Dearth in Venice
A bit of a gap in blogging here, thanks to my getting Covid whilst on holiday in Venice. Belatedly back home, I hope to address this blogging dearth shortly. At least this little notice permits me a pun.
The hungry games
It’s déjà vu time for the Tory Party. Their hunger for power knows no bounds. Since the Second World War no Labour leader has been voted out by his comrades, still less successfully challenged whilst in office. The nearest it came to the latter was the challenge by (frankly speaking) utter nonentities against Corbyn in 2016. Labour’s record:
Attlee—resigned, election loss
Callaghan—resigned, election loss
Foot—resigned, election loss
Kinnock—resigned, election loss
Blair—resigned, worn out by Brown
Brown—resigned, election loss
Miliband—resigned, election loss
Corbyn—resigned, election loss
Starmer—yet to resign
Most of these resignations were precipitated by election losses, which seems to be the only way the Labour Party gets to be rewarded with a new leader. Compare that record to the Tories:
Churchill—clung on until 1955, left because of ill-health
Eden—resigned after Suez, pushed
Macmillan—a carefully staged resignation, Profumo, ill-health, age (71)
Douglas-Home—resigned, election loss
Major—resigned, election loss
Hague—resigned, election loss
Duncan-Smith, forced out
Howard—resigned, election loss
Cameron—resigned, Brexit loss
May—resigned, forced out
Johnson—forced out (eventually)?
It is therefore generally the pattern that Labour leaders only resign after losing an election, whereas there have been several successful Tory leadership putsches mid-term. This may explain why Labour has been in power for only 30 of the past 77 years. Each party may have its own tribal instincts, but Labour members should perhaps shake themselves out of their habit of slavish loyalty to their leaders. It is interesting that Blair is the only Labour leader to suffer a mid-term fate similar to some Tory leaders. I wonder when Blair and Brown last spoke to each other?
Mr Charalambous's article
To be honest, until today I had never heard of Bambos Charalambous, the Labour MP for Enfield. But he’s Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Middle East and Africa, and he began an article in today’s LabourList saying “When it comes to the question of achieving peace in the Middle East, Labour is clear: in government, we would immediately recognise the state of Palestine. We want to see a two-state solution, with a sovereign and secure Palestine and Israel existing in peace alongside one another. But we must acknowledge how far away that goal is.” Mr Charalambous writes about the practical difficulties Palestinians face living under the apartheid regime, although he doesn’t go so far as to call it that. Still, it is welcome that he says a Labour government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine, although that state, under so much illegal occupation looks more like scattered jigsaw pieces than a coherent whole. Labour needs to spell out what boundaries this state would have, and on what basis it could claim sovereignty over its territory. The goal of a ‘two state’ solution is indeed ‘far away’ and we must be vigilant against any cynical use of the term. As far as Mr Charalambous’s article is concerned, with its sympathetic stance towards the plight of Palestinians, one wonders how long he’ll retain his job.
Perhaps Labour could show more support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. Correction: we already do. BDS is fine when used against Russia.
In a democracy . . .
I usually have some time for BBC Radio 4’s File on Four programme, which has produced some decent investigative journalism. It is generally not afraid to unearth facts which embarrass the government. Today’s programme was somewhat different—it seemed to be based on the idea that in academia there is an infestation of professors who are acting as Putin’s useful idiots in the disinformation wars. The programme kicked off with the Tory chair of the Education Select Committee demanding that government takes immediate action to root out this odious cadre of propagandists. But in 40 minutes we only heard of two, although we were told there are ‘many others’ in all walks of life, including (shock horror) musicians. The underlying assumption is that these people are ‘leftists’ (whatever that is supposed to mean) - an assumption stated as such in the programme and not challenged. I personally doubt that anyone genuinely on the left has any time for the arch-rightist Vladimir Putin. Nor did the programme ask why it is that enquiring academics might want to question official narratives. I recently reviewed a book on the history of disinformation for Lobster which makes it plain that disinformation is a tool used by all governments—so it seems perfectly proper to question the NATO line. That doesn’t mean we support Putin. As one of the academics said, if they have to start toeing the line we’ll be well on our way towards authoritarianism, indeed the very approach which in Russia makes it a crime to call this Ukrainian ’special military operation’ a war.
In the final minutes of the programme we heard from the UK’s ambassador to the UN who said that Russia’s use of disinformation makes it harder for member states who are ‘less well informed than us' to come to sound judgements about what to support. One was immediately reminded of Colin Powell’s masterful disinformation speech prior to the Iraq war. And whilst we’re in the neighbourhood of whataboutism, what about the Gulf of Tonkin incident? Presumably we shouldn’t question such things. But we do. And it wasn’t that long ago that the BBC itself had a policy of airing ‘both sides of the argument’ on climate change, long after the science had moved irrevocably in one direction. Perhaps this week’s File on Four was a subtle form of establishment disinformation?
I’ll save some comments on another Professor, David Miller who was sacked from his post at Bristol University on disproven grounds of anti-semitism (i.e. questioning the Israeli government’s narrative), or indeed the Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery whom Manchester University wanted to dispatch on the grounds that some people didn’t like an exhibition by the group Forensic Architecture relating to the plight of Palestinians. If there is a cancel culture developing in this country, it is very definitely being propelled by a narrow, establishment worldview which in our own polite way seeks to squash dissent. Or perhaps I should say, with respect to Pritti Patel’s latest legislative fits, not so polite.
Live in hope
+I often wonder who exactly comes up with daft ideas. Daft ideas can plague our lives from the parochial to the national and even international levels. It’s not just the people who have daft ideas that should worry us of course, but also the people around them who let stupidities pass without any checks or balances. They are equally to blame. Every so often a daft idea will be launched, will be promoted and eventually quietly dropped as its sheer daftness is revealed more often than not after a significant dip into the public purse has taken place. I think you probably know where this is going. The airport island in the Thames. The ’garden bridge’ over the same river. A bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland. A double decker bus in London that made people ill and never operated as promised. A false promise here (£350 million a week for the NHS) and a let-down there (levelling up).
Now we have an inquiry into whether Imperial measurements should be re-introduced. If that were to happen a lot of time will be wasted in the classrooms. Perhaps it won’t be long before we are asked to consider the return of pounds, shillings and pence. That wouldn’t perhaps go down too well with the Conservatives’ core demographic, who have long gotten used to a simpler metric system, and who may be shocked that you can’t today buy a Ladybird book for 2/6. Or 12½p (they’re about £6 now, I think). Who still thinks in ounces? What’s the point? Younger people will have little or no knowledge of such things. This ‘Imperial measurements review’ the government has set up is of course just a symbolic dead cat, a pathetic attempt to reclaim Britannia’s glory coupled with this weekend’s Ruritanian extravagances. I suppose in the end the best way to respond to this, short of revolution, is to marvel at the incompetence that has taken us to where we are today. That’s not such a daft idea.
+By the way, I wish all the best to Zenouska Mowatt. Who she? Well, in our strictly hierarchical society, she is 64th in line to the throne (the last name I could find online in the line of succession). I hope she gets to launch a few ships, although that’s a remote possibility in British shipyards these days. And of course there’s rather too many kind hearts and coronets to bump off beforehand.
+ I'm just catching up with the news. Congratulations to Euan Blair, son of Sir Tony and Lady Cherie on being awarded an MBE. You are the living proof of your father's oft repeated mantra that we should live in a society that offers equality of opportunity. Hurrah!