Labour Party

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The Identity Trap: Race, Representation and the Rise of Conservative Diversity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/08/2022 - 10:24pm in

Rishi Sunak is in the running to be Britain’s first prime minister of colour – but the debate around whether this will be a good thing for ethnic minorities has laid bare conflicting ideas about the 'individual' and 'collective', writes Hardeep Matharu 

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Three years ago, when I revealed in these pages why my parents – immigrants from India and British Kenya – voted for Brexit, many readers found it an eye-opening explanation of something that had perplexed them.

Why would immigrants vote for a project which would keep other immigrants, trying to do what my parents had once done, out? How could they ‘go against their own interests’ by endorsing a campaign which fanned the flames of xenophobia and pushed the country’s leadership to the populist right?

The answers were as contradictory as they were complex – and revealed how assumptions can’t always be made about what we call ‘identity’. 

It’s an issue that has been at play in the Conservative leadership contest, which has shown that Britain’s first prime minister of colour is now not a matter of if, but when. 

For my parents, Britain has given them so much. After 50 years here, they don’t feel ‘other’ or like ‘immigrants’ but – as is common among this generation – ‘more British than the British’. They respect the UK for its opportunities to better themselves and the lives of their children, and this has inevitably shaped their political views. Hard work, aspiration and integration have all been key. Seen through their eyes, Brexit was a patriotic (I would argue mythic) expression of what Britain ‘needed to get back to’.

At the same time, our imperial past casts a long shadow. My father enjoyed growing up in British Kenya for the opportunities it gave him. In these stratified societies of British east Africa, many Indians were middle-class, ‘below’ their white rulers – with colour bars operating to keep them apart – but ‘above’ the black Kenyan majority whose country it was. Uganda, where Priti Patel’s family is from, was another of these colonies with a complicated hierarchy; while Rishi Sunak’s parents were also born and brought up in Britain east Africa. 

But, despite my father’s affinity with Britain, coming to a UK simmering with racial tensions in the 1960s was still tough. In reality, the impact of migration and a sense of ‘otherness’ never completely leaves you. The exploitation of countries like India and Kenya by the Empire, and brutality such as the 1919 Amritsar Massacre – which exposed the reality of Britain’s ‘civilising mission’ – also hung heavy. 

If any group deserved allegiance and recognition from Britain for their contributions, why not those who had come here from its former colonies, whose relatives had fought for Britain in two world wars and had helped rebuild the country? Why should Europeans exercising their freedom of movement, who had not faced the adversity of their generation or have historic ties to the UK like they did, be prioritised? 

My parents were not always Tory voters. Opting for Labour in the past, including under Tony Blair, theirs has been an interesting political journey – one that has played out over several decades on the same street as the BNP had its headquarters in the 1990s and where riots followed the murder of Stephen Lawrence in nearby Eltham.   

Their political choices are ultimately only representative of their lives and experiences. But what they do show is how people can defy expectations when it comes to race because identity is more complicated than we think. We can have multiple, conflicting and changing strands in our conception of who we are; affiliations which don’t necessarily conform to preconceived ideas. 

‘Identity politics’ can label and box in ways that are reductive – but that’s not to say that identities don’t matter.

Where would this generation of ethnic minority Conservative politicians be without the hard-fought progress for all people of colour in Britain over many years – the work done, at great personal cost, by those who had to fight to be heard, to ensure that the UK today is a country where running for office as a non-white person is a feasible option? 

The triumph of those collective battles is, in part, these ethnic minority Conservatives – who see themselves as ‘individuals’; partisan politicians who are not there to be ‘representatives’ for people of their race or carry expectations about what their backgrounds should require of them ideologically. Underlying this is a belief in a Thatcherite idea of meritocracy, rather than social responsibility, and the conviction that others can find the same success they had if they also help themselves. 

Their approach appears to be in stark contrast to those politicians of colour on the left, and elsewhere on the political spectrum, for whom ‘representation’ involves the recognition of race as a key identity and a responsibility to other ethnic minorities as part of a collective endeavour – social intervention to create structural change.

It is the clash of these competing ideas of what representation means for politicians of colour which has been at the heart of debates surrounding the Conservative leadership contest.  

It has led some on the left to question the ‘progress’ represented by politicians of colour who don’t seem to feel an obligation to improve the lives of other ethnic minorities once in power. In turn, these Conservatives argue that they do want to improve people’s lives – but not as a specific group based on their race or ethnicity. 

For some, Rishi Sunak becoming prime minister would put paid to critics who say Britain remains racist. For others, it is a worrying development that – at its worst – could prevent the deeper changes required for all ethnic minorities to succeed. 

There are those who have celebrated the Conservatives for ‘doing diversity so well’. Others have found it difficult to critique a party which may be technically diverse but is subject to claims of not taking racism seriously enough. 

Some have questioned whether Sunak’s race could hold him back from winning over the Tory membership. While others, backed by polling, believe his ethnic minority background is not a defining factor. 

Sunak himself has spoken little about race during his time as an MP. But declared during his leadership campaign that “I know what racism is. I’ve experienced it”, while launching a 10-point crackdown on illegal asylum seekers. 

That Britain’s first prime minister of colour is this close to being elected suggests the right of politics has stolen the thunder of the progressives.

“All people would see was a sea of white male faces,” David Cameron recalled recently. “The party of meritocracy needed to accelerate meritocracy.” When he took over the reins of the Conservatives in 2005, Cameron focused on making the party more diverse – to advance Tory meritocracy.

For years, the Conservatives have trailed the Labour Party on diversity within its ranks. Cameron wanted to bring more ethnic minorities in.

The result can be seen in the upper ranks of the party today, with half of the candidates in the current leadership race on the first ballot ethnic minorities. But, as the Conservatives have become a more diverse-looking party, it has also adopted an approach to race which has created new questions about what representation in politics is about. 

Last year’s much-criticised Sewell Report – which looked at why different outcomes persist for different racial and ethnic groups – found that an “unexplored approach” needed to be applied to understanding the impact of racism in Britain. “The extent individuals and their communities could help themselves through their own agency,” was a key factor, it said. 

Individual, rather than structural, failings should be focused on because “evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism”. Tackling the “still real obstacles”, the report continued, “becomes much harder if people from ethnic minority backgrounds absorb a fatalistic narrative that says the deck is permanently stacked against them”.

Experts questioned the findings. Why, for instance, wasn’t the impact of race examined as a ‘cause of the causes’ when it comes to factors like “geography” and “socio-economic background”? Why are people of colour poor and living in areas of poverty in the first place?

Some also criticised the report for ‘pitting’ ethnic minorities against white working class children ‘left behind’ – arguing that such a framing presents one group’s gains as another’s loss. The report’s supporters argued that not including disparities for white groups would have been divisive.

The Government’s response to the Sewell Report published this year – Inclusive Britain – interestingly moved away from downplaying structural causes to talking about the irrelevance of “individual acts of prejudice”. Its 74 actions, which aim to create “a more inclusive and integrated society”, are laudable. But it remains to be seen how these can affect change in areas like “family influence” and “culture and religion”, which the Sewell Report claimed are so key.

But the Sewell Report hasn’t been the only area of concern for those who believe Boris Johnson’s Government has sought to trivialise racism. 

Hardeep's father, Swaraj Singh Matharu, as a young boy with his sister in Nairobi, British Kenya. Photo: Pritam Singh Matharu

No matter how diverse the party has become, many point to its relentless attempts to whip up ‘culture war’ divisions and a politically expedient form of racism. ‘Dog whistle’ politics may appeal to a certain base but it has undermined the Government’s claims of taking racism seriously.

There are Boris Johnson’s comments about “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and Muslim women looking like “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”. The Vote Leave campaign, which claimed that Turkey would soon be joining the EU and peddled a xenophobic and anti-immigration message. The accusations of institutional Islamophobia in the Conservatives – including most recently by the vice-chair of the influential 1922 Committee, Nusrat Ghani – remain unscrutinised (even if dismissed by the party). 

There has been the weaponisation of discussions around Britain’s imperial past which have focused on statues and attacks on cultural institutions trying to provide a more rounded understanding. The Sewell Report spoke of the need to teach schoolchildren about the “Caribbean experience” around slavery – despite the darker elements of Empire hardly being taught in classrooms to begin with.

Meanwhile, Priti Patel’s hardline Home Office has signed a deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda (a policy which one seasoned and senior Brexit-supporting Conservative MP referred to as “the concentration camp scheme” to me). 

England’s footballing success in Euro 2020 exposed the limits of the Conservatives’ understanding of how far culture wars can get them. While Patel dismissed players taking the knee as “gesture politics” and she and Johnson refused to condemn those booing them for doing so, the Lions sped through to the finals. When three players of colour missed crucial penalties, Patel criticised the racist abuse they received online. But England’s Tyrone Mings set her straight: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘gesture politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against happens.”

As this culture war has rumbled on, a visibly diverse Cabinet has been politically useful to Johnson’s Government. It has also made unpicking the Conservatives’ approach to race more challenging for those on the left.

When Labour’s Rushanara Ali asked Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions last January about new allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservatives by Tory MP Nusrat Ghani, he turned and pointed to his frontbench, where Priti Patel and others sat. 

“She talks about racism and Islamophobia,” Johnson said. “But look at this Government… look at the modern Conservative Party. We are the party of hope and opportunity for people across this country, irrespective of race or religion… all we care about is whether you are interested in ideas of aspiration and opportunity.”

Johnson has regularly dismissed any discussion of how seriously the Government takes racism by pointing to the people of colour in his Cabinet – the most diverse there has ever been. If people of colour can occupy the highest offices of state, how can anyone say that Britain still has problems with racism?

Patel agrees. When she vowed at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference to “end the free movement of people once and for all”, she claimed that “this daughter of immigrants needs no lectures from the north London, metropolitan, liberal elite”. In the wake of Britain’s Black Lives Matter protests, she told the Daily Mail “the fact you are sitting here speaking to me, a woman from an Asian minority background, shows we have such great opportunities… If this was a racist country, I would not be sitting where I am”.

Arguing that individual success stories suggest the lack of any wider issues is problematic. While Patel’s journey shows race isn’t a bar to high office, it doesn’t prove that others do not experience it to be. And while there are disagreements about whether Britain is inherently “racist”, discussion of racism in this country should not be dismissed. 

Criticising her approach, more than 30 Labour MPs of colour wrote to Patel in 2020, saying the Home Secretary had used her own “heritage and experiences of racism to gaslight the very real racism faced by black people and communities across the UK”. 

“We all have our personal stories,” they said. “Our shared experiences allow us to feel the pain that communities feel when they face racism, they allow us to show solidarity towards a common cause; they do not allow us to define, silence or impede on the feelings that other minority groups may face.”

Patel responded by recalling her own experiences of racism – that she had been called a “P*ki” in the playground and was encouraged to take her husband’s surname to advance her career. She reiterated that racism has no place in Britain and said she would not be “silenced” by Labour MPs “who continue to dismiss the contributions of those who don’t conform to their view of how ethnic minorities should behave”. 

For Patel, assuming things about people’s beliefs because they are ethnic minorities is a form of racism in itself. Why should she have to answer for not being ‘progressive’ or ‘left-wing’ in her views on race or anything else just because she comes from a minority background?

While this is a limited argument – it doesn’t address the fact that Patel’s individual experiences or journey can’t be representative of all other ethnic minorities’ – her view, that she should not be ‘boxed’ because of her race, seems a legitimate one.

When it comes to Patel and her ethnic minority colleagues, race does not appear to be an identity that they believe ultimately defines them and it’s not something they feel they are ‘representatives’ of. This isn’t to say they have ‘transcended their race' because they are ashamed of it – in fact, they all say how proud they are of their backgrounds – or because they do not ‘see themselves as ethnic minorities’. But they have transcended the idea that racism can or will hold you back – because this wasn’t their experience. 

“Solidarity towards a common cause” therefore has little relevance for them. But a ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality appears to. For Thatcher – who a number of these Conservative minority politicians describe as their idol – class wasn’t something that should hold people back. For others, race works in the same way. 

Speaking recently about scrapping diversity training for civil servants, Suella Braverman said the sessions were “based on an assumption that me, as an ethnic Asian woman from working-class roots, must be a victim, necessarily oppressed. That’s a mis-assumption”. 

In the foreword to the Inclusive Britain report, Kemi Badenoch wrote that “anyone in this country should be able to achieve anything, no matter where they live or come from. As a black woman, a first-generation immigrant… I passionately believe in this idea too. It is my lived experience”.

Rishi Sunak’s leadership campaign launch video begins with the story of his grandmother and parents’ journey to Britain – a Britain with opportunities Sunak has said he wants everyone to have. “My values are Thatcherite,” he has written. “I believe in hard work, family and integrity. I am running as a Thatcherite and I will govern as a Thatcherite.”

Class, opportunity and socio-economic status are hardly ever discussed as being key drivers of this ‘transcendence’. 

For playwright and commentator Bonnie Greer, it is the struggle of the generations that came before to make a better life for their children which is key. These “upwardly-mobile parents refused to have their children assumed to be something”, she has observed, because, for them, identity often meant identification – being put in a box.

That identity can’t always be assumed to work in certain ways was brought home to me again recently when I was chatting to a Labour MP about why the party was losing the support of Asian voters like my parents. “That’s why we need to keep showing that we’re pro-migrant,” they immediately replied. I explained that my parents don’t necessarily see themselves as ‘migrants’ – and that they voted for Brexit and Johnson for other reasons. 

I relayed the exchange to another Labour MP, who has been in the party for several decades, a few months later. In their view, Labour has still not resolved where it stands on race and identity as there is still an expectation that MPs of colour, like this MP, would be ‘ethnic minority MPs’ – when this isn’t something the MP saw themselves as. They had a different idea of what ‘representation’ as a politician of colour is about. 

Understanding that Conservative diversity is an appeal to individual rather than collective representation is key if the left is going to understand how to expose the problems with it – and confront its own.

Girls on stage at the 1978 ‘Rock Against Racism’ concert in London’s Brockwell Park. Photo: Mike Abrahams/Alamy

“Too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the government’s job to cope with it’,” Margaret Thatcher memorably said. “They are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing. There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

Thatcherism as a political force can’t be separated from the personality of the woman who coined it. Her belief in her story – the daughter of a greengrocer and alderman who went to Oxford University – shaped her worldview: that individual agency alone is the path to success and that barriers of social mobility and class can be overcome through hard work and aspiration.

But it seems absurd to suggest that the effects of poverty or racism can be solved for everyone merely through individual endeavour – that anyone can end up like Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel or Margaret Thatcher if they do what they did. 

It dismisses how individuals can benefit materially or emotionally in ways that can’t just be translated to other people’s lives. It also downplays the anti-racism work done collectively by people of colour that clearly changed Britain’s culture and politics for the better. Whether they identify with it or not, the Conservative politicians of colour today reap the benefits of the struggles ethnic minorities fought yesterday. 

The Labour MPs who wrote to Priti Patel were right to suggest that her experiences of racism – significant as they are – do not, in and of themselves, allow her to comprehend the impact of race on other people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Individuals are, by their nature, individual. 

Meanwhile, ethnic minorities are not a homogenous group. Those whose parents migrated from British east Africa will have different experiences to those with ancestors from the Caribbean who were enslaved. Muslims have different views from Sikhs. These differences can also lend themselves to racism within and between different ethnic minority groups – a well-known taboo for those of us from these communities. 

It is these individual Conservative ethnic minority MPs being held up by Boris Johnson as ‘representative’ of the lack of problems with racism in Britain which is therefore so disingenuous. The deflection of discussion with the personal successes of politicians who pride themselves on being individuals is also deeply cynical. 

In this way, while the Conservatives are content to elevate individual ethnic minorities, it seeks to curb questions about whether and how it aims to elevate the outcomes of ethnic minority people as a whole. Its basis for diversity lies in a Thatcherite belief in meritocracy. For its politicians of colour, representation isn’t the work of representing people from ethnic groups, but representing their own stories of success and embodying a certain conception of what Britain is.

While these politicians are accused of abandoning their backgrounds and ‘pulling up the ladder’ behind them, they find no contradiction. Instead, they implicitly suggest: ‘If I could do this, anyone can do this. We may have roots, but we also have legs.’

People of colour occupying the highest offices of state is a form of progress that may inspire others from these backgrounds, but it is also true that Britain has not become a ‘post-racial’ society because of this or that its Government should be exempt from properly accounting for its policies and attitudes towards ethnic minorities and racism.

It’s not an either/or.

When people see a man of colour on their TV screens who could be the next prime minister, it matters. It also matters that another of his fellow ethnic minority leadership candidates, Kemi Badenoch, was endorsed by the far-right group Britain First.

We shouldn’t fall into the trap of binary thinking. We can praise the fact that a woman of colour is Britain’s Home Secretary. We can point out that, under her watch, hundreds of thousands of HongKongers are being welcomed to Britain – their former coloniser – to escape persecution at the hands of Beijing. We can also point out that, under her watch, people fleeing war and destitution are being sent to Rwanda – a scheme for which there is no evidence that its aim to reduce the numbers of people making these dangerous journeys will succeed. 

We can simultaneously point out where progress is being made on ethnic minority people's lives and where it isn’t. We can call out the political racism still being employed by the Government and take it to task over why some immigrants and asylum seekers are treated differently. 

There is such a thing as society. And there is such a thing as individual responsibility and agency. You can’t have one without the other. And no political party can claim to truly represent the diversity of this country until they acknowledge the role that both the individual and the collective must play. 

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Viral Star Audrey White on Confronting Keir Starmer, a Life of Activism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/08/2022 - 12:42am in

The MintPress podcast, “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.

Much to his embarrassment, U.K. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer hit the headlines last week, after footage of him being accosted by local activist Audrey White went viral. Millions of people around the world have watched the video showing Starmer physically wilting at the ferocity of White’s convictions, as she accuses him of “feeding into Tory ideology” and actively destroying his own party. Commenters have noted that footage of a politician actually being held accountable by a member of the public is as refreshing as it is entertaining.

Just days after the event, she received a letter informing her she had been purged from the Labour Party.

Ms. White has refused interviews with many major outlets but gladly accepted the chance to speak to Lowkey. A proud Liverpudlian, Ms. White was aghast when Starmer began writing a column for The Sun newspaper, an outlet owned by notorious arch-conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. The Sun has a particularly dismal reputation in Liverpool after it lied about the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, accusing Liverpool F.C. fans of urinating on and robbing the corpses of their dead comrades. In total, 97 people were killed after authorities botched their handling of a football crowd, leading to death by stampede and crushing.

Talking with Lowkey, Ms. White said she felt Starmer had some nerve to show his face in Liverpool after allying with Murdoch’s media empire:

I couldn’t believe that he had the gall to come to our city after writing in The Sun newspaper. I couldn’t believe it! I thought ‘how provocative is he?! When Jeremy Corbyn came, there were 10,000 people on a rainy Monday evening in the winter. Of course, Starmer had to sneak in the back door of the Spine Building to speak to business people. And then he had to sneak in the back door of my local restaurant. And lo and behold, he is in front of me with two wonderful filmmakers. So it was a gift.”

Ms. White’s comments echo many of the hundreds of thousands of people who joined the Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in 2015. Starmer, however, has dramatically reversed the party’s direction, suppressing dissent from below. On Starmer, veteran political scientist Noam Chomsky said that  “He’s returning Labour to a party that will be Thatcher-lite in the style of Tony Blair.”

Audrey White is a longtime activist who first came to national attention in 1983. As the manager of a clothes store, she stood up for her workers’ rights to have company-supplied uniforms. In response, she was sexually harassed and fired on the spot. Her refusal to go quietly, however, plus the huge support she received from people around the country, ended with a change in the law that outlawed sexual harassment at work. White’s story was turned into the 1987 movie “Business as Usual”, starring Glenda Jackson.

Ms. White was also targeted by the press and the right-wing of the Labour Party during the anti-semitism crisis surrounding the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Today, she talks about the viral Starmer moment, Corbyn, the spirit of Liverpool, and her life of organizing.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times.

The post Viral Star Audrey White on Confronting Keir Starmer, a Life of Activism appeared first on MintPress News.

How Should We Respond to the Conservative Party’s Authoritarian Turn?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/07/2022 - 9:32pm in

David Lowther speaks to experts in national identity and authoritarianism, to shed light on how progressive forces should react to the debasement of democracy under this Government

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Boris Johnson’s Government has wilfully defenestrated the democratic rulebook. Johnson, the figurehead and the harbinger of this desecration of political probity is set to go, but only to be replaced by one of two individuals who served dutifully (for the most part) in his Cabinet.

The question is therefore whether they will seek to reorientate the moral compass, or whether they will follow Johnson’s lead?

In Peter Oborne’s ‘The Assault On Truth’, he refers to his time working under Johnson when the latter was editor of The Spectator magazine. “Johnson’s Spectator was politically eclectic and omnivorous, so much so that one or two critics said it was hard to discern where the paper stood on any subject,” he writes.

Johnson may have started as a liberal pragmatist – the man who Oborne worked for – but time and ambition steadily eroded his moral fortitude.

Oborne makes a multitude of references to the Ministerial Code throughout his book: the code has been a cornerstone of political veracity since its inception in 1992 – hardly an archaic convention. It is known now that Johnson, unable to meet the challenges set by the previous version of the Ministerial Code has “watered down” the wording to make it more achievable for his Government.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary benches creak under the weight of those accused of sexual misconduct, bullying staff and drug misuse.

Johnson’s demise was dramatic – a slurry of scandals leaving the Conservatives trailing decisively behind Labour.

Yet, for a long while, it seemed as though he was immune – his illegal asylum plans, his attempts to curb protest, and his death-inducing COVID policies barely making a dent in his party’s standing.

Johnson has turned the Conservative Party in a more authoritarian direction, breaching democratic conventions, extending the hostile environment and attempting to change electoral rules – not least by introducing voter ID measures.

There is enduring hope that the end of Johnson will lead to the retrenchment of this authoritarian instinct. But, if not, how should the opposition respond?

“Legislative steps taken by the UK’s current, Conservative Government are decidedly authoritarian in nature. A single, authoritarian bill passing through Parliament doesn't necessarily mean the entire government or political system is authoritarian. What we are seeing, however, is not just a single, authoritarian bill passed by the Conservative Party, but many and in quick succession,” says Abbey Heffer, a PhD student studying Chinese authoritarianism.

“The Conservative Party has passed legislation that makes it harder to remove them from power through elections, revoked the legitimate rights of already-vulnerable minority groups, and criminalised the act of peaceful protest,” Heffer told Byline Times. “Their upcoming legislation aims to increase Government oversight and ability to propagandise in education at the expense of parental rights, and they are going against democratic due process in trying to rush through a ‘Bill of Rights’ which revokes the human rights of those the Conservative Party deems undeserving,” she adds.

Beyond electoral politics, there are ways to resist this authoritarian turn, Heffer says.

“It is possible to submit a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council either on behalf of ourselves or those most affected by this legislation,” she notes. “If you know someone who has been impacted, like members of the traveller community, people of colour stopped and searched without suspicion, or protestors punished since 28 June, you can file a complaint.”

Heffer continues: “those who wish to exercise their democratic right to protest but can’t afford to under the Policing Bill: exploit the loopholes. Organise a silent protest outside your local MP’s office or Westminster; get active on social media. Citizens living under authoritarian regimes across the world have learned to adapt and express themselves according to the regime’s rules of the game. We can do the same.”

A New Alternative

In America on January 6 2021, then President Donald Trump riled up his base in an attempt to overrun democracy by force – claiming that the presidential election had been “stolen”, and that he had a mandate to govern from the “silent majority” of Americans.

Boris Johnson has shown this same level of self-delusion, claiming before his resignation that he possessed a mandate to govern from the 14 million people who voted for the Conservative Party in 2019 – despite the fact that 15.4 million people voted for opposition parties that were calling for a second referendum on Brexit.

“The Tories have done a very good job of appealing to populism, placing themselves as ‘the Party of Britain’ via Brexit, while casting the other parties as ‘the parties of the Remainers,’” says Dr Maria Norris, a specialist in national identity and national security.

Dr Norris confirmed that this isn’t a new phenomenon – there have repeatedly been moves towards authoritarianism in Britain as well as pushbacks against it.

On the question of the future, Dr Norris confirms that progress isn’t as straightforward as a “fight back”, but about presenting a new, better way to “be British”, behind another party. This is reliant on opposition parties proposing a new vision and a new narrative of what it means to be British.

But as individuals we must also “present our own idea of Britishness: deconstruct and free ourselves from the old idea and ideals of Empire and be and live inclusivity,” she says. We must, Dr Morris says, present a viable alternative of Britishness that allows us to learn from our past, to redress those we have mistreated historically, but also to no longer be obsessed by national myths of past glories.

Of course, the past does provide some instruction for the left as well as the right. Moments of national crisis have precipitated progress and reform – not least in the post-war years. These must be used as sources of inspiration, but not infatuation.

Ultimately, Dr Norris says, Labour must up its game. “The Labour Party must embody a sense of pride and unity in national progress and step away from echoing the line of the Conservatives in terms of immigration, equality and the likes... The lesson we should have learned is that Jeremy Corbyn was an alternative, not the alternative. Now is the time for the left to provide a new answer”.

Finally, Dr Norris turns to the topic of how we can all help: “When it comes to the everyman, we need hope... We can do better than our past and create a new, better future, a Britain and a Britishness we can be proud of. Once we do that as individuals, our minds can broaden, we can move forwards together to cement change through the grassroots. It takes a village”.

“We need a revolution in our heads before we can have a revolution in our politics,” she says.

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Boris Johnson is Leaving Downing Street and Bringing All of Us Down with Him

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/07/2022 - 10:10pm in

The Prime Minister’s disgraceful long exit from Government is damaging both his own party and the country, reports Adam Bienkov

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Nothing became his premiership like the leaving of it. 

Boris Johnson’s decision to throw his long-term critic, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, out of the Parliamentary Conservative party on Tuesday is just the latest episode in the Prime Minister’s increasingly disgraceful long exit from Downing Street.

Ellwood, who was one of the first Conservative MPs to call on the PM to resign back in February, was expelled by Johnson after the MP failed to turn up for a confidence motion in the Government.

Ellwood was among a total of 12 Conservative MPs who didn’t attend the vote on Monday evening, yet was the only one stripped of the whip. 

His non-attendance does not appear to have been a deliberate snub. The MP was due to meet the President of Moldova as part of his role as Chairman of the Defence Select Committee. Other Conservative MPs who were also abroad during the vote were not similarly stripped by Johnson. Sources close to Ellwood suggest that he was unable to get a flight back in time for the vote.

In the past two weeks Johnson, and his supporters, have been deliberately engineering a myth that he is somehow being undemocratically removed from office... Like Trump

However, the decision to strip him of the whip does have the happy consequence for Johnson of depriving Penny Mordaunt of one vote in the Conservative leadership contest. This means that the Prime Minister’s preferred successor Liz Truss’ chances of making the final round have now increased.

Despite publicly stating that he would keep out of the race to choose his successor, Johnson has been deeply involved. From the start, he made it abundantly clear that he is determined to prevent the current frontrunner, Rishi Sunak from winning, with allies briefing that he wants “revenge” against the former Chancellor.

A Vengeful PM

The gap between Johnson's rhetoric of wanting to remain in post to "serve" the country, could not be more distant from the reality of his recent actions.

This morning, as Johnson moved against Ellwood, his Cabinet presented him with a gift in order to “thank him for his service to the country”.

Yet as Johnson continues his protracted exit, it is now overwhelmingly clear that he is only interested in serving himself.

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Today temperatures in the UK reached the highest levels ever recorded. Yet in the last week, Johnson missed multiple emergency COBRA meetings on the record-breaking heatwave. On Saturday he failed to attend one such meeting in order to instead take part in a photo opportunity aboard an RAF jet. Later that weekend he invited friends and family to a private party in his grace and favour mansion in Chequers.

Following the party, Johnson went on to miss another COBRA meeting on Monday afternoon, with Downing Street unable to provide any explanation for where he had been instead.

Asked why the Prime Minister was able to find the time to take a joyride on an RAF jet, but was not able to find the time to attend emergency meetings to deal with the heatwave, his spokesman made the ludicrous claim that it was important for the PM to get a first-hand experience of the work of a fighter pilot.

When the Prime Minister did eventually reappear, late on Monday, it was in order to call a confidence vote in his own Government. During the debate he embarked on a long and graceless speech in the House of Commons, in which he once again attacked the independent judiciary, and falsely accused the leader of the opposition of somehow being in league with the “deep state” in order to undemocratically cancel Brexit.

This language, which echoes words used by the former US President Donald Trump, is deeply irresponsible. In the past two weeks Johnson, and his supporters, have been deliberately engineering a myth that he is somehow being undemocratically removed from office. Like Trump, who spread the idea that the presidential election had been stolen, which then led to the storming of the Capitol, there is no basis for Johnson’s claim. 

In a parliamentary democracy, voters elect individual MPs, but the Prime Minister is ultimately elected by members of the governing party. It is misleading at best, and dangerous at worst, for Johnson and his supporters to be encouraging the idea that there is anything undemocratic about the method of his departure. The Prime Minister lost the support of his party and so had to quit, just as Theresa May did, and just as many other former premiers did before them.

When Starmer finally rose to respond to Johnson’s statement, he set out in great detail exactly why the Prime Minister had to go. Johnson’s long record of lies, broken promises and scandal meant that he no longer had the trust of his party or the country. Yet as an increasingly red-faced Prime Minister listened to him, arms folded, the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries sat beside him shouting “you’re boring” at the Labour leader.

When Boris Johnson first became Prime Minister back in 2019, he promised that he would be an outward-looking, liberal and “one nation” Conservative leader. 

He has instead shown himself to be an authoritarian, disgraced and entirely self-obsessed premier, who has shown willingness at every turn to undermine any institution that threatens to put even the slightest check on his powers.

One of those institutions most damaged by the Johnson era has been the Conservative Party itself.

When his successor ultimately does take office, they will inherit a party that is more divided than at any point since John Major was Prime Minister. With a general election due to take place within two years, it is this legacy above all else that may prove to be what he is most remembered for.

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Is Paul Mason’s parliamentary run a Trojan Horse for British intelligence?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 17/07/2022 - 5:17am in

Leaked emails raise serious questions about whether Paul Mason’s run for parliament is, in fact, part of a UK intelligence operation to destroy the anti-war left. In a series of investigations, The Grayzone has exposed Paul Mason’s collusion with a British intelligence operative to disrupt, undermine and discredit the anti-war, anti-imperialist left in Britain and abroad. Rather than comment directly on the shocking disclosures, Mason has resorted to boilerplate statements claiming that the leaked emails on which The Grayzone’s reporting […]

The post Is Paul Mason’s parliamentary run a Trojan Horse for British intelligence? appeared first on The Grayzone.

Why Did Bristol Vote to Abolish its City Mayor?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/07/2022 - 6:00pm in

Thomas Perrett considers the reasons for the shock demise of Marvin Rees’ position, and whether this spells danger for the city-mayor model

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When voters in Bristol elected to abolish the city’s mayor by a margin of 59% to 41% in this year’s local elections, it sparked a debate about the legitimacy of political authority – calling into question the seemingly positive trend of this form of regional devolution.

Byline Times spoke to local figures who expressed concern with the structure of the mayoral system, which they said creates problems – of accountability, of local priorities not being met, and a lack of plurality and diversity when it comes to regional decision-making.

The referendum in May, in which Bristolians elected to replace the mayoral system with a committee system – whereby decisions are ratified by groups of councillors rather than a cabinet of councillors appointed by the mayor alone – has illustrated the widespread discontent at what many in the city perceive as the mismanagement of local government.

It reflects a complex range of concerns, including the restrictions placed on policy-making by what was widely regarded as a bureaucratic cabinet system, and an absence of effective political representation for minority parties. 

These factors have been compounded by tensions over the alleged mismanagement of local priorities, as well as Labour Mayor Marvin Rees’s handling of the Edward Colston statue’s controversial removal in 2020.

As a result of the referendum – which saw a 28.59% turnout of voters – the structure of government in Bristol will change in 2024.

Bristol City Council will be divided into eight politically-balanced committees reflecting the political make-up of the council as a whole – including the views of independents and smaller parties. Under the current city mayoral system, there is a centralisation of power, with Rees appointing a cabinet of up to nine councillors from 70, currently chosen exclusively from the Labour Party.

Bristol operated under a committee system until 2000, when the Local Government Act introduced the ‘Leader and Cabinet’ mode of governance – under which voters could elect councillors, who would then choose members of a cabinet from various parties and elect a leader from the largest party. While similar to the committee system, the cabinet leader took on more executive powers.

However, this system culminated in a series of fractious minority administrations taking charge. Between 2003 and 2012, no party had overall political control over the council – leading to a series of Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent candidates jostling for power.

Plans for transportation and urban development failed to materialise, and the mayoral office was created to provide for more efficient and streamlined implementation of policy.

Origins of the Mayoral System

In 2012, then Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor of London Boris Johnson convened a meeting with local political leaders, in which they reportedly advocated for the adoption of the mayoral system. They argued it would increase Bristol’s visibility within Westminster.

Johnson pledged to create a network of mayors of major cities, who would meet regularly to discuss planning and local government. Indeed, the Government he now leads plans to further expand the number of city mayors in the coming years.

While there may be mayoral success stories in other regions – such as Labour's Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Conservative Andy Street in the West Midlands – the role in Bristol has been a subject of controversy since it was established.

Its critics say that the centralisation of decision-making in a politically homogeneous cabinet undermines the ability of elected councillors to decide on policy. They suggest a committee system, with decision-making is spread across an array of councillors representing disparate communities and party affiliations, would provide a more democratic means of local government.

Some of the decisions taken by Marvin Rees following his re-election last year have sparked charges of authoritarianism. 

In 2021, the Greens become the joint-largest party on Bristol City Council with 24 councillors, equal to the number of Labour representatives. Despite this, Rees refused to create a cabinet comprising both Labour and Green councillors.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have challenged not only the flaws they see in Rees’ leadership, but the underlying, structural factors which have enabled him and his elected cabinet to, in their eyes, monopolise decision-making in local government. 

Mary Page – a former Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate in 2020 – is the founder of ‘It’s Our City’, a campaign to replace the mayoral system. She has said that the organisation “is very much framing our arguments around shared ownership of the city’s resources, the fact that community spaces are shared with each other. This is about community politics, about collaboration and the way that people can and do work together”.

A Crisis of Legitimacy

For Jo Sergeant, a former Bristol city councillor who left Labour and joined the Greens in 2021, the Labour Party has been “focused on power for power’s sake". 

She told Byline Times that “if a mayor gets elected, he can make all the policy decisions in the city” and “all the decisions that councillors are involved in are interpreting existing policy, rather than setting new policies”. 

As she sees it, Bristol has “70 councillors who have no say”.

Sergeant’s take is echoed by transport planner and former Green Party Bristol city councillor Rob Bryher. He told Byline Times that “what councillors expect and what they can do in office are quite different”. 

“Most people assume that, with more councillors, the Greens had more influence on policy and could affect change,” he added. “The system still works on the basis that the person at the top can push anything through. Many new councillors, desperate to implement new policies, suddenly realise that they can’t change anything.”

But the mayoral system's opponents are not only concerned about a lack of representation and decision-making. They argue that having a mayor and a politically homogeneous cabinet has stymied accountability and therefore sound policy-making.

A committed environmentalist, Bryher told Byline Times that “when it comes to clean air, there has been a very long delay” in any action being taken. “The council said they wanted a clean air zone. Over a period of six years, we’ve had three or four successive delays in implementing this – an amount of time far longer than anyone else has ever taken.”

He criticised Marvin Rees’ record on environmental policy, claiming that his failure to enact proactive clean air policies had caused unnecessary deaths from air pollution. His views are shared by Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, who recently challenged Rees for delaying the implementation of clean air schemes in the city.

Lucas told the Bristol Post that “estimates are that 300 lives are cut short every year in Bristol due to this city’s toxic air quality – and some of the city’s poorer areas are the most affected, with as many as 10% of deaths linked to air pollution”.

Critics also say that there is nothing to prevent the mayor from supporting extravagant yet ineffective projects. 

Describing Rees’ plans for an underground transport system in Bristol as a “vanity project” and “a means to an end, not an end in itself”, Jo Sergeant told Byline Times that “sometimes, political leaders are too focused on getting what they want, to make them look good, that they don’t discuss the practicalities of change”.

Despite Byline Times emphasising to Marvin Rees’ office that it wanted to understand the Mayor’s perspective on the vote to abolish his position, how the role works in practice, and put the claims of critics to him, it declined to comment.

Following the referendum in May, he told the media that having a committee-led system would be "very poor" for Bristol's governance. “I hope I am wrong, because certainly the city faces challenges and the city needs a leadership that can lead it in the face of the challenges and opportunities,” he added.

A Democratic Alternative?

Although the mayor is directly elected by Bristol constituents, advocates of the committee system claim it is a more democratic and representative alternative to having a figurehead and an appointed cabinet of elected councillors.

The committee system comprises 70 councillors who elect a council leader – normally the leader of the largest party. This person, unlike the mayor, can be replaced at any time by the council. The leader presents an annual budget and major policies to the council, which are then voted on by councillors.

One voter who elected to replace the mayoralty with a committee system in May’s elections told Byline Times that people’s political priorities can more easily be put to councillors. “It is hard to put pressure on one mayor, who holds all the power – but with lots of individual councillors, each can be realistically threatened with replacement, if there’s a concerted community campaign against them,” they said.

These sentiments are common among anti-mayoral campaigners. 

In the opinion of Rob Bryher, a committee system allows a diverse range of perspectives to eclipse the control of a single policy-maker and “will deliver a result that takes people with you”. “I don’t think that one person can bring a plurality of voices to the table in the way that a committee system can,” he added.

However, the committee system also has its critics.

The system’s selection of councillors from disparate political parties, as opposed to a single-party cabinet chosen by the mayor, has been criticised for its lack of efficiency. The lack of a more rigid, centralised structure can lead to petty factionalism – with political tribalism getting in the way of important decisions being taken.

Brighton and Hove City Council, which operates a committee system, arguably provides one example of this. Last August, its environment, transport and sustainability urgency sub-committee decided to remove a cycle lane in the city, despite criticism from the Greens – the largest local party – who described the decision as “deeply irresponsible”.

However, Bryher claims that “most of the work of the council already operates on a consensus basis” and “most councillors want to find common ground in every meeting. Even when there is strong disagreement, there is collegiality”.

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Back in April – just before his re-election – the Centre for Cities think tank found that 85% of respondents in Manchester supported the devolution of more powers to Labour Mayor Andy Burnham. He won 67.3% of the vote the following month.

Yet Bryher believes that the committee system potentially heralds a broader shift towards political decentralisation across the country, and that other localities will also choose to dispense with the mayoral system.

He gave the example of Sheffield’s committee system, established last year following a referendum. There, Green Party councillors were allotted new roles as chairs of the housing and health and adult social care committees after the party saw five councillors elected during the May 2021 elections. 

“In Sheffield, people felt unlistened to on a number of issues, and felt that they wanted to change local systems,” Bryher told Byline Times. “In the next few years, people will try to alter their systems of governance to something that works for them, rather than something that works for politicians.”

The extent to which the vote to abolish the Bristol mayoralty reflects dissatisfaction with Rees as a particular political figure is unknown. And whether it will actually lead to greater democratic representation, accountability and better policies for local people remains to be seen. As does whether it is a catalyst for a nationwide shift away from city mayors.

But it is clear that voters are asking questions about the legitimacy of political power, its source, and the interests in which it is used – and how it can work for them. 

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Why Brexit is No Longer Boris Johnson’s Superpower

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/07/2022 - 2:14am in

Sam Bright reviews exclusive polling for Byline Times, revealing the public’s newfound pessimism towards Brexit

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Brexit has been the defining feature of Westminster politics since 2014, thwarting progressive parties and helping to sustain a long period of reactionary Conservative rule.

The intricacies of Brexit have been rehearsed and rehashed for more than half a decade, and the common narratives are difficult to dislodge.

However, evidence increasingly suggests that attitudes to Brexit are changing; that it’s no longer the binding force that propelled Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party to an 80-seat majority in December 2019.

This is confirmed by new Byline Times polling, conducted by Omnisis, showing that previously pro-Brexit cohorts of voters are now increasingly apathetic towards the policy – all while anti-Brexit voters are still firmly opposed to our separation from the EU.

While the 2019 General Election was cast as the Brexit election – with Johnson famously pledging to ‘Get Brexit Done’ – the issue is less consequential in the minds of some voters than three years ago.

Nearly half – 46% – of voters surveyed said that Brexit won’t be a significant factor in how they vote at the next election. Notably, however, Brexit is a significant factor in the political decisions of the most anti-Brexit groups.

Take age, for example, which is a reliable proxy for support for Leave and Remain (older groups being more heavily in favour of leaving the EU). Brexit will be a significant factor at the next election for 64% of 18-24 year-olds and 66% of 25-34 year-olds, compared to just 45% of 55-64 year-olds and 43% of those aged over 65.

Brexit is also more significant to those who didn’t vote Conservative at the last election. Some 74% of those surveyed who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2019 say that Brexit will be a significant factor in how they vote next time around, matched by 62% of 2019 Labour voters but just 47% of 2019 Conservatives.

This trend is also seen among those who voted Remain – 64% of whom say that Brexit is still a significant factor in their electoral choices – while 47% of Leave voters share this opinion.

In short: Brexit is no longer the binding force that it was in 2019 among Leave voters, whereas it is still a unifying issue among those who voted Remain.

The polling also shows that Mr Brexit, Boris Johnson, no longer draws political strength from his association with the project.

Only 21% of those surveyed by Omnisis – a politically and demographically representative sample of 1,000 people – said that they are more likely to vote Conservative based on Johnson’s Brexit stance. In contrast, 48% of people said that they are less likely to vote Conservative due to Johnson’s views on Brexit, and 31% are neither more nor less likely.

A greater proportion of people in every age bracket say that they are less likely to vote for the Conservatives due to Johnson’s Brexit policies, than those who are more likely, while apathy towards Johnson’s Brexit position grows as age increases.

Are you more likely to vote Conservative at the next election based on Boris Johnson’s views on Brexit?

18-24
16% more likely; 61% less likely; 23% neither more nor less

45-54
19% more likely; 50% less likely; 32% neither more nor less

65+
24% more likely; 31% less likely; 45% neither more nor less

Once again, voters who opted for Brexit-averse parties in 2019 are unified on this question, whereas the pro-Brexit vote is increasingly split.

40% of 2019 Conservatives are more likely to vote for the party next time around, due to Johnson’s views on Brexit, whereas 68% of 2019 Labour voters are less likely, as are 63% of Lib Dems.

This perhaps explains why the Liberal Democrats have notched up recent by-election victories in North Shropshire, and Tiverton and Honiton, both of which firmly opted in favour of Brexit in 2016 – matched by Labour’s success in the ‘Red Wall’ seat of Wakefield. The anti-Brexit populous in these seats is still firmly opposed to the Conservatives, while Brexiters who previously backed the Tories are increasingly apathetic and disloyal.

But what are the reasons for the gradual erosion of pro-Brexit sentiment, while those opposed to the project are unmoved?

One explanation could be the situation in Northern Ireland, with the country’s Assembly experiencing another period of paralysis while trade with the rest of Great Britain is increasingly inhibited.

Indeed, some 63% of people say that the UK Government is to blame for the current trade problems in Northern Ireland – a sentiment shared by 90% of the 18-24s, 78% of the 25-34s, 70% of the 35-44 age bracket, and 68% of the 45-54s.

Even the oldest age group, the over-65s, are divided in their attitudes: 39% believing it’s the Government’s fault and 61% blaming the EU.

This trend – of anti-Brexit unity and pro-Brexit uncertainty – again crystallises around the three main Westminster parties, with 64% of 2019 Tories saying the problems in Northern Ireland are the EU’s fault, while 83% of Labour voters and 87% of Lib Dems believing the blame lies with Johnson’s administration.

Another factor in the disintegration of the Brexit coalition could simply be personal experience. An overwhelming 81% of those surveyed said that they are not personally seeing any benefits of Brexit, including 88% of those over the age of 65 – the highest proportion of any age bracket – 73% of those who voted Conservative in 2019, and 72% of Leave voters.

This confirms the findings of a similar survey that we conducted in May, finding that 67% of voters think that leaving the EU has driven up prices, while only 5% think that Brexit has reduced the cost of living.

In our latest poll, 66% of people say that they do not expect to see any Brexit benefits in the next five years. This figure decreases as age increases, though a majority of over-65s (60%) don’t expect to see any Brexit benefits in the next five years.

2019 Conservative voters are more optimistic than others, with 54% expecting to see Brexit dividends realised in the next five years – matched by 59% of Leave voters – while 77% of Labour voters and 85% of Lib Dems are not so optimistic.

Starmer’s Dilemma

Keir Starmer is today conducting a speech on Brexit, without cameras and without journalists in the audience – epitomising his nervousness towards the subject, that contributed to his party’s worst election performance since the 1930s three years ago.

Evidently, however, voters aren’t as hostile to Starmer’s views on Brexit as they are to Johnson’s. While only 21% of voters say that they are more likely to back the Conservatives due to Johnson’s views on Brexit, this figure rises to 31% in the case of Starmer and Labour.

Every age bracket up to the 55-64s are more likely than less likely to vote Labour due to Starmer’s views on Brexit. The level of neutrality towards Starmer’s Brexit views is also consistent across age brackets, with more than 30% of people across the board saying that they are neither more nor less likely to vote Labour due to Starmer’s views on Brexit – increasing to 42% among the 65+ age bracket.

A significant minority (47%) of 2019 Conservative voters either say that Starmer’s position on Brexit would make them more likely to vote Labour (13%) or would neither make them more nor less likely (34%) to vote Labour. Only 22% of Remain voters are less likely to vote Labour due to Starmer’s stance on Brexit.

Although Brexit isn’t necessarily a winning issue for Starmer’s Labour Party, he does seem to have created a delicate coalition – offering an alternative to unhappy Conservative Brexiters while not alienating anti-Brexit ideologues.

If Starmer has an appetite to shift his position, however, our polling shows that voters may be more receptive to a stronger stance on Brexit – which is perhaps why Starmer has indicated that he’s ‘ready to fight’ Johnson over the issue.

53% of surveyed voters want to see a closer relationship between the UK and EU in the future, only 28% want to see a more distant relationship, while 19% don’t mind.

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This feeling is consistent across all age groups, with 47% of the over-65s wanting to see a closer relationship with the EU, compared to 31% who want a greater degree of separation.

Again, 2019 Conservatives are split (40% wanting more distance from the EU in the future and 35% seeking a closer relationship), while Labour and Lib Dem voters are more certain – 70% and 67% respectively wanting a closer relationship.

Overall, the direction of public opinion is clear, with 56% of Leave voters seeking either a closer relationship with the EU or saying they don’t care, while 76% of Remain voters want a closer relationship.

The question for Labour is also whether adopting a new stance towards the UK’s relationship with the EU – not simply attacking the Conservatives more aggressively on the outcomes of Brexit – will win more votes for the party, in the right areas of the country.

Our polling suggests that 42% of people would be more likely to vote for Labour if the party came out in favour of single market membership – while 31% would be less likely and 26% would be neither more nor less likely. Yet this skews in favour of younger voters who are already much more likely to vote Labour. For example, 62% of 25-34s say they would be more likely to vote for the party if it backed single market membership, falling to 30% among 55-64s – while 48% of this older bracket would be less likely to vote Labour if it adopted a pro-single market policy.

Of those who voted Conservative in 2019, 58% say that they would be less likely to vote Labour if it backed rejoining the single market, while 19% said they would be more likely to plump for Starmer’s party.

We also didn’t point out to those surveyed that rejoining the single market would invariably involve accepting freedom of movement. If we had, it’s likely that the results would have shown even less support for this policy among older, more socially conservative demographics.

Labour’s decision to criticise the outcomes of Johnson’s Brexit, while supporting the thawing of tensions with the EU, therefore seems to be a politically sound one – for now.

In the medium term, however, if and when the benefits of Brexit firmly fail to materialise, Labour may be able to offer a stronger policy.

64% of the respondents to our poll said that they would support a new referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in the next 10 years. This idea is backed by more than 70% of people under the age of 45 and has a majority of support among all age brackets aside from the over-65s.

Most significantly, 40% of 2019 Conservatives and 40% of Leave voters back a second referendum in the next 10 years. This is matched by 83% of 2019 Labour voters and 87% of 2019 Lib Dems.

Labour’s line today is that “We cannot move forward, deliver change or win back the trust of those who have lost faith in politics by focusing on the arguments of the past.”

Yet Brexit is an ongoing issue for voters, and it’s clear that a substantial proportion do not see the issue as settled.

The full tables and methodology can be found here

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Pledging to Rejoin the European Single Market would be a Brave Move from our Opposition Parties

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/06/2022 - 10:11pm in

As Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood calls for the UK to rejoin the Single Market, a Liberal Democrat peer asks cautious opposition parties to consider its benefits

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Opposition parties are rightly celebrating their triumphs in the recent by-elections, which saw the Conservatives suffer severe and historic defeats in both a 'Red Wall' seat and a traditional Tory heartland. But strong pro-Europeans have one serious concern: Labour's recent announcement that it will not reverse Brexit but seek to improve it. Is this the right strategy at this perilous time?

In the face of Russian aggression, Chinese expansion and uncertainty about America’s future role, we need the strongest possible EU, militarily and economically, to defend freedom and justice in the world. 

Britain should surely draw as close to the EU as possible, strengthen the world influence of both, and not endorse the Conservative claim that Brexit is “done”. 

To propose that the UK should rejoin the EU is clearly unrealistic. But, as evidence mounts almost daily from nearly all leading economists of how withdrawal from the bloc has not only helped to make Britain, once again, the sick man of Europe, with the weakest industrial economy after Russia, is a refusal to accept the realities of Brexit  weakening Europe and the West?

One solution that has recently had some prominent publicity is that the UK should rejoin the Single Market – powerfully argued by a leading Conservative, Tobias Ellwood. He has argued that this would strengthen the British economy, no longer separated from what was its biggest and closest market; and to some extent strengthen the economy of the EU as well. 

It could also solve the problem of the Northern Ireland Protocol – as joint members of the same market, there would be no need for a border in the Irish Sea or for that matter between Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. All would gain. 

However, politically – perhaps understandably – from Labour’s point of view, given that a third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, rejoining the Single Market would likely be a step too far for the party to endorse. This is because such a move would require freedom of movement of labour – which Boris Johnson and his friends in the right-wing press would make great use of for their own ends.

Perhaps the wisest policy for opposition parties to propose would be to work to bring the UK and the EU as closely together as possible within the framework of the present EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. This could allow opportunities for improvements, for instance, to enable us to renew the UK's participation in the Erasmus and Horizon programmes.

In any case, the agreement will be reviewed in 2024 – by which time much could have changed. A bitter, prolonged and deeply damaging trade conflict looms. The negative consequences of Brexit may become a much bigger issue in the public consciousness. Furthermore, immigration has already lost much of its unpopularity and may no longer be an obstacle to pro-European reforms.

In the years ahead, Labour and the liberal Democrats may come to the conclusion that joining the Single Market is an idea whose time has come.

Lord Taverne is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords. He was the Labour MP for Lincoln from 1962 to 1972, when he was deselected by Labour. He resigned his seat and won re-election in the constituency as a Democratic Labour MP in 1973 to 1974

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End of the Brexit Era? Wakefield Gives Labour a Second Chance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 7:14pm in

The country has moved on from Brexit and won't be distracted by 'culture wars' – where does this leave Johnson and the 'Red Wall'?

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It’s not always greener on the other side. At least that is the conclusion of voters in Wakefield after three years of Conservative rule.

The seat, which in 2019 flipped to the Tories for the first time since 1931, has now returned to Labour.

The by-election was called after the MP elected in 2019, Imran Ahmad Khan, was convicted of sexual assault. Khan had been suspended from the Conservative whip in 2021 pending the outcome of the prosecution, and this scandal undoubtedly played a role in Labour’s political revival in the West Yorkshire seat.

But other factors are relevant too. In particular, Boris Johnson's inability to find a replacement for Brexit – the campaign that converted much of the 'Red Wall' to the Conservatives.

Mirroring other Red Wall seats – former industrial areas in the north of England, the Midlands and north Wales – Wakefield voted comfortably in favour of Brexit, by a margin of 66.4% to 33.6%.

Following three years of parliamentary prevarications, Wakefield and other similar constituencies wanted to ‘Get Brexit Done’, as Johnson promised.

Brexit had herded the electorate into new political tribes, with many traditional Labour voters supporting a cause that had been largely championed by the hard-right. Brexit arguably became a religion – dominating political debate and polarising voters into two aggressively opposed camps.

Through years of national soul-searching – refracted through the lens of Brexit – the campaign to leave the EU morphed from the technocratic to the emotional, coming to define the personal and political identities of all those invested in its outcome.

Prior to the UK's departure from the EU, polls showed little change in retrospective support for Leave and Remain, with the nation pretty much split down the middle.

With the figurehead of Vote Leave placed in charge of the Conservatives in July 2019, Brexit was a unifying force for the party – coalescing these voters under its flag. A few months later, in December 2019, Labour lost 25% of those who had voted for Brexit in 2016 after voting for Labour in 2010, along with 45 Red Wall constituencies.

Now, this has all changed.

Johnson’s personal popularity has collapsed, owing to his ‘Partygate’ lies and anaemic response to the cost of living crisis.

After seizing a host of Labour seats in 2019, the Prime Minister acknowledged that local voters had “lent” their votes to the Conservatives. “I, and we, will never take your support for granted. I will make it my mission to work night and day, to work flat-out to prove you right in voting for me this time, and to earn your support in the future,” he said.

Three years on, this trust has not been repaid – at least in the eyes of voters in Wakefield.

Brexit Betrayals

The apex of this political conundrum for Johnson is the waning potency of Brexit and the issues that it evokes. In YouGov’s tracker of the most important issues facing the country, according to voters, ‘Britain leaving the EU’ is selected by 19% of people – down from 65% on the eve of the election in 2019 – while ‘immigration and asylum’ is selected by 24%.

The Prime Minister has never been wildly popular, contrary to the myths perpetuated by the Conservative Party, having merely been adopted as a Brexit battering ram. Now that Brexit is ‘done’, his usefulness is increasingly unclear, including to those who supported him in 2019.

In a poll conducted by Omnisis for Byline Times in April, 51% of Leave voters surveyed said that the ‘Partygate’ scandal has made them less likely to vote Conservative at the next election, while a clear majority, 63%, no longer trust Johnson to tell the truth.

As for the most important issues facing the country currently, 65% of people opt for ‘the economy’, followed at a distance by ‘health’ (35%). These are the issues of the day, on which Johnson and his party are floundering.

In an Omnisis poll for Byline Times in May, before Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new package of cost of living support, an overwhelming 81% of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied by the Government’s response to the cost of living crisis.

As of now, 56% of Conservative voters believe that the Government is handling the economy badly, while 57% think the same about the party’s handling of healthcare.

And on this front, Brexit is increasingly a hindrance to the Conservatives. This newspaper's Omnisis polling in May found that 67% of people asked believe that leaving the EU has made their cost of living higher – a belief shared by 48% of Leave voters – while 64% of people think that Brexit has been negative for the UK.

These perceptions are only likely to harden after this week’s Resolution Foundation report, showing that the north-east of England – one of the country’s poorest regions and also one of its most avidly pro-Brexit – will be hit hardest by the UK's departure from the EU.

In contrast, “there is early evidence that London is, in fact, adapting to Brexit faster than other regions,” the report says.

So, while Jacob Rees-Mogg cautioned that the benefits of Brexit could take “50 years” to materialise – a theory seemingly accepted by most Leave voters – they appear not so tolerant now that the country is forced to trudge through the economic quagmire on the long road to finding those “sunlit uplands”.

There seems little evidence either for the supposed cultural and democratic benefits of Brexit. The Daily Mail carried a front page on the day before the referendum, painting a stark choice for the nation between “Lies. Greedy elites. Or a great future outside a broken, dying Europe”.

With Johnson’s Vote Leave Government tainted by accusations of corruption and mendacity – rewriting the constitutional rulebook for its own ends – the anti-establishment promises of Brexit seem far from reality.

Brexit also appears to be a strategic distraction for the Conservatives. With the country clamouring for policies to solve real-world issues around jobs, wages, bills, and public services, the Conservative Party is still waging a Brexit 'culture war' – attempting to rehash the playbook of the previous election through ‘anti-woke’ identity conflicts.

Labour has been the beneficiary of a Conservative collapse in Wakefield; the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton and Honiton, as well as previous by-elections in Chesham and Amersham, and North Shropshire.

The question is whether these two opposition parties can capitalise on Boris Johnson’s weakness to such an extent that they have a chance of forging a coalition after the next election. Or if, less probably, Labour can win a majority of its own.

In the Red Wall, that still seems uncertain. Labour’s results were unconvincing in these seats during the recent local elections, although Westminster-level polling has suggested that the Conservatives could lose all but three of their Red Wall seats when a general election rolls around.

Either way, Labour has been given a second chance to prove its calibre in Wakefield, while the Conservatives are forced to wrestle with the reality that the tag-team of Johnson and Brexit has finally lost its golden touch.

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Boris Johnson’s ‘Culture War’ Runs Into the Ground in Tiverton and Wakefield

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 3:57pm in

The Prime Minister's focus on 'wedge issues' is turning voters away from the Conservative Party as it suffers two heavy by-election defeats, reports Adam Bienkov

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Boris Johnson’s election strategist David Canzini told ministerial aides earlier this year that they should “find the wedge issues in your department and hammer them".

They certainly heeded his advice.

In recent months, the Prime Minister and his media supporters have hammered away on a whole series of such issues – from deporting refugees to Rwanda, to taking on trade unions, tackling ‘left-wing lawyers’ and the question of whether women can have penises.

Canzini, who is a protégé of Johnson’s campaigns guru Lynton Crosby, assumed that such 'culture war' issues would succeed in cleaving voters away from his political opponents. They didn’t.

Last night the Conservatives suffered two huge by-election defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, on what was one of the worst nights for the party in decades.

In Wakefield, Labour won back the former 'Red Wall' seat on a substantial 12% swing, which would be enough for Keir Starmer’s party to win an overall majority, if repeated at a general election.

In Tiverton, the picture was far worse, with the Liberal Democrats seizing one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. The scale of the defeat is hard to overstate. There are just 40 other Conservative seats with larger majorities across the country and Conservative MPs have represented Tiverton for almost 100 years. 

On the ground, the Lib Dems reported that the Conservatives appeared to be “bereft of a message”, with the party having nothing to say about the big issues that most voters care about.

In advance of the result, one senior Lib Dem figure told Byline Times that the Prime Minister’s focus on 'wedge' – or culture war – issues appeared to be backfiring for his party.

“People don’t think much about these issues and fundamentally just want to be nice and decent human beings to each other,” they said. “And if you’re really concerned about the state of the NHS, as people are here, then hearing the PM going to town about trans women in sports events actually sounds as elite, metropolitan, and out-of-touch as the people he’s attacking.”

In different times, the Prime Minister’s focus on such “elite” issues may have had some traction. But, with inflation soaring and with even Conservative voters dissatisfied with his Government’s handling of the economy, this relentless focus on culture war issues has only helped to emphasise how out-of-touch the party has become.

This week, pollsters Ipsos published the latest findings from their regular survey of the top issues concerning voters.

Ipsos Issues Index: June 2022

Right at the top of the list was inflation, cost of living and, for the first time ever, “lack of faith in politicians".

Nowhere to be seen on the list was any of the issues Boris Johnson and his Government have been 'hammering' away at in recent months.

Johnson's Culture War is Failing

Asked about the upcoming by-elections at this week's Prime Minister's Questions, Johnson predicted that voters would stick with his party, saying "I have absolutely no doubt that the people of this country, and the people of Wakefield and of Tiverton and Honiton, would much rather vote for a solid Conservative Government".

Two days later and his prediction was badly disproved.

In the aftermath of the results, the Conservative Party Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden resigned, with an incredibly pointed letter, saying "somebody must take responsibility" for the defeats.

That somebody won't be Johnson. Asked in advance of the result whether defeat in both by-elections would trigger his resignation, the Prime Minister described the idea as "crazy", suggesting he was determined to remain in Downing Street come what may.

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Following the result, he told reporters in Rwanda that he would "listen to voters" but "keep going".

Yet, unless something major changes, Johnson is leading his party towards likely defeat at the next general election.

Like the Russian tank battalion slowly ground into the dust on the road to Kyiv, Johnson's culture war forces are failing to make the advances either he, or his election strategists, so confidently predicted.

And if Conservative MPs now come to the same conclusion, then the biggest loser of the culture war could soon be the Prime Minister himself.

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