Sunday, 26 February 2017

Two lessons from Stoke and Copeland by-elections

UKIP lost but UKIP has won

I spent the day in Stoke two weeks ago. If, like me, you have the sense that the world in 2017 bears deeply disturbing resemblances to the 1930s, then it seemed important to go to Stoke. It was being widely forecast that the UKIP leader would win in Stoke - dubbed the “Leave capital of the UK”.

In the end, UKIP lost in Stoke. Labour increased its margin of victory. The Brexit, Trump bandwagon was derailed. That is very important.

However, in another sense UKIP won in Copeland.  The Tory party in 2017 has adopted most of the policies and tone of UKIP. The Tories want a Hard Brexit, they are intolerant, harsh on the poor but indulgent to the very rich, dog-whistle racist, cruel to child refugees,Trumpist - and even support Grammar Schools. 

Much of the media repeat Theresa May’s own claims to be on the centre-ground of British politics as if they reflect reality. This is dire journalism. May’s claims in this regard are not backed by any meaningful actions - they are as vacuous as David Cameron’s were. 

The UKIP vote collapsed in Copeland. In 2015 Labour had a majority over the Tories of 2.5k with UKIP third. The UKIP vote collapsed from 2015 to 2017 by over 4k. Most of these votes clearly went to the "new UKIP" i.e. the Tories.

(Contrary to the media hype, Copeland was a marginal seat - the once great Labour lead there had been reducing steadily for decades due to a changing demographic).

If you want to beat the Tories, support Corbyn

I support Jeremy Corbyn because
1. He has, in my view, the best set of policies 
2. He will I assume be leader of the Labour party at the next election.

I think the UK faces an equivalent to a Trump/Clinton choice. The stakes have never been higher in UK politics in my lifetime. Those on the left who do not support Corbyn are the political equivalents of those who supported Sanders and then - on, as they saw it, a "point of principle" - refused to support Clinton. 

Whereas those on the right seem to understand that if you want power you cannot expect a "perfect" or even anything approaching a "perfect" leader, the left has too often descended into factionalism.

The Guardian newspaper is the base of the anti-Corbyn left. Their view is broadly - we agree with his policies but we don't like him. The famous Monty Python sketch was aimed at the far left but it applies now to the Guardian view of the Labour Party. This view is a self-indulgence which may well exact a heavy price for anyone who cares about a decent society in the UK.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Trump is a fascist; we should call him one

Nobody knows how the Trump presidency will end. How much grief and destruction will he wreak before then? And how will it end? By impeachment? At the ballot box? By stepping down after 8 years? Even - as has been suggested - by a bullet? Whatever the future holds, Trump should be labelled now as what he is - a fascist.

Here are five reasons why Trump should be properly described as a fascist.
  1. He is contemptuous of the democratic process.
  2. He is contemptuous of the rule of law.
  3. He stigmatises and persecutes minorities. He falsely describes some as being an existential threat to the country.
  4. He lies and fabricates. He undermines and threatens those who tell the truth. He uses hyper-nationalistic language - “Make America Great Again”.
  5. He is an arch narcissist and sees himself as the source of all “legitimate power”.

It is easy to underestimate Trump; to dismiss him as a buffoon; to think he can be controlled. That was exactly how many people felt about Hitler in 1933.

Unless Trump is stopped - and he may well be - it is likely that he will bring democracy in the US to an end, at least for a period. Democracy means not only free and fair elections but also the rule of law, a free press, rights for minorities etc.

Trump may also seek war, as fascists tend to do, in order to distract and to bolster their own position.

It matters a great deal that Trump is labelled a fascist and that the label sticks so that no one can think of him without recognising that he is a fascist. Would Theresa May have been so sycophantic to “Trump the fascist”? Would the press-barons Murdoch, Rothermere/Dacre, Barclays, Desmond be so brazen in their support for “Trump the fascist”? Would the BBC feel it necessary to provide balance  for “Trump the fascist”?; to give fascism a “fair hearing”?

Trump is a fascist; we should call him one. All the time.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Make America great again - an idea playing on fear. Let America be America again - a poem offering hope.

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America great again”. The America he seems to mean is a 1950s America, where straight white males were firmly in charge and gays, blacks, Muslims, women and other “minorities” knew their place. (And the world was divided between the US and Russia.)

Below is a fine poem written in 1935  - the same year that Sinclair Lewis wrote his eerily prescient novel It Can't Happen Here about a “clownish swindler” being elected president and then becoming a fascist dictator.

This poem - Let America be America again - was written by Langston Hughes. Hughes was a poet, novelist, playwright and social activist. He was also black and gay.

Hughes values the American dream as an ideal to aspire to, which has never yet been realised. 

Trump and Hughes demonstrate the divide between fomenting fear of “the other” and offering hope that a better future for all really is possible.

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—

And make America again!