Jeremy Cobyn’s Patriotism

Patriotism, love for one’s country, is a virtue when uncontaminated by xenophobia, but when trumpeted by those whose personal contribution to the welfare of their countrymen and women is, at best, tenuous, it is, as Samuel Johnson wrote, the last refuge of scoundrels. It was the latter form that was employed last week in many of the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn in the capitalist press. This was perhaps inevitable given the foreign ownership and non-dom status of most of the owners, but we had a right to expect better of the BBC. They may be desperate to ingratiate themselves with the Tory government prior to their charter review, but surely they appreciate that a day of reckoning from a successor to this present, venal government awaits them.

Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘patriotism’ was questioned on three occasions: first by his questioning the need for obsequious flummery before he could be appointed to the Privy Council; second by his failing to sing aloud the National Anthem in the approved ‘patriotic’ manner ; and third for undermining Britain’s Independent Nuclear Deterrent by asserting that he would never, as Prime Minister, launch a nuclear attack. The first two questions arose from the continued conflation of the nation with the Crown. This may have been the formal position at the time of the Norman Conquest when England became William the Conqueror’s personal property and its people his ‘subjects’, but that this arrangement should linger on into the 21st Century is almost beyond belief. A heredity head of state may be defended by the establishment as both a symbol of the nation and a device to ensure continuity of government, but this does not mean that this symbol/device should substitute for the nation itself and her people treated as mere ‘subjects’, not citizens . As an intelligent individual, of course Jeremy Corbyn questions these absurd arrangements. We in the Communist Party share his views.

The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, including those from his own front bench, for asserting that, as Prime Minister, he would never launch a nuclear attack are either disingenuous or condoning the crime of global genocide. The disingenuity arises because the British Independent Nuclear Deterrent is neither British nor Independent – does anyone seriously think anything would actually happen if a British Prime Minister pushed the red button without US approval? If Volkswagen can hide software in our cars to defeat US emission testing, the US can surely incorporate failsafe software in the missiles they sell us. Condoning the crime of global genocide arises either because a first strike by Britain is envisaged or because, without such a strategy, retaliation would be a genocidal war crime of monstrous proportions. By the time a future British Prime Minister has to consider whether or not to retaliate, most British ‘subjects’ (for once the term would be appropriate) would already be dead. In this situation, in a bunker under a mountain in Scotland, he or she must choose whether to extinguish Homo Sapiens completely or allow some of the descendants from a common ancestor to survive and possibly re-build civilisation. If the patriotic response would be to push the red button because these survivors would not be British, the capitalist press is right for once: Jeremy Corbyn is not a patriot. And, by this definition, neither are we in the Communist Party.

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That was not democracy

Whatever it is we have been experiencing over the last six weeks, it was not democracy. Democracy is rule by people. It requires the people to have free, unbiased and digestible information enabling them to engage in discussion and debate before reaching their decisions. What we have just experienced satisfies none of these criteria. It was nothing more than a quinquennial  circus, largely  paid for by big business and wealthy individuals with vested interests in the outcome. It fell well short of true democracy for the following reasons:

  1. Under our first-past-the post system, most voters are deprived of any influence over the outcome. In consequence, a significant proportion of voters have not registered to vote or, if they have, will not bother to vote.
  2. The winners will claim legitimacy even though the majority of the population have not have voted for them. This is in sharp contrast to Tory plans requiring workers to secure a majority of those who are entitled to vote in every workplace before industrial action can be taken.
  3. Voters will have no say in any deals stitched up after the election.
  4. Once elected, MPs will be insulated from and hence largely insensitive to the views of those who elected them.
  5. The reporting of the election has been dominated by privately owned mass media whose owners are neither UK voters nor UK taxpayers and by a BBC running scared of changes to its charter and license fee by the winners of the election. To make matters worse, most journalists in every media are unrepresentative of the nation to which they report, being predominately white, middle class and Oxbridge educated.
  6. The MPs we elect, whatever the result, will also be unrepresentative. Not only will they earn around three times the average wage, they will have more job security and much better pensions than most of those who elected them. They will be drawn predominately from professional and managerial backgrounds. Like journalists, they will be predominately men, privately educated, Oxbridge graduates. Many like the (hopefully outgoing) Prime Minister will come from wealthy backgrounds.
  7. It is impossible to have democracy at the national level unless it is underpinned by local government democracy. The latter has been gutted as Peter Latham describes in great detail in his excellent book[i].
  8. It is impossible to have democracy at the national level if it is denied us in the workplace. The anti-trade union legislation in place in the UK conflicts with international agreements freely entered into by previous governments. For more information on this illegality, refer to Union Rights…and Wrongs[ii]
  9. Power no longer lies with elected MPs. They are whipped into conformity by the political parties, and they can no longer legislate in a number of areas due the EU.
  10. The dominant political parties are financed by big business and wealthy individuals.

In the light of these shortcomings, don’t expect too much from the forthcoming election. Austerity must be opposed whoever wins, but this will be much harder if the Tories form the next government. A Labour government is a necessary but insufficient condition to oppose austerity. A vote for the Communists, when available, will help with this. But the real fight starts after the election. In Croydon this means building the Communist Party locally and supporting the Croydon TUC and its Croydon Assembly initiative on Saturday, 6 June.

[i] The State and Local Government by Peter Latham, Manifesto Press, 2011. £14.95 from the Communist Party

[ii] Union Rights…and Wrongs: the reform of Britain’s anti-union laws by John Hendy QC 2001. The Institute of Employment Rights.

BBC: jumping before being pushed?

The BBC has recently announced plans to scrap quotas for in-house production. John McVay, the Chief Executive of the independent producers’ trade body described it as an “historic moment” and said that the BBC had “jumped before it was pushed”. BBC insiders have commented (off the record) that it is “a short hop, skip and jump to the BBC becoming a publisher broadcaster.”

To assess the significance of this move, we need to ask ourselves what exactly the BBC is for. When founded, the first Director General, Lord Reith, considered that it was there to inform, educate and entertain. As the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ row between the government and the BBC demonstrated, frequent reviews of the Charter, the power to appoint the BBC Board and Director General and the dependence on the license fee give the government of the day tremendous influence when it comes how it ‘informs’. In a recent survey for the BBC by Ipsos MORI in February, the BBC scored an average 6.5 out of 10 in response to the question of how impartial it was. To give this scale some meaning, that great fabricator of misleading information, the Daily Mail, scored 4.1! The BBC’s pitiful ‘balanced’ reporting of the Israeli attacks on Gaza can only have further depressed the BBC’s impartiality rating. The contempt with which the BBC’s flagship political programme, Question Time, is now held by a significant proportion of its potential audience (just look at the tweets than accompany this pitiful programme) is tangible and demonstrates how our confidence in the BBC has slipped.

On education, the BBC continues to play a useful but minor role. Its nature programmes are generally good and its coverage of science is sound if uninspiring. But surveys show that even on information and education, it is now treated with less confidence than Wikipedia.

On entertainment, the role played by the BBC is essentially to set a minimum quality standard that commercial stations have to take into account. In this it has been quite successful, prompting both ITV and even Sky to raise their games in drama and comedy and not to rely exclusively in cheap imports from the USA. Whether this leadership can be retained when the BBC is no longer constrained by an in-house quota is problematical. The BBC could indeed be on its way to becoming a “publisher broadcaster” and, from there, oblivion.

What is the way forward for the BBC? Obviously, it should not be handed over to Murdoch or Sky as many on the right would like to see. Its modest independence from the government of the day needs to defended and strengthened. The license fee needs to be retained, but an element of progressivity included. While it is not realistic to think that a public broadcaster can be truly independent of the capitalist interests that control everything else in our society, we should continue to press for a fair hearing for the left and progressive causes. A good place to start would be for the BBC to respond at last to Early Day Motions in parliament calling on it to include the Morning Star in its coverage of the UK press.