Tuesday 26 November 2019


British politics is a steaming heap of rubbish. Every time I look, the pile is higher and smellier. It's leaking some kind of fluid. There are things moving around in there. It's making disturbing organic noises. Why would I want to poke it with a stick?

Metaphorically speaking, this is why I haven't written much on this blog lately. I've followed British politics for a long time. If anything I do so more closely now, because it has the fascination of all truly awful disasters. But I just haven't had it in me to write about it. I salute commentators like @IanDunt, @ChrisGrey, and @SteveBullock who have the fortitude to cover it week in and week out; and I have the highest respect for people like Professor Tanja Bueltmann, who has suffered relentless personal abuse for championing the rights of EU immigrants to the UK.

That said, an election is upon us, and I have words to say about it. The hard part is using words, not just incoherent wails of despair; but here we go.

Image source: Getty Images via BBC

There have been three key developments in the last year or so. They were particularly noticeable when I looked at my old posts on the 2017 election.

1. Transformation of the Conservative Party

The long-running Conservative civil war over Europe has been decisively won by the anti-Europeans. The final battle was Boris Johnson expelling the 21 rebels who opposed a no-deal Brexit. The party now has no place for anyone but hard Brexiteers. Knowledge and competence matter little; the new religion is hostility to all ties with Europe, and damn the consequences for the British economy.

2. The People's Vote

Two years ago, the idea of a second referendum to cancel Brexit was a pipe dream, supported by the Liberal Democrats and few others. Labour has now adopted it as policy -- however reluctantly and hedged about with caveats -- which means it has a chance of actually happening. This is a real victory for the pro-European movement, brought about by grassroots activism and peaceful protest, and it's maybe not appreciated as much as it should be.

3. Labour Anti-Semitism

This is devastating to watch. It was certainly an issue in 2017, but for the most part it was in the background. In the last two years it has got worse, and worse, and worse. Luciana Berger and six of her fellow Labour MPs resigned over anti-Semitism in February 2019 -- only nine months ago, but it feels like an eternity.

Since then, the party leadership has completely failed to get a grip; another Jewish Labour MP, Dame Louise Ellman, has left in protest; the Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into the Labour party, only the second such in its history; and now, in an unprecedented move, the Chief Rabbi has felt compelled to write an open letter to denounce Corbyn and the Labour leadership:

At the very time a viable party of opposition is most needed, Labour is sickened by the poison of anti-Semitism.

I could say a lot more, but that is for another post. For now, the key point is: It's not going to get better. Senior figures in Labour who might have demanded tough action have already left, like Tom Watson; or are ineffectually wringing their hands, like Sir Keir Starmer. Labour will bear the moral stain of anti-Semitism for the foreseeable future.

So, what to do?

Casting A Vote

I've got a vote. My choice of how to use it is easy. I'm voting in Cambridge, one of the few seats contested between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with the Conservatives in a very distant third place. The LibDems are pro-European, I'm broadly in agreement with their other principles, and their leadership is staunchly opposed to racism. Sorted.

Elsewhere, the choice is not so easy.

Viewed through the lens of Brexit, the landscape is simple. The Tories will take the UK out of the EU in the hardest of hard Brexits, with dire consequences for the economy, public services, and the social fabric at large. Labour and other parties offer a referendum.

Brexit is gigantic and forever; and anything an MP for Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, or Plaid Cymru does will be temporary or contingent. Tactical voting sites helpfully identify the best-placed anti-Tory challenger in each seat, so you can vote for them.

This is fine as far as it goes. But I understand people have their personal priorities and red lines.

I encourage voters to overlook any differences they may have and vote for the most viable anti-Conservative candidate -- if that is any party other than Labour.

You don't like LibDem housing policy, or the prospect of another referendum on Scottish independence? Fine. Nobody says you have to like it. A Scottish referendum would be a serious matter, but it's also a democratic vote which hasn't happened and might never occur. Swapping a possible vote on Scottish independence for a definite vote on cancelling Brexit seems like a good deal to me. Even more so for a sub-optimal policy on taxation, housing, or anything else which can go in the box labelled To Be Fixed Later.

For Labour, it's a different matter. Corbyn is more or less immovable as party leader, and mired in anti-Semitism. Is he unfit for high office?

Chief Rabbi Mirvis raises that question, but does not directly answer it.

In the abstract, my answer is a resounding yes. In any decent world, Corbyn is totally unfit to be Prime Minister. But we live in indecent times; and when the choice is between Corbyn, and a Brexit implemented by Boris Johnson, we have to think again.

In the 2002 French Presidential election, the final round was between the amiable centre-right incumbent Jacques Chirac, accused of financial corruption and dubious campaign dealings; and the far-right neo-fascist, Jean-Marie Le Pen. The French left campaigned for Chirac under the slogan, "vote for the crook, not the fascist", and with their help Chirac won a resounding victory.

This is worse. It's so much worse. In comparison, I'd be delighted by the offer of a British Chirac. (In stature and politics, the closest parallel is probably Ken Clarke, who's now retiring. Clarke's lobbying for Big Tobacco is a minor sin compared to those of Corbyn or indeed Johnson.)

In a safe Labour seat, I'm pretty sure I'd vote Liberal Democrat. In a Labour/Conservative marginal, I truly don't know how I'd vote. I do know that I'd never forgive either Corbyn or Johnson, for forcing me to make that choice.

To anyone in that position, I can only say to make the best judgment you can, and cast a vote with which your conscience can live.

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