populism

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Pluralism versus Populism – The Battle Rages On

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/08/2022 - 10:33pm in

In his editorial from the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times, Peter Jukes explores the big new political battle shaping the world

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With the assassination of the al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by a US drone strike in Kabul, this July marked the end of an era. Al-Zawahiri was killed 21 years after he helped plan the attacks on the US Pentagon and World Trade Centre, and 11 years after his predecessor, Osama bin Laden, was shot dead in a US raid in Pakistan. Combined with the US retreat from Afghanistan last year, the period defined by 9/11 and the global ‘War on Terror’ appears to be coming to a close. What has replaced it?

For at least six years, the threat to democracy seems to have come less from violent non-state actors, but from the warring elites within some of the world’s largest democracies. Modi in India, Erdoğan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil and – of course – Trump in the US and Johnson in the UK show that the rise of authoritarian populism is no flash in the pan. 

Most of the disruption caused by this has been non-violent and has not spilled across borders. But the spike in violent far-right terrorism shows that the threats aren’t mere ‘culture wars’. And the populist Brexit project destabilised the EU just as much as Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ isolationism undermined NATO and the UN. 

The elevated threat this poses to the post-war rules-based order came into starker relief this February, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Like Trump and Johnson, Putin invoked the language of ‘national sovereignty’ above international law in his justifications for the unprovoked assault – tying up his “special military operation” to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine with a wider global war on ‘cancel culture’. Some of his speeches could have been written by far-right ideologue and Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon (who claimed to have helped our outgoing Prime Minister write his).  

Though the six-month-long invasion has made Russia an international pariah, it has certainly not dented Putin’s popularity in Russia itself. In a sense, this is the ultimate success of authoritarian populism. So what is wrong with being popular? 

The problem with populism – an appeal to the majority for the sake of that appeal – is that it cannot keep its promises. One example of this mismatch between being ‘for the people’ but not actually helping them, is the higher level of Coronavirus deaths in countries led by populist authoritarians. 

Another came to me recently while watching the late 90s disaster movie Deep Impact – the precursor to the recent hit Netflix satire Don’t Look Up starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In both film scenarios, an asteroid is heading towards Earth with the potential to create an ‘extinction level event’. 

In the 1998 version, the US President – played by Morgan Freeman – co-operates with international scientists and governments across the world, to provide an active response and carefully thought-through back up plans. They don’t end up entirely diverting disaster, but a combination of collective action and individual initiative saves the planet from the worst and most people survive. 

In the 2021 remake, the US – led by a populist president played by Meryl Streep in the style of Donald Trump – panders to the media and her lazily sceptical voter base. The response is to either ignore the impending catastrophe (“don’t look up!”) or to somehow profit from it. The result is that the planet is destroyed and virtually nobody survives. 

The metaphor of climate change denial is all too clear, and the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times looks at the wider impact of the climate emergency, with a special investigation led by Nafeez Ahmed. As Nafeez points out, the rise of far-right politics is connected to the devastating impacts of climate change and its effect on migration. But, as always with populism, since it never addresses the real cause, the reaction is to blame minority groups or threatening ‘outsiders’ – migrants, asylum seekers, Muslims, terrorists.

Because populist policies are only designed to evoke outrage rather than solve problems, they provoke a spiral of ever-more disturbing narratives that soon turn against ‘insiders’ too: the ‘stab in the back’ by ‘enemies of the people’, ending in conspiracy theories about globalist ‘elites’ or an undefined ‘deep state’. 

Ultimately, this cycle of broken promise does threaten the ‘deep’ state – in other words, independent institutions, governance, and the rule of law. 

Because populism is so predicated on lies, the only way to maintain its mythic structures is to make sure reality never breaks through, and to keep a firm grip on the state so the spiralling authoritarian wrongs are never exposed. 

This is the trajectory writ large by Donald Trump’s incitement of the Capitol insurrection of 6 January 2021, in which he hoped to overturn the democratic vote for Joe Biden. There is also an echo of this in Boris Johnson’s constant challenges to parliamentary and police scrutiny over his time in Number 10. Both parties – the Republicans in the US and the Conservatives in the UK – now appear more or less wedded to this rhetoric of rule-breaking and cultural polarisation of their societies through the ‘war on woke’.

For all its disturbing trends, the rise of populism does remind us – like a photographic negative – of those elements which actually have made democracies succeed throughout the 20th Century, which can be summed up in one word: pluralism.

The danger of any democracy is always the tyranny of the majority and, as was witnessed in Germany in the 1930s or can be seen in Russia today, a popular movement with the support of more than 50% of the population can decide on a trajectory of repression, censorship, imperial war, genocide and widespread destruction. 

That is because the only thing that has made democracies function in the past is the combination of popular rule with the protection of individual and minority rights, especially when it comes to free speech and assembly; and clear, fair rules about the succession of power. 

In Xi Jinping's China, in Putin’s Russia, and (almost) in Donald Trump’s America, the peaceful transfer of power has been broken, with ‘presidents for life’ equating the success of the state with their own lives and livelihoods. Britain is not exempt from this danger, as we face the third change of prime minister mid-term without a mandate from the electorate. 

Pluralism also guards us against the other knee-jerk reaction of the populists: demonisation of others to create ‘in group’-‘out group’ fears. Rising out of a fight against religious intolerance, pluralism is the only way to fight back against the sectarian divisions provoked by demagogues like Modi. 

As Hardeep Matharu explains in a profound and searching essay in these pages, the 'culture wars' seek to divide-and-rule by fixing individuals in mutually exclusive, and often mutually hostile, single identities – whereas the reality is we all have multiple, overlapping identities, and the pluralism we seek in society is actually a liberation of the pluralism and choice within us all. 

Finally, in the battle between pluralism and populism, whether metaphorical or literal, the former shows more signs of adaptiveness and strength.

In this month's print edition, Tom Mutch explains how his journey to the frontlines of the Donbas in Ukraine began with his work on Arron Banks’ book, The Bad Boys of Brexit, and an investigation into how Russia may have intervened in the EU Referendum. We’ve seen the tense, litigious and expensive battles over allegations of Russia interference dominate our courts, with high-profile legal battles against investigative journalists like Carole Cadwalladr and Catherine Belton. 

But, more than anything, this struggle is playing out in real time, measured in human cost, on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine. Ever since the much smaller Ukrainian military forces managed to beat the much larger Russian Army in the siege of Kyiv, the power of pluralistic society collaborating with a wider European community of nations, has proved itself more powerful, blow by blow, than the top-down controlled dictatorial structures of Putin’s military and managed authoritarian democracy. 

The sinking of the flagship Russian Cruiser Moskva, the recapturing of the strategic Snake Island in the Black Sea, and the recent devastating explosions at the Saki Russian air force base in Crimea, show a depth of group ingenuity – not to mention collective motivation of a smaller force against a much larger one. 

With Russia having failed in its secondary objective to capture the Donetsk Oblast, Putin has moved most of his forces into a defence of Kherson –  the one large city which fell quickly during the initial invasion. This is looking increasingly like a trap, as there are only two bridges to supply his forces, and both have been badly damaged by Ukrainian rocket attacks.  

Whatever happens, the battle for Kherson will be a crucial turning point in this third phase of the war. If Putin loses and is forced to withdraw, his own domestic situation could well become precarious. And if so, for the people of Russia as much as those in Ukraine or the rest of Europe, the empty promises of populism will have been exposed once again by the wider forces of pluralism.

This article was published as an editorial in the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times. Buy your copy now

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DO THE DEMOCRATS CARE?!: Happy Hour with Hightower at the Lowdown Chat & Chew Cafe with Rep. Ro Khanna

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/08/2022 - 9:00pm in

Urgent alert to top Dem party poohbahs: Too many would-be Democratic voters are disillusioned by your tone-deaf, wishy-washy incrementalism! On our next Chat & Chew Happy Hour, progressive champion Ro Khanna joins Hightower for a lively discussion of how the Dems can fire up people bearing the brunt of unrestrained corporate power and an economy tilted toward the rich.

Watch on YouTube | Watch on Facebook

 

The post DO THE DEMOCRATS CARE?!: Happy Hour with Hightower at the Lowdown Chat & Chew Cafe with Rep. Ro Khanna appeared first on Hightower Lowdown.

Book Review: Authoritarian Contagion: The Global Threat to Democracy by Luke Cooper

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/08/2022 - 8:47pm in

In Authoritarian Contagion: The Global Threat to DemocracyLuke Cooper explores the rise of ‘authoritarian protectionism’ across the globe. This book is an excellent introduction to authoritarian politics and will prove highly informative for readers wanting to strengthen their understanding of contemporary events, writes D. Kaan Akcay.

Authoritarian Contagion: The Global Threat to Democracy. Luke Cooper. Bristol University Press. 2021.

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Authoritarian Contagion book coverThe Rubicon has been crossed for liberal democracies around the globe. Human history, already plagued by authoritarian governments and movements, faces another wave of authoritarianism with a splash of ethno-nationalism. With his extensive knowledge and scholarship on Europe, Luke Cooper defines this new iteration as ‘authoritarian protectionism’ in his latest book, Authoritarian Contagion.

‘Authoritarian protectionism’ is a novel political concept that rehashes some authoritarian characteristics of old. Cases like Turkey have already experienced deep levels of democratic backsliding, while the US shows early signs of decay through the tenure of President Donald Trump. Hegemonic politics, where political and economic gains can only be earned at the expense of others, reflects the idea of a zero-sum game, as observed in the 2021 Capitol insurrection. ‘Real’ Americans devastate the democratic process for their own gain. Cooper positions this mindset as the belief that ‘the world will end for others but not us’ (6): a powerful idea that acts like a ‘contagion’.

To explain this phenomenon, Cooper explores the historical process of authoritarian politics, with special regard to the authoritarian individualism of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former US President Ronald Reagan. Cooper argues against the idea of a post-politics period where the neoliberal mode of operation and democratic systems are the convergence points of human civilisation, proposed by Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History among other works. Cooper claims that events such as 9/11, the 2008 recession and now COVID-19 show that this is not the case. Protectionism and the narrative of a corrupt elite are being normalised through anti-globalisation sentiments and ‘America first’ rhetoric.

Authoritarian Contagion suggests that once this school of far-right authoritarian thought is normalised, gaining a foothold in mainstream politics, it is hard to dislodge (12). Furthermore, the political movements and parties that combine nations’ historical experiences with this new politics are proving especially transformative through such normalisation (21). This new protectionist agenda thrives on the idea that the collective is of importance, rather than the individual. Fighting for Christianity, fighting for America, getting ‘the man’s job’ done: these are all elements that define the authoritarian protectionism of Trump and many others. There are heteronormative, ethno-nationalistic and militaristic masses living in an alternative reality (30).

Sign in shopping trolley reading 'Fight Tyranny' above a picture of Donald Trump

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

For Cooper’s conception, these factors, combined with a sense of immediate crisis, are the basis of the new wave of authoritarianism that the book explores in detail. It can be said that ‘authoritarian protectionism’ captures the convergence of populism and racism. Although underemphasised in the book, elements of the ‘us versus them’ rhetoric and references to a corrupt global elite and taking back the power for ‘ordinary people’ are all well-established aspects of populist movements. Today, proposed by Cooper as diverging from previous examples, there is a layer of racism on top (43).

Authoritarian Contagion explains the context of nationalism and authoritarianism adequately to give the reader all the necessary information, effectively showing the rise of the far right in combination with authoritarian politics and hybrid regimes, which are in between full democracies and full authoritarianism on the spectrum of political systems. As Cooper suggests, these are not necessarily new phenomena, but they threaten the future of democracies. Furthermore, while democracies seem to be the dominant system across the globe, especially in the West, liberal democracy is fairly new. Universal suffrage and civil rights were lacking in most of the old democracies up until the 1960s. Cooper clearly illustrates the need to fight and protect the formal and substantive aspects of democracy, arguing that there is no perfect setting in which democracy thrives without problems (68).

The greatest strength of Cooper’s work is his competence in capturing all the aspects, concepts and developments of authoritarian politics applicable to different cases. Protectionism can be observed in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, the US, China, France, the UK and beyond. All these states have suffered from repeated attacks on the liberal qualities of democracies.

As Cooper suggests, authoritarian protectionism also damages inclusive global efforts to solve many of the biggest problems humanity is facing, including global warming, pandemics and energy crises. In the last chapter, ‘Authoritarian Futures?’, Cooper explores how politics shapes the relationship between nature and humans. The mercantile nature of protectionism prevents cooperation between states. Only their people and nation will survive, in lieu of others. The climate crisis, income inequality and other global concerns become a tool that fuels authoritarian policies that fail to offer any solutions (133). Many issues, including climate change, require a global effort, yet there can be no collective action in a zero-sum game.

The main weakness of the work comes from overlooked details in the analysed cases. In the chapter ‘Sino-America’, we read a comparative analysis of authoritarian protectionism in China and the US. The bleak outlook on China’s assimilation policies towards minorities, especially the Uyghurs, presents a strong case of ethno-nationalism; comparable evidence for the US is lacking. While the book presents a variety of voter data, it is difficult to isolate the causes of the success of Trump without further evidence, leaving much to be desired regarding possible takeaways. While comparisons can provide some general findings about the state of the world, examining vastly different polities may be unhelpful for the purposes of the book. In sum, the lack of detail in the analyses impedes the aim of understanding ‘authoritarian contagion’ in greater depth.

The notion that ‘the Rubicon has been crossed’, proposed by Cooper in the opening of the book, is one that I strongly agree with. Democratic backsliding and the rise of this new iteration of authoritarian politics are not new phenomena. Yet, in line with the book’s premise, they are spreading in a highly contagious manner. Having lived in a country ahead of this curve, I found the book to be an excellent introduction to authoritarian politics with an emphasis on contemporary ethno-nationalistic protectionism. It is a great research primer for all scholars in the field, and an informative work for curious readers who want to strengthen their understanding of contemporary events with robust knowledge.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

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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The Hardline Forces Shaping the Conservative Leadership Contest

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/07/2022 - 9:48pm in

Byline Times and The Citizens explore the individuals and organisations that are propelling the Conservative Party’s lurch to the right

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On 11 July, climate-sceptic Conservative MP Steve Baker hosted a relaunch event for the Thatcherite-era campaigning group, Conservative Way Forward (CWF), attended by Conservative leadership hopefuls Suella Braverman and Nadhim Zahawi.

CWF is an entity originally launched in 1991 to “defend and build upon the achievements of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, and to adapt the principles of her era in government to modern concerns and challenges”. 

According to the organisation’s LinkedIn profile, former Prime Minister David Cameron described it as “the largest and most effective pressure group in the Conservative Party today”. The group claims to have, since 1997, supported every successful leadership candidate, including Boris Johnson.

The campaign video used to relaunch CWF perpetuates the claim that it is an eclectic mix of Conservative members from different wings of the party. But, in reality, the reemergence of CWF as a force in Conservative politics represents a worrying yet-further rightwards shift in the politics of the party – confirmed by the influence of other opaque Thatcherite groups.

Baker, who has shared papers denying the climate crisis and is a trustee at the UK’s “principal climate science denial campaign group”, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has himself stated that his ultimate objective for CWF is to “redefine the territory on which the Conservative Party operates” – cementing the ultra-libertarian wing as the new “centre ground” of the party.

Braverman, and individuals coalescing around the CWF, strongly reflect the shift in the party towards low corporate tax, net-zero-scepticism and culture war conflicts, encouraged by big money broadcasters – mirroring the tone of Republican politics in the United States.

Baker himself has come out fiercely in support of Braverman’s campaign, stating that she has his “complete and unequivocal loyalty”, recently becoming her campaign manager. Baker had briefly toyed with the idea of running for the leadership himself.

Braverman and Zahawi were the only candidates to publicly back a ‘Charter for Tax Cuts’ promoted by CWF, written by ‘independent economist’ Julian Jessop. While now self-employed, Jessop was, until December 2018, the chief economist at opaquely-funded Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a libertarian think tank that is widely reported to have received money from the fossil fuel industry and climate science deniers

The CWF pamphlet calls for expansive tax cuts, reductions in fuel VAT, and the suspension of green levies on energy bills designed to fund renewables. The CWF, as extensively reported by DeSmog, also has deep links to climate-scepticism.

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Neil Record, chair of the GWPF (and the IEA), donated £5,000 to Steve Baker in February for a ‘media and strategic campaign consultant’. Ed Barker, who sits on the board of directors of CWF, worked with him closely during the pandemic, helping to coordinate a nexus of lockdown-sceptic groups.

GWPF’s honorary president is Lord Nigel Lawson, who has defended fossil fuel extraction and described global warming as “not a problem”.

GWPF and its campaigning arm, Net Zero Watch, have been found to have accepted donations from those linked to the fossil fuel industry, while falsely blaming the cost of living crisis on net-zero policies. Climate policy researchers have branded claims made by the group as “misinformation and propaganda”.

GWPF says that seeks to challenge the “costs and implications” of measures to tackle climate change and claims that it wants to see “policies that enhance human wellbeing and protect the environment”.

It should also be noted that environmental issues remain a top-three issue among the British public, according to recent polling. In fact, the pro-climate Conservative Environment Network counts 123 MPs and 15 Tory peers among its ranks. Once again, it becomes difficult to square this with the CWF’s claims of uniting Conservative members behind a mainstream agenda.

However, there are fears among green Tories that the next party leader, in the wake of the Johnson administration’s sudden implosion, could ditch its climate policies to appease the likes of Baker and CWF.

CWF favourite Braverman has openly committed to scrapping the Government’s net-zero plans, stating that: “In order to deal with the energy crisis we need to suspend the all-consuming desire to achieve net zero by 2050. If we keep it up, especially before businesses and families can adjust, our economy will end up with net zero growth”.

Braverman has also taken a hardline stance on culture war issues – quoted earlier this month as saying that “we need to get rid of all this woke rubbish and get back to a country where describing a man and a woman in terms of biology does not mean that you’re going to lose your job”.

She recently faced backlash from school leaders after claiming that schools should have no obligation to accommodate pupils who want to change gender, or address them by their preferred pronouns.

Caroline Derbyshire, executive head at Saffron Waldon county high school disputed Braverman’s outburst as “an attempt to whip up an anti-woke culture war, and in schools we are not really interested in this kind of silliness. Young people have been through enough”.

Polling shows that only 2% of Britons think the trans debate is an important issue facing the country, despite the focus devoted to the subject during the Conservative leadership election.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that the CWF launch event was not only attended by climate-sceptics, Brexiters, and libertarians of all stripes, but also by various media figures connected with fringe, anti-‘woke’ Conservative groups.

Kane Blackwell, a GB News producer and a Conservative campaigner said that he was “pleased to be a part” of the movement. Also present at the launch was Guido Fawkes reporter Christian Calgie, Conservative MP for Bishop Aukland Dehenna Davison, right-wing political strategist Peter Barnes, and YouTuber Mahyar Tousi.

As Byline Times have previously reported, senior CWF figure Paul Simon Osborn is a Conservative councillor involved in several key pro-Trump lobby groups, one of which was funded by big Republican donor Rebekah Mercer. Neither CWF nor Osborn responded to Byline Times’ previous questions about this matter.

Other supporters of Baker’s pressure group include former Brexit negotiator and belated lockdown-sceptic David Frost, and Conservative peer Helena Morrissey, who previously claimed that COVID reporting was being exaggerated because people were not “dropping dead in the street”.

CWF’s claim of being an inclusive organisation is questionable, given Baker’s choice of preferred candidate. Its campaign video, at one point, features a pride flag waving proudly, overlaid with the word “freedom”. However, a close look at Braverman’s voting record shows that she has voted not to permit same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland, while she has advocated withdrawing the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights.

With Braverman likely to be knocked out of the contest in the coming days, it will be interesting to see if her agenda will be adopted by the other frontrunners, and if the influence of CWF will continue to drive the party inexorably rightwards, towards Thatcherite, anti-net-zero dogma.

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The Backroom Operatives

CWF aside, Politico yesterday released a list of some of the individuals advising the Conservative leadership contenders, though neglected to unpick their CVs in any great detail.

With further research, it’s apparent that the contest is being shaped by individuals associated with the more radical wing of conservative politics.

Confirming previous reporting by Byline Times, Liz Truss has continued her close relationship with the current and former members of the ‘Tufton Street network’ of opaque libertarian think-tanks. According to Politico, her leadership advisors include Ruth Porter, the former communications director at the IEA, and Sophie Jarvis, former head of government affairs at the Adam Smith Institute (ASI).

Truss is reportedly also being informally advised by Mark Littlewood, the director general of the IEA – whom Truss previously appointed to one of her department’s advisory boards – Matthew Lesh, who’s head of public policy at the IEA and a fellow of the ASI, alongside another off-book Truss advisor, Michael Turner.

Neither the IEA nor the ASI declare their funding sources, the latter claiming that its “funding comes from private individuals who believe in liberty and want to see a freer world”. Both of these organisations advocate for the radical lowering of taxes and the extension of private influence into the public realm.

Team Truss also features Hugh Bennett, a former reporter at the alt-right political blog Guido Fawkes, Lucy Harris, a former Member of European Parliament for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, and Jason Stein, who advised Jeremy Hunt’s Conservative leadership bid in 2019.

The tentacles of zealous right-wing think tanks also extend into the campaigns of other candidates. Politico reports that the political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA), James Roberts, is helping to canvas support for Kemi Badenoch, while Alex Morton, head of policy at the Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), is overseeing the campaign’s policy work. Roberts is also a graduate of the political strategy firm Crosby Textor, run by right-wing Australian elections guru Lynton Crosby.

Nadhim Zahawi’s bid, meanwhile, which supported huge cuts to the civil service, was advised by two long-standing Crosby Textor operatives, Mark Fullbrook and Matt Jackson.

Aside from helping a number of political candidates with hard-right beliefs in recent years, it has been claimed that Crosby Textor ran Facebook pages that “sidestepped Facebook’s rules on transparent political campaigning” on behalf of clients including major polluters, the Saudi Arabian Government, anti-cycling groups and various foreign political campaigns. All parties have previously pointed out that they operated entirely within the law.

Neither the TPA nor the CPS are transparent about their funding, and both are ideological in their support of small-state, low-tax economics, leveraging significant influence over Conservative politics. The CPS board includes the chairman of the Conservative Party, Ben Elliot, chairman of the backbench 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady, alongside several other parliamentarians, the editor of The Spectator magazine, and one of the Conservative Party’s largest donors, Lord Anthony Bamford.

Suella Braverman’s director of communications is David Scullion, an online editor of monthly conservative publication The Critic, and previously BrexitCentral. The Critic is underwritten by multimillionaire Brexit donor and fossil fuel investor Jeremy Hoksing, who also backs the anti-net-zero, socially reactionary parties Reclaim and Reform UK, fronted by Laurence Fox and Richard Tice respectively. 

Perhaps somewhat awkwardly, Penny Mordaunt is being advised by Laura Round, who served as a press officer for the Remain campaign during the 2016 EU Referendum campaign (Mordaunt supported Leave).

And although Tom Tugendhat is pitching himself as a relatively ‘moderate’ candidate, his communications effort is being assisted by Liam Deacon, the former head of press at the Brexit Party and a former reporter for the alt-right platform Breitbart, formerly run by Donald Trump’s campaign manager and strategy director Steve Bannon. More recently, Deacon was a GB News producer. The Tugendhat campaign did not respond to our request for comment.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Autocracy, Brexit, COVID: What the Tory Candidates Aren’t Talking About

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/07/2022 - 11:25pm in

From cleaning up Londongrad to the economic fallout of Brexit, the Conservative Party is in a state of intentional denial, says Sam Bright

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‘Groupthink’ is a phrase often levelled at the Westminster village – the accusation that politicians and journalists seek safety in numbers, craving consensus opinions rather than original or innovative ideas.

Boris Johnson echoed this claim as he relinquished his throne last week. “It is painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself but as we’ve seen at Westminster, the herd is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves,” he said.

Indeed, the herd instinct can be a force for good: it can gather the residual anger of those in Westminster and provide the collective will to depose an inept leader. Johnson’s tyranny of immorality was foreshortened thanks to a form of groupthink that belatedly captured the Conservative Party, much to his annoyance.

But, now that Johnson has been brought to boot, the Conservatives have clustered around much less noble intentions.

En masse, the candidates in the party’s leadership contest have surged rightwards – all pledging tax cuts (though some promising more rapid and aggressive cuts than others), all demonising trans activists, and all fantasising about a small-state Thatcherite nirvana.

A fury of noise is therefore being generated around a few topics – underpinned by a distinct lack of intellectual substance – while most other policy areas are being entirely ignored.

Here are three political meteorites that the Conservative leadership contenders have swerved to avoid.

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Autocracy

Russia’s war with Ukraine hasn’t abated, yet the domestic debate has rapidly narrowed to the sole subject of military support.

There is no denying that Britain has been a world leader in backing President Zelensky’s troops – support that the Conservative leadership contenders have promised to maintain – but the conversation has sharply pivoted away from our decades-long role in facilitating Vladimir Putin.

In the wake of the invasion, analysts pointed to the July 2020 report from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which stated that “Londongrad” has “offered ideal mechanisms by which illicit finance could be recycled” – facilitated by PR firms, charities, political interests, academia and cultural institutions that have all been “willing beneficiaries of Russian money”.

This has been an uncomfortable topic for the Conservative Party, which has itself accepted more than £2 million in donations from Russian-linked sources since July 2019.

There has been no mention of this fact by any of the candidates, nor any policies on how they intend to clean up Londongrad.

This has relevance beyond Russia; Putin’s cronies are not the only oligarchs using the UK as an offshore haven to stash their riches.

Yet, rather than divesting from the world’s autocracies, the Conservative Government has been actively pursuing closer relationships with problem states.

Byline Intelligence Team investigation unearthed the Government’s desire to encourage Saudi Arabian firms to invest in its flagship ‘levelling up’ agenda. Qatar, meanwhile, has already pledged its support – with the hereditary monarchy committing £10 billion in investment to the UK over the next five years.

The Saudi regime – an absolute monarchy – is responsible for a catalogue of human rights abuses, including war crimes in Yemen and a crackdown on Government dissidents, while Qatar is accused of widespread workers’ rights abuses. More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in the country since it won the right to host the football World Cup 10 years ago.

UK trade increased by 36% with countries featured on the Government’s human rights watchlist in the wake of the vote to leave the EU – a fact that has not been raised on the Tory leadership circuit.

Authoritarian instincts have of course also been witnessed at home in recent times, with the Government attempting to crackdown on the right to protest, and the right of marginalised people to vote.

And yet, for all their cries of ‘freedom’, the Conservative contenders have been notably silent over these restrictions to our individual liberties.

Brexit

To be fair, Brexit has been a feature of the Conservative leadership contest, with the candidates uniting behind the Government’s likely unlawful attempt to unilaterally override the Northern Ireland Protocol, which currently governs the trading relationship between Northern Ireland, the EU and the UK.

However, aside from ideological posturing – with each candidate trying to show their Brexit purity – very little is being discussed about the real-world impact of leaving the EU.

Echoing previous Government studies, a recent Resolution Foundation report suggested that the north-east of England will be hit hardest by Brexit, while London will be able to exit the economic turbulence relatively unscathed.

As reported recently by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – an independent government body – which examined the impact of Brexit on the economy: “the UK saw a similar collapse in exports as other countries at the start of the pandemic but has since missed out on much of the recovery in global trade”.

The OBR goes on to say that “none of the [post-Brexit trade] agreements concluded to date are of a sufficient scale to have a material impact on our forecast”.

This economic fallout also has political implications for the Conservative Party. Recent polling for Byline Times by Omnisis has shown 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.

Meanwhile, some 63% of people say that the UK Government is to blame for the current trade problems in Northern Ireland, and – prior to Johnson’s ousting – only 21% of respondents said that they were more likely to vote Conservative due to the Prime Minister’s hardline views on Brexit.

COVID

The biggest global health crisis in 100 years has barely featured in the campaign so far – although that is somewhat of a relief.

Indeed, the post-vaccination period has been used by libertarian forces to rewrite history and epidemiology, by declaring that the UK should have avoided long periods of lockdown in favour of herd immunity – a policy repeatedly shunned by scientific experts.

Lord David Frost, the former Brexit minister now seen as an ideological lodestar by the right of the Conservative Party, has recently called the COVID lockdowns a “serious mistake” – despite the fact they saved millions of lives across Europe.

One can certainly understand the reticence among some of the candidates to talk about COVID – not least Jeremy Hunt, who failed to prepare the UK for a pandemic during his time as Health Secretary, and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, whose department allowed billions to be seized by COVID fraudsters.

Despite this, it would be useful to hear where the candidates stand on coping with new variants of the disease, how to prevent rampant corruption in future national emergencies, and how we address the health inequalities that led to tens of thousands of needless deaths.

Honourable mentions must also be given to climate change – the existential threat to humanity that is only being discussed by those who want to reverse the Government’s climate commitments – levelling up, NHS provision, crime, housing, and education.

Each of these policy domains are nearing or have reached crisis point, while the Conservative Party wages a war of irrelevance against an imaginary plague of ‘woke’ people.

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Boris Johnson’s Only Legacy Will be Failed Vanity Projects and a Large Bill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/07/2022 - 7:53pm in

For a man so obsessed with his own image, the outgoing Prime Minister will leave little but a few relics behind him, reports Adam Bienkov

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When’s all said and done, what did he really achieve?

Boris Johnson has been a major presence in British politics for almost two decades and yet when you actually sit down and consider what he will leave behind him, then it’s incredibly hard to actually think of anything.

For a man so obsessed with his own image and legacy, few physical relics will remain. In London, which he led for eight years, he will perhaps be best remembered for the things he doesn’t leave behind him, than the things he does.

The Garden Bridge, which would have been a sort of private park, stroke transport link, stroke corporate venue, which he championed with tens of millions of pounds of public money in dubious circumstances, was ultimately never actually built.

Nor were his plans to build a multi-billion pound airport in the Thames Estuary, which would have been located in the middle of a bird strike zone and adjacent to a sunken ship filled with 1,400 tonnes of unexploded munitions. 

Similar plans to build a bridge across the Irish sea, through an even larger munitions dump, were also jettisoned after officials realised that it had the potential to be the most expensive sea crossing in the entire world.

The Boris Bus, named by Johnson fans who spotted his propensity to back any project he could stick his own name on, was later renamed by users as the "Roastmaster" due to its malfunctioning air conditioning system and windows that didn't open. Even after an expensive retrofit, the buses can still be seen slowly roasting passengers who dare to use them on hot summer days.

The Olympic Village in East London did get built under Johnson, but only after he agreed with David Cameron's Conservative Government to dramatically shrink the proportion of affordable housing to be built on it.

He did also build a cross-river Cable Car in East London, which was so useless as a commuter link that at one point it was recorded as having no regular users.

The Cost of Boris

As Prime Minister the only real physical legacy he will leave behind him will be in the Downing Street flat itself. A leaked invoice revealed this week that Johnson and his wife Carrie spent £200,000 on renovating the flat, including £7,000 on just one rug, £2,000 on gold wallpaper and £3,000 on a drinks trolley.

Johnson hoped to pay for the flat with help from a Conservative donor but was ultimately forced to pay up himself after the plans were leaked.

Similarly his plans to get a Conservative donor to pay for a £150,000 tree house at the Prime Minister's official country retreat, ultimately came to nothing after officials intervened. 

Of course the one thing Johnson will be remembered for is Brexit. His decision to join the Leave campaign in 2016 was widely credited for swinging the referendum, while his weaponisation of the issue in 2019 helped him win an 80-seat majority for the Conservative party.

But just like the non-existent physical relics of the Johnson era, few British people will notice a single benefit from Johnson’s biggest policy either.

Since leaving the EU, the value of British trade with its neighbours has slumped, growth has stalled, and it has become more expensive and cumbersome for any of us to travel and work alongside our European neighbours.

Johnson and his allies now struggle to explain what, if any, upsides there are to Johnson's grand project.

Asked recently what benefits the public will see from Brexit, Johnson boasted that we would soon see the return of crown stamps to pint glasses. Meanwhile his Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg boasted that our exit from the EU would soon allow us to change the spacing of emergency exit signs in the Dartford Tunnel.

Had Johnson remained in office longer, it is possible that he would have left behind some other genuine legacy.

His deep unpopularity in Scotland and other parts of the UK, means that the break up of England’s historic Union with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, may ultimately have come to pass.

And if that does still happen, then Johnson and his fellow travellers, will still carry a big chunk of the credit.

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Yet after less than three years in the job, the main legacy of the Johnson era has been the very public trashing of his own reputation and that of the Conservative Government he has led.

As confidence in him collapsed, so too did wider public trust in the political class. The age-old (and ultimately false) public belief that politicians are 'all as bad as each other' has only deepened under this Prime Minister, as millions of people who believed that he was somehow different to his predecessors, became rapidly disillusioned.

His serial lies over Partygate, the Chris Pincher scandal and much else, have left a toxic legacy of public mistrust which his successors will struggle to repair.

Of all the relics of the Johnson era, it is perhaps this last one which he will be most widely remembered for.

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Conservative Leadership Contest: Another Populist Pageant?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/07/2022 - 12:13am in

They're off! As candidates vie to replace Boris Johnson, Sam Bright predicts they'll all appeal to the three Conservative commandments of nationalism, Brexit, and Thatcherism

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The trolley has crashed. Careering through frontline politics since 2008, propelled by national election victories in 2016 and 2019, Boris Johnson’s reign of self-worship has finally hit the buffers.

Johnson will depart Downing Street. It may be a bitter and protracted process of extraction, with the Prime Minister yesterday asserting that he still had a mandate to govern, but his premiership is all but terminated.

Johnson will resign as Conservative Leader but will stay on as Prime Minister until a successor is found – which could leave him in office until the autumn, along with the threat that he could use his final months to pass punitive policies and use the disproportionate powers of his office to wreak further havoc.

Many people – including his former chief aide Dominic Cummings – believe that Johnson will attempt to cling on to power if he’s left in office. However, with the Prime Minister retaining the loyalty of just 65 Conservative MPs, his political obituary is now being written.

The question, therefore, turns to what comes next. Johnson’s successor – as in the case of the current Prime Minister and his predecessor Theresa May – will be appointed to the highest office in the land by a few hundred Conservative MPs and a few thousand party members.

Early off the Blocks

“The Tory election contest will play out over months, with Johnson as ringmaster”, said journalist and campaigner Paul Mason on Byline Radio earlier today. “They will try to re-stage the populist moment around someone else”.

Indeed, the Brexit-populist project is a multi-headed hydra. Johnson was its figurehead and political battering-ram, but the fellow architects of the project still have their roots firmly embedded in the Conservative Party.

The oligarch-owned media, which has diligently dispersed Johnson’s propaganda, still has a deep vested interest in the perpetuation of the culture war. There will be no backsliding from newspaper proprietors and editors who defended Johnson’s lockdown crimes and ignored his corruption. If anything, they will redouble their campaign – the absence of Johnson’s charisma requiring greater levels of distortion to galvanise the electorate around a new leader.

And there will also be an array of Brexit devotees to choose from.

Attorney General Suella Braverman has been the first out of the blocks, announcing last night on ITV’s Peston that she would put her name forward in a leadership contest. Just a couple of weeks ago, on the same show, Braverman accused Robert Peston of “Remainiac make-believe” for suggesting that the Government’s intention to unilaterally alter the Northern Ireland Protocol is a breach of international law. Last night, she launched her leadership pitch with a call to “get rid of all of this woke rubbish” – echoing the culture war campaign that has been confected in recent years by Johnson and his pals in the press.

Braverman may well be followed by Steve Baker – who succeeded the current Attorney General as the chair of the hard-right European Research Group in January 2018. The self-styled ‘Brexit hard man’ has for years advocated for a nuclear separation from the EU – agitating for a no deal Brexit prior to January 2020, and now saying that we can rip up Johnson’s deal because we were forced to sign it “under political duress” from the EU.

The High Wycombe MP has said that he is considering running for the Conservative Party leadership, and has promised to dismantle many of Boris Johnson’s green policies, if he wins.

Baker is a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which disputes the scientific consensus underpinning global warming and has led the opposition to the Government’s plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. He also leads the Net Zero Scrutiny group of backbench Conservative MPs, that has challenged many of the Government’s climate policies.

The Ghost of Thatcher

A late but zealous convert to the Brexit cause has been Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who has abandoned her Remainer convictions and now leads the Government’s hardline stance in negotiations with the EU.

This wing of the party is steeped in dark money – buttressed by the Thatcherite think tanks that formerly lined Tufton Street. Truss rules this domain, having appointed a swathe of free market advisors to various departmental bodies, and to her own personal team.

The Foreign Secretary, widely expected to stand for the leadership, used a Policy Exchange speech last year to emphasise her desire to “[champion] open markets and free enterprise” – saying that “protectionism is no way to protect people’s living standards”.

“At this critical time, we need trade to curb any rise in the cost of living through the power of economic openness,” she added.

This militant Thatcherism is echoed by Truss’s fellow travellers on the populist wing of the Conservative Party – claiming that state retrenchment is the best way to deliver economic prosperity.

“We need to deliver some proper tax cuts... We need to shrink the size of the state and cut government spending”, Braverman said in her opening salvo last night.

This instinct appears to be dominant among the Conservative Party faithful, that has long objected to Boris Johnson’s tax-and-spend instincts. Johnson himself has sensed this mood, promising earlier this week to deliver tax cuts – in a desperate attempt to quell the rebellion against his leadership. Even today, the Prime Minister used his resignation address to praise our “Darwinian” political system that he hopes will produce a new leader willing to implement a revived era of public sector austerity.

There are of course viable contenders who don’t share these proclivities – the likes of Tom Tugendhat, Ben Wallace and Sajid Javid. But it seems likely that the upcoming leadership contest will be a pageant of populism, fought on the front pages of the tabloids, with each candidate trying to prove their devotion to the three commandments of Brexit, nationalism and Thatcherism.

Special mention must also be reserved for Priti Patel – a gleeful enforcer of reactionary immigration policies during the Johnson years – who has forged close ties to conservative media baron Rupert Murdoch, and is calibrated to the populist mindset.

Just as the removal of Donald Trump from the White House has not heralded the demise of Trumpism in America, so too will Boris Johnson’s political legacy linger in the Conservative Party. Unlike in America, however, Johnson’s replacement will have the power to remake Britain in their image – and a 75-seat majority with which to do it.

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How Boris Johnson Caused the Death of his Own Government

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/07/2022 - 7:51pm in

The Prime Minister's complete lack of shame ultimately led his Government to destruction, reports Adam Bienkov

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There is a very rare congenital condition in which sufferers are unable to feel any pain. The condition, which some may expect to be liberating, is in reality a curse. Those afflicted by it become progressively injured and often fail to make it to adulthood as their physical actions become ever more reckless.

A similar condition ultimate befell Boris Johnson’s Government. The Prime Minister’s greatest strength – his ability to withstand apparently limitless amounts of political pain – ultimately became his biggest weakness.

After months of increasingly damaging scandals and self-inflicted crises, the Johnson project could sustain itself no longer.

His congenital dishonesty and disloyalty, which helped him bring down both David Cameron and Theresa May, was ultimately the cause of his own downfall too. After bringing down two former Prime Ministers, he eventually brought down himself as well.

At times it felt like nothing would remove him. Over the past 48 hours, the Prime Minister lost the support of the overwhelming majority of his own MPs and most senior ministers. Dozens of members of the Government either resigned or were sacked, with the resignations continuing even after he announced his own departure.

Yet for two days he refused to budge, even when the Chair of the 1922 Committee, which represents Conservative backbenchers, and the Chief Whip, who manages party discipline, told him that his premiership was over. 

As a result, the basic functioning of the Government has come to a halt. Key parliamentary business was cancelled this morning, with ministers publicly turning down requests to replace those who had left the Government.

Over recent months, the bounds of trust between the Prime Minister, his ministers and the public were broken down one-by-one.

Ministers no longer believed the Prime Minister and the press no longer believed his spokespeople. The system of 'lobby briefings' – which before Johnson proceeded under the assumption that Downing Street may sometimes bend the truth to journalists, but would never outright lie – have now all but broken. In recent days, the sessions were dominated by questions to Johnson's representatives about their own lies and whether they would also resign.

Meanwhile, Johnson's own party fell into outright despair. In the House of Commons on Wednesday, almost all Conservative MPs remained deathly silent as Johnson insisted he would remain in power no matter what. 

One MP, Gary Sambrook, revealed to the Chamber that the Prime Minister had sought to blame his colleagues for failing to prevent Chris Pincher from getting drunk and sexually assaulting others. Another asked Johnson, in despair, if there were any circumstances under which he would step down. Later, Conservative MPs could be seen weeping in the corridors as the destruction Johnson was bringing on their party became clear. 

Such a situation was clearly not sustainable. In his resignation statement this morning, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who had until then been fiercely loyal to Johnson, said the Government was now “past the point of no return".

“A decent and responsible Government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect," he told Johnson. “It is a matter of profound personal regret that I must leave Government as I no longer believe those values are being upheld."

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The crisis could only ever end one way. 

Had Johnson have clung on then his party would have changed their rules to allow another confidence vote in the Prime Minister at the start of next week. If he had failed to stand down then he would have suffered a truly humiliating defeat – with only a small rump of his own party still backing him to remain in Downing Street.

On Wednesday, Johnson threatened to bypass this process by calling a snap general election instead. Such a move would have turned the crisis within the corridors of the Palace of Westminster into a full blown constitutional one instead.

Officials had advised the Prime Minister that the Queen would likely veto any such move, due to the so-called 'Lascelles Principles'. These state that she should block an election if the current Parliament is viable, there are potential alternative leaders available and a general election would damage the economy. 

Even if he had somehow been able to succeed in calling that election, he would have likely delivered his party its worst defeat since it was last ejected from office in 1997.

Yet, such is the Trumpian delusion gripping the Prime Minister, that this idea was still being actively considered in Downing Street yesterday.

This morning’s newspapers suggested he would “stare down” his enemies. In what must be one of the most sinister front pages ever to have been published, the Sun newspaper splashed on a warning from Johnson to his party that "you'll have to dip your hands in blood to get rid of me". 

In the end it turned out to be an empty threat. After years of believing in his own spin about being a “teflon” Prime Minister, Johnson ultimately fell victim to the same laws of gravity that were exerted on all of his predecessors. Without the support of his Cabinet, his MPs, and even increasingly his supporters in the press, there was only one way this was all going to end.

Boris Johnson's apparent immunity to political pain was in some ways his greatest strength. It allowed him to survive multiple scandals, over more than a decade, which would have finished off almost any other politician.

Yet it ultimately became his greatest weakness. By pushing onwards, when every pain receptor in his body should have been screaming at him to step back, Johnson brought his own Government to an untimely, and ultimately painful, end.

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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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