Thursday, 10 February 2011

Where are the Great Personalities in Politics?

by Robert Edwards

Published in European Socialist Action No 31   November/December 2010


Ed Milliband addresses Labour Friends of Palestine
An electorate gets the politicians it deserves or, at least, those on offer to them. What is it about our party political system that favours the bland, the uninspiring and, let us be honest, the downright mediocre? Bear in mind the process whereby these lack-lustre career politicians are chosen for office, which is of the ‘democratic’ way, and thus we are led to the conclusion that it must be a question of a far wider responsibility. Do the British people as a whole nurture this preference for the ‘more safe’ politician, meaning the politician who will not frighten away any straggling voters by rocking the boat and who will always tread very carefully along the opportunist’s road to power, obeying the party whips in the hope of attaining office? Is it a reflection of the nation as a whole in which politics is less of a passion and more of a clever career move? Whatever happened to moral conviction politics of a more visceral nature?
What was it about the Miliband brothers that got us all excited in September? Or not, as the case may be. Sibling rivalry rather took over serious politics for a while and we were treated to something more reminiscent of the Mike and Bernie Winters Show (under forties should ask someone much older).
Has the Labour Party ended up with ‘Bernie and Schnorbitz’, following Ed’s snatching away his brother David’s dream of high office, to further top his previously nationalising David’s train set? Like Mike and Bernie, Ed and David could no longer work together ... and, like Mike and Bernie, only one of them will now fulfil his ambition.
But enough of show business. Real politics concerns leadership and something called charisma, which seems to be seriously of the discount these days. I suspect the Labour Party now thinks it picked the wrong brother after the unions had come to Ed’s rescue, in the way that the Prussian Marshal Blücher came charging out of a forest at the eleventh hour when everything seemed to be to Napoleon Bonaparte’s advantage at Waterloo. David Miliband was to meet his Waterloo with much the same element of surprise.
Although Ed Miliband is not an impressive leader at the moment, he will survive because there is no one with whom he can be compared in terms of the old charismatic oomph. It just does not exist anywhere in British politics today except, perhaps, and now only on the fringe, with George Galloway, that rare political animal, a man of passionate principle with the gift of spell-binding oratory.
Ed Miliband was compared to Ian Duncan Smith as a party leader for the obvious reasons ... totally unremarkable and relatively unknown, with the implication that he will not be around to even contest the next General Election. A stop gap choice, some might think ... or hope, as they may well do.
The new leader of the Labour Party is described as a geek. They say he looks like a geek and he talks like a geek. But hang on, Blairites, geeks can sometimes be unpredictable and, on closer inspection, Ed Miliband is not all that he appears to be on the surface.
The incurable anti-Semite will be anticipating a reference from me to his Jewish background but even that is not so straightforward. Forget Jewish plots for one moment, Ed is not for sucking up to Israel.
In the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Anschel Pfeffer wrote, “It’s difficult to find any kind of comment about Israel in the past statements of the British Labour Party’s new leader, Ed Miliband. If it’s up to him, he’d prefer to keep it that way ... a new Labour leader who aspires to return to power will not waste his time on foreign policy”. Former Foreign Secretary and Zionist, Brother David, please take careful note.
Pfeffer concludes, “Ed Miliband was elected with the help of the unions, most of whose members support a boycott of Israel ... all in all, the Blair-Brown era is definitely over”.
He is an atheist, a non-practicing Jew with a Gentile partner and a mother, Marion Kozak,  who is a member of a pro-Palestinian organisation, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JJP). He also opposed the invasion of Iraq. So he is no neo-con Zionist and he is certainly not one of those Labour Friends of Israel apologists. The highly principled Gerald Kaufman also being note-worthy in this respect. To paraphrase, you don’t have to be Gentile.
Immediately after winning the Labour Party leadership contest, Ed Miliband attended the annual reception of the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East group (LFPME) which was sponsored by the Friends of Al-Aqsa at the Labour Party’s annual conference in Manchester. This was, perhaps, one of the first occasions during which he has elucidated on any foreign policy ideas, after making references to the Middle East in his maiden speech. As the new leader, you could say it was incumbent upon him to do so.
To a sizeable audience of Labour MPs, MEPs and councillors, he expressed his wish to visit Palestine, which struck a chord with Haneen Zoubi, an Israeli Knesset member and Palestinian Arab, who attended the LFPME reception. She was onboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May of this year.
In the run-up to the Labour Party leadership contest, Ed Miliband had this to say to the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, published on their website, “The Palestinian people have the right to a state with internationally recognised borders. They have a right to a functioning economy. They have the right to be free and to pursue a better life for themselves and for their children.
The sad truth is that today, with the blockade still in place on Gaza and in the aftermath of the appalling events on board the SS Mavi Marmara, we are a long way from securing that outcome. There should be an international investigation into what happened aboard that ship, but that alone will not undo the damage – to Israel’s reputation and the peace process – done by those tragic events.
The lack of a credible peace process is helping no-one. It sets back the date at which a viable state of Palestine comes into existence, it leaves Israel with few friends in the region and it poses an ongoing risk of instability for the international community. It is vital that we find ways to breathe new life into that process.
I believe that Israel must make an important step by lifting the blockade of Gaza as soon as possible. Israel has security concerns, but the blockade is the wrong way to address them. Instead, we need to find a way to lift the blockade that respects legitimate security needs, guarantees humanitarian access to help Gazans who are suffering from the blockade, and helps deliver justice for Palestinians. 
The EU can play an important role here by providing a naval monitoring capability to ensure that arms are not being smuggled into the area by sea, and it can use its relationship with Egypt to help ensure the smuggling tunnels are shut down.  If elected leader of the Labour Party I would visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority and take a first-hand look at what is happening on the ground in Gaza”.
Given that his predecessor, Gordon Brown, surrounded himself with Zionists, it is tempting to view Ed Miliband in terms of a complete break from the past in relation to the Blair and Brown years but we do not know, as yet, what kind of people he will choose as his foreign policy advisers. This is crucial.
Most of all, does Ed Miliband possess the necessary leadership qualities to carry the bulk of the parliamentary and constituency Labour Party along with him? Those sections that previously favoured his brother, for example.
Foreign policy will again be on the agenda, there is no escaping it in a ‘globalised’ world, while the Coalition Government busies itself with its swingeing austerity cuts at home. David Cameron has already proven himself to be totally inadequate and inept at putting his government’s position across to ‘Johnnie foreigner’, due mainly to that old Etonian manner that displays disdain towards all others without exception. Could you imagine Cameron with a deputy Prime Minister who was not an ex-public schoolboy? Someone not acquainted with fagging? It just would not work.
Labour may have its first Jewish party leader but it may also have its first true friend of the Muslim world if Ed Miliband can inspire others to follow his path towards achieving justice for the Palestinian people.
Mediocrity, as I said, has plagued British political life for too long and is the most single element, apart from personal corruption, that has prevented anything being done in the country since the war, to paraphrase a political figure from another era.
What they are now suggesting is a leftward lurch in British politics is, in fact, a great sea-change in terms of moral and practical issues.  Left or right have nothing to do with it. As Dermont Clark pointed out in the last issue, it has more to do with right or wrong.
The Labour Friends of Palestine was set up in 2008 as a counter to the Labour Friends of Israel. We all know how corrupting the latter lobby has been and how the Palestinian cause was so tragically neglected. Years gone by, we had only Christopher Mayhew and his friend Michael Adams founding the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and the Labour Middle East Council in 1962 to oppose the power of the Zionist lobby in the face of the absence of an Arab one.
Ismail Patel, the chairman of the Friends of Al-Aqsa, said, “It was refreshing to have a leader of a political party appreciate the fact that the general public hold a lot of sympathy for the Palestinian people and that Britain should be pursuing a fair and just policy in the region”.
He went on, “It is interesting that there is no similar group [Friends of Palestine] within the Conservative Party where the Conservative Friends of Israel are well documented as wielding a great deal of power. A ‘Conservative Friends of Palestine’ group is well overdue”.
Don’t hold your breath on that one, Mr Patel.
After Nick Clegg’s cold-shouldering of the Friends of Palestine at the Liberal Democratic Conference, while he attended the Friends of Israel event, it would be safe to conclude that the Deputy Prime Minister is now well and truly in the pockets of the ever so Israeli-friendly Conservative Party and is following the Zionist (party) line to the letter. Cameron’s fag must not be permitted to step out of line. That is what coalitions are for, after all.
So what are we to make of Ed Miliband, the choice of the unions and, without doubt, a man of considerably unorthodox political views for a British Member of Parliament, almost singing from the same hymn sheet as Gorgeous George? It is true he kept his head down for a long time in regard to his views on foreign affairs but then his brother was Foreign Secretary for a while and so he chose, correctly, not to step on his brother’s toes while getting on with his own job at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
He has chosen Yvette Cooper as Shadow Foreign Secretary, wife of Ed Balls. Although she has spent a few years in Cabinet, she has absolutely no experience of foreign affairs and so will need to learn some new skills from scratch. For this, she will need to take her cue from her new party leader. She may, at first, appear out of her depth but she will learn fast.
Foreign affairs, they say, is not Ed Miliband’s top priority, as with the Coalition, but it is one of those areas that all must eventually enter simply because the world today is so interconnected both politically and economically. The ‘geek’, Ed Miliband, could turn out to be the catalyst that is so needed ... despite the current mediocrities pervading British politics.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Book Review by Robert Edwards

OSWALD MOSLEY
AND THE NEW PARTY
Matthew Worley

Palgrave Macmillan                                           234 pages

Published in ESA No 31 - November/December 2010


Long in coming, a book on Oswald Mosley’s earlier political career is a refreshing change from the interminable rehashing of his fascist Blackshirt phase, from 1932 to 1940. A mere eight years but, nonetheless, the most turbulent and controversial and, therefore, the more sensational for the sensationalising ‘anti-fascist’ writer with a penchant for conspiracy theories and an urge to character assassination. How many more do we have to suffer?
This book places Mosley’s underlying core political ideas into their proper perspective, going back to his true political roots which were in the Labour Party, the New Party being created within it. Fascism came later.
In his introduction, Worley asks the question, “How was it that a man purportedly of the left, a former Labour government minister recognised by some as a future premier, could so seamlessly become a would-be Führer cast on the margins of what is usually perceived as the far right?”
This more or less sets the tone for the rest of the book. However, on BBC’s Panorama programme in 1968, Mosley was to explain, “I exhausted every means in the Labour Party of getting my policies accepted before I left. First of all, the Parliamentary Party; secondly the Conference. And not until I was rejected and defeated in every attempt to get the Labour Party to accept it did I go over with precisely the same policy — and this is so curious — and start the fascist movement. Having been denounced as the wild man of the left by Snowden and others, I was then supposed to become a right-wing reactionary. But my policy was precisely the same”. There is your answer, Mr Worley.
The author takes us on a journey from the time Mosley was first elected a Unionist MP for Harrow in 1918, later joining Labour in 1924, and then onto the ‘proto-fascist’ New Party in 1931 after his failure to convince the Labour leadership of the need to do something about increasing unemployment during a time of economic recession. It was as a firebrand socialist, with his collaborator at the time, John Strachey, that Mosley discovered Keynesian monetary theories and the necessity for government intervention and planning. This was not to the taste of Labour’s old guard in office, still stuck on the laissez faire economics of the previous century and doing absolutely nothing about the plight of the unemployed.
When he left the government, Mosley had support from across the party divide and the names tumble off the pages, reading like a roll call of the most prominent and promising politicians of the day, mainly well-to-do with a smattering of a few with working class backgrounds. The New Party’s inaugural meeting at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon, London, was on March 5, 1931, with Mosley laid low with pneumonia and pleurisy, unable to attend. In April of that year, Allen Young, a former Independent Labour Party member from Glasgow, stood as a New Party candidate for the Ashton-under-Lyne by-election in what was a working class Labour stronghold, at that time suffering under the economic recession. He finished third, helping to defeat Labour in the process. On polling night, with a Tory victory, Labour supporters turned on the New Party members at Ashton Town Hall, throwing class war abuse at them.
Mosley has since been attributed with the now oft quoted response to them with, “That is the crowd that has prevented anyone doing anything in England since the war”, which was also the signal for Strachey to denounce that point in Mosley’s political course as “the moment when fascism was born in England”.
Strachey and Young were to resign in July. C.E.M. Joad soon after. In the General Election of that year, all 24 New Party candidates performed disastrously. Worley points out, “Only Sellick Davies (who ran in a straight fight with the ILP in Merthyr) and Mosley polled anything resembling a respectable total; only James Stuart Barr finished higher then bottom of the poll, and that because the National Labour candidate’s withdrawal from the contest came too late for his name to be removed from the ballot paper”.
Surprisingly, we learn that Mosley had been offered prospective parliamentary seats from both Labour and Tory parties after the New Party’s electoral collapse but in January 1932, he visited Mussolini in Rome with Harold Nicolson and Christopher Hobhouse. This occasion convinced him that fascism offered the only alternative to communism and was needed in Britain to prevent economic collapse. So began the transformation of the New Party into a fascist movement. He had burned his bridges for all time.
Worley offers the premise that the New Party’s transformation into a fascist organisation was inevitable even without the fateful visit to Rome in 1932 because it already possessed the trappings of fascism with the formation of a youth movement and an emphasis on drilling and physical fitness. Mosley was already talking in terms of the corporate state.
Other aspects of the New Party are covered in this riveting book which tend to confirm the ‘proto-fascist’ accusation levelled at it. Chapter 8, with the title ‘Leaders of Men: Masculinity and the Promise of a New Life’, argues the New Party more or less anticipated the later fascist dynamics.
What is so fascinating about Worley’s book is his painstaking research into all those who were initially attracted to Mosley’s radical ideas for economic revival even though most were to eventually fall away as he leaned further and further towards fascism. They did not all join him in the New Party but some were very much sympathetic towards his proposals to cure unemployment with an economic plan when he was in the Labour Party.
Besides John Strachey, during the time of his resignation from the government, there were Nye Bevan from Labour and Robert Boothby from the Conservatives. Boothby advised Mosley not to resign from the Labour Party but to no avail. Even Ian Mikardo joined the New Party after disillusionment with the MacDonald government. He left after the lurch towards fascism, becoming a Labour MP in 1945.
Perhaps the most colourful character to join Mosley in the New Party was Peter Cheyney “the maverick journalist, actor and ultra-nationalist who helped to develop the Nupa prototype” and who believed the New Party was unlikely to achieve power through parliamentary means. Nupa was the party’s youth movement with Cheyney becoming increasingly influential in turning it into a ’shock movement’, as he perceived it should become.
According to Worley, Cheyney, who Harold Nicolson thought was “a most voluble, violent and unpleasant type”, left in February 1932 after playing a role in developing Nupa into the ‘nucleus of Britain’s storm troops’. He had, in fact, helped pave the way for fascism in Britain to take root in October of that year when Mosley unveiled a new ceremonial banner emblazoned with the fasces.