The Renew Party

  • published Reshuffling while Rome burns in Briefings 2021-09-19 13:47:49 +0100

    Reshuffling while Rome burns

    Clarke's Comment

    This week's much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle turned out to be a storm in a tea-cup, with Gavin Williamson being fired 2 years too late and Dominic Raab being rewarded for his failure at the Foreign Office with another prestige cabinet role at Justice. Robert Jenrick also went, although, importantly, not for the 'cash-for-favours' scandal, but just in order to make way for Michael Gove. Priti Patel appears to be unfirable under Johnson, in spite of the fact that he jokes that her agenda is to make the UK 'Saudi Arabia of penal policy' Our new culture secretary Nadine Dorries could scarcely be less qualified for the role, her most well-known act being to abandon her job and her constituents, without permission, in order to eat bugs for attention on 'I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!'. Rounding out her CV are opposition to gay marriage, criticism of the BBC and participation in the expenses scandal. Our new Housing Minister is Michael Gove, whose recently unearthed comments on 'dirty northerners' and 'fetid foreigners', (amongst other noxious remarks) exemplify the kind of sneering arrogance and remote aloofness that characterises many of the most prominent Conservatives. Indeed, Gove's comments could just as easily have come from one of fellow journalist Johnson's notoriously unpleasant Spectator and Telegraph columns from the 90s and 2000s. The rot does indeed start at the top.


    I'm a celebrity... put me in the cabinet

    The good news of the week was Emma Raducanu's astonishing and unprecedented win at the US Open, watched by an incredible 9.2m Brits on Saturday night, (many of us on the edge of our sofas, bellowing at the screen). Bizarrely, the win was celebrated by Nigel Farage, who famously suggested that people should be 'concerned' if Romanians moved in next door and fellow hypocrite Piers Morgan, who earlier in the year had gone out of his way to suggest that she 'couldn't handle pressure' and needed to 'toughen up'.

    Once again we see that the UK's real role models embody a sense of inclusion, diversity, openness and compassion. Much has been made of Emma Raducanu's multi-cultural background, in the same way that England's football team come from such differing backgrounds, not just geographically, but also socio-economically. Marcus Rashford's well-publicised campaign to address food poverty comes directly from his own experience of poverty as a child. In fact, examples abound of the vast contributions to British culture made by people from diverse backgrounds from Freddie Mercury to Salman Rushdie to Idris Elba. Winston Churchill himself was half-American, our Royals part-German and St George himself was born in Cappadocia. The ability to attract great achievers has always been a strength of the United Kingdom and ought to be celebrated as a national virtue rather than presented as a burden carried resentfully as our Home Secretary and others now do.

    If our political classes could be drawn from the same rich and diverse backgrounds as our sportspeople, we might expect a more thoughtful and compassionate approach to policy-making and less of an urge to cynically engage in divisive culture wars. The contrast between the two fields could not be starker.


    In other news, a book that should be of great interest to Renewers was released this week, 'Poles Apart - Why People Turn Against Each Other and How to Bring Them Together'. It addresses the political polarisation that characterises current UK politics (and was the catalyst for Renew) and looks at ways of addressing it. The themes will be familiar to our supporters and include the counterproductive nature of aggressive partisanship, the extreme difficulty involved in changing minds and the trend to reward political loyalty over ability or merit. The authors are a former Lib Dem Deputy Chair, a former Conservative councillor and behavioural scientist, and a non-aligned political affairs and communications director. They also host a podcast featuring public figures who have changed their minds on major topics called 'Changed My Mind'. The book and the podcast come highly recommended.

    If we are to address the issues of division, enmity, polarisation, stubbornness and inflexibility, we must first understand where it comes from and what has caused it. If we are to recruit more open-minded and thoughtful people to our cause, our approach must also be different and distinct from the parties that seek to thrive through zealotry and the deliberate, dishonest mischaracterisation of opposing views. Renew was borne of a simple idea - that broadening the base of political participation is a necessity and that better outcomes require new people operating under a new system. We have to put reform, renewal and participation at the centre of everything we do, in order to avoid making the same mistakes that the mainstream parties have cemented as 'politics as usual'.

    If you want to be a part of this new chapter for Renew, you can become a member and you can join us at the Renew Conference 2021 on October 9th in London - we want to hear from you, and we want to see you too - sign-up here.

    It's time for something new.

    Renew Conference 2021

    Here at Renew, work is continuing apace to deliver a successful Renew Conference on October 9th 2021. (Deep apologies to those who responded to the earlier announcement of September 11th).

    The event will take place at the fabulous Us&Co workspace at London Monument that we have used for Renew events in the past. The event is free for members.

    We will also be electing 2 members to the board at the Conference. Those interested in putting themselves forward, please contact Renew CEO Tom Meek at [email protected]

    We look forward to seeing some familiar faces and some new ones too.

    Renew Conference Venue



    If you want to be a part of this new chapter for Renew, you can become a member and you can join us at the Renew Conference 2021 on October 9th in London - we want to hear from you, and we want to see you too - sign-up here.

    It's time for something new.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team 

     

     


  • published Independent's Day? in Briefings 2021-09-03 18:04:17 +0100

    Independent's Day?

    Clarke's Comment

    This week, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab surprised no one by stonewalling the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. When asked eleven times to settle the speculation about the dates of his holiday to Crete (which irritatingly clashed with the fall of Kabul), he repeatedly refused "to add to the speculation", thereby further adding speculation. It was a situation Kafka might have enjoyed in his lighter moments. In terms of shameless effrontery, it's not up there with Johnson's peerless, "I consider the matter closed", but then Raab is not nearly as smart as his boss and has little of the panache required to compose a belter like that, let alone carry it off live on TV. And this really is much of the problem with Johnson's cabinet of the willing, but unable. Whilst none (bar Sunak) have the talent or ability to challenge or outshine the boss, (which is a plus for Johnson), for the very same reasons, none have the talent or ability to run a proper government department in a real country, without making it all look like an am-dram version of The Thick of It (which is a minus for the rest of us).

    It is becoming increasingly difficult to write about this government without repeating the same themes and patterns every week (apologies for that). Even Raab's claim that the Taliban's steady and horribly deadly 1500 mile advance on Kabul 'could not be seen coming' echoes Johnson's claim that Covid's steady and horribly deadly advance on the UK could not be seen coming.

    When elected officials reject the concept of accountability or transparency, democracy becomes electocracy, a system whereby, once officials are elected, they consider their obligation to the electorate fulfilled and feel themselves unburdened by rules, standards, or oversight.

    When we talk about building a new kind of political party in order to conduct a new kind of politics, this is precisely the type of issue we mean to address. When we talk about participation, it doesn't just mean getting new people into politics, in order to stand for office (although it certainly does include that), it means getting people engaged in grassroots activity at all levels, and especially the local and regional. It is no coincidence that the most admired characters in our civic life tend to be local campaigners and quietly selfless community and charity workers, rather than the elected officials who bestride the national stage. Even amongst national politicians, the most revered tend to be those that are independent-minded, unafraid to speak their mind, and prepared to rebel against the party line on matters of principle.

    The classic case to illustrate this is, of course, Martin Bell's principled victory in Tatton in the 1997 election against Tory sleaze candidate (and future UKIPer) Neil Hamilton. This does not happen nearly often enough in the UK, but there are encouraging echoes here and there. You may have heard of Claire Wright, a Devon County Councillor and Independent who has come impressively close to unseating the Conservatives in the last three general elections, with a combination of tenacity, a focus on core issues and a manifesto born of a local survey.

    One can also look to the examples of former MPs, such as Heidi Allen, Dominic Grieve, David Gauke, Phillip Lee, Rory Stewart, Sam Gyimah and Luciana Berger, all of whom made career sacrifices when their respective parties lost their marbles. 

    It tolls for thee, Neil Hamilton..

    It will not have escaped your notice that, with the one exception, the UK's brutal electoral system was not kind to these candidates, but, in fact, that is the point. A system that rewards loyalty over integrity (or ability) is a failing system, and failing systems are always ripening for change. It is true that our system in the UK is particularly resilient in this instance, but even the House of Commons cannot defy gravity forever, the ongoing building work to shore up its foundations a ridiculously apposite analogy for the state of its operations and current inhabitants.

    As Renew evolves, one of our key challenges will be seeking to harness the skill and the passion of independent-minded people who care about their towns, their villages, their schools, hospitals, libraries, and their environment, by bringing them into a new kind of political organisation that supports candidates and provides the platform for political action, but does not prescribe every aspect of policy and does not demand total adherence to a controlling yet capricious party whip. If candidates were able to campaign on local issues, unencumbered by the paraphernalia, accoutrements, and baggage of a traditional party structure, might that not lead to a better calibre of candidate and a more honest politics? Might this approach provide an antidote to politics-as-usual and give permission to voters to engage in politics without subscribing to broad (and much tainted) habits of tribal loyalty? Could it provide the scope to talk about politics in a modernising way, employing decentralised networks, harnessing untapped political capital, operating as a dynamic start-up type of organisation that literally disregards the rulebook? Since our party was born from the candidacies of 4 independent candidates in the 2017 General Election, embracing Independents has always been part of the DNA of Renew.

    Our system is overdue for a major overhaul and we as Renew need to play our part in facilitating that change in any and every way we can.

    If you want to be a part of this new chapter for Renew, you can become a member and you can join us at the Renew Conference 2021 on October 9th in London - we want to hear from you, and we want to see you too - sign-up here.

    It's time for something new.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team 

     

     


  • published Playing Chicken in Briefings 2021-09-03 17:32:07 +0100

    Playing Chicken

    Clarke's Comment

    As the long fall-out from our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan begins to hit home, domestic political issues continue to drive home structural inadequacies in UK governance.

    Empty supermarket shelves have become commonplace across the country, Nandos is forced to close 40 restaurants and both KFC and Greggs can't get hold of something as ordinary as chicken. News that McDonalds has run out of milkshakes will be a relief to famed milkshake-dodger Nigel Farage, although I honestly don't remember it being an explicit campaign promise of his in the referendum. Also, the menu at Wagamamas is starting to look like a catastrophically bad homework assignment. 

    'Alexander must try harder to apply himself. (D-)'

    Although the root cause of shortages is Brexit, the specific cause is a lack of lorry drivers. The retail and logistics industry has asked for 10,000 temporary visas for EU lorry drivers to get food onto UK shelves, but this, inevitably, has been rejected by the UK government. This is a story that has been repeated over and over in recent years. Whenever a Brexit-related problem arises, the solution is 'Anything But Europe'. A government held together by such a shabby, threadbare ideology is simply not capable of addressing the fundamental, structural problems it has brought into being, as much by accident as by design.

    Now that Brexit is a reality we all have to live with, the parts of the deal that fail UK businesses and UK citizens must be fixed. In reality, this means the restoration of frictionless trade and freedom of movement with Europe. Contrary to the rhetoric of Europhobic zealots in the Conservative Party, there is no reason at all that UK cannot restore these rights whilst remaining outside the EU. Whilst calls for a 'Norway-style' deal were noisily shouted down (by both sides of the debate) during 2016-2019, a bespoke UK deal along those lines would clearly benefit the UK and remove the sharp edges of the current deal that punishes UK businesses, removes personal rights, and delivers empty shelves.

    In other awful-but-true news, 80s cricket celeb Ian 'Beefy' Botham is being made a government trade envoy despite openly announcing his inadequacy It begs the question if the bar is being set so low, why stop there? In the current climate, is there any reason that Brexit's Peter Shilton shouldn't be installed as, say, Ambassador to Germany, or Cheryl Baker made part of our Joint Delegation to NATO, alongside Roger Daltry and Elaine Paige? Watch this space.

    Culture secretary Oliver Dowden this week assured Telegraph readers that, 'creating our own data laws is one of the biggest prizes of Brexit'. One big win was the possibility of removing GDPR cookie pop-ups. Truly, what a time to be alive. Also, further news of the return of roaming charges in Europe may not be welcome to all, but will at least reward patriotic staycationers in Padstow and Southwold over their 'elite' counterparts in the Costa Del Sol and Majorca.  

    As reality bites, it should be clear that, in the sunlit uplands, we may need to just shut up, sit at home, eat our turnips, cheer on Beefy, and be grateful for our sovereign new data laws. Perhaps it's not so much that the much-vaunted benefits of Brexit are vanishing, just that their appeal is becoming more selective.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join Us, Volunteer, or Donate.

    Have a great week,
    James and the Renew Team 

  • published Incident at the Graveyard of Empires in Briefings 2021-08-23 17:28:07 +0100

    Incident at the Graveyard of Empires

    Clarke's Comment

    “Was our intelligence really so poor? Or did we just feel we had to follow the United States, and on a wing and a prayer it would be alright on the night?” - Theresa May

    "I wouldn't stay on holiday while Kabul was falling." - Keir Starmer 

    The tragedy of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has sent shockwaves across the planet. A 20-year project, backed by a US-led alliance that has cost a huge number of lives and an unimaginably vast amount of money has come to an abrupt, ignominious, violent, and shameful halt. The consequences will be felt for generations, not only in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries but also amongst the military, diplomatic, and NGO participants and families in the dozens of countries that worked, finally in vain, to help build a more stable Afghan government.

    The effect of this in the UK has been as depressing as it has been predictable. A Foreign Secretary reluctant to curtail a luxury holiday. A Home Secretary playing down the UK's role and responsibility in order to placate her anti-immigration base. A military exasperated by the sheer waste of life and resources, and frustrated by the infidelity of their political masters in the UK and US. And finally a Prime Minister with a vacuum where a philosophy, a strategy, a position, or even an opinion should lie, further humiliated by a US President reportedly untroubled by answering his calls.

    In Dominic Raab, we may have found an individual even less suited to the job of Foreign Secretary than Johnson himself, which is really going some. He has been rightly lambasted in the press over his disinclination to lift a finger to help our translators in Kabul and also humiliated by the Leader of the Opposition for it. In 'Global Britain' (definitions of what that might be on a postcard, please) being a loyal Brexit mouthpiece now appears to be both a necessary and sufficient qualification for one of the great offices of state.

    On the topic of military affairs, our country appears to remain divided in (at least) four ways on what our future role should be. We have the 'Traditional Right', who, perhaps nostalgic for empire, believe in an active, strident diplomatic and military role, leading the way and continuing to punch above our weight in spite of new realities. We have the 'Little Britain' isolationist/protectionist leavers, who are as leery of foreign geopolitical entanglements as they are of having a foreign neighbour. We have the 'Corbyn Left', who feel that military acts by western countries (especially the UK) are malignant by definition. And finally, we have the 'Progressive Centre', who feel that the UK should have a significant role in international actions, but focussed more on peacekeeping, maintaining stability, and aiding in humanitarian crises than regime change or ambitious/aggressive projects in distant war zones.

    40 years earlier

    The unfortunate truth is that the UK, alongside dozens of other nations, have been dragged along, sometimes willingly, sometimes reluctantly, in America's attempts to shape the world over the last 75 years. With the notable exceptions of the collapse of the Soviet Union and NATO actions in Kosovo/Yugoslavia, many of these military/political projects have backfired; in Vietnam, Central and South America, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and now, disastrously, in Afghanistan. These failures have dramatically curtailed the public appetite for military intervention and have made the necessary political decision-making especially fraught. The growing power and influence of China throughout Asia, as well as Russia's increasing belligerence in its perceived sphere of influence (from the Baltic EU countries all the way back to Afghanistan via the Middle East), mean that, even with a more successful record and supportive public, the West's scope to make meaningful interventions across the world is becoming more and more limited. This applies to the UK and NATO just as it does to the US.  

    It has been suggested that the allied forces in Afghanistan were damned if they did and damned if they didn't, in that they are condemned as imperial occupiers for staying and as capricious betrayers for leaving. However, as with all of these vastly complicated situations, the story is never black and white. When big decisions go wrong, we are very quick to attribute those decisions to bad faith or to attempt to characterise the failures as inevitable. This applies doubly so for military interventions and triply so for military interventions by democracies. Afghanistan has not known peace since the Soviet Invasion of 1979, and, in fact, has known very little of it throughout its history. In the late 1990s Kabul's Ghazi Stadium, formerly the national football stadium, became a grisly venue where up to 30,000 would watch public executions of women and amputations of criminals. Saddam Hussein's bloody 24 year rule over Iraq was no less gruesome and no more tolerable. The moral and humanitarian argument for diplomatic and, where necessary, military interventions in cases like these ought to be clear, and yet, when they fail, the questions asked are often the wrong ones.

    For the UK, we must have a frank and clear-minded discussion on what can and cannot be achieved, unclouded by hypocrisy, fanciful ambition, or wishful thinking. Firstly, we need clear and defensible criteria for determining when and where to act. Secondly, this must be informed by our current and realistic capabilities. Thirdly, we must seek to act in unison with like-minded countries and collaborative organisations such as NATO, with clear objectives wherever possible. Fourthly, we should identify our specific area of expertise and aim to make the most impact in situations requiring these skills and experience. Lastly, there must be a publicly and democratically accountable cost, timeline, and exit strategy.

    In recent years, political drift has occurred. Pivotal matters of key national interest have been neglected in pursuit of sham ideology, theatre and cant. As things stand, a pathologically performative phobia of the EU stands alone as the UK's single discernible foreign policy position. The sooner we admit it, the sooner we might start to find out what this country really stands for.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join Us, Volunteer, or Donate.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team 

  • You come at the king, you best not miss...

    Clarke's Comment

    Once again, reports are emerging that Boris Johnson may be on his way out. A recent poll shows that, the popularity of the Conservative party outside the major English cities notwithstanding, Johnson's personal popularity, or more specifically, faith in his leadership, appears to be in a downward spiral. The figures show that 72% of voters would like to see the PM gone by the summer of 2023, which is quite startling for a politician who delivered an 80 seat majority a mere year and a half ago. It may even be unprecedented. 

    Of course, we have been here before. Almost exactly a year ago, Dominic Cummings' notorious father-in-law claimed, rather boldly, that Johnson would be gone within six months as a result of lingering Covid symptoms and boredom with the job. This did not transpire, of course, and it begs the question, how much of this is wishful thinking, and how much of it may be strategic stories placed in newspapers by people who are after Johnson's job? It may not be entirely coincidental that the poll, by JL Partners, compared Johnson's ability with that of his main rival, Rishi Sunak, who has pointedly refused to deny that he has designs on No.10.

    Sunak, whose stupendous wealth ensures that he would be able to pay for his own curtains, trounces Johnson handily in the poll by 42% to 24% on making the best PM, 58% to 15% on running the economy, and very similar figures for handling the NHS, foreign affairs, schools, law and order etc etc etc. Dethroning a sitting PM, of course, can be a risky business, as Johnson will remember after his shambolic betrayal by Michael Gove back in 2017. Sunak will certainly be aware of Omar Little's deathless aphorism, "You come at the King, you best not miss."


    It may be that the public is simply getting bored with the Johnson cabaret. What appeared delightfully refreshing on Have I Got News For You twenty years ago may be wearing thin after a Brexit/Covid double-whammy that appears only to have benefitted the super-wealthy, personal friends of Cabinet ministers and those who, famously, bet against the UK.

    Johnson's spectacularly misjudged gag about Thatcher closing the mines in order to get a head start on de-carbonising the economy is precisely the kind of thing that might tip the balance on Johnson in the public's minds. It certainly won't endear him to the Northern Labour voters the Conservatives are (theoretically) courting.

    We have spoken here before about 'Sleaze', (better called 'Corruption') and the corrosive effect it tends to have, particularly on parties that have lingered in power for too long, and it appears that the well of Tory scandal is far from exhausted. The most recent burgeoning scandal is a classic oldie-but-goodie - dodgy donations. In addition Ben Elliot and the secret Tory donors club, a story broken by the excellent investigative team at the Financial Times, there are more reports of Russian and Middle Eastern money funding the Conservatives, plus a sudden flood of cash in the last 2 years from property developers, linked to the controversial new planning bill. We appear to have become so inured to this that the news of former PM David Cameron earning $10m from Greensill capital for lobbying his former colleagues scarcely raises an eyebrow.

    Looking at the brazenly corrupt system of political donations and professional lobbying in the US political system, is there any good reason that we should be replicating it here in the UK? Why, in fact, are private donations to political parties allowed at all? Any system that allows the wealthy to buy influence at the expense of others is corrupt by its very nature. The British public may have been sold a number of fibs in recent years but no one believes that these people are giving to the Conservative party out of a sense of altruism. 
    In terms of political reform, party funding is an issue that ought to be front and centre; it is in fact a colossal scandal hiding in plain sight. Like many of the most frustrating problems facing the UK, it appears to go unchallenged through inertia; if one were to design and build a political system from scratch, allowing political influence to be peddled for cash, would certainly be outlawed, and yet, here it is.

    If Johnson does end up being pushed out in favour of Sunak, as appears likely, either sooner or later, then the Chancellor will have a hell of a job rehabilitating the party's reputation. Whoever is leader of the Conservatives come the next election will certainly have a tougher battle on their hands than when they faced everyone's favourite opponent, Jeremy Corbyn. Many will feel that the best possible outcome would be a stalemate, and a hung parliament, where voices from Scotland, from Wales, and from the smaller parties might be better heard. We at Renew will continue to build to the next election and aim to make as big an impact on the result as we can. The status quo is not sustainable and after the double traumas of Brexit and Covid, the time for something new is now ripe.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team 

  • published Traffic Light Blues in Briefings 2021-08-06 21:03:08 +0100

    Traffic Light Blues

    Clarke's Comment

    This week we learned of the new, new travel chaos unfolding at the UK's most high-tech airport terminal, Heathrow's T5.

    T5 is not a new Terminator sequel, but being stuck in a terrifying 1/4 mile long queue there, you could be forgiven for a desire to mete out cold-blooded and systematic destruction on the human race, starting with the cabinet. 

    The problems were blamed, variously, on arbitrary spot-checks, 14 out of 16 ePassport gates not working, and the fact that the 'Pingdemic' had claimed 80 of the 300 Border Staff scheduled to be working. Measures supposedly put in place to protect people from Covid ended up doing the opposite, with over 500 people crowded together, unable to exit the airport safely.

    The UK, on a Monday, in 2021

    In fact, this was not a one-off, but part of a long pattern of chaos in this Government's approach to travel and borders. 

    The ever-evolving Red, Amber Plus, Amber, Green system has kept potential travellers in a state of perpetual anxiety, whilst also preventing the UK's travel industry from making any kinds of concrete plans and crippling projected summer revenues. 

    The confusing and counterproductive 'Amber Plus' category was suddenly scrapped on Monday night amidst a flurry of leaks and recriminations between Shapps, Truss, Sunak and Johnson.

    Helpfully, the Green list is made up largely of places that are emphatically not allowing British travellers, such as Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, places most people would only visit on a reality show, such as Antarctica, Pitcairn, South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha, and places that are probably owned by Richard Branson, Mick Jagger, Jeff Bezos or Francisco Scaramanga, such as Montserrat, the Caymans, Barbuda and Anguilla.

    We have seen Dominic Raab causing a diplomatic spat by imposing a quarantine on those returning from France due to a Beta variant uptick in Reunion, some 9,201km away, then backtracking after being told that a) Reunion itself was only on the Amber list, b) Reunion is not part of Schengen, c) France's figures on the Beta variant do not include Reunion and d) France's Beta variant numbers represent 0.6% of the total and falling.

    There was the moment that our government magnanimously put Bulgaria on our Green list, only for the Bulgarians to ban UK travellers on the same day.

    We have seen our PM open the borders to US travellers, in a craven move to curry favour with President Biden, only for the US to keep its borders closed to the UK.

    We know, of course, that Brexit-related delays in stopping travel from India allowed the Delta variant that currently makes up 99% of UK infections to take hold in March/April.

    We also know that our failure to stop flights during the first half of 2020 led to far higher infections and deaths in the first and second waves than our faster moving neighbours.

    The Government's inability to make well-informed decisions, (or even to aim for steadily consistent or predictably average ones) has left us with a lamentable record of failing to protect public health whilst also ruining trust in the UK's ability to manage a crisis - amongst the public and the business community.

    For the people who turned our country upside down and scattered the contents in the name of 'controlling our borders', this has been some performance.

    A party held to ransom by rebellious ideologues, a government characterised by media-management and arse-covering, a cabinet of woebegone plotters and a PM with no vision, integrity or decision-making ability: if we want to understand the last 5 years of national ignominy, we need to understand how we got here and make a plan for the future. 

    We have talked a great deal about improving the breadth and depth of participation in politics, encouraging fresh blood and candidates of greater calibre and local experience to stand for office. But that is not enough. We have expressed support (alongside Make Votes Matter and other parties and campaign groups) for a Citizen's Assembly on the topic of proportional representation, but that alone cannot fix our dilapidated polity. We have conducted outreach events on the topics of term limits, the regulation of political donations and advertising, of making abuse of political office a criminal matter, but all these ideas, strong as they are, will not be enough to make a compelling case for Renew as the vehicle for root and branch reform in the UK.

    In order to achieve that, we must also provide a realistic vision of the UK, anchored in new solutions and new approaches to long-term, systemic issues, such as sub-standard education, inadequate child-care provision, the permanent sense of crisis around the status of the NHS, the lack of upward social and economic mobility, unresolved obstacles in our relations with Europe, tax inequity, the status and responsibilities of new tech giants, precarious employment, national security and care for the elderly, to name just ten.

    All these issues will be presented and discussed at our Renew Conference on September 11th in London. All members are welcome to join us for the day.

    Please sign up here: https://www.renewparty.org.uk/renew_conference_2021

    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


  • published Regulators, mount up... in Briefings 2021-08-05 12:52:17 +0100

    Regulators, mount up...

    Clarke's Comment

    As we prepare for our crucial Renew Conference in September (reserve your place here), we are going to take an opportunity each week to highlight issues we care about and ones that we feel the Renew approach of fairness and reform might usefully address.

    One of the most concerning issues to have arisen in recent years is that of increasing and undeniable divisions opening up in our society.

    This has taken many forms: the EU referendum opened up a new wound that remains raw, that of Leave vs Remain, which has become a cypher for broader social divisions along the lines of open vs closed society, social (and economic) conservatism vs social (and economic) liberalism, the shorthand for which has become the abominable ‘woke’ debates on identity politics. Other divisions more resemble the reopening of old wounds. The oft-confused and lazily cited Red and Blue ‘Walls’ hark back to the North/South divide discussions reminiscent of the Thatcher era, and talk of the break-up of the UK has brought back decades-old (even centuries-old) fights over the status of Scotland and Ireland. These arguments and rivalries provide the background to perhaps the most obvious symptom of sickness we observe in everyday life, which is the prevalence of online abuse, highlighted most recently by the treatment of black footballers, but also common in the catastrophic degradation of public discourse we have witnessed since 2016.

    When we conducted our Listen To Britain tours in 2018-19, the degradation of public discourse was one of three phenomena most lamented throughout the country (the other 2 being the polarization of the Labour and Conservative parties and the diminishing calibre of elected MPs in Westminster).

    Whilst it is clear that our elected officials have exacerbated this by stoking culture wars, both nationally and within their own parties, much of the anger has been directed to online platforms where the majority of the abuse is taking place. As I have mentioned here before, our experience of knocking doors and canvassing high streets from Darlington to Mansfield to Blackburn to Exeter to Newport to Edinburgh to Colchester to Birmingham has shown us that ordinary people (even those who vehemently disagree with our points of view) are extremely civil and polite in face-to-face situations. How is it then, that the online world appears so different and so toxic?

    Many have pointed to the nature of the algorithms that prioritise controversial topics, which tend to provoke more engagements. The same criticism has been levelled at social media platforms on the topic of fake news, conspiracies and content likely to provoke anger and resentment. There is also the fact that we are more likely to comment on and share issues we strongly disagree with than ones we have more milder opinions about. However, the need to better regulate social media platforms is now impossible to ignore.

    Much as online retailers have galloped ahead of bricks and mortar businesses by taking advantage of lax, leaky or entirely absent legislation on tax and employment law, the social media behemoths have largely destroyed traditional publishing media by exploiting the loopholes that allow them to be distinguished from hard-copy newspapers, magazine and periodicals.
    Companies like Facebook are essentially treated like noticeboards - they provide a service, a place where people can post information, but they take the absolute minimum of responsibility for the nature and the consequences of those posts. Publishers, on the other hand, are required to hire legions of fact-checkers and lawyers on top of professionally trained journalists and investigators in order to conduct business whilst staying on the right side of the law. Clearly, this has to change. Shifting responsibility for hate speech, abuse and conspiratorial falsehoods back onto the effective publisher would immediately create a fairly compelling incentive for these platforms to clean up their acts.
    It is also worth noting that the vast proliferation of free content that has made these companies so profitable has been largely driven by a single factor. Anonymity.
     
    If the New York Times or the FT were allowed to publish false, libellous or abusive articles by ‘anonymous’ authors with impunity, it would be considered utterly scandalous. And yet, this is what happens every minute of every day in every time zone across the planet on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and the rest. And when a complaint occurs? Shoulders are shrugged. Not our problem. 
    In addition to being treated as publishers, online platforms must be compelled to act on the issue of anonymity. It is no surprise to learn that the vast majority of actionable abuse comes from anonymous accounts. Cowardice thrives behind the veil of deniability. If, for example, every Twitter account has to be linked to a public and verifiable identity, imagine the effect this would have, overnight, on the level of discourse on that platform. An alternative approach might be that of silo-ing, with platforms such as Twitter divided into 2 sections, the public and the anonymous. Public figures and those with verified accounts engaging with them in good faith would be permitted entry to public Twitter. Trolls, bots and anonymous abusers would need to remain in anonymous Twitter. The inability to abuse public figures would make anonymous Twitter a rather boring place to be, I suspect. Dating apps have already made this very sensible move, in order to protect their users.
    If YouTube, for example, were to be held legally accountable for the nature of the content on its platform, (in the way that the BBC or Netflix is) the consequences for the proliferation of misinformation on COVID, vaccines and other nonsenses that impact public health would also be deep and significant. We know, too, that in the last two US Presidential elections (at least) Russian troll farms have been employed to sow racial and cultural division across US society. The way social media currently operates has allowed for this, and it must change.
     
    We are still in the early, Wild West era of internet regulation, but common sense principles should act as important guides, those of responsibility, incentive and consequence. Just as we, as individuals must be held accountable for our words, opinions and actions, so must the vast organisations that profit from them. 
     
    The outcomes for our society of a consequence-free legal environment for social media platforms have been dire and far-reaching. 
     
    Where society pays, through negative externalities, for profits that accrue to private enterprise, it is up to the state to intervene on behalf of the electorate.
     
    Our current government is more inclined to throw mud than to clean up public discourse.
     
    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


  • published Freedom...? in Briefings 2021-07-25 15:58:05 +0100

    Freedom...?

    Carla's Comment

    Welcome to this week’s Renew briefing highlighting another set of roller-coaster antics that are leaving satirists redundant and the journalists of Private Eye wondering where to take their material next. Firstly to the long-awaited 19th of July - or 'Freedom Day', which came and went at the start of a week (despite having some of the highest number of daily Covid cases in the world) which saw an astonishing set of events by anyone’s standards. We had everything from billionaires launching themselves into space in fittingly phallic rockets (compensating much?) to the hokey-cokey inclusion/exclusion of the Prime Minister in a 'pilot' to undertake daily testing as an attempt to avoid self-isolating after being in contact with the Covid-positive (wait for it), Secretary of State for Health. This plan was apparently scrapped in favour of “sticking to the rules”. However, this newfound governmental adherence to said rules was short-lived when the PM apparently didn’t fancy isolating at Number 10 and retreated to Chequers at some point, with the press office being suspiciously vague and somewhat inconsistent on exactly when that point was. Which, if true, means that the PM breached Covid rules by travelling elsewhere to isolate. Not an ideal way to spend the eve of 'freedom day'.... but I have no doubt that there will be absolutely no accountability or responsibility taken. 

    Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand - because if they don’t, chaos ensues. Which feels very much like what we are experiencing as a country. Freedom to stop wearing masks - which has been a relief for many but an additional stressor for others. Many local businesses where I live have canvassed the views of their customers and staff and have chosen to maintain some level of Covid risk-reduction, such as staff continuing to wear masks, asking customers to mask-up when moving around, and sticking to reduced capacity in venues. Some venues are finding themselves unable to operate due to the high numbers of staff self-isolating after being 'pinged' by the contact-tracing App with last week up to half a million people being told to isolate. Such was the concern that plans have been put in place to exempt NHS staff from the need to isolate to ensure they can attend work to care for the rising number of patients, which kinda begs the question - what’s the point of the system in the first place? This position has been updated to clarify that the relevant 'pinged' NHS staff can refuse exemption from isolation if they wish - freedom to decline exemption when the responsibility of work calls, but with the knowledge that they could be putting the patients they are treating at risk - but if they don’t they could also be putting patients at risk due to staff shortages. A sort of Schrodinger’s self-isolation arrangement - the perfect metaphor for several utterly broken systems that make risk impossible to manage effectively. 

    Risk is something that human beings are proving to be astonishingly bad at assessing, particularly when it comes to addressing the big stuff - climate change, leaving the EU, etc. Take climate change - events of the past week have seen devasting floods in parts of Western Europe with Germany sustaining the loss of over 160 people, killed by our collective inability to manage this looming behemoth of a risk. Because individual humans struggle to manage large-scale long-term risks, we need to have effective systems in place to do this for us and we need the people leading those systems to pay particular attention to a number of key things. Firstly those leaders need to have the best interests of humanity as their driving force and focus. Secondly, they need to recognise that systems never operate in isolation and that if the aims of those systems are not to serve the best interests of humanity, then they are going to collide and result in chaos (see the whole of society, right here, right now). Whilst I accept there are things that individual humans can do to reduce their impact on the environment, individual action will not be enough - we need wholesale system-level action and we need it fast. This is why we believe we need a new approach to politics, an approach that prioritises the best interests of humanity based on the best available evidence. 

    The best available evidence would suggest that we should probably focus on getting our acts together here on earth, however, there seems to be a current trend for heading spaceward, with an elite set of multi-millionaires/billionaires seeking to leave the atmosphere. I mean, given the temperatures in the UK this week, they may have a point, but their antics are literally compounding the problem. The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos caught my attention as it seems he approved a rocket design that defied all attempts to avoid innuendo given its 'anthropomorphic' shape. Why the world’s richest man would prioritise building a penis-shaped rocket and heading to space rather than using that money to actually make a difference to the rest of us humans left behind on earth is utterly beyond my comprehension. This is in stark contrast to the approach of one of the world’s richest women, Mackenzie Scott (formerly married to Bezos) who has signed a pledge to give away most of her fortune. She is prioritising historically underfunded charitable causes focusing on racial inequality, the arts, education, women-led charities, and work to support the bridging of divides between different religions - you know, the stuff that actually matters to the continued thriving of humanity. Jeff absolutely has the freedom to do what he wants, but Mackenzie has chosen to accept that she has a responsibility to humans and to the system that enabled her to become so rich and is taking a far less phallic approach. 

    [I could have talked about a whole range of other things that have horrified me this week, including government plans to jail journalists who embarrass them - the absolute cheek of this has even managed to rile Piers Morgan - the government are embarrassing themselves and if journalists had done more to expose this during the last 10 years, we would be in a far better place - I’m looking at you Laura K….]

    With freedom comes responsibility. Does your political party take this concept seriously? Because if it doesn't and you are looking for something new, get in touch...we’d love to hear from you.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join Us, Volunteer, or Donate.

    Have a great week

    Carla and the Renew Team


  • published Save The Date in Briefings 2021-07-15 20:59:43 +0100

    Save The Date

    Clarke's Comment

    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.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join Us, Volunteer or Donate.

    Have a great week

    James and the Renew Team


  • published Lessons in Leadership, Writ Large in Briefings 2021-07-09 15:19:31 +0100

    Lessons in Leadership, Writ Large

    Clarke's Comment

    At 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...

    If you would like to help us further, please Join Us, Volunteer or Donate.

     

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team


  • published Your Country Needs You in Briefings 2021-06-25 11:55:28 +0100

    Your Country Needs You

    Clarke's Comment

    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.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team


  • published Anniversary Blues in Briefings 2021-06-20 14:37:57 +0100

    Anniversary Blues

    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.

    Brexit Night

    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.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team


  • published Sporting Life in Briefings 2021-06-14 11:30:00 +0100

    Sporting Life

    Clarke's Comment

    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.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team


  • published Revenge of the Nerd in Briefings 2021-06-07 12:30:47 +0100

    Revenge of the Nerd

    Clarke's Comment

    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.

    Mayoral solidarity

    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?'

     or,

    '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.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team


  • published You Can Prove Anything With Facts in Briefings 2021-06-07 11:56:12 +0100

    You Can Prove Anything With Facts

    Clarke's Comment

    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.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team


  • published On Fairness in Briefings 2021-05-18 11:24:52 +0100

    On Fairness

    Carla's Comment

    '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.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.

    Have a great week,

    Carla and the Renew Team


  • published The State Of Play in Briefings 2021-05-10 16:57:42 +0100

    The State Of Play

    Carla's Comment

    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!

    If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.

    Have a great week,
    Carla and the Renew Team

  • published Let The Wrong One In.. in Briefings 2021-04-30 15:13:02 +0100

    Let The Wrong One In..

    Clarke's Comment

    '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.



    Rattled

    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.

    If you would like to help us further, please Join UsVolunteer or Donate.


    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew Team

  • London Mayoral Election - City of Westminster

    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

    www.Kam4London.co.uk

    www.RenewParty.org.uk


  • published It's A Funny Old Game... in Briefings 2021-04-23 12:42:40 +0100

    It's A Funny Old Game...

    Carla's Comment

    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

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