A Toxic Environment

So after midnight. And bonfires are burning.
You may think that this is all about HATE. Turns out its ….CULTURE.

What exactly can Society do about it?
Well …nothing. Because its loyalist CULTURE and we are contractually obliged by the Good Friday Agreement (aka the Peace Process) to accept that loyalist culture is a good thing.

Priorities change. Serial LetsGetAlongerists agonise about the Environment. They burn tyres on these bonfires and thats very bad apparently. And apparently some of these bonfire builders actually put layers of grass downon the road so that the road surface wont be damaged while they burn Irish Flags and symbols and election posters and pictures of the Virgin Mary.
Thanks to Social Media, we now have a new tradition…photographing these symbols of HATE and putting the pics on Facebook and re-tweeting the pics on Twitter.

You have all seen them….the pics from Cavehill overlooking the City of Belfast. And the bonfires look strangely beautiful. But of course you cant actually hear the “F@@k the Pope” or see your National Flag in flames.
You have seen this years pics….from Bangor, Killyleagh, Portadown. The LetsGetAlongerists never seemed to mind too much when the posters were just SDLP and Sinn Féin (thats traditional) but they got worked up in 2014 when Anna Lo posters appeared on bonfires. This year, SDLP, SF, Alliance, Labour and very oddly “Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol” posters have been burned like medeival heretics.

All par for the course. Offended as I am by the burning of my National Flag, Offended as I am that election posters of democrats are burned, Offended as I am that posters with images of good decent people I call friends are on burned…the most disappointing thing is LetsGetAlongerists falling over themselves to find an excuse for this crap.
Can there really be a more depressing image than moderate Danny Kinahan MP (UUP) being photographed accepting a cheque for charity while standing in front of a bonfire with an Irish Flag on top.
A lot of people have a lot of time for Danny Kinahan but he lost friends today.

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The Labour Leadership Chicken Coup

If you are looking for anyone to blame for the chaos in the British Labour Party …look no further than Ed Miliband. By any standards, he was a decent bloke, a professional Islington type who landed a safe seat in the north of England. The defeat of his Blairite brother, David (also a Londoner witha safe northern seat) produced tension…David, probably more professional and charismatic but tainted by Blairism, went off in a huff to United States.

Labour lost the 2015 General Election. And certainly Ed was no asset. Especially with a vicious Tory media. I can forgive him losing the Election but he resigned with indecent haste….within days of the defeat.
I firmly believe that he deserted his troops. That is unforgivable.
With potential leaders like David Miliband and Ed Balls not even in Westminster, it was a shambolic four-person contest for Leader. Most people saw Yvette Cooper (Mrs Ed Balls) and Andy Burnham as the likely winner.
Cooper was too much of an “insider” (from a family of professional trade unionists, “advisor” in Labour HQ and of course married to a man who had the same career path). Burnham was more authentically working class, but vitriolic against Scottish Nationalists.
A third candidate, Liz Kendall was the ultra-Blairite and really only in the race to establish credentials as being in the first rank of six or eight big players in Labour…one for the future.
Few gave any thought that veteran left winger, Jeremy Corbyn might win. But they had overlooked the fact that the electorate included not just every rank and file Labour Party member…but thousands of “three pounders” who signed up as Labour supporters for the sole purpose of voting in the Leadership election. Predictably this included several thousand lefties who would vote for Corbyn. It also included several thousand people who detest the Labour Party and wanted to choose the worst possible Leader.
Of course opinions differed as to who the worst might be but it is still folly not to screen membership applications from Tories. And even bigger folly not to insist that new members serve at least a full year before being given crucial voting rights.

As the Leadership campaign unfolded, it became clear that Jeremy Corbyn might win. And he did…comfortably. The membership including the “three pounders” had analysed the crisis in the Labour Party differently from the Party establishment at Westminster.
To his credit, Andy Burnham decided to serve in Corbyn’s “shadow cabinet” and shamefully Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall (who has a higher opinion of her talents than I have) refused. Thus the plotting began immediately and Corbyn’s leadership was undermined right away.

The “Labour Left” is a strange thing. In any Parliament I have ever seen, there have been Labour back benchers who see it as their job to keep the Leadership of the Labour Party (even Labour Governments) honest. They are without ambition. They cant be bribed with the promise of a post in the Cabinet.
On the downside, they can be a bit messianic.
If you are the same age as me you might recall Ian Mikardo, Eric Heffer and the wonderful Joan Maynard, dubbed “Stalins Granny” but a formidable advocate of agriculture workers rights.
In 2016, you know of Jeremy Corbyn, Paul Flynn and Dennis Skinner “The Beast of Bolsover”. They are simply incorruptable.
The term usually deployed is “VETERAN Left Winger”. “Veteran” for two reasons. Their constituents have been electing them for decades. And at Westminster, where dominated by careerists, there are too few young left wingers.
Jeremy Corbyn or Liz Kendall? That question is already answered.
Paul Flynn or Jess Phillips?
Dennis Skinner or Stephen Kinnock?

The point is that in 2015, the Labour “establishment” under-estimated Jeremy Corbyn. They never expected him to stand for Leadership and certainly didnt expect to bedefeated by a man who has never shown any desire to leave the back benches. But …he won. And he wont be forgiven.
With no election due until 2020, it would have been reasonable to give Corbyn three years at the top. He could have re-moulded Labour as a Party with a “social conscience” rather than a Party of “social climbing” and been allowed the dignity of stepping aside for a new Leader, who might win a Westminster Election…a person untainted by a Blairit past or Blairite patronage.
But the knives were out from Day One.
The post-EU Referendum Coup against Corbyn was an act of cowardice, accurately dubbed “The Chicken Coup”…the co-ordinated resignations. But arguably, there is a pragmatic side that this Parliament may not run its full term and the election will be closer than thought. And of course, still time for Blairites to sieze back control.
But the most striking thing about the “plotters” is their cowardice.
Corbyn has the support of just 40 MPs and there are 170 MPs against Corbyn.
But the “three pounders” are back again. It is entryism and it is not very edifying. If it goes to the “membership” Corbyn will win. But only if he is on the ballot paper.

This is where it gets complicated.
Angela Eagle will be a candidate. I suspect she has advice that Jeremy Corbyn does not have to be on the ballot paper. If so, I suspect Eagle is an agreed candidate and none of the 170 plotters will oppose her. This means that she will be elected unopposed…which avoids a scenario where she gets (say) 35% of the vote and A N Other gets (say) 14% and spoiled votes (ie people writing in “Corbyn”) accounts for 51% of the votes.
This is of course no more than a device to convince people that Eagle is the overwhelming choice (sic).
But that means a hell of a lot of the plotters will be de-selected.

The point that people have missed is that the “Left” is now the moderate mainstream of the Labour Party.
You may be aware that in the 1980s Neil Kinnock, Labour Leader lambasted the Liverpool Council (then in the grip of Militant Tendency) as being a “a Labour Council…a Labour Council …hiring taxis to deliver redundancy notices” to its own employees. Shameful.
But did you know that the big issue at the Durham Miners Gala is a Labour Council….a Labour Council ….sacking its own Teaching Assistants and offering them their jobs back with a 25% reduction in wages.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke in support of the Teaching Assistants. The other man in the pic is David Lindsay, friend and blogger who arranged a meeting between Corbyn and the Teaching Assistants.
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Where are the plotters?
Perhaps Stephen Kinnock MP for a safe Welsh seat and heir to his father’s hereditary Welsh Windbag title) will take time off from advancing his career to condemn this Labour Council.

Labour dealt with the threat of Militant Tendency. It needs to deal with the Blairite Tendency. And…quickly.

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May And Loathsome

There is a lot of nonsense talked about life in 1950s and 1960s West Belfast. Nostalgia gives us a lot of clichés…”close knit communities”, “people who were the salt of the earth”, “give you the shirts off their backs” and “you could leave your front door open at night”.
It is all …half-true.
Occasionally there was a good old fashioned argument in the street. And I still remember the first time I heard the phrase “ya f@@@ing hoor” shouted across the narrow street. I had to ask my parents what the neighbours were talking about. Like most of the neighbours, my parents never took part in any unseemly activity. “They are only letting themselves down …in front of the Protestants…thats how they expect Catholics to act”.
Yet I remember the day that two women in their 30s …next door neighbpurs…fell out…over children.
I didnt notice the exact words used. But I recall my parents closing the front door and saying that “no woman should say that about another woman”.
It was about one woman having children and the other woman being childless. Like I say, I dont recall the exact words but it must have been pretty vicious. Certainly the women in the street turned against the woman who made the remark.
There is a taboo about the subject. Men…we dont ask questions. There are conversations we dont want to hear. At some point in his life every man will get a strange look or a kick in the shin as a gentle or forceful reminder that he has said the wrong thing.

So the fuss over what Angela Leadsom is alleged to have said (in a newspaper interview) about Tory Leadership rival, Theresa May is interesting. Seemingly Ms Leadsom suggested that as a mother of three children, she is better placed to be Prime Minister than Ms May, who has not been blessed with children.
Women are ourtaged. So are Men. Especially Men who back are Tory MPs who support Ms May.
As always, people talk about context.
As a Man, I cannot express an opinion as I have had too many kicks in the shin over the years.
A few points. Ms Leadsom says she was taken out of context. The Times (newspaper) has provided an audio recording. The journalist is a woman (yes its relevant because I dont think a male journo would go down that road or that a woman politician would have found it easy to raise the subject.
Either way, Ms Leadsom’s supporters say too much is being made of this.
And supporters of Ms May suggest that this adds to the charge sheet against Ms Leadsom.

The rise of Leadsom has been extraordinary. I had never really heard of her except in the context of her appointment as a junior Minister for Energy last year. I am not even sure I am spelling her name right.
She became one of the leaders of the LEAVE Campaign. Her emergence as the LEAVE candidate for Leader is due to good performances in the pre-Referenndum debates and the implosion of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
But there are more serious questions about Leadsom. There are allegations that she exaggerated her CV. She is a late convert to the LEAVE side. A big fan of Fox Hunting and not a fan of Gay Marriage.
In other words, a pretty average backwoods Tory MP who is already over-promoted. Prime Ministerial material? I dont think so.
Yet Theresa May has questions to answer. Even with a REMAIN victory and David Cameron holding on as Prime Minister, it was always likely that the next Tory Leader would be a showdown between Theresa May and George Osborne.
The LEAVE victory took Cameron and Osborne out of the equation.
And May became the REMAIN candidate…with a wider appeal to LEAVERS because she was largely AWOL during the campaign.

So the actual contest to be decided by 150,000 Tory members is between May (backed by 199 MPs) and Leadsom (88 MPs).Ex-Gove supporters (48 MPs) are more likely to support Leadsome.
With 60% of Tory members being LEAVERS, the temptation is to think that they will vote for Leadsome…but her lack of experience, general flakiness and no secret that Labour members fear May much more….could sway people to May.
The clumsy (at best) or vicious (at worst) comments about childlessness could be a very bad mistake.
May is a capable politician who is a REMAINER.
Leadsom is a pretty average MP who is a LEAVER.
Who is better placed to negotiate BREXIT from Europe?
Tories can be pragmatic. It looks like May.

But the fact is that the entire issue of having or not having children should be irrelevant. Thats what the REMAINERS are saying….now.
Yet two weeks ago REMAINERS were getting hysterical about people like me (one wife, two sons, two Daughters-in-Law and three (so far) grandchildren….that I was a disgrace because I voted LEAVE without thinking about the children.
Hypocrisy from REMAINERS?

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#We Are The 56

As I actually voted to LEAVE (EU Referendum) I cannot claim any membership of this “hashtag”. The percentage of voters in Norn Iron who voted REMAIN is 56 per cent.
I was at a SDLP organised meeting at the Wellington Park Hotel on Monday night. Unfortunately I had to leave early and so I cannot really present a report on “Brexit…what next?”

Suffice to say that SDLP did lead the REMAIN side in Norn Iron. Sinn Féin did not bother to register an interest to be part of the campaign. They have been historically opposed to “Europe” and decidedly lukewarm during the campaign itself. Clearly they could not motivate their troops.
I do not entirely go along with the narrative that nationalists have re-engaged with the political process. Nor do I entirely go along that this result is some kinda epiphany for moderate unionists in Norn Iron.
The REMAIN vote in (say) Derry would certainly be something of which SDLP can be proud….contrast that with the low turn out in SF-dominated West Belfast.
I was in eleven polling stations in West Belfast on the day of the Assembly Election. Sinn Féin “activists” were all over the constituency. In contrast I was at seven West Belfast polling stations on Referendum Day and hardly a soul around.

So credit to SDLP for leading that campaign. And credit that the campaign was won.
No doubt the Party feels very energised. Success has been thin on the ground for SDLP in recent years. A lot of people …Alasdair McDonnell, Mark Durkan, Claire Hanna, Colum Eastwood have a spring in their step.
Obviously they would all have preferred if “UK” had voted REMAIN.
For once I called things right. Few, if any in SDLP will admit to supporting the historical truth that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. It is no longer politically correct to utter such a phrase.
But what can I say?
I am delighted at a LEAVE vote in England…and a REMAIN vote in Norn Iron and of course Scotland.

Even if it is no longer acceptable to say “Englands difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”, it might be possible to say that “when Life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

So while my SDLP colleagues continue the campaign, they might at least consider there is some merit in that thought.

“Events dear boy….Events ” (Harold McMillan allegedly) but the only way the current dynamic in Norn Iron can be changed is thru an “event”.  Maybe the thing that is the difference between Politics and History is “Events”. Thus the great event of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998  set a course. It has not worked out well for nationalism in general and SDLP in particular.

DUP and Sinn Féin are joined at the hip…benefitting from institutionalised sectarianism …a one party state …a coalition where SF is a very junior partner. And as the most recent Assembly Election has shown, nationalists have lost faith.

Nationalism needs a new event. Such as Brexit. And SDLP needs a new event. Such as Brexit.

SDLP has looked relevant in the last two weeks. More relevant than at any time in the last ten years. The Party is on the right side of History and led a coalition outside the narrow Party structure.

The SDLP mobilised its allies in the Irish political world. Calling for a joint “Irish” approach , before Sinn Féin jumped on the bandwagon. Mobilising European social democratic contacts while SF could only make shrill noises about the fate of Norn Iron being in the hands of English Tories….but didnt SF hand over “welfare” to Westminster.

Sinn Féin looks to be caught on the hop.

But SDLPs nominal allies at Westminster …the British Labour Party is imploding. It has already lost Scotland and the north of England will follow unless Labour gets its act together. The most effective Opposition Party in Westminster is the Scottish Nationalists….Alex Attwood reminds us constantly….so no coincidence that Stephen Gethins MP (SNP) was the big name at todays SDLP event at the MAC in Belfast.

SNP has the numbers (54 MPs at Westminster) and SDLP (3 MPs at Westminster) certainly need them onside. On the other hand Scotland (a region of the “UK”) needs Ireland (a member of the EU) as an ally. And SDLP is the bridge. There is a natural coalition.

The British Labour Party  are extremely unreliable allies and while some “progressives” will see a need for SDLP to maintain links to fellow socialists….Labour, whether on Welfare, Foreign Policy is not nearly as “socialist” as SNP.

Mark Durkan gets it right…again.

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As I have said before SDLP and SNP are natural allies. And few SDLP people (post-Sunningdale or post Good Friday Agreement) have any respect for British Labour….Whether Merlyn Rees, Roy Mason, Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain…..what exactly do SDLP owe Labour. They have stabbed SDLP in the back in two centuries.

Watching those apologists for Tony B Liar today….the retired courtiers like Falconer, Straw, Campbell, ….do you trust them? Do you trust Angela Eagle, Yvette Cooper, Jess Phillips, Liz Kendall, Stephen Kinnock?

The big thing about Brexit is that it produces a re-allignment in Politics. This is an opportunity.

The only concern that I have is that SDLP have sat around wanting an “event”…. wanting something to happen …that they might not actually reacognise it when it happens.

 

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Felix Longoria

I was watching a drama-documentary on President Lyndon B Johnson on Sky-Atlantic last night. Called “All The Way”. It starred Bryan Cranston in the title role.
I was 11 years old and already interested in politics when LBJ became President of the United States after President John F Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
After the charismatic Kennedy, LBJ would always seem disappointing.
More so, as I got more interested in politics, the Johnson years would be depressing. The Summer of Love (1967), the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Vietnam and Race Riots are the legacy.
Yet that in retrospect is unfair on Johnson’s first term which was marked by the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
I dont think LBJ gets enough credit.
An “accidental President”, he was a southerner (from Texas) but outside the “Deep South” where segregation was rampant. While Kennedy was in favour of Civil Rights, I dont know if a Massachusetts liberal could really have delivered it. Of course Kennedy’s death did provide some sympathy and goodwill to his successor but it was Johnson who had to negotiate Civil Rights legislation thru Congress in the face of the good ole boys in the Dixiecrat wing of the Democrat Party.
He succeeded.
Yet LBJ…the folksy occasionally profane cowboy is constantly in the shadow of Kennedy.

Three years ago, I went to Texas…a city called San Marcos about half way between Austin and San Antonio. It is a “college town”, home of Texas State University and alma mater of Lyndon Johnson.
It is an unusual part of Texas…hill country, a liberal oasis in a conservative State, it was actually had some Union sympathies during the American Civil War.
I went there, knowing little about LBJ beyond what I had seen on TV screens in the 1960s.

But in San Marcos, there is a Johnson Boulevard and a small museum…and a statue in the grounds of TSU.
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But there was always a doubt in my mind about LBJ. Just how sincere was he about Civil Rights. The museum tells the story of Felix Longoria…a young man from Texas killed in the Pacific in World War Two. His repariated body could only be buried in a “Mexican” cemetry in his home town. It came as a shock to me to realise just how much anti-hispanic prejudice was officially tolerated in Texas in the late 1940s. LBJ, then a US Senator was instumental in having Felix Longoria buried in the Arlington Military Cemetry.
I think this speaks volumes for President Johnson having the right instincts.

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“Mock The Week” Or “Mock The Weak”?

American readers will be unfamiliar with the BBC panel show “Mock The Week”. It is a faux quiz chaired by Irish comedian, Dara O’Briain with two teams of three comedians who comment on the main news items of the week.
Comedy is a serious business.
A healthy Democracy needs a safety valve. Comedians have a licence to lampoon governments. Indeed lampooning governments pre-dates Democracy and a wise King would have known that tolerating humourous dissent was a good thing.
I like Comedy. I like Words.
Back in the 1950s/1960s comedians were effectively “establishment” BBC figures….Ted Ray, Arthur Askey, etc…essentially relics from the variety circuit, pre WW2 end of the pier shows and of course (BBC) Radio. Beneath the cheek was deference. The Second World War ushered in a new breed…the Goons, Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock, Tommy Cooper and the rest who replaced the “Old Guard”. But still “establishment”.
The permissive years at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s saw people search for a moral compass…and a nastier breed of comedian, Jim Davidson, Mike Reid, Bernard Manning was unleashed. By todays standards they are rightly deemed sexist, racist and homophobic.
Somehow within a decade, we DID find a moral compass and such acts were swept aside in a wave of political correctness.
But the revolutionaries of the early 1980s….Alexei Sayle, Adrian Edmondson, French and Saunders, Lenny Henry, Stephen Fry are now old people.
But there has been a steady stream of comedians …a conveyor belt…some are now in their 40s, some in their 30s, some in their 20s. …it just keeps rolling. But rather like Ted Ray and Arthur Askey were establishment figures in the 1960s, increasingly Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry (ooops “Sir” Lenny Henry) look like establishment figures in 2016.
Alternative Comedy claims direct descent from The Goons, via Beyond the Fringe, via Monty Python, via the Young Ones to wherever we are today. Nobody claims descent from the discredited years of the early 1970s.
Yet maybe the political correctness which was established in the 1980s is under attack from a new breed who actually are more vicious than Bernard Manning ever was.
Political Correctness…one of the great achievements in my lifetime is now itself under attack. The very phrase is a form of abuse and not just on the Fux News Channel.

It used to be the role of the Media to speak Truth to Power…to hold the politicians to account. But then the Media became more powerful than the politicians and despite Leveson, nobody seems capable of holding the Media to account. Indeed the Media would claim that nobody has a right to hold them account.

The role of holding Politics and Media to account seems to have fallen to Comedy. But what happens when the Comedians are too powerful. Who holds them to account?

Twenty-five years ago, Comedy was hailed as the new Rock and Roll. Ah…I remember Rock and Roll. Or at least the 1960s version. To be honest, it was pretty good. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons….and later Credence Clearwater Revival and the Eagles.

But to be even more honest, what came after the “golden years” wasnt that great. The Rubettes, the Glitter Band, Showaddywaddy…..need I say more?

Same with Comedy. There is actually too much Comedy on TV and new faces are on screen every year…all working their way up  thru “8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown”, “Have I Got News For You”, “Mock the Week” to the cerebral credibility of a guest spot on “QI”. Actually it is all careerist…university, open mic, Edinburgh Festival, the comedy clubs, headhunted for TV, some TV spots, more TV, even more TV, adverts for credit cards and a sit-com and presenting a documentary on endangered wild life….and the Great British Bake Off.

There are just too many comedians. How else can Roisin Conaty, Josh Widdicombe and that Australian guy be explained?

But have Comedians just got too powerful. I watched “Mock the Week” last night….in the week that the news was dominated by the EU Referendum and the fall-out. By any standards a rich seam of Comedy to be mined.

Not surprisingly Dara O’Briain teased the panelists and audience by waving his Irish passport. Yet the programme left me cold.

In a rare example of me calling things exactly right, I blogged here before the Referendum that the campaign was being waged by the “Sophisticated” (REMAIN) and the “UnSophisticated” (LEAVE).

The “Sophisticated” include the Bankers, the Young, the Graduates, the Academics, the Metropolitans…..and Britain’s Comedians.

The fact that the Referendum result was 52-48 in favour of LEAVE (and a wider margin within England) should not be overlooked. The “Mock the Week” audience did not reflect this. Nor did the panel.

Forget all the divisions that the Referendum exposed….national, regional, age, education….the key one is CLASS. Dress it up any way you like and its still CLASS. The working class up north voted LEAVE and they wont easily be forgiven by the Sophiticated class that knows better.

I am ….as you  know ….a pretty damned sophisticated person. And yet I offended my sophisticated friends by actually voting LEAVE.

Yet I am still offended by the notion that nearly all public discourse following the Referendum result is dominated by the patronising notion that those who voted LEAVE were the victims of lies….or we are just stupid or racist…..or have sabotaged the future of young people.

“Mock the Week” panelists  followed that lazy narrative, supported by an audience that would cheerfully have lynched a senior citizen from Sunderland if he had wandered into the room.

Much as I like “Mock The Week” …I prefer it when it is mocking somebody who is not me.

There is of course one very nasty aspect to the fall-out from the Referendum…Racism on the LEAVE side.
But I would go further and say that there is a nasty aspect to the REMAIN side,a sense of Superiority. They simply (in their own view) have a higher IQ than those who voted LEAVE. It is not an edifying spectacle.
And it is counter-productive.
Does it matter?
Yes it does…because this is not unique to England.
John Oliver does much the same in USA…he is a former panelist on “Mock The Week”. His pro-EU rant is very unpleasant.
And on Facebook we see clips of shows from Noah Somebody and Samantha Somebody-Else. They are funny and more importantly rarely wrong.
Yes they are part of the liberal elite but targetting the Republican Party, Donald Trump, National Rifle Association, Bill O’Reilly and that Westboro Church is entirely legitimate…but targeting the less articulate, less educated in American society is a bit elitist.

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Born On 10th May

Is it really a coincidence that John Willes Booth (who assassinated President Lincoln) and James Earl Ray (who assassinated Martin Luther King) were both born on 10th May.

People born on 10th May are probably on some kinda “watch list”. This would include me…..and Bono. But one of us is completely harmless.

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