I briefly caught a bit of the BBC's PM programme last night, just as Evan Davis was interviewing a pundit about next week's political possibilities. I fear Evan may have blown the gaffe on a scenario which the rest of the media doesn't seem to have paid much attention to. It goes like this: Johnson is elected Tory leader on Monday; on Tuesday Labour moves a motion of no-confidence in the government, which succeeds with the support of a sufficient number of Tory dissidents. Johnson - or Parliament - then has 14 days to suggest another name to the Queen who they think can command a majority in the House. Such a person, by definition has to be a centrist. Hence, as Evan rather feverishly kept suggesting yesterday, Yvette Cooper is packed orf to the Palace to kiss the Royal Mitts, to then go and form a government of National Unity. To aid this process, the Labour peers are planning their own contribution by suggesting they will hold their own motion of no-confidence on Tuesday - in Jeremy Corbyn. And, just as helpfully, the E.U. Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen has said she would support a further extension of Article 50. All coming together nicely isn't it? So we'll find out in the next few days just precisely how we're set to 'take back control.' And by Friday, as an added bonus, with the new government of National Unity in place, we'll find that Labour's crisis with anti-Semitism has evaporated just as rapidly as it was concocted in the first place.
+Another day, another art junket, this time to Manchester where the International Festival is on. I went to see the heavily praised Tao of Glass, a paean to the great minimalist composer Philip Glass. This was written, co-produced and starred Phelim McDermott who has been a Glass fan ever since Glassworks came out in 1982. McDermott went on to produce several of Glass’s operas and sought his collaboration for this piece. It is, to coin a phrase, an examination in memory and loss, but also an extended reverie on the mystical side of life, if using the word ‘mystical’ is not a misrepresentation of the Tao te Ching and other Eastern works of philosophy much referred to in the performance, which is to say those that confirm that true wisdom lies in the knowledge that we haven't really got that great thing called wisdom. McDermott explained this through the three rings of sense (which literally hung in the air), which range from the common sense world of everyday understanding, to deeper perhaps emotional understanding to what’s at the base of it all, true essence. I rather got the impression that the best way to enter essence is to lie in a coma – but don’t let me give the game away. A brilliant piece.
+Over in the Manchester Art Gallery an interactive piece called School of Integration gave me the opportunity to fill in a citizenship questionnaire, comprising 24 questions taken from the UK’s very own test for overseas aspirants who wish to join the English Madness. I got 19 out of 24 right, a poor result which I largely ascribe to a non-existent (I couldn't care less)knowledge of the order in which Henry VIII married and dispatched his wives, and indeed whoever it was who introduced the art of shampooing to the UK (Sake Dean Mahomed). The pass mark by the way is 18, so I only just scraped through. The person who introduced shampoo to the UK must not be confused with Henry VIII’s first wife (who wasn’t rewarded for washing his hair since that was before the days of shampoo. And feminism. I think).
+Manchester city centre is swamped with Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their little mobile bookstalls advertising the possibility of home visits. They are all so smartly dressed, but I didn’t see anyone talking to them. I guess they weren’t in town for Tao of Glass. It’s curious how these things co-exist.
+Reading the Guardian (oh no!) on the way to Manchester yesterday, I noticed the full page advert attacking Corbyn placed by 67 Labour peers. It averred that he had failed the leadership test. Apparently this is because – well, you know the story – so had little more to say than ‘there’s a crisis because we keep talking it up.’ These people would have no truck with President Roosevelt’s comment ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself.’ They are the very epitome of Dad’s Army’s Corporal Jones: ‘Don’t panic! Don’t panic!’ (i.e. DO panic) I was very disappointed to see Peter Hain attaching his name to this advert. I thought he might have known better. I would have sent him an e-mail, but his website seems rather difficult to get hold of as is an e-mail address. Indeed, if you follow the link to Peter's website from the parliamentary House of Lords website, you will arrive at a site which lists Peter's supposed publications. This includes the Ford Sierra Air Conditioning Instruction Manual. I'm not sure Peter wrote this. Just as I'm not at all sure that everything posted by supposed Corbyn supporters are genuine either. Peter must know by now that the link on the House of Lords website is wrong, but he hasn't done anything about it (as of 19.05 on the 18th July 2019). So much for tackling the falsehoods which are rife on the web. Oh, the delights of being an unelected member of the legislature!
+The peers’ advert’s only reference to anything faintly anti-semitic referred to Corbyn’s reaction to the alleged anti-semitic mural in London, which he was asked to defend and did so apparently but later claimed that he hadn’t studied it enough. The mural is assumed to be anti-semitic because the fat cat businessmen portrayed in it have large noses, which is indeed a recognised anti-semitic trope. I’m not making excuses for Corbyn, but if you were brought up in a world of Ralph Steadman and Gerald Scarfe, and god knows how many other cartoonists, there were big noses, hooked noses, noses that defied description and no-one to my knowledge ever invoked the trope connection – what’s the thinking behind that?
+In the same Guardian, its birthday column placed ‘HRH Duchess of Cornwall’ first, ahead of the alphabetical list. What might happen if the Guardian buried this or any other royal birthday amongst the commoners? Would they be taken off the list of newspapers who are told when royal birthdays are?
+Talking of falling out, it appears Steve Bell has fallen foul of the Guardian's 'Get behind Tom Watson' campaign. I think we'll hear more about this soon. His cartoon strip didn't appear today.
+A review of David Lynch’s retrospective exhibition in Manchester will appear in Perambulations, under HOME. (shortly)
Well, I had my day off writing about the calumnies of the Labour Party, so now it’s time to get stuck back in, not least now that I have had the chance of watching the BBC Panorama hatchet job, still available on Iplayer. I would agree with Simon Maginn that it is a tendentious pile of crap, in the main repeating little more than unsubstantiated opinion and failing to pin down the hard evidence to support the programme’s premise that Labour is institutionally anti-semitic. When for example Louise Ellman MP complained that her constituency meetings were hostile, she did not actually say that was because she was Jewish, and the point wasn’t pushed. I can only say that when I was an MP I too faced hostility (especially after voting against the Iraq war) but that’s merely part and parcel of an MP’s life. God knows what it’s like now in the aftermath of the Brexit shite.
One thing that the programme’s concoctor John Ware would not be able to comprehend (and why would he) is the culture of the Labour Party. Is it the assumption that everything is conducted with decorum and civility in constituency meetings? I’m afraid that’s not been my experience. If you want a bit of cut and thrust, there was rarely a better place for it, with factional infighting and enmities aplenty, all spilt over what exactly the party stands for, etc., etc. In a broad church, what else might one expect? It was always a challenge to gain supremacy. Supremacy here means not only winning a political point but also positions. And there won’t be a Labour MP in the land who hasn’t got somebody eyeing up their seat, or wondering why you got it in the first place. These are simply the trite realities of local politics, and hostilities are often a consequence.
But my experience is not confined to having been an MP. As a party organiser for seven years, there’s a whole other story to be told. It is one which is largely ignored by political pundits, mainly because they think it doesn’t matter, or are simply ignorant of the importance of how a party organises below the level of the leader. It has to be said too, especially now, that the party leader may not understand it either. Back in the 90s when I worked for the Labour Party, it was understood that far from being a ’civil service’ serving the members impartially, it was our destiny to fulfil the leader’s wishes. In Blair’s case, he brought in Margaret McDonagh as General Secretary to shake the staff out of any complacency they may have had about this mission. One of the first tasks was to ensure that the original Clause 4 of the party’s constitution (basically the bit about nationalisation) was junked. Staff were engaged to make sure that conference delegates voted the right way. That set a pattern—regional staff were to coach delegates on how to behave, or to look out for troublemakers and isolate them. This was a deliberate policy to change the way the party worked, in other words to enforce a top-down definition of party democracy.
At the same time, older and long serving party staffers were pensioned off in favour of a new short-term student cohort. The attraction of working for the party for a short while whilst it was in the ascendant was obvious—it was the first step into a job with an MP or a lobbying business. Part of the problem with longer serving staff in this new regime could be—in my opinion—that in serving the cause they might be a wee bit cynical, which is to say that their attitude to the new top-down enforcement of Chinese style party loyalty didn’t quite fit their idea of local autonomy and the desire to build from the grassroots up. Many longer serving staff departed as new short-term contract youngsters (naturally without pension rights) swelled the ranks. Of course, the new recruits could be counted on to burn themselves out, but no matter: their CV was made.
Has this approach lessened since the benighted days of Margaret McDonagh? I suspect not. The party continues to use short term contracts and employs people on 12-hour contracts which morph into extended shifts and resentment is abundant when the party’s manifesto promises a stop to this kind of employment practice. In other words—and at last I come to my point—Corbyn has not sought to recognise his significant role as an employer, and so might as well expect his subordinates to rally against him in programmes such as the Panorama so-called investigation into the party’s ‘institutional’ anti-semitism. Of course, what I have suggested here is not an explanation of why former staffers have said what they have on that particular travesty, but I think there is here a clue—a big clue—to how the culture of the Labour Party creates problems for itself. This is to say that the leadership of the party never seems to quite trust its staff. Blair didn’t, and through McDonagh many were expunged. But at least the Blairites seemed to know what they wanted from their staff. When it comes to the left, they distrust the staff so much they cannot contemplate dealing with them. And, I could say speaking from experience, who could blame them (I am referring to my role in the defenestration of Liz Davies as parliamentary candidate in Leeds North East—just one example. By the way, in favour of a Jewish candidate)? The disjuncture today between the leader’s office staff and everyone else working for the party doesn’t look like it’s going to be resolved anytime soon. There is I suspect a siege mentality at the top which will prevent a softening of positions. I know this is all internal stuff, but if the party machine is dysfunctional it will seriously handicap its chance of electoral success, especially as the leader’s gloss wears off and everything becomes more reliant on the battle on the ground. So Jeremy—get a grip on your machine! Just as Blair did!
I feel an urgent need to write about something which doesn’t relate to Brexit or the Great Labour Party Anti-Semitism Debacle. Perhaps, due to the fact that I’m just recovering from a nasty cold I feel somewhat enervated, drained of energy to tackle these weighty subjects. So it is that I am fleetingly alighting on another pet hate, namely audience applause between movements in works of classical music. I was listening to a BBC Radio Three broadcast last night of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and it was disfigured by precisely this idiotic phenomenon. Do I want to listen to somebody else clapping away whilst the orchestra is girding itself for the Pizzicato ostinato or indeed the Allegro con fuoco? Absolutely not! Might it not be that in those brief moments between movements the musicians might not appreciate an opportunity to get their minds focused on what is to come? I have heard that in the past, audiences would intersperse movements with their applause, but I feel what we have now is a degeneration into that American habit of whooping and hollering at any anything towards which they feel some appreciative emotion. It’s like applause at the end of a film in the cinema. Is the projectionist meant to can it and send it back to Hollywood? If audiences could be generally more diffident, then when they did want to demonstrate appreciation or opprobrium it might have more impact. Or could it be that audiences want to be part of the performance, in the way that the only form of appreciation now thought sufficient stood say, in front of the Mona Lisa is to take your selfie with it? There’s a right time to applaud, as I have referred to in my review of Tectonics (see under Perambulations).
Two articles on climate change impacts have caught my attention. The first (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/07/news-internet-underwater-sea-level-rise/) shows how our fabled internet could soon fall victim to sea level rise. This is because a lot of the net’s physical structure is sited where people live, namely in cities on coasts. The risk from sea level rise does not appear to have been much of a consideration as the internet evolved. But much of this infrastructure will have to be protected or moved (one could say the same about coastal cities too). At what cost, who knows? What will come first, saving cyberspace or living space? The opportunities for capitalism will be endless. This point was rather emphasised in another article, this time about the current ‘climate refugees’ of New York (https://newrepublic.com/article/154044/new-york-superstorm-sandy-economic-climate-migrants). Residents in some poorer neighbourhoods have not recovered from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and are seeking to leave. Their problems, it is true have been compounded by other issues, such as the costs of property protection, higher insurance and a sclerotic government response (the U.S. doesn’t seem to do efficiency very well when it comes to poorer people), not to mention speculative property developers.
These things are and will be increasingly happening in the world’s most powerful economy. An economy which has neglected its infrastructure for decades. What will be the tipping point for Washington (which was flooded this week)? Horror of horrors, must we see Mar A Lago flooded before the President acts (and don’t all shout ‘the sooner the better!)?
+ I had the pleasure of a brief escape from the English Madness this week on a ‘mini break’ in Bruges. I’d recommend it. It is uplifting to spend a day or two not understanding what people are talking about, especially when, of course, their only topic of conversation must be the English Madness. What else could possibly be going on in their lives, these Europeans?
+ But what goes up must come down, and back in blighted Blighty the Guardian continues its anti-Corbyn campaign. Yesterday its main headline was “Dozens more will testify about Labour anti-semitism”. Now if I told you that, for example my apple tree had grown dozens of apples, what kind of impression would you have of the actual quantity? Unspecified ‘dozens’ might mean more than 30, might it not, especially if my apple tree is shall we say measured in a metric of 500,000. But a Guardian headline merely blaring out about 30 new complaints (the actual number buried in the text) doesn’t sound as shocking does it? Given the threefold sources for this story included a) unnamed b) the now discredited Jewish Labour Movement and c) the now utterly discredited Tom Watson MP the whole piece smells of vendetta. You don't need to wear a deerstalker to deduce that one.
+ I was away when the BBC’s Panorama aired its ‘exposé’ of Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ problem, and what I’ve read about it since easily shows it up to be part of this persistent attempt to destroy Corbyn’s leadership. Jonathan Cook has written an excellent piece about this here, so I won’t go into it. Except to say that the Guardian’s Chief Anti-Corbyn Cheerleader Jonathan Freedland had a comment piece today which referenced the Panorama programme as if it were gospel. In doing so he discredits his own cause but also comes up with a set of specious arguments, similarly (as ever) not grounded in evidence. He attacks the line that if Labour is representative of British society as whole, it is bound to contain a number of anti-semites. He suggests that any organisation that draws its membership from society ‘as a whole’ might also claim the same defence as fallacious, for example, given that carnivores are well represented in society as a whole, why aren’t there carnivores in the Vegetarian Society? This curious analogy doesn’t stand up of course—except one might wonder if there actually were carnivores in the Vegetarian Society, what might their motive be? It doesn’t seem to cross Freedland’s mind whether organisations could be infiltrated by its enemies. To think of another example, haven’t we heard about UKIP members infiltrating the Tory Party to try to get remain Tory MPs deselected? Suggesting this possibility doesn’t make me a conspiracy theorist. It’s a recognition that duplicitous shit goes on in the real world, as well as the virtual reality of the anonymous unsocial media.
+ I wonder if there’s a campaign by Native Americans to gain their own statehood? One of the most persecuted groups in humanity’s history (if not the most persecuted) surely have as much claim on statehood as Israel has (and I support the right of Israel to exist). Perhaps the whole of e.g. the Dakotas should be described as a Native American country, and maybe that would lead to the dispossession of land of some existing residents—but wouldn’t that simply be a recognition of the huge injustice suffered by the original occupants of that land? I’m not suggesting North and South Dakota is where Native Americans would choose to set up a new country, since practically any of the 50 states would do. This thought is partially inspired by the fact that the U.S. government continues its practice of treating the original Americans with disdain, as they try to push through the Dakota Access oil pipeline against the wishes of those whose historic lands it traverses.
I've been wondering why the Saudis are now so keen to sell off a major stake in their state owned oil business, Aramco. There are several possible explanations. The first has to be that their reserves have been massively exaggerated, and now's the time to get out before the shit hits the can. A second possibility is that they simply see the demand for their product declining thanks to technological responses to climate change, so now is a good time to capitalise on what in the short term remains a valuable resource. A third possibility is the need of the heir-assumptive, the so-called reformist Crown Prince to find some new sources of dosh to buy off anti-reform elements in Saudi Arabia's deeply conservative society. I suspect it is not so conservative as to be above good old fashioned bribery. This sell off is a straw in the wind of something or other, but I'm not sure as yet what it tells us. But I am sure it is fairly historic, in terms of our energy economy. I actually think this proposed sale is more important than the present issue we ('we' thanks to our 'leaders') have with Iran. And, whilst we're on the subject, let's not forget the price some subjugated regimes paid for nationalising their oil back in the 1950s/60's. There is an unfolding story here which will have all the elements of I told you so wrapped into one very neat bundle.
It may of course just be a typo, but I was amused to read an article by Peter Mandelson in the latest issue of the RSA Journal where he claims his grandfather Herbert Morrison served as 'acting Prime Minister in the post-war Labour government.' In which case no wonder poor old Clem Attlee, the actual Prime Minister, disliked him so much. What it must be like to have a deputy who jealously covets your position. Nothing much seems to have changed there, and perhaps as and when Jeremy Corbyn becomes PM he would be well advised to discard the non-constitutional deputy PM position. His current Labour Party deputy leader, the ever plotting Tom Watson could only be relied upon to intensify his ambitions. The words 'barge pole' and 'trust' come to mind.
According to Wikipedia, Morrison opposed the nationalisation of health services. It seems he can't be given too much credit then for Labour's greatest achievement. We won't hear so much about that from the grandson, who is Chairman and co-founder of Global Counsel, which helps corporates and policy-makers behave properly in our capitalist nirvana. There's some useful analysis on their website for those who may be interested in taking up Trump's generous offer to buy chunks of the NHS in future trade deals with the UK.
I notice from the list of Mandy's positions on their website that he is also a member of the 'International Advisory Committee' of BlueVoyant, a cyber security company. BlueVoyant claims "The leadership talent that guides BlueVoyant comes from the top cybersecurity organizations in the world, including the FBI, NSA, Unit 8200, GCHQ and the c-suite of major Fortune 500 companies are spread across the globe. Expert monitoring, detection, response and remediation is delivered by seasoned analysts from our Security Operations Centers (SOCs) in the US and Israel."
I must confess to not having known about Unit 8200 before - even though it has a very useful mention in Wikipedia, and is apparently the largest unit in the Israeli Defence Force. It gets up to all sorts of cyber tricks, and is said to have been the source of the Stuxnet virus which brought a halt to Iran's uranium enrichment, and also damaged many other industrial systems globally. You see, that's where you need the services of highly-connected BlueVoyant - whose sales pitch could be 'we know who smashes your windows so we can fix them faster.'
Cyber 'security' means different things to different people, but these days when anyone talks about security and the internet and /or personal information, it's time to reach for the sick bag. Or perhaps not, as Mandy concludes his article (which fears the exclusion of a post-Brexit UK from e.g. GPS systems so useful for weapons targeting) "there is a duty not to destroy completely what has been such a good and useful relationship, at so many levels." I know what you mean, Peter. (emphasis added)
A letter to the Guardian about an article today written by Gordon Brown. One of my regrets was being one of many Labour MPs who nominated him after Blair resigned. I should have supported Michael Meacher instead. Anyway, I partially made up for my mistake by publicly suggesting Brown should go and make way for Ed Milliband. We may just have won the 2010 general election but as ever, hubris got in the way.
I was disappointed to see Gordon Brown joining the 'Labour is anti-Semitic' melee. Without citing any actual evidence he refers to a 'web of poison,' and ' to some Labour members' using social media to spread anti-Semitism. If he is certain of this, has he supplied details of those members to the Party? Who or what is he referring to when he says 'even the suggestion that the Labour party is in anyway silent, ambiguous or ambivalent in its response to such a toxic environment shames us all.' That such a suggestion could be repeated when the evidence actually points to Labour taking concerted action suggests Gordon simply hasn't been paying attention. Nor does he seem to have read Chris Williamson's actual remarks on the subject, which in no way could be described as anti-Semitic. All of what Gordon has said may be a truthful reflection of his opinions, but his opinions are not grounded in the reality and merely help perpetuate a media storm designed to undo Corbyn's leadership.
+ To celebrate Scarborough's venerable Jazz Club’s 35th birthday they are having a free jazz party at the Spa on Sunday 21st July – and it is essentially a free jazz festival, with a great line-up – New York Brass Band, MG3 & Friends, Social Oven, AC3, Vibeology and special guest Dennis Rollins. It kicks off at 4pm in the Spa but at 3.15pm the New York Brass Band will lead a stroll from the lifeboat station to the Spa. Sounds like a lot of fun, and did I mention it’s all free? (Apart from the booze of course.) The Jazz Club is at The Cask Inn every Wednesday.
+ Talking of jazz, the same weekend has the Leeds Jazz Festival where on the 20th July the highlight has to be Mrs Boyes’ Bingo, 4pm at the Leeds College of Music. It’s bingo but not as you know it.
+ Jeremy Hunt is turning out to be just as bad as Boris Johnson, using neo-colonial bluster against the Chinese for the current state of affairs in Hong Kong. He has promised ‘serious consequences’ if China doesn’t respect the former colony’s separate governance systems. What does he have in mind, that we despatch our aircraftless carrier to sail in circles around Hong Kong harbour? I believe the Chinese have an aircraft carrier with aircraft. Or is he talking of a bit more finger wagging whilst the Tory leadership race plods on? I think I sympathise to a certain extent with China’s ambassador to Britain when he told Hunt to stay out of China’s affairs. Or perhaps, since the cause of the demonstrations in Hong Kong is a proposed extradition law with the mainland, he could respond by questioning the wisdom of Britain’s unbalanced extradition arrangements with the U.S.
+ An excellent article by Jonathan Cook has been reposted on the Jewish Voice for Labour website here. It is a good, comprehensive examination of the recent smears, cabalistic attacks and general denigration against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. Well worth reading.