Sunday, January 08, 2017

NEW YEARS RESOLUTION: WRITE SHORT BLOG POSTS RATHER THAN LONG TWITTER CHAINS

Theresa May is sitting in the first class carriage of a train. Suddenly, she winds down the window, and throws a ten pound note out of the window. 

"What on earth did you do that for?" says one of the people in the carriage.

"Well" she said "I like to imagine that someone will find that note, and it will make them happy."

"Well on that basis, why not throw two five pound notes out, and make two people happy?"

"In fact" chips in another man "Why not throw yourself out and make everyone bloody happy?"

[NOTE, incidentally, that this is an example of the Dave Allen Rule -- any joke is funnier if you put the word "bloody" in the punchline. ]


What do you call ten Tories in the sea?
A start. 


Theresa May is rushing to an important meeting, and runs across the road into the path of a bus. Fortunately, three little boys, on the other side of the road, see what is happening and scream out to the bus to stop, and no harm is done. 

"I think you may have saved my life" says Mrs May "I would like to give you a reward. What would you like?" 

"May I have an X-Box" says the first little boy. 

"Certainly - see this child gets an X-Box and a couple of good games for it." 

"May I have an I-Pad" says the second little boy. 

"Certainly - get this lad a top of the range I-Pad....And what would you like?"

"I would like a state funeral..."

"You are awfully young to be thinking of that kind of thing!"

"But when my Dad finds out whose bloody life I saved today..."


I think that Cliff Richard should be buried in Poets Corner. Right now. 



The human race just can't get it right, can it? John Lennon -- murdered. J.F.K -- murdered. Martin Luther King -- murdered. Ghandi -- murdered. Jesus Christ -- murdered. Ronald Reagan -- wounded. 



Dear God -- In the last year, you have taken my favourite comedian, Ronnie Corbet; my favourite conjurer, Paul Daniels; my favourite singer, David Bowie; and my favourite actor, Carrie Fisher. Oh God, I want you to know that my favourite politician is Jeremy Corbyn." 


It is not in question that Jim Davison is odious little individual (or at any rate, that he plays one on the stage.) I understand that he sincerely regrets the racist "Chalkie White" material he did during the '70s. However, his "Jeremy Corbyn" remark was clearly a joke, presented as a joke, structured as a joke and indeed following a venerable joke-like formula.  (*)  He was not expressing a wish that someone would die, much less advocating political assassination.

Comedians have always told jokes about the deaths of politicians and other public figures. If you start down the path of saying "Tory comedian Jim Davidson wishes Jeremy Corbyn DEAD in sick gag" you end up saying "Well, I'm glad YOU think that the deaths of fifteen hundred people are funny, but I don't think YOU'D have found it very funny if YOU'D been in the bar of the Titanic with a Vicar and a Rabbi..."

(*)

Compare: 

"I've just been reading a fascinating survey of worldwide sexual behaviour. It says that Native Americans have the biggest cocks, but Polish men last longest. By the way, I don't think I caught your name?" 

"Tonto Pilsudski." 

(patrons are not being charged for this post)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Christmas To All Our Readers...




for those feeling less merry

Shooting In the Dark Too Long





People who believe what I believe sometimes get called Trotskyites. I used to say that I didn't really know what Trotskyite meant, but I think I have worked it out.

*

Andy Burnham’s essay in Saturday’s Guardian disturbed me. 

Let’s not put it any more strongly than that. I was disturbed by it. I found it disturbing.

Andy Burnham is a Labour Politician. He wanted to be leader of the Labour Party, but we Trotskyites stopped him. He is probably, understandably, still a bit cross with us over that.

Last June there was a Referendum. Every one in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was allowed to vote, except the ones who weren’t. A third of us said that Britain should withdraw from Europe; a third of us said that it shouldn’t; and a third said they didn’t care either way. As a result of this overwhelming vote, we have decided to spend the next 10 years arguing about the definition of “withdraw”. 




During the referendum, the position of the Labour Party was that although the E.U is in some ways a flawed organization, Britain should remain a member and work to improve it. Since the referendum, the position of the Labour Party has been that since withdrawal is now inevitable we should concentrate on finding a definition of “withdraw” that doesn’t involve crashing the country’s economy. Free trade — access to the single market — is regarded as the Biggie.

Andy Burnham takes a different view. He thinks that the Biggie is not free trade, but Immigrants. The party leadership thinks that we should maintain free trade with Europe, even if that means continuing to allow other Europeans to live and work in the UK. Burnham thinks that we should abolish the right of other Europeans to live and work in the UK, even if that means that we can no longer have free trade. 

He has, of course, a perfect right to his opinion. What bothered me was the way in which he chose to make his case. 

I put it no stronger than that. It bothered me. Here are some of things which bothered me about it. 

1: “We need a plan to bring this divided country back together again.” 

I agree. The referendum really only told us what everyone already knew: the country is split down the middle over the question of Europe. (So, by coincidence, are the Conservative party and the Labour party.) We need a way of going forward that the 37% of secessionists and the 35% of anti-secessionists would be equally happy with or  as is usually the case with compromises  which the 37% and 35% would be equally annoyed by. The 28% will be equally indifferent whatever happens. 

2: “We can all debate what the referendum vote meant beyond the decision to leave the EU. Above all, I am clear it was a majority vote for an end to the current system of free movement.”

It is a strange world where you have a referendum, and wait until after the votes are counted to decide what the referendum means. Like going off to hunt a snark and realizing that you have no idea at all what a snark is. The Prime Minister (who campaigned for us to Stay but now wants us to Go) says that “Brexit means Brexit”, which I think means that the snark was a boojum all along. 

The ballot paper I ticked looked like this:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
  • Remain a member of the European Union
  • Leave the European Union

I think that most of the people who ticked the “leave” box assumed that they were voting to tear up all the agreements which have been made over the last 40 years and wind the clock back to where the country was before it joined the Common Market. In status quo res erant ante anno MCMLXXII as it were. I think this is what a Texan would assume he was doing if he ever found himself ticking a box which said “leave the United States”. But everyone agrees that whatever “leave” means, it definitely doesn’t mean that. So we are left in the charming position where politicians can pick any position they like and claim a massive (37/35) popular mandate for it.

Andy Burnham “is clear” that the vote to secede from Europe was, in fact, a vote against European immigration. I am happy that he is clear, although I don't know what constitutional status his clarity has. But I don't think that being clear and being right are necessarily the same. 

It is clear to me that some of those who voted to leave did so because they had been promised that the £350,000,000 a week we currently spend on EU membership would be spent on public health instead. This turned out to be a lie — the figure is nothing like £350,000,000 and there is no chance of it all being spent on the health service. But it is one of those lies that was so bold and so barefaced that one feels reticent about even mentioning it. “Oh, yes, I know we lied about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction; isn’t it cute the way you funny little Trots keep going on about it.” 

It is clear to me that some of those who voted "leave" did so because they were sick of only being allowed to buy straight bananas and being forbidden from buying eggs in six packs. These were also lies, but they were lies on a level with the one told to the famous emperor about his famous cloak: the kind which becomes true if you believe it hard enough. Boris Johnson appeared to have some self-imposed cognitive dissonance that genuinely made him think that he hadn't seen any half-dozen boxes of eggs since 1972. It's very much the same kind of trick which allows a man to look at a huge Christmas tree in the town square and say "Of course, you and allowed to put up huge Christmas trees in the town square any more."  

And it is very clear to me that some of the people who voted “leave” did so because of a deep, religious belief in something called “sovereignty”. They didn’t necessarily have any problem with any specific “European” law, but they objected on spiritual grounds to people in Belgium having a say about what happens in England. Since June some of these people have been entertaining fantasies about abolishing metric measurements, restoring pre-decimal currency, playing God Save the Queen on the wireless and getting the Queen a smart new boat to play with.

(Some people have told me that the people who voted "leave" did so because they were jolly cross about everything in the world and nothing in particular and thought that a leave vote would jolly give politicians a kick up the backside, so it's my fault for not listening. I am not very clear about that one at all.)

It seems that the dirty campaign fought by some of the secessionists is deemed to affect the result retrospectively. It is true that fascist politicians stuck up posters depicting scary brown-skinned people flooding across our borders; this makes it clear to center left politicians that a vote to leave the EU was really a vote against scary brown people.

But even if it were clear that the 37% voted against immigration, wouldn’t it be equally clear that the 35% voted in favour of it? And wouldn’t it follow that if your objective were “to bring the divided country back together” you would be looking for a compromise position which the 37% who are nativists and the 35% who are multiculturalists would be equally happy with (or equally irritated by)?

3:  “For at least a decade, Labour activists have been hearing concerns on doorsteps about free movement and immigration.”

British parliamentary constituencies are sufficiently small that MPs get to meet a significant number of the people who voted for them face to face. This the only argument in favour of our voting system: it forces MPs to campaign at a local level, which gives voters a direct line to the center of government. If Mrs Miggins tells her MP that she is concerned about the state of paving stones on Stapleton Road, there is a chance that her MP might pass her concerns on to the Prime Minister — or, at any rate, the Minister With Responsibility for Paving Stones. 

I am sure that some of the people who MPs meet do have "concerns" about immigration; and I am sure that some of those concerns are sensible. "When I am not standing on the doorstep talking to you, I am a school teacher," a concerned person might say "and I am concerned that we have had 37 children from immigrant families join our school this year. I am concerned because some of them do not speak English and none of their parents do. I am also concerned because some of them have been brought up to think that it is dirty to get changed for P.E and have no idea what Christmas is." And the MP might go away and talk to the Minister for Education, and come up a solution — a specialist ESOL teacher in the school, interpreters for parents evenings, a trained mediator to deal with cultural differences about decency and modesty and religious festivals. And that would pretty much deal with all the sensible concerns. Hooray for democracy!

But I do hope that my MP would only pay attention to sensible concerns. If I am concerned about foxes in the dustbins, I hope my MP might do something about it. If I am concerned about alligators in the sewers, not so much. If I am concerned about old people tripping over paving stones, my MP should probably pay attention to me. If I am concerned about immigrants coming out at the dead of night and tripping up old ladies, he probably shouldn't.

4: “There will be those who argue that any changes [to immigration] we make must be minimal so as to maximize access to the single market. They may well be right, and it could be that this is where the national interest lies. But the test will be whether the changes to free movement meet public concerns.”

Pause, for a moment, and take that in. 

Some people think that we should allow, or mostly allow, European immigration to continue in return for us being allowed to continue to trade with Europe. Some people think it is worth losing our free trade agreements with Europe in order to stop European immigrants coming here. 

Andy Burnham thinks that it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. What matters is meeting public concerns whether or not those concerns are sensible.

Extremists tend to think that there is right and there is wrong; there is a black, and there is white; and there is nothing — nothing — in between,

[Insert Diagram]

Moderates, on the other hand, think that there is black and there is white but there are also at least fifty shades of grey ranging from “slightly less right” to “almost completely wrong”. There’s also a pretty big “we don’t know” space in the middle. 

[Insert diagram]

Extremists can’t compromise (even in the face of Armageddon) but moderates compromise all the time. If I agree to do something which I think is a bit wrong, and you agree to do something which you think is a bit wrong, then we’ll be doing something that we both think is at least a bit right, which is better than doing nothing at all. (Probably.)

Andy Burnham proposes a new model. 

[Insert diagram]

On one side is “right” and “wrong” (with gradations and don’t knows and the need for compromise taken for granted.) But on the other side is “public concerns” and “what the people on the doorstep say”. The latter always overrides the former. What matters is not what is right but what the man on the doorstep thinks is right. Vox populum super limen vox deus if I might put it like that.

This is what post-truth politics looks like. It doesn’t look like Donald Trump denying climate change and inventing millions of fraudulent votes. It doesn’t even look like the Sun doctoring an image to make it look like the leader of the opposition was dancing a jig on the cenotaphIt looks like a sensible, liberal politician saying “they may well be right…but…” 

The person on the doorstep is not stupid. But he is ignorant. So am I. So are you. So is everybody. 

I, for example, am almost entirely ignorant about Science. I don’t have a head for figures or logic or the patience to do something over and over again and make detailed notes of tiny changes. I have some general sense that Schrodinger had a cat that was in two states at once, and that this illustrates that there is something in Quantum Physics (some kind of particle, I suppose)  which can be in two states at once, and that this has something to do with why my I-Phone works, but that's honestly the best I can do. I could read a book, if I wanted to, but I can’t really be bothered. On the other hand, I can be bothered to work my way through text books that tell me, for example, roughly what page historians are on with regard to The Historical Jesus and laugh (ha!) when biologists say that everyone now agrees he’s a myth. Because that stuff does interest me. And it goes without saying that I have to send for a plumber to fix the simplest dripping tap or leaky washing machine. 

Why on earth would you ask me about physics or football or plumbling when there are people out there who know about this stuff? 

Experts, if you will.

O.K: knowledge isn't everything. Facts aren't everything. Evidence isn't everything. Many of our strongest beliefs come down to sentiment and aesthetics. It is often a good idea (and a powerful rhetorical tool) to admit this. It’s not a great idea to claim that history proves that tyrants are never defeated by armies if the real reason you don't like war is that your Uncle Ben was killed in the Falklands. I myself am very reluctant to allow evidence to intrude into any argument about capital punishment. Actually I think the evidence is mostly on my side, but that's a fortunate coincidence;  I'd be on the same side even if the evidence were mostly against me. There is no point in talking about whether your state has a higher murder rate than my state and how many innocent people your country executed last year and whether "deterrent" even means anything. The only reason I am against the death penalty is because I am emotionally and aesthetically against ritually asphyxiating helpless prisoners (irrespective of what they have probably done). To argue otherwise is to argue fraudulently

I imagine that many of the people on the doorstep know as little about economics as I do about Schrodinger’s cat, or washing machines, or, come to that, economics. I imagine many of them are concerned about immigration at an emotional, gut level. I imagine they aesthetically and sentimentally dislike hearing languages that they do not understand in the doctor’s waiting room. I imagine they sentimentally and aesthetically dislike shops selling food they don’t recognize on the high street. I imagine they sentimentally and aesthetically dislike it when people with a different word for God start saying their prayers in what used to be a cinema. I imagine they have a sentimental and aesthetic hankering for the days when nearly everyone they met looked the same as him and there were hardly any black or brown people in his part of town. 

Call this racism or nativism or perfectly understandable old-fogeyism. You don’t have to be old to be an old fogey. Call it alt-right or call it "genuine concerns". It's a faith position, a gut feeling, an intuition. Don't mistake it for an argument. 

As has been noted, Tony Blair thought that a state of mind he called “sincerity” (“just happening to believe”) was sufficient basis to start a war. David Cameron thought that a fairly technical question about voting reform depended on ineffable emotional feelings that could not be put into words. Michael Gove say that he doesn’t care about the opinions of experts — or, rather more subtly, that he doesn’t think that the populum super limen do. And Jacob Rees-Mogg has said, literally and in so many words that great political and economic questions could as well be settled by consulting horoscopes or the entrails of chickens as by consulting people who know about politics and economics. 

Not that Jacob Rees-Mogg actually consults the entrails of chickens to decide on economic questions. At least, I assume he doesn't. Presumably he just follows his gut instinct; does the first thing which comes into his head. Or at least, the first thing which comes into the head of the person on the doorstep.

I suppose most of us voted in the referendum according to our hearts, rather than according to our heads. But the starting point of this discussion is that while the heads are more or less unanimous — leaving the European single market would be an act of reckless insanity — the hearts are deeply divided. 37% of our hearts hankered for mono-racial, mono-cultural, olde fashionede Englande; 34% of our hearts had an idealistic belief that there is only one race, the human race, and that countries made up of different kinds of people were nicer and more interesting places to live than countries where every one was the same. 37% of us want a land with a wall around it and 34% of us have a faith in our fellow man, as the bard said.

What happened to seeking a unity between those two positions? 

“The people on the doorstep” doesn’t just mean “people”, does it? Any more than “the real America” just means “Americans”? It means the people on the doorstep as opposed to the people anywhere else — in cafes or universities or at political meanings? And I am not on the doorstep. There I times when I sincerely doubt that I am person. I am one of the 35%. I am a metropolitian elite, an expert, a luvvie, a moaner, a Trot, a Guardianista. I am also a member of a trade union, and we learned this week that the Prime Minister does not regard members of trade unions as people. 

My shaky knowledge of science isn’t written into my genes. I picked it up somewhere; very possibly from Star Trek. The opinions of the people on the doorstep didn’t drop out of the sky, either. They picked them up from somewhere. Very possibly from a newspaper. And I sometimes suspect that some of the newspapers have a political agenda. I sometimes think that they are deliberately trying to create the impression that there are floods and hoards of terrifying immigrants who want to steal your job, take down your Union Jack, ban your Christmas tree and force you eat straight bananas and 5-packs of eggs. I sometimes think that this reflects what their editor sincerely believes in his heart, or more likely, what would be in the owner's economic interests. 

If we are going to make it a general rule that the opinions of the people on the doorstep are automatically right, then you might just as will cut out the middle-man and ask the two or three zillionaires who own the press directly. Which is what you might expect a Tory to believe; but rather a surprising position for a Labour man.

Vox populi super limen vox domini de ephemerides if you absolutely insist. 


*

I know, of course, what my Labour friends will say about this. They will say “It is the person on the doorstep (right or wrong) who votes in elections; if you want to win an election you have to meet their concerns (right or wrong); there is no point in a political party existing if it can’t win elections.”

So I think that is what Trotskyite must mean. The opposite of that. 









Saturday, December 03, 2016

I’m going tell you right wing authoritarian nativists; you may be surprised
The people in this world are getting organized
You're bound to lose: you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose.

All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!
All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!
All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!
You’re bound to lose; you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!

Race hatred cannot stop us: this one thing we know
Your poll tax and Jim Crow and greed has got to go
You're bound to lose: you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose.

All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!
All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!
All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!
You’re bound to lose: you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!

People of every color are marching side to side
Marching across the fields where a million right wing authoritarian nativists died
You’re bound to lose; you right wing authoritarian nativistss bound to lose!


All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!
All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!
All of you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!

You’re bound to lose; you right wing authoritarian nativists are bound to lose!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

First, we warned you about the Daily Mail, but you didn’t listen, because the Daily Mail is only a silly scandal sheet

Then, we warned you about the Daily Express, but you didn’t listen, because the Daily Express is barely even a newspaper nowadays.

Then we warned you about the Sun, but you didn’t listen, because it’s quite snobbish to moan about a working class paper.

We warned you about the myth of political correctness, but you didn’t listen because ha-ha it’s the sort of thing that people like us have a bee in our bonnet about.

We warned you about Katie Hopkins, but you didn’t listen, because the Apprentice is only a silly reality TV show and she obviously doesn’t believe a word of it.

We warned you about Melanie Phillips, but you didn’t listen, because she was obviously mental.

We warned you that that Anders Breivik used the “writings” of Melanie Phillips to justify murder, but you didn’t listen, because it’s not a journalists fault if a criminal borrows their words.

We warned you about Gamergate, and you didn’t listen because it was only some little boys throwing their toys out of the pram over computer games.

We warned you about the Sad Puppies, and you didn’t listen, because if this stuff bothers us so much we should damn well stay off twitter.

Then a fascist became president of the USA, and you all said "Why didn't anyone warn us?"

Saturday, November 05, 2016


In December 2015, Rilstone published an essay which was so modern and so brilliant that it made absolutely no sense to anybody.

on monday, I placed two apples...

So controversial was it that it led to a widespread boycott of his work, and demands that the author be exiled to Siberia, or, failing that, Bollington.

Today, a critic who loves and reveres Rilstone and his work revisits the controversy and tries to explain: what was all the fuss about. And what was Rilstone trying to say?

Almost as shocking as the original essay, this pamphlet (48 pages, approx 20 pages of new material) is only available to Andrew's financial backers..

To obtain the pamphlet, please go to Patreon and pledge at least $1 a month to Andrew's writing. This will give you immediate access to a PDF version. More generous donors will receive a physical copy of the work. Please do not leave it lying around for your wife or your servant to read.

Friday, October 14, 2016




"What are your songs about?"
"Some of them are about four minutes, some are about five minutes and some, believe it or not are about eleven or twelve minutes." 






Buy My Book:









Thursday, August 11, 2016

Politics



So I went to my first ever political meeting on Tuesday, to decide who Bristol West Labour Party would nominate to be leader of the party. Local constituency nominations have no affect whatsoever on the actual result, but they are a way of boosting one or other candidate's campaign. 

(On Monday night, I heard The Man Himself speaking to a big rally outside "city hall".) 

I don't know what I expected a political meeting to be like: would there be a warm-up act; or would we start with a word of prayer or at the very least a few verses of the Internationales? Remember how Screwtape's patient unconsciously imagines Christians wearing sandals and togas and can't quite get past the fact that the people in his local church dress in normal 20th century clothes? I think I was probably hoping for flat caps and checked shirts and braces and maybe a couple of banners and a brass band. 

I have to say it was a very well organized meeting and an excellent advertisement for local politics. It started ten minutes late to allow everyone to get through the door and have their membership checked; but other than that it was well-chaired, smoothly organized and above all, short. A union man gave a five minute talk in favour of Jeremy Corbyn, an MP gave a five minute talk in favour of the other fella; there was 30 minutes of discussion from the floor (with no-one allowed to speak for more than 2 minutes). The whole thing was dried and dusted in an hour and a half. Everyone was polite and pleasant and there were some very good and fair points made on both sides. People applauded points they agreed with but there wasn't the slightest hint of booing, bullying or name-calling. One chap said "Good speech, by the way" to the previous speaker before putting the contrary point of view. I was, in short, very disappointed indeed. 

I felt that the real split on the floor was between the Hearts and the Heads. The fans of Jeremy Corbyn talked about how they had felt alienated from the Labour Party or from politics in general but had been brought back to the fold because Corbyn seems like a normal human being who says what he means and means what he says. The fans of the other guy claimed that he had more of a clue about leadership and management and had actually thought his proposals through. The union guy talked about values; the MP ran through specific proposals. 

Well. Political engagement, like any other kind of engagement, has to start with, but can't end with, emotion. No-one gets fired up and excited by fiscal prudence and income tax bands: they get fired up by a wish for a better society and the faith that their candidate believes in it too. But then someone has to work out what practical steps they are going to take to move us in that direction. What a pity that we're being faced with an either / or choice; what a pity that Head and Heart are gong to spent the next month beating each other up -- a fight that we already know that Head cannot possibly win --- when Head could have said "Heart, old chap; I want what you want and you want what I want but I think I could suggest four or five practical ways for you to improve your spreadsheet." 

Twelve months ago, Hattersley and Campbell and Blair were lined up to say that Labour must not elect a left-wing leader under any circumstances. (I don't really think that the idea of unionized workplaces and free education and house building programes count as left-wing, particularly, but let's go with the jargon.) Blair went so far as to say that he wouldn't want a left-wing Labour Party to win an election, even if that were possible: ironic, since the argument most frequently thrown at Corbyn is that he cares more about ideological purity than electoral success. Last year's election was between the guy who wanted to nationalize the railways, and the guy who wanted to appeal to the kind of aspirational voter who wished they could afford to buy their groceries at Waitrose.  This year's election is about whether your guy's scheme to re-nationalize the railways is better costed than our guy's scheme to re-nationalize the railways. 

Whatever happens next, Jeremy Corbyn has already won the argument.

The meeting voted by 267 to 64 to nominate Jeremy Corbyn but in a real sense the winner was etc etc etc



No-one is being charged for this note, but if you have enjoyed it, please drop a few pence in the Patreon box. 


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.





This blog is supported by my Patreon backers. If you like what I write, you agree to pay £1 every time I write something. It's a good socialist principal. 

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.