Monthly Archives: July 2016

The End of the Garden Party

Many if not most of the MPs in the Labour Party who want to get shot of Jeremy Corbyn have more in common with Tory MPs across the chamber in the House of Commons than with either Corbyn or most of the people who vote for them. They are the sturdy backbone of political Britain, and Jeremy Corbyn is -in the words of a New Statesman columnist- ‘a cancer‘.

This is not merely a matter of policy. You only have to look at the annual Spectator garden party pics and see the likes of Harriet Harman and Liz Kendall sharing a Pimms in the company of David Cameron and Theresa May to realise that for them, politics is both an elite profession and a social clique. It is a role and vocation for the cultivated and enlightened.

The hapless Angela Eagle was likely pushed forward to challenge Corbyn because, among other things, she went to a comprehensive before she went to Oxford. Hence the Parliamentary Labour Party coup plotters view her as the kind of figure who ought to know how to bridge the gap between elite political society and working class Labour voters, in a way that a braying calamity like Tristram Hunt, say, could not. The trouble is she hasn’t a notion. Leading media voices think she’ll do just fine, of course, but that’s because they haven’t a clue either.

Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s appeals, the time of kinder, gentler politics has passed. Gone are the days when a Labour politician could vote to bomb a country or to privatise elements of the health and education services or to punish welfare recipients, and feel insulated from public anger.

In this new climate of nastiness, when people sometimes seem more vocal in speaking out against such matter-of-course procedures as bombing the Middle East and impoverishing poor families, it is hard for people who, in bygone days, could pass themselves off as ‘conviction politicians’ who want to give shape to such nebulous concepts as ‘aspiration’. Their credibility has plummeted because they find it impossible to come straight out with it and say without qualification or prevarication that they’re against austerity. For them, when Jeremy Corbyn proposes that austerity is a political choice and not a self-evident necessity, it makes the task of convincing the Tory-voting parent in their head all the more difficult.

In truth, the only real conviction they do have is that it is they who are entitled to be where they are, and no-one has any right to deprive them of that. No-one has the right to get in the way of the succulent sinecures that await when they move on from the political profession, least of all the kind of crumpled socialist throwback they learned to laugh at when they started climbing the greasy pole 20-25 years previous.

The Labour membership? They can all get stuffed too, because if they were worth anything, or if they knew anything, they’d be MPs or peers already. And anyway, isn’t it their job to speak on behalf of others because they’re too dimwitted and untutored to do it for themselves?

In this, the Labour MPs seeking to oust Corbyn are at one with the Tories too: their conception of democracy is that of Churchill: “the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper”, and nothing more.

But even that is too dangerous for them these days, when there is every chance that the ‘little man’ -and there are hundreds of thousands of them!- is no more than a mindless member of a personality cult whipped up by wealthy Trotskyite public schoolboys.



And it is certainly convenient to think of them in that way, and to present them as if the sum of their desires is best encapsulated in a solitary brick hurled through a constituency office window.


Talking socialist and acting fascist‘ – Labour Party grandee Peter Hain’s description of Corbyn supporters. Where have we heard things like that before?

The Enemy Within, an account of the Miners’ Strike written by one of the ‘public schoolboys’ referred to above by Caius College Cambridge graduate Alastair Campbell (loyal assistant to Tony Blair, Fettes College and St. John’s, Oxford), recalls a

‘multiplicity of other similar episodes during the dispute, such as the Sun’s attempt to publish a front-page picture of Scargill appearing to give a Nazi salute – which Fleet Street print-workers refused to typeset – under the legend: ‘Mine Führer’’.

From 'The Enemy Within', by Seumas Milne

From ‘The Enemy Within’, by Seumas Milne

But it might be even worse than that. Imagine if they were something else other than brick-throwing terrorist bully-boys and fascists, the like of whom have not really appeared in British politics since the Miners’ Strike. Imagine if they were in fact witnesses to the social devastation wrought by Thatcherite and Blairite governments. Or if they were ordinary members of the public who see a Corbyn-led Labour Party as the best chance for obtaining the kind of things a majority of voters desire, such as renationalising the railways, taxing the rich, banning nuclear weapons, rent controls, a proper public health system. Or people who can think for themselves.

That would undermine democracy as Britain has known it, and that is why every sinew of every right-thinking person must be strained to the limit, every avenue to democratic participation must be shut down, every conceivable financial obstacle to voting erected: to stop these mindless drones from realising their desires, lest the garden party come to an end.


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Consolations for the Little People



Leona Helmsley, who was fabulously wealthy from real estate, famously told her maid: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Helmsley was imprisoned for tax evasion, but the principle that only the little people should pay taxes is pretty much conventional wisdom now. Witness how governments, the Irish government included, mount stout defences of keeping corporation taxes down, and make it a matter of national pride to do so, while at the same time cutting public services and ramping up indirect taxes: it is time the little people paid their share.

We are not accustomed to thinking of hospital ward closures or increased class sizes or discontinued bus routes as taxes, but that is what they are in effect: to get what you need, you must pay more, either through fees to private providers, or through simply shouldering the burden yourself.

What would Leona Helmsley have made of Console, the suicide charity? Forget about the present scandal for a moment, and just think about the work that it does. The organisation depends on volunteer labour. People giving of their time, without pay, to help people in situations of crisis. At the very same time they are helping people, however, they are also relieving others of the obligation to do anything. They are relieving others of the additional tax burden (how easily the idea of tax as a ‘burden’ comes to mind) of having to fund proper public services and facilities so that these needs might be addressed properly and systematically. Whilst big names might make donations or put in appearances or act as patrons to signal that it is all in a good cause, the task of keeping things running is very much a matter for the little people: the fundraisers, the volunteers, the donors. Leona would approve.

Eduardo Galeano once said that he didn’t believe in charity because it was vertical and humiliating, whereas solidarity was horizontal. But it isn’t so simple when it comes to charitable organisations. Much fundraising and volunteering work does happen along horizontal lines, on the understanding that you’re doing something for someone like you, not someone beneath you. The problem is that all this work is then appropriated in the service of a greater good that treats exploitation and domination as the natural order. Here, mutual aid is not the alternative or the antidote to neoliberal capitalism, but its necessary complement. Think Brian Cowen’s call for a “meitheal mentality” when his government was poised to introduce huge cuts to public spending in order to pay off private banking debts. Or David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.

What’s more, fundraising and volunteering is vigorously encouraged by private firms, whereas mobilising on matters of social rights is seen to cause conflict and disorder. Moustache growing, pyjama days, sponsored head-shaving: approach your HR department because you want to raise money for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and there’s a good chance you’ll be given every encouragement. It’s fun, it builds teams, it gives the company a nice image. The same encouragement is unlikely to be forthcoming if you say you want everyone to dress in black to protest cuts to health services.

On top of that, paying charities to provide what ought to be public services keeps those pesky unions at bay. You never know when they might demand more for the people they serve, so it’s far better to deal with people who will take what they will get and shut up.

When the Console scandal hit the headlines, one of the chief angles of concern was how this would affect other charities, and whether public donations would fall as a consequence. Radio presenter Ryan Tubridy pleaded with listeners to continue to keep charities in their thoughts. It would be a cold day in hell, of course, before he or any other high-profile RTÉ presenter would use the airwaves to plead with the government not to make cuts to health or education budgets. Some weeks earlier, Tubridy had used the same spot to lavish praise on Rory McIlroy for donating the beastly sum of €666,000 in Irish Open winnings to charity. McIlroy is worth over €300m. Generally, the public is not scandalised that athletes earn such astronomical sums of money. Nor for that matter do they care much when they avoid paying taxes: McIlroy’s fellow golfer Padraig Harrington received little opprobrium, if any, for being named in the Panama Papers. If only it were just billionaire real estate tycoons who believed taxes were for the little people. (Incidentally, Harrington helped launch one of Console’s helplines back in 2009).

The individual appointed to take over at Console following the Paul Kelly scandal -in which the suicide charity founder feathered a lavish nest with both public money and private charitable donations- is David Hall, a man who runs a private ambulance company. This appointment is hardly the act of a body whose primary concern is the violation of the rights of people to receive proper medical attention in times of crisis. The primary concern here, rather, is to ensure the standards of financial probity expected of any private firm.

Kelly -who is clearly a slimeball sociopath- is the object of character analyses in the press that portray him as an anomalous and strange individual. However, as noted here, there is rather less concern with just how it was that so many among the great and good were willing to believe his story, or how the various state institutions were willing to throw so much money at him. What if Kelly in fact reflected back an image that they themselves wished to see? Perhaps there is a desire for some sort of living proof that private enterprise plus charity plus a compassionate countenance is still better than social rights, still the only solution to social catastrophes brought about by neoliberal orthodoxy and the emaciation of welfare states, and, deep down, still the best answer to the threat from the red menace and the godless hordes.


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