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.
[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.
The 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.
I wonder to what extent Corbyn’s position on Trident has had on this result, which at 60-40 counts as an emphatic endorsement of Owen Smith?
GMB General Secretary Tim Roache: “The Labour Party is at a crossroads. I’m under no illusions that we’re living through dangerous political times – the like of which I haven’t seen during my three decades in our movement. It’s time for us to face up to reality.
“GMB balloted our members because this kind of decision shouldn’t be taken from up on high. We’re a democratic organisation here to serve our members’ interests. I was determined that our members would have their say. And they’ve had it.
“I’ll proudly campaign alongside Owen in the coming weeks and months to deliver on his pledges to end the public sector pay freeze, to support defence workers, to invest in health and industry, and to build an industrial strategy – these are bread and butter issues for the people I represent.
“But we can only tackle them if we’re in government. That’s the end game and I hope whatever the final result, the Labour Party will unite when all this is over. GMB members cannot afford for Labour to be talking to itself in a bubble for the next five years while the Tories run riot through our rights at work, our public services and our communities.”
GMB, the union for cleaners and security staff, will launch an industrial ballot of members working as cleaners at Nationwide’s headquarters in Swindon. The ballot will ask GMB members contracted by Carillion whether they’re prepared to take industrial action to fight cuts to working hours.
GMB regional organiser, Carole Vallelly (pictured), delivered a letter yesterday to Nationwide CEO, Joe Garner, and Head of Corporate Citizenship, Stephen Uden, which highlighted the incompatibility of Nationwide’s status as an ethical employer and their association with Carillion PLC.
The letter includes details of Carillion’s involvement in the unlawful practice of blacklisting as well as details from a damning BBC report on contractors working for Carillion in Qatar. The letter concludes “GMB believes that Nationwide’s claims to be an ethical employer do not survive examination of your relationship with the clearly unethical contractor, Carillion.”
Given the importance that Nationwide Building Society (NBS) invests in being an ethical business, as part of its brand proposition, GMB are surprised that NBS has no concerns about the association with Carillion.
GMB provided Nationwide Building Society with the statement that was submitted in open court earlier this year by a group of corporations, known as the Macfarlanes Defendants, and which included Carillion PLC. This statement concerns the terrible practice of “blacklisting”, where Carillion PLC admitted in court to having participated in the collection and dissemination of defamatory information about individuals on a systematic basis, and that these activities had consequences for certain workers “in terms of lost work opportunities or refusals of work and they had an impact on some workers’ personal lives”
This is an issue that is not only of historical interest, as the most senior Carillion HR manager, Liz Keates, is still employed by Carillion, and GMB has evidence that she is involved in the HR policies for Carillion employees at Nationwide House. Both the courts, and the House of Commons Scottish affairs select committee, have heard evidence of Liz Keates personal involvement in blacklisting activities.
GMB also drew to Nationwide’s attention the involvement of Carillion with employment practices in the construction of the World Cup stadia in Qatar, which according to a 2014 report from the BBC includes use of the “Kafala” system which is tantamount to bonded labour, and extremely poor health and safety.
The cuts to cleaners’ hours had been planned to go ahead earlier in the year but were cancelled following a series of protests outside Nationwide headquarters in Swindon, and notification to the employer of a strike ballot.
However, the trade union has now learned that Carillion intends to reintroduce the changes after renewal of the contract with Nationwide is signed on 1st October.
The cleaners currently work early shifts, but the proposed changes will see many staff work between 5 pm and 10:30 pm each weekday evening and some staff will also be required to work full dayshifts at the weekend.
Carole Vallelly, GMB Regional Organiser, said
“The relationship between these two companies is very convenient for Nationwide. On the one hand they can claim to be an ethical employer while keeping their lowest paid, lowest status, and most vulnerable workers at arm’s length on the other by employing them through known rogues and sharks like Carillion.
“GMB believes that nationwide are hypocrites: Their head of corporate citizenship, Stephen Uden, sits on the board of the Living Wage Foundation and earlier this year the company increased the hourly rate to £8.25. For our members however, it is not the hourly rate that matters, it’s the amount of money in their pay packet.
“The proposed shift changes will not only push some GMB members into genuine financial hardship, but the new evening hours will force many workers with children to leave their jobs altogether.
“GMB is not prepared to stand by, while Nationwide preens itself in smug self-satisfaction about what a good employer it is, while allowing Carillion to grind cleaners at Nationwide’s own headquarters into the ground.
GMB believes that every worker is entitled to dignity. Nationwide seems happy to pay lip service to being ethical, but is seemingly quite prepared to throw that out the window if there are financial savings to be made at the expense of their cleaners. GMB calls for Carillion to enter immediate talks, and to make an unequivocal and written assurance that the proposed shift changes have been withdrawn. ”