Labour values, anti Semitism and UK electoral politics in 2018.

  • Political upheavals
  • Problems of definition and due process
  • Labour MPs (and Jews): It’s time to choose your sidekicks.

As we headed towards local elections across the country (03 05 2018), turmoil and conflict within the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party risked diverting attention from the party’s political purpose in opposition: different from and in fierce, concerted opposition to the Conservative administration and its venal Austerity politics; its chaotic and irresponsible ‘Brexit’ negotiations; its brutal and racist record on legal and illegal immigration; its responsibility for the Grenfell disaster, and its shameful treatment of the Windrush generation. In considering the upsurge of concern about anti Semitism in the Labour party, there are contexts that can be seen to underpin and frame the current allegations.

For example, a reader of an earlier draft of this commentary, asks: “What has been happening in Israel and Palestine while the anti-Semitism protests have been promoted by the right wing press? Over the last month Palestinians have been demonstrating for their Right of Return to lands occupied by Israel – a right enshrined in the UN charter. The reaction from the Israeli government is to order soldiers to shoot across the border at Palestinian demonstrators in Palestine. Over 40 dead and 5,000 injured.” “Imagine”, he says, “if the UK government had taken similar action during the troubles in Northern Ireland. There would have been huge condemnation of such action in the Press. But nothing is said about the deaths associated with Right to Return in the UK press.”

However, after a google search he found the following report on 29th April 2018:

“Most of the Israeli army’s killings of Palestinians during the Gaza-border protests have resulted from snipers aiming at demonstrators’ legs, with the killings an unintentional outcome after a protester bent down, a sniper missed, a bullet ricocheted or a similar phenomenon, a senior officer in the Southern Command said. The Israeli army has killed 44 protesters since March 30 …..” The source of this information is Haaretz newspaper, published in Jerusalem since 1918. Haaretz has called for the shootings to stop. Full text at:  https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-israeli-officer-most-killings-during-gaza-protests-unintentional-1.6034421

Political upheavals.
The 2015 Labour leadership election (after Ed Miliband’s hasty resignation, following the Tory general election win), when Jeremy Corbyn was resoundingly (and shockingly for some) elected as leader, is the watershed moment in this story. There are those members of the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) who have yet to recover their equilibrium. The EU referendum in June 2016, called by then Tory leader, David Cameron, was another shock to the UK political system, seemingly exposing, not just a sharply divided country, but the power and pain of grievance politics, not least when ‘harvested’ and fuelled by secret far right data analysts, Cambridge Analytica and Analogue IQ.

When Theresa May called her snap general election in 2017, hoping to exploit what was perceived as weakness and disarray in the Labour party under its new, ‘unelectable’ leader, she was expecting a resounding mandate for a Tory, hard ‘Brexit’. Instead, to widespread media and political astonishment (on all sides), her majority was wiped out, the Labour vote soared, and she decided to pay the Northern Ireland’s DUP a large sum of money to secure their electoral support in Parliament, to give her any chance of a working majority.

There are members of the PLP whose political differences with Jeremy Corbyn are dwarfed by their personal venum towards him. This is hardly a secret. But at the last general election, to their astonishment, they saw their personal majorities soar on the back of the ‘Jeremy factor’. People were voting for change: for a Corbyn-led, anti Austerity, socialist Labour party, upholding a multicultural society. These MPs were shown to be completely out of touch with this (previously inchoate) desire. Remember Stephen Kinnock’s face, for example, as the hung parliament result was announced on the night? Labour had confounded everyone’s expectations, putting it back as a serious parliamentary contender; Kinnock’s own majority had increased; but he just didn’t look happy: more dumbstruck and uncomprehending. He was not celebrating, because he had expected to help bring the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn down after the election, and even replace him as leader.

The anti-Corbyn Labour MPs, like Kinnock, who saw their sometimes fragile majorities transformed, are now personally and professionally more secure. This has perhaps galvanised them to continue trying to undermine the Labour leader in Parliament and beyond, with no risk to their own employment status as MPs. It appears that the damage this might do to the likelihood of forming a Labour government, of allowing another Tory victory, with its promise of further and harsher Austerity politics; continued dismantling of our public services (e.g. the NHS); further privatisation of education and social care; further cuts in legal aid and criminal justice services, for example, is not a consideration, compared to the prospect of undermining Jeremy’s leadership.

A leaflet recently produced by Liverpool Friends of Palestine cites research by the Media Reform Coalition, which concludes that “most newspapers [had been] vilifying the leader of the biggest opposition party, assassinating his character, ridiculing his personality and delegitimising his ideas and politics.” The leaflet notes that “after his election as leader this alliance of Zionists and neoliberals intensified their opposition, but their coup attempts failed to remove Corbyn” (ibid.) [Emphasis added.] (LFoP, ‘Zionism, anti-Semitism and Ken Livingstone’, 05 2018. www.liverpoolfriendsofpalestine.co.uk; see also freespeechonisrael.org.uk). A friend recently shared a comment he found in an email correspondence with a former Lib Dem MP, who represented a constituency close to Jeremy Corbyn: “The right wing of your party hate JC and are quite happy to join with the Zionists to try to discredit him. I do not know a less racist, less anti-semitic person actually”.

The people who will be most damaged and disadvantaged by another Tory government do not apparently count. Nor does the further erosion of our multicultural values as a society concern them, even post Grenfell and the Windrush scandal. You would think that Tory derision and contempt for Corbyn as Labour leader, and Tory alarm in the face of his political impact so far, would be a clue to Labour’s potential electoral power. But these MPs, having perhaps internalised neoliberal, competitive individualism as a virtue, are prepared to collude with the Tories in their opposition to the possibility of a Corbyn-led government.

Problems of definition and due process.
 “I have seen for myself how the need to prove the intent to destroy a group in whole or in part, as the Genocide Convention requires, can have unhappy psychological consequences. It enhances the sense of solidarity among the members of the victim group while reinforcing negative feelings towards the perpetrator group. . . . For some, to be labelled a victim of genocide becomes ‘an essential component of national identity’ without contributing to the resolution of historical disputes or making mass killings less frequent” (Philippe Sands [2017]  ‘Epilogue: To the Woods’, East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity: 380).

Philippe Sands’ compelling personal memoir / legal history / intellectual and political tour de force demonstrates the significance of the complexity of lived experience, social and cultural identities, and human rights law as an attempt at understanding, regulation and mediation between warring parties, as well as the achievement of social justice and human rights. The entwined stories he narrates, and his insights, are relevant beyond the book’s focus on how the (legal) categories of genocide and crimes against humanity came to occupy the place they do in contemporary societies and international governance.

Its relevance to this discussion is that the book illuminates the often fraught but powerful relations between individual identity and group identity, and the significance of the language we use to communicate with each other across our differences.

“It was no surprise that an editorial in a leading newspaper, on the occasion of the centenary of Turkish atrocities against Armenians, suggested that the word ‘genocide’ may be unhelpful, because it “stirs up national outrage rather than the sort of ruthless examination of the record the country needs”. . . . . Yet against these arguments, I am bound to accept that the sense of group identity is a fact (ibid.: 381).

In one sense, there is indisputably a Jewish community and diaspora, in that anyone identified as Jewish is at risk of anti-Semitic attack in certain social environments and societies; in the way that any woman is at risk of sexism, sexual violence and misogyny, by virtue of being born a girl in a patriarchal society; and a person of colour is at risk of racism by virtue of the colour of their skin; and a gay man or woman will be subjected to imprisonment, torture or murder in many Commonwealth countries.

In another sense, however, despite the protestations of the Jewish Board of Deputies, there is no such thing as ‘the Jewish community’, defined and bounded and singular: like the rest of society, there is no Jewish organisation or group that harmoniously represents all Jewish people in their social, cultural, religious and political diversity. And the power struggle between various Jewish groups, in particular the desire for dominance exhibited by the Board of Deputies, is surely an attempt at control, not just influence. And that control extends to the Labour party: together with the Jewish Leadership Council, they refused to attend a meeting called by Jeremy Corbyn to discuss anti-Semitism and the Labour party, if the (anti-zionist) Jewish Voice for Labour group were also at the table.

The language used by Jonathan Arkush and Jonathan Goldstein, for example, in reporting the meeting with Jeremy in their search for “measures to rid the party of this blight (‘Sadly we still cannot trust Jeremy Corbyn over anti-semitism’, Evening Standard, 25 04 2018), echoes Sean Morrison (‘Labour anti-semitism row: What is Jewdas and why is Jeremy under fire for Jewish group meeting?’ Online 03 04 2018): “The Labour party has come under intense fire for failing to “extinguish” anti-semitism within its ranks as a years-long row continues to deepen.” Kill the blight, put out the fire: emotive, inflammatory language that does not contribute to understanding where or who is the problem, and why.

Jewdas is a self-described radical leftist Jewish group, opposed to capitalism and fascism, as well as being vociferous in its criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. Jeremy recently attended a Jewdas Seder (a celebration of Passover) with members from his local constituency. From the incendiary reactions from MPs and the media to this visit, you would have been forgiven for thinking that he had sat down to eat with known neo Nazis and anti Semites. Michael Segalow described this as “manufactured uproar” (‘Corbyn was right to attend Jewdas Seder, there’s no such thing as “good” and “bad” Jews’, 03 04 2018 online).

Referring to ‘fringe’ Jewish groups reveals a sense of hierarchy and superiority that is not helpful, as it mitigates against peer group relations, and compromises the chances of open and honest conversation and dialogue. Such determined rigidity (orthodoxy) borders on authoritarianism; and authoritarians don’t do dialogue or ‘conversation’ as such. Contrast this with Sands’ Afterword in the paperback edition, which ends with the invocation: “The power of memory and imagination is not easily cast aside”. So not one or the other, but both, working in creative and humane conjunction.

Being free to air our political differences is a democratic right in the UK, and must remain a Labour value. But acting in a way that amounts to collusion with the Tory party and rightwing media barons, constitutes social and political betrayal. In his eloquent and inspiring book, The Return of the Public (2010), Dan Hind scrutinises the social and political role of the media, and advocates “public commissioning” to counter its power. Writing before the attack on New York in 2011; before the UK EU referendum campaign and the discourse of ‘Brexit’; before the advent of the twittering Trump as US President; and before the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, he reflects:

“Some might object that fascist or other groups would seize on public commissioning and use it to spread distorted information or outright untruths. But this objection presupposes that the existing media don’t already seek to inflame commercially useful hatreds. It is clear, for example, that the current climate of hostility towards Muslims in Britain has been driven more by mainstream journalism and politics than by avowedly fascist agitation . . . . [And here Hind references Jonathan Githens-Mazer & Robert Lambert, ‘Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: a London Case Study’, 28 01 2010; available at http:/ / centres.exeter.ac.uk] (Hind: 167). Emphasis added.

Mainstream media silence, distortion and misrepresentation seem routine. In the UK there has been (17 04 2018) a Judicial Review of the IPSO ruling that took no action over the highly inaccurate reporting of a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign meeting in the press. (An anti-Jewish statement was made by a Rabbi in the audience; he was not permitted to speak again. The press reported his remarks as coming from people who had organised the meeting). The judge let the IPSO ruling stand on technical grounds e.g. it is not right for a third party (someone who was at the meeting) to bring the case. Full details of the case are on this website: https://www.freeexpressionforall.org/?utm_source=sendinblue&utm_campaign=Update1031onJoinmystandagainstIPSOtoincreasefreedomofexpressionApril182018&utm_medium=email

Press the button at the top of the page to read how the Judge supported the status quo rather than dispensing justice. This was the first judicial review of IPSO, fully supported by Hacked Off. The friend who drew my attention to this, commented: “You would have thought it was important enough to be reported in the mainstream media”.

At present, as Dan Hind notes, “the media indulge in stereotype and caricature more or less at will” (Hind, 2010: ibid.). An example closer to home would be the now infamous ‘hostile environment’ towards immigrants, with particular consequences for people of colour, which was / is a highly publicised Tory government policy. And unhappily, Jeremy Corbyn was, I believe, one of only six Labour MPs (the others presumably succumbing to Tory media pressure) who voted against Theresa May’s nasty immigration legislation when she was Home Secretary. To what extent is this media pressure, this political manipulation, being successfully exerted now? Giving in to that media pressure must be a hard habit to kick. Certainly, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be the target, rather than the behaviour of individual Labour members and MPs.

So how does the recent eruption of accusations of anti-Semitism within the Labour party fit within the scenario outlined here, given that the MPs talking up the problem are also those known for their hostility towards Corbyn as leader since he was elected (twice)? A number of these MPs are Jews for whom any criticism of Israel and/or sympathy with the plight of the Palestinians is considered anti-Semitic. In their eyes, this makes Jeremy Corbyn, as a long-term supporter of the Palestinian cause, an implacable political enemy. By contrast, Yonni Higgsmith adds value to the conversation:

“The problem with smearing Corbyn as anti-Semitic, which he isn’t, or focusing on whether he sat on a panel with an anti-Semite, or called Hamas his friends (which he did in a parliamentary setting while discussing peace), is that it doesn’t add real value to the    conversation and allows us not to talk about our real fears. It’s just a smokescreen for our
identity to hang its hat on” (Yoni Higgsmith, ‘The problem with “anti-Zionism”’, The Clarion, October 2016: 3). Emphasis added.

And he shares his fears and uncertainties as a Jew at this time and in this climate:

“I understand that there are Zionists who co-opt Zionism to represent things that are wrong, but as a Zionist who does not do that, I have still feared recently to say out loud that I am a Zionist because of the wrath it brings. As a member, I’ll say that the left have a problem with anti-Zionism (ibid.).

Hadley Freeman argues that “suggesting Jews make allegations about anti-Semitism for their political or personal benefit is, in fact, one of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes there is” (Freeman, ibid.). While this is undoubtedly true, it does not mean that such behaviour never happens. The focus of attack is Corbyn, as if he brought anti-semitism with him when elected leader. Hadley cites Ruth Smeeth’s claim that “she had really come up against anti-Semitism” (ibid). Such a general comment needs specifying if it is to become a formal complaint, subject to scrutiny, and if necessary, action taken against the perpetrator(s). Many Labour members doubt that this process has been followed properly in this case. But maybe the Labour party was insufficiently clear about its definition of anti Semitism before this storm broke.

As prominent public figures identified with Left politics and the Labour movement, film-maker, Ken Loach, and UNITE leader, Len McCluskey, both have considerable experience of being the butt of the media (Tory or otherwise). Both are well informed, articulate and fearless (you might say, principled); politically knowledgeable about how the Tory media operates in the interests of the Tory party, its funders and supporters, and how it seeks to put pressure on Labour MPs to destabilise Jeremy’s leadership. Both men are passionate about the Labour project and those it seeks to serve and benefit. I suspect this is why Loach dismissed Ruth Smeeth’s initially generalised accusations of being the object of anti-Semitism as “merely mischief”, not least because of The Daily Telegraph’s reported role at the time.

Similarly, the report by Jonathan Arkush in the Evening Standard (25 04 2018), provocatively entitled, ‘Sadly we still cannot trust Jeremy Corbyn over anti-semitism”, was framed by a large, close-up photograph of demonstrators at the anti-semitism demonstration outside Parliament. See https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/sadly-we-still-cannot-trust-jeremy-corbyn-over-antisemitism-a3823241.html

The placard taking centre stage in the photograph reads: ‘No place for antisemites in Labour, they’re already oversubscribed’. This shocking placard was very unlikely to be the work of a Labour supporter or party member. The organisers of this event were more likely Tory supporters, because the target was so clearly the Labour party and its leader, not anti-semitism in society, or even in Parliament itself. Looking at this placard, I understand the view that has been voiced, that Labour MPs who joined this demonstration should be suspended from the party. For Labour MPs to attend such a rally, and support its virulent attack on their own party, was either naïve or malign. Maybe both.

Bringing Labour into disrepute by suggesting that the party is riddled with anti-Semitism will not help achieve a safer and fairer society for Jewish people. The stats on Tory voters and Labour voters’ attitudes to Jewish people, supplied by Edie Friedman, who runs The Jewish Council for Racial Equality, and cited by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (‘Is criticising Israel always anti-Semitic?’ i@inews.co.uk, 25 04 2018), suggest that Labour is not the main problem. Viewed objectively, Labour is the only political party in a position to contribute to that change, and for the first time it has a leader with a long track record of opposing inequality, social injustice and racism at home and abroad (and when it was not fashionable to do so). However, if there are individuals whose behaviour and language is properly identified as anti-Semitic, allegations should be specific and reported to the police and dealt with through the courts (as Labour MP Luciana Berger did).

The Labour party has subscribed to the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism may be expressed as hatred towards Jews, but it is not behaviour that may be inferred as offensive by Jews” (Mike Silver, ‘Wadsworth expulsion: Did Labour just throw away its chance to take London?’ Vox Political – politics for the people, 29 04 2018). Behaviour or language “should not be deemed anti-Semitic because someone else took offence at it; it would have to be informed by and motivated by, hatred towards Jews” (ibid.). However, the IHRA definition, so eagerly grasped by Theresa May and the Jewish board of Deputies, for example, is highly problematic for many Labour supporters, as indicated by a letter to The Guardian (16 12 2016), signed by 63 people, in which they commend a definition from Brian King of Oxford University, that “Anti-Semitism is a form of hostility towards Jews as ‘Jews’.” It is clear, when you study the IHRA definition (which you can do online), that, as The Guardian letter states:

“The IHRA definition smuggles in anti-Zionism in the guise of anti-semitism, as a means of protecting the Israeli state and thus Western foreign policy.”

The Board of Deputies went into their meeting with Jeremy armed with a list of demands, including those related to the full IHRA definition. They then reported their disapproval of Jeremy’s refusal to be bulldozed down that road, and blamed him for a disappointing meeting, which was implicitly taken as ‘proof’ of his anti-semitism.

Journalist, Hadley Freeman, cites a meeting in Bristol at which a motion was proposed that said any suggestion of anti-Semitism within the Labour party was absurd (cited, ‘If people don’t know about the Holocaust, it’s because they don’t really care’, The Guardian Weekend, 21 04 2018). The motion read:

“When people see inequality, ecological disaster and war alongside unprecedented wealth in the private hands of a few, it is reasonable they seek out explanations” (ibid.).

Maybe this is what Shami Chakrabarti meant in her report to the Labour party on anti-Semitism inside the party, when she ‘made recommendations to deal with “ignorant attitudes” among some party members’ (cited Alibhai-Brown, ibid.). You would hope that on hearing this statement, Labour members would audibly gasp in disbelief, despair and/or horror, put their hands up immediately, calling: “Objection!”. At which point, why the statement is objectionable and unacceptable would be clarified and discussed (without shouting), before its withdrawal. As Hadley Freeman comments in despair: “Yes, why are all Jews wealthy war-mongers?” (Freeman, ibid.). But she is wrong when she blames individuals for forgetting the Holocaust or just not caring about it.

In Philippe Sands’ Afterword to the paperback edition of his book, he brings together some of the considerable feedback he has received from its readers in the year following publication. From a school in England comes a request for assistance, arising out of research pupils have done ”which suggests that 80% of young people do not know what genocide is (let alone crimes against humanity) and have never heard of the genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur”. These young people have not been given the chance to care, never mind forget.

The recent BBC4 series, The Story of the Jews (last episode screened 01 05 2018), written and presented by historian Simon Schama, would provide excellent educational material for young people, as part of efforts within the school curriculum to support multicultural understanding and anti racism, and diminish ignorance and prejudice. Schama is a scholar who manages to model all the best qualities and attributes of a human being (an enquiring mind on legs): passionate about people and places, ideas and disputes; empathic and critical, in his desire to understand, as he roams the world, its histories and its crises. These qualities also make him a great teacher.

Labour MPs (and Jews): It’s time to choose your political sidekicks.
“I love what Corbyn stands for. He is able to make a stand against what Israel is doing wrong. He can point it out to a room full of Jewish Labour supporters and get a round of applause from about half the room when he says we must campaign against Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners, we must campaign against the settlements, we must end the blockade which is inhumane and as a tactic for security has failed. We need to start talking peace with both sides” (Higgsmith, ibid.).

Responding to local concern amongst Jews and non Jews in the Labour party, ideas for a public meeting in Liverpool are being discussed, under the banner of Merseyside Momentum’s political education programme. In the UK, general election politics is largely binary, and never more so than since the Tory-led coalition of 2010 and the general election result in 2017 in which the Tories lost their majority. So we started with the idea of focussing electoral minds by posing the rather stark question: Will the next election be a choice between an anti-Austerity, socialist Labour Party, led by an anti-Zionist, or a pro-Zionist, pro-Austerity, pro-capitalist Conservative Party?

But the terms ‘zionist’ and ‘anti-zionist’ have become ‘dog whistle’ politics, given their historical baggage and slippage over time, as well as recent, hate-filled confrontational behaviour, so we decided to reword the question, avoid shorthand, and aiming to avoid outrage (see Sands above), achieve a more focused, socially and politically responsible conversation between Labour members who disagree about what counts as anti-Semitism, and Labour’s position on Israel and Palestine. Higgsmith conjures both the complexity and the ‘simplicity’ of organising such a conversation or debate:

“In my opinion, being anti-Zionism or being ant-Palestine are the same evil. We can label  ‘fundamentalist’ the people who are either Zionists who are anti-Palestine or pro-Palestine people who are anti-Zionist – those with a belief that the solution to the conflict is for one side to swallow up the other. Those who believe that granting legitimacy to the other side somehow weakens their argument” (Higgsmith, ibid.) Emphasis added.

So, on the one hand, we can elect an anti-Austerity, socialist Labour party, historically rooted in internationalist and multicultural values; the party with the most established track record of political action resisting racism, homophobia and misogyny; committed to raising the level of the UK’s practical commitment to combating climate change alongside, for example, our European and Commonwealth partners; recommitting to people’s health and wellbeing through publicly funded public services (NB the NHS) and a housing policy not designed for profit-making for the few, but homes for the many; a party which is also, logically and morally opposed to the aims and methods of the IDF (the Israeli Defence Force); critical of Israel’s militarization as a society, its internal and external racism and violence against Arabs, and its refusal to abide by UN resolutions designed to reduce hostilities and injustices in the region.

Alternatively, we have the option of electing a neoliberal, pro-Austerity, turbo capitalist Conservative party, hell-bent on continuing to turn everything, including health, into a commodity (for sale and profit), with a track record of social fragmentation and privatization, mental health chaos and crisis. This is a party indifferent to escalating climate change and widespread poverty, and which approves the dominance and violence of Israel towards the Palestinians, including the destruction of the Palestinian economy and the uprooting of its olive groves.

The Tory party approves the supply of military hardware to be used against Palestinian civilians throwing stones (including the murder of a journalist and a teenager most recently), in order to secure its illegal borders. This is also a party with members in cahoots with white supremacists: “Peter Oborne, a right-wing journalist, accuses the Tories of protecting politicians with far-right sympathies” (cited Alibhai-Brown, ibid.).

How does Jewish safety, wellbeing and dignity fit in with these very different political offers? It would be useful for the Labour party to explain and discuss the congruence or incompatibility of the Israeli military project with Labour movement values.

How can we reconcile the need and right for Israel to exist (but not in its current militarised and monocultural form), with the need and right of Palestinians to live in their homeland territories, in safety and security?

Many countries and some (distinguished) individuals, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, agree that Israel is currently an apartheid state. The Balfour Agreement 100 years ago devastated Palestinian rights. (See Simon Schama [01 05 2018] on the Holocaust and the subsequent creation of the state of Israel.) And in 1948 Palestinians were thrown off their land and from their homes, in what came to be called the Nakba (catastrophe). Anniversaries can be charged and painful affairs: potentially incendiary when justice is further postponed.

The histories of enslavement, ethnic cleansing, sexual violence and extermination act as both warnings of the atrocities we humans are capable of, as well as our capacities for developing and pursuing processes of conflict prevention, conflict resolution, reconciliation and peaceful co existence. The corrupting forces of hate, anger and revenge do not nourish or sustain lives, relationships or societies. This we know. I think it was gay campaigner, Tony Kushner, who advised: “We must love one another or die”. This poignant, personal, political (even apocalyptic) ethic and aspiration must surely be the underlying driver of Labour values and politics. It never has been and never will be a Tory ‘family value’.

So, echoing the American union song, written by Florence Reece and Daryl Hotter, and made famous by singer Pete Seeger: Which side are you on?

val walsh / 04 05 2018 / 10 05 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heels, zips and fitted frocks: navigating the feminist minefield.

 “I need to feel at ease in heels”, writes Coco Khan, “to know that a fitted frock looks the part” (‘I don’t know how to dress like a grownup: it’s time to find my adult costume’, (17 03 2018). Why would you volunteer to crush your toes, carry your body weight on the ball of your feet as you tiptoe all day, and distort your spine? And call it ‘adult’. A fitted frock also requires a dresser to zip you in and out. No good if you live on your own.

So Coco thinks she has to give up on clothes she likes (or are they too an adopted ‘costume’?), and move into the corporate uniform adopted by so many women in the media, business and politics. That sounds like defeat, not strategy. Conformity dressed up as power remains a form of girlish deference. Going under cover won’t help undo society’s malevolent grip on women’s minds, behaviour and opportunities. And surely takes the fun out of fashion.

Disguise is sometimes a strategic necessity (and Coco’s “adult costume” may be just that) but like denial, it weakens resolve if taken beyond the short-term emergency. Insisting on a ‘femininity’ designed to show you are striving to please, not disturb the heterosexual powers that be, risks identifying yourself as amenable ‘fodder’: personally, professionally, politically.

It’s tough being a woman in the public domain, but as Andrea Dworkin pointed out (cited Linda Grant interview [The Guardian Weekend, 13 05 2000], ‘Take no prisoners’): “This is a political struggle, it’s not a social movement for different clothes, it’s not a lifestyle movement”. And Coco, nobody’s perfect.

20 03 2018

Footnote thoughts and examples.
Zips are for trousers and skirts not frocks; for boots, bags, and coats.

I was sitting a couple of rows behind a woman at an International Women’s Day event this March. She was wearing a short, black, fitted frock, which had a startling, shiny zip running up her spine from its hem. (It’s unfortunate that it made me think of UK Prime Minister, Theresa May!) She must have a dresser, I thought; someone to zip her in and out of that frock. It got me thinking about the feminist status of such a zip!

Yesterday, an MP chairing a public meeting wore a fitted frock (more tight actually) that followed her every curve, barely covered her bum, and stopped short at the front near the top of her thighs. Needless to say, it required adjusting (pulling down by hand) when she stood up to speak. I assumed it had a zip at the back, but what was striking were the two short zips set in the hem of the frock at the front above each thigh. I have never seen that feature before. I was mesmerised: what on earth was the function of these little zips? The frock was worn with semi sheer black tights and chunky, high healed black ankle boots. When she was seated without her legs crossed, you could see between her thighs up to her crotch.

This may be an example of the “adult costume” Coco Khan has in mind. But it was not a good look. Why? Partly because it screamed: “I’m trying to look young and sexy, not just feminine”, and this distracted from any intelligent words she was speaking. So much visible leg risked overpowering any political or intellectual contribution she was trying to make. Her appearance was guiding us to look at her as a body, not an intellectual or political contributor to the conversation. This did not apply to how the other three women on the platform presented themselves. They were, incidentally, all older and more politically experienced than the young woman chairing.

So, any feeling of feminist awareness and solidarity was stymied by her heterosexist self presentation: her clothed body was indisputably addressed to the conventional male heterosexual gaze. She may be vocal in her class politics, but on this evidence, her sexual politics fails to invite feminist confidence and solidarity.

It’s not about a ‘feminist’ uniform. Look around: as feminist-aware women, in 2018 we have a wide choice of outfits. But, especially as a public figure, it is about awareness and intelligence in relation to the heterosexualisation of women’s bodies, the problematic culture we inhabit, and which we have to navigate as well as challenge. And a woman politician who does not understand that, is inadequate as a representative for women and the feminist issues she needs to promote. Post Weinstein et al, the personal (e.g. women’s bodies) is still political. And the political is still personal.

val walsh / 23 03 2018

 

Labour and the Green party in 2018.

While there are many Labour party members and supporters who are active environmentalists, it is hard for Labour to “love the Greens” as an electoral force, as Neal Lawson (‘Labour must learn to love the Greens’, The Guardian, 26 02 2018) demands, knowing that, historically, the Green party only ever takes votes from Labour, never from the political parties on the right.

A Guardian interview with Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in the lead up to the 2015 general election (Simon Hattenstone, ‘The only Green in the village’, 28 02 2015) sheds light on this dilemma. Lucas said that a second Tory term was the last thing she wanted, “but, in the long term, it could be the best thing possible for the Greens if Labour lost”. A Tory win (with its disastrous consequences for the NHS, for example) could serve the ambitions of herself and the Green party, in their bid for electoral reform. Meanwhile, the damage to victims of Tory Austerity politics, by implication, would be mere collateral damage. In 2018, the extent and horror of this ‘collateral damage’ is wrecking not just lives, but the very fabric of our society and its institutions. Her personal and political ambition was, in the circumstances, unedifying.

In 2015, Lucas was hoping that the Greens “might prop up a minority Labour government”. She said, “I think a progressive alliance of Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, alongside a minority Labour government, would better reflect what most people want in this country, rather than a majority Labour government”. Wish on.

Despite the 2017 general election result, which surely stalled the idea of a need for a progressive alliance instead of a majority Labour government, neither Neal Lawson nor Caroline Lucas now suggest that the Greens must learn to love Labour.

(See ‘Promoting fair and sustainable co-habitation: exploring grounds for progressive politics as the political landscape implodes’ [1-9 10 2016]; and ‘Strategic and ethical adjustment: the emerging opportunity to dismantle neoliberal Austerity politics. Together’ [25 10 2017] at togetherfornow.wordpress.com)

val walsh /27 02 2018

Steve Bannon’s friendship circle.

Steve Bannon, leading American white supremacist, who describes himself as “a populist and economic nationalist”, and is neutrally described by The Guardian as a “former Trump adviser” (Rowena Mason & Heather Stewart, ‘Rees- Mogg met former Trump adviser to talk tactics’, The Guardian 02 12 2017) has visited the UK to talk to old friends, like UKIP’s Nigel Farage, and new friends, like Tory MP, Rees-Mogg, who astonishingly described him as “an interesting man to have met” (ibid.). A second, as yet unnamed Tory MP, was also in the mix. This is alarming news.

Breitbart London editor and former chief of staff to Farage, Raheem Kassam, brokered the meeting (ibid). These ambitious rich men have plans for us: Kassam declared that “Brexit and the election of President Trump were inextricably linked, so the discussions focused on how we move forward with winning for the conservative movements on both sides of the pond” (ibid.). The significant way in which these events were inextricably linked was that they were largely funded and data-driven by the same individuals and organisations (Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ), with the same extremist intent.

These men do not represent mere “conservative movements”, but fundamentalist Christian, white supremacist goals: Bannon’s self-declared ”brand of economic nationalism”, like Trump, purports to put the interests of ordinary people first” (ibid.). These men have the funds, determination and sense of entitlement to pursue their vanity projects. They will not sink without trace before causing further democratic upheaval and social damage. Those who oppose the white supremacist agenda must work to bury them and their malign purposes as best we can.

val walsh / 06 12 2017

The electoral funding of the UK ‘Brexit’ campaigns: a democratic scandal?

Aggregate IQ is described as ”a small Canadian firm, specializing in social media marketing, considered as instrumental in helping the Leave campaign win” (Jessica Elgot & David Pegg, ‘Electoral Commission documents reveal more details on Vote Leave donations’. The Guardian, 21 11 2017).

Sounds innocent enough: “small” (not corporate), Canadian (not Russian), but given the size of its actual donations (monetary and data), it could be considered a determining factor in the Leave campaign. The various Leave campaign groups (including the DUP campaign) admitted that Aggregate IQ initiated these donations: ‘they found us, we didn’t find them”. Who the donors were and what politics lay behind the donations was never questioned.

The Leave campaign groups may not have known who they were, why they wanted to be involved, or what their larger purpose was, but Aggregate IQ certainly did. Alongside Cambridge Analytica, Aggregate IQ is part of white supremacist, Robert Mercer’s secretive stable of influence (also active in the Trump campaign).

In addition to objections to the provenance of said donors and their political motives, and the extent to which these donations constituted illegal interference in UK democracy, there is also the question of the legality of these massive donations, if they tipped the Leave campaign over its legal electoral funding limit.

A third surely clinching factor is that “Donors from outside the UK and Gibraltar were impermissible donors for referendum campaigning” (Holly Watt, ‘Electoral Commission to investigate Arron Banks’ Brexit donations’. The Guardian, 11 11 2017). But the apparent lethargy of the Electoral Commission compounds the situation, as it begins to look like culpable negligence. Months down the line, evidence of impropriety, illegality, political manipulation and corruption are nowhere near being scrutinised appropriately. Looks like a cover up.

val walsh / 24 11 2017

‘Brexit’ and the UK Labour party.

The EU referendum, rather than being a democratic act, was a dishonest political manoeuvre by former Tory prime minister, David Cameron, ostensibly to resolve longstanding internal divisions within his party re the EU. There was no effort to provide relevant and adequate objective information about what exiting the EU would entail. In fact, it is now clear the ‘Brexit’ campaigners had, and still have, no idea. Evidence about what actually happens, about the role of the UK within the EU and vice versa, is irrelevant to Tory politicians embroiled in the internal power struggles within their party or white supremacists who see chaos as a political strategy. (See ‘Whose “cry of pain”? Whose rage? Whose agenda?’ in category Commentary 2017 at togetherfornow.wordpress.com)

The ‘Brexit’ campaigns were funded (and furnished with data) by Robert Mercer‘s Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ, part of a network of rich, white supremacists, which includes Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. It has since been acknowledged that the ‘Brexit’ campaign was fuelled by outright lies and misinformation, and was driven by a political desire to inflame distrust and hatred towards ‘foreigners’, refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and Muslims. The nature of the funding and data provision emerged after the referendum result. It raises questions not just about its impact on voters’ behaviour, but about its electoral legality.

Although there had been no electoral guidance as to what % vote should count as a ‘winning’ result for such a major constitutional, economic, political and cultural change (e.g. 60%?), the referendum result, at 48:52, was hailed by the MSM, the media and the Labour party as the ‘will of the people’, which had to be obeyed. However, Prime Minister May (mis)judged that she could secure a more solid mandate for her own role as PM (unelected as she was by either her party or the country), by calling a snap general election, when she expected to destroy the Labour party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, as an electoral force. As a result of her impulsive act and the way in which she conducted her campaign, she lost what little mandate she had, and her party’s overall majority was slashed. This result can fairly be seen as reflecting the democratic will of the people, especially as we had all been warned off voting for Labour by both politicians and media.

As evidence unfurls from all corners of civil and professional society, business, industry, higher education, the NHS and the unions, it becomes clearer by the day, that there can be no such thing as a ‘good ‘Brexit’ (hard or soft): legally, economically or culturally. On the basis of the evidence so far, what we face are degrees of catastrophic self harm as a society, and even, as one EU politician put it recently, “mutually assured destruction” between the UK and the EU.

So, in the light of this new evidence, this emerging reality/horror show, isn’t it time for the UK Labour party to spell out the above, and take up the most recent mandate, which confirmed opposition to Tory Austerity politics and May’s strident ‘Brexit’ rhetoric? Time to be bold, rather than repeating, as Labour MP Emily Thornberry had to on Question Time (BBC1, 16 11 2017), that “we are a democratic party and must obey the referendum result and work to get the best possible deal for the country”.

This statement may obey the rules of grammar, but it flies in the face of sense and meaning and logic. As well as what we urgently need now from Labour politicians: the political will to do what is best for our country and all its peoples, without sacrificing any of those made vulnerable by Tory manoeuvres.

val walsh / 17 11 2011

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Whose “cry of pain”? Whose anger? Whose agenda?

Jonathan Freedland highlights “the anger fuelling both” the election of Trump as POTUS, and the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK. While acknowledging the significance of bedrock support from affluent voters in both countries for the electoral outcomes, “for the sake of argument”, he writes, “let’s focus on the demographic regarded as decisive: the white voters of those small towns left behind by globalization, if not modernity itself” (Freedland, ’We’ll never stop Brexit and Trump till we address the anger fuelling both’, The Guardian, 11 11 2017). [Emphasis added.]

In addition to economic anxiety, he cites the importance of race and identity, “specifically the beleaguered sense of white identity” (ibid.) illuminated by Gary Younge’s C4 documentary (09 11 2017), Angry, White and American. In the UK:

“The big leave vote in so many traditionally Labour seats was also read as a cry of pain from industrial towns abandoned and left derelict, with few or bad jobs, stagnant wages and crumbling public services” (ibid.).

But, he adds: “identity, immigration, loss, nostalgia, a sense of reduced status, and alienation from the country taking shape around them – all these played their part as well” (ibid.). So “first we need to address the situation that led our fellow Britons to make that decision” (ibid.). [Emphasis added.] But the “bedrock support from affluent voters” for ‘Brexit’ is not raised as part of “this situation”, as an issue triggering disbelief or disapproval, or needing explanation. And it has not been “read as a cry of pain”. This implies that the behaviour of affluent voters was rational and sensible. . . and cannot be blamed on our political parties or the media.

Freedland ignores other significant contributing factors. Both the ‘Brexit’ campaign and the campaign to elect Trump were heavily financed: to understand the electoral results, we must follow the money, rather than ignore it. These votes were largely paid for (bought?) by Robert Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ data organisations. Every ‘Brexit’ campaign in the UK, including the DUP campaign, received substantial funds and/or data from his organisations, in order to target categories of voters with persuasive ‘information’. Mercer’s organisations have links to Nigel Farage, Liam Fox’s ‘Atlantic Bridge’ organisation, Steve Bannon (Trump’s former adviser) and Vladimir Putin, for example. This is an Alt Right network. (Alt Right is code for white supremacist and is meant to replace references to the KKK or to fascism.) The legality or otherwise of this external electoral funding in the UK, and how it influenced voters’ decisions, awaits investigation and legal redress. The delay with this will no doubt guarantee that these crimes against democracy fall foul of the time limits rule, and no action is taken.

The facts about the referendum funding in the UK are not peripheral to understanding the “situation” (Freedland’s term) and the electoral outcome. Indeed they undermine the neat idea of a responsible and decisive ”demographic” (Freedland’s term) as some ‘natural fact’. Similarly, the act of “reading” the outcome “as a cry of pain” (Freedland’s terms) locates its meaning securely within this (media-defined) demographic: characterising it as both a victim voice and as (angry) protest (against politics itself). The views, values and political ambitions of those very rich and powerful rightwing men funding the campaigns remain hidden from view and unexamined. This, I suggest, amounts to a distortion in our understanding of what was going on and why, and in turn, how these forces can be exposed and resisted.

For the MSM to ignore the way the campaigns were funded and how data was used to target voters, is lazy journalism, and depoliticizes what was a highly political process of manipulation activated (in relative secrecy) by the far right. It removes a key (determining?) feature of the prevailing political context from scrutiny, in our effort to understand “the situation that led our fellow Britons to make that decision” (ibid.).

Religious fanatics with funds: political extremists with apocalypse on their historical agenda.
In interview with Paul Laity, black American novelist and script writer, Attica Locke, describes how her new crime novel, Bluebird, Bluebird, was instantly affected by Trump’s election (‘”When Trump was elected, overnight my book changed. I didn’t alter a word”’. The Guardian, 16 09 2107). 

“The plot revolves around murders with a connection to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas: ‘Are   you talking about the Klan?’ her hero, Darren Matthews, is asked. ‘Worse,’ he replies: ‘It’s the Klan with money and semi-automatic weapons’” (cited Laity, ibid.).

Steve Bannon’s links with Robert Mercer and other white supremacists have been known for some time, as well as Mercer’s role in the funding of both ‘Brexit’ and Trump, and Bannon’s role running the far Right website, Breitbart. That the links encompass the KKK, the Alt Right, etc., became more obvious as Trump’s election acted to validate the views of the extreme Right, and public racism immediately started to soar in both countries in the wake of both ‘Brexit’ and Trump’s victory.

In the US, Attica Locke, born in Houston, Texas, saw Trump’s victory “through the lens of race”, as a “backlash” to Obama’ (cited Laity, ibid.). ‘“Everything about Trump has led to *Charlottesville”, she tweeted’ (ibid.). In the UK, a Muslim office worker, whose family has been in the UK for 60 years, writes anonymously of experiencing racism in the 1980s, and how “Things got better and were meant to carry on getting better. Sadly the abuse is back. . . . As a human, I’m horrified and disgusted. As a Muslim, I’m mostly frightened. How did we get here?” (‘What I’m really thinking. The Muslim office worker’, The Guardian Weekend, 11 11 2017). Well, one prominent factor has been a dominant (i.e. well funded) political narrative that set out to inflame and stage-manage people’s sense of difference and discontent. Nigel Farage, the UK’s most vociferous and prominent campaigner for getting the UK out of the EU, openly claims his 25 years doing this as “his life’s work”.

While his US friend Steve Bannon’s extremist views and influence on Trump, and his short-lived membership of Trump’s inner circle in government, are not secrets, Andrew Brown’s recent long essay, ‘The war against Pope Francis’ (The Guardian, 28 10 2017) provides a sharp reminder of the role of Bannon’s rightwing Catholicism for his politics, and just how dangerous a political player he could still be.

After an investigation commissioned by Pope Benedict in 2012, Pope Francis, “whose modesty and humility have made him a popular figure around the world’ (Brown, ibid.), took action and purged a Vatican group “accused of combining increasingly extreme rightwing politics with a devotion to the Latin Mass” (Brown, ibid.). The next year, Francis sacked Cardinal Burke from his powerful job in the Vatican’s internal court system (ibid.). “By doing so”, Brown notes, “he made an implacable enemy”. The relevance of these events for the concerns of this commentary, are glimpsed in Brown’s summary of Burke’s style and influence:

“Burke, a bulky American given to lace-embroidered robes and (on formal occasions) a   ceremonial scarlet cape so long it needs pageboys to carry its trailing end, was one of the most conspicuous reactionaries in the Vatican. In manner and doctrine, he represents a long tradition of heavyweight American power brokers of white ethnic Catholicism. . . . . Cardinal Burke’s combination of anti-communism, ethnic pride and hatred of feminism has nurtured a succession of prominent rightwing lay figures in the US, from Pat Buchanan through Bill O’Reilly and Steve Bannon, alongside lesser-known Catholic intellectuals such as Michael Novak, who have shilled untiringly for US wars in the Middle East and the Republican understanding of free markets “ (Brown, ibid.). [Emphasis added.]

Brown continues:

“It was Cardinal Burke who invited Bannon to address a conference in the Vatican, via video link, in 2014. Bannon’s speech was apocalyptic, incoherent and historically eccentric. But there was no mistaking the urgency of his summons to a holy war: the second world war, he said, had been “the Judeo-Christian west versus atheists’, and now civilization was ‘at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism. . . a very brutal and bloody conflict. . . . that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,5000 years. . . . if the people in the church, do not . . . fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting’”. [Emphasis added.]

Compare Bannon’s speech with the words of black American writer, novelist and civil rights activist, James Baldwin, cited by Pankaj Mishra (‘The war we don’t remember’, The Guardian, 11 11 2017).

“We can no longer discount the ‘terrible probability’ James Baldwin once described: that the winners of history, ‘struggling to hold on to what they have stolen from their captives, and unable to look into their mirror, will precipitate a chaos throughout the world which, if it does not bring life on this planet to an end, will bring about a racial war such as the world has never seen'”.

While the late, great Baldwin’s perceptive and chilling words were offered as a warning, Bannon’s apocalyptic rant in 2014 was meant as an incitement: i.e. ‘Bring it on’. There’s no lack of ambition behind these rich white men’s ferocious campaigns.

Religious fanatics with funds, political extremists with racism and purity on their obsessive minds, laced with misogyny and anti-feminism, suddenly feel free to take to the world stage, and exert their influence. This is the fascist package. Smiling, be-suited, unleashed, and busy about their historical mission, they promote chaos, the destruction of democracy as a political model, and the ‘return’ of white (male) supremacy. This is big, as Mishra notes:

“The white nationalists have junked the old rhetoric of liberal internationalism, the preferred language of the western political and media establishment for decades. Instead of claiming to make the world safe for democracy, they nakedly assert the cultural unity of the white race against an existential threat posed by swarthy foreigners, whether these are citizens, immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers or terrorists” (Mishra, ibid.).

Watch and listen to Alt Right’s Richard Spencer in smiling, incendiary mode in Gary Younge’s Angry, White and American (C4, 09 11 2017), as he attempts (as a [deluded] white American male) to explain and justify his white nationalism, his white supremacist views, and his own consequent superiority as a white male, to Younge, an outstanding, award-winning, black British journalist, who lived and worked as a journalist in the US for 12 years, and has an American wife and children.

End note.
Do you feel their pain? Do you feel their anger? Do you understand their methods and their agenda?

Their desire and power to influence minds and shape politics worldwide for their burning ideological and personal purposes?

Pope Francis, though elderly and frail, took up the challenge. Politicians and the MSM would do well to follow his example, and be brave: help expose, challenge, regulate and reduce the power of these demotic, anti democratic agencies and individuals, rather than concentrating their bewilderment, frustration and analysis exclusively on those Trump supporters in the US and ‘Brexit’ voters in the UK, living in de-industrialised areas.

val walsh / 13 11 2017

Journalists and writers cited:
James Baldwin
Andrew Brown
Jonathan Freedland
Paul Laity
Attica Locke
Pankaj Mishra
Gary Younge.