Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

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Gordon Campbell on Britain’s pleas for mercy

June 29th, 2016

First published on

So… Boris Johnson is promising that he won’t be holding a snap general election, if he’s chosen as the next UK Conservative Party leader.

Reportedly, he is even making that promise a feature of his leadership campaign, since a vote for Boris would therefore mean (wink wink) that his colleagues wouldn’t have to risk their jobs and face the wrath of the British public until 2020. Incredible. So… the same Boris Johnson who railed so eloquently against Britain’s decisions being made by the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels, now plans to rule Britain himself unelected, for the next five years – on the back of a Conservative Party mandate that was actually won by his referendum opponent, the “Remain” leader, David Cameron. Regardless, Home Secretary Theresa May will be a formidable opponent for Johnson. The results of the leadership vote – likely to be a May vs Johnson showdown- will be announced on 9 September.

Given the mood of the British public, the Conservatives seem equally reluctant to (a) hold a snap election over Brexit and (b) trigger the article 50 exit clause from the European Union. A queasy stalemate now exists. On Brexit, the Europeans clearly want Britain to hurry up and get on with it, but no British politician (apart from Nigel Farage) seems willing to step up and be held responsible for pulling the trigger. Some people have taken hope from this stalemate, and read it as a sign that maybe an article 50 exit might never happen.

Faint hope.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the fence, Angela Eagle seems to have emerged as the initial ‘soft left’ compromise candidate to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. (In passing, Eagle’s rise underlines just how prominent women currently are across the West’s political landscape: Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren etc. etc.) Within the parliamentary wing of the British Labour Party though, the man who triggered the coup against Corbyn (Hilary Benn) has said that he won’t stand for the leadership. Corbyn may not, either. By some legal arguments, Corbyn could well be required to collect 50 nominations from his colleagues to be able to stand for re-election – as every one of his challengers would also need to do. Given that Corbyn has just lost a vote of no confidence among his colleagues by a whopping 170 to 40, it is by no means certain that right now, he could clear the nominations hurdle. In which case, Corbyn’s popularity among the party at large would be irrelevant.

Looking beyond the current stalemate… what exactly will the next British PM (whoever it is) be pursuing as a credible goal in the negotiations with the EU? Yesterday, Angela Merkel made it clear Britain cannot expect to shirk its duties as a full EU member, but still retain all of its privileges. During the referendum campaign, the “Leave” proponents seemed to be advocating some kind of “Norway” or “Switzerland” status whereby market access continued outside full EU membership.

Those two countries though, are Shengen visa countries, allowing free movement. In which case, as the Australian economist John Quggin has pointed out, any Brexiteers now hoping to pursue a Norway/Switzerland market access model for Britain will actually have achieved the removal of the existing controls on immigration, rather than the imposition of new limits. Cameron, for his part, is pleading for market access to Europe, alongside greater powers to curb immigration.

Of course he is, poor little chap. That’s one example of how impossible it will be for Britain to cherry pick its new access conditions to Europe. For obvious reasons, Britain is likely to be punished, not rewarded. Whatever Britain’s negotiation plan may be – and there is no sign as yet that such a plan exists – those negotiations will be nasty and could involve up to ten years of further economic uncertainty for Britain, before completion. Oh, and if Britons expected to escape with a better deal from the EU’s current rules on fishing stocks – a big promise of the ‘Leave’ campaign – that won’t be happening now, either.

British fishermen have been warned that, despite the promises made by the leave campaign, they cannot expect to be granted greater catches after the UK leaves the European Union, and they may face increased economic turmoil.

Fishermen will have to remain within their current catch quotas while the UK is still a member, and even if new arrangements are negotiated after a Brexit, they will not necessarily be more generous, fisheries chiefs and campaigners have warned.

In fact, the Independent has just published a useful updated list on the major promises/lies of the “Leave” campaign, and the cold reality.

But whenever there’s carnage, the vultures will gather. Following sharp declines, stock markets rallied yesterday as investors came in, looking for bargains. This bounce may not mean the Brexit-induced bottom has been reached, investors were warned.

Spain Votes For Austerity

As this column pointed out a couple of days ago, the Brexit vote is likely to give the policies of economic austerity a new lease of life, just as those policies were in retreat across Europe. For proof, one need look no further than the results of the Spanish election, held just two days after the Brexit vote.

Though the polls had been predicting major gains for the radical left, the ruling conservative PP party pulled out all the stops in the 48 hours between the Brexit result and election day. As you might expect, the PP leadership warned against the risks involved in embracing change during such volatile times. Result: the predicted vote for the new party of the left (Unidos Podemos) and the new party of the right (Ciudadanos) both collapsed. Voters sought refuge in the corrupt old party of the right (PP) and the equally lacklustre old left wing party (PSOE).

In all likelihood, the PP will now be able to cobble together a governing coalition with Ciudadanos and a conservative group of small regional parties. On current counts, this may still come up one seat short of the 176 needed to rule the 350 seat assembly, which will probably mean that PSOE will abstain, and allow the PP to rule as a minority government. Or even worse, PSOE may join PP and Ciudadanos in a “grand coalition”. The big loser of the election has been Unidos Podemos, which was offering the only real alternative to the neo-liberal/austerity consensus. Thank Brexit for that outcome.

Tyler, Again

Wordlessly, guitarist William Tyler conveys a good deal of the current mood of social dislocation. Nice to note Nick Bollinger’s rave RNZ review this week of Tyler’s new album Modern Country . Incidentally, that title has less to do with rhinestone suits than with various forms of malaise. I’ve been regularly pushing Tyler’s merits in this column for 18 months or more – but it seems like a good morning to showcase him once again. According to Tyler, he wrote “Highway Anxiety” while driving himself for the hundreds of miles between his gigs – and the time alone on the road not only enabled him to see what was happening to rural communities, but set him to worrying about the future of his country. This is anxiously beautiful music, for anxious times.

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Gordon Campbell on the Shewan Inquiry into our tax haven rules

June 28th, 2016

First published at

Like the political equivalent of lithium, Prime Minister John Key is routinely administered to dull any politically dangerous mood swings amidst the general public. Tax havens? Here? Goodness no, our handling of foreign trusts, is, quote, world class, unquote. And when subsequent evidence shows the opposite and that there really are serious problems… Key can always be relied on to be soothingly OK with that, too. Of course the government will enact “most” of the recommendations made in John Shewan’s investigation of our foreign trust regime. There. Now back to sleep, its been a big day. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the aftermath of Brexit

June 27th, 2016

First published on

Be careful of what you ask for. Now that it has woken up from its Brexit victory hangover, is Britain acting as if it has just won the World Cup? Hardly. Exasperated EU ministers may be urging Britain to go ahead and trigger its (ostensibly two year long) article 50 exit from the Treaty of Lisbon, so that a new stability can be established ASAP in Europe. Yet instead, Britain is furiously dragging its feet and saying… perish the thought. Reportedly, Britain won’t act on this “victory” and trigger article 50 until it can figure out what to do next – which will be after David Cameron leaves office and a new British PM gets appointed… sometime around October, maybe? Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the delusions driving the “Leave” option

June 22nd, 2016

First published on

On the brink of the Brexit vote, the irrationality of the “Leave” option is now apparent. Voting for “Leave” requires (a) a fantastically unbalanced view of the impact of immigration on modern Britain (b) a demonizing of the EU “regulations” that are commonplace within a modern economy and (c) a simple-minded optimism that Britain would not suffer any major damage to its economy, or to the status of the City of London. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the “T” word, and the Spanish election

June 21st, 2016

First published at

Once again, the RNZ news packages from the US and UK this morning underlined the striking difference in the treatment of the Pulse night club killings in Florida and the murder of the British Labour MP, Jo Cox. From day one, the Miami shooter has been described as a terrorist, and his self-identification with Islamic State extremism has been taken at face value – despite the apparent lack of any previous interest in Islam.

In stark contrast, the motives of Jo Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair have been variously attributed to “mental health problems” and to “racism” – despite his prior contact with extremist groups and his courtroom outburst that his name was “ Death to traitors, freedom for Britain!” The role that the virulent hate rhetoric of Britain’s anti-immigrant political organisations played in Mair’s radicalisation have been marginalized in the media discourse, if not ignored entirely. This impulse has been evident from day one. When the Guardian began to discuss the politics of a murder that was clearly intended as a political act, many readers accused it of exploiting the tragedy. Yet when Islam is involved, such ‘exploitation’ is automatic. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the RCEP trade deal and other entanglements

June 20th, 2016

First posted at

So China and the US both have competing trade deals on offer – the TPP for the US and the RCEP for the Chinese – each of which pointedly exclude the other superpower. That fact alone should signal that these deals are not primarily about mere trade access. In their desperation to get the TPP passed, US lawmakers have been describing the contest as an apocalyptic struggle for regional dominance. As President Barack Obama claimed in a recent Washington Post op ed:

America should write the rules. America should call the shots. Other countries should play by the rules that America and our partners set, and not the other way around. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on political smears and begging

June 15th, 2016

First published at

If you’re a ministerial spin merchant can you ‘accidentally’ pass on to a journalist the fact that a prominent critic of your Minister and her government is under Police investigation?

Even in in the event that you did think you were only sharing common knowledge – and in your job, you would be expected to be cautious about such distinctions – the apparent intention remains the same. The status of the info would seem irrelevant –whether it is by affirming common gossip or by planting new information, the process involves undermining the credibility of a person currently being troublesome to the Minister. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on our refugee response, and a TPP rewrite

June 14th, 2016

First published at

The miserly nature of New Zealand’s response to the global refugee crisis continues apace. Yesterday’s announcement of an increase in our intake of UNHCR refugees from 750 to 1,000 refugees will only kick in from 2018, after the recent special intake of 650 Syrian refugees over two years have been cleared. So, do the math. The “ increase” really means that the intake of 1,000 after 2018 will be pretty much the same number of refugees as we admitted this year, once you’ve added 2016’s share of the Syrian special intake to the current 750 UNHCR numbers.

In other words, this is a triumph of spin: an ‘increase’ in the refugee intake that is virtually the same as the status quo, but counted differently. Moreover, since New Zealand requires that 50% of our UNHCR intake is from the Asia/Pacific region, we will actually be taking in fewer refugees from the Syrian/Iraq war zone than we have done of late. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the new Defence White Paper

June 10th, 2016

Column – Gordon Campbell

Once again, government spending on Defence is increasing by leaps and bounds, without any rational cost/benefit analysis. Yep, even Prime Minister John Key admitted this week that “the country can be confident it does not face a military threat in the … Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Muhammad Ali

June 7th, 2016

As with Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali changed the times in which he lived so thoroughly that anyone coming along afterwards will probably struggle to understand the scale of his achievement. At the time, rock’n’ roll had seemed bad enough ; but that could (for a while) be brushed aside as a kid thing, as a passing fad. Boxing, however, was the citadel of old school white conservative masculinity. Entire generations of black fighters had been raised to be a humble and deferential credit to their race, before being put into the ring to fight each other for the amusement of white audiences. Ali knew the deal from the outset, long before he described it in these terms : Read the rest of this entry »