US Election

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Tomorrow is the 2020 US election.

Haven’t been following this election with the same intensity as I did in 2016 because my time has been occupied with other things but have been following the polls closely.

Suffice to say, I was devastated by 2016’s result. It was quite an experience to stay up all through the night and see your worst fears realised. To see hate and cruelty rewarded, it was a really bitter pill to swallow. Moments like those are when our faith in the world is tested the most.

In the years since, Trump has proven to be as odious as people warned. He imposed a racist travel ban on Muslims, he called the far fight “very fine people” after one of them murdered Heather Heyer, he removed protections for trans students, he removed the US from the Paris Agreement, he mocked assault victim Christine Blasey Ford, he separated migrant children from their parents and this year his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic has led to many deaths that could have been prevented. It’s actually beyond belief this man even has a chance of winning this election.

Thankfully I don’t see him winning. This is not 2016. This time feels different:

For one, Biden is nowhere near as unpopular as Hillary Clinton. His personal ratings are consistently higher. I think most of the hatred of Clinton was driven by misogyny, I’m not a fan of her politics at all but the sheer scale of the vitriol against her has always seemed disproportionate. But regardless of what was behind it, there was a visceral hatred of her that just doesn’t exist for Biden.

The Coronavirus pandemic did a lot of harm to Trump’s reelection prospects. He got so spooked by the potential economic cost that he downplayed how dangerous the virus was. People were horrified when he floated the idea of using disinfectant injections to kill the virus and many have been furious at his resistance to using and promoting masks, even holding rallies where many of his followers fail to socially distance or use a mask. Trump always lies but people are less forgiving over the lies of something of this seriousness because it has a direct impact on the lives of so many ordinary people.

There were probably some voters last time who had felt betrayed by the establishment and were hurting who thought that they’d give someone outside of the Washington establishment a chance. That can’t be excused because these voters were willing to overlook his racism and misogyny, but I understand the feeling of betrayal from politicians. The solution is not to then place your trust in someone who is even more unscrupulous than they are. Hopefully voters have learnt that valuable lesson this time around.

And finally, there is no James Comey this time.

Biden is in a very, very strong position with solid leads in most of the polls from the swing states. People caution that Clinton too had a lead, but not to this extent. The polling would have to be off to an enormous degree and that only happens once in a blue moon. Thankfully by the time the election has happened, the blue moon will have come and gone.

So much hinges on Florida and Pennsylvania. If Biden wins one it is almost a sure bet he will win the election. For Trump, it’s likely he’ll have to take both.

In fact, looking at the polling the chance of a Biden blowout is probably greater than a Trump victory. It’s possible Biden can outperform his polls, take Florida and North Carolina and it could be over a lot earlier in the night than most people will expect. I don’t want to stay up too late so I really hope that will be the case.

The state of most interest to me will be Texas. Texas will turn blue eventually although it’s unlikely this year. The fact Texas is even in play is extraordinary and it will be fascinating to see the final result and how close the Democrats can get to flipping it.

Obviously, it’s very dissapointing that conservative Amy Coney Barret has been confirmed to the US Supreme Court. But right now the Democrats need to take care of what they’re in control of. Holding two branches of government – the legislative and the executive would go some way in repairing the damage Trump has done to the country. And it’s very much within reach.

Joe Biden’s decision to pick Kamala Harris will go down as an historic one. Harris’s politics like Biden leave a lot to be desired and her record as a prosecutor is regressive and deplorable, and many lives have been worsened because of her actions. But if Biden wins she will be the first black woman and first Asian American to be vice president. There’s a lot of people who that will mean an awful lot to, in the same way Obama’s victory did.

For a blissful while, it looked like Bernie Sanders would be the nominee for the Democratic Party after he won the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucus. One of my friends did a bit of campaigning for the Sanders campaign in Des Moines, Iowa and had the time of his life. We all wanted to believe it was going to happen.

He and all Bernie supporters have been demoralised since, which stands to reason since their hopes were crushed. But we should take heart that Bernie was the closest a socialist has ever come to winning the nomination. Sometimes the political terrain just doesn’t allow for the right person to win. Bernie has brought so many people into politics and planted seeds for the left to succeed in the future. We will always remember the hope he brought back to so many people.

Real change will always come from the bottom up. When Biden wins there will be a temptation from a lot of ordinary people to go back to how things were. But this must be resisted. It’s the left’s job to ensure this doesn’t happen and to put pressure on the Biden administration to move the country further left and to hold them to account when they inevitably fuck up on something. The democrats would be wise to remember the opening for Trump came partly due to their own failings, if the party doesn’t start representing the working class, the risk lingers that a figure more reprehensible and competent than Trump may emerge.

The Republicans sold their souls for a Trump presidency. They will pay the price for that in the coming years. They should never be allowed to forget that they enabled one of the most repulsive, destructive political figures of our time, all for a few tax cuts for their wealthy friends.

Tomorrow, we hope the American people deliver a crushing blow to both Trump and the Republican Party. It’s exactly what they deserve.

 

Speak Out

This week we remember George Floyd and Iyad al-Hallak both killed due to racism and hate. Such incidents are sadly no deviation, both the US & Israel have been inflicting injustice on these communities with impunity for much too long.

The Black Lives Matter movement has had my unwavering support since its welcome emergence in 2013, and current events have only reinforced how important it is to voice our support to a movement fighting for justice. It’s a movement that is characterized by resistance, courage and conviction. It’s a movement that in the end will win in its mission to liberate black people from the scourge of racism.

Equally, the plight of the Palestinian people has been something I’ve deeply cared about since I became aware of extreme IDF violence in the Gaza war of 2014. The occupation, the settlements, the constant killings and destruction of Palestinian property are all illegal under international law, and despite the Israeli propaganda that tries to deceive the world into thinking they’re a democratic state, anyone with a shred of moral integrity and honesty will see the Israeli state for what it is: A racist, colonial settler state.

The latest killing of an autistic Palestinian man just underscores the wanton disregard Israeli forces show for Palestinian life. Not only did they take his life, they terrorized his family by forcibly entering their home in search for a weapon they didn’t find and shouted obscenities at his sister. As we remember Iyad and think of his family, let us also keep sight of what is at stake here. This won’t be the last life lost to Israeli criminality, so we all need to do everything in our power to put pressure on those in power to hold Israel to account. I have raised this matter with a member of the Social Democrats and I hope the Irish government express their condemnation of this crime.

The terrible injustices inflicted on the Palestinian community and black community will not stand. The perpetrators of oppression always exhibit the arrogant notion that the tide won’t turn, but history teaches us that while always much too late, eventually it will turn. And when it does, it won’t be a moment too soon.

The scenes in America are not a surprise. It’s felt like widespread unrest like this been brewing for some time, with the reprehensible killing of George Floyd now bringing it to the surface. America is currently led by a brazen racist, who has emboldened white supremacists and the like. While black people and other minorities have been all too familiar with how unjust the country is because of their lived experiences, people from privileged groups have credulously believed the myth of a country that supports liberty and equality. The more videos that emerge, the more that people listen to the voices of black Americans, the more untenable that belief becomes. Now more than ever, in this definitive period we need do everything in our power to support black people. Donate if you can, write for them, read from black authors, make art for them, support their art, inform others of the scale of oppression inflicted on them.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

Never look the other way. Always speak up for your black and Palestinian friends.

Every voice counts in the war against racism.

Legalise and Destigmatise

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Ireland goes to the polls this week to vote on whether to repeal the 8th amendment, one of the most controversial pieces of the Irish constitution. Just three years after voting to legalise gay marriage, Ireland has another opportunity to strike a crushing blow against the regressive forces that want to keep the country in the dark ages.

The vote comes mere months before a visit from the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. The church’s influence on the island of Ireland has been deeply pernicious causing extreme amounts of oppression, no more so than its teachings on abortion which has caused an immeasurable amount of stress and misery to many pregnant people throughout the years. The church’s position that life begins at conception and that all forms of abortion are to be prohibited is viewed as extreme across most of the secular world but in Ireland the rights of pregnant people are restricted by the constitution and our media and politics has pandered to anti-choice ideologues for too long. This is the most consequential referendum on abortion since 1983 when the anti-choice extremists managed to dupe the country into voting for the introduction of the 8th amendment based on lies and divisive manoeuvres. But the landscape is dramatically different now with a well organised pro-choice campaign and a Catholic Church which has seen its influence wane due to abuse scandals and its rigid teachings on several social issues.

Ireland has a sordid and troubling history when it comes to its treatment of pregnant people. We of course all heard of the harrowing case involving Savita Halappanavar which made international headlines but there have been cases preceding and following her case which have been deeply shameful too.

Just years after the 1983 referendum the scenario which pro-choice advocates greatly feared came to pass. It became known as the X case and involved a 14 year old girl who had been raped and required an abortion. The state intervened and granted an injunction which forced the girl and her family to travel back from Britain where they had been staying to receive the care she so desperately needed. In the month that followed, her case became the subject of a bitter legal dispute which was eventually settled when the supreme court overturned the high court’s decision and declared she could leave the county to have an abortion. To the shame of the Irish government legislation was never brought forward to protect the mother’s life when her health was at risk.

Savita’s death in 2012 left an indelible mark on the country. Her case was a seminal moment in the country’s attitudes to abortion. While the cause of her death was due to sepsis, the legal inability of doctors to perform an abortion at her request allowed the sepsis to develop. Savita knew there was little chance of her child surviving but was denied an abortion on the grounds that the foetus still had a heartbeat. The author of the report into Savita’s death, Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran has stated that Ireland’s illiberal abortion laws directly led to her death. Her death led to international condemnation and scrutiny of Ireland’s abortion laws and showed the human cost of anti-choice zealotry. If she lived in a country which wasn’t ridden with anti-choice extremism she’d still be alive today. Since her death, pro-choice people have dedicated themselves to make sure her death wasn’t in vain. Her father has also made an emotional plea to the country stating that he will be watching the vote and hopes the country votes for access to abortion.

In response to Savita’s death the protection of life act was brought in and yet it was a very flawed and wholly inadequate piece of legalisation. The flaws were starkly underlined by another horrific case which occurred in 2014. The Y case involved a woman who was brutally raped abroad and who was provided asylum in Ireland, her case was made more difficult by the fact it would have been unlikely for her to have been able to travel to England to have an abortion because of her status. Despite her poor mental state and strong desire to have an abortion she was forced to continue with the pregnancy. Amnesty gave a detailed account of the horrendous treatment Ms Y was subjected to and it’s gruelling to read about. These are the kind of scenarios that will continue to arise if this amendment isn’t repealed.

Only a few months following the Y case we had the deplorable case involving MS P, who despite being clinically brain-dead was kept on life support in the slim chance that her foetus may survive. It caused considerable anguish to her grieving family. All of these cases are a great source of shame for the country. We can not pretend to be a forward-thinking country while we subject people to this kind of treatment.

The inescapable fact is that abortion is already a reality in this country but it’s unsafe, unregulated and puts women under great mental and financial strain. In addition to the use of imported abortion pills which has caused great concern among doctors, thousands of Irish women travel abroad each year to England to have the procedure they so desperately need. At least 170,000 women have made the journey to England since 1980 and on average 12 women a day make the journey. Many of these women have recounted their poignant stories In Her Shoes and it underscores the courage so many Irish women have. Their bravery in sharing their experiences has gone a long way in reducing support for the noxious amendment. If the 8th is retained the country will have chosen to betray these women and continue to subject pregnant people to this unnecessary and emotionally testing journey.

In the video below, a beautiful mosaic of notes sharing the personal stories of many women who have travelled abroad to access abortion services.

Our Right To Choose from Uilu Stories on Vimeo.

The objective of any pro-choice person should not merely be to campaign to legalise abortion but to also remove the stigma from the act of abortion itself since this stigma is so detrimental to people who have had abortions. It’s also what has allowed the anti-choice side to have moralised quite effectively on the issue for so long. Far from being undesirable, abortions are a vital and normal service for those who may need it. In most democracies which have introduced pro-choice legislation the results have been clear: Abortions alleviate suffering not increase it. There will always be isolated cases of people who have bad experiences with abortions, like any medical procedure which contains minor risks but for the bulk of people who require the procedure they go as expected and allow them to go back to living their life without the imposition of an unwanted pregnancy. The No side are correct to state this referendum is about far more than abortion in cases when the mother’s life is in danger or when a victim of rape needs one. We shouldn’t have to distance ourselves from what should be a morally uncontroversial fact. The bulk of abortions will not happen under these circumstances and that’s perfectly okay. Pregnant people who have abortions shouldn’t feel under pressure to rationalise their decision, it’s between them and their family and should not be something for society to pass judgement and sanctimony on. Abortion is not invariably a difficult decision for pregnant people, for some it’s simple and takes away the unnecessary stress a pregnancy would bring. Bringing a baby into the world is a beautiful thing when there’s a genuine desire to care and love for it, but when a pregnancy is imposed on people by force it can become ugly and lead to quite a degree of suffering for the person involved. Legalising abortion is simply about providing more autonomy to pregnant people and this can only be of benefit to wider society.

The desperation of the No Side is laid bare by their provocative tactics throughout the referendum. A side confident of victory wouldn’t resort to such desperate tactics, and this is an expression of intense rage at the realisation they’re losing the battle on this critical social issue. They’ve also tried to imitate the styles of Trump and Brexiters by depicting themselves as fighting against the establishment and being tyrannised by a biased media, being the underdog essentially. This is a standard mindset from people who have had unearned privilege and an unchallenged platform for much too long. Once they’re challenged and their claims no longer treated with the undeserved reverence they once had, they feel oppressed and under attack. The pro-choice side have done well to keep things as civil as possible, and avoid getting personal with the No side, but make no mistake about it: They feel deep feelings of revulsion at the tactless antics of the No Side

The anti-choice side are on such perilous ground when it comes to the morality of abortion they resort to propagating anti-scientific falsehoods. A side sure of their convictions on the morality of an ethical issue would require no need to promote lies because the truth would be more than enough to convince the average person of the virtues of their stance. Some of the untruths they perpetuate include the ideas that abortions cause depression, suicide, cancer and reduce fertility. All of these claims have been repeatedly debunked but it doesn’t stop them advancing these insidious lies because they sow doubts in the public’s mind about abortion. But expert medical opinion matters and it is overwhelmingly in favour of a repeal of the 8th amendment. More than 1000 doctors and The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have expressed support for Yes.

The No Side have claimed that in the event the referendum passes the proposed legislation is extremely radical but in actual fact we’d still be on the conservative end of the European spectrum when it comes to reproductive rights. The mandatory waiting period of three days before the procedure can be done also sets us apart from many European countries and has been criticised for being patronising and infantilising to pregnant people implying that they haven’t seriously considered the decision before arranging for the procedure to be done. What is being proposed is a big step in the right direction but it’s by no means everything pro-choice campaigners wanted. What’s in fact radical is the maintenance of the status-quo which unmistakably distinguishes us from other European countries.

Facebook and Google deserve credit for banning foreign ads related to the referendum on social networks. The anti-choice side have tried to exploit this because they’re aware how ineffective they are on the ground and connecting with run of the mill people. Social media has come under intense scrutiny since the 2016 US elections with many people convinced the promotion of fake news and use of bots determined the outcome of the election. A study has cast doubt on just how influential fake news was but nevertheless the anti-choice since were hellbent on trying to influence the result with money from America. The fact this avenue is now closed to them is deeply gratifying.

Credit must go to leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin for supporting the repeal of the 8th. His party is rife with anti-choice fanatics and he knew the avalanche of abuse his courageous statement would unleash but he outlined his support for repeal and that support underscored just how successful repeal campaigners have been. To get the leader of a party which has always been notorious for anti-abortion prejudice is an incredible feat and just shows how impactful the repeal campaign has been. Simon Harris, minister for health has also been a breath of fresh air on this specific issue, vigorously campaigning for repeal. In addition he has refused to pander to the anti-choice brigade which attracted a lot of personal abuse but instead of kowtowing to them he confronted them on it.

Not every anti-choice person is odious, some sadly have just been deceived by the sheer scale of anti-abortion propaganda which has infested this country since its inception. But everyone who votes no on the 25th May will have chosen to deny human rights and ensure more suffering occurs, a reprehensible act which shouldn’t be excused on the basis of ignorance. While we disagree with anyone who abhors abortion those who have set aside their personal distaste for the procedure and accepted that everyone has the right to decide for themselves warrants some credit. These people have managed to put their personal morals to one side and not violate the human rights of their fellow citizens.

The No side did get a late boost by RTE’s regrettable decision to host a live audience in its first televised debate for the referendum. Peter Boylan who is a dignified man was treated horrendously and you can understand why he was targeted. Boylan who is a consultant obstetrician and former master of the National Maternity Hospital has spoken eloquently and powerfully on why the 8th amendment needs to be repealed. The fact the anti-choice mob targeted him shows you how effective a voice he’s been to the repeal side. An issue of this seriousness deserves a bit more respect than it to be reduced to sheer bedlam more resembling a circus than a dignified, solemn debate on an emotive issue. When it’s kept civil and to the hard facts this will always suit those on the side of evidence and rationality whereas chaos always suits those who peddle lies. RTE’s decision wasn’t based on any sort of journalistic integrity but a selfish urge to attract as many viewers as possible and unsurprisingly it worked.

The amount of people who have protested and campaigned for reproductive rights over the last number of years has been deeply inspiring. People from all age-groups have worked hard to secure the right to choice. We managed to interview a canvasser from the Yes side, Martin Byrne of Balbriggan who has attended pro-choice marches and has canvassed strenuously in the weeks leading up to the referendum.

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Martin Byrne and Together For Yes Canvassers.

Hello Martin, as a vehement pro-choice advocate can I first express my appreciation for your tireless campaigning over the past few weeks. I think it speaks to the importance of this issue that so many people from all walks of life have been motivated to get out and campaign.

Have people been more receptive to your pro-choice message than you would have thought?

Everywhere we go we are getting a great welcome. I think that’s because people have seen such a huge amount of ‘No’ postering and messaging that they are happy to see their team showing up. You can also feel the underlying anger in many people – anger at how women have been treated in the country for decades, in fact a century. They want to tell us how determined they are to vote yes and that all of their household is voting yes. So overall we’ve had a great welcome at the doorsteps.

Have you encountered any nastiness or intimidation while out canvassing?

I’ve encountered very little. I was called a murderer by one older lady. She tried to give me a ‘no’ pamphlet and I said ‘No thanks, I trust women to decide’. She said ‘So you don’t mind murdering babies, then’

One man at a doorstep said ‘God gives life and God takes it away’ – I smiled and thanked him for his time. But overall everyone has been very decent and respectful, even if they strongly disagree with what we are saying.

What has impressed you most about the Yes campaign?

I’ve been most impressed by the unity and organisation on the ‘Yes’ side. Every canvass has a leader with maps and an almost military level of canvasser management. I’ve also been impressed by the big variety of people involved. All ages, genders and classes are together for yes, and the atmosphere has been universally positive and welcoming.

The No side have run a decidedly hateful and vitriolic campaign. What did you find most offensive about their tactics?

I found the graphic imagery outside schools and hospitals to be pointlessly offensive. I’ve also found the deliberate misinformation to be frustrating. If one side is going to openly lie, then the other side is left with the job of countering and explaining. They start fires so we have to waste time putting them out instead of getting our own message across.

I find it hard to believe that the organisers of the ‘no’ campaign have any genuine concern about the issues involved. I think some of them are just serial ‘antis’ – be it Equal Marriage, Children’s Rights, Divorce, Contraception, Protection of Live During Pregnancy – they have been anti everything.

And finally, are you confident of a victory in a weeks time?

I’m not completely confident, no. I think it’s going to be very close, and it could still be won or lost on turnout. The last poll has ‘Yes’ with a 16 point lead. But there are still plenty of undecideds and still a week of misinformation and scare tactics from the anti choice side. We are changing our messaging to ‘Plan your vote’ so as to encourage as many people as possible to get out and vote on the day. It could come down to a few votes in each ballot box at the end of the day, as it did with the divorce referendum.

Throughout my article you will have noticed I have used the gender-neutral term “pregnant people”. Of course it goes without saying that misogyny is a major component of the efforts to criminalise abortion in this country. But abortion isn’t an issue that exclusively affects women as both trans men and non-binary people can become pregnant too and may need access to services. Remembering to be inclusive is a small step but goes a long way in helping the trans community to feel welcome in the Repeal campaign. For too long they’ve simply been erased from the debate. Their voice matters too.

Sadly, a victory in a weeks time wouldn’t bring an end to the hateful and odious behaviour of the anti-choice dogmatists. When we have access to abortion they will try to terrorise people who do have abortions and will try to stymie pro-choice legalisation. But that aside, victory would mark the biggest defeat for the anti-choice lobby since the country’s inception and would show that Ireland is a country which values the human rights of its citizens.

Top Of The World

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The mark of a great champion isn’t merely an ability to win, but the ability to overcome adversity. With his victory on Sunday at the Open, Justin Spieth displayed that ability in abundance.

Spieth’s victory comes 15 months after his calamitous loss at the Masters where he squandered a 5 shot lead, which involved a disastrous quad bogey at the infamous 12th. Some speculated that loss may do irreversible damage to his psyche and that he would struggle to fully recover. And indeed, it looked like the crushing defeat took its toll because in the following majors Spieth looked deprived of that killer instinct that had become so distinctive. But as we remarked back then, Spieth has all the attributes of a champion and it would only be a matter of time before he bounced back.

The signs coming into the championship were auspicious. Just three weeks ago he won The Travelers championship in memorable fashion by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, the second time he has achieved such a feat. But even such a great win couldn’t be a true gauge for just how well Spieth would cope under intense pressure at one of the most coveted tournaments in golf.

For the first three rounds Spieth played near faultless golf, recording only four bogeys. It led many to believe the final round would be a coronation with Spieth coasting to victory. But it proved anything but with Spieth getting off to an inauspicious start by bogeying three of the first four holes. The magic we’d come to expect from Spieth’s putter abandoned him, he was rattled and suddenly looked like any other golf exhibiting vulnerabilities on the greens in a final round of a major championship.

The catalyst for his miraculous recovery would prove to be one of the worst golf shots he’s ever hit. On the 13th tee he launched a drive so errant it was 120 yards off line, on a steep mound buried in rough so thick it meant he would have to take an unplayable lie. Speith was visibly shaken by his egregious tee shot, putting his hands on his head, an indication of the predicament he thought he would find himself in. But the golf gods were shining on Spieth, not only was his ball found by spectators but he could take an unplayable lie which meant he could hit his third shot from short grass and possibly salvage a bogey. His third shot wasn’t struck perfectly but it left his ball in a position where it was possible to get up and down. He pitched to 10ft and his tournament arguably hinged on that putt. Miss and he would face a deficit of two shots with all momentum gone, make it and suddenly the hole which looked like ending Spieth’s championship would become the one which made it. He made the putt and salvaged the most improbable of bogeys, one that would make Houdini proud.

From that moment onwards Spieth’s whole demeanour changed. Suddenly his killer instincts which deserted him for most of the round returned in stunning fashion: A gorgeous tee shot led to a birdie on the following hole to tie him for the lead, and then a sensational 50ft eagle putt on the next returned him to the top of the leaderboard. For good measure he birdied the next two as well to complete one of the greatest finishes to a major tournament in golfing history, leaving fans marvelling in awe.

Matt Kuchar was Spieth’s opponent and a worthy one at that. He barely put a foot wrong all day, and his class endeared him to the galleries. For journeymen golfers like Kuchar, opportunities to win majors are not dime a dozen so he will understandably be crushed to lose in those circumstances. But hopefully his defeat will motivate him to keep plugging away, and perhaps he will taste major success in the future.

But this was a day that belonged to Jordan Spieth, a victory which now puts him into the category of all time greats. What happened at Augusta in 2016 is now firmly in the rear view mirror and his sights will now turn to winning the career grand slam, a feat he could achieve in three weeks time. Spieth has his doubters, but surely they must admit what he accomplished on Sunday at Birkdale was mightily impressive.

Jez We Can

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This was supposed to be a foregone conclusion, a landslide win for Theresa May and a drubbing for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
But when the exit poll was released at 10 pm on Thursday evening it sent shockwaves throughout the British establishment that reverberated around the world. Yes, Corbyn didn’t win and yes the Tories remain the largest party, but this result has completely changed the landscape of British politics.

There can be no escaping the fact that Theresa May made one of the worst political calculations in political history by calling this election. Her opportunism has backfired in stunning fashion and she is now mortally wounded with the only question being when she leaves, not if. She has squandered the majority the conservatives had and if she lacked a mandate to implement a hard Brexit before this election, she certainly does now. From the very beginning of the campaign Mrs May’s arrogance led her to believe that she could ignore the people and the press and coast to victory, badly underestimating the campaign her opponents would run. She launched a manifesto which is universally regarded as one of the most disastrous in U.K political history, with her controversial policies on social care causing a furore and leading to a U-turn. Her response to the manifesto launch compounded matters, instead of showing contrition and admitting the mistake she insisted nothing had changed and sneered at the press when questioned on it. In response to the terrorism which befell the country she exploited the attacks to make a cheap smear claiming that Corbyn stated British people were to blame for the terrorism. Her reaction to the Manchester attack was as bad, calling for regulation of the internet which angered tech experts.

Now for the 2nd year in succession, the Tories who are absurdly regarded as a party which is responsible has brought major instability to the country. To make matters worse, their desperation for power and what they will resort to get it have been laid bare to the public. Mrs May’s immediate instinct was to make a deal with the DUP, having no regard for the implications both for her party’s long term interests, but more importantly the interests of Northern Ireland and the peace process. The DUP who are infamous for their regressive social views, and ties to loyalist paramilitary groups may not drag England backwards when it comes to social rights, but the optics look terrible, and this may be the latest in a long list of political miscalculations from Theresa May. All throughout the campaign May and the Tories depicted Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser, and that a vote for him would potentially bring a coalition of chaos. Now it’s the Tories who find themselves once again creating chaos and dependent on a party which has a history of supporting terrorism. For once and all this election has shattered the myth that conservatives are a party of stability and responsibleness.

When this election was called Corbyn and Labour found themselves in a hopeless situation. Polling was indicating not just a defeat, but a mauling. Enthusiasm was scarce, and Corbyn’s personal ratings were catastrophic. Anyone who had the temerity to suggest that this election could turnaround was dismissed and roundly ridiculed. But what has unfolded in the last two months has been something of a political miracle. The conventional wisdom is that campaigns are largely irrelevant and that public opinion rarely sees radical shifts in a short period of time. But this was not a normal campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn is not a normal candidate. His and Labour’s resurgence is one of the greatest fight-backs in UK political history. Despite the wobbles of May’s campaign it would have largely been forgotten if Corbyn wasn’t on his game ready to capitalise. From the moment he started the campaign his message was clear and firm, “for the many, not the few” a political slogan which perfectly encapsulated the contrast between the Tories and Labour. He advocated defending the NHS, investing in jobs and strengthening job security. His manifesto which was brimming with popular policies including banning zero hour contracts, plans to renationalise the railways and an increase in taxation on the ultra wealthy resonated with the British people and created enthusiasm among Labour’s base. Corbyn’s campaign was also notable for the amount of people he attracted to his rallies showing that his message really does have popular appeal.

Corbyn’s campaign wasn’t all plain sailing, on Question Time he struggled on questions pertaining to Trident and the IRA, and clearly the topic of security made him nervous. On Woman’s hour he forgot the figures to his childcare policy although in contrast to May he humbly apologised hours later. No doubt Corbyn has performed better than anyone expected during this campaign, but there are still areas where he can make major improvements.

Those most loyal to Corbyn always insisted that despite the polls, once an election began and Corbyn was given a fair chance by the British media, that the public would respond well to him. This is precisely what has happened.
The media caricature of Corbyn as a man who is hopelessly incompetent, weak and an extremist fell apart once the public had a chance to listen to Corbyn over the course of a campaign.

The brilliance of Corbyn’s campaign was reflected in the fact Labour gained seats in Kensington and Canterbury. Canterbury saw a swing of more than 18% from Tories to Labour and it was first time Labour took the seat since before the 2nd World War. Kensington equally was extraordinary seeing a swing of 11% to Labour from Tories and it was the first time Labour took the seat. Their share of the vote increased from 30% to 40% a figure considered inconceivable only weeks ago. It was also Labour’s highest share of the vote since 2001 and the highest swing in share since 1945. But just as importantly, they also reduced the deficit in a number of constituencies turning them from safe seats for the Tories into marginals. Since the election Labour’s membership has increased by some 25,000 members; momentum is now fully with them.

Bizarrely and keeping with the theme of this election, Scotland proved to be Tories saving grace. The SNP were widely expected to lose a few seats, but they had a disastrous night, reflected by the fact Westminster MP Angus Robertson and former leader Alex Salmond both lost their seats. Labour also saw a bit of a resurgence in Scotland but were always going to be held back by Scottish Labour’s fiercely unionist politics. What’s clear is the timing of Nicola Sturgeon’s call for another independence referendum was a big miscalculation. Over the last year, Nicola Sturgeon has made a habit of deriding Jeremy Corbyn as unelectable and that he won’t get anywhere near Downing Street so it is deeply ironic that the reason Corbyn isn’t sitting in Number 10 this week is because of the SNP’s bad performance in Scotland.

Perhaps the only ones who came out of this election looking stronger than Jeremy Corbyn were YouGov and Survation. While the outcome took many by surprise, the fact of the matter is that according to certain polls it was far from inconceivable that a hung parliament would occur. Weeks before the election YouGov predicted a hung parliament and gains for Labour, leading to derision and declarations that come the result Yougov’s reputation as a reliable pollster would be toast. In addition, Nate Silver, the much-maligned US statistician cautioned that the polls giving May such a sizeable majority may not be taking into consideration the different factors in this election compared to previous ones. And finally, Survation on the eve of the election, when all polling looked grim, stated Labour was only one percentage point behind the conservatives. Survation unlike some of the other pollsters refused to herd, and stuck by their projection, basing their confidence on the fact that the model they were using accurately called the last election which left them ruing their decision not to publish it.

Now that Corbyn has outperformed and exceeded expectations, ambitions will now be higher. He is now in the strongest position since his leadership victory almost two years ago. Many MPs who doubted whether he could gain seats in a general election have conceded they got it wrong. This result will embolden Corbyn and the Labour left but also hopefully unify the party behind them and lead to the kind of stability within a party that is conducive to general election success. But most importantly what Corbyn has done has brought hope back to British politics, and created a sense that there is another way, one that is fairer and just. Considering where he found himself no more than two months ago, that is an incredible accomplishment.

A Pyrrhic Victory For The Tories

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Britain goes to the polls tomorrow to determine who will lead the country through their exit from the European Union. Theresa May – leader of the Tories is expected to retain a majority for her party despite a poor campaign. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn are expected to perform much better than initially expected, but despite a strong campaign which has created genuine enthusiasm among Labour’s base, they faced insurmountable odds going into the election with polling showing a more than 20 point lead for the Tories at the beginning of the campaign.

The election comes almost a year after the British public voted to leave the EU in an historic referendum which shocked the world. Unsurprisingly much has changed following the outcome: Nigel Farage – leader of UKIP, the leading exponent of Brexit for many years resigned after his successful bid to end Britain’s membership of the EU. The outcome of the referendum also had the effect of consolidating the conservative vote because many UKIP voters flocked back to the Tories.

Prime minister David Cameron who called the referendum both as a ploy to get votes and to pacify the pro-Brexit members within his own party resigned the morning of the result after campaigning for remain; this triggered a leadership contest where Theresa May was overwhelmingly chosen by Tory MPs to succeed Cameron as PM.

On the Labour side, many MPs held Corbyn responsible for the result, blaming his lacklustre campaign and held a vote of no-confidence in which MPs overwhelmingly voted for him to go. Corbyn maintained that he still had the support of the Labour membership and that if he was go, that would have to be determined in another leadership election. Many Labour MPs wanted Corbyn removed from the ballot but the NEC declared he would be eligible to stand again. All throughout the summer Corbyn was pilloried and hounded by the press and those within his own party. His challenger Owen Smith floundered during his campaign suffering many gaffes which included making inappropriate jokes about two women politicians, and advocated negotiating with ISIS and could not create a message that resonated with the membership. Corbyn won the leadership election, but unlike his first victory this was no cause for celebration. The sabotage of his leadership had done irreversible damage to the party’s image and decreased the odds of winning a general election.

Brexit is a poisoned chalice, of that there’s little doubt. Article 50 was triggered on 29th of March and now Britain is in the process of exiting the EU. Despite the calls for a 2nd referendum from the most aggrieved of the remainers the British electorate has no enthusiasm for another divisive referendum.

Theresa May’s insistence that she wouldn’t call a snap election always seemed insincere because for one she lacked a mandate from the British electorate and two her poll ratings in contrast to Corbyn were too good to ignore. She called a referendum fully expecting to lead the party to a landslide victory and to humiliate Corbyn’s Labour. There is nothing politically unusual about that type of opportunism but Mrs May must take us for fools when she says she called it for ‘the good of the country’.

May has faltered since calling the election, she has displayed great antipathy for the British people by refusing to debate her policies and has generally tried to avoid interviews from the press. The manifesto launch was a disaster leading to questions on social care and a u-turn on the infamous dementia tax. Whatever the result May’s position has unquestionably weakened, both in the eyes of the electorate, but arguably more importantly in the eyes of EU negotiators.

In terms of Brexit negotiations she has repeatedly said no deal is better than a bad deal but that ignores the fact that no deal is disastrous in and of itself. May’s negotiating style is said to have angered EU negotiators and with her at the helm the chance of a good deal appears increasingly unlikely which is why she’s depicting a no deal as an acceptable outcome. In addition, May appears determined to implement a hard Brexit. Economic growth has already been quite dismal under the Tories, but with the instability involved in exciting the EU, Britain’s economy will weaken further.

Labour’s policies are costed unlike the Tories and would be conducive to a more successful Brexit, but much of the consequences that will arise because of Britain’s exit would be out of their control and they would be scapegoated for the mistakes made by the Tory government. Bearing that in mind, it may be preferable for their long-term prospects that they avoid government and allow the Tories to take full responsibility for the mess they have made.

Before the campaign the consensus among the British press was that Corbyn would lead Labour to its most catastrophic result in decades making the party unelectable for generations to come. It would also be seen as a major rejection of the left and the Labour right who sabotaged Corbyn’s leadership would feel vindicated and retake control of the party. There are signs the Labour right still intends to go on with their plans, but they’re unlikely to succeed as the membership bear plenty of animosity towards them. Corbyn has his faults but when it comes to the future of the party, he’s on the right side of history. For Labour to be a force in British politics they had to extricate themselves from the toxicity created by New Labour’s politicians, and Corbyn’s reign has helped further that process. It’s imperative that the next leader doesn’t reverse Labour’s turn leftwards, and appeals to the large membership which Corbyn has helped created.

Corbyn’s strength has always been campaigning. Indeed that’s what propelled him to leader in the first place and prevented the attempt of getting rid of him. Not only has he excelled throughout this campaign but he’s also won over some critics and skeptics because of his strong performance. Corbyn’s personal ratings have also significantly improved in part due to his impressive TV appearances, while May’s have tanked because of the wobbly campaign. While huge rallies and thousands of people cheering your name don’t translate to electoral success they can’t be dismissed either. For a future left-wing party to succeed there has to be a strong grassroots support for the party and under Corbyn that has returned. In addition Corbyn launched the most radical manifesto in years, far from resembling Michael Foot’s ‘suicide note’ which the media claimed it would, it generated huge enthusiasm among British people and received praise from a hostile media.

The media has generally been very hostile to Corbyn. Scrutiny of political leaders is perfectly reasonable but the degree of attacks against Corbyn and the way in which he’s been misrepresented is clearly disproportionate to the way the Tories are treated. Part of the reason Corbyn has done well in this election is because of the rules governing media coverage during an election which mandate that candidates are given equal coverage and that their speeches are reported. What this shows is that if the media were fairer to Corbyn throughout his leadership his chances of winning would have undoubtedly been greater. While the power of the traditional media has weakened, there’s little doubt that its coverage of parties and candidates still has an impact on how they’re perceived by the wider public.

Many on the left recognised that when Corbyn won the leadership contest, winning a general election was always an improbability, the sabotage which followed only furthered his odds. But for many on the left, Corbyn’s victory was in many ways more about the future direction of the party than Corbyn himself. A party in transition is always unlikely to fare well in an election where stability and unity are often valued, but if Corbyn and his supporters could win the argument on the direction the party should go, it would lay the groundwork for future electoral success. The hope is that in the coming years someone who has more leadership qualities, doesn’t have the weak spots that Corbyn does, and runs on a platform as left-wing as his wins.

If the Tories win a majority, Corbyn should resign sometime in the coming weeks but state passionately that the path he’s led the party on should continue. He’s shown that there’s a large enthusiasm among people and especially the young for an unapologetically left-wing party.

The Lib Dems who were tipped to have a great election have done quite poorly under the uninspiring leadership of Tim Farron. It was widely expected that their share of the vote would greatly increase because of their Pro-EU stance which would attract disillusioned Labour voters who wanted another referendum. Farron to his credit has made civil liberties and the decriminasaltion of cannabis a subject of this election. Despite taking a lot of flack from the technically illiterate press, Farron has maintained his stance that encryption should not be weakened and defended his rejection of the authoritarian snoopers charter. He deserves genuine credit for that.

For the SNP, this election is unlikely to change much. Nicola Sturgeon has come under increasing scrutiny over her leadership of the party but Scottish people still prefer the party to the Tories and the staunchly unionist Scottish Labour. There are signs that under Corbyn, Labour are recovering some ground in Scotland but the sense of betrayal many Scots hold for Labour over their project fear campaign during the 2014 independence referendum lingers. The SNP who have called for another referendum on Scottish independence have had to tone down the calls for another referendum because during this time it’s not popular. Sturgeon no doubt will expect that under a Tory government and the hard Brexit they promise, support for a 2nd referendum will increase especially considering the Scots voted overwhelming to remain a part of the EU.

The horrendous events in Manchester and London have overshadowed the elections. The attack in Manchester which was targeted at young people was particularly gruesome and sinister.

The timing of the attacks are unlikely to be coincidental. ISIS make no secret of wanting to influence politics. They have said in the past that their goal is to eliminate the grayzone of coexistence between Muslims and the West. These attacks are intended to engender a backlash against Muslims in the West, in the hopes that they’ll become more sympathetic to ISIS’ goals. A win for Corbyn would be a disaster for ISIS because it would show that contrary to their claims about everyone in the West hating Muslims, there is a significant number of people who don’t want to demonise Muslims and who don’t think bombing is the solution to the problems in the Middle-East. On the other hand Theresa May has pandered to xenophobic nationalism and threatened more authoritarianism in the wake of the attacks.

The Muslim community who are invariably blamed for not doing enough to stop the terrorists alerted the authorities over their concerns regarding them. One of the London attackers was also banned from his mosque for his extremist views.

The attacks inevitably turned the discussion to security which Corbyn is perceived as being weak on despite being vindicated on a number of security issues. Security also became a bit of headache for May because of her time as home secretary when she cut some 20,000 police officers despite warnings that it would risk the security of Britain. The Tories also received some criticism for their cosy relationship with the Saudi government, but this is an issue that the average British person just doesn’t care about.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London came under vicious attacks from US president Donald Trump. Trump deliberately took Khan’s comments out of context at a time when he should be showing solidarity towards London. His remarks were rebuked by people within his own government and political leaders of Britain. Conspicuously absent in denunciations of his comments was Theresa May, who also refused to public denounce him for his decision to exit the Paris agreement.

The response to the attacks have been a lesson in the proper way to respond to terrorism. Instead of playing into the terrorists’ hands people within Manchester have shown unity and displayed courage. The One Manchester Concert was poignant and inspiring and the perfect way to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks and also a defiant reminder to the terrorists that people will not be cowered by terror. Credit must go to Ariana Grande for returning so soon after the attack, visiting the wounded in hospital and relatives of the victims and putting on a concert which uplifted the city.

The Tories now have the task of leading the country through a tough period. They’re an unpopular party and their regressive and anachronistic ideology is ill-equipped to deal with modern challenges. Under Brexit the perils and failures of their policies will be laid bare to the British public. Tories’ weaknesses will be exposed and the party will likely incur major long term damage because of Brexit. The electorate – especially the youth will feel betrayed and turn to someone else for solutions. The Labour Party and the Left should be prepared for when that day arrives.

Patriots Win In Historic Comeback

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There are events throughout history that leave yourself scratching your head in disbelief. The 51st Super Bowl was without question one of those moments.

I’ve seen my fair share of Super Bowls and I thought I’d seen it all in 2015 when the Seahawks blew a 10 point lead and were 1 yard from glory when they inexplicably chose to throw the ball instead of running which led to an interception. But that pales in comparison to what unfolded last night.

When the Atlanta Falcons accumulated a 28-3 lead at the beginning of the 3rd quarter there was talk of humiliation, this lead was seemingly insurmountable, a comeback so statistically improbable that not even the most ardent Patriots fans could have envisaged it, some even had the audacity to suggest Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady should retire. Little did they know what was to come and how instrumental a role Brady would play in it.

Even by the end of the 3rd quarter the Falcons had a healthy 19 point lead. The Patriots would have to score a field goal and two unanswered touchdowns with two point conversions under severe pressure, a tall order under normal circumstances. Many in Europe had turned off and went to bed thinking the game was long over. But when the Falcons fumbled the ball in their own half, the momentum and the game turned. Even after securing the 8 point touchdown the odds were still stacked against the Pats. The Falcons were agonisingly close to getting a field goal which would have ended hopes of a comeback but their quarterback was sacked which put them out of field goal range and they had to punt. Suddenly the Patriots sensed a history-making comeback and seised it in the most spectacular way possible. When Julian Edelman caught the most improbable of catches you knew this was going to be their day. Brady then did what Brady does, in the dying embers of the game, threw the touchdown that with the 2 point conversion tied the match. For the first time in Super Bowl history, overtime would be required. The rules of overtime mean that the first team to score a touchdown wins the game, with a field goal giving the opposing team an opportunity to respond. The coin toss couldn’t be more important under these circumstances and of course it went to the Patriots. And it only took them a matter of minutes to score the decisive touchdown which etched their names in sporting history.

To put this feat in perspective, no team has ever come back from more than 10 points down in a Super Bowl. To complete a comeback like that in a normal game would have impressive, to do it in a Super Bowl when the eyes of the world are watching is just unfathomable. For Edelman to make that catch under those circumstances just defies reason and to break so many records under the highest pressure imaginable just reinforces what a great team the Patriots are.

If there was any doubt before last night on whether Tom Brady was the greatest of all time, he dispelled it with the performance of his life, directing his team to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. What makes it all the more impressive is how poorly he started by Brady standards. He was sacked multiple times and threw an interception which led to a touchdown. To respond in the fashion he did epitomises mental strength and only confirmed what a great champion he is.

Anyone watching last night should feel privileged to have witnessed the greatness on display. I was rooting for the Falcons, and can only imagine the despondency their team is feeling today but last night is why we watch sport. To experience emotion, drama and passion.

Props must go to Lady Gaga too for her impressive half-time performance. She delivered on the biggest of stages and her little monsters will be incredibly proud. The only disappointment was the lack of a satanic ritual but we can’t have everything.

Terror In Quebec

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On Sunday evening a mosque in Quebec, Canada was attacked by a gunman which killed 6 people and injured more. The attack comes amidst a period when prejudice towards Muslims is alarmingly high with anti-Muslim extremists like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen doing well politically.

Initially there was some confusion about the motive of the attack because the Quebec authorities detained the witness who actually alerted them of the massacre. The name of the witness was released and the media reported on it and his Moroccan nationality; the name of the witness and suspect should have never been released until it was ascertained exactly what the role of the two individuals were. The suspect who has now been charged with 6 counts of murder was named as Alexandre Bissonnette a French-Canadian who was a white nationalist with some appalling political views which included support of political extremists Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen; Le Pen’s visit to Quebec City in March 2016 is alleged to have inspired Bissonnette to become more overt in his extreme politics. He was a college student who has been described by classmates as pro-Trump and a vigorous supporter of the Israeli military who also had an antipathy towards immigrants and refugees.

The response from the far right was predictably noxious and only reinforced the fact that their political views are driven by hatred. The instant reaction from them was not one of compassion or concern for the injured but immediate opportunism, trying desperately to create a narrative that this was Muslims killing each other in an attempt to absolve themselves of guilt about what their kind of prejudices can lead to. When it was revealed it was of their own who had committed the act of wanton slaughter they were conspicuously silent. This was compounded by the fact that the press secretary of the Trump administration exploited the murder of Muslims to justify the deplorable travel ban targeted at Muslims.

Some have claimed the gunman’s support of Trump is irrelevant and that’s irresponsible to connect Trump to the killing. If Trump was just some random politician who never had a history of making contemptible remarks about Muslims you could understand that line of reasoning but Trump is a demagogue who has made inexcusable remarks about Muslims in the past. He’s also rewarded racism by appointing the former head of Breitbart (one of the most fervently anti-Muslim sites in the US), Steve Bannon as his chief strategist who is also part of his National Security Council. Michael Flynn his national security advisor has said fear of Muslims is rational. And how could we disregard Trump’s travel ban which is motivated by anti-Muslim prejudice and which has coincided with this brutal attack. The prejudice stoked by Trump and his chumps is inextricably linked to crimes like this because it contributes to a political atmosphere where Muslims are stigmatised and increases the risk of extremists targeting a group of Muslims.

The attack just underscores how vital it is confront prejudice towards Muslims. It’s not simply innocuous and without consequences, this is an outcome that sadly could be foreseen by many considering the degree of prejudice against Muslims in Western society. We’ve seen arson attacks against Muslims, attempts to police the clothing of Muslim women, attacks against Muslim women and aims to intimidate Muslim people; this is not simply an unforeseen, isolated event but the natural consequence of vicious prejudice which plagues Western society. We must of course confront Jihadist violence, and show no tolerance for it but decent people know that all of Islam and Muslims are not responsible for every act of Jihadist murder. To generalise or treat average Muslims as if they bear some responsibility for the acts of murderous criminals is inexcusable and creates a toxic political atmosphere where people feel like they can justify targeting Muslims.

Credit must go to Justin Trudeau, Canada’s PM for his strong statements following the attack. He immediately denounced it as a terrorist attack and expressed his support for the Canadian Muslim community. An attack like this, in a place of worship is not just an attack on the Muslims of that Mosque but all Canadian Muslims and is designed to terrorise and spread fear in the Muslim community. A passionate and firm denunciation of the attack from the head of the country is important for a community reeling from such a horrific attack against them.

In these testing times, we can again take solace from the love people have shown in the aftermath of the attack but also be aware of the threat we face. This killer is not a loner, his vicious ideology is shared by an increasingly alarming number of people in society, many radicalised online, hellbent on dragging Western society backwards. They feel emboldened by the political events of the last year, and interpret this as a sign that we’re edging closer to their sinister version of what society should be like. We must make damn sure that isn’t allowed to happen.