Conspiracy sites are a gateway drug leading to the far-right

I’ve always rejected out of hand the notion that the political spectrum is a horseshoe, that the far-right and far-left are close to one another in various ways. However, what I’ve seen in Facebook groups on both sides of the Atlantic is that the far-right is stealthily digging a tunnel in order to insinuate its ideas into the far-left and beyond.

This mostly takes the form of memes promoting conspiracy theories which target ‘privileged elites’. Superficially persuasive videos blame (most commonly) the Rothschild family (a long-standing anti-semitic canard) and The Vatican for the world’s chaos and corruption. Such videos are distributed by sites which a moment’s investigation reveals to be teeming in pro-Putin/Trump and climate denial material. However, the conspiratorial tone in which they are presented is like catnip to online audiences desperate for easy explanations of troubling but confusing events.

Conspiracy thinking has often been called ‘the poor man’s ideology‘. It’s easier to understand the notion that a secretive group of powerful people controls the world than it is to pick apart the myriad ways in which capitalism preserves itself as a chaotic but impersonal system, in terms of both interacting repressive institutions and also via conservative ideas which circulate at every level – including the ideas that we ourselves hold.

It’s also deeply comforting to think that someone, somewhere is in charge, partly because it lets our own roles in preserving that system off the hook. The problem is always other people’s corruption and venality, none of which can even be addressed directly because They Control Everything. This enables the consumer of conspiracy theories to do nothing but read, watch and share the hidden truth, and to remain in every other way politically passive. Like the ultimate function of a dream, conspiracy theorising works to keep you asleep.

The conspiracist worldview also, ironically, makes those who subscribe to it easy manipulable. Trump’s anti-‘MSM’ tweets are a very clear sign that widespread hostility towards all mass media suits the needs of those who hold formal office. It means what they do and their reasons for doing it face no scrutiny. The fact that he calls all media which questions his power ‘fake’ and instructs his supporters to ignore whatever it says should remind us how essential a free media is to democracy.

What Trump is doing in his blundering way has already been done in a much more sophisticated manner by the Kremlin, with Russia Today. With its line-up of charismatic rebels such as Max Keiser, RT is consistently entertaining. Like all such media, it provides simple but compelling explanations of complex events. Much of its coverage is relatively innocuous, following the same line as other channels. But there is a clear and very clever conspiratorial line in its reporting which dovetails with the content of explicitly right-wing outlets like Infowars and Breitbart, with their pseudo-radical insinuations of a secret Jewish liberal agenda known as the New World Order. That narrative is not coherent, because it doesn’t need to be: it just needs to titillate to the point of being shareable. It is a very short succession of clicks from RT videos showing the ‘truth’ about Russia’s involvement in Syria to ones promoting the idea of a jew-run plot to dominate humanity or denying climate change. It and the videos which (not by coincidence) exist in its orbit are a gateway drug to the far-right.

A key element of media literacy is knowledge of who owns a particular outlet. We need to know who is telling us a given story. Those of us on the Left know to steer clear of Fox News, The Sun, etc. People are also right to be suspicious of the BBC’s coverage of UK politics, given the compromises and connections at the level of personnel. Westminster journalists are often too close to their subjects to have a wider perspective, and they often come to identify with the worldview of those they cover. But the question of whose media we are consuming is even more important on the Internet, because there we are exposed to much more and much more sophisticated means of manipulation.

We need to know which sites to avoid. In particular, those who moderate left-wing forums need to know which sites to automatically block. A good rule of thumb is that if something mentions the Rothschilds or talks about the NWO, it comes from a far-right source and has no place in a left-wing group. However, given the sophistication of attempts to insinuate reactionary ideas into radical circles, we need to be more precise. That’s why this list (helpfully posted by a friend on a pro-Corbyn forum) is so very useful. It consists of a checklist of sites, identifying which are legitimate and which are known to be pushing an insidious agenda. It flags up, for example, the sites yournewswire.com and anonews, both of which I have seen linked to several times in nominally left-wing Facebook groups over the last few days. On each occasion dozens of people who see themselves as progressive have been taken in, liking and sharing material which a moment’s inspection reveals to be far-right propaganda. The Left needs to be much more vigilant about the danger such videos represent. Jeremy Corbyn may represent many things to many people; those who see him as the new David Icke need to be made actively unwelcome in left-wing circles.

Brexit Shorts: A must-see for anyone interested in why the UK voted to leave

Brexit dynamited the edifice of British political life, and as a result some parts of the building are still unsafe to enter. For that reason, Jeremy Corbyn is wise (as Tae Hoon Kim argued) to steer clear of the issue for the time being and to allow the monster that the Tories created to tear them apart. 

Does that mean we as a nation should ignore the whole thing, pretend it never happened? While it’s hard to see how John Harris’ laudable call for open and honest dialogue with those who voted to leave can take place within the walls of conventional political debate, there are other fora which enable us to try to understand what circumstances lay behind the explosion. One such forum is art, ‘the lie that tells the truth’, and specifically drama. 

We should be grateful to The Guardian for providing us (in the form of ‘Brexit Shorts‘) with nine eloquent if sometimes excoriating explanations of the causes of the vote. They remind us that few of those who voted Leave did so out of myopic xenophobia. Many did so because they were living in a different country to the rest of us. To dismiss them as reactionary dullards is to refuse to acknowledge that the prosperous Britain we felt we lived in, a place where most people enjoy a reasonable standard of living and the prospect of a bright future, was not by any means the universal experience. 

Significantly for my own position on all this, I was not in the UK at the time of the vote, but in Thailand, enjoying a very relaxing couple of months while my wife did a course at the university. Previously we’d spent a fabulous year in Mexico City, living in a very pleasant part of town taking full advantage of all the opportunites that our suddenly enhanced economic status afforded us. My working life consisted of flying to other cities, staying in nice hotels, interviewing a handful of local people and then going to nice restaurants. After a while, such experience of unwarranted privilege gets under your skin, begins to seem natural. If you think of the effect of several centuries of automatic entitlement, the arrogance of people like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, who were secure in the knowledge that whatever happened to the UK economy as a result of the vote, their privileges were guaranteed, becomes more understandable. Although I would never have admitted it to myself a year or so ago, my fear about the possible loss of the fruits of my own good fortune partly fuelled my fury at the result.

Watching the videos I was reminded of the days of the London riots of 2011. I had a colleague who, sneering at the young people on the streets, rhetorically demanded to know why they couldn’t just follow his example. When I pointed out that his example consisted of going to a good school in a well-off area followed by a publicly-funded university which he had paid nothing in fees, he responded as though, well, as though I’d challenged his automatic sense of entitlement. More recently, a discussion with Nick Currie aka Momus about the motivations of Brexit voters ended up in Norman Tebbit territory: if there are no opportunities where they are, they should all just move. Although I feel distinctly chippy pointing it out, it’s not quite irrelevant that Momus went to a private school and then a public university on a full grant. It’s not possible to talk about such things as Brexit without reference to class, that great taboo in British life, and that does mean being honest about our own privileges.

The dramas presented in the Brexit Shorts series all, thankfully, take a more considered and searching approach than just dismissing Brexit voters as lacking in ambition, empathy and geographical imagination. It also explains to those who voted for Brexit the grief and fear that the decision engendered in other people whose lives could in no terms be described as privileged. I found watching them both enlightening and therepeutic. Anyone who is even remotely interested in how the Brexit vote happened and what sort of country Britain is as a result should watch them all and encourage their friends and families to do so. If we are to build a progressive movement in the UK against austerity, xenophobia and in favour of equality and urgent action on the climate, it will have to be alliance between those of us who voted to remain and those who voted to leave.

Don’t get distracted by burnt-out cars: There is political will to transform the planet

There’s a wave of extreme heat assailing the planet. In several US states its caused road signs to melt, and in some the roads are too. There are forest fires across swathes of a number of European countries: last month over 60 people were burned alive in their vehicles in Portugal. In Italy (where I live) we are experiencing several days of a red heat alert with record-high temperatures, and a drought which has lasted several months with no end in sight.

If we don’t act now to prevent the planet from heating up like this, we will all be (quite literally) toast. And yet world leaders in Hamburg have just agreed to quadruple subsidies to fossil fuel companies. Although politicians like Merkel and Macron understand the climate is changing, they also believe that there’s a lack of political will for tackling the problem, and so and very many more roads will melt and very many more cars will burn ; none of them at the hands of the fabled ‘Black Bloc’.

The other main story on our local news bulletins is about Italy’s attempts to persuade other European countries to share reponsibilities for the refugee crisis by opening up their ports and agreeing to distribute new arrivals around Europe. Even though in the past Merkel have shown some courage and principles in arguing in favour of Europe’s duty to shelter those fleeing war and economic collapse, now there’s a ‘lack of political will’, even though hundreds of desperate people are drowning and risking death to reach our shores, many of them having experienced brutal treatment in Isis-run camps in the Libyan desert. In Italy itself bigoted parties and stirring up hatred against the very notion of a refugee, and the Left, currently in Government, is capitulating to xenophobic sentiment.

The spectacular images of cars burning in Hamburg have been accompanied by very little reporting of the concerns of the (overwhelmingly peaceful) demonstrators. A glance at their banners reveals what their ambitions are: human rights for all, urgent action on the climate and an end to austerity. They are expressing political will.

The great lie of the last forty years is that this is the only possible world. If people and the planet must suffer and die in order that some might profit, then so be it. But it’s demonstrably not true. Last month, against all predictions, people in the UK expressed political will. Jeremy Corbyn’s astonishing transformation of the British political landscape proved that where politicians provide principled leadership, they can persuade whole populations to change their minds, even on unpopular issues such as austerity, climate change and our response to the refugee crisis.

Naomi Klein’s new book ‘No is not enough’ argues that we (all those who share progressive values, including the notions that human life itself has value and that our species should survive) need to do two things: to understand the ways in which shocking events are exploited by those with the means to do so and used against our interests, and to articulate a positive vision of how we want the world to be. Those who are demonstrating in Hamburg are doing exactly that, and Labour’s near-victory in the UK proves conclusively that there is massive popular appetite for such a vision. An instinctively conservative mass media automatically pushes back against such a movement, seeking to discredit it with images of violent destruction outside the heavily-fortified compounds where our future is being decided; we know that what is being prepared will be infinitely more violent and destructive unless we decide to take on the task of determining our own futures. That will demand a massive exertion of political will on the part of all of us.

Anti-semitism: The socialism of ‘Anonymous’ fools

Who is responsible for all the world’s spiralling problems? A video posted on the ‘AnoNews’ Facebook page claims that two powerful individuals are to blame: Jacob Rothschild and George Soros. Those two leading, er, financers conspire together wih others of their ilk to cause wars, famines, false flag attacks and (I haven’t watched the video in question, so I’m surmising) the mass eating of Christian babies.

The video is going down a sturm online. It was posted in a group I follow called Jeremy Corbyn – True Socialism and is still there right now, despite repeated requests to the moderators to remove it*. But why on earth would you want to do so, say some unaccountably naive individuals? Aren’t we allowed to talk about the control that all-powerful je…sorry, I meant to say ‘zionists’**, exert over our lives?

The Rational Wiki website, a reliable source for information about climate and holocaust deniers and those who carpool with them, points out that invocations of theories involving the Rothschilds “is a good sign you’re in the more conspiratorial and anti-Semitic neighborhood of the Internet”. As for Soros, it points to a couple of instructive examples of sites which reveal the ‘truth’ about his ‘agenda’. They are, as you may have already gathered, explicitly anti-semitic ones, and inevitably they also make a big thing of his, erm, connection to ‘the Rothschilds’.

Does this mean I automatically defend what politically significant billionaires get up to, or that I’m a supporter of the Israeli State’s quasi-genocidal treatment of the Palestinians? Of course not. But it should be absolutely clear to anyone who regards themselves as progressive that when online memes target those particular individuals and not the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch (etc), they are deliberately evoking anti-semitism. The sharing and liking of the Anonymous video confirms that while the campaign to smear Corbyn himself as anti-semitic was utterly dishonest and quite disgraceful***, among his supporters there are people who are not in the least bit inoculated against insidious anti-Jewish sentiment.

Certain kinds of populist political discourse serve the interests of the far-right, and such language and the ways of thinking that it encodes are prevalent on the Left nowadays. The University of Sheffield politics blog (written by department academics rather than lizards) recently argued that one of the main weaknesses of the pro-Corbyn movement is a tendency to think in terms of conspiracies rather than capitalism, to talk about secretive and malevolent elites rather than the workings of an impersonal and chaotic system which produces inequality, exploitation and injustice. This bad habit – based partly on a desire for a comforting narrative that pretends that someone, somewhere is in control – leaves the Left wide open to far-right manipulation. There is a fetid, bubbling swamp which now covers a great deal of territory thought of as ‘radical’ (including Infowars, various sites claiming to be ‘Anonymous’ and (increasingly) Wikileaks), and the gases it belches out stink of antisemitism and other far-right tropes. The Left has to learn to steer as far away from it as possible if it is not to be tainted by the same toxic associations, or, even worse, sucked in altogether.

*Whenever I’ve seen similar material in other such groups it has been removed with alacrity.

**Various people tried to defend the video in these terms. In fact, the only people who describe Soros as a zionist are anti-semites. Don’t believe me? Google the words Soros zionist. Fanatical defenders of Israel hate him, partly because he (laudably) funds Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations. Here’s an article from the Jerusalem Post on the matter, and here’s one from a pro-Israel US Jewish newspaper. As for the living members of the Rothschild family, if you care to do a quick internet search you’ll see that their relationship with Israel is by no means straightforward. Ergo, when anyone uses the term zionist to describe either man, they mean jew. Btw, if you still have doubts about the whole premise of this piece, viz you think the video may be harmless, simply google Soros Rothschild and have a look at what sorts of site appear. If you’re still not sure which side you should line up to bat for (cricket metaphor!), here’s a quick quiz.

***Anyone tempted to picture me as a lizard would do well to reread that sentence.

P.s. The argument that any amount of anti-semitism is acceptable because: Israel is unerringly close to that made by the far-right a couple of weeks ago in relation to the attack in Finsbury Park. The victims do and did not bring it on themselves.

P.p.s.: The original title of this piece  (‘There *is* anti-semitism on the far-left’) was chosen in a bad mood and didn’t reflect the content. The new title is an adaptation of a famous phrase from the German politician August Bebel.

P.p.p.s. As a means of apologising for all the footnotes and p.s.s, here is a cartoon: 

PODCAST! A critical discourse analyst assesses Corbo’s Glasto speecho

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges the crowd at Worthy Farm in Somerset during the Glastonbury Festival

My friend Owen is much more cleverer than me, and he has a freshly-minted PhD in Critical Discourse Analysis to prove it. Here we are talking about Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Glastonbury Festival two days ago.

 
P.s. If, like me, you find the production values of some left-wing podcasts just too professional and slick, you will be delighted by the authentically downhome quality of the audio on this recording.

Q: What’s wrong with this picture? A: The placards

Here are some situations in which the phrase “I used to be in the Socialist Worker’s Party” might not stand you in good stead:

  • On your professional CV
  • On your Guardian Soulmates dating profile
  • On your personal blog*

Here goes my online street cred: I was, for a stint at university, a few years in Dublin in the mid-nineties and another short period in London about ten years ago, a member of the SWP. I embodied some of the most oft- and rightly-criticised traits:

  1. A simplistic view of the world. I used to write reviews for the party newspaper of cultural products, such as books and films, evaluating them solely in terms of their contribution to the building of the revolutionary party. I also believed that there could be a thing called a ‘revolution’, just like in 1917 (or at least in Eisenstein’s inspiring rendition of it), which would be over by teatime and would not inspire a phenomenally violent and complex period of post- and counterrevolutionary violence. As recently as 2013, when I was involved in the laudable but short-lived initiative Left Unity, I witnessed an actual non-tongue-in-cheek discussion in the pub between SWP members about what they would do “on the day after the revolution”. Luckily George Orwell was just out of hearing distance (buying some more crisps at the bar as I recall), otherwise he might have eaten them all alive.
  2. Sectarianism. I viewed members of similar political organisations as more significant enemies of the class struggle than the police and the army, regarding them as rival species to be wiped out in the struggle for survival and eventual (but inevitable) triumph. I was not so much an activist as an evangelist.
  3. My main political concern was with the growth of the organisation, evidenced by increased newspaper sales, better-attended meetings, larger and louder demonstrations called and led by us, and the visibility of our placards on media coverage of said demos**. Of course, all of these things waxed and waned, but I was encouraged to believe that there was a deeper historical trend at work, that people were angrier than ever before and that provided they would get on the bus to the demonstration we would be able, nay obliged to, recruit them so they would sell the paper to their friends and workmates and the whole pyramid would grow to the point where the working class would soon be gleefully hurling the heads of capitalists down it.
  4. Hijacking events, using demonstrations and meetings in a purely instrumental way to build the party rather than the campaign itself. Oh, how we got sick and tired of being accused of doing this. Oh, how I got sick and tired of actually doing it, until the point where I became deeply cynical and (repeatedly) left the organisation.

How is this relevant in June 2017? Because the organisation is reclaiming a certain protagonism. On demonstrations over the Grenfell tragedy its placards are ubiquitous. This is, I think, dangerous for the reasons suggested above and also because:

Firstly, the SWP tends to mislead. Its chief figures are articulate and very adept at getting themselves onto platforms, but their strategy and tactics will lead any given movement down the same garden path to where the fairies live, on smaller and smaller national demostrations until everyone just stays at home and shouts at the TV instead.

Secondly, the prominent presence of the SWP is off-putting in at least three ways. Firstly, to the public. Someone once waggishly pointed out that the largest political group on the British Left is made up of ex-SWP members. Even for people who’ve never read the paper or attended a protest, Socialist Worker placards are a sign that the usual suspects are up to their old tricks again. Then there’s the fact that it allows the media to misrepresent the protest as a rentamob, as happened on Twitter last night in relation to the protests in Central London. Thirdly, it alienates potential campaigners and activists in the longer-term, in that very many people who come into contact with the organisation become, like me, cynical towards all forms of radical political activity and deeply undemocratic in their attitudes to the organisation of political campaigns.

Now, there remains an important thing to say, which is that for all the faults of the organisation, individual members of it should not be demonized. Despite the sometimes horrendous and often shameful antics of some of its leading members over the last few years, which have left many to abandon their political home (to be replaced each September by a new cohort of fresher-faced footsoldiers), most long-standing SWP members I’ve known have been heartfelt in their belief that the party is the best thing for society. To call them all ‘rape apologists’ is counterproductive and wrong. They’re mistaken and possibly morally compromised, but they are sincere***. Nevertheless, their attempts to play a leading role, whether in the Grenfell campaign or in Momentum should (continue to) be rejected. If other activists in the movement  don’t tell them, to use a phrase that’s been doing the rounds, to ‘get stuffed’, the right-wing media will use the presence of the party to discredit all those involved. 

The SWP is a bureaucracy and as such its aim is to survive and thrive, regardless of the success or failure of whatever cause it attaches it to. My past involvement in the party tells me that as an organisation (just like one or two very similar parties) it does not have the best interests of any given campaign at heart.

*Although I hope its obvious that I’ve only mentioned it in one of those contexts, I do admire the example of a perma-unemployed friend of mine who, when forced to produce a resume in one of those “HANDS OFF ME PENS!” job club mandated by the DSS came up with a piece of paper with his name, address and the details of his erstwhile role as local SWP branch secretary.

**Basically a branding exercise.

***It was meeting some very impressive and charming individual activists in East London in around 2007 that led me to briefly become a member again.

You know what sells really well online? False hope.

This site’s most popular post (‘Donald Trump is going to snap, and here is how I know‘) was twenty times more popular than any other*. It was so widely shared and liked because it offered comfort at a particularly desperate moment. It was also published in various other more august locations and, bizarrely, led to several people googling “is Infinite Concidence reliable?”.

Well, the fact that I wrote it in less than an hour in my pyjamas might cast some doubt on its veracity. I think people found it so convincing because I used a number of powerful quotes from the fancypants psychoanalytical theorist Jacques Lacan and also because the title expressed such conviction.

It stood out in the frenzied and permanently overheated market for positive or at least reassuring headlines. Some outlets cater specifically to such a demand. In this trenchant takedown of the pro-Corbyn website The Canary, Richard Seymour identifies what’s so worrying about this tendency for demand-driven news which sells itself to our emotions. Even when the writers and editors are on our side such sites’ purposeful misrepresentation of events should concern everyone.

My site (this one) doesn’t pretend to be a news site but some things I post here can be mistaken for news articles, particularly when I bang out a bad-mooded hot take satire. One recent piece that wasn’t satirical but was based around very recent events was this one. It originally had a poor choice of headline (‘Could the Tories throw the election to escape responsibility for Brexit?’, to which the obvious answer is, er, no), and once a couple of readers had drawn my attention to the fact that the title didn’t represent the content I changed it. However, it remains posted in various Facebook groups with the same irresponsible headline, and as such has proved consistently popular. The (risible) notion that the Tories might throw an election they’re almost bound to win gives people false hope.

So many headlines these days promise to provide false hope or assuage rational fears. The ‘content’ that they advertise may not qualify as ‘false news’ but they do present hearsay as fact in a way that any professional journalist would immediately recognise as wilfully misleading and irresponsible. Motivated entirely by commercial considerations in the frenetic attention-impulse economy of the internet, they play on feelings rather than any rational assessment of the facts, with no or very little empirical basis. They are Barnum-style headlines, confirming the truth of whatever you choose to believe. A journalist friend of mine is very entertaining on the subject of blogs like mine, with their (our) assemblage of guesswork presenting constant insult to basic journalistic standards and conventions.

Dealing with news media nowadays demands much more careful and critical reading. As I argued at length here in another piece of guesswork, we need news outlets we can broadly trust. For this reason I blanch whenever I see the term ‘MSM’ (‘mainstream media’). Clearly media literacy involves awareness of such issues as misrepresentation, bias and framing. But bracketing together the Mail and Sun with The Guardian and the NYT is not an example of media literacy, but rather an instance of credulity**. In trying to make sense of British society it’s essential to recognise Murdoch and Dacre are not dissimilar to Mugabe in their attempts to control the political agenda. However, to pretend that the Guardian – for all its growing submission to commercial constraints and its occasional perpetuation of churnalism – is engaged in the same task is puerile and self-defeating. Progressives have to have a much more sophisticated and critical understanding of the media and the role of journalists, ownership and so on than Donald Trump does. His attacks on the free press take advantage of a mood of cynicism which is partly inspired by a lazy misapplication of Chomsky’s work. There’s nothing sophisticated about avoiding news headlines. Anyone doubting the truth of this should consider when the last time they confronted recent facts relating to the earth’s climate. It is an increasingly scary world but hiding from the consequences of our actions is not an adult response and it particularly behoves those of us with children to at least inform ourselves as to what is going on.

In relation to the impending election (in the debate around which our overheating planet has once again barely been mentioned), there is a miniscule chance, were the apparent momentum to continue, that Labour could sneak a victory. It would nonetheless require monumental effort. They have won the campaign but from such a low base of both support and expectation that they are still extremely unlikely to win a majority of seats. Having just spent a week in the UK, I haven’t noticed anyone getting excited in a way that would suggest the tide has actually turned with sufficient force.

Facebook posts like the one above (from a pro-Corbyn group) make me think it isn’t going to happen. They suggest to me that the most excitable are also the least likely to be active offline talking to potential voters. Actual reports from actual doorsteps suggest that, like it or not, resistance to Corbyn himself is palpable. Then there are pieces like this from responsible commentators, acknowledging the shift in mood but recognising that it almosr certainly won’t be sufficient. Most responses to the above post expressed hope that it was the case, but actually what they were not hope but optimism, not on what is true but what should be. But crossed fingers and closed eyes do not win elections.

What online Labour groups should be doing right now is not encouraging unfounded optimism but sharing tales from the doorstep and tips for how to argue with racists and those who don’t trust men with beards. They should also – and this does happen, just not nearly enough in my view – be organising groups of people to go campaigning, with those who live in safe seats offering to go to nearby constituencies that could do with a hand. It seems depressing and significant that few mention where in the country they are. 

Of course in many cases those desperate for any sign of hope are experiencing profound anxiety about the result and looking for reasons to get through another day. We are all vulnerable, but disabled people and pretty much all immigrants are right to be terrified. If the Tories win it is going to be absolutely horrible.

Voting in ten days’ time will not enough to stave off the most reactionary government of our lifetimes. Everyone who wants and needs Labour to win needs to get together with their local party and go canvassing. I myself am a partial hypocrite, in that I live in Italy so my involvement is by definition very limited. Knocking on the doors of my neighbours feels a bit moot. My Italian’s ok but wherever you live there is absolutely no point talking to anyone who doesn’t have a vote.

In any case, if I were in London I wouldn’t campaign for Labour in my constituency (Hackney South & Shoreditch). The result is always a foregone conclusion. I would find a constituency where they need help, volunteer, ask about local issues and then go banging on doors. Due to the iniquitous nature of the British Electoral System it may be the case that the candidate I’d be canvassing for wouldn’t be a Labour one, although given that the failure of the attempt to change that system can be laid squarely at the door of the former leader of the Liberal Democrats I’d be less likely to campaign for them than I would the Greens, Plaid or the SNP.

I suspect that a lot of recent Labour converts have little experience or knowledge of election campaigning. Some need to seek guidance. Sadly the current leadership doesn’t seem to be very adept at working the party machine, which does after all contain the odd Blairite gremlin. I’ve canvassed in several elections and I know that it requires humility and patience, things that do not abound in online politics. Engaging with often grumpy electors is painstaking and sometimes gruelling, but it does mean you’re actually participating in the election rather than just commenting from the digital fringes, where the only reason anyone might pay attention is if they already agree. Nevertheless, if Labour is to stand a chance of forming the next Government, lots of people who currently have no intention of voting will have to be persuaded to do so. That’s your job.

*That second post being a follow-up to the first one, and in turn twenty times more popular than the third most read article. Thankfully at that point the ‘rule of twenties’ breaks down.

** Certain individual BBC journalists, on the other hand, do see it as their responsibility to destroy the Labour Party’s chances of success. Emma Barnett in particular is a shining example of total unprofessionalism.

Are the Tories throwing the election to escape responsibility for Brexit? No, but…

aw-theresa-may-jeremy-corbyn-poll

As I’ve argued all along would be the case, an orderly Brexit is turning out to be impossible. The early stages of negotiations have been like trying to make an omelette using shit instead of eggs. It was never going to be anything like a ‘clean divorce’ – that metaphor is just as unhelpful and misleading as Thatcher’s comparison of a national economy to that of a household. Instead the UK wants to unilaterally break a contract with 27 partners and define some sort of mutually beneficial relationship afterwards in the face of a politically justifiable desire from other partners to eliminate any possible benefit.

It may not be clear from reading the domestic press, but the UK Govt is currently undergoing galaxy-wide humiliation at its lack of preparedness, its self-delusion and its misplaced arrogance. Foreign news outlets tend to report what people like Juncker have actually said, not some self-serving distortion of it. The Tories and their pet bulldog newspapers can snarl emptily about sabotage and bluff and bluster about being ganged up on but the fact that May et al do not know what they are doing is now public knowledge from Torino to Timbuktu. There are probably peasants in the North Korean countryside having a good laugh at May’s plight over their breakfast of grass and bits of their house as they try to find light relief from thoughts of impending nuclear annihilation, not to mention spladgequards from planet Beetlewoox 4 scratching whatever they have for heads and wondering why this particular species of human known as The British insists on behaving in such a hostile manner towards its nearest neighbours.

At the same time, Corbyn’s Labour Party is rising slightly in the polls (not that much – it’s rather like someone you were sure was dead moving an eyelid slightly). Would Corbyn be better placed if this somewhow was to become known as the Lazurus election? That would place him in the not-exactly-to-be-coveted position of having to negotiate in the national interest for something which is against the national interest. After all, even the most ardent Brexiteers did this primarily for their own ideological jollification. Instead, the likeliest scenario is that following a probably slightly less emphatic Tory victory than we had feared, the UK will call off talks and resort to extreme hostilities as the economy collapses and the country quite possibly prepares North Korea-style for a war which may or may not ever arrive. If the whole thing wasn’t so depressing I would bet good money on some form of conscription being introduced before Article 50 expires. That’s the sort of thing merchants of chaos like Farage wanted all along and Cameron was prepared to risk for the sake of short-term political expediency.

The Tories are, of course, not about to throw the election. They want to achieve their long-standing ambition of crushing the godawful upstart Plebs Party for good*. The polls may well be misleading – Michael Ashcroft certainly made sure they were in 2015. But they must be having very serious qualms about the trap that they’re backing themselves into. The Tories have been able to get away with austerity by blaming everything that’s wrong in society on the previous Labour Government. No opposition means fewer scapegoats at a time when they need them like never before. This is not a good time to turn the country into a one-party state.

* It may be due to missing the irony in this sentence that some idiot on the Labour Party forum (possibly a troll) said that this article ‘reads like Tory Party propaganda’. This may mark an all-time high in terms how inane political debate on social media can go, I’ll keep you posted.

The Tories are ‘strong and stable’. What are Labour?

Theresa May gave a speech a few days ago in which she used the slogan ‘Strong and Stable’ twelve times in ten minutes. As a result she is being royally ridiculed on social media, with countless memes being diffused exponentially as I write.

A further outcome of the Tories’ faultless message discipline and the responses to it is that on 8th June millions of people will go and vote on the basis of strength and stability (DECLARATION: I fucking hate The Tories and will be voting Labour in June). Satirising the message will just serve to reinforce and spread it. That’s what happened in the last two general elections and in the referendum last summer. At different points each leading representative of the Leave campaign was torn to pieces on Facebook and Twitter for ‘overusing‘ the expression ‘take back control’. The result of the referendum showed that all that repitition was actually the slogan being implemented successfully – the Leave campaign even consulted Paul McKenna to help them drill the message into people’s heads. It’s not a rational process. ‘Strong and stable’ will have been chosen from a list of potential slogans after a rigorous process of testing it on groups of potential Tory voters.

The science of this is well-known but doesn’t always find acceptance on the left and doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on the people at the top of the Labour Party. On doing some research I found out that Labour’s slogan for #GE2017 is ‘For the many, not the few’. Although I’ve been following the election the phrase didn’t spring into my head immediately as the Conservatives’ slogan will and tellingly there haven’t as yet been a furore about opposition politicians overusing it. I don’t get the impression it’s been tested – it sounds more like a phrase that our avuncular leader plucked out of thin air. On my Facebook page yesterday I saw a post on the Labour forum about John McDonnell’s 20 Pledges to Workers. Okay, twenty is a round number but it’s also a large one. As Owen Jones has repeatedly pointed out, only people who are actively interested in politics take an interest in what lies behind slogans, ie the details of policy. Each of those individual items may strike a chord with working people but in order to be effective they need to be framed into clear pithy messages whose memorability has been exhaustively put to the test. 

Nevertheless, the central slogans have been chosen and Labour leader, supporters and representatives need to put them into operation by repeating them as often as humanly possible. In the meantime we need to stop doing the Tories’ work for them by effectively advertising, whether in jest or not, what May’s Conservative Party stands for.

Is Tony Blair the right person to lead the anti-Brexit campaign?

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Tony Blair gave an excellent speech last week in which he laid out clearly the reasons why Brexit will be an absolute catastrophe for the British economy and called for people to rise up to stop it happening.

This has led members of several online pro-Remain groups to accept and promote him as leader of the campaign. They have argued that despite his lack popularity on the left, he was a popular Prime Minister who is associated with a happier time in national life and is also able to make a coherent and convincing case that Britain should not jump off the cliff into economic oblivion, as Theresa May is proposing.

Here’s an alternative point of view. It’s not an opinion I share; I think that on this issue Blair is right and that Brexit will be an absolute disaster (although not as much as a catastrophe for the UK as his war was for Iraq). Nevertheless this is the narrative that will dominate the debate should Blair continue to play a prominent role in the anti-Brexit campaign:

In 2003 we, the British people, made our will absolutely clear. We marched in our millions against Blair’s proposal that we participate in an illegal war in Iraq. We made abundantly clear that we saw through the dodgy dossier and the machinations of the government spin doctors. We rose up throughout the country to say very clearly: no. We don’t believe you and we don’t want your war.

In 2016 we, the British people, took part in a referendum over our continued membership of the European Union. The outcome was tight, but clear: the will of the British people is that Britain must leave the EU. 

In both cases an out-of-touch and arrogant political elite with no respect for democracy has sought to deny the will of the British people. The first time they were successful. As a consequence, the Middle East was plunged into an abyss of violence which led directly to the refugee crisis and the rise of Isis. We sacrificed the lives of thousands of our own soldiers. We saw bombs on the London tube and bullets on the streets of Paris and Brussels. All because our leaders refused to listen to our voice.

Now Tony Blair, whose lies led us to this point, tells us we should rise up. Against whom? Against ourselves. Against our own will, as expressed peacefully at the ballot box. We are told warned of disaster by a man who we know for certain we cannot, must not trust ever again.

This is a sovereign and democratic country. We have to respect the will of the people, and that means we should have nothing but contempt for leaders who flout it and do not lead the country but instead seek continually to mislead it.

As I say, I don’t share this perspective. Should Blair continue to be associated with the pro-EU forces, however, it will be the line pushed by Nigel Farage, who has spoken out several times against Blair’s war, and the central point hammered home by the Tory Party and their newspapers. After all, we have a wilfully amnesiac media which will happily let those members of the current Government who supported the war off the hook. The current impasse with regard to Brexit, in which no one who understands it is seriously in favour – and I would put Theresa May in that category, notwithstanding her inopportune political ambitions – is thus partly a consequence of the war in Iraq. Many who voted to leave will have had that historic insult to democracy foremost in their minds.

The above argument must also be a factor in Jeremy Corbyn’s conservative strategy with regard to Brexit. He knows that Labour is connected in the public mind with a lack of concern for the national mood, and therefore has made no attempt to shift it. His lack of leadership acumen has been made very apparent. He could, last June, have rejected the terms and conduct of the referendum in the first place and attempted to use his principled leadership – recalling explicitly his opposition to the war  – to lead the country in a different direction. It’s also shameful that he’s not open to the kinds of suggestions made by Caroline Lucas (that progressive forces should push for a radically different kind of Brexit that prioritises our values). It would be very ironic if one consequence of Corbyn’s failure to provide leadership with regard to Brexit would be his replacement by someone who represents everything that he (supposedly) opposes. And if we know one thing about Blair and the Blairites, it’s that they will seize any opportunity to regain power over The Labour Party.

Instead of letting Blair forward his own agenda, then, those opposed to Britain leaving the EU would be much better advised to look to figures like Caroline Lucas and Nicola Sturgeon to lead the way. Tony Blair must not play any significant role in the campaign. Those of us who both oppose Brexit and marched against the Iraq War cannot allow the Tories and Ukip to get away with using one grievous and obnoxious insult to democracy as a reason for supporting another.