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 one 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. We plunged the region into an abyss of violence which led directly to 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 Brexit would be much better advised to look to figures like Caroline Lucas and Nicola Sturgeon to lead the way. Tony Blair must not be allowed to play any significant role in the campaign.

Corbyn has put Labour on the same side of history as Farage, Le Pen and Trump

screen-shot-2016-06-24-at-08-08-18-440x286I’ve always had a huge amount of affection for Jeremy Corbyn. I’ve heard him speak eloquently and forcefully on countless occasions in support of excellent but underpublicised causes. I supported him in the first Labour leader ballot and I urged everyone I knew to do the same. Like most people who care about such things I was furious that the other candidates hadn’t even had the integrity to oppose the Government’s Welfare Bill. When he says that Theresa May is on the wrong side of history in inviting Trump for a state visit, I’m in full agreement with him (although that particular phrase has been overused beyond repair).

However, I didn’t vote for him last November in the second ballot because there were signs that he and his team didn’t have the leadership and communication skills to face the challenge. They seemed unaware of how to research, design, test and transmit compelling slogans and images in order to influence political debate. (Here is an excellent example of what they could have done.) What’s more, there was abundant evidence from former shadow cabinet members who were by no stretch of the imagination Blairites of a lack of basic coordination, so that policies which did emerge were often contradicted or cancelled out by unplanned and haphazard leadership statements.

However, the main reason I didn’t vote for Corbyn against Smith wasn’t his incompetence or the weakness of the opposing candidate. It was his betrayal over Brexit. Although by no means everyone who voted for the UK to leave the EU was a supporter of the far-right, the EU referendum was a nationalist trap which the then PM Cameron, motivated by a mixture of short-term desperation and monumental complacency, fell right into. 

Corbyn’s efforts during the referendum campaign were lacklustre, even after one of his own MPs was shot dead by an activist of a terrorist group closely connected to Ukip. His immediate call for implementation of Article 50 was an indication of his lack of political judgment and a betrayal of those who elected him leader. That he should, in this week’s parliamentary vote, exploit the most important issue in recent British history in the attempt to establish himself as a firm leader shows that he and his team have no understanding of what’s at stake and seem to have taken seriously Tory press propaganda that the UK has a future outside the EU. All expert advice before and after the referendum makes it absolutely clear that it doesn’t.

By obliging Labour MPs to vote in favour of whatever Tory plans for Brexit turn out to be, we can only hope that Corbyn has placed himself on the losing side of history. Where he could and should have mobilised Labour’s extensive campaigning machinery and put his very strong core of dedicated supporters to work arguing that the whole Brexit project is a reactionary folly and that the referendum was a farce, he’s divested himself of moral authority and his leadership has ultimately come to serve the socially regressive, racist and climate-lying agenda of the international far-right. The future of parliamentary opposition now lies in a progressive coalition led by people like Caroline Lucas, Mhairi Black, Nicola Sturgeon and, why not (since Nick Clegg’s career is hopefully still dead and buried) Tim Farron. Anti-Brexit Labour MPs, i.e. those who had the integrity to vote against the Government and against their party leadership this week clearly have a role to play. They represented the majority of Labour voters. But as of now the leadership of the Labour Party is, for all Corbyn’s personal decency, at best irrelevant and at worst an obstruction in the way of building something better.

Oaxaca: Tourism, Tlayudas and Terrorist Teachers

naI don’t know how many German-speaking branches of Neurotics Anonymous there are outside the Bundesrepublik. There’s probably a couple in Austria, and possibly a Geriaticneurotikenanonymous in Paraguay, but that’s beside the Punkt. We were surprised to find one in Oaxaca, Mexico. For a moment I was tempted to go entlag to one of their meetings, but I was visiting the city on holiday with my wife, herein known as Ch, who, despite my very best efforts, does not sprechen sie Deutsch, and in any case mein Volkabeln isn’t quite up to the Mark. Plus I’m not neurotic. Wirklich.dsc_0934Everybody loves Oaxaca. The first thing that Mexicans talk about whenever the place is mentioned is the food, which is indeed delicious and hard to find good versions of elsewhere. Mole is the most iconic dish – it’s actually a family of dishes of immense complexity. Coloradito, the one most associated with Oaxaca and also the most picante, is made with 36 ingredients, including chocolate, chillies, fruit, nuts, spices of various kinds, pumpkin seeds and about, er, 28 other things. Vanesa, a Oaxacan friend of Ch’s who we met up with in Mexico City shortly after we arrived, got very excited when telling us about all the eating we’d be able to do on our holiday, and then very angry when she moved on to tell us about los maestros – the teachers. Of whom more later.

Oaxaca (pronounced waHAca) is the name of both the city and the state. The latter is vast, and cut in half by mountains. After we leave the city it takes us 12 hours by bus to get to Puerto Escondido on the coast and it’s only 85 miles mientras el cuervo vuela. The rugged terrain isolates communities, which means that Oaxaca is the country’s most ethnically diverse state, with an indigenous population of 48% (mostly Zapotec and Mistec), the second highest in Mexico after the Mayan Peninsula, where most of the population are…Welsh (just testing). corbyn2A wander around the Museum of Culture testifies to this. ‘Oaxacan’ culture unifies all sorts of traditions with their own belief systems, cultural artifacts and artisan technologies. The many local markets and the makeshift stalls spread on the ground in the town’s squares by people from often distant villages show off handcrafted and painted wooden sculptures called alebrijes, and intricately woven and brightly dyed tapetes, huipiles, sarapes and the ubiquitous rebozos. Some of these artefacts we have seen elsewhere in Mexico, but we get something of a surprise on entering the adjacent church and former monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzmán when we see an image of someone we recognise from home (see photo). It’s by no means the only connection Jeremy Corbyn has with Mexico. His wife, Laura Álvarez, is a human rights lawyer who also runs a business importing chocolate made by indigenous communities. Little else is known about her (except, presumably, by him), so it’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility that she did some sort of deal over local produce and insisted that a stained-glass window image of her husband be installed as part of the agreement. Certainly there is no shortage of chocolate and chocolate products on sale in the UNESCO-approved colonial centre, along with hundreds of varieties of mezcal, of which I sadly only get to try about half.

In the Zócalo (the main town square) most of the people selling things seem to be of indigenous origin, and so do most of the people protesting. The centre of the plaza has been turned into an Occupy-style camp. These are the famous teachers. I’m still trying to clarify what the situation is with them as their activities inspire a considerable amount of revulsion and rage amongst Mexicans I’ve met elsewhere. Reading their banners and the sheets they’ve hung up setting out their case and briefly chatting with some of them helps to make things clearer. Their movement, led by the dissident teachers’ union CNTE, has been fighting for decades for decent wages and proper schools and over the years their struggle has to some extent become instituionalised, particularly under the leadership of the phenomenally controversial Elba Esther Gordillo. One key date in the long history (detailed here) was May 2006, when police fired on striking teachers in Oaxaca. This led to a seven-month state of siege in the city. State forces unleashed massive repression, which to some extent continues – police vehicles armed with enormous machine guns are a regular sight around the city centre – and was stepped up in response to furious protests after 43 poor indigenous students from the neighbouring state of Guerrero were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the army in September 2014. More recently teachers from Oaxaca, Michoacán and Chiapas have been striking and protesting against President Peña Nieto’s asinine education reforms, which seem partly designed to provoke and destroy the unions; they also attempt to sabotage the carrying-out of elections by attacking and burning polling stations, and very regularly sequester road-toll booths and block major highways. It is this kind of action which enrages locals like Vanesa, who are simply unable to go about their daily lives as a result. I sympathise with the frustration of people like her – I have never had to live with such massive and constant disruption. But I also grew up in a country with a decent school system where there were properly-remunerated teachers, plentiful materials and classrooms with roofs. Plus I’m aware that at least some of the opprobrium towards the teachers is at least related to racism; that certainly has been the case among members and supporters of successive national governments. This is one of those issues on which I have to bow to the greater wisdom of people who properly live in Mexico.justiceSo, Oaxaca is a complex place. Maybe a third eye would help make sense of things. In the market I buy a t-shirt featuring an image of Maria Sabina, the Queen of Mushrooms. She became an international celebity in the 1960s, attracting seekers of ancestral cosmic wisdom such as (it was rumoured) Dylan, Lennon, Jagger and Richards. She herself wasn’t impressed by the hordes of new arrivals. She was a curandera, for whom the point of taking psilocybins was not to find the divine but to heal sickness. Although we don’t visit her dsc_0616village, it is still on the tourist trail – every time I wear the t-shirt over the next few months, from Havana to Angkor Wat, I receive masonic nods and winks from those who share my apparent knowledge of arcane hallucinogenic rituals. We do, however, end up taking a trip: a bus excursion to Monte Albán to look at Some More Pyramids. We are lucky to be assigned a tourguide with some alternative theories to explain why some of the stone carvings depict people with deformed limbs, the upshot of which is that archeologists are all liars, historians are full of shit and we ourselves are a bit thick and should go to infowars.com if we can bear to learn the real Truth about the world. We also visit the jaw-dropping petrified waterfall and the hot springs at Hierve l’Água. Afterwards we share a collective taxi with some other tourists in order to rejoin the main bus. Halfway along an otherwise deserted track, the truck comes to an unexpected stop, and a representative of a small contingent of men requests that we all get out of the vehicle and into another one with no immediate explanation. Some of us start to suspect that something a bit kidnappy might be underway, but thankfully the new driver reassures us, explaining that the place where we got out marks the boundary between two taxi concessions, and that there have been ‘problems’ in the past when drivers from one village have encroached on the other’s territory. This makes me wonder if the preponderance of recovery groups in Mexico might be somewhere related; perhaps one cartel controls all the Narcotics Anonymous groups in a given town and another armed gang rakes in the income from the meetings in the adjacent pueblo. I can’t imagine that such a situation would be particularly good for anyone’s sense of serenity.carvingAfter we’ve tromped up and a fair few pyramids in the 40 degree heat, taken more photos than we will ever have time to look at and visited enough artisanal workshops to last the lifetimes of several Aztec gods, we are all keen to get back to Oaxaca, sink a couple of mechiladas and echar una siesta. So we’re delighted to hear we’ll be taking in one more attraction: we’re going to see some black pots being made. The black pots turn out to be useless, at least for their primary purpose of containing liquids. If you put water in them, it apparently goes all murky and you can’t drink it. They are nonetheless very pretty decorative objects, with their black sheen achieved by polishing them before firing them. Oh. It turns out that I am the only person in the world who finds pottery boring*. Everyone else wanders round the shop cooing at the crockery on display, or at least they do until the heavens intervene. Unfortunately the shop is open to the elements, which is a shame because the elements are in a very bad mood; like us, they’re probably a bit tired and just want to be driven back to the hotel. They descend on the place and smash bits of it to pieces while we cower in the corners and try to avoid getting lacerated by shards of falling pottery. In fact the weather gods have done us a major favour, because as soon as the torrent ceases we wade across the car park and get back in the van.

There’s a limit to what we can see in and around the city in three or so days. You could easily spend a month in Oaxaca State and not even get round to a third of the places you are recommended to visit. It is the fourth most visited state in the country, and also happens to be the second poorest, with 76% of the population living in extreme poverty. In my English language examining job I often pose this conundrum to candidates when the topic of tourism arises. It suggests to me that tourism is not a good or fair strategy for developing a region. Oaxaca does not suffer from a lack of promotion or even a shortage of visitors, and it’s rich in terms of both natural and cultural resources. It has a range of outstanding natural landscapes and no shortage of well-preserved ruins reflecting its historical complexity, the range of civilisations that have existed there. However, while most images of Oaxaca depict things of indigenous origin, whether archaeological sites or local products, in tourism-related jobs indigenous people themselves are rarely seen. This must be partly because of racism, but it is also clearly related to education. People whose schools do not have books and roofs are far less likely to acquire the skills necessary to obtain such jobs. Compared to a national average of 26%, only 5% of Oaxaca’s indigenous population reaches middle or higher education.cartoonThere is also the question of who has money to invest to take advantage of all the visitors. Most mid-range places we stay in happen to be owned by foreigners, and at the level of higher-end tourism, it’s international money that dominates – indeed it often physically displaces both local investment in addition to causing the eviction of local people and the destruction of natural environments. A recent and spectacular example of the latter were the mangroves in Cancun. Where tourism does create jobs for local people, they tend to be of poor quality – short-term, badly-paid and often very exploitative. Betting on tourism as a development strategy also has an opportunity cost. It replaces other forms of development and means that everything is valued in terms of its potential appeal to visitors. This is something I hear all the time in IELTS exams, regardless of the topic: parks are good because tourists like them. National cinema is useful because it promotes the country and might encourage tourists to visit. Museums and galleries are important because tourists seem to like them. The success of this ideology is demonstrated by the fact that to many people it seems to be a natural way of thinking, a common sense point of view. Drawing people’s attention to the fallacy of it (not exactly my job, but what the hey) is like the joke about one fish remarking to another on the temperature of the water. It’s an ideology which lends itself to exploitation by private interests. In ‘The Shock Doctrine’ Naomi Klein detailed how after the Asian tsunami of 2004 fishermen along the coasts of Sri Lanka and Thailand were displaced by hotel developments. In the case of Mexico, we learn of a similar situation towards the end of the film ‘Y Tu Mama También’: the young family who the three main characters have become friends with on the beach (filmed in Huatulco, Oaxaca) will soon be forced to leave their beachside home because of a new holiday resort. The same dynamic is in operation around the world, and not just along coastlines, but also in major cities, as the urban geographer (and my personal friend) David Harvey explores in some detail here. As he explains, tourism is a great product for capitalists to invest in because, unlike a vacuum cleaner or a mobile phone, it is instantly and infinitely consumable, with no product cycle. There is no limit to the amount that tourists can consume. Meanwhile local people are locked outside this endless festival of superfluous consumption, and in many situations are left with no other available means of survival but to sit on the pavement and try to sell whatever they have to the tourists. As for how people excluded in this way feel, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze tries to put herself in their huaraches in her brilliant poem ‘Third World Girl‘:

Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze poem: ‘THIRD WORLD GIRL’ from Tilt Spoken Word on Vimeo.

The poem also addresses cultural appropriation. Oaxaca is important to Mexico in a similar way to how the Northeast is important to Brazil. In both cases the region provides symbols and icons which are central to national identity, and in both cases the people of the region are amongst the most deprived in the country. One such Mexican national emblem is the rebozo. In summer 2015 the Franz Mayer Museum held a special exhibition on Frida Kahlo’s use of the garment, titled, revealingly in English, Made in Mexico**. (The same exhibition had been held in London a year earlier). We learn from the information on display that this outfit is “one of the feminine Mexican garments par excellence … it has (much) meaning in the creation of the identity of women and the country.” The text that introduces the exhibition does not speak mainly of the rebozo, but of national identity:

‘Mexico is a rich tapestry in which multiple threads are interwoven. Its long and tumultuous history, from the ancient pre-Hispanic towns to the modernity of its urban culture, has brought many influences and ideas to the country, adapting to a cosmovision and way of life singularly Mexican. The decorative arts, an integral part of Mexican culture, reflect the intersection of traditional culture, colonial legacy and contemporary and political life. The rebozo has been – and continues to be – a resistant emblem of Mexican identity.’

In the words of Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, what the Mexican state and its elite values is not its indigenous population, but an image of it. It then sells Mexico on the global market using images of indigenous people and indigenous products, but denies the people themselves the education that would give them the chance to exploit those things for themselves if they chose to do so. It’s comforting and flattering to think that our visit to Oaxaca helped develop the region in some small way. We certainly found it a deeply enriching experience. But I don’t believe that tourism is a equitable or sustainable way to develop a region or a city. Social and economic policies should focus on improving the living standards and human potential of the people who live in a particular place, and not the experience of those who are merely there on holiday. To which I suppose the only logical corollary is: if I ever go back to Oaxaca, I very much hope that I have a worse time than I did on my first visit.

* José Saramago’s novel ‘The Cave’ (which I also mentioned yesterday, oddly enough) is partly an essay In Praise of Pottery. Those bits of it are profoundly dull.

** I wrote a piece in Spanish about it in Spanish here (it’s in Spanish).

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“All I know is what’s on the Internet”: All heil President Troll

161202Rall.jpgIn China eleven years ago I noticed something surprising about democracy and something disturbing about the world economy. They both involved discrediting and devaluing. In the case of the world economy, what I noticed in China indicated to me that the chief function of neoliberal globalisation was to reduce western wages and conditions to a Chinese level. I also noticed that the notion of democracy had lost a lot of its value, especially in comparison with the student uprising of fifteen years earlier. Since that time global events have, to paraphrase Thomas Pynchon, been proceeding in accordance with an ominous logic. Continue reading ““All I know is what’s on the Internet”: All heil President Troll”

Corbyn, Climate Change and the British media

Articles published in the British press are read and believed far beyond the UK. A good, or rather really rather bad, example of this is the Sunday Times’ concocted story about climate science in 2009. The story resulted from a successful plot by what we might as well call the pro-climate change lobby to troll climate scientists by sending so many freedom of information requests about their work so as it to render it impossible. One email among the millions they acquired in which one scientist asked another about the best way to present some information was seized upon by a climate change troll, who found a principle-free journalist at Rupert Murdoch’s flagshit periodical to turn it into a story about fraudulent climate science. The story flew around the world at great speed, and glasses were clinked in corporate offices right around the rapidly warming planet. The cause of investigating the causes of the changes in the world’s climate was set back for several years, possibly for good. Or, in this case, for very, very, bad.

What does this have to do with Jeremy Corbyn? Well, as we all at some level know, and as we all to some degree refuse to accept, the changes necessary for us to avoid the nightmare scenario of a very rapid change in temperatures are extremely radical, and they must be taken immediately. Vested interests must not just be challenged and persuade to cooperate — the power they wield must be wrested from them. As Naomi Klein points out at length, if companies such as Exxon and Shell had openly admitted the facts of climate change and its implications much earlier, such earthshaking changes would not now be necessary. But they didn’t. They hid the truth, and they paid enormous amounts of money to politicians and opinion formers to create confusion and the appearance of uncertainty about the basic facts of climate science (there’s even a new word to describe this — agnotology). So now that climate change is upon as, and with droughts assailing some parts of the planet while others slowly begin to disappear under unfathomable quantities of water, the question of how we are going to find the resources necessary to deal with all this, and how we are going to wrest the power away from those who value higher and higher numbers on a computer screen over our common ability to survive becomes so pressing and so compelling that it is hardly ever asked — or, at least, the issue is rarely mentioned in the media.

Where are the voices in mainstream politics today who are even beginning to address these questions? Is democracy even the means by which we will find answers, or will we just find that authoritarian capitalism already has all the solutions (in a nutshell: let most people die, continue to deny the causes, instruct the populace to blame the victims, and lock up or kill anyone who protests)? Well, there are but a few. One person who is doing his best to get hold of the wheel and steer us away from the edge of the cliff is the afore-mentioned record-breakingly popular Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn. So how are the British media, respected as they are far beyond the UK’s borders, responding to that challenge? Well, reader, they’re trying to destroy his reputation and his credibility as quickly as they can. They’re making absolutely sure that within any plausible future scenario there will be no visible political alternative to the dogma that no matter how big the problem, the market will be able to fix it. That’s the market dominated by companies like Exxon and Shell, who knew the facts about the effects of their activities forty years ago but hid that information so as to protect their profits. In the media market control lies in the hands of companies like News International, which conspires to discredit climate scientists and potentially disruptive politicians and whose stories, no matter how dishonestly obtained or how inaccurate, dictate the news agenda right across the world.

Ideally, a politician who took up the cause of the climate catastrophe would be acceptable to the mainstream media. He or she (wouldn’t it be great if it was a woman?!) would be feted by the political establishment and her or his prescriptions for how to address the crisis would be welcomed (they would also be a lot more radical than Corbyn’s, but that’s beside the point here). That’s what would happen in a perfect world. But it hasn’t, and it won’t. Anyone who challenges the political agenda according to which the habitat that earth affords us must be sacrificed to feed the insatiable needs of the global market, anyone who looks like they could potentially block the pipeline which runs directly from our suffering to their bank accounts, must be destroyed. That is one very significant aspect of what is happening right now in British politics and in the UK media.

Anti-semitism and the Labour leadership race

It is beyond any doubt that there are people sporting ‘I’ve voted Corbyn’ twibbons on both Twitter and Facebook who have indulged in the most horrendous anti-semitic statements and abuse — awful people who think it’s okay to use language like ‘Jewish scum’ when talking about Israel, or who believe it acceptable to make quasi-racist statements such as ‘not all Jews are bad’.

There are also fanatical Zionists who choose to regard all criticism of the Israel state under any circumstances as anti-semitic. Their campaign to depict the consistently pro-Palestine Corbyn as anti-semitic started some years ago (at least as far back as 2012) but has obviously intensified over the last few months.

There have been some legitimate questions asked of Corbyn in relation to people he has had contact with in the past. He has directly addressed those concerns to the satisfaction of all reasonable parties, explaining that he did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that such people held anti-semitic beliefs. Corbyn’s record on anti-racism throughout his political life is absolutely impeccable.

The British media has been playing a very dangerous game in openly suggesting that Corbyn is an anti-semite. It appears that in regularly producing headlines such as ‘Corbyn denies anti-semitic links’ the right-wing media has both achieved its target of associating his name with anti-semitism (possibly as a result attracting anti-semites to his cause), and also evinced and evoked deep-seated anti-semitic impulses in British society. These have found expression among a tiny but vocal minority of his hundreds of thousands of supporters, but are clearly not restricted to them.

As Owen Jones says, we have to be extremely vigilant about each and every instance of anti-semitism wherever we encounter it. We have to publicly and immediately denounce those who express anti-Jewish sentiment. However, the right-wing media and their pro-Israel allies have now developed a new line of attack, saying that anti-semitism is peculiarly common on the British left. This is pernicious. The history of anti-semitism on the right in the UK is very well-known. To pretend that there is a tradition of anti-semitism peculiar to the British left is deeply dishonest and it is designed to destabilise the British left and discredit those who express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. There is a current of anti-semitism in British society. It must be exposed and challenged, but it is deeply wrong and dangerous to summon it up for short-term ideological purposes.

Corbyn, Cooper, Burnham and the other one: A full and fair debate

Even though the result of the Labour Leadership Election won’t be officially announced until the 12th September, UK betting shops are already paying out to customers who put their money on a Corbyn victory. It’s been a spirited and fractious campaign throughout. Obviously we all knew right from the start (and especially since the unofficial audition for Leader for the Opposition on July 20th — you’re supposed to oppose the Government, guys!)) that Cooper, Burham and the other one never stood a chance of winning (God forbid! They’re unelectable) but it was important to have their names on the ballot paper nonetheless. At the very least no-one can claim it wasn’t a democratic election. A full and frank debate was necessary, and it has certainly been had. Now it’s time to take on the Tories.

Corbyn and New Labour: Don’t take the electorate for a hippopotamus

There is no doubt that Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall believe themselves to be in the appropriate political party. They would like to use it to introduce all sorts of radical changes in society. The problem, as they appear to see it, is the voting public. Ordinary people are, to put it bluntly, considerably more stupid and right-wing than they themselves are. They will not vote for progressive social and economic measures. The best that can be hoped for is that they can be nudged, like grumpy cantankerous hippopotamuses, in the right direction. They must be moved gently, without ever appearing to threaten their sense of security and comfort, as the electorate, if riled, will simply lash out, always in the wrong direction. Ordinary people are very susceptible to messages which appeal to their most base instincts, which trigger the sensitive defense mechanisms which surround their senses of identity and security, and appealing to those instincts remains the only proven way to get them to move in the direction you want them to — but only so far, because no matter how gently you try to persuade them, they will never step outside of their comfort zone.

This is New Labour electoral dogma. It is written through the DNA spirals of leadership candidates like a stick of rock. It dictated Harriet Harman’s admonition that Labour must not fall into Osbourne’s trap of being seen to oppose profoundly radical changes to the Welfare State. It is in right there marking the beat of the thoughts of each candidate as they voice their euphemisms about ‘economic credibility’. What has happened over the last few weeks is that it has been shown to be, as it were, hippopotamus shit. Ordinary people are, it transpires, infinitely more politically agile than their aspiring leaders. The effect of this revelation has been deeply traumatic for New Labour. Not only does it fundamentally challenge their view of the electorate and the world in general, it detonates a highly explosive package at the very core of their political identity. And so they are now exploding in all directions, turning in panic to the right-wing media and their emergency weapons of character assasination, trying even to dismantle at whatever cost the electoral apparatus they themselves established in the complacent certainty that voters would never have the courage or the wherewithal to consciously use it to further their own genuine interests.

They must now be aware that even if they managed to successfully rig the election, their shoehorned-in new leader would lack credibility to the extent that Labour would face a historic wipe-out in England similar to the one it has experienced in Scotland, with millions of voters lost to electoral apathy, the far-right and (hopefully) some sort of meaningful left alternative. They must know those things at some level, but the depth of the trauma occasioned by Corbyn’s imminent storming to victory is so great that they appear to have lost all sense of what they are doing and what it is destined to achieve. While the smears against Corbyn are designed to trigger the famous don’t-think-of-an-elephant effect, perhaps a fitting epitaph for New Labour could be: don’t take the electorate for a hippopotamus.