That Jones Isn’t Funny Anymore

By David Paxton

To observe Owen Jones at work is to see somebody carefully negotiating difficult terrain. He has been the vanguard for this latest form of full-time campaigner-cum-party surrogate disguised as a commentator. People for whom purpose and credibility are at constant odds with each other.

Jones is both inside the tent and outside and does wondrous work trying to square the circle. “All commentators are biased it’s just that I’m honest about it” is the line and it’s a typically good one. But the tension many political commentators experience between having friends in the game, being a player yourself, and commentating on that game, has rarely been more obvious than it is with Jones. And so his output constantly resembles tactics far more than just a writer trying to make sense of the world from their particular vantage point. And it’s those contortions (see him on Brexit), the tightrope-walking, and most of all, the tactical silences from the inside man of the Corbyn show, that made for such great spectator sport.

The Labour antisemitism saga has changed all that.

As a reminder of how far we’ve come it’s worth re-reading this Jonathan Freedland piece from March 2016. It’s obviously fair and, by today’s standards, very tame about Corbyn. It expresses genuine, and now obviously well-founded, fears within the Jewish community. It repeats the line that was standard for so long:

Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn. No one accuses him of being an antisemite. But…

Corbyn’s now infamous response to this article, as recorded in the disastrous VICE documentary, went:

The big negative today is the Jonathan Freedland article in The Guardian. Utterly disgusting, subliminal nastiness, the whole lot of it. He’s not a good guy at all.  He seems kind of obsessed with me.

You can’t re-read this without seeing how the current move from problem to crisis was always nailed on. A critic is the enemy and the problem was not to be with Jeremy. Ever.

When the associations with antisemites first started appearing in the media during Corbyn’s leadership campaign, Jones addressed “these guilt-by-association smears” and explained that:

people like me – who support the Palestinian cause out of a sense of justice – will risk meeting or sharing platforms with people who indulge or possess anti-Semitic views.

This is the argument from accidental meeting. It could happen to anyone that supports the Palestinian cause for long enough. You take a risk by doing good. In fact, the harder you try for peace the more likely you are to get into trouble.

The corollary of this argument is the damaging lie that nobody can seek to do right by Palestine without enduring constant scandal. But of course, when faced with real problems these tireless fighters of antisemitism would act.

When Jones’ friend Jackie Walker was suspended by Labour for antisemitic comments, Jones certainly did act. He declared the ‘outrageous suspension’ as having ‘no justification’ and called upon his followers to email the party general secretary to have her reinstated. When Walker reverted back to type, Jones did not address his error, or even describe her actions as antisemitic. He called them ‘totally unacceptable’ and said no more, while dropping Jackie Walker down the memory hole.

Around this time Jones was simultaneously declaring how seriously Labour must take antisemitism. Sure, it still had nothing to do with Corbyn but it must be fought. Except when it’s a smear, that is. He set up this dual position early: we must fight it AND it can be used by nefarious political opponents. As if that matters.

Antisemitism is too serious to become a convenient means to undermine political opponents… There’s no excuse for the left to downplay it, or to pretend it doesn’t exist within its own ranks. Rather than being defensive, the left should seize any opportunity to confront the cancer of antisemitism and eradicate it for good.

This two way position, the ‘walking and chewing gum‘ has served Jones well. He can constantly declare the necessity to fight antisemitism but if the allegations get close to home and affect political expediency, then he can remind us that it can also be ‘a convenient means’. Are there other forms of bigotry that have those fighting it accused of exaggeration by Jones? What utility does this nebulous accusation of bad faith have beyond cover for the guilty? And what is one meant to do with the information? The aims Jones claims to have would be best served without his efforts to leave that constant doubt in the air. It’s rarely specifically applied but instead just allowed to linger and be hinted at as applicable.

In March this year, David Collier revealed the fruits of his long investigation into the Facebook group ‘Palestine Live’. I wrote about it here. Jones, who had previously been vocal about other Facebook group revelations from Tories, said nothing. The scandal blew up. Here was a huge discussion about antisemitism in Labour, the leader of his party was implicated, it went on for days. And nada. Zip. The public commentator, honest about his bias, intent on addressing antisemitism, decided not to comment.

Then the antisemitic mural resurfaced and kicked up a major storm. Once again Jones said nothing. Nothing, that is, until Corbyn finally released a statement. It turned out to be a fuss about nothing, of course, because Corbyn simply hadn’t looked at the content of the controversial mural he was supporting during a controversy about the content of the mural. Within moments of the statement, Jones piped up with a thread to express his ‘relief’ that there was nothing to worry about because Corbyn had a completely plausible explanation. I think we are expected to believe that before seeing that statement Jones was poised to erupt in righteous fury after a period biding his time.

It was in that particular thread that Jones declared ‘all-out war’ against Labour antisemitism. And even included an emoji of a flexing bicep to underscore the muscular vigour with which he would undertake this ‘ceaseless war’.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 12.14.18Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 12.14.05

Also within the thread he explained why he knows Corbyn is not ‘anything close’ to an antisemite, he wrote:

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 00.57.32.png

It is said that on the matter of antisemitism it’s Jews that should be listened to. Jones is meeting this idea some of the way by listening to Jews who share his opinions. Of course, when the Jewish Margaret Hodge declared Corbyn to be an ‘antisemite and a racist’, Jones declared this ‘a lie and a disgrace’. But again the message is clear, Corbyn doesn’t have ‘even the slightest softness when it comes to antisemitism’.

Circumstances quickly provided Jones with an opportunity to deploy his battalions when, in response to the mural, various Jewish groups and organisations, and many unaffiliated people merely concerned, decided to muster on the lawns of Westminster and demonstrate their anxiety regarding the leadership and the current malaise. I attended the event and met many people who are not regular protestors or enthusiastic joiners but felt they had no other choice. Their feeling can be seen in the choice of their slogan, ‘enough is enough’. Usually a protest is catnip for Jones and one would expect him to be all over this like rash on a baby’s behind. Instead he resigned himself to merely commenting that one of the people present was being insincere and, as Rob Francis notes:

Earlier that day, he’d also shared an article by Jewish Voice for Labour, a group set up last year which opposed Tony Greenstein’s expulsion from the party. He subsequently deleted the tweet as he claimed he’d got confused with a different organisation (Jewish Voice). It’s possible, but I’d note that 1. his original tweet said he wanted to provide some “balance” on the subject (balance?! What balance is there to provide on an anti-racist march?) and 2. whether accidental or not, the upshot was to give JVL a lot of publicity.

And so, for Jones, the war was over. And before it ever really began. His actions then and subsequently have been of a familiar type, enough outrage to keep his anti-racist credentials up but always with a view of protecting Corbyn and the project. Always ready to call things smears and complain about ‘weaponisation’. No criticism of value, no action of meaning.

Then we get to the last fortnight.

First a video surfaced of Corbyn addressing a crowd where he compared the length of the blockade of Gaza to the siege of Leningrad and the battle of Stalingrad combined. Labour have since stated that he was not comparing the actions of the IDF to the Wehrmacht, but merely the timeframe. As if the rhetorical worth of Leningrad and Stalingrad lies in comparative time frames (for example, the Labour antisemitism saga has now been going on for 7.2 Stalingrads). This, though perhaps at the mild end, is a comparison between the actions of contemporary Israel and the Nazis.

Jones said nothing.

Another video surfaced from one of Corbyn’s regular appearances on the propaganda station of Iran (his appearances on Press TV, including hosting a show, should be reason enough for censure). In the interview he takes up the cause of a convicted Hamas terrorist and calls him ‘brother’. Then he was asked to address the 2012 Sinai attacks. Corbyn suggested it unlikely that a Muslim would attack a Muslim during Ramadan and then, without any evidence beyond an appeal to the conspiracist’s favourite logic, cui bono, he confesses to ‘suspecting the hand of Israel’ behind the terrorist violence which included an attack on Israel itself. A false flag terrorist attack against their own country. This is straight conspiratorial antisemitism.

If one contrasts this with his reactions to the Skripal poisoning, where, despite lots of good evidence and expert opinion fingering the Russian state, Corbyn worked hard to avoid accusation. Treating Israel by different standards.

Jones said nothing.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get worse, it was revealed by James Vaughan that Corbyn hosted and chaired a meeting on Holocaust Memorial Day as part of a tour reportedly titled, “Never Again for Anyone – Auschwitz to Gaza”.

The leaflet handed out at the event juxtaposed Holocaust victims with people of Gaza.

gaza

Holocaust minimisation, Holocaust reversal, take your pick.

The co-organisers of the event were the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) who, as Vaughan has pointed out, are content posting images like this on their website:

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 14.22.22Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 14.22.11

The main speaker at the event was a survivor of Auschwitz. He claimed that the Israelis ‘act like the Nazis’ and that Elie Wiesel is the ‘high priest’ of the Zionists’ ‘Holocaust religion’. In a rare act of apparent contrition Corbyn released the following statement:

Views were expressed at the meeting which I do not accept or condone. In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused.

The apology, and the admittance that actions have caused anxiety, appeared to some as progress by Corbyn. I am more cynical. When an Auschwitz survivor starts saying these things, which I find repulsive, I accept that as a non-Jewish person, so detached from the Holocaust in comparison, I can’t really tell him to stop. I’m just not in the position to do so. And nor is Corbyn, and he knows we know this. Jones was quick to use this dilemma.

So despite the apology there apparently wasn’t much to apologise for. Always tactics. And it’s quite clever actually. Unfortunately, it ignores certain facts:

  1. Reports suggest that other Jews in the audience tried to dispute the thesis of the main speaker. Corbyn, as the chair, wouldn’t allow them to and saw to it that those in disagreement or ‘completely rejecting’ were removed. Including another Holocaust survivor.Survivor
  2. When sat there, Corbyn might have felt unable to protest (as Jones suggests), but this is to start the story in the middle. Corbyn didn’t have to be there at all, and what was said at the meeting could hardly have been a surprise, considering the theme. He chose to be in that position and now chooses to pretend that he had no idea.
  3. Corbyn didn’t just ‘appear on a platform’ as per his statement and Jones’ theory of unfortunate luck when being pro-Palestinian doesn’t stick. He gave the platform in parliament. He hosted the event. “I have shared platforms with people I gave platforms to” isn’t the excuse he thinks it is.
  4. The survivor wasn’t the only person of concern on the platform.
  5. And this really is the rub: Corbyn hosted the event on Holocaust Memorial Day, with a theme clearly implying that Israel was guilty of similar crimes to those commemorated. It’s one of the most offensive things I have heard a contemporary politician knowingly do.

Before we leave the Nazi/Israel comparisons I am reminded of what a clever socialist once said about them.

You get this comparison sometimes, a deeply offensive comparison, between the actions of the Israeli government and the Nazis. And I’ve heard that said by people who support Palestinian justice before… The reason that comparison is made is to cause deliberate offence.

We can only assume that Jones meant everyone apart from Jeremy Corbyn.

The fortnight wasn’t over.

It was also revealed that both Corbyn and McDonnell campaigned to have the word ‘Holocaust’ removed from Holocaust Memorial Day. Jones said nothing.

Though it was unacceptable to Jones when Jackie Walker complained about Jewish monopolisation of the Holocaust, we can only assume that silence is consent when it comes to Corbyn’s efforts.

And finally (ignoring all the other incidents not involving Corbyn), there’s the debacle of the “JC9”.

Weeks ago, it was reported that National Executive Committee member and candidate, Peter Willsman, had ranted about ‘Trump fanatics’ in the Jewish community as a reason for the complaints about antisemitism. He further suggested that he had never seen evidence of antisemitism within the party despite his sitting on the body charged with investigating cases when they arose. Corbyn was present at the meeting. So were the rest of the NEC. The report was ignored by all and when Momentum announced their slate for the NEC elections they called them the #JC9 (Jeremy Corbyn 9), and Willsman was one of them.

Jones expressed his approval:

But audio of the rant was released and the contents were bad. A decision about Willsman was obviously made because, in perfect Whatsapp synchronisation, the new members of the Mystery Gang (now with added Communism) decided they were for the #JC8.

Predictably, Jones received push-back from the Corbyn cultists for abandoning Willsman. In response, the next morning he posted the following:

And there we have it. Jones’ straddling of the divide is finally laid bare for the absurd sham that it is. We are told the problem exists on the ‘fringe’ when discussing conduct during a meeting of National Executive Committee, attended by the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and involving one of a group of candidates that use the leader’s initials as a handle. Conduct that was not acted upon until audio was released to the public.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 18.53.40

The problem of course is ‘just one man’. Much like the other individuals who Jones has had to discard once the discarding was approved policy. And so, like Jackie Walker, the fringe Peter Willsman will go down the memory hole.

Now we reach today.

Corbyn has just had published in The Guardian a piece titled I Will Root Antisemites Out of LabourWith the exception of a slightly panicked tone and an accusation that the Jewish press are exaggerating, it says nothing we haven’t already heard. In fact, in parts it’s simply copied and pasted from the article he put out in April:

 

Jones is fully aware of the April piece as he recommended it just two days ago. He described today’s slight rehash, rather wonderfully, as ‘exceptional’.

For three years there’s been incident after incident involving Corbyn followed by a litany of ridiculous excuses. “I didn’t see”, “I didn’t look closely enough”, “it was just diplomacy, I didn’t mean it”, “I shared a platform but I rejected the view without actually rejecting it”, “I don’t recall”, “I wasn’t aware of his past”, “I wasn’t chairing the meeting”. Again and again. Over and over. Not a single one of these excuses would be granted to any one of Jones’ political enemies but a torrent of them all added together are declared reasonable when it comes to Corbyn. According to Jones, Corbyn is just the unluckiest man in the world.

It is now inescapable that a great proportion of the current concern felt by the Jewish community about Labour and antisemitism is the fault and responsibility of Labour’s leader and a result of his actions and inactions over decades. The people trying to point out this obvious fact are gaslit by Jones who tells them, in their distress and during a fortnight where serious and repeated allegations have again been brought to light about the conduct of Corbyn, that they are gullibly falling for ‘smears’.

I believe that Corbyn is, in fact, an antisemite. Parsimony demands it as the excuse-making required to draw any other conclusion is now ‘just beyond ludicrous’, to coin a phrase. But if Jones doesn’t wish to admit Corbyn is an antisemite, or can’t see it, then that’s one thing. We can agree to disagree. But to be unable to link Corbyn to the problem, to not allow him to be responsible for his actions, is only to prolong the agony felt by others.

How, for example, are Labour meant to have a nuanced debate about the IHRA definition of antisemitism — which Jones claims to want — when it’s clear, be it a coincidence or not, that Labour’s changes to that definition provide escape clauses for the past actions of the very leader seeking to implement those changes? How is Jones going to be a part of that debate when he can’t bring himself to address any of the specific concerns about the leader?

There is no shortage of those that deny there is any problem at all. And they intrigue me. The question keeps coming up ‘don’t they know or are they lying?’ Is the loyalty and hope blinding them?

You can’t know a man’s mind, but with many of them I am sure they honestly can’t see or cannot understand it. Those who think this is made up by anti-Corbyn cabals are blind or/and stupid – but I believe they believe it. The flaw for Jones is that while keeping his anti-racism credentials as high as possible he has been adept enough to spell out what antisemitism is, and how it manifests. He simply can’t not know. Ignorance isn’t an excuse. As he once said:

The only way the left will come to the positions that I want, is that if people like me speak out passionately and argue this case which is to take antisemitism seriously…

This speaking out, alas, precludes any criticism of the person chiefly responsible for the problem.

So it’s worse than the deniers. In fact, it’s the worst. He’s telling the Jewish community ‘I am on your side’ while also working to undermine the solutions to their qualms. The problem is at the top of the party and Jones tells everyone it’s just ‘the fringe’. It’s just smears. (I have sometimes wondered if this isn’t all just a grand attempt to have that word redefined).

At the end of the movie Primary Colors, the protagonist, Henry, is in crisis. He has seen the politician for whom he works, Jack Stanton, fail to live up to the principles he espouses. Stanton turns on the full persuasion. “This is the price you pay to lead – you don’t think Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was a president?”. It’s a classic dilemma best summed up as ‘systems vs goals’. Or if you prefer, ‘principles vs goals’. Compromise your principles a little, but that’s ok when you accept that your goal is the greater principle in the equation. I have come to accept that it’s idealistic and naive not to accept the necessity of some of that compromise. It’s the world of politics. And we probably forgive Henry for his eventually accepting. But where is the line?

I’m reminded of something Jones said in his ‘All-out War’ thread:

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 13.20.10

One can but guess what Jones thinks of the presentation these days as the leader of the party is credibly called a racist by his own MPs and endorsed by America’s Jew haters. But he was willing to abandon Corbyn to protect his dream of socialism. Good for him. However, since the election that dream is tied to Corbyn, and this time it’s just within reach, so Jones is willing to abandon the Jewish community instead. Wherever the line is, I posit that’s the other side of it.

I’ll finish with a prediction:

If Corbyn cannot get out from under this scandal — and the until very recently unthinkable happens — and he is moved aside then, as if by magic, Jones will publicly accept that everything wasn’t a ‘smear’. He’ll never call him an antisemite, but he will move from his current position and accept fault the moment he is politically able. And that’s his morality, and worth as a commentator, right there. And then Jones will once again set about walking his commentator/campaigner high-wire while trying to bring about his beloved dream of turning Britain into the Durham Miners’ Gala. But it just won’t be so funny any more.

In the meantime, Jones is playing all those that will listen to him for fools. By lamenting the distrust within the Labour party on this issue while consistently refusing to make any negative comments about Corbyn, he’s pleading for a cure while working day and night to sell you the disease.

Advertisements

The Third Law of Politics

By Jake Wilde

I. A different kind of politics, apparently

After so many decades spent spewing speeches, motions, pamphlets, newspapers and online columns into the world, only to have them relentlessly ignored by everybody but themselves, it’s little wonder that those currently in charge of the Labour Party should be so full of vengeance. For the crime of not taking them seriously when they occupied the dark fringes of political landscape, our punishments are to be many and varied.

For now, without any real power, they are having to limit themselves to complaining about hats and conducting purges of the party. Their method is the usual one, laying down a complex set of rules that must not be broken but are only applicable to those outside the tent. In broad terms this amounts to “If you’re not one of us then what you think is wrong, irrelevant and intolerable.” Thus those who’ve campaigned and worked for the party for many years, under many different leaderships, can be and are discarded, as all eventually will fall foul of the unwritten rule of “not one of us”.

There’s no nuance behind the politics of vengeance being readied for the country should real power fall into their hands. Despite the rhetoric of collectivism, policies are decided by the small group at the centre under John McDonnell, and then distributed to the lower ranks not for discussion, but enthusiastic endorsement. There’s nothing particularly left wing about this, it’s just how authoritarian regimes operate. It’s on the first page of the manual.

On the second page is the most important rule after that: “Don’t tell everyone what you’re really going to do.” Jeremy Paxman was on to this in the 2017 election. His botched attempt to make Corbyn confess that the manifesto was a sham probably still haunts him, but if there’s one thing Corbyn is good at its lying about what he really thinks. Any man who can claim he’s not antisemitic while working for the planet’s most antisemitic regime has some front, and Corbyn is as adroit at deception as any con man.

It’s been the revelation of his leadership, far more so than the overstated impact upon the so-called youth vote. In truth the ranks of the Labour Party have been swelled not by hundreds of thousands of newly inspired teenagers, but by the middle aged, middle classes who previously spent their time on the fringes and, in all too many cases, under rocks. Labour is now a party creaking with conspiracy theorists, antisemites, Islamists and armchair revolutionaries, all of whom have found a home they never thought would exist for them – in one of Britain’s major parties.

Labour claims to have six tests on Brexit, but has only one rule: “Don’t get the blame”. This has applied from the start, hence the non-committal approach during the referendum, and the comical attempts to ride two horses with one arse since. You’d be hard pressed now to remember Labour’s official position during the referendum and, in the 2017 election, polls showed that Labour had managed to convince both ardent Leavers and Remainers that the party supported each of their viewpoints. Duplicity on such a scale is rare, and to be commended if you like that sort of thing.

c-fn3yoxgaau87v-jpg-large

II. The Myth of the English Socialist Dream

For many years the UK civil service has resisted attempts, generally by the right, at politicisation. Margaret Thatcher so regularly complained about civil servants thwarting her efforts to radically change the UK’s economic and political structures that for most of the early 80s it seemed only a matter of time before a US-style system was introduced. This desire to remove the blockers in the civil service is currently being taken up by the Brexiteers and it will be shared by the Labour Party should their current leadership get into power.

Whether it’s the courts making the “wrong” decision, the police “taking sides” or civil servants being “obstructive”, the truth is that the institutions are there to ensure democracy means more than just absolute power for the temporary occupants of the executive. In simple terms western society has built structures to stop anyone from doing anything too nuts, or from pointing ominously at the crowds at their backs.

Thus politicians that promise radical change are, generally, hawking a fantasy. The Labour manifesto of 2017 was not about winning a general election. It was about retaining control of the party. It was a sentimental appeal to Labour members, supporters and voters, pushing emotional buttons so as to bolster support after defeat. I call this fantasy the English Socialist Dream, the fiction most commonly pushed by Corbyn at his rallies.

I’ve come to the view that the majority of so-called ordinary members of the Labour Party – the ones who aren’t entrists and have backed Corbyn twice now – have bought into a vision of socialism that predates even the Second World War, even before Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World.

Corbyn talks relentlessly in niceisms; that all our problems can be solved if everything is just nicer and that the state has a key role in being the nicest of all. The state will provide nice railways, nice energy, nice foreign policy, nice policing, nice immigration, nice housing, nice healthcare and so on. There’s no need to worry, the state will look after everything. Yes of course it’s all costed, now just stop asking questions, take your soma and support Jeremy.

Brave New World is about how a utopia is in fact dystopian because the people in it no longer ask questions. Rather than having Big Brother relentlessly controlling information, Huxley envisaged a world of “painless, amusement-sodden, and stress-free consensus”, said Christopher Hitchens when comparing Huxley’s vision with Orwell’s 1984:
“For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.”

And so we’re told now that there is nothing to be learnt from history about Labour’s planned economic programme, that no-one should have any sense of foreboding about the party’s treatment of Jewish members, activists and MPs, and that any past associations that the leadership had with terrorists are irrelevant (or even, preposterously, positive). Do not delve too deeply – there is nothing to be learnt by forensic examination.

In just the same way as Tony Benn never asked his famous Five Questions of Tariq Aziz over tea, you do not need to know the details behind Corbyn’s support of the mass murder of white South Africans during the apartheid years. Nor how his support for the violent expression of Irish nationalism has been transformed into an alternative history of a neutral, bilateral support for the peace process, to the bemusement even of former IRA commanders.

You knew, everybody knew, that those numbers in the manifesto didn’t add up. They didn’t even come close. We also all know that confidence, that most valuable of commodities, would evaporate with John McDonnell at the helm of the economy. And all of those spending plans would be just sand flowing through his helpless fingers as the wealth and income he needed to tax took flight. You knew, when Paxman pushed Corbyn on why all the things he believed in were not in the manifesto, that his genial smile was a clever trick, an in-joke between the Labour leader and his supporters. Corbyn was never going to admit it and he didn’t need to because his followers knew the game he was playing.

cp

III. Antisemitism in the blood

Corbynism, if such a term can be used, relies less on an intellectual analysis of the faults in society and proffering a rational set of proposals to remedy said faults, than on identifying the villains and telling everyone you’re going to punish them. That Corbyn should be the leader of dim-witted punishment politics will come as no surprise to those that have followed his career. But it’s simply no different to scapegoating. That scapegoating is traditionally the preserve of the far right doesn’t seem to matter to Labour Party members these days, they’ve found a leader who will tell them who is to blame, who needs to be punished and that once that’s done everything will be better. This is one of the reasons why Labour has an antisemitism problem, because Jews have a long-standing role as scapegoats, stretching back millennia. Perhaps this is also why Corbyn protests that he isn’t antisemitic – because he doesn’t limit his scapegoating to Jews.

Corbyn’s own views represent the strand of thought that led him and others to form the Stop The War coalition ten days after 9/11. This group of people, who decided they needed a specific vehicle to oppose whatever the United States’ response to the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, are united by a hatred of the West, of liberal democracy, of capitalism and of what they see as the forces that prevent the working class from rising up and creating a socialist utopia.

It should not be surprising that antisemitism is an important part of Stop The War’s DNA. Numerous different antisemitic conspiracy theories have been promulgated through Stop The War, some so abhorrent they were even cleansed from their website when Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party. Some of those deleted posts were just simple racism, others offered justification for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state. However they all have one thing in common, they have Corbyn’s approval. He was a founder, a member of the steering committee from the start, and chair from 2011 until 2015.

This is the reason why antisemitism is innate to Corbynism. There’s not a single Corbynista who doesn’t believe, on some level, that the United States deserved to be attacked on that terrible September morning. Not one who doesn’t think it was the consequence of United States’ own foreign policy, and of its support for Israel. When this is inherent in a political belief structure, atrocities such as 9/11 become political exchanges, not acts of mass murder.

This is why I argue that the hardcore Corbynites are best described as the alt-left. Polytechnic revolutionaries with an NVQ in Political Theory and avatars of their favourite mass murderers, they know Corbyn and McDonnell support terrorism and they’re delighted by that. They know there’s an ongoing war against the wrong kind of Jews and uppity women, because it’s them waging it.

They’re often described as masters of social media, but this just means that they have taken the traditional bullying techniques of the unpleasant left and adapted them for use online. Melts, gammon, pile-ons; it’s not exactly sophisticated. One of the advantages for these social misfits was that they could hide their real identities, their awkwardness, and their losing personalities in the online world that they create, but they have started to believe their own propaganda.

They now demand a more prominent place on broadcast media, especially television, and I fully support that. The demise of the National Front can be directly traced back to the moment Nick Griffin, bulbous-eyed and sweating, babbled incoherently through Question Time. Revealed for who he truly was, the impartial BBC did more to fight fascism in that one night than thousands of nights of furious clicking by the alt-Left. Live TV will do for them just as it did for Griffin, but there is no escaping the fact that they are representative of the party, and popular with the membership.DgNnra7UYAAl0fH.jpg

IV. When did things go bad, exactly?

Over the last two years I’ve written about why I joined the Labour party, my sense of pride at being a member of a party that took record numbers of children out of poverty, introduced the minimum wage, and liberated the victims of tyranny and genocide. I’ve written about how the alt-left came to unite around a man who has achieved nothing in a thirty year career as a politician, precisely because he’s achieved nothing. Corbyn’s the closest thing there is to a blank canvas on the far left, upon which all manner of cranky versions of “socialism” can be projected, including the mythical version beloved by long-standing members. This blog is an archive of the torment that I and others have been through as we have tried to rationalise our choices, be they to leave, stay, come back, or leave again.

I have now reached the point where I cannot foresee being able to vote Labour, let alone rejoin the party that had achieved so much during my twenties and thirties. A party that is determined to renounce and denounce its own achievements with more fervour than anyone, and that espouses views that hitherto seemed to be forever confined to the darkest fringes. Labour has a membership that yearns for a Britain that never existed, and never must, and is a party that we now know has harboured a dark secret for years, a secret tolerance for antisemitism.

So I understand why people wish to stay in Labour and fight from within, but this is misplaced and mistaken. They are the human shields of politics, helping to prevent a fatal strike against a party that only retains them for their collateral usefulness.

Up until now the two parts of the centre left community has been viewed as merely differing on strategy. Those who’ve chosen to stay in Labour believe the party can eventually be restored once they wrestle back control from the far left. That the damage during the period that started in September 2015 and will end god-knows-when can be repaired. That, eventually, the majority of the membership will see the error of their ways. And then there’s the rest of us, who think that’s as deluded as hell. Even if the far left could be defeated from here would they wouldn’t be expelled, they’d be accommodated, while the membership would continue to yearn for the fantasy Corbyn offers.

The signs that Labour’s problems run deeper were there long before Corbyn was elected. From the incomprehensibly widespread belief that the likes of Tony Benn represented Labour’s conscience, to the day that Ed Miliband condemned thousands upon thousands of Syrian people to die. People like you and me, who just wanted freedom and democracy. I am ashamed I did not leave the Labour Party on that day.

article-2405633-1B86A7F3000005DC-335_634x366

What the last two and half years have shown me is that the majority of Labour Party members have an unacceptable hierarchy of values. That they are prepared to sacrifice fundamental human rights for dogma, core values of liberal democracy for a mythical socialist dream. Labour is not a party that should be saved.

V. Nemesis

The worst thing about political homelessness is the lack of a sense of community. While it’s better, electorally, for your community to be as large as possible, it’s size is less important than its existence. Without it you can’t be sure if it’s just you that thinks such things.

I know that just being anti-the-far-left isn’t enough. Back in the early 2000s I formed a faction to oppose the far left leadership of my trade union. We were, in the main, left-of-centre Labour Party members, united by our opposition to the ruling faction that, unusually, consisted of both the Socialist Party and the SWP, as well as handful from the then tiny Bennite wing of Labour. The Socialist Party were very much in charge, but that didn’t stop John McDonnell, a regular visitor to NEC meetings and annual conference, fawning over them, more critical of his own party and his own colleagues than actual electoral opponents. While we found it easy to define what we weren’t (i.e. “them”) and what we were against, it was much harder to fashion a coherent policy platform to show what we were in favour of.

The same is undoubtedly true of us who oppose the current leadership and direction of the Labour Party and, lest there be any doubt, of the Conservative Party too. We know what we’re against, but unifying around an alternative proves elusive. I’ll illustrate what I mean by using Brexit as probably the best current example.

It’s reasonable to assume that the purpose of a second referendum is to overturn the result of the first, but what then? To attempt to answer that question would cause an unravelling of the curent, very broad, alliance of EU enthusiasts and Brexitsceptics. I voted Remain, but the issue of what it might mean to remain troubled me in 2016 as well. Briefly, my personal view of the EU is that it is at its best in three broad ways.

Firstly, when being a trading bloc for goods and services. Secondly, and as a group of nations rather than as an entity in itself, as a champion for liberal democracy and human rights. Thirdly, as a guarantor of security, both between individual EU countries and from those outside.

Where I think the EU goes wrong is in holding that labour should be treated as a commodity in the same way as goods and services. In much the same way as the single currency, the consequence is a democratic deficit that effectively transfers power to unelected bodies, whether they be employers or banks. I believe strongly in enlargement but equally strongly oppose a more federal Europe.

There are tremendous positive benefits in welcoming countries with young democracies into the EU, primarily for the people who live in them. In order to be admitted those countries have to prove their commitment to robust democratic structures, such as an independent judiciary, police and armed forces. The spread of democracy by peaceful means is the EU’s greatest achievement.

However I think that the internal democracy of the EU is a sham, that powers should be repatriated to national governments and parliaments, the EU Parliament abolished and scrutiny of the EU Commission performed directly by the governments of member states.

I am under no illusions that any of that will ever happen. Nor will my views particularly find favour with either Remainers or Leavers, but I use them to demonstrate that there are no purely binary options when thinking about our relationship with the EU. For some the EU, in any form, will always be unacceptable, for others nothing less than full integration will do. As John Rentoul observed last week, “all the noise is being made by those who want to be completely in or completely out”. What noise would a new centre ground party make?

One of the lessons of history is that Newton’s Third Law applies to politics as well. For every political philosophy there is an opposite force, for every type of leader there is a nemesis. Jeremy Corbyn becoming the leader of the Labour Party was undoubtedly a consequence of the reaction against previous leaders of the party, and there will be someone who emerges as a reaction to him. Equally there will be a reaction against Corbynism. But the opposite force to Corbynism is not another extremist view, such as a British form of Trumpism, but the liberal centre. 

A broader centre now exists in British politics, defined not by our attitudes to the EU, or Washington or Moscow, or who runs the railways, but by the more fundamental values of freedom of speech, equality, tolerance, liberal democracy and human rights. The very principles that are under threat from Corbynism. This is why the next leader need not be from within the Labour Party. More important is their ability to build consensus across the centre, to champion those values that we hold in common, to be able to convince us of what is possible and what is not, to, for example, answer the Brexit question satisfactorily. In the meantime those fundamental values are what sets us apart from the modern Labour Party and we should use them to start to define ourselves, to be Corbynism’s opposite force. We don’t need to wait for a leader to emerge to start to do that.

 

 

 

Featured image – Nemesis, by Gheorghe Tattarescu (1853)

Novichok for the Soul

Jeremy Corbyn and the murder of the Russian spy

People with unpalatable opinions rarely broadcast them in all their glory to the world. Instead they obfuscate by making impossible demands for evidence; deflect with whatabouttery, and make false equivalences with vague references to historical wrongs. The casual observer can never glean their true motives and opinions without undertaking more than a little work.

George Galloway, for example, would rage eloquently against the mendacity and double standards of the capitalist West for the BBC’s cameras without ever disclosing his own rotten values in full. A well-meaning viewer with a casual interest in politics might easily have caught Galloway on Question Time in 2004, in the midst of one of his famous tirades on the hypocrisy of US foreign policy — as it suffocating Iran with sanctions while simultaneously lining the pockets of Saudi Arabia with oil money and gorging itelf on arms deals — and think, “the man’s got a point”. You had to dig a bit deeper to find Galloway’s fawning interviews with the holocaust-denying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Press TV, or personally slobbering over Saddam Hussein in his palace.

Those who have followed the career of Galloway’s old friend Jeremy Corbyn know that he too is a veteran of the same section of the hard left that spent a generation in the political wilderness before launching its successful conquest of the Labour Party two years ago. But where Galloway’s narcissism, bullying and outright enthusiasm for fascism eventually revealed him for the fraudulent crank he is, Corbyn’s total lack of ambition prior to 2015 and gentle, fuddy duddy demeanour have shielded him from the same level of exposure.

For those that have followed Corbyn’s career, his attitude towards foreign despots has always been a source of anxiety. While he has never entered the same realms of brazen dictator worship as Galloway (with the notable exception of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro), Corbyn’s tendency towards tyrants of a certain nature has always been one of limp indifference at best and sympathy bordering on admiration at worst.

Corbyn’s reaction to the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal has shown him at his most troublingly — and publicly — equivocal over a dictator since he entered the spotlight of British politics. Since Theresa May confirmed her belief in Russian — and more specifically Vladimir Putin’s — culpability for the attack on Skripal, Corbyn has set to work busily debunking this logical conclusion with a level of conspiratorial scepticism and deflection that was once rarely seen in mainstream politics.

Corbyn has repeatedly cast doubt on “the evidence” that Russia and Putin were behind the attack, and, a week after May announced her conclusion, he still refuses to blame Moscow outright for commissioning it.

Corbyn claims to need “an absolute, definitive answer” on who supplied the novichok to murder Skripal before he rushes to judgment. But what grounds are there, really, for doubting Russian responsibility? Mr Skripal is a former spy and an enemy of the Russian state, who has been attacked with a chemical weapon created by the Soviet Union which is only realistically available to the Russian government. Russia has a history of similar attacks in Britain, and Vladimir Putin has a taste for ruthless displays of power and manufactured foreign threats — particularly at election time. Add to that the total absence of any other plausible explanation, and it is difficult to see how anyone could conclude that there was any reasonable doubt as to Russia’s guilt.

But this is apparently not enough to satisfy Corbyn. What would? Corbyn has remained vague and faintly ridiculous on this — absurdly suggesting that trustworthy Russia should be allowed to test the novichok used in order that they can confirm their culpability once and for all. The fact that Russia has already been given an opportunity to engage constructively with the UK, and has responded with contemptuous scorn and sarcasm, has apparently not swayed Corbyn from believing in the wisdom of this course of action.

Not content with this unmerited scepticism, Corbyn has also deflected attention away from Russia and Putin at every opportunity he has been given, either through the classic hard left tactic of raising the straw man of Western hypocrisy, or through simply talking about something similar but unrelated. Rather disgracefully, following Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Labour called into question the reliability of our own chemical weapons intelligence, making a not-so-subtle and totally specious comparison to the fabricated evidence used to justify entering the Iraq war. The fact that the two situations are not remotely analogous (for those seeking clarification: Russia attacked the UK; Iraq did not) would not deter him from, again, deliberately casting doubt on Russian responsibility.

Corbyn has also raised the two red herrings of war with Russia and Russian oligarchs. In an article for the Guardian, he urged the UK not to “slide into war” with Russia or to “create a division where none exists” before making more phoney calls for “dialogue”. The reality that in fact the only mainstream politicians mentioning war at all are Corbyn and his acolytes has not prevented him from using it as yet another way of deflecting attention away from the seriousness of the attack. Corbyn’s sudden interest in Russian oligarchs who stash their ill-gotten gains in London property is equally misleading: this is a good cause to raise at any time in Parliament except now, because whatever else they are guilty of (and that is a long list), “the oligarchs” are not responsible for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal — and if any are, then they are accessories to Putin and his inner circle.

What is so frustrating about Corbyn is his ability to disguise his conspiracism in the language of measured, calm rationalism. In isolation, his words seem reasonable. As with Galloway, the casual observer could easily be forgiven for hearing Corbyn’s measured calls for “caution” and “evidence”, his warnings against war and subtle references to previous government failures that seem superficially relevant but actually aren’t, and think “the man’s got a point”.

But if one takes any time to think about it, it is clear that Corbyn’s reactions have been anything but rational. For what rational person could reach the conclusion — on no evidence whatsoever — that “mafia-like groups” are as likely to have obtained novichok and used it to murder an enemy of the state as Putin and his government cronies are? What rational person responds to a deliberate chemical attack on British soil, that puts the lives of several British citizens at risk, with whatabouttery? What rational person sees the expulsion of some diplomats — in response to a chemical weapon attack — as a disproportionate act of war?

It takes some effort to see Corbyn’s comments for what they really are. Unlike Galloway, Corbyn does not scream conspiracy, he implies it. He does not directly voice support, or make open apologies for Putin, but he does his work for him when he casts doubt on clear evidence of his guilt and employs open apologists like Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray as advisers. His foggy and equivocal stance on Russia should not be compared with the Theresa May’s — instead it should be compared to the clear and unambiguous terms in which he (often justifiably) condemns the USA, calls for immediate sanctions on Saudi Arabia and Israel and slams the Tories on domestic policy.

This makes being a Corbyn critic hard work. The task of first researching and then explaining his history to those with better things to do is long and arduous. Corbyn and his supporters maintain a veneer of respectability that makes it difficult for people with only a passing interest in politics to understand their insidiousness. As his critics work themselves into a frenzy over the morsels they are given, latching on to his associations with terrorists, anti-Semites and fascists that no one can remember anymore, in a desperate attempt to persuade an apathetic public that actually his “failures to condemn” and the people he calls his friends MEAN something, the majority laugh them off as the cranks, rather than the mild, kind-bearded leader of the opposition.

Perhaps the Skripal episode will change people’s minds. But it probably won’t.

 

Photo source:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/ikrd/the-hat-the-hat-the-hat-the-hattttttttt?utm_term=.wvPNBBZP7o#.ldYj44y5KD

Make no mistake, Momentum are the new Militant

by Cllr James Patterson

The deselections of moderate Labour councillors in Haringey have made headlines this week. These have been organised by Momentum. They are actively seeking control of Haringey Council. Given the circumstances, I have decided not to seek re-election.

I was immensely proud to be elected as a Labour councillor in Haringey in May 2014. Labour, at the time, was a pro-European, internationalist and socially liberal party of the centre-left. I had been inspired by the successes of Labour councils, up and down the country, in their pursuit of social justice objectives. These had been in hugely difficult circumstances.

During the last couple of years, however, the culture and values of the Party have been changed profoundly. It has been divested of its shared sense of purpose. Momentum has spearheaded a hostile takeover by the far left. The world view they promote is inconsistent with the Labour values that united the Party before September 2015. There was an early intimation of this in the winter of 2015. In November, Paris was attacked by jihadist terrorists. The misnamed ‘Stop the War’ Coalition issued a statement claiming the French had ‘reaped the whirlwind’ of Western countries’ foreign policy. I expected nothing better from a motley crew of Trotskyists with their apologism for anti-Western jihadism. However, I did expect the Leader of the Labour Party to express solidarity with the French people. This would have been consistent with traditional Labour internationalism. Instead, he seemed more concerned with demonstrating solidarity with the Stop the War Coalition by attending their Christmas fundraiser. I was beyond disgusted.

Sadly, this mentality has since become more commonplace in the Party. In July 2017, Haringey Council voted to recognise the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The Labour Party of Clement Attlee, Barbara Castle and Michael Foot supported the creation of the state of Israel. As the Full Council discussed the motion, which had cross-party support, local Momentum activists created a disturbance in the public gallery. This had been planned beforehand. They heckled, abused and threatened the councillors in the chamber. My Jewish colleagues, especially, found this distressing. I felt huge discomfort at knowing we share a party with people who hold such pernicious views.  

As a councillor, I have learnt that local authorities have to plan for the future. This might be up to fifty years ahead. Similarly to other London boroughs, Haringey is afflicted by a housing crisis. A complicating factor is the projected population growth. London may have a million more residents in the next decade. This necessitates the building of more housing of all types of tenure. The extent of government cuts since 2010 cannot be underestimated.  Local councils do not have the funds to build housing on the scale required. To address this problem, Haringey Council has devised the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). This is a partnership between the Council and a private developer to build more housing and regenerate the existing social housing stock.  

There is an element of risk involved in a development partnership. Nevertheless, the alternative approach of inaction is not an option for a responsible council. Haringey Momentum, however, has channeled the 2016 Leave campaign in orchestrating a campaign of misinformation. There is a separate anti-HDV campaign which is supposedly independent of Momentum. However, the delineation between them is unclear. Their online and print materials are often identical. They make regular use of dubious terms such as ‘social cleansing’. More worryingly, they claim that the Council can simply build more social housing if the HDV is scrapped. This is reminiscent of the claim that there would be an extra £350 million a week of NHS funding were Britain to leave the European Union. Similarly to the Leave campaign, they have been able to fashion simple, clear messages. Any complexity or nuance is blithely ignored.

The social media strategy of the anti-HDV campaign seems to have been inspired by Militant. Their Twitter feeds seem to be maintained by the sort of people who, before social media, would have written anonymous poison pen letters. Individual Labour councillors have been singled out and subjected to online hate campaigns.  The level of personalised vituperation seems detached from the issue of housing. It is evocative of the tactics of bullying and intimidation associated with Militant in the 1980s. The sectarianism is palpable.

Haringey Momentum has used the HDV as its Trojan horse to take over the local party. Given their tactics to date, I can only imagine that a local authority they controlled would be like Liverpool Council during Derek Hatton’s heyday. Their promise to build more social housing might end up looking like the proverbial lie on the side of the bus. That is not an administration I would wish to be associated with. Instead, I plan to concentrate my political energies campaigning against a hard Brexit. That is enough grotesque chaos to be getting on with.   

Momentum’s Code Of Ethics: a translation

By Jake Wilde

The original text is in bold and my translation of what they really mean is in italics.

 

Individuals and groups using the Momentum name and branding must operate according to the following principles at all times:

It’s important to ensure that there’s an opt-out if needed. When someone holds an official role in an organisation that confers status upon them, but they’re either writing or speaking about a subject that the organisation would not authorise them to write or speak about, there’s an old trick to pull. This is to use the words “in a personal capacity” after their name, the office they hold and the organisation they hold it in. Sometimes the “in a personal capacity” is in microscopic font, abbreviated to “PC” or only ever mentioned in the flyer for the event, and not when introducing the individual at the event. So, for example, when a someone wants to speak at an event that’s beyond the pale even for Momentum (at least publicly), they can still be billed as being from Momentum but the “in a personal capacity” prevents any action being taken. Such privilege is, naturally, only accorded to the chosen.

As the successor to Jeremy Corbyn’s Leadership Campaign, Momentum promotes the values that Jeremy popularised during the campaign, of fair, honest debate focused on policies, not personal attacks or harassment.

Ever wondered why so many of the Corbynista Twitter accounts are anonymous? Momentumites use their anon accounts to abuse and harass, and their named accounts for the “fair and honest” stuff.

Momentum seeks to build positive relationships with Constituency Labour Parties, trade unions and other Labour movement or campaigning organisations that share its aims and principles.

The method by which this is achieved is entryism, and the building of those “positive relationships” is done by Momentumites from the inside. The subtext here is also clear: if you’re against us we’ll come after you.

Momentum seeks to reach out across the community and encourages the participation of people who may not have been involved in political activities before. Ensuring the safety and self ­expression of everyone is a priority, especially of those who are often marginalised on the basis of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, religion, class, disability and educational or economic status.

At first glance this looks like a pledge to protect free speech but it’s actually the very opposite. There’s only one version of the truth allowed, and as long as you agree that society has marginalised everyone – a necessary prerequisite for forcibly implementing massive societal change – then you will be allowed to express your (supportive) opinion. Essentially this is an endorsement of identity politics, but also a warning that disagreeing will be condemned as -phobic or -ist.

Groups of individuals may form local Momentum Groups to share ideas, organise and participate in activities at their local level, which demonstrate how ‘socialist values’ and collective effort can make a positive social and/or environmental impact. These groups must be democratic in their nature and be organised around a spirit of collaboration, inclusion and respect.

You don’t know how soviets work? You will comrade, you will.

As the successor to Jeremy Corbyn’s Leadership Campaign, Momentum promotes the communication of progressive ideas for political change, such as:

o Opposition to austerity and privatisation,

Austerity really only means spending less than your income, a necessary prerequisite for reducing the deficit, a pledge made by John McDonnell. So this must only refer to bad austerity, or something. And one of the odd things about privatisation is that it just means using the private sector to perform a task previously undertaken by the public sector, even if so doing offers better value, or a better service, to citizens. To oppose this in every single case is simple dogma.

o The promotion of equality and participatory democracy,

“Participatory democracy” is code for “your right to vote is dependent upon turning up to a meeting, and still being there when the vote is taken”. It’s an old scam, to hold meetings when opponents are known to be unavailable, or to drag out proceedings until everyone else has gone home and then take the vote.

o Strong collective bargaining to stamp out workplace injustice,

This means the return of the closed shop, better known as compulsory union membership.

o A big housebuilding programme and rent controls,

How big is your big? This big? Not big enough comrade.

o Action on climate change,

Action eh? Strong stuff.

o No more illegal wars, replacing Trident not with a new generation of nuclear weapons but jobs that retain the communities’ skills,

Describing wars as “illegal” is an oldie but a goodie. This simply translates to “as long as it’s OK with the Russians” as “illegal” means “not endorsed by all of the permanent members of the UN Security Council”. The desire to subcontract our foreign policy decisions to Moscow is simple anti-Americanism, but also owes much to a desire to support Iranian interests in the Middle East, which Russia generally favour. In case you’re wondering this particular clause would have ensured that the Serbs would’ve repeated Srebrenica in Kosovo.

Including Trident is interesting. Labour reached a policy on Trident democratically, so the inclusion of this demand places Momentum in an undemocratic position. The inconsistency with the demand about respecting Corbyn’s election is obvious.

o Public ownership of railways and in the energy sector, and

Carefully phrased to avoid saying “Public ownership of the railways and of the energy sector, because neither is affordable. Would a Government Gas Company survive in the market without making huge losses? Maybe we’ll find out.

o An end to scapegoating of migrants.

A seemingly throwaway line, but one that hints at censorship. How could such a pledge be delivered, or even defined? Which migrants? The ones decried by Jeremy Corbyn for producing downward pressure on wages in the UK?

These are the policies for which Jeremy Corbyn was elected.

Momentum is wholly committed to working for progressive political change through methods which are democratic, inclusive and participatory.

Jon Lansman’s coup earlier this year disabused many people of the idea that this was indeed the case.

Momentum seeks to build a social movement in support of the aims of the Labour movement and a fairer and more decent society.

Those familiar with Clause 1 of the Labour’s rules will wonder what this really means for the future of the party. Leading supporters of Momentum have often spoken of ditching Labour if Corbyn was ousted, or indeed, in the past, been actively involved in rivals to Labour.

Momentum is committed to supporting the Labour Party winning elections and entering government in 2020 and seeks positive and productive engagement with Constituency Labour Parties and trade unions.

And this looks ominously like a deadline.

Failure to abide by this code of ethics may result in suspension or permanent exclusion from Momentum meetings, online groups and/or membership.

“He who has the gold makes the rules.”

 

Momentum Code of Ethics

From Foucault to Corbyn: the Left’s sordid relationship with Iran

By Jack Staples-Butler

The Islamic Republic of Iran was born in a hostage crisis which has never really ceased. Since 1979, the Iranian regime has repeatedly employed the abduction and arbitrary arrest of foreign nationals, frequently targeting those with dual Iranian citizenship, as a matter of state policy. There are several interpretations as to the rationale. The most obvious is material cynicism; prisoners arrested on bogus charges of espionage are a source of bargaining power with the international community; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband believes his wife was taken as leverage in Iran’s dispute with the UK over an arms deal dating back to the 1970s. Alternately, there is evidence that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards have escalated the taking of foreign hostages as part of an internal power struggle with other parts of the regime. The most disturbing interpretation is one of the regime’s millenarian convictions; when Iran accuses Zaghari-Ratcliffe or hundreds of others of being CIA or Mossad agents, the charges are not entirely bogus fictions but sincerely-held delusions of a regime governed by thought disorder. It represents a disturbed pattern of thinking which has many sympathisers in the rich world. Any government that institutes ‘Death to America as an official public slogan can reasonably expect a little help from left-wing friends in the West.

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 was an early harbinger of what would later be dubbed the ‘regressive left’ or more fittingly, the ‘tyrannophile left; the emergence of a Western socialist left so desperate for allies against capitalism and liberalism that it saw embracing a neo-feudalist theocracy as a virtuous act. A regime led by a Supreme Leader and unchallengeable priesthood which executed trade unionists and social democrats by firing squad, hanged gay people from construction cranes and banned countless books and works of art became a cause célèbre for some of the most vaunted intellectuals and political figures on the left. Michel Foucault, the godfather of post-structuralist theory which has saturated academic departments since the 1980s, declared the mullahs of the Islamic Revolution could execute and torture whoever they liked, because Islam does not “have the same regime of truth as ours.” Foucault, the architect of queer theory now proverbially applauding the mass execution of gay men, was not alone. David Greason’s article ‘embracing death: the Western left and the Iranian revolution, 1978-83 covers much of this deeply unsettling ground, as do the themes of Paul Hollander’s recent book on ‘Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship‘.

Jeremy Corbyn’s hosting of a phone-in show on Iran’s state-controlled Press TV, a gig which netted him a total of £20,000, was not merely motivated by greed or vanity (the more likely motive for Alex Salmond taking a lavish new hosting job with Russia Today). Corbyn might have found presenting gigs or newspaper columns elsewhere; working for the anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist information arsenal of the Islamic Republic was just too appealing. George Galloway, a long-running presenter on the network, described the English-language propaganda channel Press TV as a “voice for the voiceless”. The voices of Iran’s political prisoners were unavailable for comment. Press TV’s website published lurid Jew-baiting editorials by Holocaust deniers before, during and after Corbyn, Galloway former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone were on their payroll – perhaps the network’s fixation on ‘Zionism’ earned Livingstone’s goodwill?.

Maziar Bahari is an Iranian-American journalist whose imprisonment, torture and false confession was facilitated by Press TV at the same time Corbyn was presenting his talk show. After Ofcom revoked Press TV’s right to broadcast on UK satellite and cable channels due to its involvement in Bahari’s torture, Corbyn continued his presenting gig for another six months. Bahari’s description of Western leftists, including Corbyn, Livingstone and Galloway, was of a new generation of “useful idiots”, adding:

“These are people who have a grudge against the US government or capitalism as a system, and as a result, they embrace whoever is against the American government. This means that sometimes they embrace regimes with atrocious human rights records like the one in Iran.”

Most British discussion of the imprisonment and maltreatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe this month has focused on the careless talk of the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and subsequently Michael Gove. However, a regressive myopia has affected discussion of the issue, wherein Johnson’s bungled response is believed to hold greater importance than a dictatorship’s policy of arbitrarily imprisoning and executing civilians using show-trials. The height of this disorder of accountability was the granting of an Observer editorial to none other than Jeremy Corbyn, who demanded Johnson’s resignation for, among other things, potentially condemning a British citizen imprisoned in Iran. The regime in Tehran has long proved it will domestically do what it wants, when it wants. Although Johnson’s words are now being quoted with delight on Press TV, the greater material prize for any propaganda channel is always the enthusiastic Western voices lining up to praise the regime. The selective myopia and amnesia of left-wing politician and their surrogates now attacking Johnson would be comical if not undercut by the sordidness of their own involvement with the Islamic Republic and its state media.

Britain’s alt-left

By Jake Wilde

The British left has a long and distinguished history, stretching back over a hundred years. By consciously and deliberately rejecting revolution and embracing parliamentary democracy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the left in Britain was able to present itself as an honest, patriotic expression of the interests of working people in this country. By consistently rejecting undemocratic, anti-democratic or openly totalitarian manifestations of leftist thought and actions that arose inside Britain or abroad, the Labour Party, whatever public opinion might have thought about its competence, has upheld the principles of liberal democracy, and been seen to do so. From the Zinoviev letter through to the Cold War, the various attempts by Labour’s political opponents to suggest the party is a risk to national security, or holds views contrary to the broader public interest, has consistently failed to gain traction. It is this reserve of trust and goodwill that the current leadership of the party has been able to call upon to deflect doubts about their past associations.

There are, naturally, some genuine British revolutionaries. They are generally easy to identify because they tell you who they are and they all know each other. They meet in small halls that echo to the drone of interminable arguments about the true nature of socialism. Some are Leninists, others are Stalinists, there’s a telephone box-full of supporters of North Korean Juche, and perhaps a few busloads who have a thing for Latin American men in uniforms. The sanctity of human life is a rare commodity in such circles, making it hard to distinguish these earnest wavers of red flags from religious death cults or neo-Nazis. Irrespective of whether you subscribe to spectrum, compass or horseshoe theory, it seems to me that once your founding principle includes the notion that some people deserve to, or indeed must, die then it matters little what brand you give to your inhumanity.

During the Cold War, the binary political choice was starkly plain to see. There was no room for communist apologism in mainstream politics so those with sympathies in that direction were bundled in with the revolutionaries and were largely happy to be there. However, for those with political ambitions being a revolutionary in Britain is wholly unrewarding and so it is necessary to try to find your way into the mainstream as the Militant Tendency did. However, in that binary Cold War world, it was always going to be impossible to reconcile the quasi-revolutionary views of Militant’s members with those of mainstream Labour Party democrats.

Once the Berlin Wall fell and the memories of the Soviet Union began to fade it started to become acceptable to use language tinged with Marxist ideology within the Labour Party, with Tony Blair even adding the phrase “democratic socialist” to membership cards. And so since the end of the Cold War, and dwelling in the space between the traditional left and the revolutionary left and elbowing their way into both spheres, Britain’s alt-left began to emerge.

 

The alt-left see themselves as the bridge between the democratic left and the revolutionary left, the unifying force behind the creation of a hegemonic left-wing movement that will sweep aside, through sheer force of numbers, the right-wing establishment. Many individuals have attempted to be the personal manifestation of that unifying force, from George Galloway, through various trade union leaders, to John McDonnell. Finally, and largely by accident, Jeremy Corbyn stumbled upon the magic formula. This turned out to be, by stark contrast to his predecessor would-be messiahs, that one should be widely lauded as a principled man but be sufficiently unclear about what those principles are in order for people to be able to project their own upon him.

The destabilising effect on UK politics of the alt-left has had a number of direct consequences. The first was that the consequence of the internal conflict within Labour in the lead-up to the 2015 general election was that the party presented an unclear message to the electorate. Irrespective of whether you think Labour should have been clearly anti-austerity or more firmly in favour of stricter controls of the economy the fact that it failed to convince anybody that it was either of those things was cited by voters as being a key barrier to supporting them. Ed Miliband’s odd attempts at populism, which plainly didn’t suit him, look even stranger now viewed through the prism of Corbyn’s leadership. Consider the Ed Stone; imagine it had never happened and Jeremy Corbyn produced it during the 2017 election. Corbynistas would have hailed it as a stroke of genius, a physical manifestation of the great man’s principles, whatever it actually had carved upon it.

The second was that a Corbyn-led Labour Party directly contributed towards the UK voting to leave the European Union. Not a single person working on the Remain campaign is in any doubt about that. Brexit will have the single most disruptive impact upon the UK economy since WWII and those familiar with Tony Benn’s Alternative Economic Strategy will recognise the appeal of this to the alt-left. Brexit may well create the conditions that allow the alt-left to argue effectively for the “siege economy” approach envisaged by Benn, a combination of widespread state ownership and protectionism. It is inconceivable to imagine any other Labour Party leadership since Attlee pursuing such policies.

The third is the potential for a long-term fracture within the left, rather than unity. The 2017 election showed what can happen if there is hegemony, with those who just a few years ago would never have voted for a Corbyn/McDonnell-led party finding themselves forced into voting Labour through an absence of choice. This is the realisation of the alt-left’s electoral strategy. The alt-left are not interested in building common cause with moderates, but in eliminating their voice by bullying them into either silence or submission. They wish to force everyone who identifies as being “of the left” into making a simple choice – it’s us or the Tories – knowing this places their opponents in a lose-lose situation. If moderates vote Labour they prop up the alt-left, if they don’t vote Labour they have betrayed the nation by letting in the Tories. This is not particularly novel – Tony Blair was often accused by Militant’s successors of taking the votes of Labour supporters for granted as he pursued “neo-liberal policies”. This is why the mere mention of the possibility of a new centrist party induces vitriolic rhetoric, as such a party would provide a home for these votes; votes that the alt-left needs even if they do not value the voters who cast them. The alt-left are dishonest brokers, appearing to offer the tantalising prospect of unity only to reveal that it comes with a price – that you must agree with them.

The fourth effect is the degradation of political discourse in the UK. The alt-left have deliberately rejected consensus politics, and on more subjects than just economic policy. The alt-left’s commitment to liberal democracy is as thin as a leaflet demanding that the country Kick Out The Tories the day after a general election. The word ‘democracy’ has two meanings for the alt-left: when they win then it means whatever they say goes. One individual success prompts them to toss aside democratic institutions, other election results or the culture that is necessary to sustain successful liberal democracies. When they lose an election they dismiss the outcome as an establishment conspiracy, a plot hatched by their enemies and freely open to challenge in the way that an election in which they succeed is not.

Double standards abound, on free speech, secularism, blasphemy, women’s rights, immigration, homosexuality, racism and war. Human rights only exist when there is a grievance to exploit, or a sub-group to recruit. Ostentatious claims of “zero tolerance” of racism turn out to mean considerable tolerance, depending on the racism or the racist. They prefer brewing street violence to building civil consensus, and emote understanding when lunatics express their grievances through randomised mass murder. They are noisy in their condemnation of regimes associated with the West, but silent on the crimes of any that identify as anti-Western. They squeal about an MSM conspiracy and then appear on Russia Today. They decry their opponents’ “hate speech”, and then barrage their enemies with sickening abuse.

The alt-left have fluid relationships with both facts and objectivity. Rather than have a reasoned debate a member of the alt-left will denounce their opponent in hyperbolic terms to encourage their supporters to pile on. The techniques employed by Britain’s alt-left are a combination of the traditional bullying honed by the revolutionary left over decades and now adapted for the era of social media, and the exploitation of grievances developed by the purveyors of identity politics.

 

Thus far, the traditional left have been immobilised by the alt-left, unable to offer a unified response. The soft-left have chosen to be glass-half-full optimists and see the alt-left as an ‘exciting, dynamic and modern’ catalyst for bringing new people into politics in general, and towards the Labour Party in particular. They politely pretend that there is merit in an economic policy that is nothing more than reheated Bennism and that the racism and misogyny on show is nothing to do with the party’s leadership. In private, they retain faith that the pendulum will eventually return from its swing from Blair to Corbyn and come back to them, and that they just need to hold tight and ride out the rough times. So, in the meantime, they appease the alt-left crocodile.

Meanwhile the moderate left have tried to be robust in standing up to the alt-left but lack the determination to back it up by refusing to be in the same party. In short, like Jeremy himself, they have declared they will never use their deterrent. The phrase “It’s my party not theirs” often appears when Labour moderates talk about the alt-left. I have sympathy for this view but the truth is that most Labour Party members who are interested enough to vote in internal elections – itself a low bar for measuring levels of engagement – vote for the most left-wing candidate who isn’t a woman or black, and have always done so. Labour Party online forums are riddled with antisemitism but is this new or was it always there and simply hidden? Labour Party members know all about Jeremy Corbyn’s long-term support for terrorist groups but this makes no difference to the support he receives. The sad reality is that this is the state of the party, and members are not coming to the rescue.

I suggest that the decline of the term “centre-left” and the rise in the use of the word “centrism” is not because people are shifting politically, it’s because the alt-left has made the term “left” an undesirable signifier. This is why the British left must seek to detach itself from the alt-left or it will suffer long-term reputational damage long after the alt-left have faded back into obscurity. This is what will prevent the British left from being able to form a government, more than the relative strength or weakness of the Conservative Party. That is because the pre-existing mistrust of the traditional left’s ability to manage the economy will be deepened by the presence of the alt-left in the formation of policy and, in the event of a Corbyn government, their hand on the actual levers. A Corbyn government could not successfully run the economy because confidence, from city banks to small businesses, would be non-existent.

 

I don’t believe there are any easy solutions to the problem of the alt-left, but there is work that can both mitigate the damage they cause and prepare for the time when they can be defeated.

The first act is simply to stop taking them seriously. None of the alt-left are intellectuals and none has anything to offer public policy debates beyond regurgitated sixth form communism. We have collectively made the mistake of falling for their self-publicity. Let us stop sharing the latest outlandish, hypocritical comment, article or op-ed across social media. “Look at the state of this”, we cry, and we froth and click and froth some more. It is through this method that they have controlled the debate on their terms and we can, and should, end our part in this tomorrow.

Secondly, there needs to be a collective will to build consensus. That means finding common cause across party lines without it being seen as dangerous, at least to anybody other than the extremists. This will require steel not just on the part of the centre left but also those on the centre and centre right; to ignore the abuse that will come from those of a more tribal or sectarian nature. In order to return to a civil political environment we must seize every opportunity for consensus-building and cooperation, and a life in politics that is bearable. In every area of public policy the goal should be to find areas of agreement, if not in full then in part.

Thirdly, those in the centre, and in particular on the centre left, need to resist their inclination to be inclusive towards the alt-left. It is the natural state of the centrist to seek out ideas from across the spectrum and to try to build broad alliances. Centrists will need to exert self-discipline to turn their back on the siren voices of the alt-left, who will sing alluring arias from the rocks on the theme of defeating Theresa May.

This leads me onto my final point, perhaps the hardest sell of the piece, that of the end goal of all of this activity. This is not to form some kind of government of national unity or to create a homogenous centrist party. Instead, we will expend all of this energy not to even achieve power, but simply to make politics constructive rather than destructive. In order to achieve this then all parties will need to look at why that destructive anger – and I have focused here on the alt-left but it is also present on the nationalist right – rose above its normal obscurity. There are many, complex reasons but high on the list of complaints from the electorate was that politicians simply did not appear to be listening. The alt-left have exploited this without actually offering any solutions, instead firing out their usual smokescreen of rallies, marches, pseudo-conferences and other illusions. Real solutions, ones that bring politicians closer to their constituents, and bring political decision-making closer to the voters, have to be an integral part of the overall response. This might include increasing the number of MPs to allow them to spend more time in smaller constituencies, or making it easier to consult voters by using electronic media linking electoral rolls to personal apps such as Facebook or online banking. This work must form a key part of the efforts on producing new public policy to improve politics.

There is a claim that the alt-left have reinvigorated politics, and that Corbyn and his supporters are a breath of fresh air. The reality is that politics is now less about finding ways to improve the country and more about defeating your enemies and wreaking revenge. The alt-left are not responsible for all of the worsening of political discourse but their impact upon national politics has been to reduce rationality, increase hostility and damage the integrity of the democratic institutions of the country. The trouble is that is precisely what they set out to do.