Speaking the truth

Lord Hall has announced that he is standing down as director-general of the BBC. He wishes to give his successor a clear run at two governmental reviews, including the renewal of the BBC’s Charter.

He stands down at, as Harriet Harman said yesterday, a time when the BBC is very vulnerable. The BBC is almost unique in having a charter which allows State funding but then independence from the State. The BBC is designed to speak truth unto power.

The BBC still speaks for the nation. The fact of us all paying a licence fee makes the BBC ours in a way that other TV and Radio channels are not. It is not for nothing that the BBC ran the Andrew Neil interviews, seen as being the critical interviews of the election. Boris Johnson refused to appear on the interviews; one can only assume that he was running scared.

The BBC runs a uniquely broad range of programming on both TV and radio. TV ranges from arts to quiz shows to politics and news. The radio stations cover pop music and Asian sounds, through classical music to jazz to informed speech radio to sport. I have yet to see any such coverage on the private radio stations.

Sometimes the BBC gets things wrong. There have been complaints from left and right over the BBC’s coverage of the election last year. The fact of being attacked by left and right suggests that the BBC was getting something right. However, the same fact suggests that there might be something to reform.

However, the main threat is from the right. Boris Johnson has suggested that the licence fee should go. This would turn the BBC into a subscription service. In effect the BBC would be privatized, functioning at the whim of shareholders. This is likely to be deleterious for standards and content.  Yet the Conservatives have many who long to see the BBC cut down merely because they do not like having a sharp and critical BBC.

The defence of the BBC needs to begin. It is, like the NHS, a uniquely valuable institution that needs to be maintained in the face of vengeful Conservatives, streaming TV channels and the other difficulties of our current age.


The Ukranian Flight

After three days of mounting pressure, the Iranian authorities admitted that they had accidentally shot down the Ukrainian flight leaving Teheran. It emerged that a member of the revolutionary guards had deployed a missile, believing the flight to be a cruise missile. The poor man said that he wished he was dead.

The Iranian public reacted with shock and then anger, red hot fury. Vigils held to mark the deaths of the people became politicized as the people called for the prosecution of those in charge and then called out for a referendum on the Khatamei government. The British ambassador, at one such vigil was arrested. As Dominic Raab said, this was a flagrant breach of international law.

Alistair Burt, one time Conservative MP and Minister for the Middle East wrote a piece for The Observer. He concluded with four points that might mean change:

  • The US should rescind last week’s ban on Zarif (Iran’s foreign minister) travelling to the UN. Zarif should take the opportunity to go and have meetings either at the UN or outside its confines with ministers and diplomats keen to make progress according to the European Council on Foreign Relations last week.
  • The French proposal around last September to release some Iranian oil sales to further the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal might be revived. This could morph into JCPOA 2 taking in US concerns. As Burt said, this should involve all regional Arab states.
  • Iran could and should rethink the imprisonment of dual nationals, such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – releases that could unlock much.
  • The UK can play a vital role through its diplomats and its relationships with the US and EU..

In reality this depends upon Donald Trump. On hearing the admission, Mike Pompeo immediately talked about Iranian “brutality”. This does not help. Nor do the currently awful connections between the US and Iran. If there is to be any good news about the Ukrainian flight there must come about a better relationship between the US and Iran.


To be or not to be

Labour’s defeat last week was profoundly catastrophic. The Conservatives drove a coach and horses through Labour’s seats in the north of England and midlands. It is now possible to cross coast-to-coast without leaving Conservative held territory. The Conservatives took well over 50 seats from Labour.

But there are other, darker ways of viewing the defeat. The Conservatives wooed long-term Labour voters and broke apart the covenant between Labour and the working classes. This covenant had been getting threadbare over many years. But the Conservatives completely broke up the covenant. It is not impossible to see this covenant to be permanently broken. It may be that the voters never return to Labour. All this needs is for the conservatives to “do” Brexit and then throw a few baubles at the left-behind communities to win a second term. The only hope for Labour is that there are many small Conservative majorities which imply that Labour can win these seats.

Another issue that Labour needs to face is that of what is its purpose. Does it really represent the working classes and the “progressive” voice or has that calling passed on? If it has passed on, then is it now irredeemably middle class and professional.

Christmas is nearly upon us. I am taking a break. I hope that you have a great Christmas.


Yet again

Last week, Labour crashed to one of its very worst defeats and the Conservatives won an 80 seat majority. Let us take the Conservatives first. They have had the best win since 1983 and won on the largest share of the vote (44%) since Thatcher’s first victory in 1979.

Johnson has no need to worry about the opposition. The opposition is wrecked, representing a wasteland of lost opportunities. Labour has been reduced to 203 MPs; the Lib Dems 11. Only the SNP has thrived winning 48 out of 59 seats. For the next five years the Conservatives rule everything they perceive.

That opposition is also within the Conservative Party. The European Research Group has been reduced to the nonentities they always were. Boosted by a hung Parliament and by serial disloyalty the ERG accrued influence. But now that is gone. Johnson can ignore the ERG and do what he wills; he has the votes on this side.

There is a theory that Johnson will miraculously be seen to be a genuine ‘one nation’ Tory. Given he sacked the genuine ‘one nation’ Tories in the last parliament this is not likely. What might happen is that there will be softer Brexit, of the sort opposed by the ERG. Given the short time-frame given to negotiate a trade deal (by December 2020), the only way of achieving this will be by being reasonably congruent to the EU. This implies a softer position. There is hope yet.

Then we come to Labour. Corbyn’s Labour has lost its heartlands in the North and Midlands. The greater the Leave vote the greater the swing against Labour. But even in Remain areas Labour lost votes. Since 2017 and the last election Labour has lost over 2,500,000 votes at a rate of roughly 2180 a week. I feel bereaved by this defeat.

It was not Brexit that did for Labour. Only 17% of voters said that Brexit mattered. It was Corbyn, time and again on the doorstep and (in my case) on the phone bank that came up. This country of England is essentially conservative. That means that the country is basically patriotic and in favour of an active defence policy. Many family members are in the armed forces. Corbyn set out to alienate that vote. By not singing the National Anthem, by not being properly dressed for State occasions, by being pro-CND by being a pacifist, Corbyn alienated what had been the hard core of Labour’s votes. The metropolitan elite of north London managed to lose the North and Midlands. Even Bolsover fell to the Tories.

Then there was the manifesto. Taken apart, the policies were tolerable. Taken together they were alienating.  I wonder how the manifesto was tried out. Did the authors fairly try out the manifesto as a whole or did they assume that all the policies could be taken together?

Yet Corbyn lingers on. Like a bad smell Corbyn hangs around. It is time for him to go and allow an interim leader to be elected while the Party takes time to think. Corbynism must also go. We have lost two elections, 2017 and 2019; Corbynism must be driven out. It is time to swing back to the centre. We have tried tacking from the left three times (2015, 2017 and 2019) and failed thrice. The centre is where most voters are. Jess Philips MP has rightly said that Labour has stopped talking with and to her kind of people (working class).

The selection process has begun. May we not be seduced by promises of the Promised Land but decide with realism.


London Bridge

The recent terrorist attack at London Bridge left two dead and several injured. What was the politicians’ response? They indulged in a bout of the political game rather than speaking of the grief of the moment. As far as I understand the chronology, Johnson began this by issuing condolences and then blaming (wrongly) the Labour government’s legislation for the release of the killer from prison. Corbyn then joined in by blaming austerity and Tory cuts to the prison service and police. Of the two Corbyn made more sense. But that is cold comfort to the bereaved who, rightly, expect something more heartfelt. Indeed, the father of the man who died has insisted that politicians should stop using his son’s death to justify their stance. Further, he argued that his son would be appalled to find his death being used to justify penal policies that speak of revenge.

The London Bridge attack is a time in which we should expect prime ministerial candidates to be prime ministerial. This is a solemn time that should be outwith the daily dose of election politics. And Johnson should take the blame for this not happening.

Boris Johnson is also at fault over his attitude towards interviews. He has refused the invitation to be interviewed by Andrew Neal. Neal’s interviews are aggressive, robust and searching. All the other leaders have undergone this purgatory; Jeremy Corbyn had a peculiarly difficult time over antisemitism. It is customary for all prime ministers seeking re-election to be interviewed by Mr Neal. It looks as though Johnson is running scared as he refuses this form of accountability. He knows that he has been caught out in being utterly untrustworthy. It is time Johnson stops being the coward and faces up to his fate.

Finally, I want to know where the other parties in my seat have gone to. I’ve had leaflets from Labour (2), one from the Conservatives (at least I think it was the Conservatives, it was so badly written as to be unintelligible) and none from anyone else. I know that Labour members have been out canvassing but I’ve seen no-one else.  The Greens and Lib Dems appear to be backing Labour. This reduces my choices to two candidates. I guess that might be three with the Brexit Party. I shall be holding my nose as I vote Labour. This vote is to keep out the Tories in a marginal seat. Fortunately, my local Labour candidate is a good MP.

The Lib Dems are having a torrid time. Jo Swinson is not proving the draw they thought. It may be that there is prejudice against a younger woman. The Lib Dems have lumbered themselves with a policy that does not look liberal or democratic as well as being silly. If the Lib Dems form a majority government (absolutely impossible) then they will revoke Article 50 and return us to the EU. Even fervent Remainers believe that a referendum can only be cancelled by another referendum. The Lib Dems used to be in favour of the Peoples’ Vote; their policy has questioned whether this is still so. The Brexit policy is so unpopular that the Lib Dems have returned to the Peoples’ Vote.

But the basic problem the Lib Dems face is that of the first past the post system. With poll ratings of 15% that means getting only a similar number of seats; in a proportional system they would be getting a magical 100 and being the holder of a balance of power. On top of that comes a traditional squeeze. People wishing to block Boris and liking the Lib Dems opt for Labour to block Johnson. Others like the Lib Dems but wishing to stop Corbyn will vote Conservative. The upshot is that the Lib Dems, nice as they are, lose out.                     


Going public

So the Labour Party manifesto has been published. Jeremy Corbyn looked extremely proud as he presented the manifesto. And rightly so because he was presenting a radical vision for the future. If Labour gains power they will nationalize the rail system, Royal Mail, the power companies and the water companies. For too long, long suffering commuters have suffered the poor administration of the privatized railways. And those same companies have been more focused upon share prices rather than getting the system right. The utilities and water companies have become money-making machines for shareholders rather than providing the service at the right prices for the consumers. Royal Mail needs investment, not profit-taking. 

The problem is that I don’t want to go back to the 70s. Nationalized industries were riddled with corrupt practices. I remember seeing two BT vans each day in the same lay-by as they knocked off early. We must not return to the inefficiencies of that time. The industries need to be truly accountable to the people. That means that even the unions will have to take responsibility of when things go wrong. Just one problem that will be inherited will be the move to driver-only trains. Do the nationalized railways turn aside from the efficiencies those trains will provide?

The other eye-catching element in the manifesto was the investment in Britain that Labour will undertake. Financed out of borrowing and judicious tax increases on the rich and on corporations, Labour will invest £83bn per year. This will go on a pay rise of public sector workers, on hospitals, schools, and the staffing of the same; and infrastructure projects. Public spending will be increased to roughly match that of Germany. Britain will be joining the European mainstream for public spending. 

One Conservative commentator said he disagreed with the manifesto but then said that the manifesto was thought through, coherent and reasoned. That I think is high praise indeed. The program is thought through and costed. It is questionable as to whether Britain will be able to handle the amount of money coming through. But this program does mark the re-formation of our economy.

I think that this manifesto is to be welcomed. It promises the proper levels of investment in a country that has become threadbare. This manifesto is the fulfilment of the 2017 manifesto and bodes well. Unlike the 2017 manifesto, the 2019 version has not had the same eclat and is probably not a turning point in the polls. Those remain dire.


Finding a future

Yesterday (Thursday) was the time limit for declaring candidacy in the general election. Hopefuls and the hopeless rub shoulders; joke candidates are connected with the deadly serious. The lists of candidates also give a strong hint as to what will be the shape of the Commons.

Firstly, the two main parties, Labour and Conservative have initiated long-term changes in the make up of those parties, in terms of straightforward politics. In Labour Jeremy Corbyn has been able to impose his own candidates on a number of “safe” constituencies. The chances are that the newly-elected Commons will be more Corbyn-friendly than before. This will take Labour to the left. The moderate centre and right are in flight. However, Corbyn has not had all things his way; one of his advisers failed to gain a seat. On the Conservatives there has been an almost total dissolution of the Remainers. Of the 21 who lost the whip, only 3 have stayed in the party and are fighting for their seat as Conservatives. Of the newly-chosen candidates, almost all are Leavers. The Conservative Party has become the Brexit party. 

Secondly, there will be many more women in the Commons. The Labour party’s policy of women-only shortlists has won through and now there are many more women candidates, including in safe seats. The Conservative party is less likely to have women elected but there will be some more. On the Labour party, the has been a party-wide reselection process. Four women MPs came under threat of deselection. There was just one man under threat. The women were victims of a misogynistic campaign by Corbyn’s supporters. However, the women, including the redoubtable Margaret Hodge who had critiqued Corbyn’s antisemitism, won through. For once the Commons may come close to representing the population of the country.

Thirdly, there will be many more ethnic minority MPs. In London, something like 18 Labour MPs could be BAME. The Conservative Party has managed to elect BAME MPs in non-urban areas. Potentially there will be more such Conservative MPs. These new MPs will all add to the richness of the Commons and add to the cultural awareness of that body.