And they're off...As local regional and Mayoral elections kick off throughout the UK, we at Renew are entering a period of high-intensity campaigning. We have been here before and there is an extraordinary feeling of energy and activity. It feels a lot like putting on a play, with all of the colour, the improvisation, the speeches, the tantrums, the pressure, the rivalry, the outfits and the sense that, although you are always on the precipice of total calamity, it will probably be alright on the night.
The first, and most nervy hurdle has been, well, hurdled; the extraordinary job of getting on the ballot in the first place. In the case of London, this journey began back in February 2020, when we needed to collect 330 nomination signatures, ten from each of London's 33 boroughs. In a fairly frantic two weeks, a team of Renewers boldly went - from Havering to Hillingdon, Barnet to Bexley, to beg, borrow, plead, cajole and stubbornly insist upon signatures from friends, family, colleagues and 'the kindness of strangers'.
In the scarcely inhabited mini borough of City of London, we got our ten by, essentially, bar-hopping; going from pub to cafe entreating the day-drinkers and all-day breakfast connoisseurs for nominations. In Southwark we spent an afternoon in the now-defunct Elephant & Castle shopping centre talking to the stallholders, and in our birthplace of Wandsworth the Chairman set about haranguing his long-suffering neighbours for their signatures. Then, at the moment we hit the cusp of the magic 330... the election was postponed. Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous election campaigns.
Later that year we faced the challenge of getting on the ballot for Holyrood, with Renew Scotland's indomitable Heather Astbury recruiting a formidable team to take on the SNP et al in the highly anticipated elections north of the border. A policy platform was built, a website created, a video channel launched and a new chapter of Renew history written. The job of finding high calibre candidates was not easy, but following Renew's tradition of cooperation, the Scotland team entered into an electoral pact with Volt Scotland (part of the pan-European Volt Europa) and took on 2 new Volt members as candidates for Renew.
As is the case in England and Wales, the media does us no favours in Scotland, with the vast majority of reporting being focused on the thorny topic of independence, but with a modest budget and a good deal of media-savvy, the team is establishing a presence and an awareness of Renew in the lead up to May 6th.
As an aside, and in what is becoming an increasing annoyance, both The Reclaim Party and Reform UK are also standing in Scotland and, as in London, online comments are proving that not a small number of voters are confusing us with them. We shall be very glad when both parties disband, which I assume will be sooner rather than later, given their respective track records and the shady characters involved.
If anyone is in any doubt about how hard we have to battle to make our case, Renew's Peter Morton, who uses a wheelchair, was excluded from the Disabled People's Question Time, despite being the only disabled candidate in the region. The event is organised by, wait for it, 'Inclusion Scotland'. You really couldn't make it up. Once again an organisation is erecting unnecessary barriers to democratic entry by only allowing parties with sitting officials to participate. Renew Scotland's rallying cry is now - ‘Don’t let the media decide who you vote for!’.
Back in London we have the same issue, so we have decided to overcome it, (as we did in Newport West) by simply organising our own hustings and inviting our rivals to join us. The London Challenger Hustings is taking place next Thursday evening and will be live-streamed across various channels, although, happily we have managed to convince the BBC and other news outlets to send reporters and cover the event.
Convincing the candidates to attend a free publicity event, however, is never as easy as it ought to be. In Newport, three of the major parties turned their noses up at the chance to address the electorate at our event at the Pill Community Centre. In London, at the time of writing, and without naming names, at least two of the high profile Covid-sceptic candidates appear to feel they are above attending, but, again happily, we have secured confirmations from 5-6 of the more serious (less nutty) challenger candidates from a field that, remember, includes Piers Corbyn, Count Binface and a UKIP-er called 'Gammons'. Other than that, the campaign is going well with Kam visiting all 33 boroughs, making numerous videos, meeting people from all walks of life, spending the night with the homeless and raising a good deal of campaign funding through crowdfunder and other channels.
We are in for an eventful few weeks leading up to May 6th and, as our Chairman points out, it is in these situations that we really learn our trade. The conduct of electoral politics is extremely complicated and demanding and there are skills to be learned that literally cannot be picked up in any other environment. There are no short-cuts to credible grassroots campaigning. As we have discovered, in face-to-face interactions people are often encouraging, inspiring even, and it's important to remember that when you see some of the comments made online, which, let's face it, are often abominable. In my first campaign, a complete stranger took the effort to send me the charmingly cryptic message, 'I will cut you when we go to war'. I'm certain that the voters of Scotland and London will not disappoint in this regard.
The joys of online campaigning
So please, if you can do anything to help raise the profile of our campaigns in the coming weeks, get in touch. We need all the help you can offer.It's time for something new.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
The Renew Party published Renew's London Challenger Hustings in Press Releases 2021-04-06 12:07:00 +0100
RENEW ANNOUNCES LONDON MAYORAL CHALLENGER HUSTINGS EVENT
London, 6th April 2021: With a record 20 candidates standing for London Mayor, Renew is hosting a live broadcast in-person hustings for Challenger London Mayoral Candidates.
On 22nd April at 7pm, Renew will host a Covid-safe hustings for challenger candidates at the US&Co event space at Harp Lane EC3. The aim is to provide a platform for the challenger candidates to outline their visions for London.
London Mayoral elections tend to be presented to the electorate as two-horse races, but we feel that Londoners deserve better and that the capital deserves a unity candidate outside of the divisive Conservative/Labour political sphere.
Renew Party Leader James Clarke said:
“The proliferation of candidates shows that, in theory at least, democracy is alive and well in London. However, in reality, candidates not tied to the parties of Westminster do not get a chance to make their case in the newspapers and on TV. For Londoners to make an informed choice on May 6th, we need to know what these candidates stand for. To this end, we are hosting a challenger hustings and speaking directly to London and to the voters.”
The event will take place from 7-8pm on Thursday April 22nd. It will be mediated by a neutral moderator and live questions from the public will be included. The final list of candidates participating will be announced closer to the date.
The London Challenger Hustings will be live-streamed for free across various platforms, and there will also be space in the venue for a limited number of reporters and photographers.
The invitation to candidates and journalists can be found at this link.
In order to attend the event, please contact [email protected] or call 0203 239 1692
Since 2016, millions of people in the UK have become politically active. Hundreds of campaign groups have sprung up. Increased political participation can be observed in almost every election. Yesterday we learned that a record twenty candidates are standing for Mayor of London, including Renew's own Kam Balayev. Eleven candidates stood with Renew's June Davies at the Newport West by-election in April 2019 and an incredible fifteen stood with Renew's Peter Ward in the Peterborough by-election of June that same year.
The reality of Brexit may have taken the wind out of the sails of certain parties, but the upcoming by-election in Hartlepool looks like it might be lively, with candidates from the North East Party and the Northern Independence Party joining the usual suspects on the ballot.
As a party that stands for participation, this proliferation of political activity ought to be welcome, but Renew also stands for Reform, Openness, and Getting Heard. The question arises, how can the flowering of political participation be squared with the goal of political reform in a winner-takes-all political environment?
It is clear that the majority of newly formed political groups tend to be on the liberal-progressive end of the political spectrum, but the tendency to factionalism amongst the left-leaning is axiomatic.
As we have noted in previous briefings, the Conservative right exists to govern at any cost, whereas the Labour left exists to demonstrate its social and philosophical worthiness. This is the reason that the Conservatives have won 8 of the last 11 elections and 20 out of 28 since 1918. Attempts at building oppositional electoral alliances in recent years have collapsed embarrassingly in an unbeatable combination of arrogance and incompetence. Whilst Renew, for little or no credit, decided that the right thing would be to support a 'unity remain' candidate in Peterborough, to stand down in Brecon and Radnorshire and to participate in the 'Unite To Remain' project at GE2019, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson decided that their ideological purity trumped any bothersome electoral realities. The result is the disaster-zone otherwise known as the UK in 2021.
And yet none of this was inevitable. In the 1997 election, following four straight Conservative General Election victories and mounting sleaze, Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown informally agreed not to spend money or aggressively contest one another's marginal target seats. The result? Labour gained 145 seats, the Lib Dems 26 and the Conservatives were in the wilderness for 13 years.
Since then the Lib Dems' disastrous (for them) time in coalition and the resurfacing of Labour's toxic hard-left factionalism have made cooperation impossible and it's hard not to compare this with their counterparts on the right. Whilst Cameron initially derided their right-wing competition in UKIP as "fruitcakes", "loonies" and "closet racists", this point of view was not shared by Conservative strategists who saw an opportunity in the competition and in the threat. Whether the Tories successfully coopted UKIP or vice-versa is a matter of contention, but the result is obvious: the right coalesced to victory as the opposition splintered to failure.
For those of us in Renew who knocked doors and campaigned in every region of the UK, it has been hard to escape an uncomfortable fact: the idea of a new party advocating broad reform, inclusion and civic participation has been derided and undermined by progressive liberal political groups far, far more than by those on the right. Even the right-wing press has covered Renew's electoral activities more often and more fairly than the liberal press, with The Guardian providing a solitary favourable article, The Mirror, a single disparaging comment, and The New European one neutral article dating back to 2018.
On the other side of the coin, the Daily Express covered us many times, including a sympathetic video interview. Both conservative-leaning talkRADIO and LBC hosts have invited many Renew representatives to speak over the years including Sandra Khadouri taking on Nigel Farage, James Torrance on James Whale, Annabel Mullin on Iain Dale, Julie Girling also on Iain Dale and myself on Daisy McAndrew (it was Julia Hartley-Brewer's day off, luckily for the both of us).
Getting a fair hearing - from unexpected places.
If you compare the way that right-leaning organisations enabled challengers to the Conservatives, like UKIP and the Brexit Party to the way that liberal-leaning groups have worked to stifle challengers to Labour and the Lib Dems, like Renew, it is not hard to see the advantage the Tory-right have in the UK.
It seems bizarre to say, but the conclusion is unavoidable.
What can we do as Renewers to push this message of success through cooperation? We need to continue doing the right things for the right reasons, even when it may appear easier or more expedient not to. We need to insist that an eternity of red vs blue is neither desirable nor inevitable. And we need to keep making the case for reform, participation and openness, as all the while evidence mounts that the current political status quo is not sustainable. And we need to keep pushing the value of cooperation, the key factor that has continued to elude the opposition parties to the detriment of society as a whole.
It's time for something new.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
'Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.'
The contribution that social intolerance is making to our political culture in the UK is impossible to ignore. Last week both liberal political commentator Ian Dunt and satirist Jonathan Pie articulately bemoaned the 'outrage machine' on both the right and the left that stifles honest debate, ruins lives, and divides society to the detriment of all (please do look at both links).
Whilst this environment of mistrust, paranoia and hysteria feels new, it may be part of a broader pattern of behaviour. With your indulgence, I will list a number of random historical events that took place, not too far from home and not too long ago.
In early 1321, a rumour started in the town of Périgueux that the wells were being poisoned by lepers. The rumour spread as far as Spain and hundreds of lepers were burned at the stake. The rumour then mutated; by the summer of 1321 it was the Jews who were said to be poisoning wells, hundreds were executed. In 1348, the rumour returned during the bubonic plague and in the German Empire, hundreds of Jewish settlements were burned to the ground.
In 1589, James I returned home from a trip to Denmark convinced of the existence of witches. He instigated the North Berwick witch trials in which 70 women were killed. Over the next 60 years, an estimated 50,000 women were executed as witches across Europe.
In the Russian Revolution and for most of the life of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, the employment of terror, paranoia, the identification and exile of enemies with unorthodox ideas, guilty or not, often following lurid public show trials, were its defining feature. As Lenin put it openly, 'We stand for organized terror - this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution.' In East Germany, at its peak, one in every 6.5 people was an informant for the state; the Stasi had files on 5.6 million people or 1 in 3 of the entire population.
In 1868, public hangings were banned in the UK. For centuries, they had been a popular form of public entertainment. Capital punishment was finally banned by parliament in 1969 in spite of broad national support to retain it. In 2016, 53% of those who voted Brexit were still in support of its return.
In 1999 former Coventry City goalkeeper and senior Green Party spokesman David Icke claimed that the British Royal Family, amongst others, were shape-shifting reptiles. His books have sold in the millions, translated into 11 languages and his speeches fill large arenas. He is currently an anti-lockdown campaigner alongside Piers Corbyn.
Also in 1999 British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared, bizarrely, on This Morning in order to suggest that the England Manager Glenn Hoddle should be fired. Days earlier, Hoddle, (who had left school at 16 and only lately embraced spirituality), had been tricked by a journalist from The Times into suggesting there was a link between reincarnation and disability. 90% of those polled agreed that he should be fired. He was.
In 2000 a new type of reality TV began to revolutionise popular entertainment. Contestants in shows like 'Big Brother' were microscopically surveilled, scrutinized, judged, shamed and ultimately exiled, through a public vote. At its peak, 5-6million people tuned in each week. It is claimed that in the 18-34 age bracket, more people voted in Big Brother than voted in the 2005 UK General Election. The format led to the rise of Donald Trump in 'The Apprentice' and also his cheap UK imitations on the TV, Sir Alan Sugar and politics, Alexander 'Boris' Johnson.
The idea of exile via popular vote very quickly seeped out from televised entertainment and into real life as organized activists on the right and the left began employing new platforms like Twitter to identify, shame and exile both celebrities and ordinary people. Private companies, universities and other institutions began lowering the bar of evidence for those accused of wrong-doing and it became common for individuals to be fired as a direct result of perceived threats to the reputation of employers. As the practice became normalised, traditional concepts of justice such as fair trials and the possibility of verdicts of innocence began to disintegrate.
In 2020, 150 writers including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem and Noam Chomsky signed a letter asserting their support for free speech and denouncing 'a vogue for public shaming and ostracism' and 'a blinding moral certainty'. Upon discovering that controversial author JK Rowling had also signed the letter, author Jennifer Finney Boylan publicly apologised for signing, saying 'I thought I was endorsing a well-meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming'. Salman Rushie, whose own experience of being 'cancelled' (almost terminally) by religious intolerance, remained on the list. The uncomfortable facts stated in the letter were quickly forgotten. When some of the most respected liberal figures in the arts need to imperil their reputation by supporting it, we can know for sure that freedom of speech is not in vogue.
The truth is that, in the UK, as elsewhere, there has been a strong and consistent pattern of intolerance, censoriousness, hysteria and the desire to publicly shame, punish and exile. The 'string 'em up' mentality is borne from the same ignoble instinct of the human psyche, whether it comes from a liberal or a conservative bias. It merely manifests as liberal or conservative. It is also wildly counterproductive. Both sides of what has become known as 'the culture war' need to understand the following fact:
When you turn offence into a currency that is free to generate, be certain that, a) it will proliferate and b) it will be used against you.
The unfortunate but inescapable conclusion is that oftentimes, the problem is... us.
The print media reflects our unhealthy and prurient obsessions with the private lives of others, the TV our passivity, films reflect our unsatiated desires for sex and violence, the church reflects our vanity and politics our hypocrisy.
If it's true that we get the politics we deserve, then we need to start with ourselves.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
It has been another dramatic week in the UK. The crime bill that would 'make a dictator blush' passed its second reading in the Commons. Supply issues make it likely that the under 50s will not get the vaccine until at least May. Both Sadiq Khan and Ed Davey made premature, publicity-seeking comments calling for Dame Cressida Dick to resign over the handling of the Clapham Common vigil. The New Statesman devoted its recent issue to the undeniable fact that Brexit is breaking Britain and the current system cannot hold. Dominic Cummings attempted to settle a few scores and also take credit for the vaccine in his testimony to the HOC science committee. It also brought him face-to-face with former business secretary Greg Clark, to whom he famously ranted 'When are you f***ing MPs going to realize we are leaving on October 31? We are going to purge you.' back in 2019. Funny how things turn out.
We also discovered how far £2.6m can be stretched if you are an astute Conservative government looking to ape White House press briefings.
As regular readers will know, we are currently gearing up to run in the London Mayoral and the Scottish Parliament elections, recruiting candidates, raising money, designing materials, and, inevitably, filling in vast amounts of paperwork. Each election has its own peculiar character and these two elections are shaping up to be extremely interesting. In Scotland, we know that the election is being perceived as a proxy referendum on independence, much as the 2019 General Election was treated as a proxy for Brexit. It will not be easy to cut through the noise, but our excellent candidates will be working to bring a message of hope and reform to Scottish voters in what is bound to be an extremely divisive and fevered atmosphere.
In London the array of announced candidates is vast, and, given the characters involved, it might lead to some intriguing debates, if indeed they are permitted to proceed. In addition to our Renew candidate Kam Balayev and the Tory, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens we have:
- Former actor Lawrence Fox who is standing as 'Reclaim', to protect and increase the number of statues in London.
- A former Tory, now Independent called Farah London (unclear if she changed her name for electoral advantage).
- A UKIPer whose birth name is literally 'Gammons' (unclear if he was selected on the basis of his surname).
- Charlie from Pimlico Plumbers, Independent, another former Tory who says the Conservatives have turned their back on London.
- Mandu Reid of the Women's Equality Party
- Count Binface (the artist formerly known as Lord Buckethead), Independent, who is promoting the homeless charity Shelter.
- Piers Corbyn, Independent, who appears to be running on a pro-virus platform.
- Brian Rose, Independent, who appears to be running in order to split the pro-virus vote with Corbyn.
- David Kurten, Independent, who appears to want any of the leftover pro-virus action that didn't go to Corbyn or Rose.
- Rapper Drillminister, whose platform involves diversifying the Met police and antagonising Shaun Bailey.
- Winston McKenzie, Unity In Action, whose platform includes deploying peacekeeping army units on the streets.
- Valerie Brown, Burning Pink, who wishes to replace the political system with citizens’ assemblies.
- Nims Obunge, Independent, who wants to make London carbon neutral by 2030.
- Rosalind Readhead, Independent, who wants to make London carbon zero by 2025 (which will surely irk Mr Obunge).
It won't have escaped your notice that some of the comedy candidates have better policies than the serious ones.
In a field so wide it will also be tough for Renew to cut through the noise, but we are looking at ways of doing this. One is to organise and run a 'Challenger Hustings' for the benefit of the candidates who are unlikely to be invited to the main TV and radio debates. You can help by chipping in to Renew's crowdfunder for Kam's campaign.
The other interesting thing is the announcement of a by-election in Hartlepool. A disgraced Labour MP, a 70% leave vote, a major Brexit Party presence (Richard Tice stood there in 2019), it sounds rather a lot like the Peterborough by-election from June 6th 2019. Naturally, it is in Renew's instincts to stand in this by-election, but since it will almost certainly be held on May 6th, it might stretch our resources a little thin. If anyone knows a willing (and preferably wealthy) candidate from the area, we'd love to hear from them!
For fans of the UK's colourful electoral history, Hartlepool elected a monkey football mascot called 'H'Angus' as mayor. The gentleman in the monkey costume was finally forced to make the following clarification, "I am Stuart Drummond, I am the mayor of Hartlepool, not the monkey." In the end, the people of Hartlepool voted to abolish the mayoral system, but not until 2013 by which time H'Angus the monkey had won three straight elections.
Have a great week,James and the Renew team
Many of us are aware of the Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog, in which, despite repeated assurances to the contrary, the scorpion stings and kills the frog as they cross the river, dooming them both. 'Why?', asks the Frog, 'Because it is in my nature', shrugs the Scorpion.The government has spent vast amounts of public money to keep the economy running and has produced a budget that commits it to borrowing and spending mind-bending amounts more in the coming years, accruing debt that will likely not be paid off for generations. It has spent eye-watering sums on a track-and trace system that has been world-beatingly profligate, wasteful and inept. It has thrown £2.6m at a boondoggle media briefing room at No.10, the better to ape 'White House-style' press events and stoke political vanity. Further, it has awarded colossally lucrative Covid contracts to Tory donors, friends, family and peers in a scandal that we are scarcely beginning to understand the scale of.
And yet, in the midst of the orgy of fiscal extravagance, the Prime Minister has offered NHS staff, who have done more to protect the UK than any other group of workers, a paltry pay rise of 1%, less than the 2.1% promised last year and likely below the coming rate of inflation of 1.7%, thereby making NHS staff worse off in real terms. How can this be? 'Because it is in my nature', shrugs the Scorpion.
Further, when confronted with this bizarre and insulting anomaly at PMQs, Boris Johnson responded, as is his nature, by lying to the house, falsely claiming that the opposition had voted against the pay rise. The Prime Minister's new scapegoat spokesperson Allegra Stratton, when confronted with this fib, refused to set the record straight on twenty occasions, which says a lot about the value of a vigilant political press and a lot more about the contempt they are held in by the current government. The extraordinary transcript of the conversation shows that Stratton's job as Johnson's cheerleader, bodyguard and fabrication-wrangler may turn out to be the hardest job in PR.
'...one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.'
The quote above might have come from any recent book on the resurgence of nationalism, nativism, populism or the electoral success of Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban or Erdogan. It could in fact have been tailored to describe the Leave campaign of 2016 or, indeed, the career trajectory of our current Prime Minister. But in fact, it was written in 1951, by Hannah Arendt in order to describe the journey toward Totalitarianism, characterised by a 'mixture of gullibility and cynicism'.A mixture of gullibility and cynicism. Does that phrase not accurately describe the current level of debate in the more fevered corners of Twitter as well as the milieu of Julia Hartley-Brewer, Piers Morgan, Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins, George Galloway, David Icke, Tommy Robinson, Piers Corbyn Lawrence Fox et al. And what delightful swamps of cynical mendacity await us with the impending launch of GB News and Rupert Murdoch's competing News UK TV channels?
The debasement of public discourse in the UK has been a major issue for Renew from day one. Indeed it was one of the major take-aways from our Listen To Britain tour and our subsequent outreach events and election canvassing across the country in the following years.
On the doorstep we found that many were utterly disenchanted with the parties for which they and their families had voted for decades. However, many were also convinced that an eternity of red vs blue was the way things were and the way they would always be.
History, of course, does not work in this way. Unforeseen events routinely transform societies; in fact it is the most common way that societies are transformed. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union went famously unpredicted by the collective might of the West's intelligence agencies. En Marche's route to power was almost entirely a shock. The Arab Spring was sparked by a single incident in Ben Arous. Nelson Mandela's journey to the Presidency of a unified South Africa would have seemed impossible just a few years earlier.
Political change comes at the turning point where a trickle becomes an avalanche. Our battle to bring more and broader voices into the political sphere is largely borne of our desire to improve the quality and the integrity of our elected officials. The increasing popularity of grassroots initiatives such as Citizens Assemblies are great examples of how Renew's agenda reflects the growing public appetite for more transparency, better participation, equal representation and faster reform.
Why do we pursue our work, when we can never be certain exactly when that tipping point will come?
Because it's in our nature.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
Rishi Sunak's much anticipated budget was revealed on Wednesday and was very much a mixed bag. The vast spending increases were expected and will likely play a major part in the essential work of getting the economy back on its feet after the biggest drop in economic activity since 1706.
The UK economy has shrunk faster than that of any comparable country, alongside a higher death-toll from Covid-19, added to the negative effects on jobs and income resulting from the new trade deal with Europe. The scaled increase in Corporation Tax for smaller businesses was welcome, as was the lengthening of furlough and other support for businesses and workers. On the downside there was nothing for social care or the NHS and the freeze on income tax thresholds will affect ordinary people negatively across the board. Further, the Buy Now, Pay Later approach appears to be a political calculation, with tax rises not hitting the electorate until after the likely date of the next General Election, with many now betting on a pre-2024 vote.
The 'levelling-up' agenda is also wildly skewed with localised support going to 45 Town Funds, a breathtaking 40 of which are Tory constituencies. Whilst Sunak was anxious to deny this, a video from 2019 shows Robert Jenrick already boasting about £25m he claimed to have secured from the Treasury. 'Pork-barrel' politics is something long associated with the US, but like many unwelcome trends, the UK appears to be either powerless to resist them or actively welcomes them.
The news of UK businesses suffering under the new EU trade deal has not let up, with UK manufacturing, fisheries, farmers, financial services, musicians and performers all speaking out about the inadequacy of the new arrangements and the impending impact on jobs and the national interest. We at Renew have been talking to affected businesses and the first 3 interviews of our new series can be found on our YouTube channel, with more in the pipeline. It's becoming clear that without the restoration of frictionless trade and free movement, entire industries are at risk, plus the careers of millions of people, particularly the young, who find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to their counterparts in the EU 27.
The Government response to this growing flood of bad news has been telling. Last week a number of paid advertorials appeared in the mainstream press, making outlandish claims about the successes of post-Brexit businesses. Only a few weeks ago papers like the Times and the Daily Mail did not need paying to print pro-Brexit news, now it appears that, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the tide might be turning.
The last 4 years have been so tumultuous that it's often hard to take stock of where we've been, where we've come and where we are now, which is an unrecognisable place from the UK of just 5 years ago. It is in this context that we have to see Renew and our potential to make an impact in the coming years and especially at the next General Election, which may come sooner than we expect. In spite of the result of the 2019 election, it's becoming clearer that the old party loyalties have weakened dramatically and the opportunity to harness the dissatisfaction with status quo politics is there for the taking. Our work in fighting elections, recruiting spokespeople, coordinators, candidates and volunteers continues apace.
It's time to buy into the idea of real change for the UK, because if we don't buy now, we are are going to pay later.Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
As the long winter comes to an end, as vaccines start to take effect and as the tantalising prospect of a return to normal life edges closer, we can begin to allow ourselves a glimmer of hope. Happily, the NHS will be the vehicle that leads us out of a very dark period that has made us grateful for what we have, and to appreciate all that we have lost. We can look forward to former chores now turned forbidden joys, such as haircuts and going to the gym. Park picnics will enjoy a resurgence and we may get to enjoy the international spectacle of the European Football Championship, which could even have (gasp) real spectators when the final is held at Wembley on Sunday 11th July. For non-sports fans, we might reasonably look forward to outdoor cinema or theatre in the park. The prospects are exhilarating.
And yet, as we are on the cusp of this happy national moment, our political divisions show no sign of abating, awkwardly inserting themselves even into such universal shared interests as vaccinations and the path out of lockdown. Earlier this week a mini-furore blew up in the media with the prospect of the use of vaccine passports/certificates by private companies and the PM's apparent u-turn on whether this might be considered 'unethical'. #VaccinePassports began trending on Twitter, and aggressively passionate people on both sides of the debate started weighing in with a gloomily predictable partizan approach. Civil liberties campaign groups presented the idea as a deliberate attack on the marginalised, whilst many ordinary people saw the issue in very different terms. The exchange below is fairly typical.
The question for us is, in a political environment where the tendency to extremes and polarisation is still so evident, how can Renew cut through the noise and make a positive impact? One approach is, to employ the useful but overused phrase, being 'the adults in the room', resisting the draw of extreme and provocative positions and treating the electorate with respect. As in all of these heated debates the issue is around balancing the interests of the country as a whole. This means treating society as a society and not as a proliferating set of distinct identity groups, all competing against one another and railing against the (largely illusory) centre.
With regards to vaccine passports, everyone would like to know that their loved ones can go to a theatre or sit on a plane and not be put at risk. Similarly, public and private organisations big and small need to do everything they can to keep their staff and customers safe. How can the interests of public health be achieved whilst maintaining civil liberties?
A realistic position would be to look at how this has worked in other countries, (Israel being the most obvious example) and see if it might be improved. We also have to evaluate the situation practically. If the world is to open up to travel and trade it is inevitable that some countries will demand evidence that travellers are not high-risk. There are already 17 countries that are implementing vaccination requirements for inbound travel and that number is likely to grow. With regards to domestic events, if theatres, stadia and event venues asked for either proof of vaccination, proof of exemption (for those with medical conditions) or that customers take a 15 minute lateral flow test before entry, might that be acceptable to both those concerned with public health and also those concerned the civil liberties? Perhaps, but you certainly wouldn't have thought so reading the papers or looking at social media in the last few days.
'Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows' - William Shakespeare, The Tempest.
The other striking thing about the vaccine passport issue is that it's another occurrence of unusual political alliances. In this case, we have strident activist groups aggressively characterising vaccine certificates not as a necessary part of a colossal public health effort, but as an insidious tool of deliberate repression. These people are joined by far-right libertarians, anti-vaxxers and conspiracists who think Covid is a lie and that wearing a mask is an infringement on human liberty. What does it mean when the far-left and the far-right agree on something? It doesn't take the greatest leap of the imagination to remember a similar moment, when Conservative, Telegraph-reading retirees of the Home Counties found common ground with the militant left on the topic of Brexit. Both managed to arrive at the conclusion that leaving the EU was definitely a good idea, albeit via vastly different and wildly contorted routes of thought. They were joined by Vladimir Putin, the only major world leader to offer (albeit tongue-in-cheek) congratulations to the UK in 2016. Strange bedfellows indeed.
We at Renew make up a different constituency, those who are no longer prepared to prop-up the old political divisions or the new ones, but instead appeal to people across the board, not only former Labour and LibDem supporters, but former Conservatives too. In fact, some of our assumptions about UK voting behaviour in recent years might be flawed. The British Election Study showed that, across three elections from 2010-17 almost half UK electorate (49%) didn’t vote for same party, and that the 2015 and 2017 general elections saw highest levels of voter volatility in modern times.
Further, the YouGov study illustrated below throws up a reminder that vast numbers of Labour and LibDem voters (35% and 32% respectively) voted to leave and that 39% of Conservatives voted to remain in the 2016 referendum (not to mention the baffling 5% of UKIP remainers).
We are now in a totally new political landscape and the opportunity for a new party to thrive is better than it has been in living memory.
We are working extremely hard to make that happen and we are glad that you are with us. We need your continued support to keep up the fight because politics needs to be more about people than parties.
Thanks to everyone who has helped us so far and rest assured that the progress we are making will continue as we grow and reach out to people across the political spectrum and from all backgrounds.
That's why we formed Renew, and that's why we are here.Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
This morning I listened to Matt Forde's excellent podcast with Dave Rowntree, does the name ring a bell? Well, Dave is best known as the drummer from Blur, one of the biggest and most influential UK bands of all time. He is second-best known as the Councillor for University Ward on Norfolk County Council, since 2017. Truly.
It's quite a bizarre thing to discover, like the TV show Stella Street, in which Mick and Keith from the Stones ran a corner shop.
I was particularly struck by Dave's answer as to why he got into politics.
"I'd gone, 'Somebody needs to do something! Why isn't somebody doing something?' And I thought, oooh. Errr, that somebody perhaps might be me."
Sound familiar? This is a variation on the answer I receive almost every time when I ask Renewers why you joined up with us. We should stick in on the side of a bus or tattoo it on our forearms. As a political slogan, it has the rare virtue of being completely true and accurate, in our case.
Our side of the bus.
And this is really something that distinguishes us at Renew. Motivation is extremely important in all walks of life, but doubly so in politics. This is why we are so impressed by people who go into politics, with all the risks that entails, when they really don't need to. Marcus Rashford is the best recent example, but there are many others, notably Martin Bell, former BBC correspondent who stood as an independent candidate in Tatton against Neil Hamilton on a platform of opposing 'sleaze' and absolutely dominated the election, overturning a 22,000 Tory majority and winning by a margin of 11,077 votes. We at Renew would absolutely love to recruit that kind of candidate and, in fact, I intend to reach out to the thoroughly decent Dave Rowntree and see if he might not defect to us. There's no harm in asking.
Hamilton meets his match
But to return to the point, there is a real impact in people who get into politics with transparently good-faith intentions, not least because there appears to be so few of them in the two main parties. Why is that? Well, let's examine it. We know that most politicians and activists pick a team early on and tend to stick with it, through thick and thin, not least because party loyalty is rewarded far more richly than talent or integrity.
The Conservative Party attracts those who want to govern, those who want power and prestige at any cost. They are perfectly prepared to live in ignominy if they get caught enriching their friends because, by and large, the Conservatives stick together and don't especially care what others think.
Labour attracts those who wish to display their solidarity with the downtrodden, and those who have a taste for factionalism, a love of the minutiae of party rules and procedures and an unusually high tolerance for long, acrimonious, and achingly dull meetings. By all accounts the famous Handforth Parish Council meeting was not remotely unusual. According to both Forde and Rowntree, it resembled a normal Labour Party local meeting. This must go some way to explaining Labour's electoral troubles, not just recently, but going back to its beginnings.
I heard a fact today that was so extraordinary that I had to go and check it. Do you know how many Labour Leaders have ever won a General Election? The answer is 4 (four). Ever. Please feel free to look it up. Tony Blair, Harold Wilson, Clement Attlee and Ramsay McDonald. And the total number of Labour leaders? 19, and counting. This is quite an astonishing stat. And for the Conservatives, during the same period? Johnson, May, Cameron, Major, Thatcher, Heath, McMillan, Eden, Churchill and Baldwin. That's ten, out of a total of 15. The opposition are batting at 21%, when the required standard is 75%.
It begs the question, for how long can we keep rewarding those who fail us? For how long can we maintain the fallacy that the only solution to our political problems are the self-same people who created them? If a cowboy plumber destroyed your bathroom, would you pay him a second time to fix it? Of course not. And yet we are told again and again by political activists that the only answer to a Conservative eternity is Labour or, hitherto, the Lib Dems. How is that working out for us? This fantasy can no longer be entertained. A quick reminder; if a united opposition are not able to overturn a majority of 80 seats at the next election then we will be looking at a record 5th straight win for the Conservatives, and perhaps a sixth.
So where does that leave us at Renew? Well, if we stick to our guns, then we must believe that our time will come. Just as all good things come to an end, so do all bad ones. The appetite for something new is out there, party political loyalty is at an all-time low, Brexit and COVID have laid bare the inadequacies of the current system and the parties that prop it up. It is up to us to harness that dissatisfaction, but also to corral the hope that springs from it.
'And how might I do that?', I hear you ask. Well, luckily, you will have ample opportunity in 2021. As you will know, Renew is standing in the Scottish Elections and also standing Kam Balayev for Mayor of London on May 6th. We are also happy to support those of you who may wish to stand in the local elections. And we are going to need all hands to the pumps. Since these elections are being held in unusual circumstances, the majority of the campaigning will be done online and in the media, so everyone will be able to join in. Things that can be done to help include, but are not limited to:
- Standing as a candidate.
- Sharing all of our online campaign materials.
- Telling your network about Renew's participation.
- Calling talk radio to raise awareness of Renew.
- Writing to your local newspaper.
- Creating short videos on your phone endorsing Renew.
- Donating to the campaigns.
- Writing articles for us.
- Reaching out to prominent figures, journalists, athletes, musicians, performers and others.
- Volunteering to help with research, outreach and campaign execution.
We have a small but dedicated team of spokespeople, regional coordinators, candidates and interns. We are in the process of recruiting 3 new extremely capable and motivated interns and our new data analysis tools are turbo-charging our ability to get targeted messaging to the right places.
In short, there is every opportunity to take part, often in real, tangible and effective ways, to gain experience in political activism and to help drive Renew forwards.
How to get in touch? It couldn't be easier. Mail us at [email protected], message us on facebook, twitter, instagram or LinkedIn, or even better, pick up the phone and talk to us directly, The door is always open at Renew.
I look forward to hearing from you all in the coming weeks, which will be frantic, but exciting.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
I was recently chastened by one of our good and patient readers for focusing on, 'vitriolic description of what the other parties are doing wrong' in last week's briefing, Patriot Games. It's a perfectly fair point to make and the gentleman was not the first to make it. Mind you, trying to write about current affairs in recent years without employing vitriolic descriptions of what the other parties are doing wrong would require an almost heroic amount of restraint, and most weeks I simply can't muster it.
However, this week, to show that we listen (and also to see if I can manage it), I shall avoid talking about government cock-ups and focus on Renew, not least because we are approaching the 3rd Anniversary of our official press launch on 19th February 2018. It is also an excuse for me to recycle a piece of writing from our blog archive (which, incidentally, is well worth revisiting, there are currently 34 pages of 6 articles a page, making an impressive 204 articles, all written by Renew supporters and staff).
The following piece can be found on page 22 of the archive, and is entitled 'A Light Refreshment'
On 19th February 2018, Renew was officially launched in front of the world's media at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster.
The event itself was something of a blur; the whole team was understandably stressed and nervous as many of the candid images now hilariously testify.
We waited nervously for the room to fill up and were extremely glad to see cameramen from BBC, Reuters, AP, and representatives from across Europe all the way to Japan. We also learned an important lesson: always book a room too small for your purposes. Although we had over 80 journalists, photographers and candidates from dozens of countries present, our friends at The Sun felt compelled to point out that the room was not quite full by the end. Politics is an unforgiving business.
Once the event got underway, things went fairly smoothly, with two quite amusing exceptions.
Sandra Khadouri and I gave our speeches first, followed by James Torrance. James then stepped off the podium in order to give an interview to the Daily Politics, who were waiting outside. Once in front of the cameras James was confronted with the accusation that he had stormed off the stage in protest. 'No', James responded calmly, 'That was me stepping out briefly to talk to you!'
Storm in a teacup averted, we moved on to the press conference Q&A. The questions were thoughtful and fair, our answers reasonable and considered - with one notable exception. In a line I had already used many times in private and public meetings I referred to Renew as “like the military arm” of the Remain movement. It was a throwaway comment, referring to the fact that we were standing candidates rather than just marching, but the assembled press pricked up their ears; they had their headline.
Later that day, the articles began to be published. The picks of the bunch were the The Sun, who called us “Saboteurs”, and Breitbart reported that “Globalism Strikes Back!” For a short time, I was not the most popular person with our comms teams and vowed never to utter the infamous phrase ever again (although I was privately thrilled that we were being taken seriously by the other side).
Happily, scores of other moderate news outlets were very sympathetic and overall we were extremely happy with the outcome. The New European, The Independent and The New Statesman all wrote approving profiles, as did Le Figaro, El Pais and Il Folgio in Europe.
In the following days we had over 600 new candidate applications (briefly breaking the website) and a newfound credibility.
We were on our way...
It seems like a decade ago, so much has happened since that day. We visited (almost) every corner of the country, addressed the Cambridge Union and St. Andrews' LaFayette Club amongst many other universities and public meetings. We stood in local elections (and got our first 2 elected officials in John Bates and Eric Cooper), came within a whisker of toppling the bigger parties in Newport West, formed a temporary (and awkward) alliance with Change UK and provided 6 candidates for the EU elections in 2019, we faced down a braying Brexit Party mob and got too-close-for-comfort with the odious Katie Hopkins and the also-odious Nigel Farage in Peterborough. We entered into the Unite To Remain alliance in good faith at the General Election in 2019, standing down 49 great candidates, only to be let down by the mendacity of the other parties in that alliance. We have stuck to our guns, stuck together as a unit, and started recruiting some amazing talents from both within our ranks of members, but also newcomers who have been impressed by our approach, our platform and our resilience.
As a party that prides itself on evidence, realism, expertise and competence it is sometimes dispiriting to see the breathtaking shenanigans of our elected officials in parliament and to reflect on the long, hard and often thankless task that we at Renew have set for ourselves. I am reminded of a recent column by the brilliant Marina Hyde of The Guardian who suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that since at least the 80s, the UK electorate has displayed a marked preference for drama and nuttiness in their politics, asking, 'The lawyerly Labour leader may think the public want calm and competence, but has he met them lately?'
We have knocked thousands of doors and met some of the most delightful people imaginable, and also, inevitably, a few eccentric ones. I will never forget the gentleman in Newport High Street who assured me that Brexit was mandated in the new testament and, further, that he could even show me which page it's on, and then strode off home to fetch his bible. Or the extremely confident man in Peterborough who told us that he had "solved Brexit" with a plan to merge the Republic of Ireland into the UK and then to merge that entity into the EU and, then "to see how it goes in five years". When we pointed out that the Irish (and the EU) might have something to say on the matter, his immortal reply was, "well... have we asked?"
Naturally we have good days, bad days and also days when we have to remind yourself why we are doing this. But a key characteristic of a champion is the ability and the desire to get back up after every blow and to, 'meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same', just as Kipling proposed.
As we approach the third anniversary of our launch, it's important to realise just how far we have come, from a motley crew of independent candidates and complete strangers to a nationwide network of volunteer activists, spokespeople and candidates, ready and willing to stand for office in elections at all levels. It's quite an achievement, especially when we look at the other small parties that were mooted, rumoured, half-launched, collapsed, imploded or remained anonymous. We've learned that we have to fight twice as hard as any other party for every bit of press, every interview, every hustings, every glimpse of recognition and we cannot rely on the support of campaign groups, think-tanks, billionaire benefactors or even a proportional voting system to help us; we have to do this ourselves, 'we happy few', as our Chairman wryly notes.
Now is also a good time to thank everyone who has helped us on the first steps in our journey, people who believed in us when no one else did, our first supporters, donors, volunteers and candidates. Everyone who put on an anorak and pushed a leaflet or knocked a door, plus people who drive across the country for the privilege of doing it (you know who you are). Everyone who wrote an article (remember our blog), shared a post, edited a press release, told a friend, attended a drinks event, showed up at a march, shared their expertise, and especially those who brought biscuits. We are on a long road, but we are always moving forward, thanks to you.
There, is that positive enough? Next week, normal service will be resumed.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
This week the Labour Party inadvertently revealed plans to present itself as more patriotic in a document leaked to The Guardian. Embracing the flag has been a tactic employed throughout the ages by parties, politicians and leaders in democracies and dictatorships alike, but not very often by the good ones and not always with the best of intentions.
In recent years, the Conservative-Brexit-UKIP Alliance Party© made a clear decision to pursue jingoism and dumbing-down as a quick, (very) dirty and effective electoral strategy in a time of national strife. And, for the time being, it has worked.
The Labour Party, conversely, have accidentally announced their intention to pretend to act patriotically in the hope that it might appeal to people they feel 'might not be convinced by more conventional means' (euph.) This is completely understandable, given their previous leader's anti-UK position on everything from the Skripal poisonings to Iran, the IRA, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, NATO etc, etc. That damage to Labour's reputation needs to be repaired, but hiring a PR firm to tell them to stand in front of more flags, hug veterans and wear bigger poppies may not be the electoral silver bullet they are going to need.
Authenticity means everything. When Mark Francois (MP) pulls up his little Saint George's Cross Huggies of a morning, be assured that he does it with the fierce and sincere belief that he is still doing his bit to stand up for The Tommies against The Bosch with his all-day-long dryness. Conversely, one gets the impression that if Keir Starmer asked Lisa Nandy to join in and whistle the tune from 'The Great Escape', she might denounce him to Amnesty International as a war criminal and bully. On Twitter. This is not to suggest that Labour MPs are any more or less patriotic than their counterparts, but that it may not come as naturally to the Labour left as the Leader of the Opposition might hope.
As far as performative patriotism goes, there is a fairly rich seam of historical examples to examine. When Margaret Thatcher posed in a Union Jack-flying Challenger tank at a NATO training ground in West Germany in 1986, it was iconic and provocative, but no-one doubted her seriousness or her intent. Our current PM prefers his muscular patriotism with elements of low farce; waving a flag whilst stuck up a zip-line in a harness or crashing through polystyrene blocks in a 'Brexit JCB' to symbolise 'the roadblock' (*note: when researching this article I typed 'Boris crashes' into Google, to which auto-complete suggested 'Boris crashes the Pound').
'Progress' (UK, 1986-2019)
Similarly, when Labour's Michael Foot marched with CND or wore his infamous 'donkey jacket' at the Cenotaph in 1981, it sent a clear signal. Unfortunately for Labour, that signal was 'steer clear'. Labour split into the SDP and the Conservatives stayed in power for 18 years.
For those with a keen eye for historical parallels, Jeremy Corbyn wore an anorak to the Cenotaph in 2018, Labour was already split, they lost the next election heavily and the Conservatives are now on course for 14 years in power, with an option on another 4. Both Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn were considered to be authentic, just in a way that the UK electorate tends to soundly reject.
On the other side of the Atlantic, George W Bush's 'Mission Accomplished' photo-op on an aircraft carrier haunted his Presidency for many years and Donald Trump's literal caress of the Stars and Stripes was so weird and creepy that it will certainly flummox and appal any future alien historians.
'Progress' (USA, 2003-2020)
Here are Keir Starmer's problems: he was elected leader by the moderate, broadly pro-European wing of Labour, but has now backtracked on Freedom of Movement and he was also badly caught out at PMQs this week trying to deny his earlier support for remaining in the European Medicines Agency. The Conservatives are polling 43% and the Make Votes Matter campaign group are now reporting that 76% of Labour members support Proportional Representation and 154 CLPs (and growing) have passed motions supporting PR.
In order to win a General Election, Labour will need a solid chunk of Scotland and the North, and this has always been the case throughout its history. Labour needs an alliance of Northern England, Scotland and Wales (plus a smaller number of Labour redoubts in London and smaller university towns) in order to balance the solid and consistent rump of Tory support in the South and South-East of England, and to win elections. When the SNP swept up Labour seats in Scotland in 2015, a fundamental part of that alliance evaporated.
Scotland provided the first five leaders of the Labour Party, to which we can add John Smith and Gordon Brown in recent years and, for Wales, Neil Kinnock, plus PMs that represented Welsh constituencies, like Keir Hardie, Ramsay Macdonald, Jim Callaghan and Michael Foot. Since Labour cannot exist as a viable party of government without Scotland, the threat of a UK break-up is all the more deadly for the future of the Labour Party. The obvious effect of this is that, in 2024 (or maybe before), Starmer must somehow concoct a formula that regains both the pro and anti-independence voters of Scotland as well as ex-Labour voters in their former northern strongholds. Without a strong, cohesive message on both the Union and the UK's relations with Europe, this will be impossible.
As for Renew, we are currently building a position in the upcoming Scottish elections that includes a broad and reasonable appeal to those who voted to remain in the UK, but might not again, now that the UK has left the EU. Similarly, for the UK as a whole, we are building a platform that recognises the outcomes of both 2014 and 2016 referenda (and the 2019 General Election) and puts the immediate needs of UK people and businesses into focus as a priority, ahead of the divisive rhetoric that was fed in all those three votes.
This is not a simple task, but the need for an alternative vision to those offered by the failed parties of a broken system is desperately needed. The trend towards division in the recent discourse on Europe and the Union is deeply concerning and must be addressed. If you can help in our upcoming elections in Scotland and in London, please let us know. We will need every Renewer to do their part, especially in an election where online campaigning will likely be decisive.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
There are moments in film where a protagonist comes to a sudden, awful realisation. There is the moment in The Sixth Sense when Bruce Willis realises he's dead (late spoiler alert) or in The Others, where Nicole Kidman realises that she and her kids are actually ghosts, haunting their own home, when Charlton Heston realises that the planet of the apes is a post-apocalyptic planet earth, when Edward Woodward sees the Wicker Man and understands his horrifying fate or, most brilliantly, when Donald Sutherland reveals that he is also finally, and hideously, a body snatcher.
In the UK, we pride ourselves (or used to) on a more phlegmatic nature, not for us the hot-blooded, the dramatic, the noisy, upsetting, neighbour-bothering emotional incontinence. We prefer not to make a fuss, to have a nice cup of tea and a sit down (there is even an excellent website devoted to it, called nicecupofteaandasitdown.com). We suffer in silence, or, in the unforgettable Pink Floyd lyric 'Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way' which is a derivation of Henry David Thoreau's 'the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.' We mustn't grumble, after all.
In truth, this idea of Britishness has been outdated for some time now. Our public discourse and media culture has become every bit as noisy, desperate, attention-seeking and diminishingly substantive as that of any of our neighbours (with the notable exception of the USA, although they do appear to be administering something of a stiff corrective in recent days).
In politics, however, the trend to the intemperate is more noticeable in the extremes than in the everyday. When Jo Cox was murdered, it was a direct result of unforgivable mendacity and irresponsibility with rhetoric on the part of the worst figures in the leave campaign, but thankfully, it does not appear to be the start of a trend. When the PM lied to the Queen and prorogued parliament, it was appalling and scandalous, but one gets the sense that it wasn't something that the Tory establishment would be comfortable making a habit of. On the doorstep, it has become clear that the UK electorate has become far more politically aware, as a result of the EU referendum and of the ready availability of political discussion online and on 24 hour news channels, and yet, there is often a sense of what might be characterised as calm, perhaps a peculiarly British fatalism, a sense that 'what's done is done' and 'it'll all probably work itself out in the end'. On the campaign trail, I've lost count of the times I've been clapped on the back by hearty older gentlemen with some version of the sentiment 'don't worry son, it won't be that bad'.
And yet, in truth, the loss of our trade and movement rights within the EU will be desperately bad for hundreds of thousands of people in the short term, and millions in the longer term. Day by day, the news media is slowly revealing the undeniable, on-the-ground, real-life outcomes of our new relationship with the EU. It starts with a confiscated ham sandwich, and an empty shelf, then rotting fish here, rotting pork there, a few bands cancel a few festivals, a study abroad dream postponed or abandoned altogether, well-paid city jobs begin migrating to Dublin, Frankfurt or New York, a retirement in the Algarve is written off as a pipe-dream, a car-parts factory earmarked for Macclesfield ends up getting built in Rotterdam, the conference and event industry start hiring fewer UK speakers and experts as the red tape and additional costs become hard to justify. As the pound weakens, holidays get scaled down, imported goods become more expensive, our foreign-born friends begin to return home and our world starts to get smaller. Our reputation for financial probity and wisdom loses its lustre, becomes degraded, diminished. The use of the term 'decline', applied to the UK in this era by historians and economists, becomes commonplace. Good investments become middling, middling ones marginal and marginal ones loss-making. Smaller businesses and family-run enterprises become less viable and those considering starting a business begin to look elsewhere. International commitments are not met, promises broken, contracts not honoured and our soft power ebbs away in slow but just noticeable increments. We are looked to less and less as an honest broker in global affairs. Talk of the breakup of the United Kingdom becomes perfectly normal, and all this as a direct result of our failure to come to terms with the reality of 21st century Europe, and of our place in the world.
So there's the bad news.
Here's the good news. It's not too late to address this and to fix it, to lance the boil, cauterise the wound, to get better again, scarred but wiser. The fact is that the situation we find ourselves in, is entirely of our own making, 100% Made In England (not Britain), a whole-cloth home-made domestic crisis. It is also a crisis caused directly and exclusively by the failure of our politics and politicians. External economic and military crises are far tougher to address, but, happily, we are not in one of those, for the moment.
To understand this, we need to go back to the start of why we sought to establish closer relations with our European neighbours (*feel free to skip this part).
The UK looked to join the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC), collectively the European Communities, or 'EC', following many years of looking across the channel with envy at the progress our neighbours were making, economically and socially, as the UK was struggling to come to terms with decolonisation, economic stagnation and extremely troubling and volatile industrial relations. That is to say, it became apparent that joining the EC was clearly in the national interest in a purely mercantile sense. And so things stayed for decades. The British largely ignored Europe, knew little of European politics and less about developments in the transformation into the European Union, with three notable exceptions.
Firstly the British came to understand the EU as a laughing stock and a scapegoat through the tireless work of UK press, including, notably, our current Prime Minister in his time as Brussels Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.
Secondly, as the UK grew wealthier, hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of freedom of movement rules to live, work, buy property, marry and retire in European countries. Renew's own Deputy Leader Carla Burns found her French husband in this way, and her story is replicated amongst many thousands of families in the UK and Europe today. These people number in the region of 1.3m, represent all classes and backgrounds and does not include people such as myself who spent years working in Europe before returning to the UK.
Thirdly, the British began to understand the EU as the source of, and the reason for the new migrants to the UK, especially the unexpectedly large numbers who arrived in a relatively short amount of time following the accession of the E8 mostly Eastern European countries in 2004.
Various governments, political parties and media owners since then have found it politically or financially expedient to blame the EU for home-grown and domestically-generated issues, and this climaxed with David Cameron's calamitous decision to fend off nativist sentiment (as evidenced by UKIP's showing of 3.1% of the GE vote in 2010, growing to 12.6% in 2015) by promising to hold a one-off in-out referendum on our EU membership in the event of an unanticipated Conservative majority. The rest is history.
A return to EU membership is currently unrealistic. It would involve numerous trade-offs that would not be saleable to significant chunks of the population, including those that were perfectly happy with the old (and now dead and gone) terms of our previous membership. Adopting the Euro, losing our opt-outs and rebates, committing to closer political union and the broader European project, all of these things are fundamentally unacceptable to enough of the electorate to make them politically toxic, at least for the time being.
So, short of rejoining, how might the worst of the effects of the referendum be mitigated in a way that respects the political realities of a country bitterly divided, but nonetheless suffering from a self-inflicted wound? How might British people and businesses be accommodated in a way that looks first and foremost to the national interest?
The status quo is unacceptable, going back to the past is unthinkable, so what is the honest approach to the future? Well, how about that most (supposedly) British of proposals, the compromise? Fighting to regain our freedoms in a very specific and targeted way, that is all about the interests of UK people and businesses and not about the EU or European identity.
Whilst remaining as a non-member of the EU, the UK must negotiate an arrangement that restores both Freedom of Movement to 66m UK Citizens and restores frictionless trade in both goods and services to UK businesses (as promised by the Government and by both sides of the referendum campaign).
These goals can be achieved with a combination of, (for example) Bilateral Agreements on Freedom of Movement with EU (and also non-EU) states, or by joining the Single Market, or by joining the Customs Union, or by joining EEA/EFTA or by building a UK-specific bespoke deal with the EU, as, for example, Switzerland has. The method is not important, but the result is. Done correctly (i.e. not by our current Government) this approach would respect the referendum, appeal to remainers, appeal to the business community and also appeal to leavers whose lives are beginning to be affected by Brexit.
We are now at that point in the film where the country comes to a sudden, awful realisation. There is a moment in 2021 when the nation realises that our current deal with the EU is not fit-for purpose, that we are haemorrhaging cash, goodwill, opportunity and honour. The question is, are we the protagonists, who can turn the situation around and save the day, or are we the audience, watching the horror unfold, peering through our fingers? Let's be the former; it's time for something new.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
The Renew Party published When the game's not worth the candle. in Briefings 2021-01-21 22:41:49 +0000
Much of the planet breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday as President Biden was sworn in, in some style and without incident.
The levels of schadenfreude in the TV broadcasts of the inauguration were not always obvious, tempered as they were by the shadow of Trump and the fear that this current crisis might not be quite over yet, and yet they were there. Sky News in particular appeared to be having fun with the event, commenting at one point, "The outgoing President talked a lot about fake news, well here's some real news, bye-bye Trump!".
The musical performers were incredible; Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks at the ceremony and Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry and Jon Bon Jovi at the Tom Hanks hosted TV celebration after the event. It could not have been in starker contrast with Trump's equivalent 2017 shindig which failed to attract a single A-list performer, the low-point achieved when a Springsteen tribute act pulled out for fear of their professional reputation. It made JezFest look like Woodstock.
Trump's parting shot was that he and his family would "be back, in some form", perhaps in human form, perhaps in the form of a shrieking white-hot sphere of pure rage, who could tell?
Gaga 1-0 MAGA
Trump had harnessed the politics of grievance with some skill, an appeal to the lowest and basest instincts of the electorate. He had been called a racist, a sexist, a white supremacist and a fascist, but in essence he was simply a narcissist, a sociopath and an aberration. Fascism is an ethos and an ideology based on specific ideas about human nature, race, religion and society. Trump had never, at any point, displayed any interest whatsoever in any coherent belief system or creed. He was simply chronically self-interested and without the capacity for empathy or remorse. By the account of his own niece, Mary Trump, a PhD clinical psychologist, Trump's parents were not fit to have children and that Trump's own character is entirely in keeping with that of his bizarre, cruel and dysfunctional upbringing. And so much for all that.
Similarly, the invasion of the Capitol has been mischaracterised, variously, as an 'insurrection', a 'coup' or a 'putsch'. It was none of those things; it was a mob. The news media covering the inauguration spoke of Trump's 'belief' that he won the election and the 'belief' of millions of Americans in the same nonsense. This is also not the case. If even a fraction of those millions who, responding to pollsters, truly believed that Joe Biden and the Democrats had organised an illegal overthrow of a legitimately elected President, then it would not have just been an unruly mob in Washington that day, it would have been a colossally violent and nationwide state of emergency. It was not.
The mob, such as it was, was an embarrassment. Much like the tea-party movement that was its intellectual progenitor, the fuel of confected and undirected outrage burns too hot and fast to be a powerful political tool in the longer term. The tea-party movement climaxed with the comically, cosmically ill-judged selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running-mate in the 2008 electoral defeat.
The Trump movement died twice, first at the polls and then when its most fevered fans took selfies of themselves vandalising their own democracy in gleeful frenzy and in teenage role-play fancy dress. It also gives the lie to the idea that Trumpist outrage is a characteristic of the downtrodden working class of the rust belt. It was not. It belongs largely to the type of shrill, needy fantasist that has the spare time and energy to indulge themselves in hours of online conspiracies, the purchase of faux-military garb and superfluous, showy (but nonetheless deadly) weaponry.
The UK parallel was that the Leave vote was fueled by the left-behind. The numbers do not support that. The older non-urban Mail, Express and Telegraph readers who made up the mass of the Leave vote were neither poor, nor ignored, nor left-behind. But they were people with the spare time and energy to read vast amounts of misleading news about Europe, immigration, refugees, unemployment and the scapegoating of foreigners and overseas institutions for local and national ills and, crucially, to nurse grievances.
So where are we in 2021?
First of all, the Conservatives have hitched their wagon to the mythology of a very bad idea, they are committed to it and they will certainly be held accountable for their perfidy, their corruption and their incompetence in the history books, but also, crucially, at the next General Election.
Labour have made great gains, albeit from the lowest bar in living memory and against the most lengthily culpable party in government since the Suez Crisis. They have also abandoned their commitment to Freedom of Movement, the single most instrumental and tangible loss of political freedom that the people of the UK have experienced as a result of our departure from the European Union.
The Liberal Democrats have finally abandoned the noisy, but unreliable and feckless revoke/rejoin portion of the electorate they had gambled on, but who consistently refused to be corralled into an effective voting block and who failed the Lib Dems so brutally in the 2019 election.
For Renew, we must find a way of accepting the repercussions of this reality and find a way to fight for the UK by addressing the material and experienced needs of the UK, and this means talking frankly about the things that matter the most; Freedom of Movement and opportunity for 66m Brits and the need for frictionless trade in goods and services for UK businesses, large and small.
As we find a way to build back from years of division and acrimony, it is important to understand how we got here and not to cling to comforting (or self-flagellating) myths about how we arrived at this place. Now that Brexit is an historical fact, we have to face the future with open eyes and a vision of the future, not the past. We have to build a coalition of people united not by grievance, but by a desire to fix the issues that created our current and on-going crisis from all ends of the political spectrum and, as we have always said, from all walks of life. We need, as a political imperative, to see the reality of the last few years coolly and honestly and to work, open-mindedly to chart a path ahead.
Trump is gone, 'Britain Trump' Johnson will one day soon be gone and the damage done by Brexit will be fixed not by those that caused it, but by the next generation of politicians.
2021 is the year where we start to see the chaos of recent years with a new clarity. As with Trump, as with the Conservatives and as with Brexit, it becomes clear that the game was not worth the candle.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
Clarke's CommentApologies for the long delay, but here is the second part of ‘A Year in Renew’ – July to December. If you have missed any of our weekly briefings, you can catch up right here.
Renew’s leader Julie Girling steps down after a year at the helm but remains with us on our board and as a close advisor on political and policy matters. Elections are swiftly arranged for the positions of Leader and Deputy Leader and nominations are opened. Renew employs its Digital Democracy technology to allow all members to vote remotely. Carla Burns wins the vote for Deputy Leader from a field of five candidates and James Clarke is elected as Party Leader unopposed. The entire process is completed without fuss in under a month.
Heather Astbury reinvigorates and professionalises our comms infrastructure, Business spokesperson Gary Burke’s thoughtful article on the loan charge scandal gains traction and a number of new supporters and members join Renew as a result.
- The financial press report that the Pound Sterling is now operating effectively as ‘an emerging currency’.
- Dominic Cummings demands that his aides read books on how ‘only the paranoid survive’.
- The Prime Minister decides to do some push-ups for the cover of The Mail On Sunday.
- UK travel quarantine is dropped as suddenly as it is announced, with police forces reporting a total of zero fines imposed.
- Mark Francois, MP (Cons) threatens to beat up the British Army.
- The Government announces that masks are now compulsory in shops and on public transport, after three baffling months of insisting on the opposite.
- At PMQs, in response to a question about bereaved families, the PM delivers a pre-prepared joke about underpants.
- Chris Grayling fails to win a vote that has been rigged in his favour for Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
- The Report from the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) on the threat from Russia is finally published. The Daily Mail publishes a comprehensive list of Russian figures influential in the Conservative Party, the City and the media. The only surprise is the shockingly low price for which political influence can be bought in the UK.
- New Gov’t Slogan – ‘If there’s no photos, it didn’t happen’
On August 12th, we partner with Make Votes Matter to promote electoral reform throughout the UK. The focus is a socially-distanced flag-unveiling on Westminster Bridge. For fact fans, we at Renew were awarded the humbling responsibility of holding up the ‘V’ in vote.
Renew steps up its progamme of publishing articles and statements by newly appointed spokespeople. They include Haseeb Ur-Rehman on decoding the Russia report, Jamie Hirst on the problems with local lockdowns, David Britten on the exam fiasco, Terry Knott on Brits abroad and EU citizens in the UK, Draeyk van der Horn on gene-editing and Dan James on why social media deserves an ASBO.
- Nigel Farage patrols the Kent coast in a pair of Oakleys and khaki shorts looking for migrants to shame.
- Priti Patel threatens to impose an asylum regime ‘to send the left into meltdown’.
- The exam fiasco is not the fault of the Government, but of a pesky algorithm.
- Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law lets slip that Johnson intends to quit in six months due to on-going health issues.
- New Gov’t Slogan – ‘Eat Out > Praise Rishi > Close Eyes’.
Renew is joined by two new politically experienced young recruits, Alex Gunter and Alex Haida from Volt UK, the UK arm of Volt Europa, the pan-European political party. Their work includes outreach to the broader pro-European and youth groups as well as formulating a new grassroots group within Renew.
Renew's Comms team, led by Heather Astbury launches a new regular series of live interviews. The first tells the story of the party's beginnings in 2017 and the second is an introduction to Renew’s Deputy Leader Carla Burns.
Terry Knott publishes on the reality of the 1.3m Brits living in the EU. Tom Meek reviews John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s new book: ‘The Wake Up Call. Why the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the West – and how to fix it.’ Alex Haida writes on the UK future options of a relationship with the EU.
- The BBC's new Director General launches an attack on perceived left-wing bias in BBC comedy, suggesting that comedy aimed at the Tory Party, Trump and Brexit should be toned down and balanced by right-wing Brexit-friendly comedy. Hilarity fails to ensue.
- A new 'Fox News-style' opinion channel, tentatively titled 'GB News' is announced. Its co-founder calls the BBC 'possibly the most biased propaganda machine in the world.'
- PMQs become a weekly trial by inquisition as Kier Starmer repeatedly hammers the PM with focused, pertinent lawyerly interrogations. The PM responds by attacking Corbyn, name-calling and weak puns.
- Covid-deniers led by Piers Corbyn congregate in Trafalgar Square. Lizard enthusiast David Icke speaks. The flag of the British Fascists is unfurled.
- Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, announces a plan to break International Law in a “very specific and limited way”. Nancy Pelosi responds, “If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress.”
- Michael Gove announces that the UK will require 50,000 new customs agents to deal with border trade due to Brexit.
- New Gov’t Slogan – ‘War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. Wash Your Hands and Inform on your Neighbours.’
Renew issues its comment on the EHRC Report; excerpt – ‘The case for root and branch reform in Westminster is now painfully clear; our representatives in Parliament should reflect the best UK values, not the worst. Renew calls for more openness and participation in politics at all levels, to prevent this toxic culture from persisting into future generations; we have to be better than this.'
Renew engages in a new partnership with SOCINT. In the words of its founder, "The aim of our co-operation is to enhance our access to and understanding of data, from electoral results and opinion polls, to surveys and social media. This will drive our understanding of the electorate and threat/risk in real-time. Actionable insights will inform our Strategic Communications, ensure we are leading the conversation on issues the electorate truly cares about, and allow us to deploy cost-effective tactical responses at all levels. Strategic campaigning done ethically will reach further, landing our messaging in the right place, at the right time, through the right messenger. As the electorate moves, our insights will allow us to respond. The collaboration will help us attract new members and donors and help us work towards our 2024 goal of winning the General Election and implementing the reforms Britain needs."
Following great work by Heather Astbury and the Comms Team, Renew is featured in the London Evening Standard’s ‘ES’ magazine. Of the five parties profiled (Renew, Burning Pink, Take The Initiative, Reclaim and The Alternative UK), Renew receives the most favourable write-up. They describe our goal as ‘To take on the major parties as equals’.
We launch our campaign to feed schoolchildren at Christmas in partnership with FareShare and go to Downing Street with a gift for the Prime Minister, a copy of Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Kam Balayev writes on how London can rival Silicon Valley, Gary Burke writes on how the HMRC is not fit for purpose and Draeyk van der Horn writes on UK farming and the Agriculture Bill.
Our live interviews continue with Gary Burke on business, Kam Balayev on his London Mayoral campaign, June Davies on Wales and Education, Alex Haida on Europe and Nick George on current affairs.
- Actor Lawrence Fox announces a desire to form a new party ‘Reclaim’ as ‘a UKIP for culture’.
- The satirical TV show 'Spitting Image' returns, but the general consensus is that our politics are now beyond satire.
- The Test and Trace app can be neither tested nor traced.
- The UK’s health and economic performance is the worst in Europe.
- The Pound Sterling continues to trade well below its long and medium term average.
- Jolyon Maugham’s Good Law Project reveals numerous scandals in government procurement practices.
- Keir Starmer suspends Jeremy Corbyn over his response to the EHRC report. The Labour left are in revolt.
- New Gov’t Slogan - ‘Look into my eyes, not around the eyes… aaaand, you’re under’.
Renew’s long planned guerrilla campaign to highlight the need for reform is postponed by the sudden announcement of a new lockdown. The plan to project a Renew message on the side of parliament was inspired by harnessing Guy Fawkes Night as the day when we reflect on the relationship between the Government and the governed.
Using similar techniques to the excellent 'Led By Donkeys' campaigns of recent years, the aim was a positive and inspirational call for reform and renewal of our Parliament and our political system, encouraging political participation across the spectrum, from all backgrounds, with the Renew Party as the open platform for change.
Instead we posted images and video of the planned campaign across our social media channels, which were very well received.
Renew reacts to news that Nigel Farage plans to rebrand The Brexit Party as 'Reform UK' by making an official complaint to the Electoral Commission on the basis of potential confusion to the electorate due to the similarity of its name and party colour. Numerous examples of existing confusion are cited. Our letter is made public and is shared by Open Britain/Democracy Unleashed to its 141k followers and our corresponding social media numbers are greatly boosted.
In conjunction with SOCINT we launch a new national survey to gain a better understanding of what really matters to people up and down Britain.
Renew launch a crowdfunder for our Internship & Training Programme.
Interviews are conducted live with new CEO Tom Meek and law spokesperson Haseeb Ur-Rehman.
- The US election is held. Joe Biden wins. Conservative Ministers fail to congratulate him.
- In The Sun, columnist Rod Liddle suggests that ‘Reform UK’ and ‘Reclaim’ are likely to be confused with Renew.
- Dominic Cummings is finally ousted from No.10, not for his numerous pernicious plans to undermine democratic processes and institutions in the UK, but because he upset the PM’s partner.
- Jeremy Corbyn is half-readmitted to Labour, in a move that satisfies none of the interested parties, with the possible exception of the Conservative Party.
- Trade deal talks with the EU continued to be characterised by failure and nativist bluster.
- #DefundTheBBC trends on Twitter.
- Transparency International’s ‘Corruption Perception Index’ lowers the UK ranking.
- New Gov’t Slogan – ‘Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. Trust Boris.’
Renew Roots is launched as a grassroots platform for Renew members and supporters to promote and discuss ideas and to share them with the broader electorate. Managed by Alex Gunter and the Renew spokespeople, the facebook group grows quickly and becomes a fruitful source of ideas and debate.
Renew’s membership drive continues with letters from the Chairman sent to lapsed members and supporters who have not yet joined our membership scheme.
Terry Knott sends a personal appeal to all Renew supporters who live outside the UK to join him in his efforts to supports Brits abroad and to grow Renew.
Live interviews are conducted with Jyoti Dialani, Haseeb Ur-Rehman and Kam Balayev on the topic of Human Rights.
- Scientists and regulators are praised for the fast-tracked roll-out of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Matt Hancock is universally derided for suggesting that this was somehow a Brexit benefit.
- 138,000 vaccinations are carried out in the first week.
- The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) makes encouraging noises about cronyism in the Johnson Government and "attempts to increase the number of political allies..."
- Pubs remain open if they serve food. Tim Martin calls Rishi ‘a legend’ and launches a range of ‘Sunak Specials’ at Wetherspoons, in his honour. Covid spreads.
- Christmas is not cancelled.
- Christmas is cancelled.
- The Government achieves the hardest possible Brexit that fails to cover services which represent 80% of the UK economy. The UK becomes the first country in history to erect trade barriers against itself in a trade deal.
- New Gov’t Slogan – ‘It’ll all be over by Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring’
Wow, what a year. If you have managed to absorb all of that info and are still reading, then I hope you will appreciate the colossal effort it takes to build a grassroots party.
Please now help us to continue in 2021 by becoming a member, renewing your membership, or simply making a donation.
Thank you all.
Clarke's CommentThis is part 1 of our 2 part review of the year, 'A Year In Renew'
Renew attends the Grassroots for Europe assembly at Westminster Central Hall and watches the likes of Dominic Grieve and Will Hutton speak eloquently about the battles of the past and the fights to come.Press officer James Dilley and Deputy Leader James Clarke begin a short-lived attempt to get 'campaign-fit' by attending boxing classes.Then, on the 31st the Renew Comms Team head down to Parliament Square, the site of many remain victories to witness the leave celebrations and interview some of the people who had chosen to celebrate there. It was not a glorious night, and the interviews were not for broadcast.
FebruaryIn February Renew hosts the 'What Comes Next' Discussion and Drinks Event for campaign organisations including Compassion In Politics, Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Matter, Open Britain, the European Movement, Sixteen Million Rising, Something New, United For Change, Volt UK, Unite To Remain, Jessica Simor QC and former Labour and Change UK MP Gavin Shuker. The lively debate includes discussions of political and electoral reform and ends with a commitment to continue meeting and seeking to collaborate in areas of mutual interest.
- The UK officially leaves the EU after 47 years. 66m people lose their freedom of movement.
The next day, Renew are invited to speak and present at the Citizen Beta event for those involved in building 'Civic Tech' at the impressive London College for Political Technologists. This brilliant initiative brings the tech and political world together for refreshingly benevolent reasons and is a real breath of fresh air. We speak on our history, our people, about Digital Democracy and the open politics project. Some young technologists are persuaded to join us.
- Sajid Javid is fired from the cabinet for refusing to kow-tow to Dominic Cummings and his SPADs.
- Priti Patel suggests that work done by EU migrants might now be done by 8.5m economically inactive, 70% of whom turn out to be long-term sick, retired, students and home-carers.
- The Home Office's top civil servant, Sir Philip Rutnam, resigns following a series of clashes with the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.
- New Gov't Slogan: 'Wash Your Hands and Sing'
In March our London Mayoral Campaign with Kam Balayev gets underway in earnest. The strategy and platform are thrashed out and we begin the colossal task of collecting 330 nomination signatures, 10 from each of 33 London boroughs, and verifying them against the electoral rolls. Every borough provides their own roll in a completely different format, ranging from excel to encrypted, password-protected ciphers via homing pigeon to morse code to semaphore to treasure hunt. This is not a straightforward task. And then...
Lockdown hits and the election is postponed. Everything changes.
- The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson catches Covid-19 after innocently shaking hands with virus patients and boasting about it.
- Alex Salmond is cleared of sexually assaulting nine women.
- New Gov't Slogan: 'Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Forget Brexit'
In April, we pivot effortfully to digital operations. Our eminent Chairman Richard endeavours to master Zoom, Google Meets, facebook live, and Skype, all in a few weeks and all with a rotary phone; it is spectacular to behold. We launch a series of live meet-ups, skills exchanges (a.k.a. online guitar lessons), outreach discussions and hang-outs.
The nation claps for the NHS and, for a moment or two, it feels like we are all in this together.
- Michael Gove admits that the PM missed five early COBRA meetings.
- Phone masts are burned following rumours that Covid-19 is caused by 5G signals.
- The Prime Minister fathers his sixth or seventh child.
Renew conducts a long series of stakeholder consultations online to seek consensus on a new direction following Brexit and the 2019 election result. We settle on a return to the original idea that galvanised the formation of a new party; that of participation and reform, providing a platform for people from all walks of life to take part in the political sphere and bring their skills and experience to bear, with the goal of reforming the system with a genuine grassroots movement. We rebuild our team of spokespeople and regional coordinators, reinvigorate our comms and successfully recruit a number of new talents into the party.
Whilst all this is happening, Renew members confess developing some odd habits during lockdown.
"I haven't worn a bra in five weeks and I'm not sure I can ever go back."
"I watched the seven 'original' Police Academy movies. So bad they are good."
"I have two collared shirts sitting next to my work-station at home. I put them on before work meetings where I’m required to be on camera. I haven’t washed them in five weeks."
"I’ve made acetone.. completely homemade. And I made malt liquor using my saliva as a starter of fermentation and got drunk on it... really bad idea."
- Dominic Cummings visits Barnard Castle.
- We learn that Michael Gove has also 'often' driven a car in order to test his eyesight.
- The entire cabinet are instructed to tweet their support of the man who single-handedly proved that we are not all in this together.
- Covid-related deaths in the UK surpass those in Italy.
- Keir Starmer is elected leader of the Labour Party following a rancorous four month process. Jeremy Corbyn supporters accept this outcome graciously (joke).
- A 'Senior Gov't Source' claims that people are 'becoming addicted' to furlough.
- The PM claims that a 'world-beating' test, track and trace system will be up and running by June 1st.
- New Covid alert system is launched. First alert is about a 3.25 to a 3.7 (medium spicy).
- New Gov't Slogan: 'Stay Alert, Close Your Eyes, Save Boris'
In June Renew focussed on outreach to disenchanted members of other parties, to the re-engagement of former Renew members, to building a new plan to approach donors and for the recruitment of a new intern. Membership begin to regrow and we find that people who had been aware of us for months and years were deciding to pull the trigger and get in touch. Our 2020 Strategy document is published on the website and it begins to feel like we are moving forward again after a difficult few months.
Meanwhile, Kam continues his campaign for London Mayor, after most of the other candidates have quit or taken the summer off.
- Marcus Rashford shames the Gov't into a U-turn over school meals.
- Dominic Raab describes knee-taking as a 'symbol of subjugation'.
- Pubs reopen on 'Super Saturday'.
- Conservative donors SERCO earn around £90m in fees for the failed test and trace system.
- New Gov't Slogan: 'Hands, Face, Bum, Legs, Disco'
Thanks for reading. Next week, pt.II, covering July-December.
Join Renew - www.renewparty.org.uk/become-a-member
Have a great holiday,
James and the Renew Team
- The UK officially leaves the EU after 47 years. 66m people lose their freedom of movement.
Clarke's CommentLast week we discussed the endless brinkmanship in the EU trade deal that left Johnson and his Government with a choice between a no-deal that trashes the economy and a thin deal that fails to satisfy the extreme eurosceptics in parliament.
Since then, it appears that progress has been made, with quiet rumours emerging that Johnson has agreed a compromise on the level playing field and that it may be matched by an EU compromise on fishing rights.
The markets appear to have responded to the news with confidence, with the Pound Sterling regaining value, albeit from a very low bar.If this comes to pass, it will be a relief, but historians will look back on this as a period when the UK's national interest has been held hostage to the interests of a very small group of irreconcilable parliamentarians (plus the threat of a resurgent Farage).
And yet, polls are showing that only 15% of the electorate favour no-deal, a similar percentage to those who favour capital punishment, pre-decimal currency, anti-vax theories and the existence of UFOs. That the hardest possible Brexit short of no deal will be a relief to remainers is a sobering indicator of just how complete the leave victory has been in political terms, if not economic or social ones.
At PMQs, the Prime Minister was on the ropes again, being asked to defend Dominic Cummings' pay rise in the face of public sector pay freezes and the consistent failure of the UK's public health and economic policy in 2020. Luckily for the PM, he had the bizarre Michael 'Replicant' Fabricant, MP for Lichfield in this corner. Fabricant, who appears to present as a cosplay Johnson, faced the object of his mane-envy across zoom at PMQs, and with an obsequiousness that would have shamed Uriah Heap, referred to a certain 'smarmy lawyer', who might dare to criticise the PM 'who is neither smarmy, nor a lawyer' and his celebrated wisdom, on the topic of Xmas relaxations. The clip, which is best watched before dinner, speaks for itself. With cheerleaders like these, who needs enemies?
Courtesy of the Evening Standard. And the theatre of the absurd.
In other black comedy news, the UK PM has been going viral as the subject of a parody of the TV show 'The Crown' by German comedians. Typically, when the Germans feel confident aiming their humour at you, you might not be winning the argument. Indeed, and with the greatest respect to our allies on the continent, if it's even possible to be lampooned by German satirists, your credibility must be at a pretty low ebb.
Warning: Contains scenes of excruciating embarrassment
At this time of year, we often look back at highlights of the last twelve months, but since there are so few, I have instead been watching some Christmas films and reflecting on how they might be updated for 2020.
'It's a Wonderful Life' provides an excellent counter-counter factual opportunity for a remake. Whereas in the original, poor, loyal and modest George Bailey (James Stewart) is shown how sad the world might be if he'd never been born, in 'It's a Miserable Life' (2020), spoilt, amoral, braggart Nigel Farage is met by an angel who shows him how wonderful the UK might have been if he had lived a quiet, blameless life as a banker in Orpington, Kansas.
In 'The Muppet Christmas Carol' (2020), the Muppet Cabinet go carolling and are quickly shamed in the Daily Star for breaking lockdown rules.
In 'Home Alone' (2020), a spoilt child played by a CGI Donald Trump is forced to self isolate after his family abandon him following a sound rejection at the polls. All hell breaks loose.
In 'Lie Hard' (2020), dastardly German villain Hans Alexander De Pfeffel Gruber and his gormless henchmen occupy Nakatomi Plaza, Sunderland, holding the staff to ransom. After initial success, their plan is shown to be tragically flawed and by overplaying their hand they are ultimately defeated (whilst still managing to destroy half the factory). The hero of this version will be hard to cast, but I'm imagining an impressively muscular, steadfast and determined Angela Merkel as John McClane.
On reflection, perhaps it's best not to reimagine 2020 at all. With the news that 138,000 vaccinations have been carried out in the first week, let's put our faith in the hands of the NHS and in the hardworking, dedicated scientists who will lead us out of this crisis, and look to a 2021 characterised by hope, hard work, a determination to learn from our mistakes and a commitment to be generous to those who disagree with us.
Join Renew - www.renewparty.org.uk/become-a-member
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team
Clarke's CommentThis week, 2017's Owen Jones took time off from his record-breaking #Corbyn4PM campaign to blame remainers for Brexit. Staggering but true. He is not the first to try and pull off this outlandish trick, but may be the most objectionable. The central thesis is that, in a parallel universe, if remainers had only been more conciliatory, the UK might have ended up with a Norway deal.
To illustrate what this fantasy universe would have to look like, David Cameron would have had to have stayed on to clean up the mess he created, Nigel Farage would have had to transform from larva to butterfly, the ERG would have required a collective Damascene conversion to common sense and moderation and Labour would have needed a coherent thought or two on Europe. In terms of far-fetched scenarios, it's right up there with the plot of Rocky VI (which also happens to be Mark Francois' 6th favourite film).
In reality, the moment Theresa May took over as PM, any notion of moderate deal became vanishingly unlikely. Notwithstanding her own rhetoric on the 'hostile environment', 'citizens of nowhere' and the simultaneously vague and abominable 'Brexit Means Brexit', she had neither the vision nor the political capital to take on the increasingly rancorous and unruly Eurosceptic wing of her party. Remember that not only had leave MPs interpreted 52% as a landslide, but the majority of Conservative MPs that voted remain (189 of them), were running for the hills and/or wildly reinventing themselves as converts to the exciting and lucrative new cult of SunlitUplandism (see: Sajid Javid, Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson, Grant Shapps, Robert Jenrick, Alok Sharma, and Jeremy Hunt).But make no mistake, neither the referendum result nor the naked political expediency of pretending to support it can turn a rotten idea into a good one. The central, inescapable facts are the same at the close of 2020 as they were in 2016. The issue of Northern Ireland, Scotland, the integrity of the Union, inbound investment, the car industry, aeronautics, passporting of services, the brain-drain, academic cooperation, security protocols, terrorism and data, erecting borders where they had been torn down peacefully, the fact of 66m losing their freedom of movement or the problems faced by 1.2m Brits in Europe (not to mention 3m EU citizens in the UK). None of these have been solved in 4+ years of clumsy, miserable acrimony.
On Tuesday, the imperious Marina Hyde of The Guardian dug out a sadly apposite quote that deserves re-sharing - 'the Romanian writer Panait Istrati, when visiting the 1930s USSR of purges and show trials. “All right, I can see the broken eggs. Now, where is this omelette of yours?”'
So here we are, 20 days to go with no Norway, no soft Brexit and no hard Brexit either, just interminably depressing rounds of sham-brinksmanship, more 'crunch-times' than lorry full of Frosties and the shadow of no deal looming ever larger.
In an unnerving repeat of referendum night, currency speculators are gathering to see what money can be made from a calamitous drop in the Pound Sterling that would be the inevitable result of a no-deal. In another parallel, civil servants are reportedly preparing a Johnsonian 'two narratives' to spin the positives of 'thin deal' and 'no deal'. This Government has painted itself into a corner where its options are to lose face or to lose big. As I write this, Johnson is threatening to pursue a no deal that tanks the economy, the Pound and the job market but appeases Brextremists over a thin deal that saves some jobs but appeases no one.
When our allies despair and our enemies rejoice, what possible conclusion can be drawn from all this?
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
Clarke's CommentThis week, the excellent news on vaccines and approvals was the cause of a mini-truce between Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Question Time, as both leaders praised the scientists and regulators for the fast-tracked roll-out of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The mini-truce lasted about 12 seconds before Johnson reverted to form, attacking the opposition for opposing his newest tier-system (also opposed by a growing number of Conservative MPs) and then regressing to Trumpian name-calling.
It's worth mentioning however, that in terms of piercing invective, 'Captain Hindsight' and 'General Indecision' is hardly, 'Low-Energy Jeb', 'Lyin' Ted', 'Sleepy Joe', 'Crazy Bernie', 'Leakin' James Comey', 'Sloppy Steve Bannon', 'Little Rocket Man' or the unforgettable 'Crooked Hillary'. Johnson's Eton-flavoured jibes are simply no match for Trump, whose talent for coining sick burns led to the brilliant 'Trump Insult Generator' (try it, when I typed my own name, the insult generated was, 'Losers such as James Clarke use me for publicity for themselves. They are strictly third rate.' (which does, in truth, sting quite a bit).
But I digress. Earlier in the day, hapless Matt Hancock had tried to score points with the big boys by claiming that the early vaccine approval was somehow a victory for Brexit (that unicorn remains undiscovered) in a lie so egregious that not even No.10 would repeat it and proving that there is no story so positive and unifying that it can't be poisoned by Brexit.
In other news, Scotch Eggs made a welcome return to the headlines, gracing the front pages of both the Sun and the Star this week, following the claim that said delicacy might count as a 'substantial meal' for the purpose of reopening pubs. The idea of publicans and drinkers conniving to thwart government rules has a rather splendid 'prohibition' feel, and the red tops had a fabulous time mocking Michael Gove's (pro-egg) and George Eustace's (anti-egg) positions on this hot topic.
The hero of the hour
In other news, and on a more serious note, the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) is beginning to make encouraging noises about cronyism in the Johnson Government. The CSPL was set up following the growing number of sleaze scandals that beset the Major government (discussed in a recent Renew briefing) and established the Nolan Principles of Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership, that our current government have gone to such great lengths to avoid. The committee is chaired by former MI5 boss Jonathan Evans who has highlighted the issue of irregularities in public appointments, citing the Commissioner for Public Appointments' annual report and "attempts to increase the number of political allies..."
We spoke last week about threats to democracy and how America's much-vaunted 'system of check and balances' appeared to be reasserting itself in response to threats from Trump; perhaps it is time for us to explore the tools that may be employed to better hold the UK Government to account in the same way.Peter Riddell, the Commissioner for Public Appointments suggests that "people from all walks of life" are meant to be encouraged to apply for key roles, which is obviously something that we at Renew have been championing since our formation. So, in addition to joining Renew, and standing as a political candidate, perhaps we should also look at ways to enter public life at all levels and do our bit to oppose cronyism and promote our values of Participation, Openness and Reform.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
Clarke's CommentAt a certain level, all government is just an extremely sophisticated racket. We see it clearly in kleptocracies and dictatorships, less so in mature democracies, but nonetheless all governments exist on a theoretical racketeering spectrum. I say this not to rubbish the concept of government in general or the UK Government in particular, but to underline how precious a functioning democracy is, to make clear that there is a constant push-pull and that ordinary people need to work every day to keep our system (relatively) honest.Excellent organisations like Transparency International seek to shed light on this uncomfortable fact with initiatives like the Corruption Perceptions Index. Since the referendum the UK's ranking has fallen, and we now sit in the second tier of countries, above the USA but below the Netherlands or Germany. This downward trend is something that must be arrested and reversed.
What we are seeing in the US appears to be a fairly severe stress-test of their system with the institutions and machinery of democracy seemingly reasserting themselves, whilst at the same time, weaknesses are being laid bare for all to see. What's shocking is the ease with which democratic norms can be violated and the way that otherwise rational people are failing to speak up for common sense, integrity and the rule of law.
The role of the media is also crucial here. At a certain point during the election (a cynic might suggest it was the moment Murdoch dropped Trump), the US media seemed to find its voice, it started to rediscover a taste for objectivity and Trump's increasingly wild assertions began to be referred to as 'baseless'. It was a start. For four years, Trump had single-handedly (single thumbedly, in fact) bossed the news agenda. The media felt compelled to report the President's narrative at face value even whilst doubting or occasionally debunking it. It began with 'Birtherism' and ended with 'voter fraud', but throughout the whole charade, the media was complicit; it was somehow unable to cope with lies so big and brazen that they demanded attention.
Even at the end, the media missed a trick; by devoting all its time to reporting on the 'investigations' into alleged voter fraud, it missed the real story - that Donald Trump, since the 1970s, has always, on every occasion and without fail, responded to failure by calling in the lawyers. From 1973 (accused by US Justice Department of violating the Fair Housing Act) to the present day (restraining order against Stormy Daniels, voter fraud allegations etc), Trump has been involved in over 3500 legal cases (and counting), a colossal amount, by any standard.
As a headline, 'Trump Alleges Voter Fraud' is accurate, but not true; a true headline might read, 'Wealthy, Vulnerable Man Hires Lawyers', or 'Predicted Tantrum Occurs'. The real story is not whether millions of dead people managed to vote, it's how powerful people can rig the system using lawyers and money.
In case it slipped our minds..
Here in the UK, we have had our own tussles with the system in recent years; Prorogation, lying to the Queen, announcing the intention to break International Law in the Internal Markets Bill and now, in bypassing normal tendering procedures in order to direct taxpayer money to preferred suppliers with links to the Conservative Party, the Procurement Scandal. Excellent work has already been done on this worrying issue by the Byline Times and the Good Law Project's work on judicial reviews. This looks to be the type of scandal that, in more innocent times, might have brought down a government. It still might. The sleaze is never too far from the surface, and when it breaks out into clear view, our institutions, our media, our judiciary and we as citizens need to respond.
This is why we formed Renew, this is why we keep recruiting new people to our ranks, people motivated not by status, not by perks, not by the trappings of Westminster, but by a genuine desire to hold our politicians to account and to be a part of the solution.
Because if we don't stand up for our country, then we're just a part of the racket.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team
Clarke's Comment“Our policy is having our cake and eating it."
"My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it."
“We are Pro-secco but by no means anti-pasto”.
- Quotes from the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Recent good news about working vaccines, the defeat of Trump and the expulsion of Dominic Cummings has thrown light on the small matter of the UK's other pressing issues: the EU trade deal (or lack thereof), the economy (or lack thereof), an opposition in revolt (against itself) and the vacuum formerly known as government strategy.
Let's start softly with Labour. The 'will they, won't they?' bromance between Corbyn and Starmer just keeps on rolling with news that Corbyn is back in the party, but not as a Labour MP. His reinstatement, just three weeks after his suspension, suggests that pressure was exerted to fast-track his case.Corbyn's queue-jump for those much-sought-after appointments with a party disciplinary hearing suggests that in the Labour Party it's still one rule for elite abusers and another for the rank-and-file.
Whilst accounts of the current, extended mess differ, somehow Starmer has managed to re-offend both Corbyn's (non) apologist outriders and the Jewish community, including Margaret Hodge MP, whilst also failing to mollify the right of his party, or the media, or putting the issue to bed decisively.
And then we have the elusive EU trade deal and the mirage of Johnson's famous cakes that retain a corporeal existence even after consumption.In his analogy, 'Cake Eaten' represents frictionless trade, freedom of movement (for us, but not them), unfettered security, educational and research cooperation, investment, status, London as a global financial hub, free access to local service markets, the retention of both hard and soft power, continued peace on the Irish border and the integrity of the Union.'Cake to Have', on the other hand, represents trade deals with the US, £350m a week to the NHS, lower immigration, and all the sunlit uplands you can eat.For those who can still recall the pre-2016 era, all of this and more was promised to both leavers and remainers in 'The Referendum' (which, as the title of an existential horror film, is hard to beat).As the umpteenth deadline for an EU trade deal comes and goes and we sit in limbo, perhaps a better analogy is that of
Schrödinger's Cake, where cake can be understood to exist simultaneously in states of 'oven-ready' and 'already eaten, sorry'.
If you feel that Johnson's Cakeism is a bit far-fetched, that Cummings' character stretches credulity and that Corbyn is a glaring anachronism in 2020, rest assured that we are all just extras in that most modern of reality tv shows, The Great British Fake Off.And lastly, to lighten the mood, on Thursday the BBC, with an unerring and laser-focussed death-wish, went to the trouble of publicly announcing that the original version of the much-loved Christmas song, 'Fairytale of New York' will not be played on Radio 1 (although it will be on Radio 2 and 6 Music). In its wisdom, it announced this on that famously phlegmatic platform and haven of considered thought, Twitter.
As I write these words, #DefundTheBBC is trending, those who oppose the ban are being labelled as homophobes and both sides are demonstrating the true meaning of Christmas by hurling veritable blizzard of 'snowflake' accusations.One could almost forget there's a pandemic on.
That's it for this week. Look after yourselves and stay strong in the lockdown.
Have a great week,
James and the Renew team