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Emrys's Journal
Emrys's Journal
April 25, 2019

When, why and how: A guide to the European Elections

... the UK's extension to the Article 50 process means the country will have to go to the polls on May 23 to elect a new batch of MEPs.

The process is set to be a brutal one, with Remain buffeted by a series of factors which act against it. This contest is one that, thanks to various structural and electoral forces, is stacked against pro-Remain parties.

Here is what you need to know on why this vote is happening, how it works, what the tactics in play are, and what it all means for Brexit. And, as a spoiler warning, the best outcome is that it means as little as possible.



Tactical voting is a plan starting to gain some traction among some Remainers. But without formal coordination, under this system it is as likely to cost pro-Remain parties a seat (accidentally knocking a party just under a voting threshold, for example) as to gain them one. At this stage, people 
are better voting for the party they like best.


The pro-Brexit parties will try to frame this contest as a confirmation of the 2016 vote, as proof the public wanted Brexit then and still wants it now. Laying the groundwork against that, and refusing to take part in that narrative is perhaps the next thing the pro-Remain parties can do for their voters.


A decent primer for anyone not familiar with the dynamics of the D'Hondt system and its pitfalls, especially in what will be a most unusual election, assuming it does go ahead.

April 18, 2019

Revealed: Brexit group covered up its targeting of right-wing extremists

Brexit-backer Arron Banks repeatedly denied that Leave.EU appealed to National Front supporters – in a bid to get the BBC to drop an investigation

Arron Banks repeatedly lied to cover-up his Brexit campaign’s effort to attract far-right extremists.

Leave.EU paid for Facebook adverts targeted at supporters of the National Front, the BNP, Britain First and the EDL.

But when the BBC asked for a response to a story they planned to run, Mr Banks sent a barrage of emails in an attempt to get the story dropped.

Leaked emails, seen by Channel 4 News, show Mr Banks insisted the BBC’s accusation were “wholly wrong” – despite his own staff telling him the story was true.


Another in Channel 4 News's series on Arron Banks - previous instalment here: https://www.democraticunderground.com/108815798

This one extends the net to the role of the BBC and Robbie Gibb during the referendum campaign.
April 16, 2019

Revealed: How Leave.EU faked migrant footage

An investigation by Channel 4 News also reveals how Arron Banks’ pro-Brexit group appears to have staged photos of migrants attacking women in London

The pro-Brexit campaign group, Leave.EU, faked a viral video and appear to have staged photos of “migrants”, shortly before the EU referendum.

An investigation by Channel 4 News found that images purporting to show “migrants” attacking young women in London seem to have been staged.

The group – backed by businessman Arron Banks – was also behind a fake video, claiming to show how easy it is for migrants to sneak into Britain. In reality, satellite data shows the men on board had not left UK waters.


Just days earlier, Leave.EU was also behind a series of seemingly-staged photographs that show a woman being violently attacked by a man wearing a hooded jacket. Another photo appeared to show a woman being grabbed from behind as she walks into a shop.


Perhaps needless to say, Leave.EU discussed releasing the photos in the run-up to the Brexit referendum and identifying the "attackers" as migrants.

Channel 4 News has been playing a blinder in recent months. As well as the feature above, tonight's episode had a really intelligent on-site interview about the Notre Dame disaster.
April 15, 2019

Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse

George Monbiot

No one is coming to save us. Mass civil disobedience is essential to force a political response

Had we put as much effort into preventing environmental catastrophe as we’ve spent on making excuses for inaction, we would have solved it by now. Everywhere I look, I see people engaged in furious attempts to fend off the moral challenge it presents.


As the environmental crisis accelerates, and as protest movements like YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion make it harder not to see what we face, people discover more inventive means of shutting their eyes and shedding responsibility. Underlying these excuses is a deep-rooted belief that if we really are in trouble, someone somewhere will come to our rescue: “they” won’t let it happen. But there is no they, just us.

The political class, as anyone who has followed its progress over the past three years can surely now see, is chaotic, unwilling and, in isolation, strategically incapable of addressing even short-term crises, let alone a vast existential predicament. Yet a widespread and wilful naivety prevails: the belief that voting is the only political action required to change a system. Unless it is accompanied by the concentrated power of protest – articulating precise demands and creating space in which new political factions can grow – voting, while essential, remains a blunt and feeble instrument.

Today, Extinction Rebellion takes to streets around the world in defence of our life-support systems. Through daring, disruptive, nonviolent action, it forces our environmental predicament on to the political agenda. Who are these people? Another “they”, who might rescue us from our follies? The success of this mobilisation depends on us. It will reach the critical threshold only if enough of us cast aside denial and despair, and join this exuberant, proliferating movement. The time for excuses is over. The struggle to overthrow our life-denying system has begun.


I'm torn here. I have a background in civil disobedience and direct action in my younger years and a lifelong concern for environmental issues, but Monbiot's framing of it as a "rebellion" isn't helpful in a political climate where environmental protesters are already often treated and surveilled as terrorists. (I've had issues with Monbiot in the past, not least because some years ago he was involved in parliamentary select committees about the environment where he proposed all sorts of action that should be taken, but at "the last moment", there should be a grand push for nuclear power as the only "clean" alternative that would have a serious impact. Never mind any misgivings about nuclear power, he obviously hasn't seen the mess that is the UK's nuclear construction programme - the idea that anything in that field could happen fast, let alone safely and with sufficient impact, is ridiculous.)

I could write it off with the usual excuse that the writer doesn't come up with the headline, but here's Monbiot on Frankie Boyle's New World Order last week:


Novara Media

"We've got to go straight to the heart of capitalism and overthrow it."@GeorgeMonbiot on the only hope we have of stopping climate breakdown.

If that's the only hope, I'm afraid I don't think there's any hope. Monbiot gained a round of applause from the studio audience, but how many will then go on to take action in their own lives, let alone to the streets?

Some of Monbiot's points in his speech are sound. For instance, opposition to the continual quest for economic growth has been part of the agenda of the green movement for years, and few in their right minds or without major vested interests would defend unbridled capitalism.

Maybe I'm not his target audience. Maybe I'm missing a groundswell among young people who'll respond to his calls in concrete ways. But rhetoric like "rebellion" and "overthrow of capitalism" isn't going to appeal to those who hold the reins and who we have to convince have a vested interest in not continuing to hoard obscene levels of wealth and destroy the ecosystem. The struggle needs to become mainstream, and preaching to the readily converted isn't going to cut it. It's hard enough to get young people - hell, many people of any age - to take the simple steps of voting and participating in the political system we have, let alone overthrowing it and - most crucially - putting something better in its place.

What are the prospects of more meaningful and thought-through action, involving likely uncomfortable changes in lifestyles, beyond wordy newspaper articles, rare speeches on TV, or stunts in parliament and demos that will gain a two-minute slot or a pic and caption in the media, then be gone?
April 7, 2019

Negotiations with the EU couldn't happen before triggering A50, let alone before the referendum,

so a deal with the EU couldn't have been lined up beforehand.

However, the EU made it clear all along what the primary sticking points would be, mainly the "four freedoms" of movement of labour, goods, services and capital.

The Brexiteers arrogantly assumed the UK was in a far stronger bargaining position than it was, and they could strike a deal where they kept many of the benefits of EU membership without ceding much, if any, ground. Some, like International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, are still waiting for the EU to blink and capitulate. Others have now switched to claiming that no deal was their desired goal all along, and we'll just jam it after Brexit on WTO rules and everything will be fine.

Many in the Tory leadership were (and still are) utterly ignorant of how the EU works. For instance, now-gone Brexit Secretary David Davis assumed he could start lining up trade deals with individual EU countries as soon as Article 50 was triggered. Unfortunately, and obviously, the EU makes such deals as a bloc - that's the whole point of it - so this was a non-starter. Only a week or so ago, a number of Tory MPs had briefings from experts on what the Customs Union is - after three years of blather about leaving it!

What absolutely should have been done was to have a clear idea of what the UK's desired end point of any EU negotiations was before Triggering Article 50. That required a proper debate within the UK, including listening to the devolved governments and assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the problem was that May refused to discuss properly or negotiate with anybody within the UK or, by all accounts, even her own Cabinet. When pressed, her lines were platitudes like "Brexit means Brexit" and "a red, white and blue Brexit". She might as well have said "a strawberry-flavoured Brexit". At this late stage, the EU is still waiting to find out what the government and Parliament actually want!

May's problem, Parliament's problem and the crux of the UK's problem from the referendum onward was that the question put to the electorate was extremely broad and sweeping - "to leave the EU" - and even those on the Leave side were contradictory about what that actually meant, often insisting that the UK would somehow remain within the Customs Union and Single Market.

If May had accepted at the start that the referendum result was very close, especially for such a major change, that a compromise between a hard Brexit and much softer varieties was necessary, and that the opinions of Remainers would have to be taken into account (what they call "losers' consent" ), things might have played out very differently. But she absolutely insisted that her main obsession of "ending freedom of movement" was front and centre of Brexit, which inevitably drew stark red lines that have tied the UK's hands in finding any workable agreement since (unfortunately, it seems Labour now share her main aim in the current May-Corbyn negotiations, though trying to figure out any coherence in their position from hour to hour is a fool's errand).

The problems have only grown worse the more attempts May et al., and Parliament, have made to define precisely what it does mean. It was only in July last year that May finally dared to gather her Cabinet at Chequers and try to thrash out a coherent Brexit aim, and almost immediately a supposed concensus was cobbled together, a number of her ministers resigned.

The more they try to pin it down, the more obvious it is that there is no majority for any proposed way forward, within the government or Parliament, let alone the country as a whole.

April 6, 2019

A shambles on which the sun never sets: how the world sees Brexit

A New York Times columnist believes the UK “has gone mad”. How, asks a Russian TV host, can Britain fail so spectacularly “to correlate its capabilities with reality”? For Australia, it’s like “watching a loved grandparent in physical and mental decline”.

From China to Israel and Russia to Brazil, a world well beyond Europe is watching Britain’s Brexit bedlam with sorrow, bafflement and amusement – and, in those parts of the globe once told that Rule Britannia meant order, stability and shared long-term prosperity, not a little schadenfreude.

“If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t come to London right now, because there is political farce everywhere,” wrote the New York Times commentator Thomas Friedman. “In truth, though, it’s not very funny. It’s actually tragic.”

Here was a country “determined to commit economic suicide but unable even to agree on how to kill itself”, led by “a ship of fools” unwilling to “compromise with one another and with reality”. The result was an “epic failure of political leadership”, Friedland said: scary stuff, but “you can’t fix stupid”.


Jon Henley gathers media reactions from the USA, Afghanistan, Israel, Venezuela, India, Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Kenya, Russia, China, Japan and Brazil.

If things pan out as it looks like they will at the moment, maybe they'll toss us a trade deal or two out of sheer sympathy.

The UK post-Brexit: "Big Issue! Get yer Big Issue!"
April 6, 2019

Reminder: This underinflated balloon was at one point Foreign Secretary

These are not outtakes from The Thick of It:


James Melville @JamesMelville

He was the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom.

If Johnson (somebody please call me out if I ever again refer to him as "Boris" - too cuddly for someone who's an utterly nasty piece of work behind all the buffoonery) makes it to the Tory leadership hustings, there should be plenty more to come.
April 5, 2019

Twitter reveals that's not a plum in Rees-Mogg's mouth, it's his little stamping foot


Jacob Rees-Mogg

If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible. We could veto any increase in the budget, obstruct the putative EU army and block Mr Macron’s integrationist schemes.

At time of writing, the replies were a mix of a few grunts of agreement, overshadowed by the number of people thanking the Mogg for acknowledging and illustrating how much power the UK has within the EU as a democratic body - even in its current diplomatically weakened state - if it chooses to wield it, contrasting with how little it would have if it left. This is aside from the wisdom of antagonizing a body the UK has to hope will be a generous negotiating partner in the aftermath.

A few minor skirmishes broke out in the replies, with some saying that moves within the EU to do away with the veto in favour of qualified majority voting would limit its power. A shame, then, that the UK long lobbied for such a change, and as things stand, it could presumably be blocked with ... a veto.

Maybe Led By Donkeys could sponsor a few billboards to spread the Mogg's words. I think they already did this one:

April 4, 2019

If only bums on glass was the oddest thing to happen in parliament this week

Theresa May’s Brexit manoeuvres make Extinction Rebellion’s semi-naked protest look like an outbreak of sanity

People pressed their semi-naked bums on the gallery glass in the House of Commons and had to be peeled off by police, and it still wasn’t the stupidest thing that happened in parliament this week.

On Monday, the night that parliament was supposed to “take back control”, protest group Extinction Rebellion got into the gallery, took their kit off and tried to stick a variety of body parts to the glass, turning the House of Commons into some kind of X-rated human zoo.

It seemed weird but by the time Tuesday came around we were all looking back on it as a rare moment of sanity. For one thing, it was just nice to see people who had made a decision. It wasn’t the best decision – they were going to glue their hands to some glass and wriggle their bums around for a bit – but at least something got decided in parliament.

Because what happened next was that MPs, who had just taken control from a government who kept bringing back the same deal over and over again, decided to reject every available option they had created for themselves for the second time in a row.

April 4, 2019

Facebook Brexit ads secretly run by staff of Lynton Crosby firm

Exclusive: ‘grassroots’ groups that spent up to £1m on targeted Facebook ads share administrator who works for lobbying firm

A series of hugely influential Facebook advertising campaigns that appear to be separate grassroots movements for a no-deal Brexit are secretly overseen by employees of Sir Lynton Crosby’s lobbying company and a former adviser to Boris Johnson, documents seen by the Guardian reveal.

The mysterious groups, which have names such as Mainstream Network and Britain’s Future, appear to be run independently by members of the public and give no hint that they are connected. But in reality they share an administrator who works for Crosby’s CTF Partners and have spent as much as £1m promoting sophisticated targeted adverts aimed at heaping pressure on individual MPs to vote for a hard Brexit.

Repeated questions have been raised about who is backing at least a dozen high-spending groups that have flooded MPs’ inboxes with calls to reject Theresa May’s deal. Until now they were thought to be independent entities.

But according to the documents, almost all the major pro-Brexit Facebook “grassroots” advertising campaigns in the UK share the same page admins or advertisers. These individuals include employees of CTF Partners and the political director of Boris Johnson’s campaigns to be mayor of London, who has worked closely with Crosby in the past.


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