Of all the colourful terms in the English language there can be few that make me smile ironically in the way the phrase “civil war” does.
For everyone knows that civil war is the dirtiest, most awful, most vicious kind of war there is.
It is impossible to watch Labour at the moment and not realise that a volcanic conflict is ready to erupt within its ranks.
It is depressingly inevitable, and I say that as someone who spent the better part of my life hoping that party would live up to all the ideals it was supposed to stand for and who had a painful, and messy, collision with reality, and in particular last year.
Labour is in a titanic mess of its own manufacture, and nothing brings that home to me more than to see people like Andy Burnham running for its leadership. Empty vessels without a shred of genuine conviction.
I’ve watched Burnham closely. And I’ve watched Cooper and Kendell too.
It’s clear to me that the latter knows what she’s all about; she, at least, has a coherent strategy, even if that strategy is to fully embrace her inner Tory and go full tilt right.
It will make Labour a pariah organisation with its own supporters but hey, she gives the impression she would not be terribly concerned with that outcome anyway.
Liz Kendall is from the John McTiernan School of Political Diplomacy, the one that says you should piss all over your own people in an appeal for the votes of everyone else.
The “moderates” are so bland that you literally despair of ever seeing either of them leading the “official” opposition.
Neither even talks a good game; both speak in the appalling language of the modern politician, where a lot of words come out but nothing of consequence is ever actually said.
Listening to either of them and then listening to Corbyn is like the difference between elevator music and a good symphony orchestra.
He speaks plainly, and with conviction, and it’s not a wonder that his message, simple, hopeful, inspiring, is being heard in places where the others can’t find traction.
Frankly, his rivals don’t even sound convincing when they give their own names.
The most horrible thing about Corbyn’s opponents is the way they speak about his political beliefs.
They have labelled him one of the “hard left”; Harriet Harman is even looking for “reds under the beds”, trying to weed socialists out of the Labour Party lest their views pollute the place.
The despicable truth – from their own lips – is that these senior politicians in Labour no longer believe in any of the things they must have gotten into politics to do.
They talk about Corbyn as if he’s an extremist, as if his politics were the stuff of the lunatic fringe.
When being anti-austerity, anti-weapons of mass destruction, supporting the social security system and being in favour of public services and free education is seen as putting you on the far left of politics in this country – and outside Labour’s “mainstream” – then you start to get a real sense of just how stinking and rotten our present system is.
There are people around me who wonder if I’ll return to Labour if Corbyn is elected, and the idea tugs at me relentlessly and how can it not?
I am a socialist, a left-winger, someone who spent the better part of his life waiting for just this moment, for a person such as this to take the party in a brand new direction … and it may be just around the corner.
And yet, I still feel divorced from it all but in that way that I’m torn, like I walked out of something and now wonder if I did the right thing.
That nags at me too.
Was I wrong all this time about the left in Labour fighting the “long defeat”?
I’ve been hearing that a left revival was coming my whole sodding adult life and I never saw it move one step closer.
I feel, again, like a guy who was cheated on, who did the only thing he could and ended the relationship … and now the phone calls have started, asking me about a reconciliation.
I know this is madness, I know that all those warm memories are actually shadows in dust because all the time I thought I was in something special I was being betrayed … but the steady drumbeat, over and over, in my ears is “but this time it’s different … this time it’s different …”
And you know what? It is different.
It feels different.
The moment feels unique to this time and to this place, and that alone makes me ponder it fretfully.
Scottish Labour likes its football analogies, so those of that persuasion who read this blog will pardon the use of one; I look at the candidates, other than Corbyn, and I look past them at all politics in the UK, and I see Tony Mowbray, standing on the touchline on the night St Mirren destroyed Celtic 4-0 to end his managerial tenure.
Had Mowbray erupted in anger, had he shown passion, had he kicked a water bottle or simply sat down in frustration and pulled the grass out by his fingers I still, to this day, doubt that the club would have fired him after that match.
What did it was that expression on his face, that haunted look, which was that of a man who had no idea what to do next, a man who had realised – and probably for the first time – that he was in a job that was simply overwhelming him and in which he was overmatched.
The enormity of the task facing the next Labour leader is so mountainous that none of the present candidates is remotely up to the job, save for Corbyn himself. Because he, at least, can start the process of rebuilding the party from the ground up, and gearing it towards being an effective opposition again, instead of watching it become what Burnham and the others would turn it into; nothing but a shadow of the Tory Party.
I am reminded, again, of Tolkien’s wonderful words in the second volume of Lord of the Rings, in describing what had happened to Isengard, the once green and pleasant home of Saruman the White Wizard, whose ambitions and lust for power had similarly overwhelmed him and caused him to lose sight of himself;
“A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful; and there great lords had dwelt, the wardens of Gondor upon the West, and wise men that watched the stars. But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived—for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he foresook his former wisdom, and which fondly imagined were his own, came but from Mordor, so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child’s model or a slave’s flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength.”
Corbyn would tear that “child’s model” to pieces in short order, one suspects, and that alone would be worth watching … and it is necessary because this country needs an opposition party that actually does what it says on the tin instead of meekly accepting the disastrous political narrative of our time – and a barefaced lie at that -that all this pain is necessary and inevitable.
Yet the ranks of the parliamentary Labour Party are swollen with MP’s who will never accept that, and no-one can be even remotely in denial about that terrible truth.
There is already talk – insane talk, crazy talk – of Corbyn being deposed within weeks if he wins … but that is suicidal nonsense and will simply not happen.
What will happen is that a campaign of destabilisation will begin almost at once.
And, in truth, it has started already.
Yesterday there was a picture of him in one of the Sunday papers, which showed him taking the night bus with a bunch of sleepy, ordinary, working class Londoners. It was, ostensibly, a picture of the probable next leader of the opposition showing him as down to Earth, unspun and genuine.
And that’s exactly how it was written up in the article.
But what I noticed about it was how exhausted he looked, and it moved me to write a short Facebook post saying that I didn’t want him to win.
Jeremy Corbyn is a fine and decent man and for his own sake, I said I hoped he would lose so that he could continue being just an ordinary bloke who happened to be an MP.
That he never have to face the full weight of the job he is so close to being elected to.
This country needs him; I believe that.
But if he’s going to be destroyed then I don’t want to watch it happen.
Let Burnham or Cooper have what’s left of their miserable souls crushed by the responsibility and the relentless hammering of the right wing press.
Not a good man. Not this man.
Then, later that evening, something dawned on me which should have been clearer much sooner than it was.
If I hadn’t spent the whole day pulling my hair out over this I would have got it.
That picture … it’s just another form of attack.
It’s Corbyn as Tony Mowbray, Corbyn not up to the job, Corbyn buckling under the weight already.
It’s subtle … but it’s there, and it’s all the more effective for that.
My reaction … that’s exactly what those bastards wanted.
And you know what? That pisses me off.
Because this didn’t run in The Daily Mail under a screaming headline.
This didn’t run in The Sun under a wisecrack laced with malice.
This ran in the fucking Guardian … a newspaper that is supposed to be liberal, that is supposed to be progressive, and its cunning placement is all the more sinister and cynical because of that.
This is a sophisticated campaign with serious people behind it.
And that does make me want to pick up a banner and join Corbyn out on the line.
Because that’s as clear as sign as we need that the Secret State has already started the long campaign of obliterating this man and his political views … and it’s nothing compared to what his own backbenchers will do.
But I’m not going to re-join Labour.
I am not going to do it, and I’ve pondered it all day (and for weeks, if I’m being honest, and it’s the reason the long-promised next article on electoral math hasn’t yet materialised) before coming to that decision.
You know why I don’t do it?
It’s simple, really.
Although I am genuinely torn this isn’t my fight anymore.
This is interfering in someone else’s dispute, and this one is going to be bloody and hellish and I am not doing myself or anyone else any favours by sticking my nose into it, much as part of me wants to.
See, already a lot of people are lining up to jump into this; Galloway, Hatton, a lot of folk who’ve been out of the Labour Party for years, some of them decades. They can’t wait to go back, and they’re well aware that they’re heading into a warzone.
That is undoubtedly part of the attraction.
When I left I didn’t simply tear up my membership card and quietly walk away.
I denounced candidates, scorned manifestos, voted for other people and cheered as MP’s were routed from office.
I even got on the telly, going wild in celebration.
I’ve spent the last year of my life holding a flamethrower and pointing it in their direction.
What right do I have to put that down now and waltz back in there like I’m the long lost son?
I know the answer. None.
I have no right whatsoever, and especially not when I look into my heart of hearts and realise that I’d be going in spoiling for a fight, and not just with the Tories.
A lot of my friends are privately urging me to jump in because Corbyn is going to need a standing army of soldiers, warriors, people who’ve been in the mud and the blood before, on his side if he’s going to gut it out and change the party.
I agree with them.
But I’m not a soldier in that army.
The part of me that longs to sign up … shit, I’d be a mercenary, and worse; my inclination would be to clean house before turning my guns across the chamber, all the better to give Jeremy the chance to do things his own way.
See, I’m with Dave Ward on this one.
The careerist wing of Labour is a virus and it does have to be purged from the body politic … and I make no bones about that.
And boy oh boy, I would seriously love to be one of the guys doing the purging.
Because I grew up in the party, and I saw my own friends and comrades side-lined, alienated and shafted.
The so-called modernisers took no prisoners.
When Jeremy Corbyn talked about reaching out the other day, making friends with the Blairite wing, having them “on board” it was the one time listening to him that I shook my head and said “not for me, mate.”
I haven’t the remotest interest in seeing the present Labour Party united.
I want it engulfed in bloodletting first.
I want to see the careerist wing scooped up like dog shit on a carpet and disposed of in the nearest bin.
I simply couldn’t stomach sitting in the same room as the loathsome bastards who went out and lied on the stump during the referendum campaign and who stood shoulder to shoulder with the class enemy and still can’t bring themselves to oppose their politics even today.
To pretend that we can all co-exist, like a happy family, in one big tent … it’s bollocks.
I could pretend, but once I was handed the flamethrower again I would use it with gleeful abandon, on all the people who ever soiled the party membership card with their greedy grasping fingers.
There’s too much water under the bridge.
A river of bad blood has already been spilled, and before this is over a Pacific sized ocean of it will have to be shed.
I’m staying out of it.
Civil war is the most brutal kind of war there is, and I have no part in this and I want no part in it.
I don’t trust my motives, because I would be one of the guys committing atrocities.
I know that deep down, because the horrible truth of it is that I can’t stand the bastards who have turned something I loved into everything I despise.
My fight is somewhere else, in securing an independent Scotland.
Last week, when I was having fevered fantasies of re-joining Labour and kidding myself it would be for “the right reasons”, someone asked me if that meant I was no longer committed to the greater cause of seeing this country go it alone.
During one particularly snappy exchange I restrained myself from a venomous answer which would have boiled down to simply this; independence is part of the journey, not the destination.
Scotland standing alone would not be enough if it was not also a land of progressive values and social conscience.
Otherwise, what the Hell are we doing?
The reason I restrained myself is that in the emotion of the moment I very nearly said that if Corbyn could deliver that, or shift the middle of the road enough to the left that those policies could be realised at the UK level that it would tick the boxes in question without our needing independence to deliver the country we wanted.
But of course, that too, is bollocks, and it is self-indulgent bollocks at that.
In another wonderful passage from The Lord of the Rings, this time the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Wizard and the lords of all the lands of light come together at the Council of Elrond, where they debate what to do with the Ring of Power.
Many at the Council believed that the Ring had been lost at sea and that there it would remain.
When Gandalf tells them that it was found and has Frodo produce it, someone suggests that they make good on the old wisdom and cast it into the ocean.
There, he ventures, it would be safe.
One more time, I am grateful to Tolkien for getting to the heart of the matter and putting it far better than I ever could.
“Not safe forever,” said Gandalf. “There are many things in the deep waters; and seas and land may change. And it is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world. We should seek a final end to this menace ….”
Labour’s civil war has to be fought because otherwise the party will never move on.
One side has to win, and win utterly, and the other has to be smashed, and smashed completely, and those left standing allowed a straightforward rebuilding job without fear of what the other side will do.
But whoever wins, the British political system is the dark shadow over all of us.
That system pays no heed to what Scotland needs or what Scotland wants and if tomorrow we suddenly found a friend in government that would be nice as long as it lasts … but the wheel will keep on turning and sooner or later we’ll be beneath it again and ground steadily down.
That’s why I’m staying out of fights that don’t concern me.
The war here at home is far more important.
The quest for independence is the one that, for better or worse, will occupy the remainder of my life.
I feel better for having made the decision.
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