What are the chances of a new ‘centrist’ party being formed? Chuka Umuuna has denied that he is up for it. At the same time he has politely asked Corbie to ‘call off his dogs,’ i.e. those Labour Party members who are unhappy with Labour MPs who support the government in all but name. Chuka must believe it to be the beholden duty of all Labour Party members to support their MPs whatever they do. Actually, a good reason not to bother with non-binding no confidence motions in their MP is to avoid giving said person more of an excuse to jump ship to the Martyrs’ Progress Party. Anyway, it’s a bit rich the right-wing moaning since Blair’s camp during the 1990s had no scruples about doing whatever they could to get rid of people that upset them. I should know, since working for the party at the time I apparently earned the title ‘Blair’s enforcer’ in Leeds (according to the BBC). What goes round comes round, sometimes with the other boot on it.
Anyway, a new party? Will this emerge out of what ‘Sir' Vince ‘I knew nothing about austerity’ Cable called a new ‘moderate movement?’ (Sounds like the first stirrings after a period of constipation.) Others like to think of this beast as the ‘radical centre.’ Or the Third Way. Or triangulation. All such formulations of course accept in the main the neo-liberal narrative as its core. This pushes for “deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation.” (Guardian, 18/7/17) New Labour, which finally died with Corbyn’s election as leader was a major proponent of these approaches, albeit with an added touch of social liberalism. In the minds of the wannabe leaders of the ‘moderate movement’ the centre is a neo-liberal centre – Cable knows this, serving as he did for five years in an austerity crazed government. Perhaps the new party could be called the Neo Liberal Party, or Liberal Party for short.
Our first past the post electoral system will put paid to any new centrist party, as it did with the SDP. But beyond that, what would the new party actually stand for? Timing here is very important. For Umuuna, it would certainly be an anti-Brexit party, but unless such a party comes into existence long before the March 2019 E.U. exit date, it’s hard to see what influence it might have. Brexit is only six months away and whatever deal (or no deal) is struck is even closer. And, rather embarrassingly for new ‘centre’ party enthusiasts from Labour’s ranks, polling analysis by YouGov suggests that those electors who feel least represented by the existing parties are ‘Leavers.’
Nevertheless, if the ‘Labour is anti-semitic’ hysteria is now wearing a little thin, I suspect media talk of a Labour split will come in for a good airing. Some Labour MPs, fearing deselection may go for it, but such a new party will hardly be blessed with any new thinking or unique selling point. Or indeed, a leader with any charisma, since the only person whose name regularly crops in this context is Chuka, and he quickly dropped out the last time he was in a leadership race.
It’s a shame the Labour Party NEC backed down on the question of adopting all of the possible examples of anti-semitism appended to the IHRA definition. It was expedient I suppose, but hardliners like Hodge have already said it’s two steps forward and one step back, although I have not seen an elaboration on what the one step back is. The issue is not going away as long as the anti-Palestinian pro-Israeli lobby keeps up its work. That they will do that is evident from the work this lobby is doing in the U.S. (given the American contribution of 20% to Israel’s defence budget this is more important to them than what the U.K. is up to.) An article just published by Counterpunch reveals how as a consequence of a quite separate dispute in the Middle East (Qatar v. Saudi Arabia, et al) the Qatari owned Al Jazeera TV network has dropped its U.S. equivalent of their U.K. investigation of how the Israel lobby is working tirelessly behind the scenes to smear pro-Palestinian voices, especially in academia. Here’s a sample:
Students recounted in the documentary exactly what they faced. Summer Awad, who took part in a campaign for Palestinian rights in Knoxville, Tennessee, was harassed on Twitter, and information about her, some of it dating back a decade, was posted online: ‘They are digging and digging. Somebody contacted my employer and asked for me to be fired. If they continue to employ me they will be denounced as antisemitic.’ Denunciation can end careers or make it hard for students to find a job after graduation. To get their names off the blacklist, some victims write messages of ‘repentance’, which Canary Mission posts on its site (8). These anonymous confessions, whose writers explain that they were ‘deceived’, are much like those of suspected communist sympathisers under McCarthyism in the US in the 1950s, or victims of authoritarian regimes today. Baime said: ‘It’s psychological warfare. It drives them crazy. They either shut down, or they spend time investigating [the accusations against them] instead of attacking Israel. It’s extremely effective.’ Another person told Kleinfeld [Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter): ‘I think antisemitism as a smear is not what it used to be.’
Labour’s outright adoption of the IHRA definition will I think give the lie to the last comment above (although there's a bit of ambiguity there). It will be used as ‘the lobby’ intends – to silence legitimate debate in the U.K. political party where that debate has been strongest, and dare I say healthiest.
I am beginning to wonder about the sanity of continuing to blog about the so-called anti-semitism ‘problem’ in the Labour Party – it feels like an all-consuming flesh eating moth that’s flown in through the window and is about to burrow into one’s brain through one’s left ear lobe. Maybe that should be the right ear lobe. Anyway, it’s been a long day, starting with Jonathan Sacks given free air time to slander Corbyn on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme this morning and the BBC news at ten this evening headlining with the ‘news’ of Gordon Brown’s speech (rant) to a smallish meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement (which they’ve never reported before) instead of leading with their next story about the complete fuck-up in Brexit which is now emerging, and which will definitely pose an ‘existential’ threat to a great many people in the UK. The fact that all these anti-Corbynites didn’t speak out at the same time – Sacks, Field, Brown, various others – but have emerged in a drip feed, strongly suggests a concerted effort to keep the nonsense alive. It’s like somebody is passing a baton around, with the words ‘now it’s your turn, he hasn’t gone yet.’ Why didn’t Gordon Brown awake to Corbyn’s ‘anti-semitism’ three months ago? Why did it take Field so long to discover his badly hurt conscience? Come on Tony, it’s your turn next. The Telegraph would love to hear from you.
Yet another Labour comrade has been feeding the Daily Telegraph’s insatiable appetite for comments designed to assist Labour win the next election. Comrade Blunkett pronounced to an audience (which almost certainly will have outnumbered purchasers - still less readers - of his book ‘The Blunkett Tapes’) that “Either Jeremy Corbyn can lead a party into gradual decline and irrelevance, or demonstrate that he can lead a party fit for government. The choice is his." Actually David, the choice was in the hands of Labour Party members, and your coded call for Corbyn to resign can be consigned along with the Telegraph to the toilet. But another ‘Big Beast’ – Gordon Brown has unintentionally reminded voters what irrelevance is since that was the judgement of the electorate on him in 2010. Speaking today at a meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement, Gordon has like an Old Testament prophet seen the future of Labour if Jeremy doesn’t buck his ideas up. He wants Labour to adopt the contentious IHRA definition of anti-semitism in its entirety (it already has of course, but perhaps that fact is a post-truth fact). The dividing lines are becoming clearer, and as this affair drags on, it must be obvious to even the most disinterested, couldn’t-care-less observer that this row has bugger all to do with anti-semitism.
Thanks to Jewish Voice for Labour for revealing what the great Corbyn ‘irony’ remark was all about. I haven’t seen it reported anywhere else before – the actual words used by the Palestinian ambassador at the meeting in 2013 were intended as ironic: “You know I’m reaching the conclusion that the Jews are the children of God, the only children of God and the Promised Land is being paid by God. I have started to believe this because nobody is stopping Israel building its messianic dream of Eretz Israel to the point I believe that maybe God is on their side.” He was challenged by a group of Zionists in the room. It was this that sparked Corbyn’s comment – which has so inflamed ‘Lord’ Jonathan Sacks, Frank (perhaps a peerage from May is on its way) Field and others. I bet none of the Corbyn detractors had read the Palestinian ambassador’s ironic comment either.
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.
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.