Britain Should Remain in the European Union

Dr Andrew Crines   |   May 11, 2016    9:52 AM ET

Since the start of the European referendum campaign, we have been exposed to a serious dilution of the quality of political debates presented to the voter by those seeking #Brexit. At this point I'm sure many who support the UK leaving the EU will have already pressed X in the top-right, however it is a point which needs making given the quality of argument determines the health of our democracy. Put simply, the more personal or fanciful an argument is, the less likely it is to frame a healthy debate. We only need to look to Donald Trump to see how it can destroy the thing it is seeking to advance. Also, so called 'Project Fear' in the Scottish independence referendum arguably helped save the Union (for now), but in so doing destroyed the sense of togetherness which it was aiming to safeguard. Even the Conservative Party victory last year may end up leading to major internal divisions that may cost the UK's position in the EU. Each of these victories has been secured through hostile rhetoric that targeted their opponents on a fearful and/or personal level. It does seem to be a tactic of those seeking #Brexit! (See any comments below this opinion piece for examples).

Those supporting #Brexit are very much ideologically committed to the idea regardless of the real world implications of Britain leaving the EU. For example, Aaron Banks has argued that "£4,300 per household is a bargain basement price for the restoration of national independence and safe, secure borders" . This remark came in for serious criticism for appearing to be aloof and detached from the realities of most of the British people. Also of serious concern is the approach of those supporting #Brexit towards Northern Ireland. Theresa Villiers has said that "The peace process was delivered by the hard work of Northern Ireland's leaders and successive UK and Irish governments, supported by the US. There is strong commitment in both the UK and Ireland to continue to work together for a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland, and leaving the EU will not change that" . However, this is not a position held by Enda Kenny, who argued that "Common membership of the EU project is part of the glue holding that transition process together" . Given the treaty which has helped bring an end of hostilities to Northern Ireland is an international treaty legally supported by the European Union, it would be highly dangerous for the continuation of stability if one of the parties were to withdraw from it. Withdrawing from the European Union does indeed represent a significant risk to this area, and it isn't a conspiracy or part of 'Project Fear' to point it out.

Politically, in the European referendum the Labour Party have been preoccupied with their own problems. It has a leader who is giving half-hearted support, whilst those members supporting Brexit are content to live in the past, endlessly quoting Tony Benn or Hugh Gaitskell to support their position. However, there is nothing social democratic in isolating ourselves from the world. Benn and Gaitskell are products of their respective times, and today the Left needs to remain united with others across the EU. Granted, many rightly point out that the EU and Europe are different things. However, the EU is the mechanism which has held Europe together through peace, trade, and learning for decades. Cooperation is a fundamental value of social democratic politics, and to abandon that is a very strange position to adopt. Rather, the Labour Party needs to push hard for Britain to remain in the EU and, by doing so, be relevant to Europe.

However, the greatest threat to Britain remaining in the EU is ignorance. As I have argued in other places, the media is the mechanism that connects politicians to the voter. It is the channel through which political arguments are made, and so is vital to any democratic civil society. However, it is also dangerous if the media fail to educate the voter about the realities of #Brexit. Chris Graying has used the media (specifically, the Andrew Marr Show ) to argue once we've left things will remain the same. Yet we haven't heard the counter argument that such a position is not only economically imprudent it is also intellectually disingenuous. Furthermore, Boris Johnson has appeared on the Radio Four Today show , however his failure to articulate a coherent message is seen as part of his 'Boris' brand. Put simply, his bluster is considered part of his charm, but on an issue such as this, it is unwelcome. We have yet to hear from the Leave side how Britain will function outside of the European Union. We do know, however, that a whole host of organisations (such as the IMF and the Bank of England) have cautioned against it, alongside a Treasury report with support from the LSE and others. Facts, not bluster or guesswork.

In closing, I would like to make a few comments about the Obama intervention. Obama's comments that Britain would be at the 'back of the queue' were not a threat. They have been taken as a threat by the Leave side to argue we are being 'bullied'. Rather, Obama's comments were a warning. He was warning us that we'd go to the back of the queue because that is the reality. It is possible to warn a friend of danger without threatening to inflict it. These arguments against #Brexit are not 'Project Fear'. These are warnings of reality. And as I said at the start of this opinion piece, reality has already been sacrificed in the debate by those preferring to bang their ideological drum and bury their heads in the sand.

Britain should remain the EU because we live in reality, not in some romantic fantasy where the UK is a lone power in a world of subservient nations. That is an imperial thought process which went out of fashion decades ago.


Owen Bennett   |   May 11, 2016    9:03 AM ET


Boris Johnson today confirmed he has no regrets over referring to Barack Obama as a “part-Kenyan President” in an attack on the US leader’s view on Brexit.

The former London Mayor made the jibe as Obama visited the UK last month to advise Brits to vote to Remain in the EU Referendum on June 23.

Johnson’s claim that Obama had an “ancestral dislike” of the UK because of his Kenyan heritage was severely criticised by Labour MPs Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper.

In an interview on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning – which quickly descended in Johnson and interview John Humphrys talking over each other – the Uxbridge MP also did not deny writing a pro-EU column for the Telegraph as he weighed up whether to back Brexit after David Cameron’s EU renegotiation earlier this year.

When asked by Humphrys if he regretted using the term ‘part-Kenyan’ in his description of Obama, Johnson said: “No of course not.

“My point was very simple and it was that it is absolutely absurd for the United States of America to continue to urge us further down the line towards a federal superstate when the US has not even signed up to the UN Convention on Human Rights.”

When pushed on whether he had attacked Obama in an “unsavoury way”, Johnson replied: “That’s completely untrue.

“I was merely quoting a point that was made in the Guardian newspaper.

“We were told by President Obama that in respect of international trade we would have to get to the back of the queue, not a position that America normally requires the United Kingdom to be in when it comes to other matters such as the Iraq War.”

In 2009, The Guardian ran a blog which posed the “intriguing question” of whether the “president's dual colonial inheritance – of Kenyan and Irish ancestry – is helping reshape America's supposedly ‘special relationship’ with Britain.”

The article concluded with the sentence: “Obama's extraordinary political skills suggest he is more than capable of rising above any personal historical grudges he may have inherited.”

After Johnson made the “part-Kenyan” remark in The Sun last month, even Ukip leader Nigel Farage sought to distance himself from the attack

The UKIP leader said that while he didn’t disagree with Johnson, it had been a mistake to “be seen to be attacking the man and not the ball” on the issue of Brexit.

This morning, Johnson was also asked whether he had two columns prepared for the Telegraph in March – one supporting Remain and the other calling for Leave - as he mulled over whether to back Brexit.

Johnson replied: “I’ve written all sorts of things over long period of time and it is perfectly true to say that I thought long and hard about this decision and it was very, very difficult to come to because I don’t want to at variance with the Prime Minister, like Michael Gove, I didn’t want to be going against the Government.”


Challenging Obama Was My Greatest Challenge

Maria Munir   |   May 6, 2016    2:27 PM ET

Dare to be different. Capitalise on every opportunity on this God-given Earth. Be true to yourself and your principles, but never so narrow-minded that you forget that the essence of life is the fruit of debate.

That's what my parents have told me throughout my childhood. I had to challenge what people wanted me to be. Born with facial palsy - meaning the left side of my face was paralysed - I was repeatedly dismissed as someone to be pitied. A female in a Pakistani community, my parents were told that celebrating my birth was unnecessary. They celebrated anyway. My parents told me to harness education as use it as a tool to empower myself to the same platform as those world leaders, even when people were saying it's a bad idea to "let" me go to university.
Why were they so afraid of my achievements? Because I routinely proved that you could challenge the limiting expectations of those around you and succeed.

On Saturday 23 April 2016, I did just that. I stood up in front of President Obama, and I told him about the inequalities faced by non-binary people, and held him to account over why transgender people in the US are being discriminated against. With bated breath, I waited as the world media watched me challenge Obama on why countries like the UK don't recognise the existence of non-binary people. I can't tell you how good it felt to breathe again after this weight lifted off my shoulders, when the President told me he was proud of me and people from around the world started an international conversation on gender norms. But the bravery is in the change yet to come.

It's estimated that about a quarter of a million people in the UK are non-binary; that is, they do not identify with the socially-accepted ideas of man and woman. They employ a pluralistic approach to gender, regarding it as a spectrum, and understand that some people do not feel they have a gender at all. In addition, your gender is entirely separate from your biological sex, be that male, female, or intersex. So really, anyone could be non-binary, and they don't have to be androgynous in dress sense to be so.

People quizzed me on why I wore earrings, looked like "a girl", and spoke with a "feminine" voice. Well, there is much more to a person than their chosen appearance. In fact, that's the first step in making the world more tolerant. Don't judge someone based on how they look. Take time to talk to the person, educate yourself, and show them the same respect you would afford yourself.

When you're being criticised because you don't fit people's expectations, keep going. If you don't stand up and break out of the confines people set for you, you won't be able to do yourself justice.

Recognise that you are powerful, that you are valuable, and that you have every right to live your truth, much like those who hold you back. Sign petitions to get non-binary gender legally recognised in the UK, speak to your family, and go Google things you don't understand so we can strive towards acceptance.

So much change is needed in the fight for equality, be that recognising gender; increasing citizenship education on how to overcome socioeconomic barriers; or fighting for human rights of those who have no voice in society. It starts with you, the reader, asking yourself to challenge your assumptions and support others in fighting inequality.
In the words of Obama, "We are the change that we seek".

Maria Munir is a politics with international relations student at the University of York. They use the pronouns they/their/them, and tweet @Maria_Munir about human rights issues, such as gender recognition. Find their blog at

Ryan Barrell   |   May 5, 2016    3:05 PM ET

The US is at the height of election season, which means Barack Obama probably feels like a kid waiting for the summer holidays. Luckily he wasn't too busy when presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump called for a chat.

The skit was yet another example of the perfect impressions trotted out by Jimmy Fallon and his team on 'The Tonight Show'.

Is Xenophobia Team Brexit's Final Hope?

Nash Riggins   |   May 4, 2016   12:00 AM ET

Immigration isn't something you typically bring up at the dinner table. It's a horribly divisive issue that causes even the most loving of families to draw fierce battle lines in the sand. It's essentially a perpetual duel between hatred and reason, and on that score alone it makes a pretty lame duck argument with which to spearhead an entire political movement.

Unfortunately, that lame duck argument is all that Brexiteers have left.

Britain's impending EU referendum was never supposed to be that simple. At first, the violently-Eurosceptic Vote Leave campaign vowed to rise above closet racism in order to present voters with a credible economic case for ditching Brussels. Campaign chief Dominic Cummings used to smugly declare that Vote Leave would come out on top in June's contest without even having to mention immigration.

Why? Because until quite recently, all of Britain's top Eurosceptics seemed to agree the country was actually better off thanks to the EU's freedom of movement charter.

London mayor and Brexit posterchild Boris Johnson warned last year that capping the number of foreigners landing on British shores would almost definitely lead to an economic meltdown. He used to openly mock people like Nigel Farage for trying to pin heavy traffic and NHS waiting times on immigration - and even backed amnesty for every single one of the capital's 400,000 illegal aliens.

And BoJo wasn't the only Tory Lothario flirting with Britain's foreigners.

Just last April, Michael Gove pissed off every Ukipper and their mum by arguing that Westminster's hard line approach on immigration was nothing but a self-inflicted shot in the foot. He told voters they needed to be more open and generous when it came to immigration, and attempted to soothe the fears of xenophobes by pompously declaring that "Britain is not full".

Fast-forward twelve months, and the Justice Secretary would now have us believe that millions of Albanian rapists and benefits-scrounging Turks will soon be living in our walls like mutant rats - ready to strangle us for the faintest whiff of a full English. What a turnaround.

For his part, Boris Johnson has been raving like a madman for all to hear that immigrants are destroying the NHS, stealing our children's school places and hogging all of the good prison cells. He's also got this strange conspiracy theory that Barack Obama cruelly wants to see Britain remain in the EU and flounder just because the US President is "part-Kenyan". But let's not even bother picking that one apart.

What on earth could have forced these guys to forsake their love of migration in favour of xenophobic fairy tales? In a word: desperation.

For years, British Eurosceptics had pinned their entire economic hopes and dreams upon the assumption that we could simply ditch those Belgian loofahs and dive headfirst into bed with rich countries like the United States. Yet in the course of a single week, unlikely power couple George Osborne and Barack Obama crumpled that argument into a tiny ball, set it ablaze and tossed the ashes into a bottomless pit of despair.

Rather than come back swinging, it looks like BoJo and the Brexiteers have meekly conceded economic defeat. After all, who can take the nationalistic chants of 'Economists for Brexit' seriously when you've got the heads of the IMF and OECD using genuine facts and numbers to tell us otherwise? Vote Leave never really had a fighting chance.

That's why we've come right back to square one.

Against everyone's better judgement, Brexiteers have now been forced to abandon all reason and double down on their hopes that Britain's festering xenophobia will ultimately be enough to defeat economic literacy come June. Politicians like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have consequently placed every last shred of credibility on the line by attempting to disprove their own fundamental beliefs on the supposed economic benefits of immigration.

That's a pretty risky bet - and right now, it's looking like a bet they're going to lose.

Louise Ridley   |   May 2, 2016    2:55 PM ET

The CIA has been criticised for 'live tweeting' its 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden as if the killing were happening today.

On the fifth anniversary of bin Laden's death, the CIA began to shared minute-by-minute details of how the operation unfolded, in tweets which commenters called "obscene", "extremely weird" and "morbid".

The intelligence service invited Twitter users to "join us" as it relived the assassination step by step.

Bin Laden, whose name is also spelt Usama bin Ladin, was the head and founder of Al-Qaeda. He was killed by US Navy SEALs in a raid on a compound in Pakistan on 2 May, 2011.

The CIA tweeted out each stage of the mission as it was happening in 2016, using the hashtag #UBLRaid, from commanders approving it to helicopters descending on the compound.

But some commenters didn't appreciate the effort, calling it "extremely weird" and "grotesque":

The tweets reported the events and their times as they happened, including President Obama watching live in a situation room, and the moment the operation continued despite a helicopter crashing.

At 3:39pm Eastern Daily Time, the CIA tweeted: "Usama Bin Ladin found on third floor and killed."

At 7.01pm EDT, it tweeted that Obama had received "confirmation of high probability of positive identification" of bin Laden.

Here are the CIA tweets about the raid in full:

Kathryn Snowdon   |   May 1, 2016    4:37 PM ET

Barack Obama held on to his title as comedian-in-chief after making a series of jokes at Donald Trump's expense at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday.

The US President drew plenty of laughs with his barbed remarks to a ballroom filled with journalists, politicians, and film stars.

Trump, who attended last year’s dinner, was absent from last night's event.

The US President joked that it should be the perfect place for Trump — a room full of reporters, celebrities and cameras.

 “Is this dinner too tacky for the Donald?” Obama said.

“Is he at home eating a Trump steak, tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel? What is he doing?”

Obama commended Trump's foreign policy experience, noting that the businessman previously owned the Miss Universe pageant and "has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world - Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan".

He also said that Trump's property experience might come in handy when it comes to closing the controversial Guantanamo Bay detainment facility.

He joked: "And there's one area where Donald's experience could be invaluable, and that's closing Guantanamo - because Trump knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground."

The British royal family also made it into Obama's speech, as the Democrat described the pains of being a lame duck president.

"Last week Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe," Obama cracked. "That was a slap in the face."

Obama took a few more swipes at the presidential race, noting that "next year at this time someone else will be standing here in this very spot, and it's anyone's guess who she will be".

It is not the first time that the 54-year-old leader has poked fun at Trump.

In 2011, Obama joked that he would be releasing his official birth video - a jibe directed at the 69-year-old property tycoon who frequently questioned the president's birth certificate.

A clip from Disney's The Lion King was subsequently played to a room full of laughing journalists, politicians and celebrities.

Among the film and television performers at Saturday's event were Helen Mirren, Jared Leto, Bryan Cranston, Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Rachel McAdams and Tom Hiddleston.

Proceeds from the dinner go towards journalism scholarships and reporting awards.

Waiting for Trump's Wall? Europe's Already Busy Building

Andrew Legon   |   April 30, 2016    5:07 PM ET

If there are five stages of grief then we should all get started with the process now. After months of nervous laughter and disbelief it looks like Donald Trump will get the nomination. He'll be one step closer to the presidency. And with it, one step closer to making good on promises like building a Great Wall of Mexico. This is his big idea to stop people crossing the border into the United States. At 65ft high and counting it's now taller than the lie that he's a self-made billionaire. But for many on both sides of the Atlantic it's simply not long enough (no penis jokes from the presidential candidates please). There's probably a fair few that would want Trump to be more ambitious; a big ask for a man who thinks he had a chance to sleep with Princess Diana. After all, the US needs protecting from criminals and rapists. And Europe needs defending from tired, hungry and war-torn refugees. Though they're all the same thing if you read certain sections of the press.

For many Europeans on the other side of the political spectrum the US election has been a disturbing spectacle. We've all watched a little too smugly at Trump's ranting and raving. The idea of walling off the USA's southern border seems so preposterous. The problem is we've been so obsessed rolling our eyes at America (Europe's favourite past time) that we've failed to see our own reflection staring back at us. The fact is, Europe will soon have more physical barriers on our national borders than during the Cold War. From Sweden to Serbia we've been very busy with bricks, cement and barbed wire. All in the name of solving the refugee crisis. Yet we think America's the one with the problem. We're like a neighbour tutting at plans for a new fence as we peer over the bricks and mortar we've already put up the year before. Remember when Europe used to cheer when walls that divided us fell? No longer.

Ask people about the walls we're building now and those that actually have an inkling of what's going on will claim it's different. They'll say the iron curtain was a prison. That it kept people trapped, poor and persecuted under Soviet oppression. The walls we're building now are to keep people out, they'll argue. But think about it for just a moment; it all depends on being lucky enough to face the right side of the barrier. Walls can imprison people outside or in, it really doesn't matter either way. If you're trying to escape the Soviet Union or Syria, a wall is a wall, blocking your escape from whatever terror is upon you. Why are people so quick to say it's different now? Draw your own conclusions. Although a lot of people no doubt agree with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán - Putin's very own 'Mini-Me' in the heart of Europe. He's quite clear on the issue. Europe needs to keep out Muslims, he said, to keep the continent Christian. Presumably that means most of my friends and I are about to be kicked over every wall between here and the Balkans and will be refused re-entry, for being agnostic, atheist and at best, apathetic? But then they do say that whenever God closes a door somewhere He opens a window. So perhaps we could sneak back in that way?

Forget morality for a moment though. Building barriers to keep people in or out solves very little. "Show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder" said former US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Whether it's immigration, drugs or terrorism, walls rarely work. They're one of the bluntest tools in geopolitics; big, ugly monuments to failure. Like any tool, they have their place, but by and large walls are failed policies designed to address a failure of policy.

Take the current refugee crisis. You may think this problem starts and ends in Syria. But as human rights organisations like Waging Peace have been saying for years, we've happily let other crises slip under the radar. Mention Darfur and Sudan to almost anyone and they'll tell you the problems ended years ago. They don't see that the wars and persecution have continued. Or that they've spread to other parts of the country. Little wonder that numbers of Sudanese families on refugee lists have ranked high for years, making Sudan consistently one of the top-five sources of refugees worldwide according to the UNHCR. Despite this, the UK government and its European partners have recently decided to give money direct to the government, despite its responsibility for most of the violence people are fleeing. This won't work, because it doesn't address the problems which force people to come. For the same reason, walls won't stops them arriving on European shores.

If refugees and asylum seekers had safe, legitimate routes into Europe do you really think they'd be piling into boats, using all their savings to risk the lives of their children? They're braving the sea because it's their last means of escape. The EU is 500 million strong. If we acted collectively - with other countries worldwide as well - the numbers could be managed. Our grandparents managed it, under far worse conditions than today. It happened again three decades later when 4 million fled Indochina. But now? The walls are up. Those made of bricks, mortar and barbed wire. And the ones we've built in our minds, from ignorance, stereotypes and misguided self-interest.

Deconstructing Debate: The Divisive Sub-Text of British Political Language

Schona Jolly   |   April 29, 2016    5:16 PM ET

Trading insults in high places is a feature of British political life. But sticks and stones can be thrown too far, injuring the very constituents whom our politicians are elected to serve and represent. Whether freedom of speech gives us the limitless right to offend has been debated endlessly in newspaper columns. Wherever that line should be drawn generally, however, differs for our politicians. Theirs is a duty to represent their communities and to strive to do so in a way that respects both the dignity of their office, and their responsibility to society as a whole. Their privileged position in society brings both rights and responsibilities, which should not be lightly discarded or abused. Their words, heavily publicised in this day and age, can and do have ripple effects.

The last week has been poisonous in British politics. Ken Livingstone, clinging desperately, pointlessly, to a faded limelight, made sure of that. Never mind both the fallacy and insult of his suggestion that Hitler supported Zionism, never mind the oil he must have known he was pouring over the damage done - and seeking to be remedied - by Naz Shah, Livingstone should have known that his provocative and unnecessary remarks would have inflamed, hurt and offended many people. Any attempts to pass off criticism as blurring the line between criticism of Israeli government, entirely legitimate, and anti-semitism are self-serving. The boundaries being argued as to whether his actual words were racist misses the point. His comments were obviously offensive, bound to make the Jewish community feel targeted and were both stupid and irresponsible.

Sadiq Khan was right to hold him to account for his words immediately. A London Mayor - past, present or future - is representative of one of the most diverse cities in the world. London isn't so weak that provocative words can bring us tumbling down. But language, descriptions, insinuations, they all matter. They matter to the children in the playground who are taunted or abused for their difference. They matter to communities who already feel disenfranchised, who feel criticised every which way they turn. They matter to the rest of the world who look at us on our island, squabbling about our place in the global pecking order. How do we treat each other? It's not a new-age liberal question, but a genuine reflection on the values we proudly proclaim as British, and the society our equality laws seek to protect. How the majority views the minority, and how the minority considers the majority form an important basis for our confidence and identity as a stable and forward-looking democracy. So, words, descriptions, insinuations matter.

However, amongst other ugliness, what the last week has shown is that they only matter selectively. The present Mayor's comments on President Obama's "part-Kenyan" ancestry last week appear already forgotten, shrugged off again by now as the foibles of a harmless maverick immersed in his ambition for leadership. Yet, how is it possible for someone, anyone, to remain credibly in the race for Prime Minister having made a comment so divisive, so harmful to the aspiration of an equal, modern society. It surprised many at the time. Perhaps it should have stunned even more. What that comment betrayed was an insinuation that only a white person could view history rationally and objectively, the history of Empire no less. That is not a one-off racist "joke", it denigrates whole communities and populations. It suggests a person of mixed race or non-white "ancestry" automatically identifies with that that 'other' part of his or her identity above all else. It suggests he or she is affected above all else by his or her colour, rather than allowing that to be another part of each individual's own complex identity. It is a comment from the present Mayor of London that completely undermines those of us whose ancestors come from different places. And since that would be a great many Brits, it involves at least those of us whose skin colour betrays those different places. It tells us that we don't properly understand. That our viewpoint may be tainted, irrational. It introduces a new point of division. And that division is borne exclusively of race.

It is precisely that division which has sat like an ugly sore on the Conservative campaign for London Mayor. It is the sleight of hand which explores ancestry, religious and racial background and suggests a person may not be fully trusted because of it. It creates links where there are none. It diffuses logic by a plea to the irrational subconscious mind that fears difference. It is a sleight of hand that arises from a culture in which it has become acceptable for even the Prime Minister to call people, suffering people, a "swarm". We might hope we are beyond simplistic and offensive name-calling (although Twitter timelines yesterday showed no evidence of that), but it feels increasingly like we have slid into newer, dangerous territory, one aided and abetted by a selective and hypocritical pursuit of those whose language is abhorred, and those whose words are ignored. This isn't about Ken Livingstone, or Boris Johnson, or party politics, or political correctness gone mad. This is about the language of subtext, used by those within positions of power, rippling outwards and trickling down.

We look across the Atlantic and laugh at the crassness of Trump, and the voters who support him. We look with disdain at race relations in France. But we need to deconstruct the debate that is happening in this country. The more we accept political language that demeans and divides, the more willing we are to accept the deconstruction of the other. We cannot permit the normalisation of denigrating, racialised sub-texts to seep into our communities.

Livingstone may have been the ugly icing on the cake this week, but it was a cake made and enjoyed by many others in political life. Decades of progress in race relations and equality are being damaged by casual and misplaced agendas. It's been a miserable week in British politics. I keep thinking, I keep wishing, surely we can do better than this?

Ryan Barrell   |   April 29, 2016    4:42 PM ET

The Obamas and Kensington Palace recently started trading light-hearted trash talk on Twitter ahead of the Invictus Games, and it's culminated in what can only be described as a strange video of the Queen and Prince Harry watching a video from the US First Family.

Needless to say, Twitter users jumped at the chance to make fun of it and started suggesting what else Prince Harry might have been showing his grandmother on his phone.

(You might need to click on the pictures to see them properly.)

He could've been Rick Rolling her...

Or looking at funny pictures of Jeremy Corbyn...

Or Corbyn's deleted tweets...

Maybe something a bit less safe for work?

Or some visual trickery?

Or just some of the usual things that go around on Twitter...

They might've been reading some scientific studies...

Or watching some old episodes of Big Brother...

Maybe they were looking at Prince Harry's Twitter...

Or some old family pictures...

We don't even want to know why the Prince would have this on his mobile...

Or maybe just some funny pictures.

In case you missed it, the Heads-of-State Twitter exchange began with Michelle Obama tweeting the royal with the challenge: “Hey, @KensingtonRoyal! Are you ready for @InvictusOrlando? Game on.”

It was accompanied by a video clip of the herself and the President where she addresses the camera: “Hey, Prince Harry, remember when you told us to ‘bring it’ at the Invictus Games?” The President points an accusing finger at the camera, instructing him: “Careful what you wish for,” while a uniformed aide backs up the challenge with a sweeping hand gesture and the word “Boom.”

Prince Harry was quick off the mark, responding “Wow @FLOTUS and @POTUS, some @weareinvictus fighting talk there! You can dish it out, but can you take it? - H.”

The young royal followed this up with the tweet: “Unfortunately for you @FLOTUS and @POTUS I wasn’t alone when you sent me that video - H.”

A video response quickly emerged from the Kensington Palace twitter account, which revealed the Prince showing the Queen a leaflet featuring the participants in last year’s games. 

Her Majesty is seen perched on the sofa in front of a roaring fire, nodding along indulgently as her grandson points out athletes.

The pair are interrupted from their reverie by Harry’s mobile phone – to the tune of Hail to the Chief of course.

The prince plays the video to the Queen, to which she grins, and exclaims: “Oh really, please!” Harry turns to the camera for his own “drop the mic” moment, uttering the same phrase.

Sara C Nelson   |   April 29, 2016    4:16 PM ET

Prince Harry and the Obamas have been engaging in some high level trash talking ahead of the Invictus Games in Florida this year – and even the Queen is getting involved.

The exchange began on Friday with Michelle Obama tweeting the Royals with the challenge: “Hey, @KensingtonRoyal! Are you ready for @InvictusOrlando? Game on.”

It was accompanied by a video clip of the First Lady and the President where Mrs Obama addresses the camera: “Hey, Prince Harry, remember when you told us to ‘bring it’ at the Invictus Games?”

Mr Obama points an accusing finger at the camera, instructing him: “Careful what you wish for,” while a uniformed aide backs up the challenge with a sweeping hand gesture and the utterance “Boom.”

Prince Harry was quick off the mark, responding: “Wow @FLOTUS and @POTUS, some @weareinvictus fighting talk there! You can dish it out, but can you take it? - H.”

Sounding a little less sure of himself, he added: ".@FLOTUS @POTUS How on Earth am I going to top that? H."

The young Royal came good however, following up with the intriguing message: “Unfortunately for you @FLOTUS and @POTUS I wasn't alone when you sent me that video - H.”

A video response duly emerged from the Kensington Palace twitter account, sharing a mic drop to end all mic drops forever.  

In a warming scene, the Prince is seen showing the Queen a leaflet featuring participants in last year's games. 

Perched on the sofa in front of a roaring fire, Her Majesty nods along indulgently as her grandson points out athletes.

The pair are interrupted from their reverie by Harry’s mobile phone – to the tune of Hail to the Chief of course. "Oh, it's Michelle," he murmurs. 

The Prince plays the Obama's video challenge to the Queen, to which she smiles wryly, and exclaims: “Oh really, please!”

Harry then turns to the camera, uttering his own "boom" and expansive hand gesture. 

Game on indeed.  

The Prince, who is patron and founder of the Invictus Games Foundation, recently announced the USA had taken up the challenge of hosting the next event in Orlando from 8 - 12 May. 

He said: "I am absolutely delighted that the United States has taken up that challenge and will host the next Invictus Games in 2016. I have no doubt that the USA will set the bar even higher than London did and put on a great show." 

Seven Ways Trump Follows in the Footsteps of Ronald Reagan

Simon Phillips-Hughes   |   April 27, 2016    5:26 AM ET


The cliché of the 2016 campaign season is that Donald Trump is rewriting the rules of American politics, but he isn't. The history of the quadrennial contest is rich with multi-ballot conventions, slanderous mud-slinging and fratricidal party in-fighting, and more often than not they signal genuine political change.

Strictly speaking, Trump's candidacy most parallels that of the former Governor of New York, Theodore 'Rough Rider' Roosevelt. We will see very soon if Trump's supporters will split the party and storm out of a contested convention as T.R.'s did before the third-party 'Bull Moose' run, or if he can replicate the astonishing Republican landslide of 1904. Both these energetic, self-promoting easterners championed an acquisitive and anti-immigration 'Americanism' with surprisingly progressive calls for government activism.

But Trump's relationship to Ronald Reagan, the post-war candidate he most resembles, while obvious to some rank and file, is more nuanced and dimensional than to Teddy Roosevelt. There are big differences in policy, personality and philosophy between the two men; in many ways Trump is trying to undo the neo-con consensus Reagan ushered in.

Yet to change the party in his image, the 2016 front-runner is using a similar mix of political and leadership attributes it is worth comparing to better understand. So here we go.

1. Great Hair

Reagan and Trump share the larger-than-life personal brand the greatest and most fondly remembered US political figures have always cultivated, and in the age of television that begins with appearance. Remember, LBJ's Great Society changed America forever but JFK's smile originally fronted the package. In the same way, Reagan's (often witheringly funny) biographer Edmund Morris described him at seventy, thus:

'Broad as a surfboard and almost as hard, superbly balanced, glowing with health and handsome enough for a second career in the movies. Hair so dense and fine as to amount to a Marvel Comics helmet'.

Apparently Reagan's characteristic pompadour took decades off him, a trick that doesn't seem lost on Trump.

2. Great Communicators

Of course, this is only a flourish of the wider ability of both men to connect with audiences as career showmen. From silver screen to small screen, Reagan and Trump have mastered the medium of their time to 'huge' political effect. While Reagan moved from sports radio commentating to motion pictures, Trump has parlayed bit parts on the big screen and sporting events to prominence in reality television. And just at the time voters tired of the scripted 'one-to-many' speeches the former and Obama perfected, along comes the latter's unscripted, 24/7, interactive format to better convey the part. In both cases the medium is the message, and that is confidence and competence.

3. Great timing

Just as Reagan answered the retrenchment and perceived weakness of Jimmy Carter's Democratic administration at the end of the Seventies, so Trump has a generational opportunity to provide an optimistic alternative to Obama moving forward, promising better times ahead.

If he can do this- in a way Mitt Romney was unable to- he will renew the cycle of American politics with conservatism again in the driver's seat. Because just as Carter was the electorate's response to an unacceptable Republican in the disgraced Richard Nixon, Obama's election was also a backlash, against war and recession under George W Bush.

So Trump, like Reagan, could rebrand the GOP not only by replacing a defeatist Democrat but also the memory of the last unpopular Republican that paved the way for them.

4. Not a Southerner

Trump is not a Southerner. This obvious likeness would be unremarkable were it not for the fact he has been able to win solidly in the South in any case. Like Reagan, whose South Carolinian campaign manager Lee Atwater pioneered the GOP 'Southern Strategy' of winning over conservative southerners, neither rely on domicile below the Mason-Dixon Line for their popularity. Far from being a handicap, their common regional authenticity means Trump's New York directness is the campaigning analogue of Reagan's sunny California optimism, and contains national appeal.

5. Popular policies

So instead of the cut-glass constitutional conservatism of party creatures like Cruz or Palin, Reagan and Trump share a decades-long journey from vocally supporting the liberal democratic politics of their states only to side with the right-of-center nationally.

The result is a less ideological, more populist approach to policy which challenges party orthodoxy and vested interests; in Reagan's case this was the supply-side his future running-mate called 'Voodoo economics'. In Trump's it is reframing the trade argument. In both cases, the candidate is in personal control of policy.

6. Leadership

All this means, in the words of the New York Post's guarded endorsement, that Trump is 'a potential superstar of vast promise'. And here's the thing: any situation that needs turning around requires strong leadership, but especially managing American politics, even aside from the mind-bending responsibility.

That's because the US Constitution creates alternate power bases outside the executive branch that most national leaders don't have to contend with: congressmen and senators elected independently of their leader and each other; the Supreme Court, raucous press and powerful lobbyists; even pols from the same party at the state and local level. It's a wonder anyone agrees to do it.

As so much has been written about the potential dangers of Trump, let's consider the potential upside of his leadership style: a professional manager smart enough to know what he does not, with a track record of surrounding himself with people who do; a non-partisan prepared to look at problems with an open mind and propose entrepreneurial solutions; and the stature, like Reagan, to use the 'bully pulpit' of the presidency to rouse ongoing public support to see his program through.

If awkward pols on The Hill aren't playing ball or break ranks for narrow reasons, I'm sure Trump will relish turning the evening news into an episode of 'The Apprentice' to knock some heads together, and so will the viewing public.

7. Reinvention

Finally, perhaps the way Trump most recalls Ronald Reagan is in the way they differ. Republican presidents and the conservative movement ever since owe their position, ultimately, to Reagan. George H W Bush won promising to uphold his legacy and his son only won with the name recognition that conferred. Even his detractors still mimic him. But paying lip service to the man the Weekly Standard called 'The Colossus' simply isn't enough to win any more.

Instead, Trump's poll numbers emanate from Reagan's technique of reformulating the GOP coalition to include middle-of-the-road voters, even if different times call for different solutions to make that happen. This is what he means by 'Common Sense Conservatism'.

As we enter the general election Trump will increasingly resemble Reagan in any case, for the same negative claims made against him: that he is an extremist, that the White House is no place for a low-brow entertainer, that he is too unpopular with too many. The revival of the US probably rests on how the people react to that view, just as they did some thirty-five years ago.

Who Can Replace David Cameron?

Will Black   |   April 25, 2016    8:22 PM ET

The Tories and their media can be like a broken record in their questioning of Jeremy Corbyn's ability to lead the country. However, as David Cameron has already said he will not lead the Conservative Party for a third term, a more pressing question is which Tory is going to be able to take the reins from Cameron.

The issue will no doubt come into sharper focus after the EU referendum, but it is worth considering the options now. The Party does not seem to be spoilt for choice.

A recent Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by London Evening Standard, found Corbyn to be leading both Cameron and George Osborne, in terms of satisfaction with their leadership. Some 35% were satisfied by Corbyn's leadership, against 34% for Cameron and 27% for Osborne. The poll came in the wake of a budget that had cross-party condemnation and led to a U-turn on disability benefits, far from Osborne's first.

Osborne is in the extremely unfortunate position of appearing not only cruel and callous but also inept. Like a Mr Bean of the vampire world. His ruthless austerity has been seen as an attack on the most vulnerable, but also as ineffective in that he has not hit targets for reducing the UK's budget deficit. The endless floundering between attempts to appear tough and the inevitable U-turns and spinning makes him look out of his depth and dazed by reality. This perception is reinforced by intermittent footage of him looking more like someone in a 5am chillout room than poised for high office.

Beyond all the funny footage of the man some now call Giddyone Osborne, the serious issue is that he has perpetually disregarded fundamental economic and social realities in order to push an austerity agenda that simply hasn't worked for people. It seems highly unlikely that such an unpopular Chancellor of the Exchequer would be a credible prime minister.

If Osborne is a man struggling to appear ruthless and ending up looking like Mr Bean, Boris Johnson is someone who uses the mask of a clown to try to hide a ruthless and, some might say, callous, personality. His desire for the limelight has backfired as people have found out a lot about Boris since his first stint as an MP. Since being sacked as a shadow minister, in 2004 for lying about an affair, Boris' clown mask has changed for many, I suspect, from fleetingly amusing to rather disturbing and irritating.

While he is seen by some as a 'big hitter' in the Leave campaign, he has a lot of baggage that could well thwart his leadership ambitions. His grubby old mask may not be enough to distract voters from his infidelities, his role in a plot by an embittered friend to beat up a journalist, or his description of Africans as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles". These things tend to be remembered, especially when he does things like use President Obama's ethnic origins as a way to disparage his enthusiasm for EU harmony. Less shocking than the above, but to a trained journalist still quite outrageous, is Boris' history of fabricating a quote when working as a reporter, for which was sacked.

There are many other examples I could list that would throw into question Boris' integrity, sincerity and work ethic, and these will no doubt be brought up again and again if Boris puts himself forward in a leadership challenge. Now the public knows what it does about Boris and can see behind the clown's mask, I would be very worried for the rationality of the UK public if they allow him to become prime minister. So who are we left with as a viable option? Theresa May?

May's controversies may not be quite as ludicrous as those created by Boris, but these are no less significant. More than 18 months into the role of Home Secretary she refused to take responsibility for border checks being relaxed. Instead she blamed others and abolished the UK Border Agency. Two years into the role May gained the dubious distinction of being one of only two Home Secretary in Britain's history to be convicted of contempt of court. This conviction was for disregarding a legal agreement to free an Algerian man from an immigration detention centre.

I suspect some people will feel pity for May's stress levels during some of the fiascos she has been involved with. For example, steering the Home Office during the slow motion car crash that ensued when Abu Qatada seemingly ran rings around an army of QCs at the government's disposal, to avoid deportation. But feeling sorry for someone is not a good enough reason to allow them to be prime minister. Amid the wrangling with Qatada, May looked increasingly distressed in photos, as though actually haunted.

The spectre of Qatada still appears to be haunting May and leading her to poor judgement. Just this week she caused an outcry by suggesting that the UK should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights regardless of the referendum outcome. Shadow justice secretary, Charles Falconer, described her suggestion as ignorant, illiberal and misguided, and said she was "sacrificing Britain's 68-year-old commitment to human rights for her own miserable Tory leadership ambitions".

If May believes Boris has burned his bridges by being an outspoken leave campaigner, she might have hoped her comments would allow her to straddle both sides and at gain some credibility among pro-Brexiters. However, she may have lost credibility among many more people, given that, as Lord Falconer pointed out, we cannot be a member of the EU and withdraw from the convention. She might find that all her interjection has done is remind us of the Qatada fiasco and that she was is charge during the mess.

Looking today at bookmakers' odds on the next prime minister, Theresa May is well behind Boris and Osborne and not far behind unpopular Michael Gove. Given that these people are considered favourites, any forward-thinking Tories must hope that a less well-known horse can come from behind, who isn't saddled with the heavy baggage of the likes of Osborne, Johnson and May.

Paul Waugh   |   April 25, 2016    8:44 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Monday April 25, 2016…

theresa may


After the hammering they got on the economy last week, it’s no wonder the Leave camp are focusing this week on their stronger card: immigration. The Home Secretary’s admission on Marr yesterday that ‘free movement makes it harder to control migration’ was a statement of the obvious but still a gift to the Outers.

Theresa May has her own speech on the EU, her first big intervention in the campaign. We’re told neither the Remain camp nor No.10 (and they are effectively the same thing most days) were given advance vetting and you can see why: it has some lines that are pitched clearly with a future Tory leadership bid in mind.

May will hint the UK should block Turkey’s application (which is certainly not the No.10 line), or at least create some new kind of membership without freedom of movement (though some Brexiteers may say that’s exactly the kind of ‘associate membership’ they want for the UK).

May will say: “We have to ask ourselves, is it really right that the EU should just continue to expand, conferring upon all new member states all the rights of membership?… Do we really think now is the time to contemplate a land border between the EU and countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria?”

Of course, this is kinda academic as no one seriously thinks Germany will ever allow Turkey full membership. And all EU states have a veto on accession, including the UK. But it’s more about telling Tory voters she’s on their side. Just as significant will be May’s shot across Michael Gove’s bows, saying it is Strasbourg not the ECJ in Luxembourg that poses the bigger threat to the UK.

In the Times, Gove ramps up his rhetoric on migration warning of the ‘unquantifiable strain’ on the NHS, while Boris uses his Tel column to say the Inners are ‘crowing too soon’ about the Obama Effect. Yet the row over Boris’s own ‘part-Kenyan’ jibe (his worst misstep of the entire referendum campaign) continues to rumble on. When even Nigel Farage is distancing himself from such remarks, you know something’s up.

Still, on the Today programme, IDS offered a feisty defence of his fellow Vote Leaver as he attacked No.10’s ‘cosy little conversation’ with the US President over our place in the trade queue.

IDS said there was “nothing worse” that those who “hurl a name like racism” at opponents, and “I find that absurd”. Specifically on the part-Kenyan line, the former Work and Pensions Secretary said Boris may have been ‘clumsy’ but ’he simply referred to one of the reasons why he [Obama] may have a lack of regard for the UK”.


The first all-out junior doctors’ strike looms tomorrow and things are getting more fractious by the hour. On Good Morning Britain, a junior doctor quit live on air. Jeremy Hunt is playing hardball, rejecting the compromise offer of a pilot scheme proposed by Labour and the Royal Colleges. What’s the real difference between Hunt’s ‘phased rollout’ and a ‘pilot schemes’? Political control over the process.

Although Heidi Alexander’s offer was praised by many of her colleagues as the kind of ‘constructive opposition’ Labour needs to engage in more frequently, Hunt’s response will only fuel the determination of those on the Left who think there can be no compromise with this Government. The Health Secretary seemed to smell blood, sensing the first change in Labour’s position amid fears that backing the strike could do the party real harm.

Tories were struck by Alexander’s line on Murnaghan yesterday when it appeared that she was accepting the principle of Hunt’s new contract. Even some junior doctors didn’t like her line when she agreed with Hunt that ‘if you go into hospital on a Sunday morning in an emergency, you should get the same quality of care as if you go in on a Tuesday afternoon’.

Labour has a political messaging problem if the strike does go ahead: it needs a straight answer to the question ‘do you support this strike?”. Last night on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, Diane Abbott had no hesitation: “they have my support” she said. Jeremy Corbyn will be tempted to say the same, but his Shadow Cabinet are determined not to get boxed in.

As I’ve said before, consultants have had a long time to prep for covering their colleagues today. The real issue will be if the BMA will ever call another all-out strike.


Will Nicky Morgan use today’s Education Questions (and Wednesday’s Education Select Committee hearing) to finally offer some reassurance to worried Tory backbenchers? As noted here, the Telegraph’s James Kirkup last week reported one possible concession, to allow the best performing councils to run their own multi-academy trust (MAT) chains. Today, the Times repeats that but also says Morgan is looking at plans to allow councils to continue to force academies to take pupils with special needs and to expand to meet demand for new places.

Labour is unimpressed, pointing out NiMo (Morgan’s nickname among spads) had privately offered the MATs plan to Tory MPs in the last fortnight - and many had been singularly unmoved. Lucy Powell thinks the concession is not sufficient and the key test will be if the Queen’s Speech bill has powers over good and outstanding schools.

Speaking of councils, Labour’s battle of managing expectations for May 5 continues. John McDonnell told 5Live’s Pienaar last night that the party will try to "hold onto what we possibly can”, which didn’t sound like a forecast of a great night. The Telegraph has a new John Curtice analysis saying Labour is set to lose 170 councillors and a string of town halls.

In another education nightmare, nurseries are warning that parents will need to give up work to look after their children - if the government doesn’t axe the requirement for nursery staff to have at least a C in GCSE English and maths.

June O’Sullivan chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation had a startling statistic on the Today prog: apprentice numbers have dropped by 96% since the new rules in September. Of course many privately run nurseries are already struggling with the bottom line over the Government’s free childcare expansion.


Watch the Channel 4 News clip that’s tickling the Remainiacs camp right now. But will the Be-Leavers have the last laugh?


So, just how many Tory rebels will abstain or vote with the Opposition today on child refugees? The Alf Dubs amendment to take in refugees from Europe, not just from the camps in and near Syria, will be voted on as the Immigration Bill returns to the Commons this afternoon.

Labour peer Dubs, who was himself rescued from the Nazis by the Kindertransport scheme, has sent a new letter to MPs: “The Government has tried to muddy the water with a concession that will not help a single child who is alone and vulnerable in Europe. I am making a plea to MPs from all parties to stand up on Monday, ignore their party whips and find a voice.”

The Indy claims unto 10 Tories could rebel, but I’m told the whips expect abstentions rather than votes against. Heidi Allen is one of the most outspoken Tory MPs on this topic (read her HuffPost interview HERE). She’s one of several who could be swayed if the Home Office changes its stance. But right now, Theresa May is digging in.

The real problem will come tomorrow when Labour and Lib Dem peers are ready to ping-pong the bill back. No.10 doesn’t want even the smallest crack in its no-refugees-from-the-EU stance, believing that would create the pull factor that has led to Merkel’s problems. Let’s see.


The Mirror has a scoop on its front page with a letter from BHS bosses suggesting the biggest high street collapse since Woolworths (in 2008) could happen as early as today. There are 11,000 jobs at stake but ministers are hardly likely to offer some steel-industry style intervention given many analysts say the retailer just hasn’t kept upto date with online shopping.

So, why are ministers watching with a wary eye? Well, the state-backed pension protection fund could be called on to help with the £500m pensions black hole that makes BHS so unattractive to buyers. Sir Philip Green, a bogeyman for many tax campaigners, has offered £80m for the pension fund. He sold the firm for £1 to a consortium led by a man who had twice been declared bankrupt. There’s a certain irony that Sports Direct (under fire over its own workers’ rights) is the firm many want to rescue BHS.

Meanwhile, the FT reports that restaurant chain Zizzi has cut perks like tips and free food in order to cope with the rising minimum wage. ‘Retail politics’ became a dirty word in recent years, but politics about retail seems to be back.

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