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 bleeding 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 Labour 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.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Why Owen Jones is wrong to urge people to vote for Labour

I've got a confession to make - I'm an Owen Jones fan. I've read Chavs and The Establishment and I think they're both good books, not groundbreaking perhaps, but a timely reminder of the way in which our stitched up sham democracy works and the central importance of class - the issue which dare not speak its name in 21st century Britain. But I do have a problem with Owens Jones's politics because although he's a worthy fighter for social justice, public services and the welfare state, and an enemy of neoliberalism, he has chosen the wrong vehicle to further his political aims in the UK - namely the Labour Party.

As far as this election is concerned he has become a fully paid up member of the Polly Toynbee 'hold your nose and vote for Labour' faction. Polly recently repeated almost exactly the same call to 'hold your nose' in The Guardian as she did in the 2010 election. The problem is if you hold your nose for long enough you are certain to suffocate, and you are going to have to hold it for a very long time if you expect any change from the neoliberal Labour Party of 'red' Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

So Owen urges us to vote Labour to keep the Tories out, and when a Labour government is in power, we can all put it under pressure to do the nice things instead of the nasty things - like continuing to implement cuts and austerity, applying a token plaster to the semi-privatised NHS and 'balancing the budget' - which is at best an economically illiterate policy. Its a bit like asking someone to vote for Terminator instead of Godzilla on the basis that there will be marginally less collateral damage. 

The problem is that many of us have gone beyond that stage and have no interest in the lesser of two evils. Despite the rotten electoral system we have to contend with with we want to vote for something we can believe in, a Party that is capable of delivering real change, even if that is not at the next election, or the one after that, because we are in it for the long haul. Its clear that the only Party that can deliver that change is the Green Party, the party that espouses the politics of Owen Jones himself, even if he can't yet bring himself to vote for it.

Both Labour and the Tories increasingly resemble zombie parties in a hollowed out democracy. Both have abandoned their traditional base for the corporations and super rich and both have been complicit in the drastic decline in our democracy in the past 30 years or so. No wonder fewer and fewer people can be bothered to vote for either of them. But more and more people are seeking out a progressive alternative to Labour and that is why the Green vote is growing and why Green Party membership passed 61,000 today, and will continue to grow. After neoliberal Labour have failed to win a majority I hope that Owen will fight to move a Labour-led government to the left - as a member of the Green Party.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Ukip are using the oldest trick in the book: the scapegoating of 'other'

One of the tricks of the neoliberal 'free market' right has been to try and convince the millions who have no stake in the system - 'free market' capitalism - that they have something to gain from it. We were told in the 1980s that cutting taxes for the rich would result in a 'trickle down' of wealth to everyone in society, that their gain would be our gain. What they didn't say is that neoliberalism - then known as Reaganomics - is really about transferring wealth from the 99% to the 1% - its a one-way process. As the 1% gain from tax cuts, and lower wages for workers, social spending on health, education and housing is slashed to the detriment of the majority, and people have to go into debt to maintain a half decent standard of living. So they take away our wealth and then still make us pay by forcing us into debt-slavery. In the UK and USA one of the most potent examples of debt-slavery is student loans.

So far so good, for them, but what happens when the wheels come off the neoliberal casino capitalist bonanza, and the crash comes, as it did in 2008, and people can see their living standards falling before their very eyes? Who to blame for the crisis? Not the real culprits obviously - not the super-rich, the bankers and their tame politicians. Step forward the perennial scapegoat, someone who is 'other' and can easily be recognised as 'not one of us'. This is a trick which has long been used to great effect by the political right. In Nazi Germany it was the Jews who were singled out, and in today in 'Ukip Britain' its 'immigrants'. And for Farage and Ukip, the beauty of blaming immigrants is not just about deflecting attention from the people who are really responsible for unemployment, low pay and poor housing but also Europe bashing, because of the influx of EU citizens into the UK.

The natural supporters of Ukip are those who have been 'left behind', those whose pay has fallen or stagnated and who are trapped in poor housing and can't see much of a future for themselves. They are people with a grievance, often members of the white working class who once would have been natural working class Tories or Labour supporters. I've commented in this blog before about how New Labour have much to answer for in the rise of the far right in Britain. A few years ago it was the BNP who benefited from a protest vote by largely white working class people resulting in Nick Griffin being elected as an MEP. With the implosion of the BNP, Ukip have moved to fill that political space, promoted by the corporate media. Of course Farage's latest outburst, about the scrapping of equality legislation, and talk of Ukip being 'colour blind' is just another racist appeal to shore up Ukip support ahead of the election. What's wrong with employers giving jobs to 'English people' instead of 'foreigners'? Quite a lot actually - its called racial discrimination - that's why we have the legislation.

The solution? End austerity; allow councils to build social housing; make corporations and the rich pay their taxes; scrap student loans; bring in a living wage; use green QE to create meaningful jobs, get people back to work, and tackle climate change in the process. All pretty obvious stuff but apparently a step too for for the Labour Party. That's why Labour are failing in Scotland and aren't going to win the next election. Only one mainstream party has those values and policies and that is the Green Party. That's why they are now the third biggest Party in England and Wales.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Greece can lead the fightback against austerity in Europe

Today Greeks go to the polls to vote in one of the most important elections in the country's history. After seven years of grinding austerity imposed by the 'Troika', it looks like Greeks could be about to vote in Syriza, an alliance of radical leftists, who have pledged to write off some of Greece's debt and set the country on a new path. Of course, the media have played this up into some kind of showdown between the leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, and the European Union, in which Greece will almost inevitably have to exit the Eurozone.

But exit, or Grexit as the media love to call it, is not inevitable. Given the suffering the Greeks have had to endure with unemployment hitting a high of 28%, 50% youth unemployment and wages falling 12% year on year, it wouldn't be surprising if the Greeks wanted to leave the Eurozone and go back to the Drachma - but they don't. And why should they? They are as much a part of the Eurozone as any other country and still remember having had a currency that was almost worthless.

In simple terms the Greeks are being portrayed as the feckless ne'er-do-wells who are being bankrolled by the industrious, hardworking Germans but this is a false picture. Entry into the Euro for Greece was political not economic, and the Euro was always bound to create problems for the Greek economy. Couple that with a corrupt government and reckless lending by German and French banks - so that Greece could buy German goods - and its not easy to see that Germany did very nicely out of this Euro-arrangement at the expense of the Greeks. All that has now been conveniently forgotten. Thus I heard on The World This Weekend today a half-baked analysis of Greek 'wrongdoing' - essentially Greek bad, German good - as the BBC lined up pundits to criticise Greece and Syriza. With reporting on this level we might as well be living in the Soviet Union.

Its as well to remember that after the Second World War the Germans were mired in debt and struggling economically just as the Greeks are now, that is until 1953 when the London Debt Agreement was reached and half of Germany's debts were written off. This is often credited with starting the 'economic miracle' which transformed the German economy with output doubling between 1953 and 1963.

We know that austerity in Europe is designed to protect banks from going under at the expense of the people. These are the same banks that contributed to the global economic crash of 2008. Its absolutely unacceptable that people should be made to pay for the epic failures of financial capitalism. We need a programme of Green quantitative easing in Europe for investment in energy efficiency, renewables and public transport, getting millions back into meaningful work. That, not debt-driven austerity, must be the future. Here's looking forward to a Syriza majority government and the start of the historic fightback against austerity.