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

Advertisements

Reading Bartley Crum in 2017

By Oscar Clarke

Lately, I have been reading Bartley Crum’s Behind the Silken Curtain, published in 1947 and included as a Left Book Club choice that same year. The author, a member of the Anglo-American Joint Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, was tasked with collecting evidence to help inform his government and ours in deciding what to do about the displaced Jews of Europe.

Of the book’s revelations, one of the most curious emanates from the author’s conversations with Chaim Weizmann. The first cataclysm of Zionism, Weizmann reflected, was the historical coincidence by which the Bolshevik Revolution occurred literally days after the Balfour Declaration.

After the Revolution of February 1917, during the brief liberal regime of Alexander Kerensky, Russian Zionists had raised hundreds of millions of roubles to fund emigration to Palestine (the country’s Jews had suffered terribly at the hands of the Black Hundreds, inspired, like the Nazis after them, by what Norman Cohn called a Warrant for Genocide, the outrageous Protocols of the Elders of Zion).

In 1917, Palestine’s Arab population was little more than half-a-million. There could have been, Weizmann claimed, a Jewish majority in Palestine by the early 1920s, and a largely frictionless solution to the problem of the disputed land. But the Balfour Declaration had convinced Lenin that Zionism was a tool of British imperialism. After the October Revolution, Zionism was banned in the USSR; the state confiscated all the money that the Zionists had raised and forbade Jewish emigration. The major consequence of this failed opportunity was not that the Zionist project was stalled, nor even that European Jews didn’t have a place of escape after 1933. The lasting legacy of Lenin’s appropriation was that intellectuals and regimes in the Arab world were given the time they required to embrace the same toxic ideology that had made Jewish life unlivable in Russia and Europe.

The bitter fruits of anti-Semitism, which has since burrowed so deeply into Arab culture, are borne not chiefly upon Israelis, but Palestinians. In the book, Crum recalled an observation of Wendell Willkie’s: that anti-Semitism is a virus, and that any society that practiced it would self-destruct. A few pages on, Weizmann is addressing the committee: “We warned you,” he said, “that the first flames which licked the synagogues of Berlin would set fire to the whole world.” In a disturbing remark quoted in Sebastian Haffner’s biography of him, Hitler promised to punish the Germans if they failed in their historical duty to eradicate the Jews. In his last testament, he admitted defeat in his imaginary war with international Jewry, then, with almost every German city reduced to ruins, he shot himself.

Crum’s book affirmed with moral clarity the Jewish people’s right to a homeland; it denounced the sordid imperialism of the British government, which was more concerned with acceding to the demands of Arab despots than abiding by the promises it had made to Europe’s long-suffering Jews; and it contained a message of hope, based upon the observation that Jewish immigration had improved the lot of Palestine’s Arabs. Crum contended that when freed from the toxic politics of cynical Arab rulers, Jews and Arabs demonstrated that they were not enemies.

It is dismaying to reflect that the above represented progressive opinion in 1947. For Behind the Silken Curtain was a Left Book Club Choice, and the Labour Party’s official position on the same subject, in 1944, was this:

“There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a Jewish National Home unless we are prepared to let the Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the war, and there is an irresistible case for it now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold-blooded, calculated Nazi plan to kill all the Jews of Europe.”

It is dismaying because seventy years have passed, and progressive opinion in 2017 has regressed beyond comprehension. Today’s bien pensants are interested only in the victimhood of the Palestinians and the cosmic evil of the Israelis. Whilst well-meaning celebrities put their names to open letter after open letter, decrying Israel, none of them stop to ask themselves if seventy years of Arab intransigence has made life better or worse for the Palestinians – if anti-Semitism is the virus they continue to suffer from. And another, incredible phenomenon: in 2017, at a demonstration in Central London, a large male crowd call for war against the Jews – “Khaybar Khaybar, ya yahud, Jaish Muhammad, sa yahud” (“Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning”) – and nobody is there to condemn it.

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.

This one time, at Labour Conference…

By Elle Driver

Conference. Every year, the drill’s the same. Through the gates you go after flashing the pass, scanning crowds for people you know, people you need to speak with. Trawl the programme for promising events. Day one is about reconnaissance.

Inside, the main hall promised a furious programme of activity, the motions that Momentum had allowed to reach the floor and the set-piece speeches the Leader’s Office had approved. The peripheral rooms and common areas littered with MPs with their aides, suited and booted and avoiding eye contact like it might give them venereal disease. Can’t blame them, a single chat could root them to the spot for the worst 20 minutes of their lives, cruelly unable to escape the complete oral history of what’s gone wrong in Burnley. But, apart from them, the vibe of the crowd was distinctly grassroots, loose and casual. Being the first day, the army of bouffanted lobbyists, both male and female, hadn’t descended yet. It was early, so no-one was drunk. In other words, nothing was actually happening yet. Attendees were just streaming in, tentatively, checking it all out, looking for friends or partners in crime.

The real action was at The World Transformed, the parallel conference around the corner from the main one where, even on the first day, there was a line around the block to get in. A gaggle of self-described activists, killing time as they queued, shared their glee at how busy the event was, especially given the New Statesman venue was deserted. This was to be a recurring theme that week. No one had a kind word for the poor NS or its writers, they were apparently a pack of establishment sell-outs or worse, corporate stooges. A bit of parsing of these characterisations would then lead to their editors being described as anti-Corbyn and, well, nothing else. Not a great first impression of the new members, the Corbyn faithful, of whom I’d heard so much but not yet seen in the wild, certainly not up close. But I was determined to keep an open mind.

Onwards.

There may have been unkind words about the media, but in truth there were no roaming gangs of awful Marxists looking for dissenters to slay with their sickles. Apart from individual conversations, confined to particular stands, normality reigned. As the sun came out, it even began to feel festive and relaxed. I started getting reports from colleagues about the fringe meetings. There was no generalised tension, no-one causing real trouble or even just asking awkward, challenging questions. Others reported the same and soon it was clear that the party was indeed far more united than the dreadful MSM (or the poor ostracised New Statesman lot) would have anyone believe. The relief was beginning to feel palpable. But early days still.

Unusually for a conference attendee, I would have the honour of meeting Corbyn himself, more by accident than design. What a lovely man! You’d have to be some kind of Blairite gorilla to not instinctively like him, with his crumpled, vulnerable smile, the kindly eyes. In an instant the adoration didn’t seem or feel so bizarre. If you came upon this man thinking he shared your political views it would be impossible not to follow him, maybe even not to venerate him. Then suddenly I was pulled from  his personal orbit by one of the team of advisers around him. Or perhaps it was security, it was impossible to tell them apart. It was a rude interruption of my momentary thought bubble. ‘Mustn’t disturb Jeremy’, someone later quipped to me, ‘he’s the only thing keeping Labour from going Full Metal Jacket. They can’t be rocking any boats.’

In the fringes this message became clearer with each passing meeting. Questions weren’t allowed in the ones with contentious topics. ‘No Q&A’ became a common opening disclaimer for the chairs, and if they demurred a party aide would pipe up from the panel or the audience and remind all concerned: No Questions, No Exceptions. Insiders even apologised to me for the lack of access to anyone who held any decision-making powers and, sotto voce, they admitted the joking was all too serious. Jeremy can’t be anywhere near anything controversial right now. No one must be made unhappy. The cliff edge was all too near, the enemies poised at the gates, there was no way policies could be considered carefully right now. Just need to make it into Number 10: then we’ll talk.

Onwards.

Many of the stereotypes bandied around about Corbyn supporters were revealed as just that, stereotypes. The place wasn’t teeming with North London avocado-worshipping privilege, there were plenty of attendees who struggled to find the change to pay for the overpriced coffees in the seafront cafes. I chatted to as many different and disparate attendees as I could, and they were all unfailingly polite. Corbyn had seemed such a nice man, maybe we sceptics had it all wrong, something positive really was happening, why piss on an idealist’s chips?

New members everywhere, new faces. They didn’t really supply new energy, since they were timid, unsure of how it was all meant to work, excited but worried they’d do it wrong. Understandable. No one forgets their First Time. But it was still good to see them there, and to feel reassured that in fact the party was still functioning as it always had before, that reports of its takeover by hard left men in fedoras were looking greatly overstated.

My policy area, being controversial and difficult, meant, as usual, no-one really wanted to speak with me, but felt obliged to. Getting to see MPs away from the cameras is a similar experience to seeing celebrities in private settings. They may not play characters but many have public personas that slip away the second the door to the ante room shuts. I’m always grateful for the ones who prove to be no different behind the scenes, even more so if they’re polite rather than contemptuous. And if they actually stop, take time to listen, ask questions, understand, hey ho, that’s pay dirt. Few and far between, but not forgotten, and often the ones I least expected.

The new intake proved no different. Some appeared to feel it was their duty to take advantage of an opportunity to learn about an issue. Others didn’t even bother to conceal their irritation and wouldn’t so much as give a thanks-but-no-thanks. Again, this was a kind of relief to me, that there was no difference, that the big new names were behaved the same as the big old names. The game was the same, I’d no need to approach it differently. Be polite, charming even, if possible, smile, be respectful of their positions. That’s all. Keep at it, plug away. Some will listen, some won’t. Take the wins, forget the brush-offs. There will be arseholes everywhere. And so far none of the male MPs try it on like half the Tories do. Result!

More nice people to meet out on the pavement, more introductions. Contacts meet new contacts, and if you have balls, you introduce yourself to anyone and everyone. Us old hands were increasingly outnumbered as the week wore on. The average age tumbled so low I started to wonder if everyone who was there shouldn’t be at home, studying on a school night. Someone introduced me to a young guy who was very small, slight, quiet, and looked permanently uncomfortable. The type you couldn’t remember from school no matter how hard you tried or scanned those old photos. He proved to be no more impressive in speech than demeanor. Matt Zarb-Something, someone said. Oh! Oh? A name I knew, but alas not from where.

Onwards.

Andy Burnham, and his aide Kevin, ever the true gents. John McDonnell, never interested, but never impolite. Chuka Umunna, funny and decent and sincere. Dan Jarvis, aloof and cold and annoyed. Lisa Nandy, trying hard to get it, but always in a rush. Dennis Skinner with his lovely wife Lois, not having any of it, any of this conference shit, but loudly agreeing with me on my issue. John Prescott, warm and real but uncompromising and will turn on a sixpence if you cross him, loudly telling me to go before the wife finds out he talks to me. Kate Osamor wanting nothing to do with me. Diane Abbott too wary of strangers in her midst to really try, and for that I can’t blame her. Yvette Cooper fair and patient, giving nothing away, nothing. Then the media types – columnists and TV personalities worse than any of the MPs, with egos the size of the new British Airways attraction. Phil Collins from The Times so far up his own arse he’ll never need an endoscopy. But John McTernan the sweetest political killer I’ve ever known. A huge tender heart, once he lets you anywhere near it. Alistair Campbell weirdly vulnerable and nervous, fragile even. Stop that, I chide myself, can’t like him, not HIM…

None are the public caricatures they labour under, all are trying their best to balance personal ambition, insecurities, and doing the right thing. No, that’s not right, not all. Some want to further their careers and the rest is secondary. New intake and old alike. But it takes time, opportunities to test them, challenges to put to them, to find out who’s who. Who’s real and who’s just talking the talk. Over and over I’m surprised, caught out. Nothing works as a reliable shorthand or signal. I can never know until they’re in front of me, allowing a real conversation, give and take, examination.

My feet hurt, my back aches, it’s near the end, I’ve been walking or standing for 5 days straight, no lunches, just grabbed coffees and snacks until evenings. The football scarves have come out, with Corbyn’s name, the students have grown more comfortable, they’re getting the hang of the fact that there’s nothing to get a hang of, it’s a party conference. On the pavement someone makes another introduction, to yet another incredibly awkward young man named Sam, but this one’s not diminutive, he’s huge and that’s with me wearing heels. Towering over me, reminding me of one those trees in Lord of the Rings or is it Harry Potter? I’m told he’s a journalist but there’s only a mumble to be had by way of greeting. He manages a smile even if no eye contact. The young lurching lummox lumbered off before I get to find out which paper he writes for. ‘Dunno’, says my colleague. ‘Last name’s Kriss I think?’

Watching him go I recall the various meetings I’ve had; I can no longer suppress the nagging thought that I’ve been bumping into real-life Jim Levensteins all week. Then I realise I can’t afford to think that as it might make me Stifler’s Mom.

Corbyn’s entrance into the venue to make his speech is carefully choreographed to look like there’s a spontaneous burst of crowd support around him. I watch him and his team stride out from the back of the Odeon cinema, around the corner to where key supporters have been gathered but now are genuinely delighted. It looks and feels great, they’ve done it well. They’re getting much better at this, his team. I’m happy for him. Nice man.

Conference is over. I had hits and misses. The place had a slightly different look, a different crowd. But it was no different to the year before, or the year before, or the year before, or the year before. Stage managed to the nth degree, fewer opportunities for debate or questioning in separate meetings, but a bit more on the floor perhaps. The biggest issue of all, Brexit, blocked completely from open discussion. Armies of press officers swarming around to stop any controversy in its tracks. Corporate sponsors in the exhibition hall and of the fringes. Everything tightly controlled. MPs clasping their lines-to-take briefing sheets if you catch them unawares, the rest of the time, the scripts are hidden away, thrust into advisers’ pockets. Impressively coordinated. Nothing awkward, little discomfort.

The young members will come back, I hope, and, like me, over the years they will see that leaders come and go but the machinery never changes. It’s politics as it always is. There’s nothing new here.

 

Labour moderates may be pushed before they jump

By an anonymous Labour councillor

The term “Labour moderates” covers a widely disparate range of views.  They include socially and economically liberal ‘Blairites’.  This group largely embraces global capitalism.  However, they want to harness the power of the state and the market to reduce inequality.  Sharing the moderate tent are more statist social democrats.  Their objectives are not wildly dissimilar to the Blairites.  However, they are more sceptical of markets and globalisation.  Nevertheless, they have no desire to bring down capitalism.  Next are those who self-identify as socialists but who espouse more radical reform of capitalism.  They should feel at home in Corbyn’s Labour Party.  However, their outlook tends to be internationalist.  Therefore, the default anti-West mentality of the Corbynite alt-left does not resonate with them.  More importantly, they feel uncomfortable about the cultishness surrounding Corbyn.   

These characterisations of Labour moderates are somewhat crude.  There are many shades of opinion within and between the groups described.  Still, this account of Labour moderates is more nuanced than the caricatures envisaged by the Corbynite left.  They see a common enemy consumed by bitterness and a desire for power over principle.  Labour moderates’ scepticism about Corbyn and his acolytes is regarded as proof positive of a barely repressed, innate conservatism.  The word ‘Blairite’ has been appropriated as shorthand for this.  Some Corbynite apparatchiks, close to the man himself, have taken to using dubious terms such as ‘slugs’ and ‘melts’ about Labour moderates on social media.  

The Corbynite pressure group, Momentum was formed in late 2015.  Its initial purpose was to consolidate Corbyn’s position.  Over time, it has developed a parallel organisational structure.  In effect, it is a party within a party.  Momentum activists define themselves in opposition to Labour moderates.  They flexed their muscle early on.  In December 2015, the House of Commons voted for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.  Corbyn made his vehement opposition clear.  Many Labour MPs, being of an internationalist disposition, were inclined to vote in favour.  However, a perceptible number did not.  The expected rebellion was stifled rather than quashed.  Many attributed this to an intense social media and lobbying campaign by Momentum activists.  

Momentum proved effective as Corbyn’s Praetorian Guard in the summer of 2016.  A leadership challenge was instigated by the Parliamentary Labour Party.  This occurred after the 2016 referendum on EU membership.  Many Labour MPs perceived that Corbyn, a lifelong Eurosceptic, had deliberately sabotaged the Remain campaign.  Nevertheless, the challenge was easily defeated.  Corbyn was greatly helped by Momentum’s organisation and resources.  In some ways, the outcome of the referendum was more significant for the Party than the subsequent leadership election.  It represented the beginning of an illiberal populism in the UK that is evident across the Western world.  Donald Trump’s election as US President, in November 2016, further exemplifies this.  Labour moderates have found that their core liberal values are under attack from the right and the left.  They have few allies in the centre.

Speculation about a new party surfaces periodically.  This has been a regular occurrence since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Leader in 2015. The speculation ebbs and flows according to Corbyn’s fortunes.  Commentators ruminate on the discomfort of Labour moderates:  Surely the Party activists have become too hostile?  Is Labour still the right party to advance their politics?  Would a new centrist party not be more viable for them?  After all, the Party has been transformed beyond recognition in only two years. Still, moderate Labour MPs are dismissive of such talk, in public and in private.  They are genuinely and deeply reluctant.  However, they may not be given much choice.  Momentum are waging a war against moderates.  It is genuine, sustained and highly organised.  

Their increasingly impossible situation begs an obvious question: why do Labour moderates stay?  Many are haunted by the spectre of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).  In 1981, a number of Labour moderates were alarmed by an earlier hostile takeover of the Party by the hard-left.  Their response was to break away and form the SDP.  For a short time, in the 1980s, the SDP was in the ascendant.  However, it experienced a rapid decline when Labour, under Neil Kinnock’s leadership, moderated and appropriated many of its policies.  Many Labour moderates, especially sitting MPs, have night terrors of ending up in a fringe party on the margins of politics.  This is not what they have devoted their lives and careers to.  They also have a deep tribal, familial identification with the Party.  To them, Labour is more than a political party; it is a community which often provides the basis for a social life.  They are, understandably, reluctant to isolate themselves from that.  

Until very recently, Labour moderates were enmeshed in the structures of the Party.  They were often in a position to act as a restraining influence.  However, the result of the 2017 General Election has changed this.  The Corbynite wing has interpreted the better-than-expected result as validation of their world view. Moderates within the Party have been fatally weakened.  Momentum have been quick to take advantage and a new phase of a hostile takeover has commenced.  

Noisy threats to deselect Labour MPs were frequently made by Momentum activists before the election.  However these have subsided and there is a reason for this; they have a new target.  Many local Party branches have held their annual general meetings in recent weeks.  Longstanding branch officers have found themselves replaced by strangers wearing badges emblazoned with Corbyn’s name.  This is the result of slates organised by Momentum.  Moderates report that has become increasingly difficult for them to find candidates for voluntary positions.  People are said to find the atmosphere of Party meetings intimidating.

There are two clear lessons to be learned from Momentum’s latest manoeuvres.  Firstly, they are completely uninterested in cohabitation with Labour moderates. They seem them as a barrier to be removed.  Secondly, they are no longer targeting Labour MPs directly but they are still targeting them.  They have chosen the more indirect route of seizing control of local party structures.  Moderate councillors are their next target.  Their objective is not simply to weaken moderates but to expunge them altogether. Labour moderates have little desire to leave the Party but staying is rapidly becoming less of an option.  

Many Labour moderates dream of regaining control of the party.  Others, who consider themselves to be pragmatists, hope to reach some sort of accommodation with Momentum.  Neither of these outcomes seem likely.