Trump, ‘Maggie’s Hammer,’ Dirty Money – The Connections?

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The various developing Trump scandals could well be connected to the subject matter of Maggie’s Hammer.

A short while ago, I posted a note about Trump’s long-standing (since the Eighties) connections to Russia, which note included what appears, on the face of it, to be evidence supporting my previous suggestion that the entire saga with Trump-Russia is driven primarily by dirty money, not politics, per se.

Part of the linkage for that post included a story about Trump buying a yacht owned by Adnan Khashoggi, in a deal allegedly brokered by the then Sultan of Brunei. All of this in 1988.

The story in the linkage describes Adnan Khashoggi as ‘the middle man in the Iran-Contra Affair that nearly brought down the Reagan White House.’ True enough. But he was more than that. And the Sultan of Brunei, one of the richest men in the world, did a tad more than broker yacht sales. Especially in the Eighties.

Hmm. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. If you want to make sense of what is happening in the world today, you have to go back to the Eighties. All roads lead to Great Britain. And the best source for rationalizing both of those statements is, heck hem, my book – Maggie’s Hammer. Imagine that.

So. Let’s take a closer look at all of these personalities. And what they were up to in the Eighties.

My Israeli Intelligence source is a gentleman called Ari Ben-Menashe. He is a controversial figure. Who seems to promise more than he delivers. But. Intelligence agencies still consult him. As do governments. More of that last point a bit later.

Ari was a primary source of information for the book, Maggie’s Hammer. As with almost all that I was told, I took what Ari offered with a pinch of salt. Did what due diligence one guy on his own can do. And waited to see if it fit into the developing big picture.

One point Ari went to great lengths to make was that all of the shenanigans of the Eighties, including Iran-Contra, had very little to do with geo-politics, and an awful lot more to do with folks just wanting to make gobloads of money.

Primarily from arms sales, but from other nefarious business activities also (drugs, money-laundering, whatever). And all sorts of folks. Intelligence agencies and military units going into business for themselves. Billionaire businessmen. Defense contractors. Banks, civil servants, senior politicians. Anyone in a position to smooth a path, offer a service, trouble-shoot, make a profit, take a bribe. With no distinction between East and West; North and South; Developed or Developing.

Ari told me more than once that I would never understand the big, geo-political picture of the Eighties, and the decades since then, not least the activities surrounding the War on Terror, and the creation of the global security state, without my understanding that the first priority had become to make a profit.

Ari has not disappeared from the scene. Most recently, he was interviewed by the London Guardian newspaper, in respect of Trump’s approach to Libya, and his (Ari’s) relationship with a Deputy Assistant to the President, one Sebastian Gorka.

Ari first came to public notice with his allegations in Seymour Hersh’s 1991 book, The Samson Option, in which Ari claimed that controversial British publishing billionaire, Robert Maxwell, had for many years been an asset of Israeli Intelligence.

Also named as an Israeli Intelligence asset was Nicholas Davies, the Foreign Editor of Maxwell’s popular British tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mirror. Ari further claimed that Davies had been involved with him in arms deals in the Eighties, some of which were at the heart of the secret US-Israeli operation to supply arms to Iran.

Oh. By-the-by. Nicholas Davies later wrote a book about Prince William with one Mark Saunders. Who is a mate. Whom I met in Slough, England in 1990. Who became Diana’s leading paparazzi. Who wrote his own book about those experiences. Is now a sometime Royal reporter for CNN. And who spent some time with me in the Nineties discussing stuff relating to Royals and British Intelligence. Small world, innnit?

In his own book, Profits of War, first published in 1992, Ari set out more details of arms dealing in the Eighties. Not least those engaged in by Mark Thatcher, son of Britain’s then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Mark was at one point being investigated by US Customs out of Miami, Florida, for alleged involvement in the illegal sale of military technology to Iraq. Which, along with Iran, needed all the military technology it could lay its hands on, to maintain posture in the Iran-Iraq War that lasted from 1980 to 1988.

During the course of that war, Iran bought some $80 billion in arms, illegally and primarily from the West. And Iraq bought some $60 billion in arms, also illegally and primarily from the West.

After the publication of Ari’s book, I wrote to Ari, to ask him if he had any information about the person who is now the subject of my book, one Hugh John Simmonds CBE. Ari responded immediately. And has shared information with me ever since.

I have no idea how much I can trust Ari. Much of the information makes sense. He did threaten me once. But then, I had just accused him of killing my mate. I still think he did.

But. Shrug. Hugh got involved over his head. He was an idiot. He paid a price. Ari was doing his job. Apparently on the instructions of the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir. Sorry if that sounds cold. I’m not cold. I care deeply for Hugh’s family. Who did not get a vote in his becoming involved in dangerous business. But too much passion can drive you crazy.

Anyways. Where was I? Oh yes. Ari. Hugh. Ari told me that Hugh has been involved with both Davies and Mark in selling arms. Ari told me that Hugh’s job was primarily money-laundering. Of very dirty money. Not just arms money. For all sorts of high-flown figures. Not just Davies and Mark.

I got myself into trouble with Ari by being a clever tit. And presenting him with information which made it clear that Ari didn’t just know about Hugh. He’d been in business with him.

Try that, on your own, with a ‘former’ Israeli Intelligence officer, in a hotel room, in Montreal, nine stories up. And ‘skid-marks’ take on a whole new meaning.

I contacted Ari some twenty years after that conversation. To ask him to provide a quote for the back page of my book. He was very kind. And did so. In return, I arranged for him to speak with my publisher. Who has just reprinted Profits of War. Don’t even. Life is indeed very weird.

In the course of promoting my book and Ari’s book, it occurred to my, sorry, our publisher that it might be a good idea for the two of us to appear on radio together. I said, fine. Provided you don’t mind my asking Ari on air if he had my mate killed.

You’d have thought that Montreal would have taught me a lesson …

Anyways. Ari providing me with information in the Nineties. He specifically mentioned Hugh transferring some $12 million from banks accounts under Hugh’s control, through the tax haven of Jersey, to bank accounts under Mark’s control, in Texas, between 1984 and 1988, the year Hugh died.

Ari also made specific reference to a deal that Hugh was allegedly brokering, financed to the tune of some $28 million, by the Atlanta branch of an Italian bank, BNL, which deal was for the sale to Iraq of GEC (UK) engines, the purpose of which was to extend the range of Iraq’s SCUD-B missiles, supposedly so that they could reach into Iran and Israel.

In 1996, I spoke with the former and convicted manager of the BNL Atlanta branch, who confirmed his memory of the production of a $28 million Letter of Credit for Hugh.

Adnan Khashoggi was well known as an arms dealer for the notorious before, during and after Iran-Contra. His sister was married to one Mohammed al-Fayed, who made his early money from arms dealing also.

I set out in my book how it is that I believe that al-Fayed is, in fact, another billionaire asset of Israeli Intelligence. In any event, he was also an Anglophile. Moved to Great Britain in the mid-Sixties. And bought the famous store, Harrods, in 1985.

Al-Fayed wanted nothing more than to become a British citizen, so that he could then work his way up the British Honours system, and eventually become Lord al-Fayed.

However, there was some dispute as to how he had financed his purchase of Harrods in the Eighties. And he was several times denied citizenship. Even though, along the way, he did all he could to curry favor with the then Conservative British government and it Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Such currying included providing jet transport for Mark Thatcher to arrange deals in the Middle East and in Brunei. And brokering the secret transfer in 1985 of some $7.5 billion from the Sultan of Brunei to the coffers of the Bank of England in order to help Margaret Thatcher overcome a short-term run on sterling.

None of this helped. And so, al-Fayed turned on the political party responsible for denying him his dreams – the British Conservative Party. A move which seemed to fit in nicely with what Ari described to me as the agenda of right-wing elements within Israeli Intelligence.

Ari explained to me that said elements were unhappy with the Arab tilt among many of the ambitious young men around Margaret Thatcher and her successor, John Major. So, said elements were interested, first, in undermining the Conservative Party generally, and secondly, in laying waste to as many of those young men as possible.

Ari described Hugh as being one of those young men. Another was a senior Cabinet Minister in the Nineties, who was seen as being John Major’s primary political lieutenant, one David Mellor.

Ari told me that it was Israeli Intelligence who hired the young lady who was picked for the embarrassing sex sting which ended Mellor’s political career. And it was Israeli Intelligence, working with the Daily Mirror, who rented the property where the sting … um … unfolded.

Famously, Mohammed al-Fayed, either at the behest of Ari and/or other elements of the right-wing within Israeli Intelligence, or not, was behind the Nineties operation which ensnared a number of Conservative MP’s, and which was known as Cash for Questions. One of the casualties of this operation was one Tim Smith, MP, who was at the time the Member of Parliament for Beaconsfield, where Hugh and I both lived.

In the early Nineties, Tim was also a Vice Chairman of the national Conservative Party organization, responsible for Finance. At much the same time as Hugh sat on the Conservative National Board of Finance. In which position, as has been alleged to me, Hugh may well have been partially responsible for helping to set up processes, allowing for dirty money to be laundered into and through the national Conservative Party’s labyrinthine network of secret and often overseas bank accounts.

Hugh’s then close chum, Senior Vice President of the Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association, and Senior Partner in the London firm of accountants, Coopers & Lybrand, one Peter Smith, was also at that time fiddling the national audit of the national Conservative Party accounts, to hide the fact that dirty money was making its way into Conservative coffers, from money-laundering activity and arms deals, through those pipelines in part set up by Hugh.

Cozy little world. Isn’t it?

Beyond what he had already told me, Ari would not speculate further on the extent to which he and/or right-wing elements within Israeli Intelligence and/or their agents and assets may or may not have specifically targeted individuals associated with Conservative Party national finances, and living in Beaconsfield. But. There were more than one of them in the Eighties and Nineties. And Ari did take me out to a nice Indian restaurant in Montreal, with his lovely wife.

However. In the mid-Nineties, al-Fayed was also responsible for the defenestration of senior Conservative Cabinet Minister, Jonathan Aitken, another of the ambitious, young, right-wing, Conservative Party turks whom Ari had identified.

On a side note, yes, I have waited some twenty years to be able to use that word in a sentence. Defenestration. Brings up horrible pictures of sweaty pant seats in an American spelling bee competition.

‘Defenestration – can you use it in context, please?’ Yes. ‘Jonathan Aitken went to jail, where he was named Carolyn, and used as a plaything by a 300lb gorilla from the East of London, after his defenestration from government due to perjury.’

Aitken was alleged to be one of the brokers of a huge multi-billion dollar arms deal between Great Britain and Saudi Arabia, beginning in the Eighties, which arms deal was at the heart of the corruption which overtook the British body politic at that time, which corruption continues, and which is the primary subject of my book.

This deal was arranged by a group of defense contractors, civil servants, Conservative politicians, bank directors and intelligence agents, which group was known as the Savoy Mafia, and which group included Mark Thatcher and his dad, Denis Thatcher.

The gentleman who helped to set up some of the money-laundering of the profits and bribes from the Savoy Mafia arms deal was none other than Hugh. According to Ari and one or two other sources.

Aitken became a senor Conservative Cabinet minister later, in the Nineties. But it is the allegation of my book, and other folk, that Aitken continued to act as an arms broker for Saudi Arabia.

In that capacity, it is alleged that Aitken was present in the Ritz Hotel in Paris in the mid-Nineties. To meet with a Saudi Arabian middleman. To carve up the latest batch of arms commissions.

This would not be surprising. The Ritz Hotel in question has had a reputation, going back to before the two World Wars of the last century, for being an agreed no-man’s-land, where secret agents from opposing powers, arms dealers and the like, may meet in safety, and with an absolute ‘Las Vegas understanding.’ What happens there stays there.

Aitken vehemently denied that he was even there. And began libel proceedings accordingly. He was all set to get away with it. Until the owner of the Ritz Hotel, you guessed it. Mohammed al-Fayed. Still pissed with the Tories. Did him in. And produced Aitken’s hotel bill. This left certain underground figures around the world rather unhappy. The Ritz Hotel was supposed to be safe. For everyone. And its owner knew that was the unwritten code.

In June 1997, the British Conservative Party was thrown out of office in Great Britain. After some 18 years in government. Mohammed al-Fayed was delighted. He knew that much of his activity had contributed to the sleaze factor, which was attributed as being the main cause of the Tories’ heavy defeat. I’m not sure if Ari was happy. I never asked. He never offered. But. I did get to speak with his lovely wife on the telephone. Who told me to stop putting Ari in danger.

So happy was he. Mohammed. Not Ari. That he went on television, telling all who would listen, that he intended now to nail the lid firmly shut on the Tories’ coffin, by revealing all about their nefarious arms activities. Which he said he could do, because many of those arms activities had taken place in his hotel. That would be the same hotel whose activities you weren’t supposed to reveal.

I wrote to al-Fayed in about July of 1997. Asking him if he might have come across Hugh engaging in any of those arms activities. By-the-by, I also commended him, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, for having the courage to reveal activities that certain heavy-handed, Middle-Eastern arms middlemen might not like. Never heard back.

One month later, al-Fayed’s much-beloved son was involved in an horrific car crash. In Paris. In a tunnel. As he returned from his father’s hotel, to his apartment, also in Paris. Also killed in the crash was the driver of Dodi al-Fayed’s Mercedes limousine. And Dodi’s girlfriend.

Dodi’s girlfriend was Diana, Princess of Wales.

Since that day, Mohammed al-Fayed has never spoken again of arms deals, arms middlemen, the British Conservative Party, or its corruption. Mohammed has three young children by a second wife.

Everybody knew everybody in the Eighties. Everybody was making money. From oil deals. From arms deals. Most of it with embargoed countries. Everybody was laundering money. Most of it illegally. And everybody was doing what they had to do to cover it all up.

And in the middle of all of this. In the Eighties. Donald Trump. Building a huge property empire. In the Eighties. Which property empire then got into massive money trouble. In the Nineties. The Donald. Quite innocently. In the Eighties (1988, to be precise). Bought a yacht from Adnan Khashoggi. In a deal brokered by the Sultan of Brunei. In the Eighties. While all of the other parties were up to their necks in dirty money. In the Eighties. All of the other parties – except for The Donald?

Didn’t I say something earlier about cozy little worlds? I guess what I meant to say was, nothing in these sorts of circles is a co-incidence.

No-one really knows how Trump got out of his financial mess in the Nineties. We are now told that he has been heavily involved with the Russians since the Eighties. Was this really the only potential dirty money with which he was involved? In the Eighties? And since?

His Russian dealings, we are also now told, might have included the privatization of Rosneft, which was in breach of US sanctions, and which took place during the 2016 US Presidential election.

Stuff like this does not come out of the blue. It has history. Possibly going back to the Eighties? Possibly involving dirty money? Russian dirty money? Other dirty money?

Hmm. Let’s look around. Any other stories of Russian dirty money and billionaires from the Eighties? Anything else which might more closely link Trump to ‘Maggie’s Hammer’? Well, my, my, but yes.

There have been rumors for decades that Robert Maxwell had secret dealings with Margaret Thatcher over something incredibly important and covert.

In his book, Ari states that both the CIA and Israeli Intelligence entrusted hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from illegal arms deals in the Eighties to Robert Maxwell. Who used his close governmental contacts in communist Eastern Europe to stash the profits in bank accounts in Eastern Europe.

Which stashing would not, could not have taken place without the approval of the Russians, who as the then Soviet Union were essentially the landlords of Eastern Europe at that time.

There are conflicting accounts about Robert Maxwell’s death. Pretty much everyone assumes he was killed. Some say it was the CIA, because Maxwell stole the CIA’s money in Eastern Europe. Some say it was Israeli Intelligence, for the same reason.

But. Ari once told me. And only once. Out of much the same blue. And with no apparent connection to anything we were talking about. Except possibly with respect to Hugh’s closeness to the Thatchers. Ari told me that Hugh had been present at meetings with Maxwell in his office. I’m assuming since Ari could tell me this, he (Ari) had also been present.

I never could get any more out of Ari on this subject. Remember that Montreal hotel room? The one on the ninth floor? But I’ve always wondered if those meetings were a part of the rumors about Maxwell and Thatcher. And if Hugh might have been present as an unofficial representative of Margaret Thatcher. To arrange something to do with Eastern Europe.

Certainly, my British Intelligence source is adamant that Hugh was involved with Eastern Europe and large amounts of money in the months before his death in 1988. It is this aspect of the Hugh story that I want to start looking at more closely, when I have the chance.

So. Is there, was there some connection between the matters in my book and Trump? In the incredibly interconnected mess that was money-making in the Eighties? And which has continued ever since? Was there some link between Hugh, Eastern Europe, Russia, other billionaires (maybe Maxwell) and Trump?

Well. Ok. You’ve got me. It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek. ‘Slim’ is the very nicest thing one could say. But, then again, ‘slim’ is fast becoming my very favorite middle name.

Mind you, if you’re looking for slim, try the possible connection between Trump and Robert Maxwell’s daughter, Ghislaine, after whom (ironically) Robert Maxwell named his fancy yacht. The fact that Robert Maxwell bought the New York Daily News in 1991. And the photo (above) of The Donald and Robert Maxwell.

Wheels within wheels. Circles within circles. Look out for your cheek …

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Published in: on June 20, 2017 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Can a Liberal be a Christian?

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Yesterday, Tim Farron resigned as Leader of the British Liberal Democrats, basically saying that he could not square his Christian conscience with being leader of a modern liberal party.

Of itself, that might appear to be an isolated occurrence, not worthy of much reflection. But, in my opinion at least, it is not isolated. If one takes a quick look around the politics of the UK and the US, one realizes that this struggle of belief and conscience is at the heart of much of what bedevils the definition of social politics in the modern era.

In Great Britain, there is no separation of church and state. Indeed, the head of the Church of England is the Queen. Its Church Commissioners are political appointees. And, in only a semi-humorous sideswipe, the Church itself is often described as being the British Conservative Party at prayer.

If that were not enough, the current British Conservative Government is, at this moment, negotiating with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party in order to stay in power. The DUP is notorious for its fundamentalist social views, not least on gay marriage and abortion.

For the record, I was raised a Catholic. And am privy to all its teachings on social issues. My mother’s family are what is generically known as liberal Catholics. But, they are a breed under attack.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council sought to loosen the stranglehold of uber-conservative Catholic teaching on social issues, uber-conservatives have been fighting back. As seen in the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

They took a line, which, to be honest, I understand. We in the church are not in the business of being political per se, or social per se. We are in the business of being moral. And we say these stances on these social issues are not moral. You don’t have to accept what we say. We aren’t burning you at the stake. But, you can’t be ‘immoral’ and a Christian.

Their context for such a line is that human materialism. Human permissiveness. Has rendered the West (and what used to be called ‘the East’) utterly lacking in moral and spiritual direction. And, therefore, bereft of any purpose other than the pursuit of wealth, greed and self-satisfaction. These leaders of the Catholic Church feel it is their duty once again to enunciate a very clear, even strict, moral code, to provide direction to their lost flock.

Again, I sympathize. One of the underlying themes I advance about the state of politics today is that it is in a mess because for the last forty years politicians of all hue have simply given the populace permission to do what it likes without regards to the consequences. Be those consequences financial, debt-related, moral, social or spiritual.

As a non-practicing religionist, even I can see that we pretty much lack any kind of moral compass in the West. We have substituted a demand for immediate identity recognition and material gratification for a coherent set of moral principles.

So. I can’t find too much disfavor with folk who want to apply to themselves at least some form of coherence by finding sanctuary in adherence to strict moral codes that have existed for millennia.

And I find it difficult to condemn the leaders of those ‘sanctuaries’ for saying, look, you don’t have to be a member of our ‘sanctuary.’ But we ain’t watering down our moral codes just to make you feel good, just so that you can fit in.

Moral codes are, by definition, difficult to adhere to because they work against some of the basest instincts of man. That’s why our moral codes exist. That’s why our ‘sanctuaries’ exist.

I think my problem arises when I observe people telling those lost souls that part of their redemption requires that they proselytize those moral codes onto or unto others. Believe what you believe, for whatever comfort it gives you. But let others find their comfort and safety the way that suits them.

And maybe that is a way forward? Do what you have to do to feel safe. Invite others to feel the same way. But stop preaching. Stop converting. Stop demanding it as a price to be something else.

But, can one keep morality separate from politics? Isn’t it the essence of politics? Shouldn’t it be? Should morality be ‘pure’? Should moral institutions advance their point of view, and then society-makers decide what parts and how much they want to include into political prescriptions? Let moral institutions be moral, and political institutions be political?

And, while we’re on the subject. This issue doesn’t rattle merely Christianity. It applies to other religions, too. Not least Islam. I can’t begin to speak knowledgably about the conflicts within the teachings of Islam as they relate to its practice in civic society. But you’d have to be a half-baked idiot not to realize that there are active discussions within that religion about the manner in which Islamic teachings should be applied, with respect to society, the West and other religions.

Which neatly brings me to the US. I’m not going to engage in the sterile argument about separation of state and church. Frankly, since most important judicial positions are elected or appointed in a political context, there is no such thing as ‘pure’ separation. It all comes down to a judge making a decision which he or she believes is in the best interests of the state.

But, on a strictly political level, there is clearly much discourse in the US at the moment about social religious views and their place in political decision-making. At its most basic level, I think we can characterize this as a contest between identity politics within the left-wing of the Democratic Party and social conservatism within the right-wing of the Republican Party. And it finds its clash most recognizably within the consciences of many of those who support Donald Trump.

People who arguably would normally vote Democrat, certainly for economic reasons, find themselves unable to sit comfortably with the current social positions of many within the Democratic Party, and find more immediate favor with what many might describe as the social intolerance of the Trump wing of the Republican Party.

This is of crucial importance for elections in the US in 2018 and 2020. Again, in my opinion. Both major political parties have to find a way to attract the support of ordinary working Americans who feel threatened on an economic level, and often find immediate release by threatening those not socially like them.

It is why I find myself writing about ‘Democratic Populism.’ Wondering aloud if there is a way to persuade scared working Americans that there is a better way to address their real concerns, without being ugly. Which, in political shorthand, often means finding a way to square their ‘rural’ Christianity with a liberal economic and social stance. And, to be honest, time and time again, I find myself thinking it would be a lot easier if one was ‘allowed’ merely to leave social issues out of the equation.

Which neatly brings me back to where I began. Tim Farron’s resignation. Did he do the ‘right’ thing? Well, that is a matter purely for his own conscience. But I do believe that his resignation raises issues of conscience, religion and politics that will continue to bedevil societal discourse in this continuing generation …

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Published in: on June 20, 2017 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Is ‘healthy’ populism the answer in the US and the UK?

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Elsewhere this morning, I link to a post from #LukeAkehurst on #LabourList, the primary British Labour Party multi-author blog, in which he sets out very cogently his view of the reasons for Labour doing so well in the recent British General Election (#GE2017). There was one section which I thought deserved separate highlighting:

“But we need to temper our relief and elation about these unexpected gains with awareness that there was a swing against us in many Midlands and Northern industrial heartland seats (we have to tailor policies that appeal there if we want to avoid the Rustbelt effect that enabled Trump to beat Clinton in former Democrat heartlands); our votes are not efficiently distributed around the country compared to the Tories because we stacked up “super majorities” in London and university town seats; and we need to gain at least 64 more seats, more than twice what we achieved on Thursday, to get a Labour Government with a majority of one.

This requires us to make many more gains from the SNP in Scotland, and in England it requires us to take large numbers of traditional marginal seats which can only be done by taking votes direct from the Tories as it looks like we have already maximised the vote share we can obtain from mobilising previous Greens, Lib Dems and non-voters.

This is particularly the case now that we seem to have returned to almost a 1950s style two party system in England and Wales – small numbers of votes switching between Tory and Labour will deliver large numbers of seats. A good case study of where the current strategy triumphed and its limitations is the Kent and Essex Estuary seats. Canterbury, with its many students, was a stunning gain, but the 11 more working class seats on both sides of the Thames that had been Labour in 1997 and in many cases 2001 and 2005 as well were not gained, and in most cases have Tory majorities of about 10,000. We have to gain some of them to get a majority Labour government, and that will require a strategy that goes beyond the groups of voters appealed to this time.”

This is almost exactly what I have been saying about the #DemocraticParty in the US. Since way before the Presidential Election of 2017. And which I have been covering in my blog entitled #DemocraticPopulism.

It is not enough for Democrats simply to talk in terms of increasing the turnout of existing Democratic supporters. If we want to win on a regular and meaningful basis, we need to convert at least some current #Trump voters. And that means coming up with our own ‘healthy’ version of populism, in order honestly to address their concerns.

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Published in: on June 20, 2017 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The Jeremy Corbyn Factor

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A few interesting articles this morning (June 13, 2017), wondering about the extent of the #JeremyCorbyn Factor in Labour’s improved performance in the recent British General Election (#GE2017). The central theme being, did he just get spotlight, or did he actually change?

I begin with an article from The Times, entitled ‘It was Corbyn’s flip-flopping that saved hm.’ Since The Times is now subscription only, I set out the article in full below. Let me do the niceties though. It was written by #HugoRifkind. Oh. That’s it. And here it is:

“If anybody ever tries to tell you that the media smeared Jeremy Corbyn — that he was actually a warm, brilliant, engaging statesman all along, and we all knew, and we lied, because we’re partisan neoliberal bastards — then I’d suggest you refer them to a video from September 2015, in which he walks along a pavement, for ages, in moonlight, furiously saying nothing at all.

That evening, the new leader of the opposition had just appointed his first shadow cabinet and all the senior roles had gone to men. A little earlier, his team had been overheard behind a closed door in parliament saying, quote, “we are taking a fair amount of shit out there about women. We need to do a Mandelson. Let’s make Angela shadow first minister of state.” Outside, does he laugh it off? Admit he’s on a learning curve? No. He scowls, and stares ahead, and walks, and walks. Clop-clop go his shoes, getting faster, and faster, over the occasional muted sound of political journalists asking a politician wholly legitimate political questions. Clop-clop.

The media also did not fabricate Corbyn’s quivering rage over that bizarre fight about whether he did, or didn’t, once have to sit on the floor for a bit on a train from London to Newcastle. It’s still on YouTube. It didn’t go away just because they took Kensington. When an ITV reporter asked him a year ago whether he wanted there to be a general election, nobody forced him to say, irritably, “I’m being harassed!”, before storming off to hide behind what turned out to be, awkwardly, a glass door. This is who Jeremy Corbyn was. He was tetchy and he was incompetent, and if anybody with any sense was going to vote for him, then everything any of us knew about anything was wrong.

Putting charm first was, for him, a major political concession
Well. Forty per cent of the vote later, here we are and, post-election, exactly who those voters were doesn’t really matter. That narrative, pre-election, of the non-Corbyn Labour vote? The whole “I voted for my local candidate, so as to provide moderate internal opposition” line? Expect that to disintegrate, utterly. You cannot be a bit dead, and you cannot be a bit pregnant, and you cannot vote, a bit, for Labour. The anti-Corbyn Labour vote and the pro-Corbyn Labour vote both end up in the same column, piling up as a ringing endorsement of Corbyn’s Labour. Which is probably fair enough. When your coalition of support is so broad as to include people who could tell themselves they were actively voting against you, you have pulled off a pretty damn impressive political coup.

I wonder, though, how many Labour voters really were voting in spite of Corbyn by the end. The man who finished this campaign, in so many ways, was not the man who began it. Katy Brand, the comedian, put it very well on Radio 4 this weekend, when she described seeing him on The One Show. “I ran into the kitchen to get my husband,” she said. “And I said, ‘Come quickly, darling, come look! Something’s happened to Jeremy Corbyn! He’s . . . smiling!’” Where once there had been all the eye-rolling weariness of the substitute teacher with Blu Tack flicked into his hair, now there was a twinkling eye and charm.

Charm isn’t just spin. Charm is political. Unflinching principles and charm do not go together easily, because the logical conclusion of having unflinching principles is disapproval of people with other ones. For Corbyn, who divorced his wife of 12 years because they disagreed over whether their son should go to a grammar school, putting charm first was a major political concession.

For me, thinking back, a pivotal moment in this election came during Corbyn’s interview with Jeremy Paxman, when Paxman, in full Spanish inquisition mode, asked him why the Labour manifesto included nothing on Corbyn’s long-held ambition of scrapping the monarchy. “There’s nothing in there because we’re not going to do it,” retorted Corbyn, visibly amused. Hidden beneath the audience’s guffaws, this was the sound of a man wryly acknowledging the fundamental impracticality of his own radicalism. All of a sudden, Jeremy Corbyn was a moderate.

If compromise was in Jeremy Corbyn’s DNA, then he wouldn’t have spent three decades on the back benches, condemning every effort that a succession of despairing Labour leaders made to make their party more electable. Once electability became his problem, though, he seems to have picked up a taste for it. On the stump, a lifetime’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament (even as a vice-chairman of CND), retreated last year to “I wouldn’t personally use them” and last month, quite astonishingly, to something more like, “I certainly wouldn’t use them first”. Greenham Common it ain’t. More striking still was his response to the London Bridge attack, where having previously quite explicitly opposed a police shoot-to-kill policy, pretty much for ever, he now found himself explicitly supporting one. It was as if he had realised, finally, that to achieve broad electoral support you need to make the odd concession. “Took you long enough, Grandpa,” a generation of Blairites might have said.

For Corbyn’s hard core, the real enemy has never been the Tories. They don’t really notice the Tories. Rather, they see a hated coalition of political and media Corbynsceptics who, they fervently believe, have smeared a good man as cranky and unelectable because it is easier than opposing his policies. This simply isn’t true. Labour didn’t win this election, but Corbyn did far better than almost anybody ever expected, probably including him. He didn’t do well because his critics were wrong but because, belatedly, he realised that they were absolutely right.

Want to stop people deriding you as a disaster? The very best strategy is to stop being one. Look at him now. It really works. Somebody should tell Theresa May.”

Now, if you think Rifkind is being a tad biased. An article posted by #LukeAkehurst on #LabourList adds to this picture of Corbyn the Chameleon (somewhat tarnishing the reputation of Corbyn as solidly authentic).

Luke’s piece is wonderfully honest, focused and coherent. And quite near the top of the list of reasons why Labour won is this paragraph:

“Corbyn brought many existing 2015 Labour supporters back on board by triangulating on areas of policy such as defence and security where he was most under attack. It can’t have been easy for him to square his personal views on nuclear deterrence with party policy to renew Trident, but he tried to. He also ran on positions not dissimilar to previous recent Labour campaigns on benefits and some way to the right of Labour’s 2015 platform on immigration and Europe. Perhaps Corbyn has already become his own version of Neil Kinnock, quietly moving the party towards centre-ground voters and away from some of his own personal beliefs on key policy issues.”

Luke’s prescription? Pretty much to continue moving to the center. Opposed by another writer on LabourList (just to keep the balance), one #CliveEfford, of the somewhat harder-left Labour grouping, #Tribune.

The point is. Bless everyone’s heart. Labour didn’t do as well as they did just because the great British public suddenly recognized Jeremy’s authenticity, and then fell in love with his untarnished, radical policies. Labour went retail in a focused way. They cleaned up Jeremy. Put a smile on his face. And moved him firmly towards the center.

I’m not complaining. I just wish Cameron was still with us. And a few more Tories would look as longingly at Ruth Davidson as I do …

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Published in: on June 20, 2017 at 7:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Whither The British Tories Politically?

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Nope. This isn’t another turgid post about who will be leading the British Conservative Party next Tuesday lunchtime. This one is about the likely direction of policy-making in that party.

I’m not going to go on at length. I’m going to offer some links and some thoughts.

First, a paper comparing Thatcherism with Cameronism. Everything else in between was pretty much a version of one or the other.

This paper describes Thatcherism as Authoritarian Populism. Not inaccurate. I would say definitely populism.

Neo-liberal economics. As little state intervention in the economy as possible. Which attracted me in 1976, because, at that time, Labour were offering neo-Communism.

Plus, a very conservative social stance. Against which some of us advocated.

I made an attempt to address the 1986 (? – I lose track of dates) Conservative Party Annual Conference, in the Law and Order debate.

I was vetted. One is. They don’t just let any pig farmer up on the podium to speak.

Got as far as a backroom meet with the Chairman of the Conference and the then Home Secretary, Douglas (now Lord) Hurd.

I was told I could not be picked. Because they could not guarantee my safety from the podium. After telling the gathered Conservative Party faithful and blue rinses that we Tories needed to do more to protect those in the inner cites who were more scared of out-of-control police officers than they were of burglars.

The Chairman offered me a slot in the much-prized Economy debate instead. I declined. Stuck to me principles. Sigh. Those were the days.

Anyways. Thatcher’s brand became toxic. Exiled the Tories to the Blairite wilderness for thirteen years.

We then moved onto Cameronism. A blend of warm-and-fuzzy economic liberalism, called the Big Society. Mixed with tree- and hoodie-hugging social liberalism. Remember, it was Cameron who passed legislation recognizing gay marriage in the UK.

This is when I rejoined the Tory fold. With enthusiasm. Not least because some of the many remaining rough edges and sharp angles were further smoothed by the restrictions placed on more rabid Toryism by the LibDem-Tory Coalition government of 2010 to 2015.

During the course of Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister. Brought on not least by a need to react to the Great Recession. Cameron was much influenced by the political thoughts of one Robert Halfon.

Robert recognized the need to soften the stark neo-liberal austerity of Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. To reach out to struggling, hardworking Brits. And at least to try to give the impression that the Tory Party was interested in folk other than the filthy-rich, young stockbrokers of the City of London.

This all came to a sticky end in 2016, with the Brexit result. When opportunist Theresa May took over.

Her primary adviser was (he resigned this morning) Nick Timothy. Who peddled a Tory offering called ‘Red Toryism.’

Back to populism. Muscular paternalist politics. Where the state actively looks after the interests of those whose votes it wants. Interventionist economics. And ‘keep-the-bastards-away’ rightist social policy.

What May saw in his approach (she really ain’t what you’d call an intellectual). Was an opportunity to corral the ‘left-behinds’ in Great Britain, the white van voters. With wholesale conversion of the Tory Party into a right-wing, statist, populist political package, which was essentially Trumpism meeting UKIP, sitting down, having tea, and reminiscing about the glorious Fifties. Norman Wisdom, with a rosette, and a snarl.

I’m not convinced the 2017 General Election (#GE2017) was entirely a rejection of that approach. To some extent, yes. But not completely. I believe this past General Election was more about personalities and pocket-money, than politics, per se.

I think that history will show that the 2017 British General Election was one long scream against everything, a vicious reaction against Nanny, who wouldn’t hand over more candy or pay for university, and a headlong rush into the arms of Grandpa, who promised to do both.

I take the view that, notwithstanding the pleas of those conservative talking heads in the British popular press begging for a return to naked Thatcherism (hack, hack, Norman Tebbit), the Tories still have their hopes firmly set on hanging onto the ex-UKIPers and the wayward Labour voters of the North of England. And will do so with a gentle meld of all of the above.

A modified fiscal prudence. For which read, abandoning targets for the deficit. And a quiet trawl through the Labour Manifesto. Merrily adopting the more appealing populist promises. But with a thrift-store price-tag.

More state intervention. No nationalization as such. But a few more regulations. Get those trains running on time. Stop hitting old age pensioners with huge fuel bills in the winter.

A softer Brexit. But Brexit nevertheless. With at least some genuflection towards the bitter voters who continue to be jealous of those ‘entitled’ the embittered think have more than they should have. The latter including the very rich. The disadvantaged on benefits. Foreign folk. And anyone who is different to them socially.

Oh. And a whole raft of goodies for 18-25 year olds. Running to Grandpa did pay off.

I’m not sure I’ll like all of it. But we’ll see how much it differs from my own foray into populism in the US.

My starting point is a macroeconomic structure of neo-liberalism. With immediate adjustments made for localized intervention and transition. With a thoroughly liberal social policy. Without a toxic, over-stimulated slide into identity self-absorption.

Ok. So where is my analysis of whither the British Labour Party politically? Hey. They ain’t my party. Someone else can analyze them.

I will say only this. Whatever happened on Thursday of this past week. Whatever your personal political leanings. I wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that it presages a dramatic leftward lurch in the politics of the US or the UK.

When all is said and done. Cuddly Grandpappa-with-a-cardigan-and-a-birdie-on-the-lecturn campaigning aside. I do not believe the US wants undiluted social democracy. Nor the UK a return to the bankrupt democratic socialism of the Seventies.

But then. That’s just my point of view.

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Published in: on June 10, 2017 at 7:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Comey: The Damp Squib

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In his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey said nothing that gives anyone a peg on which to hang an Impeachment.

More to the point. Neither he, nor any Democratic interrogator, nor any Republican interrogator said anything about Rosneft.

Until someone does mention Rosneft publicly, any alleged investigation into Trump and Russia is going nowhere.

And maybe that is what everyone wants. No-one has the cohones to spill the beans on a story which would damage the American body politic for a generation.

I think that Senator Harris came close. I think that maybe Senator McCain came close.

But. I think the bottom line is that no-one wants to know about Rosneft. No-one wants that to come out in a Trump Impeachment. And ranks will now simply close, as Paul Ryan demonstrated.

In any event. Sigh. Where exactly do any Democrats think an Impeachment is going when Trump’s lawyers are simply going to say: obstruction of justice, huh, Comey, huh, try this on for size. I mean it’s all like bloody House of Cards. Anyone still thanking our lucky stars for the Clintons?

Now, to be fair. I will offer what a panel of legal experts writing in the London Guardian think. But, I have an answer for them, too. Imagine that.

What does this all mean? It means that we’ve likely got Trump for four more years – at least. And we need to get back to finding other ways to get rid of him, legitimately …

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Published in: on June 9, 2017 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Gulf Crisis – Connecting the Dots?

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So. Are you as confused as me about what the heck is going on at the moment? From Manchester, through London, to Syria, Qatar and Iran, to Trump and Russia? How come it all seems to be coming back to the Persian Gulf? And is all of it, any of it related?

Well, I have speculated a bit, in some commentary on another post. But then, I do some Google doodling. And I come up with this article about Qatar’s domination of natural gas production in the Persian Gulf. And how this is unsettling everyone from Saudi Arabia to Russia. Cutting across existing political, ethnic and religious bonds and alliances.

But where does Trump fit in? Could it have anything to do with the Trump Organization’s brokering in 2016/2017 of the sale of the Russian state oil trading agency, Rosneft, to Qatar? Was this just business? Or was this part of a move (either approved by or connived in by the then US government) to double-smack Russia and Iran? Get in on this deal. Mess it around. Or just find out what was going on. Mess with Russia and its oil. Mess with Qatar, because of its involvement with Iran in the gas field deal.

Or, is it something more venal? The Trump Organization owes Russia for the Rosneft deal. Or is embarrassed by it. Ditto Qatar. Trump muddies the water. A lot. By using US levers of diplomacy and power to shake things up for Russia and Qatar?

Quite aside from Qatar’s gas field deal with Iran (and remember, Russia is proving to be a friend to both Syria and Iran; so, it’s not a complete delve into the land of fantasy to see a Syria-Iran-Russia-Qatar link), could the gas field deal, added to the Rosneft deal, be a step too far for Qatar domination of oil and natural gas for some folks to put up with?

Is this why no-one is mentioning Rosneft when making accusations about Trump-Russia collusion in Washington? That everyone knew about the collusion. It was sanctioned as part of something bigger. Ended up with Russia doing some hacking for Trump on the side. Russian hacking which may now include stirring the Qatar pot with alleged Russian hacking of Qatar state news. All of which has got completely out of control, because no-one thought Trump would become US President.

Are the alleged ISIS attacks in Great Britain connected? Certainly, there has been an increase in such attacks. It is more than co-incidental that this is all happening at the same time. Beyond that. I do not know. Certainly, there is a large Muslim community in the UK. For sure, people are concerned that elements are radicalized. Perhaps on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide. But, if one were sending a message. Like, keep your heads down, and watch your backs. It would be less about where ‘one’ stood on Muslim matters. And more to do with the covert involvement of the British government in matters relating to the Middle East (perhaps on all sides), and the financing of those ‘matters’ by the City of London.

Or could it be to do with the British General Election? Where the two major parties stand on the Middle East? Which party is likely to ‘benefit’ as a consequence of jihadist attacks in the days leading up to that election? Which of the competing elements in this current high-stakes crisis in the Middle East is likely to benefit how as a consequence of which major British political party is in control of the levers of British government power, and holding sway over the City of London, after the British General Election? Even the extent to which the City of London may be affected by the Brexit negotiations, in turn affected by which political party wins the British General Election? Suddenly, the fictional movie treatment I came up with recently doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Oh. And here’s something else to throw into the pot. Going back to before the Obama-Iran nuclear deal, when Israel was making threatening noises about bombing Iran’s nuclear sites. Saudi Arabia secretly gave Israel permission to fly over its territory, solely for the purposes of bombing Iran. But then again, all is not what it seems with relations between Israel and the likes of Saudi Arabia, whose fear of Iran is greater than its perceived hatred of Israel. In fact, for once, Trump may be speaking sooth. Maybe he was setting up something with his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and NATO?

Two things are reasonably certain: (1) Things will now move quickly; Iran isn’t going to stand by idly. (2) As will all things of this potential magnitude and complexity, we are almost certainly not going to know anything even approaching the true story until records are declassified in about fifty years’ time. If then …

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Published in: on June 8, 2017 at 8:36 am  Leave a Comment  

What it means to Serve and Protect

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Whenever some of my progressive friends become especially agitated about guns in the hands of policemen, I try to bring to their attention the possible consequences of policemen without guns in their hands.

We as a democratic society, where decisions are made by the majority of those choosing to vote, even if the processes have developed democratically, but in a somewhat arcane fashion. We as a democratic society have determined that, in a situation of citizen confrontation, we need an arbiter, and that arbiter shall be law enforcement.

Law enforcement officers are ordinary citizens, chosen ultimately by democratically-elected officials, to which law enforcement officers we give special powers and weapons, to ensure that they can arbitrate successfully.

While citizens always need to be vigilant that law enforcement officers do not exceed the authority given to them, I say that we need to be certain that law enforcement officers have sufficient powers and weaponry to overcome the protagonists in any confrontation, with brute force if necessary, if mediation and negotiation fail.

There are some who are questioning the 50 shots fired by the police who brought down the three London attackers. In all the circumstances, as we know them only from the media at present, and bearing in mind it appears that at least one of the three attackers was recorded as having a hoax bomb attached to him, I think the force employed was reasonable.

However. We are talking about the force used by officers emanating from Armed Response Vehicles, who were called onto the scene only after the attack had begun.

Before then, police officers armed only with batons struggled bravely to protect citizens, without concern for their safety.

I ask those of my progressive friends who are most vocal in their condemnation of the police, often for their own political reasons, to take a moment, as I am right now, to think of this incredibly brave citizen. Whose whole life has been utterly ruined. Because he wanted to do the most noble thing he could think of. Protect his fellow citizens.

There are always bad apples. Excoriate them. But also remember amazing officers like the one the subject of this article. Remember him and his fellow officers. And keep the condemnation focused. Please.

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Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 3:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Qatar, GCC, War, Trump, Rosneft, ISIS, London, Blimey …

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Where to begin with this morning’s news of diplomatic problems between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE?

First, this is big. Secondly, we can be pretty sure that everyone talking about this knows squat. Including me. Thirdly, it comes back to one basic misunderstanding in the West: namely, that most of us can see about half a mile off the coast – after that, all Arabs look the same. They aren’t. Fourthly, the primary division in the Arab world has nothing to do with the US, or Russia, or terrorism. It’s all about religious differences. And the primary dividing line is between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims. And even as I say that, I may be talking out my ass.

Leaving aside long Geoffrey notes going back to the history of the region, when the Brits causally rewrote the political geography of their Empire, by drawing new national boundaries with no respect for tribal, ethnic or religious differences. Leaving all that on one side. Trouble in the Middle East was always going to come down to Arab differences. Not mutual hatred of Israel.

But, what exactly is the row within the GCC? With Qatar? Not got a clue. Maybe it is only the fact that the four states breaking off relations with Qatar are essentially Sunni. And Qatar supports Iran, the leading Shiite nation in the region.

Or, maybe it is something more specific. Syria? Iran? Yemen? Al Qaeda? ISIS? Iraq? Oil? Remember, Saudi Arabia is no angel. Al Qaeda and ISIS are essentially Sunni. As is Saudi Arabia. And we have been turning up all sorts of nasty connections there.

But keep watching. This could go military. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the #2 and #3 arms buyers in the world. And Qatar is no slouch. They have all those goodies. They won’t be shy about using them.

In the meantime, and closer to home, exactly what does all of this say about Trump’s business dealings with Qatar? Anyone who said we are living through interesting times was sure not kidding. Oh, that would have been me …

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Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 2:57 am  Leave a Comment  

The Dangers of Political Extremism (2)

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It is a difficult moment to be writing anything political. Especially about the UK. But I think it important to keep writing about the dangers of extremism.

On both sides of the Atlantic, there are political systems, which have been forged over hundreds of years. They are not perfect. But they work.

This morning in the UK, we see the consequences of extremism. It is a huge challenge not to respond in kind. And that challenge has never been greater, in both the UK and the US.

In both countries, in the past few years, we have seen the increasing political expression of those people who feel left behind.

Yesterday, I linked to an article which described, at length, and in terms with which I did not totally agree, what could happen if those of the US middle class who felt left behind, if their concerns were not addressed.

I do think that Trump will fail both the US middle class who voted for him, and those ordinary working Americans who voted for him, also.

My continuing worry is what happens if thinking politicians, activists and advocates do not provide an alternative to Trump, one which speaks to the worries of his more reasonable supporters, but in a manner which is healthy.

I do believe that the immediate politics of the left and right in the US do not address the concerns of those more reasonable people who voted for Trump. Who voted out of fear. Who felt left behind. Who had no answers themselves. Who fell for the man who addressed their fear by offering them something to blame and someone from whom they could take.

It is my fervent opinion that we do not find a positive way forward by simply ignoring their expressed concerns. We need to find a new approach, which offers populist solutions, but solutions which are inclusive, beneficial and positive.

The alternative is that we end up with a solution which is even more ugly than Trump. As described in a detailed article about US national socialism in today’s London Guardian.

Nick Cohen in the London Observer addresses the same problem in the UK. What do politicians of the left do when they are faced with British ‘left-behinds’? How do they respond to their demands of ‘fairness’ for them, over ‘equality’ for the disadvantaged and immigrants? How far can the left travel before it finds itself supporting policies that are no longer social democratic?

To be honest, Nick doesn’t offer any answers. And to be equally clear-headed, it is more than likely than many of those ‘left-behinds’ will find a temporary answer this coming Thursday in the UKIP version of the British Conservative Party. As their American counterparts did with Trump.

But, as with Trump, what happens if and when Theresa May fails, and/or the British Labour Party continues to present policies that the British ‘left-behinds’ feel do not address their fears? Is it time for an approach in the UK that mirrors my suggested Democratic Populism in the US?

Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 2:44 am  Leave a Comment