When the Corbyn bubble bursts

The second Labour Party leadership contest in a year has resulted in another Jeremy Corbyn landslide in advance of the party’s annual conference in Liverpool. It means now that the bubble within which thousands of Corbyn supporters have been cocooned from the reality of a country mired in the profound political uncertainty ushered in by Brexit is about to burst.

When the energy expended in campaigning for Corbyn throughout a leadership campaign that had allowed them to suspend disbelief and revel in the buzz of attending mass rallies and meetings at which everyone speaks the same language and shares the same worldview (and quite literally wears the same T-shirt), when all that energy is now diverted to the task of engaging with the general public, as it must, they will encounter a stone wall of indifference, perhaps even hostility, to the passion and idealism that has sustained them over the summer.

Many will inevitably become demoralised in response to the ineffable gulf that exists between life in the Corbynista bubble and the world outside. Others will stay the course, fuelled by an ever-decreasing well of optimism, knowing that giving up on Corbyn means giving up on their belief in a better and more just society.

And herein lies the problem – one for which, in parenthesis, Jeremy Corbyn cannot be held personally responsible. It is that the Corbyn phenomenon is a product of deep despair giving way to soaring hope with nothing in-between. It is thus a phenomenon which defies gravity and every other law of physics as it swaps reality for unreality, calling to mind Gramsci’s overused mantra, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

People who’ve been on the left for any amount of time live and die by Gramsci’s creed. They simply have to, otherwise it would be impossible to summon the strength and stamina to continually swim against the tide of apathy and anti-politics that is the default political position of millions up and down the country. These are people for whom politics belongs in the same category as a visit to the dentist — something that comes round once every so often and which they prefer to get out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible. Regardless, this is the core demographic and constituency that has to be won over for Labour or any other party to succeed.

The reputation of opinion polls as a reliable barometer of voting intentions and support for parties and leaders has justifiably taken a battering of late. However it would be foolish to ignore them altogether, given that they are the only measure we have, short of an election, when it comes to the viability of a given leadership. And according to the most recent polls, Corbyn’s prospects of being elected prime minister remain grim.

It is entirely true that the Labour leader has been battered by the right wing and liberal media throughout a second leadership election that, while triggered by Brexit, essentially came about because the majority of the PLP had refused to accept his leadership or mandate since the day he was elected in 2015, and in truth never will. Many, undoubtedly, would prefer Labour to be driven to destruction than succeed with Corbyn at the helm. It is a situation that has fed a hardening of Corbyn’s support, with his supporters understandably enraged at the arrogance of Labour MPs who refuse to accept the party’s own democratic structures and wishes of the overwhelming bulk of the membership when it comes to who the leader should be. Allegations of abuse and bullying and intimidation merely reflect the depth of acrimony between both sides in what had become a zero sum game.

But where Corbyn and his team must shoulder responsibility is over the failure to understand or appreciate the reactionary and racist nature of Brexit, and how if it came to pass it would entrench an unalterable shift to the right in British politics. This lack of understanding was reflected in one of the most dispassionate and lacklustre campaigns ever waged by a party leader, one that has led to credible accusations that he and his team purposely worked to sabotage the Remain campaign.

The wider point is that so much energy has been expended in fighting this leadership battle, in rallying round Corbyn’s leadership against the PLP, it has created a false political reality. This reality, as mentioned, exists not at mass rallies or mass meetings, but on the doorsteps of millions of voters across the country. In Scotland Corbyn’s leadership has completely failed to puncture the SNP’s political dominance, while down south, in large swathes of the country’s former industrial heartlands, it is the right wing of the Tory Party and UKIP that are making the running with their brand of regressive British nationalism.

Brexit confirms that we have entered an era of competing nationalisms north and south of the border, involving the opening up of a political scissors to confirm what many had chosen to deny up until the EU referendum— namely that there is a marked difference in political culture, underpinned by national identity, between Scotland and England. The result is an inclusive and civic nationalism in Scotland that exists in sharp contrast to its exclusive and xenophobic counterpart in England. In between both you have a Corbyn-led Labour Party whose support outside London is restricted by and large to urban centres such as Manchester and Liverpool, where Labour’s roots remain deepest.

This is not to claim that Owen Smith or any other leader would be better placed to improve Labour’s fortunes. The squeeze on Labour as the vehicle of working class political representation had already crashed before Jeremy Corbyn came along. The lack of any strong and effective ideological opposition to austerity post-economic crisis saw the Tories win the battle of ideas on public spending, welfare, and Labour mismanagement of the economy. Allied to UKIP’s narrative about the EU and unlimited mass immigration – a narrative based on a set of untruths, half-truths, and outright lies – and the damage was done.

The result is that rather than the politics of anti-austerity it is the politics of anti-immigration that in 2016 are driving the voting intentions of working people across former Labour heartlands in England and South Wales.

Once Corbyn supporters and campaigners stop celebrating his and their victory they are in for a sharp shock.

How Corbyn has changed politics

It is surely a remarkable illustration of how political parties change over time that the current Presidential candidate for the political party of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant is Donald Trump. Whereas, during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, white supremacist terrorists hunted down and killed members of the Republican Party across the Southern states, nowadays leading members of the Ku Klux Klan endorse the Republican candidate.

The reconfiguration of the Republican Party has been a long drawn out contest, and has been a process of evolution. While a consideration of the internal arguments in the party can partially explain such turns as Nixon’s Southern strategy, for example, that orientation can only itself be understood by the enormous changes in the Southern states, the process of industrialization and urbanization, and the crisis in the Democratic Party over racial issues.

Today, the totally unnecessary leadership challenge that is currently limping to its conclusion in the Labour Party can arguably be understood as institutional stakeholders of pre-Corbyn Labour seeking to prevent the party from changing.

In order to understand political parties, it is generally necessary not only to consider their own internal dynamics, and their competition with other similarly constituted parties; but also how those parties intersect with social and economic interests, and how the political divisions of the day are reflected through the party system.

It is also necessary to understand the degree to which political parties, and election contests, are only one component of democratic and civic society. Ideologies, reform strategies and economic plans, among other ideas and programmes, are generated not only by political parties, but also by think tanks, trade unions, public intellectuals, universities, government departments, faith groups, single issue campaigns, charities and others. Contested elections are certainly an indispensible element of liberal democracy, but democratic society can be reduced to neither the electoral cycle, nor to the political parties which contest elections. Political divisions in society and competing economic and social interests lead to conflict at the political and ideological level, and also more direct conflict, for example, such as industrial action by trade unions.

To stay with the example, of the Republicans; in the mid nineteenth century in the United States the two issues of slavery and Catholic immigration cut across both the Whig and the Democratic parties, so that the most vital political issues of the day could not find expression through the existing party system, leading to the eclipse of the Whigs in favour of the newly created Republican Party. The campaign against slavery, which Owen Smith would have perhaps decried as a mere “protest movement” eventually triumphed, and of course for many years it was a protest movement that had no realization through a political party capable of winning power. However, sometimes it is necessary to stick to your principles, time and time again protest movements change history.

While much is made of the continuity between Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diana Abbott and others with the legacy projects of the Labour left, and the absurd attempts by self-proclaimed “moderates” to conjure up the ghost of the early 1980s; the far more significant phenomenon is the discontinuity with the establishment consensus about austerity economics, and the development of economic policies by John McDonnell and his team which commit a future Labour government to calibrated state intervention for a capitalist economy that works.

McDonnell is not arguing for “nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy” or other nostrums from the 1980s, but for a “mixed economy of public and social enterprise… a private sector with a long-term private business commitment” and a national investment bank channeling £500 million into the productive economy. Labour now argues for economic stimulus through, for example, a council house building programme. In a move that is controversial with some Keynesian economists, Labour is committed to “a fiscal policy framework that broadly states that the Government should borrow for investment (the capital account) and that over the business cycle Government day-to-day spending (the Government’s current account) should be in balance”.

As Tom o Leary explains:

[Since the second world war,] high points in net public sector investment coincide with the very large surpluses on the public sector current account (or in reality precede those surpluses by 18 months to two years). This demonstrates a fundamental law of public finances. The returns to the public sector from investment are not registered in the investment account but are overwhelmingly returned to the public sector current account.

When governments build a rail network, a university science park, superfast broadband, or when a local authority builds a home, the investment return is not more rail networks or homes than those built. It is registered as increased tax revenues and, via job creation, as lower social security outlays such as on unemployment, payments for poverty such as tax credits, and so on. The investment comes back mainly as tax revenues, which is part of the current account balance. The UK Treasury estimates that every £1 rise in output is recorded as a 70p improvement in government finances, 50p of which is higher tax revenues. Those revenues can either be used either for more investment, or to increase current spending or some combination of the two.

The challenge of “Corbynism” for the establishment is that it has created a mass party committed to an economic policy that breaks with austerity, and this means a wholesale rejection of the mainstream political consensus.

The phenomenal popularity of Corbynism cannot be understood by considering the personality or personal attributes of Jeremy Corbyn himself, notwithstanding the qualities of the man which genuinely do inspire so many people. His much commented upon honesty and sincerity connect with huge numbers of people outside of normal politics not only because they are admirable traits, but because when he addresses the problems of job insecurity, NHS waiting times, the housing crisis, low pay and benefits sanctions, he does so in a way which acknowledges that these are not merely debating points to be checked off by a politician seeking votes, but are the grinding daily reality which oppressively shape the lives of millions of citizens for whom the society and economy we live in simply does not work.

Yet up until now, the aspirations of these millions of people has not found expression through the mainstream political process, instead there has been a growing gulf between them and the professionalized, managerial politics of the Westminster elite. This has expressed itself in a number of morbid symptoms: through falling voter turnout, the rise and fall of the BNP, through the advance of UKIP, the vote for Brexit, through hostility to immigrants, and the near total eclipse of Labour in Scotland. Alongside this has been a growing phenomenon of progressive politics finding expression outside of the Labour Party, whether through the patchy but nevertheless substantive electoral challenges of the Green Party (and latterly Respect), or through manifestations like the Occupy movement, or the growing networks of alternative media on the Internet.

The political landscape has been so transformed by all these aspects of anti-establishmentism, that it has become extremely challenging for future electoral success by the Labour Party. Continuing in the old way is simply not an option.

Those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party broadly fall into two camps. Liz Kendall’s recent article in the Financial Times is truly remarkable in that it demonstrates almost no reflection about the challenges facing Labour. According to Kendal the immediate task is to accommodate to Tory policies over welfare spending and the economy. These irreconcilables are utterly bereft of ideas, and the most signal characteristic of the centre-right in the Labour Party for the last decade has been its inability to develop new tactics, leadership or strategy. The last general election saw 36.8% vote for the Conservatives and 30.5% for Labour. A strategy only of triangulating to win over swing Tory voters may close that gap, but only at the likely expense of further moving Labour away from the millions who are disenchanted by politics as usual. The self-proclaimed moderates are locked into a Groundhog Day of low aspiration.

The other camp, personified by the hapless Owen Smith, partially understands the need to embrace radical policies, but do not want the Labour Party to be changed in the process. The ridiculous purging of individuals from the party for such misdemeanors as tweeting agreement with the Green Party shows a dangerous lack of understanding of how mainstream political parties need to adapt and change. The Labour Party has played an historical role as “gatekeeper” allowing those who have previously been involved in radical anti-establishment activity to bring their creativity and new ideas into the mainstream, in exchange for adapting to the constitutionality of the Labour Party. In the current context, those behind the Labour purge are not only seeking to exclude handfuls of individuals, but seeking – like King Cnut – to arrest the tide of history, and prevent the Labour Party from stepping outside the tired and failed routines of Westminster politics. Adopting Corbyn’s policies, but without seeking to connect with the social phenomenon that has seen hundreds of thousands flooding into the Labour Party, is doomed to failure.

The achievement of the last year in Labour’s politics is that the party is now articulating an increasingly coherent ideological opposition to the Conservatives, based upon a fundamental critique of their economic presumptions. Of course, further elaboration of policy needs to happen, and sadly the turbulence from the Parliamentary Labour Party has delayed that necessary process. The anti-Corbyn rebels say that winning the election is indispensible, without acknowledging that such an election victory will be highly challenging whoever is leader, and that harnessing the party to the mass movement building behind Corbyn is an advantage not a disadvantage. Mass rallies may not win election, but they are certainly better than small rallies, whether or not Ice Cream is provided.

But in any event, political opposition cannot be reduced to elections. We do need to build the best, most effective and determined campaign to win the next general election, and that means uniting as far as possible all the talents of the Labour movement, and overcoming the divisions of the last few months. I think we can win and that Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister, but it will be a tough battle.

But Labour also needs to win the battle of ideas: in arguing for and campaigning for an economy that works for ordinary people and that benefits and revitalizes communities, we can change the ideological consensus. The best way to finish off the Tories is to expose the degree to which they are the party of the past, and that Labour is the party of the future.

Webb Pierce – I ain’t never

There is something about Webb Pierce which is deeply satisfying. He was a stranger to emotional nuance, and banged out simple country tunes evocative of a rural, pre-industrial south that was disappearing around him. If you put a nickel in the juke box in a Arkansas Honky Tonk in the mid 1950s, then Webb would be the architypical sound you would expect to emerge. It was a haunting Webb Pierce song, “More and More” used in the sound track of “The Hills Have Eyes”

Webb was also the man who pretty much invented the lavish lifestyle later associated with rockstars, spending $30000 on a guitar shaped swimming pool in 1955, and having two convertible cadilacs lined with silver dollars, and had the car-door handles replaced with gold plated revolvers.

This is a late recording, from the Johnny Cash show in 1971. Webb first recorded this song in 1959 by which time he had adapted to the impact of Rock and Roll. Great stuff:


 

The battle for the party’s very soul

OslandIn politics it is sometimes worth stepping back from the immediate hurly burly to take stock of the broader context. David Osland’s new pamphlet “How to select or Reselect your MP” invites us to do so, by his self-conscious decision to reboot a pamphlet that was first published in 1981.

While both the Corbyn and Smith camps are concentrating on the immediate task of maximizing their vote for the Labour leadership contest, and both camps planning their next move after the results on 24th, it is worth reflecting on how extraordinary life is in the contemporary Labour Party.

All party meetings, except those absolutely necessary for specific practical tasks with the permission of the regional director, are currently suspended. Senior Labour MPs are briefing about party members being a rabble, tens of thousands of members are being suspended or excluded on seemingly the flimsiest of pretexts, and various atrocity stories are being leaked to the press about alleged violence, spitting and abuse at party meetings, as well as reports of online insults and bullying.

What a carry on. However, this chaos in the party has been at least partially orchestrated. The scheduled parade of resignations by shadow cabinet members in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote demonstrated planning, organisation and premeditation. Rather dubious press reports of disturbances in Angela Eagle’s CLP, followed by similarly contested accounts of alleged tussles in Bristol West and Brighton provided a pretext for party organisation to be suspended, which – no doubt coincidentally – prevented AGM elections of CLP officer position in many constituencies, the first such elections since the membership was boosted by Corbyn’s supporters. For those who have studied history, this very much did resemble an attempted coup: through a campaign of destablisation, delegitimisation and disruption – a strategy of tension.

It is also worth looking at the wider political landscape, which before Corbyn was elected was already very challenging for Labour. The party has not won a general election for 11 years, between 1997 and 2010 we had lost 4 million votes. Scotland has been seemingly irrevocably lost, and elsewhere Labour is squeezed by UKIP and the Greens. Not only had the broad electoral coalition that the Labour Party had historically assembled unraveled alarmingly, but in terms of ideology and policy, the party appeared exhausted, lack lustre and shop soiled.

Whatever the personal merits of the various leadership contenders who have challenged Corbyn, whether last year’s Kendall, Cooper and Burnham, or this year’s Smith, they all offer different flavours of the same proposition: that professional politicians should run a transactional campaign that offers a hotch-potch of carefully calibrated policies each designed to appeal to various sectional interests.

The muddles this entails are perfectly illustrated by the hapless Owen Smith, who wants to be tough on immigration, but also reverse Brexit thus accepting the free movement of people. He wants to appeal to the socially tolerant metrolpolitan demographic, while simultaneously making a series of gaffes about being a “normal” bloke, who mocks “lunatics” and refers to women politicians like Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood in terms that resemble outtakes from a Robin Askwith movie. Indeed his recent quip about 29 inches makes it sound like he is more inspired by Dirk Diggler than Nye Bevan.

In 1976, the Labour Party leadership contest included candidates from the centre-right with the genuine stature of Denis Healey, Jim Callaghan, Anthony Crosland and Roy Jenkins. Today we have a Bilko look-alike doing a David Brent tribute act.

What the self-described Labour moderates seem unwilling or unable to do is to examine the underlying causes of Labour’s decline. While it would certainly be possible to write a very long thesis on the subject, in a nutshell, there are far too many people who do not see the economy or society working for them and their family, or their community.

There are far too many people on zero hour contracts, in precarious employment, or on low pay. There are far too many young people who cannot get a good start in life, with either a secure job or affordable housing. There are far too many communities that feel left behind, where traditional sources of employment are in decline, and new jobs are precarious and low paid. There are far too many employers prepared to exploit migrant workers to depress the wages in entry level jobs.

These problems cannot be overcome by simply a more refined message from Labour: by having a leader who is more adept at eating bacon sandwiches, or a leader whose team manage to more effectively reserve them a train seat.

For hundreds of thousands of working people who endure petty bullying and inconsideration on a daily basis from managers, but who stick with low paid, low status, and often unpleasant work because they have no other way of paying their rent or mortgage, and no other way of putting food on their table and shoes on their childrens’ feet, the bleating of privileged MPs about Corbyn’s alleged failngs as a manager will butter no parsnips. In any event, Corbyn’s team have now bedded in, and while this or that thing could have been done better over the last 12 months, some slack needs to be given to a team that had to be assembled from scratch a year ago.

Last year, Andy Burnham’s pitch was that he was like Ed Miliband but more professional. This year Owen Smith’s proposition is that he is like Corbyn, only more competent. Compare these facile 6th form debating stances to such landmarks from the right in the party from the past, such as the intellectually rigorous revisionist proposition from Crosland in his book “the Future of Socialism”, or the confident advocacy from the Labour right in the 1960s of a party that aggressively championed social equality, but was tolerant of the private sector in a mixed economy.

The right and centre-right of the party have offered no new policies, no vision or direction and no intellectual leadership for over a decade now. Instead they resemble a Cargo Cult who believe that the ghost of 1997 can be revived by behaving exactly as if nothing has changed in 20 years. While technique is important, Labour has tested to destruction and beyond the glacial processes of voter ID, contact rates and targeted messaging, whatever merit they have, and I am certainly not advocating abandoning the work, it is clearly not sufficient to win a general election.

The party faces an existential threat, not if Corbyn wins, but if he loses. We simply cannot go on in the old way, in a society that has deeply changed. The rising vote of UKIP, and the associated shock of the Brexit result, combined with the irresistible advance of the SNP, reveals a growing gulf between a disenchanted electorate, and a professionalized political elite, for whom there is a career path for the ambitious through university to becoming a special advisor, then being parked in a voluntary sector or think tank until a safe seat comes up. Time and again voters say that there is little difference between the parties, and the gulf widens between our MPs and our voters.

The Labour Party needs to change to survive, and the victory of Corbyn in last year’s leadership election was a judgement by not only the membership, but also the wider periphery attracted as registered or affiliated supporters not only that Corbyn does offer hope, but that the exhausted women and men of yesteryear, Burnham, Kendall and Cooper, offered no hope.

It is worth reminding ourselves when Owen Smith and his supporters use as their supposedly clinching argument the need to win, that winning is not given just because you want it more. Party’s who have been defeated need to regroup and reassess, as the Conservatives did between 1997 and 2010. What is more, successful parties use their period in opposition to wage a battle of ideas, and develop a new vision and proposition for the electorate. The party that Clem Attlee led to defeat in the 1935 general election was hardened and prepared by the time they swept to victory under the same leader in 1945, during which time they had substantially won the arguments with the electorate about their radical programme.

Turning back to the present day: many MPs, including those who despite subjectively centre-left politics, have learned their political skills and attitudes in an entirely different political paradigm, and are – perhaps understandably – disoriented by the new. But let us not overestimate the problem, the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs want the party to win a general election, and will be prepared to compromise for the sake of party unity.

There is more joy in Heaven for a sinner that repenteth. Therefore any overenthusiastic discussion of deselecting hard-working and essentially decent MPs would be highly counterproductive. The party is and should remain a broad church.

David Osland’s pamphlet does not advocate deselecting, it merely provides a summary of the relevant rules and processes for members of CLPs who may feel that it is the right thing to do. There are indeed a very small number of MPs who seem to put their own thirst for self-publicity before the interests of the party. Their CLPs may choose to have a contest in which the sitting MP would automatically be a candidate for the nomination, and thus would be given the opportunity to succeed in reaffirming their level of support with their local CLP. That’s is only fair

“How to Select or Reselect your MP” by David Osland. £4 via Spokesman Books or order through any bookshop.

Unite shop stewards urge members to back Owen Smith

In a letter to Unite members, 29 trade union officials are urging a vote for Owen Smith in the upcoming Labour leadership election.

The letter reads:

Britain needs a Labour Government to defend jobs, industry and skills and to promote strong trade unions. As convenors and shop stewards in the manufacturing, defence, aerospace and energy sectors we believe that Owen Smith is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party in opposition and in government.

Owen has made clear his support for the industries we work in. He has spelt out his vision for an industrial strategy which supports great British businesses: investing in infrastructure, research and development, skills and training. He has set out ways to back British industry with new procurement rules to protect jobs and contracts from being outsourced to the lowest bidder. He has demanded a seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations to defend trade union and workers’ rights. Defending manufacturing jobs threatened by Brexit must be at the forefront of the negotiations. He has called for the final deal to be put to the British people via a second referendum or at a general election.

But Owen has also talked about the issues which affect our families and our communities. Investing £60 billion extra over 5 years in the NHS funded through new taxes on the wealthiest. Building 300,000 new homes a year over 5 years, half of which should be social housing. Investing in Sure Start schemes by scrapping the charitable status of private schools. That’s why we are backing Owen.

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. We cannot ignore reality – we need to be radical but we also need to be credible – capable of winning the support of the British people. We need an effective Opposition and we need a Labour Government to put policies into practice that will defend our members’ and their families’ interests. That’s why we are backing Owen.

Steve Hibbert, Convenor Rolls Royce, Derby
Howard Turner, Senior Steward, Walter Frank & Sons Limited
Danny Coleman, Branch Secretary, GE Aviation, Wales
Karl Daly, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Nigel Stott, Convenor, BASSA, British Airways
John Brough, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
John Bennett, Site Convenor, Babcock Marine, Devonport, Plymouth
Kevin Langford, Mechanical Convenor, Babcock, Devonport, Plymouth
John McAllister, Convenor, Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services
Garry Andrews, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Sunderland
Steve Froggatt, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Jim McGivern, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Alan Bird, Chairman & Senior Rep, Rolls Royce, Derby
Raymond Duguid, Convenor, Babcock, Rosyth
Steve Duke, Senior Staff Rep, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
Paul Welsh, Works Convenor, Brush Electrical Machines, Loughborough
Bob Holmes, Manual Convenor, BAE Systems, Warton, Lancs
Simon Hemmings, Staff Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Mick Forbes, Works Convenor, GKN, Birmingham
Ian Bestwick, Chief Negotiator, Rolls Royce Submarines, Derby
Mark Barron, Senior Staff Rep, Pallion, Sunderland
Ian Hodgkison, Chief Negotiator, PCO, Rolls Royce
Joe O’Gorman, Convenor, BAE Systems, Maritime Services, Portsmouth
Azza Samms, Manual Workers Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Dave Thompson, Staff Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Tim Griffiths, Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Paul Blake, Convenor, Princess Yachts, Plymouth
Steve Jones, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Bristol
Colin Gosling, Senior Rep, Siemens Traffic Solutions, Poole

Coup Plotter’s Elegy for Self: to be read in the voice of Owen Smith MP

Coup Plotter’s Elegy for Self: to be read in the voice of Owen Smith MP

after Chidiock Tichborne [i]

 

I offered them free ice cream

but they would not eat.

I kept pulling the trigger,

but the gun kept jamming and he would not die.

My voice is lost, and I have repeatedly

said nothing in interviews I’ll spend

the rest of my days paying people to forget. .

 

My prime of career was but a rickety bicycle

with two punctures and no saddle.

My victory feast was but a prehistoric sponge cake

and a plastic cup of lemonade gone flat

during the Labour government before last.

My bunch of grapes, fresh from the vine,

was but a bowl of diahorhea.

 

My left wing rhetoric was but an ill-fitting codpiece.

This disco’s over and I have not scored.

My leadership prospects are but a lock-up garage full of

unsaleable t-shirts and ventriloquist’s dummies

that look like more authentic versions of me.

I’ve tried sleep but the dream’s always

I’ve mislaid my boxer shorts

and my tie’s on fire.

 

KEVIN HIGGINS

 

[i] Chidiock Tichborne joined the conspiracy known as the Babington Plot, which aimed to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I, and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. The plot was foiled, and Tichborne arrested. His poem ‘Tychbornes Elegie, written with his owne hand in the Tower before his execution’ was enclosed with a letter to his wife Agnes, despatched from the Tower of London on the eve of his execution for treason.

 

Celtic football fans and why Palestine matters

 

celticThe conventional wisdom that politics should be kept out of sport, that sport and politics do not mix, is a myth propagated by an establishment for whom political engagement on any level, apart from that which involves passively entering a voting booth to put your ‘X’ in the appropriate box, is deemed a threat to the status quo.

In truth, sports and politics are two sides of the same coin simply because politics and life are two sides of the same coin.

When it comes to football there is no more political an institution than Celtic Football Club in Glasgow. Formed in 1888 by an Irish Catholic cleric known as Brother Walfrid to raise money to feed and minister to the material needs of poverty-stricken Irish immigrants in the West of Scotland — a migrant community whose presence was regarded as anathema to a native population and workforce on the basis that they were people of an alien religion and culture, competing for the same jobs and thereby lowering the wages of all workers by dint of that eternal law of capitalist economics, supply and demand. Apart from ringing the proverbial bell when it comes to Brexit, it reminds us that we live in a country and a society in Britain that has scarred the world with an Empire that sowed misery and despair on a grand scale when in its pomp, and whose legacy remains a distorting factor across the world to this day.

The consequence for the Irish in Scotland in the late 19th century was that their assimilation into mainstream Scottish society was blocked, forcing them to create their own social structures for the purposes of survival — material and cultural. Celtic FC came into being as part of this process.

Out of this history has derived a concrete identity and set of values that generations of Celtic fans have embraced, upheld, and carried with pride. Aligned with the republican and nationalist community in the North of Ireland, with their bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers FC associated with Ireland’s loyalist and unionist community, Celtic supporters are typically among the most politically aware and conscious of any demographic in society. For them Celtic is more than a football club it is a political and social institution, one that has always stood and must continue to stand for justice in the face of injustice, racism, oppression, and apartheid wherever and whenever it arises.

Which brings us onto the furore over the intention of Celtic supporters to fly Palestinian flags during the club’s European Champions League qualifying fixture against Hapoel Beer Sheva of Israel. Celtic supporters, along with the aforementioned republicand and nationalist community in Ireland, have embraced the Palestinian struggle against occupation and apartheid as their own. It is an affinity based on a shared experience of colonial oppression and the religious, cultural, and racial bigotry upon which it rests. Laid bare and Israel is a settler colonial state that exists at the negation of the Palestinian people, a people whose existence has been reduced to a living hell on a daily basis as a consequence.

Aside from an occupation that has been extant since 1967, the year that Celtic were making history in Europe, aside from the theft of evermore Palestinian land and resources, the expansion of illegal settlements, economic embargo, hundreds of military checkpoints making free passage impossible, and the erection of an apartheid wall; aside from all that the Palestinians have ben subjected to numerous full scale military assaults over the years, utilising the most lethal and destructive weaponry in existence, in which thousands of civilians, women and children among them, have been slaughtered or seriously injured and maimed.

The idea that those who carry Palestinian flags are anything other than people motivated by a desire to express solidarity with those suffering injustice and oppression, that instead it is antisemitism and racism which drives such people, this is utterly grotesque and deserving of contempt.

It is not Israel’s Jewish character that is the issue, as those who attempt to delegitimise the Palestinian struggle and those who support it continually maintain. It is Israel’s apartheid character that is the issue, and where better to demonstrate resistance to apartheid than in a packed football stadium alongside thousands of others.

The Palestinian flag is more than a national symbol; it has taken on the mantle of a symbol of defiance in the face of colonial oppression and apartheid, both of which the Ireland to which Celtic FC is historically and culturally rooted has experienced in its long and tortured history.

Sport does not exist in a vacuum and the struggle for justice cannot and should not be parked outside a football stadium for ninety seconds much less ninety minutes. It is why the attempt to ban the Palestinian flag from Celtic Park is tantamount to an attempt to ban justice from Celtic Park.

If such a ban is implemented and succeeds the rumbling that greets it will be the sound of Brother Walfrid turning in his grave.