Posts Tagged ‘Business’

Book on Revolutionary Trade Unionism, Fascism and the Corporative State

October 20, 2020

David D. Roberts, Syndicalist Tradition & Italian Fascism (University of North Carolina Press, 1979).

Syndicalism is a form of revolutionary socialism that seeks to overthrow the liberal state and replace it with a society based on the trade unions in which they run industry. It was particularly strong in France, and played a major role in Catalonia and the struggle against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It has also been a strand in the British labour movement, and produced a peculiar British form, Guild Socialism, whose leaders included the great socialist writer and former Fabian, G.D.H. Cole.

Fascism Mixture of Different Groups

Fascism was a strange, heterogenous mixture of different, and often conflicting groups. These included former syndicalists, radicalised veterans from the First World War, ultra-conservative Nationalists and the Futurists, an aggressive modern artistic movement that celebrated war, speed, violence, masculinity, airplanes, cars and the new machine age. Some of these groups shared roughly the same ideas. The war veterans were deeply impressed with the corporative constitution drafted by Alceste de Ambris for D’Annunzio’s brief regime in Fiume, the Carta de Carnaro. Superficially, the Fascist syndicalists shared the same goal of creating a corporate state to govern industrial relations and run industry. However, they approached this from very different directions. The Nationalists, led by Alfredo Rocco, were ultra-Conservative businessmen, who attacked liberal democracy because of the corruption involved in Italian politics. At the same time they feared the power of the organised working class. As Italy modernised, it underwent a wave of strikes. In response, Rocco recommended that the state should take over the trade unions, using them as its organ to discipline the workers, keep the masses in their place while training them to perform their functions efficiently in the new, industrial Italy. The syndicalists, on the other hand, wanted the trade unions to play a role in industrial management and at the same time draw the working class into a fuller participation in politics. The working class had been excluded from the liberal state, but through their economic organisations, the unions, they could play a much fuller role as these governed their everyday lives. They saw the corporations and the corporate state as a means of increasing democracy and popular participation, not limiting it.

Fascist Corporativism

The corporations themselves are industrial organisations rather like the medieval guilds or trade unions. However, they included both the trade unions and employers organisations. There were already nine of them, but by the end of the regime in 1943 there were 27. Under Rocco’s Labour Charter, the Carta del Lavoro, strikes and lockouts were forbidden in the name of industrial peace and class collaboration. The corporation were required to settle labour disputes. However, if management and the unions were unable to reach agreement, then the dispute was to be referred to labour magistracy for settlement in special labour courts. Mussolini also reformed the Italian parliament, transforming the Chamber of Deputies into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations. In practice the corporate state never amounted to very much. It never won over real working class support, and the corporations were never given real legislative power. It merely added another layer of bureaucracy and acted as nothing more than a rubber stamp to pass the policies Mussolini had already made. And he seems to have used it as ideological window dressing to give the impression that here was more to Fascism than his personal dictatorship.

The Unification of Italy and Political Alienation

The book argues that the corporate state was a genuine attempt to solve the deep problems of Italian unification left over from the Risorgimento. At the same time, it was also a radical response to the crisis, breakdown and revision of Marxist socialism and the failure of Marxist syndicalism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The process of unification has produced an attitude of deep alienation from the state and politics amongst Italians, and Fascism was partly a response to this. This alienation isn’t confined to Italians, but it is particularly acute. Social studies in the 1970s showed that Italians are less likely than Americans, Brits or Germans to become politically involved. They regard the state as distant with little interest in them. At the same time, there is also an expectation that the bureaucrats in Rome will help them.

Like Germany, Italy was unified by military force and the invasion of the other, constituent states. However, for reasons of speed and a determination to preserve the new nation’s fragile unity, the other Italian states were simply annexed by Piedmont to be governed from there. There was supposed to be a constituent assembly in which the other states were to have their say in the creation of the new Italy, but this simply didn’t happen. At the same time, the industrialisation promoted by Italian liberals was concentrated in the north, so that the south remained backward and agricultural. The franchise was extremely restricted. It excluded illiterates, so that originally only 2 per cent of the population could vote. This was later extended to 7 per cent. At the same time, Italy’s leaders prevented the formation of proper political parties by taking over individuals from different parliamentary factions in order to form workable governing majorities. At the same time there was discontent and widespread criticism of the protectionism imposed to help the development of Italian heavy industry. Middle class critics believed that this unfairly benefited it at the expense of more dynamic and productive sectors of the economy. This led to the belief that Italy was being held back by class of political parasites.

This backwardness also led to an acute sense of pessimism amongst the elite over the character of the Italian people themselves. The Americans, British and Germans were disciplined with proper business values. Italians, on the other hand, were lazy, too individualistic and defied authority through lawlessness. This meant that liberalism was inadequate to deal with the problems of Italian society. ‘This English suit doesn’t fit us’, as one Fascist said. But this would change with the adoption of Fascism. One of Mussolini’s minions once declared that, thanks to Fascism, hard work and punctuality were no longer American, German and British values.

Syndicalism, Marxism and the Revision of Socialism

By the 1890s there was a crisis throughout Europe in Marxist socialism. Marx believed that the contradictions in capitalism and the continuing impoverishment of working people would lead to eventual revolution. But at this stage it was evident that capitalism was not collapsing. It was expanding, wages were rising and the working class becoming better off. This led to the reformist controversy, in which socialist ideologues such as Bernstein in Germany recommended instead that socialist parties should commit themselves to reforming capitalism gradually in order to create a socialist society. The syndicalists were originally Marxists, who looked forward to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However, they became increasingly disenchanted with Marxism and critical of the leading role of the working class. They originally believed, as with the French syndicalist Georges Sorel, that the class-conscious workers would be a new source of values. But they weren’t. They also believed that this would only be achieved through a long process of education through general strikes. They were horrified by the biennio rosso, the two years of strikes and industrial unrest that came after the end of the war, when it seemed that the Italian labour movement was going to follow the Russian Bolsheviks and create a revolution for which Italy and it working class were not ready.

At the same time, they came to reject Marxism’s doctrine that the political was determined by the economic sphere. They believed that Italy’s political problems could not be reduced to capitalism. Hence they believed that capitalism and private industry should be protected, but made subordinate to the state. Work was a social duty, and any industrial who did not run his company properly could, in theory, be removed and replaced. They also sought to give the workers a greater role in industrial management. This led them to go beyond the working class. They found a new revolutionary group in the Italian war veterans, who were radicalised by their experiences. These would have joined the socialists, but the latter had been strongly neutralist and as a result rejected and ridiculed the former soldiers for their patriotism. These found their ideological and political home with the syndicalists. At the same time, the syndicalists rejection of Marxist socialism led to their rediscovery of other, non-Marxist socialist writers like Mazzini, who also rejected liberalism in favour of a tightly knit Italian nation. Their bitter hatred of the corruption in Italian politics and its parasites led them to join forces with anarchists and other sectors of the Italian radical tradition. They believed that for Italy truly to unite and modernise, the workers should join forces with properly modernising industrialists in an alliance of producers.

Syndicalist Opposition to Mussolini’s Rapprochement to the Socialists

Looking at the development of Italian Fascism, it can seem that there was a certain inevitability to the emergence of Mussolini’s dictatorship and the totalitarian Fascist state. But this argues that there was nothing inevitable about it, and that it was forced on Mussolini in order to stop his movement falling apart. When Mussolini entered parliament and took over as prime minister, he seemed to be transforming what was originally a movement into the very type of party that the Fascist rank and file were in revolt against. Fascism was reconstituted as a party, and when the future Duce met the kind, he wore the top hat and frock coat of an establishment politician. Worse, Mussolini had started out as a radical socialist, and still seemed determined to work with them and other working class and left-wing parties. He signed a pacification pact with the Socialists and Populists, the Roman Catholic party, stopping the Fascist attacks on them, the trade unions and workers’ and peasants’ cooperatives. This horrified the syndicalists, who saw it as a threat to their own programme of winning over the workers and creating the new, corporatist order. As a result they pressurised Mussolini into rescinding that pacts, Mussolini and Fascism moved right-ward to ally with the capitalists and industry in the destruction of working class organisations.

Syndicalists and the Promotion of the Working Class

But it seems that the syndicalists were serious about defending the working class and giving it a proper role through the corporations in the management of industry and through that, political participation in the Italian state. Left Fascists like Olivetti and Ugo Spirito believed that the Italian state should operate a mixed economy, with the state running certain companies where appropriate, and the trade unions owning and managing cooperatives. Some went further, and recommended that the corporations should take over the ownership of firms, which would be operated jointly by management and the workers. This never got anywhere, and was denounced by other left syndicalists, like Sergio Pannunzio, one of their leaders.

From Internationalism to Imperialism

The book also raises grim astonishment in the way it reveals how the Syndicalists, who were initially quite internationalist in outlook, came to support Fascist imperialism. They shared the general Fascist view that Italy was being prevented from developing its industry through British and French imperialism. The two powers blocked Italy from access to trading with their colonies. They were therefore also critical of the League of Nations when it was set up, which they saw as an attempt by the great powers to maintain the international status quo. The Nationalists, who were formally merged with the Fascists, went further and demanded that Italy too should have an empire to benefit its industry, but also to provide land for colonisation by the surplus Italian population. Without it, they would continue to be forced to emigrate to countries like America and Britain, where they would become the lowest and most despised part of their working class. The syndicalists were also acutely aware of how low Italians were regarded and exploited in these countries, even by other members of the working class.

The syndicalists during the war and early post-war years criticised the Nationalists for their militarism and imperialism. Instead of looking forward to perpetual war, as the Nationalists did, they wanted to see instead the emergence of a new, federal European order in which nations would cooperate. This new federal state would eventually cover the world. They also looked forward to a new, equitable arrangement over access to the colonies. Pannunzio did support colonialism, which he believed was bringing civilisation to backward areas. But he also believed that colonies that were unable to become nations in their own right should be taken over by the League of Nations. Pannunzio declared ‘Egotism among nations is a material and moral absurdity; nations … cannot lived closed and isolated by must interact and cooperate’. This changed as time went on and Mussolini established the corporate state. This was always fragile and tentative, and accompanied by concessions to other sectors of Fascism on the right. In order to defend their fragile gains, the syndicalists gave their full backing to the Second World War and its imperialism, which they saw as a crusade to bring the corporate state, the great Italian achievement, but a backward world.

Workers Should Have a Role In Government, But Not Through Totalitarianism

I have to say I like certain aspects of the corporate state. I like the idea of trade unionists actively involved in the management of industry and in a special department of parliament, although as Sidney and Beatrice Webb point out in their Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, there are severe drawbacks with it. But any such corporatist chamber would have to be an expansion of liberal democracy, not a replacement for it. And I utterly reject and despise Fascism for its vicious intolerance, especially towards socialism and the working class, its rejection of democracy, and especially the militarism, imperialism and racism. Like Nazism it needs to be fought everywhere, in whatever guise it arises.

And the book makes very clear that the corporate state was an exaggerated response to genuine Italian problems, problems that could be solved within liberal, democratic politics.

Perhaps one day we shall see the return of trade unionists to parliaments reformed to allow them to play their proper role in government and industry. I make this recommendation in my booklet, For A Worker’s Chamber. But it should never be through any kind of autocratic, totalitarian regime.

To Fight the Tories and the Racists, Labour Should Platform More White Working Class Speakers

October 19, 2020

This is not by any means a criticism of the Labour party’s great Black and Asian MPs, activists and ordinary members and supporters, like Dawn Butler and Diane Abbot. It is simply a case of effectively mobilising White working class support for Labour, which necessarily and rightly includes non-White politicos and supporters to combat Tory propaganda.

Much Conservative rhetoric aimed at winning over White working class support presents the Labour party as profoundly, traitorously anti-British. BAME anti-racist activists, like Diane Abbot, are criticised and abused by the right, and particularly the far right, as people who actively hate traditional British culture and wish to see it destroyed. This nasty rhetoric was ramped up several notches a few weeks ago with the controversy over the Beeb’s supposed ban of ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Last Night of the Proms. This was to show that the Beeb was run by anti-patriotic lefty liberals. In fact it was nothing of the support. It was simply a response to the regulations imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. Although they have been eased, they still prohibit public singing. It’s why those churches, which have reopened, now use recorded music while the congregation remains silent. In one way, it’s almost like a return to the Middle Ages, when it was only the clergy who participated in the ritual of the mass while the congregation heard it. I’m not surprised that the ban did cause controversy. There have been allegations before, including by Private Eye, that the Prom’s producers at the Beeb are acutely uncomfortable with the performance of the two classic pieces, and would like to stop their performance. But that wasn’t the case this year. Also, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is much more than a jingoistic ditty. It’s lyrics include lines about ‘justice and equality’, civilised values that should be at the heart of liberal society.

And I’m afraid this rhetoric and the xenophobic nationalism is going to increase with the failure of Brexit. It now looks like Britain is going to exit the EU without a deal. So much for all the Leaver talk from Johnson, Gove etc about oven ready deals and that making trade arrangements with the EU would be so simple, they weren’t worth worrying about. The EU would be so desperate to make one, they’d come running to us. Anybody who said otherwise was being un-patriotic and trying to terrify the British public unnecessarily with ‘Project Fear’.

But the Remoaners, as the Brexiteers have dubbed them, have been amply proved right. Boris and his cohorts told businesses that they wouldn’t have to worry about complex paperwork to carry on trading with the EU. Everything would be simple and straightforward. But our industry is suffering because Johnson and the rest haven’t provided clear guidance for them. In addition, we now have two tariff borders, one in the Irish Sea, and another in Kent. A no-deal Brexit means that we could be faced with shortages of food and medicines. The Tories are desperately trying to negotiate a deal with America, but this will mean lowering our food hygiene standards to their abysmal levels. This will do preciously little for the economy, but it will harm our farmers.

Brexit will increase poverty, despair and starvation.

There were genuinely left-wing, anti-racist peeps, who voted ‘leave’, and with entirely understandable reasons. Our farmers and fishing industry was hit by the EU. The Common Agricultural Policy was designed for small scale, peasant agriculture such as practiced in France and Germany. It did not suit highly mechanised farming employing relatively few people, which is the case in Britain. And the opening up of British waters to foreign fishing decimated our own fishing fleet. Tony Benn and others in the Labour party foresaw this. It’s why they opposed our entry into the EU at the time of the 1970s referendum.

But many Brexiteers are racist, and Brexit was presented as a way of stopping further immigration. Apart from the furore over the Proms, there has also been very vehement criticism of the numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Channel from France. The numbers involved are trivial compared to those who legally immigrate here. The people crossing the Channel in flimsy, makeshift boats and dinghies do so because other, legal means of entering Britain have been closed. But you wouldn’t know that from arch-Tory right-wingers like Alex Belfield. They are attacked as illegal immigrants, a potential threat to the communities in which they are housed, and the left blamed for encouraging them to cross, which puts the migrants themselves in danger. Belfield would like them intercepted by the navy, or deterred from crossing altogether. The liberals and left-wingers defending the migrants wish to have proper legal channels opened up for these migrants, so that they wouldn’t have to risk their lives crossing the Channel.

At the same time, Belfield and other right-wing opponents of immigration present the left as very middle class, out of touch and actively hostile to the White working class. Belfield in his videos rants about how the BBC is dominated by Guardian reading, chinos wearing, latte sipping lefty snowflakes, who all, of course, eat avocado toast. Right-wing organisations like the New Culture Forum and hacks like Douglas Murray have put videos up on YouTube about the demonization of the White working class. The working class, including the White working class, has been demonised, but by the Conservative, Thatcherite elite. As Owen Jones, who himself has received any number of vicious personal attacks, showed in his book Chavs.

With Brexit about to fail, I think we can be sure that the Tories and the Brexiteers will now increase their attacks on immigration and ethnic minorities, because it’s the only way they have of maintaining any kind of support for it.

I think here Labour should learn from a campaigning trick of the Nazis. I’ll make it clear that I have nothing but contempt and disgust for Hitler and his squalid dictatorship. They ruled by terror and violence, and were responsible for the horrific deaths of millions. 11 1/2 million were murdered and died of starvation and overwork in the concentration camps. Six million were Jews, and 5 1/2 million assorted non-Jews, including political prisoners, the long term unemployed, the disabled and Roma. The Nazis also intended to cleans a stretch of land from Poland to the Ukraine and Russia of its indigenous people in preparation for German colonisation. The surviving population would become poorly educated, depressed peasant farmers and labourers to serve the colonists.

Nazism and Fascism are truly horrific movements, that need to be fought everywhere.

But unfortunately Hitler and the Nazis were terribly effective political campaigners. Although they described themselves as ‘socialist’, they despised ‘Marxist’ socialism, which included reformists like the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour party, and the organised working class. They smashed the trade unions and sent their leaders and activists to the concentration camps. As social Darwinists, they saw the aristocracy and business elite as biologically superior with an absolute right to their social position and authority.

But at the same time, the Nazis were determined to win over the working class. While they stressed class collaboration, with Hitler declaring that ‘the class conscious worker is as unwelcome in our movement as the race conscious Jew’, the Nazis also claimed that they wished to create a genuine classless society. In the new volksgemeinschaft (people’s/ ethnic community) all were to be looked upon as equals. The only difference was supposed to be social function. And Nazism was going to be meritocratic. Any ethnic German would be able to rise socially, no matter how humble his origins, provided he had the talent.

To show that they were serious about this, the Nazis conspicuously put working class speakers on their platforms along with those from the middle and upper classes.

I believe that Labour needs to do the same with White working class speakers.

The people, who are serious about improving conditions for the White working class are, as I have said, the Labour left. They will do so because they’re committed to the working class as a whole. The Jewish anti-racist, anti-Fascist bloggers and activists Tony Greenstein and David Rosenberg have pointed out again and again that the only way of effectively fighting Nazi scumbags like the National Front and BNP is through actively working to improve conditions for all the working class.

Very many of Labour’s great BAME politicos and members are working class. I think Abbot is. And the anti-immigrant right have also included in their attacks on Dawn Butler statements that they’re tired of hearing how working class she is. They’re aware that the Black and Asian targets of their ire are working class, but that doesn’t count as they’re not White working class. And indeed they see them as actively anti-White.

Which is why I believe they need to be partnered on their platforms with White working class speakers. I’m aware that this is already very likely to be the case. But it needs to be so obvious, that the racists will find it difficult to minimise or deny it. It needs to be done to show the racists, and those inclined to listen to them, that BAME politicos like Abbot and Butler are not anti-White and have White working class support.

I also believe that something similar but vice versa may have to be done for Black MPs so that they are obviously given support by White speakers. Under Starmer, Labour has been haemorrhaging not only its traditional Labour voters and supporters in general, but particularly its Black members. This has partly been due to Starmer’s dismissive and mercenary attitude towards Black Lives Matter, but also his utter failure to take any action on the right-wing ‘centrists’ responsible for the racist bullying of respected Black MPs and activists like Abbot, Lammy and so on. Labour needs to show that it is still genuinely committed to improving conditions for Blacks and other ethnic minorities. And that this doesn’t mean being anti-White.

Whatever their colour, working class Brits need to stand together and support each other. Because the racists and Tories will try to divide us to push through their policies.

Which will hurt all of us, regardless of our creed or skin colour.

Alex Belfield Defending Boris to Attack BBC

September 21, 2020

Alex Belfield is an internet radio host and Youtuber. He’s a ragin Conservative, and so a large number of his videos are attacks on left-wing broadcasters and critics of the government, like Owen Jones, James O’Brien and Piers Morgan. He has also attacked Sadiq Khan, immigration, especially the asylum-seekers floating over on flimsy craft from Calais, and the recent moves to expand diversity in broadcasting. This includes Diversity’s dance routine about Black Lives Matter the Saturday before last on Britain’s Got Talent. Another frequent target of his attacks in the BBC, and at the weekend he decided to join the Conservative papers trying to get sympathy for Boris Johnson.

According to an article in Saturday’s Times, BoJob has been whining about how hard it is for him on £150,000. Not only has he been through a messy divorce, but he’s also trying to support four of his six children. I thought he himself didn’t know how many children he had. And how is it he’s only supporting four, not all of them? The article claims he’s overburdened – which is also strange. I’ve put up a piece on Russian gulag slang terms which could describe him. One of them is mankirovant, which means ‘shirker’. Because he seems to be off on his hols whenever it suits, unlike other Prime Ministers. Unlike other PMs, he also dodges working at weekends and turning up at Cobra meetings. He has, apparently, taken a cut in income and, oh, the hardship!, has to buy his own food.

Mike has put up a piece in which he, and the folks on Twitter, tear into our clown PM and give him all the sympathy he deserves: which is precisely zero. They point out that Boris’ salary is still five times more than the median wage and that people on ESA are, if they’re over 25, on less £4,000 a year. By any standard, Boris is still filthy rich.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/19/poorboris-uk-citizens-give-what-sympathy-they-can-to-pm-complaining-about-money/

Belfield crawled out from under whichever Tory rock he hides under to try and defend Boris. Ah, but he has to pay all the expenses required of him now that he is prime minister. Mike points out that he has a fair few those paid by the state. His current residence, No. 10, is provided by the state gratis. Also, Boris wanted the job. This isn’t like the Roman Empire, where the rich were forced to perform ‘liturgy’. This was a list held by the local authorities of everyone, who could afford to do some kind of public service to the state. This went from acting as a kind of clerk recording and filing people’s tax returns, to membership of the ordo or local council. If you were saddled with that, it meant that you had to make whatever shortfall there was between public expenditure and tax revenue up out of your own money. The pagan Roman emperors used it as one of the punishments they inflicted on Christians, apart from torturing them to death in the arena. Neither the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Sadiq Khan or anyone else suddenly leapt upon Boris and dragged him off to be prime minister. No-one forced him to start plotting to be head of the Tory party. He wasn’t corrupted by Cassius, as Brutus was in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. And neither Cameron or Gove, the two Boris betrayed, were Julius Caesar. Although both of them, like Boris, thought they should ‘bestride the earth like a colossus’.

Boris chose the job himself. But people on ESA and low incomes don’t choose them. They’ve had them foisted upon them by exploitative employers and a government determined to make ordinary, working people an impoverished, cowed, an easily disposable workforce.

As for the expense of having a nanny and providing for his children, well, the Tories, as Mike and his peeps have pointed out, stopped child benefit after two sprogs. The argument from the right for a long time has been that people should only have children they can afford to support. Not bad advice, actually. But it has led to the Tories and New Labour demonising those they consider as bad parents. Like Gordon Brown ranting about how ‘feckless’ they were. In the words of the old adage, ‘if you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em’. But this was all right when applied to the hoi polloi. But when it hits the upper classes, somehow we’re expected to cry tears over them.

Belfield also tried defending Boris by pointing out that his salary was much less than those in many industries, including entertainment and television. And then, almost predictably, he started attacking the Beeb for the inflated pay it awards presenters like Gary Linaker. Linaker’s another of Belfield’s bete noirs. Linaker has made various left-wing remarks on Twitter and has said he’ll take into his house some of the asylum seekers coming across from France. Which has sent Tories like Belfield into a fearful bate, as Molesworth used to sa.

Now the pay earned by prime ministers is lower than many of those in industry. It always has been. I can remember under Thatcher or Major there were various Tory MPs whining about how much they earned. They demanded more, much more, to boost their pay up to that of private businessmen and senior managers. The argument was that they should be paid this money, as otherwise talented professionals would go into business instead, where their talents would be properly remunerated.

It’s another argument that didn’t go down well, not least because however poorly MPs are paid, they’re still paid far more than ordinary peeps. And for a long time they weren’t paid. Payment of MPs was a 19th century reform. Indeed, it was one of the six demanded by the Chartists. Many of the Conservatives responded by giving the money to charity. I think part of the reason politicians’ pay has remained comparatively low for so long is the ethos of public service. You are meant to want to enter politics because you are serious about serving your country and its great people. You are not meant to do so because you see it as a lucrative source of income. It’s an attitude that comes ultimately from the Stoic philosophers of the ancient world and Christian theologians like St. Augustine. It became the ethos of the public schools in the 19th century through the reforms of Arnold Bennet at Rugby. Boris therefore deserves no sympathy on that score.

Now I actually do agree with Belfield that some presenters at the Beeb are grossly overpaid. But it’s not just presenters. Private Eye has run story after story in their media section reporting how production staff and the ordinary journos in the news department, who actually do the hard work of putting programmes and news reports together, have been the victims of mass sackings and cut budgerts. At the same time, executive pay has increased and the number of managers with various non-jobs have proliferated. There is, apparently, someone presiding over a department with title ‘Just Do It!’ These departments are entangled and seem to overlap, much like the Nazi administrative system. Yes, I know, another gratuitous example of Godwin’s Law. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself.

The problem is, it’s not just the Beeb. They’re just following in the tracks of business elsewhere. Here ordinary workers have been massively laid off, forced to take pay cuts and freezes, while senior executives have seen their pay bloated astronomically. The Beeb is no different from them.

And watch carefully: Belfield isn’t telling you how much leading journos and broadcasters are paid elsewhere. Like in the media empire belonging to a certain R. Murdoch, now resident in America.

The argument used by presenters like John Humphries, for example, is that they are paid what they are worth. The argument goes that if the Beeb doesn’t pay them what they want, they can go and take their talent elsewhere, and the Beeb’s competitors will. Or at least, that’s how I understand it.

But you aren’t being told how much the presenters over at Sky are on. Or indeed, what kind of pay Murdoch and his senior staff at News International trouser. And you won’t, because that could be more than a mite embarrassing. Especially as Murdoch’s British operation is registered offshore in order to avoid paying British corporation tax.

But Murdoch, and Belfield are attacking the Beeb because the Tories hate the idea of state broadcasting and its mandated ethos of impartiality. Mind you, the rampant shilling by the Corporation on behalf of the Tories and their savage, flagrantly biased attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour showed that they don’t too. The Tories have also been taking Murdoch’s coin in corporate donations. From Thatcher onwards, right-wing governments – and that includes New Labour – signed a Faustian pact with Murdoch. They gave him larger and larger shares of British media and allowed him to dictate policy, in return for which Murdoch gave them publicity in his sordid empire of ordure.

That’s the real reason Belfield’s attacking the BBC.

Murdoch wants to get rid of state-funded competition and step in himself as the major broadcaster. And if he does so, you can expect nothing except propaganda and lies, which will we keep you poor and the elite even more obscenely rich.

Just like Boris Johnson and the Tories, despite his moans of poverty.

Rishi Sunak Goes Social Credit

July 6, 2020

Zelo Street put up another piece yesterday showing the glaring hypocrisy of the Tory party and their lapdog press. According to the Absurder, the Resolution Foundation had been in talks with chancellor Rishi Sunak to give everyone in Britain vouchers to spend in shops and businesses. Adults would receive vouchers worth £500, while children would get half the amount, £250. Sunak was being urged to accept the scheme as it would stimulate the economy, which has been badly hit by the lockdown. The Tory papers the Heil and the Scum also reported this, and thought it was a great idea.

This contrasts very strongly with their attitude last May, when Jeremy Corbyn also floated the idea of giving the British people free money in UBI – Universal Basic Income. The Scum claimed that if everyone was given £70 a week, then this would raise the welfare bill from £188 billion to £288 billion a year. The Heil reported that when the scheme was tried out in Finland, it made people happier but didn’t improve employment levels and would prove ‘unsustainable’.

But it isn’t just Finland that is experimenting with UBI. It was introduced in Spain a few weeks ago as Mike reported on his blog. Spain is a poorer country than Britain, but their willingness to try it contradicts the government’s excuse for not doing so, which is that Britain can’t afford it.

But now Rishi Sunak is considering it, and the Tory papers are praising him for it, whereas they vilified Corbyn. Zelo Street commented

‘Clearly, since May last year, a “free money” handout has stopped being a ghastly socialist aberration, and is now an excellent wheeze. Cos Rishi will be doing it.

The press will do anything to flog more papers. Including a little socialism.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/government-handouts-yeah-but-no-but.html

Of course, the reason the right-wing press are supporting Sunak whereas they condemned Corbyn, is because the two men have very different reasons for recommending it. In Corbyn’s case it was a desire to help empower ordinary people and stop the poverty the Tories have inflicted on them through low wages, job insecurity and the murderous system of benefit cuts and sanctions. The Tories, by contrast, heartily despise the poor. In the interest of maintaining healthy profits, they have always pursued low wages and punishing the poor, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed with minimal state welfare provision. This is now for many people below the amount needed to keep body and soul together. Where it is available at all, that is. That’s if people are able to get it after waiting five weeks for their first payment, and not getting sanctioned for the flimsiest excuse. This is all done to reduce the tax bill for the 1 per cent. Those able to work must be kept poor and desperate so that they will accept any job and won’t be able to demand higher wages. As for the long-term unemployed and the disabled, they are biologically inferior ‘useless eaters’, exactly as the Nazis viewed them, who should be allowed to starve to death.

Sunak’s motive for embracing UBI is so that the proles can spend it, thus keeping businesses afloat and maintaining or boosting profits. It’s socialism for the rich, as modern corporatism has been described. Just as welfare benefits are cut or completely removed for working people and the poor, so corporatism rewards business, and particularly big business, through a system of subsidies and tax breaks. It’s why one book attacking this system was titled Take the Rich Off Welfare.

Sunak’s version of UBI also harks back to a similar scheme founded in the 1920s by the British officer, Major C.H. Douglas. Aware of the widespread poverty of his day, Douglas argued that it was ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’. The goods were available to satisfy people’s needs, but they were unable to afford them. He therefore recommended that the government should issue vouchers to solve this problem and enable people to buy the goods they desperately needed.

The idea has never really taken off. It was included among the policies Oswald Mosley adopted for his New Party after it split from Labour in the late ’20s and early ’30s. There was also a Social Credit party in British Columbia in Canada, though I believe that’s an extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant party for Anglophone Whites which doesn’t actually support the Social Credit economic policy.

I’ve also seen something extremely similar to Social Credit used as the basis for an SF story. In Frederick Pohl 1950’s novella, ‘The Midas Plague’, the poor are bombarded with expensive goods and services which they must use and consume. They are punished if they don’t. As a result, in terms of material conditions the position of rich and poor is reversed: the poor live opulent lives, while the rich, who have to own their own possessions, live much more austerely. The whole point of this is to keep the economy booming and industry expanding.

We haven’t yet got to that point, and I don’t we ever will, if only because the wealthy ruling class, on whose behalf the Tories govern, are so against letting the poor get anything for free. Even when they need and deserve it. But unemployment is set to increase due to automation in the workplace. It’s been forecast that over the next 20 years about a 1/3 of jobs will be lost. 21st century Britain, and indeed much of the rest of the Developed World, could look like Judge Dredd’s MegaCity 1, where over 95 per cent of the population is unemployed and lives on welfare.

If that ever happens, then the government will need to implement something like Social Credit in order to give people both enough to live on and support business and industry.

Not that Sunak need go that far just yet. One of the reasons F.D. Roosevelt introduced state unemployment insurance for Americans as part of his New Deal was also to support industry. He, and liberal and socialist economists in Britain realized that if you give people money to support themselves during a recession, they will spend their way out of it. Both the poor, the unemployed and industry benefits. We could do the same now, by giving people a genuine living wage, raising unemployment and other benefits up to a level so that people can actually live on them and abolish the five-week waiting period and the sanctions system so that people don’t have to rely on food banks to save them from starvation.

But this would contradict the Tories’ favoured policies of keeping working people and the poor hungry and desperate.

Bristol Police Were Right Not To Stop Colston Statue Being Toppled

June 9, 2020

The police were present at the Black Lives Matter demo on Sunday at which the statue of the slaver, Edward Colston, was pulled down, hauled to the harbour and thrown in. They did not try stop it, and are now being questioned and taken to task about their refusal to interfere. ITN interviewed their chief on the 6 O’clock news last night. I can’t remember what he said exactly, but it was that the demonstration was peaceful and non-violent. Zelo Street has reported that ITN weren’t the only people, who wanted a word with the rozzers about that. According to the Times, Home Secretary Priti Patel has called in the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police, Andy Marsh, to demand and explanation. She has also said that she wants those responsible to face prosecution.

There are several aspects to this. Zelo Street quotes the Secret Barrister, who makes the point that Patel has no business telling anyone whom the state should prosecute. That’s the role of the Crown Prosecution Service. She is interfering with the independent prosecutorial process. Which is yet more proof that she doesn’t understand and respect the independent of the judicial system and is unfit to be Home Secretary.

Zelo Street also argues that the story is another piece of misdirection on the part of the Tory media. Patel has imposed a fortnight’s quarantine period for those entering the country. But the Metro today claimed that this wouldn’t do anything to stop the spread of Covid-19 but would just harm business. So the Times tries getting people to look the other way at what she’s doing about all those dreadful protesters.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/priti-patel-says-look-over-there.html

I actually think Marsh was quite right for the police not to try to stop the demonstrators attacking the statue. The statue is extremely controversial and people have been campaigning for its removal for years. Unlike some of the protests elsewhere, there doesn’t appear to have been any attacks on the police themselves. No-one appears to have been hurt, and no shops or businesses were attacked and looted. As for the statue, it is only a statue. Obviously it’s going to cost the council taxpayer for the authorities to haul it out of the harbour, but it isn’t a person or someone’s home or business.

That could so easily have changed if the police had got involved. The crowd would have resisted or tried to fight back. What was a peaceful demonstration would have become a riot. People could have been killed or injured, and the businesses around the Centre attacked and trashed. And also it wouldn’t look good for the police themselves. The cops everywhere have got a reputation for racism. Having them defend the statue of a slaver would have added to it. I can image it causing more angry denunciations of the police and more protests about police brutality and Bristolian racism.

Any attempt to interfere on the cops’ part would have led to violence and further unrest. The police were right to try to preserve order and the safety of people and their livelihoods by stopping the attack on the statue. Patel is wrong to tell them that they should.

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part One

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Introduction

This is a great book. It’s the kind of book on socialism I was very much looking for in the 1980s when the papers were all praising Margaret Thatcher and alleged superiority of capitalism to the heavens. What I wanted then was a classic defence of socialism, which clearly showed the destructive nature and defects of capitalism, and how these would be removed for the better under a proper socialist government with a clear idea of what needed to be done and how it could be achieved.

This is a rather long review, so I’ve split up into four parts.

The book was written between 1924 and 1928, when it was first published. George Bernard Shaw is one of the great figures in British socialism. An Irishman, he was one of the founders of the Fabian Society along with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and editor of its anthology of socialist writings, Fabian Essays. He’s best known for his play Pygamalion, about a linguist, Henry Higgins, who takes Eliza, a rough working class girl, and tries to mould her so she can pass as a lady of the genteel classes. It was filmed as the musical My Fair Lady, starring Rex Harrison.

Shaw wrote it between 1924 and 1928, when it was published, at the request of his sister-in-law, Lady Cholmondley. She had asked him to write a letter explaining socialism for women. Shaw looked into it, and discovered that amongst the masses of literature about socialism, there weren’t any books that realised that there were such creatures. And, he adds in his ‘Instead of a Bibliography’, very few that recognised the existence of men either. The book’s addressed to a female audience. The reader is a ‘she’ and the examples given are taken from women’s lives, jobs and experience. Shaw recognises that most women are occupied as wives and mothers, or shop girls and workers in the great weaving mills, the common female roles at the time. But he also recognises and fully supports the fact that more professions were being opened up to women in science, law, medicine and so on. If done badly, this approach by a male writer can seem patronising, but Shaw, as a great writer, manages to avoid it. And even though it’s aimed at women, I greatly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to other blokes.

Capital, Equality of Incomes and Imperialism

Shaw tries to present complex ideas about capitalism by simplifying them down to the level of ordinary people’s housekeeping or domestic economy. He defines capital as left over money. It’s the money you have left after spending your income on rent, food and so on. This is the money that the idle rich, the landlords, invest in industry. And money’s only real value is for the food and clothing that it will purchase. You cannot eat money, and the food it will buy must be eaten or else it will be spoilt. Which means that money must be invested and used, rather than stored up.

At the heart of Shaw’s view of socialism is the equalization of incomes. He believed that everyone should earn exactly the same amount. Capitalism had created vast inequalities of wealth. On the one hand there was a small minority of the idle rich, who had to invent pastimes and diversions in order to use up their wealth. On the other was the vast mass of the poor, living at or near starvation level. He begins by asking the reader how they would divide up the nation’s wealth, challenging the reader to think for herself rather than let him do her thinking for her. He then proceeds to argue that it is impossible to decide that one person should be paid more or less than another because of their personal morality or ability. He sharply criticises the quasi-feudal economy of his day, when 90 per cent of the country worked to support the gentry, who only comprised ten per cent of the country’s population. They do nothing for it, don’t benefit from it, as they can’t personally eat or drink more than anyone else. And instead of investing it, they simply take it out of the country to invest it or spend it abroad. He also attacks British imperialism for this same thing. It hasn’t benefited the peoples we have conquered nor British tradespeople, businessmen and workers. It has led to the exploitation of Blacks abroad, who can paid far less than their British counterparts. Thus Britain is flooded with cheap imports, and British companies are going bust and their workers laid off.

The Progress of Capitalism and Decline of the Businessman Owner

Shaw then describes how the middle class have their origins as the younger sons of the aristocracy, with a few acute remarks on the absurd gradations of class which meant that a wholesaler was socially superior to a retailer. His father was a businessman, who had been a member of the gentry. As such he looked down on the elite Dublin shopkeepers, even though they were richer and entertained the local Irish aristocracy, which he very definitely couldn’t. But business was changing. The age of the small businessman in personal possession of his business, was giving way to joint-stock companies owned by their shareholders and managed by professional, salaried staff. Under pressure from the unions, they were combining to  form monopolistic trusts. This made them ready for nationalisation.

Nationalisation and the Coal Industry

He presents the coal industry as particularly needing nationalisation. At the time he wrote, there were a number of different mining companies. Some worked poor mines and were close to bankruptcy, others very rich. However, miners wages were set at the level the poor mines could afford, which was near starvation. Coal prices were set for the rich mines, and so prices were high. The miners were thus being starved and the consumer overcharged. The mines should thus be nationalised so that the workers were paid a fair wage, and the consumer a fair price. Shaw advocated nationalisation so that costs and prices could be brought down and goods sold at cost price.

Banks and the Stock Market

He also discusses and explains finance capitalism, stocks and shares, debentures, futures and the stock market. He warns the reader against get-rich-quick scams, like the bucket shops which will charge his prices for very risky shares. If people want to invest, they should do so with the government or municipality. Their shares won’t provide a great yield, but they will be safe. He recommends that banks should be nationalised because of the problems the small businessman had acquiring capital. The big businesses rely on financiers, who certainly won’t lend the small businessman wanting a modest loan anything. Neither will the banks. He pointed to Birmingham as an example for the future, as it had established a municipal bank to serve the customers the big banks wouldn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Private Eye on the Problems of the Government’s Medical Central Purchasing Company

May 7, 2020

Mike’s article about the government’s privatisation and centralisation of the purchasing of PPE and other essential medical equipment for combating the Coronavirus follows a report in last fortnight’s Private Eye for 21st April – 7th May 2020 about the problems besetting the state-owned company the Tories had set up to do this. Centralising the purchase of PPE was supposed to lead to massive NHS savings. However, according to the Eye it has led instead only to its chiefs awarding themselves massive salaries, and staff shortages and poor pay at the bottom. The article on page 10, ‘SKIMPING OUTFITS’ runs

The government-owned company struggling to supply masks, gloves, aprons and eye protection to hospitals and GPS was set up explicitly to reduce spending on NHS supplies.

Supply Chain Coordination LTD (SCCL) has been in charge of procuring NHS supplies and the warehouses and lorries getting PPE out to the NHS since April 2018. The government argued that one centralised buying system would “generate savings of £2.4bn over a five-year period” through “efficiency”. In fact it has led to big salaries at the top and lower pay and staff shortages at the bottom.

SCCL was set up as a government-owned company in response to the Carter review of NHS productivity. Lord (Patrick) Carter argued that too many NHS trusts buying their own kit was inefficient and the government could “rationalise the procurement landscape, reduce spend and consolidate purchasing power”. Jin Sahota was brought in as SCCL chief executive from French media firm Technicolor on £230,000 a year, after the government allowed higher salaries for “commercial staff”. I’ll be absolutely blunt”, he told Civil Service World last year, “If the salary levels were somewhat different, maybe it wouldn’t have attracted me.”

In May 2019, Rob Houghton, former Post Office chief information officer, was made SCCL’s “IT focused” director. As the last Eye’s special report on the Post Office’s Horizon IT scandal noted, in 2016 Houghton launched a review into the malfunctioning system, which was mysteriously abandoned. The courts later found that a matter of “great concern”.

SCCL manages procurement of NHS bulk supplies and contracts distribution of NHS essentials through a five-year, £730m deal signed in 2018 with UK logistics firm Unipart, which runs the NHS warehouses and lorry deliveries. In September 2018, Steve Barclay (then a health minister, now at the Treasury) said the SCCL/ Unipart deal was “streamlining” the NHS.

Meanwhile, £500m is being taken from NHS trusts to fund the new system and “incentivise” trusts to use it. However, any “savings” delivered look more like penny-pinching than efficiency: in December, HGV and 7.5 tonne drivers on the SCCL/ Unipart contract had to threaten strike action to get decent sick pay and push their rate above an industry low of £10.24 an hour.

At the start of April, union Unite said warehouse staff were exhausted and struggling to keep up with demand. In a cuts-driven system, there was no slack to deal with the extra burden of a pandemic. The government’s solution was to send in the army to help in the warehouses. This has provided some relief – but once the immediate crisis passes, will it return to its ill-conceived “savings” plan?

It looks like Boris’ decision to privatise the purchasing process is a result of this company’s embarrassing failure. But Deloitte and co. aren’t going to fare much better, if at all. What’s at fault is the whole notion of centralisation itself. This was used to destroy local DHSS and inland revenue offices in the 1980s and 1990s, all in the name of efficiency. I don’t believe it made the process any more efficient. In fact, given the delays benefit claimants experienced in the processing of their claims, even before IDS’ stupid and murderously destructive Universal Credit was rolled out, it made it much, much worse.

It also won’t solve the problem of a poorly paid, overworked and demoralised staff working flat out for a grossly overpaid senior management. This is now general throughout business and what used to be the civil service. It’s how the outsourcing companies were able to generate their profits in the first place – they laid off staff in order to give their shareholders nice fat dividends and senior management nice fat salaries and bonuses.

What is causing the problems is the Tories’ decimation of the NHS across its services. As Mike and others have reported, other countries like Germany were able to respond more effectively to the pandemic because they had spare capacity in beds. But the Tories had removed that in the NHS in the name of efficiency.

It’s time these false economies were wound up. Purchasing should be handed back to NHS trusts, and the NHS and the rest of the civil service properly funded.

And the Tories and their obsession with centralisation, rationalisation, privatisation and rewarding overpaid, greedy managers and board chairmen thrown out of government.

Cartoon – The Tories: Nightmares of the Flesh

March 23, 2020

Here’s another of my cartoons lampooning and attacking their Tories and their noxious leading members. In this case, it’s influenced by a few of the ‘body horror’ films of the 1980s – The Thing, Society and From Beyond, and one of the early ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strips in 2000 AD, ‘Killerwatt’. Body horror is that part of the Horror genre, where the human body mutates and takes on warped, twisted forms, though I think it can also include the ‘torture porn’ subgenre, in which people are tortured and mutilated.

In The Thing, an American base in the Antarctic discovers a crashed UFO, from which an alien escaped to infect members of the base’s team and their animals. The alien replicates and hides by infecting other creatures, devouring them at a cellular level but copying their form – until it finally reveals itself by twisting itself into weird, hideous forms. As the bodies mount, and successive characters are revealed to have been infected and taken over, paranoia mounts. The horror is as much in the fear and distrust the characters have of each other, as of the grotesque appearances of the Thing itself.

From Beyond, directed by Stuart Gordon is roughly based on the short story, ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’ by H.P. Lovecraft. However, the film bears little resemblance to the story that inspired it. In the film, two scientists, Tillinghast and Dr. Pretorius, are using a device, the resonator, to peer into a unseen dimension surrounding our own and its denizens. Tillingast is arrested for murder after one of the creatures from that dimension then appears and bites the head off his superior, Pretorius. He takes a curious policeman and a female psychiatrist from the mental hospital in which he has been confined back to his laboratory, and set the resonator running to show them he’s telling the truth. But each time they switch on the machine, Pretorius appears, in progressively grotesque forms as it is revealed that he’s become a monster of hideous appetites. The slogan for the movie was ‘Humans are such easy prey’.

In Society, directed by Gordon’s collaborator, Brian Yuzna, the horror is mixed with social comment aimed squarely at the class system of Reagan’s America. It’s hero is a teenage lad, Bill Whitney, who finds out that he’s really adopted, and his upper class family, their friends and colleagues, are really monsters. These creatures have total control of their bodies, which they can deform and twist like rubber or plastic. They are predatory and exploitative, feeding on ordinary humans in orgies in which they melt down almost to a liquid state to feast on their victims.

It’s hard not to see this as a comment on the exploitative, predatory nature of the rich business class set free by Reagan and the Republicans.

But these films were anticipated in their horrors by 2000 AD and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’. Created by comics veterans Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, the strip was set thousands of years in the future, when humanity had moved underground, away from the devastated surface and the planet’s name was now Termight. Ruling Termight was Torquemada, grand master of the Terminators, a quasi-monastic order, who had turned humanity’s fear of intelligent aliens into a religion and led wars of extermination against them. Opposed to him was the alien hero, Nemesis, and his resistance organisation, Credo. The character first appeared in the two ‘Comic Rock’ strips, ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Killerwatt’ in 1980, several years before the above films. In the latter story, the alien chased Torquemada down the teleport wires the grand master was using to get to his capital, Necropolis, after his train journey overland was interrupted by a gooney bird, a colossal bird creature resembling, or evolved from, the Concorde airplane. As the two raced down the wires, they had to cross the Sea of Lost Souls, a nightmare sea of neutrons and twisted bodies created when a gooney bird sat on the teleport wires.

Two panels showing the Sea of Lost Souls from ‘Killerwatt’. Art by that zarjaz master of the macabre, Kevin O’Neill.

In this cartoon, I’ve drawn a similar landscape, complete with surfers, where the denizens of the sea are Tory politicos. They are Boris Johnson, David Gauke, Dominic Cummings, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nicky Morgan and Theresa May. I hope you enjoy it, and that it doesn’t give you nightmares. Oh yes, and what you see behind them is supposed to be giant tongues, in case you thought it was anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Channel 4 Threatened by the Tories with Privatisation… Again

February 6, 2020

The ‘Viewpoint’ column in next week’s Radio Times, for the 8th to 14th February 2020, contains an article by Maggie Brown, ‘Saving Thatcher’s baby’, about the problems confronting Channel 4. It begins

In 2020, Channel 4 is facing a number of challenges. Its staff are scattered to the winds, Channel 4 News is under attack from the Government, and the threat of privatisation looms. Is the pioneering broadcaster, which was launched in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher, facing an endgame?

She then describes how the broadcaster has moved its headquarters out of London and into Leeds, with hubs in Glasgow and Bristol with more programmes filmed in the regions, such as Manchester and Wales, and changes to the broadcasting schedules with the introduction of new programmes. One of these will be Taskmaster, taken from the Dave digital channel. Brown comments that the programme’s acquisition by Channel 4 is an attempt to boost audiences, but is also ‘a symptom of the tricky compromises and tightrope that C4 has to walk.’ She continues

It is a public service broadcaster “funded by advertising, owned by you”. It must also rally support as an alternative public service broadcaster to the BBC in the face of a hostile Conservative government that is needled by its mischievous independence and most recent mockery (that melting ice sculpture after Boris Johnson failed to show up for a climate change debate).

But relations with Conservative governments have always been tense, with liberal Channel 4 News and tough current affairs programmes such as Dispatches the lightning conductors. After the climate change debate last November, privatisation was immediately threatened again: a knee-jerk response.

She ends the piece by stating that the broadcaster’s business team will remain in London. She sees this as an indication that the broadcaster will not only confound the pessimist’s predictions of its impending demise, but will actually thrive. The business team have the Thatcherite values of self-reliance, and it’s this quality that will allow the broadcaster not only to survive but flourish.

Hm. Possibly. My own feeling is that if Channel 4’s business team manages to save the broadcaster, it won’t be because of an nebulous ethos of ‘self-reliance’, but because it will reflect the views and demands of metropolitan business. The same businesses that fund the Tory party.

She is, however, right about the Tories having a persistent distrust of the broadcaster. Thatcher set Channel 4 up in order to be an alternative to BBC 2. It was to serve communities that the Beeb channel didn’t, like ethnic minorities. It was also to excel in news coverage, as well as alternative arts and sports. By the latter, Denis Thatcher actually meant yachting. What that meant in practice was that the programme broadcast opera, as well as Indian cinema, a serial of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, a history of the madrigal, the pop show, The Tube, and a variety of comedy shows. These included Who Dares  Wins, a sketch show whose cast include Rory McGrath and Tony Robinson, the classic satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, and Desmond’s, which was set in a Black barbers, and launched a wave of Black comedian in Britain. It also had a history of Africa presented by the White afro-centric historian, Basil Davidson, and a news programme about the continent with Black presenters and reporters.  It also showed Max Headroom, which consisted of pop videos hosted by the eponymous Max, the world’s first computer-generated video jockey. Offsetting all the highbrow stuff were sexually explicit films and programmes, which was the closest teenage schoolchildren could get to viewing porn before the internet. It was the sexually explicit stuff that particularly annoyed the Daily Mail, who branded the broadcaster’s controller at the time, Michael Grade, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’. The Channel responded to this by broadcasting programmes for gays and lesbians. Amid the furore, one of the most sensible comments was made by the archdeacon of York. When they asked the good churchman what his view of the broadcaster showing a series about lesbians, he replied, ‘Well, who’s going to watch that if there’s Clint Eastwood on the other?’ Quite. Now I understand that one of the channels is bringing back The ‘L’ Word, a lesbian soap opera first shown at the beginning of this century. Quite apart from Channel 4’s own gay soap opera, Queer As Folk.

Private Eye seemed to regard Channel 4 back then as condescending and pretentious. Its literary reviewer sharply criticised a book by its then chief, Jeremy Isaacs, because he made it plain he wanted to bring the British public material like miner’s oral history and so on. When people complained that people didn’t want some of this, Isaacs replied that they had latent needs, needs they didn’t know they had, until someone showed them the material they’d been missing. It was this comment that particularly aroused the reviewer’s ire. But Isaac’s was right. Sometimes you don’t know if there’s a demand for a subject, until you offer people the chance of trying it. And Channel 4 really tried to expand, create and satisfy a market for culture. Oliver Letwin, the former sketchwriter for the Daily Mail and now the Times, actually praised the broadcaster for this in his book, Bog Standard Britain. The broadcaster’s programming always hit and miss. Amid the good stuff there was also much material that was rubbish. And while it had the reputation as rather left-wing, it also carried a programme of political discussion for Conservatives, Right Talk. On the other hand, its opera performances actually managed to reach a decently sized audience, showing that ordinary Brits wanted and would watch highbrow culture.

Its average audience, however, was tiny, and there was pressure on the broadcaster, like the Beeb, to produce more popular programmes to give the British public value for money. Hence the channel became much more mainstream in the 1990s. Its audience grew as expected, but the country lost out as the channel no longer tried to expand the public’s minds and tastes as it once had. And as I said, this was lamented by Letwin, among others, a supporter of the very party that had spent so much time decrying and criticising the channel for being too daring and alternative.

If I remember correctly, the Tories have privatised the channel before. There have been at least two part-privatisations, where the government has sold off some of its share in it. One was under Thatcher, when she was privatising everything. I think the other may have been under Major, who continued her programme. I have a feeling that the second privatisation may have been a cynical move by the Tories to try and work up some enthusiasm for the government. It was announced with the fanfare the Tories usually gave the privatisations, presenting them as some kind of exciting generous opportunity granted to Britain’s workers. Thatcher was trying to create a shareholder democracy, where ordinary people would own shares as participants in capitalism. That’s all died the death a long time ago. The shares given to the workers in the privatised industries have all been sold on, and are now in the hands of a few big businessmen. The council houses she sold off have been bought by private housing associations for profit, and there’s now a housing shortage. And the privatisations were never as popular as the Tories tried to make us all believe to begin with. Support for them, according to polls done at the time, never rose about fifty per cent.

Channel 4 news has a reputation for excellence. Which is undoubtedly why the Tories now despise it and are discussing privatisation again. Britain’s publicly owned broadcasters are under threat because they are obstacles to Murdoch, the Americans and the British private broadcasters, who fund the Tories, dominating British television. They also despise them because they’re supposed to be impartial, unlike the private networks, which would be free to have whatever bias their proprietors chose. And besides, as this week’s attempts to dictate to the media, who could and could not attend BoJob’s precious lobby briefings shows, the Tories want to impose ever more restrictive controls over the media. The end result of that process, if it goes on is, is the rigorous, authoritarian censorship of totalitarianism.

I dare say that if the Tories do go ahead and privatise the Beeb and/or Channel 4, it’ll be presented as some kind of great liberalisation. The British public will be freed from having to support them, and they will have to take their chances in the market place, according to the tenets of Thatcherism. But if that happens, public service broadcasting will have been destroyed along with what should have been cornerstones of media impartiality.

But considering how relentless biased the Beeb has been against Labour and in favour of the Tories, their news desk has done much to destroy that already.

Lobster on How the Beeb Became Tory Propaganda Outlet

January 13, 2020

Robin Ramsay has begun putting up articles on the latest issue of Lobster, no. 79, for summer 2020. In his ‘View from the Bridge’ section he has posted this piece, which was written  posted on Facebook by the former Beeb journalist, Marcus Moore, on how the Tories turned the Beeb into their own pet propaganda mouthpiece.

‘A number of changes made during the last seven years or so, spearheaded by David Cameron, have led to the corporation’s news and politics departments becoming little more than ventriloquists’ dummies. Of particular note are the following:

a) important posts at the BBC being filled by pro-government figures from the private sector (Rona Fairhead, David Clementi, James Harding,Robbie Gibb etc)

b) direct links with the manipulative tabloid press being strengthened by Downing Street giving important positions to dubious characters like Andy Coulson and Craig Oliver

c) the subsequent recruitment of people like Alison Fuller Pedley (of Mentorn Media), who is responsible for choosing who gets to be in the Question Time audience, and Sarah Sands (formerly of the Telegraph, Mail and Evening Standard) who now edits Radio 4’s Today programme

d) all of the above follows Cameron’s appointment, in June 2010, of John Browne (Baron Browne of Madingley) to the post of ‘Lead NonExecutive Director’ for Downing Street, his role being that of ‘recruiting business leaders to reformed departmental boards’ – Browne’s questionable history at BP notwithstanding (remember Deep Horizon!)

e) how all of this quiet, underhand activity has been largely unreported,but has given the current Conservative government immense power within fashionable and influential circles.’

See: https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster79/lob79-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

All of which means that the Beeb isn’t remotely an impartial broadcaster, as it purports to be and should be by law. I’ve said that the Beeb makes some excellent programmes. It does, and this season’s Dr. Who has been a case in point. But its news reporting is irredeemable.

As far as I’m concerned, everyone in it should be sacked, and especially Laura Kuenssberg and Nick Robinson.