Why I’ll be voting Labour

I’ve just finished watching a DVD about, and by, Tony Benn, “Will and Testament”. Highly recommended, even if you think you have no interest in politics. It reminded me of my own history, and of my parents’ and their parents’ histories. It also reminded me of why I’m voting Labour, even though I think a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn will not win. I was recently asked by someone “Why are you voting for him if you think he can’t win?” My response was a) he’s not my parliamentary candidate, I’m voting for my constituency candidate, b) I’m a socialist and I believe in what he’s trying to do and c) I’m not voting for a leader of a political party.  Leaders come and go and at least one serving Prime Minister has been replaced by their party.  However I was puzzled why anyone would decide their voting intentions on the basis, not of policy or principle, but of wanting to be on the winning side. That seems to me to be worse than not voting at all; not voting is a betrayal of those thousands who have died to win us the right to vote, and those all over the world who still don’t have a vote. I’m not encouraged by the fact that 30% of the electorate couldn’t even be bothered to vote in the Brexit Referendum.  Please, you have to vote.
Now, back to my DVD. I’m sorry, but Jeremy Corbyn is no Tony Benn.  If he were, though, he would be subjected to the same vicious character assassination that Tony Benn was. The same vested interests, the same powerful forces, (and some in his own party, just as Tony Benn was), would make sure he failed.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if that’s your view) he’s doing that job for them by being, well, Jeremy.  It doesn’t matter that the words coming out of his mouth are much the same as those of other socialists in the past, he’s not seen as a threat.  What is a threat, is you and me.  Our votes for our constituency candidate are a threat.  When I put my bit of paper in the ballot box I’m saying, “I don’t care what you think, this is what I think”.  It wouldn’t matter if Jeremy Corbyn lost his own seat, after all he is only one MP, as long as a Labour government was returned.  The choice isn’t Corbyn or May it’s Labour or Conservative.  Left or Right.  The choice is between a party and government with a history of making the poor and defenceless pay for the excesses and failures of the rich, and one that doesn’t (even the right-of-centre New Labour).  The choice is not between two people but between two parties whose gut instincts are diametrically opposed:  one wants more “austerity”, more cuts in education, police, social care, health, pensions etc., and one doesn’t.  The choice is between a party that believes having any kind of job (even one with no contract) is enough, and one that believes you should be secure and paid a living wage for what you do.  The choice is between a party that believes the social and industrial infrastructure of the country should be in private hands, and one that doesn’t.   I know what I want.  I’m voting Labour.

‘Go Compare’ Politics, and Labour’s Train Wreck TV.

You know the sort of thing I mean by Train Wreck TV.  “Epic Fails” on YouTube, or those tittilating films that sit at the side of your Facebook page, offering vicarious enjoyment of some poor person’s misfortune.  That’s what it feels like with the Labour Party at the moment: you can’t watch, but you can’t help yourself.  It’s a gruesome fascination with the inevitable bloody outcome.

Unusually, we have had local government elections just before a general election.  The result seems to have indicated that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is seen as unelectable, even by many natural Labour supporters, and are likely to be heavily defeated on June 8th.  The extraordinary thing about this, and I’ve seen it expressed in vox-pop interviews with these disappointed Labour supporters, is that much of the belief of Corbyn’s “unelectability” is based on false perceptions.  Just the other day I saw a clearly distressed life-long Labour supporter say that he could no longer vote Labour because Jeremy Corbyn was anti-Brexit!  As far as I know, if anything, Jeremy Corbyn was for Brexit: at most he was ambivalent during the Brexit campaigning.  So, where did that impression come from?  Along with much else negative about the Labour Party, it comes from a very slick Conservative election machine.

It is clear, from what we have seen of the campaign already, that the decision to call an election was anything BUT a snap decision.  The Conservatives have been preparing for this for weeks, if not months, and have hit the ground running.  Labour, on the other hand, have been caught out because they are so busy navel gazing that they ignored the signs, and the warnings, that an early General Election was a very predictable outcome of the Brexit referendum last June.

The saving grace, if there is one, is that an unrestrained right-wing Tory government will feel it can do anything…until the country runs into the buffers of Brexit in 18 months time.  That’s only 18 months to realign the left and prepare for another general election.  Let’s hope that, by then, they learn that UK elections are not just about ideas, but votes; not about integrity but learning how to fight dirty; not about unpicking what your opponents say they will do but what they actually have done.  As well as projecting their vision of an alternative Britain, Jeremy Corbyn and the present Labour party leadership should be banging on about what the Torys have already done in the last 7 years.  The only hope they have of staving off a landslide, and having a sizeable left of centre contingent of MPs, is to wake the electorate up to the unvarnished, un-airbrushed, history of Conservative rule since 2010.  Collapsing NHS, collapsed social care, schools closing or overcrowded, teachers leaving, roads full of potholes, homelessness and food banks rising etc., etc.  The tragedy is that many of those who have been directly and personally affected by these failures have been successfuly gulled into believing it has all been the fault of the EU and, especially, immigrants.  Only one week after Parliament has been dissolved, starting the general election properly, the Conservatives have again wheeled out immigration as a major policy issue.  Classic distract, divide and rule tactics. In the absence of a Labour election manifesto, despite there having been a Labour Party conference last autumn where policy is supposed to be decided, the Conservatives are recycling Labour policy pledges from 2015, which they then derided as Marxist, or unaffordable, and claiming them as evidence of their own inclusiveness.

While Theresa May complained that the EU was trying to interfere in the UK election, actually the election of Emanual Macron, an avowedly pro-European and pro-globalisation politician, as president of France plays very nicely into the Conservative general election plan.  They can claim, and already have, that this is proof that Theresa May must be returned with a strong mandate, otherwise a reinvigorated French-led EU will roll over the UK in the formal Brexit negotiations.  Theresa May can now pose as Britannia going into battle with the nasty ‘Frenchies”, while keeping the UKIP vote on-side.  Theresa May was against Brexit and yet has managed to convince the electorate she was not!

I despair that the present Labour leadership have not understood the lessons that crystalized in the Brexit vote: politics is visceral.  Much of the British electorate is not fair minded, it’s not calm and reasoned, it’s not politically correct, it’s not well informed.  It’s no use appealing to the altruism of the British electorate because much of it is self-interested. Thatcher saw that when, in 1987, she said “there is no such thing as society”.  She was, in a real sense, quite right because she was in the process of creating the sort of “loadsamoney”, “me first”, “pull the ladder up” kind of country where people would vote this week for whatever gave them the best deal, and next week for something else, but meantime (and in the longer term) to hell with everyone else: a kind of ‘U Switch’, ‘Go Compare’ approach to politics.  If I could, I would weep.

Mostly I would weep about the Labour leadership’s failure to see the world as it is, and deal with that, rather than wish in some nebulus way that it (and the voter) was thoughtful, decent, different and ‘nice’.  It’s no use wishing it doesn’t matter to the electorate what you wear, how your hair looks, whether your teeth are white and regular, and whether you look the part.  It just does: our entire economy is based on us embracing aspirational materialism.  Even to those with nothing, those who might be considered fertile ground for the Labour message, it does matter what you wear, what sort of house you live in, whether you have the ‘right’ car, and whether you look tired and half asleep in interviews. The campaign opening Conservative sound-bite slogan, “strong and stable leadership” and coalition of chaos” is as specious as it is effective.  It has been delivered at every opportunity, and in any context, even in presenting bananas to Jeremy Corbyn on the street.  Done on camera for the benefit of the BBC, who dutifully kept showing it as ‘entertaining’, it neatly kept the slogan in the public mind and linked ‘bananas’ with Jeremy Corbyn: for those who forget, ‘bananas’ is a colloquial synonym for ‘mad’.  Perhaps the Labour Party should turn each Conservative slogan in on itself as soon as it appears…”Mean and Nasty”  “Attacking the weak”…etc., etc. but I’m afraid Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t do ‘snappy’ and every question, instead of being met with a binary, yes / no answer, gets a reasoned discussion.  He doesn’t even seem to do passionate and angry, which plays to the Conservative-portrayed image of weakness.

So, I expect a new Conservative slogan every week.  Labour is, and will remain, on the back foot.  It’s as if the Labour leadership see this sort of “professionalism” in campaigning as somehow dirty, and part of all that is wrong with politics.  Well, it is wrong, and I want a different world too, but I know I’m not ever going to get it at a UK election.  The naivity is staggering.  I also weep for the constituents of the many experienced, electable, Labour MPs who appear to have left their leader ‘hanging out to dry’.  In being disloyal to him they have also been massively disloyal to their movement and the hundreds of thousands of do-or-die supporters up and down the country. They, at least, deserve to lose their jobs.

Treezer, Treezer, Lemon Squeezer

One of these two will be Prime Minister of the UK on 9th June

Whichever it is, more interesting questions are whether she will still be Prime Minister at the end of 2020 and whether Jeremy Corbyn will still lead the Labour Party.  In the case of the former, much depends on Brexit.  As things stand, at time of writing anyway, the whole Brexit project is looking increasingly ‘flaky’.  The EU negotiators are pointing out with increasing frequency, and bluntness, that the UK postion and attitude is unrealistic to the point of denial.  Over the next 18 months the economy looks like an inflationary one, with pressures on domestic budgets already rising.  There is no more room for manoeuvre because, since the “world-wide financial crash”, we have already seen the exchequer squeeze every last penny out of public services until the social infrastructure is in tatters.  The pips haven’t just squeaked, they’ve liquidised.

The Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and the Scot Nats are all pushing for a ‘soft’ or even non-Brexit.  If it all goes horribly wrong, the Torys have form in back-stabbing their leaders, however popular they may have been, but actually it is Jeremy Corbyn that is most like a dead man walking: in fact he is ‘undead’, a political zombie.  Whatever one thinks of his programme, his personal ethics, and his integrity, it is clear after 3 weeks of the snap-election campaign that he has been left to fight this election on his own.  So far the only Labour spokespersons have been John Macdonald (shadow chancellor) and Diane Abbott.  The latter is a public relations disater in that she is not liked by the population at large and is prone to gaffes.

Where were the Labour party’s heavyweights?  Why didn’t they speak?  I guess because, having failed twice to unseat Corbyn by internal ‘democracy’, they hope the wider electorate will do the job for them by delivering a crushing defeat on 8th June.

This is unforgivable; by not fighting hard for the Labour ‘ticket’ they are consigning the working classes and the disadvantaged to at least 5 more years of Tory rule, and this time unfettered.  The Liberal Democrats, having paid the price of an uncomfortable coalition in the Cameron-led government by getting hammered in 2015, won’t make that mistake again.  They know they can’t win but, pointing to Labour disarray, have pitched themselves as the only viable opposition party to a Tory majority government.

In the immediate foreground, as a sort of ‘trailer’ for the General Election, we’ve just had local government, and regional mayoral, elections.  It is true to say that local elections are unreliable as an indicator of the national electoral mood; for one thing the voter turnout in the former is typically much lower than the latter. However, this time, I think it is safe to say the poor showing of the Labour Party is, if anything, likely to under-predict their impending humiliation in June because I doubt the Labour Party will manage to get its voters out.  The traditional Labour voters who deserted for Brexit and UKIP are unlikely to return to the fold.  Tory tails are up, Labout tails are dragging, and yet Jeremy Corbyn is merely expressing “disappointment” at the poor local election result.

Disappointment?  Man up, Jeremy, it’s an effing disaster.  He says he has 4 weeks to get his message across:  4 weeks?  Jeremy you’ve had two years, what difference will 4 weeks make?  In my opinion it is so bad that the only useful thing he can do to turn things around is to step down and give the electorate that 4 weeks to find belief in an alternative leader.  Barring an act of God that’s not going to happen, so I would go as far as saying would-be Labour voters should, as an act of damage limitation, vote for whoever is likely to stop a Tory being elected in their constituency.


“Lies, Damned Lies and Politics” #1

Well, there’s a surprise!  Not.  A General Election has been ‘sprung’ on us, the UK, dated 8th June.  Seven weeks of lies, half-truths and the slickly manipulated media storm of professional politics.  Yeuch!  Many things really piss me off about all this, but it’s the way the manipulators assume we can’t see what they are doing that really gets me riled up.  It’s made worse for me by the fact that many people really don’t see they are being sold a crock, and don’t want to know.  Nobody will thank you for being told they are, and have been, gullible (Jeremy Corbyn please note).

At time of starting this blog, we are only 72hours into the campaign and already we see the same old staged photo-opportunity and the repetitive ‘sound bites’.  Mostly from the leader of the Conservatives, but other political parties are available.  And they know it works: just gather up a handful of enthusiastic supporters and dole out besloganned placards to be a backdrop to the leader on camera for the Six o’clock news.  The news media are complicit in this fiction too: if the camera occasionally pulled back to a wide view from time to time we’d get a more realistic picture of support and enthusiam, with ordinary folk just drifting by a knot of noisy accolytes.  But no, almost a year on from the Brexit referendum, people are shown in vox-pop interviews still mindlessly regurgitating slogans they swallowed back then.  It’s was all lies, and it’s still all lies.  Look at what they do, not what they say.  We’ve seen what they do, even with a slender majority.

Let’s be clear about this; the Conservatives have been in power for 7 (seven) years, not one.  They have already presided over the collapse of the NHS, the education system, the care system and the welfare benefits system, the evisceration of the defence establishment, the failure of the prison system and, at the same time, giving  tax bungs to the already very rich and corporate Britain.  And then there’s the immigration issue which underlay much of the support for Brexit:  may I remind you, dear reader, who was the longest ever serving Home Secretary and cabinet minister responsible for law and order, security and immigration during that time?  Yes!  It was Theresa May!  And yet TM has the brass ringed neck to say her government is about stability and experience while a vote for anyone else is sabotage and a recipe for disaster.  How very dare she??!!  She even has the gall to say that the alternative to another 5 years of Conservative governance is a coalition of chaos, a thinly veiled swipe at a possible coalition of left-wing interest between Greens, the SNP, Labour and others.  Excuse me Mrs May, but which party was it that entered a coalition with the LibDems for the first five years of this government?  Oh yes, the Conservatives! And with narrow majorities they’ve been only too glad to draw on parliamentary support from some distinctly grubby, and extreme, quarters   During that first five years they continually blamed the outgoing Labour government for having to carry out “slash and burn” austerity, which they were really loving, and given the chance have every intention of pursuing further.  Remember the “Big Society”?  Cameron’s slogan which covered the wholesale shift of state support for services onto the shoulders of those least equipped to carry it.  Thousands of police officers lost, so that the detection (clear-up) rate for crime is 16%.  More people in prison than ever before, with fewer officers to look after them.  Rehabilitation?  Forget it.  Remember the big educational opportunities of Academies and Free Schools?  Many have closed or are failing.  Never mind that idea, let’s have more Grammar schools instead. Care Homes and Care providers backing out of contracts left and right while carers on the minimum wage are run ragged from house to house.  Excellent military aircraft like the Harrier and Nimrod scrapped so we can eventually buy worse back from America.  Aircraft carriers scrapped to be replaced with another £8 billion worth – as yet to sail. “State of the art” destroyers with engines that failed and had to be replaced.  Historically low levels of house building, and even that pitiful level of completions is mostly in the private, homes for sale, sector.  Affordable housing?  What’s that?

Let’s not get into the obscenity of food banks (almost so commonplace as to be unremarkable now), the inexorable rise in homelessness, the assault on the disadvantaged and disabled, and on pensions.  Is it any wonder many of our young aspire to fame and celebrity as a way of living a better life.  And where is money going?  The “deficit” is down, but borrowing (both state and personal) is up!  Amongst other places, let’s not forget nuclear power stations and High Speed Rail (HS2).  Don’t be misled.  The people sitting round the cabinet table with TM, and their advisers, are the same people that were there under Cameron. And now they expect us to believe they disavow it all, deny any responsibility.  “It’s all going to be better now, trust us.”  Again? Really?  Who are you kidding?

I could go on, and on, but if you’re going to vote, please don’t be conned into thinking it’s about Brexit, OK?  Despite the fact that many of the pre-referendum warnings are coming true, it’s been agreed (and voted for by Labour).  It’s going to happen. If Brexit has any place in this General Election at all it is because we deparately need to rein in the hard-line “Brexit at all costs” lobby – because a cliff-edge Brexit will do nothing for anyone but the financially secure and internationally mobile.

As a natural Labour supporter I have no problem with Jeremy Corby’s policies, or his personal honesty and integrity.  Unfortunately elections in a modern so-called democracy are not won on policy or integrity.  Look no further than America for proof of that.  Who even remembers Bernie Sanders?  He gave Hilary Clinton a good run for her money but lost, and so did she.  Democratic elections, in a mature (?) democracy like ours, are won by appealing to narrow personal interests, prejudice, political ignorance and character assassination.

If the last 7 years have proved anything positive, it is the capacity for ordinary people to reach out to help others, even when increasingly under the screw themselves.  However, as I see it, other than committed supporters of Labour, there is little hope of a Labour Party fronted by Jeremy Corbyn and John Macdonald persuading enough voters to win.  I fear the hordes of politically ambivalent, opportunist, or plain stay-at-home voters, will return another right-wing coalition with the Lib-Dems.  Remember, you read it here first.






The Will of The People

Define Transparent

“obvious, explicit, unambiguous, unequivocal, clear, lucid, straightforward, plain, (as) plain as the nose on your face, apparent, unmistakable, manifest, conspicuous, patent, indisputable, self-evident;”

Funny isn’t it, that “the will of the people” is to be robustly defended….as long as it happens to support government policy? Otherwise, in my experience, the people can take their “will” and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.


Runes, Bones and Chicken Feathers

For the third time in recent memory we have had to endure the cry of “Well, nobody saw THAT coming!”  First the UK election in 2015, then the vote for the UK to leave the EU (so called Brexit) and now the election of Donald Trump as President of the US.  The combined efforts of professional analysts, political journalists, pundits and ‘the media’ have miserably failed to call the results.

Now those same analysts journalists and pundits are bouncing from radio studio to TV studio, to press rooms, picking over the results, trying to work out (and tell us) how, or why, they got it wrong.  Frankly they may as well throw chicken bones and feathers into the air, or consult runes, or even go to a clairvoyant, because they are using the same failed and myopic filters on the information.

Having called all three elections correctly myself, my opinion is that their problem is they largely inhabit a social and intellectual ‘bubble’.  For example, in particular over Brexit and the US Presidential election, we hear a consensus developing that the electorates felt “left behind by the benefits of globalisation” and that these two seismic events represent a railing against a political establishment from which they feel alienated and do not trust.  Rubbish.  These ‘bullet point’ explanations come from the same failed perspective and, largely, the same political class.

In Britain we have suffered the consequences of failed policies, founded in the dogma of market economics.  Individuals, families, public organisations and companies have been struggling to cope with a relentless tightening of the so-called ‘austerity’ screw.  The people who cannot get access to decent housing, health care, education, jobs, do not know what globalisation is.  They were sold the simple, kitchen table, solution that if we take the pain now, and “fix the roof while the sun shines”, all will be well.  We were never told what the government’s intention was, once the deficit in public finance was resolved. It seems to have been assumed that ‘market forces’ would sort it all out.  Well, excuse me, but it was reliance on those same market forces that led us into the world-wide financial crash in 2008.

Meanwhile we, in the UK, have stumbled into the worst housing crisis in a generation; not only is there an almost total lack of new social housing, that is to say provided by the public sector for rent at affordable prices, but the private sector is building houses for sale at prices increasingly out of reach of ordinary people.  Housing is no longer a social necessity, it is an investment opportunity.  The justice system is in meltdown with more people incarcerated than ever before and a decrepit prison estate managed by a disillusioned and threadbare staff.  As an aside here, I point out that the Home Secretary presiding over this decline was until recently Theresa May, now Prime Minister.  Our social welfare and care systems are overwhelmed by predictable increasing demand and inadequate funding.  Reliance on food banks, an obscenity in any civilised society, is increasing.  Rough sleeping is increasing. Gambling is increasing.  At least 80,000 children are estimated to be living in  poverty and yet, as before the financial crash in 2008, some are making ‘progress’: the already rich, the speculators, the wide boys.  The general populace seems to have become mesmerized by the twin chants of austerity and fiscal prudence, by the sound-bite mantras of neo-liberalism, so the irony of our present situation, where our government says “more of the same will see us alright” or “we need more privatisation” does not register as the vacuous rubbish it is.  Far from being in a better place than we were in 2008, our national finances are actually worse. Our UK government has been in power now since 2010.  The people sitting round the cabinet table are individually and collectively responsible for where we are now; they can no longer blame previous administrations.

It’s time we all started to say “The Emperor has no clothes”, and stopped trying to explain away the rise of the likes of Trump, Putin, Le Pen et al as some sophisticated response to being disconnected from politics.  That is no more than a smokescreen that obscures the fact that the whole system doesn’t work.  Our society, indeed the planet as a whole, cannot be sustained on unbridled consumption and an aspiration for material advantage alone, and to try to analyse and explain away recent political upheavals in these terms is utterly futile.  It is no more than the flies arguing about ownership of the turd they feed on as it slides down the sewer to the treatment plant.

Trump Wins!

I mean no disrespect to the millions of decent, thoughtful, Democrat voters.  I fully acknowledge that I am British, observing from the outside of the process, and may be talking from my rear end, but remember this headline and the date of the post.  As I write there are still 4 days before all the votes have been cast in the 2016 US Presidential Election.  Nevertheless I feel confident in predicting a Trump win, as I did a Conservative UK election win in May and a UK ‘Brexit’ vote in June.  At the time of my Brexit prediction I also predicted Trump would win. Not only do I think he will win, I think he will win decisively – and this is why.

Hilary Clinton, her Democratic party machine and, frankly, the established Republican party, have failed to see that the political ground has shifted.  It’s like they turned up ready to play soccer when the crowd came to see baseball.  As of yesterday, Hilary Clinton is still reported to be addressing rallies with pop stars and celebrities in support: this is the old politics.  The Democrat machine ought to have seen it, given the power of Bernie Sanders’s showing in the primary rounds.  Critics of Trump all come from the position of rationale, of experience, of political and economic understanding based in education and knowledge.  Trump’s support doesn’t come from here.  It has done no good to point out the holes in his politics, his rhetoric and his character because his supporters don’t care.  A lot of them are the same. I suspect they regard the reasoned, educated warnings of disaster as just more evidence of a patronising elite.  It’s not, and never has been, intellectual: it is visceral.

That’s how we came to vote for Brexit and, if any more evidence of that were required, one has only to look at the fury, the vituperative nastiness, that has flowed since the UK High Court insisted that Parliament, not the government of the day, must vote on Brexit before it is triggered.  Despite the fact that it was a legal, and not political, decision, and one which reasserts the constitutional primacy of law over politics, the pro-Brexiteers poured scorn on the judges.  They have claimed this is an attempt to subvert the “will of the people” as expressed in a (non-binding) referendum.  In calling into play their financial backgrounds, their sexuality, and the nationality of their spouses, they blatantly played to their homophobic, nationalist and largely working class constituency.  I fear that, whatever happens on both sides of the Atlantic, we are all in for a very rough ride.  The frustration of disappointment over what Brexit, or a Trump presidency, actually delivers is fertile ground for social unrest.

Let them eat cake

I was having lunch. A sort of pseudo-tapas, served on a windswept plastic grassed first-floor bar terrace. A post-industrial makeover of something that was once useful: all chrome, glass, plastic wicker bucket seats and infra-red heating. The sort of place they add 10% “discretionary service charge”, and make you pay before you’ve had the food in case you think it’s crap…which it nearly was. You get the picture. Down in the street, lined with blinged-up monster Beemers and Mercs with blacked out windows, was the local Big Issue seller. I wondered what he thought about Dave Cameron (remember him?) and his take on The Big Society. You know, where we all take care of each other, run the libraries, buy sandwiches for the homeless guy, and save the state a fortune in welfare. And then I got to thinking about Saint Theresa May and her being a sort of political bag lady, picking over the recycling bins for anything useful that we might swallow. I thought about how the safety net of our welfare state has more holes than an ageing sex-workers tights, and how so many more of us are falling through. I wondered if Dave Cameron’s Tories (including Saint Theresa) ever really believed any of the ‘Big Society’ doctrine and, if they did, what do they think now? Are they embarrassed? Apparently Saint Theresa now believes “only the Conservatives can build a fairer Britain”. Does she think we don’t know she has spent the last 6 years voting through, and supporting, the measures that have made Britain the most divided and unfair it has been in a century? Doe she think we’ll believe “that was Dave, but this is me”? Does she think we haven’t noticed being victims of the biggest, longest running, shell game in recent British History? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is a pea under any of those shells. “Let them eat cake”, but add 10% service.

Are you now, or have you ever been…..?

With apologies, I reproduce, with very small substitutions and some irrelevant ommisions, part of a piece written by the late, great, American author and playwright Arthur MIller.  He was writing about the hysteria of the 1950s and the anti-Communist witch-hunting of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joseph Macarthy. For the purposes only of clarity I highlight those words that I have changed.

“I refer to the anti-Islamic rage that threatened to reach hysterical proportions and sometimes did. I can’t remember anyone calling it an ideological war, but I think now that that is what it amounted to. I suppose we rapidly passed over anything like a discussion or debate, and into something quite different, a hunt not just for subversive people, but for ideas and even a suspect language. The object was to destroy the least credibility of any and all ideas associated with Islam, whose proponents were assumed to be either knowing or unwitting agents of radical Islam.

An ideological war is like guerrilla war, since the enemy is an idea whose proponents are not in uniform but are disguised as ordinary citizens, a situation that can scare a lot of people to death. To call the atmosphere paranoid is not to say that there was nothing real in the American-Islamist stand-off. But if there was one element that lent the conflict a tone of the inauthentic and the invented, it was the swiftness with which all values were forced in months to reverse themselves.

In two years or less, with a picture finished, I was asked by a terrified Columbia to sign an anti-Islamist declaration to ward off picket lines which the rightwing American Legion was threatening to throw across the entrances of theatres showing the film. In the phone calls that followed, the air of panic was heavy. It was the first intimation of what would soon follow. I declined to make any such statement, which I found demeaning; what right had any organisation to demand anyone’s pledge of loyalty? I was sure the whole thing would soon go away; it was just too outrageous.

In 1948-51, I had the sensation of being trapped inside a perverse work of art, one of those Escher constructs in which it is impossible to make out whether a stairway is going up or down. Practically everyone I knew stood within the conventions of the political left of centre; one or two were Muslims, some were fellow-travellers, and most had had a brush with Islamic ideas or organisations. I have never been able to believe in the reality of these people being actual or putative traitors any more than I could be, yet others like them were being fired from teaching or jobs in government or large corporations. The surreality of it all never left me. We were living in an art form, a metaphor that had suddenly, incredibly, gripped the country.”

Miller was, of course talking about the way in which a paranoic cold-war America, terrified of Communism, bore down on anything which could remotely be described as politically ‘left’.  When the people doing the describing were far to the right, it wasn’t hard to find candidates to haul into court.  Hangers on to this twisted ideology used it to ruin the lives of many who were in other “un-American” or aberrant groups, like Gays, Blacks, Jews and so on.  People went to prison. Some died.  Old scores were settled.

In Britain we could easily substitute, wholesale, the word “Immigrant” but I can’t help wondering whether, should Donald Trump be elected President of the United States, we shall see the return of a 21st century version of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the USA?  Will we once again hear a phrase like “Are you now, or have you ever been…?” read out in open court?  Then it was “a Communist”; in 2017 it might be “a Muslim”.  Far fetched? I don’t know.  Chilling?  Certainly.

Postscript.  Now that Donald Trump has actually been elected my final paragraph has even more chilling resonance.

The Labour Leadership and When will the next General Election be?

I have blogged quite a lot about how the new Conservative (Tory) Party leadership would take the earliest opportunity, presented by a disorganised and fractured Labour Party, to call an early election.  I have been much exercised by the thought that Jeremy Corbyn, and the Labour Party, would be bounced into an early election they were ill-equipped to fight.  Mea culpa – I had failed to check my information.

Apparently it is still possible, but unlikely.  Here is why.  Before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, a General Election could happen any time.  A Prime Minister could call a general election at any time within the five year period and not all Parliaments lasted the full five years.  Before 2011 a general election could be called earlier for a number of reasons. For example, the Prime Minister could decide to call an election at a time when he or she was most confident of winning the election or if a government was defeated on a confidence motion, a general election could follow.  The 2011 Act changed all that.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 provides for general elections to be held on the first Thursday in May every five years.  The date of the last general election was 7 May 2015 so the next one would normally be on the first Thursday of May 2020.

However, there are two provisions that could trigger an election sooner:

  • if a motion of no confidence is passed in Her Majesty’s Government by a simple majority and 14 days elapses without the House passing a confidence motion in any new Government formed
  • a motion for a general election is agreed by two thirds of the total number of seats in the Commons including vacant seats (currently 434 out of 650)

In the context of an, as yet, unresolved BREXIT it is possible that Parliament will have to debate, and decide on, the negotiation to disentangle the UK from the EU.  That might easily trigger an election under either of these two provisions.  The Conservatives have quite a slender majority in Parliament.  It is possible that this majority could erode to the point where there is a minority government that consistently fails to get measures endorsed, and this might lead to an election under the second of the two provisions – although HM The Queen would first have to offer an opportunity to another grouping to form a government without an election first.

So, I admit to having to reconsider.  There actually may be time for the Labour Party to get itself together, even behind Jeremy Corbyn, in time to win the next election.  My concern remains that whoever wins the Leadership election in August 2016, a sizeable part of the party (those supporting the loser) will be disappointed and remain fractious, rebellious, .  Internal divisions may continue.  That must not happen.  It is absolutely vital that the party membership, and its Parliamentary representation, comes together to support whoever is leader – or it faces a generational period in the political wilderness.