The Queen’s address, Starmer’s purge of the Labour left, and the heroes of the NHS
I recall participating in a BBC Radio Scotland debate about the royal engagement of then Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. This was in November 2017. The show in question was presented by Kaye Adams. It was a phone-in show and it quickly became apparent that I was the token and lone republican voice taking part.
After listening to three gushing encomiums to the future royal couple, one from the other guest and two from callers, I was invited to give my views on the matter. I wasted no time in flagging up the suffering being endured by millions across the land under the jackboot of austerity. In this context, I argued, fixating on the engagement of an extraordinarily rich young couple, one of whom whose wealth had been provided courtesy of the taxpayer, was a measure of our infantilisation as a society when it comes to this anti-democratic institution at the apex of British society; making clear, of course, my opposition to the institution of the monarchy itself rather than its members per se.
Soon enough the debate degenerated to the point where in response to Kaye Adams stating haughtily that the poor and those struggling will also get a lift from the upcoming royal wedding between Harry and Meghan, I responded by telling her that ‘From the ramparts of middle class affluence, that’s easy for you to say’.
Never have I been invited back onto the BBC since.
The Queen’s message to the nation, broadcast on the evening of Sunday, 5 March, reminded me of the above experience - insomuch as it brought home the fact that Britain is a country in which false consciousness has and continues to be a brake on progress towards anything approximating to a full democracy. The institution of the monarchy — semi feudal in content, regressive in form — is a pillar of Britain’s rigid class divide, supporting a system that is rooted in social and economic injustice, and which stands as a evidence of the failure to properly confront and address the country’s egregious colonial past and imperialist present.
Regardless of how many times the Queen, or any other member of the ruling or political establishment, invokes the Second World War as a rallying cry at this time of national emergency, we must not forget that we are most assuredly not all in this together — not when the Queen addresses an austerity-battered nation from the palatial surroundings of one of her many palaces. Not when the diamond broach she wore while doing so could buy up all the ventilators and PPE the NHS so desperately needs, plus more besides. And not when our key workers are paid a pittance despite the centrality of their respective roles to the country’s well being and its ability to function at this critical time.
Out of this crisis must come a revaluation of the country’s priorities and values. The conscious cruelty and grievous effects of Tory ideology must be recognised and pilloried as such, and an appropriate political reckoning over the failure of the failure to properly fund and resource the NHS must take place.
Such a reckoning, alas, is unlikely emanate from the shadow cabinet of Sir Keir Starmer (pictured above), which at time of writing has just been announced on the back of his election as Jeremy Corbyn’s replacement to lead the Labour Party. It only confirms that the window of opportunity for socialist and anti-imperialist principles to drive and guide potential future Labour government has closed. With Corbyn’s departure and Starmer’s ascent, Labour has returned to its historical place as a party of the establishment, domesticated and denuded as a political vehicle of the aspirations of the working class at home and a force for good abroad.
Starmer’s ruthlessness in immediately purging his shadow cabinet of Corbyn acolytes compares favourably to the latter’s lack of such in dealing with his own political adversaries within the PLP. Jeremy’s common decency, patience, tolerance and kindness, responsible for his election as the most unlikely leader of Labour in 2015, proved weaknesses in the teeth of a PLP within, and a media, political and security establishment without, committed to his demise.
Politics by definition is a contact sport, and ultimately Corbyn’s attempt to avoid contact throughout his tenure resulted in his leadership being shredded by a thousand cuts. The result is that at a time such as now, when a strong left alternative to the status quo has never been more needed, centrism within Labour is back in the driving seat with the left demoralised and in disarray.
This is not an attempt to blame Jeremy Corbyn for all that went wrong over the last five years. On the contrary, he also got a lot of things right. And we should never forget that despite the huge and unprecedented opposition he faced, made up of the most malign bastards imaginable, he still came within a whisker of being elected prime minister in 2017.
Lessons however must be learned, the most salient of which comes to us from French revolutionary thinker and leader Saint-Just: ‘Those who make revolutions by halves do but dig their own graves’.
Speaking of graves, as coronavirus continues to take its morbid toll, ravaging Europe and North America, from Albert Camus’ peerless classic The Plague, which I am currently relishing reading again after some years, comes the following:
I feel more fellowship with the defeated than with saints. Heroism and sanctity don’t really appeal to me, I imagine. What interests me is being a man.”
NHS doctors and nurses and other staff did not become such motivated by being saintly or heroic. The fact we are now referring to them as heroes and saints, and are ritually clapping for them, is only because due to Tory mismanagement of the NHS and hatred of the public sector in general, they now find themselves risking their lives just by going to work.
It’s an unalloyed disgrace and dereliction of public duty on the part of the Cameron and May governments responsible.
With the NHS we stand a chance. It reminds us that a country and society cannot and should not be organised on the same principles as a business. It also reminds us that society in the last analysis constitutes a pact between the dead the living and the unborn.
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