Forthcoming novel: The Winds of October

ADVANCE NOTICE:
I have just completed the first draft of my novel The Winds of October, set against the period between the February and October revolutions in Russia in 1917. The plan is to publish to coincide with the anniversary. I think it will be of interest generally, but particularly to people on the Left, exploring the extent to which the revolution was one of the mass of working people and how authoritarian one-party rule came to establish itself. It is planned as a trilogy covering the period 1917 to 1921 and culminating in the Kronstadt rebellion.
My traditional audience is Young Adult. Dealing with themes of violence and sexuality, this will definitely be Y10 upward and hopefully attracting a substantial Adult audience.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #7:

 

I don’t move in the moanocracy’s social circle, but if I did, I would probably hear the crushed pollsters and bewildered opinion writers saying something like this:
“OK, so we have lost all credibility in terms of predicting how the election would shake out, but at least we can act as a collective intellectual anchor, dragging down any optimism about the prospects of a Labour government.”
The polls have, in the last week, been the least arrogant of this squirming nest of diminished reputations. Survation had a good election and shows Labour ahead. YouGov shows Corbyn edging head of May as his star rises and hers spins comically into a fetid, stagnant pond of Tory recrimination. The Tory mantra, sadly repeated by a Grumpy New Labour fringe, is “that Labour didn’t win.”
Well, way to go, Stating the Blindingly Obvious Person. We know. Nobody is saying Corbyn did win. The point is that he and his team, supported by an army of volunteers, raised Labour’s share from 30% to 40% and denied a previously hubristic May a majority. It was the first bold step towards office, not office itself. It has further narrowed the Tories’ room for manoeuvre and shredded their catastrophic Manifesto. Corbyn is now setting the agenda and looks more Prime Ministerial by the day. That is a very significant achievement.
Moany Martin Kettle, the most depressive implement in the discursive kitchen, sums it all up in today’s Guardian. He says getting a Labour majority will be harder. This is code for: “OK, we were talking complete, negative bollocks during the General Election, but we’re right really because Corbynistas are morons, well neuggh.”
Kettle and his various interpretive pots and pans get stuff wrong, not because they don’t know their swings and polls, but because they look at politics from the wrong end of the telescope. They live in permanently Normal Times during which abnormal things don’t happen: young people don’t get excited about politics, politicians don’t mean what they say, parties that won Brexit don’t collapse because they have nothing else to say, Brexit election campaigns don’t talk about just about anything but Brexit, surging remain parties don’t fail to surge and millions of people don’t jettison austerity when the entire media says it is nasty medicine, but good for them. But, Mr Kettle, this all happened. Pop that in your spout and steam about it.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #6:

 

 

 

We can’t have it both ways, of course. We can’t be all: “Don’t trust the polls” when they don’t suit us and all: “Have you seen the polls, yippee!” when they do.” That said, two polls by Survation, the most accurate pollster in the General Election have Labour three points ahead and six points ahead. More importantly, these figures mean Labour has, on these figures, gained fourteen points since May 9th. Much more importantly, Labour’s vote share rose ten per cent in the election.

The Tories are in turmoil. They have a leader whose ear is now ubiquitously described as tin. If anything, that is slightly flattering. Having stumbled through the election campaign, she now has to endure colleagues saying the public should stop using her as “a human punchbag.” When that is your defenders, you are in big trouble. In her worst nightmares, she could not have expected to have her lack of empathy exposed so brutally by the horrific scenes in the Grenfell Tower. Now, she faces the ignominy of Brexit, the issue on which she called the General Election, looking very sticky indeed. David Davis has already conceded a major principle on the timing of different elements of the negotiations, making Mr Hard Brexit look more like Mr Mouldy Biscuit.

Now, caveats are in order. It is great fun taunting the Tories as their ships burn outside Troy, but it wasn’t Calamity May that did for her Premiership. It was a combination of factors outside the Thick of It farce of the Westminster Village. I have never claimed to be anything other than a local socialist activist and scribbler, but I think my pre-election argument that Labour’s short-term divisions over Europe would pale into insignificance compared to the hidden but fatal flawline in Toryism. More significantly, the death throes of austerity and the enduring problems of UK Ltd are coming home to roost, creating a toxic swamp through which the less than intrepid Mrs May must wade. The Tories’ General Election disaster was not caused by May’s personal failings, huge as they are, but twin millstones, grinding her hopes to dust. On the one hand, there is the millstone constituted by Europe, crumbling austerity and the UK economy. On the other, there is the personal integrity of Corbyn, a man who became more popular every time the British public saw him on TV, the army of Labour volunteers campaigning and the vision represented in a very good and credible Manifesto.

Now, some notes of caution. Labour’s votes tend to pile up in their heartlands so we need a much bigger lead to win a majority. That means drawing up target Tory marginals now. There remain obdurate PLP voices, replicated in some CLPs, still resisting project Corbyn which saved so many MPs’ seats. Some Labour organisations are still living in the past, preferring cosy cabals to open, democratic, inclusive mass campaigning, drawing in the new members. The other issue is that the trade union movement and workplace organisation still remains weak. Political advance coinciding with subdued working class organisation is a potential danger.

All that said, few outside Labour’s half million members would have predicted the current situation. We are increasingly well-placed.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #5:

 

 

So who would The PM Who Called a Snap Election to Destroy Labour and Failed to Get a Majority (PMWCSEDLFGM for short) call to save her job? Yes, it is none other than The Wretched Little Sneak Who Stabbed Johnson to Get the Job (WLSWSJGJ for short). This morning, bespectacled froth-merchant WLSWSJGJ employed his best suppressed Scottish intellectual accent to be reasonable and clipped to argue ‘Let’s forget all this stuff about May having a tin ear and get on with gravitas, statesmanship and Brexit and not talking about the loss of innocent lives too much.’

Now, if the notoriously disloyal Brutus of the Commons is to be the frontman of Tory recovery, they really are in trouble. The public will look on and think that when everyone knows the hyenas are circling around the stricken zebra helplessly kicking her leopard-print hooves, it is a bit dangerous to employ the most dangerous and cruel hyena on the savannah to protect her. The simple fact is that the Tories, not Labour, are now the most obvious example of division and backbiting, however they try to massage the message. Found morally wanting over the Grenfell Tower disaster, thwarted in their ambition to destroy Labour as an electoral force, their Brexit plans in tatters, demonstrated to be desperate for a coalition of chaos that could unsettle the peace process in Northern Ireland for short term survival, this is a government that has lost any political authority.

Now, our job is not to chuckle mischievously or analyse this grotesque farce. It is to maintain unity in action and prepare to bury them. As Jeremy Corbyn said last week, Labour has to be on a war footing with a strategy of attack to take the Tory marginals we need to form a government. The circumstances are favourable. The angry response by the community in Kensington demonstrates that a popular, left wing mood is stirring and it is being focussed around the figure of Corbyn.

We are in unsettled, disturbing times, but simultaneously, hope is germinating.

Poem: Grenfell Tower, the arithmetic of grief

Do you know the first time I knew

I was not safe because of my class,

Because of the accident of my birth,

My factory-working parents?

 

I was thirteen, in 1966, World Cup year

And a great pile of dirt

Slid down a hillside in Aberfan, South Wales

And killed children and adults in a school.

 

I wasn’t ready to be angry.

I was too young for that.

I wasn’t ready to be angry.

That would come later.

 

Do you know when I realised

I was ready to be angry?

It was when a chemical plant

Blew up in Flixborough. 28 dead. I was twenty-one.

 

I was ready to be angry then.

I was old enough to walk a picket line.

I was angry enough to push a police horse back

At Lewisham when fascists marched.

 

Do you know when I realised

They even made our leisure time deadly?

It was in 1985 when Bradford City burned

And fifty-six people burned with it.

 

And did we learn? Did we fuck.

They went on treating us like shit,

Our class watching our sport

And the shit came home to roost at Hillsborough.

 

Do you know how long it took to understand

The arithmetic of class? It took me

Twenty-one years, the time it takes

To make a man, an angry man.

 

Here is the arithmetic:

Aberfan, 116 children, 28 adults,

Flixborough, 28 souls,

Bradford, 56 beautiful lives,

Hillsborough 96 unforgotten dead.

 

So here is what I want to know,

Now I get the mathematics of class,

At the Grenfell Tower,

In London Town, when will we know

The number, the calculus of grief?

 

 

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #4

 
The spectacle of commentators who made ludicrous claims about the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn now giving equally ludicrous explanations of how and why it happened, is grotesque. This is not about their ability to rummage effectively through the entrails of a bull. It is a misunderstanding of what politics is.
I remember one definition being the common affairs of the people. In the common affairs of the people, the public make decisions for several reasons: because it furthers their own interests; because it furthers the interests of others they care about; because they become convinced that there is a better way of living.
That is why so many socialists were right to persevere with Jeremy Corbyn and why so many non-socialists and waverers were so wrong to distance themselves from him. The commentariat think that it is only able to achieve office by courting a small section of an arbitrarily decided middle ground. People living in the real world believe that change can be achieved by talking to and convincing millions of ordinary people. All kinds of shifts and changes will occur in the course of the lead-up to the next election. Quite simply, it is not how we read polls or juggle the Thesaurus to find the best word for ‘moderate’ that will determine the outcome. It is what we do. So, anyone who wants an alternative to the Tories, let’s start doing more good things.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #1

“Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #1:
Tory 318, Labour 261 as I write. It is a hung parliament. Theresa May said she would go to the country to win a strengthened mandate. She didn’t get it. That she is going to stay in office despite Labour’s strong showing by relying on an arrangement with the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland shows she has no honour. Clearly, she should go. She is a lame duck Prime Minister, a diminished figure.
Be clear. This is not just because she ran a bad campaign, not just because she is arrogant, not just because she has a tin ear for the interests of working class people, not just because she has the charisma of a parsnip. It is because the people are tired of austerity. It is because Labour has a leader who could give voice to their concerns and because Corbyn increasingly impressed people with his honesty, integrity and policy platform. It is because we have a movement that could put an army of volunteers on the streets to convince people, particularly UKIP voters that Labour was on the march. Possibly, most importantly, Labour started to sink roots outside its metropolitan heartlands, establishing itself as a party that can win the south, the midlands, large parts of Scotland, all this on the basis of an unequivocally socialist leader and growing, grassroots organisation. This must be reflected in all party organisations and the wider Labour movement.
This encouraging result is the beginning, not the end of a process leading to a majority Labour government. Be active. Be active in your CLPs, your campaigns, your trade unions, your communities. Labour must not be a party that does well in one election, but one that represents working people and is there week in, week out.
We are on the march. Once we have had a short period of rest and enjoyment, we build this movement even more strongly.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #2:

Theresa May’s speech yesterday was as stiff as the starched dog collar in a vicar’s wardrobe. When any survivalist politician would have shown herself capable of listening to the public and to her parliamentary party, May chose to lecture the people on what was needed (strength and stability) as if the winds of electoral change had not just stripped her of the little bit of credibility she had left. For her to choose supine deference to the homophobic and anti-feminist Loyalist supremacists of the DUP is the final, shabby act in a wretched farce that has demeaned her and her office.
She will be gone by the autumn and Labour stands on the verge of power as the Tories try to cling to office and squirm and wriggle through a doughy Brexit with hard chunks and some liquid. There are possibly traces of salmonella too. Corbyn will, as he has done in recent times, coopting Burnham and Cooper supporters into his team, draw on talents outside his own circle. Given the make-up of the CLP, he has little choice. Domestic opponents of his radical, reforming projects are discovering that, contrary to previous reports, they really do quite like Jeremy. It is now imperative that we strengthen the left in the CLPs and wards so that our left wing Manifesto is not neutralised and our left wing leadership is not held hostage by Mandelson-style pleas for the top team to compromise with the baleful ghosts of post-Blairism.

Facts for a bug-eyed Tory

Some facts for a bug-eyed Tory.

 

Nuclear states in the world:

 

United States

Russian Federation

United Kingdom

France

China

India

Pakistan

North Korea

State believed to have nuclear weapons:

Israel

 

Number of countries in the world:

196

 

Distance between the UK and North Korea:

5,219 miles

 

Number of nuclear weapons in the world:

27,000

 

Estimated deaths of the Tsar bomb, the largest tested by Russia, hitting London:

5,778,170

 

Morality of First Use:

zero

 

School visit review

This is a review of my school visit to Lytham High School by librarian Gerry Bruen.

 

“Author Visit: Alan Gibbons

I just thought I’d share our experience of having Alan Gibbons in school last week. We had of course been promoting his titles in the months leading up to the visit, with his latest novel, The Trap, which focuses on a terrorist attack. The week of Alan’s visit was the last before the summer half term, and began with the shocking attack in Manchester, which 4 of our students escaped unhurt from. 

After having some discussions at school with SLT it was decided to contact Alan and had a conversation about how we might continue with the event in such a way as to lighten everyone’s load and see the students off safely on their half-term break. Alan was really very understanding – even agreeing not to promote The Trap – and managed to deliver two stellar sessions to large groups of younger readers in the morning. He was just great with the kids and got them all laughing and listening closely to his pathway into writing. Beginning with his early childhood, he took them through his love of the Beatles and American soul music which then took him into the politics of equality, justice and the Civil Rights movement. Using a PPT with some great YouTube clips, and a cracking sound track, he carefully outlined how he connected the personal up to the social and political, and how that flourished into a career and lifetime of writing. All the staff that attended (including Head of English and the Deputy Head) agreed that he managed to get the balance just right. Many of the students had been reading his thrillers in advance, and I’m sure that given the shocking events that had just happened nearby, appreciated the very, very funny mix of self-deprecating humour and pathos of his childhood years and growing up. Of course he wove in his books with hard-hitting themes, and he did so with a very positive message and spirit. 

During the afternoon, he delivered two masterclass writing sessions with smaller groups of PP boys from years 7-9, which was very interesting to watch from my point of view. He took students closely through a short section of a Hollywood film. By pausing it continually, he led them through the film really slowly and carefully as they formed a short piece of writing describing the action and mood of the scenes. The students – all able but under performing learners – got what was expected of them straight away and just got stuck into their writing for the duration of the session without fuss or distraction.

Alan was excellent.”