Racism And The Bullying Of Diane Abbott

We’ve been here before.

I woke up this morning to discover that Diane Abbott had been taken ill and has withdrawn from the campaign. Her place has been taken by Lyn Brown. Furthermore, the recent attacks on Abbott, so close to polling day, can only have originated from the foetid mind of Lynton Crosby, whose reputation for dog-whistle racist campaigns is well known.

Few people, except those who have a blind spot for such things, can deny that the recent bullying of Diane Abbott has been not only disgraceful, but smacks of racism and sexism. The Cat has seen numerous people, many of them claiming to be Labour supporters, complaining about Abbott’s ‘competence’. When pressed to provide salient examples of her ‘incompetence’ the best answer these people can provide is “well, she had a car crash interview” and that is the sum total of their argument.

In all of her shadow roles from Public Health to the Home Office, Abbott has performed well. Yet few people when asked if she’s made mistakes in those roles, can’t answer the question, so they start flailing and splutter “I don’t like her”. Well, okay, that’s fair enough but once they’ve spluttered those words, they usually return to their original non-point of Abbott’s presumed incompetency.  Mention the word “racism” and they’ll get agitated. Why? Is it because they refuse to see it?  Of course, it is.

In the last week or so, we’ve heard May and her Tories say “Would you want Diane Abbott as Home Secretary”? Such a question is predicated on the knowledge of the Other. The idea that the Home Office will be run not only by a woman, but a black woman is too much to bear for our crypto-racists. Better to have a white woman or a white man in charge, eh? Where are the black faces in May’s cabinet?  There are none. There are a couple of Asian millionaires but no black people.

Diane Abbott has been attacked precisely because she is black and because she’s a woman. Boris Johnson is allowed to make as many gaffes as he likes and get away with it. He’s given plenty of latitude when he indulges in racism and his thuggish behaviour is regularly overlooked, even laughed off.  He’s a clown, so we’re told.

When you base your competency argument on a handful of gaffes rather than a person’s record, then you play the bully’s game. If you can’t see the obvious racism that underpins the bullying of Abbott and prefer to focus on her presumed incompetency, then you need to have a word with yourself.

 

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The Magic Money Tree And Other Fairy Stories

To hear the Tories, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they know what they’re talking about on all matters relating to the national finances. According to the media and the Tories themselves, they can be “trusted on the economy” (sic). After all, according to the political and economic pundits, they’re not the ones who “crashed the economy” or propose “tax and spend” policies are they?  In fact, to hear them talk you’d think they never taxed anyone nor spent any money. But it’s all just a fairy story,  just like the ‘magic money tree’ that only the Labour Party has access to.

The phrase ‘magic money tree’ seems to have made an appearance in the last 10 to 15 years, and it’s used by Tories and ‘researchers’ from right-wing think-tanks to denigrate the economic ideas and policies of opposition parties – especially the Labour Party.  Its use by these groups is meant to suggest economic recklessness on the part of opposition parties and, ultimately, to  perpetuate the myth that only the Tories are economically credible. This is, of course, laughable. Why? Because it tells us the Tories aren’t as economically credible as they or the media would have us believe and the reason for this is because the phrase ‘magic money tree’ obscures the fact that governments have the power to create money from nothing.

Last night on Question Time, Nick Clegg, the former Deputy PM in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, claimed that you can’t “create money out of thin air”. His government did just that for five years! It’s called ‘quantitative easing’ or QE, and it’s where the central bank creates money electronically and uses it to buy assets. This tells us that money isn’t tied to anything and quite literally doesn’t exist in a physical sense.

Here’s a Bank of England video that explains QE in detail.

If you prefer, here’s Paul Mason explaining QE in the back of a cab.

Two things: first, anyone who says money “doesn’t appear out of thin air” doesn’t know what they’re talking about and second, it reveals that Thatcher’s household finance fallacy, which has dominated the reductivist thinking of political pundits and vox pop interviewees for over 30 years, is just that: a fallacy. Domestic finances and national finances are worlds, no, galaxies apart, and any attempt to reduce national finances to a simplistic narrative of ‘maxing out the credit card’ makes the person uttering those words look like a bit of a fool. But this is what the likes of Dominic Raab and Kwasi Kwarteng do all the time.

Households, that is to say, you or I, cannot go to what is called ‘the lender of last resort’ or The Bank of England or whichever central bank is local to your country and borrow money, nor can any of us issue bonds or create money out of thin air as central banks and governments do. When governments have a cash flow problem, they can apply to the lender of last resort for a loan to tide them over. If  you’re a family of four and you have a poor credit rating and you’re struggling to make ends meet on an ever-diminishing income, the option of obtaining a bank loan isn’t open to you and you may be forced to approach a loan shark instead.

The reason these clichés and soundbites were created in the first place was to hoodwink us and therefore convince us of the necessity to make swingeing cuts to public services, because we simply can’t afford things like public libraries and care for the elderly. Right? Wrong.  Money always magically appears whenever there’s a war or when the government needs to wet the beaks of rentier capitalists.

In the last seven years, we’ve witnessed an explosion of foodbanks across the country, thanks mostly to the state of the economy.  Last week, Dominic Raab told viewers on Victoria Live that people who go to foodbanks have a “cash flow problem”.

Raab is an economic illiterate, who belongs to an economic cult that accepts trickle down as ‘God’s Will’, perhaps a punishment for making the ‘wrong’ life choices.

During Wednesday’s seven-way leaders’ debate, Amber Rudd, standing in for the Incredible Vanishing Woman, told Jeremy Corbyn that his party’s policies weren’t credible and there was “no magic money tree”. In response to this breathtaking ignorance, Joyce McMillan of The Scotsman writes:

The phrase in question is “there is no magic money tree”; and it is used with an almost clockwork regularity by those who oppose proposals like those contained in the current Labour manifesto. Free school lunches? No magic money tree. Free university tuition? No magic money tree. A properly funded NHS, or more generous disability benefits? No magic money tree. And so it goes on, in a litany of meanness and misery firmly based on the assumption that there is a finite amount of money in government coffers, and that to spend it in one place is automatically to take it from another.

Further down the article, she reminds us that:

…between 2009 and 2012, the Bank of England issued an eye-watering £375 billion of extra cash in what is politely known as “quantitative easing”. Even at the time, experts could be heard arguing that this newly-printed money would have a more helpful impact on the British economy if it was simply dropped from an aeroplane on to Britain’s poorer communities, helping the hard-pressed people there to exercise their pent-up demand for new shoes or washing machines or holiday breaks.

That’s a lot of money. Go on…

Yet instead, it seems it was mainly used to prop up the banking system, and help it rebuild its balances. While real wages fell into their longest decline in more than a century, £375 billion of new government money, over four years, was used not to change the system, or rebalance the British economy, or reinvest in our grassroots public services, but to keep things exactly as they were.

So rather than the people benefiting from the creation of new money, it’s used instead to prop up banks, who aren’t lending it to people anyway.  Small businesses are suffering because of this.

So if QE is used because there’s no money in the economy, then where has all that money gone? The Tories would have you believe that it’s gone on fripperies like social security and public sector pay. But that’s nonsense. Ha Joon Chang writing in The Guardian explains:

Despite these significant shifts, myths about the economy refuse to go away and hamper a more productive debate. They concern how the government manages public finances – “tax and spend”, if you will.

The first is that there is an inherent virtue in balancing the books. Conservatives still cling to the idea of eliminating the budget deficit, even if it is with a 10-year delay (2025, as opposed to George Osborne’s original goal of 2015). The budget-balancing myth is so powerful that Labour feels it has to cost its new spending pledges down to the last penny, lest it be accused of fiscal irresponsibility.

However, as Keynes and his followers told us, whether a balanced budget is a good or a bad thing depends on the circumstances. In an overheating economy, deficit spending would be a serious folly. However, in today’s UK economy, whose underlying stagnation has been masked only by the release of excess liquidity on an oceanic scale, some deficit spending may be good – necessary, even.

The second myth is that the UK welfare state is especially large. Conservativesbelieve that it is bloated out of all proportion and needs to be drastically cut. Even the Labour party partly buys into this idea. Its extra spending pledge on this front is presented as an attempt to reverse the worst of the Tory cuts, rather than as an attempt to expand provision to rebuild the foundation for a decent society.

The reality is the UK welfare state is not large at all. As of 2016, the British welfare state (measured by public social spending) was, at 21.5% of GDP, barely three-quarters of welfare spending in comparably rich countries in Europe – France’s is 31.5% and Denmark’s is 28.7%, for example. The UK welfare state is barely larger than the OECD average (21%), which includes a dozen or so countries such as Mexico, Chile, Turkey and Estonia, which are much poorer and/or have less need for public welfare provision. They have younger populations and stronger extended family networks.

he third myth is that welfare spending is consumption – that it is a drain on the nation’s productive resources and thus has to be minimised. This myth is what Conservative supporters subscribe to when they say that, despite their negative impact, we have to accept cuts in such things as disability benefit, unemployment benefit, child care and free school meals, because we “can’t afford them”. This myth even tints, although doesn’t define, Labour’s view on the welfare state. For example, Labour argues for an expansion of welfare spending, but promises to finance it with current revenue, thereby implicitly admitting that the money that goes into it is consumption that does not add to future output.

It would be reasonable to argue that consent has been manufactured by the Tories, their think-tanks and their allies in the media, for the purpose of fulfilling their long-held ambitions to dismantle the welfare state and sell off public services to their corporate friends. Phrases like “the magic money tree” and “we have to live within our means” have been produced to accomplish this.

Governments spend and borrow money all the time. The notion that national finances should be treated like household budgets is demonstrably fallacious. Yet, for over 30 years much of the public has been conditioned into thinking that all government spending and borrowing is fundamentally irresponsible but this thinking is dangerous. People are dying because of it. Next Thursday, you have the opportunity to put a stop to this destructiveness. Please use your vote wisely. Don’t vote Tory.

 

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Filed under economic illiteracy, Economics, General Election 2017, neoliberalism

Tory Election Fraud: Craig Mackinlay Charged

It has just been announced that the Crown Prosecution Service has charged the Conservative candidate for Thanet South, Craig MacKinlay, with filing incorrect expenses claims. Mackinlay’s agent, Nathan Gray and Tory staffer, Marion Little, have also been charged with the same offences. It would seem the Tories have found their fall guy.

For anyone hoping that Mackinlay would be forced to stand aside, I’m afraid those hopes have been dashed. He will continue to stand as a Conservative candidate. Nowhere Towers thinks that smacks of institutionalized corruption.

Here’s what Peter Oborne said on Twitter.

As Oborne points out, this is a national issue and not, as has been claimed by the likes of Newsnight’s Nick Watt, a “little local difficulty”. One person not named by the CPS in the election expenses fraud is Theresa May’s joint Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, who was deeply involved in the South Thanet campaign. According to The Guardian:

Theresa May’s chief of staff was among the advisers based in the key battleground seat of South Thanet, where the Electoral Commission found the Conservatives appear to have understated spending on their local campaign against the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Nick Timothy was not accused of any wrongdoing and would have played no role in the recording of campaign spending, but Downing Street has been dragged into the controversy because the Electoral Commission found at least some of the expenses of party staff involved in the campaign should have been recorded as local spending rather than national spending.

Well, that’s all right then… or is it?

Democracy is for sale.

We’ll have more when we get it.

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The ‘Strong Economy’ Soundbite

For the best part of 20 years, soundbites have become the lingua franca of careerist and dishonest politicians. We can see this whenever the subject of the National Health Service or public services is raised in an interview with a Tory minister: they’ll trot out the familiar soundbite of “in order to have a properly funded NHS, we need to have a strong economy”. What this actually means when it’s translated is “we’ll keep running down the NHS, until we get it into such a position that we’ll have to sell it off”. When it’s unpacked, the ‘strong economy’ soundbite is actually an admission that the economy is actually weak and not as “strong” as the Tories suggest. The Tories will then contradict themselves by telling us that the economy is “strong”, even though many of us know this is not the case. Why? Because we can see the evidence of a weak national economy with our own eyes.

If the economy is so “strong”, then why are working people forced to go to foodbanks? If the economy is so strong, then why are public sector workers having their pay effectively cut year on year? If the economy is so “strong”, then why are people put into a position where the only jobs available to them are casual and short term jobs?

So, if  the Tories are to be believed and we have a weak economy, does that mean we can’t have an NHS? Nonsense. After the Second World War, Britain was broke and its economy was weak, yet we still managed to have an NHS.

The mass media – especially the BBC – is failing the public by refusing to challenge Tory politicians on their claims and their meaningless soundbites. They are helping to undermine, not just the democratic process (the election), but our flimsy democracy too.

We deserve better from our politicians and our mass media.

 

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Predicting Election Results: A Mug’s Game

No one can predict the future, so let’s put the notion that people can predict future events to bed straight away . Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, I’ve had many people tell me that Labour will lose the [next] election badly and be consigned to electoral oblivion for a generation. I even had some Kipper tell me that Geert Wilders would become Dutch PM and Marine Le Pen would win the French Presidential Election. He added that he’d “been right in the past” because he “studied the polls”. Of course, neither Wilders nor Le Pen won their respective elections and as I told this Kipper, “If you’re so certain, then perhaps you can give me this week’s winning lottery numbers”. He declined. If I had the gift of second sight, I certainly wouldn’t be boring the pants off of people on comments threads with my tenuous claims of precognition. I’d be lounging about on my own Caribbean island and donating money to left-wing political parties.

When it comes to Labour’s chances of securing victory in next week’s General Election, the pundits have mostly been of one mind: it’s curtains for Labour. The Tories will win a landslide and that’s that.  Even the Tories themselves have said, in not so many words, that they’re on course to achieve a manifold increase in their tiny majority.  In City AM last September, QMU’s Professor Tim Bale offered us a slice of expert sagaciousness,

Unless everything we think we know about politics turns out to be wrong, the Tories are going to win the next election. They are way ahead of Labour on both economic competence and best Prime Minister. Just how big that win will be partly depends on when they go to the country. If Theresa May does what any normal politician would do in her position, she will engineer a contest in the spring or early summer of next year – before the compromises she’s going to have to make with Brussels become overly obvious, before the economy begins palpably to slow down, before the continuing squeeze on the NHS makes waiting lists and times even longer – and before Labour can dump Jeremy Corbyn. And even if she waits until 2020, she’ll still win. But if she goes sooner, she stands a chance of achieving the sort of majority that the Conservatives have only been able to dream about for 30 years. Carpe diem!

Bale obviously didn’t count on May’s less-than-engaging personality and her party’s weird mix of spite, control freakery and incompetence. Not to mention the cowardliness of May herself. Carpe Diem, indeed.

The supposedly Labour-supporting Daily Mirror claimed that Labour was “certain to lose the 2020 General Election. Their story was based on a Fabian Society report, which claimed the party will only hang on to around “140 seats”.

Last April, the Independent’s John Rentoul indulged himself in an extraordinary masturbatory fantasy in which Bozza is now PM and Heidi Alexander is now Labour leader (I know, I know),

Heidi Alexander, had fought the hopeless fight. Indeed, since she had defeated Jeremy Corbyn six months ago, in the fourth Labour leadership election in four years, she had showed great skill in neither fully renouncing nor standing by her predecessor’s programme.

Jesus, that’s terrible.

Even G*d-bothering Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, keeps telling us that the Tories will win a landslide. Dim Tim told The Guardian “The worst governments are the ones with the weakest oppositions. The Liberal Democrats are in a very strong position now to fill that space.” Are those are the same Liberal Democrats that slipped between the sheets with the Tories in 2010 and helped to implement some of the most savage cuts to public services for a generation? I’ll take no lessons from you, Tim. Thanks, but no thanks.

If the general election result is such an outright certainty, then why bother having an election in the first place? Why not just have a lavish coronation ceremony for Theresa May instead? I mean, what is the point in this supposedly pointless democratic exercise if the Tories are certain to win a landslide? Let’s just get the coup out of the way and then we can move on – if that’s what you Tories and media pundits want, of course. Because let’s face it, when the Tories and the Lib Dems talk about the need for a ‘strong opposition’ what they really mean by ‘strong’ is antonymous; it’s the authoritarian’s definition of a strong opposition. The last thing the Tories want is a Labour party that stands up to them, hence their resort to personalizations and smears. Does that sound like a party that’s confident of its impending electoral success?

So here’s an appeal to the media pundits and self-imagined political soothsayers, please don’t give up the day jobs. You don’t have magic powers that allow you to predict the future. You’re hacks, who just happen to be a little too close to political power to be truly objective.  Your special insight, such as it is, is limited to the tiny world you inhabit. You speak for no one but yourselves and your masters. If you want to predict the future, get yourselves a seaside stall, a pack of tarot cards, a crystal ball and a black obsidian mirror.  No one’s stopping you.

Nothing in life or politics is certain. But one thing is true: the Tories have run a terrible campaign and Labour has performed better than the media expected. On that basis, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Tories won’t do as well as the pundits have predicted.

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(S)He’d Send In The Army

Given the current situation, this seemed appropriate. Just change the pronoun’s gender.

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This Is Not Journalism (Or Anything Like It)

If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.
~Malcolm X

The British press is in a sorry state. Claimed by its defenders to be part of a mythical ‘free’ media, the press in Britain takes a cavalier attitude with regard to its role as news providers and opinion formers. Its proprietors and managing editors believe themselves to be immune from criticism and, at times, above the law of the land. Worse still,  when it traduces members of the public it receives little more than a slap on the wrist. It is, as Chomsky and Herman (1994) would say, an unofficial ministry of information,which works principally for the Conservative Party in and out of government.

Here at Nowhere Towers, we have always been aware of the many shortcomings of the British press and its tendency to sensationalize and engage in smear campaigns against political figures not belonging to the Tory party.  Yesterday, two titles that are sympathetic to the Tories have plumbed new depths of depravity and mendacity.  Unsurprisingly, those titles are The S*n  and The Daily Ma*l.

After Monday night’s terrorist bombing of the Manchester Arena, The S*n’s front page looked like this.

Here is a blatant attempt to use an unrelated story to make the suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn is responsible for Monday night’s atrocity. But there was something nastier lurking within the rag itself.  The S*n’s leader column, The S*n Says, made a gargantuan leap of logic by claiming that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were responsible for the bombing.

This isn’t journalism or anything like it. It’s a blatant smear; a character assassination that is based entirely upon a historical revisionism.  But The Cat has a question: who signed this off? This is evidently libellous and we know Murdoch has pockets that are as deep and as wide as the Pacific Ocean, but did The S*n’s editorial team think it could swerve around the law? Clearly it did and the paper has learned nothing from the Leveson Report.

I hasten to add that I did not buy The S*n, nor would I contemplate breaking my 30+ years boycott of the paper. The people of Manchester should do the same as the people of Liverpool have done and boycott The S*n.

Although, strictly speaking, a political cartoon isn’t journalism, it is carried by a newspaper that claims to employ journalists. Yesterday’s Mac cartoon in the Daily Mail followed The S*n by making the claim that Corbyn and McDonnell are active terrorists. Mac, or Stanley McMurty to give him his real name,  is known for his racism and homophobia.  This cartoon has two figures in paramilitary garb walking up a garden path carrying weapons.

The caption below it says “Oh dear. Will you answer the door? I think they’re canvassing for Jeremy Corbyn”. Mac can claim he’s being humorous, but it doesn’t wash: this is a blatant piece of propaganda dressed up as humour. In this, it is reminiscent of the cartoons found in Der Sturmer, the official newspaper of the Nazi Party (below).

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What is quite absent from the claims about Corbyn’s non-existent sympathy with terrorists, is any acknowledgement on the part of the media’s interviewers and commentators of the role of the British state in Loyalist violence. Worse, perhaps is the morbid nostalgia that seems to accompany these claims. It’s as though the Good Friday Agreement never happened and the power-sharing government never existed. Instead, what we’re treated to are selected fragments of Tory memory larded with a narrative that’s been constructed from misrepresentations and outright lies. For the Tories and others, the Provisional IRA is still active and still bombing the country. Meanwhile, the Loyalist paramilitaries are treated, in not so many words, as heroes or simply not mentioned.

Conveniently for Theresa May, electioneering has been suspended. Her own campaign was floundering and now, after Monday night’s atrocity, she can look stateswoman-like in spite of her evident weakness and terminal indecision. For seven years, the Tories have cut the numbers of the police, military and firefighters. May was Home Secretary for six of those years. You do the maths.

Who’s the bigger threat to the country? I’d say it’s Theresa May and the British press.

Reference/further reading

Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (2003). Symbolic violence. na. Available at: http://cges.umn.edu/docs/Bourdieu_and_Wacquant.Symbolic_Violence.pdf Accessed 29/2/16.

Gramsci, A. (ed.) (1971) Selections From The Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Herman, E. S. & Chomsky, N. (1994) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, London: Vintage Books.

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