SEVEN NATION BARMY – Corbyn Kicked Out of Labour Party

Just a few short years ago, I saw Jeremy Corbyn speak to the Glastonbury crowds firsthand.

Luckily, I wasn’t too drunk or sunburnt at that particular moment, so I remember it pretty vividly.

While I always find time to be political at Glastonbury, on this particular occasion I wasn’t absolutely battered, nor was I wearing a gummy-bear jumper, unlike this picture.

He spoke with passion and verve about his vision for a new, more egalitarian future. Tens of thousands around the fields of Pilton chanted “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.

It felt like a moment.

Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party. It’s fair to say that the moment, if there ever was one, had passed.

Oh, and Labour are about to enter a fully-fledged civil war over it.


Antisemitism & Antisemantics

Antisemitism plagued Corbyn’s reign over the Labour Party. Throughout the entirety of his leadership, claims of antisemitic bullying and racism across the wider party were hushed up, dismissed outright or belittled by leading party figures.

It led to the party becoming cultish. Any criticism of Corbyn or his team was met with cries of heresy.

It led to promising MPs like Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth leaving the party. It led to widespread condemnation from every political opponent you could imagine. It led, at its core, to a previously inclusive party becoming a pale shadow of its former self.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, itself set up in 2006 by a Labour government, began an investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party in May of 2019. Corbyn’s Labour Party stood accused of racial injustice. For months, the Commission investigated a series of incidents and complaints raised against the actions of the party’s leadership.

Yesterday, the results were published. They were damning.

To summarise, while the report doesn’t lay the blame at the feet of any named individuals, it gives demonstrable evidence that there were multiple occasions where antisemitism was systemic across the wider Labour Party. On multiple occasions, key figures were proven to have acted or spoken in a way that was obviously antisemitic. Jeremy Corbyn himself was also in the firing line – he spoke out against the removal of graffiti that depicted insulting Jewish stereotypes.

But it was no great shock. There were Panorama investigations; there were leaked reports; there were news stories and widespread awareness of its existence among the general public.

Depressingly, the report confirmed what we already knew.

Keir Starmer, the new leader of the Labour Party, set out his stall on the first day of his leadership – he was going to root out antisemitism within the party and make sure that it would never rear its head again. Yesterday, he reasserted that claim by apologising on behalf of the Labour Party for the findings of the EHRC report and promising to implement all of the report’s recommendations for safeguards.

He also made a pointed remark to his predecessor by saying that those who think the antisemitism claims are “exaggerated or a factional attack” are “part of the problem”.

Jeremy Corbyn has a habit of making inauspicious timing something of an art-form. And, yesterday, he surpassed himself. Exactly half an hour before Starmer gave his press conference, Corbyn put out a tweet in response to the EHRC’s findings. It contained the following claim:

“One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.

So. Corbyn put his chips down as, “Yes, antisemitism is bad, but the whole thing was overblown because people didn’t like me.” He then gave an interview where he doubled-down on his statement, calling the antisemitism claims as “exaggerated”.

This appears to have gone down like a cast-iron buoyancy aid with Starmer. Six minutes after the interview was released, the Labour Party released a statement saying that Corbyn had been suspended from the party and that he had had the party whip removed.

In April of this year, Jeremy Corbyn was the leader of the Labour Party. Six months later, he is no longer a member of it.


For the Many…

Antisemitism has been around for a long time. Members of the socialist ideology dated as far back as the 1800s have had an inherent distrust of Jewish people, mostly through the lazy and ignorant generalisations that the Jewish people are wealthy bankers, gold-hoarders and capitalists.

And if there’s one thing socialists hate, then hoo boy is it capitalism.

That being said, it’s also extremely important to point out that most socialists disagree with capitalism, but aren’t racist. It’s just that antisemitism is particularly prominent in socialist circles compared with other ideologies.

Let’s be clear.

Racism in all forms is abhorrent. That should go without saying. That the former leader of the Labour Party allowed antisemitism to spread without trying to stop it with all his might is a pretty appalling state of affairs.

For the sake of balance, it is worth noting that the Conservative Party has a considerable, but far less-widely reported, problem with Islamophobia.

But turning our attention back to Labour, Starmer is seemingly hell-bent on eradicating antisemitism from the wider Labour Party, which is arguably more than can be said for the Tories.

Doing so might be harder than you’d think, however..


Where Do We Go From Here?

The Labour Party is now at war.

Just as the Conservative Party is a mix of moderates and hard-liners, so it is with Labour. The unions that used to back Labour financially are re-evaluating. Len McCluskey, head of Unite the Union, is a long-term ally of Corbyn and a devout anti-Starmerist. He also holds the keys to a considerable amount of Labour funding.

We might be about to see a Labour Party openly choose to move away from unionist backing. This, if it comes to it, is a very big deal.

But it was (probably) always going to come to this. An old-school, 1970s socialist with 1970s socialist backing was never going to beat a modernist, inclusive, former head of the Crown Prosecution Service when it came down to electability.

Starmer has set his line in the sand. Whether or not the party moves to meet him will rely entirely on his performance over the coming weeks. It’ll be fascinating to watch.

But it will also be distracting. Isn’t there a pandemic on?

white and red flag

LACKING PANACHE-VILLE: The Final Presidential Debate


I’m not going to lie, I stocked up for last night’s debate.

The first Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was so utterly, excruciatingly bad that I wanted to gouge my eyes out, stick hot pokers in my ears and never speak to anyone again. Essentially, it made me want to deliberately emulate that famous Japanese proverb through self-mutilation.

So I had a crate of beers and some hard liquor ready, just in case I needed to block out the reality that one of these two men was going to be the leader of the free world in around 3 weeks’ time.

But last night’s debate was different. Better, I think. But different.

For a start, the new debating rules introduced a “mute” button, which the new moderator, Kristen Welker, could use to silence a candidate who spoke out of turn. The threat of being humiliated by having their microphone turned off weighed heavily on both parties.

More so on Trump, I’d wager.

But through this mutually-assured destruction pact, the debate took a, and I use this word carefully, ‘softer’ tone, and was actually more of a debate than a pissing contest. For policy wonks and politics aficionados like me, it was actually pretty interesting, especially considering how low the bar has been set for political discourse recently, both at home and across the pond.

In the end, however, it was probably pretty all completely irrelevant.


UNNECESSARY EVILS

To sum up the context of this debate, 30% of all Americans have already voted. According to opinion polls (yes, previously as accurate as a dog playing darts but significantly improved since), only around 8% of the American electorate are yet to make up their minds on who to vote for.

And the reality is that debates are held to sway the minds of voters. If a lifelong Democrat watched that debate, they’d vote for Biden. If a lifelong Republican watched that debate, they’d probably vote for Trump. And those Republicans that have run out of rope with Trump are already way over the horizon, much like our daylight at 6.30pm now that summer has gone.

I spent most of this summer stuck in a one-man flat, unable to see more than 5 other people at a time. What a year.

Anyway, this debate, this time hosted in Nashville, Tennesse, had to be a knockout blow for either candidate in order to sway the hearts and minds of the voters, or, at the very least, sow some serious doubts in the minds of opposition voters about their preferred candidates.

It did not do that.

Both candidates deserve credit for improved performances. Trump was largely respectful of both Biden and Welker, although this frayed towards the end. Biden seemed less like a crotchety grandpa shouting at radiators and made some good, salient points, although he had a weak twenty minutes in the middle of the debate.

Essentially, both candidates were prepped heavily by their staffers on how to come across and both just about fulfilled their briefs. It was a debate, not a screaming match, but it gave us nothing new.

Am I regretting my decision to stay up until 5am watching and then writing about it, though?

Yes. Yes I am.


TAKING DEBATE

While the tone of the debate was markedly different from the first, many of the same topics resurfaced. The first topic, unsurprisingly, was COVID-19, where Biden landed some good hits on Trump’s handling of the epidemic. Trump contradicted himself, refuted quotes that he himself had made earlier in the week, and generally sounded like he was completely clueless as to how to handle the situation.

Biden, by contrast, gave clear, unequivocal answers to what his plans for handling the pandemic were. The slightly worrying issue underlying this is that Biden’s answers were pragmatic but pessimistic. Trump gave no clear evidence of knowing what was happening (“We’re gonna have a vaccine in the next few weeks.” “Can you promise that?” “I can’t promise that,”) but used his rhetoric to give cause for optimism.

I don’t know about you, but if Jeremy Clarkson ran for Prime Minister tomorrow saying “I’ve got a cure, we all just have to suck on a tailpipe for 20 minutes, so everyone gets a free new exhaust and we’ll be done by Christmas”, I’d look twice. I am so utterly done with this virus that I’d probably sell a kidney just to not have to worry about it anymore.

So pity the poor folks in America who have it much worse (in many states, at least). Trump’s optimism is infectious in the face of all scientific, political and rational advice and it may yet ring true.

However, the rest of the topics of the debate were mostly won by Biden, if unconvincingly. Biden landed some good hits on Trump about his tax returns, offshore bank accounts, business dealings and all-round shadiness. This was particularly entertaining given that Trump had started the accusations himself, saying that Biden had taken millions of dollars from the Russians and the Chinese, despite there being no official evidence to back those claims.

Trump. God love ya boy, you do talk a load of utter bollocks.

But Trump still landed a few suckers of his own. Biden has good rhetoric on African-American rights and immigration, but Trump used facts and figures (I know, shock horror) about the two terms of the Obama/Biden administration to undermine Biden’s appeals.

“You had eight years, Joe. You did nothing. What makes these people think you’re gonna do anything now?”

It’s a generalisation and doesn’t begin to tell the whole story, but it is a good line of attack. Trump repeatedly called Biden “a politician”, emphasising his credentials as a businessman rather than a careerist in public affairs, and finally reignited the argument that was, to many Americans, part of his appeal in the first place.

That this line has come so late in the day, at such a nullified point in the campaign, is almost negligent.

But anyway. Some blows were landed, but no knockout blows. Except for one, by Trump, which was an absolute haymaker smashed straight into his own temple: he claimed that the only asylum-seekers who turn up for court hearings on their right to remain had, and I absolutely quote verbatim, “I hate to say this… Low IQs.”

Classy.


But this is the thing. It’s Trump. It’s expected. It’s not aimed at his base, and it doesn’t really matter. America has largely made up its mind already. Liberal-left city-dwellers are pretty uninspired by Biden but will vote for him anyway. Many Republicans might, too.

But you simply cannot underestimate Trump. We all did in 2016, and we know what happened next. Biden holds a commanding lead over him now, more so than Clinton did, but we just don’t know.

What we can probably assume is that the election was already decided long before this debate. We now just have to wait and see what happens.

For now, though, to bed. At last.

COMING SOON…

Between the Lines has been a passion project of mine ever since I started it, way back in the heady days of February 2019. Brexit was in the less-than-capable hands of Theresa May, Parliament was in civil war, and it all just seemed to be one big mess.

My God, what I wouldn’t give to be back there again. Compared to the harsh winds of COVID-19, Brexit feels like a warm summer’s breeze.

But we’re still exactly where we were when Between the Lines first started. A government that’s eroded all trust. A society divided. A political system in turmoil.

Understanding politics has never been more important.

So Between the Lines is back.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be constructing a database of easy-to-understand articles. These will explain everything you need to know about the British political system, our major political philosophies, and the pros and cons of all of them.

Balanced and unbiased, simple and straightforward.

If, like me, you think that politics should be understood by everyone, not just those who study it, then please do consider donating here:

Every donation, big or small, helps to develop our offering, advertise the site, and maybe, just maybe, help make Between the Lines what I dream of it being one day: an education pack, given to schools for free, so that everyone understands the society we live in and how to make it better.

You can’t win an argument by refusing to listen to the other side of it. A shared understanding is vital to a functioning democracy, even when you fundamentally disagree with another’s views.

That is Between the Lines’ mission: to make politics a debate, not a cock-fight.

I hope you’ll join us for the journey.

Matt Underhill, Founder and Editor

brass bell

A-Starm Bells Are Ringing


The gloves are off.

Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition and leader of the Labour Party, has come across as measured, competent and dull over the course of the pandemic, according to opinion polls.

For those who despair at the Johnson government’s handling of the crisis, this might not be such a bad thing. Better a boring safe pair of hands than an exciting game of keepy-uppy with a glass ball full of nitroglycerin. But Starmer has played his cards close to his chest, scrutinising government policy without giving any suggestions of his own.

Today, that changed – Starmer gave a press conference distancing himself from the government’s new “three-tier” system and instead called for a two-week national lockdown as a “circuit breaker.”

So, one on side we have what sounds temptingly like a wedding cake and on the other we have what sounds like something you put in your car after the windscreen wipers get stuck on full blast.

What is happening? What does it all mean? Why is it important?

Let’s try to break it down.

NB: I would like to serve immediate (and legally-binding, hopefully) notice that I am not an expert on coronavirus. I’m not even an expert in the Inglesh language. This article is meant to be informative, but will not give the whole story. For full details on regulations, what you should do if you test positive, and other information, I urge you to visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/ or https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.


TIERS FOR FEARS

Yesterday, the government announced its three-tier system of restrictions in England to try and hamper the spread of the coronavirus. These are:

Medium alert: It’s quiet…

High alert: Too quiet…

Very high alert: OH GOD IT’S HERE OPEN FIRE *comms go dark*

As per every monster film from the 90s. They are, in reality, relatively simple.

Tier One, or medium-risk, is where most of us are now. This means current restrictions of 10pm curfew, rule of six, hands-face-space-race-brace, etc. etc. Tier Two means no indoor social meetings outside of your support bubble at all (in pubs, homes or anywhere else), and Tier Three means even stricter rules on where you can meet, if at all (specific measures are decided by local authorities).

Sounds rough, doesn’t it? Well, not rough enough, according to Jean Claude Van Tam, a leading member of the SAGE committee and epidemiologist. He explicitly said that the measures introduced by Johnson, himself looking depleted and sombre yesterday, would have little effect in stopping the coronavirus’ spread. Indeed, track and trace was only making a marginal difference, too, according to research papers released by SAGE.

So why is the government only dipping its toes into the murky lockdown waters? Fundamentally, the answer is: the economy. Another full lockdown could be catastrophic for small businesses and many others in the UK who are barely clinging on to solvency, or could be extremely expensive for a government that has spent unimagineable sums of money this year to prop up our ravaged economy.

…Despite just three years ago, the former leader famously saying, “There is no magic money tree.” That aged well, Theresa.

Look, it’s an almost impossible position for any government, let alone a Tory one. Do we cripple the economy, potentially putting tens of thousands of people out of work and decreasing their quality of life, potentially leading to long-term detrimental health effects? Or do we let the virus tear through our society, potentially causing our NHS to be overwhelmed and unable to focus on other, life-saving treatments for cancer and other illnesses?

Well, the government is trying to balance itself on this gossamer tightrope like a drunk panda.

But Starmer took a deep breath, picked a side, and plunged off the rope.


BREAKER BREAKER 1-9

Starmer held a press conference comprising solely of himself, Vicky Young (BBC), Robert Peston (ITV) and Kate McCann (Sky News), making it look like a particularly depressing am-dram production in a friend’s garage. But the soliloquy was more than just a ramble on midlife crises.

Starmer called out Boris Johnson for tacking away from the recommendations of his health advisors and recalled the government’s failure to manage the second wave of coronavirus. Not only that, he gave a clear and unequivocal policy at odds with the government’s, his first since taking charge of the Labour Party: a two or three-week national lockdown.

Starmer, and the wider Labour Party, have now positioned themselves as the party that “follows the science,” the buzzwords that flew out of Johnson and Matt Hancock’s mouths at every turn during the first national lockdown.

Incidentally, I realised the other day that ‘Matt Hancock’ can easily be turned into Cock-Hatt Man. It goes without saying that he shall be referred to as such henceforth.

So, while the government restrictions take shape, Starmer is now, officially, calling for more stringent measures. Starmer even addressed Johnson directly, saying that should he be worried about Tory rebellions blocking stricter measures, the Labour Party will give him the votes instead.

That one must have particularly stung. I imagine some muffled Latin expletives were heard by the Bobby outside the door to No. 10.


STARM-ALARM-ER DING DONG TIME

So what does this all mean? Why is it important?

Well, first and foremost, it’s probably going to play out as a very shrewd move by the Labour leader. Unfortunately, and desperately sadly, the statistics are headed invariably towards a large second spike. How large, we don’t know, but still – times are going to get tough again.

Which means that it is almost an inevitability that we will need a full national lockdown again sooner or later. And, when we come to it, many scientific voices will say that it should have come sooner, as they already are:

And Starmer will be the one who called it, way back on October the 13th. And, compared to the chaos in the heart of the Tory party, he will start to look like the UK’s salvation.

Johnson’s nightmare is only just beginning. This evening, he’s seen 42 Tory MPs vote against the controversial 10pm curfew, many of whom are new MPs from the former “Red Wall” seats in the North and Midlands. This is a shot across the bow – 42 rebels tonight could give confidence to others moving forward.

And, in the last few minutes, he has seen a member of the government resign over the effect of local lockdowns in Bolton:

Starmer has drawn a line in the sand, decisively moving away from the “scrutinise but support” strategy he previously followed. He now has a united party, on the key issue of the day, facing down a government that is horrifically divided.

Whatever happens politically, we can only hope that whatever decisions are made next are made quickly and correctly.

It won’t just be Johnson’s political life on the line if they aren’t. It’ll be the real lives of thousands of people, too.

stickers with i voted inscription and flag of usa

Fly-ce Presidential Debate


Another week, another bout of insomnia, another debate. And good Lord almighty, what a week it’s been for President Trump and his inner circle.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m avoiding writing about British politics at the moment. Perhaps it’s because the weather’s changed and the air feels quite ominous. Perhaps it’s because the coronavirus fiasco is almost too much to bear when it’s on your doorstep.

But I think it’s because, in the US, the wind does seem to be starting to blow in a different direction. From the polling statistics, Joe Biden holds a not-insignificant lead over Captain Tangerine, and polling has become far more advanced since the charmingly-naïve days of predicting clear victories for both Clinton and Remain. It seems as though the American people are starting to see Trump for what he is. He has undoubtedly put a shot in the arm of the US economy, but even that will probably turn out to be bleach, as he’s famously keen to explore.

But he is, and remains, a white-supremacist apologist, a bigot, and a blabbermouthed sack of orange pulp topped with labradoodle fluff. One who’s managed to infect the entire White House with coronavirus too, it seems.

And don’t get me wrong, Joe Biden is about as inspiring a candidate as a plate of granola without the milk (and he looks a bit like a plate of granola without the milk, too). But last night’s debate saw Kamala Harris, a female, mixed-race, second-generation immigrant, take to the debating stand as his candidate for VP.

Given that Biden is 77, the choice of VP has never been more important. Thankfully, Harris came across as compassionate, likeable and competent in a debate that lacked all of the soul-crushing awfulness of last week’s, but lacked much in the way of anything, too.


Softly, Softly, Catchy Trumpy

It was clear from the get-go that the VP debate was going to have an extremely different tone to last week’s, which was less Presidential Debate than “fly-on-the-wall footage of two confused men in a geriatric ward throwing custard at one another.” Mike Pence is many things (such as anti-LGBT rights, anti-abortion, and anti-free healthcare, lol), but he is not Donald Trump. He made a point of showing respect to Harris, saying it was a “privilege” to be debating with her and, besides talking for far too long, showed little of the braggadocio of his President.

The Repulican press team had probably briefed him with four words: Don’t be like (f***ing) Trump.

As such, voices were measured and rules largely respected, but both did come out swinging. Harris called Trump’s handling of the coronavirus “the greatest failure of any presidential administration” in history. Pence said that the Democrats insinuation that the US was institutionally racist was “a great insult”.

Both sides avoided questions in less-than-convincing style, too. For instance, both refused to elaborate on any plans their parties had for succession, should either elderly Presidential candidate fall ill. Given the fact that the leader of the free world had been recently hospitalised, this seems like an appropriate time to discuss the matter.

But Pence swerved the question, and Harris used the opportunity to talk about her upbringing and how proud she was to be there. Not exactly illuminating.

But, in the end, it was what it was always going to be – a slightly boring, cagey debate where both sides stuck to the script and did or said little to set the world on fire. Pence claimed that the President had been open and transparent about the virus from day one, and that it was simply a matter of chance that he contracted it himself, drawing incredulous chuckles from Harris. Harris defended her time as being attorney general of California, during which time racial profiling actually increased under her watch.

Everything was as expected, really. And, dear reader, I’m not going to lie to you – at around 3am, I nodded off.

I wish I hadn’t, because I missed the birth of a new celebrity.


Blue-Bottled It

Mike Pence, at one point in the debate, attracted a visitor. A small, black fly.

These little critters usually only hang around corpses and actual excrement, so I will let you draw your own conclusions about Pence from there.

As you can imagine, the fly became an overnight superstar. Its Twitter page took off:

Investigative reporters realised that this fly had been in the democratic ointment before:

And, hot off the back of last week’s “Will You Shut Up, Man” t-shirts, the Biden campaign seized the opportunity to claim allegiance to the Muscoidean Machiavelli:

We now live in a world where two of the most important people in world politics are on-stage, debating one another, and the thing that gets people really talking is a common housefly.

Whoever wins the next election, don’t think that we don’t deserve them. We all do.


Trump Stakes Presidency On Show Of Strength

Look, I can’t really not talk about what happened last week. Trump, and his ever-loving wife Melania, both contracted COVID-19. Trump was taken to a military hospital, where he was given an experimental cocktail of drugs and steroids.

The comparisons with our own golden-haired gas-bag can’t be ignored – two populist leaders, for whom shows of strength are everything, both hospitalised as a result of their own bravado. Many of Johnson’s inner sanctum also had to isolate (including, of course, Bernard Castle and his old pal Dom), but the White House appears to be an all-out coronavirus hive.

It is widely believed that the virus spread at an event held in the Rose Garden celebrating Trump’s not-illegal-but-still-a-dick-move nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Not long after, Trump and Melania fell ill, as have a huge number of his wider entourage. While Trump was in hospital, his doctor and White House staffers repeatedly gave mixed messages about the President’s health. Some said that he was in very bad shape while others said he was basically already better, and his doctor gave conflicting timelines of Trump’s illness and diagnosis.

Essentially, with these clowns in charge, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Trump thought he probably had coronavirus and just cracked on anyway, infecting countless others around him.

What really took the biscuit, however, was his drive-by stunt. Still highly infectious and not even remotely recovered, Trump got in the back seat of an armoured limo and drove around the front of the hospital, waving at his supporters who had gathered out front to show solidarity.

This drew huge criticism from commentators across the entire political spectrum, not least because some poor souls from his security team had to be locked in an airtight vehicle with him. While this would be bad enough on another day, (I imagine he emenates a smell of burger farts and Trump-brand aftershave) Trump was still highly infectious. He essentially guaranteed these staffers would get the virus, or at the very least would have to self-isolate to prevent themselves from spreading it to others.

This wilful lack of compassion for his own employees is just the perfect demonstration of the type of man that Trump is – entitled, self-centred and unbelievably insecure. That he felt the need to endanger the lives of his own men for a press stunt is reprehensible.

But still. At least now the coronavirus has had a look at what it’s like to infect the very worst of humanity. Maybe it’ll rethink its strategy and just piss off.

Because, at this stage, I think that’s one thing we can all agree on – the coronavirus can absolutely do one.