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Tribal politics in the new Washington – Financial Times



In the Washington café to which I stagger at the crack of noon, two trends are unmistakable. One is the escalation, if you will, of Upspeak. Also known with some justice as the Moronic Interrogative, it gives a declarative sentence — “I was at Burning Man” — the rising tone of a yes/no question. As much as this scourge is pinned on Australians and the teenagers of the San Fernando Valley, it is at least “native” to them. Harder to fathom is its conscious (almost conscientious) affectation elsewhere.

As part of life’s give and take, the other local novelty is much better, or at any rate more daring, fashion. Colours on men, deconstructed blazers: DC is not 1990s Harajuku, but the end of the grinding squaredom of recent years has made life five per cent more interesting.

Having spent the summer of 2009 here, I know that Washington is small enough to culturally reverberate to a new administration. One tribe leaves, another swarms in: such ancillary sectors as lobbying have to hire accordingly. In a city of 700,000, the change is inescapable at street level. It is just that the break is so much more glaring than in 2009. That itself was sharper (I am told) than when Jimmy Carter yielded to Ronald Reagan, or even when George HW Bush made generational way for Bill Clinton.

Looking back at two decades in and around politics, one change stands out. If they ever were, left and right are no longer only or even principally ideological movements. They have become something more like ethnographic groups, their internal cohesion based on dress, idiom and habit as much as doctrine. And this is more, not less, true among the most educated and engaged. Trained in abstract reasoning to university standard, they often use amazingly little of it in working out their beliefs. What pleases them is alignment with their tribe.

Join me in a thought experiment that has been circling my mind for a year now. Imagine, at the very start of the pandemic, that it was the world’s progressive leaders who strove to keep things open and the populists who imposed lockdowns. You won’t have to force it: there is nothing innate about liberalism that favours stricture, or about the right that deplores it. In this counter-factual timeline, I wager that such culture war as there has been over the virus would be exactly inverted. Masks are something of a heartland staple in this Bizarro 2021. Open schools are a progressive statement. On the basis of early cues from tribal elders — draconian Donald Trump, lax Jacinda Ardern — people thus arranged themselves. Only then came the rationalisation.

If this is too cynical, remember that we have already lived through a much profounder switcheroo. Between the 1960s and about five minutes ago, it was the left that was likelier to view facts as relative or “constructed”. This was not a whim but a philosophy that outgrew its French birthplace to become all but ascendant in foreign academe. Now that populists have weaponised the same precept to win elections, progressives are the hardiest sticklers for the absoluteness of truth. The right meanwhile makes sport of the “reality-based community”. As discombobulating as this reversal is the sense that neither side is wholly aware of it, or much cares. And why would they? The content of their beliefs is not the point. The preservation of difference is the point.

With zero access to news or gossip, an observant local would still know that Washington is under new management. If the ambient Upspeak did not give it away, the proliferating tote bags would. I used to think of such things as coded expressions of political belief, like Republican chino shorts and the Fox News bouffant. But I think I’d go further now. For lots of people, the beliefs themselves are on a par with these things. They are signifiers of group membership. They are often adopted unconsciously or with minimal thought. If appropriated by the other side, they can be exchanged at pace. The prize is the sense of belonging that once came from religion or community. The more vicious politics has become in my time, the less sure I am that it is about very much.

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down



Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.


(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government



Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.


“We’ll be back, soon.”


“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”


“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”


“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”


“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”


“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”


“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”


“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”


“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”


“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”


“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”


“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”


“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”


“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’



British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.


Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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