Tuesday, 18 April 2017

General Election 2017: Not another one

This morning the biggest news story for me was discovering that Harry Redknapp had been appointed the new Birmingham City manager following the nightmare that was GianFranco Zola.

That story was soon trumped by the announcement by Teresa May that there will be another General Election on the 8 June.

I have to admit I was quite excited when I heard there was going to be an announcement at 11:15 and I will enjoy election night but I'm not looking forward to another 7 weeks of political debate.

I get why we're having an election. The Conservatives have a huge lead over Labour in the polls and it makes political sense to go to the polls and strengthen the majority. I've read loads of opinion pieces about how this is a cynical ploy by the Conservative Party. A staggering U-turn by Teresa May. Personally I just think it's good politics.

We know the Conservative Party are going to win the election, it's simply a question on how big the majority will be. This is really the Brexit vote part II.

I'm more interested in seeing how the Labour Party will do. They certainly can't win this election and I fully expect them to dip below 200 seats. Anything below 170 will be an absolute disaster. Jeremy Corbyn may still have large support from Labour Party members but it's clear that the electorate at large do not see him as a potential Prime Minister.

Even when the inevitable happens and Labour loses, I'm not convinced he will step down as leader. Despite what he might say, the real aim of Jeremy Corbyn is to change the Labour Party and ensure that the Left maintain control. When he loses, his supporters will ensure that he is not held responsible for the defeat. It will because of disloyal 'Blairite' MPs and the hostile media!

We should see a Liberal Democrat revival. With only 9 MPs the only way is up and I can see them increasing their numbers in Parliament to between 25 - 40 seats. The great selling point for the Lib Dems are that they avidly pro Europe and will appeal to those Remain voters who are seeking a 'soft Brexit'

I don't really see the point of UKIP anymore and don't expect them to have any seats after 8 June while in Scotland the SNP will continue their dominance.

After the initial excitement of hearing the General Election declaration, I do understand those people who feel a sense of election fatigue. I just want the election to happen now. We know what the result is likely to be, I'm more interested in the election fallout.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Article 50: One small victory

For those of us who voted Remain in the EU referendum we may have lost the war but there are still lots of smaller battles to be won.

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision on article 50 felt like a small victory for Remain voters. The decision means the government can't trigger Article 50 without approval from Parliament.

As expected critics have labelled the decision as some sort of attempt to thwart the will of the British people and Gina Miller the woman who started the legal fight to get Parliament to vote on the act has received some horrific abuse and threats.

Like many people who voted remain I accept we are leaving the EU, I don't feel I need to pretend that I like it but I've come to terms with it. What hasn't been decided is how we leave and the process and debate involved.

Brexit supporters love to go on about how the British people have decided to leave the EU but the way this narrative is presented you would think that over 75% of people voted to leave rather than the small majority of 52% who voted for Brexit.

There are still millions of people who did not want to leave the EU and it's right that their views and opinion on the type of Brexit we have are heard. This is the role Parliament should be taking and Parliament should play a role in representing all of the electorate and properly debating and scrutinising the terms and conditions by which we leave the EU.

In these anti-establishment, anti-politician times that we live in too many people seem to think a vote for Brexit is the beginning and end of the matter. The people have spoken and we need to get on with it!

Well it might upset quite a lot of leave voters but we do still live in a parliamentary democracy. The referendum was a simple in/out question. We voted out but the terms and conditions on how we leave are up for debate.

It's only right that Parliament are involved, I've had quite enough of 'direct democracy'. The reason we have MPs is precisely for such occasions, the effects of Brexit will be felt for decades to come and how we leave needs to be debated and assessed properly.

It looks as if we're heading for a 'Hard Brexit' something many people did not vote for. My hope is that before Article 50 is triggered we arrive at a deal that better reflects the views of the electorate. Of course I know this will be difficult. Brexit is arguably the most divisive issue I've experienced living in the UK.

With more than 6 months now gone since the referendum result, I'm quite happy to admit that my disappointment and anger has only increased. I would say it's now bordering on a loathing for what I feel Brexit represents.

There's no doubt in my mind that individually and as a nation we will be poorer but for some the bigger issue is controlling borders.

Immigration is a fact of life, the country needs some for immigration. The volume and type of immigration (particularly in certain parts of the country) is the real issue.

But for me it's not just the economic and financial impact of Brexit that I'm opposed to, there's the cultural issues that Brexit represents. It's a kind of arrogance where the UK feels it can turn its back on its nearest neighbours, unwilling to make concessions and accept rules of membership of a club. Instead we will go out into the world and believe we can have all these great trade deals with the rest of the world which will always be in our favour.

Brexiteers will hate my analysis but I simply don't care.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Donald Trump and the Divided States of America

It hasn't been a good week for those of us who consider ourselves to be liberal progressives types.

On Friday Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. It feels if we're heading on journey into the unknown which you know is going to get very bumpy in places.

In the analysis following Trump's inauguration we're told how America is a divided nation but they say this after every US election when a new President is elected.

We've seen demonstrations in Washington and in cities across the world protesting against the rhetoric and language that Donald Trump as displayed throughout the election campaign and during the run up to him taking office.

I've realised that this is what happens in US politics. I remember in the 90s when Bill Clinton was in office. The Republican Party went into melt down in opposition to him. In 2000, Democrats and Liberals were outraged as George Bush won the election after winning the state of Florida which was too close to call.

In 2008 many celebrated the election of Barack Obama as America's first black president, but again conservatives were immediately hostile with some claiming he was illegitimate as President as he supposedly wasn't born in America

This is American politics and America in a nutshell, split down the middle between liberal and conservative America. Both sides descending into hostility and outrage when the other occupies the Presidency.

Will Donald Trump unite this divided nation? Of course he won't. He's too much of a divisive figure for that to happen and I expect the next four years to be pretty hostile from both sides of the political divide.

What to expect from a Trump Presidency

With Trump now in power I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when his rhetoric and bravado comes face to face with the realities of domestic politics and international relations.

It's easy to come out with slogans like, 'lets make America great again' and 'America first' but actually delivering on such statements is the real hard part.

Perhaps it's just me, but I don't get carried away with politicians telling me how they're going to change the world, or are going to make things great again. I look back to 2008 when Obama was elected. I was genuinely excited and optimistic. He spoke about how 'change had come to America'. I listened to political commentators tell me how we were now entering a 'post-racial' world.

Eight years later what real radical change did Obama bring? He didn't change America and as for a post-racial world if that was truly the case we wouldn't have the need for a Black Lives matter movement. This isn't a criticism of Obama, I'm just stating the point that the rhetoric and ideals espoused by politicians rarely matches reality.

This is what will happen with Donald Trump. Bringing back manufacturing jobs to the US from other countries is going to be incredibly difficult. Having a protectionist policy towards trade is unlikely to reap the benefits of making America great again.

As leader of the United States you still have a great deal of power and influence but I just don't believe that Presidents and elected officials can have the power and influence to change everything in the ways that we sometimes hope as voters.

If there is one defining feeling I have about Donald Trump it's the feeling of entering the unknown. We're in uncharted waters with his election. This could be a car crash waiting to happen. Something tells me it won't be as bad as some are predicting but a Donald Trump presidency will never be one in which I can truly feel comfortable with.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 A Year in Review

Well it's New Year's Eve and I thought I'd better write a few thoughts on 2016. It's been a dramatic year both globally and for me personally.

When I reflect on 2016, I immediately think of political upheaval and celebrity deaths. It's a strange combination but when you consider the biggest news stories have been the likes of Brexit, Donald Trump becoming US President alongside the endless list of musicians, actors, sports stars and writers who have died this year, I can't think of any other stories that have dominated the year.

As we approach 2017 I don't think I've felt a greater level of uncertainty about the world I'm living in. As a history graduate I know certain years have a lasting historical importance. 1848 a year of political revolutions across Europe, 1914 and the outbreak of World War One, 1945 the end of the Second World War, 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Will 2016 have the same historical relevance?

What's clear is that political, economic, social and cultural forces have been evolving for a number of years and the fallout from these forces has been evident throughout 2016.

When you look at Brexit and the success of Donald Trump it's been widely interpreted as a 'peoples revolt' against the elite, the establishment and the negative consequences of globalisation.

As someone who voted Remain and was against Trump's Presidential bid, I have no interest in voting for this supposed revolt. I understand many people are unhappy about the status quo which for a lot of people is no longer working for them. But I'm sceptical that this rise in anti establishment populism will some how solve many of the issues and challenges that we currently face.

Phrases like 'take back control' and 'lets make America great again' ultimately mean nothing. I never thought of myself as being an establishment sort but given the alternative that's being presented I'd rather be part of the establishment.

The world is a complex and difficult place and easy rhetoric and slogans are unlikely to solve many the big issues that we face in the 21st Century. I have a feeling that many of the people who were happy to give their respective establishments a kicking will find themselves being disappointed by the populist response in the forthcoming years.

Celebrity deaths

Famous people and celebrities die every year just like ordinary people but there's been something different about 2016 and the number of so many significant figures.

I found myself surprised by my level of feelings for certain celebrities. In January we said goodbye to David Bowie. Out of all this year's celebrity deaths I would say Bowie's had the biggest impression on me. When you think about Britain's biggest and most iconic rock and pop stars from the 1960s and 70s, David Bowie was my favourite artist.

You simply can't imagine the history of British pop and rock without him. As is the way in these situations you start to look back on an artist's back catalogue. I decided to download two of Bowie's 70s albums Young Americans (his blue eyed soul era) and Low, part of the famous Berlin trilogy.

If Bowie is one of my favourite British artists, than Prince is one of my favourite American artists. I always have and always will love the versatility of Prince. Rock, pop, soul, funk, jazz, he could do it all. Another artist whose music defines my musical upbringing.

Finally I was shocked and saddened George Michael's sudden death last week. Another artist whose music defined an era for those of use who grew up in the 80s. An incredibly talented artist who know that he's gone, I'm reminded of what a talented singer and song writer he was. I downloaded his 1996 album Older in memory. A great album.

In sport we lost Muhammad Ali and Johan Cruff. Ali is the most iconic and I think the most significant sports star of the 20th century. His achievements as a boxer and sportsman stand alone but his greatness comes also from the kind of person he was and his impact and influence on the public's consciousness.

As for Cruyff, how can any true football fan not love Cruyff the player and his managerial legacy that lives on with Barcelona. The true legend of the game.

Those are just some of the celebrities whose passing had an impact on me. I'm sure you and everyone else will have your own personal memories for people whose career had some influence and relevance to your life.

It doesn't matter whether we personally knew these people, their deaths remind us of the influence of popular culture. As our societies become more fragmented and individualist. TV, film, music and sport provide us with forms of art that we can experience and consume on a collective basis.

The music we listen to, the sports, films, and tv we watch help define who we are as people and when those individuals who have helped create the cultural experience die it naturally has an effect on us.

2016: My own personal experience

2016 has been the most significant year of my life due to the fact that my Dad passed away on the 15 February.

The sense of sadness that overwhelms me just by typing the last sentence is huge. My Dad had been ill for 12 months and had spent 2 and half months in hospital in 2015 as he was treated for kidney failure and blood cancer.

At the beginning of 2016 I knew it was unlikely that he would survive the year. On the day he died I remember sitting in his hospital room with him lying lifeless on the bed next to me. I remember thinking 'how have we reached this point so quickly?' Life passes by so quickly as you get older.

I'm grateful and happy that my Dad was in my life from day one and that I never went more than two months without seeing him. I think about him everyday.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Donald Trump: A great leap into the unknown

For the second time this year, I went to bed quietly expecting a national vote to go one way only to wake up the next morning and discover it went the opposite way to what I hoped for.

Although I'm shocked and disappointed by Donald Trump's election victory it doesn't compare to how upset I felt after the Brexit result.

I understand and recognise that many of the same forces that led to Brexit are behind Donald Trump's election win. My main feelings over the last couple of days have been one of general uncertainty.

What does the future hold for America and the world with Donald Trump as President? It's this uncertainty that I find uncomfortable to deal with.

I've written about this before in earlier blogs and what's clear is that there is a growing movement and revolt against establishment politicians and global elites. Donald Trump becoming President is the biggest reaction against this.

We constantly hear about those people who feel left behind by the effects of globalisation, the disappearance of well paying manufacturing jobs in places like the American Mid-West and the North of England. People who feel the elites and establishments in London, and the East and West Coasts of the US don't understand or are interested in their lives.

Many people quite rightly feel that the system is no longer working for them anymore. I get this I just don't believe that Trump will have the answers to many of the problems and frustrations many people feel.

I know I'm not the only person who assumed his leadership bid would simply run out of steam, that it was a bad joke that wound eventually stop being funny but it's no longer a joke, Donald Trump will be the next President.

In terms of him implementing many of his policies, I'm convinced that when faced with the day to day realities of government some of his policy statements will either be abandoned or severely limited. The Wall along the Mexican border - surely that cannot happen?

I might be overly optimistic in saying I don't think Trump's Presidency will be quite the nightmare that many of us think it will be but at the same time it's not going to be great.

His election victory says a number of things about how America sees itself, both at home and abroad but also how we in the West choose to deal with many of the social and political challenges that lie ahead.

The outcome of Brexit and the US Presidential election tell me that the forces of reactionary right wing populism are on the rise. That in dealing with our challenges means that we become a nations more insular, fearful or hostile to others. That we're happy not to try and change the system to make things better but instead we'll smash the system up completely regardless of the consequences.

I feel deeply uncomfortable with the way things are going? What worries me is that Brexit and President elect Trump is simply the start of a domino process. We have elections coming up in the next 18 months in France, Germany and Italy.

Are we going to see a similar anti establishment backlash in those countries? Certainly in France the political climate appears ripe for Marie Le Pen's National Front to make major gains.

I feel that in historical terms we're coming to the end of an era in history. Since the end of the Second World War. We've seen countries come to together both economically, politically and militarily to ensure future peace and prosperity. The problem is that this consensus of free trade, the movement of goods people and capital around the world. Political and economic unions like NATO and the EU are in danger of breaking up as a result of these anti establishment forces.

After reading and listening to all the analyse on Donald Trump, part of me feels it can't be as bad as we think it's going to be but what I am concerned about is the future of international relations and the prevailing thoughts and values that are emerging.

Eight years ago Barack Obama was elected the first African American President. Rarely have I felt so much optimism, even though expectations on Obama were ridiculously high. After this week's Trump victory never have I felt so much pessimism.