Category Archives: Government & politics

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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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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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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Let’s Talk About: Philip Davies And, Er, Equality?

We’ve had moments like these before, dear reader.  You know the ones. Like the time when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,  prompting Tom Lehrer to wryly declare satire “obsolete”?  Well, today is one of those of days.  Now take a deep breath.  Are you ready? Philip ‘Dismal’ Davies, the Tory member for Shipley and flatmate of Esther McVey, has been elected unopposed (sic) to the Commons  Committee on Women and Equality.  No, you didn’t misread that. A man who is opposed to equality has been elected unopposed (sic) to a committee on equality.  Is that a postmodern turn or what?

So who is Philip Davies? Well, he’s on the  hard right of the Conservative Party but he’d call himself a ‘libertarian’.  He’s one of those libertarians who denies freedom to others.  A lot of them do it.   Since entering the Commons in 2005, Dismal Davies has  made it his mission to support the interests of the powerful over the weak.  In fact, when it comes to those most in need, you’ll always find Dismal in the Commons filibustering a bill that’s designed to protect them.

As a defender of personal freedoms (freedom from poverty or disease excepted), Dismal was once the Parliamentary spokesman for the equally dismal, but now thankfully defunct, Campaign Against Political Correctness. In this role, he bombarded the Equality and Human Rights Commission with a series of trolling letters asking silly questions on topics like blacking up (sic). The Guardian reported:

Davies regularly addresses Phillips as Sir Trevor, leading the EHRC chair to eventually add a handwritten note to one reply: “Thank you for the ‘knighthood’ but HM has – probably rightly – never extended that honour to me!!”

With an obvious track record in attacking feminism and spitting in the faces of the disadvantaged, The Cat wonders how Dismal’s presence on the committee can be anything but disruptive.  More importantly, how was he elected unopposed in the first place?  That says a lot about our democracy.  Doesn’t it?

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The Casey Review: Not Worth The Paper It’s Printed On

Yesterday saw the release of the Casey Review into integration. Commissioned by the Cameron government, its stated intention was to review social integration in Britain.  However, it merely added to the already poisonous anti-Muslim narrative, which is tirelessly promoted by the likes of The S*n, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. Was the report properly researched? No.

Let’s start with the most obvious question: who is Louise Casey?  As this Guardian article from 2002 notes, there is very little biographical information available. No details of the schools she attended or whether or not she’s attended and institution of higher or even further education.  Even her Wikipedia entry provides scant details save for her career highlights.  This has got The Cat scratching his head: how and why did she manage to get into a position where she was permitted to produce government reports?  In the words of Toyah Wilcox: it’s a mystery.

Casey apparently had a turbulent childhood and once considered sleeping rough. She then worked at a holiday camp. That was followed by a spell in the old Department of Social Security where she handled payments for homeless people. From there her trajectory took her to St Mungo’s and a number of other charities. It was from her last job at Shelter that she was plucked from her relative obscurity to lead Tony Blair’s Respect Task Force. Yet, at no point does Casey appear to have studied a social sciences subject either at school or at tertiary level, nor does she appear to have any experience of peer-reviewed research. Yet, the mass media accepted her review without asking pertinent questions about its validity.  Yesterday’s Guardian, for example, was one such newspaper that accepted its ‘findings’ prima facie. As I write this, there is a Commons debate on the Casey Review taking place. Even here, the review is uncritically accepted as ‘evidence’ of “segregated neighbourhoods”.  One glaring aspect of the Casey Review is its obsessive focus on Muslims.  Indeed, it merely repeats the same kinds of narratives that can be found in any Tory-leaning newspaper on any given day of the week.

At no point in the Casey Review is there any mention of how the research, if it exists, was conducted.  There is no mention of methodologies used nor is there any mention of references. This begs the question: how can this review be accepted as the basis for future policy making when it is clearly nothing less than a flagrant example of a confirmation bias? In academia, steps are taken to produce research that is valid. This means that the research must first, be peer-reviewed and second, the researcher must act self-reflexively. Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant (1992) were insistent on the need for researchers to analyse their social and professional positions when conducting research, since objectivity is research or journalism, for that matter, is a chimera.  Yet such things are of no importance to ideologues, MPs and tabloid newspapers, who will seize upon any passing ‘report’ as a confirmation of their deeply held biases. They will, however deny any accusations of bias with the weasel words to which we have become so accustomed to hearing.

Casey herself, far from being a researcher, is a civil servant; a role that she found herself in thanks to the grace of Tony Blair.  Legitimacy has thus been bestowed on her by the consecrating authorities of the government, Parliament and the mass media (Bourdieu, 2003).  Her title of ‘Dame’ also lends an added degree of legitimacy, thus in the eyes of journalists she’s some kind of authority in some field or other.

Casey is by no means unique in producing reports that have little basis in actual research.  As I reported in 2011, Localis, a think-tank with connections to Policy Exchange, produced a report titled ‘Principles for Social Housing Reform‘.  Rather than propose useful solutions to the housing crisis, it reflected the class disgust of it authors, Stephen Greenhalgh and John JC Moss.  Its epistemological assumption rests on the notion of “broken neighbourhoods” (sic) rather than the real issue like the acute shortage of social housing.  Instead, social housing is seen as an impediment to penny-pinching local authorities and the report wrongly places the blames on social housing for social problems. Unlike the Casey Review, however, it claims to be peer-reviewed with its peers drawn from like-minded Council leaders to the  Chief Executives of housing associations.

Evidence-free reports like the Casey Review rarely ask a research question and tend to be written according to the biases of their authors.  They do not offer genuine solutions to the pressing social and economic problems that face the country and do nothing more than provide further fuel for hatred and division.  Reports and poorly conducted research can either be useless or worse: downright dangerous. In any case, they exist to flatter the tiny minds  of government ministers and their ideological bedfellows. We deserve better than this.

References

Bourdieu, P. (2003). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Harvard University Press.

Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. J. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. University of Chicago press.

 

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We Must Listen To The Will Of The British People!

Since the EU referendum in June, Westminster politicians have been fond of telling us how they “must listen to the will of the British people” with regards to the referendum result. This claim overlooks the fact that Scotland, Northern Ireland and many cities in England voted to remain, and now these parts of the country are being ignored to pander to anti-immigration and anti-European sentiments – all of which have been whipped up by lazy thinking politicians who are interested in nothing less than consolidating and/or extending their power.

But what about those parts of the country that voted to remain? Don’t they matter? Apparently not. 52-48 is not a landslide by anyone’s definition.  Remember when Nigel Farage told everyone that if the result was close in favour of remain, he’d demand a second referendum? Make no mistake, had Remain won by a similar margin, the mass media would have tirelessly promoted his demands for a second referendum. All must prostrate themselves at the feet of The Grand Farage.

What this claim also reveals to us the fact that Westminster politicians suffer from a form of selective hearing loss when it comes to other, more pressing demands from the British people. A properly funded National Health Service, more social housing, proper jobs, decent wages, a progressive tax system, nationalization of the railways and proper functioning public services are all things that the British people want, but to which Westminster routinely turns a deaf ear. Yet, apparently, when it comes to Brexit or ‘pulling up the drawbridge’, these politicians have suddenly regained their hearing. Funny that.

Before the referendum we were told that this was “the most important moment” for the British people.  What? It was more important than people having somewhere clean and decent to live?  Really?

 

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