So this is it: the day before the general election. When we open the little door on our advent calendars on Friday the thirteenth, will it be Boris Johnson’s face gurning back at us from inside No. 10 Downing Street?
And will it be the North of England’s voters who have put him there? Will the North’s turkeys have voted for Christmas?
This was always going to be a strange election. The thought that tomorrow the Tories could lose enough seats in the well-to-do home counties of Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire to turf Boris Johnson out of No.10, so long as no other seats changed hands, is weird enough. But to think that this handful of losses could be cancelled out by an avalanche of Tory gains in the austerity-wrecked industrial towns of the North of England is bizarre and horrible beyond words.
Oh, Jeremy Corbyn
“I was Labour, but I can’t bring myself to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.” Over 50 years old, across the North, they’re all saying it. It’s like a refrain. It’s become common sense, it’s what we think around here. It’s a meme, in the original sense of the word.
“They’re all only in it for themselves.” Corbyn’s total expense claims for a whole parliamentary term were something like £1.50, when the Tories were buying themselves duckhouses and Michael Gove was making himself a millionaire by getting the taxpayer to pay for his and his wife’s game of flipping houses.
You poor, gaslit old bastards.
This is what relentless propaganda – masterfully orchestrated across TV, radio, newspapers, internet, social media – can do. What a fucking mess.
Here are two quotes from a superb piece by Sky News’s excellent Lewis Goodall about what they’re saying in Birmingham, but it could be anywhere in the North:
Chantelle, a mother of three, whom I remember telling me two years ago that she would back Labour “because they have the best policies for me and my family”, said she didn’t know what to think now. Most worryingly for the party, she couldn’t even really say why. She said she saw so much online, heard from “other mums in the playground” about Mr Corbyn; “they’re all saying ‘Jeremy Corbyn this, Jeremy Corbyn that’, you just don’t know what to think”.
Talk to any working class voter for long enough and you’ll hear a fragment of something they’ve seen on Facebook, an echo of a whisper about something connected with the IRA or terrorism, or desire to disband the army or some such. Story after story, sometimes fake tweets, or some tales about Mr Corbyn’s past. This slow marinade helps explain why views around him are so impacted, why his personal ratings have remained stubbornly low. The invective is profound; they can’t even tell you why they hate him, so they just do.
Here’s some tips on how to do something about it on the doorstep, from activist Duncan Thomas: https://salvage.zone/articles/fuck-boris-save-the-nhs/ It’s from Ashfield, Notts, but apart from the ducks, it could be anywhere in the North:
Everyone has a dog. A lot of people are quite old. The most common response to a door knock or a phone call is bitterness and disillusionment, sometimes inflected with aggression. People do not want to talk. People say they don’t care about politics, but they do: they care about their houses and their roads and their schools and their hospitals. People know and understand more than you might think they do.
There is a residual working class culture and sensibility. You can be blunt and straightforward and honest with people, and if you refuse to give up until they slam the door in your face, you can make an impact. The older women start calling you “duck”.
Use swear words. Talk about class politics. Talk about the Tories not as your opponents, but as your enemies. Because they are, and everyone fucking knows it. Boris Johnson is a blathering moron who couldn’t give a shit about how you live, or how you die.
You can see people’s faces change. They are shocked that someone is speaking to them like this on the doorstep. They agree. They reassure me that there is a solid majority in this country for a decent and humane and caring society, even if you have to dig a little to get there.
“There is a solid majority in this country for a decent and humane and caring society.” Let’s see how that turns out in 48 hours. Let’s hope so. Or else, as Frankie Boyle has it: “because Corbyn has wonky glasses, in a couple of years you’ll be living in a tent city outside an Amazon warehouse trying to GoFund a tonsillectomy”.
Brexit: keep the faith
There’s none so blind as them who will not see.
Every person over 50 years old in the North of England knows that the government is sitting on economic impact reports that it has denied exist, that show that Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit will hit the North’s towns the hardest, wiping out what is left of civil manufacturing industry in the region. The North East’s great achievement, to be the European production location of choice for the Japanese, some of the best engineering companies in the world, will lie in tatters. The City of Sunderland, among many others, will be economically finished: dead. Everybody knows this, but they are in denial of what they know to be true. On Thursday a very, very large number of them are going to ignore it and vote Tory anyway “to get Brexit done”.
Three years ago older people across the North of England knew that things had gone badly wrong in their communities, and that a big change was needed. They put their faith in Brexit as that change, the thing that could put the clocks back. It was a mistake because the thing that had gone wrong was the so-called neoliberal experiment, the transformation of Anglo-American capitalism from a system of wealth creation into a system of cash extraction and latterly, by the time of the 2007 crash, just straightforward criminality and corruption.
But having signed up for the Brexit faith, they have stuck with it, and continue to double down on it, even though polls show that older pro-Brexit voters no longer actually believe Brexit will improve things. People stopped asking what good will come of it ages ago, now it’s just something that people will willingly believe just needs to be gone through with on point of principle, at any price.
As for what the North’s economy will do for a living after Brexit, the master plan is called “Singapore-on-Thames”. There has always been a clue for the North there, about where it fits in to the Brexiteers’ plans.
But older pro-Brexit Northerners have got the idea of ‘sink or swim’, ‘do or die’, into their heads, and they aren’t budging: even though they expect the North to sink, and they expect it to die. Maybe it’s a Northern thing, a folk memory of the traditional protestant belief that the end times are nigh. Or, as Fintan O’Toole has said, maybe it’s a masochistic fantasy, a twisted babyboomer guilty reaction for blowing everything and throwing away the welfare state their parents’ generation gifted to them.
Whatever it is, it’s a crime against their children and grandchildren, and the only thing that you can guarantee is that when it all goes wrong, they won’t be blaming themselves.
The great NHS heist
Every person over 50 years old in the North of England knows that they are going to rely on the NHS more and more as they get older. They know that the compulsive liar Boris Johnson is lying his fat arse off that the NHS is not on the table in the trade deal he is going to do with Donald Trump, once the trade talks with the EU prove to be a disaster.
They know that NHS hospitals and GP surgeries might be as little as a few days away from a winter crisis that could be terminal, as thousands of dedicated doctors who keep the system running on the spirit of public service and goodwill, call it a day and walk away at the prospect of things never getting any better, only ever getting worse. They know this but they are in denial of what they know to be true. On Thursday a very, very large number of them are going to ignore it and vote Tory anyway, “to get Brexit done”.
Boris Johnson is just the front man for the most merciless group of international vampire capitalists to hold power in this country since Norman times. The placemen of the men who paid for Brexit, people like the Taxpayers Alliance’s Matthew Elliott, are already sitting in the heart of No.10.
For them, waiting for a Boris Johnson working majority in the House of Commons is like waiting for the starting gun for a trolley dash. It’s just going to be load up with billions of public assets and public cash, and get it into offshore accounts as fast as possible, before it all goes tits up. The fastidious will be particularly upset by the banal, blinkered, frequently incompetent short termism of it all. They should have kept a closer eye on Trump’s America.
As James Meek writes in his book Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else, when a country has sold off all its industries, the only thing left to sell off next is its people, or to be more precise, a share of each person’s monthly income, and a share of the public cash that is spent on each citizen through public services, most notably the NHS.
For young people who are working, the method of extracting the cash is through monthly rent, payments on loans. (The Lib Dem manifesto policy of a government loan to young people to pay the deposit on a privately rented flat is a classic of genre – bet the Tories pinch it.)
But for older householders, babyboomers enjoying a modest home they own outright, a few quid in the bank, perhaps an old-style final salary corporate pension (who knows, maybe even an ‘investment property’), how do you get the money out of them? With the skim on rip-off charges for gas, electricity, water, broadband maxed out, the big new seam of paydirt has to be healthcare.
As we already know, because the secret documents were leaked to Jeremy Corbyn, the first target will be extracting cash from the NHS, for example through the prices the NHS pays to big pharma for prescription drugs. The numbers are eyewatering. But in the longer run, the prize is to destroy health care free at the point of use as the standard operating model.
So many Northern over-50s who will be voting Tory on Thursday will be thinking that because they have some bit of a health insurance policy, they will be able to personally avoid the fallout from an NHS meltdown by “going private”. But most of them know in their heart of hearts that when illness gets serious, private health insurance stops paying out.
What they probably don’t realise is how brutal the American model of private health, which is what we will be getting, really is. In America’s litigation culture, private health insurance is a monstrous maze, riddled with rake-offs and fraud. But fall out of the insurance system, and get sick, they’ll gulp down your lifetime’s savings in one or two bites. George Osborne’s employer Blackrock will gladly buy your house off you and rent it back to you. Fall behind on your payments, you can go and live in your car.
Under Boris Johnson, when the UK sits down with the USA for the trade talks, the US billionaires have already bought both sides of the negotiating table. About trade talks they say that if you’re not sat at the table, you’re on the menu. That’s another clue about where the North’s proud Brexit-voting householders fit in to the grand plan.
The Great British unwritten constitution
The British constitution confers what the Tory Lord Hailsham called an ‘elective dictatorship’ on the prime minister who wins a Commons working majority. Unlike in countries with proper, written constitutions, many of the checks and balances on the government are traditional ‘conventions’ of fair play, not legal rights. But on Friday, the old school Tory guardians of gentlemanly fair play, the John Majors and Dominic Grieves of yesteryear, will all be out, and the new boys will be in.
The rapidity and ferocity with which the Johnson administration will set about consolidating its power by riding roughshod over traditions, will likely surprise very many. Which is odd given that just a few months ago Johnson and Rees-Mogg lied to the Queen (and to everyone), prorogued parliament under false pretences, and then connived at putting neo-Nazis on the streets to put the frighteners on citizens’ protests against their coup.
On that occasion, they were thwarted by the supreme court. With a working majority, they will simply change the law as they need to, as they go along.
Few have been paying attention to the Tory manifesto. Hidden away on page 48 of the Tory manifesto is carte blanche to change the constitution in any way that they feel like (hat tip: Armando Iannucci). At a guess, the Fixed Term Parliament Act will be repealed by Christmas. As Paul Mason puts it, 2019 may prove to be the last free and fair general election we will see in this country.
This is hell nor are we out of it
As the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett observes, with its monarchy, its unelected Lords, its House of Commons elected under an indefensible electoral system, Britain cannot really call itself a proper modern democracy anyway. But for a flawed, partial democracy, we have traditionally prided ourselves on reasonably high standards of public democratic conduct, by international standards.
They have always been far from perfect, as anyone who remembers Iraq, or the miners’ strike, will tell you. Fleet Street has always been a disgrace, and the BBC has always acted as a state broadcaster, not a truly independent broadcaster, whatever they tell you to the contrary.
Boris Johnson turned up smelling of booze – drunk, or hung over – at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and put his wreath down the wrong way around. The BBC tried to help to cover this up, but made a mistake by going too far and substituting false footage of Johnson from a previous year’s ceremony. The BBC would probably have done that for any Prime Minister at any time over the last 100 years – all that has changed in the era of Twitter is that it is harder to get away with it now.
But the depths to which democratic standards have sunk in 2019 must surely be new lows. Convicted of lying to the Queen and his prorogation of parliament quashed: that surely would have seen the resignation of any British Prime Minister before Boris Johnson?
Looking at the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee report, which is understood to be damning on Johnson, Cummings and Gove taking Vladimir Putin’s money and methods for the Vote Leave campaign in 2016. Would No.10 have as shamelessly refused to publish it in previous times? Maybe. Would the media have simply let the matter drop, as they have done, in previous times? Maybe. But would we in previous times had the sheer nonchalance and fatalism that accepts that of course we can see the report, just as soon as the election is over and it’s too late to do anything about it, and that of course nothing will come from it?
What feels new is Boris Johnson lying so openly and shamelessly, and continuously, and that the BBC should smile along with it, because – as borrowed from Berlusconi via Trump – the voters can be in on the joke. The BBC narrative – Nick Robinson and Andrew Neil are the experts at this – is that you the viewer or listener can be sophisticated if you can grasp that all sides are equally cynical, equally charlatans. Everybody is a liar, but you can be a winner if you run with the liar who just happens to have the money and the power.
That is pure Putinism. The BBC propagates it like crazy (arguing that it has then met its obligation to balance) , and the public imbibes it deeply.
Both Robinson and Neil have always been right wing activists, and rightly consider themselves to be successful political players of much greater importance than most of the cabinet themselves; shapers not reporters of the political weather. It is self-importance, not concern for British democracy, which has driven Andrew Neil’s attack on Boris Johnson for ducking his interview.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a tweet stamping on a human face – forever
And bringing it all together, it’s yesterday at Leeds General Infirmary. A microcosm of our present, and – if the North’s towns vote the Tories in tomorrow – our future.
A kid with pneumonia on the floor of A&E. The collapse of the NHS. England’s betrayal of its own children. The pathetic, shameless little turd of a Tory minister.
The lies, the fake news. The dead cat on the table. The tweets “I’m hearing from senior Conservative party sources that…”
The angry, perhaps slightly too self-righteous, but utterly non-violent, utterly traduced Corbynista. The reverse ferret non-apology apologies from the telly celebrity reporters (Peston and Kuenssberg), which you just know would never have been made if there wasn’t mobile phone video footage out there going viral on the internet.
The change of plan. The bogus tweets from the troll farm telling us the photo of the kid on the floor was faked. The amplification of the lies by Fleet Street (the Telegraph’s Allison Pearson) and Murdoch shock jocks (TalkRadio’s Julia Hartley-Brewer). The denial by the hospital, the brave editor of the Yorkshire Post standing his ground. Allison Pearson doubling down on her lies anyway.
The Tories are spending record sums on social media in the last week of the campaign; have they been spending it on this? Spending Russian money on disinformation spread from troll farms? How could we ever know, how could we ever link them to the fake tweets? How can we ever stop this, when the Tories move in to take full control of Channel 4, and join forces to conspire with Facebook to take full spectrum control of what we see on the internet?
It’s just a shit situation, and this is our future, if the North votes the Tories in tomorrow.
Tactical voting in the North – it really couldn’t be much simpler
There are loads of tactical voting sites, but there is really only one page you need to look at on the internet, Tactical Vote’s site comparison page, here: https://tactical.vote/compare.
In some parts of the country, it’s quite complicated, but in the North of England, it’s really not. If you’re in South Lakeland, Cheadle, Hazel Grove, Eddisbury, Harrogate & Knaresborough, or Berwick-upon-Tweed, vote Lib Dem. If you’re in Sheffield Hallam, vote for who you want. If you live anywhere else in the North, it’s vote Labour. The rest of UK really needs the North’s red wall to hold.
Don’t let the turkeys ruin your Christmas, folks!