This is our truth, tell us yours
The Blair government, according to Alistair Campbell, didn’t do god. This blog doesn’t do Israel.
The reasons for that are both pragmatic, and principled. Pragmatically, we know that if you try to debate the fine detail of the Middle East you attract the hordes, the keyboard warriors who know they’re right and parade their ignorance with the fervour of a football crowd but none of the humour. (If you can’t hear the humour in a football crowd you’re either at Man Utd with a prawn sandwich in your hand, or you need to try harder. This season’s favourites are the Aston Villa fans singing ‘How shit are you if we’re in the lead’ and a moment at a non-league game when two midfielders collided, leaving the ball floating unkicked in a puddle near the touchline, at which the crowd sang ‘Brazil, it’s just like watching Brazil’ in mournful Geordie accents.)
So there are pragmatic reasons for not doing Israel.
There are principled reasons too.
As a blog, we don’t do conflict tourism.
Conflict tourism is the practice, beloved of political sects of all persuasions of seeking out a conflict somewhere in the world that can be adopted and re-defined as the distinguishing feature that sets apart one sect from another.
One of the features of sects of course is that they’re not, by their own definition, sects. Other groups are sects, but to each sect it’s the rest of the world that is sectarian and weird, not them.
To the sects of the left, Palestine is the ultimate package holiday destination for conflict tourism, a veritable Benidorm for badly thought out analyses of what’s wrong with the world, and why this sect, rather than all the other sects, should be allowed to put the world to rights.
Every time I encounter a sectarian who wants to tell me that the most important issue in the world is Palestine, or Israel, I want to ask them if they’re overlooking the problems on their own doorstep or the problems in the rest of the world. John Mann’s crudely prefabricated spat with Livingstone, manufactured with the aid of the BBC, says much more about John Mann’s sense of priorities, and lack of any grounding in the reality of British politics today, than anything we could.
In a week when David Cameron should have been reduced to a parody of a Prime Minsiter, forced to eat his words about Hillsborough (he claimed there was nothing to find in 2011) and forced to withdraw huge chunks of his Trade Union Bill, John Mann thinks the most important thing, politically, is to stage a Punch and Judy show with Ken Livingstone, a man who elevates irrelevance to an art form and who trades on his past successes like a shopworn vaudeville comedian hoping he can remember the punchline.
The problem with conflict tourism is that like most trips to Benidorm, most of what you experience is determined by who you were when you arrived, and will be unchanged when you leave. If you’re boring, out of touch and not very bright when you arrive, a suntan and a dodgy tummy will not transform you before you leave,
Imagine you’re sitting with me, in the bar of a workingmens club on a weekday night. Do you think that the majority of people there give a shit about Palestine? The Labour Party might like to periodically tear itself apart over the topic, but Labour voters expect their representatives to be focussed on their concerns, about jobs, housing, education, pay and social security. The distinctions between Judaism, Zionism, anti-semitism, racism and the noisy splutter of outraged students that their candidate didn’t win the NUS elections is, from my provincial viewpoint, like the sound of a radio on the beach, almost out of earshot and tuned to a station I don’t recognise.
For too much of the left, conflict tourism was rooted in naive anti-Americanism; America, so the narrative went, was the home of the new imperialists, so you found yourself a conflict, sided with whoever was anti-American, then engaged in a dialogue with the participants in the conflict that ranged from high handed superior snobbery about their ideological naivety to a slavish obeisance to their revolutionary authenticity. In the process all critical thought and intellectual development went out of the window. By critical thought and intellectual development I don’t mean endless tomes about false consciousness or the Frankfurt School; I mean the hard headed questions of what is to be done to improve our wlfare state, to defend our NHS, to house our children and employ our neighbours. Those are intellectual questions too, and for too long Labour’s left has been dominated by sects keener on foreign excursions than the domestic labour of what we put in place of fear and poverty here.
Ken Livingstone epitomizes the thoughtlessness of the left. For a man to read so widely and remain so shallow is an impressive achievement, the equivalent of walking the length of the Equator while remaining inside an Islington bedsit. His intervention in the debate about what Naz Shah said smacks of the end journey of every conflict tourist; the conspiracy theory motel, the last resort for those who travel without ideological baggage to supply and clothe them on their journey.
To be fair, the conflict tourists have met their perfect match in the carceral debaters like John Mann and sundry other Labour Blairites. Like America’s Republicans each time they’ve lost a presidential election in recent times, the Blairites have reacted to losing the leadership election by mounting a succession of tedious procedural challenges to the changes happening in Labour. So, suddenly, we hear the demands from Andy Burnham for Labour’s Compliance Unit to be beefed up, to take more action to exclude those with whom the Blairites disagree. (Although, judging by Burnham’s intellectual vacuum of a leadership campaign, he should be wondering if the policy unit isn’t a littlelight on numbers.) Lest we forget, the Blairites presided over the calamitous collapse of Labour’s membership from 1997 to 2005, and weren’t uncomfortable with Labour’s transition from a membership based party to an advertising agency taking money where it could find it. The shift in tactic is clear; rather than win the debate, the right within Labour would rather close the doors and throw out anyone who expresses opinions they dislike.
Jeremy Corbyn could do a lotworse than sit down with the press, and ask them; why, on the day when there was shocking news about preventable deaths in an NHS mental health trust in the south of England, were they leading on Livingstone and Mann, the intellectual equivalent of two bald men fighting over a comb?
If there is more anti-semitism in the Labour Party than in society in general, then it needs to be dealt with. If thre are people on the Labour right who would rather pick fights about anti-semitism within the Labour Party than about the state of our NHS, our welfare state, or our communities,then theyneed to be asked if they are not, also, indulging in conflict tourism to avoid their own intellectual weaknesses.