A Third Runway At Heathrow Or Fixing Potholes In Roads? We Need To Be Bigger Than This In The Age Of Brexit

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It is Westminster politicians and journalists, not Brexiteers, who have been short sighted and parochial

The Telegraph’s James Kirkup poses an interesting question about the expansion of Heathrow Airport and other national political priorities in the post-Brexit world:

Almost 70 per cent of commuting is done by car so roads are clearly of interest to voters, never mind the wider economics.   But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that big shiny infrastructure projects like runways and high-speed railways are simply more glamorous and interesting to politicians and, yes journalists, who spend more time in London (where most people commute using public transport) than stuck at a roundabout trying to get onto a bypass.

Airport expansion is about international trade and competitiveness, our national self-image and our global role. All the important things that important people in London spend so much time talking about, in other words.  And rightly so. We should have another runway at Heathrow, and one at Gatwick, come to that: the more competition the better

But then our leaders really should start talking about things that are actually important to the people they work for: clogged roundabouts, congested junctions and potholes.

Earlier this year, the Treasury gave councils £50 million extra to fill holes in roads. Councils reckon they need £12 billion more to fill them all. That’s close to the £16 billion that might need to be spent on new roads around an expanded Heathrow. Which would voters choose in a referendum?

Read the whole thing – it is a thoughtful piece. And of course James Kirkup is right to point out that key national infrastructure projects and local community investment need not be mutually exclusive.

Personally, I make no apologies for firmly supporting the expansion of Heathrow Airport, as well as new runways for Gatwick Airport any any other airport which wants to expand to the benefit of our aviation sector.

As this blog previously ranted:

Air travel is great. It takes rich tourists from wealthy countries and brings them to poorer countries where they boost the local economy with their money. It keeps the wheels of business turning, from the CEO flying from New York to London for a meeting, the office worker commuting to Berlin every week for a project, to doctors and scientists gathering for international conferences.

Air travel bridges the distance between our towns and cities and helps knit the planet together through a web of far-flung family members, friendships and business relationships. And in doing so, the aviation industry helps to foster trust and understanding, bridging cultural divides and doing more to affirm our common humanity than any third-sector institution or political movement.

And yet we seem intent on attacking aviation, thwarting its growth and choking the life out of the industry with punishing airport taxes and insurmountable barriers to expansion. And for what? So that human beings can creep meekly across the surface of the planet, apologising for our very existence and ostentatiously offsetting the carbon dioxide we emit whenever we open our mouths?

But I must admit to bristling a bit at Kirkup’s analogy comparing Brexiteers to downtrodden locals worried only about potholes in their roads, while the Remain-supporting establishment are cast in the role of far-sighted metropolitan elites who alone acknowledge and face up to the long term problems facing our country.

If anything, it is actually the other way around. By continually divesting Westminster of more and more decision-making authority through successive EU treaties and agreements, it is the British political class who effectively dragged the level of our political discourse down to the level of squabbling about NHS waiting times, train delays and potholes in the roads. When all of the consequential decisions – like trade, and increasingly foreign relations – are taken at the European level, all that’s left for British politicians is to squabble about whether the BBC should be forced to up its bid for The Great British Bake-Off.

That’s why we now have a wishy-washy parliament and civil service which is having to rebuild atrophied trade negotiation competencies almost from scratch, while we look to our prime minister less as a world leader or person of real consequence, and more as a glorified Comptroller of Public Services, someone to moan about on social media when the local library closes or the street lights don’t get repaired quickly enough.

The British people instinctively realised this, too, when they voted in the EU referendum. They realised that they only way to even begin to regain control over the full range of domestic and foreign affairs which trickle down to impact their lives was by leaving the failing supranational, federalist experiment known as the European Union.

Kirkup suggests that our leaders “our leaders really should start talking about things that are actually important to the people they work for: clogged roundabouts, congested junctions and potholes”. Well excuse me, but I specifically do not want the prime minister of my country to be wasting her time fussing over potholes and traffic jams. I want the political leadership of this country to set its sights on higher matters for once. In fact, the rule of thumb should be that Westminster only takes an interest if a decision cannot be fairly and responsibly made at a lower level.

And as for Kirkup’s fact that £50 million was given by the Treasury to local authorities to fill in potholes, this is simply more evidence that all government in Britain is vastly overcentralised – that the work of constitutional and governance reform must continue well beyond Brexit. Why not vastly reduce the amount of personal income tax or VAT claimed by central government, and devolve increased tax-levying powers to the counties instead? That way, the people of Liverpool and Bristol can pursue policies which work for them, while the people of rural Essex or Cambridgeshire can do likewise – whether they choose to prioritise filling in more potholes or attracting new investment by slashing taxes or offering incentives to business.

The real danger of Brexit is that nothing much changes and we fail to rock the boat; that we fail to properly grab this once-in-a-lifetime chance to critically re-examine the way in which we govern ourselves and make important decisions at a personal, community and national level. Securing an economically stable secession from the European Union should be the minimum requirement, not the grand prize. Why go to the effort of leaving the EU simply to return to being governed by the same set of domestic institutions which orchestrated our national decline prior to joining the European Economic Community, and then gave away more and more power to EU institutions once we were inside?

Ultimately, the media does us a disservice by framing idiotic questions and false choices like whether we would prefer a new runway at Heathrow Airport or for the potholes on our road to be fixed:

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Ask your average group of people whether they want to see enacted a policy which benefits them personally or one which has larger but more disparate benefits spread among a much larger population, and a majority will vote with their own immediate self interest – 67% to 33% as it currently stands on the Telegraph’s online poll.

Does that mean that this is the better policy? Absolutely not. There are times when we are one nation and must subordinate the narrow interests of certain interest groups in order to further the national interest, and there are many other times when we should be able to organise ourselves as communities and regions without the heavy-handed interference of Westminster. And while central government should absolutely be rolled back in many areas, subjecting new airport runway capacity decisions to a citizen’s pothole veto is precisely the wrong way to run a country or frame important strategic decisions.

We need to up our game. Politicians, journalists, ordinary citizens alike, all of us need to try harder to live up to the momentous times in which we find ourselves.

If we stop shooting for the middle and actually try to make the most of the historic opportunity afforded by Brexit then in a decade’s time we might witness a rebirth of local democracy and improve citizen participation in the democratic process at all levels. Better still, we might stop behaving like such dependent children, looking petulantly to Westminster for solutions to every issue we face. And if we stopped demanding that the same people who deal with matters of war and peace and the economic stewardship of the country also ensure that the Number 12 bus runs on time then maybe, just maybe we might improve both the quality and speed of critical decision making in this country.

And yes, maybe then there will finally be a gleaming new runway at Heathrow Airport, and at Gatwick too. Because voting for Brexit was the far-sighted, responsible act of enlightened citizens, not grumbling, parochial NIMBYs. And it should be the first of many such acts, not the last.

 

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Top Image: Michael Gaida, Pixabay

Bottom Image: LadyDisdain, Pixabay

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The Immaturity And Cynicism Of The NHS Junior Doctors’ Dispute

Junior Doctors Strike - NHS - National Health Service - Vigil

The junior doctors lost the moral high ground when they decided to portray a debate about pay and conditions as a high-minded effort to “save the NHS”

James Kirkup has a great piece in the Telegraph in which he charges that the junior doctors’ dispute has reached an impasse not because of government intransigence but because many junior doctors are arguing an inherently political case from a position of naivety and political inexperience, and so will not concede the validity of any opinions other than their own.

Read the whole thing. But it is worth noting these excerpts in particular:

Some of this is about basic competence. The doctors and their leaders have done a very poor job of explaining why they are striking, offering a range of confused and changing justifications. Many doctors seem unaware of the position taken in negotiations on their behalf by their trade union (short summary: if the Government had agreed to pay more for Saturday working, the BMA would have settled and there’d be no strikes) and believe their strike is not about money.

This in itself is quite damning. All the high-minded talk about patient safety and “tired doctors making mistakes” suddenly begins to look a wee bit cynical when it turns out that the BMA would have taken the deal if only there was more money on offer. Was the extra pay all going to be spent on Pro Plus and Red Bull? Unlikely.

But this is the really interesting point:

Yet the doctors’ failure of understanding goes beyond tactics into something more fundamental, an unwillingness or perhaps just an inability to appreciate that politics is about reconciling the diverse interests and desires, that no one gets things all their own way.

Simply they don’t understand the conflict they’re in. Many, engaged in politics for the first time, cannot understand why the Government will not do exactly as they want; for them it’s unthinkable that others would not accept the doctors’ word on how to fund and structure the NHS as final. Any course of action but theirs is not just unacceptable but immoral.

As for those on the other side of this dispute, there is apparently no possibility that their motives could be honourable. Throughout this dispute I’ve not yet seen a junior doctor admit even the possibility that Jeremy Hunt, NHS Employers, David Dalton, Bruce Keogh or any of the main players on the employer side might also be acting in good faith, doing things they believe necessary and in the public interest.

Instead, Mr Hunt and his officials are routinely accused of venality and self-interest, and worse. I keep a little file of choice emails and tweets from doctors. It contains evidence of members of the profession making statements in public forums that Mr Hunt is psychopathic or suffering from various other clinical conditions. (There were also a number of homophobic slurs aimed at Mr Hunt, but that was a senior consultant, not a junior.) I can only conclude that the doctors concerned are so convinced of their own righteousness that they cannot admit that those who take a contrary view are anything but immoral.

Here we have Labour’s self-righteousness syndrome all over again, but this time the patient is not a political party but a large and vocal special interest group within the public sector. Just as was the case with those convinced that the Tories are evil vampires and that Ed Miliband was heading for victory in last year’s general election, so the junior doctors and their supporters seem convinced that the government is motivated purely out of malice, and that they are unambiguously in the right. And we all know what happened on May 7th.

Kirkup continues:

Other doctors display an almost touching lack of insight into how some aspects of their own working lives (a job for life, steep pay progression, huge pensions) are simply unobtainable dreams for most workers, even those who also got good A-levels and spent years studying at good universities.  One junior doctor (again, I won’t name him) last week reprimanded me for writing about doctors’ £1 million pension pots on the grounds that the retirement such funds deliver is “comfortable” but “not extravagant”.

Likewise the tendency to overlook (or simply not know) the fact that many of their problems (antisocial hours, weekend working, growing workloads and static or falling workforces) are common to many other professions and trades, many of whom do not enjoy the same benefits as doctors.

What the junior doctors (and those who support them) fail to understand is that nearly every public sector industrial action is fought on the grounds of public safety while really being about something else. Relatively well paid people (compared to the average wage) walking off the job in a dispute about money and working hours does not elicit as much public sympathy as casting themselves as the only people willing to take on the government on a grave matter of public safety, so simple self-interest dictates that any union (including the BMA and junior doctors) will emphasise the latter over the former.

Consider: how many striking junior doctors living in London would have tutted with frustration during the last tube strike called by the RMT, and fumed to their friends that tube drivers are incredibly well paid, should be grateful for what they have and get back to work, Night Tube be damned? The RMT’s dispute was based in large part on safety concerns, just like the junior doctors. Are the tube drivers lying while the junior doctors are telling the truth? Is there something inherently more virtuous in a doctor than a train driver?

This, too, is worrying:

Spare a thought here for the impact this outlook has on the doctors themselves.  Having become so utterly convinced of the rightness of their cause, many suffer genuine distress when their cause meets resistance or challenge.  Some, sadly, are not robust enough to encounter such pressures without experiencing genuine harm. That harm should weigh heavily on the consciences of the BMA leaders who have encouraged young and politically-inexperienced people to seek out confrontation in the harsh arena of public debate.

This rings alarm bells, because it is the same way that we now speak of Safe Space-dwelling students, grown adults who by adopting a toxic ideology have come to see themselves as perpetually vulnerable victims in constant need of protection from higher authorities. One could take this sentence – “some, sadly, are not robust enough to encounter such pressures without experiencing genuine harm” – and apply it equally to those wobbly-lipped students who are now killing academic freedom and free speech on our university campuses.

In fact, we may now be witnessing the first major conflict between the Safe Space generation (many junior doctors have only recently graduated university) and the realities of the labour market and public sector wage restraint – only everything is made doubly toxic because the dispute involves the one subject about which almost no Briton is capable of thinking rationally: the NHS.

This blog contends that the mere fact that national collective bargaining is still making headlines in 2016 rather than 1976 shows that Thatcher’s work is far from finished, and that if we were not still lumbered with a national health service we would not be facing the prospect of an all-out national walkout by healthcare professionals. After all, nothing about public healthcare mandates that it must be provided through a monolithic state-owned organisation, despite the best efforts of NHS apologists to pretend that our options are the status quo or the American system.

Maybe the doctors holding candles in an overwrought silent vigil for the NHS (see cover picture) are entirely genuine. Maybe they have convinced themselves that this dispute really is purely about patient safety and “saving the NHS”, and nothing more. But the junior doctors can no longer plausibly claim that this is about patient safety, or “saving the NHS”, because we now know that these are side issues brought cynically into the debate by the BMA and credulous activists in a well worn attempt to drum up public support.

This does not mean that each one of the Conservative government’s intended reforms are sensible. The idea of a 24-hour NHS is more slogan than policy, while statistics about weekend deaths have been cynically misrepresented – that much we can concede to the BMA. But when your pay dispute is with one of the largest organisations in the world, and by far the largest employer in Britain, then everyone who pays for that service gets to have a say, including (or even especially) a government elected partly on a manifesto to make changes to that health service, whether or not those changes happen to be smart. By taking the public coin the NHS is inherently political, and those working for it cannot complain when those outside the organisation seek to wield their own influence.

And from a purely tactical standpoint, James Kirkup is right – the junior doctors and their representatives in the BMA have bungled this dispute badly. With their overwrought, hysterical claims that a new national contract will somehow be the end of the NHS when it turned out that the final sticking point in the negotiations was over nothing more noble than Saturday pay, their credibility is squandered. And neither they nor their supporters should not escape censure for their part in what is to come.

 

Save Our NHS

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Don’t Blame Anti-Establishment Politicians For Vile Online Abuse

Internet Troll - Cyber Online Abuse

Taking offence in the behaviour of a politician’s online supporters says a lot more about your view of that particular politician than the uniquely “hateful” nature of their fans

What do Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage all have in common?

Nothing to do with their political views, obviously – you would be hard pressed to imagine four more different politicians, both in terms of style and substance. But they do share something more fundamental in common: the fact that their supporters are uniquely derided as being angry and intemperate, even sexist or racist trolls, especially when compared to the supporters of their more established rivals.

How many times have you heard a wounded, thin-skinned Westminster media type complain in hurt tones that they have received “vile online abuse” from crusading Ukippers or SNP-supporting Cybernats? And this is nearly always followed by the accusatory observation that the journalist or media star in question has never been so insulted or abused by supporters of the other mainstream parties or candidates.

You have likely seen or read this lament numerous times in one form or another. Typically, they will conclude – either explicitly or by inference – that there must be something uniquely awful and unacceptable about that particular party or candidate’s views, something which either attracts a disproportionate number of crazy people, or else makes otherwise good people behave in reprehensible ways.

Here’s the Telegraph’s James Kirkup raising an eyebrow after receiving a less than loving and nurturing response from online UKIP supporters, in a piece rather preciously titled “Why are UKIP supporters so rude and horrible?”:

A brief glance through the comments sections of the Telegraph website will show this is not an isolated incident; hostile and personal remarks are a common feature of online discussion about Ukip-related stories and columns. My email inbox tells a similar story.

I’m not alone here. There is nothing unique or special about me, no individual quality that attracts such strong feelings. All of my colleagues who cover Ukip and Mr Farage regularly receive such vitriol, and several of them get it in much larger volumes than me.

[..] I’m increasingly convinced that Ukippers are one of the political groups whose members are disproportionately likely to go in for online bile. (Scottish Nationalists are another; I haven’t had the pleasure of their electronic company for a while, but in a previous job I got to know the “cybernats” fairly well.)

Kirkup’s piece is actually fairly generous – he goes on to praise Ukippers for their passion and commitment, although it comes across in a rather condescending way.

But there is no such generosity in this farewell to the Labour Party from Barbara Ellen, who took her leave after finding herself unable to cope with the fact that her preferred centrist wing of the party finds itself temporarily out of favour for the first time in decades.

Smarting from the “howling gales” of disagreement she encountered, Ellen raged:

Still the Corbynista circus refuses to leave town, with one troubling result being that the term “moderate” is starting to look tarnished and devalued – deemed too centrist, restrained, temperate, cautious. Never mind that this describes most of Britain – or that this culture of moderate-baiting is hounding people like myself (lifelong Labour voters) out of the party. Like many in the great disenchanted Labour diaspora of 2015, I don’t feel remotely “Tory lite”, but nor do I feel that there is a place for me in this brutal and monochrome, but also silly and over-simplistic, “with us or against us” regime.

And maybe there’s a faint hope that by leaving, by voting with your feet, you’ll finally quietly reasonably (moderately!) make your voice heard. It’s a sad scary moment when “moderate” starts feeling like a insult. I’d have thought that moderates were the bricks and cement of any political party – without them, the extremes become unmoored, sucked into howling gales of their own making. The leftier-than-thou can taunt the departing “boring”, “gutless”, “Tory lite” moderates all they like. In the end, we were necessary and we’ll be missed.

The media’s hysteria about boisterous and sometimes deeply unpleasant online political discourse reached its peak with their coverage of the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, with endless finger-wagging remarks about how the actions of a few anonymous knuckle-dragging trolls supposedly make a mockery of Corbyn’s “New Politics”.

Here’s the Spectator’s Sebastian Payne rending his garments in anguish at the fact that some unhinged Corbyn fans happen to say some very unpleasant things online:

It was meant to be about open debate and discussion, consensus through dialogue. But so far, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party and the arrival of the so-called New Politics has resulted in division and a lot of abuse and bad feeling. In light of last night’s vote on Syria airstrikes, Twitter and Facebook have been exploding with extraordinary levels of comments and abuse that no one, MPs or otherwise, should be subjected to.

For example, hard-left groups such as Lefty Unity, have been using Twitter to stir up agitation against the MPs they disagree with.

The article goes on to cite a tweet listing the names of Labour MPs who voted for military action in Syria, and calling for party members to deselect them. Remarkably, Payne presents this as some terrible affront to civilised behaviour rather than precisely what should happen in a democracy: MPs making decisions in public, and the public judging MPs based on those decisions. The horror!

Unfortunately, our default reaction is increasingly not just to sit back and mock the individual trolls (justified), but to then also make the lazy assumption that the internet trolls somehow speak for the wider movement or supporter base (much less justified). Everyone enjoys seeing an ignorant verbal abuser put back in their box, but we are being intellectually lazy if we then go on to believe that people like the anonymous idiot silenced by JK Rowling are representative of general UKIP or SNP opinion.

Cybernat - Online Abuse - Trolling

Exactly the same phenomenon can now be seen in the United States, where supporters and media cheerleaders of Democratic establishment favourite Hillary Clinton are lightning-quick to accuse their opponents of sexism, and to refer disparagingly to supporters of socialist rival Bernie Sanders – alas, a white male – as the “Bernie Bros”.

Glenn Greenwald does a superb job of debunking the myth that Bernie Sanders supporters are uniquely sexist or misogynistic among political supporters over at The Intercept, writing:

Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate. Therefore, she has far more supporters with loud, influential media platforms than her insurgent, socialist challenger. Therefore, the people with the loudest media platforms experience lots of anger and abuse from Sanders supporters and none from Clinton supporters; why would devoted media cheerleaders of the Clinton campaign experience abuse from Clinton supporters? They wouldn’t, and they don’t. Therefore, venerating their self-centered experience as some generalized trend, they announce that Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive: because that’s what they, as die-hard Clinton media supporters, personally experience. This “Bernie Bro” narrative says a great deal about which candidate is supported by the most established journalists and says nothing unique about the character of the Sanders campaign or his supporters.

And the same blindingly obvious truth hits closer to home with the media’s reaction to – and coverage of – Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership:

This exact media theme was constantly used against Corbyn: that his supporters were uniquely abusive, vitriolic, and misogynistic. That’s because the British media almost unanimously hated Corbyn and monomaniacally devoted themselves to his defeat: So of course they never experienced abuse from supporters of his opponents but only from supporters of Corbyn. And from that personal experience, they also claimed that Corbyn supporters were uniquely misbehaved, and then turned it into such a media narrative that the Corbyn campaign finally was forced to ask for better behavior from his supporters.

Time and again we see establishment candidates and their fans in the media reaching for the smelling salts and clamouring to tell us how insulted and distressed they are, simply because something they said or wrote happened to tap into the coarsing vein of popular anger against a political establishment which grows remoter and more self-serving by the day. But we should recognise this for what it is – a cheap attempt to shut down the debate by rendering certain political ideas unthinkable or unsayable.

It is very much in the interests of centrists within Labour and the Conservative Party that people should fear policies with a genuine ideological twist to them, be they from the Right or the Left. When their entire pitch to the electorate consists of fatuous promises to be the most competent managers of our public services, as thought Britain were nothing more than a rainy island of hospitals and job centres, anything which attempts to inject some inspiration, ambition or bold thinking into our political debate is to be greatly feared, and thwarted at all costs.

Hence the continual efforts to portray Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wingery, something which would have been considered perfectly normal in 1986, as beyond the pale of acceptable thought in 2016.

Hence the sneering, virtue-signalling attacks on Ukippers, who have been shamefully portrayed by the media as a bunch of grunting, uneducated, economically “left behind” losers who wrap themselves in the Union flag because they are somehow more scared of change than a “normal” person.

Hence the apocalyptic predictions of those opposing Scottish independence, warning that Scotland would become some kind of tartan-clad North Korea if they went their own way.

Now, this blog believes that Jeremy Corbyn’s left wing policies are utterly wrong for Britain, that UKIP does have a certain unsavoury element within it, and that Scottish independence and the breakup of the United Kingdom would be a tragedy. But I don’t for a moment assume that the virtue of these ideas can be judged in any way by the behaviour of their most crude and sociopathic advocates. And nor do I attempt to suppress the expression of those ideas by linking overheated rhetoric on social media to any one particular idea, candidate or party.

All of which makes you wonder: If the establishment are so self-evidently right, if the centrist parties and politicians do indeed have a monopoly on Good and Pragmatic Ideas, and if anybody who proposes the slightest departure from the status quo is a juvenile dreamer or a tub-thumping populist, why not let the arguments speak for themselves?

If the establishment have the facts so overwhelmingly on their side, why do they not limit themselves to patiently explaining why Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are wrong on the issues? And at a time when political engagement is falling and faith in democracy ebbing, are the Corbyn critics and Farage haters really saying that they would rather people were disengaged than back a radical candidate?

This blog would argue that there is a certain nobility in all of the populist insurgencies currently roiling the political landscape in Britain and America. Whether one agrees with them or not (and there is often much to vehemently disagree with), they are at least attempting to drag us out of a stale and timid political consensus which has delivered prosperity for many but also failed too many of our fellow citizens.

Or as this blog remarked last year:

It is very easy to sit smugly on the sidelines, throwing the occasional rock and taunting those who risk hostility, ridicule and contempt as they struggle to find a way to make our politics relevant to the people. Anyone can be a stone-thrower. But it’s another thing entirely to roll up your sleeves, join the fray, pick a side or – if none of the available options appeal – propose new political solutions of your own.

Ukippers and Jeremy Corbyn supporters have often been steadfast in their political views for years, and as a result have languished in the political wilderness while those willing to bend, flatter and shapeshift their way toward focus group approval have been richly rewarded with power and success.

The “Bernie Bro” phenomenon in the United States and the centrist Labour hysterics about the antics of a few offensive people are nothing but a choreographed backlash from the establishment, whipped up by people who are happy to hijack issues like feminism and use them for their own short-term political advantage, or do anything else to disguise the yawning chasm where sincerely held convictions and beliefs should reside.

So, when you see a bunch of prominent, well-connected people feigning horror at the way in which people with whom they disagree are comporting themselves on the internet, your first thought should not be to dismiss the idea or candidate whom the obnoxious trolls support, but rather to question the real motives of the people weeping and rending their garments because they have been spoken to rudely on social media.

It may turn out that the trolls are still wrong, as well as being obnoxious and offensive. But many times, it will likely transpire that the people making the most fuss about the way that a particular candidate or party’s supporters are behaving also happen to have the most to lose in the event that those ideas gain a wider following. And their sudden desire for comity and a more respectful public discourse is cynical at best.

So what do Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage all have in common?

They are all flawed.

They are all willing to say things which make them wildly unpopular with large swathes of people.

Without their boldness and tenacity, few of us would still be discussing their top issues and obsessions – be it genuine socialist politics, Scottish independence, immigration or the coming EU referendum – and our politics would be left to the stale old two-party duopoly.

And none of these politicians, whatever their flaws, deserve to be judged by the online behaviour of their most angry, antisocial supporters.

Bernie Sanders - Refutes Bernie Bros

Top image: “#GamerGate is the future of troll politics”, Techcrunch.com

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The Daily Toast: Ken Livingstone, Mental Health And The New Politics

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Ken Livingstone’s attack on Kevan Jones’ depression is typical of the hard activist Left. They are happy to use the poor, the sick and other minorities as cynical campaign props, but hate it when they dare to speak for themselves

Today’s Daily Toast goes to James Kirkup for his furious, relentless evisceration of Ken Livingstone in the Telegraph.

Some context: When Red Ken was unexpectedly appointed to co-lead the Labour Party’s upcoming defence policy review (bringing his open minded attitude toward vital questions like Trident renewal), the Labour MP Kevan Jones – who had previously spoken out in a parliamentary debate, attempting to reduce the stigma of mental illness by revealing his own struggles – raised political concerns about whether Livingstone was the right person for the job.

And in response to Kevan Jones airing his political concerns, Livingstone responded with an extraordinarily personal attack:

Mr Livingstone told the Mirror: “I think he might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed.

“He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”

So this is the New Politics that we were promised with the Jeremy Corbyn era – more of the same coarse, unbecoming personal insults that we have always had.

It’s no surprise. Because many on the Left see themselves as the only virtuous people in town – the sole custodians of the nation’s morals – they think that somehow it “doesn’t count” when they say rude, aggressive, condescending, racist or sexist things. They believe are allowed to get away with it because they spend their careers policing the debate and controlling the language, casting out anyone else who says or thinks the wrong thing. Just like a corrupt cop might consider themselves above the law, so the egotistical leftist believes that they have carte blanche to cross any of the lines that they draw to constrain the rest of us.

All of which makes Kirkup’s takedown of Livingstone so satisfying – and worthy of the Daily Toast:

I believe in civilised debate and generally try to avoid throwing around personal abuse when writing about politics. But there’s no way of being polite or restrained about this. Ken Livingstone’s words are vile, a poisonous act that would leave him consumed by shame if he had a shred of decency.

Yet he’s standing by those comments. He told the London Evening Standard: “It doesn’t matter what disorders he’s got, he doesn’t have the right to be rude … to be constantly undermining Jeremy Corbyn.”

This is utterly hateful. Mr Livingstone he hasn’t just grotesquely insulted Mr Jones, denigrating his suffering and his bravery, he has sent a brutal message to anyone else who suffers mental illness: stay quiet or you’re fair game.

Even if he wasn’t part of a leadership team that had so piously promised a nicer, kinder politics and to embrace open political debate, Mr Livingstone’s behaviour would be disgusting. The staggering hypocrisy involved just compounds his disgrace.

And if Mr Corbyn does not act quickly and firmly, by dropping Ken Livingstone into the deep dark hole of political obscurity where cockroaches like him belong, he deserves to share every bit of that disgrace.

Ken Livingstone was eventually forced to apologise for his behaviour, but was unable to stay contrite and was soon walking back his apology with justifications and angry asides to journalists.

The Labour Party – and the British Left in general – can’t have it both ways. They can’t spend half the time prancing around pretending to be high-minded emissaries of the New Politics, holding hands and singing Kumbaya, and then spend the other half acting like vicious thugs, smearing people because of their mental health conditions or whipping their activists up into a Tory-hating, phlegm-lobbing rage. It’s time to pick a side.

And yet Ken Livingstone is perfectly entitled to say mean or ignorant things about his fellow MPs in public if he chooses. That much is a fundamental free speech issue, so let’s see no talk about Parliament needing to be a “safe space” where coddled MPs need to be praised and affirmed at all times.

However, the question here is not one of free speech, but one of hypocrisy. Ken Livingstone and much of the virtue-signalling Left love to use the mentally ill, the poor and other groups as cynical campaign props, showering them with ostentatious sympathy in order to make themselves look good and pick up votes. But as soon as one of those same people becomes a threat – whether it’s a former welfare recipient questioning the welfare state or a fellow MP simply raising a political objection – suddenly the tribal thuggishness comes out and the Left’s feigned concern for the disadvantaged is revealed as the sham that it is.

That’s the real story here. Yes, Ken Livingstone’s behaviour was boorish and inexcusable, but he’s a left wing bruiser and unlikely to change his ways any time soon. But this incident was just the most high profile recent example of behaviour that is not uncommon on the Left: behind the friendly faces, the talk of inclusivity and a new, kinder politics, too often there lurks a hardened, egotistical ideologue who always responds to criticism by lashing out.

So by all means let’s haul Red Ken over the coals – certainly Corbyn should publicly condemn Livingstone if the Labour Party’s newfound passion for mental health is to be taken seriously – but let’s not pretend that this incident is anything other than standard behaviour from a certain segment of the activist Left.

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