Posts Tagged ‘Jon Downes’

Starmer’s Flag-Waving and Fixation on Celebrities Shows Hollowness of New Labour

February 11, 2021

I know this is another piece of old news, which Mike has commented on already but there are a few more things to say about it. A few days ago Mike posted up a piece about an idea from the Labour party about winning more members and votes. This new, exciting strategy for gaining the support of the British public was for Starmer to be seen more with the Union Jack. Yep, Starmer’s leadership, which is already determined to copy Tory economic policies, also wants to follow them and be seen as the party of flag-waving – some critics called it’ flag-shagging’ patriotism.

The Tories have been draping themselves in the flag and waving it at every opportunity just about since they emerged in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Their aggressive projection of themselves as the party of British patriotism became particularly acute under Maggie in the 1980s. Thatcher was deeply inspired by Winston Churchill’s heroic vision of the British people and their history, and so was constantly invoking his memory and legacy. Thus we had Torygraph headlines quoting the Leaderene, screaming ‘Don’t Call Them Booj-wah, Call Them British’, while the spirit of the Battle of Britain was invoked in the Tory 1987 election broadcast. This featured Spitfires zooming about the sky, while an excited voice intoned ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. It’s a misquotation of the great Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His book, The Social Contract, one of the first works advocating democracy and a major influence on the French Revolution, begins: ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. You can see why Thatcher didn’t want to include the second part of that sentence. Commenting on it on Radio 4’s News Quiz, the late Alan Coren drily called it ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’ and made the point that all the servicemen, whose memory and sacrifice Thatcher was exploiting all came back and voted Labour. Now Starmer apparently wants to wave the flag as well in order to win over Tory voters.

The new strategy was proposed by a focus group, which were used by Blair’s New Labour to devise party policy, or put the rubber stamp on those the Dear Leader had already decided upon, when the grinning butcher of Iraq was in office. It was part of the Blairite’s centralisation of decision-making, their managerialism and their pointed determination to ignore the demands and recommendations of grassroots members. Now it seems we’re back to the same tired old attitudes and strategies.

Mike and the peeps on Twitter saw past this threadbare strategy immediately. They quoted Dr. Johnson, who said that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’. But I remember Jon Downes, the frontman for the Devon band Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space making another observation: ‘a patriot is a man with nothing left to say’. This was in a song entitled ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’. It was a commented on Major’s Conservative party, which carried on the flag-waving while handing over vast tracts of Britain’s historic landscape to English Heritage, which promptly erected fences around them to keep the British public out, as at Stonehenge. Major’s Tories were ideologically bankrupt. It was Thatcherism with the nasty bits cut off and a marked paucity of ideas. His big notion for galvanising the British public behind his party was a ‘Cones Hotline’. This was a number you could call if you thought their were too many cones clogging up the roads. It’s hardly a grand vision, and was rightly ridiculed by Spitting Image and the rest of the media.

And Starmer’s leadership really doesn’t have any ideas. His policy so far has been to agree with the Tories, then criticise them in retrospect. He seems determined to copy their disastrous economic and social policies of privatisation, including that of the NHS, the destruction of the welfare state, and low wages, just like Blair. The only difference is that Blair and Starmer claimed that they would be able to carry out these Tory policies better than the Tories themselves.

Starmer really, really doesn’t have anything left to say. A fact also confirmed by another recommendation. This was that he should be seen with celebrities. Well, that was another feature of Blairite New Labour, which was also very relaxed, as Peter Mandelson put it, about people getting rich. Hence Blair’s desire to be seen with such celebrity businessmen as Beardie Branson and Alan Sugar. But Mike and the other Twitter peeps pointed out that, thanks to his attack on Corbyn, Starmer might find recruiting other celebs to endorse him difficult. Robert Webb apparently has torn up his Labour membership card.

I realise Angela Rayner also returned to make a speech claiming that Labour was still behind the policies laid out in last year’s election manifesto – nationalised public services and welfare state, strong unions, workers’ rights and so on, but Mike asked the pertinent question of whether you could trust her or him on this issue. And you can’t. They’ve shown repeatedly that they’re not prepared to honour the manifesto.

The flag-waving and celebrity-seeking isn’t going to win over traditional Labour voters, who will see past it. Some may even be repelled by it because of the way the Tories appropriated British patriotism and mixed it with aggressive imperialist nostalgia and xenophobia. And it isn’t going to win over Tories. There is a hard rump of extreme right-wing Tory types, who regard the Labour party as the enemies of Britain. The anti-immigrant YouTube channel, We Got A Problem, refers to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants as ‘imported Labour voters’. There are people who honestly believe the allegation that Blair deliberately encouraged mass non-White immigration to this country to destroy the largely White society at the heart of Tory visions of Britain. The same type of people, who believe that the Jews are also encouraging non-White immigration to destroy the White race, the Kalergi plan and the Great Replacement. These people aren’t going to be won over by Starmer waving the flag. They are, of course, probably not going to vote Labour anyway because of Labour’s avowed commitment of multiculturalism. Blair also waved the flag during ‘Cool Britannia’, but it also included Blacks and Asians along with more traditionally British images to project the view of a new, multicultural Britain. That was two decades ago, and while it impressed many, the super-patriotic right still regard it as some kind of betrayal of British identity through its inclusion of non-White culture. Starmer waving the flag won’t get them to change their political allegiances.

In fact, there is a sense that traditional Labour was and has always been the true party of patriotism. George Bernard Shaw pointed it out years ago in his book The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Capitalism, Socialism, Fascism and Sovietism. He stated that socialists wanted money to be spent here, in Britain, developing its industries and aiding its working people. The Tories, on the other hand, allowed the idle rich to spend their wealth abroad, while undercutting domestic industry with products from the colonies, whose people could be exploited more cheaply. Just like under slavery.

Mike made the point that you could connect British patriotism to a desire for a fairer society where people were supported by a proper welfare state. You could also begin by presenting the Labour party as the party of true British patriotism by saying that it was opposed to the rich hiding their immense wealth away in offshore tax havens, as well as benefiting from tax cuts while the rest of the population have to shoulder the tax burden. Oh yes, and industries that, instead of being owned by the British people, were owned by multinational corporations which simply took their profits without reinvesting in them.

But that would be seen as horribly xenophobic and attacking the free trade and foreign investment the Neoliberals are trying to promote, and so would probably be denounced as horribly racist. Even as the Tories continue to demonise immigrants and asylum seekers.

Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space: Land of Dopes and Tories

January 5, 2019

Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space were a local band in Devon. Downes was into cryptozoology, the study of unknown animals, and, with others, ran the Centre for Fortean Zoology. Back in the 1990s they published a small magazine, Animals and Men, which covered developments in zoology ranging from recent discoveries in paleontology and dinosaurs, the new species then being discovered in South East Asia, and creatures like the Yeti and other ape creatures and the Loch Ness monster, whose existence is very definitely not accepted by mainstream scientists. His band was also unsurprisingly steeped in Fortean high weirdness, hence its bizarre name. One of the songs on their album was about the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, a mysterious figure who stalked American suburbia around the 1940s. The Mad Gasser got his name because he was believed to be responsible for knocking people unconscious with some kind of anaesthetic gas. Despite the panic he caused and an intense police search, no-one was ever caught and the Mad Gasser is thus one of those mysterious figures of urban folklore like Spring-Heeled Jack in Britain.

Downes’ lyrics often included explicit social and political comments. ‘God Bless Amerikkka/Petsurfing’ contained references to the Beach Boys as well as bitter comments on Reagan’s America and the Vietnam War. It’s lyrics ran

The Beach boys in the Whitehouse took the president out dancing
took in a drive-in movie threw a frisbee with Charles Manson.
The American dream was sweet sixteen and no-one gave a damn
and thousands of asshole students were praying for their very own Vietnam.

“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” give me concepts I can see
“Give me Librium or Give me Meths” it’s all the same to me,
God Bless America!
(I don’t mean to annoy ya as you drown in Paranoia got no reason to destroy ya in the land of the brave).
God Bless America!
(You’ve got to catch that one last wave!)

The western world just genuflects and licks its paltry leavings
so three stupid generations have got something to believe in
now style over content is the way they measure worth,
and a grinning fool has just become the most powerful man on earth.

The cretin culture faced the wall and found it couldn’t win against it
the peasants in the jungle or the troops of Ho Chi Minh,
the profit motive is a joke when there isn’t any money,
there’s no point to a joke like that, it really isn’t funny.

It also struck me that his track ‘The Stranger (L’Etranger)’ is also partly a comment on Thatcher and the British secret state, while the title is a reference to Camus’ existentialist classic.

She’s got half a mind to kill you if you don’t agree with her programme
she’s got half a mind to stop you in your tracks.
She’s got a 10% dead army, she’s got heroes ten a penny,
she’s got men she’d pay to stab you in the back.

There’s a new ideal on the night-time breeze,
(won’t you wait a while till midnight?)
There’s a new man coming through the trees,
(won’t you watch him dance by lamplight?)

In the darkness at the edge of town there’s a stranger with a knife,
and he swears he’s going to stop her with his life.
She knows he won’t forgive her, (and that he never wanted to live there),
but she still thinks he loves her like his wife.

In her mind she’s built a castle and peopled it with fear,
if you look too hard you know that it will all disappear,
she’s so lonely in her madness, it’s so lonely at the top,
If you got that far it’s really hard to stop.

The most explicitly anti-Tory lyrics in the album are in Part Two of his song, ‘English Heritage’. The song was about the government’s privatization of Stonehenge to English Heritage, who then surrounded it with a wire fence, put up a souvenir shop and charged an entry fee. The second part of the song was an explicit attack on Tory patriotism, ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’, and was an obviously parody of Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. It ran

Land of Dopes and Tories, gameshows and TV,
the land our fathers fought for don’t seem the same to me.
Something’s subtly different, something must have changed,
‘cos England’s now just a refuge for the terminally deranged.
Land of Dopes and Tories, land of the living dead,
land where the hope and glory only lives on in my head,
land of idiot violence where innocent blood is shed,
land where only the assholes heard what Mosley said.
Land of Dopes and Tories I don’t see the point,
Anarchy and Freedom is everything I want.
Anarchy and Freedom is everything I want.

The sleeve notes explain that the line about Mosley refers to his comment that whoever won the Second World War, Britain would be ruined as a world power.

Time and the world have moved on since the album came out, and the ’90s ended nearly two decades ago. Reagan is gone, and we had another grinning fool enter the White House in the shape of George ‘Dubya’ Bush. He’s now been succeeded in his turn by another maniac, Trump, who doesn’t grin but glowers and struts like Mussolini. Over here, Maggie also passed from power to be succeeded by John Major, the grey man who handed Stonehenge and other ancient sites to English Heritage, and who was succeeded in his turn by Blair and his sickly grin. Blair has also left government, and instead we’re run by Tweezer. Who would like us all to believe that she’s Maggie Mark 2. And she does have men ready to kill people. Not just the staff at the DWP, who are determined to throw people off benefits to starve and die at the slightest excuse – she’s also put legislation in place to put 3,500 troopers on the streets in case of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. And British television and popular culture in the shape of the right-wing press is doing its best to distract people from how dire and desperate the situation is for very many people, not least by smearing and misrepresenting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. And like Maggie Thatcher, Tweezer’s also using the secret state to smear and lie on her behalf.

Maggie, Reagan and their era are gone, but Tory and Republican tactics and policies are carrying on. It’s time they were utterly discarded, and genuinely left-wing, progressive governments voted in under Jeremy Corbyn here in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US.