Farage – a thorn in the side of the Conservative Party.

It’s generally accepted that if you are a leader of a democratic country, that you don’t interfere or openly express views about domestic matters in another democracy. You certainly don’t openly try and influence the election in another country or comment on specific candidates.

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Well that was till last Thursday, when Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage interviewed US President Donald Trump on his LBC radio show. I am no fan of Donald Trumps politics, but as stated previously on this blog he is no fool. However, I think he may have misjudged the likely impact that his comments would have on the UK election.

Firstly, Trump agreed with Farage that the Brexit deal that Boris has brought back from Europe was no good, both men believing the ties between the EU and the UK would remain too strong. Further Trump said that any UK & US trade deal would be compromised by the EU withdraw agreement. In saying this, Trump has put the Conservative Party on the back foot in the election. The Conservatives go into this election needing to win public support for this latest withdrawal deal. To do otherwise would make Boris Johnson’s administration look weak and ineffective. That Trump has now publicly trashed the withdraw bill is a major spanner in the works. The Conservatives wouldn’t have expected such a blunt attack from the US President during the campaign.

Secondly, Trump suggests an electoral alliance between Farage and Boris Johnson. The basis of such an alliance would be supporting a no deal Brexit. As mentioned already in my last blog post under First Past the Post there is a risk of vote splitting if two Parties with a politics run against each other. But like the US, in UK politics electoral alliances and deals between parties are rare. Further, with doing a deal with the Brexit Party would be a bridge too far for many Conservative Party supporters. Farage was the former leader of UKIP, a strongly anti immigration and furiously anti Europe party. While the Brexit Party message is somewhat more toned down that that of UKIP, it still is considerably more rabid than that of the Conservatives. The Conservatives have rightly distanced themselves from such a pact, realising that entering into one could cost them more votes than it could potentially gain.

The Third thing Trump did that shows a total lack of self awareness, was his attacks on Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The political fortunes of Corbyn have waxed and waned over his four years as leader, and he is certainly a polarising figure. To be openly attacked by Donald Trump will do Corbyn absolutely no harm at all. Some of the largest protests held in London in the two years I’ve lived here have been during Trumps two state visits to the UK. This year thousands descended on Westminster to protest his visit, something Trump seemed to be in denial about. Many voters will a) be unhappy that Trump is trying to interfere in the UK’s domestic politics, and b) may be more likely to vote for Corbyn after Trumps attack.

So what about Mr Farage then? Nigel likes to be a maverick. For years now he has caused trouble and been a spoiler for UK establishment politicians across the spectrum. He was clearly buoyed by the Brexit Party winning the most votes in the May 2019 EU elections. He has managed for years to get considerable airtime in the British media, including a regularly LBC radio show. That he can get an exclusive interview with the US President is clearly a coup for him.

Yesterday Nigel announced that he would not be running in a constituency, instead running a national campaign to support candidates throughout the UK. Some commentators are saying he is running scared as he knows he couldn’t win a constituency. Farage has run and lost in many constituency races before (in 2010 he lost to a candidate dressed as a Dolphin). In reality Nigel has realised he has a much stronger platform campaigning nationally and allowing 600+ other candidates to do the work in constituencies.

There is criticism that the Brexit Party could split the Conservative vote and help remain parties. True. Equally there is risk for the Brexit party in being seen as close to the Conservatives. The Brexit Party are the only no deal party standing in this election. Farage no doubt calculates that as the campaign goes on, many will realise Boris’s deal is basically the same one Theresa May brought back late last year with changes to the Irish backstop. Inevitably more hardline Brexiters will oppose this, and Nigel doesn’t want his party to be tied to that. Further, the Tories have been in power for a decade and are blamed for many of the problems faced in British society today. By being tied to the Conservatives, Nigel risks being caught up in any backlash against the Tories. For Nigel to do a deal he wants it on his (and Trumps) terms or not at all.

And if remain parties win the election? If Labour gets into power there will be another referendum on whatever deal that party does – another opportunity for Farage to beat his Brexit drum, loudly. If the Lib Dems come to power they won’t even hold a referendum, saying they wish to revoke article 50 (the section in the EU treaty that allows member states to withdraw), thus giving Farage an even bigger platform about parliament ignoring the referendum result. And if the Conservatives are in opposition, they  may find themselves then having to do a deal with Farage to get back into power next election.

Nigel Farage is a tenacious and cunning operator. He is also a bottom feeder and a shit who plays on peoples fears and prejudices. To beat the politics of Trump and Farage, we need a positive alternative. Hope can triumph over fear, and love over hate. In the 2019 UK election, people are looking for positive change and for things to get better.

 

UK General Election 2019

On Thursday 12 December the UK will be going to the polls. The UK is supposed to have general elections every 5 years, December’s poll will be the UK’s 3rd general election in four and a half years.

It is risky to make predictions about what will happen in elections, and in the current climate particularly so. The UK is deeply divided on the issue of Brexit, but also on austerity and on the continued membership of Scotland and Northern Ireland of the United Kingdom. 

The polls suggest that the Conservative Party are ahead. Before the 2017 general election they put the Conservatives 20 points ahead of Labour, on election night the Conservatives lost their majority and Labour made significant electoral gains. On the eve of the Brexit referendum polls were showing remain would win, the polls were wrong. Even if we look at the 2015 and 2010 UK elections, the polls weren’t that reliable in picking the results. 

Globally we have seen trends of campaigns making a big difference. The 2017 NZ election saw Labour win an upset victory over the conservative National Government where Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister. In 2015 Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Liberal party went from 3rd place in the polls at the start of the year to government a few months later, though in the recent election saw a sudden and significant decline in support for the Liberals in Canada. 

The 2019 election will be the first December election held in the UK for over 100 years. Generally it’s agreed its best not to hold elections in the middle of winter, the impact of this is as yet unknown. Also a general election after 2 years of Brexit paralysis will be an opportunity for an increasingly frustrated and angry public to punish those they deem responsible. 

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Map showing the 2017 election results. How will this change in 2019?

Of course one of the major factors in this election, like all elections to the House of Commons is the electoral system. Nearly a year ago I posted about electoral reform, and outlined why I don’t support the First Past the Post electoral system. Specifically First Past the Post often produces results that don’t reflect public opinion. For example in 2017 the Conservatives nationally won 42.4% of the vote, and have been supported in government by the Democratic Unionist Party who got 0.9% of the vote nationally and 36% of the vote in Northern Ireland. The full results can be seen here. So for the last 29 months the UK has been government by parties that over 56% voters didn’t support. The Make Votes Matter campaign are building support for Proportional Representation in the UK so that the nationally vote actually matter.

Despite the broken electoral system, and general cynicism about UK politics, it is important that all allegeable voters turn out to vote. If you live in the UK, you have till 26 November to enrol to vote in the coming General election. You can register to vote here.

I will be doing regular posts during the election, focussing on key issues and developments.

The new UK Prime Minister

Well he became Prime Minister, and in a few days lost a by-election. The rocky start could be a sign of things to come for the new leader.

Make no mistake, Boris Johnson has talent. He knows how to make a stirring speech and can tap into people’s hopes and fears as a politician.

In my last post I talked about the great man of history theory, and the rebuttal of this by Leo Tolstoy.

It is significant that there has been a change of Prime Minister. It is probably more significant over half of Theresa May’s cabinet has been sacked. It demonstrates a new team with a new direction. Support for the Tories in recent months has been abysmal, winning only 9% of the vote in the May European Elections. These changes aim to show that there is a new team and create the idea in the electorate that this is a new government.

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Boris Johnson, convincing Tory Party members to elect him leader. 

Boris Johnson in full flight during the Tory leadership campaign.
But ultimately nothing has really changed. The same government that was (only just) elected in 2017 remains in power, now with a majority of 1. The Conservatives rely on the DUP for votes. The Tories remain split on Brexit. And most significantly, the chances of there being a deal with the EU remain slim. The major change has been Cabinet member Michael Gove announcing that ‘No Deal’ was now the working assumption of the government.

I have earlier said that a no deal Brexit where WTO rules apply is the likely outcome. The current bluster and bravado from the new Prime Minister about getting a deal rings hollow. The EU position hasn’t changed, and is unlikely to under the new regime. Further, the parliamentary arithmetic in Westminster has not changed.

Boris Johnson has successfully built up a persona as this eccentric larger than life slightly wacky Tory. He has also successfully promoted himself on the back of his two London Mayoral victories in 2008 and 2012. His supporters talk of how he successfully won the London Mayoralty, in a city that traditionally votes Labour, highlighting his skill as a politician.

So how did Boris win London? Twice. It needs to be remembered the Ken Livingston, who was leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 till 1986 when the Thatcher Government abolished the entity. In 2000 the council was re-established and Livingston was elected Mayor, both against the Tory and the New Labour candidate, as Ken’s politics were too left for the likes of Tony Blair. Having defied Thatcher and Blair Ken served as Mayor till 2008 when he was defeated by Boris Johnson. In 2012 Livingstone had another go and again was narrowly beaten. People I’ve spoken to from Livingston’s 2008 and 2012 campaign tell me Ken lacked energy in these campaigns, and believe had Labour stood another candidate with fresh ideas and vision for London, they could have beaten Johnson in both of these elections. Boris clearly saw an opportunity and seized it, where the left snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Boris as an MP played a key role in the Brexit campaign during the 2016 referendum. At first he sat on the fence, and many thought he would back remain. In fact an unpublished column by Johnson backed remain, only to be pulled in favour of a column backing leave. Many felt his position on Brexit was more to do with his personal ambition than anything else.
After David Cameron resigned many thought Boris would be the next PM, only to be undermined by Michael Gove. When Theresa May became PM some thought Boris had missed his chance. Turns out they were wrong.

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Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – the men in white coats have arrived…

In the days leading up to October 31st, it won’t be easy for the government. The reality is there is little chance of a deal. That ship has sailed, and in 90 days there isn’t much to be done to change that. Johnson and his government will be judged not on what happens before October, rather what happens after. If the government can survive that long.

The Founders Story: The great men of history

Having worked in the London start up scene I’ve really enjoyed seeing some of the energy and innovation that people have. It’s particularly enjoyable seeing the way entrepreneurs are developing and utilising technology to try and enhance our lives. As a project manager, these are the sorts of challenges I absolutely love.

One of the less healthy aspects about start up life is the pressure. Starting a new business is difficult. Starting a business that relies on developing new technology requires significant time, skill, patience and most importantly investment. It is fair to say the barriers to entry are significant. It often involves months or years of unpaid or underpaid work – with no guarantee of success. Not surprisingly, the make up of people involved in start ups is predominately upper middle class, white and male. There are of course many exceptions to this rule,  and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing people from different walks of life in the start up space.

One of the narratives around start ups is the “Founders Story”. This has been described by Fortune Magazine as the ‘love story’ company founders have with how their creation started out. In the technology space, comparisons to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs can become a daily obsession. The narrative goes that some brilliant person with incredibly innovative ideas has this brilliant vision which ultimately makes it big after a long struggle. The TV series Silicon Valley satirises this idea. The struggle to compete with existing market players, the need to get investment and ultimately to succeed.

When I hear people talk of the Founders Story, I am reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. In this novel Tolstoy rejects the idea that major events in history are the result of great men. War and Peace is set when the French led by Napoleon are at war with Russia. Tolstoy rejects the idea that the French lose this war due to poor decisions by leader Napoleon:

And it was not Napoleon who directed the course of the battle, for none of his orders were executed and during the battle he did not know what was going on before him. So the way in which these people killed one another was not decided by Napoleon’s will but occurred independently of him, in accord with the will of hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the common action. It only seemed to Napoleon that it all took place by his will

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Tolstoy in his epic novel War and Peace wrote about the Great man of history theory. While writing at the time about Napoleon, 21st century entrepreneurs would do well to pay heed to this view. 

Start ups, like any other business are never solely the result of one persons effort alone. For any successful business to succeed it requires the contribution of many others. For example with technology companies it requires investors who believe in the project to take a financial risk. It requires developers, engineers and developers to put time and energy into building a minimum viable product (MVP) to take to market. It then requires marketing and sales people to build interest in your companies proposition and ultimately make sure what you are developing sells. And most importantly, it requires a top notch project manager to ensure everything is delivered on time, within budget and meeting the required quality scope. This PM also needs to communicate progress to all stakeholders and ensure important information is being share in real time (and I do all this for a very reasonable day rate 😉 )

But even if all the above goes to plan, a great many start ups don’t succeed. Is this because they don’t have the right leadership or founders? They certainly play a role. But other factors such as market demand for your product, the state of the economy at the time of launch or a plethora of other factors outside of the control of the founder can sink a start up. In some cases start ups can pivot to new idea or product, which can be down to innovation or skill, but is still at the mercy of external conditions.

The whole ‘Founders Story’ narrative subtracts from the good things that can happen in the start up space. It puts ego and pride at the centre, when humbleness and a willingness to learn from mistakes is required. Did Steve Jobs help create the Apple brand? Yes. Is his contribution grossly overstated?  You bet. Would we still have smart phones had Jobs never been born, almost certainly.

Reading 19th century weighty tome’s like War and Peace may not be top of most entrepreneurs to do list – but it may help them significantly if it were.

Jacinda and Gun Control

In the aftermath of the horrendous Christchurch terror attack, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has demonstrated strong leadership.

Her statement immediately following the attack against the Christchurch Muslim Community was clear “they are us” , a clear condemnation of Islamophobia by a world leader. When Donald Trump asked what he could do to help Jacinda replied he could show “sympathy and love for muslim communities”

To my mind one of the greatest acts of leadership by Ardern after the shooting was the following day when her government announced semi automatic weapons would be banned. I have written before about Gun control. The Christchurch attack was not the first NZ mass shooting, with the 1990 Aramoana massacre and the 1997 Raurimu shooting both leaving many dead and injured. It should not have taken a bloodbath in Christchurch to see the NZ parliament finally take action. Previous attempts at banning semi automatics or having a decent register of gun owners in NZ have been voted down.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces tighter gun control laws hours after the Christchurch Mosque attack.

It is commendable that after this, Jacinda showed leadership on this. Many are now saying this is an example to the rest of the world, in particular to America where after a number of mass shootings gun control has been resisted by the NRA and others. I agree.

 

Christchurch Mosque terror attack

It’s been over a week since the horrendous terror attack in two Christchurch Mosques killing 50 people. This attack on the Muslim community in Christchurch was both heartbreaking and sickening. People around the world  are understandably shocked and appalled by what happening.

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The above was put out hours after the Christchurch shooting. 

Many were surprised that such an attack could have happened in New Zealand. I was never of the view that New Zealand was safe or immune to the sorts of terror attacks like that committed in Christchurch on March 15th. It was however, utterly heartbreaking to learn that it had occurred. Its particularly gut wrenching to read of the acts of kindness and bravery by some of the victims such as Naeem Rashid who lost his own life trying to stop the gunman.

Thousands have gathered throughout New Zealand in vidils to mourn the dead and show solidarity with the Muslim community. The attack has even united the country’s rival biker gangs who are vowed to work together to protect Muslims attending Mosques.

DAOUD NABI

Much has already been said about this act of Far Right terror against the Christchurch Muslim community. I have more to say about the responses and developments post this event. However I end this by quoting a Muslim friend of mine in New Zealand, who posted the below on social media hours after the attack. These words will stay with me for a very long time:

I think we always feared there would be a terrorist attack. But we always feared it would be someone claiming to be Muslim, and that we would bear the impact of the aftermath, the xenophobia, the hate crimes, the calls to fight in foreign lands and the calls to go back home (to where?).

We thought we would be the target of the aftermath and feared what that would be.

We never thought that it would be us, going about our daily rituals. Jummah is sacred. It is the first thing that we try to establish when we form a community. It is the signal that we have enough Muslims to form a community. It is the place we meet every week.

The attacker choose to hit the heart of our community and the heart of our faith, which is the daily rituals of connecting with Allah (SWT). He choose to do it when we were together so it could be as gruesome as it could be.

Last year when I called out Islamophobia to people I thought were my tribe/friends, it fell pretty much of deaf ears. I was either ignored or dismissed (not by everyone but by enough people).

This is the result of all those horrible NZ Herald opinion pieces, all that vitriolic internet meme culture, all those horrible beliefs about Muslims.

This stuff goes on with violent consequence in the place of my ancestors. People related to me have died because of it, and the people responsible are now in high political office (I’m looking at you Modi).

And now it’s happening here. And people we are related to have died again.

Next time I call out Islamophobia don’t dare tell me “we are a broad church”.

Plastic and recycling

Since I was a child, I was told it was important to recycle to save the planet. Specifically we were taught at school that plastic waste should be put in the recycling bin rather than sending it to a landfill.

When I moved to the UK in 2017 I was somewhat surprised to hear that plastic had been sent to China to “recycle” but that from 2018 the Chinese government were banning the import of used plastic. Shortly afterwards I was to discover that my home country New Zealand had been doing the same thing and were now also unsure what to do about recycling.

So all these years many of us believed we were doing our bit for the planet recycling plastic bottles. Turns out we were just adding to a giant plastic mountain in china and destroying the environment over there.

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New Zealand has now banned single use plastic bags following on from San Francisco, South Korea along with various other retailers, cities and countries around the world.

This, along with consumer action to reduce the use of single use plastic plays an important role. But as a species, we have already made a hell of a mess. Along the way we have done serious harm to the ecosystem, polluted our oceans, harmed many endangered animals and left the planet in a far worse state than we found it. Actions to reduce plastic consumption are good, but not enough.

This problem requires a global solution. It requires international cooperations between governments and business. Moving to biodegradable plastic or other less harmful products must become a priority.

From a policy perspective, there is much more governments could be doing to incentivise  sustainability and reducing the use of plastics. This could be through encouraging producers and retailers not use them and to invest in alternatives. Rewarding consumers for not buying single use plastics, or where enforceable doing bans or restrictions on plastic bags and bottles

I hope in the 2020’s we see serious action on reducing plastic consumption. Further that we find a way to clean up the plastic mess we have already made.