Tag Archives: Margaret Thatcher

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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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#28)

On Monday, Dan ‘Tribal Loyalty’ Hodges, the Telegraph’s Blairite-in-residence, attempted to write something objective about the BBC. But as anyone will tell you: the right – especially those who leave comments on Telegraph blogs – hates the BBC, because of its imagined ‘left-wing’ bias. Hodges’s blog: “The BBC isn’t anti-Tory. It’s anti-government” sounds like it should be anti-authority, maybe even counter-cultural, but rather predictably, it is anything but.

He kicks off with,

Today has seen yet another significant drop in unemployment; down 125,000. The trend is clear. The war against unemployment is being won.

Groovy. So what is this really about?

Which of course isn’t what’s supposed to be happening. Only yesterday I became involved in a round of Twitter handbags with former MPC member David Blanchflower, who had confidently predicted “Tory public spending cuts ‘could push unemployment to 5 million’”. According to Blanchflower “If spending cuts are made too early and the monetary and fiscal stimuli are withdrawn, unemployment could easily reach four million.

The thing is, Dan, that apparent ‘drop’ in the numbers of unemployed is entirely concocted. You’re forgetting the numbers of people who’ve been sanctioned, forced into workfare, working ‘self-employed’ and all those other people who are on zero hours contracts. Then there are all the part-time workers who want to work full-time but can’t because the jobs aren’t there. You’re not exactly playing with a full deck. Are you, Dan?

Two paragraphs down and we get to the real point of the blog.

So how does the Today programme choose to cover this dramatic fall in unemployment? With a feature on the scourge of youth unemployment.

Oh dear. Yes friends, the Today programme hasn’t done what it was supposed to do: suck up to the government, which it does every day without fail.

But hang on, what’s this?

But this charge of “Left-wing bias”, or more accurately “pro-Labour bias” is too lazy. It’s true there is a small “l” liberal culture which dominates the Corporation.

Dan, if this is your idea of trying to persuade your headbanging readers to accept the BBC is anything other than ‘left-wing’ you’re wasting your time. Oh and god damn those liberals! Yeah. That’s a sentiment that even this week’s commenter,  CassandraKing, can agree with.

CassandraKretinThose damned left-wing scumbags at the BBC allowed people with dissenting views to express their opinions of Thatcher when she died. Did they? The thing is, the coverage of the week-long Thatcher binge was dominated by gushing tributes from those who worshipped her  as the ‘saviour of Britain’.  The same oleaginous types even tried to rewrite history before our very eyes. “Cassandra” (a delusional choice of online name for sure) can’t see this. “The Maggie haters got more air time than those who loved her”,  she thunders. Aw, diddums.

“CassandraKing” then claims that the BBC turned into “North Korean TV” in their coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela. I hate to tell you this, Cass, but Mandela was a better politician than Thatcher. In fact, Mandela fought a struggle against oppression. Thatcher fought on behalf of the oppressors. She hated unions, unless they happened to be in Poland and she defended apartheid.

Tony Benn is next for the Cassandra treatment.  She whines “The BBC will allow no demonstrators or critics airtime”.  First, let me ask “what demonstrators”? Right doesn’t do demonstrations because it doesn’t need to. I mean, just look at the Rally Against Debt a few years ago. The right couldn’t even muster two hundred supporters for an issue about which it was apparently passionate. Not even Toby Young could be arsed to turn up. No doubt about it, “Cassandra”, like many right-whingers is playing the victim here.

“CassandraKing” closes with the standard “the BBC is the mouthpiece of extremist left/green axis”. The “left/green axis”, eh? The BBC? Yeah, right. Only in DelingpoleWorld.

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Thatcher Cabinet stifled Kincora child sex abuse inquiry 30 years ago

The Thatcher Cabinet was certainly up to no good when it stifled a report into the Kincora Children’s home in 1983.  As we now know, Thatcher turned a blind eye to Peter Morrison’s paedophilia but what else did she ignore? Jim Prior (now Lord Prior) was partly responsible for the suppression of the report and needs to be brought to book.

David Hencke

Jim Prior,now Lord Prior. blocked the opportunity for a full-scale public inquiry into the notorious Kincora child abuse scandal, Cabinet minutes released under the 30 year rule revealed today.

The minutes of the Cabinet meeting (see http://bit.ly/19zxFqT ) reveal on 10 November 1983 Jim Prior, then Northern Ireland Secretary, proposed not to have a full Tribunal of Inquiry – the same mechanism, used to investigate  the Bloody Sunday atrocities, the North Wales child abuse scandal and the Dunblane massacre.
The minutes reveal the Cabinet – who included the now all ennobled Leon Brittan, then home secretary, Michael Heseltine,defence secretary and Norman Fowler, social services secretary, bought the Royal Ulster Constabulary line that there was nothing in it. He said he was being “pressed to hold an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry”. But he didn’t believe Parliament would buy it.
But he said two police investigations had discovered nothing and…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Totalitarianism and celebrating the death of Thatcher

The Lollipop Guild from The Wizard of Oz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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


			

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Thatcher’s dead

Yes, she’s finally dead. She tore apart the country and sold off the family silver. Under her rule, the North-South divide grew larger and people were urged to think only of themselves. Large swathes of the country had their hearts torn from them.

I promised myself that I’d play this on a loop when Thatcher snuffed it and here it is.

Here’s another tune that sums up the moment.

Elvis Costello wrote and recorded this at the height of Thatcher’s rule.

It’s 1322, I may go for a beer. I don’t usually drink during the day but this is a very special day.

Let’s remind ourselves of what happened in 11 years of her misrule.

  1. The sale of council homes. Councils were forbidden to use their capital receipts to build new homes. We now have the biggest housing crisis since WWII
  2. The Miners Strike. Subsequent pit closures devastated the communities that grew up around the collieries. The Metropolitan Police served as Thatcher’s private army
  3. Section 28
  4. The Poll Tax
  5. The abolition of the metropolitan counties
  6. The Falklands War
  7. The deregulation of the financial sector, which has contributed to the banking issues we see today.
  8. The widening of the North-South divide
  9. School league tables
  10. The wholesale privatization of nationally-owned  industries and public services
  11. The marketization of education
  12. The Toxteth, St Paul’s, Handsworth and Brixton riots
  13. The lack of real jobs to replace those lost through privatization
  14. Anti-union legislation (revenge for 1974)
  15. Canary Wharf and the rest of the “Enterprise Zones” where people could be paid less and weren’t allowed to collectively bargain for improvements to pay and conditions
  16. British Rail effectively starved of funding to prepare it for privatization
  17. Massive cuts to arts funding. Arts and culture reduced to commodities.
  18. Unqualified support for Pinochet and his repressive regime.

So there you have it. The wicked witch is dead. Now let’s get rid of this shower in power.

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Savile and Thatcher

I’d always known that Jimmy Savile was sympathetic to the Tories but in this video from 1976, we see that he was best pals with the Auld Witch before she became Prime Minister.

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