Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives’

Private Eye on Johnson’s Appointment of Neocon as Anti-Extremism Chief

April 14, 2021

A few weeks ago the Labour left staged an event on Zoom in which a series of Labour MPs and activists, including the head of the Stop the War Coalition, explained why socialists needed to be anti-war. They stated that after going quiet following the debacles of the Iraq invasion, Libya and elsewhere, the Neocons were being rehabilitated. There was therefore a real danger that the ideology behind those wars was returning, and Britain and America would embark on further imperialist, colonialist wars. And now, according to this fortnight’s Private Eye, for 16th – 29th April, 2021, Boris Johnson has appointed Robin Simcox, a Neocon, as head of the government’s Commission on Countering Extremism. Simcox is a member of the extreme right-wing Henry Jackson Society, firmly backing the wars in the Middle East. He also supported the rendition of terrorists to countries, where they would be tortured, as well as drone strikes and detention without trial. And when he was in another right-wing American think tank, the Heritage Foundation, he objected to White supremacist organisations also being included in the American government’s efforts to counter violent extremism.

The Eye’s article about his appointment, ‘Brave Neo World’, on page 14, runs

Robin Simcox, appointed as the new head of the government’s Commission on Countering Extremism (CCE), has neoconservative view that will themselves seem pretty extreme to many observers. He replaces Sara Khan, the first head of the CCE, which Theresa May set up in 2017 as “a statutory body to help fight hatred and extremism”.

Simcox was researcher at the neoconservative think tank the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), before leaving for the US to become “Margaret Thatcher fellow” at the conservative Heritage Foundation. He was also a regular contributor to Tory website ConservativeHome, writing there in 2011 that David Cameron was wrong to criticise neoconservatives “what has been happening in the Middle East is proving the neocons right” (ie that invasions could build democracies.

In a 2013 study for the HJS, Simcox argued: “Rendition, drones, detention without trial, preventative arrests and deportations are the realities of the ongoing struggle against today’s form of terrorism; they are not going to disappear, because they have proved extremely effective.” Rendition meant the US and UK handing terror suspects over to nations such as Libya or Egypt so they could be tortured for information. He complained that politicians “failed to adequately explain to the public” why these methods were needed and were “failing to explain that the complexities of dealing with modern-day terrorism meant that not all roads lead to a court of law”.

Simcox spent many years looking at Islamist terrorism, but at the Heritage Foundation he argued that making “white supremacy” the subject of a “countering violent extremism policy” was mostly driven by “political correctness” and could be “overreach”, regardless of the terrorist acts by white racists in the UK, US and elsewhere.

Simcox has been appointed interim lead commissioner of the CCE, possibly because bring him in as a temp means his recruitment wasn’t subject to the same competition and inspection as a permanent appointment.

Johnson has therefore appointed as head of the commission an extreme right-winger, who supports unprovoked attacks on countries like Iraq and Libya. The argument that these invasions were intended to liberate these nations from their dictators was a lie. It was purely for western geopolitical purposes, and particularly to remove obstacles to western political hegemony and dominance of the oil industry in the region. In the case of Iraq, what followed was the wholesale looting of the country. Its oil industry was acquired by American-Saudi oil interests, American and western multinationals stole its privatised state industries. The country’s economy was wrecked by the lowering of protectionist trade tariffs and unemployment shot up to 60 per cent. The country was riven with sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia, American mercenaries ran drugs and prostitution rings and shot ordinary Iraqis for kicks. The relatively secular, welfare states in Iraq and Libya, which gave their citizens free education and healthcare vanished. As did a relatively liberal social environment, in which women were to be regarded as equals and were free to pursue careers outside the home. And western intervention in the Middle East created an environment leading to the further, massive growth in Islamist extremism in al-Qaeda and then Daesh. And this has led to the return of slavery. This was Islamist sex-slavery under Daesh in the parts of Iraq under their jackboot, while Black Africans are being enslaved and sold by Islamists in slave markets that have reappeared in Libya.

Domestically, Simcox’s appointment is also ominous. He clearly doesn’t believe in human rights and the protection of the law. Just as he doesn’t believe in tackling White supremacist extremism, even though at one point there were more outrages committed by White racists than Islamists.

His appointment is part of continuing trend towards real Fascism, identified by Mike over at Vox Political, of which the Tories proposed curtailment of the freedom to demonstrate and protest in public is a major part. At the same time, it also appears to bear out the Labour left’s statement that the warmongers responsible for atrocities like Iraq and Libya are coming back. And I fear very much that they will start more wars.

The people warning against this and organising to defend real freedom of speech is the Labour left, whatever the Tories might say about ill-thought out legislation designed to outlaw ‘hate speech’. We need to support left politicos like Richard Burgon, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Diana Abbott and Apsana Begum. The last three ladies, along with former head of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, held another Zoom event as part of the Arise festival of left Labour ideas, Our right to resist – the Tory attacks on our civil liberties & human rights, in March. We need to support the Stop the War Coalition, because I’m afraid the Tories and the Blairite right in the Labour party will start more wars.

Blair lied, people died. And Johnson lies as easily and as often as other people breathe. If not stopped, the Neocons will start more wars and more innocents will be massacred for the profit of big business.

Tories Now Want to Set Up Privately Run ‘Secure Schools’

April 10, 2021

This is really alarming, considering the appalling record of the outsourcing giants running the privatised prisons. Mike put up a piece yesterday suggesting a possible reason for Gavin Williamson’s absurd statement that pupils’ behaviour had got worse during the lockdown and absence from school. Mike and myself both noted that there was zero evidence for this. In fact a friend of mine, who is a school governor, believed the children at her school were actually better behaved. And it seems this friend isn’t alone. Mike put up a series of quotes from people in education saying very clearly that children’s behaviour hadn’t deteriorated. One of them even said it had improved. Williamson’s statement is thus pure nonsense.

But there is a possible explanation for it in the Tories’ proposed change to the school system, which in fact is a further expansion of the prison-industrial complex. He wants to introduce privately run ‘secure schools’. This sounds to many concerned educationalists like the return of the Young Offenders Institutions. One of those, who oppose this plan, is Zahra Bei, who fears that they will be a ‘fast track to prison’. The Tories have said that they won’t be ‘prisons with education’, but I really don’t put much faith in that considering the Tories appalling record of lying as easily as most people breathe. Private companies have so far been excluded from running such schools, but the government wants to reform this legislation so that they can do so under the guise of charities. This seems to me to be already a scandalous disaster in waiting, considering the mess companies like G4S, Serco and the rest of them have made of running adult prisons and migrant detention centres. It was only a few years ago that conditions in privately run prisons were so appalling that the prisoners were rioting. Private Eye has also run any number of stories in its ‘Footnotes’ or ‘In The Back Column’ about the tragic deaths of young people put in adult prisons, either by their own hand or murdered by their fellow inmates. The Tory plan to start building privately run prison schools seems to me to threaten the further deaths of vulnerable young people. And this is quite apart from the horrors of their predecessors, as depicted in films like Scum.

But I can see more children being unjustly sentenced to these places as the government and the companies running them want to turn a profit and give a nice, fat dividend to the shareholders. The ‘capped crusader’ Michael Moore gave an example of such a glaring miscarriage of justice in his documentary Capitalism – A Love Story. This was the case of a teenage American girl, who was sentenced to a spell in prison. The girl had committed a trivial offence. I can’t remember what it was – it may have been simply bunking off school or underage drinking. It certainly wasn’t anything more serious. It was the kind of crime which over here would be have been punished with a small fine or so many hours community service. Or simply being grounded by her parents and having her playstation taken away for the duration. But no, the beak decided that she was such a dangerous delinquent, that only a spell in the slammer would deter her from a life of crime. Well, actually, not quite. The real reason was that the judge was on the payroll of the private company running the prison. Their profits depend on people being put in them. Hence the incentive for the esteemed lawman to put a teenage girl behind bars.

And I’m afraid the same will happen here. Williamson’s comments about the bad behaviour of all those children coming back to school seems set to prime public opinion for it. The Tories are past masters at exploiting the public’s fear of rising crime, especially by the young. Children haven’t become worse behaved because of the lockdown. In fact, Mike’s probably right when he says that they may even have become more self-disciplined because of it. But Williamson needs people to believe that children’s behaviour has got worse, so that he then has a pretext for locking them up in his new, shiny, privately run educational prisons.

When they run the risk of really getting set on a career as a crime and a lifetime in prison, or brutalised by the staff employed by private companies running the schools or the other inmates, with the dreadful prospect that some will either commit suicide or be killed by the others. Bei has said that the majority of people put in these wretched schools will be young, Black, poor and disabled. That’s a certainty, given that the prison population is generally composed of the poor and those from ethnic minorities. The number of female prisoners in the UK is comparatively small – 4,000 women compared to 80,000 or so men. But women in prison can be particularly vulnerable, especially as the majority of them aren’t violent. It’s been claimed that many of the women currently banged up are for crimes like failure to pay their TV license. But I can imagine a number of girls getting sentenced to these schools as part of Williamson’s campaign to stamp out the entirely imaginary tide of school-age crime he wants us to think is coming.

How Can I Trust Keir Starmer to Protect the NHS When Blair Wanted to Privatise It?

April 9, 2021

The parties have been running their election broadcasts this week in the run up to the local, elected mayoral and other elections in May. I caught a bit of Labour’s the other night, and wasn’t impressed. The piece I glimpsed consisted of Starmer sitting in front of the camera, urging people to vote Labour to protect it from the Tories’ privatisation. And the Tories are privatising the NHS by stealth, all under the cover of bringing in best practice from the private sector. And the Lib Dems have been exactly the same. They were the Tories’ partners in David Cameron’s wretched coalition government, which carried on the privatisations. Nick Clegg did nothing to stop it. Indeed, he gave every assistance to the Tories and seemed to be fully behind the handing over hospitals and doctor’s surgeries to private enterprise to run. Just as the Liberals and SDP were way back in 1987, when the two allied parties had declared that it didn’t matter whether doctors and hospitals were public or private, provided that the treatment was free. Except that the Tory privatisation of the NHS will definitely not retain free treatment at the point of use, as provided by the terms of the NHS’ establishment. The Tories wish to turn the NHS into a fully private system funded by private medical insurance like the American health system.

There are Labour MPs who are fighting tooth and nail to protect the NHS. I’m thinking here of the people on the Labour left, such as Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbott, Rosina Allin-Khan. I also believe that others from the Labour right are doing so. At one meeting of my constituency party here in south Bristol, our local MP Karen Smyth said she joined the Labour party and became an MP because she was so appalled at what Cameron and co. were doing to the Health Service.

But I find Starmer’s claim that he will protect our NHS much less than credible. He’s an arch-Blairite, who has spent his tenure as leader so far in conjunction with the wretched NEC trying to purge the party of left-wingers and socialists. This has involved all the usual trumped-up, fake charges of anti-Semitism. And sometimes there’s no explanation given at all, like when the NEC barred three of leading Labour contenders for elected mayor of Liverpool. Worse than that, he has broken all of his leadership promises. He claimed that he would continue to uphold Labour’s manifesto promises of returning the utilities to state ownership, reversing the NHS’ privatisation and properly funding it, strengthening the welfare state and workers’ rights and restoring power to the unions. But in practice he hasn’t done any of that. It might put off all those rich donors he’s trying to attract. He has shown no real opposition to Johnson’s government, and what little he has shown has been glaringly opportunistic. So opportunistic, in fact, that right-wing windbag and broadcasting egomaniac, Julia Hartley-Brewer, asked him if there was anything in fact he stood for when he appeared on her wretched show on LBC radio.

And if this isn’t ominous enough, the fact remains that Tony Blair also went ahead with the right-wing programme of privatising the NHS. The polyclinics and health centres Blair set up were opened up to private management. He continued handing over doctors’ surgeries and hospitals to private healthcare firms. And the Community Care Groups, the groups of doctors which were supposed to manage local NHS doctors’ budgets, were granted the ability to buy in services from private sector companies, and raise money from the private sector. His Health Minister, Alan Milburn, wished the NHS to be reduced to a kitemark logo on services provided by private industry. And I fear Starmer will do exactly the same.

Brian Burden, one of the great commenters on this blog, posted this comment noting Starmer’s telling lack of opposition to another Tory appointment.

Hi, Beastrabban –

I refer you to p19 of the April 7 issue of Socialist Worker: Samantha Jones, formerly of Openrose Health, owned by US health insurance giant Centene Corporation, has recently been appointed a top adviser to Boris Johnson. Openrose took over scores of NHS GP surgeries earlier this year. Centene has faced a number of fraud and corruption law suits in USA. Socialist Worker believes that Johnson is moving towards the full privatisation of the NHS. Not a whisper from Starmer about any of this.

I wasn’t aware of this appointment, though I haven’t been paying much attention to the news recently. Not that I think it would be in the news. Ray Tallis and Jacky Davis have a whole chapter in their book, NHS – SOS to how the BBC has supported the privatisation of the Health Service. I’m not a fan of the former Socialist Workers’ Party, but I’ve no doubt they’re correct about this and are right to publicise it. And Starmer’s silence is telling.

I doubt very much that Starmer’s serious about protecting the NHS. And everyone else seems determined to privatise it with the exception of the much-reviled Labour left.

So forget the vile propaganda and smears against them and support the real people of principle who are standing up for this most precious of British institutions.

Ecuador, Socialism and the Destruction of Democracy in Latin America

April 8, 2021

Last night the Arise Festival, a series of events organised by the left-wing of the Labour party, staged a zoom talk about a possible socialist victory in the coming Ecuadorean elections, and the way the neoliberal right across the continent were trying to prevent left-wing parties and movements from forming governments. The speakers included Latin American journalists and activists as well as Brits. I regret that I was able to get no more than ten minutes of it. But what I did see was chilling.

The neolibs are clinging on to power, not through winning elections, but through using the legal system to ban and imprison their opponents on trumped up charges. In one country, the socialist party was banned from standing because the judges ruled they supported terrorism, all without any evidence or indeed any terrorism. The leading left-wing politico in Brazil, Lula, was falsely jailed on corruption charges, but has now been freed after spending 19 months in jail. And the president of one of the Latin American countries, Moreno, actually took power as a socialist but then, on obtaining office, declared that he was really a man of the right and started implementing right-wing policies.

I found this all particularly chilling as it could easily happen over here. The Tories are trying to scrap the protections Brits have under the European convention on human rights. The current wretched police and crime bill seeks to ban any protests or demonstrations they don’t like if they decide it’s going to cause a nuisance. I can see them using the judiciary to try to outlaw left-wing parties and falsely imprison politicians and activists, just as their counterparts are doing in Latin America. And Starmer is very definitely a neoliberal, but is trying to get into power by claiming he supports Corbyn’s left-wing programme.

This is all extremely frightening. So I stand in solidarity with the Latin American democratic left and urge everyone to reject the Tories’ assault on our traditional freedoms over here.

Tories Once Again Demanding Clampdown in Schools for No Reason At All

April 8, 2021

Why do the Tories hate schoolchildren? Why are they so determined to make school as miserable as possible? I ask these questions, ’cause yesterday Mike put up a piece on his blog about the education minister, Gavin Williamson. Williamson has claimed that there’s a lack of discipline in schools because children were allowed greater freedom during the lockdown. Mobile phones are a particularly destructive influence, and shouldn’t be allowed.

Now I agree with Mike about this, who does agree with Williamson. They shouldn’t be allowed in schools because of the danger that children can use them to cheat. Quite apart from the temptation amongst some pupils to play Tetris or whatever at the back of the class instead of concentrating on Miss trying to teach them trigonometry. But this isn’t a new problem. People have been talking about the problems caused by mobile phones in school ever since children started taking them into class in the ’90s. What is remarkable is Williamson going on about the lack of discipline among school students when there’s absolutely no evidence for it. I haven’t heard anyone complain about a decline in schoolchildren’s behaviour in my neck of the woods, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.

In fact, not only is there no evidence that the returning pupils are particularly badly behaved, there appears to be plenty of evidence to the contrary. One of our friends down here in south Bristol is a school governor. They told us that the children coming back to school had actually been better behaved. So where does Williamson’s claim that discipline has declined come from?

I think it’s partly due to an habitual Tory distrust of youth. Ever since the ‘youthquake’ of the 1950s and the emergence of modern youth culture, there’s been a particular distrust of young people on the right. This wasn’t entirely unwarranted. I remember the annual fights during the Bank Holidays between Mods and Rockers at Weston Super Mud and elsewhere in the country, and those were frightening. There was a rise in juvenile delinquency, and for years the papers were full of stories about the terrible lack of discipline and poor educational standards in many schools. These were real problems. Private Eye devoted a whole section in one issue to complaints from teachers about the problems they were faced with teaching entirely uninterested, disruptive and sometimes violent students, compounded with lack of support from the headmaster or the education authorities. I dare say in some schools this is still the case, but it doesn’t seem quite the issue it once was. But school discipline is something of a Tory ‘talking point’. School standards are breaking down, and it’s all due to modern, progressive schooling. Kids are being indoctrinated into rebellion by Marxist feminist teachers of ambiguous sexuality.

Except that I don’t think they are. I wondered if this was a response to events at Pimlico academy last week, when the children and some staff decided that the headmaster’s new dress code was somehow racist, as was the flying of the union flag, which some idiot decided to burn. I don’t support the protests there – I think they’re unwarranted and show instead a nasty streak of racism amongst the protesters. But as far as I can make out, it was an isolated incident that was a response to very specific circumstances that has not been repeated elsewhere.

But it also seems to fit with the Tory determination to remove any kind of joy from schooling. When the Tories took over ten years or so ago, they declared that they were going to enforce school discipline and make sure the children worked hard, introducing homework for primary school children. There does seem a determination on the Tories’ part to make school as grim as possible.

And this attitude is shared by some of the academy chains that have been brought in to run schools. Before I came down with the myeloma I did voluntary work listening to children read at one of the local school in south Bristol. This was a normal primary school, whose walls were decorated with the children’s work and paintings along with the usual school notices, and the usual hubbub when the children came in from playground or moved between classroom. It came across as a normal, happy British school, full of normal, happy children.

And then the school was handed over to an academy chain, whose headquarters, incidentally, were registered in Eire as the usual tax dodge. The whole ethos changed. When next I arrived, the walls were bare except for the school notices and children were expected to move from class to class in silence. The children still seemed to be as happy as ever, but a vital part of the school experience had been excised. The place seemed far more dour. I suppose this new austerity was to show that there was now an emphasis on learning and the importance of discipline. It now seemed actually rather joyless and forbidding. I think that putting students’ work up on school walls is enormously encouraging – it rewards pupils for their good work but putting it up for the appreciation of the rest of the school. Or the kids’ parents at parents’ evenings. Ditto with the art. I think it helps to create an attitude among schoolchildren that it is their school, and creates a sense of a common school community. It’s what makes a school a school, rather than a prison.

I think this dour, very authoritarian attitude to education comes partly from Tory authoritarianism. The people at the top set the rules, and the lower orders have to obey, work and suffer. Conditions must be made as hard as possible to encourage people to work and improve themselves. It’s an attitude they’ve introduced into the welfare system by trying to make it as hard as possible to discourage people going onto benefits. This means making benefits all but impossible to obtain and doing their best to hide the fact that people are dying as a result. Now they’re introducing it to education.

I think it also partly comes from the Japanese school system that the Tories are desperate to emulate over here. I got the impression that discipline is extremely strict in Japanese schools, with staff even checking the children’s underwear to make sure they’re the right colour. It’s so strict in fact that in one year in the ’90s, five school kids were beaten to death by their teachers. But this discipline, supposedly, has led to the Japanese and other far eastern countries leading the world in high educational standards. However, a friend of mine told me years ago that this isn’t quite the case. Yes, the east Asian countries do lead the world in their educational standards, but the discipline and extremely hard work are actually typical of a relatively few Chinese and Japanese schools, not the system as a whole. And seeing how hard the schoolchildren in these countries are expected to work, you wonder if something is being lost. Hard work is important, but childhood should also be a time for fun.

Except to the Tories and Gavin Williamson, who seems to be so obsessed with a decline in school discipline that he’s seeing it where it doesn’t actually exist. Perhaps it’s another attempt to put state schools down after the failure of the algorithm he introduced a year ago to predict exam results. This aroused massive outrage because it unfairly assumed that pupils from state schools were perform far less well than those from private schools. Mike and the peeps on Twitter have suggested that Williamson might be trying to revenge himself on schoolkids after one of them tore apart his wretched algorithm on social media.

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that there has been no decline in school discipline. In fact, I’ve heard that in some schools the kids were actually better behaved. This means, as Mike has pointed out on his blog, that children have actually developed self-discipline. And good for them!

As for Williamson, this just shows how out of touch he is with real conditions in schools, and how determined he is to push the Tory view that all schoolchildren and young people are ill-behaved and need the firm hand of authority to keep them in order.

Tory Flag-Waving Now Reaching Reaganite Proportions

April 6, 2021

Patriotism, someone once said, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And the Tories have done their best to show how true this is, especially last week when it seemed that they wasted no opportunity to wave the flag. This also led them to generate more synthetic outrage towards the BBC. Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty raised Tory ire when Stayt joked about the relatively small size of the union flag on display during an interview with Matt Hancock or one of the other Tory ministers. This led to howls from the Tory press that the Beeb was sneering at the flag. They weren’t. They were laughing about the Tory’s sheer opportunistic use of it.

It’s no accident that they’ve started waving the flag in the weeks running up to the local elections. Their performance on health, the economy, Brexit and just about everything else has been dire. They’re still trying to privatise the health service by stealth, they insulted the nurses with a 2 per cent pay rise, which is in real terms a cut in their salaries, wages are still frozen, more people are being forced into real, grinding poverty, the queues at the food banks are as long as ever, or longer. The Brexit that Boris has been so desperate to ‘get done’ is spelling disaster for Britain’s manufacturing industry, and businesses dealing with the continent and ordinary Brits wishing to travel abroad are now faced with mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy which the Brexiteers blithely assured us wouldn’t happen. Hopefully this year will see us coming out of lockdown and the Coronavirus crisis. We’ve a far higher rate of peeps receiving the vaccine than the EU, but that shouldn’t distract attention from the colossal way the Tories have mismanaged the Covid crisis as a whole. As Mike’s pointed out in one of his articles, Tory bungling and corruption – they gave vital medical contracts to companies owned and run by their friends and supporters, rather than to firms that could actually deliver – that over 100,000 people have died of the disease. One of the good peeps on Twitter has shown how this compares to the numbers killed in some of the genocides and ethnic massacres that have plagued recent decades. And the report, which was supposed to show that Britain isn’t institutionally racist, has been torn to shreds with some of the academics cited claiming they were not properly consulted and seeking to distance themselves from it. And then there are the mass demonstrations up and down the land against their attempts to outlaw any demonstration or protest they don’t like under the guise that it would be a nuisance.

And so, with all this discontent, they’ve fallen back to Thatcher’s tactics of waving the flag at every opportunity. One of the hacks at the Absurder in the 1980s said that Britain had three parties – the patriotic party, who were the Tories, the loony party, which was Labour, and the sensible party, which was the SDP/Liberals. Which showed you the paper’s liberal bias even then. The SDP, Liberals and their successors, the Lib Dems. have sold out utterly, while after four decades of Thatcherism Michael Foot’s Labour party looks far less than loony. But the hack was right about the Tories and patriotism. Thatcher waved the flag as frantically as she could and constantly invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill and World War II. One particularly memorable example of this was the Tory 1987 election broadcast, which featured Spitfires zipping about the sky while an overexcited voice told the world ‘Man was born free’ and concluded ‘It’s great to be great again’.

Here’s another feature of Fascism that’s been adopted by the Tories to add to those on Mike’s checklist. Fascism is an ideology of national rebirth and revival. Thatcher was claiming she was making us great again, just as Donald Trump claimed he was doing for America. Just as Oswald Mosley called one of his wretched books The Greater Britain. And unfortunately, as Zelo Street has also pointed out, Fascists like the Nazis have also used people’s natural loyalty to their flag as a means of generating support for their repulsive regimes. British Fascism was no different. Mosley also made great use of the flag at his rallies, and this tactic was taken over by his successors in the National Front and BNP. This has been an embarrassment to ordinary, non-racist Brits, who simply like the flag. One of my friends at school was a mod. At the time, the union flag and British bulldog formed a large part of mod imagery without meaning that the person was a racist or White supremacist. During one of the art lessons my friend started painting a picture with those two elements – the union flag and bulldog. The teacher came over and politely asked him not to do so, as he was afraid people would like at it and come to the wrong conclusion. This was just after the 1981/2 race riots, so you can understand why. But it is frustrating and infuriating that ordinary expressions of reasonable patriotism or simple pop culture iconography have become suspect due to their appropriation by the Far Right.

But the real excesses of flag-waving were to be seen over the other side of the Pond in Reagan’s America. Reagan was wrecking his country with privatisation and an assault on what the country had in the way of a welfare state, while murdering the people of countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua by supporting Fascist dictators and their death squads. But, like Thatcher, he did everything he could to use the symbols of American nationhood. Like the Stars and Stripes. A Republican party political broadcast in 1984 or thereabouts showed the American flag being raised no less than 37 times. This was so bizarrely excessive that one of the Beeb’s foreign correspondents commented on it. As far as I am aware, no-one took him to task for sneering at it.

This flag-waving is part of the Tories attempts to present themselves as the preservers of British national identity, tradition and pride against the assaults of the left, particularly Black Lives Matter and their attacks on statues. I’m not impressed with the attacks on some of the monuments, like that of Winston Churchill, even though he was a racist. But in Bristol the only statue attacked was that of the slavery and philanthropist Edward Colston. None of the other statues in and around Bristol’s town centre of Edmund Burke, Queen Victoria, Neptune and the sailors who made my city a great port, were touched. And then there was the protest last week against the new school uniform policy at Pimlico Academy in London. This ruled out the wearing of large afro hair styles. So the students started protesting it was racist. The headmaster also raised the union flag, which led the statement from one of the students, Amna Mukhtar, that it weirdly felt like they were being colonised. And then some idiot burnt the flag in protest. The headmaster has now rescinded the school’s uniform code and taken the flag down. Now I gather that one of the Tories is now calling for every school to fly the union flag.

It all reminds me of the comments the late, great comedian Bill Hicks made when Reagan and his supporters were flying the flag and their outrage when a young member of the Communist party burned it. After making jokes about the Reaganite rage and hysteria, Hicks said that he didn’t want anyone to burn the flag, but burning wouldn’t take away freedom, because it’s freedom. Including the freedom to burn the flag.

Quite. And the Tories are wrecking our country and taking away our freedoms while cynically waving the flag.

So when they start spouting about it, use your scepticism and think of Hick’s comment instead. And vote for someone else.

Wishing All My Readers A Happy Easter

April 4, 2021

This is just to wish everyone a Happy Easter. Whether you’re Christian or not, I hope everyone here has a great Easter bank holiday, despite the lockdown and the Tory government.

Students of Colour Object to Oxford Music Curriculum Because of Slavery

March 29, 2021

The Telegraph ran a story yesterday claiming that they’d received documents showing that Oxford University was considering changing their classical music course. This was because, following Black Lives Matter protests, students of colour at the university had complained that they were left very distressed by the course on European music from Machaut to Beethoven, because this was the period when the transatlantic slave trade was developing. They also made the same complaint about western music notation.

Now this comes from the Torygraph, part of Britain’s exemplary right-wing press, who are known for their rigorous commitment to journalistic truth and integrity, ho, ho. So you wonder if it true, or is the product of some Tory hack’s fevered imagination, like many of the stories about the Labour party produced by Guido Fawkes. Is this all made up to discredit Black Lives Matter?

Thinking about the issue, it seems very much to me that the problem isn’t the curriculum’s links to colonialism, but an attitude of entitlement and the cultural prejudices of the rich and monumentally uninformed.

Let’s deal with their objection that western musical notation developed during the time of the Black slave trade. As the Torygraph pointed out, it didn’t. It developed before the transatlantic slave trade from the church’s Gregorian Chant. This is absolutely true. The origin of the western musical tradition is in the music written for church services. This soon expanded to take in secular subjects, such as the courtly lyrics of the troubadours, the celebration of kings and princes, drinking, war, and just about every aspect of life. As a genre, the emergence of western classical music has nothing to do with the slave trade. Machaut, the French composer mentioned as the beginning of that part of the Oxford music course, lived in the 12th century, three centuries or so before the development of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th. The modern system of musical notation was also developed in that century by Guido d’Arezzo. The scale, Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Te Do, comes from the initial syllables of a line in the Latin Mass. And whoever thinks that Beethoven is connected to the slave trade is clean out of their tiny mind. Beethoven, I think, was a German liberal with a profound sympathy for the ideals of the French Revolution. His Eroica was originally dedicated to Napoleon, until the Corsican bandit invaded Austria. His Ode to Joy looks forward to a world where nations live together in peace and fraternity. Furthermore, it’s also been suggested that he may have had Black ancestry. Either way, I doubt very much that he had any sympathy for slavery or any other form of human servitude whatsoever.

The complaint about that part of the music course is just so wrong, that I do wonder about the motives of the people making these complaints. Assuming they exist, and that the complaints are genuine. Because the complaints are so wrong, and so ignorant, that either the complaint is some kind of mickey-take, or else the people making them are simply monumentally stupid and lazy. For example, what kind of individual, who seriously wants to learn music, objects to learning the notation? Yes, people can and do play by ear, and many non-western musical traditions don’t have a system of notation. But if you seriously want to play music, and certainly if you’re studying it an advanced level, then understanding its notation is very much a basic requirement. This includes not only classical music, but also Jazz, rock and pop. Much of this is composed through improvisation and jam sessions by the musicians themselves, and its form of reproduction is primarily through records rather than print. But nevertheless, they’re also published as sheet music. I’ve got several books of pop, rock and Jazz music on my shelves. They’re published as sheet music as people not only want to listen to some of these great pieces, but also play them for themselves.

So basic is an understanding of written music as well as the development of western music from the Middle Ages onwards, that I really do wonder if the people behind these complaints actually want to study music, or do so to the extent that they have to do some serious work that might stretch them. It doesn’t look like they do to me. I also wonder why, if they consider western music so intimately linked to colonialism and slavery that it causes them distress, that, if they’re foreign, they wanted to come to Europe to study it.

It’s therefore occurred to me that, if the complaints are real, the people doing the complaining may not actually want to study the subject. They just want the cachet of studying at Oxford. Years ago I read a history of Japan, which warned about giving in to the insularism and xenophobia of many Japanese. The Japanese highly value an education at Oxbridge and/ or the British public schools (God help them!) but they don’t like mixing with non-Japanese. Thus one or the other of Oxford or Cambridge was building a separate college to accommodate Japanese students so they wouldn’t have the inconvenience of mixing with people of other nationalities. Perhaps something similar is the case here? Do they want the prestige that goes with an Oxford education, but have their own racist prejudices about European culture and music?

If this is the case, then it’s a scandal. It’s a scandal because education at one of Britain’s leading universities is being dumbed down for these morons. It’s a scandal because it cheapens the real problems of Britain’s Black community, which were behind many of the Black Lives Matter protests. For example, there’s a programme on the Beeb this evening investigating the reasons Black British mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than Whites. It’s a scandal because there are doubtless plenty of kids of all colours in the UK, who would just love to study music at Oxford and have a genuine love of classic music. There’s a campaign at the moment to get more Black and Asians into orchestras. It’s been found that people from these ethnicities are seriously underrepresented. Hence there’s an orchestra, Chinikwe!, purely for non-Whites, in order to produce more Black and Asian orchestral musicians. This has also followed attempts to recover the works of Black classical composers. Back in the 1990s one of the French labels issued a CD of harpsichord pieces written by Black composers. Earlier this year, Radio 3 also played the music of Black classical composers. The best known Black British classical composer, I’m sure, is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who lived from 1875 to 1912. His father came from Sierra Leone while his mother was British. He was the composer of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on Longfellow’s poem, which is still performed by choral societies up and down the country. And yes, it’s written in western musical notation. But these attempts to encourage the performance of classical, orchestral music by Black and Asian performers, and to restore and include Black and Asian classical composers in the western musical tradition, has also been effectively spurned by what seems to be rich, entitled, lazy brats.

The fault therefore seems not to lie with the Oxford music course or with Black Lives Matter, but with an admissions policy that favours the wealthy, even when they are racist and xenophobic, over those from poorer backgrounds, who are genuinely dedicated and talented. If, on the other hand, the people making those complaints seriously believe them, then the response should be to educate them to dispel their prejudices, not accommodate them.

No! Black Lives Matter Had Zilch to Do with Bristol Riot

March 23, 2021

More lies and racism from Nigel Farage and Andy Ngo. Yesterday’s big story was the riot in Bristol on Sunday night. A crowd had gathered during the day to protest the Tory’s wretched and abominable Police and Crime bill. This is another landmark in the Tories’ push to turn Britain into a Fascist state, as it would ban all protests or demonstrations if someone considered them a nuisance, as well as place further restrictions on Travellers. At the moment, the leaders or organisers of an illegal demonstration can be prosecuted and forced to pay a £10,000 fine. It may have been to avoid this that yesterday’s demonstration appeared not to have any clear leadership or organisational structure and this may have been one of the reasons it turned violent.

The crowd had originally been peaceful, assembling on Bristol’s College Green outside the Council House, sorry, ‘City Hall’. Most of the demonstrators had apparently left and gone home by the evening, when the crowd marched on the police station in Bridewell Street for a sit down protest. It was there that the protest became a riot. The police station was attacked, windows smashed and graffiti scrawled on the wall. Cars were also set at light, and the mob fought the police. Four policemen were reported to have been hospitalised, and seven protesters arrested.

It’s unclear who was responsible for the riot. Politicians from across the political spectrum yesterday condemned the rioters, including Bristol’s brilliant elected mayor, Marvin Reese. Reese called the riot ‘politically illiterate’, and made the point that it actually strengthened the Tories’ arguments for tougher measures against demonstrations. But people, who were at the demo claimed that the riot broke out when the police attacked the crowd. Mike’s put up a series of Tweets on his blog from one of the protesters, Adam Johannes, a Bristolian, who said that the police pushed people, kicked those on the ground, when the crowd pushed back, police in riot gear struck protesters on the head and sent in the attack dogs. Novara Media’s TyskySour discussed the riot and what it meant for left-wing protests in this country in their edition last night. They spoke to two people, who were present, one of whom was a journalist from the Bristol Cable. The journo believed that the riot was caused by the protesters. The other person believed that the police had started it with unprovoked attacks.

I don’t know which is true. The police have launched unprovoked attacks on demonstrators before, which the media has spun as the protesters attacking the police. The most notorious example of this was the police attack on the strikers at Orgreave colliery during the Miners’ Strike. The BBC reversed the footage of the attack to falsely accuse the strikers of attacking the police. One of the my cousins saw the police attacking members of the crowd during the Poll Tax demonstrations nearly thirty years ago. On the other hand, there are idiots who join demonstrations in order to provoke them to riot. One of my friends ran into one of these morons when he went to a Poll Tax demonstration with his mother.

But one this is clear. The riot had absolutely zero to do with Black Lives Matter. Or, indeed, any other left-wing organisation. But this hasn’t stopped the Fuhrage and Andy Ngo claiming that it did. Andy Ngo’s an Asian-American, but this hasn’t stopped him from supporting the American far right. He posted a series of Tweets stating that Bristol was England’s Portland, and that the rioters had raised hammers and sickles. The main groups at the riot, according to this observer from across the Atlantic, were Black Lives Matter, Antifa and Extinction Rebellion, among others. Well, he’s either lying or desperately needs glasses, because nobody in Britain has mentioned any of these groups. From what was shown on TV, the protesters were all, or overwhelmingly White. There was absolutely no connection to Black Lives Matter. As far as I can make out, there were no Antifa, Extinction Rebellion weren’t there either, and absolutely no-one, but no-one, was waving hammers and sickles. This is all just the product of Ngo’s fevered, Alt-Right imagination.

This didn’t prevent the man one of the commenters here calls ‘Niggle Frog-Face’ from also claiming that BLM were somehow involved. The Fuhrage tweeted “In Bristol tonight we see what the soft-headed approach to the anti-police BLM leads to. Wake up everyone, this is not about racial justice. These people want all-out anarchy and street violence … The BLM protests were anti-police, it is a key goal of the organisation. The worrying events in Bristol tonight are an extension of that. We have given into and encouraged the extreme left, and this is the result”. The peeps on Twitter responded by pointing out that Farage was only doing this because he was racist and hoping to stoke up further racism in the UK.

However, unfortunately I do feel that Farage may have a point. The right has accused the police of treating Black Lives Matter with a leniency that was not extended to White counter protesters. And it does seem that they are right. At some of the riots the police took the knee before the BLM protesters. There’s also video footage of the cops running away from BLM rioters, although such footage can be manipulated to present a false impression, as with the Orgreave film. On the other hand, the right-wing protesters, who turned out to stop further Black Lives Matter attacks on statues do seem to have been attacked and treated more harshly by the police. It is possible that the police’s admirable restraint in refusing to defend Edward Colston’s statue when it was pulled down by a group of BLM protesters in the summer may have encouraged some of the militants in the demonstration to believe that the police would act with a similar restraint if they rioted.

Whether that was the case or not, I don’t know. It’s a possibility. But what isn’t in doubt is that neither BLM nor the other groups were involved in Sunday’s riot. As for Bristol being England’s equivalent of Portland, I don’t know. I’ve never been to Portland. It might be a very nice place, despite being the scene of many of last year’s BLM riots. But, apart from the attack on Colston’s statue, Bristol hasn’t had any BLM riots. And the mob attacking the old slaver’s statue didn’t attack any of the other monuments in the area, property or police. Farage and Ngo are simply lying.

As for the wretched Police and Crime Bill, this certainly is an attack on our civil liberties which needs to be very strongly resisted.

But rioting will only strengthen the hands of those determined to turn this great nation into a Fascist police state.

For further information, see: Did POLICE turn Bristol ‘Kill the Bill’ protest into a riot? | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Zelo Street: Bristol – Farage Does A Racism (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Policing Bill Sparks Riots In Bristol | #TyskySour – YouTube

Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter

March 18, 2021

Okay, I finally stayed up last night to listen to Radio 4’s Tom Mayhew Is Benefits Scum. I blogged about this programme a little while ago when I first read about it in the Radio Times. I said that it looked like it was worth listening to, as it seemed that it would tell the truth about what it’s really like to live on benefits. This is as opposed to the various ‘poverty-porn’ documentaries like Benefits Street, that seek to portray everyone on welfare as a scrounger. Unfortunately, it’s on at 11.00 pm on Wednesday evenings, which is a bit past my usual bedtime. But last night I actually managed to stay up and listen to it.

It’s not long, only a quarter of an hour in length, and mixes staged recreations of meetings with Jobcentre staff and benefits advisors, and stand-up, observational comedy based on Mayhew’s own experience of the benefits system. He also had a guest performer, Francesca Inez, a disabled woman, who gave her own perspective on how unfair and humiliating the system’s treatment of the disabled is.

It started out in the Jobcentre, where Mayhew was being asked by the clerk if he had really been spending 35 hours a week looking for work. Had he gone for that job as a miner as he should have done? Going out, he found his friend Francesca lying on the floor. She had gone through the process of seeing what would be the ideal job for her, and told it was ballet dancer. She had fallen over trying to practise. Mayhew commiserated with her, telling her that the machine had told him his ideal jobs were footballer, boxer and the Queen’s butler.

This sketch led into Inez herself talking about the grotesque injustice of the benefits system. She said people ask her what should be the proper relationship between government agencies and the disabled over benefits. She said it should be a partnership between the government and the claimant’s doctor. Unfortunately, this had been scrapped by New Labour, who had decided that a sizable number of claims for disability benefit were fraudulent, and so had introduced the Work Capability Test. In fact, the proportion of fraudulent claims was 0.05 per cent, so it was in fact easier for Mayhew to get a job as a footballer than to commit benefit fraud. She asked who would seriously want to be unable to go out on their own, to go to the toilet on their or prepare their own food, all for the sake of £100 a week. She was also massively unimpressed by the clerks the Department for Work and Pensions send round to make sure that claimants really are disabled. ‘Oh, I’m just here to see if you’re still wobbly’, she imitated one saying. He reply was ‘Well, I’ll give you a wet shave, and then you tell me.’

Mayhew also attacked the sanctions system. He thought you were only sanctioned if you deliberately tried to mislead or play the system. But no! He found himself sanctioned for eight weeks simply because he’d sent the wrong form in. But he’d been told that it would take eight weeks for his case to be reviewed. How strange, then, that he had his benefits restored after only four after he’d written to him MP. He then gave a shout-out to David Gauke, a Tory, saying how weird it was that a Tory MP should actually help someone on benefit.

He argued that it was wrong to call welfare payments ‘benefits’. Benefits sounds like something extra on top of one’s wages. Instead it should be called ‘Survival Money’, because you needed it to survive. This would make it difficult to have people thrown off it as well. Depriving someone of benefits sounds much better than removing their survival money. And as for sanctions, how does being hungry make someone better at finding work?

He also joked about the massive lack of self-esteem people on benefits have. He told one story of how he’d been accosted by a man while walking back from the Jobcentre. The man had told him that he should carry himself with a bit more confidence, head held high, because if he’d been a mugger, Mayhew would have been an easy target. It was, Mayhew jested, a Virtual mugging in which he’d been robbed of his self-respect. He then told another one about a mugger marching him to a cash machine, telling him he was going to leave him with nothing. ‘How kind of him to clear my overdraft!’

More seriously, Mayhew told a chilling anecdote which showed how easy it is for desperate, starving young men to be reduced to selling their bodies for sex. He’d met someone at a gathering, and they promised to get in touch with each other again via email. A few months later he got one from this man. Mayhew replied to him, saying he was in a bad patch financially, and asked him for £50. He told him he’d be able to pay him back in two month’s time. The man replied that he couldn’t give him any money, but he would pay him £200 to have sex with him. Mayhew joked that he didn’t, as he wouldn’t do anything like that for less than £350. But for a moment he was tempted. Poverty has often forced desperate women into prostitution, but this story showed it could also happen to men.

I had a great, appreciative comment by Mayhew to my original blog piece about his programme. He asked me if I could do something to further publicise his programme, because he’d been going through the papers and hadn’t found any reviews of it. Listening to his programme, it was easy to understand why: he was too sharp, and told the truth.

Right-wing rags like the Heil, the Scum and the Depress sell copies by spreading moral panic about benefit claimants. They actively paint them as scroungers and malingerers, as does right-wing internet radio host Alex Belfield. Although rather more polite, the same attitude also pervades the Torygraph and the Times. These papers very definitely do not want their Thatcherite ideals contradicted by people, who’ve been at the sharp end of the system, showing their readers they’re perfectly decent, honest people and telling them how dysfunctional, humiliating and malign the system really is.

And unfortunately I don’t see the supposedly left-wing press being much better. The Mirror, the Graun and the Absurder have all struck me as being Blairite New Labour, who wholeheartedly embraced Thatcher’s contempt and persecution of the unemployed, the sick and the disabled. The Graun has many times urged people to vote Lib Dem in recent elections, so again, these papers won’t want their readers disabused of some of their received notions.

Added to this is the current campaign by the Tories and their lapdog press to destroy the Beeb. This is partly because the Tories depend for their propaganda on the favour of Rupert Murdoch and his papers, who hates the Beeb as an obstacle to his domination of the global media. They also hate the idea of a state TV broadcaster as part of their opposition to any kind of state intervention, as well as the idea of an impartial, public service broadcaster. Hence the attempt to set up various rivals to the Beeb by the Times.

As a result, the papers have been running stories about how the BBC is too left-wing and too ‘woke’. Belfield put up a video a day or two ago rejoicing over the cancellation of Nish Kumar’s The Mash Report. Director-General Tim Davie had supposedly cancelled it because it was too biased towards the left. Belfield went further, and claimed that the real reason it was axed was because it wasn’t funny and was helmed by a ‘box-ticker’ – his term for a person of colour or other minority, who’s been given a job because of their identity rather than talent. Kumar’s Asian, so Belfield’s comment looks just a tad racist to me. Belfield claimed that cancelling Kumar’s show wouldn’t make any difference, as the Beeb as a whole is too left-wing and needs to be privatised.

It’s obvious from this that the right-wing media, then, aren’t going to give a good review to an explicitly left-wing comedy show. I also think that class is also an issue here. New Labour, it has been pointed out, was liberal but not socialist. Blair had turned his back on the working class, and instead New Labour concentrated on trying to recruit the middle classes. The left-wing elements of New Labour ideology was a concern with combating racism and other forms of prejudice, such as against gays, and promoting feminism and better opportunities for women. I think defending and promoting the disabled is in there, so long as they are properly respectable and not benefit scroungers. Mayhew is working class, and so isn’t of interest according to New Labour ideology.

All of which means that, unfortunately, the press isn’t prepared to give a hearing to something like this. Which is a pity, as it’s very good. Mayhew tells his stories and his jokes in a normal, conversational tone. He doesn’t harangue or shout for effect, as many comedians do. And he’s actually very witty. To simulate a studio audience, the show used canned laughter because it was impossible to have a live audience due to the Coronavirus. Mayhew made a couple of jokes about how the imaginary audience hadn’t paid for their tickets. He then told how, after one gig, he’d been accosted by an unhappy audience member. Why didn’t he get a proper job instead of standing there complaining, asked the man. To which he replied, ‘Have you seen my show?’ He then commented that at least he was a Tory who had paid for his ticket. He also made jokes about other people, being paid to do nothing all day. Like MPs.

It’s a pity the shows on so late on a weekday night, as it’s a funny, necessary antidote to the constant propaganda being pumped out about benefit claimants being scroungers. I don’t know anything about Francesca Inez, but from what I heard she deserves a place with the other disabled comedians, who have appeared on TV. At the very least, she deserves an endorsement from DPAC because of the way her comedy tries to bring their concerns to public attention. The show also demonstrates very clearly why we need a public service broadcaster, as it’s only a broadcaster like the Beeb that would take a chance on a show like it.

I think it’s only a four part series, and concludes next week. If this sounds like the kind of thing that tickles your funny bone and you also agree with its message, then please tune in.

I hope this is the start of a great career for Tom Mayhew, and that the show later gets repeated in an earlier slot when hopefully more people can hear it.