Thursday, July 21, 2016

Corbyn's hopeless performance at PMQs is a willful act of trolling

Just watch the video above. There is no spin required. There is no mainstream media manipulation, neither is there any plot from Blairite backstabbers failing their leader that has created this pitiful display. Just a woeful performance from the worst opposition leader I have ever seen.

I have constantly scratched my head at the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn. I just don't get it, so I'm probably the worst person to even try. It's not that I wasn't prepared to give him a chance, I just never thought it would go well. When I said that the party had given up being a serious party of opposition in favour of being a protest movement (five minutes after his election), I was accused of spouting bitter rubbish. I was right though.

Even his plea for kinder gentler politics - something I would support, but didn't believe - has been a failure, especially when you see the bile that his acolytes come out with. Last night Chris Williamson (not an MP) said there were Labour MPs who were "sleeper agents" activated by Tory campaign chief Lynton Crosby. A brick through an office window becomes a trigger for an entirely alternative narrative, based on whatever set of unknowns they want to construct or believe. There are literally no words. 

His barmy army of followers always have an excuse. Someone is out to get him, his words are taken out of context, it's the MSM, or the Blairites. It is deluded paranoid nonsense.

I just think he's trolling the PLP now. He is basically saying: 'I really don't give a toss about this, just watch me win, just wait until you see me at the Momentum rally with my adoring crowds, yes I'll ramble on about "austerity" and "human rights" and "peace" with the same stump speech I always give, but just you watch them lap it up. Watch the cult of Jeremy sweep me back to be leader of a party that you've screwed up.' 

He's not even attempting to lead them. He's going through the motions. He wants them all gone. He could stop even pretending to go to PLP meetings, he could go to Cuba Solidarity rallies instead of campaigning on something relevant and it would still achieve his aim, to wind up the rest of the MPs and anyone who doesn't support him. He wants them all deselected, replaced with more like Richard Burgon and my former MP Diane Abbott, possibly the worst politician I have ever voted for.

So, you either think that PMQs matters, because a good performance on it will lead the news that night, or that doing any media interview matters, that communicating with the public is worth doing, that developing a policy platform to win over former Tory voters matters, or you don't. And if you don't then maybe you just want to build a protest movement and go on marches and shout about the wicked Tories. I don't. I want Labour to be a serious party again.

Stranger Things on Netflix - a word to the bad guy

One of the great delights of parenting is sharing your personal predilections with your offspring. I'm lucky, blessed and flattered that I have "something" to share with all my lads. And the real thrill is how much more knowledgeable and better at the things I like they are; to pick a few - football, geography and, as I discovered at the weekend, film criticism.

So, the youngest and I sat down and binged on Stranger Things on Netflix over the weekend. It's a masterclass in tributes and "Easter eggs" to so many threads and genres. Small town America teen films, either romances or horror films, dark conspiracies, the supernatural, even Winona Ryder herself. It shouldn't work, but it does. There's a piece here in the NME that lists the references.

But it's Matthew Modine's depiction of the creepy CIA scientist that stood out for me. In one of those performances where the presence is far more dominant than his screen time suggests, he casts not so much a brooding shadow, but leaves his bad smell of incompetent menace everywhere, not least in the flashbacks of Eleven, the tortured child.

As I've reached the ripe old age of 50 I've seen the different types of bad guy come and go - mafia, Soviets, Nazis, despots, Colombian drug lords and now the one almost guaranteed to get a loud boo from the stalls, a government conspirator. Even though I wholly sign up to the cock-up theory over conspiracy every time, it's a reassuring anchor in any modern thriller. That said, over the last year I've quietly plodded through most of the Jack Reacher books. Lee Child has an uncanny talent for creating even more unpredictable and curious villains, the predictability is Reacher's way of dealing with them.

But unpredictability was never part of the Stranger Things playbook, increasingly we are given a nod to all that we know, whether it's true or not.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sir Max Hastings at The Strand Group, while history unfolded outside

While history was being made last night, we gathered in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to hear one of our leading historians, Sir Max Hastings, deliver the Sir Michael Quinlan Annual Lecture. The event was curated, hosted and presented by Dr Jon Davis, someone who has been influential in my recent career change, and frankly inspirational in how he has delivered public engagement from his berth at King's College London, the Policy at King's initiative and the Strand Group. 

Alongside former permanent secretarys, ministers, and no doubt representatives from the guardians of our security - to quote Sir Max - the "spooks, geeks and thugs" we witnessed a provocative and timely look at Secret Wars and Future Wars from the prolific author and former Telegraph editor.

I took three things from the lecture, these are my thoughts, not those of either speaker (I'll add a link as soon as it's available).
  • A free society cherishes freedom in how it allows intelligence to operate, and in how it is managed. Churchill got this, the dons and academics who were allowed time and space often challenged him. Despots don't allow this. Intelligence appears to have been manipulated to suit the purposes of the perceived requirements of the commissioner, over weapons in Iraq. But as Orwell said: "Liberty, if it means anything, is telling people what they don't want to hear."
  • State security services, the diplomatic corp and the Ministry of Defence aren't able to recruit the brightest and best. This has been true for a long time. Money talks, but many British public servants are attracted to the sheer professional challenge of Brussels and the work of the Commission. That will all change now. But what of the notion of nationhood, a cause for which so many were prepared to sacrifice so much? A fractured nation, a divided culture, Scottish devolution, post-Brexit Britain. I wonder how vital this now seems. Edward Snowden is regarded as patriotic by many for his whistleblowing; to Sir Max, with whom I agree, he's a traitor.     
  • Statecraft is a serious business. At the end Jon Davis updated us that the news from next door that this great office of state, once held by David Owen, Douglas Hurd and, until he died, Tony Crosland, will be occupied by (pause for a gasp) Boris Johnson. We thought he was having a joke at the expense of the special guest, a piercing critic. But no. I'll give it six months. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

New Order at Castlefield - best birthday ever

I feel so extraordinary, something's got a hold on me. New Order were brilliant. Incredible set, a real journey through their achievements, like a world tour. The Castlefield Bowl is a fantastic venue as well, open air and right in the heart of the city with a video and light show as good as I've seen. Crowd full of old gits like me as well as young lads with pyro. Felt great to be amongst it.

After we saw the Stone Roses, I was thinking which of my favourite songs I still have to see performed live. Obviously won't get to see the Clash or the Beatles. But the obvious one missing until now has been New Order. Just never managed to catch them live. 

The set was:

Your Silent Face
Tutti Frutti
People on the High Line
Bizarre Love Triangle
Waiting for the Siren's Call
The Perfect Kiss
True Faith
Blue Monday
Love Will Tear Us ApartPlay Vide
    I remember when I was writing about music for Xpress Magazine in Perth, Western Australia in 1989 and the editor gave me New Order's Technique to review. It was the coming together of Ibiza party house music with Manchester's finest traditions and I gave it a five star review, it felt like most massive vindication of everything I believed in. I feel goose bumps now remembering Round and Round at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney at the massive Back to RAT party which I spent with my much mourned dear friend Stuart McGavin (RIP).

    So to end with Love Will Tear Us Apart was just a perfect way to end a perfect birthday. Thank you Rachel. Thank you New Order. Music Complete, indeed.

    Thursday, July 07, 2016

    The Business of Devolution at Manchester Metropolitan University

    The Manchester Evening News has published a review of the Devolution Question Time event we hosted in the Business School a couple of weeks back. 

    It is currently featured on the front page of the Business section online, and is also available at

    The video of the event is above at

    And we have collated some tweets using the hashtag #mmudevoqt on Storify at

    The UKIPs are coming

    Like many people I laughed and laughed at Stewart Lee's acerbic put downs of "Paul Nuttalls of the UKIPs" in his 2014 comedy sketch, where he lampoons their deputy leader. I've shared the disdain at the ludicrous spectacle of Nigel Farage and some of his rabble.

    If they're honest, a lot of people in different political parties still regard UKIP as a bit of a joke. Even their only MP, Douglas Carswell, seems a bit embarrassed by his colleagues.

    But the Brexit referendum has changed everything. If anyone thought that UKIP weren't a threat to Labour in the North, they surely can't think that now. 

    I went for a drink with a mate the other night and we bounced around the idea of where Labour go next, of which that will be another blog for another day, but we also discussed where UKIP go from here.

    The optimistic theory is based on the premise that UKIP are a shambles, Labour still command tremendous loyalty, that the brand still has some heft, that Labour also still has a formidable ground operation, while UKIP does not. They have reached their ceiling and their toxicity will keep them there.

    I don't buy that, and here's why.

    Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford's pioneering book on this - Revolt on the Right - identified early on that UKIP were more than a Eurosceptic right flank to the Tory Party. The answer to questions posed by Owen Jones and John Harris that there should be a UKIP of the left was answered by the reality that there was a UKIP of the left, it was called UKIP.

    Anecdotally, let me share a story from the 2015 General Election. In Ashton Under Lyne, UKIP fielded a candidate called Maurice. He admitted at a hustings event that he knew nothing of UKIPs policies beyond being anti-immigration and leaving the EU. He even admitted he was a paper candidate. He got 8000 votes and came third just behind the Tories.

    The optimistic scenario recognises the issue of immigration is a problem for Labour, but builds into the numbers a natural ceiling for UKIP of about 20%. Pretty much where Maurice ended up. Never quite enough to win anywhere, but enough to change the weather nationally. 

    Talk to a UKIP activist about GOTV, voter ID, the marked register and they look at you blankly. 
    Either a formidable ground campaign makes a critical difference, or it doesn't. If there's a lesson from the Leave campaign it's that many of the old rules don't apply like they used to. Untrained activists have come into the party, surprised at what needs to be done to win, but older hands have learnt with each election. 

    It includes a raw assessment of the weaknesses of the machinery: "It hasn’t all run smoothly. I gather some areas have experienced difficulties in encouraging UKIP volunteers to move away from the less targeted but higher-visibility tactics which are core to a smaller party’s campaigning, such as street stalls, and towards canvassing and data-gathering. Others report their surprise at finding some UKIP branches to be much smaller than they had expected. Both of these factors fit with the difficulty Farage and others experienced last year in translating energetic campaigning into victory in target marginals. The People’s Army are certainly enthusiastic and in many cases very experienced, and in some places they are proving very effective, but in terms of troop numbers or strategic approach there appear to be distinct shortfalls in some parts of the country."

    You take all of that on board and then you confront this: They won. Brexit is a reality. People voted for it, people who normally don't bother to vote actually cast a vote for something that mattered. Why won't they do so again? The Leave campaign funder Aaron Banks has his tail up and is prepared to chuck more money at this project to build on the success of Brexit.

    The other shifting factor is the leadership. The BBC have given a frequent platform to the florid Nigel Farage. For better or for worse he has been the brand. The change of leadership provides a true fork in the road. Stephen Woolfe and Paul Nuttall are itching for a chance to take on Labour in its citadels in the North. Suzanne Evans provides a gentler tone that doesn't frighten middle class liberals.

    I've debated with Woolfe and he's frightening. A mixed race Mancunian with forensic attention to detail, he lacks natural charm and humour, but has the brass neck to debate in Manchester and without irony, evoke the spirit of Peterloo. 

    I've observed Nuttall up close and he possesses that homespun working man authenticity that would have cut through with angry working class males. He doesn't sound like he's slumming it with the workers on a RyanAir flight, as Suzy Stride said Labour activists appeared to during the 2015 General Election.

    That's the case for UKIP. But the other reason why Labour will lose, of course, is because Labour seems determined to be irrelevant.