by Martin Odoni

Labour centrists just cannot help themselves, can they? JK Rowling – she who has gained barely-explicable recognition as one of the world’s ‘great’ authors – last week described the current Labour Party as a ‘solipsistic personality cult’. (On that evidence, I am not even completely sure she understands what the word solipsistic means, only adding to my doubts about her status as an author.) Nick Cohen, the Guardian writer singly most unable to distinguish between a fairer world and a world torn apart by all-pervading warfare, added his own clamour of contempt a couple of days later, calling the Labour Party Conference, ‘The cult of St. Jeremy’.

The damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t quality of trying to please the so-called ‘centre-left’ – really just conservatives with somewhat queasier consciences – is brought most sharply into focus by how bizarrely unaware they seem to be of their own contradictory mindset. For almost two years, their overriding objection to Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was that, “He’s unelectable because he doesn’t engage with the electorate.”

Over the last few months, Corbyn has disproven that charge overwhelmingly, securing over forty per cent of the vote at the General Election in June, and the largest total vote-count for Labour since 1997. Even if that was still behind the Tories, one does not win that many votes by not engaging with the electorate on a large scale. Subsequent to the Election, Labour has led the Tories consistently in every opinion poll, so it was no ‘flash-in-the-pan’ moment either.

This is only underlined by the response to him by his supporters, of which there are not only millions around the country, but many more around the world. Witness the singing of the almost omni-present, “Ooooh, Jeremy Corbyn!” chant reportedly in the USA, Italy and Belgium, to see just how far and wide Corbyn has shown his power to engage.

The response of the Labour centrists? “It’s a cult! They think he’s a messiah! This is worship, not leadership!” etc.

Now, one could well argue that the public fascination with Tony Blair in the mid-1990’s was little different, and yet Labour centrists never offered any objection on that score. But that is not my point. At no stage do the centrists notice the inconsistency – make that the one-hundred-and-eighty-degree paradox – of their position on Corbyn in itself. Corbyn is unelectable because he somehow both ‘fails to engage with the public’ and ‘is the object of a personality cult’.

Step aside, Schrödinger’s Cat. Step aside, Schrödinger’s immigrant. We now have Schrödinger’s Labour leader. How can someone who does not engage with the electorate draw a large cult-following from the electorate?

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The frustration of these contradictory insults is partly because, in truth, very, very few of Corbyn’s supporters see him as an ‘object-of-worship’ as such. They admire him for having the courage to smash the Overton Window of the last forty years and speak again ideas that were considered unthinkable thanks to Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch, and finally bring Keynesian social democracy back into the mainstream. Yes, there is affection for Corbyn, but for better or worse, it is the ideas he stands for that are important, and not just the man himself. Corbyn, it should be emphasised, is among the first to say that.

The chants of Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! seem as much to reassure him that he has far more support than would have seemed obvious for much of the last two years. Given the appalling hostility he has faced from both the media and his own Parliamentary Party during that time, supporters want him to keep his chin up and keep believing that he is doing the right thing. That is not ‘cultish’ behaviour, it is simply propping each other up around a shared idea; if you think about it, is that not sort of the point of political parties in the first place?

Support for Corbyn is therefore hardly a cult at all. But if that is how the centrists want to frame it, and supposing we humour them on that point for the time being, they still need to make up their minds; do they want a popular leader, or not? When they think Corbyn is not popular, they say he ‘does not engage the electorate’. When they think Corbyn is popular, they say he is ‘a cult-figure’. Corbyn must sigh at the end of every day; he might well win an Election very soon, but with the centrists, he cannot win at all. Should he become Prime Minister, they will simply move the goal-posts again, and complain that his majority would have been so much larger had he adopted a centrist platform.

But also, if ‘a cult’, as the centrists call it, is a bad thing, why did they spend nearly two years trying to get rid of Corbyn effectively on the grounds of him not being a cult-figure? If they now conclude that they were wrong about wanting a popular leader, they should at least have the courage to admit it.

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Dear Mr Peston

September 29, 2017

A gentle rebuke for Robert Peston.

#makingthechange

Dear Mr Peston

I would like to directly address issues in your Facebook post on 27th September 2017

img_2188

More specifically, firstly, I would like to address this:

The Labour mob loved and worshipped him, in what was more religious festival than traditional conference.

I’m assuming, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that you are a journalist and as such, you choose your words carefully. I have also heard you often repeat that you are impartial. By choosing to refer to legitimate delegates to a party conference as a ‘mob’ you have shown that you are definitely not impartial, you have allowed your personal beliefs to get in the way of your journalism.  There are many other words you COULD have chosen,

The Labour delegates,

Labour Party members,

Even, the Labour faithful, if you wanted to imply partisan behaviour.

But instead you decided to use the term,

The Labour…

View original post 942 more words

by Martin Odoni

One of the most irritating refrains from the anti-immigrant/anti-Islam crowd over the last few years has been the attempt to justify hostility to Muslims by insisting it cannot be racism. The grounds for this claim is that “Islam is not a race”. Even the likes of Richard Dawkins was tweeting it a few years ago.

The sentence is technically true, but if you think about it, the distinction it draws is entirely a quibble. The hostility towards Muslims is still a form of ‘othering’ of a foreign culture. Furthermore, on hearing the word Muslim, the average white Anglo-Saxon Briton will picture something roughly along the lines of this; –

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The image is offensive, as it conflates Muslims with militant Islamists, but also because it is both sectarian and highly racial. In particular, it makes the classic mistake of assuming that Muslim is a synonym for Arab. In the real world, the proportion of Muslims worldwide who are Arabs is under fifteen per cent. As an example, perhaps the most extreme Islamic nation on Earth, the Shi’a Republic of Iran, is a Persian country, not an Arab country (although admittedly there is a very substantial number of Arabs living there). Most Muslims, incidentally, are Sunnis, not Shi’ites, another distinction many laymen in the UK fail to recognise. Only about twenty per cent of Muslims globally are Shi’ites.

So long as people associate a religion with a race, and more particularly with a racial caricature they hold in contempt, then hostility towards that religion is racism, and the religion’s unpleasant features are merely the pretext for racial feeling.

Where the hostility towards a religion is based on an informed aversion towards its teachings and philosophies, then one might argue that it is not racist; but only then if the same hostility is felt towards other religions with equally unpleasant laws. For instance, Christians in Britain First, such as Jayda Fransen, raise reasonable objections to some of the more blood-curdling passages in the Qur’an, but conveniently overlook – refuse to be drawn on – the horrific laws and commands of the God of the Old Testament. Why, if not because Christianity is ‘our’ country’s religion, whereas Islam belongs to ‘people from elsewhere’?

Whether the religion is specifically a race is therefore immaterial. Look at myself; I am a non-practicing Jew – part of Jewry but not of Judaism, entirely on the word of the ancient Prophet Ezra. You could argue that Jewry is not a race at all – Ezra’s somewhat arbitrary convention has it that it is a matrilineal ethnicity – but nobody in their right mind would argue that anti-Semitism is anything other than a form of racism.

I am largely dismissive of all religions to a greater or lesser extent, including Judaism – on analysis I find all the Abrahamic religions in particular very authoritarian and bloodthirsty – but I respect the right of others to worship in their own way, so long as they make no attempt to impose it on others. Islamophobes have no such ‘live-and-let-live’ outlook; not only do they hate the aggressive and bullying militants of Wahhabism, they hate anyone who is a Muslim at all. They cannot see the distinction; any Muslim is a Hollywood-style Arab caricature in their eyes.

What matters when identiying racism is not the doctrine, which is usually just the handy pretext for prejudice, it is the impulse that is driving it. That impulse is ugly, irrational, and hateful. Mere association with ancient texts from the Middle East does not create any fundamental difference to that impulse at all.

by Martin Odoni

Muslim scholar Salman Rushdie is mainly famous for being sentenced to death. In 1988, he wrote a novel called The Satanic Verses, which caused wide offence to many across the Islamic world. The following year, Rushdie became the subject of a Fatwa issued by the Clerical ruler of the Shi’a Republic of Iran, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. To date, it has still not been officially withdrawn.

I tried reading The Satanic Verses back in the 1990s, and to be honest, I was unable to finish it. I might cope with it better today, given I would understand many of the symbolic references in it now more than I did then. But nonetheless, I found the book to be a little like Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon, in that it is an overlong, uncompromisingly slow, and monotonous story that has received acclaim more for what it represents than for what it is.

The reason I mention the general ‘unreadability’ of Rushdie’s work is that I suspect his views are influential more because of his controversy, than because of his intellect. I am certainly not denying that Rushdie is a man of intellect, doubtless far greater than my own, but at the same time, that does not preclude a narrowness of perspective on his part. If he is controversial, the thinking seems to be, he must be ‘daring’, and he must have a perspective that is quite ‘outside-the-box’ in which everybody else’s thoughts are sealed.

However, Rushdie was making an appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher on Friday 15th of September, and one of the remarks he made suggested to me quite the reverse; that he is unimaginative, unquestioning of official narratives, and very conventional in his thinking.

It also made him sound quite absurd. Here is what he said, in reference to the defeat suffered by Hillary Clinton in last year’s US Presidential Election; –

“This problem where… there’s a section of the Left that wants the purest, more-snowy-than-driven-snow candidate… It’s not only a problem in this country. It’s a problem in England, where they want Jeremy Corbyn, who represents that ideal of ‘leftiness’, which can’t possibly be elected, or in France, the [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon people, who don’t want to vote for Macron, because he’s not purely left enough. And what all this does is to drive a wedge through which the right can come… We have to learn to distinguish between an imperfect friend and a deadly enemy.”

This is yet another example of centrists blaming the ‘real left’ for the accession to the US Presidency of Donald Trump. Not only is it incredibly patronising, it is quite a reversal of reality. Let us look closely at some of the real facts; –

Firstly, we can see on both sides of the Atlantic that the intolerance of a candidate outside a narrow ideological window is at least as prevalent in the centrist sphere as it is among real leftists. Furthermore, we see that the centrists are more willing to fight dirty to prevent or offload the outsider.

In the USA, the Democratic National Committee did all in its power short of breaking the letter of its own rules to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the party’s nomination last year. The Committee was clearly dead-set against Sanders from the start, even though he consistently polled more positively in the head-to-head ratings against Trump than Clinton did. While no particular law, or even party rule, had been violated by the Democrats, they had rigged the contest in every way they could get away with – from deliberately scheduling debates between the candidates at times unfavourable to Sanders, to arranging so few debates that Sanders had little exposure compared with his already-famous opponent, to bizarre anomalies in votecasing machine behaviour – in order to secure the nomination for their ideological ‘soulmate’, Clinton.

One example of how hideously, and even anti-Semitically, opposed to Sanders the DNC have been is in the area of official merchandise during last year’s Primaries. There was a wide range of pro-Clinton goods for sale with DNC approval, but nothing promoting Sanders. Indeed the only item with a Sanders image was a grotesque parody of a Nazi-Germany-style caricature, portraying him as a sort of ‘Jewish rodent’ – see the bottom picture below.

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As for in the UK, even before Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader two years ago, the Blairites in the Parliamentary Party were already plotting to overthrow him. Once it became clear that Corbyn was going to win, many Shadow Cabinet members from Ed Miliband’s time in charge publicly spat-their-dummies-out, stating that they would never serve in a Corbyn Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet. Within minutes of Corbyn being declared leader, Jamie Reed announced his own resignation from the Shadow Cabinet. All of this had happened before Corbyn had even been given a chance to get started. Then, the PLP attempted to remove him in a notorious ‘chicken coup‘ last summer, the details of which were forewarned in the media nearly two months beforehand, giving the lie to claims by the plotters that the coup was not premeditated or orchestrated. The use of the Brexit referendum vote as the pretext for the coup was absurd, given Corbyn had devoted more campaign time to promoting a Remain vote than any other Labour member. Even so, Corbyn won the leadership contest again, and generously offered an olive branch to those who had betrayed him, only for more back-stabs to follow after the New Year. Since Corbyn’s superb General Election campaign performance this year produced the shock result of a Hung Parliament, the back-stabbing has quietened down, but one can sense the resentment still simmering below the surface even now.

Both the Democrats during last year’s Primaries, and the Labour Party in both leadership contests won by Corbyn, had purged huge numbers of voters from their registers, the vast majority every time being those from the real left. (In 2015, this led to the grotesque absurdity of a left-wing writer and campaigner, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, being barred from voting in the Labour leadership contest, while a former Tory Cabinet Minister was allowed to proceed.)

On this evidence, Rushdie really needs to explain how he has concluded that the rejectionism and ‘ideological puritanism’ (for want of a better term) is more prevalent among those further-left than it is among the centrists. There is an ugly element in the Momentum movement that does seem to take confrontations with other factions in the Labour Party to a fanatical extreme, but that element is not in the majority by a long way, and one could well argue in any event that it is only giving the centrists a taste of the medicine dished out the other way for over thirty years. In Rushdie’s own terms, the centrists view Sanders and Corbyn as ‘imperfect friends’, and undermine them and reject them far more frequently than vice versa, to the undiluted benefit of conservatives. And yet Rushdie has no apparent condemnation to offer when that happens.

Secondly, it is a wild exaggeration to call either Sanders or Corbyn ‘pure left’. They are not. Corbyn’s philosophy, as I have pointed out more than once, lies somewhere on the theoretical boundary between socialism and social democracy. Sanders, while very left-wing by US standards and calling himself a socialist, is also a social democrat – a couple of notches to the right of Corbyn on the old-style political spectrum. In wider-world terms, Sanders is probably more a centrist than a leftist himself. It is only because of the ridiculously narrow-right-wing focus of the Overton Window of the last forty years that either of them is seen as a ‘hard-left Marxist’. It would be an interesting-but-difficult task to establish for sure, but it seems likely that most of their supporters would probably oppose a lot of genuine hard-left policies; for instance, I doubt they would be eager for total state-ownership of all industry, land being divided into communes, or the abolition of major private property.

So there is no great appetite for ‘puritanical leftism’ from ‘Corbynistas’ or ‘Bernie-Bros’. There is just a wish for the left to rediscover its ambition again, instead of continuing the pusillanimous compromises of ‘The Third Way’, which largely just boil down to giving the poor slightly more of the crumbs that fall off the dinner table of the rich.

Thirdly, the blame-shifting of Clintonites is just more of the usual centrist emotional blackmail: “Support us or it will be your fault when someone from the right wing gets in.” Surely, by the same reasoning, the centrists should have supported Sanders in the first place, given that he was doing better in the polls than Clinton? And is it not completely disingenuous of the centrists that they keep blackmailing and scaremongering the left into backing their candidates, only then to claim subsequently that the real left obviously cannot win because centrists are the only Democrats/Labourites who seem to win these days? A self-fulfilling prophecy, if ever there was one.

Fourthly, Rushdie’s claim that Hillary Clinton is an “imperfect friend” of the Sanders support-base is really quite insulting. She and her allies effectively cheated the real left support out of their candidate’s chances of taking the Democrat nomination. They frequently smeared and falsely-accused the Sanders supporters of violent or intimidating behaviour, and Clinton was simply not offering them anything very much that they wanted. Sanders’ policy platform did noticeably drag Clinton unwillingly to the left somewhat, but, despite the claims in her semi-fictional new book, she had no Wall-Street-unfriendly ideas of her own. Why should Sanders supporters see her as a ‘friend’ of any degree of perfection, let alone reward her with their support, after her dishonesty, high-handedness, half-hearted approach to progressivism, and insulting accusations?

And finally, Rushdie insists that the sort of socialist/social-democratic philosophy that Sanders and Corbyn (and Jean-Luc Mélenchon) stand for “can’t possibly be elected”. He makes no coherent case for why anyone should assume that that is true. The odds are probably against it, I would agree, more due to opposition from influential rich and power-broking factions, especially in the media, but Rushdie argues that it is not even possible. That is ridiculous in any circumstances. In the current circumstances, with Corbyn’s Labour ahead in every UK opinion poll since mid-June, and Sanders the most popular politician in the USA by a country-mile, Rushdie’s assertion seems mildly deranged.

Of course, while Rushdie’s assertion is divorced from reality, it is very, very familiar, and this is why I say that he is unimaginative and unquestioning of official narratives; he is simply restating the perceived wisdom that has dominated the mainstream media and careerist-politician-speak on both sides of the Atlantic over the last two-and-a-half years. Both Sanders and Corbyn have been repeatedly written off as too old, too obscure, too obsolete, too eccentric, too naive, too unrealistic, and too much the outsiders. Rushdie has been so deafened by this official noise that he is unable to hear the news of what is really happening. Rushdie has failed to notice that Labour registered about forty-one per cent of the popular vote under Corbyn at the General Election in June, forced a Hung Parliament, and have been in front in the polls consistently since just a few days afterwards. Rushdie also failed to notice that Sanders closed a sixty-point gap behind Clinton to just two points, and was consistently rated above Trump in the head-to-heads, and so would surely be President by now, if only the DNC had allowed the nomination contest to unfold fairly and without interference.

Rushdie does not think outside the box at all, at least not when it comes to the struggles within the left. Instead, he toes the line of powerful interests, regurgitating the narrative that the media, and the Wall-Street-loyal elite within the Democratic Party, want everyone to believe. He does far worse than confuse an imperfect friend with a deadly enemy; he confuses a slightly-less-ruthless enemy with an imperfect friend, and mistakes centrism for some kind of ‘natural default’ in politics. And above all, he subscribes to the common fallacy that democracy means the electorate must follow the politicians, rather than the politicians having to offer the electorate what they want.

Centrism, forever patronising both the right and the left with exhortations to “grow up” and to try and be “realistic”, has some growing up of its own to do. Partly, it must learn that realism involves assessing what is happening in the physical world, rather than focusing on its assumptions about what ‘should’ happen. And more particularly, it has to find the maturity to recognise when it is throwing stones in a glass house.

Reblogged from Chris Stone.

Fierce Writing

I had an email the other day from an associate, bemoaning Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at Glastonbury, saying that he was acting like some kind of a Messiah for all those white, middle class kids, using the Grenfell tragedy for political point scoring and saying he has a “Messiah Complex”. Here is my reply:

What do you want me to say?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Remember, Corbyn only got onto the leadership ticket because a couple of Labour establishment figures thought we needed a proper debate and agreed to include a left winger. This is because the Labour Party had been transformed under Tony Blair into a centralised neo-liberal party in which constituencies no longer got to choose who their candidate was. They were mainly Blair loyalists parachuted in from central office. But once Corbyn was on the ticket it galvanised the membership in the Labour Party who wanted…

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The LibDems are showing a stark reluctance to change their coalition colours.
c/o Skwawkbox.

The SKWAWKBOX

It seems to be getting remarkably little attention, but while most of the Queen’s Speech votes in Parliament on Weds and Thursday were won by the Tories 323-309 because of their DUP supporters, the first vote on Thursday was won by the bigger margin of 323-297.

That vote was on Labour’s amendment on a variety of measures to end the institutional impoverishment of our young people and our poorest. The reason the ‘aye’ vote was 12 lower than usual is because the LibDems abstained, essentially siding with the Tories to continue penalising poor people and our aspirational youth:

As the mainstream media are not reporting it, we need to make sure voters see and understand: if you want change, if you want the UK to be a better, fairer place to live, there is no use at all in voting for a LibDem candidate who will simply duck the important…

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The banking industry continues to reward itself for its failures, while the poor continue to take the punishment.
c/o David Hencke

David Hencke

HSBC pic credit BBC HSBC. Five senior executives due to share £33.4m Pic credit: BBC

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The day  after the general election the House of Commons library released a flood of papers which had been held up because of  purdah rules until after the result was known.

One of the most revealing papers was one on Banking Executives’ Renumeration in the UK. It drew on two sources – Britain’s submission  ( required by EU rules ) to the European Banking Authority and British sources such as company reports and details from the banks themselves about long term incentives for senior executives.

The facts revealed in the annexes to this report confirm what a lot of people have suspected but have not always been able to prove. There is-a widening gulf between the top and the bottom that has been going on during the fiercest period of austerity which has seen real…

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