Hong Kong losing its reputation

Originally publsihed by the Taipei Times on 18/10/2018. 

The expulsion of the Financial Times’ (FT) Asia editor from Hong Kong is yet another sign that the territory is closing itself off from the rest of the world.
Since the handover of Hong Kong from the UK to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, the question has been: Will the newly acquired territory change the mainland or will Hong Kong become just another Chinese city?
Read full article here

Petition demanding explanation for Victor Mallet visa rejection handed to Hong Kong government

Earlier this week it was announced that Financial Times Asia Editor Victor Mallet had been denied a visa by the Hong Kong authorities. There has been no formal explanation for this decision which effectively expels him from the city where he has worked as a journalist for several years. 

Many people, including the British Foreign Secretary, have concluded that this act was politically motivated. A few weeks ago, despite pressure from Beijing, the Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC), of which Mallet is Vice President, hosted an event featuring pro-independence leader Andy Chan. 

A petition has been set up by the FCC, and other free press advocacy groups, calling for this decision to be reversed (the full details can be found here - and the petition can still be signed). 

The expulsion of Mr Mallet from Hong Kong sets a dangerous precedent for journalists, academics and political activists in the future - particularly those dealing with 'sensitive' issues such as democracy, human rights and identity. 

Belabouring a Love: to stay or go?

Originally posted on Medium on 30/09/2018.

I am occasionally asked, by friends or acquaintances, if I am still a member of the Labour Party. ‘Technically’ is typically my reply — usually followed by my customary criticisms of the current state of the party.

Read full blog post here.

The Xinjiang Initiative

Xinjiang, in north-west China, is home to a number of ethnic groups including the Uyghur, Kazakhs and Hui. Like those in Tibet, another so-called Autonomous Region, these minorities face levels of repression much higher than those living in the rest of the People’s Republic. Sadly, in Xinjiang’s case there has been little international attention.

Over the past year I have learnt a lot about Xinjiang and heard some harrowing stories.  The Chinese Communist Party’s rule in Xinjiang  is truly totalitarian.

Earlier this month, it was good to see the issue put on the front page of the New York Times as such attention is long overdue. I was also pleased to be emailed about another project relating to the region.

The Xinjiang Initiative seeks to create a community of academics to raise awareness of the situation in Xinjiang through public talks. The model statement reads as:

“I am one of over one hundred scholars and others who have agreed to make the following statement at public events. We would like to bring to everyone’s attention to the fact that several hundred thousand, possibly over a million, Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities are being held indefinitely in extra-judicial internment camps in Xinjiang, China. These are arbitrary detentions, based not on suspicion or proof of any crime, but rather solely on religious and ethnic persecution. These detentions not only violate international human rights standards, but also have no proper basis even in Chinese law. Facing a situation like this, China scholars and the broader academic community cannot remain silent.”

More information about the Xinjiang Initiative can be found here.

Review: 'Ten Years in the Death of the Labour Party' by Tom Harris

Ten years ago Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and David Miliband was his main rival. In 2018, Mr Brown is speaking out, against his party’s leadership, to warn about the threat antisemitism poses to the Labour Party’s soul. While David Miliband resides in New York in self-imposed exile after leaving the Commons in 2013 for the presidency of the International Rescue Committee. When he lost the 2010 Labour leadership election to his brother it was by just over one percentage point. If today David stood again for the leadership the defeat would not be so narrow given the change in the party’s membership. In fact, if he wanted to make a British political comeback he would struggle to find a constituency party eager to nominate him to fight a winnable parliamentary seat! How did it come to this?

Tom Harris, the ex-Labour MP for Glasgow South, seeks to explain in his book Ten Years in the Death of the Labour Party.

Ten Years describes the key events from Brown’s elevation into No.10 to the rise of, fringe far-Left backbencher, Jeremy Corbyn. It includes every key election, vote, decision and bar brawl which led to this fundamental realignment.

While the change has been huge it should not have been a surprise, according to Harris, given the party’s determined efforts to shift away from New Labour after Tony Blair ceased to be its leader. As Harris puts it:

The contention of this book is a simple one: that the definitive moment that sent Labour into its self-destructive spiral can be traced back ten years, to Saturday 6 October 2007, when Gordon Brown, having blatantly encouraged speculation that he would go to the country, beat a humiliating retreat and tried, implausibly, to make his U-turn look like firm leadership.”

However, it was the leadership  of Ed Miliband (the Brownite preference) which really aided the ascent of the party’s far-Left. It was not just revisions to the party’s rulebook, that changed the way a leader was elected, which caused this but also shifts in policy. On tax, rail renationalisation, Syria and Iraq Ed Miliband sought to distinguish himself from Blair. Each step, a step further to the Left of the party.

Once again Harris does not mince his words: “It is Miliband, not Brown or even Corbyn, who must shoulder the largest share of the blame for what has happened to the Labour Party.

In the preface, Harris declares that the book is not neutral. However, much of its content is simply a factual account of events - although naturally the events of the past decade which he picks fit his narrative and overall argument.

Where he chooses to make a specific argument, like in the case of Brown’s failure to call a snap election in 2007, he does so convincingly. It is also a book not without self-criticism (or rather criticism of the party’s ‘Right’). The failure to challenge Gordon Brown for the premiership and David Miliband’s complacent leadership campaign are two early events which Harris highlights as consequential failings of the party’s progressives.

Some would argue that the Blairites bear more responsibility for these failings and others. These same people would no doubt cut Ed Miliband, and his team, more slack. Meanwhile no one book will ever resolve debates about the 2007 election that never was. Future histories and biographies will help answer these questions but for now Harris offers his thoughts on ten transformative years for the Labour Party.

The issue currently confronting the party is whether it can stay together and survive. Here too Ten Years offers some insights.

While the question of Corbyn’s electoral viability remains open, after Theresa May’s terrible election campaign and loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority. However, Harris’s disgust at the return of Militant-style politics, the leaderships response to terrorism and the far-Left’s open alliance with anti-Semites suggests he already believes the Labour Party has already died morally.   

If this moral decline results in splits and electoral devastation, Harris has pre-emptively written the post-mortem: “And if, in the next few years, Labour’s death certificate needs to be issued, the cause of death will be a single word: suicide.

Stepping up support for Taiwan

Originally published by the Taipei Times on 20/09/2018.
With military maneuvers and fierce rhetoric, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is seeking to intimidate Taiwan. At the same time, Beijing has redoubled its efforts to isolate Taiwan even further on the world stage by coercing other governments and businesses, as well as international culture and sports bodies, to comply with its “one China” principle.
Recently Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador established diplomatic ties with the PRC — leaving only 17 nations that officially recognize the Taiwanese government.
However, a lack of diplomatic recognition need not mean diplomatic isolation. While most countries, including influential liberal democracies, have chosen to establish formal relations with Beijing, this has not precluded flexible interpretations of their “one China” policies.
Read full article here.

Quail or Quinoa: England's Two-Party System

Much derided, Essex man has been a staple of British general elections for the past four decades.

Within the county the parliamentary seats of Harlow and Basildon have long been seen as political bellwethers. It was voters in these places, often from working class backgrounds, who turned to Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and who Tony Blair did so much to reach out to a decade later.

Famously, the early declaration of a Conservative hold from the Basildon count in 1992 signalled that John Major was going to be returned to power. Five years later Labour reversed its fortunes and won the seat with 55% of the vote and a majority of 13,280.

However, today Essex is solid blue. Despite a terrible campaign by Theresa May the Tory majority over Labour in Harlow is 7,031 while in South Basildon and East Thurrock (the successor seat to the Basildon, which should typically be a marginal) it stands at 11,490. In Thurrock, a constituency which Labour won in every General Election between 1945 and 2005 (with the exception of 1987 when it was narrowly captured by the Conservatives), in 2017 sent a Tory to represent them in parliament for the third consecutive time.

No doubt many will sneer at the people in these areas, particularly those in the less affluent parts of south Essex, for being too stupid to know what’s good for them. Spitting Image’s ‘stupid voter’, whose support for the Tories only increased the more the Major cabinet chastised him, was after all from Essex Road and spoke with a heavy estuary accent.

This is often, euphemistically, referred to as false consciousness. However, far from being delusional what many on the Left failed to grasp is that these voters were aspirational. They were people who wanted to build their own businesses and buy their own homes. After all, it was Mrs Thatcher’s Right to Buy which well and truly flipped Basildon blue for over a decade.

Winning towns like Harlow, Basildon and Thurrock remains key for Labour, if it hopes to form a government. Yet it is not just economics which is holding Labour back in these areas – it also has an image problem.

Earlier this month the Guardian reported on new research conducted by Britain Thinks which showed:

Participants in the focus groups, which in Crewe were 18-44 year olds, and in Thurrock, older voters, repeatedly mentioned the fancy grain quinoa when asked what food best represented the Labour party of 2018.”

These voters view of Labour as a party of student protest and hippie communes went hand in hand with their belief that the party had abandoned what they considered to be ‘real’ Labour values.

This perception of Labour as overly metropolitan is not new. As for the Tories they have their own image problems too. One older Thurrock voter told Britain Thinks that: “They’d [the Conservatives] make pheasant and quail for dinner.”

While neither of these views are necessarily true they will matter come election time. In the meantime this is yet another indication that there is a political re-alignment going on in England at the moment whereby traditional class based voting is being flipped on its head.