This week we learned that, in all likelihood, the Kremlin enacted secret plans to support the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump in 2016. How long, one wonders, before evidence emerges of an identical plot to put a useful idiot in No.10?
At the time of writing Covid cases have risen exponentially, to 48,553 cases yesterday, close to the peak of January/February and yet the reopening 'terminus' of July 19th remains in place. Thankfully, the vaccine programme has meant that, so far at least, deaths have remained relatively low and yet both hospitalisations and deaths are trending upwards.
However, for a government that promised to 'follow the science', and employ 'data not dates', this is clearly inconsistent, so why is it happening? The obvious conclusion to draw is that Johnson is pandering to the 'libertarian', ERG/CRG noisy backbench trouble-making wing of his party, as he has done since before he became leader or Prime Minister. Put simply, Johnson is cravenly indulging the worst instincts of his MPs, and jeopardising public health as a result.
In fact, in the upside-down world of the UK's bizarre and anachronistic political system, extremism, irrationality, and mob-mentality tends to be rewarded. From at least 2015 (and likely much earlier), the tail has been wagging the dog. Whereas strong leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were fairly ruthless in crushing the type of people who bring down governments, their successors have signally failed to maintain the kind of party discipline that is cited as one of the supposed strengths of our current system. In fact, one can trace the UK's current woes directly to this failure to manage the party. David Cameron has stated openly that he could not remain as party leader without feeding red meat to the Eurosceptic wing of his party, and this, in a combination of cowardice and poor judgement, meant offering a monstrously ill-designed, one-off, in-out referendum of the most terrifying awful kind. This did for Cameron. Emboldened, the mob then mobilised in earnest for the Brexit negotiations, effectively vetoing any kind of sensible compromise that might have kept the country together. Single Market, Customs Union, EEA/EFTA, Final Say vote, all dismissed out of hand. The contradictions this gave rise to were irreconcilable, and this did for Theresa May, another leader too weak to instill discipline in a party that had tasted blood. Once Johnson had been installed, the torch-wielding MPs met their first worthy opponent, the unelected Dominic Cummings who was far more formidable a foe than any Prime Minister. He promised to purge anyone who got in his way, but having got Johnson elected, the power went to his head and he was soon gone, leaving the PM back at the mercy of any rebel faction. And here we are, every public health decision a half-hearted compromise between the facts and the reactionary anti-lockdown faction of the Conservative Party.
Lest it be said (again) that we spend too much time in these briefings bashing the Conservatives, the very same criticisms can be levelled against Labour. The departure of Tony Blair left a power vacuum in the party. Gordon Brown was every bit as poor a leader/campaigner as everyone had always said, and his election defeat set a series of catastrophic events in motion. Faction-riven Labour could be relied upon to soil its own leadership election, and duly did so, appointing cheery Ed Miliband over his eminently more electable brother David. Having lost another election, Labour doubled down, opening its leadership election votes to anyone with £3 and an internet connection. The result? The entirely accidental election of Jeremy Corbyn. As the story famously goes, Corbyn was nominated half as a joke and half as a sop to the left of the party, in order to 'have a debate'. As Blair advisor John McTernan memorably put it, "Political parties are full of suicidally inclined activists and clearly some Labour members are suicidally inclined."
If we, as Renew, are to provide a viable alternative to the main parties, we must learn from these mistakes and not replicate the internal party systems that throw up these kinds of self-defeating outcomes. From day one, we have sought to do things differently, recruiting people from outside politics and from all walks of life, but that is not enough. If we are to find our niche in the minds of the electorate, it cannot be simply as 'another political party'. We need to be able to demonstrate that a vote for Renew is not just a vote for a challenger or an alternative, it is a vote to rebel against a rigged system. We cannot enter every election ready to apologise for that most dismal of accusations, 'splitting the vote', we need to stand up for a new system that does not reward party loyalty above integrity or expertise and instead rewards independent and creative individuals with vision. This may mean relinquishing some of the paraphernalia of the existing party system, such as the production of voluminous, unread manifestos that are both highly prescriptive and impenetrably vague. It may mean operating more as a decentralised network of independent-minded candidates who are able to campaign according to their consciences, on local issues, but are bound to Renew by public declaration of adherence to a set of core principles and a handful of 'Marquee' nationwide policies.
On September 11th in London, we will conduct our first Renew Conference since Birmingham 2019 and we are inviting all members to join us for a day of frank and open debate and discussion. The last 18 months have been extremely trying for everyone, and Renew has also required deep reserves of determination in order to press on with our plan and to keep looking for new ways to make an impact. This September we go back to the members with a new vision. Save the date and keep an eye on your inbox. Tickets will become available next week.
Have a great week
James and the Renew Team
Clarke's CommentAt the end of Wednesday night's game between England and Denmark, straight-talking Lancastrian footballer-turned-pundit Gary Neville made a remarkable statement, live on ITV. In the context of the England team's success and the way they have behaved and comported themselves, he said,“The standard of leaders in this country the past couple of years has been poor, looking at that man (Southgate), he's everything a leader should be, respectful, humble, he tells the truth.”I could scarcely believe my ears. In one simple sentence, Neville summed up what I believe half the country has been thinking - 'Wouldn't it be nice if we elected people as decent, honest, frank, and capable as this football manager.'The differences between the national football team manager and the Prime Minister could hardly be more stark.
Whereas the former built himself up from modest circumstances, with hard work, focus and determination, rather than any outstanding natural gift, the latter has strolled through life, bestowed every advantage, harnessing innate confidence and 'charm' to drive home his privileges at every step.
Where the former inspires confidence, loyalty, belonging and an exuberant team ethic, the latter cobbles together temporary and joyless alliances with those mendacious characters most willing to stab one another in the back in the name of personal advancement.
Whereas the former writes inspiring and heartfelt letters to the nation, calling for solidarity, togetherness and hope, the latter makes his name by penning dishonest, divisive and deplorable diatribes about the EU and (apologies for what is about to follow) 'tank-topped bum-boys', 'piccaninnies' with 'watermelon smiles', Muslim 'letterboxes' and countless other attention-seeking articles unworthy of an elected official.
Whereas the former constantly and consistently makes tough decisions in the face of colossal criticism, in order to do what he believes is right, the latter does or says whatever gets him through the next news cycle, betraying no sign of any philosophy or moral centre.
And Southgate has just the one wife and two children, both of whom he recognises. I could go on.
The reason that this story resonates so much in 2021 is partly down to Southgate's support for his players taking the knee before games and how the political world has responded. A simple act of solidarity amongst athletes from all backgrounds, supporting those who are being abused has been deliberately mischaracterized by contemptible political opportunists as yet more grist to the mill of their culture war. Tory MP Lee Anderson claimed he would boycott England games and Home Secretary Priti Patel supported the booing of England players for what she dared to call, 'gesture politics'. Of course, the success and popularity of the team has meant that these mean-spirited words have backfired. In a shameless but completely predictable move, politicians like Johnson and Patel have sought to wrap themselves in the England flag in order to try and capitalise on the hard-earned popularity of the people they sought to denigrate for political gain. In a move of astonishing hypocrisy, Patel has been tweeting out her newfound love of the team. Many have picked up on the absurdity, not least, that man again, Gary Neville, whose four word tweet-response 'The cheek of you!' was a masterpiece of scathing brevity.
Johnson too, naturally, muscled in on the action, standing on a massive England flag outside No.10 and being pictured with a 'Boris, 10' football shirt this week, to the derision of those who remember, for example, our PM coming off second best to Marcus Rashford for most of 2020. Once again, the satirists responded in droves, notably 'The Poke', which saw the bigger picture.
It is often said that the government and its outriders in the media will attempt to use anything at all to feed the culture war that they feel is keeping them in power and dividing the opposition. Football, statues, sausages, The Proms, the flag, fish, masks, you name it. Pollster Frank Luntz was widely interviewed this week on his report into the effects of culture war in the UK and the risks posed by a descent into US style politics. He contrasted Keir Starmer's 'performative' attempts to align with the act of taking the knee, with Southgate's positive approach.
“He defines leadership. If a politician comes to me and says, what should I say, I tell them: be more like Gareth Southgate. He endorsed a common approach that people appreciated. That’s the definition of unity.”“He wanted to speak in favour of something and not against it. And that is a great way to bring people together. It’s something politicians don’t understand – it’s what you are for, not what you are against.”His report appears to be both a warning and a signpost. The key for the opposition is not to take sides on politically confected cultural issues, but to find ways of disarming and neutralising them in order to reframe the narrative about issues that people really care about, like jobs, pay and conditions, health, security, food and petrol prices, schools and pensions.Other key findings were that twice as many people feel that rich/poor is the central division in the UK rather than North/South or Leave/Remain. The survey found that voters in all categories preferred Blair's Labour to both Corbyn's and Starmer's and that people feel increasingly ignored by politicians of all stripes, with a shocking 78% of Labour voters and 46% of Conservatives agreeing that their attitude to politicians was, 'F*** em all'. Quite the survey question...
A central theme was that of fairness, with those on the left and right disagreeing where the unfairnesses lie. Labour voters felt that public spending mostly benefits the wealthy, big businesses and politicians, whereas Conservatives feel that benefit claimants and asylum seekers are the biggest beneficiaries. Aside from the fact that this is a bizarre finding, it underlines the idea that, across the political spectrum, according to Luntz's finding, 'Fairness and equality are essential British values'.(For those interested, I would recommend spending a few minutes reading the survey summary here).
For Renew, none of these findings are surprising, in fact, they reflect our positions on these issues very well since our launch. A focus on inclusion, participation and reform, the harnessing of skills from people of all backgrounds, promoting a positive vision that brings people together and opposition to attempts to divide the country, all of these things are central to Renew's ethos and practice. Harnessing dissatisfaction with failed parties in an anachronistic and rickety political system that is rigged in favour of two franchise parties, and focussing on reform and fairness, this is precisely why we formed Renew.
A few days earlier, The Times' Matthew Parris wrote an article titled, 'Moderate voters yearn for new leadership', which similarly endorses Renew's approach. He argues that the increasingly hysterical pitch of our political discourse is out of sync with the instincts of ordinary Brits and that the main parties are ignoring them.
'Who and what within our party politics is answering the call of a gentler, more polite, more thoughtful breed of voter? These are men and women, often but not necessarily well-educated, often but not necessarily content with their lot, who are neither rank Tory nor rank Labour nor street-obsessed Lib Dems; they don’t respond to the gracelessness of our politics and are beginning to feel like outcasts, millions of them, from British democracy. I’m one of them. Maybe you are too. Against all denial I insist that there is such a thing as a “moderate” voter and there is such a thing as a tolerant, intelligent centre in politics.'He wishes for a new party made up not from, 'familiar political beasts', but from 'new people... from wealth-creators, from geniuses in the sciences, arts, sport and information technology, from giants in fields that are not politics.'
Whilst it is frustrating not to receive the recognition we deserve for the work we have done these last three years in building a viable opposition movement, it is nonetheless encouraging to see that pollsters, journalists and even national football managers are on the same page as us. Here's to a victory on Sunday, or at the very least, an honourable defeat conducted by hard-working and decent people with the right motives. If only Westminster were more like Wembley...
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
The G7 meeting last weekend was illuminating in the way that it shed light on the awkward political binds that our government has conspired to engineer for us. The United Kingdom is clearly struggling to maintain its place at the big table, protect its wobbling reputation and keep up its end of the deal in numerous international obligations and agreements.On this occasion, the flashpoint was Northern Ireland. The G7 event was fraught with the risk that the US and EU would attempt to publicly shame the UK over its bad faith posturing over the Northern Ireland protocol. In brief, Johnson has openly threatened to invoke Article 16, (effectively suspending the protocol) if the EU did not agree to break the rules for his benefit. Fortunately for Johnson, the nightmare PR scenario was mostly averted. Whilst EU leaders kicked up a modest fuss, Joe Biden largely kept his counsel. It is wiser to build political capital at times like these and bank it, for use at a more effective moment.
But of course, if it wasn't Northern Ireland, it could have been one of any number of problems inflicted on ourselves and others. The status of Northern Ireland is an inconvenient fact. As is the Scottish independence movement. As are the betrayed fisheries. As are the conflicts between food standards and trade deals. As are the livelihoods of UK farmers. As are the status of 3m EU citizens in the UK and the 1.3 UK passport holders in the EU. As are the overindulged COVID-sceptics in Parliament and in Trafalgar Square. It goes on.
There is an obvious 'elephant-in-the-room' contradiction between 'Global Britain' rhetoric and 'Little England' protectionism. There is the colossal hypocrisy of telling the Scots that we are 'Stronger Together' after cynically undermining that self-same message in the EU referendum. There is the childish cakeism of insisting on a border with the EU and simultaneously denying that it needs to actually exist. There is the constant and wearisome employment of brinkmanship and threats in place of negotiation or diplomacy. There is the frequent and shameless treatment of the Withdrawal Agreement not as a binding legal document, but as a clever trick, pulled off to create the illusion of getting Brexit done, for the purpose of winning an election.
Nigel Sheinwald, a former UK ambassador to Washington and the EU, said: “The lesson of this week is that you can’t have a global Britain which is genuinely respected and influential and impactful around the world if people doubt your basic bona fides. There is no point in writing new Atlantic charters which depend on mutual trust, mutual confidence and the rule of law, when you are operating as chancers.”
Make no mistake, the UK's burgeoning reputation as a contract-breaker, as an untrustworthy counter-signatory, as a noisome and difficult neighbour is becoming a headache for our erstwhile allies in Europe and the US, whilst no doubt cheering the leadership of Russia, China, and other bad-faith actors that seek to undermine the rules-based international order.
'Don't leave me hanging, Ange, mate..'
All these issues are not remotely normal and neither are they examples of bad luck or the fault of foreign leaders or governments. There is nothing of the inevitable about them. They are the direct result of a pattern of behaviour that seeks to deflect blame and postpone the consequences of poor decisions and bad judgement.We are witnessing the constant process of temporarily patching up problems rather than a) admitting them and b) addressing them. Johnson plays the stereotypical terrible partner who is always promising to change, but for whom promising to change is a permanent state, or more than that, a strategy for life. Always over-promise, always under-deliver, then quickly over-promise again. Rinse and repeat. Use sticking plasters in the meantime.
Maintaining contrary and mutually exclusive positions to different parties at different times in order to avert a crisis is not a skillful balancing act. It's certainly not the '3D chess' that many deluded voters and commentators attributed to Donald Trump. It's writing cheques that you cannot cash. In a very literal sense, it's stoking a crisis for the next PM to fix and a later generation to pay for.
The UK is headed steadily into 'the Upside-Down' and Johnson is freewheeling on the never-never, burning through his political capital (and the nation's) like a lottery-winning drunken sailor in Las Vegas. As a man notorious for discarding relationships in order to start new ones, he will know what it's like to surf from honeymoon to honeymoon. But one cannot keep treating major sections of the country like an unwanted ex. Johnson's list of exes now include Europe, the business community, progressives, fiscal conservatives, London, social liberals, reformists, the service industry, city dwellers, pro-Irish America, not forgetting Dominic Cummings & Co, plus all the former Tory MPs who couldn't stomach the pursuit of culture war for political ends and Brexit loyalty pledges. Let's hope his new paramours (when they are not booing on the terraces, attacking BBC journalists, or tuning into the GB News outrage-porn channel) manage to see through his promises sooner rather than later and don't get their heads turned by a nice pair of curtains.
The threat that this presents to the future of the UK must not be underestimated. The George W. Bush era decimated the US's reputation globally in such a catastrophic manner that anyone associated with it was also tainted, not least our own Mr Blair. Not even 8 years of Obama could fix a country that had taken such a hit that the ascendancy of Trump was almost foreshadowed. If we are not to follow the US down that dark and dangerous path, it is imperative that all who oppose it make their voices heard and do not permit their country to spiral downwards. We have built Renew as a platform for people to channel their political beliefs and instincts and to make them more practical and effective. Our watchwords are Reform, Participation and Openness. Although it often seems that indicators are pointing in an unfavourable direction, that is the precise time to stand up, to get involved and to get heard. Once lockdown restrictions end, in-person political events will be able to take place again and Renew will certainly be back in the frontline, offering our party as a vehicle for political activity and actively engaging with like-minded campaign groups. It has been a torrid year, but the opportunities to make a difference will return.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
Burns and Clarke In Conversation
It has been 5 years since the EU referendum threw this country into a new and unforeseen period of tumultuous division. The aftermath has finished the careers of 2 Prime Ministers (and counting), a Labour leader, a Lib Dem leader and countless MPs. It saw the launch and swift collapse of TIG/Change UK, the rise and fall of Dominic Cummings, the political awakening of millions, a record-breaking string of political marches and now a new TV channel.
What to make of the last 5 years?
JC: Carla, you and I were both roused politically by the referendum. For me, the morning after the result, I made a promise to myself that whatever happened next in politics, I would stand up and get properly involved (little did I know what I was in for). Was there a moment when you said - 'This is it. I'm getting stuck in', or was it more of a process?
CB: I have always been socially conscious but never particularly politically active - so for me the referendum was the tipping point into action - it was definitely a "right that's it, I have to do something" moment the day after the referendum. The hardest part for me was standing against Labour - I've always just rather lazily voted for them and it blew my mind when they didn't call out Brexit for what it was (for me it was crystal clear it was a far-right attempt to destabilise Europe and allow the richest in the UK to reduce the responsibilities that the EU placed upon them) - I couldn't understand why something was so obvious to me but not to a serious political party. I get that they had to address the concerns of those who voted Brexit but simply nodding along and agreeing instead of being honest really left me feeling let down. What has been your lowest point so far? (We will be more upbeat later!)
JC: Lowest point? I suppose it was Brexit night itself. 31st January 2020. Brogan and I from the Renew office took a video camera down to Parliament Square with the intention of interviewing the people who were there to celebrate and find out how they felt, what they thought and why they were really there. In the end, it was pure carnage; the rain turned the square into a muddy swamp and wherever we saw camera crews they were surrounded by drunks bellowing abuse. We did manage to talk to a few people who were very polite, but simply parroted platitudes about sovereignty and how everything would work out ok in the end.
So how about the biggest impact of Brexit for you? The one that really motivated me (and still does) is the fact that millions of young people have been denied the opportunities that you and I had, to live and work in Europe. The fact that this was brushed under the carpet or deliberately mischaracterised as 'middle-class people wanting Freedom of Movement for their homes in Tuscany' makes my blood boil. The opportunity to work abroad was always a way for working class kids to grasp new opportunities and transform their lives. I saw this during my time in the Netherlands. The fact that this has been taken away, and, crucially, not replaced with anything, is unforgivable in my book. I believe you feel the same way about France?
CB: Oh absolutely - I spent a year in France as part of my degree and I met my husband there and he came back to England with me - there was minimal bureaucracy and it was pretty straightforward. So many other young people on my course were from working class backgrounds and who grasped the opportunity to live and work in Europe. Stuff that we took for granted has been stripped from the next generation and it is utterly shameful. It makes me worry about the footy too - so many friends are big football fans and who follow their team (Liverpool, obvs) across Europe via all kinds of routes across multiple countries - I wonder how easy that will be now?
Who has been your post-referendum hero? Who has really stood out for you? There's a few for me - Steve Bray, who has literally dedicated his life to calling out the Government publicly, day in day out. Femi has also impressed me with his tenacity, intelligent debate and good humour - what about you?
JC: Oh it's a tough one. I might go to the other end of the scale and pick a Conservative, Dominic Grieve. I saw him speak many times and he is absolutely on-point, clear, concise, direct, confident and fair. He has been absolutely excoriating in his criticisms of the Prime Minister, not just over Brexit, but also for debasing the role of PM, weakening our democracy and normalising all sorts of tawdry behaviours and practices. If only just a few more Conservative MPs had the backbone to stand up against the mob, we might have escaped the worst of this. I wonder if Bray and Grieve have ever met properly? I'd love to be a fly on the wall at that dinner party..
Heroes come in all outfits...
How would you evaluate the efforts of those opposed to Brexit from 2016-2020? The pro-EU MPs of various parties, TIG/Change, the People's Vote campaign etc. For me, I think the PV was quite harshly criticised, given the scale of the task and the numbers of people they managed to get out on the streets. Looking back, I think Labour, in particular, were a massive let down. If they had the courage of their convictions, we might, at least have managed to retain the Single Market and Customs Union access.
CB: The efforts ended up being seriously diluted I think. And the focus was very much around what we were trying to avoid (food shortages and the like) and not about what we needed to embrace like the huge advantages that we experience by being part of a bigger picture. It was brought home to me at some of the later marches where it was apparent that different factions were not marching together and were distancing themselves from each other - the irony of separate groups seeking to encourage people to be part of something bigger but letting ego get in the way. Ego has been a huge barrier to progress in this country. Fully agree re Labour - either incompetent or wilful but both unforgivable. The Single Market and Customs Union are critical aren't they - what else would you like to see us retain if it were within our gift?
JC: Fair point. I was fascinated to hear Paul Stevenson, comms director for Vote Leave, admit on a podcast last week, that Leave could never have won without Corbyn as Labour leader. As much as people always like to look back at major events and pretend that everything was inevitable, it certainly wasn't in this case. It required a perfect wave of incompetence, hubris, mendacity and monstrously poor decision-making by figures in all parties for us to end up here. It's why we started Renew, not just to oppose Brexit, but to try and stop even worse things coming down the track. With regards to what I would like to retain, I'm really a pragmatist at this point. If UK citizens had retained their right to pursue happiness beyond our borders and if UK businesses were not hamstrung by self-erected trade barriers, I'd be pleased enough.
So, here's a question: what has most shocked or surprised you about the way politics is conducted in the UK, since you have been active with Renew? I would say, on the positive side, it's remarkably easy to participate in, if you are determined. On the negative side, I am constantly appalled at the low calibre of people who find themselves nominated as candidates for the major parties. Attending the vote-counts at various elections and observing the candidates and their 'entourages' has been a real eye-opener. At the Peterborough count I found myself sat opposite Farage and his toadies, wittering on about betting markets and 'liquidity unwinds' whilst the only other people in the room were a candidate dressed up as Elmo from Sesame Street and his mum. Only in the UK.. truly bizarre.
"Elmo not carrying weapons!"
CB: Yeah the calibre of people elected as MPs is pretty shocking and what people believe makes a good MP. I've been deeply disappointed with my own and he is far from the worst of them. The way the media circus manipulates the public has alarmed me too - the whole thing is just tied up in populism isn't it? The fact that people would sooner elect someone they can have a pint with than someone who would actually act in the best interests of their constituents. But I agree with you about it being relatively easy to get involved - the number of activists is actually quite small. But the big parties are very elitist - I know of people who have been reprimanded by their party for publicly fraternising with me, for example, because I represent Renew - it's crazy. There absolutely has to be a place in politics where people can converge around some core values along with some pragmatism and the recognition that we cannot let perfect be the enemy of good.
What are the values that mean the most to you?
JC: I suppose it just a simple one, Integrity. We often talk about being the right people, doing the right things for the right reasons, which is just another way of saying that we need to govern with integrity. In the UK, there is a giant chasm where political substance should be located. Our politicians need to believe in something and be prepared to make sacrifices for it. Power for its own sake is a slippery slope.
So, 5 years have passed and Brexit is still not 'done'. Trade deals are flimsy, inadequate or absent and the status of Northern Ireland and Scotland are looking increasingly unsettled. Where might we be 5 years from now, in 2026?
CB: In terms of where we will be in 5 years, I honestly cannot call it. We are showing all the signs of a state on the brink of failure and there are so many variables at play - the term VUCA (originally a US military term which has been brought into the business and management world) pretty much sums everything up - Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous. I read something today about how apartheid was brought to an end and the author described there being a tipping point when enough people cared - that's where we need to get to - collective caring for what happens to our country and in particular the next generation.
On a lighter note, if you were going to stand for election in character, who would you go for? It's Wonder Woman for me....
JC: VUCA sounds like a tactic employed by a dastardly Bond villain! Or, actually, the way certain geo-political state and non-state actors seek to destabilise democracies. Anyway, a character? Well, not Elmo, he's been taken. Buckethead and Binface have already been done. Could I dress up as Charles Darwin or George Orwell? I suspect Wonder Woman might win that contest..
The Dynamic Duo?
If we as Renew want to encourage more and better people to stand up and fight for a better Britain, what are we doing right and wrong and what can we do better?
CB: In terms of what we are doing right, I think consistently prioritising what is best for the country over our desire to grow as a party. We have dabbled in some popular stuff but have quickly learned that this just doesn't sit right with us. Continuing to have good quality conversations and acting with integrity is another one of our strengths - along with our considered positions and thoughtful approaches. Where we need to improve is on outreach - we need to talk to people who don't think like us - we need to build networks and relationships across the country, across activists groups and across smaller parties - we have a real opportunity to be an honest broker between many different collectives and I hope we can act in this capacity.
Final question from me - what do you think is Renew's priority for the next 12 months?
JC: So, starting from our Party Conference in September, we need to craft a distinct identity that clearly differentiates us from the legacy parties and carves out a place for us with voters who are looking for root and branch reform. All this work is underway, so after the summer we should have an array of tools at the disposal of all Renewers who want to help us recruit and grow the party.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
On August 26th, 2016, during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained seated on the bench during the playing of the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
A US Presidential nominee called Donald Trump went on radio and said, "I think it's a terrible thing. Maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It won't happen."
At the G20 summit, President Obama was asked about the topic, he responded,"He's exercising his constitutional right to... make a statement. I think there's a long history of sports figures doing so."
Donald Trump went on to become the President. Kaepernick's contract was not renewed.
On Sunday 6th June 2021, in Middlesborough, UK, players representing the England national team were booed by fans for taking the knee before a friendly game against Romania. It was the second time in a week.
Lee Anderson, the Tory MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire took to facebook over the matter, suggesting that a 'political movement' risked alienating 'traditional supporters' - “For the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life,”
Anderson was one of many people deliberately mischaracterising a simple act of human solidarity as a radical leftist political statement. The idea that multi-millionaire footballers and their backers in the football industry were somehow the vanguard of a Marxist plot was so palpably absurd that it made for some excellently satirical commentary in the media, notably by notorious photoshop artist Cold War Steve and the sublimely talented cartoonist David Squires.
Much of the criticism of sportspeople comes from those suggesting that politics does not belong in sport. This is, of course, nonsense. Well-known people from all walks of life use their fame as a platform to promote political causes, from actors in anti-war protests to the long-lived and admirable 'Rock Against Racism' movement.
Let's remind ourselves of some of the notable instances where politics and sport have intersected.
At the 1936 Olympics, the Nazi depiction of ethnic Africans as inferior was dispelled by Jesse Owens' four gold medals.
The same year Joe Louis twice fought German boxer Max Schmeling, who had been lauded by the Nazi Party as a heroic symbol of German destiny and Aryan supremacy. Louis won the second fight in a first round knock out and he became the focal point of anti-Nazi sentiment leading up to World War II. "I knew I had to get Schmeling good. I had my own personal reasons and the whole damned country was depending on me."
In 1967 Muhammad Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War, with the unforgettable quote, "I ain't got no quarrel with those Vietcong...no Vietcong ever called me nigger."
At the 1968 Mexico Olympics American sprinters, Smith and Carlos took to the medal stand at the Mexico City Olympics and raised their gloved fists in a Black Power salute. They were booed out of the stadium and expelled from the Olympics.
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, several athletes of the Israeli Olympic team were killed in an attack by Palestinian gunmen of the Black September terrorist organization.
During the Cold War, the 1980 Moscow Olympics were boycotted for political reasons by the US and the Soviet Union followed suit at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
'Cricket Diplomacy' has been a feature of India - Pakistan political tensions and has been both a tool of diplomacy and a bellwether of the state of relations over the years.
The famed 'Old Firm' of Celtic vs Rangers has always been thoroughly infused with political, religious, sectarian loyalties, often breaking out into violence.
France's 1998 World Cup-winning squad, nicknamed, 'The Rainbow Team' and made up largely of players with heritage in Algeria, Ghana, Guadeloupe, New Caledonia, Martinique, Basque country and Armenia represented a breakthrough on perceptions of race and national identity in France.
South Africa's 1995 Springbok Rugby team, immortalised in the film Invictus, also achieved a great deal in helping to unite a divided nation through shared sporting endeavour.
On the right, in 2013 French footballer Nicolas Anelka was banned for five games for performing an anti-semitic 'quenelle' salute. He was later fired by his team, West Bromwich. Other players, including Paolo Di Canio and Giorgos Katidis, have also been suspended for fascist salutes.
Throughout 2020 Manchester United striker Marus Rashford repeatedly shamed the government into backtracking on school meals. “The director of communications said to the prime minister twice: ‘Do not pick a fight with Rashford’,” Dominic Cummings told MPs last week. “The prime minister decided to pick a fight and then surrendered twice.”
Just last week it was revealed that Ukraine's Euro 2020 football kit contains a shadow of a country map including the Crimean Peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. In an entirely predictable response, cowardly UEFA officials have caved in to Russian protests and, shockingly, have ordered Ukraine to change its kit.
On a lighter note, the Silver Screen has also reflected these powerful themes: who can forget the allied POWs playing the Nazis in the superb Escape to Victory, or Rocky Balboa's epic fight with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV?
The list of noted sportspersons who have gone onto careers in politics is shocking long and includes cricketer Imran Khan, President of Pakistan, Manny Pacquiao, Senator in the Philippines, George Weah, President of Liberia, Jessie Ventura, Governor of Minnesota, Pele, Brazillian Minister of Sport, and in the UK Seb Coe, MP for Falmouth.
Aside from the fact that, like it or not, politics and sport have always been closely intertwined, what can we learn from this? Well, from the above examples, and with a few notable exceptions, political interventions by sporting figures have been broadly positive and notably progressive, often ahead of their time, and frequently bringing about overdue reform. It will not have escaped your notice that the responses to these interventions by the professional political classes have often been shameful and reactionary, with daft Lee Anderson being the latest in an extremely long line of politicians on the wrong side of history, that is, the wrong people, doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons; everything that we at Renew stand against.
The examples set by athletes prove an important point, that when people from outside politics stand up for a cause, or even enter politics as a career, they often bring with them a kind of moral force not found in most politicians. It really underlines Renew's philosophy, that the prescription for a sick political culture must come from without; that deepening and broadening the level of political participation is essential to curing the ills we are suffering, be it tribalism, dishonesty, or corruption. Of course, fixing our broken politics is not simply a personnel problem; root and branch reform are also required, but as so many of these brave athletes have shown, it's not a bad start. Whilst it's easy to scoff at footballers making political statements, a lot can be learned from the people at the very top of this most meritocratic of careers. As Jurgen Klopp (and Carlo Ancelotti and Arrigo Sacchi) said, football can be “the most important of the least important things”.
Following the controversy of the booing of England players, Gareth Southgate took it upon himself to write a heartfelt letter to 'England'. In it, he states, 'Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people. I have never believed that we should just stick to football... Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin?.. I understand that on this island, we have a desire to protect our values and traditions — as we should — but that shouldn’t come at the expense of introspection and progress.'
When politicians are taking lessons in decency from football managers, we can see that it's time for something new.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
On Wednesday, it will not have escaped your attention, Dominic Cummings let rip to the joint science and technology and health select committee for a marathon seven hours. It's said that we discover untapped reserves of stamina in life or death situations: the same appears to be true when settling political scores.
The central thrust, that tens of thousands have died unnecessarily, due to incompetence, political expediency, the primacy of daily news management and a refusal to countenance tough measures until it was too late; this has already been well-covered by many different sources in the news media in the last year.
The interesting aspect was the colour (or gossip) brought to the story, not unlike a first-hand account of life on the set of a terribly scripted reality show that puts atrocious people in crisis situations. Where to begin? Perhaps at a crucial moment in February when government business was derailed, (according to Cummings) by Carrie Symonds' insistence that No.10 officially rebut negative media reports about the continence (or otherwise) of their dog, Dilyn.
Or how about Johnson, annoyed at being bullied into the first lockdown, claiming, ‘I should have been the Mayor from Jaws and kept the beaches open.’ The bizarre thing to note here is that the Mayor from Jaws is not Roy Scheider, who is a tough, serious cop, or Richard Dreyfuss, who is the fully vindicated data nerd (Cummings, in his own imaginings), but this guy, a blowhard with a silly jacket, who ignores the threat, mischaracterizes the warnings, sneers at the scientist and then drives off breezily, leaving death in his wake. This begs the question: has Johnson actually seen the film (and is proud of being reckless and ignorant), or has he not (and is simply daft and careless)? One for the to-be-pitied biographers and historians.
Cummings' performance was eye-catching. This was the new, improved, arse-covering, modest and self-effacing Machiavelli, not the one whose evil twin sneered at committee appearances, sought to overturn oversight, transparency and accountability, screamed 'We are going to purge you!' at democratically elected MPs and declared those opposed to him to be enemies of the people.
The piece of news which resonated most was the assertion that a party system that produces a choice between Johnson and Corbyn is "terribly wrong" and that, “if you took anybody at random from the top 1% of competent people in the country, and presented them with the situation, they would have behaved differently to how the prime minister behaved."
Interestingly, he only touched his erstwhile bête noire the EU once, in order to make the not entirely unfair (on this occasion) observation that their vaccine procurement was slowed up by bureaucracy.
He even took a moment to speculate the likely outcome of a hung parliament had produced a coalition government in early 2020? Could a Corbyn/Swinson brains trust have executed and implemented a better plan? Cummings suggested no, although it's impossible to say. Could they have conjured up a worse one? Possibly, yes.
Cummings claimed to have been sidelined after the 2019 election victory, as Johnson coveted more of the limelight. Much as Trump summarily fired anyone who stole a headline or threatened to impinge on his notoriety. Was this an attempt to cast himself as an anti-hero? Was this his third act reveal, where the villain is revealed to have a heart? An Incredible Hulk turned Dr David Banner, wandering into the lonely distance under his burden?
His testimony provoked more than a few logical/philosophical quandaries such as:
If the truth falls from Cummings' mouth in a forest of lies, can it be heard? And Shrodinger's Paradox: If Cummings is ensconced in a parliamentary select committee dishing dirt on Johnson, can he be simultaneously lying and telling the truth?
The testimony was a raft of contradictions. What he omitted may have been the most telling. One hoped-for an enterprising MP to ask a more penetrating question, like,
'At what point, My Cummings, did you conclude that the renowned liar, serial cheat, and public buffoon Boris Johnson was not fit for the role of UK Prime Minister?'
'You've managed to implicate most of the Government and Civil Service in fatal incompetence, with the notable exceptions of future PM front-runners Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove; why might that be?'
What is clear to all is that, during the crisis months of 2020-21, for all of Johnson's faux-Churchill posing, when push came to shove it was dealing with holidays, managing the news cycle and finding creative ways to pay for luxury furnishings that occupied the PM. When the electorate hired this particular guy as PM, there was a sense that, at the very least he'd be entertaining and cheerful, but, shockingly, the nation's favourite jester turned out not to be the man to oversee a historic public health crisis or to protect the nation against an existential threat to its well-being.
On the other side, Labour spent most of the crisis seemingly beholden to that most powerful and fearsome creature, the Northern Swing-Voter (gasp!), whose delicate temperament must not be roused by anything as outrageous as criticising the government during a crisis.
With regards to the testimony, you can be certain the Emperor has no clothes when the man informing you of this is the self-same celebrated and perfidious tailor that worked so hard to make invisible thread de rigeur in the towns and villages of the chimerical sunlit uplands in recent years.
Just for a moment, though, it became possible to forget that this was the man who edged the EU Referendum by opening a Pandora's Box of identity, class and status animosity, nativism, paranoia, the scapegoating of foreigners and the unleashing of forces that led to the death of Jo Cox. Just for a moment, mind. Then it all came back.
It remains to be seen whether any of this news will stick in the media or register with the electorate. But if the survivors and the families of the dead are to have any truthful information about how the UK handled the pandemic, this testimony, shabby as it was, might be the first step.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
Will the UK end its lockdown on June 21st? Whilst our PM is desperate to show that he is the personification of the new buccaneering, devil-may-care, get-it-done-and-damn-the-consequences, 'I'm alright Jack' United Kingdom, he is constantly forced into humiliating backdowns by either The Facts, his own poor decision-making or a combination of both.
June 21st was meant to be Johnson's victory day, when the success of the vaccine roll-out was cemented, a year of cock-ups was forgotten and Brexit was somehow vindicated. At the time of writing that seems unlikely: as case numbers tick nervily upwards and the Delta variant spreads across the UK, the idea of full stadia, festivals and indoor gigs seems to be a risk not worth taking. It all could have been so different, of course. If flights from India had been stopped in time, rather than extended for reasons of cynical political expediency, there was every chance we could have avoided the spread of this variant or at least delayed it until more of the population was fully inoculated.
But this is part of a pattern. A government whose only guiding principle is managing the news media and staying in power does not have the intellectual rigour or moral authority to make the difficult decisions that are necessary in a crisis; any crisis, let alone an historical public health crisis. And yet, for an increasingly significant section of the electorate, that does not seem to matter a great deal. When Dominic Cummings testified in great detail to the catastrophic and fatal errors of judgement that Johnson and Co. committed throughout 2020, polls showed that, whilst most people do not trust him, they did believe him. That is, most people would not contest the facts of the matter as laid out to the select committee; that Johnson was absent or distracted and locked down too late again and again.
By contrast, the public trusts Johnson, but they don't necessarily believe him. It's a fascinating distinction, and one that, perhaps, is not surprising in a political culture where 'the experts' are constantly disparaged. Whilst Cummings comes across as a person equipped with a great deal of evidence to back up his claims (albeit rather too late, it must be said), you wouldn't ever want to go for a drink with him. It is reminiscent of comedian Stewart Lee's famous 2007 routine where a London cab driver states, disparagingly, that 'you can prove anything with facts'.With regards to experts, expertise and the corrosive effects of undermining them, Alex Andreou of the excellent 'The Bunker' and 'Oh God What Now?' podcasts had this to say."..this particular gang, for years, starting with the referendum campaign, gave voice to the notion that, since experts don't get everything right all the time, everyone's opinion is equiliberal. They propagated conspiracy theories, which pitted the ignorant against the knowledgeable, and popularised the idea that incivility, belligerence, ignorance and, most of all, kicking anyone suggesting you do something, even when that something is clearly for your own benefit; that all these things made this country great. And we are now seeing the result."
The advantage Johnson has, and one that he shares with political figures as diverse as Nigel Farage, Bill Clinton and possibly even Donald Trump is that, whilst they are all terrible and obvious liars, they all, to a certain extent, pass the 'pub test'. That is to say, the man in the street would, in all likelihood, rather have a drink with any of those characters than someone like Cummings or, more pertinently, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn or Keir Starmer.
This is one of the main problems facing the country, the opposition parties appear unable to recruit, retain or promote the kind of people that can really connect with the electorate. In the case of the Labour party, when good people are recruited, they tend to be swallowed up by the party's toxic factionalism or simply quit altogether; Luciana Berger is a recent example of this.
This is why it is crucial for us as Renew to provide a platform for all those who want to make a difference and not those who simply wish to climb the greasy pole of hide-bound old party establishments. There is a vast pool of untapped political talent in the UK, people who gravitate to community work, charities, business and the professions rather than pursue a career in politics precisely because of the pervasively dishonest, tribal, party-before-country cultures that exist in those places. How are we doing this? Well, as we know, there is no guidebook to growing a grassroots political movement from scratch, but after three years of trial and error, we have built a great team and retained a great deal of knowledge on how to compete as an underdog, how to be agile, how to work on a budget, how to run campaigns remotely throughout the UK and most importantly, how to stick to our guns in a tough environment. As the summer passes we will be revealing a revamped website, policy platform and outreach plans for the Autumn, so if you want to take part and help build the party, please get in touch.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
'It’s not FAIR' - a phrase many people in this country will associate with a lament from a whining child relating to the refusal to purchase an extortionately priced piece of plastic junk that you know will end up at the bottom of the toy pile or be rejected within a month, as what’s 'in' wanes faster than UK outdoor dining. Only this week it was a phrase I heard from a child in Palestine; a ten year old girl who was speaking to a journalist on camera whilst looking around at the utter devastation surrounding her – crushed buildings, flattened infrastructure and rubble everywhere. Her accent struck me – perfect English spoken with an international accent that young people develop from watching YouTube and TikTok whilst watching kids from all over the world presenting their daily lives of toys, fast food, hair and makeup (girls and boys these days). Her eyes filling with tears, she asked why she should have to face this as a child and her clear statement cut through the religious, political and historical chaos that has plagued this region for centuries - 'It’s not fair'. And she is absolutely right – it isn’t.
For too long the world has been run in a way that is fundamentally unfair, prioritising the experience of some at the expense of others and the ability now for these experiences to be documented and shared in real time with people reacting in real time via social media is bringing this unfairness to the fore. The voices and interests of children in situations of conflict need to be heard – the voices of women need to be heard too – because at the moment I only see and hear them via informal channels, not official ones in relation to this particular crisis and I don’t think that is fair. The time has come for the international community to demand an immediate end to violence against Palestine and its people – too many innocent human beings are being killed or having their lives limited or restricted for no good reason and it must stop now. One of the values that drives me is fairness and it is what drew me to Renew and it is what we consistently come back to over and over again – is the issue we are considering fair (globally, locally, politically, socially, financially and environmentally) and if not what are we doing about it? We must ensure that our politicians reflect our values and work to serve them, not simply appeal to populist fads for political expediency – and it is up to us to hold them to account – drop them a line, (for guidance how to do this, look here - don’t forget to include your name and postcode). They need to hear your views – the political world is much smaller than you might think – activists are not as numerous as the noise they make might suggest so the more people take up the mantle, the greater the likelihood of positive change. For example, they may like to know what you feel about countries like ours selling arms to countries that use them to commit war crimes.
I contact my MP quite regularly (I know, can you imagine?!) and have done since I became politically active back in 2016 – unsurprisingly, he and I don’t see things in quite the same way, which was brought home to me this week when he actually contacted me. He emailed me a Tweet that claimed that a coalition of Conservative, Green and Liberal Democrat members had been formed on the back of the London Assembly after the recent elections. He sent this after I had sent him an email some time ago asking when Labour would work with other parties to form a progressive alliance to hold the Conservative party to account and to ultimately see them out of power. So I looked into the allegations of the Tweet and found an explanation online which, to summarise, appears to be a spat between the parties over who gets to impose their preference – details here. Essentially Labour refusing to play unless they got to choose the rules, then accusing the Lib Dems and the Greens of 'getting into bed with the Tories'. And there you have it – all of our current political parties bickering like spoilt children and my MP using this as evidence that everyone is ganging up on Labour. It’s enough to make you think it might be time for something new?
Whilst I am on a roll about unfairness and it being time for a different approach, I want to touch on the situation that occurred in the Mediterranean this week where a Spanish police officer was photographed rescuing a newborn baby, preventing it from drowning in the sea as the infant made the journey from Morocco to Cueta following escalating diplomatic tensions in Morocco over the treatment for Covid of a rebel faction leader in a Spanish hospital. The result of this has been an influx of people including a significant number of unaccompanied children and at least one tiny baby. It highlights once more the EU’s consistent failure to provide a sustainable, fair and humane response to refugees and migrants. Whilst Renew have always been strongly in favour of the EU as a vehicle for social, economic and financial opportunity and progress, we were not blind to its weaknesses and it is deeply unfortunate that we will be unable to influence any improvement in this regard. The desperate plight of people who risk absolutely everything is explained in the poem by Warsan Shire, which contains the lines 'you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land'. Desperate people will do desperate things.
However, the chances of our country having any kind of positive influence on anything to do with immigrants through any official channels is looking pretty slim this week as reports of EU citizens being held in various detention centres by UK immigration officials. For the most part it appears that these travellers have fallen foul of Brexit, either not understanding what was required in terms of documentation or simply not being aware that Brexit has removed their right to enter this country freely. The reports suggest that treatment has been heavy-handed at best and at worst forms part of the government’s ongoing 'hostile environment' with not even officials in charge of complying with legislation being clear of the rules – what hope does the average person have of being able to conform? Let’s hope migrant workers are not put off, because we discovered last year that native Brits don’t have much tenacity when it comes to doing the jobs that they usually do.
If only the draconian measures this Government selectively takes towards immigrants could have been exercised when a new strain of Covid-19 was incoming from India. One might have thought that the risk presented by this would significantly outweigh the arrival of an au pair from France, but apparently not. To be fair to the Opposition, Keir Starmer asked the Prime Minister this week about his failure (once again) to close the borders and Boris Johnson claimed that we have the toughest immigration regime of any country in the world – if by tough you mean inconsistent, unhelpful and based on prejudice, not objective threat, then yes. The ever-delightful Priti Patel carried the baton for this approach yesterday, choosing to use a National Crime Agency raid into people-smuggling operations as a photo opportunity to 'oversee' the removal of people as part of its investigation. This links to her objectives to increase prison sentences for those people deemed to be involved in people-smuggling but also would deny asylum to anyone having travelled through a 'safe' country without claiming asylum there. Now I understand why people might agree with this, but this approach suggests that the only thing refugees are entitled to is safety from immediate danger – but might I suggest that they may be worthy of being treated as human beings with perhaps family connections in this country that would allow them the right to family life? We cannot pick and choose who we prevent from accessing human rights – because that would be unfair – and that is not what we are about. We need honest, transparent conversations about our approach to immigration, not the hostile environment being administered now because it is not doing anyone any favours at all.
Have a good weekend – and remember, it doesn’t take much to get involved – join us, share our stuff and get in touch with your MP – because it is time for something new.
Have a great week,
Carla and the Renew Team
What a bumper week for politics - Mayoral elections, by-elections, Scottish elections, Metro Mayoral elections, all taking place yesterday – Super Thursday no less. But super for who? Given the absolutely appalling catalogue of PR disasters plaguing the Conservative party lately one might have thought this would translate to plummeting performance for them in predictive polls. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with apparently little negative impact on voting intentions for the Tories. At the time of writing the outcomes across the country were not yet known but let’s just say hopes of any wholesale change seem unlikely. This is the first set of formal democratic processes for the people since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, so it will be interesting to see what happens next. I say 'interesting' – I mean 'terrifying'.
Take Hartlepool for example – as an aside, an area of the country that fascinated me from childhood, as one of my father’s friends was from there and he had a little rubber stamp made up of a drawing of a monkey on a rope – he used it to sign his Christmas cards and I was told the story of the alleged monkey hanging back in the early 19th Century. This week a poll suggested that the Tories had a 17 point lead over Labour – which is a huge blow to Labour given it has been a Labour stronghold since the 1960s. You see, Hartlepool voted significantly in favour of Brexit back in 2016. Now, one might think that Labour’s consistent fence-sitting on the matter of Brexit, along with the Labour Leader’s refusal to even contemplate openly discussing anything to do with our current rapidly declining situation in relation to Europe (more about that later), might have done them a favour with in Hartlepool – in fact it should have been ideal for them – Labour felt that would keep their options open with the Brexit voters (by not committing either way) whilst closing the doors to huge numbers of moderate left-leaning voters who no longer wish to support a political party that don’t have a clear positive position on Europe. But it appears to have backfired spectacularly. How anyone at this point can look at the Conservative performance, and think 'yep, more of that please' is extremely worrying, but it is where we end up when we allow populism to take hold – when we allow our politicians to lie and deceive with impunity. Populism that has led to huge numbers of excess deaths, from poverty, austerity and the pandemic and it is reinforced by our antiquated, anti-democratic voting system.
Even further up north than Hartlepool in Scotland, where matters feel ever so slightly more democratic, record numbers of people have already voted by post, with overall results not expected until Saturday. Interestingly, anyone over the age of 16 is entitled to vote if registered, much like Wales – it is just English young people who cannot vote prior to becoming 18. It seems completely unfair to me that your UK postcode defines your access to democracy; but then in reality it also defines your access to an awful lot of other things as well, including public services, education and opportunity. In the Scottish elections, citizens will have two votes – one for a constituency MP which operates very much like the English First-Past-The-Post system (the winner is the person who gets the most votes in each constituency) as well as a vote for Regional MPs where people vote for a party, with parties being allocated a number of MPs according to the number of overall votes they win balanced against the number of already allocated constituency MPs to make it more representative of the “will of the people” (for a simple guide to this, check out https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-54825291). The elections in Scotland were a great opportunity for us at Renew to showcase our sensible and pragmatic approaches to a number of thorny issues, particularly the question of independence.
Moving on from Scotland all the way down to London, where our candidate for the London Mayoral elections has been engaging with people from all walks of life to truly understand the issues that face the people of London. In terms of the process of standing for Mayor, it seems that the odds are stacked in favour of the current incumbent with a clear example of this relating to advertising - the existing Mayor can make use of advertising across the whole of Transport for London – an opportunity denied to the likes of Renew, or any other party for that matter. On the topic of media exposure, irreverent and irrelevant candidates in the form of Count Binface and Laurence Fox respectively, continue to get far more coverage than other serious contenders – yet again an example of how as a country we are getting in our own way of making real, sensible shifts in politics. I cannot imagine other countries having such ridiculous candidates (the USA’s recently departed President excepted) – is this just a UK thing? Is it more populism? Is it an antidote to the depressing sense of doom many of us are feeling? Humour in politics is important to us at Renew, but we would like the jokes to be made BY the candidates, not BE the actual candidates themselves.
And this week in what could sound like the start of a terrible joke relating to some fishing boats, a port and some Navy patrol vessels, it would seem that common sense continued to be conspicuous by its absence as the Prime Minister attempted some good old fashioned war-mongering/'diplomacy', no doubt calculated to appeal to those with nationalistic tendencies in the run-up to the election. This is the story of the Navies of both countries being called to oversee a protest by French fishing boats around Jersey after France apparently threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply over post-Brexit fishing rules. This escalation of issues and failure to manage relationships across nations does not bode well for maintaining the UK in its current united format including Scotland or Northern Ireland. Calling in the Navy looks and feels heavy-handed, crass and completely devoid of the tact needed to negotiate our delicate and precarious relationship with Europe. The events of the last year have shown that we are all ultimately interconnected whether we like it or not. And the sooner we grow up as a country and start behaving like we are one part of a bigger jigsaw the better. This doesn’t mean we can’t be our own shape of jigsaw piece – it doesn’t mean we can’t retain our own identity – it just means we work collaboratively and pragmatically towards a more coherent whole.
Which leads me to you and the part you can play in supporting us at Renew to build a better standard of political party. We have people who have the skills to better represent the best interests of the whole of the UK but without supporters and members, a political party is just some organised enthusiasts who get together and talk about how terrible things are – we want to do more than that – we want to harness the energy that has allowed us to stand in Scotland and London and bring Renew to a much wider audience. Wishing you a safe and relaxing weekend with hopes for better weather!Have a great week,Carla and the Renew Team
'No more f*****g lockdowns - let the bodies pile high in their thousands'
Quote attributed to the UK Prime Minister
'Ra Ra Rasputin,
England's greatest drama queen,
It was a shame how he carried on.'
(with apologies to Boney M)
This week has seen the PM mired in the kind of scandal that tends to stick. Having ill-advisedly picked a fight with his notorious former advisor and grudge-holder Dominic Cummings, Johnson is now reaping the whirlwind of a wonk scorned. His wretched performance at PMQs on Wednesday betrayed the hallmarks of a man rattled and further, one who knows that the knives are out, not from the opposition, naturally, but from his own side.
Student of political history that Cummings so famously is, he will be familiar with the story of Lyndon Johnson's attempt to slur George McGovern in 1972.
“This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics. Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble... The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumour campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his barnyard sows.
"Christ, we can’t get away with calling him a pig-f****r,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that".
"I know,” Johnson replied. “But let’s make the son of a bitch deny it.”
(Quoted from Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 - Hunter S. Thompson)
Cummings is making the PM deny it. The key difference here is that the quote is completely credible. Not only have multiple sources confirmed it and others issued non-denials, but renowned classics-fan Johnson has publicly boasted of his admiration of the work of Lucretius, in which 'piles of bodies' appear repeatedly. If he didn't say it, then it's a spectacularly well-crafted lie.
This most recent scandal comes on the back of a slew of others, cronyism, procurement scandals, Greensill, Dyson, and the 'Cash For Cushions' (or 'Cash for Curtains') story in which Johnson is accused of soliciting £56,000 from a Tory donor to refurbish the 'ghastly' John Lewis decor of his Downing Street flat. It will be interesting to see how this story plays in red wall constituencies like Middlesborough, where £56,000 buys an entire house,
It was also a revealing insight into Johnson's psyche. Whilst the country was focused on the growing Covid death toll, the PM appears to have been wheeler-dealing to avoid paying for his own furniture. Johnson was paid £275,000 a year by the Daily Telegraph but appears not to have managed to save any of it, (although his spousal maintenance and child support costs must be eye-watering.) That the mutual antipathy between Dom and Carrie 'Antoinette' might provoke the fall of the PM shows how far we have fallen as a country. Even our political scandals read like a cheap daytime soap opera.
Who would live in a place like this?
Nadine Dorries was among the MPs stretching to defend the PM, tweeting,
'Labour MPs/journalists spent weeks attacking Dominic Cummings for his trip to Barnard Castle. Called him untruthful and many discreditable names. Screamed for him to be sacked from No10. Now they hold him up as a credible, trustworthy, unnamed source? Doesn’t wash with anyone.'
It goes without saying that Dorries was also one of the most vocal supporters of Cummings' integrity over the Barnard Castle affair.
It appears that the former special advisor may have enough ammunition to destroy Johnson as leader, or at least to make him look like an electoral liability. It is at that point that Gove and Sunak will likely make their move. The fact that The Daily Mail has been leading the way in Boris-bashing suggests that Cummings' former boss Michael Gove is likely on manoeuvres already.
Like a vampire, Cummings can only conduct his dastardly business if you invite him in. The British Establishment has invited him in. Twice. Both times with catastrophic consequences.
It is in the context of this increasingly surreal political environment that we at Renew are striving to make our voices heard. We are continuing to grow, fighting two elections concurrently for the first time in our history, honing our skills using online advertising, guerilla marketing, people power, PR and comms efforts and self-broadcasting. There has never been a better time to get involved in politics as a candidate or as an activist. Much of the work can be done online and the audience for political reform is larger than it has ever been.
Please read about our campaigns in Scotland and London below and, if you can, help us out by sharing our news.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
The Renew Party published London Mayoral Election - City of Westminster in Press Releases 2021-04-27 15:19:51 +0100
LONDON MAYORAL ELECTION
London, 27th April 2021: Renew highlights the sell-off of London public assets in City of Westminster.
As part of Renew's on-going campaign for political transparency and reform, Renew's Mayoral Candidate, Kam Balayev highlighted the capital's crime problem by visiting the City of Westminster's now-closed West End Central Police Station.
London’s Metropolitan Police has lost 106 stations and now has just 36 after selling off £1bn of property. Budgetary pressures have been blamed for the closures.
Kam stated that, “The police are forced to sell off their assets to raise some funds. This is shameful for a world capital like London. We can afford to keep our residents safe, so why don't we?"
The Renew Party have been campaigning in all 33 London Boroughs and will continue to highlight 'the London sell-off' in the days leading up to the election on May 6th.
Renew Party Leader James Clarke echoed the sentiment: "The issues we face in London are the same as those across the UK; public services are being sold-off to private business interests and the voters are short-changed. Our political system is overdue for reform, fresh faces and renewal. It's time for something new.
The Renew Party was formed in 2017 and has stood candidates in Local, National, Mayoral and European elections on a platform of civic participation, openness and broad political reform.
Questions can be directed to [email protected] or call 0203 239 16
This week I learned more about the workings of the beautiful game than I care to know, if I am honest. But, it seems LOTS of people care very much. Very much indeed. And those people – that apparently VERY passionate multitude who follow the beautiful game – taught us all something very important. And, their lesson is all about the power of the people when they demand change when they come together to create a change for their communities. Those football supporters’ passion – on the streets, across all social media, splashed across all newspapers and overall airwaves – delivered almost overnight what was a just result.
So, please bear with me here while I draw the lines connecting football supporters’ undying love for the perfect “GOOOALL!” and the Renew Party and politics in general. And, you may be thinking right about now, “This sounds a bit tenuous....” But hear me out.
Return to the beginning of this week. Sunday afternoon, to be exact, when a bunch of very rich football club owners announced they were forming an elite Super League with several other continental counterparts whereby said already rich owners would make lots and lots more money and to hell with the other leagues, the fans, and their national teams. At this moment, Man United footballing legend turned much-loved football commentator Gary Neville leapt to his far-reaching media platform of Sky Sports News and delivered, live, on-air and alongside other footballing notables a lambasting of these club owners so heated in its fury it would have stripped the paint off each of their Bentleys.
The commentators’ fury went just about instantly viral and this is the part where grassroots action for change came in. It seems the average football fan was more than a little upset at being treated as collateral in this high-stakes gamble. A gamble where the only winners would be already incredibly rich team owners. You see, at this stage six UK teams were committing themselves – and not one club owner had bothered to consult with the fans. Not one. One such team was my own local superclub, Liverpool FC, whose fans it now has to be said, have the fastest turnaround time for professional banner production of any organisation I've known, with the words “Shame on you RIP LFC” glaring from Anfield Stadium railings at lightning speed. One more than suspects – the respective teams’ communications depts. will have had an absolute ‘mare of a week, second only to that of Marks & Spencer (if you know Colin the Caterpillar, you know – but more about that later).
And, it was the ensuing fast and furious movement of fans across not just England’s footballing spaces but actually across all airwaves, media, and even streets, which led me, a relative football virgin, into the middle of some very interesting conversations about why fans were so outraged. I needed to know why they moved so fast, in passionate unity to ultimately, as it turns out, successfully take their beautiful game back. What could galvanise such immediately effective grassroots action that it toppled the nefarious will of several greedy billionaires in less than 48 hours? What kind of real people power had we seen this week?
And it took me a bit of time to get my head around it. If I am honest, football has seemed to me to have been drowning in money for a long time now. Gone are the days where the players’ wages were capped and funded solely by ticket sales – these days it is all about sponsorship and megabucks for players transferring from one city/country to another. But the fans are still at the heart of it. The players still play significant roles in society – with many of them coming from underprivileged backgrounds and ploughing money back into their local communities. Interestingly, the inspiring young player Marcus Rashford was quick to share his views, stating “football is nothing without fans”. And we all know he has certainly had his finger on the pulse of the UK for the last 18 months, holding the government to account far more than our media have. But it seems that the passion for the accessibility of the game, the level of interest people hold in it and the border-traversing nature of it have helped people discuss it quickly and easily. And the #SuperLeague would have ridden roughshod over all of that. Perhaps most tellingly, it seems that identifying corrupt elitism has come naturally to the average person on the street because they are not afraid to discuss the actual subject – football. People were happy to have and share their opinion confidently and freely – it seems that football truly is the people’s game.
So, where is this football people power for the giant issues in politics – that entity which actually determines each person’s quality of daily life? That people power for politics diminishes because the political game is owned by an elite who do not listen to their grassroots supporters, to their citizens and to the people who, ultimately put them there. The parallels running from footballing grassroots to political life are drawn easily and they are stark. Parallels to Brexit, corruption and elitism, for example - a small number of very rich people set to earn a lot of money by manipulating circumstances to suit themselves? There’s something very familiar here. This week has included what previously would have been seen as scandals unfolding all over the government – Matt Hancock keeping it in the family with both he and his relatives holding shares in companies supplying the NHS and David Cameron apparently having the Chancellor of the Exchequer on speed dial lobbying for the company Greensill for access to information relating to emergency covid loans and NHS staff records. As an aside, those are my records actually – I am NHS staff. It is alleged that the former prime minister wanted a private company in which he had undisclosed interests to be able to access my confidential information for his own direct profit. For the love of God, I remember when a department store owner was alleged to have bribed some MPs to simply ask a couple of questions in parliament – which back in the day was a matter for immediate resignation. Apparently accessing NHS staff records and loan details via the Chancellor is no big deal. The Nolan Principles, which were drawn up to govern standards in public life following the cash for questions scandal appear to have been ripped up and gone the way of the Super League – down the swanny. It is all very, very unsavoury – the kind of politics we berate other countries for having whilst ignoring what is on our own Number 10 doorstep.
What has been more savoury this week, or rather what has been sweeter, has been the unfolding PR disaster for Marks & Spencer. If you haven’t been following the current spat between British supermarket elite M&S against plucky German upstart Aldi, you’re missing a trick on how to really capitalise on what could have been an absolute disaster. For those unfamiliar, Aldi have a huge range of products that are “inspired” quite heavily by a number of better-known brands’ existing products. In this instance the culprit is a cake shaped like a caterpillar which Marks & Spencer have been producing for decades – his name is Colin. Aldi’s version – Cuthbert, in case you were wondering - was discontinued just prior to M&S issuing court proceedings against Aldi for copyright infringement. Completely unperturbed by this, Aldi’s social media team went into overdrive with a series of Tweets which, in my opinion, made M&S look petty and ridiculous. So what can we learn from this in relation to the world of politics? I think it’s the way Aldi have done the following - embraced potential adversity, made their adversary’s tactics backfire against them, all of which they have done with a sense of mischief and humour. Just because an issue is serious doesn’t mean that it cannot be dealt with in a playful and engaging way. This approach to politics could also be exactly what we need to get people engaged and active in shaping their own futures. Aldi have done what football fans did this week – celebrated the underdog in the face of corporate giants. At Renew we are seeking to put some of that joy and hope back into the political arena – the idea that our overlords should be accountable, that the people have a right to know exactly what is going on and that change is absolutely possible. Demonstrating for change is a fundamental human right - how can we effect good change in the future if we cannot literally walk and speak as a people – in front of the halls of power and through our streets to voice our needs?
Caterpillar Wars, 2021 (courtesy of @jimllpaintit)
And our future is where we need to be directing our attention because the path we are following currently is looking pretty bleak – socially, politically, and environmentally. This week saw the four thousandth day of Conservative Party rule. We have some of the highest death rates in the world from Covid-19, political scandals barely registering on the public consciousness, our departure from one of the most successful trading blocs in the world, and our rights to protest against any of this being significantly eroded. It is said that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become an expert in any field – well the Conservative party have had more than enough time and opportunity to become experts in governing a country and they have shown themselves to be woefully inadequate time and time again. It’s almost as if their interest wasn’t the wellbeing of the population and the effective governance of the country…
Which is why we need you to support us – here at Renew we pride ourselves on putting country before party, honesty, transparency, and integrity at the heart of what we do – you deserve this – we all do. If you would like to help us further, please Join Us, Volunteer or Donate.
Have a great week,
Carla and the Renew Team
Pleasant surprises do not tend to come thick and fast in the world of grassroots politics, but this week we were very happy to receive an invitation from the LibDems to attend a talk on political cooperation. The broadcaster and writer Iain Dale will be discussing the topic with local political leaders in the context of his new book, Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less. Listen More. As a pro-Brexit Conservative, Dale might be considered an unusual type to promote the idea of cross-party cooperation, but, then again, any thoughtful pro-Brexit Conservative might be expected to experience a sting of conscience when reflecting on the debasement of political discourse, the spate of death threats to politicians and, tragically, the death of Jo Cox.
Public political debate has been coarsened and polarised to the extent that shows like Question Time have become unwatchable, and, for many, The Guardian has become as problematic to read as the Telegraph. The BBC's wall-to-wall coverage of the death of Prince Philip appeared informed by the knowledge that anything less would be greeted by howls of indignation from the patriotic identitarians of the right. When one of the country's most respected institutions is unable to operate without provoking vast swathes of offence-hungry commentators on both the left and the right, it is clear that, culturally, we in the UK are in a very difficult place.
Many point to the trend towards mistrust in politicians and mistrust in the media, both of which appear to be troublingly high. With regards to politicians, it is not hard to see where this stems from. The slow, but steady deterioration of the quality of political candidates amongst the main political parties, the unconscionable conduct of the 2016 referendum and its (ongoing) aftermath, the defenestration of pro-European Conservatives in 2019, the constant flow of sleaze, cronyism, expenses scandals, the influence of foreign money in UK party politics: all of these factors can be easily identified as root causes of mistrust.
This is not, of course, a new observation. Many groups, including our friends at Compassion in Politics, have sought to address this, launching a number of great initiatives relating to online abuse, 'compassion thresholds' for new laws, political dishonesty, and the need for a new Code of Conduct for MPs. Similarly, we at Renew have been working on a draft pledge for our political candidates that is more vigorous than those demanded by the other parties (where they appear at all). Future candidates will need to commit to supporting a version of the following positions.
- The principle of electoral and political reform in the UK
- Opposition to nationalism, populism, and all forms of prejudice.
- Opposition to extremism and political efforts to divide society rather than unite it.
- Commitment to calm, rational debate and agreement to avoid inflammatory language online and in person.
- Commitment to evidence-based policy and decision-making.
- Commitment to the principle of working across political divides and participating in cross-party dialogue and initiatives, locally and nationally.
With regards to the media, the story is far murkier. The rise of internet publishing has created a massive market for those who have a clear material interest in undermining traditional newspapers, radio and broadcasters and promoting conspiracy theories that feed into this narrative. In truth, we in the UK have enjoyed an extremely robust media, relatively speaking, and the scandals that have occurred, such as phone-hacking, tend to be less frequent and, of course, very well-publicised by competing media outlets.
Alongside media scandals and the broad mistrust of traditional institutions, there is another, more disturbing trend, sometimes referred to as post-truth politics. The desire to create one's own reality is becoming indulged, humoured and enabled by the way the internet operates. The dismally ubiquitous references to 'echo-chambers' actually describe this phenomenon fairly well, illuminating how we can become insulated from uncomfortable realities and unwelcome opinions (as an aside, this is why grassroots political activity is such a valuable training resource for Renewers; we learn so much more from face-to-face interactions outside of our comfort zone than we do in ill-tempered and intolerant online interactions).
As a species, we are drawn to compelling narratives; the origins of religion and, later, science both stem from the same desire to make sense of the world. The key difference is the dominance of the head vs. the gut, of the awkward reality of a world that is vastly complicated and way beyond our ken vs. the temptation of simple, comforting tales of good and evil, insiders and outsiders, heroes and villains, the safe and the risky. Politicians have cottoned onto this weakness for simple narratives and have fed them to the electorate in ever more shameless spoonfuls; whenever we hear talk of 'elites' and 'enemies of the people', the scapegoating of foreigners and outsiders and the fetishization of flags, it is clear that all this comes from the same populist playbook of simple storytelling.The Colbert Report - First Episode
Last month I interviewed a businessperson who had voted to leave the EU. As a direct result, their business was haemorrhaging tens of thousands of pounds monthly in lost exports. And yet, they were not prepared to entertain the idea that they might have voted against their own best interests, or, more importantly, those of thousands of others. We must not underestimate the power of the gut; we must become better at presenting our own narrative. If those in power at the moment managed to present relinquishing control as taking it back, then we must present the ideas of reform and renewal in more attractive and compelling ways.
A central aspect of Renew has been the idea of cooperation, collaboration, openness and participation. This is an inherently positive and attractive proposition and it needs to be sold, consistently and professionally to an electorate that has been bashed around the head for too many years with misinformation, negativity, manipulation and simplistic falsifications. Is it any wonder that people have become cynical or mistrustful? When, in the USA, the catastrophic Bush years came to an end, they were replaced by a far more positive message, that of the Obama campaign's 'Hope and Change'. If the US can fight to reject the worst instincts of its domestic politics and politicians, then so can we.
This month we are fighting the London and Scotland elections. From there we will continue to build and recruit talent from all walks of life and throughout the UK. There is a colossal amount of work to be done, but the status quo cannot hold, and it's time for something new.
If you would like to help us further, please - Join Us, Volunteer or Donate.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
And they're off...As local regional and Mayoral elections kick off throughout the UK, we at Renew are entering a period of high-intensity campaigning. We have been here before and there is an extraordinary feeling of energy and activity. It feels a lot like putting on a play, with all of the colour, the improvisation, the speeches, the tantrums, the pressure, the rivalry, the outfits and the sense that, although you are always on the precipice of total calamity, it will probably be alright on the night.
The first, and most nervy hurdle has been, well, hurdled; the extraordinary job of getting on the ballot in the first place. In the case of London, this journey began back in February 2020, when we needed to collect 330 nomination signatures, ten from each of London's 33 boroughs. In a fairly frantic two weeks, a team of Renewers boldly went - from Havering to Hillingdon, Barnet to Bexley, to beg, borrow, plead, cajole and stubbornly insist upon signatures from friends, family, colleagues and 'the kindness of strangers'.
In the scarcely inhabited mini borough of City of London, we got our ten by, essentially, bar-hopping; going from pub to cafe entreating the day-drinkers and all-day breakfast connoisseurs for nominations. In Southwark we spent an afternoon in the now-defunct Elephant & Castle shopping centre talking to the stallholders, and in our birthplace of Wandsworth the Chairman set about haranguing his long-suffering neighbours for their signatures. Then, at the moment we hit the cusp of the magic 330... the election was postponed. Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous election campaigns.
Later that year we faced the challenge of getting on the ballot for Holyrood, with Renew Scotland's indomitable Heather Astbury recruiting a formidable team to take on the SNP et al in the highly anticipated elections north of the border. A policy platform was built, a website created, a video channel launched and a new chapter of Renew history written. The job of finding high calibre candidates was not easy, but following Renew's tradition of cooperation, the Scotland team entered into an electoral pact with Volt Scotland (part of the pan-European Volt Europa) and took on 2 new Volt members as candidates for Renew.
As is the case in England and Wales, the media does us no favours in Scotland, with the vast majority of reporting being focused on the thorny topic of independence, but with a modest budget and a good deal of media-savvy, the team is establishing a presence and an awareness of Renew in the lead up to May 6th.
As an aside, and in what is becoming an increasing annoyance, both The Reclaim Party and Reform UK are also standing in Scotland and, as in London, online comments are proving that not a small number of voters are confusing us with them. We shall be very glad when both parties disband, which I assume will be sooner rather than later, given their respective track records and the shady characters involved.
If anyone is in any doubt about how hard we have to battle to make our case, Renew's Peter Morton, who uses a wheelchair, was excluded from the Disabled People's Question Time, despite being the only disabled candidate in the region. The event is organised by, wait for it, 'Inclusion Scotland'. You really couldn't make it up. Once again an organisation is erecting unnecessary barriers to democratic entry by only allowing parties with sitting officials to participate. Renew Scotland's rallying cry is now - ‘Don’t let the media decide who you vote for!’.
Back in London we have the same issue, so we have decided to overcome it, (as we did in Newport West) by simply organising our own hustings and inviting our rivals to join us. The London Challenger Hustings is taking place next Thursday evening and will be live-streamed across various channels, although, happily we have managed to convince the BBC and other news outlets to send reporters and cover the event.
Convincing the candidates to attend a free publicity event, however, is never as easy as it ought to be. In Newport, three of the major parties turned their noses up at the chance to address the electorate at our event at the Pill Community Centre. In London, at the time of writing, and without naming names, at least two of the high profile Covid-sceptic candidates appear to feel they are above attending, but, again happily, we have secured confirmations from 5-6 of the more serious (less nutty) challenger candidates from a field that, remember, includes Piers Corbyn, Count Binface and a UKIP-er called 'Gammons'. Other than that, the campaign is going well with Kam visiting all 33 boroughs, making numerous videos, meeting people from all walks of life, spending the night with the homeless and raising a good deal of campaign funding through crowdfunder and other channels.
We are in for an eventful few weeks leading up to May 6th and, as our Chairman points out, it is in these situations that we really learn our trade. The conduct of electoral politics is extremely complicated and demanding and there are skills to be learned that literally cannot be picked up in any other environment. There are no short-cuts to credible grassroots campaigning. As we have discovered, in face-to-face interactions people are often encouraging, inspiring even, and it's important to remember that when you see some of the comments made online, which, let's face it, are often abominable. In my first campaign, a complete stranger took the effort to send me the charmingly cryptic message, 'I will cut you when we go to war'. I'm certain that the voters of Scotland and London will not disappoint in this regard.
The joys of online campaigning
So please, if you can do anything to help raise the profile of our campaigns in the coming weeks, get in touch. We need all the help you can offer.It's time for something new.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
The Renew Party published Renew's London Challenger Hustings in Press Releases 2021-04-06 12:07:00 +0100
RENEW ANNOUNCES LONDON MAYORAL CHALLENGER HUSTINGS EVENT
London, 6th April 2021: With a record 20 candidates standing for London Mayor, Renew is hosting a live broadcast in-person hustings for Challenger London Mayoral Candidates.
On 22nd April at 7pm, Renew will host a Covid-safe hustings for challenger candidates at the US&Co event space at Harp Lane EC3. The aim is to provide a platform for the challenger candidates to outline their visions for London.
London Mayoral elections tend to be presented to the electorate as two-horse races, but we feel that Londoners deserve better and that the capital deserves a unity candidate outside of the divisive Conservative/Labour political sphere.
Renew Party Leader James Clarke said:
“The proliferation of candidates shows that, in theory at least, democracy is alive and well in London. However, in reality, candidates not tied to the parties of Westminster do not get a chance to make their case in the newspapers and on TV. For Londoners to make an informed choice on May 6th, we need to know what these candidates stand for. To this end, we are hosting a challenger hustings and speaking directly to London and to the voters.”
The event will take place from 7-8pm on Thursday April 22nd. It will be mediated by a neutral moderator and live questions from the public will be included. The final list of candidates participating will be announced closer to the date.
The London Challenger Hustings will be live-streamed for free across various platforms, and there will also be space in the venue for a limited number of reporters and photographers.
The invitation to candidates and journalists can be found at this link.
In order to attend the event, please contact [email protected] or call 0203 239 1692
Since 2016, millions of people in the UK have become politically active. Hundreds of campaign groups have sprung up. Increased political participation can be observed in almost every election. Yesterday we learned that a record twenty candidates are standing for Mayor of London, including Renew's own Kam Balayev. Eleven candidates stood with Renew's June Davies at the Newport West by-election in April 2019 and an incredible fifteen stood with Renew's Peter Ward in the Peterborough by-election of June that same year.
The reality of Brexit may have taken the wind out of the sails of certain parties, but the upcoming by-election in Hartlepool looks like it might be lively, with candidates from the North East Party and the Northern Independence Party joining the usual suspects on the ballot.
As a party that stands for participation, this proliferation of political activity ought to be welcome, but Renew also stands for Reform, Openness, and Getting Heard. The question arises, how can the flowering of political participation be squared with the goal of political reform in a winner-takes-all political environment?
It is clear that the majority of newly formed political groups tend to be on the liberal-progressive end of the political spectrum, but the tendency to factionalism amongst the left-leaning is axiomatic.
As we have noted in previous briefings, the Conservative right exists to govern at any cost, whereas the Labour left exists to demonstrate its social and philosophical worthiness. This is the reason that the Conservatives have won 8 of the last 11 elections and 20 out of 28 since 1918. Attempts at building oppositional electoral alliances in recent years have collapsed embarrassingly in an unbeatable combination of arrogance and incompetence. Whilst Renew, for little or no credit, decided that the right thing would be to support a 'unity remain' candidate in Peterborough, to stand down in Brecon and Radnorshire and to participate in the 'Unite To Remain' project at GE2019, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson decided that their ideological purity trumped any bothersome electoral realities. The result is the disaster-zone otherwise known as the UK in 2021.
And yet none of this was inevitable. In the 1997 election, following four straight Conservative General Election victories and mounting sleaze, Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown informally agreed not to spend money or aggressively contest one another's marginal target seats. The result? Labour gained 145 seats, the Lib Dems 26 and the Conservatives were in the wilderness for 13 years.
Since then the Lib Dems' disastrous (for them) time in coalition and the resurfacing of Labour's toxic hard-left factionalism have made cooperation impossible and it's hard not to compare this with their counterparts on the right. Whilst Cameron initially derided their right-wing competition in UKIP as "fruitcakes", "loonies" and "closet racists", this point of view was not shared by Conservative strategists who saw an opportunity in the competition and in the threat. Whether the Tories successfully coopted UKIP or vice-versa is a matter of contention, but the result is obvious: the right coalesced to victory as the opposition splintered to failure.
For those of us in Renew who knocked doors and campaigned in every region of the UK, it has been hard to escape an uncomfortable fact: the idea of a new party advocating broad reform, inclusion and civic participation has been derided and undermined by progressive liberal political groups far, far more than by those on the right. Even the right-wing press has covered Renew's electoral activities more often and more fairly than the liberal press, with The Guardian providing a solitary favourable article, The Mirror, a single disparaging comment, and The New European one neutral article dating back to 2018.
On the other side of the coin, the Daily Express covered us many times, including a sympathetic video interview. Both conservative-leaning talkRADIO and LBC hosts have invited many Renew representatives to speak over the years including Sandra Khadouri taking on Nigel Farage, James Torrance on James Whale, Annabel Mullin on Iain Dale, Julie Girling also on Iain Dale and myself on Daisy McAndrew (it was Julia Hartley-Brewer's day off, luckily for the both of us).
Getting a fair hearing - from unexpected places.
If you compare the way that right-leaning organisations enabled challengers to the Conservatives, like UKIP and the Brexit Party to the way that liberal-leaning groups have worked to stifle challengers to Labour and the Lib Dems, like Renew, it is not hard to see the advantage the Tory-right have in the UK.
It seems bizarre to say, but the conclusion is unavoidable.
What can we do as Renewers to push this message of success through cooperation? We need to continue doing the right things for the right reasons, even when it may appear easier or more expedient not to. We need to insist that an eternity of red vs blue is neither desirable nor inevitable. And we need to keep making the case for reform, participation and openness, as all the while evidence mounts that the current political status quo is not sustainable. And we need to keep pushing the value of cooperation, the key factor that has continued to elude the opposition parties to the detriment of society as a whole.
It's time for something new.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
'Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.'
The contribution that social intolerance is making to our political culture in the UK is impossible to ignore. Last week both liberal political commentator Ian Dunt and satirist Jonathan Pie articulately bemoaned the 'outrage machine' on both the right and the left that stifles honest debate, ruins lives, and divides society to the detriment of all (please do look at both links).
Whilst this environment of mistrust, paranoia and hysteria feels new, it may be part of a broader pattern of behaviour. With your indulgence, I will list a number of random historical events that took place, not too far from home and not too long ago.
In early 1321, a rumour started in the town of Périgueux that the wells were being poisoned by lepers. The rumour spread as far as Spain and hundreds of lepers were burned at the stake. The rumour then mutated; by the summer of 1321 it was the Jews who were said to be poisoning wells, hundreds were executed. In 1348, the rumour returned during the bubonic plague and in the German Empire, hundreds of Jewish settlements were burned to the ground.
In 1589, James I returned home from a trip to Denmark convinced of the existence of witches. He instigated the North Berwick witch trials in which 70 women were killed. Over the next 60 years, an estimated 50,000 women were executed as witches across Europe.
In the Russian Revolution and for most of the life of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, the employment of terror, paranoia, the identification and exile of enemies with unorthodox ideas, guilty or not, often following lurid public show trials, were its defining feature. As Lenin put it openly, 'We stand for organized terror - this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution.' In East Germany, at its peak, one in every 6.5 people was an informant for the state; the Stasi had files on 5.6 million people or 1 in 3 of the entire population.
In 1868, public hangings were banned in the UK. For centuries, they had been a popular form of public entertainment. Capital punishment was finally banned by parliament in 1969 in spite of broad national support to retain it. In 2016, 53% of those who voted Brexit were still in support of its return.
In 1999 former Coventry City goalkeeper and senior Green Party spokesman David Icke claimed that the British Royal Family, amongst others, were shape-shifting reptiles. His books have sold in the millions, translated into 11 languages and his speeches fill large arenas. He is currently an anti-lockdown campaigner alongside Piers Corbyn.
Also in 1999 British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared, bizarrely, on This Morning in order to suggest that the England Manager Glenn Hoddle should be fired. Days earlier, Hoddle, (who had left school at 16 and only lately embraced spirituality), had been tricked by a journalist from The Times into suggesting there was a link between reincarnation and disability. 90% of those polled agreed that he should be fired. He was.
In 2000 a new type of reality TV began to revolutionise popular entertainment. Contestants in shows like 'Big Brother' were microscopically surveilled, scrutinized, judged, shamed and ultimately exiled, through a public vote. At its peak, 5-6million people tuned in each week. It is claimed that in the 18-34 age bracket, more people voted in Big Brother than voted in the 2005 UK General Election. The format led to the rise of Donald Trump in 'The Apprentice' and also his cheap UK imitations on the TV, Sir Alan Sugar and politics, Alexander 'Boris' Johnson.
The idea of exile via popular vote very quickly seeped out from televised entertainment and into real life as organized activists on the right and the left began employing new platforms like Twitter to identify, shame and exile both celebrities and ordinary people. Private companies, universities and other institutions began lowering the bar of evidence for those accused of wrong-doing and it became common for individuals to be fired as a direct result of perceived threats to the reputation of employers. As the practice became normalised, traditional concepts of justice such as fair trials and the possibility of verdicts of innocence began to disintegrate.
In 2020, 150 writers including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem and Noam Chomsky signed a letter asserting their support for free speech and denouncing 'a vogue for public shaming and ostracism' and 'a blinding moral certainty'. Upon discovering that controversial author JK Rowling had also signed the letter, author Jennifer Finney Boylan publicly apologised for signing, saying 'I thought I was endorsing a well-meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming'. Salman Rushie, whose own experience of being 'cancelled' (almost terminally) by religious intolerance, remained on the list. The uncomfortable facts stated in the letter were quickly forgotten. When some of the most respected liberal figures in the arts need to imperil their reputation by supporting it, we can know for sure that freedom of speech is not in vogue.
The truth is that, in the UK, as elsewhere, there has been a strong and consistent pattern of intolerance, censoriousness, hysteria and the desire to publicly shame, punish and exile. The 'string 'em up' mentality is borne from the same ignoble instinct of the human psyche, whether it comes from a liberal or a conservative bias. It merely manifests as liberal or conservative. It is also wildly counterproductive. Both sides of what has become known as 'the culture war' need to understand the following fact:
When you turn offence into a currency that is free to generate, be certain that, a) it will proliferate and b) it will be used against you.
The unfortunate but inescapable conclusion is that oftentimes, the problem is... us.
The print media reflects our unhealthy and prurient obsessions with the private lives of others, the TV our passivity, films reflect our unsatiated desires for sex and violence, the church reflects our vanity and politics our hypocrisy.
If it's true that we get the politics we deserve, then we need to start with ourselves.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
It has been another dramatic week in the UK. The crime bill that would 'make a dictator blush' passed its second reading in the Commons. Supply issues make it likely that the under 50s will not get the vaccine until at least May. Both Sadiq Khan and Ed Davey made premature, publicity-seeking comments calling for Dame Cressida Dick to resign over the handling of the Clapham Common vigil. The New Statesman devoted its recent issue to the undeniable fact that Brexit is breaking Britain and the current system cannot hold. Dominic Cummings attempted to settle a few scores and also take credit for the vaccine in his testimony to the HOC science committee. It also brought him face-to-face with former business secretary Greg Clark, to whom he famously ranted 'When are you f***ing MPs going to realize we are leaving on October 31? We are going to purge you.' back in 2019. Funny how things turn out.
We also discovered how far £2.6m can be stretched if you are an astute Conservative government looking to ape White House press briefings.
As regular readers will know, we are currently gearing up to run in the London Mayoral and the Scottish Parliament elections, recruiting candidates, raising money, designing materials, and, inevitably, filling in vast amounts of paperwork. Each election has its own peculiar character and these two elections are shaping up to be extremely interesting. In Scotland, we know that the election is being perceived as a proxy referendum on independence, much as the 2019 General Election was treated as a proxy for Brexit. It will not be easy to cut through the noise, but our excellent candidates will be working to bring a message of hope and reform to Scottish voters in what is bound to be an extremely divisive and fevered atmosphere.
In London the array of announced candidates is vast, and, given the characters involved, it might lead to some intriguing debates, if indeed they are permitted to proceed. In addition to our Renew candidate Kam Balayev and the Tory, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens we have:
- Former actor Lawrence Fox who is standing as 'Reclaim', to protect and increase the number of statues in London.
- A former Tory, now Independent called Farah London (unclear if she changed her name for electoral advantage).
- A UKIPer whose birth name is literally 'Gammons' (unclear if he was selected on the basis of his surname).
- Charlie from Pimlico Plumbers, Independent, another former Tory who says the Conservatives have turned their back on London.
- Mandu Reid of the Women's Equality Party
- Count Binface (the artist formerly known as Lord Buckethead), Independent, who is promoting the homeless charity Shelter.
- Piers Corbyn, Independent, who appears to be running on a pro-virus platform.
- Brian Rose, Independent, who appears to be running in order to split the pro-virus vote with Corbyn.
- David Kurten, Independent, who appears to want any of the leftover pro-virus action that didn't go to Corbyn or Rose.
- Rapper Drillminister, whose platform involves diversifying the Met police and antagonising Shaun Bailey.
- Winston McKenzie, Unity In Action, whose platform includes deploying peacekeeping army units on the streets.
- Valerie Brown, Burning Pink, who wishes to replace the political system with citizens’ assemblies.
- Nims Obunge, Independent, who wants to make London carbon neutral by 2030.
- Rosalind Readhead, Independent, who wants to make London carbon zero by 2025 (which will surely irk Mr Obunge).
It won't have escaped your notice that some of the comedy candidates have better policies than the serious ones.
In a field so wide it will also be tough for Renew to cut through the noise, but we are looking at ways of doing this. One is to organise and run a 'Challenger Hustings' for the benefit of the candidates who are unlikely to be invited to the main TV and radio debates. You can help by chipping in to Renew's crowdfunder for Kam's campaign.
The other interesting thing is the announcement of a by-election in Hartlepool. A disgraced Labour MP, a 70% leave vote, a major Brexit Party presence (Richard Tice stood there in 2019), it sounds rather a lot like the Peterborough by-election from June 6th 2019. Naturally, it is in Renew's instincts to stand in this by-election, but since it will almost certainly be held on May 6th, it might stretch our resources a little thin. If anyone knows a willing (and preferably wealthy) candidate from the area, we'd love to hear from them!
For fans of the UK's colourful electoral history, Hartlepool elected a monkey football mascot called 'H'Angus' as mayor. The gentleman in the monkey costume was finally forced to make the following clarification, "I am Stuart Drummond, I am the mayor of Hartlepool, not the monkey." In the end, the people of Hartlepool voted to abolish the mayoral system, but not until 2013 by which time H'Angus the monkey had won three straight elections.
Have a great week,James and the Renew team
Many of us are aware of the Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog, in which, despite repeated assurances to the contrary, the scorpion stings and kills the frog as they cross the river, dooming them both. 'Why?', asks the Frog, 'Because it is in my nature', shrugs the Scorpion.The government has spent vast amounts of public money to keep the economy running and has produced a budget that commits it to borrowing and spending mind-bending amounts more in the coming years, accruing debt that will likely not be paid off for generations. It has spent eye-watering sums on a track-and trace system that has been world-beatingly profligate, wasteful and inept. It has thrown £2.6m at a boondoggle media briefing room at No.10, the better to ape 'White House-style' press events and stoke political vanity. Further, it has awarded colossally lucrative Covid contracts to Tory donors, friends, family and peers in a scandal that we are scarcely beginning to understand the scale of.
And yet, in the midst of the orgy of fiscal extravagance, the Prime Minister has offered NHS staff, who have done more to protect the UK than any other group of workers, a paltry pay rise of 1%, less than the 2.1% promised last year and likely below the coming rate of inflation of 1.7%, thereby making NHS staff worse off in real terms. How can this be? 'Because it is in my nature', shrugs the Scorpion.
Further, when confronted with this bizarre and insulting anomaly at PMQs, Boris Johnson responded, as is his nature, by lying to the house, falsely claiming that the opposition had voted against the pay rise. The Prime Minister's new scapegoat spokesperson Allegra Stratton, when confronted with this fib, refused to set the record straight on twenty occasions, which says a lot about the value of a vigilant political press and a lot more about the contempt they are held in by the current government. The extraordinary transcript of the conversation shows that Stratton's job as Johnson's cheerleader, bodyguard and fabrication-wrangler may turn out to be the hardest job in PR.
'...one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.'
The quote above might have come from any recent book on the resurgence of nationalism, nativism, populism or the electoral success of Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban or Erdogan. It could in fact have been tailored to describe the Leave campaign of 2016 or, indeed, the career trajectory of our current Prime Minister. But in fact, it was written in 1951, by Hannah Arendt in order to describe the journey toward Totalitarianism, characterised by a 'mixture of gullibility and cynicism'.A mixture of gullibility and cynicism. Does that phrase not accurately describe the current level of debate in the more fevered corners of Twitter as well as the milieu of Julia Hartley-Brewer, Piers Morgan, Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins, George Galloway, David Icke, Tommy Robinson, Piers Corbyn Lawrence Fox et al. And what delightful swamps of cynical mendacity await us with the impending launch of GB News and Rupert Murdoch's competing News UK TV channels?
The debasement of public discourse in the UK has been a major issue for Renew from day one. Indeed it was one of the major take-aways from our Listen To Britain tour and our subsequent outreach events and election canvassing across the country in the following years.
On the doorstep we found that many were utterly disenchanted with the parties for which they and their families had voted for decades. However, many were also convinced that an eternity of red vs blue was the way things were and the way they would always be.
History, of course, does not work in this way. Unforeseen events routinely transform societies; in fact it is the most common way that societies are transformed. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union went famously unpredicted by the collective might of the West's intelligence agencies. En Marche's route to power was almost entirely a shock. The Arab Spring was sparked by a single incident in Ben Arous. Nelson Mandela's journey to the Presidency of a unified South Africa would have seemed impossible just a few years earlier.
Political change comes at the turning point where a trickle becomes an avalanche. Our battle to bring more and broader voices into the political sphere is largely borne of our desire to improve the quality and the integrity of our elected officials. The increasing popularity of grassroots initiatives such as Citizens Assemblies are great examples of how Renew's agenda reflects the growing public appetite for more transparency, better participation, equal representation and faster reform.
Why do we pursue our work, when we can never be certain exactly when that tipping point will come?
Because it's in our nature.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
Rishi Sunak's much anticipated budget was revealed on Wednesday and was very much a mixed bag. The vast spending increases were expected and will likely play a major part in the essential work of getting the economy back on its feet after the biggest drop in economic activity since 1706.
The UK economy has shrunk faster than that of any comparable country, alongside a higher death-toll from Covid-19, added to the negative effects on jobs and income resulting from the new trade deal with Europe. The scaled increase in Corporation Tax for smaller businesses was welcome, as was the lengthening of furlough and other support for businesses and workers. On the downside there was nothing for social care or the NHS and the freeze on income tax thresholds will affect ordinary people negatively across the board. Further, the Buy Now, Pay Later approach appears to be a political calculation, with tax rises not hitting the electorate until after the likely date of the next General Election, with many now betting on a pre-2024 vote.
The 'levelling-up' agenda is also wildly skewed with localised support going to 45 Town Funds, a breathtaking 40 of which are Tory constituencies. Whilst Sunak was anxious to deny this, a video from 2019 shows Robert Jenrick already boasting about £25m he claimed to have secured from the Treasury. 'Pork-barrel' politics is something long associated with the US, but like many unwelcome trends, the UK appears to be either powerless to resist them or actively welcomes them.
The news of UK businesses suffering under the new EU trade deal has not let up, with UK manufacturing, fisheries, farmers, financial services, musicians and performers all speaking out about the inadequacy of the new arrangements and the impending impact on jobs and the national interest. We at Renew have been talking to affected businesses and the first 3 interviews of our new series can be found on our YouTube channel, with more in the pipeline. It's becoming clear that without the restoration of frictionless trade and free movement, entire industries are at risk, plus the careers of millions of people, particularly the young, who find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to their counterparts in the EU 27.
The Government response to this growing flood of bad news has been telling. Last week a number of paid advertorials appeared in the mainstream press, making outlandish claims about the successes of post-Brexit businesses. Only a few weeks ago papers like the Times and the Daily Mail did not need paying to print pro-Brexit news, now it appears that, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the tide might be turning.
The last 4 years have been so tumultuous that it's often hard to take stock of where we've been, where we've come and where we are now, which is an unrecognisable place from the UK of just 5 years ago. It is in this context that we have to see Renew and our potential to make an impact in the coming years and especially at the next General Election, which may come sooner than we expect. In spite of the result of the 2019 election, it's becoming clearer that the old party loyalties have weakened dramatically and the opportunity to harness the dissatisfaction with status quo politics is there for the taking. Our work in fighting elections, recruiting spokespeople, coordinators, candidates and volunteers continues apace.
It's time to buy into the idea of real change for the UK, because if we don't buy now, we are are going to pay later.Have a great week,
James and the Renew team