Lots of Corbynistas are demanding a new general election. What might that be like?

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(knock on door)

Hello?

Hi! Sorry to bother you. I’m sure you’ve heard there’s a general election coming up. I’m here to encourage you to vote for the Labour candidate. Which is me! Daniel Dongle, aspiring member of Parliament. Nice to meet you! Is that your dog??

It’s a…cat.

Ah! Ok. It looks a bit like…but we mustn’t essentialise! Now, I see you voted for us in 2017, much appreciated! Have you thought about how you might vote this time?

Well, it depends. What’s your position on Brexit?

We think austerity is completely unnec…

But where do you stand on Brexit?

I’m sure you’ll agree that the rise in homelessness is an absolute abom…

But do you still think the UK would be better off outside the EU?

Climate Change is the biggest emergency we have ever faced as a sp…

Should we remain in the Customs Union?

We wholeheartedly oppose the rise in xenophobia around the world in the l…

What alternative do you have to the Withdrawal Agreement?

Like AOC says, we need a Green N…

Is Labour prepared to whip its MPs to support a second referendum?

Trident is a total waste of m…

Isn’t it now pretty much incumbent on whoever’s in government to revoke Article 50?

Er…we believe in a Global Br…

My girlfriend’s from Poland. Will she be able to stay here after Brexit?

Rebuilding the NHS is…

What’s your position on the Irish border situation?

As Jeremy says, valuing the contribution immigrants make to British soc…

What’s Labour’s reaction to all the revelations about illegal practices by both leave campaigns?

Secure homes for..

Are you still in favour of Britain leaving the EU, even with no withdrawal agreement in place?

Err…(triumphantly) For the many, not the few!

OH, FUCK OFF!!!

(door slams)

The problem with Corbyn: he isn’t left-wing enough

Andy Beckett (‘We exclude the Labour left from British politics at our peril‘) makes some valid points about the ‘othering’ of the Labour left, which combined with Corbyn’s haplessness at managing the party and at communicating his agenda has seemingly led Labour to the brink of self-destruction.

It’s not only left-wingers who point out that much written about Corbyn is untrue. But there’s certainly at least one sense in which Corbyn himself is insufficiently left-wing: his inability to think dialectically, as shown by his insistence last week that poverty and the climate are “more important than Brexit”. Actually those three phenomenon are inherently and intimately interlinked. In Marxist terms, there is a section of the ruling class that wants the UK out of the EU so it can escape all forms of regulation, particularly with regard to taxation and the climate. The fact that involves making most people immediately much poorer and, in the medium term, making everybody dead, is a mere and not particularly regrettable side-effect. They know that climate change is real and that austerity and Brexit are economic suicide – their mission is to take advantage of the mounting chaos in order to stamp out democracy and human rights and loot what’s left of the State. Corbyn’s role should have involved exposing and challenging the machinations that underpin this agenda, but tragically, given that in any age the dominant ideas are those that reflect ruling class interests, what dominates in many nominally left-wing fora is a disguised form of extreme conservatism which presents itself as radical, mostly taking the form of conspiracy theorising and railing against whatever scapegoats are made available by any passing troll or bot – witness the ease with which far-right ideas you to and including anti-Semitic tropes are insinuated into Corbyn-supporting Facebook groups, or drop by the Labour List website to see the extent to which arrant nonsense about a “WTO Deal” Brexit has taken hold of those who, like Italian M5S supporters cheering on Salvini, think of themselves as on the left while doing a job for the far-right. (Ecco a shining example of someone doing just that.) Partly due to the loose populism in such slogans as “For the many, not the few” and talk of “elites” and “the Establishment”, Corbyn’s supporters include many who have fallen into the same puerile ideological mentality as much of the Italian (former) left – lazy, easily manipulable populism – and he and his leadership haven’t known how (or have been insufficiently motivated) to challenge that.

That Corbyn himself is unable to recognise that austerity, climate denial and Brexit all form part of a concerted neoneoconservative assault on democracy, social provision and basic human rights, one which is – shock! Horror! – even worse than the braindead neoliberalism of the neo-Blairites suggests that neither does he have the intellectual wherewithal to respond to the myriad challenges that face him and us; while his acknowledgement that climate destruction is a class issue is welcome, his dismissal of Brexit as a mere “constitutional question” displays an idiocy which it’s hard not to conclude is wilful. What Britain needs is a local version of AOC, someone talented at articulating a modern (as in green, intersectional and digitally savvy) left-wing agenda in the face of the opprobrium such a project will inevitably face. Of course, no one can click their fingers and make such a figure magically appear, and Corbyn’s agenda has much to recommend it despite the resistance it faces and despite his apparent inability to communicate it effectively. But some on the left need to stop pretending that he’s doing a great job or that his leadership is our best and only hope.

“Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”

There’s a thread on Reddit called “Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”. It was presumably started by someone from the States, given their choice of epithet. It’s certainly not a word I’d use to describe myself, what with its uncomfortable evocation of tabloids and expattery. I saw some right-wing troll (or, more probably, bot) on Twitter using the term ‘Britons’ in relation to Brexit, suggesting that his normative understanding of British identity draws on a mythical idea of pre-Roman/Norman/Windrush purity without jollof rice or vaccines.

Nonetheless, it’s a fair question. I’m a ‘Brit’, if you like, and I don’t appear to be panicking, despite the fact that in three weeks’ time there may well be troops on the streets to quell potential food riots, and all sorts of infrastructures whose existence, let alone importance, I have remained blissfully aware of all my life could collapse overnight. (The amount of unknown unknowns is, inevitably, unknowable.) If there’s a glimmer of sanity in Theresa May’s head that scenario won’t quite come to pass (yet), but if so we can be sure that Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson will be doing all they can to spark an immediate civil war and (in Farage’s case) will be given plentiful access to the airwaves to do so.

Philip K. Dick wrote that sometimes it is an appropriate response to reality to go insane, and this would appear to be an opportune moment to do so, except for the fact that people all around the world are very noticeably not panicking about rapidly rising temperatures or the return of the far-right to power in some of the world’s most powerful countries, which might give us pause to think: how do we “panic” if no one else seems to be doing so? Perhaps I am panicking without quite being aware of it. After all, we already have food stored under the bed and precautionary plane tickets booked for the end of the month. And yet, in the meantime, we still need to eat, sleep, see friends, take the baby to the park, go to work; there are Michael Jackson documentaries to watch, and subsequent arguments to pursue online with people who (mystifyingly) refuse to accept the facts; there are articles to read which reflect intelligently on how we should react to the final evidence of Jackson’s corruption: should we continue to play his music? Write it and him out of history? And yet, it’s been a central element in our shared emotional life. More, one might even say, then the European Union…

So what’s a reasonable reaction to news that shakes the ground on which one stands? It may be rational to panic, to scream and run away, but where do we run to? It is, in the words of this article, “easier not to believe” such terrifying truths, especially when, away from social media, so few people seem to be even slightly perturbed by what’s happening. Maybe our sense of how to behave is akin to how we construct our identities: in the words of the sociologist Charles Cooley, “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am”. The reason that British people are not panicking is partly that other British people are not panicking. After all, not panicking is what we’ve all been doing on a wider scale in relation to even more terrifying news about our climate.

No amount of frozen metaphors about frogs in boiling water or memes of dogs in burning rooms can begin to do justice to our failure to respond adequately to collective existential threats. Michel Foucault talked about how power operates through a shifting process of normalisation, where even the most radical changes to our daily lives can be incorporated into our picture of the world, while Pierre Bourdieu developed the concept of habitus, according to which it’s practically impossible for us to think beyond the parameters of our working assumptions about our lives and our reality. Not only do we live in an environment saturated with reassuring messages about the future, we live, speak and breathe those messages, reproducing them in our thoughts, posts, conversations and actions. We see adverts for events that take place in April, May and beyond, myriad timescales which take no notice of March 29th, market imperatives that must supercede whatever happens in news headlines, just as everyday life and consumption has so far managed to outlive any number of terrorist atrocities or climate catastrophes in cities we visited just a few weeks or months before and just as the global market was able to incorporate the election of Trump, Bolsonaro and Salvini with nary a blink. When we were considering what to do at the end of March and trying to make plans for the following month, I made the following suggestion: Imagine we know there’s going to be a hurricane or a flood, one whole scale we can’t predict until just before it happens. But perhaps a better analogy, given that Brexit is first and foremost an ideological project, is a terrorist attack way beyond anything Isis could dream up; given the nature of such attacks, we don’t know whether it will hit the particular station or square we happen to be passing through, but it won’t stop us travelling or holidaying or going to work or shopping – although actually, you might want to strike that last one off the list, and the first and second come to think of it. As for our jobs… Dostoevsky wrote somewhere that the greatest strength and weakness of human beings is that we can adapt to any set of circumstances; post-modern society thrives on disruption, according to any number of Ted Talks. The statement that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has been attributed to everyone from Frederic Jameson to Slavoj Žižek to (I seem to recall) Peter Andre. In such a setting it’s impossible to overcome the sensation that, as Thomas Pynchon puts it in ‘Against the Day’, “there will always be time”.

But perhaps, in the end, Brexit is not the cause of the (apparent absence of) panic, but rather its consequence. Maybe panic is setting in at the level of politics, and that’s what Brexit, much like Trump, Salvini et al, is an effect of. Maybe for many people the notion that their decision has somehow had an impact on world events serves to assuage the sense of doom and helplessness they feel in their daily lives.

In the meantime, then: Michael Jackson. I’m writing this in an airport. All around me people are going on with their lives: chatting, sipping coffee, unfolding pushchairs, tapping out sanctimonious diatribes about other people’s complacency on their devices. It’s soundtracked at this moment by some Motown classic which might be called ‘I believe you’. If I sit here long enough I’m sure to hear one of the totems of our culture: maybe ‘ABC’, ‘Rock with you’ (one of my personal favourites) or maybe (possibly, apart from the pedophilia, his nadir) ‘They don’t really care about us’. On the way into the terminal I saw a young woman wearing the same jacket Melania Trump when she went to sneer at terrified children ripped away fron their parents: ‘I DON’T REALLY CARE, DO YOU?’. I briefly thought about remonstrating with her, but didn’t want to create a scene. Which raises the question: how does one show that one cares? And related to that: what does it mean to panic? Maybe initiatives such as this and this can help us to, to borrow a phrase, take back control of our fears and frustrations in a way that’s doesn’t involve lashing out at conveniently-placed scapegoats.

Update: Someone on Reddit responded to this piece by accusing its writer (me) of being ‘ill-informed’, ‘stupid’ and ‘apathetic’. Here is another version written especially for him:

Having posted to his blog yet another diatribe about how Other People’s inertia, apathy, laziness, complacency, cowardice, greed, ignorance and selfishness were responsible for austerity, Brexit, Trump, Salvini, Climate Change and so on, and how it was not just incumbent upon Other People but actually pressing, urgent (and some or other synonym for those previous two words) for those aforesaid Other People to take action up to and including risking their personal relationships, livelihoods, freedom and physical safety to stop, overthrow and/or prevent those things, there really was no higher priority for Other People than that as it was a matter not just of principle but also of survival, so basically why weren’t Other People panicking or revolting, what was wrong with those Other People, like were they all fucking stupid or mad or evil or something like that, having typed all that, chosen a fitting image, selected some appropriate tags and clicked Upload, he caught the train to St. Albans, took a wander round the local gallery/museum and perused the street market, stopped for lunch in a pleasant café before visiting the cathedral and graffiting the words ‘YES, WE ARE ALL TO SOME EXTENT APATHETIC AND COMPLACENT IN THE FACE OF SUCH TERRIFYING THREATS AND HORRIFYING REVELATIONS, WE TEND TO DENY OUR OWN ROLE IN QUIETLY ALLOWING ABUSE TO BE PERPETRATED, THAT’S KIND OF THE POINT’ on the walls of the 13th century crypt, and then catching the train back to London to spend the rest of the day reading a book about climate change denial, eating the remains of the curry he and his wife had ordered off Just Eat the previous evening and watching the rest of the Michael Jackson documentary.

The unpalatable truth: May’s deal *is Brexit*

Here’s the thing: if you still want Brexit, you support May’s deal. If you don’t like her deal, you don’t support Brexit. It doesn’t matter in the slightest what fantasy Brexit exists in your own personal head. It’s not important whether you prefer a Norway-style, Singapore-style or Narnia-style Brexit, because such options are not on or near the table, in fact at this point there are no more negotiations (she’s lying to you about that) so there is no table; there’s no furniture in the room at all except a toilet, and in the bowl of that toilet is a particularly unpleasant turd, and if you voted for Brexit that is your turd, produced after very great strain, it’s true, but at least it’s finally out and we can all peer inside and behold what you’ve achieved: a messy, bloody, stinking turd. You know, probably the best thing to do at this point is for the whole thing to be flushed away and forgotten. Is that what you’d like? Or would you rather smash the whole sewage system to pieces so that from now on we will all live in the midst of our own effluence as if the whole process of human civilisation had been nothing but a bizzare hallucination? It’s an inviting proposition but I think, given the choice, I and many others would prefer not to.

Put another way: when May became Prime Minister she uttered the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’. A gnomic statement, as many commented, but now we know what she meant. She got to define Brexit. The fact that she is PM of a Government dedicated to implementing your decision means she is your Prime Minister, her Government is your Government, her negotiations are your negotiations and yes, her Brexit is your Brexit. So: if you don’t support May’s deal, you don’t support Brexit.

So here’s a modest proposal: we obviously can’t just leave it lying there, so let’s just flush it away for once and for all. Unless, that is, you’d prefer to scoop it out with your hands and find some of other way to dispose it of. Maybe you’d like to…eat it?

No, Brexit won’t “save Britain”

It’s well worth reading this piece by ‘Otto English’, which argues that, depressing as it may be, Brexit offers an opportunity for national renewal. I follow the writer on Twitter and he’s consistently astute and entertaining, but I think he falls prey to a very easy illusion, as I explain in the comment reproduced below:

This is entertaining but misconceived, falling prey to the same illusion that fires up both Brexiters and (ahem) ‘Lexiters’. The discourse of national decay/decline and impending renewal is a dangerous one in itself – it posits the existence of a body politic on a national scale and thus gives succour to any currently available nationalist project which seeks to rouse it. The writer may believe that the FTTP system is the culprit for the national malaise – others will insist it’s Muslims, the EU, or a lack of faith in this national project. As for “Once we are no longer entwined with our neighbours, who will they have to blame for NHS waiting lists, the housing crisis, queues on the motorways, foreign criminals and straight bananas?”, the EU will still be a readily available scapegoat, as will Muslims, foreigners, immigrants, or any other individual or group held up as a threat to the cause of national revival.

Generations of ultraleftists have in their desperation turned to the comforting illusion that the masses, once reduced to a level of piteous degradation, would wake up to their plight and, as it were, take back control. Unfortunately one dominant narrative right now is that that is what they’ve done. It’s tempting to pretend that this dismal crisis represents a golden opportunity. Of course, some of “us” will benefit. On the whole, most will suffer enormously, particularly those who have made their lives here but have supposedly been rejected by this national organism. Perhaps thinking in terms of “our nation” is a turning away from the responsibility to think through why this happened and how those who value solidarity above sovereignty can defend what is most valuable and think beyond national borders and national origins. Not engaging in vainglorious rhetoric about “our nation” and “our reputation” is a good starting point.

As it happens I do believe that our voting system is not, as that horrible bit of neoliberal verbiage has it, “fit for purpose” (vomits). However, it’s not going to be changed any time soon (thanks, Clegg); if it were to be replaced overnight, then in the current climate any number of neo-Farages would storm the polls, as we saw at the last EU elections and may well see at the next ones, should they take place (should they?). In the meantime, far-right parties throughout Europe and beyond take their energy from a depressingly familiar discourse of polishing up the national sceptre, refurbishing the national throne, weeding the national garden to get rid of decadent and unpatriotic sentiment and behaviour, etc etc. Over the next few months they will be seeking to apply their pseudo-Spenglerian diagnosis to the whole of Europe, and then, as they see it, donning the surgical gloves to excise the tumour that threatens our civilisation.

Similarly, this last decade in the UK has shown once again that the doctrine of necessary suffering for the sake of national recovery is a gruesomely dishonest one. The continuation of that project of decimating democracy at every level is, as it happens, about to take on a renewed vigour. If you’re looking for less problematic metaphors in the attempt to find consolation in the current conjuncture, I suppose you could say that at least the dark clouds of Brexit are less depressing in their implications than the warm bright sunshine of a couple of weeks ago…but even that’s only true in a (partly) literal sense. Especially now we know that the Mediterranean diet will soon be no more and that the oceans are burning. No amount of renewed national fervour, however progressive or enlightened, is going to solve that, and as for The Independent Group representing “just the start” of the “revolution”, Mr English might like to look at Anna Soubry’s voting record. She may share his desire for national revival, but she’s consistently taken a stand against human survival.

Brexit is over…if you want it

You know what’s in that folder she’s holding? It’s…Brexit. 

Ian Dunt makes the following prediction about Theresa May:

“She is going to ask for a short (one-off) extension – probably a couple of months – then refuse to take part in the European elections. July 1st then becomes the cliff-edge-which-cannot-be-moved.”

He goes on to argue that our only hope of staving off a cliff-edge Brexit is to demand that our MPs insist on the UK’s participation in May’s (as in, the month’s) elections. However, the EU is unlikely to accede. As one of the EU negotiators said, they don’t want another 75 Farages turning up. They’re already going to be swamped by Salvinis, Le Pens, AFDs, Voxes and all the rest.

If there were EU elections in the UK, Remainers would have to swarm the polling stations, but who would we even vote for, in the face of a (presumably) concerted, and well-funded, and typically manipulative effort on the part of UKIP, Farage’s grouposcule and extremist Tories? It’s tempting to think that no-deal supporting Leavers would be too dozy to turn out in huge numbers, but it’s not a given, and in any case it probably ain’t gonna happen.

At some point, with a one-off extension in place and no time left to hold a second referendum, the notion of a people’s vote will lose its rationale. Then we will, as Dunt says, be totally at the mercy of May and her psychotic devotion to her deal. This is and has been for a while a hostage situation, with a no deal exit her suicide belt.

I think it’s fair to say that at this point most people want Brexit to be over and done with, whatever that may mean. A mixture of that with the general ignorance/denial of what no deal entails partly explains why Rees-Mogg et al are still given credence. Thus, the People’s Vote campaign, Another Europe is Possible, and all the other pressure groups need to change tack and start demanding the revoking of Article 50. This needs to be backed up by massive demonstrations of civil disobedience after the exemplary fashion of the Extension Rebellion protests, along with properly funded and designed publicity campaigns pushing the message that Brexit has been tried and (thanks to the incompetence of the Tories in Government and the dishonesty and malice of those outside who never had a plan for it to succeed) failed.

A reversal of the decision was what many of us called for in the immediate wake of the vote, which just had the effect of hardening the resolve of Brexit voters; it’s now almost three years later and the only available form of Brexit is universally unpopular – despite what Labour said yesterday in its futile and dishonest pursuit of a fairy tale outcome, May’s deal is the only ‘credible leave option’. Meanwhile, the economy is already falling to pieces, the climate crisis emergency breakdown collapse is proving to be even more of an urgent priority than appeasing Nigel Farage, and pretty much everyone is exhausted at the very mention of the B word.

Of course, it will be a huge struggle to get the Labour leadership on board, given that they’ve only just grudgingly accepted the intractability of the situation, but at this point, or at least very soon, we will collectively reach a point of general recognition of the futility of the whole exercise. This is why the message ‘Brexit has failed’, with fingers clearly pointed at those who told us the whole process would be easy as (Woolton) pie, is our only chance of preventing Rees-Mogg et al from doing what they intended to do all along, ie use this as a pretext for seizing power on behalf of a version of Conservativism so bigoted, repressive and elitist its difference from fascism is sort of moot.

“Bollocks to this, let’s just revoke Article 50” – Corbyn finally snaps

All my endeavour in maintaining this blog has finally been rewarded: I have been asked to write a speech for the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Eccolo:

“Ok, so, Brexit. Yes. I’ve got something to say about leaving the EU. It shouldn’t take long.

Ahem.

On June 24th 2016 I totally fucked up. I called for the immediate implementation of Article 50. However, at that point in time, there had been no meaningful and honest debate about what leaving the EU would mean, something that became abundantly clear when Theresa May came to power and declared, with impeccable inanity, ‘Brexit means Brexit’. What I should have called for is a period of reflection and a widespread national debate about what sort of country we wanted a post-EU Britain to be.

Such a national dialogue has never taken place. Instead, the negotiations took place in the same atmosphere of empty, mendacious sloganeering and hateful rhetoric that had characterised the campaign. We also discovered that the Leave campaigns had engaged in practices which were clearly in contravention of basic democratic standards. Unfortunately my words in the wake of the vote meant that the Labour Party was hamstrung when it came to intervening, even when it became clear that the incompetence of the Conservative Government would only produce the very worst of deals and could potentially leave the country at the brink of economic, social and political collapse, much as certain key figures involved in the Leave campaigns wanted all along. I’ve pandered to what I must now confess is a totally misconceived notion that a ‘Labour Brexit’ was, with a Tory government firmly entrenched in power, anything other than a pie-in-the-sky castles-in-the-air somewhere-over-the-rainbow wank fantasy pipe dream.

Look, it’s not even the end of February and it’s 18°C outside. The Good Friday Peace Agreement is at serious risk of being torn into tiny pieces. The number of people without a roof over their heads has gone through the fucking roof, and with international companies dumping their staff and heading for the airport quicker than any internet moron can type the words ‘itsnotaboutbrexit’, we’ll all be jobless by the end of March, if we haven’t all burnt to a fucking crisp by then. The party of opposition is falling to pieces, mainly because I decided, wrongly, that appeasement was a sensible response to what was basically a spillover from the Tories’ internal warmongering. But like it or not, Britain, there are bigger priorities right now beyond fulfilling the hate-fuelled ambitions of the teenage Nigel Farage. Whatever the slogan ‘Take back control’ meant, it clearly wasn’t this.

As I say, I fucked up the day after the vote and it’s about time I accepted responsibility for that rather than making the entire country pay for my hadn’t-actually-quite-sobered-up-yet impetuousness. Some of you aren’t gonna like me saying this – particularly Owen Jones – but we’ve tried Brexit, and partly thanks to me and partly thanks to the fact that those who orchestrated it never really intended it to work, it’s failed. We cannot let the country fall into the hands of a bunch of racist shitheads, plastic aristocrats, climate liars and disaster capitalists. So (clears throat) I call for the immediate revocation, revoking, revocal or whatever of Article 50 and a subsequent period of national reflection, followed, possibly, by another referendum when things have calmed down a bit, although given what a farce this’s been that’s soon gonna seem like a heroically shit idea. The only fair second vote would be May’s dogshit deal up against no Brexit ever, ever, ever and prolonged violent televised death for all those who suggested it in the first (fucking) place. As for my own immediate plans, I shall be spending the rest of the day in a deckchair at my allotment trying very, very hard not to think about climate change and ignoring all calls from journalists and from my brother, who I would like to take this opportunity to publicly disown on the basis that he’s an absolute fucking nutcase. That is all.”

The (near) impossibility of taking climate change seriously (enough)

I step away from the climate change demonstration and stroll down the street past the Queen Elizabeth II Convention Centre, where dozens of people are lazing around in the warm late February sunshine.

No, that doesn’t work.

I leave the global warming protest and amble down the road past the Queen Elizabeth II Congress Hall, where scores of individuals are enjoying the warm early spring warm rays of warmth from the warm late February warm sun.

I think I see the problem. It can’t be spring in February. Spring begins round about Easter, which this year (and I don’t think this has anything to do with climate change) isn’t until late April. Speaking of which, the 22nd isn’t really late February either; as TS Eliot would no doubt agree, February is the shortest month, so it’s actually mid-to-late February right now.

Naomi Klein wrote that climate change “speaks in the language of fires, floods, storms, and droughts”, which is certainly the case, but it also says things like “this is lovely” and “it’s like being in Greece!”. Given that I know several people who were planning to spend half-term skiing in Switzerland, this February heat actually feels a little…chilling. All the same, there are people on the steps outside the ICA eating ice-cream, and it would be to begrudge them their day in the sun. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about ‘the banality of evil’; few would have anticipated how pleasant the Apocalypse would turn out to be.

There’s a standard question that gets posed in EFL classrooms: what would you do if someone told you the world was going to end in seven days? The obvious answer, one that rarely comes up, is I wouldn’t believe them. What if we reframe the question: what are you doing in response to the overwhelming evidence, brought to us by all non-corrupted scientific authorities over several decades, that our way of life is destroying our habitat? The answer, if we judge our actions rather than our words, is the same. We don’t believe them.

In his book ‘Exterminate all the brutes’ Sven Lindqvist’ wrote about the roots of the Nazi genocide in European colonialism. He ended it with the words: “It is not knowledge we lack. It is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions”. As it happens, I’ve just witnessed an example of such bravery. Someone I’d been talking to just a few minutes before, the organiser of a protest at the almost total lack of climate change information contained in the National Curriculum, daubed the message TEACH THE TRUTH in red paint all over the entrance to the Department of Education, and then sat quietly in front of it waiting to be arrested. In doing so, he put both his freedom and his livelihood as a teacher at risk.

Billions of dollars have been spent covering up the causes and consequences of climate change. It’s only now, with the first generation to directly, unambiguously face its consequences coming of age, that the resultant taboo on taking it seriously is starting to, well, melt. Adult society is very adept at living amidst the starkest contradictions and most brutally unjust realities. Whether it’s our own society’s vivid legacy of racism and imperialism, or the staggering physical, psychological and social damage wrought by consumerism, we ignore a very great deal which should make us change how we think and behave.

What’s an appropriate response to Lindqvist’s exhortation to draw conclusions and (by implication) behave responsibly? How much courage do we need to take such actions? A couple of weeks ago in Bristol I came across graffiti reading “Anna lives!”. This is presumably a reference to Anna Campbell, the young local woman who went to Kurdistan and gave her life fighting for the YPG*. Reading about her life and her father’s tribute to her bravery put me in mind of the tribute in the Turner Prize 2017 show to the philosopher Simone Weil, who lived a profoundly ascetic existence in line with her principles. According to Wikipedia, some claim that the refusal to eat which led to her death, at the age of 34 in 1943 came from her desire to express solidarity toward the victims of the war.

If the alternative to quietude is too terrifying for the vast majority of us to contemplate (and I absolutely, but not proudly, include myself in that category), what are the broader consequences of passivity? We all, I presume, experience a sense of frustration with the world as it is, lashing out in various ways at random people and objects, usually through a screen, often (in my case) at the screen itself when some process gets in the way of my venting of my pent-up annoyances. Many fall for the oldest trick that power has up its sleeve: taking out their frustrations on conveniently-placed scapegoats. The Big Idea that inspired this website – more than a hunch than a theory – is that our civilisation’s response to the knowledge of its impending self-destruction is: racism. It can be no accident that all prominent far-right demagogues, from Trump to Farage to Salvini to Bolsonaro ad infinitum, have lying about climate change as a core principle.

But then, it would be wrong to attribute all the blame for our complacency on those in political power, or to pass the buck to the media for their incessant insistence on weasel words like ‘unprecedented’. We all (myself very much included) deny climate change by rarely bringing it up and changing the subject when it does come up. My project for the next few months, and the impulse for coming to the protest today, is to carry out academic research to find out how this works in classrooms. I need to make contact with climate-aware teachers who’ll let me observe their lessons and talk to me on record about what happened and happens in class. Would I have come to the demonstration had I not had that aim in mind? I’d like to think so, but then much like anyone else I do like to interpret my own (in)actions in a positive light. Had I stayed at home, I’m sure I would have been able to think of some plausible excuse to tell myself.

*****

I walk in the door to the sound of an extremely high-pitched and insistent sound. I recognise it at once: it’s that bloody smoke alarm bleating for a new bloody battery. When we first moved in here the same thing happened and it took a lot of cursing and banging to get it to shut the fuck up. I only managed to get the battery out and stick it back in place with substantial difficulty. Later, when the Grenfell Fire happened and we were living in Rome, I remembered that incident and wondered whether our then-tenant had ever had cause to need the smoke alarm. It must have been him who replaced the battery which is now expiring.

Unfortunately the beeping noise I’d being accompanied by another insistent cry: the baby is demanding something called bettabetta. She’s in the kitchen pointing at the cupboard and her demands are almost, but not quite, in perfect synch with the bloody beeping of this nightmare of an object, the design of which makes it very, very hard to access the battery. I can’t remember what bettabetta is and I’m trying desperately to hack the battery out of the device whose beeping is becoming more and more insistent.

The whole episode takes a full two minutes, less a Two-Minute Hate than a Two-Minute Extreme Frustration. As the battery finally pops out I manage to remember that bettabetta is the baby’s name for Weetabix. She calls it that because I’ve always referred to it weeta-beeta, which is actually, it’s turned out, too complex for a two-year-old old to articulate. (It subsequently transpires that she also calls it Weetabix.) I quickly stuff the smoke alarm back into its fitting on the ceiling and get out the milk and cereal. Once things are becalmed the baby remembers (DICO! DIIIICO!!!) that I promised we could have a Friday nite pre-pizza disco while we wait for her mum to arrive. I plug in the disco lights I bought for £9.99 on Amazon and, obedient to the whims of the iPod shuffle, we joyously frug around the living room to this.

*It would be wrong not to acknowledge that while Anna Campbell gave her life in the fight against Isis, Shamima Begum and her friends must have felt very deep down that they were doing the right thing in going to fight for Isis. That Begum still felt that way despite witnessing how horrendously her new friends regarded and treated her fellow women is not a point in her favour.

Citizenship, securitisation and scapegoating

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I don’t know much at all about guns. I wouldn’t be able to name the weapons that the two policemen are holding just five feet away from me on this tube train. (I’m not even sure about the difference between feet and metres.) When I saw them I gave a start, partly because I’m not used to seeing such a sight but also because I’ve just been reading in The Guardian about the status of Shamima Begum, born just a few miles (or slightly more kilometres) away but now languishing in a refugee camp in Syria, so terrorism, state violence and my immunity from it (or otherwise) have been very much on my mind. If I continue on this train for one more stop I’ll reach Parliament, but I’m getting off at Waterloo, partly because I want to research the topic of citizenship and securitisation in the library of the university where I’m doing a module in Multilingualism, Migration and Diversity. The course tutor sent us an email this morning asking us to prepare for a seminar next month on that theme.

I don’t know whether Shamima Begum has ever handled a weapon, but I do know that she holds a British passport which is presently null and void. She has no other passports, and since the UK has no formal constitution if you don’t have a passport you’re not a citizen. The Home Secretary’s decision thus makes her stateless, which is illegal under international law. Strangely the focus of the Guardian article is not on the fact that the Home Secretary, whose parents migrated here from Pakistan, is attempting to break international law. Maybe if a previous government had respected international law there wouldn’t be a war in Syria and there wouldn’t be armed policemen on the tube. Just a thought.


We used to live in Rome, where armed soldiers were a common sight around metro and train stations. Those soldiers are now under the direction of the de facto leader of a coalition government of neofascists and internet trolls who is the same person who will next year be signing my Italian passport, unless someone reads this first and decides to turn me down because they don’t agree with my political opinions. (I’m not about to go to Syria to cut people’s heads off, but at the same time I don’t think it was wrong for George Orwell et al to take up arms against a previous generation of European fascists.) One purpose of getting an Italian passport was to remain an EU citizen in the wake of Brexit, but that may be moot in any case if Salvini’s cohorts take over the EU Parliament in May and destroy the EU from within. The prospect of the people in Westminster prolonging Article 50 to keep the UK in the EU temporarily is becoming less likely because the UK mustn’t be allowed to participate in those elections. This ungodly mess helps to explain why everyone is talking about the damage Shamima Begum might do to vital national interests instead of the incalculable harm our own government is doing to all of our life chances. Yesterday a friend whose wife is also Italian got a letter from their child’s nursery specifying that vouchers for 3 year old children of EU parents won’t yet be stripped and “any future changes will be in line with the future immigration system”, which is less than reassuring in that we know that our government will readily take away people’s most basic rights whenever doing so might stop people talking about what’s happening to the economy as a result of the ongoing civil war in the Conservative Party, a war which David Cameron decided to try to resolve once and for all by spreading it to the entire country.

Who radicalised Shamima Begum to the point where she didn’t even blink at the sight of a severed head and thought the motives and means behind the Manchester attack understandable? What sort of people seek to promote politically-inspired violence against defenceless civilians, including children? Surely whoever encouraged impressionable young women to join a war against their fellow Muslims and their country of birth must be identified and brought to justice as soon as possible…

Here’s a Martin Amis-style thought experiment: Could there be some sort of connection between her youthful indiscretion and the decision of our Government in 2003 to flout international law and take part in an illegal invasion which left hundreds of thousands of people dead, destabilised the entire region and created millions of refugees? Some very powerful people in the government and the media are determined that such questions not be asked in the rush to condemn and castigate such a perfect scapegoat. According to another article in today’s Guardian, today marks 50 years since Rupert Murdoch, who was born in Australia and also holds an American passport, took control of The Sun newspaper.  I see this morning on Twitter that one of his protégées, Stig Abell, is applauding the Home Secretary’s decision. Abell was Editor-in-chief of The Sun when it published (that is to say, he published) a column by Katie Hopkins in which she called for boats full of refugees fleeing Isis to be bombed and advocated another “final solution”.

Now that’s pretty radical. Surely someone – the Home Secretary, perhaps – must be demanding that such an inhuman creature be brought to justice and his passport be removed? Er, no. He’s currently the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

I think I’ll stick with the LRB, thanks.

If anyone is to be forced out of Labour, it should be these no-deal nutcases

I’ve speculated here before about Jeremy Corbyn’s political rapport with his professional climate-liar/ devout Brexit enthusiast of a brother Piers, but maybe it wasn’t fair or right of me to do so. After all, internet conspiracy mongering already has far too much influence in Corbyn’s Labour Party – it is, I believe, the channel through which anti-Semitic effluence is flowing. There is far too much of the same radical-sounding but not actually all that progressive sentiment that lay behind the rise of Italy’s 5 Star Movement, which for all its railing against the insipid neoliberalism of the Democratic Party and its talk of a basic income is now happily ensconced in a neofascist government. In the UK, a loose anti-establishment politics has proven to be a wholly inadequate rival to the far more energised populism of Brexit. Labour hasn’t been able to frame its agenda in a way which makes a connection both with voters who value the social liberalism embodied in the EU and those who want to make sure their fury and frustration at neoliberal austerity and inequality is heard. Maybe the internet compels people to think in terms of easy answers, to respond in a Pavlovian manner to simplistic slogans. Corbyn’s Labour should have stood against that, coming up with nuanced alternatives and using clear messaging based on detailed research into what connects with people beyond vague catcalls against the shadowy ‘elite’. Corbyn should have used his political capital after his second victory to persuade those unconvinced of his leadership of his competence and to win round those who have fallen under the sway of Farage’s Pied Piper act. In this sense, the internet is both Labour’s strength and its weakness. For all that it galvanised Corbyn’s supporters around elections and rallies, it has also left many Labour supporters prey to the insidious propaganda of the far-right, via Facebook groups spreading conspiracist memes about Soros, the “bosses club” of the EU, in favour of a chimeric “WTO Brexit” etc etc etc. Instead the forlorn cheers of his core supporters hark back incessantly to late 2015 and to June 2017, when Corbyn seemed, much more by default that by design, to have brought together a temporary coalition of Leavers and Remainers. Unfortunately that was never destined to hold together in the face of his tactical prevarication.

Or was it, as so many of us so generously assumed, tactical? According to some people in the know, Corbyn’s Brexit policy is actually being dictated by Communist Party hacks. This article on the Socialist Resistance website, written by someone who clearly knows the territory of the British Left intimately, explains:

Corbyn’s most trusted cardinals are Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, graduates from the seminary of British Stalinism, an order not renowned for its tolerance of dissent.

They were both in the Straight Left faction of the Communist Party (CP), an organisation which proudly says in its own official history that its famous British Road to Socialism programme “had been extensively discussed and agreed with Stalin”. It says of the European Union’s (EU) predecessor:

“In the 1975 referendum campaign, the CP fought hard as part of the broad alliance for a ‘No’ vote against Britain’s continuing membership of the European Economic Community. The Communist position had been consistent since the 1957 Treaty of Rome: based on the free movement of capital, goods and labour, the Common Market was a ‘bosses’ club’.”

And it’s not just Milne and Murray. Len McCluskey of Unite is dead set against a new referendum and so is Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s chief of staff who accompanied Corbyn and Milne to the recent meeting with Theresa May.

“A bosses’ club.” Fuck that phrase. Those who reduce the EU’s role in relation to British society to no more than that of the executive committee of the European bourgeoisie have done far more than most to bring to this point, where a slow-moving far-right coup is going to reduce their beloved proletariat to a penury none of us has seen in our lifetimes. Of course Berger, Umunna and all the rest have no more alternative to the implosion of neoliberal globalisation than did their Italian counterparts. To paraphrase Tina Turner in relation to an altogether more entertaining dystopia, non abbiamo bisogno di un altro Renzi, nor another maledetto Blair. We are in almost all certainty heading for a period of far-right authoritarianism in some form, just like Italy, Brazil and elsewhere. And this so-called opposition party, with this leadership, far from trying to halt this slide into reactionary dictatorship, is, particularly as it runs down the clock much as May is doing, doing a great deal to make it even more inevitable.

As for what Corbyn could and should do now to respond to the democratic will of his party membership before the situations gets any messier: expel all those MPs and prominent Labour members who support a no-deal Brexit, and accept that a second referendum is a preferable option to total chaos. It’s been clear for some time that for various reasons, Umunna et al didn’t want to stay in the Labour Party; Kate Hoey, John Mann, Caroline Flint and all the rest shouldn’t be given the choice. All conspiracy theorising aside, the fact that one noteworthy Labour member advocating a no deal final solution is Corbyn’s own brother should actually be a cause for widespread public concern.