Category Archives: Let’s Talk About

Let’s Talk About: The Free Enterprise Group

When Priti Patel was forced to resign last Thursday for meeting Israeli government officials without prior authorization, you may have noticed the two faces that kept appearing on television to defend her. One was Nadhim Zahawi and the other was Jacob Rees Mogg. What you may not realize is that both belong to the Free Enterprise Group, to which Patel also belongs. Prominent members of this group published a book in 2010 called Britannia Unchained, which claimed that “Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world”, and add “We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.” There is a wealth of evidence to debunk these beliefs, for beliefs are what they are. These views are not supported by evidence or anything like it.

Patel, along with Elizabeth Truss, Chris Skidmore, Kwasi Kwarteng and Dominic Raab were the book’s co-authors, and for them, poor productivity is laid at the door of the workers, not the bosses, directors and shareholders, but the workers. For these hardened free market cultists, British workers are simply too lazy and are rewarded far too readily for their indolence. This is all myth. British workers’ wages have traditionally been lower than those of their continental counterparts. Britons also work longer hours than workers in other European countries.

First, lets’ take a look at their website. You may recognize a few familiar faces.

On their ‘About’ page, we’re told that the FEG was founded in 2010 by Liz Truss, a name more associated with ‘pork markets’ than critical thinking. She’s also one of the least competent ministers in the current cabinet. That’s quite an achievement.

The Free Enterprise Group is a leading association of free-market orientated Conservative Members of Parliament. Convened by James Cleverly MP, FEG seeks to restate the importance of liberal and practical free enterprise values against the backdrop of a significant loss of confidence in free market economics following the banking failures of the late 2000s. Founded by the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, now Secretary of State for Justice, FEG is supported by over 40 MPs who want to put free enterprise at the heart of the Conservative Party.

We can therefore assume that the FEG wants a return to what they see as the ‘golden age’ of capitalism: the 19th century. Nostalgia is clearly in the driving seat.

According to capitalist rag, City AM, The FEG is “highly influential” and was “relaunched” in 2015. It is led by James Cleverly, the MP for Braintree, and has a membership of 40 MPs. Some of these MPs would claim to be successful in business, but these are rentiers, who make nothing and grow wealthy from shares and dividends. Some of them, like Chris Philp, who likes to lecture people on economic matters, is a failed businessman and a tax dodger.

While many people have tipped Rees Mogg to replace Theresa May as party leader, one must not rule out Raab,  a self-confessed Thatcherite, who has positioned himself as a dark horse candidate. I have already written about Raab on this blog. In this Guardian article from 2012, he says “The talented and hard-working have nothing to fear”. These words remind The Cat of the claims made in support of greater surveillance: if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. Raab assumes that those he represents, the rentier capitalists of the Surrey stockbroker belt, have worked hard for their wealth. No capitalist ever worked hard: they acquired their wealth on the back of workers who worked hard for them, or it was handed to them by their rich parents via a trust fund. The same article tips Priti Patel as a future PM. The horror.

Here’s Raab being caught out in a lie about foodbanks on BBC2’s Victoria Live show. Apparently, foodbank users have a “cashflow problem”.

Raab is the MP for Esher and Walton, one of the richest constituencies in the country. He is unlikely to have met any poor people or benefits claimants. Lying is second nature to Raab and if he isn’t lying, then he’s engaging in baseless smears. Politicore spotted a typical Tory smear about Jeremy Corbyn “supporting terrorists” on the same show.

Here’s Raab advocating the privatization of the National Health Service on The Daily Politics. He’s also lying.

Raab was recently included on a list of 40 Tory MPs, who have been involved in the sexual abuse scandal. The Guardian reports:

Raab, a junior justice minister tipped by some as a future Tory leader, revealed he was named on the widely-circulated list as having been subject to an injunction over “inappropriate behaviour with a woman”.

In a statement on his website Raab warned that while it was vital to investigate cases of abuse and harassment, he feared a “media feeding frenzy” from the widely shared list, which names 40 MPs and ministers.

Any claims he had harassed anyone or engaged in sexually abusive or lewd behaviour “is false and malicious”, Raab said, adding that he had taken legal advice.

Readers may have noticed how quiet this scandal has gone since the list was published two weeks ago.

The unstated aim of the FEG is to create a sweatshop economy in which regulations are torn up because they, apparently, impact adversely on profits. One can easily see where this is going: if the FEG ever takes control of the Tory Party and finds itself in government, workers will have no rights or protections guaranteed by statute. Freedom, as articulated by the FEG is freedom for bosses to exploit workers and make themselves ever-richer on the back of labour.

Members of the FEG voted unanimously for Brexit.  According to a report called ‘Reconnecting with the Commonwealth’, co-authored by Cleverly, they want to “reconnect with the Commonwealth”. In other words, they want to relaunch the Empire as a trading bloc. The Financial Times points out this is a flawed idea and I would add that it is steeped in nostalgia. James Blitz writes:

Conservative rightwingers may feel nostalgic about a return to “imperial preference”. But until the UK signs new FTAs with the nations of the Commonwealth, Britain will be in the odd position of having worse trading terms with these countries than Brussels does. And, as Sir Simon Fraser, the former head of the UK foreign office noted recently, the damage goes beyond that. “Those EU trade agreements are vital for [Commonwealth states’] development goals,” he said. “The UK will no longer be able to champion their access to the EU market as we have in the past.

The first two paragraphs of the report’s foreword, written by disgraced former Australian PM, Tony Abbott, is also soaked in nostalgia:

Brexit means that Britain is back. The country that gave the world the
English language, common law and the Mother of Parliaments is once more
to seize its destiny as a global leader. This is an exciting time for Britain
and an exhilarating one for the countless millions elsewhere who appreciate
Britain’s unique contribution to western civilisation.

It’s good that Britain will no longer be constrained by the statism and
bureaucracy of Brussels. It’s also good that the remaining members of the
European Union will now have to rethink how much of their sovereignty they
wish to surrender.

All that’s missing from this romantic paean to free market capitalism is the call to bomb the enemy to dust.

The FEG gets its administrative support from the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA),  a notorious free market think-tank, whose director is Mark Littlewood, a hardline laissez-faire economist who used to work for the Lib Dems. In this Guardian article, he hints at abolishing the minimum wage:

Anything that looks like a return to the Dickensian workhouse raises hackles. But I don’t want people working in sweatshops at 5p an hour. You should sell abolishing the minimum wage in positive terms, as providing young people with a first step on the jobs ladder, as a ‘jobs for all’ scheme.

Littlewood may not want people to work for 5p an hour, but like his friends in the FEG, he’d happily see them working for £2.50 an hour. For free marketeers, cutting wages, while forcing people to work longer hours, is the key to greater productivity. Nowhere in the FEG’s or IEA’s literature is there any mention of bosses and shareholders who pay themselves bigger dividends, while at the same time, refusing to reinvest profits in their businesses. The blame for poor productivity is always laid at the doors of the workers.

The FEG is also closely connected to the tobacco industry and Patel, who once worked for public relations outfit, Weber-Shandwick, lobbied on behalf of British American Tobacco (BAT) before entering the Commons.

BAT, a multi-million dollar business, paid its workers in Myanmar as little as £15 a month.

BAT’s position in Burma at the turn of the millennium was hugely controversial. “BAT’s factory in Burma was jointly owned with the military dictatorship and so helped fund one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world,” said Anna Roberts, executive director at Burma Campaign UK. “BAT refused to admit how much money it gave to the dictatorship, but Burma Campaign UK estimated that BAT paid the generals $16m (£10m) in taxes alone between 1999 and 2002. In contrast, BAT paid its factory workers in Burma just £15 a month. The dictatorship spent 40% of its budget on the military.”

Patel has a history of working closely with dictatorships and other unsavoury regimes. This is part of a familiar pattern with the Tories: while they are happy to denounce Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent admiration for Hugo Chavez, they are themselves rather comfortable with right-wing and military dictatorships, which are given plenty of latitude, if not outright support. Pinochet’s Chile is but one example of the Tories fraternal ties to unspeakably brutal regimes around the world. Indeed, recently, some Tories, like the disgraced former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, expressed his admiration for President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, whose involvement in the Davao death squads to kill those he sees as ‘drug dealers’ as well as political opponents, has been widely reported.

After this year’s general election saw the government lose its Commons majority, the Tories entered into a confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party, which has ties to Loyalist paramilitary death squads. It would appear that, for all their talk of Corbyn’s ‘support for terrorists’, the Tories are monumental hypocrites and appear to have a sneaking admiration for extra-judicial murder. I put this to Cleverly, after he’d launched another smear attack on Corbyn. I have yet to receive a reply.

The Cat suspects the FEG is manoeuvring itself to put forward one of their own as a candidate for the party’s leadership, and to ultimately take control of the Tory Party. Given the weakness of the current government and of Theresa May herself, there is every chance that they may succeed. Their romantic vision of a free market future is linked to imperial ambition and a hatred of ordinary workers, whom they blame for low productivity. We cannot let these people drag us back a century and a half on the basis of an idealized notion of a brighter past.

 

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Let’s Talk About: Tory Election Overspending

Back in 2013, I argued that the Conservative Party could only win the 2015 General Election if it cheated. Why did I make this claim? Was it because I think the Tories are uniquely given to cheating and lying?  No, many political parties cheat and lie but the Tories take it to a new level. The Blairites and much of the PLP are cheats and liars too. We know that, because we’ve seen them in action over the last 2 years. They will say and do anything – no matter how embarrassing –  to achieve power. Principles and ideas are for political pansies, milquetoasts and those horrible protesters. Power is all that matters. In this, the Tories and the Blairites are in complete agreement. But that’s a subject for another blog.

Deeply unpopular from the beginning

In 2010 and not long after the first 100 days of the coalition, I knew the only way the Tories could win the 2015 election was to cheat. Why do I say this? Because anyone with eyes could see the Conservatives and their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, were deeply unpopular.  They seemed to delight in upsetting people. From the outset, the Tories lined up its list of ‘enemies within’, which looked remarkably similar to Thatcher’s blacklist. That was only the start.

The blame game

One group listed as ‘enemies’ were benefit claimants and a series of lies were duly constructed to convince the gullible public that poor people were responsible for ‘destroying the economy’. One such lie was the claim that there was “intergenerational worklessness”, which had to be stamped out. “Work” the Tories erroneously claimed, “raised people out of poverty”. The media, for the most part, failed to challenge these absurd claims and willingly aided the government in its quest to punish the poor for, well, for being poor.

Universal Credit was rolled out and the Disability Living Allowance was abolished and replaced with the Personal Independence Payment. The chronically ill and those with mobility issues continue to the subjected to cruel Work Capability Assessments carried out by people with no clinical experience.  Many people have died through committing suicide or because their medical condition worsened. Many more have been pushed deeper into abject poverty.

Around the same time the initial ‘welfare reforms’, Higher Education tuition fees were increased, despite a manifesto pledge made by the Lib Dems not to do so. This forced more students into debt and effectively limited access to university for many working class people.

Along with the poor and the disabled, the public sector was also blamed for “bankrupting the country”. This absurd claim was never once challenged by journalists or commentators. Yet, if the country was ‘bankrupted’ as the Tories and their allies claimed, then there would have been no money to pay civil servants, service personnel or even MPs. More Tory lies? We’re just getting started.

Lynton Crosby

Realizing its chances of securing an outright majority in the next election were quite slim, the Tories hired Lynton Crosby as its election strategist in 2013. The event passed with nary a mention by much of the public, but The Cat was already aware of Crosby’s track record. His past campaigns  relied wholly on smears, dirty tricks and racism to woo voters. The Tories were determined to hang onto power at any cost and hiring Crosby was the first step. The second step was to introduce The Fixed Term Parliament Act, a naked act of political power-grabbing, which  made it nigh on impossible to for a censure motion to be tabled .

Crosby began working his poisonous ‘magic’ from the start by slipping stories to the press about immigrants and the Labour Party. His trademark dead cat was used to divert attention away from the Tories’ problems and put the focus onto Labour. Do you remember that Daily Mail story about Ralph Miliband “hating Britain”? That was Crosby’s handiwork. Yes, the article bore Geoffrey Levy’s name but it originated from Crosby’s office.

Stealing elections, Tory style

Cameron’s government then turned its attention to the Commons itself and announced that it was committed to reducing the number of seats. He proposed a bill in 2010, shortly after the General Election to redraw constituency boundaries and reduce the number of MPs, which led to claims of gerrymandering.  Yet Cameron claimed the changes would be fair because it would equalize the parliamentary constituencies. However, without proportional representation, any claim to ‘fairness’ was just more Tory hot air. Yes, the coalition permitted a referendum on what it described as ‘fair voting’ by allowing us to decide whether we wanted the same old First Past The Post (FPTP) system or the disproportional Alternative Vote, but it was another con. Yet people fell for it and some even told me that it was “better than FPTP”. When I asked them “in what way was it better?”. I got no reply.

The only way the Tories could secure a majority was to use underhand methods and outright lies. The party’s representatives like to claim that failing to declare election expenses was little more than an “administrative error” but given their history, this defence is weak. The party overspent on elections and relied on the scrubbed electoral registers that had been cleansed of particular kinds of voters: the young, students, the unemployed and Labour supporters. This contributed to the Tories’ modest majority.

Election expenses overspend and the aftermath

It was only because of Michael Crick’s sterling work at Channel 4 News that we know anything about the Tories’ election overspending. The BBC refused to touch the story and it was mentioned only occasionally by Andrew Neil on The Sunday Politics and briefly on Newsnight, which seemed reluctant to talk about it. The story never made an appearance on BBC Breakfast, the One O’Clock, Six O’Clock and Ten O’Clock news programmes nor did it appear on Radio 4’s Today programme. If you took your news from any of these programmes, you were kept in the dark.

Last week the Electoral Commission fined the Conservative Party a mere £70,000, a figure that was dwarfed by its own election overspending. The fine was roundly ridiculed as inadequate. However, 12 police forces involved in the investigations have handed their files to the Crown Prosecution Service. We await the outcome. If the CPS decides to prosecute, there could be fresh by-elections in at least 12 seats.

Conclusion

This was a party and a government that was all too conscious of its lack of popularity and legitimacy, and resorted to every possible trick to hang onto to power and win the 2015 General Election. Cameron and his Tories, far from being popular, pitted people against each other, while at the same time rewarding their friends with ever generous tax cuts. The poor were set up as patsies, who were fingered for ‘crashing the economy’ alongside the Labour Party. Any claim to be the “worker’s party” are empty and little more than the appropriation of a sign, which itself has been emptied of all meaning.

Tory election overspending is just the tip of a very large iceberg of politically corrupt practices. But don’t expect the BBC to report on any of those. Instead, they’ll keep reporting Tom Watson’s paranoid non-stories about ‘Trotskyite infiltration’.

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Filed under General Election 2015, Government & politics, Let's Talk About, Tory Election Expenses Scandal

Let’s Talk About: Those New Labour Achievements

If you’re a Corbyn supporter, you’re probably more than familiar with the rebuttals (such as they are) deployed by Blairites and Nu Labour sympathizers to the discourse that insists their prescription for governing the country is the wrong one at this time. As you may already know, such minds are closed to all reason. For them, facing backward is always preferable to facing forward. Nostalgia is just so, so much better than real life.

Perhaps you’ve heard the oft-uttered defence: “When we were in power, we achieved” to which the speaker will go on to produce a list of the Holy achievements. This line of defence recently appeared as a Twitter rebuttal to the critiques of Ken Loach and Paul Mason, and has been reproduced on the otherwise interesting Political Scrapbook. As arguments go, it’s pretty weak.  Why?  Because the repetition of the “our achievements” line is little better than a curmudgeon opening their front door and shouting at some little kids playing football in the street , while at the same time leaving their back door open to all and sundry. “I fought several wars for the likes of you”, shouts the old duffer as bigger kids ransack his house and steal his valuables behind his back.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs, Blair swerved around the structural problems that had been accumulated by nearly two decades of neoliberal economic and social policies. The notion that only the market can provide solutions was accepted as fait accompli by the Nu Labour policy makers and apparatchiks. Blair and his acolytes internalized the Tories’ economic arguments and accepted them as Truths. For them, the economic orthodoxy formulated in the Thatcher years, which has been responsible for untold miseries, can and could never be challenged. It has become holy writ. Set in stone – so to speak.

So why do Blairites insist on listing Nu Labour’s achievements as words of power to ward off all and any criticism of the party and, particularly, Tony Blair? Well, it reveals their lack of a relevant vision for the future and in failing to offer a real alternative, they have become prisoners of their past. Moreover, their constant reproduction of nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ betrays their lack of a big narrative and policies that will transform peoples’ lives for the better. Nostalgia is and always has been a very poor substitute for history as it was really lived. Slogans and headline-grabbing gimmicks have become a replacement for ideas for the PR-driven Parliamentary Labour Party, itself the true offspring of Nu Labour. Today’s crop of right-wing and flaccid Left Labour MPs, who were produced by the machine created by Nu Labour, are not only devoid of imagination and ideas, they are incapable of learning from history and can see nothing beyond the status quo.

The paucity of meaningful ideas was brought into sharp relief during the last two leadership elections: in contrast to Corbyn, the Blairites and their allies could only offer more window-dressing and empty soundbites. Hope as both a concept and a word was noticeably absent from the vocabularies of Burnham, Kendall and Cooper; while Smith, who was/is emptiness personified, thought he could steal Corbyn’s policies in the hope (sic) that no one would notice. But they did and he lost. Badly. It is only Corbyn who has offered an alternative discourse to the prevailing socio-economic orthodoxy and it is only Corbyn who has articulated anything resembling a vision. The others offered nothing and in this, they are little better than the managers of expectations and the destroyers of dreams. There is no hope and there is no future. Only more misery. But hey, what about our achievements when we were in power?  What about them? What about the future? We’re not asking you to be scryers.

Those who follow the Nu Labourites, Progressites, Blairites or whatever, never bother to ask the questions about what kind of country they would like to see. Instead, like those they worship, they are at once fixated on the past and are insistent their leaders and they alone should be in power. The Bitterites haven’t cottoned on to the fact that if they can’t articulate a vision for the country that is original and distinct from the Tories’ empty promises and Newspeak policies (National Living Wage), they will be consigned to the dustbin of history. These people are nothing if not romantics. They are also megalomaniacal; inured in the Westminster system that cossets them and provides them with a handsome pension – even the failed MP and right-wing troll, Louise Mensch, gets a parliamentary pension.

Voters need hope and they need to see something that at least resembles a vision from a political party that purports to be on the side of the weak. What voters don’t need is someone in an expensive suit telling them “we have to deal with the world as it is, not how we’d like it to be”. The economic crisis depression that began in 2008 needed radical, bold action. Instead, what we got was inertia, weakness and a craven mentality that allowed the Tories and UKIP to control social, political and economic discourses in the public sphere. This is what happens when political parties become complacent and that complacency continues to dominate the discourses of Smith, Kendall, Reeves, Austin et al. Hands up! Who wants more misery and an extra helping of pain? Not me.

If you want a better future for yourself, your family or for society, you will not get that from a reanimated Nu Labour Party. The Blairites and their pals will simply hand you another shit sandwich on artisan bread and tell you that’s all you’re getting. Society deserves better than that.

 

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Let’s Talk About: Philip Davies And, Er, Equality?

We’ve had moments like these before, dear reader.  You know the ones. Like the time when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,  prompting Tom Lehrer to wryly declare satire “obsolete”?  Well, today is one of those of days.  Now take a deep breath.  Are you ready? Philip ‘Dismal’ Davies, the Tory member for Shipley and flatmate of Esther McVey, has been elected unopposed (sic) to the Commons  Committee on Women and Equality.  No, you didn’t misread that. A man who is opposed to equality has been elected unopposed (sic) to a committee on equality.  Is that a postmodern turn or what?

So who is Philip Davies? Well, he’s on the  hard right of the Conservative Party but he’d call himself a ‘libertarian’.  He’s one of those libertarians who denies freedom to others.  A lot of them do it.   Since entering the Commons in 2005, Dismal Davies has  made it his mission to support the interests of the powerful over the weak.  In fact, when it comes to those most in need, you’ll always find Dismal in the Commons filibustering a bill that’s designed to protect them.

As a defender of personal freedoms (freedom from poverty or disease excepted), Dismal was once the Parliamentary spokesman for the equally dismal, but now thankfully defunct, Campaign Against Political Correctness. In this role, he bombarded the Equality and Human Rights Commission with a series of trolling letters asking silly questions on topics like blacking up (sic). The Guardian reported:

Davies regularly addresses Phillips as Sir Trevor, leading the EHRC chair to eventually add a handwritten note to one reply: “Thank you for the ‘knighthood’ but HM has – probably rightly – never extended that honour to me!!”

With an obvious track record in attacking feminism and spitting in the faces of the disadvantaged, The Cat wonders how Dismal’s presence on the committee can be anything but disruptive.  More importantly, how was he elected unopposed in the first place?  That says a lot about our democracy.  Doesn’t it?

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Let’s Talk About: ‘Labour Maquis’

This week a friend tipped me off about a Twitter account purportedly belonging to a group calling itself the ‘Labour Maquis’. Those of you familiar with the history of World War 2 will know that the Maquis were the French resistance. Some Maquis cells were as small as 5 members and others could boast as many as a thousand members. As I write this, the ersatz Maquis has 1,176 followers, which means absolutely nothing at all. They may call themselves a “resistance” movement but they’re more Vichy than Maquis.

This Tweet is a hoot.

I like the way it talks about “core values” by reeling off a list of words that could easily have come from so-called ‘Corbynistas’, whom they despise and oppose. Yet it’s the way the word “democracy” has been deployed as a weapon in this Tweet.  It makes the claim that Corbyn and his supporters are freedom hating anti-democrats.  Hell, they may as well be called ‘Commies’. Although Dan and his friends would disagree, it is they who hold the democratic process by which  Corbyn was elected  as leader in contempt. Democracy? They don’t know the meaning of the word.

But have a look at the icon. That isn’t the logo of the Maquis (they didn’t have one), that’s the logo of the Maquis in Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is a fictional Maquis, and like their bitter enemies, the Cardassians, they don’t exist. The imitation of reality in the Star Trek series, although set in the distant future, is very much anchored in the present and is influenced by contemporary discourses. But it is not real; it is only a representation of the real. It is, as Baudrillard would describe it, a simulation.

So whose  Twitter account is this?  The Cat thinks it belongs to ‘Desperate’ Dan Hodges, the self-styled “Blairite cuckoo in the Labour nest” and embittered Torygraph hack. For only a couple of months ago, Hodges wrote a column titled “Labour members are now preparing to go underground to resist the Corbyn regime”. I hardly think any of them have gone “underground” as our Dan would have us believe. Danczuk? Mann? Umunna? They’re what you might call ‘out and proud’.  I digress but here’s the crux of the article:

Over the past few days two different strategies have emerged, which have been dubbed the “Free French” and the “Maquis” strategies.

Really? Do tell us what these “strategies” are.

The Free French strategy involves effectively withdrawing all support from Corbyn. MPs will not serve in his shadow cabinet, they will not observe the whip, they will not be bound by any sense of collective responsibility to the official party line. Those advocating that strategy are being compared to De Gaulle and those French forces that retreated into exile in Britain, then returned to the French continent on D-Day to liberate their homeland.

The Maquis strategy involves “staying behind enemy lines and fighting”, according to one MP. Existing members of the shadow cabinet will organise slates, and stand for election in the shadow cabinet elections Corbyn has pledged to reintroduce. From here they will oppose Corbyn’s more radical policy initiatives and start to construct an independent base from within the PLP and the wider Labour party, which they will use to strike out against him when they judge the time is right.

I find his use of war language crass, and the comparison of Labour right-wingers to the French resistance also tells us that he’s no student of the history of WW2 (except in the sense he’s probably watched The Great Escape a million times). This ignorance also extends to recent history, because those with whom he shares an ideological kinship, still believe they are uniquely capable of winning elections… and this is in spite of the fact that the Labour Party under a  right-wing leadership lost two elections in a row!  And here’s something else: the Labour right is only concerned about elections and can’t quite understand that politics is about more than fighting elections, which themselves happen once every five years. It’s about relating to what’s happening everyday in the lives of real people between those elections, rather that relating to fictional characters from a Star Trek story arc.

Comparisons to the Maquis are not only over-dramatic: they insult the memories of those who fought against the Nazi occupation of France. But the use of a logo that belongs to a fictional resistance militia from a television series set in space, shows us that whoever owns this Twitter account is representative of the Labour right’s weak grip on reality.

 

 

 

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Let’s Talk About: Legitimacy (of the parliamentary kind)

The Tories and their allies in the press seem to believe that the party with the most seats in the event of a hung parliament should have the automatic right to form a government. They also claim that should Labour get fewer seats than the Tories and if they form a minority government with the support of smaller parties, then this government would be illegitimate. This has been comprehensively debunked time and time again. Yet the Tories and Nick Clegg continue to lie about this, relying on widespread ignorance of how parliament and governments function.

There is a historical precedent that has never once been mentioned during this election campaign by those commentators whose job it is to ‘explain’ the political system to the voters. The General Election of 6 December 1923, which Stanley Baldwin had called over tariff reform (which meant very little to many working class voters), produced a situation similar to the one commentators claim will happen this Friday. Baldwin hoped that he could cement his authority after succeeding Andrew Bonar Law as party leader and Prime Minister, and he was eager to make his mark.

But Baldwin’s plan to increase his party’s already large majority backfired. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party came second with 191 seats. Herbert Asquith’s Liberals came third with 158 seats (the Liberals were split). Baldwin’s Tories came first with 251 seats . When added together, the combined anti-Tory seats outweighed the Conservatives’ numbers. However, things were not straightforward:  Baldwin claimed legitimacy and appeared before the Commons, but was defeated on 21 January by a no confidence motion tabled by former Labour leader, J.R. Clynes. George V had no choice but to appoint MacDonald as Prime Minister. Labour then formed a minority government with the support of the Liberals on 22 January, 1924. There was no question of Labour’s legitimacy to form a government on that occasion, because everyone knew  how the game was played. Today, the Tories and their media chums continue claim that should Labour come second, they will lack legitimacy. The front page of today’s edition of the Murdoch-owned Times has printed a variation on the lie.the_times front page

However, the role of the Liberals in 1924 should not be read as the facilitation of a Labour government but as part of a plan to secure more power for themselves, should the government fall. Indeed, the Daily Mail begged Asquith to form a coalition with the Tories to keep Labour out. Asquith hoped that the voters would see Labour as incompetent. What the voters actually saw were squabbling, power hungry politicians knifing each other in the back. Even so, MacDonald’s government was weak and unstable and suffered its first defeat in March. By October, it would be voted out of office thanks to the Zioniev Letter.

The Liberals paid for their treachery and they were reduced to 40 seats. Asquith lost his seat, was kicked upstairs and died four years later. Even though Baldwin secured a massive majority, he would again lose out  to Labour in the so-called ‘Flapper Election’ of 1929, which resulted in another hung parliament. MacDonald relied on the support of Lloyd George’s 58 Liberal MPs. But this government wouldn’t last long and in 1931 another election was called. Again, this produced a hung parliament and the notorious National Government was eventually formed with Baldwin pulling the strings.

In February 1974, Edward Heath’s Tories came second and Labour came first. Heath remained in Downing Street as  the caretaker Prime Minister and attempted to form a coalition with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberals. But Thorpe rejected the Tories’ coalition proposals on the basis that Proportional Representation wasn’t offered as part of the deal. Harold Wilson was invited to form a minority government with the support of the smaller parties. Again, there was no question of legitimacy.  This government lasted until October, when Wilson called another election and won a wafer-thin majority. By 1976, Wilson was gone and replaced by’ Sunny’ Jim Callaghan, whose majority began to evaporate due to by-election losses and defections. Callaghan was forced to enter into a pact with the Liberals (the Lib-Lab pact) in 1977. This lasted until the end of 1978 and the rest, as they say, is history.

What these elections reveal to us are the flaws inherent in the First Past The Post voting system. Whichever party forms the government after tomorrow’s election, we must take to the streets to demand electoral and constitutional reform.  There must be no let up.

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Filed under 20th century, General Election 2015, History, History & Memory, Let's Talk About, Media, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Let’s Talk About: Milo Yiannopoulos

The British Right have always been a pretty mean-spirited bunch. Not content with grabbing all they can for themselves and their pals, they’re bullies to a man (and woman). The new crop of right-wingers are even worse that the old-timers. Constantly hiding behind phrases like ‘free speech’, they believe that they should be able to express nasty, misogynistic, racist and homophobic views without being challenged. For them, the idea of free speech is “I say what I like and you shut the fuck up”. The Cat has been dealing with people like these since he began blogging in 2010. Most of them are the products of poor parenting, while others are simply bullies having learnt to exploit those weaker or different to themselves while attending their posh boarding schools. It’s in their DNA, you see.

I was reading this blog by Kate Smurthwaite on the New Internationalist website in which she describes the relentless trolling and bullying by men who still haven’t managed to grow up. One of these men is Milo Yiannopolous, a self-styled web entrepreneur who has been implicated in the so-called #GamerGate controversy.

Smurthwaite has received 1,700 abusive tweets, some of which threaten rape and others that wish her dead. Call me old-fashioned, but I wouldn’t wish someone dead on Twitter because I disagree with them or dislike them. I can’t stand George Osborne and I call him a liar, but I don’t wish him dead – even though his government’s policies (which read like they were formulated after a massive cocaine binge) have been responsible for numerous deaths. Here’s what Milo Minderbinder tweeted.

milo minderbinder

The Cat has never taken kindly to bullies. They deserve his utmost contempt. “Bullies” as my mum used to tell me “are cowards”. Minderbinder is no different. In fact, he’s worse. He hides behind a keyboard, popping out occasionally to appear on programmes like BBC3’s Free Speech,  in which he wriggles in his seat, throws his head from side to side and refuses to make eye contact with fellow guests, while spewing vitriol on any subject put before him. He is especially nasty when it comes to women’s rights and anti-racism.

It comes as no surprise to The Cat that Minderbinder’s pal, James Delingpole, has also been involved in GamerGate. Delingtroll is the British editor of Breitbart, a right-wing news site that’s based in the United States. Like Minderbinder, Delingtroll hates anyone who’s tolerant but he especially hates feminists, Greens and left-wingers, who are referred to variously as ‘feminazis’, ‘libtards’ or ‘leftards’ (It’s a portmanteau of left/liberal and retard. Geddit?), and tends to label anyone who protests against fascists and racists as “liberal fascists”. Inverted logic or what? Minderbinder also writes for Breitbart, where he specialises in anti-feminist attack pieces like this one.  If you think that’s bad, try his opinion piece on the spree-killer, Elliot Rodger, who killed women at random because he was apparently knocked back.

Minderbinder wrote:

Anxieties about those of other sexes, sexual orientations and races are often crudely labeled “Right-wing” by snobbish metropolitan newspapers.

So, not only is this article a thinly-veiled anti-feminist attack piece, it also piles on the drama and the paranoia. It gets worse too.

So it is the games we should look to for insight into his condition. It’s understandable that after a tragedy those left should seek answers–and depressingly predictable that the feminist Left should seize on his manifesto as further ammunition for their insatiable, misandristic war of attrition.

“Misandristic”? Come again? The response of men, who have neither love for women nor sympathy for feminism, is to claim that feminists are “man-hating”. It’s lazy and simplistic. It’s also anti-intellectual. Minderbinder, who failed to finish his university courses at Manchester and Cambridge, appears to have landed on his feet, thus proving that the spoilt, rich scions of Britain’s grande-bourgeoisie don’t have to work hard academically, because they know they will have an easy life. They either inherit great wealth or they get a job with daddy’s firm. Whatever happens to them, they know that they will never have to draw the dole. The vain and conceited Minderbinder is one of them.

I haven’t named Yiannopoulos (formerly Milo Wagner), “Milo Minderbinder” for nothing. Those of you who have read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 or seen the film, will recall that the character Milo Minderbinder is a war profiteer; the satirical representation of unbridled capitalism. The real Milo Minderbinder isn’t interested in anyone but himself. Yiannopoulos is similar… only more conceited.

Minderbinder’s early venture into the web was an online publication called The Kernel.  He ended up being sued by the Employment Tribunal for not paying his contributors. It also appears that he’s good at making enemies. The Kernel was forced to close and was bought out by another company. This is from The Guardian.

Yiannopoulos’s acidic approach to many of the companies featured in the Kernel has made a number of enemies in the London startup scene, some of whom have contacted the Guardian privately to complain about what they saw as negative coverage. “They’re afraid to say so in public,” Steve Karmeinsky of NetTek told the Guardian. “He’s got a mouthpiece that he can’t be fired.

There’s more…

On 18 July he had a very public spat on Twitter with the blogger Zoe Margolis, author of The Girl With A One Track Mind books. That evening she complained on Twitter about a piece he had written for the Kernel about women in technology,tweeting that “someone needs to point out what a sexist, misogynistic prick [Yiannopoulos] is”.

I am pointing out what a sexist and misogynist prick he is and I wish more would do the same. Here’s some more.

From the end of 2010 he ran a project called the Startup 100 for the Daily Telegraph, but only three sponsors were secured to cover the costs of the awards ceremony in April 2011, and there was a row in May 2011 when Mike Butcher of TechCrunch said that he had given his casting vote for the winner to short-term loan company Wonga rather than the company that was awarded the prize, Spotify.

The fallout from the awards is understood to have left the Telegraph nursing a loss running into tens of thousands of pounds. Wrong Agency, Yiannopoulos’s company which he used to run the event, was dissolved in May 2011.

He’s a spiv and people like him  are often called ‘wealth-creators’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ by this government. Mind you, Grant Shapps is Tory party chairman, so there you go.

Minderbinder used to call himself “Milo Wagner”. The Cat doesn’t know if that’s his real name or whether he chose the surname because of his love of Wagnerian operas. One thing I do know is that he has a fetish for Iron Crosses. He’s also a self-loathing gay.  This is taken from his website.

You probably don’t agree. But I think we can all agree that, unless you live in the cosseted bubble of a liberal metropolis, the reality of growing up gay for most people is a horribly lonely, miserable experience. (If you don’t know, take it from me: it is.)Is being homosexual “wrong”? Something somewhere inside of me says Yes.

Later in the piece, he erroneously claims that the struggle for gay rights “has been won”. Someone should tell UKIP and the majority of the Tory Party that.

But the battle for gay rights has been won. All these preening poofs in public life do is make life more difficult for regular young gay people by reinforcing the stereotypes about gay behaviour: reminding a struggling child’s myopic dad that queers are uppity, in-your-face, camp-as-tits faggots who’ll rape you as soon as look at you.

Self-loathing, damned self-loathing. It turns out that he also hates lesbians.

Charming.
Here’s Minderbinder defending Farage and arguing against Equality laws.  He claims that the “straight white guy is losing out”, because of such legislation. Playing the victim is so undignified, but it’s only to be expected of people who enjoy positions of privilege by dint of the circumstances of their birth. For them, inequality is ‘natural’ and should be reinforced.
His replies are typical of so-called ‘classical liberals”, who believe that racism begins and ends at a person’s skin.

The question The Cat would like to ask is “Why is Minderbinder given so much air time”? He is no more qualified than you or I to comment on politics or anything else.

Here he is smirking and trolling the women in the The Big Questions audience on 15 March.

He appears at around 18.00 on this clip.

In today’s blog for Breitbart, he defends his anti-intellectualism, misogyny and misanthropy. It was clearly written in reply to Kate Smurthwaite’s article. Here’s a taster:

Critical theory
Horseshit

Death threats
Mean tweets

Dominant culture
The stuff people actually like. Not to be confused with taxpayer-funded lesbian performance art, which would surely break all Box Office records if only more people got to see it

Equality
Used to mean giving everyone a fair chance; now means enforcing 50-50 quotas in jobs women don’t want to do in order to punish men for being good at maths and physics

Feminism
Misandry masquerading as a fight against oppression and prejudice on the basis of sex; what unattractive men and women do to get attention

This is a man who hasn’t grown up but this is also a man who clearly hates women. I know nothing of his early life, save for his Wikipedia entry. However, from what I’ve seen of him so far, Minderbinder shouldn’t be allowed outdoors without a chaperone.

The British sense of ‘fair play’ is a myth. Just look at Minderbinder, Delingtroll and the Tory Party if you don’t believe me.

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Filed under Ideologies, Let's Talk About, racism, Sexism, Society & culture

Let’s Talk About: Economic Growth

Images like this mean nothing to Dan Hannan. who prefers to deal with fictional characters than real people and their complicated lives.

Economic growth or just ‘growth’ is the holy grail of career politicians, neoliberal economists and their hangers on in the media. We’re often told how important it is to have ‘growth’ in our economy and it is only then that everyone will see the benefit. The trouble with this notion is that those who continually spout this rubbish aren’t the ones who need to worry. They’re already comfortable. The ones for whom these pronouncements mean little, if nothing at all, are the poor and the low waged. They continue to see their income squeezed, while the cost of living continues to rise. But the media and the government will have none of it.

A few weeks ago, the BBC’s economic editor, Robert Peston, was crowing over low oil prices. He told the nation’s viewers that “everyone” would now feel “richer” because of the continued fall in petrol prices. This is not only misleading; it’s also dishonest. The only people who can feel “richer”, by definition, are the rich themselves. If you are poor, you cannot be “rich”, it’s an absurdity. Yet this does not stop the likes of Daniel Hannan repeating this meaningless tosh. In Thursday’s blog for CapX, he repeated Peston’s bogus claim that “The rich are getting richer and the poor are… getting richer”. This is a measure of how out-of-touch our media and politicians are in relation to the people they purport to serve. We can also draw the conclusion that the mainstream media, the Westminster politicians and economic cults like the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs are in a cosy conspiratorial relationship with one another. The relationship between these institutions and ordinary people themselves is one of power. They consider themselves to be the voices of authority and we must listen and obey… or so they think. So when they tell us that “things are getting better” we are expected to believe them. But I no more believe them than I believe in the existence of God, the tooth fairy or Father Christmas. I see no improvement and neither do millions of other people.

The problem with those who constantly talk about ‘growth’ is that they can only speak the language of statistics and mathematics, and can only view the world through the lens of their social status. They are incapable of relating their nutty ideas about economics to the average person because what they’re saying bears no relation to everyday life. Trickle down, for example, is one economic fallacy that is repeated ad infinitum by economic cultists and held up as a model for ‘growth’ and economic well-being. But not even right-wingers like George HW Bush believed it and derided trickle down as “voodoo economics”. Yet the Hannans and Osbornes of this world cleave so tightly to it like men at sea clinging to any bit of flotsam that comes their way.

A couple of months ago, the Labour leadership claimed that if the Tories were re-elected, they would take public spending back to the levels of the 1930s. This was enough to get all manner of right-wing economic cultists into a lather. Hannan was one of those. In this blog, he does his best to claim how the 1930s was a “time of growth”. It’s a risible misrepresentation of a decade that’s become synonymous with economic hardship.

Well, here’s a fact that may surprise you. The 1930s saw more economic growth than any other decade in British history. It’s true that there were patches of deprivation. As in all times of economic transition, some industries declined while others rose. The poverty of the Jarrow Marchers was genuine: theirs had been a ship-building town, devastated by the collapse of international orders.

Sophistry, damned sophistry. For the millions of working class people who struggled to survive the decade, this is an insult to their memory. My mum’s family was Liverpool working class and I can remember her telling me what life was like in the Thirties: if you were poor or low-waged, you had no access to affordable or decent healthcare, because there was no National Health Service (the Tories will abolish it if they are re-elected). There was very little work on Merseyside in the 1930s, so people lived a hand-to-mouth existence.

Hannan continues his fantasy tour of his romanticized past:

Yet these were golden years for new industries such as electrical appliances and aviation and cars, the years when Morris, Humber and Austin became household names. The 1930s also saw an unprecedented boom in construction, as the comfortable suburbs of Betjeman’s Metroland spread across England. The Battersea Power Station raised its minarets over the capital, a symbol of self-confidence in architecture.

Here, Hannan waxes floridly about a world that only those with the economic means could take part. The appliances and cars that he talks about were beyond the means of my family and many others. No working class people owned cars, let alone possessed household appliances. My grandmother was still using a boiler and a mangle well into the 1970s. As for Metroland, the houses that were built there were for sale. Only those with nice, middle class incomes could afford a mortgage.

Here, Hannan slaps more gloss onto his fantasy.

 Britain responded to the 1929 crash by cutting spending drastically and, in consequence, soon saw a return to growth. The United States, by contrast, expanded government activity unprecedentedly under the New Deal, and so prolonged the recession by seven years. Yes, seven years. Here is the conclusion of a major study published in 2004 by two economists at the UCLA, Harold L Cole and Lee A Ohanian:

Cole and Ohanian are comprehensively defenestrated in this blog. Hannan isn’t interested in reality and like all right-wingers of his ilk, he exists in the hermetically-sealed space of privilege. The material of history is bent and twisted to shrink-fit a weak narrative. Like many of his fellow Tea Partiers, he makes the same feeble argument for cuts.

Contrasting the American and British experiences, we are left with an inescapable conclusion. Cuts work, and trying to spend your way out of recession doesn’t.

Let’s put it this way, if a company doesn’t borrow or spend money to invest when it is doing badly, it will go under. Cuts only work for the already wealthy. They are also a means by which the powerful punish the poor for being poor. Hannan makes clear his hatred of FDR and the New Deal. This is the same position held by the economic cultists at the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as his fellow Randists.

This is perhaps the greatest fallacy of all:

Still, if only for the record, let me set down the real lesson of the 1930. The best way to recover from a crash, not least for low earners, is to bring spending back under control. Growth follows, jobs are created, and the people taking those jobs thereby gain the most secure route out of poverty.

It’s easy for those who have never personally experienced poverty to claim that “the most secure route out of  poverty” is work. Low-paid and zero hours contract jobs actually lock people into poverty. Hannan is not only a fool, he’s a dangerous fool. Leaving people to fend for themselves without a safety net will lead to greater social problems. Hannan is unmoved by such concerns. Yet he would be the first to complain that shanty towns are an “eyesore”. This is the man who calls himself a “Whig”.

Talking about economic growth when people are struggling to survive is deeply offensive. Talking about GDP is meaningless because not only is it a poor way of measuring economic performance, it means nothing to ordinary people. For all his claims of how cutting public spending will improve economic performance, Hannan has never had to suffer the privations of working in a low-paid job. Like all of his pals in Westminster and beyond, he is a bully, who talks a good talk but when his words are unpacked, they reveal the true horrors of the current political system.

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Let’s Talk About: Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets Town Hall was built while the Lib Dems were in power.

This is a new series in which I will talk about a topic that takes my fancy. Yesterday, Eric Pickles, the Community Secretary and pie-eater extraordinaire, sent a government hit squad into Tower Hamlets. This is unprecedented and given the level corruption in other councils (some of them Tory-run), this latest government move is suspicious and smacks of the centralizing tendencies of the current Tory-led government. It also reeks of racism and class disgust. Read on.

The Tories and their knuckledragging chums in The Telegraph have been running a vendetta against Tower Hamlets Council and, in particular, its mayor, Lutfur Rahman for the last four years. What upsets the Tories and their pals is that Tower Hamlets Council reflects the ethnic composition of the borough. But it’s the fact that a Bangladeshi is the twice-elected mayor of the borough is what upsets them even more.  This excellent article by Chris Nineham, in the Socialist Review reminds us what Tower Hamlets used to be like:

From the moment of taking office the Liberals not only discriminated against the local Bengali population, but actively scapegoated them in a series of high profile publicity stunts. In 1987 they made national news by claiming that 52 Bangladeshi families living in bed and breakfast accommodation had made themselves intentionally homeless, simply by coming to Britain. They were therefore not entitled to benefit. This was too much even for the Tories, and the council was eventually beaten in the courts, but the damage had been done. The vile message had already gone out, ‘Immigrants are scroungers, they are taking our homes’.

That message was reinforced a year or so later when Tower Hamlets mayor Jeremy Shaw travelled to Bangladesh to tell the government there that immigrants were no longer welcome because the borough was full up. Nothing, of course, could have been further from the truth. Apart from the 900 empty yuppie flats on the Isle of Dogs, the council was sitting on 3000 empty properties, rotting from neglect. But the truth did not matter, the trip was a stunt for home consumption, and the local paper quoted Shaw’s claim in a banner headline.

When Derek Beackon won the Isle of Dogs by-election in 1993 for the BNP, there was shock and dismay. Beackon was elected towards the end of the Lib Dems’ eight year spell of running Tower Hamlets, and on the back of their blatantly racist “Sons and Daughters” housing scheme. After Beackon’s election there was a fear that the BNP would take more seats in the 1994 local government elections. Paul Anderson writing for The New Statesman said:

It is without a doubt the Lib Dems who have most explaining to do when it comes to last September’s debacle. As their national party’s inquiry into Tower Hamlets, chaired by Lord Lester, QC, made clear just before Christmas, their propaganda in the borough, particularly in the Isle of Dogs, has systematically pandered to racism, especially on housing.

What then styled itself the Liberal Focus Team took control of the council from Labour in 1986 after more than a decade of “community politics” characterised by populist anti-Labour rhetoric and assiduous wooing of tenants’ associations – a major force in a borough in which three-quarters of the population lives in council housing even after years of right-to-buy. Despite having a tiny majority, the Liberals implemented their decentralisation and council house-sales policies with missionary zeal. From the start, they courted controversy over race with their tough line on the council’s legal obligation to house the homeless (mostly Bangladeshi) and their “sons and daughters scheme”, giving priority in housing allocation to the offspring of people born in the borough, most of whom were white.

In 1994, I was one of a large group of comedians (along with with Lee Hurst, formerly of Red Action) who doorstepped and leafleted the Isle of Dogs in an effort to get the residents to turn their backs on Beackon and the BNP. You probably wouldn’t get a group of comedians doing that now, but in those days there was still a sizeable contingent of politically active comedians on the circuit. In any case, Beackon lost his seat and the BNP dogs went home with their tails between their legs.

What strikes me as odd is that when Lib Dem controlled Tower Hamlets engaged in blatant corruption, not a single Tory said anything. No hit squads were mobilized to assume control of the council’s operations and no one even suggested that the council be taken into special measures. As for the press, they were strangely quiet.  These days, the likes of Ted Jeory and his partner-in-crime, Andrew Gilligan make a big deal out of the sizeable Bangladeshi population. They would, of course, deny that there’s a racial dimension to their interest in the borough. Gilligan, for example, often prefaces the name of Lutfur Rahman with the phrase “extremist-linked” or similar. It doesn’t take a Barthesian scholar in semiotics to work out what he’s trying to say. It’s pretty bloody obvious. Indeed, anyone who takes issue with Kennite’s sensationalist drivel is accused of supporting “terror”. Charming. The trick that Jeory uses to counter any Bangladeshi claims of racism is to accuse them of “cheapening the word”. It’s not as though Jeory ever faces racism on a daily basis though, is it?

Jeory and Gilligan have both accused Rahman of vote-rigging and electoral fraud for years. Even after investigations have concluded there were no irregularities, they persisted with this accusation. After this year’s local elections, there were similar accusations and two people were arrested. Curiously, there are no updates on this story and it may well be the case that the accusations were baseless. We shall see.

This whole episode began when Rahman was originally selected then deselected by Tower Hamlets Labour Party as their mayoral candidate. The whole selection issue was a messy business that was covered extensively by The Guardian’s Dave Hill. On 21 September 2010, Hill wrote:

There is a view in local Labour circles, one shared even by some strong opponents of Rahman, that had everyone seeking the nomination been allowed to enter the contest from the start – which is what eventually occurred – the quality of debate would have been both higher and more honest and the battle less divisive. More than one unsuccessful candidate takes the view that the publicity generated around Rahman helped him win by persuading some party members to rally round a man they considered to be a victim of smear campaigns and dsicrimination

The party then expelled Rahman from Labour for standing as an independent mayoral candidate against the wishes of the party, which preferred to impose candidates on the electorate rather than allow local parties to decide on their own candidates.  As an independent, Rahman had the support of RESPECT and the former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who attempted without success to have Rahman readmitted into the party.  Since then, there has been a steady drip feed of anti-Rahman stories from Gilligoon and Jeory.

I think we all need to remember that the PWC report did not find any evidence of fraud. That will piss off Gilligoon and Jeory, who were hoping for a scalp. From The Guardian Live Politics blog

The council, which is run by the independent mayor, Lutfur Rahman, said PWC did not find any evidence of fraud. In a statement to the Commons, Pickles said he did not know whether or not the PWC report amounted to evidence of fraud, but that he was sending it to the police anyway. He said the report exposed cronyism “risking the corrupt spending of public funds”. His decision to intervene was backed by Labour, and Tower Hamlets was strongly criticised by MPs from all sides.

My bold. As for “cronyism”, there was plenty of that in Hammersmith and Fulham when the Tories were running the council. Yet, Gilligan said nothing and nor did Pickles, who described Hammersmith and Fulham as his “favourite council”. That says an awful lot about The Sontaran’s judgement and Gilligan’s character.

 

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Let’s talk about: mandates, unions and strikes

With a public sector strike looming, the Tories are questioning the legitimacy of the numbers of those union members who have voted to go out on strike. Although those voting in favour were in the majority, the turnout was as low as 29%.

But the Tories forget something: most by-elections attract a turnout of around 30%; sometimes less. Yet, in spite of the low turnout, a candidate is elected to parliament with no questions asked about such poor numbers. Many local authorities are also elected on similar turnouts – some of those councils, incidentally, are Tory-controlled councils. In fact,  the turnout for local elections in Britain is the lowest in Europe.  Indeed, some of their own MPs were elected on low turnouts. But not a peep from them about this.

Recently, the likes of Vince Cable, Boris Johnson and now, Francis Maude have all threatened to introduce tougher anti-union legislation if the unions ‘cripple the economy’, which is just another way of passing the buck and covering for the fact that the government is clueless in its approach to the nation’s finances.  In today’s Guardian, Maude said that he and the rest of the government “had not ruled out” tougher legislation. Interestingly enough, one of the unions that voted to strike was the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The ATL, as far as I know, has never gone out on strike. But this doesn’t stop the Telegraph’s gobshite-in-chief from spouting rubbish about “hardcore Trotskyites”. The ATL is usually known for  encouraging and allowing strike-breaking among its members in its Further Education section.  Of course, The Hon Tobes, being the ignoramus that he is, completely ignores the union’s history to get in a spot of union-bashing.

Having debated Mary Bousted on numerous occasions (see here, for instance), I don’t doubt that she’s completely sincere in her belief that Michael Gove’s education reforms will have a negative impact on state education. She’s wrong, of course, but she’s entitled to use the public platform granted to her by her union to put her case as strongly as possible.

But to go further than this and exploit her members’ anxiety about pension reforms to pursue her own ideological agenda is unacceptable. Whatever her political views, she and her trade union have an obligation to abide by the decision of the British people and respect the will of its elected representatives. To call a strike this summer would not only be an unforgivable attack on our schoolchildren, it would be an affront to democracy.

This Tory-led government is committed to making public sector workers pay greater contributions towards their pensions. Hon Tobes wilfully misleads us when he claims that Mary Bousted is “exploiting her members’ anxiety”. The concern among public sector workers is very real. I wonder if he’s actually spoken to any teachers?

In today’s Torygraph, Maude said,

For the parents – particularly if you’re a single mother who’s working and you’re dependant on the school being open and your child being at school – when that school randomly closes down when all the discussions about the dispute are still going on, people are going to be quite angry about that.

This is an odd statement, particularly as the Tories have repeatedly shown little sympathy for the plight of single parents. But, once again, Maude seems to think that it’s only women who are single parents. But none of us should be surprised by the impoverished thinking among members of the current government. This comment from Hon Tobes blog perfectly illustrates the widespread and wilful ignorance that pervades the party,

If Bob Hawke could fire all the domestic airline pilots in Australia and Ronnie Regan could fire all the air traffic controllers in the USA with neither action really impairing the airline industry, why not fire all the striking teachers. British education is a sad joke and it would be the ideal time to start afresh, completely afresh. A good first point would be to start teaching kids to read phonetically.
This commenter doesn’t think about the process involved in training and, more importantly, retaining teachers. In his/her mind they can all be easily replaced. Presumably this commenter would just as well employ unqualified teaching assistants as teachers. As I mentioned, one of the biggest problems for the education sector is the retention of teaching staff. Many newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) leave the profession in the first year. But this fact appears to have passed the Tories by.
Not only are the days long gone when teachers could consider themselves particularly poorly paid, they still have greater job security and longer holidays than most. High investment in education over many years has seen salaries rise – and rightly so, since attracting and rewarding good teachers is important for the country. But equally, many children are leaving school without even the basic standards of literacy and numeracy, shortcomings for which the profession must take a large share of the blame. Strike action will hardly help matters: it will be damaging to the children and deeply inconvenient for parents, who will have to organise
child care or take time off work.
This idea that teachers have “longer holidays than most” simply isn’t true. During those supposed holidays, most teachers are marking, researching or preparing lessons. Then there’s the stress, the pushy or aggressive parents that need to be dealt with. The endless paperwork. The form-filling. The long hours.
There is a notion in ciculation that the state school system is inherently left-wing and damaging the minds of the nation’s children and,on the other hand there is another that supposes that teachers and other public sector workers are a drain on the nation’s life-force. This image has been partly concocted by the Tories’ allies in the media to create a new Other; a new enemy within for our times.  Public sector workers are variously portrayed in the right wing press as bloodsuckers and greedy bastards. They are seen as the ones who are the obstacle to the nation’s economic recovery. In the Tory imagination, society is represented as an upside down pyramid: the most powerful are at the bottom while the rest of us are on the top, pushing down, oppressing the millionaires and billionaires. It’s a Randist fantasy.
 Good night, everyone!

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