Finding Tory – What’s Gone Wrong With The Conservative Party?

Politics as we know it is at something of a crossroads. Brexit has thoroughly eroded confidence in the UK’s two-party system, with no clear majorities being found for either Labour or the Conservatives at the last general election. Additionally, the local elections were a total disaster for both and the European elections are looking like they will have a similar outcome.

When David Cameron first came into power, joined at the hip with Nick Clegg, the affable-yet-sometimes-laffable, hamster-faced Lib Dem leader, he brought with him a surge in centrist support for the Conservatives. After Labour’s “New Labour” domination under Blair and then Brown, Cameron transformed the Conservatives into a party that could steal votes away from this new centre-ground, and even won his second term outright.

Now, however, the Tory party is in disarray. After disastrously misjudging the public’s opinion on Europe, the result of the Brexit referendum has slowly but surely split the party in two, much like the laser out of Goldfinger if our lad Jimmy B hadn’t talked his way out of getting his “Commander Bond” zapped off. The previous centrist policies of the Cameron conservatives have given way to the hardliners of the ERG, with the leadership more concerned about the right-wing voters than those in the centre.

At the beginning of what might be a period of great change in politics, it feels apt to explore conservatism and what might come next.


What Does Conservatism Mean?

At its core, the philosophical difference between the Conservatives and Labour comes down to this:

  • The Labour Party is socialist, and by extension Utopian – this means that they proactively try to change society for the better by making it more equal.
  • The Conservative Party is pragmatic – rather than try to change society through a set of political beliefs, the Tories are meant to change themselves to reflect society as a whole.

Labour governments will usually be hands-on, with higher taxes and increased emphasis on the public sector – i.e. nationalised railways, more funds for the NHS and benefits schemes etc. Tory governments, by contrast, will take a step back and allow free-market capitalism to define the economy instead – their belief is that if they tax people less, they will spend more, and the money will naturally find its way to required goods and services rather than the government choosing it for them.

So far, so pragmatic – rather than try to change society, the Tories believe that government should be a reflection of it.


And What Of The Tories Now?

The word pragmatic goes out of the window like a cat chasing a squirrel.

Cameron’s Conservatives attracted voters because of their appeal to a huge, politically-engaged portion of society. In the UK, especially in the cities, we have a massive middle-class of relatively affluent but socially-liberal people, and a Tory party that reflected this would always attract that vote (it was Cameron who legalised same-sex marriage, after all) .

The problems within the Tories now, however, stem largely from one aspect of pragmatism that is the exact opposite to the above – the importance and maintenance of tradition.

Utopianism, by its definition (i.e. creating a utopia), suggests that there is something wrong with society that needs to be fixed. Pragmatism suggests that if society is fine, it shouldn’t be fiddled with – society should be reflected by the government but left alone. This emphasises the importance of tradition, because if society isn’t broken, it is because the institutions that govern it are working fine.

However, the institutions that govern ours are not working fine. This is about as obvious as a hippo at a guinea-pig sanctuary.

The obligation for our current government should be to recognise that some of the institutions that have got us to this point are fundamentally failing – the NHS is crumbling, the wealth gap is rapidly expanding, food bank usage is massively increased, homelessness is seemingly everywhere… All of these facts are extremely damaging for the fifth-largest economy in the world, and could even be considered embarrassing, yet our current Tory government is sat on its hands, refusing to acknowledge or change anything.


Why?! All Of Those Things Are Objectively Terrible!

Because of the concept of free-market capitalism. Despite these alarming and arguably immoral outcomes of Tory leadership, our economy is performing well. To the Tories, this suggests that nothing is particularly wrong at all, as a stronger economy means more spending and more wealth generation, but they have systematically failed to remember the most important thing about government:

The people vote you in, not the economy. 

The middle-class, Cameron-supporting moderates see homelessness on the rise, they see the Windrush scandal, they see a benefits system that demeans and belittles those in need and they think, “What the hell is going on?” These moderate, socially-liberal voters cannot stand to see government policy heading in this direction and are put off by the Tories.

However, many Tories come from a more traditionalist, right-wing viewpoint – some harbouring Thatcherite levels of belief in free-market capitalism. While I don’t believe that Theresa May is one of them, I do believe that some of those in her party who hold the real power are, such as those members of the ERG who have held the government to ransom over the last few months.

No matter how well the economy is performing, however, the failures of the Tories to look after those who need it most, the most basic fundamental requirement for decent government, will come back to haunt them after Brexit is done.

The Brexit logjam has exposed this rift within the party, defined by the single issue of the EU but applicable to Tory policy on the whole:

  • A number of moderate conservatives that understand the value of the EU in a new, globalised society, despite its flaws;
  • VS the right-wing Tories that believe that it encroaches upon the traditions of the UK that made it great and got it to be a top-five economy in the first place.

The Tories are being destroyed by their inability to follow one of their core dogmas – pragmatism. Melanie Phillips recently wrote in The Times that the Conservative Party has forgotten what conservatism truly means – adapting to the challenges of society to remain constantly electable, not a party built on dogma like the socialist left.

While the Conservatives are not trying to change society, they are fundamentally failing to listen to it. While they are growing the economy, they are shrinking the existence of millions of people within it. While they are in power, they are failing to adapt to the electorate that will keep them there.

And, as a result, they have seen their moderate votes go to the Lib Dems and Green Party at the local elections, and their hard-right votes will go to the Brexit party at the European elections.

It is hard to see what might happen after these defeats, but to acquiesce fully to the hard-right supporters under a Boris-led party would, for many moderates, sound the death knell for this grand old party.


If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

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Normal Transmission Will Resume

Look, I’m going to be honest.

When I started Between the Lines, Brexit was all that anyone could talk about. Impending doom, Boris for PM, Britain as we know it being wiped off the map… All of this hyperbole was being passed around like a jazz cigarette at a commune campfire.

After the Easter recess, things have… slowed. If you look back at my articles over the last few weeks, they have almost exclusively been about Brexit. Now that the urgency has dissipated (and it really shouldn’t have done, because it is still the single most important political decision in a generation), the news isn’t flowing as thick and fast as it used to.

As such, I will now have to find new things to write about.

Gulp.

Please bear with me while this adjustment is made. Additionally, the nightmare of Brexit will also be back before you know it, and our tirade against stupidity will begin anew.

A full article will be out tomorrow.

In the meantime, please remember that you can support Between the Lines on Facebook or Twitter, and can even support us financially through Patreon, if you’re feeling generous. We’re close to a funding target that will allow us to upgrade our website, so any donation, big or small, would be massively appreciated.

In the meantime, happy Monday everyone! Enjoy the relative calm before the storm kicks in again.

The local elections are on Thursday…

 

Weekly Wrap-Up, 19/04 – 25/04

Well, the Easter choccy has run out, we’ve all put on half a stone and feel terrible about ourselves, but at least the country doesn’t seem to be quite as close to the apocalypse as it did a few weeks ago. After the Easter recess, it’s been something of a slow week, but let’s just have a quick recap and then get on with our weekends.

Cheeky trip to see the Avengers, anyone?


Friday, The Weekend + Monday

BANK HOLIDAY, BITCHEZZZ

 


Tuesday

The first day back saw a fresh challenge for Theresa May, as many of her backbenchers called for the 1922 Committee, the Conservative Party’s head office, to change the rules to allow them to vote May out of power.

The Committee voted against changing the rules, but only by a small margin – May is hanging on by a thread, it seems, but it is unlikely that any changes will be made any time soon. With the European Parliamentary elections coming up, the Tories are seemingly on a date with destiny to fail as badly as a dog sitting a physics exam (every answer was ‘biscuit.’ Just ‘biscuit.’). When the results are announced and the Tories have done as badly as everyone predicts they will, we might finally see the back of her.

Or it might not.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Change UK, the party formed of rebels that promised to be a new, centrist voice in politics, launched their campaign. The fanfare wasn’t so much to the sound of trumpets as it was to a tuba with a turnip in the bell. They had some reasonable candidates standing as MEPs, such as Rachel Johnson, Boris’ sister, and a former BBC Newsnight presenter, but the whole event was pretty underwhelming.

Poor branding, poor messaging, deciding that their official name was *deep breath* CHANGEUKTHEINDEPENDENTGROUP… all of this had more than a whiff of amateurism. Additionally, they have ruled out working with other Remain-backing parties, which could split the Remain vote and make it far weaker.

With Farage’s Brexit party unified, coherent and powerful, bringing in Leave-voters from all corners, there is currently no party that has the power to compete against it.

The European Parliament elections could be a Leave-led massacre of the Remainers.

Speaking of massacres, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old climate change protestor, met with leaders of the UK Parliament to ask them why they weren’t doing more to prevent humanity from being entirely wiped off the face of the earth.

While her message is powerful and needed globally, it was slightly misguided as the UK actually doing a pretty good job on the greener energy front (the UK ran without coal power for more than 92 hours over the Easter weekend, the first time since WWI). However, rather than accept the general spirit of the message, many commentators (mostly middle-aged white men) got very angry that they were being told how to think by a teenager.

So they fired off articles insulting a 16 year-old girl with Aspergers who’s trying to save the world.

Cool beans. So that is where we’re up to.


Wednesday

Good old fashioned espionage to cheer us all up from the Brexit malaise.

Huawei, the Chinese mega-telecoms company, have had some bad press in 2019, with accusations abound that they are using their mobile phones to spy on Western users and send data back to the Chinese government. So far, so John le Carré.

However, despite this, their technology for 5G, the next big step in creating Skynet and dooming us all to Termination, is supposedly far and away better than that of Ericsson or Nokia. As such, the UK government has reportedly chosen Huawei as the company to roll 5G out across the UK.

It’s also cheaper, but I’m sure that’s not the main reason.

Anyway, the supposed handing of the contract to Huawei immediately created some tension between the UK and some of its intelligence network, such as Canada and Australia, but the US seemed to be reasonably ok with it (despite previously urging the UK to never consider Huawei over espionage fears). There were reports cited from intelligence communities that the Chinese army, the PLA, gave some funding to Huawei, something which absolutely doesn’t look sketchy at all…

…he writes, just in case they’re watching him.

Anyway, it is no understatement to say that 5G will herald a new dawn of technology, with ideas that were previously too much for current networks to handle becoming commonplace – driverless cars could be around the corner. The creation of the network in the UK is a monstrous piece of infrastructure, and in the wrong hands could result in billions of terabytes of data being misused.

So… why do we, the great unwashed general public, know about the threats?


Thursday

Because our government is leakier than a colander full of leaks, that’s why.

While cabinet-meeting leaks have become commonplace, with ministers’ aides or unnamed sources frequently telling journalists what was spoken about, what the mood was like, or how many new batteries needed to be put into Theresa May’s brain, the Huawei and 5G discussions were held during a sitting of the National Security Council.

Leaking information from the NSC is pretty stupid in terms of intelligence. It’s also quite possibly treasonous.

There has been widespread condemnation of the leaks by members of the civil service, and yesterday saw the hilariously terrifying spectacle of various prominent cabinet ministers rushing to tell the media that it wasn’t them. It was like watching a group of toddlers tugging on teacher’s skirt to tell them that it definitely wasn’t them that did a poop on the carpet.

There are rumours abound that a full-on criminal investigation may be launched into the leaks. It may well end up becoming quite a full-blown scandal.

A SCANDAL THAT ISN’T BREXIT. 

I’ll get the champagne.


What Happens Now?

We’ll have to wait and see what comes of this investigation into the NSC leak. Besides this, a slow week in politics means little to look out for. The European Parliamentary elections will start to dominate the headlines before long, so for now, go out, enjoy the sunshine, and take a deep breath.

Brexit will be back before long.


If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

  • Following Between the Lines on social media or by email (on desktop – to the right of this page, or on mobile – scroll below, after the comments section);
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Techy Tezza Sino-Spies?

Well, I did say that with the extension to Article 50 the Brexit process would lose some immediacy, and boy oh boy has it done just that.

It feels odd to be reporting on UK politics without mentioning a rebellion, a slagging match, a the government losing a vote by a huge margin or Parliament literally falling apart.

MPs have quite obviously been easing themselves back into the fold since their Easter breaks, and little of note has happened since their return. This isn’t to say that nothing has happened, however…


Widde-combing New Depths

Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative stalwart, has joined Farage’s Brexit Party to stand as an MEP. A former Home Secretary, she retired in 2010 but has decided to come out for one last fight, much like Floyd Mayweather Jr. (except also really, really not).

Proudly right-wing and arguably a bit backward in some of her social views, the appointment has provided ammunition for rival parties. For many of Farage’s supporters, that won’t matter much.

Why Does It Matter?

  • She’s a BNIP, or Big Name In Politics, and her leaving the Tories for Farage is a win for him.
  • She is also joined by Claire Fox, a prominent left-wing commentator in joining the Brexit party.
  • Farage is attracting big names to his project, giving them even more momentum despite their racing to the lead in the polls already.

More Coup de Ass Than Coup de Grâce

The 1922 Committee, the group of executive Conservatives that govern the party, refused to allow a change in the rules yesterday. Senior Brexiteers MPs wanted to issue a binding vote of no confidence in Theresa May for the second time in less than 6 months, but the Committee refused to budge.

They did, however, ask Theresa May to clarify her commitment to stand down she made a few weeks ago – initially she said she’d stand down when her deal was passed, but when it didn’t she went silent on the matter.

Just as I predicted, by the way. *winky emoji*

Why Does It Matter?

  • It means there is no leadership contest… for now. May can hold onto power until the entire party wants her to go, and even then may still just decide to keep on truckin’.
  • The European Parliamentary elections are already looking like a total disaster for the Tories, and this may prove to be a flashpoint that finally forces her out.
  • Or it will change nothing. May is nothing if not resilient.

Playing Huawei From Home

5G, the supposedly revolutionary next stage in mobile network internet distribution, is on the horizon. With it will come the full realisation of “The Internet of Things” – the potential for driverless cars, ‘smart cities’, remote or automated medical assistance and, most importantly, you can download porn up to 4x faster.

Ericsson and Nokia, the two Scandinavian main mobile network giants, are behind the curve on this compared to the Chinese – Huawei, the massive communications company, are supposedly ahead of them in tech and offer cheaper costs to roll out.

However, there are some serious concerns about Huawei’s commercial independence, as intelligence officials have reported that Huawei is at least partially-funded by clandestine networks of the PLA, or the Chinese army. Basically, the Chinese might be using Huawei to spy on us – this allegation has already been made about the use of Huawei mobile devices in Western countries.

Why Does It Matter?

  • Because no-one really wants the Chinese government listening in on us (although lest we forget, the Edward Snowden whistleblowing case demonstrated the US does this too, because nothing is ever sacred anymore. Especially your browser history).
  • The UK and some European countries believe that managing the threat of Chinese interference is preferable to falling behind the curve and paying more for alternatives.
  • However, the Five Eyes network of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are urging the UK, the fifth member, to reconsider.

Most worryingly of all, however, is the fact that the concerns about all of this were leaked after a meeting of the National Security Council. In terms of discretion, these meetings are considered to be held in concrete bunker, 200ft under a volcano – nothing should ever escape from them.

Ministers are considering a criminal investigation into how a leak got out, the assumption being that it was a staff-member of an MP vying for the leadership contest by appearing tough on China.

Those found responsible will be in some very, very hot water…


If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

  • Following Between the Lines on social media or by email (on desktop – to the right of this page, or on mobile – scroll below, after the comments section);
  • Subscribing to Inbox Insight, our newsletter on important days in politics;
  • Or giving a monthly donation to our Patreon page, which can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/betweenthelinespolitics

Thank you so much for your help in advance!

Back 2 Skool

Well, yesterday was a bit odd.

It had the feeling of MPs being shipped off back to boarding school by their adoring parents (“Bye, darling, see you in 4 months! Good luck with your Brexit coursework!“), but the last time everyone was there the entire building was on fire.

The extension to Article 50 has removed the immediate, fire-and-brimstone panic of Brexit, but now there remains a faint sense of unease.

Yesterday’s proceedings in Parliament were a slow-paced affair, but there were some real moments of interest, too.


Change UK The Independent Group Oh God Why Is This Name Still Going

I had high hopes for the TIGgers. With the Conservatives struggling in the polls and no clearly-defined strategy on Brexit for Labour, a truly Remain-focussed party that could rival the superbly-run Brexit party would create a free, open debate about Brexit ahead of the European elections.

Yesterday, they began their campaign for the elections and… well…

Meh.

At the launch of Farage’s Brexit party, despite the crowd being about as ethnically and gender-diverse as a golf club’s AGM, it was obvious that they had the a clear message, a huge production budget and a strong brand – all things that attract voters.

The Independent Group, by contrast, have two names.

Yesterday, they announced their brand, their logo and their message with mixed success.

ChangeUK
The logo

And while I am flattered that they seem to have just copied the font from Between the Lines’ branding and just flipped the lines 90 degrees, the main question is:

“Why on earth are you called ‘Change UK The Independent Group‘?”

Some of the more cynical commentators out there have used it as the perfect analogy for a party made up of both ex-Labour and ex-Conservative MPs having two different directions for the same goal. I won’t sample that particular low-hanging fruit, but I will ponder why on earth they didn’t just do something simpler.

They also promised that some of the candidates they were fielding as MEPs were household names, and to an extent they delivered. The two slightly less exciting candidates are Stephen Dorrell, a cabinet minister from the 90s, and Jan Vincent-Rostowski, former Polish deputy PM who is a British citizen. Despite not being “household-names”, both carry some political clout.

In terms of actual celebrity however, Gavin Esler, the former Newsnight presenter, is an interesting candidate who will be familiar to many politics-savvy TV-watchers. He also gave an excellent speech about why he is running that has done the rounds on social media.

But he pales in comparison to the jewel in the crown, and the person who could provide a lot of fun in the next few weeks:

Rachel Johnson. Boris’s sister.

Even if TIG/Change UK fails to ever be a success, the fact that it has made Christmas at the Johnsons’ that little bit more awkward means that, for me, my heart will always be with them.

God speed, Change UK The Independent Group – you’re going to need all the help you can get.


Angry Old Men Insult Aspergic Teenager

With the environmental protests continuing in London by the Extinction Rebellion group, Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish activist, appeared as a guest in the House of Commons and also held a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and other party leaders (with the notable exception of Theresa May, for whom the organisers left out an empty, and highly passive-aggressive, chair).

Thunberg gave the UK quite a ticking off about climate change, and MPs like Michael Gove (Con), Barry Gardiner and Ed Milliband (both Lab) waxed lyrical about how committed the UK is to making changes and help Save The World. Whether or not this is all bluster is hard to say, as the UK has actually made some good steps to be more environmentally friendly but is by no means perfect.

Either way, Thunberg’s appearance was quite inspiring – a 16 year-old girl with Aspergers telling Parliament to get its act together and make sure our planet doesn’t melt like a Lindt ball that was left outside over Easter is a sign of where where we’ve come to, but also gives us hope for the future.

However, some political commentators decided that they didn’t like being told what to do by a teenager and essentially let rip into Greta, calling her cold, cynical and “like a cult-leader.”

Now, I agree that climate change protestors need to do a better job of getting their point across. Rather than staple themselves to taxis or erect yurts in Piccadilly Circus, they should be absolutely screaming at us, from every conceivable angle, the facts and figures about climate change. Be a megaphone for the science community, not an burden on society.

Educate, not flagellate.

However. To attack a 16 year-old activist, autism or not, is a damning indictment of the world we live in. This girl not just represents our children but even helped to organise the school-strike on climate change a few weeks ago. She is speaking to and for our youngest members of society, the ones who climate change will affect the most, and some elderly right-wing bile-spouters think that they know better through age or distinction.

Well, the inconvenient truth for them (see what I did there?) is that they simply don’t. Climate change, to them, is an annoyance that distracts from the real issues of society, but it is literally the fight to save billions of lives. Have your criticisms of the protestors, for sure, but do not attack a figurehead for children.

Obviously.

You cockwombles.


A REQUEST

We at Between the Lines have had a ball getting it up and running over the last few weeks, but now we are looking to expand our readership and our voice in the industry – exciting times!

If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

  • Following Between the Lines on social media or by email (on desktop – to the right of this page, or on mobile – scroll below, after the comments section);
  • Subscribing to Inbox Insight, our newsletter on important days in politics;
  • Or giving a monthly donation to our Patreon page, which can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/betweenthelinespolitics

Any donation, whether large or small, would be massively appreciated.

Thank you so much for your help in advance!

Here We Go Again

Between the Lines was profoundly saddened by the horrific attacks in Sri Lanka over the Easter weekend. In times like these it can be hard to find humour, but find it we must.

Our thoughts are with all those affected.

4598701561_fe02a6e2f6_z


So, who got sunburnt?

Spending Easter day as I did, on a beach in Dorset, was to be reminded of some of the very best things about Britain:

  • Families playing together;
  • A passion for fish and chips;
  • Superb dogs;
  • A wanton disregard for suncream;
  • And a mutual hatred of seagulls.

It was a gorgeous day by the seaside and, as I lay on my incredibly sandy beach towel and watched the world go by, it felt like the Britain as depicted in postcards, BBC documentaries from the 1970s or even poetry.

For a few, short hours, everything was alright with the world, or at least with Britain.

And then I remembered that our MPs’ holidays were about to finish and the next stage of Brexit “discussions” are due to begin today.

As a natural response to the encroaching stress, I ate an entire Lindt bunny in less than four minutes.


Arrrrgggghhhh. Right, Let’s Get Into It. Has Anything Happened Over Easter?

Not really. The major news outlets are reporting plans being put in place by members of the Conservative Party to hold an ‘indicative’ vote of no confidence in Theresa May (“Welcome back, Tezza, hope you had a nice walking holiday, now piss off”) but realistically this is only news because of a lack of anything else.

While the implications are supposedly huge, the reality is that May has no obligation to resign until December – she survived an official vote of no confidence in December 2018 and legally cannot be forced out until 12 months have passed. Given what we know about her determination to hold on to power, it’s probably more likely than not that even if she lost this vote of no confidence she would simply shrug it off.

I highly doubt that May is forced out before the European elections – the fact of the matter is that most of the potential suitors for the top dog position would rather pour gravel into their own socks and run a marathon than take it right now. With Brexit unresolved, the premiership isn’t so much a poisoned chalice as it is a Wetherspoons toilet full of anthrax with a Novichok-dipped turd floating in it.

With polls showing that votes are haemorrhaging out to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which is consistently polling at above 20%, the Conservatives know that the public opinion on them being able to deliver Brexit is at an all-time low. What is far more likely to force May out is an absolute trouncing at the polls for the European elections, which seems a foregone conclusion.

The embarrassment for her party might be enough to force her to quit… but I still wouldn’t bet on it. I also desperately hope that she doesn’t quit either – despite her vast shortcomings in the run-up to March 29th, she has appeared far more open to consensus-building since then. She is, after all, the one with the most experience, who is right in the thick of it, and who understands the realities of the situation.

The Brexiteer unicorn-hunters may have their rifles prepped, they may have donned their camouflaged gilets and they may have left a space on the wall between the stag’s head and the bear’s, but if they actually go out into the wilderness they sure as hell won’t come back with a trophy.

Johnson, Raab, Gove, any of the hard-Brexit candidates for the leadership: they are all committed to reopening the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. The EU have said categorically that this will not happen. If, and it’s sadly not half as big an if as it should be, one of these morons gets into power on a wave of bolshy confidence that we’ll give those EUrocrats what for, they will quickly realise that they will fail miserably.

We will be back at square one, with even more damage done to our relationship with the EU, and will be far, far closer to a disastrous no-deal Brexit.


My God. So What Will Actually Happen Now?

Well, the cross-party talks between Tory and Labour will continue today, though reports are coming in from both sides that they are “pessimistic” that any good will come from them. It seems as though the Tories are refusing to budge on certain issues around the customs union, which makes the whole endeavour as pointless as a tea towel made of treacle.

If a deal cannot be found, Labour’s current strategy will be to campaign in favour of a second referendum. This could end up, at long last, being passed through Parliament later in the summer, though is unlikely to happen for quite some time and will be a fraught process, to say the least.

What we’ll see over the next few weeks is the campaigning around the European elections. Ahead of the vote in May, we’ll see a concerted effort from parties to preach their cause – the Brexit Party is currently polling high, but Change UK, The Independent Group’s new beige moniker, will launch its campaign in Bristol today. Supposedly some of their candidates are “household names” – if true, that could see their stock rise dramatically, as support from respected former Parliamentarians or political figures could drive public opinion to new heights.

Additionally, given how many Leave-voters are polling as willing to abandon the two main parties over their handling of Brexit, the same could happen for Remain-voters – Change UK has said it will openly campaign as a pro-Remain party, which could inspire support in a political landscape where faith is a rare commodity.

Or, alternatively, the entire thing becomes one-sided, with mostly Leave-supporting MEPs elected. If this is the case, they will kick up a huge stink in the EU and try to block it from working effectively. This would cause the EU’s patience with the UK wear extremely thin.

We’re back, folks. Hope you enjoyed your breaks, because it’s all downhill from here.


A REQUEST

We at Between the Lines have had a ball getting it up and running over the last few weeks, but now we are looking to expand our readership and our voice in the industry – exciting times!

If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

  • Following Between the Lines on social media or by email (on desktop – to the right of this page, or on mobile – scroll below, after the comments section);
  • Subscribing to Inbox Insight, our newsletter on important days in politics;
  • Or giving a monthly donation to our Patreon page, which can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/betweenthelinespolitics

Any donation, whether large or small, would be massively appreciated.

Thank you so much for your help in advance!

Why Voting Is Pointless (Well… Sort Of)

I passionately believe in the concept of democracy. At its core, democracy means that power lies with the people, not their rulers. Alternatives like authoritarianism, communism or anarchism are, at their best, not too great at protecting the civil liberties of their citizens. At their worst, they end up as pretty major historical whoopsies that everyone agrees was a “bad idea that should be avoided again, if poss.”

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“If poss.”

Democracy, however, cannot be classed as unlawful or unfair – in principle at least. Even if a psychopath is elected to power, if the vote was held in a totally free, fair and unbiased voting system by a well-educated electorate, then that is lawful: the people have spoken, despite the outcome.

However, there are two major issues with the UK’s own particular brand of democracy. One is true of almost all Western democracies, while one is very much a British issue.

Let’s start with the British one first.


First Past The Post (FPTP)

First up, some basics.

Britain is not a direct democracy as was the case in some of its earliest forms back in Ancient Greece. It is a representative democracy – the people do not make political decisions, but instead elect a representative to make those decisions for them, or MPs. These MPs are voted for in a General Election. Each MP is elected to represent a small region called a constituency, of which the UK is separated into 650 – there are 650 MPs, one for each constituency.

So far, so simple, right? The system works, the people are represented, democracy wins – hooray!

There are two major issues with the First Past the Post system.

  1. IT CREATES A DISPROPORTIONALLY LARGE AMOUNT OF WASTED VOTES

Imagine you live in the constituency of Sunderland Central, a Labour “safe-seat.”

The vast majority of people in this constituency are Labour supporters – at the last election, 55% of the votes went to Julie Elliott, Labour’s representative. This clear majority means that Elliott is elected to be the MP for this area as she gained the most amount of votes.

However, over 20,000 people voted for other parties in Sunderland Central in 2017, like the Conservatives, Green Party, UKIP etc. Their votes for these parties are wasted – the person they wanted as their MP failed to win, so their votes count for nothing.

In a nation like the UK, which historically has a very even split between Conservative and Labour voters, this means that across every constituency, around half of all votes are wasted.

So, despite taking part in the democratic process, almost half of the citizens of the UK do not have any direct influence in how the major political decisions of their country are made.

2. IT IS UNFAIR ON SMALLER PARTIES

Parties like the Green Party or the Liberal Democrats get far fewer seats than their actual national share of the vote – across the whole of the UK, the Lib Dems won 7% of the vote in 2017, which in a fair system would give them 46 seats. 

They got 12.

So half of the people don’t get a say and smaller parties are prevented from having a voice in Parliament. Sounds mental right? Surely there’s a better way of doing things?!

The alternative to FPTP is proportional representation, where every vote counts and the final 650 MPs are purely representative of how the nation voted. Sounds fairer, right?

It is, but it is also chaos.

Italy has a proportional representation system, but has had to dissolve its parliament eight times in 40 years, and Belgium had to negotiate a coalition for 541 days after its 2010 general election. For any legislation to be made in a parliament, it must command a majority of support amongst MPs – in a proportional representation system, this means that parties have to form alliances with parties that might fundamentally disagree with one another in order to actually achieve anything.

First Past The Post, for all its ills, usually creates a majority for one party, which can then use that majority to pass legislation without requiring support from other parties. It is worth noting, however, that the 2017 general election in the UK did not create a majority – hence Theresa May’s partnership with the DUP (which has gone swimmingly well).

So, First Past The Post creates an unfair system, is currently failing in the UK, but the alternative might create even more chaos.

Cool.

Let’s move on to the wider issue.


“A Well-Educated Electorate”

Whoa boy. This is going to be skating on thin ice with ice-skates made of flamethrowers.

In order for a democracy to work properly, the electorate must understand how it works, exactly who they are voting for and ensure that their representative enforces the promises they campaigned on.

The UK electorate is not thick, bigoted, biased or incapable of making good decisions. No human being who votes ever is, assuming you believe that no one chooses to vote to actively make society worse.

I believe that whatever someone’s beliefs, a voter will always vote for something that they believe to be the right course of action, whether that be Labour, Tory, UKIP, the Greens, or even the Monster Raving Looney Party. Whatever they choose, they do so because they believe that it is the right thing to do.

How they choose to vote, as opposed to why, is far more complex.

If, as I do, you take as fact that everyone is born equal, then you must also take as fact that the only reason why people vote for different parties and hold different political beliefs is because of socioeconomic factors – i.e. their wealth, their geography, the learned affiliation to parties through family or friends, etc.

However, there is one other, major factor, the influence of which I consider to be the single most damaging to an electorate:

The media.

I recently wrote an article about the media’s feedback on May’s promise to stand down and the indicative votes system that was recently employed as an attempt to break the Brexit deadlock. In it, I lamented the fact that the media was entirely focussed on the negatives of the stories and what would make the most eye-catching headlines, rather than reporting on some of the positive outcomes of the indicative votes process.

Unfortunately, this is the world we live in at the moment, not just in the UK, but across all Western nations. The media space is so hotly contested that every newspaper, blog, Twitter feed, TV channel, radio channel or Facebook comments section is one big race to get noticed.

How do you get noticed in a saturated market? By being more interesting than your competition. 

How do you be more interesting? You use hyperbole and extreme rhetoric that grabs the attention. Look at the headline of this very article – I have to use this technique to stand out, too. I hate that I do, but would you really click on an article called “1,200 words on democracy”?

I also used a picture of the family dog, because dogs = clicks (and also because Tilly is a Very Good Dog).

What is the outcome of this extreme competition? Sensationalisation of everything.

Everything is doom and gloom. From all corners we are bombarded with messages about BREXIT CHAOS, SURGING KNIFE-CRIME or LOOMING CLIMATE CHANGE CATASTROPHE. It has to be, because we are naturally inclined to read about something that carries an immediate threat than a headline along the lines of, “Brexit is a bit tougher than previously thought.”

Even worse, many media outlets that should have a responsibility to educate the electorate simply speculate, spread rumours and appeal to the worst sensibilities of some of their readers instead.

This does not create a well-informed electorate. It creates an environment where the electorate are consumers, subject to market forces and profit-and-loss margins, and are fundamentally mis-sold information on how their democracy is run.

In a maelstrom of hyperbole, how can a voter be fairly expected to know fact from fiction and make rational, educated choices on who to vote for?

It is currently being totally glossed over that Leave.EU, the group behind the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, have just been proved to have lied, cheated, and overspent in order to get their message across. They openly lied to their supporters and their country, yet if the wider media reports on it too heavily, the backlash against the whole industry could be catastrophic. The media as we know it might even cease to exist.

Good fucking riddance, I say.


A Final, Weary Thought

It’s not pointless to vote. It’s one of the most important things you can do as a citizen of your country.

But it is only fair that you know what you’re voting for and understand the system in which you’re voting for it.

I despair when I hear people on the news say “People don’t vote for MPs, they vote for a party.” While that might be the voter’s intention, the fact is that, first and foremost, they are voting for a representative. Not a Prime Minister, not a party, but that one MP.

I appreciate that many people know this already, but everyone should know it. A society where every single voter knew this principle and was able to a well-informed decision based upon it would be achieving a true sense of representative democracy.

At the moment, however, I’m not so sure ours is.


A REQUEST

We at Between the Lines have had a ball getting it up and running over the last few weeks, but now we are looking to expand our readership and our voice in the industry – exciting times!

If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

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Thank you so much for your help in advance!

Changing Of The Guard? – European Parliamentary Elections Explained

As we wait for MPs to get back from their holibobs, with only the depressingly common stories of antisemitism within the Labour Party and far-right headbanging from within the Conservative Party to keep us company in the meantime, it’s worth thinking about what comes next.

Yesterday, I explained why there is such a hoo-ha about the upcoming European Parliamentary elections. This was largely framed from the perspective of the structure of the European Parliament and why it represents a democratic issue, but it’s worth looking at what the results might mean, too.

Opinion polls, despite having a recent track record of being laughably wrong, have predicted losses for the Conservatives over their inability to deliver Brexit. Labour, while technically ahead, will be dismayed at how little they have taken advantage of the Tories destroying themselves from within.

UKIP, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, Change UK, The Lib-Dems, The Greens – all of these fringe parties now have a real opportunity to make a massive impact and take votes away from the two main parties.

A vote for the European Parliament is, some would argue, of less importance than voting in a General Election. Additionally, the way that people vote for their MEPs will be different from how they vote for their MPs. The elections will, however, be a fascinating demonstration of where public opinion is on Brexit and what might happen when the inevitable General Election is called within the next couple of years.

Let’s have a look at what might happen.


The Hard Leavers

Interestingly, while support for the Tories has leaked dramatically to the two Brexit-delivering parties, the fact that there are now two parties entirely focussed on Brexit, as well as an ostensibly Leave-backing major party, means that the vote is now split between three. As such, it means that it might be harder for one to get a majority over the other.

Voters who want Brexit have these options:

  • Continuing to vote for the Conservatives out of hope that their party will get its act together;
  • Voting for UKIP, who already have the highest number of MEPs in the European Parliament and are an established anti-EU force (yes, they won the last European elections…);
  • Or voting for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party – UKIP have lurched alarmingly right for some voters, with Gerrard Batten’s leadership welcoming figures like Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) and their openly-racist philosophy.

So there are three options for delivering Brexit, now that Labour have essentially said that any deal made must come with a second referendum attached. UKIP’s alarming undertones have put off many supporters, and Farage himself set up his new party because he didn’t want to be a part of the UKIP that he once proudly led.

Because of this, there could be no clear majority for any of those parties – even if the majority for votes were for Brexit-supporting groups, they would be split into three and could lose out to a unified Remain-supporting party. Indeed, the most recent polls have put the parties at:

  • Conservatives: 13%
  • UKIP: 17%
  • Brexit: 12%

So a Remain-supporting party could get a majority over this divided vote.

If there was only one Remain-supporting party, that is.


The Ardent Remainers

Perhaps the most interesting case study for this is Change UK – The Independent Group. The breakaway group of MPs from the Labour and Conservative Parties that formed in February have now been declared an official party, and as such are going to run in the European elections. They openly state their case to be the party of Remain.

They put out a message asking for candidates for the European elections to put themselves forward and received over 3,700 responses, including some high-profile names (according to Anna Soubry, one of the members).

However, their profile is not quite where they want it to be yet, and they would require a huge amount of campaigning in the run-up to the elections to be considered a real force – currently they are polling at just 4%.

Other openly Remain-favouring parties such as the Greens, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru are polling at around 20% combined, with most polling at under 10% each.

So the issue here is the same as above – a split vote might mean no clear majority for one Remain-supporting party.


The Old Dogs

And what of Labour? Currently they are leading the polls at 29%, but who knows with them anymore. The constant rumblings of antisemitism are damaging the party’s reputation, as well as the fact that the majority of its MPs and members want to Remain, but Corbyn ostensibly doesn’t.

If he fails to campaign Labour MEPs as being pro-remain, he could see many Labour voters move across to one of the Remain-supporting parties. Additionally, if he fails to listen to some of his Leave-supporting members and allies, he might see that vote move across to UKIP or the Brexit Party.

Additionally with the Conservatives, while we have already mentioned that hard-Leavers would have little problem in shifting allegiance to UKIP/Brexit Party (and have seen that many already have), the Remainers within the party might jump ship too.


So What Will Actually Happen?

It is almost impossible to say for certain.

It is worth remembering that despite how badly both parties have performed recently, voting habits die hard – some lifelong party supporters cannot even fathom voting for anyone else, so both parties will continue to see a considerable number of votes from their faithful members.

It is also worth noting that the European elections have a distinctly different flavour to a General Election, and voters tend to vote more freely – there is less danger of “If you don’t vote for us, look who’ll get in instead,” in the European Parliament.

The final thing to note is that because the constituency system is different in European elections, and the votes have more of a feel of proportional representation, a divided vote isn’t as damaging as it would be in a General Election. Despite Remain and Leave both having numerous different parties representing them, the results will still be a clear indicator of where public opinion lies, but parties will just have fewer MEPs elected.

I’ll explain this further in an article tomorrow.

Either way, the European elections might be quite a rude awakening for the Old Guard of Labour and the Conservatives… Or nothing much might change at all.

Either way, this writer encourages you to ensure you are registered to vote and to take part in the elections when they happen. Every vote will matter in these elections, and could pave the way for whatever harebrained calamity comes next in the Great Brexit Debacle…


A REQUEST

We at Between the Lines have had a ball getting it up and running over the last few weeks, but now we are looking to expand our readership and our voice in the industry – exciting times!

If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

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The Idiot’s Guide To The EU

At the time of writing, it is almost inevitable that the UK is going to have to hold elections for the European Parliament. Three years after the 2016 referendum, we have so demonstrably failed to leave the EU that we are about to elect people to represent us in it.

As a member-state of the EU, Britain is legally obligated under the terms of EU law to have candidates ready, to hold a democratic process to elect them and ultimately provide politicians to be a part of the international body that the British people supposedly want to leave. If they don’t, they will be evicted from the EU because a lack of representation from a member state would make all of the EU Parliament’s rulings null and void if the leaving member (the UK) changed their mind and remained a member.

And I know what you’re thinking.

What on earth does that mean?

The mess that Brexit has created is as vast in its scale and as deep in its intensity as Donald Trump’s requirements for hair styling products.

Let’s answer two, burning questions:

  1. What actually is the EU?
  2. Why do these Parliamentary elections matter so much?

What Actually IS The EU?

At its core, the EU is a group of countries where, on their own, they would be middling-to-small economies. They got together and created a gang where they would create rules to trade with one another and make sure that all of their members were given a fair deal (oh, and also try to prevent another European war, of which there were literally hundreds). Additionally, to protect members’ interests, the EU would trade as a unified bloc (or group) to other nations like China, the US and other major manufacturing and trading partners.

The middling-to-small economies of each member state are made much, much bigger through these arrangements.

The issues with the EU have arisen because what started as an economic pact has increased in size and scope – the feeling is (for roughly 52% of the British people, at least) that the EU now actually governs over us rather than elevates us financially. For instance, it is the final arbiter of law – i.e. EU law can overturn UK law. So when the EU legislates that fishing waters in the Channel must be shared, for example, there is nothing the UK can do about it.

So that’s what it does in a nutshell. In terms of what the EU is, it’s comprised of seven decision-making bodies, the first six of which are:

  • The European Council
    • The heads-of-state for each of the 28 member states;
    • The ones that May had to ask for an extension to Article 50.
  • The Council of the European Union 
    • Confusingly named;
    • Also named “Council of Ministers”;
    • Shares law-making capabilities of European Parliament;
    • One minister per state that rotates based on topic of discussion (i.e. if discussing agriculture, each state chooses an agriculture minister to sit).
  • European Commission 
    • The executive, i.e. submits proposals for new legislation or laws to European Parliament + Council of EU;
    • One appointee per state.
  • European Court of Justice (ECJ)
    • The judiciary, i.e. the judges that uphold EU law;
    • Can settle disputes between nations and interprets laws and treaties;
    • Has final say in legal matters – more powerful than UK courts.
  • European Central Bank 
    • Central bank for the Euro;
    • Controls monetary policy.
  • Court of Auditors
    • Ensures that taxpayer funds from the EU budget have been correctly spent.

You will notice that a) good bloody grief that’s a lot of different bodies for one institution; b) it has a lot of power; and c) of all of those bodies, there is not a single election held by the citizens of the EU.

There is definitely some validity to the claims from some quarters that major political decisions that affect peoples’ lives are often made by unelected EUrocrats.

However, there is one body that is elected, and it is arguably the most important one.


The European Parliament

The second biggest democratic electorate in the world, nearly 500 million citizens from across the EU are represented by 751 members, who are elected every five years by universal suffrage (i.e. all member states hold elections). These members are just like MPs for Parliament, and stand representing a party like Labour or the Conservatives, but are called MEPs because they are Members of the European Parliament.

They get slightly fancier names, basically.

As per the UK’s Parliament, they hold votes on the legislation that is drafted for them by the European Commission and have the power to pass them into law, but it does have slightly weaker powers than the European Council of Ministers (the rotating, unelected one) in certain areas.

The UK currently has 73 members in the European Parliament, and here is where we pick up the big bad Brexit story once again, hooray for Brexit, kill me now.

Because of Brexit, the EU has already made plans for the UK to not be represented in any of its bodies. However, while the EU and British government can control Britain’s lack of representation across the unelected bodies, because the MEPs must be voted in by an election, this creates a massive problem. Why?

Because if they aren’t, the EU has broken one of its fundamental rules – the Parliament must be democratically-elected. This then means there could be legal challenges made against any law that Parliament creates because the Parliament has not been fulfilling its legal requirements.

Basically, if they done goofed and aren’t fully elected, then they cannot make new laws.

So with the UK being super awkward and not knowing if it’s going or not, it creates a problem –

  • Does the UK elect MEPs (an expensive process) and then immediately remove them the second they do leave the EU?
  • Or do they not hold elections and get kicked out of the EU so it can protect its legal structure?

As it turns out, we almost certainly will be holding elections for the European Parliament, because we don’t actually know if we’re leaving or not and we do know that we don’t want a no-deal Brexit. It would be a disaster for the Conservatives, who have promised to deliver Brexit and have so far just created one massive, sloppy, festering mess, and that is why many are opposed to holding the elections at all.

However, unless we find a way to leave by the 23rd of May (not even leave-leave, just find a majority for a way to leave), we will have to hold an election. Otherwise we will be turfed out of the EU, with no deal, on the 1st of June.

It is likely going to be a very angry affair indeed. Prepare for fireworks…


A REQUEST

If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

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Jules “F*ck The Rules” Assange

Having pumped out an article a day for the last few weeks, this writer took the weekend off. In all honesty, I didn’t think about Brexit once, and it reminded me of a simpler, happier time.

Once MPs come back from their holidays next week, all that will change. For now though, Brexit is just a discussion of hypotheticals, with the only notable developments being:

Forty more years of Bercow it is, then.

Today, however, I will be writing on something other than Brexit. I know, it’s weirding me out, too. But a strange, bearded vagrant has just been forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy, and I think it would be prudent to answer the following question…


What’s The Deal With Julian Assange?

Julian Assange is one of those mythical names that everyone sort-of knows, but doesn’t particularly know why.

He’s that weird hermit who lives in an embassy, which the Met Police spent thousands of pounds guarding in case he ever tried to leg it. He’s like Edward Snowdon, only he hasn’t gone to live in Russia. He looks like a Scandinavian detective who’s investigating a gruesome murder on a Sunday-evening BBC1 thriller, but is actually Australian. Yes, really: he’s an Aussie.

So why was he ever famous, and why is he back in the news now?

Back in 2010, the “freedom-of-information”-championing website called WikiLeaks delivered its first massive story. Through Chelsea Manning, a US soldier, WikiLeaks uncovered a massive story around military brutality during the second Iraq war. It was desperately unpleasant reading: soldiers were murdering and raping Iraqi citizens and more senior military personnel were sweeping the stories under the rug.

Manning passed on a huge trove of data to WikiLeaks to reveal the story to the world, which it summarily did – Julian Assange was the founder of the company. 

Because of the clandestine nature of how WikiLeaks got its sensitive material, the US set out to arrest Assange for whistleblowing on its military wrongdoings. At the same time, two Swedish women claimed that Assange had raped them while he was in Sweden, so Swedish authorities also sought Assange for questioning.

It was at that point that Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy – according to reports, he had met with the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa the week before and been told he was welcome to seek asylum there.

Correa probably didn’t expect Assange to rock up at his embassy with a travel-bag, but that’s exactly what he did. He was granted asylum and allowed to remain indefinitely in the embassy.

Seven long, lonely and claustrophobic years later, and Assange was doing his absolute utmost to make living with him an utter hell. Supposedly he:

  • Stole embassy employees’ food;
  • Threatened and hit said employees (it is unclear if this was over food-theft allegations);
  • Set up webcams in the embassy and tried to spy on the officials’ work;
  • And reportedly went completely Broadmore and started smearing faeces on his walls.

He was cooped up in basically one room for seven years, but that’s still a pretty ropey list of past-times. Take up crochet, Jules, for God’s sake.

And so, last week, the Ecuadorians said “No mas,” and opened up their doors for the UK police to arrest him, which they did. He did not look well.


OK, So He’s Now In Policy Custody. Why Is All Of This Important?

Mostly because of the discussion around what the real definition of journalism is.

Many argue that Assange is something of a saint, with WikiLeaks consistently identifying and illustrating governmental corruption, wrongdoing or general skullduggery. The 2010 files were an international sensation of a story, but he found those files through asking Chelsea Manning to essentially commit treason (which could still be punishable by death in the US).

The fact that the US will be pounding on the door of the UK police and asking them to extradite him across the pond for a trial will be a real diplomatic headache for the UK. The UK police do have every right to detain him themselves for avoiding arrest all those years ago, and there is arguably a moral argument against sending him to the US – he did help people through WikiLeaks.

This situation isn’t helped by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, those darned Trotskyite troublemakers, both publicly declaring that he shouldn’t be extradited because he has committed no crimes through his form of journalism.

It was quite quickly pointed out to them, however, that rape is definitely a crime.

Sweden also want Assange extradited, but not to the US – they are considering reopening the investigation into those rape claims to see if there is any validity to them. While all the claims are so far are allegations, not convictions, the Swedes want him in their custody to make sure he doesn’t flee again.

So, what are the Brits to do? Hold him on their own charges? See him extradited to the US for a trial on crimes that helped prevent military wrongdoing? See him extradited to Sweden for unproven rape allegations and thoroughly piss off the US, a country which we might need to rely heavily on for trade post-Brexit?

Whatever happens, the general consensus seems to be this: Assange managed to do a considerable amount of good with his 2010 document leak and helped a lot of vulnerable people in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, good people can do bad things, and some good things are done by weird, egotistical, allegedly sexually-aggressive wankers.

I feel like this situation is more column B than column A.


A REQUEST

We at Between the Lines have had a ball getting it up and running over the last few weeks, but now we are looking to expand our readership and our voice in the industry – exciting times!

If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

  • Following Between the Lines on social media or by email (on desktop – to the right of this page, or on mobile – scroll below, after the comments section);
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  • Or giving a monthly donation to our Patreon page, which can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/betweenthelinespolitics

Any donation, whether large or small, would be massively appreciated.

Thank you so much for your help in advance!