Posts Tagged ‘British Civil War’

My Video on Gerard Winstanley’s ‘The Diggers’ Song of 1649

June 8, 2021

The Diggers were a radical 17th century Protestant sect during the time of the British Civil War. They believed that all land should be held in common, all men being created equal by the Almighty, and were firmly against both the Cavaliers, the gentry and the priesthood. They tried to set up a colony in St. George’s Hill, a piece of common land near Weybridge in Surrey, but their homes were pulled down and the movement squashed. One of their leaders, Gerard Winstanley, who advocated their political and theological doctrines in his A New Yeeres Gift, also wrote this song about them.

In this video I explain that before the rise of modern newspapers, people got their news through broadside ballads, popular songs written about the issues and news of the day. I got this from Roy Palmer’s excellent A Ballad History of England (London: B.T. Batsford 1979), which collects various ballads from 1588 to the late 20th century. Ballads were still being written in the 20th century, though the medium had changed to recordings rather sheet music. One of the last was about a dispute at British Steel in 1975.

I recite the lyrics and then play the tune given in the book. I regret I can’t sing and play the keyboard at once.

The lyrics are

You noble Diggers all, stand up now, stand up now,

You noble Diggers all, stand up now,

The wast land to maintain, seeing Cavaliers by name

Your digging does maintain, and persons all defame,

Stand up now, stand up now.

Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now,

Your houses they pull down, stand up now.

Your houses they pull down to fright your men in town,

But the gentry must come down, and the poor shall wear the crown.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

With spades and hoes and plowes, stand up now, stand up now,

With spades and hoes and plowes stand up now,

Your freedom to uphold, seeing Cavaliers are bold

To kill you if they could, and rights from you to hold,

Stand up now, Diggers all.

Theire self-will is theire law, stand up now, stand up now,

Theire self-will is their law, stand up now.

Since tyranny came in they count it now no sin

To make a gaole a gin, to sterve poor men therein.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

The gentrye are all round, stand up now, stand up now,

The gentrye are all round, stand up now.

The gentrye are all round, on each side they are found,

Theire wisdom’s so profound, to cheat us of our ground.

Stand up now, stand up now.

The lawyers they conjoin, stand up now, stand up now,

The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now,

To arrest you they advise, such fury they devise,

The devill in them lies, and hath blinded both their eyes,

Stand up now, stand up now.

The clergy they come in, stand up now, stand up now,

The clergy they come in, stand up now.

The clergy they come in, and say it is a sin

That we should now begin, our freedom for to win.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

The tithe they yet will have, stand up now, stand up now,

The tithes they yet will have stand up now.

The tithes they yet will have, and lawyers their fees crave,

And this is they say is brave, to make the poor their slave.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

‘Gainst lawyers and gainst priests, stand up now, stand up now,

‘Gainst lawyers and gainst priests stand up now.

For tyrants they are both even flatt against their oath,

To grant us they are loath free meat and drink and cloth.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

The club is all their law, stand up now, stand up now,

The club is all their law, stand up now.

The club is all their law to keep men in awe,

Buth they no vision saw to maintain such a law.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now, stand up now,

The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now;

The Cavaleers are foes, themselves they do disclose

By verses not in prose to please the singing boyes.

Stand up now, Diggers all.

To conquer them by love, come in now, come in now,

To conquer them by love, come in now;

To conquer them by love, as itt does you behove,

For hee is King above, now power is like to love,

Glory heere, Diggers all.

Similar to the Diggers were the Levellers, another radical Protestant sect which was extremely strong in the army. They believe in the extension of the franchise to the male heads of households, which was dangerously democratic for the 17th century, as well as state provided schools, hospitals and care homes for the elderly. They still exert a powerful influence in the Labour party.

Here’s the video.

Jama’at-i Islami – The Pakistani Islamic Party Pushing for Theocracy

November 25, 2020

Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. It’s a democracy, but there is a section of its parliament, if I remember correctly, that’s made up of Muslim clergy, who scrutinise legislation passed by the lower house to make sure it accords with Islamic law. Since the 1970s and the regime of the dictator, Zia al-Haqq, Islam has become increasingly powerful in Pakistani politics. I believe the current president, Imran Khan, is the leader of an Islamic party. Pakistan was one of the nations that experienced protests against France over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and there have been official denunciations of the cartoons and President Macron’s attempts to combat Muslim radicalism.

The force behind the growth of political Islam in Pakistan appears to be the Jama’at-i Islami, whose name translates as ‘The Islamic Society.’ The article about them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions runs as follows

A highly disciplined and well-organised Muslim political party, founded in 1941 by Abul al-A’la Mawdudi. it aims at establishing an observant Islamic state in Pakistan. The Jam’at’s political platform offers an alternative to teh secularists and modernists, and in this lies its appeal (especially since 1977). The Ja’amat advocates that Pakistan should be a theocratic state, ruled by a single man whose tenure of office and power are limited only by his faithfulness to Islam. The ruler should be assisted by a shura (advisory council), with no political parties and no provision for an opposition. General Zia al-Haqq, the military leader after the overthrow of Z. Bhutto (1977)., used the Jama’at as a political prop for his ‘back to Islam’ campaign. The Jama’at has influence among the military, the middle classes, and the college and university students. It publishes a monthly magazine, Tarjuman al-Quran, in Lahore that has a high circulation. On the international level, the Jama’at was on good terms with Imam Khumayni and the oil rich Arab states; the Saudis have supported the movement since the early 1970s. (p. 489).

This looks like an attempt to create a kind of caliphate, and the Dictionary notes that there is considerable support for its return in Pakistan. I also wonder about the movement’s influence in British Islam, as there has been a problem with fire-breathing radicals immigrating to Britain to supply the shortage of imams for British mosques. Which is why moderate Muslims in this country have demanded government assistance in training Muslim Brits, who have grown up in our ostensibly democratic culture, as imams and community leaders.

I’m not a secularist, and believe that people of faith have a right to have their voices heard in politics and parliament, but this is just a movement for religious tyranny. In Pakistan as it is there’s persecution, including violence and pogroms against religious minorities. We’ve seen Christians murdered and imprisoned following accusations of blasphemy. There have also been riots and murders of the Ahmadiyya. Apparently even pious Muslims have been murdered because of comments they have made, which have been interpreted by others as blasphemous. There are 200 people on Pakistan’s Death Row accused of blasphemy. Many of these accusations are spurious, cynically levelled because of other disputes between the parties concerned. If a theocracy was established in Pakistan, it would only cause more oppression and violence.

I also believe that it wouldn’t be good for Islam either. Atheist sites on the web have reported that there has been a massive increase in atheism in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Six years or so ago Saudi news reported that a large number of Qurans had been found thrown into a sewer. A few days ago Iranian media reported that this had also happened in their country. A poll conducted of 50,000 Iranians found that 38 per cent of the population is either atheist or has no religion. If this is true, then it’s probably the result of people becoming fed up of the repression they are experiencing from their theocratic governments. The religious violence of the Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda and Daesh, are undoubtedly another factor. A few years ago I read a book by a French anthropologist, who came to the conclusion that the Islamist movements were the response of Muslim societies as the experienced the transition to modernity. This was comparable to the way radical, militant Christian movements had appeared in Europe in the 17th century, such as those in the British Civil War. Now Islam was experiencing the same.

My guess is that if the Jama’at ever succeeded in creating a theocracy in Pakistan, it would be massively unstable as the various sects excluded from the regime’s view of what was properly Islamic were oppressed and rebelled. I don’t believe that the Jama’at and other extreme, theocratic movements have anything to offer Muslims or anyone else anything except more oppression and violence.

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

November 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Demand for the Abolition of the House of Lords

August 4, 2020

This weekend, our murderous, clown Prime Minister Boris Johnson added more weight to the argument for the House of Lords. At the moment the membership of the upper house is something like 800+. It has more members than the supreme soviet, the governing assembly of assembly of China, which rules a country of well over a billion people. Contemporary discussions are about reducing the size of this bloated monster, many of whose members do zilch except turn up in the morning in order to collect their attendance before zipping off to what they really want to do. Since Blair, it’s become a byword for corruption and cronyism, as successive prime ministers have used it to reward their collaborators, allies and corporate donors. The Tories were outraged when Blair did this during his administration, but this didn’t stop David Cameron following suit, and now Boris Alexander DeFeffel Johnson. Johnson has appointed no less than 36 of his friends and collaborators. These include his brother, who appears to be there simply because he is Johnson’s sibling, Alexander Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and son of a KGB spy, who owns the Metro and the Independent,  which is a particular insult following the concerns about Russian political meddling and the Tories’ connections to Putin; the Blairite smear-merchants and intriguers, who conspired against Jeremy Corbyn to give the Tories an election victory, and Claire Fox.

Fox has managed to provoke outrage all on her own, simply because of her disgusting views on Northern Irish terrorism. Now a member of the Brexit Party, she was a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party which fully endorsed the IRA’s terrorism campaign and the Warrington bombing that killed two children. She has never apologised or retracted her views, although she says she no longer believes in the necessity of such tactics. But rewarding a woman, who has absolutely no problem with the political killing of children has left a nasty taste in very many people’s mouths. It shows very clearly the double standards Johnson and the Tories do have about real terrorist supporters. They tried smearing Corbyn as one, despite the fact that he was even-handed in his dealings with the various parties in northern Ireland and was a determined supporter of peace. Ulster Unionists have come forward to state that he also good relations with them and was most definitely not a supporter of terrorism. The Tories, however, have shown that they have absolutely no qualms about rewarding a real terrorist sympathiser. But even this isn’t enough for Johnson. He’s outraged and demanding an inquiry, because he was prevented from putting his corporate donors from the financial sector in the House of Lords.

Demands for reform or the abolition of the second chamber have been around for a very long time. I remember back c. 1987 that the Labour party was proposing ideas for its reform. And then under Blair there were suggestions that it be transformed into an elected senate like America’s. And way back in the first decades of the twentieth century there were demands for its abolition altogether. I’ve been reading Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s A Constitution of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, which was first published in the 1920s. It’s a fascinating book. The Webbs were staunch advocates of democracy but were fiercely critical of parliament and its ability to deal with the amount of legislation created by the expansion of the British state into industry and welfare provision, just as they were bitterly critical of its secrecy and capitalism. They proposed dividing parliament into two: a political and a social parliament. The political parliament would deal with the traditional 19th-century conceptions of the scope of parliament. This would be foreign relations, including with the Empire, the self-governing colonies and India, and law and order. The social parliament would deal with the economy, the nationalised industries and in general the whole of British culture and society, including the arts, literature and science. They make some very interesting, trenchant criticisms of existing political institutions, some of which will be very familiar to viewers of that great British TV comedy, Yes, Minister. And one of these is the House of Lords, which they state very clearly should be abolished because of its elitist, undemocratic character. They write

The House of Lords, with its five hundred or so peers by inheritance, forty-four representatives of the peerages of Scotland and Ireland, a hundred and fifty newly created peers, twenty-six bishops, and half a dozen Law Lords, stands in a more critical position. No party in the State defends this institution; and every leading statesman proposes to either to end or to amend it. It is indeed an extreme case of misfit. Historically, the House of Lords is not a Second Chamber, charged with suspensory and revising functions, but an Estate of the Realm – or rather, by its inclusion of the bishops – two Estates of the Realm, just as much entitled as the Commons to express their own judgement on all matters of legislation, and to give or withhold their own assent to all measures of taxation. The trouble is that no one  in the kingdom is prepared to allow them these rights, and for ninety years at least the House of Lords has survived only on the assumption that, misfit as it palpably is, it nevertheless fulfils fairly well the quite different functions of a Second Chamber. Unfortunately, its members cannot wholly rid themselves of the feeling that they are not a Second Chamber, having only the duties of technical revision of what the House of Commons enacts, and of temporary suspension of any legislation that it too hastily adopts, but an Estate of the Realm, a coordinate legislative organ entitled to have an opinion of its own on the substance and the merits of any enactment of the House of Commons. The not inconsiderable section of peers and bishops which from time to time breaks out in this way, to the scandal of democrats, can of course claim to be historically and technically justified in thus acting as independent legislators, but constitutionally they are out of date; and each of their periodical outbursts, which occasionally cause serious public inconvenience, brings the nation nearer to their summary abolition. Perhaps of greater import than the periodical petulance of the House of Lords is its steady failure to act efficiently  as revising and suspensory Second Chamber. Its decisions are vitiated by its composition  it is the worst representative assembly ever created in that it contains absolutely no members of the manual working class; none of the great classes of shopkeepers, clerks and teachers; none of the half of all the citizens who are of the female sex; and practically none of religious nonconformity, or art, science or literature. Accordingly it cannot be relied on to revise or suspend, and scarcely even to criticise, anything brought forward by a Conservative Cabinet, whilst obstructing and often defeating everything proposed by Radical Cabinet.

Yet discontent with the House of Commons and its executive – the Cabinet – is to-day  a more active ferment than resentment at the House of Lords. The Upper Chamber may from time to time delay and obstruct; but it cannot make or unmake governments; and it cannot, in the long run, defy the House of Commons whenever that assembly is determined. To clear away this archaic structure will only make more manifest and indisputable the failure of the House of Commons to meet the present requirements. (Pp. 62-4).

When they come to their proposals for a thorough reform of the constitution, they write of the House of Lords

There is, of course, n the Socialist Commonwealth, no place for a House of Lords, which will simply cease to exist as a part of the legislature. Whether the little group of “Law Lords”, who are now made peers in order that they may form the Supreme Court of Appeal , should or should not continue, for this purely judicial purpose, to sit under the title, and with the archaic dignity of the House of Lords, does not seem material. (p.110)

I used to have some respect for the House of Lords because of the way they did try to keep Thatcher in check during her occupation of 10 Downing Street. They genuinely acted as a constitutional check and wasn’t impressed by the proposals for their reform. I simply didn’t see that it was necessary. When Blair was debating reforming the Upper House, the Tories bitterly attacked him as a new Cromwell, following the Lord Protector’s abolition of the House of Lords during the British Civil War. Of course, Blair did nothing of the sort, and partly reformed it, replacing some of the peers with his own nominees. Pretty much as Cromwell also packed parliament.

The arguments so far used against reforming the House of Lord are that it’s cheaper than an elected second chamber, and that there really isn’t much popular enthusiasm for the latter. Private Eye said that it would just be full of second-rate politicos traipsing about vainly trying to attract votes. That was over twenty years ago.

But now that the House of Lords is showing itself increasingly inefficient and expensive because of the sheer number of political has-beens, PM’s cronies and peers, who owe their seat only because of ancestral privilege, it seems to me that the arguments for its reform are now unanswerable.

Especially when the gift of appointing them is in the hands of such a corrupt premier as Boris Johnson.

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

Ian Hislop Presents Beeb Programme on Fake News

October 6, 2019

According to this week’s Radio Times, Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop, is going to present a programme tomorrow at 9.00 pm on BBC 4 on fake news. The programme’s titled ‘Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story’. The blurb for it on page 75 of the Radio Times runs

The concept of “fake news” may seem like a recent, politically motivated invention, but Ian Hislop takes a long view and finds that fake news was found to be profitable long before the uncertain times of internet trolls and echo chambers. He recounts the story of the 1835 New York Sun “scoops”, which told its readers there was evidence of flying man-bats on the Moon. He also learns how fake news caused a real war between America and Spain.

An additional article about the programme, written by the Radio Times’ editor, Alison Graham, on page 73, runs

Ian Hislop looks sceptically at Christopher Blair, an unapologetic purveyor of fake news, or rather, made-up nonsense that’s simply designed,  claims Blair, to provoke the American alt-right into a frothing frenzy. It’s all done,m he says, in the name of satire.

Of course, Hislop knows a thing or two about satire, and he is unconvinced, worrying that sending such pap into the universe means even sensible people doubt the truth of real and actual news stories.

In a jolly, occasionally serious history of fake news, which of course didn’t begin with Donald Trump, Hislop goes back to 1835 and an American newspaper’s pile of piffle about telescopes trained on the Moon spotting herds of bison and “flying man-bats”. It was a sensation as crowds thronged the street outside the paper’s offices, demanding more. Thus an important lesson was learnt: fake news sells.

The Origin of the Press in 17th Century Wars of Religion

The 1835 Moon hoax is notorious. It was based on Britain sending a real astronomer to oversee the construction of a telescope and astronomical observations in South Africa. The editor of the New York Sun used this as the occasion to run a spectacular story about this astronomer having discovered, through his telescope, life on the Moon. But fake news also long predates that incident as well. The ultimate origin of the news media lies in the 17th century and the 30 Years’ War in Germany and British Civil War. The first newspapers were written to inform merchants around Europe about evens in Germany, during a conflict which ended with 1/5 of the population dead of starvation. During the British Civil War supporters of both sides wrote news sheets not just to inform people of events, but also as propaganda. And some of it was very definitely fake news. This was a deeply religious age, and the wars were religious conflicts between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Germany, and the monarchy and Anglican church on one side against parliament and the Puritans and other, more radical Protestant groups on the other. Visions, omens and miracles were widely publicised, as it was believed that these showed God’s anger or favour towards the different factions. And some of these look very, very much like fake news. Such as the supposed encounter by a British ship out in the English channel with a merman, bearing a scroll in his hand. This fishy fellow told the astonished sailors that he was heading up the Thames to present the scroll to Crown and parliament in order to get them to desist. Or something like it. Whatever happened, it all seems very dubious to me, and looks very much as though the story ultimately had its origins in a tavern somewhere, written by the kind of hack, who used to write for the Scum and the Sport. Back in 1983 the Scum ran a story in which a medium supposedly contacted the spirits of dead British heroes and heroines to see which politicians they backed. Boadicea, apparently, gave her support to Maggie Thatcher and the warriors of Goose Green. While the Sport told us all how a B52 bomber had supposedly been found on the Moon.

The Sport and the Weekly World News

The Sport always struck me as an attempt to imitate the American Weekly World News and other tabloid newspapers. It was the Weekly World News that gave the world very obviously fake stories about aliens giving their vote to Bill Clinton and interviews with a man, who claimed his mother was the yeti. Quite. This all looked like harmless fun, a bit of sensationalism that despite academic fears, no-one ever really believed. But there are allegations that there was a much more serious, even sinister side to this. According to former tabloid reporter in his book about this side of the press, Grossed-Out Surgeon Vomits Inside Patient, the American intelligence agencies were planting false stories in them as deliberate disinformation.

The British State and Official Fake News

And it isn’t just the tabloid press that published disinformation and black propaganda on behalf of the government. Over here, the IRD – a department of the British secret state – used to plant fake stories in the newspapers as part of a propaganda battle with the Communist bloc. They also concocted fake stories to destabilise the IRA and other Republican groups in Northern Ireland, and to smear the Labour party as having connections with Communism or Irish nationalist terrorism. Indeed the amount of lies put out by the IRA and other terror groups and the British government was so bad, that academics trying to make sense of what was going on in Ulster stated that they had no idea what was going on. And we’ve seen a resurgence of the British government’s black propaganda against Corbyn and the Labour party with the tweets and fake news sent out across social media by the Institute for Statecraft, which has extensive links with British intelligence and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS.

BBC’s and Private Eye’s Lies about Labour Anti-Semitism

It is also richly hypocritical of the Beeb, and Ian Hislop, to produce a programme on fake news too, because of the role they have both played in promoting fake news against the Labour party. The BBC news team are incapable of opening their mouths about the Labour party without lying. This has become so bad and egregious that there is now a group appealing for funding to produce their own film refuting the lies about anti-Semitism in the Labour party put out in a recent, much criticised edition of Panorama. see, for example, Mike’s article at https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/03/leading-labour-figure-joins-documentary-to-counter-biased-bbc-panorama/

And Private Eye have been exactly the same in this regard. There is much excellent material in it, but it has shown itself as frantic as the rest of the lamestream press in denouncing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites, simply because they are critical of Israel, or have pointed out that those who are, are historically correct. As Mike did when he wrote a piece stating that Ken Livingstone was right about Hitler initially supporting Zionism. That was the piece that got Mike attacked as an anti-Semite, and libeled as such in a series of articles in the press. These also claimed that he was a Holocaust denier. They were all flat-out lies, and the newspapers retracted them after Mike complained to IPSO. Nevertheless, Private Eye and the rest of the press are still pushing their lies about Corbyn and the Labour party, just as Mike, and others like him, like Jackie Walker, are still receiving foul abuse from ignorant fanatics.

And the Beeb’s history of right-wing lies doesn’t stop there. There’s also the infamous case where they put the footage of the police attack on the Miners during the Miners’ Strike the wrong was round. It was reversed, so it appeared to show the miners attacking the police. And I’ve no doubt there are many, many other incidents like this.

BBC Trying to Regain Loss Credibility with this Programme?

It’ll be interesting to see if the programme has anything to say about these incidents. But I’m not holding my breath. This looks very much like the Beeb tackling this subject partly as a way of trying to burnish its own squalid image. The BBC and the rest of the lamestream media are rapidly losing credibility in a digital age, when you can go on the Net and find out what’s really been said and done. Along with real fake news, it has to be said. This is frightening them, as the younger generation are turning away from the Beeb’s news output altogether. The Beeb is also frightened by the fact that they are increasingly unable to shape consensus opinion, and express this in statements that claim that as a society we are in danger of becoming more fragmented as people stick to the media niches they like, which may be very different from everyone else’s. Cut through this verbiage about fears about a more ideological fragmented society, and the real fear is that of the Beeb’s management and news hierarchy that they are no longer as credible or as influential as they were, and thus are increasingly irrelevant. As shown by the fact that BoJob has tried to make the internet work for him by circumventing the Beeb and holding some kind of ‘people’s Prime Minister’s Questions’ on the Net.

The Beeb has rightly become notorious for its fake news against the left, and this programme looks like an attempt by the Corporation to try to reclaim some of its loss credibility. By presenting a programme on fake news, it tries to show that it doesn’t do anything of the sort itself. And you can trust it, because the editor of Private Eye, which did prick the establishment, is presenting it. But Private Eye was set up by people, who were very much part of the establishment. John Wells was the headmaster at Eton, for example. And Ian Hislop is very much part of the same, privately educated, Oxbridge set.

It will therefore be very interesting to see if the programme has anything to say about the Corporation’s role in peddling fake news. But I very much doubt it will.

BoJob Goes Full Duce and Demands Suspension of Parliament for Brexit

August 28, 2019

God help us, he’s finally done it. BoJob has gone to the Queen to request that she suspend parliament on the 10th September, so that he can force his wretched Brexit through. It’s a move that has been denounced by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. This is his way of avoiding moves by the Tory Remainers, Labour and the other opposition parties through legislation as contained in their pact. The Skwawkbox has posted an article arguing that BoJob’s move now presents Tory Remainers with a chance of defeating him without supporting Corbyn’s vote of no confidence. This means defeating Queen’s Speech, which will probably be on 17th October. If this happens, it means we could be facing a general election on the 5th of December.

See: https://skwawkbox.org/2019/08/28/prorogation-and-tory-squeamishness-mean-5-december-ge-day-likely/

Both the Skwawkbox and Zelo Street have pointed out that BoJob’s decision means that he was lying when he denied that he planning any such move when he spoke to the Beeb last weekend. People have been comparing Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament to that of Charles I, who famously lost his head after losing the British Civil War. But as the Skwawkbox also pointed out, there was another parallel far closer in time. NHS doctor and campaigner Rachel Clarke tweeted that ‘We are a parliamentary democracy. This is stunt is straight out of 1930’s Germany’ and that it is ‘utterly inexcusable’.

It is. On both counts. Hitler seized power by using the Reichstag fire to declare a state of emergency. This allowed him to seize full dictatorial powers, which meant the suspension of the Reichstag, the German parliament. He then began passing legislation outlawing all competing political parties. The Skwawkbox comments that while Johnson is suspending parliament just to force through Brexit, he shares the Nazis’ contempt for democracy.

And they also put part of the blame on the ‘Centrists’, including Jo Swinson and the Lib Dems. They will no doubt wring their hands about it, but Johnson has been able to do this because they gave him the space. They could have supported Jeremy Corbyn’s no confidence vote and allowed him the chance to form a caretaker government while a general election was called. But they didn’t. Swinson was too keen to defend her Tory politics against the threat of a genuinely progressive, reforming government. Swinson has condemned BoJob’s decision, and stated that the Lib Dem’s will oppose it. But nevertheless, as the Skwawkbox says, the Lib Dems’ culpability is absolutely clear. And the Skwawkbox wonders if they will now see sense and realise just what a danger BoJob is to the fabric of our society, and join Corbyn against him.

And BoJob does present a very clear danger. Not only has he demanded the suspension of parliament, Robert Peston revealed that he had been told by a ‘No. 10 source’, that if parliament does pass a vote of no confidence, they’ll just hang on and won’t make way for another government.

See: https://skwawkbox.org/2019/08/28/centrists-have-gifted-johnson-opportunity-for-1930s-nazi-style-coup/

Again, the actions of a dictator. In this instance, it’s General Pinochet, Maggie’s old chum. Before the Fascist butcher was finally overthrown, his fellow torturers and mass-murderers tried to oust him. They couldn’t. He just stuck there. As for the Nazi seizure of power, the parallel there is to the actions of the Catholic Centre Party. They could have voted against the Nazi machtergreifung. But they didn’t, as they were afraid Hitler would move against the Roman Catholic church. Which he did, eventually. The Centre party was banned along with all the others, and the Roman Catholic youth groups were likewise dissolved to make way for the Hitler Youth and the German Maids’ League as the sole permitted organisation for young people. You can understand and to a degree sympathise with the fear that motivated the Centre party to give in. It takes extraordinary courage to stand up to a dictator, even one that was as initially weak as Hitler. But Swinson doesn’t have that excuse. She’s allowed Johnson the political opportunity to make his odious decision simply for cynical political reasons: she’d rather have a ‘no deal’ Brexit and a completely unelected government than see Corbyn in No. 10.

The similarity between BoJob, the Tory party and Hitler and the Nazis has also not been lost on Mike. He points out the way the Nazis demonised the Jews and the sick and disabled. Just like the Tories and the Lib Dems in their coalition also demonised the sick and disabled. The Tories haven’t murdered them like the Nazis in their infamous Aktion T4, just allowed them to die as they removed the benefits they needed for support.

And he also points out that the first party the Nazis banned was the Communist. And it’s not a coincidence that the Tories have been referring to the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn as Marxist, despite the fact that Labour is actually democratic socialist. It’s very different, and the real Communist parties, like that of the former Soviet Union, heartily despised them. Lenin and co. used the word ‘reformist’, which refers to this form of socialism, as a term of abuse.

And, as under Hitler, we have an extreme right-wing press fomenting nationalist further and promoting Johnson’s populism.

Mike goes on to quote Martin Niemoller’s poem, ‘First they came…’. He stated he paraphrased it a few years ago on his blog to insert the sick and disabled in the first line, to draw attention to the way the Tories were demonising and persecuting them. But now he believes the last line should be about democracy, and how it no longer matters whether I speak out or not, because no-one will listen.

He concludes

That is the situation we face, it seems.

You can watch it getting worse and do nothing, and then tell me I was right when it is too late to reverse this disaster.

Or you can actually get up and stop it.

What are you going to do?

Johnson’s coup: Now we must fight to prevent the end of the UK as a democracy

And if this seems hysterical, just remember that during the 1970s the British security services and the Times and Mirror were considering organising a coup to overturn Harold Wilson’s government. In that event, trade unionists and left-wing activists were to be arrested and interned. See Livingstone’s book, Livingstone’s Labour.

Johnson is an authoritarian, and the Brexit party, which has announced they will support him, is even further to the right. Democracy is under threat. We need to get rid of him now!

 

John Wycliffe’s Pacifist Theology

December 17, 2017

I’m sick of writing about the Christian right in this country and America – their hatred of the poor, their Zionism and their insanely dangerous millennialism, in which they look forward to the last, apocalyptic war between good and evil, personified as a conflict between the Christian West and Israel on the side of good, and Communism and Islam as the armies of Satan. Here’s a bit of more inspiring theology, at least for those on the Left, from one of the seminal influences on the Reformation.

John Wycliffe has been described as ‘the Morning Star of the Reformation’. He was a late 14th-century English vicar from Yorkshire, who proposed radical reforms to combat what he saw as the corruption of the Church in his day. He was against pluralities, in which clergy held many benefices, often in widely separated parts of the country, noting that this did nothing for the Christian cure of souls. It was set up, however, partly as a way of giving the lower clergy a reasonable income because of the poverty of parts of the church at that time. He argued that the Bible should be the only source of Christian truth, and that salvation was by faith alone, not works. He demanded an end to clerical celibacy, which he said acted ‘to the great prejudice of women’ and promoted homosexuality amongst the clergy. So, not a fan of gay priests then. He also went further in his criticism of the moral right of rulers to govern us when they themselves were guilty of sin. No-one had this right, and those rulers sinning had to step down or be removed. This has been widely criticised since, as it would have made government just about impossible. But it is a severe corrective to the moral double standards of the upper classes, who saw themselves as having an absolute right to rule, often committing heinous sins and crimes themselves, while claiming their right as Christian rulers to punish and uphold moral standards to those lower down the social ladder. This attitude continued into the 17th century, when the monarchists of the British Civil War defended the monarchy on the grounds that the king, as God’s representative on Earth, was above the law, but had the duty to expound it, and so could not be tried for its breach.

He also translated the Bible into English, radical act forbidden by law in England, though perfectly acceptable elsewhere on the continent, such as France. He was not a member of the Lollards, the early radical Protestant movement that grew up around his doctrines, though he was a powerful influence on them. It was the Lollards who produced the song attacking contemporary serfdom, ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’ In the 16th century, this was taken up and inspired the German peasants in their revolt against feudal overlordship: ‘Als Adam grub und Evan spann, wer war dann der Edelmann?’ Which is an exact translation.

I got the latest Oxbow books Bargain Catalogue through the post a few weeks ago. Among the books on medieval history and culture were two of Wycliffe’s. One was on the inspiration of scripture, the other was on his pacifist theology.

The book is John Wycliffe on War and Peace by Rory Cox. The blurb for the book in the Bargain Catalogue runs:

From the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo to the fifth century, Christian justifications of war had revolved around three key criteria: just cause, proper authority and correct intention. Using Wyclif’s extensive Latin corpus, the author shows how he dismantled these three pillars of medieval “just war” doctrine, demonstrating that he created a coherent doctrine of pacifism and non-resistance which was at that time unparalleled.

200 pages, Boydell and Brewer Ltd, 2014, 97080861933259, Hardback, was £50, bargain price £12.95.

I’m not a pacifist myself, as I believe that sometimes true evil can only be combated through violence. But I’m sick of the co-option of morality to justify the terrible greed and inhuman violence of colonialism and imperialism, especially in the latest attacks on the Middle East.

I realise that many of the readers of this blog have very different attitudes to my own on religion. I’m not trying to insult anyone else’s religious views here, particularly not Roman Catholics or the atheists, who read this blog. I am simply mentioning it as many Christians of radically different denominations and confessions have over the centuries come to pacifism in disgust at the horrors of war as organised violence. I fully recognise and endorse the contemporary Roman Catholic peace movement, which I’ve blogged about before.

I’ve posted it up the news of this book, as I thought it would interest and inspire the Christian readers of this blog, who share my opinions on war. And would also act as corrective to the militant bilge coming out of the American and British religious right and their aggressive, omnicidal militarism.

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

Fabian Pamphlet on Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 3

November 11, 2017

William McCarthy, The Future of Industrial Democracy (1988).

Chapter 4: Summary and Conclusions

This, the pamphlet’s final chapters, runs as follows

This pamphlet has concerned itself with the change required in Labour’s policies for extending the frontiers of industrial democracy. It has been suggested that the objectives in People at Work need to be given concrete expression in an enabling statute which provides for the creation of elective joint councils at establishment level in all private firms employing more than 500 workers. In the case of multi-establishment firms joint councils will be needed at both establishment and enterprise level. Similar arrangements should be introduced into the public sector.

The primary condition for the establishment of joint councils would be an affirmative ballot of the workers concerned. Employers would be entitled to “trigger” such a ballot in association with recognised unions. In the absence of employer agreement recognised unions would be able to invoke the ballot procedure unilaterally. Where there were union members, but no recognition had been granted, a union with members would still be entitled to trigger a ballot covering the workers it wished to represent. Where no union members existed a given proportion of the labour force, say 10 per cent, would also be free to demand a ballot.

In all cases there would need to be a majority of the workers affected voting in favour of a joint council under the terms of the enabling Act. Such a vote would be legally binding on the employers; and there would be suitable sanctions to secure enforcement. Worker representatives would emerge by means of a universal secret ballot. Recognised trade unions would be given certain prescribed rights of nomination. Where unions had members, but were denied recognition, appropriate unions would also have the right to make nominations. This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous right to make nominations.

Statutory joint councils would have the right to be informed about a wide variety of subjects which would be specified in the enabling Act-eg intended redundancies, closures and reductions in labour demand. Management would also be under a more general obligation to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm-including cost structures, profit margins, productivity ratios, manpower needs and the use of contract labour. Information could only be refused on limited and specified grounds of commercial confidentiality in parts of the public sector somewhat different criteria of confidentiality would be specified in the Act.)

Councils would have a similar right to be consulted on all decisions likely to have a significant impact on the labour force-using words similar to those set out in the EC draft Fifth Directive. This would be complemented by an obligation to consult the joint council on a number of specified subjects-such as manpower plans, changes in working practices, health and safety matters, etc. There would be a right to propose alternatives and a limited right of delay. Worker representatives would be under an obligation to present management proposals to their constituents for their consideration. The statute would stress that one of the main objects of consultation would be to raise efficiency and improve industrial performance.

The workers’ side of a joint council would have a right to complain to a special court if any of their statutory rights were ignored or denied by an employer. This would be empowered to make orders against a defaulting firm as a final resort.

The most radical changes in established Labour party policy that are recommended in this pamphlet concern the need to modify the principles of single channel representation, as these were expressed and applied to worker directors in the majority report of the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy. It is argued that if Labour is to establish a positive and convincing case for industrial democracy in present day Britain it must be prepared to urge its introduction over the widest possible area. To help retain the justifiability of single channel representation at board-room level Bullock understandably felt the need to confine his proposals to a fraction of the labour force. It is suggested that this degree of selectivity would not be acceptable today.

There should also be a limited area of joint decision taking or co-determination covering such matters as works rules, health and safety policies, the administration of pension schemes and training. Joint councils should also be given rights to develop and monitor equal opportunities policies and administer various government subsidies. They could also be linked to a Labour government’s regional or industrial planning process. They should provide the final internal appeal stage in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Labour should place much more emphasis on the positive case for industrial democracy. They should focus on the extent to which workers need to feel that they have some degree of influence over their work situation. Above all, Labour should stress the well-established links between participation and improvements in industrial efficiency and performance. They must emphasise that the development and extension of industrial democracy would produce substantial benefits for the community as a whole, quite apart from its impact on working people.

By stressing these aspects of the argument, it would be possible to attack the credibility and naivety of Thatcherite assumption concerning the need to ‘liberate’ British managers from all forms of regulation and responsibility-irrespective of the effects on workers in their employ. It should also make it more difficult for Labour’s opponents to misrepresent the negative case for participation as a mere cover for union restriction and control.

My Conclusions

The pamphlet makes a strong case for the establishment of joint councils below boardroom level, which would extend workplace to democracy to a greater proportion of the work force than recommended by the Bullock report. It shows how arguments for control of the means of production by the workers themselves have been around ever since Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers in the 17th century. He also shows, as have other advocates for worker’s control, that such schemes give a greater sense of workplace satisfaction and actually raise productivity and efficiency, as well as giving workers’ greater rights and powers over the terms and conditions of employment.

This is in very stark contrast to the current condition of the British economy, created through the Thatcherite dogmas of deregulation, privatisation and the destruction of unions and worker’s rights. British productivity is extremely poor. I think it’s possibly one of the lowest in Europe. Wages have been stagnant, creating mass poverty. This means that seven million now live in ‘food insecure’ households, hundreds of thousands are only keeping body and soul together through food banks, three million children subsist in poverty. And the system of benefit sanctions has killed 700 people.

This is the state of Thatcherite capitalism: it isn’t working.

As for the proposals themselves, they offer workers to become partners with industry, and contrary to Thatcherite scaremongering that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’, G.D.H. Cole, the great theorist of Guild Socialism recognised not only the need for a private sector, but he also said that Socialists should ally with small businessmen against the threat of the monopoly capitalists.

Thatcher promoted her entirely spurious credentials as a woman of the working class by stressing her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. It’s petty bourgeois, rather than working class. But nevertheless, it was effective propaganda, and a large part of the electorate bought it.

But the Tories have never favoured Britain’s small businesses – the Arkwrights and Grenvilles that mind our corner shops. They have always sacrificed them to the demands of the big businessmen, who manipulate and exploit them. For the examples of the big supermarket chains exploiting the farmers, who supply them, see the relevant chapter in George Monbiot’s Corporate State.

Coles’ support for industrial democracy was thus part of a recognition to preserve some private enterprise, and protect its most vulnerable members, while at the same time socialising the big monopolies and extending industrial democracy to the private sector, in order to create a truly democratic society.

This is another point that needs stressing: without workers’ control, democracy in general is incomplete and under severe threat. The corporatism introduced by Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and extended by subsequent neoliberal administrations, including those of Blair and Clinton, has severely undermined democracy in both America and Britain. In America, where politicians do the will of their political donors in big business, rather than their constituents, Harvard has downgraded the countries’ status from a democracy to partial oligarchy. Britain is more or less the same. 75 per cent or so of MPs are millionaires, often occupying seats on boards of multiple companies. Big business sponsors party political conferences and events, even to the point of loaning personnel. As a result, as Monbiot has pointed out, we live in a Corporate State, that acts according to the dictates of industry, not the needs of the British public.

This needs to be stopped. The links between big business and political parties need to be heavily restricted, if not severed altogether. And ordinary workers given more power to participate in decision-making in their firms.