Stop calling it a false flag

[Content note: discussion of Manchester bombing and responses to it.]

It happened again. It took all of ten minutes after I saw news of the Manchester bombing online for some anti-authoritarian dickhead to start musing whether this was a “false flag” engineered by the UK Conservatives in response to Jeremy Corbyn being up in the polls.

It’s very tempting to just type “fuck off” and finish this there, to be honest. But this was already a trope that annoys me – a bad habit the left really didn’t need to pick up from the alt-right. And having seen it a few more times since, and gotten progressively angrier, and then found people getting self-righteously defensive about being called out as conspiracy theorists as they theorise about a conspiracy and gotten even more angry … well, it was write this post or rant some more at my guinea pigs, and they’re way too cute to deserve that.

What frustrates me about the intellectual chin-stroking about “false flags” – besides the extreme callousness it must take to see news of dozens of young people and parents being killed or injured and decide “now’s a great time to show off how politically cynical I am” – is that it makes, or should make, literally no difference to the way we respond to what happened in Manchester, or its political consequences.

The targeted mass murder of teenage girls at a concert is fucking appalling, whoever did it, for whatever reason.

The exploitation of this crime to push a conservative political agenda, to double down on the stigma and bigotry levelled against Muslims and immigrants, is fucking appalling, whoever’s doing it, for whatever reason.

The increased militarization of the police force and constraining of basic civil liberties in the name of “national security” is cynical garbage and must be opposed – whoever’s doing it, for whatever reason.

Let’s say it’s true, though. Say we live in a bizarro alternate universe where Theresa May* actually decided to orchestrate public mass murder to foment xenophobia and hatred in order to inspire voters to re-elect her party.

Are we – lefties, progressives, liberals, pick a label you like the look of – going to be more opposed to those things? Less opposed to those things?

Don’t we stand against violence and bigotry? Don’t we stand for compassion and community? Don’t we see the role of the state as supportive and social, not controlling and run for private interests?

Do not get me wrong, on the 0.00005% chance this was all an orchestrated political play straight out of Glenn Beck’s ghostwriter’s handbook, anyone even vaguely involved should be arrested, prosecuted, and locked up for the rest of their lives, at which point their ashes should be fired into the sun and their names scrubbed from human memory.

But until then? I’m baffled. What purpose does it serve to pontificate about abstract fringe hypotheses when there are parents in Manchester who still don’t know if their kids are okay? What incredibly weird need does it fulfil to play guessing games about “the real cause” of this, or “the real reason” why a repressive social conservative government is acting like a repressive social conservative government? Is it like when you’re watching a detective show and everyone’s trying to be the first who guesses who the killer is? Are you hoping your smug superiority to keep warm after society collapses?

It’s irrelevant intellectual masturbation, comrades, and no one wants to watch it. Let’s stand in solidarity with the people of Manchester, and hold fast against the forces of oppression, and challenge conservatism and xenophobia wherever it treads. Let’s react with love, not hate, because that is exactly what all those who use terror as a weapon do not want.


*Someone is going to respond to this saying either sincerely or “ironically”, “LOL as though Theresa May would have ordered it herself! MI6 deep state Snowden bitcoin Project Orion” and whoever you are you can sod off.

Mhairi Black: I’m tired of being told that pain and misery are necessary for a stronger economy

My first speech of the week post was also a Mhairi Black one, so perhaps I should just have a “Badass Things Mhairi Black Said This Week” tag …

“I often find myself looking across that chamber at the Tory MPs and I think ‘are you so genuinely out of touch that you can’t see the damage you are doing’.

“Either way I am tired of being lectured by Tories as to why austerity is essential, why these welfare reforms – in fact they’re not reforms, they’re cuts – are essential. I’m tired of being told pensioners cost too much, I’m tired of our young people being told they’re not good enough, I’m tired of immigrants being scapegoated for the mistakes of bankers and politicians.

“I’m tired of being told that pain and misery are necessary for a stronger economy, for a long term economic plan.”

There could be a strategic opportunity here for UK Labour. The right, throughout Anglo countries, has dragged the political conversation in their direction, defining “common sense” or “the centre” more and more in their own terms. It leaves the big parties on the left chasing after them, crying “we’ll be fiscally responsible too!” or “we’re even better at delivering surpluses than they are!”

The big-party right (cough, National, cough) has often done it by having a more-extreme group on their flank (cough, ACT, cough). It makes them sound far more reasonable and measured when they say “well look, we’re not going to privatise all the schools/sell all the assets/eliminate all forms of taxation like those people want to, we’re finding the middle ground.” Even when the middle ground is a neoliberal wet dream.

With the SNP in a strong position and people like Mhairi Black speaking some damn fine truth to power, UK Labour has a readymade, strong left flank. Corbyn is being painted as an absurd extremist, with the kind of labels the right (and his own “centrist” colleagues) hope will distract voting people from the fact that most of the policies he supports are incredibly popular ones. The SNP, who are unafraid of saying radical things like “your welfare reforms are cuts, stop playing” and are frighteningly, well, Scottish, can be a fixed point to Corbyn’s left – a concrete bit of evidence he isn’t the resurrection of Lenin.

They can’t start in Scotland, of course. The worst thing Labour could do is run around undermining its natural allies by talking to their voters about how scary and extreme they are. They need to show the people who’ve been voting Tory for the last few elections that they can have stable, safe government and not sell off the NHS.

That’s how the left redefines the middle ground: by showing there isn’t just an alternative, there are multiple alternatives. Give people options and say, pick the one which matches your current comfort level. And move from there, leftwards.

Transcript via The Scotsman.