Syria and Mr Corbyn: the case against inaction

Syria and why we must intervene….

I have been asked to offer an opinion on Syria by Jeremy Corbyn.

The case against further involvement has been made and I know many of my friends feel intervention is wrong. FaceBook and other Social Media are not the best place to review the noble history of the pacifist and isolationist political traditions but it is not the only noble tradition or indeed the only moral case that might be legitimately made….

Already Mr Corbyn’s office has triumphantly declared 75% of those responding back his policy. It is of course like all such endeavours for approbation a self selecting audience. This is no way to run a party; or to suggest one might run a country or most nakedly to suggest is a reasonable way to make policy in a serious political institution. It is a tactic borrowed from the lexicon of demagogues down the ages and that is should be the mantle of a leader of the Labour Party is a cause for embarrassment. I doubt  it will change much but it will if it continues change Labour into a an unrepresentative, unelectable rump of rabble rousing bully boys.

That I lament….as a party man since 1971 I am now forced to consider ending my membership because I believe the march the party is taking is essentially away from democratic socialism and its ally social democracy towards the closed minded demagoguery of Jacobinism that thrives in self-selecting cliques of activists. They will use members as a battering ram to impose their own ideas and ideological agenda on the party. It will exclude institutions which it wishes to exclude on writ and whim confirmed by plebiscite of members. It will turn the party into an adjunct of a Committee of Public Safety which it dominates that casts opponents as enemies of the revolution. Eventually it will drag the Labour Party to destruction.

Here is an extract of what I have sent in response ….it will be ignored as this is not an attempt to engage and persuade but a tactic to enforce whatever the leader happens to think is right…or others who tell us this is what the leader really wants….

Dear Mr Corbyn,

Thank you for this email. I do not feel it takes full account of the entire situation in Syria or more widely in the Middle East and as your email does not set out the criteria for a contrary case I feel it seeks endorsement rather than engagement. Nevertheless, I offer the following:

1.Syria can no longer be regarded as a functioning state in any legal sense. Not only is it in civil war but the various factions fighting are now also proxies for the interests of others including great powers like Russia and the USA and also other regional powers like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Wishful thinking will not alter that reality; rather it defines the terrain for future policy. It also inevitably means there are no easy options for policy-makers but only a series of difficult choices. Therefore greater and smaller powers have legitimate interests to defend.

2. In these circumstances, we as a sovereign nation have a legitimate interests. We are now also directly affected by the consequences of the collapse of ordered society in Syria – we are affected by the refugee crisis (as is the whole EU) and we are affected by the operations of a terrorist organisation ISIS that claims right to create a Caliphate by force of arms and the right to murder European citizens in order to achieve that end.
In fact as the strain of the refugee crisis alone undermines the stability of the EU the events in Syria consequently directly threaten our national interest. That provides sufficient legitimate grounds to intervene both politically and militarily. However, the ISIS element and the fact we are also a founder member of the UN and a Permanent Member of the Security Council adds special additional responsibilities which justify interventions by us in concert with our allies.

This is not disputed in so far as the case for non-participation in allied airstrikes rests largely upon the notion that we still own some moral entitlement to intervene politically and diplomatically. Whether there is raison d’etre for such assumption on our part without us having willingness to make a greater commitment of military resource is itself ethically questionable as we are fully aware such diplomatic interventions will in those circumstances be in fact devoid of meaning as they will have no practical chance of success. The grand gesture of taking the high ground morally without fighting for it militarily. It is the sort of victory Caligula declared he had won over Neptune – empty of meaning and full of rhetoric.

3. We previously took a decision not to directly intervene militarily in Syria. That decision has patently failed. That is grounds for us to reconsider the previous decision in the light of its failure either to limit the conflict or to resolve the insurgency of ISIS into Iraq and now into other states including Turkey and Jordan.

4. Russia is now directly involved and her determination to keep the Assad regime – a regime that should be brought before the Human Rights Court for violations of it signatory obligations regarding use of chemical weapons and indiscriminate use of cluster bombs in civilian areas – which together constitute crimes against humanity – is a matter of highest moral importance to the wider International Community.

Force of arms is now being employed to keep this criminal regime safe by a great power that recently has been permitted to annexe the Crimea in a manner highly reminiscent of the fascist states of Italy and germany and the Imperial state of Japan in the 1930’s. That amounts to appeasement in so far as it only serves to encourage other states with similar ambitions to take the view that the UN Conventions cannot be enforced.

As in Yugoslavia this cannot be left to stand.

5. The second question is militarily whether our intervention in Iraq makes any strategic sense without dealing with Syria. Again, patently the answer now is no; we have tried and we have failed and our other allies are already involved in Syria. France has invoked the EU mutuality interest clause – akin to the one for NATO allies. If we accept ISIS attempts to make itself a state and ISIS claims the right to make that state from Syria and parts of Iraq that alone enables us to act legally and militarily. ISIS organises and recruits via the Internet and inculcates suicide as a legitimate means of conducting its so called holy war or jihad. The determination of ISIS to foment war in these illegal terms under conventions of international law puts both nation states at risk and indiscriminately places their citizens at risk. We cannot deal with one aspect of ISIS in say Iraq or Paris without dealing also with the other in Syria or Libya.

There are serious inadequacies in the government response and these we should address: particularly the role of the UN; the participation of NATO allies; and the consideration of the airstrikes as part of a wider military strategy;and stabilisation of Libya and other African states. This is a struggle for the survival of pluralist democracy against any enemy willing to use the tolerance of multiculturalism in order to wholly destroy it and impose upon it its own closed ideology of intolerance. Make no mistake it uses violence and systematic physical abuse and moral degradations of those who fall into is control as means of sustaining itself. It owns no ethical or moral purpose beyond its capacity to murder, destroy and dehumanise. It is evil.

This means it is imperative to get the US to reactivate the Middle East Peace Process as part of a concerted effort to bring regional peace. These things however we can persuade the US government and others to do if we are part of the entire effort in Syria.

Your email also concerns me since it presupposes that the PLP and Shadow Cabinet you appointed are an unsuitable body to make these decisions on the party’s behalf and on behalf of Labour voters more widely and also of their constituents’ best interests.

This decision making by plebiscite dangerously reduces policy to simplicities as it also reduces Labour MPs to little more than glorified delegates of the “activists” within the party membership – who frankly are merely an interest group far far smaller than even the Labour Party as currently constituted including Unions affiliated to it and their members – let alone even the 9 million Labour voters at the last election. Policy is not made by motions and by twitterstorms. Moreover, this procedure disregards the other non-Labour voting constituents of whose interests Labour MPs are also constitutionally guardian. Representative democracy kept you in your position in Parliament even though you remained detached from party policy and discipline in your long career on the backbenches. Suddenly it seems you want to bully others by using the same tactics of bullying once you denounced. We in the party deserve rather better of you than this.

Finally, the analysis of the situation in Syria set out in your email so over-simplifies the complexities of the situation that it is in danger of posing a false choice to party members – new and old – which I am sure is not its intention. There is to be limited military action by the allies and this does not constitute a declaration of war. Our military exist to protect our interests in such circumstances. We cannot even commit them them to UN Peacekeeping without placing them at risk. It is why we honour them and respect them.

Your email also presupposes party members might be suitably informed on the basis of your statement to make the decision you ask of them. I suggest to you they cannot be and for the various reasons set out above this in essentially a matter for your leadership and that of the Shadow Cabinet.

For these reasons (and there are many more) I personally urge you to put the interests of the country over the party and also unite the party showing decisive leadership which coming from you would in fact make the success of intervention much more likely because of your well known and long held views about military inventions.

This is akin to the crisis in Yugoslavia rather than the intervention after 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should join our allies in seeking to eliminate ISIS and Assad from Syria. Failing that the PLP must be given a free vote.

Yours sincerely,

John Murphy

John Murphy

—–Original Message—–
From: Jeremy Corbyn <>
To: John Murphy <>
Sent: Fri, 27 Nov 2015 20:17
Subject: Your views on Syria

On Thursday David Cameron set out his case in the House of Commons for a UK bombing campaign in Syria.

We have all been horrified by the despicable attacks in Paris and are determined to see ISIS defeated.

The issue now is whether what the Prime Minister is proposing strengthens, or undermines, our national security.

I put a series of questions in response to the Prime Minister’s statement, raising concerns about his case that are on the minds of many in the country. You can read my response here.

There could not be a more important matter than whether British forces are sent to war.

As early as next week, MPs could be asked to vote on extending UK bombing to Syria.

I do not believe that the Prime Minister made a convincing case that British air strikes on Syria would strengthen our national security or reduce the threat from ISIS.

When I was elected I said I wanted Labour to become a more inclusive and democratic party.

So I am writing to consult you on what you think Britain should do. Should Parliament vote to authorise the bombing of Syria?

Let me know your views, if you are able to, by the start of next week:


Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party

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The Kansas Twister – Kim Davis; the Pope & Same-sex Marriage

 Why the truth is often stranger than fiction…


There is sometimes more to a story than meets the eye. In history context is always king and in that spirit I offer up this review of recent events.

....2C7EEC8300000578-3241331-Pope_Francis_arrives_in_Havana_to_begin_a_ten_day_tour_of_Cuba_a-a-3_1442697539664Pope Francis was amiably chatting to journalists on the way back to Rome after what had appeared to be a public relations triumph in the USA and Cuba. He was at that point – as were the journalists – blissfully unaware that he was about to be swept up by one of those infamous Kansas Twisters which was to drop him without due ceremony into a cauldron of controversy bestirred by an elected minor official of the state of Kansas.

The official in question is Ms Kim Davis.  The controversy was over same-sex marriage. Ms Kim Davis is the serving elected County Clerk of Rowan County and in her capacity as the County Clerk she issues marriage licenses on behalf of the state.

Last Summer the Supreme Court of USA ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, (576 US).  Briefly stated it ruled 5 to 4 that that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US constitution. That ruling together with other rulings by Federal Circuit and Appeals Courts effectively legalised same-sex (civil) marriage throughout the USA.

There is no question that this decision was historic. It decisively settled the legal side of this argument. Inevitably such a decision was incapable of changing the minds of opponents to same-sex marriage. This is because this debate over the term ‘marriage’ is not simply a matter of law. It is a subject which concerns cultural, philosophical and religious belief.

Furthermore, in the USA the progress of this argument through the courts and through Congress had touched old wounds from that struggle between State and Federal that was largely fought out in the first century after the Declaration of Independence in 1776 but which still continues to own a resonance today. At the formation of the USA, civil marriage and its regulation remained a matter solely for the Governors and Legislatures of each state. Over time this led more socially conservative states to impose tighter regulations of marriage than others whilst out in the West for example some states permitted faster divorce on less onerous terms, notoriously in Nevada and in particular the jurisdiction of Reno.

After the end of Reconstruction some states imposed racial limits to marriage as part of the segregation Laws which to some extent continued slavery by another means. This led the Supreme Court in the 1950’s to suspend all the race laws as unconstitutional and forced those states to permit and to recognise legally contracted inter-racial marriage. The Civil Rights Movement seems now an historical inevitability – it was not the case as late as the end of the 1960’s. A recidivist minority has since continued to hold the action by the Federal branch was unconstitutional and that marriage is the sole business of the State alone. Ms Davis’s view of that the recent Supreme Court decision was unconstitutional is not without its supporters. Similarly, her parallel assertion that as ‘marriage’ can only be between a man and a woman that same-sex marriage was the equivalent of the homosexual serpent entering the heterosexual Eden that is Kansas – also has its adherents.

Therefore when eager same-sex couples came forward to obtain their licenses to marry and Ms Davis took it upon herself to spoil their gay gumbado, a tornado was bound to follow. She refused to issue marriage licenses to which her name was appended. What followed embroiled the state Governor; the state legislature; the state and federal courts; Ms Davis’s colleagues in the county office; her local church; and the justices of the US Supreme Court in the brouhaha. Ms Davis has taken such a hard line she has subsequently has fallen out with just about everyone who was sympathetic to her cause – bar Fox News and its stalwarts – some of  the political religious right who have made cause with her – and it would appear from subsequent events – the Papal Nuncio, Cardinal Carlo Maria Varga.

Ms Davis objection to same-sex Marriage –  whether principled or opportunist – resonates with a highly vocal and motivated minority in US society. These activists are the ground troops of a culture war that has been waged across the USA at least since the 1960’s and possibly arguably since the Prohibition movement. It has certainly defined the politics of parts of the USA for the last forty years. Nor can it be denied that the prejudices of this minority in some states almost constitutes majority opinion. More importantly, it also constitutes a powerful, organised and well-financed constituency in the Republican Party.

The states most resistant to same-sex marriage are often the most Republican. They are found in the heart of the Old Democrat Confederacy – the deep south that is now quixotically the Republican heartland – or it belongs to the land-locked, prairie and mountain states in the non-urban middle of the continent. In both cases – but for different reasons – alike perhaps perhaps the Unionists in Northern Ireland – the values of urban American ring hollow and are even despised in these small-town polities. In all these states today the GOP rules; in all these States Revivalist Evangelical Christianity dominates. The biblical literalism of this religion often injects a visceral anti-intellectualism into the culture.

In this inwardness the many virtues of being small-town are too often enmeshed with the vice of being small-minded. This reflects back the worst of its history as most often our many vices do.

1. The Kansas Component.......Reynolds's_Political_Map_of_the_United_States_1856

Kansas sits of the edge of the the Great Plains that once composed the beginning of the fabled American Wild West. At its inception as a territory Kansas was at the heart of another Titanic struggle – the one against institutional slavery that tore apart the USA in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The State gives its name to a piece of legislation that was one of the immediate causes of the American Civil War. The Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) enabled settlers to new territories to determine for themselves whether or not to permit slavery.

Settlers of these Western territories were attracted there by cheap land and in the main were hostile to slavery. Although they saw it as immoral practically it was also an economic fact that slave-owning settlers from Southern States would have gained a natural advantage over other settlers drawn west who had to would have had pay for any additional labour needed to turn prairie into farmland. Morality may still be dressed in the shoddy of self-interest to striking effect.

The Act therefore broke the spirit (if not quite the letter) of Henry Clay’s ‘Missouri Compromise’ (1820) which had notionally permitted slavery in any new states south of the latitude of parallel 36.30 – with the singular exception of the Missouri where slavery was made legal despite being above the fateful parallel. The Kansas-Nebraska Act limited further westward expansion of the economic model of the Southern States which rested slavery. It was a losing cause but its loss left bitter resentments.

After the Civil War ended slavery and secession, the western territories expanded rapidly always drawing in new scrawny undernourished settlers in from the old world of Europe.  In this new time ‘Kansas’ gave its name anew -as a vulgarism for a flat-chested woman. In the later nineteenth century a ‘Kansas’ bride was the butt of the Music Hall comic for not being – to borrow Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyric from South Pacific – broad where a broad should be broad.

carrienationAbout the same time – the state also became home to the Temperance Movement that swept the plains and mountain states.This was a muscular movement led by women activists and one in particular – Carrie Nation – became famed in Kansas for her uncompromising leadership. Her followers became known a ‘smashers’. They put saloons out of business in well organised mobs that broke more than windows and glasses – they broke the law. They went unpunished. Taking the law into your own hands is therefore part of Kansas folklore in much the same way as the Western movies  later made the icon of the strong man with a gun into a folk-hero. Kansas was quickly in thrall to the Temperance movement in this intolerant incarnation and it was an early state to ban hard liquor (1881). Later, it was reluctant to be parted from its prohibitionist past and it was not until 1948 that the state finally got round to endorsing the 21st Amendment to the Constitution which had repealed Prohibition. Many counties were still dry in the late 1940’s. Even after 1948 Kansas owned a beer culture that was soberly and self-consciously male (and straight).

Since it got a little too inebriated on the cause of Prohibition Kansas has shunned ‘progressive’ causes. It has always belonged to the much more conservative social milieu dominant outside the great American cities – despite the easy-going reputation of Kansas City as immortalised in Oklahoma – and it this conservative culture that gave birth to the remarkable phenomenon of American Evangelical Christianity with its vivid revivalist meetings; its folk-music-style-hymn-singing; its born-again cult of adult Baptism; and above of the mesmerising high-jinx of its fiery preachers.  It is this branch of Christianity that flourished all across the USA in the second half of the twentieth century.  It has enjoyed a certain appeal in uncertain times. Indeed paradoxically, the more the scientific age has challenged the literal truth of parts of the bible the more the certainties of this old time religion have appealed….

This religion is as often as marked often by a particular antagonism to Evolutionary Theory and to Climate Change science. As a belief system it is as mistrustful of science as it is hostile to secular philosophies. It has not found resonance in the Old World. It has had a better reception in the rests of the Americas; in Asia and in Africa where its  stridency and fundamentalism competes with Radical Islam.

moderncomic1In 2005 that the Kansas State Board of Education famously declared Intelligent Design to be a branch of Science. The board’s decision muddied the clear water dividing science and scientific proofs from those commonly used a means to explore ideas in philosophical and religious argument. It also completely misunderstood the working distinction between scientific method – the notion of stating an hypothesis and then testing it by controlled experiment – and that of philosophical deductive argument where ideas are tested by means of question and answer in debate. Whilst the latter has given us a useful tool to test the soundness of abstract ideas it would not be possible by those same methods to deduce for example that it was the HIV virus which caused AIDS. Whatever the Kansas Board of Education thought – if there was indeed much thinking involved in this strangely emotive decision its decision set off an avalanche of ever greater stupidities which thundered about the educational system in the USA burying reason and reasoned argument in its mighty tumble. Ms Davis ideas therefore rest on a cultural prejudice which is often not susceptible susceptible to reason.

Again in Kansas – this unreasoned-ness has from time to time fuelled random acts of violence. For example in 2009 in Kansan Dr. George Tiller was murdered outside his church one Sunday. His crime was that for 36 years that he had performed (legal) abortions at his Wichita clinic. Tiller had long been the focal point of the abortion debate in the State but that Sunday violent argument transcended into violence and Tiller was shot in cold blood. His death once more drew attention to the fact that violent fundamentalism is not the exclusive preserve of Islam or in fact the singular vice of any religion or any secular philosophy.

Human history is littered with the corpses sacrificed on the altar of ideas – good and bad and indifferent. We humans do not need to imbibe too much of any idea before we go crazy and kill people. This is not the exclusive vice of Kansas nor of Evangelical Christians. It is part of the abnormal that is sadly a part of the normal human condition.

If these realities have been hard on Kansas and her brides since those early days the state’s reputation has prospered rather better in fiction. Kansas is of course the home to Smallville – the small town where Superman grew-up. It is also home to the Lineman from Wichita made famous by Glenn Campbell. However, outranking these fictional Kansan luminaries by many degrees of Lux are Dorothy and to her little dog,Toto. They were the subject of a series of children’s books – carried far from their Kansas home on a Twister which landed them somewhere over the rainbow – in the the wonderful world of Oz; with its wizard; its witches; and its Munchkins – a world where the heroine Dorothy was destined to meet and make many new, strange and interesting friends…..

Subsequently – after the later post-war success of the Judy Garland Wizard of OZ movie – the film had initially been a bit of a flop-  the term ‘friend of Dorothy’s’ took on another meaning as it entered the lexicon of gay slang as one of the self-identifying phrases employed by gay men and women to describe themselves and to introduce themselves to one another.

Yet, despite this florid association with gay cliche, Kansas has never been particularly friendly towards the friends of Dorothy. As a state and a culture Kansas was never likely to be glad to be gay. So it on one level should come as no surprise that Ms Kim Davis has been organising her very own witch-hunt against some of the friends of Dorothy.

2. The Kim Davis Component:

...kimdavisMs Kim Davis as noted above is an elected official of the state of Kansas. Currently she is serving as the County Clerk of Rowan County where she had previously served in the unelected post of deputy clerk of the county from 1991 to 2011. She was actually on the Democratic Party ticket in Rowan County in 2014. Again as noted above one of the principal duties of the clerk of the county is to issue marriage licenses. On her election victory Davis told The Morehead News:

My words can never express the appreciation but I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.” 

It is that last part of her statement which has come back to haunt her. Davis took the oath of office as the county clerk of Rowan County in January 2015; she is serving a four year term due to end in January 2019 and she has not offered to resign her office as she refuses to carry out all the duties involved for which she currently receives a salary of $80,000.

I make mention of her salary as Ms Davis was not exactly a stranger to controversy before her election.

Ms Davis salary as Deputy Clerk came to public notice in 2011 during the time her mother was the Elected County Clerk. In 2011 in addition to her salary of $52,000 Ms Davis earned a further $11,000 in respect of overtime. While Chief Deputy Clerk Davis  took home in excess of $60,000 the remaining deputies in the county – chief deputy sheriff and deputy Judge-Executive for example made do with salaries around $37,000. These other officers were also ineligible for overtime pay. Under pressure from the public the County Fiscal Court reviewed the compensation of clerks in the county and voted unanimously to cut the Deputy County Clerk’s salary by one-third in 2012. Behind this innocent seeming tussle over salaries lay unspoken accusations of corruption and nepotism.

After her mother announced she would not run for re-election in 2014, Davis filed as a Democratic candidate for county clerk. At a candidates’ forum, Davis stated she felt she was best qualified for the position because of her 26 years of experience in the clerk’s office. Davis won the Democratic primary advancing to the General Election against Republican John Cox. Cox made complaints of nepotism during the campaign but voters were unimpressed and Ms Davis won easily.

3. Same-sex marriage component:

If Ms Davis is no stranger to local controversy the same might be said of Ms Davis and marriage. She has herself been married four times. That is a small matter to the state as she has been legally divorced three times. However, she happens to be a member of a church that takes a particularly strong line in matters of sexual conduct. It espouses a biblical literalism and condemns not only homosexual acts and homosexuality; it also holds strictly to the literal teachings of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage. Not only is four-times married Ms Davis challenging her church’s norms it so happens her third marriage ended with her cited as party to an adulterous extra-marital affair with a married man – the man who was to become subsequently her husband number four. Sexual misconduct was very much a private matter until Ms Davis went public on her opposition to same-sex marriage on religious and moral grounds. It is a classic example of people in glasshouses not throwing stones.

As Ms Davis continued to defy the Supreme Court after it had had formally upheld it the civil right to same-sex marriage she said she was acting “under God’s authority”. It was large claim for a small town girl but given she had made it without any sense of irony it is a smaller wonder she should have then also sought out the support of the Infallible Papacy.

None of this has gone down too well with all her fellow churchgoers. Her conduct set off another storm – this time on Twitter and other social Media. Fellow churchgoers have called upon Ms Davis to resign from her public office for breaking her public oath (the one she swore to uphold the US Constitution on taking public office) and to repent her own adultery in public. Others have accused her of not only bad faith and hypocrisy but of public adultery – it has all become very personal  – as one Tweet succinctly puts it:  What if a clerk denied Kim Davis a license for her 2nd/3rd/4th marriage because Christ calls it adultery?

Ms Davis very public refusal to issue marriage licenses has duly garnered her much attention. Her claim to be exercising what she claimed to be a right of conscience also drew in other interested parties some with a very clear agenda of their own.

Ms Davis asked the Governor to permit her to exercise this right of conscience but under legal advice the Governor refused her plea. Ms Davis’s riposte to the Governor was a unilateral public and loud refusal to issue licenses to gay couples.

It must be noted that these events in Kansas are not happening in isolation. There have been a number of incidents of similar nature all across the USA. For example, a ‘Christian’ couple in Oregon has refused to make wedding cakes for gay couples and they too have become minor celebrities. They have been fined for refusing repeatedly to take orders for groom and groom or bride and bride cakes. Their fines have mounted and they are being paid by Evangelical Group. Their struggle is on-going and they’re said to be minded to close down their business.

(No one has quite explained to me why any gay couple would knowingly commission a cake from a homophobic baker but these quarrels are often baked to old family recipes whose special ingredients only fully make sense to those involved.)

In Tennessee there has been a furore over a state Judge refusing to grant a Divorce to a heterosexual couple as he claimed the Supreme Court has made Marriage into legal nonsense. In Mississippi and in Missouri there’s a movement in the State Legislatures to strike down all State Laws on marriage and withdraw state jurisdictions from further involvement in Civil Marriage. It has also rippled out as an issue in the Republican Presidential debates with Ben Carson making the issue very much his own crusade. Carson is some 12 percent clear of Donald Trump in some polls in Iowa.

Like all such disputes as it has continued on more heat than light been generated . The losing side has been tempted to take-up what inevitably will become an unsustainable position. But as history repeatedly informs an old cause lost wins many new adherents.

Back to Ms Davis – as she has taken a public oath to uphold the US Constitution her position is legally and morally considerably different to that of the Oregon confectioners. Ms Davis refusal to issue licenses to gay couples broke her public oath as much as it defied the law. The Federal courts became involved very quickly and they fined Ms Davis as well as over-ruling her.

Given the above, it should not come as any surprise that with Media interest in her case, Ms Davis’s cause drew support from Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and she quickly came to the attention of  a law firm – Liberty Counsel. This firm was founded in 1989 by attorneys Mathew Staver and Anita Staver. The husband and wife firm is non-profit and its goal is to provide legal services to causes “dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family.”  On the subject of marriage Matthew Staver has observed:

Make no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”

Mr Staver has organised an annual conference ‘The Awakening’ and has several years running been its keynote speaker. The conference is, in its own words,“an in-depth Prayer and Patriotism event where people are united by love for our country’s freedom and our faith in Christ.” It thereby elides its particular brand of Evangelical Christianity with direct political action. In 2012 for example – the topics covered by the Conference were: Israel, Islam; the LGBTQ Agenda; and Abortion.

The firm has a bit of a reputation for playing fast and loose with facts and only recently ran into trouble by passing off a photograph taken in 2014 at a rally in South America against legalising abortion as being of a demonstration in favour of Ms Davis. Liberty Counsel filed an emergency application to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. By way of response the Court filed a one-line order in which they refused to hear the appeal.

In response to the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant her stay Ms Davis stated: “I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.”

It was we are told at this stage that Kim Davis came to the attention of the papal nuncio.

4. The Papal Component. 

With the Pope in flight – Ms Davis appeared on US TV to proclaim both God and the Pope were of one mind and were both on-side in her struggle to preserve true marriage. God Fearing Ms Davis not only knows what the Bible teaches and she knows right from wrong and she claimed in this judgement she and Pope Francis were of one mind. 

When Ms Davis announced her meeting with the Pope she implied she had received his endorsement of her stand –  ‘he told me to stay strong’ – suggesting in these few words that the pope knew what she was doing in Kansas and had approved her defiance of the US law. By way corroboration Ms Davis produced two sets of rosary beads the Pope had given her at this ‘private meeting’.

The Vatican was caught off-guard and news of the meeting  between pontiff and Ms Davis. LGBT Media and others more broadly were quick to criticise the pope. Additionally this news over-lapped into the early stages of the Synod Part II which had been assembling in Rome to consider matter relating to the Family. A few days later the Vatican was rocked by a polish monsignor coming-out in a press conference with his partner in tow. and which last year had included some detailed discussion on the Catholic Church’s response to homosexuality.This in turn muddied the waters of two very distinctly matters – clerical sexual conduct and discipline and same sex marriage. We live in an age where celibacy is routinely treated as a synonym for chastity – the latter being a state to which all unmarried Christians are meant to be called and to espouse as a moral ideal, male or female, straight or gay…

In the event accusation was made of hypocrisy and worse. It appeared to some that Pope Francis said one thing in public but in private was taking a different line by supporting groups and individuals opposed to same-sex marriage and those who are defying civil law in various jurisdictions.

The Vatican had refused to comment beyond confirming that Ms Davis did meet the pope but formally pointing out she did not have and would not have been granted a private audience.

It has since emerged that Ms Davis met with the pope in passing with a number of others in series of brief meetings arranged for the papal visit. It has emerged the Pope did not speak with her for any length of time. The mechanism by which the pope’s brief meeting came to pass is straightforward enough. Just as with invitations issued to meet with a President or a Prime Minister; or to be a guest at a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace; or, indeed, to be invited to the US Ambassador’s annual shindig at Winfield House; names are put forward and sponsored by various interested parties. In any event popes princes and presidents have spoken meet with all manner of people with all manner of opinions without creating a moral fuss. It as they say goes with the office.

Be that as it amy,  Pope Francis also met with Yayo Grassi, whom Pope Francis had taught at a Catholic High School in Argentina in the 1960’s and with Grassi’s long-time male partner. The had a private meeting with the pontiff on 23rd September at the Papal Nunciature in Northwest Washington.

Grassi said later that Pope Francis had apologised for the “hurt” his reported comments against Argentina’s same-sex marriage law had caused him personally.  In an interview with the Blade ( a Gay publication) Grassi added “He” (the Pope) “said I have never said any of those things that the press is publishing about me” and specifically referring to criticisms he was supposed to have made over Argentina’s same-sex marriage law Grassi said the pope “said as a matter of fact he never expressed himself about this question. And he” (the Pope “ended up by saying something that to me is so important. He said believe me, in my pastoral work there is no place for homophobia.”

Therefore, whatever is to be made of the Pope meeting with Kim Davis it certainly is not to be seen as an endorsement of her or of her views. Indeed, unlike the gay couple (both of whom are Catholic) Ms Davis belongs to another church which has as strong and as hostile views about the papacy and Roman Catholicism as it claims to have about Homosexuality, Adultery and Abortion.

Subsequently as it has become known that Ms Davis and her lawyers planned in advance to exploit this meeting to further her own political campaign. Her lawyers have now gotten themselves into trouble for being less than honest about facts and have been reprimanded by the state Bar Association for a statement they issued after Ms Davis appeared on TV in which they gave a very false impression of what had happened in the ‘meeting’ between Ms Davis and the pope. When questioned over their assertions in the press release the Stavers conceded they has no idea how the meeting was arranged; who was present and if the pope had spoken to Ms Davis at any length.

In court Ms Davis had claimed her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a matter of political conscience; a matter fundamental to her religious faith; and a matter of her Human Rights. These  of course were issues Pope Francis had chosen as themes for his pastoral visit. The Nunciature says Kim Davis had approached the Nuncio to ask to meet the pope; she claims the Nunciature approached her.

The US Nunciature is the diplomatic arm of the Holy See. It would have assembled lists of names of those to be included in various the classes of audiences with the Pope. Some of these would have been passed over to the Curia to be vetted; the Curia would itself have submitted its own list to the Nuncio and we now know Pope Francis let it be known he wanted some names he wanted to be included – like his gay former student and his partner. Some of these invitees would have been closely scrutinised – mainly those with whom longer audiences were arranged – but those in the largely hand-shaking exercises may not have been that closely scrutinised in Rome.

In these times of globe-trotting popes ensuring the Pope would not be placed in an embarrassing situation is a principal job of any Papal Nuncio.

The current nuncio in the USA is Cardinal Carlo Maria Vega. The cardinal ended in the USA only after he was involved in a turf war within the curia and had a falling out with Pope Benedict XVI’s then Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertello. It is fair to say Cardinal Vargo has a reputation for being hugely talented but also for voicing controversial opinions in a quite undiplomatic way. The strong line he has taken on Same-sex marriage is a case in point. In the Media he has also expressed opinions about homosexuality which are at variance with those of the Pope. His tendency to forcefully express his views has forestalled both his diplomatic and curial careers and he is now near retirement age. Often Vatican diplomats carry on well after 75 but in the case of Cardinal Vargo this is thought to be the final mark on his card. He has now upset two Popes in succession –  two men very different in character and temperament – and it seems unlikely he will be given a third chance.

If the Vatican is left with some egg on its face and some explaining to do……there is both more and less to all of this than meets the eye…





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The Impotence of Being Earnest

Corbyn – the leading player or the laconic Fool?


In Shakespearean tragedy the Fool is often the wise head who sees what the serious players cannot see. In Shakespearean comedy the Fool often owns a tragic edge that peeps from behind the comic mask. In both cases he can speak truth unto power in a way not permitted to “serious” characters.

The Labour Party has chosen for its leader a man who has spent a long political career earnestly speaking what he believes to be home truths to the powerfully privileged who actually run stuff. In the course of a few months his supporters have cast him as The Doctor; as a Merlin or a Dumbledore; or as the Will Smith ‘Legend’. Corbyn’s victory has given him a chance to script his own starring role. Jeremy Corbyn is now a leading player. Will it be History, Comedy or Tragedy – will it all end well or will he be Labour’s love lost?

.v218-Jeremy-Corbyn-Get-v2Jeremy Corbyn the classic political outsider has arrived at the centre of UK politics if he has not himself yet travelled to the political centre. He was elected Labour Leader by about 60% of the votes cast in the recent election – a total of around quarter of a million votes were cast directly for him. Earthquake; Tsunami – you choose – the similes of natural disaster abound. But catastrophes have rarely come in more prosaic disguise than the shambolic motley of the mildly spoken and earnest sounding Jeremy Corbyn. A vegetarian; a moralist; a humanitarian: the author of this event is as unlike the expected Messiah of the left as any might have imagined. Whilst many about him now holler and shout and whoop for joy – he stands aloof in sandals and shorts – as unfashionably out of step with the times as any sandalled Jeremiah might have been in his time. In the best Labour tradition Corbyn has more of more the whiff of Methodism than Marx in his political sermonising. He is serious; he can be puritanical and he can be tetchy. He is as unflashy as New Labour was glitz and glamour.

Corbyn has come upon the Labour Party leadership much as Senator George McGovern came upon the US Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1972 – from the far outside of the left field. Much like McGovern, Corbyn’s low-key manner has inspired an idealistic cadre of youthful adherents. Therein lies both his strength and his weakness. For those he has inspired are apt to believe in miracles – and his election goes some way to justify their belief. The problem is there is scant evidence that beyond those happy few true believers that Jeremy Corbyn will have a wider appeal. It is always too tempting not to make early easy judgements. Good sense says – wait and see – but for what it is worth Corbyn’s personal appeal and message resonate most with former Labour voters who have drifted from the party in steady numbers since the early 1990’s. The problem is how many of them are there out there and to put it crudely are they living in the right places to make a significant electoral difference?

We have no definitive answer to these questions but early statistical analysis is not altogether hopeful.

.vi-am-corbynCorbyn’s margin of victory was impressive by any scale. No party leader in the history of UK politics has been elected by more votes than Mr Corbyn. Almost 430,000 votes were cast in the Labour leadership election. This compares to the roughly 210,000 votes cast in 2005 in the Conservative Leadership election. It all sounds pretty decisive. It therefore needs some further context. At the next general Election Labour would need something in the order of another 12.5 million votes just to win a bare majority. That is approximately 33% more than the 9 million or so Labour won in 2010 or 2015. The bar is set so very high because Labour cannot rely on picking-up many of the 40 seats lost in Scotland in 2015. Therefore, in order to win at all the party will need to win very big in England – and not just in the bits of England where it did well last time; or where it came close. One of the oddities of the last election was that at its end Labour had many seats with bigger majorities and so did the Conservatives. There are therefore many,many fewer marginal seats that might change hands on swings of 5% or less.

There will be 650 new constituencies next time around. They will all roughly be the same size. The exact impact of that cannot be known until the Boundary Commission does its work but, for example, if in 2020 Labour were to halve the UKIP vote it would not add more than a handful of MPs to the 238 it currently holds. Labour needs a whopping swing of 9.6% to win the barest majority in 2020. Only twice in its history has the Labour Party secured anything like a swing of that scale – 1945 and 1997. In both those cases the enormous swing gave Labour a landslide victory. Yet if repeated in 2020 that almost unprecedented swing would give Labour only a bare overall majority. Therefore, 12-13 million votes is its minimum target. That same number also happens to be roughly double the number of Union members. By way of contrast there were almost 13 million union members in the early 1980’s when Jeremy Corbyn first became an MP. That neatly summarises the journey the UK has taken in those 33 years. The question both for Labour (and by implication for the Unions who now largely bankroll the party) is can a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn turn back the tide of history in a single election? Corbyn’s age means he will certainly only get a single chance at best to make this dream a reality.

The answer Corbynites give is that it can be done –  there are lots of young voters and they are largely metropolitan voters. They are currently alienated from politics but could deliver many seats to Labour if they can be persuaded to register and vote in numbers. There are similarly swathes of working poor who have also tended over 25 years years not to register and therefore not to vote. The same argument applies to them as to young voters. It is said these two groups are disproportionately attracted to Corbyn and to his radical message. Finally, there are the lower paid blue and white collar voters (many in the public sector) who have done relatively badly from post 1980’s economic settlement and who have suffered most in financial terms in the aftermath of the financial crash of 2007-8.  Again these might be mobilised in numbers which might overturn the patterns of previous elections. This theory rests on no hard statistical evidence and hard evidence is often the only thing that really counts when votes are counted on election night.

Harold Wilson: 'white heat of technology' speechThe last Labour leader to win the party crown from the left of the political centre – (and of the Labour party) –  who successfully went on win a General Election was Harold Wilson. In 1963 many thought Harold Wilson was principled and modern. Later after repeated electoral success Wilson came to be loathed by the left – above all for his unprincipled pragmatism. In 1963 the ideas dominating the centre ground of politics were much more interventionist and collectivist than today. As it happens,  many of Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policies might have been taken straight from the 1964 Let’s go with Labour manifesto. In this sense Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell are not quite the Revolutionary hord at the proverbial gates of private property. Neither yet, however, are they quite the Rousseau or Voltaire of our age that some devotees have taken them to be.

Strikingly, it is rather Corbyn’s defence, foreign and social policies that are children of the cultural and sexual revolution that reached its apogee in his youthful flowering in the 1970’s. As it happens Corbyn’s era was also mine. In that time many on the further left of the Labour Party flirted with deeply unfashionable minority causes. The causes of those times were also more complex than often portrayed in happy retrospect. For example some gay campaign groups inadvertently sheltered some suspect organisations – like the Paedophile Information Exchange. The same dubious connections existed in groups ostensibly supporting a United Ireland or a Palestinian Homeland which often had crossover members from the terrorist IRA and PLO organisations. Oppression makes strange bedfellows and the post 1960’s left made cause with many unfashionable minorities but sometimes it was a less than critical friend. As the political importance of the left dwindled in the repeated electoral failures of the 1980’s – bad causes became a left wing cause in their own right – George Galloway’s career perhaps illustrating the maverick worst of this left-leaning political narcissism. Galloway made common cause with all and sundry – even tyrants like Saddam Hussein.

.vcorbyn-dumbledore_3383577bThroughout this time the politics of the left became more and more earnest.Overtly stern perhaps unintentionally dour – over often left wing politics sounded like an angry sermon from an evangelical pastor. If the language and style was a little archaic – shunning Media friendly soundbites beloved of contemporary politicians – it was also unfashionably and self-consciously high on “principles” and as often it inhaled deeply its own rhetoric and got even higher on “principles” as its influence waned within the Labour Party. Militant Tendency had spent its Revolutionary fervour in the barricades of endless party committees. The intellectual left had left them to it and instead pitched their tent in the Olympus of utopian socialism.The political air gets thin up in those dizzy heights and eventually it is hard to do anything more than dream idealsitic dreams.

Then over their high mountain and without any warning marched young General Tony Blair – a latter day Hannibal – leading the elephants of New Labour in a violent rampage over the low lying centre ground of politics. He had outflanked those to his left and to his right. The lofty dreams of the left overnight became a nightmare of political compromise and fiscal obfuscation. The Blair-Brown project was redistribution of wealth by stealth. Even they were surprised at its success. Their tactics of their campaigns were borrowed from the political game plan of Bill Clinton’s New Democrats. There was a genius to it but it always had its naysayers.

Like Thatcher, Blair’s bitterest enemies were always within his party. Today’s hatred of Blair is just as irrational as the adulation that once was his. Grave though his foreign policy failures may be taken to be Blair’s greatest crime in the eyes of those who hate him was his chumminess with George W. Bush. No one complained about his equally close and personal friendship with Bill Clinton or indeed the even apparently more illegal intervention of NATO in Kosovo. Indeed, after Kosovo, Blair’s speech in Chicago on the remit and reach of post Cold War foreign policy was rapturously received on all sides. The rationale for actions later to be taken in the case of Iraq was set out in that speech. Blair’s doctrine was a worthy successor to Truman’s. It was global. Moreover it was also in the tradition of Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in Fulton Missouri in 1946. In Chicago Blair made the case for an activist foreign policy that the leader of the senior partner in the NATO alliance – the USA –  was unable to make for political reasons. Monica Lewinsky and her infamous dress caused Bill Clinton’s impeachment. His domestic arrangements had international consequences and one of them was to make Tony Blair the US administration’s unofficial official spokesman on foreign affairs.

Former+UK+Prime+Minister+Tony+Blair+Gives+iGORWyVO3rVlThe principles of foreign policy enunciated by Blair later were effectively endorsed in the General Election landslide of 2001. Strange to recall now from this retrospect that then in 2001 the left wing of the Labour Party was curiously happiest with Blair’s interventionist internationalism. Claire Short’s Department of International Development was seen as one of the genuinely ‘left wing‘ things done by New Labour. The shambles of Iraq and the questions of weapons of mass destruction aroused strong anti-war sentiment and men like Jeremy Corbyn came into their own once more –  though initially the LibDems under the late Charles Kennedy were the electoral beneficiaries. New Labour began its inglorious retreat under relentlessly hostile fire from within and without the Labour Party. The poison of Iraq gradually seeped everywhere in the Labour movement and like acid it hollowed out the soft centre of Blairism. By the time of the financial crash New Labour was already pretty much a husk.

Hindsight foreseeing all –  in the end not even the scale of the Corbyn victory should have surprised. It was inevitable and even if it came more quickly than expected it had been a long time in the making. The social-democrat-ish flank of Labour – ascendant since 1994 – had not shown itself to own much political imagination and more surprisingly any political heft in the last decade. After the misplaced coronation of Gordon Brown as party leader in 2007 the dominant right in the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) repeatedly failed to deal with ‘leadership issues’. It was cowardly; and often as self-serving as it was timid.  From 2008 until 2015 it left leaders in place who were bound to take the party down to terrible defeat. From before 1994 their rationale had been to win power by all means and to do so by compromising pragmatically on principled ends. It turned out they were really not that good a winning by all or any means.Therefore, when the time came this May neither of the two insiders – Burnham and Cooper – seemed to have much fresh to offer that offered Labour any hope of electoral success. Liz Kendall spoke home truths but no one was listening. Corbyn by way of contrast was a veritable Pied Piper. He appeared unaffected and refreshingly direct and even ambitious. He cast his spell far and wide.

.vcobynas doctorTherefore, Jeremy Corbyn’s  time has come because his timing was perfect. He has also been lucky with his opponents. Most successful politicians always seem to enjoy the greatest (undeserved) luck. Ronald Reagan aptly demonstrated how charm may appear to transmute fool’s gold into the stuff from which dreams are made. Luck turned the bit actor on the B movie set into the lead on the world stage. Mrs Thatcher  – after her apotheosis as PM in 1979 –  was lucky in her unfortunate opponents. They always seemed doomed – first a voluble Michael Foot; then an even more voluble Neil Kinnock; both ever ready to talk themselves out of her job. Blair after his ascension to power in 1997 was also lucky in his opponents: first, hapless William Hague in his baseball cap; then coughing Ian Duncan Smith; then the sinister shades of Michael Howard. The election results of 1983 and 1987; and of 2001 and 2005 were almost preordained by Fate. And especially when in 1992 Major pulled of the fourth election win for the Conservatives in a row – and when in 2005, despite the Labour debacle over Iraq, voters were not quite able to abandon Blair.

Politicians by profession overestimate their own long term importance. In that they are always far,far too earnest for their times. For those on the right of Labour it was these foreign policy and social issues more than the economics of fairness agenda that left them unpersuaded by Jeremy Corbyn. The other question Labour has to answer is how many of these Labour supporters will now feel disinclined to vote Labour in the next election – even if they do not vote for some other party. In short for every new voter Corbyn wins for Labour the relevant question is also – how many voters will he lose for Labour?

His first PMQ’s was over-hyped by a Media mad for a news line to follow. His refusal to play the game left an impression that he had wrong-footed Cameron. However, take a careful look at the questions others asked the PM that day. From Northern Ireland and elsewhere there were lots of questions that were pointed to Corbyn’s past. He might not choose to respond to them in the House of Commons to his advantage but these questions will persist and his past connections will be used against him.

Still no one can deny Jeremy Corbyn has certainly got attention – and not all of it in the bad sense. There is however no clear sign of a bounce in Labour’s polling. This is neither a Wilson nor a Blair moment. However both of them were elected when Conservative governments had already become deeply discredited. This government still basks in ratings several percentage points higher than on 8th May. Nevertheless, for whatever reason the Labour party has a spring in its step. Whether it will duly fall flat on its face has to be seen.

One of the oddest things about choosing one’s tribes in one’s life is that the choices made so very young often last a lifetime. This is peculiarly true of politics.The reason the Media pays so much attention to politicians changing party is precisely because it is not that usual. I chose my tribe in my early teens in the early days of the first Wilson government. It caused the first memorable adult row with my dad over Sunday lunch. Later mum, with dad gone, herself came-out as a Labour supporter. It was I guess partly also Catholic thing – the idea of the Social Gospel was very fashionable in Catholic intellectual circles after World War II. Catholics of that generation were encouraged to be very engaged by the causes of poverty and the need to address it. That itself was partly a response to the philosophical challenge posed by the rise of socialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

My Catholic grammar schoolmates and I also talked politics on the train to and from school in Reading. As we grew up they grew more Conservative but I stuck with Labour and Mr Wilson. As fashions changed in the Labour Party I remained pragmatically convinced that only Labour in government mattered. I was never even in my heady undergraduate days attracted to the left of Labour – soft or hard. I was never read the Tribune. I stuck with the Guardian and New Statesman By the time I got to Leeds, Student Union President Jack Straw had moved on to greater things but even then I regarded Jack Straw as too far to the woolly left.

So it can be seen I’ve been unimaginatively faithful to my early adolescent ideals and my political tribe. Now I am forced to consider it – I’ve also shown the same unimaginative fidelity to my other early tribal loyalties – Irish; Catholic; and Gay.

The same cannot be said of the electorate. Since the 1960’s voters – always apt to have their heads turned by any passing political fashion. They have indeed become serial political philanderers. There are many reasons for this heightened promiscuity and its fact gives hope to all politicians. For Jeremy Corbyn’s many supporters this is a moment of intoxicating hope.They earnestly believe Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell offer something different. Principled;authentic; honest – Corbyn and his ilk have earnestly preached this message all along. The problem with sermons is their sentiments often meet with approval but they rarely change behaviours or truly change hearts. In the longer run in political theatre is show business and speaks many parts. The voters want to be entertained more than improved. Therein lies the terrible truth about the impotence of being earnest. Meanwhile the best advice for old cynics like me perhaps is to keep our own counsel or perhaps even better….with apologies to Wilde..





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Matters of principle & matters of Judgment – my vote in Labour Leadership

Matters of Principle & Defining Realities:

....labourimages (1)Yesterday, I completed my on-line voting in the Labour Leadership race. I did so knowing that it is highly likely if not quite certain that Jeremy Corbyn will be elected the next Leader of the Labour Party and next Leader of the Opposition. It seems as likely he will win on the first ballot. That is the defining reality. I therefore no longer need to calculate how best to cast my vote and I too can vote on the basis of principle. It therefore falls to me to set out why I cannot vote for Jeremy Corbyn and as previously promised, I will also declare how I voted.

The primary context for this election has been the aftershock of Labour’s huge defeat last May. This inevitably means the party has had to consider its future whist still in political anaphylactic shock from the scale of May’s defeat. But politics is a cruel trade and its terms of business most often are brutal.

The same electoral defeat has also triggered a crisis both of identity and of confidence within the Labour Party. Dazed it has struggled to rearticulate if fresh terms the competing values of Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism which have long been co-exited – not always happily – within the party’s big tent.

If the nostrums of New Labour perhaps sound passed their sell-by-date the pragmatic centre of the party has yet to reformulate them in terms that seem attractive to an audience now weary of being told – ‘x’  will not work or ‘y’ is just a failed old idea. Here Burnham, Cooper and to a lesser extent Kendall have struggled – or perhaps more fairly have been perceived to struggle – to say anything new. In fact Cooper in particular gave a good account of the politics of the post-crash decade in her speech in Manchester but by then the Media was following its agenda about Corbyn and the split in the party. Burnham has promised a National Care Service integrated with the NHS whilst suggesting in Wilsonian terms that “Jeremy” must play a big part in the next five years of opposition. Kendall – who has for some reason evoked a visceral misogyny – has argued the party needs to leave it comfort zone of being seen to speak only for sectional interests dependent upon the public sector and the welfare state.

Gordon Brown gave an even more compelling analysis last Sunday – 7500 words of it – and he the broad stakes in the election. Here Brown made the case Blair could not make because of the tainted nature of the Blair legacy on foreign policy. Brown pointed directly to the fact that the left of which Corbyn forms part, has long had a history getting into bed with some very dubious figures  – Hamas, Hezbollah, holocaust deniers, President Assad and not least Vladimir Putin. Jeremy cannot recall some of these close encounters but the camera has caught them and it will speak volumes in an election campaign. Moreover, those like George Galloway, who now is seeking to re-join Labour, supped with not such a long spoon with dictators like Saddam Hussein – a man who was guilty of quasi-genocide.

Still these hard facts have not impeded Jeremy Corbyn’s triumphal progress. Jeremy Corbyn has emerged as an unlikely hero of the hour and of this election. He has been in Parliament for 33 years. He is 66. He has long been a standard-bearer of unfashionable left wing causes as homespun and as unfashionable as his carefully untailored appearance that contrasts so sharply with the cut of New Labour’s suits. It is the contrast – some would say authenticity – that marks out the man and marks out the fresh ideas. The uncontrived exterior seems as freshly minted as a shiny new coin. I conjecture from my seat in the peanut gallery that it is alas as contrived as its novelties are counterfeit.

Mine is one vote out of 610,000; of these some 410,000 have joined the Labour ranks in one form or another since last May. If the hustings are any guide two groups strongly represented within this new membership are the young and union members. Both groups have been at the sharp end of the economics of the past decade – since the financial crash – which has significantly disadvantaged them over other groups – save perhaps for the poorest and disabled. Many who have joined the party have been radicalised by this experience and they strongly reject what they perceive to be the failures of the old politics easily summarised in the term: ‘New Labour’.

The pragmatism of Labour’s conduct in office has, quite inaccurately, come to be described the as ‘neo-liberalism’ of New Labour or even more disparagingly as Tory Lite.

Neo-liberalism is the new ‘’c” word of the left in general. It’s a portmanteau term used in debate disparage free market economics and especially (if somewhat oddly) the policies of the last Labour government. The fact is the last Labour government spent very large amounts of public money in ways no neo-liberal would countenance – for example on very effectively on tax credits; maternity and paternity pay; and child benefit. In fact, however, in this debate facts no longer count.

Corbyn has told the party and his supporters that he offers Labour a fresh start and new thinking and – and that principles are to be their new watchword. Beware any man or woman who retails political principles – they not only come with the unspoken subtext that his or her opponents are possessed of none – they suggest principles alone are the measure of the public good. Inviolate principles are in fact the business of philosophy and religion and their Panglossian kings and turbulent priests but politics as best practised is the art of the possible; the science of the pragmatic; the ascendancy of the small differences adding up in time to something much bigger.

The Corbyn offer has included in addition to reopening mines; investing in ‘real industry’; renationalising the public utilities and the railways; not renewing Trident; reducing defence expenditure and spending the money on jobs; leaving the NATO alliance; putting LGBT at the heart of foreign policy whilst engaging with Putin and Russia; (perhaps) leaving the EU and generally “anti-austerity” painlessly financed by taxing the rich more and increasing public borrowing. He claims this ‘investing’ in the public weal can be done whilst also reducing simultaneously the public debt and increasing economic growth. This particular idea – not necessarily a bad idea – is not new idea – in fact it is the same idea as the one that has just crashed in flames on the doorsteps in last May’s election.

Good or bad, as ideas go not one of them can be called new. Many of the economic ideas have been tried before and failed in the mid 1970’s. Though there are many who shout: this is not the 1970’s or 1980’s. That is true. However, it hardly makes a case for trying them again. At least when they were last tried they possessed the virtue of being applicable to the economic circumstances of the world as it was. Time has moved on; the economics of the world has moved on; the financial markets have moved on: we might not like this different reality but it is the reality from where we are and from where we must go forward.

Being anti-austerity on the centre-left is alike Motherhood and apple-pie. Anti-austerity is a phrase which many agree about in principle but differ over what it means in practice. The version of anti-austerity Jeremy Corbyn articulates on the part of the unreconstructed Labour left is not at all the same anti-austerity as that of SYRIZA or Podemus. Theirs is based of membership both of the EU and the Euro Zone. Corbyn‘s offer is unilateralist in temper; pacifist in tone; it takes little or no account of treaties which bind the UK’s economic conduct – like the EU treaties; membership of IMF; the World Bank and GATT.

Amongst the rebranding of old ideas as new there was one idea that has sounded sound genuinely new – Corbyn’s suggestion that a Labour government could use QE (QE is Quantitive Easing; it’s the mechanism the Bank of England has used to increase the liquidity of banks’ assets by swapping government bonds held by them for cash) as a painless means of financing public investment in housing building and acquiring assets like the Utilities or the Railways from the private sector. It has played well to audiences up and down the county and has been repeated to great applause. It is widely known using any Central Bank for such purposes will break the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU, IMF, World Bank and GATT. It is the financial equivalent of making a single-entry in system of double-entry accounts. It does not add up.

The matters of principle which influenced how I used my vote are those which reflect this role of the UK in the wider world: its membership of the EU; NATO; the IMF & World Bank together with its role as a Permanent Member of the Security Council and signatory of the Convention on Human Rights and founder of the European Court of Human Rights. It may appear odd that these foreign matters matter so much to me but they matter precisely because they are the expression of values of solidarity and democracy are the foundation for the successful social progress since 1945.

That progress has transformed the lives of many to which I am as a 60 year old gay man in the UK a most particular witness. I’ve seen and lived the accumulation of argument and persuasion and small incremental changes have added up to something very big indeed. I think that is the path of consistent reform to which the Labour Party must continue to be committed; and to which in my view the party must continue along. If it takes the shortcut of the big gesture politics it will ultimately lead only to another catastrophic defeat.

To put it is a nutshell voters are sceptics not true believers. Like all sceptics they need to be persuaded. Voters are little interested in policy and principles; they’re interested in their lives. If we can persuade them we will make their lives better they will vote for us in large numbers. Thus far, Jeremy Corbyn has preached to enthusiast believers. Indeed he has fired many of them to re-join a Labour Party they felt had left them. He has re-connected with a large group of young voters who sees nothing inspiring in the New Labour since many of them were themselves children when New Labour was born in 1994. It was part of their life; inevitably they see it as part of the problems they live with day to day.

........tapeimages (1)Politics turns in cycles and sometimes you cannot persuade by recourse to the example of history and its wisdom. Each generation has to be permitted to choose for itself and to learn for itself from its choices. The priorities of democratic socialism will counter-intuitively be achieved by gradualism rather than revolution. I believe Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper can best deliver that and therefore I’ve voted for them in that order. Others will choose differently and I do not doubt I will be on the losing side. It is however, the better side of this argument and I believe the majority of the party will in its own time come to share that view.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn’s mission statement is marked – “open carefully this contains the new kind of politics”. I suspect it will self-destruct in the manner beloved of those mission tapes in the opening sequence of that 1970’s classic – Mission Impossible. Retro is the fashion of the times and Jeremy’ like his hero Tony Benn, is of the vintage of the tape-recorder.

However, we now live in the Digital Age; there is no going back; no rewind; only faster and faster forward. Labour needs someone who thinks in those terms to take us forward……

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Twilight at Gwern ddu


                                       Twilight at Gwern ddu

It’s Wales – the rolling marcher lands that border England – the lands where waltzing time stands still and everything is still the same.

There are no trains, no cars, no planes in their fancy flights; no rumbling underground; no sirens screaming; no throbbing disco sounds; no blue neon flash to disturb dreaming. There’s no jingling ringing tone; no callers calling home; no bad reception here; or there no satellite; nothing to trouble twilight.

This tranquil country looks as if freshly brushed to life by Constable or, as if exhaled in elegiac couplets from some poet’s secret hide. There’s a hush unrushed: angelic whispers soft spoken by the landscape.

How is it, our city-sky-scapes scintillate with unnatural light but words simply can’t illuminate the bright-cut of the fading day? Why, with data streaming speeding faster, ever faster, do beams of such serenity so surely slip us by? Spellbound by the miraculous glare of tiny hand-held screens must we earthbound bypass twilight’s magic touching every blade of grass?

It’s July – the third week of the month – it’s not been a hot day – not like some hot summer school day warmly remembered – nor like the humid daze of London’s dog-days – that sultry heat in which sweating, sticky, sickly, city-slickers swelter sleeplessly.

The day has been as cool as crisp cotton sheets. It has left behind an apprising dusk that’s chillier still – colder than cold cucumber soup – but in its late loitering there’s all in all of summer’s highest peak – its lightness lightly caressing the grassy fields and softly stroking the troubled brow of the timeless hills.

As light fades strange shadows wrap the undulations of the land. The cattle’s bass echoes over the wide pasture; the sheep’s bleating chases it into an echoing sky. No Shropshire lad’s new wedded bliss could ever better this or landed wealth endow richer reward.

The orange glory of the sun is gone – its blazing disc has tipped behind the highest ridge – as if the balance of some law has been upset and fine light judges the present day lost. Daytime hangs-on by the very last threads of daylight’s rope – guilty light – drawing on the last breath of a dead day done.

The sheep move towards rest – white dots in clusters by the hedgerows – or dotted in the woodland shades – or under the canopy of a solitary tree that holds them in its gentle sway. The cattle too slowly chew their languorous way towards the hedged edges of the pasturelands as the shadows creep across hilly grassland; its ever green deepening shade by shade as patchwork-fields yield one by one to night’s advances.

The hills’ crests soften in this shadow-time leaving the trees etched along their outline like finger puppets in a shadow play – maybe there’s a cockerel proud – or maybe a fox’s snout pokes from the blacker woods into lighter shades.

The sun has left the heavens but midnight’s starry children are yet unborn to night; the bewitching moon’s rakish wraith hasn’t risen; only day’s late lustre lights the sky.

There fluffy puffs of streaking clouds flirt nakedly with a flighty breeze whose surusso plays airy music with the rustling leaves.

Like morning breaks the sweetness of a dream the patient gloaming brakes the fading day and extends its hour beyond the point of light even as day’s umbrage wrestles to restrain the arm of amorous night.

And of all of this I keep watch as many more before me have watched such days close and seen the final ripples of daylight enfold the sheep in sleep.

I watch – lonely shepherd to this time – the one who alone keeps the watch this single night – not a great man who shepherds many sheep – but a solitary sentinel shepherding my own life’s passing keep for my time too runs further down at each sun’s decline.

In this gloaming, I see shadows of my young-self roaming in the lightless fields of youth; I hear my shrill laughter ringing back as if chiming with the baaing sheep; my lowing thoughts amble by the cattle’s evening creep; my lost life as indistinct as the contours of the distant hills.

Why do I return to the past here – here, in the moving quiet of this waning day – why here do I recall the trivial shadows of a trivial past that’s merely moairn on the slopes of history?

My rap repeats not for wasted chance; or for life’s cruel dice cast on the wrong side of romance; or for those, by accident of birth, life mirthlessly leaves outside the gay insiders’ girth.

My elegy is not that these hills will outlast me as they have outstared so many curious eyes; or so out-breathed so many breathless sighs; or so ignored so many dead replies.

Wistful tears are life’s eternal due; their lonely fall comes by Fate’s unfeelingness, like GPS, seeking out each of us and putting us precisely in our place.

My life has danced fleetingly over the purlieu of the earth leaving no mark- no more than any twilight reverie imprints itself in memory – once gone it will be as if I was never here – as if tonight I never stood upon this nethermost point – near life’s ending spit half-lit in distant horizons – at that very end that like the passing day will finally give way to the solitude of – of – of some pointless night.

It is not fearful; nor a matter of regret; it is not to be avoided. I do not wish to forget its pretty inevitability. It is shatteringly beautiful owning only this momentary. It makes all seem bright; alive; quite unlike my dull life.

Here in this wilderness I’m important if only because like sin I darkly reflect upon these things; and, in the moment I still time; then I am still.

And if I dare to feel with whom would I dare to share my altered state?

If I am alone then like the baaing sheep no one can equally equate my singular view no matter the inky flood of sage words drowned upon this page.

Or, is there God alone with whom I can alone engage? Am I – am I truly in His image or is He merely the image of my vanity?

The hills in fading light are so fragile; they are reshaped by losing light; like me, the trees become mere shadows of all they once were. The hillside sheep too are lost, only lonely voices from the charcoal fields; the cattle too seem to be all gone.

There’s little left to see – maybe the sheep and cattle are there no more – maybe I’ll not wake at dawn to see them all appear unchanged as doubtless all will be. Will they be forever gone if I’m forever gone and no longer conscious of their reality?

And then is there nothing: or, is there God? Is He out there in the fading light of day? Is it He as quiet and as purposeful as ever in the teaming smallness’s of our tiny lives? Out there in His light might we still stand out – remembered – not because we’re important or because we deserve not to be forgot – but because – like the shaded landscape – while lost to sight – we are never lost entirely for we are ever loved – and being greatly loved by Him perhaps some of His greatness still resides within.

Looking up into the sky I watch as the first shaft of stars prick the dark with points of light; now I also see the moon has risen to rule the night in her white majesty.

I will go quietly to bed – mindful mine aren’t great thoughts – still, as twilight gleans meaningful light to dead day’s dying content so, surely, from my inevitable end may my mean thoughts also steal slight enlightenment?






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Part II: The Labour Leadership – the apple of discord

labourimages (1)Picking the right apple from the left branch…..

Apples and humankind have a long association. From Eden to Snow White it seems the apples turns up to make difficulties where there ought to be none. Most famously the golden apple of discord was made by Hephaestus for the goddess Eris. It was inscribed: for the most beautiful. She rolled it into the midst of a party hosted by Zeus to which Eris had not been invited. Eris was the don’t bring Lulu of the eternal Olympians.  Hera, Athena and Aphrodite each insisted the apple was meant for her alone. They asked Zeus to decide and like men are apt to do when asked to make a difficult choice Zeus delegated the task to Paris –  one of the sons of King Priam of Troy renowned for his good judgement.

...the-judgment-of-parisThe story goes the goddesses duly disported themselves naked before the lucky Paris – a scene immortalised again and again in European art –  but – none of them quite playing fair –  each offered the Prince a ‘gift’ if he chose her. Paris fatally chose Aphrodite’s gift: the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. The woman in question was Helen of Sparta who was already married to Menelaus of Greece. Aphrodite got her golden apple; Paris got his Helen; the Greeks got to launch a thousand ships; and Troy got its infamous war. The Judgment of Paris therefore turned out to decide much more than who got to take home the golden apple.

It is my sense of things that this Leadership in the Labour Party is similarly to be a fateful decision.

There are four chasing Labour’s golden apple – Andy Burnham; Yvette Cooper; Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn. Like the goddesses before each feels he or she should win the golden prize. The PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party), having nominated the choice, like Zeus has stepped aside leaving the membership to play the judge. Like in the myth these modern gods of politics disport themselves before the naked eye of the ever watchful Media and like their forbears they also beguile us with flattering promises.

The question for us is whom to choose and why.

The Leadership –  an offer of hard choices and soft options:

..........labour.....images (1)The man who went into this race as favourite is Andy Burnham – former Health Secretary and Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham is a family man; a Catholic; born in Aintree he is a Liverpudlian and importantly he speaks with that accent – which contrasts with the metropolitan tones of all the other candidates. Burnham has gained a lot of credit personally for his support and work for the survivors of Hillsborough disaster. Like Wilson before him he holds out the promise of the authentic Englishness of the north. His most distinctive policy – the creation of an integrated NHS & Social Care Service is bold. It also has strong echoes from the proud past of Attlee. It has twice been aired as a manifesto item and twice – under Brown and then Milliband it has failed to make the final cut into the manifesto.

The other experienced candidate is Yvette Cooper, briefly Shadow Foreign Secretary and then Shadow Home Secretary for most of the last Parliament, Cooper served in the Brown government as Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State for Work  & Pensions. She too is married – to Ed Balls who lost his Leeds seat in the debacle last May.  She and Ed Balls were the first married couple to serve in the same cabinet. Cooper’s campaign pitch has been about equality and she has been scathing about the way both the women candidates in the election have been treated by the Media. She suffers alike Hillary Clinton from the Media preoccupations about her husband.

Both these candidates seemed to have chosen a safety first style of campaign that was both relatively cautious and frankly deliberately dull. This turned out not to be what the party was in the mood for and consequently it has had the effect of pushing the two outsiders into the frame.

From the ‘right’ Liz Kendall has taken up what others have chosen to characterise as the Blairite torch. Kendall is a newish MP – elected in 2010 – and representing Leicester West  – she was born in Hertfordshire where she grew up. In that she aptly personified the problem for Labour since the world she knows best is the one that does not know nor love the Labour Party.  In the current mood for some in the party and some outside the word Blair ignites a visceral response.  Kendall’s challenge to the party is  that it needs to leave its comfort zone.

She suggests the party has been successfully tarred with being only concerned with appealing to a narrow band of public service workers and the working poor and has thereby permitted itself to be portrayed as supportive of a dependency state caricatured as ‘welfarism’. She argues Labour must rather look to the concerns of the middling sort who prosper in places like Herfordshire and the old Home Counties.  Labour needs to win them over in order to win an election. The rhetoric has been bold but Kendall, like Cooper, has lacked a single illustrative policy specific to help her make her case – or perhaps Kendal has such specifics in mind but feels they cannot be aired until after she has the apple of leadership in her hand. Either way it has hampered her campaign and she seems to be the fourth placed at present.

Last night she did win a constituency nomination in Vauxhall. Despite the Media narrative this election may be somewhat more fluid than first impressions give.

By contrast it is the fourth and, at the outset least favoured candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, who has, if the Media are to be believed,  set this election on its head. Corbyn has been MP for Islington since 1983. He entered Parliament in the same year as Tony Blair. He has been there since – a part of the old left that once looked to Tony Benn. He is a socialist is that mould and not a social democrat. He is courteous, persuasive and rather alike some aged sage of King Arthur or Tolkien’s Middle Earth he utters his inscrutable wisdom to star struck applause. Corbyn is only on the ballot by the kindness of strangers in the PLP since he could not muster the necessary 35 votes on his own account. His meetings are now packed with the relatively young and a number of those true believers long lost to Labour. He plays the old revivalist tunes with aplomb. He is rather more ambitious that the polite manner and studied eccentricity of dress and demeanour might first imply.

During one interview on Channel 4 Corbyn quite lost his temper when probed about speaking of Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends. In the main he has kept to his script of nationalisation; of attacking poverty by radical redistribution; of investing in public services (code for higher wages in the public sector); abolishing fees in Higher education; a strong line on gender and sexual equality; an equally strong empathy with immigrant community issues; a non-nuclear  defence policy – with at times a slightly pacifist tinge. Though there is little new per se in any or all of these causes, Corbyn’s clarion has turned out to have a wider resonance than many wise saws saw. He has appealed to disillusioned voters who have left Labour ever since the early 1990’s and also to the younger better educated metropolitans who feel Labour has been unambitious in its recent past. The response of these groups has been genuine and genuinely unexpected. In a political world where the diet of soundbites has left voters feeling well and truly stuffed – there is something almost Franciscan in this would-be Savonarola demanding we embrace the poorer in our communities – cast off the gods of mammon and its creed of trickle down economics – and make a bonfire of vanities of consumerism. Tempting as it is to sneer – Corbyn has hit upon something genuine. Only a fool would not reflect upon that and upon what is means.

The problem here is it may mean any number of things – and none of them together may mean there’s enough to win an election on this diet of worms. Equally, it may be the public has a real appetite for something radically different.

Labour in opposition 2010-2015

..................labour millibandimages (1)Though it has hardly been mentioned –  the context for all of this soul searching is the corpse of Ed Miliband’s leadership. Ed’s leadership has not yet received its decent burial and therefore no one feels quite comfortable talking about it whilst its corpse is still in the committee room.

There is a proxy for this discussion in the familiar form of an older, greyer leitmotif: Tony Blair. This leadership election is alive off-stage and on; in front of camera and off-camera; everywhere in Social Media with Tony Blair. There are: Blair haters; Blair baiters; Blair fêteers. Blair – Labour’s most electorally successful leader by some considerable distance – is a divisive figure these days.  He is a cult hate figure for some and an occult charm for election winning for others. His current position in Labour history is the the very same as the one suffered by other successful election winning Labour leaders –  Attlee and Wilson.  Important though New Labour was and important though Blair was neither of them are precisely germane to this election. For the context is only the very recent past. The electoral failure of the Milliband leadership provides both the direct context how it was we have the four candidates we have; and the wider the context about whither the party should go. Had Labour won or come close to winning Ed Milliband would still be in his place.

The cruel fact is that once Labour lost the 2011 Scottish elections by an even greater margin than it had lost them in the pit of unpopularity of 2008, Ed Miliband’s leadership was holed beneath the waterline. The party – PLP and centrally did nothing – the Unions grumbled – everyone hoped for the best – hoped the Scots would not turn to the SNP in the Westminster elections. Wishful reasons were offered time and again to suggest there was a path to victory which frankly did not challenge the party to do more than cut and paste bits and pieces of past policy on to a fresh page. The polls provided Delphic encouragement. The mayoral elections in 2012 were another warning – a London that was voting Labour in ever greater numbers re-elected Conservative Boris Johnson as its mayor. The Labour candidate Ken Livingstone was almost a throw-back to the politics of the 1980’s  – the politics which also brought Jeremy Corbyn to Parliament and which corbyn still articulates. Livingstone was a talented mayor and an original thinker but by 2011 he had no new ideas – they were re-treads of very old tunes. He lost by a whisker but the fact is Labour ought to have won the mayoralty by a mile. It was another warning about the need to have the right candidate at the top if it wanted to win – and not the just the candidate of the right or the left or the centre.

This was all in sharp contrast to what Ed Milliband himself had offered in 2010. Recognising the scale of the 2010 defeat Ed suggested the terms of electoral politics had been decisively altered by the crash in 2008 and the public was ready to try something new and radical. It was time to challenge the orthodoxy of free markets and culture of free lunches for bankers that had held sway since the late 1970’s. It was time to replace Thatcherism – the capitalism of unfettered markets and trickle down economics with a new model. Many thought that this was a compelling analysis – the problem was did Miliband’s leadership ever really test the idea in more than rhetorical allusion? The answer to that question might well determine how to cast a vote – for if it is yes, then Corbyn is surely only a repetition of a failed idea; if it is no, then Corbyn may be the answer for which the party is looking.

There is, however, a further context to all this – young Ed got the top job by a squeak  – his victory in the Trades Union section of the party outweighed by a fraction that of his brother in the PLP and amongst party members. Ed had squeaked out his own brother. As a result Labour lost a man of unquestionable talent and one who had the range to communicate complicated ideas in simple language without simplifying issues themselves. Labour’s losses of communicators over time has been punishing: John Smith; Donald Dewar; Mo Mowlam; and Robin Cook were taken by death but lost to party rivalries were David Miliband; James Purnell; Alasdair Darling; Gordon Brown; Jim Murphy; Douglas Alexander. Ed Balls fell in the election and now Ed Milliband is himself lost to frontline politics. The loss of forty Scottish MP’s has decapitated the Party North of the border. Labour has wasted a generation of talent.

There were plenty of chances for Labour and particularly for the PLP to seize the day and deal with the leadership problem that had existed certainly by 2012. As in the dolour days of PM Brown the PLP and the party chose to stick its collective head in the sand and hope for the best. There was talk by insiders of disaster ahead though possibly the scale of defeat came as a nasty surprise.

Those of us who has sat through the elections of 1987 and 1992 knew all too well what was in store when the LibDem constituencies fell to the Conservatives one by one last May. The scale of what was in the offing probably only really came into clear view during and after the Scots referendum campaign. The Scots referendum exposed soft underbelly of Unionist Labour loyalties in Scotland. Westminster had permitted Gordon Brown and the Scottish Labour Party their last hurrah but before they could savour saving the Union Mr Cameron on the steps of Downing St calmly cut the ground from under Labour both in Scotland and in southern England by declaring there now must be English votes for English Laws.

The Conservative party’s message was not subtle. It was carefully calibrated to be effective in those seats traditionally ‘conservative’ seats in the South and South West of England where the LibDems had been elected and re-elected since 1997. These were the very seats that had provided Thatcher with her majority in the 1979;1983;1987; and even Major in 1992. The Conservatives  successfully concentrated in 2015 on regaining these seats. They were helped by the fact the LibDem brand had been destroyed by the coalition and Labour’s collapse in Scotland to an SNP to its left made an even narrow overall Conservative majority as good as a landslide.

The last Judgment?

Labour-rose-199x2203So by the long circuit I return to my original supposition. This choice is less about me and more about the future I would like for my great nieces and great nephew(s). It is a false choice I pose in these terms since because as a family we have prospered in our lives all of our kin will also be blest with advantages that accrue with education and a financial inheritance that can offer opportunity. I am less clear and more concerned for those born today like me or my sister or brother at somewhat of a disadvantage.

One of the deepest impression of my school days was made on me by Thomas Gray: Elegy written in a country churchyard which mourns the waste of talent lost by accident of birth.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene, the dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear: Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,  And waste its sweetness on  the desert air.

The churchyard in question was Stoke Poges not far from Wexham Park hospital which in many ways epitomises the good and the troubled bad that is within the NHS. Our Public Services are part of the fabric of our civilisation – they play a part not unlike the monasteries and guilds in the Middle Ages. They stand as an inter-generational guarantee to some sort of coherent opportunity for all. The far right and far left both preach a dissolution of this old order of civic decency and to replace it with something radically different. Neither to be honest can truly describe the consequences of what they suggest. Socialism that actually changes lives accepts as part of its effective creed the inevitability of gradualism. It does so in part because it accepts the costs of revolution are usually too high and too wasteful to those who live in the injustice of the here and now. The creed of Democracy is of continuing reform because the wheel of progress is as yet too much a wheel of fortune. Despite the blandishments offered to me by Jeremy Corbyn of true change – whatever that might amount to in time – I do not think Labour can risk not winning the next election. Equally I do not think the party cannot but sit up and consider the reaction to his candidature.

Unlike Paris in his judgement I get a number of bites at my final Judgement. For the present I am honestly and totally uncertain as what to do for the best. I think we now need to hear the how candidates respond to those whom Jeremy Corbyn has engaged and even enthused. I will honestly say personally I’d like a woman to lead the party. I just think it’s time. But in the end I must try and choose the best candidate I can. I promise to make this public once I have completed my ballot in two weeks from now. It is not for me to tell others how to vote but to rather persuade them what to consider when casting their ballot. Thomas Gray casting his eyes about the graveyard put into words what is a stake in that telling phrase – their lot forbade.  It must be part of our endeavour neither to shut the gates of mercy nor close the doors of opportunity on those not born to opportunity of right. It is our job to give them that chance. That is their golden apple and they deserve to get it as of right.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.
Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their hist’ry in a nation’s eyes,
Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind.
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Amelia, Abigail & Charlie Thomas & Labour’s Choice

Why it’s a matter of personal interest

....abigailI have two great nieces – Amelia and Abigail –  and a great nephew, Charlie Thomas. I see less of them than I’d like but like most people these days I see lots of photos on Facebook and short videos of their progress through the early stages of their lives. I’m very aware that inevitably I will play only a small walk-on part in their lives. I’m already in the section of Life’s Warehouse marked old models – or even obsolete. When they are young adults trembling on the edge of adulthood if I’m not already history I will be at the very least a largely decorative part of the family’s constitution – to be given birthday cake, congratulated on reaching such an age and patted on the back of the hand.

What follows is, therefore, is inevitably more for them than for me or indeed for most of you who will read these pieces. Thus, this is not quite the piece I originally conceived of writing. It has arrived in this shape largely because having felt moved by recent developments to react to what is being set forth as the narrative of Labour’s leadership election I have been forced into a period of considered reflection. The political subject may seem an odd address to infants but like it or loath it the choices made in the next weeks will shape their future in a way politics will no longer be able to shape mine.

I also write this knowing it will hardly charm the committed or indeed arouse more than a passing nod from many of those to whom it is addressed. Moreover, those of you who have any interest in this subject will also usually have long ago made-up your minds about politics; parties and politicians.

You will not be easily persuaded by anything I say. Yet I will persuade myself I must still try.

Part I –  Why Politics Matters:

...ameliaPolitics is boring. Politics changes nothing much. Politicians are in it for themselves. Political Parties are all the same. Most ordinary folks thinks politics doesn’t really affect them. Most ordinary folks express a perceived self-interest when they vote. Those with a perceived interest are usually by definition those with some financial stake in society and, therefore, their larger part is predisposed to be ‘conservative’. Voting is regarded largely as an exercise in private interest rather than a participatory act of the collective polity.

All these dull clichés literally govern our lives.

As a society we have a long history of disdaining all politics. It is not a new contempt. It at least as old as the Whigs and Tories. It is not that political causes per se do not matter to us as individuals – they do – LGBT rights was the cause of my lifetime – but perhaps Nuclear Disarmament was the political issue that generated most engagement of my generation  – as it had previously in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s under the banner of CND.

Political subjects that arouse similar individual interest and active commitment today might include – Climate Change – the exploitation of natural resources – genetic crops and industrial agriculture – modern slavery – the use of animals in laboratories –  animal welfare and animal rights, including say Fox hunting –  all of these own a political dimension but generally they are single issues of particular interest to an activist campaigning minority but still with a wider social resonance. They are the subject of general conversation over dinner and amongst friends. These days in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo we might also add in freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression and perhaps the moral issues of euthanasia; capital punishment and abortion. However, politics and party politics in particular are not so highly favoured. They do not fit in to the single issue concerns that generally concern us. Does that matter? It does –  it is just that we do not quite appreciate how very much.

For half a century now fewer and fewer people have joined political parties – let alone been party activists. It is not because joining large organisations is itself unfashionable –  as the burgeoning memberships of the National Trust and English Heritage illustrate. Similarly,  charities and smaller niche interests attract large memberships of so called ‘friends’. These active memberships are hale and hearty. It is true that sometimes these memberships also buy some privilege – like advance ticket purchase in the case of Theatre or Opera or sport –  or invitations to the steward’s enclosure in the case of Ascot; Henley; or Wimbledon. Football patrons are offered a similar hosts of freebies and special offers.  Wine Societies thrived on this same basis in the 1980’s.

Political parties by contrast have not thrived. The public remains politically unengaged –  at best – downright hostile at worst. Politics, if ever it was, is most certainly no longer amongst the polite interests of the aspirant lower middle and middling middle classes. For them it is a non-subject – although perhaps that is more true of Conservative voters who predominate in this group than those who own other political allegiances. And in Scotland in the last ten years – alike Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century – it is positively smart to be seen to be a Nationalist.

...charliethomasPolitics, however, remains the peculiar obsession of the social elites above the middling sort. That is mainly because they perceive it to be their personal business. Thanks to Trades Unions that political elite has expanded to include others drawn from a wider social and economic milieu. The activist working class and even underclass who like those at the very top are often politically engaged because they see the outcomes in terms of their own lives.Though interestingly and as with acting – politics once in a family often then remains an inter-generational family interest. All my family are political and hold strongly progressive values even if Mum and I were the most active politically of our family. We as a family branch were also the outsiders – both Labour supporters – in a largely Conservative world both in Ireland and later in Maidenhead and its conservative social acquaintance. It interests me that some Irish Catholic families from the same social strata of Irish society became strongly Labour in the post war diaspora whilst others were deeply Conservative.

My later status as  an “out gay” man in hostile times of my teens and twenties made a political career difficult and I did not pursue one for that reason. I had as it were chosen my cause  – and with the later advent of AIDS I had another cause to pursue.

It may well be, therefore, that one or other of my great nieces or nephew(s) may take up the cause of party and of politics on one side or another.

Politics is an acquired taste. Like all such tastes once acquired it usually remains a lifelong passion. Politics never makes for polite conversation. It is a minority interest, alike Philosophy and Religion and like both of these uglier of the three sisters, Politics matters very much. It also matters very much in modern democracy that there are viable vehicles for political aspiration and expression.

One of the great falsehoods peddled by received wisdom is that party politics changes nothing very much.

Party politics has changed us time and again in my lifetime – first, in the post war decade of Attlee;  then it refashioned us in the 1960’s of Kennedy and Wilson; it once more altered our world in the 1980’s of Reagan and Thatcher; though largely forgotten Blair and Brown, alike Clinton, also changed the terms of the political trade in the 1990’s; and the current Conservative leadership personified by David Cameron had to reinvent itself largely in terms of the perceived Blair hegemony.

This catalogue reminds us that in politics as in much else in life –  fashions come and go. As with clothes we often change our politics with the times without ever realising we’ve made a conscious choice to alter our views. In politics these fashions and fads successively most favour one party or group of parties over the other. Success breeds success but it also breeds reaction. Attlee was a socialist until we all became socialists; just as FDR’s New Deal was a commie trick until it became the blueprint for the postwar world. Goldwater was the nutter whose time came in Reagan; Powell and Milton Friedman were the gurus of Thatcher. Politics’ job is partly to make unpalatable truths into accepted facts; and to tame the wild ideas of extremes into domestic pets beloved by the ordinary voter.We rarely acknowledge it but party politics shapes the world about us in more ways than we are apt to think  – as absentmindedly we plan our weekends with friends or order takeaways from our mobile apps or check ourselves into airports using our mobile phones.

Were I to posit that the choice of say nursery or school; or whether children had a chance to learn music; or the opportunity go to theatre or opera; or the experience to travel abroad and to learn a foreign language; or the chance to play sport with proper facilities –  were not matters of general concern to the welfare of all of us – most parents would laugh me out of court. Yet the context that will shape the world where these activities takes place and determines who has access to them – party politics – is generally thought to be a matter of no more than of passing interest to those same devoted parents.

Politics will indeed shape our children’s world whether we wish to see it and acknowledge it or not. Moreover, as we can see from the long post war period of progressive hegemony from 1940 to 1970 followed by the equally long period of dominance of Conservative political ideas from the later 1970’s to 2008 – it is unarguable that the world made today will define our children’s tomorrows in ways we can only half-imagine. If party politics matters then the parties are important to us as they are in democracies the vehicles of delivery of political aspirations; so, additionally the ideas that fire the politics matter for they will determine the routes those vehicles can take.

The significance of this Labour leadership election is that it is taking place at a hugely significant time in our political affairs.

We are at one of those inter-generational defining moments – moments when political ideas that will shape the future are being tried and tested by both arms of the body politic. Will Obama be followed by Clinton and thus secure a new progressive dominance in US politics or will the now more ideological right of the Republican Party take full control of the agenda by winning the White House? The election here in May with the relatively familiar style of David Cameron – resting so heavily on its imitation of Tony Blair- has obscured the fact that the future politics of the UK is also at a profound turning point.

Our place in Europe and the survival of the UK as a political union are only the obvious things now at stake – but there is much more as we now face the consequences of globalization of finances, world trade and as national economies respond and nation states struggle to come to terms with this upheaval. The instabilities in the middle East with ISIS and the Caliphate not only drive terrorism they also drive pulses of migration.

Migration and population have long been the most powerful forces in History. They brought down the Roman Empire and made the Middle Ages and unmade them in the Black Death; they colonised North and South America; they help spawn the tumults of World War twice in the last century.

How we will come to face that future will in part be determined by whoever Labour chooses as its leader. For he or she will help determine how the political nation makes that turn it now faces and ultimately shape the direction of that turn itself. Sometimes the parochial is the global as much as the personal is the political.



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Budget – it’s really Good News for Labour

Why Labour had good reason to feel cheerful:

Sometimes I fear we are not as surefooted as we should be. The events of the last week should us Labour supporters a bit chipper. It should make us realise that we can put the election defeats of 2010 and 2015 behind us. It should embolden us to reapply out thinking to the structural problems of the UK economy that remain unresolved – particularly social care, housing and the place of our young people in modern British society but also productivity….the bete noir of UK ever since the end of the Second World War.

The good news for Labour is that the government’s adoption of its fiscal and some prominent economic policies if properly talked-up by the party  will finally put to bed the notion that the program it offered last May was in any way undeliverable; irresponsible; or unrealistic. Quite to the contrary – we are all gradualists now and all in favour of businesses not using the Welfare system to maintain low wages – which is of itself one of the major causes of low UK productivity.

Mr Osborne has finally admitted in this first Conservative budget since 1997 that it is prudent and possible to spend £82 billion more over this whole Parliament; that it is possible to raise the minimum wage; that it is possible to increase taxes slightly; that reductions in public spending can be made over a longer timescale. Thus in principle what Labour offered in May was broadly right. Even if the government is now making poor choices it is still using the flexibility we identified. We are on longer therefore a party of economic incompetents and Labours spokesmen should welcome the Conservatives on to their centre ground.

Labour can now concentrate the debate on means and ends as the Conservatives have practically conceded the fiscal realities. How should government use that flexibility correctly identified by Labour in the public finances to the best ends for the good of the whole nation is what we should debate with the government. We, for example should not cut Tax Credits for many on low incomes to cut fund a cut in Inheritance Tax for those with homes worth 1 million pounds. Similarly, the argument Labour made on Energy turns out to be have been correct and the market  not only needs better regulation; the public get back what it is owed them.

Thus, we can finally put behind us the controversies of the past and put the leadership campaign in the focus of the future. We no longer need to feel the political debate  must be all about the closing years of the last Labour government. Instead Labour must concentrate on the problems like housing and engagement of our young adults in the economy and the polity – for they’re our future. We can also give Ed a standing ovation – because it turns out the argument was good even if we lost. Equally, we have to be truthful with ourselves, Ed wasn’t the best persuader we could have chosen to make the case and that the case was never made on the economy and the causes of the financial crash was our fault and not that of the electorate.

We now need a leadership that is fleet of foot and persuasive in debate –  and one that sounds – fresh – we have the issues – fairness – housing – social care and health care – and the reengagement of our future hope – our young people who are now being cut out of the security of the modern state by deliberate act of Conservative government policy.

We can now have a leadership campaign confident of the soundness of our judgements over the past decade.

Thank you Mr Osborne – in your eagerness to get into No 10 – you’ve made our most difficult political argument for us – we do have the resources available to make different choices and to bring about genuine change for the better for the many rather than for the advantage of the few.

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Kiss & Tell…..William Tell at the royal opera house

William Tell – Royal Opera House​ – 5th July – Kiss & Tell

There is one scene in this production which aptly summarises the gratuitous perversity of its whole. It occurred not long after the now infamous “rape” a la ClockWork Orange perversely acted out over pretty the Rossini dance music for the original ballet.

The scene is for female chorus and two sopranos. In this production the women are accompanied by children – some indeed very small – who, whilst the two principals sing – are undressed to their skimpy underwear and washed on stage. There is no reason for this. The audience was invited to oggle at this side-show rather than concentrate on the singers. At the very least visually the kinder-strip wreaked of prurience and at worse it evoked something much more sinister….

William Tell is a troubled Opera with a patchy performance history. It is self consciously Grand Opera a genre still only in its infancy at the time of composition. At its best the music is mesmerising – rising to vast crescendos of soloists;chorus and orchestra. Like Wagner the characters have leitmotif – Rossini’s invention. Like Meyerbeer it’s a sprawling entertainment made up of many elements. Written for the French Opera that necessarily included dance or ballet music and an incidental music to set scenes – like the fabulous storm music at the end. It has an equally sprawling overture which is twice the length of the famous bit that everyone knows – the music used in TV series of The Lone Ranger – announced by the unmistakable flourish of hunting horns. These operas we meant to be elaborately staged – they were really the Epic Movies of their day.

This is essentially a story of good and evil – the evil represented by Gasler (a sort of Sheriff of Nottingham figure) the good by Tell. Dramatically the libretto is based on a Schiller play and is a complex study of the politics of the state and of the nation – a conflict between personal liberty and feudal duty. This conflict is made flesh as it were in the person of the heroine – the local princess Mathilde. For all its obvious drama the elements of this strange giant of an opera never quite meld into an intoxicating dramatic whole – though in their own right the elements are quite extraordinary. Rossini’s genius has so many original vocal ideas that others like Verdi and Wagner and even Meyerbeer would freely plunder to develop to effect.

In order to convince this opera of all needs a lavish production that fills in the gaps. What we had was one idea – the horrors of war – with which we were beaten over the head for 5 unrelenting hours. Some of it was silly – a ghost carrying a suitcase in front of the great trio of Act II; some of it was insulting; some of it was adolescent – the use of toy soldiers and a comic book; some of it gratuitous; very occasionally some of it resolved into a wonderful still tableau that indeed caught something of the grand in Grand Opera. But the fact is the whole thing was bloody awful rather than bloody and awful. It was an insult to the audience that the production only managed to add injury after injury.

Productions that court controversy deserve all the opprobrium they get. Cutting out the scenes designed to shock – there was not a lot left except a stage covered with compost and a big dead tree. These were the leitmotif for the barrenness of the producer’s imagination. It was telling in its lack of response to the variety of Rossini’s musical inventiveness. It is the vice of our times to believe audiences can only hold one idea in their heads. It is the vanity of producers to think we need continuous visual distractions or we’ll get bored. This William Tell was an exemplar of both these vices and vanities. In the end it was (rightly) buried alive under the weighty grandiosity of its conceptual pomposity.

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Charles Kennedy RIP

Charles Kennedy RIP:

.000000charleskennedy1983_3326080bI am genuinely sad to learn of the death of Charles Kennedy. He was still a young man although perhaps his greatest days sadly were behind him. Nevertheless, he was one of the very few politicians who in mastering the Media art in the politics of our times never lost his authenticity. Like the late John Smith he is a reminder to us all of the immense richness we gain as a political nation by the Union. He was also that most rare of birds in our political ornithology – a true social democrat. If continuity with its Liberal past makes a comparison true – Kennedy was most successful Liberal leader since Lloyd George both in terms of votes won in 2001 and 2005 and seats won in 2001 and 2005. Charles Kennedy was right about the Iraq War when many, including me, were terribly wrong. Curiously perhaps for a leader of a third force in the UK he was not particularly in favour of PR. His personal demons got the better of his later time as a leading public and political figure but because of his personal authenticity perhaps his fall from grace was consequently graced with humanity rather than hubris. It is not often it can honestly be said but for Charles Kennedy it can be – if there were more of his ilk in public life our politics would be better regarded; our Parliament held in greater esteem and our institutions of government better served.

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