Category Archives: Politics

Theresa May resigned. There must be a general election

After the 2015 election, I appeared on a political web show as an American journalist covering the British elections. When discussion turned to who would succeed David Cameron, I stated that “after a nuclear holocaust there would be cockroaches and Theresa May.” I wasn’t trying to compare the then-Home Secretary to a cockroach, but rather comment on her staying power. She is the longest serving Home Secretary in more than a century. She seemed an unstoppable force.

Then she became Prime Minister. Number 10—or perhaps more accurately, Brexit—proved the boot which finally crushed her political career. Theresa May has been an abysmal Prime Minister, losing the Tory majority in an ill-planned (for the Conservatives, anyway) 2017 general election and being utterly unable to unite a country deeply divided on Brexit. Indeed, her premiership will be remembered more for tinned soundbites (“Brexit means Brexit,” “strong and stable”) than any actual accomplishments.

Now, a bevvy of unsavoury characters (Boris Johnson, Andera Leadsom, etc) are poised to fight out a tumultuous Conservative leadership contest. The winner will ultimately lead the country out of the European Union. But they shouldn’t, at least, not simply by ascending to Number 10. They must have a mandate from the people, and that means the new Prime Minister must call a general election.

To be certain, technically, they don’t have to call an election. John Major didn’t go to the country until nearly two years after he succeeded Margaret Thatcher. Gordon Brown took nearly three years after he took over from Tony Blair. The next election doesn’t have to be held until 2022.

Certainly, there are sound arguments against calling an election. The country is already in tumult thanks to Brexit. A general election could add to the chaos, especially if the voters return a hung parliament (that is, no party has a clear majority). We more-or-less know what a Conservative Prime Minister will deliver (most likely, a no-deal Brexit), but simply by virtue of being in opposition, we know less what Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn might negotiate.

But here’s what we know. The next Tory leader will likely be an arch-Brexiteer. The Brexiteers campaigned on returning sovereignty to the British people. How, then, can they possibly justify a Prime Minister with no mandate from the people leading the country out of the European Union?

To be sure, there are plenty of constitutional arguments to make this point null and void. Technically, Prime Ministers aren’t directly elected (well, not by anyone but their constituents, who elect them as an MP). The Conservatives are still the largest party. The Westminster system is functioning as it ought to.

All of this is true, but it betrays a more basic fact. Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, and those who campaigned to leave the EU did so in large part because of the “unelected” EU making decisions on behalf of the UK and that these decisions should be made by the British parliament, elected by the British people. How, then, can the most monumental peacetime decision be, if not made, than certainly executed by someone to whom the British people never had a chance to say aye?

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have already tweeted their support for a general election. The new Leader of the Conservative Party must follow suit. If Brexit is about democracy—both being restored and being honoured—they would be hypocrites not to.

Advertisements

Skylar’s First Impressions of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates

Watching the Sunday shows this morning, it occurred to me that I haven’t really commented on the 2020 election. That’s mostly because I think it’s stupid to talk about something that won’t happen until January 2020 in June 2019. I hate America’s perpetual election cycle.

But as I get back into political writing, it behoves me to get up-to-date with the coming election. So, in alphabetical order, here is my first impression of each candidate for the Democratic nomination:

  • Mike Bennett, Senator from Colorado – No name recognition. Who is he going to appeal to that someone better-known won’t? I can’t imagine him getting a lot of traction. Imagine he’ll drop out early
  • Joe Biden, former Vice President from Delaware – Seems to be the frontrunner right now, running as the “beat Trump” candidate. Name recognition, veep to a beloved president, blue collar appeal and a helluva politician. Plus, he really wants this. Like, you don’t know. Joe Biden has wanted to be president since he was an embryo. The one to beat.
  • Cory Booker, Senator from New Jersey – he once saved a person from a fire. Turned Newark around. Pretty cool backstory. But he’s not the most progressive, and in a field where Biden is going to run as the moderate, how does he really distinguish himself? Could win big in South Carolina if Black voters turn on Kamala Harris for her record of incarcerations or don’t warm to Biden – but that last one is a big if
  • Steve Bullock, Governor of Montana – Running as a Washington outsider, which is a pretty smart strategy considering how many of these candidates are senators, congresspeople, or former members of the executive branch (or all three, in the case of Joe Biden). Could bring that salt-of-the-earth heartland vibe that resonates with voters in Iowa, and could do well as a fellow westerner in Nevada. But I don’t know much about his record. Still a longshot – though worth noting that governors historically do better winning the presidency than vice presidents or senators
  • Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana – I’ve been a fan of Mayor Pete for years, and endorsed him from DNC chair in 2017. But is he ready to be president? Yes, he did wonders for unemployment in South Bend and helped save a dying city. He’s young (if elected, he’d be the first Millennial president, and the youngest full stop). He’s good looking. His husband—yes, husband—has a cracking social media game. Would be the first openly gay president (second gay president; RIP President Buchanan). Refreshingly, that could be a benefit and not a hindrance in a primary. In a general election, is America ready to vote for a gay president? I don’t know. And more pressingly, is being the mayor of a small city qualification enough for the Oval Office? And will Democrats go for a moderate like Pete when Biden’s in the race? He’s probably seen his moment in the sun already this cycle, but could be a dark horse worth watching
  • Julian Castro, former Secretary of HUD from Texas – the less exciting of the Castro brothers. I don’t have much to say here. Could surprise people in Nevada, but I don’t see him as a top-tier candidate
  • Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, New York – from what I understand, New York City hates him. Why wouldn’t America? He’s a progressive who I probably agree with more than anyone else as far as policy goes, but I just don’t see him as a serious contender
  • John Delaney, Congressman from Maryland – seriously, who? I know nothing about this man
  • Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman from Hawaii – Thank u, next
  • Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator from New York – I once said that if Kirsten Gillibrand ran for president I would quit my job and work on her campaign. I haven’t done that, and her campaign has failed to take off the way many thought it would. I’m not saying there’s a correlation here, but… in all seriousness, though, don’t underestimate Kirsten Gillibrand. She’s probably the fiercest proponent of women’s rights and really shined when #MeToo took off, especially in condemning Bill Clinton’s behaviour in the 1990s and before. That took guts. With abortion becoming the issue of the summer, expect her profile—and prospects—to rise
  • Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska – perineal candidate. Has about as much a chance as an Alaskan snowball’s chance in hell
  • Kamala Harris, Senator from California – Kamala, more than anyone, deserves to debate Donald Trump. It would be amazing. She’d show him for the moron he is. But she hasn’t taken off the way I thought she would. That might be because voters are turned off by her record as Attorney General of California, where she was known for locking up low-level drug offenders. In the era of Black Lives Matter and prison abolitionism, that’s not a good look. Still, don’t count her out
  • John Hickenlooper, former Governor of Colorado – If Joe Biden wasn’t in the race, I’d say John Hickenlooper would be the one to watch. A plain-talking white man from middle America is usually a shoo-in for presidential nominations, but Hickenlooper is stuck in the shadow of Biden, and so similar to Bullock that they could split the same voters
  • Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington – Running on the climate, Inslee could capture Millennial and Gen-Z voters, the oldest of whom will be able to vote for the first time in 2020. But is it enough? If he gets a high-profile endorsement (say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), he could see some wind in his sails. But that’s a big “if,” I think. Another western governor means he’s competing with Hickenlooper and Bullock
  • Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota – her announcement speech was the stuff of legend, given during a snowstorm in a brutal Minnesota winter, but it was overshadowed with accusations she bullies her staff. Leaving aside the sexist notion that women asserting authority are bullies (and not at all commenting on the accusations, as I’ve not researched them enough to know if that’s what’s at play here), Klobuchar just hasn’t distinguished herself in this field. It’s early days, but again, if voters want a moderate, Joe Biden seems to be their choice. Klobuchar could find herself running for veep.
  • Wayne Messam, Mayor of Miramar, Florida – lol who?
  • Seth Moulton, Congressman from Massachusetts – a decorated war hero (he’s an Iraq veteran), Seth Moulton is a young, telegenic candidate who could surprise us all. His service to his country and dashing good looks stand in stark contrast to Donald Trump, who risks looking like Nixon debating Kennedy, except without the Nixonian brain (if the Nixonian instincts for corruption). But does anyone know who Seth Moulton is? No, not outside political junkies and his constituents – and the latter is iffy given American apathy. Might not be his time, but watch his star rise
  • Beto O’Rourke, former Congressman from Texas – Oh Beto. We barely knew thee. Could surprise us, but I think he’s more likely to go back and fight a statewide Texas race sometime in the near future. I don’t think his political career is over, but I don’t think he’s going to win the nomination. Not this time.
  • Tim Ryan, Congressman from Ohio – Good Democrat, but I can’t think of anything that distinguishes him from the others in the field
  • Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont – Wish he’d go away. HE’S NOT EVEN A DEMOCRAT. But he could win, and to my mind is the biggest threat to Biden. I’m closer to Sanders’ politics than Bidens’, but something about him irks me. I think it’s that HE’S NOT EVEN A DEMOCRAT and won’t join the party unless we let him lead it. Still, voters like him and he has the wind in his sails from 2016 which could propel him to the nomination. (Watching a debate between him and Trump would be like nails on a chalkboard, though, both of them so gruff and brash)
  • Eric Swalwell, Congressman from California – Staple on MSNBC, but beyond that, not much of a national profile. One of the fiercest critics of Trump in the House, Swalwell could benefit if the House impeaches Trump, but considering Biden’s running on the “gotta-beat-Trump” platform, I don’t think that’ll be enough
  • Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts – Elizabeth Warren could beat Joe Biden. She’s got the background and expertise and record to take him on when it comes to financial regulation, consumer rights, and all the things progressives don’t like about Joe Biden. She’s extremely popular in the Democratic Party and has every chance of winning this nomination. Can she beat Trump? No idea. But she would certainly be a stark contrast – an intelligent, educated Harvard professor who campaigns for the little people against a dumb, ignorant con artist who didn’t pay his workers
  • Marianne Williamson, activist from California – Umm, do I know you?
  • Andrew Yang, entrepreneur from New York – Not really familiar with him. Know some of my friends are really excited about him. Concerningly, they’re kind of conservative or libertarian leaning, which leads me to think he’s not my ideal candidate. Cute though

 

What do you think of the 2020 field? Can anybody beat Biden? Will there be a dark horse who emerges in the debates? Or in the early primaries and caucuses? Is it too early to talk about any of this? Leave your comments below!

Donald Trump is wrong to cut foreign aid

trump sotu

Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address last night on Capitol Hill. Photo: CBS News

Hell hath no fury like Donald Trump scorned. He is still smarting over nearly every nation in the world voting to condemn his decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and it has now translated into policy. Last night, the President pledged last night to cut foreign aid to countries which oppose American foreign policy.

Immediately #MAGA Twitter applauded the news. Retired Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin – who currently serves as Vice President for the far-right Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group – called the news “phenomenal” in a tweet. “American dollars must support American interests,” he said.

Anyone with even the faintest idea of international politics ought to know that’s exactly what foreign aid does, though. This isn’t free money for ungrateful poor countries, which is how Trump and his acolytes frame it. Foreign aid is vital to American interests.

The Chinese know this. Beijing is investing in Africa at a record pace, building infrastructure and providing economic aid while Trump calls its nation’s “shitholes.” Instead of insulting them, he ought to be looking to see how he can help them and make allies out of them. Considering the West’s history of carving up the continent, direct investment in their security and stability and humanitarian aid is a great place to start.

If not for the altruistic goal of improving the lives of some of the world’s most impoverished people, we ought to do it for our own national security. Throughout West Africa, US aid helped to contain and eradicate Ebola before it had a chance to spread outside the region, including to the United States.

Providing money to fight disease, combat terrorism, and feed those in need is a great way to win the hearts of populations we desperately need on our side and to prevent the spread of terrorism. In Nigeria, US aid has “provide[s] life-saving humanitarian assistance and transitional programs for stabilisation” against Boko Haram, an offshoot of ISIS which last year killed four American soldiers. But don’t take my word for it – that’s a direct quote from the US State Department.

The State Department has an entire website dedicated to showing the American people just how their tax dollars our being spent abroad, and its both enlightening and sobering reading. It specifically mentions the “deteriorating situation in Syria and instability in Iraq” – where ISIS operates – in explaining the need for $3.8 million in foreign aid it plans to give Turkey this fiscal year for “training in the detection of illicit weapons, improved licensing procedures, and enhanced border controls.” This is chump change compared to the $87 million the US is giving to Mexico, which the State Department says “continues to be a strong partner of the initiatives that complement the United States’ programs to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America.”

Even the Red Hats can surely applaud that goal. It is an irrefutable fact that part of the reason people from Central America migrate to the US is the instability in their own countries, whether due to cartel violence or economic insecurity. These are countries in America’s own backyard, and whether the isolationists – or even the President – want to admit it or not, their stability is tied to our own stability.

We have a vested interest in the success of other nations, even if they don’t always kotow to Trump. Regardless of how much the President and his cronies want to deny it, we live in a globalised world where American interests are directly tied to the interests of other countries. This fact doesn’t stop just because Trump doesn’t like the way our allies vote at the UN.

Friends sometimes disagree, but that doesn’t mean that we should turn our backs on them. When Margaret Thatcher went to war against Argentina to protect the Falklands, the Reagan administration vehemently disagreed – but American didn’t turn its back on Britain. When America invaded Grenada, Thatcher was furious, but Britain still stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us.

Invasions and war makes a UN resolution seem like small potatoes. It really illustrates just how petty Trump is and how utterly clueless the isolationists lauding his decision to cut foreign aid to those who disagree with his policies are. They are throwing a temper tantrum that puts America’s own national security and interests at risk. We can afford foreign aid. We can’t afford that.

Skylar Baker-Jordan runs “The Curious American.” His writing has appeared at The Independent, HuffPostUK, The Daily Dot, The Advocate, and elsewhere. He is a contributing editor at THEGAYUK Magazine. He lives in Chicago.

“Roseanne” could be just the show we need – if ABC does it right

AMES MCNAMARA, SARA GILBERT, LAURIE METCALF, EMMA KENNEY, JAYDEN REY, ROSEANNE BARR, MICHAEL FISHMAN, JOHN GOODMAN, LECY GORANSON, SARAH CHALKE

The cast of ABC’s Roseanne, which returns on 27 March

I love Roseanne. A show about a working class white family in downstate Illinois, it has long been one of my favourites. I remember watching it with my family as a child and have seen every episode at least twice as an adult. I can quote many episodes by heart. It spoke to me and my upbringing as a working-class kid in Ohio and Kentucky. In the Conner’s, I saw a reflection of my own family. It’s no surprise then that I was thrilled to hear the show was returning, 20 years after it went off the air.

But Roseanne Barr is a Trump supporter, and as revealed at the Television Critics’ Association up-fronts this week, so now is her character.  “I’ve always tried to have it be a true reflection of the society we live in. Half the people voted for Trump and half didn’t. It’s just realistic,” she said about the decision to have the Conner family split between Hillary and Trump voters, adding (incorrectly) that it was working class white people who elected Trump.

Predictably, this has led many fans of the original series to boycott the reboot. I understand the sentiment. Roseanne’s politics repulse me. If I want to see a Trump apologist I’d turn on Fox News. To say that both Roseanne Barr’s and Roseanne Conner’s support for that sunburnt sasquatch hasn’t diminished my joy and tainted my love for the show would be a lie.

During the show’s first iteration Roseanne Conner was a strident, if unintentional, feminist who broke the mould of what a woman could and should be on TV. She led a union walkout at her factory. She started her own business with her sister, mother, and best friend. She insisted her children not be hampered by gender norms, in one memorable scene telling daughter Darlene that a baseball glove was a girl’s thing if a girl used it.  She dealt with racism, sexism, and domestic violence – both addressing her own physical abuse as a child and her sister Jackie’s abuse by her boyfriend. She had gay and lesbian friends and even threw a same-sex wedding years before the idea gained mainstream acceptance, even amongst gay rights activists.

The Roseanne Conner of yesteryear would never tolerate someone who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. In fact, some of that old progressive spark seems to be alive in the reboot. Sara Gilbert, the openly lesbian actress who plays Darlene, is a producer. Her character’s son, Mark, will be a gender non-conforming boy who wears dresses. And Michael Fishman’s character DJ’s daughter is a Black girl named Mary, after her great-great grandmother. (No word on whether Mary’s mom will appear.)

So it’s hard to see how the character could come to such a wildly different worldview today than she had in 1997. Barr didn’t offer much in the way of explanation at the up-fronts, which leaves a lot of old fans like me very sceptical that this show is going to be anything other than a platform for Barr to espouse her weird conspiracy theories and unabashed support for the orange oppressor.

That the show would tackle Trump is hardly surprising, though. Roseanne takes place in the fictional small town of Lanford, Illinois – an exurb of Chicago smack dab in the middle of the Rust Belt. It’s this region of the country which seems to be the strongest bastion of Trump support (it was certainly the region that handed him the White House), and a lot of the issues the series dealt with in the 1980s and 1990s – low and stagnant wages, factory closings, un- and underemployment, community blight – are issues which many more communities in the Great Lakes states are experiencing today.

It’s easy to believe most people in Lanford would be Trump voters. Indeed, when announcing the return of the series last year, ABC President Channing Dungey said she wanted to “bring back a point of view that has really been missing on the air,” citing Trump voters as the show’s target demographic. What better family to speak to the white working class than the iconic Conner clan? I doubt they’re watching shows like Fresh of the Boat or blackish. And the Conners are the antithesis of the Pritchetts and Dunphys on Modern Family.

So ABC has brought back the Conners, which by all reports is a family divided. Word out of the TCA up-front is that Jackie (played by the remarkable Laurie Metcalfe) hasn’t spoken to her sister Roseanne in a year because of the latter’s support for Trump. (Stills released by the network show Jackie dressed in a “nasty woman” shirt and pink pussy hat.) Far be it from me to argue this isn’t realistic or relevant. I’ve written about my own feuding family a couple times, including how I haven’t spoken to my sister since the 2016 election. There’s artistic merit in exploring this critical moment in our history with a sitcom, much like Norman Lear did with the Vietnam War in All in the Family.

Of course, loveable bigot Archie Bunker always got his comeuppance and frequently realised he was on the wrong side of history. My fear, though, is that the Conners are going to be used by Barr to excuse the bigotry latent in support for Trump. You must tolerate and to a degree embrace the misogyny, racism, and xenophobia of Donald Trump to vote for and continue to support him. That’s going to have to be addressed if this show is going to retain any credibility and not turn into straight-up Trumpist propaganda.

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2017

naughtyandnice

 

It’s that time of year where we all get drunk, sing hokey songs, and hang our stockings in anticipation of Santa’s visit. I’m already in the festive spirit, wearing my Christmas pyjamas at my favourite microbrewery and drinking a beer whilst petting a very cute dog called Finegan. I can’t tell you whether you’re getting candy or coal this year, but I know I’ve been very good indeed. The same can’t be said for everyone, though. With that, I give you this year’s naughty and nice list!

naughty

5. Arlene Foster

The Bigot of Belfast had a banner year. The leader of the DUP, along with her nefarious elf Nigel Dodds, secured a billion pound cheque from Number 10 in exchange for propping up Theresa May’s shambolic government. This is after a scandal over an energy deal she made in 2012 which ended up making profits for those enrolled but cost the taxpayers of Northern Ireland £500 million. Her refusal to stand aside during an investigation led to a power-sharing collapse between the DUP and Sinn Fein and created the largest political crisis in the province since the Good Friday Agreement. She’s exacerbated this with her sabotaging a deal between Theresa May and the EU over the Irish border. Never mind her continued opposition to equal marriage in Northern Ireland – she’s royally screwed the UK and looks set to continue to do so into 2018 and beyond.

4. Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell

From capitulating to Trump on the Muslim ban to turning a blind eye to his threats to the media to trying to repeal Obamacare to passing the single biggest transfer of wealth from the working class to the 1% in a generation, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have shown themselves patently unable or unwilling to be a check on the executive branch. They kowtow to Trump at every turn, stymie the Russia investigation, and lead the Republican Party straight into fascism just to line the pockets of their supporters. These ghastly men can hardly be called patriots.

3. Roy Moore

This man (allegedly) molested teenage girls and still came within a breath of winning a seat in the US Senate. That’s how depraved the modern Republican Party is. But Roy Moore was always an odious man. He was twice kicked off the Alabama bench for ignoring rulings from the US Supreme Court. He blamed sodomy for 9/11. He said gays should be executed. He’s human trash, and the people of Alabama finally took out the garbage. Thanks to his reactionary, bigoted, and frankly sexually predatory antics, a deep red state just became a beautiful shade of purple.

2. Theresa May

Oh Teeza. What a year you’ve had. From cozying up to a proto-fascist (that’d be Trump) and inviting him to meet the Queen (leave her out of this) to that shambolic campaign, your year didn’t start off very well. Then you lost David Cameron’s majority, bought the support of a bunch of homophobes, had cabinet minister after cabinet minister resign – including Priti Patel who took meetings with Israeli officials and didn’t think you mattered enough to tell – and have negotiated exactly nothing when it comes to Brexit. You’re going down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers and you’ve only been in office for 18 months. Well done, you.

1. Men (as a class)
Donald Trump. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Mario Batali. Roy Moore. Al Franken. Mark Halperin. John Conyers. Stephen Crabb. Charlie Elphicke. Louis CK. Jeffrey Tambor. Glenn Thrush. Jared O’Mara. Nelly. Matt Damon. Ben Affleck. Casey Affleck. Danny Masterson. Michael Fallon. Mark Garnier. Lorin Stein.  George Takei. Damien Greene. Daniel Kawczynski. Tavis Smiley. Garrison Keillor. Kelvin Hopkins. Clive Lewis. Russell Simmons. Ed Westwick. Dustin Hoffman. Jeremy Piven. George HW Bush. Bill Clinton. Etc, Etc, Etc.

We’re scum.

nice

5. Colin Kaepernick

Kaep gave up a lucrative career in the NFL to stand up for what’s right. His subtle act of “taking a knee” for the American national anthem sparked a national protest movement against police brutality and gun violence. He has spoken out on not only this, but the need for community investment in our inner cities, schools, and children. Colin Kaepernick has become the voice for a generation of activists saying “enough” and looking to challenge white supremacy and the extrajudicial killings of Black people wherever they find it. He is an American hero.

4. Diane Abbott

I admit it hasn’t been the easiest year for the Shadow Home Secretary, who had a couple rocky interviews during the general election campaign back in the spring. But no one on either side of the Atlantic has been a more effective and louder voice against online harassment, particularly against women of colour, than Diane has. She delivered a brilliant speech in the Commons, a heart-wrenching op-ed in the Guardian, and has highlighted an issue which stifles discourse and threatens to defer thousands of young women, especially, of entering politics. Regardless of whether you’re a Labour supporter or not, or of what you think of Diane’s politics, her contribution cannot be understated.

3. Robert Mueller

After Trump sacked former FBI Director James Comey, Robert Mueller stepped in as a special prosecutor into the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Since then, he’s gotten guilty pleas out of two Trump campaign staffers, including Trump’s first National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, and has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Whatever nefarious actions the Trump campaign was up to in 2016, Mueller has begun to shed light on them in 2017 and it looks like we’ll hear more from him in 2018. Good, because it’s time to LOCK. HIM. UP.

2. David Lammy

I’ll never forget watching David Lammy’s emotional interview after the Grenfell Tower fire. He’d lost a friend, rising artist Khadija Saye, in the blaze and has become one of the most vocal champions not only of the victims, but of working class and poor people across the nation who so often live in substandard housing. Since the tragedy at Grenfell, David has never ceased in his efforts to find justice for the victims and to make sure a tragedy like this never happens again by leading the movement for more social housing and stricter safety codes. A rising star, David Lammy has already proven himself a champion of the people and one of the few MPs who seem willing to truly advocate for an end to the endemic housing crisis that has plagued Britain for years.


1. Women (as a class)

Perhaps paradoxically, considering the election of Trump in 2016, 2017 has been the year of women in so many ways. Women have led the resistance to the resurgent fascism Trump embodies and espouses from the Women’s March in January to Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand in Congress. And then Harvey Weinstein happened, and women around the world began speaking out about their own experiences with sexual violence and harassment. Watching the sheer volume of women I know tweet #MeToo has been jarring, humbling, and empowering all at once. Speaking out is courageous, but after Weinstein was exposed a grassroots movement began which cannot be stopped. You have my solidarity and my utter awe, women. The shit you put up with just to exist in this world no male can ever even fathom. I stand with you.

That’s it from me in 2017. I may have one more piece at the HuffPost UK or Independent, but other than that, it’ll be fairly quiet until next year. So I’m wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2018!

xx Skylar

Everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask about British politics

800px-parliament_at_sunset

Over the weekend, I asked Facebook friends to send me their questions on what’s happening in aftermath of the UK election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Below are some of their questions and a few I added to clarify a few things. Hope this helps my American readers understand British politics a bit more:

  1. Does the Prime Minister always get to decide when to call special elections? Has this situation ever happened before?

Yes and no. Before 2010, the Prime Minister had almost sole discretion on when an election would be called. One had to be held at least every five years, but when that happened was largely down to the whims of the government of the day (led by the Prime Minister). As you may expect, this led to a lot of elections called when the government felt it was advantageous for it (such as when they’re leading in the polls) or not called unless absolutely necessary if the party in power was suffering the polls. This was the case in 1997, when the Conservatives lost power to Labour after 18 years in government.

The Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2010 was meant to change this. Brought in by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, it was meant to ensure stability during the 2010-2015 Coalition Government (more on this later). It set out a fixed date for the next election, which was held in May 2015. The next subsequent election was not due until May 2020. However, there was a provision in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act which allowed for the dissolution of Parliament – necessary for the calling of another election – if there was a vote of no confidence in the government of the day  or if the Prime Minister requested dissolution.

Theresa May requested a dissolution of Parliament in April, setting the date for the next election as 8 June. As she was not the leader of the Conservative Party in 2015 (that was David Cameron, who resigned last year following the Brexit vote), some argued she was seeking a mandate of her own. She wanted to increase her majority to strengthen her hand when negotiating Brexit. It didn’t quite work out as well as she’d have liked though, as the Conservatives lost their majority. No one party has a majority of Members of Parliament now, which means Mrs May must seek coalition or a minority government.

  1. What does it mean to “form a government?”

    There are 650 Members of Parliament (MPs), so to have a majority a party must win at least 326 seats. There are two main parties – the Conservatives and Labour – and only they have formed a government since 1922. In the simplest of times, forming a government just means the largest party appoints people to the cabinet (as the leader of the party would be Prime Minister) and puts forward its agenda in a Queen’s Speech (we’ll get to her role later). But these are not simple times.

    In 2010, like now, no one party had a majority of seats – a scenario known as a “hung parliament.” David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), sought coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who held 57 seats. The Lib Dems accepted, and a coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government ran things until 2015, when the Conservatives secured a majority of seats and governed on their own.

 Mrs May has squandered that majority, losing 13 seats and taking her party’s total to 318. The Lib Dems have ruled out another coalition – they suffered greatly for their role in the last one, losing 49 seats in 2015 – which means Mrs May needs to find another minor party to bolster her numbers. She looks set to do that with the Democratic Unionist Party out of Northern Ireland, which has 10 seats.

This is where it gets tricky, though, as the DUP really can’t join the government due to the peace agreement in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics, but that’s another story for another day. Right now it looks like the DUP will prop up Mrs May’s government but not join it, meaning she’ll form a minority government with the understanding that she can depend on the DUP to support her agenda in most cases.

  1. I read that Prime Minister May was going to propose something to the Queen. What is the monarchy’s involvement with the elected government (and vice versa)?

The role of the monarchy is entirely symbolic in practice yet vast in theory. Theoretically, the sovereign is an absolute monarch – all power is vested in the crown. However, the doctrine of crown-in-parliament means that whilst Her Majesty technically holds these powers, in practice and custom they are exercised by Parliament and the government (which consists of MPs – even the Prime Minister is an MP). This goes back hundreds of years in a system that has largely haphazardly developed. Britain has no written constitution, like the United States, so its democracy functions largely on customs and a body of separate laws collectively referred to as “the constitution.”

Because these powers are technically the Queen’s, she must invite someone to form a government in her name. She does this to whoever wins the most seats. Mrs May won the most seats (even if she didn’t secure a majority), so by custom she has the first shot to form a government. She went to see the Queen to be invited to form a government. If Mrs May can’t form a government (that is, get enough support to get through her agenda, laid out in a Queen’s Speech), then the second-place Labour Party could try to form a minority government and get enough votes to pass its Queen’s Speech. If no party can get their Queen’s Speech passed, another election will be held.

  1. What is a Queen’s Speech?

The Queen’s Speech is essentially the ruling party’s agenda. It is a set of proposed laws the new government hopes to pass. During the state opening of Parliament, the Queen travels to the Palace of Westminster (where the House of Commons and House of Lords both convene) and, from the House of Lords, delivers a speech written by the party seeking to form a government. She has no political input (though could have some stylistic critiques, since she’s the one who has to say the damn thing). Why does the Queen, and not the Prime Minister, give this speech? Because the powers are actually the Queen’s, even if they are exercised by the Prime Minister and Parliament, so she’s telling the Lords, the Commons, and the country what she is instructing her government to do – even though it’s the government telling the queen what to tell them to do.

The state opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech is surrounded by a lot of really complicated pomp and circumstance. C-SPAN typically airs it live, and I encourage you all to watch it, because it really is a sight to behold. We have nothing like it in the United States.

  1. Could the Queen step in and stop the nonsense or deny any requests?

No she could not. Okay, technically she could – all these powers are hers in theory – but if she did you can bet that parliament and the people would vote to abolish the monarchy. Her Majesty is actually quite committed to democracy and the constitution, so the thought of intervening in the business of parliament would appall her.

The best example of this happening is actually not in Britain, but in Australia, where Elizabeth II is also the Queen (represented by a Governor General, since she lives in London and not Canberra). In 1975 the Governor General dismissed the Australian Prime Minister because of political instability in the House of Representatives and Senate (think Commons and Lords in Britain). This was the greatest constitutional crisis in Australian history, and Her Majesty refused to be drawn into it.

  1. What are the main belief systems of each party (and dot he ones with similar sounding names have similar beliefs/policies – ie is the UK Conservative Party similar to an American conservative)?

There are two main parties in the UK: the Conservatives (aka the Tories) and Labour. The Conservatives are capitalists, whilst Labour consists of varying shades of socialism (from democratic socialism akin to Bernie Sanders to some out-and-out Trotskyites). In the middle of this is the Liberal Democrats, which formed from the merger the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, which had broken off from the Labour Party. It is more of a centrist party.

Then you have several smaller parties. The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales), and the Green Party all have MPs and are all centre-left to varying degrees. If Labour were to form a minority government, they would rely on these three parties.

There are only two parties with seats from Northern Ireland: Sinn Fien and the before-mentioned DUP. Sinn Fien is a left wing Irish nationalist party, mostly identified with Catholics in Northern Ireland. The DUP is a far-right unionist party backed by Northern Irish protestants.

If you want to get into who analogous parties, the Conservatives are probably closer to moderate Democrats than they are Republicans. Labour is probably closer to Bernie Sanders or the US Green Party, though current leader Jeremy Corbyn is far to the left of either of these parties. The Liberal Democrats are probably more like Barack Obama, though some Obama advisors have also advised the Conservative Party.

  1. Who believes in LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, racial equality?

    All of the main parties would tell you yes, they support a broadly socially progressive agenda. The Conservatives haven’t always been great on LGBT equality, initially opposing it and passing some of the most homophobic laws in modern British history. However, over the past decade – particularly under the leadership of David Cameron – they became much more progressive, supporting the Labour government’s bringing in civil partnerships in the mid-2000s and later introducing marriage equality under Cameron. However, the majority of Conservative backbenchers (that is, Members of Parliament not in government) voted against equal marriage, so whilst the Conservative-led coalition government introduced the bill, it passed only because of support from the other parties.

    Most Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters favour the Labour Party, though there is growing support from BME voters for the Tories. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, was critical of racial profiling in policing, even as her own government was accused of Islamophobia through its anti-terror Prevent programme.

    The fact is that race doesn’t really play as large a role in UK politics as it does in the US, though many BME people think it should. This is down to the relatively recent influx of a significant number of BME people (from the mid-20th century to now) and the entrenched class system. British politics is getting more intersectional, but it has a long way to go.

    None of the main parties oppose abortion access, though Labour would be more likely to relax abortion law than the Tories. Labour has introduced all-women shortlists for parliamentary candidates, which the Tories haven’t, yet the Tories have produced both female Prime Ministers. On economic issues that effect women, such as childcare and pay equality, the Tories have faced a lot of criticism from feminist activists, but Labour has also been accused of having a sexist culture in its far-left reaches.

    Now let’s talk about the DUP – who register as important since Mrs May is looking to rely on them to govern. They are anti-gay marriage, anti-choice, refuse to meet or work on Sundays, believe in creationism and deny climate change. So it’s kind of like if the state of Alabama became a political party. There are lots of people, including the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party (who is an out lesbian), expressing serious reservations about any deal – yet it looks to be the only way Mrs May can hang on.

  2. Does ideology split parties there?

As discussed, the Conservatives are capitalists and the Labour party are socialists. So ideology has a much starker impact on the parties in the UK than it does in the US, where both major parties are capitalist.

  1. This all seems really convoluted. Isn’t our system simpler?

Those in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones. A minority of voters elected Donald Trump because of our Electoral College, which to British voters seems just as maddening as the parliamentary system seems to many Americans. And when you look at how gerrymandered many of our districts are, it becomes difficult to argue that the American system as it currently exists  is more democratic.

  1. What happens next?

Right now no one knows. Theresa May met with her backbenchers earlier today, and she’s still trying to finalise any deal with the DUP. It does look likely that Theresa May will form the next government and continue on with a minority government, but her position looks increasingly untenable. She may well be gone by Christmas, with another top Tory politician taking her place as Prime Minister.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below and perhaps I’ll do another blog.

Skylar Baker-Jordan writes the blog The Curious American. A contributing editor at The GayUK Magazine, Skylar writes about British and American politics and society for an array of publications, including the Independent and Huff Post UK. He is based in Chicago but makes frequent trips to London, where he hopes to relocate soon.

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2016

2016-naughty-and-nice

Santa’s not the only one who makes a naughty and nice list. So while you all are celebrating Christmas Eve Eve, I’ve been making my list, checking it twice, and drinking some bourbon on ice. While the naughty list  has certainly outpaced the nice list, I was still able to wrangle up five nice people, and narrow it down to five of the naughtiest motherfuckers of the year.

Folks, a holiday tradition continues. Here are my naughty and nice lists for 2016.

naughty

5. Robby Mook

This should have been the year that made Robby Mook. The first openly gay person to run a presidential campaign, it looked like his candidate, Hillary Clinton, had the 2016 election in the bag. But a series of fatal body blows (Russian interference, the FBI – more on that later) proved too much to overcome. Even so, the Bernie Sanders’ staffers were warning the Clinton campaign that the Blue Wall of the Rust Belt was about to be breached, and instead of doubling down in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, he sent operatives to Georgia, Arizona, and Iowa. The campaign called me in September asking me to go to the latter, even though I insisted I was of better use in Wisconsin or Ohio. They didn’t think so, and insisted I go to Iowa. This loss wasn’t all Mook’s fault, but the low margin of victory for Trump in the crucial states we lost shows that just a little more effort and a little less arrogance could have prevented the greatest political emergency since the Civil War. And the buck stops with Mook, who should’ve fucking known better.

4. Nigel Farage

I blame Nigel Farage for literally every bad thing that happened this year. I’m not kidding: I got a hangnail today and blamed the bastard for it. It’s no secret that Nigel hates immigrants, isn’t particularly fond of gay people, and thinks Marine Le Pen is the Thatcher to his Reagan (though I hesitate to use that analogy cos Thatcher and Reagan don’t deserve to be so besmirched). But his Leave.EU campaign, which wasn’t even the official campaign, was on another level of racist trolling. His infamous “Breaking Point” poster had to be reported to the police for stoking racial animus, and earlier this week he made the most despicable comment about Brendan Cox, the widower of MP Jo Cox, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist many believe was inspired by Farage’s campaign. After the tragic terrorist attack in Berlin, Farage blamed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the deaths of 12 victims. Brendan Cox tweeted at him that blaming politicians for terrorism is a “slippery slope,” to which Farage gallingly replied on LBC that Brendan would know more about extremism than he did. It was a tasteless, low blow against a grieving husband, but it summarises everything vile about Nigel Farage. While Jo is in Heaven, there’s a special place in Hell for this unimaginable bastard.

3. The Trump Kids (Donald Trump, Jr.; Ivanka Trump; Jared Kushner; Eric Trump; Tiffany Trump)

How Donald Trump, Jr loves his father is beyond me. A story that circulated in the press earlier this year told of how his father once smacked him in front of his entire college dorm because he was wearing a baseball jersey, and not a suit, to a baseball game. The Trump kids all look like vampires with Stockholm syndrome, but the fact that they smiled and nodded as their father talked about banning Muslims and deporting the parents of American citizens was beyond the pale – and being beyond the pale is no mean feat for these pasty ass White Walkers. I hope every gay man in America gets a chance to scream at Ivanka over the next four years. I eagerly await my turn.

2. The Trump Minions: Stephen Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Paul Manafort, Cory Lewendowski

Let’s just get it out of the way: Kellyanne Conway looks like a Stepford Wife and talks like one, too. Corey Lewandowski is a real life Lex Luthor who you just know punched that journalist. Paul Manafort is Putin’s butt buddy; he’s licked so much Russian ass that he’s basically starred in a scat porn. And Steve Bannon is the personification of human trash, literal garbage who should’ve been thrown out in 1965 along with his white supremacist ideology. These twats – and I’m sorry, there’s really no other word for it – got Trump to where he is now. In doing so, they’ve legitimised hate and brought America to the cusp of authoritarian klepocracy, meaning that whilst they get to line their pockets over the next four years, the rest of us are going to have to “bow down” to President Trump, as Conway once said. Seriously fuck them and everyone who loves them. Assuming we don’t all perish in a nuclear holocaust, I look forward to popping champagne when each of these asshats dies.

1. James Comey

Fuck James Comey. I will go to my grave cursing his name. In the most blatantly political move an FBI director has made since J Edgar Hoover tapped Martin Luther King, Jr’s phones, Comey sent a letter to Congress days before the election saying he had new e-mails that were of interest in the Clinton e-mail investigation (they weren’t; he lied) but told the White House not to mention Russian hacking to “avoid looking partisan.” This from the son-of-a-bitch who didn’t even bother having the FBI investigate it when known Russian hackers were in the process of hacking the DNC, instead calling their front desk like it was some goddamn courtesy call and not an attack on American democracy. This man wanted Trump to be president, or maybe he just didn’t want Clinton, I don’t know. But he used his position to undermine the American election and, as far as I’m concerned, is a goddamn traitor to his country. BURN. IN. HELL. Seriously, if you didn’t already have plenty of reasons to hate and distrust the FBI, now you do. James Comey is the devil. (James, I’m sure this will make a good addition to my file.)

Dishonourable mentions: Jill Stein; Pat McCrory; Vladimir Putin

nice

5. Ana Navarro

I don’t think there has been a more vocal, or more effective, #NeverTrump voice than Republican strategist Ana Navarro – who crossed party lines to vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a patriotic American and decent fucking person. Throughout the year, she has read for filth and dragged Trump supporters for their unabashed infatuation with a misogynistic, racist, demagogue. Never was this better displayed than when she told CNN Contributor and Trump acolyte Scottie Nell Hughes (whom Saturday Night Live correctly identified as a “full blown nut job”) that she would say pussy if she damn well pleased since the candidate Hughes loved so much was allowed to say it. Ana Navarro was a badass all year, and she had remained a staunch critic of that vile man. Her voice will be one of the most important in the resistance, and she is sure to continue speaking her mind and inspiring those of us who still love this country and all it stands for.

4. Kate McKinnon

I was in Sheffield, England for the election. Being away from friends and family who understood the anguish I felt was difficult. I felt like I was living through a national tragedy by myself, until Kate McKinnon beautifully sang “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton. Watching it, I broke down in tears at a pub as I watched McKinnon-as-Clinton sing the mournful melody in her white pantsuit. Throughout the year, the out lesbian has proven an inspiration to young women and young LGBT people and has delivered some of the most memorable comedy in a generation. She deserved her Emmy, but her post-election cold open will be what she is forever remembered for.

3. Anna Soubry

Like the American Ana on my list, Anna Soubry has been battling the forces of bigotry for the soul of her party all year. A vocal Remainer, Soubry hasn’t backed down since the referendum, trying to temper the far-right voices within her own ranks, calling out the racism and bigotry being espoused by so many, and championing the cause of liberal democracy at a European level. She has had Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU criticise her appearance, had threads of assassination, and seen her attempts to make sure Britain doesn’t fuck itself over with a Hard Brexit all but rebuffed by the Prime Minister, Theresa May. I’m no Tory, but I have nothing but respect for Anna Soubry and the fact that she’s stuck by her principles and championed a more enlightened, internationalist approach.

2. Michelle Obama

Jesus Christ, will I miss our First Lady when she’s off the public stage. For eight years she has personified grace, classiness, and humility. No First Lady in American history has been as simultaneously glamourous and accessible as Michelle Obama. This year, her barnstorming speeches in favour of Hillary Clinton, whether her speech at the Democratic convention where she coined the most memorable phrase of the year (“when they go low, we go high”) to her amazing speech against the misogyny of Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump were the most important and memorable of the election cycle. Michelle Obama has come out swinging as a champion for girls and women, and while she has said she’ll never run for office, I am sure her advocacy will continue. She spoke for millions of Americans when she told Oprah that this is how it feels to live without hope, and it’s a shame that just when we need her most she’s losing her biggest platform. But I do have a little hope: that Michelle Obama will emerge as a sane, logical voice of the American resistance.

1. Jo Cox and Lily Jayne Summers

Where to start? The Labour Party lost two of its brightest rising stars this year. Jo Cox, who famously believed we have more in common than we do that separates us, was brutally assassinated leaving a surgery in June, just days before the EU referendum. Her death caused me to exclaim “Jesus, no!” in the middle of our Chicago office. It was a blow to decency in politics, and a blow to her two precious children and her lovely husband, Brendan. Lily, who passed away earlier this month, was one of my dearest friends and the founder of Britain Elects, the preeminent British poll aggregator. Both Jo and Lily represented what’s best about Labour: a stalwart desire to help not just those at home in Britain, or those with whom they agreed, but everybody everywhere. Both of them had spirits which touched the world and changed the lives of those who knew them. Lily told me, after the election, that I shouldn’t give up on America because working class people need me. Jo believed that no gulf was too big to bridge and that no bridge, whether between Brexiters and Remainers (and I’m sure that would extend to Trump and Hillary) was too difficult to build. As we finish this year, I take the lessons both of them taught us to heart and try to internalise the love and goodwill the spread everywhere they went. Jo and Lily will be sorely missed for the rest of our days. We were blessed to have them with us. And I, at least, was blessed to know one of them personally.

Honourable mentions: Joy Reid; Khizr and Ghazala Khan; Katy Tur

Whatever list you find yourself on, I hope you have a very Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year.