The Labour Party kills satire

Kevin Higgins photoJohnny Cash famously spent a night in jail in Starkville Mississippi for picking flowers. The Labour Party has recently achieved a similar level of ludicrous overreaction by suspending the award winning Irish poet, Kevin Higgins, for writing a satirical poem.

Kevin is a renowned artist, whose work is discussed in Justin Quinn’s Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry. He is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events in Galway, Ireland. He has published five collections of poems: The Boy With No Face (2005), Time Gentlemen, Please (2008), Frightening New Furniture(2010), The Ghost In The Lobby (2014), & 2016 – The Selected Satires of Kevin Higgins.

His poems feature in Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010) and in The Hundred Years’ War: modern war poems (Bloodaxe, 2014).  He has regularly contributed poems on topical issues to publications such as The Morning Star, Socialist Unity and Harry’s Place. Kevin is satirist-in-residence with the alternative literature website The Bogman’s Cannon. The Stinging Fly magazine recently described Kevin as “likely the most widely read living poet in Ireland”.

He helped organise and edit the online publication ‘21 Poems, 21 Reasons To Choose Jeremy Corbyn‘ as part of last summer’s leadership election campaign, which included poems by a number of prominent UK & Irish poets.

Kevin explains the facts behind his suspension himself in this blog post. He has been suspended for “comments made on social media“, and received a letter from the head of compliance,, Katherine Buckingham, on 15th July. Kevin’s own understanding is that the “comments made on social media” referred to in Ms Buckingham’s letter are the sharing, see below, of three of his satirical poems lampooning Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents in the Labour Party.

The first poem is a satire about pro-war former Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn MP, which was first published in The Morning Star newspaper last December.

The second poem is a satirical re-write of the Bruce Springsteen song ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad‘, dedicated to right wing Labour MP for Mansfield, John Mann, who is most famous for chasing Ken Livingstone up some stairs in front of the media while shouting about Mein Kampf. ‘The Ghost of Miniscule John Mann‘ was published last summer on Ireland’s leading alternative literature website The Bogman’s Cannon.

The third poem was also published in The Morning Starnewspaper last summer, and it ridicules Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors, quite reasonably comparing them to a variety of discredited characters in British history.

There are serious issues at stake here of both freedom of speech and artistic integrity. In a period where events in the Labour Party invite satire, then a serious artist who has sought to expose the pomposity of professional politicians, and use the device of ridicule to make serious political points has been suspended from the party.

Administrative disciplinary measures intended to deal with threats and abuse on social media have been misapplied to protect professional politicians from criticism. Higgins, who has a long standing relationship with the Labour Party, and who clearly identifies with and advocates the ideals of democratic socialism consistent with the party’s politics and constitution, has been suspended for expressing critical views through poetry.

Frankly, this suspension is a disgrace, that risks bringing the party into disrepute.

  1. Think of those £3 Tory supporters who paid to vote for Jeremy, to destroy the party, won’t hey feel , hard done by having to pay another £25 to try to destroy it again, they’ll feel their £3 wasn’t worth it, and will be waiting till 2020 to see us destroyed

      • In the warped world of the Blairite imagination Corbyn only won the leadership because 10s of thousands of Tories signed up to the Labour Party.

        Sadly John’s judgement is as dodgy as Blair’s dossier.

    • I haven’t seen one local Tory on our CLP list of supporters, total fantasy I’m afraid. Hundreds of thousands pouring in to the Party to support Corbyn though, yes.

  2. John McDonnell should never have backed down on his original call to replace the infamous compliance unit with a procedure and process that was both more transparent and subject to the norms of natural justice (currently those suspended are not told of the reasons for the suspension or given the evidence against them and so must try and guess, basing a defence on that guesswork which could be entirely wrong, something which is also beyond satire). We now also have the Party General Secretary Iain McNichol who has cast off any remaining pretence of impartiality and is now clearly out of control, closing down CLP’s and suspending members for the flimsiest of reasons, or often for no reason at all. He increasingly reminds me of Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Death Star and loyal to the evil empire (New Labour) and Lord Vader (Blair). Mind you, that loyalty didn’t end well for him:

    • Is the point of the Party machine’s bizarre actions to intimidate, so that the eventual split is instigated by the left (by acts of defiance) and can thus be pronounced as a split away from the Party (leaving the Party intact for the PLP)?

      It’s a promising tactic given how unorganised the left are – McNichol et al keep prodding safe in the knowledge that beyond ‘support Jeremy’ the left has no strategy, plan or even tactics.

      • The Party machine is indeed running out of democratic control.

        But what to do after Jeremy is undoubtedly re-affirmed as leader in September ? We cannot carry on with a permanently sabotaging fully neoliberal PLP bloc , leading the majority of less totally neoliberal PLP Members by the nose. The Boundary changes give us the golden opportunity to deselect the main troublemakers. We must grasp that nettle with resolution.

        We also need to purge the Party machine of the saboteurs who currently run it – and also return policy formulation power to Annual Conference.

        I think your pessimism is utterly misplace . With determination we can cause the worst offenders of the Labour Right to leave, and end up with the biggest Left Party in Europe.

        • I hope McClusky can re-introduce mandatory reselection and whether the CLP’s choose to address the party members wishes or not, they will have no choice in the matter.

        • I sincerely hope my pessimism is misplaced. And if anyone comes up with a credible plan for dismantling and overhauling the Regional Office and Board structures (which feed power to Compliance) and for enacting McDonnell’s suggestion to dismantle the Compliance Unit operation (including the so-called Constitutional Unit), then I’m here reading and waiting to contribute. Until then, unfortunately, I’m saddled with pessimism.

          • The “credible Plan ” is surely for a Party of circa 700,000 , mainly of left oriented people , and a resolute attack, after Jeremy’s re-election on an even bigger mandate, on both the PLP worst offenders, and all other structures of the Party currently held by the Right. I don’t doubt our collective ability to do this.

            I don’t understand your pessimism at this time of unprecedented Left advance, John. The mere inevitable reality of a hard struggle ahead is surely something any socialist serious about transforming the Party should actually relish. I know I do.

          • You’re not wrong, John Walsh, to point out that until now the left has had little plan other than ‘support Jeremy’. The response shouldn’t necessarily be pessimism, though, but the drive to move beyond this. Even if there weren’t a leadership election, the left should be doing this anyway. Hopefully the upcoming struggle will provide the impetus needed.

  3. This is ridiculous. There’s one main reason for discipline, publicly supporting another political party. Humour or even invective, within ressonable grounds, is fine and all part of the colour and vibrancy of politics. Some of these modern authoritarianistas should look at how politics is played in other western democracies and stop being so precious and illiberal.

  4. Disrepute is often subjective, is in the eye of the beholder. The problem comes when the beholder has power.

    So we end up with #ChickenCoup, as it came to be known, and what seems to most on the left as a dereliction of duty by MP’s, when they focussed fire on internal Party matters rather than on a Tory party in disarray. This arguably brought the party into disrepute, particularly if one considers the low esteem politicians are held in already.

    This it would seem is of no concern to the compliance unit. Yet satirical poems or (so I have read) calling those who attempted to force Corbyn to resign ‘traitors’, brings about a suspension.

    The only answer is transparency, we need to know who made the decision and why, and perhaps a democratically elected panel to make such decisions. If this means a restructure of the bureaucracy then, just like boundary changes and MP’s, the vast increase in the size of the membership and the additional funds this brings presents the perfect opportunity.

  5. “Frankly, this suspension is a disgrace, that risks bringing the party into disrepute.”
    I can’t quite make my mind up if this final comment in the article above is meant to be a joke or not. The right wing elitists have already succeeded in bringing the party into disrepute and then some. they have proven themselves to be undemocratic, traitorous to the party members, dirty tricksters and liars. I would have thought that this is quite categorically evidence of their disrepute.

    A tear erupted down that face.
    As the socialist man he cried!
    They’d gagged and bound poor Kevin’s hand.
    But the mind it had not died!

    • There was a red poet from Galway
      Who looked at Labour MPs in dismay
      So he wrote a poem
      And thought that’ll show ‘em
      But Compliance his free speech did slay

      * I’ll get my coat *

        Luke the Nukes’s very last stand.
        The Neo-Liberal boot licker.
        He threw his rattle from the pram.
        With a whimp, a bump, and a flicker.
        The greatest mind in the Western World.
        Yet to be discovered.
        Then packed his bags in his glad rags.
        And we wondered why he bothered.
        Now go and read some left wing books!

  7. Excellent article Andy. A poet gets suspended for poetry, but still no action against Jess Phillips for her public death threat threat against Corbyn.
    Double standards.

    • Jess Phillips’ comment was obviously hyperbole. Keeping banging on about it makes one look silly and disingenuous.

      • It draws attention to the double standards and hypocrisy of the anti-Corbyn side.

      • obvious hyperbole, maybe, but the nature of her comments are of a similar nature to the abuses of social media that have led to other people being suspended from the party

        • Exactly, and if similar comments to those made by Phillips had been made by Corbyn supporters the person making them would have faced condemnation from right across the mainstream media and certain suspension from the ‘compliance unit’.

          • In football terms, if the right keep ‘diving’, the left can ‘dive’ too.

  8. The suspension of John Higgins from the Labour Party is reminiscent of Stalinism. Where does it end? Siberia I suppose.