Labour Plotters: Stop your Sobbing

I’m sorry to hear that some of the MPs who have turned on Jeremy Corbyn these last few days have been crying.  Angela Eagle looks weepy every time she appears on tele, and now Margaret Beckett has cried on air  It’s sad, but then there has been a lot of sadness and tears these last few days.  Not amongst the Leavers of course, many of whom have been crowing about a victory that I suspect will turn out to turn more bitter than many of them suspected.

As we now know to our horror, some of them have been out in the streets, gleefully terrorizing anyone who doesn’t talk like them or look like them.  Naturally there are no tears or even the slightest sign of remorse from the sinister Bullingdon Club wreckers, who have smashed up the country as comprehensively as they once smashed up pubs and restaurants in their salad days.  This time daddy won’t be able to pay for the damage, but it’s still worth a giggle and a smirk.

The sociopathic monstrosity Boris Johnson can’t stop grinning, like a naughty little boy who’s just burned down the summerhouse and shot one of the servants with daddy’s hunting rifle but knows that mummy loves him anyway and will always pat his tousled hair because hey, it’s just Boris being Boris, right?

And Sarah Vine, Michael Gove’s Lady MacBeth wife, is having a laugh too, telling her husband ‘ you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.’  So it’s all a bit of fun really.

And let’s not forget Lord Snooty, the arrogant, cackhanded toff who has turned the country into the Little Shop of Horrors with a casual and feckless disregard for the consequences that will make him an object of absolute contempt and ridicule throughout the annals of political time.  Even His Lordship had time for a chortle at Jeremy Corbyn’s expense when he and his pals came slinking back into their seats in the House of Commons on Monday, when he told Corbyn ‘ I thought I was having a bad day! ‘

What a card, eh?   Real laughter in the dark.  Confronted with such behavior it ought to be clear – though tragically it isn’t – that we are dealing with some of the basest, most useless and most dangerous collection of amoral, decadent incompetents and chancers ever to park their backsides on parliament’s hallowed leather seats.  But they weren’t the only ones who’ve been laughing.  On the same day that His Lordship was mocking Corbyn, dozens of Labour MPs were jeering, mocking and laughing at their own leader at the same time.

With a government on the ropes, staggering into the ring without a clue or a plan, and the country staring into a future that increasingly looks like an abyss,  Labour MPs thought it would be a good idea to attack their own leader.  Instead of rallying to Corbyn’s call for unity, they preferred to turn a national crisis into  a political opportunity.  Instead of assaulting the government that has brought about this disaster, they attacked their own leader like a gang of playground bullies.

In doing so they let Cameron & his cronies entirely off the massive hook that was dangling in front of them, and even recruited Cameron into their sordid campaign,  to the point when this wretched fake could shout out in true Flashmanlike fashion ‘ For Heavens’ sake, man, go!’ when he and his cronies are the ones who should be long gone.   Instead of responding to the national crisis, dozens of Labour MPs deliberately precipitated an internal crisis that will do nothing to help the country and will almost certainly destroy the Labour Party.

That is crass irresponsibility on the same grand scale as their opponents on the other side of the chamber.   Now, after three days of staged and orchestrated resignations -worked out with their many friends in the media – after more stabs in the back than Julius Caesar received, after briefing, leaking, shouting and bullying, they aren’t laughing but  crying – and they even have the temerity to present themselves as heroes.

Well please don’t tell me there is anything noble, heroic or well-meaning about this.    Last summer Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party with a huge majority, that was partly prompted by a surge in new members, many of whom were young, idealistic and hopeful, appalled by Ed Miliband’s feeble campaigning,  and desperate for a new kind of politics that was able to challenge and resist the destructive class war waged by the Tories – with the complicity of a Labour right wing that too often aped and copied them or offered up a softer version of the same thing.

Jeremy Corbyn, for better or worse, became the focus for these new aspirations.   Ever since he has been subjected to a relentless and vicious campaign of defamation, contempt and vilification from within his own party and beyond,   that makes what was done to Michael Foot back in the 80s seem like a children’s game at a soft play centre.

Meanwhile Corbyn was ridiculed, insulted, briefed against and raged at by his own MPs, the government staggered like an Etonian drunk on a pubcrawl from one blunder to the next, until it fell off the edge of the pier and took the country with it.  Throughout this, Corbyn behaved with courage, dignity and principle – qualities that are almost entirely absent amongst the pitchfork mob that now surrounds him.  Personally I think that Corbyn and his team have missed a number of opportunities to deliver some killer blows to this disreputable government.   As a ‘left Remainer’ I think his campaign was ambivalent and lacklustre.

Nevertheless, to blame Corbyn for the referendum defeat is at best a huge distraction, and at worse a willful distortion that owes more to the priorities of the Blairite right than it does to any honest assessment of the long-term factors that brought about this self-inflicted catastrophe.

Labour was bleeding members and working-class votes for years before Corbyn was elected.  The attitudes and ideas that made so many voters regard the referendum as a referendum on immigration were already deeply entrenched in British society.  Do Corbyn’s enemies seriously believe that Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper or some polished smoothie like Chuka Umunna could have had an impact on them – or that it would have helped if Corbyn had appeared on a platform with Cameron and Alan I-used-to-be-a-postman Johnson?

Where was the rage of these Labour MPs when the politician they admired so much catapulted the country into a catastrophic war on false pretenses and went on to become a millionaire?  Why didn’t they turn their anger and indignation on the government that has forced the sick and dying to work?  Why didn’t they open their mouths to condemn Theresa May’s viciously discriminatory Immigration Act?   Why did 184 of them refuse to vote against the Tories‘ Welfare Reform and Work Bill?

Too many of them did not oppose these things because they were too frightened and too concerned for their jobs and careers, or too ideologically-wedded to the essential premises of neoliberal austerity, to stand up and oppose them.   Rather than find ways to respond to the leftist upsurge behind Corbynism possible and try and use that energy to turn the country round, they did everything they could to snuff it out, and turned their rage on Corbyn.

Now the battle is out in the open, and many people, including myself,  have joined the Labour Party, not because we necessarily have complete faith in it or even in the Corbyn project, but because we are appalled and disgusted by what has been done to him, and because it is quite clear that the Labour right wing’s refusal to respond positively to the most promising leftwing movement in mainstream British politics in many years is part of a wider determination that goes beyond the Labour Party, to destroy and marginalize the left for years to come.

Personally, I doubt that the Labour Party can survive this  If it splits then Corbyn will be blamed, regardless of whether the current divisions are a product of a longer-term collapse of Labourism, and the get-rich-quick politicians who have done so well from Blairism.

Somehow I doubt that Angela Eagle, Dan Jarvis, Simon Danczuk or whatever candidate they conjure up can change this.  In a leadership contest, Corbyn will almost certainly win again, and the Labour Party will probably split.  When that happens, perhaps a new progressive politics can emerge that can offer some real hope in these dark times.

God knows we need that.   But in the short term, only the Tories will be laughing, thanks to the MPs on the other side of the chamber who were jeering and howling on Monday. Some of them might be crying now, but as Bob Dylan once sang, now ain’t the time for your tears.

Labour’s Zionism Problem

The idea that opposition to Israeli settler-colonialism or the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people is anti-Semitic is a well-established propaganda weapon, which Israel and its supporters have wielded to great effect for many years.  In recent weeks a number of Labour MPs and Labour supporters have picked it up once again to argue that the Labour Party is riddled with anti-Semitism and that Jeremy Corbyn is tacitly supporting or turning a  blind eye to it.

The incident which triggered the latest outburst seems to have stemmed from a decision last month by the Oxford University Labour Club to support Israeli Apartheid Week, in order to demonstrate its opposition to what it called Israel’s ‘ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people’.    In response, OULC’s co-chairman Alex Chalmers resigned, claiming that many of its members had ‘some kind of problem with Jews.’

Chalmers did not make clear what that problem was, beyond condemning his club’s decision ‘ to  endorse a movement with a history of targeting and harassing Jewish students and inviting antisemitic speakers to campuses, despite the concerns of Jewish students.’

As scandals go, this is pretty thin gruel, yet a number of Labour MPs reacted as though OULC members had been handing out copies of the Elders of Zion in the Cornmarket, and called on Jeremy Corbyn to carry out an investigation into Chalmers’s allegations.

No one will be surprised that this chorus of outrage included MPs like Louise Ellman, a member of the Labour Friends of Israel, who accused Corbyn of not doing enough to stop the spread of anti-Semitism  Or John Mann, an MP who loathes Corbyn and has been trying to undermine him in various ways ever since he won the Labour leadership contest last summer.

By the end of the month, such accusations had transformed OULC’s ‘Jewish problem’ into a ‘Labour Party problem’, or more specifically ‘Corbyn’s Labour Party problem. ‘  Thus Blair’s former bagman Lord Levy joined in,  threatening to leave the party if Corbyn didn’t get to grips with the problem of anti-Semitism within the party.  Levy declared himself ‘ horrified and disgusted’ by the comments of two Labour Party members who had been excluded and suspended even before he made his threat.

The fact that these two members had been excluded and suspended might suggest that the Labour Party was not as passive as Levy suggested, but the ‘Corbyn tolerates anti-Semitism’ singalong was only just getting started.  Naturally there was a classic smear piece by the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, suggesting that Corbyn was not anti-Semtic but….

Then there was  Tom Harris, another Corbyn critic and member of Labour Friends of Israel, writing in that well-known Labour outlet the Telegraph that ‘ hatred of Israel – real, blind, vicious, hatred – is felt most keenly and most loudly by those on the extreme Left, many of them Trotskyites.’

Shock horror indeed.   Then Ellman threw another ingredient into the mix, claiming that Labour Party members and supporters ‘are being allowed to get away with posting anti-Semitic comments in their tweets and on their website.’   And now Sadiq Khan, a hollow careerist politician who will say whatever he thinks he needs to say to get himself elected, has declared himself ‘ embarrassed, I’m sorrowful about anti-Semitism in my party’ and claimed that Jeremy Corbyn needs to be ‘trained about what anti-Semtism is.’

Not from a miserable jerk like Khan he doesn’t.  .And I hope Corbyn won’t take any lessons from Jonathan Arkush, president of the Jewish Board of Deputies who has denounced ‘ a stream of clear cut cases of antisemitism in the Labour party, which can’t just be fobbed off as differences over Israel’ and claimed that ‘ Most of the Jewish community, numerous Labour MPs, Labour peers, and Labour’s London mayoral candidate are crying out for the leader to take action on antisemitism.’

Arkush is particularly concerned by Corbyn’s response to the following tweet from his brother, Piers Corbyn on Louise Ellman’s accusations:

[stextbox id=”alert”]“All #Corbyns are committed #AntiNazi. #Zionists cant cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”[/stextbox]

Jeremy Corbyn said his brother was “not wrong” and that “My brother has his point of view, I have mine and we actually fundamentally agree – we are a family that were brought up fighting racism from the day we were born.’  Personally,  I don’t anything wrong with either the tweet or Corbyn’s response, nevertheless Arkush insists that ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s defence of his brother’s belittling of the problem of antisemitism is deeply disturbing.’

Not half as disturbing as the vicious racism that is openly coursing through Israeli society nowadays.   Like justice minister Ayelet Shaked’s Facebook call for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to ‘little snakes.’  Or Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich.tweets on his pregnant wife’s reluctance to share a hospital with Arabs on the grounds that:

[stextbox id=”alert”]My wife isn’t a racist, but after giving birth, she wanted rest, not the mass haflot that are common among the families of Arab women who give birth[/stextbox]

And:

[stextbox id=”alert”]It’s natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie next to someone who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby in another 20 years”[/stextbox]

A recent poll by an Israeli tv station found that more than half of Israelis supported the soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian in Hebron last month who had tried and failed to carry out a knife attack.   Haaretz’s Gideon Levy, one of the most courageous voices in Israel, lamented his country’s transformation  into a ‘  monster – and no one is going to stop it.’

As Levy observed:

‘There are toxic seeds which, once planted, cannot be stopped from sprouting. There are plagues that cannot be stopped from spreading. We are there. When the execution of a wounded Palestinian becomes a value, all other values and hopes disappear. A new people has been created, between the ultranationalist and religious right on one side and the apathetic majority on the other.’

Too right. But the likes of Levy, Mann, and Ellman aren’t interested in any of this, and if they are disturbed by these developments, they haven’t said.   Are there anti-Semites within the Labour Party? Certainly, and when they raise their heads above the parapet they need to be rooted out.   But these are marginal figures, compared with the far more powerful historic influence of Zionism within the party.

Some of those who have attacked Corbyn in recent weeks belong to this tradition. For these Labour friends of Israel, ‘friendship’ requires uncritically following every propaganda talking point laid down by the Israeli state in response to the increasing success of the BDS movement.

Others are clearly combining this agenda with their opposition to Corbynism, and are willing to say and do anything  to undermine and discredit Corbyn. Smearing him with spurious accusations of tolerating anti-Semitism is just one more tool in the toolbox.  There are also those, like Tom Harris, who combine support for Israel and anti-Cobynism with opposition to the left in general.

Such hostility undoubtedly explains why a lifelong anti-racist, socialist and anti-Zionist like Tony Greenstein has been suspended from the party for supposedly anti-Semitic comments – a grotesque suggestion to anyone familiar with Greenstein’s principled activism.

Last but not least, there is Sadiq Khan, who just wants to be mayor of London and perhaps something even more than that in the future.

So there is really nothing very noble or decent or well-meaning about this at all, and whatever problem the Labour Party may have with anti-Semitism, it is nothing compared to Labour’s Zionism problem, which has too often led Israel’s ‘friends’ within the PLP to remain silent about the ongoing oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians, and Israel’s own headlong descent into the racist vortex.

Immigration: Labour Wades into the Gutter

Within two days of the toxic Ukip eruptions in Manchester and Clacton, Ed Miliband has penned a piece in the Observer on how Labour will attempt to stop them spreading.   Miliband’s op ed was probably written before the election results, since it recycles older policies, ideas and narratives which Labour has already put forward on numerous occasions earlier this year.

The essential story that Miliband wants to tell is this; hardworking people are resentful, dispairing and discontented.  They feel the country has left them behind, and Ed understands them, because Ed has a friend called Gareth who is an ordinary hardworking person and Ed understands him, so he understands everybody.  Hardworking people also feel that Labour has let them down, but Ed understands that too, even though he knows that it hasn’t really let them down.

But most of all hardworking people are ‘anxious’ and ‘concerned’ about immigration.   And Ed understands their anxieties and concerns. In fact he understands them so much that in March he described Ukip voters as ‘hardworking people’ who ‘love our country.’   But the problem is that many hardworking patriots who once voted Labour blame Labour for letting in foreign migrants who aren’t hardworking and don’t love ‘our country’, as much as they do, and now they are thinking of voting Ukip.

Well naturally Ed is worried about that, and so now he and his party are going to show that they are not afraid to  ‘talk about immigration.’   So what does Miliband want to say about it?  Well in March, he promised that

‘Labour would have controls when people arrive and leave here, we will tackle the undercutting of wages, we will ensure people in public services speak English and people need to earn their entitlements.’

Now he has this to offer:

‘I will not cede the issue of immigration to those offering fear or falsehood. So I will continue to chart a new way forward, combining stronger border controls and laws to stop the exploitation that has undermined wages of local workers, with reforms to ensure those who come here speak English and earn the right to any benefit entitlements. Such measures are part of a compelling and credible plan for Britain’s future that will restore the values people believe in – contribution, responsibility, fairness – to the way our country is run.’

Nothing new to see here, move along.   Except that now Ukip are much stronger and creating a snowball that is beginning to pick up Labour as well as Tory votes, and so Miliband has stepped up with his usual glassy-eyed zeal to make proposals that are steeped in fear and falsehood, and deliberately designed to placate the manufactured assumptions about immigrants and foreigners that provide Ukip with its political plankton.

Miliband’s proposals contain an implicit subtext, to the effect that ‘those who come here’ have somehow violated British concepts of ‘contribution, responsibility, fairness’ and have claimed benefits they have not earned.   This is a notion straight out of the tabloid/Ukip playbook.  It is at best a xenophobic misapprehension, and at worst a flat-out barking lie.

Again and again, research demonstrates that the majority of immigrants in the UK come here to work, and that only a minority claim benefits.   A study by UCL last year found that immigrants in the UK contributed £8.8 billion more than they received from benefits between 1995 and 2011.   Not only do immigrants generally belong to the category of ‘hardworking people’ so dear to Miliband’s heart, but some sectors of the UK economy, including the NHS, would collapse without them.

Instead of bringing this up, Miliband prefers instead to present ‘stronger border controls’ as some kind of antidote to the ‘despair and cynicism on which Ukip thrives.’   Instead of discussing the political and economic factors that have inexorably driven wages down for native and non-native workers alike, he prefers to link wage stagnation and unemployment to immigration.

As for his English language requirements; it is entirely logical and sensible that migrants to any country should learn its language if they can, from a practical point of view and also to make the process of integration easier, and it’s also sensible for the country where they settle to offer provision to facilitate this process.

So there’s a whole discussion to be had here about resources in schools and also for adults,  but that isn’t the discussion that Labour is interested in having.  It wants to show how tough it is.   And so Miliband is proposing draconian restrictions that tie public sector jobs to an ability to learn English as a panacea for ‘social cohesion’.

These demands would be seen as Johnny Foreigner at his worst if they were imposed on the 2.2 million Britons working in Europe. In the UK on the other hand, learning English has become yet another stick for politicians and the tabloids to beat immigrants over the head with, while also pandering to the ‘we want our country back’ complaints that you can’t even get on the tube without hearing foreign languages spoken.

If Miliband and the Labour Party think that this kind of talk will stop Ukip, they are very much mistaken, because all these dreadfully opportunistic contributions are likely to do is pour a few more drops of poison into the toxic and rancid ‘debate’ about immigration that demeans and shames the country, and which will only lead voters thinking of voting for Ukip that they might as well have the real thing.

Dissing Tony Benn

Rarely has the death of a major politician generated such faint and often blatantly hypocritical praise as the tributes and obituaries dedicated to Tony Benn. In general the response has been dominated by broadly similar motifs; that Benn was ‘charming,’ ‘charismatic’, a ‘great speaker’ and a ‘conviction politician’  with strongly-held principles and beliefs – accompanied by the unspoken or sometimes overt caveat that these beliefs were naive or wrong-headed, and that in any case the person praising him for having them didn’t and doesn’t share them.

We know that Cameron doesn’t share them, so there is nothing surprising about  his patronizing observation that ‘ There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him.’   Or Nick Clegg’s description of Benn as ‘A towering figure in British politics and a fervent defender of what he believed.

Benn’s former colleagues in  the Labour Party have made similar observations.   Thus Margaret Beckett observes that ‘People may or may not agree with him but they would come out of a public meeting he had addressed saying “I didn’t agree with any of it, but it was wonderful”.

Ah bless.   And then there is Ed Miliband observing that ‘Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, everyone knew where he stood and what he stood for.’

That’s certainly not something you can say about Miliband.  Benn remains an anomalous figure for the Labour Party: a democratic socialist and political radical who was genuinely popular;  an activist/politician who believed in trade unions and regarded working men and women as protagonists of history rather than objects of focus groups; who opposed the war in Iraq, who stood up for the rights of Palestinians, who supported nationalisation and public ownership.

For years the Labour Party has based itself on moving away from most – if not all of these ideas and projects,  and its leadership is still terrified of being associated with them.  Therefore to depict him as a charming speaker who you could spend a pleasant evening with listening to amiable but ultimately wrong-headed beliefs is both a distancing mechanism and an overt or covert rejection of those beliefs.

Some Labour figures have gone further.  In the Independent, David Blunkett describes him as ‘ charming, persuasive, and deeply frustrating who ‘missed his chance to make a real difference’ when he was in government and represented a period when ‘Labour was still stuck in a bygone era, ceding the intellectual high ground as well as failing to relate to the very electorate Tony genuinely believed he spoke for.’

Then there is ‘Baroness’ Shirley Williams, one of the founders of the SDP, similarly claiming that ‘Tony was yearning for a world that was gone.  He didn’t really recognize that the world was becoming global.’   And on Channel Four News yesterday, Polly Toynbee, another of the SDP’s founding members who left Labour because of Bennism, described his influence on the Labour Parrty as ‘ catastrophic’ and essentially blamed him for keeping the Tories in power for the best part of two decades.

In 2011 Toynbee described Benn in 2011 as ‘ a ruthless destroyer now curiously regarded as a charming national treasure.’   Like many of Benn’s critics,  she accused him of having made Labour ‘unelectable’, even though it was the formation of the SDP that split the Labour vote.

Media guests invited to discuss Benn also appear to have been chosen to reflect a similar view of Benn’s influence and legacy.   Few of them have come from any further left than Diane Abbot.   On BBC news today, Alison Phillips, weekend editor of the Daily Mirror could be found accusing Benn of having ‘ caused all sorts of problems for the Labour Party’ in the 70s and 80s.

Bad Benn.   And yesterday’s Guardian obituary – co-written by arch Blair acolyte Patrick Wintour -  included this stunningly poisonous nugget:

‘Some old ministerial colleagues from the 1970s and 80s privately made plain they would be making no public comment, reluctant to speak ill of the dead. But bitterness against what they still see as his destructive and dishonest conduct during the Bennite ascendancy remains toxic.’

It is difficult to imagine the Guardian ever saying something like this about any other politician, let alone a Labour politician.  ‘Dishonest’ and ‘toxic’ are not words that Wintour or the Guardian are ever likely to apply to Tony Blair.

But Benn is clearly a figure who still needs to be put in his place, and not only by his former party colleagues.  There was a time when the rightwing press vilified Benn for his support for nationalisation and public ownership, when he was ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ and the Daily Express drew cartoons showing him in a Nazi uniform.   Even today, despite his evolution into an avuncular, pipe-smoking radical, historian Dominic Sandbrook was still claiming in the Daily Mail yesterday that Benn would have transformed Britain into ‘North Korea.’

Even in death it seems, Benn is an uncomfortable figure for a political and media establishment that is determined to present anything and anyone with the faintest whiff of socialism as backward, reactionary and dangerous.

This discomfort is particularly apparent amongst the hollow, manufactured politicians, careerists and closet neocons who dominate the Labour Party, perhaps because  Benn remained true to his principles when so many senior Labour figures were doing the exact opposite and picking up peerages and lucrative directorships with private companies and corporations as a reward for doing so.

I remember him very well during a brutal night at the Wapping picket in 1986.   Benn was speaking from a small stage in the fenced-in field opposite the News International building when mounted police charged the audience in a totally unprovoked attack.  It was a terrifying experience to be hemmed into that densely-crowded field, with visored cops swinging truncheons at a crowd that had been peacefully listening to speeches.

I remember Benn calling for an ambulance from the stage because someone had had a heart attack, while the police horsemen roamed the field cracking heads.   This mayhem was quite routine, but it was never condemned and rarely even mentioned in parliament or the media.

I don’t recall any other senior Labour politician who went anywhere near Wapping throughout the year of the strike.  Then, as now, trade union struggles were something to be avoided, by a party that had already embraced the essential tenets of Thatcherism in order to make itself ‘electable’ and has continued to do so ever since.

Even then, it was obvious that Benn was different.  In the years that followed he remained a tireless and ubiquitous figure in the extra-parliamentary left who was always present in every popular movement, every demonstration,  and every popular mobilization, the living embodiment of the British socialist tradition of Blake, Robert Owen, William Morris, Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan.

That is a tradition that the Labour Party has long since distanced itself from,  and despite the crocodile tears that have been shed over him in the last two days, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that many of those who are queuing up to pay their respects have come, like Caesar’s mourners, to bury and not to praise him.