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House of Shadows: Defying the Poppy-day Fascists

It’s depressing. And it’s only going to get depressinger. (Rhymes wth Kissinger)

From the moment Jeremy Corbyn rose with a slightly stunned expression to embrace his opponents in the Labour leadership ballot as the runaway winner, he hasn’t been able to blow his nose without some Tory cunt accusing him on the slenderest of pretexts of being unpatriotic, a security risk – possibly even a traitor.

And one grinds one’s teeth at the stupidity of journalists who, mostly denied access to the normally affable Mr Corbyn, who detests journalists with a passion half the population reserves for Marmite soldiers, have been seizing on every pronouncement he has made in the three days since he was surprised to become party leader (having, as my prep-school headmaster Geoff Cornes once said to me, no leadership qualities whatsoever) and comparing and contrasting with anything the new members of his shadow cabinet have ever said or done.

The aim seems to be to demonstrate the internal contradictions (and hence, the chaos) of the new regime as if they actually mattered – which, of course, with the party in opposition for at least the next four years, a) they don’t, and b) they are in any case totally uninteresting. Corbyn has already flagged-up that his style of leadership will be to welcome dissent, and his views as leader will not in future be, as they were with Blair and Brown, official party policy, which will henceforth be dictated by the majority.

I have seen and heard grown journalists practically weeping with frustration as they try to get their coiffed heads around this simple idea, as it is so utterly alien to their upbringing in a world of adversarial politics and snappy soundbites.

But it is the attacks on Corbyn’s refusal to abandon his core beliefs that will, I expect, considerably shorten his leadership.

Take the Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames – a grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, our great war leader who sent tanks to quell a strike in Glasgow and the RAF to gas Kurdish separatists, decades before Saddam Hussein*. The hyperinflated Sir Nicholas, MP for Mid-Sussex, whose recent political initiatives have included a demand that train companies should be fined whenever their employees don’t show up for work, inconveniencing him as well as hoi polloi, has accused Corbyn of showing disrespectful (and possibly treasonous) behaviour.

How so?

Because Mr Corbyn attended a memorial service today at Westminster Abbey to honour The Few, that gallant mix of Czech and S. African and Polish and Canadian and American and British working-class sergeant-pilots and ground crew and a few public schoolboys who, 75 years ago, fought so tenaciously to discourage the Luftwaffe from putting up any more aircraft to defend the planned seaborne invasion of Britain, thus ensuring it never happened and Hitler accidentally invaded Russia instead. It was a pivotal moment in our island history, not to mention the Russians’, who took 20 million casualties, and made for a great speech.

And, according to Sir Nicholas, observing him through trusty Tory binoculars, albeit while standing respectfully to attention that ‘orrible little man Corbyn visibly failed to pay lip-service to the words of the National Anthem. Treason!

It is hard to describe the mixture of glee and dismay with which Corbyn’s election has been greeted in Toryland. Images of the treacherously unmoving lips fill the newspapers, while members of his newly appointed shadow cabinet are grilled on their reactions and most, to date, have cravenly agreed with the Moral Minority that he ought perhaps to have at least mouthed some lyrics to avoid upsetting the nation.

Had he done so, lip-readers would doubtless have been pressed into service to discover if he might not in fact have been silently warbling the words to the Internationale instead.

You can understand, given the vast service the Churchill and Soames families performed for the British Empire (including the rotten white supremacist regime in Rhodesia, where Soames’ father was the last Governor) and the continuous rain of awards and promotions and positions of rank they have had bestowed upon them, despite the presence in the family line of depressives and suicides and notorious alcoholics, why Sir Nicholas would regard Jeremy Corbyn as little better than a traitor – since it is patrician blimps like Sir Nicholas who have defined the long-outmoded British traditions of privilege and preference to which anyone in favour of working-class independence would seem like a traitor.

(Sir Nicholas might be horrified to discover how many socialist pacifists emerged from the Second World War, determined to make a better society. That’s why, like my grandfather, an officer who served in the airforce through both World Wars, they voted in droves to get rid of his illustrious grandfather in 1946. Clearly, it is an event seared on a grandson’s memory. He might also be horrified to hear I was obliged to parse Latin and Greek verbs at the same school as his father had been to… different generation, though.)

My God, what is the country coming to, when a declared republican fails to fully enunciate the quasi-religious, meretricious words of possibly the most tedious song ever written, in honour of a German-speaking king? (Can Jeremy even sing? Not everyone is confident that they can. He doesn’t look as though he does much singing.  Could TV choirmaster Gareth Malone be pressed into service, to get the whole shadow cabinet singing from the same hymn-sheet?)  Soames’ attitude – and that now of the platoon of harrumphing generals and admirals joining in – is not dissimilar to the disgraceful discourtesy displayed by Tories towards the tweed-hat-wearing Scot, Keir Hardy, founder of the Labour Party, back in the day. They are, to be frank, intolerable hypocrites.

O Lord our God arise
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix
God save us all.

And, to add that historical resonance to this non-story, it has also been noticed with alarm that Jeremy was not wearing a suit, but a non-matching jacket and trousers…. His contempt for Our Island Story seemingly knows no bounds! (Actually, genuinely, I believe the Labour party will shortly wake up to the fact that they have elected a madman, but it’s quite entertaining nonetheless.)

That his former Parliamentary colleagues are, in a ratio of 9:1, also participating in this auto da fè is perhaps unusual, but not unexpected. They rely on their close relationship with the Conservative party’s and the Daily Mail’s and Roop Murdoch’s and Tony Blair’s view on this and that for their bread and butter, with caviar on top, and see it fast disappearing under the New Order.

Were we a proper Soviet republic, these turncoats and Jeremy-deniers would have been liquidated by now, and good riddance. As it is, the media continues in its confused fashion  to imagine these Blair recidivists are the real Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn is merely the leader of some horrible breakaway minority Communist fraction that has intruded into their worst nightmare and is busily filling a gunny sack with the Crown Jewels.

Wroo-ong.

Resignations from the Shadow Cabinet and pointed public refusals to serve under Corbyn by floppy Socialist poshboys like The Honourable Tristram Julian William Hunt, FRHistS (born, er, not long ago) – who hasn’t actually been asked – have dominated the headlines, along with the curious accusation that Corbyn has failed to include a single woman among the Top 5 cabinet posts – although he has appointed more than 50% of women to posts in his Shadow Cabinet, a record.

Clearly, he is an unreconstructed old sexist dinosaur, unlike trendy Dave Cameron, who retains the terrifying witch-woman, Teresa May, as Home Secretary; presumably because she could so easily arrange for him and his family to disappear into the gulag if he asked her to move, say, to Environment or Education or – God forbid – Women’s Rights.

The fact that Cameron has no other women in his cabinet – well, a few, you can tell by their beards (blame Shakespeare for that joke) is ignored. Amber Rudd? Ghastly creature. Nor does anyone suggest exactly whom else Corbyn could have appointed, and to which posts.

Let’s try. It won’t be easy.

There’s Jeremy, he was independently elected as leader on the first ballot by 60% of the party, only 15% of which voted for either of the two women candidates for the job. So he couldn’t influence his own post. Not really.

Then there’s Tom Watson, deputy leader, who was also independently elected (on the third ballot) by 50% of the party. That’s the Top Two posts, neither of which was in Corbyn’s gift. Then there’s Corbyn’s longtime pal John McDonnell, a colourless plebby type, who had to be made Shadow Chancellor if only because he’s the one with the MA in Political Theory and a track record of enjoying long, boring committee meetings.

To the SuperMarionated Andy Burnham, Thunderbirds’ Jeff Tracy lookalike, Jeremy owed one; and he was previously a real Secretary of State, and rather a good one, so he gets shadow Home Secretary, the most thankless post in Government, as the thankless Teresa May knows.

Hilary Benn’s dad, Wedgwood is a hero both to Corbyn and McDonnell. Hilary was also a Minister before, for International Development, and quite a good one. Besides, he has a girl’s name, as well as a lot of free Air Miles, so he makes shadow Foreign Secretary. It may once have been a ‘Great Office of State’ in Palmerston’s day, but is now merely a role for a bag-carrier for the US State Department.

And that’s the Top 5, and after that they’re mostly women – of whom Angela Eagle has been a Minister before, and she gets Business – rather important, as Business is sure to hate Jeremy – and some other important job in the House as well. (No, not Housewife… satirical twat. Ed. ) Defence, Health, Education, Chief Whip – are these not rather more meaningful jobs in the modern world than the Foreign Office or the Deputy Leadership? And all amply filled by women?

So where’s the beef, sheep?

As it is, Corbyn will be bending over, if not entirely backwards then in a similar direction, to keep as many of his party as possible onside, while uncomfortably reminding them they’ve all had a lovely time with their snouts in the gravy since Blair took the party on its corporate outing to Disneyland, and it’s time to get back to work.

Compromise could in fact be his undoing: it is clear, this is Britain’s Syriza moment – and up on TV’s Newsnight pops Yanis Varoufakis as if on cue, to endorse the New Old Labour experiment. (Is Yanis proposing to become an economic migrant to Britain? We should be told. He would add immeasurably to the life of the nation.)

The Poppy Question

But it has been the Poppy Question that has demonstrated most clearly that the trivial minutiae of the Jeremy Corbyn Story are going to play best in the cliche-ridden, soap-opera narrative of Westminster-watchers.

Asked innocently if he will be wearing a red or a white poppy for Armistice day, which is not for another eight weeks yet, Jeremy sensed a trap but took a little while to reply, he would probably wear a red one. (The white poppy is considered the badge of a cowardly traitor. Jeremy is a pacifist. He would like to scrap Trident, our £100 billion nuclear ‘shield’, but is relaxed that his shadow Defence spoke, Maria Eagle (yes, a woman) has voted in the past to keep it.)

He would probably rather not be wearing a poppy at all. I won’t be, I may even be brave and wear a badge saying Fuck  Poppies. Not because I am, as Jeremy has been accused of being as a result of his brief hesitation, unpatriotic and a traitor to the memory of the Fallen of two World Wars and Christ-knows how many squalid postcolonial entanglements since.

No, it’s because I refuse to be bullied into making hollow gestures by poppy-day fascists who have commandeered the occasion in recent years to promote their nauseating brand of commercialised patriotic humbug, forgetting quite how awful and disgusting war is and that the original purpose of the poppy was as a fundraiser for the British Legion, a charity supporting wounded ex-service personnel because the government who sent them to get wounded, wouldn’t.

Nowadays the poppy is a symbol of mourning for the loss of Britain’s ‘greatness’ and a grotesque militaristic cheer for ‘Our heroes’, who return with shattered lives from seeing action pointlessly at the behest of cretinous chauvinistic dimwits in flyblown desert shitholes and are treated as badly as ever by the Defence establishment.

Frankly, Red Nose Day has more meaning.

That also goes for the smooth-cheeked, overpaid baboons at the BBC; who, not to offend vindictive Tory hypocrites who might vote down the annual licence fee, kneejerkily force anyone appearing on TV, heedless of their shifting discomfort, to display a red poppy prominently throughout the weeks leading up to and for several days after 11th November.**

Yes, let’s remember the day in 1918 when the guns fell silent over ten million unnecessarily dead people who had been clawing each other to pieces for four years in six-feet-deep, blood-and gas-soaked, mud-filled trenches just to preserve a superannuated European elite and their lucrative but doomed C19th empires; a world that was already passing into History.

Except that its Jingoistic tropes are still preserved through the lies and scorn of the Tory press.

This morning, my cynicism has crystallised into a Thort. (This Post has taken three days to knock into shape and it’s all still rather overlarge and wobbly, a bit like Sir Christopher’s permanently outraged Tory jowls.)

The symbol of the poppy once reminded us appropriately and proportionally of the sufferings of the past: ”At the going down of the sun, we shall remember them’.

In the canon of modern-day chauvinism, however, the poppy throws forward instead to the sufferings politicians safe in their Westminster bubble expect to inflict on working people in the future. Fopr the sake of the country, you understand. The country most of which, they own.

Fuck them.

*I know, I’m being unfair. It’s what polemicists do.

**21st October, I have spotted my first on-screen poppy – ostentatiously large ones could be the fashion this year.

Postscriptum

While we’re discussing the refugee crisis, verse four of the National Anthem (it is a truth observed, that not even the most blimpish of generals and admirals and overstuffed Tory politicians and nervous-looking football players know all the words) might give our government pause for thought:

Not in this land alone
But be God’s mercies known
From shore to shore.
Lord make the nations see
That men should brothers be
And form one family
The wide world o’er.

Memo to Dave….

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