Boris is coming …
And behind him, those who would own us
Boris is coming …
And behind him, those who would own us
Here is Parliament Square this evening, as people mill about not quite ready to go home after the People’s Vote march. The statue of Churchill facing into the gale is silhouetted against the white cladding covering part of St Margaret’s Church.
We are in this odd position in which Parliament cannot bring itself to ratify the treaty by which we leave the European Union with a transition period and without immediate chaos. All arrangements ending our membership are detrimental to the wider economic and political interests of the UK, so whatever might be the stated opinions of individual Members of Parliament, psychologically and collectively they just cannot bring themselves to commit this act.
The small number of die-hard radicals of the Conservative Party actively want to leave without a treaty, the so-called No Deal, so they and their class can profit financially from the chaos that will impoverish the majority. The even fewer Northern Irish Democratic Unionists prop up the government and are unrepresentative of the people of that province. They reject the treaty because it makes transparent the political reality: after Brexit, Northern Ireland must have a status different to mainland UK if there is to be no return to a hard border with Eire and the sectarian polarisation that would bring. My party, Labour, reject the treaty not because it is bad (because all routes out of the EU are bad) but because we have three more years of government by a wretched Conservative Party unwilling to seek a consensus vision for Britain after Brexit. It is a certainty that the Conservatives will cast in law a post-Brexit settlement which undermines workers’ pay, conditions and rights and environmental protections. They will be free to enter trade deals with other countries to reshape our National Health Service on the USA for-profit model and prevent government limiting the exorbitant prices of pharmaceuticals. This is the one chance for Labour to bind the government’s hands. However, strategically they are on the back foot as Theresa May doggedly refuses to compromise, beyond all reason.
So here I was at the the largest political protest in the UK’s history: a million people united in demanding a second referendum and a chance to reject Brexit this time round or at least a way out the impasse Parliament has created. Still, even if Brexit were to be overturned, what will we do about the conditions of austerity and inequality which so disaffected people in the first place, and which are frankly so much more important than whether we stay in or leave the European Union? I begin to realise Brexit is a side show. In or out of the EU, what we need is political vision which addresses with intelligence and compassion the real issues: planetary destruction, violence and poverty.
Note the most middle class insult ever on a banner (or is this reverse snobbery?) “Theresa May puts the milk in first” with a picture of a cup of tea.
This election has pitted a positive optimistic vision from Labour against the miserable inward looking austere negative Conservatives. It’s an uphill battle: hope is frightening, always with the risk of disappointment whereas the Conservatives offer the narrow comfort of savage certainty.
And there really was a double rainbow.
Alfred Stevens 1817-75 “Truth and Falsehood”: Truth tears out the double tongue of Falsehood and pushes aside the mask concealing his grotesque features. His serpent tails are exposed beneath the drapery. The group and its companion, “Valour and Cowardice”, are full size models for the bronze groups on the huge monument to the Duke of Wellington in St Paul’s Cathedral. London. Plaster. [explanatory notes on plaque, Victoria and Albert museum].
The current relevance of the statue is immediately obvious. However, my mind was thrown back to 1999 when a cabinet minister declared eloquently “If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it”. The resulting action led to his being jailed for perjury. I am sure the image shown here is of Truth defeating what were then Falsehoods which we now hold true: religious dogma defeating rationalism, self interest overcoming balanced enquiry, empire over civil society, autocracy scourging democracy. When the powerful shout loudly about the lies of others and frustrate open scrutiny, it is to cover their deceits.
Here are alternative versions of my sketches undertaken at the Victoria and Albert a week ago, reworked with conte crayon, paint, knife and (in the third image) digitally enhanced black tones. Rodin’s tortured twisted Muse spoke of a deeper truth than Stevens’ allegorical statue, of the anguish and beauty of human existence. The theatre masks are props to tell a fictional narrative but when the narrative finishes, the masks are removed.
On Thursday, I will vote to Remain in the European Union as one small act to avert a Zombie Apocalypse.
The Leave side has been fronted chiefly by Boris Johnson, combining personal ambition with muddled thinking, Nigel Farage, whose mission it is to make racism respectable, Ian Duncan Smith, whose brand is bland callousness and the shiny neo-conservative zealot, Michael Gove. They have chosen to lead with meme-like lies, fanning the flames of hatred and xenophobia.
I acknowledge that for people of good will, there are rational arguments for staying in or exiting the EU. In or out, we must continue the struggle to protect the planet, promote diversity and opportunity, and favour freedom from poverty, disease, ignorance and oppression. Like many others, I have an instinctive distrust of self-styled experts and think tanks lining up alongside a political elite.
However, for me the chief argument against leaving the EU is the Leave campaign itself. We have seen the politics of greed and entitlement lead to the politics of austerity, now transformed to the politics of hate. This is the pathway to fascism.
On Thursday, I will vote Remain as one small act to avert that particular Zombie Apocalypse.
I was tickled by the joke that new leader of the Labour Party resembles Alec Guinness as the heroic Jedi Master who comes in from the wilderness to guide the resistance against the evil Empire. It is easy to cast George Osbourne as Darth Vadar. I am not sure who is Yoda though.
In real life we need a strong and credible Labour Party holding the government to account and building alternative policies. Corbyn has the overwhelming support of the Labour Party but not the Members of Parliament. As ordinary voters, in or out of the Party, we need to tell all of them, leadership and backbenchers we absolutely expect them to bury their emotional differences and work together to hone credible policies that challenge the failed economic orthodoxy and support social justice.
It would be great if we could contact our MPs and tell them this. A twitter campaign might look like this:
I am an NHS consultant and LP member. I ask Labour MPs to unite for social justice and to protect the environment. #MPspleasebackCorbyn
The idea would be each of us to say who we are and, if we want, our political affiliation, and also the issues topmost in our mind, but keep the same message and hash tag. This is not a matter for Labour supporters and members only: all of us need a strong opposition functioning in parliament and now is the time for all of us to shape Labour into the party that reflects our concerns.
If anyone knows how to start a twitter campaign on these lines, now would be a good time to start.
A few weeks before the General Election, parties that expect to form governments stand on a platform of “financial rectitude”.
This is strange because it does not seem that peoples’ livelihoods have been threatened by lack of financial rectitude so much as by a cult-like adherence to an economic orthodoxy that sanctifies national debts to financiers over what is owed to the populace. Financial institutions created debts from nothing and sold them as assets. In this cult, money debts carry a moral imperative: sooner that someone is impoverished than the bank is not paid.
I have found illuminating David Graeber’s broadcast series Promises Promises: a History of Debt, available on BBC IPlayer and based on his book, Debt: the first 5000 years. Part of his thesis is that debt and credit are ancient concepts, reflecting the webs of reciprocity throughout society. Credit and debt are an essential lubricant in human relationships and enterprise, but are inherently unstable: debt tends to accumulate causing poverty and societal unrest. Periodically, ancient monarchs felt obliged to declare jubilees in which debts were annulled. What we call the economy is a much narrower concept, typically focusing on money which for us is the sharing out of national debt as currency that can be taxed.
My other source of economic wisdom is the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s first book The Colour of Magic. The world is flat, carried on the shoulders of four elephants riding on the cratered carapace of the gigantic space-faring turtle A’Tuin. On this disc is the Wyrmburg, a massive mountain balanced upside down on its pinnacle by magic, on which beautiful near-naked warriors do ariel battle on the backs of imaginary dragons. Whatever you do, don’t stop believing: it’s a long way down to crash.
I belong to a political party which states the following on my membership card.
The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.
In this election, the Labour Party is standing on a platform of financial rectitude. Despite this, I choose to believe that, if Labour forms a government, its leader, Ed Miliband, has the toughness, intelligence and decency to respond flexibly and humanely to the challenges of the next five years.
Why is Labour’s manifesto so conservative? I guess that the leadership does see through the global economy as an illusory belief system which, while powerfully mobilising human resource, is also inherently unstable as well as being unfair, cruel and discriminatory. But I can see that it is frightening to challenge the faith. Even when escaping from the mountain balanced on its tip, one rides an imaginary dragon. Don’t stop believing: it’s a long way down to crash.
Intelligence led, quasi-judicial, remote, aerial, guided kill
We must leave these people no place to hide
Hooligans, ne’erdowells and terrorists
The government writ no longer runs
We must leave