‘Truth’, immigration and the BBC

Image © Felix-felix

Robin Richardson

The Truth about Immigration was broadcast by the BBC on Tuesday 7 January, having been trailed in advance both widely and deeply. Viewers were promised it would be full of new clarity and insight, based on new and powerful facts and figures. Further, it would be imbued with unusual honesty from politicians and senior civil servants, and – even – from the BBC itself. In the event the programme was a shoddy and shameful shambles. Visually, technically, conceptually, ethically, politically and emotionally, it was the very worst kind of tabloid TV, an hour of bias against understanding, totally unworthy to be described as public service broadcasting. Read more of this post

In Defence of the War Poets

Katherine Edwards

Should the First World War be seen principally as a European and world catastrophe or as a British triumph? As we mark the centenary of the Great War, the debate on its commemoration has intensified, with the Education Secretary recently lambasting senior academics for their lack of patriotism.  Attacks on the influence of Blackadder are fast becoming just as much a cliché of the ‘revisionist’ school as the clichés the revisionists claim to be dispelling.  And where Blackadder is mentioned we can be sure the war poets – and Wilfred Owen in particular – will be the target of the next sneer. Hew Strachan is intent on demonstrating that ‘there was something more between 1914 and 1918 than futility and poems’.   Michael Morpurgo came under fire in the Moral Maze for citing Wilfred Owen.  More recently John Blake painted a scornful picture of teachers ‘sonorously intoning’ Owen’s poetry, placing much of the blame for what he considers to be the ‘myths’ taught about World War One on the excessive influence of Owen and Sassoon, who he claims, are misleadingly ‘sold as the authentic voice of the front-line soldier’. Read more of this post

Orwell and Loach on Spain

Dr Alan Sennett  

Andreu Nin

Even for the well read lay person, the politics of Republican Spain during the 1936-39 civil war can appear baffling. A viewing of Ken Loach’s 1995 film Land and Freedom raises more questions than could possibly be answered in a standard length feature film.   Familiarity with George Orwell’s 1938 account Homage to Catalonia fills in much detail and has clearly provided both source material and inspiration for screenwriter Jim Allen.  For those with a deeper knowledge of the micro-politics of the Spanish Left, the contributions of Andy Durgan, Loach’s historical advisor and expert on the Catalan dissident communists, are also evident.  Yet the reasons behind the main protagonist’s disillusion with the official Communist movement, at one point prompting him to tear up his CPGB party card in disgust, might still appear unclear.  Ideally the viewer needs an appreciation of the origins and context of the dispute between those who saw an organic connection between the struggle against fascism and what they believed to be an ongoing social revolution, and those who viewed the fight as solely a defence of democracy with revolution an unwelcome distraction.  Much can be explained by analysing the film’s key political scene.  Yet it has to be said that both Loach’s film and Orwell’s account must be approached with a critical eye. Read more of this post

Love Will Tear the British Union apart…

Nora Connolly 

Image© The Scottish Government

The SNP`s commitment to the principles enshrined in the British post-war settlement appear to be the motivating factor propelling Scotland toward independence. The party which oscillated between the left and the far right during the 1970s is now the party of consensus, promoting a benevolent nationalism whilst campaigning on a progressive social democratic platform. This seems reasonable and persuasive, especially given the SNP propensity to campaign in the poetry of Burns, whilst governing Scotland in the prose of Keynes and Beveridge. Bevan is also close to the SNP leadership’s heart, the Welsh architect of the British NHS. This is then, big tent inclusive nationalism, seemingly devoid of any racial component, anti-English rhetoric or sentiment. After all there is an estimated 400,000 people of English origins living in Scotland with a projected 10% of this cohort supporting the SNP. Of course Scotland is no egalitarian utopia. And while the country may exhibit more social cohesion and solidarity than other parts of the UK, it’s far from perfect and it would be naive to suggest otherwise. If you have ever attended an `Old Firm` game then you will quickly appreciate my point. Read more of this post

As mad as Hell: UKIP’s political success

Frederick Cowell 

Image© IndependentThinkerUK

Nigel Farage is the most dangerous man in British politics. Why?  He leads a party with no MPs and his party’s most well known policy, a referendum to leave the EU, is so popular among Conservative MP’s that should they win the 2015 election they’re offering their own version of it.  On TV he often comes across as a charming pub bore, the sort of chap who begins an argument midway through the second round saying “look, I’m saying what we’re all thinking here”. Yet as they manage to gain a quarter of all votes cast in this month’s local elections they are turning into a fourth force in UK politics and a real political headache. Even before the May election their influence on UK politics, outside of a vehicle of protest against the EU, had been growing steadily; at both the Eastliegh and South Shields by-elections they came second and since the start of 2013 have been absorbing defections of councillors from the Tories at the rate of one a week  Read more of this post

The Left and Margaret Thatcher

Frederick Cowell

Image©Gingerblokey

Margaret Thatcher’s death has resulted in many a hagiography, some national reflection and an almighty attack of political amnesia. Her pursuit of an agenda of ideological radicalism which either, saved or savaged Britain (depending on your viewpoint) created an ‘ism’ but was not done in vacuum.

Margaret Thatcher had long nursed radical ideologies but contrary to the right wing narrative of ideological triumphalism in her ascendency to power, her first election victory in May 1979 was on a very pragmatic and cautious ideological platform. The Conservative manifesto was, as the historian Andy McSmith notes, only little more radical than their 1970 manifesto and Margaret Thatcher had agreed to follow the generous recommendations of the Clegg Commission on Public Sector pay which had been set up after the winter of discontent – hardly the stuff of union smashing Tory fantasies.  Ken Clarke reflected that the election focused on bread and butter issues such as prices, inflation and the state of the national finances – many of the same concerns had encouraged the electorate five years earlier to replace Edward Heath with Harold Wilson. Nigel Lawson remembered she was preoccupied with “not frightening the electorate” and in the late 1970s she went out of her way to distance herself in public from more radical policies on spending cuts and privatisation and in office was even prepared to give in to the miners, delaying pit closures. It was two years from her election until the first full monetarist budget in 1981 and many of the largest privatisations and assaults on the unions took place later. The ideological zealotary, which she had always had, emerged openly in 1981 as the infighting on the left meant that it was unlikely that there would be any meaningful opposition to the Thatcherite agenda.  Read more of this post

Robert Kee: History of Ireland Episode 4 FAMINE

Nora Connolly 

Image© illustrated London News, December 22, 1849

 It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry…

Robert Kee focuses on the emotive issue of the Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849. Explaining why the population in the West and South West depended on this food for nutrition, outlining the organisation of land and tenancy arrangement`s. Other crops abundantly produced sold to pay rent, encapsulated by the following contemporaneous observation reported in Hansard, `not a bit of bread have I eaten since I was born, nor a bit of butter. We sell all the corn and the butter to give to the landlords [for rent] yet I have the largest farm in the district and am as well off as any man in the county`. The population which increased to eight million was linked to the peculiar organisation of land tenure in Ireland, `land was divided into smaller and smaller plots – the number of those depending on the potato grew larger and larger`. In Kee`s written history he demonstrates an in-depth understanding of issues i.e. the impact on agriculture post Napoleonic Wars such an analysis not always possible in a fifty minute television overview. Read more of this post

Parliament Channel: Harold Wilson Night (Conference Speech)

LeftCentral Review

© Image The Prime Minister`s Office photostream

The BBC Parliament channel, dedicated last Thursday evening to Harold Wilson, a set of programmes which included a broadcast of Wilson`s final 1975 Conference speech as Prime Minister. The speech with its valedictory tone is worth watching for reasons summed up by Ben Pimlott as Wilson appears to forecast the tough times ahead for the Labour movement. Pimlott reminds us that by 1975 the Party was on the cusp of tearing itself apart, in the early stages of an existential crisis. Wilson`s speech is delivered in a perfunctory manner to a morose audience, a conference of beleaguered looking delegates. If only they knew what was around the political corner, perhaps then they would have been grateful for the deliverance of Labour`s 1974 manifesto. A programme which if not socialist, was certainly socially responsible, in the speech Wilson describing the 1974 manifesto as promoting a fairer, more democratic and socially just society, an agenda transforming Labour into the natural Party of government.  In the turbulent years ahead Labour would struggle to hold on to its position as the main party of opposition due to the threat posed by the newly formed SDP. It was interesting to hear Shirley Williams defend the Wilson legacy with such vigour last Thursday. One wonders what her `Orange Book` Liberal colleagues thought of her performance? Read more of this post

Thatcher and Thatcherism – by Eric J. Evans

LeftCentral Book Review 

© Image rahuldlucca`s photostream

This is a bantamweight text, which packs a super-heavyweight punch. And Evans, whose first edition was published fifteen-years ago, has revised his view; granting Mrs Thatcher more significance than he initially credited her with. Thatcherism is not considered a coherent ideology; Evans along with others believes it was (is) an amalgam of neo-liberalism and authoritarian conservatism. He charts Thatcher`s rise and fall, while placing her leadership within a political and historical framework (Peel and Disraeli). He includes a more contemporary analysis of Major`s administration, as John Major suffered from her back seat driving, as the Tories ripped themselves apart over Europe. Margaret Thatcher, who in 1986 signed the Single European Act, paradoxically became the standard bearer of European sceptics, illustrating what a funny world British politics is. As Evans points out the “Single European Act accelerated the process towards wider European integration, ultimately leading to the Maastricht Treaty in 1991 and the establishment of a single European currency in 1991”.

The New Labour project was not immune from Thatcherism and comparisons between Blair/Brown and Thatcher are made. Evans gives credence to a quote from the Spectator that “Margaret Thatcher begat Tony Blair”. Ireland is ignored by Evans and an interesting policy contrast between Blair and Thatcher was lost. Thatcher was viewed by many as a strident Unionist but she did sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and without this later initiatives by Major and Blair would have been impossible.  Read more of this post

Cameron and the Referendum Game

Tom McGuire 

copyrigh European Union 2012 Council Union

David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU last Wednesday morning promising Britain an in/out referendum on its membership of the EU. This referendum would come after the next election, and only if he does not succeed in changing the relationship as he hopes to over the coming months, and indeed years. This appeared to be a bold and surprising move from a Prime Minister usually averse to making his position so clear. Beneath the surface it was vintage David Cameron; the Prime Minister distilled into his purest form, in the shape of this one speech.

The promise of a referendum was that special type of promise: the David Cameron promise, the kind that upon closer inspection is nothing of the sort. Making any firm pledge on ‘when-I-win-the-next-election’ grounds is dubious for any politician; it is particularly problematic for David Cameron. With the Lib Dems withdrawal of support for boundary changes he seems increasingly unlikely to command an outright majority after 2015, having failed to win one in 2010 when it was his to lose. We have also seen the Prime Minister twist, turn and weasel his way out of a number of apparently firm positions on a variety of issues throughout his term of office. Most recently, most glaringly and most shockingly, when he overturned his prior assertion that he would adopt the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry if they were not ‘bonkers’. They weren’t, he didn’t, and tellingly nobody was remotely surprised. This is a man whose promises carry little weight, even by politicians’ standards. Read more of this post

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