Category Archives: UK Politics

Improper Purposes: Boris Johnson’s Suspension of Parliament

There was something richly amusing in the move: three judges, sitting in Scotland’s highest court of appeal, had little time for the notion that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension, or proroguing, of parliament till October 14, had been lawful.  Some 78 parliamentarians had taken issue with the Conservative leader’s limitation on Parliamentary activity, designed to prevent any hiccups prior to October 31, the day Britain is slated to leave the European Union.

It did take two efforts.  The initial action in Edinburgh’s Outer House of the Court of Session was unsuccessful for the petitioners.  Conventional wisdom then was that such issues were, as a matter of high policy, political and therefore non-justiciable.  Legal standards, in other words, could not be applied to the decision.  (British judges tend to be rather reserved when it comes to treading on matters that might be seen as the staple of political judgment.)

All three First Division judges thought otherwise, taking the high road that this was exceptional.  Lord Carloway, the Lord President, accepted in principle that advice by the Prime Minister to the Queen would not normally be reviewable by courts.  Such a realm was customarily one above and beyond the judicial wigs.  That said, as a summary of the judgement records, “it would nevertheless be unlawful if its purpose was to stymie parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, which was a central pillar of the good governance principle enshrined in the constitution”.  That principle was drawn, by implication, from the “principles of democracy and the rule of law.”  Feeling emboldened, Lord Carloway, on examining the documents supplied by Johnson and his team, felt that improper reasons could be discerned.

Lord Brodie similarly noted the singular nature of the circumstances. Under normal circumstances prorogation advice would not be reviewable, but if it constituted a tactic designed to frustrate Parliament, it could well be deemed unlawful.  In this case, Johnson’s move was “an egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behaviour of public authorities.”  It could be inferred on the evidence that “the principal reasons for the prorogation were to prevent or impede Parliament holding the executive to account and legislating with regard to Brexit, and to allow the executive to pursue a policy of a no deal Brexit without further Parliamentary inference.”  Bold stuff, indeed, and hard to fault.

The third judge, Lord Drummond Young, was bolder still.  No need to be nimble footed here: the entire scope of such powers, relevant to prorogation or otherwise, could be legally tested.  The onus was on the UK government to show a valid reason for the prorogation “having regard to the fundamental constitutional importance of parliamentary scrutiny or executive action.”  The clues of evident impropriety in Johnson’s action lay in the length of the suspension and the general circumstances suggesting a prevention of scrutiny.  There could be no other inference that the move showed a wish “to restrict Parliament.”

The full bench, accordingly, made an order “declaring that the prime minister’s advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and thus null and of no effect.”  Few more damning statements have ever issued against a prime minister of the realm.

In an effort to remove some egg on the faces of government officials, a spokesman for Number 10 claimed to be disappointed by the decision, insisting that Johnson needed “to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda.  Proroguing Parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this.”  This was a somewhat milder version from those offered by other sources close to the Prime Minister, claiming political bias on the Scottish bench.  “We note that last week the High Court in London did not rule that prorogation was unlawful.  The legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason.”  The cheek of it all!

As for certain conservative outlets, accepting the judgment of the Court of Session was, well, unacceptable.  The Supreme Court, it was hoped by the likes of Richard Ekins, would clean up the mess made by their northern brethren with clear heads.  The Scottish decision had been “a startling – and misconceived – judgment.”

Which brings us to the second front opened up by petitioners in England, itself.  A High Court challenge, with an appeal now expected to be heard in the Supreme Court next week, initially failed to yield any movement.  But Johnson had little reason, or time, to gloat.  The government is now reverting to a stalling game, refusing to act on the Scottish decision till the English equivalent is handed down.  Not all business, however, will be suspended: the work of select committees, for instance, will continue.  The government also finds itself in the trenches, facing a Parliament intent on extending the Brexit date in order to achieve a deal.

The publication of the full, previously leaked doomsday document, the Yellowhammer contingency plan, anticipating measures if a no deal Brexit takes place, has also done its bit to pockmark Johnson’s efforts to maintain a steady ship.  The prime minister, said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accusingly, “is prepared to punish those who can least afford it.”

The government’s hope is that the Supreme Court case will move at its usual snail’s pace, thereby making any point ventured by Johnson’s detractors a moot point.  Richard Dickman of Pinsent Masons has observed that such appeals “take months sometimes years, but the court can move quickly in urgent cases like this one.”  The occasion promises to be quite a judicial party: 11 of the 12 law lords will be sitting.

Testing the judicial weather, Dickman suggested that there might “be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision from the court with a more detailed judgment to follow.”  Another chapter in the annals of British law and parliamentary farce is being written.  In the meantime, the sentiment of the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, reverberates through Europe. “We do not have reasons to be optimistic.”

Brexit reveals Corbyn to be the True Moderate

If there is an upside to Brexit, it is this: it has made it increasingly hard to present Jeremy Corbyn, contrary to everything the corporate media has been telling us for the past four years, as anything but a political moderate. In truth, he is one of the few moderates left in British – or maybe that should be English – politics right now. The fact that still isn’t obvious to many in Britain is a sign of their – not his – extremism.

Brexit has brought into sharp focus, at least for those prepared to look, the fanatacism that dominates almost the entire British political class. Their zealotry has been increasingly on show since the UK staged a referendum in 2016 on leaving Europe that was won by the pro-Brexit camp with a wafer-thin majority.

The subsequent feud has usually been portrayed this way: The UK has split into two camps, polarising popular opinion between those who feel Britain’s place is in Europe (Remainers) and those who prefer that Britain makes its own way in the world (Brexiters). But it has actually divided the British political class into three camps, with the largest two at the political extremes.

On the one side – variously represented by the new prime minister Boris Johnson and many in his Conservative party, as well as Nigel Farage and his supporters – are those who want Britain to break from Europe and rush into the embrace of the United States, stripping away the last constraints on free-market, ecocidal capitalism. They aren’t just Brexiters, they are no-deal Brexiters, who want to turn their back on Europe entirely.

The other side – variously supported by many Labour MPs, including the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson, and the Liberal Democrats – are those who wish to stay in the secure embrace of a European bureacracy that is nearly as committed to suicidal capitalism as the US but, given the social democratic traditions of some of its member states, has mitigated the worst excesses of free-market fundamentalism. These UK politicians aren’t just Remainers, they are Remainists, who not only refuse to contemplate any weakening of the bonds between the UK and Europe but actually want those bonds to tighten.

Suspending parliament

And as the divide has deepened, it has become clear that neither side is prepared to pay more than lip service to democracy.

On the Brexit side, Johnson has suspended parliament, an institution representing the people, that is supposed to be sovereign. Like his predecessor, Theresa May, he has repeatedly found there is no legislative majority for a hard or no-deal Brexit. He has faced an unprecedented and humiliating series of defeats in parliament in the few days he has been prime minister. So now he has swept parliament out of the way in a bid to run down the clock on a no-deal Brexit without legislative interference.

Watson and the Remainists have been trying a counter-move, arguing that the referendum is no longer valid. They believe that new voters, youngsters more likely to support Remain, have come of age in the three years since 2016, and that more information about the true costs of Brexit have lately swung support to their side. They want to ignore the original referendum result and run the ballot again in the hope that this time the tide will turn in their favour.

The reality is that, if Johnson drives through a no-deal Brexit by ignoring parliament, or if Watson gets to quash the first referendum result to engineer a second, it is likely to trigger civil war in the UK.

The first option will drive Scotland out of the union, could very well reignite the sectarian “Troubles” of Northern Ireland, and will have English urban elites in open revolt. The second option will ensure that large sections of the English public who voted for Brexit because they feel marginalised and ignored are up in arms too. Their trust in politics and politicians will sink even further, and there is the danger that they will turn in droves to a crowd-pleasing autocrat like Johnson, Farage or worse.

Zealotry vs compromise

In these circumstances, anyone responsible would be looking to find common ground, to understand that political compromise is absolutely necessary to stop Britain breaking apart. And that is exactly what Corbyn and the largely ignored and maligned third camp have been trying to do.

They want to honour the spirit of the vote by leaving the EU but hope to do so in a way that doesn’t cut the UK adrift from Europe, doesn’t prevent the continuation of relatively free trade and movement, and doesn’t leave the UK exposed and vulnerable to serfdom under a new US master.

For many months Corbyn has been calling for a general election as a way for the majority of the public, having chosen in the referendum what they want to do, to now decide who they want to negotiate how Britain departs from Europe. But even that realistic compromise has not satisfied the fanatics within his own party.

Because the zealots of the right and the immoderate centre dominate the political and media landscape, this approach has barely registered in public debates. Corbyn’s efforts have been misrepresented as evidence of muddled thinking, ambivalence, or his covert opposition to Europe. It is none of those things.

Caught in the spider’s web

The common argument that Corbyn is a Brexit wolf in sheep’s clothing draws on the fact that, like many democratic socialists, such as the late Tony Benn, Corbyn has never been enamoured of the unelected European technocratic class that is misleadingly termed simply “Europe” or the “European Union”.

Rightly, socialists understood long ago that the more Britain was locked into Europe’s embrace, the more it would become caught like a fly in the spider’s web. At some level, most people have started to recognise this, if only because finding a way to leave Europe, even for Brexiters, has proved so inordinately difficult.

Just like banks were too big to fail in 2008 so they had to be bailed out with our public money to save them from their private malfeasance, the publics of Europe have incrementally had their sovereignty transferred to an unelected and centralised bureacracy all in the name of pursuing freedom – of movement and trade, chiefly for global corporations.

We haven’t noticed, it is true, because for decades our own domestic politics has come in one flavour only – support for our little corner of the global neoliberal empire. Till recently the consensus of Britain’s ruling elite, whether of the right or of New Labour centrists, was that being a player in Europe was the best way to protect their – though not necessarily our – interests on that global battlefield. Now, as the neoliberal empire enters a period of terminal decline, this same elite are bitterly divided over whether the US or Europe is the best guarantor of their wealth and influence continuing a little longer.

Iron fist in velvet glove

But Britain and the world’s problems – whether in the shape of impending economic meltdown or environmental collapse – cannot be solved from within the neoliberal paradigm, as becomes clearer by the day. New political structures are desperately needed: at the local level to foster new, more decentralised economic models, free of corporate influence, resource-stripping and unnecessary consumption; and at the global level to ensure that such models reverse rather than perpetuate the ecocidal policies that have dominated under neoliberal capitalism.

To start on that path will require the democratisation of Britain. The fear of Benn and others was that even if a truly socialist government was elected, its ability to make real, profound changes to the political and economic order – by bringing much of the economy back into public or cooperative ownership, for example – would be made impossible within the larger framework of European corporate managerialism.

We have been given glimpses of the iron fist Europe’s technocrats wield beneath the velvet glove in the treatment of Greece over its financial troubles and the Catalan independence movement in Spain.

The attitude of Corbyn and other democratic socialists to Brexit, however, has been wildly misrepresented by the other two camps of zealots.

In Benn’s time, it was still possible to imagine a world in which neoliberalism might be prevented from gaining a tyrannical grip on our political imaginations and on national economies. But things have changed since then. Now the issue is not whether Britain can stop being locked into a European neoliberal order. It is that the UK, like everyone else, is already in the stranglehold of a global neoliberal order.

Not just that, but Britain has willingly submitted to that order. As the zealotry of most of the political class demonstrates, few can imagine or want a life outside the neoliberal cage. The debate is about which corner of that suicidal, ecocidal global order we prefer to be located in. The Brexit row is chiefly about which slavemaster, America or Europe, will be kinder to us.

Inside the leviathan’s dark belly

In this context, there is no real escape. The best that can be done, as the moderates in both the Brexit and Remain camps realise, is loosen our chains enough so that we have room once again to contemplate new political possibilities. We can then breathe deeply, clear our heads and start to imagine how Britain and the the world might operate differently, how we might free ourselves of the tyranny of the corporations and heal our planet of the deep scars we have inflicted on it.

These are big matters that cannot be solved either by binding ourselves more tightly to European technocrats or by cutting loose from Europe only to chain ourselves to the US. The Brexit feud is an endless theatrical distraction from the real questions we need to face. That is one reason why it drags on, one reason why our political class revel in it, John Bercow-style.

Strangely, it is the Remainists of the immoderate centre – typified by commentary in corporate “liberal” media like the Guardian – who so often claim to lament the fact that the left has failed to offer a vision, a political future, that might serve as an alternative to neoliberalism. But how can such a vision emerge from deep inside the leviathan’s dark belly?

Hiding in ideological life-rafts

It goes without saying that the Atlantacists cheerleading Brexit are up to no good when they speak of “taking back control” and “reclaiming our sovereignty”. They demand those powers only so they can immediately surrender them to a US master.

But the much-maligned left wing, soft Brexit – a version that wishes to distance Britain from Europe without pretending that the UK can stand alone on the global neoliberal battlefield – also has use for such language.

This version of taking back control isn’t about spitting in the face of Europe, blocking the entry of immigrants, or reinventing the imagined halycon days of empire. It is about recognising that we, like the rest of humankind, are responsible for the crimes we have been, and still are, committing against the planet, against other species, against fellow human beings.

Chaining ourselves to an unelected, distant European technocratic class that simply follows orders – implementing the requirements of an economic system that must end in the destruction of the planet – is cowardice. We can more easily shelter from that truth when we cede our political and economic powers to those compelled to carry out the (il)logic of neoliberalism.

Standing a little outside Europe is probably the best we can hope to manage in current circumstances. But it might give us the political space – and, more importantly, burden us with the political responsibility – to imagine the deep changes that are urgently needed.

Change has to happen if we as a species are to survive, and it has to happen soon and it has to happen somewhere. We cannot force others to change, but we can recognise our own need to change and offer a vision of change for others to follow. That can begin only when we stop shielding ourselves from the consequences of our decisions, stop hiding in someone else’s ideological life-raft in the forlorn hope that it will weather the coming, real-world storms.

It is time to stop acting like zealots for neoliberalism, squabbling over which brand of turbo-charged capitalism we prefer, and face up to our collective responsibility to change our and our children’s future.

Unhinged before the Fall: Boris Johnson, Parliament and Brexit

The Brexit no deal prospect is engendering an element of lunacy fast seeping into every pore of the British political establishment.  As with all steeped in such thinking, some of it made sense.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been inspired by a mild dictatorial urge, seeking to suspend the UK parliament five weeks out from October 31.  This has been described as nothing short of a coup, or, if you are the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, a “constitutional outrage”.

Legal expertise was called upon to answer the question whether Johnson’s proroguing of parliament was, in fact, constitutional.  This was itself a tricky thing, given that the UK has a “political constitution” that resists being inked into written form.  To be British is supposedly to be reasonable, and codifying such convention suggests a fear that reason might be lost.  As Professor Michael Gordon of the University of Liverpool explains, three avenues are open to evaluate the constitutionality of a government action in the system: “compatibility with the law, political convention and constitutional principle.”

On the first point, it was near impossible to challenge Johnson.  For all the matters of convention, the monarch remains the figure who ultimately holds the power to prorogue parliament.  And the argument here by the prime minister is that this is the penultimate step to announcing a fresh legislative agenda in the monarch’s speech on October 14.

As far as the second point was concerned, Gordon had to concede that the Queen would never have constituted herself as a “constitutional safeguard” to reject Johnson’s request. That would have done more than repudiate the long held convention on staying above politics and acting on the advice of the prime minister.

This only left the nebulous notion of “constitutional principles”: as the government draws support from the House of Commons, it must duly abide by the body if its wishes are out of step.  As the House of Commons rejects the idea of a no deal Brexit, Johnson should have engaged parliament on the issue.  Well, that’s the view of the pro-parliamentarians, and as the current prime minister has a very flexible set of values both personal and political, few should have been stunned by the latest antics in subverting parliamentary scrutiny.

Beyond the legal pecking, a swathe of reaction were in agreement with Bercow.  Novelist Philip Pullman went one further, suggesting that, “The ‘prime minister’ has finally come out as a dictator.”  Britain best be “rid of him and his loathsome gang as soon and as finally as possible.”  This had a certain whiff of a coup of its own, the sort of thing that Westminster systems have been vulnerable to in history.  (Australia offers an apt, if undistinguished example of the overthrow of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, ably assisted by opposition leader Malcolm Fraser and then governor general John Kerr.)

The prorogation ploy was taken so seriously by the Financial Times that a humble suggestion was made lest Britain comprise his airy position as law-abiding obsessive and exemplar of order to the world. “If Mr. Johnson’s prorogation ploy succeeds, Britain will forfeit any right to lecture other countries on their democratic shortcomings.”  (Hadn’t it already done so?)  Imperially sounding, the FT suggested that Britain’s singular disposition lay in “constitutional arrangements” long bound by “conventions.”

Momentum, the Labour faction supporting Jeremy Corbyn, the man who would be usurper, was laying the ground for a challenge, albeit tumbling into the oxymoronic. “An unelected prime minister looks set to approach an unelected monarch to ask her if he can shut down parliament to force through a disastrous no deal Brexit.”  The assessment? “Make no mistake – this is an establishment coup.”  All fine, except that monarchs are known for being humanity’s unelected specimens, and that this coup was being countered with a proposal for a counter-coup. Messy be the conventions of the land.

For those long linked to Britain’s gradual and seemingly natural integration into European affairs, the move by Johnson was near criminal.  Hugh Grant, summoning up a certain primal rage, was furious.  On Twitter, he launched a ferocious firebombing of Johnson’s position.  “You will not fuck with my children’s future.  You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend.  Fuck off you over-promoted rubber bath toy.  Britain is revolted by you and you little gang of masturbatory prefects.”

Comedian and all round brain box Stephen Fry could not stomach it, asking for a good cry for Britain, and deeming Johnson’s effort as those of, “Children playing with matches, but spitefully not accidentally: gleefully torching an ancient democracy and any tattered shreds of reputation or standing our poor country had left.”

Unfortunately, such comments betray an old tendency in self-referential Britishness, a Britannia-rules-the-waves smugness.  The world admires, the world respects.  But that world died some time ago, if, indeed, it ever existed.  Britain made a pact for security and wealth with a Europe often reluctant to accept its suspicions and reservations. Both are now parting ways.

Far milder assessments have also been offered to hose down the Grant ire.  Johnson’s attempt to schedule a Queen’s speech for October 14 was seen in The Spectator, a magazine he once edited with carefree indifference, as “normal” and part of the operating processes of a new government.  At the very least, it would also “bring to an end one of the longest parliamentary sessions in history”.

The Queen was hardly going to refuse, stratified by, well, convention.  Had she done so, breaking the crust, and holding forth over the prime minister, there would been howls of a different sort.  The only conclusion to arise from this latest bit of chess play by Johnson is that, come October 31, Parliament will have a minimal role to scrutinise the agreement, or non-agreement, as it might well be.

Polishing Turds: Lord Bell’s Public Relations Revolution

Morality is a job for priests.  Not P.R. men.

— Tim Bell, New York Times, February 4, 2018

Lord Bell is dead, but his public relations tinkering, with all its gloss gilding and deception, remains.  It was Tim Bell who cut his teeth in this dubious field, assisting Margaret Thatcher win the 1979 UK election through a mix of emotive tugging images with varying degrees of accuracy. It was also Bell who elevated public relations in politics from the level of unpolished turd worship to the level of, well, acceptable turd worship.

Bell’s own preference was for a urinary image, corporate communications seen traditionally as “peeing down your trouser leg – it gave you a nice warm feeling when it first happened, but goes cold and wet pretty quickly.”  As he insisted in a 2018 interview with The New Yorker, “What we did was move the public-relations advisers from being senders of press releases and lunchers with journalists into serious strategists.”

He was the master of focused destruction, the devil’s able footman.  He had a nose for the malodorous reek of public feeling.  Thatcher was impressed by his proudly amoral talents, his instinct to manipulate the record by touching the appropriate nerve.  “He could pick up quicker than anyone else a change in the national mood.  And, unlike most advertising men, he understood that selling ideas is different from selling soap.”

Bell was credited, over generously, with fashioning the slogan “Labour Isn’t Working” in 1979, one that at the very least helped seduce voters into voting for the iconoclastic Thatcher.  He claimed that she was one to worship, a true She-wolf, as he called her with some warmth. “I am a hero-worshipper.  I work for my demi-gods.”

As the co-founder of the firm Bell Pottinger, his list of clients of varying degrees of scrupulousness proved extensive.  PR will do that sort of thing, an easy way out for the complex problem and thorny dilemma.  With the US-led invasion of Iraq going rather badly in 2004, it became clear to the occupation forces that something had to be done about that misunderstood “D” word; democracy would have to be sold, something that Freedom’s Land has not been particularly good at.

In an effort to prevent democracy dying in transit, Bell Pottinger was enlisted by the Pentagon to release a range of radio and television commercials explaining how and why a handing over of sovereignty to an interim Iraq government would take place in June.  The British firm was essentially lecturing Iraqis on the joys, and necessities, of that jolly good system, whatever that might have looked like in the PR-world.  In Lord Bell’s bland words, “We’re trying to keep people informed about the process and persuade them to participate in it.”

Even some advertisers wondered whether Lord Bell was going a touch too far with this caper, noting that similarly vain and flat-footed efforts had been made by Charlotte Beers in 2001.  Can you really advertise democracy?  Harry C. Boyte, senior fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, warned of the dangers of treating democracy as an advertiser’s tarted-up product.  If the product goes pear shaped, democracy would then be held to blame.

Other notables on the retainer list included the wife of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Asma, who wound her way into Bell’s portfolio in 2006 desperate to join other first ladies and female leaders who had sought the services of the firm.  “She wanted to be part of that club,” mused Bell in an interview with the New York Times.  Something obviously worked: Mrs Assad was subsequently celebrated in the Huffington Post for her “All-Natural Beauty”; praised in French Elle as one of the world’s best-dressed women in politics; and dreamily described by Paris Match as the “eastern Diana” with an “element of light in a country full of shadow zones”.

Military despots such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet could also count on his services.  In 1998, Bell assisted the Pinochet Foundation in mounting a vigorous campaign to frustrate efforts to extradite the General to Spain on charges of murder and torture.

South Africa proved a particularly happy hunting ground.  Former SA president FW de Klerk was counted as a client, as was the troubled athlete Oscar Pistorius.  But it was also South Africa that would prove the firm’s undoing.  Unfortunately for Bell and business partner Piers Pottinger, their clients, the Gupta family, proved a hard, and ultimately fatal, sell.  Ajay, Tony and Atul Gupta had reaped the rewards of a rich relationship with President Jacob G. Zuma, one that yielded contracts in mining, railways and armaments.  But the brothers felt that a distraction from the activities of their holding company, Oakbay Investments, was needed.

Bell Pottinger were then slotted into the picture to confect something appropriate at the monthly cost of $130,000 over a three-month trial period.  Local and community black activism was to be encouraged – not in itself a bad thing.  The catch was crude but simple: the Guptas’ opponents were to be branded as sponsors of a racist system.  The narrative of “white monopoly capital” was pushed through social media and websites (Bell called the theme one of “economic emancipation”), suggesting that white South Africans were on a rampage seizing resources at the expense of education and jobs for blacks.

Stoking racial tensions in South Africa did not go down well, and the company was expelled from the UKs Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA).  An exodus of clients duly led to the company going into administration.  The damage had been done.  “Bell Pottinger,” lamented Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, “may have set back race relations in South Africa by as much as 10 years.”  Bell was by that point out of the picture, the victim of a boardroom bloodbath engineered by fellow publicist James Henderson.

Business partner Piers Pottinger offers the usual sweet snippets to cover a well accomplished rogue dedicated to his clients.  “He was a devoted family man and passionate supporter of the Conservative Party, most famously helping Margaret Thatcher win three general elections.”  Naturally, he was “an inspiration” for those who worked for him.  “Most importantly to me, he was always a true and loyal friend.  Nobody can replace him.”

Perhaps not Bell, but certainly facsimiles of him, who operate with morally bankrupt impunity in London, a city famed for being a hive of reputational laundering.  Despots and unsavoury regimes are queueing for services in numbers and will have much to thank Lord Bell for. After all, he saw good P.R. not merely as a service but an inherent right on par with legal representation.

Brexit or Not?

Brexit deadline is 31 October 2019. On 23 June 2016, the British people voted 52% against 48% to leave the European Union. In England alone, the margin was somewhat higher, 53.4% for leaving the EU, against 46.6% for staying. In the meantime we know that this result was influenced by Cambridge Analytica, the same as the Trump Presidency was apparently helped by CA, and according to CA’s own account, more than 200 elections or referenda worldwide during the last 5 years or so were decided by CA.

CA is said to have disappeared; however, the knowledge on how to manipulate voters’ opinions – the algorithm to do so – is by now well known by Google, social media and, of course, by the world’s key secret service agencies, foremost CIA, NSA, MI6, Mossad, DGSE (France), BND (Germany) and others. Therefore beware of believing even in a shred of democracy in upcoming elections, anywhere in the world.

Will Brexit actually happen?  Chances are it will not. Almost three-and-a-half years after the UK vote, and two-and-a-half years after the UK started the exit process, the Brexit “soap opera”, as it is often called – leave or stay – continues.

Both, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and so far, also the opposition Labor Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, have assured British people they will respect their choice; no new referendum, no Parliamentary vote; and instead, they foresaw negotiating a “deal” with Brussels. If there is “no deal”, then Brexit will take place as a “No Deal, or Hard Brexit” – so the erstwhile verdict – which could change, of course, as just about everything that has been said and agreed upon in the Brexit saga. But what exactly is meant by a “deal”, or a “no-deal”, for that matter?

Though, the definitions of a “deal” are vague, a “deal” refers basically to a UK exit from the EU under as smooth as possible conditions for both business and individuals, meaning that current relationships; i.e., business licenses, trading relations, residency permits, free exchange of labor, would not stop at once, but a transition period would allow to work out specific conditions. In fact, this is precisely included in the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). However, the WA has not yet been ratified by the House of Commons. Why not?  Is there a hidden agenda? Once the WA is ratified, there is no way back? Is that it?  The Parliament’s holdout for a 180-degree change from “leave” to “stay” despite the popular vote?

The WA provides for a period up to 31 December 2020 after Brexit actually happens, or longer, if negotiated, to hammer out the post-Brexit details of trade, future tariffs, business licenses, transit of labor and capital and more before the new UK/EU divorce rules would enter into force. This is plenty of time to negotiate individual trade and peoples (free movement) agreements with EU partner countries. Everything – the current UK-EU relations agreements – would stay in place during the transition period; i.e., for at least another 15 months (or longer, if more time is negotiated as necessary), if Brexit would take place on 31 October 2019.

Some of the possible post-Brexit bilateral negotiations have already started behind the scenes, notably with China and the US and most likely with others, like Germany and France. The UK could, for example, look at the Swiss model. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, is de facto an EU member, just without voting rights. Switzerland has currently more than 120 multi and bilateral agreements with Brussels and the 28 EU members. And this despite a three-time direct popular rejection of EU membership by referenda (1992 – against joining the European Economic Area, 50.3% against; in 1997, EU membership referendum – 74.1% against; and in 2001 on “EU access negotiations” – rejected by 76.8%). Yet, Switzerland is still looked upon as a model for ‘democracy’ – where people decide.

So, everything is possible, direct negotiations with a selection (or all) of EU countries, following the Swiss model, and/or a wider scale of by- and multilateral negotiations with countries or trading blocks around the world.  Actually, Brussels has already hinted to the UK leadership at starting bilateral negotiations with EU members, even though the official line is “leave” or “stay”. No doubt, Brussels as well as Washington would like to do everything possible to keep the UK within the EU bureaucracy. The UK has an implicit reputation of being Washington’s mole in the EU, representing Washington’s wishes in crucial decisions — like when 10 new Eastern European member candidates had to be admitted — or not.

Therefore, why the hype about a “no deal” Brexit?  Do people even understand what “no deal” means?  That it literally means all doors are open for negotiations during the transit period and that nothing changes during that period, which is even extendable, and, of course, that a myriad of options to negotiate new deals with new partners are open after the transit period, in the post-Brexit phase.

It’s all fearmongering, manipulation of public opinion — the stock market will crash, UK’s GDP will contract by between 2% and 4%  depending whom you ask, and who pretends having had all the details to calculate such nonsensical numbers; that unemployment will soar, especially as UK citizens will be expulsed from their EU host countries and come home to look for work, and so on. These threats emanating from Brussels, as well as from the UK elite, have, of course, only one goal in mind – No BREXIT; find a way to reverse the people’s opinion and Referendum decision.

Entering the realm of intimidation, the British Government warns in a “clandestine report” – “leaked” to the Sunday Times – that a Hard Brexit (a “No Deal” Brexit) will hit the UK with food, fuel and medicine shortages. RT reports this much-feared prospect is becoming increasingly likely since the changing of the guard in Downing Street. Yes, this is clearly part of spreading fear to coerce public opinion against Brexit. However, this could all be prevented by the British Parliament voting for the Withdrawal Agreement which is part of the sovereign deal – no approval from Brussels necessary – for any country wanting to leave the EU. How come, this is never mentioned in the media, thus preventing the public from knowing what the government could do to avoid a Hard Brexit havoc?

There are also other economic predictions, contradicting the fearmongers, and by all accounts of logic, more plausible ones; namely, that the UK would do much better after Brexit, free to deal and trade with whomever, no looking over the shoulders by Brussels, no impositions of complex and often very costly rules, frequently mere rules for the sake of rules by the European Commission. Regaining full sovereignty would do the UK good, both economically and socially.

The UK could also continue maintaining a relation at a distance with a body that is often mentioned in the same breath as corruption; a body that has shown little sympathy for solidarity among member countries. Examples abound. Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal were all “sanctioned” with troika-imposed rescue packages (troika = EC, European Central Bank – ECB, and IMF). It is also clear that Brussels favors a set of nations, unofficially, of course, stronger, mostly northern nations that do not have to follow the strict ECB debt limitation rules imposed by the ECB and mostly applied to southern EU members. This amounts to an unspoken two-tier arrangement.  But these voices of reason, who would promote Brexit for the sheer long-term socioeconomic betterment of the British citizenry, are not allowed to come to the fore. The media are controlled by the “Stay” proponents.

Brexit, stay or leave, is a delicate matter. Labor, hence Jeremy Corbyn, has a tendency to favor “stay” – oddly, along with some of the conservative Tories, for all the false, scare-evoking reasons propagated – unemployment, reduction in GDP, gap in trading partners, and so on. Then there is the extreme right, represented by Nigel Farage, the boss of the very Brexit party, who supports Brexit for the wrong reasons — anti-immigration, racism, bordering on xenophobia, a similar reasoning as is used by Madame Le Pen in France, who also would like to exit the EU for stricter border control, anti-immigration and racism. Ditto, for Italy’s right-wing Lega Norte Deputy PM, Matteo Salvini. This controversy of reason is confusing to the general public – and possibly even to Jeremy Corbyn, who does not want to be associated with Nigel Farage, has to vouch for “stay” – perhaps against his better understanding of Brexit’s socioeconomic advantages for Great Britain.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to reverse the promises of former PM Teresa May’s and today’s PM, Boris Johnson’s assurances that the 2016 vote result will be respected. The easiest one would be for the British Parliament to revoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which gives member states the unilateral right to quit EU membership. That’s precisely what the UK did, trigger Article 50 by the Prime Minister’s decision after the Brexit Referendum. Once this process was set in motion, it was understood that it couldn’t be stopped except by a Parliamentary vote canceling application of Article 50.

Today, that option is fully on the table. It can be done equally unilaterally and sovereignly by the UK, without the approval of the remaining 27 EU member states. Should that happen, the status quo would win, the UK would remain a EU member. No change.

Labor Leader, Jeremy Corbyn has recently hinted about introducing a no-confidence vote against PM Johnson. If Parliament accepts it, and if he wins, he would become interim PM, calling for new elections which he expects to win. His support base in the UK is growing, despite increasing – false – accusations of anti-Semitism. If he would become PM, he could indeed call for a new Brexit referendum, or simply call for a vote against Article 50. Bingo! And the UK would remain a EU member. Knowing about Cambridge Analytica’s coercive methods applied to swing public opinion, a new Brexit Referendum would likely be manipulated in favor of “stay”.

By the way, since CA’s admitted interference in the Brexit vote, it is totally conceivable that the 2016 Referendum result could be annulled as invalid, and a new referendum be launched. It’s a miracle that so far, no politician, no media, nobody, has talked about it.

In summary, might it be possible that the outcome of the June 2016 Referendum came as a surprise for the British Authorities and elite? Hence, the result was simply not acceptable? Therefore, to preserve the illusion of “democracy”, could it be possible that an entire complex construct had be conceived and built over a period of some three years, in which public opinion had to be confused to the point of losing track of the details and of specific conditions for exiting the European Union so that it could be more easily swayed into the direction of the Master’s wishes, while still pretending to be democratic? Let’s wait and see, but no surprise, if Brexit doesn’t happen.

• First published at New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Olive Reincarnations and Elvis on Mars: Boris Johnson Becomes British PM

The BBC World Service took its listeners to the English cathedral town of Ely, set in picturesque Cambridgeshire, during the course of a hot July 23 in an effort to take the pulse of the country.  Well, at least that particular, erratic pulse. It found, for the most part, a certain enthusiasm for Boris Johnson, the fop-haired, bumbling wonder of the Conservatives, a quite literally inventive journalist, former magazine editor and Mayor of London who has become the new prime minister of Britain.

One word kept cropping up in discussions like an endangered species searching for a bullet: enthusiasm.  Plain, sprightly, delightful winged enthusiasm. “We need to be enthusiastic; Boris (because, of course, he is Boris to them) is enthusiastic.”  Be gone pessimists and Cassandras; farewell such tactical and strategic realities of being in or out of the European common market; in or out of European regulations; ease of access or difficulty on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

With the Conservatives voting on who to replace Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party, and, it followed, Prime Minister, Johnson won through against Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.  The margin of victory – 66 to 34 percent of the party membership – was nearly two to one, and came from a system Johnson derided as a “gigantic fraud” when employed by the British Labour Party in 2007.

His victory speech had much of what has come before.  It spoke of instincts – the acquisitive standing out (“the instincts to own your own house, to earn and spend your own money”).  These were “noble”, “proper” and “good”.  Nor should the needy be forgotten, the poor abandoned, in realising them.  Words were given like those of a motivational speaker.  “Do you feel daunted?  I don’t think you look remotely daunted to me. And I think we know we can do it, and that the people of this country are trusting in us to do it, and we know that we will do it.”  While he conceded that the campaign of deliver, united and defeat – spelled DUD – did not augur well, detractors had forgotten the E: “E for energise”.  “I say to all doubters, dude, we are going to energise the country.”

The October 31st deadline for Britain’s exit from the European Union would not change.  The “new spirit of can-do” would prevail.  Britain, “like some slumbering giant” would “rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”  Metaphors of growth and movement abounded: “fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household”; “more police”.

The Johnson-watchers verged between being worried and thrilled.  Comments seem pitched to a sporting register: How will BJ perform on the field?  Will he restrain himself, or be unduly foolish on the world stage?  As if describing an unusual species, Lloyd Evans remarked that, even at Oxford as a first-year student, he was “weirdly conspicuous – the ruddy jowls, the stooped bullish stances, the booming Duke of Wellington voice, and the freakish white bob crowning his head like a heavenly spotlight.”

James Forsyth, writing in The Spectator, is hopeful the real Boris is partially caged, leaving another version to do get his hands dirty.  “This is a risk; will his approach sound flippant when discussing serious issues?”  On balance, however, Forsyth felt that there was something to be said about the man being let loose.  “When he tried to be a different kind of figure, it didn’t work.  It felt forced rather than natural.”

Finance commentator and regular forecaster of economic apocalypse Robert Peston stated the cold, mad justice of it all.  As Johnson had been instrumental in creating Brexit, it was only fitting that he now try to own it.

Navigating the gong tormented sea of narratives on Johnson, a few career standouts remain, making his attempt to be Big, Bold and British, unconvincing.  The new British PM and Tory leader is a piece of truly befuddled work, one who still manages to play the card of the electable clown.

As a journalist, he fabricated and teased records.  In 1987, when employed by The Times courtesy of family connections, he was fired for a story on the discovery of the Rose Palace, built by Edward II.  His godfather, Oxford historian Colin Lucas, featured.  “The trouble,” he recalled, “was that somewhere in my copy I managed to attribute to Colin the view that Edward II and Piers Gaveston would have been cavorting together in the Rose Palace.”  Pity, then, that Gaveston was murdered by the time the Rose Palace was built.

After the sack, he ventured over to The Telegraph, and became a shock trooper for anti-EU sentiment in Brussels, feeding Eurosceptic fanaticism back in Britain and beyond with such choice titled pieces as “Snails are fish, says EU”, “Brussels recruits sniffers to ensure that EU-manure smells the same” and “Threat to British pink sausages”.  Johnson’s feeling about it all?  A “rather weird sense of power” that his copy had “this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party”.

His casually racist remarks on foreign powers and peoples have given him an enormous inventory of the insulted over the years, producing degrees of consternation and rib-stitching hilarity.  He has deemed Africa a country, its people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, compared women who wear burqas to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes” and appraised the chaos within his own conservative party as akin to “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief killing.”

Other comments have caused less consternation, not least of all his views of the current US president, Donald Trump, whom Johnson deemed “unfit to hold the office of the United States” on account of his “stupefying ignorance”.  This, from a man who himself said that becoming UK prime minister was “about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”  We live in jaw-droppingly interesting times.

Britain is in a mess, and the Boris Broom is unlikely to be able to make its bristles more effective beyond tinkering with the May-EU Brexit plan as it stands.  The EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has expressed the view that some room is open on reworking “the agreed declaration on the new partnership” but that the “withdrawal agreement” would be more or less ratified in its current form.

On the diplomatic front, Johnson is bound to be confused, if his various stances on the Northern Ireland-Ireland border, or non-border, are anything to go by.  Having scolded his predecessor for taking the view that having no firm border between the two would not be in the UK’s interests, he subsequently veered, telling the House of Commons that “there can be no return to a hard border.”  BJ’s slumbering giant may well continue to do a bit more slumbering.  Over to you, dude!

The Campaign To Stop Corbyn: Smears, Racism And Censorship

The greatest fear of those holding the most power and wealth is that they will lose their exalted position in the world. They will resist any changes to the grossly unequal and unjust class structure that causes grievous damage to so many people; and to the planet itself. Even the threat of real change must be crushed. This, in a nutshell, underpins the astonishing and relentless campaign to stop Jeremy Corbyn, a moderate leftist, from ever becoming Prime Minister.

On July 10, BBC broadcast an episode of Panorama that purported to be an impartial investigation into the loaded question, ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic? It quickly became clear that the programme makers were not interested in a serious appraisal of the evidence and that the question was merely rhetorical. The thrust of the programme was that Labour is anti-semitic. The Labour Party response was scathing:

The Panorama programme was not a fair or balanced investigation. It was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning. It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy.

An honest investigation into antisemitism in Labour and wider society is in the public interest. The Panorama team instead pre-determined an answer to the question posed by the programme’s title.

The programme was presented by BBC journalist John Ware who had previously made clear his antagonism towards Corbyn’s politics. As journalist Jonathan Cook wrote:

That Panorama made no attempt at even-handedness or fairness in its programme on Labour should have come as no surprise. The man in charge of the investigation was John Ware, a former Sun journalist. He cannot be considered dispassionate either about Corbyn or the prospects of Labour defeating the Conservative Party at a general election, which may be just around the corner.

Cook continued:

Two years ago, Ware wrote a lengthy article for a right-wing magazine warning of the danger of Corbyn reaching power. He was a politician, wrote Ware, “whose entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about”.

Shortly after Corbyn’s leadership election victory in 2015, Ware headed a Panorama documentary that sought to malign the new leader. Ware is also a strident supporter of Israel and of its state ideology, Zionism. In a 2005 edition of Panorama he suggested that Muslims in Britain who spoke out about Israel’s crimes against Palestinians were “extremists”.

In an article in the Jewish Chronicle last year Ware concluded that anti-Zionism had “morphed into antisemitism – itself a Corbyn legacy”.

The Panorama programme was immediately followed by BBC News at Ten which gave it extensive coverage, pumping up the propaganda value of the fake ‘investigation’. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg intoned gravely:

Many party members have left, and if Labour can’t get a grip of racism in its own ranks, what might they lose next?

Consider her choice of words: ‘Many party members have left’ and ‘Labour can’t get a grip of racism in its own ranks’. The public is supposed to swallow the BBC’s implication of endemic Labour anti-semitism as impartial, objective reporting.

Kuenssberg continued:

This is a problem that has dogged the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, not for a few weeks, not just for a few months, but for several years now.

Many commentators, including Media Lens, have long argued that the issue of anti-semitism has been exploited to inflict as much damage on Corbyn as possible. But that rational perspective is systematically excluded from BBC News ‘journalism’. Instead, as ever, the BBC political editor continued to hammer home the requisite propaganda bullet points:

Corbyn has been unable, it seems, to crack down on it [anti-semitism] in the way he has promised to do, again and again.

In the BBC version of ‘neutral’ news reporting, there is no hint that Corbyn’s opponents – not least the corporate media, including the BBC – wish to destroy him and what he stands for. But then, from the very beginning, the BBC has been on the side of the establishment and the government of the day. As BBC founder John Reith confided in his diary during the 1926 General Strike:

They know they can trust us not to be really impartial.1

The experienced journalist Peter Oborne said via Twitter:

I proposed to the BBC a documentary on Tory Islamophobia three years ago. Zero interest.

It is possible that in over-reaching themselves, and presenting such a skewed perspective, Panorama and the BBC had inadvertently highlighted the manufactured nature of the ‘anti-semitism crisis’. As Asa Winstanley observed:

All the program proved was just how dishonest the British establishment and the Israel lobby have been in manufacturing this “Labour anti-Semitism crisis” for the past four years.

In a piece for The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah gave crucial background context, observing that the Israel lobby is working hard to split the left:

Influential Israel lobby groups are offering “rules” for how Jewish communal organizations can divide the left and break up emerging intersectional coalitions.

They also advocate for “delegitimizing” Jews deemed too supportive of Palestinian rights.

Israel and its lobby see the strengthening solidarity between Palestinians and other oppressed groups, especially Black people in the United States, as a major threat and they are determined to fight back.

Indeed, last year, Al Jazeera’s leaked undercover documentary The Lobby–USA revealed how the Israeli government and its lobby worked to disrupt the Black Lives Matter movement in retaliation for Black solidarity with Palestine.’

A central strategy of this pro-Israel campaign is to repeatedly state a false equivalence between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. Abunimah explained:

Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, is racist because it grants superior rights to Jews enshrined in dozens of Israeli laws and holds that Palestinians expelled and exiled from their homeland should not be allowed to return to it solely and exclusively because they are not Jews.

Anti-Zionism, therefore, is not prejudice against Jews as Israel and its lobby groups claim.

Anti-Zionism, based in universal human rights principles, is anti-racism.

A new report by Israel’s Reut Institute and the US-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs warned ominously that ‘”Corbynization” is spreading through segments of the political left’ and that ‘UK-based anti-Israel groups have been inspiring liberal and progressive elite circles worldwide.’

This, says Abunimah, ‘underlines why Israel and its lobby view discrediting and removing Corbyn as a paramount priority.’

An ‘Unconstitutional Animas’ Against A Corbyn Government

Two weeks before the Panorama programme, The Times published a leak revealing that Corbyn is alleged by senior UK civil servants to be ‘too frail’ to become Prime Minister. He was not up to the job, ‘physically or mentally’. One anonymous figure at the Civil Service reportedly said:

When does someone say [he] is too ill to carry on as leader of the Labour Party, let alone prime minister? There must be senior people in the party who know that he is not functioning on all cylinders.

Corbyn promptly rebutted the ‘scurrilous’ story, dismissing it as ‘a farrago of nonsense’ and insisting he was a ‘very fit, very healthy, very active person’. Corbyn’s call for an independent investigation into the Civil Service leak to the press was predictably rejected by the government.

David Miller, Professor of Political Sociology at Bristol University, and a researcher in propaganda, noted that the Civil Service clearly has:

an unconstitutional animus against a potential Corbyn government and has been briefing against it one way or another through various agencies for some time now.

As an example, Miller pointed to the Integrity Initiative, set up by the government-funded Institute for Statecraft whose stated mission is to:

counter Russian disinformation and malign influence by harnessing existing expertise and establishing a network of experts, opinion formers and policy makers to educate national audiences in the threat and to help build national capacities to counter it.

In an article for the Morning Star, Labour MP Chris Williamson, pointed out that this supposed charitable body had ‘strayed into smearing Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’. Its official Twitter account had promoted tweets and articles attacking Corbyn, the Labour Party and their officials. One tweet quoted a newspaper article calling Corbyn a ‘useful idiot’. The article then continued:

His open visceral anti-Westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.

Williamson warned:

The chilling manipulations of the Institute for Statecraft are straight out of the cold war playbook.

Through a series of parliamentary questions, Williamson discovered that the Foreign Office has given more than £2.2 million to the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative. As David Miller says, ‘the use of taxpayers’ money to interfere in domestic politics [is] an affront to democracy’. A report by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – an independent network of academics that includes Miller – found that Facebook and Nato had provided funding too.

Establishment opposition to Corbyn also comes from UK military forces. In 2015, the Sunday Times published comments by a senior serving British Army general that Corbyn would face a mutiny as Prime Minister if he ever tried to cancel the Trident nuclear weapons system, withdraw from Nato or reduce the armed forces:

The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.

‘Failing The Test Of Leadership’ = Failing To Protect Power

The fear of a ‘maverick’ ending up as leader of the country extends to the ‘liberal’ end of the permissible ‘spectrum’ of viewpoints. In our previous media alert, we highlighted the fakery behind accusations of anti-semitism levelled at Labour MP Chris Williamson, mentioned above. On July 8, a letter signed by more than one hundred prominent members of the Jewish community, including Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, was published by the Guardian. The letter stated:

Chris Williamson did not say that the party had been “too apologetic about antisemitism”, as has been widely misreported. He correctly stated that the Labour party has done more than any other party to combat the scourge of antisemitism and that, therefore, its stance should be less apologetic. Such attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters aim to undermine not only the Labour party’s leadership but also all pro-Palestinian members.

It continued:

The mass media have ignored the huge support for Chris both within and beyond the Labour party. Support that includes many Jews. The party needs people like him, with the energy and determination to fight for social justice. As anti-racist Jews, we regard Chris as our ally: he stands as we do with the oppressed rather than the oppressor. It should also be noted that he has a longer record of campaigning against racism and fascism than most of his detractors.

However, the letter was swiftly taken down following a complaint later the same day by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD). The placeholder Guardian page initially said the letter had been removed, ‘pending investigation’. By the following day, the letter had been permanently deleted with this text given as the explanation:

A letter was removed from this page on 9 July 2019 due to errors in the list of signatories provided. We were contacted by an organisation which had not agreed to sign the letter; the organisers of the letter also acknowledge that there were other inaccuracies in the list of signatories.

The ‘explanation’ lacked detail, would have nonplussed many readers, and notably made no mention of the complaint from BoD. In a piece for The Canary, John McEvoy said that the complaint from BoD had:

rightly highlighted that one of the signatories – “Michael Morgan” – had made past racist and abhorrent remarks.

One of the letter’s co-authors, who wished to remain anonymous, told McEvoy that they regretted a lack of oversight over the signatories:

We were clear that the letter was supposed to be signed by only Jewish people. It was made public a couple of days ago, and received 292 signatures shortly after.

We tried to confirm which of the signatories were Jewish by contacting them. If we received no response, we took them off the list.

Michael Morgan replied and told us he was not Jewish, so we took him off the list. His name ended up back on it after transferring the document through different file formats, mistakenly using older files.

The inclusion of Michael Morgan was an accident and an oversight. His views do not reflect ours.

But, while there were issues with a few of the signatories, it was clear that the contents of the letter were entirely justified and appropriate. As the co-author of the letter told The Canary:

I think the letter itself is important, and also whether the Board of Deputies think the likes of Chomsky etc. are the “right kind of Jews” is neither here nor there.

Of course these Jews are not prominent in the Board of Deputies’ circles, but this is the issue: The Board of Deputies seem to want to define what “prominent Jew” means. And a lot of people who are Jewish and, like me, on the left, find that difficult to accept. Why is our Jewish identity being erased, and why do they get to define who is a Jew?

That the Guardian refused to reinstate the letter is deplorable; a symptom of the paper’s appalling role in fuelling the fake anti-semitism ‘crisis’. As journalist John Pilger noted via Twitter:

The Guardian has yet to apologise for two major fabrications: that Julian #Assange conspired with Moscow to escape Britain; and that he met Trump crony Paul Manafort plus Russians. The paper’s descent quickens with this censorship.

Last month, journalist Matt Kennard revealed the Guardian‘s collusion with UK security services in media censorship. Deputy editor Paul Johnson had been personally thanked by the Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice (or D-Notice) committee for ‘re-establishing links’ with the paper in the wake of its publication of material from CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. Johnson was one of three Guardian staffers who took part in the subsequent destruction of computer hard drives containing Snowden files in the Guardian‘s basement, overseen by two security officials from GCHQ. He then joined the D-Notice committee in 2014. The committee, run by the Ministry of Defence, issues ‘advisory warnings’ that are essentially attempts to gag the media from publishing information that might harm state interests.

D-Notice meeting minutes reveal that Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance reported that the committee’s relationship with the Guardian has ‘continued to strengthen’ and that there were ‘regular dialogues’ with its journalists. Kennard suggested that the Guardian was rewarded for its acquiescence with security interests by being granted an unprecedented exclusive interview with a serving head of MI5 in 2016.

Yet another clear indication of the paper’s plummeting descent was the Guardian‘s publication of a full-page advertisement on July 17 from more than sixty Labour peers lambasting Corbyn:

You have failed to defend our party’s anti-racist values. You have therefore failed the test of leadership.

The party was ‘no longer a safe place for all members and supporters’, claimed the peers, ‘whatever their ethnicity or faith.’ The signatories, comprising around one-third of the party’s members in the House of Lords, included former Cabinet members Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain and John Reid from the discredited, blood-soaked years of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The advert was headed:

The Labour Party welcomes everyone* irrespective or race, creed, gender identity, or sexual orientation (*except, it seems, Jews). This is your legacy, Mr Corbyn.

In publishing the advert, the Guardian was once again complicit in promoting a false, elite-friendly narrative about an institutionally anti-semitic Labour Party under Corbyn. The advert itself generated considerable media coverage, just as the peers no doubt intended, with around thirty articles in the press. ‘Jews feel unsafe in “toxic” Labour, say 67 of party’s own peers’, blasted the Daily Mail. The Evening Standard carried the headline: ‘Corbyn “must show his shame on anti-Semitism”: Labour ex-minister Lord Robertson joins peers’ attack on leader’. The Express said: ‘Labour civil WAR: Corbyn accused of “failing leadership” by peers over anti-Semitism’. The overall message was clear: Labour is anti-semitic under Corbyn, and he is not fit to become Prime Minister.

Shredding any semblance of ‘impartiality’, Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, tweeted:

What has it come to in the Labour Party when the only way Labour peers feel they can communicate with their leader @jeremycorbyn is to pay to take out an advert in @guardian! No major party has ever been this dysfunctional

Jonathan Cook responded appropriately:

What has it come to in the Labour party when its most establishment figures decide to destroy their party from within by fuelling the corporate media smears against a leader twice elected by members! No major party has ever been this leftwing before. (Fixed that for you Pesto!)

Thinking along similar lines to Peston, Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murty observed via Twitter:

The Labour Party is now unable to find anyone prepared to come on #c4news tonight to answer questions about antisemitism and the ad taken out by over 60 Labour Peers today telling Jeremy Corbyn he had failed to defend the party’s values.

As so often happens when a corporate journalist ventures forth into the world of social media, rebuttals flew in. Twitter user Jon Harding replied:

Members support Corbyn because he supports our values – community, equality, responsibility, solidarity and fairness

The media attack us everyday, calling us anti-Semitic. But Corbyn remains steadfast, and support for Corbyn is solid, because we can see through the smears

Another Twitter user replied to Guru-Murty:

Perhaps you should do a segment on how left wing Corbyn supporting Jews are being at best ignored, at worst, harassed, doxed & vilified by people who don’t agree with them, and how many are afraid to voice their opinions because of it!

As far as we could tell, the Channel 4 News man had nothing to say in response.

An article on the Skwawkbox website quoted Labour activists on Twitter saying that ‘the list of signatories reads like a “Who’s Who” of Blairite leftovers’. The article also noted that of the 64 Lords who signed the advert:

At least twenty-four are corporate lobbyists or on boards of hedge funds, banks, “global security consultancies” and, particularly, private health firms. Others have family links to similar enterprises.

In other words, these are the primary interests which are being protected in attacking Corbyn.

More Guardian Censorship

On the same day (July 17) that the Lords advert was published, a remarkable email from Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell was circulated on social media. Bell had sent it to a Guardian editor, possibly Katharine Viner herself. It is worth quoting in full:

Dear [Redacted]

After our bizarre telephone conversation yesterday, I feared you might not publish today’s strip, but still cannot understand why the attached should be more liable to legal challenge from Tom Watson than either of the previous two strips that you have already published. You said the ‘lawyers were concerned’, but what about? It’s not antisemitic nor is it libellous, even though it includes a caricature of Binyamin Netanyahu. If Watson chose to object it would make him look far sillier than he does in the cartoon.

I suspect that the real problem is that it contravenes some mysterious editorial line that has been drawn around the subject of antisemitism and the infernal subject of ‘antisemitic tropes’. In some ways this is even more troubling for me than specious charges of antisemitism. Does the Guardian no longer tolerate content that counters its editorial line?

Why in today’s paper has the Guardian published a highly partisan and personally insulting (to the leader of the Labour Party) advert on page 20 that uses the Labour Party logo, but is clearly not a Labour Party approved advert? I would have thought that there would be far more reason to expect a legal challenge on that than on my cartoon. Or is it that you don’t want to offend poor Tom but are quite happy to offend poor Jeremy?

Why on earth did the Guardian publish, then unpublish, a letter in support of Chris Williamson, signed by 100 people identifying themselves as Jewish, including Noam Chomsky? Were they the wrong kind of Jews? The paper’s contortions on this subject do not do it any credit. If there is a reasoned position on this contentious issue, then I would dearly like to see it laid out clearly so we can all see where we stand. Or are there some subjects that we just can’t touch?

Best wishes

Steve Bell

In his previous two strips on July 15 and July 16 of his long-running cartoon series, ‘If…’, Bell had depicted Labour deputy leader Tom Watson as the ‘Antisemite Finder General’, harking back to the Witchfinder General of the 17th century English Civil War. As Bell said in his email, these two earlier strips were obviously considered fit for publication. In the censored strip for July 17, deemed unacceptable by the Guardian, but then published exclusively by Socialist Worker, Watson’s horse sniffs out an ‘antisemitic trope’. Watson encounters Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu along with caricatures clearly meant as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

As James Wright observed in a Canary piece about the Guardian‘s censorship, Bell appeared to be ridiculing a fundamental contradiction of the pro-Israel establishment. It is anti-semitic to suppose that a Jewish person must be a supporter of Israel. And yet, Netanyahu regularly claims that Israel speaks for all Jewish people. Thus, for example:

On this day, on behalf of the Jewish people, I say to those who have sought and still seek to destroy us: You have failed and you will fail.

Moreover, Netanyahu’s embrace of far-right nationalist leaders around the world (not least Trump), actually makes Jews ‘more vulnerable to anti-Semitism and hate crimes in their own countries’, warned racism researcher Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg. And author Zeev Sternhell noted in a piece for Foreign Policy that Israel under Netanyahu:

sees itself as an integral part of this anti-liberal bloc led by nativist xenophobes who traffic in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Boris Johnson, of course, has a long record of sexist, homophobic and racist remarks. He has referred to black people as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’ and likened Muslim women to letterboxes. As for Trump, he told US Jews that Netanyahu is ‘your Prime Minister’, thus conflating Jews with Israelis. It is worth adding that Trump recently told four Congresswomen of colour – Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashia Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley – to ‘go back’ and ‘help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came’. This is racism. Three of the politicians were born in the United States. The fourth, Omar, moved to the US with her family when she was ten years old after fleeing war in Somalia. Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, the two contenders to become Tory leader and thus the next Prime Minister, both refused to call Trump’s remarks racist, in stark contrast to Jeremy Corbyn.

On the same day that the Guardian censored the Bell cartoon strip, it provided Labour MP Margaret Hodge with a platform to once again abuse Jeremy Corbyn as ‘a racist and an antisemite’. The Guardian‘s editorial bias could hardly be more glaring.

Our searches of the ProQuest media database showed that not a single UK newspaper reported the Guardian‘s censorship of Steve Bell. Nobody should be surprised. After all, silence about uncomfortable topics is one of the operating principles of the corporate media.

We asked John Pilger to comment on Bell’s email. He told us:

Steve Bell’s reasoned protest to a gatekeeper on the Guardian, a newspaper often given credibility by his brilliance, is a warning. I wanted to write that it was a warning to journalists — but there are few who are not now cowed into silence or collaborators. They are not journalists any more, but functionaries, even awarded prizes for holding the line. Steve Bell’s memo is a warning to the wider society. His wonderfully anarchic satire is needed more than ever in this corporate, conformist world with its ever present intimidation.

The Guardian advertisement he refers to in effect demands the outlawing of dissent; in the United States, the firing of political cartoonists who cross the line is now routine. The accusation of anti-Semitism thrown at principled opponents of the longest, most brutal military occupation in modern times and the racism of the Israeli state, now enshrined in Israeli law, ought to be beyond contempt. Yet the Guardian’s “contortions”, as Steve Bell calls them, effectively peddle the lie that criticism of Israel and its Zionist ideology is anti-Semitic.This is no different from the lies the Guardian has told about Julian Assange. So beware. Not only is the campaign to destroy Jeremy Corbyn well advanced, so, too, is the consignment of real journalism, and truth, to a permanent underground.2

The root cause of this campaign to destroy Corbyn is to block any hope of systemic change for the benefit of the general population. Such a prospect is deemed unacceptable to established power. For the sake of society, and the larger battle to prevent climate breakdown, we urgently need to take back power from those who have stolen it.

  1. ‘The Reith Diaries’, edited by Charles Stewart, Collins, 1975; entry for 11 May, 1926.
  2. Email to Media Lens, July 19, 2019.

Guilt of anti-semitism now needs no evidence

A deadly serious tweet at the weekend from Armando Iannucci, the comedy writer responsible for the hugely popular Westminster TV satire show The Thick of It, reveals something significant about the problem of resolving the so-called Labour anti-semitism “crisis”. In response to a tweet by a follower discussing my recent blog post entitled “The plot to keep Corbyn out of power”, Iannucci observed: “Fresh insight on the Labour antisemitism story. It’s all a lie stoked up by Jews.”

It is very unlikely that Iannucci had actually read my post beyond the headline. If he did, it would suggest he has significant problems with basic comprehension. More likely he was simply demonstrating his own misunderstanding of what those of us who challenge the narrative of a Labour anti-semitism “crisis” are actually saying.

There is much nonsense written about how we all now live in our own echo chambers. That may still be largely true if your opinions fit neatly inside the so-called Overton window, which in the UK spans the short leap from Blairism to Conservatism. Stick within this narrow manufactured consensus of supposedly rational policy – neoliberal orthodoxy at home, and neoconservative warmongering abroad – and you will rarely be exposed in depth to any other ideas unless you consciously seek them out.

Cocooned from real debate

But those of us whose politics are considered “radical” or “dissident” are confronted with the ideas of these consensus-enforcers almost every waking moment. There is no escape from the BBC, or the topical TV shows recycling the issues dominating the pages of the billionaire-owned press, or the policy agendas of a political class owned by the global corporations that now run our societies, or the conversations of friends and family shaped by these upholders of the status quo.

Unlike those in the political centre who are reassured each day by the consensus telling them that they are sensible, responsible, sane people, those on the supposedly “radical fringes” of politics must listen to a public discourse that characterises them as deluded and dangerous, as prey to wild conspiracy theories and populism, and now – after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has threatened to break one side of the Overton window’s frame by rejecting neoliberalism and endless foreign wars – as unconscionable anti-semites.

Those in the centre may have spent a lifetime cocooned from real political debate but in recent years they have faced two massive disruptions to their peace of mind: the entry of a “radical”, in the form of Corbyn, into mainstream politics; and the partial democratisation of public debate with the growth of social media. Both developments have proved most unwelcome to the centrists.

They are now horrified to hear other kinds or voices saying things that once would never have been allowed near a newspaper or micophone. When they are exposed to critical voices on new media platforms, they react by characterising them as “offensive”, “populism”, “fake news” or “demonisation”. Their instinct is to impugn their critics’ credibility and motives rather than engage with their arguments, and to shut down or limit the platforms where these alternative opinions can be aired.

Shouting into the wind

Although they have been brought superficially into contact with these ideas, like most people used to the comforts of privilege they can afford not to listen. They understand enough to know that we disagree with them, but they do not care to make sense of why. They hear our noise, they fear it even, but they do not stay quiet long enough to learn anything about what we have to say.

And for that reason we are shouting into the wind, our words carried far off where they can do no harm. When we fall silent, all we hear is a caricature of the arguments we have articulated clearly.

This could not be more evident than in the case of Chis Williamson, a political ally of Corbyn’s who like so many others has found himself consumed by the evidence-free consensus that, when Corbyn was elected party leader four years ago, Labour became “institutionally anti-semitic” overnight.

Corbyn’s commitment to tackling all kinds of racism, of course, risks smashing the consensus on Israel, a country that has been indulged by European and US leaders for decades. Israel has long been firmly in the west’s privileged fold – provided with diplomatic, financial and military assistance – even though, under Netanyahu, it no longer tries to conceal its ever more repressive policies towards the Palestinians.

Incredibly, Israel’s easily documented policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are not only still unpunished but it has become ever harder to talk about them. Month by month, more western states move towards outlawing the world’s first major solidarity movement with the Palestinians – an entirely non-violent one – which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it concedes the same rights to Palestinians as it does to Jews in the region.

Not daring to listen

The consensual public narrative about Williamson is that he made an anti-semitic remark to Labour party members. All wings of the UK media, including supposedly liberal outlets like the Guardian, have reported that Williamson was caught saying Labour had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism. The fact that a video recording of his statement is all over social media, showing that he didn’t say anything of the sort, is of no significance to them. The centrists aren’t interested in the evidence. They are determined to keep the privilege of their echo chamber.

The problem for the so-called “radical” is that the unwillingness of the centrists to listen is compounded by a deeper problem – that like Iannucci, they dare not listen. The mischaracterisation of Williamson’s statement can help us understand why.

What Williamson said was not that Labour had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism, but that Labour had been “too apologetic” in the face of smears that party members were anti-semitic. He wasn’t minimising anti-semitism, he was defending the membership from a campaign of demonisation that portrays them as anti-semites – something you might think delicate centrists, so ready to take offence, might have understood.

But the centrists aren’t listening to what Williamson actually said. They hear only what they need him to have said for their worldview to continue making sense.

Trapped in an echo chamber

Here is what Iannucci, Billy Bragg, Owen Jones, Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge apparently believe Williamson said:

We in Labour are not interested in the fact that Jews experience racism from our party. We are determined to ignore the problem of anti-semitism they have identified. Instead of taking responsibility for our racism, we are going to blame Jews for the problem. When we say anti-semitism has been weaponised, what we mean is that Jews are plotting against our party. We are writing a new Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Seen like this, Williamson and most of the Labour membership are anti-semites. But only someone trapped in their own echo chamber could really believe this is a view anyone in Labour has actually endorsed. Williamson and the members who support him aren’t saying Jews are behind the smearing of Labour. They are saying the dominant forces of our society are.

And this is where the real chasm between the centrists and the radicals opens up. The issue of anti-semitism has become a shadow play for centrists, offering them a supposed moral high ground, as they try to hold the fort against the ideological barbarians at the gate.

Two views of social conflict

There are two ways of understanding conflict in our societies.

The centrists have adopted as their own an understanding of the world cultivated for them by a lifetime of listening to, and trusting in, the state-corporate media. It presents conflict as a battle between personalities, individual and collective: between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt; between Republicans and Democrats; between Trump and Antifa; between Julian Assange and two Swedish women; between Apple Mac and Windows; between men from Mars and women from Venus; between social conservatives and the LGBT movement; between blacks and whites; between Brexiteers and Remainers; between Jews and anti-semites.

This understanding of the world – as a battle between personalities, and the ideas and values they embody – is the one we are encouraged to focus on by the political and media class. That is for three reasons. First, presenting politics as exclusively a battle between people and ideas keeps most of us divided and feuding rather in solidarity with each other. Second, it has been relatively easy to determine the winners of this kind of conflict when the narrative can be controlled through the state-corporate media. And third, the focus on personalities stops us thinking about a much more profound and meaningful way of viewing conflict – as a class-based, economic struggle.

This way of understanding conflict sees it as structural, as a battle between those with money and power and those without. On this view, society is structured by the powerful to maintain and expand their power. This theory of conflict regards the corporate media not as a neutral platform for debating ideas and values, but as a weapon, one designed to cultivate only those ideas and values that preserve the power of the existing elite. This is what Noam Chomsky and others have called “brainwashing under freedom” by the western media.

The brutal logic of power

The structural nature of power should be obvious, if we hadn’t been so brainwashed to think otherwise by our media. To gain some perspective, consider a different historical time such as the feudal period. It would sound preposterous to offer an analysis that society then was shaped chiefly by whether the king and his barons were nice people or bad. There weren’t dramatic, structural changes every time a new prince ascended to the throne. There was a great deal of continuity and consistency over many centuries because each king and his courtiers had the same economic motive to justify a system preserving their wealth and privilege. A king could tinker with the system in ways suited to his personality, but the ruthless, brutal core of the system had to be maintained. Any king who lacked these steely qualities would be toppled by someone who didn’t.

The same applies today to the heads of major corporations. So long as it proves profitable, Exxon is not going to stop despoiling the planet to extract hydrocarbons, whoever is appointed CEO. Exxon could never appoint a “nice” CEO in the sense of someone prepared to forgo profit and shareholder value – not so long as the current neoliberal economic model dominates. Even were a ruthless CEO to have a Damascene conversion in the job, suddenly becoming a serious  environmentalist, he or she would be removed before they could take any decisions that might jeopardise the corporation’s profits.

That is why genuine radical leftists are much less interested in who becomes the figurehead of a corrupt and corrupting political system than they are in finding ways to challenge the system and thereby highlight how power operates in our society. The goal is fundamental change, now of a kind that is needed to save us as a species, rather than continuing image management.

Corbyn’s rise is so important because he threatens to lift the veil on the power structure, either because he is forced into a clash with it as he tries to implement his policies or because he is crushed by it before he can pursue those policies. Corbyn offers a unique opportunity to hold up a mirror to British society, stripping away the beautified mask to see the ugly skeleton-face below. He risks making the carefully concealed structure of power visible. And this is precisely why he is so dangerous to the status-quo-supporting centrists.

No single Jewish view

But still, aren’t Williamson and Labour members suggesting that “Jews” are the ones behind this, as Iannucci infers? When we speak of plots by the powerful, global corporations, the banks and capitalists, aren’t we really using coded language for “Jews”? And if we aren’t, how do we explain the fact that Jews are so certain that Labour is mired in “institutional anti-semitism”?

“Jews”, however, are not of one mind on this issue, except in the imagination of centrists pursuing the “Labour is institutionally anti-semitic” narrative. Certainly, there are lots of different views among British Jews about Labour. It’s just that only one strand of opinion is being given a platform by the political and media class – the one against Corbyn. That should hardly surprise us if, as I explained, the corporate media are not there to reflect different constituencies of opinion, but to enforce a consensus that serves the powerful.

The problem with Iannucci’s implicit argument that Jews should be left to decide whether Labour is anti-semitic – and that denying them that right is itself anti-semitic – is not only that it assumes Jews are of a single view. It makes two further dubious assumptions: that those who have been given a voice on the subject have actually experienced anti-semitism in Labour, and that they have no other identifiable motives for making such a claim. Neither assumption withstands scrutiny.

When the largely conservative leadership of the Board of Deputies is given centre-stage as spokesperson for British Jews on the issue of Labour and Corbyn, it can speak with no meaningful authority. Its previous leader, Jonathan Arkush, was not only an unabashed supporter of the Conservative Party, but openly welcomed its governing alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, extreme Protestant loyalists, as “positive news” for Jews. His successor, Marie van der Zyl, argues that the Board exists “to promote a sympathetic understanding of Israel” – a position that necessarily drives her and the Board into a profound ideological clash with Corbyn and much of the Labour membership behind him.

Examples crumble on inspection

Those Jews inside Labour vociferously promoting claims of a supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour, chiefly the Jewish Labour Movement and a handful of Labour MPs,  have been much less forthcoming with actual examples. There is no doubt, as we are often reminded, that former Labour MP Luciana Berger received death threats, but it is much less often noted that those threats did not come from Labour members, they came from the far right. Dossiers like the one submitted by MP Margaret Hodge have shown to be cluttered with cases of alleged anti-semitism that have nothing to do with the Labour party. And MP Ruth Smeeth’s infamous claims of an anti-semitic remark against her by black anti-racism activist Marc Wadsworth crumbled on closer inspection, as did her claim to have received 25,000 anti-semitic comments in a matter of days.

The motives of the leadership of the Jewish Labour Movement need questioning too, as an Al-Jazeera undercover investigation revealed two years ago. It exposed the fact that the JLM was working closely with Shai Masot, an agent inside the Israeli embassy whose job was to help mobilise opposition to Corbyn. Again unsurprisingly given that the media serves the interests of power, Al-Jazeera’s investigation received negligible coverage and made almost no impression outside pro-Palestinian circles despite its shocking findings.

As self-confessed Zionists, and hardline ones at that, the leaders of the JLM – representing only a few hundreds members, some of them not Jewish – regard Israel as a supremely important issue, and seem largely indifferent to what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. The JLM and its allies in Labour Friends of Israel have been central to efforts to force the Labour party to adopt a new definition of anti-semitism that conflates strong criticism of Israel with Jew hatred. Jewish supporters of Corbyn inside Labour, who have been highly critical the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, have been mostly sidelined in media coverage or dismissed as the “wrong kind of Jews”.

In other words, when we hear from Jewish organisations, it is specifically the ones that have an agenda deeply at odds with Corbyn’s – either for his left wing politics or for his adamant opposition to Israeli oppression. Supposed “Jewish” opinion on Labour has simply become another echo chamber, one selected for amplification because its message is the one centrists want to hear: that Corbyn and his supporters are very bad people who must not be allowed near power.

Polls reveal ugly racism

But even if all that is true, polls suggest a significant number of ordinary Jews think there is a problem with anti-semitism in Labour. How can we dismiss or denigrate their views?

Well, if only one view of Labour and anti-semitism is being aired in the media, it is almost certain that a majority of Jews will end up believing the truth of a supposed “Corbyn threat”. Jews are no different from the rest of us. No smoke without fire, they’ll say. If the media keep telling them that Williamson said Labour was “too apologetic” about anti-semitism, even though it is documented that he didn’t, then most – those who listen to the BBC and read the papers rather than doing the hard work of their own research – will come to believe it must be true he said it. The evidence is irrelevant if a consensus has been manufactured in spite of the evidence.

Further, the fact that a majority believe something is true quite obviously doesn’t make it true – or right. And that applies to Jews just as much as any other group. If you doubt me, consider this. Polls of Israeli Jews consistently show them holding views that would appall most people in Britain, including British Jews. One survey published in December and conducted by Israeli Channel 10 TV showed that 52 per cent of Israeli Jews are prepared to admit that they think Jews are better than non-Jews, with only 20 per cent disagreeing with the statement. Some 88 per cent are disturbed at the idea of their son befriending a girl from the fifth of Israel’s population who are Arab. And three-quarters are worried by hearing a public conversation held in the mother tongue of this large, quiescent Arab minority.

So if Israeli Jews can be so obviously wrong in their beliefs and values, if the ugliest forms of racism are rife in their society after long exposure to simple-minded Arab hatred from their own political and media class, why should we expect more from British Jews – or from ourselves – after long exposure to a similar media-constructed consensus? To believe otherwise would be to assume that most of us are capable of building our own value systems from scratch, that we can develop a worldview in total isolation from the information and narratives we are bombarded with every day by the media and our politicians.

Whipping up fear

There is a plot against Corbyn to stop him getting anywhere near power. It is a very obvious one, as I documented in my last post. It has taken many forms over the past four years, but has settled on anti-semitism as the most effective smear because it is such a difficult accusation to deny if the actual evidence is not taken into account, as in Williamson’s case – and so many other examples – illustrate.

Is it not telling that the media, while going to such lengths to alert audiences to the Jewish identity of those offended by Labour anti-semitism, have so rarely mentioned that many of those supposedly doing the offending – including those suspended and expelled by Labour for anti-semitism – are Jewish themselves?The media and status-quo-enforcing politicians on both sides of the aisle have whipped up fear over anti-semitism among a portion of British Jews, just as their US equivalents did among a majority of Americans during the McCarthy witch hunts for Communists and during round-ups of Asians during World War Two.

They have done so because Corbyn poses a genuine threat, not to Jews but to a power structure the political and media establishment are deeply invested in – ideologically, financially and emotionally. This class is at war with ordinary people, Jews and non-Jews alike. And it will use any means necessary to prevent disrupting the continuing dominance of turbo-charged neoliberalism, an economic system that threatens all our futures on this planet.

One day, if we survive as a species, when neoliberalism looks as archaic and outmoded as feudalism does to us today, all of this will look much clearer. By then, we may finally understand that we were played for fools – all of us.

Mark Field and the Danger of Getting Sidetracked

I really do not wish to write about Mark Field, the British government minister who assaulted a climate change activist this week, grabbing her by the neck and violently marching her out of a City of London dinner while all the hundreds of other wealthy diners watched either impassively or approvingly. But whatever my wishes, it seems I must.

I don’t wish to write about Mark Field, because the media have constructed a debate that is limited to one matter only, even if there are apparently innumerable variations of that one issue to be raised.

Did Field behave like a gentleman or a knave? Is it reasonable that he believed the woman posed a danger? Is his apology enough? Were the climate change activists trespassing and, if they were, did that justify Field’s actions? Has he broken the ministerial code of conduct? Would we still be outraged if the activist were a man? Should he resign? Is his outburst evidence he is a wife beater? And so on.

When we engage in these debates, they seem important. As if we are fighting for the health of our societies; or upholding key values, or at the very least the rule of law. As if it shows we care. As if it can make things a little better.

Which is exactly why I don’t want to write about Mark Field. Because the reality is that things won’t get better while we allow ourselves to be manipulated into these kind of ring-fenced debates.

There is a reason why the corporate media quickly escalate simple stories like Mark Field’s into such apparently elaborate and polarising public discussions. And the reason is to stop other kinds of debates, much more vital ones, from taking place that these stories would naturally provoke if we had a truly free media. We are being offered the modern version of bread and circuses.

Strip away the narrow, sectarian party politics in play here, and there is nothing debatable about Mark Field’s actions. He is caught on camera – his face full of rage, not fear – violently grabbing an activist who clearly poses no threat to him and who is, in fact, simply walking behind his chair. Field pushes her up against a wall, then seizes her by the back of the neck and frogmarches her out of the dining hall. If you feel it necessary, you can also factor in that the activist is a woman and the government minister a man.

Either way, what is shown in the video is an entirely unjustified attack on a peaceful protester. Had the roles been reversed, the activist (whether a man or woman) would have been immediately arrested for assaulting a government minister. The activist would now be in jail with lawyers arguing over whether bail should be allowed. So why isn’t Mark Field now in the same predicament?

The point is that anyone who wishes to make the argument any more complex than the one I just outlined is doing so either in bad faith or because they have listened too credulously to others who have spoken in bad faith. Which includes the entire spectrum of the state-corporate media, including its supposedly liberal components like the BBC and Guardian.

What the story about Mark Field really illustrates is how effective the corporate media is in derailing meaningful debates about the state of our societies. The media offer us a placebo – a public arena for largely empty arguments that we are encouraged to become deeply invested in emotionally. We are offered two easy options and must choose to rally to the cause of one of those tribes – left or right. And through righteous anger, for or against, we feel temporarily cured of a deeper dissastisfaction or sense of foreboding.

The reality is that these public debates are simply gladiatorial contests offering instant – and hollow – gratification. They have as much concrete meaning in terms of changing the substance of our societies, of addressing the injustice and unsustainability of our political and economic systems, as does cheering a football team.

That is not to argue that denouncing an assault on a peaceful protester is wasted energy, or that rationalising it – as so many people on the right are currently doing – is not deeply ugly. The treatment of protesters by the state and its agents, or of women by men, are important matters for public discussion. But that is not why the media are so willingly fuelling the row about Mark Field’s actions.

The debate is not being used as an opportunity to clarify how our society should view acceptable behaviour; it is being actively promoted by a ruling class to deflect our attention from the deeper contextual issues the Mark Field episode highlights.

Allowing two sides in a debate about whether he behaved appropriately is already to have conceded the progressive argument. It is to accept that there is room for discussion, that the video evidence is not conclusive in itself.

This is a contest where the stakes are so immaterial to the corporate media that each outlet can afford to take either side of the debate and know it will make no meaningful difference. They can berate Mark Field or sympathise with him, and it will make no odds to anyone or anything but Field and possibly the victim of his assault.

And the very cynical fuelling of this debate by the state-corporate media, one that may last days or even weeks, can then be cited as seemingly persuasive evidence that the media truly is a pluralistic forum for public discussion, where all sides are represented, where everyone is given a voice. Contrived debates like this one will be used as ammunition to shunt media critics like myself further into sidings, showing how vigoruous, relevant and on the side of the underdog the “mainstream” media really is.

This is the primary purpose of the state-corporate media. To draw our energies away from real issues hiding in plain sight towards obvious ones of only specific or marginal significance, and then persuade us that we are, in fact, engaged with the most vital issues of the day.

This is precisely why the media are obsessed with individuals and personalities – celebs, sporting heroes, royal family members, actors, politicians, world leaders – not the actual power structures that dictate the patterns of our lives, that determine the chances of us gaining redress or justice, that offer the key to extricating ourselves from the economic and environmental ruin we are hurtling towards.

If necessary, Mark Field can be sacrificed by the power structures that dominate our lives (though usually only temporarily – think of other government ministers who have found themselves briefly ousted from power and then quickly rehabilitated, such as Boris Johnson or Liam Fox) because the mechanisms that protect these power structures are far more important than the punishment or humiliation or any lone individual.

Consider two much deeper issues desperately struggling to gain any traction as they are smothered by the media’s gleeful furore over the Mark Field story.

One concerns the event Mark Field attended. It was an annual dinner at Mansion House, the official residence of the mayor of the City of London. The City of London is not the Mary Poppins’ way of saying “London”. It is a tiny, secretive enclave within Britain, a state within a state located in the heart of London. Seen another way, it is a kind of British Vatican, though one that worships money alone.

It abides by its own rules, financial and criminal, creating effectively a tax-haven within the UK that cannot be policed by any of the usual watchdogs. The City of London has managed to continue unreformed from its medieval origins into the modern era for one reason alone: it is the perfect way for a wealthy elite to maintain their power and privilege by bypassing the imperfect democratic system operating outside its concrete shores, in the rest of the UK. The City of London is a deeply corrupt fiefdom inside a slightly less corrupt Britain. If the mafia were given the chance to make themselves look legit, they might create in Italy something very much like the City of London.

Those attending the dinner are drawn from either Britain’s wealth elite, or those who serve them and aspire to join them. Figures like Field, a minister in the Foreign Office, and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, who addressed the dinner, oil some of the wheels of this exclusive club partially out in the open, through UK politics. But they oil other wheels in the shadows, through their activities in the City of London. What precisely they get up to in the City is difficult to know given the secrecy, and all the harder to now learn about after Field’s ruling party has worked so assiduously to hobble Julian Assange and the Wikileaks platform that was established to help whistleblowers expose the more shadowy activities of our rulers.

The City of London is the biggest weapon in the armoury of the ruling elite’s class war against the British – and global – public. It is a vacuum sucking up public finances to further enrich the wealthy and leave the masses reeling from austerity policies, while using the media to bolster the impression that it is a hub of wealth creation.

That’s why you almost never hear anything about the City of London. Our supposed representatives, politicians and corporate media alike, are happy to keep the veil mostly drawn across this pocket of power. It is not just that they do not want to take it on, they are already very much part of the power structures it has designed both to preserve itself and shield itself from meaningful criticism.

As long as we are talking about Mark Field’s attitude to women, we are not talking about his and his government’s active collusion with the most regressive, secretive, unaccountable rotten borough in the UK – a city-state located geographically inside Britain, but operating outside its strictures.

Mark Field’s attack could have provided an opportunity to examine this powerful relic of medieval Britain, to consider who the City of London really serves, and to wonder why the political class are cosying up to it rather than trying to eradicate it as a dangerous behemoth of Britain’s surviving feudal order. The City of London is integral to a system of ever-accelerating wealth hording by a global elite that is economically unsustainable. But in response, the media willingly amplify a loud culture war and simplistic identity politics precisely so no other kind of debate stands a chance of being audible.

The other, even more obvious issue the activists were trying to draw attention to was the threat posed to the environment, to other species and to our own future by the preposterous, self-serving premise – espoused by the City of London and its politician and media cronies – of endless economic growth based on the exploitation of the planet’s finite resources.

We are now facing a climate emergency – or rather some of us are finally and very belatedly waking up to a climate emergency that has been many decades in the making. We have come to it so late because the wealth elite represented at the City of London dinner have used the key power structures at their disposal – the political and media establishments – to deceive us, to keep us sleepwalking towards oblivion as they have carried on plundering the planet, destroying the biosphere, and stashing away their inordinate wealth.

The state-corporate media has not only downplayed climate change but is still doing so, as credibly as it can manage given the relentless scientific evidence that human society is hurtling towards an abyss.

In fact, many of the journalists responding to Mark Field’s attack have lost no time in using it as a way to further alienate the public from climate change activism. They have presented those prepared not simply to wait quietly for us all to be driven over the cliff-edge as a nasty, uncouth, potentially violent rabble. They have done this even as the video footage shows the women who protested at the Mansion House dinner were dressed in evening gowns and remained entirely peaceful as they sought to gain attention for the most urgent and catastrophic issue of our time.

There should be no debate that they are right, that we live in a rotten and rotting system of power that has blindly invested all its energies in perpetuating a feudal system of wealth creation for a ruling class, even as the futures of our chldren – all our children – hang in the balance.

Yes, Mark Field, his face red with indignation, looked like a man who had lost the plot, who was filled with an overwhelming sense of his own entitlement, and who was deeply threatened – not by violence from the protesters but by arguments he simply has no way of addressing rationally.

The real debate we need urgently to engage with is not whether Mark Field is a wife-beater or misogynist. It is how we deal with the power structure he represents, the system he is a loyal servant of. For that psychopathic system is ready to beat us all, men and women alike, into the dust, to keep extracting the last ounce of wealth from a dying corpse, to obliterate our futures.

Nigel Farage’s Grand Tour of Sabotage: The Paypal of the People Rides High

He is all about being the romantic saboteur.  He is destructive, hates the business of a steady vocation, and the idea of being desk bound.  Little details trouble him; an indignant bigger picture is enthralling.  Bomb throwers tend to be of such ilk, taking shots at the establishment, courting potential voters over a pint, and railing against non-representative elements in politics.  But Nigel Farage and his recently arrived Brexit Party can unimpeachably claim to be vote getters.

Along with others, some of whom have been resurrected in the stagnant pools of Brexit – take the near-dead and now very revived former conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe –  he has animated the corpse people and zombie faithful keen to attack the satanic heart of the EU.  Last month, in Peterborough, he told some 1,500 Brexiters about the broader mission at hand.  “This fight now is far more than just leaving the European Union.  This is a full-on battle against the establishment.”  This battle has also struck a Trumpist note, with Farage reserving special salvos for the BBC.

So far, the attack mounted by the collective that is the Brexit Party has worked; with a four-month old entity, Farage forged ahead in elections held by the very same entity he despises.  In doing so, he also convinced many from the UK Independence Party, the right wing anti-immigration party he used to lead, to join in. In the European elections last month, the Brexit Party won a stonking 29 seats against the Liberal Democrats with 16, Labour 10, the Greens seven, the Tories four, the SNP three, and Plaid Cymru and the DUP with one each.

Farage put the successes down to an elementary theme: “With a big, simple message – which is we’ve been badly let down by two parties who have broken their promises – we have topped the poll in a fairly dramatic style. The two-party system now serves nothing but itself.”  Despite doing well, Farage was careful to avoid drawing attention to another result: 40 percent of the UK European vote went to parties who are against Brexit, with 35 percent favouring it.

The reading from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable was bound to be at odds with Brexiter enthusiasts.  For Cable the result showed that there was “a majority of people in the country who don’t want to leave the European now”.

As William Davis notes pointedly, “The Brexit Party is a mixture of business startup and social movement; it serves as a pressure valve, releasing pent-up frustration with traditional politics into the electoral system.”  In contrast to the more ramshackle, rough outfit of Ukip, which had a lower ceiling of appeal, the Brexit Party has been described by the Financial Times as “slick, with a mix of celebrities”.

It thrives in an environmental of pure factionalism, and simplifies, accordingly, the complex array of requirements and processes required to achieve their goals.  Farage cares little, nor is even aware of the actual issues concerning an effective divorce deal with the EU.  Any claim that a no-deal Brexit is bound to work with splendid effect is precarious, placing Britain at the bottom of the trade negotiating table.  There is no freedom to trade as a rule, and World Trade Organisation system must be navigated.  But these are technical sticking points that find no platform, let alone voice, in the Brexit Party’s world.

The business startup reference by Davis is apt.  Farage had been shadowed by events after 2016. The wrecker had done his job in seeking Brexit, only to retreat to the margins in sullen contemplation.  His UK Independence party disintegrated even as its former leader started to milk the lecture circuit and cosy up to US President Donald Trump.  But the continual delays and prevarications on leaving the EU stirred the saboteur into a return.

The Brexit Party has attempted to adopt the language of cool and chic marketing.  For one, it is winning the social media battle.  London-based online content and social media consultancy 89up revealed last month that Facebook posts linking to the Brexit Party website had been bountiful in the sharing department, exceeding those of every other party combined.  A survey of 1.5 million public Facebook pages by the consultancy found a staggering gulf between the portion of shares generated by the Brexit Party (125,035) and the Conservatives, with 26,400.  UKIP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party came in with a limping figure of 6,000 shares.

As with anything to do with Farage, its best to look past the plumage and shine.  The Brexit Party image comes equipped with rumours on how it is receiving its funding.  This can hardly surprise: Farage has been known to be rather liberal with his finances, happy to attack the EU as he receives its funds, and shy about declaring how he has used them.  Budgets have never been his thing.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is one sensing an Achilles heel in the Brexit Party, suggesting that the party has been the recipient of “undeclared, untraceable payments”.  At an event in Glasgow last month, Brown suggested that democracy was “ill served, and trust in democracy will continue to be undermined, if we have no answers as to where the money is coming from.”

The UK Electoral Commission feels there is enough to go on, demanding that the party “review all payments, including those of £500 or below, it has received to date.”  This comes after the Electoral Commission’s conclusion that the “fundraising structure adopted by the party leaves it open to a high and ongoing risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations.”

The views of Brown have had little traction with Farage supporters and the broader Brexit milieu, a point evidenced by the good showing in the European elections.  Efforts by critics and opponents to refashion the Brexit Party as a financial surrogate for the corporate interests of one man rather than citizen values is not something that has worked.  Brown has tried, rather bravely claiming that Farage was “not going to be remembered as he wants, as the man of the people – he’s going to remembered as the man of the Paypal.”

Political realities are often different from financial ones.  As former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg admitted, “It was obvious there was a strong English, anti-European anti-immigrant movement waiting for someone to articulate it.”  Farage may well be the man of the Paypal, shoddy with party finances but he remains an identifiable voice, with anti-EU cadences that continue finding agreeable listeners across Europe, from Marine Le Pen in France to Matteo Salvini in Italy.