And in the end

Christmas Eve 2020: queue at Benwell Food Bank, Newcastle when the Brexit trade deal was agreed

So now we know what taking back control looks like.  The 1,246 page post-Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement was agreed between the UK and EU at 2pm on Christmas Eve.  Fleet Street had already printed its newspapers hailing the agreement as Boris Johnson’s Christmas miracle the night before, whilst it was Boxing Day before the actual text was published.  

The 80 page European Union (Future Relationship) Bill was published on 29 December and rammed through the House of Commons between 9.30am and 2.30pm on 30 December, and through the House of Lords between 3pm and quarter to midnight before being rushed to Windsor Castle where the self-isolating 94 year-old Queen Elizabeth was kept from her bed to sign it into law in the early hours of the last day of 2020.  A process described by the Hansard Society as a farce and a constitutional failure.

It’s almost as if their contents don’t bear much scrutiny. 

Much scrutiny from the British side that is – the European Union has signed the deal provisionally subject to the outcome of a two month period of scrutiny by the democratically-elected European Parliament.  Ursula von der Leyen is evidently confident that the MEPs will be satisfied with what they find. 

What has happened is that we have all been subjected to a piece of ‘political theatre’ by Boris Johnson, designed to conceal that he has climbed down on all the EU’s main requirements, including fishing, Northern Ireland and all the rest because, guess what, it turned out that the EU held all the cards after all.  This “big lie” approach appears to have worked well on the Brexit faithful, so far.  Well, the English do love a Christmas panto. 

“No deal is better than a bad deal” was always a lie about as convincing as any panto villain’s “oh yes he is, oh no he isn’t” routine.  What we appear to have ended up with is a weird hybrid of soft Brexit – in which Britain gets to keep full shelves in the supermarkets but is locked into EU rules and standards without having a say over what they are – and hard Brexit, in which British agricultural, manufacturing and services exports are made substantially more difficult and expensive (through increased red tape at the border rather than actual tariffs), and will go into serious decline. 

The revelation that British farmers will no longer be able to continue the profitable trade of selling seed potatoes to farmers in Ireland, North or South, so jarring with the image of triumph portrayed by Fleet Street on Christmas Eve, will be the first of many during 2021 that will quickly take the shine off the miraculous deal.  But it will be too late, because both Labour and Tory have voted for it, and the deal is done.

Why have we ended up where we are?  Presumably because what the deal provides is what the handful of men who paid for the campaign for Brexit were buying all along: to keep the City of London safe from any future EU moves to restrain the London dirty money laundromat for the world’s oligarchs’ cash, or (heaven forbid) make them pay significant taxes.   

What’s in this ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ strategy for the businesses and industries of the North of England?  On the basis of the farrago in this Andrea Jenkyns piece, it seems safe to say, literally nothing of meaningful substance. 

Had there been a full hard Brexit with tariff walls going up, then (theoretically at least) there could have been an opportunity for manufacturing to revive in the North on the basis of import substitution.  However, that’s not going to happen, as the EU has been careful in the deal to preserve its ability to maintain and grow its huge surplus in trade in physical goods.  It’s hard to see manufacturing businesses with integrated supply chains inside the EU single market investing in the UK any more – why would they? 

What is so weird and shaming to the North is, that nobody seems to care.  It’s too early to say, but the deal is probably popular among the Brexit faithful of the formerly red, now blue, Wall of the North and Midlands’ industrial towns and ex-coalfields.  They’ve dug in and stuck it out so far, so this Christmas propaganda blitz will surely have succeeded.

What has the Wall’s Brexit voters got out of the Brexit deal?  The end to the free movement of labour, of course.  Whether this will feed through to easier-to-come-by jobs at better wages remains to be seen.  It seems massively unlikely. 

What tricks have the Tories got up their sleeves to hang on to their new true blue voters once the shine comes off the deal?  One stratagem for 2021 appears to be to stoke up a big row about whether to reintroduce capital punishment.  It will be grim fun to watch Labour under new management trying to avoid being outflanked on that one. 

A brighter prospect for the Wall is the recent discovery by the Tories that, after 10 years of disastrous and murderous public sector austerity, money does after all grow on magic money trees.  The Northern Research Group of Tory MPs will no doubt be working hard to make sure that the Wall’s towns get a few decent crumbs of cash in and amongst the bonanza feasts being laid out for the Cabinet’s public school chums.

Meanwhile, the combined impact of Brexit and Covid seems tragically likely to snuff out the renaissance of the North’s big cities seen in recent years.  The brain drain of bright young people, which the North’s cities had actually stemmed in the past decade and turned into an influx, may well start up again.  With the removal of free movement to the EU, where will they go?  Certainly, a few years in Dublin or Cork with the chance of an Irish passport at the end of it will look attractive – it should not be forgotten that an Irish passport is just as good a document as the new blue British passport in the UK itself, and altogether more useful and desirable than it in the rest of the world. 

So what is to be done? 

The “absolute travesty” of the EU (Future Relationship) Bill should mark the death knell for the unreformed Westminster parliament and the elective dictatorship conferred by the archaic, unbalanced British constitution.  If it does not, then it fully deserves to mark the death knell of the United Kingdom. 

Labour for a New Democracy have got a plan.  Sign up for it. 

Scotland has got a plan as well: they intend to get out of Westminster’s deathly grip.  A united Ireland is well on the way too.  One intriguing recent idea from a Dublin visionary is for a united Scotland and Ireland with Northern Ireland sitting in the middle, part of both, and all part of the EU too, of course.  

So the North urgently needs a plan too and it may as well be a radical one. 

The North invented the era of industrial mass production, and much of the technology for burning fossilised carbon to power it.  That era will end with an uninhabitable planet within the lifetimes of children alive today, unless we get our act together.  So the North might as well try being the place that pioneers a new era of living frugally and sustainably within planetary limits and with wealth counted as happiness, feelings of security, fulfilling lives and joy. 

It’s beyond time for this version of the Northern Umbrella blog obsessed with Brexit to call it a day.  The blog is going back offline.  In 2021, if Labour for a New Democracy’s plan doesn’t come off, maybe try looking to the Northern Independence Party for big, radical ideas.  Tory Brexit is obviously going to be a failure, and the Tory Party’s descent into some kind of mad death cult built on lies will continue.  So the Republic of Northumbria instead?  Why not?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

And we’re free! …free falling

So there it is, over the cliff we have gone.  The impact, and the years of pain and disablement that follow, doesn’t happen the moment you go over the cliff.  But it sure is the moment when there’s no going back.  We are now in free fall, without control, and the pain and damage that will follow is unavoidable.

200131 brexit tea towel

Done, and we certainly have been

What the hell have we just seen on our TV screens at the 11pm moment of exit, at Nigel Farage’s rally in Parliament Square London and at Andrea Jenkyns’s crummy firework display at Morley rugby club?

Above all, it looked like a demographic crime: a crime by the old against the young.  It looked like a final fleeting moment of catharsis and defiance by a generation whose best days are behind them, have no plan for the future, no real interest in the future, and above all have not the slightest intention of taking any responsibility for what happens next.

An act of extraordinary irresponsibility and petulance by what will now be the only generation to enjoy the ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state their parents built for them for the whole journey cradle to grave,  as they pull the ladder up behind them and leave the younger generations following in the shit.

There was bathos as well.  Something that really seemed to crystallise on watching the scenes of union jacks being waved in Morley juxtaposed against the Scottish saltires being waved in Edinburgh, was the sense that this time it really does feel like the end for the United Kingdom.

The Boris Johnson tea towel really is quite a thing.  It is authentic Johnson in that it is actually genuinely quite funny.  It solves one puzzle: what was Brexit ever for?  Turns out it was just a little in-joke, meant to be taken ironically.

The joke’s on us because amusing though the tea towel is, it is not an adequate piece of clothing to protect us as we head out naked into the freezing cold world of international power politics and trade negotiations. Fintan O’Toole has written about the imaginary humiliation perceived by Brexiters.  Now we find out what real international humiliation feels like.

It is already perfectly obvious that Britain is completely unprepared for the hardball treatment it is about to receive at the hands of the Americans, and as the new EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen patiently pointed out, from the EU too now we no longer have the protection of membership.

Trump and the Wall Street billionaires don’t so much want a trade deal as to acquire a new vassal state from which imperial tribute can be extracted.  They also want to use the UK as a means of undermining the EU single market, its environmental standards and protections for workers.  The EU rightly perceives this threat, and will use its weight to defend itself.  We’re on a hiding to nothing.

Much of the Tory cabinet is in the pay of the billionaires and will be working for them, not us, in the negotiations process.  By announcing in advance that we will be diverging from the EU’s standards, we have made ourselves helpless in the negotiations with the Americans.  Some of the others have made naive statements that the negotiations will be a process in which the British right to defend its own interests will be respected.  “If they make the NHS pay more for American big pharma’s drugs, then the deal’s off” – this can only work but only if we stay under the protection of the EU.  Alone and isolated we can try to go it alone, but we would need to get used to being a whole lot poorer.  We haven’t so much shot ourselves in the foot as cut ourselves open and showed our guts to the vultures circling above.

As we dive down towards 31 December, and the implications of having simultaneously snookered and checkmated ourselves diplomatically become obvious, then all sorts of people will be thrown out of the balloon.  The plan, to the extent there is one, will be to protect the City of London at all costs.  To repeat a comment from an earlier post, there is a clue in the term ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ about where the North of England fits in to the Brexiters’ plans.  Sitting beneath Boris Johnson’s rhetoric about unleashing the North’s potential lies nothing, literally nothing.

Singapore-on-Thames as a positive vision of how Britain might be able to make its way in the world will probably fail, but the handful of disaster capitalists who paid for Brexit will make their fast bucks in all scenarios and disappear offshore.  Meanwhile, the trawlermen, the farmers, the brave men and women who try to keep a manufacturing business going, or to keep a hospital or a school serving the public: they will all be sold down the river, one by one, as 31 December approaches.

Little England’s over 55s have brought all this on themselves and on us.  They are a generation that in December took the power of the vote – a power put into their hands by their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation –  and spaffed it away, putting into No.10 the most transparent charlatan to occupy Downing Street since before the Victorian era.  A man so lazy he can’t be bothered to learn the lines of his lies.  Nobody at Morley rugby club will be able to say in the future that they were conned by Boris Johnson: he has never made any serious effort to conceal that he will insouciantly sell his supporters down the river.



The Little Englanders voted to get screwed and they have duly got the Prime Minister they deserve.

Northern Umbrella

So it’s not looking great.  This is a country where the destitute die in the streets, literally under our noses, and the majority of us just walk on by.  Can it get any worse?  Unfortunately, yes it can.

But hope springs eternal.  It’s customary in these things to say, when criticising older people for voting for Brexit and for Tory rule, that not all older people are Tory Brexiters.  And this is true.  These are the oldsters who can reach out to the young and help them to assert their economic interests a bit more.

Boris Johnson’s political honeymoon will be over soon, probably within a few short weeks.  But there can be no going back to the way we were.

The state of the planet demands a change.  We need a new economy, a new way of living.  It can be better than what we settle for now.  It’s a crazy hope, but maybe the North of England, the cradle of the modern industrial world, can play a part in inventing that next human system.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Will the North’s turkeys be voting for Christmas?

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?

turkeys voting

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:  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…”

leeds infirmary tweets

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:

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!








Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

This likely lad is the North’s problem to fix

Say what you like about Dominic Cummings, but you’ve got to admit he’s a Northern kid.

He’s got attitude, he’s got swagger, he hates the effete London metropolitan liberal establishment.  If he’d gone into Britpop rather than Tory politics in the 1990s he could’ve been a classic Northern hero by now, reminiscing for cash on BBC4 rockumentaries.  But he did go into Tory politics, and right now he presents a genuinely mortal danger to our democracy.  So the North owns a big part of the job that needs to be done right now: getting rid of him.

Taxi for Mr Cummings

Dominic Cummings thinks he has all the trigger slogans and Facebook profiles he needs to deliver enough swing seats in the North for the Tory party to win the coming general election.  For the moment, the Trump administration and the international hedge fund billionaires believe him. What the North has to do now is not to fall for his tricks, and simply refuse to show support for the Tories.  Then the big money will quickly do the job of removing him from our lives.

This post was going to take a look at Dominic Cummings’s life story and ask the question, how did he work his way up to become Britain’s most powerful person, holding an entire country to ransom?  What exactly happened to make this ordinary Durham lad the craziest megalomaniac Britain’s seen in ages?  But in this week’s New Statesman, the job has already been done, and done well, by Harry Lambert: The Machiavel in Downing Street

The piece is well worth reading, and for what it’s worth, it seems like his parents in Durham are decent people.  Maybe it was moving from a state primary school to the posh-but-tough, private sector Durham School, in the shadow of the ancient cathedral, that taught him how to protect himself against bullying by becoming a bully himself.  Or maybe the North isn’t to blame, and something in him died when he joined the neoliberal goldrush into Yeltsin era post-Communist Russia in the 1990s.  Perhaps he saw enough criminality and cold brutality there to turn him into a nihilist.

But there comes a point where diminishing returns are hit in trying to work out whether Cummings is a toxic nutcase in good faith – a man who really believes that he will improve the country by tearing it to shreds so that he can build it back up again according to the half-baked sketches set out in his voluminous blog; or whether Cummings is a toxic nutcase in bad faith – a misanthrope who wants power for its own sake, and will burn the country down just for kicks.

There comes a point where you just think, who cares – this guy is a toxic nutcase either way, so get him out of 10 Downing Street right now.

Story time

George Monbiot tells us that if we want to make political impact, we need to stop quoting statistics and writing searing polemics, and start telling stories instead.

So here goes: a fairy tale about a cheesy night club that could be in any Northern town – a world that we know Dominic Cummings himself is well familiar with.

Klute-y Dumpling

It’s the big Friday night down at the town nite klub – let’s call it No.10’s.

A little while earlier Psycho Dom and his big daft hooray henry mate Bozzer made their dramatic entrance.  They’ve pulled some entertaining, if somewhat alarming, moves on the dance floor and have now moved to the bar.  But Dom is totally off his head on a very dangerous drug: power.  Refused another round of shots, he’s shouting the place down and is starting to smash the place up.  Very soon people are going to start getting hurt – seriously hurt.  There’s only one option for what to do: get this guy out, and fast – Route One to the exit.

Let’s add a twist to this tale.  Psycho Dom and Bozzer are actually the night club’s managers.  They’re running the place for Owd Liz, who has owned it for many years.  What are the bouncers going to do now?  He’s threatening them with the sack if they come anywhere near him.  The staff know Psycho Dom is not a man to be messed with – he sacked 21 of their colleagues just a few weeks ago.

They also know that Dom has been lying to Owd Liz.  He’s not looking after her interests at all.  He’s cut a deal with a big American boss, Don, to trash the premises and buy it for a song, and then knock it down and put up a luxury hotel for Don in its place.  There are rumours that Russian mafia money is involved.  The staff imagine there will be plenty of work for them in the fancy new place, but they know the club’s current clientele definitely won’t be invited.

So here we are, Bozzer is stumbling and mumbling around, and Psycho Dom is stood, back to the bar, waving a broken pintpot about.  “You’re all soft as shite, man.  None of yez can take me!” he yells.

There’s really only one thing to do, the clubbers themselves are going to have to take this headcase down, and get him out.

The lads from the building site, having a night out, could do it easily.  So could the big group from the call centre, celebrating a leaving do.  Even the students from the uni could do it, despite being pretty useless.  But the students are currently sat in their different cliques: Jo and Chuka’s team aren’t talking to Jez and Emily’s crew because of a dispute over who said what to whom in the gender-neutral toilets down at the student union.

If all the clubbers rushed him at once, Psycho Dom wouldn’t stand a chance.  But Dom has got a few tricks up his sleeve.  He knows the workers from the building site and the call centre take a sceptical view of the students.

“Look at these students, they’ve never done an honest day’s work in their lives!” shouts Dom.  “Are you going to let them fuck this club up with their gender-neutral toilets, eh?”

Bozzer comes up alongside Dom and starts chucking peanuts at the female students.  “Yeah!” he shouts, and then falls over.

“Look at these lot.”  Dom gesticulates towards a group of Asian-British kids who have decided to have a night out at No.10’s.  It’s their town after all, they’ve lived here all their lives.  “We NEVER used to have their sort in THIS club.”

A nasty group in the corner cheer at that remark.  It’s the Footy Lads.  They’re a sad, paunchy bunch of has-beens, their glory days of football aggro in the 1980s now long gone.  There’s only a few of them, but they still look ugly and dangerous.

“If you touch me”, yells Dom to the clubbers, “my footy mates are going to batter you and everybody else in here.  Why would you get battered for a student?  I’m on your side against them – and against them!”, turning to snarl at a young Asian-British woman.

“Jolly well looks like a jolly old pillar box” manages Bozzer, before falling over again.  A couple of the older women in the group from the call centre burst out laughing.  He’s not supposed to say that, they laugh, but you’ve got to admit, he is hilarious.

The footy lads chuck some beer and it lands on the young Asian-British woman.  She looks both frightened and angry.  The two women look nervously at each other: that wasn’t so funny.  But still, Dom and the footy lads weren’t having a go at them, and they weren’t the ones getting wet.

“Look guys, it’s like this.”  One of the students appeals to the building site lads and the call centre party.  “Dom’s not on your side, he’s trying to close this place and get all of us kicked out.  He’s really working for an American guy called Don.  They stand to make millions.”

The building site lads are listening.  “Don’t listen to that little pillock and his conspiracy theories.” warns Dom.

“And another thing,” continues the student, “this place needs to become an arts space with a vegan menu and gender-neutral toilets.”  The building site lads aren’t listening any more.

Dom senses the change of mood.  “Let’s just get this done!  Traitor students out of this club!  No fucking surrender!” he yells and boots over the students’ table full of drinks.  The footy lads launch up into a chorus of “No surrender to the IRA”.

Dom grabs one the student girls and drags her out of her seat by her hair.  “All of you students get out now, or I’m going to throw her to this lot”, he says, pointing to the footy lads.  She looks very afraid.  One of the builders mutters under his breath: “Howay man Dom, you’re going too far.”

Greta, smashing, super

Then suddenly a young girl with her hair in plaits steps up.  It’s Greta, the school exchange student from Sweden.  How the hell did she get in here?  She’s never eighteen.

“You are a bully and this has got to stop now,” she says calmly.  Dom looks wild-eyed.  He’s been challenged.

She turns to the assembled clubbers, addressing all of the tables. “You could get together and stop this right now.  Do you have the courage?  How dare you leave it to a child to do what you should be doing!  In five seconds I am going to walk up and disarm this man.  If you are all with me then we can do it easily and no-one will be hurt.  If you do not join me, I will have no future.”

5, 4, 3, 2, 1……………. What happens next?

That’s up to the people of the Northern town to decide.

Post-script: what needs to happen now

Boris Johnson needs to be removed from No.10 straight away – next week – and replaced by a caretaker government.  That Government should do three jobs:

  • Ask the EU for a long delay to Brexit so that a no deal crash-out on 31 October is avoided.
  • Put through a new, tightened up electoral law to properly defend free and fair elections, rather than relying only on traditional conventions of fair play at election time.  This means excluding foreign interference and international dark money, and ensuring that whatever Dominic Cummings plans to do on Facebook in the last few days of the campaign is anticipated, and exposed for all the country to see;
  • Organise a clean referendum and general election, perhaps to be held on the same day, observed by independent international election monitors.  If those ballots can only be held in a year’s time, so be it.  The delay will allow the country to carry on functioning, whilst everybody takes a breather and calms down.

In one way all Cummings has got up his sleeve is a few million dodgy Facebook ads, yet because he will have the Trump administration and the whole mainstream media propaganda machine behind him, defeating him is going to be a mammoth task.

It won’t be easy, it will be very hard – and it will require those who oppose Cummings to cease fighting each other, compromise, and start fighting him.

If they don’t, then he could easily win the coming general election with 35% of the vote.  And that could spell game over for British democracy.  If Cummings wins the election he will be licensed to go all-out for full-spectrum domination of the media, the internet and the government machine.  As Leigh’s Paul Mason tells us, there may not be another free and fair British election in our lifetimes.

So, the stakes are high.  But if the anti-Cummings forces can stand together to fight him, peacefully, democratically, he can be beaten at the ballot box.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

That special place in Hell

As the thermometer hits the mid-80s Fahrenheit across the North of England, the tundra burns across the Arctic, and Boris Johnson takes his first grip on the reins of power in Westminster, it feels timely to remind ourselves of Donald Tusk’s “special place in hell for those that promote Brexit without even the sketch of a plan”.

It is scant comfort that Boris and whatever horror show of shysters, creeps, nutters and full-on sociopaths he assembles for his cabinet tomorrow, have a place reserved for them in hell.  Because they will be taking us down with them.  If we plough on with No Deal Brexit on 31 Oct – and who at the moment can say that the EU won’t simply lose patience and kick us out – the North and all its people will assuredly be going to social and economic hell, either as a slow descent or as a rapid nosedive.  And that’s not even the worst of it…

angel of the north descending to hell

The Euro election results in the North

The worst of it is that in the North, Boris will be doing this with the keen support of very large numbers of our fellow citizens.

The next post on this site will be an analysis of the Euro election results across the North.   It will show that, although the North as a whole was (marginally) less taken with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party than the Midlands or South West of England, and although as a whole it would (probably) narrowly vote for Remain were there any second referendum, overall a very substantial fraction of the North’s voters have stayed resolute for Leave.

Unlike Wales, there is no clear signal in the election result data that the North has fundamentally turned against Brexit.  Despite three years of unavoidable, staring-you-in-the-face evidence that Brexit will be a disaster for the UK – and within that disaster, a particular industrial catastrophe for the North – not nearly enough people have changed their mind about Brexit to make the project no longer politically tenable.

The Brexit pilgrims

So the UK is now, more than ever, divided into Scotland, Northern Ireland, London – and now Wales – against Brexit, and England outside London still substantially for it.  The Brexit faith, a self-contained belief system impervious to the real world as it is, was identified some time ago by Fintan O’Toole as primarily a matter of ‘English-British’ national identity.  Hence the remarkable opinion poll showing that Tory members would be perfectly content to see the break up of the UK if that was the price of getting their Brexit.

In the Brexit faith, the criticism or ridicule of others only strengthens the faith of the believer.  Whilst, as O’Toole points put, for the Brexit faithful, national humiliation is something almost to be masochistically actively sought out.

Nobody says it better than John Bunyan about the psychology of the North’s Brexiters and their faith:

Who would true Valour see/ Let him come hither;/ One here will Constant be/ Come Wind, come Weather./  There’s no Discouragement/ Shall make him once Relent,/ His first avow’d Intent,/ To be a Pilgrim.

Who so beset him round,/ With dismal Stories,/ Do but themselves Confound;/ His Strength the more is./ No Lion can him fright,/ He’ll with a Giant fight,/ But he will have a right,/ To be a Pilgrim.

No true Northerner is going to disagree with those sentiments – in theory (we’ll see how we get on when actual hardship is spread to the more comfortably off).  Rupert Murdoch and Nigel Farage’s genius was to sell Brexit as the promised land, the destination of the pilgrimage.

Boris’s mill

What is Boris Johnson going to make of this?  It was never Boris’s plan to actually win the referendum.  The plan was to become the next leader of the Tory Party after David Cameron on the back of being the valiant but defeated Brexit campaigner.  It is highly doubtful that Boris believes Brexit is a good idea.  The objective was only ever to get the job of being Prime Minister.

The irony is in many respects quite amusing.  But Boris is unfortunately no joke for British Muslims and many others who are upset and alarmed that a man who is so cynically willing to ‘play the race card’ for political advantage should make it to No. 10 Downing Street.  As the former Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum Mohammed Amin pointed out as he resigned from the Tory party today, Boris’s racist dog whistles are not funny when they lead directly to an upsurge in racist abuse and attacks.

Behind the façade of buffoonery is a gang of really nasty people, and few nastier than his old campaign supremo Lynton Crosby.  For the people hiding behind Boris, there is only one political objective: to keep the City of London going as a place where the rich can make easy money, safely.  There’s little they won’t stoop to in pursuit of that objective.

It goes without saying that they don’t give a damn about the North and its Brexit supporters, except perhaps as a source of pensions wealth and health service spending they can rake off and rip off.  Stalwart Northern Brexit pilgrims are just grist to Boris’s mill.

It gets worse.  The evidence of Boris’s behaviour during the leadership hustings, for example over the Kim Darroch affair, and Trump’s comments about him, seem to point to there having been some kind of deal with Trump.  Boris has been signalling to Trump that he will be his appropriately subservient disciple, and Trump has been tweeting back his approval.   Who knows what understanding has been reached between them.  But you’d better believe that the North’s Brexit-voting pensioners, as well as the rest of us, are on the menu.

Boris’s plan?

For all his success in the leadership election, out in the real world Boris is in a precarious position.  Pundits are saying that whichever way he moves leads to checkmate against him.   But he must have a plan.  Despite the claims of some that it would be quite in character for him to indeed have no plan and no clue, it just seems so improbable that he should have waited his whole life to be Prime Minister, and not now be ready to pull some kind of trick to try to hang on to the job for more than a few weeks.

Northern Umbrella’s guess is that Boris’s plan is a general election.  One called in response to parliamentary deadlock, with 31st October looming.  The EU will grant a delay for the election to take place.  Boris will call an election not a referendum because he thinks he will win a general election, and secure a five year term.

The prediction here is for a surprisingly bold stroke: an electoral pact between Boris’s Tories and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.  Farage’s party will be given a free run against Labour remainers in Northern seats.  This was the game plan that was being teed up back in 2017 for UKIP under Paul Nuttall.   They will also run against Tory remain rebels who baulk at the plan.

The numbers from the Euro election show that this plan can win the election – the next post will set this out. Basically, whichever side of the Brexit divide can unite their vote will win the next general election, and whichever side splits their vote will lose it.

Beating Boris with a Remain Alliance

Whichever side unifies wins, and whichever side stays split loses, and this works both ways.  This will be demonstrated in the Brecon & Radnor by-election on 1 August when a Remain alliance candidate (in this case a LibDem) will win, against a split Tory/Brexit Party leave vote.  But beyond rural Wales, and particularly in the North, the Euro election results show that a Remain alliance could only win if Corbyn’s Labour is part of it.

Sadly, there is nothing currently visible in the Remain world to suggest that the #fbpe centrist Remainers and the Corbynistas are capable of coming together in order to keep a Boris/Farage alliance out – indeed the LibDems’ lacklustre new leader Jo Swinson has already ruled it out.  Meanwhile, the Blairite and Brownite old guard in the Labour party will revert to their despicable 2017 position of a general election being well worth losing, if it allows them to seize back control of the party.

Corbyn and John McDonnell’s Labour, for all its faults, is doing a lot of very interesting and useful policy thinking about how we might address some of our social, economic and environmental predicaments, and do so whilst respecting democracy and human rights.  For example: this.  But, sadly this means nothing to LibDem and ageing New Labour and ex-New Labour Westminster MPs, whose only vision is the impossible dream of a return to the way things were 1997-2016.

Without some kind of Remain alliance being formed, the Corbynistas, the Labour Old Guard, the ChUKkas, the ex-ChUKkas and the Liberal Democrats will all be defeated.  So will the poor old Greens.

The Corbynistas may hang on to the Labour party, or Tom Watson and his dirty-fighting old guard may seize it back.  But it won’t matter either way because post-Brexit the predators will descend and the welfare state will have been killed and picked clean by 2025.  No doubt by then the climate crisis will then be beyond the point of no return, causing serious wars and deaths.  The big money may well have decided by then that what England needs is a dose of fascism.  And Boris will then head off into retirement, and the opportunity at last to make some serious money, on the payroll of Blackrock, or whoever.

This doesn’t have to happen, but it will happen, unless grassroots Remainers can see clearly enough to realise that Corbyn is not their worst enemy, and falling for the crude demonisation of Corbyn is exactly what the forces of evil want them to do.

The only glimmer of cheer in this sorry prospect is the thought of the Scots taking their independence and walking away from the whole shitshow.  For the North of England there will be no hope, unless we urgently start talking to each other, understanding each other’s positions, and finding out what magic ingredient can bring Northern voters back to their senses.  We have approximately three months to do it.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments