Some thoughts on a dull morning. Shamima Begum first – I’m almost inclined to agree with the Home Secretary that she should be stripped of UK citizenship – but the big doubt there is that the decision is purely political, designed to enhance the tough guy credentials of the Home Secretary. What we’ve not heard about in this case (as is so often the case with single mothers) is what about the father? What responsibility does he bear? The circumstances of her becoming pregnant need to be considered. Then I wonder how it is she thinks she doesn’t need to express remorse if she’s so keen to return to the UK? Perhaps a psychiatric examination is called for. And then, on a different tack, people are saying she was only a schoolgirl aged 15 when she made the fateful decision to go and join ISIS. Given that many people consider 16 year olds mature enough to vote and decide the fate of the country, we need to ask ourselves whether the mid-teens are a mature period or not. By some standards Begum was nearly mature enough to decide who might be Prime Minister – or currently, if she had lived in Scotland now, First Minister.
Still, turning to a bright note it’s good to see the back of Joan Ryan MP. She said this morning that ‘Labour was completely infused with anti-semitism.’ (emphasis added) As the expose of her in the undercover Al Jazzera investigation into this subject showed, she is the one who sees anti-semitism in anyone who questions Israeli government policy and wrongly accuses people of anti-semitism without any sense of shame. Or as we can now see, without remorse. Good riddance!
So this is what the New Politics looks like. The Independent Group of Labour quitters have already become mired in a ‘funny tinge’ racism row; their website (according to Skwawkbox) has been set up using a business in tax haven Panama, and their website declares the backing of a company ‘Gemini A Ltd’ which was only incorporated on the 16th January this year, of which there is only one director, namely Gavin Shuker MP, one of these self-declared New Politicians. Presumably Gemini A Ltd will become a conduit of funds, but we won’t know until next year when its first accounts become due. There was no definition of the New Politics at the press launch of the seven deadly sins yesterday, so what may we speculate could they look like?
I suppose their main contention will be that they stand above party and in the national interest – they will be crossing their fingers (if not the floor) that they will be joined by some renegade Tories. This would give them a claim to ‘consensus.’ Unfortunately, because they have called themselves ‘independent’ they have logically ruled out the possibility of themselves becoming a party. How could they be independent and above party politics if they form their own party? The only way they could survive as a cohesive group if they weren’t structured in the form of a party would be if they all had identical views on everything – or allowed themselves what one might call an open marriage, where anything goes. The latter formulation would be unable to function in any kind of leadership role, and to govern a country of 66 million people does in my mind require leadership.
Perhaps the New Politics could manage with continual consultative mechanisms. This lot do after all insist on having a second Brexit referendum. But where would that lead? There may be some methods of consultation which are useful, e.g. Gordon Brown and others have spoken of Citizen Assemblies, but there was no mention of anything like that in yesterday’s launch of the ‘New Politics.’
It is curious that these seven have turned their back on what has become Europe’s largest political party, and one which had the biggest swing in a general election since the 1940s. I was going to quote here something they said in their online statement about respecting democracy (but not why they won’t be submitting themselves to by-elections) but unfortunately their website has crashed. That’s maybe a relief – they may have second thoughts about using the internet as a democracy tool.
There is something revolting about MPs who revolt against their party and then proclaim they are the harbingers of a ‘new politics.’ Most of this lot already had or faced no-confidence motions in their constituencies. They are very definitely representatives of an old politics.
Perhaps I was thinking too rationally when I predicted a day or two ago that there wouldn’t be a breakaway group of Labour MPs. But in these Brexit days, rational political behaviour seems to have been condemned to the margins. So a group of seven (deadly sins?) have jumped ship and will sink without trace. Their main reason seems to be their horror that the Labour leadership has been insufficiently gung-ho about a ‘people’s vote.’ I have never quite understood why this might be a resigning matter. Are they so convinced that a second referendum would back remain? I’m not, even though I think whatever deal – or no deal – is arrived at by the 29th March another vote would be preferable. A decision of this nature deserves it.
The real reason of course why the seven deadly sins broke away is because they can’t stomach Corbyn. I can’t see many party members joining them. And Chukka of course dreamt of leading the party only a couple of years ago. I now have to accept that it is possible two or three more MPs may join them. Their behaviour will naturally give a fillip to Theresa May, although having been once bitten she may be twice shy calling another general election just yet. What is certain is that the action of the seven deadly sins will have done nothing to enhance what it is they say they want. May doesn’t want a second referendum, and Corbyn is unlikely to suddenly develop enthusiasm for it – the departure of these seven will weaken rather than strengthen the case within the PLP. One can only assume the ‘Independent Group’ have cocooned themselves in a self-reflective coating of ego and hubris.
Perhaps, to demonstrate that they are not deluding themselves, they should resign their seats and test their theory in by-elections. By doing that, they could do us all a service by giving us a hint what the public now actually wants.
UPDATE: On that last point, I tried sending them a comment through their website's contact form this evening but it was refused due to 'an internal server error.' I merely asked them if they were frauds, that'a all.
A letter in the latest issue of the London Review of Books deserves wider attention. It is from Edward Luttwak, a writer on military strategy (amongst other things) and a former consultant to various U.S. government agencies working in the security field. He writes that ‘Reagan did not believe in Mutual Assured Destruction. He would not press the button, period, not even if they bombed Washington D.C.’ Instead, according to Luttwak, Reagan misled people into thinking he had no qualms about nuclear warfare, and his rhetoric against the Soviet Union led to the general conviction that he would press the button at the drop of a hat. He nurtured the view that he was the coldest of Cold War warriors.
Clearly this is not an option for Jeremy Corbyn, who would probably not even want an army large enough to form a guard of honour. But if the Luttwak version of Reagan is correct it should be used mercilessly in rebuttal of the accusations that will inevitably re-emerge in the next general election that Corbyn is an outlying eccentric pacifist who would leave the U.K. defenceless. The next time he is asked ‘would you press the button?’ he simply needs to answer ‘no, I’m like Reagan in that regard.’
What are they waiting for? The hard core of anti-Corbynites who have so far failed to dislodge him through fair means and foul are we are told poised to leave the Labour Party and start their own SDP – or whatever it may be called. I can only imagine that they are waiting for the Word. The Word that is, of Tony Blair. But will they get it? Whilst Blair is firmly in the ‘People’s Vote’ camp, he has so far resisted the temptation to renege on the Labour Party. Would he really want to solidify his reputation as some sort of modern day Ramsay MacDonald? Or is he already so far beyond the pale that he wouldn’t care about that? There is still a significant number of party members who, whilst conceding that Iraq was a bad business, nevertheless respect Blair for some of his reforms and his election victories. But I doubt their lingering admiration for him would be enough to entice them to leave the party too, if he became the de facto (if not official) leader of the new centrist party. It’s heart and head stuff, and the heart is heavily tribal.
And what would happen if the renegades took off afresh and Blair remained in the Labour Party? It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the baby would be stillborn without his support, particularly so given the anti-Corbynites’ belief that old Jez hasn’t really got that ‘electoral coalition’ building magic, which they believe Blair certainly had. There is also the problem that some of the potential renegades don’t really fit that camp at all. I can’t see the likes of John Mann leaving the party. His main platform would be whipped away in seconds. His only raison d’etre seems to be as a little piece of grit in the machine, not out of it.
There is a slim chance that some, a tiny handful of renegades feel so strongly about our membership of the E.U. that they would bet their political careers on it, and support May’s deal if that really is the only thing preventing a no deal Brexit. I think this has a real chance of happening, given Corbyn’s reluctance to inflict punishment on those breaking the whip. Getting elected party leader having made breaking the whip worthy of a lifetime achievement award suggests that whatever they do on Brexit, Labour MPs have nothing to fear from Corbyn. In which case, putting aside their personal dislike of him, they have even less reason to bleat on about forming their own little party. So, they would be better off waiting for the next general election which they think Labour will lose, and then try to get one of their own elected leader. Plenty of reasons then why there won’t be a breakaway group (famous last words?).
The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as a collective likes to think of itself as the heart and soul of the party and the keeper of the faith. Not only that, but a collective depository of wisdom culled from the wider membership and indeed borne out of its members’ intimate and immeasurable understanding of public opinion. In my nine years of PLP membership, PLP meetings often felt like a standing conference, where occasional motions would come forward instructing the front bench on policy or demands made to take a different course. Especially at those meetings where Blair or Brown were present, sycophants would be on hand to cheer on some policy that had gone adrift, or drown out criticism of it. Both sides would have a cohort of usual suspects, some more capable of shrieking than others. At crucial moments the room would be jam packed, with many seats filled by the acquiescent, which is to say one should bear in mind that many members of the PLP are there by patronage – Labour peers – usually a reliable source of support for the leadership.
On other occasions, when boring subjects were the focus, there may only have been 30 or so members present. I recall climate change wasn’t a subject that sparked large attendances. So PLP meetings could be very hit and miss affairs, and many members saw attendance as a chore, or didn’t bother going at all except for those meetings when the leader was present. Even then you very rarely saw our future leader, Jeremy in the room. I doubt that he would have disguised his disdain for the PLP when he was a mere backbencher, and I imagine the only thing that will have changed now is that he does have to disguise it.
So it’s hardly surprising that some of its members use the PLP for grandstanding – it’s a sounding board after all. And the media loves it that the PLP can be portrayed as continually in combat with Corbyn, just as they loved it when the Blair/Brown plotting was going on. Now of course there isn’t an obvious alternative leader around whom e.g. the Guardian could cheerlead for, although they would no doubt rally round Yvette Cooper at the drop of a hat if they thought the membership might mistake her for somebody else.
Since Jeremy never imagined he was ever going to lead the Labour Party, he never courted the PLP. I wonder if efforts are now being made to do so. There would be little value to be gained from speaking to his arch critics who simply don’t believe he has a right to lead the party, but I hope his circle don’t go round bad mouthing those PLP members who do actually grasp the bigger picture. There was always a decent sized group of Labour MPs who could stomach all sorts of personal issues with the leader provided they thought their chances of re-election weren’t harmed.
There’s a useful round-up of some of the charges building up against El Trumpo in Counterpunch here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/02/12/will-trump-resign-before-the-2020-election/ It looks to me like the possibility of the creep getting to a second term is looking ever less likely, although the precise means of his defenestration are not yet clear. However, with multiple investigations pending in Congress, the pressure will only mount. So it’s watch out Venezuela – a major foreign distraction is being prepared. As I write the BBC Ten O’clock News is running an interview with President Maduro, or as their reporter described him ‘Venezuela’s other president.’ Interspersed with the interview are scenes of poor people eating food taken from garbage – making the point that Venezuelans are desperately hungry. The pictures rather undermine the storyline – who are these Venezuelans who can afford to throw away food?
So the screws are being turned with more U.S. sanctions on the way and the country’s foreign assets being frozen. I don’t suppose the latter measure is designed to reduce Venezuela’s inflation? If Maduro is genuine in offering talks with the opposition they should take up the offer. In the meantime, Maduro should keep a wary eye on what the serious U.S. press is revealing about El Trumpo’s business affairs. That may set the timetable for an invasion.
The Holocaust Memorial proposed for Westminster’s Victoria Tower Gardens is causing a stir – some critics say that it will be out of scale for the space intended, a view which seems to be shared by the Royal Parks charity. Judging by the pictures of it online, it does look quite large, although most of it appears to be underground. Even so, it is nothing on the scale of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin which occupies a significant area not far from the Reichstag, although as I recall it is not in sight of that building.
I think there is a more profound critique to be made of the current proposal. If it is to occupy such a significant site, it should not merely be a Holocaust memorial, however much that is justified. Within spitting distance of the centre of the Parliament of the British Empire, it should equally commemorate the genocides for which that empire was responsible. Perhaps the most significant of these were the slave trade, where estimates of deaths vary from four million to over 100 million (the UN says 17 million), and the British role in the near elimination of native Americans, where the eventual toll was probably in excess of 100 million. Much of the latter will have occurred after U.S. independence, but let’s not overlook our continued role in Canada. Then there are other smaller genocides, such as the routine aboriginal massacres in Australia and Tasmania. Shouldn’t a reminder of all these not have equal prominence next to our Parliament, to serve as a reminder of the atrocities for which the British were directly responsible but which, for the most part have not received the same attention as the Holocaust? The Holocaust is still, just, within living memory and that visceral memory should not be allowed to be extinguished. But I think that there is a danger that in singling out that memory, others equally horrific but more distant will be neglected. Or should we just point to the Nazis, and say ‘Look, see how bad they were’ and conveniently forget how bad we were? It doesn't matter that the slave trade and other genocides happened a long time ago. Climate change now threatens genocide on a scale never before witnessed, but I fear the politics of it won't be much more enlightened than it was two hundred years ago.
Isn’t it incredible? Just 46 days to go before the Brexit crunch, and we still seem to have all the time in the world to negotiate, renegotiate and swan around in an evaporating pond of options as if the whole world rotates on our axis. That’s the swirling axis evident in a plughole. If I had my way – to try to instil some urgency into the government’s approach - I would have them all, and particularly ministerial offices, removed to a set of freezing cold portakabins somewhere out on Salisbury Plain and make them sleep in sleeping bags and eat out of unheated past-their-sell-by-date tins until they understand the woeful mess they have got us into. This might instil some urgency into their behaviour. I guess we will be hearing a bit more of the Dunkirk spirit shortly.
I watched The Darkest Hour the other night, starring Gary Oldman as Churchill. Oldman I think has done one of the best Churchills, but the film was bunkum. As has been pointed out, there was no encounter between Churchill and London Underground travellers, an encounter with ‘the people’ that lifted Churchill’s spirits and banished his doubts about carrying on. But from that scene onwards the whole film deteriorated into a rosy-spectacled comic history of the great British turning point in the war. A far better history of what happened can be found in 1940 Myth and Reality by Clive Ponting. The real turning point in the war came with Pearl Harbour.
Now imagine Chris Grayling as First Lord of the Admiralty and that just about sums up any parallels between today’s situation and our Shining Hour.
The BBC’s PM programme tonight devoted over one third of its time to the awesome story that two no-confidence motions tabled in Liverpool’s Wavertree Constituency Labour Party (CLP), against their MP Luciana Berger had been withdrawn. 22 minutes out of 60 devoted mostly to anti-Labour speculation, some of it admittedly coming from right-wing Labour MPs. What more does this say about the bias in the BBC? They took great care not to give any airtime to critics of the MP – and before I go any further, all Labour MPs will have their critics in the party. Is there really nothing else happening in the world which is more worthy of our attention? (Climate change springs to mind – there are truly awful stories to be reported on that every day.)
I hasten to add that I don’t want to be fed a diet of information which only accords with my views, far from it. What I do want –especially from the BBC – is balance. From the broadcast media we are clearly not going to get that until the next general election is called. Is it worth complaining yet again? Perhaps I should write in and ask them to produce a bit more coverage of other CLP motions – I suspect there’s plenty of them on homelessness, poverty, social care, austerity, government incompetence and waste, fighting fascism, etc., etc.