Joy At The Sadness Of Others

Ok, so I lied. I think gloating is very important, so much so that it should be considered one of the 4 basic food groups along with grease, salt, and chocolate. In my rise to capo di tutti I found nothing as important as poor sportsmanship except remembering to strike first without warning and kicking your enemies while they were writhing on the ground in pain helpless.

Britain Will Pay for Theresa May’s Election Gamble
By MATTHEW d’ANCONA, The New York Times
JUNE 9, 2017

Like a stumbling figure from “The Walking Dead,” Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, has yet to realize that she is a political zombie. For all her poise as she spoke on Downing Street on Friday, the day after Britain’s general election, when she declared her intention to continue in office, she is roaming the land of the undead. Sooner or later, reality is going to bite — hard.

Once again, almost all the pundits, pollsters and political betting wonks got it wrong. Less than a year after Brexit stunned this country, and seven months after Donald Trump won in the United States, a political outcome that seemed certain and preordained was upset by people actually going to vote. They made an emotional pick, and now Mrs. May has to figure out what to do after a net loss of seats in the House of Commons that deprives her of the overall majority required for stable government.

As the extent of the upset became clear on Thursday night, it was assumed — even by many of Mrs. May’s most ardent supporters — that she would be gone by Friday morning. There was talk of a “dignified exit,” a timetable for departure and then, unavoidably, another general election. Instead, Mrs. May has formed a pact with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, an alliance that will give her an aggregate number of members of Parliament that passes, just, the 326-seat threshold required for a governing majority.

Doesn’t this suffice? Surely a politician is entitled in such circumstances to be creative, if only to deprive her opponents of power?

I have praised much that Mrs. May has done as prime minister: uniting a party torn apart by the European Union referendum last year; triggering the Brexit process in Parliament after a supreme court challenge; and, most laudably, seeking to extend the reach of her party from the affluent to those who are, in her own phrase, “just about managing.” In her unfairly criticized manifesto, she eschewed glib slogans and confronted issues of great and pressing complexity, such as the care of the elderly in a country with an aging population, the pathologies of the internet and the grievances of those left behind by the hectic forces of globalization and modernity.

So why not salute her gutsy decision to carry on? The problem is twofold. First, Mrs. May explicitly framed the election — which she was not obliged to call when she did — as a test of her leadership, character and credentials to negotiate a good Brexit deal with the European Union. Posturing as a statesman being undermined at home by amateur politicians, she demanded a clear mandate from the voters to crush her opponents and demonstrate to European leaders that she was backed unequivocally by the British people.

Well, the British people have spoken — and conspicuously withheld that backing.

In a race against a supposedly unelectable hard-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn — whose own Labour Party members of Parliament tried to topple him last year — Mrs. May lost seats. Though Mr. Corbyn failed to win the election, he has made significant gains. He has not only secured his own position, but also, extraordinarily, has established his Castro-loving, Chávez-friendly brand of socialism as the mainstream creed of the party that, only 10 years ago, was led from the center by Tony Blair.

In the early stages of the campaign, some of her supporters privately admitted that she had called this snap election for fear that Labour would ditch Mr. Corbyn later in the year and deprive the Conservative Party of an opportunity for a landslide victory.

Mrs. May took that shot, and missed by miles. Her decision to cling to power now looks undignified; that is out of character. Moreover, her alliance with the unionists looks like an act of desperation. It is.

From 2010 to 2015, the Conservatives (then led by David Cameron) governed in coalition with the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg (who lost his seat in this election). That alliance, long-planned and carefully choreographed, was hard enough to maintain, even with plenty of common ground between the center-right Tories and their center-left partners.

The Democratic Unionist Party, in contrast, is a hard-line reactionary party, devoted not only to the union of Britain and Northern Ireland, but to a social conservatism that directly contradicts the modernization of the Conservative Party in the past 15 years. When she led the party from 2002 to 2003, Mrs. May did much to brush away the cobwebs, daring to tell annual conference delegates that theirs was perceived as “the nasty party.” Now, nearly 15 years later, she has allied it with the Even Nastier Party.

How will she explain to the socially liberal, centrist voters whom Mr. Cameron won over during his decade-long leadership that she must now govern in partnership with a group of homophobes, zealots and creationists?

Mrs. May might claim that it is her duty to form a government, given the alternative: some improbable Corbyn-led rump of Labour plus the Liberal Democrats and the various nationalists. But that alone is not sufficient justification for this shabby deal, which will only confirm the suspicion that all the Conservatives truly care about is power.

Worse, Mrs. May has failed to acknowledge the scale of what has happened, or even that it has happened at all. Whatever one thinks of Mr. Corbyn’s credentials and record, he tapped into a popular anger and a yearning for change, as the Brexiteers and Mr. Trump did. He understood how to achieve emotional resonance and, most impressively, inspired young people to vote.

I see little sign that senior Tories have grasped how radically the rules of the game are changing around them. It has now been 30 years since the party won a solid majority, and in apparently ideal conditions, it failed to do so in this election. What sharper wake-up call do Conservatives need?

The new government, Mrs. May said on Friday, provides “certainty.” She is right, but not in the sense that she meant. Its parliamentary majority is certain to be under constant attack from rebels of all kinds. Its weakness is certain to be mocked in Brussels, as the Brexit negotiations begin. And it is certain, sooner rather than later, to collapse, as such fragile arrangements always do. These extra months that Mrs. May remains in power will be grueling, unproductive and harshly judged by posterity.

As an admirer of Mrs. May, I wish she had chosen to leave with honor intact, instead of subjecting herself, and the country, to the ordeal ahead. The party is well and truly over. Will someone have the grace to tell her?

How Jeremy Corbyn Proved the Haters Wrong
By RACHEL SHABI, The New York Times
JUNE 9, 2017

Among the many satisfying outcomes of Britain’s general election has been the roll call of pundits reeling out apologies for getting it so wrong. The Labour Party has, against all odds, surged to take a 40 percent share of the vote, more than it has won in years. And so the nation’s commentariat, who had confidently thought that the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership would be wiped off the political map, are now eating giant slices of humble pie.

Nobody is in politics to gloat. Labour’s leadership team and supporters alike want the party to win not for the sake of winning, but in order to bring Labour’s economic and social agenda to Britain, to measurably improve people’s lives. Still, a little schadenfreude is definitely in order.

Mr. Corbyn, from the left of the party, unexpectedly took its helm in 2015 after a rule change allowed, for the first time, rank-and-file members to have an equal vote for their leader. And he has been ridiculed, dismissed and bemoaned ever since. Cast as an incongruous combination of incompetent beardy old man and peacenik terrorist sympathizer, Mr. Corbyn faced down a leadership challenge from his own party about a year ago and constant sniping, criticism and calls for him to quit throughout.

The political and pundit classes, in their wisdom, thought it entirely inconceivable that someone like him — so unpolished, so left wing — could ever persuade voters. After Britain’s referendum decision, last June, to leave the European Union, more scathing criticism was piled upon the Labour leader for his decision to, well, accept the democratic referendum decision, however bad it was.

By the time Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election six weeks ago, her party ran a 20-point poll lead ahead of Labour and her personal approval ratings were sky high while Mr. Corbyn’s were abysmally low. Liberal pundits were aghast at the thought of the Labour Party self-destructing under Mr. Corbyn’s supposedly toxic leadership. He was once again urged to step down.

Then the campaign started — and every prediction was turned on its head. The well-funded, hyper-efficient Conservatives and their chorus of supporters in Britain’s mostly right-wing press ran a terrible campaign. Mrs. May came across as robotic and out of touch; she didn’t seem to like engaging with the press, much less the public. The more people saw of her, the more her ratings sank.

For Mr. Corbyn, the opposite was true. His detractors said his appeal was limited to a niche of radical left activists, but in reality his quiet confidence, credibility and integrity — so refreshing at a time when politicians are viewed as untrustworthy careerists — drew crowds of enthusiastic supporters to ever-growing rallies. At one point, arriving to a televised debate just over a week before the election, he was greeted with solid cheers en route to the event. That was when his leadership team sensed something significant was taking place.

Part of this extraordinary success was a result of the party’s campaign. Fun, energetic, innovative and inspiring, it created its own momentum, with organic support mushrooming out of the most unlikely places, flooding social media with viral memes and messages: Rappers and D.J.s, soccer players, economists and television personalities alike climbed aboard the Corbyn project. Momentum, a grass-roots organization of Corbyn supporters, activated the party’s estimated 500,000 members — many of whom had joined because Mr. Corbyn was elected as leader — into canvassing efforts across the country, including, crucially, in up-for-grabs districts. Supporters were further encouraged by the sight of Labour candidates demolishing long-hated Conservatives on television, appearances that were swiftly turned into video clips and raced around the internet.

But the main mobilizer of support was the party’s politics. For decades, Labour has been resolutely centrist, essentially offering a slightly kinder version of neoliberal consensus politics. Those on the left had long said that this was what had caused the party’s slow decline, a hemorrhaging of support from its traditional working-class voters. With Mr. Corbyn at its helm, the party tacked firmly to the left, proposing to tax the few for the benefit of the many and offering major national investment projects, funding for the welfare state, the scrapping of university tuition fees and the re-nationalization of rail and energy companies.

It was a hopeful vision for a fairer society, offered at a time when the country is experiencing wage stagnation and spiraling living costs, with many buckling under because of the economic crash of 2008 and the Conservative Party’s savage austerity cuts that followed. Given the chance for the first time in decades to vote for something else, something better, a surprising number of voters took it. Young people, in particular, seized this offer: With youth turnout unusually high at 72 percent, it’s clear that Labour brought them to the ballot box in droves.

Labour’s shock comeback has tugged the party, along with Britain’s political landscape, and the range of acceptable discourse back to the left. In a hung Parliament, the Conservatives still came out of the election as the main party, and now looks set to go into coalition government with the homophobic, anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party. But the Conservatives are now a maimed party with a discredited leader — weaknesses to be seized upon and exploited by a now united and empowered Labour party.


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