Tag Archives: british politics

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2016

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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.

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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

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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.

Brexit: It’s time to accept reality and fight for a progressive future outside the EU

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In Campaigners react to the referendum results. Photo: Getty Images/Hulton Archive

It’s done and dusted. The Great British public has spoken, and they have voted—narrowly—to leave the European Union. This is the greatest political upheaval of my lifetime, and probably yours, too. To say we’re in uncharted waters is an understatement; no country has ever left the EU, and there is no map showing where Britain goes from here. The pound has already tumbled to its lowest value since 1985, the biggest fall since Black Wednesday in 1992. David Cameron’s career is unlikely to survive the morning, meaning the country will probably be without a Prime Minister in mere hours. Sinn Fein is already calling for reunification, and the SNP are pushing for another Scottish referendum.

For these reasons, and many more, we should all be nervous. But now is not the time to give into fear or bitterness. Europhiles, particularly Remain campaigners, are understandably heartbroken right now. There has been a lot of tears, a lot of anger, and a lot of disgust at Leave voters on social media. As someone who supported Britain remaining in the EU, I completely agree. It’s devastating. But in the words of Jo Cox, we really do have more in common. There is far more that unites us than divides us.

The In campaign needs to remember this now more than ever. Regardless of why people voted for Brexit—and there were legitimate reasons and concerns—the fact is the Leave campaign has been dominated by xenophobia, racism, and isolationism. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have set the parameters of the debate surrounding Britain’s vote. They cannot be allowed to dictate Britain’s withdraw.

It’s time for the In campaign to lick its wounds, pick itself up, and get to the new task at hand: making sure that the brave new world we now occupy is not one dominated by bigotry and fearmongering. It is time for us to look not at the past, but at the future. Britain has left the European Union. There is no going back. For the sake of the most vulnerable—the workers who could lose rights the EU has guaranteed, the sick who depend on an NHS free at the point of access, the immigrants who now feel ostracised and unsafe—we cannot throw our hands up and say “you reap what you sow.” It’s time to shift the fight from keeping Britain in the EU to making sure its exit produces a fair and just society.

Part of this is accepting that the majority of voters who voted for Brexit are good and decent people. Yes, the Leave campaign has been horrible, but most Leave voters aren’t. I firmly believe in the goodness of the British people. They are fair-minded, compassionate, and wise. One vote does not define a nation.

We have to ask why working class voters opted to Leave, listen to their gripes and concerns, and directly address them. The Remain camp spent far too much of this campaign dismissing their fears instead of presenting the case for how the EU could alleviate them. We can’t do that anymore. We have to listen. We must act.

Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson won tonight, but they do not have to win in the end. Wallowing in self-pity or vitriol is not only counterproductive, but it is a betrayal of the principles so many of us campaigned for over the past few weeks. It is more vital than ever before that we present a progressive, positive alternative to the reactionary, negative politics of Farage. Indeed, UKIP exists for the sole purpose of securing Britain’s withdraw from the EU. Their raison d’être accomplished, those of us in the centre and on the left must now make sure they disappear from power across the country and cease to influence the political discourse.

Britain is great. It was great before the European Union. It was great in the European Union. It can be great outside of the European Union, if only we fight to secure a fair, compassionate future. The worst of Britain may have campaigned to leave, but now is the time for the best of Britain to lead its exit.

So cry your eyes out. Maybe get rip-roaring drunk. Punch a wall if you must. But then, tomorrow, wake up, wipe away your tears, take an aspirin, and ice your first. There’s work to be done, a future to shape, and a country to lead.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is journalist and cultural critic who writes about British politics and LGBT rights. His work has appeared at Salon, The Daily Dot, The Advocate, Pink News, and elsewhere. He founded The Curious American in 2013. He lives in Chicago.

I’m a Brexiter at heart. Vote Remain.

I hate the European Union. It is a bloated corporatist quango run by technocrats none of us have ever heard of who seem to have an utter contempt for the British people and, well, democracy. EU leaders seem committed to further integration and a United States of Europe, except without the republican values of the United States of America. The Eurozone is floundering, the Schengen border area is broken, and—rightly or wrongly—the British people are fed up with the free flow of European migrants into the UK, unable to control who comes into the country or adopt what many, myself included, feel is a fairer immigration system.

As an American, I don’t have a vote in tomorrow’s referendum. As someone trying to immigrate to the UK from outside the EU, a Brexit would, ostensibly, be in my best interests. As a Eurosceptic, I believe it could also be in Britain’s best interests. But if I did have a vote tomorrow, I would vote for Britain to remain in the European Union.

I would vote Remain not out of some love for the European project, or some starry-eyed internationalism. I would vote Remain because the Leave campaign has not done a successful job of demonstrating just what a Britain outside the EU would look like, how it would cope and succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think Britain could be not only fine, but prosperous, outside the European Union. But “could” does not mean “will”. The Leave campaign likes to say that anyone voting Remain denigrates Britain, that they don’t believe in or trust the ingenuity and tenacity of the British people. Bollocks. I have no doubts Britain could succeed outside the EU. But no country can succeed without a plan, and nobody in the Leave campaign has been able to articulate one short of “everything the experts tell you is a lie.”

Was President Obama lying, when he warned Britain will go to the back of the queue for trade deals. UKIP’s Diane James, on last night’s BBC Debate, said she didn’t care what Obama thought, but wanted to know what Clinton and Trump think. Clinton also supports the In campaign, while Trump is for Brexit, which speaks volumes about the tone and tenor of this referendum. And what about with the EU itself? Is Angela Merkel lying when she says that Britain “will never get a really good result in negotiations?”

The EU could make an example out of Britain for fear that treating it too kindly post-Brexit could inspire other nations to go their own way. And maybe that would be okay, if only someone in the Leave campaign could articulate exactly how they plan on handling that and preventing total economic catastrophe. But they haven’t. Instead of policy, the Leave campaign has offered platitudes about how great the British people are (and you are, you really are) and how everything will be a-okay because we will it to be (it won’t, it really won’t).  When both the Bank of England and the TUC are warning that Brexit will depress wages and probably lead to recession, we should listen.

Instead Michael Gove compares them to Nazi scientists. This is one of the Leave campaigns favourite motifs, the EU as Hitler’s heir. It’s almost laughably ironic, considering how overtly and covertly racist the Leave campaign has been. The bulk of the Leave campaign has focused on xenophobic rhetoric about European migrants coming to steal British jobs and take British homes and depress British wages. This entire campaign has been made about immigration, and it has been framed in the most disgustingly racist way possible. Like Johnson’s comments about America’s “part-Kenyan” president, or Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. It’s the anti-Muslim retweets of the Leave campaign, the dehumanising language used to describe refugees. I can’t co-sign on any of this.

If another referendum were to present itself, one not premised on far-right racism and jingoistic fervour, perhaps I’d go another way. And maybe, someday, it will. But David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Ruth Davidson, and Sadiq Kahn have all said, which is that Brexit is a one-way ticket. Once the UK leaves, there is no going back to the European Union. At least not without adopting Schengen and the Euro, which most of agree is no in Britain’s national interest. Britain could always vote to leave in another 40 years, but it can’t come back on such cushy terms.

There are a myriad of other issues at play here too, issues I’ve not touched on but have swayed my hypothetical vote. What happens to the border in Northern Ireland? Will the SNP demand—and get—another referendum? How will we protect the hard-won rights the EU and ancillary bodies have guaranteed? These all need to be answered, and the Leave campaign hasn’t.

I’m not prepared to gamble with the livelihoods of the British people or the stability of the country out of some nationalistic desire to reclaim sovereignty. I desperately want Britain to Leave the EU, but the Leave campaign hasn’t presented a viable alternative. You don’t leave home without knowing where you’re going, and Britain shouldn’t leave the EU without knowing what it’s going to do next.

Instead of presenting a cogent, coherent exit strategy, the Leave campaign played to the basest instincts of the electorate and stirred up a jingoistic, xenophobic atmosphere. Because of this, I don’t know what Britain would look like outside the European Union, but I can’t honestly say I think it’s a Britain I would like. So, reluctantly, I ask you to vote Remain.

(Sorry, Alex.)

Yes, right-wing extremism killed Jo Cox

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Image: Flickr.com/ Garry Knight

This has been our septimana horribilis. On Sunday, we paused to mourn 49 victims of homophobic, Islamist terrorism in Orlando. As I attempted to work through my grief and put the hate in context, never did I imagine I would end the week doing the exact same thing for another brutal attack on freedom and democracy.

Yet here we are. “Oh God, no,” were my exact words when news broke that Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, died following an attack by a far-right terrorist whom eyewitnesses claim shouted “Britain First!” Since then, people from across the political spectrum have eulogised Jo for the stalwart humanitarian and outstanding parliamentarian she was, and could have been.

It was hate that took 49 lives in Orlando, and it was hate that killed Jo. In the immediacy after her attack, many on the British right cautioned us not to jump to conclusions. “We don’t know why he did it,” they said, “nothing has been determined.” A man shooting a left-wing politician while shouting a far-right slogan could be purely coincidental and not at all political, they insisted, instead focusing on the alleged gunman’s mental health.

They can’t do that anymore. Yesterday in court, the suspect himself made that painfully clear. He gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” Whelp.

After the murder of fusilier Lee Rigby, the right-wing press, and indeed many on the British right, were quick to condemn it for what it was: an Islamist terrorist attack. The murderers made no secret of their motives, even on the witness stand. Rigby was killed by two men, at least one of whom had a long, documented history of mental illness. Coverage rarely, if ever, focused on that. Instead, “moderate Muslims” were called on to condemn the attack and to do more to root out the scourge of radicalism from their communities.

Now, in circumstances that eerily mirror Rigby’s murder, the British right finds itself in an incredible act of political contortion, trying to avoid the same treatment it gave Muslims three years ago. The fact is, the British right, particularly the Brexiters, do have something to answer for here. And it needs to be said.

No one who observes British politics, whether from within the Westminster bubble or from across the Atlantic, can sincerely say that the EU referendum hasn’t brought out the worst in people and politicians. The Brexit campaign has, from the start, been framed as a fight for the very survival of the British nation and people. “Take our country back!” they exclaim, lamenting the “swarms of migrants” coming over from Europe and beyond. To be pro-Brexit has been equated to being pro-British, and to be pro-Europe is unpatriotic.

As someone who has remained neutral in this campaign (though did argue an American and socialist case for Brexit on Radio 5), I have been appalled at the dog-whistle politics and even overt racism that has come from the Leave camp. From Farage’s “BREAKING POINT!” poster to Boris Johnson’s racist comments about Barack Obama, the Leave campaign has used white nationalist imagery and coded language throughout. Indeed, Boris’ comments about America’s “part-Kenyan” president echo those used by racists such as Donald Trump to insist Obama’s ancestry makes him un-American. Unsurprising, really, given that so many of the Brexiters feel that people with ties to foreign lands aren’t proper Brits. Not really.

This talk of losing control of the nation, of losing sovereignty, of losing national identity and security and border control, has been as jingoistic as it has been fascistic. It is a climate in which to be anything but a strident Leaver has been to be a traitor to Queen and Country. None of us exist in a bubble. You can only scare people for so long before some rogue agent takes matters into his own hands.  The tone and tenor of this campaign has led to a vitriol previously unimaginable. I’ve written about British politics since 2009. I’ve seen more racism, more xenophobia, and more bigotry in the past seven weeks than in the past seven years combined.  The hatefulness of the far right has hit a boiling point, and it was inevitable that someone would boil over the pot and into gunfire.

The right needs to own this. The Leave campaign needs to own it. No, not everyone on who is for Brexit is a bigot. Just as there is a difference between Islamism and Islam, or Judaism and Zionism, there is a difference between Brexit and bigotry. I have many people I love dearly who sincerely believe Britain will be better off outside the EU. But the Leave campaign has not only tolerated, but embraced, this nationalistic fervour in both the cynical hope that the public will be scared enough to vote Out, and in some more nefarious instances in the sincere belief that actually, immigrants are the devil.

Some of my right-wing friends have claimed Jo Cox’s assassination is being tastelessly exploited for political gain. This is simply not true. Pointing out the political nature of the attack is not political point scoring. Correctly stating facts is not propaganda. Jo Cox was killed because she is—was—a left-wing, pro-Europe internationalist. She was killed by a far-right, anti-immigrant nationalist. These two things are not mutually exclusive. They are intrinsically and inextricably connected.

This isn’t to let my fellow leftists off the hook, either. For years we have sneered at white working class concerns, particularly over immigration. From Gordon Brown’s “bigoted woman” to true-but-tired memes castigating rural communities and small towns with few immigrants for being anti-immigrant, we’ve ceded the discourse to Nigel Farage and the far-right. If the traditional home of the working class is no longer hospitable, of course they’re going to look somewhere else.

If we dismiss their concerns as pure ignorance instead of acknowledging them and explaining an alternative view—that it’s not immigrants what done it, but years of austerity and globalisation bolstered by unmitigated free trade and lack of economic redevelopment—then it only makes sense that they would look elsewhere. It is not necessarily bigoted to be concerned over immigration, but if we don’t say that, it’s no wonder that those concerned over immigration turn to bigots.

We have poisoned this well too. From calling Tories and Tony Blair fascists to claiming Iain Duncan Smith is a murderer to the hateful misogyny directed at everyone from Stella Creasy to Liz Kendall to Priti Patel, we need to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with ourselves as well. I’m including myself in this. I have not always lived up to my own standards, something I’m quietly reflecting on. We’re not perfect. We’ve reached fever pitch, too, and it’s time for all of us to simmer down.

There’s a reason the second largest party is called the Opposition and not the enemy. As Jo herself said in her maiden speech, “we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.” This week has been a tragic reminder of how fragile that unity is, and how British democracy only functions if we all approach political discourse with civility, respect, and the humanity of our opponents squarely in mind. Somehow, we’ve lost sight of that, and a brilliant young MP is dead because of it. We can’t get Jo back, but I hope to God we can get our decency back.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is journalist and cultural critic who writes about British politics and LGBT rights. His work has appeared at Salon, The Daily Dot, The Advocate, Pink News, and elsewhere. He founded The Curious American in 2013. He lives in Chicago.

 

Why Labour Lost

After leading his party to an unexpected and blistering loss, Labour leader Ed Miliband resigned on Friday. Photo: The Daily Star

After leading his party to an unexpected and blistering loss, Labour leader Ed Miliband resigned on Friday. Photo: The Daily Star

It has been two days since Britain voted, delivering a shocking victory for David Cameron and the Conservatives. Defying the odds—and literally every poll—the Tories won a clear majority of seats in the House of Commons and will, when Parliament convenes later this month, form a majority government. It appears the pundits, myself included, were far too quick to ring the death knell of the old system. The exit polling, showing the Tories as the biggest party, was so far from the polls running up to election day that nobody—even Tory activists—believed it. If it was right, Paddy Ashdown promised David Dimbleby, he’d eat his hat. Alastair Campbell said he’d eat his kilt.

On last night’s Question Time, both did just that. The rest of us are just eating a lot of crow.

It was supposed to be neck and neck, with many speculating that while the Tories might in fact win the most seats, neither the Conservatives nor Labour would claim a majority and the numbers would favour Ed Miliband forming a government and walking into Downing Street. That didn’t happen (to put it mildly), and those of us on the left are now trying to figure out what went so very wrong.

There are some, like Tony Blair, who were warning even before the election that Labour was running too far to the left. “I am convinced the Labour Party succeeds best when it is in the centre ground,” Mr Blair told The Economist last month. He warned this election could be one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result,” which, as Mr Blair defines it, is a Conservative victory. On that, at least, he was proven correct. Similarly, in a post being widely circulated on Twitter (from what I’ve seen, at least, mostly by Tories), Ian Leslie offers a similar analysis: “given that the last time Labour won an election without Tony Blair was 1974 it’s hard to believe people still think the answer is to move left.”

But people still do. When I spoke to Nancy Taaffe, the TUSC candidate who challenged Labour’s Stella Creasy in Walthamstow, she made it clear that, in her mind, Labour had abandoned the left to their own detriment. “The Labour Party is no longer a socialist party,” she told me, adding that “allegiances to Labour are fragmented.” Ms Creasy won the constituency with a commanding majority, receiving nearly 10,000 more votes than her nearest challenger. Ms Taaffe only received 279 votes. That’s not a ringing endorsement for old-school British socialism, and actually makes Mr Blair’s words last month eerily prophetic, especially given that so many people labelled Mr Miliband as a “marxist” hellbent on renationalising everything from the trains to the air.

This simply isn’t true, as Amit Singh points out in The Indepenent (a supposedly left-wing paper which actually endorsed a continuance of the ConLib coalition). While I don’t agree with everything Mr Singh writes, once particular excerpt does speak to this myth that Labour lost by running too far to the left: “Some regional MPs who are on the backbenches might push a genuine pro-workers stance in parliament. But any Labour MP with any ambition knows to vote with the party, and the party line is pro-business, pro-austerity, pro-war and definitely not pro-ordinary people.”

Even Tim Stanley, who can never really be accused of being a socialist, leftist, or even Blairite, sees the problem. Labour’s “neoliberal policies alienated the base in the long-run and – crucially –left the party without a narrative,” he writes in the Telegraph.

Mr Singh points out that sharing a stage—and an entire campaign against independence—with the Tories devastated Labour in Scotland, which is echoed by James Bloodworth over at Left Foot Forward. “The toxicity attached to the Tories in Scotland transferred to Labour” when they decided to campaign alongside, rather than apart from, the Conservatives, Mr Bloodworth writes. This echoes what Nancy Taaffe told me earlier this week. The vast majority of Labour MPs voted for an additional £30 billion in cuts in January, she says, which in Scotland meant a “betrayal – I mean all around Scotland now they’ve got stickers saying ‘Red Tories.’”

Let’s be clear, though. Even if Labour had taken every seat in Scotland, they still wouldn’t have a majority. It needed England, particularly key marginals in the North, where the party performed woefully. “The great surprise of the night,” George Eaton writes at the New Statesman, “was not Labour’s performance in Scotland (which was merely as terrible as forecast) but its performance in England and Wales.” Crucially, he points out that the party is bleeding support across the spectrum (the SNP in Scotland, the Greens and UKIP in England and Wales), and there is “no obvious strategy to address them all.”

We’ll return to this point later, because I think there is an obvious strategy. But first we must address the purple elephant in the room, which is UKIP. It was generally assumed Nigel Farage’s party would take votes from the Conservatives, but as it turns out, UKIP crushed Labour in key northern marginals. I don’t often quote the Daily Mail, but I think the Mail was spot on in its assessment of UKIP’s ultimate legacy in the 2015 election, at least in terms of actual votes:

…by far (UKIP’s) most significant achievement was an entirely unexpected one. Instead of hammering the Tories, UKIP managed to take votes from Labour in a string of marginal seats across England, leading to a string of disastrous losses for Ed Miliband.”

Many of us on the left – and I’m humbly including myself here – have for years dismissed UKIP voters as racists, morons, and likely to be more supportive of the EDL than EDMil. As it turns out, again, we couldn’t have been more wrong. What makes this even worse is that we repeatedly warned. Just google “working class UKIP.” You turn up this. And this. And this. And this, from last May, when Labour MP Michael Dugher called Nigel Farage a “phoney” and “bullshit artist” while offering no real alternative to working class voters drawn to his populist (if, I agree, phoney) rhetoric. You also turn up this, also from the Independent last year, by Chris Blackhurst:

The one party that did historically offer (the working class) hope, Labour – the one they’d been brought up supporting – turned into something unrecognisable, into a New Labour populated by smooth graduates, not folk from the factory floor. And, as Labour continued to reign, through three election terms, it grew further apart from them and their needs.”

This cost Labour in very real terms. The Telegraph ran a feature before the election on 10 seats Labour needed to win. It’s worth looking comparing the 2010 and 2015 results. In Warwickshire North, for example, the Tories carried by 54 votes in 2010; this year UKIP claimed more than 8,000 votes, costing Labour a seat. In Thurrock, Labour needed just over 100 votes to unseat the Conservative incumbent. Instead, both Labour and the Tories lost votes to UKIP, but Labour lost more – and needed more – leading to another seat UKIP cost the party. In Hendon, the Tories increased their share of the vote over 6 per cent whilst Labour lost votes to UKIP and the Greens. The same story plays out across the country, in Sherwood, Stockton South to Broxtowe.

I get it. None of us on the left wing of the Labour Party (of which I’m loosely including myself, given I’m a foreigner) wanted to consider that we needed folks we viewed as racists and homophobes. But here we are, with five more years of Tory austerity, because instead of questioning why the working-class of this country was abandoning what was, for generations, its natural home, we derided them as bigots, just as Gordon Brown did in 2010. The same way we blamed the rising tide of Scottish nationalism for defeat north of the border instead of asking ourselves just why, exactly, Scottish Labour voters were so disillusioned.

The answer to the latter is obvious (to borrower a phrase, it’s austerity, stupid). The answer to the former – to why traditional Labour voters abandoned the party to UKIP – is more complicated. To really understand what happened there, you maybe need to look across the waters to Northern Ireland. The DUP is a socially conservative party, and a lot of their positions are quite similar to UKIP rhetoric. But they are also made up of a heavy contingent of working-class, pro-labour (small L) voters who, while socially conservative, are still at least sceptical of neoliberal economics.

They’re really not that different than disaffected Labour voters back here in England. They’re struggling, they’re hurting, and they want someone to blame. In Northern Ireland that’s gays and Catholics. In the North of England, though, Labour used to make the case it was what we now know as the 1%, bankers and toffs in the City and Westminster. Under Blair, though, Labour stopped advancing that sort of social democratic argument. Instead, it has aligned itself with big business and “the centre,” which by 1997 was further to the right than it had been in 1979 or even 1983, when Thatcher would’ve almost surely been defeated had it not been for the Falklands.

Blair wanted to win. And he did, three times. In winning those electoral victories, though, he shifted the party to the right, and while Brown and Miliband managed to drag it a bit more to the left, it wasn’t far enough.

Because despite what the pundits are saying, the financial crisis really did shift the tectonic plates of British politics. Britain is not a centre-right country. If you look at the share of the national vote each party received, it’s roughly broke even, if you consider UKIP a centre-right party and the LibDems a centre-left party, which for this purpose is safe to do since both parties draw voters from both sides of the political spectrum. (The Greens, like the SNP and UKIP, took their biggest share of the national vote in history). And looking at how that would translate in actual seats, it becomes obvious that a grand coalition of the left – which, it must be said, I publicly hoped for – would have been feasible. Yes, the Tories still would have been the biggest party, but Labour, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, and the LibDems (which again, we’re counting as left-wing to offer some balance to UKIP) would have had more total seats combined. And if, as many Labour activists are saying, the splintering left cost them the election, this matters.

Which brings us back to George Eaton’s earlier assertion that there is “no obvious answer” to address all the issues at play in Labour’s loss. There is. Labour has to once again appeal to the working-class of this country, which means lurching to the left. Voters have shown a willingness to vote for populist rhetoric and socialist policies in all four home countries. The voters who abandoned Labour for the SNP didn’t do it because they want independence – otherwise they’d have it by now – but because they want an end to austerity. Likewise, the voters in England who turned to UKIP didn’t do it because they like austerity, but because Labour refused to – and perhaps was incapable of – presenting a clear, convincing alternative.

There is soon to be a leadership election, and if Labour has learnt anything from the last one, it will be swift and decisive. The next person to lead this party needs to have more appeal than the last (and I say that as someone who genuinely likes Ed Miliband), but they also need to be someone who can present a clear alternative to austerity and Conservative politics. That alternative needs to be informed by current leftist thinking, not old Blairite notions of what the centre is. If the fracturing of the left cost Labour the vote, which so many party activists think, it’s Labour’s own fault. To fix it, Labour needs to make amends, and they need to do it now.

Only the left can return a Labour majority in 2020. The question now is does Labour have the leader to articulately convey a leftist, populist message to voters across this country.

Time will tell, but time is running out. The next election began yesterday. If Labour wants to fix this, it needs to do it now, before any other party has the chance.

New app launches to help LGBT voters find out if their MP is pro-equality

lgbtwhip

Screen capture from The LGBT Whip, a new web-based app which launched this week.

As Britain goes to the polls today, some LGBT voters may have a clearer picture of which candidates support their equality thanks to a new website launched this week.

The LGBT Whip is the brainchild of Chris Ward, a developer from Vauxhall who also helped develop the LobbyALord app used by marriage equality campaigners in 2013. While LobbyALord was intended to help win equal marriage, The LGBT Whip takes a broader approach to equality issues, and is intended to illustrate, rather than change, a candidate’s position.

It is also a “recognition that as all parties are moving to the centre and their policies support LGBT rights, a lot of their candidates don’t,” Mr Ward said, adding “we need to look from a more granular level of where and what candidates stand for.”

The web app, which was developed at a 24-hour hackathon at Facebook and on which Ward collaborated with several others, including his partner and his brother, is fairly straightforward. Voters input their postcode, and a list of candidates for their constituency appears. From there, they can select up to three candidates to compare:

The first frame shows what happens when voters select their postcode. The second frame shows a list of of candidates, while the third frame compares them on the issues.

The first frame shows what happens when voters select their postcode. The second frame shows a list of of candidates, while the third frame compares them on the issues.

I chose to use Brighton Pavilion as an example, because its former MP and Green Party candidate Caroline Lucas did answer the 10 questions. She is one of what the developers estimate is only 20% of candidates who have, though. And while Mr Ward is “cutting them some slack” because “it’s a very busy period,” some candidates have left him disappointed. “We’ve had a number of candidates, who should know better, responding with an automated response saying ‘I support LGBT rights.’ Well if you do you, spend some time answering these ten very simple questions.”

The questions include historic positions, such as Section 28, as well as issues currently being debated, like banning conversion therapy. For those former MPs who haven’t responded, their votes have been gathered and made available. Candidates who have never sat in parliament “have a clean slate,” because, as Mr Ward put it, “I’d rather go by what they actually do in the voting lobbies than what they say to a journalist, because that’s what makes the law.” It was important to ask about both the past and the present, he said, because equality can be lost just as it was won.

Though MPs who voted against LGBT rights in the past can’t erase their slate, they can still show they’ve come round to equality, as has already happened.

“One Labour MP in particular…e-mailed and said ‘I know I’ve not been great on this in the past, but this is what I think now,’” Mr Ward says. “So it’s almost a recognition of the progress those individuals have made. So they’ll have a red cross on their history, but next to that they might have a green tic, almost essentially saying ‘I’m sorry about this. I’ve changed my mind.’”

But the site doesn’t just give politicians a chance to show they’ve evolved. It also gives voters a unique tool with which to hold MPs accountable. “It goes beyond the election,” Mr Ward said, and gets at “the full democratic process” of holding politicians to their word. “We have pledges at hand. We have e-mails from candidates. And when it comes to these votes or these things being discussed in Parliament, we can hold them to account.”

Ultimately, though, this is an app designed to assist LGBT voters in finding candidates who support equality. “I hope it helps (voters) make an informed decision on the basis of LGBT rights.” This way, he says, “when they go into the voting booth…they’ve made an informed decision with all the facts at their disposal.”

LGBT Whip is the result of a collaboration between Chris Ward, Peter Burjanec, Joshua Gladwin, Hereward Mills, Chimeren Peerbhai, Matt Ward, and Adriana Vecc. Though currently only available for the UK general election, the team has plans to eventually expand to include the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, and possibly even foreign elections, including the 2016 US general election. It is dedicated to the memory of Ms Peerbhai’s mother, Debra Diane Rich, who recently passed away from cancer in America.

In Walthamstow, Nancy Taaffe challenges Labour from the left

Nancy Taaffe. Image: The Socialist Party

Nancy Taaffe. Image: The Socialist Party

Walthamstow, a quiet working class community in North-East London, is as safe a constituency as they come. Labour control the local council, and the party has held the seat consistently since the 1990s, and has only lost one election since 1972. In the 2010 election, Stella Creasy—widely touted as a possible future party leader and the current Shadow Minister for Crime Prevention—commanded over 50% of the vote with a nearly 10,000 vote majority. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the community has not heavily featured in the media’s election coverage.

But Walthamstow is a community at a crossroads. Gentrification has pushed more and more people from central London to the area, at the terminus of the Victoria Line, which is in turn pushing up housing prices and pushing out residents who for decades have called this area home. According to the Financial Times, property values increased 22.3% over the course of 2014. A new development, known as The Scene, has seen the demolition of social housing to make way for a brand new cinema, restaurants, and flats which are now priced at £500,000, according to local resident Sarah Wrack. These businesses “are not aimed at the poor people of this area,” but rather “the people they’re trying to attract,” she says.

“It’s not for the people who live here at the moment, it’s to move people in and literally move people who used to be in that social housing out.”

Sarah Sachs-Eldridge agrees, another Walthamstow resident, agrees. “It’s impossible to get a decent home in this area. All of us have difficulties with housing.”

She blames the cutting of council tax benefit and housing benefit for forcing residents out, something Ms Wrack also believes is making Walthamstow unaffordable for many of its residents. Ms Wrack grew up in Tower Hamlets, in Inner-East London, which at the time “had the highest rate of child poverty in Europe,” she says. “It was a poor place.” The redevelopment of Canary Wharf forced Ms Wrack out, something she sees being repeated now in Walthamstow. ““In an area like this, almost everyone is poor,” she says. The same process which brought her here is “being repeated, as people are forced out further and further.”

Both women were out on Monday campaigning alongside Nancy Taaffe, who agrees with their assessment of the housing crisis in the constituency. It “is an expression of accumulation of loss of council homes that have come together in a sort of economic crisis of not being able to get a job or not being able to get enough money to buy,” says Taaffe, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidate challenging Ms Creasy for the seat.

TUSC was formed weeks before the 2010 general election “to enable trade unionists, community campaigners, and socialists to stand candidates against the pro-austerity establishment parties,” according to its website. They are standing in 135 parliamentary elections across the country. Bob Crow, the late National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT) leader, was one of its founders.

“Historically the socialist party which is part of TUSC was inside the Labour party,” Ms Taaffe says, noting that the Socialist Party left Labour “just before the ascendency of Tony Blair,” a time she claims Labour was “expelling all trade unionists (and) good socialists.”

Ms Taaffe: “They purged organisationally, they pushed socialists out and then they reconstituted themselves as a neo-liberal party.”

She stood for the seat in 2010, winning less than 250 votes. But she felt it was important to stand again. “The working class is disenfranchised. It doesn’t have a socialist voice,” she says, noting that “the Labour Party is no longer a socialist party.”

Ms. Taaffe’s comments, and indeed her candidacy, are part of a broader story that has dominated this election. Britain was, for nearly a century, a largely two-party system, with the Liberal Democrats a smaller but ever-present third party. Over the past decade, though, more and more voters have become disillusioned with what they felt were false choices between the Conservatives and Labour, and have migrated to smaller parties, including UKIP and nationalist parties such as the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales. In England, where nationalism lacks the cache on the left, the Green Party has largely picked up the progressive slack, with parties like TUSC emerging to carry the banner of the traditional, if dwindling, socialist agenda.

“Allegiances to Labour are fragmented,” Ms Taaffe says, “and you can see that in Scotland,” where the SNP look poised to completely wipe out Labour, which may lose more than 40 seats in the country tomorrow.

“The austerity cuts have been absolutely devastating for women and the public sector. A million jobs have gone. So in Scotland where these jobs are going, on top of its history of losing manufacturing jobs, the betrayal — I mean all around Scotland now they’ve got stickers saying ‘Red Tories,’” she says. “It’s like a perfect storm of 30 years.”

According to Ms Taaffe, it’s the same across the country, including in Walthamstow. “Labour completely controls this area. £65 million pounds worth of cuts. We’ve lost 1000 jobs to those cuts.” One of those jobs was Ms Taaffe’s. She worked for years at the local library, but was made redundant in phase 12 of the cuts.

Ms Taaffe: “When I debated with Stella, I said to her ‘I was a single parent with two children. And you call yourself a feminist… and yet you wouldn’t make a statement about us losing our jobs at the hands of your party?”

“The least you can do if you stand in the tradition of the suffragettes is to speak for the thousands of women who are losing their jobs, the women who rely on public service for social care for their families, who have been pushed back into the home. It’s been like, we would argue it’s regressive what’s happening to women, because we rely disproportionately on the services that are going. So if you’re a feminist, you’ve got to fight the cuts.

“She said ‘we can’t stand up to Eric Pickles’. Eric Pickles is a bullying conservative man.”* Mr Pickles, the Conservative Secretary for Communities and Local Government, led the coalition’s efforts to slash the budgets of local councils over the last parliament.

Earlier this year Ms Creasy, along with the majority of Labour MPs, voted with the Coalition for an additional £30 billion in cuts to benefits and services, a move which fellow Labour MP and London mayoral candidate Diane Abbott at the time called a “great disservice” to the working class.

While it is extremely unlikely Ms Taaffe will defeat Ms Creasy in tomorrow’s vote, she is looking ahead to the next battle. “We’re going to be fighting for the existence of our local hospital,” she says. “Stella (and) the local councillors are not being honest…. our local hospital is in debt to the tune of £90 million. The plan and the details of the cuts won’t be released until June, which is a month after the general election.

“It’s just an outrage. 340,000 people use the hospital.”

And though Ms Taaffe and TUSC hope that Ms Creasy and her party will fight alongside them, she is not optimistic.

“The fight now is outside the Labour Party.”

(The Curious American reached out to Stella Creasy for comment, particularly on the allegations she said she and Labour did not want to stand up to Eric Pickles, but as of the time of publication has not received a response. However, Ms Creasy did address the issue of housing with the Walthamstow Guardian: “The price of housing is driving many out of our area and leaving others in overcrowded accomodation… Only Labour is committed to building the homes that we need and ending unfair agency fees to provide a city fit for all.”)

Updated 2/12/2015: Last month, Stella Creasy responded to this piece on Twitter, asking us to remove the following statement made by Nancy Taaffe: “She said ‘we can’t stand up to Eric Pickles’. Eric Pickles is a bullying conservative man.” The Curious American wishes to to clarify this statement. Ms Taaffe repeated a quote she alleges is from Ms Creasy (‘we can’t stand up to Eric Pickles’.) This was in inverted commas and followed by a full stop, indicating an end to the alleged quote. Ms Taaffe then went on to offer her on analysis, which is that “Eric Pickles is a bullying conservative man.” Because this statement was made by Ms Taaffe, and because The Curious American reached out to Ms Creasy for comment on this specific alleged quote, we will not remove it. However, Ms Creasy has denied the comment on Twitter: