United Kingdom: goose stepping into the abyss?
We deserve better
Days before France’s presidential election, Emmanuel Macron smashed the hopes of National Front candidate Marine Le Pen with a devastating put-down: ‘I’m sorry, Madame Le Pen; France deserves better than you.’ Le Pen failed to reach the Élysée Palace. But that doesn’t mean we can relax.
On Thursday 8 June, the people of the United Kingdom go to the polls to elect the next Westminster government. The snap election was called when Tory Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, Theresa May, was riding high in the opinion polls. Today those same polls show the gap between May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has dramatically closed, with Corbyn now predicted to win the majority of the urban vote, particularly in London, the capital.
Like Le Pen, May hopes she will win this election.But just as France deserved better than Le Pen, so the people of the United Kingdom deserve better than Theresa May.
Last Saturday 27 May, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis spoke at the Democracy In Europe Movement 25 Ireland launch in Dublin. (Diem)‘More than ten years ago, there was an attempt to create a European constitution. It failed the test in many many countries, you know the story. Why did it fail? Was it because Europeans don’t want a constitution? ‘No. It failed because it was a despicable document.‘Even the American constitution began with the rights of people – the European Constitution started with the rights of capital.’
Yanis continued. ‘We all breathed a sigh of relief when Le Pen was defeated. But there is nothing to celebrate. Eleven million French men and women voted for a xenophobic, fascist, racist party. You only have to state this to feel the shivers all over, not just on your spine, everywhere.’
I am not a nationalist – I am a patriot, I love my country
That morning we had been discussing nationalism. ‘Nationalism’ Yanis intervened, ‘Is a narrative. Like history. Like patriotism. ‘I am not a nationalist. But I am a patriot. I love my country. ‘I love my children, but I don’t think they should be treated better than children in other parts of the world.’
Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, citizens of both parts of Ireland have the right to claim Irish, or British, citizenship. As Varoufakis pointed out during a visit to Belfast earlier this year, Brexit must not be allowed to overrule the Good Friday Agreement which is a binding international agreement guaranteed by the British and Irish governments.
Speaking truth to power
Last week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was vilified for doing nothing more, nothing less, than speaking truth to power. In 1993, Edward Said talked of the loneliness of the intellectual voice. ‘It has resonance only because it associates itself freely with the reality of a movement, the aspirations of a people, the common pursuit of a shared ideal…
‘Opportunism dictates that in the West, much given to full-scale critiques of, for instance, Palestinian terror or immoderation; you denounce them soundly, and then go on to praise Israeli democracy. Then you must say something good about peace. Yet intellectual responsibility dictates, of course, that you say all those things to Palestinians, but your main point is made in New York, in Paris, in London, around the issue which in those places you can most affect, by promoting the idea of Palestinian freedom and the freedom from terror and extremism of all concerned, not just the weakest and most easily bashed party.
Speaking the truth to power is no Panglossian idealism: it is carefully weighing the alternatives, picking the right one, and then intelligently representing it where it can do the most good and cause the right change.’
So that is what Jeremy Corbyn did. Asked to condemn the IRA after the Manchester bomb where 22 men, women and children were killed in an explosion at an Ariana Grande concert, Corbyn pointed out that life isn’t linear, but multifaceted.
He talked of the role of the British State on 30 January 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers killed fourteen people unarmed civilians in a peaceful civil rights march. That day became known world-wide as Bloody Sunday.
Jeremy Corbyn was speaking truth to power. He was telling the truth to his own tribe.
Tell the truth to your own tribe
The author, broadcaster and theorist, Eoghan Harris wrote a few years later, ‘the first step is to act with good authority telling the truth to your own tribe.’
Harris, who had been present at the secret meeting in Maghera, Co Derry in 1966 which set up the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) which the Chief of Staff of the IRA Cathal Goulding, who was present hoped would both achieve civil rights and lead the Republican movement away from a narrow nationalist agenda.
Harris compared it to a squabble in the street between your children and a neighbours’. Which do you call in, he asked? No point in calling in your neighbour’s kids, start with your own. Then tell the truth to your own tribe – that’s acting with good authority. He compared this to watching a film in a cinema. ‘I am not a nationalist, I am a Wolfe Tone Republican. In pursuit of that ideal I have been forced to continually shift positions, much like a man in a cinema who keeps changing his seat, but only so he can get a clear view of the same film. And the title of the film, of which I never tire, is The Future Irish Republic.’
When two tribes go to war
The late IRA Chief of Staff and Sinn Fein leader, Martin McGuinness who died earlier this year and was once described as ‘Britain’s No 1 Terrorist’ gave a stunning example of leadership and good authority when he stood beside Unionist leader David Trimble and Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Sir Matt Baggott in 2012 to condemn the republican dissident killers of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr. ‘You are waging “a useless war against peace”’, he told them. Constable Kerr, a Catholic, 25, was killed by a bomb which exploded under his car outside his Omagh home on Saturday.
Police believed that dissident republicans who oppose the police service were responsible for the attack. Martin McGuinness told the truth to his own tribe when he condemned those engaged in violence as ‘enemies of the peace, enemies of the people of Ireland’. ‘We represent the people’, said McGuinness.
Goose stepping into the abyss
Phil Kelly from Belfast, speaking after Varoufakis that evening, spoke of the post Brexit desolation of the UK. ‘If we do not act,’ he said, ‘we are goose stepping into the abyss’. In our last workshop we discussed the graphic representation of our hopes for DIEM 25 and the European New Deal. Some of us talked of an ensō.
In Zen Buddhism, an ensō is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two. uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. It symbolizes absolute enlightenment and strength. An ensō may be open or closed. When the circle is closed, it represents perfection. But when it is open, the circle is incomplete, allowing for movement, diversity and development. Like Edward Said, like Martin McGuinness, like Eoghan Harris, we must all speak truth to power. We must all take the first step of acting with good authority by telling the truth to our own tribe. In Ireland, in the UK, in Europe, we can start to tell that truth by refusing to close the circle. Don’t goosestep into the abyss – we all deserve better than Theresa May.