That Was the Week That Was, 27/9/15

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Say what you like about UKIP, they are nothing if not a conservative organization.  When the party gathered for their annual conference in the traditional resort of Doncaster in the second half of the week, all the usual elements were on display. These included bitter factionalism, being rude to Douglas Carswell and pictures of Nigel Farage chuckling while enjoying a pint. There may be a careworn element to these tropes nowadays – survey evidence indicates that three blind children in a mountain village in Afghanistan are the last people on the planet not to have seen video footage of Nigel Farage drinking at a pub – but they fit the party as comfortably as instinctive xenophobia and a persecution complex.

For a brief time after the election UKIP tried turning the formula round: being rude about Nigel Farage and transmitting pictures of Douglas Carswell drinking a pint. That, however, did not work at all. It certainly didn’t seem to suit Mr Carswell, whose place in a party that appears to resent him for being its sole member of Parliament, is looking increasingly tenuous.  According to Arron Banks, UKIP’s chief money man and the wannabe leader of the “Leave.EU” campaign, Mr Carswell is “borderline autistic with mental illness issues wrapped in”. To be fair, this is only mild criticism compared to Mr Farage’s, who hinted that he thought Mr Carswell was still infected with loyalty to the Conservative Party. It is good at least to see that UKIP are not prepared to cede to the Liberal Democrats a monopoly of concern when it comes to debating matters of mental health.

The Lib Dems met for their own party conference in Bournemouth amid a tumult of apathy.  Happy to be back in opposition, the Lib Dems took their place once more upon the touchlines of carnage and atrocity, muttering to themselves about how such evil exists in the world only because an electoral system keeps them from exerting a moderating influence. Such a formula never fails to bring comfort, even in circumstances where the electoral system in question is that not many people voted for them.

Messages back from the seafront were of an upbeat gathering, attended by more of the party’s activists and well-wishers than ever before. Whether this was true in absolute numbers or only looked that way because no one else bothered to go is unclear. The teeming hundreds were regaled by a speech of impeccable dullness from the party leader Tim Farron, who talked about housing. Mr Farron is currently very exercised by the problem of homelessness.  There are literally thousands of Labour Party supporters out there who, since the election of Jeremy Corbyn, no longer have anywhere to live. If Mr Farron is to be believed, quite a few of these from the Westminster area have taken to texting the Lib Dem leader directly, asking if he could put them up.  For a party of egregious tolerance, however, the Lib Dems seem curiously reluctant to take these political migrants in. No doubt they are worried about the impact upon their unique culture of devout sanctimoniouness.

Westminster was, of course, far too distracted by Lord Ashcroft’s biography of David Cameron, Call Me Dave, to be much bothered by the Liberal Democrats’ first faltering steps back towards irritating visibility. This was so even though there was, in truth, very little of substance to report. Absent revelations of a serious nature, we learned that the Prime Minister might once have performed a sex act with a pig. This was not with the entire pig – only its head, which had become detached from the remainder of its body. Whether it would have been politer for young David to have asked the pig for a blow job while it was still alive, rather than waiting until it had been decapitated, and therefore had no say in the matter, is something that our moral guardians in the Daily Mail will be cogitating over for at least another couple of weeks. What is certain is that Cameron never offered to marry the pig, which is some sign of how standards have been in decline for the last 50 years.

It has neither been confirmed nor denied that this act of congress actually took place, though if it did it was apparently part of what the Guardian calls a “bizarre initiation ceremony” for the Piers Gaveston Society.  It is not known for certain whether Cameron at Oxford was actually a member of the “PG”. It is possible that he applied, failed the pig test and was rejected. That would be an extremely worrying scenario since inserting your penis into the mouth of a dead pig is considerably less complicated than welfare reform (one intuits), and if Mr Cameron cannot do the one, why should be entrust him to do the other? Not that we could imagine Jeremy Corbyn doing a whole lot better since presumably he would be thinking of Animal Farm the entire time. Mr Corbyn’s prescience in appointing a vegan to speak for his party on agricultural matters suddenly became apparent since we need someone who is not prepared to eat meat to state with sufficient authority that it is not appropriate to go to bed with it either,

Several thousand miles away the Chancellor of the Exchequer was kow-towing to the Chinese.  This was not because they are anticipated to have a vote in the election to choose David Cameron’s successor, although Mr Osborne is working on it (£3 a head should manage it). Absent any opportunity to buy in to party democracy, the Chinese are to be allowed to buy our nuclear power stations instead, this giving them important strategic access to the national grid.  Arriving in London, the Dalai Lama thought it was a particularly grubby deal. He had not been allowed to meet the Prime Minister, though whether this was because he was too tied up with a pork chop was not revealed.

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That Was the Week 20th September 2015

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All week, the search for the “new” Jeremy Corbyn has gone on. That the leader of the Corbyn Party presents to the equilibium of the media-political industrial complex the most extraordinary and baffling challenge that it has ever faced is indisputable. On the one hand, Corbyn is more conservative than any other politician in the country, reared on a lifetime of protest meetings, solidarity marches and incomprehensible discourses on Marxist-Lenninist ideology in stale rooms above public houses. That kind of commitment never washes out: a man willing to go to bed with Diane Abbott has travelled so far to embrace the left-wing cause that there is no hope of ever reeling him back.

Yet reeling him back is precisely what the complex is programmed to do. Its gut cannot digest the unspun politician: the man who will not communicate in its clichés, or even communicate at all; who refuses to appoint a press officer to spoon feed it pre-prepared paragraphs of rhetorical rusk; who bails out on the set-piece interviews so as to spend time singing the Internationale with fellow leftists. Wishing for none of this to be true, reporters and commentators have hoped desperately for some sign that Mr Corbyn might be prepared to make accommodation with its methods and mores. They have staked out his meetings into the small hours. They have run down the road after him, promising not to bother him with their questions. They have published gossip about his extra-marital affairs.

Playing the game as the media want it to be played doesn’t have to mean that Mr Corbyn puts on a suit, appoints a corporate social responsibility tsar and looks out for countries that he might want to invade. But surely the man could try a little. Faced with the indisputable truth that failing to appoint a woman to shadow either the Treasury, the Foreign Office or the Home Office is a misogynistic blunder of historic proportions, he replies simply that health, education and transport, all positions occupied in his shadow cabinet by women, are of equal importance to these offices of state. Rationally, there may be something to this argument, even if it is also true to say that our national security is not threatened by the M62 in the way that it is by terrorism, Russia or by Jean-Claude Juncker’s immigration policy. Rationality though has got nothing to do with it. It simply does not compute.

The paradox is that a new way of looking at Mr Corbyn has emerged from these early days of fumbling engagement, even if it is not the one that we were searching for. Disappearing already is the idea of the red revolutionary, who would abolish the monarchy, align with Russia and murder readers of the Daily Mail in their beds. In is place has come the character of a rather endearing and bumbling old leftie, a lovely man by all accounts, who is fixated on ideology much as other men are obsessed with collecting the numbers of railway locomotives. After all, no one ever got shot in the back of the neck by someone wearing a courdroy jacket with a pair of spectacles half way down his nose.

On this analysis, the appointment of John McDonnell to be shadow chancellor was a favour to a mate, rather than a statement of economic iconoclasm, still less the gender snub it was made out to be. Mr Corbyn’s failure to sing the national anthem at a church ceremony in memory of the Battle of Britain was not the act of the anarchist in the aisles, but because he forgot: after all, has Mr Corbyn not spent a lifetime of attending meetings where they finish up singing the Red Flag rather than God Save the Queen? It is possible that he had never even heard the national anthem before, still less realized that you are meant to join in. His look in the church as the dirge droned on was certainly more one of bemusement than Bolshevism.

This narrative survived – indeed it rather prospered as a result of – Prime Minister’s questions in the middle of the week. Mr Corbyn is not the first participant in that ritual to seek to change its format, rather like a television ’creative’ addressing the failings of The Voice or the second season of Broadchurch. Unlike those before him, however, he rather succeeded, or at least he did on his first outing. Adopting the mundane persona of a host on an LBC phone-in, he brought along six questions from among the 40,000 he claimed had been sent in to him from members of the public. The questions were about simple, unfussy, things, like housing and mental health. Again this challenged our expectations, since we imagined Mr Corbyn’s postbag to contain inquiries about the overthrow of capitalism or the means to securing the ultimate victory of the proletariat by mobilizing the socialist working class. None of Mr Corbyn’s questions troubled David Cameron, but that wasn’t really the point. In the oldest cliché in politics, the enemy was behind him, but how could anyone from among the ranks of distressed and angry Labour MPs beat up on a leader who was about as sinister as Alan Partridge.

In the middle of the general climate of chaos and amateurism ushered in by Mr Corbyn’s victory, the Government passed a measure that would virtually halve the entitlement to tax credits for the low paid. Controversial even on its own side, and attracting Tory rebels, the Government’s action sailed by the Commons with a majority of 35, three times the size of what it should have been on paper. On a matter where you would have expected it to be tough and united, Labour literally didn’t turn up.  In the space of a week, Mr Corbyn has morphed from being a figure of fear to a figure of fun, and it looks as if serious opposition is going to be the loser.

That Was the Week 13 September 2015

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In the week’s least unexpected political news, Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the leader of the Corbyn Party, gaining 59.5% of the vote, thereby slicing out his three rival claimants to the throne in one go. The victor responded by saying that he was elected as Corbyn and would govern as Corbyn and across the realm of upper Islington there was much rejoicing at this news. Those other parts of the country that have in the past occasionally found themselves in uneasy alliance with Islingtonia reacted more cautiously, perhaps waiting to see whether or not the new leader would offer Andy Burnham a job. That there will be nervous times ahead is undoubtedly true. People may be a little quieter in the pubs of Nuneaton while they digest the news, though the bars of Buenos Aires were rowdy. The Argentinian President, Kirchner, said that it was a good thing that Islingtonia had elected a leader prepared to give up half of its claim to the Falklands, a place known across Argentina and Islingtonia as Las Malvinas.

The media was, of course, buzzing with admiration at the scale of The Corbyn’s victory, though no one seemed to be asking the obvious question which is why Mr Corbyn could only command the support of 60% of the Corbyn Party. Or, indeed, why it has taken the best part of 40 years to elect him their leader. The answer to the second question is easier to dispose of, since it has taken 40 years for another party – in this case the party formerly known as Labour – to be thoughtful enough to organise an election in which they could take part. For the previous four decades Corbynites, who think elections are the narcissistic preoccupation of  bourgeoisie reactionary class and the Corbynistas, who hold democracy to be a trap laid down by capitalist war-mongers, have been in brutal combat and so they have never got round to the actual business of holding any.

As to why four out of ten registered members of the Corbyn Party voted for other candidates, this was being put down to the infiltration of the party by assorted Kendallites, Burnham fellow travellers, and mini-Coopers. The expectation is that these people will now be shot. Mr Corbyn presaged this outcome by devoting the first ten minutes of his victory speech to praising their leaders, always a signal in revolutionary circles that pistols are being loaded.

Mr Corbyn’s speech itself was described as “rambling”. There was nothing wrong with that. In the broad coalition of oppressed victim groups that constitute the bedrock of Corbyn support, ramblers are an important component. One can perhaps question The Corbyn for singling them out at the very moment of his sunrise, but we should never doubt either his sincerity or his cunning. One suspects that Mr Corbyn’s speeches, rather like those of Fidel Castro, are going to be something of a test of endurance. Luckily, he seems intent on mainly delivering them to refugees and other groups of people whom you might have thought have suffered already. The Corbyn’s decision on Sunday morning to defy centuries of tradition  and choose to be at yet another rally of the oppressed rather than on the Andrew Marr show is a sign that we might be spared. It does mean though that we will be hearing a lot more of Tom Watson, the newly-elected deputy leader of the Corbyn Party, whose own acceptance speech was brief in the way that the Hundred Years War was brief. Into all our lives a little acid rain must fall.

Earlier in the week, on the day that the woman known to the Guardian as Elizabeth Windsor became Britain’s longest-serving monarch, David Cameron paid tribute to someone whose fortitude, sense of duty and accomplished style has served as an inspiration to us all. But enough of Harriet Harman. Mr Cameron was also obliged to find nice words to say about the Queen since the Commons had decided to pause its normal duties for half an hour to pay tribute. Naturally, we were all far less interested in hearing what scripted platitudes the Prime Minister had brought along for the occasion (“selfless sense of service”) than to discover what views, if any, The Corbyn, held upon the matter. Mr Corbyn, alas, failed to catch the Speaker’s eye, though in truth he probably wasn’t using a particularly large net. It had been reported, rather ungallantly, that when a reporter asked him earlier in the week about Windsor’s upcoming landmark, he had run away. Lucky for The Corbyn that the anniversary did not fall a week later: he will find it harder to avoid such unpleasant duties now that the £3 insurgents have annointed him Leader of the Opposition.

The royal tributes having been dispensed with, the House of Commons turned its attention to Prime Minister’s questions, the last of the BC era. Since this was the last occasion for Ms Harman to lead for Labour, Mr Cameron started to gush. Now it is important to understand the Prime Minister’s motivation here. It is possible that he holds some genuine affection for Labour’s acting leader, as he might for an old family nanny or labrador, but the fact that he went out of his way to compliment her more likely suggests that the Tory modernisation project is kicking back in to gear. Mr Cameron has scruplulously taught his party to approve of, among other things, same sex marriage and the north of England, this being part of the plan to make people believe that Tories are “nice”. With the centre ground of politics likely to be vacated by Labour’s self-destruction, Mr Cameron believes that there are plenty more votes of nice-lovers to be had, though evidently he has to reinforce the message that the Conservatives are worthy of having them. Ms Harman is therefore merely the latest in a long line of items, previously regarded as unspeakable in Conservative lexicography, that the Party must now claim to adore. Judging by the faces behind him as he ploughed on through his encomium, this may be the Prime Minister’s hardest sell yet.

For her part Ms Harman was good enough to thank the Prime Minister for the compliment. In doing so, she revealed that, pitiless though she may be in her feminism, it is not quite of the highest order since, had it been, she presumably would have told him to stop being such a patronising, misogynistic pig. Mr Cameron, it is true, had been wise enough to stick to praising the acting leader’s political qualities rather than telling her what a little corker she looked in her Twitter photo. Even so, he was skating close to the edge of that chauvinistic chasm into which all men are bound sooner or later to tumble.

Ms Harman did not concede that she was insufficiently feminist to be leader of the Labour Party, though she did tell Andrew Neil that she was neither old enough nor posh enough for the job. This was another act of ungallantry aimed in the direction of Mr Corbyn who, at 66, is a year older than Ms Harman. A Trotsyist never likes to be reminded of his age. Nor of the fact that he attended a minor public school, especially by someone – Harriet Harman in this case – who attended a major one.