Let’s be honest: this godawful situation is not *entirely* Theresa May’s fault

theresa-may

This morning I wrote a piece blaming Theresa May herself for the current deadlock. Hence I didn’t expect much of her evening statement. Like anyone else I half-hoped she’d blow her brains out on camera; there was also a tiny part of me (I won’t say which) that entertained the hope she’d just say fuck you and fuck this whole fucked-up process, I’m revoking this shit as soon as I get back in there (points at door).

Nevertheless, I have to admit that something in her manner and tone convinced and…charmed me. OK that’s obviously not true, but I think I now understand her logic in a way that wasn’t apparent to me before. To explain what I mean (whatever do you mean??) I present here some uncontroversial facts about Brexit. Although Theresa May herself may be in denial about some of them, they may once assembled reveal something about how she makes sense of what she’s trying to do:

1) Whatever May wants to believe, MPs can’t vote for or against the deal again, it’s against parliamentary rules. There are ways around this, but they take more than a week.
2) Emmanuel Macron has already declared that his government will oppose an extension. (UPDATE: These first two facts are no longer facts.)
3) The only people who support No Deal are Nigel Farage (a lifelong fascist whose brand-new party just turned out, and who woulda guessed it, to have yet another fanatical racist for a leader (wherever does ‘e find ’em??)); some Tory megalomaniacs who really don’t need to be named; the noted political philosopher Donald Trump Jr (and we all owe a vote of thanks to the Daily Telegraph newspaper for granting us an insight into his, er, insights); thirty bedraggled ex-BNP morons last seen dawdling half-heartedly towards Berwick; and, last but not least, a dwindling number of football hooligans (the season is after all starting to come to a climax, which is oddly enough the same reason Nigel Farage had to cut short Monday’s photo session and go and sit huddled up on that bus). It would be nice to add the SWP et al to this as a mere joke, but – and they would be delighted to see this acknowledged – their typically opportunistic misreading of the situation is actually (for the very first time in the history of the 38th International!) having an impact on historical events (by helping with the realisation of the consolidation of a global far-right project of the sort that Leon Trotsky might probably on reflection have opposed, but never mind that for the time being).
4) The Kyle/Wilson Amendment would resolve the deadlock, but I refer you to point 1) and point 5).
5) Jeremy Corbyn is as thick and as obstinate as week-old dog shit during a drought. What the fuck was walking out of that meeting all about?! Fucking prick.
6) Anyone looking in from the outside will quite reasonably judge May to be dishonest, stupid, stubborn and arrogant. However, without straying too far into Devil’s Advocate territory, it is useful to consider how she sees herself. For example, it’s unlikely that someone so mendacious would be aware of her duplicity. Similarly, with regard to her stupidity – the Times columnist and former Tory MP Matthew Parris gave a personal account this week of just how dim she really is – it’s worth paying attention to what Messrs Dunning and Kruger have to say about that. Like many stupid people, her ignorance begins with not knowing how stupid she is. As for her stubbornness and arrogance, she almost certainly takes any comments about her inability to (for example) revise her ‘red lines’ as a tribute to her tenacity and steadfastness in the face of others’ weakness and prevarication.
7) May’s deal is the only existing version of Brexit. As she established as soon as she took power in 2016, her Brexit is the only one that matters. That’s how she thinks, and in a way – and it’s important to bear in mind here that she is a) basically psychotic in her devotion to the fortunes of the Conservative Party (an absolutely disgusting institution which only exists to preserve and promote inequality) and b) a ideological authoritarian and racist piece of shit – she’s not wrong. After all, her party allies, Members of Parliament, and the ‘ordinary people’ Rupert Murdoch keeps introducing to her to via Sky News all keep insisting that they really, really want something called ‘Brexit’. She’s now negotiated Brexit and presented it to them, but it turns out they don’t want it. And yet still the same people keep telling her they really, really, really want this thing called ‘Brexit’… Remember that she, unlike any normal person, actually believes that Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Raab et al genuinely have the best interests of the Party (that is to say, the country) at heart; thus is she trapped in a loop, condemned to repeat the whole process until Doomsday. Or next Friday, whichever comes sooner. In the meantime, it’s unfortunate, to say the very least, that she’s far too stupid and arrogant to see that blaming and insulting MPs is not the most effective means of getting them to vote for her deal.
8) Of course May’s dishonesty, stupidity, arrogance and stubbornness have contributed an enormous amount to getting us into this dire mess. But. There’s an emerging narrative that puts all the blame on her and makes out that her Withdrawal Agreement represents a distorted and deficient shadow of the pure, perfect, platonic ‘Brexit’. Those of us who oppose both her proposed deal and any other form of ‘Brexit’ need to resist this tendency, one which will become more pronounced over the next months as the broader consequences of the vote start to be felt in everyone’s daily life. In the end, it’s not Theresa May’s deal that’s the problem, it’s the entire project of leaving the EU that’s at fault. Her deal is Brexit, or to put it in even pithier terms: Another Brexit is not possible. Given that her own deal is universally hated and has no means of being ratified, and given that members of her cabinet are already wanking themselves into a frenzy at the prospect of all those body bags filling up with corpses of the poor, there is only one possible solution: for Parliament to step up and revoke Article 50 immediately.

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.

“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.”

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.

Corbyn, Venezuela and a “no deal” Brexit

The last few weeks have seen an (inevitable) intensification in the number of articles critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s ongoing support for the government in Venezuela. Most are based on comments from Conservative ministers and MPs who accuse him of wanting to implement in the UK a similar political and economic model to Chávez and Maduro, one which has led to massive food shortages and a lack of availability of other basic goods, a currency collapse, out-of-control inflation, an exodus of investment, troops on the streets, a suspension of democracy, mass emigration, and a pariah status on the international stage, with the country economically and politically dependent on allies that do not share its much-vaunted commitment to democracy and human rights.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Government is pushing ahead with preparations for a “no deal” Brexit. It has been widely and repeatedly predicted that in such a scenario Britain will face an indefinite period of massive food shortages, a lack of availability of other basic goods, a currency collapse, out-of-control inflation, an exodus of investment, troops on the streets, a suspension of democracy, mass emigration, and a pariah status on the international stage, with the country economically and politically dependent on allies that do not share its much-vaunted commitment to democracy and human rights.

Asked to comment on reports that business leaders are deeply concerned for the future of British capitalism, Boris “Bolívar” Johnson, one of those most enthusiastically advocating a “no deal” scenario and himself an aspiring líder máximo, said simply: “Fuck business!”.

A two-year-old child explains why we can’t “just leave”

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This week we begin a new series in which guest bloggers, representing a range of voices less commonly heard in the mainstream media, give their opinions on the issues of the day. Today Maya, aged two, considers a “no deal” Brexit.

As a toddler, I understand the impulse to, as many British people have put it, just leave the EU without arrangements in place that might serve to ensure the country’s survival. However, I’d like to offer an analogy which will explain why I think it may not be the best available option. Leaving, it turns out, is often a mite more complex than one may at first assume.

Across the road from our flat in London there’s a park. An amazing park. With a bendy slide, literal swings and actual roundabouts, parents speaking what sounds like quite a variety of grown-up languages, fellow toddlers  babbling away incoherently as we are wont to do, the odd individual adult gulping down a delicious-looking beverage apparently called K Cider, and what seems to be an endless abundance of flowers and grass and pigeons and trees and mud and bins and leaves and twigs and stones to put in those bins. There are also DOGS! Doggies!! Woof-woofs!!! And a dinosaur! (I am not making this up. There is a dinosaur!) Sometimes I look out of the window and the sight of the outside world triggers thoughts of the park’s bountiful and tantalising treasures. Seized by the impulse to be OUTSIDE, I rush to the door, but unfortunately, I’m too tiny to reach the door handle*. This turns out to be just the first of very many complications.

Leaving the house to go to the park is no, as it were, walk in the park. One issue is that I am, how can I put this, linguistically challenged. I have the verbal sophistication of, well, a two-year-old. Further complicating matters is that (shock! horror!) one of my parents (I think it’s the female one) comes from another language background, so I’m often struggling when it comes to expressing my wants and needs. For example, if I decide on a  bit of a whim that I don’t actually want to wear THAT hat, not the one with the dinosaur on it that sometimes makes my head feel a bit hot, but another one that I vaguely remember that might on proper reflection belong to another child at nursery, or maybe one that I definitely possess but which, following my own peculiar proclivities, I have chosen to put in the washing machine or the oven, I can’t put my wishes into words and sentences. Or I can, but sometimes my thoughts and feelings come out all convoluted and lacking in coherence**. Babbling, as I mentioned earlier. Added to this is the fact that I’m not yet totally expert at regulating my emotional state, which leads to impatience and frustration on my part and, as a consequence, on that of my parents. In such a state I’m prone to repeating at increasing pitch and volume the word ‘pak! PAAAAAAAAAAAK!!!!’ to little avail. For there are always parental precautions that have to be taken before we leave. This being the “winter” period***, it’s not just a matter of needing to wear a coat, hat, appropriate footwear (i.e. not that of my parents), and a scarf (I HATE scarfs); there are also mittens to be located, suitable parental garments to be selected and donned (with, I have to say, a measure of assistance from yrs truly), plus often a debate as to whether not I get to bring my scooter, because my passion for putting leaves and twigs and stones in the bin means I haven’t always got a hand free to carry it with, which means that someone else (but who??) needs to do so on my behalf.

So something that might seem straightforward turns out not just to be complex but actually complicated. It’s never just a case of opening the door and merrily toddling my way to the lift. The whole process takes time, patience and energy and demands careful preparation and supervision. It is often intensely frustrating and sometimes, for example if one of the parental people happens to notice that it’s actually raining outside, it may not actually result in success.

Now, I’m aware this might be seen as a poor analogy. Getting a child ready for a trip to the park is not nearly as involved a procedure as preparing a country to leave an economic and political union after several decades. But that’s kinda my point. In evaluating the need to make careful preparations, it’s essential to give proper consideration to the consequences of not doing so, in all their potential horror. Allowing a very young child to charge out of the house straight into driving winter rains and traffic coming from all directions, with no coat or shoes, no means of getting back home, lost and helpless in a world suddenly become infinitely more terrifying and lonely, would be something only a true psychopath would do. Especially if they knew there to be child snatchers in the vicinity.

Here, then, we might be able to divine a connection with the dilemma currently faced by the UK. After all, the grown-up world is immensely complex. It operates in ways that would not only befuddle your average nursery-age infant, but would also place incalculable demands on huge teams of experts working to tight schedules over a period of very many years. Just as I struggle to make sense of the complex procedures involved in nipping out to the local playground for 20 minutes or so, the average beflagged twitternaut is underequipped to understand the delicate ins and outs of the EU withdrawal process, and may not have thought through the impact that leaving the EU in any form will have on the future provision of things like well-equipped and safe parks for children to play in, basic regulations to make sure external doors are child-safe, and essential foodstuffs like bananas, tomatoes and cans of K Cider for kids to enjoy in those parks when they get a little bit older.

As I say, I can certainly relate to the impulse to kick and scream and (let’s be frank) poo oneself in the messiest of ways in order to realise one’s immediate life goals. But I’m also acutely aware that my own vision of events is limited to a considerable extent by my puerile desire for immediate gratification without regard for the wider consequences and my infantile apprehension of the scale and complexity of any given set of circumstances. Put simply, I get tantrums. But even as a two-year-old child, I can see pretty clearly that leaving the EU without a deal would not be in the interest of me, my generation or indeed anyone but those whose mentality and worldview are considerably more selfish and less well-informed than your average toddler’s.

Right, that’s the word count met, I’m off to watch me some Teletubbies.

*I am now able to reach the alarm button in the lift, though. Yay!
**I suspect I may have inherited this characteristic from my male parent.
***By the way, those who claim that the climate is getting warmer might like to consider that just a few short months ago we were on something called a beach and it was warm. Now most days we don’t even walk to nursery. You do the math.

‘Tonight thank God it’s them’: Brexit, food, resentment and inequality

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I once taught ‘Business English’ to the owner of a hedge fund in Mayfair*. It turned out he’d started his company in the year 2008. That’s…auspicious, I remarked. Once I’d explained the word and helped him do a cost benefit analysis on whether it was worth committing to memory, he dismissed my suggestion that a financial company might have suffered the effects of a massive global financial crisis with the words “We’re above all that”.

Reflecting over the course of the last Midwinter Shopping And Stuffing Your Face Festival in its present form, I’ve been struck by the thought that Brexit represents something of the same order in relation to food. My mother grew up with rationing, and possibly as a result tends to overprovide at family gatherings. She’s lucky to be able to (just) afford to do so; anyone who’s been near the Department of Social Security of late knows that rationing exists again in the form of government-mandated food banks. The calculated humiliation involved may well have helped cause Brexit**, although anyone tempted by the ultraleftist notion that widespread suffering after March 29th will inevitably lead to revolution should be warned: people who’ve had the shit kicked out of them are less likely to fight back, in much the same way as no dead person has ever won a major boxing title. (Muhammed Ali doesn’t count, as although he did win some of his titles under a different name, he wasn’t dead when he did so.)

It was partly a seasonal internet kerfuffle in response to this tweet by an ardent Corbyn supporter that set me thinking about food, resentment, inequality and Brexit. Corbyn probably won’t be among the worst affected by food shortages, as he famously has an allotment. In, I will argue, much the same way, ‘people’ (or at least cartoon characters) like Rees-Mogg have enormous estates which could easily and profitability be farmed by the idle poor, so they’re more likely to see mass starvation as an opportunity rather than a threat.

As the fog clears around Brexit and reveals itself to have been steam on a ever-freshly replenished mound of shit, certain themes become clear. They are gathered and explored in Fintan O’Toole’s excellent book ‘Heroic Failures: Brexit and the politics of pain’, which details how this particular stew of self-aggrandisement, self-pity and resentment of others was concocted, and how it’s led to everyone on HMS Shit Britain looking, if not queasy, then certainly depressed.

Food snobbery is one of those themes. Only an outside observer could have noticed our ongoing pathologies in our relationship with food and our attitudes towards others’ eating habits. O’Toole recalls Boris Johnson’s championing of cheap, popular food in the form of Prawn Cocktail crisps and his sneering at metropolitan liberals’ taste for Italian peasant cuisine while he himself continued to enjoy the very best that Tuscany has to offer. Class resentment and the manifold hypocrisies it entails found expression in the fetid burp that was the Brexit vote. Just as Johnson would not dream of even sniffing at a Turkey Twizzler, Rees-Mogg has no more set foot in a Tesco Metro than his ancestors sacrificed themselves for glory little more than a century ago. Brexit embodies not so much the spirit of the Blitz as the loud, clear echoes of the sacrifice of the Somme. An upper-class version of British history may exhort us to sacrifice ourselves pro patria, but it’s the martyrdom of others further down the scale which tends to result.

Just as a century ago ruling class generals boasted of greater glory and honour while casually tossing away millions of lesser lives, failed negotiator David Davies appeared on Question Time in December 2018 talking of a so-called “no-deal” Brexit as the country’s “Destiny”; much as crowds lined the streets in 1914 to cheer the soldiers off to war, Davies’ vainglorious appeal was greeted with wild applause. I also heard loud, clear echoes of Mussolini. The line between the hard right and the far-right is an increasingly thin one.

At our family Christmas, conversations (thankfully) steered clear of Brexit, revolving instead around food: various tropes which involve bitching about what our neighbours in the supermarket queue are and aren’t consuming. In his book ‘The Chinese’ Jasper Becker identifies Chinese peasants’ dreams of abundant food as the main ingredient in Chinese history. The murky gravy that is ‘British identity’ always seems to contain several lumps of resentment of and scorn for others’ eating habits, and even the fact that they get to eat at all. There was a telling moment a while back when Michael Gove started raging that China had refused to take any more of our plastic and burn it for us. For the leading Brexit conspirators such as him, the fact that those Chinese peasants nowadays gorge on cheap chicken and pork and can no longer be forced to consume British opium seems to fuel their righteous fury.

This mentality, that it is our god-given right to make others suffer for our own benefit, can be traced back at least easily as far as the Irish and Bengal famines. Ironically it was a pair of c*lts (Bob Geldof and Midge Ure) who created the modern hymn to this aspect of Empire. That high priest of celebrity sanctimoniousness Bono didn’t write the song, but he did caterwaul the most obnoxious line, sounding while doing so like he was off his face on piety. Viewed in emotional sobriety, the lyrics embody a certain strain of Catholicism particularly prevalent in the Ireland of the 1950s-60s: nuns collecting for little black babies, for the godless barely deserving of the life that we may, in our infinite charity and mercy, deign to grant them with.

We might look kindly on the original audience for the song given its very 1980s commodification of pity, its witless neo-Victorian platitudes and staggeringly offensive generalisations in an era characterised by the ‘late failure of radical hopes’. But it struck me that its continued popularity (even, I’d venture, increasing prominence) speaks of resentment, of celebrating the suffering of others. Bono’s line ‘Tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you’ put me immediately in mind of O’Toole discussion of the concept of ‘sadopopulism’: the willingness to inflict pain on oneself on the understanding that by doing so you are making your enemy suffer more. You might think of it as cutting off your own nose to spite your neighbour’s face. In another echo of Empire and of slavery, it recalls Ta-Nehesi Coates’ explanation of the racism of poor whites in the American South: as long as they had someone else to look down upon, they felt secure. Upon seeing a black man in the White House they revolted against their reduced status, and Trump was the result. Similar dynamics operated in the UK with regard to the loss of Empire, and the result was not just (contrary to what Paul Gilroy argued) mere melancholy, but the bigoted fury of Geoffrey Bloom, the woman on the Croydon tram and many (but not all) of those who voted to leave the EU.

Thus does Brexit represent a case of (chlorinated) chickens coming home to roost. This is exacerbated in the case of those who know they won’t suffer, in the proud British tradition of offering up others’ lives for sacrifice. One TV survivalist stated openly on Twitter what Farage et al must surely be saying off-camera: that maybe a period of intense poverty and suffering will teach ‘us’ a valuable lesson. (This might give us pause to think, post-Bros documentary, about the relationship between celebrity and fascism, but for the fact that, as Labour’s purported Brexit strategy somehow fails to acknowledge, we don’t have much time.***)

At least Thatcherite self-interest as an ideology had a logic to it, whether that involved the famous boats of grain being dumped in the sea to ensure that failed Ethiopian consumers didn’t buck the market, or young people eventually smashing shop windows to simply take that which they had long been tormented by their (individual, always individual) failure to obtain legitimately. But in essence Johnson and Rees-Mogg are not neoliberals. They don’t actually believe all that Raabian horseshit about buccaneer entrepreneurship. One might call them neocons, in that their primary dedication is to preservation of their own wealth and power. I find it more useful to think of them as elitists. One wonders what Thatcher (pbuh) would have made of Johnson’s ‘Fuck business!’ comment. Capitalism is after all only one means of preserving elite power. Farage’s equally underreported line about dressing up in khaki points to an as yet unquenched desire for hard rather than soft power. Tragically, Labour (and Owen Jones) chose not to see that Tommy Robinson failed the shock troop audition. “3,000 racist internet trolls” is the eloquent answer to the question of how well prepared the far-right is to maintain order.

*           *           *           *           *

As things stand now, on the 6th January, there appears to be an overlap between Rees-Mogg and the Labour leadership’s desire to make Brexit happen whatever the cost. In the current climate it’s not impossible to imagine Corbyn being photographed sneaking out of Rees-Mogg’s Mayfair apartment late at night. I made the then-barmy prediction that Rees-Mogg would somehow end up Tory leader, but I didn’t  foresee that their interests would align. (If only I was better at thinking dialectically…). It would be nice to be able to dismiss out of hand Nick Cohen’s very-Nick Cohen-esque argument for Corbyn as an ultraleftist looking to exploit social breakdown to storm the Winter Palace, but that word ‘climate’ reminds me that one of his closest supporters is someone who may well have sat round the same family table for the Christmas nutroast: his distinctly undigestible brother. Not only does Piers have a day job providing hysterical weather predictions to the Daily Express, he also takes money from climate-lying organisations to turn up to events related to climate change to barrack those trying to save the human race. He’s very much in favour of a no-deal Brexit, and he also thinks Jeremy would make an excellent PM. Reflecting on this makes me fear that if elected Jeremy’s first act would be to appoint David Icke as Minister for Lizard Eradication.

I don’t know whether Corbyn has studied in anything like sufficient detail the reports of what will happen in the event of a no deal scenario*****. (For the record he says he finds the notion “absolutely unacceptable”, but then he hasn’t come with a meaningful alternative beyond popping back to Brussels and renegotiating the whole thing in the space of two or so weeks. I presume this means he doesn’t mind offending the intelligence of everyone including those Labour voters who voted to leave.) He is a romantic rather than intellectual, one who gives the impression that after reading ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ in 6th form he thought, right well that’s all I’ll ever need to know about the world. When I was living in Rome I never got round to visiting the Keats and Shelley house, but I will have time to do so if we end up moving back there. Even Italy’s madcap government of criminals and clowns isn’t evil and insane enough to starve its own people out of pure ideological zealotry.

Anyone who doesn’t understand the stakes for the UK economy would be well-advised to reflect on how many Just Eat signs they see on failing fast food establishments interspersed with boarded-up shops on their next promenade down the nearest rapidly-running-down high street. Or consider the amount of people employed in food distribution and services compared to the number employed in agriculture. No external food supply means no economy. Britain’s is a consumer society based, as the caption on a Modern Toss cartoon once eloquently put it, on everyone eating like a fucking pig all the time. What is in prospect makes Trump’s years-long government shutdown seem measured and sensible. And it makes those who actually argue for a so-called “no deal” (final) solution look distinctly like Pol Pot.

As with climate breakdown, the only thing that matches the scale of the crisis in store is the extent to which almost everyone one meets has absolutely no intention of doing a single thing to prevent it. Like Chinese peasants after Jiang Zemin, we now have more than enough winter provisions of conspiracy theories, consoling fairy tales, fireside folk narratives to stave off the (actually, for some reason, not all that) cold and keep us over-entertained. If there was an in-out referendum on WiFi or food, I’m not all that sure we’d make the right choice. Do you want a stable climate or an iPhone? Would you prefer Netflix or death*****? At least if we can get online we can gorge on resentment, even if we have nothing left to eat.

The latest news about Brexit is that we ‘may’ be short of such rare delicacies as bananas and tomatoes but that’s okay because mid-spring is when so much excellent and bountiful English produce comes into season (instant fact-check: it isn’t). 40% of what we eat comes directly from the EU: everything else we import comes via it. The “no deal” plan is to stop trading in food. It is a no food scenario. This is shock doctrine as anorexia. Maybe Corbyn, who has yet to utter in public the only word that currently has meaning (revoke!) is under the impression that, like him, everyone in the country has access to an allotment. Perhaps his brother convinced him over a vegan mince pie that it’s going to be a particularly warm early spring for no discernible reason and that prize turnips and supermarrows will abound in Brexit Britain, before the whole family joined hands for a rousing rendition of ‘Do they know it’s Brexit?’.

Whatever happens, here’s a prediction: there won’t be any charity songs in the UK next Christmas time. The only gift we’ll get next year is…fuck knows. Some bananas and tomatoes, hopefully. “Where nothing ever grows…”. My mum grew up without bananas, but my baby daughter loves them. As for tomatoes, I’ve kept a few extra tins to hand so I can throw them very hard at anyone who still supports fucking Lexit.

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* That’s right: I’ve wasted my life and we are already in hell.
** It’s unlikely that Daniel Blake would have voted to stay in the EU.
*** Seeing as this piece partly addresses the psychological phenomenon of displacement activity, it behoves me to mention that I’ve actually got two actual essays to write.
**** I’ve been enjoying the series ‘Sunderland til I die’, I think partly because there is viele Schadenfreude in seeing a city which voted to leave the EU then get ejected from the Premier League and then the Championship in successive seasons.
***** I’d also be quite curious to know whether or not Jeremy Corbyn watches, as well as appearing on, Russia Today. I can imagine him enjoying Slavoj Zizek’s new chat show, which I’m not going anywhere near as my Youtube suggestions still haven’t recovered from the time I watched eight or nine seconds of David Icke-enthusiast and aspiring Beppe Grillo Russell Brand’s interview with J*rdan P*t*rson. Russell, if you’re reading this, read a fucking book for a change; and while I’m at it, if you happen to work for Youtube, no I’m not interested in even more racist videos, thank you very much.

Ps Just in case anyone thinks I’ve overegged how fucked up this country has become, here is a photo taken in Manchester today of people protesting against…Jesus it’s too depressing to even finish this sentence

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Those ‘pockets’ of left-wing anti-semitism are being filled by the far-right

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Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation for modesty might not survive revelations about his habit of joining pro-Jeremy Corbyn groups on Facebook. The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman calls such groups ‘anti-semitic’, which, although it is a blatant misrepresentation, does contain a possibly unwitting smidgen of truth.

I’ve long been a member of numerous pro-Corbyn groups and I have seen anti-semitic material posted there. The better-organised ones remove it once warned, but in some such groups memes and videos blaming cabals of prominent Jewish people for the world’s problems are rife and widely approved of. Such material mostly derives from the noxious swamp of Sputnik, Russia Today, and fake news websites which push what to a cursory scroller may look like nothing more than an anti-neoliberal elite agenda, but a closer inspection quickly identifies the same old tropes: Soros, the Rothschilds, the shady hook-nosed NWO, etc. The memes in question aren’t coming from the Left, in the sense that they didn’t originate there, but they do often meet with a depressingly positive reaction.

Nonetheless, there’s something both sly and unfair about (for example) Suzanne Moore’s comment that Corbyn himself is ‘not an anti-semite, but…‘. Similarly, Hadley Freeman’s List of evidence of Corbyn’s anti-semitist connections is a pretty empty one unless you consider all attempts to talk to groups representing Palestinians as beyond the Green Line. At least Freeman doesn’t mention Israel, unlike the spokesman for the British Board of Deputies the guy on Radio 4 two days ago, who just couldn’t stop himself. There are, to borrow a phrase, pockets within those groups which officially represent the Jewish community (often, as it were, the top pockets) which instinctively paint all criticism of Israel as anti-semitic. Their ongoing prominence in this debate muddies the waters just as much as those who are ready to shout down all talk of left-wing anti-semitism as a media plot.

I don’t doubt that many of the people on the protests outside Parliament were sincere in their concerns. The Brick Lane mural was absurdly anti-semitic, and Corbyn’s approval of it can’t be dismissed. (Unless, that is, we adopt a puerile definition of free speech, of which more later.) In downplaying the incident Aaron Bastani ignores the fact that if a prominent Tory or Ukip politician had ‘liked’ the same image, we would all be screaming from the rooftops, as we would if a Conservative candidate had shared the sort of Holocaust denial material posted by Alan Bull. Anyone who doesn’t recognise such blatant anti-semitism really shouldn’t be spouting off about the subject. As others have pointed out, there is something about Corbyn’s anti-elite populism which allows such tropes to fester, and the Left has a duty to address this.

The contemporary far-right is keen to exploit ambiguities and confusion among (nominally) progressive radicals in order to draw them towards its own ideas. As this article details, it sees satire as a tool for generating controversies and bringing non- and even anti-fascists into its orbit. As it happens, it wasn’t a deliberate ploy that brought me into its online sphere of influence, but it was a comedian who transported me there. On his (very) hit-and-miss podcast, Russell Brand recently interviewed the new daddy-waddy figure of the far-right, Jordan Peterson. I listened to the first two minutes, until it rapidly became clear that Brand’s deeply irritating habit of doing no research whatsoever meant that he was not going to be able to challenge or even to see through Peterson’s specious pseudo-intellectual rhetoric. Those two minutes were a rich seam for the far-right, because ever since then well over 50% of the videos Youtube has suggested to me feature Peterson ‘crushing’ his liberal debating opponents from Noam Chomsky to (I seem to recall) Mahatma Ghandi. If I hadn’t read certain articles alerting me to Peterson’s pernicious influence and detailing his intellectual fraudulence, I might be inclined to listen.

A related episode involved two more British comedians: Ricky Gervais and David Baddiel. Both tweeted in favour of the ‘free speech’ of a man called Mark Meechan (aka ‘Count Dankula’), seemingly unaware he is not a mere ‘comedian’, but a far-right activist. They were duped, pulled through a loophole created by widespread confusion about the difference between the right to privately express hateful ideas and using/abusing privately-owned public platforms to do so. A further example of ‘anti-establishment’ satire being used to promote deeply reactionary ideas is the character Jonathan Pie, whose material is co-written by a member of the far-right cult Spiked. Spiked’s ‘contrarian’ dogma involves total freedom for the far-right and active censure for anyone who opposes it.

If the Left is finding that some of its pockets contain noxious ideas, there’s no mystery as to who is placing them there, and how. Emptying those pockets out involves total intolerance of nazis and anti-semites and their ideas, and extreme vigilance for anyone seeking to use the Left’s own values to undermine it. Anyone posting in notionally left-wing forum about Soros and the Rothschilds, etc is either very naive or outright evil, and those who use a dishonest and self-serving notion of ‘free speech’ as a tool to smuggle in far-right ideas should be immediately exposed and, to borrow a phrase from the far-right, sent back to where they came from.

I’ve seen it for myself: Corbyn’s thugs are getting even younger, and becoming much more dangerous

Difficult as it is to write, I’ve come to believe Ben Goldsmith. He recently gave a shocking account, much derided on social media, of how a West London social gathering he was attending was rudely gatecrashed by a gang of Corbynista hoodlums, fresh from commemorating the Grenfell tragedy in their inimitably rowdy fashion.  Like most, I doubted from the lack of evidence that events actually took place in accordance with his retelling of them, but now I’ve seen up close how the Momentum faction operates and just how young some of its firebrand activists are, I feel inclined to believe that he may have been telling the truth.

Here’s what I experienced. I’d ask that you reserve judgment of me and my story until you’ve read what I have to say and seen the photographic evidence for yourself. I’m not by any means what anyone would regard as a Tory and I wouldn’t fit comfortably into any meaningful definition of a ‘centrist’. I’m a Labour Party member, I voted for Corbyn in 2015 and I’ve read the Guardian religiously all my life.(Possibly too religiously, if my shrine to Aditya Chakrabortty is anything to go by.)

As it happens, this whole furore started because of newspapers. I’ve recently been trying to vary my media diet (with mixed results), and so when I happened upon a copy of The Times in a local (Islington) café, I started to peruse the news section. Now, I’d be put out if anyone took me for a regular reader, but I was still entirely unprepared for the (in my opinion) utterly unwarranted response of a very young person who was sitting nearby. She or he (it’s getting hard to tell the difference nowadays!) wasn’t wearing any visible insignia of allegiance to Corbyn’s sect of ruffians, but from her age and rebellious demeanour it was clear that she had been seized by some sort of radical fervour.

You may feel disinclined to doubt my words. We do after all live in an age of fake news and highly sophisticated ideological manipulation. I can only urge you to believe the evidence of your own eyes; the following photos constitute an absolutely accurate and unadulterated record of exactly what happened. 

Happy new year, fuck the Tories.

Corbyn has spent his career challenging ‘the will of the people’. What changed?

Here is a brief list of policies of Britain’s democratically elected government that the backbench MP Jeremy Corbyn opposed on the basis of his principles:

  • The Falklands War
  • The invasion of Iraq
  • The Poll Tax
  • Trident
  • Post-2008 austerity

Additionally, throughout his backbench career Corbyn espoused and actively supported laudable causes in which both the general public and his party leadership showed little interest, including climate change, Palestine, an equitable peace settlement in Northern Ireland, Latin American solidarity, and LGBT rights. All of the above have been minority concerns in mainstream British politics for most of the last thirty or so years.

So Corbyn’s own career as a politician is an embodiment of the principle that the people can be wrong, that in any case its will can be misrepresented, and that it is the role of politicians to shift the voting public round to their point of view. Some people get involved in politics in order to pursue their self-interest; many on the right espouse a politics of self-interest in order to justify their own greed. We had been led to believe that Jeremy Corbyn believes in politics as a means of changing the world for the better for ordinary people, particularly for those whose interests are usually marginalised.

That Brexit was a right-wing scam carried out in order to remake the country in line with the interests of Robert Mercer, Rupert Murdoch and Aaron Banks and in keeping with the ideological zealotry of Daniel Hannan, Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage is now undeniable. It was never a case of exit, stage left. The mantra that the Brexit vote is an inviolable embodiment of the ‘will of the people’ is thus cynical and unprincipled. Labour has a moral and political duty to convince its supporters who voted leave that they were duped, and to persuade them that the EU, far from being the cause of their woes, was merely used as a scapegoat by self-interested businessmen and ideologically-motivated politicians. In the face of decidedly unpropitious international circumstances, Corbyn supported the people of Nicaragua against deeply reactionary imperialist right-wing forces in the 1980s – he needs to use his very real political influence to oppose those forces in the UK in 2018.