Some thoughts on Corbyn and the Labour Party

By Citizen Sane

It seems fashionable once more to ask “what was your Kronstadt?” I’ve probably had three epochal political awakenings in my life, three incidents in particular that have made me re-evaluate my world view.

Number 1: Moscow, February 1992. On a college trip to Russia, the collapse of the Soviet Union still a contemporaneous event. We were a coach load of 17 and 18 year old A Level politics students, spending the entire week getting riotously drunk in a place where a champagne cocktail was about the same price as a first class stamp. We were privileged westerners taking a holiday in a bankrupt, crumbling country. You should have seen the department store in Red Square, probably the Russian equivalent of Selfridges: the shelves were practically empty. The locals, even if they had money to spend, couldn’t have spent it on anything worth buying. Different story for westerners, of course. If you had money of value, then Moscow was yours for the taking. We were bussed to a store exclusively for people with real currency (dollars ideally, sterling or Deutschmarks also welcome): effectively a duty free store in the centre of the city for people with the right passport. It was on the bus journey back to the hotel that I had an experience that’s stayed with me until this day. One of our history lecturers, an organiser of the trip, was riding shotgun with the bus driver and I distinctly remember the conversation where Tony (for was his name), an ex-fireman-turned-history lecturer, militant leftist, was telling the bus driver how the collapse of the Soviet Union was a Bad Thing, how the last thing the Russian people needed was the privileges and decadence of the evil West, that they were better off under the protection of Soviet communism. Easy to say when a few days later you’ll be getting a plane back to your comfortable house in Kent and returning to your safe job that doesn’t pay too badly. Let’s just patronise this bus driver before we go home to our stable democracy with its high standard of living and leave him in this decaying state. I was still young and impressionable but I remember thinking there and then, with utter clarity: “what complete balls”.

Number 2: London, June 1999. June 18th, to be precise: the J18 “Carnival Against Capital” protests that started at Liverpool Street in the City of London then spread, erupting into violence and vandalism. It all started peacefully enough – a work colleague and I took a stroll up there from our office near the Bank of England to see what was going on – basically a party atmosphere outside the station, lots of people wearing silly hats and playing drums, chanting vague slogans about ‘globalisation’ and the WTO. En route a pamphlet was thrust into my hand which explained, by way of a cartoon, how foolish we all were to be working in an office when instead we could be in the pub. Fine though such a sentiment is, it doesn’t stand up to rigorous intellectual scrutiny, and nor did much else I saw there. I started with some sympathy for the general theme of the movement – who doesn’t want a fairer world? – but finished with little but contempt for the woolly headed gibberish I was exposed to. As always, it was opposition to something rather than realistic alternatives being proposed. If you want an alternative to capitalism – which has actually lifted a billion people out of absolute poverty in the last twenty years or so – then spell it out. It amounted to little more than pampered western kids whining about things they don’t understand. The fact that it ended with riots was par for the course, given the usual thugs that attach themselves to such causes. Capitalism isn’t perfect, and its rougher edges need to be sanded down occasionally, but there is no better vehicle for raising wealth, living standards and – coupled with stable liberal democracy – life expectancy. If the choice is imperfect capitalist democracy or a poorly defined future utopia then I’ll take the former every time, thanks.

Number 3: New York, September 11th 2001. Of course 9/11 was a moment that defined my outlook forever. The sheer contempt I felt for some of the voices speaking in the weeks and months that followed that day still burns inside me today. Most of all I was affronted by the idea that we should somehow try to understand the motives of the barbarians who committed such an assault on a cosmopolitan city in a vibrant liberal democracy. And such voices were everywhere, nowhere more so than – where else? – the pages of The Guardian. This, by Seumas Milne, sticks in the mind more than anything else. 9/11 highlighted how much of the left is still polluted with anti-American & anti-western hatred, moral equivalence and sympathising with the worst people on the planet as long as their target is also the United States. Nowhere is this more apparent than the dreadful Stop The War Coalition which is dedicated to highlighting the ‘crimes’ of the west while the actions of Russia, China, North Korea and a host of others are routinely ignored.

So what does this have to do with Jeremy Corbyn? Well, everything. Because the Labour Party is now in the hands of people who think along these lines. Anti-Western, anti-American, anti-business, anti-Israel, “Stop The War” supporting throwbacks have, by some vile aberration, taken control of the party that I have, by and large, voted for in every election. And now, like many on the centre/centre left, I don’t have a political home. I have voted for the Conservative Party once in my life – in the London mayoral elections of 2012, when I would have voted for an abandoned refrigerator before I’d have voted for Ken Livingstone – but, protest vote aside, I don’t want to become a Conservative voter. Who does that leave – the Lib Dems? Might as well write an X on a piece of paper and stick it in the bin. No, when it comes to political parties with which I can broadly support, there are none. And this has been a drip drip drip effect since 2007 as Labour lost its focus on holding the sensible centre and drifted back to its comfort zone, licking its stitches like a recently neutered dog and losing the confidence of people who can actually return them to power. With the election of Corbyn, Labour has gone even further than its comfort zone: they’ve moved to the Outer Hebrides, erected a ten foot granite wall around themselves, wrapped themselves in a red flag and are firing anyone who is not sufficiently ideologically “pure” over the wall via cannon. Voters are turning their backs in their droves – an early poll shows that Corbyn has lost 20% of potential voters already – and I can’t see this situation getting any better over time.

Of course the rabid Corbynites are ecstatic. They’ve “got their party back” – finally those “Tory-lite Blairites” (you know, the people who made Labour electable) are on the run. The attacks and “smears” by the right wing media and the Conservatives show how terrified they are of a real Labour alternative. To be this deluded takes real effort, you know. From what I can gather, a defiantly socialist Labour are going to mobilise an elusive army of non-voters who have for years been alienated by the lack of real choice. Call me naïve, but I was under the impression that non-voters were called non-voters for a reason. Rather than trying to win back people who actually do vote, Labour are betting the farm on a dark pool of people who, most likely, aren’t even paying attention anyway.

Nick Cohen went public with an open letter of resignation from the left this week in The Spectator with a piece that is well worth reading and has been described as his “Hitchens moment” – a reluctant acceptance that the left has finally become something which he can no longer support. Fight or flight seems to be the choice in the Labour Party now, and I think the flighters are going to be bigger in number than the fighters. If Labour presents Corbyn as leader in the 2020 general election they are going to be annihilated, but the damage is already done: the last week has shown the country that Labour are still packed with unreconstructed leftists who, given the chance, will immediately return to the mistakes of 1983 and the unfounded belief that they are only unpopular because they aren’t left wing enough. It will be a hard lesson, all the more frustrating given that they’ve already learned this lesson before. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, etc.

Corbyn’s first week as leader has played out pretty much as expected: badly. The clumsy shadow cabinet selection, the appointment of a shadow chancellor who has supported the IRA in the past and who believes that printing money is the solution to the deficit, the national anthem debacle, the mediocre and toothless performance at prime minister’s questions. I fully expect Corbyn and company to build upon these calamities in the coming weeks, months and years as they continue to position themselves well to the left of the electorate and reap the rewards that this brings: electoral oblivion. They and their supporters can rejoice that they have returned Labour to its historical values: out of touch, out of control and out of power.

I hope that sanity can prevail, that Labour will shake off these fleas and reposition itself as a credible party of the centre left dedicated to economic success, prosperity, equality, liberty and international responsibility but until then consider my support withheld.

Don’t let’s be beastly to the North Koreans

By Citizen Sane

It’s not surprising. Finding something ridiculous in The Guardian and being surprised is like peeling a banana and being astonished to find there’s a banana in there.

Avoiding Guardian articles is more difficult than it used to be. I stopped buying the damn thing years ago and only visit Comment Is Free when I’m feeling masochistic. But in this age of social media there’s a good chance you’ll see at least half a dozen links to their website on Twitter or Facebook every day. And that’s how you’ll come across something like this: Dangerous, isolated and primed for war? North Korean clichés debunked wherein Hazel Smith (professor of International Relations and Korean Studies, and director of the International Institute of Korean Studies at the University of Central Lancashire) will put you in the picture.

The piece purports to be a corrective to clichéd conceptions about the people of North Korea. Which would be fine, although I’m not convinced that people in the West particularly have any conceptions about the residents of the nation itself – more likely they pity the millions of people who have to live in a brutal slave state under the rule of a psychopathic dynasty. Instead most of the article reads like an apologia for the regime itself.

North Korea, you see, is “idiosyncratic”. Idiosyncratic. Never mind the substantiated reports of widespread torture, starvation, summary executions, political imprisonment and death camps (not mentioned once in the extract, by the way). These are just quirks. North Korea is a bit whacky that way, like an eccentric uncle or something.

First myth: North Koreans are different from you and me. North Koreans, argues Hazel as she constructs a straw man so big it can be seen from space (along with, funnily enough, images of a blacked out North Korea at night), are not educationally backward or lacking sophistication. Indeed, despite a “relentless socialisation campaign” (her words) glorifying the Kim family, North Korean society still isn’t completely closed off, despite the best efforts of a regime that, to quote Christopher Hitchens, treats Orwell’s 1984 as an instruction manual rather than a work of literature. Hazel goes on to point out that the DPRK has high levels of literacy and university enrolment but, alas, the government works hard to prevent the free flow of information, permitting access to foreign books and films only if a genuine “need” can be demonstrated. I’d like to see how many such requests there are every year and how many are granted (and how many citizens requesting the materials are seized in the night and sent to prison as enemies of the revolution). I wonder if North Korea has a Freedom of Information Act? Seems unlikely, but then by supposing that I may well be falling back on the lazy clichés that this article is so keen to upend.

Next myth: North Korea is a dangerous and irrational military power. You’d be wrong to think that, despite any evidence to the contrary. No doubt when the DPRK threatens to attack Japan or the United States it’s just being idiosyncratic. It’s just larks. High japes. Banter. The DPRK’s military is dilapidated and poorly funded, they couldn’t possibly be a serious threat to anybody (apart from their own people, of course. And still no mention of the death camps in the article. How curious). They only spent $4.38bn on defence in 2009, for example, a trifling 15.64% of its GDP. A totally reasonable sum for a – no doubt – peaceful nation. Besides, North Korea only has an estimated four to eight operational warheads whereas the United States has over 2,200. There you have it then. North Korea has nuclear weapons, the USA has nuclear weapons. It’s all the same.

Next myth: North Korea is a criminal state. There’s no evidence to support this, it’s all just whispers, smoke and mirrors. Besides, all our media reports are founded on “allegations from defectors and unnamed US officials”. Defectors! Pah! Who could trust those traitors? There’s no real evidence that the state itself is behind any of this.

But hang on. I thought the point of this piece was to show how our conceptions of the people of North Korea were wrong? Indeed, a response on Twitter from The Guardian’s very own Guardian North Korea Twitter account (yes, they really do have one) stated that the author is arguing that “North Koreans – rather than rulers of – are active agents of their own destiny”.

“Active agents of their own destiny.” Apart from those in the death camps, of course. Did I mention that this article doesn’t even refer to the death camps?

Far from debunking any myths, this article instead ignores a very obvious truth: that North Korea is a uniquely paranoid and dangerous regime and that the people it endangers the most are its own. Of course the North Korean people are not any different to the rest of us: they’re just unfortunate to live in a concentration camp masquerading as a country. This article, constructed around puncturing myths that don’t even exist, is nothing but a thinly veiled justification of that regime.

Where else but The Guardian could you read DPRK propaganda dressed up as a piece about challenging prejudices?

P.S. The article doesn’t mention the death camps. Can’t remember if I pointed that out.

Let’s stay together

By Citizen Sane

I recognise I’m not the best-qualified person to talk about this. I’ve probably been to Scotland five, maybe six, times in my life. All visits but one were for work rather than pleasure. On every occasion I’ve only stayed in Edinburgh, apart from some fleeting visits to Glasgow and Dundee for meetings. There is, I think, some Scottish blood on my mum’s side of the family. Or maybe my dad’s. I forget. But really I’m about as English as you can get, by lineage and by character. Not just English, but southern English. Not just southern English, but from the London area.

I am, to quote from an episode of Blackadder, about as Scottish as the Queen of England’s tits. But I’m still extremely fond of Scotland, the Scottish people and value their place within the United Kingdom.

I was once rather keen on the idea of wholesale constitutional change. My wish list would have specified a codified constitution, a bill of rights, the establishment of a republic, proportional representation, an elected House of Lords and substantial devolution. Some of these, I am still in favour of. Others, not so much. These are not things to be meddled with lightly, on the basis that – despite its faults – our political system is one of the best in the world. We have a stable, peaceful, prosperous union of countries and a robust democratic polity rivalled only by a small number of other liberal democracies. Sometimes you need to remind yourself, bogged down as we all get by gripes and complaints with The System, that we are extraordinarily fortunate to live in the United Kingdom. To anyone who disputes this, I say: there are approximately 190 countries in the world – name more than, say, ten where you could enjoy similar personal, artistic or religious freedom, or a higher standard or living, or a lower level of corruption in public life, or greater opportunities or political stability or…. the list goes on.

Of course, somebody will point out A, B, or C as evidence that the UK is a declining state, or a corrupt tin pot country but they’re fooling nobody. Tell that to the billions of people who would no doubt swap their country for one like ours, or the tens of thousands who make it to our shores every year, for various reasons, all in search of a better life.

As it is no doubt apparent by now, I fervently hope that the No vote prevails in the Scottish independence referendum. The United Kingdom has, by and large, been an extraordinary success for centuries. I’m no flag waving ultra patriot, but it seems self-evident that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are far greater than the sum of their parts and it would be an egregious act of vandalism to breakup that successful union for what seems very narrow reasons – mostly predicated on a nationalism that is no less ugly or pointless or boring than any other. I don’t describe myself as an English national; I describe myself as British and other than stoking the coals of vestigial Scottish national pride, cannot see a single valid reason for voting for independence. It will not benefit the Scottish people, it will not benefit the rest of the UK.

Given the lack of a coherent economic plan, the ‘independence’ would be fatally compromised anyway: the proposal is for a currency union with rUK, which, even if this were to be agreed – and all the major parties and the Bank of England have rejected the idea – would immediately cede control of monetary policy and interest rates to what would now be a ‘foreign’ country. Longer term membership of the EU would have to be renegotiated and, in the event that Scotland decides to join the euro, independence would be watered down further still as economic policy transfers to Brussels and Frankfurt.

Scotland – with its population of just over five million people, representing just 8% of UK GDP, dependent on a highly variable income from oil, exposed to any future banking crisis due to its substantial financial sector – would become a third tier backwater nation in a much larger European union. So I have to ask: by what definition is this ‘independence’ and who benefits?

Vote NO, Scotland. For everyone’s sake, but especially yours.

Oceania has always been at war with ISIS

by Citizen Sane

Criticising the Stop The War Coalition is like shooting fish in a barrel. That said, it’s also a requirement for those of us on the sensible left/centre to do so, lest their risible nonsense gain any currency. So come, join me as we go in search of piscine creatures trapped in wooden cylindrical containers and blast them with our trusty blunderbusses.

Yesterday our Stalinist friends posted a comment piece about the US air strikes against the monstrous ISIS in northern Iraq, where up to 50,000 Yazidis are stranded in the mountains without food, water or shelter with certain execution awaiting them should they come down. The US have launched strikes against ISIS holdings and dropped emergency supplies to the stranded people.

Given the appalling atrocities committed by ISIS and the desperate plight of the Yazidis, it’s difficult to see how the action taken by the USA could be seen as anything other than A Very Good Thing (and long overdue). But the STWC, unsurprisingly, do not see it that way.

“US intervention is not humanitarian and will not protect the people of of Iraq” says the headline. “Defeating ISIS and the other terrorist groups is vital, but it is also vital that we oppose US intervention in Iraq, which will make matters worse.”

I see, well then let’s look further down the List Of Countries Ready To Help. Oh, this is a short list. Where’s Russia? They don’t seem to be on here…. must be an administrative oversight. Putin is a bit busy elsewhere right now. China? Is China on the list? What? Robustly isolationist you say? Hmmm. This is getting tricky. Well who, exactly, is going to act then? Norway? An army of puffins? Alan Rickman?

Oh wait, there is a recommendation in the STWC article to organise aid through genuine humanitarian organisations and the UN. There you go then, problem solved. It stands to reason that ISIS will have no problem allowing western aid organisations to have free access to the area – they are very reasonable people, after all – and aid charities, as we all know, have huge resources at their disposal and can set themselves up en masse in Iraq within a couple of hours. I’m sure they can have everything sorted out by Monday morning. And the UN has a strong track record of quickly reacting to international emergencies and genocide, unhampered as it is by internal political squabbles over the issue of intervention.

Anyone of a sensible disposition can see that there is only one option available to avert the mass slaughter of unarmed men, women and children and that is military action by the USA. Military action that should have been deployed earlier. Indeed, would ISIS even exist at all if a different approach had been taken to Syria in the last few years? STWC, existing as it does in its own topsy-turvy universe, considers the intervention of the US to be an act of imperialism as opposed to the reluctant action of a president who has shown himself to be highly averse to engaging militarily. It has taken the imminent slaughter of 50,000 people for Obama to finally take action. And why did he do it? Because nobody else can and nobody else will. STWC and their contemptible ilk would be happier to see beheadings, executions and crucifixions on a mass scale by the most savage people on the planet than see the USA intervene.