Tag Archives: nostalgia

Politics Is Broken? Okay, But Who Broke Politics?

How many times have you heard the phrase “politics is broken” ? Probably too many to count. Many politicians will utter the phrase without asking the necessary ontological questions, like “who broke politics” or “why is politics broken”? Instead, the phrase is spoken as if things just occur without any cause or reason.

When Chuka Umunna and the rest of his fellow Labour splitters left the party and formed the Independent Group (independent from what, you might ask), what we got from them, aside from the usual guff about bullying, intimidation and anti-Semitism was that politics was “broken”. Of course, Umunna doesn’t supply any details, for to do so would mean that he’d have to use his brain for once in his charmed life. However, one may suggest that Umunna believes that our “broken” politics stem from one of three things: Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit and social media. He would be wrong on all three counts.

Intellectual lightweights

Here’s Umunna talking about broken politics in a press conference to announce the formation of The ‘Independent’ Group.

Umunna and his empty rhetoric aside, I have my own thoughts as to why politics, and British politics, in particular, are “broken”, but broken is not a word that I would use, and I would suggest that, rather than politics being “broken”, they are dysfunctional and for many reasons for this, a few of which I intend to outline below.

Let’s look back at the 2016 EU referendum (erroneously labelled ‘Brexit’), whose result, rather than produce the government’s desired outcome,  went in favour of leaving the EU by a slender margin.  For the Brexiteers, who continue to sell the result as the “will of the people”, it was a vindication of their beliefs that the EU was a faceless, dictatorial bureaucracy, which stifled our ‘freedoms’. They’ve reinforced their beliefs by evoking World War 2 myths of “standing alone”. Here’s Mark Francois being interviewed on the BBC News evoking another WW2 image, in which he tells the interviewer “My father was a D-Day veteran”.

That’s but one example of the tendency of British politicians to look backwards, evoking myths and legends as they go along. In fact, few can have failed to notice how right-wingers will often lazily compare the EU to Nazi Germany, a gross insult to any European country that was invaded and occupied by the Nazis. The EU referendum shone a spotlight on, not only our politicians tendency to to wallow in imperial self-congratulation, but the rottenness of our political systems and institutions and the crumbling archaic nature of Parliament itself, which exists only to further enrich those who are already rich.  The idea that ordinary voters should have a say in their political institutions are run is seen as anathema.

J’accuse

J’accuse career politicians and their stale ideas, empty promises and vague phrases like “our values”. Politicians like Umunna, Leslie et al, would have us believe that social media is responsible for the current state of political discourse. However, they would be wrong. Their objections to social media are predicated upon the notion that the production and dissemination of information should remain in the hands of the official media; a media which is sympathetic to them and their clapped out politics. These politicians don’t mind using racism to achieve their political objectives and the recent weaponization of anti-Semitism is but one example. If people get hurt, their attitude is to shrug their shoulders and repeat the same baseless accusations. This is where the weaponization of racism and anti-Semitism leads to: death threats sent to prominent people of colour in the media and entertainment industries  and physical attacks on our streets.  Then there are politicians like James Cleverly and Wes Streeting who both use Twitter to troll and smear their political opponents and members of the public.

J’accuse the Westminster Parliament, which is no longer fit for purpose: it exists almost entirely to consolidate and extend the power of many of those who use it for their own ends. Its voting systems are antiquated and many of its procedures are slow, cumbersome and arcane. It is a major obstacle to real change.

J’accuse the glaring imbalance of political power in the country; a political power that is concentrated almost entirely in Westminster. For all their talk of devolution, what we get from our political leaders instead are empty phrases like the ‘Northern Powerhouse™. The fact remains that economically, socially and politically, the north and other regions of the United Kingdom have been left behind, and when voters used the referendum to make this point, it showed exactly how decayed the organs of the British body politic have become. The First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system forces us to either choose between two political monoliths or abstain from voting entirely because of its alienating effects (what’s the point?). FPTP is a gift to cynical politicians and we saw this being exploited in the Conservatives’ 2015 General Election campaign, which played precisely on these feelings of alienation (“they’re all the same, so you may as well continue voting Tory or better still, don’t vote at all”).

J’accuse a sycophantic mass media which is overly sympathetic to not only government, but the same useless politicians who are in politics for prestige rather than making any real difference to the lives of their constituents.  The media lies and covers for these politicians rather than hold them to account. Instead, we see the same media harangue, bully, interrupt and smear politicians of the Left as ‘anti-Semites’ and ‘Kremlin stooges’. Lobby journalists aren’t called that for no reason: they hang around the lobbies of Parliament like flies circling a bare light bulb in a filthy pub toilet. The same media also promotes, legitimizes and normalizes the discourses of the far-right and never misses an opportunity to put far-right figures in the television studios, where it flatters and humours them rather than scrutinize their words and actions. If one accuses the media of bias, they lie and try to gaslight rather than accept the fact that they’re wrong.

J’accuse the lack of genuine democracy, and what there is of it is systematically undermined by the mass media and their friends in Parliament. The fact that many working class people in the North of England used the EU referendum to send a message to Parliament and its MPs reveals the decay of Britain’s political systems, the lack of real democracy and its unfair voting system of First Past The Post. Well guess what? The politicians have simply swerved around the issue rather than deal with it.

So, politics isn’t “broken”: it’s dysfunctional, ossified and in an advanced state of decay, and the politicians themselves, rather than accept responsibility for its unhealthy condition, would rather deflect the blame elsewhere. Instead of looking forward, they would rather wallow in nostalgia. But they’re not the only ones: the opinion-formers in the media will always summon up false memories of the 1980s rather than deal with the here and now.  We’re being poorly served by unimaginative politicians and a supine media. We can do much better than these deadbeats.

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Let’s Talk About: The Free Enterprise Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Conservative Party, Free Enterprise group, Government & politics, Let's Talk About

The UK, The European Union And The Golf Club Analogy

Historically speaking, Britain has been the European Union’s worst member. It constantly demanded special treatment and blamed almost everything it could on the institution.  Now it’s leaving.  In one sense, Britain’s relationship with the EU can be likened to its joining a swanky golf club and abusing its membership privileges.  Below is a short story about that relationship.

For ages,  a man (we’ll call him ‘Tommy’)  wanted to join this really exclusive golf club, but each time he applied, his application was rejected. This happened for 20 years. Then, finally,  Tommy’s allowed to join. So what does he do? First, he celebrates by getting hammered on bottles of  Gold Label barley wine in The Dog and Duck. Then he walks down the road to the club, waves his membership card at the concierge and promptly relieves himself  in the potted plants near the front door. Then as Horst walks past, he shouts “Oi! Jerry! Faaaack off”! [makes lewd gesture]. “Remember the faaaaacking war? I faaaaaacking do”!

Staggering towards the pro shop, Tommy proceeds to fill his pockets with golf balls, tees and whatever else he can stuff into them. “I wish I’d brought a faaaaacking bag for this shit”, Tommy mutters as he grabs a wad of cash from the till. “What are you faaaaaacking looking at, froggy?” he demands, as Jacques looks on disapprovingly.  From there, Tommy, worse for wear, walks into the club’s swanky restaurant and proceeds to take a dump in the middle of the room to gasps of astonishment.  Pulling up his pants, he shouts “I don’t want to be a member of this shit-hole any more. You can all faaaaaack off” and stumbles out of the golf club swearing as he goes down the road. Minutes later, Tommy falls into the gutter dribbling and mumbling something about cancelling his direct debit.

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The Class Disgust Of The Blairites

The Blairites only tolerate the working class, but only just. Like Victorian children, they should be seen and not heard. In the past, the working class performed an important function by supplying Labour with votes in the 1997, 2000 and 2005 General Elections. But over the course of 20 years, Labour has been losing working class support in its so-called heartlands. The Blairites’ answer to this is to claim that the party was “too left-wing” and must attract Tory voters to win elections. It’s nonsense. In the entire 13 years they were in power, Nu Labour refused to repeal the most pernicious of Thatcher’s legislation – especially the anti-trade union laws, which directly affect workers.

It’s no secret that the Blairites through their think-tank, Progress, are more interested in chasing billionaires and their money than appealing to working class voters; the same voters the party was founded to represent. If they do speak of the working class, it’s to claim that they’re ignorant, illiterate and racist, while they use them as a justification to out-UKIP UKIP by mimicking their immigration policies. As far as the Blairites are concerned, the working class is more interested in keeping foreigners out than decent homes, jobs, healthcare and educational opportunities.

Now to the point of this blog. I was alerted to this article on the Progress website by this Tweet on their official Twitter account. It speculates on who among Jeremy Corbyn’s close allies will ‘seize the crown’ – so to speak.

It not only repeats the by now familiar line that Corbyn and his supporters are “hard left” and “Trotskyists”, it also adopts a sneering tone towards prominent working class members of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

The article’s author, Paul Richards (who’s he?) opens with this paragraph:

One thing you can guarantee, like rain on a bank holiday, is splits on the hard-left. The old Monty Python joke is funny because it is true. For the all the calls for workers’ unity, disunity is the stock-in-trade. The Trotskyist parties are all fragments of one another. The vanity parties such as Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour party, George Galloway’s Respect or Ken Loach’s Left Unity are all the products of splits, which have themselves split.

This, from a party-within-a-party that is so far to the right that it’s perfectly aligned with the socially liberal fractions of the Tory Party and the Lib Dems, who were themselves formed from a merger of the Labour splitters, the SDP and the Liberal Party. This from a faction that’s done more to undermine the party leadership than any left-wingers have done in Labour’s history.  Just to correct Richards, Left Unity wasn’t the product of a split; it was created in response to the lack of a left-wing alternative as well as Labour’s inertia under Ed Miliband. As for “vanity”, Nu Labour could be seen as Blair’s vanity project. He hijacked the party for his own ends and used it as a platform for personal greed once he left Parliament. The party lost thousands of members and 5 million voters but there’s not a peep from the Blairites or Progress about this. Instead, they live in a bubble, isolated from reality with only their delusions and nostaglia for company.

Here Richards  indulges himself in a little intellectual masturbation.

You might think the widening schisms amongst Corbynites are linked to his dismal personal ratings as the most unpopular leader ever, net loss of council seats, inability to appoint a functioning frontbench or the growing Tory lead in the opinion polls.

For Richards and his ilk, the polls are sacrosanct. Yet, as many of us already know, the Blairites brief their pals in the Murdoch press, a negative story is written by someone like Blair’s former speechwriter, Philip Collins, which is then followed by a poll to confirm their biases. Oddly enough, the bookies disagree with the pollsters. How did that happen?

Here, Richards demonstrates a glaring lack of self-awareness:

Remember those posh kids who discover socialism and sell papers outside Tesco? Think Rik Mayall as Rick in the Young Ones. Richard Burgon is that kid. Educated in the leafy suburbs of Harrogate, followed by St John’s College Cambridge, where he studied English Literature, he went on to become a solicitor. Burgon adopted a leftwing persona as a teen, and has never grown out of it.

The not-so-subtle discourse here is that left-wing politics is for teenagers. Grown ups apparently adopt more ‘sensible’ positions: like sneering at working class people and demanding the government step in to crush the guards’  strike on Southern Rail.

The Blairite disdain for protest, which is derided as a student pastime, is itself a notion that swerves around the fact that people of all ages protest. Moreover, protest is a legitimate form of political expression. The Blairites and the Tories seem to believe that the public’s engagement with politics should begin and end at the ballot box.  It’s as if to say “You’ve voted, what more do you want”? Protest for them should be either crushed or ignored – so much for the will of the people, eh? Remember the millions that marched against the Iraq War? That’s how much Blairites regard protests. Making war against weaker nations on the basis of non-existent evidence is supposedly more ‘adult’ than protest.

Once elected in 2015 (following a helpful phonecall from uncle Colin to Ed Miliband ahead of the selection process, denying Leeds a second all-women shortlist), the T-shirt wearing, placard waving student protestor has become a T-shirt wearing, placard waving MP. Feel the Burgon

Richards’s claim that Burgon only became an MP because of his uncle ignores the fact that, in 2015, the so-called ‘red princes’  Euan Blair and Will Straw were being lined up for safe seats.  Only Neil Kinnock’s son, Stephen, was successful in getting  selected and won a nice safe seat. No nepotism there. As you were.

Of Angela Rayner, Richards writes:

Rayner was a direct beneficiary of the Tony Blair-led Labour government, especially sure start, and understands more than most why we need a Labour government. Her thirst for power is political not personal. Oh, and she likes Star Wars.

The subtext of this paragraph is that because Rayner apparently benefited from Sure Start, she should get down on her knees and kiss Blair’s purple buskins. The Star Wars quip is throwaway.

Rebecca Long-Bailey comes in for this sideways sneer.

Her frontbench career was unimpaired by a series of uncertain early performances on television, notably being duffed up by Andrew Neil over Brexit. She learned economics on the job, as shadow chief secretary to the treasury, with the same diligence that earned her her sociology degree from Manchester Polytechnic.

First, Manchester Polytechnic hasn’t existed since 1992 when it became Manchester Metropolitan University. Second, Sociology is a real subject that deals with the politics of everyday life. Richards seems to think that only those educated at Oxbridge and in possession of PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) degrees should be in the shadow cabinet. But Miliband’s shadow cabinet was full of PPE types: Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and Miliband himself were all Oxford PPE graduates, who had also served as special advisers and researchers. The lack of imagination among them was palpable and the absence of meaningful policies was glaring. Miliband’s Labour was a Cowardly Lion of a party: too afraid to challenge the Tories’ empty claims that “Labour crashed the economy” and “bankrupted the nation”, and too feeble to raise a fist in anger. Instead, it adopted what Miliband called “constructive opposition”.

According to Richards, Clive Lewis has

… a rich back story. Not rich as in wealthy, like Corbyn, but rich as in fascinating. He grew up on a council estate as the son of a single father. As a student unionist he stood against the Labour candidate for National Union of Students president in 1996.

The claim that Corbyn is fabulously wealthy is repeated here. Indeed, the section on Lewis is used as cover to attack Corbyn and repeat the same lies printed in the Tory press. The only word Richards left out when writing about Lewis was ‘exotic’.

Richards saves all his bile for John McDonnell, who is described in the caricature as “The Trotfather”. It’s juvenile stuff from an allegedly adult Blairite.

Even in a roomful of Corbynistas, McDonnell is the most leftwing person in the room. He was sacked by Ken Livingstone as deputy of the Greater London Council in 1985 for wanting London to copy the glorious resistance of Militant-led Liverpool; even Livingstone thought it a bit extreme. In 2003 he praised the ‘bravery’ of the IRA. He then apologised ‘if he had caused offence’.

Notice how Richards recycles the old “McDonnell appeases the IRA” smear. What’s perhaps worse is his repetition of the mainstream media claim that Militant was evil and hellbent on destroying Liverpool. The idea behind this is that the Militant-run council should have submitted fully to the will of Thatcher and her henchmen. Militant improved the lives of thousands of Scousers. It built much-needed homes and fought against a government that was intent on the city’s destruction. The Cat doubts Richards is old enough to remember the 1980s, such is the juvenile tone of this article and its cavalier approach to history.

Labour right-wingers are granted immunity when it comes to smearing members of their own party. They are permitted to indulge in their class disgust. Yet Labour left-wingers are suspended on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism and CLPs are suspended on the basis of lies and baseless allegations of intimidation. Will Iain McNicol take action against Progress? Don’t hold your breath. Not even the mainstream media has reported this story.

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Filed under Government & politics, Ideologies, Labour, Media, propaganda

Let’s Talk About: Those New Labour Achievements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Democracy’s A Bitch

Democracy’s a bitch. That’s what the Labour Party’s right-wing is currently getting to grips with. Having changed the rules to elect a new leader, the Blairite postmodernists are now crying foul because Jeremy ‘Juggernaut’ Corbyn’s campaign is leaving the rest of the field in the dust.

The rules were changed, mainly because of pressure from the Tories and their media allies to end the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions,  and when the Tory press says “jump”, the Labour leadership not only asks “how high”, it adds “can I kiss your boots too, sir”?

So far this leadership election has reminded us of the following:

  1. The Westminster elites are contemptuous of democracy and the people they’re elected (or appointed) to serve. John Mann’s call for Harriet Harman to suspend the leadership election is the latest example. Mann is a right-winger who once worked for the right-wing Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union led by the right-wing Ken Jackson. Need I say more?
  2. The last thing the Tory government wants is a strong opposition. It prefers a weak or non-existent opposition, such as that under the current leadership. You can have any opposition party you like as long as it’s right-wing party posing as a centrist party. Even Francoist Spain had token opposition parties that lent a democratic veneer to the authoritarian regime.
  3. The lack of tolerance on the part of the neoliberal consensus (Labour-Tory-Lib Dem-UKIP) for dissenting points of view
  4. There’s a preference on the part of the Tories, the Labour right and their media allies for a revisionist take on history, which has been coupled with a morbid obsession with selectivized moments from the past. For example, the claim that a Corbyn leadership would be just like Michael Foot’s leadership of the party in 1983, and the constant referencing of “the longest suicide note in history”. It is interesting, though not surprising, that the Labour right and the Tories both do this. Neither party is fresh and each copies the other in the hope that no one will notice.
  5. Soundbite politics and presentationalism are no longer viable. Voters pay attention to someone that has a message and speaks with conviction and passion. Many people, especially those who have never really engaged with politics, are starting to see through the superficial crap from Labour and the Conservatives.
  6. According to the mainstream media, the Labour leadership, and the Tory government, anyone who opposes austerity, cuts to public services, wage freezes, the selling off the NHS, fracking, neoliberalism and corruption in public office (Hello, Dave) is an “extreme left-winger”. This term was once used to refer to real left-wingers rather than liberals, social democrats and the unaligned. It’s yet another reminder of how far to the right public discourse has been pushed over the last 35+ years.

Politics is too important to leave to career politicians. Take politics back from Westminster!

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Starving British children are looking for food in rubbish bins

This is a truly shocking story of children forced to scavenge for food. The Tories think poverty is a “left-wing” plot to discredit their “reforms”. When I began this blog over four years ago, I speculated that there would be a rise in homelessness and shanty towns would spring up. I read an article yesterday that actually used the words “shanty towns” in the headline. You could be forgiven for thinking this is Britain in 1814, but it’s 2014 and we have a Tory-led government that’s not only obsessed with the ‘message’, but is also overly fond of nostalgia for the 19th century. This was the dawn of classical liberal economics and a time when everyone knew their place. In the 19th century poverty was rampant, so was disease and illiteracy. Nostalgia underpins all Tory thinking. Denial of the facts is a symptom. This is why I demand a cultural response as well as a political response to the crisis.

Mike Sivier's blog

Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition's hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel]. Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition’s hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel]. British children are sifting through bins left outside houses in search of scraps of food because they are starving, it has been revealed.

But Tories and their supporters in rich London won’t have to look at them – because they are in Labour-held Stoke-on-Trent.

The Stoke Sentinel reported that “Youngsters have been searching through bins in the Hollings Street and Brocksford Street area of Fenton before eating any leftovers.”

It said, “Dozens of hungry families are referred to Fenton’s food bank for help every week.”

What’s really sad about this story is that some of the people interviewed seemed to think the problem was with the mess left behind by these children – youngsters who are, remember, so hungry that they…

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Who’s behind the Rally Against Debt?

Last week saw the announcement of the forthcoming  Rally Against Debt (which should be called the Rally For Cuts). The event to be held on 14 May was announced in the wake of the massive TUC-organised rally in Hyde Park, which various Tory commentators like Dan Hannan and Hon Tobes used their blogs to attack it for having either no credible alternative or being responsible for a “tsunami of violence”. The Rally, it seems, is supposed to be a peaceful response to the anti-cuts protests. It is more than that, it is an attempt by certain right wing groups to claim the moral high ground. It will be portrayed by its defenders as a grassroots protest but it is anything but.

Here’s their Facebook page.

They appear to have taken their idea from the US , who had this Facebook page.

It shouldn’t surprise any of us to learn that Hannan has been throwing his weight behind the Rally. He says,

Imagine that you were reviewing all your household expenditure: your utility bills, your mortgage, your car, your mobile phone, your annual holiday. What would be the single biggest item? If you are in work, there is no doubt: it would be your consolidated tax bill. According to the ONS, the average household pays 33.5 per cent of its income to the state, not including the taxes which businesses are obliged to pass on to their customers and employees. The average figure, of course, takes account of pensioners, students, benefits claimants and the nearly 40 per cent of the population who pay no income tax. In a working household, the figure would be far higher.

The problem with this simplistic ‘analysis’ is that it is really a reductive narrative. Household finances cannot be compared with the nation’s finances. The phrase “comparing apples with oranges” springs to mind. Further down the blog, we find the first clue.

Few of us realise it, of course, because the costs are disguised and distributed. Income tax and national insurance are confiscated at source. VAT is built into the advertised price of what we buy. So, in effect, are duties on alcohol, petrol, tobacco and air travel. One of the reasons that council tax arouses so much controversy is that, for many people, it is the only time they feel they are making a direct payment to the state. For a fuller sense of quite how much most of us pay, watch this superb clip from the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

He is disingenuous when he talks about Council Tax. The real reason why people hate the tax has little to do with it feeling like “a direct payment to the state” and has more to do with its regressive nature; it is not a fair tax that takes into consideration a person’s ability to pay.  Did you notice how he mentions the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) here?  I watched the clip and it tries to rationalize taxation with how you spend your time. Have a look at the photo on the blog.  We’ll return to that in a moment.

It appears that there is considerable input from both the Tory front group, TPA and The Freedom Association (TFA). Last year, Hannan wrote this blog, in which he appeals for a “British Tea Party”. If you’ve ever seen him attack the NHS on Fox News or read The Plan, you will realize that Hannan wants to transform Britain into an American ‘Mini Me’ complete with elected police commissioners and presumably, elected dustmen. After doing a little Googling, I found this page on TFA’s website. Hannan, who is a leading member of TFA can be seen addressing a group of people. Remember that picture on his blog? That’s a picture for TFA’s “Taxed Enough Already” campaign. Here’s a snippet from the page,

The Tea Party Movement in the UK had a massively successful launch on Saturday 27 February 2010 with a talk by Daniel Hannan MEP at the Best Western Brighton Hotel.  Over 300 people packed in to hear a brilliant speech by Daniel.  We apologise to more than fifty others who had to be turned away for lack of space.

That was last year. The British Tea Party, whose numbers are thought to be in their hundreds had help from US-based group Freedom Works. You can find out more about Freedom Works here.

The Libertarian Party UK is also lending its support to the Rally. On its blog, it doesn’t say much but there’s that picture from the US Rally Against Debt page again. The Liberal View website has the same picture and says,

Protest marches are rarely a very effective way to change public opinion. Most look self-serving, some get hi-jacked by violent minorities. They act more as rallying points for the already convinced rather than ‘could be persuaded’.With tongue firmly in cheek to make a serious point then, opponents of ever larger government are organising a “civilised and well mannered” rally against “pointless government initiatives” on 14th May 2011.

It is unlikely the rally will attract the quarter million claimed by the TUC. Cuts make a small number of people very angry, debt reduction benefits everyone largely invisibly by reducing crowding out and other barriers to growth. The balance of emotion is in the other camp.

It should though attract a good crowd and is a thoroughly recommended day-out for fans of liberty and a smaller state. Liberal Vision will be there.

This is a distortion. I wonder what sort of incomes those thinking of joining this rally draw down? I’m willing to bet that none of them will be on £25,000 or less per annum.

So I had to dig some more and I discovered that someone called Harry Aldridge is one of the movers behind it. Here’s his Facebook page. His “inspirations” include FA Hayek and Nigel Farage. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Harry is a member of UKIP and was also the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Horsham. Aldridge is also a regular contributor to a site called “Independence Home”. Here is a page of his archived writings.

I found this clip of young Harry (he’s 23 or 24) on YouTube.

Here he is on one of UKIP’s  blogs

My name is Harry Aldridge, I’m 23 years old, and I run a telecommunications company. I live in Slinfold and have lived in the Horsham area all my life.Politically I describe myself as a classical liberal and believe in government of the people, by the people, for the people. In the UK government is too big, too costly, too unaccountable, to remote, and too intrusive into the lives of its citizens. We need to decentralise power, first and foremost bringing power back from the European Union and then disperse it among communities and individuals.

Notice how he describes himself as a “classical liberal”. This is just a way of putting some distance between himself and neoliberalism – which is, for all intents and purposes, dishonest. Hayek was also a classical liberal whose vision became known as neoliberalism, which was itself a late 20th century variant of classical liberalism. The sudden revival of interest in classical liberalism is entirely a romantic one. The people who tell us that they are socio-economically inclined towards classical liberalism have a nostalgic view of the past that allows them to ignore the fact that, as an economic model, it was a failure. Exponents of free trade claimed that it would end wars. The opposite has happened. Classical liberalism also led to the colonization of foreign lands and subjugation of those peoples. It also legitimated Social Darwinism, which has been revived in the right’s current thinking towards such things as the welfare state, poverty, housing, education and other social issues.

So who is behind this rally? Well, it is a coalition of TFA, TPA, UKIP and some Tories. Whether or not it  will attract huge numbers remains to be seen. I don’t think numbers will reach anything more than a few thousand. However, this new tendency to graft features of American political culture onto Britain is the beginning of a worrying trend. But it also shows us something else: there is an intellectual and philosophical vacuum at the heart of right-wing thinking.

Importing  ideas from the US right will not fill that void.

UPDATE: 4/4/11 @ 1525

There appears to be something wrong with Harry Aldridge’s page. Too many biscuit crumbs in the UKIP server maybe?

UPDATE: 6/4/11 @2220

Pssssssst! They’ve changed the profile picture on their Facebook page. Don’t tell anyone!

@2224

The very right-wing (if I say “far right” they’ll only threaten me with a law suit. So much for free speech. Eh?) ‘youth’ group Conservative Future (Yorkshire and Humber chapter) is organizing a coach to go down to London. Here’s their Facebook page. Nowhere Towers thinks their name should be “Conservative – What Future”?

UPDATE 11/5/11 @1149

It seems the main instigator of the RAD is UKIP’s Annabelle Fuller, who was once a long-term mistress of leader, Nigel Farage.  Fuller is also working as Farage’s assistant in Brussels.  Fuller had left UKIP in 2008 after being she claims that she received “menacing phone calls” accusing her of being a “whore”. There’s an interesting thread about Fuller and her resignation from UKIP and her subsequent reinstatement on the Democracy Forum here.

I wonder if  Farage will be joining his chums on Saturday?

If this is a rally against debt and credit is a form of debt, is this also a rally against credit?

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Filed under Economics, Ideologies, Late capitalism, social engineering, Society & culture, UKIP

Right wing nutter in spittle-laced rage over opposition to his vanity project

In today’s Telegraph, the Hon Tobes  produces a wonderful piece of sensationalist drivel. In a piece of blatant trolling, he titles his blog “Left wing nutters go bonkers over West London Free School”.  The subject of his spittle-laced outrage is the Local Schools Network, whom he decides to smear and not engage in a serious discussion.  Tobes says,

Meanwhile, someone called Ken Muller has circulated a letter this afternoon to various national newspapers in which he falsely accuses me of being a homophobe. His “evidence” for this is a piece I wrote for the Spectator the week before last – odd that he didn’t notice it until now – in which I teased the Chair of Governors at Stoke Newington School, one Henry Stewart, for writing a lachrymose piece on the Local Schools Network about how touching it was to see the school’s 12-13-year-olds celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Week. It was so over-the-top – such a classic example of political correctness – I thought it read like a parody written by a brilliant Right-wing satirist. The gag in my Spectator piece is that I pretended it had been written by the Education Secretary himself.

Let’s have a look at that Spectator piece. Here’s the opening paragraph,

You have to take your hat off to Michael Gove. In spite of the Herculean task he has saddled himself with — saving the state education system of this country — he has managed to find time to produce a brilliant piece of satire. I’m referring to a blog on the Local Schools Network entitled ‘Celebrating diversity at Stoke Newington School’.

“Saving the state education system”? How is he doing that, Tobes? By creating more class divisions within the education system? Someone’s logic is flawed. Let’s read on,

The Local Schools Network is a website that exists primarily to disseminate smears and lies about free schools. It boasts the patronage of Fiona Millar and Melissa Benn, but by far its most energetic contributor is Francis Gilbert, a media studies teacher in Bethnal Green. Gilbert has devoted himself, body and soul, to frustrating the efforts of parents and teachers to set up schools.

Ah, so the Local Schools Network exists solely to give you and Gove a hard time? It is interesting how Hon Tobes doesn’t tell us exactly what he means by “smears and lies”. Presumably criticisms of Gove’s education policy and Tobes’s frothing-at-the-mouth zealotry is “smears and lies”? Someone is being paranoid.

There’s more

Last week, a post appeared on the site that purported to be by someone called ‘Henry Stewart’, but I’m almost certain this is a pseudonym. The real author, I’m convinced, is none other than the Secretary of State for Education. His aim, clearly, is to point up the extent to which state education has been hijacked by the loony left.

What’s he saying here? That Gove is sockpuppeting? It’s entirely possible but unlikely. Tobes falls back on his beloved 80’s phrase “loony left”. Remember, this is a man who lives in the past. His aim is to create a school that offers a “classical liberal” education.

After a little trolling on the Local Schools Network site, he tells us that,

Satire is supposed to cut like a scalpel, not a butcher’s knife. This is too over the top to be effective. All I can say, dear reader, is that you are clearly unfamiliar with the crazy excesses of contemporary state education. Believe me, it is all too plausible.

This is the classic defence of one who uses ‘humour’ as a fig-leaf to cover his inherent prejudices and class disgust.  It’s a little like the old defence offered by the tellers of racist jokes in the 1960s and 1970s “It’s a joke. What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke”? It’s the Jim Davidson defence. In other words, it isn’t much of a defence.

Anyway, back to the Tobes’s blog,

It really is quite extraordinary that anyone who questions the wisdom of asking young children to spend their time in school celebrating “LGBT Week” should immediately be branded “evil”. I yield to no one in my support for minority rights – and have written several articles on this site attacking various Islamic countries for failing to uphold them. As a classical liberal who regards J.S. Mill’s On Liberty as something close to a sacred text, I would defend everyone’s right to pursue their own happiness in their own way provided it doesn’t impinge on the rights of others to pursue theirs.

There are a couple of things here. First, we see that Young only regards minority rights as viewed through the prism of a hated Other. The Other, in this case, being so-called “Islamic” countries (that, in itself is revealing). Second, he offers J S Mill’s On Liberty as a “sacred text”.  While there is much to applaud Mill for, it is likely that there is a degree of selectivity involved. We see here  someone who is a tireless defender of rights but only insofar as those folk who share his ideas on  Enlightenment-inspired wisdom.

Here’s the rest of the paragraph,

Indeed, it’s because I believe that the state’s role in people’s lives should be kept to an absolute minimum that I support free schools – and, indeed, greater freedom for all schools.

Minarchist drivel; this is merely a justification for furthering and deepening class divisions.  The “the state should stay out of people’s lives” has been used by the ruling class to support their narrative of liberty. What they refuse to tell us, is how this liberty is likely enslave those who are not members of the same class. Was the 19th century factory or mill worker free? No. And those who were forced to go to the workhouses? No. Someone hasn’t read and understood their history.

The Victorian era is viewed with nostalgia by many Tories. For them, it was a golden age when people knew their place and the rich could get on with the business of exploiting the poor. On his website in 2007, Gove said,

For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies.

The title to his blog is most revealing and offers an insight into the workings of the Tory mind. But there is a problematic in this romanticized view of the past: it ignores historical materialism for the sake of ideology. Nostalgia, as I have always said, is history with all the bad bits removed. The grinding poverty, high rates of infant mortality, high rates of maternal deaths resulting from childbirth, rampant disease, superstition, Social Darwinism and ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor are all conveniently forgotten aspects of the Victorian era.

In their rose-tinted yearning for the past, the Tories have failed to grasp one salient fact: they did poorly at the ballot box for much of the 19th century. The party that dominated most the of the late Victorian era was Gladstone’s Liberals. It was only when Disraeli embraced social reforms did the party’s fortunes change. Young and Gove would do well to remember that.

This Guardian article by Timothy Stanley sums it up. He says,

And this is a subtle point that government Victoriaphiles miss about our public services: the welfare state was the 20th century’s answer to the social problems created in the 19th. Owen and Rowntree started out as private philanthropists, but they dreamed that one day free schools and hospitals funded by taxation would become national policy. The 19th century closed with the birth of the Labour party – the political summation of the era’s reforming spirit. The Victorian revolution enriched and enfranchised the people and what did they do with their newfound money and power? They built the very welfare state the government is now intent on dismantling.

I’ve actually read Francis Gilbert’s blog on the LSN site and I have to say that Tobes has bitten off more than he can chew – which is why he wrote a load of drivel in response. Therefore, I would like to offer Hon Tobes a piece of advice. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen – as the hoary auld cliché goes.

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