Sunday, 26 February 2017

George Clooney wrong man to lead the Labour Party



The varied approaches in the attempted destruction of Jeremy Corbyn:

Note, the reason for the attempted destruction is that in an extremely mild way, he and those who support him are in favour of higher pay, better conditions of work, no cuts to public services, no Trident, no punitive sanctions system for benefits, no Trum-led drift to war, plus pro- nationalisation of the railways and an assault on the tax haven/dodging going on.

Even this limited defence (it's hardly an attack) on austerity and what the ruling order wants (ie low wages, cuts in public services, privatisation of everything) has inflamed and enraged the ruling order and all those who speak for it.

It therefore became immediately essentially for them to vilify and caricature Corbyn across the whole of the media - along these lines:

1. Corbyn is a tatty old hippy whose jumpers need darning.
2. Corbyn doesn't love Britain. That's why he doesn't sing the national anthem.
3. Corbyn is a sinister terrorist.
4. Corbyn is incompetent.
5. Corbyn is middle class.
6. Corbyn lives in Islington
7. Corbyn is extremely wealthy.
8. Corbyn is wrong.

(There are many variations of these and many others.)

The drift is the same: on no account can the electorate be allowed think that the ruling order can be opposed or defied through the ballot box.

I hear some people who are essentially pro-Corbyn imagining some other person in Corbyn's position and somehow getting more support from the press - a Tony Benn figure, perhaps? People who think that should look back at the press coverage Tony got at the time of his leadership challenge. Here was a youngish, good-looking chap with impeccable background in government with a long pedigree of politicians in his family. A fluent, witty, speaker with lots of anecdotes and concrete ways of describing what's wrong etc etc. He was vilified variously as being too posh to be a socialist (yawn, yes, always that one), cynical, a secret Communist, surrounded with dangerous revolutionaries and marxists and 'loony lefts' and so on.

Ed Miliband had hardly a left policy in his baggage. He mildly proposed a 'growth' alternative to austerity. Look back at what they did to him: the man who looks odd - so he's not electable. What?! Seriously?! Yes. In fact, he was the man who couldn't even defend the fact that Labour was not responsible for the problems that global finance got itself into.

Another 'left' voice I see expressed on my timeline yearns for a great leader. I'm going to suggest that the more we yearn for a great leader, the less well we do in opposing low pay, worse conditions and cuts in services. I'll caricature it as a throwback to longing for a Jesus-Lenin figure to save us. It's tough but there really is no alternative to campaigns, and struggles on the ground. Whatever strengths and weaknesses Corbyn and the Labour leadership have, they can't do it on their own, they won't do it on their own. If a person broadly supports the Corbyn policies, there really is no point in moaning about the Corbyn leadership - particularly if you're not involved in some kind of activism, no matter how limited, how small, how local. It's armchair sniping and vilification.

This morning I've read reams of insults and criticism of Corbyn (from supporters of the Labour party) without them posing immediate, practical, viable alternatives. What's the point? He's said he's not standing down. If such people broadly support the Corbyn opposition (mild) to austerity and, let's say, the Trump drift to war, why not 'accentuate the positive' - do all you can to support these policies, do something, no matter how tiny, how limited to campaign on pay, conditions and cuts, which will draw in people to fight the Tories anyway....and avoid joining in the volley of abuse being directed towards him and the Labour leadership mostly coming from people who don't want that kind of government no matter who was leading it. 

I call it the George Clooney test. Would you support Labour if Clooney was leading it? No? Then your criticism of Corbyn is just disguised left-hating then, isn't it? Let's discuss politics instead of personalities, then. And if Clooney was leading the Labour Party, the press would think up a hundred reasons why he was wrong for the job too! (too handsome, not married for decades, gave up his job in medicine, etc ) 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Cuts, cuts, cuts, bombs, bombs, bombs



Apologies for saying this before, but it seems to be relevant this week: I thought that the Referendum had the consequence (I don't know if it was intended or not) for being a huge and convenient distraction from 'working people' (ahem) being involved in fighting for pay, conditions and services. Some people (we'll never know how many) took it to mean that the 'right' result would keep foreigners out. Some people still think that. Again, apart from this being full of racist undertones, it's a huge and dangerous distraction from fighting for pay, conditions and services.


Some more honest commentators are asking this morning to what extent the Referendum (and result) is still working on the electorate - that is May is the truest and best person to represent the Brexit vote? If there is anything in this, then the Referendum has done a fantastic service to the ruling class: it has enabled the ruling class to grab a serious and large section of working people who are totally attached to this phase in what one chunk of the British ruling class is trying to do: save itself by 'freeing' itself from a 'European' ruling class and 'go global'. The irony is of course that those who voted for this thinking that it would keep foreigners out may well find that each one of the bilateral arrangements May sets up with countries round the world, will demand free labour interchange!

The campaign (and it is a campaign) against Corbyn is not really about how 'ineffectual' he is. It's about the fact he in a mild way challenges the idea that any of us should detach ourselves from what the ruling order wants. We must, must, must stick with what the ruling order gives us: cuts, cuts, cuts. Tax breaks for the rich, rich, rich. Bombs, bombs, bombs.

Hey, Labour voters: don't fight, you don't exist.



When the beginning, middle and end of your politics is Westminster, parliament, constituencies and parties then the key point emerging from Copeland is that 11,000 Labour voters in Copeland don't exist. I notice that bulletins and the comments programmes hardly ever mention the raw figure itself. It sounds irritatingly big, doesn't it, boys? It's as if they think that the best way to say what happened is 'Copeland became Tory'. The whole constituency is now Tory. That's why it's a 'disaster'. Beginning, middle and end of parliamentary politics.


Now let's suppose, there is going to be a battle over the closing of the local hospital in Copeland. Who is going to lead the fight against that? Who is going to be involved? Presumably, according to Westminster/parliament politics, no one. Copeland is Tory. There is no one in Copeland who disagrees with the Tories. There are no Labour-minded people who want to defend services. We get the message: there is no one left to fight. No, I've put that wrong: we get the message, there is no one left who should fight. Don't fight. You don't exist.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Review of Zola book in 'The Saturday Paper' (Australia)

The Disappearance of Zola 

MICHAEL ROSEN

 
In 1893, Britain and the British literary world feted the visiting French novelist Émile Zola so grandly and warmly that he fantasised about one day returning to London and living there “incognito”. Five years later, in the early hours of July 19, 1898, he stood on the deck of the ferry from Calais to Dover, his only luggage a nightshirt wrapped in newspaper, tears welling, considering that he had never “experienced such deep unhappiness”. He, “who had always worked for the glory of France”, had been forced to flee his beloved homeland. 
In 1894, a French court had sentenced a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island for treason. Two years later, evidence came to light that he had been framed, but a cabal of high-ranking military officials kept the verdict from being overturned and protected the wrongdoers. The case had strong anti-Semitic overtones. Zola, a tremendously popular novelist, was the only prominent non-Jew to demand justice for Dreyfus, which he did publicly and passionately, in an open letter to the prime minister titled, “J’Accuse…!” The letter concluded: “I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the inquiry take place in broad daylight! I am waiting.” The letter was published on January 13, 1898. Shortly after, Zola appeared in court on charges of libel related to a particularly damning passage in “J’Accuse” and was sentenced to a large fine and a year’s imprisonment. But further appeals caused delays in enforcement and another court convened on the morning of July 18; before it could conclude, with mobs outside baying for his blood, and at his lawyer’s insistence, Zola fled for England. 
The French president eventually pardoned Dreyfus – and those who had framed him. Less than 50 years later, Dreyfus’s granddaughter was transported to Auschwitz. By then, Zola’s dream of a “kingdom of human intelligence, of letters, and of universal humanity”, one “above the secular hatreds of races”, seemed – and still seems – a distant fantasy. 
For all the seriousness of its subject, The Disappearance of Zola is a ripping great read. Michael Rosen intercuts moments of high drama with almost farcical comedy. Zola’s supporters are much tested by the ongoing problem of how to hide him from discovery by the press and French or British agents carrying orders for his deportation. At one point, Zola’s friend, translator and chief supporter-in-exile Ernest Vizetelly considers it safe to park him and a visiting French friend in a downmarket pub in a low-class entertainment district while he carries out a quick errand. When Vizetelly returns, he’s alarmed to find the Frenchmen surrounded by an excited mob. As it turns out, they were artistes who had mistaken Zola, “with his prosperous appearance” and French conversation, for a Parisian music-hall director scouting for talent.
In England, Zola, who’d fretted on the ferry that he hadn’t even enough English to order a glass of milk, taught himself to read the papers. He amused himself with taking photos and noting local customs, such as the tendency of Englishwomen to ride their bicycles in skirts rather than culottes, and he pondered the philosophical implications of the capital “I” versus the lower-case je. English food was a constant torment, as were English aesthetics – he despaired at the “habit of sacrificing beauty for utility” and detested the ubiquitous and sentimental portraits of dogs and horses. He missed home. He missed his wife. He also missed his mistress.
Rosen richly delivers on the promise of the book’s subtitle, “Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case”. Vizetelly had to help organise separate visits from Zola’s wife, Alexandrine, and his lover, Jeanne, Alexandrine’s former seamstress and mother of his two beloved children. There is much, too, about literature: Zola’s place in it, his instinctive modernism and the novel he managed to complete in exile.  
Zola’s role in the Dreyfus affair, meanwhile, had a profound effect on public opinion generally, in England as well as France, and particularly on the progressive politics of the time. French socialists, who admired Zola’s naturalistic depictions of the poor in his novels, had previously been as inclined to anti-Semitism as the rest of the population, associating Jews with capitalism. It was explicitly thanks to Zola that, Rosen demonstrates, a “new kind of politics” came into being on the left, “combining ideas that were internationalist, against poverty, against injustice and against what we now call racial discrimination – four ideas that hadn’t always sat together in one worldview”. Zola risked his liberty, happiness and life for his beliefs. He may, in fact, have been murdered for them, according to a 1953 investigation by the paper Libération that Rosen discusses in some detail.
Rosen is a British poet, broadcaster, former children’s laureate and a recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He reveals two small but poignant points of connection with Zola’s story and that of Dreyfus. Rosen’s great-grandparents lived in the poor Jewish areas of Whitechapel that Zola visited and wrote about sympathetically on his visit in 1893. And one of his great-uncles was transported from France to his death in Auschwitz in the same convoy as Dreyfus’s granddaughter. 
Anatole France said at Zola’s funeral that “he was a moment in the conscience of mankind”. If he failed to defeat anti-Semitism single-handedly, he helped to banish it from progressive discourse, and his actions and courage inspired others. Today, another tide of hatred and fear is washing across the world. Right-wing populists here, in the United States and elsewhere, while keeping anti-Semitism on the boil, claim it is now Muslims who threaten civilisation. Like Zola, others of us hold that such violent prejudices themselves are the real threat. We need to extend the “moment” of which France spoke. This excellent book, which includes a translation of “J’Accuse…!”, may help inspirit us in these dark times.  CG

Bargaining with people's lives: EU citizens in the UK, UK citizens in the EU



We must always remember that when a politician talks of a principle, he or she is talking of something for sale.

The Tory on Today programme said the rights of EU citizens in UK depends on the rights of UK citizens in EU! Yet in the referendum they talked of immigration with no reference to UK citizens in EU.

So there you have it. When they campaigned they said that immigration levels from the EU were intolerable. They hardly spoke of the fact that this was a reciprocal arrangement that many UK citizens benefited from or chose to use.


Now when it comes to the negotiation suddenly they threaten to use people as a bargaining chip. That's millions of people's lives to be affected.

(In discussing this, please don't put me in either the Brexit or Remain camp.I've explained elsewhere why I didn't vote.)

Friday, 17 February 2017

"Native population", "indigenous people" - racialising talk about immigration



People who argue against immigration often use phrases like 'native population' or 'indigenous people'. When they use it on the media, it usually passes by as if people listening are all agreed on what they mean and that what's being said has some kind of universal agreed meaning.

Really?

It may seem obvious in a place that has had a largely stable population (apart from 'native' people heading to Canada, Spain, France, Cyprus etc over the last 50 years) and that more recently some migrants have arrived. Perhaps it's more obvious to them. But what about in big cities where people come and go, people arrive, take up UK citizenship, have had children here, while some 2 million Brits have moved abroad and had children overseas...Who's 'native'? Who decides? Quite clearly, from interchanges I've had with people who say they're 'not racist but...' they have ideas about parentage that are positively 'racialised' if not racist. That's to say they have unwritten, unsaid notions of who is 'really' British, and it usually means white, and with both parents and probably all four grandparents as having been born in the UK.


Ireland of course raised a problem here because clearly the big cities have large populations of people with at least one Irish grandparent in them. Hurrah for that. But this 'native population' bit often slides 'Irish' into the category 'native' partly because Irish people are mostly white, mostly speak English and because of the nearly 100 year arrangement re freedom of movement between the Republic and the UK. However, that obscures the fact that 'native' in this case, really means 'native' (whatever that means) plus 'Irish'. ie another inconsistency, another unstated anomaly.

Of course, none of this is stated openly, it just emerges from chat. By not challenging the phrase 'native population' and 'indigenous population' we leave this sort of racialised stuff going on under the surface.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Launch of "Harold Rosen: Writings on Life, Language and Learning 1958-2008"

Harold Rosen Lecture

by John Richmond
introduced by Michael Rosen
to mark the launch of:

"Harold Rosen: Writings on Life, Language and Learning, 1958-2008"

Edited with an introduction by John Richmond


at 5.00 pm Monday March 20 2017
in Lecture Theatre 1, UCL Cruciform Building
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
RSVP Sally Sigmund s.sigmund@ucl.ac.uk
Tel: 020 7911 5565