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Memo to Labour: David Cameron did not win this election from the centre ground

by Sunny Hundal     May 10, 2015 at 2:07 pm

Tony Blair writes today: “the route to the summit lies through the centre ground”.

We expected this right? Tony Blair is becoming famous for repeating himself all the time.

There’s also one glaring problem with this cliche: Cameron didn’t win from the centre ground. In fact he moved further away from the electorate and voters rewarded him for it.

Britons saw Cameron as right-wing as Miliband was left-wing. They were both equally away from the centre.

In fact, Cameron was further away from the centre nearer to the election than he started off! And yet he increased his share of the vote and seats.

Furthermore, most of Miliband’s major policies: cracking down on tax avoidance, abolishing non-doms, raising the 50px tax, focusing on the NHS etc – were very popular with the public. His analysis of people not being served by capitalism was right – even Tories like Fraser Nelson and Charles Moore admitted it.

So if this was about moving left or right, and about offering policies that chime with the public, why didn’t Miliband win big?

Because people value authenticity, and they value competence. Labour gave them neither; Cameron at least offered latter. Miliband didn’t have clarity of message either. People frequently misunderstood his positions or didn’t believe in them. When it came to the crunch, they could not bring themselves to place their trust in the man (sadly). Miliband just wasn’t believed, whatever he promised and however popular that was.

There’s a lesson here for the left: popular policies don’t necessarily win you elections if the person offering them isn’t believable. Unless he or she is seen as authentic and competent enough to follow them through, you can offer free owls to everyone and people will still reject you.

There’s a lesson here for the Labour right too: elections aren’t always won from the ‘centre ground’. That era of triangulation is over. Obama won, twice, on quite a liberal platform, railing against inequality and the top 1%, because he was seen as competent and determined.

UPDATE: There are other inconvenient facts too. As Peter Oborne points out:

Their prescription is curious after a general election in which the three parties which rejected the centre ground — the SNP, UKIP and the Greens — made the biggest gains in the popular vote.

Meanwhile the party which made the greatest claim to the centre ground — the Liberal Democrats — was virtually annihilated.

But don’t let the facts get in your way, Mr Blair.

Is Labour making a big (long term) mistake by rejecting “any” deal with the SNP?

by Sunny Hundal     May 1, 2015 at 4:26 am

The Labour leadership have finally settled on a clear line on the SNP.

Assuming that Cameron cannot cobble together a majority on 8th May and has to resign, that gives Ed Miliband his turn at forming a government.

Miliband says he won’t do a formal coalition with the SNP (Nicola Sturgeon ruled that out ages ago anyway), nor will there be an informal ‘Confidence & Supply’ agreement with them. Instead, Labour either do a deal with the Lib Dems to get a working majority, or they work as a minority government.

The Labour leadership are confident they can work as a minority government because the SNP and other minor left parties won’t vote down their Queen’s Speech and trigger a second election. In effect they are calling Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff because she has already committed to voting down a Tory Queen’s Speech.

So the Labour leadership are pleased because they think Sturgeon has little leverage. But can this strategy be sustained for long?

Firstly, this is from last night:

The SNP are predictably spinning it as: Ed Miliband would rather let the Tories back in than work with the SNP. That is wrong. There is no conceivable prospect of Miliband resigning his government than having SNP on his side.

Caroline Flint later clarified it:

What [Miliband] ruled out was this idea that, somehow, to have a Labour government we’re prepared to do a coalition or some other kind of confidence and supply deal [with the SNP].

But, at the end of the day, whoever forms a government, parties will get a chance to vote for a Queen’s speech, vote for budgets, and vote for policies, that’s the same with any government.

In other words: Hey Nicola Sturgeon, you are still welcome to vote with us! Just don’t expect a quid-pro-quo arrangement of any sort.

OK. So that was a misstep but this strategy is still sound, right?

I’m not so sure.

Keep one important point in mind: a large proportion of Scots don’t view the SNP as negatively as the English do. In fact, a large proportion of them (many of whom are ex-Labour voters) think the SNP have their interests at heart more than Labour. This seems obvious but a lot of people seem to be ignoring this.

More importantly, Nicola Sturgeon isn’t going to let herself be outmaneuvered by Miliband so easily.

Since Labour still needs a majority of MPs for votes on legislation, Sturgeon will just make his life harder by getting SNP MPs to abstain or complain over small things. That would put Miliband in a difficult position: either negotiate with the SNP (and have the Right savage him for it) or appeal to Tory MPs (thus alienating the left and giving an electoral boon to Sturgeon).

In Scotland, Sturgeon will keep arguing that Miliband would rather do a deal with the Tories than the SNP. In England, the Tories will argue that Labour are breaking their promise and doing deals with the SNP. Either way Miliband will be constantly attacked on all sides.

This isn’t ideal. Miliband’s administration could soon become paralysed.

For Miliband to argue in Scotland that he’d rather have Tory MPs vote with him than negotiate with SNP MPs would further alienate SNP voters (many of whom Labour need back). In effect he will be giving up on Scottish Labour without much gain in return.

By saying Labour rejects any deal with the SNP, I think Miliband is making a mistake. I don’t think this strategy can be sustained.

Two big reasons a Tory-Lib Dem coalition is unlikely after this election

by Sunny Hundal     April 30, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Nick Clegg clearly wants another coalition with the Conservatives. And I’m fairly sure Cameron recognises the necessity of carrying on their tolerable relationship. And a lot of people in Westminster assume the two will be joined at the hip when negotiating post-election.

But I don’t think it will be that straightforward.

Firstly, it won’t be easy from the Conservative side. Theresa May and Boris Johnson want their shot at being leader of the party and neither have time to waste. Neither want to wait another five years either, when more of the recent crop of Tories will want their shot.

Tory leadership hopefuls could make the argument to colleagues that another coalition would undermine the Tory party and force them to break more promises. Besides, Cameron has shown himself incapable of winning elections outright, so why not get rid of him and get a proper leader who will win in 5 years time? – they will say.

Many Tories, who will not want the straightjacket of another coalition, will find that a seductive pitch and may reject another coalition.

Secondly, its not a done and dusted deal from the Lib Dem side either. For a start, Clegg has to get approval from his fellow MPs and party members, and that won’t be as straightforward this time.

There will be far more hostility from Lib Dems this time, for good reasons. These are some points made to me by Steffan John (@steffanjohn) over Twitter. I’m quoting him directly without embedding tweets to make it look cleaner:

1) Maths for majority isn’t there.
2) Even if a small majority was, no national interest in unstable government with 4yr leadership contest.
3) 2010 had financial crisis backdrop and 4) threat of swift re-election. Neither there this time, so less pressure on Lib Dems
5) 2010 had common ground on civil liberties, localisation, constitutional reform, environment, raising tax thresh. All gone.
6) Labour not hated as it was in 2010; Tories far more Right-wing now. LD won’t support again, esp. as Lab-LD-(SNP) is possible

Steffan John is a Lib Dem and makes some good points.

And here is Vince Cable’s former SpAd Giles Wilkes

There is, I think, a real chance Lib Dems will reject a coalition with Cameron, especially if there are signs of hostility from Tory MPs (stirred up by May and Boris).

That clears the way for Miliband to be Prime Minister, with Lib Dems choosing to either work in a coalition or sit on the sidelines, while the Conservatives choose their next leader.

How Tory support collapsed after the 2012 budget

by Sunny Hundal     April 22, 2015 at 1:46 am

How the left got duped by the SNP on austerity, but will ignore it anyway

by Sunny Hundal     April 20, 2015 at 9:30 pm

What would you rather have: 1) a party that tells you what you want to hear and does something different, or 2) one that tells you straight about what its going to do?

Most people, I suspect, would pick the latter option. Or at least, they would like to think they prefer the second option but they’re easily seduced by the first.

Many of my colleagues on the left have been raving about the SNP for months. Today, when they released their manifesto, it turned out their spending plans and commitments weren’t actually that different to that of Labour

I just feel sorry for those people who had raved about how SNP would challenge austerity, only to find their fiscal plans were largely the same as Labour’s plans.

The Guardian’s George Monbiot put the SNP in the same category as Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Féin, and the Greens. Follow your convictions, he extorted! Ignore those bloody bean-counters and accountants from the Labour party who offer nothing other than limp policies, he added.

Oh. Now it turns out the SNP nicked half their policies and ideas from Labour. As Stephen Bush points out, it feels as if it is the SNP being pulled leftward by Ed Miliband. Ouch!

My friends, this is what happens when you focus on empty rhetoric rather than actual policies and commitments. Monbiot and others had been saying for ages that Labour and Tory austerity was the same until it turned out… that wasn’t true.

THIS is why I keep saying, focus on the actual policies rather than the rhetoric, otherwise later you’ll be left asking why politicians don’t live up to expectations.

How Muslims are smeared as ‘entryists’ in newspapers without reason

by Sunny Hundal     March 15, 2015 at 8:17 pm

There is no other minority group in the UK like Muslims that you can make crass and bigoted generalisations about, and get away with it. Perhaps Roma people, but they are rarely written about as much. Not even Poles get the treatment like they used to.

I want to illustrate this point through a recent article by the Telegraph’s Andrew Gillian, which screamed: Islamic ‘radicals’ at the heart of Whitehall.

Here’s what happened: the government set up a group to advise them on tackling anti-Muslim prejudice, in parallel to the one tackling anti-semitism. It includes representatives from most major departments.

It is a very inclusive like few others, including Ahmadis, Ismailis, Sunnis and Shia Muslims together, plus other campaigners like Nick Lowles (Hope Not Hate). This is worth keeping in mind, especially since its conveniently ignored by Andrew Gilligan, because any “extreme” views would very likely be challenged by others.

The central allegation of the article is against Mudassar Ahmad, a case which is so flimsy you have to wonder whether a different agenda was being served.

Among its most prominent non-government members is Muddassar Ahmed, a former senior activist in the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), an extremist and anti-Semitic militant body which is banned from many universities as a hate group

In fact Mudassar left MPAC years ago and was never involved in any of the main activities it was criticised for (and I was a frequent critics of MPAC). The article admits that later on too.

The main quotes come from Fiyaz Mughal from Tell MAMA, who is said to have left the group over “concerns”. But Fiyaz actually left earlier last year. He is referred to by Gilligan as a “senior Muslim leader” even though he earlier undermined and attacked Tell MAMA’s work (which led to a complaint to the PCC from Tell MAMA). One minute Gilligan thinks TM is dodgy and then he’s a senior leader? What does that say about Gilligan’s journalism?

When the article came out, I said maybe Fiyaz was justified if any in the group had made inflammatory statements.

But Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles said to me in response: “This is the first time the antisemtic charge has been levelled on the group or its members. It is a complete red herring and an insult to everyone on the group.” I trust his judgement.

And yet, by implication, people in the group are being smeared as ‘entryists’ (Fiyaz Mughal has conspicuously declined to fully justify his claims).

These kind of generalisations about Muslims are rare now, but still remain despicable. The Telegraph would never (any more) run headlines like ‘secret plan by gays to take over Whitehall‘ – so why is this kind of language acceptable regarding Muslims?

Why Amnesty (or any other proper human rights org) couldn’t work with CAGE again

by Sunny Hundal     March 12, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Amnesty International UK say they no longer consider it appropriate to share a platform with CAGE after their recent comments. About time.

Last week, Cage director Asim Qureshi was invited on to the BBC to justify his comments on Mohammed Emwazi and debate other stances the group have taken.

He went from bad to worse. Qureshi was asked about a claim on the Cage website that British individuals are “killed on the whim of British security agencies” – he couldn’t think of a single example. Later asked if he agreed with Haitham al-Haddad’s views on FGM, stoning of women, domestic violence and more – Qureshi said: “I’m not a scholar”.

Watch

To summarise, the leader of Cage, a self-described ‘human rights organisation’ can’t even be clear on his own stance on several human rights issues. This is a joke, right?

A decade ago, when Asim Qureshi was speaking at a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally, he had no problems acting as a theologian and telling Muslims it was “incumbent upon all of us to support the Jihad [in Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Israel]”. Has he become less informed about Islam since?

Supporters of Cage say this is about context, that he wasn’t actually encouraging anyone to commit terrorism. Of course, jihad can also be non-violent according to the official definition, but its ridiculous to pretend that the wider context, where some Muslims think jihad implies violent extremism, is irrelevant. When Tommy Robinson said Muslims would pay if there was another 7/7 style attack – we know what he meant, he wasn’t talking about financial compensation. At least he apologised; Qureshi hasn’t.

I have two questions for Cage:
1) We agree that people should have access to justice and due process, and Cage keep referring to the latter re: the Mohammed Emwazi affair. So I asked: Did they think MI5 broke the law in any way in dealing with Emwazi?
2) Why didn’t they release the full tapes of their conversations with Emwazi?

I’ve repeatedly put these two questions to Cage over Twitter. They’ve not answered, despite responding to attacks on me by others.

* * * * *

Its worth saying that Amnesty UK has never had a formal relationship with Cage. In an interview with Radio 4 they say their joint work involved hosting a few events for Moazzam Begg, and lending their name to some publications and letters. Recently they both signed a letter to Cameron calling for a judge-led inquiry into Britain’s alleged involvement in the rendition and torture of terrorist suspects.

5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.

At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay and Israeli war crimes. I continue to think Amnesty is a great organisation but it should have refused to work with Cage then. I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong. Gita Sahgal’s instincts have been vindicated.

What Jihadi John and CAGE said yesterday about how people are ‘driven to terrorism’

by Sunny Hundal     February 27, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Imagine this scenario. A white atheist kills a Muslim couple in cold blood. The media speculates endlessly about the “factors” that drove him to kill them: apparently he had a parking dispute with them; they dressed and talked funny; he was lonely and maybe they did something to provoke him? When this actually happened a few weeks ago, called the Chapel Hill shootings, Muslims were rightly horrified at the coverage looked like it was justifying the murders of several innocent people. So what if he liked cats and was polite to people? Why was his wife given so much time on air to defend her husband?

Or take another example. Imagine you’re a white working class kid who lives in a town like Luton. You’ve heard stories of Pakistani-gangs grooming young white girls and that the police is barely doing anything about it. The gangs make your life hell and, on top of that, they go around harassing gays and soldiers and saying they hate this country. They want to shariah law in town, the gangs say. So you join the English Defence League because you see them as the only people standing up against them. Is he a racist? Or is he a boy driven to join extreme groups in response to events around him?

By now you’ll know what I’m getting at, though some people will no doubt claim these are false comparisons. They’re not.

I’m sick of people who try and “contextualise” terrorism on the basis that someone else is to blame for what that person did. But yesterday, CAGE, which calls itself a human rights organisation (yes and Putin is a human rights activist), said the blame for the radicalisation of Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) lay solely with the intelligence services.

Of course it did. Because saying anything else would require admitting that he was actually taught by other Muslims to hate non-Sunnis, be ok with the enslaving of Yazidi women, and behead aid workers. CAGE would never admit that. In their world, radicalisation only happens when the police or intelligence services question Muslims. As a caller to BBC radio yesterday put it: “I’m a black man. I’ve been stopped and searched by the Police on numerous occasions for no reason. That doesn’t give me an excuse to murder people.”

There is no doubt in my mind that CAGE were making excuses for a terrorist. Trying to paint him as a victim who was driven to his heinous crimes by security services (who, by the way, only half-heartedly tried to recruit him). And yet, many people who are normally outraged when the national media make excuses for white terrorists or EDL members, were silent yesterday or supporting CAGE, with a few honourable exceptions

Let’s be clear about a few things. The security services are not going to stop questioning Muslims who they think are involved in terrorism-related activities. I only wonder why they didn’t have Mohammed Emwazi under heavier surveillance earlier.

Secondly, CAGE did incalculable harm to the cause of people (like me) who think the security services do sometimes overstep the mark and harass people wrongly. If CAGE is their spokesperson then those people are fucked because they won’t elicit any sympathy whatsoever.

The media is inconsistent in how it covers murders by Muslims and non-Muslims – I agree with this. But Muslims can’t complain of bias in the national media and then fail to criticise a group like CAGE who want to “contextualise” how a man like him is driven to extremism (there were exceptions of course)

In fact I asked several times yesterday of the “context” that makes a man want to kill innocent aid workers (who were helping Syrians), and I got no reply. Funny that.

We badly screwed up in Libya, and it’s time to admit that

by Sunny Hundal     February 17, 2015 at 9:47 am

There are usually two kinds of people who like to commentate on foreign policy matters: those who oppose any military ‘intervention’ in the affairs of other countries; and those who have no problems advocating military intervention and will always defend such action.

I happen to be in a third, less media-friendly category of people who thinks military intervention in the affairs of other countries is a possible last resort providing:
– it is carefully judged and isn’t rushed into
– has a clear purpose and exit plan
– the public is adequately explained why such action is necessary and support it in significant numbers
– the plan isn’t to leave the country in a worse state than it was

I accept that this is too nuanced for many people, especially on Twitter… but ¯\_(?)_/¯

Anyway. I also believe it really helps foreign policy debates if politicians admitted when they fucked up. I’m actually still astounded that Tony Blair – and Nick Cohen, by the way – aren’t embarrassed to continue opining on foreign policy affairs and defending the invasion of Iraq. Living in a bubble makes you oblivious, clearly.

Like Iraq, we fucked up in Libya. We should say this so we can learn from it.

I mean, here we have Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff who was then appointed by Cameron as the UK envoy, saying: “Libya could, if it goes down this spiral, end up as a failed state.

WTAF? There is no mention whatsoever of the UK’s hand in deposing Gaddafi (which I supported at the time), and yet doing nothing whatsoever to ensure a transition to democracy. We have screwed up and yet we’re pretending it’s the Libyan people’s fault their country has collapsed into violence. It beggars belief.

This has now become a pattern: we get involved in foreign conflicts and then we absolve ourselves of responsibility if the country collapses without proper institutions being put in place. Libya is in trouble because of us. We should have helped put institutions in place but we were too busy leaving to declare victory.

Aside from the lives lost in Libya, these kind of screw-ups also dampen public enthusiasm for genuinely necessary interventions in places like Syria*. Our own short-sightedness in foreign affairs is costing lives – of others and eventually ours, through blowback.

—-
* PS – I don’t accept Cameron passed the above tests when rushing into Syria over chemical weapons, which is I supported Miliband’s brakes on the process.

No, watching ISIS videos does NOT make you complicit in its terrorism

by Sunny Hundal     February 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

If you watch ISIS’s videos you are complicit in its terrorism, says Nesrine Malik at the Guardian.

Sorry, but this is ludicrous for various reasons. I have watched a fair amount of ISIS videos, unapologetically, and here are several reasons to do so.

1) To study what ISIS are doing and understand symbolism of what they’re saying. ISIS videos are carefully constructed pieces of propaganda. If you want to defeat your enemy then you have to know them. This isn’t just a military war but one of ideology, which makes it even more important to understand that ideology and its weaknesses. It also helps when you’re debating with ‘at risk‘ people to counter ISIS propaganda.

2) For work. Someone has to accurately report this shit, no? Someone has to study the video to see what else it reveals, and whether its actually a fake or not. The fact that ISIS have burnt alive a Jordanian pilot is news, whether people like it or not. So someone has to accurately report it, and others will use to build a better picture of ISIS capabilities and people.

3) Most importantly, I don’t want sanitised and tightly controlled images from national news, I want to see gory details and make up my own mind. I want others to have that opportunity to do so too. War is awful and people need to know this.

For too long we’ve had coverage of news events and war from the perspective of news organisations that are are OK with showing sanitised videos released by governments, but don’t want to show pics or videos of atrocities from their own side. YouTube has changed all that and I welcome it. I don’t want to be told by others what I should or should not be watching re: war or conflict. And I certainly do not want the government stepping in and criminalising people for watching videos of external conflicts.


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