Free speech is the antidote to Trump

Eyes up in Britain

benjamin_franklin_freedom_of_speech_quote Benjamin Franklin got it right. By DonkeyHotey; CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

The polarising president is a threat to truth itself. Beating him requires a renewed commitment to the most fundamental western value of all.

We can see where this is going. Donald Trump has promised a crackdown on media companies which cover him unfavourably. He tweeted an attack on the New York Times while soldiers he commanded were taking part in a failed raid in Yemen. He held a press conference where he berated the media for more than an hour.

His and his cronies’ lies have become ‘alternative facts’. His spokeswoman has cited a non-existent massacre as justification for his most controversial policy. He has lashed out at the intelligence agencies and begun a review which threatens their independence.

This wannabe autocrat is not just a threat to a 240-year-old republic founded on small-l liberal values…

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2001 again

By Jake Wilde

I’ve never been much of a joiner. At university the assorted political parties of the far left, or their front organisations posing as single issue groups, revolted me and none of the major political parties offered anything that interested me. In hindsight I think that’s because I was following a path that had more resonance in the United States than in the United Kingdom, where the anti-Stalinist left had embraced the principles of democracy, personal freedom and liberty more commonly associated with American conservatism. I hold a general view that the state has key role to play in delivering essential services to its citizens and can and should do things the market can’t and won’t, but that individuals need to have the freedom to operate economically outside of state control, and to have complete freedom of political thought. The problem I always had with Marxism was that the cobbler could never make a pair of shoes for his daughter, and the problem I always had with Leninism and Stalinism was the mass murder. In short, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was more of a neoconservative than anything else and in the late nineties there really wasn’t much interest in attracting the neocon vote.

When Tony Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister of my adulthood I was pleased but no more so than any other Labour voter. It never occurred to me to join the Labour Party as it still tolerated the kind of people we now call Corbynistas. When I started work and became a trade union representative I encountered these people every day, and they moved in the same sphere and held broadly the same views as those in the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, Respect and the Scottish Socialist Party. There was no obvious distinction between those of them who were members of the Labour Party or those who were in the fringe parties. Any differences between them seemed to be more about which personality cult they favoured.

The single event that prompted me to join the Labour Party was the 2003 military intervention in Iraq. Finally here was a political party actually prepared to fight fascism, rather than to pretend to do so in order to promote its own agenda. It’s often said that the far left have been at the forefront of the fight against fascism, sexism, racism and homophobia. This is nonsense. The far left have always hijacked those campaigns to use them for self-promotion, to swell the numbers seemingly prepared to foment revolution or simply to use those causes to rail against capitalism and The West. This is not an essay about Iraq, but I remain firmly of the view that the liberation of the Iraqi people ranks alongside the creation of the NHS and the introduction of the minimum wage in the pantheon of achievements by the Labour Party.

It strikes me that, in the same way that “Iraq” has become the standard retort to any defence of Blairism, “Syria” will be the single word used to define the Labour Party’s post-Iraq cowardice. Unlike Iraq, where military action would have taken place even without UK involvement, the military action against Assad did not occur solely because the UK did not participate, and precisely because of the attitude of the Labour Party, as directed by the then Corbyn–led Stop The War Coalition.

Thus where the liberation of Iraq led to democratic elections and a multicultural society (as reflected in today’s Iraqi army), the non-liberation of Syria has led to a fascist, torturing, murdering, sectarian dictator remaining in power. The Labour Party should take credit for the former and must take the blame for the latter. Jeremy Corbyn has far more blood on his hands than Tony Blair.

So with the reason for my joining Labour now treated with disgust, and the party under the far left’s control, I am back where I started. I was only ever what I’ll call a CBeebies Blairite – of a generation with young kids when Blair was at his height, and only needing a elementary understanding of what Blairism was in order to support it. I doubt that there will ever be a political party that fully represents my views but in that sense I am no different from those who share my viewpoint on the other side of the Atlantic, who must have found themselves looking at Trump and Clinton in the same way as I look at May and Corbyn. Nevertheless I regard myself as lucky to have been, for a short time in the mid 2000s, in the right place at the right time.

Why is any of this relevant in 2017, you may very well ask. I may be being overly self-centred, even by my standards, but I don’t think I was the only person who felt politically seasick during 2016. I’ve read countless articles about how everything has changed, how populations across the world are rejecting elites, about a revolt against liberalism. It’s seductive stuff because everyone, especially those who write political articles for a living, likes to think that they live in historic times. I just don’t think it’s true. No grand realignment has occurred, there has been no massive change in the way people think and Trump, Corbyn and Brexit are not reflections of a populist uprising.

Leo Strauss, one of the founders of neoconservative thought, was writing in the 1960s when he said “the crisis of the West consists in the West’s having become uncertain of its purpose” but his view equally applies today. In America liberals call Trump a sexist but then defend the burqa, while conservatives laud the importance of freedom to the human spirit but then forcefully deny it to those from different continents. The notion that what we call liberalism and conservatism are vastly different becomes a nonsense when contrasted to the world view held by Islamists, for example. Yet Obama can’t bring himself to confront Islamism and Trump is happy to consign moderate Muslims to their deaths. As a consequence no political leader in the US is entering 2017 with any credit or a clear vision about how to lead the world’s response to the threats to the unifying Western principles of democracy, freedom and liberty.

I’ve written before about my astonishment that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls seems to be the only senior Western politician prepared to recognise Islamism for what it is and challenge it but, crucially, attempt to preserve Western values while doing so. He knows that tolerating the apparently softer edges of Islamism, such as dress codes and segregation, fuels extremism, rather than assuages it and by normalising Islamist ideology and practice we accept it when we should be rejecting it. He also knows that the first victims of toleration of Islamism are Muslims, Muslims who would and should be at the forefront of opposition to Islamism. But politicians such as Trump make the critical mistake of lumping all Muslims in with Islamists, rather than acknowledging that Muslims are the Islamists’ first and most frequent targets. They then compound their error with precisely those Muslims who are looking to the West for help, by suppressing them, failing to give them safe refuge or ignoring their pleas for help in fighting back against Islamist (or other forms of) oppression. Western leaders need to learn that secular democrats who happen to be Muslim are vital in the war against Islamism. There’s no difference between Obama and Trump on this, albeit for different reasons.

That’s one of the reasons why I see the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations as little different to the handover from Bill Clinton to George W Bush. During the 2000 election campaign Bush had criticised Clinton, and by connection Al Gore, for being too interventionist: “If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I’m going to prevent that.” This is precisely the objection Trump raised against Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy plans. And while Bill Clinton did intervene on occasion his failure to effectively deal with Islamism would prove to have devastating consequences. After an equally controversial election, demonstrations accompanied the 2001 inauguration, as there will be for Trump’s, and Bush also started his presidency by pushing through tax cuts and controversial environmental initiatives that some saw as being driven by his links to big business. If you set aside Donald Trump’s talent for courting publicity through manipulating media controversy, then there is little to separate him from the 2001 pre-9/11 version of George W Bush.

The Labour Party, in the manner of someone who hasn’t had a hangover for a while and is sat in the pub drinking like there’s no tomorrow, has forgotten just how electorally damaging left wing ideology is in this country. The British far left always turn to the comfort of religious scripture, interpreted for today’s world by the next round of Marxist prophets, and cast judgement upon those made impure by having to make real decisions that matter. That’s why their greenest bile is reserved for Labour governments. We should be thankful of the greatest check against extremism that this country possesses – the British electorate. The current leadership of the Labour Party are there simply because not many people are members of a political party and all of the far left wing ones have joined Labour. It’s no more complicated than that, and it has no meaning to anybody who is not a member of the Labour Party. It is only once the electorate start to hear what Labour now offers that the true horror of what has happened to the party dawns upon the general population. Lost deposits in by elections are not freak results, they are what happens when Corbyn’s version of the Labour Party meets the real world.

Voting in the EU referendum saw people across the UK discard their party political home and vote according to their instinctive sense of what the EU represented to them. None of the major political parties, not even the SNP, were able to deliver “their” voters to support their preferred outcome so it is understandable but incorrect to regard the outcome as a rejection of traditional politics. That the country should be split on their view, and most didn’t even have a view, of an organisation that none of the major political parties particularly liked to talk about surely shouldn’t be a surprise. The EU has been variously painted as a bogeyman or a sugar daddy, punishing small businesses with red tape that Whitehall would never impose, or protecting workers with legislation that Westminster would never have allowed. Neither is true but both are believed with equal religiosity by their proponents. In the end the electorate were forced to rely upon a personal interpretation of a binary question about what an unknown future held and yet people have the nerve to tell those who voted the other way that they were wrong to do so.

That’s why I think 2016 was no different to any other year. There was no populist revolt, no death of liberalism, and no rejection of elites. Trump is no more a fascist than Obama is a communist. Corbyn is less a threat to the establishment than he is a part of the establishment. Brexit was a consequence of slightly more people guessing that Leave was a better option than Remain. 2017 is more like 2001, with a two-term Democrat handing over to a Republican widely ridiculed by the left, a UK government untroubled by an incompetent and ideologically unpopular opposition, and our relationship with Europe still a mystery to pretty much everyone. So perhaps in a couple of years someone will come along who will make me a joiner again. They need not rush.

We are our choices

By Jake Wilde

Some of the choices that we are required to make in our lives are deeply important and the decision making that surrounds these significant choices is generally, and often rightly, a source of debate, argument, fractiousness and angst. Whether that choice is about Britain’s membership of the European Union or the direction of your own life then the impact of such a decision always falls upon more than just you alone.

Similarly whether the choice is who the leader of the Labour Party should be or, as will be required of 150 million Americans in a few days, who will be the most powerful person on the planet, these are real choices that affect the lives of millions of other people.

What interests me is the response to such a choice once it has been made. I’ll use the examples of the EU referendum and Labour leadership election, both of which have produced outcomes I personally didn’t want.

In the case of the vote to leave the EU there are those who wish the referendum to be re-run. Others genuinely want to ignore the result, and more still are trying to impart a layer of meaning not contained on the ballot paper, such as that it somehow excluded the principle of freedom of movement.

Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader, a year after being first elected, illustrates the folly of this thinking. One of the principal objections from Corbyn supporters to the 2016 election was that it was inherently undemocratic to even hold it. That to ask the same question a year after first asking it, and expecting a different outcome, was disrespectful to both the people who voted in 2015 but also to the underlying principles of democracy.

I think they had a point. If you make what you know is a significant decision then you are entitled to have that choice respected unless there’s a clear and demonstrable change of circumstances. The suggestion that people who voted to leave the EU, or for Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t know what they were doing, or were ‘mistaken’, has no place in democratic discourse. That extends to those who will vote for Donald Trump on 8 November. These are choices that people make, and they have weighed them in just the same way as those who choose differently.

We all know that a key part of any vibrant and successful democracy is the continuation of debate and discussion. But this must manifest itself in the form of finding new questions to ask, of accepting the decision that has been made and looking at how to move that debate, that discussion on. Otherwise you risk being no better than the rape apologists of the SWP, on the streets objecting to the outcome of free and fair parliamentary elections.

Here both the Remainers and the anti-Corbyners share a common problem. Both are stuck in wanting to replay the question until the ‘correct’ answer is given. In the case of Brexit the debate needs to quickly shift to how we mitigate the economic impact of ceasing to be a member of the EU, rather than in finding ways to pretend it’s not going to happen.

Similarly the anti-Corbyners need to be contemplating how to mitigate the worst effects of the Labour Party being led by Corbyn into a general election, and preparing for the inevitably much-changed environment on 8 May 2020.

The reason for this is because it is impossible for either the Remainers or the anti-Corbyners to persuade anybody beyond themselves of the merit of their arguments if they don’t accept the outcome of the original decisions. So in much the same way as Corbynistas are rightly ridiculed for not wishing to attract a single ‘Tory vote’ it is unsustainable for Remainers not to attempt to appeal to those who voted for Brexit.

Similarly those who support Corbyn do so for, from their perspective, good reasons. It’s doubtful that these include clear or firm policies other than being opposed to Trident and austerity so most who support Corbyn do so because he is their choice as a leader, albeit an unlikely (possibly accidental) one. So the uncomfortable truth is that the only way to counteract this is with an alternative leader. We all know that the reason for Labour’s success in the 90s was Tony Blair, not Blairism. We ought to admit that and set about finding the next one.

Here’s where there is a convergence between the two issues. The approach from the current Labour leadership is already clear; they will just regurgitate the Lexit arguments they secretly wanted to make during the referendum. This won’t help anyone, and it will have no impact upon the national discourse about the terms of Brexit. But there is room for an opposition politician to marshal the Remainers and make strong arguments that reach across the majority of voters who were not dogmatically fixed to a firmly held view: to find a Brexit to please Remainers.

It’s wrong to ask a question over and over because we don’t like the answer that we get, but more importantly it doesn’t address the world as it is, changed by the choice that people have made. We cannot avoid the consequences of significant choices and whether we agree with the outcome or not is, ultimately, irrelevant. Instead we must adapt to the new reality that exists, discover the next significant choice that must be made, and prepare for that. Because there is always a next one.

I, Max Dunbar

Max Dunbar

idanielblake-jpgHere’s a question I’ve been pondering. Can you review a film you’ve never seen? Also: can you review a review of a film you’ve never seen? This is what I’m wondering as I read reviews of I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s film about people on benefits. Liberals tend to like the movie. Or I think they like it. Lynn Enright, for the Pool, writes that, ‘My whole face was wet with crying. I tried to be discreet, but my body was shuddering as sobs clattered through it. I allowed the film to simply do its work on me, reducing me to tears, stoking a great sadness and sense of naïve uselessness.’ Jack Monroe, in the Guardian, had a similar reaction: ‘The woman beside me, a stranger, squeezed my forearm as I choked on guttural, involuntary sobs. I’m sorry, I whispered, sloping out to punch a wall in the…

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The Butchers Bill (of words)

By George Carter

This is a cross-post from the author’s own blog, reproduced with kind permission.

There’s always some trepidation that comes with writing an essay on language. There is an immediate expectation on the part of the reader for their correspondent to be, if not highfalutin then at least competent. My aim is not to produce a grammatical masterpiece, although I attempt, of course to uphold standards. My purpose runs deeper than that, to consider the debasement of the intrinsic value of words. Namely, their meaning.

I’m not the first to point out our descent in to meaninglessness. Our adoption of gibberish and jargon into the lexicon has been a constant source of antagonism since the Norman Conquest. It was brought to its near apogee in the era of George Orwell and the great man, in his — and here I daresay he would throttle me — immortal essay ‘Politics and the English Language’, duly eviscerates it. Note this extract from Professor Lancelot Hogben:

Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collactions of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Orwell’s criticism “quite apart from avoidable ugliness” was that sentences and paragraphs so constructed fall afoul of the greatest crime of language, that of a “staleness of imagery”. This leads — so he believed and I concur — to a “lack of precision” where “the writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not”.

This literary trap no doubt still captures many amongst our lettered classes, but our current problem is far more severe. We have the destroyed the meaning of words altogether. Take awesome, adj; causing feelings of great admiration, respect, or fear. And my own note for emphasis; Awe-some, to feel in awe. Awe was reserved for moments of transcendence, of divine inspiration, a word denoting our connection with the numinous infinity of our being. Now you can walk down any street of the cultural metropolis of London and have awesome being used to describe such trivialities as a new pair of Nike high tops, or Rhianna’s latest chart hit.

It is true that words naturally change meaning over time, ‘optimism’ has cheerfully made its way from Voltaire’s original and ‘need’ these days more often denotes want. People have always abused, evolved, and divined new meaning from words and this isn’t a call for the strictures of an Academie Anglais. Not only do I think it would be a futile endeavour, I can’t help but think our language would be poorer for it, after all Moliere, for all his eclat is not Shakespeare. It is however a call to reverse our trend of linguistic nihilism. The butchers bill is much longer than awesome. Outraged, appalled, shocked, disgusted, all and more have lost their ability to apply real meaning in their use. This is a tragedy. A tragedy that prevents us from plumbing the full depths of the human condition. Harvard linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker describes language as a window into human nature. As that window becomes narrower our rich, inner world becomes that much poorer. The 21st century with its trigger warnings and safe spaces is eating at our ability to feel alive in all its beauty. So much so that when we feel afraid — as is natural in a species still to lose its fear of the night — we can find solace in the words that allow us to express our condition to our fellow travellers. In so doing we can attain what little comfort and grace is due to us in the time we have on this strange journey of life.

No wonder the extent of our vocabulary is linked to everything from educational attainment and social standing, through to cognitive development and your chances of suffering from depression. Our ability to explain our inner world and to open the window that allows us to express this onto the world of things is ultimately limited by our ability to effectively communicate that world in words. Is it any surprise that we have generations failing to achieve any sort of attainment in any field of value. Generations hooked on vacuous ‘reality’ television and alarmingly adulterated narcotics. No wonder we see people falling under the thrall of false prophets, Donald Trump is just the logical outcome of this destruction of any ability to explain. An absurdity wholly appropriate to absurd times. In a world where at the click of a button people can meet anyone else in the world but lack the words to say anything meaningful to them. A world where a post on a virtual wall is a substitute for in person greetings and texting has replaced the art of the heartfelt letter between lovers. Contrast Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Christmas love letter to Nancy where he describes the women in his life and ends “fortunately all these women are you — fortunately for me that is, for there could be no life for me without you… How do I love thee — let me count the ways? For there is no way to count. For I love the whole gang of you” reduced in modern vernacular to “u r fit”, or else equally banal.

The apoplexy of the Bernie people to Trumps victory is the other side of the same coin. Call everyone a racist and you remove the meaning of the word. No longer is it the stupidity of Jim Crow or the bravery of Dr King, let alone the insanity of Mengler and the horrors of Auschwitz. Treblinka. Belzec. Sobibor. Chelmno. Majdanek. I feel impelled to list them all. To impregnate some meaning into what they represent. When we destroy them, words become useless at denoting anything in reality. Only 54% of the world’s population has heard of the Holocaust. What does it do when two-thirds either don’t believe it or think it’s exaggerated? If genocide has lost all meaning what does that brood for future generations?

In Jean Hatzfeld’s painfully documented narrative driven from the side of the genocidaires in Rwanda, the killers are acutely aware of the power of words refusing to even mention genocide when spoken to in the French informal personal ’tu’ and only opening up in the broader more formal ‘vous’ even then preferring instead to refer to it as ‘the cuttings’ in the full knowledge of the shame of what genocide means in relation to their crimes. We risk much in the debasement of the language, as much in our shame as in our triumphs. It is through, and only through language, that we can comprehend. And in comprehending come to terms with, what Rilke so beautifully illumed as “that unique, not repeatable being which at every turn of our life we are”.

Just Beyond Ludicrous

Our own David Paxton on why the “efforts to deal with Labour’s antisemitism problem are going nowhere fast.”

David Paxton

In Labour’s antisemitism debacle, the Guardian’s Owen Jones is above reproach. He is above reproach because he has written articles explaining that antisemitism is bad and that it must be confronted. He has also written one explaining that the Holocaust was bad. What more could he do?

Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn has also said that antisemitism, and all forms of racism, are bad. His mother was at Cable Street so how can he be criticised for supporting and befriending unabashed Jew-haters? He then is also above reproach.

In his piece from March, Jones called for a commission on antisemitism and, because balance or something, one on Islamophobia too. He suggested these should be chaired by a Jew and a Muslim respectively.

Corbyn eventually called for an inquiry, it wasn’t to be chaired by a Jew but so what, it was to be chaired by Shami Chakrabarti. She is above reproach because she is Shami Chakrabarti. Or as she is…

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