Notice to those doing whatever it is they are doing in Westminster: politics has left the building – mind you don’t get left behind.
Thank you, LabourBAME Hastings and Hastings and Rye Labour Women’s Forum for an excellent gathering and an excellent supper in Hastings last night. Thank you, speaker Marc Wadsworth for reminding us that you don’t wait until you know you can win – you keep pushing, and you advertise your attempts. That’s what brings more people to your banner. And above all, thank you to the guy who not only produced supper but gave what I considered to be the best speech of the evening – about how everyone joined the Labour Party when Jeremy Corbyn called them, and about doing politics before, and after, being in the Labour Party.
Message to all the people who’ve lost faith in their political parties/groups: there are still PEOPLE out there, people who gathered for Corbyn, and learned to be activists. Don’t wait for ‘a new party’ – Marc Wadsworth reckons there’ll be a new party if and when the unions decide to get behind one, otherwise it’ll lack working class strength. Lost faith in the unions to stand for working people? Well, don’t sit there thinking your TU won’t do it, start local and start pushing them.
Message to Labour’s Socialist Campaign Group, and all lefty organisations: a lost motion is not a defeat – a lost motion is a campaign starting point. Tell them what everyone wants, then tell everyone what they said ‘no’ to!
Yes, Labour Party Conference was a depressing experience for those still trying to do socialism or democracy in the Labour party but Wadsworth reminded us of the example set by the new General Secretary of Unite, Sharon Graham. She didn’t go to Labour conference. She didn’t have time – because she was out there agitating for workers’ rights.
The politics of the 99% is about people. It’s about health, housing, environment, and work, because they are what people need. It’s about sex, race and class, because they are the weapons of the enemy. If our politicians aren’t working on the problems real people face in this country, they aren’t doing politics. We are.
The real politics is happening out on the streets and (in this case) in restaurants.
The best political meetings do not have to be party-political.
For my taste, the best political meetings involve radical books.
And it helps if they include a damn good supper and a rousing international socialist flavoured speech by the guy who made your supper.
If you’re after good food and good company, check out the Jali restaurant in Hastings.
If you’re after an inspiring read about perseverance in radical politics, check out Marc Wadsworth’s book.
If you’re after the hope that seemed lost a while back, check out LabourBAMEHastings – or whoever has the heart to still be doing politics where you are.
Never mind Starmer, Johnson or any other besuited blaguers. This line from Ceri Williams, in the informal, ‘thank you and good night’ speech at the end of an unofficial fringe meeting, was, in my opinion the most important utterance of this year’s entire political conference season.
It’s like when you go to Spain with the phrase book. He was okay to … order the coffee but when they asked him, did he want tea – oh my god. Because he didn’t understand the language.
[context and video of the speech below]
In the UK, political parties negotiate a manifesto – in effect, a shop window – that presents their core policies to the world. How it’s negotiated and by whom differs from party to party, but it’s the manifesto – or at least the publicly amplified gist of the manifesto, that allows people (and politicians) to consider which party they want to support/be a part of. All politicians need to do is familiarise themselves with the main points of their current manifesto and they would always be capable of coming up with at least a basically coherent reply to questions about all their party’s policies.
That’s the theory.
One of the many reasons Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership years scared the pants off the establishment was that he was working towards a situation where everyone would get an opportunity to contribute to the Labour Party manifesto, and Labour MPs would work according to that manifesto. He didn’t get anywhere near that in reality – but the prospect of it terrified them.
What really happens
Politicians follow their noses – they scent what the leader of their party wants, what their most lucrative donors want, what the media want on any given day, and try to sound ‘on the button’. This is why journalists and reporters can have lots of fun when they want to knock down a particular politician by seeking a currently contentious issue, and trying to think of a question their victims may not yet have been rehearsed to answer.
That tactic didn’t work on Jeremy Corbyn (until after Starmer’s Brexit stitch-up prevented him speaking plainly) because like most honest people, he’s not afraid of saying ‘what do you mean?’ or ‘I don’t know’. My all time favourite was when a reporter asked him ‘are you a Marxist’ and he replied, ‘I don’t know – I haven’t read everything Marx wrote. Have you?’ [Interpretation: do you know, or care, what being a Marxist might mean? Shall we have a real conversation? About why you are asking me that question?]
Another one I liked was when he was asked if he knew what the women’s campaign was about. He said, ‘I’ll ask my friend Linda Bellos.’ [Interpretation: don’t be afraid to talk to people with a range of views, even ones who are currently contentious. That’s how you learn.]
They’re all the same
Other than the occasional honest broker who slips through the net as Corbyn did, most politicians spend their time ducking, dodging and blaguing, trying to interpret every question they’re asked according to the requirements of the day. It’s why people say ‘they’re all the same’, it’s why politicians generally are neither useful nor valuable – and it’s the clue, for anyone who wants to really look into it, that should lead you to the conclusion that politicians are not especially powerful.
They are servants – but of what? Of whom? If we are to save any of the things that we really care about, that’s the question to answer, and we need to take the fight to the people who really hold the power.
The reason Ceri Williams’ comment about phrase books is so significant is that it flags up exactly how and why politicians get caught out. Rather than sitting shouting at the telly when they talk uninformed ‘phrase book’ politics, we need to switch off the telly, leave the newspaper in the shop, and choose between actively educating our own MPs on what matters to us, and pushing them towards real debate, or going round them and solving our problems by creating and building movements ourselves.
[Context: Ceri is talking about the violence and threats to a meeting two years ago which provided witnesses to what women have been putting up with in our communities … ‘as women and men who are arguing to retain our existing rights in law,’ because for years now, politicians have not seen fit to get their heads round this highly relevant and very contentious issue]
” … and it’s that silencing that has led Keir to look such a twit when he was asked a question. We can help you Keir. We can help you not make an idiot of yourself. We’ve asked you all week ‘don’t be a Davey’ because Marr made Davey look an absolute idiot about ‘adult human female’, that that’s a bad thing to say and [Starmer] had been no doubt briefed to answer that question possibly a little bit better, but that didn’t [happen]. He [Marr] said ‘is it transphobic to say that only women have a cervix’ and he’d not practised the script because …. we have asked for a meeting for two years now. We’ve offered him half an hour we think we could in half and hour explain how he could start thinking about the conflict of rights and talking about it in a respectful and helpful way so we can move forward about it in the Labour party. …”
I believe people are allowed to join in politics. I joined the Green Party when the BBC said Nigel Farage could be all over the telly all the time because his then party had more members than the Greens. So did around 60 000 other people – people want to have an effect in politics.
I joined the Labour Party along with hundreds of thousands of others because Ed Miliband let people join in, and then Jeremy Corbyn gave them hope of honest, humane government. The establishment responded by pulling every trick in the book to make sure nothing like the Corbyn years ever happens again.
Dear Labour Party,
The Labour Party is the most toxic, abusive, dishonest and disabling organisation I have ever had the misfortune of being a part of. You – and when I say ‘you’, I mean your administration and most of your MPs have lied, cheated and bullied your way through every situation I have experienced as a member. You fluffed the EU referendum debate by failing to believe people were capable of being given information and making a decision for themselves. Jeremy Corbyn tried to give us a proper debate. You called that ‘indecisive’. You made the ‘left, right or broad church’ debate about the party itself impossible to resolve. You made it impossible for socialist Jews to do their politics at all, and you have bluffed and blustered on the undeniable conflict between women’s rights and Stonewall’s demands for trans people, gaslighting and frustrating members, whatever their views, so utterly and for so long that many can no longer get along with each other at all. You have done serious harm to a large swathe of the population – and that’s without even getting into government.
This week, you expelled one of my constituency’s delegates, a politically experienced, honest, honourable socialist Jewish woman, slap in the middle of conference. Here she is at the 2017 conference, reacting to the scheming and manipulation our CLP faced that year…
…and here she is at this year’s conference.
Apparently, you have expelled Leah retrospectively, for having dealings in the past with an organisation you have just proscribed. Well, let’s see if *that* works both ways. I am resigning retrospectively. Please return all the subs I have paid since Kier Starmer and his team screwed the General Election with their Brexit means Remain manoeuvers, instead of allowing the people a clear choice.
Here is the General Secretary Starmer imposed on us, explaining why he abandoned the principles he claims he has to get rid of socialists, especially Jewish socialists ( Recording via Vox Political ).
Now, I know you think it doesn’t matter, you think we’ll all have to campaign and vote for you because we want to get rid of this lousy government. Well, you are wrong. Many of us have noted that, in effect, you are a part of this lousy government. There are other ways a population can express itself and get its way, and we will find them. You can’t break the hearts of millions of people and expect to get away with it. For a start, if you continue to be anything but a force for good in this country, there will be hundreds of thousands of members, ex-members and ex-supporters seeking to provoke by-elections against you at every opportunity.
Please examine your conscience – yes, even if you’re only a casual worker disinterestedly doing a stint in the Labour Party office, skim-reading this letter. Examine your conscience, ask yourself if your kids have any hope of a future. You could give things a good hard shake and give the Labour Party the dose of honesty it needs, and we could be comrades once more.
I have cancelled my direct debit and await the return of the subs you took whilst pretending to be our Labour Party.
A Red Green Non-Party-Political Person
A reminder to my friends, comrades and sisters everywhere: keep doing politics, keep networking. We are many – they are few.
List A: Things you can do without being a member of a political party
Set up and promote petitions
Go on demos
Organise political education and film nights
Write to your MP
Get up delegations to go and visit MPs for discussions
Write blogs, make videos and pod casts
Join an affiliated union and vote through policies they’ll support for you at party conference
Campaign for decent councillors and, come election time, parliamentary candidates
Go to hustings and question parliamentary candidates
Go to political meetings and lectures that interest you, *whoever* is organising them
Meet with the local branches of political parties, and tell them what you are doing and why
Talk to members of all parties without appearing to be ‘the enemy’
Get up campaign groups of your own from amongst your friends and colleagues, to campaign on topics that matter to you
Contact anyone – *anyone* who has an idea that interests you, and ask for a coffee and a chat
List B: Things you don’t have to do if you’re not a member of a political party
Sit through weekly or monthly meetings that go on for two hours or more even if no-one has anything constructive to say/do
Pay subs, only to receive endless appeals for cash anyway
Stand by policies you don’t really agree with
Try to support the party candidate, even if they are a parachuted-in disaster
Put up with abuse from partisan evangelists just because they are in the same party as you
Avoid being seen with, or being caught talking about, proscribed people and organisations, such as Ken Loach, Jeremy Corbyn, Julie Bindel, Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Chris Williamson, Julian Assange (yeah yeah, there are probably people there you don’t agree with but you know, if you’re not a party animal, you’re allowed to question/debate with/learn about *anyone you want to*.)
Give up on having any political influence when your party’s not in power
Spend whole days delivering leaflets that, as far as you can see, say nothing useful at all
But here’s the really good bit
You can do all the things on list A even if you *are* a member of a political party – it’s just that you don’t have to do list B, and are not *limited to* working with party members and/or within the limits of party policy if you understand that being kicked out isn’t the end of politics for you.
Don’t fret if you want to leave your political party, don’t fret if they’ve thrown you out or bullied you out, and don’t feel silenced if you’re still in, and they’ve told you what not to say. There is life – and politics enough to change our world – beyond the party meeting.
Solidarity to all the socialists, environmentalists, feminists and others who are worried about being ‘politically homeless’ – it’s a mirage! See you at conferences, on demos, in the pub, all over the place, doing politics. You are not politically homeless. The whole country is your home!
Please feel free to add more ideas in the comments.
If football ‘comes home’, I have a question or two.
I think I have watched about two ‘proper’ football matches in my life. I really don’t do international level sport-as-a-spectator stuff. So I’m a bit worried about how you go about writing a blog about football.
It’s like this – it’s clear ‘football’ has changed. Even Craig Murray found himself unable to hate the England football supporters in London last week.
Does that mean it’s gone all middle class and respectable, like rugby? Not quite. There’s something else, isn’t there. Remember this….
…. I know, the anti-austerity movement was gaining ground before Corbyn, and I know there are those who hope and pray that the movement that for several years focused on Corbyn as Labour leader has gone forever but it hasn’t, and – well, we knew it would crop up again somewhere, somehow, and… I don’t know when it started re-forming around football. If you’re a fan, you probably do, but it’s good to feel that feeling again. The first time I personally noticed it in football was when Marcus Rashford spoke up for the kids the government was doing out of their school dinners, which led to loads of social media claims that he was making a better job as leader of the opposition than Starmer was (admittedly that’s a pretty low bar, but…)
Now, there’s definitely a feeling that whether football ‘comes home’ or not, the popular movement is back, with a new focus to keep it rolling. Now surely, surely that is a good thing…
But but but – FOOTBALL?
That’s great but – you know, I’m sure it’s well-meaning and if it works then great but – FOOTBALL?
… even when you realise that, win or lose, a big football match leads to domestic and other sex-based violence? Okay, the football doesn’t cause it but for many, football evokes and provokes it. Did you notice, in Craig Murray’s comment up there, he was just fine until he was scared by a bunch of women enjoying themselves?
Do I worry unduly? – true, the fantastic coming together against the capitalist ‘superleague’ touts revived the nation’s battered ability to find solidarity after Corbyn but can football really escape from its violent, misogynistic, nationalistic, divisive cultural base? If I doubt it, it’s firstly because people keep telling me how many, many years it is since ‘England’ had a decent win. But – I remember this….
That’s what I fear. is this really a movement foreveryone? All those stories of loving, giving mothers and sisters helping on the way to footballers’ stardom puts me in mind of an incident at a book launch years ago. An author was waxing lyrical about his gratitude to his wife and various other women for the hournhours of work they’d put in to support the gestation of the book, when someone put their hand up and said, “if the book could never have happened without your wife’s research skills etc etc, she must have been doing that instead of furthering her own career, so why isn’t her name on the cover?”
…. so as a feminist I am very dubious about England as football ‘coming home’ to be the new people’s movement, not least because I worry that like so many lads-based cultures, their response to anything women may have to say about women’s legal standing in these turbulent times will be “just be kind…”. I can just see all these enthusiastic sporty types claiming that sexism and all its attendant cruelties are history – I hope they won’t, because they will probably at least have heard of sporty people like Martina Navratilova and Sharon Davies. and the Olympics are coming up and they must have noticed a problem there, surely – swimming caps? Breast-fed babies? Weight lifting? If they can ignore all that, they ain’t for me – and that ability to ignore, or instantly know best, on ‘women’s issues’ was for me and thousands of other women, one of the harbingers of the end of the Corbyn movement. Please gods, don’t let that happen again.
Oh and by the way – Scotland exists. Also Wales. But here’s hoping…
Socialism A, socialism B, and why everyone who was paralysed by despair on 13th December 2019 should be back in action by now...
The Ministry of Truth
We’ve always been very keen on throwing the term ‘Orwellian’ at anything we consider less than honest but in recent years, the term seems to apply more and more often. Last week (April 2021) a story broke which qualifies 100% – a firm of UK lawyers get the job of doctoring textbooks to suit the Israeli market
And reading that, I remembered that during the compilation of the recent report on racism (that found there wasn’t any) there had been talk of providing ‘the real truth’ to schools. Just trying to imagine what such a scheme would look like under our current government made my toes curl.
The impossibility of agreeing ‘the truth’ with the average citizen you meet in the street was a constant burning problem for Labour activists during the 2017 and 2019 election campaigns, not to mention during the nightmare of the Brexit referendum. The enormity, the impossibility, of that task in the face of a government and a mainstream media drifting ever further from reality is beginning to be discussed by relatively mainstream reporters and academics now, two years after That Terrible Day…
But, having had two years to get over the reeling horror of what happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, most socialist activists are probably beginning to see, as my comrades do, that we already knew we’d been beaten by 2019. We’d run the campaign in a state of denial, based on the fact that the media had spent the last two years telling us we’d lost when in fact we hadn’t, and so we completely failed to acknowledge reality when we really had lost.
So what happened to real socialism? Why could we not see the wood for the trees? There’s hardly anyone in the Labour Party who doesn’t claim to be a socialist: from the very best paid and most privileged members of the plap (as we took to calling the Parliamentary Labour Party after some of our more bruising experiences), right on down to the lowliest of activists out on the street between DWP maulings, ‘the grassroots’ helping out with Unite Community campaigns against Sports Direct and other exploiters — all insist that they are socialists. How can so many, so very different people, people absolutely at each other’s throats, think they’re socialists?
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of socialism – or at least, there’s socialism, and a very convincing faux socialism that often takes its place. I found a good, clear definition of the distinction in Snakes and Ladders by Selina Todd. The subtitle of the book is ‘The Great British Social Mobility Myth’. Todd makes extensive use of the personal accounts collected in endeavours such as the Mass Observation Project
She demonstrates a change, over the generations, in the publicly perceived aims of socialism. She looks at early socialist projects, pre-Second World War, which tended to be local subscription schemes, co-ops where communities banded together to solve problems and help each other, thus reducing their reliance on the ‘power people’, the oppressors. Then she looks at later ones which tended to be more individualistic efforts to lift ‘high achievers’ into the middle classes. She follows the developing clash of these two ideas via conflicts in the Workers’ Education Association, over whether their work should centre community education projects for everyone, or whether they should focus on creating scholarships for ‘achievers’.
The problem gradually comes into focus. Clearly, lifting individuals out of the oppressed, working classes into the middle classes isn’t really socialism – you can’t lift everyone into the middle class. If that is your aim, what does ‘the middle’ rest on? Who is going to scrub the floors and wipe the arses? Do we discuss this thorny issue, or do we close our eyes and trumpet ever louder the catch-phrases of socialism B….?
Tony Blair was one of the more notorious proponents of ‘meritocracy’, enthusiastically espousing ‘equality of opportunity’, and mixing meritocracy with the wide-ranging benefits which generally come with a Labour government in a very enticing agenda which, for one-and-a-half terms of office, successfully covered a creeping privatisation that left us with our hospitals deeply in debt, school grounds being sold off and a range of other troubling developments including the over-riding horror of the Iraq War. A loss of socialist vision that more than justified Margaret Thatcher’s statement that New Labour was her greatest achievement.
But Blair was a socialist – and initially a very popular one. What happened?
A good source of detail on how ‘meritocracy’ works is Miseducation, by Diane Reay, which surveys stats and experiences of UK education from the very start of mass education, and discovers an unchanging strategy of using the majority of children as a buffer (collateral damage is the term she uses), the contrast that allows those bright achievers to be ‘top of the pile’. There were only ever so many grammar school places back in the 11-plus days, and middle class parents were always good at making sure their children got them. The few working class people who clawed their way into grammar schools often felt lost and defeated when they got there, cut off from their working class roots, not quite good enough for the alternatives… Comprehensives looked, for a while, like a solution to that but there was, eternally, the private school system sitting on top, limiting their efficacy; and even within those comprehensives, streaming systems recreated that hierarchical ladder for the ‘achievers’ to climb… and the corresponding snakes for others to slide down.
The now-proliferating academy businesses appear to be even more focused on this idea, with their competitive, motivational, aspirational straplines, and their quiet assurances to teachers that no-one will have to handle more than one of those problematic set 3 classes, where the kids all seem to have SEND or mental health issues: the latter translates, in some opinions, to kids who are angry, depressed and/or distressed – the ‘collateral damage’ – the necessary foil of the class system.
Those kids need rescuing – or they need to learn to rescue themselves. Is that a skill they’re going to learn in those schools?
Corbyn – a return to socialism A?
It was extremely hard to sell Corbyn’s version of socialism to everyone – it sold itself to pretty much everyone who actually met him but, strangely enough, it didn’t get an honest airing in the mainstream media, and the high-salaried, high-achievers in the Labour Party didn’t take to it too well. Nevertheless, team Corbyn kept him out on the road, meeting people in their tens of thousands, and good instincts led many, many people to recognise that the socialism of Jeremy Corbyn was something different, something that provided redress – as some analysts noted, Corbyn’s acknowledgement of ‘the left behind’ was key.
Corbyn wasn’t cheering people on to ‘rise above’ the herd, he was constantly calling for them to ‘stick together’, to ‘build the community’ and make socialism happen.
The one big Momentum call-out
Initially, the organisation Momentum became the instrument of the mass movement. When the plap made their first major attempt to nip Socialism A in the bud (an exercise now known as ‘the chicken coup’) they found the House of Commons surrounded by tens of thousands of – well, people – just people – responding to Momentum’s call to hold the line for Corbyn, chanting ‘for the many, not the few’ and ‘no-one left behind’.
It was instinctive, it was right (I think) but, as many lefty commentators said after the Terrible Day (13th December 2019) the majority of the movement lacked background knowledge, it lacked political nous, and was completely un-leadable. It scared the heck out of Jon Lansman who, at that time, considered himself to be in charge of Momentum. It gets very personal here but it seems to me that from that day on, Lansman back-tracked furiously, aiming for his own natural home which was most definitely Socialism B. His methods came from the secret weapon of the right at the time – Identity Politics.
The Politics of Divide and Rule
Where Socialism A always centres the class struggle, aiming to unravel the ‘meritocracy’ view in favour of community and class action, Socialism B will reply with divide and rule – sometimes centring the ‘high achievers’ to create an elite, other times centring a minority competing in ‘the oppression Olympics’ – for example, look at who was getting kicked out of the Labour Party during the struggle to get Corbyn into number ten – top of the list was Jewish Socialists – especially black and female Jewish socialists – accused of anti-semitism.
Were there really hordes of anti-semites in the Labour Party, or was this an attempt to use one section of the Jewish community against another? And then came the leaks, and the signs of racism and sexism running through backroom party bureaucracy.
It was Momentum that scuppered the CLGA left slate system that the new, mass membership relied on to compensate for our lack of political experience and literacy, and it was Momentum in general, Jon Lansman in particular – who did the damage, first by throwing the anti-semitism bomb at Pete Wilsman in the middle of an NEC election, and more recently by making sectarian demands of CLGA candidates that exacerbate the divide between gender-critical feminism and the trans rights movement.
Lots of lobbying or lots of people?
How do you heal those divides? The two styles of socialism can be seen in the choice all political movements make between foregrounding community- and movement-building or foregrounding lobbying. The lack of experience of many of us newcomers to party politics led to an expectation that if only we could get our particular case in front of Corbyn or MacDonnell, all the problems would fall away. Many sections of the movement attempted to build and lobby, but there was always too much belief in the ‘Corbyn will sort it out’ feeling. I suspect that it is, even now, slowing the development of the current Corbyn Project, as too many sign-ups sit at home waiting for Jeremy to work his magic.
It was the failure of that misplaced faith that led us all to slump into despair as the election results came in on 13th December 2019, and Corbyn resigned as party leader. It was the same failure of faith that led so many campaigns to wander off down their separate, and often antagonistic, paths since then. Failure of faith in ourselves as a collective. It’s time to pull those paths back together – we need to recognise truth speakers such as Corbyn, to listen to them and honour them, but not expect them to work the magic. We need to know that we can campaign side-by-side with people of different opinions, but we need to be politically literate enough to know whether they are real socialists. I don’t know if the Labour Party itself is any use to us now, but nor do I expect Mr Magic Corbyn to start a new party.
What we need to do is a lot more homework, then we need to get out there and make sure more people really understand what happened, and what is happening. Keep the conversations going until enough people understand… and as so often happens, I was just trying to work out how to say all that, when I realised someone just had.
I’m not sure how long the share token for ‘The Truth’ will stay live but, if it’s stopped working when you get to this point, try searching for Caitlin Johnstone and the-problem-isnt-human-nature…
Sorry for the bar room tone of the title, but it seems to me to match the level of thinking we have been getting from our government.
I have huge sympathy with the people who have been agitating all along to keep/get the schools open.
I have huge sympathy with the people who want the schools shut until we’re sure we’re safe.
I have huge sympathy with the people who think the whole idea of schools should be torn up and re-invented.
What we have found out
Open the schools, fund the schools
Many communities, especially those that have become pits of social and financial deprivation due to the degradation of local authorities and funding, were depending on schools to keep children fed, healthy and safe. There are horrendous reports now coming out of the dangers and disasters that are befalling children in these areas during lock-down. If we are going to go on like this, we need to provide schools with the funds and the specialist staff to deal with all the community problems that have fallen into their laps because no-one else is dealing with them.
Keep the schools closed, fund everything else
It’s obvious that we need to close schools, and as many other institutions as possible, until the experts in *that* field have worked out how to deal with the virus and related problems so, having learned what our kids are going through, a responsible government would be urgently and actively re-funding and re-staffing the NHS, social services, community police, housing officers and all the other departments (not private contractors please, they have proved to be useless and expensive) – government or local authoritydepartments that would, if they had the resources, be dealing with the problems those children are facing and – obviously – we need legislation to assure that wages and working conditions are functioning in a way that allows young adults to set up home, and find the time and resources necessary to bring up their children properly.
But it would appear that the only thing concerning the government is how they handle a cohort of kids who are all in different places on their national education data sheets, kids who are not in the habit of functioning in a group and following orders. Faced with a situation that doesn’t fit on their spread sheets, government ministers flip-flop between micro-management and hand-waving laissez faire in a way tailored to guarantee rage in teachers and parents alike.
Catch up with what?
Or – why school culture is bad for your kids
Closing schools made precious little difference to home-educating families. Those who aren’t familiar with the idea probably formed their notions of what home-schooling is long before it became something desperate parents resorted to when schools could not provide for their children. No longer middle class ‘hippy’ types, most home-schooling parents hauled their lives into a new shape with great difficulty because their children have special needs and their schools were poorly resourced to respond. Many of those who home-school now, whether by choice or because of special needs say the term itself is somewhat outdated. ‘Community education’ would be a more appropriate description. They band together, join local gyms, libraries and arts and science projects, and endeavour to teach their children what they are capable of learning in a way they are capable of learning it.
The biggest problem I see with such education is that it’s often impossible for people who don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, or who have to work long hours, to take part.
When the schools closed, the children in those families who were engaged in non-school education carried on their education pretty much as before, except that their group work had to move onto zoom. The problems they do have went right on as before – the difficulty of getting officials who contacted them to understand what education was, the difficulty of securing places and facilities for the kids to sit exams and the complete irrelevance to them of government guidance and directives – but overall, home-schooling proved itself during lockdown to be far, far better adapted to the modern world than most schools were.
For one thing, it’s a large part of why the government we weren’t allowed to have had free broadband for all as a headline policy, and it’s another area in which I really wish we had a government with the ability to look and learn.
What ‘home-school’ kids are suffering though, is the same thing all kids are currently suffering. They urgently need the time and the opportunity to rediscover and rebuild their social networks. I seriously hope the government doesn’t pursue that recently mooted idea of extending school hours so kids can ‘catch up’ – what, catch up with an imposed GCSE regime that has little to do with their actual lives? – they, just as much as their home-schooling friends, need time to catch up with their friends, their lives.
Through the portal
If only – If only we had had the government the majority of us did our best to bring in in 2017 (yes, majority – go find out, if you don’t know) we could take away the fines and the social pressures (poverty, overwork, inadequate housing etc) that force parents to send kids to school, and we could completely make over our schools, so that they were our hubs of community education: so that they provided shelter and routine every day to kids who needed those things, but also provided exam resources and sittings, labs, dance and recording studios, IT centres, libraries, orchestra, choir and team sports opportunities and above all, professional teachers, to everyone in the community who needed them (free at the point of use, naturally – because we believe in free education for all, don’t we?) Such schools would of course be staffed by experts on education, child development and safeguarding, but they would not have to be experts in health, social care, housing, social control and all the rest of it because we would have proper local authority departments assessing and doing the necessary in those specialities.
The biggest lesson
Above all, I think the lesson all of us – parents, teachers, kids, politicians, the voting public – need to take from this is that we won’t get given what we want, we won’t get told the whole truth – unless we take action, take responsibility, and start making the world we want to pass on to our children.
Homework, set by members of my CLP 4 years ago: Read Tony Blair’s biography, and write us a piece for the young Corbynites who want to know just who this beast in the shadows is, and how, if he’s good and gone, he’s managed to leave this handful of people in key executive positions all over the party who are so damned good at out-playing the party’s every attempt to change.
I rejected the challenge as not worth the pain – but then happened to find a copy of the book in a junk shop, when we’d jumped on a train for a jolly day out shopping. Oh god! That psycho face gimlet-staring out of the cover pic! It was only 50p, so I caved in and said “oh alright then.”
Even the shop lady thought I was mad. “You won’t learn anything – he’ll only be bigging himself up,” she said, as I handed her the 50p.
It’s called A Journey. What with that, and the gimlet stare on the cover, I decided to discard the dust jacket on the train home. I could cope with the plain blue cover underneath – or so I thought. I nearly chickened out and left the whole book on the train when I realised it had TONY BLAIR embossed on the spine in 2-inch high letters, which fellow passengers were staring at in horror.
If ever the first line in a book was perfectly prescient, this one is. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: “When it was first suggested that I write this book, Bob Barnett, lawyer, friend and negotiator extraordinaire, expertly steered the negotiations that brought me to Random House.” There you have it – Tony Blair in a nutshell. Never mind policies, never mind principles, the one and only quality he notices in everyone and every event, is the potential for effective manipulation – for winning. I had a quick flick through. My eye was caught by the nature of the captions on the photo pages. Here’s an example:
The words of praise are extraordinary – “operative”, “superbly attuned” – remember how the phrase “on message” kept turning up in political columns when Blair was “team building”? Remember how, when the 2015 Labour leadership election was a three-horse race, the three candidates were shunting and shifting, playing chess for the “winning message”, and nobody was unusually stirred… Until a forth contender came along, one who messed up the chess-game by just saying what he thought, regardless of whether it was popular, or part of a pre-agreed “message”. The membership scented truth, and they were in the mood for it. From that moment on, despite the other candidates’ attempts to adapt, taking hasty lessons in appearing unrehearsed, Corbyn was the man: too old and too relaxed to fit the conventional model but, unbelievably, unstoppably popular – because in certain circumstances, people are ferociously loyal to truth, once they’ve spotted some.
Looking at the photos of Blair’s chosen inner circle, I am reminded of a famously machine-oriented councillor I came across at the Labour South East regional party conference. He got on fine with the group he and I were both working in that was about winning council elections – some fine, efficient advice on campaigning… but he was the only one at conference who took to the main stage and advised a (largely Corbynite – as the majority of members are) audience to “stay off social media, it’s just an echo chamber.” The advice was greeted with a stony silence. We knew where and how the membership at large got one up on the Blairite machine, and why he wanted it to stop. If he noticed that manipulative tactics stick out a mile these days, he didn’t show it but then, come to think of it, he didn’t show his own feelings once, all weekend. Educated for politics, groomed, trained and funded for his position, he is a text-book example of Blair’s machine men.
Pondering this, my eyes strayed to the page opposite the photos, where Blair is describing the role of Foreign Secretary, and explaining why it’s the job everyone wants. “…you basically spend your time with people who are polite to you…generally dispensing goodwill and opinions to those who seem relatively keen to receive them.” Sounds like the queen’s job to me – aren’t politicians supposed to be doing important, responsible things? Not the Foreign Secretary apparently – “…Not for you the horny handed sons of toil badgering you over fuel prices, or complaining about the government’s clearly ill-motivated refusal to spend money on this service or that, the minutiae of road schemes…” Is that, then, the root of the resentment Blairites hold for the Corbyn/McDonnell movement? Is it that they hold the people and their need for services in such total contempt they resent Corbyn’s expectation that all politicians lower themselves to actually running the country and providing services?
Not getting off to a very good start, this book review of mine, is it? Let’s see how Tony’s getting on: INTRODUCTION “Most such memoirs are, I have found, rather easy to put down. So what you see here is not a conventional description of who I met or what I did…” That, Tony, is pretty much what the lady in the bookshop said. “There is only one person who can write an account of what it is like to be the human being at the centre of that history, and that’s me.” Well okay, on the subject of Tony Blair’s experience of being Prime Minister, I suppose he has a point but is he going to keep the idea under control, and not write as if he is god of the real world? “I describe, of course, the major events of my time, but I do so through the eyes of the person taking the decisions in relation to them…” – The person? Doesn’t this sound a tad like the memoir of a dictator? – “…I hope it is fair.” I doubt it, old son.
I will try to be fair. But that’s my problem, not yours. You need not read the whole book with me, I’ll just tell you what was going through my mind while I laboured (sorry!) through the pages. The point is, if “truth” is the agreed, polished, message of the establishment, then it is in trouble. It has been struggling since the early days of newspapers. For most of our history since the invention of printing, the right to print and distribute was strictly controlled. From the 1700s onward, business people agitated increasingly loudly for a right to print news and politics – they scented big profits – but statesmen were initially quite open about their horror of the idea. How could they keep people “on message” if their own doings and sayings in government were passed around freely? You can see some stunning examples of this argument throughout the 1800s if you look for histories of Stamp Duty Law, which is where a lot of the attempts to control newspapers appear and get debated. One of the more recent examples comes at the end of the first world war, where a British politician is on record as congratulating the editor of the Guardian for keeping “on message” during the war. “The British people,” he said, “would never have stood for it if they’d known what was really going on.”
After the shameless drive for profit, technology was the next phenomenon that threatened “the message” of the ruling minority. Popular radio and then television, ease of travel, with roving reporters turning up everywhere, began to be a regular embarrassment to business leaders, politicians and royals. The British Royal family did their very best to keep behind their camouflage but have lost bags of face and loyalty in the last generation or two, largely thanks to the press and the media spreading the shabby reality of their being typically human, only richer.
A feature of technological progress is that new inventions quickly become available to larger numbers of people. That’s what happened to publishing and communications technology. Soon, everyone could do what a few decades back only the professional investigative journalists could. Corporate law would stop ordinary people getting rich by using it, but it could not stop them using it. Even disaffected US soldiers could communicate and publish stuff – and so, via Wikileaks, we received Bradley Manning’s truth, and then even wars started losing the support of a controlled “message”. That was the moment we saw Tony Blair’s tower really starting to crumble.
People in general have never been particularly insistent on truth. Most of the time, a good story will do but the demand for “truth” arises when people feel conned, or when they’re having a hard time and, with the rise of social media, there are now millions, rather than thousands, out there angrily looking for their truth. George Michael dies, a tabloid paper immediately prints spread after spread of “how we loved George” and an army of social media punters hit back by sharing archive posts of that same newspaper’s “Pits and Perverts” front page at the time of the miners’ strike, and memes with messages such as “Tabloid papers told us Jimmy Saville was a force for good and George Michael was a pervert. They’re still trying to tell me stuff now.”
And once people start doing that, the first response is the “post-truth era” idea – they have just discovered they’ve been conned, so they think “truth” died quite recently and shout about its tragic death. But once you start looking, you can’t find the start of it. Tony Blair may have been a pinnacle of message-over-truth but he didn’t invent it. Take the “Pits and Perverts” incident. People who aren’t currently on a truth mission, still believe the media version of the government-versus unions battles of the 1970s but people who are currently “off message” can quite easily find the archives, look at the history and discover, for example, that the vast majority of those nasty, aggressive miners who ended up in hospital had wounds to the backs of their heads – clobbered by police swinging long truncheons from horseback as they ran away.
Next, the amateur researcher will find that the famous BBC footage of the “battle” at Orgreave was doctored by the BBC (whether with or without government instruction is still being investigated). The police drove miners into a dead end, corralled and beat them, and then furious, cornered miners started throwing stones. The BBC chose to crop the film and show the stone-throwing first, then the police charge, with the obvious effect. Once your amateur researcher knows this, they know they need to adjust most of what they’ve ever been told.
The Post Post Era
Of course, there is a kick-back. The establishment minority know that one game is up, and serious moves are now in evidence to curb social media and the technology that has allowed so many to start down the path of re-adjusting what they thought they knew – but communications technology is a hydra now. It’s going to be a hard job getting every filming, recording and dissemination device back into the hands of the minority. The only alternative is to oppress the majority into silence by starving them of services, homes, health care etc
But – when do people go after truth? When they’re desperate, when they’re cornered and when the stories aren’t working any more. When people are hungry, they’re hungry for truth. Once they start feeling that, you get movements like Occupy, People’s Assemblies, the Anti-Austerity Movement, the Corbyn-McDonnell movement: fresh, new, up-to-date forces demanding truth and its partner, fair play. They aren’t the first and they won’t be the last but, win or lose, they are proof that truth isn’t over, any more than history turned out to be over when Fukuyama wrote its obituary. It’s still there, it just goes in and out of fashion according to how people are faring, and how well the stories are working.
The era of using the word “post” to dismiss inconvenient things is over. It’s time we started giving our history a serious place in our thinking.
There’s no shortage of passionate criticism of Starmer and Rayner’s phone bank rewards system out there – but let’s try and stop swearing and explain our frustration properly, because there is an important lesson here for these politicians and their followers to learn.
When this image of the Labour Party’s idiot scheme did the rounds, many of us thought – or maybe hoped – that Team Starmer’s offering was a spoof. As our country plummets into disaster, with the latest failing public school brat at the helm trying to look as though he can handle the gargantuan problems of COVID-19 and Brexit, with no credible opposition in sight, what is the incentive to campaign for the Labour Party…?
…but it wasn’t a spoof. They thought – really thought? – or desperately wanted to believe – not sure but anyway… They thought Corbyn was a celebrity, who’d filled the party with his fans, or cult followers. As a result, having scuppered him, they thought all they needed to do to mobilise that vast army on their behalf was get the PR right, and they could have the same success. It would appear that the majority of the MPs and staffers think the same.
The True Story
It really matters now that they, and the beleaguered people of this country, know the true story so please keep telling it. You often hear people brush off political stories with the stinging comment ‘they’re all the same’ and it’s easy to believe. Certainly, the media tend to paint them all alike. Most politicians and party staffers are careerists, PR people, seeking to be whatever will make them popular. But not all of them. This is the vital bit.
Probably, the majority are incurable but there are a fair few who went into politics out of a genuine desire to improve things. Some of them only wanted to improve things for their kind of people, or for their constituencies but among the frowned-upon back benchers, there are some who seriously strive to improve things for everyone – or, as Corbyn put it, ‘for the many’.
They aren’t necessarily very good at it, but having their hearts in the right place is enough to keep them on the back benches. A few years ago, the manipulators had a bit of an accident and one of those genuine people, Jeremy Corbyn, won a leadership contest. The confirmed careerists immediately set about a fierce sabotage campaign that eventually forced him out. Maybe it was inevitable, or maybe Corbyn didn’t have enough front-bench experience to tackle them. Some say he was too soft on those attacking him.
On behaving badly
I have criticisms of Corbyn too, but being too soft is not one of them. He was working on the assumption that where a culture is well and truly corrupt, people who could potentially be okay will be in there ‘being normal’ – ie, behaving badly.
Humans are social animals, and are happiest when conforming to the group. Think about it – how many of the things you do, say and believe are just ‘common sense’ – ie, in tune with the people around you? Just how uncomfortable is it, when you’re sitting in a group with one idea and quietly thinking ‘actually, it’s possibly more like this…’
Corbyn believed that the only way to get people to grow up and be honest is to treat them as though they are grown-ups, and give them a chance to step up. It might have worked, but it was a long shot. The point is, he didn’t have much choice. There were precious few genuine, politically adept socialist MPs to call on, so he had to build his cabinet with people who he could only hope would improve. They were not necessarily the sharpest knives in the drawer. So we are left with the Keiths and Angelas (sorry, but I’m trying not to be *too* rude – now Corbyn’s civilising influence is gone, we’re back to being rude and cynical. ‘Keith and Angela’ is one of the more polite terms for the current party leadership.)
Keith and Angela
No-one likes a story where they are the bad guys, so those pushing Corbyn out preferred to believe he was a heart-throb, a cult-leader, wrecking the party with the help of his hordes of simple-minded fans. And that is why our new leadership team, having successfully replaced him, are trying to be the celebrities they thought Corbyn and Co were.
They really, truly do not know that hundreds of thousands of people who really don’t like politics or politicians much put down what we were doing, and got behind Corbyn because we were desperate – because we were at the end of our tethers with the lying, the cheating, the fobbing off of our workers with ever-worsening wages, conditions and housing, the selling off of our services and all that playing out to the sound of the climate clock ticking, whilst our politicians prinked and preened and played at being celebrities.
There is another aspect of the true story that really needs clearing up. Keith and Angela’s phone bank reward scheme comes straight out of the Tony Blair ‘targets for success’ playbook. A way of going on that demonstrably failed as his initial results dwindled and dwindled, and ambulance drivers complained bitterly that the target set for them left them in a position where they could (in theory – I’m sure they did not) charge around, do everything wrong, arrive at the hospital with a dead patient and, as long they arrived within their twenty-minute target, be logged as a success.
But it wasn’t just the inefficiency of Tony’s targets that led to his downfall, it was the extraordinary insult to public service workers of all kinds, the demonstration that our glorious leader thought they’d be better motivated by approval and silly prizes than they would be by the satisfaction of doing their jobs properly, and helping to make our country work.
Translate that to the phone bank scheme. It’s no fun at all being a part of a local party phone banking session. You sit there phoning people you don’t know from Adam, and try to get them to listen while you explain the Labour Party’s plans for your constituency, and where and how to vote, and why it matters. You might get some good conversations, if you’re really patient. You might win a few more votes. You also get quite a lot of earfuls from people who’d rather be watching telly – but you do it because you believe a transformative Corbyn government is what we desperately need, and you give each call as long as it takes.
But if your target was to get in 4000 calls so you can get a celebrity prize, just how much patience are you going to have for each call? What kind of air-head would even be there making the calls? As we all already knew. Tony’s targets do not work. They just demonstrate that the politicians hold us in contempt. That’s why the Blair-style politics stopped winning elections.
What they need to know
We will not easily forgive the Keiths and Angelas in this story. Their phone-bank reward system, a blatant illustration of their utter contempt for us and what we tried to do, feels like the final nail in the coffin. People are saying this will be the end of the Labour Party. The thing is, they aren’t saying it in triumph, they are saying it in despair – I repeat, for those at the back – they were in the game because we were desperate – because we were at the end of our tethers with the lying, the cheating, the fobbing off of our workers with ever-worsening wages, conditions and housing, the selling off of our services and the climate clock ticking.
Well, here we are, comrades. We are still the many, and we can, and we need to, force the Labour Party to up its game, and take us seriously. Don’t worry about the unfair suspensions and the garbage they’re spouting now. Just keep doing socialism, in, out or in spite of the party. Once they realise how unpopular, how unelectable they really are, even the careerists will have to become more serious about actual issues. After all, they are there to be successful.
We need to make it absolutely clear that only good, honest socialists are going to be taken seriously. We will not be happy with better PR, or an improved ‘rewards scheme’. We can and will do our politics for the many, with or without the approval of the Labour Party. Maybe, when they lose a few seats, maybe even another election, the Keiths and Angelas of this world will begin to learn the truth, and do some growing up.
PS (yes, I got a request for a PS from some distressed activists!)…
If you’ve got some decent councillors, or a real socialist MP to defend, I suggest you do the phonebanking, but stop at 2999 calls (a scribbled note is easier to ignore than a visit from the Keiths and Angelas).
If you don’t have anyone you want to campaign for in your LP, join the Corbyn Project, or Counterfire, or one of the activist trade unions, (if you don’t have the right kind of job for an industrial membership, there’s always Unite Community ) and get on with your socialism there.
PPS Written New Year’s Day – oh look, the government had an attack of ‘Tony’s Targets’ and messed up the vaccinations plan. Link to Independent article.
This idea is so important I have given it one of those fashionable three-word slogans to help me remember it.
It’s unlikely you’ll agree with every statement I’m going to make in this article. If you’re the kind of person who needs trigger warnings to protect you from the trauma of being disagreed with, please try to keep calm and tell yourself they are just examples, not weapons. Spoken or written facts can’t hurt you – really they can’t. Nor can spoken or written lies, unless everyone lets them lie there unchallenged. Nevertheless, I’ve labelled the statements below as controversial examples one to four, in big headings, so you can take them one at a time and go and have a lie down in between if you’re easily distressed.
Listen, question, test
If you’ve ever read anything about education, you’ll know that the central aim of most lesson plans is to encourage students to listen, question and test ideas, so that their knowledge is on firm, well understood ground. On that basis, all good teachers present students with both true and false statements, so they can learn to test information and find truth.
If you’ve been in politics for more than a few years, you’ll remember a time when it was understood that debate was central – allowing a variety of people to put forward their views, then allowing everyone to listen, question and decide things.
‘Listen, question, test’ is also the best way to gently and usefully point out to someone that they’re arguing for a wrong idea.
And yet today, Angela Rayner has expressed a new view that has taken over from all that.
That may be true, but to say it is unacceptable, because it causes distress, she argues.
The most obvious problem with that is that you end up having all your organisations controlled by ‘cry bullies’ – those unscrupulous and/or neurotic people who are professional distress generators whenever disagreed with.
The deeper, and perhaps more important problem is that we none of us can develop firm, properly understood views on anything if we’re not allowed to listen to a variety of views, then question and test theories.
Controversial example one
Prejudice in political parties
It may be true that anti-semitism was exaggerated in the Labour Party but we mustn’t say so because it upsets people.
Consequence: many people believe that the Labour Party in particular is rife with anti-semitism, and the papers are so full of this opinion that we’ve all but forgotten we have a serious, systemic problem with anti-black racism, and that the Tory party is trading in every kind of prejudice imaginable and largely getting away with it.
Controversial example two
It may be true that the government of Israel is breaking human rights and international law, but it’s best not to say so because it stirs up arguments about anti-semitism.
Consequence: Jeremy Corbyn is suspended and no-one’s very clear why, leaving the Labour Party deeply bitter and split, and unable to effectively oppose the most dangerous government in our lifetime – meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer voices free to speak up for Palestinians who are losing everything in an unmentionable dispute over illegally occupied territories.
Controversial example three
It may be true that women still need their legal rights as a sex-class and our children may be at risk from pernicious lobbyists but it’s unacceptable to say so because it upsets the no-debaters in the trans rights movement.
Consequence: we are left with a Labour Party manifesto that contradicts itself, because we haven’t worked out properly how self-ID can go alongside the current, legal, sex-based rights. Many people – including a fair number of trans people – who are unhappy with the unresolved situation are afraid to ask the questions that would take us forward, so we’re all stuck.
Controversial example four
Virus response strategies
It may be true that some of the things we’re doing to halt covid are not appropriate, but don’t contradict ‘the advice’ because it encourages anti-mask conspiracy theorists.
Consequence: we are all very unclear about what we should be doing and why, now, because most of us don’t trust the government but we can’t question lockdown rules, even for the purpose of testing and improving them, without presenting ‘unacceptable’ ideas.
Don’t make yourself stupid
You can’t learn without listening, questioning and testing. The no-debaters, presumably because they’ve stopped themselves listening, questioning, testing and learning, regularly show themselves up in their resultant ignorance.
Last week, during the free-school-meal debate, Rayner called someone ‘scum’, and was unmoved when Tories cry-bullied their objections at her – and yet at the last UNISON conference she was telling women not to express their gender-critical views because it would upset people and they’d be kicked out. Why is it okay to upset people sometimes, but not others? Now, when it’s desperately important that we identify and clear out *real* prejudice, including anti-semitism, she tells us its unacceptable to express views on it.
She’s only a no-debater when it suits her.
The best way to argue is to listen, question and test
Please listen, question and test – it’s the way to dismantle bad ideas and the way to learn about and take on board good ones. Above all, please never trust people who say there are truths you cannot tell.
You may know what my position is on the ‘controversial points’ above. That doesn’t matter. Please consider the idea that we need to listen properly and please do feel free to question my views when you think they’re rubbish.
In fact, I object strongly when you don’t. If I’ve got a wrong idea, I trust my friends to question and test it until I figure out where I went wrong. Why not do all your friends the same favour?