10 December 2018
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Hotel California: What The Song Is About

SteelyKnifesThe rock band Eagles released their super hit Hotel California in 1976 and up-to-date this song remains one of the popular songs that is adored by millions of fans around the world. The hit song Hotel California is well written both lyrically and musically. This song contains a deep connotation and was written by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glen Frey. The song was an instant success. Many believe that Hotel California is not a place; it is a metaphor. As the true interpretation of Hotel California, Don Henley told Rolling Stone magazine once that Hotel California was about “facing some of the harsh realities of fame and life in Hollywood.” On the contrary there are several interpretations of Hotel California.

Materialism and Hyper Consumerism
Hotel California reflects the materialism and hyper consumerism in the Western World. Consumerism is an economic policy that states that the market is shaped by the choice of the consumers. Under the Consumerism systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts take place. The Economists who advocate consumerism believe that the key to economic prosperity is the organized creation of dissatisfaction. People are encouraged to buy and consume various products despite the necessity. The consumerism increased in the West rapidly after the WW2.
Consumerism has negative repercussions on people and the society. Ecological imbalances, environment pollution and economic recessions have become the unavoidable realities under the hyper consumerism. The extravagant lifestyle in LA which is a mixture of materialism and hyper consumerism has caused nostalgia and emptiness. The Eagles echoes the California lifestyle and the culture in the ’70s with their all-time greatest hit. For the Eagles Hotel California was their interpretation of the high materialistic life in Los Angeles.

Hotel California is a Metaphor for Cocaine Addiction
As the music critics view this song is an allegory about hedonism and self-destruction. Hotel California is a first person narrator who is driving in the dessert. Then he sees a sparkling light and decides to go there and have a night rest.
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
The narrator is on an exotic experimental mind journey. The “Dark Desert Highway” refers to a craving drug trip that has a disastrous aftermath. The warm smell of Colitas (the Spanish term for tumble weeds) makes his head heavy and sight dim. While high on cocaine, he has delusional feelings of grandiosity. He feels more energetic and sociable. While on his wild drug trip the narrator experiences euphoria and hallucinations. His mind goes through a mystic fathomless fantasy.
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
’this could be heaven or this could be hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say…

Welcome to the hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the hotel California
Any time of year, you can find it here
It is a well-known factor that prolonged use of cocaine leads to paranoia and delusion. Cocaine has correspondingly intense effects on the body – and on the mind. Cocaine has powerful psychological addictive properties. Therefore the users find it difficult to refrain from indulging in it.
Relax,’ said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!
Cocaine addiction is something similar to the journey that has no return. The narrator was told “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”

Hotel California is a Metaphorical Music of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam conflict has been called “America’s first rock-and-roll war” because of the predominance of rock music that permeated the American experience there. As draft quotas were raised and deferment and exemption loopholes closed, an overwhelming number of military personnel belonged to one generation: the average age of combat soldiers was 19 and, according to some figures, 90 percent were under 23 years of age. Many of these conscripts did not want to be in Vietnam, and no one wanted to be alienated from his own generation back home. Therefore, many GIs imported their tastes in music into the war zone. Rock music was the most popular genre, and beads and peace symbols were worn with and on many uniforms.( Fasanaro.C)
Hotel California resonates with the combat experience in Vietnam. The Old French Fort in Tay Ninh that was about sixty miles North West of Saigon was nicknamed Hotel California. During the Tet offensive the Old French Fort became a place of safety to many combatants. Often the soldiers were greeted at the Old French Fort saying “Welcome to the Hotel California”
The Vietnam War changed the American social landscape. The nation was divided. Some openly protested the war. Young naïve boys were drafted and sent to Nam. Most of them were 19 years old and 12,000 miles away from home. During the war the innocence was lost. Atrocities like My Lai Massacre shocked the American public. Over 50,000 US solders never returned home alive.
The United States also paid a high political cost for the Vietnam War. It weakened public faith in government, and in the honesty and competence of its leaders. Indeed, skepticism, if not cynicism, and a high degree of suspicion of and distrust toward authority of all kind characterized the views of an increasing number of Americans in the wake of the war. The military, especially, was discredited for years. It would gradually rebound to become once again one of the most highly esteemed organizations in the United States. In the main, however, as never before, Americans after the Vietnam War neither respected nor trusted public institutions. (The Postwar Impact of Vietnam by Harvard Sitikoff)
In his autobiography “Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) Don Felder wrote that my views on the Vietnam War were unpatriotic. Don Felder was
A rebel during his teenage years frequently at odds with his parents and ran away from home. In later years he closely worked with the anti-Vietnam war protestors. His anti-war attitude resonates in Hotel California.
Deep sarcasm is associated with the line that states “Welcome to the Hotel California, such a lovely place, such a lovely face ” The war is welcoming young soldiers. In every war propaganda is maintained to hide the ugly realties that have horrendous nature. War front is a lovely place and it has a lovely face until the solder becomes a casualty. To depict the harsh realities of the war Don Felder and his co-writers use euphemism to arouse wistful feelings in the listeners.

Hotel California is a Mental Hospital
Some believe that Hotel California is a mental hospital (probably the Camarillo State Mental Hospital that became functional in 1932) In 1960s many psychiatric hospitals had many allegations such as abusing the mental patients, giving high doses of sedations to them, excessively using ECT and performing unethical prefrontal lobotomy etc.
In this song the narrator describes his firsthand experience at the mental hospital. His delusional thought process is described as follows.
Her mind is tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes Benz
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
Tiffany-Twisted – this may be a term used to describe a mental health nurse like the Nurse Mildred Ratched (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) who had absolute authority over the mental patients.
So I called up the captain,
please bring me my wine’
He said, ’we haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine’
Until 1969 many Mental Hospitals used to give wine as a sedative or a sleep starter for the patients. When asked for a glass of wine his request was turned down and he was told ’we haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine’
The narrator was hearing auditory hallucinations (voices in his mind) calling from a faraway distance.
And still those voices are calling from far away
When he wakes up he experiences thought echo or another set of auditory hallucinations.
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…
Welcome to the hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
They livin’ it up at the hotel California
What a nice surprise, bring your alibis

Hotel California is about Spiritualism and Occultism in 1960s
With the rise of Beatle mania and hippie subculture in the West a deep void of spiritualism was to be seen. Many youth became the followers of Guru Maharaj Ji , Osho Rajneesh ,Maharishi Mahesh Yogi etc. The materialism, hyper consumption, war in Vietnam, wide spreading drug abuse had wreaked the Western Civilization. The traditional Christian Church had no answers for the youth who were desperately seeking universal truth about existence. To fill this spiritual vacuum many embraced the Eastern spiritualism. In the same period there was another inclination towards the Occultism. Satanic worshipers were emerging. During this time period Charles Manson forms his family and commits multiple murders.Manson’s predicted Helter Skelter- an apocalyptic war between blacks and whites.These events profoundly affect the Eagles.
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said ’we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast
There was a human sacrifice and the narrator had witnessed it. He was terrified and wanted to flee. But now he is a prisoner and he cannot escape. He has to face his destiny. This human sacrifice reminds us the self-immolation by Norman Morrison who immolated himself outside of the Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s office as a protest against the Vietnam War.

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge


Psychoanalytic Novels of Simon Navagattegama

simon"Where there is much light, the shadow is deep."

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

The Sri Lankan novelist Simon Navagattegama used a series of mystic symbols in his famous novels -Sansaranyaye Dadayakkaraya (The Hunter of the Saṃsāra Monastery) and in Dadayakarayage Kathawa (The Hunter’s story). These novels can be regarded as the best psychoanalytic novels of the Sinhala literature. In these volumes Simon gives broader interpretation of a carried meaning and presented different conceptual systems. He used metalanguage to describe the story. The reader has to grasp the story ontologically and essential do deconstructive reading in order to get the wider aspect of the narrative.

According to Simon the hunter is a great symbol or a metaphor. This metaphor consists of   Androgyny or the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. He is more than a human. The hunter is a myth, crystallized undifferentiated psychic energy. The hunter symbolizes the human soul that travels through Saṃsāra which is the repeating cycle of birth, life and death. Although the Buddhist philosophy rejects the concept of an immaterial and immortal soul, Simon implies that hunter could be the karmic force that transcends to different psychic levels.

Cosmic Law of Cause and Effect or Karma is the law of moral causation. Karma is symbolized as an endless knot.The hunter’s moral and immoral volition fuels his journey through Saṃsāra.  The hunter’s cycle of rebirth is determined by his karma.

Simon uses his knowledge in Buddhism, Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology to craft this great metaphor. The hunter is surrounded by a mighty forest and he faces numerous obstacles in his great journey.  However hegoes in to a psychic transformation which is an experience of awakening and illumination. He is subjected tospiritual maturity and psychological healing through his voyage. It is a great recount of relations between social anthropology and psychology.

Simon narrates the psychic transformation of the hunter’s emotional experiences, his phantasies, dreams and dream-thoughts. The hunter’s phantasies are lucid. These phantasies are imaginative fulfillment of frustrated wishes mostly unconscious. Some of the phantasies are symbolic figures.

Sansaranyaye Dadayakkaraya (The Hunter of the Samsara Monastery) and Dadayakarayage Kathawa (The Hunter’s story) represent numerous psychoanalytic symbols which stem from the unconscious mind. According to the Psychoanalytic notion symbols are not the creations of mind, but rather are distinct capacities within the mind to hold a distinct piece of information. Some of the symbols are created by collective unconscious. These areuniversal themes, archetypes and primordial images. These are the structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species. The hunter shares common archetypes such as the ferocious leopard, the musk deer, the monk, the goddess etc. These symbols carry important socio cultural meanings.

Simon’s symbols are mostly from folklore, mythology and rituals and some have religious background. Simon used symbols in his novels hiding the conventional meanings.

The hunter is influenced by his unconscious processes. Also his conscious perception is based on unconscious inferences.  His ongoing experience, thoughts, and actions signify great meanings. His socially unacceptable ideas, motives, desires, and memories associated with conflict, anxiety, and emotional pain are being repressed. However some psycho biological instincts emerge despite the cultural and religious barriers.

Simon Navagathegama used different metaphors to describe the cultural, social and anthropological icons. These metaphors represent numerous abstract and complex concepts. The great Saṃsāra is generally depicted as the wheel or Bhavachakra. Bhavachakra is a form of a mandala. According Carl Jung mandala is the psychological expression of the totality of the self. But for Simon the psychological expression of the totality of the self is the hunter and the mighty forest represents Saṃsāra.

Simon’s some metaphors have their origin from the Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is known as the Great Vehicle. Simon has used Mahayana philosophical and devotional texts to illustrate the hunter’s perceptions.

The Mahayana concept accepts the Bodhisattva ideal as the highest. Bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by great compassion and has a noble wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhisattva is one of the four sublime states a human can achieve in life. As explained by the Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula the Mahayana mainly deals with the Bodhisattva-yana or the Vehicle of the Bodhisattva. Simon used the Lotus Sutra of Mahayana to discuss emptiness and a sense of timelessness in his novel. Although the   hunter’s journey is long it is purposeful as well as meaningful.

Simon discusses universal truth revealing the hunter’s journey through the wilderness. According to Bertrand Russell meaning and truth examines the relation between our language and the world. Meaning and truth are the nurture of the mind (de Cortiñas, 2013). In these novels meaning and truth were conceded by the author. The reader has to make an extra effort to dig in to the hunter’s mind to extract meaning and truth.

The hunter’s mind is filled with unconscious phantasies. It is argued that unconscious phantasies are inherently metaphorical and have no 'concrete' existence in the unconscious (Colman, 2005). He has sexual phantasies too. These phantasies include dominance, submission, sexual pleasure, and sexual desire. The hunter’s sexual daydreaming, masturbatory and coital fantasies are vividly narrated by the author.

The hunter meets with a goddess in the forest and they become attracted to each other. Hence they make love and create a union. They are woven together. Their sexual union shared with physical and the spiritual bliss. The transformation of desire occurs and the hunter and the goddess achieve ecstasy of love.  It facilitates heightened states of awareness in the hunter. He achieves self-evolution and self-involution. The hunter was connected to the universal energy.

Simon uses Tantric symbolism throughout these novels. Tantra has been called the "cult of ecstasy and it combines sexuality and spirituality in one great union. Tantric archetypes can be detected in many places in the hunter’s legend. According to Jung archetypes are patterns of instinctual behavior. He believed that when the archetypal level of the collective unconscious is touched in a situation, there is emotional intensity as well as a tendency for symbolic expression.

Simon discusses meaning of life in these novels. The meaning of life is a philosophical as well as a spiritual question According to the life mission theory; the essence of man is his purpose of life, which comes into existence at conception. Nietzsche stated that purpose of life is will to power, wants to be master of itself and around itself and feel itself master. The hunter is thriving for power by overcoming obstacles in the forest.

The hunter is not a moral being. Simon discloses the dark side of the hunter’s psyche. There is an evil side of man, called the "anti-self" (the shadow), because it mirrors the self and its purpose of life. The core of the anti-self is an evil and destructive intention opposite to the intention behind the life mission. The evil side of man arises when, as the life mission theory proclaims, man is denying his good, basic intention to avoid existential pain. (Ventegodt et al., 2003). Carl Gustav Jung called the evil side of man as the   anti-self, or shadow.

In Jungian psychology, the shadow or "shadow aspect" may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. The shadow comes from both the personal and the collective unconscious and contains the primitive, uncivilized elements within us that are unacceptable to society and are generally repressed (Smith & Vetter, 1991, p. 103). Generally, the shadow represents traits and attitudes that are the negative or evil side of the personality that people either fail to recognize or deny exists (Hall, 1989, p. 33).

Simon discusses evil side of the villagers as well as of the hunter. The village largely represents sin and hypocrisy. The concept of sin is ambiguous. However Simon posed two questions -what is sin?  and what is merit?   The Christian model of sin began to emerge in the medieval period and the early Renaissance period. In Abrahamic contexts, sin is the act of violating God's will. Warner (2010) states that in Buddhism there is no concept of sin at all. In Buddhism there is no original sin and sin is largely understood to be ignorance. Mainly the sin is understood as “moral error.

Simon depicts Patichcha Samuppadaya or the cycle of existence in the novels. The forest is the Saṃsāra and the dwellers are affected by Kama-Tanha – Craving for sensual pleasures   Bhava- Tanha -   Craving for existence andVibhava- Tanha - Craving for non-existence.  Ignorance or avijjā is the inevitable result of being born and wandering in endless journey through Saṃsāra. The hunter is drifting in the mighty forest also known as Saṃsāra.

Simon’s stories touch the taboo subject of incest. Silk (2008) stated that incest plays a central role in the narrations of the origin stories of many traditions, generally in highly mythologized ways, recounted in stories. According to the basic Buddhist story, the sons of a certain king Okkaka were banished and went into exile with their sisters. The version in the Ambattha-sutta of the Theravada Digha-Nikaya (Long Discourses) says: “Out of fear of the mixing of castes they cohabited together with their own sisters (Silk 2008).

In 'Totem and Taboo' (published in 1912-13) Freud did analytic exploration. He developed his theory of object relations and his ideas about the inter-subjectivity of unconscious mental life (Grossman, 1998). Freud discussed incest and its psychodynamics. Freud's thinking about incest, placing it within the context of childhood sexuality (Alvin, 1987). When people contemplate incest and its consequences, they simultaneously consider two quite different issues: the issue of intentionality and blame, and the much more troubling and dumbfounding issue of what society would be like if incest were to be permitted (Astuti & Bloch, 2015).

Incest and illicit sexual relationships take place in the village. The hunter witnesses sinful realties in front of his eyes. He is ambivalent about the life style of his fellow villagers.  Incest barrier is broken and moral degradation takes place. Yet the villagers consider the hunter as the sinful person who violates the first Buddhist Precept -abstaining from harming living beings.

Although by nature the man is evil   man has a free will, acknowledged by philosophers of all times, and by using this will man can either do good or become engaged in evil intentions and by doing so, assumes often grotesque and inhuman forms ( Ventegodt et al., 2003). Simon concurs with man’s free will.

The hunter reflects the human ancestral past. There is a human tendency to hate the shameful past. The truth is 20,000 years ago we all were hunters. There is a hunter in each one of us. Our collective unconscious carries some elements from our predatory days. These impulses are threatening and shameful. Therefore the villagers (morally) banish the hunter. This banishment is a form of excommunication. The hunter is being excommunicated from the village spiritual circle. However the author indicates that the hunter bears strong spiritual elements.

Human suffering has become the innermost theme in Simon’s novels on the hunter. Suffering is a human condition. As Edna Lake states all forms of existence whatsoever are unsatisfactory and subject to dukkha.  Mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying. Karl Jaspers believed that death, suffering, struggling, guilt, and failing affect human beings grimly. The modulation of mental pain in a container-contained relationship is a central problem for the development of the human mind (de Cortiñas, 2013).

Diehl 2009) indicated that the emotional, cognitive and spiritual suffering of human beings cannot be completely separated from all other kinds of suffering, such as from harmful natural, ecological, political, economic and social conditions. In Agamemnon, Aeschylus said that humanity is fated to learn by suffering (Oreopoulos, 2005). Similarly Simon points out that dukkha or suffering is a part of the hunter’s great journey and it helps transforming him. However he further explicates that dukkha is not simply despair or hopelessness, it has a deep philosophical meaning.  With dukkha the hunter finds some meaning in life. The hunter realizes dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.

The hunter meets a monk who lives in the jungle. He is a spiritual teacher who practices meditation. He isabsolutely free from lust, greed, anger and egoism. The monk’s goal is to become enlightened and reach nirvana. He is eliminating all greed, hatred, and ignorance and attains nirvana where there is no suffering.  The monk is no longer part of the cycle of reincarnation and death.

The hunter is passionately attached to a deer which Simon calls Kathuri Muwa (musk deer). He is eagerly seeking the deer in the jungle. Kathuri Muwa is a wider form of representation which refers to the father figure or totem animal. Kathuri Muwa becomes hunter’s fantasy which is an imaginal representation of bodily instincts and urges.  His attachment to Kathuri Muwa (musk deer) prolongs his journey in the forest. At this point narration of the hunter’s inner mind takes the reader in to a more spiritual world disregarding the hunter’s past sinful acts. When the hunter finds the musk deer he sees the reality and the true nature of the craving. Now the hunter has no greed for the musk deer. The hunter has become a super human (Übermensch or Overman) uplifting his spirit much higher than the fellow villagers. The hunter has seen the truth and liberated himself from craving


Alvin,R.(1987).Freud, Psychodynamics, and Incest.Child Welfare, v66 n6 p485-96.

Astuti, R., Bloch, M. (2015).The causal cognition of wrong doing: incest, intentionality, and morality.Front Psychol.   18; 6:136.

Colman, W. (2005).Sexual metaphor and the language of unconscious phantasy.J Anal Psychol. 50(5):641-60.

de Cortiñas, L.P.(2013).Transformations of emotional experience.Int J Psychoanal.  ; 94(3):531-44.

Diehl, U. (2009).Human Suffering as a Challenge for the Meaning of Retrieved from Life. http://www.bu.edu/paideia/existenz/volumes/Vol.4-2Diehl.pdf

Grossman, W.I. (1998).Freud's presentation of 'the psychoanalytic mode of thought' in Totem and taboo and his technical papers.Int J Psychoanal. ; 79 ( Pt 3):469-86.

Hall, J. A. (1989). Jung: Interpreting your dreams---A guidebook to Jungian dream philosophy and psychology. New York.

Oreopoulos, D.G. (2005).Is There Meaning in Suffering?  Humane Medicine, Volume 5.

Silk, J.A. (2008). Incestuous Ancestries: The Family Origins of Gautama Siddhārtha, Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 20: 12, and The Status of Scripture in Buddhism. Retrieved fromhttp://www.buddhismandsocialjustice.com/SILK/Silk_Incestuous_Ancestries.pdf

Smith, B. D., Vetter, H. J (1991). Theories of personality (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Ventegodt, S., Andersen, N.J., Merrick, J.(2003).The life mission theory V. Theory of the anti-self (the shadow) or the evil side of man. ScientificWorldJournal. 11;3:1302-13.

Warner, B. (2010). Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between. New World Library. p. 72.


First they raped Manamperi

premavathimanamviyathFirst they raped Manamperi
And buried her body alive
I did not speak
Because there was an insurrection
Then they came for women in Kahawatte
I did not speak
Because I was not from Kahawatte
Then they came for women in Nuriwatte
I did not speak
Because I did not live in Nuriwatta
Then, they came for Women in the North
I did not speak, because
Krishanthi Kumaraswami, koneshwari, Isaipriya
They were not my sisters
Then they came for women with a different skin colour
Eight men gang-raped Victoria Alexandra
I did not speak
Because she was just a foreigner
Then they gruesomely gang-raped Rita John
Stabbed her body fifteen times
Left her murdered body on the Modera beach
I did not speak
Because she was an Indian
She was asking for trouble
By walking on the beach
with her jewelries in the evening
Then they gang raped a woman in Wijerama
I did not speak
Because she was just a prostitute
Then they raped hundreds of virgins
And celebrated with champagne
in Akurassa and Monaragala
I did not speak
Because too scared of politicians
Then they raped Logarani
Threw her naked body into a sacred temple
Then they gang raped Saranya Selvarasa
I did not speak
Finally they raped
Vithiya Sivaloganadan
I did not speak
Because she is Tamil
She lived on a small Island in Punguduthevu
- By Shamila Daluwatte https://www.facebook.com/shamila.daluwatte

Labour needs to ditch some sacred cows

"Every consensus is based on acts of exclusion."
~ Chantal Mouffe.

Labour’s main problem came into focus for me yesterday when I was watching the BBC News Channel. Rupa Huq, the new Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton (congratulations to her for winning) came on and started boasting about Labour’s success in London, linking it to London as a place where UKIP doesn’t do well and drawing a contrast between the diverse, relatively well-educated capital and the rest of the country.

This sort of ‘London exceptionalism’ makes some people feel very good about themselves but it doesn’t seem calculated to appeal to many outside the capital nor indeed many former Labour voters. It’s common currency among London Labourites though, and it’s telling that the contrast is most enthusiastically illustrated by contrasting Labour to UKIP. On this dimension the ‘us’ stands in contrast to a ‘them’ composed of UKIP and UKIP voters.

The contrast draws its fuel from a consensus view that UKIP is ‘a racist party’ but also from London’s great diversity compared to the rest of the country – with just 45% of its population being ‘White British’ according to 2011 census results. We think that London not voting UKIP and London being very diverse are two sides of the same coin. The ‘us’ of Labour is equated with diverse London while the ‘them’ of UKIP is equated with the not-so-diverse rest of the country.

You might see what is happening here: that for a strong tendency within Labour (in London in particular) ethnic minority voters count as ‘us’ while white people are regarded with suspicion as a latent, potential UKIP-supporting ‘them’. We draw ourselves around our core, and this creates our opposition. Labour’s tendency to associate itself with ethnic minorities and others as separate groupings which it specifically claims to represent (for example through ethnic minority, women’s and ‘LGBT’ Manifestos – while the Conservatives produced an ‘English Manifesto’) sends messages not just to those groups but to those who don’t qualify. Those messages say "we represent these people" but not you.

Watching election night unfold I thought I could see this phenomenon working itself out in London itself, where Labour won seven out of 12 target seats. The Tottenham MP and potential London Mayoral (even perhaps Labour leadership) candidate David Lammy picked it out during the BBC coverage: that the seats Labour were picking up were in areas of high ethnic minority concentration. In areas with less minority ethnic presence like Battersea and Hendon, the Conservatives did much better. Of course it will require serious number crunchers to tell a fuller story controlling for class and affluence and different ethnicities, but there seemed to be a pretty obvious trend there for me.

All politics is the politics of division in some sense but we might look north of the border to see that you can practice this more successfully than Labour does at the moment. The Scottish National Party identifies itself with Scotland – so every voter in the country counts as a potential core voter. The English (or people resident in England) are the outsiders for them, but they don’t have votes in Scotland. A lot of people don’t like this nationalism, but I think the SNP itself manages it quite well for the most part. All parties have their unpleasant wings and extreme outriders, though thinking about it I wonder if the Conservatives’ success might be partly down to them having relatively few of these (despite all the talk from lefties about how nasty and evil they are).

On the left, we do an excellent job of pushing people away, despite all our talk of ‘inclusion’ and Labour’s claims to be the party of ‘the many not the few’. My feeling is that this is affects all left-leaning parties. That seems to be backed up by the numbers, which show how what you might call a ‘progressive alliance’ composed of Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, SDLP, Greens and Plaid Cymru won 47.7% of the total vote in this election while the Conservatives, UKIP and DUP from the right picked up 50.1%. (Thanks to John Clarke for pointing that out).

Compare that to 2010 (a bad year for Labour remember), when the more ‘progressive’ or left-leaning parties won a total of 55.7% against the right’s 41.7% and you can see that over the past five years the British left has been losing votes to the right, despite having a Conservative-led government implementing public spending cuts (known in left-wing circles as ‘austerity’). As a whole, the voters have looked at us and said, “You know what, the other lot aren’t great but I prefer them over you lot. See you later.”

This is where we need to start, by admitting that with the bulk of the British pubic, we are unpopular – the only serious exception being the SNP in Scotland which has got its identity politics worked out. There are lessons to be learned here. The now-departed Labour MP and former Ed Miliband adviser John Denham says:

“In seats we lost, like Southampton Itchen, our inability to win over those anti-Tory former Labour and would-be Labour voters who went for UKIP proved fatal. Despite the best efforts of our local candidate and campaign, Labour’s cloth ear to the politics of identity meant we could not bring them over. It wasn’t really about policies on immigration or Europe, but about a lack of confidence that we understood why rapid changes in work and communities seemed overwhelming. The rise of UKIP support amongst the voters we most needed to attract not only hit us hard but reminds us that there is no iron law that says we will do better next time.”

We can perhaps see from this how crowing about how ‘our’ areas and ‘our’ people resisting the appeal of UKIP is actually rather stupid, naive and self-defeating. It is also rather lacking in accuracy. As David Goodhart has written of the 2014 European elections, “UKIP, which won 17 per cent of the vote in London, outpolled Labour by almost two to one among white voters in the capital.” In Labour we blame UKIP for polarising and dividing communities, but by placing ourselves directly in opposition to them and by practising ethnic and other types of favouritism we end up doing that ourselves.

In one of the more enlightening accounts of Labour’s failure this time, the Fabian Society’s Andrew Harrop partly addresses these problems, with a clear awareness of how Labour has been losing the old white working class vote. He writes:

“The real problem was that, for many, questions of identity and culture took precedence and on these issues people felt deeply alienated from Labour. These themes are sources of division not unity among Labour’s potential voters, so it will be a huge task for the party to forge a sense of common purpose amongst non-Conservative Britain. And the job will become even harder in a parliament that is set to be dominated by immigration, Britain’s place in Europe and Scotland’s place in Britain.”

We can see here a tacit recognition how current politics is dividing potential Labour voters along identity lines which are mapping on to Labour/non-Labour distinctions. Many Labour and other left-wing folks blame UKIP for whipping up division, but with UKIP winning just one-in-eight votes nationwide and only one House of Commons seat out of 650, the blame must surely lie with us.

Harrop’s account is a good one, but his recommendations themselves partly reflect Labour’s troubles. He says: “[Labour’s] leaders need to resemble the diversity of its supporters and the party needs to rebuild the two-way emotional connections that have been severed. Locally, that means recruiting supporters and activists from within each community and organising to achieve change that people care about.”

Part of the problem with this is that some ‘communities’ are strong and have well-established representation within the institutional architecture of Labour and the wider left, while others – notably that troubled old (mostly white) working class – are shut out and have declined as communities. They don’t have much if any representation, and if they tried we would probably shout them down as ignorant and racist, particularly if they dared to step on the sacred cow of mass immigration.

So if we work to recruit supporters and activists from our existing voting base, we will probably continue to entrench ourselves in our existing redoubts, becoming more the party of liberal professionals, public sector workers and ethnic minorities and less like the people who have left us but who would appreciate some left-wing representation.

Harrop suggests: “To bring together supporters from such a diverse range of backgrounds the next leader will need to live and breathe ‘one nation‘, big-tent politics.”

This comes to the crux of Labour’s problem here. For, while being completely committed to divisive identity politics (which is institutionalised into its being), attempts by Labour to play ‘One Nation’ politics (which Ed Miliband tried for a while) do not convince.

So what do I recommend?

Well, pretty the same as I have being saying here, seemingly pretty much alone on the left, for the last few years. We need to get rid of some sacred cows – open up the party, stop offering favouritism to certain groups and start to embrace equality rather than its opposite. How we draw the lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’ constitutes who we are: building a new, wider coalition sounds nice and easy in theory, but in practice it will require huge changes to the way Labour operates and to the way it thinks.

I seriously doubt if the party is even ready to start questioning these things, let alone embarking on such changes, but this is the challenge in my view. Thankfully there are signs that many Labour folks are at least reaching the threshold of the question; we shall see what happens. But I fear we will end up with the same old stale fight between the Labour left and the New Labour tendency: another example of an 'us' and 'them' division which doesn't do anyone much good.

For a few more suggestions on how Labour might change, see my short submission to the Collins Review on Labour Party reform.

For more on similar themes, see The Labour Party and other party politics page and Identity politics and the left page.


My Sweet Love

ruwanShe is the most precious girl
Who lives in my heart
Her love is like the sunshine
Keeps me warm and satisfied

The beauty in her eyes
Like the jewels in the night sky
Her warm lips give me an eternal life

When she smiles
My worries and nostalgia fade away
She brings me everlasting happiness
Which I missed for many years

I have no words
To express my love for her
She is the only girl
Who lives in my world

Every single day
Our love grows
Like a never ending story

My heart beats for her
My princess and my angel
You are my everything
I cannot think of life without you

World without her
Is like a Robin without wind
Wasted and deserted
Without a single hope

Life without her
Would be like a drifting raft in the mighty ocean
Without any endeavours
Without any love and comfort

Now I know clearly
That I love my angel
For many centuries
She belonged to me

When I was the Pharaoh
She was my Egyptian queen
When I was the Maharaja of India
She was my Rani

When Julius Caesar
Invaded Gaul
I took her to the distant mountains
Traveling many days on horseback

When Napoleon the anti Christ
Came near the frozen lands of Russia
I killed many soldiers with my broadsword
Who came to seize my lady

I remember her face
Filled with tears
When we were separated
At the Auschwitz

I promised to return
When I went to Vietnam
But I came in a coffin
You were crying and didn't want to leave me at Arlington

I lived many lives
With my guardian angel
Happily and contently
And I will live with my angel
For another thousand lives

Dr Ruwan M Jayatuge


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