2007 - 2021

Reporting on Douglas and his Fantasy Britain

A demonstrator holds a replica hangman's gallows during a protest outside the Old Bailey courthouse in London

Douglas Alexander’s speech today is a travesty of superficiality and bland meaningless utterances about more powers for the Scottish Parliament. It’s not so much light as non-existent. There is, literally no content, no actual detail at all. It is a phantasmagoria and the MP comes over as little more than a stage-hypnotist mouthing incantations to a welcoming media filter. The text is bolstered only by odd references (“Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote …”). If this is Labour’s heavyweight oratory setting out an alternative to independence then god help them.

It’s need to be examined because the pliant media, deferential to this London Minister, and self-styled Christian Socialist are reporting his speech in hushed tones.

He makes some fantastical claims about Britain, past present and future and lays great play at ‘Devo Max’ a notion that remains ill-defined, that his own party opposed being on the ballot in September and that his own MPs are actively organising against as he speaks.

Let’s take a look at just three elements of his speech.

Alexander says: “The UK is not perfect. But as a multinational, multiethnic, ­multiracial country it works in a way that is the envy of most other nations.” This is in the week that we witnessed the English Defence League and the BNP erected gallows at the trial of those accused of murdering Lee Rigby, a tragic and depressing sign of the Britain Alexander’s party helped create.

He must have a short memory about what policies have produced such chaos on the streets of Britain, and he seems to have a complete mindblank about the context of British Foreign Policy that he has been party to and its disastrous consequences.

He’s forgotten the court case last year in which Kenyan victims of British atrocities were awarded £20m in compensation. Writing an account of the period Iain Cobain recounts: “Men were whipped, clubbed, subjected to electric shocks, mauled by dogs and chained to vehicles before being dragged around. Some were castrated. The same instruments used to crush testicles were used to remove fingers. It was far from un-common for men to be beaten to death.” Nicola Mercer writing a review of Cobain’s book ‘Cruel Britannia’ writes:

This savagery by the British continues throughout the colonial period and Cobain details the campaigns in Cyprus against EOKA and in the Aden Emergency where yet more torture was perpetrated on those we captured. The book then makes interesting references to the refinement of torture techniques which were developed in between 1950-1970 known as an “assault on the mind” whereby far subtler techniques capable of causing “irreparable psychological damage” were developed. The scientists found that a combination of five things: sensory deprivation through hooding, together with enforced stress positions, white noise, sleep prevention and very little food together produced “stress that was almost unbearable for most subjects”.

This resulted in what became known as the “five techniques” which were subsequently employed against the IRA during interment in 1971 and later banned in the case of Ireland v UK in the European Court of Human Rights in 1978.

It’s a peculiarly inane declaration that thinks Britain a beacon of ‘multinationality multiethnicity and multiracial’ happiness that ignores the recent military history in Ireland, the mass riots that swept Bristol, Manchester, London, Liverpool, and Birmingham in 2011 or the extraordinary revelations about ‘institutional racism’ in the Met.

Reading Alexander’s speech you have the realisation that he must live in a virtual cocoon into which this reality cannot seep. Back in the real world his description sounds hollow. It’s a world in which UKIP in the ascendancy and where the Hate Van doesn’t tour our streets. He sounds like the epitome of what Gerry Hassan has described as ‘increasingly self-satisfied, insular, and out of touch London political class.’

His fantasy of harmony is only matched by his delusional sense about social equality.

“Understand this – the solidarity built within these islands is a moral example to the world.”

Really? This beggars belief. This is the fourth mist unequal country in the world. The media culpability on accepting this as it jars against reality is a real phenomenon.

According to the recently published Marmot Report on inequality and health, one in four children live in poverty, and rising food poverty in the UK has led to what’s been described as a ‘Public health emergency’ with one in six GPs referring a patient to food banks in the last year alone.

This reality has passed Alexander by. Instead he declares:

“We act together to ensure UK-wide pensions, common UK social insurance, child and family benefits, minimum wage, and a system of equalising resources” …

As does any contemporary European state. His claim of exceptionalism is ridiculous. He goes on:

“Everyone, irrespective of where they live within the United Kingdom, has the same basic democratic, social and economic rights.”

Setting aside the obvious failure of democracy that has led us to this referendum debate, this is a claim that has no basis. There’s a mass of evidence that contradicts his blithe claims. See the Equality Trust here.

Researcher Danny Dorling has suggested that in Britain elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair are replacing Beveridge’s five social evils at the dawn of the welfare state (ignorance, want, idleness, squalor and disease), and have become so entrenched in Britain and some other affluent countries that they uphold an unjust system that perpetuates extreme inequality.


You don’t have to exaggerate Britain as some sort of hopeless dystopia to just begin to examine some of the harsh realities that Alexander seems oblivious to.

The worst aspect of his speech may not be the rose-tinted apolitical world picture he paints, it may be its Blairite content-free form. He argues: “we should embrace further devolution of powers within the UK and within Scotland” yet actually in no point in this speech does he state what these powers might actually be. With Labour MPs threatening to boycott their own conference in Perth and organising against any further powers, perhaps that was wise.

You can read his speech here.

Comments (23)

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  1. bringiton says:

    Thanks to the internet,politicians like Alexander can no longer spout platitudes and get away with it.
    The London centric media may accept this nonsense and recycle it in print and TV media but those of a more enquiring mind will not.
    Life will never be the same for Westminster and it’s spin doctors and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some future date,attempts are made to control this form of communication.

  2. DerryVickers says:

    Unfortunately at this time Scotland is even worst at local government than the UK as a whole – Read the consultation on Community Empowerment to be tabled shortly before the Scottish Government. More strongly stated by Andy Wightman in his report – http://www.andywightman.com/?p=3425

  3. muttley79 says:

    I am afraid that this is the standard speech by Douglas Alexander. He says the same things over and over again. Unfortunately the MSM never ask him pertinent questions, such as, if Britain is this oasis of solidarity that Alexander says it is, why is it then that the UK is the 3 or 4th most unequal society in the developed world? He talks about more powers for Scotland, but never says specifically which ones. We saw the same thing with Lamont in the (awful) debate this week. Alexander always drones on about multiculturalism in the UK, which he thinks somehow makes it exceptional. The reverse is true, the vast majority of nations in the world are multicultural. Alexander is essentially a careerist politician, he will be happy to move the Labour Party further and further to the right if that is what he is told by whoever leads that party. I wish the MSM would stop presenting him as this great political intellectual figure, when he clearly is not. More chance of Kirsty Wark being professional and non biased though…

  4. PSH says:

    Superb piece Mike. It’s a pity Robin Cook did not do what he threatened to do in 1983 when I spoke with him at the Labour Party Conference – his words were ‘We cant let the Scottish people suffer this any more. I am so tempted to walk over the burning bridge and declare UDI’. He was well bought off later though to silent such a plan. I left Labour in 1987.
    Alexander should read what you write and take a long vacation to take stock on what Socialists principles are and what we expect from those modern Socialists who mouth the names of Hardie and Bevan like prophets of old they hold true to when in reality they are lost souls who dont even see they live in a bubble of unreality and are so far out of touch with people in Scotland they should be living in a different stratosphere breathing a different colour of air. Labour have moved so far to the Right in politics and in so doing they have legitimised austerity politics because not one of them has the gumption to think of another political worldview or alternative. The mediocrity of Labour today is lamentable. The SNP have taken over the House of Labour’s credibility and they look in through the windows with hatred and envy muttering…….

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks. Would love to hear more about Cook’s thinking at that time

  5. I see the daily record gave him a whole page to write his platitudes.they called him the influential mp.So it’s not only the London media that’s ganging up on Scotland but the so called Scottish paper.

  6. Paul Watson says:

    In what way is Alexander influential?

    1. fynesider2 says:

      His sister was Johann Lamont’s predecessor …… Not that i want her back, JL’s doing a fine job as it is….(!)

  7. Jimmy The Pict says:

    He’s a blaw

    Can’t think of a better term for someone who talks but actually says nothing.

    Can anyone name a country with five million people that has a single culture?

    Cultures have been mingling for centuries.

  8. Abulhaq says:

    What next from Douglas, the British Empire was pink, fluffy, wonderful and bigger than the Big Bang? Niall Ferguson and Douglas Alexander announce their civil union by intellectual mind-meld? Truly, we require something epic to deal with this persistent pathological perceptual self-abuse among our giddy “Scotch Unionists”. I wonder what that might be?

  9. Wee Duggie Alexander what to say about him?? aye nothing much.I see one part of the article mentions Democracy but in these islands we don’t have a democracy,no matter how often its spouted and said we have we have a monarchy same as year ago with people fawning,maybe falling, over themselves to show forelock tugging loyalty to the archaic system.As for the Devo-Max con,its not on,vote no get nothing,and maybe less because too many afraid to stand up and be counted as part of the Scottish nation,very soon to be disbanded as a nation and a countRy,soon to be the County of the Scots,and that I am afraid will be it all over.Westminster will not allow us the luxury of creating another referendum EVER again.See I could not find anything to say on wee Duggie.

  10. Catrìona says:

    Poor Douglas Alexander – always the Head Boy, never the Headmaster. Could he tell us which nations envy the UK? Somalia, maybe?

  11. They must book space in the newspapers for this – it’s become a bit of a fixture. Peter Sellars did a Party Political Speech. Apart from the plummy vowels, it could easily be Douglas Alexander.

    As for an influential MP? It might be a sign of age, but I still see him and Murphy as student politicians who wanted to climb the greasy pole. If they’d been born further south, they’d have joined the Tories without hesitation.

    1. Catrìona says:

      AnneDon, they did join the Tories, only the branch called Labour. Tony Blair succeeded when he remoulded the Labour Party so that his social class would have two main parties to stand up for its interests. Apart from election time, can anyone the splendid Labour Ladies and Gentlemen having anything to do with ordinary people?

  12. The paradigm of “machine politician”.More than anything,or at least anything,I would love to see this man adequately challenged during debate and the vacuous nature of his statements exposed to the wider public.

  13. ptfc1876ad says:

    Bloody hell!

    I got mention of this via e-mail, and as all Douglas’s do, I thought it was about me!


  14. Morag says:

    This is the sort of article I wanted to read in the papers I stopped buying.

  15. G H Graham says:

    Mr. Alexander’s shallowness is almost not worth bothering to read or critique. Really, what is the point? To confirm our already well versed understanding of a career politician’s mind set? For there is nothing in his speech that reveals anything regarding policy, direction or action. All it does do is republish the fantasies of a Scottish Labour MP. But if it’s dreamy stories we’re after, there are better authors than him. Perhaps, that’s his problem. Perhaps, he really is in the wrong job. After all, exactly which specific actions or achievements can he exclusively claim that would merit a mention. Anyone? Anything?

  16. “Let us reaffirm our belief in ­solidarity, ­cooperation and working together.”

    Absolutely, Mr Alexander; but why does that “solidarity, cooperation and working together” have to be framed only within the context of the UK? Can’t neighbouring—but politically independent—nations be just as cooperative with each other?

  17. gnanders says:

    The most salient commentary as usual. I’m utterly embarrassed by the lack of intellectual thinking in the Labour party. You expect idealogues in politics but the affront of these career politicians is beyond contempt.

    The light at the end of the tunnel is that there will be no British Labour party returning MSP’s to an independent Scottish parliament as we have now. At this point alone we can expect a resurgence of political honesty instead of the petulant bairns we have now. We all know who they are. They masquerade as progressives but their sole raison d’etre is to snipe at a more progressive SNP government and to bury their snouts deeper into the Westminster trough.

    I’m disgusted at the state of the Labour party. Their cosying up to the Tories has my whole family and no doubt my ancestors sick to our collective stomachs.

  18. Gordon says:

    Poor Douglas. He has been sent up here to inspire the BT brigade and even without your forensic analysis and total dismantling of his speech, I fear it will not have inspired many. Why are Unionist politicians lacking in conviction? Why don’t they have fire in their belly for their cause? Why do they all appear so weak? Why do they lie so much they lack credulity? Probably because they have no positive case to make for the union, or perhaps because they have become lazy and complacent in the cosy fleshpots of London.

  19. Iain says:

    His speeches are so empty of substance: always suggesting that ‘we’ should think about starting to consider, at an appropriate moment, all things being equal, that we ought to be working towards something which sounds nice. Although more intelligently constructed, they’re no better than Johann Lamont’s frequent evasions, on any issue which causes her problems, that we should have a debate, let’s have an honest debate, we need a proper debate………

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