Was John Lennon really a revolutionary?

Maurice Hindle and Tariq Ali go head to head.

 

As we reported at the time, Maurice Hindle's previously unpublished interview with John Lennon, which appeared in the Christmas issue of the New Statesman, attracted a good deal of media attention -- not least in the Guardian, where Maev Kennedy concentrated on Lennon's remarks about a letter critical of him that had appeared in Tariq Ali's far-left journal Black Dwarf. (Lennon had railed against the revolutionary posturing of gauchistes such as Ali: "The system's a load of crap. But just smashing it up isn't gonna do it.")

Anxious lest Lennon's radical credentials be impugned, Kennedy concluded that the story ended happily:

John Lennon died on December 8 1980, shot on the doorstep of his Dakota building home in New York by Mark Chapman -- but by then had long since made his peace with Tariq Ali, and regained his radical laurels. The American journal Counterpunch four years ago finally published in full a long 1971 interview by Ali and Robin Blackburn, originally for the Trotskyist Red Mole, in which Lennon agreed with Ali that he was becoming "increasingly radical and political".

Maurice has responded to Kennedy's gloss on the interview in the Guardian today. And he rejects the suggestion that Lennon's flirtation with revolutionary politics lasted right up until the end:

Lennon much regretted his earlier association with the radical left, as the contents of the chapter entitled "We'd all love to see the plan" (quoting from the song "Revolution") make clear.

Writing in 1978, he stated: "The biggest mistake Yoko and I made in that period was allowing ourselves to become influenced by the male-macho 'serious revolutionaries', and their insane ideas about killing people to save them from capitalism and/or communism (depending on your point of view). We should have stuck to our own way of working for peace: bed-ins, billboards, etc."

Lennon's primary gift was for writing and recording songs that communicate with millions in ways that no ideologically driven political creed -- whether of the left or right -- ever could.

The debate hasn't stopped there, however. Tariq Ali himself has now entered the fray, conceding that Lennon's views did shift somewhat in the years following an interview he gave to Ali and Robin Blackburn in 1971, but insisting that they didn't move as far as Hindle suggests. His piece ends with this uncharacteristically breathless swoon:

I last spoke with him in 1979 when we discussed the likely impact of Thatcher's victory. He didn't sound too unradical in that conversation. If there is a record of it in some British intelligence archive, I would be grateful to see a transcript. Clearly, his views changed somewhat but I can't see him as a neocon supporting the wars and occupations in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The loss of his voice was a tragedy for millions.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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The government's air quality plan at a glance

This plan is largely a plan to make more plans.

Do you plan on living in a small, rural hamlet for the next 23 years? Or postponing having children till 2040? For this is when the government intends to ban all new petrol and diesel cars (and vans) - the headline measure in its latest plan to tackle the UK's air pollution crisis.

If the above lifestyle does not appeal, then you had better hope that your local authority is serious about addressing air quality in your area, because central government will not be taking responsibility for other restrictions on vehicle use before this date. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband has tweeted that he fears the ban is a “smokescreen” for the weakness of the wider measures. 

Here’s an overview of what the new Air Quality plan means for you (Health Warning: not much yet).

Will the 2040 ban end cars?

No. Headlines announcing the “end of the diesel and petrol car” can sound a pretty terminal state of affairs. But this is only a deadline for the end of producing “new” fossil-fuel burning vehicles. There is no requirement to take older gas-guzzlers (or their petrol-head drivers) off the road. Plus, with car companies like Volvo promising to go fully electric or hybrid by 2019, the ban is far from motoring’s end of the road.

So what does the new plan entail?

This plan is largely a plan to make more plans. It requires local authorities to submit their own initial schemes for tackling the issue by the end of March 2018 and will provide a £255 million Implementation Fund to support this process. Interventions could include retrofitting bus fleets, improving concessionary travel, supporting cyclists, and re-thinking road infrastructure.  Authorities can then bid for further money from a competitive Clean Air Fund.

What more could be done to make things better, faster?

According to the government’s own evidence, charges for vehicles entering clean air zones are the most effective way of reducing air pollution in urban areas. Yet speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Michael Gove described the idea as a “blunt instrument” that will not be mandatory.

So it will be down to local authorities to decide how firm they wish to be. London, for instance, will be introducing a daily £10 “T-charge” on up to 10,000 of the most polluting vehicles.

Does the 2040 deadline make the UK a world leader?

In the government’s dreams. And dreamy is what Gove must have been on his Radio 4 appearance this morning. The minister claimed that was in Britain a “position of global leadership” in technology reform. Perhaps he was discounting the fact that French President Emmanuel Macron also got there first? Or that India, Norway and the Netherlands have set even earlier dates. As WWF said in a press statement this morning: “Whilst we welcome progress in linking the twin threats of climate change and air pollution, this plan doesn’t look to be going fast or far enough to tackle them.”

Will the ban help tackle climate change?

Possibly. Banning petrol and diesel cars will stop their fumes from being released in highly populated city centres. But unless the new electric vehicles are powered with energy from clean, renewable sources (like solar or wind), then fossil fuels will still be burned at power plants and pollute the atmosphere from there. To find out how exactly the government plans to meet its international commitments on emissions reduction, we must wait for the 2018 publication of its wider Clean Air Strategy.

Will the plans stand up to legal scrutiny?

They're likely to be tested. ClientEarth has been battling the government in court over this issue for years now. It’s CEO, James Thornton, has said: “We’re looking forward to examining the government’s detailed plans, but the early signs seem to suggest they’ve still not grasped the urgency of this public health emergency.”

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.