Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why, Despite Everything, Supporting Jeremy Corbyn Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense

A Pamphlet






The real fun is working up hatred between those who say "mass" and those who say "holy communion" when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker's doctrine and Thomas Aquinas', in any form which would hold water for five minutes.
           The Screwtape Letters




Here are two jokes.

This one comes from a twitter feed called Maomentum. It has been widely circulated by opponents of Jeremy Corbyn:

Over the next few days it is crucial that we fight, and fight, and fight again, to save the party we have loved for the last 10 months!

This one comes from a website called The Daily Mash. It has been equally widely circulated by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn:

A BRITISH political party, founded over 100 years ago by socialists has been 'infiltrated by socialists', it has been claimed.

The Labour Party, started in 1900 by self-confessed socialist Keir Hardie, has seen a 'suspiciously large influx' of people who believe a lot of the same things as he did.

A senior Labour official said: "These people are clearly very interested in politics, but for some reason they haven’t joined the Conservative Party. It would appear they are really into redistribution of wealth, nationalisation and the welfare state. It’s all very sinister."

Jane Thompson, who joined the Labour Party recently, said: "At first I double-checked to make sure I wasn’t an MI5 agent.

"I’m pretty sure I’m not, though MI5 can do all kinds of weird things. Anyway, the most likely explanation is that I now believe the Labour Party could potentially do things with which I actually agree.

"Also, I was a member from 1981 until 1994. At that point I decided it wasn’t really for me any more. Something must have happened.”


And there you have it. The whole thing. The whole argument laid out in black and white.

On one side, people who think it is ridiculous that people have strong convictions about a party they have only recently joined. On the other side, people who think it is ridiculous that they are being called communists (and worse) for holding perfectly mainstream socialist views. One side quite sure that socialism is going to destroy the party; the other side unable see any point in the party carrying on if it isn’t mostly socialist. 

The Maomentum joke invokes the spirit of Hugh Gaitskill, who told the 1960 Labour party conference that he would fight, fight and fight again to save the party he loved. The party he loved had just voted against Britain having its own weapons of mass destruction which he thought (and I paraphrase here) made them unelectable. Granted, the issue of WMDs is one that can cut across left/right divisions: Nye Bevan, famous non-nudist and socialist saint, ended up in favor of them. But still: the quote that’s being invoked is about saving the party from socialism. Or at any rate, from too much socialism. 

Momentum is an internal pressure group which supports Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership; Mao Zedong was a Chinese Communist who believed that peasants were the vanguard of any revolution. The point of calling the feed Mao-mentum is to imply that supporters of Jeremy Corbyn are Maoists. 

I don't think it is possible to be a Maoist and a Trotskyite at the same time. But supporters of Anyone But Corbyn throw words like Maoist, Communist and Trotskyite at anyone slightly to the left of them. It's a bit like a Church where people say “You damn Calvinist!” and “You bloody Papist!” as if they came to the same thing.

When I complained to one of my traditional Labour friends about their use of the word Trot to describe anyone to the left of them, they pointed out that I sometimes use the word Blairite to describe people to the right of me. Has it really come to that? Is insinuating that a comrade is secretly working towards world communist revolution really as bad as insinuating that a comrade supported the last Labour prime minister but one? Some of my Labour friends really did support Tony Blair but I never even met Leon Trotsky and shouldn't think I would have liked him very much if I had. The real equivalent of calling a Corbynist a Trot would surely be calling an Anyone-But-Corbynist a Stalinist.

For the avoidance of doubt: I mean that both insults would be equally silly.

I do get where the Stalinists Anyone-But-Corbynists are coming from. I really do. Another Labour friend quoted the “I will fight, fight and fight again…” Tweet at me after I had pointed my own Twitter feed to a recording of The Red Flag. I entirely agree that this was a silly thing to do. The guy who has sat in the back pew every Sunday for 60 years must feel pretty pissed off with the keen young convert, bouncing about the pulpit asking why everyone else doesn't wear their Rosary in the bath. (It was the Dick Guaghan version: White Cockade, not Tannenbaum.)

I paid £3, according to party rules, to become a registered supporter of the Labour Party and cast my vote in the last leadership election. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader – in that very hour – I became a full member of the party, for something like £60 a year. I admit that I saw joining Labour in the much the same spirit as joining Amnesty or joining Liberty or joining the Bob Dylan fan club. I was indicating my support for a particular programme, committing some money to the cause, promising to vote with the party in elections; and lending them a little extra "clout". In return, I expected to get some information, preferential booking at concerts, a membership card and secret code book. Tens of thousands of us joined in the same spirit, giving the party a not insignificant financial boost. I grok that, since hardly any of those ten thousand came to meetings or volunteered to do electiony things during the election, the Stalinists long-term activists find it very hard to think of us as actually having joined anything at all. Someone said that it was hardly fair that someone who joined a party yesterday should have the same say in choosing a leader as someone who has been pushing leaflets through doors for the last twenty-five years. I agree. So why do the rules say one member one vote rather than one activist one vote? 

I believe that if I wanted to become a Quaker, I would simply start attending Meetings. After a certain amount of time, someone would approach me and ask if I wished to become a member of the Society. Not the other way round.

My background is Labour; some of my earliest memories involve my parents running Labour campaigns from our front room. My grandparents where party activists. Tony Benn famously said that the Labour Party owed more to Methodism than to Marx: I was raised Methodist. I feel an emotional connection with the Left that I don't feel with other secular causes. I know I ought to care very much about environmental issues and human rights issues and freedom of speech issues. I still don't really understand what fracking is, but I am quite clear that I am against it. But I don’t feel it in my heart. But talk to me about the Tolpuddle martyrs or Mrs Thatcher and the Nottingham miners or Jeremy Hunt and the junior doctors and I'll become emotionally engaged. There is power, there is power in a band of working folk, and all that that entails. I was really quite proud and excited when we Librarians went on strike for a whole day last year.

I supported Labour 1987 and 1992. The '82 election was a month before my 18th birthday. But by 1993 I had formed the opinion that John Smith's shadow Home Secretary was a swivel-eyed lunatic (because of his political exploitation of the grotesque James Bulger murder). When Smith suddenly died in 1994, I said the the cleverest thing I have ever said in my life. "Oh God, please, anyone but Tony Blair." 

For the next 20 years I switched between voting Liberal, Green, various flavours of Independent and not bothering to vote at all. I watched with some amusement as Tony Blair's name became a slur and an insult even inside the party in the name of which he had single-handedly won three elections, and tried terribly hard not to say "I told you so". I said that it would take a Clause 4 moment to convince me that Labour was no-longer the party of the Warmonger. When that moment unexpectedly came I posted off my membership fee. Earlier this year we had elections for the local council and the Mayor of Bristol. For the first time in my life, I felt I was voting for a party that I really believed in and which had a real shot at winning. 

But here's thing thing.

I don’t understand what it would mean to love a political party, any more than I understand what it would mean to love a refrigerator or a wellington boot.



There are people who really like doing politics: who think that door knocking and leafleting and standing outside cold polling stations is almost as much fun as waiting on railway stations for a train number you haven’t seen before. There are people who really like doing church: running sales of work and arranging flowers and colouring in pictures of Zacheus the tax collector in crayon. And there are people who really don’t. Saintly people like C.S Lewis say “Aha, the very fact that I don't like church proves that going to church is the pious thing for me to do. Doubtless God invented it to challenge my intellectual pride." The less saintly of us find that we can't quite remember the last time our bottom had contact with a pew. But surely, those of us who don't regard putting leaflets through doors as the most fun a young Trotskyite could have on a wet Sunday afternoon are still entitled to some input into the political process?

I do sometimes wonder if perhaps political parties are maybe just a little bit too obsessed with leaflets. You have no idea how many came through my door during the Referendum. I wonder what difference they made? Certainly no-one reads a slogan about how many millions of pounds the E.U wastes on banana straightening devices; or indeed, how many pretty babies the Liberal candidate has, and says "Very good point! I shall shift my allegiance forthwith!"

You may say that I am disengaged from real politics because I only read about it in the newspaper and write about it on the internet, if you want to. You may call what I do "clicktivism" if you like. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov started his career publishing a fanzine called Pravda which I believe is still going. Maybe if he'd done it on a blog it wouldn't have counted.

Some time ago I was approached by a nice young man selling copies of a magazine called The Socialist. He said that it used to be called Militant. The Militant group, he explained, had once been part of the Labour Party, but they decided to leave in the 1980s because the party had become too right wing for them. I must admit that this is not exactly how I remember it happening.

When I told this story to my Communist friend he said "But that's the whole trouble with the Left. In an internet age, they are still standing outside railway stations trying to sell newspapers."


What is a middle-aged Trotskyite to do?

I can sign up to the Labour party, as a £3 supporter, a £25 supporter, as full member, and vote for the leadership candidate who believes in the things I believe in. But this, say the Stalinists activists is entryism: I am not a real member and Corbyn is not a real leader. Some of them will go so far as to call me a cancer that needs to be cut out or an infestation which needs to be cured.

OK, then: I can become an activist myself: go to my local party meetings and volunteer for committees, argue for socialist policies; nominate socialist conference delegates and above all try to ensure that there is a socialist candidate standing at the next election. But this makes me, in the eyes of the Stalinists moderates the very devil. Reselection is the great taboo. I think I understand some of the bitterness. The fear is that 150,000 new members will turn up at the little hall where you've been having meetings for the past fifty years and announce that because Mrs Miggins doesn't support unilateral disarmament vociferously enough she will henceforth be relieved of her tea-making duties. 

I tried to explain this to my Apolitical friend. "I don’t see the problem" he said "Of course someone shouldn’t automatically be able to remain an MP for life if members of their party don't agree with them any more." 

So then, I shall go away and start my own Trotskyite party; or give my vote to the Greens, or to Respect or to some worthy independent. But the Stalinists Labour loyalists will come to me in 2020 and say "It is self indulgent to waste your vote on a party of protest. The Greens and the Liberals and Respect are free to say whatever they like, content in the knowledge they will never have to implement their promises." Some go so far as to say that the UK is irreducibly a two-party system and it is almost undemocratic to vote for someone who isn't one of the two main parties.

So for me the choice is Corbyn or nothing.


My MP, Thagam Debbonaire has published an open letter which credibly accuses Jeremy Corbyn of (at the very least) catastrophic managerial incompetence since he became Leader of the Opposition. This puts some meat on the bones of the "unelectable, unelectable, unelectable" mantra. Please read it.

Some of Ms Debbonaire's arguments I find a little weak: Corbyn's position, that the government should honour the result of the referendum and withdraw from Europe (even though he personally favoured staying) is highly consistent with his belief in democratic mandates. The fact that the majority of people in Bristol voted Remain is neither here nor there. And I fear that "I want a Labour Government more than anything" is meaningless. I don't want a Labour Government on any terms: not one which get into bed with Donald Trump, bring back hanging, or make people pay to see their doctor. "Oh, but that could never happen." No: no it couldn't. And yet the Iraq war happened: and water is privatized and students have to pay to go to university.

The letter is refreshingly free from words like Trot and leftie and communist and I am sorry if I associated myself with people who were using words like traitor and turncoat when Thangam resigned from the shadow cabinet. The claim that Corbyn is incompetent is serious and important. "The reason I voted 'no confidence' in him as leader is because I have no confidence in him as leader" she writes. You can't put it much more clearly or fairly than that.

But although this letter has helped me understand why some people support Anyone But Corbyn it hasn't persuaded me to change my position.


Back in August 2015, Alastair Campbell told Labour voters to support Anyone But Corbyn  in the first leadership election ("no first preferences, no second preferences, no any preferences") because he would be a leader "of the hard left, for the hard left" and would therefore be unelectable. In September, Roy Hattersley wrote in the Guardian that "half the Labour party is deeply opposed to (Corbyn's) policies" (*) and that before an election can be won there would have to be "a formal and public renunciation of many of the policies on which the leadership election was won." Again, it was the policies he appeared to have the problem with. Tony Blair affected not understand how anyone could support a Corbyn because, look we all yes agree that y'know socialism is yes wrong.

I do not say that the complaints about incompetence are untrue. I do not say that they are not deeply felt and sincere. Clearly, our man Could Do Better in some respects. But they are not what this is about. This is about politics.

Before I nailed my colours to this particular mast I had not understood the visceral, gut level hatred that some on the Right feel towards what I would call Socialists and what they would call Trots. I don’t know whether, like Mrs Thatcher, like Melanie Philips and indeed like my Fascist friend J.C Wright they honestly believe that Jeremy Corbyn and John Smith and Billy Bragg and me are part of a literal Communist plot to bring about the end of civilization or if it is simply rancor about the 1980s and Militant and the SDP and Tony Benn. (Roy Hattersley talks about the guy running Momentum as having been one of Tony Benn's "henchmen". I didn't know that National Treasures had henchmen. Do they have secret underwater bases and bat signals as well?) I am inclined to think that Corbyn could abolish poverty and bring peace to the middle-east and some of the older Labour Party members would still be unable to forgive him for being a founder member of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. 

I do not hear any voices in the Anyone But Corbyn camp saying “We like Corbyn. We like his clarity, his authenticity, even (in a funny) way, his charisma. We like the fact that he can pack out halls and that tents full of hippies cheer the mention of his name. We (subject to the normal disagreements which all politicians have with all other politicians) agree with Jeremy. We want what Jeremy wants. But — here’s the hitch — we’re not convinced by his managerial abilities. We don't think he's up to handling the day to day running of a party and eventually a Prime Minister's office. What we want is for Jeremy to carry on touring the country making speeches, firing people up about socialism and the new politics, but for someone else to be actual Leader of the Opposition." 

What I have heard, from the beginning, is the chant "unelectable, unelectable, unelectable." And frankly, it is worth twenty five quid of anyone's money for even a small chance of the newspapers having to print headlines which say UNELECTABLE MAN ELECTED in 2020. 

When they say he's unelectable, what they mean is "he's a socialist". That was clearly the opinion of Campell and Blair and Hattersley from the very beginning. He's unelectable because he's a socialist; socialists are unelectable because The People never elect socialists. If we concede that point, it follows that we can never have a socialist government -- or even a socialist opposition -- ever again. Politics can never again be about conviction; it can never again be about candidates saying to voters "I believe in this because it's true, and I want you to believe it as well, and here's why." Politics will always be about candidates second guessing what The People believe, pretending that that is what they believe, and pretending to believe something else if The People change their mind. 

We know what The People think. The People have just voted to crash the British economy and break up the United Kingdom because they think that will magically make all the brown people go away.  I don't think that it follows that Labour should start putting out anti-immigrant mugs and anti-immigrant tee shirts and start carving anti-immigrant slogans on chunks of marble in order to position themselves alongside the xenophobia brand. I think Labour needs to start telling The People that they are wrong about this one.

I don't think that The People are stupid or evil. I think that The People are mostly not very interested in politics so if you keep on telling them the same story over and over again for long enough they'll end up sort of kind of assuming that it's true. So someone has to start telling them a different story. Someone has to use every tool of propaganda and advertising and rhetoric to say "It isn’t the immigrants that are making you poor, you chumps, it’s the Tories and their economic policies." 

Right now, The People would not elect a socialist prime minister. OK. But how would it be if the Left stopped fighting among themselves and started to make out a case for socialism.

When did we last try that?

This is the last throw of the dice. If we lose this one, then no-one will make the case for socialism again in my lifetime, and I and thousands like me will simply be excluded from the political discourse. Jeremy Corbyn is not the best standard bearer socialism could possibly have. But he is the best one currently on offer. And he does have conviction and moral authority and authenticity and a funny kind of charisma and he speaks from the heart. I really did see young people pushing their way to the front of the crowd to have their picture taken with him. 

How much do I like him? Seven and half out of ten. 

Baby steps. First, a socialist leader. Then, a socialist opposition. Then, a socialist prime minister. 

And then, of course, comes the tricky bit.


(*) Not true, incidentally. Hattersley meant that Corbyn received plurality, but not an overall majority, of votes from Labour Party members, disregarding registered supports and Union affiliates: 49.59% of the votes. But it by no means follows that the remaining 50.41% were deeply opposed to his policies. Many of them will have had him as their second or third preference; and many more will have said "I agree with Jeremy Corbyn's policies, but I don't think that he has what it takes to be party leader."


Acknowledgements
1: The author acknowledges that everyone is bored with this topic now and would rather he was was writing about Spider-Man

2: The author acknowledges that this article will annoy all sides of the argument equually. On the plus side, think how much writing he'll be able to do when all his friends have stopped talking to him.

3: The author acknowledges that this article was abandoned before Anyone-But-Corbyn's big speech, and is therefore already out of date.

4: The author acknowledges that the court will give its judgement in about an a hour and a half, very probably making the whole question moot.

5: The author acknowledges that he stole this joke from David Eggers.

6: The author thanks bloggist, musician and dinosaur discoverer Mike Taylor for doing the Ditko mash-up.

7: Oh, and the title is a head-nod to Francis Spufford. If you haven't read his book then you ought to.





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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see..."

"You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?"

"No," said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, "nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."

"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."

"I did," said Ford. "It is."

"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't people get rid of the lizards?"

"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."

"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"

"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."

"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"

"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Last chance to register as a Labour supporter and vote for that nice Mr Corbyn. (or someone else, if you are a big fan of nukes and austerity.)

We have to win this one, or it's a choice between a Lizard and another Lizard for the rest of our lives.

No more anti immigrant mugs!

http://www.labour.org.uk/pages/labour-party-leadership-election-2016

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Dear The Right

This kind of thing makes me raise my voice, roll my eyes and use dismissive body language. I trust you can personally guarantee it won't happen again this time around?

Andrew





Thursday, July 14, 2016

A voter writes...

From: Louise Brown 
Sent: 04 July 2016 
To: Membership; 
Subject: [UK Labour Party] 

Is it still possible to register as a supporter and vote in the next leadership election?



Dear Louise

Thank you for your email.

There is no leadership contest. The Labour Party’s rules state that in the event of a leadership election being called the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee will set out the rules and guidelines of the contest at that time, including rules for members and supporters. All members are eligible to vote in internal elections. Supporters may be able to vote subject to the NEC's approval but at present we are only accepting Affiliated Supporters, which you can sign up for at support.labour.org.uk. 


Kind regards,

Ben Markham
Membership Team
The Labour Party



From: Louise Brown
Date: 14 July 2016
To: Labour Membership

My query was expressed as being about the rules for the next contest whenever that might be.

Events have as I anticipated overtaken my query. 

Given the ever changing rules any answer would be sadly pointless. 

I voted Labour for the first time ever this year. 

Partly because I was impressed by the Bristol mayoral candidate but also because I believe Jeremy Corbyn was offering a real alternative based on actual political beliefs I could support and a more thoughtful and reasoned approach to the issues. 

I found his balanced approach to the issue of leave/remain far preferable to the misrepresentations and hysteria from elsewhere. 

I am a former Liberal Democrat supporter and have never seen myself as "left wing". However I believe in voting for the good of the whole of society not myself or my socio-economic group. 

For example I am happy to pay more tax if it leads to a society that is wealthier overall by providing a decent standard of living for all rather than just those of us fortunate enough to be able to buy healthcare, education etc. 

The behaviour around the recent referendum has highlighted that there are many people who feel angry, frustrated and frightened. 

Many of my formerly non-political friends who broadly share my views on the need for a fairer and more caring society and a more adult approach to politics were considering  supporting labour under Corbyn

I have spoken to many people from the legal profession and several doctors who were considering a Labour vote for the first time. 

However the current shenanigans by MPs who appear determined to oust Corbyn have left me and many I have spoken to disappointed. 

Can they not see that his appeal is not just to the left but to those of us who do not necessarily define ourselves politically but have become increasingly disillusioned with the current government's failure to address the problems of social and financial inequality, diminished access to justice and the problems faced by the NHS to name but a few.

However the most recent events e.g. the almost surreal new rules on members/supporters and voting apparently designed to ensure that only the more wealthy supporters vote have left me feeling that the current PLP is not something I could support.

My enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn and what he stands for remains. 

The majority of your MPs have sadly misjudged the situation and squandered the most exciting opportunity for many years

Yours in disappointment 

Louise Brown. 

Note



Results of Labour Leadership election, Sep 2015

Labour Members :
Jeremy Corbyn - 49.59%
Next most popular candidate - 22.69%

Affiliated Members (Trades Unions, etc)
Jeremy Corbyn - 57.61%
Next most popular candidate - 26%

Registered Supporters -- so called "£3 members")
Jeremy Corbyn - 83.76%
Next most popular candidate - 7.97%

Overall results:
Jeremy Corbyn -  59.5%
Next most popular candidate - 19%

Overall results with "£3 members" eliminated:
Jeremy Corbyn - 55.9%
Next most popular candidate - 27.17%




Last year I joined a political party because I liked and agreed with the leader and wanted him to have a shot at being PM. 

This I now realize was a shameful thing to have done. 

What is the solution? Perhaps political parties should be like the Christian Union, with detailed statements of orthodoxy that you have to sign before you are allowed to vote. Perhaps they should be like the I-Spy club where you get a coupon each time you go to a meeting, and are only allowed to join when you have 26 stickers. Or just go back to the old system, where the local party nominates the candidate, and the MPs chose the leader? 

I don't know. We certainly can't carry on letting people like me join parties because we like and agree with the leader and want him to have a shot at being PM.

I am sorry for what I did. Like a recovering alcoholic, I should have known better than to start paying attention to current affairs again. I take it too personally.




Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thought for the day

By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning .
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem;
who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stone

Thursday, July 07, 2016

I TOLD YOU SO

What do I fear? Myself? There's non else by.
Richard loves Richard: that is, I am I.
          Shakespeare, Richard III

Gandalf as ring-lord would have been far worse than Sauron. Sauron multiplied evil, he left "good" clearly distinguishable from it. Gandalf would have made good detestable and seem evil.
             Letter, Tolkien



1997: Blair's authoritarianism

1998: Blair's regressive welfare policy

1998: Blair's statism

11th September 2001

2002: Blair's drive to war

2003: Aftermath of Blair's war

2004: Arrest of Saddam Hussein

2006: Blair's Madness (1) - Leadership

2006: Blair's madness (2): Social Policy

2007: Killing of Saddam Hussein

2010: Blair defends drive to war




It has always been the prerogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But a half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor.
          Sandman



I've been doing this for nearly 20 years. Please, put a couple of quid in the tin to show me I've not been wasting my time, okay? 

https://www.patreon.com/Rilstone

by backing me on patreon, you agree to pay me 50p or more every time I write an article (up to a maximum you specify). It only takes a minute or so to register. If everyone who reads my stuff chipped in, it would make a real different to my beer consumption standard of living.



Saturday, July 02, 2016

I don't care to belong to any party that would accept me as a member

I normally avoid politics on social media, but I have been embroiled in some discussions about the implosion of the Labour Party in the wake of the Calamity. Some of my fan-base (Sid and Doris Bonkers) asked that I assemble my comments in a single piece. I hope this makes sense. 

The discussion began when it turned out that my MP, who I had voted for, was one of those who had tabled a vote of no-confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party. I said that I honestly wondered if people like me were welcome in the party. I have been quite open about have been one of the "three pound members" who registered as a supporter in order to support his leadership bid; and who became a full member of the party literally minutes after his election. An old friend, who has been an active member of the Party for many years, asked, not unreasonably: "Did you join a party, or join a person?"

I believe in trade unions, libraries, nationalized utilities, redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. I believe in welfare payments to the unemployed and family allowances to mothers, old age pensions and student grants. I believe that no-one should be denied medical treatment through lack of means. I don’t think criminals should be hanged and I don’t think children should be hit. I believe in maternity and paternity leave and positive discrimination to overcome built-in prejudices. I am against genocide, and am against wasting money on weapons of mass destruction. I am not against all wars, but I am, like President Obama, against dumb wars. I don’t think countries and borders matter all that much, and I don’t think race matters at all. I am in favour of free movement; I live and work in a multi-cultural community. I am in favour of equal marriage, although I admit it took me a while to come round to that. 

I rejoined the Labour Party when it elected a leader who believed what I believe. If the next leader believes what I believe, I will stay in the party. But I fear that if Corbyn is ousted, New Labour wing will denounce anybody who believes in what I believe as a Trot. There will be no place for Socialists in that Labour party, and I will have the same choice that I have had since 1992: the choice between two Tory parties, and not voting at all. 


The Idealist believes in things, gives their support to the political party that believes in those things, and tries to persuade other people that she should believe in those things too. The...what shall we call him? political wonk? party man? activist?...wants his team to win, and thinks that his team should adopt whatever beliefs will deliver that victory.

Sure, there are such things as political tactics and honest compromises: but when Polly Toynbee starts saying (and I paraphrase) "well, it seems the Working Class are quite racist, so Labour needs to be a more racist to win the working class vote" I walk away. 

Very few of us are 100% Idealist or 100% Wonk in real life, of course. 

Tony Blair wore the right rosette and won elections, but he had no point of connection, that I could spot, with any of the things I believe. 

I suspect -- and I am sorry to go all serious here -- that this is actually a religious question. I am a Socialist because Socialism seems to be the best chance we have of applying Jesus's moral principals to the complicated and messy political world. Which is not the same thing as saying that Jesus was a socialist, or that all Christians have to be Labour, or that moral principals are the most important thing about Jesus. Giles Fraser does not have a point. This is why Christians like me can feel drawn to Marxists like Jeremy Corbyn and Billy Bragg: we all start from the position that something is fundamentally broken in the world, that a CEO being paid 100 times more than his cleaner is not so much a sign of a healthy, competitive economy, as a moral outrage. 

"The main requirement for a political party is delivering the things it believes in; not just wanting them"; yes, of course, but if that ever becomes "the main requirement is being elected, which we can only do by not trying to deliver those things" then, against, I walk away. 


I don’t think that “prevent the Tories winning a third term” is Labour’s main objective. I don’t think that “We are not the Tories” is a sufficient selling point to justify Labour's existence. 

I can picture three outcomes for the next election. 

Best outcome: Progressive government; Conservative opposition

Second best outcome: Conservative government; Progressive opposition.

Worst outcome: Conservative government, Conservative opposition.

It makes very little difference whether, in the worst case scenario, the conservative government has the label “Conservative Party” or “New Labour”. Either way, the poor are fucked. But only me and the Queen Mother think like that. and she's dead. 

You don’t get to implement your ideas by jetizoning them. There is no point in becoming the Tories in order to defeat the Tories. Labour is a moral crusade, or it is nothing.


I have a set of political beliefs about how I think a country should be run. Those political beliefs derive from a more deeply held set of moral beliefs (Christian, in my case, but that is incidental to the argument) and lead to me giving my support to a party. I support the party that reflects my political beliefs, and I hold political beliefs because they are a way of implementing my moral beliefs. I sort of assume that people go into politics because they also have political beliefs, based on moral beliefs, and want to persuade other people that their beliefs are the best. I even hope that they have thought there political beliefs through more carefully than I have.  

Why do we want to prevent a third Tory government? 

There are two possible answers: 

a: We don't want a Tory government because we don't want a Tory government because we don't want a Tory government. Those are the rules of the game: if a guy with a Labour badge gets in, our team wins. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses. 

b: We don't want a Tory government because we think that the Tory government will do bad things or that a Labour government will do better things. "Good" and "Bad" are here defined by our political beliefs which come from our moral beliefs.

The idea that a political party might shape its agenda (as opposed to its presentation of that agenda, or its propaganda) based on what will win elections implies 

a: that you can pick up and put down political beliefs at will, like picking a new tie 

b: that it's quite all right to SAY that you believe the thing that will win the election, even if you actually believe the other thing

c: that winning elections, rather than doing what is right, is the object of the exercise. 

This seems to be to psychotic, if not actually evil.

Politics is not only about what you think should happen; it's about making detailed plans and policies to ensure that it does happen -- about expertise and competence as well as belief. Candidate A and B might be united in their belief that everyone should get medical care when they need it; but honestly differ about whether socialized medicine or subsidized private insurance is the best way of achieving that. If you think Candidate A is on the wrong side of the argument, it  would be better to say "Candidate A has not done his sums right" rather than "Candidate A obviously wants poor people to die long, agonizing deaths". I think that the point at which someone says "Socialized medicine is better because socialized medicine is better and I don't care about the sums" is the point when you can fairly accuse them of being obsessed with ideological purity.

If I run a dairy farm, I might very well get marketing people in to tell me how to get punters to buy my milk. "You need to sell it in different kinds of cartons; you need to look at selling flavoured milk and skimmed milk; maybe you need to come up with a company mascot the kids can related to" are all good suggestions. "I think you should concrete it over and sell motorcycles", not so much.

If selling milk is your objective. If making money is your objective, then the motorcycles plan might be a very good one.

Is the Labour Party about selling milk or manufacturing motorcycles?

The question about whether the Labour Party is "too far to the left" or "too far to the right" is a moral one. You can show me that my morals are wrong ("you say that killing is always wrong, but have you considered the following circumstances...") or you can show that my political beliefs don't reflect my morals as well as I thought they did ("you think that paying benefit alleviates poverty, but did you consider…”) but you can't ask me chose my morals or my politics based on what will win elections. It's like asking a judge to consider the possibility that murder is a bit less naughty this week than it was last week.

A new Labour Leader who believes in being nasty to criminals, nasty to immigrants, nasty to the unemployed, and wasting money on WMDs that we will never use might (perhaps) be able to win an election. But I come back to my first question: in what way would that be better than a Tory government?





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Bring Them Into the Light!

Friday, July 01, 2016

And at last Ar-Pharazôn came even to Aman, the Blessed Realm, and the coasts of Valinor; and still all was silent, and doom hung by a thread. 

For Ar-Pharazôn wavered at the end, and almost he turned back. 

His heart misgave him when he looked upon the soundless shores and saw Taniquetil shining, whiter than snow, colder than death, silent, immutable, terrible as the shadow of the light of Ilúvatar. 

But pride was now his master, and at last he left his ship and strode upon the shore, claiming the land for his own, if none should do battle for it. 

And a host of the Númenóreans encamped in might about Túna, whence all the Eldar had fled.