Saturday, 24 June 2017

Glastonbury: Britain, War and 'Empire is No More'.

'Tens of thousands gathered to watch Corbyn in the mid afternoon, a crowd of the size typically reserved for Glastonbury headliners. Almost all watching were fans; many wore T-shirts bearing his face or name, and there were banners of appreciation in the crowds. 
“When Theresa May called the snap election, going back on what she said previously, Corbyn had a right to challenge that,” said Danny Owen, 27.  
“He’s been challenged by his own party twice and over came it. He galvanised it and Labour made inroads because of Corbyn and his manifesto. He’s become a figurehead now. He’s relatable. People say he’s radical, but I don’t think he is – he wants fair wages and outcomes and well funded social services. The fact people see that as radical is a sad indictment of our society.'
Corbyn is radical in the fundamental sense of being a politician with an ideological vision of Britain that requires root and branch reform, even one of democratic social and economic revolution. This is to achieved by transforming Britain from a post-imperial state into a radical socialist commonweal 'for the many, not the few'.

Shelley was much like Corbyn, a radical anti-Establishment figure who himself came from the privileged class and rebelled against the class hierarchies and cruelties of the British Imperial state in the age of falling wages, impoverishment and huge debts racked up by involvement in the Napoleonic Wars.

Parliament, as in 2017 as two centuries before saw social hardships, mass demonstrations and a drive towards radical reform. This was an age of revolution and Corbyn is knowingly tapping into this vein of native British radicalism in offering his 'alternative vision', one appealing to students as much as heritage radicals.

Corbyn, after all, comes as the ultimate alternative to Tony Blair who came to power in 1997 and fought wars in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and, fatefully, the catastrophic invasion of Iraq. It's been a period of war in the Middle East and what Corbyn has portrayed as a growing cycle of violence and 'inevitable' terrorist blowback.

Wars and the 'war on terror' are interconnected just as they were for radicals in the 1830s who were feared as surging mobs waiting to murder the elites and overthrow the existing order. As Adam Zamoyski has related, old regime states then conjured up exaggerated plots so as to justify increased police and surveillance powers.

This is very much true of Theresa May whose cold, pale and remote visage and 'dead eyed' callous demeanour is considered like those thundered against by Shelley in the Masque of Anarchy ( 1819 ). With riots predicted after the Grenfell Tower fire, London could well be heading for a time of violence and police repression.

Billy Bragg has long been an ally in this radical plebeian English challenge to 'the Establishment' Britishness he opposed in the early 1980s when he and Paul Weller launched 'Red Wedge'. He now plays at venues in Dorset celebrating the Tolpuddle Martyrs of 1834 and then retires to his large village house.

Politics has been galvanised once more by Brexit towards issues of identity and power politics as well as the prospect of polarisation between rival left and right nationalism. May's Brexit is a post-imperial one that draws on Britain's supposed Great Power role in the world whereas Corbyn's Labour wants a socialist commonwealth.

Both visions are very British ones, though Corbyn's is anti-nationalist in so far as it is against the idea of Britain being an imperialist state one that 'turns swords into ploughshares' and through a great abnegation of its power would act to promote true 'internationalism' by ending empire and being a force for peace in the UN.

The irony of this is that it implies in no way Britain simply adapting after Brexit to the diminished position in the world both Leaving the EU and rejecting the US 'special relationship' would mean. The US is heading towards a war with Iran and this could mean rejecting Trump entirely and Saudi Arabia.

The vision also is antiquated because Britain simply isn't that important any more, so the abnegation and moral example setting advocated by radicals in the 1960s and 1970s by those like Tony Benn is even less relevant in 2017 than it was when Corbyn was his model pupil and greatest fan in Parliament.

Glastonbury as a concert and heritage spectacle harks back to the long peace after the Second World War and the 1960s spirit of youthful optimism. Wilson kept Britain out of Vietnam but this was back in the day when Britain did not have such a toxic and close connection with Saudi Arabia and integrated arms deal connection.

This summer is destined not to be 'one of love' but more like one of emerging terror and tension as Trump escalates hostilities towards Iran, Britain proceeds with Brexit and is faced with the potential for a decision as to whether back Trump or stay out. It's going to be fateful if this looks to be the case, not least as riots are predicted already.

Any attempt by Great Game playing politicians such as Foreign Secretary Johnson to align behind Trump would lead to direct confrontation on the streets between anti-war protesters, those angered and incensed by the decaying neoliberal regime of austerity and the fraying fabric of social infrastructure on the brink of collapse.

Trump has already put off a state visit to Britain through 'fear' of mobs and demonstrations that called upon a 'British resistance' to his 'regime' and May being an uncritical and slavishly obedient client. Tony Blair is universally loathed for the Iraq War and a war on Iran would be even more controversial given the effect Blair's war had.

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