Political Thoughts

21 Mar

Back to the Future: where 1 in 4 makes a majority.

Stephen : May 13, 2015 7:03 pm : Politics

Governing for the one percent

Governing for the one percent

I haven’t blogged for ages: the 2015 General Election campaign was always going to provoke thought and action and I wanted to make sure I did stuff- deliver leaflets, canvassing etc – rather than write about what everyone else should be doing. So I did. Stuff. And it didn’t work.

Not only do we not have a Labour-led government, we have a Conservative Party which can govern alone and unhindered. The public lied to the pollsters, they bought into a dirty but ultimately effective campaign of smears and propaganda and thanks to 24% of the electorate – more on this later – we have a Tory government elected for the first time since early 1992.

And it hasn’t taken long for the mask to be removed, has it? David Cameron stood in Downing Street on 8 May and said ‘I want my party….and government to reclaim a mantle that we should never have lost – the mantle of One Nation, one United Kingdom.’

Yet in the five days since he said those words, the smart-suited swivel-eyed ideologues have been let off the leash. Cameron looks and talks like a moderate, but he is as far to the right as any other Thatcherite.

You might have thought that with Scotland voting wholesale for nationalism and five million people voting green or UKIP that our Prime Minister would set out some ideas for bringing the nation together. Not a bit of it.
These, in chronological order, are the half-dozen policy ideals set out by the Conservative Party in six days.

1. Cutting the Access To Work scheme. This is the vehicle for assisting some disabled workers to stay in employment. It provides matched funding (half government/half employer) for things like transport, BSL interpreters, technological aids and other practical, useful ways of keeping disabled people in the workforce. Cutting this is an extraordinary act of cruelty and petty indifference.

2. Bringing back hanging. OK, this is only the slightly-deranged musings of Priti Patel, now a junior DWP Minister, but it does show an interesting sense of 21st century values…..

3. Abolishing the Human Rights Act. Yes, you did read that correctly. The Act is the means by which the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into UK law. You know, luxuries like the right to life, right to an education, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of association….. Apparently a priority of ‘the nation’ is to trash all this dangerous nonsense and replace it with something put together by people who can be trusted to look after our interests – viz Michael Gove, Teresa May, Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan-Smith.

4. Making industrial action illegal. Having spent a century opposing every right gained by people who work, the 21st century Tory party wants to roll us back to the 17th. Rather than ensure conflict doesn’t arise, the Tories just set the voting barrier so high that lawful industrial action becomes virtually impossible. And make it harder to vote, too. A 50% threshold, and then at least 80% of those voting ‘yes’ is also required, in order for a strike, an overtime ban or a work to contract to be legal. If I tell you more than half the Cabinet, including Business Minister Sajid Javed, didn’t achieve the 40% ‘yes’ in order to be elected as an MP, you get some idea of the hypocrisy and ideological malice involved.

5. Threatening the BBC with cuts to the licence fee. Not content with having the BBC cowering in the corner, afraid of its own shadow, the Tories want to keep it even more in line by appointing a BBC-hater, John Whittingdale, as Culture Minister. Those of us who watch BBC employed Tories like Nick Robinson, Andrew Neill, Chris Patten, John Pienaar, John Humphreys and Cameron’s school chum James Landale parade across our screens nightly will see some genuine gallows humour in the Tory mantra that the Beeb is some sort of Marxist hotbed. If only….

6. Changing the UK’s electoral boundaries. After what is widely seen as the most unrepresentative election in a generation, the Conservative Party answer is: ‘Let’s keep the system and make it even more unfair.’ Eh?

Any way you cut it, first-past-the-post is a farce. The Conservative Party has a absolute majority in Parliament with only 24% of the electorate voting for them. Yes, less than one in every four adults of voting age.

Even if you just count those who turned out to vote, two out of every three voters backed someone else. The SNP has almost all of the seats in Scotland with only half of the vote. Yet the DUP got 8 MPs with 160,000 votes, and UKIP got one MP with 4 million votes and the Green party got one MP with more than a million votes. It is now the case that our democracy isn’t democratic.

The Tories might think a wee bit of tinkering with constituency sizes is OK – perhaps no-one will notice that it coincidentally gives them 24 more seats next time? – but our society and the engagement of our citizens will be undermined by this inexcusable corruption. As I said, these parasites have less than 25% of the population behind them.

So, all in all, it is as bleak and brutal as we expected.

We have a government most of us don’t want in absolute power and showing no signs of doing anything other than act in their own class interest.

We can expect soft-peddling on tax dodgers, more cuts to disability benefits and more privatisation of our public services. Fewer rights at work, greater inequality, more cuts, more debt, a house price bubble (and crash), more zero hours contracts…… and a bloody financial and political mess as we do the hokey-cokey with Europe.

What is to be done?

I’ll cover that next time but right now, I just want to go lie down in a dark room.

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‘Nationalism is an infantile thing; it is the measles of mankind.’ Albert Einstein

Stephen : September 16, 2014 6:09 pm : Politics

fergie

Confession time – I have a red lion rampant tattooed on my right deltoid (upper arm). My first tattoo, the lion that sits at the centre of the Rangers FC crest and is the emblem of Scotland.

Even now, 32 years since I last lived there, Scotland is what I mean when I speak of ‘home’. It continues to define me and shapes my world view. That’s why I care about the separation referendum and why I’d be devastated if Scotland’s electorate breaks up the union.

I got that tattoo when I lived and worked in the north west of England and since 1982 I’ve also lived in Ontario (briefly), in England’s second city, (inner city Ladywood and outer city Bearwood), sleepy Droitwich, the leafy Worcestershire village of Feckenham, a rented flat in Andover and now fimd myself in Witney, 12 miles west of Oxford. This is a very small island.

I’ve always been uncomfortable about nationalism too, as an ideology or a rationale for decision-making.

As the late, great Bill Hicks pointed out when asked about being proud and American ‘it wasn’t as if I had any say in the matter’.

George Bernard Shaw summed it up for me when he opined that nationalism ‘is the belief that your country is superior to all others simply because you were born in it’.

The aspect of Scottish nationalism I’ve always been uncomfortable with – the dark heart – is a core of base anti-English sentiment.

It is often dressed up as being anti-monarchy, a stated resentment of the Oxbridge elite or republicanism, but it is driven by an underlying antipathy towards ‘the other’, something which exists within all nationalisms I’ve encountered.

And in 2014, ‘Westminster’ has become a cipher for England. . .

It would, however be dishonest to portray the ‘Yes’ campaign as a xenophobic lynch mob.

21st Century nationalism is far more savvy than that.

Despite being led by a neo-liberal SNP, it is quite deliberately couched in the positive, aspirational language of the Left.

A ‘yes’ vote, we are told, is about hope, opportunity, building a better future, more equality, more social justice, getting the government Scotland wants, turning our backs on the corruption of Westminster, a thriving entrepreneurial culture, an end to the inequalities that scar the UK’s landscape……..no wonder it appeals to Scotland’s progressive heart, to it’s Labour voters and it’s younger people.

Trouble is, it can’t be all of those things.

Or even most of them.

A ‘yes’ vote can’t possibly deliver the same agenda for super-rich, anti-union homophobe Brian Souter and the convicted criminal and former Trotskyist Tommy Sheridan  -any more than it can deliver the aims of the Scottish Green Party by exploiting more fossil fuels.

Take the ‘better public services’ that Salmond and Co want to claim for themselves.

Ignore, if you will, the inconvenient fact that Holyrood already controls NHS block grant allocations and school budgets – Alex wants you to believe that an independent Scotland will be just like Norway, the analogy most favoured by the Guess campaign.

The same Norway with a personal income tax rate of, wait for it, 47.2%.

Mind you, this sort of economic idiocy comes from a First Minister who told ITV’s Martin Geissler – I watched this myself on Monday 15 September –the fall in stock value of a mere £2.4 BILLION pounds in Scots-based companies wasn’t, as anyone and everyone else thought, a consequence of the first poll showing Guess leading the No vote.

No, said the former economist, that was down to ‘the expected interest rate rise and a rise in gilt prices’.

A nationalist will say or do anything to achieve his aim. Salmond can’t very well turn round and say, ‘Martin, I think that shows we don’t have credible economic policies and can’t be trusted to govern’, can he?

And that takes me back to my starting point: nationalism.

I’ve heard a number of people tell me they’re not voting for Salmond, not voting for nationalism, not voting for the SNP.

But riddle me this: the SNP is a one-policy Party and their website (snp.org) refers to only one policy aim: ‘The SNP is a social democratic political party committed to Scottish independence’.

Explain how voting for that one stated policy – Scottish independence – isn’t a vote for the SNP?

It is, to quote Spock, highly illogical.

In his masterpiece ‘The Age of Extremes’, historian Eric Hobsbawm illustrated how in the 20th century, nationalism was the key driver in the forces of liberation and freedom across the globe, as countries threw off colonial shackles.

But in the last 2 decades it has been toxic, a coda for ethnic and tribal strife.

This debate in Scotland has not been characterised by a rich upsurge in democratic discourse, but by widespread cognitive dissonance – in other words, people deliberately ignoring evidence which negates their beliefs and choosing only to listen to voices and data which supports their pre-determined view.

So If we still choose to ignore the intimidation, barely concealed organised hooliganism, lying and most significantly of all the huge weight of economic evidence against separation, including interventions by such trivial figures as the governor of the Bank of England, the leaders of the three largest political parties, every trade union except the Scottish section of the RMT…..even if I ignore all of that, I am left with my own politics.

I’m an internationalist, a republican and a socialist.

Global problems, like poverty, preserving the biosphere, promoting equality and social justice, need to be solved globally.

They require thinking outside lines on maps, and a realisation that exploitation of workers in any part of the world reduces life chances, economic equality and justice for all of us.

Never trust a nationalist - they'll say or do anything

Never trust a nationalist – they’ll say or do anything

Killing the planet’s biosphere, to take just one micro-case, is a problem for all of us and I’ll cite just one hypothetical example: if there’s a nuclear accident at Sellafield, will the fall out stop at Carlisle? Will radioactive material respect Salmond’s brave new frontier?

My own politics leave me open mouthed at others on the Left supporting this nationalist candy floss.

And on that note, I’ll conclude by reminding people about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as TTIP.

You probably don’t know much about it but don’t be surprised – it has been quite deliberately kept away from the public eye.

TTIP is a backdoor, trans-national stitch up, a classic case of conspiracy made flesh.

In summary, multinational corporations and unelected European Union bureaucrats are currently sat down with their US counterparts deciding what can be defined, carved up and sold off to one another – including our Health Service. It will undermine national sovereignty, democracy and anyone positing an alternative to the neoliberal economic orthodoxy which is wreaking havoc on our societies.

And what does Scotland’s First Minister say about TTIP?

Salmond described it as “especially good news” for Scotland while his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, describes it as “a reminder of the massive opportunities that European Union membership brings”.

And these 2 clowns are going to open the door to a better future?

Think on.

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‘The Big Society’ and how The Establishment operates in 2014

Stephen : July 28, 2014 7:17 pm : Politics

 Oh yes, yes indeed....

Sometimes my inner cynic doesn’t need any encouragement, and recent newpaper stories about The Prime Minister’s Big Society initiative pushed all the right buttons.

You may remember when the fresh faced David Cameron took over the Conservative Party about 8 years ago we heard a huge amount of wishful, dishonest drivel about ‘The Notting Hill’ set. These were supposedly the  new breed, Tory modernisers, the socially liberal small ‘c’ brigade who wanted to steer the Tories away from the far right and back to the centre.

Cameron promised to tackle the image of being the ‘nasty party’ and turn the Conservatives into a moderate, modern, centre-right organisation, much as George W Bush once promised with his ‘compassionate conservatism’ – an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Cameron told us, on entering office, that his vision was for a ‘Big Society’, where charities, volunteers and assorted Neighbourhood Watch type do-gooders would supplant the role of the state in providing support, welfare and safety.

Why?

Well, Tories believe state intervention is a ‘bad thing’.

Unless, obviously, you are a failing bank, a City millionaire looking for the taxpayer to subsidise your pension, a speculator who has lost billions of pounds on casino bets against exchange rates or commodity prices, a Director at RBS, a Director at Lloyds, a Director at Northern Rock, Network Rail, Richard Branson………no, that’s when state intervention is a ‘good thing’.

When it means paying disabled people a rate that facilitates an active role in society, or housing benefit which matches the property and rental markets that your own Party created and then stoked by selling off council houses to people in the hope that they’d vote Conservative…..well, that’s a ‘bad state intevention’.

 You see the difference?

 No, me neither.

The Big Lie

The Big Lie

 Anyway, back to Dave’s Big Society. You’ll be disappointed to know that not only is The Big Society Network being wound up, it is also being investigated by the Charity Commission.

 According to The independent, the BS Network ‘was given £2.5m….despite having no record of charitable activity’. Ask any genuine charity – one that actually helps people in need or in trouble – how hard it is to get lottery funding or public sector grants.

 So, why was The BS Network – a much more appropriate name –successful in siphoning off £2.5 million of our money?

 I wonder if it was anything to do with the politics of the four men who ran this Network?

 Step forward Steve Hilton, the fomer advertising executive who was Cameron’s ‘blue skies thinker’ ((translation: ‘what is the craziest idea for stuff we sell off to our friends?) who baled out of Downing Street and headed Stateside when his er, thinking came up against the reality of a self-imposed austerity strait-jacket.

Hilton pushed this Big Society hokum as a big part of his not-very-original idea that if we choke public services to death, ordinary people can be persuaded to step in, kinda like we did in the second world war…..

Alongside Hilton, presumably by sheer coincidence, we had his mate Giles Gibbons.

Not only did Giles write a book with Steve, the innovatively titled ‘Good Business’, but was a partner in Hilton’s old advertising firm. Giles is a trustee of the BS Network’s charitable arm.

Alongside Steve Hilton and Giles Gibbons, we had a more archetypal Tory place-holder, Martyn Rose.

Martyn gave £60,000 to the Tories to support their 2010 election campaign and despite that, and even though he worked with both Michal Gove and Theresa May. I’m absolutely certain that he became the Chairman of the BS Network entirely on merit.

Finally, we have the BS Network’s Chief Executive, Steve Moore.

You’ll be stunned to know that Steve worked for the Conservative Party, on welfare and employment with Lord Young.

I’m certain that the well-honed, ideological prejudices Steve Moore shares with David Cameron, Steve Hilton, Martyn Rose and Giles Gibbons would have had nothing to do with the scrupulously objective and rigorously fair selection process that put him in this publicly-funded role and, by sheer good fortune, brought these five political soulmates together.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…..

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UKIP: 21st Century Brownshirts? Or the voice of common-sense?

Stephen : May 27, 2014 7:53 pm : Politics

 

Tory at school, commodity broker, professional politician pretending to be ordinary

Tory at school, commodity broker, professional politician pretending to be ordinary

(Brownshirts, obviously)

I haven’t written a blog for months (busy with a new job and getting up to speed with the fragmented, demoralised, under-funded labyrinth called ‘the NHS’) but delivering election leaflets in Witney, followed by a few chilled out days with friends in Spain and a fresh eye to cast over matters political has stimulated the brain.

Apologies in advance for the ranting which will inevitably follow…

I’m going to offer much-needed perspective about UKIP’s success and point the finger of blame at those cretins who have encouraged and nurtured them; contextualise the electoral success of the far right across the continent; and offer up a few whimsical ideas aimed at those other people aspiring to live in a better world- you know, rather than one the mired in the politics of hate and neo-liberal despair which the chattering classes favour?

So, terrible results for Labour, eh?

‘Only’ gaining 330+ new councillors, winning more than half the council seats that were up for grabs, controlling 12 councils they didn’t before, winning control in places they need to if we’re to win the 2015 General Election, like Cambridge, Croydon, Harrow, Crawley, Merton……………hang on.

Wasn’t this a bad night for Labour and Mr Miliband?

Didn’t I hear the highly impartial and scrupulously objective BBC tell me so?

This, sadly, is becoming a thorn in my paw. Yes, the BBC unflinchingly parrots the Establishment line and yes, that means it is profoundly reactionary. But how is it OK for the national broadcaster to act as cheerleader for a fringe far right party with not a single MP to its name and not a single council under its control?

Waking up in Cancelada last Friday morning was instructive: UKIP earthquake, politics will never be the same again…..as Sandra, Mary and I looked quizzically at each other listening to BBC Radio 4.

How bad could it be? As it turns out, not remotely as bad as Auntie Beeb said it was.

Here are a few facts. You may not recognise them and for that I can only apologise. Ask yourself why you haven’t heard them from the BBC or the Tory press.

UKIP won fewer seats than the utterly discredited Liberal Democrats: in 2013, UKIP’s local council vote was 22%: this year it was 17%. They got only 7% of the vote in London.

Of the 243 seats contested in Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, UKIP won none.

Of the 219 contested in Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland, UKIP won zero.

Zilch, nada, zip, f*ck all.

In the West Midlands cities (Brum, Coventry and Wolverhampton), 224 seats were contested, UKIP won one.

Earthquake my arse.

The Green Party has an MP, controls Brighton & Hove Council and has numerous councillors. The UKIP has no MPs, controls nothing and also has numerous councillors. Feel free to explain to me why one gets ignored and the other treated like royalty?

Anything to do with one being on the left and the other on the far right?

One challenging the insanity of modern capitalism and the other fearlessly standing up for landowners, bankers and bad employers?

I promised some finger-pointing, and here it is. UKIP is the Frankenstein creation of the toxic, morally bankrupt media that this country is unfortunate enough to have, the wart on the end of our national nose.

Not just the low-rent, low-brow hate-mongering of Sun, Star, Mail and Express, but j’accuse the leader writers and columnists of the Times, Telegraph and the Spectator: D’Ancona, Oborne, Hitchens, Phillips, Kavanagh, Littlejohn, …..you are responsible.

It is you who created the space for UKIP. Your 24/7 dialogue about immigrants, scroungers, Brussels bureaucrats and ‘red tape’, gave them a moral cloak. You opened the space for them to grow and flourish. You enabled the xenophobia. You lied about the European Union being some sort of Marxist plot, you pressurised the BBC via your tame politicians, you wrote all those cheeky chappie pieces about Nigel Farage, and you either ignored or trivialised the racism, the hatred of Islam, the homophobia…UKIP is your baby.

I’ll deal with the growth of other far right parties across Europe, the questions that raises for the Left and ask what the EU is for, another time.

For now, I’ll just sit back and remind myself not only that UKIP is a fringe party, but that the struggle against the politics of hate, whether it be dressed as fascism, racism or so-called populism has been waged since the 1920s and still goes on.

Hasta la victoria siempre, as a young Argentine doctor once said.

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Who to believe: A war hero or a fascist rag?

Stephen : October 1, 2013 2:28 pm : Politics

Wear it with pride!Three things cry out for attention this week: the Daily Mail’s disgusting attack on Ed Miliband’s father, the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and the shutdown of the US government by idiot Republicans opposed to healthcare being extended to ordinary Americans.

 They are linked only because knuckle-dragging conservative morons are involved in each; but either separately or taken together they form a big neon signpost that points in the wrong direction down a one way street.

 First of all, the Leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition was dragged into a row with the UK newspaper that is a by-word for small-minded hatred and bigotry.

 And while I get why Ed Miliband wants to defend his father’s reputation, I’m reminded of the rationale for avoiding pig wrestling: ‘the pig will love it, and he’s already covered in his own shit’.

 The Daily Mail has been an active, eyes-open perpetrator of Tory propaganda for a century and Miliband’s appeals to common decency will echo unanswered round the empty head of Paul Dacre, and rattle round the moral void at the festering heart of Viscount Rothermere’s media operation.

 So the question for us here is a simple one:

Should we take the side of the war hero who fought the Nazis four years after he came to Britain as a teenage refugee?

 Or should we pay heed to the newspaper with a history of anti-semitism, which supported apartheid, which backed Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts and once ran an editorial saying ‘the minor misdeeds of individual nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany’?

 As for the Tory Party Conference, it is instructive to see it held in Manchester, England’s third largest city and a place where the Tories don’t hold one single council seat.

Neither the ring of steel and lines of outward facing police officers, nor pressurising the BBC to ignore the 60,000 people marching past to defend the NHS, hides the symbolism of a privileged, remote minority sitting in the midst of a hostile majority - like flies swimming round our coffee mugs.

The Tory conference message rarely changes and could have been written months ago in the usual, soul-destroying cliches: the poor are work-shy or benefit cheats, union members are the enemy within, rich people are job creators and sadly misunderstood, foreigners are evil, Europe is nasty, and things might be bad but Labour would steal food from your children……..

A concerted series of appeals to greed, fear, prejudice and mistrust, slavishly  relayed by a supine media.

 And talking of people who’d take us back to the 19th Century,  let’s hear it for the Republican flat-earthers.  The Tea Party idiots responsible for 800,000 American federal workers being forced to stay at home without pay from today until f*ck knows when, disrupting services as varied as national parks and the US space programme and at a stroke costing the US economy 1.25% of growth.

 Why?

Well, these wing-nuts have a majority in the House of Representatives and have tried three separate attacks on the Affordable Care Act, known (by them) as Obamacare. This time, they’ve made an unrelated finance bill dependent on cuts, delays or repeal of ‘Obamacare’. And yes, you could call it blackmail….

No matter that Barack Obama won in 2008 with this specific promise; no matter that the ACA was passed four years ago; no matter that the Act was ratified by the US supreme court; and no matter that it was endorsed by voters in the 2012 presidential election:

No, the Republican Party in Congress are prepared to ignore all this democratic stuff and sacrifice the US goverment on the altar of neo-liberal extremism, trying to blackmail both the White House and the Senate into ditching or delaying the AC Act.

They see extending health cover to millions of vulnerable Americans as ‘communism’.  No, really.

 This has not been a good week for those of us looking to build a better society or to improve the quality of political and social discourse.

 But it does provide rich seams of evidence that the forces of organised wealth and the proponents of neo-liberal barbarism have a very active interest in dragging all of us into a deep swamp of lies, smears and propaganda.

 Our enlightenment, our hope, our resolve and our enduring aspiration that we can do better than this are their worst fears made flesh.

As Lenin put it more than a century ago: the great only appear great when we are on our knees: let us arise!

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Ed Miliband’s Labour: Seizing the Moment?

Stephen : September 26, 2013 4:10 pm : Politics

The glint of a radical alternative?

When you hear the enemy squealing, you know you’ve hit the mark.

So it was when Ed Miliband stood up on Tuesday and said the next Labour government would freeze utility bills for a year and a half.

The well-oiled machinery of vested interest swung immediately into action, and in jig-time TV studios were full of soberly suited ‘experts’ shaking their heads ruefully. It won’t work, we’ll have power cuts, it’ll dry up investment, it’s naïve, it’s unfair in a globally competitive market……..about the only objection omitted was ‘Puppies will die and it’ll be Labour’s fault’. (Put the kettle on for that being the Daily Mail’s headline tomorrow)

Predictable. As was not one of the ‘Big 6′ or their apologists admitting what we all know to be true: we’re being ripped off. Not one single concession to that truth; not one single idea of how to improve things for consumers. Just the subliminal message ‘shut up and let us get on with it’.

And after a long period devoid of Labour policies, a spate of them rolled out in Brighton.

Break up the energy monopolies, abolish the Dickensian bedroom tax, improve the minimum wage and introduce a living wage, build 200,000 new homes a year, fund extra childcare by introducing a mansion tax, sack ATOS, give councils compulsory purchase powers to tackle land hoarding and facilitate home building, fund tax cuts for small businesses by halting Osborne’s corporation tax giveaway to Conservative Party funders.

It was radical, but hardly the full-blooded socialism the Tory press and useful idiots like Digby Jones were gibbering about.

We’d avoid a “race to the bottom” because we can’t compete against even more exploitative economic models than our own – a good start – but both Miliband and Balls were still sticking to the line about keeping the current government’s spending and borrowing targets in Year 1.

Nothing was said about rolling back the stealthy privatisation of public sector education, or keeping the Royal Mail, or repealing the most restrictive and regressive employment law framework in the Western world.

But it was another step away from the shadow of New Labour and welcome proof that Miliband – at the very least – has the potential to ignore the ‘tack to the centre*’ (*Translation: tack to the Right) triangulation message constantly pressed upon him and avoid the elephant traps being set from him by the Tory party and their ever willing media sock-puppets.

This speech spoke deliberately over the heads of the media and hopefully recognises that Labour will never, ever, be ‘moderate’ enough for super-rich media oligarchs.

Challenging unaccountable private sector monopolies, redistributing the huge wealth this country has, cracking down on tax cheats, ensuring affordable homes are built, saving our Royal Mail, defending our NHS, delivering dignity at work and economic justice.

It could be done, it would take a genuine radical to do it, and those who know Ed Miliband tell me he’s above all a brave and radical politician.

Let’s see if Labour’s leadership shakes off the Blairite ghost.

Can it offer the British people the sort of alternative which will repair the damage of the austerity straitjacket?

Can Labour offer genuine hope to people lost in the fog of a low-wage, low-aspiration society?

Can we  stop a super-rich elite siphoning off wealth while it watches 95% of us scrap for crumbs, while our public services shrink or are sold off, our unions crippled and our wages bumping relentlessly along the bottom?

You’re right Ed: Britain can do better.

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Royal Mail: pass the idiot pills, please

Stephen : September 14, 2013 8:55 am : Politics

Buy it? It's ours already

Well, they’ve done it again.

Just when you think this pantomime horse Coalition has run out of idiot pills, we get the privatisation no-one wants.

The sell-off of the Royal Mail, rejected by Margaret Thatcher because she couldn’t bear the thought of the Queen’s head in foreign hands.

I say ‘no-one wants’: obviously that excludes multinational companies who fund the Conservative Party, smacking their lips at the thought of a quick killing.

They’ll be buying into a 300 year old business, built up by generations of taxpayer investment, which in the year to April 2013 made a £403m profit.

Yes, profit.

As Billy Hayes of the CWU noted ‘ it’s the same old story: privatise the profit, nationalise the debt’.

In case anyone needs convincing, here are the hard facts.

Royal Mail generates £400m a year and a 5% return. Most private sector companies would kill for those figures.

And this happens despite the state owned business paying 12% interest on £473m of debt, when the government can borrow at 3%.

So why sell it off?

Quite simply, it generates a one-off influx for Treasury coffers of £3bn. And 3 years of breathtaking economic mismanagement by Osborne, Danny Alexander and Co. have left a gaping hole in the country’s finances. A £3bn shaped hole.

We don’t have to look far for practical examples of why not to do this: the recently privatised Dutch postal service PostNL is now so toxic it can’t be sold on and is currently lobbying to be allowed to go to a 3 day a week service.

TNT, the scab transport firm that helped Murdoch smash the print unions at News International, is trialling deliveries in West and South West London with staff on zero hours contracts, paid less than £8 an hour. No wonder Royal Mail staff are digging in for a fight.

This sale puts the interdependent relationship between Royal Mail and the Post Office in serious jeopardy, it threatens the six day delivery framework and is opposed by over 96% of Royal Mail staff and more than 3 out of 4 members of the public.

It could be halted by ten simple words uttered by either Ed Miliband or Chuka Umunna: ‘we will renationalise the postal service without compensation or profit’.

So: time for Labour to decide whether it is the government in waiting acting in the national interest, or a political glee club running scared of the Tory press and City parasites.

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Chile: the other 9/11

Stephen : September 11, 2013 11:33 am : Politics

President Salvador Allende in Santiago

I was ten years old when I suddenly noticed some exotic-looking people on our Paisley housing estate.

The West of Scotland in the 70s was pretty mono-cultural so South American faces, skin tones and voices stood out. And pretty soon everyone was talking about ‘the Chileans’ who’d been housed in the properties owned by the Ministry of Defence.

 A tiny boy named Pedro turned up at our door soon after with a single word: ‘Brasso?’

 Turned out he’d been dumped in my brother’s primary school class and had taken a shine to the tall boy with red hair, Russell. Russ was ‘Brasso’ for decades after that…

 I didn’t know it at the time,  but Pedro and his family were refugees, exiled and forced to flee Chile from a brutal military coup d’etat in 1973 which overthrew a democratically elected government, murdered over 3,000 people and put 33,000 Chileans in prison to be tortured.

And it was a coup with its origins in Chicago University’s economics department, Nixon’s White House, the Pentagon, the CIA and the offices of ITT.   The Chilean people fleeing for their lives were the unimportant human casualties of a Cold War move by what President Eisenhower called ‘America’s military industrial complex’.

 This is the other 9/11, the one that won’t make the headlines today but the event which 40 years on still casts a shadow over our economic and political world.  

 With President Allende dead in Santiago, state terror replaced the destroyed Popular Unity government.

Anyone suspected of being on the Left was imprisoned, executed or exiled. Trade unions were obliterated, democracy, free thinking and all forms of protest eradicated.

 The stage was cleared for the Chicago school economic experiment which characterised the next 17 years of Pinochet’s dictatorship: state assets were sold to private investors, labour rights disappeared, poverty became endemic, Allende’s popular land redistribution was halted, rescinded and reversed.

 This was a plan two decades in gestation and the birth of what we now call neo-liberalism.

 So when your pay is frozen, or you lose your job because of ‘budget cuts’, your privatised utility bill goes up above inflation, or your privatised train carriage resembles a cattle truck, you know where this all started.

 And the lessons for the Left are essentially the same as they were four decades ago.

 A majority can be won for radical and progressive change; power is never ceded willingly by the powerful and wealthy; and rather than being temporary and abberant features, inequality and injustice are hard-wired into capitalism’s very essence. 

A world run for profit can never be just, never be equal and can never operate in humanity’s best interests: another world is not only possible but essential, if humanity is to avoid poisoning the biosphere and exhausting finite resources.

 As Salvador Allende said in his last broadcast: ‘History is ours, and people make history’

 PS Astute observers will have noted that overthrowing democratically elected governments is still going on. Ex-President Morsi of Egypt is languishing in a Cairo jail, having been ousted by the army in a blood-soaked coup with the tacit backing of the USA, UK and allies. Sound familiar?

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Miliband shoots himself in the foot, while ‘Money for Nothing’ plays….

Stephen : September 5, 2013 2:29 pm : Politics

Those were the days....

Some chickens came home to roost with a vengeance yesterday, as the GMB’s General Secretary announced that the union would be reducing by the amount it pays to Labour in affiliation fees by over a million pounds.

Cue mock horror and outrage in the Tory press and New Labour dinosaurs, while those of us on Planet Normal shook our heads at an avoidable farce playing out, like a slow-motion car crash on ‘repeat’.

It is one of the iron laws of trade unionism that whenever possible you discuss, debate and agree before deciding.

Ed Miliband, either in ‘rabbit caught in headlight’ panic at being taunted in the Commons by Lord Snooty or in a misjudged ‘this will make me look strong’ manoeuvre, forgot this law: instead, he acted as if the complex organic relationship between Labour Party and affiliated unions was his (and only his) to decide on. Now he’s reaping the whirlwind.

I’m not going back over established territory: I believe the Union/Labour link is not only something to be proud of, but something which should be deliberately brought into public discussion.

Why?

It is the cleanest, most transparent funding arrangement in UK politics. It rests upon a very publicly stated assumption that the Labour Party is the electoral vehicle through which policies which benefit working people are most likely to happen. Nurses, shopworkers, Post Office workers, engineers, care workers and what are called ‘ordinary working people’ make up the unions involved.

Let’s hear see other side of that coin: just why do a few multi-millionaire hedge fund managers and tax dodgers back the Conservative Party?

The Union/Labour link is one that the UK’s ruling class fears, because it is a potential threat to their unconstrained power and hegemony. I stress ‘potential’.

Hence recurrent media propganda featuring smears about union militancy and personal attacks on elected socialist leaders like Len McCluskey and Paul Kenny.

And the current pressure on the Link is something the UK’s governing elite welcomes because it weakens Labour, plays to the Tory media’s agenda about ‘union barons bullying Miliband’ and detracts attention from the ongoing catastrophe neoliberal economics has brought to our doorstep.

But let’s not lose sight of what will remain unchanged.

An organisation like the so-called Taxpayers Alliance, for example, will be able to continue outrider work for the Right.

There will be no restriction on their funding, not only because they won’t reveal who funds them, but because they’re exempt for the Lobbying Bill.

The Taxpayers Alliance, a group set up by Tory and free market ideologues, continues to have both its’ origins and politics ignored and glossed over by the BBC – as it did this week when these wing-nuts were saying unemployed people should work 30 unpaid hours a week.

No chance of the TPA being called a ‘right wing pressure group’ on our ever-so-impartial BBC…..

And other ‘soft’ political funding is also untouched.

No awkward questions or funding restrictions on Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond, the Barclay Brothers or Viscount Rothermere as their newspapers and TV channels campaign relentlessly for the Conservative Party.

Make no mistake, what we are witnessing here is seismic.

Despite widespread criminality, hacking, data theft and corruption, the Tory press escapes with a ’Get Out of Jail Free’ card after Leveson. The BBC runs scared of the Right and the political counterweight (such as it is) in the shape of union funding for Labour is corroded and possibly destroyed by a mixture of fear, naivity and political stupidity.

It would bring tears to a glass eye.

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Who Watches the Watchers? (‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’)

Stephen : September 3, 2013 11:22 am : Politics

 If lobbying didn't work, why would they do it?Party politics is in decline. People are as interested in their world and how they engage with it as they ever were, and the ever-growing availability of ICT means we have potential access to more information, fact and opinion that ever before, but party politics?

 The days of half a million Labour Party members are gone, squandered by Blair’s warmongering and New Labour’s aversion to taking on the entrenched power and vested interests in our society.

The Conservative Party, now an ever-shrinking home for young wing nuts and eldery bigots, is so weak it won’t even reveal its own membership figure.

And the Liberal Democrats are limping along, fatally eviscerated by their leadership’s hypocrisy and their abandonment of the radical centre for the not-so-radical right.

So why do we have a Government bill seeking to keep people out of politics? An anti-lobbying Bill which won’t stop 90% of political lobbying?  

The answer, as ever, is found nestled within the self-interest of the UK’s elite.

Firstly, it is a blatant move to make life difficult for the Labour Party in terms of funding, despite the money given by 15 affiliated trade unions to Labour being the cleanest and most transparent in UK politics; every penny declared in public, accounted for to union members annually, subject to scrutiny by elected union officers and given exclusively as a result of democratic mandates.

None of that can be said for the millions given by City financiers to the Conservative Party.

Investigative organisations like the LRD or the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have to root though wads of opaque company accounts to get to this and even then, don’t uncover half of how the Tories are funded. Major hedge fund donors have recently given thirty two million pounds to the Conservative Party – and weren’t they handsomely repaid with a £145m giveaway to hedge funds in the 2013 Budget.

Coincidence?

Lord Adrian Beecroft gave £693,000 (money made exploiting the poor through payday loans) to the Conservative Party, and was somehow allowed to write a government report suggesting how best to fire people and strip them of already porous employment rights.

And as a major Tory donor from the City put it, “among those that give significant amounts to the party, it (the millionaire’s tax cut) is a big issue, and that’s probably why it’s a big issue for the party too.”

The rich pay for influence, they pay those who will look after their interests, in this case the Tory Party. They quietly fund political foot-soldiers to keep them wealthy and speak up for them when necessary. Lobbying is unnecessary for the Adrian Beecrofts and Lynton Crosbys of this world.

The Association of Professional Political Consultants say this new Bill would cover just 1% of Ministerial meetings, and even those who have to register would still be able to lobby special advisers, MPs or senior civil servants without telling anyone.

As Angela Eagle has pointed out, Clegg and Cameron are presenting a lobbying Bill that doesn’t even cover Lynton Crosby – and to demonstrate how shoddy this all is, it would allow Crosby and Big Tobacco to set policy on cigarette packaging but stop Cancer Research UK from lobbying about it.

Also put at risk by this Bill are events like union conferences. The National Union of Students, for example, wouldn’t be able to spend money holding Lib Dem MPs to account for broken promises on tuition fees; and unions wouldn’t be able to campaign on issues such as the cost of childcare, cuts to public services, privatization or job losses.

So much for the Big Society and small wonder people in this country are switching off from politics – which is, of course, what these people ultimately want.

 

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Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts


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