Jared O’Mara and the Unforgiving Eternity of the Internet
Jared O’Mara and the Unforgiving Eternity of the Internet
‘Just cos he writes about gayness and gay issues, doesn’t mean he drives up the marmite motorway.’
‘I just think that this story is much more poignantly romantic than fudge packing Jake.’
‘A rhythm section that’s tighter than your mother was when I took her virginity all those years ago.’
You could be forgiven for reading the above statements as the deranged blabbering of a sulky, and confused teenager. If only it were so. Instead, they represent the historic online comments of elected Labour MP Jared O’Mara.
O’Mara made headlines in the snap election when he displaced Nick Clegg from his seat of Sheffield Hallam. He was seen as a candidate who was very much carried along on the crest of the Momentum wave.
That was June, this is October, and O’Mara has been suspended from the party following a string of vile revelations broken by Guido Fawkes, a right-wing gossip blog infamous for exposing the worst digressions of Members of Parliament.
O’Mara’s ire was not limited to homosexual people, or other people’s mothers. ‘Fat’ people, women, Spaniards, Danes and teenage girls have all felt the sting of O’Mara’s vitriol over the years. Angela Rayner, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, defended O’Mara by claiming that these comments were made a long time ago, and that his opinions had evolved. This is a pretty weak defence, and weaker still given that we can simply check the dates of his comments in an online forum and ascertain that he was 21-years-old.
Now, I’m 23, and as vulgar and detestable as my colleagues might find me, I would argue that I know that referring to teenage girls as ‘sexy little slags’ is not the social norm, and I would also have known two years ago that it was unacceptable.
While it would be easy to sit here and pull apart O’Mara’s views, and the sub-standard Labour vetting process that allowed him to contest a seat, the best lesson learned for figures of public prominence is the damage that the digital world can wreak on a reputation. O’Mara is 35-years-old now, and is perhaps one generation too late to have truly grown up with the internet.
But given the way he is now being torn to shreds in the media, this raises an interesting question over whether this is something we can expect to see more of, as more public figures who have grown up with online forums, Facebook and Twitter come into the spotlight.
This can at times be a source of amusement. The SNP’s Mhairi Black was just 20 when elected (you may have seen her, in a blinding lack of self-awareness, lamenting ‘career politicians’ recently), and some of her old tweets from her teenage years were dug up after her selection. They were quite funny to the casual observer, and rather embarrassing for Black herself.
Andre Gray, the Premier League footballer, had a more sobering experience when explosive homophobic tweets from his past were pulled up. He faced FA disciplinary action as a result.
Trial by social media is not a new phenomenon, but as those who have grown up hand-in-glove with the internet move into positions as MPs and figures of public influence, there could be much more scandal yet to come.
Being cautious or vigilant in the here and now is clearly not enough. Do people remember all that they have done and said in the past? Should they continue to be made to atone for it? Is the best course of action to completely erase your digital footprint?
Online is forever, and as Jared O’Mara is finding out, there is no hiding place once all is revealed.
Just how many more skeletons are there in how many more closets? Halloween is on the way, so another fright may be just around the corner.
It is time to distance free speech from the online abuse of MPs
By Hamish Campbell-Shore, Public Affairs Intern
Since the murder of Jo Cox in June 2015, Members of Parliament have had to become acutely aware of the genuine threat of online abuse.
Analysis by the ‘BCS-The Chartered Institute’ for IT and thinktank ‘Demos’ revealed that during the three-month period between 9th May and 18th August 2015, MPs received almost 190,000 abusive tweets. The report suggested that 1 out of every 20 tweets sent to MPs were categorised as abusive, with the most harassed politicians seeing around 10% of tweets they received containing abusive material.
This report has since been supplemented by research conducted by the University of Sheffield and BuzzFeed News. The study covered 840,000 tweets during the 2017 General Election campaign and highlighted the most likely victims of ‘trolling’. Statistics revealed that, overwhelmingly, Jeremy Corbyn was the most abused MP on Twitter, with the majority of insulting messages targeted at a small number of high-profile politicians. However, being in receipt of almost 6% of abuse, male Tory candidates were the most abused group of politicians in the survey.
Whilst the frequency of online abuse was targeted at prominent politicians and male Conservative candidates, the nature of the abuse varied greatly. Professor Bontcheva, who conducted the survey, noted the prominence of gendered abuse: “The study showed there is a clear difference in the insulting words directed at male and female politicians. While some terms are common to both, female politicians received more gendered insults.”
The online abuse of MPs has, and will continue to tarnish, the political battleground until something changes. Most notably, however, what will certainly not change this abuse is the argument that furious hatred can be taken as free speech. Abuse is significant, ubiquitous and to misappropriate the tool of free speech does nothing but entrench the divisions that characterise modern politics.
It should never be part and parcel of the job and inevitability does not justify the shameful abuse that MPs receive daily at the hands of internet trolls. Free speech is, and should continue to be, an integral part of our democracy in the UK. However, the notion that politically motivated abuse can be construed as free speech, is nothing more than an empty platitude, utilised to attempt to validate ignorance.
Johnny Mercer MP, epitomised the way in which these concepts are intertwined. In response to Diane Abbott’s moving account of the abuse she has received online, he tweeted: “I’m at odds w/almost everything DA thinks politically. But I’ll fight endlessly to defend her right to do so, free of this appalling abuse.”
I'm at odds w/almost everything DA thinks politically. But I'll fight endlessly to defend her right to do so, free of this appalling abuse. https://t.co/xYj1v8wmH0
There is much to be said for allowing people the freedom to air their views online, as I have mentioned, the right to challenge and debate is key to holding decision-makers to account. Nevertheless, to not acknowledge abuse and freedom of speech as mutually exclusive, does nothing but foster the hatred that plagues modern day ‘social media politics’.
The redefinition of free speech into abuse is obviously not undisputed, and it would be dangerous to suggest that biting and barbing commentary should be completely prevented. To condemn any form of disagreement with politicians as abuse will cement the seemingly growing disparity between the elites and ‘the rabble’. However, when the crude tongue of Average Joe turns into death threats, racism and misogyny, there is cause for distancing abuse from free speech, in fear of undermining this basic democratic right.
Where separation may be key when considering both free speech and unashamed abuse, it is certainly not when isolating the source of it. Paula Sherriff, Labour Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, has used her own experience to speak of the dangers of politicizing online abuse. Sheriff herself has been the victim of abuse from both the hard-left and hard right, and the Labour moderate believes that it should be viewed as a non-partisan issue. “There is a really serious issue, and suggesting only one cohort of people is doing it completely undermines the argument,” said Sheriff. “I know there are people in my party who do it, and it makes me very ashamed; I unequivocally condemn it.
Using the existence of online abuse as a stick to beat your political opponents with, does nothing to address the underlying cause of division. Puerile sentiments resigning nasty tweets to different corners of Westminster is nothing short of a catalyst for further abuse. What really needs to be considered, are the motives behind the abuse that is almost becoming commonplace.
Murderous, racist and misogynistic rhetoric is not borne out of political disagreement, but rather the desire to suppress someone you don’t agree with. The essence of free speech is that it exists universally, and when fear and subordination are introduced to the discourse, a line is crossed.
18 Political Campaign Ads that made me question my reality
If anyone ever tells you they are having a bad day, don’t listen to them, because they haven’t spent the last five hours watching Political Campaign Ads/Songs. With the Snap Election just days away, let’s all come together and bask in how abysmal the human race really is.
These are in no particular order (anarchy – Take that establishment!) but let’s begin with something current anyway…
Sam Harrison – ‘I Feel Like Jeremy Corbyn’
At a point you have to ask whether people sit at home and think about how much their favourite politicians will love their videos. Is that what you did Sam? Did you think you were helping? ‘My girlfriend tells me that I’ve got a big mandate.’ Lord above. I don’t know whether to cry, vomit, cry or cry after this.
4/10 – People actually take the time to write these songs.
Brexit dragged up all manner of anger, frustration, fear and insecurity. But nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – comes close to this atrocity. Where to begin? The irony of spelling learnin’ wrong? The fact that as part of the prime demographic (18-24) for this steaming pile of cringe I know that the letter ‘g’ exists and even indulge in usin’ it sometimes? I don’t know but please don’t make me talk about it anymore.
Typin’, Watchin’, Groanin’, Hatin’, Ratin’ out of 10 (-1000), Turnin’, off.
Ivan Massow – ‘Invite Ivan’
Eurgh. Look, I get it Ivan. No really, I do. You want to discover what makes Londoners tick. What better way than going to meet with and talk to them? But here’s the thing, that’s where this should have stopped. Meeting with the public? Great. Engaging with them? Fantastic. Listening to them? Sensational! Living with them? Abandon ship/Lock the door/Run for the hills.
1/10 – A nice idea executed with all the finesse of a pig using chopsticks.
Joni Ernst – ‘Castrating Hogs’
A scene from Simon Danczuk’s most intimate, sobering nightmares. This monstrosity is enough to make anyone shiver. If any men watching emitted an involuntary high-pitched squeal, don’t feel ashamed, even if that squeal is exactly what Joni wants. You can see Beelzebub dancing in Joni’s pale, merciless eyes as she viciously wills castration on everyone watching. If Joni comes up on your tinder, swipe left before she devours your soul.
666/10 – I cannot in good faith endorse satanic ritual.
Captain SKA – ‘Liar Liar’
Don’t hold back will you? This is savage, and it’s also blowing up right now (one million views and counting). Theresa May may think she’s Strong and Stable but she gets Captain SkA-ewered here. A tad (a lot) whiny for my taste though, we like fun and humour here.
Lyndon B Johnson – ‘Daisy’
Brexiteers might still moan about Project Fear, but as far as scaremongering goes this takes the biscuit. Its impact is somewhat lessened, however, by the fact that LBJ was famed for exposing his manhood to white house staff, foreign dignitaries and just about anyone who was within watching distance.
4/10 – An attack ad from a maniac who delighted in flashing everyone – thank goodness American Politics is so mundane these days.
Ted Cruz – ‘The Senator who saved Christmas’
If Ted had his way the Middle East would probably be getting carpet bombed out of existence with exploding bible extracts right now. But as distasteful and divisive as his foreign and domestic policy ideas are, it is those horrible, shifty eyebrows that make Cruz truly unsettling. Disturbing facial features aside, this is excellent. Bonus points for ‘The Grinch who lost her emails’ and ‘Rudolph the underemployed Reindeer’.
5/10 – Would be higher but Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer, so it’s not. I’d sooner spend my Christmas in Dante’s inferno than with the slimy senator.
Mike Gravel and his Rock
Stone-faced Mike Gravel, delivering a gritty message as he drops a rock into some water. We certainly think he made a splash.
7/10 – Is Mike’s message sinking in yet?
Dwight Eisenhower – ‘I Like Ike’
As far back as the 1950’s the Americans were pumping out content like this, and our last Prime Minister couldn’t remember which football team he supported (classic nutty geezer/pub legend/one of the lads Daveyboy Cameron eh). Once you’ve heard this delightful little number you’ll be bopping along to it for the rest of the week.
9.9/10 – ‘Ike for president, Ike for president, Ike for president…’
The Green Party – #GrownUpPolitics
How do you even pick a top moment? It’s impossible, but highlights are: Boris on his tricycle (I’m Prime Minister!), Jeremy’s nasty shadow cabinet (Put the rockets away) and, of course, lonely, lonely Tim Farron.
9.98/10 –If the Green Party were as good at politics as they are campaign videos we would be a single-party state.
Rick Santorum – ‘Game On’
It takes a special kind of ineptitude to be less electable than Mitt Romney, but hats off to Rick Santorum as he managed it in 2012. Skin-crawlingly cult-like – Rick’s devoted disciples demand ‘justice for the unborn,’ while lavishing praise on Rick for being: ‘Faithful to his wife and seven kids – he’ll be loyal to our land,’ (Ted Cruz/Danczuk/Berlusconi – take note).
0/10 – A torturous journey of fidget-inducing terror.
Zac Goldsmith – Who even knows what
An aberration. Lines such as ‘he is worthy of appreciation’ aren’t doing Mr Goldsmith any favours but the video is even more excruciating, as we are treated to Zac looking out of place and unsettled in various ‘common folk’ locations, including the tube (come on Zac, who are we kidding?)
3/10 – There is something there, but it’s buried so deep that only someone who has spent the last 4 hours listening to political campaign songs could recognise it.
The UKIP Calypso
The words UKIP and Calypso just don’t look right when you write them next to each other. Unsurprisingly, they also don’t sound right when forced into this unholy union dating back to 2014. In essence, Nigel Farage performing the Dementor’s kiss/an exorcism on West Indian Culture – profoundly uncomfortable listening.
2/10 – In the words of Ed Milliband: “It’s just wrong.”
Silvio Berlusconi – ‘Thank Goodness for Silvio’
Behold, feminism’s Anti-Christ. Hasn’t got much going for it on a musical level and I don’t buy that anyone has ever uttered the words ‘thank goodness for Silvio’. Thank goodness for what? Economic disarray? Mass unemployment? Flagrant misogyny? If you’re thankful for Silvio, you need to stop hanging out with Simon Danczuk on weekends.
3/10 – It’s three X’s Silvio, but not the type you like you dirty old cretin. You’re out.
Conservative friends of India – ‘David Cameron’
In an age where political discourse is often muddled and confusing, this song is reassuringly familiar in that I have no idea what’s going on. Remarkably, the song makes less sense still once translated. ‘The Sky is blue’ – oh, okay. And yet ‘David Cameron’ repeated in metronomic fashion holds a hypnotic and alluring quality.
5/10 – Bonus point for the pitch that the female singer hits – a boiling kettle.
Tony Blair – ‘1997’
In the context of this list, ‘things can only get better’ is devilishly appropriate. Loving the nostalgic nineties feel of the video. Stay with it until the big reveal towards the end – Mr Blair looks like a man who has just remembered he left the oven on.
6/10 – No real surprise that Labour won the election after this.
Donald Trump – ‘The Trump Jam’
Donald Trump’s political career has plumbed sinister and vitriolic depths, but this is unquestionably the most unforgivable mutation that the frothing Republican candidates’ posturing has created yet. An exemplary demonstration of Trump’s devastating proficiency when employing the Imperius curse – watching these bewitched children stumble around stage is uncomfortable viewing for even the hardiest of folk.
4/10 – Despicable and quite Covfefe.
Kennedy – ‘Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy’
Ladies, Gentlemen, Donald, we have a winner. Indoctrination at it’s simple and masterful best. The message is clear, it’s easy to join in and the lyrics are about as fun as political brainwashing could hope to be.
10/10 – Just about pips ‘I like Ike’, but only just…
A view from Conservative Party Conference
As 12,000 tired and slightly worse for wear delegates begin to recover from a busy 4 days at Conservative Party Conference, Number 10 will be breathing a quiet sigh of relief. With no gaffes, and few MPs causing trouble (Osborne, Gove et al stayed away), Theresa May sailed through her first party conference as leader with flying colours. More importantly though, we got our first real insight into what ‘Mayism’ might mean for the country.
Overall, the delegates felt optimistic and united, with Theresa May and her new Ministers receiving a strong reception throughout. However, the mood was also serious – there was a sense that this Government would be a safe pair of hands, that all policy would be fully considered, and that there would be a lack of gimmicks. It was clear that many felt that Theresa May’s premiership (and the Labour Party’s collapse) was a great opportunity to reach out and expand beyond the Party’s traditional base. Perhaps this was most noticeable at the packed DUP’s reception, which had a lengthy queue and Conservative Party members greeted DUP MPs like old friends (although that may have been because of the free champagne on offer…).
Unsurprisingly, Brexit dominated the entire four days. There were countless fringe events discussing everything from Britain’s role in the world, to what it means for the energy market, and how to ensure that young people aren’t left behind. However, there wasn’t the triumphant grandstanding that might have been expected – instead, the delegates seemed to understand that however they personally voted, it is now time to pull together and get on with the ob.
The Prime Minister set the agenda by making her Brexit announcements at the start of the conference; giving party members something to rally around. For the first time, we learnt that Article 50 will be triggered by March next year and that the Queen’s Speech will contain the Great Repeal Act, which will adopt all current EU law into British law. Despite this, there was still a lack of detail besides and ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and how things are going to work practically. There was a palpable sense of confusion from businesses, and all were keen to engage and get their points across. Tellingly, it felt like most delegates were gearing themselves up for a ‘hard’ Brexit.
The biggest change at this year’s conference was the Conservative Party’s lurch to the left, and an obvious U-turn on the austerity agenda. This was evident throughout the conference (e.g. Housing Minister Gavin Barwell proved his commitment to delivering 1 million new homes by 2020 by attending no fewer than 18 fringe events), however, it was Theresa May’s closing speech that really emphasised how her Government will differ from Cameron’s. Her speech proposed policies that included price controls, dropping the target for a surplus by 2020, taking action against house builders to increase the housing stock, and an even stronger stance on immigration than she had taken as Home Secretary.
Perhaps the most controversial statement from May was that “Government can and should be a force for good; the state exists to provide what individual people, communities and markets cannot; we should employ the power of government for the good of the people”. Although likely to go down well with the public, it could also be the first sign of trouble ahead. These comments were widely criticised by business groups, including the CBI and IOD, and will put many pro-market Conservative MPs who are overtly pro-business in a difficult position. It is clear that businesses can expect a tougher ride under May than they are used to, and will have to fight hard to protect their interests.
Overall the conference revealed that May and her team will be a safe pair of hands. She isn’t driven by ideology or cronyism – but a desire to help those who have fallen on hard times. She is also determined to deliver the Brexit that she thinks the country voted for (even if that means making compromises over issues such as passports, to ensure that we get full control of our immigration system).
For the public, it is likely that she will offer a strong centre-ground alternative to Labour. However, it is unlikely that she will fulfil the hopes of many within the Tory membership of becoming a second Margaret Thatcher, and there will inevitably be trouble ahead.
Trump, Brexit, Corbyn – the rules of political engagement have changed
Bandying about insults, interrupting his opponent, a winding monologue packed with hyperbole and absent of any detail.
Casual observers of US politics could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon an episode of The Apprentice. Except it couldn’t be The Apprentice, could it? Sure enough, that was Trump stood up on stage, but with Hillary Clinton alongside him?
No observer, this was not reality TV – this was just symptomatic of the direction politics in the US and the UK is lurching towards.
The less attentive amongst the public would have been left aghast at Donald Trump’s performance in the first US Presidential debate – how could such a man be anywhere near the race for the White House?
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr
And yet to those who have been paying attention – Trump’s rise is part of a continuing trend in global politics. There has been a noticeable and collective rejection of the establishment permeating across the British and American political spectrums.
The political shift in the last twelve months has been as fast as it has unexpected. For people in the UK, it started in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election, with the Labour leadership race after Ed Milliband tendered his resignation.
Jeremy Corbyn defied the predictions of every pundit, expert and media outlet to secure the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015 with the largest mandate in the party’s history. Why were people so drawn to Corbyn? Maybe it’s because he is different, he represents change – an alternative to the status quo.
What has followed is twelve months of utter turmoil for the Labour Party and the relentless savaging of Corbyn in the mainstream media.
From a refusal to sing the national anthem, to arguments over trident and defence, to the Labour anti-Semitism scandal, to the Virgin train farce – Corbyn has staggered from one PR disaster to the next, with the baying media falling over each other in their eagerness to sink their teeth into him.
David Cameron described it best, when he said that Corbyn is like the Black Knight from Monty Python, just as he seems to have been defeated and cast aside, he gathers himself and limps on.
Image courtesy of Eric the Fish on Flickr
But what this really seems to be demonstrating, is just how wrong the mainstream media are getting politics – three of the most seismic political events of the last year have been the Labour leadership contest, the EU referendum, and the US Presidential race – and so far the media have got two out of three wrong.
Nobody gave Corbyn a hope of surviving a month, then he wasn’t going to see out the new year, then every media outlet told us that Owen Smith was a far more ‘electable’ candidate. The Telegraph, the Sun and the Mail ridiculed him, the Guardian lamented his destruction of the Labour Party. If people believed all they read in the news Owen Smith would surely have thrashed Corbyn with a 99.99% majority.
And yet here we are, blinking at Groundhog Day twelve months on, with Corbyn securing his re-election in a head-to-head with Owen Smith by winning a commanding 61.8% of the vote.
But then what about Brexit? This surely was something that everyone knew the answer to. Every political party beyond UKIP was united behind the idea of staying in the EU.
The Prime Minister wheeled out experts from every imaginable industry to warn against the dangers of leaving the European Union. A ‘Leave’ campaign was fronted by the hapless trio of the lamentable Nigel Farage, the abject Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – a man with all the charisma of a pencil.
All conventional wisdom pointed towards one result – a vote to Remain in the European Union. But another result came and went, and again it went against the prediction of almost every informed expert. Why were people so drawn to Brexit? Maybe it was immigration, maybe it was sovereignty but once again it represented change – and this is how the Leave campaign pitched it – an alternative to the status quo.
Image courtesy of Marlena on Flickr
So now here we are, with a matter of weeks left until the next President of the USA is decided. Hillary Clinton has the bulk of the mainstream media –newspapers and TV networks on her side. She has the celebrities, the business people, the backing of the political elite.
But it all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Just how confident are the pundits feeling right now about who the next President of the United States will be? How confident does anyone feel in making any predictions over what’s coming next in politics?
Whatever you or I may think of Donald Trump (a great deal of it, I’m sure, is not printable) one thing he does represent is change. He may be incendiary, vitriolic, and arguably unhinged – but if there is one thing he doesn’t represent – it’s the political status quo.
First we got Corbyn, then we got Brexit. It’s crazy to think, but betting on Trump to win doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.
So buckle up, what happens next is anybody’s guess.
The London Mayoral Elections: What to Expect
Image courtesy of Secretlondon123 on Flickr
On 5 May London goes to the polls and will elect a new Mayor of London. So far Londoners have remained largely apathetic to the ongoing campaigns. Overshadowed by the hype surrounding the EU referendum (held just a month later), and lacking the larger than life personalities of previous mayoral elections (Boris and Ken, anyone?) many Londoners have so far failed to be inspired.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate and MP for Tooting, looks on course to win the Mayoralty comfortably. However, rather than voting for him personally, polling suggests that Londoners are making their decision based on pre-existing party allegiances.
Turnout could therefore bring about surprises: it is expected to be significantly lower than in previous elections, (the record turnout was 45% in 2008), and a low turnout could favour the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith.
Despite this, the job of Mayor of London is an important one, and shouldn’t be underestimated. The Mayor runs an economy bigger than most European countries, with a budget bigger than most Government departments. He is responsible for many of the things most important to Londoners, such as TFL, London policing, housing and the environment. Because of this, it is well worth Londoners, and London’s businesses, engaging in the process of electing their mayor and understanding what a Zac or Sadiq victory could mean for them.
Sadiq Khan is a former human rights solicitor who is proud of his London roots. He never fails to mention that his dad was a bus driver, and this down to earth image has contributed to Londoner’s finding him to be easier to identify with than his Tory rival.
Sadiq’s flagship policies have included freezing TFL fares at 2016 prices until 2020, setting a target that 50% of homes being built should be affordable, and making London safer. He has also said that he wants to be the most pro-business mayor yet, putting him at odds with the Labour Party’s current image under Corbyn.
Sadiq is more media savvy than Zac but has been criticised as being ‘policy-lite’ notably being unable to account for the £1.9 bn blackhole in his transport budget, and changing his position on airport expansion.
Zac was also born in London, but in completely differing circumstances. His father is billionaire James Goldsmith, and he attended Eton College before becoming editor of Ecologist Magazine.
Despite being elected as the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac is notably more liberal than most of his colleagues – he is passionate about environmentalism and direct democracy (he even ran a referendum in his constituency to ask for his constituent’s consent for him to run to become Mayor of London).
Zac has promised to double new home building in London to 50,000 per year by 2020, to create half a million more jobs, and to protect green spaces. Controversially for a city as outward facing as London, he is in favour of Britain leaving the EU.
In terms of what a Goldsmith/Khan mayoralty will mean for business, both candidates have been determined to stress how pro-business they are. Sadiq has pledged to be “the most pro-business mayor yet”, stressing his opposition to Corbyn’s anti-business image. Amongst his key policies, he has said that he will involve businesses in decision making on key issues, will challenge visa rules to allow businesses to bring in top talent from abroad, and will seek additional fundraising powers from the Government for major infrastructure projects.
However, it is Zac who will be seen as the safer hands in this area, with Britain having a Conservative Government until at least 2020, allowing him to work more naturally with Downing Street. This was a point that was emphasised recently when Downing Street committed to the devolution of the Overground to TFL, something Zac had been campaigning for. Zac has also pledged to set up a new Business Advisory Group with representatives from the Business community, to fix patchy broadband, and to promote the night time economy.
Although both men are less well known that their predecessors, both candidates are known to stray from the Party line occasionally. Famously, Zac Goldsmith pioneered a stronger Bill to recall MPs against the Conservative Party whips and has been consistently popular in his constituency. Sadiq is one of the Labour MP’s who nominated Corbyn for Party leader, but has since distanced himself from the current Labour leadership. It’s safe to assume that both candidates will be their own man if elected.
Ultimately, Londoners will wake up on May 6th to a new era. Without a strong character like Boris, but with predictions of a global recession approaching as well as possible Brexit on the horizon, who they choose to run the capital is likely to be of great significance.
The progressive dilemma: Is there a route back to power?
Dan Jarvis, Chukka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves, Tristram Hunt, Norman Lamb, Tim Farron, Stella Creasy
Progressive politics, that is the centre-left in British politics, is currently at its lowest ebb for several decades. For many, the outlook feels uncertain, if not bleak.
It is wrong however to look to Corbyn’s surprise rise last year as a singular moment of defeat. The truth is progressive politics has been in decline for some time.
First, Cameron’s victory over Brown in 2010, following the crash of 2008, brought a formal end to the New Labour era. Failing to win that election outright, the Conservative’s real victory, however, has been in its sustained and devastating assault on Labour’s claim to economic competence, something fundamental to Blair and Brown’s success. Under fire, Labour’s progressives have too readily accepted this negative re-telling of their legacy.
Second, the SNP’s victory over progressives in Scotland, first gaining control of the Scottish Parliament in 2007 and then all but wiping out the other parties north of the border at the 2015 General Election. If there had ever been a warning sign for progressives that there was trouble afoot, the appetite for change (disguised as nationalism) that lay behind the rise of the SNP was it. It could be argued that Salmond/Sturgeon have already pulled off the shift to the left in Scottish politics that Corbyn now seeks to achieve for Labour.
Third, the near destruction of the Liberal Democrats (the other progressive party) last year. In practice, their support and local government powerbase had been in terminal decline every year since the party entered coalition and were unable to deliver the “change” they had promised. But the 2015 General Election wrenched the party of the “liberal centre” from a position of real power, and left them to a harsh fight for their very survival.
Fourth, Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the Labour Party and determination to reclaim the party for socialism. Many progressive Labour MPs remain in parliament, but they are by and large now excluded from the front bench, increasingly alienated by the direction of policy travel and effectively powerless in the context of Corbyn’s strong grassroots mandate and support.
Moving forward, the defenestrated progressives on the backbenches of the Labour Party and in the Liberal Democrat rump now face remarkably similar and equally fundamental existential challenges.
To the individuals concerned, their fall from grace has come as a real shock and there seems to be a real struggle in both parties to identify a clear route back to power.
Asides from division – between two parties, due to minor policy differences, as a result of personal rivalries, and due to the political necessity of party loyalty in our electoral system that is preventing otherwise natural breakaway or mergers, the key reason behind this is one of substance.
Fundamentally, just as Blair embraced the market economic defined legacy of Thatcher, Cameron has arguably embraced the loosely defined social and public service reform agenda of New Labour, in effect stealing the progressive’s clothes and raison d’être.
Driven by a mixture of pragmatism, a genuine shift away from social conservatism, the real and lasting impact of coalition with a genuinely progressive party, and the existence of some powerful voices for radical reform, particularly to education and welfare, the Conservatives have to a large extent been able to offer the public evolutionary continuity rather than radical change from the Blair/Brown era.
This is further complicated by progressive recognition of the broad necessity of Conservative fiscal policy – now the key dividing line on the left. Progressives, both Labour and Liberal Democrat, have been inclined to accept the need for balanced budgets and therefore continued cuts to public expenditure (albeit with significant differences of opinion about where the cuts should fall, the role of government capital investment, and the need for some tax increases to spread the burden more fairly). For those on the resurgent left (Corbyn et al and the SNP) this simply equates to being “Tory lite”.
What was clearly lacking in the Labour leadership contest, and remains elusive, is a clear progressive alternative platform for government. And with limited scope for a coup within the Labour Party and with more than four years until the next General Election, developing one must become focal if they are to ever stand a chance of regaining the initiative and returning to power.
There is plenty of scope for new thinking. On multinational taxation, on infrastructure investment, on housing and on the environment the Tories are weak and open to challenge. There is also a clear need for a new public service reform agenda centred on the integration of services to meet the ever complex needs of individuals.
In the short term, the European referendum should provide a rousing and unifying cause for progressives to work for, allowing the building of relationships and establishment of new voices.
Ultimately whether British progressives unite in common cause SDP style, or continue to develop distinct social democratic and liberal paths in parallel, will largely be determined by whether Lib Dem electoral fortunes improve independently and how long Corbyn remains in power.
In the 1990s the Lib Dem and Labour electoral fortunes were linked, and in the future political landscape progressive interests may need to align more deeply to pave a new path back to power. But the key to this is new thinking and progressives must take the opportunity of their new found freedom to get on with it.
Milifandom – Can a meme put you in power?
Last week, a student (and self-declared founder of Milifandom) going by the Twitter handle @twcuddleston declared her undying love for Ed Miliband and much to his credit, he replied.
@twcuddleston Hi Abby – Delighted that you’ve joined Labour, welcome.
Since then, in a somewhat strange turn of events, thousands of teenage girls have joined the #Milifandom campaign. Much like Lady Gaga’s Monsters or the Beliebers, the Labour leader has become a strange sex icon thanks to the wonder that is social media. From this, various memes of Miliband have spread across the internet with even the Metro paying homage to the Labour leader by giving him a full page spread of him with Daniel Craig’s Casino Royal beach body. Swoon you should.
Ed as Milibond
Whilst being fairly comical, maybe this rugged sexiness is what Miliband needs for his reputation. It’s certainly better than the ghastly bacon sandwich photo.
‘That’ unfortunate bacon sandwich picture.
As we go into the final days before the general election, we are asked who to vote for and as far as personalities go, Ed still seems to lack the charisma of Cameron, Sturgeon or even Farage. The question I wish to pose is, should this matter? Do policies or personality make the leader? History has proven that personality does seemingly get you in charge, although policies determine your success.
Churchill’s personality may have saved Britain in World War Two, but prior to that, several of his financial peacetime policies crippled the economy.
Obama too has the wow factor. Despite charisma emanating from every pore of his body, Obama has failed to make a colossal impact in America. He may be loved by many outside of the States, but inside the polls have always shown a colossal ambivalence towards him. You could put Gladiator or Will Smith in charge, but if they can’t do the day to day work with realistic policies, they’re useless.
Whilst opinions may vary on who’s worthy to lead this country, it seems that many of the neutrals may be drawn towards Cameron’s stronger personality. Ed may be the best person to lead this country or not, but it won’t matter unless the country see him as having character. It’s not difficult, all Ed has to do is prove he’s got more of an ex-factor than Cameron, which can’t be difficult, I’ve owned stick insects who are more charismatic than the pair of them.
Perhaps Miliband should embrace #Milifandom and try and replicate some of the flair and style of the likes of Obama ? He needs to thrive on this cult of Ed, storm the red carpets, crash a couple of parties, drink craft beer, and be the awkward posh sex symbol this country needs.