Monday, March 26, 2018

The writing on the wall

Here we go again. Another incident, this time about a mural. The Jewish Chronicle wrote about it back in November of 2015, but it's been ignored until now. I'm not surprised at all. This was always going to come back to bite Corbyn and is why I opposed his leadership from the moment his candidacy was announced. I never liked the pool he swam in. Srebenica denial, Press TV, unsavoury Islamists, and much more made him a representative of a tendency Orwell described in Notes on Nationalism:
... a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. ... All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty.
It's an old phenomenon, obviously given that Orwell was writing about it. I have also come across it in the 19th century and have touched on it in my book and subsequent published essays. It's most apparent today in an anti-Zionist movement, whose virulent hatred for Israel drove me out of pro-Palestinian activity. There was no room for anyone who argued that both national movements had equal legitimacy and that mutual recognition had to be the basis for peace. Crucially, anti-Zionism had become an excuse for the expression of older hatreds. Covert anti-Semitism was becoming more overt and violent in its language.

This too has long been part of the left. It's a permanent flaw. But it's also anti-socialist in its essence. It explains exploitation not in terms of class or an impersonal system, but as the result of the plotting of a malevolent race. It takes many forms, the bankers' conspiracy is pretty common at the moment - the Rothschild conspiracy theory is everywhere. Again, I've seen plenty of 19th century examples too. There is also a very long history of what David Nirenberg called "Anti-Judaism." This is where Judaism is seen as a cypher for something wicked. At the moment, Zionism (often used interchangeably with Judaism) is portrayed as imperialism or apartheid, echoing post-war anti-colonial struggles. It's a facile comparison and stands in the way of a clear understanding of the conflict. It's also a perfect example of what Nirenberg was writing about. And, given that it tends to express itself using classic anti-Semitic tropes, it merges with the conspiratorial world view of the committed Jew hater. Anti-Semitism is always with us, morphing into different forms, and needs confronting consistently and vigorously.

Corbyn swallowed much of this throughout his political career. His apologetics for anti-Western oppressive regimes and movements displayed a lack of judgement that should have disqualified him from the leadership. (Little did I know how significant his Euroscepticism would be as well). But what about the response to the latest row?

The true believers are doubling down and digging deeper. Sycophants have produced a range of excuses that are simply creepy. Some of the people who were aware of his failings but were tempted by the prospect of the left in power are recovering their principles. But the overwhelming response is a sense of bewilderment. How is this anti-Semitic? I'm not sure that Corbyn understands it either. There are many who say that they have never seen or heard any anti-Semitism in the party over decades. I actually believe them. It's not because it didn't' exist, its because it's unrecognised. The new anti-Semitism has changed its clothes.

Anti-Semitism has been treated as a heritage issue by some of the left. The warmest glow of self-satisfaction comes from sanctifying the memory of Cable Street, the greatest condemnation is of the Holocaust, and the favourite slogan is "never again." Anti-Semitism wears a Nazi uniform. The trouble is, it doesn't any more. It parades in different colours and it's easy to miss it, especially when blinded by partisanship. If you want an analogy, look back to the 1960s and 70s. Think of the misogyny and racial stereotyping on TV, remember (unfortunately I can) how you laughed at cringe making jokes. Now think of why they are no longer acceptable. It isn't because of "political correctness gone mad," it's because of hard work to raise consciousness and counter discrimination. We were taught what prejudice meant by the best teachers possible, its victims.

We didn't think as much about anti-Semitism, after all the Nazis had gone and we had defeated them. But it was still there. It lurked around in the extremes. It was there on the right, and as this superb essay by Eric K. Ward makes clear, is the genocidal belief that animates white supremacism. On the left it masqueraded as anti-Zionism. And it is encroaching from the wings to centre stage. The task today is the same one faced decades ago by feminists, anti-racists, gay rights activists and the like. People need to be taught how to see it. They need to be able to disentangle it from legitimate political campaigns. It will be hard work. It's now deep-rooted. The only way is to listen to the Jewish voices who are telling us, enough is enough.

Corbyn is a genuine opponent of heritage anti-Semitism, but he has failed to recognise its latest manifestation. He's tolerated and shared platforms with anti-Semites, while his initial response to the latest affair was indignant and unconvincing. However, this maybe a moment of hope. It could be the crisis point from which people can learn and push prejudice back into the margins. Maybe it's a moment of realisation and education. Perhaps in the future we will be able to look back in shame and astonishment at sentiments we once shared. If not, if the party makes token statements and hopes it goes away, the soul of the left may be lost, but please remember it's Jews who will pay the highest price.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sacking Smith

Owen Smith was right to speak out. He was shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. It was his responsibility to be a voice for the people of Northern Ireland and for the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement. Much of the substance of what he said was true.

Corbyn was well within his rights to sack him. Smith would have known that a breach of collective shadow cabinet responsibility would make his position vulnerable. He took that risk and probably assumed that it would happen.

My question is something different. When did official Labour Party policy change to being that of the hard right of the Tories? When did it become something overwhelmingly opposed by the Labour Party's members and voters? Who changed it, how was it done, and why?

And a supplementary: What is the point of an opposition that does not oppose on the most important issue since the war, an opposition that does not speak to the interests of those it represents, one that proposes little in the way of alternatives to protect people's rights and prosperity?

People cannot live on slogans.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Playing the game

One of my favourite Twitter feeds has been the daily Brexit roundup from Alexander (@37payday). He mixed exasperated humour and sarcasm with comprehensive knowledge of the contradictions and idiocies of our times. They were an absolute delight. But then they stopped appearing a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I saw what had happened when he posted this thread. It begins:
1/ Brexit has finally broken my mum
Read all twenty-eight tweets, it will only take a few minutes. It's about how his mother, an EU national who has lived in this country since the late sixties, no longer feels welcome. Irrational? Maybe. But she doesn't feel secure in a country unwilling to guarantee her right to live near her children and grandchildren in the place she used to call home. She's leaving. It's a small story. But it's real and being replicated all over the country.

Why are we doing this?

Perhaps the Cambridge Analytica scandal gives us a clue. There is an ideological angle to the scandal in that they were working solely for the right, but what troubles me is the utter cynicism. What you do is win. If to win means lying, you lie. What is the result of of the victory? Who cares? We won. That is all that matters.

We all know the Brexit lies - and they were lies - Brexiters consciously knew they were untrue even as they repeated them. The extra money for the NHS, taking back control, immigration. The truth was always that Brexit will be hugely expensive and make us poorer simultaneously, that Britain was abdicating its power as one of the three most powerful nations deciding EU policy (something that will continue to affect us), and that immigration will not diminish. And then there was the scare story of Turkey being about to join the EU, when it wasn't and has now withdrawn its application. We had a veto on their entry anyway, something else a minister lied about on television. All this mendacity worked and helped to swing a narrow win.

It's extraordinary, Brexit is based on lies. The foundations were laid by Boris Johnson's spell as a Brussels correspondent feeding colourful fabrications about the EU into a press that found they brought in readers. And that's weird too. It's worth going back to earlier sources from the time of our accession. The Daily Mail was celebrating our entry as the culmination of their ten-year campaign to get Britain into Europe. Read, or even watch on YouTube, Ted Heath's idealistic speeches about how this was much more than being about economics and was the start of a growing political union (skewering another Brexit lie). Fake stories changed that agenda.

I find this shocking. Dishonesty, with so much at stake. A frivolous disregard for truth, out of all proportion to the profound importance of the decision, deciding a matter of the utmost seriousness.

And there's something else as well. Many of our leading Brexiters have been campaigning for nearly forty years to leave the European Union. Yet when they won and the decision had to be implemented they hadn't got a clue what to do. There were no plans. No strategy. No vision. Nothing. Even more frightening was their ignorance of the difficulty and complexity of the task. Try and talk about the minutiae of trade and they were stumbling, getting basic facts wrong. They still are. It seems that all that mattered was that they won. It was a game. A rich man's game. All they wanted was victory for an obsessive belief, rather than implementing a carefully thought out policy.

I have looked for material motives, as have others. They exist. Obviously some people will do well out of this. Putin is looking on with glee, as are the very wealthy at a time when the EU was getting serious about tax havens. It's about power too, removing the restraints of membership on the freedom of action of those with serious money. But this isn't enough. I can't escape the feeling that it was the game that mattered and that Brexit is not a policy, but a symbol. It reminds me of a football team lifting the trophy at a cup final, won against the odds. They do their lap of honour. Half the fans in the stadium are celebrating, the other half are crushingly disappointed and sullenly going home. Then, the day after, the club realises that it has overspent. This momentary triumph cannot last. Someone else will hold the cup next year. Their best players will leave, administration and relegation beckons. When the whistle blew ushering in that ecstatic moment, nobody thought about what comes next.

The nationalist right have won. They have their left-wing camp followers, but make no mistake, this is a victory for the right. And if we leave, change will be slow. There will be a relative decline, but we will still be OK. There will be more bureaucracy and a few things will become more awkward. Those who mis-sold us the dream will be insulated by their wealth and will keep their enviable life styles untouched, playing the game of being posh. London will remain a cosmopolitan city and the playground of the international super rich funded by the proceeds of corruption. Immigrants will continue to come, to dispatch our Amazon orders, harvest our food, clean our offices, work in hotels, and all the other myriad of tasks that we need. This time though they will have fewer rights and be easier to exploit. You see, it's the smaller people who will lose. People like the teachers and nurses, struggling with overwork and underfunding. The carers for your elderly relatives, the local authorities who can no longer keep your streets clean, the shabby parks and the closed libraries, they will all be losers. A younger generation will see their future more constricted than it would have been otherwise, and they will grow up in a meaner, less tolerant world. And, of course, there's Alexander's mum and the millions like her.

If we do leave, the cry of the next generation will not be 'remain,' but become 'rejoin.' And if they in turn win, at least they will know what to do.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We need to talk about Jeremy

It's been an interesting week or so for Jeremy Corbyn. I was not surprised by his presence in a secret anti-Zionist Facebook group. (I refuse to call this bunch pro-Palestinian, as they don't give a toss about real Palestinians. They see them in narcissistic terms as a cause to be rescued, victims of the wicked Jews/Zionists, and think that their future oppression by nasty theocrats or corrupt movements is a form of liberation.) Visceral hatred of Israel has long been an animating feature of Corbyn's politics. The way conflicting explanations were given for his departure from the group was embarrassing.

Then there was his response to the Skripal poisoning. He called for dialogue, his usual remedy for any conflict, though this time at least it was to be "robust." He also pointed to the Russian money that had found its way to the Tory party. This caused the usual media outrage. It shouldn't have. It should have opened a debate on the extent to which money looted from the Russian people has corrupted the UK. Unfortunately, the Labour leadership is also compromised - politically rather than financially. They have a track record of apologism, non-confrontation, and even outright support for Putin. Then there is their penchant for appearing on the RT propaganda channel. To his credit, John McDonnell's response was considerably better than Corbyn's. There has been a continuous collective misjudgement on all sides, and on more than this one issue.

Finally, there was Corbyn's dismal speech on Brexit to the Scottish Labour conference. It was depressing. Even more depressing was the fact that he won the, mainly begrudging, support of the conference. The speech was riddled with contradictions and misapprehensions. In calling for Scotland (where 62% voted to remain) to respect the result of the referendum, he was solemnly asking Scots to submit to rule by England. That will win back SNP voters. Then there were the usual fantasies. A customs union will solve the Irish border - no it won't and given the conditions he laid out for one he won't get one anyway. Regulations on state aid in the single market rule out "rebalancing the economy" - they don't. He insisted any free trade agreement must give us control of regulations, etc, etc. All impossible conditions. And he didn't mention Gibraltar, nobody does.

I don't know whether he is positioning himself for a possible u-turn by setting unrealisable conditions, or whether he is being utterly consistent with the Euro-scpeticism that he has espoused for the past forty years and is gunning for a hard Brexit. Whatever, he has set himself up in diametric opposition to the vast majority of the party members (though the diehards appear to be remarkably pliable), and, more importantly, to the majority of Labour voters. Labour's better than expected showing in the last general election was partly down to them gathering up remain voters. If he hopes to retain them by promising them a better Brexit than the Tories can offer, he is making a classic political error - mistaking opposition to policy as discontent about performance.

There was one bit of the speech that got more attention than others - immigration. It was an obvious dogwhistle to UKIP voters, implying that problems are down to there being too many foreigners in the country. But he did hit on a real issue about the exploitation of posted workers. The standard brush-off by his opponents was a dismissive comment that this is a marginal issue affecting small numbers. This is true, but irrelevant. His opponents are wrong, the margins matter. These are real people being exploited. We have a choice of solutions:

Either there is the one Corby appears to favour, to restrict immigration by pulling Britain out of its preferential membership of the EU single market, which is the source of the bulk of its earnings, thereby damaging the economy, making people poorer, increasing bureaucracy, weakening employment rights, reducing the power and standing of the nation, breaching the Good Friday Agreement, and stripping all 64 million Britons of their rights as EU citizens to live and work anywhere in the Union.

Or, we can close the loopholes in the Posted Worker Directive (as is already happening).

What a dilemma.

Let's get this straight. The cause of exploitation is not immigration. The cause of exploitation is exploitation. Just as stagnant wages and declining public services have nothing to do with the EU, but are the result of the dubious decision of our own government to remove the post-crash stimulus and restrict spending and demand - austerity for short. Exploitation can be fought using all the familiar tools of left governments - enforceable legal employment rights, strong trade unions, industrial democracy, investing in public services, a political economy that promotes growth and employment, and building a strong welfare state. There is nothing, absolutely nothing at all, in EU membership that would prevent this. There is much in it that would make it easier.

The curious thing is that on all three issues - the Middle East, Russia, and Brexit - the Corbyn left is siding with the far right. They are making excuses for and lining up with ultra nationalist theocrats, kleptocrats, and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

These are not marginal issues. They are some of the great questions of our day with the most profound consequences. On all three, the Labour leadership has got it wrong. If they persist, this will not end well.

Friday, March 02, 2018


This is from the EU's draft withdrawal agreement. It is fully in line with the government's stated policy.

Think about it. This means that your inalienable right to live, work, receive health care, start a business, raise a family, etc., in twenty-seven other countries (together with any of the other ones desperately hoping to join the EU in the future) will be taken away in perpetuity. It's not just you that it affects, but your families, your descendants, and all future generations. This is what EU citizenship gives. It gives you a right, not something that may be granted as a discretion by a host nation, but a right that you can freely exercise if you fulfil the legal requirements.

It's a right that I valued as I built my second life in Greece and it determined my decision to buy a house there. It's a right that has allowed friends of mine to settle there. It's a right that my neighbours from other EU countries retain.

As things stand, both the Conservative and Labour parties, the only conceivable parties of government in the UK, wish to strip you and I of that right against our wills. They do so in the name of a supposedly democratic decision, a narrow majority in a referendum. Around seventeen million voted in favour and sixteen million against. That means that those seventeen million get to impose their will on all sixty odd million Britons - and on the tens of million more yet to be born. They get to deprive them of their citizenship and limit their freedoms. Is this really democracy?

Think about it again. One of the items that I find too painful to watch on the news is the refugee crisis. It's the suffering. It's the exploitation. It's the desperation. It's the corpses washed up on beaches that we are used to thinking about solely in terms of Mediterranean holidays. What would would these people give for an EU passport? Well, they have shown us. They would give their lives. And hundreds die every year.

This is how valuable our European citizenship is. Yet we, with our complacent and pampered existence, are prepared to see something, which others would literally die for, taken from us for no good reason, other than a bad decision mandated by a flawed process.

Yes, think about it, think again, and then put a stop to this destructive madness.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Through the looking glass

Brexit is crumbling before our eyes.

Our Prime Minister declares that no Prime Minister could agree to what she agreed to in December (once it had been written as a legislative draft by the EU). Which means that either she was dodging the issue of the Irish border or she didn't understand what she was signing. In the meantime the government has offered no alternative solutions, other than diversionary idiocy from Boris Johnson.

The leader of the opposition has begun to oppose. He made a speech in which he said that the UK must leave the EU, leave the single market, but join a customs union with the EU. That means that Labour's stance has been modified to allow the free movement of goods but prevent the free movement of people (though without being nasty about them). This is a curious position for a socialist to take. It leaves Labour supporting a policy that has to lead to some form of hard border in Northern Ireland (this can only be completely avoided by being in the customs union and the single market or something very much like it) while opposing it vehemently. The rest of the speech didn't show much understanding of the EU either. Corbyn talked of spending a non-existent Brexit dividend and picked different, juicier and sweeter cherries than the Tories, but it has been made abundantly clear that there can be no cherry picking at all.

OK there was a small positive shift, but it still means the leadership is committed to a pretty hard Brexit and remains resolutely opposed to the desires of the overwhelming majority of its members and voters on the single market. Another curious position.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry came out in support of Labour on the customs union to the fury of the Brexiters.

Then John Major returned to the scene and appeared as an angry and eloquent political titan compared to the current lot. Yes, John Major. This is what we have become. Jacob Rees-Mogg (Eton and Oxford) called Major (Brixton, left school at 16) the elite. Nadine Dorries called him a traitor.

And what is the government doing? Search me. Bugger all if Jon Worth is right.

Why the inaction? There is only a year left. Well, it's a difficult and complicated process - not easy as we were reassured by the Brexit brigade - especially regarding law and trade. But if you set up a series of red lines and contradictory demands, it becomes impossible. Chris Grey gives the best summary overview of the whole dismal process here.

Now we have to face reality. There are no material benefits from leaving. The only prize appears to be the sovereignty to be able to make worse trade deals than the ones we have already through the EU. The zealots' response to discussion of the details ranges from bland reassurance, through wishful thinking, to abuse. As Chris Grey noticed, it's as if we were being expelled from the EU, not that we asked to leave. They can't seem to accept responsibility.

But still we keep going. Why? Ah, the 'will of the people.' This absurd fiction would be laughable if it wasn't rooted in the referendum. But let's get it right. Referendums are a sham of a democratic process. This one took a low salience issue and showed that when asked the question the country was divided almost 50/50. This is not the will of the people. It doesn't give the right for half the voters to impose on the other half something that they don't want in the slightest. There is no talk of finding compromise or a consensus. Reductionist referendums like this are not democratic.

Like a student realising that their essay is due in tomorrow morning, the government has to start to get real. But they don't know what to do faced with a stupid policy and hounded by crazed Brexiters. If they had any sense they would stop it now before it is too late. I am not sure if they will though.