Wednesday, 3 August 2016

'Rebel Alliance'? Corbyn turns to the Dark Side...

A week ago today, Cambridge Green Party hosted an event to start a dialog on the formation of a ‘progressive alliance’. This is something that has been promoted again recently by Green MP and Green Party leader candidate Caroline Lucas, and is something that has been taken up by party as a whole. Similar events are being held by other local parties, and technical motions have been proposed for the autumn party congress to iron out the practicalities should this idea be pursued.

Our event in Cambridge was very well attended; the venue was filled with activists and councillors from Labour, Lib Dem and Greens, as well as people of no party affiliation – in some cases attending a ‘political’ meeting for the first time. There was even an ex-MP from Hungary who had real-world experience in serving in such a cross-party political alliance. The meeting was extremely positive, and even those, like myself, a little dubious about forging such an alliance, left the meeting with a real feeling of optimism for the first time since the brexit vote and its disastrous aftermath.

The only local ‘progressive’ group that wasn’t represented on the night was Momentum. They wanted to concentrate on Corbyn’s election campaign, they said.

Then today, in an interview given in Brighton, Corbyn ruled out such an alliance, stating that even in Brighton Pavilion, what is by definition the first Green Party safe seat held by Caroline Lucas, Labour would fight to unseat her.

Many in the Green Party have supported Corbyn, seeing him as the first opposition leader in a long time that we can actually work with. On countless occasions, whether it be at CND marches, Stop the War, People’s Assembly or other such protests, Lucas and Corbyn have literally stood side-by-side. They have often gone through the lobbies together, supporting each other’s parliamentary motions. It’s no secret that some Greens have defected to Labour to support a progressive, albeit socialist, platform.

It’s also well known that the Green Party vote share in certain parts of the country, Cambridge being one, was decimated due to what our canvassers termed ‘The Corbyn Effect’. A combination of his re-engagement with the disenfranchised Labour core and a sympathetic reaction against his vilification at the hands of the press served to swing a lot of our voters to Labour – even when the local party and MP do not support him.

So it would seem that Corbyn, buoyed by a groundswell of public support, has decided that he no longer needs the Greens – and instead he means nothing less than to wipe our party off the map. So instead of working with Labour, we’ll be standing once again to oppose them, this time fighting for the very existence of the party. We’ll have to lay aside all our common causes to emphasise our differences, why we are Green and not Red, and why people should vote for us and not Labour – or whatever it is called after the inevitable schism.

Perhaps we can still forge an alliance with the SNP and Plaid – and locally uniting with the Lib Dems to unseat Labour in favour of Julian Huppert (who in fact more closely supports Green policies than the current Labour incumbent) may still be an option. But from this point forward a ‘labour’ party with Corbyn at its head no longer looks favourable for the pursuance of progressive, sustainable Green politics in England.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Tories out! Corbyn in?

I went to the emergency demo in London yesterday, organised by the People’s Alliance and Stand Up to Racism, entitled ‘No More Austerity, No to Racism, Tories Out.' We ran a subsidised bus from Cambridge from our local SUTR group.

There weren’t many Greens in evidence, and as the demo went on I felt more and more uncomfortable with the whole thing. Before the start, chants were practiced, but as well as the usual pro-refugee and anti-racist chants, were ones explicitly for Corbyn.

This isn’t unusual and as at other recent protests, there was a big Momentum presence. But the difference this time was that the chants were being initiated by SUTR and PA. A lot of the placards had nothing to do with the published aim of the protest, and everything to do with Corbyn.

I walked the protest route carrying a PA placard, mostly with my union (UCU) as I lost the Cambridge group – there were 4-5,000 people on the demo. I was at the front of the march when it reached Parliament Square for the rally.  The first speaker was a Labour councillor, which was fine, until the talk became all about Corbyn and his message to everyone on the demo.

And that’s when I walked off.

I’m not a member of the Labour Party. I do feel strongly about the disgusting treatment that Corbyn has received from the BBC/MSM and his own parliamentary party, but aside from the wider issues of media bias, corruption and attack on democracy – and how these impact on all our lives and politics - I’m not involved. There are reasons why I’m not a Labour member and the current mess illustrates many of them.

I went on that demo to support the aims laid out in the title, not to campaign for one of the candidates in the upcoming Labour leadership election.

Both UAF/SUTR and PA are supposed to be non-partisan organisations. David Cameron is a member of UAF(!); the Green Party are signatories to the People’s Alliance charter. If these organisations morph into another manifestation of Momentum then people from other parties (and none) will feel excluded.

The Green Party is currently being encouraged to start work building a ‘progressive alliance’, but this looks increasingly less likely to get off the ground if the groups that we have supported and campaigned alongside in the past are explicitly backing one part of the Labour Party, and using joint protests and actions as a vehicle to campaign for that part.

Obviously if the Labour Party adopted the policies that Corbyn supports, they would be much closer to the Greens and so it would be easier to campaign alongside them. But it's not up to the Greens to choose the next Labour leader, and if we're asked to support a demo, it shouldn't be with an ulterior motive. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Vote Remain - to save our society

Dear friends and followers,

I'm writing this blog entry as a letter to you all, personally, as the choice that faces our country this week is one that may have shocking consequences for our society and we all have a responsibility to ensure that we don't throw away all the progress we have made in recent years. We cannot sit idly by while our society is surrendered to the politics of division and hate. 

The country was shocked and appalled by the murder of Jo Cox MP. That event has changed the EU debate, and despite any attempt to the contrary, this referendum will pass into history as resulting in the assassination of an MP who campaigned for Remain and was an outspoken advocate for refugees.

As I write this, right wing Leave campaigners and the press are spinning the ‘mentally ill loner’ narrative as they always do when a terror suspect is ‘the wrong colour’.  What is undeniable at this time is that this was a political assassination. Witnesses heard the perpetrator shouting ‘Britain first’ and when the suspect appeared in court, he refused to give any other name than ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.’

Any mention of the name of Jo Cox in relation to the campaign is being jumped on as poor taste or making political capital from a tragedy. But this was a political act of terrorism, and this MP died for her beliefs. If anything, surely her voice should continue to be heard and those figures from all sides of the debate who eulogized her so well must listen again to her point of view and truly recognize what she stood and ultimately died for.

It was a political act, and the reticence in recognizing this fact in the UK is not being reflected in other parts of the world and in foreign media – French and Spanish news media made the link immediately. It has also been acknowledged by foreign political figures; surely the most loathsome of these is Marine le Pen. Le Pen, who was invited to the UK by former UKIP MEP (and now ally in the EU parliament) Janice Atkinson for the Vote Leave campaign, sought to justify the murder.

The #Brexit campaign has been quite deliberately focused by UKIP and then Vote Leave on one issue – immigration. The rhetoric has been unrestrained, UKIP continuing to plumb new depths and being quite explicitly, unashamedly, racist. A poster was revealed by Nigel Farage just before Jo Cox was attacked – a poster that has been widely condemned and even reported to the police for inciting racial hatred. It bears an uncanny resemblance to actual Nazi propaganda footage. Yet Farage defends his campaign and continues to be feted by the press and broadcast media as if this was normal and perfectly acceptable.

UKIP has done this in order to capture the votes of an aging demographic, both old-fashioned Tories and alienated traditional Labour voters. It has fostered a myth of mass migration – and it is a myth – that once internalized becomes part of the identity of their supporters. No amount of facts will ever convince such true believers to change their opinions, as it quite simply is no longer an opinion. It is no coincidence that UKIP get most of their support in places where the proportion of migrants is far below the national average – the believer has no personal experience of the issues they claim are the perfectly rational justification of their standpoint.

In the past week there was a man from North London on Question Time who said that he was unable to get a doctor’s appointment, yet all the GP surgeries in his neighbourhood - including one only a few hundred yards from his front door – are advertising for patients to sign up. On the Today programme, Leave voters from Sunderland quoted the same tropes, but when challenged admitted that they themselves had never experienced any of these problems. “It’s not here, it’s down south,” they said.  On another day, Today interviewed factory workers on a production line down south in Dover. One woman repeated the same arguments, almost verbatim. But when the interviewer pointed out that the man next to her was from Latvia, she said. “Oh it’s not the workers that are here now – they’re brilliant – it’s the others.”

The myth has been internalized to the point that it has become a defining factor in the believer’s own concept of identity. It is a fundamental truth that cannot be contradicted even when shown to be false. At best, when presented with the truth, the believer will experience a kind of cognitive dissonance before abandoning all pretense of reasoned argument to return to an emotional justification for their position.

This is at the heart of the disdain for ‘experts’ and facts that has been popularized recently by the Leave campaign. As independent expert opinions come out in favour of Remain, the facts they present are no longer engaged with or even argued against – they are simply dismissed and ignored. The very qualifications of the authorities in these fields is used as a justification to doubt their credibility.

There is real fear about what will happen if Leave wins and the far right takes that win as a mandate and justification. We have already seen a resurgence in racist attacks across the country (not ten minutes ago as I write this, a group of Asian men were verbally abused in the street outside my house). Last week when I was campaigning for Remain, a Polish man was too afraid to put a poster in his window – in central Cambridge.

This referendum was never about the EU. It began as an election pledge by Cameron, the sole purpose being to unite his party and claim back votes from UKIP. It very quickly became a vehicle for a coup within the party. Opportunists - some of whom in the past had been in favour of the EU – used the campaign to their own ends. UKIP has always exploited xenophobia and a fake nostalgic jingoism, and were allowed by a ratings-hungry BBC and the right-wing press to set the agenda. The official Leave campaign was then forced to follow suit. All the while, pro-immigration parties, such as the Green Party, were not even allowed a party political broadcast.

Quite simply, the referendum on Thursday is about the future of British society, and how we relate to each other and the world. The progress we have made even in my own lifetime in equality, in human rights, in building a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society has been extraordinary. Now through the vanity of some and the bigotry of others, we stand on the very precipice, in real danger of throwing this all away, gifting political and cultural power to fascism and hate, in some twisted parody of history replayed.

There are perfectly good reasons why some of you would vote for Lexit – and if this referendum was truly about these issues I would be seriously considering how to vote. But the referendum was never about the EU, and now in the week of the vote, the issues have been simplified - what kind of society do you want to live in?

Which Britain do you want to wake up in on Friday morning?

So I’d ask you first of all to MAKE SURE that you vote on Thursday as every single vote will count, and I would also ask you to vote Remain even if you have to hold your nose to do it. The future of this country is at stake, and if Leave wins, there will be no way back.

Thank you for your time.

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Hateful Eight - Review


This review is of the Roadshow presentation at the Odeon Leicester Square – and there are spoilers in Part Two below – so if you haven’t seen it yet, skip that section below!

A lot has been said about Tarantino’s use of Panavision for this film, but perhaps the most important thing you need to realize is that the aspect ratio is practically impossible to bring down even to widescreen format – just look at the way films like It’s a Mad….World or Ben Hur were re-shot (using projectors), with the frame cropped or having bizarre panning across the frame – if you want to see this film (and it is a film, not a digital file) then you have to go and see it at a cinema.

Some people have criticized the use of this format for what is in effect a three-act theatrical play. In the past the screen was used to show enormous vistas or blockbuster sets with literal casts of thousands. In Hateful Eight for example, there is an extended scene with four characters cramped up inside a stagecoach. But the use of the camera here and in the rest of the film is brilliant. You are brought into the action in such a way that it is easy for you to get involved with the characters, and makes what happens later all the more shocking.

Example – In the second part of the film a stagecoach draws up to Minnie’s Haberdashery, a coach stop literally in the middle of nowhere. The co-driver, Six-Horse Judy, jumps down and puts her head through the coach window to welcome the passengers. The entire screen is the window, and as she smiles and talks to the passengers, she is talking directly to the audience.

Tarantino does act as The Narrator on a couple of occasions, but really the narrator is the camera. He uses it to lock in the viewer, to direct the gaze, in precisely the same way a writer switches between characters in a book to show their relative points of view and internal dialog – their motivations. Tarantino combines the camera shot with the performance of the actors to achieve precisely this effect. You see through one character’s eyes, rather than seeing everything all at once. Like a magician, he only reveals what he wants you to see.

Jennifer Jason-Leigh plays Daisy Domergue, an outlaw under sentence of death, in the custody of bounty hunter, Hangman John Ruth (Kurt Russell). Reviewers have talked about the treatment of the character and Tarantino does use the violence against her to shock and for comedic effect in the first part of the film – it changes mood completely in the second. Despite the murderous venom and bigotry Domergue displays, you still feel sympathetic to the character, and even Ruth at times can be seen to treat her with unexpected tenderness. Mark  Kermode says that Domergue references Carrie towards the end of the film, but I didn’t see that at all. I saw one of the witches from Kurosawa’s adaptation of Macbeth, Kumonosu-Jou (English title – Throne of Blood).  She sits on the floor, rocking, predicting Mannix’s doom. No matter what happens, she is always in control of the situation – apart from once – and that is done so brilliantly yet again you empathise with the character.

There is a lot of comedy in the film, aside from the ‘shock laughs’ of the audience. These are delivered through deliberately-crafted stereotypes – as Tarantino puts it in his interview in Sight and Sound, he asked the actors to have their characters play characters. So Mexican Bob (Bichir) plays the dumb Mexican they expect – Mowbray (Roth) plays the toff (he asked him to play it like Terry Thomas!) and Ruth comes across like John Wayne. Also in the S&S interview, he reveals something that Russell told him about when he played Snake Plissken opposite Lee Van Cleef in Escape from New York. He deliberately played those scenes as Clint Eastwood, as he felt completely overawed by Van Cleef, and he knew that two-handed scenes with Eastwood and Van Cleef had worked so well.

And speaking of audience, you really have to see a Tarantino film with an audience. The Odeon was sold out, and it had a great atmosphere. One of my favourite memories was seeing Pulp Fiction for the first time in Leeds, sat on the front row of a tiny cinema (now gone, sadly) as those were the only two seats left. The second half of Chris Walken’s speech to the young Butch was drowned out by laughter – during the OD scene you could have heard a pin drop, and when Butch’s pop-tarts pinged out of the toaster, the entire front row jumped.

Some things to look out for when you see the film:

Hats! When I realized this, I was totally blown away. Tarantino uses hats to signify vulnerability. Minnie’s has a ‘no-hat’ rule - which is no longer observed when Mexican Bob takes charge – so watch who wears hats, and when they are removed.

Watch the camera angles – Tarantino couldn’t use zoom lenses with a Panavision camera, or steadicam (obviously!) so every time the camera moves it’s either on a dolly or a crane. And for close-ups – it’s that close!

The blizzard can be heard moving around the theatre throughout the film. It sets the auditorium walls to be the remaining three walls of Minnie’s Haberdashery. And there is only one door – nailed shut!


It has been called Tarantino’s most political film, but most reviews I’ve seen have jumped on Jackson’s speech “…the only way White folks feel safe is if Black folks is nervous. And the only way Black folks is safe, is if the White folks is disarmed.” This has been taken to reference Tarantino’s involvement with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and his comments about the US police. But they’ve missed the point. It’s not those two lines – it’s Major Warren’s Lincoln letter.

Jackson’s character, Major Warren, is a renowned retired US Cavalry officer with distinguished service in the Civil War. He carries a letter from President Lincoln in his pocket, his most treasured possession. John Ruth, who lets Warren ride in his private stagecoach, asks to read it, and it brings tears to his eyes. He isn’t impressed when this is revealed to be a fake.

Warren wrote the letter himself and while this deception disgusts Ruth, Warren says, “well it got me into your stagecoach, didn’t it?”

The way I read this is as an indictment of Obama’s presidency – and I don’t mean all the blame falls on Obama – but the even the concept of the first African American president. We were all taken up by the campaign of Hope, and the day he was inaugurated we thought was going to be the dawn of a new day for civil rights and equality not just in the US but across the world. We thought that it would bring an end to US imperialism and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. But this didn’t happen. The racists ran the ‘birther’ campaign, the Republicans blocked progressive policies at every turn. Externally, the secret war campaign started under Bush and aggressively pursued by Cheney was extended, with Obama’s Tuesday morning ‘kill list’ meetings bringing death to anyone, anywhere, including for the first time, US citizens. Camp X-Ray stayed open. More whistleblowers were imprisoned under Obama than under all other previous presidents combined.

This is the disappointment of Major Warren. The letter that promises so much, that he has used as protection and leverage (simply to get an even playing-field) is a fake.

Even after two terms of the ‘first black president’, the levels of deprivation and infant mortality rates amongst African Americans are directly comparable to those 150 years ago.  African American males are disproportionally represented in what is the biggest prison population (as a percentage of the whole population) in the world. And as we have seen over the past couple of years, being black in the United States can get you shot dead by the police, whether you are a child in a playground or a grandmother in your own house.

Nevertheless, right at the end of the film, when Warren and Sheriff Mannix are united as comrades representing ‘frontier justice’, they return to the letter and we hear the full content for the first time. They know it is a fake – and yet the promise of the letter is renewed.

Mannix is seen up to the end of the film as a racist, a true believer in the ‘lost cause’ of the confederacy, a defender of General Smithers – yet when Warren baits Smithers and kills him, he takes no action. The entire point of the film and what creates the tension after that is the decision that Mannix makes – whether to side with the outlaws or Warren. Two of the most diametrically opposed characters as far as race and ideology go are united against a common enemy, in mutual respect – in that Lincoln letter.

The fact that the letter is fake no longer matters. The hope that it represents is not fake – and there is the possibility that its promise can yet be fulfilled.