Thursday, 22 June 2017

Reflections on the election #GE2017

Wow what an election! Its been unlike any I can ever remember with an incredible turnaround which floored the 'expert' pundits - most of whom still don't understand what happened. Since 2010 we have been told 'there is no money' - with austerity being used as an ideological weapon by the Tories (and their friends the Liberal Democrats) to destroy the welfare state - something the Tories have wanted to do since 1945. From 8 June this position has become untenable which is the good news the UK desperately needed.

At the start the Tories were riding as high as 49% and Labour as low as 27% in the polls that I saw. A Tory majority of anything from 80 to 180 was predicted. Theresa May's ratings were sky-high and Jeremy Corbyn's rock bottom but from the start it was fairly obvious there were major flaws in the Tory campaign. Theresa May's robotic repetition of the 'strong and stable' mantra, her stage managed 'public' appearances and refusal to take part in the leader's debates all damaged the Tory campaign. Lynton Crosby may have been playing it safe but the electorate aren't daft, they expected much more leadership from someone seeking a mandate to be Prime Minister of the UK.
The wisdom of the punditocracy

In contrast to this performance from May, Corbyn played to his strengths, going on a nationwide campaign tour and reaching out to larger and larger crowds as the election progressed. Naturally this was treated with scorn by the pundits who 'knew' that Corbyn was preaching to the converted, and predicted that there would be no impact on the wider electorate.


What were the key points which turned the election in Labour's favour?:
  • The leaking of the Labour manifesto gave Labour several days of uninterrupted headlines. The contents proved popular with a populace weary of austerity, and increased the turnout of younger voters
  • The dementia tax - the Tory manifesto was a drab and uninspiring document - foxhunting anyone? - but people soon picked up on the removal of any kind of cap on social care costs, something which was bound to hit the support of the Tories core pensioner vote. May failed to deal convincingly with this blunder claiming 'nothing has changed' despite the Tory u-turn.
  • The 'debates' - Corbyn 'debated' May indirectly and although many thought these 'debates' a score draw they were good for Corbyn because they gave him exposure. People could see that he wasn't the monster portrayed in the Tory press
  • Tory u-turns - almost too many to count but including the classic that May had denied there would be an election until 2020 several times
Despite the fact that the MSM and pundits stuck to their guns about the result I could sense the tectonic plates of UK politics were shifting online - Twitter and Facebook - and that more people wanted real change. The final result? Good for Labour and the left but ultimately disappointing in that May was able to hang on in a lame duck government with support from the DUP. As in 2015 Scotland let the left down badly by providing the Tories with an extra twelve MPs without which Corbyn might have been able to form a government.  The headline figure though is not the number of seats the two main parties won but the percentage of the vote for Labour, at 40%, getting its highest vote share since 1945!

The key outcome is not that May has been fatally wounded by this but that the Tories and their austerity agenda has been badly damaged. They are clinging on to power trying to negotiate Brexit with no plan and from a position of weakness. How long can this carry on? Its hard to predict because the wheels could come off at almost any moment, or they might cling on for twelve months or more. My money's on them hanging on by the fingernails for as long as possible because of the fear of Corbyn.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Theresa May the sanctimonious dealer in death

Many people, including me, were outraged when Theresa May produced a sanctimonious 'Easter message' this weekend. May claims to be a Christian and is often heard pontificating about how much she cares about 'hardworking families' and those who are struggling. In her message which can be found here May said:
"This Easter I think of those values that we share – values that I learnt in my own childhood, growing up in a vicarage. Values of compassion, community, citizenship. The sense of obligation we have to one another"
But could this be the same Theresa May that has presided over a regime of benefits sanctions and disability assessments that have lead to an estimated 30,000 deaths? Could this be the same May the 'Christian' that was a senior minister in a Tory government that has implemented massive austerity cuts which have created poverty for millions in the UK and a million people, many of whom are working, using foodbanks?

Here is just one example of many of the victims of a Tory government in which Theresa May was a senior minister:
"The tragic death in July 2013 of 59 year old David Clapson, a former soldier who suffered with type-1 diabetes, highlights the brutality of the system of sanctions. Clapson died from diabetic ketoacidosis (caused by an acute lack of insulin). His death followed him being sanctioned a few weeks earlier when all his benefits had been cut. 
His sister, Gill Thompson, found him in a flat where he had almost nothing to eat, six tea bags and an out-of-date tin of sardines. He had no money for electricity to operate his fridge where his insulin was kept."
How does one be a 'Christian' and preside over a benefits regime which is killing people, and creating real poverty and hardship I wonder? 

The only conclusion I can come to is that May is not a Christian but a hypocrite whose primary purpose is to serve the interests of corporations, wealthy tax dodgers and the 1% in general. People must die and be flung into poverty so that her already wealthy friends can have an even bigger slice of the cake. Rather than being a 'Christian' I think a more accurate description of May would be that she is a sociopath.

It would be easy to despair when people like May are ruining our country but the only option is solidarity and resistance. This photo from Hanna Murphy on Twitter sums it up nicely. 
Photo - Hanna Murphy - Twitter.

Monday, 3 April 2017

How our sham democracy works

So you think you live in a democracy? Well, you are right, you do. But it's not quite the democracy you probably think. I just pulled this definition off my Mac: - "control of an organization or group by the majority of its members " . To me, that is a satisfactory definition. You could substitute 'organisation' with 'country' and 'members' with electorate', and you would have a definition which fits the UK. The key word though is 'control'. In a democracy 'control' means that the will of the electorate can make change happen - including fundamental change.

So why is our democracy a sham? It works like this: You can vote, and you can make change happen but there are certain things that can't be changed, really important things like our economic system, which determines the kind of society we have. Why can't 'we' make those fundamental changes? Because the market, or call it big business or capitalism if you prefer, is in control. How does this work and how did it happen? If we look at recent history - in the past 40 years or so our politicians have ceded control to the 'market'. It has happened through the capture of institutions. The European Union is a good example of this. European treaties contain clauses which dictate how our economy works. In effect they create a European constitution which binds us to the market through so called 'liberalisation'. This means that we have to follow a right wing ideological economic programme

This 'free' market programme is neoliberal and its one that is followed by almost all governments in the 'West'. It means that corporations can dodge taxes, trade unions get disempowered, environmental regulations are watered down, people are mired in debt (e.g. student loans), public services are privatised, and countries are run for the benefit of the 1%.

The USA is still the epitome of capitalism but its doesn't say in the constitution that the country has to be capitalist. Those kind of ideological-cum-economic statements have no place in a constitution. What has happened is that politicians have put commercial interests above our democratic rights. On a lower level it works in the UK like this. If a multinational wants to build a superstore in your town centre your local council can't stop it from happening. The citizens of that town can't take a democratic decision that they don't want it. The 'rights' of the multinational have been put above our democratic rights. Of course we can still vote, and we can still decide to do things like introduce gay marriage, because that doesn't threaten the economic status quo, but we can't run our economy in the way we choose.

Our politicians never asked us if we wanted this. If they had they know we would have rejected it. But the point is that many of us are unaware of exactly what happened. Historically, where people have kicked back, such as in the referendums in France and Ireland where European treaties were rejected, the politicians have fixed it so they got the result they wanted in the first place. It's not just the EU but all the major institutions such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank that adhere to this neoliberal ideology masquerading as economic policy. The plan is to ensure that a particularly nasty, laissez faire version of capitalism is completely dominant - social and collective concerns are subsumed to the agenda of big business, and democracy is undermined.

While they may not appreciate all the details of how our democracy has been stitched up in the interests of corporations and the 1% many people understand that our democracy doesn't work for them. That is one of the key reasons that voter turnout has fallen so dramatically in many countries like the UK. And that is how we can get a government elected by only 24% of eligible voters which is what happened in the UK in 2015. Are the powers that be worried about this? Of course not - voter apathy suits those who are on control!

Despite this, our democracy is still worth something. We can put democratic rights back on top. But we can only do this if we first understand what's really happened, and have the will to re-capture our institutions from those who have 'stolen' them. Only by becoming politically active at a local level and resiting at a national level can we we turn the tide against the corporations, tax-dodging rich and their tame politicians who advance their interests at our expense.  

This is an updated version of a post from 2012. Nothing much has changed - for the better!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Some remain 'lefties' are busy doing the Tories work for them

As one who voted remain in the 'Brexit' referendum last June I was riled by the use of the term 'remoaner' by those who 'won' the vote to leave. But now I'm beginning to wonder whether some of my my fellow remainers aren't 'remoaners' after all. The leave vote was a huge blow to all of us and many people, including me, are still pissed off about it. However, its now time to move on. The battle is not about whether we leave, triggering Article 50, but what Brexit will look like. But my own anecdotal 'survey' of social media is telling me that many remainers on the left still don't appear to have got beyond the denial stage. 

They think that the Labour Party are going to come riding to the rescue on a white charger and block the triggering of Article 50. But this isn't going to happen, and it never was whoever was leader. Labour are not in government. They are in opposition with less than 250 MPs. The Tories have a working majority. Its that simple really. Many northern Labour constituencies voted leave. They are between a rock and a hard place. Which is why I'm getting a bit sick of lefties bashing Labour but most of all Corbyn.

Corbyn has been battered continuously since winning the first leadership election. He has been blamed for Brexit - wrongly. He is doing the only thing possible under the circumstances and as he quite rightly said the battle now is to get the best possible deal and protect jobs and workers rights by preventing a 'hard' Brexit.

Labour is the only chance of stopping the Tories winning the next election so my message is: get a grip, stop bashing Corbyn, stop the daft threats to leave Labour, and stop doing the Tories work for them. Get behind Corbyn and Labour and others who are working to prevent the Tories turning us into the new Singapore and help the fight to prevent a Brexit which could be disastrous for jobs, the NHS, and all we really care about. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

All you need to know about Brexit

It's now over 6 months since the referendum on membership of the EU. I voted remain but I made it clear I was a 'reluctant' remainer because of the democratic deficit in the EU, the imposition of neoliberal austerity - particularly in Greece - and the fact that the EU is not an EU for the people but a bosses club. My view was, and still is, that we should remain and reform the EU.

Since that fateful day arguments have continued to rage between Brexiteers and Remainers about the vote itself, what people actually voted for and the likely consequences of Brexit. In addition, we hear about how the vote to leave the EU was a triumph for the likes of Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan.

You may not be surprised to read that I don't see it like that. The UK leaving the EU wasn't a massive triumph for Ukip  et al it was in fact a massive blunder by the Tory Party. Something which seems to have escaped the mainstream media - quel surprise!

The truth is that Brexit was a massive Tory fuck up! It was Cameron who decided to call a referendum when he had absolutely no need to do so. It was in the 2015 Tory general Election manifesto. Cameron and the Tories called it and then went on to lose it!

And why did they lose it? Becuase of 5 years of massive Tory austerity cuts, benefit sanctions and a housing crisis which left many millions of people feeling insecure and angry if not actually totally shat upon.

So in six short years the Tories have managed to do very real damage to the UK and its inhabitants and there could be much more and worse to come. So as the economy and the social fabric crumbles, as poverty and homelessness increase and as the NHS and local government falls apart remember who is responsible for this grim state of affairs - the TORIES 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Some reflections on Castro's Cuba

Fidel Castro died at 90 years old three days ago. His death has sparked predictable rows about his legacy and the state of human rights in Cuba. He has been described as a dictator and a Stalinist but in my view was more likely a pragmatist. When he lead the revolution which overthrew the dictator Batista, Cuba was a giant casino-cum-brothel run by the US mafia. The overthrow was popular. Initially Castro asked the USA for help and when that was not forthcoming he turned to the Soviets instead. The USA did its best to undermine the revolution, carrying out many assassination attempts against Castro, sponsoring the infamous 'Bay of Pigs' invasion and carrying out an economic blockade that has lasted for over 50 years.

On the positive side the revolution has lead to free universal healthcare and education for Cubans, and Cuban aid in healthcare has been extended to other parts of the world - notably Africa. Cuban literacy is the highest in Latin America (100%) and 48.9 % of national assembly members are women. The Cubans helped in the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa and acted as beacon for liberation in South America and a bulwark against American imperialism. However, there have clearly been limits imposed on freedom of speech and association in Cuba, there has been persecution of LGBT people, though this has now come to an end, and there are differing views on the number of people who may have been executed and tortured by the regime.
Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Photo: Alberto Korda

Much of the criticism of Castro has focused on the lack of 'democracy' in a one party state. The assumption appears to be that only liberal democracies are democratic and that any truly democratic society must follow the Western model of representative democracy. But democracies in the West have important flaws such as in the UK where there is an unelected second chamber, no written constitution, and a first-past-the-post voting system which denies people the representation they want. In the USA there has recently been much criticism of the electoral college in a Presidential election where the winner Donald Trump got 2.5 million votes less than his opponent Hillary Clinton. So is liberal democracy the only form of 'acceptable' democracy or are there better alternatives? I think there are and I've posted about this previously on this blog.


Cuba also has to be viewed in the context of human rights abuses in liberal democracies such as the USA which has been involved in rendition and torture of many individuals, some of whom are still being held at Guantanamo Bay. In addition US drone strikes have been responsible for the assassination of 'terrorists' and the deaths of many innocent civilians. The USA disproportionately imprisons and kills black people through its judicial and police systems. These atrocities are rarely if ever mentioned in any discussion about Cuba in which the Western media focuses on denouncing Castro and Cuban governance.That is not to excuse any human rights abuses in Cuba. They were and are wrong and should be condemned.

What should a democratic system in a socialist state look like and how can the gains for the people made by a revolution be protected? Is it possible to have a functioning democracy without the kind of pluralism we see in liberal democracies? What is the point in having a revolution if the gains can be swept away by political parties backed by big money and vested interests as in the USA? I don't pretend to know all the answers but I do know that if the revolution in Cuba fails and it once again becomes a capitalist state the gross inequalities, including lack of healthcare and poverty, present in other countries such as the USA, will soon return. In our liberal democracy in the UK we have freedom, the freedom to starve, and sleep on the streets.

Friday, 24 June 2016

The chickens of Thatcherism are coming home to roost... via UKIP

I started writing this post on the day Jo Cox was killed but I struggled to finish it because I was feeling too down at the time. Well now, after the Brexit debacle has run its course I'm posting it because nothing has changed and it's still as relevant now as it was then. It's incomplete but ......

"What a depressing day. I followed the news on Twitter. First I see Nigel Farage unveil a UKIP poster which echoes Nazi propaganda and fills me with disgust, then I see early reports of the Labour MP Jo Cox being shot, and later still I hear of her death. My heart goes out to her family and friends. Although I did not know much about Jo it's clear that she was a fearless and redoubtable fighter for social justice and the world is a poorer place without her. In a moving statement her husband Brendan said:

"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous."
We do not yet know for sure the motives of Jo Cox's killer. It is claimed that he shouted "Britain First" as he attacked her. Britain First is a far right anti-immigrant hate group. 

So how did we get to this? How did we get to this referendum which has stirred up so much anger and divisiveness. Why is 'concern' about immigration at the heart of British political debate at the moment? Why is there so much fear and hatred in our country? The answer lies, or at least starts in the 1980s with Thatcherism which promised to make Britain and its people much more prosperous if only we would put our economy into the hands of the 'free' market, and began the process of dismantling the post-war settlement of the NHS, public services and the welfare state.


Thatcherism didn't stop with Thatcher. Through the 1990s John Major and Tony Blair continued what Margaret Thatcher had started putting the country into the hands of the corporations and bankers to be run for private profit. In the process trade unions were beaten down, workers pay and conditions were slashed and public services asset stripped. The bonfire of regulations demanded by the market led to a global crash in 2008 which wiped out millions of jobs and businesses and caused many to lose their homes. But who paid for this crisis? Certainly not the bankers that caused it. It was the 99% that were made to pay and this is what has ignited the anger of so many people, people in the North and Midlands who see immigrants as a threat to their economic wellbeing but their anger is being aimed at the wrong target because they are being exploited by the demagogues of UKIP and the Tory Party - Farage and Johnson."

Friday, 10 June 2016

Why I'll be holding my nose and and voting for Remain

I really don't like the EU. In simple terms the EU is a neoliberal stitch-up, a club for the corporations. The fiscal waterboarding handed out to Greece, following on from the imposition of a 'technocratic' premier in Italy was just about the last straw for me. The punishment of Greece was essential pour encourager les autres, to prevent Portugal and Spain and any other Eurozone countries trying to break free from the iron grip of neoliberal austerity. These events made it clear to me that the EU as it stands has no respect for democracy - period. 

Whatever the Remain campaign say about the environment and workers' rights I have no doubt that there will be more pressure to water down the relevant European directives in the future. That is inevitable unless the whole direction of travel of the EU can be changed. Neither am I confident that protests in the EU will be able to stop TTIP. I'm also very pissed off with the pitiful campaigning of the Remain groups, including those of my own party the Greens, because it's relentlessly negative. Has-been politicians like Tony Blair and John Major and 'experts' are constantly wheeled out of their cupboards to warn us of the impending armageddon if we leave. Where are the positive reasons for remaining? Can't they think of any?
Clive Lewis, Labour MP at Another Europe is Possible on 4 June Manchester
I'm also with Suzanne Moore in that I think that the almost unanimous support for remain from the establishment is proving a huge turn off for many. I her excellent article today in the Guardian she says:
"But I sense that, for many, a strange game is being played out whereby voting leave is not seen as such an enormous gamble. Much of England is ready to roll that dice; this part of England, so often despised, demonised and disrespected by those who claim to represent it, does need to be spoken for. This England will not do as it is told."
I agree with her, I too suspect that many people will simply stick up two fingers to the establishment and the EU and take that leap in the dark. 

So why am I voting for Remain on June 23rd? Its because I'm a socialist and socialists are internationalists, because I want to build solidarity with the left and oppressed groups across Europe, because it's the best way to deal with climate change and the refugee crisis and because I'm willing to join Diem25 and have one last shot at making the EU democratically accountable to the people.

If we do come out of the EU there will undoubtedly be a crisis but crises are the stock-in-trade of neoliberal capitalism, we lurch from crisis to crisis anyway. Will I lose much sleep over it? - no I won't because the fight for social, economic and environmental justice will go on just as it always has done.

Monday, 6 June 2016

So journalists should be protected from legitimate concerns about impartiality?

Jeremy Corbyn gives a pro-EU speech on worker's rights which was generally well received and what were the headlines? - "Corbyn supporters boo BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg'' - this was the Guardian, but it was given prominence in just about all the mainstream media (MSM). The reaction of the media to the incident was wholly predictable - FT journalist Fred Pickard described the booing as "pathetic" and Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian referred to the 'booing' as"ugly". Some journos wasted no time in describing the booers as being "misogynist' - yet another smear against Momentum. Of course, if you were an MSM Corbyn basher you could also have argued it was an own goal because the headlines detracted from Corbyn's message - but then its the MSM which determine what the headlines are anyway.

So what is happening here? Well many Labour supporters and others, including me, think that there is a strong media bias against Corbyn and that it's particularly serious when it comes from the BBC in the form of Laura Kuenssberg. I haven't been keeping a log but I still listen to Today and PM regularly on the BBC and I've never known her to miss an opportunity to put the boot into Corbyn. Do I think her reporting is biased - you bet I do! And as a licence fee payer I strongly object to it. I am supported in this view by none other than a former chair of the BBC Trust Sir Michael Lyons who was quoted in the Guardian. Referring to Corbyn:

He told the BBC’s The World at One: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this. [my italics]

Furthermore it seems that this view is backed up by research. So great has the concern been that 38 Degrees launched a petition calling for her to be sacked but the petition was shot down over allegations of 'sexism' thus sparing Kuenssberg, the BBC and the government considerable embarrassment. I saw an analysis of the comments on Twitter but I can't find the link, however it's clear that any sexist comments were in the minority and the vast majority who signed it expressed legitimate concerns.

So was the 'booing' justified? I think it probably was. I've watched the video and it's pretty restrained and comical if anything. It appears to be spontaneous rather than planned. Maybe those journalists who were in the room found it threatening? But then wouldn't they find any challenge to their integrity threatening? Reading the comments of Gaby Hinsliff it strikes me that journalists who have the luxury of inhabiting the cosy Westminster-MSM bubble have a sense of privilege and entitlement. They're the ones who know it all not the unwashed masses on Twitter - how dare anyone challenge them? Maybe they ought to get out more and mix with some people in the real world, people who are being screwed by austerity and to whom Corbyn offers some hope. And maybe they ought to think about reporting events with some degree of objectivity? Somehow I very much doubt they will.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

How Blairite MPs can destroy the Labour Party

In a week which has seen yet another attack on Jeremy Corbyn by a Labour MP it's clear that those who oppose Corbyn have learnt nothing from the Blairite years or the destruction of the Party in Scotland. John Woodcock may be right that Corbyn didn't make the most of his opportunity to attack Cameron and Osborne over the recent disastrous 2016 budget but he is missing the point. Corbyn may not be the best possible Labour leader but he does have important qualities - he is a decent man who says what he thinks, a man with principles, a rare quality in politicians, and something that should be valued. Add to that, the fact that there there is no obvious alternative to Corbyn - don't tell me Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or Dan jarvis! - and it becomes pretty obvious that Labour MPs should get behind their leader and turn their fire on the Tories.


Jeremy Corbyn
So why the problem? Blairite MPs need to wake up and smell the coffee because Blairism is dead and politics have moved on. There is hunger for real change and a leadership challenge would do more to scupper Labour's chances in 2020 than a united party fighting the Tories on their many weak points including the destruction of the NHS and our education system.  

These Labour MPs suffer from exactly the same malaise that destroyed Labour in Scotland - a complete inability to see that their Blairite, pro-'free' market and anti-public sector politics has got right up the noses of a large segment of the electorate, a segment large enough to get them a majority in 2020. Like Scottish Labour they are completely oblivious to this fact. No doubt the special circumstances of the referendum hastened Labour's demise in Scotland, but they were in serious decline anyway because they allowed the SNP to move into, and occupy, a huge vacant space on the left of politics that they had created by sticking to unpopular centre right neoliberal politics.   

How does this happen? Its almost certainly the result of the groupthink that afflicts most politicians in the EU and the wider western world, resulting in a belief system that only markets matter and that they can provide solutions to everything. As a Green Party member I ought to be celebrating the death-wish that Blairite MPs are embracing but I don't. We have to get the Tories out in 2020 and Labour are the only Party that can do it. I hope we will gain MPs but we need a strong opposition from Labour that offers real alternatives to the asset stripping of the public sector rather than a timid, watered-down version of Tory policy. If Labour MPs succeed in ousting Corbyn and continuing with 'business as usual' I expect the Labour Party in England and Wales to suffer the same decline as the Party did in Scotland.