Archive for the ‘America’ Category

Tories Ashcroft and Oakeshott Demand Privatisation of NHS Hospitals

May 23, 2022

A few weeks ago Private Eye carried a review of Michael Ashcroft’s and Isabel Oakeshott’s book on the supposed failures of the NHS in its issue for 29th April – 12th May. Ashcroft is, I believe, the Tory donor now resident in Belize, and Isabel Oakeshott his pet journo, responsible for the otherwise uncorroborated claim that when he was at Oxford, David Cameron poked a porker. Now the two have written a book, Life Support, giving their critical analysis of the NHS and their suggestions for its improvement. The pair examine two hospitals, St. Mary’s in Paddington and King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, which they describe as being in run-down areas. St. Mary’s Hospital is in a dingy backstreet off the lower Edgware Road between the railway station and a long strip of burger joints, pawnbrokers and shops selling cheap luggage. King’s College Hospital occupies a neighbourhood where drug and gang crime are rife, and is filled with the victims of gang warfare.

The book claims that hospitals ” are badly run by management teams that tolerate waste, allow patient safety standards to slip”, whose bosses “prise over a culture of bullying and cover-ups and fail to grip budgets”, which is “terrible for taxpayers, terrible for NHS staff and potentially fatal for patients”. They also claim that the NHS has a code of omerta similar to the Sicilian mafia.

So what are their solutions to this crisis? Well, get rid of foreign doctors and health tourists, sell off a few hospitals, have people transform themselves into cyborgs and lose weight. They are suspicious of Indian doctors, because there is less regulation and greater corruption in their country of origin. When they start working in the NHS, they have a paternalistic attitude towards patients.

As for the health tourists, they gave as an example a Nigerian woman who flew in from Lagos so that she could have her triplets delivered by the NHS, complaining that ‘Part of the problem is that most healthcare professionals believe they have a moral duty to help the sick,, wherever they are from.’ After demanding the privatisation of a few hospitals, there’s a chapter, “Cyborgs: Futuristic Medicine” in which they encourage people to turn themselves into the real-life equivalents of Dr. Who’s Cybermen. But they claim that ‘Nobody is suggesting that thousands of patients will go to such lengths and attempt to become ‘full cyborgs'”.

They also attack the various fashion brands and social media influencers who they claim have made obesity fashionable, which they state is grossly irresponsible. Despite all this criticism, however, the book says precious little about the Covid pandemic, which has cause a crisis in the Health Service. The Eye’s reviewer states that it’s commendable that Ashcroft and Oakeshott are donating the profits from the book to NHS charities, but concludes

‘Any suspicion that the authors set out to slag off the NHS across 400 pages of ill-informed vanity-published guff but then had to bung some Covid stuff in the intro as events unfolded is surely nonsense’.

Let’s critically examine some of their recommendations. Firstly, many NHS doctors are foreign. During my illness, I’ve been treated by a number of South Asian doctors, as well as those from the Far East and eastern Europe. And I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever. I can’t speak for others, but I believe that they, and the other British and foreign staff gave me excellent care. I am not aware that NHS doctors from India have been found to be any less competent than others. This looks to me like a bit of racism on Ashcroft’s part. As does the bit about health tourists and the Nigerian woman. with triplets. I don’t blame the woman for wanting to give birth over here, than trust herself and her unborn children to medicine in her own country. And I thought it was a fundamental position of modern medical ethics that everyone has the same right to care, regardless of ethnic origin. Besides, Nye Bevan was aware that there would be people coming from less developed parts of the world to take advantage of the NHS, and considered that the Health Service would be more than capable of dealing with them.

There are indeed some very cool and advanced artificial limbs being developed, but some of these – the most advanced – cost tens of thousands of dollars. And despite the invention of dialysis and heart-lung machines, I am not aware that anybody has come close to creating mechanical counterparts of the kidneys, heart and lungs that can be implanted in the body. The idea of people turning themselves into cyborgs is, at present, Science Fiction.

Dr. Who’s Cybermen – the future of patients cutting costs for the NHS. From the Dr. Who Monster Book.

As for the demand that hospitals be privatised, this is obviously what Ashcroft as Tory donor and capitalist clearly wants. But it’s because of privatisation that NHS administrative costs have mushroomed and standards of care declined because of massive funding cuts. And as we’ve seen, privatisation actually leads to few hospitals and doctor’s surgeries as the companies running them close them down in order to maximise their profits. This is bad for taxpayers, who are having to fork out more for poorer service, as well as staff and patients. And it would also be a massive step towards the transformation of the Health Service into one operated through private healthcare companies and funded through private health insurance, like America.

But this is what is happening under the Tories and Blair’s New Labour, as these right-wing Thatcherite politicos seek to enrich themselves and their corporate donors in the private medical industry. Ashcroft’s and Oakeshott’s book are the latest in the propaganda campaign to tell you this is a good idea.

Stop the War Coalition Demonstration Tomorrow Against Israeli Atrocities Against Palestinians

May 13, 2022

I had this bit of news come today in an email newsletter from the Stop the War Coalition. Following the fatal shooting of a journalist for Arab news agency, al-Jazeera, the Coalition are organisation a protest tomorrow, 14th May 2022, outside the Beeb’s headquarters in Portland Place in the Smoke. The email reads

Protest for Palestine – Tomorrow!

Israel’s murder of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in occupied Jenin is part of an escalation of violence against Palestinians. She was fatally shot in the head by Israeli forces while reporting on a military raid in the Jenin refugee camp yesterday. Her murder is described by Al-Jazeera as an “assassination in cold blood.”

The shameful and disturbing scenes of occupation forces attacking her funeral today highlight the urgent need to end Israeli apartheid. People across the world are taking to the streets to demand that Israeli forces are held to account and push for an end to the oppression of Palestinians.


Join us tomorrow at midday outside the BBC on Portland Place. The Palestinian people need our solidarity now more than ever.

Click Here for Full Details

Somehow I don’t think the lady’s shooting was entirely accidental. One of the articles in the Counterpunch book about the decline of critical reportage, especially of Bush and Blair’s Gulf War, End Times: The End of the Fourth Estate, discussed the number of journos who’d been killed covering the war. This isn’t exactly suspicious in itself, as war reporting, by its very nature, is extremely dangerous. But these were journalists who didn’t follow the approved Pentagon line, and were determined to show what was really happening rather than follow American state propaganda. William Blum in one of his book on American imperialism attacked the hypocrisy of the American government for decrying enemy attacks on civilian news broadcasting stations and journalists, while at the same time doing exactly the same. One major example was the American strike against the Serbian state broadcaster during the war in Yugoslavia. It looks to me that Abu Akleh was deliberately shot because she was a journalist for al-Jazeera, and therefore would have been instrumental in producing footage and commentary of what was really going on, outside Israeli and American spin.

Open Britain Demonstration Against the Tories on Sunday

May 13, 2022

I got this email from the pro-democracy organisation Open Britain earlier this week, announcing a demonstration against Boris and his corrupt coterie in Downing Street on Sunday, 15th May 2020. The email runs:

‘Dear David,

At 2pm this Sunday, 15th May, we will be outside Downing Street to show Boris Johnson and his cronies that we’ve had enough of their lies, excuses, and attacks on democracy. Our message is clear: Boris Johnson is not fit to lead, and we need to act now to stop the rot that is killing our political system. 

We’re proud to announce that Rosie Holt, political comedian and satirist known for playing a role as a Conservative MP, will be our host for the afternoon. 

The following speakers will highlight different aspects of the rotten politics we have in Boris Johnson’s Britain, and point out how we can respond positively: 

David Lammy: Labour MP for Tottenham and Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs.

Peter Tatchell: Human rights activist, campaigner and founder of LGBT rights direct action group Outrage!

Supertanskiii:Political commentator and satirical comedian of online fame.

Marina Purkiss: Political commentator, writer, activist, and campaigner.

Mandu Reid: Leader of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) and prominent spokesperson for women’s rights in the UK. 

Thomas Brake: Former Lib-Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington and founder/director of cross-party campaigning organisation Unlock Democracy. 

Additionally, we’re lucky to have DJ Cosette, American DJ, singer-songwriter, and outspoken advocate for progressive politics, providing some tunes to keep things light.

JOIN THE PROTEST | STOP THE ROT | CHOOSE YOUR FUTURE

If you are as concerned as we are about the state of our politics, you won’t want to miss this event. Thanks to the activists above, #StopTheRot will be an afternoon of politics, entertainment and action. We’re going to send Boris a message loud and clear, showing that we’re united against the rot that he and his government have brought to our politics.

We want to know: 

WILL YOU BE THERE ON MAY 15th?

CAN YOU DONATE TO HELP MAKE THIS HAPPEN?

Mark Kieran
CEO, Open Britain’

I can’t do either, but I’m putting this up in case anyone of my readers are interested in attending, or would like to donate.

New Politics’ Review of Frank Wolff’s History of the Russian/Polish Jewish Bund

May 11, 2022

I went on Google the other night to see if there were any books available on the history of the Bund, the majority Jewish socialist party of the former Russian empire and later Poland. I doubt very many people know about it apart from historians of the Jewish communities in those countries. I was therefore surprised to find that there are quite a few, in both English and Yiddish. However, one of the most informative and concise summaries of the Bund’s history is in Marvin S. Zuckerman’s review, ‘The Soul of the Bund’, of Frank Wolff’s Yiddish Revolutionaries in Migration: The Transnational History of the Jewish Labour Bund  translated by Loren Balhorn and Jan-Peter Herrmann, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2022, paperback, 532 pp in New Politics, a magazine for the democratic Left. The review begins with a quote from Wolff’s book from Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who describes how the discovered the history of the Bund through a book about Marek Edelman, a member of the Bund and hero of the Warsaw uprising. In the book, Edelman talks about the Bund, and Cohn-Bendit states that both the Stalinists and Zionists have tried to erase it from memory. Then the review continues thus:

‘Books and monographs have been published about the Bund, in Yiddish and English, German and Polish, and in other languages. Nevertheless, Cohn-Bendit’s remarks remain relevant. To fill the still-existing broad gap in  knowledge of the Bund, before describing Frank Wolff’s book about the Bund, here are some facts that will give some notion of the “forgotten history” of the Bund.

The Bund was the first modern Jewish political party in the Russian Empire, as well as the largest social democratic movement in the entire empire. On the eve of the Second World War, it was also the strongest Jewish party in Poland.

In its early years (it was founded in 1897) the Bund achieved considerable success, attracting 40,000 supporters by 1906, making it the largest socialist group in the Russian Empire. From mid-1903 to mid-1904 the Bund held 429 political meetings, 45 demonstrations, and 41 political strikes; it issued 305 pamphlets, of which 23 dealt with the pogroms and self-defense. In 1904 the number of Bundist political prisoners reached 4,500.

In the 1930s, one hundred thousand Jewish workers belonged to Bundist unions, meaning that one-quarter of all unionized workers in Poland were led by the Bund, giving them enormous power. The Bund held the overwhelming majority in the national council of Jewish Trade Unions, which, at the end of 1921, comprised seven unions with 205 branches, and 46,000 members, and, in 1939, 14 unions with 498 branches and approximately 99,000 members.

Together with the left Labor Zionists, the Bund administered a network of secular Yiddish schools. At its peak, in the late 1920s, its TSYSHO (Tsentrale Yidishe Shul Organizatsye or Central Yiddish School Organization) maintained 219 institutions with 24,000 students, spread across 100 locations, including 467 kindergartens, 114 elementary schools, 6 high schools, 52 evening schools, and a pedagogical institute in Vilnius.

The Bund also maintained a youth organization, Tsukunft, which numbered 15,000 members on the eve of WW II, and a children’s organization, SKIF, blending scout activities, sports events, and politics; a women’s organization, YAF; and a sports organization, Morgnshtern, the largest such organization in all of Poland, Jewish or Polish.

In 1938, in the municipal elections in 89 Polish cities and towns, the Bund won 55% of the votes cast, more than all the other Jewish parties put together. The Bund thus became communal spokesmen and aggressive advocates of financial aid to all Jewish institutions, including yeshivas and religious institutions.

Most importantly, and as it relates to Frank Wolff’s book, being a member of the Bund meant you lived your life through the Bund—it was your union, your education, your church.’

The review then goes on to describe how the Bund was at the forefront of resistance to the Holocaust, and as Social Democrats, who believed in establishing socialism democratically, they were firmly opposed to the Communists. It also describes their attitude and struggle with the Zionists:

‘The Bund struggled with the Zionist movement for the hearts and minds of the Polish Jews. Looking back, one wonders how the Bund could have maintained that “There where we live (and have lived for hundreds of years), that is our country.” One forgets how chimerical the Zionist dream of a Jewish state in Palestine was. Herzl’s dictum that Palestine was “A land without people for a people without a land” was simply not true. Palestine was peopled by over 1 million Palestinians. In 1914, for example, Palestine’s non-Jews outnumbered Jews by 8 to 1.

The Bund argued that 3.2 million Polish Jews, and the other millions in Eastern Europe, would not pull up and move to Palestine. In any case, the Turks, and later the British, were not permitting Jews to enter. The practical and immediate thing to do was for the Jews in their millions to fight for their civil rights and for social democracy in the lands in which they were living, not dream of emigrating to Palestine.

It is tragically true that annihilation was the fate that befell the Polish and other East European Jews, but that same fate would have befallen the Jews of Palestine if the British army had not stopped the advance eastward of the German army with the British victory at El Alamein, Egypt. The Yishuv in Palestine would have been exterminated and with it would have perished the dream of a Jewish state in Palestine.’

The review describes the book as a social and cultural history, describing the Bund’s tactics in reaching the Jewish masses on one hand and fighting for their civil rights, against their exploitation and attacks on them by real anti-Semites. After the party’s suppression in Poland, the book follows its members as they emigrated abroad to New York and Buenos Aires.

But the Bund, although now long gone as an organisation, still exerts a powerful influence. There’s a quote from the book about Daniel Katz’s analysis of Bernie Sanders first run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Katz believed that Bernie was motivated not just by socialism – he was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, but specifically Yiddish socialism and its tradition of fighting oppression, and especially Bund’s transnational appeal. It was this tradition that was able to enthuse and inspire millions of young Americans. The quote concludes

‘The history of the Bund as a party may have come to an end, but the effects of it cultural and political work and their unifying humanitarian yet activist spirit described here continue to matter today.’

The full review can be read at: https://newpol.org/review_of_yiddish_revolutionaries_in_migration/?msclkid=37292abbd14d11ecacf172187342a816

Bernie would have been an awesome president, and broken the mould of American politics. He genuinely seemed to understand and care about the real problems of American working people. During one of his campaign rallies in a southern community, he was approached by a woman in tears wondering how she was going to support her family. Bernie comforted her as she poured our her concerns. One supportive commenter pointed out how amazing it was that a secular Jew from the north could reach out and appeal to a southern Christian. But that’s because he genuinely championed them against the corporatist political establishment.

It’s a massive shame that Bernie didn’t win, just like Jeremy Corbyn lost over here. Because the two of them in power together would have transformed British and American politics for the better.

Yiddish Revolutionary Song – ‘In Ale Gasn’

May 6, 2022

I’ve also put up one or two videos of left-wing Jewish songs in English and Yiddish, like ‘The March of the Jobless Corps’. That song reflects the reality of unemployment in Britain and America today, as well as recalling the National Union of the Unemployed, set up by the Communists in Britain during the great recession of the ’30s. But these songs are also a challenge to the Blairites in the Labour party. They show that contrary to Starmer’s attitude to Jews and socialists in the party and that of the various Zionist organisations and the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbinate, Jewish working people formed a strong part of the international working class movement, including anarchism, socialism and Marxism. But their modern left-wing and genuinely socialist counterparts are ‘the wrong kind of Jews’ for the current wretched Labour leadership. And so we’ve had the nasty spectacle of the genuinely anti-racist Jeremy Corbyn smeared as an anti-Semite, and also his Jewish and gentile followers. And part of this is because he was supported by left-wing Jewish organisations and people, critical of Israel and its persecution of the Palestinians. And so there have been attacks on Jewish Voice for Labour and its leader, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, while Corbyn was attacked for spending a Passover Seder with Jewdas at their invitation. These people are ‘the wrong kind of Jews’, and as a result, 4/5 of the people smeared and expelled from the party for such ideological deviation are Jewish. Which very clearly shows that all these claims of combating anti-Semitism are pure, malignant nonsense.

This song celebrates the overthrow of the Tsar, and is from Jack Ross’ channel on YouTube. The description accompanying the piece states that it was attributed to the anarchists, but was also popular in the Bund, the main eastern European Jewish socialist party in the Russian Empire. It’s almost entirely in Yiddish, but there is a chorus in English.

Many of the Bolsheviks and other Russian revolutionaries were Jews, as well as members of other nationalities in the Russian empire. They were oppressed by the tsarist state. Jewish settlement was limited to ‘the pale’ and there were restrictions on what jobs they could do. The tsars also used conscription into the army as a form of forced conversion. Nicholas II was particularly anti-Semitic, and believed firmly in the old, vile myth of the blood libel. He tried, unsuccessfully, to prosecute a young lad, Bielis, for it, which was so bonkers it actually embarrassed the secret police. It’s therefore not remotely surprising that socialist Jews would celebrate the tsar’s fall and give their loud support to the Revolution.

Venceremos – Chilean Socialist Song against Fascism

May 4, 2022

Here’s another piece of socialist music I really had to put up. It’s Quilapayun – Venceremos on the Commieball channel on YouTube. The images accompanying the song simply show the late, democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende, who was overthrown in the CIA-backed coup that ushered in the bloody reign of Maggie’s friend General Pinochet.

‘Veneremos’ is Spanish for ‘We shall prevail’, and the song is about how the Chilean people – peasants, soldiers, miners, women, students, employees, workers’ will prevail over fascism and sow a new land, ending with pledges to ‘fulfil’. It’s a stirring tune with overtones of Andean indigenous melodies on the panpipes. The American right and the secret state regarded Allende as a threat not only because he was a Marxist, but because he was a democratically elected Marxist. His election showed that Marxism could be genuinely popular and not imposed by force or gerrymandering, as with the Bolshevik coup that inaugurated Communist rule in Russia and the way Stalin rigged the elections and political systems in eastern Europe to foist Communist regimes on its peoples. Allende’s election threatened the image of Marxism as a threat to democracy, and so Allende had to go.

The blurb for the song on the YouTube mentions Allende’s overthrow in Pinochet’s coup that outlawed all political parties, but especially the socialist and communist ones, and gives the Spanish lyrics.

Jewish Left-Wing Song – March of the Jobless Corps/ Arbetslozer Marsh

May 4, 2022

More Jewish music from the left. This comes from the Klezmer group of Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird, one the Oriente Musik YouTube channel. It bitterly attacks the corporate rich and the culpability for mass unemployment in America. It talks about how the factories have been closed down, ‘there’s no manufacturing in the land’, workers are being made made hungry and homeless, living in tents and subsisting on bread and water while lazy CEOs guzzle fine wine. It also attacks useless unions, for taking the dues from the workers but not standing up for them, so all their work goes in making goods for the rich. This is repeated in Yiddish, and the final verse ends with an optimistic look for a new, just land where everyone has work.

The video shows the band marching and dancing through abandoned factories, meeting solitary workers doing carpentry or working at a sewing machine, before people finally come together for a stately traditional Jewish dance.

It’s an excellent riposte to the racist nonsense that Jews are all rich businessmen, somehow responsible for the evils of modern capitalism. This is the real, murderous anti-Semitic conspiracy theory pushed by Hitler and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Unfortunately, the Blairites in the Labour party didn’t get the message. Remember a few years back when Jezza was leading the party, and one of the female MPs appeared on Radio 4 to blithely declare that socialism was anti-Semitic because it attacked capitalism, which was somehow synonymous with Judaism? That was torn to shreds by the Corbynist left, as it should have been by any decent person who knows their history. Because Hitler and the wretched Protocols also claimed that ‘Marxist socialism’ was also controlled by Jews to enslave Aryans. And Corbyn was supported in the party by a strong Jewish contingent, like Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Jewish Voice for Labour, who stood for Jewish working people, who like their gentile comrades were worried about deteriorating working conditions, the destruction of the welfare state, cuts to public services and the privatisation of the NHS. Who wondered how they would pay for the social care their elderly parents and relatives needed, and support their families with the wage freeze.

But there also was in Britain are real ‘Jobless Corps’ – the National Union of the Unemployed, which I think was set up by the Communist Party. As part of their protest, they staged a kind of invasion of the Ritz hotel in London. They went in and ordered a meal. Of course, as working people they weren’t welcome in such an exclusive establishment. They replied by pointing out that plenty of the rich also went down and had their meals in cafes in the working class parts of the capital. They called this ‘slumming it’, but the protesters said they were perfectly welcome there, just as they should be in the Ritz.

We’re supposed to have the lowest unemployment rate for years, but I don’t trust official figures. They’ve been fiddle too often. One of the problems is that they only count people receiving benefit. This obviously doesn’t include the masses who’ve been thrown off thanks to the sanctions system. And it doesn’t count the underemployed, like the poor souls on zero hours contracts, who are effectively unemployed when their employers don’t need ’em.

Perhaps we need a revival of the idea of unemployed workers’ unions, that will attack current neoliberal capitalism and the Thatcherites and Reaganites who are doing their best to prop it up to deprive ordinary people of properly paying work for their own profits.

E. Nesbit’s Proposal to Tackle Crime: More Schools and Fewer Prisons

May 2, 2022

A few days ago I put up a post about how very relevant some of the concerns and causes taken up and championed by children’s author and Fabian Socialist E. Nesbit are. For example, she was appalled at the poverty and hunger among the children at a local school near her in Deptford, so she organised work parties held every Saturday in October, November and December to make clothing for the children, as well as provide them with a Christmas party. Each child was to have a cake, plentiful bread and butter and a toy. Her husband, Hubert Bland, went to frame legislation, passed by parliament, that provided free school meals for children in council schools. The parallels to today, with increasing numbers of people forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together and the campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford to have schools continue to provide free school meals during the summer holidays to feed needy children are very striking.

But I was also struck by a passage in Eleanor Fitzsimon’s biography of her, The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit where she describes how Nesbit was also deeply impressed by a visit to a jail while staying with Welsh friends. This prompted her to write an article arguing that it would not only be cheaper but more effective for the government to provide more schools with better funding rather than more prisons in order to combat crime.

One of the characters in Nesbit’s book, The Incredible Honeymoon, Colonel Bertram, was based on Colonel Arthur Ashley Ruck Chief Constable of Caernarvonshire and father of her friend, Berta. The book states

‘While she was staying with them, he arranged for Edith [Nesbit] to tour a Welsh prison. This experience appears to have affected her greatly. As she left, she turned to one convict and declared ‘I wish you well’. In ‘Cheaper in the End’, the remarkably progressive essay she wrote for Cecil Chesterton’s magazine, the New Witness, she declared ‘we4 want more money spent on schools and less on jails and reformatories’. She believed education was the key to avoiding incarceration and she explained her reasoning.

‘It cannot be put too plainly that the nation which will not pay for her schools must pay for her prisons and asylums. People don’t seem to mind so much paying for prisons and workhouses. What they really hate seems to be paying for schools. And yet how well, in the end, such spending would pay us! ‘There is no darkness but ignorance’ – and we have such a chance as has never been the lot of men since time began, a chance to light enough lamps to dispel all darkness. If only we would take that chance! Even from the meanest point of view we ought to take it. It would be cheaper in the end. Schools are cheaper than prisons.’ (pp.187-8).

It’s not exactly the same situation as today, but close. Successive right-wing governments, including that of Tony Blair, hate spending money on state schools. Funding has been repeatedly cut, even as the amount teachers are expected to do has increased, and the education privatised as far as possible by the transformation of many state schools into academies, run by private companies for their own profit. The academies are not more efficient compared to state schools, just better funded. Thatcher tried to set up a similar system with her wretched ‘city academies’, but these were a complete failure and we actually being wound up by her education minister, Norman Fowler. Then Blair got in, fished the idea out of the bin, and pushed them through as academies.

But the Tories also haven’t been keen on funding the prison service either. A few years ago there was a crisis in the prison sector with massive overcrowding. So much so, in fact, that they were considering housing criminals in ships, like the historic prison hulks. And like everything else, Blair and the Tories tried to push prisons and jails some way towards privatisation by outsourcing them to such brilliant, superbly performing companies as G4S. Or as Molesworth would sa, ‘Hem hem, I do not think’.

Part of Black Lives Matter’s programme was to defund the police. A few days ago its leader, Patrice Cullors, stated that what she meant by that was the complete abolition of the police, the judiciary and the prison system. It’s a completely insane idea that would undoubtedly result in utter chaos and crime rates rocketing, with Black people among the victims. But others involved in the organisation merely said that they wanted police funding cut and the money spent instead on programmes that benefit and uplift the Black community. I don’t believe in cutting police funding, as after Priti Patel under Tweezer removed something like 20,000 police officers from the force crime, not unnaturally, increased. But increased funding for schools and genuine change and improvement in the education system still seems the best way of preventing some children turning to crime.

I’m very much aware that education has very much become a political football, with demands that schools teach ethical issues quite apart from formal academic subjects, like stopping misogyny and racism. But it seems to me that much good would simply come from simply reforming schools so that teachers have enough funding and resources to provide effective teaching that would prepare pupils to become worthy citizens, and allow them to avoid being forced or sucked into offending.

I also feel that to cut down on crime, there needs to be general changes in society so that people are able to get suitable jobs and the gang culture that infects some of Britain’s cities smashed. That’s a tough task.

But we can begin by building more, and better funded schools.

W.L. Phillips, Working Class Socialist and Anti-Slavery Activist, and E. Nesbit’s Work for Deprived Schools

April 30, 2022

I’ve been reading Eleanor Fitzsimon’s biography of E. Nesbit, The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit (London: Duckworth 2019). Nesbit’s best known for her children’s books The Railway Children, Five Children and It, The Story of the Amulet and The Treasure Seekers, but she was also a prolific poet and writer of short stories. But she and her husband, Hubert Bland, were also committed socialists and members of the Fabian Society. She and her husband would have been pilloried by the right-wing media today, because they lived very unconventional lives. Her husband put it about a bit, and she ended up sharing her household with his mistress and raising their child, Rosamund, as one of their own. She also mixed with members of the literary and artistic set of the time, including, obviously, leading socialists like George Bernard Shaw, William Morris and Eleanor Marx. Fabian meetings tended to be genteelly middle class, and Hubert remarked that they were sneered at as armchair socialists. If they were around now, the Tories and their lapdog press would be screaming that the were members of the ‘liberal elite’ and ‘champagne socialists’. But the Society also included working people, who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. The first Fabian pamphlet, Why Are The Many Poor?, was written by W.L. Phillips, a housepainter who, when he was in America, had been active aiding escaped slaves. (p. 73). Unfortunately, that’s all that’s said about this fascinating and courageous figure.

Nesbit and Work Parties for Deprived Schools

And there are other passages in the book that are interesting because of the vile way the Tories have dragged our great and noble country back to the deprivation and poverty of the 19th century. Nesbit, her husband and their friends and family were active organising work parties to provide food, clothes and Christmas presents for the children at Hughes Fields school, in a particularly deprived area near where they lived in Kent. The book states

‘The London School Board had designated Hughes Fields primary school a ‘specially difficult school’. Pupils were withdrawn as soon as they were capable of earning a wage and the attendance rate was just sixty-five per cent. It was reported that one kindly school inspector purchased food for the children out of his own pocket. The dire poverty they endured was highlighted in an appeal carried in the Blackheath Gazette

“In this very poor school a large proportion of the children are either shoeless or very badly shod and clad, even during this inclement weather, and the teachers would gladly welcome any gifts of old boots and clothing – no matter how old they may be.”‘ ( p.127)

She organised Christmas parties for the children. One of these was described by the Kentish Mercury in this passage from an edition from 1896

‘Following her usual custom, Mrs Hubert Bland, of Lee, assisted by several friends gave a tea and entertainment on Saturday afternoon to between 300 and 400 of the poorest and wretchedest of the little ones who attend the Hughes Fields Board Schools, Deptford. The whole of the children were first mustered in the infants’ class-room, and eventually divided into batches and served with tea – which included a plentiful supply of bread and butter and cake – in the four classrooms… each child was made the recipient of a warm garment and a toy.’ (p. 129).

The book goes on to describe the work parties she organised to provide the fare, clothes and toys, which also included a fair bit of fun for those attending.

‘She raised funds and hosted working parties every Saturday for three months leading up to each party, at which family, friends and and neighbours made warm, practical clothing; they knitted hats and comforters, and, on one occasion, made trousers for the boys from blue corduroy that had been supplied to Saretta’s (Nesbit’s half-sister from her father’s previous marriage) husband, John Deakin. Edith’s neighbour Ada Moore described these gatherings

‘I shall never forget our Saturdays during the winter of 1890-1 (I think). We worked at all kinds of things for the very poor of Deptford for some hours, then a supper of, probably, herrings, cheese and bottled stout, followed by a dance.” (p. 130).

Now we have children and families only kept from starvation by food banks, and charities appealing for clothes for the poor. And the situation is going to get worse thanks to the cost of living crisis. As for the school inspector buying food for the kids out of his own pocket, there are stories that some teachers in British schools are also doing that.

But the passage also reminds me of Marcus Rashford and his campaign for schools to provide free meals to children during the summer holidays. He suffered terrible abuse for this, because, obviously, as a millionaire footballer he couldn’t possibly demand such state provision for children without being a massive hypocrite. But Rashford had endured similar poverty when he was a sprog, and the real reason for the Tory ire was that he had exposed the callousness and real deprivation behind their policies. And I’m very sure that if she lived today, Nesbit and her friends would have been similarly attacked.

Nesbit herself comes across as fascinating figure – highly intelligent, and extremely mischievous when a girl, who based many of the incidents in her books on her own life. She clearly had a deep sympathy for the poor and children, and was a woman of very strong principles, expressed in her literary work and social activism. She definitely earns her place as one of Britain’s great literary heroines.

And it is utterly disgusting that similar conditions are now returning to the UK, thanks to the Tories. Thatcherism is a failure and they and the Blairites should be thrown out of power as soon as possible.

Stop the War Coalition on Ukraine as a Proxy War between NATO and Russia

April 28, 2022

I had this email yesterday from the Stop the War Coalition analysing the West’s arming of Ukraine as turning it into a proxy war between NATO and Russia, and warning once again of the dangers of nuclear war.

‘When the war in Ukraine began our abject government made two points. One, to claim wrongly that the war had nothing to do with NATO expansion and two, to argue that while it would arm Ukraine and sanction Russia, there was no question of direct intervention.

Now, it’s a different story. With the supposedly secret trip to Kyiv by Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin at the weekend the war is clearly developing into a proxy war between Russia and NATO.

Read & Share Lindsey German’s Latest Article

Western weapons have flowed into Ukraine with the US government now having sent $3billion of weapons along with huge shipments from various NATO countries, including our own.

Those who urge the supply of weapons to end the war may do with the best intentions, but the effect is likely to be the opposite. It will prolong the war and increases all the dangers of further escalation.

Russia is the aggressor and should withdraw its troops. The war is between two sovereign if unequal states but is fast becoming a direct war between NATO and Russia. This is becoming clearer by the day and creates the most dangerous situation internationally since WW2.

Join Our International Day of Action on May 7th

With the urgency of the situation in mind it is vital that our local groups, activists and supporters do all they can to join the International Day of Action against the war on 7th May.

We’re asking you to organise events including stalls, protests and demonstrations to ensure our call for peace is high profile, that we are engaging with the public and building a new layer of supporters around us.

Just contact us with details of your action and we’ll support it by sending materials and promoting the event. We looking forward to covering the country with anti-war activity!

Add Your Day of Action Event