This month 550 wildfires have been burning in British Columbia, with whole cities shrouded in smog. Who can say for sure this is the result of climate change? But it’s a fair question to ask, not least since the Canadian government was willing to pump billions of dollars into a new ‘Trans Mountain’ oil pipeline to get more product from the Albertan tar sands to the Pacific coast. But the good news is that a Federal Court of Appeal has thrown out the planned pipeline – on the grounds of objections by the indigenous Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who it appears were illegally sidelined in the whole business and who objected to the pipeline on environmental grounds. Thank heavens somebody can put two and two together, and on this occasion it doesn’t seem to be Justin Trudeau. Looks like his difficulties with Trump may get a bit bigger.
Frank Field’s resignation of the Labour Whip in parliament seems an odd thing to do, since his much aired complaint these last two days seems more to do with the Labour Party per se than the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) itself. He’s surely not so daft as to imagine that the two things don’t go hand in hand, and he will have to leave the Party, one way or the other. I suspect he wants to milk it for all it’s worth and hopes to be expelled, then he can stride with a martyr’s steps into the sunset. At 76 years old, I suspect he was near retirement anyway. His grandstanding reminds me of the sad affair of the late Brian Sedgemore’s departure in 2005. He came from the opposite end of the political spectrum but resigned over Iraq and then joined the LibDems. He was a regular rebel, and in an interesting parallel with Field, Sedgemore was ‘one of only five Labour MPs to vote for the Third Reading of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, defying his party Whip, which was to abstain.’ (Wikipedia) At least Jeremy only had four rebels to deal with in the last E.U. ‘crunch’ vote. I do hope that now Field is no longer in the PLP he will relinquish chairing the Work and Pensions Select Committee without a fuss – in this parliament, that position is allocated to a Labour MP. He knows this. Will he go quietly, or will it be a case (yet again) of Jeremy being dictatorial/authoritarian/autocratic (also autocratical)/bossy/despotic/domineering/ imperious/overbearing/peremptory/tyrannical (also tyrannic)/tyrannous?*
*delete as appropriate; thanks to Merriam-Webster online dictionary
In the aftermath of the Boris Johnson comments on Muslim women wearing the burqa, ‘Lord’ Eric Pickles told the Today programme that Johnson’s words should not be compared to Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech (I commented on this earlier this month but I’m damned if I can now find the blog). Pickles’ ‘non-comparison’ comparison was clearly a comparison, dressed up as if it wasn’t. Now, at the tail end of this silly season month we have ‘Lord’ Jonathan Sacks comparing Jezza to Enoch, on the grounds that Jezza apparently joked that some Zionists didn’t understand English irony. With a not unsparing degree of arrogance, Sacks has made the mistake of assuming that the remark (taken out of context of course) meant that all Zionists living in the UK were Jewish, when it is clear that there are many Zionists who are not Jewish. But Sacks, who it seems has no problem with Israel’s racist ‘Nation State’ law is on dodgy territory here. It may be more of a phenomenon in the U.S. but there are ample numbers of Christian evangelical Zionists. But of course he knows that. I thought it might be worth dropping him a line to point out his error, but the danger there is that my communication would end up on the ‘anti-semite hate pile,’ which I am sure the noble Lord will be asked about soon enough, as we enter stage two of his media intervention.
Neither the Mail nor the Telegraph headlined with Pickles’ rivers of blood comparison, but their front pages this morning screamed about “Corbyn’s ‘rivers of blood’” speech. I assume this was Sacks’ calculated effect. There may well have been rivers of blood in Gaza, but that’s by-the-by.
This year’s Labour Party conference is likely to be quite engrossing, and not entirely for positive reasons. First there will be - perhaps more on the fringe than in the conference hall - a ruckus over the obnoxious claims that the Party is anti-semitic. The right wing media will attend in abundance, microphones and cameras at the ready to capture any remark which can be blown into a front page scandal. So those attending who like to have a drop or two in the bars after a long day discussing our crumbling public services will need to be careful not to say anything which could be taken out of context. Taking things out of context is by definition one of the cardinal rules of the right wing press. It also seems that Jewish Labour MPs will be surrounded by bodyguards if a report in the Daily Telegraph is anything to go by. It seems the anti-Labour ‘Campaign Against Anti-semitism’ has contacted Jewish Labour MPs to advise them on their security at conference. The Telegraph’s headline implied that those MPs had contacted CAAS, but the text of the report suggests it was the other way round – one wonders therefore if the MPs were worried for their safety or not – or merely a tool for CAAS to up the ante. We will never know. A brilliant article by Prof. Norman Finkelstein appears on the Skwawkbox website today, comprehensively trashing the IHRA definition and examples of anti-semitism. Well worth reading.
Of more importance in the great scheme of things will be discussions about whether Labour should support a vote on the Brexit deal. I nearly typed ‘second vote’ but of course that would not be the case – it couldn’t be a rerun of the first Yes/No referendum. I am pleased to see that leaders of the campaign for the vote have said it is not a surreptitious attempt to destabilise or get rid of Corbyn. I happen to think it possible to want a Brexit deal vote without in anyway diminishing Corbyn’s position. I harbour a faint hope that the British public will have absorbed more of the implications of leaving now they have witnessed the appalling hash May’s government is making of it. Of course, for the pedants out there, such a vote would be seen as just another example of the establishment seeking to ‘get the result it wants.’ Bearing in mind the dangers of plebiscitary democracy alluded to in David Runciman’s ‘How Democracy Ends’ it nevertheless seems to me that the 2016 referendum was in any case the second referendum. The first was in 1975. On that occasion remainers defeated outers by two to one, a result which some people never wanted to accept as binding. So the Brexiteers can hardly complain if we have another vote now can they, when the 2016 outcome was so close? Anyway, it remains to be seen if this debate even makes it onto the floor of the conference.
I met John McCain around 2006 at a Globe* UK meeting in London and now that the Arizona senator has died his work on climate change will no doubt be forgotten - whilst his anti-Trump stance gets all the attention. It is the case that during and after his presidential bid he dropped climate change as a priority, but he was at one time in the extraordinary position of being the leading Republican voice arguing for action. Perhaps I should say the only senior Republican to do so. An excellent review of his climate change activity appears here. Now we live in different times.
*Globe is an inter-parliamentary group campaigning on climate change, originally set up by Al Gore
Hold on to your seats. A former Scottish Labour MP, Tom Harris, who was defeated in the great SNP rout in 2015 has resigned from the Labour Party, citing ‘personal reasons.’ It was only after a friend he had confided in released this shattering news that Tom had to go public, using his column in The Daily Telegraph to list all his complaints, not least about the ‘racist and anti-semitic Jeremy Corbyn.’ I am shocked and horrified, albeit a few weeks after the event. It must have been Tom’s normally retiring personality that kept this one below the radar for so long. His readers must have wept as they cut out his article to stick in their ‘Jeremy Corbyn Is A Right Bastard’ scrapbooks, which they show off regularly to their fellow occipitally challenged friends. Their biggest fear at the moment is that Corbyn is going to scrap Trident missiles by dropping them all on Israel or something like that – we’ll have to wait for the right wing media to make up the story.
Anyway, it is clear that at least one of Labour’s (ex) centrists has forgotten that famous speech, delivered in Scarborough no less, by one H. Gaitskell MP (Leeds South) that “We may lose the vote today, and the result may deal this party a grave blow. It may not be possible to prevent it, but there are some of us, I think many of us, who will not accept that this blow need be mortal: who will not believe that such an end is inevitable. There are some of us who will fight, and fight, and fight again, to save the party we love. We will fight, and fight, and fight again, to bring back sanity and honesty and dignity, so that our party – with its great past – may retain its glory and its greatness.”
I have to say I can’t see a huge amount of honesty and dignity amongst Corbyn’s grumpy detractors, who seem to be making common cause with, errr …. the likes of The Daily Telegraph.
After creaking along largely unnoticed in the later years of its life, it would appear that the octogenarian Tribune has finally reached its last gasp. I confess I hadn’t paid it any attention at all in the last ten years or so. I preferred it in its old format resembling a newspaper, as opposed to the magazine it later became. Its circulation fell it seems to around 5,000, but I wonder how much of that was bulk orders from trade unions, sustaining it as ordinary subscribers fell away. Today, I imagine that the new Momentum driven Labour Party membership gleans most of its analysis from websites.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s I did occasionally contribute articles and reviews to Tribune. But the peak of my journalistic career came in 1991 when I can fairly claim to have been the runner-up to be editor, after Phil Kelly left. This claim is somewhat undermined by the fact that there were only two of us being interviewed, and I suspect I was there merely to make up the numbers. Still, they paid my travel expenses so I had a day out in London to compensate for what must have been an embarrassing 20 minutes for me and my interviewers. God knows what I said, but even if I had suggested starting a fashion section it wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome.
It’s curious that the New Statesman, which in the past earned the nickname The Staggers because of its regular financial crises is now seemingly on a firm footing – but despite Labour having more than four times the membership of the Conservatives, the Spectator’s circulation is more than twice that of the New Statesman. Of course, the readerships of both magazines are not duty bound to tally with one party or another, but it would seem that people of a left leaning bent are less keen to shell out on a political magazine that may reflect their views. Perhaps they just can’t afford to. Nevertheless, both mags have increased their circulations lately.
The one journal which must have anticipated circulation growth in the Corbyn era is the Morning Star – to which he was a regular contributor. (I’m sure that even as I write, Daily Mail hacks are trawling through 40 years of back issues to find the ‘dirt.’) But the Morning Star appears to be floating around the 10,000 mark and is supported by donations. Perhaps if the Guardian plods on its merry path towards a bright, spangly new centrism, the Morning Star’s circulation will pick up. Subscribers would save a fortune, at least.
David Runciman’s How Democracy Ends* thankfully doesn’t have the subtitle which seems to adorn so many books with hand-wringing titles these days: and what we can do about it. After spelling out a host of threats to democracy, Runciman admits he doesn’t have a solution. He reckons that democracy now is in a middle-aged state of life, and various diseases beckon as old age appears. These form the three chapters at the core of the book – Coup, Catastrophe and Technology. I wouldn’t want to recap his arguments, which are succinctly and astutely put – Runciman after all is an Oxbridge politics don – but they do deserve a wider audience, particularly amongst our political class.
What is democracy? Runciman offers a simple definition, ‘which is that at the allotted time the people get to say when they have had enough of the politicians who have been making decisions for them.’ (p.13) What could be simpler? But later, we learn that ‘Contemporary political science has devised a range of terms . . . ‘audience democracy’, ‘spectator democracy’, ‘plebiscitary democracy’. These terms might be too mild: ‘zombie democracy’ might be better. The basic idea is that people are simply watching a performance in which their role is to give or withhold applause at the appropriate moments. Democratic politics has become an elaborate show, needing ever more characterful performers to hold the public’s attention. The increasing reliance on referendums in many democracies fit this pattern.’ (p.47)
Might this not always have been the case? Hasn’t our democracy always tended towards the audience model, rather than a participatory one? As an anarchist slogan has it, whoever you vote for the government always wins. Of course, if no-one voted the government would still win, although that’s probably not what the anarchist meant. As things stand, governments are elected by minorities. Theresa May won a mere 31% share of the vote in 2017, or 26.8% of the electorate. Tony Blair did worse in 2005 – winning the votes of just 24.5% of the electorate, but thanks to the system he banked a 60+ overall majority. (Whilst looking at these figures, I think it must gall Blairites to know that Corbyn’s numerical support in 2017 exceeded all but Blair’s since 1997.)
As Runciman makes plain, it is the fact that even with as flawed a system as democracy is, its strength leads to non-violent changes in political leadership. Even with nearly three million fewer votes than Clinton, Trump’s election occurred without violence, as was the case in the parallel circumstances of Bush v. Gore. Of course, the absence of violence is a fine thing – a sign of a civilised society – but is that it? Democracy seems to permit every other kind of nefarious behaviour short of violence. The ‘greatest democracy on Earth’ as some Americans like to think of it allows wide scale gerrymandering, secret funding, voter suppression, plain lying and now, hidden malevolent technological influences made possible by algorithms. Such things can only enhance the realisation of an ‘audience democracy.’
Another issue which Runciman addresses is the oft inability of democracy to deliver what it says on the tin, or more starkly, what is the right thing to do. An example is climate change. This is where we encounter the cognitive dissonant democracy, where politicians (in the main) know what the right thing to do is and pay lip service to the necessary changes, but are immobilised by fears of an electoral backlash. The most radical political steps are often kicked into NIMTO – Not In My Term of Office.
Runciman doesn’t see democracy ending anytime soon, but like any middle aged person, more intimations of its mortality will occur. How to keep it alive? An infusion of fresh thinking is required, along with a readiness to make changes. In the U.S. the Constitution is a barrier to change, even if people like Trump seem willing to ignore the Constitution when it suits. In the U.K., where we are apparently ‘taking back control’ there has been virtually no debate about what that means in the real world. In the E.U. a great opportunity was missed when there was much talk of subsidiarity, but little conviction in it. Decision making closer to the people? Local authorities are denuded of money, which makes significant decision making all but nugatory.
As Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” The question therefore is: how do we get rid of the people who are these ‘same’ thinkers? Just another election?
*Profile Books, 2018
My eye was caught today by the following paragraph in a devastating assessment of the U.S Democratic Party which appeared in today’s post from Counterpunch:
“Now lost in the fog of Russiagate is the Wikileaks revelations that the DNC/Clintonites tried to promote Trump in the Republican primaries while rigging the Democrat primaries against the more popular of the Democrat contenders. At the end of the day, the Democratic Party is more loyal to its big money funders than its rank-and-file voters. They would rather lose a presidential election than allow someone like Bernie Sanders to run, who raised inconvenient truths about income inequality.” (emphasis added)
Sounds familiar don’t it? It’s been said quite a lot lately that the Labour Party’s very own self-styled Blairite wannabe proprietors would rather see Labour lose the next election than win it with Corbyn. And we’ve seen dirty tricks aplenty, although their perpetrators may not have stooped at the altar of Assange. Anyway, it seems that the one thing that Blair had such a tight grip on – sources of big money – matters less now. Even the BBC reported (PM Programme today) that Labour this year had raised an incredible £56 million, outdoing the Tories’ £45 million. Money which, unlike the Tories came from its many members and supporters (inc. unions) and not a handful of spread betting ‘wealth creators.’ So if the disgruntled ones do go off to form their new party, who will they rely on for cash? The Labour Party has never been better off. That has to tell us something.
Our bushy tailed Foreign Secretary, in Washington today to deliver his first ‘major’ speech called upon the E.U. to follow in Trump’s footsteps and up the ante against Russia over the Skripal case. Curious that he had to deliver this speech in Washington and not Brussels. A bit of sucking up there, perhaps? Even though Trump had nothing to tweet about his State Department’s recent anti-Russian actions . . .
When asked on the Today programme who actually had carried out the Salisbury nerve agent business, Jeremy Hunt could only say – in so many words (the police are still working on it) - that he didn’t know. So it’s definitely the Russians then. I have to wonder whether the plods are getting the full co-operation of the security and intelligence services on this one. This is probably an investigation about which some of our chaps would prefer to let sleeping dogs lie.
Talking of investigations, when is the Mueller investigation – sorry, witch hunt – of Trump’s presidential campaign links to Russia ever going to end? Wikipedia does a pretty good job bringing the disparate threads of it together, but there have been so many ‘smoking guns’ I’ve lost count. One has to question this far on whether the critical evidence that will bring down Trump actually exists. Having said that, the Watergate investigation went on for seeming ages too, so there’s hope yet. In the meantime there is always the possibility that Trump will hang himself and save Mueller the job.
For atheists like myself, BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme often provides abundant ammunition. Both God and religion (the two things are after all separate) are the source of many stories which are tragi-comic, or just plain tragic. The latest slew of child abuse revelations in the Catholic Church in the U.S. (not to mention our very own Ampleforth) takes that ancient institution further into the realm of bankruptcy, morally if not yet financially. According to one of the interviewees on the show, it could be that the priests involved, acknowledging God’s omniscience, excused their depraved behaviour on the grounds that if God knew about it before it even happened then it must have had His blessing. For others, such paedophilic episodes may just have been tests, and of course at the end of the day the only punishment may have been a few Hail Marys and a quiet move to another diocese.
But why should we be surprised by these continual revelations? Poor old Pope Francis must be asking himself the same question. Perhaps he should look to the Bible. Remember Abraham and Isaac? Clearly God wasn’t much concerned with the welfare of the child then, who after his ordeal (being tied up and placed on the pyre of firewood his father had made him carry to the supposed sacrificial place) could be excused a good dose of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And then there is the First Commandment:
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me.” (Exodus 20:5)
Pity your poor great-great-great grandchildren! I suppose love comes at a price, which is probably what many of these errant ordained men of God tell themselves.
For more Biblical authority on child abuse, the Salon website has an unpleasant rundown here. It ends in the New Testament with the most singular example of child abuse in the Good Book – Jesus Christ himself. Good ole’ Jehovah, sacrificing his only son.
Whether or not the now infamous tape recording of Donald Trump using the N-word ever emerges no longer really matters, except insofar as it may prove yet again that he is a liar. For his core supporters it probably won't matter a jot if he used the word - indeed, his stock may rise even further with them, who probably use the word all the time. As for his opponents, they probably have no doubt that he used it, for the story is after all entirely believable. That Trump had and still nurtures a hatred for a prominent black man, Barack Obama may help explain his problem. Trump, from the days of his 'birther' campaigning never really believed that Obama was legitimate. Indeed, if Obama was actually born in Kenya that would mean he was not only black but alien. Would Trump have clinged to his accusations if Obama had been white? Yes, Trump says unpleasant things about white men and women, but his campaign against Obama was (and remains) visceral, and has followed him into the White House where he seeks to undo or undermine everything Obama did. Indeed, Trump would stand all that he believed in on its head if it gave him the opportunity to have a crack at Obama. Why else, for example would this arch-climate change denier sign (and presumably help pay for) a full page advertisement in the New York Times, at the time of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit calling on Obama to take tough action on behalf of the planet's future? One can be certain he was willing the president to fail (which, by the way, he more or less did).
A bit of casual racism for Trump is probably just another dose of 'locker room' talk. What's worrying is that he acts on it. But in defence of Trump his press secretary pointed to 700,000 African-Americans who since his election have now found work. This of course is balderdash. Many of the economic drivers would have been in place before his election, but needed time to work through. All that could be said is that if his policies benefit the American economy, they may also benefit black Americans. A big if and a big may, and colour blind.