Pop and politics in 2013

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This year, the deaths of two political titans meant that I was asked to consider 1980s protest songs yet again and I experienced a curious nostalgia for the music if not the times. It felt as if left-wing musicians knew where they stood back then. They had a hero and a villain and what they wanted could be condensed into a three-word slogan: stand down Margaret, free Nelson Mandela. Eventually Margaret did stand down and Mandela was freed and new problems arose, but for a decade these two figures allowed for a bracing simplicity that the current political landscape does not. It was apt that 2013’s most commercially successful and genuinely controversial act of pop protest was a song from The Wizard of Oz repositioned as a cackle of good riddance to the Iron Lady.

I make this point so often that I’m at risk of boring myself let alone you but any understanding of current protest songs demands the acceptance that different eras produce different kinds of protest. If you judge the present by the standards of the past you will always be disappointed; if you’re open to new approaches then you’ll find plenty to chew on.

2013 didn’t give us a classic, lightning-rod record on a par with Ill Manors or Let England Shake but provided so much to talk and think about. Much of the debate took place around pop itself and the complicated messages it contains. Was Robin Thicke a misogynist or worse? Were Lorde and Macklemore making liberal points at the expense of black artists? Were the pungent observations about race and class on Kanye West’s Yeezus fatally compromised by Kanye’s narcissism and misogyny? Not all of the discourse was illuminating — some of it was terrible — but I’m glad it’s taking place, a widespread acknowledgement of August Wilson’s axiom, “All art is political in the sense that it serves someone’s politics.”

Lorde’s Royals was one of my favourite songs of the year and proved provocative in ways that the singer couldn’t have imagined. It’s here, particularly, that I found online debate depressingly simplistic. To find Royals racist you’d have to believe that (a) only black artists sing or rap about luxury goods (b) black artists sing or rap about nothing but luxury goods and (c) you cannot criticize anyone for singing or rapping about luxury goods. The first two are patently false while the third is absurd. When you’ve beaten the odds you were born with, I can understand the desire to celebrate your newfound wealth but there’s nothing inherently noble or progressive about doing so repeatedly at the expense of other subjects, especially during a recession which has seen nothing boom except income inequality. Socially conscious rappers have been making that point for 20 years and usually with more self-righteous fire than Lorde. One thing I love about Royals is that it’s not about the artists themselves, and what they should or shouldn’t be doing, but the cumulative effect of vacuous wealth porn on the alienated listener. Furthermore, Lorde is honest enough to be both repelled and seduced by the fantasy: “We don’t care” but at the same time “we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.” She wrote it when she was 15 and it’s still more nuanced and intelligent than any of the attacks on it.

When I asked Lorde about the controversy in Q she had a thoughtful response: “It was just the nature of what I’d been listening to and the references I felt overloaded by. I was just writing a response but I was trying to be funny. It wasn’t this progressive anti-consumerist thing, which is funny because now everyone gets all up in arms about it. What we didn’t realise at the time either is what people think is special about the song is that I’m using that medium to critique that medium. If I’d been in an angry punk band talking about that I wouldn’t be anything special but because I used Top 40 pop to get there that’s what makes it different.”

Macklemore’s music doesn’t move me but Same Love’s critique of homophobia inside and outside hip hop is no less valid for coming from a white artist. It’s obvious from certain articles written in praise of Lorde and Macklemore that some of their supporters do hold hip hop in contempt but there’s no evidence that either artist does and calling either of them racist doesn’t do anyone any good. More depressing is the case of Lily Allen’s Hard Out Here, which squandered its refreshingly frank assault on sexism in the music industry with a video so insensitive that nobody involved in making it seems to have noticed until it was too late that it only mocked black music. As listeners become more attuned to issues of gender and race, you can’t be that thoughtless and get away with it. Sophie Heawood’s response says it all.

Urban music itself is not exactly oblivious to these issues. I’m not sure that even Kanye could explain his politics — he can’t settle on one line of argument for long enough — but the thrilling, maddening Yeezus threw up plenty of chewy ideas along the way. As I wrote earlier in the year, I can’t get my head around the use of Strange Fruit in a song about divorce, or the Black Panther salute as a cheap joke in a sex rhyme, but on New Slaves he questions his own lust for high-end goods and rages at the realisation that wealth simply buys you a better class of racism. Having joined the one per cent, he’s justifiably outraged that most of his fellow rich don’t want him there, a reality that puts his endless monologues about his problems with the fashion industry a notch above simple vanity.

Jay-Z’s thoughts about race and wealth on Oceans were, like New Slaves, enriched by the melancholy presence of Frank Ocean, whose line, “I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo” sets up Jay-Z’s ruminations on the parallel voyages of Christopher Columbus and African slaves. In this context “I crash through glass ceilings/I break through closed doors isn’t an idle boast, it’s the essence of hip hop aspiration. If you prefer the hard-charging old-school belligerence of Public Enemy, it’s there in Killer Mike and El-P’s Run the Jewels album and MIA’s Bring the Noize, and if you want deeply felt, socially aware narratives try Chance the Rapper or Kendrick Lamar’s Black Hippy crew.

Unexpected as Beyonce’s jack-in-the-box album release was, it was even more surprising to hear her sampling a TED talk about feminism by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Flawless. Adichie’s words may be tougher and less ambivalent than Beyonce’s brand of feminism but their presence is electrifying. Janelle Monáe is half Beyonce, half Adichie, a serious thinker with shobiz chops. Her album The Electric Lady was a sci-fable about prejudice and self-expression that captured the surging defiance of 70s soul, especially on Ghetto Woman, a joyous Stevie Wonder homage about her working-class mother. The Erykah Badu duet Q.U.E.E.N. is something like a manifesto: “I’m tired of Marvin asking me What’s Going On?/March to the streets ‘cuz I’m willing and I’m able/Categorize me, I defy every label.”

Feminism seemed to be everywhere, from the sometimes impenetrable gender theory of The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual (“Let’s talk about gender baby/Let’s talk about you and me” is both a line from Full of Fire, a Salt ‘n’ Pepa joke and the album’s implicit subtitle) to the hushed ruminations of Kathryn Williams’ The Known, which was written in a flurry after a heated late-night debate with fellow songwriters.

The discussion carried on outside of the songs. Chrvches frontwoman Lauren Mayberry wrote an eloquent Guardian article about the routine misogynist bullshit every female artist has to confront but rarely talks about and Grimes’ Tumblr posts reveal a sharp young musician working out her thoughts in public. “I’m sad that it’s uncool or offensive to talk about environmental or human rights issues… I’m sad that my desire to be treated as an equal and a human being is interpreted as hatred of men, rather than a request to be included and respected.” I’m sad too but I’m happy that she’s so smart and fearless about saying these things.

My favourite feminist record of 2013 was Kacey Musgraves’ Follow Your Arrow. Co-written by a gay man (Sean McAnally) and a gay woman (Brandy Clark, whose own 12 Songs album is also excellent), it’s a gently subversive twist on the be-yourself anthem. When she sings, “Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/If that’s something you’re into,” she does so with such casual charm that it’s not a bold stand, just a reflection of the way things are in a changing America. Women in country music have always been more likely then men to highlight the more punishing aspects of smalltown life: gossip, hypocrisy, conservatism and routine male violence that is tolerated rather than condemned. A line runs from Jeannie C Riley’s Harper Valley PTA and The Rib, through the battered-wife of revenge fantasies of Martina McBride (Independence Day) and the Dixie Chicks (Goodbye Earl) to Musgraves’s big-sister reassurance: “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t so you might as well just do whatever you want.” It also contains my favourite lyrical joke of the year but I won’t spoil it for you.

Several artists who emerged in the 80s and 90s took up cudgels this year. Super Furry Animal Cian Ciaran’s They Are Nothing Without Us and ex-Beta Band singer Steve Mason’s Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time were two angry, eclectic albums from people whose hard-left politics was sometimes overlooked first time around. Primal Scream released their best protest song since XTRMNTR (2013) and one of their worst (Culturecide) on the same album. Augmented by Kevin Shields’ hurricane guitar, 2013 sounds inspiringly indignant, flirting with despair: “What happened to the voices of dissent? Getting rich I guess… They killed the counterculture underground/It offers no critique.” Elsewhere in the song the political analysis may not be sophisticated but Russell Brand has proved that’s no obstacle to making an impact. At Glastonbury, Portishead used anti-Trident videos to retrospectively politicise Machine Gun.

In the same year that PJ Harvey accepted an MBE from the Queen, enraging those of her admirers who like to see the world in black and white, she released the kind of direct, topical protest song that she avoided on Let England Shake: Shaker Aamar, about the man who has been in Guantanamo Bay since 2002. It’s far less elegant than her recent work — its blunt staccato reminds me of one of Harold Pinter’s anti-war poems — but that’s not the point. It sounds like moral anger, pure and uncut. It is perhaps the only song this year that could have appeared in the pages of Broadside and had the approval of Pete Seeger.

Manic Street Preachers’ Rewind the Film album haunted me this year with its autumnal reflections on the minefield of middle age, “halfway between acceptance and rage”. It almost throws in the towel on Anthem for a Lost Cause, a song protesting against itself, but performs an explosive U-turn with the class-war history lesson of 30-Year War. There’s a place for subtlety and ambiguity and a place for James Dean Bradfield bearing down on “the endless parade of Old Etonian scum”. Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods don’t fit in anywhere so I’ll mention them here because Austerity Dogs is an album of bleak, unnerving power: a bit Mark E Smith, a bit John Cooper Clarke, a bit hip hop and, in the words of the terrific Quietus review, “Chris Morris with a class consciousness, laying bare the surreal tapestry of horrors that face the working class in Britain today.”

As for even older artists, Bruce Springsteen reanimated some of his old protest songs with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello on tour, including a vengefully heavy The Ghost of Tom Joad and a sombre American Skin (41 Shots), revived during the Trayvon Martin case that also drew a slew of reactions from the hip hop scene. Pet Shop Boys, of all people, took a fairly minor Springsteen song, The Last to Die’s macabre road trip through a war-poisoned America, and made it sound like a classic. David Bowie’s The Next Day was studded with the kind of ominous political allusions that recalled his 70s work. “They can’t get enough of that doomsday song” indeed.

No veteran impressed me more this year than Elvis Costello. He acknowledged Thatcher’s death at Glastonbury with performances of Shipbuilding (wobbly) and Tramp the Dirt Down (spine-tingling) and made an intense, intriguing album, Wise Up Ghost, with the Roots. It created a dialogue between the Roots’ hip hop background with his own past (Stick Out Your Tongue rearranged lyrics from his caustic 30-year-old single Pills and Soap) via the more tense and brooding variety of 70s soul. When I interviewed Costello alongside Questlove for MOJO, he was coy about specific issues: “If you look out of the window you don’t have to look very far.” Like Bowie, he’s more interested in evoking an atmosphere of fear and crisis than in sloganeering and when he sings “Seems that everything is about to blow” he doesn’t need to name names. Despite having written or produced some of the all-time great protest songs (including Nelson Mandela for the Special AKA), he’s always been ambivalent about politics in music and when I raised the subject he had some thoughts which are worth quoting here:

“It’s the delusion of protest music: because you write it, it changes things. It doesn’t. It only changes in the hearts of people who listen. I always felt that when people said it’s really subversive you’ve fucked it up right away by saying it’s subversive. And it’s not brave. Victor Jara – that’s brave. If they lock you up in a football stadium and chop your hands off, that’s brave. If you sing it despite knowing that will happen to you, that’s brave. Most of the time the worst thing that can happen is they won’t play your record or the record label drops you off. It’s not the most dramatic thing that can happen to you.”

Finally, I enjoyed two songs which were expanded and enriched by their videos. Watching Lil Wayne’s God Bless Amerika, filmed in a poor black neighbourhood I felt that the rapper was happy to play second fiddle to the people around him. They are the real stars, not merely living props, and they convey the song’s message about the holes in the American dream — holes big enough to swallow lives — more powerfully than the lyrics.

Esperanza Spalding’s anti-Guantanamo Bay We Are America uses its video to convey information that wouldn’t work in a lyric, with cameos from Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Janelle Monáe. The joy in the music and the performances makes an argument for what America should be, and how antithetical Guantanamo is to the better angels of its nature.

That’s why Spalding told NPR, “We weren’t thinking of a ‘protest’ song, we’re thinking of a ‘let’s get together and do something pro-active, creative and productive’ song.” That’s her call but let’s no split hairs. Bob Dylan didn’t think Blowin’ in the Wind was a protest song either. If you feel that I’ve applied the term to broadly here then it’s because I think narrow definitions paint a misleading picture. Whatever words you want to use, politics was very much at home in music, and the discussion of music, in 2013. I’ve compiled a playlist of all the songs mentioned here that are available on Spotify. You might also enjoy playlists of my favourite songs of 2013: choose from the seven-hour epic version or the edited highlights.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

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Gauging the practical effectiveness of a protest song is a far more slippery task than assessing its quality, but the Special AKA’s 1984 hit, Nelson Mandela, is one of the few records that can be said to have helped move mountains.

Although it is almost inconceivable now, at the dawn of the 1980s Mandela’s name was not widely known outside South Africa. By the time he was released from prison a decade later, his name, face and story were synonymous with the anti-apartheid struggle, and pop music played a major role in that transformation.

Read more at the Guardian

Dallas 22/11/63

“I watched it at my manager’s office. The next night, Saturday, I had a concert upstate, in Ithaca or Buffalo. There was a really down feeling in the air. I had to go on stage, I couldn’t cancel. I went to the hall and to my amazement the hall was filled. Everybody turned out for the concert. The song I was opening with was The Times They Are A-Changin’ and I thought, ‘Wow, how can I open with that song? I’ll get rocks thrown at me.’ That song was just too much for the day after the assassination. But I had to sing it, my whole concert takes off from there.

I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding that song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping or why I wrote that song, even. I couldn’t understand anything. For me, it was just insane.” — Bob Dylan to writer Anthony Scaduto

 

 

 

 

 

 

In praise of Dave Van Ronk

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I’ve been reading Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, The Mayor of McDougal Street (Da Capo Press), on account of it being the loose inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, one of the best films about music and thwarted ambition that I’ve ever seen. Some incidents reappear in the film although Van Ronk was never quite as unlucky as Llewyn. It left me wishing that I’d read it before I wrote the folk chapters in 33 Revolutions Per Minute, and that I’d had the chance to interview him before his death in 2002. Frankly, the book is so funny, candid, insightful and unpretentious that it’s impossible to read it without wishing you could meet the guy. Here are my nine favourite passages, some of which are still relevant in different contexts in 2013, in order to encourage you to read it. (That said, dear publishers, if I quote too much here let me know and I’ll take it down asap.) Oh, and see the movie too.

On the 1950s jazz wars

The modernists were aesthetic Darwinists, arguing that jazz has to progress and that later forms must necessarily be superior to earlier ones. The traditionalists were Platonists, insisting that early jazz was “pure” and that all subsequent developments and dilutions and degenerations. This comic donnybrook dominated jazz criticism for ten or fifteen years, with neither side capable of seeing the strengths of the other, until it finally subsided and died, probably from sheer boredom. Before that point, though, a lot of otherwise sensible people had made asses of themselves.

On playing the banjo

So I switched over and quickly became one of the worst tenor banjo players on the trad scene. And to be the worst at tenor banjo, you’re really competing, because that’s a fast track.

On protest songs

For myself, I was always ready to go to a rally or a demonstration or a benefit for this, that, or the other cause, and to sing my songs, but I did very little political material. It did not suit my style, and I never did it that convincingly. I just did not have that kind of voice or that kind of presence. Also, although I am a singer and have always had strong political views, I felt that my politics were no more relevant to my music than they would have been to the work of any other craftsman. Just because you are a cabinet maker and a leftist, are you supposed to make left-wing cabinets?

On working for free (late 50s article)

I know several folksingers who have taken jobs without pay, not quite understanding that aside from its artistic nature, singing in front of an audience is work like any other job and that even if they do not need or want pay a great many of their colleagues do and that in any other line of endeavor their practices are referred to as scabbing and its practitioners are known as scabs.

On the young Bob Dylan

He had a lot of stories about who he was and where he came from, and he never seemed to be able to keep them straight. I think that’s one reason Bobby never gave good interviews: his thinking is so convoluted that he simply does not know how to level, because he’s always thinking of the effect that he’s having on whoever he’s talking to.

On drugs

The Cambridge drugs scene was actually a lot like the Cambridge folk scene, in that everything was intellectualized. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert had created this enormous theoretical structure based on “expanding your mind,” and it was all a crock of pseudomystical horseshit and petit bourgeois rationalization to justify getting stoned.

On the New Left

Most of those people were not really radicals, just a bunch of very pissed-off liberals. They had no grounding, and indeed no interest, in theory, and their disdain for studying history and learning economics infuriated me. The core problem with the New Left was that it wasn’t an ideology, it was a mood—and if you are susceptible to one mood, you are susceptible to another.

On the issue of whether white singers should cover material by black artists

The whole debate was a tempest in a teapot, generated by critics who needed something to write about… Forty years later, on somber reflection, having fully studied the arguments on both sides, I have reached what I believe to be a measured and definitive judgment on the matter: Who cares?

On purists

It is like the old socialist I knew who was an editor of a newspaper in the early 1960s: A bunch of New Leftists marched into his office and presented him with a set of nonnegotiable demands, insisting that he change this, that, and the other thing about what he was printing. He listened to them as long as he could stand it and then just said, “I’ve been a socialist for fifty years. Do you know what you’re going to be ten years from now? You’re going to be dentists.”

Another kind of patriotism: why the Mail is wrong about Britain

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It might seem that there’s not much more to be said about the Daily Mail’s week of horror after the embarrassing flailing of its staff and supporters in various media outlets and Mehdi Hasan’s bravura monologue on Question Time. But one thread that’s worth pursuing is the Mail’s persistent defence of its smear on the grounds that if you are a socialist you must de facto hate Britain.

I am not convinced that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, but I am sure that claiming patriotism for a single political ideology is. The Mail insists that because Ralph Miliband criticised such institutions as public schools and the House of Lords he hated Britain, whereas showing contempt for another set of British institutions (the BBC, the welfare state, trade unions) and values (tolerance, generosity) is the noblest form of national pride. The absurdity should be obvious but I’m not sure the people at the heart of the Mail realise that their hardline Manichean view is profoundly out of step with the public it claims to represent.

Polls suggest that around 20% of the electorate is instinctively very conservative. These voters support Ukip or the Tory right-wing represented by the likes of Daniel Hannan. They are not concerned with political theory so much as with being left bloody well alone: pub garden libertarians. They resent red tape, taxes, political correctness, do-gooders, vegetarians, feminists, environmentalists, foreigners and speed limits. A friend suggested to me that most Ukip supporters are essentially more bothered about parking restrictions than they are about immigration or Europe.

Within that cohort is a much smaller percentage, spiritually aligned with Joseph McCarthy, the John Birch Society and the dark corners of the Establishment that considered mounting a military coup against Labour in the 1970s (I recommend Andy Beckett’s brilliant Pinochet in Piccadilly for more on that weird episode). They include Paul Dacre, Melanie Phillips and the tormented souls who haunt the Telegraph comment section. They are prey to paranoid, apocalyptic visions of a communist takeover, obsessed with the Cold War and the 70s (when many of them were great admirers of General Pinochet), terrified about reds under the bed and the imminent collapse of western civilisation. But what keeps them up at night is comically irrelevant to most Britons: most Mail readers come for the gossip and voyeurism, not the Cold Warrior hysteria. Dacre believes he represents the heart of Middle England, when in fact he represents a single artery, clogged with rage and fear.

Most voters hold a mixed bag of beliefs. On immigration, crime and welfare they swing to the right, so much so that the majority view bears little relation to the facts. On taxes, the minimum wage, trade unions and privatisation, as the New Statesman’s George Eaton illustrates, they favour the left. Naturally, the Mail and its allies venerate the great British public when it toes the line but as soon as it swings the other way it is a “mob”, seduced by crude “populism”. Hence Quentin Letts’ fantastical Question Time vision of the Mail as a gang of anti-establishment guerrilla idealists, defending the underdog against the powers that be. I’d like to think he was just improvising wildly, but I’m scared that he truly believes it.

The Miliband story will fade as the news cycle moves on. I can’t quite believe Gavin Haynes’ eloquent argument that it will bring down Dacre, although my fingers are crossed. What’s important, after this week, is to insist on two things: that the Mail’s core values, laid bare this week, are alien to all but a small, embittered corner of Britain; and that progressive patriotism not only exists but has broad support.

A nation is a marvellously plastic thing, constantly changing, forever fought over, shifting this way and that, accommodating all kinds of contradictions while remaining fundamentally true to itself. At heart I love Britain but I want to change aspects of it for the better, just like Ralph Miliband or Paul Dacre or just about anyone else who lives here. The Mail tried to insist this week that only one vision was valid and it was a lie defended by more lies. In Alastair Campbell’s pungent phrase, it is “the worst of Britain posing as the best,” and that has never been clearer.

 

 

The Daily Mail’s Ralph Miliband editorial: annotated version

For those who don’t want to visit the Daily Mail website but want to know what all the fuss about, here is a helpfully annotated version.

Red Ed’s in a strop with the Mail. Doubtless, he’s miffed that his conference was overshadowed by the revelations of his former friend, the spin doctor Damian McBride, serialised in this paper, which exposed the poisonous heart of the Labour Party.

Ed Miliband is annoyed by something else.

or did he see the funny side when we ridiculed the yucky, lovey-dovey photographs of him and his wife, behaving like a pair of hormonal teenagers in need of a private room.

And something else.

But what has made him vent his spleen — indeed, he has stamped his feet and demanded a right of reply — is a Mail article by Geoffrey Levy on Saturday about the Labour leader’s late father, Ralph, under the arresting headline ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.

Well OK, he’s mainly annoyed that we accused his late father of hating Britain. Weird.

Of course, it was not the Mail that first drew the prominent Marxist sociologist Professor Ralph Miliband — a man who was not averse to publicity — into the public arena. This was the decision of his son who, for two years running, has told Labour conferences how his refugee father fled Nazi persecution to Britain.

But he asked for it really, banging on about his Jewish father fleeing the Nazi invasion of Belgium.

More pertinent still, McBride argues that Miliband Jnr is obsessed with maintaining Ralph’s legacy.

Winning the leadership, he writes, was Ed’s ‘ultimate tribute’ to his father — an attempt to ‘achieve his father’s vision’.

Although we recently described McBride as “destroyed by his own malign tactics” and “spreading a series of mendacious allegations about prominent Tories”, he is clearly a man of integrity whose insights should be taken as fact.

With this testimony before us, from a former Labour spin doctor who knew Mr Miliband inside out, the Mail felt a duty to lay before our readers the father’s vision that is said to have inspired our would-be next Prime Minister.

“Duty”

How can Ralph Miliband’s vision be declared out of bounds for public discussion — particularly since he spent his entire life attempting to convert the impressionable young to his poisonous creed?

Today, we stand by every word we published on Saturday, from the headline to our assertion that the beliefs of Miliband Snr ‘should disturb everyone who loves this country’.

In his tetchy and menacing response, which we publish in full on these pages, the Labour leader expresses just pride in his father’s war record as a volunteer in the Royal Navy.

We granted him the right to reply but fuck his right to reply, basically.

But he cites this, and his father’s affection for his shipmates (which, as shown on these pages, was riven by class hatred), as if it were conclusive proof that he loved this country.

So how is it that shortly after his arrival in Britain, the 17-year-old Miliband senior had confided to his diary: ‘The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world . . . you sometimes want them almost to lose [the war] to show them how things are’?

Isn’t it permissible to surmise that a man who had expressed such views joined the Royal Navy not so much to fight for Britain as to fight, like the Soviet Union, against the Nazis?

Despite having just arrived in Britain, Miliband Snr did not love his adopted country as much as he hated the people who would have rounded up him and his family and sent them to concentration camps. There is no chance that his feelings about Britain may have changed one iota during his three years in the Royal Navy, therefore it is fine to discredit his military service. Tragically, all this bloodshed could have been avoided if the British government had heeded the wise words of the Mail’s former proprietor, the 1st Viscount Rothermere, who wrote to Hitler in 1938, congratulating him on his annexation of the Sudetenland: “Frederick the Great was a great popular figure in England. May not Adolf the Great become an equally popular figure? I salute Your Excellency’s star which rises higher and higher.” And to Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister, on July 7 1939: “Our two great Nordic countries should pursue resolutely a policy of appeasement for, whatever anyone may say, our two great countries should be the leaders of the world.” Here he is doing his bit for Britain.

Yes, as his son argues, Mr Miliband Snr may have felt gratitude for the security, freedom and comfort he enjoyed in Britain. But what is blindingly clear from everything he wrote throughout his life is that he had nothing but hatred for the values, traditions and institutions — including our great schools, the Church, the Army and even the Sunday papers — that made Britain the safe and free nation in which he and his family flourished.

Loving these institutions is synonymous with loving Britain. Please don’t think it’s different. It’s not. It’s exactly the same.

The constitutional monarchy, the bicameral legislature, property rights, common law . . . even ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ — all were anathema to this lifelong, unreconstructed Marxist who craved a workers’ revolution.

To repeat, you cannot be left-wing and love Britain. It’s not possible. That’s just scientific fact.

Significantly, when he defended students for silencing a visiting speaker with whom they disagreed, he wrote: ‘Freedom of speech is not always the overriding criterion.’

Unfortunately we can’t explain the context because this is the only citation of this phrase on the entire internet.

As for the Falklands war, our defence of British sovereignty so appalled him that it moved him to four-letter words of disgust.

He was the only person in Britain to oppose the Falklands War. Why didn’t he just hand the keys to Number 10 to General Galtieri and have done with it? As for the foul language, we believe our editor has made his position perfectly clear.

At the London School of Economics, he was taught and heavily influenced by the extremist Left-winger Harold Laski, who said the use of violence was legitimate in British elections. One of his closest friends was Eric Hobsbawm

He was friends with another left-winger – one whom the Mail trashed as a “traitor” the day after he died. Normally the Mail believes that “bilious hatred and lack of respect for the dead is a disturbing new low in British life” but come on, he was a Marxist. That’s different.

(though, as we reported, at least Miliband wouldn’t join his fellow Marxist in refusing to condemn Stalinism’s mass murders or the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956).

Miliband Snr didn’t defend Stalin. In fact, his biographer Michael Newman writes: “you see signs of his shift away from [seeing] the Soviet Union as a kind of beacon early, in the 1940s. A long time before Hungary, in other words. He was someone who never had uncritical enthusiasms.” But let’s just throw it in there to make it seem like he almost did.

It is all too easy today to forget that Marxism supplied the philosophical underpinning to a monstrously evil regime.

Under Stalin’s Communism, countless millions were murdered, tortured, starved to death, executed or sent to endure a sub-human existence in the gulags.

Religion, the family and the very spirit of the individual were brutally crushed. The arts, newspapers — justice itself — were ruthlessly controlled by the commissars.

Freedom of expression was purged. Even as late as the Seventies, dissidents were locked in mental asylums, while the Press was controlled by the State for another two decades.

Not to be confused with the regime of General Pinochet, of whom the Daily Mail columnist Paul Johnson said: “I regard the demonisation of General Pinochet as the most successful, mendacious propaganda exercise ever carried out in the 20th century.” Nor indeed with that of Mr Hitler in 1939, to whom the 1st Viscount Rothermere wrote: “My Dear Führer, I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country.”

Truly, Ralph Miliband and Hobsbawm were, in the withering phrase often attributed to Lenin, the ‘useful idiots’ who validated this most pernicious doctrine, which has spread poverty and misery wherever it has triumphed.

That’s why the Mail — which is not Pravda

Just clearing that up

— said that readers who love this country would be truly disturbed if they understood about Miliband’s father’s views.

To be absolutely clear, you cannot love your country if you’re a Marxist, only if you’re a fascist.

We do not maintain, like the jealous God of Deuteronomy, that the iniquity of the fathers should be visited on the sons.

On no account are we to be confused with the jealous God of Deuteronomy. Not even sure why we brought that up to be honest.

But when a son with prime ministerial ambitions swallows his father’s teachings, as the younger Miliband appears to have done, the case is different.

True, Ed Miliband has said: “My father’s strongly Left-wing views are well known, as is the fact that I have pursued a different path and I have a different vision.” But he’s probably lying.

Indeed, his son’s own Marxist values can be seen all too clearly in his plans for state seizures of private land held by builders and for fixing energy prices by government diktat.

Fixing energy prices today, building gulags tomorrow.

More chillingly, the father’s disdain for freedom of expression can be seen in his son’s determination to place the British Press under statutory control.

Getting to the gist here.

Next week the Privy Council, itself an arm of the state, will meet to discuss plans — following a stitch-up with Hacked Off over late-night pizzas in Mr Miliband’s office

Filthy Italian grub. Someone who loved his country would have served roast beef with all the trimmings.

— for what will ultimately be a politically controlled body to oversee what papers are allowed to publish.

Put to one side that Mr Miliband’s close involvement with degenerates such as Damian McBride gives him scant right to claim the moral high ground on anything.

[Is this the same “degenerate” whose word we took as bond when he was sticking it to Ed Miliband earlier on? Subs to check.]

If he crushes the freedom of the Press, no doubt his father will be proud of him from beyond the grave, where he lies 12 yards from the remains of Karl Marx.

Spooky

But he will have driven a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation so many of us genuinely love.

You can’t drive a hammer through a heart but come on, that’s good stuff.

Update: Lots of good responses to the Mail’s smear out there, including Ralph Miliband’s biographer Michael Newman, who puts the angry teenage diary entry in context, insights from Miliband’s old friends and colleagues, and the LSE’s Bart Cammaerts who quotes Miliband on the subject of the British press.

The L***-W*** Word

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On Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Justin Webb was interviewing Ed Miliband about his party conference speech. “When you see the headlines saying Red Ed is back, back to the 70s, etcetera, you don’t mind that do you? You don’t mind people saying it’s left-wing. It is,” goaded Webb.

“I don’t see it that way, I see it as a truly One Nation approach,” stammered Miliband, running a mile from the l***-w*** word.

It’s testament to Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, subsequently absorbed and entrenched by New Labour, that “left-wing”, not even the more loaded “socialist”, has the power of a slur as opposed to an obvious truth about a party that originated in the labour movement. Stigmatising an entire wing of political thought is quite an achievement: There Is No Alternative indeed.

You expect this kind of Red Ed guff from the Mail or Telegraph but it’s much more depressing coming from the BBC. People who accuse the corporation of left-wing or right-wing bias are both right and wrong. The BBC’s real bias, shared by most of the mainstream media, is towards certain key assumptions that take on the status of incontrovertible fact. In some cases, for example gay rights and climate change, the assumptions favour the left. In economics, however, they are generally conservative.

One example is that austerity is presented as painful but sensible and necessary while Keynesian economics is eccentric and even dangerous. What makes Keynesianism both brilliant and hard to sell is that is counter-intuitive to people who mistake national budgets for household budgets writ large. To families sat around the proverbial kitchen table the solution to debt is to spend less and the idea of borrowing your way out of a recession with stimulus spending can seem reckless. It’s instinctive but it’s also wrong and the media shouldn’t settle for accepting and reiterating the kitchen-table “commonsense” view.

Another assumption is that wealth matters more than equality, so rising house prices in the South East are instinctively celebrated despite the social damage they cause, intensifying the north-south imbalance and driving workers on modest incomes, let alone benefit claimants, out of the capital. And multinational corporations are depicted as a delicate flowers who might be driven out of the country every time a policy makes the tiniest dent in their profit margins. Some of the very rich have even convinced themselves that they are victims and the actual victims of the finance industry’s malfeasance are brutal bullies. AIG chief executive Bob Benmosche this week compared anger over bankers’ bonuses to racist lynching in the Deep South decades ago.

Yet another conservative assumption is the idea that the economic traumas of the 1970s (a period of unparalleled equality in Britain by the way) were caused by an excess of socialism instead of a number of different factors including oil shocks. This inaccurate bogeyman is revived unquestiongly any time Labour dares to suggest an even mildly left-wing policy. Justin Webb described Labour’s criticism of big businesses as “a throwback”, as if that side of the argument were as redundant as a Bay City Rollers scarf but much more scary. No matter how many businesses are fined by regulators for outrageous misbehaviour, criticism can only mean the dreaded 70s.

The truth is that most governments in most western countries in most decades have overwhelmingly sided with the interests of the rich. Taxes are relatively low, avoidance is rife and employers are courted more assiduously than workers. “Class war” is only ever invoked to describe the attitude of the have-nots, these resentful ingrates who criticise our beloved wealth creators, even though it has been waged consistently from the top down and every important worker’s right has been fought for, not willingly granted by employers. But of course that side of the war has been normalised; only the other side is deemed unreasonable.

These assumptions shape public opinion and therefore policy, which is why Miliband was too nervous to challenge Webb’s hostile use of “left-wing”. The longer they go unchallenged, the more they become absorbed into the bloodstream so that it becomes almost extremist to suggest otherwise: witness how even “liberal” has become a dirty word in US politics. If the Labour party cannot even admit that, however close to the centre it may be, it is left-wing then it is nothing.

 


UPDATE: I love this George Eaton blog for the New Statesman which uses survey stats to show that on many issues the public is at least as “socialist” as Miliband and sometimes moreso. Two days later, I think I underrated Miliband’s courage this week by focussing too much on the language he used. If his new policies continue to enrage so many conservative commentators then he must be doing something right.

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