Archive for the ‘Wales’ Category

Scientists Demand Outlawing Teaching of Creationism in Wales

September 6, 2019

Here’s a different issue to Brexit and the Tories, but one which, I think, also raises profound questions and dangers. According to today’s I for 6th September 2019, David Attenborough has joined a number of other scientists backing a campaign to ban the teaching of Creationism as science in Welsh schools. The campaign was started by Humanists UK. The article, titled ‘Attenborough calls for creationism teaching ban’, by Will Hazell, on page 22, runs

Sir David Attenborough is backing a campaign urging the Welsh Government to outlaw the teaching of creationism as science from its new curriculum.

The broadcaster is one of dozens of leading scientists to sign a letter calling for evolution to be taught at primary level as well as an explicit ban on teaching creationism as science.

Humanists UK, which organised the letter, claims the draft national curriculum does not teach evolution until ages 14 to 15.

The letter reads: “Pupils should be introduced to [evolution] early – certainly at primary level – as it underpins so much else.

“Without an explicit ban on teaching creationism and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, such teaching may begin to creep into the school curriculum.”

In 2015, the Scottish Government made clear that creationism should not be taught in state schools, while in England, state schools – including primaries – have to teach evolution as a “comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidence-based theory”.

The new Welsh curriculum, due to be rolled out in 2022, set out six “areas of learning and experience”, including science and technology.

A spokeswoman for Wales Humanists said it “could allow schools much more flexibility over what they teach”. “This is very worrying, as it could make it much easier for a school to openly teach creationism as science,” she added.

But a spokesman for the Welsh Government denied the claims, saying: “It is wholly incorrect to claim that evolution will only be introduced at 14 to 16.

“We believe that providing children with an understanding of evolution at an early age will help lay foundations for a better understanding of wider scientific concepts later on.”

Both Mike and I went to an Anglican comprehensive school, which certainly did teach evolution before 14 or 15 years of age. In the first year I can remember learning about the geological history of the Earth and the formation of the continents. We were also taught evolution, as illustrated by the development of the modern horse from ancestral species such as Eohippus.

Theories of Evolution before Darwin

I am also very much aware that the history of religious attitudes towards evolution is much more complex than the accepted view that Christians and other people of faith are uniformly opposed to it. One of the first books promoting the evolution of organisms from simpler ancestral forms was written by Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather. Erasmus Darwin was part of the late 18th century scientific group, the Lunar Society, who were the subject of book, The Lunar Men, published a few years ago by the British writer and academic, Jenny Uglow. I think Erasmus was a Quaker, rather than a member of a more mainstream Christian denomination, but he was a religious believer. In his book he argued that the evolution of different organisms made the existence of a Creator ‘mathematically certain’. Erasmus Darwin was followed in turn by the great French scientist, Lamarck, who published his own theory of evolution. This was highly influential, and when Darwin was a student in Scotland, one of the lecturers used to take him and the other students to a beach to show them the shells and other fossils showing the evolution of life. And one of the reasons why Darwin himself put off publishing his magnum opus, The Origin of Species for so long was because of the reception of another, preceding book on evolution, Joseph Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chambers’ book had caused a sensation, but its arguments had been attacked and refuted on scientific grounds. Darwin was afraid this would happen to his own work unless he made the argument as secure as possible with supporting facts. And he himself admitted when it finally was published that even then, the evidence for it was insufficient.

The Other Reasons for Darwin’s Loss of Faith

Darwin certainly lost his faith and it’s a complete myth that he recanted on his deathbed. But I think the reasons for his loss of faith were far more complex than that they were undermined by his own theory, although that may very well have also played a part. Rather, he was disturbed by the suffering in nature. How could a good God allow animals to become sick, prey on each other, and die? I might also be wrong here, but I think one of his daughters died, and that also contributed to his growing atheism. As you can understand.

Christian Acceptance and Formulation of Theories of Evolution

At the same time, although Darwin’s theory did cause shock and outrage, some Christians were prepared to accept it. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, when he debated T.H. Huxley on Darwin’s theory, opened the debate by stating that no matter how uncomfortable it was, Christians should nevertheless accept the theory if it were true. And after about two decades, the majority of Christians in Britain had largely accepted it. One of the reasons they did so was theological. Some of the other theories of evolution proposed at the same time suggested that evolution was driven by vital, supernatural energies without the direction of a creator. The mechanistic nature of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rebutted the existence of these non-materialistic forces, so that Christians could still believe that God was in charge of the overall process.

In the 1840s in Britain, Samuel Baden-Powell, a professor of Mathematics at Oxford, proposed a view of evolution that attempted to prove that it was driven by the Almighty, by comparing it to the manufacturing process in factories. In 1844 the Polish writer, Juliusz Towianski, published his Genezis z ducha – ‘Creation through the Spirit), an explicitly religious theory of evolution. He believed that God had created the world at the request of disembodied spirits. However, these were given imperfect forms, and since that time have been striving to ascend the evolutionary ladder back to God through a process of transformation and catastrophe. By the 1900s in many Christians eye evolution had become an accepted theory which posed no obstacle to religious faith. The term ‘fundamentalism’ is derived from a series of tracts, Fundamentals of Christianity, published in America in the early 20th century. This was published as a response to the growth in religious scepticism. However, it fully accepts evolution.

Scientists Against Evolution

The Intelligent Design crowd have also pointed out that rather than being the sole province of churchmen and people of faith, many of Darwin’s critics were scientists, like Mivart. They objected to his theory purely on scientific grounds.

Creationism, Christianity and Islam

If the history of the reaction to Darwin’s theory is rather different than the simplistic view that it was all just ignorant religious people versus rational scientists, I also believe the situation today is also much more complex. A decade ago, around 2009 when Britain celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of the Species, there was a determined attack on Creationism, particularly by the militant New Atheists. Some of this was driven by anxiety over the growth of Creationism and the spread of Intelligent Design. This was framed very much as combating it within Christianity. The problem with that is that I understand that most Creationists in Britain are Muslims, rather than Christians. There was an incident reported in the press in which one Oxford biologist was astonished when a group of Muslims walked out of his lecture. This was Steve Jones, who presented the excellent Beeb science series about genetics and heredity, In the Blood back in the 1990s. One male student told him frankly that this conflicted with their religion, and walked out of the lecture hall, leaving Jones nonplussed. The far right Christian Libertarian, Theodore Beale, alias Vox Day, who really has some vile views about race and gender, caustically remarked on his blog that this showed the powerlessness of the scientific establishment to opposition from Islam. They were so used to Christians giving into them, that they didn’t know what to do when Muslims refused to cave. That said, I would not like to say that all Muslims were Creationists by any means. Akhtar, who led the demonstrations against the Satanic Verses in Bradford in the late ’80s and early ’90s, angrily declared in one of his books that Salafism – Islamic fundamentalism – did not mean rejecting evolution, and he could point to Muslims who believed in it.

Scepticism Towards Evolution Not Confined to the Religious

Another problem with the assumption that Creationism is leading to increasing scepticism towards evolution is that the statistics seem to show the opposite. Back around 2009 there was a report claiming that 7 out of 10 Brits didn’t believe in evolution. One evolutionary biologist was quoted as saying that this was due to the marginalisation of the teaching of evolution in British schools, and demanded that there should be more of it. Now it might be right that people don’t believe in evolution because of its teaching or lack therefore in British education. But this was the same time that the New Atheism was on the march, led by Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. This was supported by statistics showing that Christianity and church attendance was well in decline in this country. According to the stats, although many people identified as Christians and about 70 per cent at the time declared they believed in God, the actual number who go to church is far smaller. Only a few years ago further polls revealed that for the first, atheists were in the majority in this country. The growth of disbelief in evolution can’t simply be explained as the product of Creationism, whether Christian, Muslim or whatever.

Atheists and the Problem of Persuading Creationists to Accept Evolution

There’s also the problem here in that, however, well meant Humanists UK’s campaign may actually be, at one level they and Richard Attenborough are the last people, who should be leading it. They’re atheists. A few years ago Attenborough was the subject of an interview in the Radio Times, in which he photographed chatting with Dawkins. He was also quoted as saying that he had stopped believing in God when he was child, and at school he used to wonder during services how anybody could believe in such rubbish. He’s not the first or last schoolkid to have felt that. But it does mean that he has a very weak personal position when dealing with Creationists. Many Creationists object to the teaching of evolution because not just because they think it’s unscientific, but because they also believe that its a vehicle for a vehemently hostile, anti-Christian or simply irreligious and atheist political and intellectual establishment to foist their views on everyone else. A campaign insisting on the teaching of evolution by an atheist organisation like Humanists UK will only confirm this in their eyes.

Anti-Creationist Campaigns also Attacking Reasoned Critique of Materialist Views of Evolution

Another problem with the campaign against Creationism is that is leading scientists to attack any critique of the contemporary neo-Darwinian theory or materialist views of evolutionary. Gordon Rattray Taylor, a former Chief Science Advisor to the Beeb and editor of the Horizon science series, himself published a detailed critique of conventional evolutionary theory, The Great Evolution Mystery, shortly before his death in 1981. He states in it that he doesn’t want to denigrate Darwin, but he concludes that it is not so much a theory, as a subset of greater theory that has yet to be formulated. He also quotes another evolutionary biologist, von Bertalanffy, who said

‘I think the fact that a theory so vague, so insufficiently verifiable … has become a dogma can only be explained on sociological grounds’.

Rattray Taylor himself concludes

Actually, the origin of the phyla is not be any means the weakest point in the Darwinian position. Many facts remain inexplicable, as we have seen. Modern biology is challenged by ‘a whole group of problems’ as Riedl remarks. Now, however, the attempt to present Darwinism as an established dogma, immune from criticism, is disintegrating. At last the intellectual log-jam is breaking up. So we may be on the verge of major advances. The years ahead could be exciting. Many of these advances, I confidently predict, will be concerned with form.

It is unfortunate that the Creationists are exploiting this new atmosphere by pressing their position; this naturally drives the biologists into defensive attitudes and discourages them from making any admissions.

Evolutionists have been blinkered by a too narrowly materialist and reductionist approach to their problems. But the trend of the times is away from Victorian certainties and Edwardian rigidities. In the world as a whole, there is growing recognition that life is more complex, even more mysterious, than we supposed. The probability that some things will never be understood no longer seems so frightening as it did. The probability that there are forces at work in the universes of which we have scarcely yet an inkling is not too bizarre to entertain. This is a step towards the freeing of the human mind which is pregnant with promise.

Conclusion

This is an effective rebuttal to the charge that challenges to materialist conceptions of evolution are a science-stopper, or that they will close minds. Rattray Taylor’s book was published in 1983, 36 years ago. I have no doubt that it’s dated, and that scientific advances have explained some of the mysteries he describes in the book. But I believe he still has a point. And I am afraid that however genuinely Humanists UK, Attenborough and the scientists, who put their name to the letter, are about making sure Welsh schoolchildren are scientifically literate, that their efforts are also part of a wider campaign to make sure materialist views of evolution are not challenged elsewhere in society and academia.

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Vox Political: Pictures of the Resistance to Dictator Johnson

August 29, 2019

Yesterday, Boris Johnson took it upon himself to ask the Queen to prorogue parliament so that he could force through his unwanted no deal Brexit against the opposition of MPs. Boris Johnson himself hasn’t been elected. He was foisted on the British public as their leader by the Tory party, who represent a vanishingly small section of the British people. With this act, Johnson has assumed dictatorial powers. And the British people aren’t standing for it. There have already been demonstrations against him on College Green, and Mike has put up a selection of pictures of them by Rachael Swindon, Marcus Chown, Mr Bliz, Steve Bray, Carole Peters, the EU Flag Mafia, as well as a video by former Labour cabinet minister, Andrew Adonis, calling BoJob’s action what it is: Massively unconstitutional. He also encourages Brits to take heart, as he feels we’re still going to win this. He says that this is actually a sign of weakness from Britain’s Trump Junior. Boris hasn’t called an election, because he knows he’d lose it, and he’s aware that the Remain Alliance made last week is too strong for him. Adonis feels that there is still enough time left in September and October for parliament to make its voice felt. And Boris hasn’t made any kind of deal with the Fuhrage, who would eat him alive. So people, who want to see Britain a constitutional country at the heart of Europe should feel encouraged: ‘we’re still going to win’.

Thousands demonstrate across the UK to #StopTheCoup

There is also this petition against the Johnson’s Machtergreifung. Please sign it if you, like me, deeply object to this trashing of British democracy by an autocratic, mendacious clown.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/269157

Mike says in his article about it that it won’t make a scrap of business. Boris is a Tory MP, which means that he automatically ignores demonstrations. Mike’s right about this. But this does show the sheer strength of feeling by the British electorate. With MPs across the party political divide ranged against him, and condemnations from Nicola Sturgeon, the Scots First Minister and the Welsh Assembly, and the resignation of Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tories north of the border, this is adding to the pressure against Johnson. It may not affect him, but it might scare some of his backers.

We hope. 

 

The Lib Dems – So Progressive and Remainer, They’d Rather Have No-Deal Brexit than Corbyn

August 19, 2019

So much for the Lib Dems claims to be a progressive party standing for remaining in the EU. Last week Corbyn wrote to the various MPs in the House, declaring his intention of calling for a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s government in order to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on October 31st. This would mean that the Labour leader, as the leader of the opposition, would form a caretaker government for a few months before a general election was called.

A number of politicos have indicated their support for his plan, like the Welsh Tory Guto Bebb, and the leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon. There have been caveats – Sturgeon has said that she will only support Corbyn if he gets a majority in the House. A number of Lib Dems have also expressed cautious interest. But so far the official line from their oh-so-progressive, Remain leader, Jo Swinson and her buddies is flat refusal. They aren’t going to support Corbyn, because he won’t be able to command a majority, she says. Of course, the real reason is that Swinson and the Lib Dems aren’t progressive at all, no matter what they were saying at the council elections. Swinson voted for all of the policies and reforms demanded by the Tories when the Lib Dems were in Coalition with them. All of the policies cutting welfare benefits for the poor, the sick, disabled and unemployed, the tax cuts for the rich, and the privatisation of the NHS. Furthermore, she’s also run around demanding a statue be put up to Maggie Thatcher. Yes, Thatcher, the woman who ushered in this whole era of cuts, privatisation and more cuts. The woman, who took her monetarist economics from Milton Friedman, who influenced Chilean Fascist dictator General Pinochet. Who was also Maggie’s best friend. How very progressive!

Well, Swinson seems to have turned her back on the Liberal tradition, at least that part of it that came in with T.H. Greene and the other great thinkers of the ‘New Liberalism’ of the 1880s onwards. You know, the philosophers and other ideologues, who realised that state intervention was also compatible with individual freedom. Even necessary for it, as through state intervention the individual was free to do more than he or she could through their own unaided efforts. The kind of Liberalism that prepared the way for Lloyd George’s introduction of state pensions and limited state health provision through the panel system. But Swinson and her colleagues have turned their back on that, and have decided to support the absolute laissez-faire, free enterprise doctrines of the Manchester School of the early 19th century. The doctrines that didn’t work, and which successive governments challenged and rejected in practice while supporting in theory when they passed acts providing for better sanitation, limiting factory hours, and establishing free primary education for children, for example. Greene and the other leaders of the New Liberalism were interested in providing an intellectual, philosophical justification for what government was doing in practice. And they succeeded.

And it’s highly questionable how traditionally Liberal they now are. Liberalism’s fundamental, definitive text is John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. This is one of the great classics of British political philosophy, in which Mill thoroughly examined and lay the basis for modern British democracy and individual freedom. But one of the particularly dangerous policies the Lib Dems supported was the Tories’ introduction of secret courts. Under their legislation, if the government deems that it is warranted because of national security, a person may be tried in secret, with the press and public barred from the courtroom. They may not know the identity of their accuser, and evidence may be withheld from them and their defence. I’ve blogged about this many times before. This isn’t remotely in keeping with anyone’s idea of freedom, and definitely not Mill’s. It the twisted justice of Kafka’s novels, The Trial and The Castle, and the perverted judicial systems of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.

And then there is Swinson’s whole claim that her party, and her party only, stands for ‘Remain’. That, supposedly, is why, or one of the reasons why, she won’t work with Corbyn. She has gone on to declare her support for Kenneth Clarke as the leader of an interim government, despite the fact that he’s a Brexiteer. He just doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit. And Corbyn has always said that he is willing to go back to the country if he is unable to secure a proper, beneficial Brexit, and hold a second referendum. Which means that if the country votes against Brexit, he won’t do it. But this isn’t enough for Swinson. She wishes to play kingmaker with her tiny band. They got 7 per cent of the vote, and only 10 MPs, whereas Labour got 40 per cent of the vote. She claims that she cannot work with Corbyn, and therefore he will have to go as leader of the Labour party. But this can easily be turned around. Corbyn is willing to work with Swinson, and the simple numbers say he should stay as leader, and she should go as the head of her party. After all, it’s her that’s preventing them from going into government with Corbyn, if the Labour leader should offer that opportunity to them.

Actually, there’s a suggestion that Swinson, like her predecessor Clegg, has already thrown in her lot with the Tories. According to Zelo Street, Natalie Rowe issued a tweet to Swinson demanding that she confirm that she had not been holding talks with BoJob from the 9th to the 12th of this month, August 2019.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/jo-swinson-speaks-with-forked-tongue.html

I don’t think Swinson’s issued any response, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had. Clegg, remember, claimed that he was willing to join Labour in a coalition, but wouldn’t do so if Gordon Brown was leader. In fact he was lying. He had already made a pact with Cameron. And it’s a very good question whether Swinson hasn’t done the same. Even if she hasn’t, by her refusal to support Corbyn and his vote of no confidence, she’s shown that she’s no stout defender of this country against Brexit, and least of all a no deal Brexit, after all. So much for all the Lib Dem MPs in the European parliament, who all turned up grinning in matching T-shirts with the slogan ‘Bollocks to Brexit’.

Swinson isn’t progressive. She’s a Tory in the Lib Dems. She isn’t a defender of liberty after J.S. Mill. She’s its enemy. And she stands for Remain only when it suits her.

Lib Dem voters were fooled by their party once. Will they be fooled by them again? Remember the saying: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Boris Booed in Wales and Scotland – But Is Anyone Surpised

July 31, 2019

Boris and his fan club prepare to meet the rest of the UK

On Monday, Boris Johnson, the unelected Prime Minister of the UK, decided to grace Scotland with his presence. And, not surprisingly, he was roundly booed by the guid people north of the border. And then yesterday he turned up in Wales, and got the same treatment.

It was pretty well inevitable that he was going to get a rough ride in Scotland. A few days ago the I published a map showing the Blond Brute’s popularity in different parts of the UK. From what I can remember, it was highest down in south or south east England, where he had a whopping 29 per cent. In the English midlands or north, this fell to 22 per cent. But in Scotland only 16 per cent liked him. That high, huh? I wonder about the accuracy of these polling figures, considering how some of the polling companies are linked to the Tories, and some have been caught using leading questions. Nearly all of them, with the exception of Survation, have severely underestimated Labour’s true popularity. Which makes you wonder if these figures for Johnson have been inflated to make him appear more popular than he really is. And if they have, then how minuscule is his popularity really up in Scotland?

Some of this unpopularity goes right back to Maggie. Realising that the Tories were never going to be popular in Scotland, Thatcher decided she had nothing to lose by alienating them, and so started to use them as her laboratory. She used the country to test legislation before inflicting it on the rest of the UK. As a result, Tory fortunes fell further, with Malcolm Rifkind, one of her cabinet ministers, telling her that she had killed the Conservative party there.

And some of it is Boris’ own fault. This is the man, who thought it would be jolly japes to publish a poem in the Speccie about rounding the Scots up in ghettos and exterminating them. Among his other offences against the working people of the UK as a whole. Much of the movement for independence in Scotland has been provoked, one way or another, by the Tories and their determination to force through policies that will only benefit the London-based financial sector. Now that he’s been appointed PM by the Tory party, he has decided on going on a goodwill visit to the rest of the UK in order to show his commitment to the union. This is despite the unpopularity of the Brexit he’s so determined to force through in the rest of the UK, to the extent that it’s a positive danger to it. But presumably he felt he’d be safe up there as Rab C. Nesbitt is no longer on television. How wrong he was!

And the Old Etonian morlock got a similar reception when he rocked up in Wales. He was booed there. Again, not surprising. The farmers at this year’s Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wales were worried about the impact Brexit would have on the Welsh beef and lamb export industry. If Britain leaves without a deal, those meats will face a 40 per cent tariff in Europe. This will make them uncompetitive. Minette Batters, of the National Farmers’ Union, has said that as a result of this, there would be a massive surplus of British beef and lamb, and called for the government to look at forcing hospitals, schools and other public bodies to buy them.

According to the Times, Gove, who looks to me like a slightly melted Thunderbird puppet, has done just that, and is just finalising legislation to commit the government to buy up lamb and beef at a predetermined price, as well as some crops. This would cost the government about half a billion a year. Zelo Street in his article on this issue has wondered if Gove and the Tories also intend to buy up and subsidise British sugar beet and the dairy farmers, who have now diversified into specialist cheeses. And what about the British car industry, where investment has practically stopped because of uncertainty over Brexit. According to the Groan, the car industry here was investing between £2.5 and £2.7 billion. Zelo Street commented

Half a billion here, a few more billion there, soon it starts to add up – soon it will overhaul the UK’s current annual contribution to the EU budget.

and  concluded

There is no better deal than the one we have with the EU. The proposed antics of Mr Gove The Butcher underscore this. So when are the grownups going to stop this idiocy?

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/mr-gove-butcher-wastes-half-billion.html

This is a good question, as whatever he is, Boris Johnson ain’t a grown-up. Rather, he’s like his American counterpart, Donald Trump, a massively egomaniac manbaby.

On his state visit to Wales, Boris called in on that nation’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford, a Labour politician. And he wasn’t impressed. He tried to impress on BoJob how utterly disastrous a no-deal Brexit would be for Welsh agriculture and manufacturing. Boris gave the usual assurance about the government offering help and support, but when asked about the nature of that support couldn’t give any details. Boris simply told Drakeford again that there would be wonderful opportunities for Welsh agriculture and business. And Drakeford felt that once again there was no detailed thinking behind what otherwise becomes vacuous optimism.

Quite. But this is just par for the course. Brexit has been marketed and sold to the British, and here this means largely the English people, through egregious lies and vacuous optimism. Like the big lie Boris was peddling on the sides of buses telling everyone that the £350 million we’d save from giving to the EU – which was itself another deliberate lie – would be spent on the NHS. No, it won’t. And when it became apparent that it wasn’t, Boris blustered that he hadn’t been lying, just using the NHS as an example of what the money could be spent on instead. And then, when he thought he’d got away with it, he repeated the lie all over again. Everything Boris says is just propaganda and optimistic lies.

And just like Tweezer, he’s another one who’s terrified of public appearances that he can’t absolutely control. The assembled Beeb and ITV reporters were invited to ask questions, but they couldn’t film them. We’re back to Tweezer and her  meetings with members of the public, but only after they’d been very carefully selected first. As Mike pointed out, rigid control of the press and media is one of the classic features of Fascism.

BoJob booed again as the new PM fails in Wales

But going back to Gove’s decision to buy up all the unsold beef and lamb we’re not going to sell to Europe, it’s a good question how long this will go on. Thatcher didn’t believe in the government supporting failing industries, and so let large parts of British manufacturing as well as the iron and steel industries go under. Are the Tories going to do what they normally do, and which Boris appears to be doing now – promise government support but not actually honour those promises when the time comes? And if they do, what cuts are they going to inflict on other areas of public spending, like the welfare state and the NHS, in order to balance the budget?

Boris and his entire party are inveterate liars and the Brexit he’s pushing will be catastrophic, not just for Scotland and Wales but for the UK as a whole. And the Lib Dems are no better. It’s time both of them were gone, and a proper Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn was elected instead.

 

BBc Drama about Fascist Radicalisation of Deprived White Youth

July 4, 2019

Next week’s Radio Times also says that next Wednesday, 10th July 2019, there’s a drama, The Left Behind, on BBC 1 at 10.35 pm after the news about young White men drawn into Fascism. The play’s set in an unnamed Welsh town, and is about a working class lad, Gethin, who becomes increasingly radicalised as his life collapses through poverty. The blurb for it on page 78 of the magazine runs

Factual drama from the Bafta award-winning team behind Killed by My Debt and Murdered by My Boyfriend. Gethin is a working-class teenager in a south Wales town with no secure job, housing or future. As he seeks solace online, he is increasingly attracted to anti-immigrant sentiment as a way of explaining why he’s been “left behind” in his own country.

The additional piece about it by Alison Graham on page 77 runs

Gethin is a nice lad, part of a fractured family, but he is close to his sister and niece. He has a handful of good mates and not much of a job – he’s on a zero-hours contract in a fast food takeaway shop.

But the fates conspire to send Gethin (Sion Daniel Young, who is excellent) completely off the rails as the fragile thread that hold his life together unravel and snap, leading to tragedy.

The Left Behind looks at the rise of far-right extremism in the poorer parts of Britain through the prism of Gethin, a young man looking for easy targets who blames outsider for robbing him of everything worthwhile.

The mag also has a feature about the programme on pages 20-21 by Claire Webb, pointing out the working class roots of the play’s author, Alan Harris. Harris’ parents were forced to sell their house in Tonteg, near Cardiff, when he was a child, and he grew up in a caravan on his grandfather’s smallholding. After he graduated, he had a series of poorly-paid jobs, including selling Santa hats in the street and working in a car park. He was also homeless for a time, sleeping on friends sofas or in their spare rooms. He got his break into theatre after training as a journalist and submitting scripts to a theatre group encouraging new writers. The article quotes him as saying ‘We don’t see honest stories of White working class men.’ It also states that he spent a lot of time talking to people using food banks and a community centre in one of Cardiff’s most deprived suburbs. He says

“They told me people feel powerless,” he says. “It is a case of being left behind, but it’s also a case of being left out. There are a lot of people in the UK who have no hope of progressing, and once hope is gone, a wedge is driven between different sections of our society and extremism is very good at exploiting that wedge. Online radicalisation does that well: it turns personal problems into a crusade.”

The article contains the chilling statistic that in 2018 there was a 36% increase in the number of far-right extremists referred to the government’s Prevent programme. Harris spoke to a counterterrorism expert working on the programme as part of his research. It says he was frightened by how quickly people can become radicalised, and how the far-right organisations have smartened up their act.

“These are well organised, respectable-looking organisations,” he explains. “They don’t turn up in red braces with a skinhead. They turn up in a suit with a much more professional attitude. They realised that the old model wasn’t working from a recruiting point of view.”

The article also states that these organisations’ supporters are concentrated in Britain’s post-industrial towns and cities, which is why the drama’s producers set in south Wales.

To the possible objection that the programme is a sympathetic treatment of a violent extremist, Harris replies that we need to under where they’re coming from if we are to tackle domestic terrorism.

“Society tries to ignore these things but they’re happening, whether we like it or not. Understanding these people is a movement towards making society better.”

For one scene, in which a chipper councillor is confronted by residents angry at the lack of social housing, the producers used working class extras drawn from that area, and asked them to improvise. And their raw, pent up anger exploded. They ripped the councillor to shreds to the point where Harris felt sorry for the actor.

Asked if he was apprehensive that Cardiff’s working class communities would be offended by the drama, Harris replies

“Not at all. I think it’s a good thing to shine a light on the problems that some people experience. Hopefully those issues of housing, of employment, will ring true with a lot of people from Cardiff and the surrounding area. Hopefully it’s bits of their lives reflected back at them. I don’t have all the answers, but at least we can ask questions.”

While this isn’t a programme I can I’d like to watch, it does seem to be an honest attempt to grapple with the underlying issues behind the far-right’s attempts to reach out and recruit disenfranchised working class Whites. But the responsibility for the growth in racism goes far beyond the Fascist right itself, right to the heart of the neoliberal establishment. At one level, the Nazis are only building on the extreme nationalism and racism that’s been pushed for decades by the Tories and the Tory press – the Scum and the Heil are two notorious examples. But it also includes the supposedly more upmarket Spectator, which, as the Sage of Crewe has pointed out, employs the anti-Semitic Taki and is increasingly Alt Right.

And among the causes of the growth of Fascism in this country is Blair and the New Labour project. Blair abandoned socialism and the party’s traditional working class base to appeal instead to Tory swing voters. They fully embraced and participated in the destruction of the NHS and the welfare state, with Gordon Brown particularly enthusiastic about encouraging a flexible job market. In other words, job insecurity. And Tony Greenstein has repeatedly pointed out how hollow and non-existent are the Blairites’ attempts to deal with Fascism. Margaret Hodge, now the darling of the anti-Semitism smear merchants, was so negligent in her treatment of the growth of Fascism in her constituency, that the BNP actually sent her flowers when seven of their stormtroopers were elected on to Tower Hamlets local council. As for Tom Watson, he was a friend of Phil Woolas, a New Labour politico, who ran a very racist campaign against a Lib Dem opponent, claiming that he was soft on immigration and encouraged Muslim radicalisation. Woolas said that his campaign was about getting White men angry. And David Rosenberg on his blog warned that the anti-Semitism witchhunt was designed to purge the Labour movement of genuine Left-wingers and anti-racists, and that this was damaging real opposition to Fascism in working class communities. The witchhunt and Blairism meant that recent anti-racist counterprotests were, for the first time, outnumbered by the Fascists. And to add insult to injury, the Nazis chanted ‘Anti-Semites! Anti-Semites!’ at their genuinely anti-racist opponents. Rosenberg has shown repeatedly on his blog how proper campaigning in working class communities, by socialists determined to give working people better opportunities and conditions, will devastate Fascist organisations by depriving them of the real, social and economic issues they exploit to misdirect rightly angry Whites into hating Blacks, Asians and other ethnic minorities.

The play looks like a good, honest account to deal with the growth in working class racism by showing that it is partly caused by the real despair in these communities at their poor and declining conditions. And tackling those and combating Fascism means attacking and combating the Tories and New Labour, who have caused them and seek to exploit the anger they’ve caused in turn by scapegoating ethnic minorities.

Boris Johnson – A Racist Candidate for a Racist Party

June 21, 2019

A few days ago, Ian Blackford, an SNP MP caused an uproar in parliament by having the temerity to call Johnson what he is, and say what a very large number of the British public are thinking and saying: that Johnson is a racist. He cited a poem Johnson had published in the Spectator when he was its editor, about how a giant wall should be built around Scotland and the gates closed to turn it into a giant ghetto, who inhabitants should be exterminated. He mentioned again Johnson’s infamous comments about Black Africans, describing African children as ‘grinning pickanninies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’, as well as his infamous Torygraph article attacking the burka. He described those women, who chose to wear it as looking like letterboxes or bin bags. This caused a storm of outrage from the Tories, who accused Blackford of unparliamentary conduct and Blackford did get a caution from Bercow as a result. But as Mike showed today on an article in his blog, very many ordinary Brits on Twitter agree with Blackford. Johnson is a racist, and indeed, so is his party. This was also made very clear by a post about Johnson and his noxious racism on Zelo Street. Johnson had been asked about his derogatory comments about Muslims. He responded by saying that he was mistaken, and apologised, but he felt that people wanted someone who talked straight about these issues to be their Prime Minister. This drew massive applause from the Tories. The article pointed out that the article wasn’t mistaken, it was racist, and by applauding him and supporting his leadership bid, the Tories were showing that they supported and shared his racism.

Now there are stresses created by multiculturalism and the problems of adapting to an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse society. One the one hand, there are fears that alienated Muslims and other minorities may create parallel societies away from mainstream institutions and values. On the other, many Whites do feel marginalised by the growth of non-White communities, with the ‘White flight’ from the multiracial urban centres to the suburbs or rural communities. A few months ago there was a documentary about the last Whites in the East End of London, which discussed how the number of Whites in this part of the capital was declining as they moved away and the older generation died off. Several of the people interviewed on the programme were Black and Asian, who lamented how the White members of their shared community were dwindling. One Muslim gent lamented that his son or children would not see any more White people in this area.

But the Tories don’t try to solve these problems constructively. They don’t try to bring people of different colours, ethnicities and religions together. They just try to exploit White, and particularly White English racism and resentment for their electoral advantage. 

The animus towards Scotland is a case in point. The poem’s recommendation that the Scots people should all be imprisoned behind a gigantic wall actually seems to me to be highly unoriginal. Apart from the fact that the emperor Hadrian did it with his wall, it was done again more recently in the horror flick World War Z. In this Hollywood blockbuster, the world is suffering from a zombie apocalypse. The whole of Scotland, or as near as makes no difference, gets infected, and so they’re sealed off from the rest of Britain behind a wall and an enormous part of gates. I did wonder what the great Scots philosopher and political scientist, Rab C. Nesbit, would have said about it all. Probably ‘What in the name of God! Govan’s no that bad!’

I don’t think the poem was by any means isolated. From what I can remember, it was probably part of a campaign against Scotland, the SNP and New Labour, and with the latter, specifically Gordon Brown. I can remember the Heil publishing a series of articles in which he more than suggested that Scotland was now far more privileged than England. Devolution meant that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish now had their parliaments and assemblies, but the English didn’t. And while the English couldn’t vote on Scots issues, thanks to devolution, the Scots were voting on English matters. Moreover, New Labour’s leadership was dominated by Scots – Tony Blair, Derry Irvine and Gordon Brown. The attacks on the Scots were a very cynical ploy by the Tories to overturn Labour’s majority. Labour held the majority of British constituencies, but this depended on their seats in Scotland. If those were removed, then the Tories would hold the majority of seats in England. I’ve heard that during New Labour’s term in office, the Tories were on the verge of breaking up and that there were suggestions that the party should be dissolved and rebranded instead as the ‘English Nationalists’. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do remember reading articles in the Heil about the fate of the Tory party if Britain and Scotland went their separate ways. This seems to be the background to that nasty little piece of anti-Scots bigotry in the Speccie.

And the Spectator tried the same with Blacks.

They had to be more careful about this, as they couldn’t get away with it to the same extent as their sneers about the Scots. The Scots are largely White Europeans, rather than a race, nor a persecuted minority in the same way as Blacks and other people of colour have been, and so it’s permissible to make jokes about them or abuse them in ways that would be viewed as racist if done to other groups. But the Spectator tried the same tactics. Way back c. 2004 it ran an article, ‘Blackened Whites’, argued that Whites were unfairly accused for racism. This started out by saying that despite all the rhetoric of multiculturalism and pluralism, there was one group that wasn’t welcome in the streets of central London: White men. London certainly is a very ethnically diverse city, and the last time I looked at the stats over a third of its population were Black or Asian. But that doesn’t mean that Whites aren’t welcome in central London, or other areas where there’s a large Black or Asian population. It looks to me that the article was attempting to play up the resentment some White men feel about affirmative action programmes aimed at ethnic minorities and women. And in this the Tories were – and still are – copying the Republicans, who were deliberately targeting ‘angry White men’.

And this is apart from the Speccie’s contributor, Taki, the Greek playboy, who regularly made racist and anti-Semitic comments in his column. Most recently he caused offence once again when he published a piece praising the Greek Golden Dawn, a bunch of Nazis, who beat up immigrants and left-wingers. One of their leaders was charged with the murder of a left-wing activist.

There is also the deeply ingrained racism of the Tory papers the Scum, Depress and Heil. Or the scandal of institutional Islamophobia in the Tory ranks, as well as the long tradition of racism within the Tory party. Some of us can still remember the scandal caused by the Union of Conservative Students and their racist antics, including the demand that the Tory party should adopt racial nationalism – the ideology of the Nazi fringe, like the National Front and BNP – as their official policy in the 1980s. Zelo Street has also published a series of articles about the findings of one individual on Twitter or Facebook, who revealed the viciously racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic posts by supporters of Boris Johnson and Rees-Mogge on social media.

Despite David Cameron’s efforts to modernise the party and clean up its image, the Tories are still very much a racist party, and so its no surprise that a sizable number of them are supporting Boris Johnson’s bid to lead it.

As for how we should deal with them, I remember the episode of Rab C. Nesbit in which Burnie, the younger of his two sons, decides he’s a Nazi. This ends with Nesbit grabbing Burnie’s ear to administer a suitable walloping while singing ‘Gettest thou to buggery, thou horrid little shite’. I don’t support cruelty to children, and we can’t do it to Johnson. Unfortunately.

But we can all recognise his racism and that of his vile party, and take our votes and our hopes for a better Britain elsewhere.

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

June 4, 2019

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.

 

Radio 4 Programme Next Week on Attempts to Reverse Rural Depopulation in Spain

April 23, 2019

According to the new Radio Times for 27th April – 3rd May 2019, Radio 4’s Crossing Continents next Thursday, 2nd May, at 11.00 a.m., looks at a movement to repopulate the Spanish countryside, focusing on a group of single women going to meet single men in a village near Madrid. The paragraph about the programme by David McGillivray on page 128 runs

It’s hard to arrest depopulation once it’s started. But Linda Pressly finds the opposite in Spain. Initiatives to reverse the decline of the Spanish countryside include a movement of young people – they have a name, “neo-rurales” – who have begun to occupy abandoned villages. Pressly also uncovers a charming personal story. Maria Carvajal was one of a bus full of single women who arrived in a village north of Madrid to meet single men unable to find female partners. There was no preview available but I infer that she found love iwth lonely shepherd Antonio Cerrado. A caravan of love indeed.

This could be worth listening to. About a year ago Mike wondered how Labour could win in rural areas, like his part of Wales. It’s a good question, as there’s a real crisis in the countryside with poor locals being priced out of housing by wealthy outsiders, looking for second or retirement homes. Bus services into country areas are being cut, and local shops, like pubs, post offices and general stores, are closing down. There are parts of Europe where the process of depopulation is particularly acute. I was listening to a conversation between male feminist and anti-Fascist Kevin Logan and another anti-Fascist about the rise of the far right. They agreed that one of the stimuli behind the rise of the vile Alternative fuer Deutschland and its horrendous Nazi links was the massive, devastating depopulation of parts of the former East Germany, where whole small towns have been abandoned as their populations have moved west in search of better opportunities.

Rural depopulation also concerned the Nazis, who saw themselves very much as the party of the peasants. They developed a series of policies designed to reverse it, and create a healthy, ideologically and racially pure peasantry, who would feed Germany and provide the basis for its new value system. This involved a banning foreign imports, lowering taxation on agricultural goods and products, loans for people wishing to move to the countryside. They were also concerned to provide them with secure tenure. So secure, in fact, that they wouldn’t be able to escape it, and they and their descendants would be tied to the soil like serfs.

I did think that some of their ideas might be worth discussing, aside from the obviously horrific and unacceptable connections to the Nazi regime itself. However, with all the anti-Semitism smears directed against Corbyn and his supporters, the last thing I wanted to do was give the smear merchants more ammunition. They’d just love it if a left-wing blogger started discussing whether some aspects of Nazi policy was worth implementing, even if it was about farming and absolutely rejected and condemned their horrific, genocidal racism and totalitarianism.

But the Crossing Continents programme may be worth listening to, and provide some ideas on how Britain could also start to regenerate its countryside. Perhaps we need a British version of the neo-rurales?

MP Who Claimed Mike Anti-Semitic Charged with Expenses

February 22, 2019

Ho ho! Much fun was had yesterday by Mike’s supporters on Twitter at the news that Chris Davies, the Tory MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, has been charged with two counts of making a false instrument, and one count of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims following allegations that he falsified two invoices for expense claims. Which, for laypeople, means expenses fraud.

Davies is a member of the Tory Eurosceptic group, the European Research Group and a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel. It was Davies, who leapt in publicly to support the howling denunciations of Mike as an anti-Semite by the Sunset Times and the woefully misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism.

However, Mike also urges caution in the discussion of Mr. Davies’ case. Davies, like anyone else, deserves a fair trial. And it is important that it is a fair trial, because if Davies is found guilty, then the voters of Brecon and Radnorshire and sign a recall petition demanding his removal as an MP. If only 10 per cent of electors sign this, then a bye-election has to be held.

Mike concludes

As far as I’m concerned, that can’t happen soon enough. But it will only happen if justice is served so I must appeal for everyone to withhold their opinions until after the verdict.

Davies is due to appear before the beak on March, 22nd.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/02/21/mp-who-claimed-vox-political-writer-supported-anti-semitism-is-charged-with-expenses-fraud/

I’m reminded here of Private Eye’s ‘Curse of Gnome’ column. This is an occasional feature, which appears every time someone, who sued, or tried to sue the Eye gets caught breaking the law and is duly punished. The Eye then publishes an account of it, under a picture of a skull to celebrate their comeuppance. It’s too early for such schadenfreude just yet, but their is a kind of justice here all the same, although, I hasten to add, Davies’ guilt has yet to be proved.

Private Eye on the Real Reason James Dyson Is Moving His Business to Singapore

February 8, 2019

A week or so ago I put up a number of posts reporting and commenting on the outrage James Dyson caused when he announced that he was moving his company’s HQ to Singapore.

Dyson has been given a great deal of support from this country, and in the West Country he was regarded, or at least presented by the local media as a local hero. But he’s done this before. A few years ago he demanded that Bath give him more land to expand his business. They refused, so he decided instead to expand in the Far East. He needn’t have done so. If there was no room at Bath, he could have happily gone to other south-western towns. He already has plants in Malmesbury and Bristol, for example. Or gone further afield, like Wales or the north, which would also have been glad to have him. But he didn’t.

It was especially hypocritical as Dyson was telling everyone within earshot a few years ago that we should have joined the Euro. Then he decided he was backing Brexit. Now it appears that he has gone to Singapore partly because they’ve signed a trade agreement with the EU, which would make it easier for him to export his goods to them from there rather than Blighty.

Private Eye has run two pieces on Dyson in this fortnight’s edition for 8th-21st February 2019. And they make it very clearly that he’s going for the same reasons every exploitative multinational is heading abroad due to neoliberalism: to take advantages of countries with low tax rates, where workers can be hired and fired almost at will. The first article, ‘Bye-Bye Suckers!’ on page 7, runs

So Sir James Dyson’s relentless bullishness about post-Brexit Britain was so much hot air. The man who will now move his HQ to Singapore evidently has little real faith that Brexit will unleash the potential he has long claimed.

Th benefits of Singapore are likely to go beyond the proximity to his Asian empire that Dyson claims. By moving east it will also be easier to reduce workers’ rights. As Dyson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr last year: “This is controversial, but since I don’t know what orders I’m going to get next month or next year, industry, manufacturing industry’s very volatile. Not being able to flex your workforce is another big reason why you wouldn’t start a manufacturing business or expand a manufacturing business.” Elsewhere, he agreed bluntly, it was easier to hire and fire.”

This is not the most generous response to what the UK has given Dyson. Since 2012 his group has sucked up around 100m pounds in tax credits, ie discounts on its corporation tax bill. IN 2011 the then chancellor George Osborne brought in a special tax break for buyers of “energy efficient hand-dryers”, which meant…Dyson airlades.

There’s more information in the Eye’s ‘In the City’ column, entitled ‘Singapore fling’ on page 41. This runs

What is it that so attracts billionaire inventor, entrepreneur and avid Brexiteer Sir James Dyson to Singapore? Last month he announced that his privately owned Dyson group was switching legal residence to the Far East city state for “commercial reasons” and “future-proofing”. This followed the decision to produce the Dyson electric car in Singapore from 2020.

The Dyson party line is that the imminent move is nothing to do with Brexit or tax – it will still pay UK tax on UK operations – but all to do with Singapore being a lot closer to China, its main market, than Wiltshire. Who knew? Dyson’s 2bn pound move from hairdryers and bagless vacuum cleaners into cars is his biggest gamble.

So what does Singapore have over a “no deal” Brexit Britain – which Dyson welcomed? What about:

* A recent free trade agreement with the EU, to go with ones with China and the United States, plus the Singapore Freeport;

* International companies who headquarter themselves in Singapore can see corporation tax (currently 17 per cent, compared with 19 per cent in the UK) fall to 10 or 5 per cent or even zero, thanks to lengthy tax breaks and generous incentives, especially for those who create jobs;

* No tax on dividends – the Dyson family could have paid 38 per cent on the 86m pound dividends for 2017 (down from 111m) from the parent Weybourne Group;

* No capital gains tax on a future sale or inheritance tax (IHT) (Dyson is 71);

* Less stringent corporate disclosure and governance requirements for private companies (a Dyson moan);

* Finally, no risk from a Corbyn government targeting the rich.

Dyson moved control offshore once before – to Malta in 2009 – then returned in 2013. He has also legitimately taken advantage of film tax schemes and IHT-efficient investments in agricultural land. Still, Singapore tax and access attractions clearly played no role in the move east by this latter-day Stanford Raffles, who assured Leave voters that no deal with the EU was no problem because “they’ll come to us”. Now it seems Dyson has decided to go to them.