Friday, 19 August 2016

Take Me To Your Leader!

OK, here it is, it's the politics post.

I don't do 'isms'. I have this thing about taking on labels, not least because, once you have a label, your position is defined. In my opinion, once you accept an 'ism', you're shackled. It's a bit like, actually a lot like, having beliefs. I have very little use for the term, as I discussed in an earlier post.

Now, I hear the cry from the cheap seats, 'but you're an atheist, aren't you?' to which the reply is 'yes, I am, but that isn't an 'ism''. I won't belabour this point, I'll simply point you to my earlier submission 'Are Babies Atheist?' which should make clear that, being a privative, 'atheist' isn't something I am, it's something I'm not.

The only 'ism' I'll happily accept is 'pragmatism'. I have no objection to being called a pragmatist, because it's the only 'ism' that isn't dogmatic; it is, in fact, the best protection against dogma.

At various whiles during my socio-political education, I've accepted many labels, but I've eventually found them all wanting in some way, mostly just in that acceptance of the label involves acceptance of all that the label entails, and there's no 'ism' whose entailments I accept entirely. 

The point here is that I'm largely non-partisan. I've voted almost entirely Labour during my adult life, not out of any sense of loyalty to the party, but because it's tended to be both most aligned with my general views and in a position to present a proper opposition to the self-interest represented by the Tories.

That said, I was quite invigorated when the news filtered through to me that Jeremy Corbyn had thrown his hat into the ring for the leadership of the Labour party after the 2015 election. 'At last,' I thought, 'somebody who actually gives a shit.'

Back in my younger days, I was something of an activist. I involved myself in several political campaigns. I was active in the anti-deportation movement, with the Viraj Mendis Defence Campaign and others, the North-West arm of the campaign against section 28 of the local government act 1988, which said that local authorities;
"shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship"

I also, during this time, spent some time on the 24-hour picket at the South African embassy in Trafalgar Square protesting Apartheid. It was here that I first met Jeremy Corbyn. I seriously doubt he'd remember me now, except maybe as a drunken singer of songs with a guitar and a very loud voice who kept everyone awake in the wee small hours in the biting cold (which pretty much sums up many people's impression of me even now).

Thing is, there's nothing glamorous about this. There are no cameras, no broad publicity, no political or public capital in this endeavour, only shrunken testicles, drunken passers-by, some of whom were quite abusive, and a commitment to addressing concerns for the good of the human race. 

Anyhoo, that's by-the-by, and is only to illustrate that Corbyn has made a vocation out of concern for others, of equality of opportunity, and the general well-being of society.

The day of the leadership election was a highlight of recent UK politics. I was driving back to the PRM from Londinium with mum, still at that time a Labour councillor for our glorious republic, and we listened to it all on the wireless (that's Northern-speak for radio, for my non-UK readers). As somebody not normally given to excitement about such things, even I got swept along as Corbyn was elected leader with the biggest mandate in British political history.

Hardly was the acceptance speech finished when the knives came out. Immediately labelled 'unelectable', a truly asinine contention in light of the above, Corbyn has been vilified by all sides, including from within his own party, from that day onwards.

I do understand some of this, of course. I remember only too well the dark days of Thatcher, who systematically demolished the UK's national industries, lining the pockets of her chums in the process. I remember the feeling of relief when Blair won the '97 election, and the sense that the country was finally getting back on the right road after so many years in the wilderness. I really do understand those who think that moving back toward the left might leave us in the same position we were in during the Tory dominance, but the reasoning is flawed, in my opinion, and doesn't reflect all that's gone on in the interim.

Aside from all other concerns, we saw from the last two general elections that people have become disillusioned with 'New Labour', and not without reason. Many protest votes and spoiled votes in both, and a general feeling that the party isn't cutting it, have led first to an ill-conceived coalition and then to a small mandate for the tories. Of course, there's good reason to suppose that the 2015 election was won largely on the basis of the promised Brexit referendum. 

Then came Brexit itself, and of course the attempt to apportion all the blame for the result to Corbyn, despite the fact that, by the admission of those within his party and without, he worked harder than anybody to deliver the remain vote. He was given instruction to go out and get the votes of the younger electorate, which he delivered in spades.

In the aftermath, when we've seen U-turns on all the promises by the leave campaign, when those responsible have turned tail and fled, with the exception of Boris the Buffoon who, despite coming only second to Phil the Greek in his record of offensive gaffes and pissing pretty much everybody off, suddenly seems like the ideal candidate to be Foreign Secretary, in about the biggest piss-take in British political history, the Labour party stage a coup in an attempt to oust Corbyn, even in the face of the constituents of those involved giving them clear instruction that this was not what they wanted. 

When the leadership election is called, we then have the situation where, despite the rules of the party being crystal clear on the point, it's asserted that the incumbent is subject to the same support rules for the leadership contest as the challengers. That the NEC even had to give this any consideration is a sign of how utterly screwed up the party is. And all this taking place while the tories, largely responsible for the Brexit situation, sit back and laugh.
 
There are several things about this that would be amusing if the situation weren't so serious; that nobody seems able to work out why the man handed the largest mandate in history might not want to quietly step aside and let the old guard have their way without any sign of a fight; that the tories have been comprehensively let of the hook. I could go on.

Then we have the claims of anti-Semitism, which the tories have stoked gleefully. This, particularly, is distressing, especially when such an accusation is levelled at somebody like Ken Livingstone.

So, what started this, and was there any indication of anti-Semitism within the Labour party?

It all began when a blogger located a Facebook post of a meme shared by Bradford West MP Naz Shah in 2014, before she was an MP. 


 Now, it could certainly be said that this repost was ill-advised, but anti-Semitic? Really? How about when I advise you that the source of this meme was actually Norman G Finkelstein, American-Jewish political scientist? Does that make it any more or less anti-Semitic? It appears that Finkelstein posted this as a sort of political in-joke, something reasonably common in the US.

How about criticism of Israel? Is that anti-Semitic? Are we not allowed to highlight what we see as the depredations of governments and criticise them for their actions? If I say Robert Mugabe is a despot, or criticise his government for the wholesale killing of his own people, am I being racist?

Is Ken anti-Semitic for saying that Hitler supported the relocation of Jews to Israel? Did Hitler do this? The evidence is ambiguous at best, but it certainly seems clear that, at some point in his rise to power, he thought about several possible solutions. I know that at least one widely-read source suggests that he supported it, though the source is questionable at best. Is it anti-Semitism to repeat false claims when they're thought to be true?


Let me be clear here: Prejudice is a pox on mankind (I will be posting about the logic of prejudice in a near-future post), and we really need to be working extremely hard to stamp it out, but hysterically leaping on everything that can remotely be construed as  prejudicially-motivated isn't the way to go about it, not least because it shuts down discourse, and open and honest discourse is the only route to addressing these deep-seated issues in society.

So what happens? These incidents get blown up into the broad accusation that anti-Semitism is rife in the party, so the Labour leader calls for an investigation. When the investigation returns its result, and finds that, although there are things that could be done to improve diversity generally, there were no signs of systemic prejudice against any group of people within the party, the report is described by Corbyn's opponents as a whitewash, quelle surprise.

At the press conference, Corbyn spoke, and what he said caused such a bunching of panties as to lead to a tsunami of urine. What did he say?
“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”
 Comparing Israel to ISIS? The horror!

Except, of course, that he didn't. This is a blatant misreading, whether honest or intentional. It's often the case that analogies fail to hit the mark, either by failing to understand how analogies work, or by deliberately picking up on only the key words so that one can leap to the conclusion that somebody's trying to be offensive. So here's how analogies actually work, for the hard of thinking.

The beauty of any analogy lies in its imperfections. I like to use the example of a map, because it's the clearest instance of an analogy I can think of.

Say I have a map of London. The map is an analogy of London. If the map were perfect in every respect, it would be of no more use in finding my way around London than simply going there and wandering the streets. It's not the same scale, it doesn't have the same number of dimensions, it's simply not the same.

What's being equated is the general layout of the map and the general layout of London, and there the similarity ends. In Corbyn's statement, what's being equated is the lack of responsibility, and there the similarity ends. 

What about comments regarding Zionism? Are they anti-Semitic?

No. Zionism isn't Israel, it isn't Judaism, it isn't Jews. While many Zionists are Jews, not all are. Zionism is a movement, one aimed at an independent state for the Jews. Many Zionists are actually fundamentalist Christians, who support the movement because it fulfils a biblical prophecy related to the end of days in their mythology. Indeed, there are some who will tell you that conflating Jews and Zionism is itself anti-Semitic. I'm not one of them, but I also reject the idea that criticising the Zionist is itself anti-Semitic.

For my part, I think the formation of the state of Israel in one of the most volatile regions on the planet was a mistake, and has caused considerable trouble for the world at large, not least those who were already living there. What's the solution? I don't know, and I don't pretend to. I do know that killing isn't it, whether that killing be done by Israel or the Palestinians.

Getting back to the main topic, all of this has, of course, been lapped up by the tories. Many of those who voted to leave the EU because of lack of access to unelected officials in the EU are now faced with unelected officials in Westminster to whom they have no access, so good result there.

Yesterday, I watched the debate on Victoria Derbyshire, and one thing stood out above all others, and it tells me what I need to know about the leadership contest, because it goes to the heart of what it means to truly be a leader. When asked the question 'if your opponent wins, will you be willing to serve in his cabinet?' The stark difference in their responses went straight to the integrity of each. Smith indicated that he wouldn't be willing to serve in Corbyn's cabinet, on the basis that he didn't think Corbyn was the right man for the job. Corbyn, of course, recognised that, if he was suitable to lead, he must be suitable to contribute to the cabinet. It's as simple as that. This is what separates them, in my opinion. Corbyn's concern is the good of the people and the good of the party, and he recognises that depriving the cabinet of his talents and insight doesn't serve either, while Smith fails to recognise it, which indicates to me that he hasn't got the best interests of the party or the electorate at heart, and that's sufficient to disqualify him on its own, regardless of any other considerations. The same is true of all those members of the PLP who rushed to try to oust Corbyn as soon as Brexit was returned, in what was so obviously pre-planned one can't fail to question the motivations of those involved.

I could say much more, but I feel like I've covered the major bases that I wanted to cover, so I'll leave with one last thought:

The world stands on the precipice at the moment. I'd have loved to see Bernie Sanders get the nomination, but he didn't. I note that many of his supporters are now turning to Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. This is misguided in the extreme.

Voting down the ticket is a valid tactic, especially if your aim is to undermine the stranglehold on politics of a two-party system, but the time to do this is when you have moderate candidates, not when one of the candidates is an idiot blowhard lacking the intellectual capacity of an amoeba and unable to plan five seconds into the future. I can't say strongly enough that a man who, during an interview, asks three times why we can't use nuclear weapons, is not the man you want in charge of the launch codes. 

A few people have, in recent times, wondered how Christopher Hitchens would have reacted to the situation. We can be fairly certain what his position would be although, as Sam Harris pointed out, we can't know just how beautifully he would have put it. For my part, I'm reminded of some of the things he said at the prospect of religious fundamentalists and other fuckwits getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction, and the warning that we were getting quite close with the research program in Iran. 

Well, brothers and sisters, comrades, fellow primates, if we're not careful, we might be about to find out (Valé, Hitch; you're still missed).

Thanks for reading.