Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Labour Party Occupied!

It's been rather strange to watch an election that I'm not allowed to vote in.

Despite being a member of an affiliated trade union myself, and despite my wife being a full member of the party, neither of us received ballot papers.

However that doesn't matter in the long run and the Jedi Obi One Corbynobi has been reelected as leader of the venerable old Labour Order. Hopefully this will now be The Force Awakens, not the Revenged of the Sithed Off.

But the strangest part of the contest is how Corbyn's opponents seem to have spent the entire campaign boxing at shadows. Talk of 'Trotskyite infiltrators', 'the new Militant tendancy' and a 'return to Syndicalism' just miss the point entirely.

Yes, there are all those types of people in the party, along with anti-semites, misogynists and abusive trolls, and they probably think all their Christmases have come at once right now, but they are not running this thing. We have not fallen back through some wormhole to the seventies, or even the thirties. Red Robbo is not driving this and Stalin has not risen from the grave and dispatched Comintern agents to bring down British democracy. Orwell, if he were alive, would be part of this movement, not against it.

Occupy Wall Street, with a good question
This is Occupy the Labour Party. This is the people who have been hacked off with party politics for
the last twenty years finally deciding take an interest in elections and get a candidate they can actually vote for. These are the people who marched against the Iraq War, who mobilise against fracking, who stood up to the Brexit racists, who rally for the climate and stood against the EDL.

These are people who think the Labour Party should not be supported by anonymous millionaires, should not seek endorsement from billionaire newspaper owners, should not try to do a deal with the City and should not be made up of MPs taking five and six figure 'consultancies' from unelected corporations.

Against them were the new old guard of New Labour who do not see how the ground has shifted under their feet. Kinnock, Brown and Miliband all lost general elections, so are in no position to call anyone 'unelectable'.

The socially liberal but economically conservative Cameron was a far better Blair than even Blair himself, and the City were always going to prefer the real thing to a cheap Labour copy.

Owen Smith in Liverpool, with ice cream van.
There is no technocratic solution here. There is no playing at politics and being better Tories than the Tories. That game is over.

The New Labour strategy of funding from rising wealth cannot work since global capitalism tanked ten years ago. There is no room for manoeuvre any more on the economy. The City demands austerity for the poor and socialism for the rich. You may as well be a communist as a Keynsian right now, they will treat you exactly the same, as 'Red(ish) Ed' found out.

Nor can there be any meaningful comprise with an Establishment that sees itself as besieged on all sides. Whether in Greece, North Dakota or here there is no negotiation with an economically, environmentally and intellectually bankrupt ruling orthodoxy. They will lie, they will cheat and they will fight. They will not listen. They will not be reasonable.

This result is not be the end. Party leadership elections are not general elections. Our man has won, but Corbyn's supporters, especially those like me who aren't allowed back into the party, need to get out on the streets and get the message out. They need to campaign, to door knock and to reach the people who only read The Sun or the Daily Mail, who believe the UKIP lies, who voted Brexit, who do not live in the post-industrial north, who do not work in the public sector and who possibly share very few of our values, but who need change as much as everyone else.

Corbyn will need to decide what he wants to do. It's not clear they he knows what to do, or even if he understands the movement he is the figurehead for. Perhaps he should take a hint from Gandhi, a man he clearly admires, who when he realised he had started something he could no longer control said:

 "There go my people. I must follow them, as I am their leader."

Friday, 23 September 2016

Britain's Real 'Fifth Column'

James Fox as the fiction Lord Darlington in The Remains of the Day
June 1940, and Britain stands alone against fascism. The entire nation is united behind Winston Churchill as leads the nation in war against Hitler.

Or, almost the entire nation.

Until almost the end of the war Churchill had to watch his back against three groups of people who might at any time undermine the war effort and seek terms with Germany. These were the 'enemy within', who happily have done a deal that would have left Hitler with mastery over the Europe.

I am not talking about the British Unions of Fascists, all safely under lock-and-key by 1940, and who were never much rated by the real Nazis, but three groups of people at liberty to bide their time and strike if the Prime Minister showed weakness.

These are the people who Soviet ambassador to Britain Ivan Maisky - one of the unsung heroes of the war - called "the real 'Fifth Column' in England".

The City of London


Montagu Norman, the banker's banker
When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940 there were no cheers in the City of
London. Here was one Tory who seemingly had no interest in the grubby business of making money, and who seemed to regard their entire trade as a little bit seedy.

General Raymond Lee, an American liaison officer in London, wrote in his diary on December 8 1940, after a conversation with a businessman "(He) was very interesting about the city ... he ... confirmed my belief that the City is ready for appeasement at any time, and is a little bit irritated because it has no hold at all on Churchill".

We don't know who this banker was, but he wasn't alone in his views. Sir Hugo Cunliffe-Owen, City grandee and former Director of British American Tobacco, was still hoping in autumn 1940 that "Neville Chamberlain would come back into his own" and make peace with Hitler.

The most powerful man in the City though was Montagu Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England, and he was a Nazi sympathiser. Norman was good friends with Hjalmar Schacht, Hitler's minister of economics, and admired them both. Schacht eventually turned against Hitler, and ended up in a concentration camp, but it's not clear if Norman ever did.

In 1939 Norman had helped the Nazis sell $735 million (in today's prices) of Czech gold, which the country had deposited with the Bank of England after Hitler's tanks rolled in, in the mistaken belief it would be safe there. The money went to help rearm Germany. We know this because the story partially broke in 1939. However the details of what else he got up to are still sealed in the Swiss vaults.

In 1942 Roosevelt was so concerned about Norman's activities he sent a report to Churchill. The PM launched an investigation but, frustratingly, the outcome is not known. In particular the file does not answer the specific allegation made by the Americans, that Norman met a German official in Switzerland in May 1941 to discuss a secret peace offer.

We should be grateful that the City in 1940 did not have the influence on government it has now. However the second group in Maisky's 'Fifth Column' had plenty of influence.

The Aristocracy


Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster
Oswold Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, was a baronet and very much a part of the British aristocracy.  When war broke out he was interned in Holloway prison, but he was far from the only posh fascist in the country, and the others were very much left at liberty.

There was, for example, Lord Brocket, “a fundamentally nice but stupid man”, who attended Hitler's 50th birthday party, and who was alleged to light fires on his Hertfrodshire estate to guide German bombers. Also at the party was the Duke of Baccleuch, who continued to sing Hitler's praises even as the bombs fell on London. Then there was Unity Mitford, who had adopt her father's pro-Nazi views, and her sister Diane, who married Oswald Moseley. The Duke of Westminster believed in a Jewish conspiracy to undermine the country and was still calling peace with Hitler in the autumn of 1940.

Out in Kenya the 22nd Earl of Erroll was promising to bring fascism to Africa, until he turned up dead in his car. Possibly MI6 did the decent thing. Also in Africa was Marquess of Graham, who would go on to serve in Ian Smith's racist government of Rhodesia and who went on to believe The Beatles were part of a world communist conspiracy.

Add in Churchill's cousin Lord Londonderry, who Winston regarded as a "half-wit", and the impression is of a bunch of idiots who couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery. However their power came from their birth, and not their brains, and it was very real. Many were prominent politicians in a House of Lords that still had real power.

What these people had in common was virulent anti-semitism, and a belief in a global conspiracy between Jews and communists that only fascism could stop. They also chaffed at their own declining power in the country and the rise of the Labour Party. 

Edward as Prince of Wales
Luckily for Churchill the head of the aristocracy, King George VI, was a staunch supporter of the
war. However had Churchill got his way in 1936, he might not have been.

One of the reasons most of country regarded Winston as a bit of a joke before he became Prime Minister was how he had acted during the Abdication Crisis of 1936. Churchill had encouraged the King Edward VIII to "Retire to Windsor Castle! Summon the Beefeaters! Raise the drawbridge! Close the gates! And dare Baldwin to drag you out!"

Four years later and, while Churchill was promising 'blood, sweat toil and tears', Edward was enjoying himself in neutral Spain and hanging out with Nazi sympathisers. It took a threat from Churchill to court martial the former king to get him to return to the UK, which fortunately thwarted a plan by German agents to kidnap him. Churchill then sent Edward to the Bahamas for the rest of the war where the FBI kept a close watch on him.

Had Britain lost in 1940 Hitler would have put Edward back on the throne. The new king would not have lacked in aristocratic sycophants for his court.

The Conservative and Unionist Party


Archibald Maule Ramsay
One of Churchill's more surprising acts of 1940 was in November when, on the death of Neville Chamberlain, he took the job of leader of the Conservative Party.

Throughout the war he portrayed himself as a man above party politics, who led a coalition government on behalf of the whole nation. What's more, most of the party didn't even like him. When Churchill first came to parliament as Prime Minister he was greeted by thunderous applause from the opposition benches, but silence from his own party.

Perhaps one of the events that influenced his decision was on the 20th May that year when the police raided the house of Tyler Kent, a cipher clerk at the US embassy. Kent had been stealing top secret documents, but in his house Special Branch found the 'Red Book,' a list of the 235 people who were members of something called the Right Club. Amongst the names were the 5th Duke of Wellington, the Lords Redesdale and Lymington, A K Chesterton, who would go on to form the National Front after the war, William Joyce, better known to history as Lord Haw-Haw, and several Conservative Party MPs. Worse, the club itself had been formed by the Scottish Unionist MP Archibald Maule Ramsay.

A minor Scottish aristocrat, Ramsay had been part of the January Club, formed by Oswald Moseley to allow his Blackshirts to mingle with figures from the establishment. Ramsay shared Moseley's anti-semitism. When he formed the Right Club he had said "Our first objective was to clear the Conservative Party of Jewish influence ". Ramsay, it seems, had been using Kent to get hold of secret correspondence between Churchill and Roosevelt. He intended to release selective telegrams with the purpose of stopping America entering the war. The Right Club had so far spent the war giving out leaflets and calling for a negotiated peace to end what they called "a Jew's war".

"Chips" Channon
The Right Club were on the extreme of the Conservative Party, but many more moderate Tories had been torn between admiration of Hitler for his authoritarianism, and fear of German expansionism. As most of them believed Britain had become decadent and was in decline, a large number believed Hitler would win the war anyway. Many simply detested Churchill who they regarded as a vulgar showman, and a traitor for crossing the floor to join the Liberals. Sir Henry "Chips" Channon, an old fashioned Tory in that he was stinking rich but thick as pigshit, reported at the height of Churchill's popularity with the people in 1940 that "Feeling in the Carlton Club is running high against him."

Ramsay was to spend most of the rest of the war in Brixton prison, but by 1944 Conservative MPs were campaigning to have him released. Churchill was acutely aware of the potential for the Tory right to ally with the defeatists, and those who simply thought he was doing a rubbish job of PM, creating a block of MPs who could vote him out of office. Becoming leader of the party was his way of controlling it.

And control it he did. With help of the Labour Party, the Liberals and the Trade Unions, Churchill commanded a national coalition like no other before or since. At a political level, Britain's war effort was run better than that of any other combatant on either side in the war.

We really were all in it together, but next time to you hear the Daily Mail, Daily Express or some right wing politician telling you that, just remember that some people weren't quite in it as much as everyone else.

References

Was Montagu Norman a Nazi Sympathiser? The Telegraph 31 July 2013
The Nazi's British bankers Independent 30 March 1997
Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945 by Max Hastings
Aristocrats: Power, Grace And Decadence by Lawrence James

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Five Things Lawrence Didn't Do In Arabia - And Five He Did

One hundred years ago this month, a young British Army intelligence officer in Cairo was getting ready for a mission that would change his life.

The war was not going well. On the Western Front the Battle of the Somme had dissolved into a bloody stalemate. In the Middle East things weren't much better. The previous year had seen the failed attack on the Turks at Gallipoli, whilst in April 1916 General Townshend and his army had surrendered at Kut, in modern Iraq. What the nation needed was a hero.

The man who decided he was going to be that hero was T.E. Lawrence. An above averagely talented novelist, he enjoyed an above averagely exciting First World War. Had he kept these talents separate he would now be largely forgotten as both writer and war hero, but by combining them he made himself a legend.

The myth has largely eclipsed the man, but as he mostly invented it himself he can't really complain. So what is the truth?

First, what didn't he do.

1. Lead the Revolt

 

Sirs not appearing in this film.
The Arab Revolt which broke out in June 1916 was nominally led by Ali ibn Hussein, who had been
appointed Emir of Mecca by the Ottomans.

However the actual fighting was done by his sons. Eldest Ali held the southern front around Mecca. Second son Abdullah fought in the east, against both the Ottomans and the rising power of the Saudis. Third son Feisal was in the west. That put him in the better position for getting British help, but his ambitions also made him the more pliable character, and hence the favourite son with His Majesty's government.

A host of British and French officers went to help the Arabs. Colonels Pierce C Joyce and Stewart Francis Newcombe were the vital links during the initial stages of the Revolt, which happened whilst Lawrence was still at his desk in Cairo. When he eventually arrived in Feisel's camp in October 1916 he joined a growing team of European advisers.

Lawrence only become associated with the Revolt in the public eye after the war, when American film maker Lowell Thomas opened his film With Allenby in Palestine in Covent Garden in 1919. The launch was accompanied by exotic dancing girls and the band of the Welsh Guards, whilst Lawrence posed for publicity shots in Arab costume. The image of the clean-cut hero in the desert created such a contrast to the bloody horrors of the Western Front that it was a huge hit and soon the film was soon being billed as With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia, giving the colonel (as he then was) equal billing with his general.

The Arabs themselves were now only so much colourful scenery. To the public Lawrence now was the Arab Revolt.

2. Pioneer attacks on the railway


Lawrence of Arabia was here
The tactics Lawrence is most associated with are the daring attacks on the Hejaz Railway. The initial stages of the Revolt involved fairly conventional warfare, but by 1917 the rebels were in a position to attack the Achilles Heal of the Ottoman forces, the slender rail link between Medina and Damascus. Attacking the railway tied up large numbers of Turkish soldiers and prevented the 12,000 troops in Medina from coming to the aid of the rest of the army fighting the decisive battles with Allenby in Palestine.

Initial attacks on the railway line were led by Colonel Newcombe, and then in February 1917 Lieutenant H Garland first blew up a moving train using a mine of his own devising. After that Colonel Joyce was kept busy supplying explosives to attack the line. Lawrence did eventually join in himself, but Newcombe, Garland and Joyce were the pioneers of the tactic. Still, better late than never.

3. Cross Sinai in two days


The real Lawrence
Amongst the heroics documented by Lawrence in his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is his crossing of the Sinai desert in two days, to bring news of the fall of Aqaba to Allenby's headquarters in Cairo. The adventurer Michael Asher tried and failed to emulate this feat, nearly killing himself and his camels in the process.

Having failed to live up to his hero, Asher took a look closer look at Lawrence's diary. He had scrupulously recorded where he pitched camp every night and this revealed, contrary what Lawrence himself actually wrote, that he crossed the Sinai in a more reasonable, if less remarkable, three days. This is still a pretty impressive adventure, especially in wartime, but it is not superhuman.

4. Lead a picked group of Arabs


Lawrence and his real friends
The theme of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is how Lawrence inspires the Arabs but then in turn is dehumanised by the horrors of war. The trigger for this was apparently when he was captured whilst on a undercover reconnaissance in the town of Deraa. Like most of Lawrence's stories this is highly controversial, although there is no evidence it didn't happen either so we can give him the benefit of the doubt.

The result of this No More Mister Nice Guy approach and when he next went into battle it was at the head of a hand picked band of 200 cut-throats and brigands who had sworn personal loyalty to him, 60 of whom died in his service. The reality, as recorded by those who were there, is rather more ordinary. He had an entourage of about a dozen Arabs who fetched his water, looked after his camels and presumably did his laundry. None were brigands, and none appeared to have actually died in battle.

5. Massacre prisoners


Dramatic license
The culmination of the new hardcore approach by Lawrence was when he led an attack on a column of retreating Turks in which he ordered that no prisoners were to be taken.

The battle is real enough, and was greatest single success the Arab army had against the Turks, wiping out a column of 1000 men, including Germans and Austrians. Lawrence wasn't the only European present. As well as other British officers there was the Frenchman Capitaine Rosario Pisani, commanding a battery of mountain guns. He'd been on the Aqaba mission too, although without the guns, but someone didn't make it into the film.

What actually happened though is still disputed by historians. What is not in doubt is that the Turks massacred the entire village of Tafas, although whether this happened before or after the battle is disputed. Either way though the Arabs had it in for the Turks. Lawrence later wrote to his brother that he ordered 250 prisoners, including Austrians and Germans, to be machine gunned. Nasty stuff.

However second hand accounts from Arabs officers who were there said Lawrence, and other British officers, tried to stop the killing. Other accounts have Lawrence tell of how he found what he witnessed "sickening". Even his brother didn't believe the claim Lawrence had ordered the prisoners shot, which he confessed to in a letter, but which doesn't actually appear in Lawrence's own book.

Why Lawrence should portray himself as a war criminal if he wasn't is one of the mysteries of the man. Maybe it was just for dramatic effect or maybe, like many returning soldiers, he really did feel a sense of guilt for his involvement in a war that was nowhere near as clean and honourable as he portrayed it.

So if Lawrence was a minor figure in the Revolt, and a braggart to boot, should we still read his book, or even remember him at all?

Yes, because here are five things he did do:

1. Understand guerrilla warfare


When British soldiers back in the Middle East in 2001, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom was being taken down from the bookshelf and dusted off. The reason is that Lawrence, the academic in uniform, understood the nature of the guerrilla war he was engaged in better than the professional soldiers he served alongside.

He wrote of the Arab army being like a 'gas', aiming to avoid pitched battles whilst engaging in hit-and-run tactics that caused maximum disruption with minimum casualties.

'Most wars are wars of contact, both forces striving into touch to avoid tactical surprise. Ours should be a war of detachment. We were to contain the enemy by the silent threat of a vast unknown desert., not disclosing ourselves till we attacked. The attack might be nominal, not directed against him, but against his stuff.; so it would not seek either his strength or his weakness, but his most accessible material.'

The British Army thought it knew how to fight guerrillas, but only Lawrence, the outsider, was able to understand how to be one. Today American Generals read Lawrence so they can understand too. 


2. Capture Aqaba


Real photo of the attack on Aqaba
Not all Lawrence's heroics were made up His capture of Aqaba was real. The port threatened the flank of the British forces in Palestine. It was protected from attack from the landward side by the desert the Arabs called 'al-Houl' meaning 'the terror', and was defended by three battalions of Turkish infantry.

The film has Lawrence riding off into the desert to persuade Anthony Quinn's Auda to stop taking Turkish money and joint the Revolt. In reality, whilst Auda had accepted Turkish gold in the past, he was very much fighting for Arab independence by this time.  Auda was with Lawrence from the beginning of the Aqaba mission and on the way rounded up 6-700 Arabs from his Howeitat tribe for the attack. The operation was at least as much Auda's as Lawrence's.

Director David Lean exaggerates the naval defences of Aqaba, which were minimal, although still enough to keep the Royal Navy away, and misses out the Turkish infantry battalion that was camped round the last well before the port. These were dealt with using classic guerrilla tactics. The Turks were first harassed by snipers until, after a day in the sun being shot at, they were finished off by a charge from Auda. All were either killed or captured. The port then fell with the help of the Royal Navy without a shot being fired.

It was an amazing victory by an irregular force over numbers of superior soldiers, and completely changed the strategic situation. The Arabs were now in a position to threaten the entire length of the Hejaz railway, as well as to move on to Damascus. For this battle alone, Lawrence deserves to be famous.

3. Co-ordinate the Revolt with Allenby  

 

Lawrence and Allenby
Sir Edmund Allenby arrived in Egypt in June 1917 with a reputation as being General Melchett style bloodthirsty bungler. In the deserts of Palestine though he found he calling, and his imaginative strategy led to him becoming the only genuine hero of the war the British Top Brass produced.

He was a month into the job Lawrence when captured Aquaba. Allenby immediately realised the potential of this act. The idea of coordinating the Arab Revolt with the British advance was Allenby's, not Lawrence's, but it was Lawrence who carried it out.

The Bedouin first of all tied down the Turkish forces, then cut their railway links, and finally covered the right flank of Allenby's army as it advanced on Damascus.

Lawrence's operation were not just with Arab irregulars, and he also led missions that consisted solely of British armoured cars and infantry on camels.

Lawrence was lucky to have such a dynamic general to work with, but he deserves credit both for realising the potential of guerrillas as support for a conventional force, and for actually carrying out Allenby's strategy.

4. Understand the Arabs

 

 Lawrence's problems weren't just military, they were also cultural. He knew the strengths and the
weaknesses of his irregular army. His strategy had to not only take advantage of their mobility, but also cover up their lack of discipline. Lawrence avoided casualties were possible, and kept plans simple.

He also knew what motivated the men to fight. He spoke their language and dressed like them, not just for reasons of vanity, but also because he alone of the British Mission understood their cause and their character.

However Lawrence also knew that he was living a big lie. He told the Bedouin they were fighting for Arab freedom, but he knew that France and Britain were not going to allow this. He negotiated to ensure that the Arab troops led the victorious army into Damascus, but he knew that the locals were going to spot that they hadn't been liberated by his ragged force, but by the heavy artillery of Allenby's men following on behind.

In 1918 European Empires covered almost the entire globe. However Lawrence, at least, realised this might not always be the case. 

5. Support Arab independence

 

Lawrence with Feisel in Paris
But Arab freedom would not come in Lawrence's lifetime. He knew he had sold the Arabs a lie, but he tried to make amends when the fighting was over.

He accompanied Prince Feisel to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, became an adviser to the Colonial Office and attended the Cairo Conference of 1921. By this time Lawrence was famous, and he tried to use his popularity to help the cause of his Arab friends. At one point he suggested to the French hero General Foch that if he led a French army into Syria, he would lead an Arab one against him.

That didn't happen, and instead the Middle East was carved up to make the failed states whose conflicts make up our nightly news. Peace in Arabia would not be one of Lawrence's legacies.

Instead he left an insightful journal of one of the twentieth century's first successful guerrilla insurgencies, created a new doctrine of desert warfare, that would later be adopted by the Long Range Desert Group and the original SAS in the next world war, and inspired one of the greatest films of all time.

That's quite a life by any standards.

Bibliography

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (1922)
Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia by Michael Asher (1999)
The Arab Revolt 1916-18 by David Murphy (2008)

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Bird Brains

Just when you thought that you might be starting to understand Americans, along comes the Guardian with the story of Lee Sherman. Sherman worked for Pittsburgh Plate Glass, a company with a somewhat dodgy health and safety reputation, even by US standards. During his time there he was gassed and blown up, exposed to dangerous chemicals and nearly dissolved in acid. The company had him dump toxic chemical in the local river at night, which eventually wiped out the local fishing industry. When Sherman started to go off sick he was sacked for absenteeism. Even his time off to serve in the Army reserve was counted against him.

The rub is that Sherman supports the Tea Party. Never mind that weak regulation failed to save either his health or his job, he wants less of it.

Support for the delusional far right like the Tea Party always seemed pretty stupid unless you actually were a billionaire, but in the post-Credit Crunch world of perpetual austerity it seems pathologically stupid. But support there certainly is. Opinion polls regularly showed that the number of people who supported Obama's very modest health care reforms in Texas was actually less than the number of people who didn't have health insurance. In other words there were Texans willing to risk an unnecessary demise from a curable disease rather than support something they saw as 'communist'. An extreme case of Better Dead Than Red.

Indeed, it sometimes seems there is actually more support for the policies of tax cuts for the fat cats
and free reign for the big corporations at the bottom of the social strata than at the top. Transition Town founder Rob Hopkins once told me that at a 'Chatham House rules' junket he attended he asked a Captain of Industry what he thought the Credit Crunch meant and he replied "this is what the end of Western Civilisation looks like".

But if those at the top know the wheels have come off the waggon it is clearly not in their interest to let on. Not so the middle class. Most Corbynistas are middle class apparently, and the Green Party, 'as everyone knows', is both bourgeois and female, leading the Telegraph to declare their manifesto was "communism designed by a middle class woman", which is a line so good they should have used it as a campaign slogan.

But what about those on the lower rungs of society. The working class who may still work, but for whom prosperity never came? Our own rather tragic version of the Tea Party is UKIP. Across huge chunks of formerly Labour voting England, in the post-industrial north and the down-at-heel seaside towns of the east, in places that failed to boom under Thatcher or bounce back under Blair, UKIP has its supporters. If only we can evict the foreigners and get the EU bureaucrats of our back, they say, then industry would flourish, Britannia would rule the waves again. Capitalism may have failed to bring prosperity to all in two hundred years of trying, but if only the red tape was ripped up, the trade unions beaten down and health and safety brigade told off, then this time it would work.

It's bonkers, but people believe it. Why?

B F Skinner
Seventy odd years ago the American psychologist B F Skinner was doing some very strange things to animals. As well as teaching his cats to play the piano and his beagle to play hide-and-seek, he had an idea for the military to use pigeons as the guidance system for missiles.

Skinner was the father of the study of Behaviourism. Anyone today who talks about positive and negative reinforcement is using the language Skinner derived from his experiment on rats and more pigeons.Trapping the poor animals inside what was later called a Skinner Box, he had the tap levers in order to get rewards of food.

The clever bit, or the utterly evil bit, depending on your point of view, was that Skinner made sure they didn't always get their food. Some pigeons would get fed every time they pecked the lever, some every other time, and for some unfortunate birds it was completely random whether food appeared. Then Skinner would let the food run out.

The results were interesting. Group one would figure out pretty quickly what had happened and down beaks, so to speak. The second group would carry on a bit longer before working out that the free dinners were over. The third group though, the ones who received random rewards, would carry on pecking away for much longer. I've heard - and I can't prove this mind - that Skinner let some of them peck themselves to death still hoping that another pellet will come their way.

People aren't pigeons, but it's hard not to see an analogy here. For people like Lee Sherman life has always been a lottery. The industrial accidents that killed his co-workers could easily have taken his life. That he has survived to 82 despite a life in a toxic industry is surely just good fortune. That he was sacked for getting sick may not be a surprise to us, but he may well regard it as just bad luck.

To the Lee Shermans of the world, who see the fat cats walking away with riches they can only dream of, who get their world view from the Tea Party and their 'news' from Fox, it may seem that if only they wait a little longer their luck will change. If only the liberals don't steal their prize, if only they can stop the immigrants jumping the queue.

They believe that their turn will come if only they take the medicine at a higher and higher dose. Telling them that food tray ran out years ago or that they have only ever been pawns in some giant social experiment, which even its architects now regard as having failed, will not be welcome news.

So across the red states of the USA, and in UKIPland in the UK, the turkeys continue to vote for Christmas.