Petitions, Petitioners And Petitioning

If you’re a regular user of social media, the chances are you’ve seen loads of petitions.  Maybe you’ve signed a few of them yourself. You can’t escape the fucking things. Signing petitions can, at times, seem like either a pointless chore or become a full-time job.  There are so many damned petitions.  But there are petitions that are perfectly reasonable and worth signing, and there are petitions that are, well, so utterly stupid that you have to question the intelligence and the motivation of the petitioner.

A few useless petitions have caught The Cat’s eye for their sheer stupidity, but the most prominent ones are those that express ignorance of how parliament works. Take for example the petition that was addressed to the Queen, and which asks her to demand a vote of no confidence in the government. Yes, I know it’s laughable.

First, the Queen doesn’t intervene in such matters, for to do so would break with the centuries old tradition of parliamentary sovereignty.  It’s all there in the the constitution.  Yes, that’s the supposedly unwritten constitution that has its origins in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 (it was a palace coup for crying out loud) and the Bill of Rights (1689).  Second, censure motions can only be instigated by opposition parties and for such a motion to succeed, the party drafting the motion needs to ensure there are numbers in its favour. This is currently not the case.

The government presently has a working majority of 16 – excluding the Speaker, who exercises a casting vote in the event of a tie. The Democratic Unionists, Ulster Unionists, Sylvia Hermon (independent Unionist) and maybe the Blairites, would be most likely to vote with the government.  So a no confidence motion has been defeated even before it can get off the ground.

“Ah, but it’s showing them our discontent” I hear you protest. Well, so what? They know we’re not happy with them but this exercise is futile. Your time would be better spent doing something else.

So what are your options?

Well, you can write to the Prime Minister directly but that’s not going to get anywhere either.  In the unlikely event that she, herself, replied to you, what would she say? “Dear [insert name] The government is committed to enriching our class and we don’t give a shit what you think?”. No, they’re going to tell you how great they are and will blind you with cherry-picked statistics and sophisms.

You could write to the leaders of the opposition party. Again, good luck with that one. How about writing to your MP?  Nope – especially if your MP is in the governing party. So what can you do? Well, you could go on marches and attend rallies or you could take direct action instead.  You could join a political party or become a community activist too. There are plenty of campaigns to join.

Petitions of the kind I mentioned are really nothing more than a form of carnivalesque, which allow the signatories a fleeting moment of imaginary power. Yeah! I really stuck one to the man, man! I signed a petition!

The announcement of the forthcoming state visit of Donald Trump to Britain spurred the creation of two petitions. One was opposed to the visit and the other was in support of it. It’s the one in support of Trump’s visit that’s been created, not for any genuinely noble or sensible reasons but, instead, as a misguided metric of his popularity among the so-called ‘alt-right’.

If the petition in favour is a gauge of Trump’s popularity, then the opposing petition trounces it several times over. At the time of writing, the petition against stood at 1.8 million people as opposed to the petition for, which stands at a mere 300, 000 and has been rejected. It was never going to attract more than a few thousand.

The petition against Trump’s visit was always going to be more popular and because of that, it will be debated in parliament. The creators of the pro petition needn’t have bothered. The matter was always going to be debated without it. Surely that was the point all along? to have the matter debated? Apparently not, if you’re in support of Trump’s visit.

Are petitions any use? Of course they are, but on their own, they’re of limited value. Just remember, it helps to know what you’re signing and why. It’s also a good idea to read up on how parliament works before signing some stupid petition demanding a vote of no confidence in the government.

 

 

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Why Do Some People Have A Problem With Protest?

To hear establishment figures talk, you’d think that protests were pointless and those who do it are equally pointless. Furthermore, listening to the same people, you’d also be forgiven for thinking that the only people that protest are students. This, of course, isn’t true but it reveals something about the mental workings of the complainants: they despise learning and erudition and see students, along with the unemployed as feckless and indolent.  Indeed, this is a commonly-held view on the British political right and some in the Labour Party. Protesting is seen as an activity limited to lazy students, who should be in lectures instead of on the streets.

Years of tabloid anti-student ridicule has fixed these tropes firmly in the minds of Britain’s reactionaries, who see universities, not as places in which long-held assumptions are challenged but places of left-wing (sic) indoctrination. Let’s leave aside those views and tropes for now and concentrate instead on protests and those who view them as useless.

One of the complaints made about Jeremy Corbyn since he became leader of the Labour Party was that he would turn the party into a ‘party of protests’. This claim rested on the assumption that because Corbyn frequently appeared at rallies and demonstrations, that the party will spend much of its time waving placards instead of involving itself in the serious business of ‘yah boo sucks’ parliamentary politics of which the Tories have excelled themselves for many years. In this case, the word ‘protest’ is deployed as an insult, because we all know Westminster politics is where the action is. Right?

Today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, is a case in point: Theresa May replied to one of Corbyn’s questions with “I lead a party of government, unlike the gentleman opposite, who leads protests” (I’ve paraphrased this). It was meant to be a snappy comeback, but it struck me as petty and ridiculous.  It also revealed the narrow-mindedness of those who see protest a useless.  Governments and certain politicians may frequently trumpet their absurd democratic credentials, but they loathe protests and see them, wrongly, as anti-democratic.

It is likely that those who despise and ridicule protests have never had to protest in their lives. Why? Because not only are they tied to the establishment, they are also comfortable. They have been encouraged to see politics as something reserved only for professionals, who are drawn from the ‘correct’ class. In other words, those people who see themselves as a our ‘betters’.  Tories rarely, if ever, protest and when they do, it usually results in a total washout.

Protests have affected change in Britain and this cannot be denied or elided with glib questions like “since when did protests achieve anything” or the blanket dismissals of professional politicians.  Protests have achieved a great deal throughout history. If it were not for protests, women would not have been given the vote. If not for the Chartists’ many protests, the vote would not have been extended to all men.  The many Poll Tax protests, which culminated in the riot of May 1990, resulted in the end of that hated tax. These are only a few examples of successful protests.

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the first party leader to appear on the platform at protests. The former Liberal Democrat leader, the late Charles Kennedy, was a frequent speaker at anti-war protests as was former SNP leader, Alex Salmond.  So when the likes of Theresa May or the legions of right-wing commenters in the ‘below the line’ threads on newspaper websites ridicule Corbyn for appearing at demonstrations, remember this: these people aren’t democrats and have a limited understanding of politics generally. They have neither the gumption nor the passion to take to the streets themselves and are only capable of carping from the sidelines. Remember also that protesting is a legitimate form of political activity, whatever the Tory tabloids and their representatives in Parliament tell you.

 

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The Crazy Upside Down World Of Helen Lewis

Helen Lewis is the deputy editor of the notionally left-wing journal The New Statesman.  Her views on Jeremy Corbyn are well known and she’s a regular on the BBC’s Sunday Politics.  Today, while Harriet Harman, Labour’s former interim leader appeared on the Andrew Marr Show, she issued this Tweet to her followers.

Come again? Harriet Harman did what?  Lewis has got this arse about face. Harman has stood up for the establishment, not “stood up against it” as she claims.  Indeed, she even ordered Labour MPs to vote for the government’s damaging Welfare Bill.  Weeks later, Harman changed her mind and told Southwark News that she’d “oppose it” – that’s after she ordered Labour MPs to vote for it.  And she’s thought of as leadership material?

In the last few weeks, the media has paraded a series of Orwellian neologisms like “post truth politics” before us.  Can we therefore regard Lewis’s Tweet as “post-reality”?  Let’s remember that Lewis herself comes from a privileged background and is, for all intents and purposes, like Harman, a member of the establishment.  So it’s unlikely that she possesses the ability to identify anti-establishmentarianism and is more likely to characterize it as something else.

Later on, and perhaps spurred on by the appearance of Harman,  Lewis went a little further and began banging the drum for Corbyn to quit.

So what was the reason for this?  Corbyn has ordered a three-line whip on the vote for Article 50, which triggers the Brexit process.  What hacks like Lewis and her colleagues in the anti-Corbyn media fail to understand (frankly odd for a political journalist) is that Article 50 is merely a Parliamentary mechanism.  The actual debate on the precise nature of Brexit takes place later.  Instead, the mass media has been misleading the public with the notion that Article 50 is the final stage in the process, thus they rely on the general public’s ignorance of Parliamentary procedures.  This is the same ignorance that was exploited during the referendum campaign itself.  It’s yet the latest stage in an ongoing attempt to remove Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, and the likes of Lewis won’t rest until they see someone picked by them in the role.  That, friends, is not only contempt for the democratic process that elected Corbyn, but it is also contempt for ordinary party members.

Fake news?  You’ll get loads of it from Lewis and her fellow hacks.

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Tory Election Fraud: The Clock Is Ticking.

The Cat wonders what’s happening with the investigation into the Tory Party’s fraudulent activities that took place during the 2015 General Election.  It seems to have gone rather quiet, save for the occasional appearance of the hashtag #ToryElectionFraud on Twitter.  Even Channel 4, which has been running with the story has been noticeably quiet recently.  The last entry on their website was back in November 2016 when it announced that the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, had been drawn into the controversy.  So, what’s going on? It’s anyone’s guess.  The Cat suspects that the Tories will do all they can to obstruct and delay the investigation, meaning that the police forces involved could run out of time.

Prior to the General Election, The Cat was convinced that the only way David Cameron’s deeply unpopular Nouveau Tories could win was to cheat.  They did this in two ways: they under-claimed on their expenses and they scrubbed voters from the electoral registers.  In addition to this, they began the process of gerrymandering constituency boundaries, which they claimed was done out of ‘fairness’ and to supposedly eliminate safe seats.  What wasn’t explained was how the ‘safe seats’ they identified were mainly Labour seats in urban areas. Tory safe seats, such as those occupied by the likes of Matthew Hancock, would remain safe.

Interestingly, the Electoral Commission, the ostensibly  neutral body that redraws electoral boundaries, withdrew its investigation into the Tories last July.  The reason it offered was contained in this paragraph:

The Electoral Commission has today (15 July) announced that as part of its investigation into the Conservative and Unionist Party campaign spending returns it launched on 18 February 2016, it has withdrawn its application to the High Court for an information and document disclosure order. This means that there will be no hearing regarding the order. The Commission has made this decision because since issuing its application to the High Court on 12 May, it has received sufficient  material from the Party to proceed with its investigation.

This means that over 20 police forces up and down the country are now solely responsible for investigating the claims. Many constabularies were granted extra time to conduct their investigations but time is running out.

The Conservatives have already tried twice to stymie the investigation.  Once when Craig Mackinlay, the MP for Thanet South attempted to block it in the courts and again, when they dragged their heels when they were asked to submit  important documents.

The clock is still ticking.

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How Polling Works

Following on from my critique of polls and polling companies, I have produced this flow chart that explains how opinion polling works.  Polls don’t exist to measure public opinion, they exist to shape it.  The media and the polling companies enjoy a symbiotic relationship in which each sustains the other.  One supplies a narrative and the other responds by producing a poll to support that narrative.  The media company then produces a story that reinforces the initial narrative,  which uses the poll as ‘evidence’.  You may need to click on the image to view it properly.

how-polls-workEven when polls are patently nonsensical or illogical,  their ‘findings’ are lauded by commentators and their followers, who cite them as evidence to support one narrative or another.  One such poll is the recent ComRes poll , which claimed that “most people” think the Tories would do a better job at running the National Health Service this winter than Labour.  The same poll also claimed that “most people” thought the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was doing a “poor job”.  Make of that what you will.  In any case, the media’s commentators seized on it and cherry-picked its ‘findings’.  The negative narratives that had already been produced to put the Labour Party in a bad light were thus reinforced by this shoddy poll.

Wash, rinse and repeat: that’s how the process works.

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Mein Drumpf

drumpf

The man, the hand gestures.

In a little under a week’s time, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. The property tycoon, reality show host and serial bankrupt (yes) will lead one of the largest and most sophisticated war machines on the planet.  Much has been made of Trump’s lack of a political hinterland by the media.  Indeed, he has no experience of political office and this supposed outsider status, claim his supporters, is what makes him so appealing.   “He’ll shake up the establishment” say his supporters.  Yeah, I guess he will but not in the way you think.

Even Warren G. Harding, to whom I have often compared Trump, had political experience as the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio and as senator for the same state.  Like Trump, his cabinet was stuffed with millionaires.  Yet, even Harding described himself as “unfit for office”, something that Trump is unlikely to do, such is the size of his ego and evident lack of self-awareness.  Harding’s presidency was dogged by scandals and he died in office.  I’ll just leave that there.

Trump has dodged questions about his fitness for office by attacking his opponents.  This is the classic tactic of deflection but it also signals his inability to accept responsibility for his actions and, moreover, the words that come from his mouth.  I know it’s unfair and unreasonable for a lay person like myself to make a remote psychological diagnosis based on a handful of signifiers, but Trump is a rampant narcissist.

On the question of whether or not he’s racist?  Well, Trump has consistently denied it, yet he’s been busily appointing racists to his cabinet and his White House staff.   This appears to encapsulate the contradictory nature of the man himself: he will say one thing and do the complete opposite.  What cannot be denied is the way in which America’s racists, xenophobes and Nazis have been emboldened by Trump’s victory.  His supporters may shrug, roll their eyes and claim “a few Nazis marching doesn’t mean anything” but I don’t recall the same thing happening when Reagan or the Bushes won the presidency. Do you?

Trump’s campaign slogan was the simplistic: “Make America Great Again”. This kind of slogan is reminiscent of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s rhetoric and suggested a return to a mythical past.  During the bruising election campaign, Trump had been compared to both dictators by many commentators.  The Cat once thought a closer comparison could be made to Louis-Napoleon, the future Napoleon III, who spent a great deal of time and effort attracting the votes of the poor.  But that’s where any resemblance ends.   Unlike Louis-Napoleon, Trump has not written a treatise on the elimination of poverty (Trump doesn’t even read books).  In fact, he hasn’t mentioned the issue of poverty at all,  preferring instead to charm the impoverished with magick slogans and by blaming Muslims,  immigrants and foreigners for for their social condition.  One more thing: Napoleon III was a soldier.  Trump dodged the draft.

Trump’s ploy was thus cynical and calculating.  He appealed to the reactionary instincts of many working class whites by pressing their buttons and schmoozing them, while at the same time making moves to consolidate and extend the power of America’s filthy rich – all of which he did in plain sight.  Time will tell if Trump will morph into a latter day Napoleon III, but to do this, he will need to use executive powers to declare a state of emergency and stage a coup against himself as Louis-Napoleon did in 1851.  Let’s hope that idea never pops into his head.

So is Trump a fascist? Fascism in the early 21st centuries doesn’t wear uniforms and smash up printing presses as Mussolini’s Blackshirts had done in the 1920s.  These Third Position fascists have appropriated the language of the Left and consciously adopted a victim mentality.  Their anti-intellectual thinkers (sic) have concocted conspiracy theories, like the Frankfurt School/Cultural Marxism smear, and barely concealed their racism behind the language of classical liberalism.  19th century Liberals like Lord John Russell were quite content to see the Irish starve to death during The Famine, because they saw themselves as superior specimens of humanity.  They were committed social Darwinists.  The fascist is also a social Darwinist at heart.

The so-called ‘alt-right’ are, to be sure, fascists in all but name.  They are mostly male and mainly white.  They think feminism is a ‘cancer’ and loathe equal rights for minority groups.  They bang the drum for nationalism and glorify the military. They also follow Trump.  No doubt some of them may even call themselves ‘libertarians’.  Their freedom is a checklist of textbook freedoms for their fellows.  Third Positionist parties will often use the word ‘freedom’ to deflect attention from their patent opposition to the freedoms of Others .  We can see this in the name of the now defunct British Freedom Party and others on the continent that purport to be the ‘guardians’ of freedom.

Third Positionists have also taken advantage of the confusion generated by mainstream politicians, who have provided them with ideal conditions in which to propagate.  Indeed, the triangulationism of Tony Blair’s Third Way and the nouveau Conservatism of David Cameron, which sought to ape it, must take some responsibility for the rise of far-right in Britain.  One failed to meet dog-whistle racism head on and the other actively employed it.  Both of them were obsessed with superficialities and refused to address real structural problems, and politicians from each party continue to foster division and hatred through their appropriation of the far-right’s rhetoric on immigration.  The extreme centre is no place to be at a time like this!

Trump may have cast himself as an outsider and self-styled opponent on the ‘elite’ but he is one of the elites.  He didn’t start in business by saving up quarters that he earned through bagging groceries at Walmart.  He went to expensive educational institutions and his daddy handed him a few million to get the ball rolling.  Trump is a corporatist and corporatism is central to fascist economic thinking.  Fascism is nothing more than the marriage between the state and corporate power. It only sees the working class as drones, breeding machines or as ‘boots on the ground’.

The overall political, cultural and social orientation of Trump’s administration does not bode well for the working class white people who voted for him, because it is they who will be shafted;  sacrificed on the altar of corporatism. But would Hilary Clinton be any better?  No.  What America really needed was Bernie Sanders and he was stitched up by the Democratic Party establishment.  Now we have a reality TV star and property tycoon as President.  Just think, over 30 years ago a reactionary former actor and state governor became POTUS and some people thought he was ‘great’.

 

 

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The Passion Of Tristram Hunt

So he’s gone. Tristram Julian William Hunt, the MP for his own ego Stoke Central, has resigned his Commons seat.  The passionate Blairite, who crossed an official picket line to deliver a lecture on Friedrich Engels, has left so-called ‘frontline politics’ to become Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It’s a job that pays handsomely too.  How could he pass it up?  Curiously, however, I don’t recall seeing it being advertised in the usual papers or on the artsjobsonline website.  Nevertheless, the Prime Minister herself is said to have “rubber stamped” it.  I guess it helps to have friends in high places to make a little room for you at the top.  No?

Tristy succeeded the previous MP, Mark Fisher,  in controversial circumstances in 2010.  I say “controversial” because he was actually forced down the local party’s throat by the National Executive Committee (it’s also rumoured that the Dark Lord himself intervened on his behalf).  One local Labour member was so incensed that he stood against him as an Independent.  That’s how the Blair-led party operated back then: they pushed right-wingers, some of them Tory defectors, onto Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) as Parliamentary candidates.  They’ll take anyone but socialists.   They even accept former UKIP Parliamentary candidates.

Hunt’s resignation follows on from the Christmas Eve resignation of Jamie Reed, the MP for the nuclear power industry.  Indeed, one could suggest that Reed has ‘returned to the source’, having worked for British Nuclear Fuels at their Sellafield facility before entering Parliament.  The Cat thinks his role at Sellafield will include convincing people that nuclear waste can transform ordinary members of the public into superheroes, meaning everyone can become the equivalent of The Hulk (She Hulk if you’re female) or maybe The Leader if they so choose.  Marvellous.

Tristy claimed that being in Parliament was “rewarding but deeply frustrating”.  I guess it must have been frustrating to see your ambitions as one of many Blair’s successors slip around the U-bend.  But that’s politics.  Right?

Since Jeremy Corbyn became party leader, poor Tristy felt he had to wear his Blairism like a crown of thorns.  Not only did he cross an official University and College Union picket line at Queen Mary University (some historian, huh?),  he believes that museums like the V&A should reintroduce charging visitors. Eh?  But he’s taking a job as a…  never mind.

In an impassioned address to the Cambridge University Labour Club, he said:

“You are the top one per cent. The Labour Party is in the shit. It is your job and your responsibility to take leadership going forward.”

He’s a proper little social Darwinist, isn’t he?

Tristram Hunt: he died for his party’s sins.  Said no one.  Ever.

UKIP thinks it has a chance of winning the Stoke Central seat, but The Cat thinks they’re huffing and puffing.  If the Constituency Labour Party gets its act together and selects a socialist candidate, there’s no reason why they can’t win this seat.

 

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