Wednesday, September 11, 2019

My Log 759 September 11 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 194; What of Canada’s election? A few random notes from a tribal leftist; with some reminiscences from other times and places


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I hear at least one reader, probably more, saying, “Okay, you are absorbed in the political affairs of the United States and Britain, but what about right here in Canada? After all, we are now in the middle of an election. What do you have to say about that?”
Okay, what I have to say is that if I were the type to be advising people how they should vote, my advice would come from within what I think would nowadays be called a tribal choice. That is how I have always voted, not always for one particular party, but for the tribe of  leftists, the guys who want to reform the entire capitalist orientation of our world in a socialist direction.
I remember being in Britain during their 1951 election.   Clement Attlee’s Labour Party had won a decisive majority in 1945 (393 seats to 197), for the first time in British history, and by 1950, the next election, his government had not only achieved their landmark legislation by creating the National Health Service in 1948, but had also succeeded, in the words of a friend of mine, “in tying the country up in  red tape”, instead of enthusing their young followers as they had all hoped.
In the 1950 election their majority was reduced to five (315 out of 624 seats), and when they called a snap election in 1951 in the hope of increasing their majority, the consensus was they were on their last legs. They had lost several of their strongest members, men such as Sir Stafford Cripps and Ernest Bevin, their original Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary. I never had any doubt which side I would support.  I was unemployed at the time, so I trotted around to the local Labour headquarters and offered my services.  For a minimal temporary wage I was put to stuffing envelopes, and I took advantage of Attlee’s first local speech to take a look at him.
I was so appalled at the establishmentarianism of his whole attitude that, in a gesture of disgust, I ceased the envelope stuffing, and sat out the rest of the campaign.  My local candidate was beaten, and so was my party beaten nationally by a man who had been counted out ten years before, the much-despised (by many) and equally much-admired and much-loved, Winston Churchill --- both sides of those particular judgments having good cause for the contempt and adulation they bestowed on him.
 So the Tories, as they are usually called, under Churchill embarked on a government of drift and uncertainty, the details of most of which I will spare my readers. (It was that British government, after the retirement from office of Churchill, that, along with France and Israel, attacked Egypt, an event that ended with the settlement that won Canada’s Minister for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, a Nobel Peace prize. The view of all this within  my leftist tribe is that the Suez attack was the last hurrah of the old European imperialism, and that Pearson was as much, perhaps even more, interested in pleasing the new imperial power, the United States, as he was determined to stop the war.)
One of Labour’s young leftist turks in the 1950s was a man called Anthony Wedgwood Benn, later Viscount Stansgate, and later still, after he successfully fought a court battle in which he asserted his right to renounce his inherited peerage, Tony Benn. Years later, after I had emigrated to Canada, and been sent back as London correspondent for The Montreal Star, when I was writing a profile of Benn for The Sunday Times, a leading London newspaper owned by the Canadian magnate Roy Thomson,  Benn told me that in his opinion, a Labour government marching into office should have been as close as possible to Castro marching into Havana.  That was an idea that stuck with this leftist tribalist, and it explains why, when I transferred to Canada as an immigrant, I was fated to support candidates, who even though their aspirations fell far short of the Benn formula, nevertheless usually had minimal chances of winning their constituency, and always had zero chances of ever forming a government.
Never mind: the tribe above all, so my advice would be to vote New Democratic Party, even though, as you can tell from my recitation of my first leftist voting experience, they have no chance of winning in my constituency and zero chance of ascending to government.
Nevertheless, I believe it is important that the leftist vote be kept as high as possible. My reading of history has persuaded me that the very existence of the NDP, even though its left-wing bias is vague and non-threatening to any capitalist interest, is a powerful factor  distinguishing Canada from the United States. At least in Canada, thanks to the NDP, the body of ideas that animate our leftist tribe are always part of the political discourse and, at certain periods, their espousal of improving ideas has flopped over into Liberal Party policy, as, for example into creating our national health scheme.
Indeed, I was very struck by the fact that a few years ago, when the CBC held a campaign for their watchers and listeners to choose the most admired man in Canadian history, the victor turned out to be Tommy Douglas, the 1950s leader of the CCF in Saskatchewan, who first introduced to North America the concept of a government-funded national health scheme, and who became the first leader of the New Democratic Party in the House of Commons.
So, that is my advice about the election we are now engaged in. I have to add, however, that for those disinclined to follow my advice, in other words for those not members of my leftist tribe, when confronted with a choice between the relatively progressive platform of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, and the waffling, individualistic, climate-change denying Conservatives of Andrew Scheer, I would say the answer should be obvious. 
Even taking into account the recent improvement in the fortunes of the Green Party, my choice would lie elsewhere, mainly because I instinctively dislike any slogan that says "Not Left, Not Right……" as if Left and Right are indistinguishable. That slogan seems almost as if it were  written to be a refutation of my whole political argument, so I would advise against it quite  strenuously. 
Which is not, I must emphasize,  to fail to take the issue of climate warming seriously.  It is just to object to any one-note, opportunistic prescription for what ails us.

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