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.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Baffled by Trump's popularity? - neither am I

Donald J Trump appears to be sweeping all before him in the GOP primary, so much so, that pundits are claiming he has the party nomination nailed on. This has lead to shock and surprise from many on the left, centre and even centre-right. How can some one who spouts offensive bigoted views, refuses to condemn the KKK, and appears to have little in policy other than making Mexico pay for a 1000 mile border wall possibly do so well? Why has he got so much support?

Here's why. It can be explained in a word - Neoliberalism. I've blogged extensively about neoliberalism on here but this is a very brief summary: in the 1970s a combination of falling profits and a resurgent 'free' market ideology led to the crushing of organised labour in the West and an all out attack on welfare. In addition, the public sector was asset stripped by corporations and the population burdened with debt.

Wages in the USA for most workers - the 'Middle Class' have remained stagnant for decades and jobs have been outsourced abroad creating a situation where most Americans are a couple of paychecks away from destitution. This destruction of the 'American Dream' has lead to fear, anger and resentment in a large section of the population and a disillusionment with the democratic political process, because whoever you vote for nothing changes, you just get more cuts and greater poverty. Does this sound familiar to people in the UK?

So, all that anger has to be directed somewhere and the triumph of the political right has been to make sure it's focused on the wrong targets. Instead of blaming the real culprits - the super-rich, corporations and their tame politicians - many people have been blaming just about anything else - the most obvious example being 'economic' migrants.

Then along comes Trump. He's an anti-establishment figure, a 'strong' leader who shows contempt for his rivals and articulates the fears and prejudices of his supporters. He says he will make America great again and proposes simplistic solutions. He identifies himself with his supporters. In addition, the harsh reality is that there are many people in every society who want an authority figure. They want simple answers to complex issues. Don't believe me? Then read Chris Roses's excellent book 'What makes People Tick' which is based on years of research. It doesn't have all the answers but it will give you an important insight into what people's values are and how they think

Is it surprising that Trump is doing very well and that he appears immune to attacks from the establishment? Not at all because many people have stopped listening to the establishment. Trump is playing a clever game and I don't believe he's as extreme as he makes himself out to be. Also, I don't think he'll win the Presidency.  I hope I'm right about that. But the key to this is if you want to influence people you have to understand their values and 'what makes them tick'. As the book says:
'If you want to communicate effectively with people - especially if you want to persuade them to act - you need to start from where they are, not from where you are.'
This has always been a failing of the left because we think our better analysis and arguments will win the day. We communicate in policies not values and always start from where we are. We don't take into account the feelings of people we want to mobilise. History shows that this approach has failed. Things need to change very soon.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Corbyn: you can smell the fear

Its really about time I blogged about something other than Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party but I have to admit that I've been fascinated and appalled by the daily round of smears and attacks on him orchestrated by the mainstream media (msm), and the Parliamentary Labour Party. The latest example of putting the boot in was the now infamous 'revenge reshuffle' of the Shadow Cabinet. Whilst the Labour leadership could be criticised for its handling of the reshuffle, 'revenge' filled the headlines for days, only to be replaced by 'ineptitude' when Hilary Benn survived at foreign affairs, and the msm sang in unison from the same hymn sheet throughout. Corbyn started out as a Stalinist dictator determined to wield the axe and ended up as weak and incompetent. Nothing he ever does can possibly be the right thing.

The highlight was the 'live on air' resignation on the Daily Politics of Stephen Doughty that Labour stalwart that .. er .. no one had ever heard of, but after his five minutes of fame we learnt that he was of course an excellent chap, vital to Labour's future. Then someone spotted that the live resignation had been orchestrated by the BBC and just happened to be timed to cause maximum damage to Corbyn before PMQs. 

As I said in my previous post on Corbyn bashing the constant barrage of attacks is motivated by fear, fear on the part of the political and media class that Corbyn could win in 2020 and end the Tories cosy stitch-up of our society and economy which looks daily more like a racket than government. It also exposes the neoliberal groupthink which pervades this class, not only in the UK, but throughout the 'Western' world.  

How can 'Mr Incompetent and unelectable' possibly win? By having policies which are supported by the majority and are popular like the nationalisation of the railways - something which the Green Party has been calling for for years. Corbyn has a lot of work to do to win that election in 2020 but even the slightest chance he might do it fills our 'ruling class' with dread. 

Friday, 18 December 2015

Jeremy Corbyn Bashing - Award of the Week

Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party on 12 September with a whacking great mandate from the Party and its supporters. The 'Blairites' who had run the party for so long suffered a crushing defeat. Since that day he has been almost under constant attack from the mainstream media. Every move has been scrutinsed and criticised. 

One of the early attacks was his 'failure' to sing the national anthem. This was backed up by a widely published photograph which showed him 'not singing'. Apart from the fact he was entitled not to sing the national anthem, the photo was cropped. I've seen the original on Twitter and it showed that many other people weren't singing at the same time as him, including Army officers in uniforms covered in medals. Did they get any flak? Er...no they didn't.

So this is my Award of the Week for Corbyn Bashing - a non-story in the Independent reporting that Corbyn was 'mocked' for sending and Xmas card. The report said:
"The photo - showing a snow-covered bike locked to a bike rack in front of a red telephone box - was widely ridiculed for its lack of Christmas spirit and its austere appearance". 
Although the Independent acknowledged that Corbyn is being regularly attacked it still chose to rub it in. So well done to the Independent.

As a member of the Green Party why am I bothered about this? Shouldn't I be enjoying the Labour Party's discomfort over Corbyn? I'm bothered because I know that Corbyn is under attack because he is perceived as a genuine threat to the cosy and iniquitous stitch-up which the UK has become - a nation run in the interest of a narrow ruling elite, who fear him. I also know that the Green Party is also a threat albeit a much smaller one. If we had more than 200 MPs our leader would be getting exactly the same treatment.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

ISIL's useful idiots

Donald J Trump's recent announcement that all muslims should be barred from entry into the USA makes him one of ISIL's prime useful idiots. He is doing exactly what they want him to. In fact, he might as well have strings attached like a puppet. Of course Trump's comments are aimed at a domestic US audience, and are calculated to win the support of Americans who, disillusioned and disaffected with the political establishment, want someone who vocalises what they are thinking. They want someone who 'sticks it to the man', and he is seeking the Republican nomination. Is Trump bothered about widespread condemnation? I doubt it. He is seeking maximum publicity and wants to top the headlines.

However cynical Trump's statements may be, they must be music to the ears of ISIL, whose aim is to spread fear and division in the west. They want to turn non-muslims against muslims because that will cause both fear and division and help them to recruit more supporters. Islamophobia works for them, tolerance and social cohesion works against them.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a majority of our MPs have been rushing to joining the ranks of the useful idiots by voting for the UK to join the bombing campaign in Syria. Much of the pressure that made MPs vote yes came through the mainstream media who helped to spread the fear and panic ISIL wanted by wall-to-wall sensationalist coverage of the recent horrific attacks in Paris. But you can't bomb an idea out of existence and however much we may despise the actions of ISIL in the long term there will have to be a political settlement which isolates the hardcore of fanatics at the heart of the ISIL 'regime'.

None of this is to downplay in any way the horrors inflicted on the citizens of Paris, Beirut, Turkey and the Russian passengers on the flight from Sharm-el-sheik or to underestimate the threat to citizens globally. But a solution cannot be found by playing into the hands of a group we are supposed to be defeating. We need a diplomatic and political solution which involves the disparate groups in Syria, and we need to support groups such as the Kurds who could be capable of defeating ISIL on the ground if we were prepared to give them the help they need.

Friday, 21 August 2015

What is 'aspiration'?

Everybody has heard of 'aspiration'. Its the word on all our politician's lips. Every political party in the UK must appeal to 'aspirational voters' otherwise it is doomed to permanent opposition. That is a fact - isn't it? At least it is what we are frequently told. The problem is that we first need to understand what aspiration is before we can determine how important it is as a measure of how people intend to vote.

For the political class who have swallowed the idea that appealing to aspiration is essential to win elections, aspiration means 'getting on' - or that is how my parents generation would have described it. It means you want to earn more, live in a bigger house in a more desirable area, have more foreign holidays, and generally get richer, and richer. In a conference speech in 2012 David Cameron sought to present himself  as the leader of the 'aspiration nation'. Here is a quote from the Guardian:
"In a sometimes defensive speech to his party conference in Birmingham, he sought to fend off the image of his party as a defender of the rich, saying: "We are the party of the want to be better off," and insisting his goal was to spread, not defend, privilege." [my italics].
David Cameron - has the wrong values
But there is a problem with all his.  For a start how many people don't want to be better off? Not many by my reckoning, and that applies across the spectrum of people in society from rich to poor. So you could argue that saying you are the party of people who want to be better off is stating the blooming' obvious, or not saying anything much at all. But this is politics and of course there is an agenda here. People who 'want to be better off' are a particular group - they are in Tory terms the 'strivers' and, as we know, in Tory Britain, if you are not a 'striver', you must be a 'skiver'. 

So the word 'aspiration' has become particular neoliberal framing of those who 'aspire'. It divides the nation into those who are worth something and those who are worthless. The 'hardworking families' on the one hand and the 'benefit scroungers' on the other. And 'hardworking families' are those that the share Tory values of 'getting on' even if it means trampling on others to be 'better off'. The poor, the low paid and the unemployed, public sector workers - who are of course just a bunch of jobsworths - can be written off. 

A perfect example of an 'aspirational' person trampling on others to 'get on' would be someone who took up the right-to-buy their council house. They get a public asset at a knock-down price and by doing so they deny the right to live in that house to others who need social housing. They can then go on to sell the house at a handsome profit and when they do it will almost certainly be bought by a landlord who rents out the property at an exorbitant rent. And that is exactly what has happened with many thousands of council houses sold as a result of this Tory policy, and the outcome is a housing crisis. So much for the 'aspirations' of these Tory voters.

Aspiration means a lot more to me, and many others in the UK, than simply 'getting on' and personal gain, because my aspiration is to live in a better society, one which has genuine equality and one in which we don't live beyond our means environmentally. A society in which everyone has access to decent housing, meaningful and rewarding work, and is able to live in a wholesome environment. That kind of society will make everyone better off, and that's what aspiration ought to be about, something which reflects the right values rather than the narrow, materialistic and selfish values of David Cameron, the Tory Party - and Blairite Labour. Its not the kind of society that can be built by making a few more people 'better off' by policies like right-to-buy. What's more its the kind of society that lots of people would like to vote for if they were given the chance. 

We need to reject the neoliberal framing of 'aspiration' and replace it with one which reflects the values of social, economic, and environmental justice. And if you aspire to these values like I do, you can help to realise them by voting for the Green Party. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Corbyn's policies are moderate, sensible and can win an election for Labour

Today at 3pm the chance to vote in the Labour leadership election closed. Ballot papers go out on Friday and then the result is announced on 12 September. According to YouGov and the bookies Jeremy Corbyn is the favourite to win, and if he does it will bring about a seismic shift to the left in British politics.

To be honest I've found the whole contest 'compulsive viewing'. From the very early stages when it became clear that Corbyn was beginning to gather support and the attacks on him started, I've followed every twist and turn. Except so far there haven't been any twists and turns - support for him started as a trickle, then became a torrent and now appears to be a flood which means the veteran left-winger may win the contest outright. 

The attacks on Corbyn, from within and without the Labour Party, have ranged from the vicious to the hilarious, and as support for Corbyn has grown so has the hysteria amongst the media and the establishment who sense they are in danger of losing control - so damned inconvenient democracy isn't it? We've had Tony Blair and his 'heart transplant' comment and Alastair Campbell with his plea for 'anyone but Corbyn' but the more Corbyn is attacked the stronger he appears to become - it is almost like science fiction.

The reason for Corbyn's strength and success isn't difficult to work out - although it hides the fact he has played a blinder - he remains calm, sticks to his beliefs, refuses to engage in slanging matches with opponents, sets out clear and popular policies, and because of this, in contrast to his lacklustre opponents, he comes across as completely authentic. And the 'opponents', tainted by their embrace of the neoliberalism of New Labour, have had nothing to say for themselves, preferring to attack him and parrot out tired and vacuous soundbites. No wonder they are losing and Corbyn is packing halls all over England and Wales.

Many of the policies Jeremy Corbyn has unveiled so far are remarkably similar to the anti-austerity pro-public services policies you will find in the Green Party manifesto. These include support for a publicly delivered NHS, nationalisation of the railways and quantitative easing (QE) for investment in jobs and housing. On the latter point there are differences but the fact that QE is being proposed at all by Corbyn is very significant. All of these are common sense responses to the economic crisis we are in which are popular with the public and which could win Labour the next election if they united behind them.
"Jeremy Corbyn No More War crop" by Garry Knight 
The real significance of the 'Corbyn effect' is that it scares the pants off the neoliberal establishment - they know that Corbyn could win, that his ideas are popular, and that they are a genuine backlash, and threat to the the cosy 'free' market, tax dodging, asset stripping, stitch-up that has been established in the UK over the past 30 years or so. Of course that anti-austerity backlash had to happen, and indeed has been happening for several years. The Green Party, which occupies the space vacated by Labour, and UKIP, which is largely a working class protest against austerity aimed at the wrong target (immigrants and the EU) together garnered 5 million or so votes at the last election. But how much more threatening if the Labour Party could turned against austerity?

At this point its worth quoting Owen Jones on Alastair Heath - the Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph:
"A Jeremy Corbyn victory would have a “disastrous effect”, he [Heath] warned, because it “would become acceptable again to call for nationalising vast swathes of industry, for massively hiking tax and for demonising business. The centre-ground would move inexorably towards a more statist position”."
Although there are significant differences between the Green Party and Labour, which mean that labour hasn't got the wherewithal to deal with climate change and move to the no growth economy that we all need, like my Green Party colleague Derek Wall, I would welcome a Corbyn victory. This is because, as Derek says, it would benefit the entire left not just Labour. Will Corbyn win? I'm not so sure. The knives will be out. He may well be defeated on second preferences. Yvette Cooper as the 'stop Corbyn' candidate may just edge him out, but whatever the result, the genie is out of the bottle, the Labour Party will have changed for the better, and anti-austerity will be firmly on the agenda in England and Wales.