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


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.




Why people have voted for Jeremy Corbyn


2m_noI’m writing just before the announcement of the result of the Labour Party leadership election.  Press and politicians continue to express astonishment that the Blair project is so strenuously rejected by the many people who are voting for Jeremy Corbyn. One of the attractive features of Corbyn is that he proposes to listen to the wishes and concerns of those whom he represents. Six years after coming into power, Blair led the UK into a war which was patently unlawful and unjustified. Two million people – approaching 2% of the population – protested outside the Houses of Parliament. I was one of them and I wrote this poem at the time. Just as the unwarranted attack on Iraq has led to unprecedented strife, chaos and bloodshed in the Middle East, Blair’s collusion with George W. Bush, in the face of all plausible evidence, is now reaping the whirlwind for the Labour Party. We want an administration that will respect the needs and wishes of the people of the UK and the wider world.


Why I am voting for Jeremy Corbyn

The tone of political utterance matters.

Mainstream Labour politicians express astonishment that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for Labour leadership is gaining so much support. Tony Blair, Jack Straw and others have expressed apocalyptic fears of the effect on a Corbyn leadership on the electability of the party. His popularity, some say, must be the result of infiltration. Private Eye have an amusing take on this:

PE_Corbyn1I have just received an email from one of the candidates for deputy leadership. It begins:

Your ballot paper to decide who you want to be Labour’s next leadership team is already on its way to you. It’s an important decision.

This message is sent to people who have already joined the Labour Party or become registered Labour supporters. Do they need to be persuaded or patronised? It ends with a PS after the candidate’s signature: “Your vote is important. Please use it.” This repetition of a call to act is, of course, a technique used by charity and other marketeers when writing to prospective supporters or customers.

I left the Labour Party in 1997 when I heard Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell speaking in a knowing way about the Labour brand. The marketing metaphor seemed inappropriate as it positioned the electorate as consumers to be manipulated. The neoliberal omens were not good.

After eighteen years of Labour and coalition administration, we are imbued in market culture in education, health and other public services. The situation has not reached quite the point I encountered recently in the USA, where I had to listen to an advertisement before making a domestic phone call. Yet the overall spirit of our culture is that everything has to be sold. In a strange application of post-modern philosophy, reality has disappeared. All that matters is advertising and appearance. Political candidates present themselves rather than their policies.  Again, Private Eye catches the zeitgeist:

PE_Corbyn2Corbyn doesn’t present himself as having particular qualities or capacities, as is the tendency of the other candidates’ manifestos.  His prose is more impersonal as he calls for “a fairer, kinder Britain based on innovation, decent jobs and decent public services”.  “Kinder” and “decent” are not part of the current political lexicon. Corbyn draws on a long socialist tradition of critiquing the influence of a market economy. Writing in 1817 about the effect on human life of the new manufacturing system, Robert Owen argued:

All are sedulously trained to buy cheap and to sell dear … and thus a spirit is generated … destructive of that open, honest sincerity, without which man cannot make others happy, nor enjoy happiness himself.

Writing in the current London Review of Books, David Runciman distinguishes between expressive and instrumental theories of voting. The former is based upon voters’ signalling who they are and what they value. Most of Corbyn’s supporters will be expressive voters, whereas those on the left who oppose him may be instrumental voters who fear that, under his leadership, and following his philosophy, Labour will never regain power.

But they may be wrong. Recent history in Scotland, Greece and elsewhere speaks of the power of popular movements and radical (yet long-established) ideas of social change. The Corbyn phenomenon is much larger than the charisma of one quietly spoken man.

The Voice of the People

The dreadful news from Iraq, overtaking in its monstrousness even the deepening horror of Syria, has rightly recalled that moment eleven years ago when two million British people – one in thirty of the population – marched in London to protest against Blair’s leading the UK into joining the US to invade Iraq. The official rationale for this was to defeat terrorism! At the time, I wrote this poem addressed to Blair:

The voice of the people is heard in the land

We don’t want your ancient enmities

Your new crusade

Bin Saddam

We don’t want your paranoid scaring

Terrorism on a flying carpet bomb

You have to get them first

Before they square the Circle Line

We don’t want your puerile patronage

Head teacher of the universe

Calling out the naughty boy

To put away his catapult

We don’t want your ecclesiastical certainties

Giving the Pope an audience

Knowing God is on your side

We don’t want your gunboat diplomacy

Dealing with the other

As in the nineteenth century –

The time for that is past.

The people are ahead of you.

We are beyond

Final solutions.

March 2003

As always, Robert Fisk gives a good analysis of the inner dynamics of the latest conflict, especially its financing.   As he says, “Apart from Saudi Arabia’s role in this catastrophe, what other stories are to be hidden from us in the coming days and weeks?”