Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘History’

TRIDENT: Not fit for purpose

In A.Graham, C.Spiby on April 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm

We offer no apologies for returning to the topic of the Trident missile system – and its questionable role in our so-called defence system.

It seems that technically it is no longer fit for purpose. It has outlived its effectiveness (if it ever had any), and should now either be scrapped or at the very least phased out.

According to the latest issue of The Spokesman (the quarterly journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation),  the Trident system has now completed 26 years of deployment, and has now  “reached its original design life goal” – as the US Department of Defence puts it.

HUSHED UP:

The failed test highlighted in the last issue of the Clarion was hushed up by the Americans, though Theresa May was informed. She chose not to pass on the news to Parliament. It was only revealed through a US press leak.

WHAT ABOUT “DE-COMMISSIONING”?

There are other concerns about the Trident system, apart from the effectiveness of this ageing system. How do we get rid of nuclear submarines when we no longer need them?  The Spokesman reports that HMS Tireless has now joined eighteen other nuclear submarines awaiting dismantling.  “With Dreadnought rusting in Rosyth since 1980, the cost of maintaining them is rising and space running out as the Ministry of Defence struggles to find an environmentally safe and cost effective means of disposal. “

As Laurel and Hardy may well have said, “A fine mess you’ve got us into!”  Yes, Trident should be phased out. As “a defence system” it was never fit for purpose. But even if we do scrap this over-priced system our worries are far from over.  How do we safely and securely scrap our redundant nuclear submarines?  It could be a problem that remains with us for decades – if not longer.

Below is web-only edition of the Clarion bonus material…


 

THE HISTORY OF ‘PROTECT AND SURVIVE’

Professor John Preston will be hosting a discussion on the infamous 1970’s pif ‘Protect and Survive’ on June 29th at the University of East London. Click here for more details on the FREE event (limited numbers so you will need to book).

In Prof. Preston’s own words:

In this workshop we will consider the origins, nature, reception and fate of the 1980s UK government civil defence campagn “Protect and Survive”. We will discuss the following issues:-

  • What were the origins of Protect and Survive? How did the original plans arise and how were they realised? How exactly did it arrive in the public domain?
  • What was the nature of Protect and Survive? Was it a campaign / public information ‘package’? How would it have been used in practice? What types of media would it have used?
  • How was Protect and Survive recieved? How was it portrayed in the media, popular culture, government and internationally?
  • What happened to Protect and Survive? Did it become ‘civil protection’? Does it still exist in some form?

This is a workshop rather than an academic seminar. The format will be to spend one hour (approx.) on each of the four issues (with a tea break at some point) and for perhaps one person to ‘lead’ each area (if anyone would like to volunteer to lead a particular area that woudl be great) by giving a five minute introduction to that topic.

The conference is open to anyone: academics, historians, collectors, policy makers, practitioners and anyone who is interested in “Protect and Survive”

Lunch is not included but you will get a cup of tea / coffee and a biscuit or two. At the end of the workshop you are welcome to join us for a drink.

Incidentally, a seminal BBC Panorama has found its way on to YouTube (available at the time of this posting, at least), which looks into the role of Civil Defence in Britain in 1980, at a time when ‘Protect and Survive’ was still secret and intended for viewing only in the event of impending nuclear war.

Watching this again (I remember seeing it when I was only 9 years old first time around) – this programme has lost none of its potency. If anything it acts as an important reminder of the futility of nuclear war – no less relevant today – but also just how far we’ve come in terms of documentary film-making. An hour long and in-depth this is a far cry from today’s glossy but often light handling of topic on mainstream tv. Panorama on BBC used to occupy the 8pm or 9.25pm slot on BBC1 (just after the 9 o’clock News with Angela Rippon or Kenneth Baker!)

END

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Saving our Forest way of life:

dinosaurMany old timers in the Forest regret the passing of the “old ways”. Patterns of life have certainly changed over the past fifty years or so.  Mining is now a thing of the past – apart from a scattering of free miners, and even they are fading away.

And we’re losing that thick, sometimes impenetrable, “Vorest” accent, swamped as we are by outside influences. Basically the population is changing as once settled communities are affected by the arrival of incomers in our midst.

Whether this is a good thing or bad depends on your point of view. Me, I couldn’t possibly comment.

But I was interested to see in the local press that attempts had been made to raise money from the heritage lottery to save the distinctive Forest dialect for future generations.

It’s in danger of being lost completely, say those behind the bid.  They aim to make use of oral history recordings (both of the spoken and written word). Attempts will be made to introduce youngsters in the Dean to old patterns of employment – such as ochre mining and “ship badgering” (in other words tending the free-range Forest sheep).

As an old dinosaur I wish them luck. But I must confess to a certain degree of skepticism. We’re all caught up in the forces of change, whether we like it or not. The population of the Forest is changing, patterns of employment, too, are not what they used to be. The best we can hope for is to build up a bank of memories for generations to come. To let them know what our “Land between two rivers” used to be like.

Mark Harper has his say:

I read one of Mark Harper’s contributions to the Citizen the other week with a little bit of interest. Only a little, mind. He is, after all still our MP even if he has been consigned to the backbenches in the Commons.

Now he’s out of government he does seem to be scrabbling around for something relevant to say. He skirts cautiously round the subject of Brexit, before lighting on the High Speed Rail Act which will it seems generate “new jobs and economic growth”.  The trouble is that none of it really affects the Forest of Dean. And it’s somewhat overblown anyway. Our own railway connections will remain exactly the same, apart from some dubious connections in the Bristol direction from Severn Tunnel Junction.

He then lights on the Government’s Bus Services Bill, which will help local authorities improve bus services. Oh yeah? Who’re you kidding? With Stagecoach now running the lion’s share of bus services in and out of the Forest?  I don’t think so.

Then Mark seems to run out of things to say. He rather limply tells us that “the Government is getting on with the day-to-day job of running the country, as well as delivering Brexit.” Yes, that’s what many of us are afraid of.

hoof_signs_victory

Tory Mark Harper MP will be forever linked with the betrayal of what we hold dear and in common: our Forest!

But to be fair to Mark he does go on to tell us about his constituency, with people contacting him “email, phone or in writing.”  He adds that “in addition to this I have continued to attend local events, visit businesses and meet local residents around the constituency.” Well, that’s what he’s paid for.

 

All in all I got the impression that Harper, now he’s no longer involved in Government circles, is casting around to find things to say to his constituents.  But never mind. At least some would say he’s trying. Others might add that he’s very trying.

Clarionposter

The Good Life? Or not so good.

It seems that after trying vegetarianism we’re now being encouraged to go the whole hog (if that’s the right way to put it) and go Vegan. Veganism is the “smart way to save the planet” we’re told.

Humph. A recent item in one paper I read said this isn’t necessarily so.  It doesn’t take into account the air miles that our vegetables travel before they arrive in our shopping bags. Or unless we have our own allotments, how growing them devastates rain forests or other natural climatic regions. Not only that but those who go in for those trendy veggie boxes are more likely to throw away half the contents.

So, let’s think about our culinary habits, eh?

Dinosaur

obituary: Fidel Castro: 1926-2016

In Obiturary, S. Richardson, Uncategorized on April 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm

“HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE ME”
by Sarah Richardson

Fidel Castro’s death in November last year was an event which made me remember and reflect on my time in Cuba. I have been interested in Castro, and the Cuban Revolution, since 1986 when I went on a brigade there with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. The experience impressed me deeply and helped to shape my outlook on life.

Castro was born into a wealthy farming family in Oriente Cuba in 1926. He grew up to become a young idealistic lawyer, much like Nelson Mandela whom he later much admired.  However, after several setbacks and a clampdown by the authorities he came to believe, like Mandela, that change would only come through armed struggle.

In 1952 a right-wing army general, Fulgenico Batista staged a military coup in Cuba. The country had become a playground for rich Americans with casinos, prostitution, bars and drugs.  Money was siphoned off overseas and little profit went to ordinary Cubans.  Castro recruited a group of revolutionaries to storm the Moncada Barracks on July 26 1953. The attempted coup failed and the leaders, including Castro, were imprisoned.

After his release in 1954 he travelled to Mexico and formed the 26th July movement with his younger brother Raul and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. They landed their boat, the “Granma” with around 80 revolutionaries  on the coast of Cuba in 1956. After three years of fighting from their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains, the rebels won and Fidel Castro was proclaimed President in 1959.

AMERICAN HOSTILITY:
Although initially non-aligned, Castro was rebuffed by the US when private property was nationalised in Cuba and Marxist-Leninists appointed to the Government, notably Che Guevara. Then in 1961, the CIA backed an invasion of Cuba by Cuban dissidents and exiles at the Bay of Pigs. It failed.  But probably the biggest test for Castro’s leadership was the 1963 Cuban missile crisis. By then, Castro had made trade deals with the Soviet Union, notably that the Russians should take most of the island’s sugar harvest in the wake of the US embargo.  In return Kruschev wanted to site nuclear missiles on Cuba, 90 miles from the coast of Florida.

This sparked a major diplomatic incident between America and the USSR. Those who lived through this time remember thinking that it could mean the end of the world. Fortunately a peace deal was brokered and agreed, the weapons were removed from Cuba and an uneasy truce began. The CIA continued to mount attacks on Castro’s life throughout his time in office – which were eventually turned into a book and a film, “634 ways to kill Castro.”

POSITIVE REFORMS:
Domestically, during the 1960s and ‘70s, Castro established the positive reforms which improved living conditions for ordinary Cubans and made the Cuban model desirable internationally, particularly among countries in Africa and Latin America. Universal free health care and education were established as well as subsidised housing.

As well as strengthening relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba supported many leftist and democratic movements worldwide. Sadly, Che Guevara was murdered by the CIA in Bolivia in 1967 when he was supporting the struggle there.  Castro was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement and sent 40,000 troops and medical staff to Angola in the 1960s which helped the country gain independence. In Latin America, Cuba supported the revolution in Nicaragua and the war against the Contras (who were also CIA backed) from 1979 to 1990. It’s unfortunate that, like Cuba, Angola and Nicaragua have retained the same presidents for several decades – Dos Santos in Angola  and Ortega in Nicaragua.  Perhaps less controversially, Castro supported the leftist governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Hugo Chavez in Venezuala and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. As one young Cuban remarked, “when Fidel came to power we were a pebble in the ocean. Now everyone knows about us.”

BREAK UP OF SOVIET UNION:
In 1989, Gorbachev began reforms  which would lead to the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of  the special relationship with Cuba by the end of the 1990s. Castro stepped down as President in 2008 due to ill health, and his brother Raul has led Cuba through some cautious changes, notably the reopening of of the US Embassy in Havana in 2015, Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016 and the beginning again of direct flights between the US and Cuba.

When Castro died, everyone agreed that he had made a mark on history – his detractors that he repressed opposition and free speech, supporters that his struggle for an egalitarian society in Cuba superseded this. When I visited in 1986, the links with the Soviet Union were still in place. I was staying in an international camp with those from other European countries as well as young Cubans.   In our brigade there was a young miner and a miner’s wife. The Miners’ Strike had finished the year before. We had many conversations with Cubans, and their understanding of international issues, despite never leaving the island, was deep and reflective.  I was impressed by their knowledge and understanding of the Broadwater Farm Riots, which had recently taken place in London.

We visited the prison where Castro had been placed after the failed Moncada coup. The island where the prison was had been re-named “Isle of Youth” and it welcomed students from around the world, including Angola and Mozambique. We sang and danced with some of these students . We helped to build homes on a building site and in the evenings listened to political talks and sang “The Internationale” together, each in his or her  own language.

There was very limited choice of products in the shops and Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) were flourishing. These encouraged people to spy on their neighbours and report “un-revolutionary” behaviour. I am more critical of Castro’s Cuba now than as an idealistic 25 year old. However, I would agree with the final line in Simon Tisdall’s obituary on Fidel  (Observer, 27 November 2016): “For the most part, Castro, iconic figure of the left, was on the right side of history”

SARAH RICHARDSON

 

Clarion Comment & Health-watch special: CRISIS IN THE NHS

In Editorial, R.Richardson on April 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm

As 2017 dawned, crises struck the National Health Service in England. Our hospital services in particular were hit by what seemed like a sudden tsunami of patients needing treatment. The media showed us queues in hospital corridors of patients left (often overnight) on trolleys because beds just weren’t available. Or, indeed immediate treatment. It showed up a service in meltdown. Even the Red Cross described it as a “humanitarian crisis”.

Yet it was a crisis that seemed to have a certain inevitability about it. Indeed it wasn’t really a case of if but when. A bout of bad weather together with a build-up of urgent cases that couldn’t be put on the back burner was enough to trigger the emergency. Even cancer cases were put on hold in some hospitals.

The National Health Service has come a long way since it was founded with such high expectations in the post-war years. It came into being in the summer of 1948, at a time when the country was trying to pull itself together after the devastation of war. It was the most visible, and most welcomed, part of the new welfare state being created following the adoption of the “Beveridge Plan”. The Tories didn’t like it, of course, claiming loudly that it was something that we just couldn’t afford.

We could of course afford it (as we could today if the will was there). True, the provision of “National Health” glasses disappeared, along with free dental care, not to mention modest prescription charges. But apart from that the NHS had become rooted and accepted by the time the Tories returned to power in the early ‘fifties. And the new Government accepted it as part of the status quo.

THATCHER – AND BLAIR:

It wasn’t until Margaret Thatcher returned to power that the NHS came under attack. She made it clear (at least privately) that she disliked our Health Service. But she realised that any frontal attack would be unwise, and so instead she encouraged the spread of private health care, to provide “options”. The strategy was clear. As funds were re-directed from the public to the private sector, then the NHS would decline into providing a second class service.

Certainly within Thatcher’s own period of office it failed to have the impact she desired. But when Blair came to power it seemed he had his own plans for the NHS which in many ways ran counter to the original ideals of the Service. Early examples of democratic control disappeared. Smaller hospitals and care facilities were closed, and a process of centralisation of services was introduced.

Even hospital provision in the Forest came under threat. Both Lydney and the Dilke were earmarked for closure, and were only saved after a determined and sustained campaign across the Forest of Dean.

But Blair’s biggest attack on the founding principles of the Health Service was the introduction of “foundation hospitals” in 2003. This was bitterly opposed by Labour MPs in the Commons (63 voted against it), and Frank Dobson, a former Health Minister described them as a “cuckoo in the nest”. Health campaigner, Professor Allyson Pollock declared that such foundation trusts were a “fig leaf for privatisation.”

Incidentally, one of those that applied for “foundation trust” status was the Gloucester hospital trust. Fortunately, it never went ahead.

EROSION OF THE NHS:

All these changes to the structure of the National Health Service contributed to its fragmentation. Local health boards had, by now, disappeared – and there was a blurring of the line between public and private health care.

Fast forward to the Cameron era, and the “age of austerity”. Health care was soon identified as one of the country’s big spenders which, it seemed, we couldn’t afford. Strict financial controls were imposed on health care – particularly on hospital budgets.

Of course if a patient needs treatment, he or she should get it. And the NHS was founded to ensure that the care would be available, “free at the point of need”. They shouldn’t have to shop around, or join a waiting list, let alone dig into their pockets in order to “go private”.

David Cameron was keen to point out that “we were all in this together, but by this time the lines were so blurred and care was being increasingly rationed that the NHS was struggling to provide adequate care.

A SORRY SAGA:

We’ve come a long way from the establishment of the NHS in the summer of 1948 to the sorry state of the service today. Our Health Care needs more, much more, than extra cash to fund it adequately. It also to be able to return to the principles and practices on which it was founded.

And we should also salute those who work within the service who’ve worked hard, for long hours, to keep it operating for so long – often for little reward.


HEALTH WATCH: PROMISES, PROMISES

Whatever happened to those promises that if we achieved “Brexit” there’d be all that extra money to pump back into the NHS?

The pledge was plastered all over the sides of campaign buses. It figured in speeches made by pro-Brexit campaigners. And then quietly forgotten after the votes had been counted.

Now, it seems, the opposite will be true. There will be swingeing cuts to an already cash-strapped service.

According to the BMA, £22 billion’s worth of cuts will have to be made in order to balance the books. And Dr. Mark Porter, head of the doctors’ union, charged those with pushing the cuts of using them “as a cover for starving services and resources and patients of vital care.”

“SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION”:

The cuts are all part of the new “Sustainability and Transformation” plan (revealed in the last issue of the Clarion.) The plan has been introduced with little or no consultation with those who will be most affected – the doctors (not to mention the patients!

In response Dr. Porter says, “improving patient care must be the priority… There is a real risk that these transformative plans will be used as a cover for delivering cuts, starving services of resources and patients of vital care.”

Meanwhile, a conference held in Birmingham to “challenge the Sustainability and Transformation Plan” back in September was organised by Health Campaigns Together. It drew a packed audience. One of its main speakers was Dr. John Lister.

“MISSING ELEMENTS”:

There are three missing elements from the NHS as we know it today, declared Dr. Lister. One, the money. Two, the staff to do the job. And, three, the evidence that the policies can deliver the expected results.

Documents produced by the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) show a reluctance to engage with this harsh reality, he said. Instead there’s an air of wishful thinking, of pie in the sky.

Consequently, plans are written not by those from within the NHS, but by lavishly paid management consultants. Meanwhile, have these consultants, however lavishly paid, offered any real evidence to support the assertions and proposals that they’ve made?

WHAT’S “INTERMEDIATE CARE”?

“What is glaringly obvious is that throughout the 51 pages of text there is not one example of a working model of the type of new systems that are proposed to replace hospital bed provision… According to another document prepared by management consultants “intermediate care” is supposed to enable the NHS in North West London to dispense with over 400 hospital beds – but the document lacks any definition of intermediate care, let alone any plans to establish or expand it.”

THE CUTTING EDGE:

Faced with this welter of confusion, Dr. Lister sees the STPs as being presented as ways of curbing health spending, to live within the impossible spending limits imposed since 2010 even while the needs for health services continue to grow.

Or, asks Dr. Lister, “is it in fact the cuts that are being driven through now on the ground, and already happening even as we plough through the small print?”

Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers, has been busy in the media stating the case that there is not enough money to sustain services at the current level or meet increased demand over the next four years.

His options include: a reduction in the number of priorities that the NHS is trying to deliver; rationing access to care; and reducing the size of the NHS workforce.

Dr Lister retorts that “Hopson’s choice” is effectively to abandon NHS principles – or to cut the NHS to vanishing point. He adds that “most of these things are already being done in some form at local level…”

Hopson suggests a “public debate” on how the NHS should be sustained. Dr. Lister doesn’t favour the idea, in which one side “backed by the right wing media… and the backwoods Tory right that is now dominant will be urging us to turn the clock back to the 1930s drop the NHS principles and adopt some combination of charging for treatment and private health insurance.”

“Let’s fund the NHS properly from general taxation. It’s already under-funded compared to almost any comparable country, with fewer staff, fewer beds and less modern equipment than almost any developed economy.”

 

 

 

Clarion Review THE VICTORIAN SLUM (Documentary, BBC2) & ‘I, Daniel Blake’

In John Wilmot, Reviews on April 24, 2017 at 11:59 am

It’s refreshing to see a documentary on television devoted to the lives of working class people – particularly back at the end of the 1800s.

For this particular venture the BBC chose to select a group of today’s families and take them back in time to experience life in the worst slum dwellings of London’s East End, in order to re-live the experience of life on the edge.

In those days there were no social services. Those at the bottom of the heap survived as best they could. For those who couldn’t, there was starvation on the streets – or the dreaded Workhouse, where families were split up and inmates subjected to relentless and humiliating toil.

PATCHY:

The finished documentary is somewhat patchy, with many sequences which, to me, seemed hardly relevant – whilst other factors gain no mention at all. The programme rightly made the point that the fate of those on the bottom rung of the social ladder often rested on trade cycles. In other words, as the country prospered there would be work available. During periods of slump in trade, they’d be laid off.

Many of those affected were self-employed tradesmen, trying to make a living from their slum dwellings – but still subjected to the trade cycles that came and went.  On top of that Britain’s industrial supremacy was being challenged  (by such countries as Germany and the USA) and the political establishment was divided between those who favoured protection and those who argued for free trade as a response to these challenges.

VOTES FOR WOMEN:

At a time when women didn’t have a vote, much is made of the suffragette movement. Although the campaign for the suffrage did impinge on working class women, it wasn’t so important in their lives as this series makes out. The suffragettes – particularly the wing of the movement led by the Pankhursts – was overwhelmingly middle class.

Another movement that did have more impact on working class lives was the rise of the co-operative movement.  From the cotton mills of Rochdale this was spreading rapidly across the country and was now becoming rooted in the East End.

Through the Co-op, working class families could buy wholesome food cheaply – and also benefit from the “dividend”. Contamination of food by shopkeepers who preyed on working class customers was widespread in those days.

WHAT, NO SOCIALISM?!

One glaring omission from this series was the rapid rise of Socialism and Socialist ideas, which were soon to transform the political landscape. As far as this programme was concerned, Voters were either Conservative or Liberal.

But during the time span covered by “The Victorian Slum” (which stretched through the Edwardian period almost to the First World War), we had the founding of the Fabian Society, and the Independent Labour Party, launched in 1893. Keir Hardie, leader of the ILP, was elected to Parliament, and William Morris became converted to Socialism, launching his own Socialist movement.  Here was a new movement based on a new set of ideas that was forcing itself on to the political scene, and into the minds and hearts of those in the East End of London, as elsewhere.

REPLACING THE SLUMS?

We also saw the first attempts to replace the slums with blocks of flats, by the newly formed London County Council (LCC). Initially these were a failure.  For various reasons, the slum dwellers failed to move on to the new accommodation on offer – and in fact much of the surrounding slum property remained until well into the 1930s. And it was left to Hitler, in the wartime blitz to destroy much of what was left.  But that of course was another story.

Despite its flaws this was an interesting series, giving an intimate view of what it was like to be poor in Victorian and Edwardian England. Other parts of the country, of course, shared similar experiences.  And, gradually, social reforms began to improve conditions.

There was the introduction of old age pensions (for example) when Lloyd George was Prime Minister. Then there was the first meagre payment for the unemployment. But, of course it wasn’t until after 1945 (during the Atlee Government) that the Welfare State as we came to know it, to care for people “from the cradle to the grave” came into being.

Looking back to the days of Victorian and Edwardian Britain it’s something we should cherish – whilst we’ve still got it.

JOHN WILMOT.


“I, DANIEL BLAKE”: Another masterpiece from Ken Loach

Ken Loach has long been the scourge of the Establishment, attacking today’s divided society for the callous inhumanity of those  who administrate it on behalf of those in control. And long after many film directors would have retired (to a life of light gardening, perhaps) he’s carried on.

We were able to see his latest work, I Daniel Blake, at a crowded performance at the Palace Cinema in Cinderford. The film waded into the attack practically from the first reel, pinpointing the inadequacies of the so-called “Welfare State”, and the callousness of its administration, with a clarity that must have left many in the audience seething with anger at the kind of society that we’ve created.

Daniel Blake is a carpenter in his late fifties. He lives in Newcastle, but a heart attack has left him without work, and he has to sign on.  He meets a young woman, Katie, with a young son and daughter. (They have arrived in Newcastle from down south and are strangers to the city), Daniel takes them under his wing.

BATTLING THE SYSTEM:

And here their battle with the system begins.  One of the many hoops that they’re expected to jump through is computer literacy.  And of course there are many who lack it… after all, how many of those stuck in such a position can afford a computer or have had access to one?

The hurdles to be faced to get any support from officials in the so-called “social security” offices with their “jobsworth” attitudes colour the whole system and those who show sympathy with the claimants become ground down.

LIFE AT THE BOTTOM:

Other aspects of a rotten system are highlighted. One young man on a zero hours contract finds himself forced into the black economy in order to survive.  And Katie is forced to join the queues at the local Food Bank when she goes to get food to feed herself and her children.  She gets supplies and sympathy, of course, but still finds the experience humiliating.

As for Daniel Blake, in desperation he resorts to painting slogans on the wall opposite the social security offices, declaring that he is a human being, not just a faceless number to be processed through a heartless system.  Inevitably he’s arrested.

His action gains him support from fellow victims of the system.  But of course his friends are powerless. As the film draws towards its end, he collapses and dies of a fatal heart attack. His funeral is packed, and here Katie  reads out his final statement  that he’d prepared to present at a hearing at the Social Security offices to which he’d been summoned (prior to having his allowance cut off).

The scruffy, hand-written piece of paper is a defiant defence of his own humanity – and of all those who had come to his funeral.

MIXED RESPONSES:

There have, of course been mixed responses to the film.  It’s only natural that  Ken Loach has  chosen a multi-pronged attack on the system.  And most of those who’ve flocked to the cinema to see the film have never shared the experiences of those like Daniel Blake, Katie and others at the mercy of the system.

As for Tories who raised their heads above the parapet, their response has been to condemn the film as false propaganda.  At best, it’s “exaggerated”. Iain Duncan Smith, for example, didn’t like it at all.

But simply on a human level it’s a moving account of those forced to suffer under an unfeeling system that has traduced what was once regarded as part of one of this country’s proudest achievements – the welfare State.

JOHN WILMOT

TRUMBO: WITCH HUNT – the black days of McCarthyism in the USA

In John Wilmot, Reviews on January 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm
Review: Trumbo DVD

The reality of purges, witch hunts, or whatever else you wish to call them is always ugly.  Whether we’re talking about Stalin’s show trials in the USSR in the ‘thirties,  or the purge of all those hauled up before the so-called “Un-American Activities Committee” in the USA of the 1950s, such attempts to purify and cast out “undesirable” elements from any society are based on organised intolerance or bigotry, and lead only to suffering – or (in the case  of Stalin’s show trials) worse.

The film, “Dalton Trumbo” covers the Hollywood screenwriter’s attempts to fight back against the the so-called “UnAmerican Activities Committee”.  He won out in the end, but it almost cost him his family, and the lives of many of his friends. It was an ugly intolerant period for those who were caught up in it.

ATTACK ON HOLLYWOOD:

Although far too many ordinary folk suffered from the bleak attentions of the McCarthyite period, the film industry centred around Hollywood suffered particularly. Actors were blacklisted, as were directors and screen writers such as Trumbo. Only “good” Americans, such as Ronald Reagan or John Wayne were able to flourish, under the baleful patronage of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

Trumbo found himself one of the blacklisted “Hollywood Ten” who attempted to fight back. They lost, and Trumbo found himself serving time in prison. On his release he found that he was now  unable to gain work – certainly under his own name. He was forced to take work writing scripts for cheap “B Movies” to scrape a living. His family  begins to fall apart, and he‘s shunned by those who he thought had once been his friends.

Despite all this he did succeed in winning an Oscar for his script of the film “Roman Holiday” – though he had to write it using a false name. But his big breakthrough was the film “Spartacus”. Not only was this released under his name but it also won an Oscar.  It was    to be the beginning of the end of the Hollywood blacklist.

Others were also to suffer of course, including such actors as Edward G. Robinson, and to a lesser extent, Humphrey Bogard, and his wife Lauren Bacall.  Others escaped the net by moving abroad – or leaving the industry altogether.

One example was Sam Wanamaker, who was to settle in  Britain. He went on to become responsible for the re-recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, whilst his daughter, Zoe became a prominent character actor in UK  film and television. Hollywood’s loss was to be our gain!

JOHN WILMOT

LOOKING BACK: Saving the Party from Socialism?

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:34 pm

THE ONSLAUGHT ON MICHAEL FOOT

Michael Foot was a much loved leader of the Labour Party and a highly respected writer and journalist He’d edited Tribune for many years, inherited Nye Bevan’s old constituency of Ebbw Vale, and had held a number of posts in the Labour Governments of Wilson and Callaghan.

After Labour’s defeat in 1979, he became leader of the Party the following year, after Callaghan’s resignation.  Thatcher was now in power, but the country was in recession and she was at that point in her career far from popular. Michael Foot was able to provide a clear Socialist alternative to her policies – policies that were welcomed by those on the left, but not by all in the ranks of Labour. Those opposed to Foot soon set out to undermine his leadership.

BREAKAWAY:
This culminated in the breakaway by the “Gang of Four” Labour MPs who split, to form the Social Democrat Party (SDP), led by Shirley Williams and David Owen – both of whom had held Cabinet posts in the previous Labour government.

As far as the media was concerned, the glossy new SDP was flavour of the month. But the new party soon realised that if it was to take the “centre ground” that it cherished it would have to come to some accommodation with the Liberals. And so the SDP/Liberal Alliance was soon cobbled together.

As for Michael Foot, he was by now 67. But despite the right-wing split in the Labour Party he still maintained an impressive lead in the opinion polls. Sadly this was to melt away, and in 1987 he led Labour to crushing defeat. The Party recorded its lowest vote since before the war – and Thatcher remained in power.

There were two factors involved in Labour’s defeat. First, of course, the new SDP/Liberal Alliance siphoned off a significant number of former Labour votes. And second, the Alliance had the backing of the media, spearheaded by the Murdoch conglomerate, which worked tirelessly to undermine Foot. He was given the nickname “Wurzel Gummidge”, lampooned for his dress sense – and the image stuck.   Few will forget the charge in the Sun that Foot had turned up at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day wearing a “donkey jacket”. In fact it was a smart coat bought for the occasion by his wife Jill Craigie.  Be that as it may, the charge stuck.

IN THE FOREST:
Incidentally, one of those who joined the SDP band-waggon was the former Labour MP for the Forest of Dean, John Watkinson. By splitting the vote he allowed Paul Marland to gain the seat for the Tories. Marland was to hold it well into the ‘nineties, before Diana Organ regained it for Labour.

After Labour’s election defeat, Michael Foot resigned as Labour leader.  His place was taken by Neil Kinnock, a one-time left-wing MP who had re-branded himself as   a “middle of the road” sort of guy.  But, standing against John Major, he still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

And the rest, as they say, is history. The SDP was completely swallowed up by what became the Lib Dems, whilst the untimely death of Labour’s leader, John Smith allowed a cabal led by Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair to take over the Labour Party, re-brand it as “New Labour” and win the ensuing election.  Labour would have won anyway, as by this time the Tories were looking and acting like a party whose time in office was over. And no doubt they knew it.

As for Michael Foot, he retired gracefully and returned to his west country roots (including his support for Plymouth Argyll football club). He finally died in 2010, well in to his 90s.  As a republican, he  refused a peerage, or indeed any honours. But he remained a man of honour and integrity to his dying day.

CONCLUSIONS:
Conclusions may be drawn, comparing the events surrounding Michael Foot’s leadership bid and those of Jeremy Corbyn – but none are intended. In order to do so, the brush strokes would have to be very, very broad indeed.  And history rarely repeats itself in the same way.  So, any conclusions drawn by readers would have to be their’s alone.

michael_foot_cnd_small

REVIEW: Paper Tiger – Inside the Real China

In R.Richardson, Reviews, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:31 pm

THE REAL CHINA:

“Paper Tiger – Inside the Real China”, by Xu Zhiyuan (published by Head Zeus and translated by Nicky Harman and Michelle Deeter. Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON 

“Paper Tiger” is a phrase coined by Mao Zedong  which originally referred to American imperialism. He said, “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tigchairman_mao1949er.”

Xu Zhiyuan uses the phrase as the title of his book of essays, but with slightly different connotations. He believes that China gives the appearance of a transformation into the 21st Century, but “under the bright shiny service lies a political and social crisis.”

Xu is a journalist in his 30s and much of his writing is published outside China. He writes of the contradictions of modern China, the dominance of consumer values above any real commitment to social justice. He paints a picture of the elite who live and work inside air-conditioned blocks covered in one-way mirror glass. Salaries in the financial companies are huge and financiers’ “whirlwind  lifestyle takes them to New York one day and Paris the next”.  But, says Xu, they are unwilling to transform their wealth into wider social improvements.

RELATIONSHIP WITH FATHER:
An interesting essay concerns Xu’s relationship with his father, now in his sixties, who has lived through the Cultural Revolution and seen China’s huge economic boom. “Don’t let your tongue run away with you,” he advises. Xu’s  father always cared about his son’s future, but he worries that journalism will get his son into trouble. He is afraid that voices of dissent will disturb the peace.

“It is difficult,” writes Xu, “for him to believe that an individual’s right to enjoy free speech is just as important as his right to an adequate standard of living.”

EDUCATION: THE WAY IT’S DONE:
I was particularly interested in Xu’s essay on education. Unsurprisingly he is critical of the strict discipline and the exam-orientated regime. The one aim is to gain pupils places at top universities. Linchuan Number One  school, which Xu visits, has 14,000 students. Their curriculum comprises maths, science and formulaic essay writing.

Rows of bookshops near the school’s entrance are full of revision materials; there is no poetry, nothing reflecting  China’s cultural heritage. The school’s library is no longer in use and Xu sees thick layers of dust piling up on the books. When we read what amazing results Chinese school children achieve, we would do well to ponder on how they come about.

FREEDOM TO CRITICISE:
Xu does not call for the overthrow of the existing regime in China, but he wants more freedom to be able to criticise it. The media should be able to expose injustices  and call corrupt officials to account. Xu writes, “We will only have security, democracy and individual freedoms if everyone fights for them. Freedoms that are bestowed never really belong to us.”

Most essays deal with China under its previous leader, Hu Jintao, but in 2012 Xi Jinping took office. Most observers feel that under him a stricter regime has been imposd, and academics, lawyers and journalists are under more pressure to toe the line. It will be interesting to read Xu Zhiyuan’s observations on the current regime. I am sure that he will not be easily silenced.

Ruth Richardson

CLARION COMMENT: The World Turned Upside Down

In Editorial, Uncategorized on August 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm

The phrase used as our headline came originally out of the Civil War, and is associated with the tumult surrounding attempts by the Levellers to ensure that  the Roundhead’s victory was accompanied by real root and branch radical change.

They were heady times, and their programme of reform attracted wide public support – but was opposed by the Cromwellian old guard. One of the leaders of the Levellers, Thomas Rainsborough, an MP, was killed on October 30 1648, and his funeral turned into a mass demonstration in support of the movement.  But the Levellers were effectively crushed, there was little political change, and shortly after the death of Cromwell, Britain returned to being a monarchy. So nothing much was achieved there, then.

It would of course be invidious to compare Jeremy Corbyn with Thomas Rainsborough. Vague comparisons can be carried too far!  And today the use of the phrase “the world turned upside down” has been taken up by many in the media to describe the political (and economic?)  impact of the “Leave” victory in the EU referendum,  and the effect that it’s had on what once seemed to be so many political certainties. For us. fhis includes the impact it has had on the Labour Party in Parliament.

LET’S TALK ABOUT SOCIALISM:

corbyn_yourChoiceJeremy Corbyn promised a clear left wing agenda when he stood for the Labour leadership. It was an agenda that was supported by a clear majority of the party membership – though not of course by the majority of the party’s MPs. The bulk of them. though, however grudgingly, worked with him (apart from what might be termed a hard core of Blairites), and a functioning shadow cabinet was formed.  And during the last nine months or so Labour continued to do reasonably well electorally, including holding Michael Meacher’s old seat in Oldham. Admittedly there were no major electoral breakthroughs, but Labour held its own – and gained seats in such mayoral contests as London and Bristol.

So why on earth did those in the Parliamentary Party suddenly decide to mount a coup, via a vote of no confidence in Corbyn?  Why on earth did they choose such a time, when the Tories were in the midst of their own session  of infighting?  And were they completely oblivious to the impact on the party as a whole?  Was it some form of mass hysteria?  Was there something in the water in the House of Commons?  Or did living and working in the Westminster bubble produce a distorted vision?

The stated charge against Corbyn was that he had failed to mount a strong enough campaign in favour of staying in the EU. He had allegedly failed to persuade enough Labour voters to back the “Remain” vote when it came to polling day. In other words, Jeremy was to carry the can for the result of the referendum. There is of course no evidence to back up this charge.

So was this merely a pretext? An opportunity for the right wing to “save the Labour Party from itself”?   There certainly seemed to be elements of a coup involved. And certainly Angela Eagle (in the Daily Mirror) was on hand to declare that her leadership bid was being mounted in order to “save the Labour Party”!  From what? It had been the plotters who’d created a situation that was bound to cause  seismic shockwaves throughout the party.

As we see it, in any democratic political party , the public representatives of that party must be answerable to the membership. Members vote on who will represent them on local authorities  or in Parliament (with of course the electorate making the final decision between the competing parties). Sometimes there may be an uneasy relationship between the membership and those who represent them. That’s part of the dynamics of democracy. But to create a situation where MPs set themselves on a collision course with their members in the constituencies seems to be both irrational and foolhardy.


NB. just like in the Labour Party, not all Clarion Editorial members agreed. Tyler Chinnick of Monmouth CLP, wrote a counter-piece to our otherwise unanimously-endorsed editorial. Let’s remember The Clarion is a debating space: except here we do it politely and with argument rather than vitriol and accusation.

Counter Comment by Tyler Chinnick (Monmouth CLP)

One of the main problems facing the Labour party at the moment is the belief, widely held amongst the membership that MP’s are answerable solely to them.  That is not and has never been the case in ours or any other major party.  MP’s primary responsibility is to their constituents; only secondarily to the membership.  We are not a Leninist, democratically centrist party answerable only to party members but a representative, parliamentary party.  MP’s are and have always been representatives not delegates.  They owe us their judgement not their obedience.

The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was on a collision course with the membership as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was nominated “for the sake of debate”.  The whole reason why MP’s must secure a certain number of nominations to get on the leadership ballot is to demonstrate support in the PLP – that provision exists specifically to prevent this kind of crisis.  Our MP’s ignored it because they didn’t think Corbyn had the proverbial snowball’s chance and now they (and we) are reaping the rewards.

I don’t subscribe to the lazy, cynical view that MP’s live in a “Westminster bubble”.  They go back to their constituencies, they meet with voters, they hold surgeries, they knock on doors.  They know that Corbyn is very unpopular.  The most recent polling revealed he had the lowest approval rating of any opposition leader in history at -41%.  The polls may be wrong but they’re not wrong by 41 percent.

The Brexit vote and the fact that we have a new Prime Minister makes an election some time in the next 10 months highly likely, so the electability of the leader has been brought into sharper focus.  The PLP fear electoral oblivion should Corbyn stay.  Possibly the end of the party itself as UKIP eat into the heartlands, the Lib-Dems and Greens make gains in metropolitan areas, the Tories wipe us out in marginals and with no recovery in Scotland imminent.  You may disagree with their assessment but it’s unfair to assume they are acting in bad faith.

One of the reasons I opposed Jeremy in the leadership election last year was because it was always obvious to me that the most rebellious MP in parliament, the man who had rebelled against every single leader he had served under (regardless of their mandate – some of which were much larger than his), the man who had previously supported coup attempts and a perpetual member of the ‘awkward squad’ would always be incapable of commanding the loyalty of his MP’s.  This was always going to be a fatal flaw and so it has proved.

The people who have now lost faith in Corbyn can’t be easily dismissed as ‘Blairites’, ‘bitterites’, ‘traitors’ or any of the other charmless insults we’ve heard all too frequently in recent weeks.  They include soft-left members of his own shadow cabinet like Lisa Nandy and Heidi Alexander, prominent Corbyn supporting commentators like Owen Jones and Zoe Williams, seasoned Bennites and old comrades like Chris Mullin and his own economic advisory forum.

Richard Murphy, the architect of what became known as “Corbynomics” and Danny Blanchflower the bulldog of anti-austerity economics have both lost faith in JC to even develop these ideas into policies let alone implement them.  If your closest supporters don’t have confidence in your ability to lead a party or even develop policy then voters aren’t going to trust you to organise a children’s birthday party let alone run the country.

John McDonnel has now taken to re-announcing ‘policies’ that were mooted in the last leadership election but have since been abandoned.  Some fear that should we ditch Corbyn the party will revert to the same people who voters found so uninspiring last year.  Owen Smith’s pitch is clearly to take the best ideas JC has highlighted but left unexplored and run with them.  I sincerely hope that he has the vision and strength of character to do that but one thing is absolutely clear, JC and JMcD do not.

The warning signs are 60 foot high and flashing, they spell electoral doom should we continue down this path and Corbyn’s only answer is “I have a mandate”. Well that isn’t good enough.

We now have a leadership election.  Nominally on the ballot paper are Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn.  But the real choice facing Labour members is between the continuation or the destruction of the Labour party.  I vote for it to continue.

 


David Aaronovitch Interview

In Guest Feature, T. Chinnick on August 8, 2016 at 11:58 am

by Tyler Chinnick

{on-line special – full un-edited article in one piece, rather than split across two issues as in the print edition}

David Aaronovitch is a columnist for the Times and Jewish Chronicle (formerly The Independent and The Guardian). He is a winner of the Orwell Prize, chairman of the free speech organisation ‘Index on Censorship’ and author of ‘Voodoo Histories’ (about conspiracy theories). His new book ‘Party Animals’ examining his communist upbringing was published earlier this year. I caught up with David as he was padding up what he assured me was one of the steepest hills in London.

I think of you in the same bracket as people like Christopher Hitchens and Claire Fox who started out on the revolutionary left (Aaronovitch was a member of the Communist Party until 1987) and have migrated over the years to a point now where you’re post-political almost. Do you still consider yourself on the left?

[Laughter] Post-political?! I most certainly am not. And Hitchens wouldn’t consider himself as post-political.

I don’t think of myself as post-political and nor do I think of myself as a kind of classic journeyer from the far left over to the right. Some of the things that were actually the most important things to me politically when I was younger are still the most important things to me politically so I’m loathe to accept that classification.

And if it’s true that the kind-of people who regard themselves as being the cup-bearers for the left would not regard me as being of their number but to a certain extent I don’t care what they think.

You mentioned in the talk at the Hay festival that Internationalism is still one of your guiding principles are there any other principles that guide your politics?

Internationalism, inter-dependency, co-responsibility, feminism.

Without wanting to engage in any cheap psychologism it’s not difficult to see why a movement like feminism might have appealed to the young Aaronovitch. His parent’s relationship was not a happy one due mainly to his father’s serial infidelity. Painful enough at the best of times but to a mother who prized loyalty above everything else, almost unbearable. She coped with it by lying to herself, even in her own diary.

What about enlightenment values?

Yeah, actually, enlightenment is more important to me now than it was then because I didn’t really understand it as a concept, so in that sense I suppose you can say that is a kind of shift. You know gradually I’ve become much more militant in favour of freedom of expression, freedom of speech as the things that underline our capacity to be the people, to be the societies that we want to be. To take an example, I’ve become far more aware of the importance of say, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 than I would have been as a young communist.

Some people feel that those kind of values are under threat now in a way that they haven’t been in a while – would you share that fear?

In places, yes. After the fall of the Berlin wall we had a kind of view about the progress toward the acceptance of by-and-large the value of Western liberal democracy and I think for ten, fifteen years you could see that. So by the time we got to 2010 the number of democracies in the world had increased exponentially, through Latin America and so on and that’s still by-and-large been the direction of travel but there’s the substantial kick-back: Putinisation in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, various other countries. We waited for a long time for a significant reform movement in Iran that has never really been successful, that has always been suppressed.

I was thinking specifically about here at home. With elements of the left cosying up and forming alliances with people who they may never have done so in the past.

No that’s true, and that’s irritating. But that’s kind of, quite a parochial concern in a way. I mean I do see that among certain sections of the left. A kind of relativism, an unthinking, a certain, basically a ‘find the underdog’ and whoever the underdog is, adopt their views – makes no sense. It depends on who the underdog is and what their views are whether you want to do that. So you can find people who are very strong say on women’s rights in the rest of society but that believe, effectively in withholding their solidarity from, let’s say Muslim women who are claiming the same rights – well, that’s not very impressive.

How has university and particularly student politics and freedom of speech on campus changed since you were there in the 70’s?

Well there were always people who, if you like, were keen to constrain the dangers of other people’s speech. Mostly they tended to be on the left and mostly the target tended to be people on the far-right and in a sense given that we were still only 30 years on from the Second World War and so on and we had a real problem of significant and violent racism – you could understand that even if it was slightly misplaced. But there were always people who tried to extend it then. So for example when I was a student leader you had a problem of some Trotskyists saying ‘well we have no platform for racists, the UN has just declared Zionism is racist, therefore we can have no platform for Zionists. And the Union of Jewish Students supports Israel which is a Zionist thing to do therefore we better ban them from speaking’! Some actually made that argument. It was always easily defeated but since then you’ve got a completely different thing that’s come in which is kind-of a degree of sensitivity, often hyper-sensitivity on behalf of someone else saying ‘we can’t bear to have these things said in this area because the speech itself constitutes an attack’ – almost as if it were a physical attack. This is not just restriction on speech it almost becomes a form of thought control.

Actually I’m beginning to think that we might have nipped the worst part of it in the bud now in Britain, if not in America. I think the Student Unions and others got the message that this is not the way to go. So I’m half-hoping that the problem will become less not more.

You opposed the Vietnam War when you were a student but you supported the Iraq war. What’s the difference?

There’s no similarity between them at all. The problem was that Saddam Hussein – was to all intents and purposes – was a fascist, ran a fascist regime by incredible violence, absolutely staggering violence and to effectively, in the end defend him from attack had nothing to do with the Vietnam war. But people will pose it in the way that they think it’s the same thing. The Vietnam war was, in a way, the arse-end of de-colonialisation, the Americans got hooked into because of the problems of the Cold War and their idea that almost anything was better than allowing countries to become communist. Saddam was a completely different kettle of fish.

What do your think attracts people to conspiracy theories?

As I said in ‘Voodoo Histories’ they’re better stories, they’re less complicated in some ways, they can give complete answers rather than the incomplete, unsatisfactory answers of real life.

So it has the attractiveness of a thriller is part of it and then the other part of it is the explanation for one’s own defeat, so, the kind of conspiracy theories which the Republicans threw at Clinton after they [The Republicans] lost the White House. ‘How could it possibly be”, they said to themselves “ that these Democrats who we hate so much have won more votes than we have, well, it must be jiggery-pokery because anything else has an explanation that lies in our unattractiveness and of course we don’t think we are.

Do you think we’re more susceptible to conspiracy theories now than we were because with the internet they have a viral quality that they didn’t in the past?

I think conspiracy theories get formed quicker and go round the world quicker but I don’t necessarily think that we’re more susceptible to them. I mean the anti-semitic conspiracy theories were incredibly widespread in Europe in the period after the first world war, ridiculously so. And they were probably more widely believed than any similar such conspiracy theories now. And of course once people have got them into their head it was hard to debunk them because you didn’t have a mechanism for reaching all those people who believed these things

Why do you think Communism was so socially conservative in practice?

Right at the beginning of the British Communist Party, interestingly, there was a puritan strain in that part of it was composed of temperance campaigners believe it or not. Then of course you had this notion of sacrifice for the working class and giving up everything to politics and to organisation, it’s quite a puritanical stance … so you had this strange combination of bohemianism i.e. we’re changing the world, everything is turned upside down and puritanism, everything for the sake of the class and so on and they sat in a kind of odd way. Now, at first after the Russian Revolution you had this explosion of experimental theatre, experimental art as all the artists think ‘well now we’ve thrown off the old shackles’ etc but the whole business gets very, very serious, you know about fighting off invaders, fighting off the counter-revolutionaries etc then the puritans gradually take over and what they say is actually your art should be entirely subject and your life should be entirely subject to the needs of the political moment. Now that becomes a very, very conservative position because it says it’s much less interested in experimentation now it’s much, much more interested in directing everything.

And I suppose the Party in Britain would have just been taking their lead from Russia?

To a certain extent but even to a quite late degree in the British Communist party you had the Bohemians, people who didn’t fit into the normal weft of Western life. I’ll give you a good example. You know the spy Guy Burgess, being a sort-of active gay guy in an era when that was frowned upon. You can quite easily see that some of his decision to oppose his country had something to do with his homosexuality. I’m not saying by the way by any means that homosexuals are traitors but what I am saying is that sometimes if you find yourself going up against everyone else you look for other affiliations.

And I suppose that would also explain why there were a disproportionate number of Jewish people in the Russian revolution?

Well precisely so. It does, and so a lot of forward thinking people or very imaginative people joined the revolutionary movement. But when that movement becomes a consolidation of power and then faces an existential crisis you know you’ve got an actual country there that you’re running then in that case it appealed to an innate conservatism. And so for instance Russian textbooks on anatomy for school would miss out the reproductive organs altogether, just wouldn’t mention them. Like Ken and barbie dolls really. When you got to that bit they were all gone. Not very helpful.

Among many things ‘Party Animals’ is a potted history of the major developments in Soviet history and how the CPGB, it’s leadership and members reacted to them. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, the invasion of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) and perhaps most problematic of all to a communist the 20th party congress at which Khrushchev revealed the truth about the Stalinist show trials and purges.

Did you ever talk to your parents about the revelations made by Khrushchev?

Thing is I didn’t have to talk to them about it because those had happened when I was a toddler, even younger than that and so by the time I would have been asking them questions about it it was already in the historical background. By the time I was in the party myself I – this sounds awful – but I didn’t care about their attitudes toward stuff was. I was not sufficiently enamoured of them to want to discover it.

Why did you decide to join the party?

Because I believed that the party was a good organisation that did the right things for people around the world and I wanted to be part of that.

But there were – and there still are – lots of Socialist and Communist groupings why the Communist Party?

Oh, I didn’t know that. I mean I knew there was the Labour party but I didn’t know there were all the other ones. I didn’t really know of the others until I went to college.

Though he says he was dimly aware of other left-wing parties he mistakenly thought that is was all more-or-less the same thing. He was soon disabused of that notion by a Trotskyist heartbreaker who slapped him across the face on discovering that in addition to joining her Trotskyist group he had also joined a Stalinist organisation. “She hated me” he recalls, the dismay still alive in his voice, “for being the wrong breed of leftist!”

Why did you decide to leave the party and how was that greeted by your family and former comrades?

I was already by then working in the media for five years. So I’d stopped really being politically active in any huge activist sense because it was incompatible with reporting on things to make yourself too much a part of them. In my house which I was sharing with other people we would put up things to do with help for the miners during the miners strike. I can remember writing things that were very sympathetic to the striking miners, if not to their leadership, but in terms of the party itself I’d more or less gone already. I mean I couldn’t really see myself the point of the Communist party already by ’87. I thought I would be better expressed probably in the Labour party. Also after I’d left being President of the National Union of Students I was just really politicked-out. I’d been an activist ever since I was a toddler. I’d been on countless demonstrations, I’d sold the bloody Morning Star on the student union steps almost every week for four years or something like that, I’d done my bit, I’d spoken on demos, been on demos, been arrested at demos etc. I’d just had enough of it.

All through my student life I was too political and I’d never really had any fun. I’d had some political fun but not really any other kind of fun. As it happens I’m not really a night-clubber or anything like that so it mattered less than to some people.

So you weren’t into night-clubbing and you didn’t particularly like Elvis Presley when you were younger and you’re disparaging about the drug culture … How did you rebel then – did you rebel at all?

I rebelled against my parents by taking myself out of the house and not going to anything with them, not going on holiday with them and so on. I mean it didn’t seem necessary to rebel more than that.

You weren’t tempted to become a Tory?

[Laughter] No! God no! I was not. That was the bloody last thing … [More laughter]. It’s extraordinary enough that I’m a Times columnist that’s kind of testing the limits without being a Tory. But if it seriously got to the point where I thought that the only way to keep a Corbyn government out was to vote Tory then that would be intellectually the right thing to do but it would be an incredible wrench. I mean I’ve never voted Tory in my life!

I was brought up thinking by and large that Tories were essentially devilish creatures and of course I’ve met quite a lot of Tories since and have discovered that some of them are quite personable. But I’ve never been even remotely tempted to be one.

What would your Dad make of Corbyn?

I think my mother would have been emotionally attracted to Corbyn on a very simple basis which is that he is the closest thing standing to what we used to stand for. My Dad was an autodidact, he taught himself Marxism and then economics. And one of my Dad’s favourite words was rigour – the idea that you must subject everything to rigorous work and rigorous analysis, you had to know all the facts and then you had to analyse them and that was really, really important to him. Say for instance you wanted to talk about the working class you had to have a definition of what the working class was, who is in the working class, how do they come to be the working class and when you say ‘the working class movement’ who are you actually talking about – which forces, in what kind of alliance, how would you get them together and how would they work and so on. I am pretty sure that he would have looked at Corbyn and thought this is an absolute bloody shambles, this is just not serious. And Corbyn has asked himself none of those sorts of questions, has no kind of intellectual interest in them as far as anybody can see and therefore is fundamentally unserious and therefore can’t lead anybody. I’m pretty sure that that’s what my father would have thought although I must say it’s very convenient for me thinking that that’s what he would think.

Do Labour/the left have an anti-semitism (AS) problem and if so how much, if any, is the fault of Jeremy Corbyn? The accusation is that he’s brought people into the party who would have been outside it otherwise.

I’m with my father in this respect really, which is I’m always interested in the question of what we mean by the words that we use – what do we mean by AS? I don’t regard it as anti-semitic per se to say ‘I don’t think Jews should go and live in a place called Israel and therefore I’m not a Zionist.’ I’m slightly more worried about people who of all things want to be anti-Zionist because that means that they’re against one particular form of national self-expression but not against any of the others but I don’t think they do that because they have a prejudice against Jews particularly.

So the anti-semitic tropes we’re talking about are the ones that are a transference to the word Zionist or the idea of Israel that are the old prejudiced perceptions about Jews. That they are incredibly and disproportionately financially successful and crafty and that they influence people by nefarious means, not open means to get their way. These would have been tropes that were highly recognisable to far-right people. And actually some of them come from far-right people so you now get this bizarre business that’s this cross-tweeting between Corbynistas – and I don’t mean people who are close to Corbyn particularly though some of them might be – and some sections of the far right, they just simply can’t tell the difference. They both claim to be for Palestinian rights above everything and that’s partly why all this has a particular salience really. It comes from this super-notion of the jewish lobby, or the Israeli lobby, or the Zionist lobby and so on you are essentially picking up on an anti-semitic trope which has gone down the centuries. That Jews are particularly tribal and close and manipulative. And I think that has infected sections of the Labour party or activists within the Labour party and I think it is a problem that the Labour Party now has.

The other aspect of this of course is that some of these attitudes are absolutely routine among some sections of the Muslim community. They’re just simply what Imam’s teach about Jews arriving out of the Koran and with no contradictory experience i.e. with no experience of actual Jews themselves to compare this against it is what an awful lot of people in the Muslim community including Muslim members of Labour believe – it’s what they’ve imbibed actually, which is even worse. In other words that’s almost the default position before you get to anything else.

Do you think there is any hope for socialism?

Now you remember what I said about my Dad – what’s your definition of socialism?

Let’s say Clause 4 the “democratic ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”

Let’s dig down into that a little bit. If we replace private ownership and private profit with democratic control as an economic mechanism – so think about it, who is exercising the democratic control and where are they exercising it – what are we talking about there? Who’s doing what?

I’ve always been taken with Jean Jaures notion that for, say nationalised industries a third of the board would be elected by the government, a third by the workers in that industry and a third by the electorate.

The thing is people don’t want to spend their time electing and in a lot of meetings and they won’t run these companies particularly well and whenever this has been tried it’s not worked.

The question is what the optimum level of involvement in action is. When I was a student activist, Trot’s put an incredible amount of emphasis on the idea of direct democracy. They thought that if you were at a meeting the vote you took was ten times better than any vote you took if you weren’t at a meeting by virtue of having participated in the discussion and so on. I kind-of half thought that was true for a while but I just don’t any more. I don’t think you get good decisions that way and I don’t think it really works. In the sense that we’re talking about that kind of socialism, democratic control over the means of production etc. – I think it’s very good that you put it like that because you took the question seriously and attempted to create a definition which you’re probably aware is not what Corbynistas do. What they generally say is ‘oh well, we’re just going to do better things for everybody and life will be better for everybody’. And wave a vague stick at it. So you at least tie it to a proposition – even if it’s a proposition that we can then say once we’ve dealt with it won’t work.

By the time I was in the mid 80’s, late 80’s, I just didn’t believe anything like that would work. That’s not to say that capitalist system isn’t open to huge levels of reform, I mean after all the whole business of regulation, which has grown and grown and grown because we all know that you cannot simply leave it to the profit principle to decide how society is completely organised and who in the end absolutely gets what. It has to be mediated and how it’s mediated is always an open question but to set an arbitrary point about mediation and to say that this side of this point is socialism and this side isn’t when you haven’t fundamentally altered the system is I think a bit of a confidence trick.

Who do you think will win in November in the American election?

Hillary Clinton will win. And I’m saying that largely because I don’t really want to be on the planet if that’s not the case.