Mythbusting in Copeland: what the “Quality Press” will not tell you

The narrative around Labour’s defeat in the democratic process at Copeland was written well before the day of the vote by those who have a determination to undo the democratic election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. It was scripted by editors across much of the mainstream media, with a supporting role being played by Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and not least by Jamie Reed, the former Labour member for Copeland.  Having overseen a very significant drop in support for himself as the Labour incumbent in Copeland from the 2005 election to the one in 2015, he no doubt added to the cynicism of frustrated long-term supporters of Labour by abandoning his commitment to the constituency in difficult times and swanning off to a lucrative job within the Sellafield plant. Of course he also had an eye for the main chance as he knew – and this gets remarkably few mentions in the media – that the Copeland constituency is due to disappear in the proposed boundary changes before 2020.

But perhaps the main piece of mythbusting that needs to be brought into the open, and please don’t hold your breath waiting for the media to tell you this, is that the combined right wing anti-Labour vote went DOWN in the 2017 by-election that we have just witnessed. Yes, that by-election being hailed as such an historic, extraordinary victory for the Tories.

How so? The statistics are not difficult to find.

In 2010, the Labour vote, with Jamie Reed as the victorious MP dropped to 46%. The combined Tory/UKIP/BNP vote was 42.7%. So in simple Left versus Right terms this seat was already marginal seven years ago. The Lib-Dems, who did not fit so simply and easily into the Left/Right line, scored 10.2% and then took even many of their own supporters by surprise when they decided at a national level to go into coalition with the Tories. That is not what many Lib-Dems were voting for.

In 2015, Jamie Reed’s Labour vote dropped to 42.3%. Although he won the seat, his vote was easily outstripped by the combined right wing vote of 51.3% (Tories 35.8%; UKIP 15.5%). Meanwhile the Lib-Dem vote collapsed. Never mind marginal, the right wing already had the upper hand here by 2015.

In the by-election we have just endured, the Labour vote went down further, to 37.3 %, a process assisted by the intervention of Blair and Mandelson, but also by the selection of an uninspiring, media-averse candidate from the right of the party  who could not convincingly argue a radical alternative to the Tories. A more dynamic and inspiring local activist, who has worked particularly hard against homelessness, failed to win the local candidacy decided by the old guard, I suspect with encouragement from the national Labour hierarchy that has been working so hard to undermine Corbyn.

But what happened to the right wing vote? It DROPPED to 50.8%. But the re-alignment of votes within the right, with a fair degree of tactical voting I’m sure, saw the UKIP vote drop by 9% and the Tory vote rise by 8.5%. The relative revival of the Lib-Dems made it harder for Labour as well.

The statistics are troublesome aren’t they? They actually don’t support the theory of an anti-Labour avalanche because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, but why let mere statistics get in the way of such a narrative? Oh, and decent result for Labour in Stoke by the way.


The east (of London) is red

A political earthquake shook the world 100 years ago: the Russian Revolution. Its tremors were felt in London’s East End which, from the early 1880s, was home to tens of thousands of  Jews who had fled discrimination, persecution, threats and violence in the Russian Empire, and were looking for safety, freedom and a better life. But the continuing oppression in the old country was still important for them.

great-assembly-hallIn 189o they held a huge protest meeting about the persecution of Jews in Russia, at the Great Assembly Hall at 31 Mile End Road, with Eleanor Marx, William Morris, Michael Davitt and Prince Peter Kropotkin among the star invitees. Joining them on the platform were Russian exiles such as Felix Volkhovsky and Sergei Stepniak, founders in London of the Free Russia newspaper.

In 1898, immigrant Jewish workers donated  money to a trade union fund administered by a Mr Trushkowsky at 113 Brick Lane, who was transferring the money collected to Bialystok to support striking workers there. In 1903, when news came through of a terrible pogrom in Kishinev over two days which left 49 people dead, hundreds wounded, and 2,000 people homeless, 25,000 immigrant Jews marched from the East End to Hyde park to register their protest.

A well known gang of four – Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemberg – graced meeting halls and cafes of the East End in May and early June 1907. Luxemberg did not feel particularly inspired by Whitechapel’s special Cockney atmosphere. Having “travelled through the endless stations of the dark underground”, she emerged, she said, “both depressed and lost in a strange and wild part of the city.”

1906-rosa-luxemburg-in-warsaw-prison-iisg-high-res  “It’s dark and dirty here,” she added. “A dim street light is flickering and is reflected in puddles and pools… Groups of drunken people stagger with wild noise and shouting down the middle of the street, newspaper boys are also shouting, flower girls on the street corners, looking frightfully ugly and even depraved, as though they had been drawn by Pascin, are screeching and squealing”.

Luxemberg and her colleagues were among 336 delegates attending the 5th congress of the Russian Revolutionary party. The registration centre was in a radical Jewish club above a shop on Fulbourne Road, which faces London Hospital at Whitechapel.  For three days and nights before the congress began,the Bolshevik faction, comprising just under a third of the delegates, held its caucus there. Other large delegations included 99 Mensheviks, 57 Bundists (Jewish Socialists) and 44 Polish Social Democrats.

Most of the delegates were on a brief visit for the Congress but others were temporarily living in London longer. From their base here they agitated for change in Russia, speaking at meetings, writing and sharing literature, and producing revolutionary material to be smuggled back home.

Closer to the days of the revolution, the situation for male Russian Jewish immigrants of combat age suddenly became much more fraught. As conscription was enforced nationally, they were exempted from joining the war effort at first, as they were considered “friendly aliens”and conscription was restricted to British subjects. But as resentment spread among their neighbours, and riots broke out in Bethnal Green, the Government signed a convention with Russia compelling them to sign up. That meant allying with the  Empire they had fled from, in many cases in the face of threats of forced conscription. If they didn’t join the war effort they faced deportation back to Russia. They looked to new campaigning bodies that had formed such as the Foreign Jews’ Protection Committee and the Russian Anti-Conscription League to fight to uphold their right of asylum. In this struggle they could count of the support of prominent non-Jewish East End political figures such as Sylvia Pankhurst and George Lansbury.

The words I’ve just written will sound familiar to the 31 adults, one 16 year old and one baby, who joined me for two and a half hours last Sunday morning as I launched my new walk, “The East End and the Russian Revolution”.

I had unprecedented demand for places on this walk and had to reluctantly turn down many bookings after I reached capacity. But I have just released a date for its second incarnation, which is Sunday 23rd April at 10.30am. Whether you are a Bolshevik, a Menshevik, an Anarchist or a Bundist, or indeed, none of the above, I promise to leave you at the end of the walk with much to think about! You can book online here


We know nothing about walls…

img_1157I spoke this afternoon as a representative of the Jewish Socialists’ Group and the bloc of Jewish organisations that marched together on the anti-Trump demonstration in London today. After the massive mobilisation for the women’s demo on 21 January and the huge emergency protest at Downing Street on Monday night, it was important to keep the pressure up on Trump and May. The Stop the War Coalition and Stand Up to Racism allied with several Muslim organisations in calling today’s demonstration.

img_1140It was a lively demo with a young demographic, despite poor weather at the start.  The mobilisation received a blow yesterday when one of the prominent organisers of last Monday’s demo, who has a significant media profile, (Owen Jones), tweeted that he wouldn’t be marching today, citing his strong political criticisms of the groups calling today’s protests  – groups he has been very happy to work with in recent years.

It was a deliberate, cynical, arrogant and egotistical attempt to sabotage the march. If he felt that strongly he could have stayed away and told us why on Monday. Or, alternatively, he could have come along to show solidarity with the victims of Trump’s policies and discussed his misgivings while protesting. I was not impressed, nor were any people I discussed it with.

IMG_1136.jpgThe movement against Trump is involving new forces who want to publicly show their revulsion at Trump’s aggressive actions so soon after he assumed the presidency, and they want to show their anger at our Prime Minister’s obsequious attitude to the new incumbent of what she keeps describing as “our most important ally”.  Of course the organisers of a demonstration influence the tone of it, but the people who come are not robots and will show if they do not appreciate how it is being run. It was very clear to me from the platform that what the diverse speakers were collectively saying was very enthusiastically received and touched the mood that many feel. It wasn’t as large as the earlier protests, and inflated claims of numbers are unhelpful, but it was young, it was lively, it was united  and it felt meaningful. Here was my speech:

“I bring greetings from the Jewish Socialists’ Group and from all the Jewish organisations who are here today. We live in a world where too many people would like Jews and Muslims to be enemies. We are here as Jews to express our complete solidarity with Muslims threatened and victimised by Donald Trump’s racism. You are our sisters and brothers, our friends and neighbours and as Jews we stand by you.

We stand also with the Mexican people – mainly catholic –  bearing the brunt of Trump’s racism. And, as Jews, who know something about being refugees, we give total solidarity to all refugees, of all nationalities, and of all faiths and none, who are being kept out of that tiny overcrowded country called the USA, and enduring humiliating and inhuman border controls.

We are proud that American Jews voted overwhelmingly against Trump. They recognised him, and the white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists he collected around him during his campaign, as anti-Semites. But this wasn’t just self-interest. American Jews were very prominent in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. When they reject Trump today, they are also rejecting his racism against others, his sexism, his attacks on the environment, and the naked greed of corporations that he will strengthen at the expense of the poor.

We know our history. When we heard what he was doing to Muslims we remembered the Jewish refugees during the holocaust turned away by America, and sent back to Europe to add to the funeral pyre. We also know  how few Jews were allowed to enter Britain after Hitler came to power in Germany. When they finally allowed some to enter in 1938/39 the Daily mail, and Daily Express were screaming and shouting about “Alien Jews pouring in, over-running the country”, and all that shit.

Before she became PM Theresa May spent six years as Home Secretary. Her appalling record towards refugees than was as bad as her predecessors in the 1930s towards Jews. Trump and May are made for each other.

We know from the brilliant demos over the last couple of weeks – the women’s march and the huge demo here on Monday, that Trump has very few friends in the world. And a lot of enemies. But one of his friends will be here on Monday, the prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, butcher of Palestinians, prime minister for the settlers, for the occupiers but not for the ordinary people of Israel and certainly not for the Jewish diaspora. Netanyahu is no friend of ours. This warmonger does not speak in our name. Be here to greet him on Monday!

Last point. May and Trump can talk about how to help rich corporations grown richer. Netanyahu and Trump can talk about building walls. We are the Jews who know nothing about walls but who know everything about barricades. And our message to Maggie May, to warmonger Netanyahu, to racist Trump, is No Pasaran! They Shall Not pass!”