Sunday, 25 September 2016

Labour's real problem? Britons don't want socialism

This piece originally appeared on Conservatives for Liberty on 24/09/2016.

Labour will today elect their new leader, or more likely, the old one. Far from unseating Jeremy Corbyn, the coup, vote of no confidence, and Owen Smith’s leadership challenge, have merely served to galvanise the membership, all of whom overwhelmingly seem to back the right honourable member for Islington North.

Much has been made during the contest about Corbyn’s lack of leadership, and his poor handling of those of his colleagues who don’t reside on the far left of the party. There is no doubting that Jeremy Corbyn has been completely ineffectual as Labour leader. His bizarre ‘letter from Mrs Trellis’ approach to PMQs basically gave David Cameron free shots on goal, with no follow up questions to attempt to pin the PM down.

Corbyn was widely praised for his ‘best performance yet’ when challenging Theresa May over her grammar schools policy recently, yet watching it back it’s hardly an evisceration. He’s merely set the bar so low as to have any halfway competent performance seem spectacular by comparison. Where Labour has put pressure on the government, on issues like Tax Credits – aided by Tory backbenchers mind you – it has apparently been accomplished without much, if any, input from Corbyn.

Whilst this infighting and incompetence has undoubtedly helped Labour’s collapse in the polls, it merely distracts from the real problem Labour faces, namely that Brits, by and large, don’t want socialism.

Make no mistake, that’s all that’s on offer. Owen Smith has skewered himself between trying to earn the support of the PLP and the membership, leading to his entire pitch essentially boiling down to ‘I’m exactly like Jeremy, but with leadership.’ When it comes to policy, they’re very much just slightly different shades of red.

Smith pledges to borrow £200bn to try and boost the economy. Not to be outdone, Corbyn raises to £500bn. The two appear to playing economic chicken whilst the electorate at large look on in bewilderment. Labour’s own report into why it lost the 2015 election came to the conclusion that one of the reasons was that the party couldn’t be trusted on the economy. Yet they’re now deciding between two potential leaders who are so far left they make Red Ed look like the Iron Lady.

Moreover, far from being anti-austerity, voters overwhelmingly supported the cap on benefits and welfare cuts. In a Populus poll for the Financial Times back in April 2015, a massive 75% of respondents supported then Chancellor George Osborne’s £12bn planned welfare haircut. Whilst voters are in favour of a strong safety net, they’re very much of the view that one should earn your own way in the world if you’re able to do so. This flies in the face of Smith’s commitment to an ‘equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity’.

Then there’s the issue of zero hours contracts. Both Corbyn and Smith have continued to back Miliband’s policy – again rejected at the last election – of banning the use of them. This is despite a majority of people on zero-hours contracts reporting that they’re happy with the arrangement and the flexibility they provide. The same survey also showed that more people on zero-hours contracts are happy with their work/life balance than those on fixed contracts. Yet again Labour’s big statism is in conflict with the electorate’s desire to negotiate their own terms of employment.

Perhaps the biggest dichotomy on show is Smith’s stated desire, should he somehow find himself in power, to keep the UK in the EU. The vote on June 23 saw more people vote to leave the EU than have ever voted for anything else in the history of this country. They did so to move power one step closer to the individual and one step further away from the state, yet, with a couple of notable exceptions, the authoritarian tendencies within Labour rejected this notion, and now Smith has decided to make ignoring this overwhelming democratic mandate a key part of his leadership campaign.

The latest bug-bear of the Left is the potential re-emergence of grammar schools. Vehemently opposed by Jeremy Corbyn, and the source of his vigour at PMQs, the policy also saw Owen Smith denounce the Tories as ‘turning back the clock’. But the move to give parents more options when it comes to their child’s education is, once again, a popular one. 62% of parents would get their children to sit a grammar school entrance exam, according to Yougov, and more people are in favour of expanding the provision of grammar schools than scrapping the existing ones or maintaining the current stock. When it comes to centralisation versus liberation, Labour are once again backing the wrong horse.

It is this belief in increased state control, over the economy and much else, which ultimately dooms Labour. Despite what Corbynistas will have you believe, their man hasn’t led Labour to a lead over the Conservatives at any point during his leadership. An average of polls compiled by Britain Elects has the gap at it’s narrowest, a couple of points, in April. But Labour’s position was already deteriorating by the time Hilary Benn was sacked from the shadow cabinet, triggering the mass resignations which ultimately led to the vote of no confidence.

This is because on the whole, the British electorate wants the government to leave them alone and get on with it. This is why they rejected Miliband at the last election, rightly judging that his micro-managing economic policies could spell disaster, and why polling has shown they are consistently rejecting Corbyn. Until Labour realise this, and reject the socialism espoused by Corbyn, McDonnell and their comrades on the Left of the party, they are doomed to electoral oblivion, regardless of who happens to be leader.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Gary Johnson must be President

This article originally appeared on United Politics on 19/09/2016

“If someone had a gun to your head, would you vote for Hillary or Trump?”

“I’d let it go off.”

Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson’s only somewhat tongue-in-cheek answer to the question many Americans are mulling over echoes the views of a huge chunk of voters. This US presidential election has churned out the two of the worst candidates the country has ever seen, boasting favorability ratings of roughly -60% each.

And is it any surprise? Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been dogged by various controversies revolving around the FBI investigation into her emails. Although they proved her innocence, she did not survive well. She was portrayed as either incompetent, a liar, or both.

During her time as Secretary of State, Clinton used 8 different blackberries and 5 ipads. None of them could be found for inspection and this seems suspicious in these circumstances. Add to that the controversies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and the allegations of ‘pay to play’. It’s little wonder she is struggling.

Also, there is the general sense that Hillary believes that being President is somehow her entitlement. This only causes animosity amongst people.

Some of that ties into her declaration just a few days ago – now partially retracted – that half of Trump supporters constituted a ‘basket of deplorables’. She dismissed almost a quarter of the electorate as xenophobes. We witnessed how effective that kind of condescension of the disenfranchised was during the EU Referendum.

Recent health scare stories have hindered her credibility. No-one, bar the most ardent of Republicans, would begrudge her getting ill. She’s only human. But after first playing off the concerns about her health as a conspiracy, then claiming she collapsed due to heat exhaustion, it emerged that Clinton was in fact suffering from pneumonia.

The sheer amount of campaigning she managed despite her illness would be impressive had she acknowledged it immediately. But by dismissing it and then down-playing it, Clinton did nothing to alleviate the perception that she is fundamentally deceitful.

Even on policy, she’s not exactly warm and fuzzy. In terms of her approach to military interventions, Clinton would make some Republicans blush. In a campaign even at Dartmouth college last July, she said: “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m President, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

This is the sort of ridiculous, war-monging statement one would expect from Donald Trump.

Speaking of whom, where to begin? It’s difficult to tell whether the vitriol Trump has espoused are sincerely held beliefs or whether or not he just believes whipping up that kind of hatred, and playing into that kind of fear, represents his best bet at becoming Commander In Chief.

Because make no bones about it; Trump couldn’t care less about the plight of working class America. Much like Hillary, he just wants to be Mr President.

But what an appalling path to take to the White House. Besides being completely incoherent, the man has, in no particular order:

Advocated bombing the families of terrorists
Called for the deportation of 11 million people from the US
Suggested punishing doctors who perform abortions
Said that most Mexicans who cross the border are drug dealers, criminals and rapists, albeit with the caveat that some, he assumes, ‘are good people’

Throw in the litany of misogynistic remarks this nutter has uttered during the campaign, and it’s small wonder Americans are despairing at the choice before them.

Which is precisely where Gary Johnson comes in. He and his running mate, Bill Weld, are both former Republican governors who served in traditional Democrat states, getting re-elected with increased majorities. He’s running on a ticket of fiscal responsibility and social inclusion. He wants to cut taxes and legalise pot. What’s not to like?

But let’s leave policy to one side for the moment. The biggest difference between Johnson and the candidates put forth by the two main parties is that the guy is a decent human being.

He committed a rather sizeable gaffe last week, completely blanking when asked what he would do about the situation in Aleppo. But a subsequent interview later that day on The View (where he answered the Trump or Hilary question), and his official statement shortly afterwards, showed a humility and reasonableness that is completely missing from the other two candidates.

“This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I’m human. Yes, I understand the dynamics of the Syrian conflict — I talk about them every day. But hit with “What about Aleppo?”, I immediately was thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict. I blanked. It happens, and it will happen again during the course of this campaign.

Can I name every city in Syria? No. Should I have identified Aleppo? Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes.”

He explained the gaffe as just a momentary brain-freeze that everyone experiences, and he’s right. But equally he acknowledged that he should be held to a higher standard. There was no excuse for the error, no attempt to blame the media. Just an honest ‘mea culpa’.

This humility is a running theme with Johnson. Several times when discussing the principles that underpin his politics he can be heard saying the phrase ‘I could be wrong’. How many politicians do we hear saying that? There is surely no greater sign of intelligence than being able to admit when one has erred and change tack. That is precisely the kind of quality we wish to see in our leaders, rather than grandiose pig-headedness.

Throw in his policies on being pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, pro-free trade, anti-regime change and military interventions, and wanting to make it as easy as possible for immigrants to acquire a work visa to enter the country, and there’s a strong thread of humanity that runs throughout his politics.

His campaign stands apart, too. Whilst Trump and Clinton’s campaigns consist mainly of slinging mud at each other, Johnson’s thus far has been overwhelmingly about his own policies, his own philosophy and what he can offer. It’s less “look how awful they are”, and more “here’s what I think we should be doing.”

Sure, he’s not perfect. But all this culminates in the sense that Gary Johnson wants to be President because he wants to serve his country, not because he just wants to be President.

And, gun to your head, doesn’t that make him the best choice for the job?

Monday, 12 September 2016

UKIP elect their new leader this week, but does it matter anymore?

This article originally appeared on United Politics on 12/09/2016.

This Thursday sees the election of the new UKIP leader. Arguably one of the more difficult jobs in politics, considering the admiration Farage receives from the party faithful. Whoever takes the role will have big shoes to fill.

Replacing Farage will not be a simple task, especially in light of all the controversy that has surrounded this leadership election. The two candidates most favoured for the job aren’t on the ballot paper. Suzanne Evans, who was suspended by Farage back in March for ‘disloyalty’, and Steven Woolfe, who many saw as the obvious successor, was controversially kept off the ballot by UKIP’s NEC.

This act has caused huge consternation amongst UKIP members and supporters. A mixed race, northern working class boy done good with a charismatic presence and professional media style, he was seen by the membership as the ideal candidate to take the party forward to fight Labour in those northern working class constituencies it has long taken for granted, and avoid a slide into irrelevancy in the wake of the referendum vote.

That was how Woolfe positioned himself too. At his leadership rally in Manchester – a few days before the application deadline closed, he spoke of the need to professionalise and detoxify the party.

This is an issue recognised by much of the membership too. All parties have their lunatic fringes, but UKIP are not the swivel eyed loons many make them out to be, just working class people who feel abandoned by the two main parties.

They are well aware of their toxic image, and many of the questions aimed at Woolfe during that rally were on that topic. When asked by one black man how he proposed to shed the party’s racist image Woolfe responded, to cheers and applause, ‘by getting you elected.’

But after Woolfe failed to get his application papers in before the deadline, blaming technical failings of UKIP’s submission system, the NEC ruled that he was ineligible to stand. This has caused uproar within the membership. Branches across the country have been holding votes on whether or not to call for an EGM to discuss constitutional reform – one imagines code for ‘abolish the NEC’ in light of the decision.

Their dismay has been further confounded by reports that Lisa Duffy, a UKIP councillor standing for leader, had her application bankrolled by an NEC member who failed to declare a conflict of interest prior to the Woolfe vote, and news that the Gambling Commission was investigating a large bet placed against Woolfe becoming leader, before the NEC result was known.

This internal warfare means that UKIP have gone from being perfectly placed to capitalise on the Brexit vote and professionalise their image in the post-Farage era, to disappearing into the irrelevancy some predicted would befall them in the event of a Leave vote. Woolfe garnered a lot of media coverage for his fledgling bid, but the contest has been all but ignored by the mainstream media since his exclusion.

The current favourite Diane James does possesses the same media polish that Woolfe has, but being a southerner, will struggle much more to connect with those working class communities up north. This will prevent a steeper uphill climb for UKIP to increase their vote share and really take the fight to a Labour party in equal disarray.

With a less than optimal new leader, and a membership divided and railing against the party machine, UKIP run the risk not of unseating Labour, but following their lead to electoral irrelevance.

The ship Farage steered to a win at the European elections, over 4 million votes at the general election, and ultimately to their finest hour of the referendum win, risks hitting the rocks just as it picks up steam. We will soon find out whether or not the new skipper can successfully steer them to a new course, or whether they will sink to the bottom of the ocean of British politics.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

REVIEW: Alter Bridge - The Last Hero

This review was originally written for

Alter Bridge are now no longer young upstarts, or indeed middling metal bands, but are making the transition into arena rock behemoths. Whilst in many ways The Last Hero picks up from where Fortress left off, there's no sense of complacency, and in playing to their strengths they've laid a blueprint for upscaling their music to suit the live environment they now find themselves conquering.

Opener Show Me A Leader is typical Alter Bridge, epic picking intro, complete with wailing lead, giving way to an almost Dream Theatre-esque riff before Myles Kennedy's distinctive vocals take centre stage. Kennedy is in the form of his life here, pitching beautifully between knowing snarls and soaring high notes. The chorus - bound to be a crowd pleaser when the band heads out on tour - sets a more defiant and hopeful tone for the whole album than we've previously seen.

The contrast of the darker tone and gnarly riffs with Kennedy's most optimistic and defiant lyrics yet give the album a unique vibe within the band's catalogue. The likes of The Writing On The Wall and Poison In Your Veins both boast gut-busting Tremonti riffage and contumacious vocals, the listener in the latter being told "it's time for you to rise and be much more".  Meanwhile Twilight sees the band entering the realm of political commentary. 'Tomorrow is contingent on the tolerance of every heart' - clearly calling out the likes of Trump on his plethora of bullshit, and probably the most compelling of Kennedy's lyrics. Just the right side of cheesey, they're saved by the sincerity with which Kennedy tends to infuse all his songs. Not just a commentary for commentary's sake but more a venting of his psyche, dealing with a larger theme with a still deeply personal approach.

The lighter-in-the-air ballades that Alter Bridge do so well return too. You Will Be Remembered a letter to loved ones lost in the vein of ABIII's In Loving Memory. The stand out track though is My Champion. Featuring a cascading lead intro and a genuinely uplifting chorus, it's slightly evocative of Bon Jovi, albeit with a much dirtier amp. Though the title flirts with power ballade cliche, it does well to stay the right side of it and was ultimately the track I hit the repeat button on the most.

Most interesting though are the more expansive tracks. The atmospheric Cradle To The Grave deploying acoustic guitars to create a Dance of Death era Iron Maiden vibe, and This Side Of Fate is equally ambitious. Violining intro and picked verses showing a characteristic deployment of dynamics to create the desired emotional response in the listener. Alter Bridge are becoming extremely adept at telling a story through not just the lyrics, but the music itself. There's a prog like Iron Maiden middle section again and they experiment with song structure to great effect, Kennedy's vocals truly soaring. The penchant for story telling surfaces again in the closing title track.

These more impressive, experimental songs hint of the band's possible future direction. Further exploration of the more expansive material could indeed be an extremely fertile field to plow. The Last Hero is a typically accomplished affair for the band. The only minor quibble would be Tremonti's lead work. Always crisp and technically impressive, it nevertheless lacks the real soul or gravitas of say, an Alex Lifeson solo. He should break out the blues albums and heed Peter Green's advice to Gary Moore of playing 'every other lick' to avoid becoming too much of a shredder, and set off those more epic tracks with some truly soulful lead work. Nevertheless, The Last Hero is yet another sterling piece of music from the boys from Florida.


Show Me a Leader
The Writing On The Wall
The Other Side
My Champion
Poison In Your Veins
Cradle To The Grave
Losing Patience
This Side Of Fate
You Will Be Remembered
Crows On A Wire
Island of Fools
The Last Hero