Posts Tagged ‘Alistair Campbell’

John McDonnell and Anti-Marxist Scaremongering on Thursday’s Question Time

September 18, 2016

I was talking to Mike this evening about John McDonnell’s appearance on Question Time last week, when all the other panelists, including Alistair Campbell, Soubry for the Tories and Dimbleby himself all tried to pile into him and attack himself and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. I didn’t see the programme, but heard from Mike that at one point someone attempted to score a point accusing McDonnell of being a Marxist. McDonnell said he was, and that as a Marxist he was overjoyed at the 2008 financial crisis, as this was the kind of massive economic crisis that is caused by capitalism. Mike took this McDonnell answering in the conditional: this is what he would believe, if he was a Marxist. But even if McDonnell is a Marxist – which is debateable – this still is not necessarily a reason why he should be feared or disqualified from government.

There’s a difference between Marxism and Communism. Communism is a form of Marxism, but as historians of the Soviet regime and political scientists will tell you, it is a form of Communism based on the interpretation of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. And I was taught by the tutor at College on the rise of Communism in Russia, that Lenin adapted and reformed Marxism as much as his ideological opponents and enemies in democratic socialism. I should point out here that before he began the course, he made a little speech stating that he wasn’t a Communist, and if, by some accident, he found himself in such a party, he would very soon find himself thrown out of it. This is pretty much true. The official ideology of the Soviet Union was Marxism-Leninism, and it broke with the ideas of the German Social Democrats, and particularly that of Karl Kautsky, as the leading European Marxist party. In 1910 the German Social Democrats (SPD) were world’s leading socialist party. They had 110 deputies in the Reichstag, the German parliament, 720,000 members and over 70 newspapers and periodicals. (See John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics, p. 27).

The party had been riven by ideological conflict in the 1890s over Eduard Bernstein’s ‘Revisionism’. Bernstein had argued that Marxism was wrong, and that far from impoverishing the workers in the operation of the ‘iron law of wages’, the workers were becoming more prosperous. He therefore urged a revision of Marxist socialism, abandoning the aspects that were no longer relevant. Instead of the Hegelian dialect, he urged instead that the party should incorporate and adapt the ideals of the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. This did not mean abandoning socialism or the nationalisation of industry. Indeed, he saw the emergence of joint-stock companies as the type of capitalist institution, which would gradually become transformed as society developed to produce the new, socialist society of the future. Despite widespread, and fierce opposition, Bernstein was not thrown out of the party. Lenin, who had previously been an admirers of the Germans, really couldn’t understand this. When he met Karl Kautsky, the Austrian leader of German and Austrian Marxism, during his exile from Tsarist Russia, Lenin asked him that question. Kautsky replied that they didn’t do that kind of thing. Lenin went berserk, called him a prostitute, and published a pamphlet attacking Kautsky and denouncing him as a ‘renegade’.

Kautsky was no enemy of democracy. I’ve put up various pieces from Marx, Kautsky and the French Marxist, Lucien Laurat, showing how they all supported, to a certain degree, parliamentary democracy. Marx never ruled out violent revolution, but was increasingly of the opinion that there was no need, as socialists were winning considerable concessions and advances through parliamentary politics. Kautsky and Laurat fully support parliamentary democracy. Kautsky himself despised the workers’ soviets as undemocratic, and bitterly attacked the Bolsheviks for their suppression of human rights. He hated the disenfranchisement of the bourgeoisie, their subjection to slave labour and how they were given the worst jobs, and were given the worst rations. He also attacked the Bolsheviks’ monopolisation of the press and their destruction and banning of competing parties, newspapers and publications. And rather than industry being nationalised in one fell blow, as the Bolsheviks had done, he argued instead that Marxism demanded that industry should only be nationalised gradually at the appropriate moment. This was when the various capitalist firms in a particular economic sector had merged to create a cartel. It was only then that the industries should be taken over by the state, and run in the interests of the working class and the people as a whole. After the Bolshevik revolution, Kautsky supported the Mensheviks, their ideological rivals, in the newly independent state of Georgia in the Caucasus, before that was finally conquered by the USSR.

Lenin, by contrast, had argued in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done, that the Russian socialist party should be led by committed revolutionaries, who would command absolute authority. Debate was to be strictly limited, and once the party’s leaders had made a decision, it had to be obeyed without question. Lenin had come to this view through his experience of the conspiratorial nature of Russian revolutionary politics. He was influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolutionary – but not Marxist – Chernyshevsky. He also adopted this extremely authoritarian line as an attempt to prevent the rise of factionalism that divided and tore apart the Populists, the Russian agrarian socialists that form Marxism’s main rival as the party of the peasants and working class.

Now I’ll make it plain: I’m not a Marxist or a Communist. I don’t agree with its atheism nor its basis in Hegelian philosophy. I’m also very much aware of the appalling human rights abuses by Lenin, Stalin, and their successors. But Marxism is not necessarily synonymous with Communism.

During the struggle in the 1980s in the Labour party with the Militant Tendency, the Swedish Social Democrats also offered their perspective on a similar controversy they had gone through. They had also been forced to expel a group that had tried to overturn party democracy and take absolute power. They had not, however, expelled them because they were Marxists, and made the point that there still were Marxists within the party. Thus, while I don’t believe in it, I don’t believe that Marxism, as opposed to Communism, is necessarily a threat.

It’s also hypocritical for members of New Labour to try to smear others with the label, when one element in its formation was a Marxist organisation, albeit one that came to a very anti-Socialist conclusion. This was Demos. Unlike conventional Marxists, they believed that the operation of the Hegelian dialectic had led to the victory, not of socialism, but of capitalism. The goal for left-wing parties now should be to try to make it operate to benefit society as a whole, rather than just businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Arguably, this form of Marxism has been every bit as destructive and doctrinaire as Militant. Blair seized control of the Labour party, and his clique swiftly became notorious for a highly authoritarian attitude to power. Events were micromanaged to present Blair in the best, most flattering light. Furthermore, the policies they adopted – privatisation, including the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state, the contempt for the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and the long-term sick, who were seen as scroungers and malingerers, resulted in immense poverty and hardship, even before they were taken over and extended massively by Cameron and now Theresa May.

Traditional Marxists in the Labour party, as opposed to Communists and Trotskyites aren’t a threat. And neither McDonnell nor Corbyn are either of those. What has damaged the party is the pernicious grip on power of the Blairites, who have turned it into another branch of the Tories. It is they, who have harmed the country’s economy, provoked much of the popular cynicism with politics, and impoverished and immiserated its working people and the unemployed. All for the enrichment of the upper and middle classes. It is their power that needs to be broken, and they, who are responsible for acting as a conspiratorial clique determined to win absolute control through purging their rivals. It’s long past time they either accepted the wishes of the grassroots for a genuine socialist leadership, and made their peace with Corbyn, or left to join the Tories.

George Galloway and Peter Hitchens on Blair and the Iraq War

August 30, 2016

This is another very interesting piece from YouTube, again featuring George Galloway. It’s not really a video, as it’s just recorded dialogue, presumably from his radio show. In it, he talks to the right-wing columnist and broadcast, Peter Hitchens. The two are from completely the opposite ends of the political spectrum, but on the matter of the Chilcot Inquiry and the Iraq War they are largely in agreement. Galloway acknowledges that he has profound disagreements with Hitchens, but also some overlap. Most of the talking in conversation is done by Hitchens, who makes some very interesting points.

Hitchens points out that, although the Chilcot Inquiry made Blair the sole culprit responsible for the Iraq War, there were many others involved, who have been exonerated, such as Alistair Campbell. Hitchens is not greatly impressed with Blair’s intellectual abilities. He states several times that he was only a figurehead, and the real leadership of New Labour was elsewhere. Blair, he contends, didn’t really understand what was going on around him. At one point Hitchens states that Blair didn’t really want to be a politician. He wanted to be Mick Jagger. He probably had the intellectual ability to be Jagger, but certainly lacked the necessary brainpower to be prime minister. He also argues that Blair was really only a figurehead for New Labour. He was found and groomed by the real leaders of the faction, who wanted someone who would be ‘the anti-Michael Foot’. They settled on Blair, and prepared him for the role without him really understanding what was going on.

Hitchens and Galloway also discuss the allegation that everyone was in favour of the War, and it was only the Left that was against it. Hitchens states that he was initially in favour of the War, but if he had the sense to turn against it in 2003, it shows that you didn’t have to have any great prophetic ability to be against it. Hitchens states that he feels that people were led to support the War, because of the myth of the ‘Good War’. This is based on the belief that the Second World War was a straightforward, uncomplicated struggle against evil. Ever since the War, our leaders have been fancying themselves as Churchill or Roosevelt, and casting every opponent as Hitler. They did it with the Iraq War, and they’re doing it now with the Russians and Vladimir Putin. They’re presenting Russia as an expansion power, and preparing for another war with Russia by sending troops to Estonia and Poland, when the reality is that Russia is not an expansionist threat and has actually ceded hundreds of miles of territory. Hitchens also informs Galloway and his listeners that Britain has actually sent troops into the Ukraine.

Hitchens goes on to state that much of the West’s destabilisation and attempts to destroy opposing regimes is done covertly, through the funding of opposition movements, the manipulation of aid, and – here Galloway supplies the words – ‘moderates’. This happened in Syria, where considerable damage was done before we started bombing them. But people don’t realise it, as this will never show up in a newsreel. As for how warmongers like Blair can be stopped, it can only come from parliament. Hitchens remarks approvingly on the way parliament stopped Cameron when he wanted to bomb Syria. Unfortunately, Hitchens concludes that turning Blair into an object of ridicule is the only justice we can expect. He is pessimistic about there being any tribunal that can bring war criminals like Blair and Bush before it, and so here there’s a difference between those, who have and those who don’t hold a religious belief. For religious believers, you hope that there will be an ultimate judgement coming. Galloway concludes by saying that he believes that there is such a punishment coming to Blair.

It’s an interesting dialogue, as the two clearly have pretty much the same perspective on the Gulf War. They’re both religious believers, as they themselves make clear. Hitchens converted from Marxism and atheism to Christianity, while I think Galloway has said that he’s converted to Islam. As believers in two of the Abrahamic religions, they share the faith that God does judge the guilty in the hereafter. Galloway is very supportive of Hitchens in this video as well. Hitchens states at one point that he’s going to publish a book on the myth of the ‘Good War’. Galloway asks him when it’s going to come out. Hitchens then replies that he hasn’t written it yet, to which Galloway then tells him to come on, as he wants to read it.

Hitchens is right about the manipulation of protest movements, humanitarian aid and opposition groups by the West to destabilise their opponents around the world. This is what happened in Chile and Iran with the overthrow of Salvador Allende and Mossadeq respectively. It happened in the Ukraine during the Orange Revolution, and I’ve no doubt Hitchens is exactly right about it occurring in Syria. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has been saying this more or lest since it was founded in the 1980s. It laments that very few, in any, academic scholars are willing to accept the fact that so much diplomacy and politics is done through covert groups.

I think Hitchens is also correct about Britain and the West always casting themselves as the heroic ‘good guys’ in their wars, though I strongly disagree with Hitchens’ reasoning behind it. Hitchens has made clear in his books, column and website that he believes Britain should have stayed away from the Second World War. He correctly points out that it was not about saving the Jews from the Holocaust, but honouring our treaty with the French to defend Poland. he also thinks that if Britain had not declared War, we would still have the Empire.

I’ve blogged before that I believe this to be profoundly wrong. We did the right thing in opposing Hitler, regardless of the motives of the time. The Poles, and the other nations threatened by Nazi Germany needed and deserved protection. Churchill’s motives for urging Britain into the War was that Nazi Germany would be a threat to British naval power in the North Sea, if they were allowed to conquer Europe. This is a correct evaluation. A Europe under Nazi domination would see Britain pushed very much to the periphery. The Nazis believed that it was control of the Eurasian landmass which would determine future economic and political power and influence. If Britain was deprived of this, she would eventually stagnate and decline as an international power.

Nor do I believe we would have kept the Empire. The first stirrings of African nationalism had emerged before the Second World War. Ghana had taken a momentous first step in being the first African colony to have indigenous members of its governing council. The Indian independence movement had been growing since the 19th century, and was gathering increasing support and power under the leadership of Gandhi. Orwell, remarking on a parade of Black troopers in French Morocco in the 1930s, stated that in the mind of every White man present was the thought ‘How long can we keep fooling these people?’ The War accelerated the process of independence, as, along with the First World War, it taught the indigenous peoples of the Empire that the British alongside whom they fought were not gods, but flesh and blood, like them, who suffered sickness and injury. The War also forced the pace of independence, as Britain was left bankrupt and exhausted by the War. As part of their reward for aiding us, the Americans – and also the Russians – demanded that we open up the Empire to outside commerce and start to give our subject people’s their independence. This was particularly welcome to the leaders of the Jamaican independence movement. This had also started in the 1930s, if not before. It was partly based on the dissatisfaction of the Jamaican middle class at having their economy managed for British interests, rather than their own. They hoped that independence from Britain would allow them to develop their economy through closer links with the US.

I also think that the belief of most British people in the rightness of the Wars we fought also comes from British imperial history. Part of the Victorian’s legacy was the Empire and the belief that this was essentially a benign institution, which gave the less developed peoples of the world the benefits of modern British rule, medicine, technology and so on, while downplaying the atrocities and aggression we also visited on them. It’s a rosy view of the Empire, which is by no means accepted by everyone. Nevertheless, it’s the view that the Tories would like to instil into our schoolchildren. This was shown a few years ago by their ludicrous attack on Blackadder and demands for a more positive teaching of British history. Unlike the Germans, who were defeated and called to account for the horrors of the Nazis and Second World War, Britain has never suffered a similar defeat, and so hasn’t experienced the shock of having to re-evaluate its history and legacy to that level. And because Hussein was a brutal dictator, Blair was indeed able to pose as Churchill, as Thatcher did before him, and start another War.

George Galloway Speaking at the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ Conference at TUC Congress House, 2015

August 25, 2016

I’ve been putting up a series of videos this week of George Galloway speaking on particular topics. As I’ve said, I’ve got strong reservations about Galloway, but he is absolutely correct about many issues. He is correct about Jeremy Corbyn not being a Trotskyite. He is correct about Ken Livingstone speaking the truth when he said that the Nazis and the Zionists co-operated to send Jews to Israel. And this is another speech in which he shows that he was also correct about the Iraq Invasion.

This is a video of the speech Galloway gave last year at the TUC headquarters in London to the Stop the War Coalition. He begins by thanking some of the others attending and speaking, and quotes approvingly Dr. Mustafa, who said that they will never surrender. He states that this should be the Coalition’s motto, as they will never surrender criticising and opposing Britain’s participation in this imperialist war. He then says of an American speaker, that he wishes everyone in America were like her, and everyone in Britain like them. He then goes on to describe his last conversation with Tony Blair ‘before I see him at the Hague to give evidence against him’. It was outside the gents’ lavatory in the House of Commons, where he met Blair and Alistair Campbell, whom he describes as a ‘6 foot 3 Goebbels’ tied to Blair’s hip. Galloway states that he told Blair that there were no al-Qaeda in Iraq, but if he goes ahead with the invasion, there will be hundreds and thousands of them, and they will spill over into our streets and countries.

He goes on to state that he’s telling that story, not to say ‘I was right’ but to make the bigger point that if they were lying then – and he states the media has been wrong, except when its been telling bigger falsehoods – then why should we believe them now, when they tell us we should be prepared for further military action in foreign nations. He then tells a story about his reply to a retired general about a possible future war with Russia over Latvia. Galloway speaks every year at the Hay-on-Wye ‘How the Light Gets in Festival’, and he states that ever year the panel gets more and more loaded against him. Last year the chairman and two of the other panellists were against him. But even there, the audience recognises the truth. At that event, the panel and a recently retired general from the NATO secretariat said that British mothers must get used to the fact that their sons may be required to shed their blood in our new front line in Latvia. Galloway replied that he didn’t think many British mothers new where Latvia was, or that it was our new front line. But he knew that they would not accept their son’s lifeblood being shed on his artificial front line.

He also says that at Hay-on-Wye, three of his opponents told him that Russia was the aggressor in the Ukraine, and that there were Russian troops in the Ukraine. He states that there is no Russian aggression in the Ukraine. But there are British and American troops in the Ukraine, and NATO aggression in the Ukraine and all around the borders of Russia. He makes the point that this is a stranger world than Orwell imagined, and these people can tell you that war is peace, and truth is lies, with a straight face and a posh accent.

He states that they have to continue challenging them over their attempts to rewrite history, and point to the fact that the Stop the War Coalition was and is right. He mentions that before he came there he was watching footage on his phone from RT of a 70-year old man being savagely beaten by Israeli soldiers for not leaving his home. How is it, he challenges the audience, that the Palestinians are described as the terrorists, when the majority of the terrorism is committed by the Israelis, and always has been?

He asks the audience to look at what the West has achieved in Syria, where the Jihadis are nearly at the gates of Damascus, and there is hardly a Christian priest, monk or nun, who has survived unscathed by the barbarians. He states that if they take power in Damascus, then no person will be safe from ‘these heart-eating, head-chopping barbarians’. He describes them as the true children of Bush and Blair. He rhetorically asks how proud David Cameron, William Hague and Peter Hammond will be after the caliph comes to power in Damascus, after he has demolished all the churches, destroyed all the historic building, and massacred everyone he wants to massacre. He then recalls how he and one of the organisers of the conference were among the last men standing in the 1980s when they told Reagan and Thatcher that by creating the mujahideen, they had opened the gates to the barbarians. He states the barbarians are using our weapons, and driving around in our Humvees. He says that the government’s crimes could be listed far into the night, but the important point is to remember what the German revolutionaries said nearly a century ago: our enemies are many, but our primary enemy is right at home. He ends by urging everyone to join the Stop the War Coalition, as there are too many people, who agree with them but haven’t joined, or are in organisations that agree, but haven’t affiliated. The current people are getting older, but their brains are still good. However, if people want a Britain and America that still feels like their countries, they should join them.

I’m not a member of the Coalition, but everything he says here about the war, and the preparations for war in Latvia, is correct. It sounds like the general he met at Hay-on-Wye was the same general that wrote the book predicting that by May next year, Russia would have invaded Latvia and we would be at war. Contrary to the line that Private Eye is pushing, it appears very much that it is the Russian population that is being persecuted by the Ukrainians under a far-rightwing government that includes Nazis. There is footage on YouTube apparently showing American and British soldiers in the Ukraine. And both Counterpunch and Lobster have argued that the aggressor in the Ukraine isn’t Russia but NATO. Having turned the Middle East into a bloodbath, they are lying to turn the Ukraine and the Baltic into another.

Owen Smith’s Rhetoric of Domestic Abuse

July 25, 2016

Mike also put up another piece on Owen Smith rhetoric and demeanour as he launched a campaign against misogyny, following the comments of one of his readers, who had been a victim for ten years of domestic abuse. Owen Smith pledged Labour to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on misogyny. To show the current double standards in the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn was vilified when he promised that Labour would end workplace discrimination.

In fact, as Mike shows, Smiff himself has previous on what some would regard at sexism. He told one of the female regulars on Question Time that she was only there because of her gender. But Mike’s female commenter picked up on the language he uses to denigrate and demean Corbyn. She states that after undergoing a 12 week course to deal with the effects of the decade-long abuse she suffered from her partner, she found that Smiff fits the profile of one type of domestic abuser: the headworker. This is the person, who constantly wears down his victim’s sense of self-worth, by telling them that they’re worthless, and using that insult to justify his assaults on them.

To test this analysis, Mike supplies a sample of Smiff’s comments about Corbyn, to see if they fit this profile. They do. They are all just remarks about how useless he is, and how unfit he is to lead the party, without any substance behind them. Mike also checks to see what personal smears Corbyn has cast over his opponents: precisely none.

This bears out Mike’s commenter’s observations.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/23/headworker-owen-smith-resembles-domestic-violence-perpetrator/

I wonder how far this culture of New Labour bullying is the creation of Blair, Brown, Campbell and Mandelson. Blair’s coterie was notorious for their determination to micromanage everything they could to make the Dear Leader appear popular and acclaimed, and ensure that MPs and officials were properly compliant and ‘on message’. When they went ‘off message’, as Claire Short did on numerous occasions, then they went on the personal attack, briefing against them.

I also wonder how far this is due to a general culture of bullying within a middle class marked with a very strong sense of entitlement. David Cameron, for example, claimed that he wasn’t a toff, but a member of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle class’, who were determined to get all they could. It was a risible claim, as Cameron is demonstrably a toff. He can’t remotely be described as ‘middle class’, except in so far as that term also describes the haute bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, this is a class that feels that it has an absolute right to rule, and to bully those it considers a threat. You consider the sheer venom Peter Lilley, the former Tory Secretary of State for Welfare, and the right-wing press has for ‘benefit scroungers’. The signing-on at the Jobcentre Plus for Jobseekers’ Allowance, the Work Capability Assessment and Workfare are all forms of bullying, set up to degrade and intimidate the unemployed claimant so that they only sign on if desperate. It’s explicitly based on the Victorian doctrine of least eligibility espoused by Thatcher as one of her ‘Victorian values’. Thatcher’s regime also saw the rise of ‘macho management’, in which company officials bullied their staff in order to get their absolute obedience and raise standards. Allegedly. Thus, a couple of managers appeared in Private Eye for threatening to hang a member of staff at a branch of Asda. And I was told by a former journalist on one of the Bristol papers that the editor there would call people into his office every morning to criticise them. This was all done for no reason, except that it was supposed to make them ‘better journalists’.

That type of management went out with John Major. But I do wonder if it hasn’t left its mark in the bullying psychology of New Labour, and their absolute determination to hang on to power. New Labour won its electoral victories by appealing to middle class swing voters. Blairite MPs still talk about ‘aspirational voters’, even though for the bulk of Labour supporters this is not an issue. They just want to survive unemployment, zero hours contracts and workfare. The Tories have survived and gained their votes partly by playing on status insecurity in parts of the working and lower middle classes. They exploit the fears and snobbery of the wealthier sections of these social classes against those below them. And so you have the Tory rhetoric about ‘hardworking people’ who want to make life more miserable for the unemployed, as they don’t want to see their closed curtains when they go to work. This was reflected in the pledge of one London Blairite MP that Labour would be even harder on the unemployed than the Tories if they got into power.

That kind of rhetoric alienated Labour’s core voters, who have now returned with Jeremy Corbyn. And the entitled Blairites can’t stand it. So to hang on to power they have gone back to a Thatcherite culture of middle class bullying and abuse to keep these awkward proles in line, and stop them losing the favour of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle classes’ with whom they wish to ingratiate themselves.

Medialens on the Bias against Jeremy Corbyn

July 2, 2016

Michelle, one of the many great commenters on this blog, sent me a link to the article, ‘Killing Corbyn’ at Media Lens, which describes the disgusting media bias against Jeremy Corbyn. This includes the fawning coverage of the coup plotters by Laura Kuenssberg at the BBC, and her attempts to sneer at, belittle and disparage Corbyn’s leadership at whatever chance she gets; her statement that Tom Watson was telling Corbyn to resign, which he wasn’t; and then an entirely contrived story that Corbyn had been heckled at a Gay pride event. He had, but the heckler, Tom Mauchline, worker for Portland Communications, a PR firm which worked for the disgusting Liz Kendall, when she was campaigning for the leadership of the party. I think it was Kendall, who said that Labour would be even harder on those on benefits than the Tories. It’s strategic counsel is Alistair Campbell, Blair’s spin doctor and one of the New Labour clique that took us into the carnage of the Iraq invasion.

It goes on to discuss BBC News’ live feed, ‘the Corbyn Crisis and Brexit’, in which the vote to leave the EU is presented somehow as being a product of Corbyn’s leadership, and playing down the contemporary drama in the Tory party. The anti-Corbyn bias is strongly contrasted with the positive portraits of the two possible successors to Cameron, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. The Beeb isn’t the only section of the media hostile to Corbyn. The supposedly left-wing newspapers, the Guardian and Observer have also run hit pieces.

The nadir was reached with a piece in the Mail on Sunday by Dan Hodges, which was illustrated with a photoshopped image of Corbyn in a coffin under the headline ‘Labour MUST Kill Vampire Jezza’. When challenged, Hodge’s denied that he wrote the headline. He’s right – that’s done by the subeditors, but he didn’t reply when challenged if he actually objected to them.

The article provides further information on how the campaign against Blair in the Labour party is the work of the Blairites, desperate to hang on to their waning power. They’re doing so through Portland Communications, the PR firm, whose clients include a whole host of the usual multinational villains, like Nestle’s and Barclay’s. It’s also being supported by Left Foot Forward Ltd, a company run by Will Straw, the son of Jack Straw, one of the leading members of Blair’s government. Jack Straw also turned up recently as one of the leaders of Cameron’s inquiry into the Freedom of Information Act. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool authoritarian, who was moaning that it was to liberal and too much information was now available to the public. The proles should instead shut up and just be grateful for what their masters deign to tell them. The article concludes that all of this is predictable, as Corbyn is a genuine threat to corporate power and the establishment, and they are doing everything they can to destroy him.

Quentin Letts on the Special Advisors

March 19, 2014

Quentin Letts pic

Quentin Letts on what looks suspiciously like Have I Got News For You.

Mike in his piece over at Vox Political on Osborne’s budget reported on the Chancellor’s double standards regarding public sector pay. This was to be kept low, while at the same time the government’s Special Advisors were to be given a 40 per cent pay rise. The Daily Fail’s parliamentary sketch writer, Quentin Letts, has a few things to say about them in his book, 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain (London: Constable & Robinson 2009). And none of them are complimentary.

They’re in chapter 55 on Harold Wilson, who’s in there for the reason that he created them. Letts says

Wilson was disinclined to do much heavy policy thinking himself. He darkly suspected the civil service of being a Tory conspiracy. He therefore hired others to do his thinkin’ for him. Worse, he had their wages drawn from public funds. Harold Wilson was in some ways a good Prime Minister. He kept us out of the Vietnam War, not least. He was in at least one respect, however, a very bad premier: he created state-paid Special Advisors. (p. 271).

These he describes thus

The Special Advisor is an appointed stooge, an outsider brought into Whitehall by a minister or political party. He or she normally lasts only as long in that department as the minister. Special Advisors are, by their very nature, short-termists. They tend to take decisions which help a minister avoid blame or trouble, usually at the expense of another minister, sometimes merely because the extent of a problem has been temporarily concealed. Special Advisors are antipathetic to openness. Secrecy gives them power. (p. 272).

He notes that under Wilson, Heath and Margaret Thatcher their numbers were low. He states that Maggie

with her keen suspicion of civil service obstinacy, created something of a praetorian guard of policy-thinkers at No. 10 but was never particularly keen on Special Advisors sprouting uncontrolled throughout Whitehall. She preferred her junior ministers to use their brains. She was never quite sure if Special Advisors were ‘one of us’, either. So little time. So many colleagues to monitor for signs of disloyalty. What an exhausting life she must have led. (ibid)

It was under John Major, who gave Cabinet Ministers rather more departmental freedom to form governmental policy with a greater degree of success, that the ‘Spads’ came into their own. And one of them is the honourable gentleman (and I use the term loosely) now running the country.

140117democracy

David Cameron: a former government Special Advisor, of the type who were given a 40 per cent pay rise today. AS they aren’t actually Civil Servants, this is another example of the government paying massive subsidies to the government contracted private sector.

Special advisors became more self-confident. Arrogant youths, many of them, they would strut into newspaper offices a pace or two to the side of their bosses, dispensing business cards and massaging their own reputations. One of them, you will recall, was called David Cameron. Special Advisors started to become more prominent socially. They became better known as sources of press stories. They overtook backbenches MPs in the unspoken table of political importance. (pp. 272-3)

He then attacks the way the number of Special Advisors massively expanded under Tony Blair, so that by 2002 there were 81 of them. His ire is not so much about the money spent paying them, but on their corruption of the governmental system.

The many millions spent on their salaries may be irksome – a symbol of the waste and the stroking of the political cadre – but it was wee buns compared to the billions blown on other inessential parts of the public sector, often on the say of, yes, Special Advisors. And even more damaging was the way these Special Advisors corrupted our political system. Since the later years of the nineteenth century the British Civil Service had been a professional body. That is to say, it offered recruits a career of serious service. Entrance to the profession was possible only after rigorous examination and interview procedures. Civil servants were schooled to regard the nation as their employer. They worked for the long-term good of the country, the community, not for the good of whichever politician happened to be in power at any one time. G.M. Trevelyan, historian, wrote that the merit-baed entrance procedures to the civil service removed it ‘from the field of political jobbery’. Favouritism, nepotism and nudge-nudge-wink-winkism were trumped by measurable ability. These values slowly percolated to other parts of society. It wasn’t a bad way to run a country, you know. (p. 274).

He is particularly incensed at the way the were used by Tony Blair as part of his carefully stage-managed events, and that two of them, Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell, were given executive rights over permanent secretaries.

Letts has a particularly rosy view of the impartiality and efficiency of the British civil service. Sadly, experience has not always backed this up. Civil Servants are indeed required, under their terms of service, to provide ministers with impartial advice. I’ve no doubt that in many cases this is true. But not nearly in as many cases as we’d like. One of the reasons the railways are in the horrendous state they are in today, is because one particular senior civil servant, who was named in Private Eye, was a passionate enthusiast of free-market capitalism, with the result that they were privatised. The result is poor service, increasingly bloated subsidies for the rail companies, and the administrative chaos that led to several serious disasters like Potter’s Bar. These were particularly reprehensible because of the way the victims were denied justice and compensation for years afterwards as each company passed the buck from one to the other.

As a Daily Mail journo, Letts is, of course, a man of the Right, and has cause his fair share of offense writing for an offensive newspaper. He appeared a little while ago defending their attack on Ralph Milliband, Ed Milliband’s father, a Jewish refugee, who fought courageously for this country against Nazi Germany while Lord Rothermere wrote admiring pieces about how wonderful Adolf was. Still, Letts does have a point. The civil service is still required in theory to give impartial advice. The Special Advisors, with which the government has surrounded itself are under no obligation to do so. Indeed, quite the opposite. The government’s policy are all drawn from various loony right-wing think tanks, who tell the government exactly the type of Neoliberal rubbish they want to hear. The result is policies like today’s budget: cuts and privatisation for the poor, tax cuts for the rich. And 40 per cent pay rises for the Spads. Well, David Cameron was one of them, and so it really is a case of Osborne giving money to people exactly like himself. It demonstrates the very narrow class loyalties of the Coalition exactly.