Thursday, 27 September 2018

Taking Stock In The Season Of Mists

We have had a glorious summer.

Going back through the photos on my phone, picture after picture shows a dazzled world: clear blue skies; smiling, tanned friends; sunlight lancing through rich green foliage or glinting, blindingly off sea or lake.

Tia, the golden dog, features in many of them, and she, as much as any other element in my life, has helped to make this a summer whose memory I will treasure.

How memories last is one of the mysterious revelations of middle age: the extent to which what we have experienced descends into a soup of glimpses and sense impressions that lose their sharp edges and become blurred. I suppose that is why I blog, or a large reason for it at any rate. Already, I cannot quite remember what I was doing when I took the photo above, of Tia asleep in our back garden. I suspect it was during one of the long afternoons when I was sitting outside, drinking tea and reading crap science fiction, enjoying the sun with Charles Mingus on my headphones. That has been a key part of this summer for me. I must post about the books I’ve read; the music that has shifted from new excitement to established favourite over this wonderful, sun-drenched year.

I should also, I suppose, record my achievements over this summer. I have completed a university access course, in science, technology and maths: a major milestone for me. I have, with Amanda, enjoyed the maturing of our relationships with our Labour Party comrades on the Island: in June, I went up to London for the SaveOurNHS march, and, with my sister, we attended the Burston School Strike Rally at the beginning of September. At work, the last academic year was my most successful so far, both in terms of results and the sense that I had helped several of my learners to move on with their lives, opening up new opportunities for them.

It has also been a summer of uncertainty. My father’s lymphoma has reasserted itself, and his treatment has shifted from fighting the illness to a more palliative-focused care. We have been up and down to Suffolk, and he has been, on some visits, frighteningly unwell, and on others, his old self, if diminished, physically. One afternoon, I sat in my parents’ garden with him, reading and chatting, warmed by bright sun, and I feel now a desperate need to grab at this memory; to preserve the comfort of being with my father, to record his anecdotes and loving enthusiasm.

I am beginning to feel old, but, at the same time, I’m swamped by feelings of never having grown up at all.


When Amanda opened the blinds this morning, the world outside was blanketed by fog: our first Autumn mist of the year.

From the river, half a kilometre away, the ferry’s foghorn lowed.

Signs of autumn have been settling throughout September, of course. We have had the heating on a few nights over the last week and I have been wearing long-sleeved tops, instead of tee-shirts, when I cycle or walk. Thanks to Tia, I have watched the passing of summer in Firestone Copse, as the blackberries fruited, ripened and, now, are beginning to wither on the brambles. A fortnight ago, there were still mushrooms all round the woods, layered on tree stumps and poking through the undergrowth, but they are, for the most part, past now; either gone completely or looking wrinkled, slimy, deathlike.

Yesterday evening, in wonderful autumn sunset weather, I saw the first major turn of leaf colour, and was walking over fallen leaves for the first time his year. I took Tia off the main path, across a hidden bridge on the path that, after the winter rain sets in, will be inaccessible, as it was all last winter, When I reached the top of the last descent to the creek, the sunlight off the water screamed up at me through the woods, white and fresh, rather than yellow and warm, as it has been through the summer.

A man was at the creek edge, by the bench, throwing stones into the water for his dog to chase. Tia, who doesn’t like swimming, waded along the shallows, barking at the other dog to come and play, but not quite able to summon up the courage to throw herself in and join in the fun.

Later, I bumped into two friends who were having an after-work walk. It was a lovely surprise, but threw me out of my dream: my woods-peace. I had hoped to make it back to the main path in time to see the low sun on the bank that rises up from the path, but we talked for a little too long. By the time we made our way back, the sun was set and twilight was setting in, the woods off the path turning dark, with the sense that life was stirring within. Tia had become bored, waiting for us, and disappeared, causing anxiety and shaming me. Eventually, as the shadows on the path were turning from chocolate to black, she came bounding out of the woods, tongue lolling out of her excited grin, as if butter wouldn’t melt, and we came home to a delayed supper and annoyed wife.


And so to this morning. I am working late today: my last class finishes at eight-thirty, so I don’t have to start until midday. Thus, we lingered in bed and I got a second pot of tea; a luxury usually reserved for the weekend. I put on the kettle and opened the blind above the sink to see a forest of webs over the denuded jasmine outside the kitchen window. I grabbed my phone and went outside to get photos. The paving slabs were cold beneath my bare feet, the air damp and fresh, the stillness of the fog enclosing me like a shelter.

Something sharp, joyful and clear will be remembered, when the irritations, fears and sorrows of this time in my life are swallowed by the passing of time. The blessedness of living through nature’s greatest truth is shaping this period in my life: the inevitability of change, and the awareness that that is life’s brightest magic.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Realistic Hope For A Better World

Anything I say about this speech would be inadequate. It is sublime.

Watch it, read it, remember it.

Emily Thornberry MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, speaking at Labour Party Conference today, said:

Chair, Conference, it’s a privilege to be opening this debate on behalf of my good friends Nia Griffith and Kate Osamor, their shadow teams, including Liverpool’s own Dan Carden, and my own superb ministerial team: Liz McInnes, Khalid Mahmood, Fabian Hamilton, Helen Goodman, Ray Collins, and my PPS Danielle Rowley.

And it’s wonderful to be back in Liverpool: a city we really thought couldn’t get any more Labour, but where last year, we won 37,000 more votes than in 2015, our biggest ever vote in this city. And next time round, under the inspirational leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, we’ll go one better.

It’s been 35 years since we kicked the last Tory MP out of Liverpool. And next time round, we’ll win Southport as well, and kick the Tories out of Merseyside for good.

———–

Conference, as we all know, this is a year of important anniversaries in the history of the socialist movement – a movement always based on the unstoppable momentum of the masses, the incredible inspiration of courageous individuals and a core belief that injustice done to any of us is injustice done to all of us wherever we are in the world.

And in this year of anniversaries, we start by celebrating 150 years of the TUC: 150 years spent fighting for workers, not just in Britain but all across the globe, and stronger than ever today thanks to the leadership of Frances O’Grady, and thanks to a Labour leadership which now respects the representatives of our workers, rather than treating them with deliberate contempt.

And in this year of anniversaries, Conference, let’s recall it’s 130 years since a thin, humble, bearded socialist – it’s funny how those men can change the world – a Frenchman called Pierre De Geyter sat down and wrote a new melody for some old lyrics, and created the song we know as ‘The Internationale’, which inspired the working class of Europe and shook the ruling class, because it rejected war, rejected exploitation, and urged the human race to unite.

And of course, conference, it’s 100 years since the first women in our country won the right to vote and won the right to stand for Parliament. And don’t let anyone ever say that we were ‘given’ those rights, because the women who came before us weren’t given anything! They fought for those rights, they suffered for those rights, and some died for those rights. And everything we now enjoy was won for us by those brave, brilliant women.

But it’s also 100 years, Conference, since a young woman who never got the right to vote gave birth to her only son: a son who was refused permission to attend her funeral 50 years later because he was in a prison cell on Robben Island. Nosekeni Mandela never got to see her son freed. She never got to see him change his country and inspire the world. But he called her “the centre of his universe” so we owe it to her that he did.

And Conference, we also this year celebrate the anniversaries of some of Labour’s greatest achievements: 70 years since the Attlee Government created the NHS; 50 years since the Wilson Government helped create the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and 20 years, Conference, since Gordon Brown brought in the Tax Credits which the Tories are trying to dismantle; 20 years since Tony Blair secured the Good Friday Agreement which the Tories are trying to jeopardise; and 20 years since a Labour government started the Devolution Revolution which the Tories are trying to ignore as they hurtle towards a false choice between the ‘Chequers Deal’ and ‘No Deal’, either one of which will kill jobs and growth all across our country, and neither one of which we will accept.

————-

But Conference, it is also a year of solemn anniversaries.

100 years since the end of the First World War, when young men from every corner of the human race united across Europe, Africa, The Middle East and Asia, not in the spirit of The Internationale, but – in the words of Keir Hardie – “to fill the horrid graves of war” in the name “of selfish and incompetent statesmen” who had failed to preserve peace.

And it is 70 years too Conference, since the assassination of Gandhi and 50 years since Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy: three men of peace, three men of hope, all shot dead because they believed in an alternative to violence and hatred and war.

And there is a final anniversary we must pause and remember today. Because Conference, it was 80 years ago this very week that the International Brigades were disbanded after their brave struggle against fascism in Spain, and their heroic final stand at The Ebro. And we pay tribute today to those brave men and women, including one of this city’s greatest sons, the legendary Jack Jones, who were prepared to sacrifice their youth, their futures and their lives to try and stop the rise of fascism in Europe.

And we need that same spirit today, Conference, because make no mistake, those dangerous forces are on the rise again in our world on a pace and scale not seen since the days of the International Brigades.

And it is not just the scenes from Charlottesville to Stockholm of masked thugs marching under Neo-Nazi Banners. It is also – far more dangerously – the rise of leaders projecting a form of nationalism not defined by love of one’s country and one’s people, but by hatred towards everyone else; by the erosion of democracy and free speech; and by the demonisation of any minority, any religion, and indeed any media outlet deemed to be ‘the enemy’.

And everywhere we see those governments today, we know they are contributing to the creation of a world which is the opposite of The Internationale’: a world where the human race is more divided, more drowning in hatred than at any time since the 1930s. And a world which is therefore utterly unable to deal with the problems that we all collectively face.

That is why our world leaders shrug their shoulders as the Climate Change crisis reaches the point of no return. That is why governments like ours continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia even when it is proven that those weapons are being used to murder innocent children in Yemen. That is why the war in Syria too remains so intractable and destructive, with the dozen major countries involved not striving to stop it, but playing their own lethal power games with other peoples’ lives.

That is why North Korea can happily continue developing their bomb; Iran can keep Nazanin jailed for a third year; Myanmar and Cameroon can slaughter their own citizens at will; Russia can act with impunity not just in Syria but in Salisbury; and Donald Trump can tear up treaties it took other leaders years to agree.

All because Conference, the world order has been turned into a global free-for-all, and the leadership to fix it is simply not there. But Conference, it’s here in this hall, it’s here on this stage, it’s here in Jeremy Corbyn. And we as the Labour Party in government must strive to lead the world in a different direction.

So with Nia Griffith’s leadership, we will support our forces, maintain 2 per cent spending on defence, invest more in peacekeeping, respect our international treaties, and never hesitate to defend ourselves, our allies, and our citizens abroad. But equally, we will never as a party go back to supporting illegal, aggressive wars of intervention with no plans for the aftermath, and no thought for the consequences, whether in terms of the innocent lives lost or the ungoverned spaces created within which terrorist groups can thrive.

And with Kate Osamor’s leadership, we will also rise to the challenge that Nelson Mandela set this Conference eighteen years ago when he told us that “one of Labour’s major political and moral tasks in the 21st century” was to “become once more the keepers of our brothers and sisters [all around] the world.”

And with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, we must and will lead the world in promoting human rights, in reforming the arms trade, in pursuing an end to conflict, in supporting not demonising refugees, and in turning the promise of a nuclear-free world from an impossible dream to a concrete goal.

And with the leadership of every single one of us, Conference, we must also honour the memory of the International Brigades, and lead the fight against the forces of fascism, of racism, and prejudice, and anti-semitism. Because that is what we have always done both at home and abroad, and that is what we must always do.

————–

We were there in Spain fighting Franco in 1936. We were there in Cable Street that same year fighting alongside the Jewish community to stop the Blackshirts. We were here in Liverpool a year later, when Oswald Mosley tried to speak in this great city and was forced out without saying a word. And we were there in the 1980s – I was there myself – when we marched against the National Front.

And let’s remember Conference, we won all those battles! We beat the Blackshirts, and the NF, and the BNP, and the EDL, and whatever they call themselves today, however they dress up their racial hatred, we are there in the same streets telling the fascists: ‘No Pasaran’.

And when we look back on all those battles, stretching back 80 years, I make a simple point, it hasn’t been thousands of Tories assembling in the streets to fight the forces of fascism. It’s been the men and women in this room. It’s been Jack Jones and Jeremy’s parents. It’s been Jon Lansman and Len McCluskey, Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. So while I make a point of never disagreeing with John on anything, I disagree with him on this: we don’t need a new Anti-Nazi League, because the Anti-Nazi League is in this hall and on this stage.

————

But Conference, let me speak to you from the depths of my heart and my soul and say something I never thought I’d have to say in my lifetime as a Labour member and activist, and it is simply this: that if we want to root out fascism and racism and hatred from our world, and from our country, then we must start, we must start, with rooting it out of our own party.

We all support the Palestinian cause, we are all committed to recognise the Palestinian State, and I stand here with no hesitation when I condemn the Netanyahu government for its racist policies and its criminal actions against the Palestinian people.

But I know as well, and we must all acknowledge, that there are sickening individuals on the fringes of our movement, who use our legitimate support for Palestine as a cloak and a cover for their despicable hatred of Jewish people, and their desire to see Israel destroyed. Those people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party the same way Oswald Mosley was kicked out of Liverpool.

—————

And Conference, there is something more. Because if we truly want to realise the dream of The Internationale to unite the human race, and re-unite our country, then again we must start with uniting our own party, and ending the pointless conflicts which divide our movement, which poison our online debate, and which distract us from fighting the Tories.

Because as Gandhi said: “We but mirror the world so if we could change ourselves, the world would also change.” But if we can’t show the strength to change ourselves to change the way we behave to each other, how can we ever hope to change the country, and aspire to change the world?

But if we can do all that, just think what we’re capable of. Think what history we can create in government. Think what we can achieve that future Labour Conferences will remember as great anniversaries.

————–

And I want to close with a story told by Dolores Gomez about the siege of Madrid in 1936, when every day she and her fellow citizens expected their streets to fall to the fascist forces surrounding the city. And sure enough, one day, they heard a huge army on the march

“Iron clad boots”, she said, “Men marching silent, severe, with rifles on their shoulders and bayonets fixed, making the earth tremble under their feet.” She and others crouched on balconies overlooking the street, rifles cocked and grenades ready to be thrown, just waiting for the order to attack.

But then she said, the army began to sing. “A thrill goes down the spines of the people, `Is this a dream?’ ask the women, sobbing.” But no, it was not. The men marching down the street had begun singing ‘The Internationale’, each in their own language – French, Italian, German, and English – the men of The International Brigades, all singing different words, but all with the same meaning, that when any of us is under attack from the forces of hatred, prejudice and exploitation, we are all under attack and we must unite and fight back together.

And if we can show that same unity today in our party, if we can root out prejudice and end division in our own ranks, then we can heal our divided country, we can unite our fractured world, and we can show that the greatest achievements of our socialist movement lie not in our past, but in our future. That is the kind of government we need for our country and that is the kind of Britain we need for our world.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

A Polemic About Social Media And Political Campaigning

Preamble

A month or so back, a friend of mine who suffers from long-term, severe mental illness was attacked by a group of boys on her estate. They took photographs of that attack and posted them on social media.

They are pretty much immune from prosecution, thanks to the ‘viral’ response to their post. Granted, they are now pariahs in their close-knit community, and their ugly, stupid act will follow them into their adulthood, cropping up whenever they attempt to make any public progress in their lives. If you believe in mob-justice, then justice might be said to have been done. The state, however, because of the illegal publication of their identities on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is powerless to take action against them. It can only attempt to protect them from the self-aggrandizing vigilantiism to which they have opened themselves by their use of social media and their grotesque immaturity. The legitimate, accountable, democratically-authorised legal system has been short-circuited by a foreign-owned capitalist monopoly that uses the everyday indignities of humanity as grist to its algorithms and regards legal and democratic structures as barriers to wealth creation and the self-actualisation of the cleverest, luckiest and most ammoral elite in history.

I saw my friend last weekend. She is terrified. She is not engaging with the community which piously leapt to her defense after years of treating her as a local embarrassment, and she thinks the police are trying to victimise her: their inability to give her a clear course of legal remedy for her ordeal has confused the issue beyond her ability to engage with it. She is also mesmerised by her Facebook feed, which seems to be confirming her long-standing belief that the world is purposed towards her destruction. Horribly, I think that her fear that the hatred towards the boys will swing back to her may be justified. That is the nature of restless, self-righteous, technologically-enabled groupthink.

The rule of law is a mainstay of democracy. Facebook undermines that rule. It is inherently anti-democratic.

A Short History of Social Media and Political Campaigning

The 2015 Labour Leadership Poll was a triumph for people who sought to manipulate social media in the service of meaningful political change: what Jeremy Corbyn called, “…a thirst for something more communal, more participative.”[1]

By the 2017 general election, however, the political promise of the medium had begun to be diminished by forces other than the well-directed groundswell of public feeling that had empowered the Elect Corbyn for Leader movement. I am not an unquestioning fan of Momentum, but I think that the campaign to elect Corbyn as leader was a model of how to use social media to a positive purpose. What they achieved in ‘15 was to break the ‘echo chamber’ or bubbling effect of Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms, by pulling in unsympathetic friends of sympathisers, and engaging them in debate and exposing them to sincere voices of political hope.[2] By the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and by 2017, the social media companies had realised that this was a loophole in their control of users’ media consumption and had adjusted.

Before Facebook became a publicly quoted company, focussed on advertising spend, it had been chasing engagement over content control, powering for growth, and there was a certain freedom of expression allowed to its users. By 2016, it was chasing the control of what its users were seeing to a far greater extent, refining their offering to advertisers and data-purchasers and trying to present a soothing, ‘mimetic’ (ie, reflective, flattering) experience to users which would make viewing Facebook a comfortable and reinforcing experience to which people would return without worry.[3] That is why they bubble you. It’s not a service. It’s a mechanism of control.

Furthermore, the sophistication of the JeremyForLeader campaign, alongside the Occupy movment and the lessons learned from The Arab Spring movements, had caught the attention of other forces, both within the U.K. and outside it. Academic studies translated to media management policies[4] which were adopted by right-wing forces[5] and foreign intelligence services[6] to undermine the impact of organised popular campaigns. Populism swings in many directions.

In short, the glory days are over for democrats who use social media. An open technology -the internet- that was designed to release knowledge, communication and democratic access from the establishment gatekeepers who had directed public debate since at least the 1850s[7], has been co-opted by a new capitalist, plutocratic, neo-liberal elite, to bind its customers into a tower of Babel, in which coherent exchange of ideas is anathema, labelled as TL:DNR.

The Limits of ‘Privacy’ Settings

Know this: a private Facebook group is not private. It is exclusive, in that the labour put into it is restricted to those who choose to sign up to it. This means that it serves as a mechanism of exclusion of those people who, for whatever reason, choose to not participate in social media. However, that ad hominen rant against a comrade to which you succumbed during the Owen Smith leadership challenge is available to the right level of advertiser, if they’re searching for dirt on the Labour Party during an election campaign.

And that situation assumes that you’re wise enough to restrict your rants to a ‘private’ group, and to not share your breathless prose in a moment of vainglory to your main feed. Or that all the members of the group have the best wishes of the party at heart. Or that the administrators have kept up with the constant changes to Facebooks privacy rules, and that the group is still actually set to ‘private’, rather than just ‘closed’. Or that no one is taking screenshots for malicious purposes.

But you know that, really. How else do the rumours of ‘green infiltrators’ get started?

Unless you delete your account -not just a single comment, but your whole account- and forego logging back into it for two weeks after you have deleted it, everything you have ever uploaded, written, sniped or ‘shared’, is sitting in a folder on Facebook’s servers, available to the highest bidder, and linked to you. Have you ever enjoyed watching someone try to backtrack on an opinion they expressed five years ago in a drunken moment? It could be you. Only the safety of the crowd protects you.

The Great Con

There is a rather mischievous argument doing the rounds in internet freedom circles that claims China actually has more politically effective internet access than the free West. I consider that nonsense: Chinese citizens have definitely scored real successes in changing government policy through internet activism, but they’ve been pretty well educated in staying away from economic, central government and foreign affairs topics. However, the state is not the only enemy of freedom, and in the West, it is not even the most powerful.

As John Lanchester puts it:

Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens…Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.[8]

The sight of large chunks of a socialist party beavering away, providing free labour to create content for a few American monopolist corporations fills me with despair. It is as if the Chartists had had their discussions about citizens’ rights in the tearoom of the House of Lords. In the light of what we know about how Facebook played (or, as they claim, were played, during) the last American presidential election, we should understand that they have worked out how to neutralise justice movements’ energy and commitment. They want to keep you happy, yes; that is why there are cat videos, but angry people click as well, and division is incredibly easy to sow, if you know where to lay the seeds, and you own the field.

Know this also: social media, particularly Facebook, is as much a product of manipulative psychological theory as it is a product of technology. Zuckerberg actually pursued a dual degree at Harvard: Computing and Psychology. The mechanisms written into Facebook behavioural algorithms are rooted in the theories of conditioned response which underpin the most nakedly dishonest branches of marketing, propoganda and behavioural control. The desire for a ‘like’ or a notification of any kind on a social media app or browser window, is the same conditioned twitch seeking content-free reward as is used by the designers of gambling machines. It is the behaviour of the rat that has been trained to associate a button with pleasure and will starve to death seeking the signifier of that pleasure, even when the actual reward has been removed from the process.

Von Clausewitz said that armies lose when they try to re-fight the last war. The limited, almost-victory of the 2017 election was successful, as far as it went, not because of social media, but because Labour concentrated on what mattered: having control of its content and being clear about what it stood for. The brief flowering of commercial social media as a medium of democratic liberation is over. We need to create our own fields.

We need a CLP Facebook feed, but it should be treated as a shop window, only being populated with content approved by the CLP, in a professional manner: another method among many to spread our Labour ideals to the public. It should be curated, nurtured and controlled.

We do not need a public kvetching arena, which is what our ‘private’ Facebook group is.

Get off Facebook. Start creating our own discussion groups on secure media that we own: Diaspora is a good first step, but a Rocket chat server would be more instinctive for most users and would be easy to set up, and cheap to run, and we would own it in a way we would not own a Facebook page. It would also be free of the pressure to keep up, to keep chasing the approval of an algorithm. It would remove the competitive fury inherent in social media slavery, and it would allow us to discuss again, instead of constantly arguing.

Bibliography

Nunns, Alex, The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path To Power (1st ed), OR Books, New York & London, 2016,

Lanchester, John, You Are The Product, London Review Of Books, Vol 39 No. 16, Aug. 2017.  https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n16/john-lanchester/you-are-the-product

Miller, Patrick R., et al. “Talking Politics on Facebook: Network Centrality and Political Discussion Practices in Social Media.” Political Research Quarterly, vol. 68, no. 2, 2015, pp. 377–391. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24371839.

Schroeder, Ralph, Digital media and the rise of right-wing populism Social Theory after the Internet: Media, Technology, and Globalization UCL Press. (2018) https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt20krxdr.6

Allcott, Hunt, and Matthew Gentzkow. “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 31, no. 2, 2017, pp. 211–235. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44235006

 

Endnotes

  1. Cited in Nunns, Alex, The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path To Power, (1st ed) OR Books, New York & London, 2016, p143
  2. Nunns, p251
  3. Lanchester, John, You Are The Product, London Review Of Books, Vol 39 No. 16, Aug. 2017.
  4. Miller, Patrick R., et al. “Talking Politics on Facebook: Network Centrality and Political Discussion Practices in Social Media.” Political Research Quarterly, vol. 68, no. 2, 2015, pp. 377–391. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24371839.
  5. Schroeder, Ralph, Digital media and the rise of right-wing populism Social Theory after the Internet: Media, Technology, and Globalization UCL Press. (2018) https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt20krxdr.6
  6. Allcott, Hunt, and Matthew Gentzkow. “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 31, no. 2, 2017, pp. 211–235. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44235006.
  7. Alcott & Geentzkow
  8. Lanchester,

 

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Guardian’s Anti-Labour Agenda

Another election, and another well-orchestrated campaign to drown out political debate behind lies about The Labour Party, using the well-known trope of screaming about prejudice that does not exist. The Guardian has reverted to London property owning type and has basically failed to cover the local election campaign, instead electing to smear Jeremy Corbyn with multiple articles about his being a racist every day.

I’ve written this letter to the paper and cancelled my direct debit.

I’d just got over the anger I felt towards the Guardian over its bias during the General Election, and even set up a direct debit to “support independent journalism”, when another important election came along and the paper reverted to its alt-right, fake news, anti-Labour faerie land.

There is not a newspaper that I can trust in this country. Having to give up on the Guardian feels like a loss, but the harm your alignment with a right-wing smear campaign has done will probably cost my job, my ability to live a decent life when I can no longer work and any sense that I am a welcome member of my national community.

Just to be clear, because you’re avoiding any meaningful reflection on the matter: you are pushing the lie that the Labour Party is defined by ideas and attitudes that are mainstream in the Tory party and are the very definition of fascist beliefs. What are they paying you?

You think you’re getting away with it, all you London property owners who are terrified of a just economy and a democratic movement. You are not.

Liars.

Peter Mason

To my delight, there is a decent, authoritative rebuttal on the letters page. I am posting it here, with no permissions whatsoever, to save having to state the obvious myself.

One of the main concepts in journalism education is that of framing: the highlighting of particular issues, and the avoidance of others, in order to produce a desired interpretation. We have been reminded of the importance of framing when considering the vast amounts of media coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged failure to deal with antisemitism inside the Labour party. On Sunday, three national titles led with the story while news bulletins focused on the allegations all last week. Dominant sections of the media have framed the story in such a way as to suggest that antisemitism is a problem mostly to do with Labour and that Corbyn is personally responsible for failing to deal with it. The coverage has relied on a handful of sources such as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and well-known political opponents of Corbyn himself.

It is not “whataboutery” to suggest that the debate on antisemitism has been framed in such a way as to mystify the real sources of anti-Jewish bigotry and instead to weaponise it against a single political figure just ahead of important elections. We condemn antisemitism wherever it exists. We also condemn journalism that so blatantly lacks context, perspective and a meaningful range of voices in its determination to condemn Jeremy Corbyn.
Prof Des Freedman Goldsmiths, University of London
Justin Schlosberg Birkbeck, University of London
Prof Lynne Segal Birkbeck, University of London
Prof Mica Nava University of East London
Prof Greg Philo Glasgow University
Prof Annabelle Sreberny SOAS, University of London
Prof Jeremy Gilbert University of East London
Prof Joanna Zylinska Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Bev Skeggs London School of Economics
Prof James Curran Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Julian Petley Brunel University
Prof Natalie Fenton Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof David Buckingham Loughborough University
Prof Gary Hall Coventry University
Prof Neve Gordon Queen Mary, University of London
Prof Michael Chanan University of Roehampton
Prof John Storey University of Sunderland
Prof Allan Moore University of Surrey
Jo Littler City University
Dina Matar SOAS, University of London
Bart Cammaerts London School of Economics
Tom Mills Aston University
William Merrin Swansea University
Catherine Rottenberg Goldsmiths, University of London
Richard Macdonald Goldsmiths, University of London
Milly Williamson Goldsmiths, University of London
Margaret Gallagher Senior research consultant
Jane Dipple University of Winchester
Peri Bradley Bournemouth University
Dean Lockwood University of Lincoln
Maria Chatzichristodoulou London South Bank University
William Proctor Bournemouth University
John Cunliffe Birkbeck, University of London
Zeta Kolokythopoulu London South Bank University
Becky Gardiner Goldsmiths, University of London
Jill Daniels University of East London
Seth Giddings University of Southampton
Maria Sourbati University of Brighton
Richard Smith Goldsmiths, University of London
Ruth Catlow Co-director, Furtherfield
Jonathan Eato University of York
Theodore Koulouris University of Brighton

Anti-semitism, like any politicized hatred, is anti-democratic, deeply irrational, immoral and anathema to the new left movement that has grown around Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The satanically cynical weoponization of that hatred as a meme with which to derail and shut down democratic debate in this country is a crime as great as the hatred itself.

If you’d like to let The Guardian know that they are not getting away with their toadying to the right-wing’s lies, this the place to do it. Be sure to include your full name, address and phone number. Also, keep your message to 250 words or fewer.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Desperate Tories Have Sunk To A New Low

For about a week now, the Tories have been trying to smear Jeremy Corbyn, not with some sort of misjudgment from his past, but with an absolute lie. Their sponsors in the right-wing press made up a story saying that he had been a communist spy, based on the fact that someone he had once met had included him on a list of people he claimed, falsely, to have recruited as spies.

There is absolutely no truth to this, and every informed source has stated so, including the foremost specialist in the Czech Security Service archives.

Nevertheless, the Tories are not going to let it go. They are stuck in the belief that if they can spread doubts and repeat a lie often enough, there are enough idiots who will believe it.

The Tory vice-chair, a loud-mouthed braggart with the sneer of a street racist, has had to pay legal costs and a “substantial” sum to charity after repeating the lie on his Twitter feed. Still the Tory scum are pushing the lie. [1 WARNING! Links to The Sun] [2 WARNING! Links to The Telegraph]

However, it is heartening to see that the British press is not without honourable representatives. I have had harsh thoughts about Andrew Neil in the past. There is little doubt that he is no friend of the Labour Party, but he has shown his journalistic credentials on this issue and gained my respect. Watch with pleasure as a snide Tory creep is skewered by Neil, as the journalist insists upon the truth over grotesque falsehood.

As ever, Jeremy Corbyn has responded to a ridiculous situation with calm, dignity and a rigid adherence to fact and good judgement. Murdoch and Rothermere fear rational, fact-based government in this country: they’ve had their own way for decades and they want to keep us desperate, divided and panic-stricken, chasing our tails over their lies. Corbyn threatens that.

For a broad discussion of the issue of political smears by tax-exile billionaires, the following embed, from the James O’Brien LBC radio show, is worth a listen.

 

 

Monday, 3 July 2017

Footsore But Hopeful, Despite So Much Horror.

We went to the People’s Assembly March in London on Saturday and had a great time. So many people, so many conversations: it was like an ambulatory night in the world’s friendliest pub without the booze. I have, at last, heard Jeremy Corbyn speak live, and it was a belter, but we also heard Diane Abbot, Suggs, and, though the tone was triumphant and optimistic, it was overshadowed by many horrors: prominent among them, the Grenfell Tower massacre, although the speaker who talked about anti-muslim hate crime left me devastated by her description of the recent acid attack, of which I hadn’t yet been aware. Excuse a little outburst: SICK BASTARDS!

Perhaps most depressing for the long-term, however, is the drift towards fascism represented by Theresa May’s £1.5 Billion bribe to the DUP to prop up her discredited regime. Speaker after speaker pointed out the hypocrisy of it, and how it lays bare the lie of austerity, particularly coming, as it does, in the same week that the imploding government managed to strap itself together to vote down the repeal of the 1% pay cap for public sector workers. For me, though, it shows that the swivel-eyed fascist is determined to hang on, to do the maximum damage, and ignore the pain her illegitimate government is doing.

I want to write about some things that happened on the march, including the conversations I had, but it is a work day. For now, I’ll leave you with another cartoon. Theresa May is an open target for satire, and our political cartoonists are not missing.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Monday, 5 June 2017

Monday, 29 May 2017

Voters’ Complicity

Watch this. My own wife thinks this is the greatest moral reason for voting Labour: the cuts against disabled people and the cruel, relentless pressure upon them over the last seven years have really been akin to state cleansing of vulnerable people. I know, from Amanda’s study of the issue, that this woman is not exaggerating.

Watch this, now:

Then this:

 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

“Tactical” Voting on the Isle of Wight: Napalming Your Own Front Line

If anything has depressed me more than the sight of the Prime Minister -THE U.K.’S PRIME MINISTER-, unravelling in plain view, over this election, it has been the continuing triumph of stupidity over consideration that I have encountered when talking to people.

On the Island, apart from the gross lies about Jeremy Corbyn’s peacemaking efforts in the Northern Ireland conflict, the greatest expression of that stupidity and lack of effort that people put into this most important of decisions is the belief that they can be clever by voting ‘tactically’.

Let’s put aside the fact that tactical voting is a lie. If you really wanted to vote tactically to dislodge the Tories on the Isle of Wight, you would vote UKIP, but then you would probably go to hell, which is not a good deal. However, for reasons I will outline here, the Green Party has decided to put around the mathematically moronic argument that a vote for them would increase the likelihood of beating the Tories here, and a lot of people have just gone, “Oh, cool”, and not examined that spurious claim for the few milliseconds it would take to expose its absurdity.

The Green Party, thanks to a particular set of historic peculiarities, beat Labour by just over 400 votes in 2015, but, as Julian Critchley has said, they have made those 400 votes do a lot of heavy lifting over the last two years.

Anyway, the Greens think they can get a second place on the Island this time, and they are attempting to make inroads into the Labour vote, although I have seen little evidence of them being successful: I’ve met one confirmed Green voter and he was, I think, stoned. Do not be deceived by Green propaganda: they are attacking Labour: in Norwich, in Cambridge, in Bristol and a number of other Labour target seats, they are attempting to build their profile by riding the coattails of Labour candidates. For them, the Island, a Tory seat, is a fig leaf: their opportunistic attempt to say that they are taking on the Conservatives. Success for them does not mean winning the seat, but looking as though they are a real alternative, which they’re not. In the unlikely event that they maintain their fluke 2015 vote, they will simply embed even deeper the Tory domination of the Island.

The only chance we have of unseating the Tories on the Island, and in the wider U.K., is by concentrating the left-of-Tory vote. Tory voters are tribal. For them, the electoral map is a two party system. I’m not saying that is a good thing, but under our present system, it is the truth. One of the most striking peculiarities of this unusual election campaign is the extent to which the Tories’ vote is slipping: on social care, on animal rights, on young people’s issues, the Tories have scored massive own-goals and their voters are actually leaving them; something that hasn’t happened since 1997. It is extremely unlikely that Conservative voters will go to minority parties, particularly if that party is as extremist as the Green Party. With the collapse of the Lib-Dems, it is Labour that provides a safe and meaningful vote for issues-led, conscientious former Tory voters and for orphaned former Lib-Dems.

If you genuinely like what the Greens say and are voting Green as a matter of honest conscience, I’ve got no argument with you. However, to vote Green, thinking that you are somehow concentrating your electoral fire on the Tories, is just ignorant. It is the tactical equivalent of napalming your own front line. It is a vote for Theresa May.

If you want to get rid of the Tories, VOTE LABOUR.