Saturday 3 January 2009

Tommy on the Telly

Hands up, how many tuned in to watch Tommy Sheridan enter the Celebrity Big Brother house last night? Yes, probably the worst-kept rumour in Scottish politics has turned out to be true. But has Tommy, as "post-war Scotland's most iconic socialist" got anything to fear? After all his friend, George Galloway acquitted himself with dignity and gravitas when he went on the show three years back. It didn't do his political career much harm, did it?

Well there are those who think Sheridan's move might not prove to be his wisest. The
Socialist Party was quick off the mark, making, I think, a pretty measured series of criticisms. Solidarity has put out a statement that neither "endorses or condemns" his appearance. His other allies, the SWP have yet to put anything out on their website. Whatever they end up saying, I doubt they won't feel the need to defend Sheridan in the same way they did Galloway.

The question Sheridan's comrades will ask when he leaves the house will be one word: why? The SP statement offers what some might see as a generous explanation.

The consequences financially [of the court action against News of the World, and subsequent perjury charge] for Tommy and his family have been dire. It has proved impossible to find paid work and undoubtedly these difficulties and other associated financial pressures have played a key role in his decision to take part in CBB.
And offers a non-BB solution to these dire straits;
We understand these pressures but it would have been better, via the large support that exists in the socialist and trade union movement for him, to find an alternative solution. When the Liverpool 47 councillors were surcharged and banned from office for the "crime" of standing up for the people of Liverpool in the1980's an appeal to the Labour movement raised more than £100,000.
Others are not so charitable. Kevin Williamson, formerly of the SSP, writes in his December 14th blog:
Fame is a drug. Its not as good as proper drugs - and the side-effects can be horrendous - but each to their own I suppose. An addiction to facile superficial fleeting celebrity can surely be the only explanation for Tommy Sheridan's decision to take part in Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother. (Unless there's a fat cheque at the end of it).
There are elements of truth in both. Tommy's family may well be hard up. But then again, Sheridan has never really been averse to the spotlight. Remember this? And this? How about the comedy career? And it would be an injustice if this was forgotten too.

Some will use this as an opportunity to take potshots at
Militant, SML, the pre-split SSP, and Solidarity, as each have a responsibility for promoting Tommy as a distinctive political personality. But becoming a celebrity is a process, the length of which depends on the avenue taken to fame. These comrades put Sheridan forward to build their organisations, which enabled him to capture a media profile, but then different processes come into play. He started to play the celebrity game, albeit partly limited by his eight years as a Holyrood MSP. But once he lost his seat at the 2007 election, he turned toward celebrity to make a living. From that point it was probably only a matter of time before appearing on Big Brother.

Unfortunately for Sheridan, even if his conduct in the house is irreproachable, this celebrity will be difficult to overcome if he wants to return to Holyrood. Galloway's speaking tours are successful, but for the majority of working class people he is remembered for his
Big Brother antics, and saluting Saddam. There's no reason to believe it will be any different for Sheridan. CBB will offer Sheridan opportunities, but only in the celebrity system where fame equals exposure equals money. A world of OK!, Strictly Come Dancing, Cash in the Celebrity Attic, etc. is there for the taking.

This whole affair should be a warning to the socialist movement. In the future when our movement throws up charismatic figures, we must be on our guard. The celebrity system will be open to these comrades and may go as far as courting them. But be under no illusions. Playing the celebrity game will damage the standing of any prominent activist. In effect, celebrity can nullify the danger they represent to the system.

Now, that's quite enough of that. Time for the really important discussion. What are Sheridan's chances? Will he bond with Coolio? Is class conflict with "Tory bird" Lucy Pinder in the offing?


Anonymous said...

Agreed. I suspect this is one of the few balanced verdicts we are going to see on this latest installment in the unravelling saga of Tommy Sheridan.

Much as what he has now become makes me cringe, his past record and contribution hould be stated honestly and defended from opponents on all sides who will now try to re-write history.


Anonymous said...

Damn, you beat me to it! A very fair post, and you really get to the heart of what's driving Tommy. I'm intrigued by the thought of him on Strictly Come Dancing, though...

Madam Miaow said...

I've just done mine, Phil.

These comrades put Sheridan forward to build their organisations, which enabled him to capture a media profile, but then different processes come into play.

This is what I was warning about when I introduced press relations into the movement and saw how Certain Parties in the left were using the work for their own celebrity. Suddenly, appearing with Bianca and Ken (both of them) took precedence over the politics. Once they saw they could get their ugly mugs in the media their principles just seemed to collapse.

Anyhow, hopefully three weeks of fun with this.

Ms Chief said...

There should be no re-writing of history we should leave that up to the Stalin school of falsification. Tommy's history within the socialist movement has been written down and for those who stood beside him remembered however there are those including the Socialist Party and the SWP who chose to see TS as the "most iconic socialist of the post war period" and chose to promote him above the party, the working class and the movemednt.

Accountability did not suit so that was defenstrated and TS was supported to attack his friends, colleagues and comrades and colluded with TS's fantasy.

Due to sub judice I won't say what I am thinking.

TS has chosen the celebrity road instead of the socialist road, he chose the individual over the collective with the help ofsocalled Trotskyists and Marxists. I strongly believe if TS had been given a shared message and a boundary not to step over the SSP would still be united but our psuedo-Marxist friends saw an opportunity to express their venom from the past i.e. SP/CWI and their sychophantic feelings i.e. the SWP.

I hope he humiliates himself, he might surprise me and good luck to him but socialists need to distance themself from him because he is promoting himself as a celebrity and not as a socialist

Madam Miaow said...

I hear you, Cat.

Please check out my blog.

Remember that there's a prison cell in the garden. Hmmm, I wonder who the producers have in mind to occupy that. Watch out for some embarrassing photo ops.

One snap of Tommy behind bars, just one ...

Phil said...

This probably spells the end of Sheridan's active involvement in the socialist movement. A celebrity he will be forever more. He might bring cheer to some the next time he pays a picket line a visit, but only by some miracle will anything like a political career survive. So long, Tommy!

MM, I don't know what's more depressing. That some socialists were prepared to dump principle for a taste of fame, or that they were star struck by the likes of Bianca Jagger! Using the media is all very well, but to what ends?

PS Thought yours and Splinty's blogs were v amusing.

Imposs1904 said...

Nifty bit of footwork there, Phil.

A post on Millies and the bigging up of leaders into celebrities and not a sniff of a mention of Degsy.

A career in the Westminster village awaits. ;-)

Derek Wall said...

I don't like to be too Leninist about this and it is a great post, but there is a war going on and we need to be doing our blog o bit to combat all the bloodshed.

Did you make the demonstration today?

Phil said...

Deggsy was before my time, Darren. Well, I do vaguely remember him on the news and in the papers when I were a sprog.

A comrade who was active in Militant in Liverpool at the time was told by more than one full timer (long since departed, AFAIK) that when someone has done as much for the labour movement as bro Hatton did, then it's ok to criticise him. Certainly not a position I would ever endorse!

Sorry Derek, I was unable to make any of the demonstrations. I do have something bubbling under on Gaza.

Imposs1904 said...

" . . . that when someone has done as much for the labour movement as bro Hatton did, then it's ok to criticise him. "

I hope he or she was told to piss up a rope every time they used that line. ;-)

PS - Where'd you get that picture of Tommy from? Love it.

PPS - Someone over at Urban 75 claims Terry Christian used to be in the WRP. I always wondered how he got that Word gig. Vanessa Redgrave must have a word in Jeremy Issacs ear: 'You want more Chekhov? Give Terry a presenting job on a Friday night.'

Charlie Marks said...

I don't know about Terry being a former member of the WRP, but he is certainly a socialist.

And we must remember that becoming a celebrity at this particular time (the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression) isn't going to have the same rewards or consciousness-altering effects.

Charlie Marks said...

PS: can't wait to see Tommy in a cat suit. Yum, yum!

Phil said...

Darren, google images is the blogger's friend.

The photo was a promo for his Edinburgh fringe show. It's on the second page when you do a search on his name.

Charlie, thanks for putting that image in my head.

I'm not sure celebrity would undergo much of a change in the current crisis, except perhaps the financial rewards won't be as obscene. I'm sure an examination of the Hollywood system during the great depression would give us an idea of how I more developed system of celebrity could be affected.

Ms Chief said...

Was at a swaray (is that how you spell it?) last night and a very credible source said Terry Christian was at college in 1979 with him and he was in the SWP and was a total hack - who believed he could convert everyone and pure berated everyone he met however was good fun in other ways.

On Derek Hatton - I used to be told the same, I think the difference with Hatton is that whilst he went on to be a minor celebrity selling Sieko watches and having a radio show he did not try maliciously to destroy the Militant and do things due to sub judice I cannot write.

Tam the Bam will be in a gorilla suit - mark my words!

Merseymike said...

I think that small political parties of any category tend to have two characteristics.

First, personality driven leadership - which is problematic, but the alternative is the Green party which fails to make very much impact at all.

Second, factionalism and splitting into constituent parts, perhaps because ideology and personality together encourages it

Phil said...

Cat, don't most lefties go through that phase in the full flush of their conversion? I certainly did, even though I didn't have a party to recruit anyone too! Anyway, I've always liked Terry and he was v good on The Word. It just wouldn't have worked without him. And at 49, he's looking v good!

Mike, you're partly right IMO. The smaller the group, the more these sorts of things matter. But there's more to it. I'll be looking at this issue in a future History and Class Consciousness post (which I've only just finished. Only took me about 5 months!)

Charlie Marks said...

Interesting you mention the Greens. They recently voted to have a leader - big issue for them, but there appears to have been little acrimony and the matter has been settled in an admirable fashion. Also, there's an anti-capitalist grouping w/in the party called Green Left.

Apologies if everyone knows this already, but I wonder what it is the Greens are doing right in that social democrats, eco-socialists, and Marxists are able to work together within a relatively small party?

Just thought - David Icke rather spoils this whole trouble-free leadership thesis I've just put together, doesn't it?

ModernityBlog said...

what about Degsy (I remember him, too much 'hail fellow well met', etc), Tommy and David Icke having a Green-Left-Sun Tan get together? it could be a TV special?

maybe invite John Rees for a laugh?

that quartet should be worth hours of TV entertainment!

Phil said...

Charlie, much of it has to do with the decentralised nature of the Greens and the fact that, unlike much of the Marxist left, the Green party is just one field of activity its members can choose from, in pick n mix fashion. As you know our activism is focused through the medium of our parties, so differences between trends in the respective types of organisations play themselves out in different ways. I should be writing something about communist organisation in connection with the last chapter in History and Class Consciousness in the next week or so.

Mod, don't know about you, but I'd much rather watch Jade, Kerry Katona, Peter Andre and Paris Hilton sitting around. It'd probably be a lot less grim!

Anonymous said...

Phil - I was around in the Derek Hatton era.

There are similarities with Tommy but also important differences - Derek honestly stated 'I fought he system and the system won' and has never (to my knowledge) come out against old comrades.

One thing to remember is that neither Derek or Tommy were not actually in 'leadership positions' as such - they were public figures. Circumstances (and yes personalities) throw some people into the limelight and they are not always the best equipped to deal with it. The history of the labour movement is full of such examples.

Have you noticed how ironic it is that those who are most critical of the Democratic-Centralist model are also the first to assume that these public figures should have / could have been ruled by their parties with a military-like party discipline ?


Anonymous said...

Tommy has been incorporated into the spectacle.
As the situationists told you he would - more than fifty years ago!

Phil said...

Good point, Journeyman. It's also worth noting, apart from MM's account above, that leaderships of the far left in this country have tended not to get themselves into the limelight. Even Alan Woods, a man definitely not going short in the ego department, is content *just* to appear on Venezuelan TV.

The only one that springs to mind is Tariq Ali, but he's done well to reinvent himself as a stalwart of the BBC/Guardian commentariat. I don't think we will be seeing him in a bodystocking, phew!

Ms Chief said...

Tommy was the Convenor of the SSP and on the SSP Executive Committee.

Before that he was on the Central Committee of Militant up until the mid 90s.

Other than that I agree with you - the Tanned One tried to destroy the SSP and turned on his comrades and called them monstrous names and lied about them.

Derek hattan to my knowledge did not do this!

Jim Jepps said...

Cat: just curious - when did Tommy join the CC? I thought he only really rose up through the ranks during the poll tax, but my knowledge on this is limited.

I don't think we should assume it's going to be a disaster for TS. Frankly he's in danger of being far too boring from what I've seen so far - I suspect that means he's learned some lessons from his patron's mistakes.

It's a stupid idea - but it wont necessarily be as damaging (politically) as it was for Galloway - who did, after all, make a bit of a media niche for himself. Bless him.

Ms Chief said...

Tommy I believe was elected on the CC in the late 80s and remained on until SML no longer was on the CC and SP/Militant Labour re-organised and set up the National Committe, later SML went onto the Internation Executive Committe where I think it was either Alan McCombes, Frances Curran and/or Philip Stott.

I agree Jim it won't necessary be a disaster for him but I think many of his sychophantic pals will see that bhe is more interested in himself, fame and fortune. Spoke to one of his most excited followers tonight on a Palestine demo who said what he is doing is beyond the pale. He's not in anyone's control.

Due to subjudice I won't repeat what I said, SWP members in Scotlaqnd are saying "its a disappointment". So for me that's enough.

I stopped watching it last night because it was too boring!!!!

Jim Jepps said...

Thanks Cat.

And yes - it's extra-ordinarily dull, and I can normally get into that sort of thing... it might perk up you never know.

I saw TS talking about jail and he even made that sound boring... I mean he's got the gift of the gab when he wants so I do think he's deliberately holding back in case he makes a complete idiot of himself (insert joke).

Phil said...

I thought Tommy was all right last night with his agitational speech. He was able to slip in a little bit of politics. Controversial!

Cat, out of interest, is there any hint of a defrosting of relations between comrades on both sides on the everyday activity/"street" level? Do Solidarity people try and make a swift escape if you start talking to them on a demo or whatever?

Imposs1904 said...

Yep, I saw that clip of TS soapboxing as well Phil.

From the response he got from his speech, I think he's starting a Solidarity Branch in the CBB household with Coolio, Tina and Terry.

Ms Chief said...

Tommy's speech from 2003 was good - that's the point he's good at things like that, he's a great agitator, but he needs to be accountable and democratic too. We didn't fall out with him on the basis that his speech giving etc had got a bit rusty!! FFS!

No there is no hint of defrosting relations - not from me anyway I enjoy practicing my dirty looks at any squalidarity member who tries to talk to me, so they don't have to avoid me they know better. I even give daggers to weaker (and with less resolve) members of SSP who are found smiling, waving or talking to the Squalids.

However saying all that of course you have to talk to some of them (I have a list of them who I would never speak to even if we were the last people on the earth!) - Palestine, trade union, asylum seekers etc. But I don't do small talk or smiling!!!!

I think Tommy's game plan is to come across as boring as possible so in the future people will say he's too boring to have done this, that, the other thing.

Phil said...

Does that mean I'll get a withering look if I come up and say hello at a demo or something? ;)

Ms Chief said...

No my never Philip - because to my knowledge you have never called me a fucking bitch, a cunt, a witch, a liar, You have never stood up and booed and jeered when I was accused of trying to kill Tommy's wife and unborn child. You have never assaulted my partner in the street or accuse me and others of being in the pay of the Murdoch Press. You have not colluded, lied or accused me of monstrous things - on that basis I would quite happily smile, wave or say hello. I am not totally hard line on these things - indeed I am quite moderate. Indeed to quote Dave Nellist "I am an moderate who refuses to live on my knees".

Viva la revolution!