Religion and Politics Blog

Card-carrying Liberal Democrat. My views are my own, and do not necessarily reflect party policy.

Jackie Walker is the #AllLivesMatter of the Left

Padraig Reidy has had enough of Momentum chair Jackie Walker constant dog-whistle antisemitism, and concludes her supporters in Labour have a question to answer.

Like a not-as-clever-as-she-thinks-he-is white woman posting an “All Lives Matter” meme, or a whinging Men’s Rights Activist demanding to know when is International Men’s Day. Walker, with her ignorant complaint about Holocaust Memorial Day has revealed something about herself: there is no reason to question the phrase Black Lives Matter unless you have a problem with black people. There is no reason to complain about the idea of International Women’s Day unless you have a problem with women. And there is no real reason to question the validity of Holocaust Memorial Day unless your problem is with the people who suffered most during the Holocaust.

I wonder how much of this nonsense is the endgame of the Top Trumps style “Oppression Olympics” that has taken hold of the middle-class left. Where you divide the world into “Priviledged” and “Oppressed”, and move Jews and gay men into the “Privileged” column because a tiny number of them are wealthy and powerful, you end up legitimising dangerous bigotries.

Many German Jews were wealthy and successful in pre-war Germany. That didn’t stop the Nazis loading them into cattle trucks and sending them to the death camps. This is why “It’s not racist if you’re not as oppressed as X” in dangerous.

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This is why we can’t have nice things

Late last night after the predictable comments on Twitter about the awfulness of the panel for BBC Question Time, I Tweeted this:

And on next week’s #BBCQT panel, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Jabba the Hutt, The Eye of Sauron, Mr Blobby and Davros.

It was intended as a throwaway humorous comment, and the names were the first ones that came into my head. But almost immediately came a response that my fantasy BBC Question Time panel was all male. Worrying that I’d thoughtlessly committed a sexist microagression I deleted the tweet and apologised if I’d caused any offence.

But it’s been gnawing away at me all morning. It’s most unlikely that the comment in response was an actual demand to take down my tweet, but it was from someone I barely know, and the 140 characters of Twitter don’t allow a lot of space for nuance. The comment may well have been as innocently intended as my original Tweer, and probably was. But the level of “performance outrage” on Twitter puts me on a hair-trigger, and I delete things on a reflex.

I don’t blame the person who responded. But I do blame the wider outrage culture that’s developed, making good people walk on eggshells. Nobody wants to be the next Justine Sacco or Tim Hunt. Is performance outrage killing spontaneous humour?

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Jeremy Corbyn and Seumas Milne as Good Cop, Bad Cop?

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, James Kirkup suggests we should blame Jeremy Corbyn rather than Seamas Mlne for Labour’s poison,

Treating Seumas Milne as the evil genius controlling a hapless Jeremy Corbyn lets Mr Corbyn off the hook, and perpetuates the idea that he is some sort of ingenue, too unworldly and witless to know what that nasty men around him do in his name. A tool of men like Mr Milne and John McDonnell, not their leader.

And of course, that idea is false. Mr Corbyn is the Labour leader and an adult in full possession of his faculties. He bears responsibility for the actions taken by those who work for him.

If Mr Milne poisons and knifes, he does so with Mr Corbyn’s authority and permission. If Momentum’s online thugs abuse and threaten female MPs and Jewish members of the Labour Party, they do so with Mr Corbyn’s approval.

It’s a good point. A lot of us have boight into the myth of Jeremy Corbyn as a decent honourable man led astray by the thuggish Seamas Milne, when the evidence suggests otherwise.

Perhaps it’s more a case the pair of them playing “Good cop, Bad cop” while working closely together?

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Schrödinger’s Brexit

Ever since June, we have been a nation in limbo. The government doesn’t have a clue. The opposition has abdicated entirely. The one party with a coherent position has just eight seats in the House of Commons.

Every single time either of the three pro-Leave cabinet ministers says anything about Britain’s future relationship with Europe, they’re immediately slapped down by the Prime Minister and we’re told whatever they say doesn’t represent government policy. But if you try to ask about the actual government policy, you soon realise that there isn’t one.

Aside from repeating the meaningless mantra “Brexit means Brexit”, Theresa May’s only policy seems to be avoid making any irreversible decision until some sort of consensus emerges that she can sell both to her own party and to the country at large. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be any position that significant factions won’t consider as a betrayal. I fear that she will put short term party unity ahead of the interests of the country if her hand is forced.

If we had a competent opposition, they’d be making mincemeat of this lot. But unfortunately the Labour Party appears to have been eaten alive from the inside by parasitic wasps. Not to mention that they too as as divided as the Tories on the issue, and that division cuts through the party’s electoral base.

A recent opinion poll showed that 62% of the electorate are not prepared to pay any economic costs in order to reduce migration. It’s hard to interpret that as anything other that a lack of public support for a so-called “Hard Brexit”. When push comes to shove, a strong majority will accept freedom of movement in return for the retaining the benefits of the Single Market. But will the hardliners on the Tory right accept this?

At the moment the country risk sleepwalking into a hard Brexit. It’s up to those of us who don’t want that to happen to push that option out of the Overton Window.

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What now for the British Centre-Left?

So, as was widely predicted, Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected as Labour leader.

The YouGov exit poll is quite telling, and reveals the extent to which Labour has been the victim of a successful infiltration and take-over by the far left. 60% of those who were Labour members before May 2015 voted for Owen Smith, while 83% of those who joined after the May election defeat voted for Jeremy Corbyn

It does look as though the hard left has assumed total control, and given that Corbyn’s supporters do not seem to care about winning general elections, not even a thumping defeat at the hands of the Tories in 2020 is likely to shake their faith. The bastard offspring of 70s sectarian Trotskyism and millennial Tumblr identity politics is not interested in reality, only the mantras repeated within their bubble. It’s more a religious cult than a political party, every election defeat can be explained away by blaming the unbelievers.

Where does that leave the British centre-left? And more importantly, where does this leave the Liberal Democrats?

I have a strong suspicion that we’re only in the early stages of a much bigger political realignment in which existing parties will break up or change out of recognition, and new parties will emerge. A lot depends on what happens to the Tory party in the coming months and years.

The expected post-referendum implosion of the Tories hasn’t happened only because Theresa May has carefully avoided taking an actual position on implementing the result that referendum. The moment she comes unequivocally down on either side on the Single Market vs. Hard Brexit question, there’s a good chance that half the party will see the decision as betrayal. If that happens it will be hard for any leader to hold the party together.

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Poisonous Memes

The use of these images is not an endorsement of their conent

Was there ever a better illustration of the Horseshoe Effect than this?

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. The one on the left, as awful as it is, is orders of magnitude less objectively harmful than the one on the right. The Trump campaign ad is shouting-Fire-in-a-crowded-theatre levels of dangerous. The radfem meme is merely offensive, and is most unlikely to lead to gangs with sea-green hair roaming the streets in search of low-status men to beat up. In its original incarnation it had little impact beyond the echo chambers of Tumblr and Twitter.

But that doesn’t let their meme off the hook. It’s still ugly and dehumanising, and I do have a problem with value systems that see that sort of bigotry as acceptable because reasons. But more importantly, Trumpism and the alt-right didn’t happen in a vacuum. In so many ways their identity politics of the disenfranchised is a mirror image of the dehumanising identity politics of the regressive left, and has risen as a reaction against it. So it’s hardly surprising they’ve started copying the regressive left’s most toxic memes.

And as this well-written piece explains, the whole “Poisonous M&Ms” analogy is nonsense that cynucally targets our lizard brains, and relies on the inability to understand statistics or risk in a remotely rational manner.

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You won’t beat Trump by shaming voters


When you see something like this (It’s a screenshot of a tweet promoting the Boing Boing blog), you have to wonder exactly what they’re thinking.

Remember the recent all-female Ghostbusters remake? “Dudebro manbabies are losing their shit“, went the pre-release publicity. The subtext was “If you don’t love this film, you’re a nasty evil misogynist”, trying to shame people into watching it.

It didn’t work. The film, which at least according to the reviews was a fair-to-middling Hollywood popcorn movie, flopped badly at the box office. It turned out that the marketing succeeded in alienating a large section of the potential audience, and the only people it appealed to were those who would have gone to see the film anyway.

Why is anyone trying to emulate that disastrous marketing fail?

Perhaps it’s people who have little idea how anybody outside their middle-class progressive bubble thinks or feels? Whatever it is, the stakes are far, far higher than a generic Hollywood remake. A Trump victory could devastate the world. And Clinton supporters are sleepwalking into that terrifying reality.

To be fair, we in Britain made the same mistake in the European referendum. And 52% of the electorate told us to go screw ourselves.

Of course, Boing Boing are not the Clinton campaign as such. Cory Doctorow, who runs the blog, is a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. So perhaps these people don’t really care about winning elections?

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When Codes of Conduct Go Bad

David Auerbach notes that the ToDo Group have abandoned their Open Code of Conduct because they were unable to form any sort of consensus over its contents. He is correct in stating this particular clause would be a potential ligitation nightmare.

Our open-source community prioritised marginlised people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort, we will therefore not act on complaints regarding “reverse -isms”, including “Reverse racism”, “Reverse sexism” or “cisphobia”.

Reading that, you are forced to conclude whoever wrote than has never heard of the Requires Hate saga in SF Fandom, or has completely failed to learn any lessons from it. Such a code of contact won’t survive contact with a bad actor who identifies as belonging to a marginalised group, for starters. And it fails to acknowledge that “marginalised”, “privileged” and even “safety” and “comfort” are highly subjective and contest-dependent things. Auerbach is dead right; lawyers could have a field day with that.

The online social justice movement has a contentious “Punching up/punching down” dynamic which draws from Critical Race Theory and Intersectional Feminism. But they are not uncontroversial mainstream beliefs, and there is considerable opposition which doesn’t just come from hardcore racists and sexists.

Codes of conduct are a necessary evil in a world where bad actors exist. But a successful code of condut requires a broad consensus from the community to which it applies. A code of conduct that explicitly hard-codes the values of one narrow political tribe is always going to look like a power-grap. It just plays into the hands of those who oppose codes of conduct in principle.

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Is British Industry really “Fat and Lazy”?

When Trade Secretary Liam Fox accused British industry of being “fat and lazy”, I immediately thought of this film, dating from 1959 when the world was a very different place.

Back then, Britain had trading deals with what until recently been the Empire, in which we imported food and raw materials in exchange for manufactured goods. Railway networks from Australia to Africa relied on motive power built by English Electric, North British and Beyer Peacock.

Half a century later, though we still have a train-making industry, we’re a net importer of railway equipment, which comes from America, Germany, Spain and Japan. In the past two decades Britain’s railways have seen deliveries of large numbers of locomotives, but just one, the steam locomotive “Tornado” was actually built in Britain. Though even its boiler came from Germany. The idea of a railway in Africa or New Zealand buying British today is unthinkable. They buy from America, Japan and China now.

What happened?

It’s probably a complex combination of many factors, not least the technological shift from steam to diesel which left some British train builders unable to adapt. It’s ironic that the two steam locomotives in the film remained in traffic for much longer than most of the diesels built for British Railways shown in the early part of the film. The comparison between the service lives of the South African class 25s and the BR D600 diesel-hydraulics, both the products of North British, is exceptionally stark. That company is long gone now; they proved themselves incapable of building reliable diesels, and went bust.

But a major factor has to be the way British industry, used to favourable trading arrangements dating from the days of the British Empire, was simply unable to compete in a global marketplace.

So I think Liam Fox, like so many other Brexiteers, is hankering for the days of Empire.

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Jerry Barnett on Identity Politics

It’s a few months old now, but this piece by Jerry Barnett “Identity Politics is Killing Solidarity and Fuelling Fascism” on the Sex & Censorship blog is still worth a read.

But the Labour Movement, the foundation of the old left, effectively collapsed during the 1980s and 90s for a variety of reasons. The left dwindled, and found new power bases: no longer in factories or council estates; instead in academia and the public sector. It lost touch with working class people, and lost interest in poverty. It instead adopted identity politics, dividing people by race, gender, sexuality just as it once united people across these lines. It became whiter and more middle-class, and gradually came to represent the interests of white, middle-class people above all others. Step by step, from the 80s onward, the left took on the attitudes of the old fascist movements, seeking to divide society into isolated, opposing groups of people.

Barnett also laments the rise of neo-puritanism, once the preserve of the Christian Right, which has now taken root in part of the left.

The conclusion is sadly predictable

Is it surprising, therefore, that poor whites would now also choose to unite around their racial identity? Is the rise of Donald Trump or of Nigel Farage so surprising in this climate? This new ascent of the fascist right was clearly preempted and driven by the rise of fascist politics on the left. We have no chance of resisting the rise of of the far-right in Europe and America if we adopt fascist methods and ideas ourselves. We need to rediscover the solidarity of the old left: we must stand shoulder to shoulder with those who suffer, however much – or little – they resemble ourselves.

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