The Next Election: Uncharted Waters

Whenever the next election comes, it won’t be like any we’ve seen, or that commentators can reference, or that historians can compare to.
Whether it is in 8 weeks or 18 months time, there are several elements that will make this coming General Election very different to any we’ve known.

It will be the first post-Brexit election. We may have had two since the 2016 referendum, but this will be the first since Boris Johnson “got Brexit done” with the 80 seat majority he won in December 2019. If he still leads the Tories, Johnson will be keen to reunite the winning coalition he assembled last time, this time around “keeping Brexit done”, preventing the “liberal Remoaners” from reversing it and using it as a vehicle for many other culture war issues. The costs and benefits may be clearer by the day, but for many they are reluctant to see them, or their absence.

Many, probably most, will have moved on and be far more focused on the cost of living, however much the failure of Brexit plays into those increased costs faced by households across the country.

It could be the first election post-Boris, with anyone’s guess at this point who will replace him as the PM seeking to emulate the likes of Major, May and Johnson himself in winning a first election as party leader from Number 10 after an already extended period in power for the Conservatives. Should he survive further mutinies, it would seem inevitable he goes down with the ship, and yet he seems to have ways of making the laws of political physics disapply.

Whatever happens, he’s shifted the “Overton Window” of standards and accountability, he’s proven that news cycles move so swiftly now that last week’s scandal feels like Watergate or Profumo, and that gaslighting the electorate works particularly with the help of a client media.

For Labour it will be the first election post-Corbyn, a test for those who thought they may never trust Labour in power again after putting forward the veteran and controversial left-winger as putative PM in two elections. Whilst this may draw comparisons with 1987, Foot wasn’t Corbyn and Kinnock wasn’t Starmer. Very different leaders in very different times.

With each election social media has a more and more polarising effect, old loyalties break down, and the desire for change is challenged by the fear of the unknown. New tribes go to war.

We are in a time of near unprecedented rises in the costs of food, energy, fuel and other essentials. Even a comparison to the Seventies doesn’t factor in the millions already using food banks to survive, the massive changes in the world of work, and the lingering uncertainty from a once-in-a-century pandemic.

No PM has pushed and broken the boundaries of our conventions and our constitutions like Johnson. Challenging the courts, curtailing the independence of the Electoral Commission, leaning heavily on the already supportive newspapers to suppress bad news, changing seat boundaries in their favour, harrying and threatening independent news channels like the BBC and C4 copying the strategies and tactics of the MAGA Republicans in the US, hurdling scandals that would have ended the careers of his predecessors without question or delay. The playbook has changed, the playing field is even less level.

Faced with the loss of their seats on the back of voters outraged by his behaviour, Tory MPs may remove him. But there seems little chance of a return to the Major/Clarke era, moderate “One Nation” dominance. Johnson remade the parliamentary party in his own image in 2019, the influence of the “Reform/Research Group” right-wingers runs deep, and the “Conservative Corbyn” could well be replaced with a Tory version of Richard Burgon or Zara Sultana.

If you don’t think that what’s happened in the US with Roe v Wade, then you haven’t noticed Dorries and Rees-Mogg at the Cabinet table. Few thought an extreme figure like Trump could be President, but if the last six years have taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible. The comfortable post-war consensus and steady course towards a liberal and democratic future has been and is being disrupted.

This will perhaps be the first election where the Lib Dems are finally clear of the “guilt by association” derived from their five-year coalition with Cameron’s Conservatives. Ed Davey is a blank sheet for most voters, and the big question is how much former Tory voters in seats like the ones they’ve won on huge swings in by-elections will feel safe in voting Lib Dem if they think it will deliver a Labour-led government rather than just a mid-term kicking for the Conservatives. The next election could be the first where the desire for tactical voting of 1997 is matched by the online means to organise it in the way we saw in Tiverton and Wakefield.

In the early days of 2020 few would have thought Labour could return to office after more than a decade out of power, after their biggest defeat in ninety years, needing a 12% swing to do so even for a majority of one. Impossible, most thought, particularly with the SNP grip on seats in Scotland that whilst not arithmetically needed in 1997, certainly helped Tony Blair to the first of his landslide victories.

Keir Starmer, with the campaign spotlight on his record as a former DPP and modest family background may be just the “safe pair of hands” the electorate need after the dangerous showman of Boris Johnson. In two years he has rehabilitated a deeply damaged brand in a way that took fifteen years and three leaders between 1983 and 1997. He’s got a frontbench replete with talent, balancing experience (Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves) with rising stars (Wes Streeting, Peter Kyle) that compare so favourably with the lightweight absurdities of the Trusses, Dorrieses and Rees-Moggs of Johnson’s team.

Despite their long period in office at Holyrood, the SNP still seem dominant north of the Border. Anas Sarwar and his able team are delivering a recovery for Labour, and scandals beset the Nationalists, but their undoing may come in the “indicative” independence referendum they are intent on holding. Polling currently shows they would lose it. Would the risk of a renewed period of Tory rule in Westminster, a busted flush of independence and a credible Labour alternative deliver more seats than expected for Keir Starmer in Scotland? Again, we’ve never been here before.

Many of Labour’s Left and some pundits still say Labour should be further ahead in the polls mid-term in order to overcome the incumbency benefits of the Tories. Perhaps, but again polling methods have changed to be cautious on big leads, it’s difficult to judge how much the desire for change – always a crucial factor in elections – plays out in our increasingly fractured regional/national/cultural battlegrounds. How far will tactical voting be a factor? Will a new Conservative leader have the time to make a clean break with Johnson in the eyes of the electorate whilst keeping his electoral coalition on board?

A 5% Labour lead on polling day might be enough to put Keir Starmer in Number 10 as the leader of the largest party, with coalition support from the Lib Dems on a promise to go further on Europe and electoral reform than his manifesto may have offered, as well as a reluctance by the SNP to be seen to prop up any minority Tory government.

A 10 or 11% Labour lead, as some polls have indicated this week, would be enough combined with tactical voting for a small working majority, if that lead can survive the furnace-like heat of an election campaign with so much of the media still on the side of the Tories, and changes in the number and nature of those news sources. We’ve no “Fox News” yet, but this isn’t the same environment as thirty years ago by a very long way.

Different leaders, different electorates, different circumstance and a different environment mean the 2022/23/24 election won’t be the same as 1987, or 1997, or 2017.
Everyone is reaching for points of safe anchor, those harbours of certainty that have given places at which to navigate the choppy waters of political navigation. But Brexit, Boris Johnson, nationalism and many other factors have eroded or washed away the familiar beaches and headlands we’ve used to plot a course before.

In uncharted waters the direction for Labour’s ship seems the right one, whilst the Conservatives appear holed below the waterline, but there’s a lot of political weather to ride out and a long way to sail yet.

A Defence Of Values

To many people, the pictures of the President of the European Commission meeting with the President of Ukraine in Kyiv will not have registered greatly amid the graphic and inhumane stories from the war, the latest scandals involving our government ministers, or the more immediate issues of rising costs of fuel, energy and food that most of us face.

Yet they signify something very important and very real that stands against threats to our society few have yet to fully register. It didn’t start with Putin’s invasion and isn’t restricted to countries far away, but this year could well be a tipping point in the defence of democratic values that have broadly prevailed since the last world war.

Last week Viktor Orban won a fourth term as Hungarian president against the united opposition forces of left, right and centre, having ensured total dominance of the media and control of the way the election was fought with a supermajority in the Hungarian parliament. Orban is an unpleasant nationalist, close to Putin and barely able to cloak his government in the thinnest of democratic coverings. Hungary is a member of the European Union, and this week they finally threatened to take action if he did not recommit to the democratic values and rule of law that the EU has underpinning it’s existence as an alliance defending peace in a continent scarred by centuries of conflict.

In the coming weeks we may see one of the founding members of that alliance, and a pillar of democracy in Europe, fall to similar populist, nationalist, xenophobic leadership. Marine Le Pen will once again reach the run-off stages of a French Presidential election, but this time not as a minority threat but as a candidate polling level with her primary opponent, and with an even more extreme alternative to her right making her appear “moderate”. On the centre-right, centre-left and centre, each of the last three Presidents of the French Republic have been able to call upon an anti-Front National majority. This time perhaps not. The consequences of Le Pen in the Elysee would be catastrophic.

Of course the United States has been there with Trump, and on January 6th last year came closer than anyone realised to losing control of its two hundred and fifty year project of forging an ever more perfect democratic union. Before the various inquiries and court cases against Trump and his allies can conclude, an incoming Republican majority in both Houses of Congress may bring them to a premature end. Despite record levels of employment and a booming economy, Biden’s ratings are terrible, and his prospects (or indeed those of any Democrat) of victory in 2024 seem poor. The culture wars rage on, with assaults on LGBTQ, abortion, women’s rights, immigration and other Fox New talking points turning ever more dystopian.

Here the rise of xenophobic populism seem less threatening, because like the proverbial frog in hot water, we don’t really notice the temperature rising. Brexit, and the battle to “get it done”, carried with it the same attacks on immigrants, “liberal judges” and the politically correct” or “woke” that are familiar from all three of the above. The changes to electoral law and constituency boundaries are not as extreme as the ones imposed in Budapest, and certainly not egregious enough to make headlines, but the effects will be the same in terms of shoring up the position of the incumbents. The imbalance in the media, present for a generation or more, is tilting sharply in their favour with the proliferation of new populist-leaning outlets and pressures on more liberal-leaning ones like Channel Four.

It is voices in that same media that will dismiss accusations of the influence of Putin, his oligarchs and social media bot operation as overblown, and the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire as hyperbole. And there is plenty of evidence in the left-wing, “citizen” media of that overblown hyperbole to point to. That doesn’t mean the influence and threat isn’t real.

The “Western” model of democracy, with a free press, free elections, freedom of speech and individual rights underwritten by a rule of law is most certainly under threat. At best this is to remove the “burdens” of taxation against a tier of wealthy interests who were prompted by incoming EU taxation measures to turbocharge an effort to undermine it via Brexit. That failed, but the impact of Orban and Le Pen may succeed where Farage, Johnson et al did not. It will entrench defence of the fossil fuel industry so vital to Russia’s economy and many other groups around the world, turning back the vital work to tackle devastating climate change.

At worst these threats could unleash a wave of Christian Nationalist/fundamentalist regimes that crack down hard on individual rights of anyone that doesn’t meet a very narrow definition of what a “citizen” is. A different religion, sexuality, identity or political viewpoint could see people in a broad swathe of countries facing levels of repression unheard of for generations. Look at the imprisonment of even the mildest demonstrator against the war in Russia, the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, the imminent overturn of Roe v Wade in the US, and even the bans on “noisy” and obstructive protest here, introduced under the cover of the “Insulate Britain” blockades.

I don’t believe there is some unified global conspiracy, with Putin, Murdoch, Trump, Xi and the rest sat round a table or joining some international league of dictators Zoom call, but there is a broad overlap of interests and alliances, with many useful idiots too willing to help out (I’m looking at you, Nigel). In the absence of the European Union or NATO (from which Trump is committed to withdrawing the US) many of them would probably find themselves at war with each other over territory. Territory that has mineral, agriculture and other resources.

Which brings us back to Ukraine. For all of Putin’s propaganda about “uniting the Russian peoples” and “de-Nazifying” his neighbour, there’s much about this brutal invasion that is about controlling the Black Sea ports, Ukraine’s huge mineral resources and access to the “breadbasket of Europe” I remember learning about at school. Democracy, consent to being governed, the rule of law and individual freedoms are an obstacle to that.

The war in Ukraine has brought all of this into sharp focus. Whose side are you on? NATO, the European Union, a free and liberal US, or the nationalist gangster capitalism of Putin, Trump, Xi and their proxies? Previously neutral states like Finland are scrambling to join NATO, and returning to where we started, Ukraine is seeking and obtaining a fast-tracked membership to the Union we so glibly abandoned, and which now more than ever stands as a testament to the peace and rights we and much of Europe have enjoyed for well over half a century.

Be in no doubt that this year, with the outcome of elections in Europe and America, and the outcome of this horrific war, that is most certainly under threat. What is incumbent on us now is how united we are in defence of those unfashionable liberal, “moderate” values, and how muscular and robust we are prepared to be in their defence.

America’s descent

In a year’s time, barring some great turnaround, the Republicans will take control of Congress. These aren’t the Republicans of Reagan or Bush, but Trump’s. Across the US in Republican-run states they are gerrymandering boundaries, passing laws to restrict voting, and putting in place sympathetic judges to rule on the outcomes of those elections, should they go the “wrong way”.

Whatever Republican politicians feel privately, the truck-driving, gun-owning, Tucker Carlson-worshipping Trump fundamentalists run the Party now. Any deviation from the Trump line will mean at best being replaced as a candidate and at worst violent threats.

Taking the House and Senate will end any efforts to investigate the January 6th insurrection, that attempted to overturn Biden’s election win. They will promote people like Paul Gosar, who has repeatedly posted videos simulating the killing of a Democrat Congresswoman, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, an evangelical for unfettered gun freedoms that would make Rittenhouse-style armed vigilantism even easier and who has helped elevate Covid denial to a crusade against masks and vaccines. Then there’s Lauren Bohbert, who this week called the few Muslim Congress members “the jihad squad”.

At the very least these Republicans will make the remainder of President Biden’s term very difficult. More likely – given that they want payback for Trump’s two impeachments and believe Biden “stole” the election, they will remove him and Kamala Harris from office. That would make the new Speaker of the House, Republican Kevin McCarthy, President.

Despite rapidly tackling poverty, addressing urgent infrastructure issues, creating jobs and generally not being an unhinged despot like his predecessor, Biden’s popularity is plummeting. Congressional Democrats were never as popular as him, and have fallen into the trap of attacking their own for not being left enough. Right-wing media like Fox, Newsmax and OANN has convinced those already in thrall to QAnon conspiracy theorists and people like Steve Bannon that Marxism is about to seize control of the country, take their guns and usher in Sharia Law.

The storming of Congress was a trial run, organised from the White House rather than spontaneous, and failed through incompetence rather than any safeguards. Trump was willing to see his own Vice President killed in order for him to stay in the Oval Office. A second coup attempt won’t fail.

Even if Trump doesn’t run again, a Trump-style Republican Governor like Ron De Santis of Florida or Greg Abbott of Texas will. State leaders who’ve gutted the abilities of Democrat-leaning communities – Black people – to vote, banned abortion and outlawed any efforts to prevent Covid infections.

A “Trumplican” America may not reach the extremes of Atwood’s Gilead, but it will no longer be a democracy. An ethno-nationalist, insular one-party state where freedoms for many are severely eroded. A Trump/ Republican majority in Congress, on the Supreme Court and the White House will never relinquish power again.

Will it matter to us? There will be no-one left to resist Putin’s global power grab, restrain Bolsonaro’s ravaging of the Amazon rainforest, stand up to Xi’s China, or promote the battle against climate change. And there are plenty in the Brexit/populist group running the Conservative Party who look to the Trump GOP for inspiration and advice.

The Conservative Party is dead

I’m not a Conservative Party member, voter or supporter, and never have been.

Many of my contemporaries and friends from my formative days in Westminster politics did go on to senior roles in the Major Government, or into Conservative-supporting journalism, with considerable success.

More recently, I shared platforms with people forced out of the Conservative Party over Brexit and the path that the current leadership has taken it.

I joined Labour in the early Nineties after promising a university friend, who himself went on to hold very senior office in the PLP, because I’m a social democrat, believing in progressive change and reform through existing political and economic structures and systems.

I’ve never held with more Marxist-leaning Left doctrines of wholesale change, class-based conflict and revolutionary (not necessarily violent) upheavals of society. It was partly through the seizing of the Labour leadership of people more allied to those ideals than progressive change that I left Labour some three years ago.

I never shared the view of Tories as inherently evil, of Conservative voters as people to be shunned rather than won over, and of a fundamental “us and them” schism) in British society.

Rather, I always felt that despite some wholesale disagreement on policy, there were many fundamentals on which the left of centre and the right of centre agreed, where social democrats and One Nation Conservatives could find common ground.

These would include a healthy, critical friend support of the civil service and expert advisers, a belief in the institutions of the State, support for the rule of law and standards in public office, and backing for a free press. Perhaps to a lesser extent, some support for a welfare state, public services and local government, though many would argue that was seriously diminished under Margaret Thatcher.

Whatever one’s views of David Cameron Coalition Government, particularly his catastrophic gamble on the EU referendum aimed at seeing off the ERG rebels (who were the “bastards” that fatally undermined John Major) and their fellow-travellers in UKIP, he broadly held to most of the fundamentals that have underpinned the One Nation Conservative Party for over a century.

Defeat in the Brexit referendum and the long rearguard action under Theresa May led eventually to victory for the group of Conservatives centered around the ERG, who could count on the support of many new recruits in the 2017 and 2019 intakes of those signed up uncritically to a populist, nationalist agenda under Brexit. And of course the coming to power of Boris Johnson, the embodiment of a flag-waving, pint-in-the-pub British bloke (an image carefully curated to obscure his Eton and Oxbridge, Spectator journalist true self.)

It is very hard to square the actions of today’s Government with those of the Conservatives under Major thirty years ago. Yes, there were some bad legislative moves then, but look what we have now.

Life sentences for anyone found to be helping refugees and asylum seekers come ashore safely, under the guise of tough new immigration laws. A Brexit that has harmed the haulage, fishing and farming industries, once the backbone of Tory support, to a point where many businesses are now unsustainable and supermarket shelves are starting to go bare. A barely concealed dislike of previously close European partners. Laws that potentially criminalise and imprison journalists, even those from broadly-sympathetic publications, for stories that a critical or embarrassing for the Conservative Government.

A total disdain and calamitous disregard for the Union from which the Conservatives draw their full title, with an ever more independence-leaning Scotland and a Northern Ireland dangerously destabilised by Brexit consequences many warned about.

A wholesale, open and guilt-free rejection of rules, standards, Parliamentary procedure and laws by ministers and MPs, from the prorogation of Parliament through misleading the House, proven breaches of the Ministerial code and much, much more.

Things that once would have brought down ministers and even governments, that would have horrified the Tory Establishment, are now brushed-off and laughed away by Johnson and those he has brought into Parliament and into Cabinet. A whole new ethos prevails.

Whether by design or by lack of it, donors and cronies are able to feed off of the public purse. Sustained by an 80 seat majority gifted them by the worst Labour leader in history, and a Poundshop Churchill tribute act that would have disgusted the man himself, the Conservatives have regenerated, Time Lord-like, into something that shares some genes, branding and affiliation with it’s former self, but which is in effect a whole new entity.

The Conservative Party as we knew it, under Major and even under Thatcher, is dead. Some form of English nationalist populist party has emerged, without many of its own members or traditional voters truly realising it, over the past five years. It is a real threat to our politics, our institutions and freedoms, the things the Conservative Party once claimed to protect.

Under New Management

This afternoon five years of Labour minority control in Brighton and Hove comes to an end, with the return of the Greens to power after three Labour councillors, all elected on a Momentum slate, were suspended or resigned following antisemitic social media posts. Two other Momentum-backed candidates didn’t even make it to polling day last year, several others lost Labour-won seats back to the Greens (see previous blog post).

It took eight years of hard work to return Labour to office in Brighton and Hove, and less than three for Momentum to throw it away with petty factionalism and vendettas.

They still control the CLPs and LCF, with at least one officer a former TUSC candidate in 2015 who lost a seat in 2019.

They still enjoy the tacit support of the Kemptown MP.

They still make up the majority of Labour opposition spokespersons on the now Green-led committees than run the council in the absence of a Cabinet.

They still fill the online space around Brighton Labour with bile and betrayal.

No humility, shame or contrition, despite the departure of councillors, despite the multiple suspensions, despite the loss of office, despite yesterday’s events in the High Court.

In the past Labour HQ had had to intervene in Brighton when entryism and the Left brought the Party into disrepute. Momentum believed this couldn’t happen all the time they were protected by Corbynite control at the top of the Party.

Now Labour is, as Sir Keir Starmer said yesterday, “under new management”, they are no longer immune, and action should surely go further than individual suspensions if Labour is ever to return to a leadership role in our city.

How Momentum Failed Labour – And Brighton And Hove

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In 2015 Labour doubled its number of seats on Brighton and Hove City Council and formed a minority administration for the first time in eight years. We set about building and buying back council houses, building a thousand truly affordable homes, tackling rough sleeping and homelessness, building a stronger economy and stronger communities, despite being outnumbered by the Conservative and Green opposition. In the face of massive Government reductions in the council budget, and increases in our responsibilities as a local authority, we put Labour values into action.

This was not enough for Momentum, who viewed most of those on the Council as Blairites. They set about, under the leadership of Greg Hadfield, replacing sitting councillors with Momentum backed candidates in pursuit of a “Socialist Majority”of 26 or more councillors.

16 of the 24 Labour councillors elected in 2015 are no longer on the Council, many of us forced to quit, deselected or left to campaign alone in the elections. Many very able and talented councillors were lost. The citywide Party organisation that had helped us win in 2015 was broken up into Momentum-controlled CLPs. I was forced out for speaking up on antisemitism during Party Conference.

In the 2019 local elections, Labour lost five of the seats we had gained from the Greens back to them in the two Brighton constituencies. Labour’s citywide vote share fell by nearly 5%. Some gains from the Conservatives in Hove by Peter Kyle’s campaign team meant a net loss of 3 seats overall. The attempt to win a “Socialist Majority” failed. Even some of those elected have since been embroiled in controversy and evidence of antisemitic social media posts. One didn’t even make polling day before being expelled, another quit, both over antisemitism.

Here is what happened to the slate of candidates Momentum promoted:

  • East Brighton ward

Cllr Nancy Platts: re-elected, made Leader. Shared a platform with Chris Williamson at a meeting addressed by expelled member Tony Greenstein

Gill Williams: elected

Nichole Brennan: elected, “under investigation” for antisemitism Update: resigned

  • Goldsmid ward

Debbie Taylor: lost

John Allcock: elected

  • Hollingdean and Stanmer ward

Phil Clarke: was a 2015 TUSC candidate, lost a Labour held seat

Theresa Fowler: elected

  • Moulsecoomb and Bevendean ward

Kate Knight: elected. Resigned from Labour after investigation into antisemitic posts on social media.

  • Preston Park ward

Denise Friend: lost a Labour held seat

Juan Baeza: lost a Labour held seat

  • Queen’s Park ward

Colin Piper: stood in 2015 for TUSC, lost a Labour held seat, now CLP Chair

Amanda Evans: elected

Nick Childs: elected, resigned as Education Chair following revelation he sends his daughter to Roedean private school

  • North Portslade ward

Anne Pissaridou: elected, suspended from the Group for antisemitism

  • Hanover and Elm Grove ward

Danielle Spencer: lost

  • Wish ward

Alex Braithwaite: suspended whilst still a candidate for antisemitism, lost

Adam Imanpour: lost

  • Rottingdean Coastal ward

Robert McIntosh: lost

  • Central Hove ward

Gary Wilkinson: elected

  • Patcham ward

Adam Scott: lost

Jerry Gould: withdrew after making antisemitic commentshttps://metro.co.uk/2018/09/25/brighton-labour-council-candidate-sent-deeply-offensive-anti-semitic-letter-7977460/

  • Withdean ward

Claire Wadey: lost

Ian McIsaac: lost

James Thompson: lost

  • Woodingdean ward

David Wilson: lost

  • Hangleton and Knoll ward

John Hewitt: lost

Labour has now squandered its position as the largest group on the city council after a disastrous series of electoral losses, expulsions, suspensions and resignations over antisemitic posts.

Without root and branch change in the Momentum-led local parties (Kemptown, for example, is chaired by one of the former TUSC candidates) then a Green-dominated Council seems likely for the foreseeable future, with 2023 a Green-Tory battle for control, unless Labour can “clean house”.

Had we in the 2015-19 Labour Group not been fighting a daily battle against people supposedly on the same side, then we might well have secured that majority which had eluded all parties in Brighton and Hove for the past twenty years, and we could now be leading the effort to lead the city’s recovery post Brexit and post Covid19. Just as Corbyn’s leadership failed the country, Momentum failed Labour and failed the city we aspired to make a better place for all who live here. Just as change came to Labour nationally, soon I hope change will come to Labour here.

A Test Of Resilience

I’m no expert on viruses, pandemics and health. I’ve a limited understanding of civil contingencies, emergency planning and resilience from my time with the police and from leading the city council (or as I remember it, the stuff of nightmares). You may have read enough on Covid 19 by now, or quite sensibly are choosing not to dwell on it. If so, scroll on.

I’m no expert on viruses, pandemics and health. I’ve a limited understanding of civil contingencies, emergency planning and resilience from my time with Sussex police and from leading the city council (or as I remember it, the stuff of nightmares). You may have read enough on Covid 19 by now, or quite sensibly are choosing not to dwell on it. If so, scroll on.

As much for my own benefit as anyone else’s, I’ve tried to think through where we are now, and balance the risks of what are clearly differing approaches to the pandemic.

Doing nothing is not an option. Left unchecked the virus will spike, health and public services will be overwhelmed, people in high risk groups will die in significant numbers and the economy and infrastructure will suffer critical damage with supplies of essential goods threatened. Consequences would be dire.

Most countries have, in varying degrees and via different measures, imposed restrictions on travel, gatherings and even going to work, the aim being to slow or stop the spread of the virus as far as possible. Even where infection rates are currently low, like Canada and New Zealand, measures have been tough and quick.

The argument against this is that with pandemics there is a risk of a second wave of infections, when lockdown measures can’t be sustained, with even greater levels of infection. People can’t work from home, have their kids home from school, avoid socialising and public events for more than 2 or 3 months, and even that is unprecedented and untested on a large scale. What will that level of isolation and inactivity do to people’s mental health and family relationships?

Here the strategy seems to be to allow a controlled spread of the disease, with widespread infection over an extended period whilst protecting vulnerable groups. Any “lockdown” measures are restricted to the peak of the epidemic. This allows the economy and “normal life” to continue as far as possible, and the theory goes that the population will develop a “herd immunity” to prevent a disastrous second wave in the winter.

Of course, with testing limited to those hospitalised, we will never know for sure if we’ve had it and therefore have developed an immunity. We won’t know the extent of infection and therefore the mortality rate will seem higher than it is in reality. As was said at the No 10 press conference this week, there may be ten thousand or more people infected in the UK at the current time. It’s a strategy replete with risks.

This is based on expert advice but doesn’t seem to match the global consensus amongst experts, or indeed World Health Organisation advice. To be fair this is the first global pandemic of this scale in living memory, well beyond SARS or Ebola. It’s been modelled and mapped, but every virus is different and mortality rates – the number of those infected who go on to die – seems to vary from 1-3% of those infected overall, to 15% of high risk groups infected. There may be no right answers, and every approach is still going to lead to hugely difficult choices on where to focus limited resources, bluntly who lives and who dies.

What seems clear to me is that by limiting the spike of infections now we buy time. Time to manufacture more respirators, create more hospital capacity, allow for scientific research into the genome of Covid 19, more time for the pharmaceutical industry to develop treatments and ultimately a vaccine. And most importantly time for our health services to cope.

Ultimately, the best advice I’ve seen is to behave as if you have the virus, and try not to spread it.

It’s not just the Covid 19 patients, but those who needed hospital treatment ordinarily, who will place pressure on a system where NHS staff are as likely if not more to get ill. Like all of us, they have no immunity to this new virus. I support the mandatory use of capacity in the private health sector, at cost to the government, as a way of growing overall capacity quickly in this national emergency.

Most people infected, particularly those under 60 with no underlying health conditions, will experience a mild illness and recover. What causes me most concern is the secondary effect of the pandemic. How resilient are we to deal with this? A decade of underfunding public services and local government, alongside the departure of many EU workers due to Brexit, has stripped out any “slack” in the system. What will happen if 20-30% of police officers, NHS staff, bin crews, care workers, food supply chain staff and others are ill at the same time? Coping with that may be possible for a month, maybe two, but how sustainable is it in the longer term?

People here are still out, doing the “keep calm and carry on” routine, eschewing the masks worn by many elsewhere, dismissing it as “just another flu” and talking about overreaction. Surveys show that alarmingly, many have not altered their handwashing habits at all. Sometimes British exceptionalism is dangerous not just foolish.

However, we’ve seen from the panic buying of the past week just how far the “Blitz spirit” is likely to turn out to be illusory. It’s really a wartime propaganda myth that masked some pretty lawless behaviour, if crime stats from the 1940s are to be believed. For a population used to supply on demand, shortages and privation may bite hard. There are people who phone 999 when their pizza is late and lose it entirely when KFC runs out of chicken. For others this will bring out the best in our community spirit.

Behind the headlines on the virus, the hit to the markets in the past week has been up there alongside the 1987 crash and the 2008 crisis. That won’t just matter to traders in Canary Wharf, it will hit jobs and families already suffering from a decade of austerity. Its likely foodbanks will see longer queues and fewer supplies to hand out.

Politicians don’t normally say things that people don’t want to hear. This week they have, most shockingly Boris Johnson’s stark warning about “losing loved ones”. There are trying to prepare people for something bad, possibly worse than they are saying now.

This isn’t a pandemic that will bring about some apocalyptic end to society as we know it, but it will combine with other pressures to have a significant impact. Once we get to the other side, things are probably not going to be exactly as they were before this virus emerged. We will probably see thousands of people die from this, and another recession, and maybe some consequences no one has really understood or foreseen yet. It’s going to be very tough, collectively and individually our resilience is going to be tested, but we will get through it.

Labour’s Antisemitism Is Not Welcome In Brighton

In the Spring of 2014, I sat in Committee Room 1 of Brighton Town Hall opposite the organiser of the “March For England”, an EDL-linked event that had previously caused violence in the city. I looked him in the eye and told him that he and his followers were not welcome in Brighton and Hove.

Representatives of the city’s Muslim community had made it clear to me and other councillors that the march would cause fear and distress amongst residents, effectively confining them to their homes for the duration. It went against every policy on equalities the council had, and morally it was right for elected councillors in leadership positions to make a stand. I did.

Three years later I sat in the BBC studios a few hundred metres from the town hall, listening to the recorded testimony of people who had faced abuse inside a council-owned venue because they were identifiably Jewish. I’d heard statements recorded at a meeting saying it was fine to question whether the Holocaust had ever taken place. Representatives of the city’s Jewish community quite rightly and understandably contacted me asking what I, as Leader of the Council, would do.

It was, I believed and I still believe, incumbent on me to again speak out. I wrote to the head of the organisation of the event saying that steps had to be taken to prevent any reoccurrence before the event returned to the city, and I published my letter on my official Facebook page.

That the organisation in question was the Labour Party, which I had been a member of for a quarter of a century and in whose name I was an elected councillor and local authority leader, made no difference.

Perhaps I was naïve but very clear statements by the Labour leadership during the event made me feel that I was joining their effort to counter antisemitism in and around the Party. As an elected Labour politician, speaking out against racism is in my DNA: had I failed to do so in any other circumstance the Party would have rightly condemned my silence.

But condemnation of my stance was immediate and sustained. The charge from members and officers of the local party and Momentum was that I’d always opposed Corbyn, and this was a chance for me to ‘weaponize’ the allegedly ‘fabricated smears’ of antisemitism against him. They claimed I had brought the Party into disrepute insisting I should have raised any concerns “in house”.

I can only imagine the response of my local Party Chair had I, three years earlier, said: “I’ve sent a strongly-worded letter to the National Secretary of the EDL, best leave it to them to sort and not make any fuss in public, eh?”

I’m not comparing Labour to the EDL, though some might argue that with the EHRC investigating institutional antisemitism in Labour the comparison could be a valid one. Only the BNP have faced such an enquiry previously.

They are investigating institutionalised antisemitism and it is true that for speaking out against antisemitism I was penalised. Months of emails, motions and pressure from the local Labour Party followed, demanding apologies, retractions and for me to step down. This is all from the local party where now-suspended members labelled Jews “Zios”, depicted councillors including me and one whose husband is Jewish as dancing Rabbis, and called for people to march on the local synagogue in response to the suspension by Labour of a council candidate for tweeting about the “Israeli bloodline”.

A vote within weeks in my branch calling for me to resign as a result of my stand on antisemitism, passed by some forty votes to two, was moved by the person later suspended after calling for a march on a local synagogue. By February I’d been forced to quit. At the urging of the Jewish Labour Movement I remained a member until Luciana Berger resigned in February.

At a recent fringe event called Stand With Jeremy Corbyn during the TUC Conference in Brighton, many of those suspended and expelled members sat in the front row alongside at least one current senior local Labour councillor. Fringe events at the Labour Conference this week are set to be addressed by suspended or expelled members of the party including Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson.

Since the 2017 Conference there have been ever more revelations about Jeremy Corbyn’s own questionable attitudes towards Jews, including the row over antisemitic mural which led to a demonstration by the Jewish community against Labour, the shameful spectacle of Livingstone and Williamson failing to be suitably punished, the revelations of Leadership interference in antisemitism cases unveiled by Panorama and the resignations of Luciana Berger, Ian Austin and others from the PLP.

Despite the promises of action two years ago, and the small number of suspensions and expulsions, those pushing the same “anti-Israel” messages have not gone away. In the online forums and outrider blogs, lists of hostile Jewish or Jewish friendly “opponents” are still being drawn up. Perhaps the most damning message came when Labour Friends of Israel pulled out of this week’s Conference, saying their staff could no longer be subjected to the antisemitic abuse faced in previous years.

Some of those disciplined have been quietly readmitted, or their suspensions taken no further. Those, like me, who have spoken out on antisemitism, however, have been pushed to the point of resignation, or deselected while the Party has stood by. While the focus remains on Brexit, Labour continues to pursue trigger ballots against MPs, is set to debate changes on antisemitism rules on the Jewish Shabbat when many can’t take part, and to continue efforts to depose Tom Watson as Deputy Leader. Labour Students, long an ally of the Jewish community in Labour, has been “excommunicated” by the Party’s NEC.

It seems clear that for so many people who joined Labour in 2015, the perceived role of Jewish people in the global capitalist economy, and the actions of the Netanyahu government in the occupied territories, are something that every Jewish person is held accountable for. That is racism.   I will continue to speak out against that just as I did when hate crimes spiked in the wake of the Referendum, or when I stood with the Muslim community after the Westminster and Borough Market attacks provoked an Islamophobic backlash.

If a family member speaks and acts in a racist way, do you speak up or keep quiet so as to not rock the boat and end up an outcast? If you are elected to a position of authority, do you put the people you are accountable to ahead of the Party that got you elected? For me the answer was and always will be yes. You don’t get to pick and choose the racism you stand up against; and being a member of a political party gives you a greater responsibility to challenge it, not a free pass to stay silent. In these dangerous times, silence serves no good at all.

Our British Values: a letter to Nigel Farage

Dear Mr Farage,

It looks like we may not get to debate with each other as candidates in the European elections here in the South East, so I just wanted to send you some thoughts I’ve had on our different views about being British and what our shared British values are.

I think British people are some of the most kind, welcoming and hospitable in the world. Britain became great through centuries of people coming here, making it their home and working hard to make it better. Your rhetoric really doesn’t reflect those values; at times you seem to be openly hostile to people coming here. That’s surely not the decent and fair approach most Britons would have. Most British people value getting on with their neighbours, yet you seem to want to promote argument and division more than over-the-fence friendship.

We are much the same age, and our grandfathers generations fought against fascism to protect our British values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. So many of today’s leaders around the world don’t share those values, yet you seem to be happy to associate with them – Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Victor Orban and Matteo Salvini to name a few. Why is that?

In that war Britain didn’t stand alone, we forged alliances with other nations, and fought alongside people from across what is now the Commonwealth, people from Poland and France and across occupied Europe. The EU, alongside NATO, has preserved peace for an unprecedented seventy years in Europe, don’t you think we owe future generations the same thing?

Mr Farage the British are sticklers for accuracy, clarity and fairness. We all like to know the details of what we are getting, and make sure we aren’t on the wrong end of a deal. You famously said that a 48-52 result would be “unfinished business by a long way”, yet now you oppose the British people having their fair say on the actual Brexit deal being proposed. Do you not trust the British people to make an informed decision?

I believe British people value a good days pay for a hard days work. You have been an MEP for twenty years now and have very little to show for it. In fact you have one of the worst records for attending your place of work and doing the tasks expected, like voting. Most British people would think it isn’t fair for you to keep that job if you consistently fail to do it. If elected I’d do the job I was paid for, and I believe most people whether Leavers or Remainers would think that’s the right thing to do. Don’t you?

We seem to agree on one thing, agreement is a very British thing in my view, and that is that our politics is broken. We and our respective political parties, Brexit in your case and Change UK in mine, have very different views on the solutions though. One is to make Britain closed off from the world, to run away from the global challenges we face and hide behind a nostalgia that is as appealing as it is false.

Mine is a more open, positive and realistic view of the world, where Britain leads and has its voice heard in the great international issues of our time, like climate change. Britain isn’t great if it has no influence abroad, wouldn’t you agree?

We are both patriots but I fear we have very different views of what that means. I’m proud to be from Sussex, proud to be English and British, and I’m a proud European too. My patriotism is inclusive of anyone who wants to make this country their home, accepting its rights and responsibilities as much as anyone born here does.

I look out of my window across the Channel to Europe, somewhere I can live and work and retire to if I want to and am able to, something my grandparents could never have imagined, and something future generations should have the right to do as well. I don’t understand why you want to take that right away from young people now and in the future.

Our young people are taught that British values are democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law, mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths or beliefs. Because of the things you have said, and those you associate with, I fear for those values if you and your party succeed.

It causes me pain and anguish to think what will happen to this great country if your vision for it becomes a reality. We will be poorer, more insular, more vulnerable to global crises, less secure, more fearful and xenophobic, less happy. You might dismiss that, but I’d rather be better safe than sorry by staying in the EU. How British is that?

My vision, and that of Change UK, is one of a positive future where opportunity is opened up not closed off, where decent journalists and independent courts keep us all in check and protect our rights, where alliances and partnerships, strength in our diversity as people but strength too in values we have stood and fought for over generations, mean we are safer and more secure than if we retreat into isolation. It’s a view Mr Churchill, that greatest of all Britons, seemed to have after he led us during the war, and I think we should respect that.

I know we Brits don’t like to make a fuss but I’m sorry, I’m not going to take this lying down. I’m tired of hearing people say “someone should do something”. Well we in Change UK are. We’re saying, “hang on, this isn’t right.” We won’t be bullied any more, we are standing up for real British values.

Yours in the most respectful British disagreement,

Warren Morgan

Change UK candidate for the European Elections, South East England.

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