Wednesday 18 September 2019

Jo Swinson is positioning herself as the Nigel Farage of Remain

Ever since Jo Swinson became Lib-Dem leader she's been shifting the Lib-Dem position ever further towards the extreme fringe of Remain, to the point tearing up the longstanding Lib-Dem policy of demanding another referendum and replacing it with a threat to stop Brexit without even holding a referendum.

Swinson's increasingly militant behaviour and language makes it pretty obvious that she's attempting to position herself as the Nigel Farage of Remain.

Here are ten similarities between Swinson's approach to politics and Farage's.

EU fanaticismThis first similarity is the most obvious. Swinson and Farage both promote fanatically one-sided views of the EU.

Farage's rhetoric tells us that the EU is irredeemably corrupt and corrosive to the British way of life, while Swinson's rhetoric holds the EU up as the essential and irreproachable source of all that is good and decent.

Both of these positions are extreme and over-simplistic. There's an element of truth in both, because there are dreadful problems with the EU like the undemocratic and austerity-pushing European Central Bank, and the passage of endless pieces of unashamedly pro-corporate legislation through the European Parliament, but the EU is also the source of many of our rights, liberties, and living standards (workers' rights, environmental laws, food standards, consumer protections, freedom from discrimination, and of course the right to move freely around most of the continent of Europe).

We don't live in a Star Wars universe of heroic goodies and irredeemable evil empires. We live in reality, where virtually all large organisations, including the EU, have a mixture of good and bad characteristics.

To focus exclusively on one side without acknowledging the other is profoundly dishonest, and in this regard Farage and Swinson are two cheeks of the same arse.


Besides adopting one-sided and profoundly dishonest EU militancy, both of these figures are also perfectly willing to resort to outright lies to push their agendas.

Farage has lies so many times it's impossible to compile them all here. Just think of his endless claims that the majority of British laws are made in Europe when the real figure is 13.2%, or his EU referendum lies about Turkey being on the verge of joining the EU, when in reality they've still only managed to complete a single one of the 33 chapters required for membership in 13 years!

Swinson proved her willingness to lie through her teeth on her very first day in the job as Lib-Dem leader, publicly accusing Jeremy Corbyn of taking a two week holiday during the EU referendum period.

In reality the longest break Corbyn took from an extensive campaign schedule was in the mourning period after the brutal murder of Jo Cox.

Meanwhile Swinson barely campaigned at all for Remain in 2016, making virtually no public appearances, in preference for sitting at home tweeting cat pictures!

Swinson has also been caught out telling other lies like supposedly opposing unlawful Tory employment tribunal fees when she actually voted in favour of them!

Both of these politicians have proven themselves such ideological fanatics that they'll resort to deliberate lies in order to con members of the public into supporting them.

DefectorsFarage and Swinson have both benefited from the significant publicity boost of attracting defectors from other political parties, however in this regard Swinson is clearly even worse than Farage.

When Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless defected from the Tories to UKIP in 2014, at least they put their decision to their constituents by resigning and calling parliamentary by-elections.

There's no such respect for democracy in the Lib-Dems, with Swinson welcoming six defector MPs into the Lib-Dem ranks (now making up a full third of their parliamentary party) without a single by-election being held.

It's extraordinary to think that a party with "democrats" actually in their name are demonstrably more averse to democratic accountability that the Ukipper extremists at the far-right fringe of the political spectrum!

Goalpost shifting
Another thing Farage and Swinson have in common is their disingenuous goalpost-shifting tactics.

During the EU referendum Farage repeatedly insisted that the UK could easily get a deal with the EU so that we could be like Norway, or Switzerland, but he's now shifted to No Deal militancy, and treats the basic idea of leaving with any kind of withdrawal deal or future trading arrangement as if it's treason.

Swinson on the other hand has spent the last few years loudly and repeatedly calling for an "another roll of the dice" referendum. But then suddenly at her first Lib-Dem conference as their divine leader, she's flip-flopped to the new, much more militant position of just cancelling Brexit without even seeking a public mandate to do so!

Both of these politicians have demonstrably shifted the goalposts on Brexit to more militant positions, so anyone with a grain of sense must be extremely wary that these slippery snakes will simply switch position on any of their other stated principles if they think it serves their interest to do so.

Political chameleons
In order to make excuses for lying and flip-flopping from one position to another, it's necessary to engage in reality-reversing Orwellian history revisionism, and both of these politicians are adept at changing their political colours at will.

Farage's chameleon-like behaviour is more obvious, having effortlessly switched from the purple and yellow of UKIP to the light blue of Brexit Party, but Swinson's is actually more pernicious because she adopts different colours at the same depending on who she's talking to.

One minute Swinson is justifying her new "screw democracy, just scrap Brexit" policy by saying we need to get on with reversing austerity, but then within hours she's appealing to hard-right fiscal conservatives in Tory/Lib-Dem marginals by attempting to outflank the Tories to the right with grotesque pro-austerity tropes like "magic money tree" and "tough economic choices".

Media fawningAnother similarity between Farage and Swinson is the way the mainstream media seem to fawn over the pair of them, endlessly affording them airtime to flip-flop around, and spout their deceptions, and smears, and distortions, and outright lies, almost always unchallenged.

Farage usually gets more pushback from random members of the public who call into his radio show than from the mainstream media hack pack, and Lib-Dem tribalists responding to fact-based criticism of Swinson and her disgusting voting record with torrents of abuse, whataboutery, excuses, smears, and mental health abuse just goes to show how unfamiliar they are with the idea of their divine leader actually being held to account on anything.


One of the most interesting similarities between Farage and Swinson is the way that both of them are entirely unwilling to admit that years of ruinous austerity fanaticism laid the groundwork for Brexit to happen.

Their reasons for refusing to acknowledge reality are very different, but the wilful austerity ignorance is the same.

Farage is loathe to admit that the domestic austerity policies of the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition were responsible for collapsing living standards prior to the 2016 EU referendum, because the main Brexiteer shtick during the EU referendum was to blame the consequences of austerity fanaticism (collapsed wages, huge NHS queues, unaffordable housing, failing public services, failing local services, failing social safety net) on immigrants and the EU.

Swinson is even more loathe to admit the link between austerity fanaticism and the Brexit backlash, because to admit that austerity laid the groundwork for Brexit would be to admit her own role in causing this Brexit chaos.

Not only does she consider it to be politically unwise to admit fault, she's also far too much of an egomaniac to apologise for her outrageous living standard-annihilating actions in the past.

Overseas allegiances
One of the weirdest things about the pair of them is their unmistakable loyalty to overseas political figures.

Farage is quite obviously enamoured with Donald Trump to the point where you wonder whether his obsession with forcing a calamitous No Deal Brexit meltdown actually has more to do with forcing Britain into subservience to Trump, than it has to do with Brexit purism.

Swinson on the other hand is full of adoration for Guy Verhofstadt, who was the leader of the ALDE group in the European parliament for 10 years, and is a man who personifies pretty much everything that's wrong with the EU.

Just consider the appalling speech Swinson invited him to give at her first Lib-Dem conference as party leader. Verhofstadt claimed that the reason the UK should stay in the EU is that the world is dividing up into empires, and that Britain would be safer within the European mega-empire.

Reject Brexit not because it's an ill considered and chaotically administered mess, but because it would cause Britain to miss out on the game of Liberal neo-imperialism Verhofstadt envisages for the future of mankind!

It's such a disturbing view of the world on so many levels, but Swinson adores the guy, and he even got a rousing round of applause from the Lib-Dem audience for his Liberal neo-imperialist fearmongering!

One of the starkest similarities of all between the pair is the way they resort so willingly to the divisive rhetoric of "betrayal".

Farage constantly bangs on about betrayal of the leave vote, but Swinson uses the exact same divisive rhetoric to attack Jeremy Corbyn for supposedly betraying Remainers.

Who cares that Labour is offering the referendum that the Lib-Dems spent years demanding, as far as Swinson and her ilk are concerned, attacking Corbyn is even more important than opposing Brexit, to the point that they're using the Brexiteer-style rhetoric of betrayal to attack him.

One suspects that even if Corbyn got the EU flag tattooed on his face and leapt into a volcano humming Ode to Joy, Swinson and her mob would still be screeching "betrayal" at him.

Fringe politics

Another of Swinson's attacks on Corbyn is that he supposedly exists at the fringe, or the sideline of political debate, but anyone with the slightest acquaintance with political reality can see that Farage and Swinson are the ones positioning themselves at the fringes of the Brexit debate, both screeching "fuck off" at half the voting electorate who didn't vote the way they wanted, while Corbyn is trying to position himself near the centre in order to try and clear up the mess, rather than spewing hyper-partisan rhetoric to deliberately exacerbate tensions for party political advantage.

But according to Swinson's absurd reality-reversed logic, the militant fringe intent on ignoring one half of the electorate or other, is the "centre ground" and Corbyn's attempts at compromise and deescalation are the militant fringe!


Jo Swinson continually pretends that she's positioned on the sensible centre-ground of politics, but her grotesque track record of enabling ruinous austerity fanaticism, her outright refusal to acknowledge that austerity dogma laid the groundwork for the Brexit backlash, or to apologise for it, her willingness to lie through her teeth, her increasingly militant Remain tactics, and the remarkably easy ride she's afforded by the mainstream media demonstrate that she's just as much a political extremist as Nigel Farage.

Additionally the unquestioning cult-like loyalty of the Lib-Dem tribalists to her ever-changing position, and the torrents of abuse they spew at anyone who dares question their divine and irreproachable leader suggests that she's every bit as dangerous too.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.


Friday 13 September 2019

Welcome to the idiocracy!

Last week I wrote an article detailing the extraordinary bad faith tactic of Performative Stupidity, which is the increasingly prevalent journalistic method of attacking something, not by detailing it and then highlighting criticisms, but by simply pretending to be too stupid to understand it!

This week I've come across the most glaring example yet of this Performative Stupidity dumbing-down of political discourse, which takes the form of a Tweet that implies that any policy that takes more than three words to explain is somehow inferior to policies which can be expressed in three words or fewer, or "less" as the supposedly award-winning journalist puts it.

The intended take away being that super-simple policies for dealing with massively complex and divisive issues are credit-worthy, while anything that takes more than three words to explain is open to derision!

Labour's Brexit policy

Labour's Brexit strategy really isn't that difficult to understand. Here it is again:
1. Prevent Tory No Deal chaos and economic ruination. 
2. Remove the Tories (who created all this Brexit chaos in the first place) from power. 
3. Renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement (Customs Union, Single Market access, no border in Ireland, protection of workers' rights, cooperation on environment, science, and security). 
4. Put the renegotiated deal to a confirmatory referendum with remain as an option, meaning that there are sensible (non-meltdown) options on either side.
Of course this is more than three words, because it's rather difficult to cram a 4-point action plan into "three words or less [sic]" isn't it?

But if you did insist, for some unfathomable reason, on dumbing it down to just three words, you could say "Final Say Referendum" - but why on earth would you even want to do that?

Labour's policy is to offer representation to both sides of the Brexit divide in a way that avoids completely trashing the economy if people once again reject the option to Remain (sorry 27 words is far too many for my tiny little journalist brain to comprehend, how about you cut it down to 3 and I'll have another go!).

But then you look at the Lib-Dem and Tory Brexit policies that are supposedly so wonderful and virtuous for being reducible to just three words, and they really should be setting off all kinds of alarm bells, at least for the kind of journalist who uses the traditional method of actually scrutinising things, rather than the new method of pretending not to understand them.

Lib-Dems: Revoke Article 50

Two questions about this spring immediately to mind.

The first is what the hell happened to the Lib-Dem policy of demanding another referendum?

Demanding a People's Vote referendum has been the Lib-Dem shtick for the last couple of years, but now they've transitioned to a completely different policy, of revoking article 50 with no democratic mandate from the people via a referendum, and there's no criticism from the mainstream media hack pack whatever!

Every time Labour has even slightly modified or reworded their Brexit stance it's been met with a barrage of mainstream criticism and derision, but the Lib-Dems publicly tear up their entire policy and flip-flop to something entirely different, and they actually get praised on the basis that the new policy can be summed up in just three words!

The second glaringly obvious question is how?.

How do the Lib-Dems intend to revoke Article 50 when a parliamentary majority to revoke Article 50 with no democratic mandate from the people is literally impossible in the current parliament, and vanishingly unlikely in the next parliament?

These are the kind of questions that award-winning journalists should be asking, rather than evaluating policies purely on how few words they can be reduced to.

Tories: Leave October 31st

There are plenty of questions any reasonable journalist could ask about this, but I'll just stick to the two most glaringly obvious ones.

How do the Tories ensure the UK leaves the EU on October 31st when they've thrown away their parliamentary majority by hoofing 20+ Tory MPs out of the party for daring to defy Dominic Cummings, when they've completely lost control of the parliamentary order paper, and when they've lost every single parliamentary vote since Johnson became Prime Minister?

Just like the Lib-Dems, it's easy having simple ambitions. But without a realistic plan of action for how you actually achieve them, what are they actually worth?

The other glaring question is why?

Why the rush to leave on a specific date, even if the consequences of leaving in such a rush are likely to be extremely catastrophic (by your own government's internal Yellowhammer impact assessment).

Little children know to wait for a safe opportunity to cross the road rather than rushing out across busy traffic because an arbitrary amount of time has passed, but somehow the Tory government don't, and furthermore their "run in front of traffic" Brexit strategy is apparently praiseworthy for the fact it can be condensed to just three words!

Welcome to the idiocracy!

Any journalist with any kind of integrity would seek to present all of the main parties' Brexit strategies, and then subject them to criticism. But the current trend is to either pretend to be too stupid to understand Labour's position, or to praise other parties' policies, not because they make any kind of pragmatic sense, but because they can be simplified into the simplest of simple sound bites!

Is the best measure of a policy whether it is achievable from a pragmatic perspective, or how few words it can be expressed in?

Apparently the new answer to this question is the word count!

And the guy responsible for this deliberate stupidification of British political discourse isn't just some Twitter idiot mouthing off, he's an apparently award-winning Financial Times journalist.

If award-winning journalists at one of Britain's most prestigious newspapers is engaging in this kind of ludicrous performative stupidity, then it just goes to show how broken our mainstream media is.

We want super-simple solutions to massively complicated and multi-faceted problems or we're going to pretend to be too stupid to understand is a corrosive and irresponsible bad faith stance in its own right.

But in light of the fact that Brexit was caused by exactly this kind of simple solution (quit the EU) to complex problems (austerity, failing public services, unaffordable housing, negative wage growth, soaring utility bills, NHS queues, over-crowded schools, vandalised social safety net ...), it's illustrative of the fact that award-winning journalists at the top of their god-damned profession haven't even learned one of the most basic and salient lessons from this whole Brexit debacle: "sometimes things are a lot more complex than a slogan you can fit on the side of a bus, let alone into "three words or less [sic]".

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Thursday 5 September 2019

Boris Johnson goes full Mussolini

It's an extraordinary and iconic scene.

As MPs battle to undo Johnson's hard-right, parliament-shutting, disaster capitalist coup plot, Tory HQ actually decided that it would be a good idea for him to go and stand there in front of a load of police, as a visual demonstration that he may not have the backing of the people or parliament, but he still has the full power of the state behind him.

Obviously this kind of belligerent hard-man posturing is going to play brilliantly with the far-right ultranationalist Blue-Kip demographic that Johnson is so obviously intent on pandering to, but by ruthlessly expelling the Tory moderates for doing the right thing the other night, and now going full Mussolini for the cameras, he's brazenly sticking two fingers up at the kind of "keep calm and carry on" middle Englanders who traditionally voted Tory.

This is the imagery of hardcore British nationalism, and it's tailored to appeal to those of the far-right authoritarian disposition: The kind of people who want parliamentary democracy shut down if it means getting their own way, and revel in ruthless state repression of non-violent political dissent.

The Tory party was once a broad church, where comfortably wealthy middle Englanders, economically right-wing privatisation maniacs, and those of more extreme-right dispositions rubbed shoulders, wary of each other, but united in the joint purpose of transferring as much wealth and opportunity as possible from the ordinary majority, to the already-wealthy minority.

But Brexit fanaticism and the rise of Johnson has coincided with a savage ideological purge of the middle Englanders from the Tory ranks, and this piece of Mussolini-style authoritarian posturing is a clear message that the Tory party is now heading down a much more sinister path.

Photo shoots like this don't happen by chance.

The optics of an embattled wannabe hard-man leader surrounded by uniforms will have been carefully considered by Tory strategists and PR wonks.

They know perfectly well that the message they're sending is as much a direct provocation to those who object to the Tory lurch to the far-right as it is delicious manna to heaven to the far-right ultranationalist Blue-Kip demographic they're so desperately pandering to.

But they've done it anyway, because fetishisation of the power of the state and divisive "with us or against us" posturing is staple fare for ideological fanatics.

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What is ... performative stupidity?

When Jeremy Corbyn and Labour abstained on the motion to dissolve parliament and hold a general election, Boris Johnson responded by claiming that he can only speculate about the reason.

But in reality he's been told repeatedly that Labour are keen to fight an election, they're just waiting for the legislation to prevent No Deal By Default to be passed into law before they agree to hold a general election.

He knows that they're delaying the election until after they've disarmed the trap that he tried to set them, but he's pretending not to understand for effect.

When Johnson pretends to be incapable of understanding the simple strategy he's had explained to him multiple times already, he's engaging in performative stupidity.

Performative stupidity is an increasingly popular trend in political discourse, and it's utterly infuriating.

Instead of taking the traditional approach of saying something along the lines of "this policy is stupid because [reasons]", it takes the form of "I'm too stupid to understand this policy, so it must be stupid".

Johnson isn't the first to try it by any stretch, in fact until recently performative stupidity has been far more common on the Remain Ultra side of the Brexit divide.

Pretty much everyone had seen some dolt pretending to be too stupid to understand Labour's Brexit position, especially BBC Politics pundits who seem to take some kind of perverse pleasure in pretending to be too stupid to understand, and having it explained to them again, and again, and again. The same pretence of faux stupidity week after week.

The interview goes something like this:
BBC Presenter: But Labour's Brexit policy is sooo confusing, how can anyone possibly understand it?
Labour Spokesperson: It's actually quite simple. We want to stop the Tory No Deal Brexit disaster from wrecking the UK economy. Then we want to seek renegotiation with the EU to develop a means of leaving the EU that doesn't involve devastating the entire UK economy. Then we'll put the renegotiated fail safe deal to a final say referendum with Remain on the ballot.

Presenter: Gosh, that's a lot of mouth words you just used! How is it even possible for ordinary plebs to hold so many different thoughts in their heads at one time? Why can't you just keep it easy to understand by picking one side and telling the other half of the country to piss off?

Spokesperson: That would be the simple thing to do, but it would be the wrong thing to do. Someone needs to try to heal this terrible Brexit divide David Cameron and the Tories created, and it's impossible to do that by completely alienating one side and ignoring their concerns to pander exclusively to the other side.

Presenter: Well now that's even more mouth words isn't it? So now I'm going to pretend to not understand what you're saying some more in the hope that a load of mindless idiots watching this show will imitate my behaviour and go around pretending that they're also too stupid to understand the basic concept of compromise too. Thank you and good night.
This kind of performative stupidity debating tactic is an infuriating debasement of political discourse, because it takes such bad faith to pretend to be incapable of understanding something that's already been explained to you over and again.

Just think about it.

Other bad faith debating tactics like lying, smearing, straw-manning and whataboutery result in the debasement of political discourse because they lower the bar, and pollute the discourse with dishonesty and personal abuse.

Performative stupidity is more insidious because it involves deliberately pretending to be stupid in a pathetic ruse aimed at convincing the gullible that a reasonably simple and oft explained issue is just too complicated for them to even bother to think about.

This kind of tactic doesn't just debase the discourse because it lowers the bar, it's actively intended to make "I'm too stupid to understand this" an acceptable alternative to reason-based critique.

And the more popular performative stupidity tactics become, the more political pressure will be exerted on our political leaders to develop glib, facile, over-simplistic solutions to complex problems, because anything detailed, or nuanced, or strategically sophisticated will be shouted down by the "I'm too stupid to understand this" performative stupidity brigade.

So the next time you see a politician or political commentator claiming to not understand something (that it's their actual bloody job to understand and critique), ask yourself if they've really honestly failed to grasp the idea, or whether they're seeking to actively erode the standard of political debate by just pretending not to understand.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.