Monday, August 31, 2015

Football crazy

Fans with a conscience. In Germany:

Greece goes one better. Iraklis fans at an away game in Lesbos.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Excluding reality

It's the old problem of the anti-imperialist left. However much Corbyn's supporters talk about smears or guilt by association, it is obvious and self-confessed that when Corbyn shared platforms with homophobic, misogynistic anti-Semites, he was not trying to engage in diplomacy, but advocacy. Of course, in his own mind, he wasn't promoting their message, but supporting Palestinian rights, whilst opposing both western intervention in the Middle East and Islamophobia. His defenders elided the charge of his lack of judgement to one of personal anti-Semitism, cleverly dodging the real issue. But I want to ask a different question. Why does Corbyn hate Palestinians?

He must hate them if he wants them to be ruled by nasty theocrats. He must do if he wants to support Islamist movements that will oppress the substantial Palestinian Christian minority and place the rest under a vicious regime. Then again, he also wants to apologise to the Kurds for liberating them. That's nice.

I'm being facetious of course, but this is the crux of the problem of a particular type of thinking. Populist authenticity is part of Corbyn's appeal, but it isn't reality, merely a distorted image of it. The politics of delusion is one that excludes the object of its concerns.

This is a typical example. Planet Syria have written an open letter to the Stop the War Coalition, of which Corbyn is the National Chair:
Syrians who have had to hold in their arms the bloodied disfigured bodies of their loved ones really wish they could take part in discussions regarding the fate of their own country, but they’re often not invited. It is regrettable that Syrian speakers who represent these victims and have lived the quintessential painful Syrian experience have not been invited to take part in this panel…

We have been living this nightmare for almost half a decade now and we feel we are entitled to take part in conversations regarding our fate. We are dismayed at the number of anti-war panels and lectures that have taken place in the West which have failed to include Syrians in their impressive lists of participants. We hope you won’t continue to exclude us from these important conversations about the fate of our country because when you do so, you further disempower the very same Syrians who have been disempowered by various perpetrators in this conflict.
It is worth reading it all. It confirms my suspicion that the politics of the peace movement is more about feeling self-righteous than supporting the oppressed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


This is getting to be exactly the same as the Scottish independence referendum. After the no vote was announced, yes voters were either indulging in bizarre conspiracy theories or blaming the BBC for "the politics of fear." How about thinking, "we lost because more people voted to stay in the Union?"

Now the Corbyn supporters in the Labour leadership election are cranking up their paranoia. We have had accusations of smears (please note telling the truth or making a principled objection is not a smear, mad articles in the Daily Mail are) and now a prominent member of the SWP and opponent of the Labour Party complains that the vote is being rigged because he has been excluded. The Independent doesn't go that far with this piece, but still confuses an internal selection process with a general election.
Labour is trying to accomplish the impossible: become electable while shunning voters. Thanks to Labour’s decision to purge its own supporters ... it now risks descending into an anti-democratic farce. 
"Own supporters?" Er, it is trying to exclude people who are NOT Labour supporters, but only pretending to be so that they can vote for whatever reason.

So now Labour is a "McCarthyite" party, "apparently more concerned with preserving its purity," and may become "less a broad church and more a secret society."

I repeat, this is an internal process. It has now been opened up to these £3 supporters as well as members in a crazy, mismanaged new initiative. OK, let's let the Labour leadership be decided by SWP members, Greens and Tories, each with their own agenda. Cats? Yes, let's let cats vote. The felineist rescinding of Ned's vote is a national disgrace ("is it because I is tabby?").

What a mess. And this from a party hoping to run the country.

Meanwhile, despite the hype, Atul Hatwal still doesn't think Corbyn will win. If he is right, I am dreading the ordure that will flood out from his supporters who seem to think that democracy is a process whereby you get what you want regardless.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Two reasons ...

... why Rugby League is such a nice sport.

1. Lizzie Jones, widow of Danny Jones, the Keighley player who collapsed and died whilst playing, is to sing at the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.
Following Danny's untimely death, the RFL has made heart screening for players at Championship and League 1 clubs mandatory and the profile the tragedy has gained is already having a positive impact. Lizzie said: "I spoke to a nurse this week who approached me saying that a young man came into the hospital where she works complaining of chest pains.
"He's young, he’s a cyclist and is very fit but had seen what happened to Danny and how it all came out of nowhere. "That prompted him to go to hospital that day where an ECG revealed he did have a problem with his heart, which the doctors are now treating. "
That decision saved his life: Danny saved his life; he’s already saving people and that's an important legacy.
"He's not just a number. If he can save lives then that’s all I want.”
2. Keegan Hirst, Batley prop forward. has come out as gay. He isn't the first openly gay Rugby League player, as this report says. Gareth Thomas was the first, though he came out whilst still playing Union. Nevertheless, the support he has received is overwhelming. Do watch this video. And the response:
Batley Bulldogs captain Keegan Hirst was cheered to the rafters - just hours after he made the revelation in an exclusive interview with our sister paper the Sunday Mirror, published yesterday. The six-foot-four married dad-of-two looked visibly moved by the support he had received as he left the pitch at Batley’s Fox’s Biscuits Stadium following his side’s narrow 28-22 loss to local rivals Dewsbury Rams.
Football does self-congratulation better than anyone, but socially it is still in the dark ages.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hard labour

Here are two pieces that go beyond the superficiality of much of the debate around the Labour Party leadership contest. One is pro-Corbyn, the other anti. But their allegiances are only a by-product of their analysis. It is the same for the way many people feel about leadership candidates, they are seen as empty vessels into which we pour our hopes. That is why they always disappoint and are only redeemed in retrospect.

First, Sarah Perrigo, who once taught me on my MA thirty years ago now (!), analyses Labour's performance and demolishes a few myths. There are things that I disagree with in her article but these are the main areas where I think that she is right:

1. Labour's defeat was not as bad, nor was the Conservative victory as convincing, as the Cassandras make it out to be. It was a complex result, simplified by the electoral system. The debate over PR will not go away, neither will the obstacles to power under the current system.

2. The Blair government had real successes, but was also cautious, fearful and nothing like as "new" as it proclaimed itself to be. It didn't challenge political culture, preferring to be progressive by stealth, making it harder to defend. Its "big tent" was also smaller than it seemed. Traditional Labour voters and working class communities were left outside as they "had nowhere else to go." (They did have somewhere else to go of course, they went home. Turnout crashed in 2001). It was a missed opportunity.

3. The failure to challenge the Coalition strategy to blame Labour for a global crisis was a disaster. It prevented any effective opposition to economic policy and made Labour vulnerable to negative campaigning over economic competence.

4. The idea that Labour lost solely because it was anti-aspiration or too left-wing is unsustainable. Election data does not bear that out. The reasons for the defeat are complex and more long term.

5. Labour members were treated as if they were fans rather than members, just like football supporters, and were patronised into passivity. But even football fans are getting stroppy these days, as fan-owned clubs, supporters' trusts and independent supporters' associations show. Loyalty is not unconditional. This is one of the reasons why Corbyn would appeal more than machine politicians.

Her support for Corbyn is based on her perception that his candidacy would open up the debate she wants on the nature of the Labour Party. I'm not sure about that. It can just as easily be seen as another chapter in the factional struggles within the party, especially as his campaign is partly being driven enthusiastically by the activist groups organised around the anti-war movement. We will have to see.

In the second piece, Martin Kettle does not support Corbyn, but he also sees Labour's problems as longer term and structural. The myth he tries to confront is the one that it was the Iraq war that started Labour's decline. That led him to try to draw a parallel between the current state of Labour and that of the Liberal Party before the First World War, as described by George Dangerfield in his Strange Death of Liberal England. It's stretching it a bit, but he sees the 1997 Labour landslide in the same light as the 1906 Liberal landslide as "a victory from which the party never recovered." Kettle picks out three vaguely similar issues to keep his comparison going:

1. There is the question of the Union. Labour's policies on devolution handed the initiative to the nationalists.

2. The relationship with a declining trade union movement is problematic: "Just as the Liberals in the last century were unable to embrace labour, so the Labour party today is unable to free itself." A sectional party of organised labour would be a minority one.

3. Though both of these are pretty tenuous, the third is interesting because he re-frames the women's suffrage campaign within the context of a struggle for democratisation of the state and society. It is often forgotten that Labour was elected in 1997 with a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on proportional representation. It never saw the light of day after Labour won a huge majority under the existing system with 43% of the vote. The electoral system that favoured them then, disadvantages them now. New Labour also failed to revive local government, submerged industrial democracy under aggressive managerialism, and restricted party democracy. A centralised system that empowers a minority can be as easily used against you as it can be by you.

Both pieces call for a more thorough re-think of what a modern, social democratic party should look like and the sort of society it wants to create, whilst I would add my plea for a re-imagined, credible political economy. Both see a failure by the Party to respond to social change being apparent early. Even in victory, the signs were there - turnout in 2001, winning on 36% of the vote in 2005. Neither of the warning signs were heeded. We all have different times when something happened that changed the way you thought. Mine was December 1997. It saw the beginning of the sense that 'they are all the same,' even though there were still significant differences. It was then that the New Labour government voted to cut single parent benefits. Despite the protests of some forty or more rebels, party loyalists queued up to make speeches in support of the proposals. The same people were defending the identical measures that they had attacked stridently only months before. The lack of sincerity was breathtaking. It was unnecessary and, even though working families tax credits began to fill the gap later, it marked the first time when some voters "looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

We are living with the consequences.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Just who dreamt up this electoral system for the Labour Leadership?
A Conservative party member has told 5 live that he's managed to secure three votes in the Labour leadership election - and intends to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as he will lead the party into "electoral oblivion".
 You can listen to the clip here.

Exclusive:  Labour strategists grapple with the problem:

Friday, August 14, 2015

The pleasures of the flesh

It gets to me sometimes, the relentless wholesomeness, the earnest denial of pleasure, the smug self-satisfaction at not having that extra piece of cake - even though you want it, really want it. There are columnists who go on about obesity, look on us fatties pityingly, and then act as our defenders - because we have an incurable disease! Then there is the war on gluten, the paleo diets, the insufferable idea that booze comes in units (which need limiting), and don't get me started on "wellness gurus." As for political asceticism and its mean-spirited sense of self denial in pursuit of a higher purpose ... I give up. And at peak despair along comes an unreasonable rant that I can really relate to. Bravo Suzanne Moore!
The anti-austerity movement is real and necessary, but the need of middle-class people to pretend to live austere lives is beyond me. It demonstrates a fantasy of class difference fuelled by guilt that I don’t share. If you have been poor, you don’t want to be again. Now a peculiar re-enactment of poverty is available to all in the name of being Green or even healthy. Entire conversations revolve around people who, unprompted, will list the things they are depriving themselves of, with a further 10 minutes on their fascinating “intolerances”. The rise of the individual detox sits alongside the rise of food banks, whose users have no choice about the manner of their deprivation.
This isn't new, and asceticism can be a response to the experience of poverty too. Keir Hardie was a temperance campaigner. But I am more instinctively drawn to Nye Bevan, the original champagne socialist. Enjoy the good things in life to their fullest extent, but make sure that everybody else can too.

Virtue isn't a vote winner, but neither is hypocrisy. To preach morality in public, whilst enjoying vice in private, is punished. In contrast, openly embracing pleasure, flaunting it even, is rather attractive to everyone except the disapproving middle class reformer. People are entitled to their own misery I suppose and they are quite capable of enjoying different things, but what I hate is when they seek to impose their own faddish mores on everyone else. I like to quote this from a fascinating bit of social reportage from 1911. Seems So! A Working Class View of Politics, was written in Devon vernacular by Stephen Reynolds and based on conversations with Bob and Tom Wooley, two fishermen. This summed up their attitude to temperance reforms.
"There's a lot to be learnt in pubs, an' 'tis a fine affair, I reckon, for to hae a good chatter over a glass or two o' beer. If you didn't do that you'd go to bed an' sleep. An' that's all some o'em wants 'ee to do, seems so - work an' sleep - an' never enjoy no life."
Bloody puritanism. It's everywhere. I hate it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Labour pains

It is a curious thought that the National Chair of the Stop the War Coalition could become leader of the Labour Party, but I still don't think it will happen.

A little while ago I posted a link to a critique of the accuracy of a YouGov poll that put Jeremy Corbyn in the lead. Since then another poll has been published by the same organisation that puts him further ahead and gives him an absolute majority of the first ballot. The same methodological reservations apply. I don't think either poll is trustworthy or representative of the views of Labour members as a whole. If I was a gambler, I would be down the bookies right now to bet on him not winning, though he may not now finish fourth.

The great imponderable though is Labour's new electoral system of one member one vote. It sounds fair enough, except that for some bizarre reason they decided that you didn't need to be a member. For a one off payment of £3 you can have a vote and then disappear off into the sunset. You don't need to do anything. Just vote to determine the future of an organisation you don't belong to. The figures for how many have registered, and their political views, are opaque.

The aim of the open primary was ostensibly to swamp the left with the votes of a much more 'moderate' membership and electorate. That didn't turn out right, did it? Any system can be gamed, but people get complacent when they assume that what they think is what the majority think; a delusion shared by many Corbyn supporters.

What has happened though is that the poll, however dubious, has created a bandwagon, such that nobody is talking about anyone else. The same happened with UKIP in the general election. The effects are ambiguous. The media frenzy may create support, but it also generates panic and belated opposition as people suddenly realise that their opponents need to be taken seriously. We can't know, but my guess is that without that first poll his candidacy might have sunk beyond view, even if he was generating enthusiastic meetings. It would have needed his rivals to provide a bit of credible opposition, mind you. They haven't been very good at it so far.

So where does his support come from?

First, there is the anti-war movement. It is organised, vociferous, very anti-Israel, against all foreign interventions (except Russia's apparently), and its organisation is an alliance of Stalinists, the SWP and Islamists, supported by well meaning humanitarians. This is where his foreign policy, his apologias for tyrants, and some of his dubious friends come from. He is not over scrupulous about who he is prepared to share a platform with. There is nothing original about his thinking. It is the party line.

Second, there is an activist left and their sympathisers. They are always prone to hero worship and just as likely to cry betrayal (usually by a corrupt media and sometimes because of a hidden conspiracy) when they have to confront reality. I count among their number really nice people who are friends, but when I look at what they share on social media, some of their politics is bat-shit crazy.

There is an overlap between the two, but the noise they generate does not reflect their size as part of the electorate. They are mainly middle class and vote Labour anyway (apart from a few Greens). Labour's problem is that it has lost working class votes and that is as troubling as the need to have a broader appeal in marginal constituencies. I don't think these two groups are assets for recovering this lost ground.

Finally, there are the trade unionists, socialists and social democrats anxious for a change in the consensus in political economy. They are appalled by growing poverty, punitive benefits regimes, the need for food banks, and the diminishing of the public realm. At last they seem to have a champion, but is he a convincing one? I remain sceptical, especially given the experience of Syriza's confrontation with a world that was not as accommodating as they thought.

When I look at Corbyn's candidacy, it is only the last group that has any credibility. But the others will make the most noise, whilst attention will turn rightly to foreign affairs where he should face tough interrogations. This is not a marginal issue. It goes right to the heart of what type of left we have; about left anti-Semitism, the susceptibility to conspiracy thinking, and the willingness to cosy up to some deeply unpleasant regimes. Combine this with the difficulty he will have in commanding the support of the Parliamentary Party, most of whom oppose him, and simply his age – he will be in his seventies by the time of the next general election – and the prospect of his leadership would appear to be little more than that of an interregnum, much in the style of George Lansbury after the 1931 split.

I have long argued that Labour has an incredibly hard task ahead to rethink an alternative political economy that is both credible and capable of attracting the undecided and the alienated at the same time. It has to embody the values of the left, but it must be deliverable. Labour needs to do this if it is to seize the next opportunity when change will be possible. The last moment was 1997. The next one is not now and I doubt if it will be 2020 either.

The Labour Party loves to go all misty-eyed over Attlee. They forget the most important phase of his leadership. That was the period before the war when he headed the rebuilding of the party around the right, marginalising the far left with ruthless pragmatism, whilst accommodating talented left wingers when desirable. There would have been no Bevan in power without Bevin. They forget, too, his eventual embrace of rearmament against Nazi Germany and his opposition to appeasement. This isn't an attempt to argue from analogy, but to point out that throughout the Labour Party's history there has always been a struggle between the romantics and the pragmatists. The pragmatists always end up winning. And I think they will this September as well. I make no promises about eating hats, nor am I foolish enough to put my money where my mouth is, but I still don't think that Jeremy Corbyn will be elected leader of the Labour Party.