The Renew Party

  • published Renew vs. Farage & Vote Leave vs. Boris in Briefings 2020-11-12 21:10:59 +0000

    Renew vs. Farage & Vote Leave vs. Boris

    Clarke's Comment

    As Labour's bin-fire of factionalism continues to smoulder, the Conservatives, seemingly jealous of the attention, have reminded us that they are no slouches at infighting and are now publicly indulging themselves at the expense of the country in the middle of a pandemic.

    Dominic Cummings' unelected coterie of Vote Leave campaigners in No.10 have for months been jostling for influence, intriguing against MPs and Civil Servants alike and manoeuvring for more control over Johnson and the levers of power. Government policy has been leaked in advance of public announcements and key figures have been briefed against, notably Carrie Symonds.

    Johnson appears to have been pressured into promoting Cummings ally Lee Cain to Chief of Staff, then backed down following a premature leak (guess who?) that the promotion was a fait accompli and the resulting backlash. According to one SpAD, 'This is their MO. They have spent years trying to brief things into existence.'

    The Vote Leave clique in No.10 now resemble (and apologies in advance for this analogy) a botched transplant being rejected by the host as infection spreads from the brain to the extremities. According to another insider 'The macho boys club needs to end and Boris desperately needs some normal and nice people to take over.' Sadly for that idea, the normal and nice people either left the Conservatives voluntarily around 2016, or were bullied out in the following four years. Stragglers were ceremonially culled last December, you'll recall.

    The Vote Leave magic dust Johnson has been counting on turns out to be a tawdry rehash of an ages-old political rule - that appealing to people's lowest instincts can win you elections in the short-term. Longer-term, of course, it gets tricky, as the carefully-cultivated angry mob tends to stay angry, especially when its interests are betrayed.

    The bigger picture here is the growing institutional dysfunction of our two main parties and its increasing normalisation. Both Labour and the Conservatives surround and suffocate their leaders with unelected advisors whose privileged and exclusive access wields disproportionate influence. Good and conscientious people are slowly weeded out and replaced with accomplished plotters and, dare I say it, 'shapeshifters' with no discernible philosophy beyond self-preservation and personal advancement. This, in turn, keeps the right people out of politics. 

    Our goal with Renew is to build a platform to turn the tide against this downward spiral, and encourage skilled, passionate and concerned citizens to step up as volunteers, activists and especially candidates, whatever their background.

    This week we received a letter that went straight to the heart of this and I'd like to share a section if it.

    Reading letters like this, we know we are on the right track, so keep the faith and keep helping us to build Renew.

    That's it for this week. Look after yourselves and stay strong in the lockdown.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • published Democalypse 2020 in Briefings 2020-11-05 23:58:27 +0000

    Democalypse 2020

    Clarke's Comment

    Good Morning!

    By the time you read this, the US may have a brand new President. I'm joking, of course. The controversial decision to hire Sesame Street's Count Von Count as election supremo has proved ill thought-out. A strong case could be made for outsourcing the job to India, by the way who, impressively, manage to count 600m votes in around eight hours.

    "ONE! One vote for Joe Biden! Ah ha ha ha ha ha haaaaa!"

    Once every four years, we become armchair experts in a US electoral system every bit as baffling and obtuse as our own, if not more. We get to remember where places like Maine and Wisconsin are located, why they are so important, what an 'electoral college' is, and how you can win an election despite having three million fewer votes in a two-horse-race. It is also a reminder of why two-party systems have become an anachronism and how the need for electoral reform is as pressing on their side of the pond as it is on ours.

    I'm also detecting more than a touch of the old schadenfreude as watching another country self-harm provides brief respite from our own wretched and ongoing condition.
    Meanwhile, the bookies are offering generous odds that America's own Commander in Mischief, its Sleazy Orange Loki, President Trump might cause more mayhem outside the White House than in it.

    To be serious for a moment, those of us who oppose the rightward and populist shift in Anglo-American politics need to do better at understanding why it is happening, in order to oppose it. Here in the UK, we tend to attribute it to (former Labour Party member) Jeremy Corbyn's unpopularity (and openly anti-UK position in international affairs) and UKIP's ability to amplify its niche appeal by hijacking the Conservative Party, but there is more to it than that. Farage et al were tapping into a reservoir of resentment that had lain under the surface for decades. In the US, the situation is similar, but potentially even more divisive. In 2016, Trump won 63 million votes (this year the number will be far higher than that) and it's not possible to corral that much support from just the angry and rural demographic. When you speak to intelligent, educated Trump voters, (often former Democrats and Independents) you will find they are quite uncomfortable supporting (or defending) Trump's actual achievements or the effect of his Presidency. Most often, these people will pivot very quickly to a critique of the toxic left, of wokery, campus activism, cancel culture, the inexorable rise of 'offence' as a weapon and of concerns over 'culture war'. If progressives in the US or the UK are serious about opposing populism by getting elected, then this is the elephant in the room that needs addressing urgently (How does one address an elephant? Politely, I suspect).

    In the meantime, the biggest concern is a robust defence of the democratic system. News that Trump is raising millions to launch legal challenges against the election result is, frankly, terrifying and it will provide a real test of the American system, just as Brexit and the Johnson/Cummings approach to governance has been here in the UK.

    In other news, Renew's plans for November 5th were (partly) scuppered by the announcement on Saturday of the new lockdown. Weeks of preparation had gone into a plan to project Renew messages onto the Houses of Parliament. We felt that November 5th is the date in the calendar that we reflect on the relationship between parliament and the people, the government and the governed, and that Renew's positive message of reform is central to improving the UK's pitifully outdated political machinery.

    Anyway! We made the best of a bad lot and posted up some fabulous images and video of how it would have looked. Please take a look and share on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. We shall certainly be returning to this campaign when the situation allows.

    Remember, Remember, (in Lockdown November),
    Boris's Failure and Rot.
    Incompetence is Doing the Job,
    Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Could Not.

    Also! Renew has reacted to news that Nigel Farage is planning to rebrand The Brexit Party as 'Reform UK' by making an official (and public) complaint to the Electoral Commission. Not only are the names extremely similar, but The Brexit Party's turquoise blue is almost identical to Renew's. We know that confusion already exists, in fact, the announcement of our facebook live event on Thursday night provoked a number of colourful responses, until Heather responded that we were (still) Renew and not anyone else.

    In another incident, at the Peterborough by-election, Julie Girling and I (wearing our Renew blue badges) were cheered as we approached a boozy group of men sitting outside a pub. As we got closer, a look of confusion fell across their faces, "I'm afraid we're the other lot, guys." said Julie, sashaying by with wonderful composure. One of many fond memories from that campaign.

    Spot the difference

    So, we are hoping for a positive response from the admirable and fair-minded folk at the Electoral Commission and we got off to a great start when our announcement was retweeted to the 143k followers of Democracy Unleashed (formerly People's Vote, formerly Open Britain).

    You can also do your bit for our mini-battle with Farage by sharing our tweet and facebook post.

    That's it for this week. Look after yourselves and stay strong in the lockdown.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • Renew's Special Double-Length Bonus Briefing

    Clarke's Comment

    This week we have a huge amount to share and discuss, so make a cup of tea, get comfy and settle in...

    Coming up:

    • Statement on Corbyn and the EHRC Report
    • Renew's Top Secret new campaign event
    • Renew's meals for schoolchildren at Christmas
    • Special New Regular Feature - 'Data Corner'
    • New Renew National Survey

    Statement on Corbyn and the EHRC report

    On Thursday Renew issued its comment on the EHRC Report. The issue goes to the heart of Renew's key proposition, that of boosting participation, inclusion, openness and bringing more and better people into grassroots political action to improve the integrity and the quality of our representatives.

    'The EHRC report has confirmed what has been clear for many years; that a culture of anti Semitism survives and thrives in the Labour movement.
    Keir Starmer's suspension of former leader Jeremy Corbyn is a signal that Labour intends to begin addressing the issue in earnest, but it remains, along with brutal factionalism and bullying, an endemic feature of politics on the far left.
    Successive Labour leaders have attempted to deny the problem or sweep it under the carpet, but in recent years the anti Semitic wing of the party has been given free reign, to the severe detriment of the Jewish community, the party itself and the UK's political culture as a whole.
    Both Labour and the Conservatives have, for far too long, been comfortable homes for those with Antisemitic and Islamophobic views as well as a range of other corrosive and unfit behaviours and attitudes.
    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's Top Secret new campaign event

    Next Thursday is November 5th, a special date in the UK calendar and a day where we reflect on our Parliament and on the relationship between the Government and the governed.
    We are choosing this night to launch our campaign for change, to reform and renew our Parliament and our broken political system.
    Using similar techniques to the excellent 'Led By Donkeys' campaigns of recent years, our campaign will be 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.

    Some powerful examples from @bydonkeys

    Without giving too much away, our campaign will be media-focused, but also aimed at bringing new people into the party, as supporters, activists, campaigners and especially, as candidates.

    We will kick off with a big event at a major political landmark on November 5th and, with your help, continue the campaign from there.

    To help us get the project underway, please contribute any amount to Renew by clicking here.

    All donations received in the next 4 weeks will go directly into the project.

    We need your help!

    Renew's meals for schoolchildren at Christmas

    This week Renew launched its campaign to help feed the neediest children at Christmas on GoFundMe with a trip to Downing Street to give the PM a copy of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'. 

    We are partnering with FareShare, which is the organisation Marcus Rashford has partnered with, and have kicked off with a commitment to provide 322 meals, one for each MP that voted against the bill to extend free school meals over Christmas.

    Please help us out with a donation here -

    Data Corner

    Over the last 28 days, the Conservatives have dominated the digital conversation on Facebook, with over 400,000 interactions surrounding the posts on their main page alone.


    The party has also seen the largest growth in its Facebook following, picking up over a thousand new fans, rivalled only by Sinn Fein.

    The most interacted with post, however, came from the Labour Party:

    Notably, Labour had lost several thousand people from its audience over the course of October, only seeing a recovery to its baseline between the 18th and 27th of the month.

    Over the last week, 111,000 tweets have been generated featuring the tag #FreeSchoolMeals. The distribution of the conversation across the country provides an interesting view of both platform use and the national mood:

    To set this in some context, 109,145,700 tweets have been generated in the UK over the same period. Only 1% of all this content features hashtags and keywords related to school meals, despite the national media coverage. The petition, launched by Marcus Rashford, has received just over one million signatures.

    The data on the whole shows that there is more to our national discourse than the trend cycles of social media and stories dominating the headlines show and provides us some valuable insight into why the government may be less immediately responsive to events than we may expect.

    New Renew National Survey

    Renew has launched a new, national survey, using our very own website dedicated to finding out what the country really thinks. We believe it is essential to gain a better understanding of what really matters to people up and down Britain so we can deliver meaningful reform.

    We would very much appreciate it if you could share this survey with your friends, family, colleagues and contacts on and offline to help us make sure everyone's voice is heard politically. It only takes five minutes but it could mean we all end up with a better Parliament come 2024.

    You can find the survey at

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • EHRC Finds Labour Guilty of Anti-Semitic Behaviour


    Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its report into accusations of anti-Semitic behaviour in the Labour Party. Their findings, and his comments, resulted in Sir Keir Starmer removing the whip from Jeremy Corbyn. Renew's leader, James Clarke, tells us what he thinks about it all


    "The EHRC report has confirmed what has been clear for many years; that a culture of anti-semitism survives and thrives in the Labour movement," said James.

    "Keir Starmer's suspension of former leader Jeremy Corbyn is a signal that Labour intends to begin addressing the issue in earnest, but it remains, along with brutal factionalism and bullying, an endemic feature of politics on the far left.

    "Successive Labour leaders have attempted to deny the problem or sweep it under the carpet, but in recent years the anti-semitic wing of the party has been given free reign, to the severe detriment of the Jewish community, the party itself and the UK's political culture as a whole.

    "Both Labour and the Conservatives have, for far too long, been comfortable homes for anti-semitism, Islamophobia and a range of other corrosive and unfit behaviours. 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 are better than this."


  • published The Currency Formerly Known As Sterling in Briefings 2020-10-22 22:05:59 +0100

    The Currency Formerly Known As Sterling

    Clarke's Comment

    With thanks to the Financial Times

    As we know, the UK's performance has been extremely poor in terms of both health and economic outcomes. In Europe, only Spain has suffered more deaths and a (marginally) larger drop in GDP. The UK also has an unusually high number of excess deaths, estimated at 67,500, the official 44,436 figure for COVID deaths added to 23,153 more people dying in 2020 to date than in a 'normal' year. Worryingly, medical professionals speculate that excess deaths may be attributable in part, to people going undiagnosed or untreated for chronic conditions as a direct result of lockdown.

    The pandemic is revealing structural fault lines in our system, politically, obviously, but also economically. It's becoming clear that the sheer scale of the economic support programmes required mean that future generations will certainly have to pay for decisions made today. 
    All of this couldn't be coming at a worse time for the UK, with four years of Brexit chaos undermining our standing on the world stage and our ability confront new crises. Whilst we voted to vacate our spot at the top table politically and in terms of leadership, in the economic sphere, our spot at the top table has been removed without ceremony. One sign of this has been the long-term depression of the Pound Sterling.
    The Pound is the world's oldest currency still in use and which has been in continuous use since its inception, but in recent years it has taken a beating.

    With thanks to Jacob Rees-Mogg

    In each of the three recent crises, the pound has taken a disproportionately big hit. The global financial crisis caused the currency to plummet harder and faster than its competitors. During the subsequent recovery, the pound recovered to something like its long-term average until the EU referendum. The referendum result weakened sterling against the euro by 5% overnight. By October 2016, the exchange rate was €1.12 to the pound, and now it trades around €1.09. The UK's failure to manage the crisis has added vast costs to an already difficult situation and our perceived economic incompetence will put further downward pressure on our currency.

    Reading the news, we often hear variations on the sentence, 'when the inquiry [or inquest] into our COVID-19 response takes place...'
    There is no guarantee, of course, that there will ever be an enquiry, if Cummings stays in power with either Johnson or Patel as figurehead, we can be assured that every effort will be made to quash proper scrutiny of the Government's response or the thinking behind it. However, on a separate topic, when the UK's excellent investigative journalists get their heads down, there is a genuine scandal to be unearthed involving the funneling of taxpayer cash to shady companies (often related to Tory figures) for the emergency, no-tender procurement of PPE and other equipment. 

    Enquiry or no, when this crisis ends, whether it be through a vaccine or a (hard to imagine) effective testing regime, it will be a hard sell for the Government to blame Remainers, judges, the BBC or Europe, much as they might enjoy trying. Exhausting as it sometime seems, it is essential that we continue to hold the Government to account, to learn the lessons of the last 10 years and continue to build a viable opposition to the dangerously unstable parties of Westminster.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • published There's nothing new under the sun in Briefings 2020-10-16 00:21:26 +0100

    There's nothing new under the sun

    Clarke's Comment

    A wry glimpse into the past and into the future...

    It's May 1997.

    An impossibly distant era of the past. 

    The Soviet Union has collapsed and the Cold War is over. 

    9/11 has not yet happened. 

    Donald Trump is boasting about the size of the crowd at the 1997 Veteran's Day celebration where he'd acted as an 'associate grand marshal'. Wife #2 Marla looks unhappy.

    Boris Johnson is writing for The Telegraph; he has just failed to become an MEP, been rejected as a Tory candidate for Holborn and St. Pancras and instead been given Labour stronghold Clwyd South to contest.

    Upstart party UKIP are just 3 years old and Nigel Farage has just won 1.7% of the vote in the Eastleigh by-election, narrowly besting the Monster Raving Loony party's David 'Screaming Lord' Sutch by 169 votes.

    The Conservatives have been in power for 18 years and it feels like it. 

    They can hardly believe their luck, having won 4 elections on the trot, the last 3 against nationally unpopular left-leaning opposition leaders.

    But the bills are in the post.

    The former BBC correspondent Martin Bell is receiving great acclaim for standing as an Independent against Neil Hamilton, the incumbent Tory MP found guilty of corruption.

    There is an air of arrogance and sleaze surrounding mounting scandals, cash for questions, arms to Iraq, IRA prison escapes, BSE, judicial reviews, abandonment of IRA ceasefire and the reluctance of ministers to accept responsibilities and resign.

    The party is bitterly disunited over Europe.

    Attacks from the Referendum Party and UKIP are enraging the right of the party.

    They are perceived as being "in office but not in power" by Norman Lamont.

    The Conservative press have turned against them, including The Sun.

    The Pound Sterling is weak following the humiliating exit from the ERM, caused by economic incompetence.

    The new leader of the opposition looks competent, decisive, reformist and has (temporarily) marginalised Labour's unelectable left. Militant are in retreat.

    There's a feeling in the air that it's time for a change.


    It's May 2024.

    An impossibly distant era of the future.

    The Soviet Union has reformed as 'Russia' and the new Cold War is well underway. 

    The Middle East is in chaos. 

    Donald Trump runs a news channel called ConBox (sponsored by Fuddruckers®) and is back to boasting about his viewing figures. Wife #4 Svetlana looks unhappy. 

    Boris Johnson is writing for The Telegraph; he has been ousted from the Tory leadership and replaced by Conservative membership favourite Priti Patel, whose 3 word slogan 'String Them Up' was considered unimprovable.  

    Upstart party Renew are now 7 years old and are considered to be a dark horse in the election, following a series of dramatic underdog wins in local, devolved and Mayoral elections throughout the UK.

    The Conservatives have been in power for 14 years and it feels like it. 

    They can hardly believe their luck, having won 4 elections on the trot, the last 3 against nationally unpopular left-leaning opposition leaders.

    But the bills are in the post.

    The former BBC correspondent Gavin Esler is receiving great acclaim for standing as an Independent against Jacob Rees-Mogg, the incumbent Tory MP found guilty of insider trading and drink-driving on a penny-farthing.

    There is an air of arrogance and sleaze surrounding mounting scandals, cash for influence, cash for access, MPs expenses, arms to Saudi Arabia, PPE procurement, Test & Trace, Prorogation, Internal Market Bill, Universal Credit, Hostile Environment, Sir Kim Darroch, Grenfell, Windrush, plebgate, pig-gate, Barnard Castle-gate, Chris Grayling and the reluctance of ministers to accept responsibilities and resign.

    The party is bitterly disunited over Europe.

    Attacks from Dominic Cummings' 'Anarchy In The UK' Party and UKIP are enraging the right of the party.

    They are perceived as being "in office but not in power" by Jeremy Hunt.

    The Conservative press have turned against them, including The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times, FT, Country Life, Horse & Hound and

    The Pound Sterling is weak following the humiliating exit from the EU, caused by political incompetence.

    The new leader of the opposition looks competent, decisive, reformist and has (temporarily) marginalised Labour's unelectable left. Momentum are in retreat.

    There's a feeling in the air that it's time for a change.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • published Why Comedy Matters in Briefings 2020-10-08 23:51:29 +0100

    Why Comedy Matters

    Clarke's Comment

    This week, for a change and a brief respite from current affairs (for you and for me), I wanted to write a bit about political comedy and satire.
    This was prompted by the welcome return of Spitting Image last Saturday and memories of the massive effect the original show had in the 80s and 90s.
    Annoyingly, the show is only broadcast on Britbox, a new paid subscription channel, so its audience is likely to be far more limited than in its heyday, when up to 15 million people would tune in to watch it on ITV on Sunday nights.

    For those who haven't seen the first episode (which was frantically re-edited at the last minute following Donald Trump's Covid diagnosis), here is the kind of thing you can expect: Priti Patel as a dominatrix (and Michael Gove as her submissive client), Greta Thunberg as a vexed tv weather presenter, Dominic Cummings as an alien with an appetite for babies, Dominic Raab as a moron youtuber and karate fanatic, Johnson as a bewildered child, a crazy Kanye, Prince Harry on the dole, Jacinda Adern as Mary Poppins (rebooting the signature end-of-show song), and Donald Trump employing a part of his body to tweet in the most outrageously revolting way imaginable. 
    The show has been broadly well-reviewed but with a few critics complaining that some sketches were funnier than others and that not all of them landed as intended. This is inevitable in a show whose DNA is as anarchic and whose targets and themes are as totally scattershot as ever. It's easy to forget that the original was only really funny about 20% of the time, but that wasn't really the point. It was about being scabrous, irreverent, insolent, disrespectful and teaching a generation of people to treat their government, celebrities and royals as ordinary people with weaknesses and bizarre quirks. It's also easy to overlook the fact that culturally, 2020 is an age away from 1984; new taboos and sensitivities have come into play, and comedy has become a far more fraught arena than ever; in a rather odd example of this, execs insisted that carrot leaves be removed from the head of Ed Sheeran's puppet for fear of giving offence.

    The best satire has always been even-handed and comics must be able to defend jokes on the basis of being equal-opportunity offenders. Shows like the excellent and underrated South Park have always done this well - skewering America's political idiosyncrasies with a mixture of wry sophistication and blunt force. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote that they hated both conservatives and liberals, with Stone famously commenting "I hate conservatives but I really f***ing hate liberals". Parker and Stone's breathtakingly brilliant 'Team America: World Police' pulled off the same trick, with naive, preening, privileged Hollywood liberalism mocked just as ruthlessly as ignorant, insular, hawkish, gung-ho conservatism (not to mention unforgettable characterisations of Kim Jong-Il and Hans Blix). 
    In the US, Saturday Night Live has done an, at times, excellent job, with Alec Baldwin's Trump impersonation finding its target, not to mention Will Ferrell's superbly dim take on George W Bush. At their respective peaks, Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and Steven Colbert's The Colbert Report were not only essential viewing, but they sparked actual social movements such as the astonishingly successful 'Rally To Restore Sanity'.

    Back in the UK, we have a long and proud history of consistently producing genuinely funny political comedy, from Peter Cook's ground-breaking impersonation of Harold Macmillan in Beyond The Fringe through Monty Python, Not the Nine O'Clock News (and Rowan Atkinson's classic Conservative line on curry), Yes Minister, Rick Mayall's preposterously believable Alan B'Stard, Have I Got News For You, Chris Morris' incredibly (and sadly) prescient The Day Today and also his scandalous and virtuoso Brass Eye. 
    In recent years, the political panel show format has begun to feel stale and the recent criticism of the BBC for producing too much lazy left-wing comedy is not entirely unwarranted, with the likes of Mock The Week and The Mash Report doling up extremely familiar, safe and digestible dollops of university-educated sarcasm, whilst the otherwise incendiary and erudite Frankie Boyle's New World Order show often feels unnecessarily preachy and tediously right-on.

    It's extremely important for democracies to foster brave comedy and to tolerate jokes that may be judged to be offensive or accused of being offensive by those seeking to harness grievance as currency. We are lucky to have such a vast pool of comic talent in the UK and it is essential that we nurture it, sponsor it, champion it, revel in it where we agree with it, tolerate it where we don't, forgive mistakes and give comedians the space they need. 

    The role of court jester was always precarious, but essential. The need to prick the conscience of the king, to explode the vanity of the ruling class, to tell truth to power and to provoke radical, alternative thought, is absolutely key to our cultural health. As a country that produces comedy across the spectrum from Michael McIntyre to Jerry Sadowitz, from Les Dawson to Stewart Lee, from The Two Ronnies to Vic & Bob, to French and Saunders, Peter Kay to Victoria Wood to Eddie Izzard to Richard Ayoade to Bill Bailey to Michaela Coel to Micky Flanagan to Billy Connolly (this list really could go on an on), we should be proud of our cultural heritage and protect the path for the satirists and comedians of the future, because, god knows, we are going to need them.

    So, if you get the chance, check out Spitting Image and, if you think you can handle it, there's another real treat coming up. 
    More than most comics, Sasha Baron Cohen literally puts his life on the line to make us laugh, but also to draw out (often terribly) uncomfortable truths about the society we live in. We should appreciate that and applaud it.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • published The Culture Truce in Briefings 2020-10-01 23:00:05 +0100

    The Culture Truce

    Clarke's Comment

    This week we learned of actor Lawrence Fox's plans to launch a new political party, 'Reclaim'. Whilst it's initial stated goals were so vague that it could have been mistaken for a left, right or centre party, Fox's own controversial comments on Question Time and elsewhere give us an idea what he's trying to get at. The subsequent clarification of the party-to-be as 'a UKIP for culture', however, might not endear it to culture-vultures, or even UKIP vultures, for that matter.

    Fox's Reclaim looks an awful lot like a party formed by announcement. Unlike Renew, which has always put the grassroots and electoral work first, Fox has taken the headline approach, favoured by wealthy, profiled individuals of tentatively announcing a party rather than building one.
    Just as UKIP stoked Tory thunder on immigration and shifted it to the right, Reclaim may hope to do the same with 'culture'. As Tories lose their grip in the polls and become pressured by their small but determined membership, further attacks from the right will likely have the same effect.

    Margaret Thatcher won three elections by characterising Labour as unfit to run the economy and appealing to enough of the aspirational working class to deny the opposition and stay in power. Since Johnson can no longer make the same appeal (given recent economic performance plus Starmer's relentlessly sensible and cultivated schoolmasterly public image), the temptation to resort to name-calling and culture war will be strong, particularly from the Cummings camp. Johnson himself has always given the impression that he would rather be loved, but in 2020, that ship appears to have sailed clean off the horizon.

    But this is an extremely dangerous tactic. It coarsens dialogue, undermines the consensus required to establish a popular mandate and emboldens the weakest and most reckless elements of a party and its base. In the culture wars, once you decide to pick a side, you have already lost. It harnesses a hyper-advanced form of simplification where every topic is seen through the same binary prism, cemented in perpetuity through zero-sum, identity-based grievance from both sides. Every hitherto innocent interaction is politicised and toxified: trust, tolerance, progress and liberalism are undermined. On the right, it seeks to weaponise the most egregious examples of perceived 'wokery' as a wedge to push insidious populist/nationalist ideas that appeal to the lowest of our instincts.

    If Labour and other opposition parties can be painted as pandering to special interest groups at the expense of the broader electorate (much as the Republicans have attempted to paint the Democrats in the US), then the Tories may believe they can get back to the home turf that won them the last 4 (four) elections on the trot. 
    Starmer appears to be aware of this, with his patriotic conference speech as an attempted corrective to the anti-Western tone of Labour's leadership under Corbyn, but if the years leading to the next general election are fought on the battlefield of polarisation, identity and culture, then there will be a lot of work to be done, from all sides and political persuasions, to curb its worst excesses and bring the country back together.

    Renew was formed against the trend towards polarisation and extremism that we saw from 2016 onwards and despite (or because of) the execution of our departure from the EU, these worrying trends have accelerated. Many of us have lost friends to it as mildly held positions have become entrenched and hardened into oppositional identities. For those of us who believe in a new way forward, focused not on division but on reform and renewal, now is the time to prepare. 

    Many of you will have received a letter from our Chair, outlining our plans to grow the party, to participate and to provide a platform for those who want to devote their energies to building something new. To reiterate his message, 'Renew's core mission is to fix the broken politics in the UK. We bring a completely new approach that will: open politics up and attract much needed new talent, free up our MPs to answer to us and not to Party Whips; make every vote count; and stop political parties putting Party interests ahead of ours.  We have to change UK politics for the better.  Renew will tackle the UK’s poisonous political culture head on. We will rebalance where power lies and give control back to voters.'

    For those of you who have followed us, but not yet joined, please sign up for membership and help us build a party that stands up for everyone, excludes none and represents the best we can offer in service of others and of ourselves.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • published Tales of the entirely expected. in Briefings 2020-09-24 22:27:17 +0100

    Tales of the entirely expected.

    Clarke's Comment

    This week we learned that preparations for no-deal Brexit now include turning the garden of England into a lorry park and requiring a special passport (or 'Kent Access Permit', AKA 'Kermit') for the privilege of joining a diesel-choked tail-back there.
    In addition to the 50,000 customs agent jobs the Government must now create at the taxpayers' expense, we can now look forward to job ads for roving border guards at the newly formed Kent-Stasi. (Wanted: young, motivated self-starters with a love of uniforms and authority. Must love working with people and demanding to see their papers - English accent preferred but not essential.)

    Attempting to shift responsibility from government to industry, Gove wrote to the Road Hauliers Association threatening tail-backs of 7000+ lorries, if they do not comply correctly.
    Richard Burnett, of the Road Hauliers Association: “We’ve been consistently warning the government there will be delays at ports but they’re just not engaging with industry on coming up with solutions. Traders need 50,000 more customs intermediaries to handle the mountain of new paperwork after transition but government support to recruit and train those extra people is woefully inadequate." 
    So, not content with erecting borders in Ireland and/or the Irish Sea and the Channel, we can now expect one in England. It may be the first time a country has elected to erect trade barriers on itself, to inflict trade costs on itself and create reams of red tape, all for itself. Perhaps hauliers can now be added to the expanding list of elites and enemies of the people being teed-up for blame in the Brexit aftermath.

    In other news, Priti wants us to snitch on our neighbours if they contravene any of the new, new regulations, whether you understand them or not. In case you are not up to date, here are the highlights of government messaging since February. 
    Wash your hands > Stay home if you like > Avoid the pub > Close the pub > Stay home > Stay alert > Wear masks if you like > Go to the pub > Eat out > Wear masks or else > Work wherever you're are asked > Go back to the office > Go back to the office or else > Inform on your neighbours > Don’t inform on your neighbours > Work from home > Pubs and restaurants close early. All clear?

    To boost public health efforts, the long-lost NHS app is expected to arrive 5 months late and, reportedly, with a 1 in 3 chance of providing false positive alerts, due to Bluetooth issues. Will enough people download the app and follow its self-isolation instructions to make it worthwhile? Such is the level of mistrust in government that it cannot be taken for granted.

    Somewhat belatedly, traditional Tories are beginning to rebel. In addition to unease about the curtailment of freedoms and the vast expansion in public spending, there is trouble regarding the Government’s brazen decision to break the law and dishonour the agreement with the EU by introducing the Internal Markets Bill.

    All this adds up to a massive headache for the increasingly embattled PM, who is looking less and less like a man who looks forward to Mondays, to put it mildly.
    PMQs has become extremely difficult to watch, with Johnson getting ritually hammered week after week by an opposition leader who, through some witchery, keeps managing to have a grasp on the facts. It’s like a particularly cruel reality show where a sullen and fidgety child is repeatedly interrogated by mercilessly fierce legal minds on the topic of why he hasn’t done his homework. 

    It was all supposed to be such fun, being PM; a non-stop carnival of swaggering, swashbuckling, hiring, firing, proroguing and the constant humiliation of the opposition. When Conan (the Barbarian) was asked, "What is best in life?", he famously replied, "To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women." This was how it was looking for Johnson on that cold morning last December.

    Reality Bites

    So where did it all go wrong?
    Three things: firstly the departure of central casting's most haplessly feeble opponent and perfect comic foil, sap, soft-touch, easy-mark and lollipop for the ages, Jeremy Corbyn. Secondly, COVID. Thirdly and most importantly, Brexit and its inevitable coming home to roost. Promises made on the never-never are due for repayment, the loans have matured, the debts have grown and the men from the Iron Bank are at the door.
    Just as Corbyn was a professional lifelong protestor, rather than a leader, Johnson is revealed as a jolly good campaigner, (given a good tailwind and a hopeless opponent), but emphatically not a boss. 
    It is reminiscent of W. W. Jacobs' famous short story, 'The Monkey’s Paw', where an irresponsible wish is granted, but always at a terrible cost. Young Alexander Johnson’s wish to be world king may have been granted in a terrible pact (perhaps with an enchanted foxhound paw, in his case), but the cost will be monstrous. The unhappy twist on this occasion is that 66 million people are now paying for his unearned ambition.

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world

    Clarke's Comment

    This month we have been blessed with the release of two books telling the inside stories of life in the inner circles of Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron. And what fabulously shabby and embarrassing tales they tell in their extremely different ways.

    'Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn' by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire details the giddily self-indulgent and toxic factionalism for which the Labour Party is rightly famed. The journalists manage to interview most of the key movers, shakers, leakers, betrayers, gossipers and plotters as well as those looking on in horror, swept up in the colossal tornado of folly. It's a can't-look-away multiple-vehicle motorway-pile-up of a read. As has been well-documented, the party was (and is) riven with bitter dispute; amongst leavers and remainers, pro and anti Corbyn, Blairites and Brownites, leaders office vs party HQ, MPs vs Momentum and so on and so on.
    We learn how much of a close-run thing the Corbyn project really was; a shadow cabinet resignation plot that would almost certainly have doomed Corbyn early on was foiled at the eleventh hour by an ill-advised leak from its chief plotter. It is revealed that the breakaway Independent Group initially aimed at a far larger pool of disgruntled Labour MPs to break away, as many as 75, who, if they had held their nerve, would certainly have ended Corbyn's reign sooner than the electorate did. There are also telling details, such as Corbyn's impotent rage over a detail as petty as having to ride in a diesel-powered battle bus in GE2019, rather than the fancy electric one commandeered by Jo Swinson and her swaggering posse of Lib Dems, preparing for power (one can only imagine the result if anyone had the appetite to write an account of the Lib Dems' low-rent hubris writ small in the same period).

    In the blue corner we have Sasha Swire's fabulously gossipy 'Diary of an MP's Wife : Inside and Outside Power', which is being serialised in The Times and is causing waves amongst the kind of people who care about that sort of thing. Swire and her husband, Tory MP Hugo were part of the Cameron clique. The book describes the lives of a group of people who are accustomed to getting whatever they want without really trying. They appear to have even shocked themselves with the ease of their rise to the very top. There is, for example, a kind of childish disbelief and excitement in the early days in being given the keys to Chequers, Dorneywood and other grace and favour properties.

    Cameron seems to consider himself something of a cad, at one point delivering the poetic line to Swire, "..that scent you are wearing is affecting my pheromones. It makes me want to grab you and push you into the bushes and give you one!” and pointing out that a mirrored bedroom ceiling was how they made do before the advent of 'porn channels'.

    Like all cliques, it has its hierarchies and it is no surprise to learn that the Goves were considered every bit as awful in their own social circle as they are to the rest of us. They exercise power on massive decisions with a breathtakingly blithe detachment. What comes through most strongly is how a group of preposterously privileged people, who feel they could turn their hand to anything, are able to take over the country, break it, and walk away without appearing to notice or care. 

    The recent history of the UK has been defined by these stories; the stories of weak people being supplanted by more determined and, for now, far worse people.
    The Cameron clique were, in the end, replaced by the kind of chippy characters you find in UKIP and the ERG, people desperate to be accepted in glamorous circles but who didn't go to the right schools, people sneered at by traditional Tories and who are now revelling, with intolerable glee in their new roles.
    In the same way, Blair's slick gang of well-dressed experts in spin and focus-groups were usurped by the obdurate, obstinate hard-left, the people who never really went away, people with the wrong shoes and a disconcerting whiff of resentment and sadness, people who revelled in their brief coup and who are now regrouping in dismal committees.

    The tragedy of the story, I suppose, is that, counter to the fatalistic idea that all of this was somehow inevitable, in fact, none of it was. For those with a masochistic streak there are many counterfactual scenarios that can be entertained. For me, the chaos that we find ourselves in could have been prevented or at least hugely mitigated if any of the following events had fallen slightly differently:- 

    The election of Ed Milliband over David Milliband, the Lib Dems' decision to cave in to the Tories on university fees, the accidental addition of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership ballot, Cameron’s rash decision to offer a one-off referendum with no confirmatory vote or other safety mechanism, *takes breath*... Johnson’s 'second column', Gove’s betrayal and May’s election as leader, May’s ill-advised calling of the 2017 election, the election of Jo Swinson, Change UK’s disastrous launch and the Lib Dems' mini-resurgence. It goes on and on.

    The hope that springs from all of this is that, in the current political climate, the ability to organise politically, to gather a small group of people determined to reform the system and to overturn the status quo, all of this is revealed as possible. For those of us at Renew, this is an optimistic lesson amongst all of the negativity and division we are now experiencing. In the inspiring words of Margaret Mead - “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    Have a great week,

    James and the Renew team

  • Renew Announces Leadership Changes


    Tuesday, July 7th: Renew announces leadership changes at the Renew Party

    Leadership Changes at The Renew Party:
    Former Deputy Leader, James Clarke, elected Leader
    Carla Burns elected Deputy Leader

    LONDON, UK, Jul 7, 2020

    The polls have closed, and the results are in for the new leadership team of the
    Renew Party.

    James Clarke, one of the original founders of Renew, and its former Deputy Leader, has been elected as Leader and will take over from Interim Leader, former MEP, Julie Girling, who announced her resignation last week.

    Julie will remain with the party and will continue to support the Board and Leadership.

    James Clarke, Leader of Renew, said: “I am excited and humbled by the opportunity to lead Renew at this time of great turmoil and uncertainty for our country. Renew is entering a new era with a new leadership team and a fresh, focussed set of goals. I want to drive Renew forward as a platform for people who want to get heard, based on the principles of reform, participation and openness.

    "Politics in the UK is currently a franchise system dominated by legacy parties that can no longer effectively deliver for the voter. Renew is about bringing people together, not around tribalism or grievance or ideology. It's about rationally, calmly and openly engaging to change our country in a way that seeks to find common ground with people across the board, from all walks of life.

    “That's why we started Renew, a grassroots, organic and inclusive organisation, pushing for broad political and electoral reform and renewal.

    “On behalf of Renew, I would like to recognise the fantastic work that has been done during the last 12
    months by our interim leader Julie Girling. Julie probably didn’t foresee that her tenure at the helm of Renew would encompass our first General Election as a party and that is just one of the ways this has been an eventful year for Renew. Julie’s experience, cool head and wise words have been extremely valuable to us and I am thoroughly delighted that we can continue to count on her input and support.

    “We are asking the people of the UK to join up, have your say, and get heard."

    46-year-old James lives in London and was one of the original founders of Renew. Before helping to start the Party, he stood as an Independent in Bermondsey and Old Southwark in the 2017 General Election. At Renew he has been Head of Outreach and Party Principal before becoming Deputy Leader in October of 2018. Prior to politics, James has worked as an educator, event manager, insurance underwriter and tech start-up consultant in London, Tokyo, Sydney and Amsterdam. He holds an MSc in The History of International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

    Renew’s new Deputy Leader is Carla Burns. Carla is from Liverpool where she still lives with her husband and daughter. She works in the NHS, in the fields of Human Resources and Organisational Development, with special interests in equality and sustainability.

    Carla joined Renew as it was starting out after finding herself politically homeless after the 2016 referendum. Since then her interest has continued to grow and she stood for Renew in Sefton Central in the 2019 General Election.

    Carla Burns, Deputy Leader of Renew, said: “I believe passionately that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential. I also believe that politicians should work to represent the best interests of their constituents, which is clearly not currently the case for so many in power.

    “I am thrilled to have been elected as Deputy Leader of Renew and I thank all the members for their support. I am looking forward to working with James and the rest of the Renew Board and management to make Renew as inclusive and representative of people across the UK as possible.”

    Renew operates a Digital Democracy platform that is unique across UK political parties. It enables members to vote on policy wherever they are in the UK, without the need to travel to a party conference. In this way it ensures everyone in the Party has an equal opportunity to make their opinions known, from London to Lochaber. It also enables elections to be held quickly and fairly, which is how Renew was able to have a new leadership team in place in less than two weeks from the resignation of its interim leader.

    For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:

    Heather Astbury

    [email protected]

    0203 289 4160




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