She’s about to have a major encounter with the electorate.
She’s good. We and she are about to discover how good.
She’s about to have a major encounter with the electorate.
She’s good. We and she are about to discover how good.
I’m just returned from a public meeting, held by the Labour MP for York Central.
Rachael Maskell is a decent lass — a physio by trade, a trade union official by experience. She is doing her best.
Because of the upsets in the parliamentary party, she chose to side with the leadership (pro tem.). As a consequence of being one of the “stickies”, she ended up, over-promoted, with barely a twelve-month Commons experience, as the fully-fledged Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary. Again: she is clearly doing her best.
Both locally, and in the national press, she has let it be known — or any least not denied — she has difficulties with the Three-line Whip on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote. Equally, in her response to this evening’s meeting, she indicated she felt she needed to huddle close to the centre of what goes for “power” in the parliamentary party.
So to the meeting itself.
Rachael began with a (over-)long account of where she felt we were. I have to admit, try as I could, I had heard it all before. It was largely read from a script — which itself raises certain questions.
The followed a long string of speakers from the floor.
What was evident was:
More to the crunch:
If Rachael was assuming there were Brownie-points for loyalty to the current leadership, this alone should have disabused her.
At some personal pain, I remained silent: not my usual posture at such gatherings.
Had I been disposed, my extended thoughts would go on these lines (though, for public consumption, a lot more abbreviated):
A Burkean bit
First I bear the tradition of Dublin University’s College Historical Society. When I was elected as Librarian (a pure honorific), I discovered I had responsibility for a series of well-locked glass cabinets. In there were the minutes and records of the “Hist”, back to its foundation. Which was back to “Burke’s Club” of the 1740s. The “Burke” in this context being none other than Edmund.
I find Burke a rank Tory, and eminently readable. At this juncture, nothing of his is as relevant as his Speech to the Electors of Bristol (3rd November 1774). His opponent had just promised to accept mandates from the electors.
... government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination …
… authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience, — these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.
Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.
In the core of that great speech is the well-known maxim:
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Which is why I feel enormous sympathy — even some pity — for each and every MP who now has to choose a way through this mire.
Which leads into a second thought.
A horror from recent history
On the substantive motion of 18th March 2003, the House of Commons gave authority to use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair’s government majority there was 263 (412 to 149). 84 Labour MPs voted against, a further 69 abstained.
Had there been a referendum at that moment — and for months after — the British public would have largely backed Blair: YouGov polling, over 21 samplings, suggested 54-38 in favour of war. After all, the Tory media had told them to do so.
Yet we are now asked unquestioningly to “respect” a 51.9/48.1 Brexit split.
2. However, to vote “Aye” is more perverse. None of us was clear last June what “Leave” might entail — except the dizzy promises of “£350 million a week for the NHS” and “Take back control”. We are still very much in the dark.
However, Theresa May has helped us to recognise what she expects. It amounts to:
Abstain. Find an urgent family crisis in Aberystwyth. Be on a reciprocal to central Africa. Whatever.
But abstain. Even at the price of a Shadow Cabinet seat.
Tam Dalyell, who died this week, was a kind of Mizen Head: one of those parliamentary markers to navigate by. Which is also to say — stay clear of. He was, for most of his more-than-four-decades in the Commons, individualistic, almost unclubbable, the cat who walks alone.
1962 and All That
Anyone who had the pleasure of that baritone timbre would be wafted back to the Learig Bar, Bo’ness, preferably in the days before the 1962 West Lothian by-election.
Everyone in sight knew that “Black Tam” would take it easily. His worthy Scot Nat opponent — then and for the next six contests — was Billy Wolfe. 1962, though, was the first Scot Nat showing in such parts. Wolfe was the more “lefty” of the two. Since the Communist candidate was Gordon McLennan, then of the mind-set we would later recognise as “unreconstructed tankie”, that might make Wolfe the “vote-as-left as-you-can-get” ticket. Alas! That was also a time when the Scot Nats could be dismissed as “tartan Tories”: 1962 and Wolfe were the moment that changed.
Both men were — in their different ways — noble figures.
They were a crucial decade apart in years.
William Wolfe had a background as an owner and manager in heavy metal-bashing industry. Wolfe had had “a good war”.
Tam was Old Etonian, Cambridge University, would inherit his mother’s family baronetcy, and become Sir Thomas of the Binns. Tam had learned as a squaddie in National Service to relate to the lower orders.
After an evening of canvassing the plebs, all and sundry would gravitate to the Learig Bar. Lesser, lower beings and bag-carriers hugged their pints of heavy and looked on.
If you hunt hard enough, long enough, you may yet find a tattered original of The Rebels’ ceilidh song book, published by the Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society.
Therein (provided it’s a first edition) you will find The Ballad of the Learig Bar, with the chorus:
Billy Woolf will win, will win,
Billy Woolf will win.
He didn’t. But it was a great effort all round.
I found myself on politics.ie, trying to answer:
Could never understand [Dalyell’s] desire for Ireland to get its freedom but not Scotland.
Apart from the dubious assumption that an interest in the Troubles of Northern Ireland amounts to a desire for Ireland to get its freedom, I tried to say Dalyell’s motivation, above all, was his opposition to colonialism. That’s what radicalised him, at the time of Suez. It was one of the few postures he maintained consistently. Hence — no doubt — being sucked into the “Troops Out Movement”.
The West Lothian Question: still “tricky”
I’m of the view Dalyell was quite sincere about his “nationalism”.
He set out his objections to the Scotland Bill quite clearly, and — as the preface to the Herald Scotland obituary notes:
Tam Dalyell … was … the first to pose the still-tricky West Lothian Question about Scottish representation at Westminster.
The “West Lothian Question” was not Dalyell’s. His own term was “the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem”. It was, however, the term Enoch Powell applied to Dalyell’s reasoned point:
… the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem is not a minor hitch to be overcome by rearranging the seating in the devolutionary coach. On the contrary, the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem pinpoints a basic design fault in the steering of the devolutionary coach which will cause it to crash into the side of the road before it has gone a hundred miles.
For how long will English constituencies and English hon. Members tolerate 123 not just 71 Scots, 36 Welsh and a number of Ulstermen but at least 119 hon. Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Ireland? Such a situation cannot conceivably endure for long.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East [Gordon Wilson] said that members of his party would not vote on English matters, but that does not face up to the problem of the need for a Government to be sustained. The real problem is that of having a subordinate Parliament in part, though only part, of a unitary State.
Out of that comes four thoughts:
Where the “West Lothian Question” still festers is the so-called “Sewel convention” (for a full explication see the Peatworrier passim[/I]), which was thought to define the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. It was thought the 2016 Scotland Act enshrined these conventions into UK law.
As a concomitant of the Supreme Court judgment of 24th January 2017, those certainties are now much more clouded. In particular there’s paragraph 148 of the judgment, suggesting Westminster — by accident or malign design — has been weaselling:
…the UK Parliament is not seeking to convert the Sewel Convention into a rule which can be interpreted, let alone enforced, by the courts; rather, it is recognising the convention for what it is, namely a political convention, and is effectively declaring that it is a permanent feature of the relevant devolution settlement. That follows from the nature of the content, and is acknowledged by the words (“it is recognised” and “will not normally”), of the relevant subsection. We would have expected UK Parliament to have used other words if it were seeking to convert a convention into a legal rule justiciable by the courts.
Any distant rumble is “Black Tam” having a posthumous chuckle.
Above all, Dalyell (“the only member to own white peacocks”) was supremely individualist and not-to-be-confined by any passing group-loyalty. He was impossible to corral in any political grouping. He was apparently incapable of anything like “humour”. Yet he did his research: when he spoke, he knew his stuff. He gave a hard time to each and every minister dished up for his tormenting: Thatcher in particular.
Belgrano: hunting for truths.
He was against the whole Falklands adventure. He detailed that in his Falklands Polemic for the London Review of Books.
From that developed his ceaseless hounding of Margaret Thatcher, over the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano. Dalyell’s dogged persistence was itself the stuff of legend. In retrospect, it seems partly a piece of self-justification. It was, however, much needed: particularly so when he was able to show that the thirty hours while HMS Conqueror trailed the Belgrano proved — rather than the vessel being some naval threat — the delay was political, over Peruvian attempts to cobble peace proposals.
The main event
Then we might usefully read Dalyell’s own “last word”: The Question of Scotland: Devolution and After.
There Dalyell argues what Scotland needs is not “self-government” so much as “good government”, and primarily ” good local government”. There’s a lot of point-scoring in it: Dalyell offers a cogent argument why Labour failed. He is caustic in his treatment of Donald Dewar — the spiralling costs of the new Scottish Parliament building — and Dewar’s denials — being one main grievance. Dalyell won, Dewar nil.
Now both Billy Wolfe and Black Tam are gone. Both were imperfect. We shall not see their likes again.
Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
I attended closely to the YouTube feed of the “debate” between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith over the leadership of the Labour Party.
It seemed to me that two strong issues went AWOL, by both parties (and — let’s be honest here — there really are two tribes inhabiting the Labour reservation).
So these two essential questions:
What should the Party be doing to improve the lot of left-behind workers?
That is essentially the same question as “What went wrong in the #Brexit campaign?”, or “How to counteract the attraction of UKIP?”, and many others which go back to alienation of the working-class vote.
The answer is quite simple, and comes in different forms of essentially the same thing:
It isn’t enough (though both Corbyn and Smith seem to argue so) to rely on central government racking up “minimum wage” levels.
What that achieves, instantly, is to erode differentials. Indeed it often means that the next wage-tier above minimum is absorbed into a lumpen-proletarian base. It also negates any pressure on the employer to innovate to improve productivity: after all, the combine has a quiescent work-force, which can be refreshed by adding under-25s or “adult apprentices”, who come cheaper than minimum. Or, of course, by using zero-hours contracts. Cue Dilbert from 1993:
There are “costs” to beefing up the unions.
Labour becomes more expensive.
Which means, in the short term, unemployment may rise.
It also means there is more cash floating round the system. That may be “inflationary”, but it also means there is an increase in demand — and both services and manufacturing should benefit. Meanwhile, in the present context, #Brexit has ensured that imports are more expensive, and domestic production should be more competitive. Which should create a demand for skilled employment.
Why did Labour lose the 2015 General Election?
Because of the Big Lie and the Big Bribe.
The Big Lie was that the previous Labour Government’s investment in public services broke the economy and caused the 2007 Crash.
Pause for breath on that one. It wasn’t the collapse of one US over-levered operation after another, until Lehman Brothers were made to walk the plank. It wasn’t the reckless lending of uncontrolled fringe bankers. It wasn’t the Stock Markets taking flight. No: it was because Labour had civilised public education and public health care. No more outdoor school toilets. No lying on hospital trolleys for hours. So: the Tory remedy was to bring back public squalor (Psst: try private health care and schooling!)
The Big Bribe was to pay off those who vote at the expense of those who don’t.
So the seniors get their “triple lock” of guaranteed public pension pay-offs, to be paid for by austerity pay-freezes for those at the bottom of the heap. Oh, and if you’re got money in pension-funds, rush off and invest in a Ferrari or a Spanish time-share. You know you really, really need to. If you’re paying cooperation tax, here’s a let-off.
But to pursue either of those, would involve a real “debate”.
Expressing what I feel about the state of the Labour Party comes easier vocally. Putting it into words here is more difficult, because a stream of blasphemies and obscenities doesn’t adequately suffice.
So let me start a distance back, and take a run at it.
First there was Peter Bradshaw on screen villains in today’s Guardian G2. This on Lotso-Huggin’-Bear from Toy Story 3:
… the “loveable” Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, richly and warmly voiced by Ned Beatty. He is the senior prisoner and everyone appears to respect him as a sweet, grandfatherly figure — but, in fact, he is an insidious and creepy bully, almost like a cult leader, who rules with henchmen enforcers. That name, and the character’s bland cuddly teddybear face are both highly effective at putting across Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear’s parasitic villainy.
Remind you of anyone?
Meanwhile, the stiletto’ed arm of the Murdoch Empire, The Times, has been assiduous in rooting out the excesses of the Corbynist/Momentum Tendency. Anyone have any notion what that motive might be?
Sure enough, Lucy Fisher, “Senior Political Correspondent”, gets her by-line as the main item on today’s page 2. She starts by reporting that:
Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, improved her security after an internet troll sent her pictures of a woman impaled by a spear upon which her face had been superimposed.
There’s a lot of that sort of thing around, but — be assured — it’s absolutely nothing to do with the pro-Corbs lot. As they rarely desist from telling us.
Then Lucy Fisher, “Senior Political Correspondent”, comes up with something quite astounding:
Another Labour MP yesterday accused Momentum, the left-wing network of Mr Corbyn’s supporters, of planning to film constituents visiting his advice surgery in what he said was a bid to intimidate them.
Neil Coyle, the MP for Southwark, asked on social media why the group’s “cronies” were allegedly targeting his surgery. He said he had seen 50 per cent fewer constituents since Momentum protested outside his office several weeks ago.
On Wednesday night a left-wing activist posted on a Facebook group for Southwark Momentum details of the time and place of Mr Coyle’s next surgery. Another man on the thread, which was seen by The Times, wrote: “Be firm but polite and make sure someone is videoing.”
Mr Coyle said: “The intention to protest, the consequent police presence and the cameras outside stop people coming to see me. You don’t visit your MP unless you’ve got a significant problem — often it’s benefits issues, housing pressure, immigration concerns. People coming about these serious things are not in a mood to be filmed.”
Mr Coyle said that after he contacted Southwark Momentum, the post encouraging video cameras to be used outside his office was taken down. A Momentum spokesman said Mr Coyle’s claim that activists linked to the group were trying to intimidate his constituents was nonsense.
You see! As sure as night follows day, there’s the blanket Momentum denial. It’s nuttin’ to do wit’ us, guv! Honest!
And yet …
It all sounds terribly familiar.
My alter-ego (who must be well-identified by anyone in the know) has been there, and bears the political scars. I have mentioned them here in previous posts, and I don’t retract from them one iota.
In my case, in that lobby to Haringey Council Chamber, the push to the wall, the clenched fist waved in front of the face, the crude threat with the expletive, was made by one Councillor Ron Blanchard, a close acolyte of the Blessed Jeremy Redeemer. But, of course, there was no third-party witness. So it couldn’t have happened. Could it?
And here we are …
The whole Party mechanism has been put into cold storage, for fear of those regimented hordes of infiltrators, for fear of personal abuse, and worse. But it’s all MI5 plotting against the Sainted Jeremy and his variant of “democracy”.
44 Labour women MPs (that’s out of a total of 99, with one murdered already) have complained of continuing on-line personal abuse. They put their grievances in a formal letter to the Party Leader:
Rape threats, death threats, smashed cars and bricks through windows are disgusting and totally unacceptable in any situation.
This is acknowledged by all factions, yet the simple words of condemnation offered in response are inadequate.
We expect swift and tangible action against those who commit such acts.
Response: oh, well, the abuse goes with the job. And anyway, it’s gotta be some other lot. It’s nuttin’ to do wit’ us, guv! Honest!
This way madness lies …
If ever there was proof positive that a point-of-view was plain wrong, it has come from the mouth of Diane “unsuitable blonde, blue-eyed Finnish nurses” Abbott.
… it is interesting to compare and contrast Corbyn and Sanders. Their political programmes are very similar. Like Sanders, Corbyn is proud to call himself a socialist. In fact Sanders calling himself a socialist is remarkable in a country where, in living memory, using such a term was enough to get you witch-hunted out of public life. Even in Britain, under New Labour, calling yourself a socialist was forbidden to anyone with serious political ambitions…
Both are treated with cool disdain by their political establishments. Email leaks this week revealed how antagonistic Democratic bigwigs were to the Sanders campaign. As a result the chairwoman of the Democratic national committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had to resign. Goodness knows what the leak of similar emails by the Labour Party would reveal. But it is easy to guess…
But the big difference between the two is the way they have been treated by their respective country’s media. Mainstream media in the US has been very sceptical about Sanders’ policies, particularly his signature policies on healthcare. This has been bruising, but fair.
By contrast the British media has scarcely discussed the policies on which Corbyn campaigned. Instead they have concentrated on tearing him down as a man and delegitimising him as a political actor.
For the record, as long ago as 1974, when my alter-ego put out an election address and described myself as a “socialist”, eye-brows raised. Even Tribune, which was my spiritual home in many ways, felt the usage worth notice.
What we need to underline (as I do above) is the paranoia that Diane Julie, M.A. (Cantab) radiates. Len McCluskey knows it has to be MI5. Diane Julie sees pale-pinkos machinating against the Blessed Apostle in the National Executive.
Is it all hopeless?
Well, it’s going to be hard to drain the swamp while we are up to our arses with rabid alligators. But for the sake of having a real Opposition, delivering for the people (not just the mouthy student types) Labour has properly sought to represent these hundred years and more, it has to be done.
Owen Smith may not be the instant solution. He’s an improvement on the Corbs lot, and I’ll be doing my bit in the cause. And if Smith doesn’t hack his way through the swamp of Momentum dis- and mis-information, we’ll have to try again.
I don’t care if you can unscrew the inscrutable. I just don’t get it with these self-exculpatory ultra-Corbynistas:
Corbyn himself has received death threats, it seems that there are head de balls on both sides most of whom are probably hopping on the wagon just to stir it up.
The incoming nastiness is all from one direction.
There are a whole series of clues:
Let’s get to the bottom-lines:
Heracles’ Fifth Labour: Cleaning the Augean Stables:
Remind me: which of the local elections in the late 1960s, when it went pear-shaped for Labour, was blamed on some utterance by Richard Crossman? Dick Crossman, being an honourable type (much of the time) took the blame. All those defeated candidates, who felt they had been crapped on, were not forgiving.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Suddenly, thanks to Ken Livingstone (and if one takes on trust the “findings” of the Sunday punditocracy), Sadiq Khan’s remarkably-successful campaign for the London Mayoralty, Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
If it goes sour overnight next Thursday (indeed, if the count becomes a damn close-run thing — which the Duke of Wellington didn’t actually say), guess who will be held to blame. And quite deservedly.
For some public figures:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come.
For his brief moment, Tony Blair was one such. Blair was wrong on many things, but in the first Mayoralty election in 2000, he had Ken bang-to-rights.
Others enter with more than a whiff of brimstone.
Such has been, for a long political life, Ken Livingstone. He will not be missed.