The pathological liar Paul Nuttall

February 17, 2017 at 3:03 pm (elections, fantasy, fascism, jerk, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, UKIP)

From Our Person in Stoke, Phil Burton-Cartledge at All That Is Solid:

Lies, Damned Lies, and Paul Nuttall

Where to you start with a politician like Paul Nuttall? Like a foul dinner that keeps repeating, his every action belches falsehood upon fib upon lie. Saying you played professionally for Tranmere Rovers and having a PhD when you didn’t and don’t is good knockabout for politics anoraks, but it’s serious when your habitual lying extends to the seminal tragedy of modern football. Claiming you were there, that “you are a survivor” when everyone is saying you weren’t, and saying you lost “close personal friends” only to row back reveals a slimy opportunist who has to turn to a dictionary every time integrity is mentioned.

Having finally seen Nuttall up close at Monday’s by-election hustings at Staffordshire University, I found nothing that challenged my earlier assessment of him. For example, after saying he wouldn’t have a problem waterboarding a 10 year old he immediately disassembled and denied saying it, just as my moggy gives me one of those looks after finding her piss again on the kitchen floor. If only someone had recorded it. He cannot help but lie. If he’d had Ready Brek that morning he’d say he had Weetabix.

I understand why Paul Nuttall lies, and that’s because he’s a nothing man, an empty vessel that eats, walks around, and draws breath. All that there is a desire to be important, a hunger to be noticed, and that’s difficult if there’s nothing about you worth noticing. Consider UKIP’s leading figures for a moment. Douglas Carswell is the intellectual. Neil Hamilton the sleaze. Suzanne Evans the Tory. And Nigel Farage the cigarette swilling, pint smoking demagogue. Each have definable and discernible qualities, however much you may dislike them. But Nuttall, what of he? He’s alright in the media, he’s bald, he’s a scouser, and that’s about it. There is no presence to the man, something that was clearly evident at Monday’s hustings where Labour’s Gareth Snell and the Conservatives’ Jack Brereton both affected more weight on the stage.

If you are a politician without qualities, you can do one of two things. You can drift into obscurity and quietly draw a salary, much like the rest of UKIP’s anonymous cohort of MEPs, or make stuff up to give your character a bit of, well, character. In this by-election, we’ve seen Nuttall indulge Nigel Farage cosplay with his tweed outfit and flat cap look. Where the bloody hell he got the idea from that this is an appropriate look for Stoke is beyond me. He has also been taking a leaf out of Tristram’s book, too. Readers may recall that the dearly departed was hailed as a breath of fresh air, as a national figure with all the London connections that would help the Potteries. And give Tristram his due, he helped put the city on the national media’s radar and a number of interesting and important initiatives were born of these links. Nuttall has latched on to this and now parades around telling everyone who will listen that he’s a “national figure” too. And because he’s a big cheese, everything is going to be fine. Really Paul, if you have to go round convincing folks you’re a Very Big Deal …

What I find interesting is this is more than a Paul Nuttall issue, the cynical lies he tells is a property of hard right populist and fascist leaders generally. Nick Griffin and his coterie were pathological liars. Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen of Facebook fash, Britain First, are compulsive liars. Marine Le Pen, just like dear old papa, lies, lies, and lies. And the Grand Poobah himself, Donald Trump, lies as easily as he breathes. What we’re dealing with here is not just the individual flaws of a deeply average and, actually, quite dim man but a sociological phenomenon common to a family of politics. As with everything else, Nuttall doesn’t stand out among his peers. He’s utterly typical and indistinguishable from them. The banality of evil, indeed.

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The Stoke Central hustings

February 15, 2017 at 9:00 am (elections, labour party, terror, UKIP)

Our person in Stoke, Phil Burton-Cartledge, on his blog All That is Solid, reports:

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

At the Stoke Central Hustings

Coming away from The Sentinel-sponsored by-election hustings at Staffordshire University, I spotted a blood moon hanging low over Stoke. For whom did this augur an ill omen? For Gareth Snell and the Labour Party, or Paul Nuttall and the United Kingdom Independence Party? If what happens at hustings matters, I’d have to say it doesn’t bode well for our Tranmere playin’, PhD totin’, compulsive fibbin’ UKIP leader. It’s not that Nuttall was totally dreadful from a presentation point of view, apart from a catastrophic gaffe at the end, but that he commanded hardly a presence. For the hustings was effectively the Gareth show, with Jack Brereton of the Tories as the supporting act. Nuttall played little more than a walk-on part and had to compete with the also-rans for attention. If he is a national figure, which he kept reminding us, then it’s a position achieved in the absence of discernible talent and charisma.

Mick Temple, on hand to offer the expert perspective opened proceedings with the observation that the Stoke Central by-election is perhaps the most important in modern political history. What happens here will have repercussions for two major political parties. For Labour, not only would losing put a question over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, it raises the issue of if it can’t no longer win in its heartlands, where can it win? For UKIP, losing means there is effectively no point to the party any more. Win and there is a possibility it can become the new party of the working class.

With the scene set, Martin Tideswell of The Sentinel invited candidates to make a 60 second stump. Nuttall began by arguing that the message he’s getting from the doorstep is one of change, and he can deliver it. As a national figure he has the clout to get things done, and this would be because if Stoke changes from the capital of Brexit to the capital of change, it would scare the establishment. Godfrey Davies of the Christian People’s Alliance stated the he was standing against the liberal agenda that had brought calamity to our country – concentrating on Christian values is the only way forward. The LibDems’ Zulfiqar Ali said he was the only candidate opposed to hard Brexit, and wanted the people to have a say on the outcome of negotiations. More money for the NHS would be nice, too. Gareth for Labour stated his local credentials and said his priority would be to campaign for homes, and fight for the Brexit the Potteries deserves and not what London would condescend to dish out. Jack Brereton for the Tories said he was responsible for delivering £500m in investment in the city, including 1,000 new jobs on the Ceramic Valley development. He also stated – as if saying it made it true – that Theresa May had a plan that would make a success for Brexit. The Incredible Flying Brick of the Official Monster Raving Loonies began by saying this was his fourth by-election and, to much hilarity, read the BNP speech on the table next to him. Adam Colclough said things about being local and working together, and the BNP’s David Furniss said he was the only true Brexit candidate as his dobbins of a party had been against the EU since 1982.

It was evident from the first question that this was going to be a tetchy, bad-tempered meeting, and so it proved: readers interested in the full thing can watch the recording here. And there were flash points and moments of interest aplenty. The first full-on scrap came over the NHS and the integration of adult social care, which everyone agreed would be a very fine thing (though the BNP still managed to get a line in about immigrants). Very quickly it became an argument between Gareth and Jack, while egged on by Tories in the audience shouting PFI (do they know it was a Major policy, and has carried on under the present government?). What really got the Tory blood boiling was the obvious evidence – as noted by Gareth – that private contractors and quiet privatisation have and continue to undermine the NHS. An audience member used the opportunity to challenge Nuttall on his comments regarding nurse training and his belief they don’t need degrees. He hadn’t changed his mind, he replied, as there shouldn’t be any nurses who are “too posh to wash”. Scrapping degrees would save £3bn, which along with abandoning HS2 and stripping back foreign aid would supply ample cash for the NHS. Needless to say, this didn’t go down particularly well with health workers present.

A question aimed at economic development and directed at Gareth asked how we can get good quality jobs in Stoke, and how would having yet another Labour MP help? He replied that we need to work at moving government departments out of London to spread the benefits of public spending on these organisations. It also means thinking smart and partnering with Birmingham and Manchester to ensure the belated regionalisation the government favours partly accrues to the city as well. In short, we need someone who will get stuck in who isn’t going to Westminster to cheer lead the Prime Minister or further their own career. For his part, Jack replied that there are 1,500 more people employed in Stoke than was the case in 2010, and he repeated himself about the Ceramic Valley development. One thing he neglected to mention that these “new jobs” are merely a relocation of Bet365’s HQ from Festival Park nearby, which was a development prepped under the previous Labour council. Though I’m sure in good time the Tory-run council will have some achievements of their own they can talk up. It’s also worth noting that at an earlier hustings at Stoke Sixth Form College that Jack made his opposition to moving departments to Stoke known on the grounds that local people “didn’t have the skills”, and this from the champion of inward investment! On local economic development, all Nuttall could do was moan about HS2 and argue for the abolition of fees for “STEM cell subjects [sic]”. By far the most intriguing response was delivered courtesy of Godfrey Davies. To regenerate the city he intends to “bring the Kingdom of God to Stoke”, and that will provide its own blessings. Indeed.

Naturally, the issue of Gareth’s sexist tweets came up. Rather than trying to wriggle and lie as a, I don’t know, a Paul Nuttall might, he took it head on. He condemned his previous comments and said he did a lot of growing up in his 20s, and since then as Newcastle Borough Council leader he made the decision to increase funding for sexual violence and domestic violence support services, which benefited some of the borough’s most vulnerable women. As a trade unionist he’d helped organise low paid women and had marched shoulder-to-shoulder with his sisters.

There were more ding dongs over EU migrants in Britain after Brexit, whether a Remain-voting MP can represent a Leave constituency, on tuition fees and deindustrialisation. And then came Nuttall’s clanger. He was asked if a 10 year old child soldier of Islamic State was suspected of harbouring knowledge about a terror attack, would he order a member of the armed forces to waterboard them. Nuttall replied that if there was a suspect with information about a dirty bomb set to go off in London, Liverpool and, just remembering where he was, Stoke, then yes he would. Gareth quickly interjected with a “you’ve basically said you would waterboard a 10 year old”, to which all chaos broke loose. Above the din, Nuttall was stupid enough to shout he knew the evidence was that waterboarding doesn’t work, but would do it anyway.

I am increasingly of the mind that hustings don’t really serve any discernible purpose. At the beginning of the evening, Martin Tideswell asked who of the 60 or so present were actually Stoke Central residents voting on 23rd February. About half the hands went up, and looking at those who did about half of them were Labour, another five or six UKIP, and a handful of Tories and others apiece. It was what you call a public meeting without the public, a dialogue of people with no interest in having a dialogue. Yet it served a purpose. There is a recording available for all to view in which the ineptitude of Paul Nuttall is laid bare. This so-called national figure was not only bested by his Labour opponent who has had nowhere near as much media exposure than he, but by the also-ran Tory too. If there is any justice, he’ll get a drubbing so bad that the name ‘Paul Nuttall’ will be one remembered only by geeks and politics historians five years hence. Come to Stoke and help make sure this happens.

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On the Stoke Central candidates

February 4, 2017 at 6:30 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, elections, labour party, populism, posted by JD, reformism, UKIP)

Report from our person in Stoke Central, Phil Burton-Cartledge (first published on his blog, All That Is Solid):

On the Stoke Central By-Election Candidates

And so the finalised list of Stoke Central by-election candidates is out, and 10 folks fancy their chances. And it’s a circus, albeit one not likely to produce much merriment. Who then are the lions and acrobats? Which of them is the clown?

Naturally, Gareth Snell has roared into action. Labour were all over the constituency from the very moment Tristram Hunt declared Trexit and, as I’ve observed before, the party has a formidable machine and a real weight in the constituency that will be tough for its opponents to crack. That hasn’t stopped people from outside the constituency who can’t find Stoke without the aid of Google Earth have tried explaining to me that the local party couldn’t have selected a less suitable candidate. Au contraire. Gareth has lived locally for 13 years, worked in a series of part-time, insecure jobs while a student, worked in a local MP’s office where he dealt with the full gamut of constituent concerns, has sat and currently is a borough councillor, organised low paid workers as an employee of a local Unison branch and, most topically, defeated UKIP in a council by-election this summer in a ward that voted 80/20 to leave the European Union. His politics, while not Corbynist, are by any measure on the left. And during his too brief tenure as leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, he pushed through a no redundancies, no cuts to front line services budget despite government cuts to the local government grant while introducing the living wage (not the fake Tory rebranding of the minimum wage) to its lowest paid workers. It’s worth noting that subsequent Labour administrations have carried on in this vein. No cuts, no diminution of service, no redundancies. In the context of Tory austerity, that sounds like a record any Labour member would be proud of.

It seems the objections all centre around Gareth’s remain-ism and that he said rude things about Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter. Last thing first, while we all say daft things on social media in the heat of the moment there won’t be too many Stokies bringing up Guido’s “exposé” on the doorstep. Rather these have been all over his muckraking site and, surprise surprise, the Daily Express to generate social media interest in an attempt to suppress Labour support. This isn’t meant to offend their readership, but to ensure the bulk of the new membership have an entirely passive relationship with their party. Why, some would reason, should anyone from Momentum turn out to help in Stoke when the candidate is evidently not a Jeremy supporter? Guido and the Express aren’t interested in the truth, but they are interested in using anything to destroy the Labour Party as a going concern. It’s sad that this has to be explained to folks who should, by now, know better.

The second point is on remain vs leave. The bookies are offering slightly more favourable odds to UKIP based on the assumption that Stoke Central heavily voted for leave and we have a remainer candidate. And that’s where the analysis ends. But as noted previously, the record of all of last year indicates that if Brexit is a new political cleavage, an issue around which electoral fortunes turn, then it is a lopsided one. Leave voters have got their way. We’re leaving the EU. Some might moan about the pace of the departure, but it’s very much a minority pursuit. For most of them when it comes to politics, it’s back to the same old same old. If Brexit was blocked it would then be a different matter. Remain voters, however, are more motivated by this issue. For a variety of reasons, they – rightly – believe Leave conned, lied, and stirred up hate on its way to victory. And so when elections come round they are moved to make a point about it at the ballot box. That explains how the LibDems have come surging back in local council by-elections, won in Richmond, and confounded expectations in Witney. It’s how you can have bizarre results where the LibDems take a safe Labour seat in Brexit-supporting Sunderland. Had remain won, I have no doubt the terms would now be reversed. It would be UKIP enjoying another wind as the gust of defeat drives at its sails. And because of the song and dance UKIP are making about remain-supporting Gareth, they might be unwittingly helping Labour’s chances.

Yes, I am aware there are other candidates in this election, so let’s take a look. Jack Brereton won the Tory nomination to fight Stoke Central in a contest as foregone as any organised by the Zanu-PF. CCHQ are apparently pleading poverty and sinking all their resources into Copeland, but that doesn’t mean the Tories won’t wage a proper campaign. The Conservative group on the council are an ambitious bunch who fancy taking berths up in the Commons. For all sorts of reasons, a win is impossible but if they can take back second place and are seen to put UKIP back in their box, 2020 could make for an interesting time for them. The LibDems in Stoke are in a difficult place. I will give their man, Dr Zulfiqar Ali some credit. Rain or shine, he’s stood and he’s stood and he’s stood, be it as a no hope parliamentary candidate, or a no hope council candidate. However, with local students not terribly well disposed toward his party for their tuition fee betrayal, and past LibDem support bound up with local “personalities” who’ve either retired from politics or now sit as City Independents, where can their vote come from? The same can be said for Adam Colclough of the Greens. Formerly of Labour, he absented himself from the party after the 2010 factional farrago left us with Tristram. But where is their support? Some students, yes. Scraps of votes around the slightly more better off parts of the constituency, yes, but enough to win back their deposit?

Moving from the parties to the living dead, this by-election sees the unwelcome return of the BNP. David Furness (who?) was their London mayoral election candidate in 2015, and describes himself as a “practising member of the Church of England”. Because nothing advertises Christian values like the membership of a fascist organisation. While another opportunist carpetbagger, Furness’s candidacy underlines the weakness of the local BNP. In fact, they have almost no discernible existence. Since we last took a look at Stoke BNP a few years ago, we found them a sad bunch sat in awkward silence over identical McDonald’s Happy Meals. I am pleased to report the necrosis has continued apace. Their remaining activists have either dropped out of politics, or followed their local “brains”, Mike Coleman, into the Albion First groupuscule/Facebook page. Yet for Stokies who did vote BNP up until 2010, the eclipse and tumultuous disintegration of the party since won’t have registered. There will be some who rock up at the polling booth, spot the BNP on the ballot, and place their cross there as opposed to UKIP.

In the independent corner, we have two to choose from. Neither of which are associated with our friends the City Independents, of course. Mohammed Akram is a solicitor who has a history in local Muslim welfare organisations. And Barbara Fielding hails from Blythe Bridge on the city’s outskirts. Quite why they’re standing and what they hope to achieve is a complete mystery – something I often wonder about when independents contest parliamentary by-elections.

I’ll pass over the Monster Raving Loonies (I await the inevitable “gags” in the comments box, below) and Christian People’s Alliance, and head straight to Paul Nuttall. We’ve talked about him before, and he’s given me more reasons to speak ill of him again. Consider this. If you are clever, if you claim “to have a PhD”, if you are the leader of a political party and the media spotlight is on you, would you commit a violation of electoral law by declaring a house you’ve never been to in the constituency as your home, and then admit to it on national telly afterwards? He’s been caught telling porkies, just like his time wearing the Tranmere Rovers’ jersey and “being there” at Hillsborough. Here we have an incredibly brittle man whose national profile is entirely thanks to Nigel Farage. He knows he has no discernible qualities, which is why he has to make them up. And, I have to say, lying so much about his own biography easily lends himself to telling lies about immigration, about the NHS, about Brexit. And there’s the small matter of being under investigation for office expenses fraud as well. Nuttall is a spiv, a fake, a lazy arsed mediocrity whose sole concern is to use politics to feather his bed. He doesn’t care about Stoke, its problems, its people. The prize is another £75,000/annum and a few more years as Someone Who Matters, and he’s quite prepared to wade in the sewer to get it.

And so the choice is pretty obvious. It’s between stopping UKIP and their poisonous politics here, in Stoke, and throwing them into a reverse from which they may never recover. Or having them emerge victorious with all the terrible consequences for our politics that entails. It’s between a union man who champions working people, and a lying wastrel who can’t wait to sponge off the taxes of those selfsame workers. Are you in to stop this shit in its tracks?

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Inside Stoke Central’s selection meeting

January 31, 2017 at 2:18 pm (elections, labour party, posted by JD, reblogged, reformism)

By Phil Burton-Cartledge (first published at his blog All That Is Solid)

Equality House, the base for North Staffordshire’s Racial Equality Council is not an easy place to find. Tucked away down Raymond Street on the outskirts of Hanley, it’s a road unknown to Stoke taxi drivers and SatNav alike. And yet 129 voting members managed to track it down on a cold Wednesday night for Stoke Central Labour Party’s selection meeting, following in the footsteps of 71 people who made the same journey seven years before.

CLP chair Terry Crowe and Regional Director George Sinnott outlined the process for the meeting. Each of the three shortlisted candidates would give a strictly-timed 10 minute statement followed by 20 minutes of questions. To ensure parity and avoid planted questions that may favour one candidate over the others, the members who were called by the chair in the first round would be required to ask them in the second and third. Meanwhile, lots were drawn in the anteroom to determine the running order. It came up Allison Gardner, Trudie McGuinness, and Gareth Snell.

Beginning her pitch, Allison put paid to misunderstandings and rumours that had done the rounds (including one I genuinely got wrong). She voted and supported Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, and stood by him last summer by voting for him again. She also said that while she wasn’t from North Staffs, it has given her the time of her life. As a councillor for Chesterton, she knew about the concerns that drive people to support UKIP, and also has a record of uniting people from different backgrounds as she has campaigned to save Bradwell Hospital from closure. In fact, the reason why she wanted to be a MP was to eyeball Jeremy Hunt. As a scientist who teaches on Keele University’s foundation programme, Allison is committed to high tech development and a mixed economy that can deliver it. This also meant fighting to protect ceramics to preserve the local economy and identity and working for the best Brexit for the city.

And then came the questions. She was asked about her attitude to academies (generally unhappy and disliked the big academy chains), what she would have done had she been in the PLP last summer (was furious with their behaviour as it missed the moment the Tories were on their knees, and she thought Corbyn is doing okay), about whether she would not go to the Daily Mail to criticise the party and keep misgivings private (yes, she believes in discipline), how she would work with disengaged young people like the thousands of students in the constituency (draw on her experience as a teacher and go where they are via stalls, pint and politics events, and so on), what key economic policy would make Brexit work for Stoke (continued and uninterrupted single market access), how to accomplish the funding of integrating health and social care (more tax on the rich), how she would take on Nuttall (expose his fakery, NHS lies, opposition to workers’ rights), how she would work to stop the transfer of HMRC jobs from Stoke (oppose and and offer local services and local offices – technology means there is no need to centralise), views on bus nationalisation (bring into national or cooperative ownership), how she would contribute to party unity (being good and decent, honest and not manipulative), and on the increase in homelessness (this is a concern of mine, the homeless are our people).

Next came Trudie. She began by noting that Stoke is the centre of the universe, which is a claim I live my life by. She was born in the city, is proud of it and will fight for the education, housing and health of our city. She was also outraged that Paul Nuttall thought he could come here and exploit the concerns of locals. He is trying to make Stoke all about Brexit, when it is much more than that. She then switched to her time in Staffordshire Moorlands Labour’s parliamentary candidate. Often asked why she was bothering as Labour didn’t have a chance of winning, she said it mattered – she’s a fighter and campaigner who will always fight for the underdog and our people. Taking this experience, Trudie’s campaign would be full throttle against UKIP and she was determined to make Stoke not the capital of Brexit, but the capital of Labour uniting and crushing Nuttall’s party. As someone who works in and is passionate about education, she would relish the chance to take him on at a hustings – he isn’t someone who inspires intimidation and fear, but a determination to beat him.

Onto the questions, while she was initially open-minded about academies experience suggests they have reduced the quality of education, and no benefit whatsoever has accrued from removing local authority control. On last summer’s attempted coup, she believed it came at absolutely the wrong time, but could understand why Labour MPs backed it. Trudie voted Owen Smith because she was concerned there was no progress under Jeremy. But now, the issue is closed and there’s an opportunity for Labour to write a new story. On disagreements, she believed there is nothing more depressing and dispiriting than the idea of going to Westminster to pick fights with colleagues – the enemy are the Tories and UKIP. On the young, her experience in education means interacting and engaging with the young is something she’s used to doing. She had already spoken to local colleges about sorting out voter registration. On Brexit and economic policy, she believed in protecting the customs union as she was especially concerned about the impact tariffs could have on the city. The integration of health and social care depends on tax, and this is especially true in Stoke where health issues are (historically) work-related and now compounded by poverty. On facing Nuttall it would be taking him to task on his opportunism, on contrasting his desire to break up and privatise the NHS with someone who truly cares. On keeping HMRC jobs, Trudie noted about a third of all Stoke’s employment is in the public sector, so she would fight to keep them and draw on her own experience of fighting with union colleagues against cuts. On the buses, she favours nationalisation and reintegration. Disappearing services are causing blockages in our national economies. When she lived in Leek, there were regular routes to Sheffield and Derby but they have gone, and this is a recipe for isolating communities. On party unity, Trudie had built and led teams for years and believes that honesty, dialogue and listening builds trust and unity. And lastly, on rough sleepers she argued that we should never forget the most vulnerable. Without that compassion, Labour is nothing.

Lastly was Gareth. After two excellent pitches, he had a tough act to follow. But he did. He started off by noting that the by-election wasn’t something we wanted, but it is one we have to win. He said he’d lived in the Potteries for 13 years where he met his wife, and his daughter was born in UHNS – now Royal Stoke. And like any true North Staffs person, she loves oatcakes. Therefore their past, present and future were rooted here. He also can’t bear the idea of Nuttall representing Stoke in parliament. This is a battle of ideals and we can reassert ourselves as the party of working people. Stopping UKIP here will go a long way to stopping them nationally by demonstrating Labour is the vehicle for progressive social change. He noted how he’d fought UKIP on many occasions, the last time being his winning a local council by-election and taking a seat from them in an 80/20 Brexit-voting ward a few weeks after the referendum. That goes to show that Brexit doesn’t mean UKIP, therefore we can beat and crush Nuttall.

On the questions, Gareth said academies should come back under local education authority control. Their existence offers no accountability and does not allow for sensible planning of school places in a given locality – it’s in the gift of for-profit academy chains. On the coup, it is now incumbent for Labour to get behind Corbyn and unify. Labour is a family and should be united in facing outward with no public commentary of internal matters. Elaborating on the question about fostering party unity, he suggested disagreements are for rooms like the one the local party was meeting in but face outwards to the public. On engaging young people, he recounted his experience with Keele Labour Club which worked at remedying the disenfranchisement of students by talking about what students wanted to talk about. There is an opportunity to work with Staffs University students down the road, and use similar approaches to reach out to other young people. On Brexit and economic policy, safeguarding and protecting local heritage through the back stamping campaign and ensuring free access to the single market is the best way of protecting Stoke. On health and social care, these cuts were offloaded by government onto councils which set them up for government criticism for not coping as they forced cuts on local authority budgets. Funding has to be sustainable, and this can only come from general taxation – this means taxing the rich and cracking down on tax dodging. On facing Nuttall, we should not lump UKIP and the Tories together and make it easier for the latter to vote for the former if they’re perceived as a Tory home from home. It also means not talking up Nuttall as a leading politician but as a serial election loser and a carpetbagger. But this was going to be a door-to-door dogfight and we’re going to have to work at turning out traditional non-voters too. Lastly, due to time, on the HMRC jobs move we have to shout about the benefits of access to the same services wherever we live. But on dealing with the issue to hand, he would ask the PCS what service he could lend – battles are won by organised workers and not politicians.

And with that, the pitches came to an end. After an unavoidably long voting process, after which about half drifted home (it was late) and the nail biting finish of the final vote tally, Gareth Snell was announced as Stoke Central CLP’s choice to contend the by-election.

So just to squash a few claims doing the rounds. First off, Gareth is not a Blairite. Anyone can see from the summary above that opposition to academies, taxing the rich and arguing change is contingent to organised workers acting is hardly congruent with the vapidities of third way “thinking”. Nor was it a stitch up. Keith Vaz didn’t get on the blower to order constituency members to support a favoured candidate, nor did the union machinery churn out recommendations that especially favoured him. He was endorsed by a prominent local Unison activist, but the regional Unite recommendation was awarded to Trudie, for instance. It’s almost as if some people want to believe it was a fix, and are prepared to spin any old bullshit to support their claims. If you want stich-ups, I’ll give you stitch-ups.

I’ve known Gareth for a long time and he will be an excellent candidate and make a great MP. He understands the labour movement, has solid values and politics, and preternatural eye for detail that any obfuscating Tory minister will come to dread. If I was Nuttall, I’d be packing my bags already.

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Previewing the Stoke Central By-Election

January 18, 2017 at 1:56 pm (class, democracy, elections, labour party, populism, posted by JD, reformism, UKIP)

Local lad Phil Burton-Cartledge (who blogs at All That Is Solid) concludes his series of articles on Stoke-on Trent in the light of the forthcoming by-election:

Previewing the Stoke-on-Trent Central By-Election

Finally, here’s the third installment on the Stoke-on-Trent politics special. We’ve spoken about Tristram Hunt’s career in The Potteries, and we’ve turned our attention to the local scene. Now it’s time to go all Mystic Meg and break out the politics astrology charts. For which party do the stars align?

Labour have got to be the favourites. Stoke-on-Trent Central was born a Labour seat, and the party will be stretching every sinew to ensure it stays that way until the Boundary Commission kills it. Labour has some very strong cards to play. Firstly, the membership. All the Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire parties are active, campaigning organisations in-between elections. The bad old days of nothing happening unless we were asking for votes are long gone. Additionally, the combined membership of these parties are huge. Stoke Central itself is pushing 500, the other Stoke parties are more or less the same and nearby parties are, if anything, even larger. And we know people are going to travel from far and wide to help out. In short, a tsunami of Labour activists are poised to swamp the constituency, and none of the other parties will come close to matching it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Unite GS election: dilemma for the left

December 20, 2016 at 5:34 pm (elections, labour party, Unite the union)

In a split from his key ally Jeremy Corbyn, right, 'Red' Len McCluskey, left, the general secretary of Unite, said Labour and the unions must 'listen to the concerns of working people' 
Above: McCluskey and Corbyn

By Jack Kincaide

Len McCluskey’s decision to stand for a third term as Unite general secretary, and to bring the election forward by a year (while privately telling confidantes that if re-elected he will stand down after a further three years – ie 2020 – presents the serious left in Unite with a dilemma.

Virtually no-one – left, right or centre – within Unite thinks McCluskey’s decision to stand is a good idea. Even McCluskey’s loyal supporters in the union’s United Left (UL) are unhappy with his tactic of standing down only to stand again … but supporting ‘Lennie’ is a matter of faith for the UL. He is almost a cult figure, and the fact that he is the general secretary is ‘proof’ that Unite is a left-wing union. Even the many people critical of McCluskey’s latest decision would find it difficult to break from the UL, a current to which they have belonged all of their trade union lives (if you include its pervious manifestations as the T&G Broad Left and the Amicus Gazette group).

The excuses made for McCluskey over the £700,000 flat largely paid for by Unite also sums up how politically weak much of the UL is – either unwilling or unable to see just how bad this dodgy deal is, and how bad it looks to many rank and file members. Being ‘left’ is a matter of supporting ‘Lennie’ (who has the advantage of being quite personable), not a matter of actual politics. In fact, a large proportion of the UL members who sit on the Unite EC do not have any clear-cut politics. Hence their readiness to roll over and die on issues such as the Collins Review and Trident.

McCluskey announced his resignation last Wednesday. By Friday the national chair of the UL had already circulated a statement in the name of the UL which backed McCluskey’s candidature uncritically and to the hilt. It is true that if it had gone out to the membership, there would have been a (big) majority for McCluskey. But the fact that the statement was issued without even consulting the UL membership cannot be right.

The Morning Star – predictably – has had no hesitation in falling into line behind McCluskey. Perhaps slightly less predictably, so has the Socialist Party (gist of article: Len’s not perfect, but he’s doing a pretty good job. Advice to McCluskey: He should stand for election on a platform which he is not going to stand on. Real reason to support McCluskey in last paragraph: Four SPers are standing for election to the EC. If the SP does not support McCluskey, its members cannot stand on as part of the UL slate and are less likely to get elected).

There is a left wing candidate who on the face of it might be worthy of supporting against McCluskey: Ian Allinson, a respected workplace activist for 25 years at Fujitsu, playing a leading role in building the union in a largely unorganised industry. He led the first national strike in the industry in 2009-10. He served on the union’s executive for ten years before stepping down in 2014. His own workplace is currently in dispute and taking strike action over pay, pensions and job security.

As Allinson says on his blog, “Unlike the two establishment candidates, I’m in the workplace, at the sharp end like the thousands of other reps and activists who make Unite the fighting union it is today”.

It has to be said that Allinson’s political allegiance is to the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century group (aka RS21), an organisation that to its credit, split from the SWP over the ‘Comrade Delta’ scandal three years ago, but still holds to much of the SWP’s crude voluntarism (ie the rank and file are straining at the leash to fight the bosses and only held back by weak leadership), and -in particular – their refusal to engage seriously with the Labour Party.

Which brings us to the strongest argument against supporting Allinson and for a (very) critical vote for McCluskey: the right wing candidate is Gerard Coyne, a capable bureaucrat with a well organised and well  funded team behind him. He is standing on a “members must get their union back” platform that is, in reality, an appeal to members who want the union to cease its support for Corbyn and/or to withdraw from active engagement with politics. He is backed by the shadowy anti-Corbyn group around Tom Watson and Reg Race.

There is a growing sense that Coyne could win; this comes from being able to mobilise two groups of people, ex-AMICUS members who vote in elections and a broader anti-Corbyn vote which will be drawn from both sides of the union and who don’t usually vote. This outcome is made more likely with Allinson standing.

While Hicks (the ridiculous “left” candidate against McCluskey in the last two GS elections) pulled together two groups – the far left and skilled AMICUS members who don’t like the T&G tradition – he was unable to go beyond the activists Allinson constituency will solely be the far left which will take votes from McCluskey.

The real difference between McCluskey and Coyne is not industrial (where they don’t appear to have any substantial differences): it revolves around the Labour Party. Coyne’s main selling point will be the union’s involvement in politics, and specifically support for Corbyn. Coyne will have the backing from mainstream labour and the anti-Corbyn organisations, they will also have the press pushing this line: get rid of McCluskey you get rid of Corbyn.

A Coyne victory would see Corbyn’s position unravel in the medium term: the serious left inside Unite has to decide whether to support McCluskey on that basis.

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Trump victory: revolt of the NCO’s

November 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm (civil rights, Democratic Party, elections, fascism, middle class, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reaction, Republican Party, Trump, United States, workers)

 Steve Bell 171116Illustration: Steve Bell (Guardian)

By Barry Finger

The US Presidential election is the culmination of the long-standing economic and cultural grievances of America’s non-commissioned officer class, a subclass largely composed of white men from the rust-belt, whose factories have been asset stripped and sent abroad and whose unions or small businesses, pensions and prospects have been decimated. They are not the poorest of the poor – not even the poorest of the white poor.

But neither was this a revolt led by the white working class rank and file, the many who never fully shared the benefits of life in the skilled trades and ascendant key industries of a dominating economic power. From this platform, they had assumed a quasi-social leadership role over the traditional working class and, through their unions, often fought for broad programs of social remediation within the existing social order that they also jealously defended.

This election was a revolt headed by those who had acquired a modest stake in middle class life and now find that life, and the institutions that made that life possible, disappearing. It is led by white working men whose fortunes have fallen, afflicted by wage stagnation and an ever-widening social disparity in income and wealth that has consigned them to the wrong side of the divide. They prided and deluded themselves that they and they alone had reliably done society’s heavy lifting and were, in turn, entitled to certain expectations. Above all they had the expectation of a well-run and stable social order, an order in which they would continue to enjoy a place of respect and authority and a rising standard of living, which could be passed down to their children.

They had, above all, placed their confidence in the ruling class, who had historically indulged this self-estimation only to find themselves abandoned in an increasingly globalizing economy. This sense of free-fall has been massively reinforced by a shift in equality’s center of gravity owing to greater racial and gender inclusiveness, with which it coincided. That abandonment has become the crucial factor in the increasingly polarized and caustic political conflict, a conflict that can be resolved in a progressive or reactionary direction.

Society’s NCOs asserted themselves. But they did not assert themselves in a vacuum. Nowhere in the developed capitalist world has the left acquired traction. Our manifold debacles need not be rehearsed. Suffice it to say that the left has not provided an oppositional center of gravity that could capture this white working class disenchantment and channel it into a progressive direction.

No one expecting to extract a concession from the system could reasonably vote for the Greens. There are perfectly honorable and noble reasons to cast a protest vote, to put a place marker on a vision of liberation that may yet be. But this is not where concessions are realized absent a massive movement surge from below. And that, unfortunately, does not describe the current American scene.

But the liberal wing of the American ruling class, having neutralized the Sanders’ insurgency, effectively corralled this discontent into the Trump alt-right pigsty, where, they thought, it could be contained. Clinton had something to offer Wal-Mart and fast food workers: a raise in the minimum wage, subsidized childcare, a modified Obama plan. She could offer a path to citizenship to the dreamers and subsidized public tuition. But by failing to derail voter suppression through the South – and even in Wisconsin, and by failing to offer a grand inclusive program of economic reconstruction to restore the white working class and sweep up the multiethnic poor and near poor into co-prosperity, she could not counterbalance the appeal of the far right.

Clinton was perceived, and correctly so, as being the agent of global financial and corporate interests, the very interests that had inflicted this protracted social setback to white workers. She was the face of the status quo.

This is a neo-fascist moment and it is bleeding into advanced economies throughout the world. It was all but announced here by the open intervention of the deep state, in the form of the FBI’s bombshell intervention on behalf of Trump barely two weeks before the election. And make no mistake about it. Neo-fascists, unlike traditional reactionaries and conservatives, are unencumbered by economic orthodoxies and can run an economy. They, like the far left, fully understand that capitalism is not self-correcting and place no faith in markets. They fully appreciate the need for massive doses of state intervention and are fully prepared to blow a sky-high hole through the deficit.

That is why, contrary to Paul Krugman and others, the stock market, after an initial shortfall, began to boom. Massive tax cuts, a protective wall of tariffs, relaxation and elimination of environmental and Wall Street regulations, huge public works in the forms of infrastructural renovation, the promise of a border wall and the spend-up on military hardware all herald and shape the state-led investment boom to come. Caterpillar and Martin Marietta soared. As did Big Pharma, soon free to price gouge without fear of criminal investigation. Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin had field days. Private Prison corporations are licking their chops at the prospect of the FBI and police being let loose on immigrant communities and communities of color. Student loan services and lenders, no longer facing government competition, got a new lease on life. Even too big to fail banks stocks rose with the prospect that Dodd-Frank being repealed. Increasing after tax incomes will stimulate working class demand and in the hands of the wealthy drive up share prices.

Paradoxically, gun manufacturers saw a drop in stock prices. Speculators shorted gun stocks presumably because the threat of gun regulation has been removed thereby eliminating the perceived urgency on the part of gun enthusiasts to stockpile arms in anticipation of that threat.

The Trump insurrection, fueled by this NCO revolt, effectively defeated the two political parties, the Republicans no less than the Democrats. It appealed to white workers equally on the basis of anxiety over economic decline but also on the basis of prejudice, the loss of class status and the promise of a return to class collaboration, a new deal –if you can pardon that usage, with a responsive nativist-oriented ruling class. It promises, in other words, rule by like-thinking CEOs who can be relied upon to restore prosperity within the confines of a retro 1950s-like social order that erases the gains of women – right down to basic bodily autonomy — and minorities. In that regard, Trump will refashion the civil service, the permanent government bureaucracy, on a purely political basis, essentially ending the primary path to upward mobility on the part of minorities who cannot be relied upon to pass a political litmus test. If proof is needed, see how an tea-party Republican such as Scott Walker could decimate the civil service in Wisconsin and then tweak that example to fit Trump’s outsized predilections.

The nominal Republican Party has been effectively transformed into a white nationalist party and if it succeeds in raising rust-belt white incomes and economic security on that basis, while checking the aspirations of Blacks, Hispanics and women, it will have legitimized and institutionalized that transformation.

The Democratic Party has discredited itself. It is an empty vessel, unable to defend the living standards of the multi-ethnic American work class. It is a party of split loyalties, in which workers, women and minorities take a back seat to corporate interests. And the corporate interests they take a back seat to are precisely those global, financial and tech sectors that are decimating living standards and feeding the revolt.

Trump has started the political realignment in this country. Social movements, central to which is labor, can stay loyal to the Democrats and cave, or they can find their way to political independence and make a credible appeal to Trump workers to jump ship on the basis of class solidarity.

Barry writes for New Politics magazine

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AWL statement on the Trump victory

November 11, 2016 at 6:56 pm (capitalism, conspiracy theories, Democratic Party, elections, fascism, immigration, libertarianism, misogyny, populism, posted by JD, Racism, Republican Party, Trump, United States, workers)

Image result for picture Workers Liberty logo

This piece also appears in Solidarity:

Donald Trump has won the US Presidential election.

He won by tapping into the reality of and the fear of poverty and failure among millions of working-class Americans.

He won by exploiting the deep racial divisions that have blighted the US for centuries. He attacked all Hispanic workers when calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. By scapegoating Muslims.

He won because millions of Americans wanted to revolt against the political establishment. But this man is not the “blue collar billionaire” that his supporters dubbed him. Just a billionaire and also part of, the nastiest part, of the establishment!

Donald Trump is an idiot blowhard but the political functionaries around him are not. This election was probably won by the Trump camp calculating the “demographics” of the USA. By exploiting the different insecurities that many people feel. By understanding and approving of social fragmentation in the USA and working it to Trump’s advantage.

But in short, Trump made his appeal to a white working class which has been excluded by the powerfully destructive forces of US capitalism over the last 30 years as it moved its business to anywhere in the world where labour is cheaper.

Even when Trump made his appeal to African-Americans, in order to soften his image, he could not resist treating those communities as people whose real political views and interests were worthless to him. “What have you got to lose”, he said, “Your life couldn’t get any worse”. Unsurprisingly, the polls said 90% of those African-Americans who were voting, would not vote for Trump.

As shocked as we are by this result the truth is that Trump always stood a good chance of winning after the exit of Bernie Sanders from the election. With his calls for free college tuition, the removal of student debt, a national health service, Sanders represented a radical break from the status quo, but one which, with sufficient organisation on the ground, the whole of working-class American could have united behind.

Clinton

By nominating a a presidential candidate who was always going to continue the Clinton-Bush-Obama programme of complacency, corruption and corporate-interest politics, the Democrats ensured discontent among millions of people would rise.

It was simply Hillary Clinton’s turn to pursue austerity and warmongering. Donald Trump was there to exploit and hypocritically ridicule this “establishment”.

What happens now? He may not be able to put through a programme of economic nationalism. He may not be able to expel thousands of Hispanic workers. But he will be able to load the Supreme Court front bench with conservatives. Already vulnerable abortion rights and the right of LGBT people to marry are under threat. Trade unions too will be under attack.

Trump’s election will give the green light to the neighbourhood vigilantes who fear young black men so much they are prepared to put a bullet in their back. The reactionaries who stand outside abortion clinics. The virulently anti-immigration Tea Party people. The organised fascists. And some of these people — the alternative right, the libertarians — are already part of Trump’s camp.

Not everyone who voted for Trump approve of his violent sexism. But many did. There were people who overlooked the serious charges of sexual assault; that is they do not think this behaviour is wrong. Not everyone who voted for Trump is racist. But many are. US racial divisions run deep.

One of the saddest things about this election is how long-time union members, who in different circumstances would regard themselves as anti-racist voted for Trump.

In places like West Virginia where there virtually no stable jobs Trump won big majorities. Maybe people just hear what they want to hear when Trump uses opportunistic lies like “I am going to make America great again”. But the coal mines will not reopen. The miners will not go back to work. This is a man who made his fame on the basis of ruthlessly telling people “You’re fired”. If big business is now in fracking, and not coal, that is where state support under Trump will go.

Capitalist rule as is in fact epitomised by the US two-party system, may have lost it’s legitimacy but without a socialist alternative to replace it, things can get much worse.

What can the socialist left do now? Passively regarding Trump voters as ignorant rednecks who could never be pulled away from his politics is wrong. Yes, many millions are poorly educated. But in this vastly wealthy society that is a shocking crime. As are these facts — that 21% of American children live in poverty, that 10% of workers are in low waged jobs, that 30% do not have health insurance and 40% do not have a pension.

Wherever the left is — in the US or in Europe — we all have to argue for class politics, the politics of justice and solidarity and at the same time making the strongest challenge we can against racism and xenophobia.

We do have a chance to do these things. Remember Bernie Sanders drew larger crowds than Trump for his attacks on Wall Street and the power and privilege of the “millionaires and billionaires.”

Here in Europe our struggle is against Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen and Beppe Grillo. But it also against those in the labour movement who think anti-immigration sentiments and mild token opposition to the rule of capitalism is enough. And we also warn against a left which makes semi-populist stances against “the capitalist EU”, against globalisation, but never sets out a positive socialist programme: for equality, for working-class unity across borders, for the appropriation for the banks, for secure jobs and homes for all.

Events are showing us that campaigning for a social-democratic left “getting into power” is not enough. Getting working-class representation is about building a mass political labour movement organised around socialist politics. The necessity is not new but it has just got many times more urgent.

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Letter to American friends and comrades

November 9, 2016 at 10:07 am (anti-fascism, civil rights, class, Democratic Party, elections, fascism, Jim D, misogyny, populism, Racism, reaction, Republican Party, tragedy, Trump, United States)

Image result for picture Trump victory

Dear Friends and Comrades,

Today is a terrible one for America and the world.

Unlike too many on the left, I’ve always been pro-American. Pro-American in the sense that I love and admire American culture, the the ideals of the founding fathers and the noble battle by black and white Americans to achieve Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for all US citizens. Most of all, I admire the fact that America is a nation of immigrants – multi-cultural in the best sense.

Now all that appears to be at risk, with the election of a narcissistic, isolationist bigot who quotes Mussolini with approval and openly admires Putin.

Trump may not be a fully-fledged fascist, but he’s certainly giving the far right a major opening. “Trump has shown that our message is healthy, normal and organic,” one white nationalist leader told the New York Times.

Racist violence and harassment, whether or not it’s driven by organized groups, is already on the rise. The past two years have seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Muslims, and the month before the election witnessed a spate of anti-Black incidents in Mississippi–including an African American church that was set on fire and spray-painted with the words “Vote Trump.”

Now the left will have to figure out how to mobilize against the threat of a growing far right. As Dorian Bon wrote for SocialistWorker.org:

[T]he right wing can’t be shrugged off as insignificant, and protesting against it shouldn’t be dismissed as giving the right the attention it craves. The vile ideas of figures like Trump, just like the more developed reactionary filth of openly fascist parties, have to be named and confronted…

Equally important, the right wing’s politics of despair and scapegoating have to be countered with a positive alternative–one that stands for justice and democracy, in contrast to the prejudices of the right. This is why building social movements against all the oppressions and injustices faced by ordinary people is important–not only for winning change on particular issues, but in challenging the success of the right wing that tries to exploit these conditions.

Trump, the boorish, sexist, racist, tax-dodging mountebank, charlatan, billionaire, has been the unworthy beneficiary of working class and middle class disillusionment with both the Democrat and the Republican so-called “establishments”. The dreadful Hillary Clinton was the embodiment of the reviled “political class” that has left blue collar workers rotting in enforced idleness and industrial areas turned into rust-belts. She and her Democrat fixers had privately welcomed Trump as the Republican candidate, believing him to be unelectable. The reality was that Clinton was the ideal opponent for Trump. Much of what he and his supporters said about her was sheer sexism, but some of it was true – or, more importantly, it rang true: privileged, out of touch, uninterested in the day-to-day concerns of working people. Ironically, the self-styled socialist Bernie Sanders would have been a stronger candidate and quite possibly have beaten the charlatan.

Richard Rorty in his last book, “Achieving Our Country,” written in 1998, presciently saw where a post – industrial USA was headed.

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Populist and fascist movements build their base from the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the mainstream political process . The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements. Hannah Arendt, echoing Durkheim, noted that “the chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships.”

We have seen this in the UK in the form of “Brexit” and the racist carnival of reaction it has unleashed (some on the supposed “left” to their shame, even supported a “Brexit” vote!), so for me personally, the Trump victory is a second body-blow to come within a few months. Elsewhere, authoritarian nationalist populism is in power (Putin, Erdogan, Modi) or waiting, menacingly, in the wings (Le Pen, Golden Dawn, Wilders, etc).

I believe America will survive and eventually defeat Trump and Trumpism. Your democratic tradition and history of civil rights struggle is too strong to be permanently subdued by this creature. But it will take a revived left, embracing workers of all ethnicities and decent people of all classes an d backgrounds, willing to take on not just the proto-Fascist Trump, but the “respectable” Democrats so disastrously personified by Hillary Clinton. Joe Hill’s famous words to Big Bill Hayward have become something of a cliché over the years, but rarely have they been more apposite than now: “Don’t mourn, organize!”

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Philip Roth: where are you now that we need you?

November 7, 2016 at 5:43 pm (anti-semitism, Democratic Party, elections, fascism, history, Jim D, literature, Racism, Republican Party, United States)

Philip Roth.
Philip Roth

The terrifying possibility of a Trump victory tomorrow is mitigated only by a certain perverse amusement at the sheer narcissism and witless buffoonery of this vainglorious mountebank. And there is one voice in particular that should now be raised in scathing denunciation: that of Philip Roth, the magesterial chronicler of American mores, society and politics of the last century, whose counterfactual book The Plot Against America describes (through the eyes of a young New York Jewish boy), the events following the victory of the Nazi sympathising celebrity Charles Lindbergh in the 1940 presidential election.

Of course, in reality Frankin Roosevelt won, and Lindberg wasn’t even on the ballot (the Republican candidate was the businessman Wendell Willkie), but he was the leader of the hugely popular ‘America First’ isolationist anti-war movement, and the idea of him winning the Republican nomination and then the presidency itself, is not ridiculously far-fetched. Indeed, with the rise of Trump, Roth’s alternative history looks far less outlandish than it did when the book was first published in 2004.

It should also be noted that on the evidence of his infamous Des Moines speech of September 11th 1941, Lindbergh appears to have been a less egotistical, more thoughtful and probably more personally honest individual than Trump:

So why have we heard nothing from Roth in the course of the present tragicomic presidential contest? Surely, Trump is perfect Roth material – and Clinton also worthy of his forensic scorn?

The sad answer may be found in Roth’s 2007 Exit Ghost, which opens on the eve of the 2004 US election and contains a description of the protagonist Nathan Zuckerman’s withdrawal from political involvement – and, indeed, from much of contemporary life. Roth has never made any secret of the fact that Zuckerman is an alter ego for himself. The following gives us a taste of what we’re missing, and the reason why that is so:

I had been an avid voter all my life, one who’d never pulled a Republican lever for any office on any ballot. I had campaigned for Stevenson as a college student and had my juvenile expectations dismantled when Eisenhower trounced him, first in ’52 and then again in ’56; and I could not believe what I saw when a creature so rooted in his ruthless pathology, so transparently fraudulent and malicious as Nixon, defeated Humphrey in ’68, and when, in the eighties, a self assured knucklehead whose unsurpassable hollowness and hackneyed sentiments and absolute blindness to every historical complexity became the object of national worship and, esteemed as a “great communicator” no less, won each of two terms in a landslide. And was there ever an election like Gore versus Bush, resolved in treacherous ways that it was, so perfectly calculated to quash the last shameful vestige of a law-abiding citizen’s naiveté? I’d hardly held myself aloof from the antagonisms of partisan politics, but now, having lived enthralled by America for nearly three-quarters of a century, I had decided no longer to be overtaken every four years by the emotions of a child — the emotions of a child and the pain of an adult. At least not so long as I holed up in my cabin, where I could manage to remain in America without America’s ever again being absorbed in me. Aside from writing books and studying once again, for a final go-round, the first great writers I read, all the rest that once mattered most no longer mattered at all, and I dispelled a good half, if not more, of a lifetime’s allegiances and pursuits. After 9/11 I pulled the plug on the contradictions. Otherwise, I told myself, you’ll become the exemplary letter-to-the editor madman, the village grouch, manifesting the syndrome in all its seething ridiculousness: ranting and raving while you read the paper, and at night, on the phone with friends, roaring indignantly about the pernicious profitability for which a wounded nation’s authentic patriotism was about to be exploited by an imbecilic king, and in a republic, a king in a free country with all the slogans with which American children are raised. The despising without remission that constitutes. The despising without remission that constitutes being a conscientious citizen in the reign of George W. Bush was not for one who had developed a strong interest in surviving as reasonably serene — and so I began to annihilate the abiding wish to find out. I cancelled magazine subscriptions, stopped reading the Times, even stopped picking up the occasional copy of the Boston Globe when I went down to the general store. The only paper I saw regularly was the Berkshire Eagle, a local weekly. I used TV to watch baseball, the radio to listen to music, and that was it.

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