But what is the UK to be, now?

The identity of the UK is in a crisis of much longer-standing than the disgusting populism that currently discerns it by such criteria as your socio-economic influence, what colour your skin is, whether you lean Left or Right, what religion you might practise or where your parents were born. Politically, that is as much about how certain people so badly need to mark or choose our personal identities for us as it is about how we might or might not identify ourselves – because finger-pointing and division serve their social comfort and agenda.

Also apparent, particularly since the first Scottish independence referendum, is the severity of the identity crisis of the UK, itself, which, post the Brexit result, is now a direct, overt and rather urgent matter. We should all care, whether petty tribalist or sincere patriot; scapegoated or scapegoater.

Unionists, Nationalists, Independents and Federalists; centralisation, devolution, globalism and localism; Brexit-Remain; Left-centrist-Right: somewheres and anywheres: we’re all being stitched up, in whichever part of the UK we live, howsoever we identify or have been categorised.

Conflict within and between our individual and collective identities are not recent phenomena. Anyone who reads history and/or literature, has lived long enough or just pays general attention to human nature knows there has always been friction and tension between the micro and macro. At this point in our timeline, though, when malice, mischievous tinkering and authoritarianism are determining the future at a confluence of circumstances, it behoves us to think more deeply, sensibly and bravely.

What and who and how is the UK to be, now?

One big country with one central government (beneficial democratic reforms notwithstanding)? Four separate countries joined in equal union? I said equal. Four co-dependent states under a mishmash of overlapping powers and inconsistent arbitration, secretly content in their mutual aggravation?

Or are we four ideologically disparate nations, who merely happen to share a lot of history, mostly by quirk of geographical proximity but who should just call time and separate? Or is it too easy and too terrible to think that? I hope so.

Whichever we are, we need to decide. And fast. If we can’t even negotiate and co-operate with each other – with ourselves – with mutual respect and for mutual benefit, then what of our prognosis, with the rest of the world?

The thing about MPs respecting “the will of the people”

The general will of a people is considered by some and desired by others to be that which is conducive to the common good; the national interest. Inasmuch as it can be measured, it reflects, at best, an assumption that everyone agrees on a point or points of principle. Principle, not detail.

In the current context of Brexit, it certainly cannot be discerned by a near fifty-fifty referendum vote. This is neither “the will of the people” nor the entirety of ‘public opinion’. Not even where and when politicians cite their constituencies as expedient justification for the fact that they are very likely sacrificing the long-term common good to a short-term effort at self-preservation, on the back of a pre- and post-referendum campaign of wilful ignorance and manipulation. The result of that referendum wasn’t representative of ‘the People’ but a collection of leanings based on a spectrum of individual understandings and expectations versus another collection of leanings based on a spectrum of individual understandings and expectations. But one side’s will and opinion is not to be countenanced, apparently. It is as if Remain were not of the People but an irritant for which the solution is to try to ignore it.

The thing about MPs respecting “the will of the people” and being led by public opinion is 1) that it does not follow that said will or opinion is correct or directed towards the common good; 2) that it is simplistic and cynical to assume that a majority or even just the loudest voice automatically represents either collective will or opinion; 3) that MPs, themselves, collectively, are usually behind the curve, not with it and rarely in front of it; 4) that the public is no better generally or singularly informed than the medium of the message and each individual’s capacity for critical thinking and the time and opportunity in which to use it. And 5): As the Brexit debates show, though MPs are best-placed for access to facts and well-informed opinion, they often start with no more understanding than the rest of us because they are no more expert, intelligent or open-minded, than the rest of us, either. Because they are not a special species of Human. They are just us. But, that they are elevated, voluntarily, to a high office of public service means they have a civic and moral duty to the national interest and our common good. Our, not a narrow selection of their. Parliamentarians are part of that rising tide that is supposed to lift all boats. They are also the planners, architects, builders and providers of boats.

Besides, all too often, the loudest voice of influence on the governing class is not the electorate in general but the most arbitrarily muscular newspapers and best-scheduled television and radio broadcasters. They can lead, reflect and project opinion far more effectively than any other demographic. One might reasonably question, then, which will and what opinion it is that MPs are really respecting. At the moment, “the will of the people” is merely a disingenuous and dangerous demand for narrow political patriotism. One might wonder if there is any such thing as the former and why on earth there is such a demand for the latter. If only there were ways by which to know…

Inaugurating Trump. Sad!

There once was a bully called Trump
Who had views on perpetual pump
He was easily triggered
And bigly on twitter
Persisted in taking his dumps

He used the best words that he had
To rant like a babyman nursing his Jack the Lad
Character thin
As his orangey skin
Punctuating his nap time… Sad!

No body is safe from his whims
He is scary when challenged and worse when he wins
From his sore, swollen glands
To his teeny wee hands
Sex and money and war are just Business to him

The cartoon for this POTUS in place
Has the world beady-eyed on the space
Will The Real Donald last?
Is this narcissist’s farce
Gonna blow up the planet or piss on its face?

Do you remember?

Do you remember when you were young:
When they sold us a future in which everyone
Would have more time for leisure and
Life’s simple pleasures?

I do.

I remember how ‘progress’ was sold as the shift
Toward treasured Modernity’s time-saving gifts.
I remember when ‘free time’ were not dirty words,
But the envy of those who knew it was absurd
To work hard for The Man, at the cost of your Soul;
To neglect your own senses to fit in a mould;
To conform to consensus and stick to the path
Laid out in perpetuity – however daft…

And yet,

Where does the time go and how is it spent,
But by serving The Man just to pay him more rent?
And while faster goes quicker and more becomes less
Of a joy than a measure of burden and stress,
We regress to Draconia’s cold, hostile age
As a new class of servants with masters who wage
On us their aspirations for their perfect nation.

Obnoxious concoctions and new imitations
Of outdated thinking, consigned long ago
To the scrapyard of ignorant, privileged foes.
Resurrected prescribers and makers of woe
Who would keep us distracted and chained by the nose
To a grindstone which cripples and overly loads
On our bodies and minds and the whole of our time
Is spent rushing and pushing and fleeing and fighting
To be the first one to the end of the line.

 

[First posted: March 2013]

The baby is Labour, not Corbyn

I’m not as convinced as Corbynites that New Labour is what is lurking in the Party’s shadow, or even that it still exists with much strength. It certainly isn’t accurate to say Labour is full of Blairites and even what remains of the Blair years does not advocate Thatcheresque views with anywhere near the same force and conviction. Some of this is down to the influence of Corbyn’s and McDonnell’s economic policies and a lot is down to the fact that the flaws in political economic thought are now so abundant that they are speaking for themselves.

The Labour Party’s recent record on many issues, first as a government and now as Opposition, should make many of its MPs feel ashamed, yet I’d prefer for those MPs to be asked if they have now changed heart, mind and direction, rather than just lazily assuming they haven’t, when the whole country is beginning to call out the consequences of Conservative recklessness. Merely projecting history and ignoring any capacity for renewed insight does little to enlighten the present and is not an inevitable blueprint for the future. The Party is full of fresh blood and progressed thought. One might well say that Corbyn has made a difference but, so, too, has mainstream comprehension, even if it took Brexit’s fallout for the News to begin voicing it. It is a timely marriage of opportunity. Sadly, I can’t see how Corbyn is strategically poised to effectively capitalise on this opportunity, short of continually firming up his existing support and saying ‘’told you so’ in front of a camera, now and then.

Corbyn’s most ardent supporters behave as though he were the only light and way. They have elevated a messenger above the message and, by persisting in doing so, risk making sure the message never manifests as any government’s policies. They appear not to have noticed the change in perception and acceptance of sensible economic philosophy across their party and they do not seem to take into account how the Media and Public are finally acknowledging the nonsense that passed for Conservative competence, these past six years. Corbyn’s social justice policies risk coming to nothing if he can’t manage his party or be taken seriously and then fails to beat the buccaneering Conservative and UK Independence Parties. When you are the Opposition, you are a de facto party of protest but you have to be united, competent, informed and well-organised. That is not just so you can hold the government to account and influence change. It is also one of the ways you persuade the electorate to give you a go, next time. The electorate needs an available and viable alternative and Labour is failing, dismally, to be it.

The country doesn’t need an evasive and elusive leader who resents even perfectly valid scrutiny by the Media, cannot organise with any semblance of professionalism and cannot manage the small but immensely strong tail that wags him. Of course I understand that if the Party machinery had assisted him from the very beginning, he may have come to be seen as a sustainably fresh breath of air. Instead, they wrung their hands and left him to invest his reputation in a superfluous ‘movement’ and a God-awful staff of naivety and ulterior motives. He has been helped, mostly, to make schoolboy error after error. And the Parliamentary Party still wrings its hands. They are responsible for a good deal of the present mess, to be sure and they should have seen it coming: that to resent him and petulantly leave him floundering would compound matters and bite them all on the arse. But there is no time machine. And time, however inconvenient, is of the essence.

I don’t know how this is reconciled: whether the Party prevails or splits or dies. I’m not sure if there is a credible and workable compromise to be had that can serve the members and work for the wider electorate; how much either side really believes it can find one – or wants to. I’m not in either of their bubbles. The Party seems to have the most impractical and ill-thought-out constitution imaginable and the PLP is at an understandable loss as to the safest, best course of action, considering the consequential risks. All I have to go on, to make a judgement, are the Media and my own experience as a citizen witness and wannabe Labour voter. The whole thing reminds me of the Judgement of Solomon: I want the baby to be saved but, then, I think the baby is Labour, not Corbyn and the Corbynites seem to think their first “duty of care” is to Jeremy. It is a terrible thing to see him being chewed up and spat out by all sides; yes, even by his own. The paranoia and myopic insistence begins to feel like a lead weight on the very progress I want to see and had thought they most desired. It’s awful.

I think it’s too late to try to give Corbyn the kind of makeover required to appeal to a whole electorate but it is vital that his general narrative and intentions do not die with his demise – be it now or later. I suppose he could stay on as part of the shadow cabinet, either in an advisory role that honours his mandate, or as a minister of something, if either side would wear it. Or, if he is so confident in the breadth and depth of his support, he could go off and lead Momentum as a new party. It seems to have made a pretty good start, already. [Why the doubling up/outsourcing of a role that Labour should be able to do, for itself, through its constituency offices, anyway?] If Corbyn is determined to stay, though, maybe the first best thing he should do is to sack the carrion and clueless among his personal staff and ask the PLP to help him. If, really, he wants to go, of his own accord, he could seek to negotiate a way out, based on assurances from the PLP that he could give to his grassroots: that Labour seriously understands, wishes and sincerely intends to take forward the most sensible of his policies and visions and that he has done the job he set out to do. Gods, it’s depressing.

Corbyn isn’t working for Labour

The two main political parties are in meltdown and I feel like we’re just visiting different chapters of ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’. Each day I wonder which crazy land we are going to visit. Britain is on a full-on chaos trip and we must take care to not encourage or advance it. That does not mean, however that all radical and courageous options should be refuted or neglected: there is still useful chaos to be had.

First, I’m not a labour member. I’m just an ordinary voter who wants a credible, competent, pro-EU, not-Tory government. I welcomed Corbyn’s election and the opportunity to give oxygen to anti-TINA economics and a platform for socio-economic justice. I recognised and called out the sabotaging acts of his party’s right-wing and Media’s eagerness to scrutinise and sensationalise everything except his ideas. I voiced apprehension that he would be chewed up and spat out in our political climate. I mused over why he stuck with Labour and didn’t join the Green Party. And I wondered and worried about whether Jeremy would have the capacity, temperament and level of sophistication required to be a credible, long-term prospect. I wrote to those effects, several times, on this site and on social media. I did give him a chance. Chances, actually. In the end, the face palms I performed were over his own doing or failure to do and I saw that a glimmer of timely semi-eloquence, here and there, his constant need to maintain a difficult relationship with journalism, his inability to manage and command authority over his MPs and his preference for preaching to echo chambers was just not going to cut it.

But it was never actually about Jeremy Corbyn, for me; it was only ever about promoting the socio-economic narrative into mainstream discourse with a hope that Labour would recognise its mislaid purpose again.

It doesn’t mean I don’t sincerely wish that things were different. But they are not and now, the EU referendum result has produced special circumstances. Undoubtedly, Corbyn could have done more to better put the remain case for Labour but, how much he is responsible for the result is best left for in-party squabbles and psephologists: I was struggling to see him as a viable party leader, let alone a prime minister, way before that. We are in extraordinary times and now have a sudden opportunity for a General Election that may void Brexit, altogether and avert an utter catastrophe. I need a credible Labour Party to vote for but it has a shed load of work to do and time is of the essence.

The referendum campaign was a farce of outrageous proportions and yet Corbyn’s first public response, after the result was declared, was to announce that he’d respect the democratic will of the electorate. This is supposed to be how it works, except, this was a democratic will to irreversibly leave the EU, expressed by an indecently narrow majority, based on a campaign of incompetence, deception and outright lies. And there he was, the next day, calling for the government to get going on our exit negotiations immediately. This does not square with a self-declared Remainer who could be seizing the opportunity to void the referendum he has reduced to ‘a rejection of the status quo’. The rejection of the status quo is why people chose him, in the first place and he would put it in jeopardy.

At PMQs, Cameron’s evident concern for what he, himself, has recklessly unleashed was clear in his emotionally sincere and frustrated plea, to Corbyn of “for Heaven’s sake man, go!”. On previous days, Cameron’s response to Corbyn’s clumsy, accusatory validation of protest as motivation, I would have put down to his typical Flashman expedience. But Cameron knows, whatever he insists, publicly, that the referendum was a disaster and he was suggesting that Corbyn’s intransigence is now just adding to what stands in the way of a return to effective political sense. That sense being to hold a disreputable Conservative government to account, play smart, limit the damage and rescue Britain – as was already clear in his answers to the House, on Monday, when he quietly and quite cleverly hung Brexit out to dry.

Even if he could win a general election, it seems Corbyn would take us out of the EU, irrespective of current events, options and changing mood. The waves of resignation are from across Labour’s spectrum. They are not just from the opportunists who were always looking for this chance: many are from those who support his politics and have tried hard to promote them and yet his voting base focuses on conspiracy theories. There might well be a bit of two-birds-one-stone truth in them but there are also many, way better reasons for this ‘coup’ than Chilcot opportunism and/or deflection and ‘Red Tory’ framing.

Equally, I can’t blame people for being anxious at the idea of losing Corbyn, since no replacement can necessarily be guaranteed not to swing back to the right. What do his most ardent supporters want most, though? That Jeremy stay as a leader of a cult and lose the general election or perhaps win and be so Brexity or authoritatively hamstrung that the crises continue with more years squandered? Do he and his supporters not realise that the movement towards social justice would come to nothing if he cannot be taken seriously, once PM or if he lets the Tory/UKIP hands of the deregulating-market-is-God, bread and circus (bring your own bread) Brexiteers have their way? The first best chance for the country to achieve his socio-economic vision is by not leaving the EU and, right now, his lovely socio-economic visions count for little if he can’t even acknowledge that Brexit and increasingly he, himself, risks them all.

He says, rightly, that the Government is in disarray. He acknowledges that two thirds of his own party’s voters chose ‘remain’. And yet he only listens to his followers. And yet he wants to start exit plans now. It really doesn’t compute. Jeremy claims he is not resigning because he must represent his own voting base and, of course he must and I respect that. Nevertheless, he has to weigh the blind faith of his fans against the best interests of the country’s whole electorate.

If the Labour leadership election sees Jeremy Corbyn ousted, what I want to know, now, is: 1) will the candidate(s) who stands against Corbyn be actively concerned with trying to void the EU referendum and 2) can the Labour Party give reassurance that they have shifted left and that his replacement now shares his anti-neoliberal, pro social justice mindset. If the answer to either is no, then Labour dooms us all, anyway.