Why Jeremy Corbyn must hold off the plotters for the sake of British politics

The Labour Party Announce Their New Leader And Deputy Leader

This is meant to be a TV-related blog but as politics takes up a large number of the average household’s viewing hours per week via the news we’ll cheat a little on those grounds to sidestep from the comforting world of fiction out into the cold new dawn of the depressing political landscape we find ourselves in. Of course the often farcical scenes played out on screens in the House of Commons, particularly at Prime Minister’s Question Time over the years, with its braying donkeys on both sides of the divide, may well be viewed as entertainment, of a fashion, if it were not for the fact that the debates taking place hold the key to our future well being. Those taking part, of course, often lead sheltered lives, immune from the fluctuations of the British economy but to many millions across the country at the bottom end of our society there must be a sense of helplessness and frustration that the matters which so crucially affect their day to day lives and wellbeing, as well their future hopes and aspirations, can be treated as a pantomime theatre with cheap insults replacing policy debate. How can the working classes be expected to engage in the political world when they see the elected leaders of the country reduce the arena to that of cheap sideshow with nothing much ever changing for those in low incomes regardless of which side has grasped the reins of power? Just like the disenfranchised black vote in America, why bother to engage with democracy when it seems so pointless?

This why Jeremy Corbyn has been a breath of fresh air to British politics and the support he enjoys outside of his self-serving MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party, out among the wider membership of the party, is the only real hope we’ve had of a sea change in the political landscape for many decades. In fact, probably since the post-war Labour government and the creation of the NHS. Because for the first time in anyone’s memory those who were previously thought to be outside the political arena are now engaging in it and flocking to join a Labour Party with Corbyn as its leader who is putting their interests at the centre of his agenda rather than those of the establishment. No leader of a political party has enjoyed such a surge of enthusiasm from his or her party members in the modern era and that is why the MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party who have attempted to subvert democracy by overturning the will of the membership must be defeated.

The scale of the betrayal of the membership by the plotting MPs is quite breathtaking. They realise there is no democratic mandate for their actions in trying to oust their elected leader so they have descended to bullying instead. Launching vitriolic attacks upon their leader behind closed doors at parliamentary meetings to try and break his spirit they are endeavouring to force him out of office rather than daring to take the democratic path of actually fielding a candidate against him in a leadership contest. Despite days and days  of warnings that a leadership bid would be coming soon, none has been forthcoming. There is one simple answer as to why this is the case, why they don’t try – fairly and squarely – to vote him out of his position. They would lose. Not only would they lose but all indications are they would lose very heavily indeed and that Corbyn, far from being the political liability they tell us he is, would actually increase his mandate from the membership.

Since he carried the leadership battle last year, membership of the party has more than doubled as people, once content to watch helplessly from the fringes of politics, suddenly re-engaged with the process and decided to throw their weight behind a leader who was saying the things they wanted to hear. Over 60,000 new members have joined since the Brexit vote alone and the smart money is on these being people who are so appalled by the attacks on Corbyn by his own MPs that they have decided to join in order to shore up the support of someone who speaks for them. The Labour MPs don’t want these people joining their party. They don’t want the people who joined last year. They would prefer a much smaller party which they are able to control without the unpleasantness of having to deal with the wishes of a membership who wanted them to engage in debating policies which directly impacted their lives. Make no doubt about it. This attempt to overthrow Corbyn is indeed a coup in every sense of the word – an attempt to overthrow an elected leader against the wishes of the electorate by a small rump of those seeking their own un-democratic agenda. It must not succeed.

Corbyn 2

Corbyn’s support among young voters was unique among his rivals for the leadership in 2015 and helped create an unstoppable campaign bolstered by social media.

 

The coup, of course was all pre-planned. Several newspapers and agencies have been receiving briefings from anonymous MPs and their teams of advisors for months signalling that the move against Corbyn’s leadership would take place immediately after the EU referendum. They have never been able to accept that the party’s membership elected this figure they have so little in common with, never been able to accept that the membership wanted this historically working class party to represent working class issues. All the while they have been plotting behind their leader’s back, since the very first day of his newly assembled shadow cabinet. Collectively, they realised that they couldn’t refuse to serve under him (though several die-hards did just that) as to do so would be to bring them into a direct clash with the membership who had given him such a clear political mandate for taking the party forward. Instead they would bide their time and hope that the wheels would come off the Corbyn bus and that the membership had been afflicted by only a temporary madness which they would recover their senses from. It soon became clear that this was not the case. The membership by and large were very happy with the direction and style of Corbyn’s leadership. As time dragged by they realised that they couldn’t launch any bid to oust him before the local elections which also coincided with the jewel in the crown of mayoral elections in London. Almost immediately afterwards would be the EU referendum and, again, it would be folly to create division at such time. Therefore, many months ahead, these un-mandated coup leaders plotted out the course of events and decided that, come what may, Corbyn would be gone immediately after the referendum.

For the plotters the Leave result of the referendum must have seemed like an early Christmas present. Struggling to come up with any justifiable reason for replacing an elected leader against the will of the larger party they were now able to fabricate a reason which they could rally behind. Not only would their own rebel faction be able to repeat it like a mantra but it would be owned by those in other parties who had been on the same side of the Remain debate leading to a demonisation of Corbyn in the press. This ludicrous new banner hoisted into the air for the plotters to rally around was simply this: that the Leave victory in the referendum was all Corbyn’s fault, a piece of nonsense which quickly took hold and which proves the maxim that when you want to convince people of a lie you must make the lie as big as possible.

Suddenly, the Leave vote wasn’t the fault of David Cameron, a Prime Minister who had taken his country to the brink of economic oblivion in order to quell a few Eurosceptics sitting on his own backbenches. Cameron had sought not only to quieten down dissent within his own party but to steal votes from UKIP at the general election by offering the same central promise in their manifesto. He had gambled that he would never have to press the referendum button as every opinion poll showed that a hung parliament was the only likely outcome and the Liberal Democrats would surely veto any suggestion of a potentially dangerous referendum as the price of their support for his Premiership. Faced with a surprise victory he hadn’t forseen he was then forced to go ahead with the referendum and was only able to deliver the support of a little over 40% of his own party supporters. But, no, it wasn’t Cameron’s fault that we ended up out of the EU.

Similarly it was no longer Boris Johnson’s fault either. This was the man who jumped ship into the Leave campaign as a calculated political gamble to land the leadership of his party and the title of Prime Minister that he hoped would go with it. An act of monumental folly with ego and ambition as its root cause he had also campaigned for something he hoped would never happen. Just as Cameron had thought he would never have to deliver the referendum he promised so Johnson believed he could never win. However, with Cameron having already stated that he would not campaign for a third term in office, Johnson had hoped that he would emerge as the plucky fighter who had stood up for British interests and who had taken a principled stand (even if the truth was the complete opposite), even though it was in opposition to the party grandees, and that he would then emerge as the overwhelming favourite in the leadership election a few years down the line. Johnson was another gambler who was left defeated by winning. The game he was playing had been to lose in the short term but to emerge triumphant down the line. Few can forget the look of bemusement and pain on his face as he gave his “victory” speech the morning after the referendum result. His political career has already crumbled to dust, as justice required it to do so, in light of the potential economic disaster he has visited on our shores, of the unleashing of powers of racism in our land and the sheer exposed idiocy of playing roulette with the welfare of a nation for personal political gain. But apparently it wasn’t his fault either.

No, apparently it was all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault for “not campaigning hard enough”. Of course the actual Labour MPs who came out in support of Brexit and campaigned hard for it are also apparently blameless. Presumably some of them have even joined in the attack on Corbyn’s leadership which would be an irony among ironies. No, easier and more convenient to lay the blame at the door of the leader and provide an excuse for the coup which was already planned to happen in those days following the referendum anyway. The argument goes that Corbyn didn’t campaign strongly and that therefore not enough Labour voters came out in support of Remain. Even setting aside the woeful figures of support from his typical party voters that David Cameron was able to deliver this argument doesn’t hold a lot of water. Firstly, Corbyn delivered almost two thirds of his party supporters for the Remain vote. This was a highly credible result given that many typical Labour supporters at the bottom end of the class system in the UK are the people who have been directly punished by six years of Conservative austerity measures. For these people, some of the outrageous lies told by the Leave campaign seemed to offer a way out of their poverty or, at the very least, couldn’t make them any worse off. History has taught us over and over again that those who have had their dreams and aspirations crushed, their communities destroyed by economic gloom are the most likely to reach out to wild new political offers when a crossroads is reached. That Corbyn was still able to deliver so much of the Labour support base should be celebrated, not lambasted.

Secondly, Corbyn actually delivered a share of Labour voters for Remain that was just one per cent lower than Nicola Sturgeon did for the SNP in Scotland. Sturgeon has emerged as perhaps the one true winner of the EU referendum with a party basking in praise for delivering Scotland for the Remain camp. She now almost certainly will be able to press forward with a campaign to bring about a second Scottish independence referendum and few would vote on her losing it at this stage. However, the actual facts don’t really back up this picture. Sturgeon actually only delivered a fractionally higher percentage of SNP voters for Remain than Corbyn did. And this was in Scotland, a country much more naturally inclined towards Remain than the citizens south of the border. So here we have the slightly strange spectacle of Sturgeon being praised for delivering 65% of her supporters, and somehow gaining credit for the whole Scottish vote, whereas Corbyn is attacked for delivering 64% and is blamed for losing the entire UK referendum. The logic of the plotters is simply out of touch with reality and it can be seen for what it is – a convenient peg for them to hang their pre-existing prejudices on against a democratically elected leader which they wish to depose against the wishes of the party membership.

Corbyn 3

Cameron and the Tories have attacked Corbyn’s dress style in the hope of targeting those shallow enough to care about such things ahead of policy.

 

Of course, knowing that they couldn’t win any leadership contest against him due to the inconvenience of the members being firmly behind Corbyn they have been forced to rely on ever more desperate alternative measures. First of all there was the orchestrated series of resignations. Coming in batches at a time – even though the whole thing had been pre-planned for many months – to ensure that it kept generating news headlines for several days rather than just one story with everyone resigning en masse. They had hoped that Corbyn would be embarrassed out of office. It didn’t work. Corbyn’s nerve held in the face of an unrelenting onslaught against him as the MPs – against the wishes of their own constituency parties – sought to humiliate him in public. His declaration that he would not betray those who elected him as leader was heartening. The MPs now had to resort to their Plan B.

The second strategy for the rebel MPs was that they would hold a Vote of No Confidence among the Parliamentary party. Once more this was an undemocratic process as it had no standing whatsoever within the rules of the party. Knowing they couldn’t win a leadership contest they persisted with their campaign of humiliation with the equivalent of a kangaroo court which delivered a verdict no one had to listen to or act upon but which continued to generate news headlines. Furthermore, the cowards attempting the coup made the vote a secret ballot to encourage further dissent behind the cloak of anonymity. The headlines of course proclaimed the overwhelming vote against Corbyn, What they didn’t share with the British public on the news bulletins that evening was a simple piece of analysis. When Corbyn had stood for the leadership he had so little support among the MPs that he fell well short of the 35 nominations required to make it onto the ballot. After a request that some MPs could come forth and nominate him “just to widen the debate” in the leadership campaign a number came forward at the last minute to give him their nominations and the rest is history with the actual membership deciding he was their favoured candidate by a long margin. Despite only having about 20 MPs a year earlier who were prepared to come out in favour of him before the call to widen the ballot, Corbyn, despite the sniping and the pre-planned coup attempt now commanded the support of over forty MPs. Even in a group who had never wanted him and who thought they knew better than the party’s membership his support had actually grown.

With Corbyn refusing to budge after the sham of the No Confidence vote the plotters were forced into ever more fanciful plans. Legal advice was taken on whether they could actually appropriate the party name. In other words, could they all just shuffle down the benches in Parliament and declare that they were actually the Labour Party and not Corbyn and his remaining supporters? Needless to say, this ludicrous idea was knocked back almost instantly. Next up though, as they span through the alphabet of plans, was the idea of seeking legal advice to see if they could exclude Corbyn from the ballot in a forthcoming election. This is perhaps the most desperate of all their plans, as well as being by far the least democratic and displaying a clear and total contempt for the membership. They can’t win an election so they want to rig it so that it is fixed in their favour, to cheat by excluding the man who would clearly walk away with victory. Legal advice seems to think that Corbyn must – as common sense and democratic values would suggest – be automatically on the ballot. The rebels are clinging to some sort of rival advice but it is clear that they think their attempt doomed or they would have come forward to launch the challenge already.

And so the plotters continue to snipe away each day. Gone is any attempt to hold the Tories to account for taking the country out of the EU. Gone is any attempt to set the country on a course where we might actually recover from this moment of supreme folly. Gone is any attempt to rally behind a banner and fight for the rights and living standards of the oppressed in this country who are sure to feel any potential pain from Brexit first and hardest. Instead, the plotters want to overturn an elected leader who still commands vast support to parachute one of their number into his position against the will of the party.

Corbyn 4

Corbyn with the late Tony Benn, figurehead of the old school left wing of the party.

 

Of course, the bleating about the Brexit disaster being his fault holds less water with each passing day so the plotters have to put forward another reason for removing Corbyn in their attempted coup and they fall back on their old tried and tested “the party is unelectable under his leadership”. It’s a very strange line to take in that it doesn’t seem to bear up well under any scrutiny at all. Aside from the fact that Corbyn has won eight straight elections as MP for Islington North in London and then swept to power with the highest level of support for a Labour leader for generations the party under his leadership seems to have been doing extraordinarily well in the electoral tests put before it so far. They have won every single by-election they have contested since he took over, and managed to increase their majority on each occasion. They have won every single mayoral contest as well, including the prized Mayor of London. They also, despite predictions across the media of losing control of swathes of councils all over England, managed to control the exact same number as before the 2016 council elections and won 1326 seats to the Conservatives’ 842. It was a resounding victory which held onto and matched the resounding the victory from the last time the seats were contested.

Despite this, anyone watching the BBC News coverage of the council results in particular could be forgiven for thinking that Labour had somehow lost almost everything with all the reporting focussing on Corbyn’s inability to make some sort of breakthrough. Obviously, scoring over 50% more seats than the government must be a sign of failure in some parallel mirror world. But not in reality. Or outside of the heads of the plotters who by this stage had resorted to grasping at anything to back up their unpopulist campaign. They just keep trotting out the mantra of unelectability over and over and over until, they hope, enough people are swayed by it.

The plotters have also desperately tried to gain some credibility for their campaign of disloyalty by saying that Corbyn himself was a rebel who voted against the party line on hundreds of occasions in parliamentary votes so he can hardly complain when the boot is on the other foot and MPs oppose his viewpoints. As I’ve already said, some of their arguments are particularly desperate and this one is really something else. Corbyn’s principled stands on a range of issues since he was elected to the House of Commons in 1983 has often seen him come into conflict with the party leadership of Labour. However, when you see what he was voting against it becomes clear why he was rebelling. When he was rebelling against the war in Iraq he was doing so not only from a position of morality but also echoing the view of the vast majority of the people of Britain. When he has opposed any cuts to welfare services he has done so again from a position of morality and for the interests of the British public. It is interesting that the rebel plotters who oppose him – to a man and woman – voted either with the Tory government last year to cut welfare for the very worst off members of society or to abstain. Corbyn voted against these measures, despite the advice from the stand-in leader at the time, Harriet Harman, that the Labour Party should support the Tory attack on the weakest members of society, a truly despicable instruction which it’s hard to imagine could ever be uttered from the lips of a Labour leader. Fortunately, when Corbyn took over the party he was able to stop these welfare cuts in their tracks and put a block on the Tory plans.

Corbyn 5

Corbyn was never afraid to protest for what he believed was morally right, as seen here campaigning against apartheid.

 

As I write this it is the eve of the publication of the long-awaited Chilcot Report into the Iraq War. Incredibly, many of the rebel MPs who are saying that Corbyn is unelectable and doesn’t represent Labour were people who voted in support of Tony Blair’s illegal war which has led to – even at the very lowest end of the estimates with the most conservative body count numbers – hundreds of thousands of innocent, ordinary Iraqi civilian deaths with a country shattered beyond all hope of ever being fixed and with vast swathes of its territory now under the command of the Islamic State and providing a hotbed for terrorist attacks on the area and the West. Even Blair has now admitted that the war caused the rise of Islamic State and, despite there actually being no terrorism in Iraq before the war (along with no weapons of mass destruction), we have now created the very thing Blair and his cronies lied about – a state which provides a very real and constant terrorist threat across the whole region and right up to our own shores. Oh, and we just happen to have spent untold billions of pounds to help produce this human disaster into the bargain. Corbyn warned in parliament and at rallies that this very thing would happen and that the war would “set off a spiral of conflict, of misery, of hate, of desperation that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, the depression of future generations.” He was right. And yet so many Labour MPs stood by Blair and voted with him and his flimsy validity for his actions. No wonder they wanted Corbyn removed before the Chilcot Report as they will have to shoulder the responsibility for their actions and the untold death and suffering it has unleashed.

The plotters say they represent the best chance of election success and yet it will be Corbyn in the days ahead on the side of the general public, and who has always been so, with his stand against the war. It is Corbyn who is reconnecting with voters by opposing austerity while the previous leadership actually dared to suggest that some limited form of austerity – some Tory-lite vision – was the answer to the nation’s woes. Woes brought about by an economic crash and banking crisis enabled by the Blair/Brown administration and focussed into punishing the poor by the Tory successors to their government with six years of austerity so far, while at the same time cutting taxes for the richest in society. Corbyn’s anti-austerity campaigning is the only thing likely to make Labour electable and relevant once more. Isn’t it ironic, and almost head-shakingly unbelievable, that the very people within the Parliamentary Labour Party who are claiming Corbyn has made them unelectable are also the very people who have held sway over the party as it has just lost two consecutive General Elections. And not just lost two elections. No, they have lost two elections to a Tory party of rich guffawing Eton boys who actually stood on a platform of austerity – i.e. of making people poorer. Even after losing one election to these creatures and with the Tories offering up another five years of austerity in their election pledges, alongside welfare cuts for the poor, the previous Labour regime was unable to win. If you can’t win those elections then how can you expect to ever win? It is clear that Corbyn’s alternative to the Tory attack on the working classes is the only route back to power and the opinion polls agree in that he has moved the party from trailing a long distance behind the Tories to a position where they were actually in the lead before normal politics was suspended for the referendum push. Again, why let the facts get in the way of the matter? The plotters just keep trotting out the same lies over and over until people start to believe them. Suddenly the people who lost two elections in a row are lecturing the leader who restored the party lead in the polls and who won every elected contest under his leadership on the issue of electability.

Corbyn not only stands for the voice of the downtrodden in our society and for those who had previously felt disenfranchised but he made a point of trying to usher in a new style of politics. His request for a less confrontational manner at Prime Minister’s Question Time was met with agreement from Cameron. Of course it was, as to disagree with it would appear incredibly unreasonable. Of course, it didn’t take long for the Tory leader to revert to type and while Corbyn was interested in bringing the voices of real people into the weekly debate via emailed questions Cameron and his cronies not only ridiculed him for doing so but, on one infamous occasion, instead of answering a question, decided to attack Corbyn for the general style of his clothes to gain a few cheap column inches and soundbites on the news. This may well be the style of British politics the Tories are happy with but there is a better way and it is good to see a leader of a major British party who is prepared to stand up for it. It’s also good to see a leader who in the EU debate was prepared to stand up for what he actually believed in – that the EU had many failings and needed much reform but that it was the best option on the table and that we should stick with it to ensure worker’s freedoms and rights and a more prosperous shared future – rather than trade lies with the opposing camp in a manner that reduced the whole debate to a smokescreen of untruths which only served to turn many away from voting at all. If anything was going to turn traditional Labour voters away from the Remain camp it wasn’t Corbyn’s reasonable position on the matter in the face of a storm of lies from both sides. No, it was much more likely to be the presence of the toxic Tony Blair who got wheeled out in the final days.

Events often move fast in the world of politics and it is possible that by the time you read this much of it will already have been obsoleted by unfolding developments. Corbyn may have already lost and the plotters may have succeeded in overturning the democracy of their party. I hope this is not the case. Corbyn is a man of principles who genuinely cares about creating a more equal society. Yes, he has very little support among his own MPs but given that they have voted in support of illegal wars and in cutting the benefits of the most struggling sections of our populace they are not people who you would perhaps want on your side anyway. The plotters have decided that they want to live in a bubble and ignore the groundswell of opinion which has seen the membership of the party reinvigorated and ready to take the fight to the Tories. They have decided to fight a civil war at a time when the country needs a vision of a way forward during a national crisis. Perhaps figures like Angela Eagle, constantly  threatening to launch a leadership challenge but never actually doing so as she knows she can’t actually win, who seems content to destabilise the party rather than support the elected leader against a common enemy, will find herself in the position of being de-selected by her constituency party who are appalled by her actions. Maybe then she and some of the others will get a lesson in how democracy actually works.

The hope is that Corbyn will be able to see off the rebels through a negotiated settlement  with the help of the unions which sees them come back into the fold or that they finally put their money where their mouth is and hold an election in which there can only be one winner. Either way, I can only hope that the man who has spoken for the traditional Labour voters and reached out to bring a wave of new young voices into the party can hold this anti-democratic coup at bay. It’s time to be fighting battles against austerity and forging an agenda for how we deal with the fallout from Brexit rather than dealing with MPs who no longer even command the support of their own constituency parties, let alone the wider membership of the party, let alone the country.

If you would like to help Jeremy Corbyn remain as leader of The Labour Party to continue to speak for a fairer society please consider joining the party as a full member or becoming a registered supporter for just £3 by clicking on this link.

 

 

 

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Magical Mystery Tour – why the Beatles’ first failure is an enduring success

Critics don’t always get things right, even when they broadly agree with each other. The history of the arts in the twentieth century is littered with works which were panned, dismissed or subject to lukewarm contemporary reviews which have gone on to be hailed as masterpieces. Hitchcock’s Vertigo has been voted the best film of all time by the BFI’s Sight and Sound magazine despite the mixed reviews upon its initial release. The Rolling Stones were subjected to a range of polarising opinions of their 1972 album Exile on Main Street when it was first released and yet now it has cemented its position as their most celebrated work. To suggest that this 1967 effort made by The Beatles at the end of the Summer of Love and broadcast on BBC1 on Boxing Day of that year can be elevated to such heights would be very wide of the mark. However, forget what you’ve heard about this being a dreadful mistake, a terrible film, disposable nonsense or The Beatles going off the rails without the guiding hand of their manager, Brian Epstein, as it’s not only inventive, original and influential but, more importantly, as a record of Britain in 1967 and as a love letter to post war England, it actually stands up as quite an important piece of work.

The most enduring slice of conventional wisdom regarding this television special is that it demonstrates just how much The Beatles missed Epstein’s guiding hand and that they started going off the rails almost immediately without him. Epstein, so the story goes, would never have allowed them to make such a mess of a film and would have overseen something much more palatable to the general audience watching at Christmas. On the face of it, this theory seems to have something going for it, chronologically speaking, but it’s not really the case. While Epstein tragically took his life in August 1967 and filming commenced the following month, he was already on board with the early planning and had given his approval. However, it can also be argued that Epstein had long since ceased to be the guiding force behind the group anyway. As these young men expanded their creative boundaries as the 60s progressed so they began to leave behind those who had moulded them in the simpler days when they had been the Mop Tops from Liverpool. Now they were owned by the world and with the critical success of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band behind them they believed they could branch out their musical styles and even embrace other mediums. They were on the cutting edge and Epstein, who had astutely managed their early career, was not headed on the same path as they were. It must have been a blow to him when they had announced that they weren’t prepared to do any more touring after their gig at Candlestick Park in the US the year before and the direction of their music from Tomorrow Never Knows on the Revolver album onwards was one that Epstein knew could never be performed in front of screaming fans. Magical Mystery Tour therefore is where The Beatles were heading anyway, with or without the increasingly peripheral figure of Epstein.

It is a sign of the confidence in the group at the tail-end of the summer of ’67 that they decided to spend several weeks shooting a film, directed by themselves, with no script, adlibbing scenes and just seeing what would happen. They had a number of new songs composed for the occasion – all of them strong and all the more remarkable for coming in the same creative outburst which had already produced their most famous album that year. While the songs where an essential part of the special which the BBC had agreed to show there would often be only the most tangential of relations to what was going on in the film. Self indulgent? Perhaps. But watching The Beatles indulge themselves in an English summer at the height of their creative powers is still something that is, at the very least, of historical importance, above and beyond the other merits of the finished article.

In the immediate aftermath of the TV special’s broadcast it was clear that many of the viewing public hadn’t shared the group’s appetite for increasingly avant garde styles in music and film. Many of their old fanbase were perhaps disappointed not to see a string of the old hits performed when it was broadcast at peak viewing time at 8.35pm on BBC1 and even the establishment and older viewers who had come to adore the loveable Liverpool rogues would have been left cold by some of the more disturbingly surreal and nightmarish dreamscape sequences. There was also the fact that Magical Mystery Tour just screams “colour” from the screen and yet was broadcast initially in black and white, losing so many of its rich layers in the process. Even a colour repeat which was hastily scheduled would have been enjoyed only by the small fragment of the viewers who could afford the luxury of a colour television in 1967 when almost everything was broadcast in monochrome.

And yet, despite the negative reviews and a population left nonplussed by their efforts, The Beatles had created something which would only be fully appreciated in the years to come, when so much of what they were paying tribute to had faded from the culture of Britain and their film would stand as a testimony to what had been. Much like their contemporaries, The Kinks, whose Village Green Preservation Society album acted as a similar paean to a waning culture of old England and music hall entertainment, it was only when the object of their tribute had ceased to be that a record of it became all the more important. In this sense, it really doesn’t matter what people thought of Magical Mystery Tour at the time, the contemporary reviews almost worthless. What matters much more is watching it now. Like Dylan and many other stellar acts in the music scene of the mid to late Sixties, The Beatles were evolving at such a pace that many of their fans couldn’t keep up. History would be the true final arbiter of whether it succeeded as art.

Watching it now it’s hard not to be beguiled by the strong juxtapositions within the film – those of an old, seemingly timeless working class English culture with the wild imaginings of psychedelic pop culture. The latter almost appears to be the enemy of the former and yet the mish-mash of styles and sensibilities unites to create an even stronger bond of English culture in general. It’s now almost as far back to 1967 as it was then to the beginnings of the things they were celebrating with bus sing-alongs and boozy halls full of tupenny entertainment. As we advance through the 21st century it becomes easier to see 20th century culture as part of a glorious whole rather than what would have been seen as unconnected leaps from one thing to another at the time. Those who had listened to Sgt Pepper that year would already have heard The Beatles wallowing in the circus world of Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite and its kaleidoscope of sounds which faithfully recreated the listeners’ childhoods while blending it into the new psychadelia. Now they were doing it in visual form.

The idea of the tour at all was based heavily, according to George Harrison, on the old charabanc bus tours from Liverpool to see the illuminations in Blackpool where passengers would bring an accordion and beer and enjoy themselves singing along the way. The age in which The Beatles had grown up was one in which “whist drives” were popular and people still felt a sense of novelty about being able to drive out of their busy cities and into the countryside. In a time when car ownership was still a rich man’s game following the war mystery tours and bus outings to nearby locations were popular pastimes.

Setting the scene for this tour the opening of the movie essentially acts as its own trailer showing a whirlwind of images and characters from the forthcoming attraction with the joyous title track pumping out over the top, but we also see Ringo wandering into John Lennon’s little corner shop to buy his tickets for the outing. This grounding in the back street world of real England is continued through to the first scene after the titles as Ringo and his aunt, a very large and constantly complaining woman played to great effect by Jessie Robins, struggle up a steep hill of terraced houses. The bickering adlibbing between these two is wonderful, particularly the deadpan Ringo, obviously fancying already his later move into acting. In fact, as the film evolves and changes direction throughout its runtime it’s a pity we don’t get more of these two together.

The bus itself is filled with a wide spectrum of characters, many of them grotesque caricatures. Alongside the Beatles themselves are voluptuous dolly birds, a dwarf, a deeply boring old man by the name of Buster Bloodvessel and Derek Royle’s insanely chipper tour guide, Jolly Jimmy. It seems almost obvious in retrospect that this is a film with only the most casual of outlines, often made up on the spot, and their first stop on the mystery tour is, bizarrely, at an army barracks where Victor Spinetti (a veteran of previous Beatles films) plays an army officer who speaks at a thousand miles an hour in a never-ending scream to remain constantly unintelligible. It doesn’t really work, makes no real sense at all and you can imagine teenagers at home, who had forced their parents into watching the film on the one family television set, squirming under their perplexed gaze. Like a few segments of the movie it is far from successful but you can also see it as part of the changing world of British comedy at the time. John Lennon in particular was a fan of the absurdist strand of comedy which could trace a lineage back to Edward Lear through Spike Milligan. Milligan’s antics in The Goon Show would have been a huge influence on him, as they would be on Monty Python’s Flying Circus by the decade’s end. Already, the individual Pythons were trying out new formats in shows such as Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show. If some of Magical Mystery Tour doesn’t work either comedically or as part of the film it can still be forgiven when viewed in the context of the new face of British humour at this time.

But then, as with much of the film, something which doesn’t work at all is followed immediately by something which works superbly. Dissolving from the army quarters to an airfield, the passengers are all lined up for a race, despite the clear mismatch of little children, the dwarf, large fat ladies and other misfits. It turns into a glorious chase in cars and the tour bus itself, driven both in real-life and in the film by Ringo, before culminating in a group photograph taken on an old 19th century camera on tripod with the dwarf photographer turning into a bear in the process. It’s a fun slice of surreal mayhem with the added bonus of The Beatles tipping their hats to their past as an organ grinder churns out a primitive version of She Loves You.

A complete cutaway to a magical kingdom where the four Beatles are wizards surrounded by bubbling test tubes tracking the progress of the tour bus is followed by the unlikely love affair between Buster Bloodvessel and Ringo’s aunt. However, just as things are in danger of drifting off too far into the ridiculous once more, the film is brought crashing back into essential viewing by the showpiece musical event – I Am the Walrus. The song undoubtedly represents The Beatles at their most lyrically absurd, but brilliantly so. In between the choruses of eggmen and walruses we have disturbing turns of phrase referring to “yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye” and the seedy mention of “Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess/Man, you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down”. Lennon had never been more inspired in his string of nonsense and I firmly believe that as time goes by it will be regarded as the equal of Lear and Lewis Carroll. The filmed sequences which accompany the song are a fast-cutting swirling mix of images which are sometimes childish, sometimes disturbing and the backdrop is inspired. In a film which pays such heavy homage to a romanticised working class England turned several degrees into unpleasantness the huge brutalist concrete structures behind the airfield The Beatles are playing on represents a clash between the old and the new – a sunny day road trip through the rolling countryside smashed against the hideous architecture of post-war Britain with a string of London bobbies dancing gaily across the rim of the grey slabs. Now that we’ve moved beyond such formalist times these scenes in themselves can almost be nostalgic and represent a snapshot of 60s life and landscape. If you were paying to see this film in the cinema then this section – a perfect fusion of audio and visuals – would be worth the entrance fee alone.

From this point on the film actually hits the mark much more often than not and there are some wonderful, and sometimes unsettling, sequences which seem inspired, even if there is still no internal logic to the actual movie. Ringo’s aunt’s dream of food and of her sitting in a restaurant beside Bloodvessel as an oily waiter, played with delightful glee by Lennon, continues to literally shovel heaps of disgusting spaghetti onto her plate from a pile on the floor is almost stomach-churning. It’s difficult to imagine though that the Pythons were ignorant of it when they came to both refine it and out-gross it for their infamous Mr Creosote section of their 1983 film The Meaning of Life.

Scenes of the entire tour bus being ushered into a tiny two-man tent in the middle of a field, before emerging into a TARDIS-like much bigger space on the inside where they sit down to watch a film of George Harrison’s excellent dirge-like Blue Jay Way, are a throwback to the slapstick of silent movies and the subsequent drunken sing-song on the bus of old music-hall classics touches yet again into the early post-war childhood they would have had fond memories of. It’s somehow a touching scene where the drunken passengers are passing around beer and singing their hearts out and to see The Beatles – the world’s most acclaimed and cutting edge group, at the forefront of all that was new and pioneering in music – singing along to standards like When Irish Eyes Are Smiling is a pleasing sight which connects them to a past. They didn’t just drop out of the skies into a music studio and create history. They were very much a sum of their childhoods and upbringings and the entertainment forms which had gone before.

The denouement of the film sees the bus party arrive at a sort of working men’s club and the male and female halves of the passenger group are soon split apart into separate entertainments. For the men this entails a strip show (with a model provided by Soho’s Raymond Revue Bar and with “Censored” appearing across the screen to cover her modesty at the appropriate juncture) as they whoop and cheer from their seats. The musical entertainment at this stage is provided by the Bonzo Dog Dooh-Dah Band and the connection linking The Beatles and Magical Mystery Tour to Python is complete. Not only were the Bonzos the recurring band in Do Not Adjust Your Set which featured Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle, with artistic contributions from Terry Gilliam, but Neil Innes would go onto spar with Carole Cleveland for the title of Seventh Python (in much the same way that there are several claims to being the Fifth Beatle). Apart from appearing in Python and contributing some musical pieces for the Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie Innes would then go onto be an integral part of The Rutles, the Eric Idle spoof of the rise and fall of The Beatles which he made for US TV and which also featured a cameo from George Harrison. The brilliantly parodied and pastiched songs by Innes were such a perfect touchstone to the different eras of The Beatles and they work both musically as well as comedically to this day. His appearance here in Magical Mystery Tour alongside Viv Stanshall and the rest of the Bonzos joins a number of lines in the British comedy family tree.

There’s no doubt that the film ends somewhat abruptly with no journey home, no real connection to what has gone before and with nothing at all tied up but it ends triumphantly nevertheless by launching into song and a big Broadway-musical-type piece of choreography. Filmed inside a gigantic aircraft hangar the tuxedoed Beatles step in time down a stairway as they are joined by the whole cast and lots more besides in the form of professional dancers from Northern dancehalls. Lennon was famously quoted in a late Beatles interview at the time of the release of the Abbey Road album as referring to some of McCartney’s songs as “granny music”. It’s a fair comment I feel for some of the increasingly whimsical and disposable numbers he was producing at that time (although far from the full story as he could still rock out with raw intensity when he chose to do so). The precursors of this “granny music” would be When I’m Sixty Four which they had released earlier in 1967 and this new track used as the finale – Your Mother Should Know. However, although it’s very much in the sentimental vein of some of McCartney’s later Beatles writing that shouldn’t distract you from its worth as it’s easily the best song he did in this style and manages even to eclipse, for me, his great song from earlier in the film, Fool on the Hill. Lyrically, there’s not much to it but it simply states, without stating much else at all, that we should get up and dance to a song your mother should know from long ago. It’s a splendid little love letter to music from another time and the sight of The Beatles stepping down the stairs to be joined by the throngs of extras and characters from the film is a fitting way to finish the television special.

Back in the last days of 1967 Magical Mystery Tour may well have bewildered a nation of older viewers and left some of their more pop-oriented fans feeling as though they were missing something but its enduring strength is in its collage of ideas, of throwing darts at the board to see what sticks and of mixing the old and the new to crash the tank tops of post-war Britain sported by McCartney with the Eggmen and other surreal psychedelic imagery. Now that even the “new” from 1967 is almost half a century past it can be viewed more as the old and the even older to create a beautiful time capsule of England at a time of change as one world passed over to another before being passed over itself. Forget contemporary reports of this film’s failure and watch it now in all its joy. It’s The Beatles flexing their creative muscles, free now to control their own destinies and present the art they wanted to. It’s The Beatles not being afraid to fail, to make a wrong turn, but to keep getting up in the hope that the end result will be worth it. I think history will judge that it was.

Postscript

Magical Mystery Tour exists as a number of different beasts. As well as the film, the music was released as a double 7″ EP with the six songs from the television special in an attractive gatefold with an extensive booklet of images from the movie. It was then later released as an album in the US. Although it was normal practise for both The Beatles and the Stones to have their UK albums chopped up and re-spliced into different albums with the addition of singles and other tracks for the US market, this had died out as the 1960s progressed and albums had come to be seen as works of artistic merit rather than something less important than a 7″ single. For The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s was the first album to be elevated to this status and released with the same tracklisting on both sides of the Atlantic. However, Magical Mystery Tour presented their US label, Capitol, with the chance to squeeze out an extra album by combining the six tracks from the EP version with other singles they had released during the productive year of 1967. Thus, the Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane Double A-Side single (both songs having been incredibly left off Sgt Pepper) were added along with All You Need is Love and Hello, Goodbye. The addition of these four A-list songs plus one B-side to an already strong line-up of tracks from the EP actually makes the album version of Magical Mystery Tour an unbelievably powerful collection of songs. However, in the UK it has never really been seen as a proper album. Although it was officially brought into the canon of Beatles albums during the 1970s the British fans have always seen it as an American mish-mash packaged in a diabolically bad cover. It’s a fair opinion given that the songs were never meant to constitute an album or come together as a collective whole. However, if they had, then it would be considered something very special indeed.

In 2012 Apple decided to reissue both the film and the original EP in a very attractive box set. The film was available on both Blu-ray and DVD while the EP was available in its original double vinyl format with the booklet. The movie has been nicely restored and comes complete with a director’s commentary from McCartney and there are some extras as well including a “Making of” which also features Harrison and Starr looking back on the filming and production. It’s well worth splashing out on this beautifully presented set.

One slight disappointment with the box set was that it didn’t include the fantastic 2012 Arena special shown on BBC2. An hour long, this was the definitive documentary on this period of The Beatles’ history. It contains a heavyweight selection of interviewees which includes Martin Scorsese who tells his interviewer that whether or not it actually succeeded is “beside the point” and that some of the shots in the film have actually influenced his own career. Other interviewees alongside all four Beatles (Harrison being represented by archive video and Lennon by archive audio) include Paul Gambiccini, Neil Innes, Terry Gilliam, Paul Merton, Peter Fonda and the 1960s counter culture journalist Barry Miles. It all helps to lay the context for what was happening in 1967 London and how McCartney, as the driving force behind the film, was immersing himself in the London scene.

There are some great recreations of old 1960s living rooms with Christmas decorations and BBC continuity inserts for the holiday viewing playing on old TV sets overdubbed with the voices of young fans from the time now in their 60s and looking back at how they felt, many of them feeling let down that Christmas. The BBC audience research from the time is also narrated over these sequences – a mixture of scathing reports and others who loved it. We also get to hear Paul McCartney on The Frost Programme after being forced to go on and defend the film against its detractors. In among some great archive from the period we even get to hear from a couple of women who were teenage members of the fan club at the time, one of whom lost her job by going off to be an extra on the coach. Her immortality on film meant her sacking was probably a price worth paying.

Best of all though in the documentary are the outtakes and behind the scenes footage, much of the latter provided by Paul McCartney’s Super 8 home movie footage. So many of the outtakes look like they would have made great scenes in the film including shots of the passengers pouring into a traditional fish and chip shop. The homage to their working class roots would have been even greater and even more obvious if more of these scenes had made the final cut. My favourite outtakes though are more scenes between Ringo and his aunt which I could watch all day. In one such cut scene she talks about The Beatles, how they’re all smashing boys, especially Ringo, and how her nephew beside her should aspire to be more like him. Ringo in his wonderful deadpan tells her, “The Beatles? I could tell you things about them” as he tries to put them down.

It’s a great documentary and I’d highly recommend watching it alongside the movie itself. It can be found online here.

Posted in Music, Television | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spirit of ’58 – my first book available, 12th May

My first book is published on the 12th May 2016 by Blackstaff Press. In this age of sudden wonder where Leicester City can be crowned champions of English football it’s a timely reminder that underdogs rising to greatness is nothing new as Northern Ireland underwent a wonderful metamorphosis from being footballing paupers to one of the best teams in the world by the time they reached the quarter finals of the 1958 World Cup.

In the summer of 1958 tiny Northern Ireland stood just one game away from a semi-final appearance in the World Cup against the mighty Brazil. The heroic story of this uniquely blessed squad of players, led by the peerless Danny Blanchflower, takes in the Munich Air Disaster, a fight against Sabbath Observers within the IFA who tried to stop them going to the tournament in Sweden, and a violent win-or-bust struggle against Italy to qualify. And yet it has almost been forgotten. Spirit of ’58 tells the story of how Northern Irish football came of age under the management of Peter Doherty, and the team’s journey from also-rans to being two games away from the World Cup final of 1958. Including interviews with all the surviving players, the book finally tells the full story of Northern Ireland’s greatest ever team.

I believe in supporting bricks and mortar bookshops on the high street so if you’re interested in reading this book please do consider getting your local bookshop to order it in. If online shopping is more convenient then please support Waterstones by ordering at here at waterstones.com. If you prefer an e-book or are based outside the UK and want the physical book then it is available here from Amazon.

Spirit of 58 full

Posted in Television | Leave a comment

The Bumpy Road to Blonde on Blonde

Here’s an article I did late last year for Record Collector to coincide with the release of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 12 – The Cutting Edge. The focus of the article was the little remembered original sessions for the famous Blonde on Blonde album which were recorded in New York in late ’65/early ’66 with The Hawks as opposed the well known finished sessions which took place in Nashville with country session musicians. Click on the images below, view full size, and then click on them again to magnify the text.

Posted in Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

World Cup 1958 Reunion – Belfast Telegraph

Very recent article of mine from the Belfast Telegraph (July 2014). It features the reunion of two of the surviving five players from the Northern Ireland World Cup squad from 1958 with the little Swedish boy (now 69 years old!) who was their mascot and friend in Halmstad in Sweden that summer as they progressed to the quarter finals. The reunion was set up for the documentary I’m making about the Northern Irish squad’s achievements entitled Spirit of ’58 and you can read other bits and bobs about the filming at our Facebook Page. Click on the image below to link to a larger image where you can hopefully magnify it further for reading.

Telegraph 1  Telegraph 2

Posted in Football, Magazine Article | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan in the Public Domain – Record Collector

Here’s another (very long) Bob Dylan article of mine from Record Collector in 2013 looking at the law governing what is considered public domain in music, Dylan’s record company’s attempts to keep his unreleased work out of the public domain, and the various record companies who have been using public domain and other loopholes to release a mixture of brilliant and awful CDs onto the market. As always, click on the images below to link to a larger image where you can then magnify the image further for reading.

Dylan 1 Dylan 2 Dylan 3

Dylan 4    Dylan 5  Dylan 6

Dylan 7    Dylan 8  Dylan 9

Posted in Magazine Article, Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Bonnie Prince Billy Article & Interview – Record Collector

Rounding up a few old magazine articles of mine. Here’s one from Record Collector in 2004 – an examination of the first decade of the career of Bonnie Prince Billy (aka Will Oldham, aka The Palace Brothers) complete with interview. Click on the images to below to link to a larger image and then click again to magnify.

Bonnie 1  Bonnie 2  Bonnie 3

Bonnie 4  Bonnie 5  Bonnie 6

Posted in Magazine Article, Music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment