2000s >> 2009 >> no-1255-march-2009

Greasy Pole: Brand Obama – more drivel

Is there – can there be – a connection between Barack Obama and two West London Labour MPs?

Obama has just moved into the White House at the head of the most powerful nation, controlling a military, diplomatic and economic force so huge as to be able to invade, distort and destroy the lives of the majority of the world’s people. Against that the two MPs – Andrew Slaughter and Virendra Sharma – are notably low-key. Their constituencies – Ealing Acton Shepherds Bush and Ealing Southall – are unremarkable for their grime, chaos and disorder. The MPs held minor posts as Parliamentary Private Secretaries – Slaughter at the Foreign Office and Sharma at the Home Office – but their resignation from these provoked hardly a murmur of interest. The reason they jumped off the lowest levels of the Greasy Pole was their objection to the government’s plans, in betrayal of a succession of  pledges, to further develop Heathrow Airport, specifically by laying down a third runway. In Sharma’s case this was something of an aberration, for he was not an active MP – apart from slavishly voting for the government line. If they had not already done so, Slaughter and Sharma might have learned something from this experience about the essential ruthlessness of politics, in the heat of which all promises and “principles” are devoured.


That is something of which Obama is fully aware, which explains why his drive to the Presidency, from its inception through its planning to its execution was, for its single-minded cynicism, such an historically prime example of it. He and his team touted for votes on the single word Change, which was compliantly accepted as an intention to simply get rid of George Bush and as much as possible of his policies, his supporters, his command style. It was made to sound so easy. But it was hardly enough to stimulate the kind of response – the blind devotion to the concept that one man could by himself wipe out the tragedies which had plagued so many lives for all those years. Such was the degree of hysteria that it obscured the fact that in 2004 a similarly psychotic process had ensured George Bush’s triumphant return to the White House. But there was more to Obama than a promise for he is the kind of politician who trades on a spurious glamour. On that score, in terms of their respective political chicanery, McCain was shrunken and exhausted, with nothing to offer in combat. Obama’s lissom confidence and the support acting of his wife and children composed a portrait of the ideal American family. And in a Presidential election there are few things more seductive: “It was like a scene from a Hollywood movie” blabbered the Observer describing Obama and his wife dancing at one of the inaugural balls “(which) created images of fashion and celebrity to rival anything that emerged from JFK’s vaunted ‘Camelot’”.  And in case we have not seen enough of them for a while, an invitingly smiling Mrs. Obama appeared all over the cover of the next issue of US Vogue.


But the passion which greeted the emergence of the brand Obama should have had more than a tinge of fear – which brings us back to our two London Labour MPs. At the last general election Slaughter had a majority halfway between five and six thousand, after a swing of 7.54 percent to the Tories. To complicate matters for him his predecessor in the seat was Clive Soley, once a probation officer notable as an assertive lefty in the union and, from 1997 to 2001, chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He left the Commons at the 2005 election, allowing himself to be created Baron Soley of Hammersmith and, to the dismay and anger of many of his admirers, become Campaign Director of Future Heathrow, which pushes unremittingly for the airport’s future to be one of expansion. Living in Acton under the flight path, Soley admits that “..when I’m in my garden I have to raise my voice” but he thinks all who suffer in this way should bear it gladly for the greater profitability of British capitalism. Any embarrassment this causes Slaughter with his contrary views on Heathrow expansion are not to be dwelled upon.

Virendra Sharma won a by-election in Ealing Southall in July 2007, after the death of the sitting MP Piara Khabra (who also had an unenviable record as an inactive representative of his electorate) with a majority of 5070. Southall has a reputation as a strong Labour seat (in 1997 with a majority for Khabra of over 21,000). But since the last election the boundaries of both Sharma’s and Slaughter’s Ealing seats have been redrawn, the effect of which is uncertain. After ten years in power Labour is seen as outworn and sterile; many of their MPs must dream of a leader to inject some of the Obama appeal which, shallow and spurious though it is, promises to bring in the votes. But there is nobody in the Labour Party to compare in that way to the new US President. If leaders like Brown, Darling, Straw and Harman have any appeal to desperate, bewildered voters it is unlikely to be as seductive as Obama’s. So Labour – including the likes of Slaughter and Sharma – are in trouble, being forced to face the reality that their time of deceiving enough voters to put them into power is probably coming to an end.

Obama’s War

It did not take long for the true Obama style of government, behind the media drivel, to assert itself. Only days after he had taken office, two American drone craft killed 22 people in Pakistan and it was announced that Obama had approved the transfer of 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan –
later raised to 60,000. The war there will go on and many people will die in the interests of the minority owning class. So if Obama’s election does have an effect on British politics, influencing the manner in which the parties here present their pleas to be allowed to run British capitalism, we can be sure that it will have nothing to do with human interests, with bettering our lives. That would be taking glamour too far.


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