Sunday, 14 May 2017

UK’s National Debt - both a Tory failure and a media failure. Some questions.

Consider these two facts.

When Cameron and Osborne came to power in 2010, the UK’s National Debt was £979 BILLION, which amounted to 65% of GDP.  

The latest figures, which are for 2016, show that the UK’s National Debt was then £1.73 TRILLION, which amounted to 89% of GDP.  By May 2017, the National Debt has doubled - or nearly doubled - after seven years of Coalition and Tory rule.

In 2010, Cameron and Osborne wanted the Deficit (the annual gap between income and expenditure) and the Debt (the total amount owed by the government) to be at the centre of the public debate in the UK.

In 2017, May does not want the two facts above to be highlighted.

The UK’s mainstream media have faithfully followed the Tory wishes both in 2010 and now. Their failure to hold the Tories to account on this and most other issues is an appalling dereliction of their democratic duty.

In 2010 and following, print media and broadcasters talked about Deficit and Debt incessantly. 

They failed to hold Osborne to account when he said that the UK was on the brink of bankruptcy.  That was a barefaced lie.  If the UK’s Debt meant this was true in 2010, how can the Tory narrative that the economy is doing well in 2017 also be true, when the Debt is now double that of 2010?

All this matters hugely because it was the Deficit and Debt narrative that the Tories used to justify their programme of austerity. If anyone had the temerity to oppose austerity they were derided in the media - including by BBC correspondents - as a “Deficit-denier”.

Austerity was a con, perpetrated primarily on the poorest in society but also on many in the middle of society. Austerity did not touch the 1% - UK’s “elites”. 

Austerity was not justified by economics. Leading economists including Nobel laureates warned in 2010 that austerity would not work. They have been proved right with low growth, stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure and a doubling of the Debt in seven years. Admittedly, they were wrong about mass unemployment - instead millions are trapped working in insecure jobs for poverty wages.

The Deficit and Debt narrative was used as an excuse to allow the Tories to impose an ideological Thatcherite vision on the UK. This was to have the State as small as possible. 

Austerity led to an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

By 2013, child poverty was rising sharply, Oxfam and the Red Cross were helping the poor in the UK for the first time since WW2, Sure Starts had closed, as had libraries. Life for millions in UK was very bleak and to get bleaker.

At the same time, the wealth of the rich - the top 1% and particularly the top 0.1% - saw very large increases.

Very few people will get the opportunity to press Theresa May on live TV in this election. I dream that one of them will do so without fear or favour. Here are some questions I would like asked of the PM.
  1. The National Debt has doubled since 2010. Since then the Tories have sold off many public assets. They have not invested much in infrastructure. They have made swingeing cuts. Where has all the money gone?
  2. If depriving severely disabled people of benefits was justified because of the Debt, how could it at the same time be right to slash Inheritance Tax? 
  3. Isn’t the truth that the cuts to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society were not motivated by a desire to reduce the Debt but by an ideological obsession to reduce the size of the State? It was a con, wasn’t it PM?
  4. Have you seen I, Daniel Blake? No? Well, you really should prime minister. Ken Loach has done what Dickens did for the Victorians and Orwell did in the 1930s - that is he has revealed to the comfortable middle class what is going on for the poor and vulnerable in their country. As PM and as a professed Christian, I would urge you to see the film and act on it.
  5. I have here a list of leading Tory donors. These people have prospered greatly since 2010. It looks like some kind of deal - they fund you, you look after them. What do you say PM?
  6. Thank you
Blog amended on 16 May to say National Debt has doubled - OR NEARLY DOUBLED - between 2010 and May 2017

Saturday, 13 May 2017

GUEST BLOG by a Deputy Head about harm that school funding cuts will cause to children, teachers and the country

I am a Deputy Head in a large inner city comprehensive, which has been much praised for the all-round education it provides to its very diverse intake of students. I feel in the current climate that I have to stay anonymous.

I am deeply concerned at the harmful effects that funding constraints - both now and going forward under the proposed new funding formula - will have on the education and life-chances of our students.
The cuts will, without doubt, really affect our school’s ability to do its core work in the classroom. ‎More and more is being done by less and less as the cuts impact on both staff and learning resources.

However, I want to highlight another aspect. It is crucial that we do not forget the importance of extra-curricular activities to educate the whole child. I am profoundly worried about their future. There is almost no money left in the pot for anything which is not a core activity. 

Furthermore, the cuts will take away the vital capacity of teachers to offer more. Due to teachers teaching more hours and larger classes, we are exhausting their goodwill and energy to support those vital extra-curricular projects that are essential for so many of our students. 

As a truly comprehensive school where many students do not automatically get exposed to art, sport, the City and a multitude of experiences that other children are lucky enough to have, my school passionately believes in the whole child and it is projects like Duke of Edinburgh; global links with our partner school in Africa; Community Volunteering; Artsmark, drama projects; enterprise and more that build up resilience, confidence and a sense of wonder.

These funding cuts tear at the very heart of the wonderful community school where I work. We have an ethos and values that put education of the whole child and of every child at its centre. Our vital work will be jeopardised.

I am upset above all for the children but also for the teachers. And I am also upset for the country - surely we can afford to properly fund education of the next generation in the sixth richest country in the world?

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Could Fascism come to the UK? Yes, of course it could

“ It hardly needs pointing out that at this moment we are in a very serious mess, so serious that even the dullest-witted people find it difficult to remain unaware of it ” - George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

Orwell writing in 1937 was concerned about the prospect of Fascism coming to the UK. At the time, the continent of Europe was dominated by Fascists in Germany, Italy, Spain and a number of smaller countries.

As I write in 2017, there is a Fascist in the White House and across the Channel another Fascist is in the run-off to become president of France.

It is not necessary to carry out mass murder as Hitler did to qualify as a Fascist.

There is no single accepted definition of Fascism. This five part test can be helpful.
A Fascist leader:-
1. is contemptuous of the democratic process.
2. is contemptuous of the rule of law.
3. stigmatises and persecutes minorities. 
4. lies and fabricates; undermines and threatens those who tell the truth; uses hyper-nationalistic language.
5. regards himself or herself as the source of all “legitimate power”.

Orwell warned that if Fascism came to the UK it might not at first look or feel like Fascism at all - although he expected it to become more recognisable as time went on.

English Fascism, when it arrives, is likely to be of a sedate and subtle kind (presumably, at any rate at first, it won’t be called Fascism)…”

“…Fascism is coming; probably a slimy Anglicised form of Fascism, with cultured policemen instead of Nazi gorillas and the lion and the unicorn instead of the swastika.”

In 1937 the British Establishment with a few exceptions - like Orwell and Winston Churchill - far from opposing Fascism, favoured appeasement of Nazi Germany. The press and the BBC duly reflected that Establishment opinion. (Churchill complained in 1938 that he had been “muzzled by the BBC”.)

In 2017, the UK faces another threat of Fascism. The Establishment - which largely retains control over the media and the narrative heard by the British people - does not even recognise such a threat. It is preoccupied with the danger (to itself) of Socialism.

The Establishment have been attacking the Socialist Jeremy Corbyn with an extraordinary intensity for the last two years. He has been vilified, traduced and misrepresented daily in almost the entire media.  All this has been done by the finest minds in journalism, PR and advertising and, unsurprisingly, he will probably be crushed. 

Meanwhile, the Tory party has adopted the policies and the rhetoric of the once-fringe racist UKIP.

Theresa May is clearly comfortable with Fascists. She can be expected to embrace Marine Le Pen warmly, in the event that she is elected president of France today. She famously held hands with Trump and she then flew straight from the USA to meet Erdogan who has locked up record numbers of Turkish journalists and lawyers who have had the temerity to oppose him.

It is likely that the British people will be subject to huge turmoil in the years after the current election. Scotland - and even Northern Ireland - may leave the Union. Brexit - and the likely failure of the negotiations - will probably mean that the rump of the UK will face a severe economic crisis for the many (while the few at the top continue to prosper).

The people who will have caused the crisis - the Tories, the press-barons and the rest - will naturally cast around for scapegoats to blame. The likely targets will be Muslims, foreigners, and the poor.

The Tories under May have crushed opposition. Not only political opposition but also other types which are essential for a properly functioning democracy.  

The British media’s performance during this election campaign is evidence of just how far it has become subservient to the Establishment. Incredibly, it seems likely May will win this election without facing any real scrutiny. She has refused to take part in TV debates or to take questions from the public or from anyone except for a few favoured interviewers. The media is hardly challenging this insult to democracy and is failing shamefully in its democratic duty of holding the powerful to account. 

Meanwhile, in the legal system, the Tories have made it more difficult to challenge them in the courts and have targeted law firms which have been at the forefront of bringing such challenges. And when judges, doing their job and interpreting the law, were vilified as “enemies of the people” in the press, the government said nothing.

And - chillingly - a year or two ago, the Tories passed the most invasive legislation on mass surveillance in the Western world.

The temptation for the Tories to slide into Orwell’s “sedate and subtle” Fascism, when faced with unrest, will be great. Power corrupts, let alone absolute power.

Of course, there is also another different danger of Fascism in the UK. A demagogue may arise and say that the “hope” that the likes of Corbyn offered failed and instead they will offer the far more intoxicating brew of “hate”.

I am scared where this will all end.

Monday, 24 April 2017

GUEST BLOG - GE 2017: Where to focus for the independent Leftie? by William Bolton

Didn’t expect this election now;  don’t think Labour should have voted for it without extracting some serious concessions from the Tories;  resent having my own plans for the next 6 weeks torn up by Theresa May for her own advantage;  think single member constituency first past the post elections for an unreformed Westminster are a sad apology for democracy.  So, primarily feel sick and manipulated. 

But – you can’t just concede the battlefield to a Tory party running on a close approximation of the BNP’s 2005 election manifesto

If you are Tom London and a rock solid Labour loyalist, the path is easy.  If you are a more free-floating independent Leftie, then more options are available – not necessarily a good thing.  I am grateful to Tom for making space on his blog for a point of view that is not his own.  

What to do?  Where to focus limited time and energy?  Some personal thoughts on the options follow – views on the answers sought!
1) Believe that Labour can hold the line at local level better than the national polls would imply
(a)  Fight the conventional fight in pro-Remain marginals in London or the big cities: defend sitting Labour MPs whose politics appeal and try to make sure the Tories don't make any gains there.
(b)  Fight the conventional fight in pro-Brexit marginals: try to defend sitting Labour MPs in the Midlands & North whose politics appeal and who are Tory targets. 

2) Believe that Labour is going to do very badly and therefore:
(a)  the composition of the PLP rump after the election is the important thing: 
  1. Be positive: defend (or try to get elected) the most appealing broadly pro-Corbyn and pro-change Labour candidates;
  2. Go negative:  encourage tactical voting to take the scalps of the worst, most disloyal Labour MPs.

(b) what comes after Labour is the important thing:
  1. get some Greens into clear second place challenger position, such as Natalie Bennett in Sheffield Central;
  2. try to strengthen the position of left-leaning national & regional parties, such as Plaid, SNP, the Yorkshire Party.

3) Believe that the most important thing is to campaign against the worst aspects of our existing system
(a) We will never get change under First Past the Post, so use the election to raise awareness of the need for electoral reform. 
(b) Campaign against the media system: for example, increase awareness of the scandal of the BBC taking its agenda so directly from the oligarch press – the Sun, Mail, Times, Telegraph, Express, Standard.
(c) Campaign positively for an alternative media: support some kind of alternative election news source. 

A focus on fighting the election in the conventional way, and the immediate need to fight against Tory lies, means working for regular Labour CLPs or supporting Momentum teams to do that.

A focus on trying to break the Tory-Labour duopoly system means working for the Greens in a constituency fight eg Natalie Bennett in Sheffield Central, or for others, say Leanne Wood in the Rhondda.

Rejecting our malign, farcical electoral system as it is presented to us perhaps means working for Neal Lawson and Compass’s progressive alliance for electoral reform

Rejecting our malign, farcical media system perhaps means getting involved with the Media Reform Coalition, and whatever they decide to do during the election campaign.  

Can’t do them all!  Which to choose?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

GE 2017: Socialism - Corbyn, Attlee, Sanders, Orwell, Paine and Loach

The very term “Socialist” had been so thoroughly ridiculed and vilified for decades, that I would never have thought of describing myself as a Socialist at the time of the last General Election in May 2015. (Remember that election? It was when Cameron was successfully marketed as a “statesman” and his backers in the mainstream media persuaded people that Miliband was “odd” and was the one who would bring “chaos”).

I realise now that my beliefs mean I should describe myself as a Socialist. Obviously, I have been influenced by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and by Bernie Sanders in the US. The greatest peacetime prime minister the UK has ever had, Clement Attlee, was a proud Socialist, as was the greatest British writer on politics and society of the last century, George Orwell.

My political hero, Tom Paine - arguably the father of modern democracy and human rights - predated Socialism but he shared some crucial beliefs with it. Paine hated bullying by the rich of the poor. He challenged the assumptions of the powerful everywhere he went: - “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right”. 

Paine’s comments, 200 years ago, were revolutionary and dangerous:-
“When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want…When these things can be said, then may the country boast of its constitution and its government.”

Like Corbyn, Paine was viciously mocked and abused - that is the inevitable fate of anyone who dares to challenge the interests of the powerful.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937, Orwell addresses the meaning of Socialism. He defines its essential ideals as “justice and liberty”.  These ideals are to be understood in a very practical sense. In 2017, for example, the courts may give you justice, but only if you can access them and millions of people have been denied effective access since 2010. And someone working all hours on poverty wages has little meaningful liberty. 

Orwell sets a test for himself and others so they can know whether or not they are a Socialist. In the first half of The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell describes the bleak conditions of the working class in the coal mining areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire in the Great Depression of the 1930s. He starts the second half of the book arguing that “before you can be sure whether you are genuinely in favour of Socialism, you have got to decide whether (such) things at present are tolerable or not tolerable.”  

(Orwell is scathing about Middle Class left-wingers who like to advocate progressive policies but always manage to rationalise to themselves why this is never the right time or this is never the right method to actually fight to make them a reality. “Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed”. Orwell would undoubtedly view the Guardian, the spiritual home of such have-your-cake-and-eat-it views, with withering contempt in the current circumstances.)

When Orwell described the grinding poverty in the North, he was consciously following in the tradition of Charles Dickens. He wanted the comfortable middle class to know what was happening in their country. He knew that most of them were oblivious to the reality. They did not see it with their eyes. It did not affect anyone they knew. They could pretend - even to themselves - it was not happening under their noses.

The closest we have to a Dickens or an Orwell today is, probably, Ken Loach.
His film I, Daniel Blake, shows the grim reality of the lives of millions of people in the UK. According to an authoritative study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 13.5 million people are living in poverty in the UK today. This number includes 3.7 million children. And more people living in poverty are in working households than in non-working households - people are working hard for poverty pay. (The facts make a mockery of the facile Tory mantra that if you work hard you can escape poverty.)

I, Daniel Blake shows what Loach describes as the “conscious cruelty” of the Tory benefit system. At the heart of the film is the draconian and arbitrary system of benefit sanctions. The most vulnerable in society including children, the mentally ill and the physically disabled are “punished”. A number of suicides have been linked to these sanctions. They force people to food-banks which since 2010 have become “normal” in the UK. This is one of the richest countries in the world - yet since 2013, the Red Cross has been delivering food parcels to our hungry and well over a million food parcels are handed out each year and the number is rising inexorably.

I don’t think that what I, Daniel Blake describes is tolerable in our country. By Orwell’s test, then I am a Socialist. 

The stakes are incredibly high in this election. On the one side is the Trump-loving, NHS-destroying, public-services-trashing, Murdoch-Dacre-crony May. On the other, the Socialist Corbyn. I am with the Socialist.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

GUEST BLOG A poem for our times - by Anon

11th september 2001
That defining moment when time begun
We dont know what happened and what came before
But from that day on continuous war.
You're either with us or against us, that foolish attitude
That provided no space, no room, no latitude
To think deeply about the problems that affect us,
Perplex us, reflect us, connect us.
Now most of us can't see the wood for the trees
Like when kids are crying and down on their knees
But that doesnt stop us from feeling unease 
Our paradise island and its hypnotic breeze
Thrust into chaos by tabloid decrees,
A dead child on the sand and 'migrants' 
are 'refugees'
Still we are willing to let them freeze in the seas -
Oh what a tease when we claim to be Liberal
It's just so typical
In the land of the enlightened
But we are still so frightened 
Of the alien 'other'
Just a brother from another mother,
And the ones who were losing
Were never the ones choosing
Hate over love or war over peace
It was just bad luck they were born in the Middle East.
It could have been you, it could have been me
But we are so blinded that we just can't see
A sister in faith or a sister in humanity 
We weren't meant to judge based on nationality. 
Who knows what tomorrow brings and what lies ahead
But a noble Prophet surely once said 
'The best richness is the richness of the soul'
The soul that only knows how to be whole
When we live together, breathe together
Feel together, dream for a better
Life for ourselves and the next generation
Humanity, remember we are one nation
One family, one planet, one creation. 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Normalisation of hate and fascism

Did you follow what was being said by the politicians in the Dutch election this week?

Here is what one of the candidates said about the Jews. He said he wanted
  • to close all synagogues
  • to ban all Jewish religious books
  • to “de-Jew” Holland

Actually I made that up - with the intention of shocking. That was Holland in 1940 not 2017.

However, the truth is no less shocking. This is what Geert Wilders, whose party came second in the Dutch election, said in reality. He said he wanted
  • to close all mosques
  • to ban the Koran
  • to “de-Islamise” Holland

Wilders did not win (this time). The election was won by the centre-right Mark Rutte. 

However, Wilders has already succeeded in dragging Rutte towards him. Rutte started his campaign with a letter calling on anyone who rejects Dutch values and  “attacks gays, jeers at women in mini-skirts, and calls ordinary Dutch people racists” to leave the country. Many religious Christians and Jews oppose homosexuality and “immodest” women’s clothing - but it was clear it was not people like them that Rutte meant. It was Muslims.

Alongside Wilders’ and indeed Rutter’s words, physical and verbal attacks on Muslims have increased in Holland.

And yet. The BBC does not describe Wilders as a fascist but uses the weasel word “populist”. It links him with his “fellow populist” Marine Le Pen.

Meanwhile on LBC, Nigel Farage is interviewing the fascist Marine Le Pen and the radio station proudly advertises the interview describing Le Pen as a “controversial right winger”.

The parallels with the fascists of the 1930s and 1940s are plain to those who don’t look away. 

Hate and fascism are being normalised.

Book a free ticket on Eventbrite for Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 Event on 19 April in Queen’s Park, NW London, called “Our Media and Our Democracy” where you will hear brilliant speakers including

  • Miqdaad Versi on Islamophobia in UK media
  • Richard Wilson of Stop Funding Hate

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 - an attempt to provide some points of light.

W H Auden published a poem in October 1939 called 1 September 1939 - the date Germany invaded Poland and the world plunged into the horror of the Second World War. Here is the last verse.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Those of us born after the Second World War in the UK have never been “beleaguered by the same negation and despair” that people must have felt as war broke out just 21 years after the slaughter of the previous war and this time against an enemy that was the embodiment of evil.

2016 was the closest we have yet come. By the end of that miserable year it was clear that there were real threats to our democracy, our rights and what was left of our “decent society”. 

This was the background to a group of us - author and campaigner Melissa Benn, NHS nurse Tom Lennard and I, with others - deciding that rather than succumbing to despair we would try and do something positive. 

We all believe that politics is not a spectator sport. It’s not about “them”, it is about “us”.

“Better 2017” means we hope that 2017 and subsequent years will be better than 2016. “Kensal and Kilburn” is important to us because this is where we live. There is a community here and we cherish that.

We are organising a series of events about issues which matter. Our first event, “So, who is going to look after us when we get old?” had excellent panel members and everyone who attended was able to contribute to a good discussion. People told us they really liked it.

We are planning four more events this year. 

On 19 April, “Our media and our democracy. How well are we being served by our mainstream media?”

On 4 July, “Can we avoid another financial crisis? What is the “new economics” and what does it offer us?”

In September, “How can we get better schools and higher education?”

In November, “How can we do better on housing for younger people in London?”

All being well, we’ll hold more events next year.

Of course, we have an agenda. We are members of the Labour Party, the Green Party and no political party. We think there are fundamental problems with our society. 

We are not seeking to have “balanced panels”. On the whole, the people we invite to speak will be critical of the status quo. Every day the powerful who run the status quo get to put their worldview unchallenged. We will challenge prevailing assumptions.

Of course, people may strongly disagree with what they hear. Great. Let’s discuss. We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to have their say. We believe it is possible to have polite, reasoned discussions on controversial issues.

We hope you will come to our events. They can all be found by searching Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 on Eventbrite.

We want to be ambitious, optimistic and realistic. In the words of Bernie Sanders: - “Despair is not an option”.

We hope that Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 will, in Auden’s words, “show an affirming flame” and provide some “points of light”.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn - a reply to Owen Jones

Owen Jones has written an article this week in the Guardian calling on Jeremy Corbyn to stand down. I take what Jones says seriously but I think he is wrong.

Some may dismiss what Jones says by attacking the man and not the argument. Jones himself anticipates this - “The party’s warring factions now refuse to accept that differing opinions are expressed in good faith - there have to be ulterior motives, ranging from careerism to self-aggrandisement to “virtue signalling””. 

I completely accept that Jones writes in good faith. Equally, I do so too. Jones and I passionately want the same two things - to defeat this destructive Tory government and to elect a decent, progressive Labour government. The argument is not about the ends but the means.

Jones calls for “an agreement to be struck where Corbyn can stand down in exchange for  the guarantee of an MP from the new generation on the ballot paper who is committed to the policies that Inspired Corbyn’s supporters in the first place.”

There are two issues here - the policy and the leader.

I agree with Jones that Corbyn’s policies are more likely to win an election than those of his Labour Party opponents. As he says correctly of those opponents - “They had no compelling or coherent alternative (to Corbyn).” He writes that the “more perceptive among the ranks of the opponents recognise this. The less perceptive have become embittered nihilists, defined almost exclusively by hostility to the left.”  

It is a lazy and too common assumption that the Labour Party would be doing OK if only it had more centrist or right wing policies. This seems to be based on the example of Tony Blair. However, 2017 is not 1997. In particular, there have been two General Elections since the 2008 Crash and Labour has lost both of them. Labour’s underlying problems pre-date Corbyn. Labour lost almost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010 (going from 13.5 million to 8.6 million). It was not Corbyn’s policies that led to a wipe-out in Scotland. 

If Owen Smith had been leader would he have even held Stoke?

Corbyn’s opponents fundamental claim is that they are the grown-ups, the sensible ones who know how to win elections. Yet they launched the shambolic, destructive and pointless coup last year just at the time when the Tories were on the ropes, which led to a disastrous plunging in Labour’s poll ratings which have never recovered since.

Since becoming leader, Corbyn has inspired hundreds of thousands to join the Labour party. Given the low level of political engagement in the UK, it is depressing how far from welcoming this, some sneer and belittle the fact.

Jones’ criticism of Corbyn is not about his policies but about his leadership qualities. He says Corbyn is ineffective and wants him replaced with a younger, more effective communicator (unnamed).

I have no problem with Jones’ idea in principle - (but I have two problems in practice). I support Corbyn not because of the man - although I admire him - but because of his policies. If someone else really could make them more likely to be implemented then it would make sense to support them. 

However - unless we are to have a dramatic announcement by a group of Labour MPs - Jones’ swap idea appears to be nothing more than pie in the sky dreaming. All the signs are to date that Labour MPs are doing everything in their power to ensure that a candidate with Corbyn’s policies will never be allowed to go on to the leadership ballot to be voted on by the membership.

The second problem with the swap idea is that it underestimates the power of the UK elite, in particular through its control of the media. We don’t know who Jones new, improved Corbynite leader would be. However, even if they had the political skills of an Abraham Lincoln or a FDR and the looks of Justin Trudeau, as long as they put forward policies that threatened the UK’s elite they would face the same tsunami of bile and distortion that Corbyn has had to endure and the same blocking of their positive message. 

The elite don’t need anything substantive to destroy a politician. The day before the 2015 General Election, John Humphries on BBC radio 4 Today merrily described the Sun’s front page, it was the picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich.  I remember this because when I heard it, I felt a literal pain in my stomach. I know how this kind of subliminal messaging is very effective - that’s why the advertisers spend billions of pounds on it.

There is only one way for a Labour leader to achieve anything approaching fair coverage in the UK media. That is to make it clear to the UK elite that they are no threat to them. That is what Tony Blair did. He actually made an explicit deal with Rupert Murdoch.

The UK elite are trying to crush Corbyn and would try and crush any successor with the same policies. Do we take a stand or do we allow the word “electable” to mean “acceptable to Murdoch and Dacre and the rest of the elite”?

The road to social justice and a decent society is hard. Like the road to the vote and to human rights. 

Corbyn needs help with his communications. So, let’s help him. Let’s stand and fight together, Owen.  

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Two lessons from Stoke and Copeland by-elections

UKIP lost but UKIP has won

I spent the day in Stoke two weeks ago. If, like me, you have the sense that the world in 2017 bears deeply disturbing resemblances to the 1930s, then it seemed important to go to Stoke. It was being widely forecast that the UKIP leader would win in Stoke - dubbed the “Leave capital of the UK”.

In the end, UKIP lost in Stoke. Labour increased its margin of victory. The Brexit, Trump bandwagon was derailed. That is very important.

However, in another sense UKIP won in Copeland.  The Tory party in 2017 has adopted most of the policies and tone of UKIP. The Tories want a Hard Brexit, they are intolerant, harsh on the poor but indulgent to the very rich, dog-whistle racist, cruel to child refugees,Trumpist - and even support Grammar Schools. 

Much of the media repeat Theresa May’s own claims to be on the centre-ground of British politics as if they reflect reality. This is dire journalism. May’s claims in this regard are not backed by any meaningful actions - they are as vacuous as David Cameron’s were. 

The UKIP vote collapsed in Copeland. In 2015 Labour had a majority over the Tories of 2.5k with UKIP third. The UKIP vote collapsed from 2015 to 2017 by over 4k. Most of these votes clearly went to the "new UKIP" i.e. the Tories.

(Contrary to the media hype, Copeland was a marginal seat - the once great Labour lead there had been reducing steadily for decades due to a changing demographic).

If you want to beat the Tories, support Corbyn

I support Jeremy Corbyn because
1. He has, in my view, the best set of policies 
2. He will I assume be leader of the Labour party at the next election.

I think the UK faces an equivalent to a Trump/Clinton choice. The stakes have never been higher in UK politics in my lifetime. Those on the left who do not support Corbyn are the political equivalents of those who supported Sanders and then - on, as they saw it, a "point of principle" - refused to support Clinton. 

Whereas those on the right seem to understand that if you want power you cannot expect a "perfect" or even anything approaching a "perfect" leader, the left has too often descended into factionalism.

The Guardian newspaper is the base of the anti-Corbyn left. Their view is broadly - we agree with his policies but we don't like him. The famous Monty Python sketch was aimed at the far left but it applies now to the Guardian view of the Labour Party. This view is a self-indulgence which may well exact a heavy price for anyone who cares about a decent society in the UK.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Trump is a fascist; we should call him one

Nobody knows how the Trump presidency will end. How much grief and destruction will he wreak before then? And how will it end? By impeachment? At the ballot box? By stepping down after 8 years? Even - as has been suggested - by a bullet? Whatever the future holds, Trump should be labelled now as what he is - a fascist.

Here are five reasons why Trump should be properly described as a fascist.
  1. He is contemptuous of the democratic process.
  2. He is contemptuous of the rule of law.
  3. He stigmatises and persecutes minorities. He falsely describes some as being an existential threat to the country.
  4. He lies and fabricates. He undermines and threatens those who tell the truth. He uses hyper-nationalistic language - “Make America Great Again”.
  5. He is an arch narcissist and sees himself as the source of all “legitimate power”.

It is easy to underestimate Trump; to dismiss him as a buffoon; to think he can be controlled. That was exactly how many people felt about Hitler in 1933.

Unless Trump is stopped - and he may well be - it is likely that he will bring democracy in the US to an end, at least for a period. Democracy means not only free and fair elections but also the rule of law, a free press, rights for minorities etc.

Trump may also seek war, as fascists tend to do, in order to distract and to bolster their own position.

It matters a great deal that Trump is labelled a fascist and that the label sticks so that no one can think of him without recognising that he is a fascist. Would Theresa May have been so sycophantic to “Trump the fascist”? Would the press-barons Murdoch, Rothermere/Dacre, Barclays, Desmond be so brazen in their support for “Trump the fascist”? Would the BBC feel it necessary to provide balance  for “Trump the fascist”?; to give fascism a “fair hearing”?

Trump is a fascist; we should call him one. All the time.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Make America great again - an idea playing on fear. Let America be America again - a poem offering hope.

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America great again”. The America he seems to mean is a 1950s America, where straight white males were firmly in charge and gays, blacks, Muslims, women and other “minorities” knew their place. (And the world was divided between the US and Russia.)

Below is a fine poem written in 1935  - the same year that Sinclair Lewis wrote his eerily prescient novel It Can't Happen Here about a “clownish swindler” being elected president and then becoming a fascist dictator.

This poem - Let America be America again - was written by Langston Hughes. Hughes was a poet, novelist, playwright and social activist. He was also black and gay.

Hughes values the American dream as an ideal to aspire to, which has never yet been realised. 

Trump and Hughes demonstrate the divide between fomenting fear of “the other” and offering hope that a better future for all really is possible.

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—

And make America again!

Monday, 30 January 2017

GUEST POST Copeland and Stoke Central - make or break for Labour? By William Bolton

Right now everybody on the internet is understandably freaking out about Donald Trump, but I believe that all social democratic or left wing people in UK should worry more about the Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections on 23 February.  

It is distinctly possible that in the early hours of Friday 24 February the returning officers for the two constituencies will effectively be announcing the death of the Labour party.  If this happens it will be because Labour has walked straight into the trap set up by the plutocrats and press barons to destroy Labour in the North and Midlands of England in 2017.  

But it’s not over yet.  What happens on 23 February remains up for grabs.  Labour can still come out fighting and win both seats, and in doing so utterly confound UKIP, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre, Richard ‘Dirty’ Desmond, and all the ugly rest of them.

It can be done, but it requires urgent engagement, effort and discipline from the Parliamentary Labour Party and the 300,000 who have been attracted to join Labour in the past 18 months.  

The London media and political bubble wants these by-elections to be about Brexit.  But Labour must make them about the issue that actually matters to the people, which is hope - and concrete investment in local economies and the public services people rely on.  Labour must use its advantage in membership numbers to fight a ground campaign and connect with voters face to face. 

The central election issue should be about whether the voters should choose endless, utterly pointless, self-defeating austerity or decisively reject it, and bring forward a modern day Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy of the North and Midlands of England.  

There must of course be a focus on the disgraceful crisis in the NHS, which is entirely the fault of the Conservative party – caused by both its austerity and its needless reorganisation.  And now Theresa May has kneeled before Donald Trump and offered up our NHS for looting by US health corporations in her needy desperation for a trade deal.  If the voters can find out about these facts they will be sickened and could give Labour two triumphant victories. 

The super-rich and their media will continue to traduce Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, because they genuinely fear what might happen if people are permitted to hear their actual message.  They want to destroy them as quickly as possible in 2017 – and they want to do it in the North with the Brexit issue.  Their chosen weapon is the comedy puppet Paul Nuttall, and the new incarnation of UKIP as a party that exists solely to challenge Labour in those northern towns where the Tory brand cannot reach.  

The analysis of the estimated Brexit vote in each parliamentary constituency by Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia makes for fascinating reading.  The Brexit referendum vote split UK as a whole 52%-48%.  But in Copeland and Stoke Central the estimated Brexit share of the vote was 60% and 65% respectively.  By contrast, in Hampstead & Kilburn, where MP Tulip Siddiq has quit the Labour front bench over the Commons vote on triggering Article 50, the Brexit share of the vote was 23.5%. 

Obviously Brexit is a vital matter, but it is lunatic for Labour of all parties to destroy itself over it right now.  Labour needs to win seats in both the pro-Brexit North, Midlands and East of England and in anti-Brexit London and the university towns.  It would be crazy to fight these by-elections on the Brexit issue.

Stoke-on-Trent is one of the most depressed cities in the English Midlands.  Traditionally heavily focussed on ceramics, the city’s industry has been blown away by globalisation.  Steelite and Emma Bridgewater keep the potteries’ flag flying, and successfully export, but they will never be the mass employer of whole communities the potters once were.  Economically Stoke is on a different planet to London, yet it has a successful university and is a mere 84 minutes away from Euston and 33 minutes from Manchester, with two fast Virgin Pendolino trains every hour.  A new future for Stoke is possible – but it needs big investment.  Meanwhile £ billions of private savings sit idle waiting for investment opportunities, which can only be unlocked by ditching austerity. 

Copeland is an unusual constituency.  Whilst it includes some of the most beautiful parts of the Lake District national park, including the tourist mecca of Keswick, it also includes the Sellafield nuclear site, on which it is highly dependent for well paid jobs.  But in terms of population it is dominated by the former coal, steel and chemicals industrial area around the port of Whitehaven, 5 hours from London by train, and 3½ hours from Manchester.  With a depressed economy for many decades, the people of the Whitehaven area feel completely abandoned by Westminster.  With its fabulous coastline and its proximity to the Lakes, it could build a new future, but it will also require huge investment.  

So here’s the deal: whether you are usually a Labour party person or not, love Corbyn or hate him, if you don’t want to see the main centre of opposition to endless Tory kleptocratic rule suddenly dealt a death blow in the next few weeks, then it’s time to hit the road or the rails and get up to Stoke or Whitehaven.  Momentum is rallying volunteers here.  There’s a car pooling site and, if you can’t travel, there’s phonebanking every day.  

Aux armes citoyens!  Once more unto the breach!  This is the big one.  24 days to save the alternative to May, Trump, Murdoch, Dacre, and all the bloody rest.  Get involved, and good luck.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Trump: most dangerous leader to take power in a democracy since 1933. What you can do about President Trump

At noon on 20 January 2017, Donald Trump will become leader of the most powerful country in the world. He is the most dangerous person to take supreme power in a major Western democracy since 30 January 1933 in Germany. 

Probably, he will not end life as we know it.

However, as commander-in-chief, he will have unchecked power to bring about nuclear armageddon. Think Dr Strangelove where there is no president to try and undo what the mad man has done because the mad man is the president. 

And as a climate change denier, Trump may reverse the world’s efforts to avert climate disaster and bring about a different kind of armageddon.

Even if these horrors do not come to pass, there is plenty else to fear. 

Trump is a fascist. There is ample evidence that he has contempt for the rule of law and for democracy. There are, of course, doubts about the integrity of the 2016 presidential election. There are reasons to fear that Trump will not allow the 2020 election to be free and fair.

Trump may even end or suspend democracy in the USA before 2020. If it happens, it will be in the way that it has happened countless times before in other countries. He will declare that an emergency - real, contrived or fictitious - means that the safety of the country requires him to take special powers.

As fascists do, so Trump has already viciously attacked minorities for his own political purposes.  America may well see terrible race riots soon.

We should also remember the warnings of Edward Snowden. Trump, chillingly, inherits a system of mass surveillance more powerful than anything George Orwell imagined in 1984.

Trump has the classic personality of a dictator - egotistical, quick to take offence, vengeful, impulsive, narcissistic, erratic and arbitrary. He was already a supreme egotist before his election. Now, he will be, if possible, even more convinced that he and he alone is always right. He won’t take advice and those around him will learn to act with emollient sycophancy or lose their place near the sun. 

Trump is a monster: one part Berlusconi; one part Joe McCarthy; one part Mussolini.

Many put their trust in the American constitution to contain Trump as it did - eventually - Richard Nixon. However, Trump’s party has majorities in both houses of Congress and he will appoint the crucial “swing judge” on the Supreme Court. Of course, members of his own party may find the moral courage to stand up to Trump but history shows that when it comes to it, such people are rarer than one would like to think.

Some will say all this is alarmist. Maybe it is, but the alternative is complacency.

I have in my house some 20 books published in 1935 and 1936, warning of the danger of Fascism.  They were bought at the time by my Jewish uncle, who lived in England. He would have seen clearly the dangers. At the time, too many in England  and elsewhere were complacent.

I have not put forward any evidence here as to why I fear what I fear. This is because the evidence is plain for you to see if you follow Trump at all.

What can we do? We can follow the advice of the last US president to be elected without having ever held any political office, President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower. He was also a Republican like Trump but those are the only similarities. Eisenhower had been Supreme Commander at D Day before being president between 1953 and 1961. As a personality type, Eisenhower was very much a “grown-up” whereas Trump is a “child”.  

In Eisenhower’s last speech as president in January 1961, he warned of the danger of the power of America’s military-industrial complex. He said that there was one and only one way to defend America against it. Eisenhower’s advice equally applies to the manifold dangers of Trump and of any fascists he may give strength to in Europe.

Eisenhower said we all need to be “alert and knowledgeable”.  That is what we can do - as an essential first step.