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

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

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

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

Interview with Owen Jones on ‘Chavs’ and the London riots

The sea change currently taking place in British politics would be inconceivable without Owen Jones. From his sudden rise to prominence with his book ‘Chavs’, a cogent and concise overview of the changes wrought to working class life by Thatcherism, to his always-compelling Guardian column, he’s been an ever-present positive influence on the Left during one of its most difficult periods in modern history.

In November 2011, in the wake of the success of his book, I interviewed Owen on the subject of that summer’s riots and how it related to the premise of his book. The interview was published in a small monthly left-wing publication and I’d forgotten all about it until the other day. As it’s not available online I thought I’d post it here so it doesn’t entirely disappear into the ether.

RW: First of all I’d like to ask you what kind of reaction you received when you told people what kind of book you were working on.

OJ: When I was writing the book, I struggled to tell people its title – mentioning that you’re writing a book entitled ‘Chavs’ is guaranteed to raise eyebrows. But I think people were interested in the fact I was writing a book on class which – in my view – has been neglected for so long. As much as I’d like to take the credit for the way the book has been received, it has everything to do with the fact that class has crept back on the agenda. If you deny class at a time when the pay of the FTSE 100 chief executives has gone up by 55%, while the average Briton is experiencing the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1920s – well, you’re a Flat Earther.

RW: Would you say that the demonisation and dehumanising of he working class encapsulated into the word ‘chav’ is also an international phenomenon? Do you know if there has been an increase in anti-white trash discourse in the US, for example?

OJ: Unequal societies provide fertile ground for demonising those ‘at the bottom’. You see it not just in the US, but also in – for example – Latin American countries, where dehumanising class-ist and racist rhetoric are often intertwined. It’s a way of rationalising inequalities – they become justified on the basis that those at the top and those at the bottom all ‘deserve’ their places.
But it’s also very much the case in both the US and the UK that individuals are expected to get on in life through their own individual efforts. Failing to do so is seen to be the product of personal failure. However, I do think Britain was unique in the nature of the all-out assault on the working-class as a collective political and social group – including the attacks on unions, council housing, industries that sustained entire communities, values like solidarity, and so on. After that, the consensus was that everyone should aspire to be middle-class – and being working-class was no longer something you were encouraged to be proud of, if you like.

RW: I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Owen Hatherley, in his depiction of the physical architecture of the New Labour years is there an affinity with your analysis of the socio-economic climate? And in the light of the increasing profile of Richard Seymour, Mark Fisher and Nina Power is it fair to talk about a new generation of radical and critical thinkers in the UK?

OJ: I’m a huge fan of Owen Hatherley. His work is very powerful because it stands as a damning indictment of New Labour, but with a very unique angle that allows you to understand the politics through the architecture. The likes of Owen Hatherley, Richard Seymour, Mark Fisher and Nina Power are brilliant, powerful left-wing writers, and the movement is very lucky to have them. But I think the emergence of a new generation of young left thinkers has everything to do with the changing political climate, than their undeniable talent. It’s just one manifestation of the radical ideas that are bubbling away among a section of young people. Having grown up in an age of reaction, it’s very heartening to see.

RW: How do the recent riots fit in with the thesis you develop in the book?

OJ: Obviously my book didn’t predict the riots, but I think there are two ways the book and the riots link together. Firstly, the book looks at how skilled, industrial jobs disappeared in a very short space of time and were replaced with fewer service sector jobs that were more insecure, had worse pay, and were less respected. While many young working-class men could leave school at 16 a generation ago and get a relatively well-paid apprenticeship that was a gateway to a long-term job, that’s no longer the case today. The fact that the rioters and looters were overwhelmingly men from poorer working-class communities who were both out of work and education is – I think – hardly surprisingly. Secondly, the book links in with how the post-riot backlash was manipulated. People were understandably and angry and scared in the aftermath of the riots. Right-wing politicians and commentators manipulated it to talk of a “feral underclass” – an escalation of the idea of the undeserving poor: they’re not just undeserving, they’re like animals. David Cameron used the aftermath to attack people on benefits, arguing that one of the solutions was to take on a welfare state that promotes “idleness”. He backed plans by councils to evict rioters and their families (i.e. collective punishment) and to remove benefits from rioters. Talk of taking away benefits is now being extended to all those who break the law. As well as establishing the principle that, if you break the law and you are poor you will be punished twice, it’s also trying to cement the idea of a lawless underclass. ‘Chavs’ tried to take on the idea we’re all middle-class, apart from a problematic rump of the old working-class. That’s a theory that – tragically – has been reinforced in the aftermath of the riots.

RW: Is the politics of aspiration that you refer to sustainable in a recessionary climate?

OJ: Individual aspiration is all about the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, that there is room at the top for those who work hard enough. But at a time of protracted economic and social crisis – when people are experiencing the biggest squeeze of living standards since the 1920s through no fault of their own – that myth becomes far harder to sustain. It becomes almost farcical to argue that where you end up is a reflection of your abilities. With a collective attack on people’s rights, I hope that there is a collective response. The recent teachers’ and civil servants’ strike was a form of collective aspiration – people coming together to defend themselves from a tax on public sector workers that’s being used to pay off the deficit.

RW: And finally, given that you contribute to the Labour List website, what are your predictions and hopes for the future of the left in and outside the Labour Party, especially in the light of the Blue (and now Purple, it seems) Labour projects?

OJ: The left everywhere – in Britain and across the world – has been overwhelmed by a perfect storm since the late 1970s. There was the rise of the New Right (best embodied by Thatcherism and Reaganism, but also the juntas in Latin America); the defeats suffered by the labour movement, particularly in Britain; the capitalist triumphalism unleashed after the collapse of Stalinism – There Is No Alternative and The End of History and so on; and neo-liberal globalisation. It’s in this context that New Labour emerged. The reality is that the left still does not exist as a mass political force in the aftermath of this perfect storm, despite the crisis of capitalism that began four years ago. At the top of the Labour Party, Blairites are still very strong and there’s not a strong enough countervailing pressure coming from the left. If we’re going to have a Labour Party that properly represents the working-class majority, that means the unions using their powers far more effectively within the Party, but also a strong grassroots movement both inside and outside the Party that can drag the leadership (kicking and screaming if needs be) to a progressive position.

“Austerity is over” – so what exactly did Daniel Blake die for?

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Conservative Party billboards, 2010

Theresa May has said that austerity is finished. What she didn’t mention – but knows full well – is that it was never necessary in the first place.

After the financial crisis of 2007-8, which was largely caused by deregulation of the financial system on the ideological basis that the market always knows best, the Conservative press started telling a story which wasn’t true. The narrative they came up with was that Labour overspending had caused the country to become mired in unsustainable levels of public debt. The solution was to do what they had always wanted: shrink the British state, selling off the profitable parts of the NHS and reducing the post-war Welfare State to a bare mimimum. It was a clear case of what Naomi Klein had described the previous year as the shock doctrine: the taking advantage of a crisis in order to implement an extreme ideological agenda which in normal circumstances would be roundly rejected. As the neoliberal guru Milton Friedman had said:

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

On the basis of the story the Conservatives won two general elections. As a direct result of the ‘savage’ cuts (to quote Nick Clegg’s ill-advised boasts) millions turned to food banks and thousands were killed by benefit sanctions and the removal of their disability benefits. The NHS is now on its last legs, both of which are due to be ripped off at any moment and sold off to speculators, as detailed in the Naylor Review.

How were they able to get away with it? Because the Labour Party never challenged the narrative. They never pointed out with sufficient conviction that it wasn’t government overspending that had caused the crisis. Whenever they tried to articulate their own version of events it was done so unconvincingly that the right-wing press shouted them down and they were cowed.

Now the Labour Party is telling its own story and it happens to be one that coincides with the truth. Austerity was a con, a scam, and a coup and the damage that’s been done to public services and to social cohesion was a result of maliciousness and greed. Now, at long last, after seven bitter and frustrating years, it is finally arguing its case with such conviction that the whole tenor of debates about society and the economy have changed more or less overnight.

The Tories think they can get away with pretending to drop austerity and moving swiftly on. They must not be allowed to do so. The cuts agenda has been the entire basis of government policy at every moment of the last seven years and they knew that it was based on lies. They knew that the economic crisis was nothing to do with government overspending. The scale of the scam that has been pulled is so great that it would take a truth and reconciliation commission to get at the truth. It was not based on a regrettable misunderstanding that has now been resolved. It was based on an immense campaign of lies so that public wealth in all its different forms, both tangible and intangible but all absolutely invaluable, could be monetised, financialised and ultimately stolen. It hasn’t been a marginal aspect of the last two governments’ political programmes but their absolute centrepiece. We have been ruled by a regime of austerity and in order to move on from it in any meaningful way HEADS MUST FUCKING ROLL starting with that of Theresa May, who just a few weeks ago thought she could crush all political opposition for good. If austerity is dead, then so are the careers of all those who, with staggering dishonesty and massive corruption, supported it in the first place. They have ruined millions of lives – and, given that without austerity, Brexit would be inconceivable, set in chain a series of consequences which may end up destroying peace between European nations – on the basis of an absolute lie.

You know what sells really well online? False hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What is smearing Jeremy Corbyn destined to achieve?

So a social democrat of impeccable integrity enthuses hundreds of thousands of people, particularly the young, about the radical potential of parliamentary politics. In response, the entire British political establishment, both politicians and media, launch an incredibly vindictive campaign to smear him on charges which even they don’t believe — and it works. However ludicrous the accusations, they succeed in associating the Corbyn brand with antisemitism, and he loses the election. Someone very similar to the previous Labour leader takes over, and things continue along their previous dismal and disheartening trajectory, towards a point where it’s hard to find anyone who gives two shits about conventional political parties, in fact the very mention of them makes almost everyone extremely angry. The things that politicians say on TV and the reality of people’s lives under endless grinding austerity just do not correspond, and things get worse, and worse, and worse, until someone, a bit like Nigel Farage, but with more plausability and charm, turns up on TV offering easy solutions that exploit people’s sense of powerlessness and frustration (not against the elites, obviously, there’s nothing anyone can do to challenge them, we’ve learnt that, but against more available targets, like those homeless people on the streets who never seem to go away, and all those migrants on TV clamouring for a new life, and who wouldn’t want one of those, and those people whining about how they can’t feed their kids, well why did you have them in the first place then?!, and yes this guy apparently said some unpleasant things about Muslims and Jews, but they kept saying that the Labour guy, the one who lost, was anti-semitic, and personally I really wasn’t so sure it was really true…), and suddenly there’s a new sense of purpose in the air, let’s clean those streets and tidy away the scum littering them, let’s put young people to work guarding our borders…

Have the people at the top of the Labour Party stopped to think for a moment about the consequences of what their no-holds-barred media assaults on Jeremy Corbyn will ultimately achieve?

The smears against Corbyn are, wittingly or not, an assault on our system of democracy. If they are successful, its reputation (and in particular the reputation of the Labour Party) will not be able to recover.

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.