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Saturday 16 December 2023

‘A NEW BRAND OF BRILLIANCE’ (A SPOTIFY PLAYLIST)



Click here for a Spotify playlist packed full of Xmas songs and general good cheer! Well, some Christmas songs… okay not any, just the usual stuff. Sights along the way include…

Bardo Pond's blistering psychedelia doesn't know about us but we know about it, Brian Eno talks only in incomprehensible proverbs, New York punk trio Ut provide the spikiest of no wave, Low disappear (as they unfortunately did after the untimely death thus year of Mimi Parker), Jonathan Richman finds the financial zone to be something akin to Wordsworth’s field of golden daffodils, my bloody valentine take off for dimensions unknown (as is their wont), Mazzy Star ring dem bells - and more!

The illo’s a collage by the pioneering Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. (Much appreciated in these here parts.)

The Delgados: Lazarwalker
Bardo Pond: Don’t Know About You
Brian Eno: Blank Frank
The Waterboys: Nobody’s Baby Anymore
Ut: Big Wing
Sleater-Kinney: Ruins
Low: Disappearing
Emma Ruth Rundle: Protection
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers: Lonely Financial Zone
my bloody valentine: sometimes
Mazzy Star: Bells Ring
Swans: The Sound

"Blank Frank is the siren,
He's the air-raid, he's the crater
He's on the menu, on the table,
He's the knife and he's the waiter”


Back in the New Year…

Saturday 9 December 2023

'PHILP GUSTON’

Tate Modern, London



“Probably the only thing one can really learn is the capacity to be able to change.” 
-Philip Guston

A World To Win With Murals

Everyone knows the Guston story. It’s the one about the dissident American Abstract Expressionist, the one who went back to painting… gasp… things, to great controversy. In a style bordering on cartoony, which some also found controversial. Which included depictions of the Ku Klux Klan. Which also proved controversial.

But as the opening rooms of this show demonstrate, his origin story was almost bog-standard. He was even a teenage friend of the most Ab of all Exers, Jackson Pollock. He followed the familiar recipe, which as we’ve seen before, was a mixture of Surrealist practices and the scale of New Deal muralism.

We start off with some fairly standard Surrealist works, clearly indebted to de Chirico but with the silkily synthetic painting surface of post-Dali. There’s nothing wrong with them, but nothing particularly right about them either. They’re regular, when Surrealism needs to be estranged from us.

The murals are a different story, however. He’d soon joined the Block of Painters, a group of political muralists in Los Angeles. As these are somewhat challenging to transport, they often get left out of this story. But the Tate goes to efforts, including projecting roving sections of ’The Struggle Against Terrorism’ (1934) on a wall. But let’s focus on a drawing, specifically ’Drawing For Conspirators’ (c. 1930, below.)


Its as politically committed a work as any Berlin Dadaist ever spewed. Had it been given a thumbs-up by the critics and no more, it would have failed in its intent. It exists to make a point. Yet however politically charged it might be, its not a reportage image. In fact its as much a tableau as any Victorian ever painted.

You don’t question this, the crucified Jesus and the black lynching victim being placed next to one another, because there’s no attempt to convey any actual pictorial space. The setting’s a stage, not a place, the figures theatrical. And the creation of works from big, broad symbols… this segues quite neatly into Abstract Expressionism. The symbols just become more general, more universal, that all.

But also… yes, the Klan show up this early. And why wouldn’t they? This period, the inter-war years was their strongpoint. And while this work displays their notorious anti-black racism, they were as much anti-semitic and anti-immigrant. With Guston (birth name Goldstein) a Jewish child of immigrants. In 1932, another mural of his was defaced by the LA Police (then closely linked to the Klan) when they raided the centre which held it. Yet at the same time the era contained a sense of hope, the feeling that old certainties had eroded, that what gave danger also raised possibility. “There was a sense of being part of a change, or possible change” he commented afterwards.

Guston’s personal image bank was filled up then, and he continued drawing on it throughout his life. In his later return to the representational pretty much all that’s new in terms of imagery is the backdrops. (Which are of his adopted New York rather than his original Los Angeles.)

And why shouldn’t this be? After all, when we’re young aren’t we soft clay, impressionable and absorbing? We then progressively harden as we go through life, until our attitudes become impervious.


’Bombardment’ (1937, above) is Guston’s ’Guernica’. Literally so, like the more famous Picasso work it was painted in immediate response to the fascist bombing of that town. The unusual roundel design is used to create a vertiginous effect, explosion placed dead centre, figures flung out at you from it. War’s presented as a kind of ‘big bang’ event, gestating the world we live in.


’Gladiators’ (1940, above) is similarly war-based, only this time it’s not happening to but embodied by the figures, who look inseparable from their masks. The composition’s a swirl of ceaseless combat, your eye never coming to a focus point but forever rolling round. Particularly with the blue angle, the frame seems to be moving down on them. The violence feels menacingly real, but at the same time the weapons are toys, a dustbin shield, a wooden sword. And it's another tableau. The upper left figure outsizes the others, but in so symbolic a work it takes you a while to notice.


’Martial Memory’ (1941, above) is in many ways a successor work, incorporating many of the same elements. (“Guston and the dustbin lid motif, in this talk I will…”) But its a more static composition, working out from the central triangle of the main figure. It’s thing isn’t motion but density. It features, as the indicia puts it, “forms overlapping one another in a very dense manner”. The result is that it neither resolves to either a literal or allegorical reading, inhabiting a kind of ‘between’ space similar to Paula Rego.

In this work the figures have become children, who frequently appear in this period. It’s reminiscent of the way children will repeat back to you what’s on your mind. Inevitably, their response to a world of war is street games of battle. Which easily tip over into true fights of their own.


’The Porch' (1947, above) seems a transitional work into his later abstraction. There’s still some suggestion of pictorial space, but with a cruciform shape imposed upon it. And the figures are stretched, the way a scream is an elongated note.


And 'The Tormentors’ (1947/8) seems almost the next step along in a timeline, the foreground figures fading into inscribed lines, the red-and-black background darkening to dominate the composition. Yet those shapes look not just like they might oncer have been things, they retain some sense of anthropomorphism. (The title suggests we should look for pre-Klan figures.) Perhaps because there’s something primal about the work, as if made from some pre-verbal urge.

All would seem to bode well for Guston’s future abstraction…

”The Process of Creation”

…alas not.

Guston's reasons for turning to abstraction are textbook and exemplary, both the right ones and the best expressed. Briefly, it allowed him to just paint. He made a point of never stepping back from his canvases never pausing work to check on the overall composition, lest that interrupt the flow of paint. “I am not concerned with making pictures,” he commented, “but only the process of creation.” The action of painting the painting is the painting.


But the results don’t particularly honour that noble intent. ’Beggars Joys’ (1954/5, above, is quite typical, with the de-centred cluster of brighter strokes against a paler background. In fact its one of the better works, with its shimmering quality. But this is art for aesthetes.

At the time, with Ab Ex ascendent, these cemented his reputation. He represented America at the Venice Biennale in 1960, aged 47 (a neophyte in painting circles), followed by a Guggenheim retrospective two years later. But the truth is, in the New York School he was but one enrolment among many. There’s no suggestion he broke away for this reason, but the fact remains - if he was going to be Head Boy, he needed to found his own establishment.

The impression’s often given that his return to imagery was some sort of Damascene convention. Like he sat up in bed one morning and went, “hey, everybody - things!” This show demonstrates how slow and tortuous it really was.


In the early-to-mid Sixties black heads started appearing in his work, floating Zardoz-like over clouds of brushy grey. ’Painter III’ (1963, above) is one of the more developed examples, with a brush-sporting arm appended, even reflected in the title. It’s scarcely a great work, and in a room of essentially similar efforts it becomes both repetitive and unfinished. But its significance is in his timeline.

Did those heads just keep arising, unbidden, in his work? And did he break off when he saw what he’d done, alarmed at the forbidden imagery, only to do the same again? It seems a bit too romanticised. Plus these works were apparently shown at the time, not hidden away. Nevertheless, surely something of this sort happened.

From 1966 he then took an eighteen-month break from painting. (“You have to die for a rebirth”, he commented later.) And when he started again, it was with lines. Just lines. Over time these became simple doodles. Blown up to the size of small paintings, but still simple doodles of single objects. As basic as basic can be. But, like the heads, their significance is as steps on his timeline.

The phrase often used for Guston is ‘return to figuration’. Yet he started off painting things, and that’s significant. The first object we see here is a book. And, from an artist’s perspective, what does a book ‘mean’? It’s a repository of words, the alternative to images. If an artist paints a head, he must find a specific head. Even if he doesn’t model the work on a real head, if one comes from his imagination, it becomes a specific head once its painted. While in four letters the word ‘head’ can stand for all heads.

And the stripped-down, iconic way they’re painted is surely to circumvent this problem. A chair or a shoe is designed to represent chairs and shoes as directly as the word would. Significantly, he called these works a ‘visual alphabet’. And a great many items from this alphabet then reappear in his paintings. At the same time there’s something cartoony about them, which makes them least a little anthropomorphised.

Amid Idiot Evil

By 1970, he had fully worked up paintings which were shown at New York’s Marlborough gallery. And this is where the legend starts. Critics raged, former Ab Ex soulmates never spoke to him again, leading to him feeling like he’d been excommunicated. No less than John Cage was dismissive, only de Kooning positive. From that point on, and significantly, his main associates became not artists but writers and poets.

Okay, about time we looked at some…


’Open Window’ (1969, above) recursively hangs some of those 'visual alphabet’ pictures inside a larger work, works-within-a-work. But the window of the title makes them fairly accurate descriptions of a stripped-back urban environment. (And this the New York that classic Modernists were so rhapsodic about!) Downward strokes predominate, suggesting dumbed-down art as a response to a dumbed-down world. It’s reminiscent of the Matisse quote, that the build environment does to our eyes what prejudice does to our intelligence. And we’ll see that stripped-back colour scheme recur again and again, off-whites, chewing-gum-pinks, muddy reds and deep greens, lurid and cheap.

In a similar vein ’City’ (also 1969) reworks city buildings as Klan hoods, narrow windows doubling as eyeslits. As if the city itself was a product of, or perhaps producing, Klan ideology. And speaking of which…


The first room contained a 1924 photo of Klansmen in a car, publicising a white power lecture. An image which reappears in ’City Limits' (1969, above). Guston may not have ever seen it but he must have seen similar things, perhaps in person.

But what’s significant is that they are not depicted in the same way as the Klan of old, as in ’Drawing For Conspirators'. Their appearance, with those sinister costumes, had been designed to strike dread into their victims. But their role as racism boogeymen had waned over time. Racism clearly remained, but it was less embodied in the Klan. And so those pointy hoods started to look a little absurd.

If his personal image bank was filled up in those inter-war years, as he started to draw from it he knew he was spending old money to a changed world. So he paints not malevolent fascist entities but knuckleheads, goons, bozos, neighbourhood bullies. In fact they become a more generalised symbol for knuckleheads, goons and bozos. Their car has gargantuan wheels, yet three figures are crammed into a tiny bubble cab, complete with fag smoke. (You could read that giant car as their externalised self-image, and the diminutive figures as their actuality. If you wanted.)

Adrian Searle describes them as exuding “idiot evil”, and indeed they seem like henchmen without a criminal mastermind, wandering this way and that, often pointing forwards like they wouldn’t know which way to go otherwise. Their nearest comparison in contemporary art would be Crumb’s White Man, with his mantra “I must maintain this rigid position or all is lost.”

Ands the style they’re painted in is as different. Guston had once painted children reflecting adult concerns. Now he’s effectively doing the reverse, depictions of adults in a childlike manner which makes them essentially children. With those huge hoods, the Klan’s heads vanish into their toros, the way child art won’t differentiate head from body. They’re often depicted oversize, both from the child’s habit of ascribing size to significance and as a way of portraying their grasping nature. The banality of evil via the cartoonification of evil.

As is well known, this retrospective was originally planned a few years ago. Then, after the murder of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives Matter, Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art in suddenly got cold feet over these images. Whereas of course when they’re relevant is precisely the time to show them! How could anyone get something so spectacularly wrong?

The answer is that the privileged forever mistake their status for smarts, when in fact it’s the reverse. Cushioned from the world’s sharp edges, they cannot see what we see. So they assume that they, the enlightened few, might be able to perceive these were anti-racist images, but what about us, the bewildered herd? As if someone could confuse Guston with DW Griffiths!

The only time either artists or black advocacy groups seem to have been involved in this is to complain it was un-necessary. Plus, all the furore when these works were first shown seems to have been over their representational form and their deliberately crude style. No-one then thought they were Klan-sympathetic. They were wrong - very wrong - about Guston’s art, but that didn’t make them cretins.

Further, the fact that galleries would worry then but go ahead now proves it wasn’t even the images being misinterpreted that worried them but the direction of social media trends. Potential flack coming down upon their own heads was a bigger deal to them than the knee on Floyd’s neck. Now black lives mattering is no longer this year’s thing, it’s safe to go ahead.

(Disclaimer: The Tate seem to have been more caught up in this delay than willing accomplices. And even then co-curator Mark Godfrey resigned from them in disappointment.)

And there another, equally important, dimension to this…

Klan Am I 

The Royal Academy show included a 1971 caricature of Nixon, skipped over here. Which may well be wise, as it can be played on too hard. Guston wasn't a 'political cartoonist'. More significant is all the self-portraits…


…such as 'The Studio’  (1969, above). It’s a painting of a Klansman painting a Klansman, brushes pushed to the foreground to emphasise this is a kind of self-portrait. Because as soon as Klansmen step from the sinister shadows and become regular bozos, we need to accept we are all part-Klansman. They’re our enemy, but not necessarily our external enemy. Guston said “it could be all of us. We’re all heels.” Or at another point, “I am the subject”. He’s shown smoking as he works in the accompanying filmshow, and I’d soon decided that any smoking Klansman was tagged as a self-portrait. (Which means that was also Guston in ’City Limits’.) 

By being a painting of someone painting, this foregrounds the graphic style, Guston painting himself as a Klansman in the way he depicts Klansmen. Klan men in a klan world in a klan style. And as Adrian Searle said, they “look exactly like they were painted by the kind of people they depict… some heavy, slow, intractable goon.”

Further, its significant the way the image is stacked - paint brushes before raised fingers before drawing hand before canvas. It’s not as dense as 'Martial Memory’, but it it feels crammed, claustrophobic, as if depicting an inescapable situation.


And this is enhanced further in ’Painting, Smoking, Eating’ (1973, above), by which point Guston was habitually painting himself as a one-eyed testicle. The horizontal figure actually only has a plate of food on him, the accumulation of objects is behind. But it's painted as if they weigh on him, accentuated by the flatness of the figure under the bedclothes. Guston called this stuff crapola, the detritus of life. And while critics’ claims to find Holocaust references in his work normally feels fanciful, the mass of discarded shoes here may well echo those photos of abandoned belongings in piles.


’Monument’ (1976, above) is like the antonym of those studio paintings, what Guston scuttled past on his forays out to buy more fags and tubs of off-pink. We grant a common identity to the crowd, simply by thinking of it as “the crowd”, while knowing at the same time it has none, its just an agglomeration of individuals. And so we get an apparition such as this, an assemblage of stamping feet without guiding heads, its bestial nature accentuated by the comparison of shoes to horse’s hooves.

There’s a famous quote from Guston: “what was happening in America, the brutality of the world. What kind of man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything - and then going to my studio to adjust a red to a blue?” It’s blown up on the gallery wall, it takes up a page in the booklet. But it’s widely misinterpreted.

Guston was not such a fool as to imagine adjusting a red to an off-pink was a different matter. He wasn’t trying to recapture his politically committed youth, as if you could just transpose from one era to another, and from public walls to a gallery setting. He was using his work to ask himself just that question - what kind of man am I? If you didn’t care about the brutality, you weren’t a human being. On the other hand, if you didn’t care about your art, you weren’t an artist. So the artist cannot help but respond to world events, but at the same time cannot help but feel isolated from them. This art grapples with that conundrum.

Further, its now generally agreed that the New York School retained their leftist beliefs (apart from the occasions where they retained their anarchist beliefs), even when it wasn’t evident in their art. They would have all been aghast at what was happening in America. Which suggests Guston’s motivations were a combination of inner and outer, political outrage and a dissatisfaction with Ab Ex methods. And in saying this we don’t need to place one above the other.

Where did this new style come from? Robert Crumb, mentioned earlier, was soon complaining it had all been stolen from him. Yet he never really missed a chance to be vexatious. Both are really borrowing from the same source, the old American newspaper strips. It’s like arguing my band sounded like the Stones before yours did.

The show refers to this but, as is standard, insists that means George Herriman. Yet Herriman’s fluid, sketchy line could not be further from the blocky things stuck to these walls. Guston is borrowing from lesser-known but more regular newspaper artists, such as Bud Fisher. And he’s not even taking directly from Fisher or from any one of them. He’s taking from them on aggregate, the general way they depicted things, picking up on the common slang. Rather than trying to raise the comics style, Guston lowers himself to its base level. He’s more interested in their crudity, their scuzzy printing, their reduction of objects down to signs. And that’s why his pictures work.

Life After Klan

Though Guston is now defined by the crapola paintings, the style lasted less than a decade and the Klan had disappeared from them well before that. Laster works are more metaphysical, larger in scale and more spacious in content. They’re less fraught and frenzied, more contemplative. Expansive and calm oceans appear, as in ’The Ladder’ (1971, below.)


They’re perhaps best summed up by his comment “there’s nothing to do now but paint my life.” Guston said at the time that while he’s painting something he has no idea what it will be, and he didn’t see why that process should stop just because he’d stopped painting it. He quoted approvingly from Paul Valery, “a bad poem is one that vanishes into meaning.” He wanted back some of the inscrutability abstraction had afforded him.


Still later works swap off-white for much darker and more sombre hues, often full black. The motive for these is mortality, as both himself and his wife dealt with illness. ’Web’ (1975, above) is a particularly nightmarish image, the spiders dominating the horizon, their distance only emphasising how trapped the figure is. Whether his death is near or not, it remains inescapable. The reflections of two of his key colours, muddy red and green, might suggest it’s his art he’s trapped in.

Should we see this as a good exhibition? As you may have guessed from above, it presents a compelling timeline of Guston’s career. But that may be a better thing to write about than walk round, as it gives greater weight to lesser works when we could have had more Klan paintings. (Not something to quote out of context!) The Royal Academy show of 2004 effectively did the opposite, sweeping through his early years, encouraging us only to look for emergent symbols, in order to bring on the crapola. Neither porridge is quite right. And Guston would surely have exulted in remaining hard to pin down.

Saturday 2 December 2023

ANTI-SEMITISM VS. ‘ANTI-SEMITISM’

Okay, so I promised there wouldn’t be another politics post. And that has turned out to be a Tory promise. But then the so-called ‘March Against Anti-Semitism’ happened (ably analysed by Vashi Media here) and this seemed too timely to wait…

Remember when Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader? Now back in 2015. It was pretty clear that a black propaganda campaign would be unleashed against him. But most of us (including me) assumed it would continue in the vein it had before, merely more concentrated. Which had chiefly been to accuse him of supporting the IRA. Instead, they almost entirely pivoted to accusations of anti-semitism. Which at first seemed odd. They had one script already written. Why switch to another?

Does this distinction matter much? After all, both serve the same purpose – which is really not much more than a heckle. What the heckler is saying is secondary, the point is what he prevents the speaker saying. The heckler’s role is to sidetrack them.

But treat this as a clue… Since then, it’s only become more widespread. It’s not just that the accusations against Corbyn are now taken as fact, including by the supposedly ‘liberal’ media. (I’m not bothering to debunk it all here. That stuff is easy enough to find if you want to read it.) It’s that it became their default brand of mud to sling against anyone they want to paint dirty. Partly they may just be building on success, of course.

But more is afoot…

It’s origins are easy enough to find. Criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine had been painted as anti-semitic for some time, and with some success in making mud stick. (We have had rather a lot of that lately, as it happens.) That worked over there. Why not try it over here?

But more is afoot…

Rare… perhaps even alone among racisms, modern anti-semitism isn’t linked to material deprivation. Jewish people living in Britain aren’t, on average, worse off than white folk. This doesn’t mean they don’t encounter prejudice, or that this prejudice is somehow without significance. (Anyone saying there are acceptable forms or degrees of racism is now being escorted to one of the exits.) But it makes it something distinct from anti black or Asian racism.

In short it takes institutional racism out of the equation, leaving individual prejudice. And individual prejudice is the definition of racism they like to push, because it lets them off the hook. Racism becomes a problem with a few retrograde types, usually portrayed as ‘uneducated’ or working class. To which the solution is performative public statements, or progressive educational campaigns. (Anti-racist slideshows and the like.) In this way the source of the problem dresses itself up as the solution, it even sells itself as the expert who can heal our poor contaminated souls.

(This is of course how they tried to portray Black Lives Matter. But then there was a conflict between a ground-level movement and its twisted official reflection. A slogan widely used by BLM demonstrators was “white supremacy is the enemy.” While corporations used “black lives matter” as a buzz term to slap beneath their logos. Post a black square on Twitter, job done, racism defeated.)

But more is afoot…

Depicting anti-capitalism as anti-semitic is of course an old trick. But this brings a new dimension to it. The demise of Corbyn was the last hurrah of social democracy in Britain. Those who had been allowed to inhabit the leftmost fringes of Labour, provided they didn’t try to actually influence anything, are now to be (in that delightful phrase) shaken off like fleas.

Neoliberalism is now to be presented not just as the dominant strand of capitalism but as capitalism. Earlier, more pluralist forms have been memory-holed. And those who try to criticise or ameliorate it are to be painted the same way us anti-capitalists always were, as dangerous hate-ridden extremists.

In essence, it works like this… You are by your own admission against capitalism, which of course means you are against money. Money is of course to do with the Jews. Therefore you are against the Jews. In short the accusation is itself anti-semitic, as it actively recycles anti-semitic tropes.

It’s sometimes suggested that these smear tactics may at times get over-excessive in their zeal, but they’re coming from a good place, the desire to combat racism. They’re really not. They’re an instruction to look out for anti-semitism where it isn’t, leaving it alone where it is.

Further, it is a worrying but undeniable fact that anti-semitism is growing. But that needs to be seen in context, of racism in general growing overall. Those on the receiving end of other forms of racism often feel there’s a hierarchy of racisms in supposedly ‘centrist’ political culture, with them on the bottom. They’re excluded by racists, and also by supposed anti-racists.

The main incubator of anti-semitism today is conspiracy theories. In fact anti-semitism at root is a conspiracy theory, in a way other forms of racism aren’t. Conspiracy theories always end up saying “because of them”, and while "them” doesn’t necessarily has to be "the Jews" a whole lot of working out has already been done for you once you accept that. Abbie Richards coined the term ‘anti-semitic point of no return’, for the point where you cross the event horizon of lunacy and QAnon shreds your capacity for reason forever more.

White supremacy is a material fact about the world. You could pretty much prove it by looking out the window. So anti-semitism, the pretence of Jewish supremacism, is required to let whiteness off the hook, in fact absurdly claim victim status for white people. Claiming there’s something inherently strange and suspicious about George Soros having all that money is a way of saying it’s perfectly normal for Elon Musk to have even more money.

And precisely because there’s no material basis to the claim it's magnified to a ludicrous degree, where “the Jews” are supposed to direct everything that happens. Lack of evidence is presented as proof of how clever the sinister forces have been in covering their tracks. Hence the common tropes of the trapping web, the puppeteer’s strings and all that crap.

The widespread use of money was the inevitable consequence of the rise of commodity production. When we use the word ‘capitalism’, we essentially mean the expression of commodity production across society. But in the conspiracy theory it becomes a malevolent magic force, a kind of sinister spell cast by “the Jews” to disrupt the natural order of things. We have been calling this stuff “the socialism of fools” for nearly a hundred and fifty years now.

(There is of course a more convoluted relationship between conspiracy theories and power than that. Right-wing governments react by trying to pin their anti-semitism on us. But they also indulge aspects of it, such as the ‘white replacement’ conspiracy. But let’s leave that aside for now.)

Reader’s voice: “Well that’s all very clever, Gavin. But what should we actually do to deal with this?”

For one thing, we should ensure we never entertain conspiracy theories in any form. It’s not enough to just state that we don’t. Any more than you get to shower once in your life and be clean forever after. We need to stay perpetually watchful.

But of course that’s not an answer to the question. Even if we were to get a completely clean bill of health, the accusations would persist. They are not being made in good faith, but out of opportunism.

There isn’t a magic bullet answer here. But the short answer is to look at everything Corbyn did. And then do the opposite. Some will not want to hear this, but his response to the attacks against him was hopelessly na├»ve, a how-not-to guide. Explaining patiently one more time just what his position was and how they must have misunderstood it, that didn’t really work too well for him.

The answer was given earlier on. We should avoid all forms of anti-semitism, but that’s because we don’t want to be anti-semitic. We should deny all conspiracy theories, but that’s because they’re all wrong. And we should regard these charges not as tests of our resolve, but as smears, as heckles, as derailments - and treat them as such. We should not let our enemies set the terms of debate.

Next time, not more politics. Would I lie to you, guv?