Democracy is a Fragile Thing

Apologies in advance.

This won’t be a glib column. This column won’t give you a chuckle, a guffaw or even a rye smile. This is a plea for all of us to wake up and smell the rising tide of excrement that will engulf us as we become inured to its stench. Democracy is drowning.

Across the world, the norms and guard rails are falling. Trump and his enablers are permitted and permissioned to lie about the content and conclusions of the Mueller report and defy the constitutional oversight function of Congress. This subversion of democracy is met with a cheer by his supporters and weary resignation by his detractors. In Turkey, Erdogan’s loyalist candidate was defeated in Istanbul’s mayoral election so the result was simply annulled. It may be the last free election the people of Turkey will ever have. Thus, a strongman becomes stronger. And that is just this week.

Across the world, the unscrupulous have noticed that we have hardly noticed.

We in the UK cannot look at such outrages against democracy and feel any smug sense of superiority. It is happening here too. The purveyors of populism- formerly known as mob rule, totalitarianism, juntas etc.- aren’t swanning around Westminster in faux military uniforms or shooting dissenters in the streets (yet) but, we can no longer lull ourselves into thinking that Britain isn’t heading that way.

The institutions we have always trusted to act in the national interest are no longer doing so. They have forgotten that defending truth, the essential ingredient of democracy, is hard. We have allowed truth to become relative and this was how we got Brexit. This is how one of our great political parties became institutionally racist. This is how we’ll follow the same path as the countries we mock and pity.

We have simply stopped demanding truth and, in part, this is because we have forgotten what the word means. The social media marketplace is very busy and those who tweet and retweet the loudest get our attention. Opinion has replaced fact, and pile-ons and outright threats have drowned out those who oppose the voice of the mob. We were so busy lauding free speech that we missed the point when lies became a twisted received wisdom.

Accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party are ‘a smear’ to those who pay no attention to demonstrable evidence. Corbyn’s fanclub can easily dismiss information that doesn’t fit their chosen narrative. The same silos of selective truth have fooled Labour voters into believing that the Party supports both Leave and Remain even though they are diametrically opposed positions. John McDonnell can pose with a beaming smile in front of hammer and sickle flags, with IRA terrorists and apologists for every architect of every failed totalitarian state but a proportion of the faithful will dismiss the evidence of their own eyes. They have wilfully blinded themselves to truth. They will not defend democracy because they are ignorant of history and too willing do enable demagogues.

Sometimes the truth that undergirds democracy is difficult to quantify and this is one of the biggest dangers facing twentieth century politics in a twenty-first century digital age. We cannot put exact numbers to what effect lies have. We can never know for sure how many voted Leave on the basis of Facebook posts financed by shadowy sources and driven by algorithms to hit their targets.  It should frighten every one of us that our government is too terrified to even investigate what was patently election fraud and interference. Leave won with the help of Russian money and troll farms and some are simply parroting the line that democracy must be respected. Yet, it was precisely a digitally driven lack of respect for democracy that they now defend. Our politics is still on a setting that would comprehend ballot stuffing or intimidating voters at the polls but Brexit happened with keyboards. The cyber-manipulators won the Brexit vote and put Trump in office and they will keep doing it. Our current leaders are too cowardly and too craven to admit that they have given in to a geopolitical bully. They will not defend democracy because it is too hard.

Our press should have performed its duty to hold the powerful to account during such a grave national moment but it too has failed. Healthy democracies cannot function without investigators and interrogators and ours did not do its job. Our press has lost the stomach for calling out those who lie. In part, our national temperament of civility is to blame. Lie is an ugly word. Most of our press is still under the assumption that interviewees who are evasive will be perceived to be lying and no further judgement on their part is necessary. Alas, we are in an age of confirmation bias and relative truth. The Brexiteers and their sunny uplands came across as victims of press intimidation to the already credulous. The rest of us were left shouting ‘call them out on their lies’ to no avail. With a few notable exceptions, our broadcasters are duelling with swords against liars with machine guns.

This supine press coverage is also the responsibility of the individuals who make editorial decisions. Public perceptions were formed by those decisions to all of our cost. It may be that the metropolitan bias of some editors compelled them to take their vox pops almost exclusively in working mens’ clubs and market stalls in deprived parts of the country. Angry makes for better television. It was a preemptive response to an accusation of partiality that had not been levelled. That would be a charitable explanation. However, it created a national narrative that discontent was widespread and attributed to the EU while rarely allowing pro-EU voices the same opportunity. The risk in this is that an artificial narrative of ‘the will of the people’ has been created. They will not defend democracy because it is less exciting than the angry mob.

We have arrived at a point where politicians can say with a straight face ‘We had a referendum and that’s it. We won. End of story’. We have laid the groundwork for an inevitable future leader with no respect for norms who can use our unwritten constitution to say ‘We had a general election. We won. End of story.’. Democracy is in peril when politicians make the argument that more democracy is anti-democratic. We are living in Orwellian times when we don’t fight kicking and screaming for untainted campaigns and when our press operates without discrimination in favour of facts- as if all sides of a debate are equal. Democracy is a fragile thing. It is worth defending for our children and their children. And we are failing.

Rebecca Strom Trenner is a writer in the moments when she stops screaming into a pillow in a darkened room.

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Change UK launch campaign as the Remain Alliance

It was great to see so many supporters of ‘Change UK - The Independent Group’ pack the venue as the new party launched their campaign for the European elections in Bristol.

Newly selected MEP candidates travelled far and wide to deliver a loud and clear message that Change UK would support a People’s Vote and campaign to remain and reform the EU. And what a diverse bunch they were too. All driven by the desire to fix Britain’s broken politics, former Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green, and SNP members, activists and candidates - and people who have no political background at all, came together to stand under one banner and represent the party as a clear, unambiguous remain alliance. Good also to see the selection of candidates is gender balanced 50/50 men and women.

But here at Change Politics, we’re especially excited to announce that one of the selected MEP candidates is our very own co-editor Ollie Middleton who is third on the list in the South West. Congratulations Ollie!

We wish all the selected candidates the best of luck as they embark on their campaigns.

Here’s a few highlights from the speeches:

Interim Leader of Change UK – The Independent Group, Heidi Allen MP, said:

“I am very proud to lead this team of candidates. They come from all walks of life and from right across the country: teachers, nurses, carers, ex-members of our Armed Forces, public sector, private sector, people from political backgrounds and people who are new to politics. This is the home of the Remain Alliance.”

Group Spokesperson for Change UK – The Independent Group, Chuka Umunna MP, said:

“If, like us, you love our country and believe the UK is kind-hearted, generous in spirit, and open to new ideas; if you are proud of our history but determined to embrace the future; if you believe that key to those things is working internationally through the EU and with others, keeping our seat at the top table – then sign up to support us, campaign with us and, above all, vote for us in the European elections on 23 May.”

Brexit spokesperson for Change UK – The Independent Group, Anna Soubry MP, said:

“Change UK are proud to say that we are the party of the People’s Vote. We are as one in our belief that Brexit must go back to the people for their final say. Unlike Labour, we’re absolutely clear – no backroom deals, no faffing about: we demand a People’s Vote.”

Gavin Esler, who spoke at today’s launch and tops Change UK – The Independent Group’s election list for the London region, said:

“Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg claim to speak for the British people. They do not. They stole our British patriotism – and I want it back. We know Britain is better than the politics of the past. We know that stopping Brexit is the first step to a better Britain. It’s time for a change. It’s time for Change UK.”

Victoria Groulef, who spoke at today’s launch and is number two for Change UK – The Independent Group’s election list for the South East region, said:

“Political change requires guts, determination, resilience and leadership. It would be easy to say ‘I’m sick of politics’ and to walk away. But that’s not my style – and that’s why I’m delighted to be part of this movement that seeks to change politics and our country for good.”

Andrea Cooper, who spoke at today’s launch and tops Change UK – The Independent Group’s election list for the North West, said:

“For many years I have been dedicated to helping young people, and it is young people who stand to gain the most by staying in Europe. It has been clear to me for a while now that the main political parties are letting us down. It is urgent that young people, men and ordinary women like me get out and vote on 23 May for Change UK: the Remain Alliance

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For peace on Britain's streets learn from Liberia

A few months ago I found a ten-inch-long bayonet on the ground in my front garden. I saw it when I was taking my daughters to nursery. As I called the police to report it I shuddered that I live in a city of surging knife crime. Almost three hundred people lost their lives to knife crime in the UK last year. And the major parties offer almost nothing in response. The Conservatives call for more police officers and the return of stop and search. But they fail to significantly reverse police cuts. Law enforcement alone is not enough.  London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan, while seeking to pass the blame to the government for the carnage, trumpets a vague “public health” approach that took ten years to succeed in Glasgow. Thousands more people could be murdered by then. Both parties are floundering.

Johnson Borh from Liberia isn’t floundering. He has developed a programme that is so successful at getting young men out of street violence that it is being rolled out in Chicago. Perhaps the UK should follow suit. An entire generation of young men in Liberia lost their childhoods to 14 years of war. Many now plague the streets of the capital Moravia in gangs with drugs and crime.  Johnson, a former child soldier himself, spent years experimenting with every therapy manual he could find and UN or NGO course to get his ex-comrades off the streets. He developed an eight-week group therapy programme targeted at street gangs, called Sustainable Transformation of Youth in Liberia (STYL). Young men learn techniques to cool their anger. They tell positive stories. They learn how to plan and set goals. They are taught to dress more conventionally.  Then they practice everyday tasks like going to the bank or supermarket where they see they that are treated with respect, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Afterwards, a remarkable number set up small businesses and stay out of crime.

Borh caught the eye of Chicago University’s Professor Chris Blattman, who was researching ex-combatants in Liberia and kept on hearing about STYL. Blattman noticed STYL looked similar to cognitive behaviour therapy used by psychologists in the US to treat aggression and criminal problems. So, he spent three years working with 1,000 Liberian men linked to street gangs in a controlled experiment.  He split the men up at random and put some through STYL and used the others as a control group for comparative purposes. After just the eight weeks of the STYL programme, graduates who also received a $200 cash grant to help set up a business, committed 40% less theft. Blattman was so impressed that he’s now conducting a similar experiment with 8,500 youths in Chicago. He says the key to behavioural change is not just the cognitive behaviour therapy, but also aggressively targeting programme participants and those most at risk of committing crime. He does this by working with hospital emergency departments and local community intelligence of gang networks. On its first iteration in Chicago, violent crime arrests dropped by 20%. It works.

Knife crime in Britain is at its highest ever levels. The pathetic political response is yet one more depressing example of a failed system. Instead, on knife crime, politicians could start by talking to Borh and Blattman.

Chris Coghlan is a former Foreign Office counter terrorism officer and Harvard University public policy graduate. In the 2017 general election he stood as an independent in Battersea for moderate MP’s to split into new centre party. @_chris_coghlan

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Defence Reform – Putting People First

Defence of the realm is the first job of Government. Historically, the Conservative Party has been the party of the forces. However, in recent years, they have been overseeing the decline of people and technology. Labour made great inroads into being the party that invested in and looked after people in the forces, but they have now come under severe scrutiny for a fundamental lack of conviction that they would make difficult decisions of deployment. Having worked in the defence sector for over 20 years, it’s clear to me that the UK Military needs reforming to make it fit for purpose and supportive of the people who serve.

The defence budget (2.1% of GDP) remains opaque. Billions are spent, but for the vast majority, it’s not always clear where the funds go. In order for defence spending to be used effectively, I believe we should be considering a few key things.

Our most immediate threat is not a physical one, it is a virtual one. It is the cyber war that is already well underway. It is the battle of confidence and trust, through state sponsored activity but denied - not too dissimilar to the Cold War. This is perhaps where the UK is now most vulnerable. Where we have been pouring money into very physical programmes, - aircraft, tanks, warships and submarines- other countries without the same resources have poured theirs into cyber capability.

Personnel are the backbone, the essential element of our armed forces. But, too frequently, we to forget about their welfare. We pour money into big ticket equipment (a Challenger 2 tank is approx. £4m each, Eurofighter Typhoon around £68m each, and T45 Destroyer is £1b). Yet we expect our personnel to live in accommodation that is in serious need of repair. Some quarters have been reported with untreated mould and a whole host of other problems. With all the money we spend on equipment, surely we should be spending the money to ensure that the people we expect to operate this equipment are fit to do so.

The other, often overlooked aspect, is the drive that defence puts into engineering and technology development. This has two aspects, the technology development element and the engineering production. There are whole communities that are built upon the development of major engineering elements. For example, Barrow-in-Furness, the place where our Submarines are built and have been for over 100 years. Over 80% of the employees live within 40 miles, and therefore the pay that they receive goes directly into the local community. The submarine builder, BAE Systems is supplied by a supplier network that ranges from companies that produce pieces of plant and machinery, complex control systems, all the way to contractors who bring in specialist expertise. If the submarine fleet were to stop being produced, then it would not only harm our defensive capability, but it would destroy a well-established town.

It’s important to recognise that the defence industry is not simply about war. Very few people want to fight for the sake of it, however there are people in the world that do, and we have a duty to protect our people. But underpinning that is a complex network that pervades many different facets of our lives and our communities.

We should be willing to ask ourselves difficult questions such as:

• Should we be using soldiers on ceremonial duties in guarding the palace? In effect, they are a tourist attraction.

• Should we be outsourcing so much supplier capability when the contracts don’t necessarily delivery the standards we require?

• There are very few theatres where the army, navy and air force work in isolation, they have overlapping capability and, in many cases, replicate capability – should we learn from other countries and have a single defence force?

Defence policy spans multiple different lines of UK infrastructure- health, education, technology development, R&D. Having such a siloed approach means we cannot fill the gaps. We need policy that brings all this together. We must acknowledge the threat, ensuring that technological solutions are coordinated around people and making the forces fit for tomorrow’s threat instead of yesterday’s war.

Fundamentally, military personnel are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us. We need to ensure that they are supported, both during their time serving their country, as well as afterwards as they live with the consequences.

Barry Kirby the Managing Director of a Human Science Research and Human Factors Consultancy which delivers into all areas of UK Defence. He was a Labour candidate in the 2017 General election, Labour Police Commissioner Candidate in 2016 and was formerly Deputy Leader of Gloucestershire Labour Group.

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Change UK - Registered and Raring to Go

So it’s happened - The Independent Group’s application to the Electoral Commission has been approved. As Easter nears, how fitting that a brand new party has hatched and is ready to field a range of candidates in the EU elections.

To say ‘Change UK – The Independent Group’ is officially registered and raring to go is somewhat of an understatement. The new party is off with a tremendous bang, having received over of 3,700 applications from people from across the United Kingdom putting themselves forward as candidates in the forthcoming European Elections. It’s great news that so many people have been inspired to hit the streets to unambiguously campaign for a ‘people’s vote’, and take forward a clear message that remaining in and reforming the European Union is what’s best for Britain.

But, as with any piece of positive news, there’s always a downside somewhere; and our thoughts are now with the poor souls who have the unenviable task of sifting through nearly 4,000 applications, as the shortlisting process for Change UK’s MEP selections take shape.

We expect further news on the selection process over the coming days, so keep an eye on Change Politics for any updates.

In the meantime, Change UK’s Interim Leader, Heidi Allen has announced plans to set up a European Election Fighting Fund on their website She hopes this will give ‘Change UK’ a chance to compete financially with the established political parties.

Good luck to all the applicants!

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Britain deserves better than Labour’s muddle and statism

Britain deserves better than Labour’s muddle and statism

The Conservative Party is in a mess. Brexit threatens to rip up its coalition as well as divide its Members of Parliament. Its poll numbers have dived since Prime Minister Theresa May’s failed attempts to pass her exit deal with the European Union. The resurgence of a far right United Kingdom Independence Party and the emergence of Nigel Farage’s new and populist Brexit Party threaten the electoral prospects of a Conservative Party whose voters have over the last few years become increasingly socially conservative and Euro-sceptic.

In this situation, the prospects of the Government either falling from power after further Parliamentary defections, a failure of its Confidence and Supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionists, or the election of a new Prime Minister who then decides to call a snap General Election in search of a mandate, must be fairly high. In that situation, the Conservatives might well lose. Depending on the identity and pose of any new leader, they are in dire danger of handing Downing Street over to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour.

The May administration is fundamentally out of line with the modern Britain that is emerging and which will be dominant by the 2040s – young, urban, cosmopolitan, libertarian. Instead, it is: illiberal, closed-minded, resentfully nostalgic and above all committed to a narrow and cramped view of how government as a whole can help people, the Conservatives’ continued advocacy of deep austerity long after its rationale and purpose has passed is a marker of their anger and confusion as political hegemony appears to slip through their fingers. Cameroonian ‘modernisation’ seems long ago.

Labour, though, might not be all that much better – for its plans seem both deeply nostalgic in their own way, as well as extremely vague where really specific details are vital for understanding what policies actually mean. Most of all, their answer to everything is more government regulation, intervention and control. There’s no doubt that Britain would benefit from more direction in many spheres, because across the country, life and space has become gritty, shoddy and sometimes downright cruel. But it’s far from clear that the British state – so bereft of answers over Brexit, and likely to struggle for years to come to terms with its backwash – could cope with finding and implementing any solutions.

Take housing. Here the challenge is to make things better for Britain’s increasingly-important army of private renters. Build as many houses as you may, young people in the South-East and London might never own their own homes. They are simply too expensive. Planning reform is simply too difficult for most politicians to contemplate, and Labour hasn’t dared to touch this topic themselves – the first indication of their lack of joined-up thinking.

Some elements in Labour’s programme are welcome. An emphasis on longer-term tenancies. Preventing eviction without a reason, a policy now mirrored by the Government itself. Higher standards and higher fines for landlords who break them. More social housing (though here there must be the gravest of doubts about Labour’s ability to meet their promises during one Parliamentary term). But their plans for indefinite tenancies bear all the hallmarks of glib policy tourism and a lack of long-term thinking.

The German market, from where they’ve taken their cue, often involves renting just the bricks and mortar themselves: tenants are often expected to do most of the maintenance and even rebuilding work themselves. That’s a quite different situation to that pertaining in England. Nor do Labour seem to have decided whether landlords who are getting into financial trouble, or who want to exit the market altogether, can sell up (as they can under the equivalent Scottish legislation from 2016). This is more than detail. Labour wants to impose rent controls, possibly in the first instance by forbidding above-inflation rent increases on the three-year tenancies they talked about at the last election: holding rent increases to this level indefinitely is a quite different policy. They want to make tenancies indefinite when the types of property involved – and what the concept of ‘tenancy’ means – are quite different in England and Germany. It would be deeply unwise to padlock all landlords to all tenancies forever, whatever their circumstances. And so on.

Or have a look at the railways. Labour promise to nationalise these, and to plough all the money saved from profits back into the industry. But the problem here is twofold. Most of the industry is already nationalised, under the guise of Network Rail, and most of the rail infrastructure is paid for by the taxpayer. Railway operators’ profits are tiny, and for some companies serve as little more than a sweetener and a loss-leading shop window. They average out at little more than two per cent of turnover, and although estimates differ can’t be more than a few hundred million pounds a year. The new trains going into service on the Great Western and East coast lines just this year have cost little shy of £6bn. Nationalisation as the answer to our crowded and confusing railways is like trying to squeeze a bottle of olive oil out of three olives and a bit of bark.

The impression lingers that Labour’s new voters, often Remain-oriented white-collar professionals deeply alienated by May’s antediluvian Conservatives, will hate these policies once they see them in action. Primarily voting Labour to take the pressure off public services and to get rid of the chaotic Tories, they might well end up with a government that wants to interfere everywhere – quite against the outlook and basic philosophy of many who’ve supported them at the polls. In that situation, and without much hope of delivering noticeable change in the very short term, a new Labour government might languish very deeply in the polls.

The real Rosetta Stone of our politics would be an agenda that freed cities, charities, co-operatives and local people to find answers to our grave crises of place, infrastructure and home: neither the Conservatives nor Labour seem likely to decode it as things stand. The field is wide open for others who might.

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of a string of books and articles about economic and social policy since 1945, including The Paradoxes of Progress: Governing Post-War Britain, 1951-1973 (2012). He is now beginning a book on the economic and social policies of the Blair governments between 1997 and 2007.

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Fighting Antisemitism

What is antisemitism? It’s racism against Jews. Perhaps because it’s such an old hatred it has transmuted over the years. When Jews were powerless, they were pigs or they had killed Christ. When Jews could make a living, they were money grabbing usurers. When Jews became citizens of the countries in which they lived, they were rootless cosmopolitan fifth columnists with loyalties outside the State. When Jews were not citizens, they were a cancer at the heart of the State, battening on to its citizens. When Jews became citizens of their own country, they were thieving interlopers of the land of others. When Jews were defenceless, they were weak and spineless. When Jews could defend themselves, they were violent oppressors.

You want to hate a Jew, there’s a myth for you.

Like all stereotypes, these things are nonsense. Of course, people being what they are, particular examples of all these things can be found. Like all racists, antisemites desperately want to believe that a particular example proves the case against all thirteen million of us.

Hence the IHRA definition – an attempt to nail down what antisemitism is. As organisations of good faith recognise it seeks to track the idea that antisemitism mutates. It’s been the subject of both honest and dishonest criticism. The honest criticism is that the examples it offers blur the difference between political criticism of Israel and racism. My view of that is that we’re not dealing with fine academic distinctions here: you can be as brutal as you like about an Israeli government of any stripe and still not attack the right of Jews to have what Christians, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and Buddhists have – a state. If you feel a need to go further then restrain yourself. Your right to tread the margin of political criticism isn’t as important as the need to avoid racism. The dishonest criticism is why anti-Zionism has become a convenient way of attacking Jews without the stigma that goes with racism. We’re not here to make people like that feel good about themselves.

Antisemitism has proliferated in Labour in recent years. There doesn’t seem to me to be much argument there. First, it is what the Jewish Community overwhelmingly thinks. There are only 300,000 of us in the UK. We’re virtually united on this (the polls show something over 85%). The outliers are very loud (and the media don’t half love them – Jews is news as the saying has it), but they are a tiny group. By all Macpherson reasoning, that’s the end. What’s more the Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently deciding whether to investigate Labour. That’s astonishing: an independent body contemplating investigating the UK’s largest political party for antisemitism.

Why has it proliferated? Hmm... In my view there are two causes. The first is that the left, having finally obtained control over Labour, is acting out its ideology. Its ideology is that Israel is the USA’s greatest ally (dubious), and that the USA is always wrong and evil. I regard that view as bonkers but it is the only explanation for, for example, the constant focus on discrimination in Israel (apartheid evil!), the comparative silence on persecution in “neutral” countries like China (currently detaining over one million Muslims without trial), and the positive denial of the persecution of Muslims in countries opposed to the US (Kosovo).

The second cause is that Corbyn has “green-lighted” what was previously shameful. For these purposes it isn’t necessary to discuss whether Corbyn is an antisemite himself (my own view is that he is, like so many members of the upper-middle class of his generation, a polite xenophobe). He has a media savvy team. They know that Labour councillors, Labour MP’s and the Labour leader have gone beyond the bounds of acceptability. They know what Labour activists on social media are saying. They know that allegations of Jews “weaponizing” antisemitism – that is to say inventing or exaggerating it to attack Corbyn - are rife. They know Jews are being dismissed as not worth listening to because we are not honest about our own persecution. They know that this isn’t acceptable by previous standards of honest conversation. But they do nothing. Sure, occasionally Corbyn denounces antisemitism with his usual “and all other forms of racism” line, (so that Jews don’t get uppity and regard themselves as a special case). But nothing is said about these specific conduct issues. Jews are not worth it.

That may be an electoral calculation. It may be a personal one. But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is the policy of the leader and those who surround him – and whose past writings and behaviour frequently exhibit the same conclusions. And, once you let it go, people will do it.

That’s amplified by the shambles of the Labour disciplinary system. Every time a particular case is publicly aired, the punishment is increased. Williamson, Hatton, Bibby have all been the subject of proper action only when the improper action first mooted was subjected to public scrutiny. That’s a horrendous indictment of those doing the job. And, sadly, it’s amplified by the silence on the back benches. We know that many backbenchers are sympathetic. We know that we aren’t sexy. We know that defending us leads to trouble and deselection. But we still feel abandoned – and betrayed. I don’t believe the Jewish community will trust Labour again for a generation.

Why do I fight it? No government anywhere, at any time, has ever served all its people properly whilst discriminating against some of them. Hatred is infectious and it blights everything it sees. Standing by simply isn’t an option. This country took my grandparents in. It is the closest we could then come to equality. It permitted us access. Not as if we were native, but more than we got anywhere else. But more than that, it did not hate us. It didn’t subject us to pogroms. We could get on with our lives. We displaced and unaccepted Jews knew that wasn’t complete fairness. But we also knew we could live with it. Since then, the UK has blossomed. It is truly concerned about equality. It strives to fairness. It acknowledges that it fails but it keeps trying. That, ultimately, is a vision I recognise as wanting good for all. why wouldn’t you fight for it?

Simon Myerson QC practices from Byrom St Chambers, Manchester and St Paul’s Chambers, Leeds. He has sat as a part time judge since 2001. He was chair of the Union of Jewish Students 1984-85. He was a member of the Labour Party until 2016 having joined as a teenager.

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On Political Anger

We TIGgers are a sunny bunch. Our MPs can be seen eating together, laughing together, snapping group selfies. Best Buds 4eva! They turn their shining countenances on the warring tribes of Westminster and declare ‘Not for us your internecine scraps. We reject your factional ways and recognise your compositing as compost. Your left and right wings may be in a flap but we prefer ours with lemon and herb.’

Whilst other, less temperate parties rage and spit and invoke by-election as a curse upon our tiny corner of the House, our happy band carries on. The tune is mild and sweet. It is full of harmony and counterpoint while all around blast Death Metal turned up to 11.

As TIG activists, we have gravitated towards this new project, in part, because it has a quality we missed in politics- collegiality, consensus, compromise- in the surrounding stormy seas (C what I did there?).

However, an essential element in political parties is passion. Parties want change. Parties desire the betterment of the country. We long for a reason to go out on rainy days to knock on doors and hand out leaflets. We relish debates with doubters who might come around to our cause. We organise, we rally, we advocate.

And we risk being political blancmange.

We need some anger. Maybe not the spittle-flecked variety of the Tankie/Wanky/Milli left with its raised fist. Not the fortress-Britain-weekend warrior type either. It’s one thing to quote Shakespeare and Tennyson but quite another to understand them. Maybe we’re in need of a new political pique.

Which ever side we came from, we’re all pretty sure about what straw broke the camel’s back for us. To mix a religious metaphor, as a Jewish turkey, I wasn’t going to vote for Christmas with Corbyn. Equally, given that we don’t know how many shopping days we have before our goose is cooked (or turkey, or nut roast or whatever you eat), the sound of the escape hatch to our nearest neighbours slamming shut fills me with dread. Corbyn to the left of me, Brexit to the right. Here I am stuck in the middle with TIG.

How long can we go on being so irritatingly nice? We’re really good at saying what we’re for (absent any actual policies), but, we need to get a lot louder about what we’re against if we hope to rally the electorate to put a cross in our box. Our pleasantness will prove an own goal (see what I did there?) if we don’t whip up a bit of righteous indignation.

The British electorate, save party activists, doesn’t usually vote out of a sense of optimism or conviction. We vote to boot the bastards out. We vote to give someone a good kicking. The Remain campaign completely missed that our political choices are often a reflection of dissatisfaction and malcontentedness rather than a series of thought-through policy judgements. Our first past the post system creates governments that outstay their welcome, become sclorotic, corrupt and unresponsive. And then we vote for the other guys. So, it’s Brexit or Lexit, racism or racism.

We need a new and improved brand of anger, an anger all our own; principled, determined, moral. We need to outsell the other guys in the marketplace of ideas. Brexit is theft from future generations, public services must be improved for the benefit of all and policy better be based on hard numbers and evidence. We need to call out the other guys when they lie about polls and when they obfuscate about protecting bigots. When they offer up their identikit surrogates to the media, we need to challenge them and not let their doggerel slide. Ignorance doesn’t sound better delivered loudly and quickly by the same faces on every channel. If the electorate is to trust us, we need to hit back.

We keep saying #politicsisbroken. It is past time to say ‘We will fix it NOW’. We should be past delivering the message with a sigh of resignation. We have got to stop apologising for leaving the parties that caused havoc on our nation. We don’t need to fear frightening voters who are already trapped between platoons in battle dress. We’re so consumed with being likeable that we’ve forgotten that this is a fight and voters want someone scrapping on their side.

It’s time to get out there and let rip. It’s time for a new and improved political anger.

Rebecca Strom Trenner is a writer in the moments when she stops screaming into a pillow in a darkened room.

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David Hirsh: My Labour Party Resignation

Personally, I have had enough of being humiliated by antisemitism in the Labour movement. I have fought it for years, in the student movement in the academic unions and in the Labour Party. I won’t subject myself to it any longer.

Politically, the most important thing to me at the moment is democracy. I mean by that our democratic states in which we look after each other and our civil society in which we are free to do what we choose.

I mean the principle that human beings are in a fundamental sense of equal value, and so opposition to discrimination against people on the basis of their designated race, gender, sexuality, religion or nation is a fundamental principle.

I mean a free economy, within a legal framework which nurtures creativity, vibrancy and efficiency and which also which sets out terrains in which enterprises agree not to compete: like health and safety, holiday pay, maternity leave, equality and workers’ rights. A democratically calibrated and constrained free economy is the most successful way of combating inequality.

I mean international trade, cosmopolitan institutions and universal friendship; I mean democracy and democratic rights and values across the world; and solidarity with those fighting for them.

I mean a high quality and efficient National Health Service; I mean excellent education available to all; and I mean a safety net which looks after people when they are unable to look after themselves.

I mean freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association and free trade unions.

I mean the democratic right to pursue happiness and to make one’s own relationships and networks.

Antisemitism threatens Jews but it is also always an indicator of the ascendancy of an anti-democratic political culture in any community in which it is tolerated.

I am afraid of the rise of populist politics which I understand as a set of radical threats to democracy as described above. Populist movements try to harness the politics of fury and resentment for the political advancement of those who assume the right to speak for ‘the people’ and to treat those they don’t like as ‘enemies of the people’.

Populism replaces debate and respect for knowledge with an essentialism which designates people as enemies not because of what they say or do but because of who they are.

The Corbyn movement, which is well entrenched in the Labour Party, is such a movement. The Brexit movement which is well entrenched in the Tory Party, and in the Corbyn faction too, is also a populist movement. Both Labour and the Tories are trying to ride the tiger of populism and are prepared to risk British democracy and prosperity to do so. The tiger will maul them and it will maul us all in the end.

Jihadi Islamism and other fundamentalists are also radical critiques of democracy of a related kind.

Populism sees nothing of value in existing society and it promises to tear everything down and to begin again from zero; experience shows that it is easier to destroy than to create.

I want to be part of a movement which defends democratic principles, as outlined above, and which defends us against the populist threats, also as outlined above.

This is not a conservative manifesto. There is nowhere near enough democracy in our world. The defence and creation of democratic states and movements is a programme for radical change; and for radical change in what people are enthusiastic about. And it is urgent.

There are many other issues which people take seriously and with justification; the threat of climate change for example. Addressing these requires democracy. Without that, we’re finished. But within that framework we can decide, together, what needs to be done.

I do not want Jeremy Corbyn to be the next Prime Minister; he is so wedded to antisemitic politics that he has been quite unable to address the antisemitic culture which he imported into the Labour mainstream. And that is linked to his anti-democratic worldview. While Corbyn himself may not be around for very long as leader, his politics and his culture will be, in my judgement.

Some have argued that if democratic people, not least democratic Jews, leave the Labour Party then this will allow free reign to those who embrace antisemitic and proto-totalitarian politics.

Yes, if we leave, that is what will happen. But it happens when we don’t leave too. So now people who consider themselves socialists will have to take responsibility for the culture in their own movement. Because I’m done. And I think most other Jews are done too.

David Hirsh is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and author of 'Contemporary Left Antisemitism'.

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Could the European Elections be a Breakthrough for Change UK?

In a competitive field, there is one election that could be argued is the most significant of the past decade. Not the one that delivered the Coalition, nor the one that made Corbyn Labour leader, nor the one that deprived May of her majority, nor even the Referendum itself.

I’d argue that it was the 2014 elections to the European Parliament changed British politics in a way we are yet to fully understand. If they were to take place, the unexpected European Parliament elections of 2019 could have an equally seismic impact.

Prior to 2014, Europe was, according to all polling data, one of the least important issues for the British electorate. Fewer than 10% of voters rated EU membership as one of their top concerns during the decade running up to 2014, according to polling data from Ipsos MORI. At times during the 2000s it barely registered at all.

Yet somehow, whether through disillusionment with the main parties, concerns over migration or through other factors, UKIP topped the poll held on May 22nd 2014, winning just under 27% of the vote and 24 of the 73 seats up for election. Labour came second with 24%, and the Tories third with 23%.

Looking at the well over four million voters who had backed Nigel Farage’s party, Cameron made the fateful decision to pledge a referendum of European Union membership in his manifesto for the following year’s General Election. He knew that should even a fraction of those voters desert the Tories in the General Election he would be replaced in No 10 by Ed Miliband within months. The rest, as they say, is history. And of course, the infuriating, divided and chaotic present.

The elections held in May 2014 were held on the same day as delayed local elections, and saw a turnout of 35%. European elections traditionally have not prompted great enthusiasm and have been used as a proxy for Westminster battles. Being held under a fairly complex system of proportional representation, there was always the possibility of the two-party duopoly being broken. The Greens have almost managed it before.

Everything has changed since that spring five years ago when no-one had heard of the term “Brexit”. Two general elections, a bitterly divisive referendum, parties strained and fractured over Europe as never before, EU membership moving to the top of the public agenda, news bulletins and daily conversation.

Now, Parliament is deadlocked. Six million have signed a petition demanding Britain’s departure from the European Union is halted, a million people have converged on the capital calling for the people to have the final say on what happens next, and our political system has been exposed as woefully inadequate at dealing with this issue.

On the march, I listened to people talk about how the main parties had failed them. They saw the system as broken and in desperate need of something new. Polling shows little enthusiasm for either the Tories or Labour, for Jeremy Corbyn or any of those manoeuvring to replace Theresa May.

This week, we will find out if there is to be a long delay to Brexit which will force the UK to at least prepare to elect a new cohort of MEPs this May. What if the astonishing breakthrough and devastating impact of UKIP last time could be mirrored by a new and pro-European political party, harnessing the energy of the people who signed that petition and marched on Parliament? The European Elections would offer an opportunity far greater than a General Election for that new party to make a big impression.

Voters would not be electing a government. Under proportional representation, their votes could be cast positively and risk-free, without the need for tactical considerations. They could give their verdict on how Brexit has been handled and how the two main parties are doing. They could cast a positive vote for a positive alternative.

Polling in the past week has shown half of those who voted Conservative or Labour in the 2017 General Election may not vote for them again. We could be witnessing a fundamental re-alignment of British party politics.

The election of ten, fifteen or even twenty MEPs would win the new party a seat at the table, broadcast time, resources and representation that would immediately establish it as a force in British and European politics. It would create a political gravitational pull that others could not escape or ignore.

Still, if a deal is passed the European elections may not happen. The new party is not yet registered to contest them. Time is incredibly short and the odds are stacked against it happening. Yet we live in a time where, politically, anything seems possible and the unpredictable outcome seems so often to emerge the winner.

For The Independent Group, this might be the unexpected opportunity to change politics in a way that five years ago, five months ago, no-one could have foreseen.

Warren Morgan is the Independent Councillor for East Brighton and former Labour Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council.

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When You’re In a Brexit Hole, Invite a Bigger Shovel

I’m watching the Sky News chyron scroll past. Jeremy Corbyn says he ‘looks forward’ to talks with PM. Yeah, I’ll bet.

There are several possibilities of motives and outcomes attached to this bipartisan volt face. May might have had a sudden epiphany that the frothing, raving ERG really didn’t have the best interests of the nation at heart and, golly-oh-gee-oh-gosh, it might be time to engage with somebody more congenial. I mean, if you find yourself stuck with a group who can’t be trusted for a few hours not to trash talk you to the extent that you need to bag and tag their phones like a prison intake officer, you need new friends. May’s cabinet has already printed out her P45. She didn’t have much reason to keep people-pleasing the tin foil helmet brigade.

May might also have come to the belated conclusion that, her fate sealed, she didn’t fancy being THE WORST PRIME MINISTER IN BRITISH HISTORY EVER. Modest by nature, that honorific had to hurt. So, when your predecessor hands you a shit sandwich and your mates won’t share it, best look for someone who doesn’t mind a bit of muck on his hands. Don’t forget the marmalade, Jez!

The other possibility is that May has played a blinder. So desperate is Corbyn to look Prime Ministerial that she has appealed to that vanity to lure him into taking the shit sandwich, eating it and waving the wrapper at a grateful nation from the doorway of the Brussels flight and announcing Brexit in our time. May can watch the display from the tarmac with her hamper of chicken lasagne and boiled spuds.

From a strategic point of view, if you are pushing Brexit with the zeal of a convert, it is pretty obvious to team up with the guy who has spent his undistinguished career calling the EU a capitalist club and dreaming of the day we could leave it and NATO and the ECJ and all the other institutions with initials. May and Corbyn can sit down, have a cup of tea and agree that the EU is a bit crap. Job done!

The only ‘Peter Bone’ of contention might be to whom we attribute this mutually assured Brexit. May is probably banking on spreading the blame for what she must surely know is an extinction level event for the economy. If Corbyn’s fingerprints are on it too, posterity might chose a kinder label for her. Or, she might have surmised that LOTO is too thick to realise that he’s just been offered the wheel in the getaway car. And a shit sandwich.

What Corbyn derives, other than legitimacy for his deeply held conviction - in complete opposition to most of the PLP and party membership, his party manifesto and the founding Labour principle of internationalism - is everybloodything he wants. Corbyn must have been cock-a-hoop to get that call from Number 10. No more constructive ambiguity. No more shrugging at his MPs who enquire why the whip doesn’t apply to his mates. No more will he have to mumble People’s Vote under his breath after his blather about jobs first, protecting workers’ rights and how he could do Brexit soooooooo much better than the other lot. He can just pitch up, cross his arms, scowl  and leave safe in the knowledge that Brexit will happen and when it’s a national nightmare he can claim that it would have all been fine and dandy if it had been called Lexit. He can be Prime Minister of whatever survives the wreck. If that’s cockroaches and Seamus Milne, he’ll take it.

Corbyn’s fondest wish all along has been to be released from the EU to create his workers paradise built on debt and products we can’t trade, his New Jerusalem without Jews, his corrective and pure Marxist vision made real in an industrialised Britain as its author intended. And the EU wouldn’t have any right to interfere. Currency controls. Tick! Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Gone! Puppet editors installed to ensure friendly media coverage. Huzzah!

Who needs a People’s Vote when you are the embodiment of the will of the People!  Am I right?

Really, all that has happened over the past twenty-four hours is that poor, lonely, embattled Theresa May has made common cause with the one man with less olfactory acuity than she. Not only will Corbyn share that shit sandwich, he’ll offer May his allotment shovel to keep digging for more victory.

Rebecca Strom Trenner

The Inside Story of Labour’s Failed Remain Campaign

In my day job, I help to design resilient systems delivering support services for children. I spend a lot of time asking service leaders ‘if not you, then who?’

Every good system needs an alternative. The two-party political system is based on the idea of the alternative. No matter how venal, self- destructive or self-indulgent a failing government or new opposition becomes, there should always be one decent option. Just as a good opposition makes a bad government better, a good government makes the opposition get their act together.

Only our generation have the unique bad luck to live under a horrible government and a worse opposition; but then, only our generation is unlucky enough to suffer under the imperative of Brexit.

Unlike other key-seat Labour PPCs from 2015 I left the party comparatively quickly. It hasn’t been a recent thing for me and I don’t want to imply that it has. Partly this was bad luck – I stood in a hard- left seat two years before many of the attitudes I found so distasteful were replicated across country. Anti-Semitism, misogyny and bullying became inextricable from the Labour Party. As Jess Phillips said, Labour values risked becoming ‘just a fucking rose.’ Partly, I left Labour because I thought it should be more than just a fucking rose.

And then, I worked closely with the Leader’s Office in role as National Engagement Lead at Britain Stronger in Europe.

Like many of the campaign directors working for Remain, I had signed with my campaigning experience in UKIP strongholds in the Midlands and South Yorkshire gained during the 2015 election. In fact, I joined Britain Stronger in Europe before it had any infrastructure, or even a contact address.

All I could think to do was to ring Labour Headquarters in London and to make clear that I wanted to volunteer in line with party policy, which was to remain in the EU. After some initial confusion, they connected me to a mobile number – for Brendan Chilton, the Labour councillor who worked with UKIP to establish and fund Labour Leave!

Remain was and is the fight of my life. I fought on the grounds of the wrong that it does to already deprived communities, but it wasn’t anything like the campaign we’re now seeing described on television or in books and written in collaboration with a handful of the people who led Leave. There was no honorable ground war of TV producer’s imaginations. Contrary to popular belief, Britain Stronger In Europe tracked almost no campaign activity from Vote Leave at all. At the time, it was creepy. Now it makes sense. Vote Leave didn’t need people or the rudiments of a traditional campaign, they had illegal data scraping through Aggregate IQ, and with it, the ability to speak directly to a comparatively small number of voters. They decided the outcome of the referendum.

We usually have a good idea of who the undecided voters will be in any campaign. They are often women, often parents, people who are genuinely unsure and prefer to make a political decision on the merits of the evidence accessible to them at the time. They are people who listen, who consult those around them, who read a paper and are very likely to use social media.

The people who are best reached and persuaded by what we call a ground campaign. After all, a Facebook ad is persuasive, but someone from your community caring enough to knock on your door and share why they believe in remain? That matters. In my region, and in all the swing regions, the towns where the referendum was decided were traditionally Labour towns. Given how Leave campaigned and the weaknesses of Remain, the only thing that could have turned the result around was the intervention that the cross-party campaign was designed around- the prospect of a national Labour-led ground campaign.

I attended Britain Stronger In Europe training sessions nine months before the referendum day where we talked about the result standing or falling by the strength of the ground campaign. We all know what happened instead. The Labour leadership decided they wouldn’t be involved in the dirty work of a campaign that involved working with other parties. We know how Corbyn refused to share platforms, went on holiday and now even today says that he might back leave in a second referendum.

As its leaders have said, Labour’s Remain campaign was a cardboard initiative undermined at every turn by the leadership. At HQ, we begged for the support that had been promised and held regular meetings with the team directly around the Labour leader. In my local constituency in Derby, Labour In would campaign on one side of the Ram statue next to Westgate so that Stronger In could campaign on the other. We stood together, but if someone from Labour regional office came by, we could pretend we didn’t. It didn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t have been that way.

Today, 5,000 jobs are at risk in the constituency where we campaigned on either side of that statue. It doesn’t have to be that way either.

Labour has failed as the opposition that we have so badly needed for the past three years. They have failed to answer the question. If not you, then who? We needed TIG or something like it so badly. This bad system needs an alternative.

Kate Godfrey is a former Labour key seat PPC, field director and national engagement lead for Britain Stronger in Europe. She now works happily for an outstanding multi academy trust in the East Midlands.

Opposition Groups Unite to Push for a People’s Vote

Spokespeople from opposition groups have this afternoon issued a joint statement demanding a Peoples Vote.

Chuka Umuna, from The Independent Group, along with Ian Blackford of the SNP, Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and Liz Saville-Roberts of Plaid Cymru held a joint press conference, after which the following statement was delivered:

“The UK is in the midst of a Brexit crisis led by a Government dictated by incompetence. Given everything we now know - and the detrimental impact Brexit will have on the UK’s economy, job opportunities and people’s livelihoods, the priority must be bringing the issue back to the people in a People’s Vote – with the option to remain on the ballot paper.

“We are in agreement that there is no such thing as a good Brexit and that people across the UK face being worse off.

“We have shown over the past three years we are willing to find a compromise position to end the impasse.

Time is fast running out and any compromise that is reached must be brought back to the people through a fresh referendum, and keep the option to revoke Article 50 on the table to avoid a no-deal Brexit”

Today’s intervention is a timely development given the Prime Minister’s statement last night, in which she invited the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn to 10 Downing Street for talks -thereby signalling a shift in Government policy towards a softer Brexit.

However, the involvement of the Labour Party in crafting a way forward has already lead to two ministerial resignations this morning. Additionally, there is confusion about Jeremy Corbyn’s position, caused by a now familiar pattern of statement and counter-statement from the Labour Party. Initially, a spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn had confirmed that he would agree to a deal which ended reciprocal freedom of movement rights. However, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornbury then contradicted this several hours later.

The joint statement has subsequently taken on even greater significance, following this afternoon’s vote in the Commons on whether or not to continue with the indicative vote process, which had resulted in no clear outcome.

With the Government now seeking a further extension to Article 50, and Parliament in turmoil, it has become more important than ever for the opposition parties to work together to ensure a Brexit compromise in our national interest.

Opposition parties have indicated that they are willing to support a deal. However, given it has now become clear that any form of Brexit will result in significant damage to economic growth, jobs, and wages, it’s vital that voters be given a final say on Brexit in the form of a Peoples Vote.

Save us from Brexit chaos: Give us a ‘People’s Vote’

“The question of Brexit must be given back to the people in a People’s Vote – it is the only credible option that remains”. This was Anna Soubry’s response to last night’s series of indicative votes on Brexit options.

She’s right of course. The House of Commons has reached a stalemate and simply cannot agree on the best way forward. It’s painful viewing.

Has there ever been a time our Parliament has been in such disarray? On one side we have The Conservative Party utterly divided and in turmoil – hell bent on ruthlessly putting their party before the national interest. To call it pandemonium is an understatement. Likewise, we have The Labour Party still harping on about their so called “better Brexit” - and trying every which way to avoid giving a clear position on a People’s Vote, despite its conference policy. Labour are more interested in using the disaster to get through the doors of number 10 Downing Street than they are about the dreadful impact Brexit will have on the country. One might ask, what have we done to deserve this?

So it’s a relief to see that some within Parliament are putting the interests of the UK first. Last night The Independent Group MPs voted in favour of a People’s Vote and in favour of the revocation of Article 50.

It’s now urgent to find a way out of this mess. It’s apparent that Parliament can not reach a consensus on the type of Brexit it wants. The only thing that is now clear is that Parliament agrees a no-deal Brexit is not the way forward.

So this leaves us back at square one, pondering on how we reached this point.

It’s strikingly clear that the type of Brexit that was sold to the British people simply can’t be delivered. It is obvious that the only escape from the Brexit chaos is to give the British people in a ‘People’s Vote’ and let the British people decide how this story ends.

Jo Thorne (McCarron) is co-editor of Change Politics and a former Labour PPC. @JoMcCarron

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The Chaos Will Continue

Britain’s chaos will continue

“I thought f*ck them and voted leave,” said a close friend of mine intellectually explaining his leave vote. He was expressing his anger at people left behind. No nationalist, he’s an immigrant who has dedicated decades of his life to serving people in poor communities in the UK and around the world. Some people think that if Brexit is either soft or stopped the whole nightmare of the last three years will end. It won’t.

The UK has seen no significant rise in living standards since 2002, yet the economy is almost a third larger. Unless and until Britain addresses this central flaw of globalised economies our chaos will continue. Voting for Brexit maybe like trying to treat a patient with a sugar pill or worse, but at least the patient may feel that they’re forcing the doctor to listen.

Free market capitalism has failed its central bargain of inequality in exchange for all people being better off. So now we know that liberal ideas like cutting taxes for the rich to boost the economy are as bankrupt as the neo-marxism and nationalism that liberals despise. But what to do to catch-up the left behind? Three ideas:

Bring in knowhow. Economist’s usually explain a country’s development through technological progress: People move into cities, allowing ideas to be shared more easily, then they educate their children longer, enabling further technological progress. Brazil’s levels of urbanisation, years of schooling and university graduation rates in 2010 are slightly better than the UK’s in 1960. So, you might expect GDP per capita in 1960 Britain to be similar to Brazil’s in 2010? In fact, 1960 British GDP per capita is almost one and a half times higher. Economist Ricardo Hausman explains the difference due to the difficulty in acquiring “tacit knowledge;” the knowledge acquired by learning by doing which cannot be taught. It is easier to move people with tacit knowledge than to acquire it. So, to successfully regenerate deprived areas it is vital to incentivise highly skilled people to move there and use their tacit knowledge to create new companies and jobs. [1]

Learn from catch-up economies. In traditional liberalism the state’s role in innovation is limited to a regulator and builder of infrastructure because state bureaucrats do not have the knowledge to identify new technologies. Another simplification. It may be appropriate when operating with frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence, but not when trying to catch-up with technologies already used elsewhere. South Korea went from being as poor as Ghana in the 1950s to one of the most advanced economies on the planet through an aggressive state led catch-up based on intense collaboration between the state, universities, and the private sector with a massive research and development spend. This could be used to electrify left-behind areas by focusing on green technologies with a more predictable path of technological development and so more suitable for state intervention. When combined with a fiscal stimulus, we could accelerate the UK’s decarbonisation and so also help avoid climate catastrophe.

Raise taxes. With the failure of “trickle-down economics” capitalism’s basic bargain needs to be re-written to be far more redistributive. This will only exacerbate as the tech revolution provides capitalisms returns to an ever-smaller group. In his recent book “The Future of Capitalism”, Paul Collier advocates a city tax on wealthy metropolitan areas, like New York’s city tax, to regenerate areas left behind. This could be the basis of a settlement between leave and remain voters; an open economy is tolerated in exchange for far greater focus on globalisation’s costs.

All this would amount to a new national endeavour and a financial sacrifice by the rich. But I cannot see how our dysfunctional political system is in in any way up to it. But if it isn’t, voters will continue to deliver nationalist and neo-marxist votes to stick two fingers to the system that ignore them. Our downward spiral will continue. That is why it is so important that The Independent Group adopt a policy platform that offers fundamental and credible reform of our economic model.

Chris Coghlan is a former diplomat. Last general election he stood as an independent in Battersea. Chris holds an MBA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Prior to joining the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Chris spent a decade in finance and founded the charity Grow Movement. @_chris_coghlan

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Change on the horizon: TIG activists welcome new party.

Activists supporting TIG are delighted the group has applied to register as a political party in order to stand candidates in any European elections.

Under the current system of proportional representation used to elect Members of the European Parliament, any group must be registered as a political party in order to field candidates.

The U.K. Government has been advised by the European Commission (EC) that polling day for these elections should be held on Thursday 23rd May. In order for The Independent Group to field candidates, they have been advised to submit an application to become a political party “urgently”  to allow time to register for nominations.

Therefore, The Independent Group have submitted their application and today we are delighted to learn the new party will be called ‘Change UK’

We understand the MPs will continue their current roles for the group, with Heidi Allen appointed to become Interim Leader of the new party for the purposes of EC registration until the election of a permanent leader at an inaugural conference in September.

Co-editor of Change Politics, Jo McCarron, welcomed the announcement.

“Our politics is broken, and the UK needs a progressive alternative to the business as usual politics of the established parties.”

“We’re confident that Change UK will set our a transformative agenda to change our politics and our country. This will start with the forthcoming EU elections, where we expect Change UK to field a range of principled candidates who will put our national interest first. This is the change our country has been waiting for.”

We Need Post-Label Politics

Close your eyes.

Picture the House of Commons in the heat of PMQs.

Now, in your mind, replace the MPs of the Big Two Parties with dashboard dogs sporting blue and red rosettes.You’ll find more autonomous thought and agency in those injection moulded bobbing heads than you will in their sentient equivalents. Astute observers of politics will know precisely which heads are nodding under duress but, they nod nonetheless.

You can spend enormous amounts of time examining how we got to this colour-coded stalemate. Brexit has exemplified this raging house fire of a system. Now, the Tories are fighting over whether to roast sausages in it or chuck in a few jacket potatoes. The Corbynites opposite are waiting for the house to be reduced to smouldering ash so they can blame the Tories for homelessness.

As we hear so often, we are where we are. Surely, surely part of the blame lies in the tribalism of the electorate. The assumption that we are who we are. Brexit has redrawn some of those lines across the Big Two Parties rather than between but, the core support for each remains static. For too long, the engaged electorate have chosen a set of nodding dogs and stuck with them no matter what they nod for.They’ve chosen a label.

Labels feel good. They’re a shorthand for the values that we hold and the associations that we make. If you are Labour (until the day I die!), you are unlikely to look for friends in a Surrey golf club. If you are a true blue Tory, you probably won’t be swiping right in a working man’s caf. You may never meet, talk to or fall in love with someone who doesn’t share your affiliation. The time and personal history attached to those labels keeps us apart.

I have lots of labels that I’m rather attached to. I am a wife of,.... mother to…..British, Jewish, naturally curly haired. I have been New Labour whilst rocking my first born to the rhythm of ‘education, education, education’. I have supported the One Nation Conservatism that brought us the Olympics, equal marriage and a vision of Boden-clad Britain. I have discovered that I am unusual but hardly unique in my political promiscuity. I am a floating voter who is now drowning.

I have been lucky to be in this position of agnosticism in these momentous times. Close friends have been left bereft as they made the decision to cut up their Labour membership cards. A friend who is a long-time Conservative donor and stalwart of his constituency has described his feelings as akin to a divorce.They are giving up part of the structure of their lives. They will most certainly lose friends. All share a sense that they have been pushed out of a community that they chose in better times.

We have reached a point where both parties are indulging in nostalgia. Labour has dropped the New as their zealots continue to claim the moral high ground by shoving people like me to the edge of the cliff. The party of the working class is harking back to a miserable time of Spam fritters and tomatoes that taste of wet whilst selling it as nobility.The Tories are now in thrall to the animated Punch cartoon of the ERG. It’s all three-martinis-at-lunch noses and shuttered car plants for the party of business. Why would anybody join their gangs?

Something new and truly radical is happening with the birth of The Independent Group. It will be the catalyst for a long, hard look at ourselves as an electorate. The very fact that MPs of different political traditions can be trusted to meet in a restaurant with access to metal cutlery was a social media sensation.They have taken a real risk stepping out of their tribes and looking for solutions to pressing issues that don’t conform to the dogma of their former parties.The shock to our moribund system of reasonable adults behaving reasonably should and must be an inflection point.

Now is the time when we, the electorate, the constituents, the disenfranchised, the reluctant and regretful members of tribes should lose our labels. If we don’t, the only survivor of the Brexit apocalypse will be the factory making those dashboard dogs.

Rebecca Strom Trenner grew up in New York and has worked in publicity, events production, non-profit, ghost writing and script doctoring. She tweets as @trenner_rebecca but far prefers to read others’ opinions.

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Why Politics Needs to Change

Why Politics Needs to Change

In Parliament, in 2001, I asked a new MP if he was enjoying doing advice surgeries: ’Oh, there’s no tradition of surgeries here,’ he said. Letters and emails, then: were his staff coping with the deluge? ‘I wouldn’t call it a deluge…’

The north-east seat had been Labour for ever, and ever. I didn’t dare ask what the voter contact level in that constituency was, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been in single digit percentage levels. ‘They weigh votes here, instead of counting them!’ he might have added.

From 1990 to 2010 I nursed a marginal seat, one which we approached as though we were fighting a continuous by-election. Towards the end of that time I heard a London MP (maj. c20,000) give a speech in which she mentioned how she had discovered the importance of street surgeries, coffee mornings and personal contact between the MP and voters actually was: she was teaching me (and many other MPs initially elected in 1997) to suck eggs.

Prompted by my conversation with the north-easterner I plotted on a map the postcodes of every letter and email that I received for a month. My seat was a fair representation of England, with wards in every decile of social deprivation. Interestingly, I found that if I had plotted educational achievement instead of propensity to contact the MP, the map would have looked exactly the same. In other words, those from the most deprived areas were least likely to contact their MP.

That makes sense. When people in the lowest decile do contact MPs the issues they raise tend  to be local, those which directly impact upon their family or neighbourhood, rather than foreign policy or human rights concerns. Where views were discernible they were often ‘small c’ conservative, and whilst also generally Labour supporting they were often less likely to vote in elections.

To address this we increased the number of sessions we spent knocking on doors in the more deprived areas  and instead of asking ‘Will you be voting Labour?’ we asked ‘What can we help you with?’ - good old ‘pavement politics’. But it still wasn’t enough.
Within disadvantaged communities there’s a persistent belief that however unfair things are, that’s the way they’ll stay. This is also combined with a reluctance to accept that voting makes a tangible difference to their lives. There’s no expectation of being consulted on the things that matter, even on their own street.

One outcome of this alienation from politics is the frustration that councillors feel at election time, when they feel that they are being judged on the performance of national government, rather than on whether they’ve personally done a good job. Another outcome of alienation are the feelings of resentment and powerlessness which undoubtedly motivated many of the 52% who voted for Brexit.

To re-engage with the Brexit voter we need the restoration of citizenship education in the school curriculum.We also need an electoral system that better represents votes cast.
We also need to reform local authorities and devolve as many decisions to local communities as possible.

In the future we will be looking to communities becoming more sustainable than they are today. Initiatives around reducing food miles, clean energy, the provision of local residential and domestic care and social and community enterprises, can help make our communities more sustainable when combined with the principle of subsidiarity - taking decisions at the most appropriate level.

Politics is not a dirty word; and it doesn't just happen at election time, because politics is about people’s lives. It’s about a balance between the individual and the common weal. The political system needs to change, recognising that, yes, politicians are representatives and not delegates, but they should not be deaf or blind to the realities of the world - particularly the world as experienced through the eyes of disadvantaged and marginalised communities.

Tom Levitt was Labour Member of Parliament for High Peak (Derbyshire) from 1997-2010.

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Breaking the Mould - Can TIG change British political culture?

For many years British politics has been plagued by inertia, cynicism and a mantra that “nothing can ever change”. I believe the new TIG group can break the spell. Already the cross-party group is demonstrating that fortune favours the brave. The wave caused by their initial splash is beginning to erode the pillars of the old politics.

However, they must continue to capture the public’s imagination and gain their trust and support by demonstrating that they can live up to their #changepolitics hashtag.

Already, just by their formation they have caused tremors, in turn causing cracks to appear in the established political edifice. Tom Watson’s immediate reaction was to throw a protective shield around  MPs who he termed as belonging to the social-democratic wingof the Labour Party. As a consequence, Jeremy Corbyn reluctantly made concessions on a people’s vote. And even the official People’s vote campaign betrayed some unease at seeing TIG act in such a – well -  independent way.

Politics is currently misshapen, but  fortunately still molten enough to be refashioned. The two main parties of British politics have vacated the centre ground and can no longer attract those who consider themselves disenfranchised and politically homeless. The share of the vote the “big beasts” gleaned in June 2017 no more demonstrates mass support than the claim, circa 2006, that Nokia and Ericsson had the mobile phone market sewn up, would have. People’s latent desire for smart phones couldn’t have been predicted until they were invented. The same can be said of pent-up hopes for a new centrist party. Or, to borrow a phrase from Field Of Dreams:’Build it and they will come’.

In recent decades the centre ground has been mobilised by appealing beyond the traditionally-defined core demographics of the major parties to gain a majority (e.g. New Labour, 1997) or by bolting on centre-ground votes to form a majority via a coalition (e.g. 2010-2015). The Independent Group therefore has the potential to forge something entirely novel: a new, dynamic centre ground of politics, capable, ultimately, of winning power in order to tackle the fundamental problems of our age, without appealing to the extremes of ideology on either the right, or the left.

In so doing, it is essential for TIG to live up to its promise, to show its values through its actions, and reveal its principles through its modus operandi as much as its policies. It must not replicate the closed shop, vested interest-riven, backroom manoeuvrings of Labour or the Tories. Instead, it must be open, dynamic, and innovative.

There is an appetite for a new style of political engagement. An example from the last parliament is Pragmatic Radicalism, which we launched in 2011 at a Commons event with Luciana Berger as guest speaker. We held 17 “Top of the Policies” events around the country, during which the audience pitched their policy ideas in one minute. This was then followed by two minutes of quick-fire questioning by the audience, and then a final vote for the best policy idea. These events were all chaired by Labour shadow ministers, including one by Chuka Umunna MP.  

The events  were innovative and, remarkably for political events, they were fun. They showed that the audience has just as much insight and expertise as any panel of politicians. And where CLPs or Tory constituency associations often balk at opening their doors to the public, our events were welcoming and open to all. The events elicited good ideas and they attracted and empowered those who were not ‘the usual suspects’.

TIG might choose to build on this and other innovative approaches towards political engagement. The most  recent example of this is the mass engagement exercise of En Marche and President Macron’s current round of listening events.

TIG could plan a ‘policy listening’ week - a series of events no more than ten minutes away from where 90% of the population live. Events would be designed with an engaging format, welcoming ordinary people with no political background and encouraging them to give their ideas. This would contrast with the all-too-frequent default of local activists posting policies from on high through letterboxes, or patronising voters by canvassing with a cursory doorstep “are you voting Labour/Tory this time” once every five years.

TIG could also arrange for its politicians to hold their press conferences or set piece events as far away from Westminster  as possible. They must go to voters where they are, not vice versa. Community centres, places of worship, supermarkets, town centres, clubs and pubs should replace the wood-panelled committee rooms of Parliament.

If TIG did this, no-one could argue that they were distant, or level the standard charge against politicians, that they don’t listen. It would demonstrate a new model for politics, hinted at already by Chuka Umunna’s recent policy pamphlet which mentioned the much needed proportional representation and an end to PMQs.

Such an engagement strategy, if combined with a long overdue rehabilitation of experts, and the adoption of modern technology to improve the exchange of ideas, will help the core group of TIG MPs build a credible policy platform that appeals to ordinary voters.

These are merely a few suggestions on how TIG can help break the spell that has been cast over so many in recent years by the two main parties: a Labour Party captured by the hard left and a coterie of former Communists, whose leading activists besmirch the notion of a middle class, or of aspiration.And also a Conservative party that may yet tilt fully away from One Nationism to embracepopulism and British nationalism.

In Catch-22, Joseph Heller, showed us that sanity can often be regarded as insane by those with misguided or malign intent. It is precisely the sensible, cross-party, practical, reasonable, principled, non-ideological nature of TIG  that most frightens its detractors.

In the age of unreason, it can seem unreasonable to be so reasonable. And in the age of extremes, it may seem an extreme position to seek a sensible middle ground. TIG offers a path out of the ideological extremes.

The innovative, dynamic, open, inclusive, listening, non-patronising manner in which TIG conducts its politics will place into sharp relief the tired old techniques of the tired old parties. It would help motivate the politically homeless  and dispel the convenient myth that the main parties are the only vehicles to change society.

John Slinger was a Labour Party member for 25 years and comes from the Midlands. He founded Pragmatic Radicalism. @JohnSlinger

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