Jon Stewart mocks the Jubilee pomp

Would a British comedian have been allowed to do this?

Regular readers will know that my love of Jon Stewart knows no bounds, but it just increased a little more this morning with his take on the Jubilee pageant, and particularly CNN's Piers Morgan working himself into a lather of deference about it. (Never has a man been more impressed with the sight of a boat turning round.)

But what struck me immediately after watching the clip that is currently doing the rounds on twitter is how this sort of gentle fun-poking has been conspiciously absent from our television screens over the last few days. A strange feeling washed over me when Stewart joked about the Queen spending 60 years "on the throne": you can't say that! I swear I heard the delicate tinkle of a taboo being broken, and I didn't think we had any of those left. Had a British comedian tried the same gag over the weekend, on one of the many interminable live broadcasts over the Bank Holiday, I'm sure that huge sections of the press would have descended on them like vultures. Perhaps that's why none of them were booked to chat on the sofa with Eamonn Holmes and Sophie Raworth and the rest.  

Most of the British comedians who could sell out an arena were in attendance at the Queen's Jubilee concert last night, and there was a real sense that anything edgy would have gone down with a lead balloon. Perhaps that's a measure of changing public taste: Britain overwhelming supports the monarchy, and we love Her Majesty in particular (what a change from the times when you couldn't move for tasteless Princess Diana jokes). 

Still, there clearly was an appetite for some relief from Forelockapalooza. Frankie Boyle's typically scabrous musings on Twitter had the shit retweeted out of them, while other comics live-tweeting the pageant and concert -- mostly in a gently non-deferential way -- got a lot of attention, too. 

Personally, I don't bedruge royalists a bit of pomp and circumstance. But I do find it odd that in an age where we regularly talk about the idea of nothing being off-limits to comedy, not a whisper of cheek made it on to our TV screens this weekend. 

Jon Stewart mocks the Jubilee pageant. And here he is, mocking American political rallies, too. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.