Thursday Fox

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A putrescent smell

led my daughter into the garden

where her four year old plays.

 

A dead fox:

couched and crouching,

head on a tussock of grass

as if looking ahead.

 

No visible injury;

poisoned perhaps?

The jaw was eaten

and maggots festooned the tail.

 

Hackney council will take and dispose in an hour.

 

But she dug a garden grave

laid the fox as a foetus

beneath a blanket of earth

with stones above

 

to prevent further violation.

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That the number of our Members be unlimited

NPG D8548; Thomas Hardy after Unknown artist

“That the number of our Members be unlimited.”  This was the first rule of the London Corresponding Society, formed in January 1792 to debate the necessity of parliamentary reform. The main test of membership was agreement that “the welfare of these kingdoms requires that every adult person, in possession of his reason, and not incapacitated by crimes, should have a vote for a Member of Parliament”.  Within six months, the Society claimed more than 2000 members. In 1794, Thomas Hardy, a shoemaker, the founder of the Society, was arrested with 11 other members; he was committed to the Tower and later to Newgate.  When he was acquitted on a charge of high treason, the London crowd went wild with delight and dragged him in triumph through the streets.  But by the end of the decade the London Corresponding Society had been outlawed. Tom Paine’s Rights of Man was banned; meetings were prohibited; and Hardy was running a shoe shop near Covent Garden.

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E.P.Thompson, from whom I take the above account, suggests that the London Corresponding Society should be thought of as “popular radical” organisation rather than as “working-class”.  At one end, it reached out to the coffee houses, taverns and dissenting churches of Piccadilly, Fleet Street and the Strand; at the other, it touched the older working-class communities of Wapping, Spitalfields and Southwark. Its first organiser lived in Piccadilly, but its secretary was a working man, there was a low weekly subscription, and meetings were both a social occasion and a centre of political activity.  Most importantly, there was the democratic determination embodied in the leading rule: “That the number of our members be unlimited.”

Thompson comments that to throw open the doors to propaganda and agitation in this “unlimited” way implied a new notion of democracy, which cast aside ancient inhibitions and trusted to self-activating and self-organising processes among the common people.  The comparison with the currently burgeoning Labour Party membership is striking.   It may be, as Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, has recently claimed, that a number of revolutionary socialists have found a home in Momentum, the group that supports a popular movement to sustain Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.  But the sheer number of members makes clear that this is a genuinely radical movement. The meetings of Momentum that I have attended in Bristol have been social as well as political, and characterised by a collaborative enthusiasm for genuine change. The efforts of the National Executive Council of the Parliamentary Labour Party to disenfranchise 130,000 recently joined members will only fuel this afflatus.

The hopes and aims of this popular movement, at the beginning of the 21st century, are not quite the same as those of the London Corresponding Society and other similar societies (such as those in Sheffield, Derby and Manchester) that arose at the beginning of the 19th century.  The desire is not for parliamentary reform per se but for attention to structural social inequalities that have been exacerbated by globalisation.  Many of those who voted to leave the EU have said that they wanted to “get their country back”.  They were expressing a natural wish for ownership and control.  Unfortunately, Brexit itself will not achieve this.   Only last week the death was reported of the sixth Duke of Westminster, whose property holdings spread across the world are worth £13 billion but will not be liable to inheritance tax.

Corbyn is clearly an egalitarian who desires social justice, and the great majority of his supporters share his belief in the possibility of a better world.  Thomas Hardy and the London Corresponding Society failed in the short-term, but they initiated a radical social movement that, in a different context, is currently enjoying a renaissance.

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Truant and Fifteen – my early films of 1960s teenage life

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Truant and Fifteen are short, silent, fictional dramas that I made as a teenager when I was experimenting with filmmaking.  Truant is a four minute movie in which a young boy (played by my 10 year old brother Richard) decides to miss school for the day.  The camera pans from the imprisonment of the school yard to open fields and woods.  The boy runs towards the trees, hurling  his school satchel down the slope ahead of him.  He spends the day by a small river fishing and making an improvised catapult from his sock garter (normal boys’ wear at the time).  Early the next morning, he attempts to forge a letter to explain his absence from school, but his mother comes in to the room and finds him …

I made Truant when I was 13 or 14 and it won a minor prize in the Amateur Cine World annual film competition of 1960.  Looking back to the time, it’s possible to see parallels with the fourth act of Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959), where the motif of the abandoned satchel heralds Antoine Doinel’s (Jean-Paul Leard’s)  truancy.  And the close-up on Richard’s stricken face at the end of the film matches the final shot of Antoine Doinel’s capture.  But I don’t think I had seen Truffaut’s film at that time, so perhaps the resemblances are just something to do with the zeitgeist.

In Fifteen, made two years later, Richard is growing up and the world of boyish abandon meets teenage party culture of the early 1960s.  He is the leader of a gang of boys who race their bicycles around the suburban streets.  They find an abandoned motorcycle in a sloping field and all four ride it down to the bottom of the hill, powered only by gravity and their combined weight.  Though it lacks an engine, the motorbike hints at the possibilities of adult life.  Finding a party invitation addressed to me (his older brother), Richard goes in my place and tries to pick up a girl, but is rebuffed.  Again, the film ends with an image of isolation as he leaves the party alone.

I made two alternative endings to Fifteen.  The one I didn’t use is presaged by the scene in the film (after the motorcycle run but before the party) when Richard is given a drum kit for his birthday.  He is shown playing the drum with skill, and the later party scene contains shots of a guitar band, The Gravediggers, whose drummer is conspicuously drinking.  In this optimistic scenario, Richard’s skill saves the day when the drummer becomes incapacitated.  He is welcomed into the band and becomes the toast of the party.  Although I shot some of the scenes for this scenario, I felt it lacked plausibility and that a darker ending was closer to experience.  In the event, Richard leaves the party alone and the final scene shows him walking up an empty road.  The only possible Truffaut reference here is the use of a red filter with black-and-white film stock to give the effect of night during daylight shooting (la nuit americaine).

Fifteen is both thematically and technically a progression from Truant. The title of the film is taken from Beverly Cleary’s teenage novel, Fifteen, which I have never read, but which I believe also deals with problems of teenage identity and relationship. The film is more than twice as long asTruant and the technique is more assured.  The close-ups of straining faces during the bicycle race still convince within the diegesis, although the participants were not actually moving at the time. The original film was accompanied by a tape-recorded soundtrack, mainly music composed and played by The Gravediggers.   This was synchronised to the projector by use of a home-made strobe disc which I designed in accordance with instructions in Amateur Cine World.  The projector (a 1940s Specto 9.5 mm machine) had a variable speed control (using a rheostat).  I mounted the strobe disc on one of the sprocket spindles and used the speed control to keep the strobe markings apparently still, moving neither to the left or the right.   As the speed of the reel to reel tape recorder was relatively well governed, this produced acceptable synchronisation of picture and sound (although, of course, lip-sync was not possible).

The audiotapes have been lost, and, in any case, the magnesium oxide coating that holds the audio track would have perished over the last 50 years.  But I can still remember the music composed by Andrew Speedy of The Gravediggers, and I shall attempt to recreate it and add sound  to the digital version of the films.  In the meantime, here are the original silent movies, in digital mode.

Open letter (2) to Thangam Debbonaire 

Terryl Bacon has written to Thangam following her Facebook post explaining her decision to resign from the shadow front bench.


Dear Thangam,

Thank you for your open letter explaining why you resigned and the unhappy circumstance in which you found yourself as regards Corbyn. I regret the unnecessary stress you have undergone. I respect the values you espouse and I sincerely hope your treatment will be fully successful.

I trust that the poor communications which created your stress were not aimed at you personally but were the result of lack of political nous and the almost inevitable crossed wires which happen far too easily in complex organisations. As a former chair of a large union branch, I understand that, with the best will in the world, mistakes are sometimes made which might feel personal to the recipient.

That said, I would like to address some of the comments you made in your letter.

Unless one is happy to say, “my party right or wrong” or “my leader right or wrong”, it is important to be critical as you have been. However, when I look at what the Labour Party did Not do during its long term in office which started with a large majority in the Commons: The PLP did Not repeal any of the Thatcherite anti-union legislation. The PLP did Not stop the privatisation of the railways or the selling off of other National assets. Although some good things were done with the NHS and with the schools, during the period to which you referred, the gap between the richest and the poorest in this country grew. Meanwhile, a war was started and continued which brought millions of pounds to Britain’s arms manufacturers and made millions of innocent people suffer terribly to this day.

One could characterise the difference between the PLP and the Tories over the last two decades as neo-liberal lite and neo-liberal heavy. This difference has done little to address the real life situation of the most marginalised in our society. Those who blame Corbyn for the disaffection of the working class show a lack of historical understanding. The PLP could have made a huge difference for the good of the people under Blair but instead it largely continued the iniquitous status quo. That is why I have not wanted to be in Labour since Blair.

The PLP which you champion continues to be a figleaf for anti-humanist policies. I, and many other people, were appalled when the majority of the PLP members voted last week to spend £30+ billion on Trident instead of on the NHS. And it is instead. I think austerity is largely a myth in service of the elite but clearly there is a finite budget as we live on a finite planet.

Until Corbyn’s voice was heard, I had despaired of politics. He is different. He does have an agenda which inspires hundreds of thousands of people; especially the young. Yes, Corbyn lacks social graces and he has been clumsy but he has remained calm and steadfast and, as his popularity shows, for those of us who do not want more of the same, Corbyn is definitely electable!

I certainly think he owes you an apology for what you experienced under his leadership and I shall write and tell him. As important as that is, his apology for Labour’s war mongering meant a lot to several million of us.

I know that you have been too unwell to attend Parliament and I regret that you were not allowed to do so via email. Surely, that should be changed? But I wonder if you would publish what you would have voted during your time in office had you been able to do so. I ask, because I have checked Jeremy Corbyn’s voting record over the years and I agree with him; most especially so when he has Not voted the neo-liberal party line.

I am keeping an open mind on the split within the PLP; but I am looking for an honest leader. One who respects people’s ability to think for themselves; not a cheer leader for the PLP establishment.

Yours sincerely,

Terryl Bacon

On Political Leadership

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Possibly the most striking and chilling phrase to come out of the Chilcot report on the circumstances of the decision to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is Tony Blair’s assurance to George Bush in July 2002: “I will be with you, whatever.”  As the Independent comments, these are like the words of a lover promising to be faithful till death us do part.  They suggest a level of emotion and relationship not often admitted between national leaders. They also indicate how the emotional needs and responses of one person might precipitate the death of thousands.

One of the best-known concepts that came out of the work of Adorno, Horkheimer and other members of the Frankfurt Group in the 1930s and 1940s, when they were trying to explain the catastrophe of Nazism, was the “authoritarian personality”. Although their work, including this concept, has been much critiqued subsequently, the Frankfurt school’s overall project of linking psychological characteristics with social movements offered original, holistic and connected thinking about the interplay of personality and power.

Adorno and Horkheimer explained the attraction of Fascism in terms of its providing psychic satisfactions for both leaders and followers. Put simply, leaders gained a sense of power by commanding a mass following, while followers gained a sense of security from their obedience. But the key concept was that these characteristics – of dominance and subservience – existed in everybody and were mobilised by particular social conditions. Hitler came to power as a result of the hopelessness engendered by the economic collapse of the early 1930s. The Nazi movement allowed the “masses” (as Hitler repeatedly called them in his autobiography Mein Kampf) to gain confidence from the direction of a “strong” leader, and also provided many opportunities for officers to exercise their own cruelty and dominance, most obviously over the despised “other”, Jewish people.

When Tony Blair pledged himself to George Bush, he was gaining both security and power.  He was stepping onto the world stage of military intervention as the companion of a man whose country had (as Blair has said in his recent statement) 95% of the assets required to go to war in Iraq.  He followed Bush, but, as the Chilcot report reveals, he was not merely pulled along by events.  In the UK, he pursued his desire for power single-mindedly, manipulating both his Cabinet and Parliament and, through his performance as a charismatic speaker and with the support of much of the media, the people also. It was only when the deception involved in going to war and the disastrous consequences of the enterprise became clear that the charisma of Blair faded.

Today, the day after the publication of the Chilcot report, the current leader of the Labour Party is criticised in the media for not using the Chilcot revelations to launch a swingeing attack on Blair. He is also, of course, more widely criticised for his supposed incapacity to unite the Labour Party and secure sufficient votes to defeat the current government in the next election.  Jeremy Corbyn is a very different person from Tony Blair. In March 2003, he demonstrated outside Parliament with 2 million others to protest the imminent invasion of Iraq.  He addressed the crowd competently, but, then as now, the inspiration that he gives his many followers derives from what he says rather than from the way he says it.  He is constantly criticised in the press and by members of the Parliamentary Labour Party for lacking the capacity for leadership – although the Labour Party now has more members, many of whom have joined because of Corbyn’s unwavering socialist principles, than ever before. In part, at least, this supposed incapacity for leadership derives from his refusal to personalise politics in the way that is common in most political discourse.

Perhaps Corbyn will not succeed in attracting sufficient voters in a general election to unseat the current government, split and chaotic though it is. But he is modelling a new kind of politics and a new kind of leadership where authenticity and principle replace charisma and deceit.  It would be good to think that people might follow him because of his policies and values rather than for the irrational motives of the authoritarian personality.

 

 

 

15 times when Jeremy Corbyn was on the right side of history

Leadership – what are the qualities we want from a political leader? The capacity to make the right moral and political choices seems a good start …

The World Turned Upside Down

jezza aparted1. Apartheid: Jeremy was a staunch opponent of the Apartheid regime and a supporter of Nelson Mandela and the ANC. He was even arrested for protesting outside the South African embassy in 1984.
2. Chile: Jeremy was an opponent of the brutal dictator Pinochet (an ally of the British government under Thatcher) and was a leading campaigner in the quest to bring him to justice. In 1998 Pinochet was arrested in London.
3. LGBT rights: As noted in Pink News, Jeremy was an early champion of LGBT rights. At a time when the Tories decried supporting LGBT rights as ‘loony left’, Jeremy voted against section 28 which sought to demonise same-sex relationships.
4. The Miners’ Strike: Jeremy went against the Labour leadership and fully supported the miners in their effort to prevent the total destruction of their industry and communities. Cabinet papers released last year prove that the NUM…

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Scenes from Parliament Square, 27 June 2016

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn (10,000 according to a police estimate) gathered on Parliament Square yesterday evening (27 June) to demonstrate that Corbyn is at present the only plausible leader of the Labour Party.

Many Labour politicians don’t seem to understand that the grassroots of the Labour party want a genuinely socialist programme to deal with the issues that precipitated Brexit.

If the Parliamentary Labour Party can provide another leader who will provide a genuine alternative to the politics of division and austerity, bring her/him on.   If not, they must unite under Jeremy Corbyn and fight a general election to reject Brexit and preserve the United Kingdom.