Monday, 27 June 2016

Questions for Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne and Alan Johnson on the Brexit victory

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But it wasn't Jeremy Corbyn. Or even Labour's Remain front man, Alan Johnson.

So the morning after Great Britain was cut adrift in an ocean of uncertainty by the Brexit vote, the public were finally told the truth by the Leave campaign: there will be no £350mn saving per week going to the NHS; Turkey is not joining the EU; Britain wasn't party to the Schengen agreement anyway so the EU vote will have no effect on immigration except for a possible increase; the British Army was never going to join the fantasy Euro army of Ukip nightmares; expect TTIP on steroids.

However, we will have that recession that's been looming and we will lose Scotland and Northern Ireland. Little England has done more for a united Ireland than any IRA bombs.

And the 75 per cent of young voters who voted Remain feel their futures have been destroyed by older voters. Plus an explosion of far-right race hate is transforming the UK.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove put the prick into Pyrrhic.

Parliament's raison d'etre (sorry to go all European on you) is surely that momentous events are presided over by our democratically elected representatives whose job it is to know what they are talking about. But like the cynical demagogue he is, Gove dismissed not only all the experts as Nazis and cast himself as their persecuted Jewish genius Albert Einstein, but he drew to an end the whole Enlightenment movement's emphasis on reason, provable evidence and facts, stoking up a Dark Ages dependence on blind faith.

The mainstream media will always be hostile to Corbyn. We know that. Which is one reason why our side had to be at its sharpest, most agile, ethical, lively, imaginative and honest. It is dismaying to see the one quality in play — JC's honesty — end up as a pearl cast before swine and trodden underfoot in a skint and lacklustre campaign. So much for "balance", especially from the BBC. (Jeez, even that other JC, Jeremy Clarkson, was to the left of The Management on the EU, stunning us with his Remain stance.)

Corbyn's 30 or so Labour In meetings for the Remain cause around parts of the country, while encouraging and a vital plank for the cause, were largely speaking to the converted and perceived by the wider national audience as too little, too late. A whole lot more was required: a bigger audience reached, a wider bandwidth of communication deployed.

And now vast swathes of Leave voters have woken up with a hangover.

Some questions:
Why did Jeremy Corbyn not share every Remain platform with Cameron, taking advantage of Remain's resources, and have the confidence that his better arguments would outshine the Tory wing of Remain? Some have argued that JC would have been damaged by this in the same way that Ed Miliband was damaged in the Scotland independence referendum. Yet this was such an unusual set of circumstances that, had a powerful narrative been harnessed, that's what would have lasted beyond the dreaded photo of Corbyn holding his nose and standing 10 feet away from a clearly desperate, weak Cameron. He didn't have to be chummy but at least he would have been in the game.

Secondly, they needed a potent Remain vision to inspire voters and fill the void. Leave had Take Control. What did we have instead? How did Corbyn's team aim to cut the legs out from the powerful emotional pillars of Leave's argument? Were they methodical? Did they think that simple facts would win the day when dealing with such deep illogical fears from a working class pummelled and pulverised by Tory austerity and twisted by media collusion for half a decade?

Thirdly, are Jeremy's close Lexit friends [STW] relying on the ensuing chaos, calamity and misery to drive the workers into their arms? Or have they effectively driven them into the predatory arms of the right?

JC did not cause the country to vote Brexit but as leader of the opposition hoping to win power in the next general election he could and should have done much more to weight it in Remain's favour. This was Corbyn's chance to shine, to show everyone what the progressive Remain but Reform side represented, and to have done it with clarity and good conscience for a better future in common with all the other workers of the world who are being stiffed by the bosses.

Yet he went on holiday in the middle of the campaign, 30th May to 8th June. This says much about his sense of urgency and perhaps a residual desire for Brexit based on 1970s circumstances.

Jeremy Corbyn is a great constituency MP with a left conscience. He was as surprised as anyone else when, having given John McDonnell a break to stand as leader of the Labour Party, he actually won. Like thousands of others I joined the LP because of Jeremy. But the victory for Leave, condemning a younger generation to an enfeebled economy for the rest of their lives, is due at least in part to Labour's slothful, uninspiring, ineffectual campaign. For too long Labour voters didn't even know which side the party was on.

Alan Johnson, chair of Labour Remain, was to grasp the campaign by the scruff of the neck and drag it into the public eye. I'd forgotten. That's how much of an impact he made.

Corbyn's strongest suit in the political sphere is that he is honest and straight if a bit dull. That honest, reliable quality should have been promoted to the max flanked by his bruisers — Tom Watson and Alan Johnson in the case of Brexit — doing the heavy lifting. The campaign was lacking in all counts.

There is history to this. The one far left analysis from the late 1990s, one that has stayed with me, was that the working class would grow more bitter with each of Tony Blair's inevitable betrayals and would turn to the right. That's why it was vital to build a left alternative to the Labour Party.

Instead, the far left leadership of bureaucrats (prominent in Lexit — left Brexit — and a key part of Corbyn's Labour leadership campaign) proceeded to stop and start, initiate and then sabotage, the various attempts to create a left pole of attraction. They took an axe to the fledgling Socialist Alliance  just as it began to make an impact. Their dishonourable opportunism around the Birmingham Mosque, PJP and Respect ended with the OFFU cheque debacle. Valuable organising time was frittered away, opportunities wasted, trust destroyed, careers made.

The important job was to make sure there was no vacuum which the right could fill. They failed to do even this. All their bickering and internecine warfare may have secured a top place for certain ambitious lefties but it has left the working class in disarray, clutching at the nearest nationalist straw.

Paul Mason is more forgiving of Corbyn, crediting him with keeping two thirds of Labour supporters on board to vote Remain. He writes:
Our strategic problem is to reconnect not only with the Labour core voters who backed Brexit but with those who have drifted to Ukip. I don’t know whether the present leadership can do that; I do know all the previous leaderships failed to do it so we need to work out a plan and try.

Who is the "we" who are going to work out a plan? The usual far left clique of charmers?

Phil Harris, chair of the Labour In campaign, says that Corbyn's office:
"... consistently attempted to weaken and sabotage the Labour remain campaign, in contravention of the party’s official position. For example, they resisted all polling and focus group evidence on message and tone, raised no campaign finance, failed to engage with the campaign delivery and deliberately weakened and damaged the argument Labour sought to make.

Corbyn made only a smattering of campaign appearances, and they were lacklustre in delivery and critical of the EU in tone resulting in Labour voters not knowing the party’s position or hearing our argument. Corbyn’s infrequent campaign appearances and narrow focus, in turned limited the party’s appeal. He kept saying that the economic shock of Brexit was not real. It is. And it is working people and Labour communities that will pay the price. A price that is being felt right now."
Sabotage is probably too strong a term for the incompetence on display but this certainly felt like going through the motions in every sense. While the reluctance to do the necessary work may not reflect Corbyn's past position of the 1970s, how much of this damage was down to his press supremo Seumas Milne who did share Lexit's desire for Out last time anyone looked?

One left commentator, Sukant Chandan, writes:
"The first thing Corbyn said on the early morning of the Brexit victory was to 1, Capitulate at the feet of the ‪Brexit Fascists‬ by demanding we fast track exiting the EU by invoking article 50! The other thing he said is that immigration is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Since then he has been increasingly positioning himself as someone who is going to 'fight for plucky england/UK against the EU for brexit', this is positioning him increasingly directly with the UK nationalist right who are similarly invested in 'fighting the EU for the UK' which is neatly centred in the UK right and far right project. Corbyn is fast becoming right now (has already become?) the figure head that the Brexit/Lexit camp are attaching themselves to to develop this UK nationalist fight with the EU."

However, faced with the prospect of a Blairite coup, I do not want Corbyn to go. Replacing him with Blairites seizing on this chance to ditch the hope he embodies is to score as big an own goal as working class Leave voters have just done. We do not need more capitulation to austerity, supporting wars without end, appeasing business and taking jobs with the worst offenders (such as former Home Secretary Dr John Reid and G4S, Alan Milburn and privatised health, Tony Blair and his evil empire).

Eleven Labour cabinet members have resigned to oust Corbyn. Yet how many resigned over austerity?

We are reaching an existential stage of the survival of the British working class and the struggle requires all hands on deck.

I've been arguing for improved media relations since I started doing presswork in the left: if we are so overlooked by the mainstream press with only the pro-Brexit Morning Star to plough the socialist furrow, would the TUC use some of its treasure to finance a cable TV station that combined news and arts to give the left a cultural base? It would take time to build but the longest journey begins with the first step. More Yellow Brick Road than Shining Path, we hope.

Sign the Second Referendum petition

Open letter from Women of Colour supporting Remain.

Leave campaign wipe all their pledges off their website.

George Soros predicts break-up of the EU, of the UK and the end of decades of peaceful European unification.

Lee Jasper on Bracist Britain: a Black British perspective.

LSE Blog: Brexit is not the will of the British people – it never has been

Anna Chen started and ran many press operations for the left including Globalise Resistance, Socialist Alliance, various UK Chinese campaigns such as the Foot and Mouth Disease smear 2001 and the Morecambe Bay cocklepickers disaster. She was the press officer who succesfully relaunched Stop The War (STW) with Jeremy Corbyn's first STW meeting in London, September 2001, breaking it into the mainstream media.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Michael Gove wanted me to "powder him down": Remain experts compared to Nazis

EU referendum plays havoc with Brexit logic as brains implode

Michael Gove appears to have been struck silly by the Hitler Tourettes syndrome afflicting the political class when under pressure. Brexit's Number Two says that the many pro-Remain economists who urge Britain to stay in the EU are like the German experts who told Albert Einstein he was wrong. Our former minister for education says experts, schmexperts. Facts? Schmacts. You can prove anything with facts. Phooey to Enlightenment values such as Truth.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Oh, sorry, that was a quote from Alice Through the Looking Glass, an easy mistake to make. Here's what Gove told LBC's Ian Dale:
"We have to be careful about historical comparisons, but Albert Einstein during the 1930s was denounced by the German authorities for being wrong and his theories were denounced, and one of the reasons of course he was denounced was because he was Jewish. They got 100 German scientists in the pay of the government to say that he was wrong and Einstein said: 'Look, if I was wrong, one would have been enough.'"

Hmm, comparing himself with a genius under persecution from the Nazis. A scientist. Who used facts. Which made him a bit of an expert. And Michael really doesn't like experts.

He unexpertly claimed footballer John Barnes for the Leave camp. Barnes has other ideas.
... So my reasons for supporting remain are probably different from those of many others: immigration. And I don’t believe this is an issue that the leave campaign should be based on.

Leave is preying on people’s fears, telling the same story we’ve heard over the years about black people from Africa and the Caribbean coming to steal our jobs. Now we hear the same thing about Poles. If leave wanted to say that companies are paying migrants less than British workers, and so allowing them to take our jobs, then it should be looking at raising the minimum wage – not stopping migrants entering the country. The problem has nothing to do with the Polish workers – it is an issue about our labour laws. Yet leave maintains its focus on immigration.

Mass migration and the refugee crisis is one of the biggest problems facing the world. In this country we assume that everyone just wants to come to the UK – but it’s an issue in Germany, Greece, Sweden, all across the EU. Why should we be the first to turn our backs on the problem? We have to think not only about what would happen to those unfortunate people, but to the rest of the planet too. What kind of example would we be setting? We should be the first to help disadvantaged people. What would happen if other countries decided to follow our example?

Britain has always told the world that being British is about the humanity, compassion and moral fortitude that we have. All great things that we are supposed to have spread across the world. A leave vote now says that we don’t really care about anyone else, we don’t care what happens to the European Union. Why should the Germans be able to show more compassion than we do? ...
You never hear Brexiteers challenging employers who pay such abominably low wages that only impoverished immigrants will do the job. Or the supermarkets who gouge their farmers for prices touching or, in the case of milk, below production prices in order to maintain huge profits. Yes, I would pay the proper cost if it meant the sort of economic reality that allowed wages that matched the cost of living in Britain.

But, no. The rich people with the most invested in Brexit would keep paying low wages; only it would be Brits pulling turnips for sixpence a shift, not Lithuanians.

All those claims that "we" would take back control of our borders — we already have control of our borders. A quick glance at any airport will tell you that. F'rinstance, Chinese tourists need only one visa for the whole of Europe except for Britain for which they require another visa in order to drop thousands at Bond Street and Harrods. Some of them don't bother and would rather spend it in Paris or Rome or wherever their money is actually wanted.

And the blind faith that "we" will take back control of our country ... Who is "WE"? I think you'll find we are subjects of a feudal monarchy with nobs on and not citizens with full democratic rights of a constitution to which we are all signed up.

As a mark of how much power "we" will gain, remember that former London mayor Boris Johnson spent £200,000 of public money on two water cannon from Germany — powerful enough to cause serious injury such as broken spines and pulverised eyeballs — to use against us Brits when we protest against the relentless predations of the super-rich and their government that gained power with only 26 per cent of the electorate's votes.

Time to dust off my encounter of the turd kind with Michael Gove in the noughties ...

Sad-sack Education Minister Michael Gove helped himself to make-up belonging to an exotic lovely and made strange demands minutes before appearing before blonde Kirsty Young, 27, at ITN's studios in posh intellectuals' haunt, Grays Inn Road.

"It was when I was publicising The Best Democracy Money Can Buy", said buxom press-officer Anna Chen, 22, flicking her long tresses out of her almond eyes. Sultry beauty Chen said, "There I was in the Green Room, helping my mate Greg Palast not reflect the light from his very high forehead when Michael Gove, who was there for an 'interview' with our Kirsty, suddenly reached in and grabbed. He'd been coveting the contents of my little make-up bag with his pre-lasered eyeballs for ages. This was back in the day before he got his new hairdo and makeover."

Sinister Gove then asked her to "powder me down".

"Powder me down" is a well-known perverts' term for unspeakable televisual and filmic practices.

"So there I was, trying to beautify the most evil Education Minister this country would ever see like some champion fluffer. All my skills and photoshopping couldn't prettify this ugly little monster."

Ms Chen is deeply regretful. "It's like when they ask you, if you could go back in time and top Hitler before he came to power, what would you do? I wish I'd tattooed the pursed-lipped creep with 'I am a threat to your children' across his fugly mug. To have missed a chance like that is enough to turn you to drink," said the busty Ms Chen, pouring herself another quart of Absinthe with a trembling hand.

Ms Chen is 19.


Thursday, 16 June 2016

A Beautiful Disorder: Chinese sculptors exhibited in Britain for first time

This could be good.

Exhibition — A Beautiful Disorder

3 July—6 November, 2016
Grounds and Galleries
The Cass Sculpture Foundation
New Barn Hill
Chichester PO18 0QP
Free with general entry

Cass Sculpture Foundation is delighted to present A Beautiful Disorder, the first major exhibition of newly commissioned outdoor sculpture by contemporary Greater Chinese artists to be shown in the UK.

From July 2016, sixteen monumental outdoor sculptures will be on display throughout the grounds of CASS. These artists employ a variety of ambitious sculptural techniques across a range of materials including bronze, stone, steel and wood.

The historical relationship between English and Chinese landscape aesthetics is the starting point and inspiration for these contemporary Chinese and Greater Chinese artists. The title of the exhibition, A Beautiful Disorder, is a quote from an influential letter written by the Jesuit missionary and artist Jean-Denis Attiret in 1743 that had a tremendous effect on English garden culture. Attiret used the term to describe the ability of the Chinese garden to provoke violent and often opposing sensations in the viewer through a series of theatrical framing devices. The exhibition invites the viewer to reflect on China's past, present and future relationship with the world at large, and provides valuable insight into the state of Chinese culture, politics and society today from the perspective of some of its most dynamic and engaging artists.

Cass Sculpture Foundation’s Executive Director, Clare Hindle, says:

“To date, Cass Sculpture Foundation has commissioned over 400 works – A Beautiful Disorder is a landmark moment for the Foundation as it is the first time we are commissioning works for a major exhibition by international artists. The exhibition will showcase contemporary Chinese sculpture by some of the leading Chinese artists.”

Participating artists for A Beautiful Disorder include: Bi Rongrong, Cao Dan, Cao Fei Cheng Ran, Cui Jie, Jennifer Ma Wen, Li Jinghu, Lu Pingyuan, Xu Zhen (Produced by MadeIn Company), Rania Ho, Song Ta, Tu Wei-Cheng, Wang Sishun, Wang Wei, Wang Yuyang, Zhang Ruyi, Zheng Bo and Zhao Yao.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Summer cocktails with Madam Miaow: borage, Pimms and Bowie Moscow Mules

EDIT: Apologies but the flower in the picture has been identified as green alkanet or pentaglottis sempervirens, not borage (although it's close) which has star-shaped flowers. It is a relative of the forget-me-not and borage. Edible, used as a substitute for true borage in Pimms.

Try floating three flowers on top of your Pimms — the petals should come away from the bud in one circle. Especially eye-popping when next to something red like half a strawberry or a slice of nectarine. Don't forget, Morrisons has an offer of 1 litre Pimms for a tenner right now. If you miss that, Sainsbury's Pitchers is an excellent copy.

I discovered this next cocktail at the starry Bowie Is launch party at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2013. Charles Shaar Murray tells me it is a variation of the vodka-based Moscow Mule. For the Bowie version pour one third vodka (we use Absolut, Russian Standard or Green Mark) to two thirds ginger ale over 2 or 3 ice-cubes. Add a measure of Monin Passion Fruit syrup. Scoop in half to a whole passion fruit. Add a sprig of mint and a couple of straws. Very moreish.

Pix coming soon.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Helena Bonett's Tate film of Barbara Hepworth's Trewyn Studio in St Ives screened

I'm delighted to learn that Helena Bonett's film of Barbara Hepworth's Trewyn Studio — now a Tate St Ives museum — includes a clip of my 2006 video (above) and is now out doing the rounds. Next screening 15th June at Porthmeor Studios in St Ives.

From the DVD cover:
Trewyn Studio in St Ives, Cornwall, is where the British modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth lived and worked from 1949 until her death in May 1975. Transformed into a museum by her son-in-law Sir Alan Bowness, later director of the Tate Gallery, it opened to the public in April 1976 and has been managed by Tate since 1980. 
This film, produced as part of the Tate St Ives Artists Programme, presents Bowness's memories of Trewyn Studio and its establishment as the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, using still and moving images to explore queations of time, materiality and legacy. 
A film by Helena Bonett in collaboration with Jonathan Law, 2015, 52 minutes.
Made possible by the Tate St Ives Artists Programme

I have a copy of the DVD which I've watched and enjoyed but sadly it's only available for private viewing and public screenings through the filmmaker.

In the meantime, you'll have to make do with mine. If you like my 2006 video, here's one from 2013:

Keep up to date with Helena Bonett's Twitter