“You lucky, jammy bastards!”: Lessons on left-wing politics from Life Of Brian


From a comment I posted on the Journal.ie, on a report stating that Clare Daly and Joan Collins are launching a new left-wing party – United Left – next month. The comments posted below the line were not exactly mind-blowing in their originality, hence my own response.

Let’s think a little bit about the Life of Brian reference for a minute. What do wisecracks about the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front -which seem inescapable any time public attention turns to small left-wing parties- tell us about our public political culture?

The joke in the film was funny because it was true. But now that it has become an automatic response to any particular situation involving left-wing political formations, I think it reflects a deep stagnation in public thinking about politics.

The last five years have seen an unbridled capitalism run rampant, suffocating public services, driving tens of millions of people across Europe into unemployment, and dynamiting the post-war democratic settlement. It is an immense human crisis.

Mainstream political parties across Europe who lay claim to a left-wing tradition -a tradition founded on a recognition that democracy is not just about the right to vote but about everyone having the material possibilities of participating in the running of society as equals- have bowed to the authority of the European Central Bank and finance capital. Many of their leading members eye up succulent positions on the boards of private companies once their political tenure has ended. The consequence has been an immense concentration of decisive political power in the hands of unelected, democratically unaccountable bodies.

None of the mainstream parties in Ireland has any response to this all-out attack on democracy. In fact they all endorse it, as does Ireland’s media. From their point of view, and the point of view of their supporters, many of whom are regrettably gullible, this is all excellent stuff, this is the future – the one you shouldn’t kick in the face.

In this context, the matter of whether a new left-wing political party is likely to be successful is certainly open to question. However, many people don’t seem to realise that the proliferation of small left-wing groups is in part testament to the hegemony of the ‘Romans’, who have convinced many working class people (a) that they are middle class; and (b) that that they should be grateful to them at the very moment that the popular classes across Europe are being crucified.

In this sense, people who make wisecracks about the People’s Front of Judea are comparable to Ben the Prisoner from The Life of Brian, who, looking on at the crucifixion party, shouts “You lucky bastards! You lucky, jammy bastards!”


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