An Election Prediction: ‘Alt-Left’ reactions to a May victory

An Election Prediction: ‘Alt-Left’ reactions to a May victory

It’s Friday, June 9th. A warm, early-summer sun has risen. The bees have begun to buzz. The 07:50 from Andover to waterloo is late, as it always is and always should be. The Brexit anniversary – or Independence Day, to those plucky Brexiteers – looms just around the corner. And all across Britain people are waking up to the news that Theresa May is will be staying on as our Prime Minister. Not as an inheritor of the throne, a jumped-up cabinet minister with a mandate, but as a leader in her own right. And what’s more, a leader with a healthy majority in the House of Commons.

The mood at the Telegraph head offices is upbeat, and tired cleaning staff are shovelling Champaign corks and party-popper carcasses into wastepaper baskets at Tory Campaign Headquarters. Young men and women with trust funds the size of small African nations sit back and massage their aching temples. Hired PR firms and big party donors pat each other on the back. Affluent, working, middle-England heaves –perhaps – a sigh of relief. Tory MPs think about new extending their mortgages for five more years, or perhaps eye-up a new car.

But what of the other lot? What of, the left? What will Britain’s other major political party do if – and let’s not be coy – it is butchered, jointed and hung on a meat hook at the ballot box?

Finding a scapegoat to blame will be easy for those Labour ministers who have always regarded Mr Corbyn as an embarrassing Cold War relic. ‘Old Beardo was mainstream voter poison all along’, they will say, (perhaps, in some cases, with a certain amount of shameful joy). ‘And that McDonnell! You can’t quote Chairman Mao in the Commons and not spook-middle England. What the hell did you think would happen?’

And off they’ll go again. A coup will be executed, a ballot called for, and the party will make one last effort to unseat it’s unflappable leader. Whether they will manage it is another matter. As Mt

Mr Corbyn ahs proved time and time again, if he doesn’t want to go, then he won’t, and what then? Will the Blairte Old Guard, desperate and tired, split the party in two and hope for a Monsieur Macron-style miracle in 2022? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

But who will get to hold on to the family name? Who gets to be called the ‘Labour Party’? I doubt jettisoning the name would bother the Corbynites very much. Then again, they are quite wedded to red imagery and flag waving, so perhaps they’d slug it out and proclaim themselves the true inheritors of Labour’s Fabian roots.

All this will happen in London, of course. It will take place inside the endlessly talked about ‘the Westminster bubble’. Most Corbynites live beyond the flat chimes of Big Ben. They’ll probably be pleased to have a party of their own. After all, they might not want to stay in bed with the filthy ‘Red Tory scum’ – as they disparagingly refer to any Labour voter who isn’t 100% behind Jeremy – who apparently make up the bulk of the Labour benches these days. Unlike the Blairte Old Guard, who will lay the blame squarely at Mr Corbyn’s feet, they will have other scapegoats lined up. And a quick look at the social media sites and blogs frequented by Corbyn’s many supporters tells you who their targets will be. A quick scan of sites such as The Canary, AAV (Another Angry Voice), and Evolve Politics might lead you to think that it will be the Conservatives themselves. But I think not.

Far left activists are already brimming with hatred of ‘Tory scum’. To them, Britain’s Conservative party are corruption incarnate, an evil, airbrushed, lawyered-up pack of jackals sewn into three-thousand pound Bond Street suits. They are the Umbrella Corporation, Wolfram and Hart or the League of Shadows. They are the Empire seeking to crush the plucky Rebel Alliance. They are supposed to be bad. Of course they will have used dirty money. Of course they lied and cheated. Duh! That’s what they do!

No. Their real venom will be aimed at one enemy without, and one enemy within.

The parallels between Britain’s Corbyn supporters (I refuse to use the term Alt Left because it seems, to me, like a lazy smear tactic) and the recent Trump campaign are striking. Both have split from the main body of a major political party. Both risk alienating core voters. And both see the MSM an enemy disseminating ‘fake news’ – and the they include in that list tradition left wing papers, such as The Guardian, and the supposedly left-wing biased (yet officially non-partisan) BBC. See, for example, Steve Topple’s ‘The BBC is in hot water again over its bias. And this time the complaint is a biggie’. Or, Chris Turnbull’s ‘You probably won’t believe just how biased the BBC’s latest anti-Corbyn attack actually is’.

In their narrative of events, Mr Corbyn will have lost, not because he failed to reach floating voters, spooked the English middle classes, alienated the remnants of New Labour, offered nothing to the Scots, and failed to reach out to the disenfranchised, still-largely patriotic English voters of the north, he will have failed because the BBC schemed against him and the simple, dumb voters of our isles were hoodwinked into voting for the bad guy (or, in this case, the bad woman).

So that’s my first prediction. If Mr Corbyn and the Labour party lose (and that is, of course, by no means a certainty), the MSM will shoulder a large proportion of the blame. In which case, expect a lot of angry articles to appear in which the fasithful few are advised to cancel their License Fees (again, a mirror image of comments and articles found on so-called Alt-Right sites, such as Brietbart. Oh, what crazy times we live in!). Oh, and I wouldn’t want to be the person in charge of Guardian subscriptions, either, because you’ll have a good sack full of four-letter-riddled cancellation letters to sift through, too.

And that brings me to my second, more obvious prediction: Corbyn’s supporters will turn with fury upon the ‘Red Tory Scum’Already, they have ‘hit-lists’ online naming those ‘traitors’ who need to be deselected and driven out of office, like this one, for example. (Though, in the case of the blog SupportOurLefty, I’m going to have to invoke Poe’s Law, because articles are just so over-the-top and silly that I’m almost sure it’s a parody account created by a Conservative PR firm). The list of traitors grows longer by the day (what is it about the Far Left and lists of non-ideologically-pure ‘traitors? Historical speaking, it’s now almost a cliché, isn’t it?).

Anyway, there will be those who revel in this witch-hunt. There will even be those who take a certain amount of shameful delight in their party’s collapse – and not just those suits at Tory Campaign Headquarters. If both of my predictions are correct, then a party spilt might be closer and more unavoidable than many average Labour Party voters know or care to admit.

 

 

 

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The Summer of the Somme

The Summer of the Somme

 

I decided, sometime in late June, that I did not know enough about the Battle of the Somme. I started in, what, July of 1916? And it rumbled on into November? The opening day was the worst disaster in British military history. Oh, and the men who fought in it were primarily those from the ‘Pals Battalions’ – is that right?

 

That was about the extent of my knowledge. In my defence, the Great War is not my period. I studied it at school, then again and college, and once again, briefly, at university. But I own fewer than half-a-dozens books on the subject, and would quickly run out of ammunition if I had to debate any aspects of the war in any great detail with a real buff. I could dimly recall the Fisher Thesis, and the arguments of some of his detractors, but from a historiographical perspective, that was about it.

 

With this glaring ignorance in mind, I set out to learn more. A brief bit of searching in the library and online, turned up a number of promising places to start. Middlebrook’s First Day of the Somme (1971) is, from a historiographical point of view, an old piece, but one that seems well liked, and so it took it as my ‘jumping on point’. It was a well written, albeit sparsely sourced (at times, he makes sweeping statements which he never bothers to substantiate) account from the soldiers’ perspective. I enjoyed it, and moved on from there to some works dating from the last five years or so. All proved interesting reads in different ways. Having refreshed my memory of things I knew but had forgotten, and learnt a great many new things along the way, I moved from fact into the realms of fiction. I picked up and re-read Pat Barker’s very clever Regeneration and Faulk’s Birdsong. Then I stumbled, almost by accident, upon a second-hand copy of a novel in a charity bookshop. The book was by a man I had never heard of named John Harris and was called Covenant with Death.

 

The back-cover synopsis led me to believe that it would be a sermonizing, Sixties dramatization of the lions-led-by-lambs interpretation of the war. A great deal of recent historical research gone into correcting this orthodoxy, and I’ll admit to a great deal of cynicism when taking the book to the register.

Covenant with Death
Cover of John Harris’ Covenant with Death

I was wrong. Covenant with Death is an extraordinary novel, and deserves to be much more widely read than I think it is. So moved and mesmerized was I by the climatic chapters that I read certain passages several times over; I think I may well have groaned aloud in dismay at various events that occur towards the novel’s dreadful climax.

 

First published in 1961, the story follows the fortunes of a group of young work colleagues who volunteer with boyish enthusiasm for the British Army in the late summer and autumn of 1914 – thereby becoming part of Kitchener’s so called, civilian ‘New Army’. Harris claims to have conducted interviews with some of these men’s real-life counterparts, and it was their accounts of the war – of recruitment, of training, of life at the front, and of course of the actual Battle of the Somme itself – that Harris used to form the backbone of his dramatization. The result is as vivid, distressing and visceral an account of those awful years as anyone could hope for. It is not a comfortable read. The men are much like men I have known and met – albeit shaped by a world that has now long vanished – and Harris brings their enormous sacrifice to mind in a way that perhaps non-fictional histories sometimes struggle to achieve.

 

(Spoilers Ahead!)

 

In a book with many memorable scenes, a few stand out above the rest, most of them from the novels awful climactic chapters: the death of the professional and aptly named Sergeant Bold; and for me, above all, the horrible moment of realization when the handsome young Murray becomes caught on the wire like a fly in a web. The description of him struggling feebly against the mantrap, and his hysterical cries of disbelief as he faces his own imminent and inevitable death have haunted my imagination since first I read them. Even now I find it difficult to summon them to mind without discomfort. None of the characters escapes unscathed. All are altered. Few of them escape with their lives. Reading it is and was a thought-provoking experiencing. And if you haven’t read it, you should.

 

When I had finished the book, I thought back to the more recent pieces of historiography and their calculated accounts of the Somme as the forging ground for the professional army that would one day drive the Germans back across the Rhine. Can it really have been worth it, I wondered? Was the blood sacrifice of worth the well-oiled fighting machine that emerged in the spring of 1917? I remain unconvinced. German was a menace and needed to be beaten. Yet throwing the bravest and most patriotic of Britain’s young men, often half-trained, into battle on that day and in that way cannot have been the optimal approach to victory. The unforeseen always occurs in war, and a general cannot see all ends. But the objectives that day were unclear, and the mistakes made unforgivable. Most of the men went over the top toiling under unnecessarily heavy packs, many were told to walk and not run towards the enemy guns (though these commands supposedly came from company or battalion commanders, and not from on high), reports of uncut wire were ignored, successful attacks were not followed up, disastrous attacks were reinforced resulting in slaughter, and the effects of the massive pre-assault bombardment (which the French knew wouldn’t work from experience – and told the British top brass it would be so) were hopelessly over estimated. The result was more than sixty thousand young men dying within the first twenty-four hours of the battle. Their deaths were often protracted and unpleasant. Their bravery was breath-taking.

 

Hindsight can be a terribly smug thing, but there must have been another way.

The Union is Dead; Long Live the Union

The Union is Dead; Long Live the Union

‘There’s the end of an auld sang’; the often-repeated words of the Earl of Seafield, uttered late in the spring of 1707 as he touched the Act of Union with Queen Anne’s sceptre and gave royal assent to a new, British tune.

Today, millions of Scots go to the polls to decide which tune they like best: the old, or the new? The pollsters tell us that the results are too close to call. The generals of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, once so confident behind their thick, 15% buffer, now bite their nails to the quick and wonder where it all went wrong. Was it the constant doom mongering? Or was it, as Alex Salmond believes, that time and tide is on the nationalist’s side, and that changing attitudes amongst young voters means that a ‘No’ vote on Thursday amounts, in reality, to little more than a deferred ‘Yes’.

National identities are complicated things. They are, as Linda Colley once put it, “not like hats. Human beings can and do put on several at a time”. When Britain was born in 1707, Britishness did not suddenly spring into being. It took time to spread and to take shape. As it took shape, it learned to coexist alongside those already in place. The ‘auld’ song of Scotland as a political, legal entity came to an end, but Scottishness as a sense of a people with customs, practices and traditions in common continued on.

Doubtless Salmond draws much strength from recent polling figures suggesting that support for Scottish independence is highest amongst the young. The teenage and student voters of Scotland are Salmond’s vanguard, his ‘inspired’ force for change. One reason for this is because Britishness has none of the immediacy, hopefulness and potential of the ‘auld sang’ sung anew. But might there be another reason? Might British nationhood, once so broad-shouldered and self confident on both sides of the Tweed, be too vague and hazy to carry any appeal amongst the young? Next to tartan, whiskey and the pipes, what does Britishness as a concept truly have to offer? The pillars upon which it once stood have crumbled. That shared sense of protestant destiny, which perhaps always burnt a little brighter on the more Calvinist side of the Tweed, has withered away. So too the business of empire, which once made the fortunes of Scots and Englishmen alike, has now passed from reality into memory. There is no ‘other’ across the seas for us to fear, no common enemy to unite us. (An expanding EU will never equal the bogeyman of martial France or imperial Spain.) All we have left is the past. And the past troubles us.

What shared enterprises and experiences now bind England and Scotland together? Must Britishness e come to rest the ancient and granite institution of monarchy? What about the NHS? Grand as Britain’s ‘new national religion’ may be, is it not too exposed to the harsh spotlight of everyday experience to compete with, say, the misty-eyed visions of Robert Burns’ land of ‘straths and green valleys’? Such points may seem trivial, but make no mistake: these are the nearest things we have to rallying points. Alex Salmond has taken them out of the independence equation for reasons other than practically and cost.

By tomorrow we will know one way or another. Britishness in its most resonant form will either be consigned to the history books, (perhaps limping on in the hearts and minds of Orangemen and a few Englishmen desperate to cling on to the past), or else it will live to fight another day. If it lives on then we will get ‘Devo-Max’ and Scotland will become an independent nation in all but legal status and in matters of defence. Independence will go back into its box for another generation. When it comes out again – and it will – Salmond’s young vanguard will be running the country. Will time have been enough to convince them that a British tune is better than the ‘sangs of auld?’ Time will tell. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that, win or loose, we will all be crying the Union is dead; long live the Union.