In Corbyn’s hour

It has been joyous to watch Jeremy Corbyn campaigning. He believes in a peaceful and fair world, free of oppression and exploitation. He really does! And he thinks the way to get there is by listening and by discussion! He is where he is by hard work and chance. He got his seat, by all accounts, by working hard; he became leader of the Labour Party by chance – he didn’t really want to put his name forward, but it was “his turn”. His supporters can be very aggressive and unreasonable, but he isn’t. Unlike Tony Benn, he is not vain; or a smarty-pants, like Michael Foot. And that is important, because he is running a moral campaign for socialism. Corbyn’s socialism is a credo before it is a crusade or a programme.

I repent of all the disparaging remarks I have made about him. It is thanks to Jeremy Corbyn that I can clearly see again that socialism represents above everything else a moral politics.

What will be left?

Letter to the LRB 18. May 2017

The articles What will be left? and Brexitism are pretty pessimistic, for many good reasons.

Asked by Alastair Campbell the other day whether he was the same man as the one first elected Prime Minister twenty years ago, Tony Blair answered that he still had the same values, he was still “basically” an optimist. Blair later persistently and cheerfully resisted Campbell’s urging of him to slag off Trump, Theresa May, Corbyn and the rest. He wouldn’t: he disagrees with them; he thinks history will show his analysis to be the right one… he even thinks history will show Iraq was the right thing to do. Whatever: the point is that the task and the temperament of the left, “basically”, is to see the seeds of a better future in the social changes and technological developments of the day, and to think about how to see them come to fruition.

In different ways Brexit and Corbyn point backwards – to the perennial 50s, to the time before Blair. But the Brexit vote also expresses a wish for a new sense of society, a wish which can be addressed optimistically, cheerfully and with confidence in our approach.

 

Labour: The turning point

I gave up on Labour Party meetings because it was more important to go to tai chi on Wednesdays.

However, I had received emails, a phone call and a request from a colleague-friend urging me to participate in this meeting, to vote for changes to standing orders, delegates to conference and committe members. If the Labour Party (and hence social democracy in the UK) was to be turned around, people like me had to turn up.

The first 45 minutes – 15 had been planned – were spent arguing the toss about the proposed changes to standing orders and their legality. In the end, the opposition deviously moved a vote not to vote on the standing orders. They won by 29-18. Surely, I thought, the ensuing votes for delegates etc. would go the same way. I was annoyed at the torpedoing of the vote for which I had sacrificed the evening – but also heightened in my sense of heroic self-sacrifice, and confirmed in my shrewd judgment as to the hopelessness of the Party’s situation. So I decided to stick it out – one last time.

There followed a presentation and Q&A by a chap from “Healthwatch Richond” for 45 minutes. 90 minutes gone.

Finally came the votes which really counted, for our local delegates to conference. It was business-like: each side had been informed of the names to vote for. Without much hope we filled out ballot sheets, or raised our hands, and… we won, all three votes, 24-23. Brilliant.

How Great Britain is

Letter to the Guardian regarding doping in (Russian) athletics:

Lord Coe’s 800m world record, set at the height of “cold war doping”, stood for 25 years. It was broken by a Kenyan. Kenyan athletes – who in great numbers from childhood on run long distances competitively, at altitude – are widely suspected of doping. The Kenyans have tried everything to beat Mo Farah for five years and not come near; and in ten years, none has come within three minutes of Paula Radcliffe’s marathon world record. Amazing! Now, the Russians. With a state-run doping programme and a population nearly three times Great Britain’s, they came 4th in the 2012 Olympics medals table. Britain was 3rd. Astonishing! How Great Britain is!

A new politics

And what if one takes the notion seriously for a moment? That politics can embody the endeavour of a people to organise itself with “a yes, a no, a straight line and a goal”… and to run towards it, a new collective effort to overcome destructive forces, to realise human existence as artistic, to become a people who will live and die joyfully.

We are born to run, and to run long distances; we do have a sense of direction, and we can run straight. The issue is establishing the collective sense of direction. See the 100 yards for people with no sense of direction: there is a sense of direction, but it is not a collective sense of direction.

Reading George Orwell, pt 3

In Down and Out in Paris and London George Orwell describes the hierarchies that exist among hotel staff. These are crucial to the success of the operation, both in terms of getting the food out, and in terms of morale.

“Thus everyone in the hotel had his sense of honour, and when the press of work came we were all ready for a grand concerted effort to get through it. The constant war between the different departments also made for efficiency, for everyone clung to his own privileges and tried to stop others idling and pilfering.”

Note: the sense of honour – the effort – the constant war – the clinging to privilege. These values are not the cunning creation of the capitalist class to make for a more efficient workforce – these are basic psychological forces. When, on the other hand, it speaks of another world and a kinder politics, “left-wing politics” is insipid, stupid, ill-tempered, disingenuous, self-righteous, sanctimonious, hopeless, lame, turgid and limp (in a word: impotent). Left-wing politics is potent when it aligns itself with the real forces Orwell describes.

You would have to laugh at the poor squirming Labour MPs having their careers vengefully sabotaged by the Labour membership and “supporters” – if it weren’t for the attractive devil-may-care gallows-humour enjoy-it-while-you’ve-got-it spirit among them, an openly bemused amusement and disbelief at this surreal moment, and a sort of jolly attempt to outdo each other in the keeping-the-face-straight and focus-on-the-positives stakes.