Saturday, 3 December 2016

Two Central European vignettes: fascism and totalitarianism

In these topsy-turvy days of 2016, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, it is easy to believe that anything is possible. And not in a positive way.

One: it is quite possible that we will wake up tomorrow to find that a European state has a fascist for a head of state: Norbert Hofer could well be president of Austria. Although his role would be largely ceremonial - and one could easily argue that Hungary under Orbán might be a true dictatorship within the EU before long, beating Austria to the punch - it is a frightening prospect and one which could easily spread the cancer of fascism within Europe with alarming speed, given the current zeitgeist of anti-politics prevalent in the West and the general unease in most of Europe with regard to immigration and refugee movement.

For anyone feeling the term "fascist" might be hyperbolic rather than accurate, I offer them this: as tweeter Otto English observed today, Hofer wears a small blue cornflower in his lapel. It is a secret symbol used by Austrian fascists in the 1930s. In other words, he is not an anti-immigration, right-wing populist in the UKIP mould but a genuine, common-or-garden fascist, with all the deeply unpleasant views that that entails.

Two: the leader of my once-great party today gave a speech in Prague, in which he argued that the solution to the resurgence of the far right was to push further to the left: a strategy which, as party stalwart Luke Akehurst noted, was previously tried in the Weimar Republic, with dismal results. Indeed, it was the same approach that Labour tried as a reaction to Thatcherism in the early 1980s and had similar success then.

But that was not the worst thing of the day (and thanks to Queen Mary's Philip Cowley for pointing this out): it was this. Corbyn gave his speech in the Czech capital talking about the horrors of its citizens living under Nazism, never once mentioning the totalitarianism that the Czechs lived under for much longer, that of the Soviet empire. It was as if those forty-odd postwar years had never happened; airbrushed from Corbyn's version of history. The tanks rolling into the capital in '68 a liberation, not a takeover.

What the Czech media must have made of his failure to mention that particular elephant in the room, one can only guess. But I, like many other comrades I am sure, am deeply ashamed to have as my leader such an unashamed apologist for the Soviet Union, and the pogroms and massacres it represented.

And we haven't even got onto the French presidential election yet, where a positive result for Hofer would surely give a boost to Marine's Le Pen's chances of securing the keys to the Élysée.

Dark times, dear readers, dark times.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Labour must fight the cancer of post-truth politics, not sign up to it

If there were to be a nadir of democratic politics, in the sense of public apathy towards truthfulness in their politicians, even in the strange world of 2016, we may not yet have reached it.

The unprecedented election of a seemingly pathological liar to the post of leader of the Free World is pretty bad. But 2016 may yet, appallingly, see a lying far-right politician elected as French president. It is not expected: but then, no-one really expected Trump, either. These are strange times. Worst of all, it seems that, the more mainstream politicians warn against a populist being elected, the more people vote for them.

But the real disaster that this populism brings in its wake is this: others believe that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. And so we see mainstream politicians lying: for example, about Brexit, with the now-notorious £350m to be saved and pledged to the NHS.

Now, there are two lazy clichés that commentators, or members of the public, will periodically trot out about politicians. One is that they are “all the same”, when that is patently not the case. There are decent British politicians in all parties, at least the major ones. Those of us who have worked in politics for any length of time will testify to the often quite pleasantly surprising levels of dedication to public service in the face of constant brickbats, lack of job security, aggressive whips, hostile colleagues and an often thankless public.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Article 50: we do not have to lay down and roll over

As we reel from the shock of a Trump victory, it would be easy now to lose sight of our own problems as a country. But they remain the same as they were last Tuesday.

Since June, we have rapidly become a country which most of its neighbours now look at with a mixture of sympathy and blank incomprehension; shaking their heads, like a dear friend whose life has suddenly and inexplicably hit the buffers, but has yet to truly recognise the fact. Bless them, those Brits. They know not what they do (and, as of today, it looks like we are not the only Anglo-Saxon country in that position).

No, apart from Brexit, we have a government which operates without the normal checks and balances, beholden to its lunatic rightward fringe; and a dysfunctional opposition which, thanks to Labour’s current leadership, struggles to effectively oppose anything at all, even on this, the most important issue of the day.

Last week, however, a glimmer of light shone into Britain’s troubled political landscape. Seemingly out of nowhere, the High Court ruled that Parliament must be consulted on Brexit and that the referendum itself was not sufficient. The government had constitutionally overreached itself, and Theresa May had to tacitly admit that her prime ministerial powers were not quite as strong as she thought they were.

Friday, 28 October 2016

We need to talk about Russia

When even the Guardian, which has sustained some fairly alternative views on world geopolitics in recent years – including running a propaganda op-ed by the Russian foreign minister – starts acknowledging that modern-day Russia has slid into a new Cold War with the West, well, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Like a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome, the West – led by an American president who scornfully told his opponent in the 2012 election that “the Cold War has been over for twenty years” – has spent the last decade trying to convince itself that Russia was friendly and no longer a threat, in the face of stark evidence to the contrary. Obama is now choking on his unwise words, but it’s a bit late for that. Eight years of “engagement” with the US has only encouraged Vladimir Putin.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Time for the PLP to regroup: once more, with feeling

The question: can we, as Tom Watson put it, "get the band
back together"? Kind of depends on the band.
While the formation of a government remains a rank impossibility for a Corbyn leadership, there is now no question about his grip on the party. Indeed, with the removal of Jonathan Ashworth from the NEC, seemingly in exchange for remaining in the shadow cabinet, Corbyn supporters now also rule the NEC. The circle is complete and the rulebook is no longer safe.

Self-evidently, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP – that is, nearly all of it – have not been able to really make any movement while the leadership election and the reshuffle have been going on, they now can. Their valiant attempt to involve themselves in the selection of the shadow cabinet has, predictably, been paid only lip-service by the leadership. Corbyn will choose, full stop.

And, with a few notable exceptions, what a shambles of a Shadow Cabinet it has become. Unambiguous unilateralists at Foreign Affairs and Defence, something virtually guaranteed to provide a general election defeat on its own. Another Shadow Cabinet minister who has apparently managed to fritter away a compensation fund for sick miners on his salary and expenses. And someone at Home Affairs, in charge of the delicate area of race relations, among other things, known for her quote “white people love playing divide and rule”.

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