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


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.

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.

On Framing Austerity

Popular support for austerity as a response to economic crisis remains very high in the UK. Statistics on unemployment, child poverty, homelessness seem to fall on deaf ears. So far none of the campaigns which have been launched to challenge the austerity agenda appear to have had the slightest impact. Why is this?

One very convincing explanation lies in idea of framing. According to the work of George Lakoff and others, people do not simply evaluate the available evidence and form their opinions on this basis. Rather, they tend to accept facts which fit into their picture of the world, and reject those that don’t fit. A great deal of research into the way that people perceive events, think and form opinions supports this.


And it is not just a conscious thing – research into the brain shows that we take metaphors much more seriously than was previously assumed. When we hear it repeated endlessly and everywhere that the national credit card has been maxed out and that we urgently need to cut back on spending, we tend to believe it, whether we want to do so or not.

A recent report <>from the New Economic Foundation addresses this problem head on. Over the last few years a very effective story has been told, which barely bears repeating here: The country is broke, austerity is a necessary evil; government spending has grown out of control; many are addicted to welfare and have no incentive to work; many are simply lazy and their outright refusal to work conflicts with the hard-working efforts of the rest of us; the national debt is a ticking time bomb which simply must be addressed.

This story has been effective because it contains key elements: it relates powerfully to people’s own experience of the world; it contains vivid and memorable metaphors; it consists of a simple message repeated endlessly and consistently.

If we want to challenge this agenda, we need to change the terms of the debate. It is clearly not enough to claim, as Labour has done, that austerity is too fast or the cuts too deep. Those of us who oppose austerity have to develop alternative frames which make sense to people and have an emotional appeal.

To this end the NEF report makes a series of suggestions. They suggest the following would be effective messages that the left should try to communicate as much as possible:

*1. **Casino economy – our economy is like a casino, it is in need of reform so that **it can be stable and useful.*

*2. Treading water – we are not making any progress as a nation; we are running **to stand still, struggling but not moving forward.*

*3. Big bad banks – our current problems are the result of a financial crisis that we, **and not the banks that caused it, paid for.*

*4. Big guys and little guys – there are two types of people in Britain, the little guys **who work hard and don’t get a fair deal, and the big guys who have money and **power and play by their own set of rules.*

*5. Jobs Gap – the biggest issue facing our country is the jobs gap: people who **want to work but can’t, people who work hard but don’t take home a decent **wage and young people who cannot be sure of a good job.*

*6. Time for renewal – we need to rebuild and renew what made Britain great– **from the railways to our education system. We need to invest.*

*7. Austerity is a smokescreen – The Coalition uses the deficit as an excuse to do **what they have always wanted to do like shrink the state and privatise the NHS. **We cannot trust them; they aren’t out to help ordinary people.*

We can, indeed should, debate which of these messages may resonate more powerfully with the public. Some would clearly be much more effective than others. We also need to use whatever resources we can to find out which ones work best. They all potentially present alternatives messages which exploit certain sentiments which are widely held and deeply felt. Whichever messages we choose will need to be repeated as consistently, as clearly and as widely as possible.

One hopeful sign that Miliband and co may be aware of the potential of such an approach was his recent instruction to MPs and ministers to refer to ‘social security’ rather than ‘welfare’. But if Left Unity is serious about having any sort of impact on public debate in this country it will have to take up this challenge and go much further.

I’m sure that these ideas will provoke a furious reaction from some on the left who are allergic to any attempt to rethink the way we use language to formulate and communicate our ideas. For me such a debate will be very welcome. We cannot just keep trying, and failing, to appeal to people’s rationality.

The same goes for climate change. No amount of appeals to people’s rational sense of self-interest has worked in trying to raise awareness of the coming catastrophe. The need to behave sustainably does not fit into people’s framework for understanding reality, which is based on infinite economic expansion and ever-increasing consumption. We have to develop frames which are based clearly on the notion that we cannot separate economic and social development and environmental impact, that the economy and the environment are not two separate entities but one. Thinking in new ways, seeking to reframe debates about all aspects of how we perceive and organise our social reality has to be an integral part of the project to build an effective left movement in this country and elsewhere.

The tyranny of structurelessness

‘The idea of ‘structurelessness’, however, has moved from a healthy counter to these tendencies to becoming a goddess in its own right…If the movement is to move beyond these elementary stages of development, it will have to disabuse itself of some of its prejudices about organisation and structure. There is nothing inherently bad about either of these. They can be and often are misused, but to reject them out of hand because they are misused is to deny ourselves the necessary tools to further development. We need to understand why ‘structurelessness’ does not work.’

As Jo Freeman detailed in the classic essay from which the above quote is taken, in social networks which are initally informal and horizontal hierarchies tend to emerge. If this is not acknowleged and its implications considered in all their seriousness, the current trend for decentred models of political organisation will lead up a series of blind alleys, and two excellent articles from the last few days make this clear beautifully.

In the midst of the swarm of networked intelligence, centres tend to form, which connect to other centres. For example, to know in advance about the Netroots event yesterday, you had to be connected to the right people on twitter and facebook. All nodes are equal, but some nodes are more equal than others.

Organisations develop their own interests, and the initial objective tends to be principally obfuscated by the need to survive. Bureaucracies and hierarchies inevitably emerge. Most social movement organisations go from informal non-hierarchical organisations towards becoming institutionalised and formalised as advocacy groups and mass membership organisations. As they do so, they inevitably slow down and become less reactive, putting more emphasis on their long-term survival and effectiveness, partly because ‘Bureaucratic organizations often are more successful at gaining access to established political channels, being recognized as legitimate movement representatives and at sustaining ongoing interactions with diverse constituencies including “allies, authorities, and supporters”’.

This represents a constant problem for the fashionable model of informal, hyperreactive, mobile, non-hierarchical organisations. New, informal movements will spring up more or less on a whim to replace those that become formalised and hierarchical, but for example in this country no sustainable or effective anti-cuts movement can be built on the basis of a new UK Uncut-style group suddenly springing up every two weeks, while preceding mini-generations of previously non-hierarchical groups turn to the slow and morbid business of lobbying and advocacy work.

As Richard Seymour also points out, the fetishisation of the power of headless decentred networked movements to overcome the ‘old centralised, top-down, upright, phallic feudal army without contradiction’ ignores the fact that power itself is diffuse, distributed, with a multiplicity of centres. The future of the struggle against power cannot be left to the whims of those who are better connected. There is a need for explicit political leadership.

The best thing is for that leadership to be open, elected and accountable, rather than pretending it does not exist. Hence the need for consistent political organisation around a democratically agreed shared programme, on a regional, national and international scale.

Me and Billy Bragg, Billy Bragg and me

billy-bragg-p0x2_o_tnOn my bedroom wall I have a signed poster of Billy Bragg. This suggests that I am a Billy Bragg fan, which is something about which I feel a certain awkwardness. To be a Billy Bragg fan is to associate oneself with someone always seen by many as gruff, proletarian, sexless, musically staid, and chippy. But nevertheless it remains a fact that the first single and album I bought were both his, his play ‘Pressure Drop’ was one of my highlights of last year, and I kicked myself recently on learning I’d missed his national tour, which ended last week. I’ve always felt an admiration with his seemingly boundless wit and warmth, and partly thanks to these qualities, and partly due to having, like that other group my fanship of whom has always occasioned a certain embarrassment, the Pet Shop Boys, he has managed to hang around just within public sight for over twenty five years without pissing off everyone too much and has in middle age been achieved the status of avuncular national treasure. Nevertheless like any uncle some of his pronouncements over the last few years have been somewhat dubious and increasingly conservative, especially around the questions of English national identity and tactical voting. There is an unpleasant element of both left-baiting in his relentless scorn for the far-left, and a not unrelated level of anti-intellectualism, both of which were evident in a Guardian interview published yesterday.

It is touching to read about his enthusiasm for the student protests, although predictably he also uses it as an excuse to indulge in some cheap digs at the far-left and anyone who tries to apply the lessons of the past to the present situation. There are signs that Bragg’s long-standing embarrassment with the legacy of socialism and communism colours his view of how things should develop, an awkwardness has always led him to temper his radicalism and try to sell it as instinctive, and organic, rather than intellectual. It seems churlish to point out that Bragg did not go to university and seems to harbour a certain resentment against those whose ideas for changing the world derive from detailed and patient analysis of complex ideas about society and how to change it. He is a proselytiser of what José Saramago used to call ‘hormonal’ socialism, although he now prefers to avoid the word itself if at all possible:

‘The people out protesting now, Bragg says, are the first generation ever to be able to talk about socialism without having the long shadow of Karl Marx hanging over them. If, indeed, they even describe it as such. “To be honest, I don’t care if it’s called socialism,” he says. “Anyway, what is socialism but organised compassion…They (the students) are making their own connections, and at the bottom of them all is an absolute sense of unfairness. That’s what’s politicised them. Not some abstract interest in dialectical materialism…We’ve got a lot to learn from them – their ability to join things up, take the initiative, not hang around and see what Marx would have said.”

He has also engaged in these debates in the last week or so, making very similar points on the already seminal Comment is Free piece by Laurie Penny:

“I now understand that what annoys you about Laurie and her generation is their refusal to be kettled in by either the Metropolitan Police or by the SWP and their ideological bedfellows.

Whether we like it or not, we are currently living in a post-ideological era. The language of Marxism is dead. Don’t mourn, organise! That’s what the students are doing – in a manner that is both different and challenging to those of us whose politics were forged in the 20th century.

We can either carp from the sidelines or join them as they take action.”

And is righteously smacked down:

“Laurie Penny, and in fact everyone ‘resisting’ the coalition’s education reform agenda, frequently draws on Marxism, even if she/they don’t know that that is what they are doing. And I don’t blame them, because if they want to talk about the ‘marketisation’ (i.e. commodification) of higher education, then they are de facto drawing on Marx! So to argue that the langauge of Marxism is dead is just a laughably ill-informed comment to make. It beggars belief.” (oxymoronic)

One wonders if Bragg has also been following that other debate about the meaning of communism and the role of Communist ideas in the struggle for a different world sparked off by Alain Badiou’s article in the New Left Review two years ago. The conference which that article inspired took place in the Logan Hall of the Institute of Education, the same venue as last year’s Compass conference, which Billy was at; but I suspect that the On the Idea of Communism event may have been anathema to him, given that it featured a series of Marxist intellectuals, two words guaranteed to provoke a spluttering splenetic reaction. It would be a shame if he hadn’t at least read Badiou’s article, because his aversion to the very names of Communism and Socialism is not uncommon, but to really think about what we do need to retain from the past, indeed to insist upon, and what we need to jettison, and who is this ‘we’ that needs to find answers to these questions, is an intellectual process, which demands that we analyse in depth revolutionary ideas and practices from the past. It is perhaps too easy to see Bragg’s dismissal of such debates of symptomatic of a British culture of anti-intellectualism, but it is highly likely that the experience of ferocious debates with SWP student firebrands on the Red Wedge tour in the 1980s traumatised the man and provoked this very evident revulsion at the very mention of revolutionary politics.

As I mentioned at the start, I love the wit and warmth at the heart of the best of Bragg’s music. Growing up I even preferred his poetry to that of Morrissey, someone who had a more grandiose emotional range which I as a teenager couldn’t yet aspire to. There was something in the combination of plaintiveness and gruffness in songs like ‘St. Swithin’s Day’ and ‘A Lover Sings’ which echoed my more stoical sense of myself. Morrissey seemed too much at home in his outsiderness, seemed to enjoy his symptoms too much, while Bragg was (for me) comfortingly gauche in his sense of romance and bitter at the world. I recognised myself in his songs, and admired his sense of engagement.

This heightened poetic sense can lead to political confusion, however. In yesterday’s interview he draws an analogy which seems to work beautifully at first, but quickly collapses when subject to further reflection. He rightly condemns the slavish devotion to market ‘dogma’ of all three parties over the last number of years (he clearly prefers this word to its near cousin ‘ideology’, which, given that he insists we live in a ‘post-ideological age’, would complicate things somewaht, but what the hey). But then he produces a metaphor which sounds apt, but isn’t:

“‘The market’s like fire, you know? Constrain it, harness it, and it’ll provide you with warmth and light and heat for your cooking … Let it rip, and it’ll destroy everything you hold dear.”

Now that is a fabulous image, but as I say it doesn’t work. Why not? Well, in a world increasingly subject to the iniquitous dictates of the so-called free market, billions around the world lack precisely that warmth, light and heat for their cooking. And this is not because the market is improperly regulated and managed, but because as reality shows quite clearly it is not an appropriate mechanism for providing the essentials of life. Warmth and heat and fuel for cooking are commodities exchanged for profit, but they are not, as Bill Clinton remarked of food, commodities like any other, or at least, they shouldn’t be. The market may one day have a role of some kind in a world ordered justly and democratically, but the essentials of life – housing, food, energy, transport, health, education – cannot be left to be distributed according to a system in which the winner takes all and the loser freezes or starves.

I very much hope that Billy Bragg continues to play a part in what appears to be a growing movement for radical change. But his aversion to intellectual and ideological debate may be an obstacle to his making a full contribution. The debates of the last week over the role of revolutionary organisations, and what new forms of media imply for how radical activists should and can organise have been very important and useful. The legacy of the reluctance of certain far-left groups to engage in honest and open debate in the past may be something that can be overcome, or it may be something that serves as an obstacle to greater unity, but at the very least people are now trying to have that debate rather than cynically bitching about the irrelevance and inadequacies of the far left, as Bragg has long been prone to do.

The statistical value of a human life

Another curious snippet from the Wikileaks documents relates to nothing less than the value of a human life. The logs reveal that when Afghan civilians are killed as a result of military clumsiness, American policy is to compensate them to the tune of 100,000 Afghani, which may sound like a lot but actually amounts to the rather less than generous sum of $1,500.

Now in a world which aims to, in the words of Bill Hicks, put a price tag on every goddamn thing of value, it is inevitable that there should be a generally accepted measure of the value of a single life, and given the inequalities which condition every aspect of our lives, it is inevitable that it should differ considerably. According to the Value of Statistical Life (VSL), the measure used by insurance agencies and so on, the estimated value (in terms of foregone earnings and the lost contributions to the economy) of a (US) soldier in the Iraq war was between $6.1 and $7.2 million. So Harmad Karzai appears to have a point when he protests that Afghan lives are regarded by the occupying forces as ‘cheap’.

Another interesting point of comparison comes from Turkey, In 2004, the Turkish Government adopted Law 5233 on “the Compensation of Losses Resulting from Terrorist Acts and the Measures Taken Against Terrorism” in favour of those who had suffered losses or damage as a result of “action by terrorist organisations and measures taken by the government to combat it” since 1987. There was considerable anger at the meagre levels of compensation involved; for example For example in Diyarbakir, the amounts offered were 16,000 YTL (€10,000) for a death, while in other provinces it was offered 15,000 YTL (€9,500).

This case contrasts sharply with the amount of compensation paid to the family of a British tourist, also in Turkey. In this incident, one killed and 5 injured in the same family, victims of a terrorist attack while on a holiday in 2005 were awarded more than £1m by the Turkish government.

A non–monetary echo of this can currently be seen on the Guardian website, where the deaths and displacement of tens of thousands of Pakistanis, a tragedy apparently greater than that of the 2004 tsunami, the Haiti disaster and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan combined, is relegated halfway down the page, below the huge splash on the tragic resignation of a football manager. Evidence that, in the oft- and fondly-quoted words of Bill Shankly, football is so much more important than either life or death.

Treasury Bounce 2010

One of the tragedies of the failed New Labour experiment is that it was always based on a repudiation of all historical precedent. Alistair Darling seems to be feeling the pinch of this somewhat. He has attacked the Tories for fiddling the figures to make it appear that government borrowing over the next period will be higher than it actually is, and to pretend that the rate of growth will be lower, all in aid of their plan to slash away at jobs and public services.

I recently came across a very instructive lesson from history, from the notoriously dark decade of the 1970’s, a decade we are repeatedly warned against returning to. As Andy Beckett makes clear in ‘When the lights went out: What really happened in the 1970s’, whenever the seventies are evoked we are shown a certain very partial picture, painted in stark and ominous Thatcherite tones, of what happened. We all know that in 1976 the prospects for the economy were so bad that Britain had to go ‘cap in hand’ to the IMF. But Beckett uncovers a darker and more complex picture of what went on.

Callaghan did indeed enter very lengthy negotiations with the IMF, which had recently shifted from its original remit to adopt what we now know to be a harsh neoliberal line. In return for the loan it demanded huge cuts in public services. The Prime Minister himself, along with his increasingly rightwing Chancellor Dennis Healey had already been implementing a series of cuts to public spending in response to a series of runs on the pound and was not entirely averse to more. But he did manage to bargain the IMF, which initially demanded cuts of 4.5 billion, down to less than half that amount. He had quite a job getting it through cabinet, with Tony Benn in particular resolutely opposed. But the figures seemed to speak for themselves: with a loan due to be paid back to a number of countries by the end of December, the Bank of England would be left with only two billion in the kitty, and in the event of further speculative attacks on the currency, the country would be bankrupt.

The cuts were carried out and the prospect of bankruptcy narrowly avoided; so far, so familiar. However, the story has a sting in its tail. When the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement was announced six months later, it was as if the crisis had never happened. In direct contradiction with what the Treasury had predicted would be the case, the PSBR was not 10 billion, as had been thought, but 5.6. The emergency IMF loan, and the cuts upon which it had been conditional, had been unnecessary.

How had Sir Humphrey and the gang got it so very wrong? The answer is, they hadn’t. Here we learn of a ‘hallowed Whitehall tactic known affectionately to all insiders’ as the ‘Treasury Bounce’, as a Whitehall insider is kind enough to explain:

‘You can’t manage the economy tightly over a long period. You only get a chance once every decade to get the economy under control. What you need is a crisis that frightens ministers into accepting [your ideas]. … It’s what we call the Treasury Bounce.’

Here we find a very resonant echo of what Naomi Klein would write about in ‘The Shock Doctrine’: a crisis designed and manufactured in order to push through changes in public policy which would otherwise be politically unacceptable.

Callaghan’s Government paved the way for Thatcher’s attacks on public services and jobs. In much the same way, in 2009-10 New Labour were already talking of the urgent need for massive cuts, once again serving up a steaming platter of public sector spending reduction for the Tories to feast upon, allowing them to carry out “a fundamental reassessment” of the way government works. The kinds of cuts that are being planned for a huge range of government services are of the kind that never heal. If only Alistair Darling was able to read we might not have found ourselves in this dismal situation.

Jack Straw, Zizek and UK Border Force

An article in last week’s Guardian made it difficult for me to take Jack Straw’s liberal posturing on Question Time at face value. A ten-year-old girl tried to hang herself after being locked up for the second time and faced with deportation to Nigeria. She had recently been dragged screaming from her home by a team of UK Border authority officials. The ten-year-old’s attempted suicide was also an echo of an incident in 2005, when an Angolan man said goodbye to his son and then hung himself in the stairwell of a detention centre, in order that his son be able to stay in the country as an unaccompanied minor.

Perhaps when both families were being dragged kicking and screaming from their homes they were being filmed for UK Border Force. This is a Sky One programme, now in its second season, which is presumably made with the full participation and encouragement of the Home Office. It showcases the Government’s policy of sending out teams to hunt down and and round up ‘illegals’ and highlights the ‘tragic stories and challenges’ that they (the immigration officials, not the immigrants) face every day. Raids have recently been staged on a market in East London, dragging off immigrants whose only hope of survival is to work illegally given that the Government not only forbids them from working legally, but is also actively reducing even their most basic means of survival. Presumably in this way New Labour ministers hope to quench the thirst for brutal violence as a solution to the ‘problem’ of ‘illegal immigration’ which is, of course, a mainstay of Jack Straw’s favourite newspaper (see above).

Perhaps the Daily Mail is missing the boat somewhat when it comes to their bitter opposition to further British involvement in and cooperation with the European Union. Slavoj Žižek recounts the case of the Tunisian fishermen who face up to fifteen years of imprisonment for rescuing forty-four immigrants off the coast of Lampedusa. Other fishermen who have beaten off boatloads of people with sticks and left them to drown suffered no punishment. Zizek then quotes what Robert Brasillach, a ‘moderate anti-semite’, wrote in 1938:

‘We grant ourselves permission to applaud Charlie Chaplin, a half Jew, at the movies; to admire Proust, a half Jew; to applaud Yehudi Menuhin, a Jew; and the voice of Hitler is carried over radio waves named after the Jew Hertz . We don’t want to kill anyone, we don’t want to organise any pogroms. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always unpredictable actions of instinctual anti-semitism is to organise a reasonable anti-semitism. ‘

I can only presume that this is what Jack Straw et al are up to with their quasi-fascist hounding of immigrants. They certainly don’t want to organise any pogroms, but they seem to think that TV programmes which present pogroms as entertainment might serve as a means of pacifying violent racists, somehow making them less inclined to get off their sofas and round up ‘illegals’ themselves. Attempts to use similar means to combat racism and fascism in the 1930s met with limited success.

“Let’s cross our fingers and hope he forgets not to turn up in Nazi uniform”

Whatever happens on Thursday (and, perhaps more importantly, on Friday, on Saturday etc etc), Nick ‘well-directed fists and boots’ Griffin will come out of this whole sorry affair smelling of roses rather than shit and with a much higher national and international profile than before. To put it simply, he is absolutely not going to describe himself as a racist or nazi on national television. And according to the Guardian’s diary this week (can’t find the link unfortunately), the Labour Party is absolutely determined to avoid referring to him in this way in any case in case it makes them look, erm, anti-racist. Instead Jack Straw (that name pretty much says it all) is planning to attack individual BNP policies as unworkable and contradictory. Of course to do so is to absolutely miss the point. The BNP’s policies are, as Griffin himself has repeatedly and openly admitted, both a red herring and a smokescreen. The entire aim and meaning of the BNP is racist violence; there is nothing more to be said about them. I will certainly be there protesting on Thursday, but since we are dealing here with how these events are portrayed in the media, I fear that the protests will allow the BNP to present itself as an unfairly maligned and beseiged minority, given that, as I said earlier, when they are accused of being nazis their strategy is simply to laugh it off, thereby sidestepping and defusing the issue.