1990s >> 1991 >> no-1040-april-1991

Caught In The Act: Chequered career

Chequered career
All things considered, there must have been some sense of relief in Ribble Valley that their new MP managed to find his way to the Houses of Parliament and make his maiden speech. There should remain, however, some anxiety about whether he will sit on the right benches, and vote as he is supposed to. We mention this because Mike Carr, the Liberal Democrat winner in that famous by-election, has had what can politely be called a chequered career — so chequered, in fact, that a little confusion over his political whereabouts is only to be expected. And let us hope the confusion is not so extensive that he will have problems finding his way home when the House has risen, for during the election his party made much of his being the local candidate (it was reported that one leaflet mentioned this 20 times) when in fact he lives outside the constituency.

It was no accident, that where Carr lives became inflated into a major issue in the election, for local Tories were unhappy about the fact that their candidate comes from Wales. Of course the Liberal Democrats know that such matters are irrelevant and they know that no party could be expected to put up only candidates who are native to the constituency where they are standing. They harped on about Carr’s origins because they are willing to exploit any false argument and stimulate any bigotry if it will win votes. There have been many examples of them trying such disreputable tactics and while it is true that all capitalist parties play this cynical game it should be remembered that the Liberal Democrats have always claimed to be above it. They have asserted that they are the party of moderation, the one which faces all issues honestly and does not play the party game. Their tactics in Ribble Valley expose these claims as shown and encourage us to wonder what trickery they would stoop to if they ever thought they had a real prospect of power.

Carr’s campaign as the local man was largely based on his four years as a councillor on the District Council — not, however, as a Liberal but a Conservative. In the early 1980s he decided to put his mis-spent political youth behind him and changed to the SDP, widely regarded as the thinking person’s Tory Party. When David Owen announced the abandonment of his great crusade to break the mould of British politics Carr switched sides again, to the Liberal Democrats and contested two elections for them before his recent triumph.

Of course some of his opponents — not to mention his supporters — might be amused by Carr’s apparent inability in sorting out what he thinks and where he stands (according to The Guardian he had to admit at one press conference that he didn’t know what the Liberal Democrat industrial policy is) but there is another way of looking at it. As there is no fundamental difference between the. Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties — and precious little superficial difference as well — there is bound to be some confusion over which one to support. With a bit of luck, and having tried some of the others, a political punter can settle on a party whose star is in the ascendant — like the Liberal Democrats in Ribblc Valley — but whichever one is chosen makes no difference. Elections at present offer no real choice, only a list of people all standing for the same thing. So there is a kind of gruesome logic about swopping, as Mike Carr has, from one ideologically bankrupt party to another.

But what, you might ask, about the voters? Well if they were ever to cotton on to the reality of this desception they would begin to vote for the kind of mould breaking so authentic as not be dreamed of by the likes of confused, tenacious, victorious Mike Carr.

Words, Words, Words . . .
In war the first casually is the dictionary, as words are abused and distorted and invented, or eliminated with the ferocity of a cruise missile. One of this column’s favourite characters during the Gulf War was the official US military spokesman there, whose cropped hair, crazy eyes and innovative vocabulary said more about how the war was fought — and why — than any learned analysis. Day after day this man in his camouflage suit told us about “assets” (Allied forces, weapons and so on); “hostile elements” (hostile forces like the Iraqis); “target rich environment” (Iraq); “collateral” — as in damage or casualties (buildings destroyed and civilians killed off target) and so on.

Encouraged, the media came up with a word of their own for the way the news was being handed to them — to sanitise. Although apparently intended to expose monstrous euphemisms, the word was itself a euphemism fit to blank out all the others. What really happened was a massive, organised, official operation to suppress the truth and replace it with lies. This was a cruel war, fought to establish control over an area for its mineral resources and its strategic position. It was sanitised to persuade workers once again to participate in slaughtering each other in the interests of their exploiters.

In this the Labour Party played its disreputable part with enthusiasm. With only a few minor reservations Kinnock gave the government his whole-hearted support: “. . . outstanding speeches . . . a statesman in opposition . . . “ was how Labour MP Jack Ashley grovellingly described his leader’s grovelling to the government. The official Labour Party statement called for the war to achieve “the ending of regional superpower status for Iraq and for every other country in the region”.

This was the reason for the war — to assert control over the area by the superpowers of world capitalism. The Labour Party supported the war because they support capitalism and because they knew that to oppose it would seriously damage their chances of winning the next election.

Verbal Missile
So Kinnock, forgetting those days of his annual photo-opportunity at CND’s Easter March, fired off verbal missiles against Iraq from the comfort and safety of the House of Commons. He should not be proud of the part he played to sanitise the war, to persuade the workers of Britain that it was all — the incinerated Iraqi soldiers, the battered cities, the terrified children of Baghdad — in the good cause of the triumph of British capitalism and the election of Neil Kinnock to occupancy of Number Ten.