Poor Swift (from my lockdown diary for 28 May)

In my distant schooldays I read Jonathan Swift for English A Level. I read him again intermittently for pleasure and possible literary larceny, since he is of course out of copyright.

Then and now, I would sometimes have to mug up the politicians of Queen Anne and the Hanoverian succession, to make sense of Swift’s targets. Then and now, I would sometimes wonder if Swift thought them worth his talents. Did he think, why am I toiling to compose matchless prose to make these people immortal? Did he sometimes cast aside his quill, shout “Godolphin is a swillbelly ” and slope off to the Brothers’ Club for a little gargle with Bolingbroke and his mates?

If Swift were alive today, he would have felt that way about the present ministry. He would simply use the epithet software on his laptop to call Dominic Cummings a pilgarlic or Michael Gove an arsworm and then have a steamy Zoom session with Stella.

Swift would never have sent Boris Johnson to Lilliput because it would imply that there was something to diminish.

Trump is something else. Terrible but not trivial, and a proper target for time-travelling Swift. But it is monumentally hard to satirize Trump when he does such a brilliant job of doing it himself. Trump’s behaviour is calculated. He does mind how many people think he is a monster so long as they also think he is a giant, and so long as enough of them hate his enemies more than they hate him. One has to find a way to mock Trump without actually helping him. That task might even defeat the genius of Jonathan Swift. With a final despairing cry of “Trump is a slubberdegullion” he might give up and compose some additional Remarks on the Barrier Treaty.

01. July 2020 by rkh
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Protesting Against A Trump Stolen Election: NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION

How many people remember Seven Days In May? A best-selling political thriller of the early 60s, it was made into a movie. A liberal President (Frederic March) makes an arms treaty with Soviet Union. A popular charismatic patriotic general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Burt Lancaster) is fiercely opposed. He forms a military cabal to seize the government. This is frustrated by a loyal Marine colonel (Kirk Douglas) with unnecessary but still lovely help from his ex-mistress (Ava Gardner). The President is saved and with him the American constitution and system of government.

The movie was resisted by the Pentagon but received secret help to gain access to authentic locations on the orders of President Kennedy, who did not trust his generals. Sadly, he never got to see the released version.

I have written a remake. The President is borderline deranged. He is coherent only when he is lying. He either cannot or will not read important documents. He ingests untested drugs. He is enraged by questioning, never mind contradiction. He encourages armed mobs to threaten opposing state governments. To help him win a second term, millions of likely voters for his challenger are being kept off the register for weird reasons or told to risk death if they do go out to vote. Of course, this will need careful exposition to make it believable.

I start with the same basic plot as the original. The charismatic patriotic general forms a military cabal to overthrow the President. The marine colonel is the only one who can stop it, with the help of his ex-mistress. But I want another happy ending. So the marine colonel finds that the ex-mistress is still smoking hot. They rekindle their … (punches cliché button)… all right, torrid affair and forget the President. The military cabal takes over and provides a short sane administration which organizes a clean election.

I have sent the outline to the present chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark A Milley, to ask whom he would like to play him. Or better still, could he make it a fly-on-the-wall documentary?

(Later)

My plans for a remake of Seven Days In May (see earlier), in which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley, saves the country from an election stolen by Donald Trump, are in development hell.

Instead we are forced to contemplate this real-life scenario. After an election in which tens of millions of likely Democrat voters are denied a vote, Trump nonetheless loses both in the popular vote and the Electoral College. However, he refuses to concede. By a mixture of legal challenges and outright intimidation, his supporters prevent the authorities in several key Democratic states from certifying their election returns. Joe Biden is thus denied the requisite majority in the Electoral College. The election is thrown to the House of Representatives, but not to the full (Democrat) House but to a delegation of one representative per state, regardless of population. A majority of these fifty people choose as President – Donald Trump.

The methods now being used to exclude likely Democrats (especially black, Hispanic, minority-ethnic, low-income, students, disabled people) from the ballot are so blatant as to have embarrassed Trump’s friend and advisor, Vladimir Putin. (I made that up, but only a little.) The familiar method of denying them a convenient polling station, especially one adapted for disabled people, has become even more effective because of the virus. In state after state it is a long and expensive process for them to get a postal ballot instead – and if they do get one Trump has threatened to bankrupt the Post Office so that they cannot use it. Familiar identity documents, especially driving licenses, are suddenly made useless as identity for likely Democrats. They are being disqualified for felonies they never knew they had committed, and made to prove that they are not another person of the same name (or even sometimes a different name. I challenge any British voter to prove that he or she is not registered elsewhere as Lord Buckethead.) Korean-American voters have been asked to sign their names – in Korean, and disqualified if they make a mistake. If, in spite of all this, likely Democrats succeed in getting to a polling station with the expectation of being allowed to vote, they are likely to face Trump supporters mounting ad hoc challenges (on those who look easiest to intimidate.)

I have a proposal for any Americans who are unreasonably prevented from voting. I think it would be very popular, although unfortunately it would be too late to prevent a stolen election. They should withhold their Federal income tax for the next four years. I have a slogan for this protest: no taxation without representation.

Of course, that is not original. But it is out of copyright. Tax rebellions are a hallowed American tradition, and this one might escalate into a second American revolution. Whole communities and counties might withhold their Federal tax from a cheating Chief Executive. Even whole states. Through the Federal budget, ten states (nearly all Democratic) subsidize the other forty. Some of these Blue Democratic states might say to the Red Republican ones: “OK, you gave us this asshole as President, you can pay for him.”

In a second Trump administration based on force and fraud, public morality may collapse in the United States, as more and more Americans decide that they too will do things the Trump way: tell any lie they choose, break any law they choose, do down any other American they choose. If that happens, I will not drive a car in Trump’s United States.

17. June 2020 by rkh
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The Dirge And Downfall Of Donald Trump

The Virus does not know or care whether people are protesting in a good cause: it is dangerous and anti-social to hold any kind of mass demonstration in these times. Indeed, if the Virus has any political agenda it is as a reactionary and a racist, since it is more likely to kill poor people than rich and (apparently) BAME people rather than white. Why help it?

So here’s an alternative form of protest which could be done massively but also distantly. For alliterative reasons alone I’ll focus it on Trump and call it the Donald Dirge.

At a given moment, people would play, sing, or chant one chosen minor chord – against Trump. E Flat Minor should be in most people’s range. They could play it together (the biggest loudest chord ever played) or in relay as people pick up the chord from each other, making the longest chord in history. Famous performers in all musical genres might lead this event.

Originally, I thought this might take place when Trump is formally renominated on August 27. But that now seems too late, and we should make an earlier musical Date with Donald (didn’t want to call it D-Day, which should be reserved for those remembered on June 6.) At twelve noon on the chosen Date, people would perform the Donald Dirge. If this were a global event, the Donald Dirge could be passed from east to west to hit twelve noon in each time zone. If successful, it could become the Daily Donald Dirge.

Of course there might be some musical retaliation from Trump supporters. But I have to believe that in a contest among the world’s musicians Trump would go down to a landslide defeat.

This form of protest need not and should not be confined to Trump. Putin should get a dirge too in a different key, and conventional Western tuning would allow for ten other tyrannical targets. There might be more appropriate local musical dirges for Mr Xi, the Paramount Brute in China, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

It would be too flattering to allot a musical chord to the Clown Prince of Britain, Boris Johnson. A mass issue of kazoos is quite enough for him.

Some months ago, I had a few other ideas to contribute Trump’s downfall. In these times some seem too mild, but I set them all down in case they are of value to anyone campaigning against him. Each may be used freely and without acknowledgement.

One: a passage on Trump and the epidemic. “The plague needed calm, honest, diligent leadership. Instead we got Donald Trump, a frightened, hollow man who has been found out, who can no longer be protected by his bodyguard of lies, a Commander-in-Chief who cannot even command himself, let alone preserve and protect the United States.”

Two: invite anti-Trump citizens in local communities across the United States to apply formally to re-name a local eyesore or black spot after Donald Trump. Especially one showing the impact of his administration’s policies. So a depressed main street, with boarded-up stores and businesses, would become TRUMP STREET. Polluted waterways would become TRUMP RIVER or LAKE TRUMP. Ruined landscapes would become TRUMP HILL or TRUMP FLATS. A big waste dump would of course be TRUMP TOWER. Such efforts would mobilize and connect anti-Trump voters. Even if the re-naming proposals fail, the names might stick. Each one would generate a colorful picture story for local and national media, and give anti-Trump speakers a backdrop for campaign appearances, even if these have to be virtual in a lockdown campaign.

Even if this scheme fails to gain traction, TRUMP STREET could be a resonant theme in campaign oratory. Speakers might appeal to the people living on Trump Street (through no fault of their own) who saw nothing from Trump’s four years, maybe families working three or four low-wage jobs barely able to make ends meet, living on top of each other in too small a space, living constantly on the edge of disaster (a health emergency, the loss of a day’s or night’s work, the need for home or car repairs), people who have had to abandon their ambitions or even their leisure recreations, people who are never going to be able to stay at a Trump resort…

Of course millions of people on TRUMP STREET have lost what little they had, and have little hope that a re-elected Trump will give it back to them.

To such audiences speakers might ask “Has Trump made America great for you?” although as with any rhetorical question, they need to be very certain of the response!

Three: Another effective image for campaign speeches. Donald Trump as a figure everyone knows. “You go out for a quiet drink or something to eat or to watch a ball game, or take your family out to have some quality time together, and there is this loudmouth idiot who wrecks it for you. He lives in a world of his own, he talks high-volume non-stop garbage about anything, especially himself and how wonderful he is, and he never lets up. Everyone’s met this guy. You’re about to take a long airplane flight or bus trip and he’s in the line, and you think ‘Please don’t let this guy sit next to me.’ That’s Donald Trump. He’s been yammering in your ear non-stop since 2014. Do you want to hear him yammering for the next four years?”

“Donald Trump has no nadirs. You think he cannot get any worse, but he never disappoints.”

“If only the election were a game of bridge. America’s best bid: One No-Trump. Strong.”

05. June 2020 by rkh
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For Your Listening Pleasure

Two coronaballads…

A Viral Romance

A fine romance with no clinches
A fine romance at 78.7 inches
We should be making each other feel desirous
But we’ve been kept apart by this blasted virus.
A fine romance, with no hugging
If this is romance I’d rather have a mugging
We’re spaced out like a couple of desert plants
Our life is a set of can’ts
This is a fine romance.

A fine romance, with no dances
And no close-ups but distant glances:
We used to kick and twirl like a Broadway chorus
But now we keep apart like two lovesick walrus.
A fine romance, my good fellow,
With no love songs unless we bellow.
A fleeting kiss is simply too great a chance,
When we’re locked in durance,
This is a fine romance.

Original lyrics by Dorothy Fields Music by Jerome Kern

New lyrics by Richard Heller

Summer No Holiday

We’re not going on a summer holiday
No more travel until ‘22
Fun and laughter but they’re all now memories:
Lots of worries for me and you
For a week or fifty-two.

We’re watching where the sun shines brightly
We’re watching where the sea is clear,
We’re watching them on the movies
That we made when we went last year.

Lots of people having long summer holidays
In a place they never wanted to
Locked together on a summer holiday
With no way to make their dreams come true
And the kids are stuck too
With me and you.

Original by Brian Bennett and Bruce Welch
New lyrics by Richard Heller and Mick Hodgkin

13. May 2020 by rkh
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A Murder Of Note

The best screenplay what I have written this week. Available to investors as a fun way to make a tax loss.

Xander (have always liked names beginning with X) is a handsome young pianist of extraordinary talent. He is swindled out of his inheritance by his evil cousin Coron (I don’t think viruses can sue.) Coron moves into their dead great-uncle’s spacious apartment, with not only the priceless bibelots but worse still, the unique Steinway piano which had once belonged to the crooked composer, Shyster Kovich. In his, his (punches cliché button) garret, of course, poor heroes like Xander always live in a garret, although they don’t come on the market very often these days, certainly not at a price poor heroes can afford, anyway delighting the passing pigeons with scintillating arpeggios on his barely functional upright, Xander dreams of revenge. He has an inspiration and it is marked by a thick dramatic chord of D over E.

Xander assumes an impenetrable disguise, with the help of a beard previously used by Bingo Little to evade his creditors. He secures employment as Coron’s personal assistant. Stoically he squeezes Coron’s toothpaste, cuts crusts off his sandwiches and roars at his jokes. The worst of his ordeal is to listen to Coron at the piano, a Les Dawson without the talent. Such is his musical ability that he can recognize when Coron has reached the finale, and applauds wildly, scattering murmured compliments about “the interesting tempi, and so many of them”. Not recognizing his cousin, Coron laps up the appreciation.

Xander endures. He has a carefully prepared alibi. At the right moment he batters Coron to death with a former candelabra of Liberace’s. To sustain the alibi, Xander must pretend to be Coron at the piano for half an hour. But the effort is too much for him. After 32 bars he slides into the scintillating repertoire which delighted the pigeons.

Nonetheless his alibi seems to succeed. The police are ready to give up on the case as a murder by persons unknown. But one feature of the neighbours’ evidence puzzles the great private detective … Anyone but Hercule Poirot. Has no one noticed what a klutz he is? The Library is always littered with more corpses than the end of Hamlet before he says “Ow eez it, mon cher Aysteengs, that I have been so blind?” and names the killer. The same for Miss bloody Marple.

Anyway, not-Hercule-Poirot notices that the neighbours all testify that at bar 33 of his last performance Coron suddenly played a lot better. It is the clue not-H-P needs. He or she (let’s see who’s available and for how much?) uncovers the secret of Xander and his plot. He has betrayed himself by his musical standards.

In the last scene we see him in solitary confinement on Death Row. He has been allowed a piano in his cell and is delighting a lonely sparrow with his cadenzas. (Get leftover footage from Birdman Of Alcatraz.)

12. April 2020 by rkh
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A Horse With No Chance (after America)

Hoping that punters worldwide might appreciate this take on the rock classic Horse With No Name by America. Check this brilliant rendition by a self-isolating couple. https://twitter.com/americaband/status/1241782311269457920 Wonderful performance of a horse’s ass, against such daily competition from Donald Trump. Pedant’s note: names of horses in second verse are from the “Fugue For Tinhorns” in Guys And Dolls.

My journey began in the OTB [or betting shop for UK]

I was glad to get out of the rain.

I saw runners and riders on all kind of screens

And I thought that my luck might change.

The first horse I saw was called Paul Revere

But they told me he didn’t like mud,

Then I took a shine to one called Valentine

But some guy said that he was a dud.

So I put all my money on a horse with no chance,

I can’t even remember his name:

His rider felt all kinds of shame

To be mounted on something so lame.

La la la-la-la-la

La la … Lose

La la la-la-la-la

La la … Lose.

I was staring hard at the TV screen

As they opened the starting gate

And I looked for my horse in the spray of mud

But it gave me a very long wait.

And then I got all excited

When my horse took second place

But when I tried to collect all my dreams were wrecked

Because he’d started in the previous race.

I’d put all my money on a horse with no chance

I can’t even remember his name

His rider said that he wasn’t to blame:

He was mounted on something so lame.

La la la-la-la-la

La la … Lose.

La la la-la-la-la

La la … Lose.   

Long slow fade out. Like the horse.

© new lyrics   Richard Heller

richardkheller@hotmail.com

11. April 2020 by rkh
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Everybody Gets A Chance To Shine

Composed years ago for Chance to shine at the launch of my children’s character Harry Bear MP, but never used. Revived now when the world, especially the cricket world, seems to want and need uplifting lyrics.

The night may seem too dark for you to dream

But a new day is waiting there in line.

Somebody wants you in their team:

Everybody gets a chance to shine.

The rain never lasts your whole life through,

The sky will unlock and turn out fine.

So reach up and paint it red and blue:

Everybody gets a chance to shine.

There’s nothing that you can’t hit,

There’s nothing that you can’t throw,

There’s nothing that you can’t catch,

And nothing that you can’t know.

You can squeeze the whole world inside a ball,

And stitch it tight with thread and twine,

So catch it on the run, don’t let it fall:

Everybody gets a chance to shine.

You don’t always need to be so strong,

But just to use your bat in perfect time,

And watch your world-and-ball go swift and long:

Everybody gets a chance to shine.

There’s nothing that you can’t hit,

There’s nothing that you can’t throw,

There’s nothing that you can’t catch,

And no way that you won’t grow.

You don’t have to live inside your past:

The scorer will make another sign.

So play each innings better than the last:

Everybody gets a chance to shine

There’s nothing that you can’t hit,

There’s nothing that you can’t throw,

There’s nothing that you can’t catch,

No seed that you cannot sow.

So don’t lock yourself inside your space:

There’s a game going on, it’s yours and mine,

It’s being played in every living place:

Everybody gets a chance to shine.

© Richard Heller

richardkheller@hotmail.com

10. April 2020 by rkh
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This Side Of Paradise? The Cricket Club Of India

My tribute to the CCI published in the brochure for the Lords and Commons CC tour of India in 2004-05

When I die, assuming I have any choice in the matter, I would like to spend my afterlife in the Cricket Club of India. I would happy to donate my ashes to even out any bumps in the ground.

My last over on the ground – six deliveries of decent line and length – went for 24 runs, and I spent the rest of the innings retrieving the ball from distant parts for my colleagues in the Fleet Street XI. This of course will not be repeated in the afterlife… instead the first five deliveries will be met with nervous defence by the former Indian Test star, until the last draws him forward, clips the edge of the bat, an appeal from the wicketkeeper, the crowd is stunned.

Playing at the CCI encourages fantasy. No, in fact it is beyond fantasy. Where else in the world can a visiting cricketer in the sunset of a mediocre career be treated like a star of 100 Test matches? Where else can you wake up, take a leisurely breakfast, stroll into the dressing room to change into your whites and use the same peg as Gary Sobers once used? There the courteous attendants indulge your every need and whim – a drink, a towel, a deep massage on the table where previously unknown muscles are teased back into life.

Out on the field, drenched in heat and history, everything you do steps out of the ordinary. You feel instead that you are part of an epic drama, a special from Bollywood. The spectators help sustain the illusion, by applauding anything at all which is eye-catching even if it represents failure. When, as frequently happens, you chase the ball over the boundary you are surrounded by autograph hunters. You find yourself playing up to them, making extravagant gestures of triumph or agony.

And when the match is over, and the solemn courtesies of speeches and presentations, you can jump straight into the pool and float away your aches and pains, blank out your memories of disaster on the pitch and retain only the triumphs or near-triumphs to tell your grandchildren. Then if you still have any energy you can flop into a chair and be brought cold drinks.

All visiting cricketers are automatically stars in India, but you feel this in spades in the CCI. It is not just the experience of playing in a Test match ground and being treated as if you belong there. It is not just about strolling through the public rooms, under the gaze of the historic figures in the portraits and photographs on the walls, or drifting into the Library, where little reading seems to be done and where it is very easy to drift into a nap in the over-stuffed armchairs.

To be at the CCI is more than all of these things. It means sharing a part in rituals – tea and plum cake in the afternoon, the evening walk around the ground, where friends and families greet each other, reminiscent of the Spanish paseo – and being given an admission to a special part of Indian life.

Its character is reinforced the moment you step outside. The CCI is surrounded by the vibrant city of Mumbai, humming with energy and commerce. In less than an hour you can cause serious damage to Britain’s balance of payments in the shops.

The Lords and Commons are very privileged to inaugurate this historic tour in the CCI in Mumbai. Whatever the results of our two matches we will try to provide the drama and ritual which this great setting deserves.

Richard Heller has paid two previous visits to the CCI with the Fleet Street XI. His autograph fetched a top price of 5 rupees.

05. March 2020 by rkh
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Blair speaks!

From my 2005 play Waiting For Gordo a bleak existential drama of backbench life in the Labour Party. Spoken by my character Placebo Lackey MP, but all passages by Tony Blair

I believe – passionately – that it is important – to greet the world with a celebration that is so bold, so beautiful, so inspiring that it embodies the spirit of the future for the many not the few in 45 minutes or less. A modernized social democracy with eye-catching initiatives that are entirely conventional in terms of their attitude to the family. Sixty million undergraduates in India who are tolerant, fair, enterprising, inclusive, relaxed, not tribal.

As a young boy in short trousers I stood and waved my flag which makes a rational discussion of serious issues difficult. The Asian Tigers – co-operative as well as competitive, selfless as well as self-interested – appeared indifferent to the family and individual responsibility, which was wrong. Every client has an interview with a personal adviser in a suit and not pyjamas. Hard working people and their families with comfortable chairs, many with facilities for children. Rights and responsibilities hand in hand with 213 new heart surgeons mindful of our determination to do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties. Renewal and cohesion go together in the clean-up of beaches and bathing waters.

The people’s princess funded by patient and committed provision of capital from the financial sector paying for most of the cost of VAT on repair and refurbishment work carried out on listed buildings in the faith sector. One thousand days to prepare for one thousand years of reformed local government which will be exhilarating like Disney World – yet different. A young country. A stakeholder society. Coming home. The enabling state. The Third Way. An Age of Achievement. Tough on verbs, tough on the causes of verbs.

Sir Stanley Matthews is a culture but there is more to be done at a European level. To be powerful we have to build partnerships with others in grandad’s old Morris Cowley. I do not want women to be chained to the sink.

A vision that strikes a chord with the British people. Milestones which are also yardsticks of achievement and benchmarks of progress, stretching and ambitious and setting new targets each year. Working to decrease the amount of photocopying paper used in the National Maritime Museum by 300 reams in three years. The hand of history marching yobs straight to the cashpoint. Over 800,000 members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, confident, influential, with a real sense of identity. A tough and coherent framework for macroeconomic policy but I prefer Bambi, honestly.

There has been an explosion in the health food industry. At least 80 tonnes of mustard gas are unaccounted for. Labour wants Britain to be respected in the world for the best pop music – the Beatles, Blur, Oasis and Simply Red. I have no doubt that the inspectors will find evidence of chewing gum on the streets. New Community, New Individualism. A transatlantic flight can now cost the equivalent of a three-minute phone call. Bringing young people together in teams capable of transporting the entire contents of the British Library in less than a minute. Tough on sense, tough on the causes of sense.

18. January 2020 by rkh
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Wanted: A Labour Leader (serious applicants only)  

full text of article published in the Yorkshire Post  December 16, 2019  (some zingers omitted)

 

There is an old maxim in American politics: the best time to kick a man is when he’s down.

 

It certainly applies to Jeremy Corbyn and his clique. In charge of the  Labour party they were incompetent, self-indulgent and immoral. They destroyed it as an agent of change. They especially betrayed those most in need of a Labour government, those sick or poor or stressed or otherwise vulnerable, and all the children forced to live like refugees in their own country,  dependent on handouts and rations and wearing all their clothes in bed at night.  The Corbyn clique never examined their impact on Labour’s appeal. They built a house with no windows on the outside world, only mirrors.

 

They made even Labour loyalists, never mind the wider electorate, believe that the party had become anti-semitic and in league with terrorists and tyrants. They gave houseroom to cranks and fanatics. They crafted a manifesto which was not so much a programme as a series of letters to Santa Claus. Compared to 2017 (another election they lost) they drove away over two and a half million votes and brought Tory MPs to Labour heartlands, including nine new ones in Yorkshire. All this they achieved against an opponent widely dismissed as dishonest and uncaring, and repudiated by senior members of his party.

 

The kicking needs to be repeated fiercely and often. The Corbynites still control the party and are full of excuses for Labour’s performance. Amazingly, Corbyn and his followers claim that Labour won the election argument, but those pesky electors were so obsessed with Brexit that they did not notice. Jon Lansman, chair of the far-Left cheerleaders’ group, Momentum, claimed that the manifesto was popular because it won the (heavily Remain) London seat of Putney. There’s an exciting prospect: if Labour could win one seat at each General Election it could be in power again as early as the year 2600.

 

Corbyn wants to linger until the new year. His opponents among surviving Labour MPs should not let him: delay increases the chance of a Corbynite successor to lose the party another election. They still have the numbers to oust him as leader of the Parliamentary party and nominate his would-be replacements. Each could be given a crack at Prime Minister’s Questions. MPs should also give themselves a new Shadow Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary.

 

To give Labour any hope of recovery, the new leader will have to show that Corbynites have no influence over any part of it. That entails winning a long series of civil wars in local parties, in trade unions and affialated bodies, and over the party organization and policy apparatus.  He/she will have to create a new means to expel instantly anyone whom a reasonable person might view as an anti-semite or any other kind of hater or an enemy of democracy.

 

Those civil wars will produce constitutional and courtroom battles and raucous and bitter personal warfare, abuse and threats of violence. All this is necessary simply to get the Labour horse into the starting gate for 2024, with no guarantee of winning the race.

 

So far no contender looks the equal of Neil Kinnock, who reconquered and re-cast the Labour party after a similar catastrophe in 1983. But he surprised friend and foe, and perhaps someone else will do the same.

 

Kinnock is a reminder that even “normal” Labour parties with attractive leaders and plausible policies regularly lose elections. Corbyn’s successor will have to provide new reasons to win back the voters who deserted the party – and more.

 

He/she cannot rely on Boris Johnson doing that job for them, although I still believe he will contribute.

 

Labour can certainly enjoy making him take full responsibility for Brexit and all its consequences. For now, it does not need its own Brexit policy, certainly not a commitment to Remain imposed by Londoners who have never tried to understand why so many Labour voters elsewhere wanted to Leave.

 

Even without a second independence referendum, the new leader will have to give Scots new motives to vote for the party as part of the United Kingdom.

 

The new leader would be wise to avoid the endorsement of Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson. He/she still needs the commitment and passion of those in the party who wanted something better than New Labour. They need to be uncoupled from Corbyn and his cheerleading claque, Momentum (which would be more aptly named Stasis.) He/she should therefore appeal to all those who want the Labour party to achieve something for other people, not serve as an echo chamber for themselves.

 

The new leader could do something totally radical and tell the truth to the British people.

 

In or out of the EU, whatever the final terms of Brexit, they face colossal tasks at home and abroad. To name only a few: meeting the national demand for health and social care, and housing;  relieving family poverty; creating viable well-paid jobs in a global economy where billions of people now produce more output more cheaply than the average British worker; living sustainably and combatting climate change; facing down Putin and confronting the far greater menace of Xi Jinping’s China.

 

Achieving these tasks entails huge adjustments in the way all of us live, in which few can expect any increase in living standards – certainly not the perpetual one which conventional politicians still offer voters in every democratic country. Labour alone can ensure that Britain makes these adjustments promptly and fairly.

 

If Boris Johnson maintains in government the feckless, shallow approach he took on every issue in the election, Labour has much to gain from becoming the Serious Party.

 

Ends

 

Richard Heller was chief of staff to Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16. December 2019 by rkh
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