Saturday, 18 March 2017

Normalisation of hate and fascism

Did you follow what was being said by the politicians in the Dutch election this week?

Here is what one of the candidates said about the Jews. He said he wanted
  • to close all synagogues
  • to ban all Jewish religious books
  • to “de-Jew” Holland

Actually I made that up - with the intention of shocking. That was Holland in 1940 not 2017.

However, the truth is no less shocking. This is what Geert Wilders, whose party came second in the Dutch election, said in reality. He said he wanted
  • to close all mosques
  • to ban the Koran
  • to “de-Islamise” Holland

Wilders did not win (this time). The election was won by the centre-right Mark Rutte. 

However, Wilders has already succeeded in dragging Rutte towards him. Rutte started his campaign with a letter calling on anyone who rejects Dutch values and  “attacks gays, jeers at women in mini-skirts, and calls ordinary Dutch people racists” to leave the country. Many religious Christians and Jews oppose homosexuality and “immodest” women’s clothing - but it was clear it was not people like them that Rutte meant. It was Muslims.

Alongside Wilders’ and indeed Rutter’s words, physical and verbal attacks on Muslims have increased in Holland.

And yet. The BBC does not describe Wilders as a fascist but uses the weasel word “populist”. It links him with his “fellow populist” Marine Le Pen.

Meanwhile on LBC, Nigel Farage is interviewing the fascist Marine Le Pen and the radio station proudly advertises the interview describing Le Pen as a “controversial right winger”.

The parallels with the fascists of the 1930s and 1940s are plain to those who don’t look away. 

Hate and fascism are being normalised.

Book a free ticket on Eventbrite for Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 Event on 19 April in Queen’s Park, NW London, called “Our Media and Our Democracy” where you will hear brilliant speakers including

  • Miqdaad Versi on Islamophobia in UK media
  • Richard Wilson of Stop Funding Hate

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 - an attempt to provide some points of light.

W H Auden published a poem in October 1939 called 1 September 1939 - the date Germany invaded Poland and the world plunged into the horror of the Second World War. Here is the last verse.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Those of us born after the Second World War in the UK have never been “beleaguered by the same negation and despair” that people must have felt as war broke out just 21 years after the slaughter of the previous war and this time against an enemy that was the embodiment of evil.

2016 was the closest we have yet come. By the end of that miserable year it was clear that there were real threats to our democracy, our rights and what was left of our “decent society”. 

This was the background to a group of us - author and campaigner Melissa Benn, NHS nurse Tom Lennard and I, with others - deciding that rather than succumbing to despair we would try and do something positive. 

We all believe that politics is not a spectator sport. It’s not about “them”, it is about “us”.

“Better 2017” means we hope that 2017 and subsequent years will be better than 2016. “Kensal and Kilburn” is important to us because this is where we live. There is a community here and we cherish that.

We are organising a series of events about issues which matter. Our first event, “So, who is going to look after us when we get old?” had excellent panel members and everyone who attended was able to contribute to a good discussion. People told us they really liked it.

We are planning four more events this year. 

On 19 April, “Our media and our democracy. How well are we being served by our mainstream media?”

On 4 July, “Can we avoid another financial crisis? What is the “new economics” and what does it offer us?”

In September, “How can we get better schools and higher education?”

In November, “How can we do better on housing for younger people in London?”

All being well, we’ll hold more events next year.

Of course, we have an agenda. We are members of the Labour Party, the Green Party and no political party. We think there are fundamental problems with our society. 

We are not seeking to have “balanced panels”. On the whole, the people we invite to speak will be critical of the status quo. Every day the powerful who run the status quo get to put their worldview unchallenged. We will challenge prevailing assumptions.

Of course, people may strongly disagree with what they hear. Great. Let’s discuss. We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to have their say. We believe it is possible to have polite, reasoned discussions on controversial issues.

We hope you will come to our events. They can all be found by searching Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 on Eventbrite.

We want to be ambitious, optimistic and realistic. In the words of Bernie Sanders: - “Despair is not an option”.

We hope that Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 will, in Auden’s words, “show an affirming flame” and provide some “points of light”.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn - a reply to Owen Jones

Owen Jones has written an article this week in the Guardian calling on Jeremy Corbyn to stand down. I take what Jones says seriously but I think he is wrong.

Some may dismiss what Jones says by attacking the man and not the argument. Jones himself anticipates this - “The party’s warring factions now refuse to accept that differing opinions are expressed in good faith - there have to be ulterior motives, ranging from careerism to self-aggrandisement to “virtue signalling””. 

I completely accept that Jones writes in good faith. Equally, I do so too. Jones and I passionately want the same two things - to defeat this destructive Tory government and to elect a decent, progressive Labour government. The argument is not about the ends but the means.

Jones calls for “an agreement to be struck where Corbyn can stand down in exchange for  the guarantee of an MP from the new generation on the ballot paper who is committed to the policies that Inspired Corbyn’s supporters in the first place.”

There are two issues here - the policy and the leader.

I agree with Jones that Corbyn’s policies are more likely to win an election than those of his Labour Party opponents. As he says correctly of those opponents - “They had no compelling or coherent alternative (to Corbyn).” He writes that the “more perceptive among the ranks of the opponents recognise this. The less perceptive have become embittered nihilists, defined almost exclusively by hostility to the left.”  

It is a lazy and too common assumption that the Labour Party would be doing OK if only it had more centrist or right wing policies. This seems to be based on the example of Tony Blair. However, 2017 is not 1997. In particular, there have been two General Elections since the 2008 Crash and Labour has lost both of them. Labour’s underlying problems pre-date Corbyn. Labour lost almost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010 (going from 13.5 million to 8.6 million). It was not Corbyn’s policies that led to a wipe-out in Scotland. 

If Owen Smith had been leader would he have even held Stoke?

Corbyn’s opponents fundamental claim is that they are the grown-ups, the sensible ones who know how to win elections. Yet they launched the shambolic, destructive and pointless coup last year just at the time when the Tories were on the ropes, which led to a disastrous plunging in Labour’s poll ratings which have never recovered since.

Since becoming leader, Corbyn has inspired hundreds of thousands to join the Labour party. Given the low level of political engagement in the UK, it is depressing how far from welcoming this, some sneer and belittle the fact.

Jones’ criticism of Corbyn is not about his policies but about his leadership qualities. He says Corbyn is ineffective and wants him replaced with a younger, more effective communicator (unnamed).

I have no problem with Jones’ idea in principle - (but I have two problems in practice). I support Corbyn not because of the man - although I admire him - but because of his policies. If someone else really could make them more likely to be implemented then it would make sense to support them. 

However - unless we are to have a dramatic announcement by a group of Labour MPs - Jones’ swap idea appears to be nothing more than pie in the sky dreaming. All the signs are to date that Labour MPs are doing everything in their power to ensure that a candidate with Corbyn’s policies will never be allowed to go on to the leadership ballot to be voted on by the membership.

The second problem with the swap idea is that it underestimates the power of the UK elite, in particular through its control of the media. We don’t know who Jones new, improved Corbynite leader would be. However, even if they had the political skills of an Abraham Lincoln or a FDR and the looks of Justin Trudeau, as long as they put forward policies that threatened the UK’s elite they would face the same tsunami of bile and distortion that Corbyn has had to endure and the same blocking of their positive message. 

The elite don’t need anything substantive to destroy a politician. The day before the 2015 General Election, John Humphries on BBC radio 4 Today merrily described the Sun’s front page, it was the picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich.  I remember this because when I heard it, I felt a literal pain in my stomach. I know how this kind of subliminal messaging is very effective - that’s why the advertisers spend billions of pounds on it.

There is only one way for a Labour leader to achieve anything approaching fair coverage in the UK media. That is to make it clear to the UK elite that they are no threat to them. That is what Tony Blair did. He actually made an explicit deal with Rupert Murdoch.

The UK elite are trying to crush Corbyn and would try and crush any successor with the same policies. Do we take a stand or do we allow the word “electable” to mean “acceptable to Murdoch and Dacre and the rest of the elite”?

The road to social justice and a decent society is hard. Like the road to the vote and to human rights. 

Corbyn needs help with his communications. So, let’s help him. Let’s stand and fight together, Owen.