Tag Archives: neoliberalism

The Undignifed Response To The Grenfell Tower Fire From Britain’s Right

The terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in Notting Dale last week in which scores, possibly hundreds, of people died, has prompted rather peculiar knee jerk reactions from Britain’s right-wing commentators and their followers. The most popular complaint among them is “the left has politicized this tragedy”. This is an interesting accusation, given the fact housing is a political issue, and for the fact the claim reveals a general ignorance of the word ‘politic(s)’. But the accusation is also indicative of a state of mind that blinds a person to empathy, compassion, sympathy and all the things that make us human; the very things that separate us from the machines. We do not ‘process’ feelings; we reflect, we meditate and we think about them; perhaps we act on them individually and collectively. That’s politics. Individual organs within our bodies (it’s not a ‘wonderful’ machine) may process nutrients but as organisms, we are more than the sum total of our physical processes. A point missed by those, like the Ayn Rand cultists, who would convince us that we are nothing more than robots made of flesh.

Catherine Itzin (1980), in her excellent book about British political theatre, Stages In The Revolution, argued “Everything is political; all life is political”. Second wave feminists always said “The personal is political”. We should also remind ourselves that word ‘politics’ is derived from ‘polis’ the Ancient Greek word for city; a place with a high concentration of citizens . In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle used the word politikos to describe the ‘affairs of the citizens’. In this form it can mean anything from an individual’s preferences and judgements, or the discourses that groups of people create or circulate among themselves.  Politics is not limited to the practices of professional politicians and their associates in the press.

Merriam Webster offers these definitions of the word ‘politics’.

  1. 1a :  the art or science of government b :  the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy c :  the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government

  2. 2:  political actions, practices, or policies

  3. 3a :  political affairs or business; especially :  competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government)b :  political life especially as a principal activity or profession c :  political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices

  4. 4:  the political opinions or sympathies of a person

  5. 5a :  the total complex of relations between people living in society b :  relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view office politics ethnic politics

Like it or not, housing is a political issue and to accuse a group or a person of “politicizing the tragedy” misses this point – especially when the local authority’s response to the Grenfell blaze was so woeful. This was a preventable tragedy and to voice that fact is political and rightly so.

When Jeremy Corbyn told the media that empty homes in the borough should be requisitioned to temporarily house Glenfell survivors, the howls of outrage were as predictable as they were hysterical.  These self-appointed moral guardians would tell us they are educated, but their comprehension of written and spoken English was noticeably lacking in their discourses.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a requisition is a:

NOUN

  • An official order laying claim to the use of property or materials.

    ‘I had to make various requisitions for staff and accommodation’
    1. 1.1 A formal written demand that something should be performed or put into operation.
      ‘requisitions for an Extraordinary General Meeting must state the business to be transacted’
    2. 1.2 Law A demand to the vendor of a property for the official search relating to the title.
    3. 1.3 mass noun The appropriation of goods for military or public use.
      ‘requisition of grain at the point of a gun proved a novel experience for the peasantr

The word that many right-wingers reached for instead of requisition was confiscation: a completely different word, which is defined as:

NOUN

mass noun

  • The action of taking or seizing someone’s property with authority; seizure.

    ‘a court ordered the confiscation of her property’

There it is. It isn’t that they misheard the word. Oh no. They heard what they wanted to hear: “millionaires’ properties should be confiscated to house displaced [but filthy] working class people from our neighbourhood[that we’d rather not see]”.

According to Helmet Head, the oligarchs who have bought properties in Kensington and Chelsea and left them empty, are entitled to special privileges by dint of their bloated bank accounts and their greed (here, the billionaire is revered as a living god). Property ownership is apparently an inalienable ‘human right’ that trumps the right to life, freedom of expression and so on.

Hysteria and hyperbole. First, legislation would have to be introduced for this to occur and second, homes were requisitioned by the government order during the First and Second World Wars. Requisitioning properties in times of emergency is nothing new and the properties are always returned to their owners. This is an emergency.

The Lyin’ King, in his column for CapX, effectively dodges the question of possible corporate manslaughter or managerial incompetence by adopting a morally high, but ultimately questionable, position of disinterest. He opens in his typically dishonest fashion by linking Grenfell Tower to a hoax call. It’s pretty despicable.

Do you remember the tragic story of Jacintha Saldanha? You don’t? It was huge at the time. Jacintha was a nurse at the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her first child. She got a hoax call from two Australian radio presenters pretending to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales, and put it through to the relevant ward nurse. When the news broke, Jacintha, who had had a history of depression, committed suicide by hanging, leaving two teenage children.

He then links the genuine concerns of the residents and neighbours and the glacially sluggish response from RB Kensington and Chelsea’s leadership to scapegoating  innocent parties. I draw your attention to the final sentence, because it is most revealing.

We are still at that stage in the aftermath of the Grenfell horror. Obviously, we need to find out what went wrong, and assess whether other places are at risk. If there is evidence of criminal negligence, of course that negligence should be punished. But the discussion over the past two days has gone well beyond these things. The country is bellowing for a scapegoat big enough and monstrous enough to bear responsibility for such an outrage. The idea of a tragic accident simply won’t do.

Yes, this is tragic. That’s stating the bleedin’ obvious but an accident? How does Dan, for all his moralizing and expensive education, know this was an “accident”? Moreover, by referring to Grenfell as a “tragic accident”, he is making his own political judgement of the disaster.

But what about the contributing factors?  Has Dan not read the Grenfell Action Group blog?  Does he think that residents shouldn’t have voiced their concerns at the  substandard quality of the £10 million refurbishment, or the mysterious power surges? Does he think that, given their circumstances as renters, they have no right to complain? Those who rent their homes as opposed to those who buy their, are often seen by the property-owning classes, as second class citizens. 

Like our pre-modern ancestors, we have an innate sense that, for such a horrifying event to have happened, there must have been great wickedness at work. Like them, we disagree as to who was responsible for the wickedness. Usually, though, just as they did, we blame whomever we already happened not to like. Glancing at this morning’s newspapers, I see that the Guardian blames inequality, the Mail blames eco-regulations, the Express blames EU rules and the Mirror blames the Tories. Simon Jenkins, that champion of harmonious and well-proportioned architecture, blames tower-blocks. Owen Jones, my favourite radical, blames racketeering landlords. For all I know, one or more of these villains may indeed be at fault; but, for now, it is mainly guesswork.

 A massive point has been missed.

Here, Hannan tells his readers to give money and to sympathize with the victims, while at the same he presumes to speak for the residents and their suffering. Just wow.

The media always follow the same course on these occasions. Having initially blamed their favourite bêtes noires, they will move on to the victims and survivors, asking them what should be done. Which brings me to a very hard thing that needs saying. The victims deserve our utmost sympathy as well as our practical help. Please do give, if you haven’t already, to one of the appeals. But bereaved relatives have no particular authority when it comes to finding the correct prescriptions. We should not expect policy ideas from people in shock, and demanding them is not just a form of journalistic grandstanding; it is also deeply unfair to the victims it purports to elevate.

Emotions are human, and grief and suffering are expressed in individual ways. Money is not the only answer; it is only a sticking plaster. Long term needs must be considered, namely the residents’ right to live in their neighbourhood in safety.

Hannan et al will always deny the central issue of housing provision and potential avoidability of this disaster is political issue, but this view is as absurd as it is dangerous. It smacks of  a wilful disinterest that is wholly based upon class privilege. Their underlying disgust for, not only council tenants, but the working class as a social formation, bobs up from behind the cover of their tiresome and empty platitudes, and is thus visible for all to see. Charity, for them is the answer, not a proposal to deal with the structural inequalities that have blighted this country for generations, but philanthropy and the guiding hand of paternalism is offered to head off any real demands for meaningful social, political, cultural and economic settlement. This is disgust in action.

Disgust figures prominently in the tweets of CapX’s  Iain Martin, who subjects last week’s protests outside Kensington Town Hall, to a volley of sneers, paranoia and misinterpretations. In this tweet, he slyly insinuates the residents – who should be meek; content in their social condition – are being led astray by members of the much depleted Socialist Workers’ Party.

But even if left-wing parties are marching in solidarity with the residents and a few SWP placards (which are on every fucking march and demo, by the way.  It doesn’t mean that everyone is a fucking member) are seen, does this necessarily prove anything? Is this necessarily the SWP in another bandwagon-jumping exercise? Not really.  Any human would have been appalled at what happened to those poor unfortunate people. Would this country’s right-wing have taken up the cause of those who lost their homes at Grenfell Tower by marching in solidarity with them? It’s highly unlikely.  Well, no, actually.  They only protest when their idea of freedom is challenged or when it’s otherwise not being met on their terms. Even then, such events are poorly-attended.

In this tweet to Owen Jones, Martin insists that the residents, whom he describes as a “mob”, aren’t capable of spontaneous collective agency but are being led astray by the darkest of forces. Yes, it’s the SWP again, cast here as “tin pot revolutionaries”.

Beneath Martin’s sneers burns a fierce class hatred that is bolstered by his sense of class entitlement, which is common to all free market cultists.  Indeed, it speaks volumes when I say that I have yet to meet a working class right-wing libertarian. I don’t think they exist. Anarchists, yes. Libertarians, no.

Brendan O’Neill claims to be a man of the left, a Marxist even, but this claim has always been empty. He’s a right-wing libertarian-contrarian, who spends his days shouting about the ‘middle class left’ and views the working class as a homogeneous mass that is ignorant, easily led and certainly not left-wing. In his article for Spiked Online, he demands that Labour, the left or whoever, stop “exploiting the dead of Grenfell Tower”. His article ploughs roughly the same furrow as the Lyin’ King’s effort but is no less wilfully ignorant in its tone and manner. We get to his ideological spin at the bottom of the piece:

‘But the Grenfell disaster is political’, the people exploiting it cry, somewhat defensively. And they’re right. It is. Social housing and gentrification and the eco-approved application of cladding to tower blocks are political issues, or at least public issues, and we should talk about them. But these people aren’t treating Grenfell as political; they’re treating it as party political. They’re using it to demean Toryism as evil, and big up Corbyn as the leader Britain needs right now. He cares, you see, unlike them. He is Good, they are Bad. This isn’t politics – this is a culture war, where the horrors experienced by the working classes of North Kensington are used to underpin the binary moralism of a Corbynista worldview of the right as wicked and the left as decent. They are building their political movement on the corpses of the poor, and no amount of radical-sounding lingo can cover up just how cynical, opportunistic and depraved that is.

O’Neill uses the Grenfell Disaster to attack Corbyn. It’s intellectually dishonest and it’s shabby. His screed reveals his rather slippery view of his politics: the right is “wicked” and the left is “decent” he moans. But this is no more than a warped perception of Corbyn’s very human response to the disaster. I don’t recall Bruvver Bren making any demands on behalf of the residents or, indeed, meeting them face-to-face. Can you? O’Neill takes Murdoch’s shilling, so his job is to produce unimaginative crap like this.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Brendan O’Neill.

For the likes of Toby Young, Dan Hannan, and Iain Martin, the working class should simply put up with their condition because, so the neoliberal argument goes, they made ‘poor life choices’. If they burn to death in a ‘tragic accident’ then one must remain calm and accept the fact that politics is something that is practised by, and reserved for, professionals like Hannan, a man who takes a salary from the European Union, but who has worked to destroy the very institution from which he has benefited enormously.

Since the days of Thatcher, right-leaning middle class types have always believed in the notion that the working class can simply ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ and be like them. The trouble is, the working class cannot be like them because, unlike them, they weren’t born into privilege. They literally cannot afford to be right-wing libertarians or Tories.

Reference/further reading

Bourdieu, P. (2003). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge.

De Certeau, M (1988). The Practice of Everyday Life. London: University of California Press.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Harvey, D. (2007). “Neoliberalism as creative destruction”. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 610(1), pp 21-44.

Itzin, C. (1980). Stages in the revolution: political theatre in Britain since 1968. London: Eyre Metheun.

Rowe, C. J., & Broadie, S. (2002). Nicomachean ethics. Oxford University Press.

 

 

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Filed under London, Media, Murdoch press, propaganda

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

Yanis Varoufakis Slaps Down An Economic Simpleton

I had to post this clip from last night’s Question Time of Yanis Varoufakis demolishing this audience member’s simplistic economic analogy. It’s the first time I can remember anyone on television ripping apart the Thatcherite notion that household and personal finances are equivalent to state finances. Glorious.

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Filed under Government & politics, Public spending

Democracy Wins But The BBC Fails (Again)

This evening’s Greek referendum result was a victory for the forces of democracy. The vote was 62% No and 39% Yes. Austerity doesn’t work and the Greek people have said as much in great numbers. The OXI (No) vote happened in the face of a relentless NAI  (Yes)campaign from Greece’s pro-austerity media.

The Tory government will use the occasion to continue to scaremonger about the “dangers” of “going back” to the mythical “bad old days”.  But they don’t have a mandate. 24.3% is nothing. 62% is a mandate. Tories, take note.

Meanwhile, the BBC and the rest of the British media will continue to peddle the lie that George Osborne’s LTEP is “working”. Can you see the green shoots of reification? If you can’t, then you’re probably an “extreme leftist”.

As I type this, a BBC News reporter in Athens is interviewing a New Democracy politician who’s claimed that it’s a “dark day for Greece”. Then the reporter interrupts to tell her that Antonis Samaras, the leader of the New Democrats, had resigned. She stumbles and mumbles something along the lines of “I couldn’t possibly comment”.

Cut to some vox pops of Greek people telling the camera how “scared they are for the future”. The propaganda: it’s blatant.

Expect more fun and games from our media over the coming days and weeks.

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Filed under Ideologies, Journalism, Media, propaganda, Television

They’re Spitting In Our Faces

No sooner than the new Tory government came to power with 24% of the electorate voting for them, they almost immediately signalled their intention to curtail civil liberties and construct new enemies to convince people of the need to sign away their hard fought freedoms. Within hours of the election results, the Tories and their allies in the right-wing press began recycling more language from the 1980s. Dark mutterings of ‘extreme left-wingers’ emanated from the lips of government ministers, and papers like the Daily Mail have warned of “left-wing thuggery” this summer. The government is trying to rush through new anti-terrorism laws (as if there aren’t enough of these already), new anti-union legislation, the abolition of the Human Rights Act and the failed ‘snooper’s charter’ in its first 100 days.

Extremism: a label devised to silence opposition and curb dissent

Today, Cameron announced his “anti-extremism bill“, which seems to me to be indiscriminate and designed to curtail civil liberties under the rubric of national security. But what is an “extremist”?  The bill ostensibly targets what are broadly described as “Islamists” but could also cover anyone or any group that, in the government’s eyes, is an ‘extremist’. This could include the Scottish National Party, protesters and even civil liberties advocacy groups like Liberty.

A revitalized police state

The so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’ or the Communications Data Bill, to give it its full name, has been revived after it was blocked by the Lib Dems. For a party that claims to “love” freedom and liberty, the Tories always reveal their true colours by proposing authoritarian measures that limit the freedoms of ordinary citizens. Carly Nyst, legal director for Privacy International told The Guardian,

“Theresa May’s comments confirm that widespread public concern about the threats posed to online privacy and expression by internet monitoring powers has been completely ignored by the new government.

“Communications data legislation has been repeatedly criticised by experts and politicians from all reaches of the political spectrum, and has been beaten back by the public and civil society time and time again.

“Reviving it as a policy priority is a clear sign both of an insatiable appetite for spying powers, and intentions to continue to sacrifice the civil liberties of Britons everywhere on the altar of national security.

In coalition, the Tories wanted to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with an ersatz version of their own. Now free of the beastly Lib Dems, they have resurrected the policy. However, the government could run into trouble if it attempts to scrap the HRA because it violates the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The SNP is also planning to challenge any attempt to abolish the HRA in the Scottish Parliament.

The task of repealing the HRA was given to the new Justice Minister, Michael Gove, a man with a limited intellectual capacity, but whose appetite for destruction knows no bounds. No one, not even Tory ministers, know what this British Bill of Rights will look like, but if Gove is steering it through then it’s bound to look like a dog’s breakfast.

Removing the right to strike

The Tories have always been implacably opposed to worker’s rights since the days of the Combination Acts. In the last Parliament they even tried to claim they were the ‘worker’s party’. Very funny. Sajid Javid appeared on Channel 4 News last night to promote the new anti-union bill. He claimed that other countries have similar laws, but he wouldn’t say which countries. The Cat suspects he’s talking about places like Equatorial Guinea (and possibly Pinochet’s Chile), where strikes are illegal and workers are beaten up and imprisoned. The government wants to impose a 50% turnout on strike ballots of those eligible to vote for a strike to be ‘legal’. Yet the Tories only won 24% of the vote themselves and that’s hardly a mandate in anyone’s vocabulary. Furthermore, Police and Crime Commissioners won elections on turnouts of around 16% and the new leader of Oxford City Council is in office on the back of an 8% turnout.

The rationale for this new legislation is to outlaw strikes or create conditions that make it difficult for trade unions to take industrial action. The Tories are especially keen to ban strikes on the London Underground, which it claims, somewhat melodramatically, is an ‘essential service’. I have never seen a tube train ferry injured and ill people to hospital, nor have I witnessed tube trains rushing to put out a house fire. The Tube is not an essential service, no matter how many times the Tories or their friends in the press repeat that ridiculous claim. The Tube is a form of public transport. Nothing more, nothing less.

Constructing ‘enemies within’

The Tories cannot exist without enemies and if they don’t exist, then they will construct them from opposition groups and oppressed minorities. Those of you who remember the Thatcher years will know that trade unionists, the especially the miners, the Labour Party (under Michael Foot) and CND were seen as the ‘enemy within’. This label was extended to cover LGBT people, ethnic minorities and left-wing local authorities. During the coalition years, the enemies were, in no particular order, public sector workers, the disabled and benefits claimants. It seems to me that anyone who opposes the Tory government’s anti-human and anti-democratic legislation will be regarded as a “left-wing extremist” even though the group or persons in question may not necessarily be left-wing at all.

Reliving the Thatcher Years

This government, rather than living in the present, only seems capable of living in the past. The Cat has a theory: the majority of these Tories weren’t old enough when Thatcher destroyed communities, smashed the unions and sold off our housing stock. They now want to relive the years they missed out on. We can see this in the Free Enterprise Group (FEG), whose members include 100% Evil, Dominic Raabid, Chris Skidmark, Liz (You Can’t) Truss (It) and Kwasi Kwarteng. Their book Britannia Unchained, claimed that British workers were inherently lazy. Nothing was said about the incompetence of British management.

Most of the Tories are incapable of living or dealing with the present. They have no new ideas and continually have to recycle old ones. Hence the rush to smash the unions, which are already being subjected to the most draconian anti-union legislation in Europe that was enacted during the Thatcher years. Alexei Sayle once described the current Tories as “a really bad Thatcherite tribute band”. He’s not wrong.

The Cat wonders how long it will be till we hear the same lines uttered by Thatcher 30 years ago about “permissiveness” and “lifestyle choices”?

Left-baiting/red-baiting and other bullshit

The Tory-dominated media outlets have, without exception, begun to produce a new series of left-baiting articles. This happened after the 2010 election too. This article by Bryony Gordon in the Daily Telegraph has the title “Stop your whingeing: why the left are such sore losers” and comes with the subtitle:

Labour voters should be ashamed of all the boohooing – and I speak as one

However, if you have a look at her Wikipedia entry, Gordon’s spent most of her working life writing for right-wing newspapers. Furthermore, the words “Labour” and “left-wing” are not contiguous. Gordon may have voted for Labour once in her life but that doesn’t make her “left-wing”, it makes her a hack.

The not-so-subtle discourse being conveyed by Gordon is “The Tories won. You should just let them fuck you over. It’s for your own good “. But this kind of discourse is what one would expect from an authoritarian regime, not defenders of ‘freedom’, surely?

Gordon writes:

Of course, proportional representation would still have given us a Tory government – just one in coalition with Ukip. Is that what the people marching on Westminster want?

And do they not remember the referendum for an alternative vote system four years ago, the one that the British public rejected out of hand? Have they forgotten the Labour victory of 2005, when the party only got 36 per cent of the vote? Where were the angry placards then? Where were the marches and protests and furious online campaigns for electoral reform? I’m guessing they were all buried under a massive pile of self-righteousness.

The alternative vote (AV) system was not proportional and many people could see that. Thus it was rejected. But Gordon doesn’t bother to mention this. AV was nothing but a sop; it was not a step on the road to PR, it was a cynical effort to kick the matter into touch. I have had arguments over this issue with people, who delude themselves with the notion that AV would have meant real PR somewhere down the line. How long down the line is anyone’s guess. I would say that if AV had prevailed, real PR would have been off the table forever. It is therefore right and proper that people should protest for a fair electoral system.

Over at the Daily Mail, self-styled historian Dominic Sandbrook repeats the old Thatcherite line about “hectoring left-wing politicians are telling people how to run their lives”. Yet, today, Cameron claimed that “Britain is too tolerant and should interfere in people’s lives more” (my bold). This actually contradicts the Tories’ and Sandbrook’s claims that it is only the Left that tells people “how to run their lives”. Hypocrisy much, Dominic? Cameron was speaking in defence of his ‘anti-extremism’ measures, which means the very right-wing government would stick its nose into everything.

Democratic deficit

There is a real democratic deficit in this country and it’s being made worse by a brutal Tory regime. They now want to redraw the electoral boundaries without proportional representation. This amounts to little more than blatant gerrymandering, since the boundaries would be drawn to suit the Tories, meaning that they would remain in power forever.

The next five years are going to be turbulent. We must be prepared to use what means we can to fight back. If that means civil disobedience, then so be it.

See you at the barricades!

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Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics

Life on Hannan World (Part 16)

Russell Brand: he must be doing something right if Hannan hates him.

I realise there has been little activity on my blog for a number of weeks. This is because I have been very busy with other things. I won’t go into detail but these things have taken a great deal of my time and demanded my utmost attnetion. It’s also likely that my blog output will be patchy over the coming weeks, though I expect to do some blogging closer to the General Election.

I’ve resisted the temptation to comment on Russell Brand because he has been covered from all different angles by all manner of people. Brand’s associations with Laurence Easeman have been the subject of considerable discussion since last October, when his book launch was cancelled after Easeman’s anti-Semitism and fascism were revealed. Under the circumstances, Brand did the right thing by cancelling the launch. At least Brand turns his back on fash and racists. Daniel ‘Anglosphere’ Hannan, on the other hand, airbrushes the latter.

Brand’s appearance on the national political stage has got tongues wagging on the Left and as for the Right? Well, they aren’t taking this at all well. Why? Because they’re in the firing line and they know it. I found this blog from Hannan that attempts to paint Brand as a wannabe dictator.

Russell Brand describes himself as a “comedian and campaigner”. While we might wonder at the first epithet, we can’t argue with the second. The man has built up a huge following among the angry teenage Lefties who dominate Twitter. His theme is that all politics is corrupt, all MPs are plutocrats’ stooges, and all rich people – except him, naturally – are part of a racket.

Bitchy and bitter. “Twitter” Hannan opines, is dominated by “angry teenage Lefties”. Really? That’s news to me. I’ve found many lefties on Twitter but equally, I’ve encountered plenty of vile right-wingers whose idea of free speech begins and ends at insult. They’re also rather fond of the kind of racist and sexist language that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from John Tyndall (deceased) or the bully boys (and girl) of Britain First.

Think about that for a moment. Russell Brand’s quarrel isn’t with the people who have more courage than him; it’s with parliamentary democracy itself. A chap might be making an honest living as, say, a “comedian and campaigner”; but the very fact of bothering to ask his countrymen for their votes would turn him into a shyster.

I love the way The Lyin’ King opens this paragraph with the word “Think”. Thinking isn’t something that either he or his brethren do very well. They react and they presume. Hannan, a Conservative MEP for the South-east, spends his time attacking the European Union, while taking his not-too-insubstantial salary from it. His position on the EU doesn’t differ that much from the Kippers. He is a very part of the corrupt system that Brand stands against.

OK, Russell, so if you don’t like representative democracy, what’s your alternative? Anarchy? Fascism? Monarchical absolutism? An Islamic Caliphate? Because you can’t have a functioning democracy without politicians; and politicians, in every parliament, tend to group themselves officially or unofficially into parties.

More bitchiness. Let’s get something straight: anarchism is a political philosophy; anarchy is a state in which there is chaos and disorder… which is what would happen if we lived in the kind of Randian world that Dan and his buddy Carswell dream about. Most right-wingers can’t tell the difference between anarchism and anarchy and if you attempt to point out the differences, they put their fingers in their ears. Hannan squeals “you can’t have a functioning democracy without politicians”. Well, that depends on what you mean by “democracy” and it also depends on what you mean by the word “politicians”. I suspect Hannan is only thinking of professional politicians that are drawn, as they currently are, from the ranks of the bourgeoisie and the grand bourgeoisie; the scions of the aristocracy, landed gentry and the so-called captains of industry. The very same people Hannan went to school with: in other words, those who believe it is their right to govern by dint of their circumstances of birth. We also see how the political world is explained to us on television by members of the same class as the politicians themselves, who coincidentally attended the same educational institutions. Nick Robinson? James Landale? Tom Bradby?

You might think that Brand’s contention is so puerile as not to merit serious refutation. The chap is, if nothing else, brilliant at promoting his book by courting controversy. But, listen to the ululations of the studio audience when he speaks; read the ecstasy of his Twitter followers. Russell Brand may be cynically boosting his sales, but there are millions out there who take him seriously, parroting his line about parliamentary government being a scam.

Yawn. Someone’s jealous they’re not getting enough attention. Dan? Is that you? Daft question. Hannan is rather good at promoting his dismal books too (like How We Invented Freedom and Why it Matters). In fact, he’s a well-versed in the art of self-publicity to such an extent that when he farts, Fox News is on hand to cover the event. Let’s have a look at the last phrase about parliamentary government. Hannan clearly believes there is nothing wrong and that it doesn’t need to be fixed. Parliamentary politics, as they are currently constituted, is a political dead end. Neoliberalism dominates the thinking of most of Westminster’s politicians and they countenance nothing else. “The market” we are told, “is moral” and the best we’re ever likely to get. We don’t live in a democracy, we live in a tyranny – albeit an elected one. Welcome to the dystopia, leave your dreams, hopes and desires at the door.

I remember hearing the same remarks in South America during the 1990s. Democracy is a sham, all politicians are crooks, voting only encourages them, blah blah. Such disillusionment was the prelude to the populist authoritarianism than has since spread across the continent, knocking aside parliamentary rule in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and elsewhere. The new caudillos aren’t exactly dictators: they were more or less fairly elected. But, once in office, they set about destroying every check on their power, from opposition media to independent courts, justifying every power-grab as a way of getting even with the old elites.

There’s only one problem with Hannan’s thesis and it’s the kind of people who were running these South American countries: the oligarchs and bootlickers who were in thrall to Washington. They were displaced through a combination of popular suffrage and education; two of the things that were denied to ordinary people during the rule of the caudillos. No doubt The Lyin’ King would like to see a return to the days of Operation Condor when people knew their place and those who didn’t were crushed under the military’s jackboot. How dare you question capitalism’s evident limits and fallibilities?

Could something similar happen in Europe? Well, look at what has already happened. In 2011, Brussels imposed civilian juntas on Italy and Greece, toppling elected governments in favour of Eurocrats. What was the justification for these Euro-coups? Pretty much the same as Russell Brand’s: that democracy had failed. As the then President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durrão Barroso, had put it a few months earlier: “Governments are not always right. If governments were right, we wouldn’t have the situation we have today. Decisions taken by the most democratic decisions in the world are very often wrong”.

Hannan’s reasoning here is sloppy, confused and relies heavily on two things: his antithesis to the EU and his love of laissez-faire capitalism. If you hate the EU so much, Dan, you could always stop taking a salary from it. Just a thought, eh? The idea that you’re fighting an ‘evil’ entity from the inside just doesn’t ring true.

Let me put the question again: what is the alternative? Dislike of party politics has been the justification for every autocrat in history: Cromwell, Bonaparte, Lenin, Mussolini, Franco. And it always starts in the same way, with the arguments now being put forward by Russell Brand.

Scaremongering and histrionics. You will notice how Pinochet is absent from his list of autocrats. Presumably, he was the right kind of autocrat. Pinochet, after all, was bolstered by the Chicago Boys, a group of Friedmanite economists who privatized everything in sight and provided the template for Thatcher and Reagan’s assault on the working class. Hannan is an admirer of Thatcher and the notion that markets will provide [for the rich].  For Hannan, all that matters is the idea of growth but it’s the kind of growth that most ordinary folk can’t see in their wage packets. It’s the kind of growth that only benefits the rich and powerful, who continue to increase rents and prices. In fact, Hannan has written a panegyric to the supposed economic growth in the 1930s in another blog. I shall carve that up in due course.

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Filed under Journalism, Media, Yellow journalism

Gordon Brown’s Lies about Labour and the NHS in Scotland

Gordon Brown and the rest of the Labour Party like to tell us how it was their party that created the National Health Service. That’s true. But what is equally true is the way the Blair and then Brown governments handed over millions of pounds worth of contracts to private companies under the Private Finance Initiative or PFI. Brown, who has recently been seen in Scotland in a desperate bid to save the Better Together campaign, is damaged goods. No one will ever trust him or his party again and it’s his and Blair’s fault. The Scottish Labour Party, too, is guilty because they refused to make a clean break with their English cousins. Johann Lamont, the party leader, has hopelessly tied herself to the same rotten neoliberal economic policies as Blair and Brown.

A Yes vote is not only good for Scotland, it’s also good for British politics. Saor Alba! Bon Accord! Vive la revolution!

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Filed under Government & politics, Scottish Independence Referendum