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What has Labour got to say as the British establishment collapses?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, September 22nd 2019

The Labour Party meets for its annual conference at Brighton this weekend, confident about its future prospects.

The reality is that the state of Labour is not good. The party are polling between 21% and 28% in the polls – with the two pollsters who called 2017 most accurately putting it on 21% and 24%, and in one they are third place behind the Lib Dems.

This puts Labour on course to lose a massive six million votes from 2017 to the present – more than Blair managed in a near-decade from his 1997 triumph. And even if Tory weakness gives some hope with their 32-33% implying a loss of 3.5 million votes, Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings are another drag on the party.

This week Corbyn broke another record with his leadership satisfaction ratings of minus 60% (16% positive, 76% negative) the worst on record for an opposition leader since this question was first asked in 1977: making him more unpopular than Michael Foot, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith who all tanked. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Downton Abbey’ Britain: Living with the Ghosts of an Imagined Past

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, September 18th 2019

‘Downton Abbey’: The Movie opened last weekend in the UK. It came at the end of a tumultuous week with the UK Parliament suspended, the UK government found to have acted unlawfully, and the Prime Minister accused of having misled the Queen.

This isn’t how Britain is meant to behave, and certainly not as portrayed in the cinematic version offered in ‘Downton Abbey’ and other period dramas. The popularity of such productions says something about the state of modern day Britain, and how it is represented and portrayed. This selective, mythologised version of the past is also increasingly framing the present – and our future.

The ‘Downton Abbey’ film is situated in 1927, one year after the General Strike and – despite the nods at division and turbulence such as trouble in the North of England, Communists, Ireland and republicanism, as well as wider anti-monarchial views – presents an England where class, hierarchy and order are defining values. Read the rest of this entry »

The Queen’s role in politics is one of the last remnants of feudalism

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, September 15th 2019

The Queen has been publicly involved in politics in the past few weeks on an unprecedented scale. There has been Boris Johnson’s suspension of the UK Parliament, the nature of his advice to the Queen, the Court of Session judgement calling his actions ‘unlawful’, followed by Johnson saying when asked if he mislead the monarch: ‘absolutely not’.

The Queen is the public front of an intricate, complex institution called ‘the Crown’. As any watchers of the Netflix series of the same name will understand, this entity sits at the centre of the British establishment and its networks of power and influence, and is staffed by a host of experienced, but nearly always discreet, advisers and courtiers who work for the royal household and Queen.

There are also what are called Crown powers or the Crown prerogative. This is the ancient ways that government has been run in the UK, once practiced by the monarch, but which have come to be used by the executive, and in reality, the Prime Minister, rather than Parliament. Tony Benn described the royal prerogative as ‘the final guarantee that democratic decisions by Parliament and the people could never be allowed to undermine the hierarchical and semi-feudal system we have.’ Read the rest of this entry »

The death of British conservatism as we have known it

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, September 11th 2019

British conservatism has been one of the most successful political philosophies and political parties the world has ever known.

As we speak it is engaged in the latter stages of its thirty year civil war on Europe, which has convulsed the party, bringing it to a state of near self-destruction, abandoning its traditional tenets and debasing constitutional norms that for most of its history have been its raison d’etre.

Whatever happens on Brexit in the next few months and years, much will have long term and irreversible consequences not just for the Tories, but for the rest of us. Michael Heseltine, former deputy Prime Minister, said this week: ‘We are literally fighting for the soul of the Conservative Party’ – which is true, but the reality is actually much more serious than that.

British conservatism used to stand for, or more accurately, claimed it stood for, parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of law, being pro-business, the integrity of the UK, and protecting and projecting Britain’s geo-political interests globally. This is how it has presented and understood itself although what it has actually done and stood for has long been more complex. Read the rest of this entry »

Boris Johnson and the art of self-deception

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, September 8th 2019

Boris Johnson has long had a problematic relationship with the truth. When a journalist, he was fired from ‘The Times’ for making up a quote; in the last month as UK Prime Minister he stated that he was in favour of proroguing Parliament when he publicly said he was against it, claimed to be against having an election he was planning and then for holding a contest, and saying that he is negotiating a Brexit deal with the EU, while preparing for a No Deal Brexit.

One month ago at the Edinburgh TV Festival, the head of Channel 4 news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne said that Boris Johnson was a ‘known liar’ and needed to be called out as such by news outlets. This was met with controversy in many media circles, and led to Downing Street cancelling an agreed Johnson interview on ‘Channel 4 News’.

There is a long political tradition of lying in politics: infamously in recent times, Tony Blair and the Iraq war, Bill Clinton and his ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ comments in relation to Monica Lewinsky. Before that, Anthony Eden lied to the Commons on the Suez invasion and had to resign; John Profumo and the sex scandal with Christine Keeler; and Margaret Thatcher and the infamous case of the Argentinian cruiser the Belgrano which she claimed was sailing towards the British task force when it wasn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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