By Ben Pensant
As a working-class northerner and proud regressive leftist I regularly despair that my fellow plebs are Leave-voting, Sun-reading racists. However, every once in a while I’m reminded that some of us do understand the true meaning of socialism, such as during my recent sabbatical at an anti-fracking demo in Stockport when I came across an incendiary Sunday Mirror column by roly-poly firebrand, John Prescott.
I simply couldn’t end the year without paying tribute to one of the sharpest left-wing voices around. Though it’s a shame that by May 2020 he’ll be hanging from a lamp-post on Downing Street with the rest of the PLP. But who knows, if he keeps pumping out pro-Corbyn puff pieces the Dear Leader may forgive his New Labour past and sentence him to a life of smashing rocks and stitching Berets instead. Your call, fatty.
In the meantime, it won’t harm his chances if he keeps writing articles like the one he recently shat out on Fidel Castro (not literally, you understand, though I can think of no greater honour than having a crap all over El Comandante’s fresh cadaver). As you’d expect, the former Deputy PM lavished praise upon the left’s favourite mass-murderer, blamed Cuba’s poverty on the USA and whitewashed Castro’s horrendous human rights record by pointing out his predecessor Batista killed innocent people too. Because as we know, replacing one dictator with another is fine, as long as the new dictator is left-wing. Of course, the irony of using the free press and the internet to pay tribute to a leader who censored the press and virtually banned the internet is of no concern to John and as we’ll see, such niggles are easily countered with four simple words.
But first Prescott recalled his days as a steward in the Merchant Navy, a rarity for John as he rarely discusses this chapter in his life. Indeed, some Westminster wags affectionately call him ‘Uncle Albert’ due to the tight-lipped traits he shares with the fictional Joanna-bashing seaman.
In a remarkable quirk of fate, on the day in 1959 that the 21-year-old Prescott was due to dock in Havana Castro seized power. This was something of a lucky escape for Prescott as trade unionists tended to have something of a rough time in the socialist utopia Castro created. ‘I was disappointed I never got shore leave but delighted a socialist had freed the country from an evil despot’. The fact that this evil despot was replaced by another is of little concern to John and quite right – you can’t expect the international left to get bogged down in universal human rights when there’s a narrative to protect.
No, far better to reluctantly concede that Castro had ‘questions to answer’ over human rights before forgetting to ask them. Why acknowledge that the man he admires was a bit of a tyrant when it’s far easier to point out the persecution and terror Cubans faced under Castro was ‘nothing compared to the persecution and terror the Cubans faced under Batista’? It’ll take more than demonstrable facts about labour camps and firing squads to rattle our John.
He eventually re-visited Cuba in 2003 and was touched by how happy Cubans were and how much they admired Castro. Indeed, most of the Cubans tourists meet tend to be deliriously cheerful, probably because they’re neither in jail nor dead. Lauding the fantastic healthcare available in Cuba – healthcare so fantastic it’s only available to about a third of the population – he praised what Castro ‘gave back to the world’, in particular the doctors and nurses he selflessly sent across South America, no doubt overjoyed at the prospect of earning more performing back-street abortions in a Rio favela with a bread knife than they could giving face-lifts to rich tourists in Havana.
But it wasn’t just medical professionals Castro sent around the world. We must never forget the Cubans he liberated by giving them the opportunity to live in the USA. Granted, that opportunity only arose because Castro’s Cuba was such an illiberal hell-hole that millions of Cubans regularly risked their lives in shark-infested waters to escape it but hey, it was an opportunity nonetheless. And these ingrates had the nerve to celebrate when he died. Sick.
Which brings us to the meat of John’s piece – steady, ladies – which was not to laud a dictator but to pose the modern left’s favourite question: What about Saudi Arabia? As usual John was ahead of the curve, foreshadowing the recent surge in Saudiboutery in which the likes of George Galloway have desperately tried to excuse Assad’s bombing of Aleppo by pointing out other authoritarian regimes do bad stuff too.
Deploying tried and tested Corbynite tactics, John calmly stated it was perfectly okay for the liberal leader of the opposition to defend dictators because, well, the UK sell arms to Saudi Arabia. Something Prescott is all too familiar with bearing in mind the government were selling arms to Saudi Arabia the whole time he was in it. Which I’m certain John would have publicly opposed had he not been busy punching protesters, bastardising the English language and fingering his secretary .
‘If the Tories are such defenders of human rights why the hell did they fly the union flag at half mast for the death of the Saudi king?’ A good question and one that magically cancels out all the bad stuff Castro did. Because ‘two wrongs make a right’ is as fundamental to modern left-wing ideology as straw men, Godwin’s Law and blocking people on Twitter. And as everyone knows, you can’t condemn the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and criticise Corbyn’s support for Castro, just like you can’t be critical of the Russians bombing of Aleppo as well as the Saudi assault in Yemen.
No, it’s all about priorities and due to the Saudi regime’s friendship with the West they’re in the unique position of being the only Islamic theocracy that the left are free to attack. And boy, do we attack it. Indeed, the glee with which the likes of Owen Jones and Mehdi Hasan condemn the Saudi head-choppers is only matched by the way they ignore the human rights abuses that go in the rest of the Muslim world. Which, as anyone who remembers Jeremy Corbyn’s principled turn at an event celebrating 35 years of Iranian theocracy will know, is as it should be. Because we can’t preach universal human rights when there’s Western imperialism to worry about, and if that means decreeing that hanging gays from cranes is less illiberal than slicing their heads off with swords then so be it. And it goes without saying that while the Saudis are to be condemned for as long as they remain allies of the West, it is imperative we ignore the fact that the religious ideology that compels the Saudis to oppress and murder is the exact same one we’ve spent years defending and calling a ‘religion of peace’.
And if the West ceased trade with Saudi Arabia tomorrow? Well, our opposition to it would vanish instantly, as would our faux-concern for the writers they flog, adulterers they mutilate and women they behead. Because when it comes to human rights abuses it’s not the abuse that matters but the identity of the person doing the abusing. What, you thought this was about compassion for the oppressed? Give over.
As John pointed out: ‘Last year this government approved £3billion in arms sales’. Which is enough to excuse Corbyn for defending a man who was happy to help the Russians nuke the USA and start WWIII. With anti-yank cojones like that is it any wonder regressives have such a hard-on for Castro? And it should be no surprise that a ladies’ man like Prescott would favour Cuba over Saudi Arabia, not least because of the Arab state’s dim view of adultery. Though happily, if John was caught with his pants down in Riyadh it would almost definitely be his mistress rather than him who was stoned to death.
No such issues in Cuba though, where rich, rotund Westerners like John are encouraged to fulfil their adulterous desires without fear of losing a thumbnail, never mind a head. Indeed, as an erudite gentleman in awe of the Cuban education system, the vice situation in Cuba couldn’t be more up his cobbled street. I bet there aren’t many prossies in Hull willing to have a post-coitus chat about Camus while she scrapes his spunk from her hair. And luckily, Cuban girls don’t expect much in the way of a tip – there’s nowt a frugal Yorkshireman likes more than knowing the lassie whose eyelid he just emptied his hairy sack on has never seen two donkeys never mind two Jags.
But at least she would only have to worry about getting diddled by a porky politician instead of being buried in a sandpit and pelted with rocks. Which is an abhorrent stone age practice that must be stopped. Apart from when it happens in Pakistan or any Islamic country not in bed with the West, in which case it’s none of our business and probably our fault they have Sharia Law anyway. Because the last thing we need is the narrative upset by suggesting foreigners with brown skin deserve the same rights as white Westerners. Just look at what happens when Muslim ‘reformers’ like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali start getting lippy and thinking for themselves to see where that leads.
In fact the only time we ever mention Saudi Arabia is when we’re letting Corbyn off the hook or making excuses for our favourite dictators. And few are more favourite than Fidel. Indeed, Saudiboutery was practically invented for him considering some of the fascistic shit he’s pulled. It’s just a shame John never got the chance to join the revolution on that fateful day in 1959. Imagine how liberating it would have been for the young Prezza to meet his counterpart in the Cuban Merchant Navy? Though he’d have had to be quick as, like a lot of trade unionists, his counterpart was probably shot by firing squad a week later after his boss reported him for demanding tea-breaks and fresh bog-roll.
Still, 2017 could be the perfect time for John to realise his dream of twinning Hull with Havana and I’m sure all those years of kissing Castro’s hoop haven’t done him any harm. Although it’s unclear if everyday Cubans are as convinced, as fat useful idiots landing in the capital to laud the man who oppressed them for decades are ten a penny, especially since Michael Moore became Castro’s favourite film-maker. Though rumour has it the tyrant was a big fan of Gerald Thomas too, bombarding the English auteur with storyline ideas in the ’70s. Indeed, it remains a stain on the British film industry that cinema audiences never got to see a gang of saucy DI operatives in khaki mini-skirts led by Barbara Windsor open fire on a blind-folded Kenneth Williams’ duplicitous diplomat in Carry On Death Squad.
But fuck those dumb proles, John is virtually guaranteed a hero’s welcome from the people who really matter: the establishment. Here’s hoping they arrange for him to meet his Havana equivalent, a pillar of the community every bit as decent, principled and respected as John. And I’m sure Havana’s finest drug-dealer, people-trafficker and snuff movie baron Freddy ‘The Dragon’ Esteban will be only too happy to travel to Hull and return the favour.
Just make sure you don’t tell him you’re good friends with Peter Mandelson, John. Cuban LGBT rights may have improved but old habits die hard and they can still be a bit old-fashioned about homosexualists over there. Though not as old-fashioned as You Know Who, obvs: Castro’s regime may have abducted gays, sent them to labour camps and forced them to eat mud while hanging upside down wrapped in barbed-wire but hey, as the saying goes, what about Saudi Arabia?