Monthly Archives: April 2010

Give the majority what they want? No way!

Majoritarianism is the byword of contemporary electoral politics: appealing to the masses, kissing their babies and shaking their hands are all part of the game. The tabloid press declares that Britain is “full” and so all the politicians run hell-for-leather to try and be the first one to nail their anti-immigration colours to the mast.

I caught a bit of the debate last night and one punter in the audience asked a question to this effect “On the issue of immigration, shouldn’t politicians do what the majority wants”? My answer to that question is a resounding “NO”! If politicians did what the self-declared majority wanted, we would have capital punishment; corporal punishment for minor offences;  lesbians and gays being forced to accept a ‘cure’ and a custodial sentence for anyone caught in possession of the newest trendy drug.

Imagine if the ‘majority’ had got their way in the 1960’s. Roy Jenkins landmark legislation would have been scrapped and we would be living in a land that time forgot. A land that is akin to the most regressive of Midwestern US states…a place that would, quite possibly, resemble the mad-as-a-box–of-frogs state of Arizona.

If we let the people decide what is best with regards to immigration, then we may as well bring back the birch; the stocks and public executions. The ‘majority’ often don’t know what’s best for them and are fired up by the latest scare story in the press. Politicians react to this and then we get bad legislation –  the recent case of Mephedrone being a classic example.

People talk about the ‘majority’ as though it has every right to marginalise those who do not accept their diktats. That is not the way democracies are supposed to work. But then, we don’t really live in a real democracy.

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Filed under General Election 2010, Society & culture

Tories and the defence of civil liberties

How short is the average Tory’s memory? The answer: very short, in fact, they’re practically amnesiac. When David Davis resigned from the Shadow frontbench, he claimed to have done so because he wanted to ‘fight for our civil liberties’. He cited the catalyst for this sudden move as “ID cards”.

But since when have the Tories been defenders of civil liberties? Never. It was under the Tories that we had Section 28 and the Criminal Justice act (1994) which effectively outlawed raves and many other things besides. The voice of Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Fein were silenced and voiced by actors while members of Loyalist groups were allowed to speak.

So when the Tories tell you that they’re fighting to protect our civil liberties, remind them of their past.

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The end of ideology? Don’t make me laugh!

I’ve just had a quick scan of an article on Spiked Online where Mick Hume says “political observers should face up to the fact that ‘the end of left and right’ is a reality, not a platitude”. If only that were true, Mick but it isn’t true at all and it is fanciful to delude oneself into thinking that this is the end of the left/right ideological split, when the Tories remain bullishly right wing, masking their authoritarian impulses by offering up the illusion of libertarianism. While on the other hand, Labour continues its journey to the right and the Lib Dems hope to cash in on the confusion by pretending to be all things to all men. The trouble with Hume and his cronies in the Institute of Ideas (IoI) and the other RCP front groups is that they have been detached from reality for a number of years. The RCP were notorious for interrupting meetings and rallies in the 1980’s. I can recall arguing with them on many an occasion; I’d get close to uncovering their true face when they’d call for back up from a senior member of the local cell.

The RCP were never left wing and have managed to infiltrate the highest levels of society. They have placed themselves in positions of great influence both culturally and politically. Not a week passes by when at least two of them are on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. Clare Fox is a regular on the programme along with ‘Mad’ Melanie Phillips. That tells you all you need to know about the Moral Maze and the ideological positions of those on the panel.

So no, Mr Hume, there is still a left and right in this country. The right currently have the upper hand but there are still plenty of us who see ourselves as left wing and no, we aren’t dinosaurs, we just don’t fall for your bullshit.

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Filed under Ideologies, Media

The choice of candidates…

…here in Hammersmith is between the usual 3: Labour, Tories, Lib Dems plus the Greens, UKIP, and the BNP. So that’s 4 avowedly capitalist parties, one fascist party and one ever-so-slightly left wing party but no socialist candidate standing for election here.  I know this is a marginal seat but why haven’t RESPECT or TUSC stood a candidate here? I suspect the answer lies with the popular perception that Hammersmith is a constituency that is comprised of the fairly well off and the extremely well off.  But there are also a lot of social housing tenants here too; they seem to have been ignored by the Left. Perhaps they realise that they have little chance of beating Labour, whose traditional support comes from places like council estates; the very same council estates that the council leader, Stephen Greenhalgh, wants to see bulldozed to make way for ‘mixed’ housing.  If his plan goes ahead, Hammersmith & Fulham will become the Wandsworth of the 21st century; a socially cleansed borough that returns one Tory council after another.

But this doesn’t always mean that the electorate will necessarily vote for a Tory parliamentary candidate. The Tooting constituency in Wandsworth borough has been won by Labour, while the once solidly Labour constituency of Battersea (which the estate agents marketed as “South Chelsea”) changed hands in the mid-80’s at the height of Thatcher’s property boom.

Hammersmith is one of two constituencies in a densely populated but small borough. The other, Fulham and Chelsea, was reunited after a lengthy separation; it is natural Tory territory…the two are meant to be together…or are they?  Have you seen North End Road recently? It’s hardly on a par with Kings Road! There is one council estate in Chelsea and that is the appropriately named World’s End Estate.

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Filed under 1, General Election 2010, Hammersmith & Fulham, London, Society & culture

Higher education: how the state sees things.

“What’s the point in education, if you have to pay for the privilege”? asked the Manic Street Preachers in their song, Socialist Serenade.  The neo-liberal plan for education is to make it inaccessible to those without the funds. It is even worse in postgraduate education where, if you can’t find the money to support yourself, you’re stuffed. There is little help available to postgraduate students bar research funding…and the competition for support is high.  Undergraduates can apply for hardship grants, as well as the Access for Learning Fund (AfL), they even have access to Student Loans.

If you are postgraduate student, regardless of how academically promising you are, you have to find the money to support yourself. The state believes that an undergraduate qualification is sufficient and anything beyond that is a luxury reserved for the middle and upper classes. Anyone else is simply shirking their duty to the national economy; they are not, as many right wing economists might put it, economically productive and deserve the same contempt reserved for the work-shy and  serial benefit claimants, who are the fodder of tabloid hate-stories.

The Education Reform Act (1989) forced students to take out loans (a product) by abolishing maintenance grants. They stopped students from claiming housing and social security benefits during the holidays which prompted many to abandon their courses. The New Labour Party under Tony Blair declared that more working class people would take up higher education. The reality is that currently there is little social mobility and working class students have decreased sharply. The average student debt at the end of one’s course is around £20,000 and it could be higher.

When this government announced its package of cuts – after spending billions on bailing out their chums in the banking sector- their sights were firmly fixed on HE. Their rationale appears to be predicated on the notion that such education is, as I mentioned before, a luxury. But what the government don’t realise or want to understand is that, if one looks at HE in purely economic terms then students are an investment.  Academics are also under threat; job cuts are expected to be announced  and many academics will leave this country for other shores. Is this really what the State wants? It seems that way.

I have just had to suspend my PhD studies because I was made redundant from a badly-paid job. I have no income and I am forced into doing something that I didn’t want to do. Now the dole queue awaits me and with it, a world of mind-numbing tedium.

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A gentle reminder to the British electorate

Nick Clegg may have outperformed his opponents in the first ever televised election ‘debate’ and has increased his and his party’s profile in the country but, to hear some folk talk, you’d think that we actually directly elected Prime Ministers. Of course we don’t but that doesn’t stop the already-ignorant from deluding themselves as to the nature of the British political system.

For the record, I think Cameron looked his usual smug, self-satisfied self and Brown looked like he’d never been on television before. His jibes at Cameron looked pathetically puerile. Only Clegg and Cameron looked straight at the camera, while Brown sought to address the studio audience.

But all of this is a distraction from the issues…and I don’t mean the confection that is served up by politicians to address so-called public concerns either: anti-social behaviour; binge-drinking; crime and policing and immigration; in other words, the sorts of ‘issues’ that offer near-endless opportunities to enact badly thought-out  legislation. These are the sorts of issues that are generated by the moral panics in the tabloid press. Politicians these days seem to do nothing else but react to what is written in the papers.

We do not directly elect Prime Ministers in this country. We have a parliamentary system here.

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Filed under General Election 2010, Liberal Democrats

Budgets and deficits (reprise)

As usual, the various candidates are talking about how we need to “reduce the deficit”. What they’re not saying is how, exactly, they intend to achieve this.  The most obvious way to reduce the deficit is to make all of us pay for it through taxation. But who is to blame for the deficit? Is it you? Is it me? No, it’s the government that got us into this mess. Why should we pick up the bill for the banks?

Meanwhile they all want us to spend more and there’s a reason why they want us to do this: to fill their coffers with money that has been provided by VAT. But if people don’t have money to spend, how can they take money that isn’t there? Even if more people went out and bought loads of useless things, it wouldn’t make much difference; there is no heavy manufacturing in this country and most of our cheap consumer goods come from China. Thanks to Thatcher, there is no manufacturing base left in Britain. All we have are service industries and they do not provide the same kind of income. Then there’s the banks who, thanks to rampant deregulation, get to call the shots. Gordon Brown actually admitted that he had ‘got it wrong’ regarding the banks when he acquiesced to their demands for deregulation. Now we have Tories like Boris Johnson telling us if the banks are taxed or regulated, then they will leave London for elsewhere. I say, let them go. They helped to cause this mess and they were bailed out at our expense. Why should they be allowed to dictate terms?

I noticed that the Lib Dems have made a suggestion that they may tax the banks. …but they propose deep cuts to public spending, claiming that “at least we’re honest about it”.  The Scottish Socialist Party is against cuts and is probably the only party to come out strongly against them but then they are a socialist party unlike the rest of the field.

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National debt or budget deficit?

It seems that both newsreaders and politicians can’t get this one right. The national debt is accumulated when governments borrow money on domestic and foreign markets; it does this by issuing bonds. The budget deficit is when governments spend more money than they earn. The debt is mainly brought about by fighting foreign wars and deficits occur when the national economy doesn’t make enough money from the products that are sold by producers. Recently the word ‘product’ has been stretched to cover non-tangibles like loans, mortgages (which are a form of loan) and other financial services like insurance. These ‘products’ are included in the national GDP (Gross Domestic Product) figures for a given period (usually monthly or annually) along with other commodities (oil, gas, grains and so on). The black economy and the unemployed are not considered when GDP figures are tabulated. Ever the mischief-maker, Jean Baudrillard suggested that waste (which is a product) be included in a nation’s GDP figures (1998).

It’s time for politicians of all the main parties and some of the smaller ones, like UKIP, to come clean about what these terms mean rather than mumble about how we need to reduce our “debt” when what they’re actually referring to is the budget deficit. The national debt is the hidden discourse that the politicians don’t want to have with the electorate because that would mean confessing to the true nature of how our national economies are structured.

You can’t fool me.

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Filed under economic illiteracy, Economics, Government & politics, Media

Lech Kacynski’s death

Any death is tragic, whether it is expected or unexpected. Naturally, I draw the line at the death of fascists, authoritarians and reactionaries. Therefore the brutal death of Eugene Terreblanche was a cause for celebration. Lech Kacynski, a leading light in Solidarnosc was an old Catholic reactionary who claimed that gays and lesbians didn’t deserve equal rights and took the extraordinary measure of closing down LGBT publications and groups. He banned the Gay Pride march in Warsaw and later held a parade of his own called the “Parade of Normality”. My question to him, if he was still alive, would be “What is normal”?

The Tory Party has allied itself with Kacynski’s Party, the Law and Justice Party in the European Parliament and, while I am not suggesting that the Tories are entirely homophobic, there is a sizeable contingent of homophobes in the party. But Lord Snooty and his pals are turning a blind eye to all of this in the hope that their new found alliance will bear fruit in the Euro parliament. But this may be one alliance that may come back to bite the Tories on the arse.

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It’s the economy

The other day while watching BBC News (I know it’s awful) there was another story about how sickness is costing ‘The Economy’ millions (or billions) of pounds a year. No mention of the fact that maybe these ill people were, in fact, genuinely sick…hardly. The whole focus was not on people, who sustain ‘The Economy’ but on this mythological creature that we are meant to serve without question. If ever there were more revealing statements made about the nature of present-day society, it is those ‘stories’ about illness, absence and The Economy that tell us what is so very wrong about the way in which society is currently organised.  It also points to how governments and many politicians see the rest of us: we are serfs.

Your freedom is imagined.

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