remainers oppose it) oppose.

Which brings us to a second reason why this blind insistence on sticking to the vague referendum is ridiculous. It actually harms, rather than serves, our democracy. To begin with, should there be a general election in October because Theresa May decides that beating Jeremy Corbyn would be quite fun and we return a majority of MPs who support remain and then hold a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50 that fails, that remains democratic. And ironically, just because it gives you the result you do not like Brexiteers, does not mean it is not democratic. Challenging a democratic vote (the referendum) is not arguing it is not democratic. It is simply exercising our democratic right to challenge our democracy. However, more importantly, our democracy does not stop with one referendum. That is not how it works. Given no one can decide what Brexit means, given it is not even agreed yet what it means, would it not be prudent to have a vote on whether we like what Brexit looks like? Just because we've agreed to go to a restaurant does not mean we have to eat there if we subsequently look at the menu and decide what we already had at home was better and we'd rather stick with that.

Finally, and perhaps most ironically, Brexiteers seem to have forgotten what they argued this referendum was about. Alongside their racist nonsense about immigration and ignorant nonsense about regulations, it was about parliamentary sovereignty and taking back control, whatever the hell that means. Yes, that's right, it was about the sovereignty of the parliament Brexiteers want to ignore with the triggering of Article 50, and indeed any deal and it was about taking back control to the British people but giving them absolutely no say, whether via their MPs or directly, on what that control looks like.

It seems, therefore, that we do know what Brexit means. It means blindly following a referendum vote regardless of consequences; implementing a deal irrespective of what that deal is, ignoring virtually everyone's views; and that once we had the EU referendum vote, our democracy ceased to exist.

Update: A previous version of this post erroneously used the word 'tenants'. This has now been corrected.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Corbyn is not just a liar, he is massively incompetent

All politicians lie. Even the ones that claim never to lie, lie and sometimes, as Jeremy Corbyn discovered, they get found out. Most politicians will, much like he has done, deny ever having lied or justify the lie in the face of overwhelming evidence that they lied. Nothing new about the character of many politicians in the face of train-gate then. They are a bunch of manipulative liars with political agendas and will willingly lie to advance their agenda and when it becomes apparent they have lied, they will deny ever having lied and blame virtually everyone else but themselves. To single Corbyn out is only to single him out as what he is: a stereotypical politician, who is elected to a safe seat with minimal trouble and goes around banging on about how he is going to change everything when really he hasn't a ruddy clue how he is going to do that and spends half the time lying and the other half lying about lying. 

It does not even matter that Corbyn claims to be an honourable man and this proves him to be anything but. It does not matter that this scandal has merely proved him to be just like every politician he claims to be nothing like. Obviously, it smacks of hypocrisy but who amongst us is not somewhat hypocritical. So really, it does not matter that he lied and lied about being honest in the process. What matters, from his perspective, is that his lie smacks of sheer incompetence. We can, and people do, argue all day long about whether the railways should be renationalised or whether there is some other solution to the awful state of the trains in this country. There is a valuable debate to be had on that question. It is clear where Mr Corbyn's opinions lie and he is, of course, free to make his point in any way he chooses. 

However, given the point he is making, did he not think it prudent to be on an actually busy train to make it? What did he expect would happen if he sat on the floor of a train that had empty seats and claimed it was ram-packed? Is he so stupid that he thought he could get away with this publicity stunt? And, of course, in the ultimate irony, he is correct. Having to sit on the floor or stand wedged between three people or take refuge in the toilet because there is no space anywhere else is a problem people face every day. Given that, why did he choose a train that was fairly empty? I'm not an expert, but I am sure if you want to argue trains are busy, you should be on a busy train to make the point. He could have picked a Virgin Train on a match-day at Old Trafford. Or Thameslink any weekday morning or afternoon. Or virtually any other train.

And therein lies the problem. Corbyn is so unbelievably incompetent, so unbelievably stupid, that he managed to pick one of the very few trains in Britain that was not massively overcrowded to make a point about overcrowded trains. So we can argue all day long about how much of a hypocrite this makes him (and it does). We can discuss how this proves him a liar and a manipulative one at that, which it does. We can debate the role of the media in criticising Corbyn and whether it is fair, missing the point of course given he could have chosen not to lie and avoided this criticism, but whatever.  And, of course, we can discuss the trains and how awful they are, which is what we should be doing had Corbyn managed to choose a busy train to film his video on. We can do all of those things but it would massively miss the point. The biggest problem here is not that he is a liar but that Corbyn is so unbelievably useless that he tried to argue the trains were busy on a train that was not busy. And that takes some doing.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

So, where do you stand on Israel-Palestine?

There must be a formula for working out how long it takes between finding out someone is Jewish and asking them about Israel-Palestine. If there is not, might I humbly suggest Levy's Law:

"Once you've found out someone is Jewish, the chance you ask him/her about Israel-Palestine increases exponentially until it becomes virtually certain."

This is not a criticism at all, far from it. Jews, rightly or wrongly, carry an important responsibility in the eyes of others when it comes to Israel. Perhaps not to justify or explain Israel's actions, though one might try, but to justify or explain one's position. And maybe it comes from an internalised anti-Semitism that says Jews cannot be loyal to their country of birth/naturalisation or that their loyalty primarily is to Israel and therefore they have, presumably a positive, opinion on Israel. Both loyalty tropes, of course, are false. I suspect, however, it comes from a genuine desire to gain a better understanding. After all, those with their minds made up would not ask, they would merely tell.

But I do not care what the reason is. What matters is they asked and what matters more, I think, is my response. And my response, perhaps long-winded and convoluted in those discussions, is actually remarkably simple:

"Please remember that for every single news article you read on one side, there is a corresponding one on the other; for every single "fact" thrown at you, there is a corresponding "fact" that disputes it; for every statistic, for every argument, for every claim, for every damn thing you can say about the entire conflict there is a corresponding response."

Perhaps it is even simpler. Perhaps I just mean don't believe anything you read. Such is the way with complicated conflicts that are little to do with what armchair activists will have you believe they are about. We could get into a really nuanced discussion about what Israel and what the Palestinians need to do and believe me it would not get us anywhere. We could prove Israel acts disproportionately or we could prove that Israel does not and believe me, it would not get us anywhere. I could spend the next hour going through everything the questioner has read from "pro-Palestinian" sources and offer the response or, where required, state you cannot defend the indefensible and believe me, yes you guessed it, it would not get us anywhere.

So I don't bother with any of that. That anti-Israel activism and opinion so often spills over into anti-Semitism, that modern-day anti-Semites have a more acceptable hate to hide behind requires all of us to stand up and speak out against it. But beyond that, I am sick and tired of this all. Sick and tired of the world's focus on one conflict. Sick and tired of being told that Israel does this or does that. Sick and tired of being told that the Palestinians do this or do that. Sick and tired of the whole damn thing because really, when you look beyond the hate, there are Daniels and Ahmeds; Rivkas and Fatimas; and a whole bunch of others that just want to earn money to buy groceries to feed their families and, ideally, not be shot at by anyone.

And really, it is as simple and, perhaps, as complicated as that.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

The Nice Guy Illusion

If Jeremy Corbyn happened not to be a vile anti-Semite, whose continued leadership of Labour makes it an unsafe place for Jews and justifies anti-Semitism under the classic guise of anti-Zionism, I might just be perfectly happy for his leadership to result in the destruction of Labour. I might be quite happy for the unbroken Tory rule that would almost certainly necessarily follow his likely victory in the upcoming leadership election. I might enjoy the hypocrisy and irony of the serial rebel for whom loyalty seems to have an entirely different definition, suddenly demanding that loyalty he never showed. I would not delight in the damage to our democracy that the lack of an effective opposition would cause, but I wouldn't pretend not to enjoy their demise under his leadership, proving, perhaps, that good things really do not come to anti-Semites.

But he is a vile anti-Semite. So I cannot delight in any of those things, I cannot enjoy Labour's demise and the Tory dominance it will cause. Part of me, of course, mourns for our democracy as Corbyn turns Labour into the ultimate protest group, somehow forgetting that he is meant to lead a Parliamentary Party. But that feeling would surely dissipate once an effective opposition took Labour's place, which it surely would. So no, my overriding feeling watching Labour implode whilst the Tories, quietly and quickly moved on after Brexit and gave us our second female Prime Minister, is one of concern as I watch the hard left gain increasing power and the anti-Semitism, misogyny and bullying it has brought with it.

We heard repeatedly what a nice guy Corbyn was, how principled he was and, whatever you thought of his policies, that he was thoroughly decent. We have learnt, in the past few weeks, none of that to be true. None of it comes as a surprise to Jews, like me, who have long been concerned of his love for Hamas and Hezbollah and his support for Assad and Iran. We saw it plain and clear with his shambolic showing at Labour's sham anti-Semitism inquiry that seemed aimed at establishing not that anti-Semitism was wrong, but rather, just how much anti-Semitism could be tolerated. We saw it made evident with his reaction to a Jew being abused at the presentation of the results of that inquiry. Whether he likes it or not, he has made this situation all about him, turning any criticism of his policies into a personal critique. When you do that, you fire up your supporters to defend you mercilessly, not the party or the party's best interests, and that's when MPs who dare oppose Corbyn get threatened and abused and face death threats. Whether he condemns it or not, he must bear responsibility for the actions made in his name.

Hugo Rifkind asked a question on Twitter. I hope he will forgive me for not searching for the link, for it was a while back, but he asks if Corbyn's supporters ever get the nagging feeling that they and Trump's supporters are the same. They both have a passionate commitment to their Leader rather than the party they are supposed to represent. They both find bullying people they disagree with the solution. They both seem to be vile racist misogynists. I would go one step further. I wonder if Corbyn ever looks at Trump and wonders how on Earth he ended up so like the maverick billionaire when Trump is everything Corbyn claims to stand against. Trump, like Corbyn, is a racist though Trump's racism seems to permeate across far more ethnic groups, rather than being limited to the Jews. Trump, like Corbyn, is causing shockwaves through the party they are supposed to represent, with senior figures refusing to back him. Trump, like Corbyn has proved to be, is a power hungry narcissist. And Trump, like Corbyn, has made it all about him. You may balk at the comparison. You may claim Corbyn stands for much more noble virtues. Perhaps he does. Equally, however, perhaps his anti-Semitism and terrorism apologism means that's all irrelevant. What does standing for noble values even mean if you deny Jews, or any ethnic group, any right to those values?

Corbyn claims he will not betray Labour Party democracy, pointing towards an undeniable mandate from Labour Party members. In his blind stubbornness he forgets two crucial things. First, he forgets that he leads a Parliamentary Party, one that aims to secure the principles he claims to support through parliament. Without MPs he simply cannot do that, no matter what Diane Abbott, a woman so odious that I struggle to find the correct words to describe her, might tell him. Second, and more importantly, he forgets that Labour Party democracy is irrelevant when it comes to the democracy we live in. He may have never seen the Labour Party as ideal, nor really bought into its aims or ideals - that much is quite evident - but the millions of people he claims rely on the Labour Party to beat the Tories, if he is right, absolutely do. They rely on Labour to win elections, not to hold mass rallies in Liverpool and claim this proves his electability. They rely on Labour to be an effective opposition when they are in opposition and to be able to defeat the Tories when elections come around. As Labour implodes and the opinion polls show the Tories pulling further away, is it not time he woke up and accepted defeat. Accepted that whatever his aims and intentions - and I do not think them honourable at all, but that's besides the point - he cannot win and he condemns the very people he apparently claims to care about to decades of Tory rule he warns everyone against. Of course, I disagree and look forward to the years of Tory rule he will surely usher in.

My politics differs from Corbyn's but if he believes even a word of what he says, surely it is time he did the first honourable thing he has done in a career littered with disloyalty, support for terrorism, Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA, Assad, Iran, anti-Semitism and justifications of it and now stubbornness and bullying and stood aside.
Looks perfectly harmless, doesn't he?