Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier (No 9)
By Michael Murray
A dictionary definition of “foot soldier” “…a dedicated low level follower.”
In this issue:
- Stoke: “The red and blue colours of politics”
- “The Killing$ of Tony Blair”: review
- 100th Anniversary of the Cooperative Party
This entry in the diary has to begin with the most significant event of the month, the Stoke-on-Trent by-election – and this foot soldier’s small part in it. Polly Toynbee, in the Guardian (Feb 6th) said it would be a calamity for Labour or UKIP if either lose…”causing an existential crisis, and I use that word carefully. Watch the avalanche of political obituaries for the loser.” No pressure there then. I was one of a delegation of 12 Hackney South Labour Party members led by Hackney Mayor, Phil Glanville, sent to help out in Stoke. Speaking for myself, not our delegation, I was going to support the Labour candidate despite his scurrilous abuse of Corbyn on social media, calling him an “IRA and Hamas terrorist supporter.” I was there to help to ensure that Corbyn would not be held to account in the event of a UKIP victory, buying a little more time for the Corbyn/McDonnell project. As we took our seats in the Euston to Stoke train, naturally, I looked around to see if members from other London parties were getting on.
What struck me most was the large number of people boarding, mostly adult male, wearing red, white and blue scarves. It wasn’t the BNP or UKIP, I realized, on their way to Stoke to do some canvassing; they were Crystal Palace supporters going to see their team take on Stoke. They were joined all the way by more Palace supporters. Bottom of the League Palace were going to attempt to move out of the relegation zone. Stoke needed to reverse a 4-1 defeat to Palace earlier in the season. Plenty to play for then. But how will the home game impact on our canvassing ? Will anyone be at home?
We were allocated Hanley, one of Stoke’s six towns. But we weren’t reliving another election in another time, in the same Hanley, described by Arnold Bennet – he fictionalized his home town as “Hanbridge”: “The streets were lively with the red and blue colours of politics,” he wrote. But that wasn’t our experience. For an election being watched closely from all parts of the UK, Europe and further afield, I’d never seen such little evidence of electioneering, such as the minimal posters in front gardens or windows – except around the Labour election HQ.
As it was, we were doing a leaflet drop as well as canvassing so traipsing up and down Hanley’s hilly streets with an occasional doorstep conversation was as exciting as it got. But that’s okay. It was a cold, miserable, wet day with not much stirring. I found it a bit of a culture shock, compared to canvassing in London, to find myself talking to so many UKIP supporters. And people who supported no party. One man, in his forties, matter-of-factly and pleasantly told me he’d never voted in an election in his life. Except once. The referendum on Brexit. Talk about a reality check. As it was, almost two out of three people did not vote subsequently on election day. There were three to four times more people at the Stoke home game mentioned than the entire number who voted Labour on the 23rd February. Parse and analyse the election results how you will: political apathy was the clear winner in Stoke, despite all the outside Labour support. And if UKIP candidate Paul Nuttall hadn’t been caught out in a series of “porkies” – more damning than any policy issue: claiming to have been at Hillsborough and having had friends die there, it would have been a different result. And Polly Toynbee’s worst fears confirmed.
Before leaving Stoke you might like to know that only 9 of Stoke City’s 33 man squad are English, and in a city marked by unemployment and low wages the Stoke City wage bill this season is £75.9 million – twice the size of the 2014-15 season’s bill, and, okay, peanuts compared to Man City’s £225 million this season. On line, tickets for the forthcoming home game against visitors Arsenal are selling at a start price of £167. God, I’m glad I had the opportunity of reading William Runciman’s “Relative Deprivation,” at a young age. I can listen with corbynistic equanimity to gobshites talking football, about “our” team and of why “we” should be prepared to spend twenty to thirty million for a decent centre forward. And, yes, I had a pang of something between nostalgia and loss seeing the old Wedgwood factory in the train window as we pulled out of Stoke. I was thinking of Waterford-Wedgwood and more prosperous, and hopeful, times – in Waterford, my home town, and Stoke.
(2) “The Killing$ of Tony Blair: Review”
London’s “Time Out” magazine describes this film as essential viewing:
“If you need a nauseating reminder of why so many Brits feel alienated from the political centre. Here it is.” This documentary, 90 minutes long, is written and produced by ex-MP George Galloway. George provides the “voice-over” link-up commentary but it is the testimony of an impressive collection of witnesses to aspects of Blair’s life and political career that gives it its substance and value. The witnesses include ex Blair minister, Clare Short who provides an insight into his manipulative, non-democratic Cabinet management style; and, a lengthy portrait of Blair from a surprising source – prominent, serving Tory Brexit Minister David Davis.
These are not the “usual suspects” you might expect to find in a “protest” documentary. Neither are Corbyn’s Communications man, Seamus Milne; political commentators Peter Oborne, Will Self, ex Diplomat Craig Murray; financial guru Max Keiser, currently campaigning for the Governorship of one the US Southern states. Stephen Fry is featured also, as is Matthew Norman and Richard Brooks – and, last but not least, Naom Chomsky. Khofi Annan and Dennis Halliday bear witness against the legality of the decision to invade Iraq. For the real “inside” story none other than his sister-in-law is witness, Lauren Booth. The interviews between George and his witnesses is interspersed with lively video footage, some of it, from the Balkan and Iraq wars, of a nature.. well let’s say heavy – but not inappropriate to the subject matter or the title of the documentary.
The “killings” of the title refer, not only to the thousands of lives taken in the course of Blair’s military adventures, but the financial killings made along the way of his career and after stepping down from office. His dealings, while in office, with J P Morgan bank are probed, the Ecclestone Formula One scandal revisited and Blair’s relations with Murdoch, in every sense: I can’t elaborate here, that would constitute a “spoiler.” But she was feckin’ gorgeous, Murdoch’s wife. She’s now divorced. Another “spoiler” would be revealing here how much wealth Blair is now worth. But I will reveal that his creative accounting techniques, by which he hides his income from public gaze and the taxman are to be found in this video. Windrush, say no more.
Saudi arms deals are examined as well as other dealings with arms manufacturers, BAE Systems. As well, his speaking engagements where, according to George Galloway, he got millions for stating the “bleedin’” obvious. And the massive consultancy practice built up, as one witness says, “from his prime ministerial contacts book.” His work for various despotic regimes around the middle east, such as Kazakhstan and Egypt, “giving advice,” as Peter Oborne says “to murderous dictators in return for hard cash”, also is covered. To be fair George lists Blair’s political achievements from Northern Ireland peace agreement to the National Minimum Wage to inequality reduction through social policies. This, though, is weighed against introducing PFI into the public sector, “privatization by stealth,” and the resultant, ongoing, spiral of debt in health and education; also, the reduction of financial regulation.
Though the DVD cover depicts Tony taking a “selfie” against the “shock and awe” backdrop of one of his wars, really the documentary, if it entirely omitted the Iraq invasion, would still be providing a public service. One of the best one-liners in the documentary is what Maggie Thatcher said when asked what was her greatest achievement in her political life: she replied: “Tony Blair.”
George was asked recently if he was afraid of being brought to court by Blair. His eyes lit up. “Him and me in a Court? Under oath? Bring it on!”
(3) 100th Anniversary of the Cooperative Party.
The Coop Party marked its 100th Anniversary with a day-long economic conference in the highly appropriate setting of Coin St Community Centre, on the South Bank, London. Sessions included:
- The role of Responsible Business in creating a Fairer Economy.
- The Fourth Industrial Revolution: opportunity or insecurity ?
- Financial services in the interests of families and communities.
- Creating sustainable local economies.
A host of speakers from across the Labour, Trade Union and Cooperative movement spoke to a very full house of participative attendees from around the country. Speakers included Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and, I learned for the first time, Co-Chair of The Commission on the Future of Work, which is focused on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation and the impact on the relations of production as well as the relations in production. My words, not Tom Watson’s – though he did surprise and impress with the delivery of his paper and, more tellingly with the quality audience, who he engaged in debate.
The British cooperative movement at the moment has total assets of around £37 million; larger than most would imagine but only a fraction of the cooperative activity in Germany, Italy, France or Spain. For example, Mondragon, just one cooperative corporation, based in Basque Spain has assets equal to all of Britain’s – and much of their activity being in leading edge technology, in cooperatively owned and managed enterprises. The cooperative section is still small in Britain as a percentage of GDP, but it will become more important in post-Brexit, or prolonged Brexit Britain, as some significant new community-based cooperatives begin to emerge, such as in Preston, interestingly, inspired by Mondragon and its US offshoot in Cleveland. More about that in a later Labour Affairs.