Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier
by Michael Murray
Dictionary definition of foot soldier: “…a dedicated low level follower.”
In this issue:
- (1) Reality check
- (2) “Highly likely”: Making words mean what you want you want people think they mean”
- (3) What next for Labour – and its foot soldiers?
(1) Reality check
For me, a Corbyn foot soldier, the month of March began in a good place. Labour appeared to be steaming towards considerable gains in the forthcoming local elections, which, in turn, would set us up nicely for any forthcoming General Election and provide an appropriate backdrop for the further honing of the Party’s Manifesto for Government, and the mass membership educational work around it. The peace which had broken out in the aftermath of the 2017 General Election gains amongst the party’s internal factions seemed to be holding up well.
Having experienced local election canvassing in a leafier part of Barnet constituency in the previous month, where I made new friends and comrades, I took the opportunity to join members of the Irish Society of the Labour Party canvassing on the westerly side of Barnet. The canvass began and ended in The Cricklewood Crown. The Crown is an iconic pub in London Irish social history made famous by the song “McAlpine’s Fusiliers,” commemorating the men who worked for the McAlpine construction firm. It is the “Fields of Athenry” anthem equivalent of 1950-60 generation of Irish immigrants which begins with the lines known to most Irish people:
“The crack was good in Cricklewood
And they wouldn’t leave The Crown
With glasses flyin’ and biddies cryin’
Poor Paddy was goin’ to town”
I know, like a song from the Klondike gold rush. But “The Crown” now is as different from then as the post 2008 Irish immigrant wave is from the 1950s one. Our canvassing team was an interesting mix of the first-generation descendants of the 1950s immigrants and the Irish born, mostly third level educated 2008 immigrants – plus, of course, a goodly proportion of other ethnic groups, as you’d expect in any cross section of Londoners. And though the Crown’s facade and interiors have been retained It is now part of the Irish owned, lavishly appointed, 4-Star Crown Clayton Hotel. It is the venue for many London Irish social events and it is here, at the likes of the County Association dinner-dances you can smell the wealth of the “successful” Irish immigrants.
The section of the ward we were canvassing, which began at the rear of the pub, was a hell of a contrast, shocking, actually with its dilapidated blocks of flats and houses and seriously pot-holed roads. And yes, I met some of the 1950s Irish immigrants on the doorstep as well as their grown-up children. I chatted to them about “back home,” generally communicating in the culture of clientelist parish-pump politics typical of similarly deprived areas of Irish cities and towns. The two enthusiastic, young Labour women looking for votes in that area have their work cut out. Not, mind, in securing promises of votes but in getting this section of “left-behind” voters to actually vote, as in Ireland or any other country represented in that area. And, no, I didn’t ask them if The Crown was their local.
One reason I chose to go to Cricklewood to help out was, apart from a curiosity about revisiting The Crown for the first time since my early years in London was to get to know the Labour Party Irish Society. I wasn’t disappointed. The session after the canvass was great and new friendships were made. And, in recognition of my help I was invited to the Society’s Paddy’s Night annual do at Portcullis House, Westminister.
There, I learned to my delight that one of the people I’ve been dying to meet for years is not only a member of the Irish Society, but is its Community Liaison Officer. This is Muhammad Al-Hussaini, the “singing imam,” a Muslim cleric. Muhammad is all over YouTube, if you google his name. He has a vast repertoire of sean-nos (traditional Gaelic) songs and music. He plays the fiddle and tin whistle also – and no doubt other instruments. I should add he sings in English too – and, in the Irish tradition, many of his songs are sung in a mix of the two languages. I had assumed he lived in Dublin.
I first saw him, in English and Irish on Irish TV (RTE) and the Gaelic TG4. I was introduced and we duly exchanged the “cupla focail.” He sang on the night – and brought the house down. A senior Parliamentary Labour figure – one of the guest speakers, of another ethnicity – had visible tears in her eyes at the emotion evoked by Muhammad’s Gaelic songs. The corner of the venue was taken up with a dozen schoolchildren playing an assortment of traditional instruments as background accompaniment. One of the main speakers was an official of the British union, the GMB, a big, articulate, humorous lump of a man – of the McAlpine Fusiliers’ generation, and proud of it. Just as I felt proud to be there – a special night, for the night that was in it, and great to feel be part of a movement that seemed to be going somewhere.
Then just when you’re feeling happy, reality, as is its wont, rears its head and bites you in the arse.
(2) “Highly likely”: Making words mean what you want people to think they mean
Like many, I’d believed from the time that Jeremy emerged as a serious contender for the Labour Party leadership, and possible Prime Minister-ship, that he was always going to be a likely target for serious dirty tricks. We’ve seen a succession of them, the most potentially damaging being the Czech and East German spy “revelations.” There are also the “anti-semite” smears – ongoing and, if anything, intensifying as the John Mann types in the PLP rejoin the public opposition to Corbyn, after a misleading lull.
As Corbyn was spoken of more and more as the next PM it seemed to me some false flag was likely. A constant refrain of the Tories is that Labour can’t be trusted with the economy, including debt management. And that they can’t be trusted with defence. I think it’s fair to say large swathes of the British public remain to be persuaded that Labour can, indeed, be trusted with the economy – but a great start has been made over the past two to three years to establish Labour as the only party with a grip on the essentials. The 2017 General Election Manifesto’s wide electoral appeal is the evidence of that, as was the hasty withdrawal of the Tory Manifesto as an embarrassment by comparison .
The “Labour can’t be trusted with the economy” line was trotted out at the last PMQs of this term, on Wednesday last. It came across as a worn-out sound bite. Defence, on the other hand, is the soft underbelly of the Corbyn Labour Party. It was always going to be the “go-to” policy area to hammer Labour and, particularly, Corbyn. Instead of the military intervention, in the wake of some manufactured “false flag” pretext I had been expecting to happen between now and the next general election we had the incident in Salisbury.
That this may be a pre-meditated false flag job to compromise Putin or Corbyn in their respective leadership roles by persons unknown, or, Salisbury is being seized upon to turn a serendipitous incident into an opportunity. We may never know. But, what we do know is that Labour in Parliament has now been damaged, through the usual suspects coming forward from the backbenches, and from the shadow cabinet, to undermine Jeremy’s leadership yet again. And just when the tide of public opinion seemed to be turning slowly and inexorably in its favour.
“The Labour leader has come under criticism in recent days – including from Labour MPs –for calling on government ministers to avoid ‘rushing way ahead of the evidence’ by pinning definite responsibility for the attack on the Russian state without producing conclusive evidence to back the charge,” one newspaper reported. As Opposition leader Jeremy attempted to hold the Prime Minister to account for a highly threatening action taken against a nuclear-armed sovereign State, which, incidentally, is portrayed by the Tories as being a “rogue state.” Proceed with caution in dealing with a rogue state, if, indeed, post-Soviet Russia is such, would seem to be a responsible approach undeserving of the scathing opprobrium poured down on Corbyn by Government, the media – and many of his backbench and Cabinet colleagues.
But this demonization of Russia and its leader, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, let us recognise, is now an established part of the modern “psyops/propaganda” phase of neo-con confrontation. The second phase is economic warfare, through escalating degrees of sanctions and sabotage of financial and other economic and social systems. The third is military action, through proxies, covert warfare and, finally, invasion. Of course, these overlap, and the mix varies depending on the context, and the targeted enemy.
As we’ve seen before – more recently in the run-up to the Iraq war – a high point of the first, psy ops phase is the discarding of hitherto liberal, tolerant debate about the issue and the adoption of the stance: “Those who are not with us, are against us.” This is true especially of the media: hence the targeting of Russia Today (RT) for boycotting and closure. That’s why John McDonnell’s call for actions to be taken against RT, such as boycotting interviews on its news programmes, has disappointed me gravely.
He hasn’t given any reasons for it I can pin down, having gone over the transcripts of his interviews on the subject – and genuinely wanting to continue to trust him. He’s been one of my heroes in Corbynist Labour and I’ve enjoyed several political chats with him over the last few years. But Peter Dowd, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s Deputy gave as a succinct, specific reason for taking steps against RT :“the light of events of this week” (i.e. Salisbury MJM).
The final part of this first phase of the neo-con is the identification of external allies, which we’ve seen happening in the EU and beyond, mainly in commonwealth countries. In response to Theresa May’s statement to the House of Commons on her securing of allies Jeremy Corbyn said: “On Russia I welcome the international consensus that the Prime Minister has built. As I said two weeks ago the most powerful response we can make is multilateral action, so I’d like to place on record our thanks to the EU and other states for their cooperation with us.”
That last quote is verbatim from the House of Commons video record, posted on YouTube, Monday, 26 March, 2018, and can be viewed there. As a Corbyn foot soldier, who, with hundreds of thousands of others excited by a new politics “for the many, not the few,” I’ve burned some shoe leather – and invested heavily emotionally and intellectually – in the Corbynist vision. But I can’t square this statement with his earlier ones calling for caution and due process in line with the OPCW Chemical Weapons Conventions drawn up precisely for dealing with such a situation as that posed by Salisbury, not to mind the accepted principles of International Law.
In the last Diary entry in the March Labour Affairs I sang the praises of Keir Starmer and his sustained, mesmerising, forensic tearing apart of the withdrawal from the EU Bill presented by the Tory Government. The man has an incredible CV, well worth looking at on line. Yet, he fell into line with Theresa May’s mob rule mentality, disowning Jeremy’s principled stance in the process. And the Shadow Attorney General, Shami Chakrabarti was another “human rights” lawyer putting political expediency before legal principles.
And the thing is: we’ve seen all this before. I’m not going to revisit the Iraq war and the Chilcot Report. During the week Theresa May raised the Litvinenko murder. That’s more directly relevant to Salisbury. She held the Russian State responsible for it, as part of her circumstantial evidence in support of blaming Russia, once again, for the Salisbury nerve agent attack. She was telling a lie, knew she was telling a lie – and relying on a weak public memory of the details of that case.
But the truth is: The Judge in the Litvinenko case, Sir Robert Owen summarised as follows: ”the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was PROBABLY approved by Mr Patrushev (then head of FSB – (Russian) Federation Security Services, MM) and also President Putin…There was a “STRONG PROBABILITY” that Andrei Lugovoy poisoned Litvinenko “under the direction of the FSB” and “the use of POLONIUM-210 was “AT VERY LEAST a STRONG INDICATOR of state involvement.” The emphasis, as I said, is mine. There are more “Probablys” in the Judge’s summary than in a Carlsberg advert – which shows how inconclusive the investigation was contrary to the lying claims of Theresa May. This, of course, can be cross-checked on the Hansard record (The emphasis in CAPITALS is mine MM.)
In the Salisbury case “A STRONG PROBABILITY” became “HIGHLY LIKELY” and “Novichok” replaced “polonium-210” as proof of Russian State involvement. As in the Litvinenko case concerning polonium-210, Novichok was described as: “..a military grade nerve agent OF A TYPE DEVELOPED IN RUSSIA….” Weasel words intended to be heard by a trusting population as: “Made in Russia, and only in Russia. ” Note the key weasel word “DEVELOPED” not ‘MADE,’ by the way. Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador sacked by Blairite Labour’s Jack Straw for blowing the whistle on torture in post-Soviet Uzbekistan drew my attention to the diplomatic service techniques of “making words mean what you want people to think they mean.” He ends one mocking critique of the vacuity of the British Government verbal disingenuousness with: “Well, I’m off to have a glass of vodka of a type made in Russia – but actually distilled in Warrington (i.e. North of England)
Maya Goodfellow has commented on these parallels in the historic and the actual cases: What both cases have in common, she says, is the involvement of the intelligence services: “..the moment the intelligence services are involved, as they may well be with Russian exiles, the whole subject is covered with a sort of veil, that both distort and conceal. Practically every conclusion of the Litvinenko inquiry is hedged to some degree. Yet all the hedging has long been removed in the retelling. Many of the “whats” and ‘whys’ remain elusive.” That’s a summary I’d be prepared to accept. As for the first action taken, the expulsion of the diplomats, the Russian Ambassador to the UK said that this punitive measure was “based on alliances rather than evidence”.
(3) What next for Labour – and its foot soldiers?
When Theresa May blames the Russian State for the murder of Litvinenko, and then compounds that lie by offering it as proof that the Russian State therefore attempted to kill the Skripals what she is doing is abandoning legal principles and practice in favour of political expediency.
I am grateful to my colleague Eamon Dyas of the Aubane List for the following explanation of why Britain did not follow the Chemical Weapons Convention of the OPCW, which the Russians were open to: “It is now clear why the UK blocked the Russian attempt to have the Security Council endorse the investigation by the OPCW. A UN commissioned investigation would have to be more open. It would have to be led by a named expert and would have to produce regular reports to the UN. This is what happened with the WMD investigations into Iraq. None of this would have suited the British so they opted to be a sovereign state sponsor of the investigation which gave them more control of events. The Russian proposal would not only cede control to the UN. But would have enabled the OPCW to investigate sites in Russia as well as Britain and would have produced a more useful report. That more was not made of this by the British media is not surprising but that the EU did not is shameful.” (Eamon Dyas, Aubane 28 March, 2018)
I’m left wondering why the Starmers and Chakrabartis of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition didn’t insist on it either. Perhaps they are trying to be too loyal.
And the result? The Guardian, 17th March, reported an Opinion/Observer poll which showed: “More than twice as many people back Theresa May to handle the UK’s response to the crisis in relations with Russia (than Corbyn).” The report on the poll results continues: “In a further sign that May could enhance her standing with continued firm handling of the crisis the poll puts the Conservatives two points ahead of Labour, despite deep Tory divisions over Brexit and uncertainty over the country’s economic prospects.”
I’ve asked a cross section of, admittedly, London based councillors standing for election in May, as well as canvassers, if they had noticed a perceptible change in attitude on the doorstep. They didn’t feel that Salisbury had changed anything, the conversations being about local issues. But, in marginals, I think, an, albeit, external issue like that must have the potential to effect the result. Certainly, any Parliamentary election result will be effected. Personally, as a foot soldier and Labour Party member, I feel gutted by Labour’s retreat from an ethical foreign policy. It can’t but be very encouraging for the Conservatives, their supporters and backers, who must now be feeling they have the measure of the Labour leadership. And that will have implications for other policy areas.