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? 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.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The EU is determined to crush Greece and enforce austerity

I intended to write this post prior to the Greek referendum but so much has happened recently I hadn't the chance to do it. The referendum result on Sunday was a stunning 61% for No or OXI. A massive rejection of austerity and an outcome which reverberated around Europe, and gave hope to all those who believe in democracy, and believe that democracy should determine how a society and economy should be run, trumping all other interests.

Before the referendum Caroline Lucas said at a Greece solidarity rally in London:
“Austerity isn’t only socially destructive, as we know – it is economically deluded as well. Greece’s government debt to GDP ratio hasn’t gone down as austerity was imposed, it has increased”
Of course she was right. The Troika's bailout and programme of so-called economic reforms, which entail cuts in pensions and worker's salaries, are intended to make the poorest pay for the economic ills of Greece and protect those who caused the global economic crash which opened the door to austerity in the first place  - the banks. In fact the bailout was never intended to help the Greek people but to protect French and German banks which lent recklessly to a corrupt Greek establishment so that they could buy German weapons and goods.

The Greek people voted OXI (no) in the referendum on the humiliating Eurozone offer

Greeks were threatened openly by the Eurocrats in the run up to the referendum, they were told that the financial taps would be turned off by the ECB and they would be ejected from the Euro. Now, in the aftermath of the referendum, it seems clear that unless Syriza accept humiliating conditions no better than those rejected by the Greek electorate, the threats will be carried out. The EU Goliath is determined to crush the Greek David to ensure that no other Eurozone country has the  temerity to even think that democracy can prevail against the interests of creditors. This is a foolish and short-sighted approach which has the potential to cause real and lasting damage both to the Eurozone and the EU itself.

The Syriza government is between a rock and a hard place but there is only one way out - default and a return to a Greek currency. In fact they should have already set up a parallel currency to the Euro to allow taxes to be paid and the economy to function. Their immediate problem is not solvency but liquidity. This is a very hard road but in the longer term it it offers dignity and hope to the Greek nation. The alternative is decades of debt-slavery in the Eurozone.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

To win the left needs to get its act together and frame the political debate

Today in the Guardian, Owen Jones is urging the left to 'speak Spanish', and he makes a valid point - talk to people in terms they can understand and you have a much better chance of winning an election. He uses Podemos in Spain as an example of this plain speaking and quotes Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias:
'..... you should listen when Iglesias speaks. Last year, he delivered a speech berating the traditional left’s failure to communicate. Leftwing students never spoke to “normal people”, he said, and treated working-class people as though “they were from another planet”'
Although it is true that some on the left inhabit a world dominated by Marxist-speak there have been some really great communicators on the left. The best I can remember is Tony Benn who used to talk straightforwardly with conviction about the things that the vast majority of voters really care about - jobs, education and access to decent housing and healthcare. The right-wing media recognised this and that is why they demonised him. Bernie Sanders, the US Senator is another good example. We should study these people and learn from them.

Use of plain language and simple arguments has long been a strength of the right in Western politics, that is why they have been so dominant in recent decades. As I've posted before they have created a simple but 'convincing' 'free' market narrative which has been hugely successful, particularly in the absence of a coherent alternative from the left. I've posted about this lack of alternative before and how I think we can deal with it.

The key issue however, more important than plain-speaking, is framing the debate, and this was succinctly nailed by George Monbiot in his excellent Guardian piece a few weeks before Labour's crushing defeat:
"Labour has allowed the Conservatives to frame its politics. Frames are the mental structures through which we perceive the world. The dominant Tory frame, constructed and polished across seven years by its skilled cabinet makers, is that the all-important issue is the deficit. The financial crisis, it claims, was caused not by the banks but by irresponsible government spending, for which the only cure is austerity." (my italics)
The key thing here is the frame. Use of language is all important and through their dominant narrative the control the debate by use of frames such as 'free' market and tax cuts - i.e. market=good and taxes=bad. We hear these frames every day of our lives and they help to condition how people think about the world they live in.

So how does the 'left' overcome this and get on the road to electoral success? These are the steps we need to take:
  1. Confidence: talk about green politics/socialism as if you believe in it - which you do - and believe its possible. Politicians on the right are perfectly confident to talk about their ideas
  2. Create the narrative: keep it simple but tell the story of the political alternative and repeat over and over again
  3. Build alternative frames: create alternative frames, for example - tax security or tax insurance to describe the benefits of paying taxes - turn a negative into a positive
  4. Control the political agenda: choose the political battlefield you want to fight on - don't fight on territory chosen by them - they are simply wrong.
If you want to know I don't think the Labour Party is capable of doing this. The sad sight of the leadership contenders kow-towing to neoliberalism in defeat mean we can expect nothing positive from them in the next five years. They have already accepted that the Tories were right.

Friday, 8 May 2015

A huge failure for Labour but will they learn anything from it?

I ought to be pleased. The Green Party had a good 2015 general election: a record number of candidates; a much increased majority for Caroline Lucas; four second places, and membership is still growing, having just passed 63,000. I'm also looking forwards to some good results in the local elections. But its hard to celebrate knowing the Tories have a majority that will probably last for five years, which is plenty of time for them to wreak yet more havoc to welfare and public services and destroy more lives in the process.

The big story of election night was the battering of the Labour Party which was hit by a combination of factors producing the perfect storm. So what went wrong? I think these were the main issues:
  1. Failure to provide a clear narrative to the electorate: it was never that obvious what Labour were offering and most of the 'offers' such as ending non-dom status came far too late in the day. Crucially they abandoned their real base support in the working class, even to the extent of allowing Ukip, of all people, to steal many thousands of Labour voters.Its not longer certain what Labour stand for except perhaps a watered down version of  what the Tories are giving us - neoliberal austerity-lite.
  2. Failure to nail the Tory lies about economic incompetence: Labour never seriously challenged the Tory narrative that they 'overspent' and crashed the economy. They allowed the Tories to assume the mantle of economic competence even though Osborne's record is lamentable.
  3. Making a complete hash of the Scottish referendum: the rot set in for Scottish Labour long before the referendum, but the negative Better Together campaign, in which Alastair Darling seemed little more than a front-man for the Tories and the English establishment, did huge damage. Even when the warning lights were flashing after the 55-45 no result, Labour chose to ignore them and took their voters for granted, conceded political territory to the SNP, and got wiped out in the process.
  4.  Failure of leadership: Although Ed Miliband had his moments on Syria and Leveson he was too timid by half and failed to set out a strong narrative and strategy for Labour to win.
  5. Keir Hardie - great Scottish Labour politician - no doubt spinning in his grave after the 2015 general election result
So what should Labour do? Firstly they must learn the lessons from this defeat. Under Blair and New Labour the party was hollowed out. Members were reduced to being spectators at stage-managed conferences. They need to regroup and reform the party making it much more accountable to members. They need to ditch the sectarianism and be open to co-operation with other left parties and they must embrace electoral reform. I'm not sure they will do any of these things and are just as likely to end up tearing themselves apart. Every Party has a shelf life - maybe this is the beginning of the end for Labour - something I predicted a couple of years ago.