Archive for the ‘Unemployment’ Category

Roman Poet Martial on Malice, and the Tories’ Violation of Good Taste

October 21, 2018

I found this quotation on malice from the Roman poet and epigrammist, Martial, in an old copy of Focus magazine dating from the ’90s. The great Roman wit said

Man loves malice, but not against one-eyed men, nor the unfortunate, but against the fortunate and proud.

Well, that’s how things should be, amongst people of taste. Unfortunately, many people really aren’t that well-brought up. And this extends to the entire Tory party, who are full of hatred and malice against the unfortunate. Not just the poor and the unemployed, but also the disabled, including men with one eye. You can see that from their entire welfare policy of depriving benefits to those, who desperately need it, and the way it has forced people into misery, debt, starvation and death. And this is despite all their hypocritical crocodile tears about the poor and cant about ‘caring conservatism’. Heidi Allen, who ostentatiously wept about the suffering of one poor soul on benefit, has voted against reforming the Universal Credit that has caused so much of it. And David Cameron and his mate Iain Duncan Smith had a good cackle together in parliament when a Labour MP read out a piece from one of their constituents describing the depths of suffering she had been reduced to due to their wretched reforms.

The Tory cabinet is stuffed full of public school toffs, who like, Boris Johnson, have received a Classical education. Clearly they were asleep or skiving that day when they covered that epigram of Martial’s.

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The Sky At Night Looks at Britain in Space

October 19, 2018

I just managed to catch the weekday repeat a day or so ago of this month’s Sky at Night, in which presenters Maggie Aderin-Pocock and British astronaut Tim Peake looked at the history of Britain in space, and forward to the country’s future in the deep black. The programme’s changed a bit over the past few years in the case of its presenters. It was famously presented by Sir Patrick Moore from its beginning in the 1950s until he passed away a few years ago. This made the programme the longest-running show presented by the same person. Aderin-Pocock joined it before Moore’s departure. She’s a black woman scientist, with a background in programming missile trajectories. She’s obviously very intelligent, enthusiastic and very definitely deserves her place on the show. But I wish she’d done a job that didn’t involve the military use of rocket technology, however much this is needed as part of national defence.

Aderin-Pocock was speaking to one of the management officials from Orbex, a new, British company, which has developed a rocket launcher and intends to open a spaceport in one of the more deserted areas of Scotland. The rocket will stand about 17 meters tall, using propane and High Test Peroxide as fuel. High Test Peroxide is a highly concentrated version of the hydrogen peroxide used by hairdressers to bleach peoples’ hair. The use of propane is particularly important, as it’s lighter than conventional rocket fuels, meaning that the rocket doesn’t have to carry as much fuel to lift off into space. Advances in satellite design have also allowed the rocket to be smaller than other spacecraft used elsewhere. British universities have succeeded in developing microsatellites – satellites that are much, much smaller than some of the satellites put into orbit, but which can perform the same functions. As these satellites are smaller and lighter, they only need a relatively smaller, lighter rocket to launch them.

The Scottish launch complex also wasn’t going to be as big as other, larger, major launch complexes, such as those of NASA, for example. I think it would still contain a launch tower and control buildings. As well as the official from Orbex, the show also talked to a woman representing the rural community in the part of Scotland, where they were planning to build it. She admitted that there would be problems with building it in this part of the Scots countryside. However, the community was only going to lease the land, not sell it to Orbex, and care would be taken to protect the farms of the local crofters and the environment and wildlife. Like much of rural Britain, this was an area of few jobs, and the population was aging as the young people moved away in search of work. She looked forward to Orbex and its spaceport bringing work to the area, and creating apprenticeships for the local young people.

The programme went on to explain that this would be the first time for decades that a British company was going to build a British rocket to launch a British satellite. From what looked the British space museum in Manchester, Time Peake stood under the display of Britain’s Black Knight rocket and the Prospero satellite. He explained how the rocket launched the satellite into space from Australia in 1975. However, the project was then cancelled, which meant that Britain is the only country so far which has developed, and then discarded rocket technology.

But Black Knight wasn’t the only space rocket Britain developed. Peake then moved on to talk about Skylark, a massively successful sounding rocket. Developed for high altitude research, the rocket reached a maximum of altitude of 400 km in the few minutes it was in flight. At its apogee – its maximum distance from Earth – the vehicle briefly experienced a few minutes of zero gravity, during which experiments could be performed exploring this environment. The Skylark rocket was used for decades before it was finally cancelled.

Aderin-Pocock asked the official from Orbex how long it would be before the spaceport would be up and running. The manager replied that this was always an awkward question to answer, as there was always something that meant operations and flights would start later than expected. He said, however, that they were aiming at around the end of 2020 and perhaps the beginning of 2021.

Orbex are not, however, the only space company planning to open a spaceport in Britain. Virgin Galactic have their own plans to launch rockets in to space from Cornwall. Their vehicle will not, however, be launched from the ground like a conventional rocket, but will first be carried to a sufficiently high altitude by an airplane, which would then launch it. I’m not a betting man, but my guess is that of the two, Orbex is the far more likely to get off the ground, as it were, and begin launching its rocket on schedule. As I’ve blogged about previously, Branson has been telling everyone since the late 1990s at least, that Virgin Galactic are going to be flying tourists into space in just a few months from now. This fortnight’s Private Eye published a brief list of the number of times Branson had said that, with dates. It might be that Branson will at last send the first of his aspiring astronauts up in the next few months, as he claimed last week. But from his previous form, it seems far more likely that Orbex will start launches before him, as will Branson’s competitors over the pond, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

When asked about the company’s capability of perfecting their technology, Orbex’s manager not stressed the skill and competence of the scientists, technicians and engineers working on the project. This included not just conventional space scientists, but also people, who had personally tried and failed to build their own spacecraft. He said that it was extremely important to fail to build rockets. He’s obviously referring to the many non-professional, hobby rocketeers out there trying to build their own spacecraft. He didn’t mention them, but one example would be the people at Starchaser, who started out as a small group of enthusiasts in Yorkshire but have gone on to create their own space company, now based across the pond in America. I think it’s brilliant that amateurs and semi-professionals have developed skills that the professionals in the industry find valuable. And the failures are important, as they show what can go wrong, and give the experience and necessary information on how to avoid it. I don’t think the rocket will be wholly built in this country. The manager said that some of it was being constructed in Copenhagen. This sounds like Copenhagen Suborbitals, a Danish team of rocket scientists, who are trying to put a person into space. They’re ex-NASA, I believe, but it’s a small, private venture. They have a webpage and have posted videos on YouTube, some of which I’ve reblogged. They’ve also said they’re keen for people to join them, or start their own rocket projects.

I’d been looking forward to that edition of the Sky at Night for the past week, but when the time came, it slipped my mind that it was on. I’m very glad I was able to catch it. If Orbex are successful, it will be the first time that a British satellite will launch a British satellite from here in Britain. And it sounds really optimistic. Not only will Britain be returning to space rocket development, but the Scots spaceport sounds like it will, hopefully, bring work to a depressed area. I’m also confident that the local environment there will also be preserved. The launch complex around NASA is necessarily so remote from other buildings, that it’s actually become a wildlife haven. So much so that it’s now a location for birdwatching.

When it was announced that they were planning to build a new spaceport in Scotland, I assumed it would be for Skylon, the British spaceplane. There had been articles in the paper about the spacecraft, which stated that it would be launched either from Scotland or Cornwall. It seems I was wrong, and that it’s Orbex’s rocket which will be launched there instead. But nevertheless, I wish Orbex every success in their venture, and hope that sometime soon Skylon will also join them in flight out on the High Frontier.

The Real News on Labour’s Plan For Nationalisation and Workplace Democracy

October 16, 2018

In this 15 minute video from the Baltimore-based The Real News network, host Aaron Mate talks to Leon Panitch, professor of political science at York University about the proposals announced at the Labour party’s conference last month that Labour intended to renationalize some of the privatized utilities, introduce profit-sharing schemes and workplace democracy in firms with over 250 members, in which 1/3 of the board would be elected by the workers.

The video includes a clip of John McDonnell announcing these policies, declaring that they are the greatest extension of economic democratic rights that this country has ever seen. He states that it starts in the workplace, and that it is undeniable that the balance of power is tipped against the worker. The result is long hours, low productivity, low pay and the insecurity of zero hours contracts. He goes on to say that Labour will redress this balance. They will honour the promise of the late Labour leader, John Smith, that workers will have full union rights from day one whether in full time, part time or temporary work. They will lift people out of poverty by setting a real living wage of ten pounds an hour.

McDonnell also says that they believe that workers, who create the wealth of a company, should share in its ownership and the returns that it makes. Employee ownership increases productivity and improves long-term decision making. Legislation will be passed, therefore, for large firms to transfer shares into an inclusive ownership fund. The shares will be held and managed collectively by the workers. The shareholders will give the workers the same rights as other shareholders to have a say over the direction of their company. And dividend payments will be made directly to the workers from the fund.

Commenting on these proposals, Panitch says that in some ways they’re not surprising. McDonnell stated that Labour would inherit a mess. But his remarks were different in that usually governments use the fact that they will inherit a mess not to go through with radical policies. Panitch then talks about Labour’s commitment to bring the public utilities – rail, water, electricity, the post office – public ownership, pointing out that these used to be publicly owned before Thatcher privatized them. McDonnell particularly focused on water, before going beyond it, citing the 1918 Labour party constitution’s Clause IV, which Blair had removed. This is the clause committing the Labour party to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, under the best form of popular administration. And unlike previous nationalized industries, these will be as democratically-run as possible. Councils would be set up in the water sector made up of representatives of the local community and workers’ representatives to be a supervisory council over the managers in the nationalized water industry.

They then go to a clip of McDonnell talking about the nationalization of the utilities. McDonnell states that the renationalization of the utilities will be another extension of economic democracy. He states that this has proved its popularity in opinion poll after opinion poll. And it’s not surprising. Water privatization is a scandal. Water bills have risen by 40 per cent in real terms since privatization. 18 billion pounds has been paid out in dividends. Water companies receive more in tax credits than they pay in tax. And each day enough water to meet the needs of 20 million people is lost due to leaks. ‘With figures like that’, he concludes, ‘we cannot afford not to take it back into popular ownership’.

Mate and Panitch then move on to discussing the obstacles Labour could face in putting these policies into practice, most particularly from the City of London, which Panitch describes as ‘the Wall Street of Britain’, but goes on to say that in some ways its even more central to financialized global capitalism. However, Panitch says that ‘one gets the sense’ that the British and foreign bourgeoisie have resigned themselves to these industries being brought back into public ownership. And in so far as bonds will be issued to compensate for their nationalization, McDonnell has got the commitment from them to float and sell them. He therefore believes that there won’t be much opposition on this front, even from capital. He believes that there will be more resistance to Labour trying to get finance to move from investing in property to productive industry.

He then moves on to talk about Labour’s plans for ten per cent of the stock of firms employing 250 or more people to go into a common fund, the dividends from which would passed on to the workers up to 500 pounds a year. Anything above that would be paid to the treasury as a social fund for meeting the needs of British people and communities more generally. Panitch states that this has already produced a lot of squawking from the Confederation of British Industry. Going to giving workers a third of the seats on the boards, Panitch states that it has already been said that it will lead to a flight of capital out of Britain. He discusses how this proposal can be radical but also may not be. It could lead to the workers’ representatives on these boards making alliances with the managers which are narrow and particular to that firm. The workers get caught up in the competitiveness of that firm, it stock prices and so on. He makes the point that it’s hardly the same thing as the common ownership of the means of production to have workers’ sitting on the boards of private companies, or even from workers’ funds to be owning shares and getting dividends from them. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction of socializing the economy more generally, and giving workers the capacity and encouraging them to decide what can be produced, where it’s produced, and what can be invested. And if it really scares British and foreign capital, this raises the question of whether they will have to introduce capital controls. Ultimately, would they have to bring the capital sector into the public sphere as a public utility, as finance is literally the water that forms the basis of the economy?

Mate then asks him about Labour’s refusal to hold a second referendum on Brexit, which angered some activists at the conference. Labour said that any second referendum could only be about the terms of the exit. Panitch states that people wanting Britain to remain in a capitalist Europe try to spin this as the main priority of the party’s members, even Momentum. He states that this is not the case at all, and that if you asked most delegates at the conference, most Labour members and members of Momentum, which they would prefer, a socialist Britain or a capitalist Europe, they would prefer a socialist Britain. The people leading the Remain campaign on the other hand aren’t remotely interested in a socialist Britain, and think it’s romantic nonsense at best. He states that the Corbyn leadership has said that they want a general election as they could secure an arrangement with Europe that would be progressive without necessarily being in Europe. They would accept the single market and a progressive stand on immigration rather than a reactionary one. They did not wish to endorse a referendum, which the Tories would have the power to frame the question. And this is particularly because of the xenophobic and racist atmosphere one which the initial Brexit vote was based. Panitch states that he is a great critic of the European Union, but he would have voted to remain because the debate was being led by the xenophobic right. He ends by saying that capital is afraid of the Trumps of this world, and it is because of the mess the right has made of things here in Britain with the Brexit campaign that capital might give a little bit more space for a period at least to a Corbyn government.

This latter section on Brexit is now largely obsolete because Labour has said it will support a second referendum. However, it does a good job of explaining why many Labour supporters did vote for Brexit. The editor of Lobster, Robin Ramsay, is also extremely critical of the European Union because of the way neoliberalism and a concern for capital and privatization is so much a part of its constitution.

Otherwise, these are very, very strong policies, and if they are implemented, will be a very positive step to raising people out of poverty and improving the economy. Regarding the possibility that the representatives of the workers on the company boards would ally themselves with capital against the workers, who put them there, has long been recognized by scholars discussing the issue of workers’ control of industry. It was to stop this happening that the government of the former Yugoslavia insisted that regular elections should be held with limited periods of service so that the worker-directors would rotate. Ha-Joon Chan in his books criticizing neoliberal economics also makes the points that in countries like France and Germany, where the state owns a larger proportion of firms and workers are involved in their companies through workers’ control, there is far more long-term planning and concern for the companies success. The state and the workers have a continuing, abiding interest in these firms success, which is not the case with ordinary investors, who will remove their money if they think they can get a better return elsewhere.

My concern is that these policies will be undermined by a concentrated, protracted economic warfare carried out against the Labour party and the success of these policies by capital, the CBI and the Tories, just as the Tories tried to encourage their friends in industry to do in speeches from Tweezer’s chancellors. These policies are desperately needed, but the Tory party and the CBI are eager to keep British workers, the unemployed and disabled in poverty and misery, in order to maintain their control over them and maximise profits.

RT Interview with Paul Peter of DPAC on Tories Ramping Up Distress for Disabled People

October 12, 2018

This is another excellent video from RT, in which the presenter of their ‘Going Underground’, Afshin Rattansi, talks to Paula Peters from the disability organization, DPAC. Peters makes it very clear that, despite the lies of the Tories and particular Esther McVey, their cuts to benefits are causing immense mental distress to the disabled and constitute a human catastrophe, that was called such by the UN, who criticized the Tories for it.

The video begins with Peters stating that ‘She (Esther McVey) is ramping up mental distress for disabled people through the heinous policies that she and the Conservative party are implementing today.’

Rattansi goes on to state that The Department for Work and Pensions Secretary gave quite a barnstorming speech at the conference, raised quite a few eyes across the sector and that he is sure she would deny what Peters is saying. He asks her if there is any hope that the United Nations investigation into what she’s doing at the DWP for these alleged atrocities that people like DPAC are alleging, any hope that the UN can do something?

Peters replies that first of all they refute Wholeheartedly what Esther McVey said last week. The cuts to PIP payments, ESA, JSA, are real news, and they have eight years of evidence to back this up.

Rattansi asks, ‘She called if fake news?’

Peters replies, ‘Yeah, well, it’s not fake news, they are real stories and millions of people affected by these policies can say that, you know, are being plunged further into poverty and destitution as a result of their heinous policies and regarding the UN’s investigation there’s been years of written and oral evidence to back up millions of claimants who have been plunged further into mental distress, further into isolation as a result of DWP policy and it should be noted the government were the first state in the world to be formally investigated under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities and found guilty of grave and systemic human rights violations. Then in 2017 the Committee ruled that the cuts that disabled people and people in mental distress were experiencing were a human catastrophe on our lives, and the UN rapporteur for poverty is about to visit the UK here in November and there coming here because there’s overwhelming evidence to show that disabled people and people in mental distress are plunged further into poverty by the cuts this government are making. This is not fake news, it’s real news and we need to continue the fight to get the truth out of what this government are doing.’

The video also include three pieces of explanatory text at the bottom of the screen. One states that a spokesperson for the Samaritans had said that McVey had stepped down from their advisory board due to her commitments as secretary of state for work and pensions. She had been invited to become a member of the board in early 2017 when she was chair of the British Transport Police Authority, which was one of the partners the organization works with to reduce suicides on the railways. The organization now states they no longer have an advisory board.

The second piece of text says that they contacted McVey and the DWP about DPAC’s allegations that the cuts were pushing people into poverty, but didn’t get an answer.

And the third quotes the DWP as saying on the subject of the UN that

‘The UK has a close working relationship with UN bodies and is committed to upholding the rule of law and [a] rules-based international system … The UK has a standing invitation to all Special Rapporteurs and it is UK government policy to accept and facilitate such visits, and to encourage other UN member states to do the same.’

Peters is absolutely right. DPAC, other disabled rights organisations, poverty campaigners and left wing bloggers, vloggers and activists have amassed abundant information that fully confirms that the Tory cuts are pushing people into poverty. And no, the government does not like giving the information to people. Mike had to fight very hard getting the statistics from the DWP under the Freedom of Information Act about how many people had died after they had been found ‘fit for work’ by ATOS under the Department’s rules. And even then, the information they sent him wasn’t exactly the information he requested.

I also remember Mike blogging about the UN’s condemnation of Cameron’s government for their maltreatment of the disabled, and the angry denials this due from the Tories.

As for McVile’s speech going down a storm with the Tories at their conference, well, to paraphrase Christine Keeler, it would, wouldn’t it. The Tory party is composed of the entitled, the rich, and the bigoted, who have a vicious hatred of anyone they think is a drain on their money. And that means the poor, the disabled, the less privileged, the working class, the unemployed and Blacks and ethnic minorities. You could see that from Peter Lilly’s prancing about the stage at one conference way back in the ’90s, when he decided to put on his version of a piece from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Like the Nazi U-boat commander in Dad’s Army, he had a little list. It was full of the people the government had decided were welfare spongers and malingerers, like unmarried mothers. As I’ve blogged about many times, the Tories have no sympathy with the poor and disadvantaged, and their policies seem designed to push them into suicide or death by starvation in what Mike has described as ‘Chequebook euthanasia’. Or the Nazis’ Aktion T4 by any other name.

My cartoon of McVey and other Tory lowlifes.

The Tories are positive threat to the health, lives and wellbeing of the people of this country. Get them out!

Government Report: ‘Benefit Sanctions Don’t Work’

October 11, 2018

In the I today, Thursday 11 October 2018, there’s an article on p.6 by Jasmine Anderson, ‘Benefit Sanctions ‘Don’t Work”, which reports what who’s had any contact with the benefits system already knows, but the government has shown itself keen to deny. And apparently it came out in a report published last month.

The article runs

A government study published last month found there is “no evidence” that benefit sanctions work.

Sanctions, which can result in the stopping of benefit payments for claimants who do not comply with rules laid out by the Department of work and Pensions (DWP), have been proven to be ineffective in a three-year study carried out by the Government.

The DWP published the findings in the paper Universal Credit: in-work Progression Randomised Controlled Trial on the Government’s website on 12 September, as MPs prepared for party conference season. There was no ministerial announcements.

The study, which was carried out over three years, paper found “no evidence” that sanctions for failing to apply for additional work or undertake additional training, “helped motivate participants to progress in work”, reported Sky News.

Sanctions “damaged” the claimant’s relationship with the work coach, the report added.

You could have predicted that finding, and also the government’s lack of response to it. Of course there were going to be no ministerial announcements about it, as it contradicts the fundamental Tory attitude to the poor: that poverty is people’s own fault, and welfare should be made as unpleasant and demeaning as possible to encourage people to get off it as soon as possible. It’s ‘less eligibility’, the ideology of the workhouse, which was taken over and praised by Maggie Thatcher as one of her precious ‘Victorian values’. All the sanctions system has done is humiliate and starve people for the flimsiest and most specious of reasons, just so that Jobcentre can hit their target of the number of people they’ve got off benefits for the month.

And that has meant killing people, just as the number of disabled people thrown off disability benefits after they were judged fit for work by Atos and now Maximus has killed people. They’ve starved to death, or died because they were unable to cope with existing medical conditions like diabetes, where they need to regulate their diet. Or simply killed themselves out of sheer despair.

This study follows the other studies that have also shown that workfare, another prized Tory policy for punishing the poor while providing cheap labour to their friends in big business, also doesn’t help people find jobs.

But that was never the point of either policy in the first place. They were there because of the attitude of sheer vindictive spite the Tories and their lackeys in the press have towards the poor. A sadistic attitude which drive them to find ways to degrade and humiliate them as a drain on society’s resources, just as the Nazis viewed the disabled and serial unemployed.

You can expect this report to be quietly forgotten over the next few weeks. If it is mentioned, and the Tories are asked about it, they will do the usual: vehemently deny it, and claim there are other studies which found that it has a positive effect, or some other mendacious nonsense.

Workfare, benefit sanctions and the work capability tests have to be stopped. NOW. And the Tories should be thrown out of office immediately.

H.G. Wells’ Prediction of Workfare

October 6, 2018

I’ve just finished reading H.G. Wells’ The Sleeper Awakes, now re-published in Penguin Classics, edited and with an introduction by Patrick Parrinder and with notes by Andy Sawyer. The novel is Wells’ 1924 revised version of his earlier When the Sleeper Wakes, published in 1899. It’s the tale of Graham, an overworked insomniac, who falls into a deathlike trance in 1898 and remains sleeping in a state of suspended animation for over 200 years. When he finally awakes, in a transparent glass case constructed to show him to the masses, he finds himself at the centre of revolutionary ferment.

All the democratic hopes and aspirations of the 19th century have passed, and the new world in which he now finds himself is one immediately recognizable to SF fans and cinema buffs, who’ve seen Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis. This is a world of vast, hive-like cities of soaring tower blocks. London now has a population of 30 million, and has sucked in the population of the other cities in the UK. Where they remain, they are themselves vast tower blocks. The metropolis is covered by a glass dome. The private house has all but vanished, and people eat as well as work in public, so that the cities resembled vast hotels rather than aggregates of homes. In this vast hive, babies and children are reared away from their parents in vast nurseries, creches and kindergartens, attended by mechanical wetnurses. People move to and fro around the city on moving walkways, bridges across the gulfs between blocks, as well as funicular railways and abseiling on thin wires. Ultra-tough Eadhamite roads have replaced the railways linking city to city. The aeroplane has finally been developed – Wells wrote it before the Wright Brothers finally showed heavier than air flight was possible – and there are regular passenger flights across the world. The world has been united, and there is a global government. News and entertainment is provided not only by the theatre, but also by television, including a form of video recording. Instead of newspapers, there are the babble machines installed in public places around London, which mechanically announce the news conveyed by the various news agencies.

It is also a ruthlessly capitalist society. In the centuries while he slept, the trust set up to provide for Graham’s support during his slumber has expanded massively, buying up every other company on the face of the Earth, absorbing governments and subverting religion. The ruling council are its directors. Adverts are ubiquitous, even on the faces of the mechanical wetnurses attending the babies in the nurseries. The ruling elite regards democracy as discredited and outmoded. The commercial ethos has affected established religion, so that the Christian churches off access to the quickest and best bishops around, and conversion without upsetting your job and place in the social structure. All this is shocking enough to Graham, but he is really shaken by the condition of the toiling masses at the bottom of the social hierarchy. One third of the population wear the blue canvas of the Labour Department. This has superseded the old workhouse, and is partly based on the Salvation Army, which the Trust bought out and then subverted. Its workers are treated as serfs, toiling underground in vast, dirty factories, for a pittance. It is the refuge of the poor, the homeless and the destitute, whom it ruthlessly exploits.

This is explained to Graham by Helen Wotton, one of the rebels.

‘Workhouse! Yes – there was something. In our history lessons. I remember now. The Labour Department ousted the workhouse. It grew – partly – out of something – you, perhaps, may remember it – an emotional religious organization called the Salvation army – that became a business company. In the first place it was almost a charity. To save people from workhouse rigours. There had been great agitation against the workhouse. Now I come to think of it, it was one of the earliest properties your Trustees acquired. They bought the Salvation Army and reconstructed it as this. The idea in the first place was to organize the Labour of starving homeless people.’

‘Yes.’

‘Nowadays there are no workhouses, no refuges and charities, nothing but that Department. Its offices are everywhere. That blue is its colour. And any man, woman or child who comes to be hungry and weary and with neither home nor friend nor resort, must go to the Department in the end – or seek some way of death. the Euthanasy is beyond their means – for the poor there is no easy death. And at any hour in the day or night there is food, shelter and a blue uniform for all comers – that is the first condition of the Department’s incorporation – and in return for a day’s shelter the Department extracts a day’s work, and then returns the visitor’s proper clothing and sends him or her out again.’

‘Yes?’

‘Perhaps that does not seem so terrible to you. In your time men starved in your streets. That was bad. But they died – men. These people in blue – The proverb runs: “Blue canvas once and ever.” The Department trades in their labour, and it has taken care to assure itself of the supply. People come to it starving and helpless – they eat and sleep for a night and day, they work for a day, and at the end of the day they go out again. If they have worked well they have a penny or so – enough for a theatre or a cheap dancing place, or a kinematograph story, or a dinner or a bet. They wander about after that is spent. Begging is prevented by the police of the ways. Besides, no one gives. They come back again the next day or the day after – brought back again by the same incapacity that brought them first. At last their proper clothing wears out, or their rags get so shabby that they are ashamed. Then they must work for months to get fresh. If they want fresh. A great number of children are born under the Department’s care. The mother owes them a month thereafter – the children they cherish and educated until they are fourteen, and they pay two years’ service. You may be sure these children are educated for the blue canvas. And so it is the Department works.’ (pp. 161-2).

Okay, so it’s not quite like the Tories’ wretched welfare to work industry, in that the DWP doesn’t provide housing for the destitute. And the Tories’, and Blairites’, for that matter, prefer throwing people off benefit or finding ways to stop them getting it in the first place, than actually giving anyone work and support. But it does have many of the characteristics of workfare.

The book’s also interesting as while Well’s depicts a Christianity infused with the commercial ethos, this is not an anti-religious, anti-Christian book. Graham is shocked by this new, capitalistic religion. And when he finally gives a speech to inspire the workers revolting against their exploitation, he urges them to give themselves, just as Christ gave Himself upon the cross.

It’s a fascinating book, which shows the influence it had on subsequent dystopian literature, from Orwell’s 1984 to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. And while a piece of early Science Fiction that didn’t get the future quite right, it still contains surprising lessons for our own time.

James O’Brien’s Reaction to Tweezer Prancing at Tory Conference

October 4, 2018

Yesterday Tweezer took it upon herself to enter the stage at the Tory party dancing, coming in shaking her booty to Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’. I think this was supposed to maker her appear upbeat and confident, showing how little she was worried about Brexit, challenges from BoJo and other rivals and Jeremy Corbyn’s revitalized Labour party. And presumably her, or her advisers, thought the choice of the Abba song would stress how regal she was.

The opposite has been the case. With a few notable exceptions, the prevalent mood across the country seems to have been a mixture of mirth and acute, vicarious embarrassment. The left-wing, disabled issues vlogger, Gordon Dimmack, put up a video yesterday about it, describing her as ‘dad-dancing’. Which is quite accurate. She did come across very much as that middle-aged relative, very often someone’s father, who proceeds to embarrass their offspring by dancing at family parties. Mike has put up a very good piece about Tweezer’s cringe-inducing display over at his blog, where he quotes the good folks on Twitter on this weird spectacle.

They’re all worth reading, but my favourites are the Tweet from Wandering Aeonghus, who said “Abba have condemned the use of their music by extreme right wing political groups. Do keep up!” and James Melville, who suggested new, more appropriates for the Abba song to fit with the Tory conference. They were

“You are the Brexit queen
Two left feet, dance like Mr Bean
Brexit queen
Feel the heat from the EU team, oh yeah
Plead with France, you don’t stand a chance
Having the worst time of your life
Ooh, see no deal, watch us scream
Digging the Brexit queen”.

Wirral In It Together, on the other hand, made a serious point about Tweezer and her racism and victimization of the poor and disabled:

“Theresa May dancing?! Are there graves of poor, homeless, abused, disabled, black, Asian, Hispanic people under the #CPC18 stage?”

Some people in the media, amazingly, appear to have been impressed. The I has glowing headlines today about her performance. And Laura Kuenssberg tweeted “That was one of best speech entrances ever from the person the public might least expect it from”.

This got angry replies pointing out how poor her assessment of it was and how out of touch Kuenssberg herself was from Michael Stewart and Fiona Nouri. While Matt Thomas tweeted that “Presumably Fred West could’ve come out doing Gangnam Style and Laura would’ve put a positive twist on it.”

LBC’s James O’Brien spoke for so many in this video showing his reaction to it all on YouTube.

‘Oh no! This is awful!’ he cries, before he facepalms.

You can hear the spirit of the late comedy legend, Frankie Howerd, saying ‘Titter ye not! Ooooooh noooo! It’s rude to mock the afflicted’.

But there’s a serious aspect to May’s weird cavortings. She’s dancing ’cause she’s trying to stay in power, and she’s proud that her party has reduced the working people of this country to abject poverty. Proud that they’re deporting people of colour, who have every right to be here. Proud that they’re privatizing the NHS and introducing charges for services that should be free. Proud that sanctions and the work capability tests means that the unemployed and disabled are dying of starvation. Proud that there are nearly a quarter of a million people using food banks. And the poverty for ordinary people will get worse, thanks to their partisan and utterly inept handling of Brexit.

The last word should really go to Mrs Gee, who said

“Young people – take a long hard look. Then register to vote and #voteLabour like your fucking lives depend on it. Because actually they do.”

Mike concludes his article with this

Every word of that is true. The lives of the young – their quality, everything that makes a life worth living – are in danger every moment the Conservatives are in power because the Conservatives want to take everything that makes life worth living away from working people.

And yes, that will probably extend to the right to reproduce, at some point in the future. Which is odd, because if there’s one thing Mrs May’s performance showed, it’s that it is the Tories who really shouldn’t be allowed to do it.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/10/03/theresa-mays-dancing-queen-routine-plumbs-new-depths-of-tory-self-parody/

Private Eye on Frank Field Undermining His Labour Colleagues

September 20, 2018

At the end of last month, Mike ran a story about the resignation of Frank Field from the Labour whip. Field claimed he was resigning the party whip because of the party’s supposed anti-Semitism problem and what he called ‘a culture of nastiness’.

In fact, as Mike pointed out, Field’s decision had nothing to do with any of that, and was actually spurred by him losing a no confidence vote held by his constituency party. They were angered by his decision to prop up May’s and her Tory government over Brexit.

Under party laws, Field had fourteen days to resign from the party completely or be thrown out. As for him standing as an independent, that’s an empty threat. Without the backing of the major parties, independent candidates stand little chance of getting elected. So the statement that his departure from the party could result in more right-wing Labour MPs leaving is an empty threat. They know perfectly well that if they do this, they too will vanish politically.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/08/31/dont-be-fooled-by-fake-news-frank-field-left-labour-rather-than-be-kicked-out/

As for Field’s allegation that the ‘culture of nastiness’ was being “driven, in part, by members who in previous years would never have been able to claim Labour Party membership”, this is less a description of his opponents and far more accurate as a description of him. Nearly twenty years ago, Field got into the pages of Private Eye’s ‘HP Sauce’ column because of his intriguing against colleagues in the Labour party, including urging voters to support a Liberal candidate instead.

the article was in the Eye’s edition for Friday, 21st August 1998, and ran

Frank Field’s apparent desire to speak the unspeakable on welfare reform is not the first time he has kicked against the pricks in his party.

Back in 1980 the Eye welcomed him into parliament (New Boys, 483) recalling his nickname of “Judas”. This was earned in Labour circles for his outspoken attacks on the Wilson government when he was director of the Child Poverty Action Group. This was nothing compared to the bizarre events associated with him during the Euro elections in north Wales in 1984, however.

Labour candidate Ian Campbell found himself discredited in a series of quarter-page advertisements in the local papers, which claimed that Frank Field MP urged Labour party supporters to support Tom Ellis, the candidate for the SDP/Liberal Alliance, who was then standing on a straightforward Liberal ticket.

Pleas from Campbell to Field to retract these reported views, and to canvas with him to disprove such presumably false claims, found no response. Neither did the diehards of the labour party’s general secretary for a retraction; he was forced in a conversation with Campbell to admit that Field was simply a “maverick” over whom the party had no control.

Labour lost the seat by a small margin and Field never denied the views attributed to him – views which, according to the rules, should have led to his expulsion from the party. (p. 8).

I realise the events are over thirty years ago, but they do seem to reflect very well what kind of character Field had. I could never work out why he remained in the Labour party, as he believed that life should be made even tougher for the unemployed. The Conservative Anglican blog, Cranmer, thoroughly supported him, and openly stated that Field would be welcome in the Conservative ranks if he crossed the floor.

Field’s resignation thus is no loss to the party. And as Mike points out, it leaves his constituency party free to elect a real Labour party worker to be their prospective MP.

Private Eye Covers Shows Blairites’ Real Policy towards Traditional Labour Members

September 18, 2018

This is the cover of a very old Private Eye for Friday, 2nd October 1998. The caption reads ‘Blair Calls For Unity’, and has Blair saying in the speech bubble ‘There’s a leftie – chuck him out!’

This was the time when Blair was trying to modernize the Labour party by removing Clause 4, the part of its constitution formulated by the Fabians and other socialists, which committed the party to the nationalization of the means of production and distribution. In short, socialism. Blair instead was determined to turn it into another Thatcherite party committed to privatization, including that of the NHS, welfare cuts, and job insecurity. Its traditional working class base were to be ignored and the party instead was to concentrate on winning swing voters, who might otherwise vote Tory. He attempted to win over the Tory press, including the Murdoch papers. Despite owing the start of his career to union sponsorship, he was determined to limit their power even further, and threatened to cut the party’s ties with them unless they submitted to his dictates. His ‘Government Of All the Talents’ – GOATs – included former Tory ministers like Chris Patten. Tories, who crossed the floor and defected to New Labour were parachuted into safe seats as the expense of sitting MPs and the wishes of the local constituency party. Blair adopted failed or discarded Tory policies, including the Peter Lilley’s Private Finance Initiative and the advice of Anderson Consulting. This was satirized by a computer programme that made anagrams from politicians’ names. Anthony Blair came out as ‘I am Tory Plan B’.

The direction in which Blair wanted the party to move was clearly shown by him inviting Margaret Thatcher to 10 Downing Street to visit the day after he was elected. And she thoroughly approved of him, declaring that New Labour was her greatest legacy.

Blair and New Labour were also staunch supporters of Israel. It was money from Zionist Jewish businessmen, raised by Lord Levy, whom Blair had met at a gathering at the Israeli embassy, that allowed him to be financially independent from the trade unions.

Now all that is being threatened by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. Which is why Blairite apparatchiks and MPs have done their level best to purge the party of them by smearing them as Trotskyite and Stalinist infiltrators and anti-Semites. The charges are ludicrous, hypocritical and offensive. Corbyn and his supporters aren’t far left: they’re traditional Labour, supporting a mixed economy. And far from being anti-Semites, the vast majority of those accused are decent, anti-racist people, including self-respecting Jews and dedicated campaigners against anti-Semitism. People like Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Tony Greenstein, Mike over at Vox Political, Martin Odoni and many, many others. Many of the Jews smeared as anti-Semites are Holocaust survivors or the children of Holocaust survivors, but this is never reported in the media. Except when the person supposedly attacked is a good Blairite or member of the Israel lobby.

The cover was made in jest when it came out, though it had an element of truth even then. Now it’s even more true. Blair has left the party leadership, but his supporters in Progress and similar groups are determined to cling on to power by carrying out a purge of Corbyn and his traditional Labour supporters.

Just as Blair himself emerged to urge Blairite MPs and Labour members to leave and join his proposed ‘Centrist’ party.

Archbishop of Canterbury Condemns ‘Gig Economy’, Tories Go Berserk

September 15, 2018

More hypocrisy from the Tory party. This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a long speech attacking Universal Credit and zero hours contracts. He described the ‘gig’ economy the Blairites and the Tories have created, in which workers in insecure jobs are only called in if their bosses decide there’s work for them to do, and go without pay if there isn’t, the ‘return of an ancient evil’.

He made the speech after Labour had outlined its commitment to empowering workers, which included a comprehensive attack on the gig economy. Zero hours contracts will be banned, and employment benefits like sick pay and maternity leave will be extended to cover part-time workers. The party also pledged to end the ruse in which many firms seek to dodge their obligation to provide their workers with proper rights and benefits by making them officially self-employed.

The Archbishop mentioned Labour’s John McDonnell in his speech, who in turn praised the Archbishop. McDonnell said

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has set out a bold vision for a different society, one without the evils of the gig economy, the exploitation of workers and tax dodging of the multinationals.

“I welcome his speech, and the growing movement against the failures of austerity and neoliberalism. Labour will end zero hours contracts, clamp down on the tax avoiders, and ensure everyone has access to sick pay, parental leave and protections at work.”

The Tories, however, immediately went berserk, and showed their own hypocrisy when it comes to supporting the political intervention of religious leaders. They were more than happy when the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks claimed that Corbyn and the Labour party were anti-Semitic. However, they were outraged that the Archbishop had dared to criticize the wonderful Thatcherite capitalism they’d created.

The Tory MP, Ben Bradley, tweeted

‘Not clear to me when or how it can possibly be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be appearing at TUC conference or parroting Labour policy.’

He added: ‘There are a diversity of views as to what is best for the economy, but [he] only seems interested in presenting John McDonnell’s point of view.’

Simon Maginn tweeted his response

Rabbi Sacks: “Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite.”
Tories: “Listen to the holy gentleman.”
Archbishop of Canterbury: “Tories have increased poverty.”
Tories: ‘Must keep religion out of politics.”

Mike in his article notes that Archbishop Welby was unapologetic, and observed that ‘The Bible is political from one end to the other’.

Mike concludes

His intervention is to be welcomed.

The Church of England is often seen as a haven for Conservatives and it will be interesting to see what happens to those Tories’ attitudes, considering this new direction from the pulpit.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/09/13/tory-hypocrisy-over-archbishops-intervention-in-employment-politics/

This has been going on for decades. The Anglican Church has been described as ‘the Tory party at prayer’, and the Tory party itself was set up back in the 17th century by supporters of the aristocracy and established church against the more liberal Whigs.

However, the Church has also contained passionate reformers working against social evils. Archbishop Temple in his book, Christianity and the Social Order, published in 1942, pointed to reformers like William Wilberforce and the others in the ‘Clapham Sect’, who campaigned against slavery; John Howard and Elizabeth Fry and prison reform; and F.D. Maurice and the Christian Socialists in the 19th century. These latter wished to see businesses transformed into co-operatives, which would share their profits with their workers. This strand of Anglican social activism continued into the 20th century, and in 1924 the Anglican church held a conference to examine the question of how the Church should tackle the poverty and injustices of the age. Temple also pointed to the example of the pre-Reformation Church in attacking some of the economic and social abuses of the times, and particular Protestant Christian leaders and ministers, like John Wesley, after the Reformation.

He also quotes the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament to show how property rights, while certainly existing and respected in ancient Israel, were also limited and intended to ensure that each family had their own portion of land and that great estates held by single individuals, did not develop. He writes

In the days of the Kings we find prophets denouncing such accumulations; so for example Isaiah exclaims: “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room, and yet be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.” (Isaiah v.*8); and Michah: “Woe to them that devise iniquity and work evil upon their beds! When the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields and seize them; and houses, and take them away; and they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage” (Micah ii, 1, 2). And the evil here was not primarily economic, though that may have been involved. The evil was the denial of what Tertullian (c.160-230) would call ‘fellowship in property’ – which seemed to him the natural result of unity in mind and spirit. (p. 38).

The first chapter of the book, ‘What Right has the Church to Interfere?’, gives the reasons Temple believes that the Church indeed possesses such a right. It’s too long to list all of them, but one of them is that the economic structure of society is immensely influential on the formation of its citizens’ morals. Temple writes

It is recognized on all hands that the economic system is an educative influence, for good or ill, of immense potency. Marshall, the prince of orthodox economists of the last generation, ranks it with the religion of a country as the most formative influence in the moulding of a people’s character. If so, then assuredly the Church must be concerned with it. For a primary concern of the Church is to develop in men a Christian character. When it finds by its side an educative influence so powerful it is bound to ask whether than influence is one tending to develop Christian character, and if the answer is partly or wholly negative the Chu5rch must do its utmost to secure a change in the economic system to that it may find in that system an ally and not an enemy. How far this is the situation in our country to-day we shall consider later. At present it is enough to say that the Church cannot, without betraying its own trust, omit criticism of the economic order, or fail to urge such action as may be prompted by that criticism. (P. 22)

Temple was also very much aware how some politicians resented the Church speaking out on political issues. For example, Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, is supposed to have said after hearing an Evangelical preacher that ‘if religion was going to interfere with the affairs of private life, things were come to a pretty pass’. Temple added

(L)ater prime ministers have felt and said the same about the interference of religion with the affairs of public life; but the interference steadily increases and will increase. (P. 15).

And the friction between the Tory party and the Anglican and other churches has been going on ever since Thatcher set foot in 10 Downing Street. She got very annoyed when the-then Archbishop, Robert Runcie, issued a report detailing the immense poverty that had been produced by her policies. Norman Tebbitt, her attack dog, made comments casting aspersions on the good clergyman’s sexuality, on the grounds that he had a sing-song voice and the slightly camp manner of many churchmen. He was soon showed to be very wrong, as Runcie had been an army chaplain, whose ferocity in battle had earned him the nickname ‘Killer Runcie’. A friend of mine remarked about him that the really hard men don’t show it.

The Church has gone on issuing reports and holding inquiries into poverty in Britain, and other social issues. And the Tory response has always been the same: to attack and criticize the Church’s interference. There have been comments of the kind that the clergy should stick to preaching the Gospel, and then they might have larger congregations.

But if Thatcher and the Tories didn’t feel that the Church had any right to interfere in politics, they definitely believed that they had the right to interfere in the church’s ministry and pastoral theology. And that this right was absolutely God-given. When Thatcher was on the steps of Number 10, she started quoted St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer, ‘Where there is darkness, let us bring light’ etc. She also took it upon herself to lecture the ministers of the church on the correct interpretation of scripture. I can remember her speaking to a conference of the Church of Scotland, in which she explained to the assembled ministers and faithful her own view of charity and the welfare state, based on St. Paul’s words, ‘If a man does not work, he shall not eat’. Needless to say, the guid ministers were not impressed, and showed it in the massed ranks of stony faces.

Temple was absolutely right in stating that Christians had a duty to examine and criticize the economic structure of society as the major force affecting people’s morals and character. But Thatcherism goes far beyond this. I’ve read pieces that have stated that Thatcher’s whole outlook was based on her peculiar right-wing religious ideas. Thatcherism isn’t simply an economic system. It’s a political theology. Thatcher was strongly influence by Keith Joseph, who was Jewish. It’s why she prattled about ‘Judeo-Christian values’ rather than just Christian values. I have no doubt that the Jewish readers of this blog will have their own views about proper Jewish morality, and that these may be very different from Joseph and Thatcher’s interpretation.

Thus in Thatcherism the free market is absolutely virtuous, and any interference in its operation is an attack on a divinely sanctioned system. But from the standpoint of a left-wing interpretation of Christianity, Thatcherite theology is like its economics, profoundly wrong, bogus and harmful. And her celebration of the free market turns it into an idol, an object of false religious worship.

More and more Christians both here and in America are turning against this idol, just as left-wing Jews are turning against right-wing politics as incompatible with the liberal politics of traditional Judaism. The Church has every right and, indeed, a duty as a moral body concerned with people’s spiritual welfare, to attack Thatcherism and its destructive legacy.

I’m very much aware that we now live in a post-Christian society, where only a minority attend Church and most people profess to have no religious beliefs. Just as there are also sizable non-Christian communities, such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and the various neo-Pagan groups, who also have every right to make their voices heard politically. Temple also advances other reasons why the Church should speak out on more rational, non-religious grounds, such as morality and common human sympathy for the victims of suffering. I hope, however, that regardless their religious views, people will support Welby on the issues of employment rights as an entirely justified attack on an iniquitous situation, which desperately needs to be corrected.