Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Emperor's clothes

It's been happening slowly but surely for quite some time but I think we have finally arrived. A combination of twenty four hour rolling news, and all pervading social media, have brought us to the point where the frailties of our politicians are regularly and painfully exposed. There is nowhere to hide. The idols have all been shown to have feet of clay. Any and every error, no matter how small, is seized upon by the rapacious media machine. One of the most recent examples of this was Ed Miliband's failure to mention the deficit in his recent conference speech.

As recently as the noughties politicians were still relatively remote figures, people with private lives, who could expect some time away from the glare of the cameras, but no longer. We know now that they are all just mere humans like the rest of us. And its not just Ed who's been the subject of media attention focusing on errors. In the summer Cameron was criticised for his many holidays, and followed up recently with a gaffe when he was overhead saying the the Queen was 'purring' about the Scottish independence result. And the Scottish referendum itself brutally exposed the shameful weakness and and mendacity of all three party leaders as they rushed up to Scotland at the eleventh hour vowing to give the Scots more power, in order to save the Union.
Ed Miliband forgot to mention the deficit in his conference speech
Social media has also been a great leveller. Party leaders use it to communicate with millions of followers and have used it to signal policy changes. But the use of media such as Twitter is fraught with risk.
If you are going to use it, or have someone do so on your behalf make sure they are social media savvy. Make a mistake, put something across in a cack-handed fashion, and you can be sure you'll be the butt of a million sarcastic tweets and retweets.

There is a genuine problem here though. Who would want to be a politician under such circumstances? Is there a danger that good candidates would be deterred from standing? Being in the spotlight would certainly put me off, but then I think its time that politicians stopped trying to be popular and started trying to be more effective, and that means spending more time behind closed doors, stopping courting the media and social media, and telling it like it really is - because that is what people really want.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

So project fear has won.....for now

In the final days of the Scottish referendum campaign the 'No' camp expended a fair amount of energy complaining on social media about 'intimidation' from supporters of the Yes campaign. But the bits of graffiti I saw, in photos, sprayed on polling station walls, whilst reprehensible, were trivial compared to the sustained programme of dire threats delivered by what was dubbed the 'Project Fear' approach of the Better Together campaign - vote yes and you'll loose your jobs, pensions and homes.

After the polls had closed, on Sky TV, Peter Kellner of YouGov, who produced what turned out to be a pretty accurate exit poll on the night, said that he thought there had been a late swing to No from people not wanting to 'take the risk' of independence. In the end the bankers, politicians and the market got what they wanted - the 'correct result' - which I referred to in my last post, a result which was intended to retain 'business as usual' and prevent Scotland developing a progressive alternative to neoliberal austerity - not to mention keeping the oil and Trident.

So in the end 'Project Fear' delivered a 'no' vote by 55% to 45%. This was presented as a 10 point gap and a veritable landslide. Whilst that might hold true for a general election, the fact is that Yes failed by 5% + 1 vote to make Scotland an independent country. What's more Yes turned out to be much more heavily skewed towards the younger voter, which means that independence is more or less inevitable in the not too distant future unless those who want to keep the union can come up with some much more compelling and positive messages. 

Where did Yes go wrong? Maybe Salmond and the SNP were too careful for their own good. The biggest single mistake was the currency. Although currency union was possible, despite what the No side said, it was never desirable. To be independent a country needs its own currency and central bank, and that is the option they should have gone for. As it was Alastair Darling used 'currency union' and 'lack of a plan B' as an effective club to beat Salmond with in the first televised debate, something that Salmond should have handled much better, and never quite recovered from. Despite the failure of the Yes campaign, Salmond has had a remarkable political career and has achieved far more than most politicians. His will be a lasting legacy.

For those who saw the Yes campaign for what it was, a fight for democracy, not nationalism, it's not all doom and gloom though. The Yes campaign energised and radicalised thousands of Scots, many of whom are determined to remain politically active and punish the 'No' parties. Membership of the SNP has soared as has that of the Scottish Greens. This bodes ill for Labour, who are seen as the main culprits for defeat by the Yes voters. If they can maintain momentum up to the general election, Labour will have a real fight on its hands and could loose seats.

Not only that, but there is a big shake up coming South of the border, where it's recognised that more powers for Scotland must lead to constitutional reform in England, because of the 'West Lothian question' - Scottish MPs voting on legislation which affects England only. But the effect of the 'West Lothian question' has been exaggerated, there are relatively few laws in Parliament which affect only England and there is no real reason why Scottish MPs elected to a UK parliament shouldn't be able to vote on all bills. And, according to Will Hutton in the Observer:
'... mySociety finds that of 5,000 votes in the House of Commons since 1997, only 21 depended on the votes of Scottish MPs'
Its much more difficult to disentangle 'English' legislation from that affecting other parts of the UK than you might think. Despite that, after the referendum result, the Tories and UKIP immediately jumped on the 'EVEL' bandwagon and sought to bounce the other parties into a settlement that suited them alone by making more powers for Scotland conditional on Scottish MPs becoming second-class members of the House of Commons.

As far as constitutional change is concerned there is still all to play for. It couldn't realistically happen without a constitutional convention being set up, and that takes time, making it something that will have to happen beyond the next general election. As someone who lives in the North of England it could only work for me if there were regional devolution for the Northwest, and I'm sure the same is true for many others in the North and West of England. An English parliament offers us next to nothing. And so, despite the victory for Project Fear UK politics is having a good shake up and will never be quite the same again. The 45% have ensured there can be no return to 'business as usual'. Real change has to happen.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Yes vote in Scotland will be a massive boost for democracy

Have you noticed how politicians in the West like Barack Obama and David Cameron are always banging on about how good democracy is? There's a problem though. In the West the 'powers that be' - the establishment or ruling class if you prefer - like democracy when it serves their purposes, and that means getting the result they want.

One of the classic examples in recent times was the Irish referendum on the EU constitution. The Irish had the good sense to vote against. Was the constitution killed off?... er no ..  but twelve months later they were made to vote again - and this time they delivered the 'correct result'. It was a travesty of the democratic process but it suited the purposes of the Euro-ruling class. So, democracy is OK as long as the voters get it right. In neoliberal Europe and the USA it hardly matters which party you vote for because you will always get the same result - neoliberalism.

Of course all was going smoothly in the Scottish referendum on independence until The YouGov poll put the Yes campaign in the lead, then all hell let loose with a barrage of threats about pensions and mortgages and doom from banks such as Deutsche Bank, followed by the cancelling of PMQs and a dash to Scotland by Clegg, Cameron and Miliband, and resolute pro-union bias from the BBC. The Scots were in danger of doing the unthinkable - voting for something they wanted rather than the 'correct result'. And a 'correct result' has to be obtained so that any danger of a progressive alternative to neoliberal austerity emerging in Scotland can be squashed.
A Yes vote in Scotland will be a massive boost for democracy
In less than two days time Scots will be going to the polls to vote in the independence referendum. The outcome, despite the fear-mongering and bullying of  British capital and their tame politicians, is too close to call. Whatever the result, it will cause an earthquake in British politics. A yes vote will tear asunder the UK, and even a narrow win for no will shatter the political set-up in the UK. But how did we get here? You've guessed it - New Labour. If the Labour Party hadn't betrayed everything it ever stood for and embraced Thatcherism there never would have been an SNP government in Scotland or a referendum on independence.

What's done is done. The purpose of this post isn't to put the boot into Labour, only to explain why I think we are where we are. But the behaviour of Labour should act as a warning. The UK needs a political party of the progressive left which will act in the interests of the 99%. Without that people will look for alternatives and often those alternatives will be distasteful. The rise of both the BNP, and now UKIP in England are due to anger and disillusionment with a system that acts only in the interests of corporations and the rich.

I wish the Scots well. I don't believe a yes vote is about nationalism, I think its about the triumph of hope over fear and I support the Yes campaign because I think the Scots have a perfectly good chance of building a successful economy and a progressive society which works for the benefit of the many not the few. I also believe the rest of the UK will have a better chance of doing the same once people can see that democracy can work and overcome the interests of the ruling class. Whatever the result, the complacency, arrogance and incompetence of our so-called leaders and their friends in business has been painfully exposed. Hopefully things will never be quite the same again.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Privatisation of public services is a racket

More and more people are wising up to the fact that privatisation of public services is a racket. You may not have read this blog before but if you have you'd know that I've been attacking privatisation ever since I started posting in 2008. That's because I witnessed the scam of privatisation as it happened under Thatcher and I know that the Tory party never do anything for the public good.They exist to further private gain.

In the 1980s privatisation was presented to the British public as being a new and shiny bonanza. Allegedly 'inefficient' public services such as the utilities were flogged off by the Thatcher government to the British people, and this was going to be a bright new future, a share owning democracy in which we could all participate. None of the small investors - 'Sids' - attracted by the promise of an instant profit, seemed not to notice that they were being asked to pay for something that they already owned. Of course if Thatcher had been serious about spreading share ownership the shares would have been dished out free to all British citizens. But it was all a con designed to allow the 'market' to get its hands on a cheap bargain. Very soon the most of the 'Sids' had sold their shares to build a new patio and our utilities ended up in the hands of the usual suspects - foreign shareholders. Even Harold Macmillan, the former Tory Prime Minister, complained that Thatcher 'had sold off the family silver'. And so she had. Privatisation is nothing more than asset stripping the public sector for the benefit of the market and to the detriment of the public. It results in the creation of private monopolies. After corporations have bought the assets on the cheap, we end up paying more to get less.

So it's hardly surprising that we're seeing some really good articles appearing which expose the collusion between government and corporations to rip off the taxpayer. A good piece by Aditya Chakraborrty in today's Guardian exposes how the privatised railways are set up to provide handsome profits for Richard Branson and co whilst we pick up the bill. In any other sphere this would be called corruption - politicians working with private interests to shaft the taxpayer. It's a nice little earner, so why bother to get involved in organised crime when you can make millions by taking the taxpayer for a ride in a perfectly legal racket? The sooner we can bring the railways and utilities back into public hands the better.