Flash View 2: Assassination by Insinuation

 

During Radio 4’s Today programme’s (Saturday, 20th May) newspaper review, an item was highlighted that the intelligence services had, at one point, opened a file on Jeremy Corbyn due to suspicions he was supportive of the IRA.

The Labour manifesto was beginning to gain traction, while the Tory’s had met hostility. Better to switch from competing ideas and policies to personalities and character assassination.

A story in a ‘paper has limited impact, but reported by a national broadcaster significantly magnifies its effect.

Corbyn’s subsequent statement condemning all bombing is also now being interpreted, through compliant media, as being pro-IRA.

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Personality Culture

 

There are two Jeremy Corbyns. There is the strawman version, stuffed by the media and set up for pelting; then there’s the real one. Since being elected to the leadership of the Labour Party the latter has had to endure being eclipsed by the former.

This is no fault of Corbyn himself. His performances at the Dispatch Box and in interviews have been measured and reasonable. However, that image, no matter its veracity, is of no interest to the media.

Assisted in no small measure by self-seeking and disloyal Labour MPs, the media have constantly paraded the strawman in public, inculcating an impression of flaccidity and hollowness. And in a news-glance society it’s that impression that’s been influential.

Come the announcement of the snap general election it is hardly surprising that Labour lags in the polls as no opposition to seven years of coalition and Tory administration should. The failure to garner increased support must surely be the fault of the leader?

Absolutely it is, just not the present one. No matter Tony Blair won a large majority in 1997, it was his enthusiastic pursuit of essentially Thatcherite free market economics and the mendacity around the Iraq war that seriously drained the Labour pool.

Membership fell faster than voting numbers, a trend not altered by Gordon Brown or Ed. Miliband, both leaders who also lost elections. Whatever else, Corbyn has brought huge numbers into the party, especially the young who are all too often alienated by politics.

Seemingly, the media were quick to spot the danger of enthusiasm to politics as usual in which the requirements of finance capital are predominant no matter which party is nominally in power. The irony is, Corbyn is no revolutionary, being a mainstream social democrat.

It is a measure of how deeply reactionary ideology has penetrated society that the moderate reforms proposed by Corbyn can be portrayed, and widely accepted as being “hard left”, a phrase useful to the media due to being meaningless.

Elections, local and national, are essentially passive affairs. Voters are effectively political consumers invited to choose from the shelf of pre-packaged products. They play no part in formulating policy or determining candidates. Just put the cross in the box and then keep quiet.

Hardly surprising that there’s widespread disengagement with politics beyond a cursory consideration of the limited offerings. In a culture in which celebratory figures hugely it is relatively easy for the media to reduce politics to personalities the media is instrumental in creating.

So, the Tory “battle bus” tours the country emblazoned with the prime minister’s name in huge letters along it flanks, with a diminutive “Conservatives” as an after-thought on the door. To his credit, Corbyn has eschewed this in favour of trying to actually argue his case in public.

“And always keep a hold of nurse

For fear of finding something worse.”

This couplet from “Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion” by Hilaire Belloc sums up the Tory campaign. Nurse May will keep us all safe from that wild, hard left lion lurking at the head of the Labour Party.

But, beware the nasty, down right toxic, medicine she will administer should we actually keep hold of her.

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Labouring

 

The local election results appear to suggest the media theme of Labour imploding under Jeremy Corbyn has been confirmed. However, as the old saying goes, appearances are deceptive. Not that the losses by Labour are not significant.

The problem for the Corbyn naysayers is that Labour’s electoral woes pre-date Corbyn’s leadership by a number of years. It was not he who led Labour to defeat in 2010 or 2015, nor was he in charge when UKIP began to make incursions.

Indeed, it is UKIP that is the crucial factor. Intentionally or not, they have served the Tories well in the roll of stalking horse. UKIP insinuated a narrow nationalism into communities that have carried the brunt of austerity.

The campaign for withdrawal from the EU became restricted to a backward looking Britishism, playing on fears exacerbated by the continuing effects of a Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown, effectively nationalising the excessive debts incurred by the speculations of finance capitalism.

The result has been that Labour has become identified as the cause of financial crisis rather than having to cope with it. Subsequently, the Tories profited politically and set about ensuring that “ordinary working people” continued to be financially punished for the crisis created by others.

This led to many on the receiving end, having lost faith in Labour, turning to UKIP who effectively insinuated a Tory ideology. Rather than a sense of class solidarity, many pursued an apparently easier option of rebellion through UKIP.

This has been a reaction to the Tory austerity being applied by Labour controlled councils. Again, it is Labour that has become identified with depredations that really belong at the door of capitalism. But without a common sense of class solidarity it is individual issues that become prominent.

Brexit led to the fall of the previous Tory administration, to be replaced by one that carries the UKIP banner. Prime Minister May was a lukewarm “remainer” at best leading up to the referendum, but is totally committed to pursuing the Tory agenda of serving capital at the expense of the working class.

Having served its purpose, UKIP supplied the wherewithal for the Tories to prosper in the recent local elections. Should this be replicated on 8th June Labour must not turn in on itself. Simply blaming Corbyn would be avoiding the fundamental problem, an ideological insurgency of Tory notions in to the working class.

Brexit is being commandeered by the Tories to serve their narrow political ends. It is incumbent upon Labour MPs to stop pursuing some perceived easy option of moderation, whatever that means.

Labour has built a membership half a million or so strong. That will drift away if “politics as usual”, that is, the politics of change very little and certainly don’t rock the finance capital boat, is asserted. Local elections are poor indicators of political trends as barely a third of the electorate participate.

Fretting over leadership is to succumb to a media that has been openly hostile to Corbyn from the moment he was first elected. After all, the previous leader was branded “Red Ed” by that same media and similarly vilified for being so incompetent he couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich, never mind run a country.

Labour politicians who think ditching Corbyn is the solution are fooling themselves. The media, as enforces of capitalist ideology, will always have their poisoned pens at the ready. Only once a leader has proved to be ineffectual in challenging the status quo will grudging lukewarm praise be offered on leaving office.

If the only way Labour can garner enough support to form a government is by becoming pink Tories, what then is the point? It’s true Labour can change nothing without winning an election, but the purpose for such a victory must surely be making change worthwhile.

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Flash View 1

 

The Tories are using Brexit to stage a political coup. By harnessing voters across ideological boundaries around this issue they intend strengthening their position in government by encouraging a narrow British nationalism.

The EU bureaucracy needs very little encouragement to posture as the super state it aspires to become. This enables the prime minister to play to the gallery as the defender of Britain and it people.

Brexit could take on an international aspect if it was linked to withdrawal from that other power block, NATO.

Then Britain could become a truly independent peace broker on the dangerous international scene.

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In Extremis

 

A few days after the declaration of the General Election, there was a revelation in a round-up of newspaper stories on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme. It was reported that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was being supported by the extreme left wing Communist Party of Britain.

What was once safely New Labour has become the personal fiefdom, it seems, of comrade Corbyn, dammed by association with militant Reds. What terrible things were been wished upon this green and Tory land by the insidious CPB?

A consultation of their website laid bare the full extent of their wickedness. To quote:

  • State-backed investment in housing, public services and renationalised utilities.
  • Direction of private capital into depressed areas.
  • Regulation of trade to support exports and protect strategic industries.
  • Control over public procurement policy in order to favour equal pay and trade union rights including collective bargaining.
  • Drastic reductions in VAT alongside higher taxes on the rich and big business.
  • Legislative and trade union action to enforce equal terms and conditions for imported workers.
  • Replacement of the corrupt, high price and wasteful Common Agricultural Policy by a system of direct production and investment grants.

These points were followed by:

  • Progressive federalism.
  • Redistribution of wealth to working class in all nations and regions of Britain.
  • Abolition of Trident nuclear weapons system.
  • Britain’s withdrawal from NATO.

While it is possible to disagree with any or all of these proposals, depending on contrary political viewpoints, it is at least difficult, if not impossible, to portray them as extreme. These are surely the sort of policies any party bearing the epithet “Labour” should be pursuing.

Of course, these are not Labour proposals, nor are they presented as such by the CPB. They are a statement of intent, a rationale for lending that party’s support for the rather less ambitious programme Labour will offer.

If decent housing and services, equal pay and working conditions, the pursuit of peace etc. are extreme, then this surely calls into question what is moderate and middle of the road? Poor housing? Unequal pay? The pursuit of war?

This is but one example amongst myriad of how the press and media in general repeat unjustified phrases, such as extreme left wing, until they become common ideological currency until too many people end up voting against their own best interests and the interests of the majority.

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Rubbish and Racism

 

A suburban roadside verge, with a hedgerow and fields beyond, the margin where town and country meet. Such a pleasure to walk or drive along there, or it should be. Only, it is not blossoming may but rubbish, litter, hanging on the hawthorn.

An urban street, a teenager stands at a bus stop. With little warning a mixed up mob thirty or so strong surround him. Volleys of abuse escalate into a vicious, physical assault which is only curtailed by approaching police sirens.

The link between the blight of litter and fly-tipping inflicted on the general community and the attack on someone from a specific community is an all too common attitude of dismissive self-superiority.

Those who regard themselves as far too important to properly dispose of their waste presumably think there are some lesser beings who should be cleaning up after them. A sort of sub-imperial attitude that leaves it all to the lackeys. After all, it’s what they’re for, whoever “they” may be.

It is the same attitude that rounds on an asylum seeker at a bus stop. Having escaped from a barbarism so dreadful he’s been forced to flee his home, his attackers will see no irony in the barbarism they then inflict so casually.

They may justify their cruelty to each other by agreeing, without any evidence, that their victim is in reality merely an economic migrant. Even if this be true then all he is guilty of is pursuing work in the way fundamental to capitalism.

Unemployed lead miners tramped to the coalfields. Farm labourers left the land to work in the then new textile mills. From the middle of the eighteenth century or so, the working population of Britain was on the move from region to region, in search of employment.

Today, transnational capitalism has transformed the migration of labour from a national into an international phenomenon. It is the economics of capitalism that creates the wars and the failed economies setting labour on the move.

If there is to be a challenge to capitalism, a socialist change, then there will need to be a radical alteration of thinking amongst so many of the working class. The sub-imperial, petty nationalist, anti-social attitudes must be dispensed with.

The present ideological structure of society cannot be transformed without people consciously deciding to think and act in different ways. It is about accepting responsibility, personally and collectively.

Not dumping litter at the roadside, not attacking the vulnerable (or anyone, for that matter) will not bring capitalism down. But, it would be a start!

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Courting Popularity

 

POPULIST! This is the political vogue word of the moment, a pejorative appellation presently in common use especially in the media. President Trump, the Brexit vote, both are cited examples of what is being cast as a growing tendency.

Yet the word has a more honourable past. It referred to a member of the People’s Party, founded in 1891. It had a social agenda, championing public ownership of public services and graduated income tax.

It was a manifestation in the USA of the then emerging social democratic trend represented in Britain by the Labour Representation Committee, the Independent Labour Party leading to the founding of the Labour Party.

Whatever the political strengths and weaknesses, being a populist was not deserving of the opprobrium associated with the word today. Indeed, the basic populist principle was advocating the right and ability of the common people to govern themselves.

Replace the phrase “common people” with working class and there is the essential element of socialism, the working class acting politically for itself.

So what has happened to turn populism into a reactionary tendency? The problem lies not in any particular manifesto, but in the actual principle of courting popular support. This is denial of the working class acting for itself.

Instead, the “common people” play a passive role. A political programme, radical or otherwise, is concocted by a party standing apart. There may indeed be working people involved in that party, but it is a small self-selected group deeming itself to know what’s best for the masses.

The aim is to elicit widespread support for a pre-formed programme devoid of popular input. The only role for the electorate is to vote for it and trust the party will act on their behalf. In this sense, all parties putting themselves forward for election are populist.

A current example is the Scottish Nationalist Party seizing on EU referendum vote running counter to the overall British vote. Popular discontent is to be exploited for the sectional interests of the SNP, turning the voters’ gaze away from rather more pressing economic and social problems to which the SNP do not have answers.

The Green Party in Scotland, seeing an opportunity to raise its profile, is tailing along behind the SNP, hoping to gain some popular kudos. This is where the populist motivation is problematic. Whatever its intent, it serves the political interests of capitalism by limiting the political interests of the working class.

Issues become binary: for or against independence, leaving or staying in the EU, Labour or Conservative and so on and on… And the only role for the working class, the electorate, is to choose one of the other. Proportional representation or transferable vote systems are merely variations on this essentially passive process.

A true populism must involve the working class organising itself through its own political institutions to determine how its best interests can be served. Democracy requires the popular acceptance of responsibility for playing an active part.

Otherwise it’s merely howling at and voting for selected performers strutting about the parliamentary stage in “Westminster’s Got Talent”, a popular show for the moment, until those merely watching on realise they could act for themselves.

 

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