Wednesday, February 10, 2016 

Trident and the new online tribes: the song remains the same.

According to no less a person than Ian Dunt, by far the worst thing about Jeremy Corbyn is his online supporters.  This it's worth noting is a claim made about every new political movement's online base, whether true or not. The same has been said, at length, repeatedly, interminably about Cybernats and Momentum.  Now it's notably jumped across the Atlantic, where the "Bernie Bros", young, strident, male supporters of Bernie Sanders supposedly ridicule anyone and everyone, but especially women thinking of voting for Hillary Clinton.  The original article about Bernie Bros could have been almost word for word written about the far noisier contingent (at least from my experience) of obsessive Ron Paul supporters around between 2008 and 2012, and who have since disappeared apparently off the face of the planet.  Or more likely are now supporting Trump.

You don't have to be particularly partial to the views of any of these groups to note those most likely to complain about them are the very people most directly challenged by their emergence.  The most virulent Cybernats will target anyone and anything that opposes independence, but they mainly focus on the already moribund Scottish Labour party.  The main complaints about Momentum were voiced during the debate on bombing Islamic State in Syria, and were wrapped up with criticism of the Stop the War group for doing little more than encouraging lobbying of MPs.  The Bernie Bros meanwhile have been criticised by no less a person than Billy Clinton himself, while supporters of Hillary have repeatedly suggested sexism is the reason Clinton has not already sown up the Democrat nomination, rather than say her support for every war going or her speeches to Wall Street execs in exchange for sackfuls of cash.  That it has since emerged much the same tactics were used against Obama back in 2008, if on a far lesser scale, doesn't seem to have stopped the moaning.

The point is clear, regardless.  The old are hardly likely to take the shock of the new gladly.  The media often finds itself siding with those claiming to be victimised by these online hoodlums, not least because the feedback experience has not on the whole been a happy one.  The Graun recently decided to stop opening comments on articles on Islam, race and immigration because the tenor had become so unpleasant.  Commentators who once only had to stomach the odd letter in green ink suddenly found themselves getting torn to shreds, called every name under the sun for only doing what they had for years.  Some attempted and still do try to engage, while others long since abandoned looking "below the line".  Almost as a whole the "mainstream" media finds itself under siege: apparently loathed and mistrusted by their own readers, increasingly ridiculed and ignored by politicians no longer on the fringes, their business models threatened by the collapse in print advertising and sales, while adblockers and social media timeline rips of their content do similar damage online.

And yet, at the same time, these groups, whether in the media or politics, still leverage remarkable power and often treat their opponents with far more contempt and arrogance than they have been subjected to.  Let's take as an example the debate, or rather lack of, on Trident, although you could just as easily focus on the response to the campaign against the Rhodes statue at Oriel college in Oxford, or practically any other issue where young and therefore stupid seems to come against older and wiser.

Trident it's worth reflecting has never sat easily with Labour, even post unilateralism.  95 Labour MPs voted against renewal back in 2007, leaving Tony Blair to rely on Tory support.  Not much truly has changed since then in the way of the threats we face, while the cost of replacing Trident has even on the lowest estimate increased.  The other change, far more key, is that Labour now has a leader who is against replacing Trident.  This leader has also taken the opportunity to appoint a defence secretary who is like minded, and to commission a review of the party's defence policy, both moves he is fully entitled to make.  Similarly, the party conference was within its right to take a vote on Trident that upheld the position in Labour's 2015 manifesto, to replace Trident.

Which group then do you think is the one screaming about the utter insanity of the other, indulging in shouting matches at meetings of the parliamentary party and chucking around insults at the first opportunity?  Not, as you might expect, the one that was so criticised for talking about blood being on the hands of MPs voting for airstrikes in Syria.  It is in fact the one that is in favour of spending billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction while dismissing every critique, whether it be on cost, the potential for the technology to be out of date before the new class of submarines are so much as built, or on whether or not Trident is relevant in the 21st century.

It could well be right that Emily Thornberry's references to the potential for underwater drones to make the seas "transparent" is, as Lord West apparently phoned the Today programme to say, nonsense.  Lord Hutton (of Furness, which somewhat gives the game away) might be right to quote the former chief of the defence staff Lord Boyce who said we're more likely to put a man on Mars within the next six months than for the seas to become transparent in the next 30 years.  It could also be that there will emerge a technology or new weapons system within the next 30 years that does threaten Trident; 15 years ago we certainly didn't see drones playing as key a role in military action as they do now.  Hutton says you only have to look at those doing the nay-saying now to see through their new arguments for opposing; similarly, you only to have bear witness to the people who believe they know best to recognise this is about far more than just what's ultimately right for the country's defence.

The bluster and language is always the same.  They talk about "multilateral disarmament" while not for a moment believing that it is either possible, or so much as worth spending a moment attempting.  They make as many references as they can to "deterring", "nuclear blackmail" or "our independent nuclear deterrent".  They are not just convinced, they are absolutely certain that the public backs their position of renewal to the absolute hilt and that anything else is electoral suicide.  They might even bring "working people" into it, if they feel the need, just to stress how these middle class do-gooders from London don't understand how Joe Six Pints from Leeds feels about turning our missiles into plowshares.

Not that they can always get their lines straight.  Madeleine Moon, who Cameron today quoted at PMQs following her tweet about the PLP meeting, was daft enough to bring up how it's not just our nuclear weapon, it's also Nato's nuclear weapon.  Obviously it's our completely independent nuclear deterrent, but it's also Nato's totally independent nuclear deterrent.

Moon is still preferable to Jamie Reed MP, who first distinguished himself on the day of Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership by congratulating him and resigning in the same tweetHis piece for the Spectator still needs to be read to be believed.  And even then it's still not believable.  According to Reid, the party has deliberately abandoned political professionalism.  Trident renewal is not just Labour party policy, it is the "settled will" of the country.  This is presumably based on the number of votes parties committed to Trident renewal received at the election.  By the same yardstick there are whole legions of policies we know are hugely unpopular that would also be the settled will of the country, but let's move on.  Renewal is not just right, it is "morally" right.  It's always a bad idea to bring morals into politics full stop, but on Trident?  Blimey.

So it goes on.  "We should take great pride in being the standard bearers for one of Attlee’s most important legacies," Reed says.  The Attlee cabinet was so proud of its own decision that it didn't inform parliament for two years.  There is no credible case for scrapping Trident, Reed continues, and those that claim there is have the gall to call those supporting renewal right-wing!  There's nothing right-wing about protecting skilled jobs, taking pride in those communities or in seeking multilateral disarmament!  In about Reed's only salient point, he remarks there's no point in the party splitting over an issue that can't be influenced from opposition and will in any case be decided by 2020.  But by God, he'll complain about it and make absurd assumptions and generalisations, as it's nothing less than an informed choice to pursue electoral defeat.  "The leadership knows that an anti-Trident policy will lead to rejection at the ballot box. It knows that this is a litmus test of credibility. The leadership knows that an anti-Trident position means taking a pass on power; it’s an open-armed, wide-eyed, deliberate embrace of the wilderness."

In actual fact, the polling rather suggests that while there is a majority in favour of Trident renewal, it very much varies on how you ask the question and especially if you mention the cost.  But Reed obviously knows better, and knows this is the leadership deliberately making the party unelectable.  That's how deranged Corbyn and the leadership are.  Much the same points are made by Rafael Behr in the Graun.  He comments:
 

And everything about the conduct of that debate will accelerate Labour’s spiral away from power because it won’t really be a big, new strategic argument about the future of national defence, and whether Britain should be a nuclear power. It will be an old, parochial little bicker about the party’s torrid history and whether Labour really cares what the majority of people in Britain think.

It's fairly clear which side wants to have a strategic argument about the future of national defence and which wants an old, parochial little bicker.  It's the same side discombobulated by these new groupings, and rather than attempt to understand them, insults them.  It's the same side that as Gary Younge puts it, first derided Corbyn's base and has been throwing a tantrum ever since about being unable to win them over.  It's the same side that views and presents itself as the sensible, progressive one, in tune with the man on the street, while being just as removed as any Bernie Bro or CyberNat.  It's the same side the media has allied itself with, whether improperly or otherwise, and yet still wonders why it's regarded as part of the establishment, the problem rather than the solution.  Delusion affects all sides.  Some just delude themselves to a greater extent than others.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016 

Even after acquittal, even after release, national security trumps all.

The continuing official secrecy surrounding the trial of Erol Incedal, as reaffirmed today by the Court of Appeal, truly boggles the mind.  Incedal, lest anyone has forgot, was charged with possessing a manual on bomb-making and planning to commit a terrorist act, only for some of the evidence to be judged by the intelligence agencies as so potentially damaging to national security that around 90% of the trial(s) had to be held in secret, or in camera.

Indeed, initially the government not only argued for the trial to be held entirely behind closed doors, it also wanted Incedal and his co-defendant Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar to not so much as be identified, instead known only by initials.  This only failed after a challenge from the media, who in the same ruling were also granted access to most of the closed sessions, with "accredited journalists" invited to observe proceedings.  They are not allowed however to disclose what they heard in those sessions on pain of contempt of court, while their notebooks, taken at the end of each session, are apparently being kept at MI5's headquarters, Thames House, lest anyone less respectful of national security decides they should be placed into the public domain.

The utter absurdity of the situation is best expressed by how the Guardian reports that Incedal has since been released from prison, presumably under licence, from his 42 month sentence for possessing the 5 page manual on explosives.  Whether Incedal is under the same restrictions as both the journalists and members of the jury is not clear, or whether they might only apply until his sentence has been served in full we don't know.  Either way, the man himself is now free.  If he so wishes, he can tell anyone he feels like exactly how and why he was found not guilty of planning a terrorist attack despite the apparently incriminating evidence against him, while the journalists who sat there in the expectation of at some point being able to explain to the public why still cannot.

Almost everything about the case reeks.  The argument for why it had to be heard in secret, at least initially, was that otherwise justice would not have been able to be done.  This would at the very least imply that the case against the accused was fairly airtight, and that having to abandon it would have damaged the public interest more than denying the principles of open justice in this one instance.  Instead, as it turned out, one jury couldn't decide on the planning an attack charge while at the retrial the jury acquitted the accused.  It has not been explained whether a bug was placed in Incedal's car after he was pulled over and arrested for speeding, Incedal having made "demands" the police couldn't accommodate, as well as producing a statement they needed time to "digest", or whether he was already someone of interest to the security services.  We are none the wiser over whether Tony Blair really was a target, as an address to his home in London was found hidden in a glasses case, or if that was something else explained to the apparent satisfaction of the second jury.  The accredited journalists themselves feel used and tainted by the experience, almost to the point of being complicit in the secrecy demanded, unable to speak of anything they heard unless they fancy a spell behind bars themselves.

What is the possible danger in knowing why someone accused of terrorism was found not guilty when that person is no longer so much as in jail?  We aren't allowed to know, so we can't know.  All we are allowed to know is that the Lord Chief Justice remains "quite satisfied ... for reasons which we can only provide in a closed annex to this judgment that a departure from the principles of open justice was strictly necessary if justice was to be done".  Albeit, in this instance, justice meant the accused being acquitted.

Not that the ruling is overly deferential to the executive and others who demanded the secrecy in the first place.  It would seem the security services were not pleased with even the merest glimpses of daylight the Court of Appeal allowed to seep in, as "in the light of some of the material provided to the court" the justices feel the need to make clear that "no part of the Executive can refuse to provide the evidence required by the DPP on the basis that it perceives that it is not in the interests of national security to provide it". "Thus," they continue, "when the decision is made by the court, subject to any appeal, they must abide by that decision even if they disagree with it. If a decision is made by the prosecutor to proceed, then the Security Services and the police must provide to the prosecutor all the assistance the prosecutor requires."  You might have thought that the security services, especially ones that the court says in its experience "are conspicuous in their adherence to this principle and these duties" wouldn't need to be reminded of things like the rule of law, but so it would seem.

The court also makes clear that while public accountability cannot currently be provided by the media, it is open to the Intelligence and Security Committee to consider "any issues it considers need to be examined and for any public accountability to be achieved in that way". While this would previously have not had the government or the securocrats shaking in their shoes, the highly critical report into the draft Investigatory Powers act by the ISC under its new chairman Dominic Grieve would suggest it might finally turn into more of a watchdog than a lapdog.  Likewise, that as a coda the justices observe that previous closed judgments were apparently not available to them as reference and "this is not satisfactory", not least as "it must always be a possibility, that at a future date, disclosure will be sought at a time when it is said that there could no longer be any reason to keep the information from the public", it's as crystal as it could be that while the courts are currently persuaded by cries of "national security", they might not always be.

When there is so little to go on it's almost pointless to speculate on precisely how national security could be damaged by the public knowing why Incedal was not in this instance guilty.  You do have to suspect though that the contact Incedal had with a British man called Ahmed, apparently based in Syria, is key, not least because MI5 and MI6 rather than just one or the other were involved in the push for secrets to remain secret.  Just as it was only remembered days before Moazzam Begg was due to go on trial for terrorism charges linked to Syria that MI5 had apparently OKed his journey, so too you have to wonder if Incedal himself had links to the intelligence agencies that are not being disclosed and which he used as his justification for not being guilty.  Then again, in a case this absurd, where the rule of law has always been a secondary thought, and where only politicians, judges and spooks can be trusted with the reality, who's to say it's not something correspondingly bizarre?

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Monday, February 08, 2016 

The fundamental lack of imagination remains.

If there's one thing worse than telling the son of a deceased political figure how ashamed or upset they would be with the decisions they've made, as clearly the likes of Alex Salmond know better than Hillary Benn how his father would have reacted, then it's squabbling over which side a passed on political behemoth would have chosen.  

Yep, in case you missed it, the big debate in the Tory press over the past couple of days has been whether Margaret Thatcher would have been on the side of staying in or leaving the EU.  Charles Powell is convinced she would have been for in, with much the same reservations as David Cameron; Norman Tebbit and assorted others regard that as heresy.  That Thatcher had gone as crazy as a coot by the end of her time in Downing Street seems to have passed them all by, as does the fact they got rid of her for precisely that reason.  You could argue the Tory worship of Thatcher is more healthy politically than Labour's attitude towards Tony Blair, and it probably is.  It doesn't alter how unutterably creepy it is, not to mention unanswerable: failing Boris Gypsy Rose Johnson managing to channel the spirit of Thatch from the other side, we're never going to be any the wiser.  Which in a way, is the point.

Quite how miserable the next few months are going to be is summed up by the big politics story of the day, the claim from Downing Street that should the referendum result in our leaving, the migrants camped out in Calais and Dunkirk will instead be setting up tent cities in Dover.  The idea is so absurd many have claimed it's another "dead cat", designed to move the debate on, and judging by the coverage of the ensuing argument compared to that of the speech Cameron gave today, it seems to have worked.  Apart from anything else, the obvious point is that if those camped in Calais and Dunkirk make it to Britain they wouldn't then be sitting around waiting to do anything; they'd be claiming asylum or moving on to find work.  The French might be less cooperative than they are now, it's true, but why would you trouble yourselves overly with people who don't want to stay in your country anyway?

We can then only ready ourselves for weeks of claims and counter-claims, all on a subject that few are truly interested in and even fewer know anything about.  If, on the other hand, there is something approaching truth in the rumours today's speech by Cameron on prison reform is part of the move to guarantee justice secretary Michael Gove's support for the remain campaign, there might be the very slightest of silver linings.

That's a silver lining dependent on first, some of Cameron's proposed measures being implemented, and two, their working.  When you then consider that Cameron himself claimed today's speech was the first in 20 years by a prime minister focusing exclusively on prison reform, when it soon turned out Dave had forgotten he gave a speech promising a rehabilitation revolution back in 2012, the omens are far from good.  It's true, as various commentators have noted, that simply hearing a prime minister saying things like prisons are "often miserable, painful environments", "full of damaged individuals" and that "being tough on criminals is not always the same thing as being tough on crime" is novel, and welcome.  Referring to prisoners as potential diamonds in the rough, and turning remorse and regret into lives with new meaning is language of the sort politicians rarely use, often for good reason as it sounds hollow and fatuous.  That it didn't coming from Cameron today is itself something to cheer.

This said, the problems of the prison estate are obvious, and there's little to suggest that Cameron or the Tories are willing to recognise them.  The first is plain and simple, funding: the cuts to the Ministry of Justice have been some of the most swingeing, and prisons are expensive.  Part of the reason there is so little chance of rehabilitation in prison and so much idleness is lack of staff, and the amount being spent on overtime for those remaining is astronomical.  Second is overcrowding.  While it is true as Cameron says that very few, only 7% he quotes, are imprisoned for a first offence, and over 70% of prisoners have 7 or more convictions to their name, most of those will be minor, or non-violent.  As he goes on to say, almost half will have an identifiable mental health problem, while others will have an addiction of one variety or another.  Reducing the prison population by say 20% would be perfectly achievable and help massively if there were alternatives available, either in the form of expanded secure accommodation for those with mental health problems or monitoring in the community for those guilty of non-violent offences, women in particular.  This might have been possible prior to austerity: now it seems laughable, despite Cameron asking Gove and Jeremy Hunt to look for alternative provision for the most severely mentally ill.

As Frances Crook writes, it doesn't matter how much independence or autonomy you give a prison governor if they don't have the staff, the resources, or the space for their ideas to take root.  More promising is the idea of "secure academies" as an alternative to young offender institutions, although the obstacles frankly look overwhelming; it's all well and good saying you want to make it "aspirational" to work in a prison and attract the best, but again why would you when there is very little here to suggest this is anything other than rhetoric?  Similar schemes in schools themselves have fell by the wayside.  Indeed, at worst, Cameron's plans smack of introducing further privatisation where the true aim undoubtedly will be on achieving savings, at the expense of the very rehabilitation and reforms he claims to want.

Great as it is to hear a prime minister saying he wants prisons to be places of care, not just punishment, the one metric we have to judge Cameron and the Tories by so far is as he apparently accepts, the reports of the chief inspector of prisons.  By that measure prisons have got worse in the last 5 years, not better, with the reasons why staring the government in the face.  Closing the worst of the Victorian jails and building replacements will do no good if they are to be just as overcrowded and short-staffed.

Last weekend Nick Hardwick criticised the "lack of imagination and failure of empathy" of policymakers.  Today's speech by Cameron showed that when pushed, politicians can be compassionate and point towards innovations that could help.  Fundamentally however, that lack of imagination or refusal to question the failed shibboleths of old remains: prisons cannot work when they are the equivalent of warehouses for the sick, the damaged and the dangerous.  For all his fine, often empathetic words, David Cameron still refuses to recognise this.

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Friday, February 05, 2016 

Shaker.

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Thursday, February 04, 2016 

"An extraordinarily nice man to work with" redux.

As an addendum to the recent post on Cecil Parkinson, worth sharing is Private Eye's tribute to the great man.  Which you'll probably have to click on to not strain your eyes.


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The search is over.


Update: This guy only beat me to it by 12 hours or so. Using the exact same Sooty photo no less. Memes and originality, eh?

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016 

Very well, alone.

Every so often you get a sudden burst of articles on the same topic.  This week it's loneliness, general wellbeing, and that topic we talk about while not talking about it, mental health.  Not that these articles generally tend to dwell on what my personal experience of these things has been: I can't say I get lonely at work for one, I'm not old, and it doesn't exactly come as a surprise that the people most likely to report the least satisfaction with life are what we would have used to call middle-aged.  You hit 40, you've got a mortgage, kids that are old enough to be embarrassed by your very existence, you start getting routine aches and pains, your face begins melting, you might have started waking up without an erection; all those things are bound to get you down.  Come 59, you've either got used to the idea of life now being one grand downhill slalom into the grave, or on the horizon there's the hope of living long enough to be just as awkward to your offspring as they've been to you.

Then again, there is also the nagging suspicion that surveys asking an individual to quantify their quality of life are always going to be subject to the mood of the day.  Can it really be true when personal experience would suggest that by far the most miserable people you'll come across on a daily basis are the over-60s, and whom for the most part you tend to give a pass because frankly, life for more than a few over-60s, especially those on their own or caring for a partner is unenviable?  To really get an accurate picture, you'd want to drill down further into the data by socio-economic status as well as age and gender, to see whether class and wealth have an effect, as you'd have to suspect they would.  You also have to wonder if the 40-59 group's data isn't being skewed by how men of that age, often single, are now most likely to take their own lives, and so correspondingly would report less satisfaction with life.

Nor does ranking your wellbeing and happiness on a scale of 1 to 10 really cut it when thankfully relatively few of us go through life constantly on the edge of the abyss.  Everyone's experience of depression is different, and some are constantly affected by it, but far more hit a plateau, with occasional descents and sometimes peaks.  These troughs can be terrible, and go on for a long time, but usually you come out of them.  Likewise, the peaks can be euphoric, if far shorter-lived.

The thing is, some of us, I, have no real problems.  I have no real worries.  I'm not in debt.  I don't have anyone dependent on me.  I have a reasonable amount of disposable cash.  Compared to previous generations, we have a quality of life, of health, of pretty much everything that they could only dream of.  There are endless distractions, new things to see, do, play.

And yet you still want more.  Want to think that there is more to this, to life, than just existing.  More than anything, I suppose, I increasingly find myself thinking about the emptiness of being by myself.  Of course, I'm not alone.  None of us are really.  But there is no one there that I really share myself with.  The closest thing I have is a friend that I can't thank enough for putting up with my bullshit, only he's sadly 50 miles away down the train line.

I don't ask for much.  Someone who'd sit alongside me, watch Netflix or whatever it is the cool kids do, eat lamb pasanda.  The Mark from Peep Show dream life.  It doesn't have to be Isy Suttie or Dobby doing the sitting, mind, and we could occasionally mix it up with a chicken madras or a Chinese, but otherwise it sounds all right.  Put up with my horrendous taste in exploitation cinema, preferably enjoy the X-Files, have a tolerance for dubstep, that sort of thing.  Not have a problem with my slamming a keyboard for a few hours of a week night, or shouting obscenities at the television when the news is on.  Enjoys long walks going nowhere in particular.

What I'm saying is there reaches a point in the loner's, loser life where the mundane becomes the most extreme fantasy.  The odd, not odd thing is that you feel the same pangs: of looking in the mirror of a morning knowing you're only getting older and uglier, having done none of the things that people of your age are supposed to have done.   Seeing a father with his daughter alongside him on a scooter, or with his son controlling a remote control car, and smiling, while knowing almost for certain that you'll never do the same, and at the same time as not wanting the responsibility, when you've never really had a relationship to speak of anyway, and when such feelings would so short a time ago have been so alien.

Loneliness to me is knowing there is no escape.  However much I want there to be a way out, I know secretly there isn't, or that I'm just not capable of one.  The truth is I'm happy being sad.  I'd rather wait for something to happen to me that won't than take the risk of doing anything.  I can point to the usual, same old excuses, and they do inhibit.  I can blame the fact I live in a cultural wasteland where there is nothing other than populism on offer, and yet it's not as though my standards are high.  It's that I don't think I'm worthy, deserving of anything other than this.  Or it's just too much trouble.  Complaining without being willing to do something about it yourself is about as low as it gets.  That's me, right there.  Pointing, mocking, contributing nothing.  Feeling entitled to something.

Even the Mona Lisa is falling apart.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016 

Cameron's gamble with everyone else's chips.

David Cameron, Matthew d'Anconservative wrote only yesterday, is "like almost every Tory of his generation, a Eurosceptic to his fingertips".  This Eurosceptic to his fingertips, a leader who has at every turn given in to the demands of his backbenchers, has now been served up what can at best be described as very thin gruel in the form of European Council President Donald Tusk's proposed deal on renegotiation.  "Hand on heart", Dave insisted, the deal fulfils the promises made in the Conservative party manifesto.  Presumably with hand still on heart, he also said that if Britain wasn't an EU member and these were the terms on offer to join, he would do so.

Cameron is not and has never been a Eurosceptic.  Above everything else, Cameron has always been an opportunist.  Combined with his belief that through the sheer force of his will and combined animal magnetism he can achieve practically anything, he has made every appearance of being a Eurosceptic while never for a second believing the nonsense spouted by the more virulent within his party.  His move to leave the EPP grouping in the European parliament?  Utterly meaningless and incomprehensible to anyone outside the Tory party, but it helped convinced those uncertain about him that he was truly one of them.  Likewise, his much garlanded wielding of the veto back in 2011 achieved precisely nothing, other than help soothe the tendency within the Tories that regarded his failure to win the 2010 election and necessary coalition with the Lib Dems as little short of treachery.

And yet, each time he refused to call the bluff of his restive MPs, it encouraged them to push for something else.  Finally, in 2013, Cameron gave them what they had long demanded, a referendum on our membership of the EU.  As has been comprehensively proved since, Cameron has never thought for one second that Britain would be better off out.  Cameron is many things, but he's not an idiot.  For every negative, there is a positive. More than anything else, the idea that Britain will somehow manage to get a better deal on exit than either Norway or Switzerland managed having never been members is just as fanciful as the SNP's claim that once independence was won, the rUK would delight in the necessary negotiations on how to share the pound and split oil revenue etc etc.

Whether Cameron honestly believed he would win the majority necessary to hold the referendum we don't know.  Still, once achieved he had to push on, knowing full well that short of bringing back the head of Jean-Claude Juncker on a silver platter the Eurosceptics in his party would moan incessantly about how feeble his renegotiation was.  He did so also knowing full well that the the rest of the EU, dealing with a refugee crisis Cameron refuses to lift a finger to help with over, was not for so much as a second going to offer anything like the concessions on immigration and benefits that have become the proxy for public debate on the EU.

To give Cameron some credit, he has got something that didn't look to be on offer until very recently.  The emergency brake, allowing for the restricting of in-work benefits to EU migrants is roughly analogous to the ban promised in the Tory manifesto.  No one thought for a minute that Cameron would get four years, and while he hasn't quite got that, he's got something similar, albeit tempered by how migrants will get "gradual" access to in-work benefits once they've been paying into the system, probably after a couple of years.  Likewise, on the sending of child benefit to children back in their home countries, he hasn't got an outright prohibition but has won a concession that will mean the benefit will be paid most likely at the same rate as it would be if the claimant was doing so back home.  On fairness if nothing else that passes muster.

Except, of course, this has been a phony war from the beginning.  Cameron and the Tories know that benefits are not a draw for migrants; they come for the jobs and the wages, not to claim.  Every possible effort has been made to prove that benefits are a pull factor for migrants both legal and illegal, and not once has anything approaching conclusive evidence been turned up.  Cameron knew the rest of the EU would never agree to a "brake" on the free movement of labour, and so was reduced to instead attempting to convince the public into believing that rather than it being down to how we were one of only three EU nations that opened our borders in 2005 without restrictions, or to how the British economy has recovered faster than most other EU states post-2008, it's all been about tax credits.  This went alongside the attempt to restrict tax credits overall, since abandoned, meant to be made up for part by the increase in the minimum wage.  Evidence for the minimum wage being a draw is far higher than it is for benefits, so if the aim has partly been to reduce net levels of migration, it's a far bet Cameron's renegotiation will achieve little other than saving the relatively slight amounts currently claimed back in tax credits.

Most of the other concessions, including the "red card" national parliaments could wield against proposed new EU laws if 55% vote against, are relatively minor or were always going to happen when the rest of the EU undoubtedly wants Britain to stay.  Judged against the letter sent to Tusk that started this process, Cameron has got most of what he wanted.  Then again, what he wanted has no connection whatsoever with the "full-on treaty change" or fundamental reworking of our relationship with the EU once promised, and which the more naive Tory backbenchers thought they might get.  The others, those who were always going to treat whatever was served up as not good enough, have a deal they can be justifiably dismissive of.

As for the public, excepting the relative few who go along with the UKIP narrative on loss of sovereignty and the eleventy trillion pounds sent to Brussels every day, most will care only about the impact it has on migration.  Which will be next to none.  To judge by the response to the deal, which has been tepid to say the least, most quite rightly don't give a stuff about the EU.  It's there, it does things, it occasionally impacts on us, but for most it means little other than open borders and free movement of labour, for better, for worse, and that itself is threatened by the aforementioned refugee crisis.  Trying to get people who weren't bothered enough to vote in the general election to interest themselves in a referendum on something relatively arcane and on a day in high summer, should it take place on the "preferred" date of 23rd of June, is going to prove far more challenging than many seem to think.

Which only reinforces the view that Cameron and his relatively slight band of fellow Tories who don't like the EU much but prefer it to the alternative have backed themselves into a corner out of pitiful weakness, and now have to sell their gruel to the country.  Perhaps the thinking is that the engaged, the pro-Europeans versus the Eurosceptics will balance themselves out, leaving Project Fear 2.0 to work its magic on those undecided and who can be bothered to interest themselves.  Perhaps, as Lord Ashcroft's polling and research suggests, Cameron himself can win enough people over by his leading the remain campaign.  Perhaps the fact that the leave campaigners themselves seem to accept they cannot win on immigration alone, and so will have to put their otherwise easily countered and pretty feeble arguments out for public consumption, made by politicians and business leaders no one has much affection for, will count against them.

From this remove, with no solution in sight to the refugee crisis, much that can happen between now and June, and with the voter coalition he formed to win the election liable to be against him on this occasion, Cameron's great gamble looks just as mad and as hostage to fortune as it did three years.  The only real advantage he has, as then, is himself.  If it proves to not be enough, with all it will set in motion, a likely second Scottish independence referendum, inevitable resignation and a country ever more uncertain of its true place in the world, will it have been worth it?

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