The exact same tactics used against Jeremy Corbyn are being used against Donald Trump

So today, the Republican Party wheeled out their defeated 2012 candidate Mitt Romney to denounce Donald Trump. This was the latest in a series of events that are eerily similar to events that took place last summer during the Labour leadership party contest. Romney appeared at an event organised by the Hinckley Institute which seems to me quite similar to the Progress event at which Tony Blair recommended supporters of Jeremy Corbyn should get a ‘heart transplant’.

There are other similarities too. People said Corbyn didn’t really want the job. They said the same about Trump. Those within and outside the Labour Party tried to damn Corbyn with guilt by association. They’ve just tried the exact same thing with Trump. In a desperate last ditch effort to derail Corbyn, third placed candidate Yvette Cooper tried to attack Corbyn. In a desperate last ditch effort to derail Trump, third placed candidate Marco Rubio tried to attack Trump.

Corbyn attracted hundreds of thousands of new supporters to the Labour Party. In America, turnouts in the Republican Primaries have been breaking records.

Obviously there are huge differences between the two men. Trump was already a celebrity in an even more celebrity-obsessed culture than ours and a billionaire to boot, while Corbyn was virtually unknown until last June. On policy, you could say Trump is the anti-Corbyn (or vice versa).

Tony Blair’s attack on Corbyn didn’t seem to have the desired effect. Some think it actually bolstered support for Corbyn. I wonder how effective Mitt Romney’s attack will have?

The only thing that matters on the EU question

Michael Gove announced this weekend that he would campaign to leave the EU. To accompany this announcement, he wrote a 1,500 word article giving his reasons for his decisions. Whatever you think of Michael Gove, his piece is very well written. In two paragraphs he distills the key reason why I think most people should vote to leave. Gove writes:

My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time. 

But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change. And I believe that both the lessons of our past and the shape of the future make the case for change compelling.

This is the key reason why I will be voting to leave, and I think whatever the other arguments bandied about are – for or against – the whole referendum should boil down to this key issue. Do you want to be able to change the way our country is run through democratic means, or are you happy to continue to give up those means because they are outweighed by the benefits of remaining in the EU?

 

Is “reforming the EU from within” realistic?

Today David Cameron announced – to the surprise of no one – that the EU Referendum will be held on 23rd June. He further stunned the world by announcing he would be campaigning to remain in the EU. This followed months of painstaking negotiations over some trifling ‘reforms’ he had cobbled together. This was concluded last night after a two day summit of EU leaders. The result seems to have been that Cameron can go away and say he has secured a ‘special status’ for the UK, while all the other EU leaders laugh behind his back and go home to tell their voters that nothing of import has changed.

So that’s where we are now. No one who is campaigning to remain – including Labour, the Green Party and the Lib Dems – actually say they are happy with the current set-up of the EU. ‘Reform from within’ seems to be the mantra. But given the tortuous mess that were David Cameron’s attempts to achieve his “thin gruel” reforms (as Jacob Rees-Mogg called them), what possible hope do the likes of Labour have for achieving a single reform they want going forward? They don’t have a cat in hell’s chance.

If we vote to remain on 23rd June, the EU will consider the matter settled and push on in the same direction they have been travelling for the last 40 years – towards greater and greater integration. I don’t know how anyone could vote for that.

What should Labour be talking about?

The Labour Party is a joke at the moment. The Corbyn side seems to be trying to steal the Green Party’s manifesto at the moment with it’s talk of basic income guarantees and “Democracy Days“. Meanwhile, the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party seems focused on ensuring it performs terribly in the May elections, with a side project of campaigning to stay in the EU. Neither side seems interested in winning round voters to their way of thinking. Here’s what I would do if I were Labour.

Most people either actively despise politicians or have no interest in it whatsoever. Someone who seems different to the norm and has a fresh approach could re-capture some of those people turned off by politics. Labour politicians should have embraced this opportunity, but instead they squandered it with petty squabbling. At the same time though, you don’t want to scare people off. The media will try and do that, but helping them to do that is not smart. You have to go to where people are before you can take them to where you want to go.

With that in mind, here’s where I think most people ‘are’ on some issues:

  1. Immigration. People don’t really care about whether immigration is good or bad for the economy. They see the impact on their local area, or areas nearby and dislike the change this represents. Humans have evolved to be wary of outsiders and I don’t see this changing any time soon.
  2. It’s normal for humans to compare themselves to those around them and to feel envy and resentment to those they feel don’t deserve what they have or are getting something without working for it. This is why cuts to social security generally have the support of the majority, but why cuts to working tax credits specifically are not popular.
  3. Most people’s resentment about perceived unfairness can be quite easily channeled towards those at the bottom. Everyone can think of examples from their own communities where people seem to be getting ‘something for nothing’. People also resent those at the top seemingly taking the piss.

You may not agree with those descriptions of where people are, but assuming they are true, what policies would flow from them?

  1. No party can do anything on immigration while a member of the EU. Personally, I can’t see why a party seeking to represent working people can support our continuing membership of the EU. In an ideal world, Corbyn’s Labour Party would be campaigning to leave. They could then advocate for a points-based immigration system, while continuing to talk up the contribution skilled migrants make to our country. Realistically though, this was never going to happen. The modern Labour Party is as pro-EU as the top of the Tory Party. What can they do now they have decided to remain in the EU whatever the terms? Answers on a postcard please.
  2. Labour should adopt a position that anyone with the ability to work should work. They should scrap all welfare to work programmes and instead introduce guaranteed jobs paid at a living wage for all who find themselves unemployed and unable to find alternative work. Anyone unable to work should be give generous and unconditional support for as long as they need it, with the assurance that when they feel able to do any type of work, a job can be tailor made to suit them.
  3. Our economy is far too reliant on the finance sector and the very wealthy extracting money from the economy through unproductive investments like property. Labour should pledge to put a stop to this by increasing taxation significantly on those unproductive areas of the economy, while reducing tax on productive investments which have a positive impact on the economy.

Those are just three areas then, a fair immigration system, focus on employment guarantees rather than traditional social security, and – as Keynes might say – on euthanising the rentiers. I don’t see much prospect of any of these things becoming Labour policy, but all those 3 areas would have popular appeal in my view. What other areas could they focus on?

Is there anything worse than a President Trump?

Donald Trump’s presidential bid is still being treated with a mixture of scorn and fear over here, while in the States he is currently winning the Republican race for their nomination, while liberal American looks on in terror and the Republican establishment still can’t quite believe their eyes.

I have grown mildly addicted to the nomination race on the Republican side, and while it’s true Trump has said some controversial things during the campaign, he has also made it one of the most fascinating contests I can remember. A lot of people on the left seem to tremble at the thought of Trump winning the nomination, and celebrated when he lost the Iowa Caucus, but if we look at Trump’s competition, it seems to me he is by far the best candidate on the Republican side. Here’s who he’s up against:

Ted Cruz

With the style of a quack televangelist, Cruz is a gigantic arsehole. Everyone who knows him well seems to despise him. Cruz was accused of some seriously shady practices in Iowa, including telling voters one of his rival candidates was dropping out, and sending other voters mail saying they had committed a “voter violation” and would be in trouble of they did not vote. Cruz is also the most right wing candidate in the race. If you are worried by Trump winning, you should be terrified at the prospect of a Cruz win (but don’t worry he won’t).

My rating: 0/10

Marco Rubio

Youthful looking and somewhat charismatic, Rubio is one of the Republican establishments main picks along with Jeb(!) Bush. That is to say he is bought and paid for by big business. If Rubio wins there will be a continuation of the status quo. Rubio had some momentum after the Iowa Caucus where he came third but his debate performance on the eve of the New Hampshire Primary killed that momentum dead. The higher ups of the Republican Party still haven’t given up on Marco though, so he is probably second favourite at the moment. This clip from the New Hampshire debate is a joy to watch. He is now known by many as Marco Roboto.

My rating 3/10

 

Jeb(!) Bush

Another establishment favourite, but who seems to be losing big at the moment. Bush started his campaign wanting to distance himself from his brother’s legacy, and so all his posters said Jeb! rather than Jeb Bush. That didn’t seem to work so he’s recently taken his Mum and brother out on the campaign trail with him (reminds me a bit of Jacob Rees Mogg and his nanny). Also bought and paid for, Bush has been given a tough time by Donald Trump. He spent $36 million on his campaign in New Hampshire only to come a distant 4th.

My rating 3/10

Ben Carson

Dr Ben Carson is a brain surgeon of some repute. By all accounts he is a good man. Sometimes says some odd things. Can’t win and will almost certainly drop out after the South Carolina Primary on Saturday.

My rating 4/10

John Kasich

Current governor of Ohio. Likely to go back to his day job shortly. Labelled the ‘moderate’ of the contest. Kasich came second in New Hampshire, but won’t go much further.

My rating 5/10

There are only 4 people who could feasibly win the Republican nomination at this point (and 2 of them have little chance). Trump, Rubio, Cruz and Bush. Ultimately, it will probably come down to Rubio vs Trump. To me, Trump would be preferable to all of those. I would even prefer him to win the Presidency than Hillary Clinton who seems to me hopelessly compromised. A Trump vs Bernie Sanders race would be interesting, but I can’t see Hillary losing to Bernie at this point. The Democrats just wouldn’t allow it.

If you look beyond the lurid headlines about Trump, he seems to me to be the best candidate bar Sanders. To me, a Cruz, Clinton, or Bush (again!) presidency would be a much more scary prospect.

Labour’s John McDonnell on Google and tax avoidance

I wrote this post yesterday about the recent news about a tax deal reached between HMRC and Google. In the comments a reader alerted me to an interview on Channel 4 News with Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. He’s almost very good in it. As seems usual these days, no Government Minister was willing to be interviewed about Google (no empty chair though again), so Cathy Newman stepped in. She tried her best to trivialise the issue, but McDonnell didn’t do too badly under her line of questioning. He did a reasonable job of linking the issue of tax avoidance with the concept of ‘fairness’. This is the correct way to address the issue in my view, but he went about it the wrong way in one sense, and dropped a clanger in another.

A couple of times he implores companies to “pay your taxes”. The trouble is though, they are paying their taxes according to the law. What he should actually be doing is targeting the anger at George Osborne to “change the tax system”, preferably with a few concrete ideas about how to do that. By focusing on the companies themselves, he lets the Government off in a big way and makes it purely an administrative issue on the part of HMRC, saying they are not doing their job right or are underfunded.

McDonnell’s clanger came when he talked about taxes paying for things he thinks should be funded. By doing this, he sets himself up to fail later on because whenever he suggests a policy, the Tories will either say there is a funding black hole or that taxes will have to go up on ‘hardworking families’ to pay for it. A smarter play would have been to just hype the fairness aspect. Every individual and SME can relate to having to pay a more ‘standard’ rate of tax, so the unfairness of tax avoidance should be an easy sell.

Here’s the video. See what you think.

The blind alley that is tax avoidance

In the last few days, HMRC reached a deal with Google who agreed to pay £130m in corporation tax to cover the last 10 years. George Osborne called announced this on Twitter, saying:

Many people think Google has been unfairly avoiding tax and so are less than happy with George Osborne’s celebratory tone. There have been questions in Parliament today about this deal. Labour have been making a lot of noise about it, and the story could run for a bit longer. The thing is though, this payment from Google is actually an over-payment. They paid all their taxes due under the law. I don’t think anyone is saying Google have broken the law, but they have gone to the limits of what the law allows. Criticisms of this deal focus both on Google and on HMRC’s treatment of Google, but I think both are unfounded. Google is paying all the tax it is required to (or even more) and HMRC is trying to maximise the revenue it collects within the law. If it has extracted this voluntary payment from Google, it’s actually not done too bad.

So is tax avoidance OK then? No it’s not OK. It’s not fair that ordinary people and businesses have to pay more than those who can afford to pay accountants to minimise their tax bills in inventive ways. We need to be clear though. If Google paid £2 billion extra in tax rather than £130m, what would this mean for public services? Could the government then afford to spend more? No, absolutely not. The government can afford to provide public services at any level (within the constraints of inflation) whether it receives tax payments from Google or not.

Should people be able to feel the tax system is fair though? Yes, I think that is a reasonable wish. The best way to achieve this though would be to change the tax laws though, not to try to shame amoral companies into paying more voluntarily. This is why I think the issue is a blind alley for Labour (as it was in the last Parliament). It can generate some headlines, but to make a difference, you need to come up with specific changes to the tax system that would make a real difference.

This is not about how much tax is received in total, it’s about who pays that which is collected and whether that distribution is perceived to be fair. While you link cuts to tax avoidance, you will always be on the wrong side of the argument, because if you accept the link between taxation and spending you are exposed to the retort “how are you going to pay for it?” if you suggest any new spending initiative. It’s not a good strategy.

Compare and contrast

People say Jeremy Corbyn is a weak leader, but which shows stronger leadership?

This?

Or this?

I know which I prefer.

On going viral and BBC bias

On Thursday I clicked on a link on Reddit which was supposedly a blog about how the BBC had arranged for Shadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Doughty to resign live on its Daily Politics programme just before Prime Minister’s Questions (or to be completely accurate, 4 minutes after he had resigned by email). I got a 404 error, so found a cached version via Google. I thought the contents of the blog were interesting enough to share on my blog, which I did here. Being honest, I did think a lot of people would be annoyed by the story as I was, but I never expected the reaction it got. Pretty quickly, people starting retweeting the blog and in 24 hours, this blog got more page views than it got in the whole of last year. The story was reported on the websites of most of the newspapers and it has now ultimately resulted in the Labour Party putting into a complaint to the BBC about the way it reported Doughty’s resignation.

Reaction to the story was quite mixed. Again, being honest, it was mostly divided along the lines of whether or not you support Jeremy Corbyn or not. If you don’t support Corbyn, you probably didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

One observation I would make is that political journalists in particular thought this was a total non-story. Their basic reation was “So what? That’s just good journalism”. I think the main reason for that is that they have inside knowledge about how journalism works, particularly in politics. Those of us who aren’t journalists, although we may suspect this is how things are done, don’t know for sure, and so this episode was a certain drawing back of the curtain, and what we saw, we didn’t like.

I think my settled view on this now is that if any other news organisation had reported Doughty’s resignation in this way, I would be annoyed, but accept that they had the right to report it in that way and concede it was a good scoop. In general, I think the closeness between political journalists and politicians is too close. They seem to feed off each other and it often seems to result in reporters collaborating with politicians to make the news rather than just reporting it. Perhaps this is the way it has to be, but I don’t like it. In this instance though, it was the BBC who engineered the ‘scoop’ and I – and it seems many others – believe the BBC should be held to a higher standard than other media who have no duty of impartiality. For this reason, I think it was a mistake for them to collude with Doughty over the timing of his resignation.

But does this episode demonstrate the BBC has a pro-Tory, or right wing bias? A lot of people point out that the BBC’s leading political staff are sympathetic to the Conservative Party, but I’m not sure that’s enough to demonstrate bias to one party. To me it seems to have a pro-establishment bias, backing a very narrow set of agreed ‘moderate’ ideas and policies, and being unable to cover anything outside of that very narrow range objectively. Ultimately, this seems to mean they cover whoever is in government more favourably – at least when New Labour was up against the Conservative Party.

The problem now though is that Jeremy Corbyn falls outside of the narrow range considered ‘moderate’ (as do UKIP, the SNP and Eurosceptic Tories), and so we see the BBC taking a clear line of giving so called ‘moderates’ within the Labour Party plenty of opportunity to say uncomplimentary things about their leader. In the same way, their coverage favoured the ‘No’ campaign during the Indy Referendum and when the EU referendum gets under way, the BBC will put its weight fully behind the ‘remain’ campaign. That’s just what the BBC is, and while Labour’s recent complaint may have an impact on the BBC’s output, it will never give Corbyn a fair hearing.

That’s the last I’m planning to say on this subject here. Normal service will resume shortly both in terms of content, and, I strongly suspect, in terms of page views!

Squeeze change lyrics of song on Andrew Marr Show to criticise David Cameron

I caught the end of the Andrew Marr show this morning in which David Cameron was interviewed about the EU referendum. Closing the show were the band Squeeze, who performed a version of their song Cradle to Grave. I confess I did not notice at the time, but here is the video of their performance. While Cameron looked on they changed the lyrics of the last verse to:

“I grew up in council houses,

“They’re part of what made Britain great,

“There are some here who are hell-bent,

“On destruction of the welfare state.”

I’m not sure if Cameron noticed either judging by his enthusiastic applause at the end.