What would you give to be an MEP? More than newly-elected Brexit Party representative David Bull, if his morning-commute meltdown is anything to go by.
To add to the ever-growing list of Brexit Party embarrassments, freshman MEP David Bull threw a tantrum this week after realising that his election means actually going to work.
Lamenting the fact that he has to now “repeatedly” make the (not unscenic) trip to Strasbourg to fulfil his democratic duties, peroxide blonde hair quivering like a field of distant wheat kernels, Dr Bull appeals to the tweeting masses to offer sympathy for him. For some unknown reason, it doesn’t seem to occur to Bull that he could always rent a room in Strasbourg itself, avoiding the need for the 450-mile commute to happen on a regular basis.
To fair to the chap, Bull has it pretty tough. €7,857 a month, plus expenses, is a pretty meagre salary that most with his lifestyle would struggle to live on. Those haircuts must cost a bomb and a half, and, when coupled with a regular full-body spray tan, must consume at least half of Bull’s paltry income. An eleven-hour journey to work just isn’t worth it when you’re living below the breadline like that.
Supporters of Bull will say that the salary itself is the point - a gross ‘waste of taxpayers money’ that goes against what it means to be British. But it must surely grate even with Brexit Party voters that this man has the nerve to whine about his morning commute when he’s getting paid more than most will for a job he doesn’t take seriously.
This laughable attempt to cast the Brexit Party as martyrs ready to fall on Johnny Foreigner’s sword is just the latest in an ongoing saga of national embarrassment. As the big winner in the recent European elections, the Brexit Party found the confidence to take its brand of Poundland patriotism to the corridors of power in Strasbourg. The grand irony remains, of course, that these people don’t believe those corridors should exist - although, again, they will now doubtless claim to be the crusaders to Europe’s occupied Jerusalem, tearing down shrines as they munch on an all-expenses-paid lunch.
If this is what it means to be a British freedom fighter in 2019, god help us all. Churchill must be spinning in his grave.
At a Brexit Party rally the other evening, Nigel Farage entered the hall to the sound of air raid sirens. What on earth did it all mean?
What the party was getting at with this Budget Blitz Experience was not entirely clear. Were they warning the crowd of an impending strafe? Was Farage about to rain death and destruction on his sextenarian fans? Or was it a distasteful dedication to his German wife?
Who’s to say. The most likely theory is that the Brexit Party, indulging once more in Poundland patriotism, was making a crude allusion to Farage as the saviour of the British nation, equating this pinstripe pinocchio with the stoic folk and brave fighter pilots that dragged our country through some of its darkest hours in the early 1940s. A poorly thought-out and tactless gimmick, to be sure - but what more might we expect from a charlatan snake oil salesman like Farage?
For decades now Farage and his ilk have sullied the flag of the United Kingdom, rocking up in Brussels like Cosplay City boys to wave two aggressive fingers at the rest of Europe. Farage portrays himself as the Christ-like saviour of our national identity, but the man has no problem sitting down with far-right mercenaries like Steve Bannon and the Trumps when it serves his self-interested, destructive purpose. He milked the European Union for a fat salary - entirely undeserved given the number of debates and votes he didn’t bother turning up to - and now wants to milk the memory of World War Two in a pathetic attempt to garner patriotic support.
While the emotive, angry appeal of Farage and the Brexit Party may be seductive to some, it veils a darker project of division. Allusions to Britain’s past glories not only cast Farage in a dishonest and dangerous light, but they help supporters to extend the life of a British myth that holds us all back.
The Empire is finished, Britain is not a superpower and we are better working together with our neighbours for a whole host of cultural, economic and geopolitical reasons. In the Brexit example, this stark truth has fallen victim to a self-delusion of epic proportions.
At this point, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Farage don a flight jacket and goggles before leaving his rally in a recommissioned Spitfire. Fantasy is so easy, after all; why not go the whole hog?
The robots aren't coming - they're already here, says Renew's James Bryan.
“We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come - namely, technological unemployment” - John Maynard Keynes
Based on the decline of manual labour in industries ranging from automotive manufacturing to agriculture, the vast media coverage regarding the rise of automation technology, along with information on the Bank of England site, which gives a probability of losing one's job to automation, it seems Keynes had a point.
Much of the modern drive towards automation is based on advances in the field of artificial intelligence and the creation of more powerful microprocessors. Jobs which were once considered to be the exclusive domain of humanity are now regularly performed by machines. The benefits of automation technology are applicable to virtually any field that one would care to name, it is no understatement to say that data science and better technology saves lives and nowhere is this truer than in medicine. However, this also raises an important question that seems almost philosophical in nature: do jobs exist to employ or to create the output of that work?
As the field of automatable work expands, this question becomes ever more urgent and important. It is clear that the products of automation have lead to greater prosperity and efficiency on a global scale, but research and development of these technologies is an area which requires more investment and greater attention. While the question of technological unemployment does not have a clear answer yet, it is clear that the creation of new policies to deal with the fallout of job-loss on a perhaps unprecedented scale is a vital part of the equation. If this is to be done with minimal negative consequences, those with the technical expertise to understand these issues in their true depth will need to be heavily involved in this process.
If there is a lesson to be learned from how evolving technologies have shaped our political and social landscape, it is that those currently in power have failed time and again to address the implications of the misapplication of data science and artificial intelligence by actors seeking to manipulate public perception and promote their own agenda. Deepfakes, extremely realistic faked footage created using machine learning techniques, aren’t coming; they’re already here. Cambridge Analytica existed and we may never know the true scale of how effective their large-scale social engineering campaigns were.
The reality is, the robots aren’t coming. They’ve come, and these are issues which aren’t going away.
Watching the Tory leadership contenders battle it out last week could only heap despair upon despair, says Paul Gerken.
The magnitude of cognitive dissonance required when you state that schools, health and green energy must be better when you’ve spent the last decade tearing them to shreds, is incalculable. Yet here we are, standing amidst the ashes of a country that is, only for want of time, merely metaphorically burnt to the ground, listening to the ones holding the matches. We must accept that it is their next bright idea that will be inflicted on the nation. The lightbulb that shines brightest? That if we just convince the European Union that we’re crazy enough to do this no-deal, somehow we won’t have to do it.
Let us unpack the logic. Here it’s pretty simple; you can’t get the best deal unless you’re willing to walk away. We’ve all been there – you’re desperate for flip-flops after you lost on them on lash last night down the Khao San Road, but unless you’re not prepared to swivel on your cut and muddied feet and walk away, that street vendor is never going to give you a dirt cheap price. Precisely the same logic can be applied to negotiating with the world’s largest economic entity. We never actually convinced them we would walk away, Johnson and Raab argue, and therefore they’ve completely done us over with that peace in Northern Ireland bit - that would’ve never been an issue had they known we were sufficiently bonkers to destroy every trade relationship we have with the world.
Now, apparently, the £2 billion of our money that was spent precisely on no-deal contingency planning wasn’t anywhere near convincing enough. We should have actually spent more! (I guess?). However, don’t get Raab wrong, he does want a deal, and apparently stating that on TV doesn’t undermine your resolution to leave without one. So, what to do, Dominic? Do we ramp up again the contracts to ferry firms with no ferries, in this great deceit? It remains unclear. What is clear is we need the gun to our own heads, stat, starting with teary bloodshot eyes directly into the resolutely calm face of Michael Barnier.
But please, let’s take a brief moment to look at this from the other side of the table. If you’re the EU, what do you gain from planning completely, with certainty, that no-deal is going to happen? As in, not just a tactic to box the UK into a corner, but planning like it’s the best outcome? Sadly, Brexiteers, they gain everything. Let's think about this:
- The EU gains absolute certainty that it can manage any outcome.
- The EU retains the respect and solidarity of its members, proving its importance.
- The EU has learnt how to manage the withdrawal of any member correctly and efficiently so that the threat of any other member leaving is less of an existential threat to the entire organization.
- The EU cannot be threatened by the UK’s no-deal threat, rendering it completely and utterly useless.
- Considering the above, their money spent on no-deal will never be wasted, but the UK’s will.
The EU has repeatedly stated they are prepared for no-deal, and seen in this light, they would absolutely be best to. They are prepared for a no-deal, not because of our threats, but because it’s in their best interest. They are not preparing as a charade but as a reality. It is us who want the deal, and these threats to Europe are so feast-eatingly embarrassing that it does make you wonder if we have, in any corner of Westminster, the brainpower to get us out of this.
One final point of reflection on the no-deal threat to the EU: If it happens, both sides will lose something, but who loses what?
- UK loses – the terms of every single trading relationship it has with every single country in the entire world.
- EU loses – its trading relationship with the UK.
And what’s more, they’re prepared for this to happen, whilst we are simply pretending to be prepared.
And with that thought, I am seriously not sure who can help us now.
We are currently caught up in one of the largest and most momentous revolutions in human history – whether we know it yet or not. We’re living through perhaps the most fundamental transformation of our environment mankind has ever seen.
The war is not being fought with rifles, bayonets or nuclear force – this time around, the weapons of choice are big data and smart technology. Quieter maybe, but more insidious that its predecessors; the information revolution is changing the way we shop, vote, govern and even think.
We’re quickly waking up to the fact that pivotal changes are underway. But, as tends to be the case with such periods of upheaval, it’s almost impossible to say where they’re headed until they get there. With the conclusion of the digital revolution still a very long way off, we won’t be granted the luxury of hindsight as a means of understanding this change. It’s not for want of trying either – academia across disciplines is riddled with attempts to explain our new and interconnected world.
In the face of such uncertainty, we have a tendency to revert to what we know - ideas that have helped to explain the past but are no longer helpful in trying to understand the future. We see this all the time in our politics, but it often leaves us staunchly on the back foot and ill-prepared for challenges to come.
In her new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff puts forward a welcome new attempt to describe the effects of digitisation. The focus is not necessarily the workings of the Facebook/Google/Amazon clan themselves, but rather, on the ways in which they are shaping the wider context of global capitalism as we know it. Zuboff describes the new evolution of capitalism that has emerged from big tech as ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ – a system that both relies upon and utilises big data to achieve its ends.
So-called surveillance capitalists – online service providers in their myriad forms – are able to monitor the behaviour of their user bases with a remarkable degree of detail and accuracy. While many of us feel comfortably veiled in algorithmic obscurity, in reality, tech giants are covertly collecting hundreds of thousands of bytes of data each day; data which can be fed back into improving algorithms and making predictions on the behaviour of their users. Much of this happens without explicit or obvious consent.
At best, these processes contribute to service improvement, creating more user friendly interfaces and intuitive design. At worst, the acquisition of behavioural data is used to develop highly sophisticated machine intelligence capable of predicting what you will do now, soon and later. As these techniques improve, usership grows – a feedback loop which, without regulation, could continue indefinitely. Prediction techniques and their ability to influence human behaviour are already having huge implications for the political and economic landscape, creating and shaping new markets and voting behaviours at the whim of the corporations that control them.
Digital hegemony is already well-established and will become yet more deeply entrenched as data is used to facilitate its own growth. It’s becoming increasingly important to re-examine the way we look at the wider system as the power dynamics within it begin to shift.
Traditionally, economic theory has relied on the assumption that market forces are dynamic, unpredictable and ultimately unknowable. The State should refrain from attempting to regulate or constrain markets on this basis, just as agents in a market-place are free to compete with each other in mutual ignorance. But with the rise of big tech, these fundamental principles have changed. It is essential that our assumptions about markets change with them.
Global tech firms now know too much to be granted the same licence as other free market actors - after all, under their influence, markets are no longer truly free. There’s no easy fix, either - the acquisition of user data is so deeply inherent in the operations of online service providers that self-regulation would be almost impossible.
Rather, it may be time to rethink our unquestioning faith in free-market economics - if for no other reason than the fact that markets are demonstratively becoming less and less free. The governing principles of the 20th century are becoming increasingly less relevant as time progresses, and less able to cope with this rapid, systemic change.
The absence of state regulation risks the rise of insurmountable monopolies that wield too great an influence over our markets, our behaviour and our democracy. Legislation against this will no doubt be hugely challenging, but the consequences of shying away from the problem will be more challenging still.
The frequency of extreme weather events is ratcheting up, in Britain and across the world. America is coming to the end of its wettest year on record and flooding is becoming ever more commonplace across the Midwest in particular. Heatwaves are on the rise in the UK; by 2050, scientists predict that heatwaves akin to that experienced in 2018 could occur every other year.
Warmer air also means heavier and longer-lasting precipitation events, hence the patterns currently being observed across the US. If global carbon emissions continue to go unchecked, a 30% increase in rainfall in the Midwest is possible. And this won’t be without consequence; in a region still reliant on agriculture, heavy rain, sodden soil and disruption to planting and harvest seasons could have devastating effects on the local economy.
Rivers, especially those in smaller basins, are already prone to flooding and will become more so if conditions worsen. This is all too real a possibility for those living in low lying areas close to the banks. Even very large rivers like the Mississippi are unable to cope with the higher discharge brought on by heavy rain or rapid snowmelt; the Mississippi has reportedly reached historically high water marks in four of the past seven years.
Human intervention hasn’t helped. Many river channels are narrower than at any point in their history due to excessive engineering and the construction of artificial levees, ironically designed to keep flood waters at bay. A reduction in channel width combined with a higher channel flow make the sudden levee failure more likely. Devastation to the city of New Orleans following Category 5 Hurricane Katrina remains a poignant illustration of this; flash flooding following a levee collapse left the city underwater and up to 1,800 dead. Hurricanes like Katrina, too, are predicted to become stronger and more frequent as a result of climate change.
While America still has its fair share of those who doubt the severity (or even existence) of climate change, instances of extreme weather are beginning to shape attitudes for the better. A Green New Deal is now firmly on the agenda, both in Europe and the US. The Midwest, industry-heavy and generally viewed as a hotbed of climate change denial, has recently elected several governors committed to meeting emissions targets set during the Paris accords. This is in stark defiance of Trump’s pledge to pull the entire US out of the agreement.
Recent polling shows that the proportion of Americans worried about the climate has almost doubled in since 2013 and young people in particular are more concerned than ever before. Many cited direct experience of extreme weather events as having strongly influenced their views.
While awareness is undoubtedly a vital step forward in the fight against climate change, it may be too little, too late. Reaching emissions targets will require a major shift both in how we conduct our day to day lives – fewer flights, animal products and petrol-powered cars - and how our global economy functions. The latter demands strong, decisive governmental action with regards to fiscal and industrial policy; an urgent shift away from an oil economy and heavy investment in renewables and waste reduction.
Governments rarely act in the absence of incentive, though. Mounting pressure from the electorate will be essential if green policies are to make it onto the agenda and stay there. This is an area where individuals can have a profound impact on the biggest fight of our century; support for politicians and parties who make climate change the defining policy issue of their agendas will eventually produce the leaders Earth now demands.
Voters who are duly worried about the changes our climate is undergoing can no longer afford to be apathetic. That, more than any, is the message to shout from the rooftops.
If there is one thing on which we can all agree, it is that the divisions in our society have grown substantially since the Brexit referendum in 2016. While there is a great appetite for change in British politics, one need only look at the First Past The Post voting system and career politicians found in Westminster to see why this is the case.
This arbitrary and undemocratic system is a blight on British politics; it systematically and demonstrably favours larger political parties, mis-representing the political landscape of the UK and preventing dissenting voices from being heard. It is frankly absurd that we cling to such an unrepresentative system for determining the main actors in our political system. First Past The Post does have its strengths, namely that for the purposes of regional politics, an elected representative voted in directly by their constituents has a more legitimate local mandate than representatives elected under certain proportional systems.
However, this does not override the glaring flaws in this system at the level of national and international politics. One need only look at the vote shares obtained by parties in the 2017 general election and their relative representation to understand that this is the case. There is a large proportion of the public, who through being essentially politically hamstrung, have consistently been ignored and marginalised by this country’s entrenched political class. Whether we can say red and blue are dead remains questionable, and rightly so. If we maintain this system of voting, it is unlikely that those who are currently disillusioned with British politics will ever have their voices heard.
Renew seeks to change that. To ensure fair representation at the highest levels of government there is only one possible solution. We must abandon first past the post and replace it with a system of proportional representation. If there is one thing that the result of the 2016 referendum proved, it is that the British public are tired of having their freedoms eroded by a political class drunk on power, who have maintained control of Parliament through the blatant misrepresentation of the diverse political landscape of this country.
The diplomats will say we have no choice but to cosy up to Trump. Perhaps that is the UK's sad new reality, says James Dilley.
Where lies the limit of the UK’s alliances? That is the question being asked by many in the UK today as Donald Trump continues his extended state visit.
Trump and his gung-ho approach to politics needs no introduction. Sadly, neither do the bigoted positions that he has taken on many occasions in response to various people and issues, whether those are London Mayor Sadiq Khan or immigration from Mexico. Because of these traits, many, including the Opposition’s Jeremy Corbyn, have suggested that Trump should not have the red carpet rolled out for him by the British Establishment.
A pain though Trump is, it must be said that the UK’s Brexit predicament has naturally led those in government to seek to reinforce the so-called ‘special relationship’ that supposedly exists between the UK and the US. For that reason, can we really expect the Prime Minister and those around her to spurn the American president at a time when our country risks being driven out into the cold?
It should also be noted that the government has in the past entertained such crusaders of human rights and liberal politics as China’s Xi Jinping, who enjoyed a ride in a golden carriage when he visited in 2015. Ironically, there weren’t hundreds of thousands protesting on the streets then, despite China’s totalitarian approach to government, intolerance of dissenters and use of so-called ‘reeducation camps’ for the same.
So it is quite clear that diplomacy often entails deals with devils. Better those we know than those we don’t, as the phrase goes.
Yet perhaps the greatest irony in this is the fact that there are countries across the English Channel and North Sea whose leaders and people tend to concur much more strongly with our democratic and liberal values than the Chinese or even the Americans do. They nestle next to each other, bordered by Alpine ranges and Schwarz forests, parliamentary democracies with liberal constitutions and mobile populations. They are European friends and neighbours that the UK has rejected in recent years after a spurious referendum that did not provide a clear mandate for cutting those friendly ties.
So remember that even if you disagree with the UK’s treatment of Donald Trump in recent days, the diplomatic consensus will be that we have no choice. Spurners of Europe, the UK only has itself to blame if it is driven into the arms of allies who do sadly do not have its best interests at heart - as the ‘America First’ President peddling the realpolitik philosophy surely does not.
Peterborough is the stage for an all-out political fight. James Clarke takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the campaign over the weekend.
It was 10:21am on a sunny Saturday in Cathedral Square, Peterborough, when the confrontation began.
The charge was led by half a dozen turbo-charged mobility scooters, pimped out in party flags and aggressively driven by a guerilla force of extremely motivated individuals who clearly meant business. They were backed up by a large, somewhat slower-moving but ambulatory group of equally fair-skinned and mature warriors (or ‘white-walkers’ for brevity). It was an intriguing match-up of the UK’s newest two political forces; Renew’s ‘happy few’, bright eyed and carrying messages of reform and renewal versus The Brexit Party, with their stubborn, curmudgeonly determination and vast (cumulative) centuries of bitter experience.
“Thanks for splitting the vote!”, called out one venerable gentleman.
“Likewise!”, we replied.
Luckily for the good people of Peterborough, the riot police were not required, milkshakes were kept sheathed and the Werthers Originals remained unspat. Renew lives on to fight another day and the Brexiters went off for a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
Much has been made of the emergence of the Brexit Party and what it means for the future of UK politics. There are two ways of thinking about this. One is that their existence heralds a new era of nationalism, populism and even some new form of British fascism, and that the party is seeking to normalise these ideologies in the guise of defending Brexit and democracy.
Another (perhaps hopeful) view is that the mass mobilisation of generally decent, older people may serve to temper the extremes of the English Defence League, UKIP, Tommy Robinson crew. It’s important to note that there is a real distinction in the tone and age of the two groups. Whilst the Robinson rallies are attended by small numbers of people who would otherwise be sharpening 50p coins or paying late-night visits to Jewish cemeteries, The Brexit party activists are far larger in number and would otherwise be doing the garden.
What we are witnessing may be the start of an overdue transition away from two-party red vs. blue politics in this country. It’s not hard to imagine a great cleavage on the horizon, a realignment where the right-wing of the Tory party coalesce with The Brexit Party to form a closed, nationalist, populist party and the moderate wing of Labour join the Lib Dems and other Remain parties to form an open, progressive and centrist grouping.
This by-election has quite an odd feel to it. The ‘resurgent’ Lib Dems are nowhere to be seen, the lesser-spotted Tory is even lesser-spotted than usual. Labour have been extremely sheepish (for some very good reasons indeed) and the Greens are hiding in foliage.
Next Thursday, the people of Peterborough may gain the unwelcome distinction of being the first constituency to return a Brexit Party MP to Westminster. But the town may also go down as the place where Conservative and Labour’s decades-long and undeserved dominance received its first mortal blow.
The political system itself is breaking apart - and fast - before our eyes. Throw your rules and assumptions about voting patterns out of the window. Brexit has ushered in an entirely new era of politics. Ciara Murray offers her analysis.
The latest YouGov Westminster voting intention polls have reflected the results of the European Elections. The Liberal Democrats and The Brexit Party, on 24% and 22% respectively, outpace the traditional parties. Labour and the Conservatives are left in the dust at 19% each. While many speculated on Labour and the Tories’ eventual demise owing to their spectacular incompetence these last years, many do not truly believe that Britain would put their money where their mouth is and vote to put them out of office. They are wrong.
While such a phenomenon has occurred before for the Lib Dems - during Cleggmania in 2010, the Lib Dems climbed to the top of the polls and dropped back down on election day -, this is the first time in decades that two smaller parties have outranked Labour and the Conservatives in both an international election as well as in national polling. And there are of course the local elections...
What does this show? It is evidence to suggest that the British people are no longer happy to offer their support to the traditional parties out of blind allegiance and loyalty. Brexit has awoken the British electorate from its political apathy, driving millions to action online, in the streets, on doorsteps - and now in the polling booth. Labour and the Tories’ behaviour - over Brexit, over allegations of racism, over their own internal squabbling - has pushed their loyal bases too far. They have taken advantage, have assumed blind loyalty, have acted with wholly undeserved entitlement and have not listened to the people they claim to represent, despite their cries to be heard. Their members, their supporters, their voters have received nothing in return, at a time when they are more charged than ever. So they have left. Now they are turning en masse to alternative voices who are claiming to offer change.
However, are these parties the anti-establishment forces they paint themselves as being? The Liberal Democrats are emerging from their near-total annihilation after the Tory coalition with its austerity and tuition fees catastrophes. However, for almost three years after the Brexit referendum they did not make any headway or impact with their Remain message, despite being the only party (at the time) who unequivocally backed staying in the EU. Members left in droves, dismayed at their complacency and lack of action at a time when they should have been dominating the discourse to counter the Brexit-peddling Tories, Labour, and UKIP. They kicked themselves into gear three weeks before the European elections on the back of positive local election results. But these punctual waves of energy are unusual - the natural state of the Lib Dems since the referendum has been insignificance.
The Brexit Party is a rehashed UKIP serving as a vehicle for Nigel Farage’s ego, whose UKIP failed to win a single Westminster seat in the 20 plus years of their existence and their near-total domination of political discourse. While they have tapped into a legitimate anti-establishment and pro-Brexit sentiment, they offer nothing new and apart from a pro-Brexit stance, they do not have any other policies as yet. While they have distanced themselves successfully from UKIP’s far-right ideology, when the time comes to create policies, values, and political positions, will they follow the values Farage has espoused for his entire career: anti-immigration, anti-diversity, anti-Muslim, anti-women far-right ideology? With the equally right-wing Anne Widdecombe as their most seasoned political representative, it seems likely.
The people are hungry for change and they are voting for the parties with the biggest imprint available who seem to offer it. Within this renewed landscape, there is an opportunity to present the British public with the real alternative to the current system - smaller parties from people outside politics who also want to radically reform the system. Britain wants radical change - Renew’s lifeblood is to dismantle the old power structures and put the British people in the driving seat of their country. Now is the time to take up space, shore up support at this moment of energy and hope. Renew is the change Britain wants - the polls and the elections prove it.