Posts Tagged ‘Factory Acts’

Rees-Mogg’s Book Savaged by Critics

May 21, 2019

Here’s an interesting piece from yesterday’s I for 20th May 2019. It seems that Jacob Rees-Mogg fancies himself as a literary gentleman, and has written a book about a number of eminent Victorians. And it’s been torn apart by the critics.

The article by Dean Kirby, ‘Rees-Mogg’s ‘silly’ book torn apart by critics’, on page 5 of the paper, reads

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new book has been panned by critics as “staggeringly silly”. 

The work by the Conservative MP, The Victorians: Twelve Titans Who Forged Britain, tells the story of 12 figures from the era. 

But, writing in the Sunday Times, historian Dominic Sandbrook described the book as “so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly bad”. And in a Times review, A.N. Wilson said it was “staggeringly silly”. 

Rees-Mogg clearly has literary as well as political ambitions, and it looks very much like he’s using the one to boost the other. Boris desperately wants to be the leader of the Tories, and published a biography of Churchill a year or so ago. Presumably this was partly to show how he was a true Tory intellectual – if such a creature can be said to exist – and was somehow the great man’s spiritual and ideological are. Rees-Mogg is also angling for the Tory leadership, and he’s done the same, though in his case it’s a selection of the 12 great figures from the Victorian period that he feels have created modern Britain.

I’m not remotely surprised he’s chosen the Victorians, and even less surprised by the rubbishing its received from Sandbrook and Wilson. The Victorian period was an age when modern Britain began to take shape. It was a period of massive social, economic, political and technological change, as Britain moved from a rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrial one. New scientific ideas emerged, were debated and taken up, there was rapid technological innovation with the creation of the railways and the spread of mechanised factories. Overseas, the British Empire expanded massively to take in Australia, New Zealand, the Canadian West, parts of Africa and Asia. It’s a fascinating period, and Tories and Libertarians love to hark back to it because they credit Britain’s movement to global dominance to the old Conservative principles of free trade and private property, as well as Christian benevolence. It is a fascinating period, and certainly Christian philanthropy did play a very great part in the campaigns against the slave trade and other movements for social reform, such as the Factory Acts.

But it was also a period marked by grinding poverty, misery and social upheaval. Trade unions expanded as workers united to fight for better pay and conditions in the work place, Liberal ideology changed to keep up with the movement in practical politics towards state regulation and interference, and socialism emerged and spread to challenge the dominance of capitalism and try to create a better society for working people. The Victorian period also saw the emergence of feminism following the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman in the late 18th century. And the massive unrest in Ireland caused by the exploitation of the Roman Catholic Irish peasantry by absentee landlords, and the hostile reaction by some elements of the British establishment during the Potato Famine, has created a legacy of bitterness and violence that continues to this day. I doubt that Rees-Mogg or any of the other Tories are very enthusiastic about tackling or describing these aspects of Victorian history.

I’m also not surprised that the book’s been savagely criticised. Rees-Mogg supposedly read history at Oxford, but nobody quite knows what period he studied. And his ignorance of some extremely notorious events is woeful. Like when he claimed that the concentration camps we used against the Afrikaners during the Boer War were somehow benevolent institutions. In fact, they were absolutely horrific, causing tens of thousands of deaths from starvation and disease among women and children, who were incarcerated there. And which, again, have left as lasting legacy of bitterness right up to today.

I think any book on the Victorian period written by Rees-Mogg would be highly simplified, ridiculous caricature of the events and issues of the period. Like Boris’ book on Churchill, I doubt that it’s a serious attempt to deal objectively with all aspects of its subject, including the more malign or disturbing events and views, rather than an attempt to present the Tory view. An exercise in Tory historical propaganda, as it were.

What’s also interesting is that it’s been the right-wing press – the Times and Sunday Times – that’s savaged it. This seems to me to show that Rees-Mogg’s ‘magnificent octopus’, to quote Blackadder’s Baldrick, was too much of a travesty even for other Tories, and that there is a sizable body of the Tory party that doesn’t want him to be leader. Or at least, not Rupert Murdoch. And as the Tory party and the Blairites have shown themselves desperate to do whatever Murdoch says, this means there’s going to be strong opposition to a bid from Mogg to become Prime Minister.

Sun’s ‘Red Tory’ Propaganda Shows Conservatives Scared of Corbyn

May 20, 2017

Remember when the Tories and their baying lapdogs in the press were all howling that Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable? They’re still trying to make this stupid and risible claim, but the increasingly hysterical puff pieces about Theresa May show that they really believe the opposite: They’re scared that he’s all too electable.

Looking through the newsagent’s yesterday, I glanced at the cover of the Scum. Its headline proclaimed that May’s manifesto showed that she was a ‘Red Tory’. They even hailed it as ‘Socialist’.

All lies of course. There’s nothing remotely ‘Socialist’ about it – it promises more privatisation, more cuts and more poverty and misery for the poor. Standard Tory policies. But it also shows that the Tories are very afraid of the Labour party manifesto and the return of real Socialism under Jeremy Corbyn.

The nonsense about May being a ‘Red Tory’ is just a rehash of the way David Cameron tried to rebrand his party in his campaign against Blair and Brown. It’s also the title of a book by his mentor, Philip Blond, which tried to argue that under Cameron, the Tories would be the true friends of the working class, citing episodes from the early 19th century when paternalist aristos like Lord Shaftesbury passed the Factory Acts and other legislation to improve conditions for workers in the mines and industry. He also spouted a lot about the Russian anarchist, Peter Kropotkin.

This was all part of Cameron’s campaign to present himself as being more left-wing than New Labour. He promised to ring-fence and protect funding for the NHS. He and the Tory faithful also went out and campaigned against hospital closures.

It was all a front, with absolutely no substance behind it, of course. Once in power, Cameron threw out all these promises, and did the exact opposite. He carried out with a programme of cuts and privatisation, including that of the NHS. This included Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act which removes from the secretary of state for health the obligation to provide healthcare, along with further legislation allowing the NHS to be broken up, sold off to private healthcare firms, and to charge for services.

Just as May is doing even now.

And to make sure that people didn’t remember how they’d been lied to, the Tories started removing their election pledges from their website, in a blatant rewriting of history, which would be familiar to anyone who’s read Orwell or knows a thing or two about Stalin.

Blair and Brown were easy targets for the ‘Red’ Tory approach, as they were neoliberals, who were also determined to privatise the NHS, and many of their policies were directly lifted from the Tories. Like the Private Finance Initiative to hand government infrastructure over to private firms to build and operate, including hospitals. It was easy for the Tories to pretend to be more left-wing than them, as the Tory ‘wets’ probably were. The Tories complained about Labour’s hypocrisy over these privatisations, stating quite correctly that they never dared to go so far when they were in power, as the Labour party would have bitterly and entirely rightly criticised them for it.

One in power, however, Cameron and the Tories changed their tune, and proved to be even more extremely right-wing than New Labour.

The return of this piece of shop-soiled propaganda under Corbyn conveys a rather different message, however. The Blairites and the Tory press were howling last year that Corbyn was a ‘Trotskyist’, leading dreaded Marxist radicals to infiltrate the party. The line is that his policies will lead us all back to the 1970s. And, in any case, Corbyn is ‘unelectable’. The British public don’t want his policies, and will prefer instead the neoliberalism that has kept them poor for the past forty years, as preached and followed by Thatcherite politicians like Tony Blair, Dave Cameron, and Theresa May.

But by trying to paint May as a ‘Red’ Tory with ‘Socialist’ policies, however risible this claim is, the Sun has tacitly admitted that they, and their Tory masters, are dreadfully afraid that Socialism and Jeremy Corbyn are genuinely popular, that neoliberalism is no longer popular as an economic and social policy, and that unless they try to paint May as somehow a ‘one-nation’ Tory, Corbyn is only too likely to get elected.

So let’s make their fears come true. Vote Labour on June 8th to end Tory rule and bring prosperity back to Britain’s real working people.

More ‘Red Tory’ Bilge from May – But Is Anyone Taken In?

July 14, 2016

Announcing that she had won the Tory leadership contest yesterday, Theresa May made a speech declaring that she was going to continue the Tories’ work making a more equal society, which would not just be for the privileged few. She had also uttered something on Monday about supporting workers’ representatives in the boardroom. This impressed one of the more gullible journos in the Independent. He raved about how, if he was May, he’d call a snap election and destroy the Labour party. After all, Labour was tearing itself to pieces in the fight between Jeremy Corbyn and the Blairites. And May’s promise to put workers in the boardroom, and support the working poor, were clearly policies that only the most tribal of Labour supporters would ever reject. If May did this, said journo boasted, she could knock down Labour to only 20 per cent of the vote.

I say the journo was ‘gullible’. Actually, I don’t think he was anything of the sort. I think he was a bog-standard cynical Tory propagandist, doing what the Tory press have always done: lying for their favourite party.

Labour considered introducing worker’s representatives into the boardroom in the 1970s. According to the Fabian pamphlet I blogged about the other day, there was even a White Paper drafted. This would have given workers up to fifty per cent of the members of the boardroom in the nationalised industries. There were even two trial experiments in workers’ representation at the time in the Royal Mail and British Steel. Both were discontinued. Tony Benn was a staunch supporter of worker’s boardroom representation, and he was thoroughly vilified for it by the Tory press. It was partly due to this, and his support for wider nationalisation, that every single paper in the 70s and 80s depicted him as a wild-eyed fanatic. The opposite was the truth. Benn was a considered, thoughtful man, who listened very carefully to everyone’s opinion before making up his mind. This was the opinion of those who worked with him, including the head of Bristol’s Chamber of Commerce.

There’s a kind of irony here, in which a policy, which terrified the Tories at the time, was trotted out by them to show that Theresa May somehow cares about us proles. It’s rubbish. She doesn’t, and the fact that she’s trying to con people with it says all you need to know about how little she differs from Cameron.

It’s more ‘Red Tory’ nonsense, the same kind of stuff Philip Blonde wrote about in the book of the same title, in order to get his protégé, David Cameron, elected. Blonde’s book plays up the support the early Victorian Conservatives gave to the nascent working class movement, for example in the passage of the Factory Acts and 10 Hour Bill. He also waxed glowingly about the virtues of Kropotkin, the great 19th century Anarchist. Kropotkin was and remains one of the great figures of Anarchist thought, and his book, The Conquest of Bread, has now been issued in Penguin Classics. Kropotkin was a bitter critic of the poverty and misery produced by capitalism and the state, but he was no advocate of violence, like Bakunin and Nechaev. In the last chapter of Fields, Factories and Workshops, he describes the anarchist workers taking the means of production into their hands, and peacefully extending the contact of the emerging anarchist commune into the surrounding countryside. It is the statists, the bourgeois parties, who are responsible for the killing during this Revolution. The Anarchists, meanwhile, simply go about their business of building the new, libertarian communist society.

Yes, ‘communist’. As well as criticising the state and capitalism, Kropotkin also believed, like other Anarchists, that the ideal society could only be created, and conditions for humanity genuinely improved, when everyone controlled the means of production, distribution and exchanged. He shared the same vision of the abolition of private industry and agriculture as the Marxist Communists. He just believed that it could be done directly, with no need to create a powerful centralised state.

While Tories like Cameron like the idea of ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, as Thatcher and a young William Hague once droned on about, none of the modern Tories has time for anything like the nationalisation or socialisation of industry. Indeed, they’re determined to privatise as much as possible. And anything they can’t privatise, they try to cut to the bone and close down. See the NHS, schools, and your local library, swimming baths and other local services for examples of this ad nauseam.

May’s utterances about workers in the boardroom is more of this sort. It’s an attempt by part of the Tory party to try to present itself as being ‘caring’ about working people. Cameron very carefully positioned himself as such in the run up to the 2010 election. He promised to ring fence funding for the NHS, and he and the other Tories campaigned against the closures of local hospitals. For a time, he looked more left-wing than Labour.

It was all a lie. Nothing new there generally, and it was just the first of many to come out of Cameron’s administration. Once through the front door of No 10, all this radical stuff evaporated, and it was full steam ahead with cuts, NHS privatisation and grinding the workers into the dirt. And it’s been like that ever since. May’s declaration that she’s in favour of workers in the boardroom, and helping the working poor, is just more of this ‘Red Tory’ mendacity. None of it is anything beyond PR, spin and doubletalk.

What she’s really going to be like can be seen from her cabinet. One of those to whom she gave a post, for example, was Priti Patel, the ‘curry queen’, and one of the authors of the infamous screed, Britannia Unchained. Patel and the rest of her cohorts argued in their wretched little book that British workers had better knuckle down, and work harder for less, just like the peoples of the Developing World. So, not the workers’ friend then.

Neither is Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose effortlessly genteel and condescending manner also hides – or not, as the case may be – the fact that he too is a member of the Tory right, who has backed Cameron’s policies of privatisation, cuts and immiseration all the way.

May has no interest in helping the poor, whether they’re working or not. And I do wonder at those, like the Indie journo, who would have us believe that she does. Do they really believe we’re that gullible? Is that how cynical they are about the British public. From all the evidence, it appears at the moment that they are.

Resisting Cameron’s Contempt for Parliament: Books Giving a Historical Perspective on British Democracy and Constitution

January 17, 2014

This evening I’ve reblogged Mike’s piece over at Vox Political commenting on the Coalition’s response for parliament’s call for an inquiry into the alarming rise of poverty in the UK. Cameron has ignored it, despite the fact that it was passed by a majority of 127 to 2. Mike and the commenters to his blog have justifiably viewed this as the death of democracy, the day when parliament’s ability to the hold the government of the day to account was finally suppressed. At the moment this isn’t quite true, but it does not bode well for the future. Tony Blair’s tenure as prime minister was harshly attacked by the Conservative press for its very presidential style. The Tories particularly objected to the way Blair ignored parliament when it suited him, quite apart from his reform of the House of Lords. The Conservatives saw him as a real danger to the British constitution and our ancient liberties, and there were a number of books by right-wing authors and journalists proclaiming this very clearly on their covers. Cameron is continuing and possibly accelerating this process and the transformation of the post of prime minister into something like the American presidency, and in so doing running over the constitutional checks to the power of the prime minister.

One of Mike’s commenters has said that for people to be able to challenge this gradual accumulation of power by the prime minister, without recourse to or check by parliament, they need to be informed of how parliament actually works. I haven’t quite been able to find a book I bought a while ago on parliament. I have been able to find a number of books, which give an important historical insight into the development of democracy and the extremely long struggle for a truly representative, democratic parliament. Here are the books I recommend:

Eric J. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain 1783-1870
(London: Longman 1983)

Forging Modern State

This is a general history of Britain. I’ve selected it here because of its chapters on the constitutional changes which vastly increased the electorate in the 19th century. These were the Great Reform Act of 1833, and then Disraeli’s further expansion of the franchise in 1870, and the agitation and popular movements that demanded them, such as the Chartists. These show just how hard won the vote was, though it wasn’t until 1918 that every adult in Britain had the vote. The 1870 electoral reform enfranchised most, but certainly not all, working class men, and still excluded women from the franchise.

The book also describes the other major events and crises of that part of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the establishment of something like a public educational system in Britain, the enfranchisement of religious Dissenters so that they could participate in politics, the repeal of the Corn Laws, industrialisation, the Factory Acts, and poverty. The 19th century is very much a part of political discourse today by both the Left and Right because it was the age in which modern Britain really took shape, and the debate over ‘Victorian Values’ introduced by Maggie Thatcher. Evan’s book as an overview of Britain in the period offers valuable information on that crucial period.

John Miller: The Glorious Revolution (London: Longman 1983)

Glorious Revolution

This was an other vital period in the creation of British parliamentary democracy. It was when the Roman Catholic, Stuart king, James II, was overthrown and the crown given instead to William of Orange. It is obviously an immensely controversial topic in Northern Ireland, because of the way it cemented the exclusion of the Roman Catholics from power, which was held by a very narrow, Protestant elite. Back in 1988, the year of its tricentennial, Margaret Thatcher’s government deliberately chose not to celebrate it because of its highly divisive legacy in Ulster. It’s importance to British democracy lies in the fact that it gave real power to parliament. True, Britain was still a monarchy, not a republic, but its kings and queens now ruled by the consent of parliament. Furthermore, William of Orange was forced to reassure his British subject that he would not override parliament and the traditional constitutional checks and liberties by issuing a Bill of Rights. This became one of the founding documents of the British Constitution during the 18th and early 19th century.

J.W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (London: Methuen)

16th Century Politics

This was first published nearly a century ago in 1928. Nevertheless, it’s still a very useful book. The 16th century was the period when politicians, theologians and philosophers across Europe began to inquire into the origins of their countries’ constitutions, and debate the nature of political power. It was an age of absolute monarchy, when it was considered that the king had total power and whose subjects had no right to resist him. This view was attacked by both Protestant and Roman Catholic political theorists, who developed the idea of popular sovereignty. St. Augustine had introduced into Christianity the ancient Greek theory of the idea of the social contract. The theory states that right at the beginning of human society, people came together to elect a leader, who would rule in order to protect their lives and property. As well as claiming a divine right to rule, medieval kings also claimed the right to rule as the people’s representative, given power through this original contract between the primordial ruler and his people. Under theologians and philosophers like the Spanish Jesuit, Suarez, this became the basis for a true theory of national sovereignty. Just as kings owed their power to the will of the people, so the people had the right to depose those kings, who ruled tyrannically.

These are just three of the books I’ve found useful in presenting the history and development of some of the aspects of modern British theories of constitutional government and parliamentary democracy. I intend to post about a few others as well, which I hope will keep people informed about our democracy’s origins, how precious it is, and how it must be defended from those modern politicos, like Cameron, who seem intent on overthrowing it.

Lord Shaftesbury on the Need for an Indian Factory Act 1879

July 23, 2013

In my last post I discussed the forthcoming Channel 4 drama, The Mill, set amongst the child labourers of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. I mentioned that similar conditions still exist in the Third World today, and that it is the world to which the Tory writers of Britannia Unchained look back, a world of misery, starvation, overwork and exploitation. I also mentioned that due to longer working hours being introduced in Britain and other parts of the West, the working days of the Developing World was also lengthening to inhuman proportions.
I found this speech by Lord Shaftesbury to the House of Lords from 1879 advocating the introduction of an Indian Factory Act, like that he had campaigned for in England thirty years earlier. It makes clear the horrific working conditions in both England and her Indian colonies, and the way industrialisation in both nations had similarly affected their workers. Here it is.

‘On what principle, or what theory, is India to be exempted from the duties and obligations of civilised society? Creed and colour, latitude and longitude, make no difference in the essential nature of man. No climate can enable infants to do the work of adults, or turn suffering women into mere steam-engines … But what say you, my lords, to a continuity of toil, in a standing posture, in a poisonous atmosphere, during thirteen hours, with fifteen minutes to rest? Why, the stoutest man in England, were he made, in such a condition of things, to do nothing during the whole of that time but be erect on his feet and stick pins in a pincushion, would sink under the burden. What say you, then, of children – children of the tenderest years? Why, they become stunted, crippled, deformed, useless. I speak what I know; I state what I have seen …

In Bradford, in 1838, I asked for a collection of cripples and deformities. In a short time more than eighty were gathered in a large courtyard. They were mere samples of the entire mass. I assert without exaggeration that no power of language could describe the varieties, and I may say the cruelties, in all those degradations of the human form. They stood or squatted before me in the shapes of the letters of the alphabet. This was the effect of prolonged toil on the tender frames of children at early ages. When I visited Bradford under the limitation of hours, some years afterwards, I called for a similar exhibition of cripples; but, God be praised, there was not one to be found in that vast city …

Forty-six years ago I addressed the House of Commons in a kindred appeal and they heard me; I now turn to your Lordships and I implore you in the same spirit, for God’s sake and in His name, to have mercy on the children of India.’

The Act was passed, but never enforced.

Nevertheless, it shows the acute social consciousness and relative lack of racial prejudice, at least in this issue, of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury himself was an aristocrat, and an evangelical Christian at the time when that branch of Christianity stood for progressive social reform. He believed in a static society, with the aristocracy holding their natural place at its top. He also believed that people have a Christian duty to ameliorate the conditions of others during the time on Earth, and would have to answer for their lack of charity before the Lord after their death. It was this deep religious faith that prompted his campaigns against long working days for women and children.

I thought the speech was worth repeating because, as I said, it is all too contemporary with Conservatives, particularly the authors of Britannia Unchained, recommending lengthening working hours here to match the Third World. Shaftesbury’s speech describes the world we left. It also describes the world the authors of Britannia Unchained would have us return.

Source

Peter Vansittart, Voices 1870-1914 (New York: Franklin Watts 1985)