Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Will an angry Marxist throwback lead the British Labour party?
Thirty-five years ago the Labour Party elected the Left-wing intellectual Michael Foot as its leader. It was a disaster (for Labour) that Foot pipped the infinitely more plausible figure of Denis Healey by a handful of votes.
Years later those distinguished academics Ivor Crewe and Anthony King published a book revealing that a number of Right-of-Centre Labour MPs who were already planning to defect to a new Social Democratic Party had told them they had voted for Foot rather than Healey in order to inflict maximum damage on the party they were about to desert.
That, at least, was cunning. No such clever plan seems to have been in the minds of a number of senior Labour MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn — at the last minute — so that he gained the necessary number of endorsements to go through to the final stage of the leadership ballot: that of the party’s national membership. The likes of Margaret Beckett and Frank Field argued that Corbyn’s presence would ‘widen the debate’.
It has done more than that. Those old stagers must now be in a state of consternation — and (more unlikely) contrition — as the man regarded as the most Left-wing member of the entire parliamentary party has taken the lead in various private polls of the national membership.
Corbyn has not only gained the support of the party’s financial backers, the large public-sector unions: he has won the nominations of more local party associations than any other candidate.
The 66-year-old member for Islington North — an ‘unreconstructed Trotskyist’ in the words of one ex-colleague — could actually come out on top in the first round of the ballot; the bookies now have him at 10-3 to win the leadership itself.
That ex-colleague went on to say that Corbyn is ‘not a serious politician’. On the contrary, he is astonishingly serious. He is more serious about politics than anyone else in the House of Commons.
Indeed, two marriages ended partly because of that. His first wife, Jane Chapman — whom he met when they were both members of the Hornsey Labour Party — later said: ‘I wanted to do other things — go to the cinema, go clubbing . . . he has remained very focused politically, I just didn’t have it to the same extent.’
Corbyn’s second marriage — to Claudia Bracchitta — seems to have foundered on his determination to put political ideology before family harmony.
Their son Ben had won a place to an outstanding grammar school. But Corbyn — who went to a grammar school himself, and whose mother taught in one — was determined that the boy should go to one of the (lamentably underperforming) Islington comprehensives.
Ms Bracchitta told The Observer: ‘I couldn’t send Ben to a school where I knew he wouldn’t be happy. Whereas Jeremy was able to make one sort of decision, I wasn’t.’
There is integrity in such a position as Corbyn’s — in stark contrast to one of his supporters, Diane Abbott, who sent her own son to a private fee-paying school, having previously condemned colleagues who had made a similar decision. Yet there is also something a little inhuman about those for whom ideology comes before family.
Not that Corbyn is incapable of emotions — chief among them, anger. The viewers of Channel 4 News witnessed that for themselves last week when Corbyn was questioned by Krishnan Guru-Murthy about the fact that he had described members of the proscribed terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’ at a House of Commons meeting he organised.
Corbyn’s eye-popping rage at Guru-Murthy was something to behold, as he accused the presenter of ‘tabloid journalism’ in a tone of voice that suggested he regards that as a worse practice than blowing people up.
Indeed, Corbyn’s hirsute features are almost unvaryingly fixed in a scowl. This accurately represents his miserablist view of the world, which is that it is entirely under the control of multi-national big business determined to oppress the rest of us into interminable destitution.
This can be seen on a film put up by the Oxford Union on YouTube of a debate it held two years ago with the motion ‘Does Socialism Work?’
As one of his opponents makes a light-hearted point about traffic lights being socialist (compulsory) and round-abouts capitalist (choose when to go), Corbyn can be seen glowering with rage, even as the student audience laughs.
Then Corbyn got up to argue that the flood of migrants into the south of Europe from Africa was all the fault of ‘free-market capitalism’. It seemed not to have occurred to the member for Islington North that these people were fleeing towards countries with a functioning market system; just as many families during the decades of socialist rule under Fidel Castro have risked their lives crossing from Cuba to Florida — but not the other way around.
One reason why Corbyn fails to understand this (other than his rejection of all economics other than that of Karl Marx) is that he is completely uninterested in material possessions and creature comforts. He refuses to drive a car. He doesn’t drink alcohol. He doesn’t even smoke (unlike his mentor, Tony Benn, who indulged with pipe and tobacco).
There is nothing wrong with such austerity (a word which is otherwise on Corbyn’s lengthy hate list, as he invariably uses it to mean limiting public expenditure). There are few politicians who have claimed less in the way of parliamentary expenses. Yet while voters might find that admirable, I doubt someone of this character could ever have mass appeal — even if his politics were not so far-Left as to be almost off the map.
The British — regardless of their party affiliations — like politicians who exude cheerfulness and joie de vivre. This helps explain the success of that eternally grinning boozer Nigel Farage in boosting Ukip’s national vote. It also lies behind the remarkable popularity of Boris Johnson, who twice managed to become elected as a Conservative Mayor in largely Labour-voting London.
One of Johnson’s Tory colleagues at Westminster told the Mail last week that he was among over 70 Conservative MPs who ‘don’t really see Boris as a potential leader [because] he’s not serious enough’. What this unnamed Tory fails to understand is that being unremittingly serious about politics sets a man (or indeed a woman) apart from the mass of normal people.
Few are more set apart than Jeremy Corbyn, who thinks he speaks for the masses, but does not even begin to understand them. Your standard middle-class revolutionary, in other words. Poor Labour.
English is now a foreign language in London, says Terence Stamp
As the dashing star of films such as Billy Budd and Far From The Madding Crowd, Terence Stamp was the symbol of ‘Swinging London’ in the Sixties, but says he now feels like an alien in his own country.
‘It’s very sad how few English people there are in London now,’ he tells me at a party in Mayfair, where he lamented what he seems to see as a lack of integration among some immigrants.
‘When I grew up in East London everyone seemed to speak English, and now you can barely get by speaking our own language.’
Stamp, who enjoyed romances with his fellow Sixties icons, the actress Julie Christie and model Jean Shrimpton, shared a flat with Sir Michael Caine, but is now based in West London.
‘I don’t live in the East any more, but I absolutely love mangoes and so occasionally I go back there to buy these wonderful Alphonso mangoes from the market on Green Street.
'I’m lucky if I can buy one now at all because no one speaks English.
‘It’s changed so much in such a short space of time, that God knows what London will be like in another decade or so.’
In a provocative outburst, the 76-year-old actor, who went on to star in Hollywood blockbusters including Superman, added: ‘You see these mums wandering around with their prams and four out of five of them have these scarves wrapped around their heads. I feel like it’s not London any more; not the one I used to know anyway.
‘I do think a multicultural society can be a good thing, but when it’s at the cost of your own culture and history, then it’s gone too far and it would be very sad if London stopped being predominantly English.’
Is this kids’ film really so vile, misogynistic and profoundly offensive?
If you’ve ever heard someone complaining because the chef was a tiny bit heavy-handed with the truffle oil in preparing their leek and shiitake risotto, then you are familiar with the concept of first world problems.
Well step aside, FWP, because there’s a new breed of trivial and nonsensical whining in town: far-fetched problems in children’s movies (FFPICM).
So what is the latest film so vile, so steeped in misogyny, so profoundly offensive that it has the moral guardians in a flap? That would be Inside Out.
Yes, that Inside Out. The one set inside the control centre of an 11-year-old’s mind featuring her hardworking emotions in the leading roles.
The one made by the seemingly awful folk at Pixar, creators of the evil, not-fit-to-be-seen-by-young-eyes films such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
The same Inside Out that proved to be a favourite among choc-top chewing moviegoers and their adult chaperones during the school holidays, having taken more than $25 million at the Australian box office.
The same Inside Out that won plaudits for its mature insights into mental health and had even the grumpiest critics swooning, with Entertainment Weekly gushing “They’ve made a movie that’s so smart and psychologically clever, it may leave little ones scratching their heads wondering why their parents are laughing so hard and getting so choked up.”
Well not so fast, everyone. According to The Mail on Sunday, the film now “stands accused of causing psychological damage by depicting Sadness as a fat child”.
Parents, we’re told, “have raised concerns over Sadness, voiced by actress Phyllis Smith, being depicted as a frumpy fat girl while Joy, played by Amy Poehler, is slim and fashionable.” (Slim we will get to, but fashionable? Only if your idea of being on trend is bearing an uncanny resemblance to Marge Simpson’s little sister).
A string of child therapists are quoted as to the supposedly regressive messages being transmitted in the film, with British psychotherapist Dilys Daws saying “It’s a pity the sad character is also labelled as being fat, as that means that being fat is sad.”
Actually, what’s a pity is that a perfectly innocuous and well-intentioned film is being torn to shreds on the most flimsy of premises — particularly when there are plenty of films churned out every year that are truly deserving of our concern.
Misplaced outrage over completely harmless children’s cinema also erupted when Frozen, the 2013 film that drove parents to distraction with its ubiquitous power ballad Let It Go, proved a runaway success with its target audience.
Not content with its depiction of two strong female characters in the leading roles, and the very non Disney decision to shun the traditional Prince Charming resolution in favour of paying homage to the love between sisters, sociologist Philip N. Cohen got straight to the real issue.
“Just when I was wondering what the body dimensions of the supposedly-human characters were, the script conveniently supplied the dimorphism money-shot: hand-in-hand romantic leads, with perfect composition for both eye-size and hand-size comparisons,” Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, wrote of a scene in which the wide-eyed but daintily limbed heroine Anna holds hands with a suitor.
“Giant eyes and tiny hands symbolise femininity in Disneyland,” Cohen concluded.
With all due respect, Professor, is that all you’ve got?
Here we have a smart and entertaining film that doesn’t talk down to kids and merrily — some would say bravely — throws the damsel-in-distress storybook out the window.
It even passes the Bechdel Test, in which films must meet three criteria in assessing their depiction of gender: it has at least two women in it; who talk to each other; about something besides a man.
Films that fail to pass this deceptively simple test include Birdman, Harry Potter, the first two Toy Story instalments and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy — but I don’t see anyone whipping out a ruler to measure the wrist circumference of their protagonists.
So why all the hysteria about Frozen and Inside Out? If ever there was a case of looking for problems where none exist, this is surely it.
This is not to deny that children’s films play an important role in shaping a child’s understanding of the world and influence them in a positive way. While it can be easy to scoff at the more earnest and high-minded of kids’ fare, a film or television show can help develop empathy or prick a young, and previously self-obsessed, conscience.
For this would-be animal welfare activist, watching Charlotte’s Web as a child proved a defining moment. My relationship with ham sandwiches was instantly changed — and, to this day, has never recovered.
So by all means let’s remain vigilant in monitoring our children’s entertainment and be quick to condemn depictions of genuine sexism or racism when they occur.
But obsessing over the exaggerated dimensions of an animated creation? As a slender-wristed character once famously advised, let it go.
Ancient Greeks highlight gay marriage flaws
By Bill O'Chee, an Australian conservative politician of Eurasian origins
I have many friends around the world, some of whom are gay, and some of whom are lesbian. At the heart of those friendships is a desire to see people for who they are, and not for the people with whom they have sex.
Yet for all that, I do not support the state legislating to create a class of marriage between two men or two women. Moreover, I believe the arguments advanced in favour of gay marriage reflect poorly upon those who advocate for it.
Gay marriage is not about colouring your Facebook page avatar with a rainbow, nor is it about whether a man may have genuine feelings of love for another man, or a woman another woman. The discussion is, instead, about complex and fundamental issues not always properly considered.
If we go back over 2000 years, we find that both the Greeks and Romans were familiar with love and sex between people of the same gender. Indeed, for the Greeks, same sex relationships were neither uncommon, nor frowned upon; in fact they were probably much more common than they are today.
As was their way, the Greeks felt the need to use different words to describe what they saw as different types of love.
There could be agápe, brotherly love, or love of God; or storge, the love of parents and their children. The Greeks also spoke of philia, which was an idealised form of friendship based on equality and virtue; and of éros, which was sexual passion. Interestingly, éros was not restricted by gender.
Even in such a permissive society, gamos was reserved solely for a relationship between a man and a woman for the purposes of creating a family, even if that relationship might not originally be based on love.
There is much we can learn from the Greeks. The modern reality is that the vast majority of people who love each other live together without getting married, even if they may choose to do so later.
The law has moved to accommodate this, and common law couples are able to pass property to each other, to benefit from their partner's superannuation policy, and make decisions as next-of-kin, just the same as those who are married.
If that is so, why do heterosexual couples, who may have been living together for some time, choose to get married?
It is not about love, as that can be had perfectly well in a normal de facto relationship. In fact love - true and deep love - should not need outside validation, and should be independent of what others have to say.
Heterosexual couples don't need to marry to have children, as many children are born to de facto couples, even if some or many of those couples marry later.
However, the vast majority of heterosexual couples who chose to marry, either have children at the time, or intend to have them, and this is the impetus for marriage. Marriage gives those a stability and a clear identity that is the basis of their lifelong emotional development.
Certainly there may be people who marry who don't intend to have children, but they are a tiny minority, and certainly should not be used to characterise marriage.
So the truth is that marriage is not so much about love for our partner, as much as love for the children we hope to bring into the world.
It is at this point that the case for gay marriage starts to fall apart, because having children cannot ever be a natural consequence of two men or two women forming a union, no matter how genuine their emotions may be.
And if the motive for gay marriage is to make it easier for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, or to access the powers of the state to bring children into the world through surrogacy or artificial insemination, then it is no longer about the love two people feel for each other, and more about wanting babies as lifestyle accessories.
This brings us to a broader, but important, philosophical issue.
I strongly believe the right to determine one's identity - sexual and otherwise - is one of the very few truly inalienable rights which society should accord every individual.
Determining our identity - and deciding on how we live our lives - necessarily involves many choices.
Choices, however, come with consequences. Those consequences are the very reason we make choices: we sum up the advantages and disadvantages each choice brings, and make our decisions on that basis.
To believe that we can make choices about the way we want to live our lives, and then have the state come in and relieve us of the consequences we don't like is deeply flawed. The whole basis of the law is built on people being responsible for the consequences of their actions, and marriage and families should be no different.
It is easy and glib to talk about "marriage equality" but what is more important is seeing through our choices to make sure they are meaningful. This doesn't diminish the love that gay and lesbian couples may feel for each other. However marriage has a real purpose which is larger than our love for ourselves or our partners, and it is selfish to see it otherwise.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.