Ken Resigns

I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the Israel Lobby – as I suppose we have to call them, although the phrase sounds more ‘conspiratorial’ than I intend – for pressuring Ken Livingstone out of the Labour Party, on a specious charge of ‘anti-semitism’ when he was simply making an accurate historical point. He’s a great Radical politician, the best Mayor London has ever had, and clearly without a single racist bone in his body. It was noble of him to fall on his sword, but that it was necessary indicates how low we have fallen in terms of public debate. I’ve written enough about this case on this blog. Now I’m hoping for just two things: that reasonable Jews come to his defence even this late in the day, if they dare – I know there are many of them; and that my utter despair at the campaign waged against him won’t affect my general attitude towards ‘the Jews’.

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The Wedding

OK, so I was wrong. I shouldn’t have boycotted the Royal Wedding. Apparently it was pretty politically correct: a mixed-race American bride, with a career of her own, and mildly feminist opinions; not ‘given away’ by her father (Prince Charles stood in, but we all knew she’s not his to give); multicultural music, including a ‘negro spiritual’ and one of Elgar’s softer pieces; and what everyone says was an ‘inspiring’ sermon, full of only half-hidden radical allusions, from a black Chicagoan bishop, after the manner of MLK (I’ve just watched it on YouTube). The vicar’s daughter now in No. 10 could learn a lot from him. There was also, of course, the building (‘Perp’); which an architecture nut like me was bound to appreciate.

Mind you, some of the shots of the congregation on that YouTube clip seemed to indicate that much of Bishop Michael Curry’s inspiration had gone over the heads of the posher members, with lots of them grim-lipped, or dozing off. And of course there’s all the other nonsense to take on board: the rather tacky gold-plated ceremony, onlookers festooned in Union Jacks (most of them American or Australian, judging by the interviews), and, curiously, nearly all the women in the chapel wearing what looked like flying saucers on their heads (a subtle reference perhaps to the ‘alien’ origin that some conspiracy theorists attribute to the Royal Family: google ‘David Icke’). Then there’s all those homeless people being turfed off the streets in Windsor so as not to spoil the view. (That says a lot about us.) Still, small mercies. And she does look lovely, doesn’t she?

My attitude to royalty generally is ambivalent. Of course it’s undemocratic, feudal, and hard on the royals (poor Charles! I wouldn’t like to do it); but a hereditary monarchy is not a bad way to separate the representative of a country away from its politics. (That’s the USA’s original sin.) So long as it can’t actually do anything apart from ‘represent’. I met Queenie once, at a shindig to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Historical Association. I was half-pissed on sherry but reckoned it wouldn’t matter, if my prejudice that they were a family of in-bred idiots was true. It turned out not to be: in her case, at least. She asked me what I researched on, and I told her, in simple terms; only to be surprised by a highly intelligent follow-up question from her. I had to delve deep into my sherry-addled brain for an answer; which clearly took more time than they had allowed for. Afterwards I grinned inanely around me: wasn’t she impressed?! Later we were sent photos of the occasion; mine shows my lips blurred with the speed at which they were working, and Her Maj with a look of utter boredom on her face. Normally that would be something to frame and put up in one’s study. I’ve kept it hidden, however, only showing it to my nearest and dearest – in Kajsa’s case after about ten years. (Perhaps I’ll put it up on this blog one day.) But I’ve been a fan of the top royal ever since. Just her, mind: not the rest of them. Except maybe – now – the new Duchess of Sussex.

(I posted a pic of me and Queen here originally, but have deleted it. Sorry. I just didn’t like it.)

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The Turn of the Tide?

Encouraging news at last. (1) Students – intelligent young people most affected by the Brexit catastrophe – are planning a great new anti-Brexit campaign in the summer: https://leftfootforward.org/2018/03/students-union-throws-weight-behind-brexit-second-ref/. 75% of under-25s (those who voted) voted ‘Remain’ in the referendum. (2) ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ – the genuine (I hope) representative of Jews in the Labour Party – has come out firmly against the smear campaign against the Party for its alleged ‘anti-semitism’, with an excellent definition of genuine anti-semitism, uncoupling this vile prejudice from criticism of the state of Israel: http://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/campaigns/the-definition-of-antisemitism/. (3) Home Office lies and scandals over Windrush are being revealed at last, in a trail of evidence that must in the end lead back to the present Prime Minister, who was – as Home Secretary – the original author of them: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/15/home-secretary-admits-63-windrush-migrants-may-have-deported/. (4) The East Coast mainline is to be taken away from Virgin and restored to the public sector again, renaming it ‘LNER’, which is the name it had when I was a boy collecting (steam) train numbers on the pedestrian bridge over Gidea Park station in the 1950s: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44142258. Does all this presage Spring? – Down, boy!

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Beyond Our Ken

There’s another demand this morning, by the new President of the Board of Deputies for British Jews, for Ken Livingstone to be expelled from the Labour Party for making a valid historical point: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/may/14/labour-ken-livingstone-jackie-walker-antisemitism-row. Shouldn’t this alarm all of us professional historians? And shouldn’t it also concern most reasonable Jews; for whom the continuation of this grossly misdirected campaign, on the same day as the state of Israel is shooting peaceful Palestinian protestors in Gaza, cannot do much to dampen what anti-semitism there may be in Britain.

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Their Lordships

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It’s difficult for a democrat to defend the House of Lords, of course, except by casting doubt on the institution of democracy itself. But this headline from the Daily Mail makes one want to, together with the Mail’s inclusion of the Lords as ‘traitors’, to join all those others it has smeared with this term – the judges, Jeremy Corbyn, ‘Remainers’, Ed Milliband’s dad – over the last few months. The Lords are unelected, and only there because their great-great grandmothers were screwed by the right toffs, or to reward political favours done by them to governments in the more recent past. They’re mostly old, and frequently caught by the cameras on the Lords’ red benches dozing in their ermine dressing gowns. They don’t exactly inspire a democrat’s confidence.

But, by ’eck – to use an expression I’ve picked up from my long sojourn in Yorkshire – can’t they pack a punch when they wake up?! Over the past few days they’ve rejected or crucially amended fourteen key clauses of the Government’s great European Union Withdrawal (or ‘Brexit’) Bill; which needn’t be fatal for any of those measures – the Commons can overrule the Lords – but will force the Government to think again, and is giving great heart to Remainers. In the course of the necessary re-debates  in the Commons, this Lords rebellion is likely to force the government into a ‘softer’ form of Brexit, at the very least; and could – just could – wreck the whole enterprise. This is why the Mail wants to send these ‘traitors in ermine’ to the Tower.

The democratic argument for listening to the Lords is that the Brexit process in itself was democratically flawed. I’ve noted this from the very beginning: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/; since when revelations of the Brexiteers’ dark and sophisticated methods of influencing public opinion – secret donations, fake claims, Cambridge Analytica and all that – have reinforced the view that the vote in June 2016, with its narrow 52:48 result, was hardly a true reflection of informed opinion, at the very least. Popular referenda give the appearance of being the most democratic system there is; but their results need to be carefully tested and modulated before using them to trigger huge, existential changes of national policy like Brexit. That of course is true of all voting systems; – which is why we have the House of Lords.

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Labour and the Jews Again.

Anyone in any doubt about the true nature and credibility of the campaign currently being waged against Corbyn and the Labour Party, on the grounds of their alleged ‘anti-semitism’, should read these two pieces, published recently.

https://orientxxi.info/magazine/anti-semitism-orchestrated-offensive-against-jeremy-corbyn-in-the-uk,2446; and https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jamie-stern-weiner-norman-finkelstein/american-jewish-scholar-behind-labour-s-antisemitism-scanda.

I’ve said it before (see for example https://bernardjporter.com/2018/04/16/have-you-stopped-beating-the-jews/), but let’s say it again: criticising the Israeli government, and supporting the cause of the Palestinians, are not signs of or necessarily rooted in anti-semitism. But they seem to be the main complaints of the current crop of anti-antisemites. Similarly, pointing out that Hitler at one point supported a ‘national home’ solution for the Jews – Ken Livingstone’s notorious claim, for which the Labour Right want him expelled from the party – is a statement of fact, and not intended to imply that Zionists are Nazis, for goodness’ sake! And (lastly) a mural painting of capitalists sitting around a table is not necessarily directed against Jewish capitalists. (The problem with this is that Corbyn once endorsed it: see https://bernardjporter.com/2018/03/28/israel-jezza-and-imperialism/). But these seem to be the main items of ‘anti-semitic’ ‘evidence’ that Labour’s critics are currently offering. It’s pretty thin gruel.

I have to say that I’m personally getting fed up with – even enraged by – all this false anti-antisemitic propaganda; especially when it’s directed against and could derail the best hope we have at present of bringing the present crazy and dangerous stage of our national history to an end, and returning us to a decent social democracy. – Which itself poses a problem. Anti-semitism is not, I’m still convinced, a serious problem in Britain, and least of all in the Labour Party. It’s also far milder than other kinds of British racism, or the racism that important elements of Israeli-Jewish society display towards other ethnic groups. The outcry against it is clearly whipped up – and supported by the Israeli government – simply in order to stop a Palestinian sympathiser from getting into No. 10.

But – and this is my main point – the outcry in itself could easily provoke a new anti-semitism on the Left, if people come to blame it for Corbyn’s failure to win the next general election. I’m sure I can resist the temptation – I’m fascinated in a positive way by Judaism, and even planning a visit to Israel soon – but many on the Left won’t be able to. Launching this campaign against Corbyn, in fact, was a high-risk strategy for British Jewry, which could well rebound against them. Let’s hope not.

Just to make clear: I’m personally greatly in favour of Israel’s survival, despite its ‘imperialist’ origins, though I don’t think Netanyahu is going the right way about it. And – because this is often a charge brought against critics of Israel – none of what I’ve just written amounts to a ‘conspiracy theory’. Jewish fears of anti-semitism, in this British context, are wrong and misguided, but they are genuine, open and above-board. I’m not sure, however, that I could say the same about newspapers like the Daily Mail, whose anti-Corbyn philo-semitism seems of very recent growth.

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Royal Wedding

Written in my diary for 19 May are the words: ‘Royal Wedding. Be out of country.’ ‘Out of country’, of course, meant Stockholm. But now I find I won’t be able to avoid it even there: https://www.facebook.com/events/813022998888560/. So I’ll probably stay in England and bury myself under the duvet all day.

It was the British ambassador himself who alerted us to this, at a meeting of ‘Brits in Sweden’ called last week at his Residency, to discuss Brexit-related problems. (See pic below: I’m hovering in the corner at the back; Kajsa just in front of me, talking earnestly to the Political Attaché; the ambassador with crossed hands back right.) The ambassador was of course diplomatic on the issue of Brexit – when I said something mildly uncomplimentary about Boris, he said ‘Steady on, that’s my boss you’re talking about!’ – but gave the impression of wanting to help us poor expatriates. Kajsa says the coffee was the best she has ever tasted.

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About 20 of us attended, out of a total 30,000 Brits living in Sweden – though I’m not quite sure what ‘living’ means. (Short-term? Long-term? Accredited residents?) A show of hands revealed that 70% of us were applying for Swedish nationality.

What jarred with me a little – apart from the Stockholm street party – was the image the Political Attaché had on the back of his visiting card:

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Cringeworthy, I thought. And in any case ‘great’ in this context doesn’t mean that. See https://bernardjporter.com/2018/02/06/make-britain-great-again/.

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Munich

I must buy Robert Harris’s new novel, Munich. A review of it on Swedish Radio this morning suggests it goes along with the view I’ve had for many years, that Chamberlain and ‘appeasement’ have had a bum deal at the hands of nearly everyone since 1938. In fact Chamberlain wasn’t fooled by Hitler, but knew that Britain couldn’t fight a war against Germany then, and needed to rearm; which he then set about doing in the breathing-space provided by Munich. By the autumn of 1939 Britain was capable of resisting the Nazis, if only just. What I didn’t know – and must check for myself – is that Hitler, wanting to go to war straight away, regarded Munich as a great setback. In other words, Chamberlain won.

So he doesn’t deserve the scorn and vitriol that have been almost universally poured on him for the last eighty years. That’s sad for his historical reputation, but in my eyes makes him more heroic. (It’s a shame he looked so little like a hero – more like Groucho Marx.) More damaging than this, however, is the effect the popular view has had on the policy of ‘appeasement’ generally. Every bellicose statesman brings up ‘Munich’ when diplomatic solutions to foreign policy crises are suggested. But appeasement isn’t a good or a bad policy per se. There are many instances in Britain’s history apart from this one – especially her imperial history – when appeasement has been, or would have been, the right course of action. Unless you think the anti-colonialists should have been resisted all the way.

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The Nasty Party

‘You know what some people call us? The nasty party’. That was Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference of 2002. It didn’t seem at the time as if she were taking it as a compliment. The impression given was that she would like her party to better itself, become more inclusive, even come to deserve a reputation for niceness. 

But it has hardly worked out like that. As Home Secretary she pursued a policy of redoubled nastiness towards immigrants – those great billboards telling them to ‘Go Home’ under fear of arrest, for example; her revision of Britain’s immigration laws to make it more difficult even for legal immigrants to prove their rights to stay; draconian expulsions by ‘quota’; her stated ambition to make Britain a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants; and her obsessive crusade against European ‘Human Rights’ courts that tried to rein her in. All, of course, designed to win over the popular nationalist (or racist) vote from Ukip. These are the measures that are coming back to haunt her today, as Prime Minister, after the ‘Windrush’ scandal, which was totally her responsibility, although it’s her own Home Secretary Amber Rudd who is paying the price. Now that she doesn’t have Amber to deflect the flack, some are saying that she – Theresa – can’t last long. (I’m not so sure. There’s still the fear of Corbyn to factor in: see https://bernardjporter.com/2018/04/25/corbyns-to-blame/.)

That’s not the only bit of nastiness around. The Tory-supporting propaganda machine has gone into overdrive against Corbyn, with yesterday’s Sunday Times (Murdoch owned) suggesting that Russian interference during the last election lay behind his success. He’s already been accused of being an ex-Soviet spy. Then of course there are all those ‘Labour anti-semitic’ smears – and they are smears, with hardly a grain of truth in them – seeking to associate him with the vilest sort of racism in history. I don’t know whether, or to what extent, the government or secret services of Israel may lie behind this last. Rumours are floating around of a million-pound donation from somewhere to stop Corbyn winning. Maybe the question to ask here is ‘Cui bono?’ Israel of course objects to his pro-Palestinian stance, which Right-wing Jews openly, albeit mistakenly, equate with anti-semitism. It’s difficult not to credit that this might be a factor, among Israeli lobbyists, and for those British Jews – who are the loudest, but who may not be a majority – who have taken so strongly against him.

But, finally: all this is so obvious, isn’t it? If it’s to succeed, propaganda surely shouldn’t be so blatant as this. Some people will be fooled by it; but a larger number – I hope – will see it merely as a sign of desperation by the Right. The mild-mannered and transparently honest Corbyn could even be strengthened in the public eye by his brave and dignified resistance in the face of it. British Jewry could become a casualty of its own ‘anti-anti-semitic’ campaign, if people come to associate it with smearing and libelling: which is why pro-Corbyn Jews should speak up more – or, perhaps, seek to get a fairer coverage in the press. I would hate to see a genuine anti-semitism growing out of this. Lastly, the ‘nastiness’ of May’s government in many directions is becoming more striking by the day: towards the NHS, for example, the disabled, teachers, and almost every sector of society it should be any ‘nice’ government’s duty to protect. It was she who spotted the trend, in 2002; now she seems only intent on aggravating it.

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The UK Press: Number 40 Still

The 2018 ‘World Press Freedom Index’, compiled by an organisation called ‘Reporters without Borders’, has just been published (https://rsf.org/en/ranking), with Britain once again coming far down the list – at number 40, to be precise. That’s out of 180, with North Korea at the bottom. I commented on last year’s report here: https://bernardjporter.com/2017/04/30/press-freedom/. Again, the Scandinavian countries (together with the Netherlands) come top of the rankings, which is no doubt why my Dagens Nyheter makes such a splash about it today. I don’t suppose the Murdoch press or any of our right-wing propaganda sheets have highlighted it so much, although to be honest I haven’t checked.

They would probably dispute Reporters without Borders’ methodology, which Wikipedia describes thus:

The report is partly based on a questionnaire which asks questions about pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and infrastructure. The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media (including penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated) and the level of independence of the public media. It also includes violations of the free flow of information on the Internet. Violence against journalists, netizens, and media assistants, including abuses attributable to the state, armed militias, clandestine organisations or pressure groups, are monitored by RSF staff during the year and are also part of the final score. A smaller score on the report corresponds to greater freedom of the press as reported by the organisation. The questionnaire is sent to Reporters Without Borders’s partner organisations: 18 freedom of expression non-governmental organisations located in five continents, its 150 correspondents around the world and journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.

Looking through that list, it will not be difficult to pick several categories in which the British mainstream media are likely to have picked up their low scores, among them pluralism, self-censorship and independence. But Britain’s poor showing must surprise many of those who pride themselves on our having a distinctively ‘free press’, compared for example with Costa Rica, Samoa and Ghana – all several places above her; which is our Press’s rationale for opposing (and in the end killing off) ‘Leveson Part 2’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leveson_Inquiry). I imagine that for Murdoch and Co.  ‘freedom’ means what it does for most ideological capitalists: market freedom of the rich to buy up and control – in this case – the media. Against which, of course, some of us hope that the social media, now rapidly ousting ‘print’ journalism, might prove a corrective. I have to say, I hae me doots.

In Britain at present the print and broadcast media are two of the the main obstacles to a rational and informed democracy. It may be the same in the USA; which appears no-where in the top 40, and so presumably is even worse than ours. Trump’s new French friends, by the way, are at No. 33.

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