The Paris attacks spread division and violence…in the Labour Party…

A week ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Paris atrocity, the Pope declared that he was hearing the opening shots of World War III and Professor Niall Ferguson, a spiritual leader albeit on a smaller scale, spoke of the parallels with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Luckily, it only took a few days for western liberal democracy to fight back. Andrew Neil, presenting the This Week political programme on Thursday evening , declared that Paris, like the Third Reich to which it was once briefly subservient, will last for a thousand years and will survive long after “loser jihadists” have been ground into the dust. The gist of his argument was that a country that had produced such a list of famous Frenchmen as he could recite (and only a couple of French women – feminists feel free to write in) could not be brought down by men (women are notoriously under-represented in ISIL’s front-of-house – feminists etc), whose idea of enlightenment was to use double-sided Scotch tape to strap on their suicide vests.

Neil’s roll-call of famous Frenchies was impressive in its depth and antiquity: half a dozen each of writers and composers, four painters, three philosophers, a scientist and a only a couple of others of more contemporary vintage. All but two of these celebrities are dead. It was not, though, the music of Berlioz or Saint-Saens that the concert-goers were listening to when the gunmen opened up; in the bars they were likely not weighing up the respective merits as philosophers of Descartes, Rousseau and Sartre before the place was ripped apart. And in the Stade de France they would have looked at Neil’s list and wondered where was Thierry Henry, where Eric Cantona, where Laurent Blanc? (They may also have been looking at “Daft Punk” and wondering whether he wasn’t that centre-back who used to play for Nimes.)  Jeremy Corbyn’s narrative that unfolded in harum-scarum fashion across the week, that western militarism was to blame for the attacks, got it completely wrong: it is western decadence that really hacks these blighters off. It is a long way from observing that France seems to have slid down the scale of intellectual achievement from its glory days, to answering that disparity with Kalashnikovs and high explosive, but Neil’s list pointed up the gulf between the ideal of the west, and its reality. Presumably that was not his intention. Nevertheless, it is a gulf that literally inspires terror.

Conveying the superiority of western values to those who would otherwise want to kill us in the name of their own is one of the stock responses to jihadist terror, and by the end of the week various right wing politicians and commentators had ensured that we were running out of stock. Never mind that those values might seem as oblique and as obscure to the victims of terror as to the perpetrators. The equivalent standard issue response from the liberal left was to urge solidarity and the deployment of our superior use of technology against aggression. The particular use of technology they meant was to ensure that those who wished to signal their virtue could easily affix an image of the Tricolour to their Facebook profiles.

We must not allow the attackers to divide us, said the left, or provoke violent responses of our own. So far as the Labour Party was concerned these pleas were hopeless: the Party finished the week as divided and as violent as it has ever been. Mr Corbyn’s antipathy towards the policy of shoot-to-kill is probably informed by the understanding that the number of Labour MPs who would like to shoot-to-kill him is probably now heading towards triple figures.

On Monday, the Labour leader was reportedly “savaged” by his Parliamentary party for his remarks about shoot-to-kill and for his general display of fundamentalist pacifism in the face of the enemy. Naturally, he looked to his key allies to protect him. The shadow chancellor John McDonnell was nowhere to be seen – not for nothing is he McAvity Osborne’s shadow – and Diane Abbott, though in the same room where the savagery was taking place, was writing Christmas cards. Perhaps she was sending them to ISIL: Ms Abbott’s Christmas cards we can be sure will be rigorously secular and shorn of any relationship, other than temporal, to Christmas.

A third ally, Ken Livingstone, was fighting battles of his own. Waking up with a sore chest on Tuesday morning (this circumstance was part of his defence), he denounced a Labour MP Kevan Jones, as a man in need of psychiatric help. Now, as it happens, Mr Jones has spoken openly in the past about suffering from mental health problems – a fact Mr Livingstone claimed not to have known – but the former London mayor’s diagnosis of mental trouble stemmed from the insane proposition that he, Jones, disagreed with Mr Livingstone. Even Mr Corbyn thought that his acolyte should apologise, something that Mr Livingstone came as close to  doing as England did to winning the rugby world cup. “Jeremy is incredibly concerned that people with mental health problems shouldn’t be stigmatised”, said Corbyn’s spokesman. This too is approximately his position towards people with terrorist problems. Mr Livingstone defends Mr Corbyn as someone who has been traduced by the media and betrayed by the disloyalty of Labour MPs: when the pair of them were being happily disloyal to previous Labour leaders, he pointed out, their attacks were only ever about policy and never personal. Kevan Jones should take note of this.

All in all, it was not a good week “nice politics”, or for forging a new relationship with the world, these being, according to John McDonnell, who surfaced later in the week to say this, two of the three pillars’ of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. That therefore left only the third pillar, which the shadow chancellor called – presumably with unintended reference to Tony Blair – the “new economics”.  Mr McDonnell gave a speech on the subject, so that the new economics turned out to sound a lot like the old economics, albeit with some inspirational ideas for new bureaucracy imported from Finland. To give Mr McDonnell his due, there was no hesitation in describing his approach as “socialism”, though he then went on to ruin the effect by branding it as “socialism with an iPad”. What on earth could this mean, other than that the shadow chancellor needs to find himself a new speechwriter? We must already have cycled through communism with a computer and Marxism with a Mac before alighting upon this prescription, which didn’t even have any alliterative merit.

While this was going on, the real Chancellor was having a pig of a week. He was confronted with the worst October borrowing figures for six years and a poll that showed him slipping to third place in the Tory leadership stakes. For all their journey towards trying to identify with the common people, the Conservatives remain hampered by the fact that they can still think of only two people they would rather have as leader than George Osborne. Next week, Mr Osborne will unfurl his autumn statement, confronting socialism with an iPad with market economics with an axe. He may yet be trumped by a prime minister who has screwed up enough courage to tell Parliament that it is time we started bombing Syria. Tory MPs observing all this busied themselves by blocking legislation that would make it compulsory for children to be taught first aid in schools. This may well be socialism with gauze and cleansing wipes, but on another day the prime minister might want to portray a nation of children poised to carry out mouth-to-mouth as a key component of our strategic response to terror.

Advertisements