Joyce Gould was a long-time Director of Organisation with the Labour Party, retiring in the mid-1990s. I’ve just read her memoir The Witchfinder General: A Political Odyssey (Biteback, 2016). Memoirs by party staffers are rare, not least because of the omerta of deep tribal loyalties. Gould, now in her 90s and in the House of Lords earnt her witchfinder title for her role in the party’s efforts to defenestrate Militant—for which of course she should be applauded. One paragraph with a current resonance caught my attention:
‘To sections of the media, the truth of the stories mattered less than the effect they would have on the electorate and the consequent lack of support for the Labour Party. The press fabricated myths of loony left activity. The media research group at Goldsmith’s College estimated that some 3,000 news items about the ‘loony left’ were circulated between 1981 and 1987, mostly untrue. There were stories such as the nursery rhyme ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ becoming ‘Baa Baa White Sheep and the renaming of manhole covers and black bin-liners. […] What I found disturbing was that the words ‘loony left’ or ‘loonies’ were used extensively by senior members of the party, so giving credence to the media reports. The completely ridiculous comments of the Tory press went practically unchallenged.’ (p.157. Emphasis added)
What’s changed after forty years? Just change the untruths and fabricated myths—the pattern remains the same, and how it has advantaged the current leadership! Gould’s book was written before the Labour great ‘anti-Semitism’ crisis. I wonder if she would approve of the way the party dealt with that.
+It can’t have escaped anybody’s notice that Joe Biden yesterday joined a picket line of the United Auto Workers union in Detroit—striking for the usual reasons like more pay. This rather shames our own beloved No Shame Starmer, who instructed his shadow cabinet members not to join picket lines. Apparently it’s not part of the preparation for being in government. Partying with Rupert Murdoch is OK though.
+After the war there was clearly a big debate about whether there should be some form of world government. I blogged about Bertrand Russell’s thoughts on this (5th August) and now I’ve been reading Albert Einstein’s views—also pro-world government. Clearly these two intellectual giants were shoved back in their box, even though the climate crisis demands much, much more now than COP conferences and crossed fingers. Still, it is interesting to see how the idea was derailed, and in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions he includes an open letter from members of the Russian Academy published in the Moscow New Times in 1947. In part this reads:
‘In the first place the idea of a ‘world government’ and ‘superstate’ are by no means products of the atomic age. They are much older than that. They were mooted, for instance, at the time the League of Nations was formed. Further, these ideas have never been progressive in these modern times. They are a reflection of the fact that the capitalist monopolies, which dominate the major industrial countries, find their own national boundaries too narrow. They need a worldwide market, worldwide sources of raw materials, and worldwide spheres of capital investment. Thanks to their domination in political and administrative affairs, the monopoly interests of the big powers are in a position to utilise the machinery of government, in their struggle for spheres of influence and their efforts economically and politically to subjugate other countries, to play the master in these countries as freely as their own.’ (p.135)
The Russian Academicians feared a world government would just be an entrée for greater global domination by the capitalist interest. Now, one can see how prescient they were, where national interests can be overridden by WTO courts and where the internet has created a business model beyond the reach of lawmakers (no matter how hard they try). Why, it’s almost as if the capital interest has forced the End of History with a result which doesn’t quite chime with Francis Fukuyama’s victorious liberal democratic version (but since I haven’t read his book I may be doing it a great injustice). The global ‘government’ we are ending up with appears now more than ever to resemble the Academicians’ vision, against which stands a growing, primal nationalism, equally ugly.
I’m all in favour of slapping a hefty tax on meat consumption. But there was never any official plan in the UK to introduce such a tax. Having said which, Rishi Sunak yesterday announced in his big ‘watering down climate change’ commitments speech that he had ‘today’ scrapped plans to tax meat—along with a few other non-plans which he also had claimed to single handedly scrap. Well, I would like to see the PM’s missive, to whom in the UK government it may concern, ordering them to stop a meat tax. Of course there won’t be one, since nobody was working on it. (Apparently the idea was floated two years ago but had an internet life of about three hours.) Is there anything more irritating than being lied to? Yes, there is. It’s being treated like fools who can’t distinguish between patronising shite and a billionaire politician’s efforts to persuade us he’s being honest. Doesn’t he realise that Bing/Chat GTP is on our side and can refute his nonsense immediately?
So much has been made of the conflation of the phrases ‘anti-Zionist’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ of late I think it is always worthwhile seeking out thoughtful opinion from respected commentators who do not have an axe to grind on what is so often a deliberate muddling. I think Albert Einstein, a Jew, probably fits this category. He ardently described himself as a Zionist, but it’s not quite the Zionism that supporters of the state of Israel might wish to hear:
‘I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from the political consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain– especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state. We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period. A return to a nation in the political sense of the word would be equivalent to running away from the spiritualisation of our community which we owe to the genius of our prophets. If external necessity should after all compel us to assume this burden, let us bear it with tact and patience.’ (Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Wings Books 1954 p.190)
Einstein wrote those words in 1938, when the horrors of the holocaust hadn’t yet been fully unleashed but the oppression of Jews in Germany was in full swing. The idea of a spiritual and cultural home for Jews was important—not as he said to nurture a narrow nationalism, which was one of the ills faced by Jews and not just in Germany. After the war, Einstein’s views had shifted somewhat, and he appears to have welcomed the creation of a political state, due no doubt to an ‘external necessity,’ initiated by what now appears the inevitability of local ethnic hostilities. Perhaps Einstein was naïve to think such hostilities could be avoided.
Now we could loosely call Einstein’s approach a ‘one state solution’ (if indeed he ever wanted to see a political state). This was never on the cards. It seems to me that the problem of the Israel/Palestine conflict was precisely what Einstein wished to avoid, and the thing is, it might have been if his version of Zionism had prevailed. Instead, the Jewish political state he didn’t originally want to see has, perhaps inevitably, determined that it is an exclusive endeavour which barely (if at all in some of Netanyahu’s allies' eyes) recognises the Palestinians as a people at all.
When it comes to infrastructure development, a lot of government planning is based not so much on evidence but wishful thinking. We have no starker case of this than HS2, which looks like it’s going no further than Birmingham. The costs of have rocketed, and the famous ‘cost benefit analysis’ formula that supported the original case will have as much substance now as a slug’s trail, to coin a phrase.
What new white elephants are in the sights of the government (and HM Opposition)? I may live long enough to witness the implosion of The Great Nuclear Renaissance. The industry is wetting itself over the prospects for their new wheeze, Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which are like prefabricated mass produced products which will suffer none of the defects which have held up new big scale nuclear developments (they say). According to Rolls Royce, the UK’s leading wannabe in this new radiant dawn, these SMRs will be contributing electricity within four years of approval, at a cost of £1.8 billion each (that was the figure two or more years ago, before the current inflationary spiral). The government has already committed £100s of millions to their development in the belief that they will help achieve its net zero goals. Sadly, looking at a recent press release, not very much has been committed to decommissioning costs and there was no mention of waste disposal, but then that will be a NIMTO issue (Not In My Term Of Office).
The nuclear industry is very keen to be lumped together with renewable energy when it comes to net zero. It’s a marketing con. They’ve certainly captured the imagination of the Labour Party’s policy making machine. When it comes to the party’s green commitment, much has been made of the retreat from a £28billion p.a. spend, which is now couched as a figure to be ‘ramped up to’ by the mid-parliament of a new Labour government. There is no figure put on what the intermediary spend might be, and of course I acknowledge we are not necessarily talking about purely government investment anyway—the private sector will be expected to contribute too. Rolls Royce have plans for 16 SMR’s at £1.8 billion each (original price). That conveniently comes to £28.8 billion. That spend won’t happen all at once, but one can see it would be a huge chunk out of Labour’s ‘green’ commitments.
The phrase ‘too cheap to meter’ has long been a bane of the nuclear power industry’s image, since the reality has been so wildly contrary. Nothing has been delivered on time or on budget. The price of the electricity delivered has led to massive subsidies. Thatcher introduced the beguilingly named ’Non Fossil Fuel Obligation’ to support nuclear power in the 1980s which added 10% to our energy bills—more than any genuine renewable subsidy we’ve seen more recently. It must have hurt the self-worth of the nuclear industry’s captains when in his autobiography former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson said nuclear could never be privatised without huge public finance backing it. For him it seemed the idea was a dead duck—and so it is, if we consider the Musk-sized fortune being ploughed into Sizewell C.
The nuclear industry’s self-proclaimed great potential has an eerie feel to it. Another great prospect, equal in allure in the wishful thinking Pantheon of new technologies was (past tense) Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This on/off, on/off technological fix for climate change was always factored in to future projections of carbon emission reduction scenarios—until enthusiasm waned when reality kicked in. The most efficient CCS technologies delivering carbon emission reductions were also the least efficient in the resultant power generated—the more you cleaned the more energy you used to do it. CCS seems to have lost favour altogether, although I am sure its memory will linger on for a few diehards who want to perpetuate the use of fossil fuels.
As I have remarked before (possibly in my 2009 book on climate change) the transition to genuine renewable energy generation has been impeded by the lack of a longstanding, embedded political influence. The early days of renewables development were characterised as an offbeat, utopian dream of sandal-wearing greenies, whose political presence—the Green Party—never gained traction in the realities of consumer politics. In contrast, the nuclear lobby and the fossil fuel lobby were always well represented in parliament.
The economics have now changed—offshore wind competes with anything—and so the nuclear industry’s pitch has changed too. Their prices will remain stubbornly higher than sources of genuine renewable energy, but their promises will still find a receptive audience with politicians who think we have all the time (and money) in the world to address climate change.
*Rolls Royce can be counted on to deliver on time. This snippet, on Wikipedia, makes that point without further comment from me:
'In April 2021, The Sunday Times reported that delays on the Astute class submarines may impact the Dreadnought class, which will be built in the same dock hall. Related concerns are a 19 month delay to an extension of the Barrow facility and a five year delay to a Rolls-Royce factory which will build the nuclear reactors.' (emphasis added)
As a member of the GMB's (General, Municipal and Boilermakers Union)(Retired Members’ Branch) it came as no surprise but was still very disappointing to hear that our general secretary Gary Smith could be quoted, (and still less believe) that 'We've cut carbon emissions by decimating working class communities.' In an interview with The Spectator of all places. It's no surprise because the GMB is highly represented in the nuclear industry. Perhaps Gary doesn't know very much about the comparative costs of offshore (or even onshore) wind energy, compared that is to the costs of new nuclear. He suggests that a well-heeled renewables industry has been capable of buying so much influence it swamped the puny efforts of the nuclear crowd. This is mind-bendingly absurd, as anyone knows from the time when Tony Blair briefly and perhaps disingenuously flirted with the idea of backing away from nuclear power. But with the revolving door between the Dept. of Trade and Industry (as then was) and the nuclear power industry the latter needn't have worried. In this sort of debate some in the trade union movement sound like echo chambers for the Tory rightwing anti-'net' zero lobby. It's sad that Gary couldn't pull himself out of his 1950s slumber. He should campaign for 'gross' zero, which would make a lot more sense. And I really don’t want to get into the game of calling union ’bosses’ dinosaurs. So far as renewable energy ‘decimating’ working class communities is concerned, I believe offshore wind manufacturing has helped revive, e.g. a part of Hull which many may have written off not so long ago.
How long did it take for Thatcherism to become embedded in our society? For the first few years of her premiership, ‘Thatcherism’ as we now call it didn’t really have a name. The conditions in which the seed had been planted provided a fair amount of time for propagation before she nurtured it and luckily for her had this malign plant named after her. It was a plant she was so happy with she even complimented Tony Blair for watering it after she herself had become a ghost in the greenhouse. There will be many better names for her eponymous phenomenon out there—it is a shame that political shifts become so entrenched with personalities, as if just one person came up with a revolutionary idea. Thatcher wasn’t original at all, just as ’Blairism,’ presented as a form of shallow presentational spin politics is hardly unique to Blair. That kind of politics became the norm more thanks to technology than one person (and his 'attack' dog).
But what we now call ’Thatcherism’ is the enduring zeitgeist. It occupies and dominates the landscape so much so that the very idea of—imagine this—Starmer saying (as if) he could park his tanks on the Thatcherite lawn makes no sense at all. It is clear that his convergence with Thatcherite thinking is complete. Unlike for Hugh Gaitskell (one half of the much vaunted ‘Butskellism’ consensus of the 1950s) and Rab Butler there is no massive post-war crisis to resolve; there is only the ongoing crisis of capitalism, a crisis which of course neither the Tories nor Starmer’s Labour wish to recognise.
The question for Labour Party members is why bother believe the party is capable, now, of the profound policy shifts the crisis demands? The answer lies in hope—hope that once in office Labour will better address the situation than the Tories. I’m happy to accept that here and there there will be policy improvements, but given the Labour leadership’s current stance these will be ephemeral and easily reversible. There’s ample evidence already of the leadership’s inability to stray far from the Thatcherite consensus. It’s a commonplace. Hunteevesism doesn’t have the same ring as Butskellism, but it might well suffice to illustrate the departure from the supposed inspiration of a previous consensus.
Apart from this rather forlorn hope the other thing that keeps Labour Party members paid-up is simply the tribal instinct to wish the demise of the Tory tribe. This is a tribal instinct with roots as old as the hills. But does this sensation have quite the same resonance for our current leadership? If you grew up in the all enveloping Thatcherite milieu, exactly how much have you absorbed of it? How can you conceptually escape it? Don’t get me started.
Good news at last! The Metropolitan Police have caught the chap, an alleged terrorist who escaped from Wandsworth prison by clinging to the underside of a delivery wagon. At first I thought it may have been a remake of an episode of Porridge showing up our prison authorities as comically incompetent. But the Met have got their man, and for now they’ll be slapping themselves on the back for at last gaining some good publicity. But wait! There are still two notorious perps on the loose! Fugitives they are (from the court of public opinion) namely Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. The public should be advised not to approach them—they could be dangerous. A description of them could be lifted straight from the words of Kurt Vonnegut:
‘What has allowed so many PPs [psychopathic personalities] to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin’ day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don’t give a fuck about what happens next. Simply can’t! Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion dollar missile shield! . . . and kiss my ass!’ (a man without a country, Bloomsbury, 2006, p.101)
Sadly for this type of PP jail never seems to be an option, but I'm sure the late Kurt Vonnegut may have drawn a miniscule fraction of satisfaction from seeing Trump at least arraigned here, there and everywhere. But he won’t go to prison, and nor will Truss and Johnson, no matter the harm they did [other PPs are available].
+You read it here first (9th July 2023). The position of ’Shadow Peace and Disarmament Minister’ held by Fabian Hamilton MP has been abolished in the latest Starmer reshuffle. After all, you don’t want people talking about peace when there’s a war to be fought! And of course there’s no Tory minister to shadow anyway since they don’t believe in it (peace) either. Good old Starmer, NATO to the core.
+On the MSN news feed there seems to be a rash of clickbait which starts with enticements like ‘I’m a mechanic, don’t make this common mistake with your car’ or ‘I’m an air steward, this is what we hate’ or ‘I’m an expert (fill in category) this is how to avoid (whatever).' So I’m wondering, perhaps to encourage more clicks on this website what expertise could I offer? Suggestions would be welcome. As things stand, I doubt that ‘I’m a shopper, don’t buy stuff with yellow labels on’ would work, which is a shame because people seem to get to them before I do.
Here in Scarborough the sea fog has closed in and the foghorn is wailing forlornly every minute from the lighthouse. It’s a classic Scarborough summer evening, cool and clammy. But what’s this!? The BBC’s flagship evening radio news programme, PM has just reported that today has been the hottest on record in the UK. And what’s more, this year has been the hottest globally on record--ever (or least the last 125,000 years, which is as far back when I guess ice core proxy measurements could be made before we actually started to measure the temperature with our own devices). How to deal with this problem?
News presenter Evan Davis captured the seriousness of it all by asking whether it’s better to cool down with a cup of tea or an ice cream? A test was undertaken on the roof (terrace, I presume) of Broadcasting House in London. I have to say I’m not sure the question was answered satisfactorily, to the extent that the testers seemed to have ended up having a cup of tea and an ice cream (how often does the BBC offer free ice creams?). Could this be the solution to climate change? I am sure there will be a divergence of opinion as to whether making a cup of tea or an ice cream has the same carbon footprint. Such questions should be at the core of future scientific analysis. In the meantime let’s all go back to sleep if that’s all there is to it.