The Daily Smackdown: Toby Young’s Misguided Invitation To Dan Hodges

Dan Hodges - Labour Party - Defect to Conservative Party

Not so fast, Toby Young. Dan Hodges is an honourable man, but he has no place in the party of Margaret Thatcher

It wasn’t the first time and it probably will not be the last, so understandably you may have paid little attention when Dan Hodges quit the Labour Party this week in disgust at the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the behaviour of his supporters.

Hodges departed again this week, firing this parting shot:

I’m done. Yesterday I cancelled my direct debit to the Labour Party. “Why don’t you just sod off and join the Tories”, Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters regularly ask anyone who dares to challenge their rancid world view.

I won’t be joining the Tories. But I am sodding off.

Fair enough. Dan Hodges has legitimate, irreconcilable differences with Jeremy Corbyn – both his policies and the way in which he runs the party (though Hodges’ sudden sensitivity to supposed bullying from the Corbynites seems a little odd coming from someone who was only too happy to get scrappy in his past life as a political campaign manager).

But clearly Dan Hodges and Jeremy Corbyn have very different visions of what the Labour Party should be, and nobody should fault Hodges’ decision to quit. I made the conscious choice not to re-join the Conservative Party when I returned to Britain in 2011, out of disgust with the centrist course plotted by David Cameron and an unwillingness to associate myself with the record of the coalition government, and so I’m certainly not preaching any kind of “stand by your man” dogma.

And now, inevitably, the offers to Dan Hodges to come join the Conservative Party are coming rolling in. At first, these were mostly coming from mocking Corbynistas on social media, rejoicing that a turncoat “Red Tory” like Hodges had finally gone (again). But then the mocking from the far left was replaced by more earnest offers from the supposed political Right.

Foremost of these offers came from Toby Young, Hodges’ colleague at the Telegraph, who wrote an open letter attempting to woo the ex-Labour columnist into the Tory fold. This letter is well-meant, but utterly misguided and counterproductive, as we shall see.

Toby Young begins:

On all the biggest political issues facing our country – what to do about the Islamic State, tackling the deficit, the renewal of our independent nuclear deterrent, education reform – you and the other Labour moderates are far closer to the leadership of my party than to Labour’s. I think that’s even true of the NHS, given that the health budget has increased in real terms year-on-year since David Cameron became Prime Minister. The commitment to increase spending on the NHS even further in the Autumn Statement surpasses anything promised by your party. And, as I’m sure you know, the minimum wage is set to rise faster under this government than it would have done under Ed Miliband, assuming he’d stuck to Labour’s manifesto.

And it’s true – Dan Hodges does hold refreshingly realistic perspectives on tackling ISIS in Syria, the deficit and Trident. When it comes to fundamental issues of national security, as all of these are, people from the Left and Right are often united.

More worryingly though, when it comes to trampling civil liberties in pursuit of an unattainable degree of security, both he and Theresa May are on the same page. And if Dan Hodges actually believes that throwing more money at a fundamentally broken and outdated NHS model is a good thing, then there is great crossover potential there, too. I’m just not sure that this is a good thing, as Toby Young seems to believe.

Young continues:

Indeed, on all the most important aspects of Osborne’s economic policy, the Labour moderates are much more closely aligned with us than you are with John McDonnell, not least because it’s virtually indistinguishable from the policy set out by Alastair Darling. In this respect, as in so many others, the Prime Minister and his Chancellor are the heirs to Blair.

Toby Young clearly meant this to be a bright and positive pitch to Dan Hodges to jump ship. But by hammering home the similarities between George Osborne and Alastair Darling and their remarkably similar (in practice if not in rhetoric) approaches to deficit reduction, all he manages to do is reveal just what a weak and ineffectual supposedly conservative government we currently have – Blairites with a patrician Tory façade.

Young concludes:

If your only hope of improving the lot of the least well-off is to persuade the Conservative Party to be more compassionate, then shouldn’t you do exactly what you’ve been urging the leadership of your own party to do? Say to hell with ideological purity and strike a bargain?

[..] I also think that, in time, many people on my side will come to see the value of a Blairite faction within the Conservative Party. Some of us are already worried about the corrosive effect that a lack of serious opposition will have on the government and would welcome a proper challenge. If that’s not going to be provided by Labour, then it must come from within our own ranks. Those of us who style ourselves “modernisers” will regard you as natural allies. In my mind’s eye, I can already see Lord Finkelstein standing at the other end of the welcome matt, bottle of champagne in hand.

So come on over, Dan. You already have many friends in the Tory party,including the Prime Minister, and I’m sure you’d quickly make many more. I think we’d be lucky to have you.

Unfortunately, in his rash invitation to Dan Hodges, Toby Young is falling into the same trap as David Cameron’s woolly “One Nation” model. Sure, it may be possible for the Tories to eke out a couple more narrow election victories by becoming so blandly inoffensive and unrecognisable that a sufficient number of the most bovine voters grunt their approval. But these narrow victories, like David Cameron’s “miracle majority” of twelve, provide a mandate only for the dull, technocratic management of Britain’s public services. Essentially they elect a Comptroller of Public Services – someone to kick when the trains don’t run on time or NHS waiting times get too long – not a world leader.

Convincing majorities – margins of the sort that allow radical changes to the country like realigning foreign policy, rolling back the remaining vestiges of the post-war settlement and delivering a smaller, more effective state – don’t come from pretending to be sufficiently like the Labour Party that it tricks a few wavering voters into switching sides. They come from articulating a vision so clear, so exciting and so blazingly inspirational that people vote as enthusiastic citizens inspired by the message, not self-interested consumers voting based on fear or greed.

A Conservative Party that is tame and toothless enough to accommodate someone like Dan Hodges would by definition be of the former type, not the latter. The mere fact that Toby Young is able to make his offer with a straight face proves that there is not currently a cigarette paper’s worth of difference between Blairite Labour-in-exile and the Cameron Conservatives, a party which enthused the electorate with their vision so much that they are perpetually just six defections away from defeat in the House of Commons.

In 1968, over a decade before she became prime minister, Margaret Thatcher warned in a speech:

There are dangers in consensus; it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything. It seems more important to have a philosophy and policy which because they are good appeal to sufficient people to secure a majority.

[..]

No great party can survive except on the basis of firm beliefs about what it wants to do. It is not enough to have reluctant support. We want people’s enthusiasm as well.

Many supposed conservatives and Tory party members seem to have forgotten that lesson – the essential truth which delivered three terms of a Thatcher premiership, saving this country from seemingly inevitable decline and irrelevancy. David Cameron and George Osborne, both old enough to reap the fruits of Thatcherism without having really understood why it was so necessary, seem never to have absorbed this lesson in the first place.

Announcing the defection of Dan Hodges to the Conservative Party – having David Cameron welcome him at the door of Number 10 Downing Street with a big bottle of champagne and a basket of pears – would be the ultimate triumph of One Nationism. It would complete the transformation of the Conservative Party, underway since Thatcher left office, from a party of some ideological coherence to a well-oiled and finely calibrated PR machine, excelling in being all things to all people. An intelligent but soulless hive mind of people who quite fancy being in power, and who are content to say anything or compromise on any conviction in order to keep it. Thus, David Cameron will go down in history as the twenty-first century version of Ted Heath.

I don’t think that this is good enough. A Conservative Party sufficiently bland and uncontroversial that it might appeal to Dan Hodges, even on his most jaded day, is not one which I could bring myself to vote for at the ballot box. It’s not good enough for me. But way more important than that, it’s not good enough for Britain. This country is crying out for real leadership, a renewed sense of national purpose, and the re-imagining of the state and its role in our lives. Monolithic institutions like the broken welfare state and “our NHS” (genuflect) – fraying anachronisms from the post-war consensus – need to be redesigned from the ground up, with their blind apologists and vested interests dragged kicking and screaming into the new century.

But if Dan Hodges is walking around with a Conservative Party membership card in his wallet by the time 2020 rolls around, it’s all over. None of this essential conservative reform will happen. Not because Hodges is in any way a bad person, but because he is Labour to his core – and a Conservative Party which provides a political home for him is quite simply no longer a conservative party at all. They will defeat Labour and win a third term, sure. But their voter coalition will be so broad and so lacking in common aspiration that they will be even more rudderless and scattershot in government than they are today.

I’m almost certain that I know who Toby Young would pick if he was forced to choose, but I’m going to make the ultimatum anyway, because I care deeply about the Conservative Party too, and I am deadly serious about this.

Toby Young: It’s Dan Hodges or me.

Toby Young - Dan Hodges - Defect to Conservative Party

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The Daily Toast: Alex Massie Calls Out Britain’s Growing Illiberal Streak

Ban Donald Trump Petition

The pathetic petition to ban Donald Trump from entering Britain – for the high crime of being an idiot – reveals a festering illiberal sickness at the heart of our nation

Are we really that country? Are we really that petty, authoritarian, second rate destination that bans foreigners whom we accuse of endangering the “health and morals of the nation”?

Yes. Increasingly, regrettably, yes we are. Donald Trump will escape the travel ban which many on the virtue-signalling Left are desperate to impose by virtue of who he is, the fact that he has no plans to come here anyway, and the diplomatic impossibility of thus spurning a US presidential candidate, even an unlikely one. But others before him have not escaped Britain’s growing intolerance of intolerance.

Comedians such as Dieudonné M’bala M’bala have been banned from visiting Britain to perform their racist comedy routines. Bloggers like Pamela Geller have been banned from entering the UK because their pungent and unpleasant political views have been deemed to be “not conducive to the public good”.

So we are already that country, no matter whether or not Theresa May decides to put Donald Trump’s name on her little list. We are already that country which has lost so much faith in our British, Western and democratic values that we now see unpleasant or inflammatory speech as something which will harm our already-fragile society.

The wretched story even made it to Prime Minister’s Questions. The fevered ramblings of that reality TV star turned presidential candidate were actually raised by an MP in the House of Commons, and George Osborne (standing in for David Cameron) was asked to intervene to protect us from the Big Bad Man. Serious journalists debated whether or not a ban was appropriate, when they could have been writing about something, anything else.

There’s certainly nothing like a swaggering, ignorant Republican presidential candidate to bring out the angry, authoritarian cheerleader in Dan Hodges:

What we have just witnessed is not just another attention-seeking rant from a Republican hopeful who is trying to secure definition in a crowded primary field. What Trump has done is effectively call for a race war.

[..] One of the most popular TV shows in the US at the moment is an alternative history drama called The Man In The High Castle. It is set in a world in which the Allies lost the second world war, and America lives under a fascist dictatorship.

Donald Trump wants to be the man in the high castle. Ban him. Ban him now.

But this is far from an uncommon reaction. The Independent earnestly argued exactly the same point – that Donald Trump’s views were not simply factually incorrect and misguided views to be challenged and debated, but potentially “harmful” words of such power that their speaker must be forcibly kept at bay and prevented from corrupting the impressionable minds of the British public.

Fortunately, there are dissenters. This blog weighed in when the Donald Trump story first broke, making the case that the illiberal instincts of the outraged Left are just as harmful as the nonsense spouted by Trump.

And now Alex Massie has an excellent piece in CapX, taking square aim at the “fatheaded nincompoops” more interested in signalling their virtue and parading their ignorance of the free society than defeating the actual ideas espoused by Trump.

Massie writes, sarcastically:

If we ban something, you see, that something will disappear. Even better, by banning ugly speech we will be able to demonstrate our moral superiority. And, when push comes to shove, that’s what matters most. Smugness warms the soul like nothing else this winter and every place must be a “safe space”.

And so it is. Imprisoned by the dogmatic belief that all cultures and values are inherently equal, none superior to any other, all that some parts of the Left can now do is squeal with protest when anyone does anything to hurt someone else’s feelings.

Massie continues, making reference to the parallel “controversy” surrounding champion boxer Tyson Fury whose nomination for Sports Personality of the Year is causing hysteria because of his unreconstructed views on gender roles and sexuality:

Repeat after me: there is no right not to be offended. But if we must be outraged let us be more outraged by those who seek to stymy and prohibit speech than by those whose speech the censors would have us suppress.

I deplore Donald Trump and have little admiration for the cut of Tyson Fury’s jib but, damn it, I’ll defend their right to be objectionable – and even repellent – if the alternative is siding with those who instinctively react to disagreeable opinions by seeking to suppress them. These people pose a vastly greater threat to liberalism and public decency than the people they deplore themselves.

These arguments over Trump and Fury might seem trivial but they are minor manifestations of a much larger issue. Remember January? Remember “Charlie Hebdo”? Remember all the pious declarations of sympathy and support and solidarity? Remember how politicians discovered that free speech might actually be something worth defending? Remember “Je suis Charlie”?

[..] Trump and Fury do not, in themselves, matter very much. But the reaction to their speech does matter. It is always depressing to discover that there are vastly fewer liberals in this country than you might wish there to be. But that discovery should no longer surprise us.

One can hope that the growing number of signatories to the Ban Donald Trump petition are drawn entirely from the ranks of virtue-signalling left-wing keyboard warriors, and are thus entirely unrepresentative of the British people as a whole.

One can tenuously hope that some of those who say that they want to ban Donald Trump are simply registering their strong disagreement with his latest inflammatory comments, and that they don’t really mean it when they call for a person to be banned from entering this country on account of their political views

One can even hope that the angry petitioners are outnumbered by a greater silent majority of Britons who don’t see Britain’s current, shameful track record of banning controversial people from entering our country as a marvellous precedent which should be extended to Donald Trump, simply because he’s an exceedingly offensive ass.

One can hope.

But I’m not sure any more. Perhaps it’s entirely a function of following the daily news cycle too closely and attaching too much weight to the petty storms and crusades of social media. Perhaps Britain isn’t really becoming a more sanctimoniously self-satisfied and intolerant place, populated by beady-eyed, brittle-egoed adult babies whose first reaction to encountering dissenting or unpleasant opinions is to screech indignantly for the authorities to have them banned.

Perhaps.

But it’s hard to feel much hope after reading much of the Donald Trump coverage in Britain over the past couple of days.

Donald Trump Hat - Make America Great Again

From next week, I’ll be in Texas and Ireland to celebrate Christmas and the New Year respectively. Blog updates will continue, but at a reduced frequency until normal service resumes in January.

Many thanks to everyone for reading, sharing, commenting, debating and contributing.

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Syria Vote: Hilary Benn, Saviour Of The Labour Party?

 

Despite deep division within Labour, Hilary Benn’s excellent speech in the Syria debate made David Cameron look very small indeed. But it changes nothing in terms of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership

Is Hilary Benn the saviour of the Labour Party, the chosen one sent to lead the party out of the Corbynite darkness?

People are starting to say so – first as a result of Benn’s determined stance in the crunch shadow cabinet meeting yesterday, and especially now, after that electrifying speech in the Syria debate.

The speech was undoubtedly a good one. Here’s a key excerpt:

So the question for each of us – and for our national security – is this: given that we know what they are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our self-defence against those who are planning these attacks? Can we really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security when it is our responsibility? And if we do not act, what message would that send about our solidarity with those countries that have suffered so much – including Iraq and our ally, France.

And the stirring peroration:

Now Mr Speaker, I hope the house will bear with me if I direct my closing remarks to my Labour friends and colleagues on this side of the House. As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have – and we never should – walk by on the other side of the road.

And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt.

And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight.

The House erupted into rare and sustained applause (which is apparently okay these days, so long as it is not SNP Members of Parliament doing the clapping), while social media and the blogosphere lit up with praise for Benn and hopeful talk that this speech might represent the reassertion of the centrist Left and the high water mark for the Corbynite flood.

Here’s Dan Hodges, waxing lyrical:

Hilary Benn’s speech. It is about to become the House of Commons “where were you when Kennedy was shot” moment. Where were you sitting. Who were you with. What were you thinking.

It was a truly incredible moment. He did not just captivate the House, he inverted the House. Hilary Benn did not look like the Shadow Foreign Secretary. He did not look like the leader of the opposition. He looked like the prime minister. And by extension, his party, which for the past few days has appeared broken and beaten, looked like the government.

Most amazing of all was the effect on the real Leader of the Opposition. Though we may as well now refer to him as the former leader of the opposition. Jeremy Corbyn started by looking agitated. Then he appeared uncomfortable. Then he began to shrink. It was like watching the witch from the Wizard of Oz who has just had a bucket of water thrown over her. All the talk of his “mandate”. All the talk of his legions of new activists. They were destroyed in an instant. Crushed by Hilary Benn and 100 years of the Labour party’s accumulated moral authority.

If only that were so.

Of course Hodges would talk up Hilary Benn, or anyone else from the Labour front bench who managed to sound eloquent while undermining Jeremy Corbyn – and fair enough. The praise is deserved, if somewhat excessive. People will not long remember this speech, and only people within the Westminster bubble and the highly politically engaged will have paid it any note at all. We should not allow ourselves to get carried away by the adrenaline of the moment.

While Hilary Benn’s speech may have been extraordinarily cathartic for centrist Labour types who have had little cause for hope since Jeremy Corbyn (or even Ed Miliband) won the leadership of their party, there is little reason to believe that one speech will dramatically change the fortunes of the Labour Party.

Most people do not watch parliamentary debates, even moderately iconic ones (and this one has certainly been hyped out of all proportion, with politicians and the media talking up the extension of existing airstrikes as some kind of paradigm-shifting declaration of war). Few people will have actually seen Hilary Benn grow in stature, or Jeremy Corbyn shrink a little next to him on the green benches last night.

Martin Kettle acknowledged as much in his own piece praising Benn’s speech:

Wednesday was certainly a reminder that speeches can still make a difference in politics. It was, though, a Victorian political event in a digital age. Benn’s speech was electrifying in the chamber. It triggered an instant Twitter storm among what may have been several hundred BBC Parliament watchers. But most people watch other things. Most people still don’t know who Hilary Benn is, let alone that he made a well regarded speech. And the sleepless digital news caravan has already moved on.

While it’s great that the dignified, sober part of the Labour Party briefly asserted itself – by thwarting Corbyn’s desire to whip the Syria vote, and in Hilary Benn’s speech – it does little to change the cold, hard calculus facing the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn is still not going anywhere – he smilingly said as much on the Andrew Marr show last weekend. His supporters are still growing in influence within the Labour Party, and their memories are long – the current talk of deselections will not have been forgotten by the time the 2020 general election rolls around. And while Benn’s speech was excellent, it only further highlighted the division within the shadow cabinet. That’s the message that most people will take away – that on an important decision about committing British armed forces to action, the Labour Party is no longer able to come to a common position.

Hilary Benn may have displayed his leadership credentials last night, but there is no escaping the fact that Jeremy Corbyn retains firm control of the party, and that any effort to remove Corbyn will produce a nuclear backlash from the activist party base.

The Labour Party needs more than one man with a good speech in his pocket and centrism in his heart. If the goal is to recapture the centre ground of British politics, Labour needs a new wave of members to dilute and counteract the thousands of left-wing activists attracted by Corbyn. And while Hilary Benn gave a good speech on foreign policy, there is no evidence that he is beloved by the public or capable of attracting legions of centre-left supporters back to the party.

Labour Party centrists are desperate for a saviour, and that is understandable. But Hilary Benn is not the answer – not even if ten of his clones sat in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

To change course, the centrists don’t need one Hilary Benn. They need one hundred thousand new people to be inspired enough by Benn’s words to pick up the phone and join the Labour Party. And that’s simply not going to happen.

The Labour Party needs a new membership before it can even begin to think about choosing a new leader.

Hilary Benn - Syria Speech

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Paris Attack Response Proves He Is Unfit To Lead

Jeremy Corbyn - Paris Attacks - Terrorism - French Flag - Tricolour

Jeremy Corbyn refused to say that he would order the police to kill active terrorist gunmen if the Paris attacks were to be repeated in London. Anyone unable to see this stark issue in clear moral terms is unfit to lead the Labour Party, let alone their country

Jeremy Corbyn was asked a very straightforward question today.

While giving an interview to the BBC about the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Labour leader was asked:

“If you were prime minister, would you be happy to order people – police or military – to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?”

To be clear: this wasn’t about armed robbers, car thieves or crazy people with knives – it was specifically about a future terrorist attack like the bloodbath in Paris on 13 November.

And the Leader of the Opposition – our alternative prime minister in waiting – responded:

“I’m not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous, and I think can often be counterproductive. I think you have to have security that prevents people from firing off weapons where you can. There are various degrees of doing things as we know, but the idea you end up with a war on the streets is not a good thing. Surely you have to work to try and prevent these things happening, that’s got to be the priority”.

So that’s a no, then. If armed terrorists killed innocent Londoners having dinner at a restaurant before going on to commit a massacre at a West End theatre, authorising the use of lethal force to subdue the terrorist attack and save the victims would be “counterproductive”.

If a politician equivocates or dodges a simple question, it is usually because they know that giving an honest answer or revealing their true thoughts on a subject will offend or alienate a critical voter bloc, special interest group or audience.

When David Cameron refuses to explicitly say that he might campaign for Brexit if he does not get the concessions he wants from his EU renegotiation, it is because he wants to appear tough to eurosceptics while desperately trying to avoid scaring pro-European Tories and his EU partners.

And when Chuka Umunna says that he supports the junior doctors but opposes their planned strike action, he is willing to endure looking ridiculous on national television is because he is determined to suck up both to NHS workers who want to strike and to his constituents, who do not want to see their health service disrupted. It’s Boris Johnson’s policy on cake all over again.

So what group of people could Jeremy Corbyn possibly be so desperate to avoid offending that he point-blank refused to say that the British police should shoot to kill any hypothetical terrorist gunmen on the rampage in London?

Exactly who is Corbyn trying to appease or placate by twisting himself in such rhetorical knots and avoiding giving the answer that 95% of the British public want and expect to hear? There can only be one answer. And it is a sickening one.

Jeremy Corbyn can’t publicly say that he would definitely order British police to kill armed terrorist gunmen in the middle of carrying out an attack because the people he is desperate to avoid offending – the constituency he is trying to court but cannot do so out in the open – are either those who might themselves one day decide to go on the rampage with a Kalashnikov on Oxford Street, or those who would cheer them on from the couch. Just like his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell could never find a bad word to say about the IRA, because they were secretly his constituency.

I’ve spent most of the afternoon and evening since that interview in a state of incredulity, trying to think of another possible reason for Corbyn’s long-winded evasion, and I have come up short. There is no other explanation. Jeremy Corbyn’s core constituency – the ones who must never be questioned, insulted or offended – are the people who watched Death shroud the City of Light last weekend while cheering with glee.

I was wrong. I supported Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest after a navel-gazing general election campaign focused almost exclusively on domestic policy and lacking any compelling vision for Britain’s future. In that context, it seemed that having a major party leader planted firmly outside the stale, centrist political consensus could only be a good thing.

I hoped that a left wing true-believer at the head of the Labour Party might force David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservative government to rediscover its ideological backbone and make a real dent in the bloated British state. It was a noble dream, even though I caveated my endorsement of Corbyn at the time by pointing out that Corbyn’s foreign and defence policies were utterly wrong:

For all that Jeremy Corbyn has done to breathe life into a stale political scene, his foreign policy positions are indefensible and often dangerous. Where there should be simplicity – like abhorring the murder of British soldiers by terrorists – Corbyn sees great moral complexity. And where there is genuine complexity – like tackling extremism and radicalisation in modern Britain – Corbyn sees simple solutions which demand nothing of those most likely to forsake their British freedoms and take up arms against us.

But Corbyn’s foreign and security policies are not just wrong – they are downright dangerous. Never mind the sixth-form naivety behind his desire for unilateral (and unreciprocated) British nuclear disarmament. Never mind his desire to run down the Armed Forces to a degree that would make David Cameron look like a neoconservative defence hawk. Jeremy Corbyn cannot even look the British people in the eye and tell them that he would authorise the use of deadly force to save them from an ongoing terrorist attack. Because he would much rather negotiate with the gunmen instead.

There’s nothing to say in defence of that sentiment, of that ludicrous, naive stance. It blows any and all arguments in favour of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – and there are some, despite what those who have been against him from day one may say – clean out of the water. It embarrasses and shames those of us who supported Corbyn hoping that an unapologetically left wing voice at the top level of British politics might reinvigorate the domestic debate. And it should make us all very, very angry.

This blog strongly disagrees with Dan Hodges’ call for more government surveillance in the wake of the Paris attacks, but he is dead right in his assessment of the political reality now faced by the Labour Party.

Neither [Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell] actively supports terrorism. But their world view, their instincts and their need to appease a constituency that views Isil and “Western imperialism” as different sides of the same coin means that were they ever called on to confront the terrorists practically, they would falter. Reduced surveillance. Reduced global anti-terror cooperation. No airstrikes against Isil in Syria or Iraq. No drone strikes anywhere. Direct Stop The War input into UK security policy.

We have heard a lot from Labour MPs about the difficulties of finding a way of removing Jeremy Corbyn. Tough. They will have to find a way.

Because if they don’t, then it’s not just Corbyn and the terror appeasers who will pay the price. Every member of the shadow cabinet, every Labour MP and every Labour activist will find themselves tainted by the Tory charge that Labour cannot be trusted to keep this country safe. And they will be tainted with it because it will be true.

Nearly every politician can count some unsavoury groups or individuals among their supporters and core constituents, be it Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, media conglomerates, the firearms industy (in America) or others. And to some degree that’s the cost of doing business in our jaded political world – it shouldn’t happen, but it is very difficult to stamp out without draconian campaign finance reform.

It’s bad enough for a politician to legislate in favour of a certain industry when they receive campaign contributions from that group, essentially allowing our democracy to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. But it is even more of an outrage for a senior politician to advocate extreme pacifist policies toward aggressors when that politician already has a reputation for channelling the narrative of the group that most stands to benefit from a weak Britain.

The only public figure who might reasonably suggest – if taken literally – that we should turn the other cheek as we are being mown down in a hail of automatic weapons fire is that other, more famous pacifist and JC – Jesus Christ. But while Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party was many things, the second coming it certainly was not.

The Lord is allowed take an absolutist position on violence, and we should be inspired by His words as far as we can practically follow them. But Jeremy Corbyn – and British politicians in general – operate not in the spiritual realm, but rather the temporal world. They have a duty to preserve our country and protect our citizens – those of all faiths and none – above everything else.

Jeremy Corbyn is not a rabble-rousing backbencher any more. He is the Leader of the Opposition, and one of the most high profile politicians in the country. And therefore when he says that he is “not happy” with a shoot first policy when it comes to terrorist gunmen, we must take him at his word.

And then, once our shock has abated, we should immediately stop taking seriously anything else that Corbyn and his party have to say on foreign and security policy.

Jeremy Corbyn - Paris Attacks - Terrorism - BBC Interview

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The Daily Toast: Don’t Exploit The Paris Attacks To Increase Surveillance

Surveillance State - Britain - UK - Paris Attacks

Demands for more government surveillance in response to the Paris terror attacks are crass, opportunistic and pointless

It’s very rare for this blog to agree with a Guardian editorial, but the newspaper’s stance on the proper response to the latest terrorist atrocity in Paris contains a lot of sense*.

For a start, there is none of the Western self-flagellation that grips too much of the Corbynite Left, and the absence of this equivocation is refreshing in itself (but then ever since their decision to back Yvette Cooper over Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, the Guardian’s left wing idealism has seemed more affected than deeply held).

And on the need to avoid using the Paris attacks as permission to ratchet up the surveillance state, the Guardian is absolutely correct:

In Britain, there will be some who see Theresa May’s new investigatory powers bill in a more urgent light after Paris. But unless and until the evidence shows that bulk surveillance would have made a difference in that dreadful scenario, the argument remains where it was. And our starting point is still that mass surveillance of all of us is neither necessary nor effective.

When the intelligence agencies are looking for a needle in a haystack, they shouldn’t be adding more hay. When they need to spy on an individual or group, they should seek – and they will usually get – the legal warrant to do so. And, in case it needs repeating, European societies do not defend their values when they turn on their Muslim fellow citizens – on the contrary, they violate those values.

This is exactly right, and a welcome counternote to the blind panic currently spilling from the keyboards of other commentators such as Dan Hodges. While one can understand individuals – particularly those actually caught up in the attacks – being led by emotion and willingly sacrificing everything for the false promise of greater security, those people who make public policy or influence public opinion should be more careful with their thoughts and words.

As the Guardian rightly points out, it is for the intelligence services (and their willing cheerleaders in the media) to conclusively prove that harvesting more bulk data would have prevented the Paris attacks from happening. If they really want to shift the status quo and treat every citizen as guilty until proving innocent by keeping a record of their communications, they must prove that the lack of this data is what allowed the eight attackers to slip through the net. And they can prove no such thing, because even if some of their communications were swept up in bulk collection along with everyone else’s, they cannot prove – or even plausibly claim – that they would have known to look for that data in the giant haystack of data.

The problem with our current national security state is not that it lacks sufficient powers over us, but that we lack sufficient power over it. Citing “national security concerns” now seems to be enough to win the argument for more surveillance on its own, and the intelligence services have grown both lazy and entitled, expecting governments to grant their every request even when they fail to construct a convincing case for them. Just as President Eisenhower presciently warned of the military-industrial complex, so we must be wary of the national security state – which has now become so big that it has taken on a life of its own, with priorities and ambitions that go beyond their original, limited remit.

This would be bad enough if it worked, but the awkward truth is that we will never achieve the perfectly secure state. Realising this, we must understand that responding to every new barbaric terrorist attack by ratcheting up the same surveillance state which failed to prevent it represents a colossal failure of imagination on our part. Glenn Greenwald likes to make the comparison with road safety – we do not insist on draconian new road safety legislation such as a 20mph speed limit every time we see a road fatality, because we accept that a degree of risk comes with the freedom to drive.

As this blog commented after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, warning of the dangers of government overreaction:

The harms that would be inflicted in order to achieve absolute safety are the very same harms that David Cameron intends to inflict upon Britain in his panicked, servile submission to the demands of the national security and intelligence chiefs. The only way to achieve absolute safety is through absolute surveillance – and zero privacy. Stepping out onto a London street totally certain in the knowledge that you will come to no harm would require us to become North Korea.

Ultimately, the only way to make us safer is to reduce the number of people living among us or dwelling overseas who wish to rain death and destruction upon us. That does not – repeat, does not – mean appeasing them, admitting that they have a point, or accepting the legitimacy of their sick and evil ideology. But it does mean accepting some fundamental truths that we prefer to overlook in our righteous fury, as I pointed out after Charlie Hebdo.

Those who think that the way to prevent the next attack is by granting government yet more power to spy on our actions and regulate what we say would apparently be content to live in a society where a small, nihilistic minority hate us and wish us harm, but whose attempts to kill us are always thwarted by an omnipotent security and intelligence apparatus. I do not wish to live in such a state, and nor do I think that such a scenario should be our highest aspiration. We can do better than that.

In the shocked aftermath of these reprehensible terrorist attacks in Paris, some would have the authorities start to construct their very own North Korea right here in England’s green and pleasant land. They are motivated by an understandable fear, but our country will not be best served by acting on their gut instinct. Even when the advocates of the surveillance state mean well, we must oppose them.

* That’s not to say that the Guardian gets everything right. Determined to push their pro-EU agenda at all times, the article keeps banging on about “European values” as though our common revulsion at the killing and maiming of innocent people in Paris somehow means that the national cultures of Britain, France, Portugal, Greece and Poland are more or less identical, and ripe for further political integration. This much is nonsense, but does not detract from the overall thrust of the piece.

President Dwight Eisenhower - Military Industrial Complex

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