Recalling the Commons and the Lords for “debates” on Thatcher yesterday was, of course, a grotesque act of political manipulation and well as an outrageous waste of money at this time of austerity. All 650 MPs were emailed with the message that they could claim up to £3,750 just for turning up. Peers could draw £300 for attendance. Then there are the tens of thousands for security and running costs as Parliament was not due back until Monday.
Former miner Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), one of many Labour MPs who stayed away, may well have been right to say simply ”I’ve got better things to do.”
But of those Labour MPs who did turn up, two were pretty good:
David Winnick (Walsall North)…
…and Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn):
Well done, you two: proper, serious and honest, reformists.
I keep promising myself (and readers) that I’ll never write another word about that posturing charlatan Galloway. But for a blogger, he’s the gift that just keeps on giving:
George Galloway: “But there have been achievements in North Korea. They do have a satellite circling the earth. They have built a nuclear power industry even though they suspended it on false promises from President Clinton and other U.S. statesmen. They do have a cohesive, pristine actually, innocent culture. A culture that has not been penetrated by globalization and by Western mores and is very interesting to see. But I wouldn’t like to live there. And I’m not advocating their system. Not least because they certainly don’t believe in God in North Korea…”
H/t: Pete Cookson
In his increasingly undignified rightward belly-crawl from the SWP, via Respect, into a sort of incoherent Labourite Stalinism whilst playing the role of tame anti-Trot witch-hunter for unspecified audiences, Andy Nooman at least provides some entertainment this festive season. I was about to say “harmless” entertainment, but his latest ranting on his ”Socialist Unity” blog, about the revolutionary left (in this case, the AWL/ Alliance for Workers Liberty) is, by his own account “a redacted version of something I wrote for another audience.” I wonder who that “other audience” might be?
Above: Stroppybird’s cat
Nooman’s sub-political tirade is avowedly based upon John Sullivan’s ‘When This Pub Closes’ which is poor stuff but at least evinces some political grasp of its subject(s). In fact, Nooman, whether he knows it or not, is more in the tradition of the rank Stalinist ignoramous Denver Walker’s student union-level, scummy little tome ‘Quite Right Mr Trotsky.’
Anyway, there is much to be enjoyed in Nooman’s bile against the revolutionary left and his grovelling to the Labour/TU bureaucracy, but sadly he doesn’t let us link to “Socialist Unity,” so you’ll have to use Google, or copy/paste socialistunity.com/the-alliance-for-workers-liberty-the-dynamics-of-a-malignant-cult/
The comments are most entertaining as well, including:
* 23. How inept do you have to be in order to pen a hatchet job that embarrasses yourself more than anybody else? - Patrick Smith
* 123. EDUCATION? DEMOCRACY? ACTIVITY? What a DISGRACE to the left. A disgrace to socialist countries/union leaders/students.
I’m really glad you’ve outed them about all that sexual impropriety.m Who needs facts when you’ve got pure conjecture? I bet they’re all a bunch of filthy deviants. Oh and yes, I heard that Sheffield was particularly bad too. Need castrating, the lot of them – RHuzzah
* 142. Until this article was posted I’d never heard of the AWL, and from reading all the heated posts about occult meetings sexual impropriety and filthy deviants I only have one question.
Where do I sign up? – CJB
* 161. Ok. John [John Wight, Nooman's antisemitic sidekick - JD] couldn’t care less about someone writing for this blog or its standing among people who used to advocate for it. Andy completely agrees with him. Egal.
A narrowing of vision accompanied by a growing climate of intolerance, abuse and bullying — I for one have seen this movie a couple of times before And know well the last reel.
So no song and dance, just ciao — bella – Kevin Ovenden [former Socialist Unity contributor - JD]
P.S: Check out the attacks on Yours Truly: Nooman can’t even get this attempt at “humour” right, and work out whether I’m Father Ted or Father Jack…
Tendance Coatsey opines on “The Cairo Conferences – or how some on the left have got the Muslim Botherhood so wrong”:
Above: John Rees speaking at a Cairo Conference
One major factor that explains the inability of some on the British left to support, clearly, Egyptian democrats is their [the British "leftists"] long-standing links with the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is not just a matter of domestic alliances with the (then) Muslim Association of Britain in the Stop the War Coalition (StWC).
On the principle of being ‘with’ the MB – indeed anybody – when ‘fighting’ ‘imperialism’ and its allied states: this reached its highest point in the Cairo Conferences, from 2002 to 2009.
Wikipedia is the most convenient source of the history of this alliance,
The first conference was held on the 17–19 December 2002, at the Conrad Hotel on the banks of the Nile . Four hundred attended. Speakers included former United Nations (UN) humanitarian coordinator for Iraq Dr Hans von Sponeck. Former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella (TC Note- who had become an Islamist) chaired the conference. One outcome of the conference was the production of the ‘Cairo Declaration’, which took a stance against the then looming Iraq war; it also noted the negative effects of capitalist globalisation and U.S. hegemony on the peoples of the world (including European and American citizens). In addition, it noted that “In the absence of democracy , and with widespread corruption and oppression constituting significant obstacles along the path of the Arab peoples’ movement towards economic, social, and intellectual progress, adverse consequences are further aggravated within the framework of the existing world order of neoliberal globalisation”, while firmly rejecting the ‘advance of democracy’ justification for attacking Iraq.
The UK Stop the War Coalition, in particular John Rees then of the SWP, initiated the signing of the declaration by European leftists, including: Jeremy Corbyn MP, George Galloway MP, Tony Benn, Susan George (scholar/activist based in France), Bob Crow, Mick Rix (general secretary, UK train drivers’ Aslef union), Julie Christie, George Monbiot, Harold Pinter, Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (Muslim Parliament), Tommy Sheridan (Scottish socialist), Dr Ghada Karmi (research fellow, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter), Tariq Ali. attended.
I shall miss out the specific references to Iraq and concentrate on what the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty highlighted of the original ‘Cairo Declaration’.
Selective and misleading extracts from the ‘Cairo Declaration’ have been published in “Socialist Worker” (18th January 2003). The carefully edited extracts refer to the internationalist struggle against neo-liberal globalisation, the growth of poverty and unemployment as a result of capitalist globalisation and US hegemony, and the need for total opposition to war on Iraq. Such worthy sentiments, however, are not representative of the politics encapsulated in the ‘Cairo Declaration’. The ‘Cairo Declaration’ criticises the US for ‘maintaining the existing uni-polar world order’ and blocking a shift in the balance of power ‘towards multi-polarity.’ This is not an obscure and coded call for working-class struggle against capitalist inequality. It is a complaint that the domination of international markets by large-scale US capital (uni-polarity) is squeezing out the local capitalist classes and elites (multi-polarity).
It would be tedious to go through all these ‘conferences’ declarations but this one indicates the truth of this analysis (from the 3rd Conference 2003),
• The U.S. monopolizes political, economic and military power within the framework of capitalist globalization, to the detriment of the lives of the majority of the world’s people.
• The U.S. imposes control through naked aggression and militarized globalization in pursuit of its rulers’ interests, all while reinstating the characteristic direct occupation of classical colonialism.
• The U.S. global strategy, which was formulated prior to September 11 2001, aims to maintain the existing unipolar world order, and to prevent the emergence of forces that would shift the balance of power towards multi-polarity. The U.S. administration has exploited the tragic events of September 11, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, to implement the pre-existing strategy. Attention to this global context helps explain current world developments:
• Prioritize the interest of monopolistic capitalist circles above those of the people, including Europeans and U.S. citizens.
• Integrate the economies of different countries into a single global capitalist economic system under conditions which undermine social development and adversely affect the situation of women, child health, education, and social services for the elderly. In addition, unemployment and poverty increase.
The last conference in 2009 was under the banner of ”The International Campaign Against Universal Imperialism and Zionism”. Its main slogan was “Pro-Resistance and Anti-Occupation with its crimes”, will be discussing a number of issues such as supporting the resistance, developing the struggle against the occupation of Iraq, confronting the racist policies of imperialist governments and issues against dictatorship and globalization in Egypt and the Arab world.
Workers’ Liberty’s comments on the 2003 Cairo Declaration, are relevant,
The Cairo Conference was convened by an organisation committed to the defence of the national security of Egypt. At best, the conference was financed by local businessmen. (At worst, the Iraqi government had a hand in funding it.) Those attending the conference including representatives of the Iraqi Baath regime, members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a delegation from the Cuban Castroite regime, and various veteran Stalinists lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I will not go into the issue of Israel, or Stalinism.
The most important point is that they [the "left" supporters of the Cairo Conference/Declaration] aligned themselves with a section of the pious Egyptian bourgeoisie – with all its own financial and capitalist links with Gulf States.
The MB’s anti-globalisation and ‘anti-imperialism’ now stand as a cover for their promotion of their own religious-political national interests.
These interests are increasingly anti-democratic and anti-working class.
But will those in Britain who have worked with them draw a balance sheet?
It seems highly unlikely.
Oh no! Another mouth (for us all) to feed…
“It was pitiful for a person born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble and hearty outpourings of loyalty towards their king and Church and nobility; as if they had any more occasion to love and honor king and Church and noble than a slave has to honor the lash, or a dog has to love and honor the stranger that kicks him! Why, dear me, ANY kind of royalty. howsoever modified, ANY kind of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly an insult; but if you are born and brought up under that sort of arrangement you probably never find it out for yourself, and don’t believe it when somebody else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed of his race to think of the sort of froth that has always occupied its thones without shadow of right or reason, and the seventh-rate people that have always figured as its artistocracies — a company of monarchs and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only poverty and obscurity if left, like their betters, to their own exertions…
“The truth was, the nation as a body was in the world for one object, and one only: to grovel before king and Church and noble: to slave for them, sweat blood for them, starve that they might be fed, work that they might play, drink misery to the dregs that they might be happy, go naked that they might waer silks and jewels, pay taxes that they might be spared from paying them, be familiar all their lives with the degrading language and postures of adulation that they might walk in pride and think themselves gods of this world. And for all this, the thanks they got were cuffs and contempt; and so poor-spirited were they that they took even this sort of attention as an honor.”
-Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
From People Management, (magazine of the The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development):
HR’s new best friend
This article by Seumas Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. It is not available anywhere else online (as far as I can tell), nor is it included in the new book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. We publish the piece as a service to the international workers’ movement and in the interests of the study of moral and political bankruptcy.
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930′s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950′s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,ooo were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991, they yielded new data that most reputable scholars consider to broadly confirm Robert Conquest’s position if not (quite) the figure of 20 million deaths directly resulting from Stalin’s rule and policies.
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
According to his friend, Kingsley Amis, when his (Conquest’s) publishers asked him to expand and revise The Great Terror, Conquest suggested the new version of the book be entitled I Told You So, You Fucking Fools.
The New Statesman has long been telling us that the Afghan war is “unwinnable” and that a Taliban “victory” is inevitable, if not actually desirable
Take this, from the (print edition) of 17 August 2009, (front cover: “AFGHANISTAN: THE LOST WAR“), for instance:
Our military presence in Afghanistan is part of the problem, not the solution
Britain should follow Canada’s lead and set a date for withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is time we acc… (the NS electronic version ends there, but my guess is that its something like “accepted the inevitable and set a date to get out”).
By Staff blogger Published 13 August 2009
On 8 August, Private Jason Williams was killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The 23-year-old member of the 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment could have saved himself, but heroically he had returned to the battlefield to recover the body of a fallen Afghan comrade. Williams became the 196th fatality for British forces in Afghanistan since 2001.
Are we winning this war? Not even the generals who have been in charge seem to think so. In March, the outgoing commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, told the BBC that “we are not winning” in the struggle against the resurgent Taliban. In October last year, the then commander of British forces in Helmand, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, went further: “We’re not going to win this war.”
Their pessimism has been borne out by events. The latest UN figures suggest that violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the Taliban were toppled in 2001, with the number of civilians killed so far this year up by a quarter compared to the same period last year. In July, there were more than ten attacks every day in Helmand alone. A secret Afghan government map, leaked this month, shows that half the country is either at high risk of attack by the Taliban and other insurgents, or is under “enemy control”.
So, after eight years of fierce fighting, with billions of pounds squandered and tens of thousands of coalition and civilian casualties, have we reached a dead end?
And what of the Afghan people, so often ignored in the rows over body armour, Land-Rovers and helicopters for “our boys” on the battlefield? As Stephen Grey points out (page 18), “no one has suffered more from this war than the civilians in whose fields it has been fought”. In spite of mounting casualties on all sides, British troops, like their American counterparts, continue in their Sisyphean task of trying to pacify Afghanistan.
“Again and again,” writes Grey, “politicians and generals have repeated the big lie, talking of tipping points and endless progress.” Take Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther’s Claw. The largest military offensive launched by the British army since it took over responsibility for security in Helmand in 2006, it was declared a success by the Prime Minister last month. But it required 3,000 British troops to defeat 600 Taliban fighters. And, with 22 deaths, July became the bloodiest month of the eight-year conflict for British troops – provoking renewed calls for withdrawal at home, where polls suggest a majority of the public remains opposed to the conflict, and to sending additional troops to Helmand.
Over time, the UK and US governments have offered increasingly bewildering justifications for war: counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, nation-building, liberating women, spreading democracy. Now, to bolster support, British ministers are following US attempts to assert a single, overarching mission. Early this month, the armed forces minister, Bill Rammell, stated: “Our troops are in Afghanistan to keep our country safe from the threat of terrorism . . . To prevent al-Qaeda having a secure base from which to threaten us directly.” He was echoing a speech by President Obama in which he declared that the “clear and focused” goal is “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent its return to either country in the future”.
Obama’s new mission statement may seem sound, but it is unconvincing. First, the idea that al-Qaeda needs a “secure base”, or safe havens, from which to plot or prepare terrorist attacks is as outdated as it is simplistic. Since the collapse of its Afghan headquarters in late 2001, al-Qaeda has metastasised from a centralised, hierarchical organisation into a decentralised, largely self-sustaining movement, dispersed across the world.
The London bombings of 7 July 2005 took place four years after British and US forces had toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and destroyed al-Qaeda training camps there. The 7/7 bombers were made in England, not Lashkar Gah.
Second, denying al-Qaeda safe havens in neighbouring Pakistan has not required US or UK forces to occupy the lawless frontier provinces of that country – or, for that matter, to occupy Somalia, Yemen or any of the other Muslim nations accused of harbouring terrorists or hosting terrorist training camps. So why should denying al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan require an indefinite military occupation by British or American troops?
Third, a large-scale and long-term ground presence of western troops only exacerbates Islamist terrorism. Occupation, as the misadventure in Iraq has so clearly demonstrated, has the disastrous effect of giving jihadists a powerful recruiting tool that they are quick to exploit. Fourth, though al-Qaeda does pose a security threat to Europe and the United States, the Taliban pose no comparable threat. Unless and until Taliban guerrillas establish a foothold in New York or London or Berlin, and continue to remain confined to the mountains and caves of Afghanistan, their threat to UK national security will remain several notches below that of al-Qaeda or even, say, the Real IRA.
Thus, there is no reason why disrupting or defeating al-Qaeda requires a perpetual war and occupation. Indeed, sending extra troops to fight in Afghanistan, as President Obama has already done and Mr Brown plans to do in the near future, will not win the war, end the conflict, or guarantee our security. Our leaders should reflect on the lessons of history: from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union, Afghans have been fighting invaders for more than 2,000 years. Not for nothing is their country known as the “graveyard of empires”.
Afghanistan does not need a military surge, but a political surge, centred around persuading the more moderate members of the Taliban to lay down their weapons and enter government. The former commander of British forces in Helmand, Ed Butler, tells us (page 24) that we missed a crucial opportunity to talk to the Taliban in 2006. Why wait any longer? Moreover, we need to engage not simply with factions within the Taliban, but also with Afghanistan’s influential neighbours Iran, Russia and China, so that they, too, have a vested interest in securing peace and stability in the region and preventing Afghanistan’s descent into chaos. But, above all, Britain should follow Canada’s lead and set a date for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Our military presence is part of the problem, not the solution. It is time we accepted that we are losing this war.
Now an unnamed ”senior commander” of the Taliban (unnamed because he’s in fear of his life, naturally) and representative of the “moderate” wing of these rural fascists has granted their UK mouthpiece the NS, an exclusive interview in which he states that the war is, indeed, “unwinnable”…for the Taliban.
What a disappointment that must be for the New Statesman, the (so-called) Stop The War Coalition, Seumas, Tariq, and all other self-hating, relativist, western lovers of the Taliban and their poetry. And what a relief to at least 50% of the Afghan population.
Philip Collins (in The Times, Friday June 1 2012). Brought to you exclusively, from behind Murdoch’s paywall, by Shiraz Socialist*:
It was the Prime Minister who made me crack. “My weekly hour with the Queen is vital because I get to draw on all those qualities; her knowledge; her commitment; her time-tested wisdom,” he crawled, Uriah Heeping on the praise. “Above all she has an abundance of what I’d call great British common sense…” Oh come on, man, pull yourself together. You’re the Prime Minister, for goodness’ sake. There’s no need to abase yourself.
Mr Cameron has form in fawning. I still marvel that, in 1981, at the ripe old age of 14, he slept on the Mall waiting for Charles and Diana. At the age of 10 you might be there with your parents. At the age of 21 you might think it was a laugh with your mates. But to be, at 14, a voluntary parade attender? A man who shares the views of his parents at 14 is a man without so much as a thought in his head.
This is a thin week for a republican. It’s going to be all jelly and ice cream and pretending to like the neighbours. Where are the bureaucratic killjoys when you need them, banning fun on the grounds of health and safety? The newspapers will join in the festivities rather than report them. If you want a look at what papers might look like if they are neutered by Leveson, read the advertising sheets for monarchy that will publish over the Diamond Jubilee weekend. The BBC will become a state propaganda machine. I thought the BBC was meant to be a nest of lefties. Where are they all?
Maybe they leave the country. For lots of people, the second and third words of Jubilee Bank Holiday matter more than the first. Two and a half million people will flee Britain. A word needs to be said, too, for those who will pay no attention. It is amazing that 26 million people watched William and Kate get married, but that means half the country didn’t bother. More people watched the wedding in 1973 of Anne and Mark, as we didn’t call them, and 85 per cent of the nation watched the coronation in 1953.
And yet the happy throngs at the street parties will brook no republican argument. Neither does the Queen’s approval rating, +78 last time it was measured. And I don’t want to rain on the parade too much. It will be good for the country to take a day’s holiday from cynicism and the serious republican has a lot to learn from why people will be enjoying themselves.
Most of what people say about why they like the monarchy is misleadingly stupid. Otherwise sentient people will cheerfully inform you that the monarchy is good for tourism. They seriously think that people would stop coming to London and that we should devise our constitutional arrangements to suit Mr and Mrs Kawashima on a short trip from Japan. Please spare me, too, the rubbish about “don’t the British do pageantry well?” Lots of countries do their pageantry well, too. North Korea is brilliant at it, unfortunately. But when did good choreography become a political prinple?
At this point in the argument the defender of monarchy always accuses the republican of being too earnest. It’s all perfectly harmless, no need to get so aerated. This paradox is the first clue as to what this weekend will be about. It is a cause for celebration that the Queen, unlike the ministers at her command, has never let the people down. Our low expectations of the Queen are an important source of the high satisfaction we repose in her. She makes no decisions that affect our lives and therefore does nothing to irritate us. The reason it is so common to say that the Queen does a great job is that she hasn’t really got a job, unless you count watching Maori dancers with a fixed grin on your face. We might not be so forgiving if she was setting the top rate of income tax.
We are celebrating the silence of a Queen who has never given an interview. The Queen is a blank slate on to which we project a view of her as , underneath the royal veneer, somehow one of us. How else could the Prime Minister get away with the ludicrous statement that the Queen has an abundance of common sense?
This allows the Queen to float free of monarchy and this is vital. Two conclusions leap out of the academic literature on trust and both are relevant to the appeal of the Queen. The first is that people trust those whose motives they cannot impugn. It would be churlish not to recognise that the Queen embodies an idea of service with no need for financial reward (the churlish rider would be that she has quite enough money already, even before the tax cut she just got). The second point is that people find it easier to trust individuals than institutions.
The personal aspect of the monarchy may leave the door ajar for republicans. Not all monarchs have been popular. When in 1946 Gallup asked voters whom they most admired, only 3 per cent mentioned George VI who came equal with Stalin and behind George Bernard Shaw. Now, 90 per cent of Britons want to keep the hereditary principle but only 39 per cent want the Prince of Wales to be King. Almost half the country wants the crown to pass to Prince William, as if the hereditary principle allows a referendum. The only hope for the people to get what they want is if the Duke of Cambridge mounts a leadership bid.
But the likelihood is that the monarchy will survive an unpopular king in the future as it has in the past. That is because we will also be celebrating an ancestral connection that binds a country. Even more than we are celebrating the Queen, we are celebrating ourselves. The death of Diana was an occasion for buttoned-up people to find the words for unspoken grief. The Diamond Jubilee will be a statement thatn this is a good country and we like living here.
There is nothing trivial about this sentiment. Monarchy has managed to negotiate the transition from divine to secular by sublimating a longing to belong. This is about something more ancestral than the fickle flashbulbs of fame. These are deeply held intuitions that have become embodied in the dignified form of the Queen.
If republicanism is ever to stand against the tide that will engulf us this weekend it needs to satisfy these impulses too. Colourless, abstract republicanism needs its own patriotic street parties. It needs to tell its own national story, about why, in the end, this is a great country because of the liberties protected by parliamentary democracy, which rather than hereditory aristocracy, is the real bequest of the British to the world.
* I trust it goes without saying that we at Shiraz do not necessarily agree with everything in the article.
NB: another rare outbreak of republicanism in the bourgeois media from the excellent Catherine Bennett in the Observer.
Lest we forget:
Tony Blair is godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter
Tony Blair is godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch’s young children, it has emerged in an interview with the media tycoon’s wife Wendi.
Blair and [Alastair] Campbell took to heart the advice of the Australian prime minister, Paul Keating, on how to deal with Murdoch: “He’s a big bad bastard, and the only way you can deal with him is to make sure he thinks you can be a big bad bastard too. You can do deals with him, without ever saying a deal is done. But the only thing he cares about is his business and the only language he respects is strength.”
Blair and his team believed they had achieved exactly that. A deal had been done, although with nothing in writing. If Murdoch were left to pursue his business interests in peace he would give Labour a fair wind.
In the footnotes to his book, Price, who worked at No 10 as Campbell’s deputy, attributes that final sentence to “private information”.