Douglas Alexander’s speech today is a travesty of superficiality and bland meaningless utterances about more powers for the Scottish Parliament. It’s not so much light as non-existent. There is, literally no content, no actual detail at all. It is a phantasmagoria and the MP comes over as little more than a stage-hypnotist mouthing incantations to a welcoming media filter. The text is bolstered only by odd references (“Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote …”). If this is Labour’s heavyweight oratory setting out an alternative to independence then god help them.
It’s need to be examined because the pliant media, deferential to this London Minister, and self-styled Christian Socialist are reporting his speech in hushed tones.
He makes some fantastical claims about Britain, past present and future and lays great play at ‘Devo Max’ a notion that remains ill-defined, that his own party opposed being on the ballot in September and that his own MPs are actively organising against as he speaks.
Let’s take a look at just three elements of his speech.
Alexander says: “The UK is not perfect. But as a multinational, multiethnic, multiracial country it works in a way that is the envy of most other nations.” This is in the week that we witnessed the English Defence League and the BNP erected gallows at the trial of those accused of murdering Lee Rigby, a tragic and depressing sign of the Britain Alexander’s party helped create.
He must have a short memory about what policies have produced such chaos on the streets of Britain, and he seems to have a complete mindblank about the context of British Foreign Policy that he has been party to and its disastrous consequences.
He’s forgotten the court case last year in which Kenyan victims of British atrocities were awarded £20m in compensation. Writing an account of the period Iain Cobain recounts: “Men were whipped, clubbed, subjected to electric shocks, mauled by dogs and chained to vehicles before being dragged around. Some were castrated. The same instruments used to crush testicles were used to remove fingers. It was far from un-common for men to be beaten to death.” Nicola Mercer writing a review of Cobain’s book ‘Cruel Britannia’ writes:
This savagery by the British continues throughout the colonial period and Cobain details the campaigns in Cyprus against EOKA and in the Aden Emergency where yet more torture was perpetrated on those we captured. The book then makes interesting references to the refinement of torture techniques which were developed in between 1950-1970 known as an “assault on the mind” whereby far subtler techniques capable of causing “irreparable psychological damage” were developed. The scientists found that a combination of five things: sensory deprivation through hooding, together with enforced stress positions, white noise, sleep prevention and very little food together produced “stress that was almost unbearable for most subjects”.
This resulted in what became known as the “five techniques” which were subsequently employed against the IRA during interment in 1971 and later banned in the case of Ireland v UK in the European Court of Human Rights in 1978.
It’s a peculiarly inane declaration that thinks Britain a beacon of ‘multinationality multiethnicity and multiracial’ happiness that ignores the recent military history in Ireland, the mass riots that swept Bristol, Manchester, London, Liverpool, and Birmingham in 2011 or the extraordinary revelations about ‘institutional racism’ in the Met.
Reading Alexander’s speech you have the realisation that he must live in a virtual cocoon into which this reality cannot seep. Back in the real world his description sounds hollow. It’s a world in which UKIP in the ascendancy and where the Hate Van doesn’t tour our streets. He sounds like the epitome of what Gerry Hassan has described as ‘increasingly self-satisfied, insular, and out of touch London political class.’
His fantasy of harmony is only matched by his delusional sense about social equality.
“Understand this – the solidarity built within these islands is a moral example to the world.”
Really? This beggars belief. This is the fourth mist unequal country in the world. The media culpability on accepting this as it jars against reality is a real phenomenon.
According to the recently published Marmot Report on inequality and health, one in four children live in poverty, and rising food poverty in the UK has led to what’s been described as a ‘Public health emergency’ with one in six GPs referring a patient to food banks in the last year alone.
This reality has passed Alexander by. Instead he declares:
“We act together to ensure UK-wide pensions, common UK social insurance, child and family benefits, minimum wage, and a system of equalising resources” …
As does any contemporary European state. His claim of exceptionalism is ridiculous. He goes on:
“Everyone, irrespective of where they live within the United Kingdom, has the same basic democratic, social and economic rights.”
Setting aside the obvious failure of democracy that has led us to this referendum debate, this is a claim that has no basis. There’s a mass of evidence that contradicts his blithe claims. See the Equality Trust here.
Researcher Danny Dorling has suggested that in Britain elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair are replacing Beveridge’s five social evils at the dawn of the welfare state (ignorance, want, idleness, squalor and disease), and have become so entrenched in Britain and some other affluent countries that they uphold an unjust system that perpetuates extreme inequality.
You don’t have to exaggerate Britain as some sort of hopeless dystopia to just begin to examine some of the harsh realities that Alexander seems oblivious to.
The worst aspect of his speech may not be the rose-tinted apolitical world picture he paints, it may be its Blairite content-free form. He argues: “we should embrace further devolution of powers within the UK and within Scotland” yet actually in no point in this speech does he state what these powers might actually be. With Labour MPs threatening to boycott their own conference in Perth and organising against any further powers, perhaps that was wise.