Jesus or Barabbas?

11 Dec

At the Feast of Passover two thousand years ago it was customary for the Roman occupiers to pardon one condemned prisoner, selected by the people. All four Gospels have it that on one very special year the crowds insisted on the release of a chap named Barabbas.

Matthew 27:16 has this man as “a notorious prisoner”, Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:19 as a party to murder, and John 18:40 as a bandit. This was the man who, legend has it, went free as Pontius Pilate washed his hands. Some other dude went to Calvary instead.

Now leap forward two millennia and consider how ‘our’ media have treated the two prime contenders in another zero sum game, one to be decided tomorrow. Of which a Facebook poster today, name unknown to me, says this:

The British press is engaged in a form of psychological warfare against the British public. In our archaic and fundamentally undemocratic electoral system, there are effectively only two people who can become Prime Minister on Friday morning.

One is an Old Etonian, Bullingdon-bully with a history of making nakedly racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic remarks and who is the living embodiment of elitist privilege …

… a man only too happy to send other people’s children to be killed in wars waged on behalf of the big corporate interests who profit from them and a man who sees genocide as a real estate opportunity. …

… a man who believes working class people are layabouts and considers a second income of £250,00pa “chicken feed”. A man who has such lust for power and high office that he will literally say, or do, anything if the price is right. A man of the old, dying world.

And then there’s a man with conviction – a man who believes in everything he says with unwavering fortitude …

… a man who has spent his life opposing the bloodlust of Britain’s warmongering elites and who has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with oppressed peoples throughout the world – irrespective of whether it made him popular politically …

… a man who has railed against the establishment and opposed policies injurious to his constituents regardless of whether it was his own party implementing them; a man who refuses to engage in ad hominem attacks and identity politics and instead focuses on issues; a man who in his spare time makes jam, tends to vegetables on his allotment and visits homeless people on Christmas Day.

And guess which one of these two men the British press, in its obsession with personality politics and utter commitment to destroying anything remotely resembling social democracy, has worked overtime trying to portray as a menace to society?

But politics is not about personalities. It is about issues and it is about compromise. The media and political establishment understand that the public is a threat that must be countered. That is why general election cycles have become pantomime – those who wield power aim to keep the public distracted; they do not want an engaged electorate making rational, informed decisions. They want a disengaged electorate making irrational, uninformed decisions, often against their own interests.

This is how the Tories maintain a stranglehold on British politics and why so much of policy-making is at odds with the expressed wishes of the electorate.

There is a clear choice to be made in this election. Vote Tory and prop up the old, dying world with a party that believes the road to serfdom can be circumnavigated by filling in a few potholes and by making hospital parking free – for those visiting terminally ill patients; or vote for the party most likely to beat the Tory standing in your constituency and allow a new world to be born: a world in which the gross economic disparity at home is somewhat re-balanced and a world in which foreign policy is based on mutual co-operation and diplomacy rather than economic imperialism and military aggression.

Everything else is just noise.

Do I agree with all the above? Nope, not all. But on the central thrust, vilification by rightwing and ‘liberal’ media alike of the one who by any sane standards is demonstrably and vastly the better man?

On that I agree a thousand percent. And no, I’m not confusing one JC with another – don’t be so bloody literal! There’s only so far you can push an analogy, innit?

* * *

10 Replies to “Jesus or Barabbas?

  1. Coincidentally, just seen this in a BTL post on offguardian, attributed to Phillip Pullman:

    “There was a common understanding of the value of civic decency. There really was such a thing, and many of us really believed in it. My parents and grandparents did; my teachers did.

    And then it began to vanish, almost invisibly at first. Little by little, an acid rain began to dissolve the structures of thought and feeling that gave us healthcare and libraries and schools and council houses and public parks. By the 1980s, it was working its way deep into our politics and our lives. The public life of this nation has decayed into a state of moral squalor. Lies, cowardice and betrayal leak from the very pores of our political leaders; trust limps after them like the poor little dog following the murderer Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist, even though Sikes is going to kill him.

    Nothing can grow in this poisoned wilderness except money. Shame, which needs the soil of conscience before it can take root, can’t flourish here; little shoots tentatively appear, only to fade and droop and die in the corrupted air. Imagine Boris Johnson expressing shame. Imagine Donald Trump doing so. Why feel shame? Who needs shame? Shame is for losers.

    In the doorways of great, stony-hearted buildings, in urine-stinking underpasses, under crumbling bridges, people who have nowhere else to go lie down to sleep.”

    I recall thinking along similar lines in the aftermath of the 1987 election. Totally flumuxed by the conundrum of so many people voting in Thatcher for a third term after ‘Boys from the Black Stuff’ ?

    The point being that thirty odd years on: after PFI, Blair, decades of illegal wars from the Balkans to Syria, and the abandonment of communities which resulted in the contradictory rise at the LP expense of the SNP in Scotland and the Brexit result in LP heartlands across the North and the Midlands of England*; persuading enough people in a rigged and dysfunctional ersatz FPTP system is even more difficult.

    * In both cases the LP suffered because regardless of whether particular “ruling groups” in various locals and levels pinned a self defined label of “left” or “right” on themselves the lived daily reality stretching over years and decades was that of living in a rotton borough where not only had the Party corrupted it’s own values but we’re largely incompetent at delivering the basics.

    Campaigning around North Sheffield for a by election following the resignation of Angela Smith revealed a frightening (majority) level of cynicism towards politicians regardless of Party. Of course, in a Constituency which voted over 60% in favour of Brexit that was the key issue of trust.

    However, it goes deeper than just Brexit.

    And here the point is that to make any headway with the vast majority who don’t turn up for rally’s; who have switched off for a whole host of reasons from MP’s expenses to the non-delivery of the EU referendum result it’s not enough to appear different and it’s not enough that one individual can genuinely demonstrate they are different.

    In politics people don’t just focus exclusively on individuals they also consider organisation. In those terms there remains a long way to go.

    The analogy here of Jesus and Barabas can also be applied in other contexts. The LP itself for example.

    The leadership elections of 2015 and 2016 and their aftermath were sold as a distinct break with the Blair period ( which arguably pre-dated Blair’s election as leader). Sold not just in terms of policies but also of a different way of doing politics to address the kind of issues identified above.

    Perhaps one way of encapsulating this world weary cynicism of all politicians being like rats in a sack would go something like: ‘If they treat each other like this, how can I/we trust them not to do the same to us ordinary voters?’

    And one of the key internal Party and movement complaints in this regard was the way the Blair wing parachuted pre-selected candidates into Constituencies in such a blatent and unsophisticated manner.

    The promise implicit in what was sold this time around was things would be different.

    Alas, the evidence (as well as individual and collective experience) is that in terms of the organisation nothing has fundamentally changed.

    For sure, Momentum have been more sophisticated in doing the same thing as the Blair faction did in this regard. But there is no doubt that the same corruption of values has taken place; with blatent inconsistent application of grievance, complaints and disciplinary rules to favour long picked out and selected members/candidates . Many of whom are no different to the ‘Blair Babes/Clones” in terms of being mere careerists who have simply stuck a convenient label on themselves and spent more time getting themselves photographed on picket lines than doing the bread and butter business for constituents.

    Effectively throwing other hard working members and their work, who have been the victim’s of blatent breaches of their legal rights as well as of internal rules, under a bus to protect long pre-selected candidates.

    Thus we have the selection in Bassetlaw overturned to favour a second bite of the cherry for a beaten pre-selected candidate on the basis of complaints reportedly from a constituency member – whose partner just happens to be a senior member of the Complaints Unit – which the local CLP publicly stated they had no knowledge of.

    Whilst the same reported complainant stood in the listings for a Constituency over 240km away only to conveniently withdraw a day before the vote allowing a pre-selected candidate from the new hierarchy a better chance of winning selection.

    Meanwhile, candidates and candidate support are swiftly replaced (Edinburgh SW for example) for social media posts with no proper due process or opportunity to mount a defence – just like the SNP recently in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath – which are nowhere near as serious as existing complaints and grievances which are conveniently swept under the carpet because some members are more equal than others.

    Some of this finds its way into a willing corporate media to be used as ammunition against the Party. Some of it has not.

    Regardless, it undermines what Corbyn is about and does his politics no favours and learns no lessons from the debacle in Hallam.

    Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

    • Powerful writing there from Mr Pullman.

      One of a few things I respect about you Dave is that despite your total awareness of the deep and wide flaws in the Labour Party, you have not made the choice others with similar views have made. You are out there on the streets on leafleting and canvassing duty. You put me to shame. I haven’t canvassed once, and can’t forever play the puppy-sitting card!

      You slug it out in those infinitely tedious – when not totally toxic – branch meetings. And you endured the insults and very personal vituperation of an Angela Smith not fit to clean your boots. I could never do that, though I recognise the galling necessity of it.

      My hat off to you sir!

      • Sorry to disappoint Phil but this time around this is not the case as it is not possible (unless one wishes to be a total hypocrite) to face in two contradictory directions at the same time a la the dictates of Ingsoc. It is unrealistic, impractical and not feasible to pursue genuine longstanding cases – which have been gerrymandered and conveniently ignored at the highest levels for the purposes of protecting the pre-selected – whilst at the same totally undermining those cases by acting against those cases in such a way.

        Back in basic training at Catterick many decades ago it was drilled into us that just because as tradesmen we were only getting half the basic training of a regular infantryman (6 weeks instead of 12) made no difference. You are a soldier first and a mechanic/cook/combat radioman second.

        Similarly, two weeks in at he end of he Geneva Convention lecture the young Irish Lieutenant summed up he lesson with the words that it makes no difference whether you are a General, a Sergeant or. Private; a soldier or a civilian. Whatever hat you are wearing you are a human being first and anything else second.

        So I’m afraid the choice is quite simple. I’m a citizen first and a gang member second. Responsibilities to the community one resides in require a stark and straightforward choice based on the doctor’s oath of doing no harm (even when that makes zero difference) and sticking with the values one signed up for – even when those values have been officially jettissioned and undermined at every level.

        The objective of all the work of genuine people over the past three and half years of improving what existed has been systematically dumped in favour of simplistic identity politics with no depth, no experience and no competance.

        When it comes to a choice of properly doing the business or a bodge job it’s a no brainer for any real engineer. If you don’t do what it says on the tin you cease to be what you are.

        • Er, could you clarify Dave? Not sure if you’re saying you won’t do the donkey work any more – or that you won’t vote Labour any more.

          Either way, what I just said stands, though obviously – see my post after this one (soon I think to appear on OffGuradian) – I’ll be disappointed if you’re not voting Labour today.

          Merry Xmas to you.

  2. Peter Oborne has a welcome article in the Guardian:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/11/boris-johnson-destroy-britain-conservative-revolutionary-sect

    Admittedly, there’s annoying aspects to this article. Were the Tories ever “the wise, gentle, decent party of the postwar era”? If that was ever true, it must have signalled a general decency across the political spectrum of those years. But I would have said that any such decency was definitely gone by the time of Thatcher’s office. But perhaps the aura of a wise and decent society was powerful enough to linger on even through the 80s and 90s. But, faced with a relentless assault on greater and greater segments of the population, wishful thinking has to crack sooner or later. It’s nice that Oborne has woken up at last.

    • I saw the Oborne piece too George. I agree about the rose tinted memories of these people, but don’t altogether discount the importance of their disgust of a huge slice of the tory party. (I’m sure many who can’t stand Boris were among the two thirds of members voting for him, with pegs on noses, either because they want hard Brexit or because they fear the party of that name.)

      One of the ironies being that neither of his professed heroes, Churchill or Thatcher, would have given this man time of day.

  3. Most people today will be voting, not on the fundamentals of policy, but tactical voting either; to get the country out of EU(Brexit) which is what BJ has defined as his main argument against Labour or getting rid of the Tories irrespective of their preferred party(Greens or SEP for example). If it were not for the FPTP system, which is an unfair system, we might have a shot at real democracy.
    The current LP is neither democratic or socialist and JC and McDonnell’s apologising for anti-Semitism which only exists as anti Israeli apartheidism, is damaging precisely because the party is disfunctional as only a few of it’s candidates actually represent the Corbyn policies, which in the end is not representative of anything in particular – on either side.
    It’s like having to choose the lesser of two evils(the LP being mostly self serving right wingers) with no alternatives available if you want to be rid of the Tories and see real change for the better.(I believe the LP will get rid of Corbyn should he gain them a victory, which will probably end the LP for good).
    What to do?
    Until we have a true democracy, we really don’t have democracy.

    • Susan it’s a great question you raise, one that’s preoccupied the Left a hundred years. Ever since Lenin advised the fledgling Communist Party of Britain to “support the Labour Party as a rope supports a hanged man” (interesting metaphor, that, from one whose brother went to the gallows after a failed ultra-leftist uprising against the Tsar) it has divided those who see parliamentary democracy for the chimera it actually is.

      There are those within that minority – anarchists for instance – who couldn’t care less what Lenin thought. And even those who could fall into two broad camps. Both camps see a stark choice for humanity: socialism or barbarism. (The latter updated to add environmental meltdown to the list of possibilities.) And both are with Marx in insisting a capitalist ruling class will never allow socialism via the parliamentary route (that seventies film, A Very British Coup, is good on the why and how).

      Where they differ is on whether Lenin’s advice still holds. Or – forget Lenin – whether the inability of social democracy, including a Labour Party whose ties to trade unionism make it a special case, to deliver socialism means it can never be supported, however conditional and limited that support. This question has divided the Left in Britain for a century.

      At some point I’ll dedicate a post to this question and its history but right now I’ll just say that I see the refusal to back Labour under any circumstances as sectarian. The British section of the international working class is facing, as is the French section to name but one other, assault on every front. Yesterday, as you know, I posted on the NHS so let’s just take that as a metonym for the wider attacks as Capital seeks to make labour (small l) pay for its crises.

      I see this as the most vital general election since 1945. I urge all socialists to vote Labour today not because Jeremy Corbyn is an honourable man – though he manifestly is that – but because a Labour government, especially one with a civil war between its Tory-lite and socialist wings, will embolden the union movement and the direct protests which sooner or later will be necessary.

      I urge all socialists to vote Labour today because when it betrays, as it will, there will be a stronger current prepared to take the fight outside the Westminster Village, to support and if necessary bully Corbyn into not backing down when the pressures for him to do so will of course be immense. For many of us he has already conceded way too much ground and this too is what parliamentary socialists – actually an oxymoron – always do, however steely their character and piercing their intelligence. This is not persoanal. There’s a science to it.

      But do we join those sectarians who insist on an all or nothing approach? Regardless of where the majority of the people are at? To do so we are insisting that there’s no difference between the utterly unprincipled BoJo and the demonstrably principled Jezza. Or to put it in less personal terms, no difference between the Tory’s plans for the NHS – remember I use this simply as metonym, albeit a very powerful one – and the collectivist aspirations of Labour as it is currently led.

      At the very least the ruling class can proceed with its plans, to make the labour sellers pay for its crises, a good deal more speedily under Boris than under Corbyn.

      Me, I think that’s a no-brainer. Especially when those ultraleftists who advocate abstentionism have nothing to offer. Nada. Zilch. Sweet Fanny Adams.

  4. What individuals who stand on the left vote is certainly one issue (though as matters stand a lot of people would settle for a Parliamentary road to democracy). However, the key issue is to win over a cynical divided electorate suspicious of career politicians who stick a convenient label* on themselves to assist their passage up the ziggeral, lickety split!

    *Just to be clear what is being said here is just because someone sticks a label on themselves does not mean that what is inside the tin is what it says on the label. As Mandelson, of all people (in an otherwise poor forgettable diatribe back in October), observed recently; it’s no good replacing one autocratic system with another.

    And that’s precisely what’s happened with the monopolist PLC left that is Momentum who have learned nothing from the hubris they inflicted in Hallam last time around.

    Politics and policies is but one aspect. To win the necessary votes requires demonstrable competance on the part of candidates. In too many Constituencies which need to be won the vote has been put at risk as a result of stitch ups which have played fast and loose with rules and laws – sometimes putting volunteers at risk to force through those with the “correct label.”

    Being “one of us.” As the Blair and Thatcher cults used to put it. You expect that from the “right.”. Coming from the “left” – or what claims monopoly rights to being the “legitimate left” – and selling it as a break from the past and a different way of doing things is not going to fool a sufficient number of voters in a rigged contest.

    Demonstrating scant regard for the espoused values of civic decency which Pullman refers to. Precisely how that kind of approach is going to convince traditional areas which voted leave, and which are at risk, to come out in sufficient numbers is simply ignored in favour of faith based polemics from this quarter.

    As an aside: the recent offguardian article on Kuenssberg’s, let’s call it, faux pas about postal voting. Some feedback I have indicates that the postal vote which was sent out in the Steel City has gone up by around 20k from previous high to around 85k, with approximately half being returned within a couple of days.

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