The curious incident of the Stalinists who didn’t bark

Image result for picture Sherlock Holmes Silver Blaze

In possibly his most famous Sherlock Holmes short story, Silver Blaze, Conan Doyle introduced the idea of the “negative fact”:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

Holmes drew a conclusion from a fact (the dog barking) that did not occur, allowing him to draw conclusions from an expected fact absent from the record.

Last Tuesday a series of crucial votes on Brexit were held in the Commons. Probably the most important was Yvette Cooper’s amendment to keep Britain in the EU beyond March 29 in the event that no deal is reached by the end of the month. Corbyn’s office had come out in support of this, albeit very late in the day.

Fourteen Labour MPs defied the Labour whip and voted with the Tories and a series of shadow ministers went missing in the crucial vote.

An amendment pushing what is sometimes charitably referred to as Labour’s Brexit “policy” was then roundly defeated, before May’s plan for reneging on her agreement on the Irish backstop was passed – with support from seven Labour MPs.

Corbyn’s office denied giving MPs from Leave seats a ‘nod or a wink’ that it was OK to rebel but also made clear that shadow ministers who helped save Theresa May’s plan will not be sacked.

Big news, you’d think – especially for the Morning Star, a publication that has carried repeated editorials and articles backing a no deal Brexit, claiming that EU membership would be the major obstacle to Corbyn implementing his policies, accusing May of secretly plotting to derail Brexit, denouncing the nefarious schemes of Brussels bureaucrats, and warning of sinister “subterranean channels of communication between elements in Labour and the EU powers that be.”

Indeed, on the day of the votes, the M Star carried a lengthy report of the Communist Party’s call for “a People’s Brexit” (“But a left-led Labour government must be free from EU single market and customs union rules”) and a rambling editorial claiming that “Brazil and Russia, India, China and South Africa – find their individual and collective interests are best served by a more equal trading relationship with developed capitalist countries than one constrained by EU rules.”

The following day (Wednesday January 30th) I was looking forward to reading what the M Star would have to say about the Brexit votes. Sadly, it had gone to press before the votes had taken place. That day’s editorial was headed “Parliament’s paralysis on Brexit must be broken from without” and warned Labour against ruling out no-deal or supporting an extension to Article 50 (ie the Cooper amendment).

This was to be the last editorial comment we’d see that week (or, indeed, up to today). Thursday’s M Star came and went with no comment. And Friday’s. And Saturday’s weekend edition. And Monday’s.

Could it be that the editorial team simply can’t work out whether or not to applaud the step towards no-deal and MPs “standing up to” Brussels? It’s also the case, of course that the Labour “rebels” included that old M Star favourite Dennis Skinner and they’re not going to criticise him, whatever he does.

Then there’s the suggestion (raised by the New Statesman‘s Stephen Bush as long ago as October last year) that close associate of the M Star, Andrew Murray – who works part-time as Len McCluskey’s chief of staff at Unite and part-time in Corbyn’s office – argued at a Team Corbyn strategy meeting that the Labour Party should vote for Theresa May’s deal.

Perhaps the M Star realises that in the end Corbyn is going to upset someone: the so-called “constructive ambiguity” of promising to deliver Brexit while not completely ruling out a second referendum to reverse it cannot hold forever. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

And given that the paper is ultimately controlled by the Communist Party of Britain, it’s worth noting their policy favouring a no-deal Brexit on WTO rules (as outlined in the M Star (print edition) of January 28th):

The ‘pro-EU Tory minority regime’ and the EU Commission could not be trusted to reach any withdrawal agreement that did not serve the interests of big business and the capitalist class …

Locking Britain into the EU Customs Union would make any such agreement even worse’, Robert Griffiths explained, ‘because it would outlaw import regulation to protect strategic industries such as steel, while also impeding a mutually beneficial fair trade policy with developing countries’ …

The CP executive called for a ‘People’s Brexit’ to leave the EU, its Single Market [and] Customs Union.

As that policy is in direct contradiction to Labour’s call for a new, permanent customs union and the “closest possible alignment” with the single market, maybe the M Star‘s editorial team decided their best bet is to say … nothing.

What I think we can rule out as completely impossible is that the M Star‘s silence since last week’s Commons votes is simply an oversight: and as Holmes would say: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

One thought on “The curious incident of the Stalinists who didn’t bark

  1. I am not interested in speculation about a break-away ‘New Party’.

    This is more important and relates to the above (from yesterday’s Observer):

    “There is also mounting anger across the party – including within the unions and the grassroots movement Momentum – at the way Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite and a key ally of Corbyn, has been holding talks with May and senior Tory ministers in the hope of securing deals on workers’ rights and more cash for industrial areas.

    Downing Street hopes a package of concessions aimed at winning over Labour MPs, involving short-term funding for Leave-voting constituencies in the north, will be sufficient to persuade more backbenchers in Leave seats to vote for May’s deal.

    Smith insisted her focus was also on Brexit but she tore into the way that McCluskey was apparently being allowed to run a parallel policy on Brexit. “It is outrageous that a trades union leader close to Jeremy Corbyn should be contemplating facilitating Brexit by doing deals with Theresa May in Downing Street which completely undermine the TUC and Labour party position,” she said.

    A senior union source said McCluskey seemed to be trying to bypass Labour party and TUC policy, which was to insist on a customs union and close involvement in the single market. “History will damn the treacherous moves to sideline the rest of the trade union movement and frustrate Labour party conference policy,” said the union official.

    “He and his allies in the leader’s office haven’t made it a secret that they want Brexit to happen, but to do a secret deal behind the movement’s backs to get it done is shocking even for them.”

    Liked by 1 person

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