Not Michael Gove's Misbegotten Shambles
Sat 11th Jan 2014
Michael Gove is a neoconservative member of Denis MacShane’s Henry Jackson Society, and thus also an admirer of Tony Blair and of George W Bush, neither of whom would have got any of the jokes in Blackadder.
Gove’s intellect is also widely and wildly over-praised, on the basis of absolutely no evidence whatever. In that, he is very much like David Cameron, Boris Johnson or David Miliband.
Utterly bizarrely, we must now add to that list even George Osborne, a figure the mere mention or sight of whom would be greeted with uncontrollable derision in any serious polity, or in any serious public house.
Like the rest of today’s donkeys, Gove is as callously indifferent, or worse, towards the lives of working-class, for that matter of middle-class, and of non-white lions as Haig and the other donkeys of a century ago ever were.
But with regard to the First World War, Gove stands absolutely no chance of changing the culture of this country, a country to which as a neoconservative he in any case owes at best a secondary and provisional allegiance, if any.
That is not because of Blackadder Goes Forth, which the correct understanding of that conflict predates by 75 years.
Almost by accident, since Richard Curtis is no friend of the depiction of the experience of the 99 per cent, that series expressed that understanding. It did not create it.
The experience of those who lived through the years 1914 to 1918 was what created it. In the real world, we still understand this, and we are still acting on that understanding.
A few months ago, I was summoned into the presence of one of the most influential trade union leaders, certainly in the North East, and at least arguably in the country.
In quite possibly the most profitable meeting that I have ever had with anyone, we discussed two grave matters.
One of them was the possibility of erecting, depending on how you looked at it, either three monuments or a three-part monument. Perhaps a pyramid, or a triangular column. Perhaps three tablets side by side.
But in any event, one part commemorating those who rendered non-military service during the morally ambivalent and civilisationally catastrophic conflict of 1914 to 1918.
Our principal ally in the First World War was Tsarist Russia, which was a far greater despotism even than Austria-Hungary, never mind the Kaiser’s Germany, which was not one at all.
The Social Democrats were the largest party in Germany and the largest Social Democratic party in the world. Many of that party’s members actively opposed the War, as it is not really possible to do in a dictatorship. Most British adults did not have the vote in whatever it was that they were fighting to defend.
A second part of the monument will commemorate the Independent Labour Party Contingent, which went to Spain in order to fight Fascism, but whose members were killed there by the agents of Stalinism. There might also have been those, of a Social Catholic persuasion, on the other side. I should be very interested to find out.
ILPers and Social Catholics? Hardly mutually exclusive categories, and neither of them either Stalinist or Falangist. One thinks of the War Memorial in Strasbourg, featuring two naked baby boys; no one ever says, but everyone knows, that one of them died in a French uniform, while the other one died in a German uniform. But at least they have a memorial.
Lest we forget, by the time that the Second World War really began in earnest from Britain’s point of view, the USSR was both under Stalin and on side, leaving the ILP, motivated precisely by its anti-Stalinism, as the only party to stay out of the Coalition. It attempted to commandeer the entire Opposition benches for its three MPs.
Rather more successfully, it continued to ask questions and to contest by-elections, keeping alive the parliamentary democracy for which the War was at least ostensibly being fought, yet somehow in alliance with Stalin, after whom some British streets are still named. Who will continue to ask questions and to contest by-elections next time?
The Communist Party of Great Britain has a high profile in our historical consciousness compared with that of the ILP. It suits certain interests down to the ground that there be as little discussion as possible of what actually went on in the Spanish Civil War, or of the historical existence of an anti-Stalinist and anti-Trotskyist Left with deep rural roots, whether in Britain or in Catalonia, among other places.
As it happened, except in Alsace and in the Sudetenland, where you can guess what happened if you do not already know, the various faces of what was officially called the International Communist Opposition pretty much ended up where Fenner Brockway and the ILP were, rather than the other way round. (Brockway splendidly became the Labour MP for Eton.)
But we London Bureau types and we Two-and-a-Halfers take each other as we find each other in order to influence each other as best we can. That meant the so-called Right Opposition in its many manifestations taking the ILP as it found it, complete with temperance Methodists, Social Catholics, Burkean lovers of the organic Constitution and of the organic countryside, the lot.
A model very much worth revisiting now that Labour is the only means of voting against the cruel cuts in our conventional defence, voting against the ruinous reduction in provincial disposable incomes by the abolition of National Pay Agreements, voting against the further deregulation of Sunday trading, voting against the replacement of Her Majesty’s Constabulary with the National Crime Agency, voting against the devastation of rural communities by the allowing of foreign companies and even foreign states to buy up our postal service and our roads, voting against the England’s National Health Service, and at least registering any kind of protest at Royal Mail privatisation and at the return of the East Coast Main Line to the private sector from which it has already had to be rescued twice.
Every single Labour MP voted to demand a real-terms reduction in the British contribution to the EU Budget. It is now practically certain that they will all vote against the Transatlantic “Trade and Investment” “Partnership”. Labour is the force for the Union against separatism on at least three fronts. The Burkean ILP lives as Ed Miliband’s One Nation Labour. Its martyrs deserve a memorial.
And the third part of the monument will commemorate the Palestine that from 1920 to 1948 existed as a country on the map, under the British Crown as a Commonwealth country with the Union Flag in the corner of its own, and thus as a nation under the Cross as surely as during the Frankish Period.
Such vexillology manifested the historical norm of that territory’s status as an integral part of Western civilisation under Roman, Byzantine, Frankish and British sovereignty, and the indigeneity, with all rights accordingly, of the population that is in fact pre-Israelite, but which converted to Christianity at or before the conversion of the Roman Empire.
It continues to define itself by that adherence, and it founded both Arab nationalism and the modern concept of Filastin. Today, however, no European language has any official status there, nor is any Christian festival a public holiday, nothing.
For that country on the map, that country under the British Crown, that Commonwealth country with the Union Flag in the corner of its own, that nation under the Cross as an integral part of Western civilisation, continued only until it was bombed out of existence by the founders of modern terrorism.
Those did not relent, but if anything the very reverse, while the British Commonwealth was fighting the Third Reich, with which they had previously sought an accommodation and an alliance, whereas they were never anything other than the most vicious enemies of Britain.
There are monuments to conscientious objection generally, but that is not quite what this project is about. There is a small plaque to the ILP Contingent in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.
But nothing to compare with the Soviet-directed International Brigade’s considerable monument, at which an annual ceremony is held on London’s South Bank, together with at least four more memorials in England, three in Scotland, two in Northern Ireland, two in the Irish Republic, and one in Wales.
To British Palestine, and to those who fell in and for her, there is no monument anywhere in the world. That is nothing short of a national disgrace. But, like the other two, the matter is now in hand.
I regret profoundly that my father, who served in British Palestine, will not be present in body when the monument is unveiled. My dearest wish for that ceremony is that my erstwhile Senior Tutor, who served with my father, will be visibly in attendance.
Anyone who might be able to make a contribution, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org . And why not public money, Michael Gove?