(Despite faithfully typing in the email address of Heather Stewart at the Guardian - see yesterday’s blog - my email has bounced back, it seems the address cannot be found. I will try again.)
Now then. Given my condemnation of the numpties that comprise the DUP, that group of pork-belly politicians who seem to lack all shame, I should perhaps balance my view of them with some thoughts on Sinn Féin. I understand their principle of not being willing to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen, but one wonders in the context of Brexit if standing by this principle will harm the chances of their achieving what they actually want. There are seven Sinn Féin MPs and their presence in the Commons could radically alter the parliamentary arithmetic, seriously reducing the value to Theresa May of the DUP’s 10 members.
There are many republicans of the British variety who have objections to the oath of allegiance, myself included, but for me the wording allowed sufficient wriggle room to say it. The affirmation version (removing references to God) says “I (name of Member) do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm, that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law.” It’s the last few words which allowed me to utter it - ‘and successors, according to law.’ Logically, successors could include an elected head of state, and combined with the words ‘according to law’ this could point, as far as people in Northern Ireland are concerned, even to a successor who happens to be a Taoiseach. The oath doesn’t specify which country these successors might be head of state of, after all. Yes, it is assumed it refers only to the British state. But it doesn’t say that.
As things stand the DUP are making ground, under the cover of Brexit, in their ambition to demolish the Good Friday agreement and all Sinn Féin seem bothered about are a few archaic words. They would serve their cause better if they took the bloody oath and got on with the job they are being paid for. They might also earn some credit by representing the majority of voters in Northern Ireland who voted remain.
This may be a drag for my readers who are not terribly interested in Labour Party matters, but my previous blog has led me to do a little digging round on t’internet to see why a relatively small number of Labour Party members become lapsed members. The Guardian can’t quite seem to make its mind up – is it because of Corbyn’s rampant anti-semitism (sic), is it because of his lack of 110% Europhilia, or is it because the Guardian wants to get Chukka (those boots are made for walking) Umunna to set up a new centrist party with his Tory pals?
First I wanted to know – if it is correct that 12,000 members left in the last couple of months, as asserted without verifiable evidence in the Guardian – how many of them, errr, simply died? That question wasn’t asked in the article (did they die because they didn’t agree with Comrade Corbyn?) but I reckon the attrition rate through death could have been between 1,000 and 2,000. It would be the lower end of that spectrum if the average age of party members was the same as that of the UK as a whole, and it would be higher if the average age of members was higher. The UK average age is around 40 years, the Labour Party’s average age is in the 50s. Some of the evidence for this can be found here:
Then there is the question of how many members have departed our shores. Maybe some are E.U. migrants returning home. Obviously, that could only be because they hate Jeremy Corbyn – what other possible explanation could there be? But there’s no way of knowing how many members lapsed because they moved away, so better not ask the question – or even imagine it possible.
Of course, we know we shouldn’t believe all that we read in the newspapers, but it would be nice to think you could believe some of it. As it happens, the Independent article linked above suggested that Conservative Party membership is around 70,000. The Guardian article I’m moaning about suggested it was 124,000. Who is right?
I sometimes wonder whether some journalists, and of course I am more familiar with those who write for the Guardian, ever wonder whether they could be fact checked. Do they not realise that we can cross-check stuff using this thing called the internet? I have to confess it is difficult sometimes to fact check articles which are based on unattributable sources - in other words, anonymous people with agendas.
re: "Labour membership drops 10% amid unrest over Brexit stance"
I know you aren't responsible for the headlines which appear over your pieces (I assume not, anyway) but I want you to know that I take issue with the tenor of your article today which makes such headlines possible. Basically, it seems you have been fed by unattributable sources that Labour is losing members - that leads the story. But then - absurdly - buried in the depths of your report you write 'more members have joined Labour than quit during recent months.' But you can't tell us how many! So what exactly are you saying? The tenor of your report is overwhelmingly negative, so I guess that's the impression you want to leave.
As per the Guardian house rule, you complete your article with more of the Labour anti-semitism stuff. I complained about an article in yesterday's paper about the same thing - why did it have to be repeated again? (I posted my complaint on my blog - I can't say I'm too hopeful of getting a response from the paper.) You repeat the suggestion that a motion on anti-semitism was 'passed' by the PLP - yet it seems no vote was taken. How then was it 'passed?'
I have been a Labour member for as long as I've been a Guardian reader - over 35 years - and I was a member of the PLP for nine years. I am beginning to get somewhat weary of the editorial line that you are clearly required to follow - a line which increasingly doesn't seem to be based on transparent evidence but emerges from unattributable briefings or as in the case of Margaret Hodge, openly coated with venom for Jeremy Corbyn.
Please speak to your editors and see if you can get something done about it. I'll post this letter on my blog, and I will do the same with your reply, if you do reply.
(Labour MP for Morley and Rothwell 2001-2010)
Blog correction: the gain in membership should refer to weeks, as in the article quoted, not months.
The Guardian reports today on last night's meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party - why? Oh yes, it's anti-semitism again! I thought the subject had been ignored for a while so Hodge and Co. have got together to keep things going. A full report can be found on The Skwawkbox, which I think is probably more accurate than the Guardian's little Hodge-puff. I have sent the following to the Guardian - we'll see if they reply:
1. Question of accuracy: was a vote taken on the motion on anti-semitism at the PLP? If no vote was taken, how can it be said that it was 'unanimously passed?' A detailed report in The Skwawkbox (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/FMfcgxwBVWMvxklQGPTtXhSrLrGSHXvh?compose=CllgCKCDCjdCRGSvQjKccDlDDwthBfrcnFJDCSfPCQPhlkqhRkSmpKgqSrLspsVPZRqQqwMqNqB) suggests that your report is inaccurate.
2. Question of bias: The same website posting reveals the entire text of Jenny Formby's letter on anti-semitism to members of the PLP. Was your reporter aware of this letter when writing the report that appeared in today's paper? The letter goes to great lengths to explain what the Party is doing about alleged anti-semitism in the Labour Party, and surely would have merited comment. If your reporter, or others at the Guardian had sight of this letter, then clearly its absence in the report demonstrates bias - fed presumably by those who wish to keep this story alive.
I would like to see corrections as appropriate. As a former member of the PLP I know how some members like to rush out into the committee room corridor and feed journalists with their take on things. Sometimes, the journalists are even primed! (Would you believe it?)
There can’t be too much doubt that the current Venezuelan government is incompetent, corrupt and in need of profound reform. But those three words, incompetent, corrupt and reform could apply equally to many other regimes around the world. I’m thinking particularly of Saudi Arabia, where they don’t even pretend to have free and fair elections. I know I’m joining a chorus of those who have expressed their disgust at the hypocritical stance of ‘our’ government in recognising a Venezuelan opposition leader as ‘interim president’ but then could we expect anything less from May’s crackpot, banana regime which only exists because it has bribed the DUP fruitcakes? And if El Trumpo engages in a military escapade in what our junior Foreign Office minister, the diminutive Alan Duncan described as ‘America’s backyard’ should we applaud such action on ‘humanitarian’ grounds? Because that is how it will be sold, as opposed to the sanctions currently imposed. It would be more civilised to engage with the government and civil society of Venezuela to seek a way out of its current problems than to go along with yet another U.S. imperial intervention. ‘Backyard’ indeed. At least in Alan Duncan we have somebody who knows his stuff. According to Wikipedia: “After graduating from Oxford, Duncan worked as a trader of oil and refined products, first with Royal Dutch Shell (1979–81) and then for Marc Rich from 1982 to 1988 (Rich became a fugitive from justice in 1983). He worked for Rich in London and Singapore. Duncan used the connections he had built up to be self-employed from 1988 to 1992, acting as a consultant and adviser to foreign governments on oil supplies, shipping and refining.”
So we can safely say Venezuela’s oil will be in safe hands.
I have set up a small exhibition of works based on the Transporter Bridge – and a vision of climate change represented by a five million tonne sphere of solid lead. This is roughly equivalent to a year’s output of carbon dioxide emitted from Middlesbrough, although the figures I have used to compute this will have dropped a bit due to the recent closure of industry in the area. A visit to see the Transporter Bridge is worth it in its own right, but now there is no excuse (he said).
I wonder if we have ever lived in more deluded times. Is this the new normal? Or is it simply the case that in the information age we are given a greater glimpse of how things really are, which is to say that we are daily exposed to the fact that our leaders fly by the seat of their pants, with fingers crossed and ever hopefully listening to what astrologers have to say? On the latter point, it’s not really that long ago since rulers really did call in their astrologers, and if memory serves both Reagan and Hitler found some guidance in such things. Whatever is guiding our rulers now, it seems rationality, reason and evidence is absent. Of course, all’s well that ends well because as e.g. Tony Blair once said in relation to his Iraq catastrophe, ‘I’ll answer to God.’
Wouldn’t it be fun if Theresa May took up tweeting on a Trumpian scale? At least we might get a clearer idea of the true state of her mind and how she battles with her neurosis. As things stand, the only rational explanation for her behaviour is her obsession with keeping the Nasty Party together. I wonder where she stands on the Corn Laws.
Over in the States, where in Chicago temperatures are dropping in what must feel like The Day After Tomorrow proportions, El Trumpo has declared that a bit of global warming wouldn’t go amiss, which is to say look folks, there’s no such thing. Naturally his views, being delusional, lead him to make such asymmetric pronouncements – since the Midwest drought, heatwaves, fires and other signs of climate change never result in similar expressions of intellectual vacuity.
It seems to me that around the world conditions are developing which could precipitate some immediate disasters which in the context of climate change would serve as useful distraction activities (a bit like Brexit, or another financial crash) and our rulers will simply be bereft of the mental capacity to see the wood for the trees.
Reading Why We Get The Wrong Politicians (Atlantic Books, 2018) by Spectator assistant editor Isabel Hardman I was expecting to find a hack’s cynical demolition job of politicians in line with the view expressed recently that if they – the politicians – were running a business, they’d all be sacked. But no, the book I thought was sane and evenly balanced, and from my own experience accurate in the way it portrays the creaking, dysfunctional state of UK governance. A more accurate title of the book may have been Why We Get The Politicians We Deserve – in the system we’ve got. It’s a timely book, given the current mess, but doesn’t really help us discover how we might get the right politicians. A few tweaks to our parliamentary system won’t do the job. A hugely better informed electorate just might. An engaged electorate in a mature democracy – there’s a fine thought.
I watched a film the other night that was so ridiculous it has stuck in my mind – the sort of film you wonder how it ever got made. I hope one day it becomes a cult classic. Poorly acted, cliché ridden script, hopeless plot, hopeless special effects, hopeless all round, it was gripping in its hopelessness – and few films actually achieve 1% on Rotten Tomatoes, which says something about it. Ahh, the joys of a 50p film bought in CEX.
It was called Left Behind, starring Nicholas Cage as an airline pilot trying to steer his strangely stricken plane back to JFK after God has instituted rapture, removing almost half the passengers, leaving behind only their clothing and personal effects. Perhaps there’s a hint here that removing all the children from a flight is not such a bad thing. And certainly at 30,000 feet there’s a good chance that they’ll get to Heaven quicker.
Intercut with scenes from the plane were scenes from a shopping mall where all hell breaks loose when all the children there disappear too. Interspersed were some apposite attempts in the film to examine the value of God’s judgement (or lack of), which added to its whole sense of stupidity.
Could this have been the director’s intention? Looking on various Google search results for the film I am struck by the reaction from Christians – who seem to think that the film was meant to be a ‘Christian film’ – whatever that is, like maybe Life of Brian was a Christian film. Only God knows. But the important thing about this film is its unintended absurdity, which only reflects the absurdity of its very subject – rapture. On this level it succeeds in every way and deserves respect. It gave a Biblical heave of Hollywood proportions to a belief of such enormous religious stupidity it couldn’t have better accomplished the task of exposing nonsense.
And if you think that such a job is unnecessary, it might be worth remembering that Ronald Reagan believed in the concept of Rapture. He had his finger on the button. Thank God that Trump is unlikely to be one of the chosen few who leaves his clothes behind, come rapture.
I thoroughly recommend this film. For 50p its doesn’t get any worse.
And let's not forget that even today - according to polls - more than half of Americans believe in stuff like rapture. It's prophesised isn't it?
I was surprised on my trip to the newsagent this morning to see that none of the usual tawdry red-top suspects had the headline TRAITOR! on their frontpages, over the story of ‘Sir’ James Dyson ‘O.M.’s moving his HQ to Singapore. I had a look at two of the Brexit supporting papers’ websites, and the word didn’t crop up there either – more a sense of faint embarrassment that the billionaire apparently couldn’t give a fuck, to coin a phrase.
Personally, I don’t feel any sense of loss. As the owner of a still exceedingly well performing hoover, which I’ve had for well over half my adult life I never saw any miraculous benefit in shelling out a small fortune for a Dyson. Indeed, I am convinced that the Dyson variety of sucker was more a result of miraculous marketing than technology. For me, anything with ‘Dyson’ written on it was a definite ‘mustn’t have.’ All the more so now. Good riddance. Hand your gongs in on your way out.
But Dyson isn’t the only one with an escape route is he? What about that business Rees-Mogg has a hand in, moving abroad? What about Lord Lawson living in France? Or Nigel Farage who ensures his children have German passports, takes 100,000 Euros in salary from the E.U. each year but only attended 3 out of 751 meetings (see Irish Times here)? Whatever happens with Brexit, the leaders of the leave campaign will still do very nicely, wherever they end up, if not the U.K.
The word ‘consensus’ cropped up in a news story the other day, inasmuch as Theresa May was rejecting the idea of a cross party Brexit consensus and wished merely to carry on with her only deal. In which case Jeremy Corbyn was perfectly right to reject the idea of entering talks with her. She might of course agree to a ‘consensus’ if it were entirely on her terms. The kind of consensus a prison warder may feel able to offer.
If it is correct that the public are fed up with the ongoing debates in Westminster it may be assumed that they would prefer it if consensus did break out – but I’m not so sure. As with the Brexit referendum itself, in which I suspect a great many people on both sides and the leaders thereof never even paused to consider the backstop or Norway plus plus plus, the idea of forming a consensus won’t have been given much thought either. But oddly enough, there was a de facto consensus during the referendum campaign – all the major parties, a good section of the media, the establishment, celebrities and others largely supported remain. That consensus was rejected and a motley opposition led by cranks, hard right pundits and yes – many xenophobes and some racists – won the day, albeit by a slim margin.
Perhaps we should now be asking ourselves whether the concept of consensus is actually useful in a democratic society. Does anything in history point to its value? In post war times, one might look at the notion of Butskellism, a combination of centrist Conservative and Labour forces in the 1950s which produced a watered down version of social progress – watered down that is from Attlee’s more evident socialism – but still, in the shadow of the war nevertheless committed to maintaining post-war recovery. That could be seen in say large scale council house building through to the post-imperial recognition of the need to decolonise.
Before that we had a National Government – all the way through from its formation in 1935 to the end of the war. Yet as hard as the Sun or Daily Mail may try to portray him, Jean Claude Juncker doesn’t quite equate to the threat of the little corporal with the toothbrush moustache. The E.U. is not an existential threat which demands a national government (which implies in the current context, right wing government). Who in their stupid minds thinks that a national government now, carrying on with all its associated austerity baggage has the slightest chance of flying?
When I chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change we commissioned a study on whether a cross party consensus on tackling climate change was desirable. At the time I thought that the scale of the challenge made it a necessity, but clearly in the hay day of a Labour government with a big majority it was never going to happen. Opposition parties would have resiled from joining hands with a government intent on putting forward unpopular climate change policies – and any policy effective enough to deal with climate change would have been unpopular. And even if the parties had got together to agree on such policies, how long would it be before they were all portrayed as part of some elite cabal up to some nefarious con? Climate change sceptics would have had a field day. But climate change is a crisis which makes Brexit look like a crossword puzzle.
In cases like this democracy is unable to resolve different views into anything like a solution. The greatest invention of civilisation is also its Achilles heel.