Category Archives: News/Current Affairs

The Matrix, The Media And Postmodern Politics

I often use the film,  The Matrix (Wachowski Bros., 1999), as a way to introduce students to postmodernist ideas and how they dominate contemporary political thinking, and also to illustrate the hyper-reality that permeates the social space. The Wachowskis, who directed The Matrix claimed to have been inspired in part by Jean Baudrillard’s book Simulacra and Simulation (2008).  Baudrillard, for his part, scoffed at their claims.

Baudrillard himself was influenced by the Situationist International and, in particular, Guy Debord’s seminal Society of the Spectacle (2005) and we can see trace elements of his work in the book’s first chapter ‘The Precession of Simulacra’. This is Baudrillard’s starting point on a bewildering journey of that takes in counterfeits, illusions,  superficiality and the collapse of meaning. As Debord (2005) himself said:

The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals. The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, The Matrix is about a computer-generated world that resembles a computer game in which the rules can be bent, subverted or ignored. In gaming parlance, these are ‘cheats’ that can be unlocked through a combination of gaming knowledge and shrewd game play. Such things as ‘invulnerability’ and ‘extra body armour’ aren’t available to those going about their everyday lives. Instead, we can only challenge the falsehoods and deceptions by using critical thinking and gaining as much insight as we possibly can through reading critical theory.

However, many of those who inhabit the hyper-real space of The Matrix are so distracted by what they see, they are either incapable of seeing through it or choose not to question it. They are, as Morpheus tells Neo “so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it”.  The postmodern problem with politics can be illustrated in the way in which Westminster’s establishment politicians will speak only in slogans and soundbites but it can also be seen in the way they have constructed an alternative universe from tropes, myths, lies and fragments of memories. Many people will accept these things as faits accomplis and will refuse to question the alternate reality that’s been constructed by postmodern politicians with the collusion of a supine media.

An example of this alternate universe can be seen in the recent Labour leadership election, in which the media believed it had more of a say than the members themselves. In one corner, we had Jeremy Corbyn, the incumbent leader. In the other corner, was Owen Smith and behind him were ranged most of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the media and those supporters who subscribed to the secondhand, moth-eaten TINA philosophy of New Labour. Their notion of being on the political left went no further than supporting a woman’s right to choose and equal marriage. Beyond that, their views intersected with the socially liberal sections of the Conservative Party. They were, for all intents and purposes, counterfeit Labour MPs. Beneath the slogans and PR gimmicks lay the dark heart of nothingness.

And so it is with those who can see no other kind of Labour Party but a right-wing one that offers nothing but watered down Tory policies.  Even those who claim to be on the Left fail to see how far to the right the PLP has shifted over the course of 30 years.  Their approach to their members and the electorate-at-large is both contemptuous and patronising. This shift was is best illustrated in the figure of Rachel Reeves, who casually announced last year that Labour “wasn’t the party of benefit claimants”. In this statement, she inadvertently revealed what many of us knew already: that the Labour Party under successive right-wing leaders has been more interested in cultivating relationships with people with 6, 7 and 8 figure incomes than the poorest in society – the ones who have pinned their hopes on Labour to ameliorate their dire circumstances. But aren’t benefit claimants, many of whom are in work, voters too? Not in Reeves’s alternate universe.

Yet Reeves recently topped that by channelling Enoch Powell to claim that continued immigration would ultimately lead to violence on our streets. In this, her rhetoric is little different to that coming from the mouths of UKIP politicians. Instead of challenging the right-wing populism of UKIP, politicians like Reeves pander to it. Moreover, Reeves and her fellow right-wing Labour MPs can only view the working class – the very people her party was created to represent – through the lens of a Punch caricature. For her and her fellow travellers the working class are universally ignorant and xenophobic. In this, she and they are little different to the Tories, but tell them that and they’ll get offended.

Instead, Labour has abandoned people like these to the clutches of the UKIP and the rest of the far-right rabble. Indeed, the current upsurge in racist attacks is partly the fault of the Blairite-Brownite-Milibandian Labour Party that was more concerned chasing Tory votes by announcing it was “getting tough” on immigration during the 2015 General Election than facing racism head on. Instead, we have Labour politicians telling us that they “got it wrong” on immigration and speaking in such a way as to reinforce the beliefs of the xenophobes and racists, all of whom have been emboldened by Brexit referendum. The mass media joins the chorus by claiming “immigration is the single biggest issue in the minds of voters”. Yet for many people, the housing crisis, the continuing privatization of the NHS and wage stagnation are much bigger issues.

Let’s return to the Labour leadership contest and, in particular, the claim that Corbyn’s supporters were “thugs” and “bullies”. This was constructed almost entirely from the notion that popular movements are, by themselves, dangerous and this led to the propagation of ahistorical narratives that were based on little more than loosely connected fragments of memories of the 1980s and 1930s. Thus frequent and rather slippery comparisons were made between Momentum, The Militant Tendency and the Nazi Party. None of these comparisons were in any way valid and yet the press accepted these claims as truths. Take this article in The Daily Mail written by Michael Foster, a Nu Labour donor and former failed candidate.  He opens by telling readers:

Saturday of last week in my home town of Camborne, the Corbyn Circus rolled into town. A crowd of 2,000 disciples came from all over Cornwall to cheer and clap and worship. One after another, Momentum speakers praised ‘Jeremy’ and spoke of the hope he gave them, the socialism he would bring to Britain.

I’ve emboldened the keywords in this extract because they set the tone for the rest of the article, which claims the Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum are cultists and as dangerous as the Sturmabteilung or Brownshirts. This ignores the fact that Tony Blair has attracted a near cult-like devotion among his followers, who sing his praises and ignore his many failings.

In this extract, Foster makes a lazy connection between his Jewishness, Blairism and anti-Semitism.

If you are like me, a Jewish donor to Labour, you are smeared as a Blairite conspirator, plotting to falsely use the accusation of anti-Semitism to damage the Left.

He segues this into the brick that was allegedly thrown through Angela Eagle’s constituency office window (sic).

It matters not whether you are Angela Eagle with a brick through a window, Stella Creasy with a mob outside her constituency office, or Labour general secretary Iain McNicol with a letter threatening court action unless he secured victory for Corbyn at an NEC vote.

Again, my bold. The brick incident was one of the biggest anti-Corbyn stories in the press during the leadership election, and was used to construct the narrative that Momentum were in fact Nazis in disguise, rather than people who wanted to see a move away from the managerialist politics of Nu Labour and the perpetuation of austerity economics. This was alternated with the claim that Momentum was a throwback to the 1980s and Militant, who have been wrongly maligned by the media as a some cancerous force that ate the right-wing Kinnock-led Labour Party from within. Historical materialism was cast aside to produce this ridiculous narrative, which was repeated ad infinitum and ad nauseum on television and in the press.  The simple facts that Kinnock refused to support the miners’ strike and told people to pay the much-hated Poll Tax were simply ignored.  So much for facts or anything like them. So much for history.

Perhaps the worst part of  Foster’s article is the fact that he chose to write it for The Daily Mail, a paper with a long history of anti-Semitism and unqualified support for Hitler. As for the brick through the window, it landed in a communal stairwell. Moreover, it couldn’t be proven that the brick had been thrown by a Corbyn supporter. Yet the mass media, the Tories, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Labour Right repeated the narrative uncritically as though it was an open and shut case of Nazi-style political thuggery.

The penultimate paragraph in the Foster article makes this historically ignorant claim:

Britain is not a land of extreme politics. From the Reform Acts of 1832, 1868 and 1884 and even the Attlee Government of 1945, Britain’s people have always rejected extremism.

None of the things he mentions were a rejection of “extremism”. The Reform Act of 1832, for example, extended the franchise to all men and abolished the rotten and pocket boroughs. How he manages to squeeze the Attlee Government into this is beyond me.  The Tories saw many of the Attlee’s reforms as extreme, especially the creation of the National Health Service, which they bitterly opposed.

Manufactured stunts such as the on-air resignation of obscure Labour right-winger, Stephen Doughty or the political theatrics of John Mann ambushing Ken Livingstone outside The Daily Politics studio, contributed to a tapestry of lies that the Labour Party was crawling with anti-Semites. The fact that a Tory parliamentary candidate had been suspended from his party this year for anti-Semitic remarks was never mentioned, or that various members of UKIP have frequently uttered racist, sexist and anti-Semitic comments were conveniently swept under the carpet to promote a narrative of Labour being the country’s most anti-Semitic political party.

David Cameron’s Tory government was run along the lines of a slick public relations outfit.  One example of this can be seen in Jeremy Hunt’s insistence on wearing an NHS lapel badge in spite of his continuing evisceration of the health service.

The claim being made by this sartorial choice is “I believe in the NHS”. This contradicts the position he took on the NHS before he became Health Secretary.

So-called ‘health tourism’ and its companion ‘benefits tourism’ are repeated constantly by the Conservatives and UKIP alike to support the narrative that the country is “full up” and people come here to claim our “generous benefits”. Such narratives are constructed to further bolster the Tory, UKIP and Labour Right claim that “we” need to limit immigration. Yet without EU immigrants, the NHS would most likely collapse.

The splits in the Conservative Party over Brexit are routinely covered up while splits in the Labour Party are highlighted. As I write this, Tory MP, Claire Perry, is in the Daily Politics studio denying the splits in her party and instead shifts the focus onto the Labour Party. She isn’t challenged by Jo Coburn, who simply nods in agreement.

In the weeks leading up to the EU referendum, television news programmes continually broadcast vox pops interviews, many of which repeated internalised national myths and politicians’ soundbites. Some of the most common claims were “We stood alone during the Battle of Britain we can do it again” and “We can stand on our own two feet because I believe in the inventiveness of the British people”. Neither of these statements are based on facts or truths.  The first claim is based partly on myths and mostly on lies: during the Battle of Britain, airmen from Poland, The United States, Canada and the Caribbean came to this country to fight the Nazis. Such historical facts have been wiped from the memories of many British people and replaced by myths imparted to them by the tabloid press. The second claim is based on nothing more that wishful thinking and wild-eyed romanticism.  Yet these myths persist in the public domain because the media refuses to challenge them.  I was watching BBC News yesterday, when they conducted vox pops interviews in Berlin on the subject of Angela Merkel’s announcement that she would stand as her party’s (CSU/CDU) candidate for Chancellor in the forthcoming elections. Each person offered a view that was well-informed and which contained some degree of analysis. In this country, vox pops interviews will often contain no analysis and a great deal of ill-informed opinion.

Opinion has been substituted for hard news and informed analysis. Once respected news programmes like Newsnight have become little more than an outlet for state, and by extension, Tory propaganda.  According to a poll conducted by Ipsos-MORI, Labour had closed the gap with the Tories by nine percentage points. This was a cue for Newsnight to run this bizarre and somewhat short interview with Yair Lapid, the chairman of Israel’s Yesh Atid party.

What’s so odd about this interview is the fact that it wasn’t actually mentioned at the top of the programme.

Last night’s edition of Newsnight claimed that “most Labour voters want to see Blair return to lead the party”. This contradicts a poll conducted by YouGov in early October, which claims that the party would haemorrhage support to The Greens and even the Liberal Democrats.

Truth? Facts? Reality? Who needs them? Keep drinking the Kool-Aid.

References

Baudrillard, J. (2008). Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press

Debord, G. (2005). Society of the Spectacle, Detroit: Black and Red.

The Matrix (Wachowski Bros., 1999)

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No Compassion For Refugees Please, We’re British

“Charity begins at home” at least this is what Britain’s “no refugees here” types have been saying on comments threads on The Guardian and Independent websites. Ironically (or perhaps not), these are the very same people who would not only claim that “people are receiving to much in social security payments”, they would also tell you that the existence of foodbanks proves there is a “food shortage” in this country. Logic? It was never there in the first place.

Many people like to think of The Guardian and The Independent as liberal newspapers with socially liberal readerships. In the case of The Indy, this notion was blown out of the water by the paper’s support for the Tories at the last election and in the case of The Graun, there has been a steady rightward drift in its editorial orientation for years. Sadly, however, the change in direction for these papers has also attracted legions of right-wing racists and keyboard warriors, all of whom have been drawn to the stories of what is now being called the “Refugee Crisis” (formerly the “Migrant Crisis”), a crisis that was entirely created by the actions of the so-called West.

Yet the idea that there is a cause behind the Refugee Crisis is barely mentioned by the tabloid hacks and their pals in Parliament. Instead, in the mind of the knuckledragger, these people are coming here variously for “economic reasons” or the “presence of McDonalds and KFC”, or some such nonsense, and not because they are fleeing the conflicts and tyrannies that the West has created and sustained for decades. Causality, as far as these people are concerned, is a hospital drama on BBC1.

Readers, I have been disgusted by the lack of compassion shown by these keyboard warriors and slackwits but I have been even more disgusted by The Indy’s and The Graun’s tolerance of the vile hatred that’s being openly expressed on its comments threads. If I want to read that kind of shite, I can always go to St*rmfr*nt. Dig?

I always remember reading about this country’s hostile reaction towards the thousands of Jewish refugees who were fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s. This article by Anne Karpf from 2002 – in The Guardian – recalls that those years.

The parallels between past and present are striking. Just as the majority of Jewish refugees were admitted less for compassionate reasons than to meet the shortage of domestic servants, so today’s refugees tend to do the low-paid catering and cleaning jobs spurned by the native British. And just as in spring 1940, when German Jews were interned on the Isle of Man, British newspapers blurred the distinctions between refugee, alien and enemy, so today, according to Alasdair Mackenzie, coordinator of Asylum Aid, “There’s general confusion in many newspapers between an asylum seeker and someone from abroad – everyone gets tarred with the same brush.”

Hostility towards the refugees was stirred up by the virulently anti-immigration rag The Daily (Hate) Mail. Many people internalised its xenophobic and anti-Semitic messages and demanded the government refuse to land any refugees. Déjà Vu? Malheureusement, oui.

The comment below appeared on this Guardian article by the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas. Her name, alone, is enough the get hordes of slavering knuckledraggers thumping their chests and declaring themselves the defenders of “common sense”.

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Britons would probably be far more receptive to the idea of allowing many more refugees into Britain had the country not experience almost two decades of mass immigration in which over five million people had entered Britain.

Here, we have a comment in which the views expressed are little different to those expressed by UKIP’ Nigel Farage (or that Nuttall wanker) on a weekly basis. Although it avoids offensive language and isn’t obvious in its racism, its premise is based on the notion that there has been an “invasion”. Yet, this commenter offers no proof for the numbers they’re using; they are seemingly axiomatic.

On the other hand, this commenter doesn’t disguise his hatred. This is what passes for wit.

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So it turns out now that the guy who recklessly ended up drowning his wife and children had turned down asylum.

Oh.

Sickening.

The government’s response to the crisis has been characteristically Tory: blame “people smugglers” and keep repeating the word “criminals”. It’s as if the refugees themselves have become secondary to the need to punish “those responsible for the trafficking”. In April, in response to refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, Michael ‘Polly’ Portillo, the son of a Spanish republican refugee who fled Franco’s dictatorship, said they should be “sent back where they came from” – and should be “dumped on a Libyan beach”. And you thought he’d been rehabilitated? No way, he’s the same as he ever was.

This nation has been governed by bullies for centuries and people have internalised the bullying to such an extent that they, themselves, have become bullies. This is evident from the lack of compassion shown to refugees. The idea that “charity begins at home” is noble one but one which is now being used dishonestly to bolster the fash’s absurd claim that this country is “full up”.

A few days ago, Cameron appeared on television to give an account of his sluggish response to the crisis. He told the reporter with a straight face that the solution is to “bring peace in Middle East”. But that’s after he’s bombed it back to the Stone Age first.

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Filed under Africa, Eritrea, immigration, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, News/Current Affairs, propaganda, racism, Society & culture, Sudan, Syria, World

Tony Benn’s Funeral in Pictures

The BBC barely bothered to cover the funeral of Tony Benn, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. They were more than happy to fawn over Thatcher when she died and allowed Tory commentators to repeat their altered version of history unchallenged. Therefore, it’s up to us at Nowhere Towers to provide some photographs of the occasion.

Here’s the hearse nearing the end of its short journey from the Palace of Westminster to St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey.

Arrival and banners

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Some pictures of banners.

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Some mourners at outside Westminster Abbey

Blurry shot of Westminster Abbey

An LBC hack finds a suitable spot to put a Tory spin on the funeral story.

LBC hack

Meanwhile Old Etonian James Landale of the BBC looks lost after conducting a couple of vox pop interviews. He’d shoved past me earlier.

Landale (Benn funeral)

The final procession.

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This is a slightly better shot.

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Here we have Peter Hain MP and John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and his wife Sally *innocent face*. John Bercow is chatting to a woman in a wheelchair.

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Admittedly I didn’t take the best position to get the best images but today wasn’t about that. Today was about remembering the man who should have been Labour leader and Prime Minister. RIP Tony Benn, a man who was an inspiration to many and a fighter for democracy.

 

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There’s Only One Tony Benn

Tony Benn: the greatest Prime Minister we never had.

After the sudden death of Bob Crow earlier in the week, I never thought that I would be writing two tributes to two fine men in the space of five days. Tony Benn, the veteran Labour politician died yesterday at the age of 88. I once shared a stage with Tony Benn at a gala on Newcastle’s Town Moor in 1989, at which I was compèring. I can remember introducing him to the crowd but I also remember being too much in awe to actually say anything to him. To this day, I wish I had. Tony Benn was a very approachable man, who was always willing to chat and have his photo taken with people. He was a fine orator and a first-rate parliamentarian. The like of which we may never see again. These days many Westminster politicians are too concerned with managerialism and public relations to deal with real life issues that affect ordinary people. You see, these people are not interested in ideas unless they’re bad ideas. They have no plan for the future. It’s all about smashing and grabbing what they can for themselves and their corporate pals. Tony Benn wasn’t like them.

I first became aware of Tony Benn in the early 1970s when he was still called “Anthony Wedgwood Benn”. In those days, I knew very little about British politics but I remember the unpopularity of the Heath government and its arrogance. The Miners Strikes of 1972 and 1973-4 had seriously damaged the government’s authority over the increasingly restive unions. Heath responded to the strike of 1974 and the power outages that were caused by dwindling coal stocks, by limiting the working week to three days to put a brake on energy consumption. Talks between the government and the unions broke down and in a last-ditch effort to assert his authority, a reluctant and petulant Heath was forced to call a general election for 28 February, 1974 on the question of “Who governs Britain”.

Once the votes were counted, the Conservatives attained a higher percentage of votes (37.9%) but because of the vagaries of Britain’s voting system, they won fewer seats than their Labour rivals who polled slightly less (37.2%) but had won a larger number of seats. The result was a hung parliament. Nonetheless, Heath was invited to form a government and he proposed a coalition with the Liberal Party, but this was rejected by leader Jeremy Thorpe because of the former’s refusal to accommodate the Liberals’ demands for proportional representation. Harold Wilson’s Labour Party formed a minority government and immediately entered into negotiations with the unions to end the strikes. With the strikes over, Wilson called a general election for October 1974, which the party won with a tiny majority of three seats. This precarious situation would return to haunt the Labour government which would be forced to enter into an uneasy supply and confidence arrangement with the Liberals in what was referred to as the ‘Lib-Lab Pact’ in 1976.

Under Wilson, Benn was handed the Industry portfolio but was then moved to Department for Energy in 1975, presumably in an effort to placate critics of Benn and the policy of nationalization. When Wilson suddenly resigned in 1976, Benn stood for the leadership and came fourth in the first round and withdrew from the second ballot.  James ‘Sunny Jim’ Callaghan was elected leader and became Prime Minister and stepped straight into a sterling crisis (which had been caused by a massive balance of trade deficit left by the Heath government). To deal with this problem, Denis Healey, the right-wing Chancellor of the Exchequer, applied for a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the conditions of which stipulated that the government was obliged to adopt monetarist policies. Among other things, this meant swingeing cuts to public services. If anything, this episode in Labour’s history was partly responsible for the later splits in the party.

Benn kept his job as Energy Secretary and established the British National Oil Company (BNOC) in 1975. Although its chief role was to ensure adequate oil supply levels, its other less-discussed role included the creation of a sovereign wealth fund using the royalties made from the production of North Sea Oil to fund social programmes and have some money saved for a ‘rainy day’.  When the Tories won the 1979 General Election, Thatcher privatised BNOC and renamed it Britoil in 1982. It was later bought by BP in 1988. Under Thatcher, most of the country’s oil money was squandered on tax cuts for the rich, with the rest going to pay for the Tories’ devastation of Britain’s traditional heavy industries. At this time, Benn had already moved to the Left and when Labour were out of power, he became something of a standard-bearer. He spoke of the need to continue the nationalisation programme that the Tories were now dismantling. He spoke of the need to leave NATO and the EEC. The former because of its constant and unslakeable thirst for war and the latter because he saw it as fundamentally undemocratic.

When Callaghan resigned as leader in 1981, Benn stood against Denis Healey in the deputy leadership contest and lost by a mere 1%. The party had more or less fixed the election. Michael Foot became the party leader but was faced with internal difficulties, which led to the split from the party of the so-called ‘Gang of Four’. To this day, the former members of the SDP blame Benn for splitting the Labour Party but this was already happening in 1974 with MPs like Dick Taverne  and Eddie Milne leaving the party and standing as  “Independent Labour” or “Democratic Labour” candidates. Both men were defeated in the October 1974 election. Taverne later joined the SDP, while Milne vanished into obscurity and died in 1983 after another unsuccessful attempt to regain his seat. Then there was the infamous Reg Prentice affair in 1976, when Tory Julian Lewis – with the financial support of The Freedom Association – posed as a  Labour Party moderate and managed to briefly gain control of the Newham North East constituency in an attempt to have Prentice reselected. Prentice later joined the Tories.

In 1983, Benn lost his seat when the Bristol South East constituency was abolished due to boundary changes and he lost the contest to be selected for the new seat of Bristol South to Michael Cocks. He immediately stood in the newly created seat of Bristol East but lost the the Tory candidate, Jonathan Sayeed. Less than a year later Benn was selected as candidate for the Chesterfield constituency when the sitting MP, Eric Varley resigned to become the head of Coalite. During the campaign, The Sun ran a series of articles titled “Benn On The Couch”, purportedly written by an American psychiatrist, which concluded that Benn was insane.  Other papers produced their own Benn scare stories. Indeed the media construction of the ‘Loony Left’  phenotype has its origins in this period. To this day, the Right continues with this line of attack precisely because it has no ideas and because it realises that Left ideas are more popular with most voters than the secondhand Thatcherism offered by the present government or, indeed, the last Labour government.

Like many people in Britain, The Cat believes that Benn was the greatest Prime Minister this country never had. His detractors may claim that he was a “relic from the past” and his politics were “out of date”. Yet there is nothing modern or ‘up-to-date’ about wanting to drag this country back to the 1950s or the days of the British Empire. Nu Labourites blame Benn for Labour’s wilderness years during the 80s but this ignores the fact that Labour  under Kinnock offered no real alternative to Thatcher’s policies. Kinnock lacked the guts and the spirit to make a decent leader and feared the wrath of the Tory press if he dared move leftward. Furthermore, the lack of support shown by the leadership of the party with regards to the Miners’ Strike showed that the party no longer had any time for its core voters and preferred, instead, to chase the so-called floating voter and appeal to the media-constructed ‘Essex Man’. Labour in the mid-1980s was already dead to me.  As far as I was concerned I had no party to vote for. By the time of Blair’s victory in 1997, it had migrated so far to the Right that it actually began to resemble the SDP.

Yet Benn continued to be a member of the Labour Party even after he left the Commons in 2001 to “devote more time to politics”. Remember this is the party that more or less stitched up the deputy  leadership election in 1981 to favour Healy. This is the same party that cast him out of the inner circle because, like the Tory press and the SDP splitters, they believed he was ‘dangerous’. But the dangers posed to this country by the Thatcher government weren’t even noticed by the Labour Party’s top brass, who moved rightward in an attempt to out-Tory the Tories. This is what happens when you fail to develop ideas and policies of your own: you end up copying your enemy. True to his word, Benn did spend more time on politics and continued to write and speak.  Among other things, he became President of the Stop the War Campaign on 2001. He travelled to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein in 2003 before the disastrous invasion and occupation by the Coalition of the Toadies. He appeared at the Leftfield at the Glastonbury Festival several times and inspired a new generation of young people.

The last time I saw Tony Benn was last September at the Stop the War rally at Trafalgar Square before the Commons vote on possible British intervention in Syria. He looked frail but he still made a good speech. I may not have always agreed with his brand of socialism but I admired his fighting spirit and his oratory skills. Who knows what might have happened in 1981 if Benn had stood for the leadership of the party instead of the deputy leadership?

So farewell Tony Benn, but we have little time to mourn you.  The best thing we can do to honour your memory is to fight back and fight hard.

I’ll leave you with this video of Tony Benn giving both barrels to Thatcherism.

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Life on Gilligan’s Island (Part 50)

Kennite: leave the EDL alone, they'll just go away.

Kennite: leave the EDL alone, they’ll just go away.

After Charles Moore’s high praise for Kennite’s faultless piece of investigative journalism (sarcasm) and his own muddled analysis of the EDL in yesterday’s Telegraph, we get this from Gilligoon.

Last weekend, Tony Brett, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Oxford and the city’s deputy lord mayor, found what he called a “disgraceful rabble” of people climbing on the city’s main war memorial — squashing, he said, the flowers that mourners had placed there, then trying to remove half of them altogether and “jeering” other visitors as they paid their respects.

“Last weekend”? We’ll come back to that later. So what’s got your goat, Andy?

That day, the memorial was supposed to be the scene of a wreath-laying by the far-Right, racist English Defence League. But none of the people laying flowers and being jeered bore any kind of EDL insignia and none of the wreaths had any kind of card or message from the group.

Oh, really? Why do I get the feeling this article is going to tread the by now familiar path of a classic Kennite smear job?

Neither Mr Brett, nor a local newspaper reporter on the scene, saw any sign of any EDL presence.

Gilligoon loves to keep us in suspense. Finally, he tells us:

All the aggro, Mr Brett said — he called it the “hate” — came from the self-appointed opponents of bigotry, a group called Unite Against Fascism (UAF). UAF’s response was to start an online petition saying that merely by criticising them Mr Brett had proved himself an EDL patsy, “not a fit representative for Oxford’s wonderful and multi-ethnic community”, and must resign immediately.

Yeah, I agree with the protesters. In fact, after doing some digging, I’ve discovered that these quotes came from a two week old story that was carried by The Oxford Mail on June 2. Here’s an excerpt:

Oxford City Councilmember Mr Brett said the protesters “jeered” at people and “floral tributes were squashed and badly damaged”.

There was “no sign” of EDL banners, clothing or “behaviour” he said, adding: “What I saw was a loud and unruly bunch who were showing hate towards what seemed to me to be a peaceful and lawful act of remembrance.”

He said on his blog: “If I do see any hate activity from any group in Oxford I will challenge it rigorously but the only hate I saw today was from the protesters.”

However, the local branch of UAF deny this.

Unite Against Fascism branch treasurer Tracy Walsh said it feared the EDL would use the event as a “smokescreen for their anti-Islamic views”.

Adding she did not see anyone damage the flowers, she said: “We were very mindful of the fact that it was a war memorial.”

Brett, who had signed up to attend an EDL rally on Facebook,  has also faced calls to resign. There’s no mention of this from Gilligoon.

OUAF has created an online petition calling for Mr Brett to stand down. Twitter users have also criticised Mr Brett for attending the event.

Green party councillor for University Parks Sam Coates called for an immediate apology.

Ian McKendrick, spokesman for OUAF, said Mr Brett’s remarks were “divisive and unhelpful”.

He said: “There was no chanting, no trouble, and it was a peaceful protest.”

Of course, that didn’t convince Kennite, who instead tells us:

UAF, 10 years old this year, is one of Britain’s most prominent anti-fascist organisations. It has received hundreds of thousands of pounds from the biggest trade unions, and support from dozens of mainstream politicians. Its vice-chairmen include Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and Hugh Lanning, the deputy general secretary of the PCS civil service union.

This is Kennite’s way of having a quick dig at the trade unions. Here he says:

Of course, few causes can be more deserving than resistance to the EDL and British National Party. But the uncomfortable truth about UAF is that it contains more than a trace of fascism itself. It specialises, as seen in Oxford, in organising counter-demonstrations to any activity, or anticipated activity, by the far Right.

Hang on, UAF “contains more than a trace of fascism”? He’s repeating the same spiel as the EDL and UKIP here. If he’d been alive in the 1930s, would he have said the same thing about the anti-fascists who chased Mosley’s British Union of Fascists from Cable Street?  What we see in this kind of statement is an attempt to revise history to suit the narrative of the far-right. I would even go as far to say that Gilligan is actually providing a service to the EDL, in spite of his apparent distaste for their activities (in 2010 an EDL member was prosecuted for possessing indecent images of children; the BNP is no better).

Unfortunately, UAF’s counter-demonstrations often seem to cause as much, if not more, trouble than those by the EDL and BNP.

Again, I would refer Kennite to Battle of Cable Street and the events of the 1970s when the National Front were confronted by anti-fascists on Britain’s streets. The overwhelming discourse that’s being advanced by Gilligoon is “the EDL is bad but don’t challenge them. They’re just misunderstood. Ignore them and they’ll go away”. Predictably enough, Kennite proposes no alternatives.  Instead he says:

And there are ineffective ways. The racist Right thrives on two things: publicity and the politics of victimhood. The mob outrage practised by UAF gets the fascists more of both. As with the “anti-Islamophobia” monitoring group Tell Mama, which has lost its government funding after overhyping the nature of anti-Muslim hostility, there is a sense that the racists and their opponents need each other.

For someone who supposedly has a degree in history from Cambridge University, Kennite is remarkably ignorant of this country’s recent past. Cable street, Kennite, Cable Street. He also gets another opportunity to repeat what he said in last week’s article about Tell Mama. Lazy.

He closes with this:

The danger is that by exaggerating it, and by the politics of confrontation, supposedly anti-racist groups fuel the very division, polarisation and tension they are supposed to counter.

Wrong. Fascists must be confronted and challenged wherever they are. Kennite prefers to gives the EDL and others a free pass. He accepts UKIP’s and the EDL’s anti-intellectual view that anti-fascists are ‘fascist’ because they challenge them. Never in my life have I encountered such twisted logic.

I’ll leave you and Kennite with Edmund Burke’s well-worn dictum.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

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The Philpott case and the Right’s warped benefits narrative

In the aftermath of the Mick and Mairead Philpott trial, the Right blamed the murders of 6 children on the Philpott’s “addiction” to benefits.  First, the Daily Mail produced its sensational front page (above), then the Telegraph chipped in with its ‘analysis’. Both articles use a tragedy to push the abolition of the benefits system by making use of narrativizations. In other words, this terrible event has been magically transformed into a particular kind of story that fits the neoliberal’s small state discourses .

Let me take you back to 2008 and a mansion fire in Shropshire that caused the death of a family. The perpetrator was Christopher Foster, a wealthy businessman, who had allegedly accumulated massive debts and was staring financial ruin in the face. Foster died in the fire that was intended to mask the shootings of his wife and his 15 year old daughter.

The Guardian says

Police believe Mr Foster killed his 49-year-old wife and 15-year-old daughter at their £1.2m home in the village of Maesbrook, Shropshire, before setting fire to the property. Their burned bodies were found at Osbaston House days after the blaze in August last year.

The hearing at Shrewsbury magistrates court heard that in December 2005, Mr Foster told police his former accountant was blackmailing him over a joint property deal in Cyprus. Two defendants were prosecuted and found not guilty at Shrewsbury crown court in November 2006.

The inquest, attended by Mr Foster’s mother Enid and his younger brother Andrew, was shown photographs of the luxury five-bedroom house before and after the blaze in the early hours of 26 August.

Images of the dining room showed containers of heating oil on the floor. The inquest was told an oil tank used to heat the property was sited in outbuildings and would have been full at the time of the fire.

The body of Christopher Foster was found lying on top of his wife on the floor beneath what would have been their bedroom.

Home Office pathologist Dr Alexander Kolar said Jill Foster died as a result of a gunshot wound to the back of the head, which appeared to have been carried out by another person. There was no indication she was alive during the fire, he said.

Their 15-year-old daughter had a wound to the left side of her head, caused by a high velocity impact. It was likely she died as a result of a gunshot wound, Dr Kolar said, but he could not rule out the possibility that her injury was caused by falling debris.

The court was told alcohol was found in Mr Foster’s urine, indicating he may have been drinking on the night of the fire.

Yet, the Right wouldn’t dare to lazily join the dots between these tragic deaths and Foster’s wealth. Why not? I think we know why not.

On the same day that The Guardian produced its story, the Mail coughed up this sensationalist cack:

But Foster knew a great deal about fires. According to his brother Andrew, he was always fascinated by them. He even set fire to Andrew accidentally when they were boys.

The Mail had its angle but it didn’t blame the deaths on Foster’s wealth.

Now the argument that the Right would put forward would go something like this: “At least Foster used his own money to kill his family”. That’s a rationalization and it’s this same lazy thinking that allows them to view the Philpott case as one where “my (sic) money was involved” in “subsidizing” a lifestyle. The truth is this: it is not your money that pays people’s benefits.  Furthermore, if one adopts that kind of attitude to benefits claimants, then why don’t they adopt the same position when it comes to MPs ever-increasing salaries and their swollen expense accounts?

The real tragedy is that many British people are unable to think for themselves and allow the press to produce their opinions for them. Pumped with stories of benefit cheats and plied with grog from the trashy, voyeuristic mess that is The Jeremy Kyle Show, these people connect dots and see anyone who is struggling to make ends meet as “subhuman”.

But it wasn’t just The Mail that was guilty of apportioning blame to the benefits system. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Honourable Gideon Osborne, heir to the baronetcy of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon, says in this video that the Philpott case “raises questions” about the welfare state “subsidizing lifestyles like that”.

Even an expensive education has failed to teach Osborne critical thinking skills. The rationale goes something like this: one benefits claimant is bad, therefore all benefits claimants are bad.

In today’s Daily Mail, Tim Shipman, uses his article to take a swipe at the Labour party, which he believes, doesn’t want a “debate” on the welfare state. But it is not a debate that he or the Right wants; they want to control the discourse on benefits: this means lying and smearing those who oppose their warped narratives.

Within hours of his remarks about Philpott, he faced a backlash from Left-wingers who accused him of ‘cynically’ exploiting the tragedy to push the Government’s case for cuts to handouts.

Senior Tories said the reaction of the Opposition is proof that it still fails to grasp the depth of public fury at the way some have abused the benefits system.

If you ever believed that this country had a “free press”,  then now is the time to cast your naive beliefs aside. This country’s “free press” operates, mainly,  as an unofficial Ministry of Information. The manufacture of consent for further cuts and dismantling of the welfare state begins on the pages of the Tory press and the mainstream television channels.

In connecting this tragedy to a poisoned ‘debate’ on welfare, the Conservative know that they can further control discourses on the very existence of the welfare state and, by doing so, pull the so-called “hardworking families” and so-called floating voters into their orbit.  Make no mistake, if the Tories win an outright majority at the next General Election, they will abolish what’s left of the welfare state. They cannot be allowed to do this.

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Savile, Sutcliffe and the Broadmoor task force

Savile pictured with Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe and Frank Bruno at Broadmoor Hospital

For me there is one nagging question about the whole Savile business. Why was Savile, who had no healthcare qualifications (he appears to have left school without any qualifications), allowed to chair a task force to take over Broadmoor Hospital? It simply doesn’t make sense. Yet whenever Edwina Currie, the health minister under Thatcher, is interviewed on television, she dances around the issue. Surely Currie should take some of the responsibility for allowing Savile to practically take over the running of Broadmoor, which not only contains some of Britain’s most dangerous psychiatric inmates but many vulnerable patients too.

Currie claims to have been “hoodwinked” and says that she has “nothing to hide”. But people without suitable qualifications or expertise should not be given such sensitive roles.  Currie made a colossal error of judgement and it would seem that she wasn’t the only one. Indeed, as we all know, Savile spent 11 Christmases at Chequers with Thatcher. He supported the Tory Party and thus became part of the machinery of political power. The reports, which were published yesterday claim that there was no clear evidence that Savile was involved in a high level paedophile ring. But given the litany of cover ups surrounding this case, I have my doubts.

The above photograph tells an interesting story. It suggests a strong link between Savile and Broadmoor’s most infamous resident, Peter Sutcliffe.  Savile was questioned by detectives investigating the Yorkshire Ripper killings. Sutcliffe has also claimed that Savile was “innocent” of any crimes.  But let’s not get carried away, Savile was not the Yorkshire Ripper but his closeness to Sutcliffe is disturbing to say the least. Did Savile do any favours for Sutcliffe? It’s an interesting question. No?

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Dear Andrew Mitchell, this is what the cops are like. Welcome to the real world

So, Andrew Mitchell, you’ve finally learned what many of us knew all along: the police fit people up. Gone are the days of Dixon of Dock Green with his ready smile and “Evening all” catchphrase. But then, we all knew that Dixon was a fabrication, much like the cop’s “hard” evidence. Remember Derek Bentley on the roof of that warehouse in Croydon? You probably don’t. He said, “Let him have it, Chris” to Chris Craig but the police, who are also ever-so-good at grammar, told the court that Bentley had told Craig to shoot PC Miles. Craig fired the gun at Miles and he was killed. Bentley, who didn’t fire the pistol, was hanged for murder. Craig, who was a minor at the time, was not hanged. They called it “joint enterprise”.

You see, Andrew, for years those of us who come from working class backgrounds know what the police are like. The cop clipping a child “around the ear” was always more likely to be something far more brutal. They make up evidence. They lie in court. They destroy evidence linking them to any misdeeds. They don’t work for me and now you realize that they don’t work for you either. They look after themselves.

Derek Bentley was pardoned in 1993 after a 45 year long campaign, which included a film (Let Him Have It) and a song by Elvis Costello in 1989. Here’s the song. Sorry I couldn’t resist.

Andrew, you’re one lucky fella.  You’re not in the same boat as Bentley and the others who were executed or languished in prison on trumped up charges.

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