Hegemony & the Tories road to nowhere

By Daniel Margrain

conservatives

During his barnstorming speech at the Labour Party Conference, Jeremy Corbyn said this:

“If you believe, like me, it’s a scandal that here in Britain, in the sixth biggest economy in the world, 4 million children are in poverty, 6 million workers are paid less than the living wage. And if, like me, you believe we can do things far better, then help me build support for a genuine alternative that will invest in our future – a more prosperous future – in which the wealth we all create is shared more equally.”

There is surely not a sentient rational-thinking person in the country who would not disagree with those sentiments. In a recent article, I argued that all things being equal, there ought to be no reason why these kinds of sentiments could not be translated into electoral success at the next General Election. However, such has been the media’s open hostility towards Corbyn, that it would be foolish to underestimate the extent to which the propaganda role they play could contribute significantly to his downfall.

What would appear to be a growing class consciousness among a significant segment of the population as evidenced by Corbyn’s popularity is, I would contend, offset by a significant rump of working class Tory supporters who ostensibly vote against their own interests. It is this latter group who appear to be particularly prone to the kind of media propaganda described and thus more readily buy into the ideology of the ruling class.

But, as the Marxist Antonio Gramsci grasped in the 1930s, the extent to which this class are able to exert ideological hegemony over a society in a continual state of flux is not a given. When the confidence of the working class is high as it was during the three decades of the post-war years, then they are less likely to be ‘brainwashed’ by ruling class ideology. But when the confidence of the class is relatively low as it is now, then they are more likely to be susceptible to ruling class ideas.

This ‘false consciousness’ in other words, is not fixed rather the working class, through struggle, has the ability to frame consciousness on its own terms and thus garner influence over the terms of the representation of the existing social reality. The bourgeoisie generally exercises “hegemony” over the terms of ideology, through its control of the instruments of consciousness; but the proletariat can exert influence through its own cultural institutions. In Gramscian terms, the subordinate class, therefore, is not simply the passive tool of the dominant ideology but has the potential to change it.

The contradictions that arise from the election of Corbyn within the context of Brexit brings this conflict of ideas into sharp focus. For example, during her recent anti-immigration speech, Blairite Rachel Reeves apparently felt the need to appease labour supporters who voted for Brexit. The speech illustrated that racist ideas are not a monopoly of the political right.

This is not to suggest that all Brexiters are racist, but merely to point out that most racists would have voted for Brexit and many of these were working class labour voters. People voted this way for a multitude of reasons.These include anti-establishment sentiments, the democracy argument, to give David Cameron a kick, naive wishful thinkingLexit and because they believed the brazen lies that the hard-right Vote Leave mob told them.

However, it’s undeniable that a significant percentage of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit did so because they were either inherently xenophobic, or because they bought into the racist immigration fear-mongering of extreme-right groups like UKIP and Britain First. Given the extent of false working class consciousness described, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the wealth Corbyn in his speech argued should be redistributed more fairly, is a policy that might equally be opposed to by a large swathe of working class people.

This is because they have been led to believe in the aspirational myth peddled by the mainstream corporate media that one day it might be them and their families who will be photographed for the glossy magazines sipping champagne from the deck of their luxury yachts. Many people have become conditioned to believe that wealth should not be more fairly redistributed and so the mainstream deliberately plug a narrative that’s against the public interest.

Many of the public repeat verbatim the soundbite lines they hear from politicians on TV without having the faintest idea of the meaning that lies behind these soundbite phrases. For instance, I’ve heard countless times people on radio phone-in programmes espousing the meaningless ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘taking our country back’ phrases, but when radio presenters press them on what they actually mean by these terms, they cannot answer.

Similarly, many people repeat the mantra that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’ without being able to support their assertions. Corbyn espouses values and policies that most people actually agree with  – taxing the rich, renationalization of the railways – it’s just that many do not appear to associate him with those things. The media’s demonization of Corbyn is so entrenched that these worthy aims are often discredited in the eyes of the public.

That some people would rather dig their heels in and defend the status quo regardless of the fact that it’s not in their best interests to do so, is the genius of the propaganda system. The media and the PLP-Tory establishment constantly bash Corbyn, not because they are concerned for the future of democracy, the Labour Party or the country, but because it is hiding the shortcomings of a Tory party establishment in disarray over Brexit and its relationship with its European partners.

This chaos is exemplified by the tensions that exist between PM Theresa May, Boris Johnson and EU ministers. Johnson’s contention that the EUs position amounting to an automatic trade-off between access to the single market and free movement was “complete baloney” is a total misreading of the Lisbon Treaty. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said, “If we need to do more, we’ll gladly send her Majesty’s foreign minister a copy of the Lisbon Treaty then he can read that there is a link between the single market and the four core principles in Europe.” He continued“I can also say it in English, so if clarification is necessary, I can pay a visit and explain this to him in good English.”

Johnson said the UK will trigger Article 50 in January only to be contradicted by the PM while the three ministers tasked at extricating the UK from the EU are too busy fighting among themselves and Johnson spends his time flying around Europe apologizing to everybody he has insulted. There appears to be at least two legal challenges to Brexit but the government doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do about it.

One of the challenges comes from a crowdfunded group called People’s Challenge who have accused the government of refusing to allow it to make public the official justification for triggering Article 50 to start the Brexit process without a parliamentary vote. The governments position is that it has no legal obligation to consult parliament on invoking Article 50 which gives Britain a two year period to negotiate the terms of its departure. People’s Challenge said it planned to make public the governments written legal defense of its position on triggering Article 50 alongside its own lawyers submissions to court so that the country can see and engage with the competing arguments.

But until yesterday (September 29) the government had insisted that every word of its defense had to be kept secret. So much for British openness and democracy! Last Friday (September 23), People’s Challenge lodged an application to the court to allow it to publish the governments argument. Yesterday the court ruled that the government must disclose the legal arguments on the procedure of Article 50. Meanwhile, EU leaders continue to harden their stance against the Tories saying that they intend to rule out any cherry-picking in relation to the ability of Britain to access the single market.

There can only be one reason why the mainstream media have barely mentioned any of the issues discussed in this article and are therefore failing to bring the government to account over the Brexit debacle, and that’s because they regard Corbyn as the lightening rod for abuse and bad publicity. That the mainstream media continue to focus their ire on Corbyn rather than the Tories bungling of Brexit is clearly intended to take the public’s eye of the ball. The extent to which they succeed or not will be evident after the next General Election.

 

Yvette Cooper: Imaginary wheelchair woman

By Daniel Margrain

Yvette Cooper (5257912357).jpg

Those who were paying attention during Yvette Cooper’s challenge for the Labour leadership would have been aware of the undisclosed £75,000 businessman Dan Jarvis contributed to the New Labour enthusiasts campaign.

The mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to that scandal at the time. Over a year later on September 24, following what columnist Fraser Nelson described tellingly as “the terrifying victory of Jeremy Corbyn’s mass movement” at staving off the coup attempt against him, the Corbyn critic and New Labour MP for Normanton, Ponefract, Castleford and Nottingley tweeted the following:

Congratulations re-elected today. Now the work starts to hold everyone together, build support across country & take Tories on

Clearly, a day is a long time for liars to avoid tripping over their own pronouncements. Less than 48 hours after her insincere message on Twitter, the Blairite MP engaged in a media publicity stunt intended to draw a deeper wedge between the PLP and the membership.

Cooper’s crude ‘politics of identity’ strategy was to infer that shadow chancellor John McDonnell was a misogynist for his use of emotionally charged language in defending the “appalling” treatment of disabled people by the last government.

The context in which McDonnell made his remark is set against a backdrop in which former secretary of state for work and pensions, Esther McVey, planned to cut the benefits of more than 300,000 disabled people. That Cooper rushed to the defence of a Tory who presided over some of the most wicked policies of arguably the most reactionary and brutal right-wing government in living memory, is extremely revealing.

What was also revealing was the media’s obvious double-standards. A few days prior to their reporting of McDonnell’s comment, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of Corbyn. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this suggestion.

Selective outrage is what many of us have come to expect from a partisan anti-Corbyn media. In May last year, independent journalist, Mike Sivier reported on Yvette “imaginary wheelchairs” Cooper’s criticism of those “using stigmatising language about benefit claimants”.

But as an article from April 13, 2010 below illustrates, while in office as Labour’s secretary of state for work and pensions, Cooper had drawn up plans that would almost certainly have met with the approval of Iain Duncan Smith.

Indeed, the policy plans outlined by Cooper were subsequently adopted by the Coalition government under the tutelage of Esther McVey. In policy terms, it would thus appear Cooper has more in common with McVey than she does with McDonnell. This, and her disdain towards both Corbyn and McDonnell and the mass membership they represent, explains her outburst. She was not motivated by sisterly love.

This is the relevant part of the 2010 article implicating Cooper’s policy outlook with that of the Tories she supposedly despises:

“Tens of thousands of claimants facing losing their benefit on review, or on being transferred from incapacity benefit, as plans to make the employment and support allowance (ESA) medical much harder to pass are approved by the secretary of state for work and pensions, Yvette Cooper.

The shock plans for ‘simplifying’ the work capability assessment, drawn up by a DWP working group, include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps.  Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, for example, ‘The office is on fire!’ will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing.

Meanwhile, for ‘health and safety reasons’ all points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.

Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points.  And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA.

In addition, almost half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety.

There are some improvements to the test under the plans, including exemptions for people likely to be starting chemotherapy and more mental health grounds for being admitted to the support group.  But the changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA.

If all this sounds like a sick and rather belated April Fools joke to you, we’re not surprised.  But the proposals are genuine and have already been officially agreed by Yvette Cooper, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  They have not yet been passed into law, but given that both Labour and the Conservatives seem intent on driving as many people as possible off incapacity related benefits, they are likely to be pursued by whichever party wins the election…..”

Cooper’s deeds and words are yet another illustration as to the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy as represented by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on the one hand, and the ruling Tory establishment on the other, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose.

 

Don’t believe the hype: Corbyn can win the next General Election

By Daniel Margrain


Jeremy Corbyn at the thousands-strong Leeds rally on Saturday

Jeremy Corbyn at a thousands-strong Leeds rally (Pic: Neil Terry)

During the Labour leadership nomination process last year – much to the consternation of Harriet Harman – forty-eight opposition MPs who genuinely desire an alternative to the austerity-driven policies of the Tories, did the honourable thing by voting against the governments welfare reform legislation. One of the other numerous prominent Labour MPs who refused to vote against the Tories was Owen Smith. Needless to say, Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t one of them.

As I alluded to at the time, the kind of concession to the Tories made by Harman and Smith was predicated on the belief that Labour has to move to the right in order to be electable.

Given the Liberal Democrat’s close ideological proximity to the Tories during their power sharing term, and their subsequent virtual demise following the last election, the strategic move by Harman and the party hierarchy was clearly a calculable risk.

Harman’s assumption appeared to have been that there was no longer any more political and electoral traction to be gained by appealing to a diminishing band of traditional left wing voters. However, subsequent events proved that she was wrong and that these, as well as other voters, many of whom are young had, prior to Corbyn, been largely abandoned by the political class.

If it is to be accepted that the class structure of British society remains largely intact and that the real life experiences of the vast majority in the country were made worse under the austerity-driven policies of the Tories, then rationally the notion would be that the voices of those adversely affected by these policies would eventually at some point make themselves heard.

And so it came to pass. The rise of Corbyn gave voice to the voiceless and hope that things could change for the better by transforming apathy into a mobilizing political force. Corbyn went on to oversee a growth in the party’s membership to well over half a million – making it the biggest left-of-centre party in Europe, while Harman, Smith and the rest of the New Labour ideologues are fast becoming a footnote in history.

Outside the relatively small band of Labour party dissenters, the opposition to welfare cuts and austerity in England have come from the SNP, Plaid and the Greens. Tony Blair’s election victory in 1997 predicated on a left-wing mandate, the dominance of the SNP in Scotland and the popularity of both Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon, all put the lie to many of the claims in the corporate media that you have to be right wing to win elections. The official announcement this morning (September 24) that Jeremy Corbyn had convincingly beaten his right-wing rival, Owen Smith with a second mandate of 61.8 per cent is likely to bring this myth into even more of a sharper focus.

The reality is the people of England are inherently no more right wing than the people of Scotland. But the mainstream media commentators who marginalize, ridicule and smear those with left wing views, most certainly are. So it’s not a question of their being no appetite for left-wing views among the public, rather, the issue is one in which an inherently right-wing mainstream media attempt to manufacture the public’s consent through a process of propaganda and censorship by omission. As self-publicist, John McTernan illustrated on last Wednesday’s (September 21) Channel 4 News, rather than bringing political power to account, the media’s role is that of its gatekeeper.

As has been well documented, the orchestrated and systematic media vilification of Corbyn has been virtually incessant since the moment he was elected as leader. Moreover, the decision to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was planned by a core group in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) almost as soon as he won his landslide victory in September last year.

Corbyn’s second decisive victory within a year is unlikely to deter his detractors in their quest to continue to smear and undermine his leadership at every opportunity. Those who pre-planned and coordinated the coup and the subsequent war of attrition against him were so confident in succeeding that they briefed the Daily Telegraph about their plot to overthrow the Labour leader.

As journalist Steve Topple has shown, the attempt to depose Corbyn continues to be orchestrated behind the scenes by among others, public relations company Portland Communications whose Strategic Counsel includes former Blair spin-doctor, Alistair Campbell. The war of attrition also involves the McCarthyite purging of Corbyn supporters, a tradition of disdain for the grass roots membership which has a long history within the hierarchy of the party.

As Corbyn’s vindication by the memberships overwhelming support of him shows, the ‘race to the bottom’ strategy of his opponents serves nobody other than the narrow careerist motivations of an out of touch elite who have their snouts embedded in the trough and don’t want to give up their privileges without a fight. And that, as far the likes of Harman, Smith and the rest of the New Labour establishment are concerned, is clearly the crux of the matter.

A sincere and incorruptible politician like Corbyn represents a potential threat to these privileges and the gravy train that sustains them. This explains why the New Labour bubble would prefer a Tory government over a Corbyn government and thus are happy to continue with the ‘divided party at war with one another’ meme. This was what the challenge to Corbyn’s authority within the right-wing of the party is really all about. It’s not that Corbyn hasn’t a realistic chance of winning the next General Election, rather, it’s more a case that the establishment will do everything in their power to ensure that he doesn’t.

In that sense, the political battle lines have been drawn, not between the Tories, MSM and the opposition, but between the Tories, MSM, opposition and the rest of us. In the weeks and months prior to the election of Corbyn, I hadn’t remembered a time when the disconnect between the political establishment and ordinary people that Corbyn’s popularity represents had been greater. The former argue that he is unelectable while the latter put the lie to that myth.

The notion that Corbyn is unelectable is a joke. In his constituency of Islington North, Corbyn inherited a majority of 4,456, which is now 21,194. He’s one of the few Labour MPs whose vote increased between 2005 and 2010, when he added 5,685 to his majority. It’s true that Corbyn is currently well behind in the polls and it’s going to be tough – in my view, impossible – to unite the right-wing of the party that appears unwilling to work alongside him.

But it must be remembered that pre-coup, Labour led the Tories in three polls in a row over 41 days. Also Corbyn’s record at elections is exemplary. London and Bristol now have Labour mayors, rolling back years of Tory dominance, while Labour’s majorities in by-elections have uniformly increased. Moreover, as George Galloway pointed out, last Thursday Labour won three local government by-elections – two off the Tories and one off the SNP. In May’s local elections, the party overtook the Tories in the share of the vote, coming from seven points behind at the last election.

Meanwhile, the party which haemorrhaged 4.9 million votes between 1997 and 2010 under the ‘triangulated’ leadership of a man who lobbies on behalf of some of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictators, claimed in a moment of Orwellian irony, that Corbyn is a disaster for the party. This can only be beneficial for the current Labour leader. Finally, Corbyn’s Tory counterpart, Theresa May’s unpopular campaign focusing on grammar schools and the uncertain situation around Brexit is also likely to play into Corbyn’s hands.

So the implication the public don’t necessarily favour Corbyn’s politics is wrong. On the contrary, his position on issues like the NHS and the re-nationalization of the railways are universally popular. Rather it’s more the case that the establishment know Corbyn is incorruptible and therefore feel they are unable to win him over on their terms. Consequently, they realize that the longer Corbyn remains at the helm the more likely it will be that those sympathetic to him and his policies will be elected into positions of power.

It’s unlikely that the Tories will call a snap election given that the proposed boundary changes will benefit them electorally at a later date. This means that Corbyn will potentially have time to initiate the changes required in order to unite the party or, more likely, rid it of the plotters before the likely election in 2020. Four years is a lifetime in political terms and I’m convinced that if Corbyn and those close to him can see off the plotters, he can win.

 

Killing them softly

By Daniel Margrain

The 30 minute documentary film Killing Us Softly (1979) based on a lecture by Jean Kilbourne focuses on the effects of advertising on women’s self-image and the objectification of women’s bodies. Kilbourne argues that the superficial, objectifying and unreal portrayal of women in advertising lowers women’s self-esteem and that sexualized images of women are being used to sell virtually all kinds of goods.

Kilbourne then goes on to posit that these images degrade women, encourage abuse, and reinforce a patriarchal and sexist society. She also makes the connection between advertising and pornography, stating that “the advertisers are America’s real pornographers”.

Below is a video of Jean Kilbourne almost four decades later discussing her ideas as part of a campaign to bring her film to a new audience of young people. Significantly, she says since her film’s initial release in 1979 things have got worse, not better.

Thirty-six years after the release of Killing Us Softly, Channel 4 News reported on the inquest of 21 year old bulimia sufferer Eloise Perry who on the April 12 last year died at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital one week after having swallowed eight unlicensed fat-burning pills that she purchased from the internet.

The pills, which the Food Standards Agency describe as being illegal to sell for human consumption, contained DNP which is an industrial chemical historically used in the manufacture of explosives and fungicides. Website companies who sell this chemical depict DNP as a fat burning product and some even use the tag line “getting leaner through chemistry” as a marketing tool.

No sooner had the UK authorities made attempts to close down these sites, they reappeared under different names and hence it’s clearly a battle that they are losing. The fact that informed young people like Ms Parry who are aware of the risks, are so desperate to lose weight that they are prepared to go to such extreme lengths raises wider questions about the nature of the kind of society we live in.

The social pressures for young women (and increasingly young men) to conform to certain expectations placed upon them by the media are immense. The upshot is that they are involved in a constant psychological battle between myth and reality. In Britain, for example, the average size of a woman is now 16 but the ‘aspirational’ size is zero – an unobtainable goal.

The contradiction between reality and aspiration is undermining many of the gains that women made in the feminist debates of the 1960s and 1970s. What Ariel Levi terms “raunch culture” is another symptom of the undermining of the gains made.

A tour by High Street Honey’s that involves women employed by lads mags touring the various university campuses throughout the country dressed as porn stars, is yet another social layer as part of the pressure for young women to conform to certain body-image stereotypes placed upon them.

The notion that pole dancing which is sold as exercise classes at some universities and widely regarded as being empowering for women in terms of getting them in touch with their inner sexuality, is in reality, setting back women’s rights decades. Activities like this inhibit the way women (and increasingly men) feel about their bodies and therefore they cannot be disentangled from the tragic case of Ms Parry.

The normalization of sexist imagery in pop videos and television commercials and the sexualization of young girls clothes is another illustration of raunch culture outlined by Levi in which fantasies, desires and ambitions are transformed into commodities to make money.

The growth in cosmetic surgery is another factor that increases expectations on women’s appearances. Ninety-one per cent of cosmetic surgery is undertaken on women of which the most popular is breast enhancement. I was astounded to learn that in the U.S it’s widely considered normal practice for girls to be given a breast enlargement as a graduation present.

It’s a fact that a growing number of girls who suffer low self-esteem perpetuated by a media system that constantly portrays an ‘ideal’ body shape is a tendency that’s less common in the developing world.

This would seem to suggest that mental illness, of which eating disorders are a reflection, is to a large extent symptomatic of the growth of the consumerist capitalist society in which human relations are objectified. In Marxist terms, objectification is the process by which human capacities are transferred to an object and embodied in it.

Young females who read fashion magazines tend to have more bulimic symptoms than those females who do not – further demonstrating the impact the media has on the likelihood of developing the disorder. As J. Kevin Thompson and Eric Stice have shown, individuals first accept and ‘buy into’ the ideals set by fashion magazines, and then attempt to transform themselves in order to reflect the societal ideals of attractiveness.

The thin fashion model ideal is then reinforced by the wider media reflecting unrealistic female body shapes leading to high levels of discomfort among large swaths of the female population and the drive towards thinness that this implies.

Consequently, body dissatisfaction coupled with a drive for thinness is thought to promote dieting and its negative affects, which could eventually lead to bulimic symptoms such as purging or binging. Binges lead to self-disgust which causes purging to prevent weight gain.

Thompson’s and Stice’s research  highlights the extent to which the media affect what they term the “thin ideal internalization”. The researchers used randomized experiments (more specifically programmes) dedicated to teaching young women how to be more critical when it comes to media, in order to reduce thin ideal internalization. The results showed that by creating more awareness of the media’s control of the societal ideal of attractiveness, the thin ideal internalization significantly dropped.

In other words, less thin ideal images portrayed by the media resulted in less thin ideal internalization. Therefore, Thompson and Stice concluded that there is a direct correlation between the media portrayal of women and how they feel about themselves.

Social media also plays a part in how young people feel about themselves. A recent two part study [1] looking at social media sites, such as Facebook, researched influence and risk for eating disorders. In the first part of the study, 960 women completed self-report surveys regarding Facebook use and disordered eating. In the second part of the study, 84 women were randomly assigned to use Facebook or to use an alternate internet site for 20 minutes.

What this cross-sectional survey illustrates is that more frequent Facebook use is associated with greater disordered eating. The survey indicates a close correlation between Facebook use and the maintenance of weight/shape concerns and state anxiety compared to an alternate internet activity [1]. Other research suggests an etiological link between eating disorders and the tendency towards self-harming [now referred to as Non Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI)] [2].

In terms of prevalence, over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be directly affected by eating disorders. However, the Department of Health estimate that the figure is more likely to be 4 million due to the huge level of unmet need in the community [3].

Recent studies suggest that as many as 8 per cent of women have bulimia at some stage in their life. The condition can occur at any age, but mainly affects women aged between 16 and 40 (on average, it starts around the age of 18 or 19). Reports estimate that up to a quarter of Britons struggling with eating disorders may be male [4].

 

References

1.Mabe AG, Forney KJ, Keel PK. Int J Eat Disord. 2014 Jul;47(5):516-23 Do you “like” my photo?  

2.Colleen M. Jacobson and Cynthia C. Luik, Epidemiology and Sociocultural Aspects of Non-suicidal Self-Injury and Eating Disorders 2014

3. Joint Commissioning Panel For Mental Health (www.jcpmh.info/wp-content/uploads/10keymsgs-eatingdisorders.pdf)

4. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bulimia/Pages/Introduction.aspx

The Beatles

By Daniel Margrain

the-beatles-4

As an antidote to the official UK cinema release of Ron Howard’s documentary Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years that focuses on the bands four years on the road, I thought it timely to reproduce Piero Scaruffi’s seminal award winning article which is arguably one of the most professional analysis of the career of pop group the Beatles ever written. The article, while highly critical of the artistic merits of the group, also provides a rare but welcome corrective to the many myths and falsehoods that have surrounded the ‘fab four’ for decades.

In my view, Scaruffi’s timeless appraisal remains possibly the most accurate retrospective of the group ever produced. The article is quite long but it’s worth persevering with. Be prepared, if you happen to be one of the many obsessive Beatles fans, it’s highly likely the article will upset you.

The Beatles most certainly belong to the history of the 60s, but their musical merits are at best dubious.

The Beatles came at the height of the reaction against rock and roll, when the innocuous “teen idols”, rigorously white, were replacing the wild black rockers who had shocked the radio stations and the conscience of half of America. Their arrival represented a lifesaver for a white middle class terrorized by the idea that within rock and roll lay a true revolution of customs. The Beatles tranquilized that vast section of the population and conquered the hearts of all those (first and foremost the females) who wanted to rebel, without violating the social status quo. The contorted and lascivious faces of the black rock and rollers were substituted by the innocent smiles of the Beatles; the unleashed rhythms of the first were substituted by the catchy tunes of the latter. Rock and roll could finally be included in the pop charts. The Beatles represented the quintessential reaction to a musical revolution in the making, and for a few years they managed to run its enthusiasm into the ground.

Furthermore, the Beatles represented the reaction against a social and political revolution. They arrived at the time of the student protests, of Bob Dylan, of the Hippies, and they replaced the image of angry kids, fists in the air, with their cordial faces and amiable declarations. They came to replace the accusatory words of militant musicians with overindulgent nursery rhymes. Thus the Beatles served as middle-class tranquilizers, as if to prove the new generation was not made up exclusively of rebels, misfits and sex maniacs.

For most of their career, the Beatles were four mediocre musicians who sang melodic three-minute tunes at a time when rock music was trying to push itself beyond that format, one originally confined by the technical limitations of the 78 rpm record. They were the quintessence of “mainstream” (assimilating the innovations proposed by rock music) within the format of the melodic song.

The Beatles belonged, like the Beach Boys (whom they emulated throughout most of their career), to the era of the vocal band. In such a band the technique of the instrument was not as important as that of the chorus. Undoubtedly skilled at composing choruses, they availed themselves of producer George Martin (head of Parlophone since 1956), to embellish those choruses with arrangements more and more eccentric.

Thanks to a careful marketing campaign, they became the most celebrated entertainers of the era, and are still the darlings of magazines and tabloids, much like Princess Grace of Monaco and Lady Di.

The convergence between Western polyphony (melody, several parts of vocal harmony and instrumental arrangements) and African percussion – the leitmotif of US music from its inception – was legitimized in Europe by the huge success of the Merseybeat, in particular by its best sellers, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Beatles, both produced by George Martin and managed by Brian Epstein. To the bands of the Merseybeat goes the credit of having validated rock music for a vast, virtually endless, audience. They were able to interpret the spirit and technique of rock and roll, while separating it from its social circumstances, thus defusing potential explosions. In such a fashion, they rendered it accessible not only to the young rebels, but to all. Mediocre musicians, and even more mediocre intellectuals, bands like the Beatles had the intuition of the circus performer who knows how to amuse the peasants after a hard day’s work, an intuition applied to the era of mass distribution of consumer goods.

Every one of their songs and every one of their albums followed much more striking songs and albums by others, but instead of simply imitating them, the Beatles adapted them to a bourgeois, conformist and orthodox dimension. The same process was applied to the philosophy of the time, from the protests on college campuses to Dylan’s pacifism, psychedelic drugs, or Eastern religion. Their vehicle was melody, a universal code of sorts, that declared their music innocuous. Naturally others performed the same operation, and many (from the Kinks to the Hollies, from the Beach Boys to the Mamas and Papas) produced melodies even more memorable, yet the Beatles arrived at the right moment and theirs would remain the trademark of the melodic song of the second half of the twentieth century.

Their ascent was branded as “Beatlemania”, a phenomenon of mass hysteria launched in 1963 that marked the height of the “teen idol” of the late 1950s, an extension of the myths of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. From that moment on, no matter what they put together, the Beatles remained the center of the media’s attention.

Musically, for what it is worth, the Beatles were the product of an era that had been prepared by vocal groups such as the Everly Brothers and by rockers such as Buddy Holly; an era that also expressed itself through the girl-groups, the Tamla bands and surf music. What the Beatles have in common with them, aside from almost identical melodies, is a general concept of song based on an exuberant, optimistic and cadenced melody.

The Beatles were the quintessence of instrumental mediocrity. George Harrison was a pathetic guitarist, compared with the London guitarists of those days (Townshend of the Who, Richards of the Rolling Stones, Davies of the Kinks, Clapton, Beck and Page of the Yardbirds, and many others who were less famous but more original). The Beatles had completely missed the revolution of rock music (founded on a prominent use of the guitar) and were still trapped in the stereotypes of the easy-listening orchestras. Paul McCartney was a singer from the 1950s, who could not have possibly sounded more conventional. As a bassist, he was not worth the last of the rhythm and blues bassists (even though within the world of Merseybeat his style was indeed revolutionary). Ringo Starr played drums the way any kid of that time played it in his garage (even though he may ultimately be the only one of the four who had a bit of technical competence). Overall, the technique of the “Fab Four” was the same as that of many other easy-listening groups: sub-standard.

Theirs were records of traditional songs crafted as they had been crafted for centuries, yet they served an immense audience, far greater than the audience of those who wanted to change the world, the hippies, freaks and protesters. Their fans ignored or abhorred the many rockers of the time who were experimenting with the suite format, who were composing long free-form tracks, who were using dissonance, who were radically changing the concept of the musical piece. The Beatles’ fans thought, and some still think, that using trumpets in a rock song was a revolutionary event, that using background noises (although barely noticeable) was an even more revolutionary event, and that only great musical geniuses could vary so many styles in one album, precisely what many rock musicians were doing all over the world, employing much more sophisticated stylistic excursions.

While the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, the Doors, Pink Floyd and many others were composing long and daring suites worthy of avantgarde music, thus elevating rock music to art, the Beatles continued to yield three-minute songs built around a chorus. Beatlemania and its myth notwithstanding, Beatles fans went crazy for twenty seconds of trumpet, while the Velvet Underground were composing suites of chaos twenty minutes long. Actually, between noise and a trumpet, between twenty seconds and twenty minutes, there was an artistic difference of several degrees of magnitude. They were, musically, sociologically, politically, artistically, and ideologically, on different planets.

Beatlemania created a comical temporal distortion. Many Beatles fans were convinced that rock and roll was born around the early 1960s, that psychedelic rock and the hippies were a 1967 phenomenon, that student protests began in 1969, that peace marches erupted at the end of the 60s, and so on. Beatles fans believed that the Beatles were first in everything, while in reality they were last in almost everything. The case of the Beatles is a textbook example of how myths can distort history.

The Beatles had the historical function to delay the impact of the innovations of the 1960s . Between 1966 and 1969, while suites, jams, and long free form tracks (which the Beatles also tried but only toward the end of their career) became the fashion, while the world was full of guitarists, bassist, singers and drummers who played solos and experimented with counterpoint, the Beatles limited themselves to keeping the tempo and following the melody. Their historical function was also to prepare the more conservative audience for those innovations. Their strength was perhaps in being the epitome of mediocrity, never a flash of genius, never a revolutionary thought, never a step away from what was standard, accepting innovations only after they had been by the establishment. And maybe it was that chronic mediocrity that made their fortune: whereas other bands tried to surpass their audiences, to keep two steps ahead of the myopia of their fans, traveling the hard and rocky road, the Beatles took their fans by the hand and walked them along a straight path devoid of curves and slopes.

Beatles fans can change the meaning of the word “artistic” to suit themselves, but the truth is that the artistic value of the Beatles work is very low. The Beatles made only songs, often unpretentious songs, with melodies no more catchy than those of many other pop singers. The artistic value of those songs is the artistic value of one song: however well done (and one can argue over the number of songs well done vs. the number of overly publicized songs by the band of the moment), it remains a song, precisely as toothpaste remains toothpaste. It does not become a work of art just because it has been overly publicized.

The Beatles are justly judged for the beautiful melodies they have written. But those melodies were “beautiful” only when compared to the melodies of those who were not trying to write melodies; in other words to the musicians who were trying to rewrite the concept of popular music by implementing suites, jams and noise. Many contemporaries of Beethoven wrote better minuets than Beethoven ever wrote, but only because Beethoven was writing something else. In fact, he was trying to write music that went beyond the banality of minuets.

The melodies of the Beatles were perhaps inferior to many composers of pop music who still compete with the Beatles with regard to quality, those who were less famous and thus less played.

The songs of the Beatles were equipped with fairly vapid lyrics at a time when hordes of singer songwriters and bands were trying to say something intelligent. The Beatles’ lyrics were tied to the tradition of pop music, while rock music found space, rightly or wrongly, for psychological narration, anti-establishment satire, political denunciation, drugs, sex and death.

The most artistic and innovative aspect of the Beatles’ music, in the end, proved to be George Martin’s arrangements. Perhaps aware of the band’s limitations, Martin used the studio and studio musicians in a creative fashion, at times venturing beyond the demands of tradition to embellish the songs. Moreover, Martin undoubtedly had a taste for unusual sounds. At the beginning of his career he had produced Rolf Harris’ Tie Me Kangaroo with the didjeridoo. At the time nobody knew what it was. Between 1959 and 1962 Martin had produced several tracks of British humor with heavy experimentation, inspired by the Californian Stan Freiberg, the first to use the recording studio as an instrument.

As popular icons, as celebrities, the Beatles certainly influenced their times, although much less than their fans suppose. Even Richard Nixon, the US president of the Vietnam War and Watergate influenced his times and the generations that followed, but that does not make him a great musician.

Today Beatles songs are played mostly in supermarkets. But their myth, like that of Rudolph Valentino and Frank Sinatra before them, will live as long as the fans who believed in it will be alive. Through the years their fame has been artificially kept alive by marketing, a colossal advertising effort, a campaign without equal in the history of entertainment.

Their history begins at the end of the 1950s. Buddy Holly’s Crickets had invented the modern concept of the rock band. Indirectly they had also started the fashion of naming a band with a plural noun, like the doo-wop ensembles before them, but a noun that was funny instead of serious. Almost immediately bands like “the Crickets” began to pop up everywhere, most of them bearing plural nouns. Insects were fashionable. The Beatles were the most famous.

Assembled to bring to Europe the free spirit, the simple melodies, and the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys (the novelty of the moment) more than for any specific reason, the Beatles became, despite their limitations, the most successful recording artists of their time. While acknowledging that neither the Beatles nor the Beach Boys were music greats, it must be noted that both were influential in conferring commercial credibility to rock music, and both inspired thousands of youngsters around the world to form rock bands. The same had happened with Elvis Presley. Although far from being a great musician, he too had inspired thousands of white kids, among them both the Beatles and the Beach Boys, to become rockers.

The “swinging London” of the 1960s was a mix of renewal, mediocrity, conformity, non-commitment, cultural rebirth, tourist attraction and excitement, a locus of rebellion drowned in shining billboards, of young men with long hair and girls in mini-skirts, of wealth and hypocrisy about wealth, a city of indifference. La dolce vita, English style. The Beatles were the best selling product of that London, a city full of ambiguity and contradictions.

The Beatles’ birthplace was Liverpool. John Lennon was a rhythm guitar player with a skiffle group called the Quarrymen, founded in 1955, before forming the Beatles in 1960 with Paul McCartney. George Harrison, hired when he was still a minor, played lead guitar, with a formidable style inspired by the rockabilly of James Burton and Carl Perkins. They rose through the ranks playing rock and roll covers in Hamburg, Germany, then made their debut at The Cavern, in Liverpool, on February 21, 1961. Shortly after, Ringo Starr was called to replace the drummer Pete Best, and McCartney switched to the bass.

In 1962 two phenomena exploded in America: the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. Both truly sang, in vocal harmony derived from 1950s doo-wop, which they introduced to white audiences, with arrangements imitating the Crickets.

That was the year the Beatles began the transition from covers to original, melodic, vocal harmonies. One of the first recordings of the Beach Boys had been a revision of one of Chuck Berry’s songs, one of the first recordings of the Beatles had to be a revision of one of Chuck Berry’s songs. Brian Wilson played the bass for the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney would play bass for the Beatles.

Brian Epstein was the man who scouted them and secured their contract with EMI in November 1961, and also the man who created their image,their clothes, their hairdos (similar to television comedian Ish Kabibble’s). George Martin was the man who created their sound.

1962 was the year of Bob Dylan, of peace demonstrations, of songs of protest. Precisely in 1962, far removed, diametrically opposed really, to the events that dominated US society, the Beatles debuted with a 45, Love Me Do, recorded in September 1962, a jovial rhythm and blues led by the harmonica in the style of Delbert McClinton. By the end of the year the song had made the charts. In February 1963, the band reached #2 with Please Please Me. In the space of few months, a diligent marketing strategy, ingeniously managed by Brian Epstein, unleashed mass hysteria. Records sold out before the recording sessions actually began, mass-media detailed step by step chronicles of the four heroes, the world of fashion imposed a new hairdo. Epstein had created “Beatlemania”…

The overflow of fanaticism around them demanded refinement of their style. They began to utilize new instruments. The more they dissociated themselves from their rhythm and blues roots, the faster their style became more melodious. Through From Me To You, the rowdy She Loves You (accessorized with the first “yeah-yeah-yeahs”), and I Want To Hold Your Hand (a heavier rhythm enhanced by clapping), all “number ones” on the charts of 1963, they fused centuries of vocal styles – sacred hymn, Elizabethan song, music hall, folk ballad, gospel and voodoo – in a harmonious and crystal-clear format for a happy chorus. A variant of the same process had been adopted in the United States by the Shirelles. For the most part it was Buddy Holly’s jovial, childish, catchy style that was copied, speeding the tempo to accommodate the demands of the “twist”. The twist was the dance craze of the moment: fast beat, suggestive moves and catchy tunes. The Beatles sensed that it was the right formula.

In the USA nobody had caught on yet, and only mangled versions of Please Please Me (March 1963) and With The Beatles (November 1963) had been released. In January 1964 EMI decided to invest significantly and I Want To Hold Your Hand reached the top of the charts together with the Beatles’ first US album Meet The Beatles (Capitol, 1964). In the States, cleansed at last of the perverted and amoral rock and roll scum of the 1950s, the charming and polite Merseybeat of the Beatles delighted the media. After their first tour in February 1964, and their appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show”, their 45s were solidly on top of the US charts. In April 1964 they occupied the first five positions. After all, their sound was drenched in US music: their vocal style was either that of the hard rockers like Little Richard, or the gentler call-and-response of the Drifters (echoing one another, stretching a word for several beats, screaming coarse “yeah-yeah”, shrieking in falsetto), the choruses were Buddy Holly’s, the harmonies were the Beach Boys’ and the instrumental parts were remakes of twist combos.

The secret of the Beatles’ success, in the USA as in the UK, was the simplicity of their arrangements. Whereas the idols of the time were backed by complex, almost classical arrangements, at times even by studio effects, the Beatles employed the elementary technique of surf music, completely devoid of orchestral support and surreal effects. At a time when singers had become studio subordinates, the Beatles managed to reestablish the supremacy of the singer. The youths of the USA recognized themselves in a style that was much more direct than the manufactured one of their “teen idols”, and by default recognized themselves in the Beatles, precisely as they had recognized themselves in Elvis Presley after having become accustomed to the artificiality of pop music in the 1950s.

The Mersey sound was designed to tone down rock and roll. Under the direction of producer George Martin and manager Brian Epstein, the sound of the Beatles also became softer. The captivating style of the Beatles had already been pioneered by Gerry & The Pacemakers (formed in 1959, also managed by Epstein). They reached the charts with their first three 45s (How Do You Do It, March 1963, I Like It, May 1963, You`ll Never Walk Alone, October 1963): very melodic versions of rock and roll with sugar-coated versions of rock’s rebel text. Practically speaking, the Pacemakers’ formula brought rock and roll into pop music. They replaced the rough and crude beat of the blues with the light and tidy rhythms of European pop songs; they exchanged the slanted melodies of the blues with the catchy tunes of the British operetta; they substituted the provocative lyrics of Chuck Berry with the romantic rhymes of the “teen idols.” Epstein and Martin simply continued that format with the Beatles. The only difference was in the authorship of practically their entire cache. All the Beatles songs were signed Lennon-McCartney. (This was only for contractual reasons. In reality they were not necessarily co-written.)

The first student protests took place in Berkeley, California in 1964. Young people were protesting against the establishment in general, and against the war in Vietnam in particular. The rebellion that had been seething through the 50s had finally found its intellectual vehicle. The Beatles knew nothing of this when they recorded Can’t Buy Me Love, a swinging rockabilly a la Bill Haley, the first to reach #1 simultaneously in the States and in Britain, A Hard Day’s Night and I Feel Fine, using the feedback that had been pioneered in the 1950s by guitarists such as Johnny Watson and used in Britain by the Yardbirds. All three are exuberant songs carrying ever so catchy refrains, reaching the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. With these songs and with their public behavior the Beatles showed a whimsical and provoking way to be young. The Beatles were still a brand new phenomenon when A Hard Day’s Night – the first surreal documentary about their daily lives was released, and their two first biographies were published. In the USA the marketing was intense: EMI was inundated by contracts to solicit the sales of Beatles wigs, Beatles attire, Beatles dolls, cartoons inspired by the Beatles. America was saturated with images of four smiling boys, the creation of a brand new myth that served to exorcise the demons of Vietnam, of the peace marches, of the civil disorders, of the student protests, of the racial disturbances, of the murder of JFK, of Bob Dylan, of rock and roll, of all the tragedies, real or presumed, that troubled the “American Dream”. In the end, it might have all been a form of shock therapy.

Sure enough, hidden behind those smiling faces were four mediocre musicians, and also four multimillionaire snobs in the proudest British tradition. Far from being symbols of rebellion, they were reactionism personified. The Beatles, optimistic and effervescent, represented an escape from reality. People, kids in particular, had a desperate need to believe in something that had nothing to do with bombs and upheaval. The Beatles put to music the enthusiasm of the masses and in return, in a cycle that bordered on perpetual motion, were enthusiastically acclaimed by the same masses.

The best of their cliches is summarized in a famous anecdote. Interviewed during their US tour, Lennon answered the question “How did you find America?” with “We turned left at Greenland!” Beneath this naive sense of humor, anarchic and surreal, lays the greatest merit of the band.

From 1965 the LP, in the preceding years not as important as the 45, became the new unit of measure of their work. The US releases had 12 cuts including the hits, the British versions had 14 cuts and generally none of the hits. A Hard Day’s Night (1964) was the first release to contain material exclusively co-written by Lennon and McCartney. For Sale, released immediately after, contained six covers (but also Eight Days A Week, and the melancholic I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party). Help (August 1965), with The Night Before and Ticket To Ride, marked the transition from the Merseybeat sound to one oriented more toward folk and country, though some of the songs bring Buddy Holly to mind. The Beatles of these days showed a formidable talent for the melancholic ballad, such as You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, and most of all Yesterday, the slow song par excellence written by Paul McCartney, to which Martin added a string quartet (a song vaguely reminiscent of 1933’s Yesterdays by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach). However, their best work is to be found in more aggressive songs, such as Help, a gospel full of life adapted to their surreal style.

Rubber Soul (December 1965) completed the transition from the 45 to the 33, and also from Merseybeat to folk-rock. Following their U.S. tour, the influence of the Byrds is very strong. The rock and roll beat in Drive My Car and Run For Your Life, the exotic mood of Norwegian Wood (a David Crosby-ian litany accompanied by sitar, an instrument already utilized by the Yardbirds, possibly based on what the Kinks had done a few months earlier with See My Friends) and the timid psychedelia of Nowhere Man cover a vast repertoire of harmonies for their standards. In spite of the fact that the Beatles sought success within rock and roll, it was evident that their best work was expressed through melodic songs. The tender ballads Girl and Michelle (a classic for acoustic guitar, melodic bass and chorus, in the style of 1950s vocal groups) are truly excellent songs in their genre, but because they lack both rhythm and volume, they were considered “minor” at the time.

In 1965 the Beatles recorded another melodic masterpiece, We Can Work It Out, ground out on barrel organ and accordion, inspired by French folk music. They pursued the mirage of the “rave-up” with the hard riff of Day Tripper (borrowed from Watch Your Step of bluesman Bobby Parker), a pathetic response to Satisfaction by the Stones and You Really Got Me by the Kinks. Both songs, hard rockers, had shocked the charts that same year.

The Beatles finally freed themselves from the obsession of emulating others in 1966, with Revolver, an album entirely dedicated to sophisticated songs. The album, extremely polished, seems the lighter version of Rubber Soul. The psychedelic Tomorrow Never Knows (sitar, backward guitar, organ drones), the vaguely oriental Love You To, the classic Eleanor Rigby, the Vaudevillian operetta Good Day Sunshine, the rhythm and blues of Got To Get You Into My Life and Dr. Robert, as well as Rain, recorded in the same sessions (with backward vocals, inspired by the Byrds’ Eight Miles High, that had charted just weeks before), are all mitigated by an ever more languid and romantic attitude. The few jolts of rhythm are kept at bay by a tender effusion in I’m Only Sleeping (with a timid solo of backward guitar), There And Everywhere and For No One. With this album the Beatles left behind rock and roll to get closer to pop music, the pop music of the Brill Building, that is, a genre of pop that sees Revolver as its masterpiece. (At the time melodic songs all over the world were inspired by the Brill Building). Of course Revolver was a thousand years late. That same year Dylan had released Blonde On Blonde, a double album with compositions fifteen minutes long, and Frank Zappa had released Freak Out, also a double album, in collage format. Rock music was experimenting with free form jams as in Virgin Forest by the Fugs, Up In Her Room by the Seeds, Going Home by the Rolling Stones. The songs of the Beatles truly belonged to another century.

The formal perfection of their melodies reached the sublime in 1967 with two 45s: the baroque/electronic Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever, released in February, an absolute masterpiece that never reached the top of the charts, the hard rocking Paperback Writer, and the childish Yellow Submarine, a mosaic full of sound gags and barroom choruses. Penny Lane represents the apex of the Manneristic style: Vaudevillian rhythm, hypnotic melody, Renaissance trumpets, folkloristic flutes and triangles. Strawberry Fields Forever is a densely-arranged psychedelic experiment (backward vocals, mellotron, harp, timpani, bongos, trumpet, cello).

Perhaps, the experiments could have continued in a more serious direction, as the intriguing idea of the 14-minute Carnival of Light leads one to believe, a piece recorded at the beginning of 1967 and never completed nor released.

1967 was the year that FM radio began to play long instrumentals. In Great Britain, it was the year of psychedelia, of the Technicolor Dream, of the UFO Club. The psychedelic singles of Pink Floyd were generating an uproar. Inevitably, the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

This quasi-concept album was released while the Monterey Festival was consecrating the sanctifiable, the big names of the times. Unlike most of the revolutionary records of those days, often recorded in haste and with a low budget, Sgt. Pepper cost a fortune and took four months to put together. The Beatles soar in the ethereal refrain of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, utilizing the sitar, distorted keyboard sounds and Indian inspired vocals; they indulge in Vaudevillian tunes such as Lovely Rita and When I’m Sixty Four (a vintage ragtime worthy of the Bonzo Band), and they showcase their odd melodic sense in With A Little Help From My Friends. They scatter studio effects here and there, pretending to be avantgarde musicians, in Fixing A Hole and Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, but in reality these are tunes inspired by the music halls, the circuses and small town bands. A Day In The Life is the culmination of the relationship between technique and philosophy. It represents the happy marriage between Martin’s sense of harmony, employing a 40-piece orchestra in which everybody plays every note, and Lennon’s hippie existentialism, that dissects the alienation of the bourgeoisie.

Everything was running smoothly in the name of quality music, now entrusted to high fidelity arrangements and adventurous variations of style, from folk ballads to sidewalk Vaudeville, from soul to marching bands, from the Orient to swing, from chamber music to psychedelia, from tap dance to little bands in the park. Everything had been fused into a steady flow of variety show skits.

Rather than an album of psychedelic music (compared to which it actually sounds retro), Sgt. Pepper was the Beatles’ answer to the sophistication of Pet Sounds, the masterpiece by their rivals, the Beach Boys, released a year and three months before. The Beatles had always been obsessed by the Beach Boys. They had copied their multi-part harmonies, their melodic style and their carefree attitude. Throughout their entire career, from 1963 to 1968, the Beatles actually followed the Beach Boys within a year or two, including the formation of Apple Records, which came almost exactly one year after the birth of Brother Records. Pet Sounds had caused an uproar because it delivered the simple melodies of surf music through the artistic sophistication of the studio. So, following the example of Pet Sounds, the Beatles recorded, from February to May 1967, Sgt. Pepper, disregarding two important factors: first that Pet Sounds had been arranged, mixed and produced by Brian Wilson and not by an external producer like George Martin, and second that, as always, they were late. They began assembling Sgt. Pepper a year after Pet Sounds had hit the charts, and after dozens of records had already been influenced by it.

Legend has it that it took 700 hours of studio recording to finish the album. One can only imagine what many other less fortunate bands could have accomplished in a recording studio with 700 hours at their disposal. Although Sgt. Pepper was assembled with the intent to create a revolutionary work of art, if one dares take away the hundreds of hours spent refining the product, not much remains that cannot be heard on Revolver: Oriental touches here and there, some psychedelic extravaganzas, a couple of arrangements in classical style. Were one to skim off a few layers of studio production, only pop melodies would remain, melodies not much different from those that had climbed the charts ten years before. Yet it was the first Beatles album to be released in long playing version all over the world. None of its songs were released as singles.

The truth is that although it was declared an “experimental” work, even Sgt. Pepper managed to remain a pop album. The Beatles of 1967 were still producing three-minute ditties, while Red Crayolas and Pink Floyd, to name two psychedelic bands of the era, were playing long free form suites – at times cacophonous, often strictly instrumental – that bordered on avantgarde. In 1967, the band that had never recorded a song that had not been built around a refrain began to feel outdated. They tried to keep up, but they never pushed themselves beyond the jingles, most likely because they could not, just as Marilyn Monroe could not have recited Shakespeare.

Sgt. Pepper is the album of a band that sensed change in the making, and was adapting its style to the taste of the hippies. It came in last (in June), after Velvet Underground & Nico (January), The Doors (also January), the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday (February), and the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (February) to signal the end of an era, after others had forever changed the history of rock music. (Several technical “innovations” on Sgt Pepper were copied from Younger Than Yesterday, whose tapes the Beatles had heard from David Crosby at the end of 1966). The uproar generated by Sgt. Pepper transferred those innovations from the US underground to the living rooms and the supermarkets of half the world.

With Sgt. Pepper, the sociology course in melodic rock and roll that Lennon and McCartney had introduced in 1963 came to an end. The music of the Beatles was an antidote to the uneasiness of those times, to the troubling events that scared and perplexed people. The course had the virtue of deflecting the impact of those events, the causes of political upheaval and moral revolution. The Beatles reassured the middle class at a time when almost nothing could reassure the middle class.

Every arrangement of that period – the harpsichords and the flutes, the prerecorded tracks and the electronic effects – was the result of George Martin’s careful production. Martin was a lay musician, a former member of a marching band that occasionally had played in St. James Park. He knew that avantgarde musicians made music by manipulating tracks, that instruments with unusual timbre existed, that rock bands were dissecting classical harmonies. His background, not to mention his intellectual ability, was of the circus, the carnival, the operetta, the marching band, London’s second-rate theaters. He took all he could from that folkloristic patrimony, every unorthodox technique. The results might not have been particularly impressive – after all he was neither Beethoven nor Von Karajan – but they were most certainly interesting. He was the true genius behind the music of the Beatles. Martin transformed their snobbish disposition, their childish insolence, their fleeting enthusiasm, into musical ideas. He converted their second hand melodies into monumental arrangements. He even played some of the instruments that helped those songs make history. From Rubber Soul on, Martin’s involvement got progressively more evident. Especially with Sgt. Pepper, Martin demonstrated his knowledge and his intuition. The idea to connect all the songs in a continuous flow, however, is McCartney’s. It is the operetta syndrome, the everlasting obsession of British musicians of the music halls. The Beatles filled newspapers and magazines with their declarations about drugs and Indian mysticism, and how they converted those elements into music, but it was Martin who was doing the conversion, who was transforming their fanciful artistic ambitions into music.

Around the time of Sgt. Pepper’s release, Brian Epstein died. (His death was attributed to drugs and alcohol.) He was the man who had given fame to the Beatles, the fundamental presence in their development, the man who had invented their myth. The Beatles were four immature kids who for years had played the involuntary leading roles in an immensely successful soap opera, a part that paid them with imprisonment. For years they did not dare step outside their hotel rooms or their limousines. As Epstein’s control began to lessen they began to look around, to take notice of the drugs, the social disorder, the ideals of peace, the student protests, the Oriental philosophies. It was a world completely unknown to them, full of issues they had never mentioned in their songs. The revelation was traumatic. Epstein’s absence generated chaos, exposing problems with revenue, representation and public relations that eventually caused the demise of the group, but it also gave them the chance to grow up.

Sgt Pepper represents a breaking point in their career on several levels. It is a very autobiographical conceptual take on self-awareness. It is a concept album about the discovery of being able to put together a concept album.

Two projects realized with unusual wit also belong to the same period, a period that bridged two eras: the television movie Magical Mystery Tour and the cartoon Yellow Submarine. In both works can be found some of the most ingenious ideas of the quartet. The grotesque schizoid nightmare I Am The Walrus and the kaleidoscopic trip It’s All Too Much are exercises of surrealism and psychedelia applied to the Merseybeat. Magical Mystery Tour also includes the bucolic ballad The Fool On The Hill, the psychedelic Blue Jay Way, and the mantra Baby You`re A Rich Man.

Meanwhile the shower of hits influenced by the experimental climate continued: Magical Mystery Tour, the movie soundtrack, with trumpets, jazz piano, changes in tempo, and a circus huckster-style presentation, Your Mother Should Know, another vaudeville classic, the anthem All You Need Is Love, Hello Goodbye, a catchy melody distorted by psychedelic effects, Lady Madonna, the boogie inspired by Fats Domino. But the Beatles still belonged to the era of pop music: unlike Cream they did not pull off solos, unlike Hendrix they strummed their guitars without real know-how, unlike Pink Floyd they did not dare dissect harmony. They were not just retro, they simply belonged elsewhere.

Hey Jude (august 1968), a long (for the Beatles) jam of psychedelic blues-rock, in reality another historic slow song by McCartney, came out after Traffic’s Dear Mr. Fantasy and also after Cream’s lengthy live jams had reached peak popularity. Paradoxically, Hey Jude established a new sales record; it was #1 on the charts for nine weeks and sold six million copies.

Having established the melodic standard of the decade, the quartet implemented it in every harmonic recipe that arose from time to time. By applying the industrial law of constant revision, they Beatles managed to keep themselves on top. So much variety of arrangements resulted in mere mannerism, meticulous attention to detail and ornament. The albums of the third period fluctuate in fact between collages of miniatures and melodic fantasies, but always skillfully keeping a harmonic cohesion between one song and the other, in the step with – consciously or unconsciously – the structure of the operetta.

By the time of their next LP release they were leading separate lives, each indifferent to the ideas of the others, and their album reflected the situation. It was clear that this new batch of recorded songs was not the effort of a band, but the work of four artists profoundly different from one another.

The double album The Beatles (November 1968), very similar in spirit to the Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers (June 1968), is a disorganized heap of incongruous ideas. No other Beatles album had ever been so varied and eclectic. Their new “progressive” libido found an outlet in blues-rock (Rocky Raccoon, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road), and especially the giddy hyper-boogies (Birthday and Helter Skelter). As a consequence of this fragmented inspiration, the record includes a cornucopia of genres: classical (Piggies, a rare moment of genius from Harrison, a baroque sonata performed with the sarcastic humour of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, with a melody borrowed from Stephane Grappelli’s Eveline), acoustic folk (Blackbird), the campfire sing-a-long (Bungalow Bill), ballads (Cry Baby Cry – one of their best piano progressions), the usual vaudeville-style parade (Don’t Pass Me By, Martha My Dear, Obladi Oblada), and melodic rock (While My Guitar Gently Weeps, the jewel of their tunefulness). The album wraps up with a long jam, more or less avantgarde, (Revolution No. 9, co-written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono) two years after everybody else, and three years after the eleven minutes of Goin’ Home, by the Stones.

The so called White Album sampled the mood change of rock music toward a simpler and more traditional way to make music. It was released three months after Sweetheart Of The Rodeo by the Byrds, which in turn had followed Dylan’s John Wesley Harding. It is also an album that reflects the passing of Brian Epstein.

In 1968 Great Britain became infected by the concept album/rock opera bug, mostly realized by Beatles contemporaries: Tommy by the Who, The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake by the Small Faces, Odyssey and Oracle by the Zombies, etc (albums that in turn owed something to the loosely-connected song cycles of pop albums such as Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours (1955), the Byrds’ Fifth Dimension, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper). So, with the usual delay, a year later the Beatles gave it a try. Abbey Road (1969), is a vaudeville-style operetta that combines every genre in a steady stream of melodies and structurally perfect arrangements. It is the summa encyclopaedica of their career. It is a series of self-mocking vignettes, mimicking now the circus worker (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer), now the crooner (Oh Darling, a parody a la Bonzo Band), now the baby-sitter (Octopus’s Garden, in the silly vein of Yellow Submarine), culminating in the overwhelming suite of side B. Starting with the primitive exuberance of You Never Give Me Your Money (a mini rock opera worthy of early Zappa) and Mean Mr Mustard, the suite comes in thick and fast with Polytheme Pam and She Came In Thru The Bathroom Window, and dies melancholically with yet another goliardic chorus, Carry That Weight (that reprises the motifs of Money and I Want You). It is the apotheosis of the belated music hall entertainer in Paul McCartney. And it is, above all, a masterpiece of production, of sound, of sonic puzzles.

As was the case with their contemporaries – Who, Kinks, Small Faces and Zombies – this late album/thesis runs the risks going down in history as the Beatles’ masterpiece. Obviously it does not even come close to the creative standards of the time (1969), but it scores well. The result is formally impeccable melodic songwriting, although it must be noted that the best songs, both written by George Harrison, are also the most modest. Abbey Road is their last studio album, again produced by George Martin.

All efforts at cohesion notwithstanding, their personalities truly became too divergent. The modest hippie George Harrison became attracted to Oriental spiritualism. (Something and Here Comes The Sun are his melancholy ballads). Paul McCartney, the smiling bourgeois, became progressively more involved with pop music (every nursery-rhyme, Get Back and Let It Be included, are his). John Lennon, the thoughtful intellectual became absorbed in self-examination and political involvement. His was a much harder and/or psychedelic sound (Revolution, Come Together, the dreamy and Indian-like Across The Universe). They were songs ever more meaningless and anonymous. After all, the break-up had begun with Revolver (Lennon wrote Tomorrow Never Knows, Harrison Love You To, McCartney Eleanor Rigby), and had been camouflaged in successive records by Martin’s painstakingly arrangements.

The Beatles adapted their music to suit the styles in fashion: doo-wop, garage-rock, psychedelia, country-rock. Very few bands changed style so drastically from year to year. Perhaps they began to feel obsolete listening to Cream. Cream concerts were the first musical phenomenon in Great Britain to rival Beatlemania. Cream did all they could to make the Merseybeat sound terribly old, precisely what the Beatles had done to the sound of Elvis Presley. In 1969, Led Zeppelin changed completely the importance of radio and charts. [Led Zeppelin is the first enormously successful band whose album did not get any air play on AM radio (only FM) and whose songs did not make the singles charts. The change they brought about was significant because it shifted the importance of the charts from singles to albums. -Translator’s Note] Since they used melody as a lever, the Beatles had a relatively easy time in following every shift in fashion (psychedelia included), until hard-rock – the antithesis of Beatlemania – came about. Suddenly the idol was no longer the singer but the instrument, the excitement was generated by the riff and not by the refrain, concerts were attended by multitudes of long-haired men on drugs who gathered on the street, not by hysterical teenage girls who assembled in theaters. Hard-rock negated their simple melodies. It is not by coincidence that the arrival of hard-rock marked the end of the Beatles.

With out a shadow of a doubt, the Beatles were great melodicists, but at a time when melody was considered a reductive factor. As a matter of fact their melodies marked a regression to the 50s, to the type of singer the recording industry was desperately trying to push on the audience and against whom rock sought to rebel.

The Beatles tried every fashion exported by the US: Chuck Berry’s rock and roll, the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys, the romantic melody of Tin Pan Alley, the baroque sound of Pet Sounds (Beach Boys), the rock opera Absolutely Free (Frank Zappa), the psychedelic arrangements of the Electric Prunes and the like, the hard riffs of the blues-rock jams (Cream), the synthesis of folk-rock (launched by Dylan and the Grateful Dead). Yet the audience credited these innovations – brought about by others – to the Beatles. All things considered, their success is one of the greatest paradoxes of the century. The Beatles understood virtually nothing of what was happening around them, but the success of anything they copied was guaranteed. By buying their records, one bought a shortcut to the music of those times.

The enormous influence of the Beatles was not musical. Music, especially in those days, was something else: experimental, instrumental, improvised, political. The Beatles played pop ditties until the end. The most creative rock musicians of the time played everything but pop ditties, because rock was conceived as an alternative to ditties. FM radio was created to play rock music, not pop ditties. Alternative music magazines were born to review rock music, not pop songs. Evidently, to the kids who listened to the Beatles (mostly girls attracted by their looks), rock music had nothing to say that they were willing to listen to.

They were influential, yes, but on the customs – in the strictest sense of the word. Their influence, for better or for worse, on the great phenomena of the 60s does not amount to much. Unlike Bob Dylan, they did not stir social revolts; unlike the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead they did not foster the hippie movement; unlike Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix they did not further the myth of LSD; unlike Jagger and Zappa they had no impact on the sexual revolution. Indeed the Beatles were icons of the customs that embodied the opposite: the desire to contain all that was happening. In their songs there is no Vietnam, there is no politics, there are no kids rioting in the streets, there is no sexual promiscuity, there are no drugs, there is no violence. In the world of the Beatles the social order of the 1940s and the 1950s still reigns. At best they were influential on the secret dreams of young girls, and on the haircuts of young nerdy boys.

The Beatles had the historical function to serve as champions of the reaction. Their smiles and their choruses hid the revolution: they concealed the restlessness of an underground movement ready to explode, for a bourgeoisie who wanted to hear nothing about it.

They had nothing to say and that is why they never said it.

 

 

September 12, 2015: the day Blairism died

By Daniel Margrain

The momentous nature of Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory  one year ago should not be underestimated. It has to go down as one of the most sensational and politically earth shattering events in modern British political history – the impacts of which sent tremors throughout the entire establishment. After the announcement was made that Corbyn had won, it was obvious that the smiles, handshakes and applause of the vast majority of the calculating and opportunistic labour elite were as a fake as Blair’s claim that Saddam was about to attack Britain within 45 minutes.

A pointer to the overwhelming inspiration underlying Corbynism was the fact that no less than 160,000 volunteers who seemingly emerged out of nowhere, were recruited to the cause. The grass roots support that Corbyn engendered – by far the biggest of its kind in history – was almost certainly the catalyst that propelled him to victory. Although the activists were mainly young people, they were by no means exclusively so. In fact the demographic was wide ranging.

Corbyn’s straight talking, lucidity, and unambiguous commitment to a programme of anti-austerity brought many older activists who had felt betrayed by the direction the party had gone under Blair, back into the fold. To put Corbyn’s victory into context, he secured a higher percentage of votes than Blair in 1994  Even more significantly, the 554,272 votes he achieved was more than double Blair’s, and no less than 76 per cent of them actually voted, a higher percentage turnout than Blair received.

This suggests that ‘Corbynmania’ is no ‘flash in the pan’. On the contrary, it represents a new hope for people that society can make a great leap forward from the decades of Blairism where nothing happened, to weeks where decades happen. Neoliberal ideology and the cementing of the Red-Tory axis, which for many was perceived to have been fixed and immutable has, with the rise of Corbynism ,the potential to be swept into the dustbin of history. All that is solid really can melt into air.

When Corbyn was first nominated, he was seen by his opponents – both inside and outside the party – as a joke candidate. But an indication of how seriously he has been taken since he became leader is the extent to which the mainstream corporate media and Tory establishment continue to unanimously attack him.

Tories such as Gove, Fallon, Cameron, Osborne and Patel who thought an opposition party lead by Corbyn could only enhance their political careers, were the ones who subsequently read out an unsubstantiated claim contained within what was clearly a widely circulated Whitehall-issued memo which asserted Corbyn was a threat to national security. Gove then went on to misquote the Labour leader by implying he was economically incompetent and an apologist for Osama bin Laden.

The smearing wasn’t restricted to the media and Tories. On the labour side, around twelve MPs ‘lent’ Corbyn their support ostensibly to widen the contest. Blairites such as Margaret Beckett who nominated Corbyn clearly as a tokenistic gesture, described herself as a moron after Corbyn won. His victory had therefore rebounded back in her face.

No sooner had Corbyn’s victory based on clear and unambiguous principles been announced, then threats to resign by ‘modernizing’ frontbenchers followed. According to the Daily Mail at the time of Corbyn’s election victory, among the Labour figures refusing to serve in his team were high profile prominent Blairites Chris Leslie, Tristram Hunt, Emma Reynolds, Vernon Coaker, Michael Dugher, Shabana Mahmood, Mary Creagh and Lucy Powell. I’m sure the Tories will welcome these unscrupulous careerists with open arms.

The resignations were undertaken on the basis that Corbyn’s programme was too ‘extreme’. Is a refusal to be a part of the Labour friend of ethnic cleansing (sorry, Israel) rump within the party ‘extreme’? Is supporting the nationalization of the railways and utilities ‘extreme’?

Is it also ‘extreme’ to oppose nuclear weapons, war, the growing wealth gap and supporting the need for a massive affordable house building programme that benefits the mass of the population? How can it be that as far as the PLP are concerned, all these things are regarded as ‘extreme’, yet the bailing-out of bankers that benefit nobody other than bankers, is not?

It’s precisely the kinds of principles Corbyn espouses that has resulted in the regurgitation of the official/media meme which criticises him for voting against his party 500 times. This is represented as disloyalty. The notion that he might have voted against the Tories, while most of his Blairite colleagues, many of whom are war criminals, voted with them, is quietly forgotten.

The notion that the Blairites within the PLP will willingly work alongside Corbyn after having spent a large part of the past year conspiring against him – despite the elected leader’s continued attempts at reconciliation – is, I would suggest, delusional. If he wins the election on September 24, as expected, it’s almost certain that the war of attrition against him will continue. Any reluctance to act decisively against the destabilizing elements is likely to be seized upon resulting in a possible split within the party.

Corbyn might be banking on the possibility that a newly elected pro-Corbyn NEC will reinvigorate the party further from the grass roots up leading to a dissipation of the Blairites by stealth, akin to the melting of ice enveloped by steam. As the parties grass roots expand, the reliance on corporate funding and large individual donations lessens. This will give more confidence for Corbyn and his allies to expose, as John Moon put it“the ongoing immoral motivations and machinations of their elected Blairite MPs”, thus initiating the possibility of deselection at the grass-roots level.

A year ago, I heard Ken Livingston on LBC say that under Corbyn the party will unify with little signs of any attempts to undermine him. In terms of the latter, he has been proven wrong. We await the outcome of the former. My fear is that in the absence of any purging of the Blairite clique, the gap between the ideology represented by the elite within the hierarchy of the party and the multitude of its members is so vast, as to be irreconcilable. I strongly suspect that something will have to give as the party moves forward, but we will see.

The idea that a highly principled leader of a party who espouses peace and reconciliation can reconcile two diametrically opposing forces, seems to me to be a bridge too far. But equally, the notion that these irreconcilable forces are able to keep Blairism teetering on the edge of the precipice by its fingernails indefinitely, is as misguided as the insistence that a free-falling object is able to resist the gravitational pull of the earth.

As I type this, I’m watching Corbyn being interviewed by the BBC in relation to the proposed boundary changes against a backdrop in which fellow comrades are seen uniting behind those protesting against the police brutality at Orgreave. A year ago a newly elected Corbyn was protesting at a rally about the terrible treatment of refugees created by Cameron and Blair’s wars. Could, you dear reader, imagine Owen Smith or any of Corbyn’s predecessors post-Michael Foot doing that?

 

Why Owen Smith is a Red-Tory

By Daniel Margrain

Last week a prominent independent journalist claimed on Twitter that my assertion Owen Smith was effectively a Tory was “intellectually lazy”. Coincidentally, a few days later on Thursday’s (September 8) edition of BBC’s Question Time during the Labour party leadership debate between challenger Owen Smith and incumbent Jeremy Corbyn, a studio audience member and Corbyn supporter accused Smith of “being in the wrong party”.

Smith responded angrily to this suggestion by denying this was the case and asserted that the claim amounted to a term of abuse. Smith’s view was supported the next day (September 9) on Twitter by Smith supporter, John McTernan who said that such a suggestion was “ludicrous”. Of course, nobody is claiming that Smith, in the literal sense, is a Tory, but his voting record in the House of Commons and his commercial activities outside it, would indicate that he might as well be.

So let’s take a look at his record. Since at least July, the public relations professional, Smith, has pitched himself as a ‘soft-left’ anti-austerity alternative to Corbyn. This implies that Smith is first and foremost concerned with image and branding as opposed to adopting a principled political and ideological position.

The ‘soft-left’ Smith had previously given interviews supporting PFI and, as chief lobbyist for the U.S multinational Pfizer, he actively pushed for the privatization of NHS services. Commenting on a Pfizer funded ‘focus group’ study as part of a press release, Smith referenced and promoted the notion that the precondition for greater availability of healthcare services was the ability of the public to be able to pay for them. This is one of the significant passages from a section of the study that Smith was keen to promote:

“The focus groups… explored areas of choice that do not yet exist in the UK – most specifically the use of direct payments and the ability to choose to go directly to a specialist without first having to see the GP.”

In other words, Smith favours direct payments from the public to doctors as a replacement for current NHS services. This policy strategy is consistent with the 1988 Tory ‘self-funding’ privatization blueprint for the NHS drawn up by Oliver Letwin and John Redwood. In the document ‘Britain’s Biggest Enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS’, Letwin and Redwood suggest that the aim of charging is to “replace comprehensive universal tax funding for the NHS.”

Smith’s conflation of greater choice with an ability to pay, represents one more stage in the execution of Letwin and Redwood’s plans. The implementation of these plans were accelerated by Blair and Brown as documented by Leys and Player in their book The Plot Against the NHS. Smith intends to continue where Brown and Blair – then Lansley and now Hunt – left off as part of the final stages of the wholesale Letwin-Redwood privatization blueprint of which the 2012 Health & Social Care Act  is a major component part.

Since the 2015 general election, the Tory government have explicitly admitted that the NHS should be modelled on US-style “accountable or integrated healthcare” which is where Smith’s connections to Pfizer come in. In addition to his Policy and Government Relations role for the giant US corporation, Smith was also directly involved in Pfizer’s funding of Blairite right-wing entryist group Progress. Pfizer gave Progress £52,287 while the latter has actively pursued the agenda of PFI and the privatisation of NHS services.

So while Smith’s image is largely predicated on his attempt to convince the Labour membership that in policy terms he publicly supports Corbyn’s position that the NHS should remain a universally free at the point of delivery service, in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Smith also supported Blair’s city academies that have continued under the Tories as well as assiduously courting the arms industry of which his support of Trident is a reflection. Arguably, most important of all, is that Smith effectively lined up with the Tories, alongside another 183 Labour MPs in July last year by refusing to vote against the Conservative governments regressive and reactionary policy of welfare cuts to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In an Orwellian rejection of socialist values, Blairite Iraq war apologist and establishment gatekeeper, John Rentoul, affirmed his support for the policies of Owen Smith on Twitter:

As the graphic above shows, and as Craig Murray correctly posits:

“There is no evidence whatsoever that Smith is a left winger. There is every evidence that he is another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist, adopting a left wing pose that he thinks will win him votes.”

The graphic below highlights the hypocrisy of Smith and, by extension, his total contempt for ordinary Labour party members.

 

 

Smith’s acquiescence to corporate power is indicative of a wider democratic deficit within the liberal democracies of the West in an era of globalization more generally. But his close relationship to the PLP and the Tory-Labour establishment consensus that they represent, reflects a relatively recent historical pattern in which governments of both the left and the right have prioritized the interests associated with private capital over and above that of labour.

Thus the first serious attacks on the welfare state in Britain came not in 2008, or even with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, but several years previously, with that of a Labour government in 1974. Contrary to popular belief, dismantling the welfare state was not a key priority for Thatcher following her election in 1979. It was not until her third term of office in 1987 that Thatcher and her advisers (notably the Sainsbury’s chief executive Sir Roy Griffiths) began to develop the neoliberal ideas of the Chicago School.

These ideas were subsequently picked up and developed by New Labour under Tony Blair following his election victory in 1997. It was during this point that the introduction of competition into public services, ideas about the state as purchaser of public services and the outsourcing and privatization of health and social care services, became the norm.

The privatization of the NHS, made possible by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, arguably poses the most immediate threat to the welfare state in the UK in its totality in which the outsourcing of services becomes the default position. The functioning of a welfare state that increasingly serves the minority interests of capital at the expense of fulfilling the needs of the majority of the population, is a process driven by a neoliberal-driven ideological consensus rather than any pragmatic attempts at ameliorating deficits and the encouragement of socioeconomic and environmental sustainability.

It’s the continued satisfying of minority elite interests rather than the wider public good that Owen Smith and the establishment – of which he is a part – are embedded. That’s fundamentally the reason why there is nothing that separates Owen Smith from the neoliberalism of Blair, Brown, Miliband, Major, Thatcher and May.

Whether one agrees with Jeremy Corbyn’s politics or not, he at least offers a genuine alternative to the consensus view that Smith represents. Even the right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, recognizes that the emergence of Corbyn is important to the adversarial nature of political discourse and, by extension, to democracy itself. If the UK was a healthy democracy instead of an effective corporate-political-media oligarchy, this development would be welcomed. Instead, Corbyn is demonized and smeared at almost every opportunity.