Saturday, 4 March 2017

Has Brexit brought a united Ireland closer?

According to Wikipedia the population of Northern Ireland is 45.6% protestant and 40.2% Roman Catholic. I realise that not all protestants are unionists and not all Catholics are nationalists, but the history of each of those two communities is deeply intertwined with those respective political traditions. An Ipsos MORI poll in 2013 found that 38% of Catholics wanted Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, compared to 35% who supported a united Ireland.
In the EU referendum, the electorate in Northern Ireland voted by 56% to 44% to remain in the European Union.
In Thurday's Northern Ireland assembly elections, the results of which were announced last night and in which the turnout was 65% compared to only 54% last year, the Democratic Unionist Party's majority over Sinn Fein was reduced from ten seats to only one seat, with Sinn Fein's over all vote increased by 4%.
I don't live in Northern Ireland and neither am I particularly informed about Northern Ireland politics but, taking the above facts into account, I can't help but wonder whether the looming 'hard Brexit' has made the prospect of a United Ireland (and hence the six counties that currently comprise Northern Ireland being able to stay in the EU) more palatable to voters, particularly those from among that 38% of Roman Catholics who, in 2013, supported remaining a part of the United Kingdom. In other words, could it be that the UK vote to leave the European Union has brought the prospect of a United Ireland a lot closer than it was before June 23rd 2016.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

My reluctant conclusion: Jeremy must go

It's now been five months since Jeremy Corbyn won his second Labour leadership contest. The dissenters within the PLP have been pretty quiet, but still Labour's dire opinion poll rankings refuse to shift (at least not upwards) and Corbyn's personal ratings are even worse than the party's. I voted for him twice (pretty reluctantly the second time) and have tried to stay positive about his leadership (my post of 31st December was written more to try and convince myself than anyone else) but I have finally come to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn has to go, or Labour will have absolutely no chance of winning the next general election and we will be condemned to five more years of the Conservatives, this time with a vastly increased majority.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

It's time to get behind the leader

In 2015 after Ed Miliband resigned following Labour's defeat in the general election, I had been planning on voting for Andy Burnham as the new leader. However, after watching Burnham's slickly produced campaign video, with cheesy music and liberal sprinklings of the latest focus group inspired buzzword, "aspiration" (Yvette Cooper was equally guilty of this) and comparing that to Corbyn's straightforward and guileless performances at the hustings, I was quickly won over to the Corbyn cause (I admit there was an element of Old Labour nostalgia involved as well) even though his views are further to the left than mine and I don't share his unilateralism or his republicanism.
By the time of the 2016 Labour leadership contest I was far less sure about whether to cast my vote for Corbyn again. Labour were tanking in the opinion polls but it was difficult to say how much of that was due to lack of support for the leadership among the parliamentary party. I dithered for a while and I actually voted for the pro-Owen Smith slate in the National Executive Committee elections. In the end, two things made me decide to give Jeremy another chance. Firstly, I disagreed with Owen Smith's policy of wanting to hold a second EU referendum, and believed this could potentially alienate a large number of voters in a forthcoming general election. Secondly, I felt that the outcome of the EU referendum and the inexorable rise of Donald Trump in America showed that we were in a period of 'anti-establishment' politics whereby large sections of the public - often those who hadn't previously taken much of an interest in politics - were intent on confounding the media and bucking the opinion polls by supporting positions that went against the perceived 'script'. I felt that, in this kind of political environment, Corbyn's unpolished style and consistent track record of conviction politics might just be what was needed to strike a chord with voters and, like Brexit and Trump, defy the expectations of the bookies and the pollsters.
Since the leadership election I have tried to remain positive about Mr Corbyn's leadership despite the fact that Labour have not made much headway in terms of opinion polls. He occasionally does a good interview and seems (sometimes, at least) to be getting better at Prime Minister's Questions. As for those reasons why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the last leadership election, well, neither of them seems to be quite so applicable any more. Firstly, I now believe we should have a second referendum - not on whether to leave the European Union but on whether or not to remain within the European Economic Area. I believe the result would show that there is no mandate for a so-called 'hard Brexit'. This is not really that different from Owen Smith's position that we should hold a second referendum on whether or not to accept whatever deal is on offer at the end of the government's Brexit negotiations.
Secondly, what I now realise is that the current anti-establishment mood among large sections of the public is a very specific form of anti-establishment politics; it has an anti-globalisation, anti-'elite' element which might chime in with some of what Corbyn stands for but it is also essentially very much a reaction against political correctness and mass immigration and it regards the left and those who, like Corbyn and those around him, call themselves socialists, as brainwashed stooges of the hated liberal 'political class'. This may be an era of anti-establishment politics but, unfortunately, in some ways at least, Jeremy Corbyn is simply the wrong kind of anti-establishment. (I'm not suggesting Labour should pander to this populist mood, it's just that I no longer think it's something that Jeremy Corbyn can necessarily benefit from significantly.)
With an unelected, authoritarian Prime Minister apparently intent on taking the UK out of the single market without a proper mandate, and NHS and social care services struggling simply to stay afloat, I can't help feeling that the Tories are getting far too easy a ride at the moment. It's essential for those of us who value the NHS, good quality state funded education and the welfare state in general that the Labour Party functions as a strong parliamemtary opposition to the current Tory regime. It's even more essential that, when the next general election is called, Labour is in a position to take votes from all sections of the public including a significant number of those who have previously voted Conservative or Liberal Democrat.
My intention, however, is not merely to be negative and I'm certainly not arguing that there should be another leadership challenge. Jeremy Corbyn may not be the finished article yet, and a leadership team made up of the likes of Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott etc. is probably not best calculated to appeal to floating voters, but the blame for Labour's current predicament cannot be laid entirely at the feet of Corbyn and his supporters. Tony Benn once likened the Labour Party to a bird, pointing out that it relied on both its wings to be able to fly. If those on the centre left and the 'right' of the party would have another crack at working with Corbyn - however difficult he may be to work with - for the good of the party and, more importantly, the good of the country, then I believe the situation can be salvaged and the Labour Party could once again become both a formidable opponent to the current government and a viable, credible government in waiting.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Aside from all the xenophobia and misogyny...

...Trump's policies will be bad for the US (and consequently the world's) economy. Protectionism can create jobs in the protected sectors but because those goods will then be more expensive, consumers have less to spend on other items, which means job losses for those who produce those items, as well as poorer consumers. Protectionism is robbing Peter to pay Paul and then robbing Paul as well! The markets are already reacting badly.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Has anyone else noticed...? (2)

Conservative MP and ardent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg and Irish Nationalist and strategic mastermind of the 1916 Easter Rising Joseph Plunkett.

I wonder if they could be related.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Everyday sexism and royal protocols

I have always tried to avoid sexist stereotypes or sexist language with my children. For example, I always use the expression 'human-made' rather than the term I was brought up with, 'man-made'. If someone in the house says, 'a man will be coming round to fix the boiler', I will always point out that we don't know whether it will be a man or a woman. My wife is now the main breadwinner in our family. Yet somehow sexist stereotyping still gets through, even with very young children. Recently I was having a conversation with my youngest children, who were then 9 and 10, about the royal family. I mentioned the fact that while the wife of a King is referred to as a Queen, the husband of a Queen who is the head of State (such as our own Queen, Elizabeth II) is not referred to as a King. I said I didn't know why this was the case and, without missing a heartbeat, my 10 year old daughter said, "It's because if they called the Queen's husband a King, it would make him seem more important than her." I was quite taken aback, as I realised she had somehow, at the age of 10, while attending a school where the vast majority of teachers were female, managed to imbibe the idea that a male is considered more important by our society than a female who does the exact same job.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

How Nigel Farage and Donald Trump persuaded me to vote for Jeremy Corbyn

I've been flipping backwards and forwards on the question of who to vote for in the Labour Leadership election ever since Owen Smith threw his hat into the ring but today my vote finally arrived and it was burning a hole in my email server, so I decided that today would be decision day. I would finally choose which side I am on. And, for a couple of reasons, I have found myself swinging back towards Jeremy Corbyn lately.
Firstly, as a member of the Labour Party I intend to help with campaigning in the run-up to the next General Election. That means that if Owen Smith becomes leader I would find myself campaigning on a manifesto which includes the staging of a second referendum on EU membership, something I am opposed to on principle as I believe to hold another EU referendum without ever implementing the decision of the first one would seriously undermine many people's faith in the democratic process in this country. Such a policy might well also alienate a lot of so-called 'traditional Labour voters'.
Secondly, while the main reason I have been seriously tempted to vote for Owen Smith is the belief that he's more likely to beat the Tories in a general election - a belief largely generated and fostered by the media and backed up by opinion polls - I can't escape the nagging feeling that maybe I'm allowing myself to be misled. After all, neither the media nor the pollsters foresaw a Tory majority in the 2015 general election and the polling companies and even the bookies were confident that the Remain campaign would win the EU referendum. Last night, in fact, Nigel Farage was in America giving a speech about "the Brexit story" to a rally of Donald Trump supporters - another politician who was initially given very little chance of success by the media, in his bid to win the Republican Party presidential nomination. 'Anti-establishment' politicians (of which, surely, Corbyn is one) seem to be doing better than expected at the moment. Perhaps the type of people who vote for such candidates and causes are less likely than others to respond to opinion polls. Jeremy hasn't been given much of a chance yet and I think he probably deserves at least one decent crack at a general election.
Maybe I'm guilty of letting my heart overrule my head, but - taking all the above points into consideration - at 9.40pm this evening I cast my vote for Jeremy Corbyn to remain as leader of the Labour Party.