Category Archives: socialism.

A quick fisking

Two prefatory notes:
1. Each week-day morning I get three emails:

    • The Times is usually first out of the traps with Matt Chorley’s Red Box;
    • Paul Waugh shrewdly chips in with Waugh Zone, the political lead of HuffPo UK;
    • and, trailing the rear, because he has been mulling yet another excruciatingly-brilliant punning headline, comes the New Statesman‘s Stephen Bush.

2. Back in the days of yore, when social media were in their infancy, we took umbrage at the utterances of Robert Fisk. Because we were so much more intelligent than Fisk, we would “fisk” his columns, with counter arguments.

So, this grey Yorkshire morning, I’m fisking Paul Waugh.

REALITY BITES

Way back in 2010, David Cameron made the Liberal Democrats “a big, open and comprehensive offer” to join him in Government. Tomorrow, Theresa May will make what looks to Labour like a small, closed and limited offer to prop her up in power.

Without exception — and for once even the Torygraph is on board — the commentariat do not like the idea.

May’s relaunch speech has been well trailed overnight and includes a line that she will accept “the new reality” of her loss of a Parliamentary majority. But given her lifelong instinct of trusting only a tight-knit team around her, can May reach out to her own party, let alone Labour and others? May rightly wants to build consensus on areas like social care, but just ask Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham how open to cross-party working she has been in the past. On the Today programme, even the impeccably moderate Damian Green underlined the difficulties of any cross-party working, ridiculing Angela Rayner over the cost of wiping out all student debt. No wonder Labour’s Andrew Gwynne dismissed May’s olive branch, saying “they’re having to beg for policy proposals from Labour”.

We are not — heaven forfend! — to see this as a “relaunch”. Such lèse-majesté would deny the glory of Number 10.

The rest of that paragraph amount to a recital of so many current metropolitan political memes. Memes they may be; but they seem copper-bottomed. The jibe about student debt should not be over-looked: all sides are now coming around to recognising what a total disaster, educationally and financially — as well as electorally, the ConDem government inflicted by cranking up student fees and debt to the highest in the developed world. Predictably, the Tories continue, officially, to impale themselves while, behind the arras, scratching around for a way to climb-down.

If the UK were Germany, we might have seen some sort of ‘grand coalition’ in the wake of the snap election, driven by a sense of national mission to deliver a consensual Brexit (I remember Gisela Stuart floating the Tory-Labour coalition idea if the 2015 election had seen a hung Parliament). But we are not Germany and it takes world wars, rather than impending trade wars, to make our opposing parties work together on that level.

The essential differences between English and continental political practices derive from:

  • the shape of the Commons chamber, itself a distant legacy from the choir-stalls of St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster. Once there are two sides, each individual member of the Commons had to decide whether he (and it was always a “he”) was right of the Speaker (the Administration) or left (Opposition). Not for nothing are the two front benches traditionally two swords’ lengths apart.
  • over the centuries, the main supply of parliamentarians has been the Law, they are a contrarian, disputatious and forensic lot. Each argument has to be set against a counter-argument. Remember Swift’s satire of the Little-Endians versus the BigEndians.

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far has been built on vigorously opposing the Tories, not working with them. And everyone in Parliament remembers just how badly burned the Lib Dems were by the Tories in coalition, never given credit for the good stuff, blamed for the bad stuff. May will say tomorrow that through cross-party working, “ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found”. But in fact she’s admitting the reality that just 7 Tory MPs is all it takes to defeat the Government. And critics will say the only true way to get her to make concessions is to threaten rebellion after rebellion.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far“: notice two presumptions there. “Success” in practice amounts to gaining 30 seats when all the indicators were for a possible loss of as many as sixty. However, in all truth, Labour opposition has been remarkably limited: in particular on the #Brexit thing. When 49 Labour MPs voted against the Government to keep the UK in the single market, they were abused and worse by Corbynite supporters.

One person who could more credibly make a genuinely big, bold offer to Labour is David Davis, precisely because he would be trusted by his own side not to sell out on the big principles, while being pragmatic enough on how to deliver them. I’ve said before that DD is the Martin McGuinness of the Brexit movement, capable of compromise without abandoning his supporters’ main strategic goal. And despite errors from key allies like Andrew Mitchell, he looks increasingly like the favourite in any Tory leadership race. Green this morning reiterated David Lidington’s line about “the warm Prosecco problem” of Tory MPs gossiping about the leadership. But Mitchell’s parties feature only the finest Champagne, and DD himself likes a pint of bitter. That’s the kind of cross-class, party consensus that May will need to worry about most.

For little obvious reason — but mainly, one has to suspect, for want of a better — David Davis has emerged as the Tory front-runner for a new leader (and, in the present dispensation, Prime Minister). I cannot help musing the Waugh over-eggs his pudding with the “trusted by his own side”. The ultras on the frothing right of the Tory Party trust no-one but themselves — which is why Theresa May keeps head-bangers and second-raters like Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom as household pets. As of now, Davis’s key strength is keeping in line. Were he to go rogue, he could easily bring down the whole shebang.

One final, dislocated thought:

John Rentoul (another commentator of value) is, but of course, cocking an ironic eye there. Irony on irony: that Paul Staines (by name and by nature) felt moved to protect “the establishment”.

On Saturday I was at the Big Meeting, the Durham Miners’ Gala. The Red Banners flew free. The Red Flag was sung, and — uniquely — the singers knew more than the first verse and chorus.  Tee-shirts proclaimed ¡No pasarán! and La lutte continue! I even heard a scratch band bash out The Internationale. I could have bought books, badges and posters celebrating Lenin, Trotsky, James Connolly.

It was all festive, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. For all the revolutionary ardor, these subversives were set on little more than getting down the next pint.

And yet, according to Guido Fawkes: they had already won! These north-easterners had voted #Brexit. They were successfully challenging the Establishment.

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Filed under Beer, Britain, British Left, Conservative Party policy., democracy, Europe, Guido Fawkes, International Brigade, John Rentoul, Labour Party, leftist politics., Paul Waugh, politics, socialism., Spanish Civil War, Theresa May, Times, Tories., Vince Cable

Hidey holes

I blame it on Dr Ralph Reynolds, my Headmaster at the High School, Dublin.

He set the scholarship sixth a weekly essay, with a word limit. To impress, I attempted to improve style, and let the content take care of itself. So, there am I, practising tripartite Ciceronian phrasing, buffing the duff, unscrewing the inscrutable.

I’d also learned that a flashy way to impress was the ornament of a quotation: what oft was said, but ne’er so well expressed.

I was studying the art of prompting that supervisory cliché, “Knows little, but writes well”.

Somewhere brevity went out the window.

Which is why my great intellect goes unregarded, unrewarded. Or something.

Compare and contrast Andrew, the :

Peaty

Thus, in fewer than three dozen words, neatly skewering Tom Gordon’s piece for the Sunday Herald, and the whole thrust of Andy Wightman‘s efforts.

I’m an expressed admirer of all three bods: Wightman and his book, The Poor Had No Lawyers, deserve much respect, as I’ve cursorily acknowledged here before.

As ever, such matters of moment provoke the Mrs Ramsbottom in all of us:

But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone.
She said “No! someone’s got to be summonsed”-
So that was decided upon.

As ever, too, the official response:

The Magistrate gave his opinion
That no one was really to blame
And he said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.

That is what we have here. The ‘s conflates the argument against the Green amendments (which are largely Wightman’s) to the Land Reform Bill. Here is Tom Gordon‘s Ciceronian version:

SNP ministers rejected the plan, arguing it could breach EU law on the free movement of capital, could prompt landowners to use ever complex structures to conceal ownership, and noted some EU countries such as Luxembourg were also seen as tax havens.

The government said the change would not achieve the desired aim of more transparency.

Land reform (read Wightman’s book!) is as thorny an issue as the Scots have so far failed to deal with. Transparency of ownership is only the start.

I guess: were I seventeen years old again, spending Sunday afternoon cobbling a quicky for Dr Reynolds, I’d be vamping feudalism, damning the capitalist system, and nationalising the lot.

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Filed under Herald Scotland, reading, Scotland, SNP, social class, socialism.

Chris Bryant blows the doors off

The reference is to The West Wing, episode 7, series 2, The Portland Trip:

Sam:Oratory should raise your heart rate. Oratory should blow the doors off the place. We should be talking about not being satisfied with past solutions, we should be talking about a permanent revolution.
Toby:Where have I heard that?
Sam:Permanent revolution?
Toby:Yeah.
Sam:I got it from a book.
Toby: What book?
Sam:The Little Red Book.
Toby:You think we should quote Mao Tse-Tung?
Sam:We do need a permanent revolution.
Toby:Still, I think we’ll stay away from quoting Communists.
Sam:You think a Communist never wrote an elegant phrase?
Toby:Sam…
Sam:How do you think they got everybody to be Communists?

So that’s where John McDonnell got the idea!

Those who believe great oratory is not dead will take comfort from Chris Bryant giving Chris Grayling (and others) a right doing-over:

http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/40685492-62b9-4b9b-893c-b0d3d1be401d?in=10:35:50&out=10:43:00

 

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Filed under History, politics, socialism., The West Wing, Tories.

This I know. This I like.

The normal:

Off the book-shop shelf, I pick up a book. I flick its pages. I scan a paragraph or two.

The less normal:

Occasionally, just occasionally, there is that electric moment. The hairs on the neck prickle. The consciousness kicks in. The book sells itself.

Just that latter occurred yesterday, in Waterstones on Edinburgh’s Princes Street.

The exact reference was page 3 of Andy Wightman’s The Poor Had No Lawyers.

poornolawyers

And the quotation was from Tom Johnston, one of the Red Clydesiders of the early twentieth century, and — incredible as it now seems — Secretary of State for Scotland in the war-time coalition government.

Show the people that our Old Nobility is not noble, that its lands are stolen lands — stolen either by force of fraud; show people that the title-deeds are rapine, murder, massacre, cheating, or Court harlotry; dissolve the halo of divinity that surrounds the hereditary title; let the people clearly understand that our present House of Lords is composed largely of descendants of successful pirates and rogues; do these things and you shatter the Romance that keeps the nation dumb and spellbound while privilege picks its pockets.

Source: Tom Johnston: Our Scots Noble Families, page x.Tom_Johnston_(British_politician)

Wightman’s book was my reading on the last train south from Waverley, surrounded as I was by the hen-parties to Newcastle, and the rugby-men from Newcastle. Its will be my study for the rest of the weekend.
Meanwhile, this is Tom Devine on Johnston (page 551 of my well-thumbed paperback edition):

Scotland’s wartime supremo was the former Red Clydesider and Labour MP for West Stirlingshire, Tom Johnston, who had been appointed regional commissioner charged with responsibility for civil defence north of the border at the outbreak of hostilities. His success in that post and Churchill’s determination to avoid the industrial troubles on the Clyde during the Great War led the Prime Minister to appoint a man with a long and distinguished left-wing pedigree to the office of Secretary of State for Scotland in February 1941. Churchill had chosen wisely. Johnston was a giant figure in Scottish politics and is revered to this day as the greatest Scottish Secretary of the century.

 

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Filed under History, reading, Scotland, social class, socialism.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (revisited)

I picked up Jennie Lee’s memoir.

That shows my age. Who now remembers her? Let us, for now, remember just one incident.

Aged just 24 (at an age when women were then not sufficiently mature to vote) , in February 1924, she — a young teacher — stood for the Independent Labour Party in the North Lanark by-election. She, and the local miners, overturned a Unionist majority (MP: Colonel Sir Alexander Sprotof 2,028 into a majority of 6,578.  Her opponent in the by-election was Lord Scone, Mungo David Malcolm Murray, later the 7th Earl of Mansfield and Mansfield.

Then I came to this:

1924

Not much — apart from the obsession with male facial-ornaments — has changed.

I posted that on Twitter.

And nobody responded.

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Filed under culture, History, Labour Party, Scotland, socialism., Tories.

The Widow’s Mite

St NicholasI don’t recall when I first engaged with Economics 101, but it may have been in the choir stalls of St Nicholas, Wells-next-the-Sea, in the mid-1950s. So probably it was during the season of Trinity, and I was tuned in (as a boy soprano might) to the prescribed New Testament reading:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

22.4.2010: Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Not “termites”: two mites!

Ok, let’s resort to the ultimate authority, the OED:

Any small coin of low value; originally applied to a Flemish copper coin, but in English used mainly as a proverbial expression for an extremely small unit of monetary value (see also sense 1b). Occas. used to denote a more specific unit, as a farthing, a half farthing, or (esp. in accounting) some smaller fraction of a farthing. Now hist.

Yes: I’ve had to explicate that further, in another context, by bating a stiver. That was in connection with Robert Browning (stanza ten) and Der Rattenfänger von Hameln:

The Piper’s face fell, and he cried,
“No trifling! I can’t wait! Beside,
I’ve promised to visit by dinnertime
Bagdad, and accept the prime
Of the Head-Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in,
For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor–
With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe to another fashion.”

A stiver?

Indeed: as defined — again – by the Oxford English Dictionary:

A small coin (originally silver) of the Low Countries; applied to the nickel piece of 5 cents of the Netherlands (one-twentieth of a florin or gulden, or about a penny English).

In other words: the smallest coin of the realm.

Not quite an episode of the madeleine, then

More one of post-prandial ginger cake and a relaxed second bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

For, it was then the Lady in my Life drew my attention to Polly Toynbee:

… last week Ed Miliband bet the bank – plus bankers’ bonuses – that ballooning inequality was the great issue of our time. He’s not alone, as the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum and even Mark Carney of the Bank of England identify it as the root cause of long-term economic woe: if too many are paid too little, who buys the goods and pays the taxes?

In his “zero-zero economy” speech Miliband threw off inhibition to hammer out his long-term theme – how inequality, insecurity and low pay cause a standard of living crisis that looks dangerously like the new normal. This is Labour’s authentic message, not political calculation or a left lurch, but what the party’s for. The pretence that Labour is anything else always reeked of the Westminster dissembling and inauthenticity that drives voters away. For both main parties, the middle ground begins to look more like a death zone than the winning turf.

Or to put a few numbers in there:

 Those earning over £2.7m contribute 4.2% of all income tax, while the lowest-paid third contribute 4%.

Polly is citing from the Telegraph‘s despairing How top 3,000 earners pay more tax than bottom 9m.

The difference is those top earners do it out of shed-loads of “disposable” income — monies which are available to deploy after all living costs,  including the Bentley,  the au-pairs, and the Swiss chalet,  have been settled.

The poor pay their whack, like it or not, in constrained deductions, such as VAT on essential living, and the new taxes, beloved by “conservative” Tories, such as the Bedroom Tax and ever-ramped transport costs.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, economy, equality, Guardian, Literature, Quotations, social class, socialism., Wells-next-the-Sea

Alex Salmond defines #indyref

In the 1980s, while I was compiling the oil and gas index, David Cameron was still fooling around on the playing fields of Eton.

In that sentence, on the BBC Today programme,  Alex Salmond identified my problem with the Scottish Referendum.

P5151083He presumably intended to imply his experience over Cameron’s jejune effeteness. Or, in Francis Bacon’s usage, effete

Ieiunenesse or extreme Comminution of Spirits.

For Salmond’s deserved contempt ought to raise the question,

What and who is Scottish “Independence” for?

Because, if it is for the bankers and oil economists, I want nothing to do with it.

My concept of Scottish independence would be something more robust:

hamishwebIt’s a thocht that wad gar our rottans,
Aa thae rogues that gang gallus fresh an gay,
Tak the road an seek ither loanins
Wi thair ill-ploys tae sport an play

Or, as Béarla (= in common English):

It’s a thought that would drive our vermin,
all the rogues who strut and swagger,
to take the road and seek other fields,
to go and play elsewhere with their wicked tricks.

Hamish Henderson, Seumas Mór’s soaring verse transcends petty capitalist nationalism, but it serves here to illustrate the poverty of the SNP vision.

An old romantic concludes:

Perhaps, if anyone, John Maclean, the old Clydeside Marxist, — back in 1923, not long before his early death — came close, if naïvely, to defining a credible free and independent Scotland:

Russia could not produce the World Revolution. Neither can we in Gorbals, in Scotland, in Great Britain. Before England is ready I am sure the next war will be on us. I therefore consider that Scotland’s wisest policy is to declare for a republic in Scotland, so that the youths of Scotland will not be forced out to die for England’s markets.

I accordingly stand out as a Scottish Republican candidate, feeling sure that if Scotland had to elect a Parliament to sit in Glasgow it would vote for a working-class Parliament.

Such a Parliament would have to use the might of the workers to force the land and the means of production in Scotland out of the grasp of the brutal few who control them, and place them at the full disposal of the community. The Social Revolution is possible sooner in Scotland than in England…

maclean

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Filed under David Cameron, folk music, History, Scotland, SNP, social class, socialism.