Tag Archives: Brexit

Churchill or Bust?

President Barack Obama shows Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom a bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the private residence of the White House, July 20, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

There are so many big lies in the world – think Brexit Bus or the current outpourings from the Whitehouse – that there is a danger that the little lies slip through unnoticed. I am not talking about the run of the mill little white lies or the exaggerations and omissions that happen all the time. Instead I want to talk about seemingly minor inaccuracies that become significant further down the line.

 

CHURCHILL’S BUST

The story of Churchill’s bust is one such tale. According to the myth Barack Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House and returned it to the British Government when he became President in 2009 because of his alleged antipathy towards the United Kingdom.

That is the version that the Daily Telegraph published at the time and it returned to prominence in 2012 when Charles Krauthammer used it again as evidence of the Obama regime’s antipathy to Britain in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

There was initial confusion in the Obama team when they issued a denial.

This is 100% false. The bust still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room.

The denial was wrong. The bust had been returned. But that was because it had only been on loan to president Bush while the original White House bust of Churchill, which has been there since 1965, was either undergoing restoration work or was in its usual home outside the Treaty Room in the private residence on the second floor of the White House. As the same Obama White House Archive post makes clear in an update:

On January 20, 2009 — Inauguration Day — all of the art lent specifically for President Bush’s Oval Office was removed by the curator’s office, as is common practice at the end of every presidency. The original Churchill bust remained on display in the residence.

They even provide a picture of President Obama showing the bust to Prime Minister Cameron in the White House residence. But that initial error by President Obama’s staff was seized on as a lie by opponents who ignored subsequent corrections. They  used the return of the bust to build a case against President Obama. Never mind that the fact of the return did not support the proposition that President Obama was hostile to the UK. The initial denial of the fact of the return of the bust and the subsequent correction were themselves taken as evidence to support the proposition. The correction was described as a humiliating climb-down and further doubt was cast on President Obama’s motivation. This interview of Krauthammer by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News is especially interesting.

B. O’REILLY: Here’s the back story. Some people believe that President Obama doesn’t like Winston Churchill because of British colonialism in Africa, particularly Kenya. So that he didn’t want old Winnie looking at him because he didn’t like him. That he sent it back because of that. That’s what’s been around.
Now, your point on even bringing it up, the bust deal was, what?
KRAUTHAMMER: My point was I don’t read into people’s minds. If I wanted to, I would have remained in psychiatry. All I know is that the British reaction to the return of the bust was extremely negative, and it felt like it was an insult, that this was a gift after 9/11 to show solidarity. The British had soldiers serving with us at the time in Iraq and Afghanistan, really standing shoulder to shoulder and this was a slight. That’s how they saw it.

Krauthammer is taking his cue from the Telegraph, who in turn were quoting the British Embassy. But the bust was not a gift. It was a loan. And it was not a sign of solidarity after 9/11. It was loaned to President Bush in July, months before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. So on one hand we have a genuine mistake because President Obama’s staff were confused by the fact that there were two Churchill busts in the White House in 2009, and they quickly issued a correction when their mistake was pointed out. On the other hand we have an attack on President Obama’s motivation and his state of mind that had no basis in fact. President Obama’s critics have yet to issue a correction to their mistaken apprehension of the facts.

BREXIT

The supposed antipathy of President Obama to British colonialism based on his Kenyan roots was to return during the Brexit referendum campaign. President Obama intervened on behalf of his old ally, Prime Minister Cameron to dismiss the idea that a trade deal with the USA would replace our access to the single market. President Obama pointed out that the EU was a major trading partner and Britain outside the EU could expect to find itself at the back of the queue for trade deals. I find it inconceivable that Barack Obama would intervene so flagrantly in the internal affairs of an ally without the express approval of David Cameron. But it proved to be yet another misstep by the Remain Campaign.

Boris Johnson for the Brexit camp responded by reviving the tale of Churchill’s bust and expanding on Bill O’Reilly’s anti-colonial argument by claiming that President Obama disliked Churchill because he had sent British troops into Kenya to quell an uprising. In a Brexit campaign pandering to the fears of immigration by those in Britain’s equivalent of the Rust Belt in the USA such dog whistle racism was condemned by the Remain camp and went unchallenged in the Brexit camp. President Obama answered the claims of anti British and specifically anti Churchill bias at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Cameron but to no avail.

THE STORY SO FAR

The best timeline of events is here. The short version is that the right wing Daily Telegraph put an anti-Obama spin on the original return of the bust in 2009 that erroneously linked the original loan of the bust to 9/11. In 2012 Christopher Krauthammer revived the tale and also played up 9/11, claiming that the return of the bust was an insult to the solidarity shown by Britain to the USA and showed where President Obama’s real sympathies lay. Though he was not so explicit as Dinesh D’Souza who said in his The Roots of Obama’s Rage.

Obama views Muslims who are fighting against America in Iraq and Afghanistan as freedom fighters, somewhat akin to Indians or Kenyans fighting to push out their British colonial occupier.

The myth was revived by anti EU campaigner Boris Johnson to undermine President Obama’s support for Prime Minister Cameron and the Remain campaign. The UK subsequently voted to leave the EU. Then, employing a similar populist strategy with complete disregard for the facts, Donald Trump successfully ran for president on a blatantly racist and sexist ticket.

THE STORY LINGERS ON

And it is not over yet. President Trump’s election has aroused protest on both sides of the Atlantic. 1.8 million people have signed a petition condemning the proposed state visit to the UK by President Trump. On February 6th the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, was adamant that the democratic values of the UK parliament, its anti racism, anti sexism and respect for the rule of law were inimical to an invitation to President Trump to address the UK parliament. In opposition to John Bercow Churchill’s bust was evoked by Republican Congressman, Joe Wilson. He suggested that it was the Republican Party that had restored this bust to its place of honour in Congress. This is yet another bust of Churchill that was not presented to Congress until 2013 and was then placed inside Congress’s statuary hall  in the Capitol Building were it remains to this day.

So some misreporting in the Daily Telegraph and a misunderstanding by President Obama’s white House staff about an obscure piece of statuary has morphed into a symbolic battle with anti EU campaigners in the UK and pro Trump supporters in the USA, claiming Winston Churchill as an ally against  Barack Obama, the pro Europe camp within the UK and the Democratic opposition in the USA.

The Nazis coined the phrase that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” But before them Lenin had claimed that, “a lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

And no lie is too small to become truth. We ignore all lies at our peril.

Labour and Article 50

Jeremy Corbyn is coming in for a lot of criticism over the three line whip on MPs to vote for the Government motion on Article 50. But what was the alternative? Corbyn has stood by the democratic principle that Parliament should honour the result of the Referendum from the beginning. The type of Brexit has been the subject of debate. Here some of Corbyn’s critics in the Labour Party have been making conflicting demands. On the one hand they understand the importance of the Single Market. But they are also trying to appease the anti-immigration feeling that has helped UKIP make inroads in the Labour heartlands.
Corbyn’s consistent response has been to oppose immigration controls. He argues that the important thing is for UK to continue to have unfettered access to European markets to defend jobs in this country. Free movement of goods presupposes free movement of labour. But free movement of labour should not be used to undercut wages and conditions in this country. Nor should communities that take a disproportionate number of migrant labourers suffer because of pressures on local infrastructure. You could argue that he has been ineffective in getting this message across. It would have been easier perhaps if he did not always have to answer media questions about splits in Labour’s ranks over immigration whenever he was interviewed on the subject
Labour is facing by-elections in two constituencies where the core Labour vote is overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. These by-elections were prompted by the resignation of two high profile Labour remainers, Tristram Hunt in Stoke and Jamie Read in Copeland. UKIP are the main challengers in Stoke and the Tories are hoping that a similar UKIP surge in Copeland will split the Labour vote and let them in. For Corbyn to be seen undermining the referendum result now would spell electoral disaster.
There are a lot of Labour MPs in a similar position in Labour’s heartlands. Many of them are from the centre and right of the party and have been highly critical of Corbyn throughout his leadership. This three line whip lets them off the hook over Article 50. Just asking MPs to vote to trigger Article 50 would have given the nod to a rebellion that would be seized upon by Labour’s critics to exploit their divisions on Europe. A free vote would have given them all the dilemma of following their principles at the risk of alienating still further their electorate or else appearing hypocritical. Even Labour MPs whose constituencies favoured remain are not immune to these pressures. The Lib Dems have an open strategy of appealing to Remain voters. They do not expect to get any Brexit voters any time soon. Labour MPs need both because the Labour electorate is divided on this issue and at present UKIP presents a greater existential threat to Labour than the Lib-Dems.
Now Corbyn has given them all a way out. Without a massive rebellion by Tory MPs Article 50 is going to be invoked anyway. Why split the party for the Tories’ benefit when a united Labour Party is needed to push for the best possible deal that defends jobs and living standards in a post-Brexit world? I find it ironic that the MPs who once accused Corbyn of gesture politics want a gesture of their own now that he is trying to practice some realpolitik.

Cameron Blew it Over Brexit. So Lets Blame Corbyn

One narrative that is emerging to explain the outcome of the EU Referendum hinges on the claim that the Labour Party did not deliver the vote in its traditional northern heartlands. Or rather, Corbyn did not deliver because his brand of metropolitan socialism did not resonate with the concerns of traditional, socially conservative labour voters, in particular around the impact of largescale immigration from the EU on their communities.

And younger city dwellers who are fast becoming the natural demographic for Corbyn supporters are alleged to have failed to vote in sufficient numbers. According to a tweet by Sky Data that quickly gained acceptance on social media only 36% of 18 – 24 year olds voted.  Writing in The New Statesman, Barbara Speed was not convinced.

Sky isn’t claiming this is collected data – it’s projected, and a subsequent tweet said it was based on “9+/10 certainty to vote, usually/always votes, voted/ineligible at GE2015”. I’ve asked for more information on what this means, but for now it’s enough to say it’s nothing more than a guess.

On Sunday the Observer provided some more reliable data from Opinium, the polling agency that came closest to predicting the outcome of the EU Referendum.

OPINIUM Poll published on June 22nd

graphgraph 1

According to the Observer, Opinium pollsters, working for the LSE after the referendum

found turnout among young people to be far higher than data has so far suggested. “Young people cared and voted in very large numbers. We found turnout was very close to the national average, and much higher than in general and local elections.

“After correcting for over-reporting [people always say they vote more than they do], we found that the likely turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds was 70% – just 2.5% below the national average – and 67% for 25- to 29-year-olds.

The original Opinium poll published on the eve of the referendum also demonstrated the extent of the split in the Labour and Conservative parties. And the split was more pronounced for the Tories.

graph 2

The figures suggest that the Labour vote for Remain held even in the North, where their core vote was already under pressure from UKIP. This is borne out by post a Referendum poll by Lord Ashcroft.

Remain % Leave %
Conservative 42 58
Labour 63 37
Lib Dem 70 30
UKIP 4 96
Green 75 25
SNP 64 36

Source: Ashcroft polls Get the data

TO SUM UP

The Tories, not Labour promised a referendum on Europe.

The Tories, not Labour negotiated the new terms to keep Britain the EU.

The majority of Tory voters voted to leave.

The majority of Labour voters voted to remain.

But it is Labour, not the Tories who are to blame because they did not deliver a big enough vote for Remain. The Parliamentary Labour Party have accepted this and decided that they are going to blame Jeremy Corbyn. That is the justification for their leadership coup. There may be good political reasons to question Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. But the Referendum Campaign is not one of them.

Brexit? Blame it on Corbyn!

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I am very angry with David Cameron. If the Remain camp is right and Brexit would be an unmitigated disaster for the UK why is he risking all our futures with this referendum? The only reason I can find is that he has put his party first and his country second. Last year with a general election approaching, the euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative Party was threatening to defect to UKIP in large numbers. Cameron did not believe he could win the election and so  made a manifesto pledge to renegotiate the terms of UK membership of the EU and hold a referendum if the Conservatives formed the next government. He never expected he would have to deliver on this promise but he calculated that it would serve to keep the Conservative Party together. So when he won the election what was he supposed to do?

  1. Break the election pledge on the grounds that he would not lead this country into the abyss, and carry on as Prime Minister?
  2. Break the election pledge on the grounds that he would not lead this country into the abyss, and resign as Prime Minister?
  3. Engage in a cosmetic “renegotiation” with our EU partners (Help me out here, guys!) and proclaim a great victory that fools nobody?

Cameron chose the third option and the result has been a Blue on Blue campaign within a divided Conservative Party. Remain is using the politics of fear: economic disaster if we leave. Brexit reciprocates with the bogey of unlimited immigration if we stay. Whether right or wrong both these arguments are about narrow self interest. The Labour campaign to remain has not received the same level of publicity but, as far as I can make out, they are saying that the EU is a flawed institution in need of further reform. Nevertheless it remains a positive force and Britain should remain and lead the campaign to improve the EU.

There has been a constant, nagging element to media coverage that Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn is lukewarm in his support for the EU and if Brexit wins it will be his fault for not delivering the Labour vote on Referendum Day. Never mind that he has been touring the country delivering a pro EU message throughout the campaign with very little media coverage. What media coverage there is focuses on confusion among Labour voters about where their party stands in relation to the EU. Of course they are confused. Unless you live in one of the towns where Corbyn and his team visits and delivers the pro EU message you have to rely on the national media for your news. And, with rare exceptions, they are not reporting his contribution to the debate, preferring the drama of the “blue on blue action” in the Conservative Party. “Politician says something sensible and people support him,” is not a newsworthy headline.

But if we do leave the EU it will be down to Cameron, not Corbyn. Consider the evidence.

  1. Tory MPs are split 4 to 3 in favour of the EU. Labour split is 20 to 1 in favour of the EU.
  2. The Cabinet is divided. The Shadow Cabinet is united.
  3. Conservative voters divide equally between Remain and Exit. Labour are between 60% and 70% for Remain.

Whatever the outcome  of the Referendum, Cameron should resign. Any notion that a victory for Brexit is down to Labour equivocation has no justification in fact. If not for Cameron’s cowardly retreat in the face of his euro-sceptic opponents in the Conservative Party we would not even be in this plight.