Friday, August 30, 2019


Brexit Bolsheviks: The Lexit left backing Boris Johnson

Jim Denham on the Morning Star's support for BJ; Coatesy on the full-range of red-brown wingnuts backing him, from George Galloway and Kate Hoey to to Brendan O'Neill and Paul Embery; Sacha Ismail on LeFT, the new alliance between the Communist Party of Britain, Counterfire and Spiked against the EU; Paul Hampton on the roots of Lexitism.

The current conjunction

Peter Ryley on Brexit as "a cluster of sentiments that have emerged from an oppositional political milieu... adopted by ethnic nationalists, anti-immigration Powellites, far right racists, Conservative free-market ultras, neo-feudalists, Stalinists, authoritarians, climate change deniers, neo-imperialists, Putin's 'useful idiots,' fascists, Bennite left social democrats, revolutionary defeatists, disaster capitalists, and so on":
There is no coherence in a milieu, only a swirl of ideas, each feeding off each other and making and unmaking unlikely alliances. Each strand on its own is negligible, together they produce a noisy minority to challenge the mainstream.

Dissident voices of the international left: an interview with Andy Heintz.

Global authoritarian drift and the war on Muslims

Nadia Whittome: Labour must stand with Kashmir.
Bill Weinberg: India, China mirror each other in Islamophobia.

Hong Kong

Pete Radcliffe: A working class perspective.


Majd al-Dik: The People of Zamalka are Dead, translated by Lelyn R. Masters for the anniversary of the August 23 massacre.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

How seriously should we take left-wing violence in America?

This post was an email I wrote (hence lack of links and editing) in response to Cathy Young’s article in The Forward “The Dayton Murderer Is Proof We Need To Take Left-Wing Violence Seriously”. It’s pretty rough and ready, so bear with me. 

This is quite a good article I think, and makes quite a few good points. (I hope you take her insistence that nobody in their right mind is would not consider the far right a serious threat today as seriously as you take her point about left-wing violence.) 

I have two problems with her line of thinking, which is a common line of thinking among my liberal friends. The first is the idea that all violence is equivalent because it is violence: that a jostle, a blow during a scuffle, a targeted punch, celebrating a suicide, and carrying a mass shooting are all equally instances of “violence”. I don’t think that’s the case. If some jostling during a demonstration leads to a blow or two from one side or the other, yes it is violence - but it is not organised premeditated violence and it is certainly not terror. Anti-fascists do engage in organised premeditated violence against fascists, but this seems to be a very small subset of the examples of violence that Cathy Young lists here.

If somebody takes a gun to demonstration, that takes things to a significantly - I’d say qualitatively not quantitatively - different level compare it to simply being prepared to put your body where someone else intends to march. There are some left-wing groups who pose with guns – the John Brown gun clubs, Redneck Revolt and a couple of laughable Maoist sects. But on the whole, almost all of the examples we have of guns at demonstrations have been from the right. For example, some of the West Coast Milo events are often cited among examples of antifa violence, but I believe the only time a gun was used during these was somebody in a MAGA cap shooting an IWW organiser. This is not surprising because gun rights and armed self defence are absolutely core to the ideology of many currents of the right in America today, but peripheral or alien to most currents on the left. And subculturally too, the far right is adjacent to or recruits from many scenes where guns are commonplace, which is not the case with the left. I think this should profoundly affect how we weigh up the relative levels of threat.

Cases of mistaken identity with “antifa” people throwing punches at wrongly identified targets or inappropriately using anti-fascist violence against non-fascists should of course be condemned by serious anti-fascists. But personally I have strongly believe that a fascist punching a leftist or a leftist punching a fascist because of their political beliefs is of a fundamentally, qualitatively different order from attacks on random members of the public because they happen to be Jewish, Hispanic, Muslim an immigrant, etc or are mistaken for such. For example, in recent marches by Tommy Robinson supporters (who are right-wing but not fascist, although there are some fascists among them) in London, several Muslim (and non-Muslim but Muslim looking) passers-by were violently attacked - a common occurrence when the right mobilises. As far as I am aware, there are zero or negligible contemporary instances of leftists attacking people because of these sorts of things, e.g. because they see somebody who looks rich. (Betts did apparently like a couple of instances of social media leftists ironically or unironically recommending attacks on e.g. oil executives, but his targets were totally different.) 

Similarly, if the Dayton shooting was an “antifa” or left-wing shooting (see below on this question), it is one of perhaps two, three or four left-wing mass shootings in America in the last decade or two, a figure dwarfed by those carried out by the far right. Obviously any mass shooting is too many, but any serious analysis needs to look at why they are so common on one side and relatively rare on the other.

In short, it is not the case that there is a comparable problem of violence on both sides.

The second flaw with Young’s line of reasoning, and again this is a common line of reasoning among my liberal friends, is the misinformed understanding of antifa. She consistently uses a capital letter as if it is a proper noun, an organisation. That simply isn’t the case. It is a completely decentralised network of autonomous groups and unaffiliated individuals, who come from a range of political positions. So when she regularly uses phrases like  “Antifa affiliated” or  “Antifa associated”, this is more or less meaningless. For example, Betts appears to have had one or two social media connections to individual pro-antifa accounts. But nobody so far has suggested, let alone provided any evidence, that he was actually active in or real world connected to any actual antifa group. 

She also mentions that he is a registered Democrat. But the overlap between people involved in actual antifa groups and active supporters of the Dems is very small. 


I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time looking at Betts’ political profile. It is indeed clear that he is on the left. But — just as it is wrong to ascribe an unpolitical domestic incident between a white supremacist and his wife, for example, as a “right-wing crime” — we have no reason at this stage to think that this shooting was a left-wing crime. It seems significant that his shooting target, which included his sister, doesn’t seem to have any political connotations - he didn’t shoot up an ICE facility or oil executives, but a mixed, ordinary crowd.

Like many young people, his politics were incoherent and shifting. He dabbled in Satanism which is pretty rare on the left. The dark metal scene he was part of includes many far right bands and some antifascist ones, but his corner of the scene appears to be unpolitical and defined primarily by extreme misogyny. 

Betts was obviously a violent misogynistic bully at school before he discovered the left. He seems to have gravitated to a very particular, marginal current of leftism, occurrence of that suited his misogyny and fascination with violence. This is the so-called Dirtbag left, where “ironic” sexist and racist memes and jokes are so common that it is often indistinguishable from the 4Chan right. The dirtbag left was pro-Bernie in 2016, and its misogynistic culture seeped into the online pro-Bernie scene - most of them actually preferred Trump to Clinton. Betts’ attacks on Kamala Harris for being “a cop” is very on-brand for this scene. (On this scene, see Noah Berlatsky: and )

Betts shared pro-Assad memes on Twitter, and Assadism  is one of the political positions that bind the dirtbag ironybros more closely to the right than to the liberal or antifascist left. This is a part of the left that the far right has tried - with some success - to infiltrate, in particular through Nazbol positions (Nazbol = National Bolshevik, a current whose contemporary form emerged in the Russian skinhead scene around Aleksandr Dugin and Eduard Liminov that is increasingly making in-roads into the fringes of the online ironybro left - see Fasbusters and has been courted by the ex-left turned hard right Spiked here in the UK. (Note: the 2018 Santa Fe shooter and the Christchurch shooter both had Nazbol imagery in their online profile.)

In conclusion, Leftists need to be more attentive to distinctions within the right: not everyone on the right is a fascist or white supremacist; not all parts of the right are equally likely to use violence; not all right-wing tropes inspire terrorism. And the left needs to be willing to acknowledge that some left-wing positions can also inspire violence. But equally, liberals, centrists and Conservatives who raise the spectre of left-wing violence, if they are talking in good faith need to acknowledge that there is absolutely no symmetry between the two sides, and be clear about which specific parts of the left are associated with what specific forms of violence, rather than attributing violence to the entire spectrum of left-wing positions. Finally, the left needs to start treating in the dirt bag left and especially its Assadist and Nazbol fringes, as pariahs. 


Further reading: 

Spencer Sunshine: "Antifa Panic", “El Paso Blood Is on the Hands of Everyone Who Has Scapegoated Migrants”, “Ted Cruz’s ‘Antifa Are Terrorists’ Resolution Seeks to Stifle the Left”, "Rumors of Civil War: How Anti-Communist Conspiracies Imagined an Antifa Civil War on November 4".

Everybody Hates A Tourist: "An Unholy Alliance: Who’s Behind the “Antifa are Terrorists” meme"

Previous posts: 

The American right: armed and dangerous (2018), What is anti-fascism? (2017), A bit more on punching fascists (2017), Far right violence from Charleston to Mold Tesco (2015)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

What's going on in Syria? A summary of some of the issues of the last two years

This post links to a few important pieces about Syria written over the last year which I have had open in my tabs. First, I wrote the following two paragraphs at the very end of 2017, as part of a post I never finished, and they are still as true now nearly two years later.

A narrative is gaining ground in mainstream accounts that the war in Syria is winding to a close, that Assad has won, and that, although imperfect, his consolidated rule will bring stability and peace back to the country. This narrative is fundamentally wrong. Just as 2016 closed with the horrific siege of East Aleppo,  which captured the public imagination of the West, 2017 closes several months into the equally horrific siege of eastern Ghouta, which has somehow failed to capture that imagination. Yarmouk, Jobar and other liberated zones are also under hellish starvation, siege and bombardment. In the liberated zones, local councils - models of participatory democracy as inspiring as Rojava's - and civil society (including the beleaguered White Helmets) continue to sustain the people, sometimes in the face of oppression by HTS and other Islamist armed groups, who continue to be a focus of resistance for the on-going revolution.

While trumpeting some of its media-focused joint offensives with Russia against ISIS, the regime continues to work hand in hand with ISIS to fight HTS and rebels on other fronts. The regime-controlled zones of Syria are far from havens of peace and security, but a feudal patchwork of gang turfs and protection rackets controlled by the various local and foreign warlords to whom Assad has outsourced defence of his fiefdom. His own forces are depleted, and he is dependent on increasingly violent forced conscription, mercenariesChechen and Ingush guns for hire, Iranian-paid militias, foreign fighters, and permanent Iranian and Russian forces. Territory conquered by the regime from the rebels are bleak places of terrorReturning refugees face forced conscription and imprisonment. Meanwhile, Syrian elites enrich themselves; Chinese and other transnational corporations circle like vultures, eyeing the profits of "reconciliation" and "reconstruction". The US and its allies, while continuing to bomb civilians in ISIS territories, are increasingly disengaging with rebels and with civil society in the liberated zones. The Violations Documentation Centre, the Syrian monitoring group with the most cautious methodology, has recorded the names of over 10,000 Syrians killed in rebel territories in 2017; the Syrian Network for Human Rights has recorded over 9000; the less cautious Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has recorded this number of civilians and a further 14,000 rebel fighters.

How bad was the destruction of Ghouta?
The Atlantic Council has published a detailed report, entitled Breaking Ghouta, on the Assad/Russia bombardment of Ghouta early in 2018. There are detailed sections on siege, access and aid; on chemical weapons; on hospital attacks; on "reconciliation"; and on disinformation. If you can't stomach the whole report, this Sky News item summarises it well.

Is the Syrian revolution over?
This Waging Nonviolence post from a year ago, by Julia Taleb, tells the extraordinary story of the resilience of the Syrian revolution, with the return and continuation of weekly protests in liberated (and some regime) zones, resisting both the regime's bombs and jihadi warlords. And, from December, this piece by Anand Gopal describes life in Idlib, "Syria's last bastion of freedom".

Is Idlib a terrorist haven?
The latest installment in the Assad/Russian disinfo playbook is the claim that Idlib is awash with "terrorists" and in particular "al-Qaeda". Among those who are repeating this claim are Noam Chomsky, Vijay Prashad and David Duke, a bizarre convergence of the anti-neocon left and right around talking points straight out of the post-9/11 war on terror. This piece by Sina Zekavat demolishes that myth.

Does the Assad government really want to fight terrorists?
The worst Sunni jihadi group in Syria is of course ISIS. A big part of the narrative the regime promotes in the West is that the regime is the main opponent of ISIS and that the West should back Assad to stop them. In fact, as close Syria watchers have been saying for a long time, it's not so simple. This piece from October by Maysam Behravesh shows how the regime has used Daesh strategically to try to break the opposition: in October, regime forces transported more than 400 ISIL fighters late Sunday from the desert near the town of Albu Kamal, to get them away from Iranian militias and into Idlib; the previous May, the regime transported as many as 1,600 ISIL fighters and family members from the Hajar al-Aswad district and Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp - an ISIL stronghold in southern Damascus since April 2015 - to the Badiya region, a vast stretch of desert in southeast Syria, from they were free to move more or less wherever they wanted; and in 2017, in a deal brokered by Hezbollah, hundreds of ISIL fighters and their families left, under Syrian military escort, an enclave on the border with Lebanon (where they threatened Hezbollah) for the eastern province of Deir az Zor (where they threatened Kurdish forces instead). So, no, the regime isn't serious about fighting ISIS, just about maintaining its power.

Is it safe for refugees to return?
In October, Assad offered an amnesty to Syrians who have avoided military service or deserted the army (fear of military service is one of the significant drivers of fleeing regime territory, and there are thousands of deserters living below the radar in government held zones). Military police use Barcelona matches as opportunities to raid places where young men might be to force them into the army. In conquered zones, ex-rebels are forced into the regime military to survive. This great piece of reporting by Harun al-Aswad tells the story.

Is America trying to regime change Syria?
This is a fascinating piece by Nafeez Ahmed in Le Monde Diplo. Ahmed looks at a series of unreported US cables from the Wikileaks stash dating between 2011 and 2016 which show that senior defence analysts in the American military establishment were thoroughly opposed to taking steps towards regime change, and in particular against empowering the democratic opposition, preferring a Alawi palace coup that would give a more pliant version of the "stable" status quo. Ahmed's work, in my view, often veers towards conspiracy theory territory, but it is interesting to see that the wingnut "anti-imperialists" who often dig his output have not taken this piece up.

What role do soldiers of fortune play in the Syrian conflict?
One predominant narrative of the Syrian war is of a regular army (the regime's) backed by a conventional superpower (Russia) fighting against a ragtag gaggle of jihadist, Kurdish and other militias - some backed by another superpower (the US). In fact, after eight years of fighting, the regime side is even more ragtag and irregular than the opposition. In particular, mercenaries of various kinds play a major role in shoring up the regime, alongside foreign and local Shia jihadi militias, official Russian and Iranian forces, Hezbollah, criminal gangs and paramilitary forces. This means that sovereignty in regime Syria is no less a patchwork of warlord turf than it is in liberated zones. This post on the blog De Re Miltari, is on soldiers of fortune in Syria. It looks at foreign contractors (including 3,000 Rusian mercenaries), foreign militias (at least 60,000 men whose salaries are paid by Iran, and perhaps twice that), local guns for hire, private armies (include Hezbollah's 8,000-strong force and 50,000 in the Kurdish-led YPG) and other actors. It's an extraordinary picture. This earlier Defense Post article by Kiril Avramov and Ruslan Trad goes into more detail about the Russian private military contractors.


Friday, August 02, 2019

August sunshine

In this edition, Labour antisemitism, the alt-left, anti-antifa, Ukrainian foreign fighters, Seymour Hersh's senility, Lexit idiocy... and MintPress and Breitbart's war on Bobism.

After Panorama: Labour antisemitism

A couple of very different perspectives. One, very pessimistic, by Liam Liburd "Paranoia, Panorama & My Part in the Downfall of the Labour Party". Another, more optimistic, by Clive Lewis, "I know that Labour can rid itself of antisemitism – here's how". The latter cites That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Antisemitic by the great Steve Cohen, who died a decade ago in March - it's a book everyone should read and I often wonder what he'd make of the current mess. "Jeremy is not antisemitic", by TwllDun, is less optimistic and makes some important points. The Morning Star actually published something semi-decent on the topic, by Phil Katz and Mary Davis - some context on that from Jim Denham.

Everybody loves a tourist: no to the alt-left, yes to antifa

Check out the re-launched Everybody Hates a Tourist blog, which re-opens with an excellent post criticising The Canary. Even better is this piece going through the story of the myth of antifa terrorism. Essential reading. And the third post of the new edition is also good: Why fighting against antisemitism should be at the core of any left wing/anti fascist movement.

On the antifa terrorists issue, Spencer Sunshine has an op ed on Ted Cruz's resolution, arguing that it is a gift to fascists and seeks to stifle the left.

Fingered by MintPress
The pro-Iranian conspiracy theory and fake news site MintPress attacked me, among other Wikipedia editors, in an article juicily entitled "How a Small Group of Pro-Israel Activists Blacklisted MintPress on Wikipedia". The article, by Whitney Webb, basically complains that Wikipedia editors  came to a consensus that MintPress is not a reliable source. My contribution to the conversation was this:
Clearly unreliable as per evidence above. I don't think MediaBias/Factcheck or Newsguard are reliable in themselves but are useful starting points. The former rates MintPress as "biased", its factual reporting as "mixed" and notes two failed fact checks: 1, 2; while the latter gave it a "red" (i.e. fail) rating. found it to have published a fake story in 2015[58] (see also AFP[59]), and Snopes found it to have published "mostly false" stories in 2015[60] and 2016[61]
Webb's article lists all the editors, including me:
Another user who voted to blacklist MintPress was Bobfrombrockley, who is a supporter of the Syrian opposition in the Syrian conflict and refers to militant groups in the Idlib province, all of which are now affiliated with the terror group al-Nusra Front (now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), as “moderate Islamist” groups. As was previously mentioned, one of the reasons that MintPress was flagged for blacklisting on Wikipedia was related to our Syrian coverage.

Despite his support of “moderate Islamist” groups, this user responded [in 2006] to the question “What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat?” by saying “the literal truth of the Koran.” On his personal webpage, he also describes himself as “a reluctant Zionist, a critical Zionist, some days a borderline anti-Zionist, but a Zionist nonetheless.”
Their evidence for that claim is a screenshot of a 2011 blogpost where I really obviously don't describe myself as such but instead quote Daniel Siedareski saying that (but congratulations on going through a decade or two of posts to find something incriminating). So, I now have my very own tag on MintPress, so far sadly with only one article tagged. Breitbart attacked me in a similar way two years ago, for my edits to pages on anti-fascism ("Antifa Supporters Edit Group’s Wikipedia Page to Downplay Terrorism Categorization"), but put less effort into it. (Note to the people who like doxxing me on Twitter and in comment threads, think about what it means to doxx someone Breitbart has designated as a hostile Antifa supporter.)

Ukraine's foreign fighters return

A good piece by Tim Hume in Vice on far right fighters in Ukraine (HT @FFRAFAction) rightly focuses on the Ukrainian nationalist Azov Battalion, which is fairly well-known in the West for its far right links and international recruitment. But it also highlights fighters from the pro-Russian side too:
Earlier this month, Italian police investigating a network of far-right radicals who had fought in Ukraine uncovered a massive trove of military-grade weaponry, including an 11-foot air-to-air missile and rocket launchers. Since January, returning foreign fighters displaying separatist flags from the conflict have surfaced in France’s violent “yellow vests” protests... 
And in 2017, Swedish neo-Nazis carried out a bomb attack on refugee housing in Gothenburg. According to reports, the attackers had received paramilitary training from an ultranationalist Russian group that recruited and trained volunteers to fight for the separatists... 
far-right foreign fighters who joined pro-Russian separatists saw the battle as defending the separatists’ right to self-determination against Western imperialism. Many were also drawn by a sense of allegiance to Vladimir Putin, lionized by many on the far right as one of the last defenders of a white traditionalist Christian Europe. “On the pro-Russian side, there didn’t seem to be such a coherent ideological agenda,” said Sara Meger, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Melbourne. While most of the foreign fighters on the Ukrainian side were on a spectrum from right to extreme right, those backing the separatist side found themselves fighting alongside a significant number of far-left foreign volunteers, who shared their view of the conflict as “a struggle against U.S. hegemony.”
One of the sources for the article is the investigative website Bellingcat, which is regularly smeared by pro-Russian platforms as biased against Russia, but actually uses its open source investigative methods to look at Ukrainian nationalists too. Ukraine is often overshadowed in discussions about foreign fighters by Syria, a narrative which fits well with mainstream prejudices in the West (and discussions of Syrian foreign fighters tend to reinforce sectarian anti-Sunni narratives, as they ignore the far higher numbers of Shia foreign fighters on the pro-government side).

Seymour Hersh: unreliable source

I only just read this review from last September by Michael Massing of Seymour Hersh's new memoir. These two paragraphs leapt out at me:
Hersh wrote two other articles for the London Review of Books that contested the finding—almost unanimously accepted by the international community—that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people in 2013; those pieces, too, relied heavily on unnamed sources. Another piece proved too much even for the LRB and eventually ran in the German paper Die Welt; it claimed, again based on anonymous sources, that a 2017 Syrian strike on the rebel town of Khan Sheikhoun was not a sarin attack but a conventional-bombing raid that happened to hit a building containing fertilizers and disinfectants. Both the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had concluded otherwise, insisting that a sarin attack by the Syrian government had indeed occurred. The anonymous sources on which Hersh had relied throughout much of his career were becoming increasingly murky and questionable.
Hersh’s recent reporting has triggered much commentary about whether the great investigator has turned conspiracy theorist. In a searching analysis in the British magazine Prospect, Steve Bloomfield surmises that, “after decades of exposing lies told by the American government,” Hersh seems to have forgotten “that other governments have their own reasons for being mendacious too.” Pressed by Bloomfield in an interview to explain his lack of skepticism about the Syrian claims, Hersh demurred. Not once in Reporter does Hersh take note of Assad’s butchery and the hundreds of thousands of deaths his regime is responsible for. Instead, he observes that Assad’s factual assertions during their interviews “invariably checked out.” From Hersh’s own description, one gets the impression that Assad detected the reporter’s vanity and shrewdly played on it by showing him solicitude and respect. Hersh’s credulous attitude toward the Syrian leader recalls his old colleagues’ deference toward Henry Kissinger. After writing so extensively about the dangers of access, Hersh seems to have fallen prey to them himself.
Toward an Alternative ‘Time of the Revolution’: Beyond State Contestation in the Struggle for a New Syrian Everyday

Antidote republish this great piece by Estella Carpi & Andrea Glioti.

For class politics, against Brexit

A really good piece by Daniel Randall, responding to a Ronan Burtenshaw article. Burtenshaw calls for Labour to "hold the line", i.e. maintain constructive ambiguity over Brexit and not panic, and dismisses calls for Labour to be more assertively pro-EU a part of the "culture wars" and a desertion of the working class. On the culture wars point, Randall replies: 
Burtenshaw must surely realise that those on the left advocating an identitarian culture war are on his side of the argument, not ours. From the anti-migrant vitriol and railing against “rootless cosmopolitans” of Blue Labour’s Paul Embery, who appears on platforms with Nigel Farage, to Eddie Dempsey’s comments on a platform organised by “The Full Brexit”, backed by the Koch Brothers-funded Spiked, that Tommy Robinson supporters are “right to hate” the “liberal left”, and that Labour is now relying on the votes of “liberals” in alliance with “ethnic minorities”, the promotion of an identitarian, nationalist conception of what it means to be “working class” poses a far greater risk to authentically socialist class politics than the possibility of an anti-Brexit turn by Labour. 
Burtenshaw’s fellow Tribune editor Marcus Barnett loudly defended Dempsey over these remarks; if Burtenshaw is concerned to oppose the advocates of “culture war” within the left, he should look closer to home.
and concludes:
Turning against Brexit is not a move away from class politics, but towards them.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Spiked and the right: some updates

My last post on Spiked and its connections to the Brexit right got a lot of airplay. I was pleased to be asked to repost at Bella Caledonia, and to be the source for a very good post by Louis Proyect. Some extracts:
Today, I will be returning to the Spiked Online beat since an article by blogger Bob from Brockley on this tilt to the far-right has raised eyebrows, including my own. I have no idea who Bob is except that he follows me on Twitter and often retweets anything I write about Syria. My impression is that he is closer to Alliance for Workers Liberty, Marko Attila Hoare and other groups and individuals more open to NATO intervention than me. When I urged a vote for Jill Stein in 2016, FB friends who shared their orientation became so upset with me for supporting what they saw as an Assadist that multiple unfriendings took place, either initiated by them or by me. 
Bob from Brockley’s 4,200 word article is titled “The RCP’s long march from anti-imperialist outsiders to the doors of Downing Street” is an eye-opening account of how the people behind Spiked have built links to the British far right. He mentions a couple of key examples. Boris Johnson has appointed his former deputy mayor Munira Mirza to head up his policy unit at 10 Downing Street. Mirza, of Pakistani origins, was a long-time member of the LM/Spiked network who while sharing her boss’s Islamophobia will help him pretend to be for diversity in the same way that George W. Bush exploited the hiring of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
Besides Mirza, there is Claire Fox, a prominent figure in the LM/Spiked network, who was elected to the European Parliament last year. Fox was director of the Institute of Ideas, a project that helped these people develop ties to powerful corporate figures, including Hill and Knowlton, the PR firm that promoted the accusation that Saddam Hussein’s military had plucked babies from their cribs in a Kuwaiti nursery and left them to die on the cold floor. 
Bob from Brockley cites an article in Desmog, a website devoted to “clearing PR pollution”, that really has the goods on the corporate ties that Fox developed. I have to admit that I had not been paying attention to how deep these ties had become and am glad that others have continued to put them under a microscope...
To understand LM/Spiked’s evolution, it is necessary to look at the Communist Manifesto’s first chapter that is practically a paean to the bourgeoisie: 
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. 
Some of Leon Trotsky’s writing contains the same kind of giddy tribute to technology, industrialization and all the rest, especially in a work like “If America Goes Communist”. To a large degree, Marx’s writings on India have the same sort of breathless references to how the telegraph, railways and steamships will prepare the way for socialism. For Furedi’s followers, capitalism serves as the same kind of totem especially with nuclear power and GMO. Toward the end of their flirtation with Marxism, they became fixated on the concerns that the bourgeoisie had about unsustainable development. If unregulated capitalism undermined the basis for its own profitability, then the government had to step in. For LM that was mutating into libertarianism, this represented a “failure of nerve” of the sort that Ayn Rand fictionalized in “Atlas Shrugged”. In essence, Furedi and company called for the capitalist class to become more “revolutionary”, which meant allowing it to swat away government regulations. That is why the Koch brothers recognized them as kindred spirits and deserving of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they lavished on Spiked Online projects. 
While it would be an exercise in futility to resolve some of the deep contradictions in LM/Spiked’s support for Brexit, you have to chuckle at the tightrope they walk over immigrant rights. As everybody understands, Brexit is largely motivated by nativism. Since the EU granted citizens living within its ambit to move freely from country to country, nativists like Nigel Farage sought to close the borders after the fashion of Donald Trump especially the legal immigration sanctioned by the European Union...
Capitalism has always been riven by a basic contradiction. It is both a system that binds the bourgeoisie and the working class in a single country under commodity production but that drives a wedge between rival bourgeoisies globally. After WWII, there was a temporary respite from trade wars and outright warfare under American hegemony but like anything else it had a shelf life under a system that is forced to operate under the tyranny of the marketplace. 
In the next few years, the temperature will be rising globally because of greenhouse gases and capitalist competition between states like the USA and China. It will take considerable strength of character politically to resist the powerful forces driving us toward Armageddon. The flailing about of LM/Spiked is just one indication of how easy it is to be drawn into abyss. The urgency for a worldwide revolutionary movement is greater than it has been in my lifetime. I hope we can rise to the occasion.
I added a few footnotes to my post in this thread, unrolled here:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The RCP's long march from anti-imperialist outsiders to the doors of Downing Street

This week it was announced that Munira Mirza would be joining new prime minister Boris Johnson's team as head of Number 10’s policy unit. Mirza, mis-identifed by the Independent as "an academic at King’s College London" (her actual job there is running their "cultural strategy"), was Johnson's Deputy Mayor for Culture and Education during his City Hall tenure. Last month, the new crop of Brexit Party MEPs taking up their well-paid if "stupid" jobs in Brussels included Claire Fox, professional BBC talking head with a reputation as a contrarian libertarian.

Regular readers will know what Mirza and Fox have in common: they are both long-term members of the network that emerged out of the Revolutionary Communist Party and its magazine Living Marxism (LM). I've written before about the LM/RCP network, best known today for its web magazine Spiked, and this post draws together some of that material given the party's importance in our current, Brexit political moment.

Radical "anti-imperialism"

The RCP was founded by Frank Furedi, an academic, once a member of Tony Cliff’s unorthodox Trotskyist party, the International Socialists (IS, fore-runners of today’s Socialist Workers Party). Furedi left the IS “in 1975 on issues that remain obscure to all concerned”, along with fellow academic David Yaffe (the leader of the tiny "Revolutionary Opposition" in the IS), as the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), which became the ne plus ultra of mad anti-imperialism. Furedi was expelled in late 1976 and formed the Revolutionary Communist Tendency RCT), renamed Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) in 1981.

Claire Fox joined in the early 1980s while a student at Warwick University. In 1988, its magazine Living Marxism was formed, with Mick Hume as the founding editor.

Fox (as Foster), 1986
Five features marked the RCP out as distinct in the crowded market of Trot micro-parties in the 1980s. First, it was particularly hostile to Labour, attacking other left parties who saw Labour as having any relationship with the working class and denouncing slogans like the SWP's "vote Labour without illusions" as right-wing. 

It stood candidates in its own name at various elections between 1983 and 1992 and,. for a while in the 1980s, it launched the Red Front electoral vehicle to stand candidates against Labour. One of its candidates was a young Claire Fox, under the name Claire Foster.
Second, like the RCG, the RCP pursued a particularly hardcore form of "anti-imperialist" politics. The "anti-imperialism" they promoted was a vulgar version, descending from the analysis Lenin drew from the racist social liberal thinker J.A. Hobson, but refracted through a Cold War "second campist" mentality that prioritised geopolitical struggle against the Western imperialist camp and de-prioritised working class liberation in the colonial and postcolonial world. Other Trotskyists, including the IMG and Gerry Healey's WRP, had charted this direction, but the RCG and RCP took it as far as possible. This meant supporting every authoritarian and totalitarian Third World movement that claimed to stand in the camp opposing the imperialist West, from Robert Mugabe to Gaddafi.

As John Rogan documents, “We back Gadaffi” was on the front page of the RCP's magazine next step in April 1986.
On page 12 of the same issue it states 'The Revolutionary Communist Party unreservedly condemns the US/British assault on Libya and gives its full support to Libyan resistance whatever form it takes'... Thirteen days before this issue came out, on 5 April 1986, Libyan intelligence planted a bomb in a disco in West Germany. As this report in the New York Times (14 Nov 2001) on the conviction of those responsible states — 'The explosion killed Sgt. Kenneth T. Ford, 21; Sgt. James E. Goins, 25; and Nermin Hannay, 29. Of the 229 wounded, many lost limbs'.
...Under her pen-name of “Claire Foster”, 26 year old Claire Fox featured in the “We back Gadaffi” issue of the next step (18 April 1986) as she was an RCP candidate in local council elections that year.
Third, following this hardcore "anti-imperialism", the RCP (and its front organisation the Irish Freedom Movement, IFM) positioned itself as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the most militant actions of the Provisional IRA, the Provos (the only left group to outclass them in this was Red Action, which was not Trotskyist). In 1980, the RCP said they would refuse to “criticise or condemn the Birmingham bombings”. After the Brighton bombing of 1984, the RCP declared: “We support unconditionally the right of the Irish people to carry out their struggle for national liberation in whatever way they choose”, while an RCP pamphlet by Mick Hume, now a Times columnist, scorned the ruling class panic about the IRA's "war on imperialism" and suggested that the UK state "the real terrorist".

John Rogan writes:
The journal of the RCP’s Irish Freedom Movement (Summer 1993) carried a similar response of defending “whatever measures necessary”. Not only that, but the RCP/IFM decided to heckle and disrupt a peace commemoration in Hyde Park held the month after two young boys were killed [in the Warrington bombings]. Further on (page 18), Claire Fox (under her pen name “Claire Foster”) wrote that the peace movement spawned by the Warrington attacks was all built up by the media. 
Brendan O'Neill, now a writer for the Spectator and Telegraph, was a frequent spokesperson for the IFM. In the 1990s, as the Provos turned away from armed struggle in the steps that led to the Good Friday Agreement, O'Neill and the IFM became entangled with the dissident Republicans who opposed peace. In 1994, they wrote that “Anti-imperialists in Britain have the duty of exposing the peace process as a dangerous sham. The peace process is designed to stabilise imperialist interests in Ireland by pressurising Irish people to give up entirely on the pursuit of freedom.”

Fourth, the RCP took an anti-anti-fascist position. Historian Evan Smith, as part of a broader project on the history of the "No Platform" tactic on the UK left has recently traced this history. To compete with the Anti-Nazi League and other Trot fronts, the RCP launched Workers Against Racism (WAR), which initially argued that state racism was the real problem and anti-fascism less important, but increasingly came to see anti-fascism itself as a middle class distraction. 
For the WAR, anti-fascism against the NF was ‘a convenient diversion’ from the anti-racist struggle. As the militancy of the RCP dwindled from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, WAR’s street-based anti-racism faded and underestimation of the threat of the far right remained. But while it had previously argued that ‘[t]he fight against racism cannot be restricted to a campaign against racist ideas’ and that ‘[r]acism cannot be fought with “facts”’, the RCP in the pages of Living Marxism now privileged debate over other forms of anti-racist activism. This fed into the party’s approach to ‘no platform’, which had evolved over the 1980s towards free speech absolutism and a rejection of the anti-fascist consensus that had been built over the last two decades.
In 1981, they were building the foundations of a free speech fundamentalist position, declaring that, "Whether or not they are justified as measures aimed against fascists, all state restrictions of the freedom of speech, assembly and press are ultimately directed against the working class." Quite early on, you can see the seeds of a contempt for anti-fascism that found Spiked making common cause with the far right in recent years. In 1984, they described fascist Patrick Harrington as "‘a soft target for the liberal left casting around for an issue on which to prove its anti-racist credentials’ and instead ‘[a]nti-racist student should have been campaigning against state attacks on overseas students’." The said the no Platform strategy was "an impulsive outburst of liberal moralism which seeks to sweep away distasteful views, rather than confront them politically", and dismissed fascists as "idiots...with virtually no influence."

And the fifth feature? Leather jackets and hair gel. As John Sullivan put it in As Soon As This Pub Closes, his classic late 1980s tour through left sectariana:
"The answer is style. The group is part of the harder aggressive, post-punk move away from peace and love, and the average RCPer looks very different from the grotty SWPers. They have been described as ‘the SWP with hair gel’, and many a parent, pleased at the improvement in their child’s appearance, have welcomed the move from one to another. Alas! The mind remains just as untidy."
I first encountered the RCP at the end of the 1980s, when they were a colourful presence in the student movement and, clipboards in hand, selling their magazine around Covent Garden, on a prime pitch now occupied by the Big Issue. The RCP were then known for the graphic pzazz of their magazine Living Marxism, by the uber-trendy hairstyles of the cadre, and by their ultra-contrarian political positions. Among the latter: AIDS is a state conspiracy to regulate the sexuality of the working class, a position I took particular offence at, while people were dying of the disease. By this time, the ultra-leftist positions of the early 1980s seemed to be morphing into provocation for its own sake. In 1996, the logic of this turn (they called it the "turn to the suburbs") was pursued with the RCP formally closed as a party (though continuing as a tightly knit and highly disciplined network) and Living Marxism rebranded as LM, with Fox as co-publisher.

Genocide denial and libel
The hardcore "anti-imperialism" of their early days and the anti-liberal contrarianism that they had turned to in the 1990s came together in the publication that should have ended the LM network. George Monbiot tells the story:
In 1997, LM published an article claiming that the broadcasting company ITN had fabricated its dramatic discovery in 1992 of prisoners held by the Bosnian Serbs. “The picture that fooled the world” argued that ITN’s footage, in which emaciated Bosnian Muslim men clung to barbed wire, showed not a detention centre, as ITN maintained, but a safe haven for refugees. The Bosnian Serb soldiers at the camp were not detaining the Muslims but defending them...
[LM] recruited the fearless investigative journalist Thomas Deichmann to tell the real story behind the Bosnian enclosures. Only it wasn’t quite like that. Deichmann was an engineer by training, not a journalist. His writing was largely confined to an obscure German magazine called Novo, which he used repeatedly to defend the Bosnian Serb leadership against charges of murder, torture, rape and ethnic cleansing. He presented himself as a witness for the defence at the trial of the Serbian war criminal Dusko Tadic.
One of the journalists who broke the story of Trnopolje, the Serbian camp, was Ed Vulliamy, who was with the ITN team. ITN sued LM for libel, and won. Several celebrities, including Toby Young (who has kept up his association with them ever since), celebrated LM as the plucky free speech underdogs resisting the mainstream establishment. Vulliamy puts the more accurate view
"free speech" has nothing to do with what is going on. Living Marxism's attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathised with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and - in the final hour, the only - issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.
It is one of the grim ironies of the RCP's slow march through the institutions that now Claire Fox is a Brexit Party MEP she has been appointed to the EU Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee.

Corporate contrarianism
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As the ITN trial verdict was delivered, the LM network plotted its rise from the ashes. Claire Fox planned the events that would launch the Institute of Ideas - she is a director, company secretary and shareholder of the company which runs the Institute, the Academy of Ideas, and is the director of the Institute. LM's Hume launched Spiked the next year, editing it until 2007 when he passed the torch to Brendan O'Neill. 

A new generation of activists was recruited, including Munira Mirza and James Panton. Mirza was associated with the network from 1999, the year she graduated from  Mansfield College, Oxford, and wrote for Claire Fox's Culture Wars, for which she became a regular in 2001. Her first Spiked article was in 2002.

In the new century, with words like "Marxism" and "communism" deleted from the lexicon, the LM network became increasingly close to - and received considerable funding from - various corporate interests, including lobbyists for industries such as tobacco, GM food, big pharma and fossil fuels. It collaborated closely with thintanks of the free market right, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and its offshoot Civitas.

Fox has been central to this corporate embrace. Her Battle of Ideas events have been sponsored by "groups as diverse as the security company G4S, the Ayn Rand Institute and Genomics England [and had] pharmaceutical giant Bayer (now merged with Monsanto) and PR agency Pagefield as their primary “Battle Champions”." As DeSmog's Mike Small notes
Fox has frequently tweeted about her rejection of mainstream and accepted climate science, calling the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “advocacy research” and says treating the body as “high priests of The Science and final word on climate” would be a “betrayal of scientific inquiry.” Fox has also tweeted supportively of hereditary peer Matt Ridley’s climate science denial and recommended people look to the discredited arguments of economist Bjorn Lomborg. In a debate with environmental journalist George Monbiot, reported by the climate science denial blogger Ben Pile, she was asked whether she wanted people to be “free to pollute,” answering: “I want freedom.”
Perhaps the apex of LM's corporate work is their funding by the US right-wing libertarian billionaires Koch Brothers, as revealed by a DeSmog/Guardian investigation, which found that Spiked has received $300,000 from the Koch’s over the past three years, including $150,000 in 2016 — the year of Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory and the UK’s Brexit referendum.
Source: DeSmog UK

The road to Downing Street runs through City Hall
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Boris Johnson and advisers in 2008 - Munira Mirza, Sir Simon Milton, Kit Malthouse, Richard Barnes and Ian Clement. Evening Standard
Alongside their work for the corporate sector, the RCP slowly went about building up relationships with the Conservative Party. The thinktank Policy Exchange appears to be the nexus between the ex-RCP and the Tories. Policy Exchange was set up in 2002 by Michael Gove and others, and played a major part in pulling the Tory party out of its post-Thatcher slow death. As Wikipedia puts it, it “describes itself as seeking localist, volunteer and free market solutions to public policy problem” and thus contributed to the shift in Conservative thinking towards the Big Society big idea, and the whole re-branding under Cameron of the Tories as “progressive” party.

As I wrote in 2010, the Cameron project (like the New Labour project) was politically incoherent, combining elements of messy-haired libertarianism that felt appealing in the 2000s after years of hectoring, nanny-ish Blair and Brown with the harder communitarianism of Ian Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice, the vaguely liberal platitudes of Philip Blonde’s red Toryism, and the steely neoconservatism of Douglas Murray’s Centre for Social Cohesion. It is, arguably, this incoherence that made Cameroonian Conservativism an appealing project: there was something for everyone.

The libertarian edge was represented by Boris Johnson, journalist and TV personality turned Mayor of London in 2008. Johnson has surrounded himself with bright young and youngish things from Policy Exchange. During his mayoral electoral campaign, Boris was aided by Dan Ritterband, former director of Policy Exchange. On election, the mayor appointed Nick Boles, the founder of Policy Exchange, as Chief of Staff. Boles was, the Observer reported, "asked to help the new mayor find the right staff’. Among the subsequent appointments were Anthony Browne as Policy Director and Munira Mirza as his cultural adviser. Mirza, a long term critic of both multiculturalism and of state support for the arts, was able to give Boris arguments for making reactionary decisions while giving apparently progressive justifications.

By late 2010, I wrote that the RCP had probably been more influential than any other bit of the British far left in the last decade. They gave a veneer of intellectual respectability to denialism about climate change, have acted as PR agents for the agribusiness, airline and pharmaceutical industries, aided and abetted AIDS denialism and its enormous death toll in Africa, given succour to Serb nationalism at its most aggressive, helped Boris Johnson capture London, provided ideological cover for cuts in the funding for arts, reduced the number of decent free festivals in the parks of London, and, arguably, were the architects of David Cameron's election victory.

Mirza drew closer to the Conservative Party in this period. She married Dougie Smith, Cameron speechwriter and co-ordinator of Tory thinktank Conservatives for Change (Cchange), on whose board sat Nick Boles, along with politicians such as Francis Maude and Theresa May - as well as once running Fever Parties, a London-based organisation that apparently hosted "five-star" orgies for swingers. (Cchange was originally closely linked to Policy Exchange, originally called Xchange, and their personnel overlaps.) Johnson promoted Mirza from advisor to deputy mayor. By 2018, the New Statesman's Stephen Bush was tipping her as a possible Tory mayoral candidate.

Going full Brexit: from Red Front to red-brown front

Boris Johnson's mayoral win in 2008 was a dress rehearsal for the Cameron parliamentary win in 2010 and key to its splintering of the New Labour electoral coalition by presenting a "progressive" Toryism. But Cameron's premiership also contained the seeds of its own destruction as its shifted the Overton window rightwards in the age of austerity, emboldening the party's europhobic hard right and Farage's national populist movement beyond the party. As Boris repositioned himself as the hero of this reactionary wing during the Leave campaign in 2016 (exposing how superficial his progressive sheen had been in his City Hall years), so too would the RCP network keep moving to the right, as well as giving pseudo-intellectual and even left-sounding cover to Britain's most right-wing political forces.

Drawing on its anti-anti-fascist tradition, Spiked portrayed racists like Stephen Yaxley-Smith (aka "Tommy Robinson") and the EDL, and later Steve Bannon and Katie Hopkins, as salt of the earth contrarians maligned by elitist liberals out of conformity and class prejudice. Furedi backed Orbán's increasingly authoritarian government in Hungary, speaking alongside Breitbart's alt-lite provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at a 2018 conference hosted by Orbán. From 2016, the arguments developed in these polemics were turned against Remainers.

One LM initiative in the post-Referendum period was "The Full Brexit", an avowedly left-wing pressure group launched in the summer of 2018 to reframe the Brexit narrative as one about "democracy" rather than just bashing immigrants. Alongside a smattering of Blue Labour social conservatives and Lexit Marxists, a good half of its 20 founding signatories are RCP network members. Academic Chris Bickerton has been a Spiked contributor since 2005, when he was a PhD student at St John’s College, Oxford. Philip Cunliffe, Furedi’s colleague at the University of Kent, is another long term Spiked activist. Pauline Hadaway, another academic, is a veteran of the Living Marxism days. James Heartfield was a paid RCP organiser. Lee Jones seems to have been recruited at Oxford around the same time as Bickerton. Tara McCormack is an RCP veteran, as is Suke Wolton. Bruno Waterfield write for Living Marxism. Other signatories aren't part of the network but have been promoted by Spiked: Paul Embery and Thomas Fazi for example (Fazi is also connected to the 5 Star Movement and recently retweeted an antisemitic tweet from someone with "Nazbol" in his user name). Many are also involved in Briefings for Brexit, which has several RCP veterans on its advisory committee, and some are involved with Civitas. This is a peculiar form of left-right crossover politics.

Image result for "claire fox" brexitThe RCP then played a key role in the creation of the Brexit Party, again providing "left" cover for a deeply right-wing project. Otto English in Byline Times documents how, in February 2019, a film-maker, Kevin Laitak, a disciple of Furedi, began turning up at local Leavers of Britain groups, telling campaigners that he was making a short film about rank-and-file Brexiters. He then recruited activists who might consider standing for the new BXP, who were then called by a woman called Lesley Katon. Katon told would-be recruits that she was the co-founder of a group called ‘Invoke Democracy Now’, whose activists, English notes, included Claire Fox, as well as Luke Gittos, the legal editor of Spiked, Brendan O’Neill, its editor, Living Marxism alumni Tessa Mayes and Munira Mirza, and Mick Hume, former editor of Living Marxism (for more on Invoke Democracy Now, see Colin Lawson). Katon herself has several LM connections, and among the candidates emerging from this process were In addition to her client Claire Fox; Katon’s colleague David Bull who spoke at a Spiked event in 2003; James Heartfield, a long-time RCP cadre; Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, a former RCP activist and Spiked contributor; and in Scotland long time Spiked writer Stuart Waiton. Of these, only Fox was placed high up enough a regional list to get sent to Brussels.

Otto English notes that the RCP's Alka Sehgal Cuthbert and John Heartfield, were in the cavalcade of hopeful Brexit Party candidates paraded by Nigel Farage earlier this month as he launched his bid for the next General Election.

It gets weirder, because, Otto English reveals, Lesley Katon is an associate partner at a PR company called Pagefield, founded in 2010 by Mark Gallagher, a close associate of David Davis and John Redwood. In 2018, Pagefield recruited almost the entire staff of Bell Pottinger public relations firm which, as English puts it, was expelled from the PR trade body and went into administration in the wake of a secret campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa.

Back with Boris

The mad thing is that so far I have only scraped the surface of the LM network's dodginess. A whole other chapter could be written about their involvement in various awful educational experiments, in which they've worked with Toby Young and Michael Gove, their "Free Speech University Rankings", their promotion of Mein Kampf and  Milo Yiannopoulos. Another on their support for (and denial of the crimes of) Assad in Syria through their association with the pseudo-academic Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media and through RCP front organisation Academics for Academic Freedom. And another on Munira Mirza's extensive work laundering the dodgy race politics of her Tory friends. But I feel I've held your patience long enough, so we'll cut to the current chapter, July 2019, a new prime minister, with a long-term activist in the Living Marxism network activist as head of his policy unit. What joys await us as they roll out their agenda?

Brendan O'Neill, writing at Spiked, is certainly happy:
We often overlook how perverse it was that a nation which voted Leave was so dominated by a Remainer elite. Johnson’s new Cabinet redresses this undemocratic disparity between political-class sentiment and public sentiment and gives rise to a UK that is now run by Leavers. About bloody time... 
On top of these ministers we have Boris’s new senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, the strategic whizz behind Vote Leave, and his director of policy, Munira Mirza, friend of spiked and a committed Leaver. Downing Street is now a Leave bastion. This is progress... 
Now let’s leave. Properly, fully, with no turning back. Out, out, out.


Further reading: