Bob Dylan and the classics

You’ve been with the professors

And they’ve all liked your looks

With great lawyers you have

Discussed lepers and crooks

You’ve been through all of

F Scott Fitzgerald’s books

You’re very well read

It’s well known

(Ballad of a Thin Man, 1965)

 

In the four weeks since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature there has been a worldwide debate about his merit as a literary figure deserving such a prestigious award.

While many agree that he is the most outstanding English speaking poet of the late 20th century, others argue that he is nothing more than a songwriter on a par with Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell.

But for a man who has written over 500 songs and three books, plus the screenplay and score for the amazing 232 minute long Renaldo and Clara, the search for Bob Dylan’s literary merit shouldn’t be too difficult.

Yet, Dylan was left speechless by the news that he was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In a call with Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Dylan said: “I appreciate the honour so much… the news about the Nobel prize left me speechless.”

“It’s hard to believe … amazing, incredible. Whoever dreams about something like that?” he added.

Making the award announcement on 13 October, Danius compared Dylan’s work to that of ancient Greek writers Homer and Sappho.

Asked later about the comparison, Dylan said: “I suppose so, in some way. Some of my own songs – Blind Willie, The Ballad of Hollis Brown, Joey, A Hard Rain, Hurricane and some others – definitely are Homeric in value.”

But he declined to remark on the meanings of those songs. “I’ll let other people decide what they are,” he said.

“The academics, they ought to know. I’m not really qualified. I don’t have any opinion.

“There’s a certain intensity in writing a song,” he added. “You have to keep in mind why you are writing it and for who and what for.

“Everything worth doing takes time. You have to write a hundred bad songs before you write one good one. And you have to sacrifice a lot of things that you might not be prepared for. Like it or not, you are in this alone and have to follow your own star.”

Dylan’s former partner Joan Baez went further when she said: “The Nobel Prize for Literature is yet another step towards immortality for Bob Dylan.

“His gift with words is unsurpassable. Out of my repertoire spanning 60 years, no songs have been more moving and worthy in their depth, darkness, fury, mystery, beauty and humour than Bob’s.

“None has been more of a pleasure to sing. None will come again.”

It is certainly the poetry in his songs that has earned Bob Dylan the literature world’s highest honour.

I stumbled to my feet

I rode past destruction in the ditches

With the stitches still mending ’neath a heart-shaped tattoo

Renegade priests and treacherous young witches

Were handing out the flowers that I’d given to you

The palace of mirrors

Where dog soldiers are reflected

The endless road and the wailing of chimes

The empty rooms where her memory is protected

Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times

(Changing of the Guard, 1978)

Most observers recognise that his words and music often borrow heavily from the American dustbowl tradition of singers such as Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

And like most other songwriters, Dylan leans heavily on contemporary life and vignettes of unrequited love – his 1983 album Infidels is a homage in itself to those sources.

But for a once self-professed “song and dance man”, Dylan is much more than that.

And what about those books he devoured as a hungry teenager and the professors who “all liked your looks… You’re very well read, It’s well known.”

Bob Dylan’s songs are steeped in deep literary references and maybe it is that which stands him apart from other well-respected songwriters of his generation.

Above all others, Dylan has long held a fascination for William Shakespeare.

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night

Told the first father that things weren’t right

(Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window

For her I feel so afraid

On her twenty-second birthday

She already is an old maid

To her, death is quite romantic

She wears an iron vest

Her profession’s her religion

Her sin is her lifelessness

(Desolation Row, 1965)

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley

With his pointed shoes and his bells

Speaking to some French girl

Who says she knows me well

(Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, 1966)

Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut

Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,

Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.

(Time Out of Mind, 1997)

And his fascination has led many observers to note that his last self-penned album in 2012 was titled Tempest – the name of Shakespeare’s last play, and it left many more to wonder whether this will be Dylan’s final album. At 75 years-old it would be a fine way to close his own book.

A book which includes renaissance lines such as: “In the smoke of the twilight, on a milk white steed; Michelangelo indeed, could have carved out your features” (Jokerman, 1983)

But what about the Homeric references… just how deep does Dylan go with the Greek and Latin classics and how “very well read” is he really?

In the poetical beauty of Temporary Like Achilles (1966), a 25-year-old Dylan leaves little doubt:

Standing on your window, honey

Yes, I’ve been here before

Feeling so harmless

I’m looking at your second door

How come you don’t send me no regards?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, why are you so hard?

 

Kneeling ’neath your ceiling

Yes, I guess I’ll be here for a while

I’m tryin’ to read your portrait, but

I’m helpless, like a rich man’s child

How come you send someone out to have me barred?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, why are you so hard?

 

Like a poor fool in his prime

Yes, I know you can hear me walk

But is your heart made out of stone, or is it lime

Or is it just solid rock?

 

Well, I rush into your hallway

Lean against your velvet door

I watch upon your scorpion

Who crawls across your circus floor

Just what do you think you have to guard?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, but you’re so hard

 

Achilles is in your alleyway

He don’t want me here, he does brag

He’s pointing to the sky

And he’s hungry, like a man in drag

How come you get someone like him to be your guard?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, but you’re so hard

 

During a televised interview in 2004, Ed Bradley asked Dylan how he came to write such mercurial lyrics.

Surprisingly, Dylan said he didn’t know, mentioning a “wellspring of creativity” before adding: “I don’t know how I got to write those songs,” quoting from It’s Alright Ma, with its surreal words he lingered on the ultimate rhyming syllables: “Darkness at the break of noon / Shadows even the silver spoon / The handmade blade, the child’s balloon / Eclipses both the sun and moon / To understand you know too soon / There is no sense in trying.”

But Dylan did admit to reading a lot and he’d always read eclectically as opposed to canonically. And one of the things he discovered was the evoking of other literature, including Ovid’s exile poetry or Timrod’s Confederate poetry.

Dylan has always been interested in the American Civil War (see his wonderful song Cross the Green Mountain in the 2003 movie Gods and Generals) which perhaps led to his interest in Rome.

And there are songs from the 2006 album Modern Times which are littered with lines from Peter Green’s translation of Ovid.

In the first song on that album, Thunder on the Mountain, Dylan sings “I’ve been sitting down studying the Art of Love / I think it will fit me like a glove.”

And on Ain’t Talkin’, the last line of the last song of what might be his last album the singer is walking up the road “In the last outback, at the world’s end”.

In case you think this is accidental, the same song has three or four other Ovidian lines or significant phases, including: “Every nook an cranny/cormer has its tears” … “loyal and much loved companions” … “make the most of one last extra hour”, all on one song from Tristia 1.3 [24, 65, 68], Ovid’s night of exile poem.

Ain’t Talkin’“Every nook and cranny has its tears”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 1, Section 3, Line 24 – “every nook and corner had its tears”

Ain’t Talkin’“all my loyal and my much-loved companions”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 1, Section 3, Line 65 – “loyal and much loved companions, bonded in brotherhood”

Ain’t Talkin’“I’ll make the most of one last extra hour”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 1, Section 3, Line 68 – “let me make the most of one last extra hour”

Ain’t Talkin’“I practice a faith that’s been long abandoned”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 5, Section 7, Lines 63-64 – “I practice terms long abandoned”

Ain’t Talkin’“They will tear your mind away from contemplation”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 5, Section 7, Line 66 – “tear my mind from the contemplation of my woes”

Then look at the splendid Workingman’s Blues #2.

At first release, reviewers believed Dylan was directly referencing the Grateful Dead’s 1970 marker Workingman’s Blues, but his song has references which are more than 2,000 years old:

Workingman’s Blues #2“My cruel weapons have been put on the shelf”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 2, Section 1, Line 179 – “Show mercy, I beg you, shelve your cruel weapons”

Working Man’s Blues #2“No one can ever claim/That I took up arms against you”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 2, Lines 51-53 – “no one can claim that I ever took up arms against you”

Workingman’s Blues #2 “To lead me off in a cheerful dance”

Tristia, Book 5, Section 12, Line 8 – “or Niobe, bereaved, lead off some cheerful dance”

Workingman’s Blues #2“Tell me now, am I wrong in thinking/That you have forgotten me?”

Tristia, Book 5, Section 13, Line 18 – “that I’m wrong in thinking you have forgotten me!”

Workingman’s Blues #2 – “You are dearer to me than myself/As you yourself can see”

Tristia, Book 5, Section 14, Line 2 – “wife, dearer to me than myself, you yourself can see”

And if you’re are still unconvinced, Dylan returns to the classics in The Levee’s Gonna Break “Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 4, Section 7, Line 51 – “there’s barely enough skin to cover my bones”

Finally let’s take a look at the song Early Roman Kings  from the outstanding 2012 album Tempest.

At a superficial glance, it sounds Roman, and there are a couple of lines that work with that: “All the early Roman kings in the early, early morn, / Coming down the mountain, distributing the corn.”

So classicists were excited when the title was first announced, coming off the Ovid of Modern Times.

But the Roman Kings actually turned out to be a 1960s Latino gang in New York, “In their sharkskin suits”, the second line of the song.

He’s playing with his audience, because the title is much more Latin than the other titles of songs that actually have Ovid in them.

The play continues when the voice of the singer, no longer in Rome or New York, becomes verbatim that of Fagle’s Odysseus taunting the Cyclops at the end of Odyssey 9: “I can strip you of life / Strip you of death / Ship you down / To the house of death.”

As with his Ovid lines, so with Homer, Dylan has an eye or ear for the poetry of translations which then fit his music, tunes and melody, in this case via a Muddy Waters style blues.

After the verbatim quotes, the singer continues “One day / You will ask for me / There’ll be no one else / That you’ll wanna see.”

“No one” is of course the Homeric speaker, and the Homeric addressee will not be seeing anyone.

So maybe Dylan’s ability to understand, digest, and draw inspiration from classical authors helped place him among the ranks of the Nobel Prize winners in Literature.

Or maybe he answered it himself in his riveting speech to last year’s MusiCares awards: “Critics have said that I’ve made a career out of confounding expectations. Really? Because that’s all I do? That’s how I think about it. Confounding expectations.

“Like I stay up late at night thinking about how to do it. “What do you do for a living, man?” “Oh, I confound expectations.” You’re going to get a job, the man says, “What do you do?” “Oh, confound expectations.

“And the man says, “Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Confounding expectations. I don’t even know what that means or who has time for it.”

He later added: “These songs of mine, I think of as mystery plays, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far.

“They were on the fringes then, and I think they’re on the fringes now. And they sound like they’ve been traveling on hard ground.”

 

The political bloodshed of Poppy Day

white poppy

SO with most of those who fought in World War 2 now resting in their graves or in a nursing home for the over 90s, why are we again in such bloody state over Poppy Day?

Like World War 1, which is now 100 years ago, it is another tragic part of our inglorious military history, as much as the battles of Hastings, Agincourt, Crecy, Waterloo or Trafalgar.

Like a twisted Groundhog Day, it is a history which is repeating itself in the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria.

And every November our collective conscience becomes blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders.

Why does our Establishment not do the same for those who have died from cancer, MS, Aids or heart failure?

It is because our leaders and the most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts.

The American civil war’s General Sherman once said that “war is hell”, but unfortunately today’s politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good.

Yesterday, football’s governing body, FIFA turned down requests from England and Scotland for players to wear armbands featuring poppies during their World Cup qualifiers on 11 November, because it breached a ban on “political” symbols.

FIFA bans “political, religious or commercial messages” from being used on national teams’ shirts.

The decision got the English and Scottish FAs in quite a lather, with both threatening to defy the ban, at the risk of heavy sanctions for doing so.

Lucy Noakes, a social and cultural historian at the University of Brighton, thinks it’s not accurate to depict the poppy as apolitical.

Despite the fact that it was introduced in 1921 for charitable purposes – to raise money that would help World War 1 veterans with employment and housing – it has “been politicised almost since its inception”, she says.

Among political objectors to the red poppies is West Bromwich Albion and Republic of Ireland midfielder James McClean, who refuses to wear a poppy, arguing that it represents all the conflicts the UK has taken part in.

He cites in particular “the history where I come from in Derry” – the Northern Irish city in which British paratroopers killed unarmed civilians on “Bloody Sunday” in January 1972.

In 2010, a group of Celtic supporters unfurled banners objecting to poppies on their team’s kit, citing British interventions in Afghanistan, Ireland and Iraq.

Among those today who also argue that the poppy is political is Harry Leslie Smith, a 93-year-old World War 2 RAF veteran, who has not worn a red poppy since 2013 because he believes “the spirit of my generation has been hijacked” by today’s politicians to “sell dubious wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Three years ago, Harry explained his decision: “I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.

“We must remember that the historical past of this country is not like an episode of Downton Abbey where the rich are portrayed as thoughtful, benevolent masters to poor folk who need the guiding hand of the ruling classes to live a proper life.

“I can tell you it didn’t happen that way because I was born nine years after World War 1 began. I can attest that life for most people was spent in abject poverty where one laboured under brutal working conditions for little pay and lived in houses not fit to kennel a dog today.

“We must remember that the war was fought by the working classes who comprised 80% of Britain’s population in 1913.

“My uncle and many of my relatives died in that war and they weren’t officers or NCOs; they were simple Tommies. They were like the hundreds of thousands of other boys who were sent to their slaughter by a government that didn’t care to represent their citizens if they were working poor and under-educated.

“My family members took the king’s shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.

“Today, we have allowed monolithic corporate institutions to set our national agenda. We have allowed vitriol to replace earnest debate and we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that wealth is wisdom.

“If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.”

The power of the privileged Establishment is there for all to see as they move Heaven and Earth to keep Poppy Day as a sacred national institution.

Last year our right-wing press launched a scathing attack on Jeremy Corbyn, claiming a video from 2013 showed him calling WW1 commemorations “pointless”.

The papers (the usual suspects) the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Telegraph – concentrated on one line from a speech in which the Labour leader says: “I’m not sure what there is to commemorate about the First World War.”

They then went on to claim Mr Corbyn “denounced” the money that was to be spent on – amongst other things – the huge display of ceramic poppies that filled the moat around the Tower of London in 2014.

But what Mr Corbyn said in 2013 was actually spot on: “Keir Hardie was a great opponent of the First World War… I’m not sure what there is to commemorate about the First World War other than the mass slaughter of millions of young men and women, mainly men, on the Western Front and all the other places.

“And it was a war of the declining empires and anyone who’s read or even dipped into Hobson’s great work of the early part of the 20th century, written post World War, presaged the whole First World War as a war between monopolies fighting between [inaudible] markets.

“The reason I say this is next year the government are planning this celebration and I think that’s an opportunity for us. It’s an opportunity to discuss war and discuss peace and to put up an alternative point of view.”

As a life-long pacifist I write each November about the farce and fallacy of the British Establishment’s Poppy Day.

Two years ago I stumbled upon a wonderful piece written by Guardian journalist Jonathan Jones, which not only underscores what Mr Corbyn said, but also many of my own beliefs.

I won’t reboot all that he writes but his salient points are:

“Recording only the British dead of World War 1 confirms the illusion that we are an island of heroes with no debt to anyone else, no fraternity for anyone else.

“In 1924, the German artist Otto Dix depicted a skull, lying on the ground, a home to worms. They crawl out of its eye sockets, nasal opening and mouth, and wriggle among patches of hair and a black moustache that still cling to the raw bone.

“Dix recorded his memories of fighting in the First World War. He was a machine gunner at the Somme, among other battles, and won the Iron Cross, second class. But he remembered it all as pure horror, as did other participants who happened to be artists or writers such as George Grosz, Siegfried Sassoon, Ernst Jünger and Robert Graves.

“We need to look harder, and keep looking, at the terrible truths of the war that smashed the modern world off the rails and started a cycle of murderous extremism that ended only in 1945. If it did end.”

I agree with every word and every sentiment, but sadly the ‘murderous extremism’ has sadly never ended, a glance in the direction of Israel, Iraq or Syria will confirm that.

But let’s go back to the root of this.

If we honour the fallen Allied soldiers of the 1914-18 conflict, why do we not do the same for the German soldiers or indeed the dead of the Crimean War, Waterloo, the Boer War, the battles of Bannockburn and Culloden or the dead from the English Civil War, Agincourt, Crecy or even the Battle of Hastings?

Where does logic and reality stop and politics and propaganda begin?

The reasons given for World War 1 commemoration that is we must remember our dead. “They died for us and our freedom. The cost of sacrifice. Remember Passchendaele. Never forget.”

Total balderdash!

As a child I remember sitting on my Great Uncle Jack’s knee as he told me tales of the Somme and the mud, horror and death. He showed me the 11 inch scar on his back where a German sniper had almost taken his life as he crawled back to his trench from no man’s land. And he also told me of his older brother Burnet who died from enteric fever in the trenches at the Somme, like many thousands of his compatriots.

There was no glory, no heroism, just as Harry Leslie Smith also observed: the mechanised slaughter of millions of young working class men.

As World War 1 poet Wilfred Owen wrote: ‘the poetry is in the pity’.

One example of the mindless killings occurred on the 24 and 25 September 1915 when the 4th Black Watch was decimated at Loos.

“Haig had ample warning that an unprepared attack by two untrained divisions was unlikely to succeed. And so the stage was set for a repetition of the charge at Balaclava.

“For the set-piece attack of the 11th Corps was as futile and foredoomed as that of the Light Brigade. There had been 12 battalions making the attack, a strength of just under ten thousand, and in the three and a half hours of the actual battle their casualties were 385 officers and 7,861 men. The Germans suffered no casualties at all.”

Little wonder the Germans called the battlefield “Leichenfeld (field of corpses) von Loos”.

Perhaps in war, it’s the names that count. Dead soldiers had no gravestones before the Great War, unless they were generals, admirals or emperors worthy of entombment in Saint Paul’s Cathedral or Les Invalides.

The soldiers were simply dumped into mass graves.

At Waterloo, the remains of the dead were shipped back to England to be used as manure on the fields of Lincolnshire – sometimes tilled by their unsuspecting farmer sons.

No posthumous glory for them.

It is perhaps easier to believe that the names will “live for evermore” even though hundreds of thousands of World War I British and French and Germans and Austrians and Irishmen in British uniform and Hungarians and Indians and Russians and Americans and Turks and even Portuguese have no graves at all.

Or as German comedian Henning Wehn recently observed about Poppy Day, the British have: “A highly selective remembrance.”

The last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, shot in Brussels by the Germans for rescuing Allied soldiers behind enemy lines, are inscribed on her monument beside the National Gallery: “Patriotism is not enough.”

In the four years of World War 1, Britain endured 658,700 fatalities, 2,032,150 wounded and 359,150 men missing in action. This adds up to total of over three million casualties from one side alone.

Add to this the four million fatalities from the German side and other civilian deaths, the total death toll was in excess of 16 million.

No glory, just death and suffering.

Historian Phillip Knightley wrote that during the war: “More deliberate lies were told than in any other period of history, and the whole apparatus of the state went into action to suppress the truth”.

When war broke out in 1914, it did so to flag waving and patriotism. Men were promised honour, glory and a conflict over by Christmas.

This was the Great War, to end all wars!

These were times of great social inequality and disenfranchised boys from the poorest communities could, for the first time, be useful. The army offered food, clothing, camaraderie and the respect of the nation.

Enlistment was a collective endeavour – many battalions were made up of men from the same villages. They joined together and died together.

There was no way out. Not to join was cowardice – a treacherous act which would bring shame upon their family and nation.

And they would be fighting against an identifiable evil.

The British propaganda painted German Kaiser Wilhelm as the devil incarnate. The Daily Mail of 22 September 1914 portrayed him in separate reports as a “lunatic”, “madman”, “barbarian”, “monster”, and “modern Judas”.

The German soldier raped, mutilated and tortured. Stories of Hun atrocities in Belgium were front page news despite there being little proof of their occurrence.

The Times of January 8, 1915, stated: “The stories of rape are so horrible in detail that their publication would seem almost impossible were it not for the necessity of showing to the fullest extent the nature of the wild beasts fighting under the German Flag.”

So when we read about the heroism of all those dead men, when we pause to consider their sacrifice we should remember also a propaganda system which romanticised and demonised, misled and obfuscated.

As Lloyd George, Prime Minister in 1916, said: “If the people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

And what they don’t know, can’t hurt, can it?

This year, like many before, I will not wear a red poppy.

 

Now hear this Robert Zimmerman I wrote some words for you

I stumbled to my feet

I rode past destruction in the ditches

With the stitches still mending ’neath a heart-shaped tattoo

Renegade priests and treacherous young witches

Were handing out the flowers that I’d given to you

The palace of mirrors

Where dog soldiers are reflected

The endless road and the wailing of chimes

The empty rooms where her memory is protected

Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times

(Changing of the Guard, by Bob Dylan)

 

HOW can I do justice in words to a writer and performer I have admired beyond all others for more than 40 years and to whom my words are like dust?

And so began my simple narrative about my love affair with the greatest and most profound poet and musician of my generation.

That was three years ago, and so far my narrative Journey Though Dark Heat  is 8,000 words long, and I have only got to 1988!

Yesterday, Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first ever songwriter to win the prestigious award.

The 75-year-old legend received the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

The balladeer, artist and actor is the first American to win since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993.

President Obama said the honour was “well-deserved”.

“Congratulations to one of my favourite poets,” he wrote on Twitter.

Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Dylan had been chosen because he was “a great poet in the English speaking tradition”.

“For 54 years now he’s been at it reinventing himself, constantly creating a new identity,” she told reporters in Stockholm.

I have adored every step of Dylan’s words and music since I was a starry-eyed teenager. He has been the backdrop and soundtrack to my entire life.

I have over 200 CD albums of his music, numerous first pressings of his LPs, almost 100 books about him and a gallery of photos, ticket stubs and ephemera. Oh, and I have seen him perform live some 32 times over the past 38 years and even followed him around Europe on his 1989 tour.

Yes, I am a Bob Dylan obsessive.

So his Nobel prize award delighted me as it did millions of others. I have tears of joy running down my face as I write this.

Quite simply Bob Dylan is a living legend.

This morning, singer and his former partner Joan Baez went further when she said: “The Nobel Prize for Literature is yet another step towards immortality for Bob Dylan.

“The rebellious, reclusive, unpredictable artist/composer is exactly where the Nobel Prize for Literature needs to be.

“His gift with words is unsurpassable. Out of my repertoire spanning 60 years, no songs have been more moving and worthy in their depth, darkness, fury, mystery, beauty and humour than Bob’s.

“None has been more of a pleasure to sing. None will come again.”

But it is the poetry in his music that has earned him the literature world’s highest honour.

Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion is among those to have previously praised Dylan’s lyrics, saying his songs “work as poems”.

“They have often extremely skilful rhyming aspects to them,” he told the BBC. “They’re often the best words in the best order.”

What makes a man who has only ever written three books a suitable winner of the Nobel Prize for literature?

Bob Dylan arguably made the lyrics more important than the music, but for many like me, the music and lyrics are inseparable.

Writer Salman Rushdie praised Dylan’s win, saying: “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.”

Bruce Springsteen also congratulated Dylan by posting a passage from his autobiography on his website. In it, he described Dylan as “The father of my country”.

“Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived,” he wrote.

Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler wrote on Facebook he was “delighted” for Dylan.

He explained: “Bob Dylan has been a great songwriter since he was a teenager and nothing has stopped him in continuing to write and bring his gifts to the world.”

From his beginnings in the 1960s, Bob Dylan was the voice of his generation – the original singer-songwriter who both led and chronicled the social revolution that changed the world.

He has never had the greatest voice by traditional standards; indeed, that was part of his appeal. But he did create a new template for the singer as a poet and artist.

Allen Ginsberg called him the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th Century and former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion said he listens to Dylan almost every day.

Yesterday (Thursday) Per Wastberg, chair of the Nobel literature committee, said he is “probably the greatest living poet”.

Certainly no other rock musician has had their lyrics more analysed, anthologised and eulogised.

And he delved into his inner self to summon songs that set the blueprint for the confessional singer.

In a speech accepting the Musicares Person of the Year award last year, Dylan explained: “These songs of mine, they’re like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far.”

The young Dylan was heavily inspired by poets like Arthur Rimbaud and John Keats, and his poetic influence is even in his name.

When Robert Zimmerman began performing folk songs in coffee houses, he renamed himself after Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

He was also influenced by dustbowl singers like Woody Guthrie and country star Hank Williams. Yet Dylan moved beyond their traditions.

When the Cold war was at its height and America was racked by internal turmoil as the burgeoning civil rights movement clashed with the conservative middle class… it was Dylan who would provide the musical backdrop to these troubled times.

Using simple chords and universal metaphors, Dylan managed to tap into the zeitgeist of the era like no other, bridging the gap between folk and mainstream pop with songs such as A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall, Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are A-Changin’.

Tunes including Like a Rolling Stone, Just Like a Woman and Lay Lady Lay became iconic anthems which were covered by hundreds of artists.

When he “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he horrified the assembled audience in one of the seminal moments in music history.

The sweet folk troubadour had transformed himself into a hedonistic rock star, with trademark dark glasses hiding eyes glazed by drink and drugs.

After a motorcycle accident and a subsequent seclusion following his 1966 world tour he made an unexpected comeback at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and the albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and New Morning.

The return of the troubadour culminated in 1975’s Blood on the Tracks album and hailed as a return to form, and for many, one of the greatest LPs ever recorded.

Three years later, after Dylan witnessed a vision of Christ in an Arizona hotel room, his lyrics became full of Biblical references and reflected themes of faith and morality.

 

You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

His albums continued to be received with interest – if often mixed reviews – and in 1988 he began what came to be known as the Never-Ending Tour, constantly reinterpreting his own songs on stage.

Just as it seemed he was losing his relevance, his 1997 album Time Out of Mind, with its dark themes of mortality, proved another landmark release. It won three Grammys including best album.

In 2006, at 65, he became the oldest living artist to enter the Billboard chart at number one with Modern Times.

And his most recent albums Fallen Angels and Shadows in the Night has seen him slip seamlessly into an aged crooner of the great American Songbook.

His journey has come full circle.

Imbedded in legendary status, an avalanche of honours have now flowed – a Kennedy Center Honour, an Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize, a Golden Globe and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now he can add a Nobel Prize to that list.

 

Money doesn’t talk, it swears: the multi-millionaire who tried to stop Jeremy Corbyn

sainsbury

EXCLUSIVE

THIS is the richest and most powerful man in British politics whose money is behind every move to destroy Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

And as Mr Corbyn is set to be re-elected leader, we can expose the true power of Lord David Sainsbury’s staggering £12million of donations to his opponents.

It is all part of his mission to stop the trade unions and Labour becoming an inclusive anti-austerity socialist party.

And it’s a mission which shows no sign of slowing.

David John Sainsbury, Baron of Turville is a multi-millionaire British businessman.

From 1992 to 1997, he was chairman of the Sainsbury’s supermarket empire, established by his great-grandfather in 1869.

He was made a Labour life peer in 1997 by Tony Blair and served in the government as the Minister for Science and Innovation from 1998 until 2006.

He joined the Labour Party in the 1960s, but was one of the 100 signatories of the right wing Limehouse Declaration in February 1981, in opposition to then Labour leader Michael Foot.

He went on to be a member of the breakaway Social Democratic Party (SDP).

After the 1983 election Sainsbury was by far the biggest donor to the party, giving about £750,000 between 1981 and 1987.

But along with David Owen, Sainsbury opposed merging the SDP with the Liberal Party after the 1987 election, and provided office space for Owen to help him re-establish the “continuing” SDP in 1988.

That party was wound up in 1990, and Sainsbury changed allegiance back to the Labour Party, rejoining them in 1996.

Between 1996 and 2006, when he stood down as a government minister, Sainsbury donated £16 million to the Labour Party, usually in batches of £1 million or £2 million each year.

But in April 2006, Sainsbury faced a possible probe into an alleged breach of the ministerial code “after admitting he had failed to disclose a £2million loan he had made to the Labour Party.”

He subsequently apologised for “unintentionally” misleading the public, blaming a mix-up between the £2 million loan and a £2 million donation he had made earlier.

In July 2006, he became the first government minister to be questioned by police in the Cash for Peerages inquiry.

On 10 November 2006, he resigned as Science Minister, stating that he wanted to focus on business and charity work.

He categorically denied that his resignation had anything to do with the Cash for Peerages affair, stating that he was “not directly involved in whether peerages were offered for cash”.

He was the Blair government’s third-longest-serving minister after Tony Blair himself, and Gordon Brown.

Because of his importance to the Labour Party as a donor, contemporary press reports described him as “unsackable”.

But now, thanks to the Electoral Commission filings, released on Tuesday, the continuing influence of Lord Sainsbury’s wealth and influence can be revealed.

 

For while Jeremy Corbyn has relied on £187,000 in personal and trade union donations since first standing for election as Labour leader in 2015, Lord Sainsbury has donated almost £25 million to MPs and political groups in the past 10 years.

Some £12million of this has gone to right wing opponents of Mr Corbyn. This dwarfs the donations of his Blairite contemporaries: property developer David Garrard’s £1.6million; hedge fund manager Martin Taylor’s £1.3million; and showbiz agent Michael Foster’s £470,000.

Of Lord Sainsbury’s donations since 2006, about £8million went directly to Labour (but that stopped when Ed Miliband became leader),  over £2.1million went to the Lib Dems (who may also be seen as opponents of Mr Corbyn) and £4.2million to various Scottish and Europe referendum lobby groups.

This left about £12million for cash hand-outs to groups vehemently opposed to Mr Corbyn and to individual Blairite MPs: Alan Johnson, David Lammy, David Miliband and Tristram Hunt received £227,329 between them.

These figures only include those submitted to the Electoral Commission. We have no way of knowing whether Lord Sainsbury may or may not have donated through other companies or agencies.

His favourite group is Progress, which has received £4.22million of his cash since 2004.

Progress is the Blairite power behind the core group of MPs plotting, since last year, to oust Mr Corbyn.

Progress runs on £282,000-a-year funding from Lord Sainsbury. Its income since 2010 is about £1.85million.

Tristram Hunt MP is a particular Sainsbury favourite — he was Lord Sainsbury’s personal spokesman before he became a Labour MP.

Hunt was working for Sainsbury when Progress was formed out of the money left over from the original campaign to make Tony Blair leader of the party.

Progress is deeply committed to pro-privatisation and pro-corporate policies. It has also steadily campaigned to reduce trade union influence in the Labour Party and latterly to do away with one member one vote for the Labour leadership.

Progress is vehemently opposed to Mr Corbyn and his left wing policies.

It is chaired by Alison McGovern. Vice-chairs are fellow Labour MPs Jenny Chapman, Stephen Doughty, Julie Elliott, Tristram Hunt, Dan Jarvis, Liz Kendall, Seema Malhotra, Toby Perkins, Lucy Powell, Steve Reed, Jonathan Reynolds and Nick Smith.

Prior to 2015, Progress was chaired by John Woodcock – the same MP who has viciously attacked Jeremy Corbyn on a number of issues.

Current members of the Progress strategy board include: Baroness King of Bow, Gloria De Piero MP, Nick Smith MP and Phil Wilson MP.

But there are other more shadowy groups besides Progress.

The right wing Movement for Change kitty of £1.75million has been almost exclusively funded by Lord Sainsbury.

The Movement for Change grew out of Citizens UK, the community action group established by Neil Jameson, former director of Save the Children and the Children’s Society, and Lord Maurice Glasman.

The organisation – which was a strong supporter of David Miliband – has a strong base among a diverse range of faith communities, which in turn has a strong influence over its culture and agenda.

But there is a political ambiguity to its aims which many in the Labour Party find troubling as it seems anti-trade union.

Maurice Glasman said: “The unions are the great silent, awful fact in all this. They are the self-organised wing of the Labour movement. They are dominated by a narrow crust of progressive activists, they are disengaged from their members.”

Peter Mandelson’s Policy Network & Communications Ltd has also been funded to the tune of £291,349 by Lord Sainsbury.

Policy Network is an international right wing progressive think tank and lobbying group.

Its president is Lord Mandelson, who has consistently briefed and spoken against Jeremy Corbyn, often in derogatory terms.

Other directors are Lord Roger Liddle, former special adviser to President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and Tony Blair, is its chairperson.

Other anti Corbyn groups, the soft left Owen Smith supporting Labour Together, received £85,000 and the Blairite Labour Tomorrow received £453,000, largely from Martin Taylor.

  • An excellent piece from 2015 on donations to the Labour Party can be read here. But interesting that little of no mention is made of Lord Sainsbury!

 

 

The denial of democracy by Labour’s #chickencoup and their chicken soup of dirty tricks

PROTECTING democracy requires that the general public be educated on how people can be manipulated by the Establishment and media into forfeiting their civil liberties.

After the insidious assault on democracy over the past year by forces within the Labour Party Establishment we certainly need protecting.

Or in the words of the late US satirist and political agitator Lenny Bruce we must “shine a light in their beds”.

On the eve of the Labour leadership election declaration, the time has come to shine a light onto some of the most hideous examples of the gerrymandering of democracy ever seen in modern times.

  • It started on 12 September 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party with a majority of almost 60% of the vote on the first ballot alone, and huge mandate for change.

He received 121,751 votes from Labour Party members, 88,449 votes from Registered Supporters and a further 41,928 votes from Trade Union Affiliated Supporters.

But within minutes of his election Progress backed Labour MPs were briefing journalists in the print media and the BBC on their plans to unseat him.

By 11pm on 12 September 2015, the normally Labour friendly Daily Mirror reported on plans to bring Blair acolyte David Miliband back as leader, the moment Jeremy Corbyn could be seen to fail:

Labour MPs are already plotting to bring back David Miliband after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, reported the Mirror:

The triumph of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn has spurred on the Labour MPs who are secretly working for a dramatic Miliband comeback ahead of the 2020 general election.

His allies at Westminster believe Mr Miliband could be persuaded to make a sensational return to the Commons by 2018 at a by-election for a safe Labour seat.

A senior Labour MP said: “If Corbyn is not up to the job as leader, there will definitely be another leadership contest.

“The best person for the job by a country mile would be David Miliband and overtures have already been made to him about a potential return.

“If things turn out as horrendously as we fear they will under Corbyn, David would be the only hope of saving the Labour Party.”

In a separate move, several MPs are also looking at ways of changing the Labour Party’s rules to make future leadership challenges easier.

At present, anyone trying to oust a Labour leader needs to put themselves forward and win the backing of a fifth of Westminster’s Labour MPs.

But a rival plan put forward earlier this year by right wing Labour MP Frank Field would mean just 30 anonymous Labour MPs could trigger a vote of confidence in the leader to get rid of a “deadbeat” leader.

  • It became an uneasy autumn and a winter of discontent for Mr Corbyn, with 66 of his own MPs rebelling against him on the vote to bomb Syria and Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips stating she would knife her leader in the front, being some of the lowlights.

But nothing quite prepared Labour Party members or the general public for the sinister shenanigans which emerged on 7 January.

Mr Corbyn’s long expected Shadow Cabinet reshuffle led to the revelation, that BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Daily Politics presenter Andrew Neil and Labour MP Stephen Doughty planned his live resignation on their programme, hours before it began.

The producer of the programme revealed in a BBC blog (quickly deleted) that Neil, Kuenssberg and himself manipulated the news to negatively impact Mr Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions.

In the blog, the producer – Andrew Alexander – admitted that the BBC team were not just reporting the day’s news but trying to influence it:

“This was a story where we could make an impact,” he wrote.

“We took a moment to watch the story ripple out across news outlets and social media. Within minutes we heard David Cameron refer to the resignation during his exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn.”

The broadcasting set-up was conceived by Mr Doughty – under advice from fellow Progress backed MPs – to create the maximum damage to Mr Corbyn.

  • On the morning of 23 March, just hours before Mr Corbyn was to tackle David Cameron in Prime Minister’s Questions on the Tories’ Budget U-Turn, a confidential list of loyal and disloyal Labour MPs was leaked to The Times.

The result was predictable: Mr Cameron used PMQs, not to defend the Budget U-Turn, but repeatedly mock the Labour leader for the leaked ‘list’.

It later emerged that the list was compiled three months earlier, yet it was leaked just as Mr Corbyn’s popularity was increasing in the opinion polls, just as the Tories were taking a big hit, just before a PMQs when Cameron was likely to be in very serious trouble, and weeks before the May council and mayoral elections.

So only an enemy within would deliberately leak the list at a key moment in order to help the Tories and do as much damage to Labour under Mr Corbyn as possible – to make them ‘a laughing stock’, as Labour plotter John Woodcock MP put it.

Ironic then that Woodcock privately tweeted to a journalist that it’s a ‘fucking disaster’, presumably to further damage Mr Corbyn. Only he inadvertently tweeted publicly so we can all see what he’s up to and give momentum to the plot against the leader.

  • On 13 June, The Daily Telegraph published an article which gave a deeper insight into the scheming of the Labour MPs, who hoped to topple Mr Corbyn.

The piece entitled: Labour rebels hope to topple Jeremy Corbyn in 24-hour blitz after EU referendum lays out the scheme:

Labour rebels believe they can topple Jeremy Corbyn after the EU referendum in a 24-hour blitz by jumping on a media storm of his own making.

By fanning the flames with front bench resignations and public criticism they think the signatures needed to trigger a leadership race can be gathered within a day.

They see the tactic as a way of securing public support for the move while targeting what is perceived as one of the Labour leader’s major flaws – indecision.

After the referendum Labour splits will return to the fore as the Tories call a string of parliamentary voters on Trident renewal and banning councils holding Israeli boycotts to help rebuild party unity.

While losing the EU referendum is seen as fatal by many to Mr Corbyn’s leadership, continued speculation remains about a challenge if the referendum brings a Remain vote.

Rather than naming a date to make their move some rebels now believe taking advantage of an opportune row holds the beast chance of success.

“It is not going to be a date in the calendar, it will be on the back of a media firestorm. It could happen within 24 hours,” said one Labour MP.

Asked how the coup could take place, another said: “Things go wrong, people have had enough, you start to see resignations and it spirals from there.”

A third Labour MP who served in the shadow cabinet said: “After the referendum there is going to be an immense number of lessons to learn and decisions to make.

“It is likely to be a pang of frustration that makes one colleague say ‘enough and enough’ and just resign. If one person did it and said to others ‘how about it’, things are desperate enough that it will happen.”

  • Now  fast forward to the so-called Morning After the Night Before: Saturday 25 June – less than 36 hours after the Brexit referendum result.

Eight right wing Labour MPs broke cover to use the Brexit vote to knife their leader Mr Corbyn in the back.

MPs Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey submitted a motion of no confidence against him to the Parliamentary Labour Party chairman, John Cryer.

Almost immediately six other Labour MPs went on record backing the motion.

Mr Corbyn defended his conduct in the Euro referendum campaign amid criticisms that he offered no more than lukewarm support for remain, blaming government austerity cuts for alienating voters.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell accused many of the would-be assassins of being linked to Progress.

“They all come from a sort of a narrow right-wing clique within the Labour Party based around the organisation Progress,” he said.

“I don’t think they’ve really ever accepted Jeremy’s mandate. I’m afraid they have to recognise that Jeremy got elected with the largest mandate of any political leader from any political party in our history.

“I’m afraid they haven’t respected that leadership election result.”

  • Within two days – hot on the heels of Mr Corbyn sacking Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary for his part in organising the coup – a battle for the heart and soul of the Parliamentary Labour Party began.

By the evening of Monday 27 June, 34 Labour MPs publicly announced their intention to try and oust Mr Corbyn as leader – with carefully timed resignations from the Shadow Cabinet.

Paul Flynn MP stated what many onlookers were thinking: “Orchestrated treachery. Resignations on the hour by the future Blair Tribute Party. Self-indulgent party games as steel jobs are in new peril.”

One of Mr Corbyn’s staunchest allies Ian Lavery MP said: “If we don’t respect democracy then we stand for nothing. The Labour Party membership gave Jeremy Corbyn a massive mandate. I’m supporting the membership and Jeremy.”

And as a shock to the plotters, shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham stood with the membership.

“At an uncertain time like this for our country, I cannot see how it makes sense for the Opposition to plunge itself into a civil war,” he said.

“I have never taken part in a coup against any leader of the Labour Party and I am not going to start now.

“It is for our members to decide who leads our Party and 10 months ago they gave Jeremy Corbyn a resounding mandate. I respect that and them.”

Angela Eagle was among the resignations from Mr Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet on that Monday, in the wake of the Euro Referendum result and the sacking of Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

But while heaping the blame for Brexit on Mr Corbyn, Ms Eagle failed to admit that just two weeks earlier she publicly said of Mr Corbyn campaigning for Remain: “Jeremy is up and down the country, pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired, he has not stopped.”

And within hours of her resignation, it was revealed that Ms Eagle’s leadership campaign website Angela4Leader was registered at 6pm on Saturday 25 June, hours before Hilary Benn was sacked and two whole days before she resigned.

The website was registered by Joe McCrea, a PR executive who served as a special adviser in Downing Street during Tony Blair’s tenure.

But as we all now know, Ms Eagle’s candidacy was that of a stalking horse for the more media-friendly Owen Smith to step in.

  • The next attempt to subvert democracy occurred on Tuesday 12 July, when a hastily called meeting of Labour’s NEC had to determine whether Mr Corbyn needed the nominations of fellow Labour MPs and MEPs in order to stand for re-election as leader.

The crunch meeting at Labour’s Westminster headquarters began at 2pm and continued well into the evening

NEC members voted 18-14 in a secret ballot that he was not subject to parliamentary nominations and could automatically stand for re-election.

But in a separate decision taken after Mr Corbyn had left the room, the NEC ruled that only those who had been Labour Party members for more than six months would be allowed to vote – while new supporters would be given two days to sign up as registered supporters to vote in the race, but only if they were willing to pay £25.

  • The firestorm was now ablaze and the #chickencoup plotters decided to disenfranchise over 100,000 existing Labour voters, and in doing so deliberately destroy the incentive for people to join the Labour Party.

But the undermining of democracy didn’t end there.

Following the NEC ruling that Labour members who had joined the party since 12 January 2016 had been banned from voting in the upcoming leadership election. They were also denied attending their own constituency Leadership Nomination meetings – even as a non-voting observer.

Yet nowhere in the 12 July NEC ruling is any mention made of banning new members from attending Nomination meetings!

  • The next affront to democracy was done in the open, when millionaire Labour Party donor Michael Foster applied to the High Court to stop Mr Corbyn standing in the leadership election.

But despite the overtly vindictive application, by this close friend of Tony Blair, on 28 July, Mr Justice Foskett ruled that Mr Corbyn could automatically appear on the leadership ballot.

Speaking after the decision was announced Mr Corbyn said: “There should have been no question of the right of half a million Labour Party members to choose their own leader being overturned.

“If anything, the aim should be to expand the number of voters in this election.

“I hope all candidates and supporters will reject any attempt to prolong this process, and that we can now proceed with the election in a comradely and respectful manner.”

  • Having exhausted almost every trick, the leaders of the coup were now so convinced that Jeremy Corbyn would win the leadership contest that they began planning to elect their own leader and launch a legal challenge for the party’s name.

Leading Blairites leaked to the Daily Telegraph that they are looking at plans to set up their own “alternative Labour” if Mr Corbyn remains in post:

The move would see them create their own shadow cabinet and even elect a leader within Parliament to rival Mr Corbyn’s front bench.

They are also already planning to go through the courts to get the right to use Labour’s name and assets including property owned by the party across the country.

They would also approach John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, and argue that having more MPs than Mr Corbyn means they should be named the official opposition.

“The notion that we’ll all go back to happy families is nonsense,” said one prominent Corbyn critic, saying that the plan would help avoid the “nuclear” option of a full party split.

But support for the move is not universal, with some Labour centralists saying a legal challenge would be unlikely to succeed and warning creating a de facto alternative leader would be too provocative.

But the fact the plans are actively being considered by some of the party’s most senior moderate figures shows the level of despondency at Owen Smith’s chances of success and their contempt for democracy.

  • Then on Monday 8 August, came some welcome news. Five new members of the Labour Party won a High Court battle over their legal right to vote in the leadership election.

The five accused the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) of unlawfully “freezing” them and many others out of the high-profile contest even though they had “paid their dues”.

To gain the right to vote, members were given a window of opportunity, between July 18 and 20, to become “registered supporters” on payment of an additional fee of £25. Non-members were given the same opportunity.

But Mr Justice Hickinbottom ruled that refusing the five the vote “would be unlawful as in breach of contract”.

The court action gave hope to almost 130,000 Labour supporters who were victims of the freeze.

The judge overturned the requirement that they must have been party members since before 12 January – the “freeze date”.

But it was a short-lived hope.

A few days later – using more than £40,000 of membership money to fight the case – Iain McNicol and the Labour Party elite won an appeal against the High Court ruling.

They also applied to recoup £30,000 towards the legal costs from the five ordinary members who brought the case.

Mr Corbyn’s campaign team responded angrily to the news.

“We think that this is the wrong decision – both legally and democratically,” they said.

“The Court’s ruling disenfranchises nearly 130,000 Labour members, who joined the party since January and were explicitly told that they would have a vote in any leadership election.

“Crucial to the outcome was the introduction of a new argument by the Labour Party HQ’s lawyers, who invoked an obscure clause in the Labour Party rules (Chapter 4, Clause II, 1A), which could be read as giving the NEC the right to ignore all of the rules laid out for leadership elections. In other words, this is a ‘make it up as you go along’ rule. We do not think that making it up as you go along is a reasonable way to conduct democracy in our party.”

  • And then came the now infamous purge of Labour Party members and supporters who were supportive of Mr Corbyn.

The seemingly ad-hoc purge went on throughout August and September, allegedly based on examples of abuse and bullying on social media.

Among the thousands suspended and expelled were Paralympic athlete and disability rights campaigner Kristina Veasey, Ronnie Draper, the leader of the Bakers Union, one member for stating on Facebook that she “fucking loves the Foo Fighters”, one lady who had no access to social media at all and…… me!

I won’t bore readers with my own case. But if interested you can read my appeal against my expulsion here.

Labour deputy leader John McDonnell publicly stated that there was a “rigged purge going on”.

And the purge was conducted in an overtly hypocritical manner.

It’s bad enough that Jeremy Corbyn supporters were purged from the party for stuff as trivial as liking the Foo Fighters too much on their personal Facebook feed, while anti-Corbyn members of the Labour Party establishment were allowed to get away with abuse like calling other members of the party “Nazi stormtroopers” in the mainstream press

But one of the most disgraceful things was the people were being purged for having posted social media comments supporting other political parties long BEFORE they joined Labour.

When the civil rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti delivered her report into alleged cases of anti-Semitism the Labour Party and the NEC agreed to abide by its findings.

One of the clearest recommendations of the whole report was her call for “a moratorium on the retrospective trawling of members’ social media accounts and past comments”.

Instead of heeding this call for a moratorium on social media trawling, the Labour Party NEC instead decided to orchestrate what is almost certainly the most invasive McCarthyite mass trawling exercise in British political history.

Not only were they trawling back through people’s social media accounts to look for signs of disloyalty or thought crime from when people became party members, they were trawling back through comments that were made long before the intended victims of their witch-hunt ever joined the Labour Party.

One of the worst examples of someone being purged for supporting other parties long before Mr Corbyn even became Labour leader is the case of Gemma Angel who was purged from the Labour Party over a Tweet from May 2014 in which she explained her reasons for voting Green.

Another example is Ben Crawford who was also purged for the “crime” of posting Tweets in support of the Green Party between 2014 and 2015.

Then there are the trade union members who are known to support Mr Corbyn.

Steve Hedley, Senior Assistant General Secretary of the RMT, said recently that many RMT members had been excluded in the current purge.

This included a 38 year long member of the Labour Party who put a “like” against a TUSC candidate on Facebook, who was a friend of his.

A close friend and leading lawyer had this to say about the purge: “Nic, I can’t see any way for them to have done the mass purge other than by some form of software that trawls for your name and then terms like “Corbyn”, “Labour” and “traitor” within 10 words of each other or whatever.

“Some flunky will then give the results a cursory glance and fit the briefest of details into the pro forma purge letter.

“When I used to lecture in law we used software called Safe Assignments for plagiarism and needless to say, all the lazy and useless teachers loved it because it highlighted sentences and paragraphs in students’ writing that had apparently been taken from elsewhere on the web and gave them “evidence” for not having to read and assess the essays of their students. I always thought it raised more questions than answers and refused to use it myself.

“I’d really suspect that something like that is being used here, and to “lazy and useless” we can add a few other epithets for the fuckers who are using it on good Labour Party members like you.”

And this hypocritical purge has been far more insidious than we might think.

Iain McNicol put out some figures on 8 September of Labour members excluded/suspended around the leadership election.

A spokesperson for the party declared, “The speculation that huge numbers of applicants have been denied a vote has been wildly exaggerated.” He went on to claim that less than 0.5% of the electorate had been denied a vote.

It is worth drilling down into the figures released by Labour’s Compliance Unit.

The 0.5% claim refers to the entire Labour Party electorate of 650,000, not to new members where the purge was targeted.

After the failed parliamentary coup in June there was another wave of tens of thousands of people joining the party to defend Jeremy Corbyn.

This produced the decision by the July NEC to deprive these members of a vote in the leadership election by setting the freeze deadline at 12 January. Despite this around 180,000 members and supporters paid £25 to be able to vote.

So far, of this group, 21,000 were excluded because “they did not provide details that matched the electoral roll”. This has been interpreted extremely tightly; a slight variation in the person’s name as it appears on the electoral roll, a Flat 1 down as Flat A etc.

Many of these people will never know why they did not receive a ballot paper and did not chase it up and appeal.

Another 3,107 were ruled ineligible on grounds of party rules and a further 1,616 cases are awaiting a decision – that is 4,720 excluded up to 1 September.

Another 3,791 people apparently failed to make the necessary £25 payment – maybe because the website process wasn’t that easy.

So just taking the first two groups, nearly 26,000 people were excluded from voting out of 180,000 who applied, that is 14.4% not 0.5%.

The Compliance Unit then turned its attention to Labour conference delegates with one Labour blogger learning of five Corbyn mandated delegates excluded in 24 hours.

Ian McNicol claimed all these suspensions/barrings have “been approved by the NEC”, but of course the NEC has not met since July.

They are in fact approved by an NEC sub-committee run by the right – the NEC Oversight Panel – the new left leaning NEC does not come into being until next week – after this weekend’s Labour Party Conference.

  • And yesterday, the #chickencoup guns turned heavily towards the conference and the ruling NEC.

The Labour NEC, which includes several imminently-defunct members who will be replaced by Corbyn supporters at the weekend.

But last night at an eve of conference NEC meeting the right wing dominated committee voted by 16-14 to increase its number by two – one member each to be nominated directly by the Blairite leaders of Welsh and Scottish Labour:

Tellingly, no such move was made to put a representative of Northern Ireland Labour on the NEC – doubtless because Labour in Northern Ireland has seen 500% growth in membership under Mr Corbyn and is overwhelmingly pro-Corbyn.

It is another brazen snub to the memberships of the Labour Party and democracy itself.

The move must still be ratified by the Labour Conference, and the outcome of that vote is unclear.

But if the measure passes a Conference vote,  Jeremy Corbyn must take any actions necessary to negate it, whether that be shuffling people like Jon Ashworth, who has voted against Corbyn in every NEC vote, out so that they are removed from the equation and replaced by a better MP, or by withdrawing the whip to disqualify right-wing members so that the post-Conference NEC can overturn it or bring in rules that negate this deeply, shamelessly anti-democratic tactic.

It will go against the grain to take such steps, even to correct such an egregious and underhand wrong – but turnabout is fair play and the anti-democratic faction in the Labour party must not be allowed to succeed. They have underhandedly exploited the rulebook to open this door, so they can’t complain if the rules are used to firmly close it again.

These are the dying efforts of a right wing in retreat at all levels in the Labour Party; an attempt to fight to the last by gerrymandering democracy at every turn.

On the path forward to true democracy, the current General Secretary Iain McNicol must resign.

The Compliance Unit must be abolished and replaced by something that welcomes new members and holds all members to collective discipline – left or right.

We need a sustained effort to involve the new members into an outwardly focused party, campaigning against austerity and against the Tories.

Protecting democracy requires that the general public be educated on how people can be manipulated by the Establishment and media into forfeiting their civil liberties.

Together things can and will change.

  • Thanks to Stuart King for purge statistics section

The real enemies within the Parliamentary Labour Party

Memory, ecstasy, tyranny, hypocrisy

Betrayed by a kiss on a cool night of bliss

In the valley of the missing link

And you have no time to think

 

TEN days have passed since I was expelled from the Labour Party as part of Iain McNicol’s “rigged purge” of Jeremy Corbyn supporters.

I was expelled for publishing a blog piece entitled Hanging from Traitors’ Gate – Progress: Labour’s right wing Militant  some 10 weeks earlier. In my piece, in which I use the proscribed word “Traitor” I listed the MPs who displayed treachery to Jeremy Corbyn, and to us the membership of the Labour Party.

You can read my appeal against the expulsion here.

Yesterday a close lawyer friend of some 24 years standing, described my appeal thus:

“You’ve done exactly the right thing from a legal point of view and you should carry on to the bitter end to exhaust your remedies and keep all your options open.

“And, as you’re well aware yourself of course, you’ve done exactly the right thing from an activist’s point of view by standing up for yourself so eloquently and movingly and by sharing what you’ve done to encourage and strengthen the resolve of others.

“I have no doubt there will be legal action here, and you may well be a good candidate for one of the test cases.”

Anyway, on with the show…

There is some personal irony that just 24 hours after I emailed my appeal letter to Iain McNicol, a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign team leaked a list singling out 14 Labour MPs, including deputy leader Tom Watson, who it claims have abused the leader and his allies.

In the release, Owen Smith, the challenger for the Labour leadership, was accused of being the “real disunity candidate”, who has failed to tackle abuse meted out by his own supporters.

The list, obtained by Press Association, highlighted the behaviour of a number of Labour MPs, including Jess Phillips for telling Corbyn’s ally Diane Abbott to “fuck off”, John Woodcock for dismissing the party leader as a “fucking disaster” and Tristram Hunt for describing Labour as “in the shit”.

Watson was highlighted for calling the grassroots Corbyn campaign Momentum a “rabble”.

The list emerged just hours before the final Labour leadership hustings between Mr Smith and Mr Corbyn, who is the overwhelming favourite to win the contest.

At the Sky News debate, Smith branded it a “deselection list” that would be used by some activists to target MPs considered hostile to Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn responded by defending the accuracy of the release and urging Smith to focus on policies.

“There was information put out there, which is statements made by colleagues on the record and is all out there in the public domain,” the leader said.

He went on to say he would rather Watson had not referred to activists from the Momentum group of Corbyn supporters as a “rabble”.

The others identified on the list were Ian Austin, Neil Coyle, Ben Bradshaw, Frank Field, Anna Turley, Jamie Reed, Karl Turner, Stephen Kinnock and Tom Blenkinsop.

Coyle, the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, who was among those criticised, said he was “fuming”, while long time vocal critic of Mr Corbyn, Woodcock was similarly angry.

Now the list of names – and offences – is out in the public domain, all the claims can be checked and verified and appropriate action taken.

One wonders, as the information was in the public domain already, why the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit had not taken the requisite steps on its own initiative.

It is welcome to see Owen Smith criticised – after all the times Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of allowing abuse to continue – of failing to tackle his own supporters’ inappropriate behaviour.

As for those who were named – the MPs who have already complained haven’t got a leg to stand on and I’m surprised the list isn’t much, much longer. I would certainly add Luke Akehurst and John McTernan to that list.

 

Neil Coyle, for example, abused Jeremy Corbyn by claiming he had presided over the “Farage-ification” of the Labour Party. Now he is complaining about “trial by troll”. Forget it, Mr Coyle. It isn’t trolling if you did what is claimed.

John Woodcock tweeted that Jeremy Corbyn was a “fucking disaster at PMQs” back in March and quickly deleted the message – but it was caught by the mainstream media nonetheless and members of his own electorate launched a petition calling for his deselection – months before that became an issue in the leadership election.

Now he’s saying a list pointing out this abusive behaviour is “shabby” and is complaining that it “targets colleagues for more abuse”.

Isn’t that exactly what he was doing when he wrote about Mr Corbyn, all those months ago – inviting others to abuse the Labour leader alongside him?

As for the claim that the MPs mentioned are on a “deselection list”: Their future is not a matter for Mr Corbyn or his team. It is for Labour Party members in each constituency to decide whether their sitting MP is representing them in a sufficiently courteous manner.

In Mr Woodcock’s case, alas, considering his constituents are already petitioning for his removal, an apology may be too little, too late.

Of course it is not the first time a list of disloyal and potentially treacherous Labour MPs has been released.

Back in January my blog The Enemy Within – the 28 Labour MPs who Oppose Mr Corbyn listed those MPs who were most likely ready to oust their democratically elected leader.

And of course on 23 March there was the now infamous list of the 36 MPs “most hostile to Mr Corbyn”.

So let’s look more closely at a few of the names on the most recent list of Labour MPs who have gone beyond the call of duty in their hostility.

  • Ian Austin – On my original list of MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn. Also on the 23 March list of 36 most hostile MPs. Originally a Brownite. Among a hard core of 14 right wing Labour MPs that refused to vote against the Tories on austerity, voted TO BOMB Syria AND for the renewal of Trident.
  • Ben Bradshaw – Member of Progress. On my original list of MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn. A Blairite and vocal right winger. Among a hard core of 14 right wing Labour MPs that refused to vote against the Tories on austerity, voted TO BOMB Syria AND for the renewal of Trident.
  • Frank Field – Member of Progress. On my original list of MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn. A Blairite and among a hard core of 14 right wing Labour MPs that refused to vote against the Tories on austerity, voted TO BOMB Syria AND for the renewal of Trident. A long-time vocal critic of Mr Corbyn.
  • Tristram Hunt – Member of Progress. On my original list of MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn. Also on the 23 March list of 36 most hostile MPs. Blairite. Former chair of the Progress group. Among a hard core of 14 right wing Labour MPs that refused to vote against the Tories on austerity, voted TO BOMB Syria AND for the renewal of Trident. Has previously openly mocked Mr Corbyn. He is infamous for tweeting that Labour under Mr Corbyn was “in the shit”.
  • Stephen Kinnock – Member of Progress. Two months ago Kinnock was talking openly about a right wing breakaway from the Labour Party – working title: Continuity Labour if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected as leader.
  • Jess Phillips – Backed by Progress. Mouthy MP who is infamous for telling Diane Abbott to “fuck off”. She also threatened to “knife” Mr Corbyn in the front and suggested she would leave the Labour Party if he was re-elected leader.
  • Jamie Reed – On my original list of MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn. Also on the 23 March list of 36 most hostile MPs. Blairite. Among a hard core of 14 right wing Labour MPs that refused to vote against the Tories on austerity, voted TO BOMB Syria AND for the renewal of Trident.
  • Tom Watson – Originally viewed as a mediator until engineering a motion at the forthcoming party conference to replace the current one member one vote system with an electoral college to elect the leader and for MPs to choose the shadow cabinet. Has been highlighted for calling Momentum a “rabble”. He had previously called shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry a “traitor” in the House of Commons voting lobby.
  • John Woodcock – Member of Progress. On my original list of MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn. Also on the 23 March list of 36 most hostile MPs. Blairite. Former chair of the Progress group. Voted for bombing Syria. Resigned from the shadow cabinet in January in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s so called ‘purge’ of right wing MPs from his front bench team. Has previously openly mocked Mr Corbyn and is infamous for dismissing the party leader as a “fucking disaster”.

These are some of the most treacherous… it is now make your mind up time.

 

 

The one thing bringing the Labour Party into disrepute is this one-sided political purge

And it’s time for Iain McNicol to resign

 

By Stuart King

Iain McNicol, the Labour Party General Secretary put out some figures last week (8 September) of Labour members excluded/suspended around the leadership election.

A spokesperson for the party declared, “The speculation that huge numbers of applicants have been denied a vote has been wildly exaggerated.” They went on to claim that less than 0.5% of the electorate had been denied a vote.

This statement came after growing uproar from those arbitrarily excluded and the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s remark that there was a “rigged purge going on”.

It is worth drilling down into the figures released by Labour’s Compliance Unit. The 0.5% claim refers to the entire Labour Party electorate of 650,000, not to new members where the purge has been targeted.

After the failed parliamentary coup in June there was another wave of tens of thousands of people joining the party to defend Jeremy Corbyn. This produced the decision by the July NEC to deprive these members of a vote in the leadership election by setting the deadline at January 12th. Despite this around 180,000 members and supporters paid £25 to be able to vote. It this group that the purge has been primarily aimed at.

Who is being excluded?

So far, of this group, 21,000 were excluded because “they did not provide details that matched the electoral roll”. This has been interpreted extremely tightly; a slight variation in the person’s name as it appears on the electoral roll, a Flat 1 down as Flat A etc.

Many of these people will never know why they did not receive a ballot paper and will not chase it up and appeal. Another 3,107 have been ruled ineligible on grounds of party rules and a further 1,616 cases are awaiting a decision – that is 4,720 excluded up to 1 September. Another 3,791 people apparently failed to make the necessary £25 payment – maybe because the website process wasn’t that easy. Were they chased up – no chance!

So just taking the first two groups, nearly 26,000 people have been excluded from voting out of 180,000 who applied, that is 14.4% not 0.5%. And this figure is only up to September 1st, the purge is continuing apace up to conference.

The Compliance Unit now seem to have turned their attention to Labour conference delegates with one Labour blogger learning of five Corbyn mandated delegates excluded in 24 hours!

Ian McNicol has claimed all these suspensions/barrings have “been approved by the NEC” but of course the NEC has not met since July. They are in fact approved by an NEC sub-committee run by the right – the NEC Oversight Panel – the new left leaning NEC does not come into being till after conference.

How members are treated

It is worth giving some examples of the decisions being made to get a flavour of the members being excluded.

One group involves people who, in one way or another, were sympathetic to the Green Party when the LP was lurching rightwards and who now are attracted back to Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Surely a group the LP should really be chasing if we want to win a majority over the Tories?

Take the case of Kristina Veasey, a Paralympian and a disability rights campaigner, which was reported prominently in the Huffington Post. She recounted what happened. “I am a community activist, an artist, a mother, an equalities consultant and until a few days ago I was a Labour Party member.” Two years ago she retweeted something that the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit found unacceptable.

Not an abusive message, but an anti-fracking one by Green MP Caroline Lucas. “For those investigating me this was enough to expel me on the grounds that ‘you supported comments made on Twitter that evidenced your support for the Green Party’.

The expulsion was carried out under Appendix 2.1.B.x of the Labour Party rules – an automatic exclusion clause which prevents her from reapplying for membership for two years unless there are exceptional circumstances.

In another case, Sophie McKeand was sent a letter from the General Secretary saying “You were asked to confirm ‘I support the aims and values of the LP and I am not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it”. A panel of the NEC has considered your application and has decided to reject it on the grounds that you tweeted in support of the Green Party on 8 May 2015”.

Clearly this rule, involving supporting another party within two years of applying to join, was designed for people who stood against Labour in elections or their agents, not against people who tweeted something.

It is a scandalous abuse of the rules aimed at weeding out Corbyn supporters. Of course this rule has never been used against Tory or Lib Dem members who have applied to join Labour because they have generally strengthened the right

Then there are the trade union members who are known to support Corbyn.

Steve Hedley, Senior Assistant General Secretary of the RMT, said recently that many RMT members had been excluded in the current purge.

This included a 38 year long member of the Labour Party who put a “like” against a TUSC candidate on Facebook who was a friend of his. Even the Bakers’ Union General Secretary, Ronnie Draper was excluded on the grounds of past comments made on social media, but with no details provided about the precise nature of the offence. He appealed and was later re-instated, probably because he was so prominent a figure in the labour movement, others have not been so lucky.

An 82-year-old pensioner and lifelong Labour voter and member has been expelled by the party for supporting media democracy. A year ago on social media, she retweeted a post calling for the Green Party leaders to be included in TV debates.

For the Compliance Unit that single retweet justified expelling her and barring her for five years, because it supposedly signified support for the Greens. She tweeted in reply: “Well this housebound carer/pensioner expelled today. Mr McNicol’s way of thanking me for 50 years of votes?? Stunned!”

Then there is the just plain ludricrous examples from this purge. The Labour member who was suspended for saying on Facebook that she ‘f*cking loves the Foo Fighters.’ One assumes this was probably a software error but who knows! The Foo Fighters later commented on social media that they’re surprised to be on the Labour Party Compliance Unit blacklist.

Bringing the Labour Party into disrepute

If anything is bringing the Labour Party into disrepute it is this one sided political purge, using the most ridiculous of pretexts to exclude members/supporters and damage the Labour’s image across a range of social media.

Of course the established press, the BBC, Channel 4 etc ignores these cases because they counter the media narrative that it is the Labour Left and Momentum that are the bullying, bad guys.

Why is the right-wing, ensconced in Labour’s apparatus, going to all this trouble when it looks like Jeremy Corbyn is the favourite to win?

One reason is to reduce his majority, to be able to say “there you are, he is losing support even among the members after a year in office”. Another is to save face, both for Owen Smith and the Labour right in the PLP who forced another election so soon.

A more sinister reason is to try and rig the Labour Party conference by excluding left wing delegates and pushing through Tom Watson’s electoral college idea, a structure that would restore the parliamentary and trade union dominance over the individual members of the party by depriving them of their votes.

These are the dying efforts of a right wing in retreat at all levels in the party; an attempt to fight to the last by gerrymandering elections.

The lesson that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters must learn from this is to make no compromises when it comes to taking control of the key NEC sub-committees, the full-time apparatus of the party and to deal with the coup mongers in the PLP itself.

The current General Secretary must resign.

The Compliance Unit must be abolished and replaced by something that welcomes new members and holds all members to collective discipline – left or right.

To do this we cannot rely on the PLP left alone, nor even the currently active Labour members. We need a sustained effort to involve the new members into an outwardly focused party, campaigning against austerity and against the Tories.

If we do this, the right-wing will realize they have no future if they continue to obstruct the efforts to radically change the party. Things can and will change.

(Stuart King is a member of Lambeth Momentum)