Radiohead live in Italy in 2012. Photo: Flickr/Daniele Dalledonne Radiohead live in Italy in 2012. Photo: Flickr/Daniele Dalledonne

Let’s ensure that the increased Israeli oppression around the Al Aqsa mosque re-energises the BDS movement, argues Alex Snowdon 

As Lindsey is having a brief well-earned holiday, I’m stepping into her shoes with the weekly briefing. Lindsey is not the only person having a break this week though. It has been reported that Theresa May is heading off to Italy today for five days before attending a centenary event for the battle of Passchendaele at the weekend. Then she’s straight off to Switzerland for a fortnight’s ‘walking holiday’.

There has been some press speculation about who will be in charge while she’s away, but I’m not convinced anyone will notice the difference between Theresa May in Downing Street and Theresa May on holiday. She became a lame duck prime minister as the results were announced in the early hours of Friday 9 June. The only danger in May going away is the space it allows her colleagues to plot and conspire in her absence. I can’t help feeling, though, that if David Davis is their answer then they may be asking the wrong question. And when a poll puts Davis in second place after ‘don’t know’, it hardly suggests a growing consensus around who should succeed the beleaguered May.

The last time the Tory leader had one of her walking holidays she made the most calamitous decision of her political career. It was while walking with her husband in Wales in April that she arrived at the decision to call a snap election. We know what happened next. Interestingly – and for the Tories very worryingly – the direction of travel since last month’s election has continued to be in favour of Labour. In the last week, a number of polls have indicated a Labour lead. Corbyn has comfortably overtaken May in personal ratings – something that almost all the commentators regarded as utterly impossible just a few months ago.

The PM is incredibly weak. She only remains in office because the Tories have no alternative. There is no credible replacement and the thought of another election terrifies them. May’s authority has been shattered and her Queen’s Speech was characterised by the avoidance of anything contentious. This doesn’t mean, however, that the Tories will entirely shy away from pushing through their agenda. Last week’s announcement that the raising of the state pension entitlement age (to 68) will be brought forward shows that there will still be attacks on living standards.

It has been reported that there is panic mixed with despair and resignation in the ranks of senior Tories. A recent newspaper article opened with this disturbing revelation: ‘Amid the swirl of Conservative gossip at the Spectator magazine summer party, one minister stared into a glass of Pol Roger and said wistfully: “You have to make the most of it: who knows what we will be drinking in two years’ time?” Indeed. It must be awful for them, living in fear that the supplies of expensive champagne could dry up.

Corbyn is right: we should aim to bring this government down

While this is enjoyable to read about, however, the miseries of austerity and widening inequality will only be ended if our side continues to advance. A possible autumn election is a real prospect. It is extremely welcome news that Jeremy Corbyn is operating on permanent war footing and pushing the wider Labour Party to do likewise. Corbyn’s aim is to visit all 70-plus Tory marginals in the coming months, addressing rallies and putting forward alternative policies that build on the enormous popular success of the general election’s ‘For the Many’ manifesto.

This is about ramping up the political opposition to the Tories – and taking it beyond the confines of Westminster – while also galvanising support for a prospective left-wing government. This level of ambition – to bring down the government and force a new election – is crucial. The planned protests at Tory conference in Manchester, including a big national demonstration on Sunday 1 October, should be approached in the context of an extremely weak Tory government that is being challenged by a genuinely oppositional (and popular) Labour leadership. Such protests can play a decisive role in these circumstances.  

Rallying and building popular support for Corbyn’s policies is a vital task in the next few months. But it’s also clear from a range of issues that we need to connect Labour’s campaigning with the work of trade unions and protest movements to achieve results. One hugely important field of resistance in this respect is public sector pay, an issue where the Tories are in a hopeless and confused mess. It has become obvious that resentment at stagnant or falling real-terms pay was one of the factors fuelling Labour’s better-than-expected election results – and it’s an issue that isn’t going away. The honeymoon that May enjoyed for several months after becoming prime minister was aided by the widespread perception that she represented a shift away from austerity, but the reality is turning out to be quite different.

The billion-pound DUP deal, to prop up a minority Tory administration, prompted a lot of questions about how the Tories can find such money to keep Northern Ireland’s Unionist bigots sweet but seemingly can’t increase pay, or sustain funding of schools, or avoid the NHS sinking into crisis. Similarly, the revelations about BBC presenters’ whopping pay packets in recent days have thrown the pay squeeze into sharp relief. Some right wingers have sought to use the BBC list as a weapon for attacking the public service broadcaster, but it is actually typical of a wider phenomenon of soaring pay for a tiny elite that is even more pronounced in the private sector than in major public institutions.

Another issue where the Tories are simultaneously vulnerable and vicious is school cuts. Last week we witnessed a highly disingenuous announcement from Justine Greening, the education secretary, that gave the impression of greatly relieving the cuts to schools’ budgets. In fact, the very modest adjustments being announced involve no additional funding whatsoever – there is no extra money from outside the existing schools budget. Ministers know they have to give the impression of addressing public concerns and responding to pressure, yet they have no solutions. This is just one example – there are more, and they will continue to pile up.

Palestine is still the issue, now more than ever

Radiohead generated widespread anger by defying the popular cultural boycott of Israel by playing a concert in Tel Aviv last week. This was despite insistent calls from various British cultural figures (Ken Loach and Mike Leigh among others) and, more importantly, Palestinian artists and activists to cancel the gig. What has really shown up the band’s political and moral cowardice is the contrast between its concert – at a venue built on the land of destroyed Palestinian homes – and Israel’s brutal escalation of its violence towards Palestinians in occupied east Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities have imposed repressive restrictions on access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in the world for Muslims, including the installation of metal detectors at the entrances. Israeli security forces killed three Palestinians in Jerusalem on Friday. This was followed by two separate killings of young Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank on Saturday. The increase in state harassment, repression and violence – already at high levels – is prompting fury and protests among Palestinians.

What is also generating anger – internationally among supporters of justice for Palestine, as well as among Palestinians – is the inhumane collective punishment of Gaza. The long-term siege of Gaza has been worsened to frightening levels by the massive cuts to electricity supplies for the people struggling to survive there. Electricity cuts have been imposed which are, day after day, leading to severe power shortages. There are reports, for example, of premature babies struggling to survive due to power cuts to their life support generators.

These power shortages are entirely preventable, not a result of some unavoidable natural disaster. They are the consequence of a politically bankrupt Palestinian Authority (based in the West Bank) acting in concert with Israel. It is the resistance on the streets by ordinary Palestinians, together with the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, that offers hope. It is promising that the recent Palestinian Expo in London was a great success, attracting an estimated 15,000 people, and I was pleased to see there was a militant protest outside London’s Israeli Embassy on Saturday.

We will need further protests and the redoubling of efforts to build the BDS movement. I also very much hope that Labour activists will become more confident about taking up these issues. The idea that Labour ought to focus almost entirely on domestic issues and avoid supposedly controversial or unpopular matters of foreign policy is one that regrettably has some traction. Actually, Corbyn’s personal track record on international issues – including long-time support for the Palestinians – was an asset to him in twice winning the Labour leadership, and one of the reasons he oversaw a big increase in Labour’s vote in June. This is no time for timidity.

Shelley, socialism and summer reading

I began by mentioning holidays. Although Jeremy Corbyn is devoting his considerable energies to touring the country and addressing rallies, I was pleased to learn at the weekend that he still intends to find some time for relaxation and reading during the summer. He told a Financial Times interviewer that he is about to begin reading Jacqueline Mulhallen’s book ‘Shelley: poet and revolutionary’. I reviewed the book for the Counterfire website and can highly recommend it.

It’s not often a book by a Counterfire member gets a mention in the FT, but I wasn’t surprised that Corbyn chose it. Like the late Tony Benn – a great friend and ally of the current Labour leader – his commitment to socialist politics is nourished by reading and learning about the rich history of left-wing thought, radical movements and the struggles of the labour movement. Personally, I’m in the middle of reading Tariq Ali’s marvellous ‘The Dilemmas of Lenin’ at the moment. It is insightful about Lenin but also has many fascinating digressions. Although published to coincide with the centenary of the 1917 revolutions in Russia, it ranges across much wider territory.

I hope that my fellow activists find some time in the coming weeks to follow Corbyn’s example by getting stuck into reading about our shared history of resistance and radicalism. It is one of the greatest resources we have in our efforts to create a better world. 

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).