The recent attack on a Muslim centre in Finsbury Park, London, had some elements of our media describing the incident as a "revenge attack".
Australian media coverage of the London terror attacks has naturally focused on the stories of Australian victims. Tabloid coverage and commentary (including our national broadsheet-sized tabloid) has also focused on the nastiness of the perpetrators, particularly on their expressed religious motivations, with repeated sideswipes at anyone who shares a similar religious background.
As Crikey reported yesterday, even the most recent attack on a Muslim centre in Finsbury Park had some elements of our media describing the incident as a revenge attack, as if to suggest the victims somehow deserved to be mowed down by a man driving a van. Despite the man’s hate-filled and murderous rant, and notwithstanding Prime Minister Theresa May’s recognition that this was a terrorist attack, most Australian newspapers humanised the perpetrator and barely mentioned the “T” word.
It’s unlikely that this attack will lead to a major rethink of our counter-terrorism law or policy the British PM has promised. But just how much confidence do British Muslims have in their government?
Dr Sadek Hamid, an author and researcher at Oxford University, is deeply critical of the PREVENT program used by the government to counter not just violent extremism but all forms of what it sees as extremism.
“The PREVENT policies represent hugely divisive interventions that have been criticised for the dubious evidence base underpinning them and for the harmful effects they have had within British Muslim communities. The opposition from a broad range of civil society organisations, teaching professions, academics has been well documented. Not surprisingly, organisations in reception of government funding have defended its effectiveness.”
Hamid sees the policy approach of tackling “Islamism” as deeply flawed. “The use of the term Islamism is ill defined and unhelpful as it includes many politicised Islamic organisations that are effective in challenging jihadi rhetoric. And, also given that right-wing extremist groups have been rising for years — there has not been given the same amount of attention even though individuals have been involved in carrying out hate crimes against Muslims.”
Hamid is concerned about the co-option of far-right rhetorical themes in mainstream British politics and media. He referred me to this article by former political columnist for the Daily Telegragh, Peter Oborne. “Far-right messaging is co-opted by the conservative party and indirectly through their politically aligned media publications.”
David Rosser Owen is a British Sufi, army veteran, journalist, author and former president of the Association of British Muslims. He is similarly critical of government policy and the role of overseas governments. “There has been extremism of various sorts around for a long time. ‘Islamist extremism’ has two problematic terms in it: ‘Islamist’ and ‘extremism’ — what do they mean by each of these, because in the popular mind they will be interpreted (and are being) simply as ‘Muslims’. What they need to have done — and they have been warned about it since at least the mid-1980’s — is restrict severely the access of Saudis and Saudi-trained Wahhabi preachers”.
Owen believes the far-right isn’t as sophisticated as groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). The far-right’s rhetoric is rather reactive and has only a limited (and easily unpicked) ideology behind it; HT and similar Muslim groups have a rather more sophisticated ideology, that needs to be addressed by scholars in order to show up the flaws in it.
Yahya Birt is an academic at Leeds University. “The confidence of British Muslims in counterterrorism has been low for some time. It has reached an all-time nadir given that we have had four attacks in the past three months. There have been previous attempts at attacking mosques.”
So just how big is the far-right problem? “The far-right isn’t our biggest problem. The biggest manifestation of them in recent years was the English Defence League, which reached maximum strength in 2009 but has kind of dissolved a few years ago. At their height they could mobilise hundreds of men to dominate the city centre and they had to be contained by the police. Our biggest problem has been the right generally becoming more anti-immigrant, xenophobic.”
And what does the future hold for the majority of British Muslims who have integrated? If the past is anything to judge by, Birt sees a lot of work to be done. “Muslims have been seen through the security lens. I’ve heard even whispers from second- and third-generation professional types wondering whether they should leave the country. I think this feeling will die down eventually.”
Jun 20, 2017
The Murdochs are masterful rent-seekers when it comes to politically vulnerable Western governments.
It’s going to be a big few days for the rent-seeking Murdoch family as they await tonight’s regulatory advice to the UK government on their $20 billion Sky PLC take-over, plus seek legislative favours in Australia to seize control of Ten Network Holdings.
The Ofcom decision about the cash bid for Sky by 21st Century Fox was originally scheduled for May 16 after public submissions were received up until the end of March.
I lodged this 2500-word submission at the time, calling for these two conditions to be placed on the takeover:
- 21st Century Fox and News Corp should be required to have a clear super-majority of independent directors and an independent non-executive chair; and
- 21st Century Fox and News Corp should be required to move to a conventional UK-style capital structure where all shares on issue have equal voting rights.
The detailed corporate governance arguments for these conditions were spelt out in this Crikey piece on March 31, and little has changed since then, besides more appalling Murdoch family conflicts of interest and bullying being exposed as Ten Network Holdings hit the wall.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May then decided to go to an early election, so the Ofcom decision was pushed back until June 20.
The New York Times has comprehensively summarised all the issues overnight, pointing to these four possible scenarios after Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is given the confidential Ofcom report:
“Ofcom may give its unconditional backing to the takeover, or recommend that the government block the deal, both of which are considered unlikely. It could recommend that 21st Century Fox make concessions, such as guaranteeing the independence of Sky News, the British news organization owned by Sky. Or the authorities may call for a more in-depth review by Britain’s competition authority, extending the outcome until the autumn. No matter what happens, it will probably be weeks, if not months, before a final decision is made.”
As is their want, the Murdochs fiercely backed the re-election of the Tory government, including running a picture of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn living in a dustbin on page 1 of The Sun on election day.
Tom Watson, the most effective political critic of Rupert Murdoch and now deputy Labour leader in the UK, used his election night speech to slam the “lies” told by News Corp’s British outlets during the election campaign and has subsequently piled on the pressure about why Murdoch employee Michael Gove was re-appointed to the May cabinet as Environment Secretary.
As masterful rent-seekers from politically vulnerable Western governments, the obvious payback for the Murdochs will be approval of the Sky bid, something they were forced to give up at the peak of the phone-hacking scandal.
However, the younger anti-Brexit voters based around London led a revolt against the Tories and their Brexiteer media backers from New York, which has left Theresa May severely weakened.
And with the Murdochs also on the nose for their blind endorsements of Donald Trump, climate denialism and toxic culture of sexual harassment at Fox News, it is no certainty that approval will be forthcoming, despite the British tradition of welcoming foreign capital.
The same situation applies in Australia with a fragile conservative government attempting to do regulatory favours for the Murdochs by abandoning the two-out of-three-rule, which would clear the way for a family take-over of the embattled Ten Network Holdings.
The Murdoch press has been sugar-coating the dangers of this with the likes of News Corp veteran David Penberthy, who is married to federal Labor MP Kate Ellis, simplistically telling readers in the tabloids on Sunday that Ten’s problems related to “a large debt owed to the Commonwealth Bank and the understandable reluctance of the network’s financial backers (including Lachlan Murdoch) to casually absorb a $200-odd million whack to their bottom line”.
Yeah right, Dave. So it is “understandable” that with a $200 million facility only drawn to $66 million as at February 28, Lachlan Murdoch would threaten to personally sue the Ten directors if they didn’t call in the administrators, thereby shafting 17,000 small shareholders.
Lachlan Murdoch also just happens to want to seize control of Ten in a fire-sale, creating globally unprecedented media concentration, yet Penberthy reckons “the existing media laws make no sense” while dismissing diversity advocates as conspiracy theorists concerned about “the apparent biases and appetites of so-called ‘newspaper barons’”.
Despite its unprecedented majority position in the newspaper market, it is not the “newspaper baron” element of News Corp that is the greatest concern. The Murdoch family also controls a lot of the online debate through its newspaper websites, controls Australia’s pay-TV monopoly Foxtel and now wants one of the three free-to-air TV networks in addition to already owning one of the three biggest commercial radio networks.
Labor and the Greens are understandably opposed, and Malcolm Turnbull should just remove the two-out-three element of his package and see media reform sail through Parliament.
But no, the conservatives are pushing the Murdoch family agenda with not a peep out of any Liberal or National MPs about media ethics or the danger of concentrating such power in the hands of one New York-based family.
Pauline Hanson has long been maligned by the Murdoch press, so the One Nation vote is no certainty.
And if Nick Xenophon backs such a move and the Murdochs get Ten, the popular independent will face questions about his acquiescence to the News Corp dominance of the Adelaide media market, plus his very short memory about all those nasty “slum landlord” attacks The Australian threw at him during last year’s federal election campaign.
Jun 19, 2017
Better than his overseas counterparts, Malcolm Turnbull has read the mood of electoral disillusionment, but his opponents are succeeding in preventing him from showing it.
Whatever might be said about Malcolm Turnbull and his government, he has proved better at responding to the alienation and anger of voters than his counterparts in the UK and the US.
The May government, and most of the UK commentariat, were shocked by the strong level of support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Old Labour in this month’s election. May’s handling of the Grenfell disaster — which may be the product of years of deregulation — has been so abysmal Corbyn now looks like the prime minister in waiting, and a damn sight more leader-like than May herself.
In the US, it’s been no surprise that Trump, who has betrayed pretty much anyone he has ever dealt with, has sold out the voters who put him into the White House on a wave of disaffection with business-as-usual economic policies. But Republican politicians are continuing to govern as though Trump’s election gives them carte blanche to implement a hardline neoliberal agenda beyond the wildest dreams of corporate America.
But Anglophone voters have had a gutful of neoliberalism and are expressing it at the ballot box — not necessarily in coherent or consistent ways, but expressing it they are. It’s a mistake to call it a shift to the left; there are plenty of conservative voters who are shifting further right as part of it. But it’s a shift away from market-based policies, curbs on government spending, open borders and the mantra that whatever is good for business is good for a country.
Turnbull has reacted to the shift better than the Tories in the UK, perhaps because he feels more comfortable governing from the centre, perhaps because compulsory voting (and lack of US-style gerrymandering) has made clearer the deep sense of alienation in the electorate. Turnbull nearly lost government, Nick Xenophon’s protectionist party seized both Senate and Reps seats, and One Nation has lurched out of the political grave to bring its stench of bigoted banality into the Senate.
On Gonski, on energy, on fiscal policy, Turnbull has shifted leftward in an attempt to claim the centre ground, conscious that if he continued to slavishly follow the dictates of the right, he’d be toast. On Gonski, he’s shifted even further left than Labor, promising to cut funding to wealthy private schools and taking on the gouging, unaccountable Catholic education lobby over its favouritism toward rich schools. On fiscal policy, he’s whacked a tax on the banks and increased the Medicare levy. On energy, he’s walking a fine line through his party room on trying to provide certainty for investors about climate action while fighting off irrational denialists like Abbott and other far-right backbenchers.
Of course, it’s not universal — Turnbull remains wedded to the right-wing approach to terrorism of relentlessly hyping the threat to national security from Labor, despite the fact that it never helped Abbott one iota, and it didn’t help Theresa May more recently. Maybe voters simply see through the claim from conservatives that when terror attacks happen on their watch, it’s magically the fault of their opponents in opposition.
Turnbull’s opponents, needless to say, don’t care to see him succeed in this shift. Judging by today’s Newspoll, they’ve been successful so far. Labor is still portraying Turnbull, courtesy of some creative accounting and factual cherrypicking, as a rogue neoliberal hellbent on slashing schools funding, destroying Medicare and taxing low-income earners while handing out tax cuts to the top end of town. And Tony Abbott managed to make what had been a careful process of preliminary consideration of the Finkel review all about Turnbull’s leadership and the spectre of 2009.
The government is dead keen to nail down a deal on Gonski, preferably with the Greens, even if it costs a motza. It is dead right to oppose the greedy Catholic education sector, but a prolonged stoush is not in its interests. Already one backbencher, the retiring Chris Back, is threatening to cross the floor on the issue this week. Leaving the issue to fester over the winter recess will, at best, only create more static for the government. A worse outcome is it blows up and causes another internal brawl.
On energy, Turnbull is in no hurry, partly because he knows he can’t be seen to railroad anything on energy through the party room. But the same risk applies as with Gonski — the longer the issue goes, the more static it will create, the more likely it is that troublemakers like Abbott will exploit it. Plenty of reports say Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg are happy to wait until later in the year to settle the issue. That gives the denialists plenty of time to cause chaos.
What’s every bit as worrying as Labor’s persistent two-party-referred lead is the strong polling performance on One Nation. One Nation, courtesy of a lower than expected result in WA, and ongoing scandals and revelations of open contempt for the electorate, should be struggling. Instead, Hanson and her coterie of conspiracy theorists have bounced back into double figures. Turnbull is trying to address the very disillusionment that is fueling populists like Hanson, but it’s failing to have any impact so far.
Tower block in London, on fire, flames here and there. First off, the story looked merely serious, nothing like what it would become. There’d been fires like that before. They looked spectacular, but they didn’t spread. But this one did. Sometime in the night in Australia, middle of the day there, the building burst into flame, became the inferno anticipated in innumerable disaster movies. The metal cladding made it glow, sent streaks of sheer yellow through the flames, as people gathered at the windows, screamed, waved frantically to rescuers, dropped babies out of windows, jumped themselves. In real time, the story of Grenfell Tower played out across the wires: a building in a public housing estate whose neighbourhood action group had warned would go up sooner or later, who had mused that it would have no action taken over it until there was a catastrophe. A building that had been refitted internally to crowd more people in without a sprinkler system being installed. A building part of old ’70s housing stock, a report on the fire safety conditions of which had been deferred by the Tory government twice. A building designed by its architects as a concrete shell that would limit any fire not merely to one floor, but to one corner of one floor, clad in a metal skin of the type that had already caught fire in other places round the world. A cladding added to the building, it has been said, to improve the appearance of it for the well-heeled residents of Kensington, the borough with the highest-priced houses in the country.
There will be all sorts of prevarications about the details, but the obvious point is that no building that houses many hundreds of people should be able to go up like a roman candle, an inverted hell. “You thought so many times about being in a car crash, now here it is,” the late J.G. Ballard remarked in Crash. He lived only a few blocks from the tower, near the sheer concrete curve of the Westway overpass, loving this bit of brutal London, his writing making visible this one truth: urban environments made out of power, force and the will to dominate contain their own catastrophe in their very fabric. Hence the uncanniness of the awful photos of the burning spike, negative Liberty’s torch. Like 9/11, it seems, in an instant, as if it already had happened, could never have not happened.
Six dead in the first reports, nine when you refreshed, then 12. The numbers will climb on the horizon, the stories will pile high. They will be of unbearable deaths, to add to the unbearable deaths of Borough Market. Those were made by men who had sought out the maximum amount of terror, horror, the grotesque, the awfulness of dying like this, in a world jaded, and a little accepting, of the sudden suicide bomb. The Grenfell Tower atrocity will yield plenty of those, but they will lack the element of intent. They are deaths of indifference, of austerity, of the self-satisfied retreat from a responsible state, of a right that has become what Thomas Frank has called the “wrecking crew”, people determined to govern badly in order to destroy faith in government altogether.
Borough Market brought people together, directed what anger there was at the grim subculture of Islamic State, punk-style: swaggering murder seeking out death. Even then, the low number of attacks on random Muslims was a credit to London’s residual common sense, its centredness. This crime will not have the same aftermath, if people have any spirit left in them. The anger will be as white-hot as the metal coming off the now-destroyed building. I’m not there anymore, but I am pretty confident that this will be it. The positive energy and triumph that attended the Corbyn Labour breakthrough will roll into something else. There was already a mass rally planned for the weekend, and the weekend after, to press Theresa May to go. Now there are revelations that a report on inadequate fire safety in public housing high rises was sat on for four years. The minister responsible was Gavin Barwell, who lost his seat last Thursday. He got a new job. Theresa May’s chief of staff? Gavin Barwell.
This hideous event has already had a political effect, further delaying the making of a deal between the Conservatives and the DUP, and thus delaying the already delayed Queen’s speech yet further. That means that the country taken to an election for strength and stability is without anything other than a vestigial government. For the DUP, it’s a political nightmare. They’re a working-class party that grew out of the Shankhill Road area of Belfast and gradually took over and annihilated the middle-class Ulster Unionist Party. Large numbers of their constituents live in towers like the Grenfell and areas like North Kensington. What sort of look will it be to be close in with a party that might well have allowed for dozens of hideous deaths and maimings through sheer indifference to the lives of the poor? There will be huge disquiet in DUP circles tonight.
But the agreement was starting to shake from the other side too. John Major, Tory PM from 1992 to 1997, is the sort of greyish suburban pooternik who might be supposed to have some sympathy for May and her predicament. But Major was also the PM who laid a lot of the groundwork for what would become the Good Friday peace agreement under the Blair government. Since peace in Northern Ireland remains one of his (and Blair’s) most solid achievements, an unalloyed good, he is keen to hold onto it. Thus he has come out against a formal agreement with the DUP, arguing that: “I think the peace process is fragile — people shouldn’t regard it is given … The danger is, however much any other government tries, they will not be seen to be impartial if they are locked into a deal in Westminster with one of the Northern Irish parties. You never know what way events will turn out. We cannot know if that impartiality is going to be crucial at some stage in the future.”
He’s right, of course. The DUP is, like Sinn Fein, the surviving political wing of an organisation that was once paramilitary in nature (the relations are not exact but close enough). The difference is that while the IRA had clear military goals, with a margin — a fairly wide margin — of sectarianism, murder and sheer nihilism, the Ulster paramilitary groups were sectarian and futile right from the start. Necessarily, because their politics is mythical, they contain every cult superstition, from evangelical creationism to climate change denialism. That makes them nightmare political partners. The more they are accommodated, the more the Proddy tail will wag the Tory dog.
That is of particular concern because the Good Friday agreement is particularly clear about the UK government being impartial, as regards relations between Unionist and Republican parties. This is part of the agreement’s hidden radicalism; it effectively undermines UK sovereignty over Northern Ireland. It is a prelude to the reunification of Ireland, and everyone knows it. Now, the DUP have a chance to do what they have sought for two decades: to undermine the undermining, a last chance to delay unification indefinitely.
This is all of the utmost urgency — hence, I think Major’s major intervention — because Stormont, the NI parliament, is currently suspended, power-sharing having collapsed over a huge rort by the Unionist parties involving the abuse of renewable energy initiatives. If Stormont remains suspended for three months and power-sharing between the two major parties — DUP and Sinn Fein — cannot be negotiated, direct rule from London returns. Politically, that is to Sinn Fein’s advantage, because it reminds any Catholics dallying with notions of independent candidates or post-Troubles political agendas where power over the statelet really lies.
But that move came before May announced her snap election, lost her goddamn majority, and lost her authority inside the Tory party, all on one warm summer Thursday night. She could govern in minority, but that makes here a hostage to her own Remain faction. The DUP is sought as an ally not against the opposition without, but within, a buffer against sell-out.
That, for Major, and for any serious-minded person, is beyond the pale. The famous Tory instinct for unity and survival is one thing. This edges on political nihilism, a unionist party that doesn’t care how much stress it will put on the web of conventions and understandings upon which unionism depends. The plain fact is that Ulster-groups armed action has never ceased; the Belfast-to-Dublin rail line is regularly symbolically vandalised (they could almost put it in the timetable), and violence and intimidation of Catholics continues in a way that does not happen from the other side, because Sinn Fein has consciously organised against it. Yet SF’s control of the republican movement is contingent on there being steady forward motion. Dissident group the “Real IRA” has never dissolved; it simply declared a “ceasefire” after the murderous Omagh bomb killed 30 people in 1998.
Major’s barely concealed point is that May is a suburban Tory, coming to power by a most unlikely process, and well out of her depth with veterans of deadly politics like the DUP’s leader Arlene Foster. The situation in Northern Ireland is quite possibly well beyond her real understanding. If she manages to blunderingly restart civil violence on UK soil, then the mixture of pity and contempt in which she is now held will turn to something else entirely. The London Sunday papers, still repositories of long-form investigative journalism, will be groaning with new information. My guess is there’s a significant chance May will go next week, even as grey ash and smoke, graves in the air, hangs still over the housing estates and 10 million pound terraces, the Commons and the Lords, the Palace and the Tower, the Kingdom.
Jun 13, 2017
Michael West went the full Godwin in his ongoing feud with The Australian over the Oz's hatred of GetUp.
Today in Media Files, The Australian‘s campaign against GetUp has dragged in business journalist Michael West, and he’s hit back. And Channel Nine has been named in a lawsuit over the death of a man in a 2013 Melbourne siege.
Good feud guide. Former Fairfax business journalist (and occasional Crikey contributor) Michael West has hit back at The Australian after being drawn into its campaign against the Australian Press Council’s newest member, GetUp director Carla McGrath. West, who now runs his own website, has been working with GetUp and the Tax Justice Network on an investigation into 20 multinational companies and their tax affairs, which the Oz reckons isn’t very independent. West has detailed the back-and-forth with legal affairs reporter Chris Merritt over on his website, writing:
“In any case, receiving a tutorial on journalistic ethics from the folks at News Limited is a bit like being accused of being a Nazi by Adolf Hitler.”
Channel Nine sued over siege death. The mother of a man killed in a police siege is suing Channel Nine over a journalist’s involvement, The Age has reported. Convicted rapist Antonio “Tony” Loguancio called Nine Network chief of staff Kate McGrath numerous times during a 43-hour siege in Glenroy, Victoria, before he fatally shot himself in 2013. One of the phone calls lasted almost an hour. Police had been searching for Loguancio for almost a week before they found him, prompting the siege.Victorian coroner Audrey Jamieson called on the Australian Press Council to revise its guidelines in March in her findings into Loguancio’s death. Jamieson found that McGrath had interfered with a police investigation but had not caused the death. According to Liam Mannix’s report over the weekend, Loguancio’s mother, Lesley Gilmour, lodged a suit in the County Court of Victoria last month, saying McGrath’s action had interfered with police’s ability to peacefully end the siege. Nine told The Age it rejected Gilmour’s version of events.
More Age departures. The Age columnist Martin Flanagan is yet another of the writers to be leaving Fairfax in the latest round of cuts. Writing his last reflection published over the weekend, he paid tribute to his brother Tim and reflected on his 32-year career in his final sports column. Walkley award-winning health journalist Julia Medew is also leaving, as is The Age‘s science editor Bridie Smith and political editor Michael Gordon. Crikey is keeping track of those leaving Fairfax here.
Front page(s) of the day.
The Grauniad downsizes. The so-called liberal, serious Guardian newspaper is to join its more conservative and populist UK rivals (such as the Daily Mail and The Sun) by going tabloid. It’s abandoning the Berliner mid-sized paper shape it’s had since it spent 80 million pounds on new printing presses in 2005. The move is designed to continue the cost cutting that started a year ago, in an attempt to reduce continuing operating losses.
Rival publisher Trinity Mirror, which owns the weekday and Sunday Mirrors and the Sunday People, will print The Guardian on its presses. Since The Guardian started printing the Berliner size back in 2005, its daily sales have fallen to an average of 154,010 copies a day, compared with 367,478 before. And despite the growing digital audience, it still makes most of its money from print. It is now getting millions of pounds a month from “supporters” who pay a series of fees, which is a small glimmer of hope. Management says it will be profitable by 2020 under a three-year cost-cutting plan, which is now in its second year. Some 300 jobs in the UK and US have gone in the past year as part of this plan. — Glenn Dyer
News Corp’s confected ABC-bashing. A few years ago, News Corp Australia hack Piers Akerman criticised the ABC for broadcasting the world’s most popular pig, Peppa, without realising the show was a favourite of kids broadcasts on News Corp Australia’s 50%-owned pay TV monopoly, Foxtel. Last week the same ignorance was on display when the likes of Andrew Bolt criticised the ABC for screening two hours a day of content from the Al Jazeera news channel (in the very early hours of the morning).
The man time forgot, Senator Cory Bernardi, also chimed in. Bolt failed to acknowledge that Al Jazeera is carried on Foxtel on channel 651, as did Bernadi and The Australian, whose Cut and Waste column had another go last Friday.
Why criticise only the ABC and not Foxtel, which derives a benefit for News Corp and co-owner Telstra (Jazeera pays to be broadcast on Foxtel)? Al Jazeera has been broadcast on Foxtel since 2012, and the deal brought no protests at the time.
But wait, Bolt, Bernardi and other motor mouths have missed a new potential channel of terror. They should also be calling for Foxtel to drop beIN Sports, which is the rebranded Al Jazeera Sport global operations, spun off in 2013 and renamed. It is on Foxtel and Fetch TV (a Foxtel rival) and broadcasts a lot of soccer from Europe and other regions and rugby union — offshore tours by the revolutionaries in the Australian Wallabies and the NZ All Blacks. — Glenn Dyer
Glenn Dyer’s TV Ratings. Solid wins for Seven on Sunday and Monday nights (nationally and in the metros and the regions) with House Rules starring on both nights, along with Seven News. Ten had a poor night, being pushed to fourth in the main channels in the metros by the ABC, thanks to the very good figures for Four Corners‘ excellent revisiting of the Queensland corruption story of 1987 (Moonlight State by Chris Masters) via the brave police whose whistleblowing led to the Fitzgerald Royal Commission, the end of Joh Bjelke Petersen and his Police Commissioner, the corrupt Terry Lewis and the jailing of minsters, police and others. Four Corners was watched by a solid 1.15 million viewers nationally, 808,000 in the metros and 350,000 in the regions.
I would have liked the intro last night from Sarah Ferguson to have at least mentioned Phil Dickie’s breakthrough reporting in The Courier Mail early that year on the crime and corruption in Brisbane’s sex and gambling industries (which Bjelke Petersen and his racing minster Russell Hinze said did not exist), but Four Corners was the stand out program last night — of any type. — Read the rest on the Crikey Website
Interviewer: What’s the naughtiest thing you’ver ever done?
Theresa May: Gosh … well … um, no one’s perfectly behaved … I suppose when me and my friends ran through wheatfields, the farmers weren’t too pleased …
— Theresa May, interview with ITV, two days before election
Poor old Theresa May. Monday, 4.55am, she must have been slumbering, running through fields of wheat in her head, young and free, but then a klaxon sounds! Oh no! They are running towards the white cliffs of Dover! The wheat is Boris Johnson’s hair! The Prime Minister wakes. The klaxon is the alarm clock. There is no free running here. She is no Thatcher in the wry. She is Theresa May, in an impossible situation, with nothing ahead of her but months of pain, humiliation and resignation or deposition. She tries to sleep again, maybe to throw herself off the cliffs. But they’re made of goatskin, and she floats safely to the English channel. Where she continues to sink. Time to get up and run the country for as long as they’ll let her.
The UK is still reeling from last Thursday’s election, in which the Tories — sorry, “the Conservative and Unionist Party” as they now call themselves all the time — gave away a modest majority of 330 seats in a 650-seat parliament (643 effectively, given Sinn Fein abstention) for a plurality of 319 seats, against a renewed Labour Party’s score of 262 seats, up 21. Those figures disguise the full disaster for the Tories; they have 48% of the seats, but only 43% of the votes, against Labour’s 41%, due to the telescope effect of first-past-the-post systems. The raw numbers are worse still: 13,667,213 against 12, 874, 985. When you look at the new Tory marginal line, it is worst of all: less than 10,000 votes hold off Labour.
The Tories are making the obvious claims: that this was still a victory, as they are still the largest party, that Labour only came up to its 2010 seat count, when Gordon Brown lost to David Cameron, etc, etc. So too are various Labour-identified types, of which more below. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?
But the truth is, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has headed the Tories off at the pass. The Tories were counting on a 60- to 70-seat majority, around 380, 390 seats. That would have marginalised in-party dissidents once and for all and made Labour’s task in 2022 nearly impossible. It would have set the Tories up for a chance to rule into the 2030s. Labour, down at around 200 — and especially if below 200 — would have been consumed by infighting of a viciousness unseen for nearly a century, and quite possibly split.
The prospects for the Conservatives are now dire. They must govern with minor party support. Majority support, and legitimacy for, a “hard Brexit”, and especially the recently suggested “no-deal Brexit” (where no trade arrangement kicks in, as the article 50 process is completed and the UK leaves the EU), is now in tatters. There is now no clear directive from the people as to how they would like the Brexit process to go. Every move will have to be fought and debated, item by item. That is a boon for those who wanted to ensure that Brexit, in Tory hands, did not become a do-over of workers’ and citizens’ rights. It is going to be an exhausting, draining and bare-knuckle process, with plenty of opportunity for brinkmanship and terrible misjudgement.
That is unlikely to faze May. Unlikely, because she won’t be around to do the negotiations. She is, as numerous media outlets, mostly Tory, have put it, a “dead woman walking”, “dead meat”, a “zombie PM” — the epithets have a real nasty party quality about them, supercharged by being directed at a woman leader. May didn’t help with an initial statement from outside No. 10, vowing to press on, and containing no ritual obeisance, contrition or apologies to members who had lost their seats. This was amended a few hours later when a camera crew were invited in for a fireside chat — if an apology hissed through clenched teeth can be so described.
Many were aghast that May hadn’t resigned immediately. Estimates of her survival as leader ranged from “72 hours” to “the end of summer”. No one believes she will survive for a year or more. Many believe the government won’t. That government will be the 318 conservatives, with a confidence-and-supply support from the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party — the hardline party founded by Ian Paisley, and with numerous murky connections to Ulster paramilitaries. They have 10 seats, having finally eaten up their more centrist rivals, the Ulster Unionists (as Sinn Fein, with seven, have finally driven out the non-abstentionist SDLP). The DUP are no modernised conservative party — they’re a Protestant religious party, with strong anti-liberal social views and archaic notions about LGBT issues, evolution and science. They will want huge funds and investment favours for Northern Ireland, but they will be happy to rubber-stamp austerity elsewhere. They are pro-Brexit and will push for it to be done faster and harder. The difficulties will come with potential conflicts with the Scottish Conservatives led by Ruth Davidson (who is married to a woman), who has a hip, no-nonsense manner, and has led the Tartories to take seven seats north of the border, as the second party.
The DUP leadership will stick with the new government through hell or high water. They have near-total saturation, and they will never have more power than now. Their erratic rank-and-file MPs are another matter entirely. But whoever leads the Tory government will have to contend with a greater danger, the Tory non-government — those who continue to believe that leaving the EU will be a supreme disaster for the UK, to be headed off by any means necessary. Would they actually bring the government down? Not in a direct no-confidence notion, but they might join in a series of votes that would make progress in negotiations impossible. At that point, which might be less than a year away, there would be a fresh election, and it would not be impossible for Labour to slide in. It would only need to take another 15 or so seats direct from the Tories — say, 318-262, down to 300-280 — to be able to run a minority government with SNP-Lib Dem-Plaid Cymru-Green support.
That result is all the more feasible given that Corbyn Labour’s performance has been so impressive, and Corbyn himself has emerged as a far more assured leader than he was, even at the start of the campaign. Rallies and walkarounds energised him, at the same time as May’s frozen lack of spontaneity became more painfully visible with each passing encounter. The 41% result has put to rest any question of a leadership challenge and forced the Blairites and “centrists” to perform abnegating mea culpas. Corbyn only needs to be about 10% more plausible for many Remainers to view him as someone who can negotiate more rationally with the EU than the Tories. Should May be replaced by David Davis, a measured and intelligent man, that cause would become more difficult. Should they elevate Boris Johnson, then the No. 10 staff might as well start ploughing up the back lawn for a place for Jezzer to grow his marrows. Contrary to the Boy Bramston’s piece in the Oz today (another cutting-edge Bramston article, straight out of 2014), Boris is now over the hump, widely seen as a blond buffoon. The forward-moving article 50 process is concentrating the mind wonderfully. Continuing Tory chaos will only add to that.
Indeed, it has already begun. The Queen’s speech and the opening of Parliament next Monday will have to be delayed, it is said, because the contents of the speech will not be finalised by Thursday. Why Thursday? Well, the speech, once composed, must be put onto goatskin parchment, taking three days to write and dry, with no corrections possible. Yes, the party that could get nothing done right in its program has only one chance to write it down.
Poor old Theresa has no dreams left, only nightmares, and too late for corrections. Pale and papery, she will wake to find that she is her own resignation letter, a single draft, rustling, as in the wind, distant fields of wheat.
Jun 9, 2017
It is now not impossible that in a week or so Jeremy Corbyn could be the next PM of the UK.
We’ll be singing, when we’re winning … in the saloon bar of the Three Compasses, we’re singing, yelling, thumping the tables. The Hackney pub, swarmed by the Momentum movement since the polls closed, is living and dying on the slow drip drip drip of results, starting from 10pm, when the polls closed, and the first exit polls came out.
The crowd tensed before the big screen, and came the results: the Tories losing their majority coming down to 315 seats, Labour rising to 260-270. The crowd exploded. This was not a majority, but no one really expected a majority. To take the Tories below 325 was the goal, and if the exit polls are correct, that has been achieved.
Jeremy Corbyn and his raggle-taggle band of Labourists, Trots, Commies and bohemian desperados may have broken the back of Tory power in a way that no Blairite formula ever could, left the Tories with a hopeless minority government task, and paved the way for a real anti-Tory coalition.
It’s 2am as I write in Dalston, London, England. It is now not impossible that in a week or so Jeremy Corbyn could be the next PM of the UK.
It’s now 2am in this ridiculous, interminable vote count; 650 seats, and only 50 seats declared. The trend is to Labour, giving them about a 35% vote, much above what Blair or Miliband could achieve. No one has a clue what will happen in the next hour. Your correspondent is about to decamp from this pub (closing) to his club (open all night). There’ll be a postscript below. It still won’t be decisive. But looking like a goodish night. We’ll be singing …
Well, God. Here we are at 4am on a Friday morning in the UK. We have repaired, a bunch of us, to the Crikey Global Affairs Desk at a chain hotel, somewhere in the lower wilds of the Angel, Islington. We were all at a Momentum pub in Hackney, Momentum being the left faction that had supported Jeremy Corbyn through thick and thin, and now they were gathering for whatever happened.
Whatever happened, it was good.
There wasn’t much bad news for Labour diehards tonight. They retained most of their seats, and they gained back a bunch of seats, and the overall total may be a 30-seat gain, and it may include 15 seats in Scotland.
The news for the Tories was shit all over. They may have lost — it’s frikkin 4.30am and the sun is coming up through the hotel window — enough seats to lose a majority, down from 330ish to 315ish. Maybe 310ish?
The pub was rockin’. Everyone was high on possibility. A few key early election results:
Ilana: Russian gal, tall blonde, there because her flatmate was there. Gave me her number, may be fake, haven’t checked yet. A gentleman doesn’t. Nor me.
Rosie: brunette child psychologist. I had to dredge up a lot of stuff about Winnicott. Eyes like a Dresden doll, catfish cheekbones. Says she will meet me at the Freud museum, in Hampstead, on Sunday 1pm. “Dude, she won’t meet you,” some dumb hipster said. Fool. The whole point of arranging to meet a catfish-cheekboned gal at the Freud museum is that she won’t turn up. I mean, duh. You made the effort, you have the rest of the afternoon free. What could be better?
Sarah: Social worker (it’s Islington). Tall blonde drink o’ water. Boxer jaw, psychedelic yoga gear. Come back to the after-party. Crazy as fuck? Future ex-Mrs-Rundle. Votes are still coming in.
Votes are still coming in all over. The count goes on. It will stop in an hour or so, resume. This will take days.
But the key results are already in. This is a disaster for the Tories, for Brexit as is, a triumph for left Labour, a decisive exit for Blairies and Cameroons. All of which to be explored at length in the next few days. For now, triumph, of a sort, disaster as a possibility, is all there, for everyone.
More cogent thoughts later, but for the moment … yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jun 8, 2017
The long list of journos leaving Fairfax continues, and the UK papers pull out all stops for their election editions. Plus more media tidbits.
Today in Media Files, the long list of journalists leaving Fairfax continues and the UK papers pull out all stops for their election editions.
March out of Fairfax continues. The roll call of journalists leaving Fairfax in the latest round of redundancies continues. Deputy news director Liam Phillips and journalist Kim Arlington have already left the Sydney Morning Herald. SMH tablet editor Connie Levett, who did a stint as Southeast Asia correspondent and has done various editing roles for the paper, has also taken a voluntary redundancy. National social media editor Georgia Waters will be leaving tomorrow after 10 years, and Herald urban affairs reporter Leesha McKenny also finishes up tomorrow. The Australian Financial Review‘s Fleur Anderson announced last night on Facebook she had also taken redundancy, saying that after 20 years as a journalist she would be moving on to something new:
“What a fabulous, fun profession! Just like our readers, I’ve been inspired, moved to tears and to anger. As always, writing about real people is the most compelling and satisfying thing a journalist can do. Lately though I’ve had a hankering to try something new. I want to be part of something that has an outcome. Something where your byline count/followers/retweets is not necessarily a measure of your success. I want to work with clever innovative people, not just report on them.”
We’ll be updating this story from yesterday with names of those leaving Fairfax as we confirm them.
Vale Jill Singer. Walkley Award-winning journalist Jill Singer, 60, has died after suffering a rare blood disorder, which was diagnosed earlier this year. Singer, who was misdiagnosed with depression, wrote for the Herald Sun earlier this year of her struggle to find out what was wrong:
“It was like being trapped in a never-ending Fellini film that could only have one possible end.”
UK press support May. Voters go to the polls today in the UK, and the national papers have mostly come out in support of Prime Minister Theresa May.
Meanwhile, the PM has caved in to veteran Channel 4 anchor Jon Snow, who complained on Twitter yesterday that May was the first in the seven general elections he’s covered to refuse him an interview. The refusal generated a flurry of attention, which Snow tweeted this morning our time had “forced her minders’ hands”:
McTernan around. Who’s this popping up on Newsnight on the eve of the UK election? Why it’s our old friend John McTernan, Anglosphere Labour’s intercontinental omnishambles! What does this transcendent political genius have to say of a two month campaign, at the end of which Labour is polling between six and ten points higher than where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown left it? “Jeremy Corbyn has an appeal which cannot be ignored.” Thanks, slick. Guess that’s why you earned the big bucks running Labour campaigns in Scotland (lost control of national assembly), parts of number 10 during the cash-for-peerages scandal, Julia Gillard’s government (lost leadership, then election), Scotland (Labour wiped out) and then going into bat for Hillary. Indeed, Corbyn’s numbers are all the more impressive, given the degree to which Blairites inside and outside the party have spent years trying to destroy him.
Now, John gets cross when we point out this catalogue of disasters, so let us stipulate for the record: centrist Labo(u)r and Democrats failures have nothing to do with the people assigned to play key roles in them. The arrogance of their politics, superficiality of their analysis, cynicism towards their rank-and-file, indifference to the human cost of foreign wars, absurd striking of Churchillian/Orwellian poses, smug certainty that they “knew the mood of the public”, and their tendancy to rehire each other no matter how great or many the failures, had nothing at all to do with the internal collapse of these parties, the legitimacy of their centre, and the slow capture of them by a left they despise. It was all just a series of terrible coincidences, good people in the wrong place at the wrong time.They have not wasted years of their lives achieving the very things they sought to contest. They have no need to reflect deeply on whether their whole approach to politics is simply wrong at the root. They are not a bunch of media zombies shambling from one news org green room to the next to give three minutes of blather. They are not nothing more than hyper aggressive dimwits who forced their way to the middle, and now have to be worked around. This we are happy to stipulate. Thanks to you and all of yours for the insights. — Guy Rundle
The media elite’s echo chamber. A survey has found that media, marketing and advertising types are a bit out of touch when it comes to how most people consume social media. The survey, commissioned by Think TV — a research and marketing company founded by the commercial networks and Foxtel — found that people working in advertising, marketing and media (dubbed ‘AdLand’ by the survey) completely overestimated how much regular people use social media.
Those in AdLand thought 100% of people used Facebook, where the actual figure was 79%, they thought 89% of people used Instagram (real figure 33%), and 53% used Twitter (really 13%). The survey of more than 1600 AdLand professionals and more than 1000 “normal” people found that the industry professionals were far more into social media, were younger, more likely to shop at a local farmer’s market and to have gone for a recent swim at a local beach.
Mamamia does news. Women’s lifestyle and comment website Mamamia has been the subject of a social media pile-on with a piece about the Melbourne terrorist attack, asking why the media hadn’t been all over who the hostage was — could it be because she was a sex worker, the piece by Jacqueline Lunn asked?
Well, no, it’s because she asked not to be identified and her name was suppressed by the Victorian coroner.
The piece remains online, but has been slightly edited (without any indication it has been) to say that if even with a suppression, there would usually be more information about the woman:
“Normally by now there would be another identifier to describe her. We would be demanding to know more and, even though her identity might be suppressed, news outlets would be reacting to our curiosity. Telling us she is a mother of three. Or a sister. Or a teacher. Or a 27-year-old local. Or blonde or brunette or regarded as the life of the party or a good friend and neighbour or kept to herself.”
Glenn Dyer’s TV Ratings. A below average night — the top programs were news and current affairs which as always tells us that viewers did not find the later offerings compelling. Masterchef should have really done better — House Rules on Seven and The Voice on Nine are now approaching their finals, so the number of weekly episodes has dropped, clearing the way for Masterchef, but viewers haven’t switched back. It grabbed a national audience of 1.18 million last night. Overall Nine had won total people, Seven won the main channels and Ten did well in the demos. Seven dominated regional viewing with Seven News on 720,000 on top, followed by Seven News/Today Tonight with 570,000, Home and Away was third with 520,000, Border Security was fourth with 482,000 and the 5.30pm part of The Chase Australia was fifth with 480,000.
It was a pretty dire night’s viewing on Foxtel if we are to judge by the fourth most watched program — the 1949 release, 12 O’Clock High on Fox Classics with 58,000 viewers. That 68 year old movie was out in cinemas before I was born. It’s called raiding the vault. Still the movie helped Fox Classics to the second spot on the most watched Pay TV channels last night.
Tonight, there’s NRL on Nine and AFL on Seven. That’s why the AFL Footy Show was broadcast on Nine last night in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. It managed 155,000 viewers in Melbourne, a long way from the heady days when it was the most watched show on the night. It had 320,000 nationally and 245,000 in the metros and 76,000 in the regionals. Time it was sent for a long spell. — Read the rest on the Crikey website
Jun 8, 2017
With 16 hours until the polls open, Jeremy Corbyn has come back to Islington for his and Labour’s campaign's final hours.
“The large corporations pay no tax yet they expect to use our services.”
Standing on the stage of the Union Chapel, Jeremy Corbyn’s hands grasped the lectern and his soft, quiet voice spread out over the several hundred assembled faithful.
“This will end.”
The scene played out, for this correspondent, through a megaphone mounted on some hipster’s head, as it did for the hundreds who couldn’t get into the building, the Union Chapel in Islington, scene of Labour’s last stand.
With 16 hours until the polls open, Jeremy Corbyn has come back to Islington for his and Labour’s campaign’s final hours. He will be criticised for this no doubt. There are few places more insider than Islington, a neighbourhood whose changing fortunes can be observed by its position on the Monopoly board; the “Angel”, its heart is on trash row, just above Whitechapel.
For hundreds of years a separate town, with its churches, and almshouses, its streets following Saxon cow tracks, by the 19th century it was middle class. By the middle-20th, its long terraces had become bedsits and boarding houses, its upper street, scruffy and dowdy, its narrow market alleys a little dangerous. But by the 1960s, something was happening. Jonathan Raban captured it in his 1974 book Soft City, an essential study of what has happened to cities and to us over the last half-century.
Raban, a young novelist, getting by on reviews and opinion “middles”, moved to Islington with his young family, because there was simply nowhere else they could afford. They were not the only ones of their kind to do so. Raban noted that the square to which he had moved was becoming a place for young families of a certain type. Their presence was having a rapid effect on the surroundings. A caff became a trattoria, a “tratt”, an Italian restaurant with check tablecloths and wax-mottled chianti bottles, a health food store opened, a bookshop. Someone turned the dying local cinema into what was not yet called an arthouse, the “Screen on the Green” (and what a ’70s name that is).
The locals bristled at first, but not much. Many were Irish immigrants themselves, hardly able to make a claim on the place. Raban’s insight was that the very identity of cities, their neighbourhoods was starting to bend, become more pliable, transformable, as were the people in it. Such “soft cities” are what we have thought of as the inner city for forty years, a culture, a way of life that relied on a certain ensemble of working class and bohemia/knowledge class, the latter set within the former, an enervating minority.
This is the era when traditional celebrations withered, church festivals and big funerals, wedding receptions spilling out from pubs, and new “festivals” sprang up. Routine now, part of neighbourhood branding, the idea of such a place being enlivened by a carnival was new then. Islington, dirt poor, with new pockets of boho prosperity appearing, became the red base of London, a place where Labour Left, Marxists and centrists fought it out, tried new things. By the ’80s, it was already on the turn, students, artists, etc, moving to Dalston further up the road. By the time I moved to Hackney in 1997, Islington was the home of the prime minister Tony Blair, and the most dynamic Tory public figure, Boris Johnson.
They lived among a place still poor, the ratty bars, egg-and-chips caffs — Alfredo’s a dingy art deco hang of blessed memory — and such people seemed no more than a layer on top of it all. No-one recognised the paradoxical process that would occur: that in pursuit of the meaning and authenticity, the sheer life that “soft cities” generated, the rich would wholly invade, and inevitably, petrify them. That can be exaggerated, but not by much. The streets of Islington are lined with nitro ice-cream stores, gastro pubs and so on, and the many poor public housing tenants still here have nowhere to publicly be. Jeremy Corbyn was coming back to an Islington of memory, a place where the British left made and remade itself over the ’70s to ’90s.
But hell, everyone came back with him. The crowd around the Union Chapel — a non-conformist church, its tower looming over the borough, pretty much Jeremy Corbyn in red brick — thousands of them, sprawling across the roads, every hipster, freak, old hack and many, many just plain folk turning out from the dull terraces, the ticky tack old housing. Women with yoga mats, lads from ad agencies in suits and black T-shirts, joshing, Trots everywhere — how lovely to hear that cry again, “coooopy of the soooocialist … buy the soooocialist”, anarchists in denim jackets and tatts. Man, this was a gathering of the tribe, a last hurrah for some.
I saw people I hadn’t seen in 20 years, from the late ’90s, the last of cool Britannia, the days of Hackney Police Watch, of Clinker, a scratch spoken-word, free-jazz club in basement where Throbbing Gristle used to play, a dude whose wife I’d tried and almost succeeded in stealing — he was a recovering junkie; both she and I, terrible people, decided we weren’t that terrible — now Maori-tattoed all over his face, skin-muscle shrink-wrapped back-to-the-bone. He strode along with a new girl, who was five in ’97; he laughed heartily; he had a Corbyn Labour sticker on; I don’t think he is the base for a 40%-plus majority.
Corbyn was in his element. YouTube footage from inside the chapel showed him speaking forcefully, and outside I’d heard it, that voice, quiet yet determined, coming out of a megaphone mounted on some wanker’s head. Nevertheless … But as later footage would show, the element was a little too much the element. Stone church, raw arches, Jeremy quoting Shelley “for the many not the few”. OK, OK, we are the grand tradition of the left. We can win Islington. Now what?
The question is piquant, because five hours earlier I’d been in Watford, listening to Corbyn speak to a crowd at the end of the High Street, and doing OK, but only OK. The speech was the same as it would be in Islington: for the many not the few, but in fact focused on the few, the poor and desperate, needful of attention but not a majority. It goes over, well, wellish, but not great. This is a stop on the last whistlestop tour, to get the vote out. Watford is the perpetual three-way, a seat that changes hands between Tory, Lib-Dem and Labour. Smart money is that the Lib-Dems are done, it’s a two-way contest, and that’s why Corbyn is here.
But ah, I wish he was here here. I wish he could see where he is. Watford is not a place with a Union Chapel, a place where people quote Shelley. It’s not a place where the woof and weft, the texture of England, has much play. It’s a market town that became a feeder suburb of London. It’s famous because Elton John bought its failing football team decades ago, the first of the celeb football turnovers. Its high street is the same as all UK high streets: a vibrant centre wrecked by pedestrianisation, puke-coloured tiles, charity stores and chain store pubs, the old Arndale centre pulled down to build Watford New … but for all that, a place. Municipal Britain, full of local workers and commuters, people not fussed about their history, about injustice, fussed about cooking or a takeaway, about which box set to watch, about the train tomorrow. If you want to understand the mind of Britain now, read The Girl On The Train, — that’s it, that’s it exactly.
The crowd at the end of Watford High Street are enthusiastic, wanting to love Corbyn, but he’s not giving them — except for the young — all that much. Corbyn, ah Corbyn. He will never understand a place like Watford High Street, with its eight mobile phone shops, its three gadget shops, its characterless chain pubs, full to bursting. There are hundreds at the rally; there are thousands in the street who do not hugely care. What is it to them, these issues: the lives of the inner-urban poor, the fact that millions rely on food banks, and so on? Some of these people will fall into poverty. Not many. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you move from job to job. Corbyn’s message remains depression-era, as if everyone was about to join the soup-kitchen line. He knows that’s not the case, I suspect, but he cant help himself. The Union-fucking-Chapel. Of course he’d choose that. He’s the last Methodist, the preacher man.
But the people of Watford don’t want preachers. They want to come home and play Xbox, go for a drink at All Bar One. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hard to organise those folks. Doubly hard, if you can’t acknowledge that their greatest fear is that they may not be able to afford Xbox. What Corbyn Labour hasn’t been able to adjust itself to, is averageness, municipality. Like a lot of the left (*clears throat* NSW Greens, harrumph), it wants a scarcity-era unified working-class to underwrite its vision of humanity, as some thrusting Promethean heroic historic upsurge. They’re gone, and in their place is a class that feels liberated from ancient authority — including know-it-all lefties, hoping a social class will underwrite their vision — offered all this great stuff, wages are being squeezed a lot, but the main thing is these damn foreigners and these damn immigrants.
That’s where Corbyn and all around him stop short. They just can’t get the broad middle of British life, can’t tap into, not scarcity, but shittiness, things just being not good enough. For all that Corbyn has stepped up to to the mark — and everyone on the Left should honour how much this serious and modest man has taken on the bullshit that is involved in being a party leader these days — he and those around him simply cannot adjust themselves to the full challenge of modernity: that a lot of the most basic problems of life have been solved, but everyone feels crappy and angry and cheated all the time. Especially in the UK where such sentiments have taken over from Morris Dancing as the national expression of character.
Like it or not, 20 years of Thatcherism gave this country a certain character and it has very little to do with black and white newsreels or the frikkin spirit of ’45. It is an insouciant, iconoclastic view of life as eternal present, as gleefully destructive, in its way, as the Chinese cultural revolution, a war against the several olds, a people who just want the NHS to work, and the console to be ever present, and who can gainsay that?
But Labour has not yet found the woman or man who can speak to that. They may, but it is not Corbyn, middle-class kid, hesitant and kind — son, I would guess, of kind and hesitant people. There’s a Brit children’s story series that was a huge success post-war but has never translated elsewhere, The Borrowers, about a micro-family who live in the cracks of someone else’s house, and nip out to steal and repurpose things, a needle, a thimble, a handkerchief. The books worked because that’s how many Brits feel — that they’re borrowers, people marginal to some grand design. That’s how it’s done. In the UK you live in the margins of the lives of the aristocracy, and they grant you life. Post-war social democracy was one chance to break free, and Thatcherism was the illusion of breaking free. But still whatever happens, the … ah man I’ve lost my thread. I really have.
But what one can say is that Corbyn Labour for all its achievements, it would never crack majority support with, 1) the person Corbyn is, and 2) the policies they have. In the past weeks, Labour left minister Chris Mullin’s cracking thriller A Very British Coup has been doing the rounds again. It deserves it. It’s the story of steelworker Harry Perkins, who becomes PM, avoids Thatcherism by taking a loan from Moscow’s Narodny Bank to recapitalise the UK, and gets shellacked by the establishment for daring to challenge them … Corbyn is no Harry Perkins, which is a shame.
We need someone working-class, and for that class, but nationalist and unafraid to be so. What the left needs, to succeed, is for a contingent of it — which includes people close to Corbyn, including Corbyn himself — to throw off its pallid, undifferentiated internationalism, its ridiculous and unknowing commitment to the abstract values of human rights, and commit to the people closest to it. That may currently be organised around the nation-state, but it won’t always be. For the moment it is, so the nation is what must be committed to.
Imagine if a Labour leader, in the wake of two terrorist atrocities, which are connected to both the right’s adventures abroad, and its cuts to policing at home, could have slated Theresa May as a failure, who couldn’t keep Britons safe. Such a leader wouldn’t have to bring immigration into it — indeed they could attack these bullshit attacks on immigrants for attacks made by native citizens — but they would have to love the country. They’d have to exude it. And they couldn’t do so by any commitment to abstract values. It would have to be to what’s on offer in High Street Watford, the pint of Stella, and the Premier League on the pub TV, the One Show on BBC One, and “Tubthumping” on the digital jukebox. They’d have to know what it is before 10 spin doctors arranged it for them, and they’d have to pledge to defend it from all enemies — including the Tories, a party in a client relation to global business.
Will this loss upcoming, teach the crowd in Islington that they must listen to the crowd in Watford, because that is where Britain lives. Not likely. Me, I can appreciate Jezzer ending his campaign in a nonconformist hall, quoting from Shelley. But in doing so he simply proves again the durability of the Nairn-Anderson thesis: that the most conservative institution in the UK is the British Labour Party, that Thatcher was the real radical, that neoliberalism is as nihilist, and liberating, as Bolshevism, and that if you’re going to win power in 2017 you have to speak to Thatcher’s children, which is Britain.
I don’t know what splits the Tories have ahead of them, but I think there will have to be a huge one on the left, between those who will ground their political morality in a polis, a civitas and a community, and those who will pursue the moral vanity of open-ended abstract rights, such as satisfy the values of their knowledge-culture social class. In this, those of us who are communal leftists may have to build from small bases, and turn against people we know and respect, but in the end you’re going to have to choose, whether you serve the people, the excluded and the other, or you serve the universalistic knowledge class, which is the new ruling class. You are going to have to choose now, because Corbyn’s campaign was the last hurrah of trying to be both, and anyone who sticks to that after this, well, I have some pamphlets from the Henry George League, which may be of interest.
Left the rally before the end. Went back home through Hackney, the old stomping ground. Whole areas demolished, others, same place boarded up as had been 20 years ago, 20 years before that. Weeds bigger than doors. Nothing goes ahead evenly, and progress is not always that. Corbyn’s campaign is either the end of something, or a mere prelude to a more radical period, or both. The man is a hero, but this election is just a step along the way, and we are all still outside the chapel, listening to history happen through a crackling speaker.
Jun 7, 2017
Below 350, and she is in great difficulty.
There are 56 hours to go until the polls close in the UK general election (and of course, 44 hours to go until they open), but if custom is observed, the campaign will be all but concluded in the next 12 hours, by the end of Tuesday night (London time).
For all its thrusting modernisation over recent decades, there are still moments at which the Edwardian spirit of Britain breaks through, and everything is run like the village cricket match. Leaders tend to have their last rallies — insofar as they have rallies at all — on the Tuesday, do a little doorknocking with the candidate for Stribbidledebton, South Crapley or Much Felching, and then nothing at all occurs on Thursday, except voting.
On the evening, at each constituency, no matter how much the vote has humiliated them, most candidates turn up to some old bingo hall, to stand beside the surreally stetsoned and bemedalled candidate for the Monster Raving Loony Party to hear that they have lost by two or 10,000 votes, while their opponent’s supporters applaud and then gurn and jeer (theirs have largely vanished). The only politico to skip this masochistic ordeal is serial leftist candidate George Galloway — when he loses. When he’s winning, he’s there in a fedora only marginally less ridiculous than the headgear of the Monster Raving Loonies.
Well, it all beats civil war I guess. But I hope that Jeremy Corbyn and Labour will buck this gentlemen’s agreement and campaign right up to the moment the last booth closes, run rallies tomorrow, and on the day, and once again keep the Tories hopping. Corbyn has been having ever bigger rallies up and down the country, with 10,000 turning out in Gateshead in the north on Monday night. The rally is a very unBritish strategy — or has been for the past few years, when none of the Notting Hill-Hampstead axis candidates had any confidence that they could draw a crowd. They rally the troops, who are going out to marginal seats, they affirm that Labour is basically there, and as one self-seconded Trot said “they make something so big tha bastard BBC have to put it on the news”. This time last election, Labour’s Ed Miliband was unveiling a five-metre monolith with Labour’s tepid promises chiselled into it. The “Ed Stone” it was dubbed, and so it proved to be.
Whatever the result of this election — and even if the broad polls prove correct, it will probably involve an increased majority for the Tories — the great good thing about it has been the campaign that Labour has run, the rewards it has gained from doing so, and the refutation of those who claimed that Labour couldn’t really build its vote. The Blairites will still crow, should Labour lose on seats of course. They will say that they always knew that more votes could be got – from those who had left the system — by going left. But these votes were in the wrong places, in inner cities where Labour already dominated. True, but the Blairites’ estimate of that gain was always on the low side, around 4-6%. If multiple polls are to be believed Labour’s aggregate vote is now 40%, 12% above where it was at the start of the campaign, and 10% above Ed Miliband’s effort two years ago — a campaign whose mild centre-leftism was itself characterised as some sort of Stalinism-on-the-Thames.
Should these new voters appear in the numbers promised, they may well remain grouped in safe Labour seats. But there is a real possibility that they aren’t, and this will be creating real headaches in the Conservative HQ. What Labour may have managed to mobilise, through its policies, and its army of campaigners on the ground, is a generational split, that is in fact a class split. If Labour has been able to connect with young voters in swinging and even borderline-safe Tory seats, and detach them from overall class-voting patterns, then the results on Thursday may be quite idiosyncratic.
Because, of course, the generational split is now a class split, absolutely, based around property, and opportunity. Didn’t have to be. Had the Conservatives, or the Blairites, put mechanisms in place — affordable housing, training and apprenticeship schemes, subsidised college places — and paid for it at the other end, by genuine taxation of corporations and the very rich, then the class aspect would disappear, and generational divisions would remain cultural ones. Twenty years of neglect have given the Left an opportunity to revive their program along an entirely new social axis.
We shall know pretty quickly on Thursday night (results will be tumbling in Friday morning from about 7am onwards, Sydney/Melbourne time). To have any chance of success, such a strategy will have to have ensured that Labour is not only holding its paltry 10 or so non-London, non-university-town southern seats (Luton South, Bristol, Portsmouth, etc), but to be competitive again in another 10 or 20. That’s not to win, good god. That’s just to stay in the hunt should the Tory seat-count fall below a majority in their own right. Realistically, the Tories have to lose about 25 seats to be in trouble, since they can always rely on the Northern Ireland unionists to buttress them under almost any circumstances.
There is no likely-at-all scenario in which the Tories get other than the largest number of seats. But under 305 (they currently have 330), satisfying Her Majesty that they can offer a majority government is near impossible. Even if the Lib-Dem “leadership” were to agree to support them, there would be a split within their diminished ranks (they will have about 10-14 seats, a mixture of old lefty social liberals and free-market “orange bookers“; essentially the entire political spectrum in a, well, larger than a phone booth — a disabled toilet in Starbucks, the whole parliamentary party could literally meet in one of those). Could they persuade some Lib-Dems to defect, or serve as independents? They could. They could even persuade some Labour members, who were on their last tour — changing parties is far more common in the UK than in Australia. But were any Labour member to do that, one would literally fear for their physical safety (well, not “fear”, cos they’d deserve everything they got.)
Failing that, the opportunity then passes to Labour. Jeremy Corbyn has claimed that Labour would seek no coalitions. Should he stick to that, then the situation gets very murky indeed, “constitutionally” speaking. Suddenly, the Queen has real power to determine whether Corbyn should be given the chance to form a government in the Commons. What would count as something more than support from the other parties, less than a coalition? A written agreement? A verbal agreement, with enumerated parts? An interview with Nicola Sturgeon on Newsnight? There’s no guide, and if all Corbyn can offer is a supported minority government, then it goes back to the Tories to have first call on getting that.
This would all presumably take at least five days. The British establishment would use the notion of “strong government” to scream that anarchy was here, and to implicitly pressure Buckingham Palace to appoint the Tories as a minority government, ahead of a detailed set of policy agreements with the Unionists, Lib-Dems and others.
But, of course, should this have occurred, the Tory party will be rent afresh with internal division, as well. Theresa May — right-centrist, pro-EU, who went right to unify the party post-Brexit — will be loathed by the right for losing the election and committing them to all sorts of lefty centrist social democracy stuff. The Tory centre, pro-EU, will no longer have to tolerate her Brexit-at-all-costs line. As always with such conflicts, from an objective viewpoint, there will be nothing to be gained from it. As always, that will mean zip, as to how headbanging it gets. There’ll be a certain amount of unquantifiable angst mixed in, if the Tory party has lost its majority to Jeremy Corbyn, and his commie flying circus (Seamus Milne, ex Communist Party of GB, head of communications; Andrew Murray, Trotskyist, who then joined the Communist Party, campaign director; Paul Mason, backwoods sniper), and that would fuel any autodestructive impulse.
What does Corbyn have to offer the Lib-Dems to get their support? Not much. Their base remains perpetually to the left of their leadership, and so their MPs would buck Corbyn’s pretty mild social democratic program at their peril. And they would wholly support him on foreign policy as regards wars, etc. There would probably be stuff about relations to Russia, Cuba, etc, a restoration of trade union legal rights they would cavil at. But it would be mild, and not now. Would the Scottish National Party push for another referendum on independence? Brexit gives them a solid pretext; they would be sceptical about the longevity of a Corbyn government. Surely they would have to take the chance, timing it for sometime close to the UK’s actual departure from the EU. The Greens would have specific proposals, easily accommodated. They might even become — with one, at most three, MPS — a small part of the government. What would Plaid Cymru want? Lemonade and a bag of crisps.
All very lovely to imagine, but the numbers suggest a raised Tory majority, heading north of 360, to 380. What happens then? May’s survival as PM will depend on the exact numbers. Below 350, and she is in great difficulty, having won a deeply disappointing increase against a “far”-left opponent, and run a terrible campaign, personally and collectively. Should she survive, then the internal party majority she hoped for — 325+ government-loyal Tories — is gone (unless the polls are wholly absolutely wrong, but — unusually for our era — favour the establishment by being so), and the Brexit process will become a nightmare, and one she won’t survive. The Tory pro-EU faction will gain strategic support from Labour for a “conditional” Brexit, and the battle will be unable to be contained. The Tory party may have fearsome discipline in keeping power, and subordinating ideas to facts, but there’s a limit. Many of the pro-EU Tories believe that Brexit would be a once-in-several-centuries disaster for the UK, and if they can see a chance to frustrate it they would, out of a genuine commitment to their ideas, and their country.
Should May get a majority much above 370, that won’t be a factor — the pro-EU faction just won’t have the numbers. But with a larger majority, something else interesting happens. If indeed Corbyn Labour has managed to break to near 40% in the vote, and yet has still lost on the seat count, the legitimacy of the UK’s archaic parliamentary system will have been thrown into sharp relief. She would have majority, but lack legitimacy for a unilateral program. Yet from her right there would be enormous pressure to institute a neo-Thatcherism, economically and politically.
That possibility points to the enormous stakes, potentially, at this election. Should May get a large majority, she can reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600 (abolishing the principle that constituencies should follow traditional community boundaries), and remove Labour’s 2% advantage from underpopulated inner-city seats. With Scotland gone, that makes Labour’s task all the harder.
However should Labour get in on a minority, there would be the possibility of changing the voting system to a proportional one (preferential was offered in a referendum, and soundly rejected). Labour has previously rejected that. But with the political set-up now being everyone (save unionists) to the left of Toryism, then it would be tempting. Effectively, everyone except the Tories see the nation-state in the same way: as a complex intersection of state, economy and society, to be managed towards shared and varying ends, using a variety of policy settings. The Tories remain the last “mythical” political party, believing in some deep buried form of right, in which property and inherited political authority legitimise each other. It’s their belief in this underlying right that anchors their ability to sell out particular policies and commitments, such as is required to retain power. Were a proportional system to be established, they would be in for a difficult few years, maybe quite a few. But then, quite a large section of Labour’s left opposes proportionalism too, preferring the first-past-the-post de facto seizure of power.
Gah, it’ll probably be an enormous fizzer. May and the Tories will get 360, keeping them and her in power, and Labour will be consumed by in-fighting. But, hell, it feels a lot better to be going into a vote with the possibility that a 40% poll is illusory, than with the likelihood that a 28% one isn’t. Eyes down for a full house.