Posts Tagged ‘Seumas Milne’

Beeb’s John Sweeney Attack Parliamentary Lobby System as Source of Fake News

November 14, 2019

Very interesting article in next week’s Radio Times for 16th-22nd November 2019. John Sweeney, a former journo with the Corporation’s Panorama, has written a piece attacking the parliamentary lobby system, ‘Time to name your sources’, on page 9. The subtitle states very clearly why he objects to it ‘Why are political reporters feeding us fake news?’

The article runs

As the country gears up for a general election, TV viewers and newspaper readers are being lied to from within a secretive system that reduces political journalists and Westminster correspondents to underbutlers, protects power and poisons our democracy. It’s called the lobby and its two most powerful players are a career psychopath (Conservative) and a neo-Stalinist (Labour).

The lobby was created after an Irish terrorist bomb in 1885 caused MPs to lock out the journalists who used to mingle freely inside Westminster. Reporters complained and a permitted few were allowed back, so long as they followed rule number one: when a source says a story is on lobby terms, you don’t identify that source. 

The lobby’s most elegant defender, Andrew Marr, wrote in his book, My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, “Sophisticated social animals are necessarily hypocrites… who really wants to know less?”

But Marr wrote that before King Brexit turned everything it touched to Novichok. So where do those political stories based on anonymous oft-quoted “sources close to…” come from?

The PMS (the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman) is a many-headed beast, but one set of jaws is snapped by James Slack, who, as Nick Cohen pointed out in the The Spectator, in a previous life wrote the words underneath the infamous 2016 Daily Mail headline “Enemies of the People”, attacking three judges. Another set of jaws are those of Rob Oxley, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, but the sharpest teeth belong to “career psychopath” Dominic Cummings. David  called him that five years ago. It was an understatement.

Cummings, Slack and Oxley jointly and separately use reporters in the lobby system to tell unattributable whoppers while the system as a whole is given coverage by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the papers. Veteran political reporter Peter Oborne nailed a series of lies about Brexit on “lobby terms” recently. Perhaps the most poisonous was the “lobby terms” claim, reported in the Mail on Sunday in October, that Remainers Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn were being investigated by the government because of their involvement with foreign powers. The story was a lie. The BBC, etc, didn’t tell that lie. But they prop up the system in which the lie could be told.

That system also encourages acquiescence among political hacks. If you don’t toe the line and ask awkward questions instead you are excluded from the regular drip-feed of anonymous briefings. It was reported that Boris Johnson when Foreign Secretary was considered a security risk by MI6 because of his dodgy private life. But has the lobby asked if Boris will launch an inquiry into himself? Nyet.

Another potential security risk is Jeremy Corbyn’s spin commissar, Seumas Milne. He oversees Labaour’s lobby operation but the system shields his shenanigans behind the arras. In 2014 Milne appeared on a panel at a summit in Sochi alongside Vladimir Putin. Milne, a former Guardian journalist, has in the past bigged up both Stalin and East Germany. Creepy.

Has the lobby asked Putin’s pal Milne if he is a security risk? Again, nyet.

In these toxic times, the lobby has become a lie factory. We need to scrappy “lobby terms”. If power speaks with a forked tongue, we need to know whose tongue it is that’s lying.

Okay, Sweeney’s correct to call out the lobby system. I’m irritated myself by stories that begin ‘sources close to the Prime Minister’ or ‘Ministers are considering’, as quite often this means that the source is sounding out a policy. And that policy is quite often something monstrous. I remember a story in the Sunday Express back in the early 1980s, when AIDS first appeared and everyone really was afraid it would decimate the global population like a new Black Death. It was so strongly associated with gays that a Beeb science documentary on it had the title ‘AIDS: The Gay Plague’. In this climate of fear, the Sunday Depress announced that ‘ministers’ – who were never named – were considering a radical solution to the problem. This was the construction of an ‘AIDS island’ following the Swedes’ example, where AIDS victims could be isolated and treated. It harkens back to the location of lazarettos – leper hospitals – on islands. But it was also frightening coming as it did from a government that had very far right tendencies and a reputation for aggressive homophobia. Maggie had just tried to introduce her law banning the positive teaching of homosexuality in schools. To many people, this seemed like the beginning of a campaign against homosexuals and the left which would end up with internment camps. The nightmare Fascist Britain of Alan Moore’s and Dave Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, running in the comic Warrior, seemed all too possible.

Others have also challenged the very close relationship between the press and the political class. When David Cameron was PM, it was pointed out that many leading journos, including editorial staff at the Guardian, I believe, also lived in Cameron’s village of Chipping Norton. Over on the other side of the Pond, some of the left-wing news shows on the Net, like The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report and the David Pakman Show, have also commented on the way the press is content to parrot stories and claims by right-wing politicians, because they’re afraid that if they start challenging them, those politicians will simply stop talking to them and they’ll lose their stories. The result has been a decline in journalistic standards, as papers no longer attempt to hold politicos to account, but simply repeat their lines and lies. I’ve no doubt that this also partly accounts for the utter complicity of the press in repeating the claims and assumptions of the neoliberal right over here.

But this also doesn’t exonerate the Beeb. Despite the protestations of its political editor, the Beeb does platform right-wing figures over the left. Mike put up a graphic from Tory Fibs a few days ago, which showed very clearly how massively biased the Beeb was in its inclusion of figures and spokesmen for the right on its news shows and panels. Its newsroom is stacked full of Conservatives, like Nick Robinson, and Fiona Bruce and her producers on Question Time scarcely hide their right-wing bias. And the Beeb is still under investigation for the massive bias in its Panorama documentary on anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

The lobby system is a major part of the problem, but not the whole. The whole journalistic system and its cosy relationship with right-wing politicians is rotten, and needs to be overturned. And the Beeb is very much part of it.

No, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, You and the Press Are also Guilty for Enabling Johnson’s Dictatorship

August 29, 2019

Yesterday the I’s columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown took it upon herself to identify the ‘guilty men’ responsible for enabling Johnson’s seizure of dictatorial power yesterday. This followed an anonymous piece by someone calling themselves ‘Cato the Younger’, with the title of ‘The Guilty Men’. ‘Cato’ blames thirteen western leaders, two of whom are women. Alibhai-Brown, however, put up her own, shorter list of six men. They are George Osborne, Nigel Farage, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. Now I agree with her identification of all the above as causes of the crisis, with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn. She includes him because he

has been another unknowing collaborator. He still can’t find the voice or moral clarity to oppose Brextremism, and is worryingly beholden to his close, maniacally anti-capitalist advisers. He could come out for Remain and let, say, Caroline Lucas lead a temporary government of unity. It won’t happen. Not even in our dreams.

This is utter balderdash, just Centrist, anti-Corbyn propaganda. Corbyn has made his views on Brexit very clear. He was going to get Britain the best deal he could. If he couldn’t, he would hold a general election and/or second referendum. This, however, has not been reported in the press and media, which still continues to trot out the pat lie that he never campaigned properly for Remain. Swinson, the leader of the Lib Dems, was asserting this outright lie again the other day, claiming that Corbyn was ‘nowhere to be seen’ at the Referendum campaign. He certainly was. Matt Thomas posted a tweet declaring that Corbyn made 123 media appearances, attended 15 rallies and posted 118 pro-Remain tweets. Swinson herself posted only a couple of tweets for Remain.

And Tory Fibs also tweeted

That is a provable lie. During the EU Referendum Campaign 7 May-22 June 2016, Corbyn, over 46 days, campaigned as follows:

• Traveled 5851km
• Spoke at 15 rallies
• Sent 100 Remain Tweets
• Achieved 33,760 retweets
• Received media exposure 120 times

and contrasted this with Swinson’s own lamentable performance. While Professor Andrew Russell pointed out that the Lib Dems, by contrast, were ‘conspicuous by their absence’.

Academic exposes ‘invisible’ LibDem’s Brexit hypocrisy. Swinson pushing UK toward no-deal Brexit

As for Corbyn being ‘worryingly beholden’ to ‘maniacally anti-capitalist advisers’, this is just a bit of doubletalk trying to stir up the Red Scare about Corbyn and the Labour party a little more. One of Corbyn’s advisors is hard Left. Seumas Milne is, I believe, a real Stalinist. But Corbyn isn’t, neither is he a Trotskyite, or any other kind of Communist. And the Labour party’s programme is simply a return to the mixed-economy, strong welfare state with strong unions that gave Britain three to four decades of prosperity and economic growth after the War.

And then there’s Alibhai-Brown’s whinge that he didn’t make way for Caroline Lucas’ female-only unity government. But this was never a realistic proposal. It was profoundly sexist, and ignored the profound differences between all of the women Lucas invited to join her. It looks to me far more like an attention-grabbing stunt than a serious proposal. It also belies Alibhai-Brown’s claim to be concerned about the poor. Earlier in her article, attacking George Osborne, she states quite correctly that he

punished the neediest, weakened the welfare state and rewarded the richest. Those “left behinds” who voted for Brexit were deliberately left behind by this coldly ideology, small-state Tory.

All of which is correct. And it also describes precisely many of the women Lucas invited to join her unity government. They were also ideological Thatcherites, determined to punish the poor, reward the rich, and destroy the welfare state. And it’s remarkable that Alibhai-Brown, who has spent her journalistic career fighting racing, hasn’t pointed out that not one BAME woman was included on Lucas’ list.

Of course, the real reason Alibhai-Brown is trying to dump on Corbyn yet again, is because she shares her masters’ fears about a Corbyn government that would really empower working people and bring the profiteering super-rich to heel. And so a fair amount of the blame for BoJob’s seizure of power should go to the men and women of the Fourth Estate. 

Murdoch’s papers naturally share a very large part of the blame, because they have relentless hyped and promoted the Tories and particularly Boris Johnson. So have the Torygraph, owned by the weirdo Barclay twins, while the Heil and Depress have also pushed the same extreme right-wing views.

But the nominally left-press should also shoulder their fare share of the blame. The Groaniad, Absurder and the I followed the Tory press in lying about, vilifying and smearing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, for exactly the same reasons as the Tory papers: they are afraid of anything that really empowers the working class. The only difference is that they have tried to dress up their Thatcherism with some shreds of progressive ideology. The I, for example, tried promoting Sandi Toksvig Women’s Equality Party. That feminist organisation’s credentials went out the window when Toksvig declared her backing for Hillary Clinton in the American presidential election. Clinton shared her husband’s attack on the American welfare state, such as it was, passed racist legislation designed to come down hardest on Blacks supposedly to tackle the ‘war on drugs’, and presided over an aggressive programme of regime change every bit as militaristic as George Bush’s. Clinton was very much a member of the American establishment, but she tried telling everyone she wasn’t, ’cause of her gender. Now we have Alibhai-Brown trying out the same tactics in promoting Lucas against Corbyn. And in doing so Alibhai-Brown shows what a hypocrite she is.

She, and the rest of the press, have also contributed to Johnson’s resistible rise. All of them have supported the neoliberal economics that have empowered the Tory Brexiteers, even when, like Swinson, they claimed otherwise. The left-wing press could have got behind Corbyn. They didn’t. And so they deserve their share of the blame, along with the Tory rags, for keeping the Tories in power, and allowing Johnson to elevate himself to virtual dictator. 

Private Eye’s Anti-Semitism Smear Attack on Labour Appartchik Thomas Gardiner

March 22, 2019

This fortnight’s Private Eye for 22nd March – 4th April 2019 carried yet another attack on the Labour party by their columnist, ‘Ratbiter’, on page 10. Entitled ‘Gardiner’s Question Time’, attacking Labour Party bureaucrat Thomas Gardiner for not doing enough to combat anti-Semitism in the Labour party. It is, of course, coincidental that the article also mentions that Gardiner is a close aide of Jeremy Corbyn. The article runs

LABOUR apparatchik Thomas Gardiner came to Eye readers’ attention last June as the helpful chap whom Jeremy Corbyn’s aides advised suspended members to contact if they wanted readmission to the party, after general secretary Jennie Formby brought him in to run Labour’s compliance unit (Eye 1472).

Earlier this month, the Observer and Times revealed emails which showed Gardiner opposing recommendations from the party’s investigations team to suspend members accused of Jew-baiting, despite Corbyn’s promise of “zero tolerance for anti-Semites”.

Kayla Bibby, for instance, shared an image of an alien creature marked with the Star of David wrapping its tentacles round the Statue of Liberty. “The most accurate photo I’ve seen all year!” she wrote, having specifically requested a copy of the picture from Incog Man, and American Neo-Nazi site. Incog Man’s talk of the “parasitic, whitish looking, chameleon Jew” didn’t appear to bother Bibby … or indeed Labour, since Gardiner ruled the image was “anti-Israel, not anti-Jewish”.

Gardiner also supported Camden Labour activist Mohammed Joynal Uddin, who had claimed Jews believe Jesus was “boiling in semen in hell and that the Virgin Mary is a whore.” Labour said Gardiner did not know about Uddin’s views when he backed him, and in any case had recused himself from the case. Gardiner meanswhile disappeared on holiday.

With Labour coming under scrutiny by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, party figures suspect that Corbyn’s aides are no lining up Gardiner to be the fall guy. Political hacks think so too, and their editors are prepared to get out the cheque book if he will tell all about Corbyn, Formby and Labour communications director Seumas Milne.

Will he grass up his comrades? The formbook suggests not: Gardiner, a Camden councillor, promoted a motion at the Hampstead and Kilburn Labour party in 2016 dismissing the anti-Semitism scandal as an assault on the Left and condemning “the factional use which a few within the party have tried to make of anti-Semitism”. Yet can Formby be sure he will stay silent? Or will she have to reach into Labour’s depleted reserves and present him with a deal that outbids anything the hacks can offer?

From the evidence is presented here, it seems the case against Gardiner is pretty damning: he’s covering up the massive anti-Semitism in the Labour party in order to protect Corbyn, Formby and co, who also have dirty, guilty secrets that the press are keen to publish. But there are real problems with the story and its sources, which mean that nothing in this should be taken at face value.

‘Ratbiter’: Warmonger and Libeller

Firstly, there’s the credibility of ‘Ratbiter’ himself. On Tuesday I put up extracts about him from a longer post against the anti-Semitism smears against Labour by the veteran campaigner for truth and justice, Tony Greenstein. ‘Ratbiter’ is Nick Cohen, a hack for the Graun and Absurder, who used to be a decent human being until 9/11. Then he morphed into an Islam hating neocon warmonger, who backed Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq. Cohen is also someone else, who has a problem with the actualite, and publishes lies and distortions about the victims of the anti-Semitism smear campaign. One of them is Greenstein himself, who, after pointing out the many lies Cohen had said about him, said that the only reasons why he wasn’t suing him was because he was already suing the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and wanted also to have a go at the equally mendacious Jewish Chronicle and a certain unnamed councillor.

Kayla Bibby and the CAA Smears against Mike and Jackie Walker

And then there’s the matter of the two people accused of anti-Semitism, Kayla Bibbi and Mohammed Uddin. Can we really believe the allegations? Both sound like the kind of accusation the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and ‘Gnasherjew’ make. ‘Gnasherjew’ is the pseudonym used by the repugnant David Collier, a vile individual who would have fitted in very well with the East German Stasi, Mussolini’s OVRA, Reinhard Heydrich in Nazi Germany, and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, all of whom bugged their enemies. In the case of the last three, this included their personal enemies in the Nazi and Fascist parties and the American political machine. The Campaign Against Truth and Collier specialise in looking through people’s past electronic communications, pulling them out of context and then sending them as a dossier to the compliance unit. This is what they did to Jackie Walker and I’m assuming they also did it to Mike. Walker was smeared as an anti-Semite on the basis of a private conversation in which she said that her people the chief financiers of the slave trade. It was sloppily worded. She admits that she should have said that her people were among the chief financiers of the slave trade. She was also smeared because she said that the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism wasn’t one she could work with. As I and many others have said, ad nauseam, ad infinitum, Walker’s definitely not an anti-Semite. The party’s compliance unit admitted that the case against her was ‘weak’. But on the basis of this weak case, her life has been ruined and she now gets threats and abuse from nutters telling her that she should be lynched, or cut up and put into bin bags.

The smear merchants tried the same tactics recently against Mike over an image he put up on Vox Political. This showed the state of Israel in America, and was included in a piece he wrote against the smear attack on Naz Shah. The Witchhunters claimed he’d taken it from a Neo-Nazi website. Not so: Mike took it from Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish critic of Israel, who is the son of Holocaust survivors. And needless to say, Finkelstein has also had the anti-Semitic abuse heaped upon him, accused of being self-hating and all the rest of it. There’s a clear parallel here to Kayla Bibby’s case. So was Bibby the victim of the same tactics? Did she really get the image from Incog Man, or was it a similar image? And if she did, was she aware Incog Man was a Nazi? And even if she did, does it make her an anti-Semite if she qualifies it and says she talking about Israel, not Jews? If she really did take the image from a Nazi site, then she’s stupid and deserves criticism for it. But if she is genuinely making a comment about Israel, and not about Jews, then she’s no more than that.

Mohammed Uddin and What Is Not Being Said

Uddin’s case also should be treated with scepticism. Did he really say what he is alleged to have said about Jews and Christ? And if he did, what is the context? It’s possible he was quoting someone else, or reacting to something someone else has said along the same lines. We aren’t told. Furthermore, looking carefully, this doesn’t seem to be the original accusation against Uddin. Gardiner is quoted as saying that he didn’t know about Uddin’s views when he defended him. Now I doubt that the witchhunters simply made a complaint about Uddin just saying that he was an anti-Semite and wanted him suspended, and then left it like that. They must have provided some substance to their accusation. And Gardiner clearly found this evidence unconvincing. Then they dredged up, or invented, this remark about the Jews and Christ. As for recusing himself, this is what you’re supposed to do in a court of law if you know the accused. So it looks like Gardiner may well have acted entirely properly in the circumstances as they unfolded.

The Campaign to Unseat Corbyn

And underlying this sordid tale are Cohen’s true intentions. Gardiner is an enemy of the witchhunt, which really is against the Left and particularly against Israel’s critics. As a Blairite neocon, Cohen wants Corbyn out. This is the ultimate goal of the witchhunters. It’s why they accused Chris Williamson of anti-Semitism last week, because he had the horrible audacity to state that Labour was being too apologetic about it. And it’s no coincidence that Williamson is a close Corbyn ally. This is all about smearing and getting rid of Corbyn’s chief supporters before attacking and unseating the man himself.

As for the newspapers Cohen cites in his article, the Absurder and the Thunderer, neither have shown themselves even remotely to be impartial and trustworthy when it comes to the anti-Semitism smears, having published them with the same zeal as the rest of the press. Just as Private Eye has done, and no doubt for the same reasons.

This attack on Gardiner therefore looks like just another Blairite/Tory hit piece on a close Corbyn aide, consisting of nothing but lies and, at best, half-truths, from liars like David Collier, the CAA and Cohen himself. It’s disgraceful that such vicious smear merchants should be given such space by the media, and it’s a damning indictment of the Eye that it has also followed them in doing so.

Private Eye Attacks Facebook Group for People Suspended from Labour

June 15, 2018

Private Eye has published much excellent material, and over the past few days I’ve blogged about some of the material revealed in this fortnight’s issue. But the magazine does have a very pronounced anti-Corbyn bias, and does seem to have swallowed, and regurgitated all the bilge smearing Corbyn and his supporters in the other parts of the lamestream media. It does seem to take as fact that the smears that Momentum is full of abusive misogynists and anti-Semites, and that the Labour leader and his supporters are ‘hard Left’ and Trotskyites. They aren’t. Corbyn and Momentum really are just traditional Labour, standing for the old Social Democratic policy of a mixed economy, and strong and healthy NHS and welfare state. All of which is anathema to the Thatcherite right – the Blairites – who have tried to position themselves as moderates when in fact the truth is, they’re the extremists. They’re extreme right. And outside the Labour party this is also unwelcome to the Tories and the mainstream media and its bosses pushing for more privatisation and further policies to destroy the welfare state and push the working class further into poverty. Because they see it as good for business having a cowed workforce on poverty wages.

In this fortnight’s Eye, for 15th-28th June 2018 on page 10, the pseudonymous ‘Ratbiter’ has published an article attacking a Facebook group for those suspended from the Labour party, and the attempts of its members to make contact with officials close to Corbyn to obtain justice or redress. It accepts absolutely uncritically the charges against them. And the end of the article once again repeats the claim that those suspended for anti-Semitism are automatically guilty, with an example of an anti-Semitic post from one of those in the group.

But many of those suspended from the Labour party for anti-Semitism and other offences are anything but, as shown in the cases of people like Mike, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and very many others. As I’ve blogged about ad nauseam, ad infinitum. The article therefore needs to be carefully critiqued. It runs

Suspended Animation
Facebook has a secret and carefully vetted political group called Labour Party Compliance: Suspensions, Expulsions, Rejections Co-op. As the ungainly title suggests, it is a online hangout where Corbyn supporters facing disciplinary action for abuse, anti-Semitism and other loveable quirks can nurse their grievances in private. Or so they think.

Screenshots of the site obtained by the Eye show that the outcasts are not so far out in the cold they don’t have access to the highest levels of Corbyn’s Labour.

Take 17-year-old Zac Arnold, who has been suspended from the Forest of Dean Labour Party. He revealed he had “been given the email of someone called Thomas Gardiner by James Schneider at JC’s office, who said he would be a useful contact over my suspension”. He asked his fellow pariahs “what your thoughts are and if you know him”.

They certainly knew Schneider. “I have chatted with James,” said Caroline Tipler, the founder of the “Jeremy Corbyn Leads Us to Victory” Facebook group. “I def think it would be useful to make contact”. The best way to get back into the party would be to start by “making a tentative enquiry and gauge from the response whether to progress it from there”.

The “someone called Thomas Gardiner” to whom young Zac referred is a Labour councillor from Camden. When Corbyn assumed total control of the Labour machine in March by installing Jennie Formby, Len McCluskey’s former mistress, as Labour’s general secretary, Formby’s first act was to call in Gardiner.She sent John Stoliday, the head of Labour’s compliance unit, on gardening leave and put Gardiner in charge of overseeing complaints against members. So he is certainly a “useful” man to know for as any Corbyn supporter facing troublesome allegations – as indeed is Schneider, who works in the leader’s office alongside fellow Old Wykehamist Seumas Milne as Corbyn’s director of strategic communications.

Suspended members appear to think that, so long as they discuss their prejudices in private, they will be fine. Their Facebook group is splattered with posts painting Labour activists as victims of a Jewish conspiracy. “They will try to silence you,” reads one. “They will try to discredit you. Because you are not allowed to criticise Jewish politics.” But their own group suggests
that you are, as long as you aren’t caught and have friends in high places.

So what’s going on here? Well, first of all, the fact that Ratbiter claims to have had screenshots passed to him of the Facebook page shows that it’s not based on his research. It’s from an outside organisation. From the way this is about smearing Corbyn supporters as anti-Semites, it looks like it’s the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism or the Jewish Labour Movement up to their vile tricks again. The CAA’s modus operandi is simply to go back over people’s internet conversations in search of something vaguely anti-Semitic they can use, and then grossly distort it so that they can smear them. They did it to Mike, taking his comments out of context and grossly misreporting what he actually said. They did it to Jackie Walker and her conversation with two others on Facebook about the Jewish participation in the slave trade. Again, a serious issue, which reputable historians are discussing. Walker never said that Jews were responsible for the slave trade, or that they were exclusively in charge of it. She said that the ultimate responsibility lay with the Christian monarchs and states which employed them. There are, however, real anti-Semites, who claim that the Jews were responsible for the slave trade, and so the CAA smeared her, a practicing Jew with a Jewish partner, as an anti-Semite. Just like they’ve smeared Ken Livingstone, because he dared to talk about an embarrassing truth: that the Nazis did reach an agreement with the Zionists to send Jews to Israel, before they decided on the Final Solution. And then there was that entirely artificial controversy a month or so ago, where they smeared Corbyn himself as an anti-Semite, because of a post he made admiring a piece of street art showing bankers around a table resting on the bodies of black men. Only two of the bankers were Jewish, but nevertheless, the CAA and the Board of Deputies of British Jews frothed that it was ‘anti-Semitic’, trying to link it to all the vile theories about the Jewish banking conspiracy.

Unable to unseat Corbyn at the leadership elections, the Blairites and the Israel lobby have been trying to oust him gradually by suspending and smearing his supporters. As happened to Mike. The CAA’s vile article smearing him was passed on to the Labour party, who suspended him just as he was about to fight a council election as the Labour candidate in his part of mid-Wales. As Mike has blogged, he has appealed against his suspension, but was tried once again by another kangaroo court, very much like the one that decided that the veteran anti-racist campaigner, Marc Wadsworth, was an anti-Semite. The Labour party’s compliance unit is so determined to refuse justice to expelled or suspended members on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism, that there is now an organisation set up to fight them on this issue: Labour Against the Witch Hunt, one of whose organisers is the redoubtable Tony Greenstein. I think another is Walker herself. As for Wadsworth, he has gone on a triumphant tour defending himself up and down the country. His campaign was launched in London with Alexei Sayle. Sayle’s parents are Romanian Jews, who were card-carrying Communists, and Sayle himself was one of the leaders of the new, politically correct Alternative Comedy in the 1980s. He was very anti-racist, anti-sexist and pro-gay rights, as were the others that emerged at the same time. So he is very definitely not anti-Semitic.

Clearly, the movement to discredit the smear campaign against decent people unfairly libelled as anti-Semites is gaining ground, otherwise Ratbiter wouldn’t bother writing the article, and attacking and revealing the officials close to Corbyn, who may be prepared to give assistance to them.

Now let’s deal with their quotation that ‘you are not allowed to criticise Jewish politics’. Is this anti-Semitic? Or is simply a clumsy way of expressing a truth: that any criticism of Israel, or support for the Palestinians, will result in you being smeared and suspended. I strongly believe it’s the latter. And the issue of Israel has been deliberately confused with Jews by Israel and its satellite, Zionist organisations themselves. Netanyahu a few years ago declared that all Jews, everywhere, were citizens of Israel. Of course, it’s a risible statement. Many Jews don’t want to be citizens of Israel, a land with which they have no connection, and certainly not at the expense of the country’s real, indigenous inhabitants. Netanyahu and the other maniacs in his coalition don’t want all Jews to be citizens of their country either. Liberal or genuinely left-wing Jews, or Jews, who simply ask too many questions about the Palestinians and dare to think for themselves, rather than swallow Likudnik propaganda, aren’t let in. or if they’re there already, they get thrown out. As have dissident Israelis, like one historian now at Exeter University, Ilon Pappe, who was driven out of his homeland because he dared to describe and protest his nation’s long history of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians.

The organisations behind the smear campaign are Jewish organisations, or claim to be pro-Jewish, like the CAA and the Jewish Labour Movement, which was formerly Paole Zion, ‘Workers of Zion’. Now these organisations clearly don’t represent all Jews. They only represent those, who are fanatically and intolerantly pro-Israel. They also have gentile members, so it’s highly questionable just how ‘Jewish’ these Jewish organisations are. Those smeared by them include self-respecting and Torah-observant Jews, and they have subjected them to the kind of abuse, which would automatically be considered anti-Semitic if it came from a non-Jew. Indeed, many of the Jews smeared by them feel that there is a particular hatred of Jewish critics of Israel. Just like the founders of Zionism were absolutely dismissive of diaspora Jews.

Given this, it should be no surprise if a non-Jew, who has been smeared, becomes confused and says that you can’t criticise ‘Jewish politics’, meaning Israel. Because these Jewish organisations, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, insist that you can’t. And deliberately so, in order to make it easier to claim that all critics of Israel are anti-Semites.

This is a nasty, mischievous and deceitful article. It is designed to further isolate Corbyn by smearing his supporters and attacking the official close to him, who may be able help them. And it repeats the lie that all of those smeared are anti-Semites. It’s publication is a disgrace to Private Eye.

Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project
http://www.malcsbooks.com/resources/A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.

Seumas Milne on the Dangers of Conservative Propaganda in the History of Communism

May 11, 2014

speaker_seumasmilne

One of the most provocative articles in Seumas Milne’s book The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century (London: Verso 2013) is the piece ‘Communism May Be Dead, But Clearly Not Dead Enough’. The book is a collection of Milne’s articles for the Guardian. In this piece, Milne comments on the demands by the Swedish Conservative MP, Goran Lindblad, that the EU launch an anti-Communist campaign to remind people of the horrors of the Communist regimes across Europe. Milne sees the campaign less as a genuine attack on Communism as Conservative propaganda to deter any radical questioning of European liberal capitalism by presenting the Communist tyrannies of eastern Europe as its outcome. He also notes the connection between colonialism and Nazism, showing that the genocidal policies the Nazis adopted towards the Jews were first used in Africa against its indigenous peoples. The Belgian rule in the Congo similarly resulted in the deaths of millions, while up to a million Algerians were killed by the French in their war for independence. Milne’s piece goes as follows:

Fifteen years after communism was officially pronounced dead, its spectre seems once again to be haunting Europe. Last month, the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly voted to condemn the ‘crimes of totalitarian communist regimes’, linking them with Nazism and complaining that Communist parties are still ‘legal and active in some countries’. Now Goran Lindblad, the conservative Swedish MP behind the resolution, wants to go further. Demands that European ministers launch a continent-wide anti-communist campaign – including school textbook revisions, official memorial days and museums – only narrowly missed the necessary two-thirds majority. Yesterday, declaring himself delighted at the first international condemnation of this ‘evil ideology’, Lindblad pledged to bring the wider plans back to the Council of Europe in the coming months.

He has chosen a good year for his ideological offensive: this is the fiftieth anniversary of Khrushchev’s denunciation of the cult of Stalin and the subsequent Hungarian uprising, which will doubtless be the cue for further excoriation of the communist record. The ground has been well laid by a determined rewriting of history since the collapse of the Soviet Union that has sought to portray twentieth-century communist leaders as monsters equal to or surpassing Hitler in their depravity – and communism and fascism as the two greatest evils of history’s bloodiest era. The latest contribution was last year’s bestselling biography of Mao by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, keenly endorsed by George Bush and dismissed by China specialists as ‘bad history’ and ‘misleading’.

Paradoxically, given that there is no communist government left in Europe outside Moldova, the attacks have if anything become more extreme as time has gone on. A clue as to why that might be can be found in the rambling report by Lindblad that led to the Council of Europe declaration. Blaming class struggle and public ownership, he explained that ‘different elements of communist ideology such as equality or social justice still seduce many’ and ‘a sort of nostalgia for communism is still alive’. Perhaps the real problem for Lindblad and his right-wing allies in eastern Europe is that communism is not dead enough – and they will only be content when they have driven a stake through its heart and buried it at the crossroads at midnight.

The fashionable attempt to equate communism and Nazism is in reality a moral and historical nonsense. Despite the cruelties of the Stalin terror, there was no Soviet Sobibor or Treblinka, no death camps built to murder millions. And while Hitler launched the most devastating war in history at a cost of more than fifty million lives, the Soviet Union played the decisive role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Lindblad and the Council of Europe adopt as fact the wildest estimates of those ‘killed by communist regimes’ (mostly in famines) from the fiercely contested Black Book of Communism, which also underplays the number of deaths attributable to Hitler. The real records of repression now available from the Soviet archives are horrendous enough (799,455 people were reported to have been executed between 1921 and 1953, and the labour camp population reached 2.5 million at its peak) without engaging in an ideologically fuelled inflation game.

But in any case, none of this explains why anyone might be nostalgic in former communist states, now enjoying the delights of capitalist restoration. The dominant account gives no sense of how communist regimes renewed themselves after 1956, or why Western leaders feared they might overtake the capitalist world well into the 1960s. For its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment, captured even by critical films and books of the post-Stalin era such as Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble and Anatoli Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat. Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the West, boosted the anti-colonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to Western global domination.

It would be easier to take the Council of Europe’s condemnation of communist state crimes seriously if it had also seen fit to denounce the far bloodier record of European colonialism – which only finally came to an end in the 1970s. This was a system of racist despotism, which dominated the globe in Stalin’s time. And while there is precious little connection between the ideas of fascism and communism, there is an intimate link between colonialism and Nazism. The terms Lebensraum and Konzentrationslager were both first used by the German colonial regime in South West Africa (now Namibia), which committed genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples and bequeathed its ideas and personnel directly to the Nazi party.

Around 10 million Congolese died as a result of Belgian forced labour and mass murder in the early twentieth century; tens of millions perished in avoidable or regime-enforced famines in British-ruled Indian; up to a million Algerians died in their war for independence, while controversy now rages in France about a new law requiring teachers to put a positive spin on colonial history. Comparable atrocities were carried out by all European colonialists, but not a word of condemnation from the Council of Europe – nor over the impact of European intervention in the third world since decolonisation. Presumably, European lives count for more.

No major modern political tradition is without blood on its hands, but conflicts over history are more about the future than the past. Part of the current enthusiasm in official Western circles for dancing on the grave of communism is no doubt about relations with today’s Russia and China. But it also reflects a determination to prove there is no alternative to the new capitalist order – and that any attempt to find one is bound to lead to suffering and bloodshed. With the new imperialism now being resisted in both the Muslim world and Latin America, growing international demands for social justice and escalating doubts about whether the environmental crisis can be solved within the existing economic system, the pressure for political and social alternative will increase. The particular form of society developed by twentieth-century communist parties will never be replicated. But there are lessons to be learned from its successes as well as its failures. (pp. 89-90).

I’ve no problems equating the evils of Stalinist Communism with Nazi Germany. It didn’t launch a policy of deliberate extermination, but the millions it murder through forced labour, artificial famine and the deportation of whole nations to Siberia are terrible enough. About 30 million are believed to have been killed by Stalin, though victims’ groups have criticised this, and the true number may be much higher, about 45 million. Occasionally you hear the argument that Communism was worse than the Nazis, as they only murdered 11 1/2 – 12 million people in the concentration camps, of which the largest single group were six million Jews. This again may be an underestimate. I’ve seen on transatlantic Conservative blogs the argument that recent research suggests that 20 million Jews may have been murdered under the Third Reich, including those massacred by Nazi sympathizers and collaborators in occupied Eastern Europe. It also ignores the fact that if the Nazis had won, they planned on working to death the Slavonic peoples of the occupied territories, exterminating Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Belo-Russians, Czech and Slovaks.

The actual numbers of indigenous peoples killed during European colonialism is still very controversial because of the way it directly touches on the questions of anti-racism, pluralism, racial equality and national pride in European countries today. Salman Rushdie once said that the British really didn’t know about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. He’s right. Few Brits really understand British imperial history, its achievements and atrocities, because it so far away on other continents. Moreover, those involved managed to cover up and hide many – but not all by any means – atrocities. It has only been in the last year or two that the state documents on the Mao Mao rebellion have been declassified. And until the publication a few years ago of Victorian Holocausts, I doubt many people realised that the British imperial government at the end of the 19th century had engineered – or refused to act against – famines in India and across the Empire as part of a deliberate ideological campaign to create an international system of free trade. This all needs to be taken into account, as well as the horrors of the Communist regimes. But his point that Conservatives are demanding the particular memorialisation of the victims and horrors of the Communist regimes in order to prevent radical campaigns against the current Neoliberal capitalist order is also certainly true. Some of the groups that are most vociferous in their condemnation of the Communist regimes are Conservatives, for whom any attack on free market capitalism is tantamount to Communism. They have to be criticised and combatted in order for a juster economic and social order, which gives the poor more freedom, can be created.

Seumas Milne on Why Thatcher Should Not Be Celebrate

April 4, 2014

thatcherburn

Former PM Margaret Thatcher, whose infernal glamour still captivates the Tory faithful

Mike over at Vox Political suggested that there should be a day celebrating the life of Tony Benn as a response to the suggestion by a Tory MP that there should be a national holiday celebrating former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Guardian Columnist Milne on Streep’s The Iron Lady

The Guardian’s columnist, Seumas Milne, was alarmed by the trend towards the rehabilitation of the dictator of the British bourgeoisie signalled two years ago by the release in 2012 of the Meryl Streep biopic, The Iron Lady. In his column for the fifth of January, he wrote

In opposition David Cameron tried to distance himself from her poisonous ‘nasty party’ legacy. But just as he and George Osborne embark on even deeper cuts and more far-reaching privatisation of public services than Thatcher herself managed, Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady is about to come to the rescue of the 1980s prime minister’s reputation.

As the Hollywood actor’s startling Thatcher recreation looks down from every other bus, commenters have insisted that the film is ‘not political’. True, it doesn’t explicitly take sides in the most conflagrationary decade in postwar British politics. It is made clear that Thatcher’s policies were controversial and strongly opposed. But as director Phyllida Lloyd points out, ‘the whole story is told from her point of view…

Lloyd herself is unashamed about the film’s thrust: this is ‘the story of a great leader who is both tremendous and flawed’. Naturally, some of Thatcher’s supporters and family members have balked at the depiction of her illness.

But her authorised biographer, the High Tory Charles Moore, has no doubt about The Iron Lady’s effective political message. The Oscar-bound movie is, he declares, a ‘most powerful piece of propaganda for conservatism’. And for many people under forty, their view of Thatcher and what she represents will be formed by this film.

Milne notes the narrative strategies the film uses to generate sympathy for Thatcher. Her enemies are shown – angry protestors, and striking miners, but their motives are never explained and the communities she devastated with her policies are also never shown. He notes that the concentration on the onset of her dementia is also calculated to make the audience feel sympathy for a human being struggling with such a terrible disease. The film also presents her, absurdly, as a feminist icon when she strongly rejected feminism. In another depiction of the opposite of the truth, she is presented as battling class prejudice when she launched a naked class war.

You can understand why Maggie’s life would appeal to the film industry, and to an actress of Streep’s stature. It’s a strong female role, in an industry where such roles for mature women are few. Thatcher was a pioneering female figure, the first female prime minister and one of those, who held office the longest in the last century. Crucially for a film, it also has lots of drama, as well as personal tragedy – Alzheimer’s disease, rather than the antics of her stupid, arrogant and wastrel son, ‘Thickie’ Mork. You can also see how it would be presented as a rags to riches story, as she goes from her parent’s shop in Grantham to hold the highest public office in the UK, an angle she herself spun, even though she hated and despised the working class.

Yet the film neglects the horrific harm she did to Britain, the poor and the working class. And Milne himself later points out in the article that the people who were hit hardest by her policies were women. Just as they are now, under her successor, Dave Cameron. As for the lack of context or explanation given for her enemies, Roland Barthes in his book, Mythologies, states that is one of the techniques film uses to establish the villain: you know less about them than the hero.

Milne on the Economic Devastation and Impoverishment Caused by Thatcher’s Policies

Milne was particularly shocked by Gordon Brown’s suggestion that she be given a state funeral, and in the rest of the article presents the argument why this is an iniquitous idea.

Gordon Brown absurdly floated a state funeral in a fruitless attempt to appease the Daily Mail. But the coalition would be even more foolish if it were to press ahead with what is currently planned. A state funeral for Thatcher would not be regarded as any kind of national occasion by millions of people, but as a partisan Conservative event and affront to large parts of the country.

Not only in forming mining communities and industrial areas laid waste by her government, but across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown. Now protests are taking the form of satirical e-petitions to the funeral to be privatised: if it goes ahead, there are likely to be demonstrations on the streets.

This is a politician, after all, who never won the votes of more than a third of the electorate; destroyed communities; created mass unemployment; deindustrialised Britain; redistributed from poor to rich; and, by her deregulation of the City, laid the basis for the crisis that has engulfed us twenty-five years later.

Thatcher was a prime minister who denounced Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, defended the Chilean fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet, ratcheted up the cold war, and unleashed militarised police on trade unionists and black communities alike. She was Britain’s first woman prime minister, but her policies hit women hardest, like Cameron’s today.

A common British establishment view – and the implicit position of The Iron Lady – is that while Thatcher took harsh measures and ‘went too far’, it was necessary medicine to restore the sick economy of the 1970s to healthy growth.

It did nothing of the sort. Average growth in the Thatcherite ’80s, at 2.4 per cent, was exactly the same as in the sick ’70s – and considerabl6y lower than during the corporatist ’60s. Her government’s savage deflation destroyed a fifth of Britain’s industrial base in two years, hollowed out manufacturing, and delivered a ‘productivity miracle’ that never was, and we’re living with the consequences today.

What she did succeed in doing was to restore class privilege, boosting profitability while slashing employees’ share of national income from 65 per cent to 53 per cent through her assault on the unions. Britain faced a structural crisis in the 1970s, but there were multiple routes out of it. Thatcher imposed a neoliberal model now seen to have failed across the world.

He concludes by suggesting that Thatcher’s rehabilitation is connected to the Coalition’s need to shore up support now that they are implementing the same policies, and experiencing the same opposition.

It’s hardly surprising that some might want to put a benign gloss on Thatcher’s record when another Tory-led government is forcing through Thatcher-like policies – and riots, mounting unemployment and swingeing benefits cuts echo her years in power. The rehabilitation isn’t so much about then as now, which is one reason it can’t go unchallenged. Thatcher wasn’t a ‘great leader’. She was the most socially destructive prime minister of modern times.

‘Thatcher’s Rehabilitation Must Be Resisted to the End’, in Seumas Milne,The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century (London: Verso 2013) 245-8.

Thatcher, Churchill and the Tories View Organised Working Class as Nazi-like Threat

Milne is absolutely right about the destructive effect Thatcher and her policies have had on British society. He also in the above article criticises the attempt to present Thatcher as possessing the same stature as Winston Churchill. This show very strongly the Tory attitude to the working class and organised labour – a mighty force for evil on a par with Nazi Germany, which should be resolutely destroyed no matter what the cost. Not that she didn’t share some of Churchill’s views. He too hated the working class and was fully prepared to use military force against them. He is still bitterly hated in parts of Wales for his use of the army to put down striking workers in Newport. Martin Pugh in his book on Fascism in Britain between the Wars argues that one reason why the 1926 General Strike ended without much bloodshed was because the Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, removed Churchill from any direct responsibility. When the strike broke out, Churchill announced that the army would stand ready to do their duty if called upon by the civilian authorities. A cabinet aide suggested to Baldwin that perhaps a post in the Telegraph office would suit the future minister. ‘Yes’, replied Baldwin, ‘he can do no harm there’.

Left and Liberal Parties Should Not Court Tory Press

It also shows the folly of any Labour or left-wing party expecting support from the Tory press. Any support given by Messrs Dacre, Murdoch and Desmond is contingent on following a series of policies that will punish and harm the poor in support of the rich. Labour, or any other party, such as the Lib Dems, will automatically act against the interests of their own constituencies if they do so. Moreover, the same press barons will automatically move back to their default position of supporting the Tories, as has been shown by Murdoch’s move back to the Conservatives from supporting Blair.

Thatcher and Mugabe: Both Politicians Destroyed their Nations for Sectional Gain

As for Thatcher’s destruction of British manufacturing industry, and the massive growth in poverty, what actually struck me there was not the parallel with Churchill, but with another politician entirely: Robert Mugabe. Mugabe has, after all, comprehensively wrecked what was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. Before Mugabe unleashed his reign of terror, Zimbabwe actually exported food. Now he’s reduced it to absolute poverty, while, like so many dictators around the world, enriching himself and his coterie.

And just in case anyone disputes how divisive Thatcher was, remember the mass celebrations that broke out at the news of her death.

Milne is quite right: Thatcher was not great politician. She was a disastrous one, and her rehabilitation by the political elite needs to be strongly resisted at every turn.