Monthly Archives: April 2013

The NHS: A Difficult Beginning

Excellent 2008 documentary from the BBC about the birth of the National Health Service.

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Save Our Hospitals!

Ealing-20130427-00023

Yesterday, I went on the march and rally to save hospitals in West London. For those of you living outside of West London, Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Central Westminster and Ealing Hospitals, are to have their Accident and Emergency departments closed under the government’s plans to destroy streamline the NHS.  All emergency treatment will then be provided by Northwick Park, West Middlesex and Chelsea and Westminster hospitals. For those of us who live in Hammersmith and Fulham or Ealing, these A&E units are too far away and anyone needing emergency care could find themselves dying en route to one of these hospitals.

In the last few months, I’ve used Charing Cross A&E department: once for a badly burned hand and last week, for chest pains…. which turned out to be a muscular-skeletal problem. If that A&E department were to close, I would have to spend an hour getting from my home to the nearest hospital.

Here in Hammersmith and Fulham, the ruling Tory group supported the resident’s campaign and cross-party opposition to the closures. As was reported on this blog and Stephen Cowan’s blog, the Tories later back-peddled and signed off the government’s proposed closure of Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals.

Cllr Cowan says,

It turned out that there has been a considerable amount of disquiet amongst local Conservatives about attacking their own government’s policy of hospital cuts. Many had never wanted to join the residents-led campaign in the first place. When the government offered them a cop out they took it and figured they could use council funds to blanket the Borough with propaganda spinning what they had done.

They have so far spent over £20,000.00 of tax payers’ money telling residents that they have “Saved Charing Cross Hospital.” Nobody who has studied the facts or heard their explanations believes that’s true. In fact, in the panic of trying to explain themselves last week, one Conservative councillor admitted nothing had been finalised and nothing yet agreed – underlining how the Conservatives have undermined their negotiating position.

Hammersmith & Fulham Tories have shot themselves in the foot over this issue and have exposed themselves as hypocrites.

The Hammersmith and Fulham side of the march started at Acton Park. I took my bike with me since it is quicker to get to the park by cycling than to take the 266 bus. I arrived in time to hear Andy Slaughter speak.

Ealing-20130427-00019 There are at least 300 people assembled here. The march starts and we walk down Uxbridge Road towards Acton. I’ve put my bike in the lowest gear and I’m riding very, very slowly at the sort of speed that is alien to London’s legion of bad cyclists. One of the march stewards even compliments me on my control skills. Loads of motorists beep their horns in solidarity as they pass us on the other side of the road.

We arrive at Ealing Common. There’s a funfair.  It’s not a great day for fun fairs. The chilly, damp weather has done its best to dampen our spirits but it hasn’t succeeded. We’re here to let our voices be heard. There are more people here than at the dismal Rally Against Debt a couple of years ago. And you know what? You never see anyone from UKIP or any other so-called libertarians at these rallies and do you know why? They don’t care.

I look towards north-westwards and I can see a the Ealing contingent making its way towards us, there must be around 1,000 of them. I can see the banners of the local Labour, Green and Socialist Party branches. The Socialist Workers Party, Left Unity and even the Workers Revolutionary Party are here too. There’s even someone selling the WRP’s paper, Newsline. I haven’t seen that for awhile.

Bob Marley’s song Get Up, Stand Up is blaring from the speakers. It’s an inspired choice. “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight”!

This woman’s placard (below) says it all.

Ealing-20130427-00024

One of the leading campaigners from Ealing, Dr Onkar Sahota, who is also an AM for the Greater London Authority, has the task of being MC for the afternoon. Ealing, unlike Hammersmith and Fulham, is a Labour-controlled council and has resisted the government’s plans. Sahota tells us that many people from neighbouring boroughs of Hillingdon, Harrow and Brent are here making their voices heard.  Indeed, this is a good turn-out. I can see Ealing’s MP Stephen Pound waiting in the wings, when he does come up to the mike, he comes across as something of a showman (he used to be a boxer). The crowd loves it.

Pound is followed by Tory MP, Angie Bray, who is greeted with a mix of boos and applause. She leaves to the same mix of boos and applause. A woman standing next to me complains and tells those who are heckling Bray to shut up. They’re not listening to her remonstrations and she walks off in a huff.

One speaker from the GMB union reminds us that the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt authored a book in which he calls for the NHS  to be denationalised, but erroneously attributes the words “60 year old mistake” to him. These were, in fact, the words of Lyin’ King when he appeared on Fox News five years ago to lambast the NHS and argue for his coveted small state. Nonetheless the sentiment is the same. In spite of his warm words and vacant expression, Hunt does not like the NHS and like many of his fellow Tories, he wants to cut it to pieces and sell-off the profitable parts to his vulture capitalist friends. Andy Slaughter reminds the rally that under the council’s proposals, 60% of Charing Cross Hospital site will be sold off to private developers. The Tories, despite what they’ve said about ‘saving’ the hospital, have done nothing of the sort.

Dr Thomas Sissons, writing in The Independent in February says,

Hammersmith and Fulham council is the only council out of 11 in London affected by the hospital closures to have supported them, and this is a damning reflection of their interest in what those they govern think. They are stitching up their own constituents, metaphorically but certainly not literally, so that they can play nice with central government. Their decision to release these plans before the official date may have given us some unwitting help though by allowing us some time to organise. What we need to do now is campaign against this ham-fisted reorganisation.

A Lib Dem councillor comes on to speak and at that point, I decide to leave. The Lib Dems have done much to support this Conservative-led government in achieving its ambitions, none of which appeared in their manifesto and for which they have no mandate. A man next to me says, “I don’t want to listen to the Lib Dem, they helped the Tories to do this”. I agree with him, get on my bike and ride home.

The next Save our Hospitals event is a rally at Jubilee Gardens (where I once lamented the passing of the GLC) on 18 May at 1200. If you care about hospital provision in London, you’ll be there. I know I will.

You can find out more about the campaign here.

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“We need more Thatcherism” (like we need holes in our heads)

In the wake of Thatcher’s death and funeral, some senior and some not-so-senior Conservatives have been demanding the party ‘rediscovers’ Thatcherism. I must admit, I’ve been mightily amused by the Tories’ clamour for more Thatcherism. It’s as predictable as it is absurd. It also smacks of terminal desperation. Make no mistake, this is a party in decline.

The first to stick his ugly, fat, unkempt head above the parapet was Bozza. The Guardian reports,

London mayor Boris Johnson called for a show of “Thatcherite zeal” as he joined backbench MPs in demanding an overhaul of the law to make it harder to call strikes.

Johnson said was “farcical” that a strike could be called with the backing of less than half of union members and has urged the government to rethink legislation on taking industrial action.

It comes as a report by the Conservative group on the London Assembly estimates that tube strikes in the capital cost the economy £48m a day, putting the cost of industrial action between 2005 and 2009 at £1bn.

Johnson told the Sun: “The idea that a strike can be called by a majority of those that vote, rather than a majority of all those balloted, is farcical. It often results in a strike backed by just one in 10 union members, antagonising millions of commuters in the process and costing London and the UK billions every year.

“I’d urge the government to act with some Thatcherite zeal and at the very least legislate against strikes supported by less than half of all union members.”

The call for new laws follows on from union groups raising the prospect of calling a general strike in protest at the government’s austerity measures.

So Bozza said this to The Sun? Well, there’s a surprise. He’s been having regular lunches and dinners with The Old Bastard (Rupert Murdoch to you), which he’s only just begun to declare in the register of members interests at City Hall. In the same article, Dominic Raabid, who was in short trousers when the Auld Witch was ensconced in Downing Street, tells us that:

“Margaret Thatcher injected a dose of democracy into the unions, to empower their members and protect Britain.

“We now face a hot summer of discontent, with reckless strikes from schools to airports that most union members refused to back.

“It’s high time we had extra safeguards to protect the hard-working majority from this abusive militant minority.”

“Margaret Thatcher injected a dose of democracy into the unions”, opines the humourless Raab. This nutjob is serious! Last year, Raabid called for Britain to adopt a sweatshop economy. He was supported in this endeavour by his fellow headbanger, Priti Patel, who says:

“Defending the rights of people to work without fear of intimidation, bullying or violence is exactly what Margaret Thatcher championed and this legislation could once again put the rights of workers above the vested interests of the left and their union barons.”

Come again? Thatcher was a bully and her cabinet was composed mainly of bullies. The current government have carried their public school bullying with them throughout their journey to Westminster. It is their desire to make the rest of us their fags.

The mere mention of a possible general strike is enough to get the likes of Raab, Johnson and his Nazi-fetishizing chum, Aidan Burley calling for even more draconian anti-union legislation. The next step for these bullies will be to call for an outright ban on unions. That’s how much they love ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, kids.

Yesterday, Bozza’s kid brother, Jo, was appointed to the Downing Street Policy Unit with, I am reliably informed, a remit to inject more Thatcherite poison into the Tories’ already polluted bloodstream. Nicholas Watt of The Guardian writes,

The appointment of the mayor of London’s brother, who formally becomes a Cabinet Office minister, is one of a series of moves designed to strengthen the political operation in Downing Street and to patch up the prime minister’s frayed links with the Conservative party. One senior figure described the moves as a deliberate attempt to create a more political – though not politicised – Downing Street in the mould of Margaret Thatcher’s No 10 operation.

The Tories are so deluded that they seriously believe their only salvation lies in serving us warmed-up Thatcherite leftovers from 30 years ago. It’s farcical.

The real tragedy is that the opposition Labour party can’t see how weak the Conservatives are and do nothing to help finish them off (it’s called a coup de grace, Mister Ed). There’s blood in the water and if you can’t move in for the kill, then you have no business being in politics.

Ed Miliband’s spine was last seen getting into a car on the northbound carriageway of the M6 near Congleton. If anyone knows its current whereabouts then kindly inform the owner.

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Facebook censors political satire after complaint from JobCentre Plus

Pride’s Purge has been a victim of Facebook censorship. If you thought you lived in a ‘free’ country, think again.

Pride's Purge

UPDATE – here’s an open letter I’ve written to Mark Zuckerberg about this:

Open Letter To Mark Zuckerberg – You Can’t Have Power Without Responsibility

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Just what is it about political satire that seems to get up the nose of those in positions of power?

Yesterday Facebook suddenly decided to flag this blog as spam – effectively censoring it by scaring away anyone who might want to link to it or share it on Facebook.

That was obviously a surprise but I was even more surprised when a member of staff from JobCentre Plus openly boasted to me that it was she who had reported the blog to Facebook as spam after she got annoyed by this particular satirical blogpost critical of ATOS and the DWP:

Fraudster ATOS fined for supplying fake crip detectors for use in fitness for work tests

It’s obvious even from the headline that the article is pure…

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Esther McVey, “5’s Company” and me

I first met Esther McVey, the current Minister for Disabled People, when I was booked to perform my routine on Channel 5’s bizarre afternoon programme, 5’s Company, some time in 1997. This show had 5 presenters, which was a recipe for disaster in my mind. I had been asked to do about 5 minutes worth of stuff. Not an easy task for someone who was once known as one of the circuit’s three sweariest people, which also included such illustrious company as Bob Boyton and Jerry Sadowitz (apparently there was a ‘book’ on which one of us said “fuck” the most in any given week). After spending some time cleaning the salty language from of my material (which was never vetted, by the way), I left all the political material intact.  It was risky to be sure.

After my first spot on the programme, I was invited back a year later because someone had pulled out. It was on this occasion that I met McVey in the wings, who said (or words to the effect) to me, “I didn’t like your stuff about the Conservatives”. I paused, looked at her and replied, “You’re a Scouser”. “Not all of us are left-wingers”, she snapped back. “In which case, you’re rather unusual”, I quickly retorted. That was the last time I ever said anything to McVey’s face. Since then, I’ve been tracking her career and so wasn’t surprised to discover that she’d been elected as Tory MP for Wirral West. The Wirral, once in Cheshire, is where Scousers tended to go once they’d made it big. I’m not so sure that’s the case nowadays. I mean, have you seen what Birkenhead looks like these days?

Scouse Tories are as rare as unicorns and to this day I can only count them on one hand. There’s Steve ‘Shagger’ Norris, Edwina ‘Eggs’ Currie, Stephen McPartland MP and Kit Shitehouse Malthouse, who is one of Bozza’s deputies. I only became aware of McPartland the other day when he rose to speak in The Commons. That’s a total of 5 Scouse Tories in the public eye. That isn’t many for a metropolitan county with a population of 1,380,000. But then if you look at Scotland, you’ll see a similar picture.

Here’s a clip of McVey on 5’s Company being used by ventriloquist Scarlet Ray Watt as his ‘impromptu’ assistant. Doesn’t he look a little like Eddie Murphy?

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What kind of libertarian are you?

In recent years, the word “libertarian” has been hijacked by the Right, who have transformed the definition of the word from “one who supports the principle of liberty” to “one who supports an idea of liberty that gives license to the elite to continue to exploit others for personal gain”. Personally, I think these soi-disant libertarians suffer from a combination of arrested development and bad parenting. Why do I say this? These so-called libertarians are fond of complaining about “big government” and if you unpack this discourse, it’s no different to a child railing against a parent. Yet, paradoxically and without any apparent sense of irony, they would demand the retention of the repressive functions of the state should their dream of a ‘free’ society come to fruition. So much for liberty.

Among these so-called libertarians, selfishness and greed are celebrated and venerated. Selfishness is one ugly trait that the majority of parents stamp out at the age of 2. “It’s mine”, screams the toddler. Many parents will have witnessed such behaviour and will act swiftly to nip it in the bud, but other parents will cave in as soon as their child starts screaming, stamping their feet and holding their breath.  It’s the children of these parents who grow up to become Right Libertarians. They continue their selfish, greedy behaviour into adulthood and seek to rationalize it with cherry-picked words from Hayek or will hide behind the dull prose of Ayn Rand, whose words are akin to gospel in their eyes.

I saw this amusing cartoon a couple of years ago and I thought I’d share it with you.

The followers of Ayn Rand, who call themselves “Objectivists” (Oh, the arrogance), deny that they are libertarians but their gross misanthropy and their obvious cupidity says otherwise.

Rand dollar signAyn Rand (left) even wore a dollar sign brooch, for crying out loud!

Right libertarians never tire of telling us how much they love freedom and this wide-eyed zeal often seems like nothing more than the veneration of a fetish-object. This is clear in the language they use to promote themselves too. By the way, I’ve never heard anyone say that they “hate” freedom or even love for that matter but love is the last thing on the mind of the Objectivist. I mean, what’s in it for them? If you see what I mean…

As I’ve indicated in previous blogs, the Right’s idea of freedom is narrow and can only define itself against what it perceives as unfreedom. In other words, anyone who isn’t on the Right or doesn’t support a neo-Hobbesian formulation of liberty is, in their eyes, against freedom. If you think the NHS is worth saving, then you “hate” freedom. If you’re a socialist, you “hate” freedom and so on and on it goes.

I support civil liberties and I consider myself to be on the Left – I am a libertarian socialist. To the Right libertarian, this is as bad as admitting to being a Stalinist. Ironic, really, when you remember that many of them gave the thumbs up to General Pinochet and others like him. When you confront them with this truth, watch how they squirm.

Other self-described libertarians will tell you that they are “anti-war”, but will then advocate the use of military force to “open up” markets, often under the rubric of fighting “terror”. Remember Iraq? There were some of these so-called libertarians who saw opportunities created by the invasion and occupation of that country. In fact, they don’t mind sharing a bed with neoconservatives.  Indeed for all their talk about peace between free-trade nations, many of them are ardent warmongers  and some are even members of the Territorial Army (others hold undergraduate degrees in War Studies). What does that say about them and their brand of libertarianism? It says that they lack the capacity for self-reflection and they don’t have the critical skills to interrogate their ideas. It also shows them up for the immature liars they truly are.

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Totalitarianism and celebrating the death of Thatcher

The Lollipop Guild from The Wizard of Oz

Predictably, the scenes of celebration that greeted the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death on Monday were met with shouts of hurt and anguish by the Conservatives and their allies in the right-wing press. “It’s hateful”, “it’s disrespectful”, “Have some bloody decorum”,  cried the genuflecting faithful of the cult of St Margaret of Grantham.

But it wasn’t just the Tories who complained about the celebrations: members of the Labour party, too, urged restraint. Restraint? On an occasion like this? I think not.  To make a philosophical point: we’ll never get another chance to celebrate the death of the authoritarian-libertarian Thatcher again. This was a woman whose international friends included the ‘friendly’ dictator (according to The Daily Mail), Augusto Pinochet and the butcher of Indonesia, Suharto. A life like this should not be celebrated. On the contrary, this is the occasion to burn effigies.

Those who were the victims of Thatcher’s government – ordinary workers, the poor, the disabled, gays, lesbians, travellers, the list goes on – have every right to celebrate her demise. A safety valve has been inadvertently provided for us to let off some steam. For all those who wrongly believe that Thatcher’s death has been the only instance in history of mass celebration of the death of a public figure, let me just say that there is nothing new in this: we can see these celebrations as a form of carnivalesque that goes back to mediaeval times.  The carnival had its own rules and during these mass celebrations, the participants were subject only to the laws of the carnival. Church-led celebrations of the middle ages demanded formality, deference and obeisance to the objects of veneration. In other words, they were boring.

We don’t know if mediaeval folk celebrated the deaths of tyrannical rulers, because no record of their culture exists. We only have the official version of this period of history and it’s usually mediated to us by the likes of David Starkey.

We do not celebrate the life of Thatcher, that is the job of hagiographers, the dewy-eyed panegyrists and the chinless lickpittles in the media. We rejoice in the death of one who visited pain and suffering on many communities. This is our right as citizens. It is also the nature of carnival.

For all their meaningless rhetoric about liberty, the Conservatives are really authoritarians who are in denial.  In those totalitarian countries that they purported to have historically positioned themselves against; those in which the people aren’t even permitted to utter curses and oaths (not of fealty) to the corpse and memory of a much-hated dictator, the Tories seem to  think that anyone who does so in this country should be silenced. Such is their weakness of spirit and intellect. Such is their desire for the total control of discourse that they are actually trying to rewrite history before our very eyes! “She saved Britain”, “She ended the Cold War” are just two of the more popular myths being substituted for the materialism of history.

It’s been pointed out elsewhere that the Right didn’t hold back in celebrating the death of former Labour leader, Michael Foot. Their jubilation was no less effusive when Hugo Chavez provided a similar opportunity for them a month or so ago. Unable to fathom how much Thatcher was hated, some Tories will only concede that she was “divisive” and then, in the next breath, they will ascribe superhuman qualities to what was supposedly a human being. Breathtaking stuff. Anyone would have thought that cults of personalities are the sort of things that authoritarian leaders of totalitarian countries do, not self-described ‘free’ countries. Surely not in democratic Britain?

It’s worth noting that the death in 2006 of Thatcher’s close pal, Pinochet, was also celebrated by his opponents.  There are other examples in history where the death of a hated public figure has been greeted with celebration. For example, Thatcher’s friends should count themselves lucky they didn’t live in 12th century Constantinople.  The Late Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus’s two-year reign was marked by harsh and brutal laws (he had also married the 12 year old Agnes of France). Andronicus became increasingly paranoid and created a terror state in which his opponents (and anyone else) were summarily imprisoned, tortured, mutilated and executed. He also attempted to move against aristocracy, thus incurring their wrath.

In 1185,  Andronicus  was away from Constantinople on a military expedition. His loyal lieutenant, Stephen Hagiochristophorites (who actually had questionable loyalties), moved to arrest Isaac Angelos, who had previously been involved in an uprising in Nicaea. Isaac killed Hagiochristophorites and took refuge in the Hagia Sophia, from there he appealed to the masses to rise up against Andronicus. When the latter returned, he discovered that he’d been overthrown and Isaac had been proclaimed emperor. Andronicus was arrested while trying to escape and Isaac, now Isaac II Angelos, handed him over to the mob. He was tied to a post and beaten, mutilated and burned for three days before being strung up between two pillars by his ankles. Legend has it that two Latin soldiers took turns stabbing him to see who could plunge their sword the deepest into his body. He died a few days later.  Grisly stuff. By the way, Isaac was later blinded and imprisoned by his elder brother, Alexios, who was proclaimed Alexios III Angelos, who would in turn be overthrown by his nephew and so on…

So it amuses me when I see the likes of Louise Mensch whining on Twitter about people celebrating the death of Thatcher. It amuses me even more that the Right is making themselves look foolish and weak because they cannot deal with any criticism of their idol. It amuses me when I see arsekisser-in-chief, Charles Moore, claim on television that Thatcher was “Dorothy” to the Warsaw Pact’s “Wicked Witch of the East” in response to Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead rising up the download charts. It amuses me that they have no sense of humour and are only capable of laughing at those weaker than themselves – which isn’t funny. It amuses me when Thatcher’s boot-licking worshippers buy downloads of the Not Sensibles’ song, I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher, and misread the lyrics so badly. They just don’t get satire.

Tories: they may be rich but they aren’t very bright.

Glenn Greenwald’s Guardian article is well worth a read.

Reference

Bakhtin, M., Iswolsky, H. (trans) (1984). Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press


			

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