Jeremy Corbyn addresses people protesting Conservative cuts

Corbyn, the Tories and their friends

Jeremy Corbyn has been attacked as antisemitic in the past few weeks. I think these claims have been sufficiently exposed as nonsense, for example through a letter to the Guardian from influential Jewish figures in the UK:

Corbyn has an outstanding record of opposing racism, including antisemitism in all its forms. He was particularly prominent in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. He has consistently supported oppressed peoples such as the Kurds and the Palestinians.

The allegation that Corbyn supports or associates with Holocaust deniers is malicious and unfounded. It is based on an article in the Daily Mail, which was dependent on the word of a self-confessed Holocaust denier, Paul Eisen.

The letter is signed by 34 people.

In other words, the story against Corbyn was a smear without real foundation. The hypocrisy of those who atacked Corbyn in this way is compounded by the evidence against his opponents, after all the right is most associated with racial hatred. To rectify this misdirection, here’s a brief run down of Tory dalliances with the far right.

Jacob Rees-Mogg gave an after-dinner talk to the Traditional Britain Group in May 2013. The group supports the Tories’ 1970 manifesto which included the promotion of non-white people to their “natural homelands”. Rees-Mogg claimed not to have realised the nature of the group.

Senior Conservatives Owen Paterson and Liam Fox addressed a rightwing Tory fringe group in Nov/Dec 2014 whose material discusses mass deportations to Africa and links immigration with rape. Backbencher Christopher Chope is also understood to have spoken at one of the circle’s gatherings.

In 2009 the Tories were accused by David Miliband of putting Britain’s relations with the world’s leading powers at serious risk by allying the Conservative party to far-right European politicians with neo-Nazi and antisemitic links. They even came under pressure from the Obama administration to sever links:

William Hague, the Shadow Home Secretary, is to meet the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in Washington on Wednesday amid outrage from the American Jewish community about the alleged antisemitic and neo-Nazi views of the Tory’s European allies.

There is also concern in the US that David Cameron’s Euroscepticism could damage the influence a Conservative government would have over events in the EU.

Most people have probably forgotten that, before the invention of Ukip, the Tories were the ones forming extremist pacts in Brussels. (Although, guess what, they still are).

And my favourite story for comedic value – but a valuable reminder of the true character of Iain Duncan Smith:

Edgar Griffin hit the headlines when it was revealed that, even though he was a vice president of Iain Duncan Smith’s Tory leadership campaign, he had links with the far right British National Party.

His son is Nick Griffin, leader of the right-wing party, and his wife Jean had stood for election against Mr Duncan Smith for the BNP.

The Tory leader sacked Mr Griffin from his campaign, saying he abhorred what the BNP stood for, and would not allow its members to “infiltrate” the Tory party.

Mr Griffin countered that he had been a party member since 1948, and that most grassroots members agreed with his views – for instance that immigrants who wanted to be repatriated should be helped.

Corbyn is clearly not racist. Is the Conservative Party?


The Trump/Farage Paradox

I wrote the following blog post some weeks ago but decided not to publish, but it seems to me that this possibility is growing. I think it’s very dangerous to be complacent about Trump. If he ran as an independent he could hoover up votes from both right and left. He’s appealing to xenophobia and stupidity, matters that are beyond left and right. In the UK it was generally thought that Ukip would only appeal to the right, but if anything it appealed more to the working class/blue collar voters who were persuaded that the left doesn’t listen to their concerns on immigration. Trump may well do something similar to undermine the left wing vote in the US. Same campaign managers work here, there and Australia. It’s likely not a coincidence.

Hillary Clinton has responded to the recent hoo-ha from the Republican campaign centring on the person of Donald Trump, the brazen [bold and without shame] and brazen [literary archaicmade of brass] frontrunner, as he brazens [verb, endure an embarrassing or difficult situation by behaving with apparent confidence and lack of shame] out a hole of his own excavation.

OK, enough of the brazens, even if the Donald has been known as ‘King of the Oompa-Loompas’ for his brassy hue. I think Clinton responded well but that doesn’t interest me so much for now. Reading through the stories of her response online (another one here) I noticed that quite a few of the comments, mainly from liberals, were getting perhaps a little too easily dismissive of Trump and I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it did get me wondering….

Could Trump be some kind of Republican campaign device to push the debate to the right as happened with Farage in the UK? You would have to pick someone so clownishly off the dial that it automatically filters people by IQ, ie, the dimmest are self-selectingly hived off to Trump/Farage and their votes no longer count seeing as they don’t contribute to one of the main parties. By removing the votes of people based on their low-intelligence responses to “political correctness” – that is, their inclination to be frustrated at not being able to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc, in public – you manage to destroy the votes of people who would usually vote either left or right. The important thing is that they are not the brightest stars in the firmament intellectually speaking and their voting habits are perhaps unpredictable. In the eyes of the campaign managers and election gurus, better they don’t vote.

Donald Trump
Someone’s going toupee for this (Image: Miles Gehm)

Complacency, getting lazy because you perceive you have an advantage, is a dangerous trap to fall into in the tactical arena of politics. In the last paragraph I very amusingly referenced the study that found prejudice to be associated with low intelligence and that conservative thinking was a ‘gateway’ to such attitudes. But conversely, I think liberals run the risk of thinking themselves too clever. That’s what I saw in the comments online on Trump: “This guy is just a distraction”, “He’ll bleed off votes from the crazier wingnuts of the Republicans and split their vote”, “Let him run as an independent and Clinton’s victory is assured!” This is exactly what many people thought about Farage in the UK, but ultimately we know that he took votes from across the political spectrum, mainly based on the responses to the ‘anti-political correctness’ catch-all, and many of those votes came from the left. And I suppose that’s because prejudice isn’t based on politics, it’s based more on intelligence.

The Labour Party Dichotomy

We are told that the Labour leadership race has been focussed on petty issues. How do we know? Polls have told us so. Yes, I get those warning signs going off too. But there are two things that need to be said about this.

Firstly, the things the public believe according to this survey are all Tory misdirections. Labour are, at least, no better or worse historically with the economy, but the Tories successfully meshed Labour with the global crash in the public mind. The Tory coalition gave us the slowest recovery in recorded history, a long period of stagnation with inequality spiralling out of control. So do you really think the public are thinking very deeply about this?

And the Tory record on immigration is nothing to be proud of, Cameron not only failed to meet his “no ifs, no buts” target, he actually increased net immigration.  So do we believe the public has thought about this to any degree or have they just parroted what Murdoch and Dacre and the TV tell everyone?

Jeremy Corbyn addresses people protesting Conservative cuts
Jeremy Corbyn (centre of photo, vested, bearded and with pen in shirt pocket) addresses people protesting Conservative cuts (Image: Jasn)

Secondly, the big difference between supporters of Corbyn and New Labour supporters is that the latter want to chase voters wherever they wander. Even if they wander into wrongheaded economics or right wing hate roiled up by an hysterical media, New Labour wants to follow them and say, “Yes, you’re right, you’re always right about everything.” Corbyn supporters want to persuade and educate.

I referred previously to the Overton window. Public opinion is not a fixed, unswayable mass that needs assuaging. It can be formed and altered. The owners of the media know this more than anyone. Blair understood this by getting them on side. Jeremy Corbyn is going to be no sweetheart of the Sun or Daily Mail, so we all know this is going to be a challenge. That’s why Labour should sieze on this opportunity. A large section of the public are saying we understand this, we want to break this deadlock, this foundering neoliberal consensus. If the Labour Party cannot realise the time to ride that wave then it is redundant. Thank goodness that with Corbyn we seem to be witnessing a rebirth.

The Big Game II

I wrote about the hunting of that giraffe the other day and pretty much said all big game hunting is wrong, mmmkay. (I basically used it as analogy of politics, the big fish eat the little fish, not my problem give me some, etc). But is it that clear cut?

What if the big game hunters pay a lot of money to hunt and their hunting is carefully controlled to suit conservation. Their money also goes into conservation and into the wider economy of a developing country. Now where’s my anti-colonialist ire? Is it always wrong, or is it OK if carefully controlled? If anyone ever reads this, why not tell me what you think…. You can talk to me.

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister (1997-2007)

The Blair Legacy

I’m still trying to get my head around the weirdness that Tony Blair, or at least his acolytes, favour a Labour leadership candidate who thinks his government was economically unsound. In Polly Toynbee’s recent article she referred to Corbynites and how:

Tony Blair’s second and more ferocious intervention is unlikely to persuade them. Indeed, his “modernising” wing, so aggressive from day one in their support for the unlikely Liz Kendall, helped stoke the Corbyn phenomenon and divide the party.

Now there’s a tricky one, Blairites supporting a candidate who has bought into the Labour profligacy myth. Anything to needle Gordon, eh? But what about that ferocious second intervention from Blair?

Blair’s advice makes sense, but only if you airbrush Blair from history. All political parties should move with the times and Blair’s modernisation, although controversial, worked; it swept him into power on a wave of enthusiasm. And he did some good things with that power, nobody really disputes that. But he did some bloody stupid awful things that Labour is finding it impossible to throw off.

If we have ABC then those things are still with us, there’s still the connection to Iraq, still the taking on board of economic orthodoxy, still the real left wingers grumbling away at the party turning away from them. With Corbyn that could finally be left behind. But it could render Labour unelectable. In which case, Labour can’t really win. And if we attribute blame it should really be Blair that carries it. Labour was doomed when his modernisation was marred by his very poor decisions internationally.

Let’s not forget, however, that had the Iraq invasion been followed by a period of peace in that country, his reputation would be entirely different to as it is now.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson

Boris: A safe pair of hands?

Boris Johnson was back in the news today for giving a hint as to when David Cameron might be stepping down. Apart from that contribution, no doubt as welcome to Cameron as any of Johnson’s other needling comments, not much else of interest was forthcoming from his interview with Der Spiegel. He may or may not support leaving the EU. Doesn’t want to put anyone off.

Johnson’s trajectory has been unexpectedly re-calibrated since he returned to Parliament where other Tory MPs, particularly the new intake have briefed against him. I suspect that his star began to lose its twinkle when he was bested by Ed Miliband on Andrew Marr’s sofa just before the election. Under calm questioning and teasing from the new, ‘cool’ Miliband, Boris – who was sat with his legs thrust so far apart one had to assume he’d just been brought back from the vet – crumbled in on himself and was only able to respond with a world record attempt for longest stammer.

But the article today raises another interesting issue. Johnson is talked about as, perhaps not a serious, but a genuine possibility for the position of prime minister. His ambitions are clearly pointed that way and his protestations otherwise have grown less over the years. And yet we are asked to consider Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister as some kind of personification of doom.

The reason is that Johnson, for all of his philandering, lying, thuggish behaviour and casual racism (and these links are just choice examples of each), doesn’t challenge the economic orthodoxy. Corbyn on the other hand has fresh new ideas that could transform the way things work and are aimed at helping the whole of society, not just the richest few. But it is, of course, the honest, straight-speaking man with the egalitarian ideas who is demonised and not the stuttering, incoherent, bumbling clown.

Unfortunately elections are almost always won by appealing to voters’ wallets. Can Corbyn convince people that he won’t hit theirs?

[Image: Wooly Matt]

La condition humaine, 1933: Rene Magritte

Labour’s civil war I: A window into men’s souls

And women’s souls, obviously, but Elizabeth I didn’t specify that.

The window, in any case, was invented long after the intrigue of that royal court. The Overton window is used mainly by people on the right of politics in their political strategy to define what is politically acceptable to the public. Wikipedia describes it like this:

The Overton window is an approach to identifying which ideas define the domain of acceptability within a democratic republic’s possible governmental policies. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to persuade or educate the public in order to move and/or expand the window. Proponents of current policies, or similar ones, within the window seek to convince people that policies outside it should be deemed unacceptable.

Overton’s window presents two possibilities for a political party, to either follow current norms or try to change them. This gets to the heart of Labour’s leadership race strife – where is the centre ground? Those on the centre or right of the Labour Party (who I’ll call New Labour) are either happy with where the centre ground stands or they believe that shifting public opinion is an insurmountable task. With his second and even more strident foray into the leadership debate, Tony Blair makes it clear that he falls firmly into the first of those two camps whereas Cooper and Burnham, we are nudged and winked to believe, may fall into the latter and want to get into power before trying to take the centre ground back.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses people protesting Conservative cuts
Jeremy Corbyn (centre of photo with pen in shirt pocket) addresses people protesting Conservative cuts (Image: Jasn)

But even some Conservative commentators, including the deputy editor of the Telegraph, are expressing concern that a win for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race will move the window further to the left. That fear is Corbyn supporters’ hope. They are responding to a vision for an alternative to what we currently have. They like Corbyn’s apparent authenticity, his desire to stick to just the issues rather than personality and tittle-tattle, and they are particularly enthused by his opposition to the neoliberal economics of austerity. Owen Jones writing in the New Statesman speaks for many when he says that the current centre ground of politics (which New Labour MPs like Liz Kendall and Simon Danczuk are perfectly happy with) has been set by Labour’s political opponents, discourse has moved too far to the right over the last few decades and someone like Corbyn is needed in opposition to shift Overton’s window back towards the true centre.

So does Labour try to alter public opinion or just give up? The myth of Labour’s profligacy in power has been stubbornly difficult to remove. But then again, with the media with the broadest reach continually briefing against Labour in this way and giving very little opportunity for a platform to set things right, there hasn’t been the opportunity or, perhaps, sufficient effort put into setting the record straight.

Tony Blair is clear that he thinks it best to agree with the public rather than convince them of change and that seems to be the sticking point with Corbyn’s supporters. They’ve had enough of playing along with the Tories’ austerity game. Now they want to fight back.

[Top image: ehpien]

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister (1997-2007)

Labour’s civil war II: Does Tony Blair think Labour overspent?

With his second foray into the seemingly interminable Labour leadership debacle, Tony Blair is at once more softly-softly and more strident. Yes, you may hate me, but you have to believe me, he wheedles. Labour will be annihilated if it elects Jeremy Corbyn, he prophesies, gloomily. Blair hasn’t been this sure about anything since the Iraq invasion (sorry, cheap shot, but irresistible). Eschewing the esoteric, quasi-meaningless language of his first intervention, it now sounds like Blair is appealing to the hearts and minds of those he formerly advised to “get a [heart] transplant”.

However, the line that stood out for me as full of import was almost throwaway:

… and they realise that a party without a serious deficit-reduction plan is not in these times a serious contender to govern them.

The “they” he is referring to is the “majority of the British people” he mentions in the previous paragraph. I think Blair is really appealing to Labour supporters who do not follow politics too closely on the whole, but this line is immensely important for anyone who does follow politics and who has defended Labour and its economic record over the last few years. Blair is saying that the British public has bought wholesale into the ‘bullshit’ deficit fetishism to such a degree that politics ever after must be fought along those lines. There is no point trying to oppose the austerity of neoliberal economics, the British public aren’t for moving.

I have discussed the debate about whether to pander to or try to change public opinion elsewhere. What interests me is the fact that Blair is saying this. And not just him. Alan Johnson has been highly critical of Corbyn recently, begging leadership voters to end the madness. But the day after the election he wrote an article for the Guardian on why Labour lost, saying:

… the biggest damage was done on the economy. We seemed to have no effective riposte to Cameron’s successful distortion of our economic record in government. Thus a succession of Tory ministers were allowed to describe the global banking crisis as “Labour’s recession” and to refer (as Jeremy Hunt did) to the economy contracting. There was no rebuttal from Labour pointing out the decent levels of growth being recorded before George Osborne choked off the recovery through his vainglorious emergency budget in June 2010. Nick Clegg’s ludicrous comparison between the bankrupt Greek economy and our own also seemed to pass without question….

The public became convinced that Labour had indeed driven the car into the ditch and declined to return the keys. While Miliband was valiantly attempting to own the future, he lost the core argument about the past.

The contradiction here is that Corbyn is the one candidate who argues most effectively that Labour did not borrow too much. Liz Kendall has even agreed with the Tory myth that Labour spent too much (as did Chuka Umunna before he dropped out). Andy Burnham has said the deficit was to large under the last Labour government, although he may have recanted later. Cooper, to her credit, has made it clear that she does not think Labour was profligate.

Many Labour supporters are drawn to Corbyn exactly because he breaks with the current economics orthodoxy. But now that even Blair seems to be buying into the nonsensical deficit fetishism that most economists of repute dismiss as of, at best, limited importance, the most interesting question is: does Tony Blair think his own government was profligate?

[Image: Chatham House]

The Daily Mail

Cooper speaks freely but Cameron is hemmed in by marauders

Yvette Cooper calls for UN intervention over escalating Calais migrant crisis

Speaking to the Guardian, she proposed an agreement that would allow the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) to start registering asylum applicants among those camping in Calais.

At the same time, the UK government should also accept more UN-certified refugees who may be fleeing conflicts such as that in Syria, she said.

Some sections of the media spend so much time lighting a fuse under the British public on subjects like immigration that when a crisis does present itself all the obvious avenues to solutions are closed off. It would be humane and rational to do as Cooper proposes, or similar, and start tackling the issue directly by establishing at least a preliminary vetting process to speak to the migrants to see what their stories are and whether they can be let in, in addition to talks with France and senior people in the EU.

However, David Cameron has rendered the talks avenue unnecessarily thorny through his machinations over the EU referendum – other European leaders are not entirely well-disposed to assist him when the UK is already under-performing in terms of taking in refugees. Meanwhile the press barons who prop up his regime have turned the public into nervous wrecks on the subject of migrants. It’s all very well relying on propaganda to attain power but then how do you convince people that actually it’s not all as bad as was made out so you can implement simple solutions?

Daily Mail spoof
You already know the answer, stop reading it! (Image: Acid Rabbi)

Once again it’s the media who rules the roost, with both immigration and the European Union (which the right have successfully established as synonymous in many people’s minds) firmly in the British voters’ doghouse, right where the press barons want them.

The bigger question now is: what does Cameron want from the EU referendum? Recently he has referred to “swarms” of migrants, language that was criticised as dehumanising. And his notoriously eurosceptic foreign minister has spoken of “marauding” migrants bent on the destruction of European culture. A prime minister who wanted to convince the public to stay in  the EU might have made much more of an effort to cool the migrant story down.

So is Cameron now giving serious consideration to leaving the European Union?

Is there reason to the ‘Silly Season’?

The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has weighed in to the debate over migration with some of the government’s strongest language yet, claiming millions of marauding African migrants pose a threat to the EU standard of living and social structure.

So begins an article from the Guardian website regarding this strange new outburst from the foreign secretary. This quote from Hammond caught my attention:

“The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe.”

Always? What about if we work to reduce the massive disparity of income and standard of life in the world or is that deemed to be so fantastical that it needn’t be considered? This is a strangely defeatist and pessimistic view of the world couched in flamboyantly hostile language.

And there, I believe, is the key: language. The government doesn’t really have many options when it comes to the Calais “crisis”, largely because it’s happening in Calais, but as Parliament is in summer recess and ‘silly season’ is upon us, this is the stick with which a usually very supportive press is choosing to beat Cameron and his ministers.

Papers like the Sun, Mail and Telegraph are usually only too happy to bolster Cameron’s government; to loudly defend its position; ignore, bury or spin any news that may damage it; and to mercilessly attack any opposition to it. But here we have the same papers attacking the government for once and in very strong language on an issue that is already well-known for exciting the public’s emotions. I can see a few possible reasons for this:

  1. General silliness of the season. This includes impishly interrupting the prime minister’s and other MPs’ holiday plans. The tabloids are well-known for a (sometimes likeable) mischievousness and there is a little of that at play perhaps.
  2. The press is used to whipping up hostility against immigrants and that is just part of their modus operandi.
  3. The press genuinely think the government needs to take a battering over this.
  4. The press is keeping the issue in the public consciousness despite knowing there’s little Cameron can do and that Parliament isn’t sitting so there’s particularly little they can do about it right now.

So how has the government responded. By raising their rhetoric on migrants to levels approaching bad taste too, as the article above shows. But that’s all it is, language, there is very little action. Reading Hammond’s comments the first response even the most fervidly anti-immigration person should be, “OK, so you don’t like it either – what are you going to do?” (Note that I say “should”).

Daily 'hate' Mail parody
Panda’ing to the lowest common denominator (Image: Byzantine_K)

So we have a situation where parts of the press have taken advantage of a fairly mild “crisis” (see Owen Jones’ recent exposé of this as well as various Independent articles showing that this is far from being a crisis) during parliamentary downtime by increasing the zealotry of their anti-immigration rhetoric. In response the government also changes its language up a gear. The air is now thick with aggressive invective that does nothing to solve the issue, overexcites people who are already indisposed to immigration and causes more concern for moderate people into the bargain.

So who gains from this unpleasant impasse? Well, the government and the press both gain from increasing the generally negative, right-wing atmosphere. A large part of the motivation of the Tory/Ukip troll industry – or government communication strategy, if you will – on news websites is to be provocatively far fight, to speak the unspeakable in order to try to normalise it for others. The aim for them and elements of the media is to move the public to the right, even if only by a little, by presenting an extreme opinion as a seemingly widespread belief.

However, the heightened language on migration is also uniquely beneficial to the media who are employing such language. They are, of course, vociferously anti-European and a big battle is coming up in that arena in the form of the EU In/Out referendum. The press is not used to losing battles but on this occasion their opponents are equally formidable: the might of the City and the financial services industry as well as many captains of industry who generally have the government’s ear as well as the economic clout to strike fear into voters’ pockets. So in fact, behind all this fairly unedifying bluster, there appear to be the first tactical gambits of the EU battle royale. The press is ratcheting up language to intensify antipathy to migrants and their plight knowing that it’s the best bet for pushing the population to vote Out. Silly season not so silly after all.