Tag Archives: John McDonnell

Free Assange | The Belmarsh Tribunal

On the eve of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange’s extradition proceedings, which are set to recommence tomorrow [Wed 27th Oct] in London’s High Court, and in light of the extraordinary recent revelations of a CIA plot to kidnap and assassinate Assange while he sought political asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, last Friday [Oct 22nd] the Progressive International convened for the first physical Belmarsh Tribunal to put the case against Assange and the US ‘War on Terror’ on trial:

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Speakers included:

Former President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa;

Labour MPs, Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon & John McDonnell;

Former Labour leader and independent MP, Jeremy Corbyn;

Die Linke MEP, Özlem Demirel & former member of the Bundestag for Die Linke, Heike Hänsel;

Spokesperson for the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan, Selay Ghaffar;

Intelligence whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), Annie Machon (MI5) & Edward Snowden (NSA);

Member of Greek Parliament & co-founder of DiEM25, Yanis Varoufakis;

Former Australian Senator, Scott Ludlam;

Political writer, journalist, filmmaker and historian, Tariq Ali;

Investigative journalist for La Repubblica, Stefania Maurizi;

Human rights lawyers Renata Ávila & Ben Wizner, who is a civil liberties advocate with the ACLU; and,

British Israeli architect, Eyal Weizman, who is the director of the research agency Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The event was chaired by Croatian philosopher, author and political activist, Srećko Horvat and was streamed live by Novara Media. The partial transcript provided below is courtesy of yesterday’s Democracy Now! broadcast which can also be read and watched here in full.

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Stella Moris [partner of Julian Assange – from 1:55:50 min]:

We’re meeting five days before Julian’s — before the U.S. appeal at the High Court here in London. And I want to remind everyone that Julian won the case on January 4th, and the Trump administration, two days before leaving office, lodged the appeal. And Julian’s bail application was refused, so he’s been in prison, in Belmarsh prison, for over two-and-a-half years. …

In the last few weeks, the mask has fallen in relation to the case against Julian. It’s fallen because there was an article — well, it’s been progressively falling over the years. There is no case, as others have said. This is just a naked political persecution. But there was an article published by Yahoo News just a few weeks ago, a 7,500-word investigation with over 30 sources, named and unnamed, high-level sources from current and past U.S. administrations, from the National Security Council, from the CIA, and that story revealed that the extrajudicial assassination of Julian in London was discussed at the highest levels of the U.S. government, that the seventh floor of the CIA in Langley, which is the director’s office, requested sketches and options for how to kill Julian inside the Embassy of Ecuador. They talked about kidnapping him, too, about rendition, rendition, extraordinary rendition, which is what the CIA developed to kidnap people and take them across jurisdictions to disappear them and then put them in a black site somewhere. And the embassy was essentially a black site towards the end. I felt that anything could happen there.

Julian’s lawyers were targeted by name, not just incidentally spied on. There are emails telling the security company to target Gareth Pierce, to target Aitor Martínez, to target Julian’s legal team, and their documents were stolen. And Baltasar Garzón’s office was broken into, just as the CIA was planning to murder Julian. And our 6-month-old baby’s nappy was instructed to be stolen so that they could use that, analyze the DNA to check whether Julian was the father.

This is flagrant criminality. We’re dealing with criminals who have instrumentalized the law, instrumentalized the extradition arrangements with this country and their good relationships with this country to politically persecute an innocent man, a journalist for doing his job.

Ewen MacAskill [Pulitzer-winning journalist – from 1:08:30 min]:

Another whistleblower that I owe much to is Edward Snowden. I went to Hong Kong in 2013 with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and spent over a week holed up with Snowden in our hotel room in Hong Kong.

Whistleblowers are essential to good journalism. They allow reporters to get behind the walls of secrecy, the walls of secrecy built up by officials and press officers. The whistleblowers reveal abuses and wrongdoing within governments, companies, the military, intelligence agencies. These whistleblowers should be rewarded for their courage; instead, too often they end up facing prosecution or jail.

There’s been a war being waged against journalism and free speech that’s been going on since at least 9/11. It’s not a general war. It’s specific to national security and the intelligence agencies. The intelligence agencies are waging it to try and dissuade future leakers within the agencies, and try and dissuade the journalists covering the national security beat. And this is what Assange has been caught up in.

What Assange has been accused of is fundamentally no different from the normal interaction between whistleblowers and journalists on the national security beat. There’s no fundamental difference between what Julian Assange was doing and what I was doing. And when I was in Hong Kong with Snowden, I spent a week with him discussing the ins and outs of his work at the National Security Agency. I spent a week going through tens of thousands of secret documents. And he passed me a memory stick with tens of thousands of secret documents on it. I mean, how is that fundamentally different from the relationship between the whistleblower Chelsea Manning and the publisher Julian Assange? …

If Julian is to be prosecuted, then there’s a equally good case for the editor and journalists in The Guardian or New York Times, Der Spiegel, El País, La República and all the other organizations involved in this coverage being prosecuted, too.

Obama, in spite of his liberal background, failed to stand up to the pressure from the intelligence agencies, and he used the draconian 1917 Espionage Act and other laws against whistleblowers and journalists. In fact, Obama was responsible for more prosecutions and action against journalists and whistleblowers than all the other presidents in the U.S. combined.

Tariq Ali [from 8:00 min]:

Julian exposed another set of wars. Basically, he exposed the so-called war on terror, which began after 9/11, has lasted 20 years, has led to six wars, millions killed, trillions wasted. That is the only balance sheet of that war. Nowhere has it redeemed itself or done any good, as we’ve seen most recently in Afghanistan.

So, what do you say to people like Chelsea Manning and Julian, who’s the principal target of the legal and judicial brutalities taking place, when they reveal stuff, which everyone knows it’s true, since some of it is on video — Americans bombing Iraqi families, totally innocent — totally innocent — laughing about it and are recorded killing them? That’s a big joke. Well, it isn’t a big joke for the millions who have died in the Arab world since these 20 years of war began. And Julian, far from being indicted, should actually be a hero. He’s not the first. And if they think that punishing him in this vindictive and punitive way is going to change people’s attitudes to coming out and telling the truth, they’re wrong. …

Julian is unfortunate to be captured by this particular state and its different apparatuses in order to appease the United States of America. He should never have been kept in prison for bail. He should not be in prison now awaiting a trial for extradition. He should be released. And I hope that acts like the Belmarsh Tribunal will help to bring that nearer.

Selay Ghaffar [Solidarity Party of Afghanistan – from 14:30 min]:

Dear comrades and friends, I am thrilled and honored to join you on this historical tribunal. All Afghans, particularly the families of the war victims, expect the Belmarsh Tribunal to heal their wounds by holding the United States accountable for the thousands of innocent Afghans’ lives they destroyed and the future they stole. And I salute the Progressive International for this remarkable initiative.

In the wake of the U.S. humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, everybody asks this question: How did the two decades of the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, ended with the Taliban terrorists gaining a swift and easy victory in Afghanistan?

Well, so far, in my opinion, only one person, by the name Julian Assange, possibly had the answer to this mystery. In 2011, he unmasked the truth through a set of documents called the Afghan War Diary, where he exposed the tyrannical U.S. policy in Afghanistan and said that one of the goals behind sustaining the war was to wash money out of the tax bases of the U.S. and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of the transnational security elite.

Two decades of U.S. occupation brought us nothing but ruin and loss of lives. And while the mainstream media tried to portray a rosy picture of Afghanistan, the leaks by Assange, in contrary, revealed bloody atrocities committed by the U.S. and NATO occupying forces. For instance, in 2007, the U.S. Special Forces dropped six 2,000-pound bombs on a compound where they believed a high-value individual was hiding; however, locals reported that up to 300 civilians had been killed in this raid. None of the media reported that incident.

According to reliable sources, about 241,000 Afghans have been killed by crossfire between the U.S. forces and the Taliban, of whom 48,000 civilians have been killed by U.S. occupation forces in a number of unknown incidents. But in my belief, the real number is much, much higher, as many incidents are not reported and not documented.

Well, the U.S. occupation has also inflicted invisible wounds. In 2009, the former Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported that fully two-thirds of Afghans suffer from mental health problems. The war has exacerbated the effects of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, a lack of access to healthcare, and environmental degradation on Afghans’ health. Therefore, U.S. and NATO allies are responsible and accountable for all the past 20 years’ misery of our tormented people, particularly our ill-fated women.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to be among you all today in this tribunal. And I hope Julian Assange will be free soon. Thank you.

Jeremy Corbyn [from 18:25 min]:

Julian Assange has paid a very, very, very high price for his lifelong determination to expose the truth. Why? Is it because he has some idea that he can make himself famous by exposing the truth? Or is it something much stronger and much more moral than that, the belief that by exposing the truth, you can save lives, you can stop wars, and you can make sure that democracies function properly by holding all public officials, elected or unelected, to public account?

And that’s why the role of Julian Assange in all of this is so important. His information exposed the dishonesty surrounding the claims on Iraq. His information exposed the dishonesty of the continuing reporting of Iraq after 2003 with hidden information about the numbers of people that had died from “friendly fire” in Iraq, but also the dangers to all journalists, to everyone who believes in free speech, of the concept of the embedded journalist, embedded on an aircraft carrier, sent into a barracks or whatever else, to produce reports that are to the liking of the military.

So, those of us who want to live in a peaceful world and do not believe that a repeat of Iraq will do anything other than bring about even worse consequences than the Iraq War did are here because we want to support Julian Assange in the bravery that he’s shown and the price that he’s already paid for that bravery of ensuring that the whole world knows the truth about it.

Yanis Varoufakis [economist & Greek MP – from 49:20 min]:

A young man in Australia, a long, long time ago, well before we ever knew about WikiLeaks, had an idea: the idea of using Big Brother’s technology to create a large digital kind of mirror to turn to the face of Big Brother so as to enable us to be able to watch him watching us — a bit like turning the mirror to the face of the Medusa. WikiLeaks is based on that idea.

I remember spending a very long night with Julian in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, when he called upon me to help him decipher and transcribe a conversation between officials of the International Monetary Fund. Having spent, in the previous year, a very long time negotiating with them, listening to them on that tape that Julian had procured, through WikiLeaks, through this blind, digital post box, was such a splendid experience. It was so liberating, because I could suddenly hear with my own ears the very same officials effectively agreeing with everything that the good people of Greece were saying, that we were saying, that I had been saying to them.

Now, of course, WikiLeaks has done far more important work than simply revealing that the International Monetary Fund knew that they were committing crimes against the Greek people and other peoples, in Latin America and so on, while perpetrating them. WikiLeaks and Julian, as we know, have been persecuted for revealing to the world, especially to liberals, Democrats, Tories, social democrats — revealing to them the crimes against humanity perpetrated by our own elected leaders, in our name, behind our backs. This is why they are now killing Julian Assange.

So, our message as the Belmarsh Tribunal must not simply be one of support for Julian or a call to have him released. No, we are a tribunal. We are trying the criminals that are killing Julian, as we speak, for crimes against humanity, not just for the crime of slowly murdering Julian Assange. You are criminals, and we are going to pursue you to the end of the Earth and back for the crimes you are committing all over the world against humanity while also murdering slowly Julian Assange and other whistleblowers who are revealing your crimes.

Edward Snowden [from 2:09:15 min]:

It’s difficult to be here. I struggle to understand how we can be here, after so many years there has been. There have been so many stories told. There’s been so much criticism. There has been so much deception. And where has it brought us? Has this been constructive? Is this a victory for us, for the state, for humanity, for our rights?

When I came forward in 2013, I said the reason that I came forward was that we have a right to know that which is done to us and that which is done in our name by our governments. That was already under threat. And when you look at the world since, it seems that that trend is accelerating. Do we still have that right? Do we have any rights if we don’t defend them? Well, today we see someone who has stood up to defend that right, who has aggressively championed that right, at an extreme cost. And it’s time for us to defend his rights.

What we are witnessing is a murder that passes without comment. And I want to say that it is difficult for me to comprehend the spectacle of the press of a nation, the “developed world,” aiding and abetting, with full knowledge, a crime not only against this man, but against our public interest. However, at this moment that we are, we all see this. We all feel it. It’s no less familiar than the shoes on my feet.

Everywhere we look, from Afghanistan to economics, from pandemic to pervasive surveillance, the obvious has been made unspeakable. And it has become unspeakable because the truth of our circumstances could be taken as evidence in the defense of the actions of the out of favor. And in the eyes of the American state, few represent this class, a greater object of hatred, than the person of Julian Assange. He has been charged as a political criminal — something that I understand quite well, but he has been charged as the purest sort of political criminal, for having committed the transgression of choosing the wrong side.

The charges, which are — they are absolutely an unadorned legal fiction. We are told to believe that the state has these powers over what can be said and what can’t be said, the things that can and cannot be said. But what happens if we permit that? Where does that lead? What are we? Can we be said to be free, if even our power to express ourselves, to understand the facts of our world, can be fenced off from us, and we look beyond, through the gauze, through the veil, at what could be the facts of the world, but we’re not permitted to acquire them?

Julian Assange did not accept that. And the charges against him reduce to an allegation to commit the crime of journalism in the first degree, which is to say, when we look at it applied elsewhere, the same sort of publication of classified material that we see in The New York Times or The Washington Post, aggravated by a conspiracy to accomplish the same, which is simply uncovering an uncomfortable truth. But something distinguishes Julian Assange from the greatest newspapers of our day, and that is his independence. Julian Assange is not a person who will be told no lightly.

I remember, in the case of 2013, when I came forward and revealed evidence of mass surveillance, which the government of my country had constructed the apparatus of mass surveillance, an entire scheme that spanned the globe, with the participation of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and, of course, the United Kingdom. And when the newspapers of all of these countries began publishing these things, one of the papers who held the archived material originally included The Guardian, who was headquartered in the United Kingdom, still is. And I remember reading a story — of course, I wasn’t there for it personally; I’m getting this secondhand — who knows what we can rely on, the state of journalism as it is today? But they were approached by the British state, who said, “OK, OK, you’ve had your fun. You’ve done enough. Now it’s time to stop.” And they had to send their archival material away to the United States, to a partner publication, because they no longer believed that they were safe to continue publishing. And they were right. Agents in the British state went to The Guardian. They destroyed their laptop computers. They’ve got it all on film, the putting angle grinders to computer chips, trying to erase any trace that these stories had been written from within the confines of the newsroom.

Now, Julian was not deterred by that, and he never would be. When you perform the level of surveillance against a person that has clearly been performed, and is being performed even today, certainly in prison, against Julian Assange, you understand at least something about their character. You understand what the breaking point is. You know what it will take to make them bend. And he didn’t bend. He will break before he does. He has consistently and continuously dared to speak the unspeakable, in the face of opposition, in the face of power. And that is a remarkable and rare thing. That is the reason that Julian Assange sits in prison today.

If you love the truth, as I think everyone here does — you wouldn’t be listening to this, you wouldn’t be watching this, you wouldn’t be participating in this, you wouldn’t care about this, unless something in you told you that something important was happening here. And if you do care, as I think you do, you are a criminal of the same category as Julian Assange. In the eyes of the state, what differentiates you, what divides you from him, that is only the degree. We share the same guilt. Each of us share in the crime. And we are unindicted co-conspirators in his quest to raise a lantern in the halls of power.

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Ken Loach on Starmer, the Blairite witch hunt and how the left should move ahead

One of the latest and most prominent victims of Keir Starmer’s purge of left-wing activists, filmmaker Ken Loach was suspended by the Labour Party last month. Recognising that it was pointless to try to challenge the decision, instead he replied on Twitter writing:

“Labour HQ finally decided I’m not fit to be a member of their party, as I will not disown those already expelled. Well … I am proud to stand with the good friends and comrades victimised by the purge. There is indeed a witch-hunt … Starmer and his clique will never lead a party of the people. We are many, they are few. Solidarity.”

Ken Loach has more recently responded with an interview given to Double Down News which is embedded below with a full transcript provided beneath:

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Democracy is dead in the Labour Party. Starmer’s leadership is not interested in democracy, it’s interested in power and control. In order to maintain that control it has to get rid of its activists. Democracy, principle: everything goes out of the window; the only thing they want is control. They are ruthless.

It reveals Starmer is dishonest, because he promised unity.

[Keir Starmer at 0:20 mins:] We have got to unite our party or we won’t win.

Knowing that he would get rid of the left the moment he was in there. And also personal treachery. He stood alongside Jeremy Corbyn knowing he was going to put a dagger between his shoulder blades – that’s treachery: treachery and dishonesty. What kind of qualities are those in a leader?

Gordon Brown was described as Stalin who became Mr Bean; I think Starmer’s gone the other way… He is like a Mr Bean, but now he’s become Stalin. The only thing he’s good at, the only lesson he’s learned, is from the Stalinist tendency to control the machine, disregard everything – principles, rules, law, natural justice, truth – disregard all those and get control of the machine. Then kick your enemies out.

I mean it’s like when Trotsky was removed from the photographs. Jeremy is excised from Labour politics. It’s like photographs close in and he doesn’t exist. And the media collude in this. They know it’s a stitch up, but it is not brought out in the press because the press wants that outcome.

And that’s something else that doesn’t appear in the press at all: how many thousands have left the Labour Party? It must now, with the current wave, be approaching 150,000 I would think. Imagine if that had happened under Jeremy Corbyn. I mean the press would say: ‘Corbyn, you’re destroying the Labour Party’. It’s not even a news item.

Where’s that fake outrage that they wheel out, you know, whenever the left appears? It evaporates when the right-wing is doing something – why is that? Well, we know why… because they want the left driven out.

When Jeremy and John [McDonnell] won the leadership I think there was general underestimation of the ruthlessness of the right-wing. The first day they get in, was just take over the machinery of the party. Well, that’s what we should have done: [taken over] the machinery of the party. We were playing cricket and they were doing all-in wrestling.

In a way, when you look back it’s so obvious what they would do. They represent the interests of the ruling class. And in fact they are now the biggest obstacle to change. They are a bigger obstacle than the Tory Party.

And the idea of a broad church, of course, is nonsense. It was never a broad church. It’s ‘a broad church’ within very narrow limits. You will agree with us, otherwise you’re out.

I think the whole soft-left element in the Labour Party that just wishes life were different and won’t recognise the class war – they are in a class war within the Labour Party. The right-wing represent the interests of the ruling class [and] they are the biggest obstacle to change at the moment because the stop us confronting the real enemy.

The right-wing and the whole establishment decided that when Jeremy Corbyn became leader and John McDonnell with him, it was a mistake that they were allowed to become the leadership. And they put forward a programme that would make a serious beginning to transforming British society in the interests of working class people: common ownership; public investment; trade union rights; ending privatisation in public services, particularly the National Health Service.

And the establishment decided this is not acceptable: we need a safe Labour Party that will be there when we need a change of government. We cannot accept a change in class interest. The interests of the ruling class have to predominate, because that’s the essence of this state.

And there’s no conspiracy: people understand the steps of the dance; they don’t need to ring each other up [and] say BBC will you do this, or Guardian will you run that? They understand the dance.

So the campaign to unseat Jeremy Corbyn was begun by the Guardian. The Guardian blew the whistle, so that all the right-wing press could say, ‘well, if the Guardian says he’s got to go, we’ve got a free ride’.

The BBC joined in and the viciousness of the campaign against particularly the personality of Jeremy Corbyn was the most vile as I can remember. It was as bad as against [former NUM leader during 1980s miners’ strike, Arthur] Scargill, if not worse, because even Arthur Scargill wasn’t called a racist.

Everyone knows that is a lie about Jeremy, but they colluded in the lie. Eventually that penetrated to the people. There were people saying, ‘well, there must be something in this’. No smoke without fire. Well, of course, it had its effect as they chose [and] as wanted.

[Keir Starmer at 4:40 mins:] The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, in that election we’ve just had, were terrible. And they came back at us on the door. They vilified him and they knew what they were doing and they knew why they were doing it.

And, of course, we know when we nearly won the 2017 election, there were people in Labour HQ actively working against a Labour victory.

[Robert Peston at 5:00 mins] You’ve also said, ‘each day I try to think of ways to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

[Peter Mandelson:] I did say that yes.

[Peston:] Well, that was a mistake wasn’t it?

[Mandelson:] No, I wasn’t alone amongst people who found [his leadership] disappointing…

[Peston:] If he had had your backing, he might have done a lot better.

[Mandelson:] Well, he might have done.

And they were celebrating when Jeremy Corbyn just failed to win the election. It’s now becoming even more urgent for them to avoid a Labour Party that would make real change, because clearly Johnson will have outlived his usefulness for the ruling class quite soon.

Because he’s clearly not up to the job; he’s clearly a buffoon. I mean they’re having to apologise for him every second month. And there is always a time after a decade or so, people will feel the need for change. We’re a democracy, aren’t we? We can change. Yes, you can change, provided both parties do the same.

So there will be a need for a new face, and then it may well be the Labour Party. So it is essential to protect the class interests of those in power that the Labour Party does not challenge that class ascendancy; and Jeremy and John would have done that. That’s why the attack happened and it is why it will intensify until Starmer, or whoever replaces him, because they see Starmer as such a liability, takes over.

Starmer wants a party that is smaller [and] that has no activists to show to the right-wing they won’t change anything, and the assets of the ruling class are safe with them. Starmer wants to lead a party so that Murdoch can put his arm around Starmer and say, ‘you’re one of us – you can vote Labour now’. And deliver – this is the key thing – deliver the working class… to Murdoch, and his pals, the establishment, the BBC, the Guardian and the rest.

And then the Guardian will say: well, you could have done a little bit more Keir Starmer, you could have given a few more bob to the health service, you could have done this, you could have done that. But too late, you know.

I received a letter like many – probably thousands of people have – from the Labour Party, saying they had proscribed certain organisations that were there to support people who have been unjustly expelled. I was suspended.

Of course I support those organisations. There is a witch hunt against the left and the party leadership made the proscription act retrospectively, so if you’d ever been a member – or not even a member, a supporter, or endorsed any of these organisations – then you were expelled yourself.

I mean that’s not normal, I understand, in the law that you make misdemeanours, now a crime, and you’re guilty if you ever did it in the past. Laws don’t act retrospectively in that way.

However, Starmer has no regard for due process, he has no regard for natural justice; he is simply concerned with expelling the left. So I’ve decided to take no part in this charade, and I didn’t give them the satisfaction of a reply.

You have to treat these attacks as a badge of honour. If they come for you, it shows they rate you. So I think that’s how we have to look at it: ‘yes come on, you know, abuse us!’ Because you just reveal who you are. It’s water off a duck’s back to me. We have nothing to worry about; they’re the ones who should be in the dock.

So I’d say to anyone – and particularly the comrades in Young Labour – wear it as a badge of honour. They’re bastards. Don’t give them the time of day.

If I were Jeremy I would say, ‘I’m not coming back, I’m going to hold you to account from the backbenches: you’re going to see what leadership really is. You are no Labour Party leader. There will be no party of people under your leadership.’ I’d hammer him. I wouldn’t want to go back in: I’d hammer him as an independent.

I think that those in the Labour Party have got to fight every inch, you know occupy them, hold them to account. But do it in the knowledge that the media probably won’t report you.

I mean the Jewish members, who are now four or five times more likely to be expelled than non-Jewish members for claims of anti-semitism – Jewish members who have fought anti-semitism all their life – I mean it’s so bizarre, you couldn’t make it up. Doesn’t get a mention… Just don’t mention them – just exclude them.

So the right-wing of the Labour Party have nothing to say. You know what you’ve done and why you’re doing it. You know your own dishonesty. I’m glad I don’t live with your conscience.

To the good members of the Labour Party I’d just say just look to the facts really: just base it on the evidence. Peaceful coexistence doesn’t work. The broad church doesn’t work. You’ve seen the dishonesty. You’ve seen the treachery. You’ve seen the scurrility of alleging racism to people who are the least racist in our society. Show your disgust at what you’ve seen.

Whether you’re in or out, be part of a broader united movement that really stands for truth and honesty, and the interests of working class people.

The hope lies in people’s determination to fight back, but that determination will only last so long. The mass movement that Jeremy and John built – because it was the biggest party in Western Europe with nearly 600,000 members – that was a cause of hope. Now this destruction by Starmer and co and by the media and the right-wing [of] the Labour Party; this destruction is killing that hope.

So we’ve got to act fast. I say it’s a critical moment – it really is a critical moment.

There’s no only those people who’ve left the Labour Party or who’ve been driven out, there’s people from the green movement, young people, absolutely overwhelmed by the prospect of the destruction of the planet – quite rightly – the whole anger of people in the neglected regions is still there. And it turns to apathy, it turns to cynicism, it turns to alienation, and a belief that politics has nothing to offer.

There’s a huge political vacuum. We know from history, if the left doesn’t articulate for these people, their issues, the right-wing will. And we’ve seen elements of that before: hence the fall of old working class areas to the Tories. This is a political vacuum.

This is the biggest challenge to the left in my lifetime. (That’s a long time.) So who’s going to answer it?

I think we need a number of things… a new political party would be suicide at the moment, but we do need a political movement across the whole left: inside the Labour Party and outside. It’s got to be ready to become a party when the time is right.

The unions are key. They have financial clout, they have political clout. Serious trade unions, who say, ‘right, these are the interests of our members; Starmer will not represent them.’ And on that basis [of] the interests of their members, we’re going to develop a whole left movement. Otherwise, we fragment.

And who’s going to step forward, I don’t know. It needs two or three. I don’t believe in great heroes, but we need a collective leadership that people will recognise and identify with, and we unify the left the way Jeremy did when he led the Labour Party. And we need that unity again.

The Socialist Campaign Group MPs have got to face the choice. They either present us with a credible political path to reclaim the Labour Party – can they do it? – I haven’t heard them. I haven’t heard their path. How do you do it now when you have no access to the machine [and] your supporters are being driven out? How are you going to reclaim the party now? If you can’t then how do you represent the independent interests of the working class? How do you represent them?

If you have no answer [then] you’ve either got to get out or you have to find another solution, because otherwise people are leaving. They will fragment. And at this critical moment when you have this mass of people [who have] just been driven out of the party, where are they going to go? If we miss this opportunity I think it’s a very black outlook.

The mass media are our enemy. They’ve declared war and we know whose interests they represent.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension is a declaration of war

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Background:

This section has been included as an update. The original post begins after the asterisk.

The paragraphs below form the conclusion to an article by Jamie Stern-Weiner and Alan Maddison entitled “Smoke Without Fire: The Myth of a ‘Labour Antisemitism Crisis’” published by Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL):

It has never been in dispute that anti-Jewish attitudes exist within the Labour Party. Such attitudes—along with ten thousand other varieties of bigotry and prejudice—exist in every political party, as they do in the society from which mass memberships are drawn. The recent heated debate has centred around the altogether more serious allegation that antisemitism in Labour has become widespread and institutionalised. Faced with claims that Labour antisemitism poses an existential threat to Jews, on the one side, and arguments that antisemitism is neither widespread nor institutionalised in the party, on the other, it might be tempting to split the difference and assume that the truth lies somewhere in between. But those who care about the fight against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry should avoid this lazy assumption and look instead at the data.

There were no witches in Salem; Jewish elders did not gather in a graveyard at night; a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy did not target Nazi Germany. The allegation that Labour is rife with antisemitism is of a piece with these fantastic antecedents. To judge by the available evidence, the truth of this controversy lies not in the middle but at one pole: there is no ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’. Should new evidence be unearthed which demonstrates that antisemitism is widespread within the Labour Party, the issue will doubtless warrant renewed attention. In the meantime, the rational response to a baseless allegation is to dismiss it.

Click here to read the full article which includes a wealth of assiduously collated supporting evidence.

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What Jewish American scholar Norman Finkelstein once called out as “the crucifixion of Corbyn” is finally complete. Many on the left allowed this to happen by repeatedly giving succour to false charges of antisemitism instead of standing in solidarity against the witch-hunt. John McDonnell and Corbyn himself simply turned their backs when political allies like Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and Chris Williamson were lined up and picked off one-by-one on the same spurious charges, until finally yesterday the coup de grace was delivered by Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer. As the Morning Star boldly declared in its editorial, “Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension is a declaration of war”:

JEREMY CORBYN’S suspension from the Labour Party is a declaration of war by the leadership against all socialists.

It throws down the gauntlet to the entire left to rally in defence of the leader who brought socialism back as a major force in British politics.

The ostensible reason for Corbyn’s suspension rests on a sleight of hand by which anyone who dares to query contentious allegations is deemed guilty of the claims under dispute. So for making the widely shared observation that “the scale of the problem [of anti-semitism in the Labour Party] was dramatically overstated for political reasons,” Corbyn is labelled “part of the problem.”

As a lawyer, Keir Starmer is well aware that this is a travesty of justice more akin to the proceedings of a witch hunt than any semblance of due process.

He does not care, because the decision to suspend his predecessor is not motivated by Corbyn’s response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC’s) report. It rests on the calculation that the new leadership is now strong enough to expunge the left’s influence from the party altogether. 1

Click here to read the full editorial.

In war, the goal is to defeat the enemy at any cost, and this is precisely what the Blairites have done. And they don’t care about the scale of collateral damage. The damage their blunderbuss campaign has done to the anti-racist cause is of no concern. The ammunition they have handed over to their political rivals is again of no immediate concern. Truth be damned. As Chris Marsden writes on World Socialist Website:

The level of cynicism involved beggars belief. Anti-Semitism, racial hatred directed towards the Jews, is historically identified with the far right, especially with Nazi Germany, though it had many adherents within the British ruling class, including among the Royal family. Now the left is being targeted as the source of anti-Semitism even as the fascist Alternative for Germany has been elevated to the position of official opposition in the Bundestag, and similar formations, including Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, are being cultivated by the ruling elite throughout Europe.

The opposition expressed by Corbyn to the suppression of the Palestinians is no more than can still be found among substantial sections of the left and peace movement in Israel. Nevertheless, bogus allegations of anti-Semitism are now being employed against the left, based upon a filthy campaign waged by the Blairite right, the Conservative Party, the Netanyahu government, and the security services of the US, Israel and the UK, ever since Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015.

Any criticism of Israel and its persecution of the Palestinians has occasioned demands for the accused to be removed from the Labour Party. This was codified in Labour’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in 2018, outlawing political criticism of the Israeli state. The sole purpose of such baseless lies is to complete the thoroughgoing transformation of the Labour Party into a reliable instrument of the most reactionary elements within the British state apparatus. It has been orchestrated by the war criminal Tony Blair—possibly the most sinister figure in British politics today—and his inner coterie.

Left unchallenged, it will have a chilling effect on democratic rights, including the right to free speech and the right of political parties to advance policies that are deemed illegitimate by an unaccountable cabal of state operatives and political scoundrels. 2

Click here to read the full article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn suspended by Labour Leadership in latest outrage during Blairite anti-Semitism witch-hunt”.

Marsden delivers a damning appraisal both of the Labour Party and “Corbynism”, justifiably singling out John McDonnell, who tweeted “In interests of party unity let’s find a way of undoing & resolving this”, as well as highlighting Corbyn’s own lame response on Sky News:

“What I will be doing is appealing to the party … to kindly think again.” He later appealed to Labour members, “Don’t go away, don’t leave the party. Stay in the party and argue the case for economic and social justice in our society.”

However, Marsden is one of those “told-you-so socialists” who overstates his case when he erroneously and disingenuously claims “Corbyn was only the latest in a line of supposedly left-wing figures and movements” before drawing cheap comparisons to Syriza who sold out Greece; Podemos in Spain; Bernie Sanders and even Barack Obama.

In truth, Corbynism represented far more than all of these because – for one thing – Labour is the main opposition party in our de facto two-party system. Thus, under Corbyn’s leadership, the left automatically gained a great deal of political traction. Moreover, in spite of Corbyn’s appeasement of the Blairite witch-hunt – a failure born of his genuine and deep concern for anti-racism combined with a desire and commitment for party unity – his nearly forty year long parliamentary record stands unblemished. It is absolutely laughable to compare him to the warmongering Obama or even to Sanders who has nothing like Corbyn’s credentials and was so quick not only to step aside but to endorse both Clinton and Biden.

Indeed, Corbyn has been the victim of an unremitting campaign of smears for reasons that Marsden and others of his ilk will be determined not to acknowledge, if only because they have their own political axes to grind. Corbyn’s unflinching commitment to social justice represented a genuine assault on establishment interests, while his staunch opposition to the wars presented no lesser menace to the neo-imperialists. In 2017, Labour under Corbyn won the largest increase in the share of the vote since Clement Attlee, and fell short of victory by just 2.4%. The threat of Corbynism was so real that it had to be snuffed out – and was.

The question for the Left is what next? Is it better for Corbyn supporters to tear up our membership cards as a great many have done already, or, since the likelihood is the party has once again crossed the threshold and a fresh purge of members awaits us, do we hold off until we are eventually pushed? In short, do we fight on regardless or admit defeat and organise some kind of tactical retreat with the formation of alternative party? I am undecided.

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Update:

Here is Chris Williamson offering an impassioned response both to the EHRC report and Corbyn’s suspension. At the end of the interview he calls for a new grassroots movement. The Labour Party, he says, “is in a very, very bad place, and honestly the kindest thing that we can do is kill it and start again”:

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The following is the unabridged statement and call for Jeremy Corbyn to be reinstated that was released by Labour Against the Witch-hunt:

Silence on the witch-hunt should never have been an option! Appeasement does not work!

Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely right in the comments that got him suspended: “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”.

It is a real shame that he did not say so when he could have made a real difference to the witch-hunt and the civil war in the Labour Party. Unfortunately, it was the Corbyn leadership’s silence and complicity in the witch-hunt that made his suspension possible in the first place. Hundreds of socialists and Corbyn supporters have been suspended and expelled for comments that often do not amount to much more than what Corbyn said.

We need to understand that the campaign by the right inside and outside the party was never about fighting antisemitism. It was always a campaign designed to get rid of Corbyn and make sure that the Labour Party becomes once again a safe “second eleven” that could run Britain on behalf of capitalism, and follow the US into any new military adventure.

Sadly, it appears as if Corbyn and his allies still do not understand this basic reality. The six candidates supported by the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance in the current NEC elections have made sure not to mention the word ‘witch-hunt’, or propose any actions on how to stop it.

In a tweet following his suspension, Corbyn writes that, “I’ve made absolutely clear those who deny there has been an antisemitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong. I will continue to support a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of racism.”

Corbyn himself has now become a victim of this “zero tolerance” approach he champions. The fight for socialism is intrinsically linked to a culture of free speech and open debate on all issues – including, importantly, the question of Israel/Palestine.

Click here to read the same statement at the LAW official website.

And HERE to sign a petition calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstatement.

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Additional:

A selection of comments I have posted to Novara Media relating to the Labour witch-hunt:

Millions of people have somehow been persuaded that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite. How did this happen? There has never been any evidence whatsoever presented showing Corbyn issuing a racist statement of any kind, let alone an antisemitic one. So how did this defamation of Corbyn come about? Certainly it was propagated across the whole of the media including on the BBC, C4 and in The Guardian. So was there a coordinated effort? Well, what did Al Jazeera disclose in their four-part undercover investigation? But hey, better not to discuss any of this because it smacks of “conspiracy” and “weak analysis”. Really? Can’t we cut the crap about this. Media bias is real, it is coordinated and it is devastatingly effective. Why else do you think people have become ashamed to voice their support for Jeremy Corbyn?

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You’re doing it again. On and on and on again just perpetuating this media manufactured smear about antisemitism. Talking about the Israel lobby isn’t safe ground, you say. Who cares. It exists and it has been exposed very actively undermining Jeremy Corbyn. But you don’t want us to talk about it. Why not? Instead of giving credence to a blatant smear campaign, you could instead be directing viewers to Al Jazeera’s investigative series. So I refer you again to Norman Finkelstein. Listen to him. He understands how this works. Even the son of two Holocaust survivors was not immune to these tactics. Speaking up for the Palestinian cause ultimately cost him his job. He will tell you that every time Corbyn capitulates, his enemies will simply turn his contrition into an admission of guilt. His every apology picked up and hurled back as a new weapon, readymade to beat him and his base with. That’s how we’ve end up with staunch anti-racist Jackie Walker and now Chris Williamson suspended – to name but two entirely innocent victims of Labour’s McCarthyite purge. It’s a witch hunt, and the only way to bring an end to a witch hunt is to call it out. Sorry – your analysis is really excellent in most regards – but your cowardice over this issue deeply troubles me.

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On the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey:

You see the left keeps making rods for its own back. It parrots this silly weaponised term “conspiracy theory” all the time and then guess what. It demands that we regard anyone who has ever said anything slightly improper or accidentally misspoke on matters of race or even nationality to be pilloried as an outright racist and then guess what. It adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism and then guess what. So now we have the completely ludicrous situation where an article published in a reputation newspaper contains a statement which is true in all regards so far as it can be tested but that officially becomes a “conspiracy theory” and because it calls into question the state of Israel it is also “antisemitic” and then when someone else merely tweets in favour of the article (not even the offending statement) they are instantly tarred with the same brush and SACKED FFS as a propagator of “antisemitic conspracy theories”. Meanwhile, Israel illegally annexes the West Bank and barely a word is said. Not sure what makes me angier really: Starmer, and the Blairites he fronts; the Israel lobby; the utterly reprehensible media; or the progressive left itself that consistently bends over backwards to set itself up in this way.

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1 From an editorial entitled “Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension is a declaration of war” published in the Morning Star on October 30, 2020. https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/e/jeremy-corbyns-suspension-declaration-war

2 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn suspended by Labour Leadership in latest outrage during Blairite anti-Semitism witch-hunt” written by Chris Marsden, published in wsws.org on October 30, 2020. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/10/30/pers-o30.html

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solidarity with Julian Assange on the eve of his extradition hearing: journalism is not a crime

“The broad and vague nature of the allegations against Julian Assange, and of the offences listed in the indictment, are troubling, as many of them concern activities at the core of investigative journalism in Europe and beyond. Consequently, allowing Julian Assange’s extradition on this basis would have a chilling effect on media freedom, and could ultimately hamper the press in performing its task as purveyor of information and public watchdog in democratic societies.”

— Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe.

“Will the Prime Minister agree with the Parliamentary report that’s going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers upheld for the good of all of us?”

— Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons.

“I think this is one of the most important and significant political trials of this generation, in fact, longer. I think it is the Dreyfus case of our age, the way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons for simply exposing the truth of what went on in relation to recent wars.”

— John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor.

“When we speak about dictatorships, we call this brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It is a truth we rarely apply to our own societies, regardless of the trail of blood that leads back to us and which never dries.

WikiLeaks has exposed this. That is why Assange is in a maximum security prison in London facing concocted political charges in America, and why he has shamed so many of those paid to keep the record straight. Watch these journalists now look for cover as it dawns on them that the American fascists who have come for Assange may come for them, not least those on the Guardian who collaborated with WikiLeaks and won prizes and secured lucrative book and Hollywood deals based on his work, before turning on him.”

— John Pilger from a recent article entitled Julian Assange Must Be Freed, Not Betrayed.

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Australian citizen Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is set to start at Belmarsh Prison, London, on Monday 24th February.

The United States government wants to extradite the journalist and whistleblower to face charges under the Espionage Act for conspiracy to receive, obtain and disclose classified information. Much of the prosecution’s case relates to files released that exposed crimes committed by the US in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which Australia was, and is, a willing participant.

Below is a list of the protests being organised in Australia, USA and Britain.

Friday 21st February
Darwin:
Parliament House, 11am
Melbourne: State Library, 6.30pm

Saturday 22nd February
London: Australia House, 71 Aldwych WC2B 4HN at11:30am, march 12:30pm to Parliament Square

Sunday 23rd February
Perth:
US Consulate, 3pm

1st Week of Assange’s Hearing: Monday 24th February

Australia

Adelaide: Parliament steps, 5pm
Brisbane: British Consulate, 100 Eagle Street, 12pm
Hobart: Parliament Lawns, 12.30pm
Nowra: 59 Junction St (Cnr Berry Street), 12pm
Melbourne: British Consulate, 10am-5pm
Sydney: Martin Place Amphitheatre, 12pm

USA

New York City: Global Protest at the UK Consulate in NYC to mark the beginning of Julian Assange’s full extradition hearing on February 24th.

Britain

HMP Belmarsh: Protest in front of Belmarsh Prison each day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing, February 24-28th

Protests commence at 9:30am

HMP Belmarsh
4 Belmarsh Road
Thameshead,
London SE28 OHA

For a list of the global events visit FreeAssangeGlobalProtest on Facebook.

Click here to find upcoming events on the Defend Wikileaks website.

And here for further information and resources from DontExtraditeAssange.com

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yesterday’s election was a (predictable) horror show for Labour, so what next?

If you really want to understand how Labour lost yesterday’s election so badly I strongly recommend watching this. It covers all of the deeper reasons without fear or prejudice:

Jeremy Corbyn was by no means fully responsible for yesterday’s disaster and John McDonnell is greatly more to blame. As Patrick Henningsen summed up on Friday’s UK Column News (embedded above – the remarks are about 14 mins in) after Corbyn had been softened up with relentless body blows in coordinated efforts to weaken him – the nonsensical smears that tarred him as antisemitic combined with establishment lies that made him out to be a Kremlin dupe and a security threat – then, having been backed into a corner, he was browbeaten to reverse the party’s stance on Brexit with the manifesto pledge of a second referendum. This would be the coup de grâce.

Had Corbyn instead been allowed to honour the referendum result (as Labour did in 2017), and had Labour’s manifesto offered the deal previously secured when they had talks with May (a plan that Stephen Kinnock proposed and backed), or even to renegotiate a deal with Brussels, then the election horror show would certainly have been avoided. Indeed, it is not at all inconceivable that fighting the election on his otherwise very popular anti-austerity, pro-nationalisation, “for the many” platform, Corbyn could have beaten Johnson and secured an overall majority. After all, what did Johnson bring to the table except for his vague, unreliable, but extremely jingoistic, populist pledge to “Get Brexit Done”.

Some commentators on the left continue to suggest that Corbyn might have done better to campaign for remain whereas the likelihood is that Labour would have tanked as badly or worse (just ask Jo Swinson). Such an alternative strategy would also have lost the Labour heartlands. In fact, drawing any equivalence between leave and remain positions in this regard is really just the last vestige of wishful thinking from diehard remainers to whom I make this modest proposal: please wake up and take the ideological blinkers off.

Moreover, everyone who pushed for Corbyn and Labour to frustrate Brexit in the months prior with the overarching aim of forcing a second referendum (a vote that would have settled nothing in any case) inadvertently (or not in the case of some Blairites) helped Boris Johnson sweep to victory. Sorry, but that’s the truth folks and I take no pleasure in saying it.

What now? We are about to enter an historically dangerous period. The forces of unrestrained neoliberalism are ready to be unleashed. They will deeply harm millions of the very people who voted to put Johnson into power. In response there will be growing numbers amongst the poorest strata of our society becoming radicalised to turn harder to the right. This lurch rightward is now much harder to stop because although Johnson will certainly betray them, they will feel still more embittered by Labour’s betrayal over Brexit. These are desperate and dark days.

What must Labour do? Stand firm. The media is already trying to rewrite the narrative. They will be determined as far as possible to shift the blame from Labour’s Brexit shambles and on to Corbyn and his very progressive reshaping of Labour’s policies. Hopefully Labour members will not be fooled. Neither must we be hoodwinked into believing a centrist like Jess Phillips or Kier Starmer (both immediately touted to be Corbyn’s successor) or, more feasibly, a compromise candidate such as Emily Thornberry or Barry Gardiner, might help to realign the party to make it electable. In the event Labour will continue to atrophy, shedding more and more of its working class base who more than ever will feel disenfranchised by mainstream politics. Tommy Robinson is still waiting in the wings.

I have written these words in haste and with a certain agitation constantly driving my thoughts. For the sake of timeliness I will forgo the usual attempts at editing it into better shape. It is not my intention to rile those who broadly share my own politics but to speak plainly about the situation we suddenly find ourselves in so that we can hold firm in pursuit of a kinder, fairer and more just future for all.

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Update:

On BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show [Sunday 15th] John McDonnell cited Labour’s muddled policy on Brexit as the foremost reason for Labour’s defeat. He also put the blame squarely on four-years of relentless mainstream media bias saying:

Let’s have the debate about the nature of our politics, the nature of the reportage of our politics, and I think the way they treat individuals. Because it wasn’t just Jeremy, they did the same to Ed Miliband, they did the same to Neil Kinnock.

Andrew Marr interrupts: So you don’t think it’s anything to do with the actual characters at the top of the Labour Party?

McDonnell replies: I think it’s anyone who challenges the establishment will be portrayed in this way. Why? The establishment own the media in this country. [from 5:40 mins]

Click here to watch the same interview on BBC iplayer.

On Monday evening [Dec 16th] Novara Media straightforwardly asked the question “What went wrong?” The discussion between host Michael Walker; NM co-founder, Aaron Bastani; and Huda Elmi, a Constituency Labour Party representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and a regional board member of West Midland’s Labour; was a little bit of a slow burner and so we have to wait about 15 mins for the other shoe to drop. I have embedded the video to start around the time when they more candidly speak about the real causes of Labour’s electoral failure:

Huda Elmi: This election essentially was a de facto second referendum in my view. [17:05 min]

Aaron Bastani: “My one regret is I caved on a second referendum basically after the European elections. I should have stuck to my guns and said ‘It’s a f–king daft idea.’

Why? Two-thirds of Labour seats were ‘leave’ voting. Two-thirds of Labour target seats voted ‘leave’. So of course, 65 percent of the Labour vote voted ‘remain’, but we know because of the way first-past-the-post works 400 seats voted ‘leave’. You don’t want to be in a situation like Hillary Clinton, where you win the popular vote but it’s all concentrated in certain areas. And so there’s where I think Brexit was the major issue.

Look that shouldn’t be controversial. There’s I think about 100 new Tory MPs. There’s an article on Conservative Home listing them. Go, read that article, get their names, put those names into Facebook, look at the Facebook pages for their campaigns: all of them – their final video before the General Election was ‘Vote for me. Let’s get Brexit done. Let’s turn to really important things like the NHS.’

No mention of Corbyn. It’s about Brexit and not in the formulation we saw previously, but actually as a way of attending to erosion of public services, austerity, etc. And Get Brexit Done!’ Action verb. What does that remind you of? Take back control!

And we were so stupid to fall into the precise trap that Dominic Cummings and the Tory’s high command wanted. The exact same trap to the extent where they used a three-part word – Get Brexit Done – Take back control – It was the mirror image. So anybody saying that it wasn’t the major factor I think is being silly.”  [from 18:20 min]

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an alternative review of the year by Chunky Mark

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget — Arundhati Roy

When I came across Chunky Mark’s (aka the Artist Taxi Driver) three hour youtube upload entitled “JEZZA the movie 2018” I was intrigued. Three hours later I was impressed: it had really felt like three hours well spent.

The film includes interviews with Dr Bob Gill, producer of The Great NHS Heist; David Graeber, anthropologist and author of Debt: The First 5000 years; Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media; Paul Mason, former Economics Editor for BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News; Magid Magid, the incumbent Lord Mayor of Sheffield; as well as comedians Norman Lovett and Eddie Izzard. He speaks with Ed Miliband, and about half the current shadow cabinet: Emily Thornberry, Barry Gardiner, Richard Burgeon, Dan Carden, Jon Ashworth and John McDonnell. He even gets an interview with French presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He also introduces us to Chilean filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra and his newly released documentary Nae Pasaran which tells the remarkable story of four factory workers at the Rolls Royce plant in East Kilbride who downed tools in solidarity with the victims of Pinochet’s reign of terror:

(Caution: strong language in parts)

A lot of ground is covered as he slow tours Liverpool, Sheffield and London; the trail of his video diaries interspersed with an occasion lyrical rant which is the trademark of Chunky Mark’s online performances. Topics range from austerity, tax havens, pensions, fracking, homelessness, the privatisation of the NHS, the Windrush scandal, the neglect of the Grenfell survivors, the march against Trump’s visit, the ongoing fight for justice for the Hillsborough victims, the plight of refugees, to the peril of a resurgent far right. Mark McGowan (his real name) speaks to those most deeply affected and closely involved. To a young man who is living on the streets of London, to three Muslim women who run a soup kitchen, to nurses and doctors, to a fellow (he is actually one) taxi driver and to a handful of the WASPI women. Most poignantly he visits a few of the migrant camps near Calais including that one nicknamed “The Jungle” (isn’t that shameful enough?)

In truth I paused a few times during the three hours – there’s a lot to take in and some sequences are a little slack, which is only to be expected. Judged fairly, this is a fine piece of amateur filmmaking: sensitive, constantly thought-provoking, and in parts hilarious. Though it will not win any Golden Globes, it deserves an audience, which is why I am recommending it.

Oh, and at one point I stopped for about half an hour to gaze out of my bedroom window over the rooftops and the gardens, watching as fireworks lit up the Sheffield sky welcoming in the New Year. The annual people’s firework display (as I regard it) is one recent tradition I look forward to. How different from our long-established Bonfire Night which goes on and on for days and means what? Why do we celebrate the uncovering of the so-called ‘gunpowder plot’ to blow up parliament by detonating lots of mini explosives? Yet it feels right that we celebrate something as arbitrary and ephemeral as the passing of the minute hand at the start of every year with such a nonsensical flurry of sound and fury. Countless individuals in countless backyards lighting blue touch papers that launch into one glorious, synchronised citywide spectacular.

Reflecting upon the moment of yearly rebirth can feel a bit like pinching yourself; uncannily becoming aware of the thing you are forever forgetting. Not merely another year passing and I am still here, but right now I am here. And in a way Chunky Mark’s review is a gentle slap to our political consciousness (whereas most other annual reviews are to entertain and distract). His appraisal of Britain’s mounting social problems is unsettling, but there is constant encouragement too. It is not so much a homage to the Labour leader as a heartfelt tribute to grassroots activism.

Incidentally, Corbyn is featured just twice (in spite of the title) — quoting the beautiful words of Arundhati Roy at the beginning and then at the end rallying supporters saying:

That is why those great people who founded our movement, those great people who struggled against enormous odds in the last two centuries to try to bring about the kind of strength and organisation that we’ve got in trade unions and in the Labour Party [made] all those things possible for us. Now my friends, let’s dedicate ourselves absolutely to taking that message of decency, justice, social justice, socialism out there on the streets all around this country and say to the Tories “we are many, you are few — We are for the many, you are for the few.”

Wishing you all a very happy New Year!!!

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Correction:

Mark McGowan is a real minicab driver although in the original post I had written that he spoke to: “… a (‘fellow’ – he’s not actually one) taxi driver…”

You can read more about him in this Guardian review by Dawn Foster published in January 2015.

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Additional:

New Year’s greetings from Syria courtesy of independent journalist Eva Bartlett:

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taking stock of Corbyn’s heroic election campaign — what’s the opposite to a Pyrrhic victory?

A screenshot of the wikipedia page on ‘moral victory’

The image above is a screenshot of the wikipedia entry for “moral victory” as it appears at present. As you can see, presented as examples of “the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory” it lists just three: The Alamo, the Battle of Thermopylae and the United Kingdom 2017 General Election!

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the #ToriesOut post-election rally organised by the People’s Assembly:

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Before reading on, I encourage readers to reflect on a short but detailed article by independent journalist Jonathan Cook entitled “The facts proving Corbyn’s election triumph” in which he scrutinises Corbyn’s results compared with those of his predecessors. Based on the evidence, he writes:

He won many more votes than Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, who were among those that, sometimes noisily, opposed his leadership of the party. They lost their elections. […]

In short, Corbyn has proved himself the most popular Labour leader with the electorate in more than 40 years, apart from Blair’s landslide victory in 1997.

And concludes:

Here is a graph that offers another measure of the extent of Corbyn’s achievement last night.

It shows that he has just won the largest increase in the share of the Labour vote over the party’s previous general election performance since Clement Attlee in 1945. In short, he’s turned around the electoral fortunes of the Labour party more than any other party leader in 70 years.

And unlike Blair, he’s done it without making back-room deals with big business to eviscerate his party’s economic and social programmes.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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A tale of two leaders

When May called the snap General Election on April 18th, she and her Conservative Party were riding high in the polls with a twenty point lead. In office for just nine months, she had been hastily crowned Prime Minister after Cameron fell on his sword in the wake of his own humiliating EU referendum defeat, but quite wisely afterwards had kept a mostly low profile. In this way, and with her oft-repeated pledge to honour the pro-Brexit result, May cultivated the appearance of reliability and toughness – she was Thatcher 2.0 but with a more daring wardrobe.

“Brexit means Brexit” is almost as nebulous as it is defiant, but the Tory’s tiresome mantra was also serving May’s purposes well. Her image as a “bloody difficult woman” given an extra boost thanks to Jean-Claude Junker’s odd cameo at Downing Street right on cue as the campaign got underway: their reportedly “frosty dinner” doing little to dent the popular belief that May was a safe pair of hands.

In short, the Tories were bound to win last month’s General Election and everyone was simply waiting to find out how historic their historic landslide would finally be. Indeed, given the dire circumstances, some on the left openly expressed the opinion that Corbyn ought to have blocked her opportunistic move by rallying support against the Commons’ vote, even if this meant giving the Tories a free pass until 2020. (The horns of Corbyn’s dilemma clearly point to inherent shortcomings in our new Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – five-year terms that are prescheduled up until the moment any government decrees otherwise.)

On the other hand, May’s call for a needless election did open up a small chink in her otherwise shining armour. For having repeatedly assured the nation she would do no such thing, this act was literally the only moment she’d dropped her guard since becoming PM.

Her campaign underway, May now resolved to basically disappear from sight. Shirking the TV debates, placing unprecedented restraints on press access, and avoiding all but the most fleeting encounters with the hoi polloi, her strategy was one of total control. Although this quiet contempt for democracy was not going to pass unnoticed.

By contrast, the Labour Party was forced into the campaign when already in complete disarray. Seldom mentioned, the polls had in fact narrowed considerably twelve months earlier during the run up to the referendum vote, and also immediately after Cameron’s defeat (see above), yet the Blairites wasted no time undermining Corbyn on the grounds of his lacklustre performance stumping for the “remain” campaign. Since it suited their purpose, they simply ignored what the polls were actually telling them, and seized on this flimsiest of excuses to stir the pot a whole lot more in the hope of finally deposing the leadership.

Former leader Neil Kinnock was perhaps first up, delivering what the Guardian soon afterwards reported as “a remarkable speech” to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

(Strictly in private) Kinnock said this:

I quote one person, just one, out of hundreds in Cardiff three weeks ago. Well, he complained about Jeremy and I said, ‘Honestly, his heart’s in the right place, he wants to help people, he wants to help people like you.’ He’s a working-class guy, a fitter on what remains of the docks. And he said: ‘I know he’s saying it, because he thinks we’re easy. We’re not bloody easy. We’re not listening, especially since he’s weird.’

Now that is unfortunate. But you know. Everybody in this room knows, canvassing in the Welsh elections, in the Scottish elections, in the local elections, in the referendum – you know that is what you’re getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader.

Reprinted in full, Kinnock’s “remarkable speech” is really just a tub-thumping (quite literally) rant. But then Kinnock didn’t need to try too hard because he was preaching to the converted, one of whom evidently saw fit to leak the recording of this beer hall putsch to the press:

PLP meetings are private, but Kinnock’s speech was recorded by someone in the room and it was passed to Ben Ferguson, a freelance filmmaker who recently made a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Corbyn for Vice News 1

Neil Kinnock is famously unelectable, of course, so I suppose we ought to marvel at the sheer brass neck of the man. His “we’re all right” Sheffield debacle was the single most excruciating misjudgement made by any Labour leader since Jim Callaghan’s “Waiting at the Church” moment of hubris.

However, Lord Kinnock has certainly done all right – at least for himself – since those formative hiccoughs: appointed to the European Commission in 1995, then rapidly promoted to Vice-President in 1999, and awarded a life peerage in 2005. Wife Glenys ploughed a similar furrow, becoming an MEP in 1994 and receiving her own life peerage in 2009, whilst son, Stephen, a current Labour MP and another uninhibited Corbyn critic, is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former MEP herself before becoming Danish PM. The Kinnocks have built a tidy little empire for themselves.

Although a year ago, the self-serving Kinnocks took time off from feathering their own nests to help spearhead the growing PLP demands for Corbyn’s resignation. Popularity within the rank and file of the membership (who have twice elected Corbyn leader of course) must not be put ahead of party unity, “electability” and that kind of thing – to paraphrase his Lordship, this time speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC:

Meanwhile, in light of the PLP’s motion of no confidence in Corbyn (more below), son Stephen penned the following rationalisation for the relentless backstabbing and published it as an opinion piece also in the Guardian:

The referendum campaign was a sorry affair and it’s clear that it was not the Labour party’s finest hour. Every pro-Remain member will be feeling the same deep sense of disappointment and regret that I am feeling this weekend, as we have failed, collectively, to save the UK from a reckless leap into the unknown, and we fear it is the people we came into politics to represent who will be hurt first and worst.

Looking back, it’s clear that once the Scottish, Welsh and local elections were out of the way on 6 May [2016], then we should have treated the period through to 23 June as if it were the short campaign period leading up to a general election. Judged against that benchmark, it is equally clear that our leader fought a lacklustre and half-hearted campaign. He spoke at a total of 10 rallies between 6 May and polling day, whereas the party leader would normally expect to achieve that level of activity in a week, when in full campaigning mode.

We must, therefore, have a full and frank discussion when the parliamentary Labour party meets on Monday, to look at what went wrong, and what we should learn. Our leader must be held accountable for the failure of the “Labour In For Britain” campaign, as must we all.

Following which, Kinnock Jr. takes aim at Corbyn’s purported lack of skill as a future Brexit negotiator, which is curious given that no members of the opposition have ever been invited to the talks:

There is no doubt that Jeremy is a great campaigner, but this is not a time for campaigners. This is a time for hard-headed negotiators. And it is also a time for people who have more than a passing knowledge of, and interest in, the EU. […]

We may have no say over who the Tories send to the negotiating table, but we do have a say about who Labour sends. Jeremy Corbyn is a seasoned and highly effective campaigner, and he was elected to lead our party on the basis of a thumping mandate. But that was then and this is now.

Now should not be about the past. The British people have spoken, the decision is made, and we must look forward. British politics is going to be dominated by these Brexit negotiations for the foreseeable future. It is vital that Labour has a seat at the top table, and critical that we have a leader who has the right experience and skills for the task at hand.

And it is for that reason that I am supporting this motion of no confidence. 2

Titled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator”, Kinnock might have borrowed ammunition for his snide hit piece directly from the arsenals of Tory HQ. He’s just not “strong and stable enough”… a claim that belies the truth if we listen to the judgement instead of Conservative MP and current Brexit Secretary David Davis. Together with Corbyn, Davis had negotiated the release of the last British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, from Guantánamo, and shortly after Corbyn was voted party leader, Davis was interviewed on Sky News. This is what he said:

“I think that the odds of our winning the next election after yesterday are higher, but I don’t think it’s an open and shut case by any means. I think complacency would be absolutely the daftest thing to go in for now…

You’ve just had Frank Field on, talking about how Jeremy in other circumstances is able to work with other people… he is very polite, very courteous, listens to arguments. So we want to be a bit careful. We certainly don’t want to go in for ad hominem attacks – that would be a disaster.”

But the Tory attacks could wait. During the notorious post-referendum ‘chicken coup’, no less than 44 frontbench Labour MPs resigned their positions in as many hours.3 Alongside Stephen Kinnock, leading lights of this suicidal insurrection included Deputy Leader Tom Watson, Angela Eagle, about-to-be leadership challenger Owen Smith, and then-Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn – reluctantly sacked by Corbyn before he had chance to resign. Each of the above publicly declared their loss of confidence in the leadership: a transparently lame excuse given how the self-same “rebels” had shown no loyalty whatsoever during any earlier stage of Corbyn’s brief tenure.

When the PLP balloted for a vote of no confidence a few hours later, it was passed by a truly astounding 172–40: but it remained a vote which as Corbyn correctly asserted had “no constitutional legitimacy”. Nevertheless, the stage was set, and for the next three months the party tore into itself as it entered the throes of a hugely divisive and unwarranted leadership election.

Inevitably, this infighting took its toll. Labour support tumbled in the polls, as did support for Corbyn’s leadership. Unsurprisingly, salt was liberally rubbed into these same gaping and self-inflicted wounds by both the Tories and the media alike, who cultivated the opinion already expressed by 80% of Labour MPs, that Corbyn – freshly re-elected as party leader – was in fact “unelectable”.

Ken Loach interviewed on BBC Radio 5 shortly after the General Election: “Just think, if the MPs had been arguing for those policies for two years, if they hadn’t been feeding stories to the press, if you hadn’t had Peter Mandelson being quoted saying ‘I get up every morning to undermine him,’ and interviewed on that agenda on a number of occasions. Just think if he’d had that support – I think he would have won.”

Click here to watch a montage put together by Channel 4 News featuring senior Labour MPs (including Stephen Kinnock again) who publicly excoriated Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Update:

For some reason the interview featuring Ken Loach has been taken down, so here’s an earlier one broadcast on BBC news:

*

Even with the general election campaign underway, prominent Blairites and faux progressive commentators continued to put the knife into Corbyn. On May 5th, on the back of disappointing local and mayoral election results, Jonathan Freedland wrote this:

What more evidence do they need? What more proof do the Labour leadership and its supporters require? This was not an opinion poll. This was not a judgment delivered by the hated mainstream media. This was the verdict of the electorate, expressed through the ballot box, and it could scarcely have been clearer – or more damning.

The headline figure is a projected national share of 27%, the worst recorded by an opposition since the BBC started making such calculations in 1981. The Tory lead of 11 percentage points is larger than the one Margaret Thatcher enjoyed as she headed into the elections of 1983 or 1987, when she won triple-figure landslides.

“Why has this happened?” barked a furious Freedland, answering to his own smug satisfaction:

The good news for Labour is that what I saw in the focus groups were people unimpressed by the Tories, desperate for an opposition and itching to vote Labour again if only Corbyn would get out of the way. It suggests a new leader could take the fight to Theresa May very rapidly. The bad news is that once people have broken a lifelong Labour habit – and shattered a taboo by voting Tory – they may never come back.

According to Freedland, it was just wrongheaded of “the Corbynistas” to try to blame disloyal MPs or, heaven forfend, the “metropolitan pundits who [they] can slam as red Tories” for what he described hyperbolically as “the disaster” and “this meltdown”:

Blaming others won’t do. Instead, how refreshing it would be, just this once, if Corbyn and McDonnell put their hands up and took even a small measure of responsibility for this calamitous result. 4

And a month on, after it transpires that news of the Labour Party meltdown was exaggerated, has Freedland eaten his words? Well, here’s what he wrote on June 10th:

[P]oliticians and pollsters alike did not see this coming. But nor did most pundits – including me. I opposed Jeremy Corbyn when he first stood for the Labour leadership in 2015, and thereafter, and I did so on two grounds. First, on principle: I was troubled by his foreign policy worldview, with its indulgence of assorted authoritarian regimes, and by what I perceived as his willingness to look past antisemitism on the left. But more immediate was an assessment of his basic electability. I wanted the Tories gone, and simply did not believe Labour could pose a serious electoral threat under Corbyn.

My principled objections have not faded, but Thursday’s results make clear that on the electability issue, I was wrong. 5

Freedland’s “principled objections” are in fact bogus (read earlier posts here and here) and his apology is long overdue. Surely the big question, however, is why anyone still takes the opinions of liberal gatekeepers like Freedland at all seriously. In the space of a month he had managed to eloquently flip-flop from “Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” to “Corbyn successfully framed voting Labour as the only way to say enough is enough” and “He’s rewritten the rules.” Hallelujah! (I suppose.)

So please allow me to briefly digress, because today’s media, so narcissistically in love with its own reflection, has become the very definition of an echo chamber: newspaper headlines are a mainstay of TV debate and what is broadcast on TV and radio then siphons back into the newspapers. Additionally, there is increasing reliance on so-called vox pops: phoney snapshots of public opinion, meticulously edited into tidy bundles of required thought. Cheap to produce, they maintain the delusion that media is representative of what people like you and me actually think. In reality, of course, ordinary Joes and Joannas are commandeered to provide off-beam refractions simply to bolster a prefabricated message: Obama is cool; May is serious; Trump is an idiot; and Corbyn is hopeless.

For months on end, the mention of Corbyn elicited titters from the commentariat alongside the required level of derision from the (assiduously selected) ‘man on the street’. Likewise, without fail, each week an audience member on the BBC Question Time would prime the panel with one of those tired old questions about his “unelectability” or the purported “lack of any effective opposition”. Thus, Corbyn was roasted on all sides: by media hacks and politicians from every camp, including nominally his own colleagues.

But then, with the election called, this changed. Legal requirements would ensure some better measure of balance in the debate. Thus, with the playing field abruptly if only partially levelled (our right-wing newspapers are free from such constraints), Corbyn got the chance he’d been waiting for: able at last to make the case for a fairer and more caring society and not to be instantly drowned out by the clamour of critics.

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Project Fear

“Hope always wins over fear” – John McDonnell (post-election interview 6)

“I am a treat” my friend said as I pointed out the large black billboard ahead. His unconscious was momentarily getting the better of him and suggestively reworking the slogan to ensure it was functioning as ads generally do: as promotions for a product. But instead, this image, one I had walked past daily for almost a week, with its Big Sister portrait of May – former Home Secretary behind the Snooper’s Charter – sternly peering out like a stony-hearted headmistress, was issuing the country an exceedingly stark but fair warning.

Put together by anti-austerity campaign group the People’s Assembly, its message was bleak yet factual and accurate. It branded May a threat to our hospitals, our schools, our job security, our pensions and our peace and security. And who could deny any of it?

Sam Fairbairn, People’s Assembly National Secretary described the poster as a response to the Tories’ “manifesto of misery”, adding “she is a threat to everything we rely on from cradle to grave”:

“The crisis in the NHS was created by the Conservative government and they’re doing nothing to address it. She’s snatching free school lunches off infants while her plans to restructure our education system will leave schools without proper funding. University students are being strapped with lifelong debt.” 7

In fact this portent of doom had only recently replaced another. The face of Donald Trump and around it the words “Advertising works… look what it did for me”, but now with a toothbrush moustache inked above those all-too familiar pouting, foul-mouthed lips. Soon afterwards the same billboard had been further subverted when someone had the wherewithal to scrub over ‘advertising’ and substitute a far more appropriate four-lettered word: ‘HATE’ in block capitals. Yes, I mused philosophically, as I passed under it each day… hate does indeed ‘work’ in a political sense.

In our own election hate had mostly remained on the backburner. Instead, the campaign was framed about Brexit, and with emphasis not on immigration this time around. Instead it was supposedly all about leadership. About “strong and stable” government. The hate could wait…

The Sun has since issued a statement to the effect that this headline was not released immediately after the Manchester atrocity but shortly before it occurred. Evidently its editor did not, however, find the conscience to remove it or issue an apology for it remaining published online. Nor did The Sun and other press outlets refrain from issuing follow-up smears against Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbott in the wake of the London Bridge attacks. In fact, on the eve of the vote, The Sun ran with the absolutely disgusting headline “Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades” while the Daily Mail devoted no less than 13 pages to pillorying those same “Apologists for Terror”:

Did the hate work? Below is a screenshot of The Independent on the morning after the London Bridge attacks – the polls were again narrowing and rather rapidly:

Also take a close look at the graph above and see how the convergence between the Labour and Conservative polling slows directly after the Manchester atrocity on May 22nd. Given that campaigning was suspended this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that in a state of shock and heightened anxiety, voters will tend to be more inclined to support an incumbent government or, still more, to turn toward the party most traditionally trusted on law and order. Yet the surge for Labour was only partially held back, and the pollsters were found wanting all over again – except for the exit poll, that is.

There was also the honourable exception of polling company Survation who had bravely forecast a hung parliament and were ridiculed for sticking to their guns…

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The real unelectables

The night before the election, with the polls which had certainly tightened still remaining wildly divergent, I decided to check out the odds at the bookies, given how bookies obviously have a vested interest in getting their numbers right. And a Tory majority then remained odds on, with many punters betting on who might be the next Labour leader. Although May’s position had become shaky too, the smart money was very much backing an increased Tory majority with gains of up to a hundred seats. My heart sank, just as it did immediately upon hearing May’s election announcement. Like many Labour supporters, I was still braced for a trouncing.

Most polls are unreliable, but exit polls are different. They have a special legitimacy and have in some cases been applied as a standard of verification for elections across the world.

Two years ago the exit poll had been a shattering blow. In the weeks leading up to the vote the opinion polls consistently pointed to a hung parliament, whereas the exit poll had quite correctly forecast a Tory majority. On this occasion I was anticipating the worst. Given the unbridgeable six point gap (and an enormous spread of polls between 1% and 15%) combined with the traditional last minute shift in favour of the Conservatives (the shy Tories emerging from their closets), damage limitation was all any Labour supporter could conceivably wish for.

“And what we’re saying is, the Conservatives are the largest party”, David Dimbleby announced to the nation shortly after the polls closed at ten, continuing “but note they don’t have an overall majority at this stage…” soon afterwards conceding, “we’ll be hung, drawn and quartered” if our exit polls are wrong. Although defeated, Corbyn’s many supporters, myself included, were tasting something closer to victory:

Not only the Tories, but every other mainland political party were about to be humiliated in their own special way. Ukip were rather predictably annihilated. Yet to think how a mere four months earlier, so many pundits had been licking their lips at the prospect of leader Paul Nuttall stealing Stoke-on-Trent Central in a by-election, and running Labour and Corbyn out of town. Now Nuttall was ruined instead.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems whose entire campaign was devoted to their bizarre since unrealisable promise of an EU referendum rerun, gained a measly four seats to prop up the meagre eight they already held. Former leader Nick Clegg who had helped the Tories remain in power during the miserable days of the Con-Dem Coalition lost his seat just up the road from me in Sheffield Hallam; like many across the country, I cheered his just demise. A few hours later, hopeless leader Tim Farron did the honourable thing.

In my own constituency of Sheffield Central, former leader of the Greens, Natalie Bennett, came to contest what is a comparatively safe Labour seat, rather than more profitably fighting her corner in a Conservative marginal – so much for forming a “progressive alliance” against the government. Once again, justice was served and Bennett lost, finishing an embarrassing third behind the Tories, with incumbent Paul Blomfield swept back into parliament with a hugely increased majority now approaching 28,000.

North of the border, the political landscape was being even more dramatically reshaped. After the Brexit vote, the SNP had been calling for a new independence referendum – a replay of that “once in a lifetime decision” barely more than two years on. But this divisive move soon became an albatross, and as the SNP tried to backslide on their promises and downplay calls for Indyref2, the Scottish Conservatives no less opportunistically cranked up the pro-unionist rhetoric (a flavour of things to come). It proved a winning tactic with many disaffected Scottish voters.

Even so, not all the angry Scots were turning back to the Conservative and Unionist Party. Studiously under-reported in the media, a great many were evidently returning to Corbyn’s Labour too – Labour regaining six of the seats lost during their humiliating wipe-out in 2015. Either way, the outcome had been a disastrous one for the SNP, losing more than a third of their seats as the vote collapsed by over 13%. By the end of the night, the SNP’s leader in Westminster Angus Robertson lost his seat in Moray, and, most memorably, Scotland’s former First Minister and long-time talismanic party leader Alex Salmond was defeated in Banff & Buchan. More cheers! (I speak for myself obviously.)

Then we must come to the forlorn figure of Theresa May. Has any winner of any general election ever appeared so dejected? She would try to paint some gloss on it later, naturally enough, but there is simply no convincing way to disguise the fact that her anticipated triumph had crumbled to unmitigated disaster. Indeed, only one leader would be able to claim any sort of victory on the night: the “unelectable” Jeremy Corbyn. The rest of the field, slipping backwards in their different manners, were evidently just too electable by far! Astonishingly, May and her Conservative government were left clinging to power only by the tassels of an orange sash. 8

*

 ‘Theresa May and the Holy Grail’: having lost her majority, and with complicated Brexit negotiations and fields of wheat on her doorstep, Theresa May is determined to ‘get on with the job of government’ (and to seek the Holy Grail). Click here to watch the original upload at Australia’s ABC.

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A moral victory

A week prior to the general election I had a dream and woke with a vision of Jeremy Corbyn walking into Downing Street as Prime Minister. The dream genuinely happened, but then dreams are rarely prognostic. Instead, the Tories clung on as the main party of government, which is the very best they can say for themselves. May’s re-election was the very epitome of a Pyrrhic victory.

Instead of the envisaged landslide, her government is suddenly in retreat, and clinging to power by its political fingertips, made all the grubbier by that desperate £1.5 billion deal with the political arm of Ulster’s loyalist paramilitaries. How long this weak and wobbly ‘coalition of chaos’ can hobble along together is anyone’s guess.

Regarding my dream again, it obviously owed much to my own psychological investment in the election. Like many thousands of others who had never before been actively involved in campaigning, for six weeks I was out and about leafleting, running street stalls, and door-to-door canvassing. I remain very much committed to the cause. Although the Tories won the battle, suddenly they are losing the war: Corbyn may yet walk into Downing Street…

More speculatively then, the dream seems to me prophetic in a truer sense of the word: that intuitively I was picking up on quite seismic upheavals that were very hard to comprehend, or even to register, during my various interactions on the doorstep. Thus, routinely faced with antipathy and aversion toward Corbyn’s leadership, a common reaction coming from many one-time Labour voters, it became easy to overlook the surge in Labour support from less expected quarters.

This groundswell, as we now know, involved more than just an increased turnout of first-time voters, since it mostly comprised disaffected Lib Dems, wavering Greens, and, more interestingly, some half of former Ukip supporters, plus thousands returning from the SNP, and most surprising of all, a significant proportion of affluent middle-class who are traditionally Conservative supporters. In short, my dream had detected a sea change taking place in our society; shifts in outlook that Corbyn and others in the Labour leadership were directly responding to.

Very skilfully, they had steered the whole debate away from Brexit (May’s original pretext for calling the election) and away from personality too (May’s team had embarked on a presidential-style campaign) by redirecting attention firmly back on to policy instead. In the manner of a musical maestro who responds to applause from his audience by holding up the score, Corbyn consistently drew the public gaze back to Labour’s bold and very thoughtfully composed manifesto: “For the many, not the few”. A manifesto launched not once but twice – funny that! Fully-costed, anti-austerity populism; this was certainly a masterstroke.

Corbyn and McDonnell survived the election against all the odds, and having thus achieved a result beyond common expectation, they have managed to reunite the party behind a commitment to democratic socialist policies. These policies have become Labour’s main strength again. So although Corbyn didn’t win the vote, the Labour manifesto actually did, and as a direct consequence, temporarily at least, it has produced a measureable shift leftwards in the mythical ‘centre ground’ of politics. Those of us determined to say “enough is enough” now have a place to turn and a leader they can get behind.

Jeremy Corbyn gives an impromptu but impassioned speech to the ‘Left Field’ fringe event at this year’s Glastonbury Festival:

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Update:

The latest poll of polls (Friday 7th) now puts Labour eight points ahead of the Tories with a record high of 46%. Meanwhile in Scotland, the poll puts Labour ahead of the SNP by 36% to 31%:

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1 From an article entitled “Secret recording of Kinnock’s anti-Corbyn speech to MPs – in full” written by Andrew Sparrow and Harrison Jones, published in the Guardian on July 8, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/08/secret-recording-neil-kinnock-jeremy-corbyn-step-down-speech-to-mps-in-full

2 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator” written by Stephen Kinnock, published in the Guardian on June 25, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/jeremy-corbyn-leadership-challenge-no-confidence-motion

3

Remember those few days in June when Labour MPs couldn’t stop resigning? That long Sunday after the country had voted for Brexit, when every time you turned on the radio another shadow cabinet minister had stood down, calling for Jeremy Corbyn to do likewise? Or the next day, when the only thing you wanted to quit was the non-stop news, just for a few hours, but there was Angela Eagle in tears at her own resignation? Before June, the mass resignation of 44 frontbench politicians in as many hours, all citing a loss of confidence in their leader, would have led to said leader being turfed out of office. But we didn’t count on Corbyn.

From an article entitled “The fate of the MPs who plotted a coup against Corbyn” written by Jane Merrick, published in the Guardian on December 20, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/20/mps-plotted-coup-jeremy-corbyn-coup-where-are-they-now

4 From an article entitled “No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on May 5, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/05/jeremy-corbyn-blame-meltdown-labour-leader

5 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win – but he has rewritten all the rules” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on June 10, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/10/jeremy-corbyn-general-election–labour-rewrites-rules

6 Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and financial journalist Paul Mason discuss the election result with the Artist Taxi Driver (viewer discretion advised):

7 From an article entitled “Theresa May branded a ‘threat’ to peace, hospitals and schools in nationwide billboard campaign” written by Dan Bloom, published in the Daily Mirror on May 22, 2017. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-branded-threat-peace-hospitals-10474044

8 Quip stolen from George Galloway.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain

Corbyn v. Smith is a bigger than Labour and bigger than Britain

There’s always a new way
A better way that’s not been tried before

Ben Okri 1

This leadership contest is a battle for the soul of the Labour Party, we hear – repeatedly. Often enough that it has become something of a cliché. But that doesn’t make it any less true. It simply means we tend to stop thinking about the deep and inherent truth of it.

Here’s another cliché: it’s about a movement, not a man (a slogan better associated with Bernie Sanders’ campaign although more fitting in Corbyn’s case). Corbyn, after all, is actively committed to the building of a movement, fully aware that without massive popular support, the core policies he advocates would be both too radical to institute and could not possibly endure.

But then Corbyn is an instinctive democrat. So he recognises something others on the left habitually forget. That socialism and democracy must travel hand in hand as equal partners (for without democracy, socialism is rapidly debased and sinks to be as oppressive as any system it challenges). Fortunately – and here is the crux – social justice and genuine equality are what the majority would unfailingly choose if clearly presented with such an option, and if only because social justice and greater equality serve the self-interest of the majority.

Orwell put this perfectly:

“Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already.”

Since, as he goes on to point out:

“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.” 2

So here’s a third and final thought – perhaps it can become a cliché too (certainly it is not original). That those who today stop at nothing to stop Corbyn are ultimately intent on stopping us all. Denying the vast majority of us basic rights, a modicum of social justice, a functioning NHS, pensions for all, and set solidly against any levelling up of what is now grotesque inequality. Okay, that’s too long to be a cliché – so reduce it; sloganise its kernel of blazingly obvious truth.

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Corbyn, like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, is part of the new popular resistance that is rising up from the ruins of neoliberalism and globalization to fight the international banking system and American imperialism.

wrote American journalist and political commentator Chris Hedges in an article entitled “where is our Jeremy Corbyn?” published shortly after his leadership victory last Summer.

Hedge’s subtext is that Bernie Sanders is no Corbyn – and Hedges is correct, of course. Sanders capitulation to Clinton was the final proof, if proof was needed. However, Syriza and Podemos are no Corbyn either. Sadly, and in different ways, the wheels have now come off both these alternatives. Of the serious contenders then, Corbyn is the last man (currently) standing – and the only one who has a tested record.

Hedges also astutely foresaw today’s lamentable situation almost precisely a year ago – this is what he wrote then:

Corbyn’s ascent to the head of the Labour Party has already triggered a backlash against him by the forces of the neoliberal political order. These forces are determined to prevent him from becoming prime minister. The entrenched elites within his own party—a number of whom have already resigned from party leadership positions in protest of Corbyn’s election—will seek to do to him what the Democratic establishment did in 1972 to George McGovern after he won the party’s nomination. The rhetoric of fear has already begun. Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday tweeted: “The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.” This battle will be ugly. 3

Ugly is the word!

Here is Corbyn delivering a recent speech [August 21st] to a 4,000-strong crowd packed inside Ruach City Church, Kilburn in London – his central theme is real democracy: giving power back to the people…

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Style over substance

“Politics is showbusiness for ugly people” Jay Leno 4

Owen Smith isn’t Superman, but he’s borrowing his poses.

The Labour leadership contender almost certainly can’t fly, and can’t boast of X-ray vision.

But he’s been snapped adjusting his glasses in the same fashion as the Man Of Steel’s alter ego, Clark Kent.

And this being the age of the internet, the iconic pose has not been overlooked. 5

So oozes a puff piece written by Mikey Smith (presumably no relation) and published by the shamelessly sycophantic Mirror at the beginning of Smith’s already faltering campaign for Labour leadership back in mid July.

For the record, here is another superhero lookalike with the same iconic pose…

Groovy baby, yeah!!!

Which is the trouble with politics that obsesses over synthetic charisma and spin. Not only that these are extremely shallow attributes, but that the public has grown weary of them. We see through the sophistry and are turned off by the plastic presentation. Like Austin Powers, Smith’s act is dated and outmoded, but worse still, it lacks any modicum of charm.

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Normality v. Reality

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” — Martin Luther King 6

Owen Smith’s ineffective charm offensive is one side of former Pfizer-mans latest rebranding exercise. The other side is more revealing: that Owen Smith is ‘normal’!

We know this because he said so, over and over again, during a Sky News interview. The offhanded inference being, of course, that Corbyn is not as ‘normal’ as he is. But what does Smith even mean with his claims to be ‘normal’ (besides presumably not being “a lunatic”)?

Here is a closer analysis of Smith’s Sky News performance: a study of the dormant ratiocination betrayed line by line in his overwrought protestation of normalcy:

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In this post-ideological age, Corbyn stands out as exceptional on many counts. Although the quality that singularly distinguishes him from political rivals is simply his sincerity. That he holds principles and values we do not need to test him on. In fact no-one ever seriously challenges his good faith – his voting record alone attests to honest dependability.

We know, for instance, that Corbyn opposes the wars. He opposed the war in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the war in Libya, opposes airstrikes in Syria and Yemen, and served as chair of the Stop the War Coalition (2011—15). He is against Trident too.

Likewise, we know that he actively supports refugees including the two million living in Palestinian camps on the West Bank and inside the Gaza Strip and three million other displaced Palestinians living in camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. 7 He is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Equally we know that Corbyn is fiercely anti-austerity. That he is pro-workers’ rights, union rights, women’s right, LGBT rights, and human rights in general. That he is a staunch advocate of a fairer and more caring society with well-funded public sector services, universal welfare (though he says he prefers the less loaded term “social security”) and free healthcare provision for all. And we know that Corbyn is a committed environmentalist. Indeed, it is a delightful revelation to hear any modern politician who speaks so freely and so frankly on all these issues. But then, sincerity comes easily when you have integrity, as does remaining truthful for those who live in accordance with their own stated beliefs.

Tony Benn once explained how he divided politicians into one of two camps: weathercocks and signposts:

 “The signposts say this is the way you should go. You don’t have to follow them but if you come back in ten years’ time the signpost is still there. The weathercock hasn’t got an opinion until they’ve looked at the polls, talked to the focus groups, and discussed it with the spin doctors. I have no time for weathercocks, I’m a signpost man”

Benn was certainly a signpost. Corbyn is too. So how about Owen Smith and the PLP ‘rebels’ who back him…?

Smith says he is as passionate as Corbyn when it comes to all the important matters: housing, education, welfare, NHS. He’s a progressive, and always was anti-austerity and the rest. The main difference, he says, is that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’. That’s right – as any PR man will tell you – if you just repeat something often enough, it becomes true.

Smith hopes we will overlook how under Corbyn’s leadership Labour now enjoys the largest membership of any political party in Europe. And that at Corbyn’s rallies thousands regularly turn out to cheer. Smith does well if he manages to corral a few dozen onlookers (even with an ice-cream van parked nearby). No-one is excited by Smith: not even his supporters.

But then Smith’s copycat routine lacks the very thing that actually counts: authenticity. He is not the real deal. Corbyn is. And Corbyn’s authenticity is the fundamental reason why the focus of political debate in Britain is steadily swinging back again. Why anti-austerity, pro-public services rhetoric is becoming de rigueur. After less than a year as leader, constantly hobbled by those inside the party (very much including shadow cabinet colleagues like Smith), Corbyn has dragged the debate around regardless, and Owen Smith’s campaign inadvertently serves as further proof that Corbyn is winning. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Meanwhile, the PLP’s Blairite inner circle knows that as the desire for real change grows and with it distrust in the established political class, their unstinting efforts to undermine Corbyn are failing, because he is indeed electable. This keeps them awake at night.

For as hopeless as Smith is, he was the best challenger they could muster. The rest of the 170+ ‘rebels’ have mostly preferred to keep their heads down for obvious reasons. Smith is more reckless and, even as politicians go, morbidly ambitious: a character flaw that totally clouds his judgment. He believes his own spin. Meanwhile, the only other challenger to step forward was sillier even than Smith. Angela Eagle was evidently advised to step aside again asap. Both have very likely ruined their political careers for good.

Here is an audio clip from BBC Radio Stoke covering Jeremy Corbyn’s 1000-strong rally in Stoke-on-Trent on Thursday [September 1st] which includes an interview comprised of typically inane questions:

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Ultimately, this fight – possibly to the death given how the embedded Blairite entryists are so willing to sacrifice the party they hijacked two decades ago – pits the prevailing politics of style and spin against the long abandoned politics of content and real change. Hence the relentless mudslinging. Having nothing alternative to say, but with the might of the media behind them, slurs and innuendo is all Corbyn’s opponents can offer. Negative campaigning is all they’ve got.

This works up to a point (and sadly always will) but their stocks of ammunition are gradually being exhausted. Which is one reason the attacks have suddenly intensified – this challenge from Smith, though utterly inept (more in a moment), is certainly a blitzkrieg operation. They want to win quickly, not necessarily in this ballot, but in the hope of spoiling Corbyn’s long-term chances, especially as, following the grand slam in the party’s recent NEC vote, his supporters now look set to dig in. So the stage is set for act 2, scene 1. As for how many acts will follow? This we can only guess.

Smith says that he will heal the party, but again literally nobody believes him. Likewise, when he parrots the refrain that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’, he trusts that few will be able to spot the irony. Yet even while the media keeps its hounds at bay, he still manages to make gaffe after gaffe. For a man with such a relatively low-level of public exposure (basically unknown to most people just two months ago), his track record is mind-bogglingly incompetent. His latest one so cringeworthy that it might have been gabbled forth as the lewd punch-line to the crassest of David Brent’s unguarded ejaculations:

Not that uncontrolled outbursts of casual sexism are anything new to Smith’s repertoire. In May 2010, literally days after first entering parliament after a narrow victory in the Labour safe seat of Pontypridd, he found himself apologising for publishing the following remark:

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

Feeling the heat after making such a thoughtless and insensitive comparison between the relations within the newly-formed coalition government and domestic abuse, Smith afterwards ‘apologised’ with a big wavering ‘if’, writing:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing.” 8

So does anyone seriously imagine Smith would survive long once the press have stopped comparing him to Clark Kent and marked him down rather more perceptively as just another “Welsh windbag” (with the majority of Labour party members nodding sorrowfully in accord)?

Surely, no matter how rigged – and this vote is enormously rigged, as we know – Smith will be defeated by the end of this bitter and ridiculous leadership challenge.

As Aaron Bastani of ‘Novara Media’ sums up in the video below “Smith’s candidacy is a farce…”:

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A new dream of politics

“Politics is the art of the possible” Otto von Bismarck 9

If politics is the art of the possible, as Bismarck once said, then what does this mean? Well, it all depends on where you decide to place the emphasis. Bismarck, who was famed for his realpolitik, would have placed the emphasis on ‘possible’. What is possible becomes, according to this idea, the prime constraint. And Bismarck’s conviction is today’s orthodoxy.

Others, however, may prefer to place the emphasis earlier, on the word ‘art’ instead. The constraint then falls not solely on practicability, but on the collective imagining of how a better future can be made possible. A politics grounded no longer in mere expediency – although there is a great deal to be said for pragmatism, of course – but held in check by values and moral principles, whilst elevated by human creativity.

*

On the day Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, he shunned the journalists and ignored the cameras and headed off instead to speak about some of the people who had inspired him. He said “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love.” These words were in fact stolen from Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri. Afterwards, Okri repaid the compliment with a poem dedicated to Corbyn, entitled “A New Dream of Politics”.

Then in July, Corbyn and Okri – who met sometime later – decided to stage a joint event at the Royal Festival Hall. United by a desire to make our world a kinder, fairer place, they spent a leisurely hour exploring a range of subjects encompassing history, world affairs and literature along with the personal journeys that made them who they are. A curious mix of readings, conversations and word games: they let politics take a backseat to the art of the possible – as it should:

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Additional: worst example of BBC bias yet?

On Friday night [Sept 2nd] BBC’s flagship political show Newsnight closed as follows:

Emily Maitlis: In the week that JK Rowling went to war with the Corbynistas on Twitter over who should lead the Labour Party. Getting into a scrap with one of the country’s most influential authors probably isn’t a good idea though, as we discovered when Warner Brothers gave us a sneak peak of the next Harry Potter movie.

Given that the party is in the midst of a leadership campaign, I raise two points.

Firstly, is “Corbynistas” acceptable language for a publicly funded organisation with a commitment to maintain impartiality? Has the BBC ever used the term “Blairite” in an equivalent manner during this leadership campaign or on any earlier occasion?

Secondly, although the BBC will defend itself on the grounds that this is a joke, it has already been harshly criticised by former chair of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, who said there had been “some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party”.

Click here to read a Guardian article published on May 12th entitled “BBC may have shown bias against Corbyn, says former trust chair.”

More recently, the BBC was declared guilty of “marked and persistent imbalance” in a report released by the researchers from the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck, University of London, which found that “almost twice as much unchallenged airtime was given to people criticising Mr Corbyn than his allies on the BBC”.

Click here to read an Independent article published on July 30th entitled “Media ‘persistently’ biased against Jeremy Corbyn, academic study finds”

Given that the BBC is already under suspicion of bias, how does it now see fit to portray Corbyn as, in effect (and regardless of context), the Prince of Darkness?

*

Update:

On September 1st, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spoke at Cardiff City Hall, and offered a candid and entertaining blow-by-blow account of the PLP coup against Corbyn. (Unfortunately the audio is quite poor throughout and so I advise turning the treble down and the bass up):

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1 

Final couplet from Ben Okri’s poem “A New Dream of Politics” which he dedicated to Jeremy Corbyn. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/12/ben-okri-politics-poem-jeremy-corbyn

2 Extract taken from The Road to Wigan Pier, Part 2, Chapter 11, written by George Orwell, published in 1937.

3 From an article entitled “Where Is Our Jeremy Corbyn?” written by Chris Hedges, published in Truthdig on September 13, 2015. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/where_is_our_jeremy_corbyn_20150913

4 Quote often attributed to American comedian and TV host, Jay Leno, although perhaps first used by Clinton-Gore strategist Paul Begala. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/reliable-source/2010/12/who_says_washington_is_hollywo.html

5 From an article entitled “Owen Smith posed for this picture and now the internet is convinced he’s Superman” written by Mikey Smith published in The Mirror on July 27, 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/owen-smith-posed-picture-now-8508455

6 From Strength to Love, Ch. 2 “Transformed nonconformist”, written by Martin Luther King, Jr., published in 1963. http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_strength_to_love_1963/

7

Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

UNRWA services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration. When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.

Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

From the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) official website. http://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees

8 From an article entitled “MP Owen Smith sorry for domestic violence comment” published by BBC news on May 25, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10156864

9 Die Politik ist die Lehre vom Möglichen. (Politics is the art of the possible) Otto von Bismarck

From an interview (August 11, 1867) with Friedrich Meyer von Waldeck of the St. Petersburgische Zeitung: Aus den Erinnerungen eines russischen Publicisten. 2. Ein Stündchen beim Kanzler des norddeutschen Bundes. In: Die Gartenlaube (1876). Reprinted in Fürst Bismarck: neue Tischgespräche und Interviews, Vol. 1, p. 248.

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anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: Jewish voices against the pro-Israel witch hunt

Ask yourself a simple, but serious, question. You go for a job interview. Which trait is most likely to work against you: if you’re ugly, if you’re fat, if you’re short, or if you’re Jewish? It’s perhaps a sad commentary on our society’s values, but the trait most likely to elicit a rejection letter is if you’re ugly. Then fat; then short. The factor least likely to work against you is, if you’re Jewish.

says American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein.

Finkelstein, who is the son of holocaust survivors, a leading authority on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and a fierce opponent of Zionism, was replying to questions about Labour’s alleged “antisemitism problem”. Asked about the current campaign against Corbyn, he continued:

The question you have to ask yourself is, why? Why has this issue been resurrected with a vengeance, so soon after its previous outing was disposed of as a farce? Is it because of a handful of allegedly antisemitic social media postings from Labour members? Is it because of the tongue-in-cheek map posted by Naz Shah? That’s not believable. The only plausible answer is, it’s political. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the factual situation; instead, a few suspect cases of antisemitism – some real, some contrived – are being exploited for an ulterior political motive. As one senior Labour MP said the other day, it’s transparently a smear campaign.

Finkelstein has chosen to break his silence on this latest pro-Israel witch hunt by giving an interview to Jamie Stern-Weiner. A transcript published May 3rd is available here.

He concludes the interview as follows:

Labour has now set up an inquiry that is supposed to produce a workable definition of ‘antisemitism’ – which is to say, to achieve the impossible. It’s been tried countless times before, and it’s always proven futile. The only beneficiaries of such a mandate will be academic ‘specialists’ on antisemitism, who will receive hefty consultancy fees (I can already see Richard Evans at the head of the queue), and Israel, which will no longer be in the spotlight. I understand the short-term political rationale. But at some point, you have to say, ‘enough already’. Jews are prospering as never before in the UK. The polls show that the number of, so to speak, hard-core antisemites is miniscule. It’s time to put a stop to this periodic charade, because it ends up besmirching the victims of the Nazi holocaust, diverting from the real suffering of the Palestinian people, and poisoning relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities. You just had an antisemitism hysteria last year, and it was a farce. And now again? Another inquiry? Another investigation? No.

In order to put an end to this, there has to be a decisive repudiation of this political blackmail. Bernie Sanders was brutally pressured to back down on his claim that Israel had used disproportionate force during its 2014 assault on Gaza. He wouldn’t budge, he wouldn’t retreat. He showed real backbone. Corbyn should take heart and inspiration from Bernie’s example. He has to say: no more reports, no more investigations, we’re not going there any more. The game is up. It’s long past time that these antisemitism-mongers crawled back into their sewer – but not before humbly apologising to Naz Shah, and begging her forgiveness.

It is true that Bernie Sanders’ response is an exemplary one, but we should of course bear in mind that he is a Jewish candidate. This provides immunity (at least to some extent – though not entirely as we shall see) from spurious charges of antisemitism.

Incidentally, the published interview was afterwards appended with the following clarification:

Readers have expressed shock at the scandalous remarks attributed to Jonathan Freedland. Finkelstein decided to amend the paragraph so as to quote Freedland word-for-word. Readers will now perhaps be even more shocked.

Here’s what Finkelstein said that caused such a furore:

You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn. Incidentally, when my book, The Holocaust Industry, came out in 2000, Freedland wrote that I was ‘closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it’. Although he appears to be, oh, so politically correct now, he didn’t find it inappropriate to suggest that I resembled the Nazis who gassed my family.

We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work. Why should anyone get agitated? Later, on the program, it was pointed out that the Guardian, where he worked, had serialised The Holocaust Industry across two issues. He was asked by the presenter, if my book was the equivalent of Mein Kampf, would he resign from the paper? Of course not. Didn’t the presenter get that it’s all a game?

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkelstein’s scathing rebuke of all accusations of latent racism within the Labour Party, including those levelled at Ken Livingstone.

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Naz Shah has been hung out to dry today. She has confessed, recanted and repented. Her shame is absolute. She has had the Labour Party whip withdrawn and people like the rapidly moving rightwards airhead, Owen Jones, was in the vanguard of the witch hunt calling for her suspension John McDonnell was right to swiftly force Naz Shah’s resignation – but now the party has to suspend her. All we need is the scaffold and then she could literally be hung out to dry.

writes founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Tony Greenstein, who has also written a number of articles for the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’, before “being censored because he rejected the idea that comparing Zionism and the Israeli State to the Nazis was anti-Semitic.”

Greenstein continues:

Indeed Naz Shah has confessed to her comments being anti-Semitic. Isn’t that enough proof? No. The defendants in the Stalin purge trials also confessed to being Trotsky’s agents and more. It is perfectly possible to create a psychological atmosphere such that people will confess to all manner of things, even though they are not guilty. Police interrogators have, throughout the years, been quite skilled in obtaining false confessions without the need to beat people up or torture them.

So let me say it here – there is nothing anti-Semitic in what Naz Shah has said. She made what was quite a flippant humorous joke in the midst of something that was anything but funny – the merciless use of American planes, white phosphorous and the most modern missiles and rocket technology against a people who had nothing except pea crackers to fire back with (the ‘rockets’ that Israel used as a pretext for the bombardment and invasion). Let us not forget that 2,200 people were murdered in Gaza including 551 ‘terrorist’ children.

He adds:

The anti-Semitism talked about today is nothing more than an attempt to defend Israel. It has nothing to do with actual anti-Semitism. Zionists (no it’s not a term of abuse it means those who defend the State of Israel – they do after all have a World Zionist Organisation) find it difficult to defend incarceration and torture of children as young as 12 (if they are Palestinian). Jewish children of course can’t be locked up unless they are at least 14 and they have social workers and parents accompanying them unlike Palestinian children who are kept in solitary confinement, beaten and worse. It is difficult defending a system where 93% of Israeli land is reserved wholly for Jewish use. It is much better to cry ‘anti-Semitism’ and attack the messenger rather than the message.

What is happening is that the millions of pounds that the Israeli government has devoted to propaganda is being spent now to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn and the new Labour leadership.  They are hunting down every tweet, email etc. in order to create an atmosphere of permanent instability. I know because tweets I have issued have been taken totally out of context to suggest I am anti-Semitic. If someone calls me a ‘self-hater’anti-Semite’ etc. I will accuse them of being ‘zio scum’ or whatever. Anti-Semitic? Get a life.

Greenstein is another to have been caught up in the recent witch hunt, when he was prominently featured in an article published by The Telegraph on April 1st entitled “Activist who derides critics as ‘Zionist scum’ admitted to Labour in latest anti-Semitism scandal to hit the Party”. The piece very studiously avoids any mention of the rather glaring fact that Greenstein is from an Orthodox Jewish family, although at the end a clarification has since been added that “we have been asked to make clear that we had not intended to imply that Tony Greenstein is anti-Semitic. We are happy to do so.”

Click here to read more from Tony Greenstein’s extended piece entitled “Naz Shah – More False Allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ – British Jews are NOT oppressed: This is a Bogus Campaign Worthy of Stalin’s Purges”

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As the witch hunt gathered pace, the Jewish Socialists’ Group issued a formal statement. Thanks to social networking forums it quickly gathered a sizeable audience across the internet. However the corporate media turned an immediate blind eye instead.

I recommend reading the full statement, but here is a flavour:

Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm a supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally. […]

The attack is coming from four main sources, who share agendas: to undermine Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour; to defend Israeli government policy from attack, however unjust, racist and harmful towards the Palestinian people; and to discredit those who make legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy or Zionism as a political ideology. As anti-racist and anti-fascist Jews who are also campaigning for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians, we entirely reject these cynical agendas that are being expressed by:

  • The Conservative Party
  • Conservative-supporting media in Britain and pro-Zionist Israeli media sources
  • Right-wing and pro-Zionist elements claiming to speak on behalf of the Jewish community
  • Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour party.

[…]

The Jewish Socialists’ Group sees the current fearmongering about antisemitism in the Labour Party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents.

We stand against antisemitism, against racism and fascism and in support of refugees. We stand for free speech and open debate on Israel, Palestine and Zionism.

*

Concluding remarks:

Back in March, as the current witch hunt was just brewing, I posted an extended article entitled “anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: playing the race card cannot diguise Israel’s guilt”. As an epigraph, I quoted a dictionary definition of the word ‘racism’. My idea was to encourage readers to reflect on the strict meaning of the word so as to reach an appreciation that this has significantly drifted and, more importantly, been diluted.

On reflection the use of such a device was gauche and may have appeared sententious, although in light of what has since transpired my concern was surely a justifiable one. Indeed, the need to reclaim the word ‘racism’ is becoming an urgent one. Casually brandished by those whose sole purpose is to blacken the name of their opponents, its proper meaning is cheapened. This is an exceedingly dangerous game. For words very often act as safeguards against the gravest of our errors: ‘racism’ serves as just such a safeguard. We undermine its correct meaning at our collective peril.

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Update:

Jackie Walker, Vice Chair of the grassroots movement Momentum that helped Jeremy Corbyn become party leader, is another Labour activist who was suspended over alleged antisemitic comments posted on social media.

Walker, who is a black activist of Jewish heritage and lifelong anti-racist campaigner as well as a signatory to Jews For Justice For Palestinians was interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground on March 21st:

 

On May 21st, Walker was invited back on the show to speak about the charge of antisemitism against her and how the suspension has affected her life:

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Obama calls for a “war on war”: campaign to stop the madness

Little more than one year ago, the West was poised to launch air strikes against Syria. Under the pretext that Assad had crossed Obama’s “red line” (a charge that has since been challenged on the basis of evidence uncovered by respected journalist Seymour Hersh and others – follow the tag on “Ghouta” to read more details) we were then about to be rushed headlong into a war that would have greatly strengthened the hand of “the rebels”, already known to be comprised mostly of al-Qaeda factions (again, you can find evidence for this in many earlier articles posted under the categories “Syria” or “al-Qaeda”). Incredibly, we are now poised to launch a different military offensive, this time against the “rebels” we had previously been supporting, but since renamed ISIS, ISIL and IS (for added confusion). To compound the absurdity in a speech made at the UN General Assembly, Obama now talks of a “war on war” for a peaceful future!

There is no question that ISIS are a menace to people in the region and must be stopped, but a rehashed military intervention by the West is in reality a continuation of the “War on Terror” for geostrategic objectives — in this instance, clearly providing a potential alternative avenue for “intervention” against Syria. In Britain, the Stop the War Coalition is calling for people of good will to lobby their MPs before tomorrow’s vote in Parliament by sending a statement to their MPs using their lobby tool. The statement reads:

Along with most British people, we opposed an attack on Iraq in 2003. The brutal reality of the invasion and occupation confirmed our worst fears. At least half a million died and the country was devastated.

Now, less than three years after US troops were pulled out, the US is bombing again. The British government is considering joining military action, not just in Iraq but in Syria too.

All the experience of the varied military action taken by the west in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya shows that such interventions kill innocents, destroy infrastructure and fragment societies, and in the process spread bitterness and violence.

While we all reject the politics and methods of Isis, we have to recognise that it is in part a product of the last disastrous intervention, which helped foster sectarianism and regional division. It has also been funded and aided by some of the west’s allies, especially Saudi Arabia.

More bombing, let alone boots on the ground, will only exacerbate the situation. We urge the government to rule out any further military action in Iraq or Syria.

Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Caryl Churchill, playwright Brian Eno, musician Tariq Ali, writer and broadcaster Jeremy Corbyn MP Diane Abbott MP Ken Loach, film director Michael Rosen, author and broadcaster Kate Hudson, general secretary of CND John McDonnell MP Sami Ramadani, Iraqi writer and campaigner Caroline Lucas MP Nick Broomfield, filmmaker Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite Amir Amarani, film director Mark Rylance, actor Mohammed Kozbar, vice president of the Muslim Association of Britain Dr Anas Altikriti Baroness Jenny Tonge Andrew Murray, chief of staff Unite Jean Urquhart MSP Walter Wolfgang, Labour CND.

We must keep up the pressure

  • If you haven’t already, lobby your MP now. It takes two minutes.
  • Participate in the debate by phoning local radio stations.

The topic of bombing Iraq and Syria is bound to loom large this week, especially in radio prime time (around 8-9 am and 5-6 pm).

LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) is a prominent example of a talk radio station (97.3 FM, its telephone number is 0345 60 60 973).

BBC Radio 5 Live (AM: 693 kHz, 909 kHz, 990 kHz ) is another major national talk radio station. Its telephone number is 0500 909693.

For a list of local BBC radio stations, click here.

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