Westminster vigil for Jo Cox

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IMG_0079When I travelled down to London the other day I did not expect to find myself attending a vigil at Parliament Square in Westmister in tribute to Labour MP Jo Cox, brutally murdered by a fascist over her pro-immigration stance and support for Britain’s membership of the EU.

In this regard I make no apology for calling out Lexit as a cause that reeks of Labour aristocracy and British nationalism.

If Brexit does come to pass on June 23rd – which given this horrific deed would merely compound its regressive character – and the national voting spread reveals a Remain majority in Scotland, I will immediately join the call for a second referendum on Scottish independence and will support Scotland coming out of the UK and joining the EU as an independent state.

I have been appalled at the attempt by members of the pro-Brexit left to immediately attempt to deflect from the significance of this murder, its political import, by claiming that Jo Cox’s assailant was mentally ill, suggesting that the hatred which fuelled the deed is nothing to do with the ugly nature of the Brexit campaign and the demons it has whipped up.

The vigil itself was a suitably reflective affair, with most in attendance stunned and struggling to digest the implications of the murder of an idealistic young MP who leaves behind a husband and two young children.

We are witnessing the recrudescence of fascism in Britain in 2016 and, as such, I now call on the pro-Brexit left to disband and renounce a campaign that has involved them riding the back of a racist and extreme right wing tiger in the mistaken belief they can guide it all the way to British socialism. The folly involved in such an endeavour is now beyond self evident.

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vile murder of Jo Cox MP

imagesAccording to witnesses the ‘beast’ who slaughtered Jo Cox screamed ‘Britain first!” before carrying out his foul deed. Anyone who believes that this act of brutality is unconnected to Brexit and its ugly politics is either guilty of mendacity or wallowing in ignorance.

As Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian: ‘The mood is ugly and an MP is dead’.

Oh how the words of Bertolt Brecht, warning of complacency when it came to the possibility of fascism ever re-emerging , resonate today. Brecht wrote” ‘The womb from which this monster emerged remains fertile.”

The pro-Brexit left need to know that they are dancing with the devil. I would urge them to turn back before we enter an abyss from which there is no coming back.

Brexit is the legimisation of racism, right wing extremism, and the politics of hate against ‘the other’ in response to austerity. It is everything that previous generations of socialists, communists, and progressives have resisted with their liberty and lives if need be.

As I have just written elsewhere, we have borne witness to the ideological collapse of the pro-Brexit left.

Enough is enough.

Shame on those who have attempted to attribute a progressive character to this racist campaign and cause.

Staring into the abyss

jo cox

Sometimes the rush of the commenentariat to express opinions about contemporary events can seem cynical and ill considered. But I was impressed by two articles which must have been written as almost instant reactions to the tragic murder of Jo Cox, one by Alex Massie in the Spectator and one by Poly Toynbee in the Guardian. I felt that both writers spoke for me in expressing what I was thinking myself.

The mainstream Brexit referendum campaign has been fought on the ground of immigration and hostility to foreigners. Demagogues from the right and centre right have unleashed the crudest and basest of emotions in a cynical and irresponsible pitch to get their vote out.

The depth of the cynicism was exemplified by Michael Howard on BBC Breakfast yesterday, saying that it was a “fact” that Brexit would lead to a reduction in immigration. In truth the free movement of labour is not a condition of EU membership. but of the UK’s membership of the single market. The end of immigration, even were that desirable, would only be achieved by the UK not only leaving the EU but also entering an economic purdah by leaving the single market and turning our back on European trade.

Where mainstream Brexit politicians promise to end immigration, this not only stirs the pot to encourage the disadvantaged towards dark passions, blaming their woes on foreigners and migrants; but it will also inevitably lead to those promises being unfulfilled, and those who believed that immigration would be controlled will be frustrated and feel further betrayed. This is a dangerous cocktail to mix.

As Alex Massie says:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

Of course those few voices on the left who support Brexit have not been riding the same train as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, but they have totally misjudged the political context. The defining issues in British politics has become immigration and racism. Those who report back conversations on the doorstep from Labour voters who intend to vote Leave are not saying that these party supporters are against the EU due to high falutin’ arguments about parliamentary sovereignty or fishery policy. The issue leading most of them to reject the party’s advice over the EU is frankly all about race and hostility to migrants. Relatively marginal left intellectuals, small socialist groups and a handful of small, specialist unions are unable to make any substantive difference to the direction of travel of the Brexit juggernaut. They are like a fly riding on the back of an Ox, no one sees anything but the Ox.

Those who delude themselves that Brexit will lead to a split in the Conservative Party and a political realignment that will benefit the left and lead to a fight against austerity need to look at the reality. A racist, demagogic, populist Brexit campaign has opened the door not for the left, but the grimmest and ugliest resurgence of nationalist politics, where reason is buried in a red mist of anger. Do they believe that Brexit will lead to political chaos? It already has, with a rise in racist hate crime, and a lovely, kind, compassionate social democrat MP lying dead in her own blood at the feet of a fascist murderer bellowing “Britain First”.

The raw emotion with which the Leave campaign is seeking to discredit any balanced evaluation of the economic and social risks of Brexit is utilising rage and sense of betrayal against the very idea of reason and rationality in politics.

If you thought that a “Lexit” campaign could gain any traction, you were wrong, and you have not being paying attention to events in the real world. We are staring into the abyss, and now is the time for all of the left and the centre left to unite with the mainstream of the trade union movement to get out the vote for Remain.

The Immigration Dividend

by Noah Tucker

Speaking in 2013, the Labour Party’s (then) Shadow Home Secretary coined an apt phrase for one of the worst features of British politics when she declared:

“…we won’t enter an arms race of rhetoric on immigration – and we hope the Prime Minister won’t either.”

But in other parts of that speech, Yvette Cooper took the initiative in that competitive spiral of anti-immigrant (not merely anti-immigration) policies and rhetoric, including the pronouncement that British child benefit and tax credits should not be paid to EU migrants for their children who are living abroad [1].

And in November of the following year, Ms Cooper and Rachel Reeves, who was at that time the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, stepped up the ‘arms race’ with the declaration that the Labour Party would impose a two year ban on unemployed workers from other EU countries claiming JSA and other out-of-work benefits. Upping the ante for the Tories, David Cameron announced that EU citizens moving to the UK would be blocked from access (initially for up to four years) to in-work benefits including Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits. Dubbed the ‘emergency brake’, agreement to this proposal was later flagged up by Cameron as the biggest achievement of his negotiations with other European leaders prior to Britain’s referendum on EU membership. Click to continue reading

EXIT by Kevin Higgins

Exit
for Darrell Kavanagh in his hour of need

There’ll be no more thunderstorms
sent across the Channel by the French,
no acid rain floating in from Belgium.
Pizza Hut will offer a choice of
Yorkshire Pudding or Yorkshire Pudding.

You’ll spend the next twenty seven bank holidays
dismantling everything you ever bought from IKEA.
The electric shower your plumber,
Pavel, put in last week will be taken out
and you’ll be given the number of a bloke
who’s pure Billericay. Those used to caviar
will have jellied eels forced
down their magnificent throats.
Every fish and chip shop
on the Costa del Sol will in time
be relocated to Ramsgate or Carlisle.

All paving stones laid by the Irish
will be torn up to make work
for blokes who’ve been on the sick
since nineteen seventy six.
Those alleged to be involved in secretly
making spaghetti bolognaise
will be arrested and held
in a detention centre near Dover. Sausage dogs
will be put in rubber dinghies
and pointed in the general direction
of the Fatherland. Neatly sliced
French sticks topped with Pâté
will make way for fried bread
lathered with Marmite.

There’ll be no more of those new
names for coffee your gran
can’t pronounce. The entire royal family
will be shipped back to Bavaria, with the exception
of the Duke of Edinburgh who’ll be given
a one way ticket to Athens. Curry
will no longer by compulsory
after every twelfth pint of Stella,
which itself will only be available
by special permission of the Foreign Office.

We’ll give India back its tea, sit around increasingly
bellicose campfires in our rusting iron helmets,
our tankards overflowing with traditional Norse mead.

KEVIN HIGGINS

Kevin Higgins is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events in Galway, Ireland. He has published five collections of poems: The Boy With No Face (2005), Time Gentlemen, Please (2008), Frightening New Furniture (2010), The Ghost In The Lobby (2014), & 2016 – The Selected Satires of Kevin Higgins. His poems feature in Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010) and in The Hundred Years’ War: modern war poems (Bloodaxe, 2014).  He has regularly contributed poems on topical issues to publications such as The Morning Star and Harry’s Place. Kevin is satirist-in-residence with the alternative literature website The Bogman’s Cannon. The Stinging Fly magazine recently described Kevin as “likely the most widely read living poet in Ireland”.

Muhammad Ali’s remarkable tribute to the Attica Prison uprising

One of the most remarkable moments in the epic sweep of Ali’s life is this little known tribute to the men killed in the Attica Prison uprising of 1971. Ali recited a poem he had written in tribute to the event during an extended TV interview in Ireland in 1972 in the lead up to his fight against Al ‘Blue’ Lewis at Dublin’s Croke Park, which he won by TKO in the 11th round.

In the wake of his passing, a concerted attempt is being made to diminish Ali’s legacy as a political rebel who roard defiance against the racial oppression suffered by his people in America. Instead, he is being painted as a great but benign humanitarian, a man who preached a message of unity and love and
humility.

No greater distortion of the man’s life and legacy could there be than this. Watch and feast on the political consciousness of one of the most important figures of the 20th century.

Muhammad Ali – the man who shook up the world

 

Muhammad_Ali_NYWTS If anything the passing of Muhammad Ali bestows even more greatness on the man, knowing that despite all he achieved, everything he went through both in and out the ring, he was mortal just like the rest of us. The mere mention of his name and the words just trip off the tongue – ‘beauty’, ‘poetry’, ‘elegance’, ‘vision’, ‘defiance’, ‘anger’, ‘justice’, ‘rebellion’, ‘determination’, ‘compassion’, ‘grace’, ‘strength’. Ali owned all of those attributes and then some.

Who could have predicted when a young, gangly, loose-limbed boxer from Louisville, Kentucky by the name of Cassius Clay took the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics – dismissed by the major sportswriters of the day as lacking the ability and power to go on and make any impact as a professional – that he would smash his way into global consciousness like a hurricane unleashed when, just four years later, not only did he win the world heavyweight title at just 22 with a performance against the fearsome Sonny Liston that induces wonder to this day, but did it while refusing to know his place as a black athlete in Jim Crow America?

“Uppity negro” is one of the kinder insults thrown his way in a society in which the lived experience of black people was racial oppression, segregation, and injustice.

Prior to that first Liston fight in Miami only those closest to him were aware of the anger, defiance and political and religious consciousness that was bubbling away under the surface of the playful braggadocio and exuberance that so endeared him to the sports pages before he turned.

It was just after that astonishing victory over Liston in which he “shook up the world” that the newly crowned heavyweight champion of the world revealed that he was a member of the Nation of Islam, renamed the Black Muslims by reporters and TV broadcasters looking to court controversy. It was followed by a change of name – first from Cassius Clay to Cassius X, then Muhammad Ali. Overnight this tiny, marginal, fundamentalist religious sect was dragged from the obscurity in which it had existed for years under its diminutive leader, Elijah Muhammad, onto the front pages of the nation’s major and not so major newspapers; the subject of TV studio debates, documentaries and establishment hysteria. Ali, meanwhile, suddenly found himself turned into hate figure, widely and roundly excoriated as befitting a young black athlete who refused to demonstrate the requisite gratitude for having been allowed to rise from his station and be used as living proof that America works.

Where the Nation of Islam connected with Ali was in the assertion that not only were blacks equal to whites they were better, producing within him a consciousness responsible for the heavyweight title taking on a political and social significance it had never known previously.

Ali paid a terrible price for his apostasy, subjected to withering columns by sportswriters, commentators, politicians, and even black leaders of the day. People lined up to attack both him and his beliefs, and ticket sales for his fights plummeted. And this was before his stance on the war in Vietnam, when after being reclassified he told a reporter that “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

It was a quote that unleashed the forces of hell, earning the heavyweight champion a level of public opprobrium that placed his life in danger.

Most men would have buckled under this kind of public animus but Ali only grew in stature, finding new purpose as a torchbearer of resistance to the war and the contradictions it exposed regarding the suppurating sore of racist injustice in America.

For refusing the draft he was stripped of his title and faced prison. Exile from the ring followed and he spent the next three years struggling to make ends meet. But Ali’s shadow continued to loom large over the heavyweight championship, a title cheapened in his absence.

At the beginning of his exile he was hated, but with the civil rights movement building to become the social phenomenon it did, and with the anti-Vietnam War movement doing likewise, three years later Ali was a folk hero, lauded where before he’d been vilified, respected for sticking to his principles no matter the personal cost.

His return to the ring in 1970 against Jerry Quarry in Atlanta was a seminal moment in US sporting and cultural history. Celebrities packed the ringside seats as Ali received the adulation of the thousands in attendance and the millions watching the fight on TV or listening to it on radio across the world.

The legend from that moment on is by now well known. A trilogy of epic fights against his ring nemesis Joe Frazier, the unbelievable victory over George Foreman, fighting most of his first fight against Ken Norton with a broken jaw, and of course the sad decline and slide into Parkinson’s.

Now he’s gone.

Muhammad Ali was more than a boxer and he was more than an icon. He was a man with the moral courage to speak truth to power no matter the consequences and no matter the cost to himself. This alone marks him out as a legend.

“Unhappy is the land that is in need of a hero,” Brecht reminds us. Muhammad Ali lived in just such an unhappy land and he was every inch a hero.

“I shook up the world! I shook up the world!” he once memorably announced.

Yes Muhammad, you certainly did.

 

Muhammad Ali

Born 17 January 1942

Died 3 June 2016 (aged 74)