In the 2010 Labour leadership election, Labour faced a choice between two Miliband brothers, with David offering polished Blairism and Ed offering a soft-Left alternative. With the backing of trade unions, Ed narrowly won. The early days of his leadership were suggestive of a marked break with New Labour. He condemned “predatory capitalism”, with calls for limits to executive pay and controls on the excesses of the financial industry; under his leadership, he said, Labour would reform capitalism, building what he called “responsible capitalism”. But as Miliband’s leadership progressed, and under pressure from the Right of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), he became more cautious and more reactionary, with Labour going into the 2015 general election committed to austerity, pandering to right-wing anti-immigration rhetoric, and without a clear vision of the sort of society it would build. In the election post-mortem, Labour elites blamed defeat on Miliband being too left-wing. As the 2015 leadership election commenced, the most left-wing mainstream candidate, Andy Burnham, launched his campaign from the offices of Ernst & Young (the global accountancy firm) to demonstrate his “pro-business” credentials. And under Harriet Harman’s post-election stewardship, Labour made the cowardly decision to abstain on a draconian Welfare Bill. After decades of moving to the Right, and in the context of ever more brutal austerity, it looked like Labour would respond by shifting to the Right yet again. Continue reading →
In a momentous day for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Left, the High court ruled that 126,000 new members have a legal right to vote in the leadership election, just hours before the NEC elections delivered six Momentum and CLGA-backed candidates to fill the six CLP seats on Labour’s ruling body.
The court ruling, delivered by Justice Hickinbottom, was made in favour of five new party members who argued their denial of a right to vote was a breach of contract, as membership had been advertised on the party website as giving people a vote in subsequent leadership elections. A six-month freeze date had been set for January 12, preventing members of less than six months, from voting, by the NEC. Continue reading →
In his recent response on Owen Jones’ article ‘Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer‘, James Elliott, while critical of Jones’ approach, took his questions seriously and undertook to address them. He also referred to an essay by Paul Mason (Labour: the way ahead) which is discussed briefly in the notes below. Much ground is covered in this 5000 word piece so this short commentary will only touch on some of the key points.
Mason is trying to help Labour to develop analyses and strategies which, by implication, he sees as missing. The essay is therefore an implicit but positive criticism of the point to which Labour has come in the first year of the new leadership. Mason is clearly not an apologist for the Labour leadership. He disagrees with some of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics and even describes the Corbyn leadership as “at times shambolic”. But these criticisms are made in passing and are not at all the focus of the essay. Continue reading →
On Saturday 6th August the Guardian carried an article by house-journalist Jonathan Freedland entitled ‘Corbyn can’t dismiss the importance of MPs. On Brexit, they’re centre stage.’ The aim of the article was to expose the absurdity of the anti-Parliamentary stance of the “Corbynistas”. On the slightest examination, however, Freedland’s argument falls apart exposing the vapidity his idea of parliamentary democracy.
Ralph Milliband (father of Ed and David) wrote, in his book Parliamentary Socialism, that of parties around the world calling themselves socialist, Labour was the most dogmatic. That dogmatism, he explained, was not about socialism but about Parliament. Labour thinking has always been captivated, and captured, by Parliament. The same is true of our liberal commentariat. The primacy of Parliament has the status of holy writ. To question that is to cross the line between sane political reasoning and the madness of political sects. Continue reading →
Last night saw the first of six TV debates between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. The challenger repeatedly tried to present himself as equally radical and principled as Corbyn, with phrases such as “good old-fashioned socialist policies”, and only choosing to differ his policy offer from Corbyn’s on the issue of Trident. This has been part of Owen Smith’s campaign strategy from the beginning, quietening his past as a Blair sympathiser and corporate lobbyist and overstating his socialist credentials in order to appeal to a supposed ‘soft left’ flank within Corbyn’s support. As Smith listed policies he agreed with Corbyn on, the incumbent simply quipped, “Then why did you resign?” Continue reading →
When the Rio Olympics begin tonight beyond the glitz and the glamour of the opening ceremony spectacle there will be popular protests right across the city. It was the same at London 2012 and the Vancouver Winter Games of 2010. Throughout the build up to both Sochi 2014 and Beijing 2008 there were global protests to force attention on LGBT discrimination and human rights issues in host countries Russia and China. But of course once the gold medal rush began the protests and concerns were almost universally marginalised. I suspect it will be more or less the same with Rio.
How do we manage to both enjoy and celebrate sport while maintaining some basic principles of equality and solidarity? Perhaps what we need is a political culture that takes sport seriously – what we do with Philosophy Football mixing sport and culture is one brave and audacious attempt to do precisely that, and the recently formed Momentum Football is another – rather than treating it simply as a suitable add on for photo opportunities and celebrity endorsements of this issue or that.
For an idea of what might be possible a useful starting point would be to revisit the 1930s. This was of course the era of the rise of Mussolini and Hitler. Mussolini put great emphasis on football as the means of portraying his idealised fascist nation, Italy hosted and won the 1934 World Cup and retained the trophy four years later too at France ’38 on the eve of war. But it is Hitler’s Berlin Olympics of 1936 which are most widely remembered for the clash of political ideology and sporting spectacle. The four gold medals won by black American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens of course have come to symbolise the way sport can subvert an intended political message to devastating effect. But what scarcely gets mentioned is the widespread efforts of both the International Olympic Committee to make a positive case for the Nazi regime to host the Games in order to head off calls to boycott Berlin. Much of this lobbying was done by notorious anti-Semite Avery Brundage who went on to become the President of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972. This is the history the Olympic movement would prefer remained hidden.
But the 1930s was also the era of the Popular Front. A political culture that extended way beyond traditional definitions of activism. Inspired by both the example of the 1917 Russian Revolution and the rising threat of fascism the Popular Front embraced literature – the Left Book Club – poetry, art, perhaps most famously Picasso and Miro, music – including Benjamin Britten, the festive and the celebratory as well as the militancy of street protests, notably in 1936,Cable Street. And sport played its part too.
The Spanish Republican government took a political decision to boycott the Berlin Games. They correctly judged that with the Olympic movement barely interested in putting up any opposition Berlin would become a platform for Hitler and Goebbels to sanitise and propagandise for Nazism. Jesse Owens notwithstanding, they were proved absolutely correct. However this was no ordinary boycott. The Spanish government pledged to host a People’s Olympiad in the Republican stronghold of Barcelona with over 6,000 athletes from across the world taking part. Timed to take open just a few weeks before Berlin this would have been a powerful example in practice of a sporting internationalism vs the racialisation of sporting endeavour the Nazis were seeking to promote. Then, on the eve of the opening ceremony, Franco launched his murderous assault on the Spanish Republic, the country was plunged into civil war and the Games cancelled. Most athletes were forced to leave though some chose to stay and join the International Brigades in their fight for Spain’s land and freedom.
The point about Barcelona ’36 is that it didn’t happen in isolation. Other ‘alternative’ Games included Czechoslovakia’s 1924 National Gymnastics Festival organised by the Workers Gymnastics and Sports Association, the first Workers’ Olympics in Frankfurt 1925, Moscow’s Spartakiad of 1928, the Vienna Workers’ Olympics of 1931, a second Spartakiad of 1933 organised by the Red Sport International, the third and final Workers’ Olympics, Antwerp 1937. And there were alternative Women’s Olympics too, four in all: 1922 Paris, 1926 Gothenburg, 1930 Prague and 1934 London.
It’s almost impossible to imagine anything of this scale of imagination and purpose today. Jules Boykoff in his brilliant new political history of the Olympics, Power Games, has a novel explanation of why such an alternative model of sport is so important rather being being simply, if necessarily, against this and that. He describes the Olympics, and other global sporting spectacles such as football’s World Cup, as ‘celebration capitalism’ juxtaposing this to Naomi Klein’s theorisation of ‘disaster capitalism’. For the duration of Rio we will be treated over and over again to the Olympian maxims of inspiration, regeneration and participation. Huge public and material investment in infrastructure and Gold Medal-winning performances to celebrate what, and benefit whom? To state this is to engage with a popular common sense, not to moan and whinge about what Rio 2016 or London 2012 fail to achieve but to be inspired by Barcelona ’36 to shape a better sporting culture for all.
Philosophy Football’s Barcelona ’36 T-shirt is available from Philosophy Football
At this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala. GMB General Secretary, Tim Roache.
“If we had had any of the other three candidates last year, we would have continued to lose all the millions of voters we have lost over the years.
[Jeremy Corbyn] offers us an alternative, He offers us proud trade unionism. He offers us one movement. He offers us the link between the trade union and the Labour Party, and the political influence that that gives us. So, let’s back him, let’s get behind him, let’s give workers that united voice that we need”.
So if you are a GMB member, vote in GMB’s consultative ballot on who the union should support, let’s follow Tim’s advice and vote for Corbyn.
Vote with your head, and your heart.
Electoral politics, especially in a two-horse race or First Past the Post system, is perhaps politics in its crudest form. They can lead us to uncritical cheerleading, to the politics of ‘lesser evilism’, and putting-up while shutting-up, rather than making nuanced arguments, offering critical support, or demanding policies that are not yet on the table. Resisting this ‘with us or against us’ mindset under Ed Miliband was what brought the Labour Left in from the wilderness, staking out our opposition to austerity, to the legacy of Iraq, and arguing for another way forward for the left. It is in that spirit of rigorous debate and criticism on the left that two articles this weekend, by prominent Labour-supporting (indeed, Corbyn-supporting) journalists, are to be welcomed. Continue reading →
It was with wry amusement when I read in yesterday’s Telegraph that “senior figures” in the Labour Party (all anonymous, of course) are working through the possibility of usurping the front bench and laying legal claim to the party’s name and assets should Citizen Smith fail in his leadership bid. The paper says that they plan to set up their own alternative shadow cabinet to challenge the Tories and, via parliamentary chicanery, get the Speaker to designate them the official opposition.
Colour me sceptical. Advocates of this shadow shadow cabinet were all over the media last Autumn and Winter saying they were going to do this, and it didn’t happen. Far from offering a credible opposition to the Tories over and above the ‘official’ shadcab’s efforts, they instead took the easy route and spent most of the last year moaning to the media. An approach unlikely to win them many friends among long-standing members practiced at shutting up in the name of party unity. And if indeed they have been offering proper opposition, from outside the Westminster echo chamber there was no sign whatsoever it cut through. Continue reading →
The psychiatric wards of Brezhnev’s USSR were littered with dissidents held to be suffering from serious psychotic disorders, simply because their political opinions were not in line with those of the regime.
We British are far too genteel to do that kind of thing. Our preferred modus operandi is media insinuation, as witnessed in Alastair Campbell’s noxious black briefing campaign against the ‘psychological flaws’ of Gordon Brown, back in 1998.
Now Corbyn’s critics are in on the act, with the New Statesman running a long piece by Martin Robbins under the ostensibly incisive headline of Jeremy Corbyn and the paranoid style. Continue reading →