Saturday 1 November 2014

How have the mighty fallen

Ed Miliband gives tuppence to a homeless woman;
photo Getty Images, re-used without permission.
This is not an anti-Labour blog. I am not anti-Labour. I don't support them, but I don't hate them. I'm about to say some very harsh things about them. I hope they're harsh but helpful; however, even if they're seen as harsh and unhelpful I'd like to point out that I have in the past said equally harsh things about the SNP. This is not partisan or tribal harshness, I'm not seeking to advance the cause of any other particular party. I'm trying to explore why the Labour Party have fallen so far from the ideals on which it was founded.

And I want to start with this absolutely shocking image. How does it shock me? Let me count the ways:

  1. A politician is exploiting a homeless woman for a publicity shot;
  2. He will not meet her eyes, or acknowledge her as a fellow human being;
  3. The coin is clearly dull brown - it's a tuppence;
  4. There's more than a whiff of implied racism in his obvious discomfort with a Muslim woman;
  5. Oh, and he's wearing a poppy.

So, this is a Labour politician - the party set up by the common people, by the poor, to represent their interests. Its current leader is a multi-millionaire. He's paid £139,355 salary from the public purse, and additionally claimed, in the past year, £127,354.95 in expenses. And he gives a homeless woman tuppence. Since it's a damned publicity stunt anyway, he could presumably have claimed the donation back from his constituency party if he couldn't afford to give her more than tuppence. But no, that's clearly all she's worth to him.

OK, so I've been homeless, and possibly I feel this more strongly than other people do. But people who sleep rough are vulnerable and women who sleep rough are extremely vulnerable. People who, for one reason or another - and it's rarely their fault - are excluded from our increasingly parsimonious, judgemental, arbitrary and inefficient system of social security are starving in this country, as Miliband strolls to his £200 dinner.

This picture reeks of discomfort; his whole body language shouts his urgent need to be out of the situation, the expression on his face underlines his distaste and insincerity. But why? Here is another human being in distress, in need. There but for the grace of any deity - whether you call him Jahweh or Allah - go all of us. So why the distaste?

I don't know.

It seems inexplicable.

The only sense I can make of it is this: Ed Miliband is Jewish; more, he says he's a proud supporter of Labour Friends of Israel, so he's a Zionist. There's nothing wrong with him being Jewish, that isn't the point I'm making. But the woman wears a Hijab; she's clearly Muslim. Is his revulsion racism? It certainly looks like that.

Younger people won't be shocked to learn that an over-privileged Labour politician despises a beggar. For people who've grown to political consciousness since 1997 will only have known Labour as a party of the 'aspirational', sucking up to the very rich; a party deeply engaged in an adventurist and militarist foreign policy in support of the US, and closely aligned with the US Republican party.

Jim Murphy, London Labour's anointed candidate for the vacant Scottish Labour leadership, is, like Miliband, another warmonger. Which brings me onto the issue of that poppy. These men, who sat in cabinet and sent other people off to fight and die needlessly and pointlessly in foreign wars, strut about with the blood-stained poppy of remembrance, the talisman of the solemn commitment to those we sent to die a hundred years ago that they fought in the war to end all wars, that we would never fight another.

For these poppy-wearing politicians, the blood of other peoples' sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, is cheap. Promises are cheap. A vow made a month ago is disowned now, discarded, its purpose served. Politicians - Labour politicians - now serve only themselves.

But it was not always so. My parents were for most of both their lives profoundly committed supporters of the Labour Party. They saw it as a party of idealism, and, in their youth, it was. It did do much to found and entrench the welfare state that is now being dismantled. It did create the National Health Service. It did seek, through initiatives like comprehensive schooling, to create an egalitarian society.

If you read this blog - if you've read it for just six weeks - you've seen me rant on land reform, and on the abolition of the House of Lords. So if you were to see me write, on this blog,

The country has allowed landowners to pocket millions of pounds every year in the share of unearned increment, and yet they object to pay a small tax upon what, in justice, should belong to the State. They wish at all costs to preserve their power to plunder the people.
The [redacted] welcomes this opportunity to prove that the feudal age is past and that the people are no longer willing to live on the sufferance of the Lords. 
The issues you have to decide are simple. Our present system of land ownership has devastated our countryside, has imposed heavy burdens upon our industries, has cramped the development of our towns, and has crippled capital and impoverished labour. 
The Lords must go

I think you would not be very surprised. But the words are not mine. They're taken from the 1910 parliamentary manifesto of that very same Labour Party - the same party, again, from Clause IV of whose constitution I quoted in another post this week.

How do you get from a party which says 'the Lords must go' to a party whose members fill 217 of the seats in that bloated and undemocratic house? How do you get from a party of the working people to a party which holds £200-a-head gala dinners? How do you get from a party with a pacifist leader to a party which started five wars in ten years?

I don't know. But I do know this: it's time it stopped. If Labour cannot roll back to its roots, cannot again become an honourable party of the ordinary people against the elite, it should disband.

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