Friday, 5 December 2014

Firing of Nafeez Ahmed incriminates Jonathan Freedland and further exposes the Guardian

A dark storm is gathering around allegations of censorship and Zionist-favoured gatekeeping at the Guardian.

Nafeez Ahmed was fired by the Guardian's environment editor after he published a Guardian blog piece entitled: IDF's Gaza assault is to control Palestinian gas, avert Israeli energy crisis.

The article laid out an insightful assembly of facts and analysis on the environmental and geopolitical issues surrounding Gaza's offshore gas reserves. It discussed the complex questions of energy politics in the region, set around the collaborative efforts of Israel and the West to appropriate and manipulate this crucial wealth base.

Evidently touching raw nerves, Nafeez was duly sacked, his editor claiming in feeble mitigation that Nafeez had 'strayed' from his agreed 'remit' of producing environmental stories.

In response, Nafeez wrote 'Palestine is not an environment story', a detailed account of the sacking, and damning indictment of the deep process of censorship at the Guardian. He also provided corroborating accounts of how Jonathan Freedland, in particular, carries out a vital gatekeeping role in determining stories and reportage pertaining to Israel-Palestine.

Prompted to explain his position, Freedland issued a TwitLonger statement to Nafeez and others stating that he had no part in his firing, nor any knowledge of his writings:
@NafeezAhmed Your piece for Medium implies I was involved in the end of your arrangement with the Guardian. I don't wish to be rude, but I had literally not heard of you or your work till seeing that Medium piece, via Twitter, a few hours ago. (The Guardian environment website, where you wrote, is edited separately from the Guardian's Comment is Free site, which I now oversee.) I had no idea you wrote for the Guardian, no idea that arrangement had been terminated and not the slightest knowledge of your piece on Gaza's gas until a few hours ago. What's more, I was abroad - on vacation - on the days in July you describe. To put it starkly, my involvement in your case was precisely zero. I hope that as a matter of your own journalistic integrity, you'll want to alter the Medium piece to reflect these facts. Perhaps you'll also share this on Twitter as widely as you shared the Medium piece yesterday.
This was rejected in a TwitLonger response from Nafeez:
Your reading of my Medium piece is incorrect. I am not implying that you were involved in the end of my Guardian tenure. I have no clue about that, and to be sure, I did not make any such claim. My Medium piece has been amended to ensure that your response is mentioned in full, and to clarify that I am not implying your specific involvement in the termination of my contract - a matter about which I have no knowledge thanks to the abrupt, unethical and unlawful way in which I was dropped.

What I did do is speak to several journalists about my experience who told me that it was not unprecedented, and mentioned you by name. According to these journalists, including a former Guardian ed who has spoken on the record, my experience of egregious Guardian censorship over the Gaza gas story  - which I'm sad to see doesn't seem to bother you very much given your concerns about 'journalistic integrity' - has a long and little-known context, suggesting that rather than my experience being a mere bizarre and accidental aberration, it is part of an entrenched, wider culture across the paper. These journalists who spoke to me on condition of anonymity claim that you have played a key role in fostering this culture, and that you have quashed legitimate stories critical of Israel without meaningful journalistic justification. I have merely relayed their allegations.
It was also, as can be plainly seen, a brazen evasion of the main charges laid out by Nafeez about censorship and Freedland's central control over output.

All of which draws closer attention to the power and influence of Freedland.

Alongside, and complementary to, his position as "Executive Editor of the Guardian", Freedland carries out an important tempering role at the Jewish Chronicle, using his regular postings and status as a 'moderating' voice and warning platform for anything that seriously threatens to undermine the character and legitimacy of Israel.

In a recent piece, Israel's crumbling pillars, he warns, for example, of how the proposed Knesset legislation to formally declare Israel a Jewish state could seriously undermine its principal status as a 'democracy'.

Of course, nothing Freedland says here remotely touches upon Israel's institutional suppression of democracy as an ethnocratic, occupying and apartheid state.

Peruse other pieces here, like War is not always the answer, on Israel's 'difficult standing' after bombing Gaza, and you'll see more of this 'identity counselling', as Freedland tries to guide and protect Israel:
Blame Hamas if you like for firing from populated areas, but when Israel pulls the trigger it shares in the moral responsibility.
Not principal responsibility for decades of murderous occupation and oppression, just that Israel should "share" in that "moral responsibility". As with much framing at the Guardian, so runs the vital power-supporting narrative of 'two sides' and 'misguided Israel'.

One might think it remarkable that Freedland, carrying such influence at the Guardian, also occupies such a presitgious platform at the JC.

This is the all-important context within which to understand the key allegations raised by Nafeez Ahmed about Freedland as principal Guardian gatekeeper on sensitive issues relating to Israel.

Jonathan Cook, another ex-Guardian writer, has offered similar valuable insights and backing of Nafeez Ahmed's claims.

What critical response might we now see from key Guardian columnists George Monbiot, Seumas Milne and Owen Jones?

Will they help illuminate the culture of censorship and control laid out by Nafeez Ahmed and Jonathan Cook - a culture of rooted conservatism also recently exposed by ex-Guardian staffer Guilio Sica?

Will they help specify the particular influence exerted by Freedland in these affairs, and pursue their own extensive investigations of such interventions at the Guardian?

Might they even come to support Nafeez Ahmed's new project for a truly independent citizen journalism completely free from corporate control and establishment interests?

From Rusbridger to Freedland, the Guardian plays a crucial function in filtering stories, pitching moderate narratives and ensuring the 'right type' of writers.  A few 'alternative' voices are permitted, providing just enough 'dissenting' thought to maintain that niche position of 'sensibe-left reformer'.   

Just imagine if those same people were writing much the same content from outside those contrived confines. Just think what else they'd be able to say about the kind of stultifying, posturing organisation which employs them.   

Instead, their presence lends the whole enterprise a crucial legitimacy in rationalising power, stemming dissent, castigating radical 'upstarts' and patrolling the permissible limits of debate.

How rightly, yet easily, we castigate the Sun, Mail, Daily Record and other populist 'rags', without ever casting a truly critical eye over what pretentiously and disingenuously styles itself as an upmarket, labelled 'garment'.

From supporting Western aggressions to shielding Israel, from hosting war criminals like Blair and Brown to hypocritical greenwashing, isn't it high time that so many of those who comprise an effective left and liberal establishment really thought about their supportive roles, and about calling-out this authority-upholding pretender for what it is?

Update: Guardian reply. 
Statement in response to a blog post by Nafeez Ahmed
A Guardian News & Media spokesperson said: “Nafeez Ahmed is a freelance journalist who self-published blog posts on our environment blogging network for just over a year as a regular contributor. He has never been on the staff of the Guardian. His Guardian blog - Earth Insight - was about the link between the environment and geopolitics, but we took the decision to end the blog when a number of his posts on a range of subjects strayed too far from this brief. For the record, Jonathan Freedland played absolutely no part in this decision, as he has already confirmed.
“Any suggestion of censorship is unfounded: all of Nafeez Ahmed’s blog posts remain on our website to this day. He is welcome to continue to pitch story ideas to us in the normal way.”

Nafeez Ahmed's tweeted response:
This is .@guardian's seriously hilarious official response that just confirms wot I already said #priceless

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Prince Harry feels no shame, but still keeps hush on the Royal Scam

So, the big 'confession' is finally out.

As part of his AIDS-awareness campaign, Prince Harry has just divulged his very own #FeelNoShame truth: he gets "incredibly anxious" before speaking in public.

A fairly human admission, if hardly devastating revelation.

Maybe we were expecting some kind of esoteric secret about the royal lineage, outpouring on the establishment's treatment of his mother, or Harry's own penchant for fascist attire.

Some might even have anticipated a certain shameful remorse for his particular part in the murderous calamity of Afghanistan. Or an expression of rebellious shame over his family's mass wealth while so many others sacrifice their dignity in succumbing to food banks.

Still, doesn't this kind of selfless act just confirm the deep-down-decency of our good-cause-patronising royals?

Shouldn't we undeserving subjects just grovel in gratitude at the humble transparency of our modernist princes?

And what all-encompassing fun as those royal-friendly celebs join in the great 'bare-a-secret'.

In lieu of any more enticing beans being spilled about Liz, Phil, Charlie, Andy, Harry and their extensive circle of privilege, here's a #FeelNoShame truth that will never see the media light of day or get mentioned in BBC royal correspondent Nick Robinson's gushing gaze: that the Windsor outfit is really a conniving consortium, continuously and covertly engaged in, to borrow that fine Steely Dan song title, a quite brilliant Royal Scam.

I recall reading, some years ago, a bunch of underworld gangsters talking candidly about how much they admired the Royals for managing to pull off this enormous confidence trick. Fine palaces, rolling estates, civil lists (elite payrolls), royal yachts, tax exemptions, junkets to hang out with Middle East dictators, the adulating masses swaying in dutiful appreciation over their weddings, anniversaries and newly-arrived offspring.

It's also sobering to think how the media get the populace to vent their hatred upon 'benefit scroungers' while our feudal few live shamelessly in the lap of luxury for doing nothing socially useful.

What a fix. Just how do they manage to carry it all off? Relentless BBC fawning certainly helps.

And Harry's latest charity-promoting 'admission' seems to add even more perfect populist cover to the sting.

Sometimes you really have to applaud the sheer scale of the con, wonder whether they'll one day get rumbled, hold their hands up to the racket or ever come to #FeelSomeRealShame. As likely, I'd say, as Prince Charles ever admitting to his eco-hypocrisy.

To invoke the Dan's great lyrics:

See the glory,
See the glory
Of the Royal Scam

Monday, 17 November 2014

Defending old formulas - the establishment-left keeping real radicalism in its box

Where would the Establishment be without the 'establishment-left'? The question might seem strange, even oxymoronic. But when it comes to questioning elite structures and dominant narratives there's a whole left-liberal 'buffer class' holding back real radicalism with 'sensible' injunctions to stay within prescribed political and media boundaries.  

From Labour-upholding affiliates to Guardian columnists, the establishment-left play a vital role in maintaining safety-first politics.

Their idea of 'real change' amounts to little more than re-packaged party policies and finding puppet-head replacements, as in the unedifying spectacle of panicked Labour plotters trying to dump Ed Miliband for someone more electorally 'palatable'.

The same rearguard reaction is evident in Owen Jones's and the Labour left's endorsement of Neil Findlay for Scottish party leader. There's recognition of the crisis within Scottish Labour, but no radical effort to deal with its causes or opportunities.

They cling, instead, to notions of a 'rejuvenated' party, the belief that 'new leadership' will have a transforming effect. But do such appointments and alterations remotely touch upon the key structural problems of a sclerotic 'democracy', an archaic Union, a neoliberal-enforced system, a war-addicted imperialist state?   

As with an establishment Labour left, just how useful are most trade unions when faced with real, radical engagement? Closely intertwined with the unions and 'traditional' Labour, a similar tragedy of strategic thinking can be seen with the UK Communist Party, still, whatever its other merits, locked in an old doctrinal cage, unable to contemplate the opportunity of serious left advancement. 

How come, when the overwhelming forces of the left and a mass movement of poor and working class people organised for a progressive Yes in Scotland, the CP alongside Labour and leaders of big unions like Unite were stuck in the same rigid groove campaigning for No?

Now contemplating the mass of Yes street feeling, they, like Jones and others on the establishment-left, now look to Findlay as some sort of 'left saviour'.  

Yet, for Irvine Welsh, the same contradictions remain:
Leftist pundits embody this dilemma, forensically dismantling the party for its shortcomings, yet seeming to assume it can magically resurrect, and then remold the UK state, as it did in 1945-70. In the meantime, they support the de facto preservation of this exploitative and elitist state. To argue to maintain a divisive and reactionary UK state on that basis, pretending it’s about ‘worker’s solidarity’, is both self-deluding and an insult to the intelligence of everybody else. Slavering on like a Hovis advert about the traditions of British working class resistance can’t disguise the fact that you’re bending over backwards to preserve a state that has been doing everything in its power to negate and crush this resistance for the last 35 years, and practically since it’s inception, right up to World War Two. The tragedy of the British left is that it’s got so used to playing this perennial losers game against the UK state. This obsession with protecting it, and continually rolling the same dice, which is so obviously weighted against you, has surely now expired as viable strategy.
For Welsh, even if 'autonomy' was ever granted to Labour in Scotland, the ongoing independence issue only intensifies the problem for Labour leftists:
The problem is if this happens, the party almost inevitably becomes part of the pro-independence movement, a place where many of its natural supporters, before they gave up on it, felt it should be. If you’re left wing, believe in the decentralisation of power and are anti-nuclear weapons, as most real Labour people are, Scottish Indy becomes not so much a catastrophe, as a natural position.
When it comes to being part of something truly radical, doing rather than saying, being engaged in a new paradigm - the establishment-left revert to default mode, picking around the edges, mediating the issue, seeking palliatives, trying, above all, to find ways of rescuing the old formulas.

Establishment-left celebrities perform the same kind of holding role. A little tweet exchange recently with Rory Bremner helps illustrate such conformity to 'tried-and-trusted' positions.
Rory Bremner @rorybremner
At times like this I try to remind myself that the Union is for life, not just for Halloween.

John Hilley @johnwhilley
.@rorybremner Talking of guising, Rory, remember that you helped argue for its lifeline. #YesAlliance

RB: I know. The irony's not lost on me. Tweets occasionally nuanced.

JH: Fair enough, but nuanced tweets on Union life little comfort to radical Yes seeking to break foodbank society and end Trident.

RB: I know, but I'm not sure Indy would either. My argument was fight injustices together, not separately.

JH: A Yes vote would have given real impetus to radical change for all, rather than liberal, token notions of 'fighting together'.
Again, wasn't it typical that Bremner, the 'sage cynic' and 'comedy radical', just couldn't step outside that establishment-left bubble when a real moment of change presented itself?        

In assertive contrast, Russell Brand, who, despite his worthy calls to reject a decaying party political system, was savvy enough to advocate for Yes as a form of imaginative direct action.

And, of course, the role of the establishment-left is vitally evident in the current backlash against Brand himself.

Marina Hyde at the Guardian is the latest to pour such scorn on Brand. Note here Hyde's deep annoyance at being absent from her 'vanguard' column while the main avalanche of criticism came crashing down on Brand, and how she's now making up for it by getting her own belated piece of formulaic dismissal across.

Such reaction illustrates the insecurities of establishment-liberal-left journalists who fear being tainted with Brand's radical ideals and having their 'we are the public guardian' roles usurped.

None of this is conspiratorial. It's an automatic herd reaction in formulaic defence of their 'status' and grasping for editorial approval, all in line with the safe corporate-political order. Crushing 'upstarts' like Brand thus becomes a territorial imperative.

As Media Lens show, that hostile closure has intensified as Brand progresses from 'jokey Newsnight exhibit' to active dissident. Hence the increased use of ridicule and smear in an attempt to keep us all in the fold. 

But isn't Brand himself favourably courted by an establishment-left, from Owen Jones, Johann Hari and Mehdi Hasan, to the New Statesman and Huffington Post? Yes, but to what effect? Much of that 'approval' comes as both sympathetic flirtation with Brand the figure and as an exercise in 'sensible-left correction'; a kind of indulgent policing and tempering of his ideas.    

Stay within the accepted frames of thought, we're still coerced and urged. Don't follow Brand's 'pointless anarchism'. Think what you're giving up. Even if the system's imperfect, those like Jones implore us, remain within it and use your vote for the 'best change possible'.

Power elites have the greatest interest in maintaining those frameworks of permissible thought. But it's most often establishment-left-liberals who do the vital shepherding.

Brand is routinely castigated for having no other formula: what's your alternative, what do you propose instead, they demand? But the question can be more usefully turned around: actually, what do you propose? Look at the myriad crises and untold misery capitalism has caused: are you saying that this system is remotely acceptable? What's your alternative?

The problem is not just that they have no answer, they're not, unlike Brand, even asking the question.  Indeed asking why they're not posing that question, while demanding an answer from Brand, is a vitally radical question in itself.

On which challenging note, please watch this brilliant edition of Brand's The Trews on the relentless, formulaic posturing of 'passionate' politicians, our similarly rote-framing media, and, in the face of this enduring, box-ticking failure, the urgent need, commends Brand, for real forms of direct, participatory democracy.

They may continue mocking him, but the establishment and its vital liberal-left buffer will be watching Brand's anti-party political broadcasts with growing discomfort. 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

On Remembrance Day

On Remembrance Day
Vincent Burke
On Remembrance Day
When the army prays
And the flags go up
To remind us that they do it for us

On Remembrance Day
By the flower display
Where the church explains
How the heroes keep the villians away

There I’ll tell it to the careless wind
I’ll tell you when the good guys win

On Remembrance Day
I should stay away
From the BBC
Where they tell you how a real man should be

And the children watch
As the vicar walks around with a cross
'Cause to love is fine
If you do it at a sensible time

Yeah, I’ll tell it to the careless wind
I’ll tell you when the good guys win
Yeah, I’ll save it for the next of kin
On Remembrance Day
On Remembrance Day
On Remembrance Day

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Poppy Appeal and Royal British Legion's appropriation of Eric Bogle's anti-war anthem

Following the release of the Royal British Legion's 2014 Poppy Appeal single, a version of Eric Bogle's classic anti-war anthem No Man's Land (The Green Fields of France), I wrote to Eric asking for his views on the matter:
Hi Eric
I've just watched the British Legion's disgraceful 'adaptation' of your wonderful song No Man's Land.

All the key lines intimating mass human waste, useless suffering and the terrible futility of war are conveniently missing.

I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how this hauntingly beautiful anti-war anthem has been used as a syrupy, jingoistic 'mark of remembrance'.

Kind regards
John Hilley
Here's Eric's reply (sent as a general statement, and published with his permission): 
Apparently Joss Stone’s version of my song “No Man’s Land” has polarised opinions. I usually don’t comment publicly on other people’s versions of my songs, but many of you have e-mailed me about this matter and seem genuinely upset about it, so I am sending you the following in reply to some of the questions I have been asked………please note that I will be entering into no further correspondence regarding this matter, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life e-mailing on my computer, so you will have to accept (or reject ) what I have said below and leave it there……. 
The copyright for “No Man’s Land/The Green Fields of France” is held by my UK Publisher, Domino Publishing, who are ultimately responsible for approving applications to record this song. When an artist wishes to record “No Man’s Land” they must apply for a mechanical license to do so from the relevant UK agency, and pay a licensing fee. Permission to record is more or less automatic, especially if, as is the case with this song, it has been recorded before. At no stage in this process am I, the composer, involved. Generally speaking, the first I know of any new recording is when I see any subsequent royalties from the recording appearing on my royalty statements.

When the artist(s) in question records the cover version of the song, they can, and often do, rework the song as to be almost unrecognisable from the original version. This is especially true in Jazz music, and is generally regarded as an acceptable creative exercise by the artist(s). Although the publisher and/or composer could take legal action if they feel that the original essence of the song has been irrevocably altered and very much to the song’s detriment, this very rarely happens. The bottom line is that so long as royalties are paid, any wounded artistic feelings are usually put aside. 
So then, to the most asked questions about this affair:
Was my permission sought when they decided to record this song? - No
Did I know what they proposed to do with the song when they decided to record it? - No
Do I approve of what they have done to the song ? (missing verses, rock’n’roll arrangement, etc) No, believe it or not I wrote the song intending for the four verses of the original song to gradually build up to what I hoped would be a climactic and strong anti-war statement. Missing out two and a half verses from the original four verses very much negates that intention. As to the musical arrangement, it’s really about whatever floats your musical boat. I would have thought a strong mostly acoustic version would have done a better job of getting the message across, but that’s just my personal preference, and I’m a bit of an old fart folkie. But then to do an acoustic version and include all four verses and choruses would have made the song nearly 7 minutes long, making it of doubtful commercial appeal in today’s modern music market, given that the average attention span of that market’s consumers is rarely more than three minutes or so. There’s not much doubt that the shortened, up-tempo, bluesy version that Joss does will probably appeal to a much broader cross-section of the listening public, certainly to those who did not know the song existed until they heard Joss’s version.
Is the strong anti-war message in the original song diminished in this recording? Yes, missing some crucial verses does not help. But then this diminishment is only in the eyes (or ears) of people who have heard the original version of the song. Those who have not heard the original cannot make the same comparisons or judgements. They must take Joss’s version on it’s own merits and make their own interpretation.
Does it follow then that this version glorifies war instead of condemning it? - No, in my opinion it certainly doesn’t glorify it, but doesn’t condemn it either, it just sort of starts off promisingly enough and then turns into a sing- along chorus type of song. Sentimentalising perhaps, but not glorifying. Will me or my publisher be suing Joss Stone, Jeff Beck or the British Legion? — No, you have to be joking. I would have wished for a version of my song that could have been more true to my original intention in writing the song, but if Joss’s version touches heart [sic] or two here and there and makes some people reflect, perhaps for the first time, on the true price of war, then her version is as valid as anyone else’s.
So, from Eric Bogle, a morally-stated view that the "strong anti-war message of the original song" has been "diminished" and "sentimentalis[ed]" in the RBL version.

Eric has also offered valued comments here on the RBL's commercial imperatives, other stylistic  approaches to the song, the hoped-for humanitarian value it may still have to those first hearing it, and kind perspective on Joss Stone's own artistic efforts. 

But there seems little doubt about the overall effect of the RBL's version: 
...I wrote the song intending for the four verses of the original song to gradually build up to what I hoped would be a climactic and strong anti-war statement. Missing out two and a half verses from the original four verses very much negates that intention.
Here's all the original verses. Read the lines, listen to Eric's own performance of the song, and decide whether, along with the Tower-poppied backdrop, the RBL's production is an honest mark of remembrance or a crass sanitising of Bogle's anti-war message.

Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride?
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside?
And rest for a while in the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
Although, you died back in 1916,
In that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enclosed in forever behind the glass frame,
In an old photograph, torn, battered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

The sun now it shines on the green fields of France;
There’s a warm summer breeze that makes the red poppies dance.
And look how the sun shines from under the clouds
There’s no gas, no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard it’s still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
To a whole generation that were butchered and damned.

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Ah young Willie McBride, I can’t help wonder why,
Do those that lie here know why did they die?
And did they believe when they answered the cause,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain,
The killing and dying, were all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

petition has been raised calling for the RBL to apologise for cutting out the song's key verses and principal anti-war sentiment.

Note also that the RBL video asks us to honour only the British and Empire forces killed in World War One, no one else in this dreadful, imperialist-fought slaughter. As the establishment-framed commemorations and poppy-promoted militarism go on, how reflective and universal is that as a message of compassionate remembrance? 


7 November

The Royal British Legion have issued a statement defending their use of Eric Bogle's song.   

Just as the song's main anti-war words have been omitted, so does the RBL @PoppyLegion statement conveniently fail to cite or specify Bogle's more critical comments on their use of the song.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Russell Brand, a deepening threat to 'entitled' liberal voices

Newsnight presenter Evan Davis's interview with Russell Brand has elicited much denunciation from an indignant liberal commentariat.

Announcing her latest Sunday Times column, Camilla Long tweeted: "PLEASE can someone tell me what we did to deserve "prancing perm on a stick" Russell Brand as a "voice"?"  Why, laments Hadley Freeman at the Guardian, does this purveyor of "ecstatic hypomania", and chauffeur-driven celeb, have the right to pontificate about poverty, injustice and revolution? Over at the Observer, Nick Cohen sneers that Brand is nothing more than a "barmy Beverly Hills Buddhist" with a dearth of alternatives, and should be shunned by the 'gullible' left. 

As with past demonisations of Julian Assange, so much of this is written in smug-liberal 'house style', the sharply-honed barbs grasping for editorial approval.

But beneath all these caustic words, an even more venomous question lurks: why, they really crave to know, is Brand getting all this attention?

Might such animosity be less about his 'infantile' ideas than the discomfiture of Brand threatening to usurp their 'appointed' roles as 'entitled critics', 'public guardians' and 'political reformers'?     

Though we weren't supposed to notice, the Newsnight interview said as much about why people like Davis, rather than Brand, get to where they are; how their words, ideas and worldviews are so widely registered and safely internalised.

Throughout the interview, Davis spoke the lines of homo-economicus, immersed in the business mindset, at one stage flashing-up a cold graph of real post-war wages. His point? That, despite the 'current dip', capitalism has delivered, overall.

But where was the human context? There was no mention of the profound power capitalism has wielded over every aspect of daily life, no suggestion of the staggering inequalities, mental anguish, alienation, despair, greed, misery and murder of the market system. And certainly no admission of the considerable role a capitalist media has played in all of that.  

In a sense, Davis and Brand weren't even in the same studio. Davis, fixated with statistical 'realities', seemed to be 'hearing' Brand's concerns about corporate capitalism and its monolithic sovereignty - economic, political, social, ecological, cultural - as though it were some kind of unintelligible language.

While Davis may see many problems with capitalism, notably as technocratic issues of production, supply, demand, growth, and even the 'costs' of inequality, he still speaks as though it's the definitive order, the norm. Anyone trying to question that orthodoxy, particularly 'non-expert' voices like Brand, are treated as little more than comedian acts, albeit fascinating ones, to be chided and ridiculed. 

Besides boosting ratings and playing 'street populism', the Newsnight piece was an editorial ambush, picking-out and distorting a tiny line about 9/11 from Brand's book. No sooner was the interview aired than editor Ian Katz was tweeting implied slurs about Brand's 'receptiveness' to conspiracy theories. 

Davis also asked Brand why he doesn't stand for political office, an illustration, like the narrow view of capitalism, of the template liberal politics we're encouraged to accept, and why figures like Davis are trusted to be on Newsnight helping to keep it so.   

Any hostile chain reaction to Brand says as much about our routine exposure to Davis's 'sensible' establishment language as it does to Brand's seemingly 'madcap' declarations. In effect, Brand's views only 'stand out' as 'insane' because we're so relentlessly conditioned to see the standard line as sane.

From the smear-laden Independent to a spluttering Daily Mail, sniping dismissals of Brand's 'revolutionary utopianism' allow easy reduction of his arguments to that of showman fraudster. Yet, are we really to believe that Brand sat down with a devious glint and invented some radically-costumed identity in order to sell a tour, a book or other financially-rewarding prop?

Even if Brand is, or gets treated as, some kind of a passing fad, what he's saying about corporate power, consumer culture, media propaganda, environmental calamity and the wider deprivation of humanity deserves all the airing it can get right now.

If it's a choice between gloating, career journalists using large establishment-corporate media to take-down Brand, or small independent media like Brand's Trews helping to expose power-friendly celebs like Boris Johnson and the influence of that corporate media, I know which version I'm approving.

And if Brand one day does takes the full establishment shilling, or revokes all he's said, so what? If we don't have him already up there on the personal pedestal, never mind the 'Jesus altar', we're at least spared the task of those tortured liberal iconoclasts in having to bring him down.

There's no need to idealise and 'follow' Brand, or even expect that he lay out some kind of detailed manifesto. It's enough that he's helping to subvert authority, indict corporate life, expose his insecure media critics, and promote the need for a real humanitarian and, yes, revolutionary consciousness.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Owen Jones, his No advocacy and the Establishment

Following previous discussion, a further comment on Owen Jones and the referendum.

Jones has tweeted in an exchange that:
I never advocated a vote. Here’s some pieces
Not true. Firstly, the Guardian pieces he cites (the latter already referenced in my previous blog piece) are criticisms of political bullying and establishment blackmail. Fair enough. It's denouncing what should have been obvious. He's also saying it's up to the Scottish people, another obvious truism. But he's certainly not advocating for Yes. 
Listen here to Jones in this Huffington Post interview (also previously referenced) and decide whether he's advocating a No vote.
He's asked, via a tweet: 
"How can you be be anti-establishment, Owen, and not campaign strongly for Scottish independence?"
Jones responds that, if he had a vote, he would vote No. 

After making various appeals to historical class unity, and targeting the SNP - a diversionary line consistently adopted by the No establishment - he tries to mitigate his declaration by saying he will "cheer on" Scotland if it votes Yes. This is the classic prevarication of the Guardian liberal. He wants it both ways, to cover his 'radical' back. How can you "cheer on" a result you didn't actually advocate?
Billy Bragg showed his radical advocacy in decisively supporting Yes. So did Tariq Ali. So did Ken Loach. So, for that matter, did Guardian columnist George Monbiot. None had a vote. But they all argued openly and hopefully for radical independence. Owen Jones is supposed to be the defining 'people's radical'. He took a No position. Why? Essentially, because, unlike most of those real radicals mentioned, he's deeply wedded to Labour. None of which precludes him from criticising that party. He regularly attacks New Labour, and denounced its conduct in the referendum. But that's quite different from abandoning the party or, as was shown, taking a Yes line. In particular, given, Jones's major standing amongst Labour supporters, his decision not to advocate for Yes is likely to have helped floating Labour voters sway to No.

Jones is closely tied to traditional Labour and its trade union hinterland. He speaks regularly at Labour, union and May Day events. There's even talk he may stand as a Labour MP. Even if critical of neoliberal Labourism, he's not likely to venture very much from that core affiliation. Even then, his distance from Miliband isn't that far or disapproving. As noted, Jones is also on a particular mission to rescue Labour - as in talking up Alan Johnson's possible return to the ranks as next May's election approaches. This is not someone who was ever likely to pitch in with any anti-Labour Yes movement.

Obviously, in case it needs saying, none of this is to question Jones's right to sit where he likes. But, as the whole might of the establishment was rolled out to secure a No, we're surely just as rightfully entitled to ask how 'radical' Jones was in failing to take an authentic anti-establishment position.    

Of course, claims that Jones is 'just part of the establishment' need to be qualified. He's quite obviously not part of any elite business establishment. However, he is part of a Labour establishment which, as the referendum showed, serves all the required functions of political hegemony. He's also, in effect, part of a Guardian-circled liberal establishment, which plays a similar political-cultural role in limiting the boundaries of radical left thought and change. This isn't just to do with Jones's Oxbridge education - even if it may have helped secure his approved place at the Guardian. The issue is what he says and does in relation to that journalistic position. And here Jones is found similarly wanting. If he's so dedicated to attacking the establishment, where's the exposure of the Guardian and its key liberal establishment function? 

Tony Benn, who Jones considers a hero and role model, wrote this of the Guardian:
'As I came away , on the bus, I thought: The Guardian represents a whole batch of journalists, from moderate right to moderate left – i.e. centre journalists – who, broadly speaking , like the status quo. They like the two-party system, with no real change. They’re quite happy to live under the aegis of the Americans and NATO; they are very keen on the European Union because the Commissioners control everything. They are very critical of the left, but would also be critical of a wild right-wing movement. They just are the Establishment. It is a society that suits them well. I should think that probably most of them send their kids to private schools. I should think a lot of them don’t use the National Health Service, but they tolerate it as the price you have to pay in order to keep the populace content. They’re not interested in me any more because they don’t think I have any power, and I can’t say I’m very interested in them, except as exhibits in a zoo'.
Benn, Tony (2013). A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine: The Last Diaries (Thanks to Peter, as cited at the Media Lens message board.)
Benn was unequivocal about the Guardian: "They just are the Establishment". Why can't Jones be so critically candid?